That title was just a shameless excuse to post this:
Hasn’t that made your Sunday?
Now. What looks like my last thing of 2013 happened last night and returning to work with Theatre Renegade, as part of their “Courting Drama” programme, was a fitting way to do it. Cheers to them for giving me the opportunity – the speed dating method of director-writer paring was, as always, bloody daunting but its really taught me to get my pitch right. Or at least make it interesting enough to trick the other party into liking you/it (just like real dating!)
I ended 2012 with the acute awareness that my experience of directors and actors, whilst good and fruitful up until then, was very limited. I resolved to fix that, and counting it up now I see that since November last year I’ve worked with twelve directors and twenty two actors across theatre, film and radio. It’s been a bit of a spin, but I’ve learned so much about different working practices and have sort of started to understand my own. The numbers game might seem a somewhat crude way of talking about this but, frankly, I felt so far behind my peers that the intensity was necessary.
I was expecting to encounter divas all over the place but I can genuinely say I’d gladly work with every performer and director again. Whether that’s because I’m easy or I’ve been very lucky with collaborators I don’t know but it certainly felt like the latter. Some have been a little tougher than others, but it always come from a place of wanting to do a good job, and over the year, my appreciation for folk in the arts has rocketed; if they really wanted to, these people could totally rock normal working life but some monster has dragged them into a world of instability, low pay and neuroses a-go-go and they’re total pros about it and no-one shirks from trying to do the best that they can. Kudos all around.
Back to last night’s play, the summary is:
“Bright, curious and ignored, Sophie is the best ten year old bone hunter you’ll ever meet. Mixed up in a mess of missing mothers, absent fathers and wavering friendships, she finds solace in fossils. But then a chance discovery in her back garden leads her into the murky world of myth, where the line between man and monster starts to blur.”
Got it? Right.
The team was a mix of known and unknown. The director, Sophie (there were lots of Sophies involved with this play), brought on a designer that she knew, and I recommended Finn who sound designed/composed for Slingshot. The unknown quantity was who would play our ten year old. This was the first play that I’ve really been around for auditions and it was harrowing. During the day we saw some incredible auditions – the quality seemed incongruous to our small office in Elephant & Castle – and whilst this provided us with A Good Problem, narrowing it down wasn’t fun and took some surreal turns (“Can I see her in a sleeping bag?” was one of the questions I asked myself). Choose we did though, and Evelyn and Sophie beavered away in rehearsals whilst I was off on an ill-timed (but very enjoyable) writer’s retreat with the other HighTide scribblers.
On my side, there was still rewriting to be done. Sophie pushed me towards clarity by asking the hard questions of the script and compelled me to make decisions that I hadn’t even realised I’d been ducking out of. Facts were set in concrete, the Iguanodon King became a Queen and the performance text was miles better than my first stab at it. Part of me thinks that if *only* I had a few more days I could properly nail the script, but another part knows that’s a thought you never shake. Work is not finished, merely abandoned, and all that. My director at one point told me she wished she had a little longer to work on the play, and while I know what she means, part of the joy of a night like Courting Drama is the touch of rawness about it. (If the audience hold that in mind though, is another thing entirely…)
Furthermore, I think monologues are tricky to pull off anyway, but at their best they’re pure theatre. This is only the second one I’ve written after True Brits, and though it is completely different, I’ve realised that there’s a simple constant: Monologues only work if the audience wants to be in the room with the character. Beyond the workload, it’s demanding of an actor in a way that a two hander isn’t necessarily because it’s their presence that that’s the primary draw, before the set up and/or conflict. There’d be no escaping a charisma vacuum. This isn’t to give me a free pass as a writer, I obviously aim to not write bollocks and ideally you get both magic performances and a compelling text, it’s just that if the actor doesn’t feel the character moving through a story, there’s no point of contact, the audience switch off and your fancy fancy script is pointless. A great actor can make a rubbish script work, but in my experience it doesn’t work the other way around. I touched on this vulnerability of text when talking about the process behind Slingshot, but it’s a whole other level with a one person show since it’s effectively one person in a room telling you a story. This doesn’t mean you have to *love* the character or that it even needs to be naturalistic, of course.
On the whole, I think that working on Iguanodon has made me even less precious about my exact words than ever. I’ve realised that as a writer I’ve changed quite a bit in the last few years. I used to live for the wit and the wordplay but now it’s the emotional arc of stories that really do it for me. As long as I clearly map the story beats, and the director and performers can find a truthful way to trace that path (as Sophie and Evelyn did wonderfully), I don’t care about a dropped or reorganised phrase here or there.
So what of 2014? Well, I think it’ll be another busy year, just a different kind of busy. If it goes as intended, there’ll be a lot fewer performances, fewer shorts and greater focus on long form pieces. True Brits is the obvious starting point, but there are two other plays, a TV series and a radio play that I want to get done and done well. Key goals? To get a play of mine on properly and to have two or three well worked pitches to take into the meetings that my agents are kindly getting me.
That’s a hefty undertaking, but it’s the step up I’ve got to make. After a hectic 2013 that was marked by the generosity, talent and bloody mindedness of my collaborators, I’m up for pushing myself to make their investment in me worthwhile.
I get shot through with nerves before every performance because I still can’t believe my scribblings are being realised. Thanks everyone who’s been willing to take that leap this year. It’s made me feel like I’m a Real Boy.*
P.S. I just wanted to note this was the first time I got to work with my friend Cecily, someone I met at film school and is now ploughing her way through the world of art design. Between that and having Finn onboard again, I feel like I’m stumbling towards my dream of writing/directing a feature with the help of loads of my mates. Everyone working their butts off, loving it all the same, and producing something we’re all proud of (that makes millions). That’s what we’re all here for, right?
* in the “being a writer” sense, not the “being a male version of an infamous sex toy” sense.
The Iguanodon Queen Script is here.
The Simpsons musical bonus funtime here.
The Iguanodon Queen, performed at the Bush Attic, 23rd November 2013, as part of Theatre Renegade’s Courting Drama.
Director: Sophie Lifschutz
Sound Design/Composer: Finn Anderson
Designer: Libby Todd
Prop Designer: Cecily Duckett
Cast: Evelyn Hoskins