Tag Archives: production

From Page to Stage (via Rage) – a GIF Guide to get to the Fringe

Hello, lovely reader.  How’s everything with you?

I must apologise for my prolonged absence – this is about 20% due to a bit of a confidence crisis, 10% due to laziness and 70% due to being completely brain-swamped by Tumbling After, the fabulously physical show that I’m taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with RedBellyBlack Productions.

It’s a gorgeous show that combines all kinds of ideas and disciplines, but as a devised piece it’s been an enormous (and welcome) challenge.  Everyone’s journey from page to stage is different, and the great thing about the Fringe is that you can take almost any performance genre imaginable up there and find a receptive audience.  Comedy, theatre, spoken word and performance art (and every other sub-genre and hybrid of those) show up on the Fringe programme every year.  Isn’t it amazing that the arts hold so much variety and such a wide range of skills?  (I’M TALKING TO YOU, CAMERON, YOU UNCULTURED SWINE.)

Ahem.  Sorry.  Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about getting ready for the Fringe this year is that, no matter which genre or sub-heading you’ve picked for your show, you go through a lot of the same stages:

Realising that your show idea is actually pretty darn good

Realising how much work this great idea is going to need

Refusing to acknowledge the huge amount of stress on the horizon

Getting into the swing of it

The first time you really and truly force yourself to look at the budget

The second, third and fourth time you look at the budget

The amazing moment when you can see how it’s all going to work

When the first cast/production team member cracks up

When it’s YOUR turn to crack up

Realising that you’ve only got a few weeks left

Still knowing, even after all the stress, that your show really is a great idea.

If you’d like to know more about Tumbling After and the magical mischief we’re getting up to, search #TumblingAfter on Twitter – there are lots of ridiculous photos and short videos to enjoy.

Have a cracking Wednesday!

The Play’s The Thing

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Cast of Tumbling After from left to right: Steven Laverty, Marietta Melrose, Kate Goodfellow, Robert Boulton

Hello, gorgeous reader!  I hope that you’re keeping warm this chilly Tuesday.

I am delighted to announce that in August I will be returning to that fabulous world of sleepless nights, excellent shows and a bajillion flyers, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  (For more information about my 2014 excursion, click here.)  This time I will be pottering up the road to Scotland with the fabulous Kate Goodfellow, producer and performer extraordinaire.

My history with Kate is a classic example of how life can take you by surprise.  Kate and I met through a mutual friend, who is herself a flipping fantastic performer (quite literally, in terms of her physical theatre training), and hit it off immediately.  We have similar senses of humour, a like-minded attitude towards theatre and a mutual appreciation of red wine.  As a result, Kate has asked me to direct her devised show Tumbling After, a story about two couples living next door to one another.

The thing about devised work – particularly when it centres around romantic relationships – is that it requires an entirely different set of skills to rehearsing a straight play.  With a normal production you have clear instructions in the form of stage directions, lines of dialogue which have been written to shape the actors’ performance and a concrete context for everyone to work within.  When you devise a show, you have starting points and end goals: stimuli in the form of images and pieces of writing, music that informs the tone of the performance, and an idea of how the story will probably play out.  I say “probably”, because when a group of people devise they are basically being encouraged to go with whatever feels natural in the rehearsals, and that can take the whole performance off in unpredictable directions.

This is, to put it mildly, a bit scary.  As a director I am very excited about the challenge of shaping a performance from scratch, but I’m also keenly aware that this is going to take a lot of work.  In terms of administration, marketing and rehearsal schedules, Kate and I are Fringe aficionados who are completely comfortable with the production’s demands, but in terms of working with the actors to create something completely unique, this is uncharted territory for all of us.

The reason why (despite the various times throughout my Drama degree when devising was asked of us bright-eyed young students) this project is so much more daunting and exciting than anything I’ve done before is that it requires a level of emotional honesty about something that we all talk about, but very rarely publicise: our love lives.

Relationships are hard.  Falling in love is exciting, but staying there takes effort.  The people we form attachments to shape, make and break us, which is something that most of us seem to accept.  For instance, a person with ongoing commitment issues may trace their problem back to an earlier, failed relationship, while someone who finds it difficult to trust their partner might attribute this difficulty to a previous infidelity committed by somebody else.  We all allow our past relationships to give us attributes and attitudes, whether or not they are good for us.  The emotional hangovers of our love lives are difficult enough to deal with, and now myself and four actors are going to try and make that premise into a show.  Crikey.

The trick when it comes to putting real life into theatre is to take what you need, but nothing else.  Over the course of this rehearsal process I will be asking the actors (and the movement director – and myself, actually) to be as honest as possible about how their own romantic histories will shape the characters and the narrative of the play.  This is not because Kate and I like to make people cry – that’s a separate issue – but because we know that putting two relationships onstage means nothing if the characters don’t come across as genuine, and their problems are not rooted in something that the actors already understand.

The play, clichéd as the notion may be, really is the thing.  I am very excited about working with such brilliant actors and a stellar movement director (who is, in fact, the person who introduced me to Kate in the first place – her name is Liz Williams, and she’s headed for great things), because I know that this is exactly the right group of people to make a scary, brilliant, challenging and emotionally demanding project with.

Plus, you know, there’ll probably be red wine somewhere down the line.

For more information about Tumbling After and all the nonsense we’re getting up to in rehearsals, like the company Facebook page.  More information soon!

Have a truly sublime Tuesday.

The Hard Logic

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Good morning, dear reader!  It’s a bit chilly today, so I hope you’ve got your scarf, gloves, etc.

Last  night some friends and I went to the Finborough Theatre to see a play called The Hard Man.  The producer is a friend of ours whose work we wanted to support, but actually it was well-worth seeing in its own right.  The story is based on the life of Jimmy Boyle, a notorious gang leader who was convicted for murder in Glasgow in 1967.  I’m not sure if this is what we were supposed to get out of it, but for me it came out as somewhere in the middle of Trainspotting, Brighton Rock and The Shawshank Redemption.  I won’t go into too much narrative detail after that baffling three-way comparison, but the performances were brilliant and the production as a whole was very compelling.

The crux of the play’s message was that people are the product of their environments.  This wasn’t so much an attempt to absolve the characters of responsibility, but an indication that there is always logic at play rather than a conscious decision to become “evil”.  If you were born into a hard life in Glasgow, you responded in kind.  If you didn’t have a father, you did what you needed to to bring money in.  If someone hit you, you hit back.  There was inevitability at play rather than a tragic downfall of the imperfect hero: in the writing and the performances, there was no tangible plea for the audience to understand or sympathise, it was just: “Here we are.  This is what we started with, so this is what we had to do.”  It was logic, not bad luck.

That may just be my opinion, and I hope that my producer friend will forgive me if I’ve interpreted the play all wrong, but it definitely struck a chord with me.  Perhaps there is an inevitability and logic to our lives, sometimes so small that we don’t even notice it.  For example, everyone in my family went to university, so I did too.  I wanted to go, but it never even occurred to me to do anything else, when of course there are hundreds of other options to take.  I loved my university, and I don’t regret my decision in any way, but it’s just a curious thought: did I apply to university on autopilot because of my environment?  What might I have done differently if no one in my family were university-educated?

The things that we believe, think, say and do are all a factor of who we are now, and who we are now is the result of years and weeks and minuscule moments that have shaped our lives.  I don’t know how many moments in your life you can point to and say “That split second changed my life”, but in a way it doesn’t matter, because they all did.  The question is what to do about it now that you are here.

In the arts sector in particular, people have found that the years, weeks and moments have led them to a place where there is no money and no certainty.  It’s all very well to say either (or both) of the following two things:

1) “We didn’t get into this business for the certainty of it; art is all about the precarious and unknown!”

2) “It’s not fair.  Why shouldn’t we be able to make theatre?  It was just dumb luck that our generation started out in the middle of a recession.”

But saying these things is not going to get your play produced or your your novel published.  Saying those words is just repeating what we all know already, so don’t waste your time.  We are where we are, and there’s nothing we can do to go back in time and stop the recession, so we will just have to use it.  I’m not saying that making theatre is going to pull this country out of its financial canyon (although you never know), but the fact is that people who want to paint, write, act, direct, dance and every other artistic discipline under the sun have to take what the world gives them and use it to make their work better.  You can’t fix it, so use it.

The recession is not going to go away just because we don’t like it, and arts funding is not going to magically increase just because we want it to.  Those might be nice side effects of our work in the future, but for now we should be looking at the world around us, accepting what we cannot change and using it to our advantage.  On a very basic, impetuous level, we should take every opportunity to defy the asshats who lost our money by becoming stronger, better and more active artists.  Think about the logic: if the country’s wealth hadn’t been so skew-whiff in the sixties, John McGrath would never have formed 7:84 Theatre Company.

I think what I’m trying to say is that we should be ruthless and realistic when it comes to facing the odds.  Even if they are stacked so highly against us that they’re starting to wobble a bit, we should always, always be looking at situations as opportunities to become better artists.

I got on my soapbox a bit there, didn’t I?  I’ll clamber down now and make us some coffee.  D’you take sugar?

What is it About Adaptations?

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Hello, reader!  Got any exciting plans for your weekend?

Last night I went to see Headlong’s production of 1984 at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.  The performances were excellent, the design was incredibly inventive and the concept was inspired.  I won’t say anymore in case you’re planning to see it for yourself, and I really think that you should go if you get the chance.

It’s difficult to make an excellent adaptation of a novel like 1984 for two reasons: firstly, the concept of the novel itself is pretty complex, and pinning down the issues of mind control, sanity, truth and fiction are hard to do off the page.  Secondly, the novel is a well-loved and respected work that many people feel strongly about.  If Headlong had got it wrong, they would have been unpersoned by the critics.

An adaptation of any beloved work of fiction runs the same risk.  The Harry Potter films came under massive fire (just from my social circle) for being completely unfaithful to the books, and reducing cleverly constructed plot lines to unsteady, baffling narrative turns.  There were also many debates about the casting: Emma Watson was too posh (and WAY too fond of acting with her eyebrows), Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t likeable enough, and Dobby was an atrocity.

People are already up in arms about the potential casting of Harry Styles in a movie adaptation of Wicked, but I wonder how many of them know that the musical stage production is already an adaptation of a novel.  The novel is completely different in tone to the musical, and when I read it for the first time I wondered who on earth would read this dark, disturbing story and think “Well, that’s got singing and dancing written all over it.”  Don’t get me wrong: I saw the musical a few years ago and loved it, but in my head it isn’t an adaptation of the novel in the traditional sense.  It’s just too different.

And this is the interesting thing: what is it about adaptations that provokes such strong reactions in us?  When we read a book we get a unique picture in our minds of the characters, the settings and the story, which have been guided by the author but not prescribed.  When we see an adaptation of a novel on screen or stage,the directors have had to try and compile every reader’s mental picture into a universal picture that cannot possibly match up to everyone’s expectations.

Is it better to take a well-known story and try to match it exactly to its original medium, like William Goldman managed with his adaptation of the The Princess Bride?  (Although he had a significant advantage, given that he was adapting his own novel.)  Or is it best to recognise that one medium cannot possibly imitate another – which is why they all exist, in fact – and that an adaptation has to be a kind of translation of a piece in order to make it work?  Wicked in its original essence would not make a good musical; it’s too depressing (but brilliant, by the way).  It needed to be translated into the kind of story that works in the West End with big sets and even bigger smiles, and it is a good show.  It’s just not a faithful adaptation.

I think that part of the issue is the cashmere-wearing, cigar-smoking, bling-adorned elephant in the room: we can all see that making successful novels and plays into films is about making money, not about making the piece accessible to more people.  It’s the reason that The Hobbit is being strangled to death by a painfully laboured and ridiculously patch-worked adaptation into three epically long films.  Shame on you, Peter Jackson.  Shame on you.

In general, I do approve of adaptations.  I like seeing other people’s ideas of a well-known story shown in new ways, and I enjoy the possibilities of a translation from medium to medium.  I just wish that the motive was always the exploration of worlds, not the expansion of wallets.

Have the most awesome of Fridays.