Saturday, April 28, 2007

Flat out on first draft. Back soon.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A big Thank You to the West End Whingers for a great bash on Saturday night. It was fascinating to meet some of the faces behind the blogs, including JMC, Lance, John, Stephen, Natasha, Ben Y, Ben E and of course the Whingers themselves, as delightfully irreverent in life as they are in print.

In the end I was having such a good time I lost track of it, and had to rush for the last train back to provincial Greenwich. So apologies to anyone I failed say goodbye to.

JMC and I had an interesting chat about how long it would be before theatre marketing departments take bloggers seriously enough to put them on the press night list (not that that's why we do it of course). It was great to feel part of a burgeoning group of like-minded people, and to consolidate a bit of a network of what felt like the nearest thing to 'colleagues' us freelancers get. I think these sorts of links are going to become increasingly important if we're not going to be divided and ruled by the looming Olympic-sized juggernaut ...

(More on that soon - I have been ruminating. Is that what cows do?)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is anyone else going to the West End Whingers theatre bloggers party this Saturday? Just curious.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My friend the theatre critic Aleks Sierz once described to me the feeling of deflated ordinariness at having to go back to normal work after all the fuss surrounding the release of his seminal first book In-Yer-Face Theatre. Being flown round the world and having conferences held in his honour ended as quickly as it had started, and it was back to the bread-and-butter routine. He said that it made him realise why so many famous musicians turn to drugs. They just can't get used to living normal everyday life between gigs.

While I wouldn't say I'm feeling quite like that, his words have been on my mind since How To Disappear closed last night. It was a terrific send-off. The play was the best I had ever seen it; the timing was impeccable, every laugh and every gasp fell in just the right places, technical cues were all second-nature, and everyone had relaxed into their parts. The audience were in the palms of their hands. I've seen this before towards the end of a run, having been away for a time and then come back. The company suddenly seem to be 'wearing' the play, like a familiar comfy old jumper they've owned all their lives. It's gone from being mine, to being ours, to being theirs. It's a joy to behold. I was so proud of them all.

Anyone who's followed this particular play's history will know that this is the end of a long and at times emotional journey for its writer. I've talked at length about that elsewhere, but suffice to say that the same piece of work effectively ended my career, and then revived it again. It's been a rollercoaster of a journey, and one that's ended with neither a bang nor a whimper ... just that inevitable flatness. There is talk of a London transfer, but as nothing's signed and sealed, and not being one to count my chickens, I won't say any more at this stage. But given that even 18 months ago I thought I would have to do this play myself above a pub somewhere for no money, everything's a bonus.

I wish I had some pithy words of wisdom, or profound lessons to pass on from the whole experience. But the only one that springs to mind is - hang in there.

Anyway, back to work.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I've been truly shocked by the hatred towards artists being expressed over at the Guardian blog by Peter Hewitt. I've left the following comment. I would really urge you to get over there and have your say if you feel the same. I would imagine it's a thread being read by all sorts of influential people.

"What this whole thread has revealed for me is that the most pressing issue seems to be in getting across to the general public what it is we artists actually do. The hostility here to 'my money' being used to fund 'lazy artists' is on a par with some of the tabloid debates about 'our money' 'our jobs' and 'filthy immigrants'. This level of bitterness and resentment is only ever borne out of ignorance of the facts, but is no less shocking for it. It should be a clarion call to Peter Hewitt and all those in the creative industries that, alongside campaigning against cuts, we also urgently need to explain in far greater detail what it is we actually do, and why it is important.

I'm a self-employed professional playwright, and besides writing scripts every hour of the day I also have to effectively set myself up as a small business. I spend much of my time working like an investigative journalist, interrogating the world around me through interviews, field trips and endless reading and other specialist research, to allow me to bring to the stage areas of human experience of utter orginality. This is my side of the bargain - I feel very strongly that if my commission fee is from the subsidised sector then I have a duty to bring to the table unique investigations into subjects of collective importance which I think as a society we should be giving time and headspace to. I don't write self-indulgent plays about my own life and love affairs for exactly this reason. So far I've done plays about social workers, religious gang conflicts among teenagers, missing persons and identity fraud, plus I'm working on new plays about the looting of the Iraq Museum, and another on hoodie culture and middle class fear. I then package all this up into a well-structured story, garnish it with crackling dialogue, and pitch it at a theatre to whose audience I think it will be relevant, important, and gripping.

I've worked long and hard over many years, and endured many knockbacks, before i got where I am today. I'm not from a wealthy family, or one with theatre industry connections, I went to an ordinary state school and did the rest myself. I put far more hours into my work that anyone in a 9-5 job. All artists, if they are to survive, have this same entrepreneurial spirit. There are plenty of government tax breaks and incentives for small businesses but you don't hear the same prejudice and rage spewed at self-employed plumbers, or furniture makers, or greengrocers. Why? Because people know what it is they do, because the mechanics of their trade are on display, and because their product is a tangible material thing.

The arts, by contrast, remain this mysterious elitist bubble where the product is created by somehow 'loafing around' and then only lasts for the 30 performances it is on, and because it is made up of ideas and images can't then be turned over in the palm of the hand and quantified. It doesn't matter that we might move people, change perceptions, shed light on areas of human existence hitherto shrouded by prejudice, or crystallise truth into simple beautiful forms, because if you can't see and hold it then for many people it simply isn't there and therefore isn't valuable. This is simply wrong. It's like saying that philosophy or political science or economics haven't given the world anything. Thinking and then creating is what human beings do. It's what sets us apart from the animals.

There has always been a mistrust of abstraction and intellectualism in the pragmatic UK (compared to the embracing of philosophers and artists in continental Europe). This isn't always bad - as Jeremy Paxman pointed out in his book The English, it has saved us from Communism and it has saved us from Fascism. But let's not allow it to scupper one of the world's most enterprising and self-sufficient hubs of human endeavour and originality. Not everyone may want to think about the world around them, and that's their loss. But for those of us who do, artists and non-artists alike, it's time to start explaining how we do it, and why its important in a society which cares about itself."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Arts Council's chief exec Peter Hewitt has finally made a public statement in today's Guardian about the Olympically-motivated cuts to the arts announced in the past couple of weeks.

I can't decide what troubles me more, the lack of fire in his belly or the wankers in the comments section saying this country's arts and artists are all talentless losers who don't dserve funding anyway.

Get over there, people, and give them what for.
Is there something in the water in Romford? This unprepossessing town seems to produce quite a few playwrights. First there was David Eldridge, then James Martin Charlton and now Ben Musgrave.

Ben is a fellow graduate of the MA Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College, and was last year's winner of the inaugural Bruntwood Playwriting Prize at the Royal Exchange Theatre. His play Pretend You Have Big Buildings is being produced there later this year as part of the Manchester International Festival. I've heard from reliable sources that it's rather good.

Ben's also started a blog about the process of building up to such a momentous event, which I will be reading with interest. Welcome, Ben.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Really interesting comments thread about new writing over at the Guardian, following on from an unpromising blog entry about Sam Mendes. Big respect to Anthony Neilson for getting involved, and for defending himself with such wit and good humour in the face of yet more anonymous abuse. It seems writers who wade into a debate on whatever subject are somehow subject to different rules. Why is it always seen as cynical self-publicising to express an opinion on phenomena taking place in our own industry? I wish people would give writers a bit more credit.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Mr Peter Hewitt
Arts Council England
2 Pear Tree Court

Dear Mr Hewitt,

I'm writing to express my dismay at the recently announced 35% cut to the Grants for the Arts scheme, and to voice my concern about the future of arts funding in the face of the spiralling costs of the Olympics. As a young professional playwright working exclusively in the subsidised sector, I am becoming increasingly concerned by the situation.

Despite government assurances that there shall be “no more boom and bust” in arts funding, the recent announcement that £675m of lottery funding will be diverted from the arts to the Olympics belies these promises.

The cut to the Grants for the Arts scheme (of which I have been a beneficiary twice in the past year) will hit new and emerging artists such as myself the hardest, and is likely to have a disproportionate impact on small scale, regional and touring theatre companies (particularly those with a community or minority ethnic slant), whilst the big institutions such as the various opera houses will of course be protected.

I am also very concerned at the level of advocacy for our cause in which your organisation is engaging. It seems from the outside that you are worryingly quiet in the face of these measures. We are relying on you Mr Hewitt, to make our case to government, and so far I am not satisfied that you are shouting loudly enough. Why were the G4A cuts announced so quietly and at such short notice? Why isn’t there any mention of this or the larger cuts that are coming on the Arts Debate section of your website? Why aren’t you making high profile statements in support of the arts to national broadsheets?

I worked extremely hard over many years, and had many rejections before I got where I am today. Much of my success is down to the G4A scheme and other funding pots such as the John Whiting Award for New Theatre Writing, of which I was the surprise winner last year. That award single-handedly revived my career, yet only a year later when I was asked to present this year’s winners with their cheques, the award was under threat. I made an impassioned speech urging the industry to save it, and as a direct result of that a consortium of theatres stepped forward to take on the funding and administration of the prize. So speeches can make a difference! But it shouldn’t be up to individual artists and theatre companies to have to rescue themselves in this way when we have a lavishly funded advocacy organisation in our midst.

So I urge you to please start fighting our corner. The Olympics will come and go, but British art and artists are the family jewels. Are you really going to sit back and let the government auction off our professional futures for the sake of a one-off sports festival which many of us didn’t choose?

Yours sincerely,

Fin Kennedy

CC. Tessa Jowell MP, David Lammy MP, Nick Raynsford MP

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Just noticed this thread over at Guardian blogs about the 35% cut to ACE's Grants for the Arts scheme. I'm about to become a beneficiary of this scheme through the grant recently awarded to Matt Peover and Liquid Theatre for our Jacobean project, so I feel moved to write.

I've left my own comment because it didn't seem like anyone was taking David Jubb up on his kind offer of space at BAC to host an industry meeting to formulate a response. Maybe I'm out of touch and some sort of meeting is planned (if anyone knows, please tell me). But if nothing's being done, then I really think it would be timely to look into forming some sort of rapid response group within the industry to protest about these cuts as they happen.

This first one is just a shot across the bows. As the Olympic juggernaut thunders ever closer, there'll be a lot more like it, and we should be prepared.
Three stars in today's Times, and our first 'literalist' review from Jeremy Kingston.

I hadn't blogged about this before because I didn't want to upset the people involved, but the night when The Times were in suffered from a technical hitch which meant that two short scenes from Act Two got cut. The professionalism of everyone involved was superb and they carried on regardless, and unless you knew the play I don't think you'd have noticed. But it does account for Kingston's criticisms of Act Two, which has a much more satisying shape than he actually got to see.

It doesn't, however, account for his problem with the metaphysical side of the play. His 'serious puzzlement' demonstrates which side this reviewer's theatrical bread is buttered. It reminds me of comments I got from the former head of the theatre where the play was first developed, during the meeting where she turned it down: 'Is he dead or is he alive? Make your mind up.'

No! It's about the thin membrane between life and death ... Baudrillardian hyper-reality ... going missing as an existential metaphor for ... oh forget it. Go and watch Mamma Mia and leave us all in peace. Or would you rather we all wrote plays like Eastenders?

Still waiting on the Telegraph, Independent and Observer. Come on guys, the battle lines are drawn, dare to show us where you stand.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A good friend of mine, who lives in Manchester, regularly complains about the London-centric bias of the UK's print media. I have to say that until now I hadn't taken his complaints all that seriously.

But now, having had the experience of opening a world premiere in a regional theatre, I have to say I can see his point. Press night was almost a week ago, and we are still waiting for the majority of the national reviews to come out. Whilst those we have had (The Stage and The Guardian) have been raves, a quick flick through the arts pages of the other broadsheets does indeed show a distinctly Southern bias. Even a fringe play which opened at the Kings Head after we did, and which 99.9% of the UK population won't ever come remotely near to seeing, seems to get more coverage. And that despite the critics mostly slagging it off!

It's not so much that we need the publicity to sell tickets up in Sheffield - word of mouth and some great local notices have ensured we've almost sold out already, and audiences are regularly standing at the end. It's more a question of respect for work that is easily of a London standard, but which due to its geographical location simply isn't given priority.

Come on arts editors - if you work for a national paper, your responsibility is to a national audience (and I don't mean that place on the South Bank.) I've long argued that the centre of gravity for new writing moved beyond London some time ago, and there are now several regional hubs of identical if not superior quality to a lot of the dross that passes for 'ground-breaking' on London's own tired stages. Do your homework, show that you know the landscape of your own industry, and start giving non-London shows the respect and column inches they deserve.

As it stands, you're in serious danger of looking embarrassingly out of touch.