Thursday, December 18, 2008

I’m back! Alright, alright calm down, don’t all shout at once. Let me get my coat off. One of you put the kettle on would you, I’m parched. Mine’s an Earl Grey, milk no sugar.

Ooh, it’s cold in here, did someone switch the heating off? And look at that dust! And is that … can I smell … mothballs?

Well, what a year it’s been. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. Where to start?

I suppose it all kicked off in October last year, with a 9-week turnaround to write a contemporary Jacobean revenge tragedy for Liquid Theatre. As regular readers will recall, that one had been in the pipeline for about 2 years, the result of a long ACE-funded research and development process. Well, now the four of us who worked on it have a stunning second draft of CHIMERAS, my first verse drama for adults, and an apocalyptic epic for our times. (Click HERE for a sneak preview.) We had a star-studded cast (including Ruth Wilson, Peter Polycarpou, Sylvestra le Touzel and Corin Redgrave among other luminaries – I think they sort of saw it as their charity work) anyway, they gave it a week’s workshop and invited reading at the Old Vic in April. Liquid Theatre are currently seeking co-producers for a 2010 tour (expressions of interest on a postcard please…)

Then I wrote my first radio play, CAESAR PRICE OUR LORD, for BBC Radio 4. That was great, I love radio, and will certainly be doing more of it. If you ever get the chance, go to a recording of one (best if it’s yours obviously); there’s a whole cavernous warehouse in the depths of the BBC Radio building in Manchester dedicated entirely to making and recording different types of noises. It’s brilliant what they can do. Mine contained the stage direction ‘The baby slithers out’. That stumped them for a while, but they ended up doing it with Fairy liquid on squidgy hands very close to the microphone. Amazing.

Then I wrote UNSTATED for the Red Room at Southwark Playhouse, a bit of an experimental multimedia devised piece about immigration and asylum. The research for that was pretty full-on. I visited a Nigerian refugee under lock and key at Harmondsworth detention centre, and heard how he had been beaten up by guards for leading a protest (in the UK I mean, we don’t think of this stuff as happening over here, but it does.) I wrote a Guardian theatre blog about it, and briefly became involved in the campaign to release him, but the Home Office nipped that in the bud by fast-tracking his deportation. He was in fear of his life in Lagos. I haven’t heard from him since.

During all this I was of course still doing almost three days a week at Mulberry School as their writer-in-residence, teaching playwriting to students and staff, and writing them another play for the Edinburgh Fringe, STOLEN SECRETS. The girls ended up getting a rave four-star review in The Scotsman, and as ever I got all proud and a bit paternal.

My 2006 play for teenagers, LOCKED IN, won the runners-up prize in this year’s Brian Way Award and was revived by Half Moon Theatre for another national tour (there’s a myspace page for the show here – I love the interactivity with the audience, maybe all shows should do this?).

HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND received its New Zealand, Australian and London premieres, the London run beautifully directed at Southwark Playhouse by the ever-wonderful Ellie Jones – with whom I also embarked on a new project for the 2010 Brighton Festival developing a play to take place in a spooky disused hospital… Watch this space.

HOW TO DISAPPEAR’S American premiere at Portland Center Stage in Oregon is now booking and I’ll be heading over there in January for the opening – my first trip ever to the US of A and just in time for that nice Mr. Obama’s historic inauguration.

As if that wasn’t enough, one of my earliest projects for Mulberry School, EAST END TALES, was published in a Methuen anthology of ensemble plays for teenagers this year. It’s a great collection, the first of its kind, and all the plays are really worth a look whether you work with teenagers or not (you can read more here).

On top of all that I’ve been doing regular talks, seminars and workshops for Goldsmiths College, Birmingham University, Central School, Birmingham Rep, Boston University … the list goes on.

Oh, and I moved house.

All of which I hope goes some way towards explaining my prolonged absence. I would apologise and say it won’t happen again, but I can’t promise it won’t, and besides, the theatrical blogosphere seems to have mushroomed recently, so there are plenty of other interesting folks to keep you stimulated, entertained and informed. I barely feel part of it any more.

Which leads me onto the two main questions I wanted to ask today: First, I am hopelessly out of touch with theatre blogs and bloggers, half the sites on my links list are inactive and I basically need a re-education about what’s out there. Can you help? Please send me your own suggestions for what you consider to be the best theatre blogs. I keep up with Guardian blogs of course, and the ever-wonderful West End Whingers are going from strength to strength. But apart from that I seriously need to get up to speed with the shifting terrain. Maybe you write a theatre blog of your own, if so send me the link, I’ll check it out and if I like it add you to my new and revised links list.

And my second question is very much linked to the first. Given the exciting explosion of online theatre chat, What Is This Blog For ???

Perhaps those of you that are better read than me can tell me: where are the gaps in the existing online theatre coverage? What is and isn’t being covered? Which perspectives are over- or under-represented? Where can I slot in to the teeming pool of cyber thesp thought?

Because it’s a bit shit really if this blog is just going to become an announcement board for my latest shows, which it has this year. That barely justifies its existence and doesn’t make it any different from the News section of my website.

Ideally I would like for it to be a forum for fairly in-depth articles about different aspects of the industry, but if my 2009 workload turns out to be anything like 2008’s then that won’t be remotely possible.

So I wanted to ask you, my dear readers (both of you), what would YOU like it to be?

Remember that I don’t do theatre reviews. Apart from the fact that I no longer live in London and don’t get to see nearly as much theatre as I used to, as a fellow theatre practitioner it’s nigh on impossible to criticise your peer’s work without pissing people off. And then there’s the awful, inescapable, invidious, emasculating assumption that any negative remarks are written with the subtext that you are saying ‘I don’t make these mistakes, my work is better than yours’.

So I don’t do reviews.

But what can I do? Is there even a place for theatre blogs written by actual theatre practitioners when we are so neutered in what we can say about each other and each other’s work? Perhaps we’d be better off maintaining a mysterious silence, communicating only through our cryptic scripts. Most theatre blogs nowadays seem to be by enthusiastic theatregoers, all critics of varying ranges of experience and professionalism, but who stay well away from artistic practice themselves. Is that just an inevitable side effect of the form of the blog? Is there any room or even any appetite for a blog by a playwright? Are you interested in hearing about the process from an inside perspective?

Because it does feel slightly narcissistic to bang on about my own work in post after post, but at least I know I’m not going to offend myself. But even semi-regular posts about plays I’m working on require a fair amount of commitment if they’re to be worth reading, which is hard when you’re busy creating the work itself. So it would be nice to know there is an appetite for it. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe the tumbleweed will waft through my comments box and that will be that. Or maybe one of you will come up with a suggestion that reinvigorates this whole tired enterprise.

The choice, as they say, is yours. I could even take requests. (Now there’s a thought.)


Clive For Coffee said...

Bloody heck, you've been a busy bee.

Your trip to the Americas; will you be there for your imput for their production, or purely for opening-night swishyness? Keep your receipts.

But blimey, what a brilliant year you've had. Hope 2009 carries on in a similar vein.

I don't know what you should do with your blog, or what your blog should be. No, that's right, it should be repository for filthy limericks. Come on, get cracking.

A.Actor said...

I'm all for blogging about the 'inside story' of putting together a piee, but only if it's not at a detriment to your creative output - there's nothing worse than writing purely out of obligation and feeling that it's a chore.

Though my blog (so very in its infancy) does/will(?) stay clear of reviewing theatre, I echo your concerns about personally expressing opinions about people/productions in an industry which you are currently operating in. That's partly why I've opted to keep my own blog anonymous, but whether this will end up helping or handicaping the exercise itself I'm not sure.

Well done on a productive end to 2008 and very best for the new year!


Fin said...

Well, nearly 3 weeks have passed and both my readers have responded, so i guess that's my lot.

Thank you both - you have definitively answered my question 'What Is This Blog For?'


Clive, your reward shall be a dirty limerick. And A, yours a link in my links list.

Fin said...

How's this?

There was an impotent man named Clive
Who kept honeybees in a hive
He thought the vibrations
Would cause stimulation;
Instead he was stung till he died.

Clive For Coffee said...

Thank you.

Take the pain away but leave the swelling.

Northern Creative said...

Er, hi Fin, it looks like you have A.N. Other reader, namely me!!!

I would be interested in the inner workings of your process too. Is there anything you do that's really off piste? Or particular to your practise? Is there any literature that's interesting to you and why? Your opinion and approach interests me.

And any experience from your dealings with the industry would be much appreciated. Pitching and selling work. Getting commissions.

Maybe there's loads of stuff out there already on this kind of thing. I am new to the theatre blogosphere. And maybe this is trade secret play your cards to your chest cloak and dagger stuff. I don't know...

Love the sound of your Jacobean tragedy. Am instantly hooked in by your art student angel of death!

Anonymous said...

It is interested very much.
Please link to this site.