February’s been quite an active month for me.
It started with attending Devoted & Disgruntled which I try to do every year. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a two-and-a-half-day conference that asks the question ‘What are we going to do about theatre and the performing arts?’ Attendees bring with them questions they want to explore and discuss, debate, or ask for help with. In a previous year I asked for help with how to talk about my work, and out of that discussion this website was born.
This year it was delivered fully online for the first time (as you’d expect) and was a splendid opportunity to come together with colleagues in the sector and hear how life’s been since the last one. Needless to say it’s been really tough, especially as a high proportion of attendees are freelancers (which I would be if I didn’t have my day job). But there was the most amazing feeling that we’re all in this together, and we will get through this, somehow. Theatre is an ancient art form you can’t kill off however hard you try. How you make a living from it and keep the home fires burning is another question.
I joined discussions around all manner of topics, from how to get arts council funding for projects to how can we make theatre more inclusive? One of the topics I’m still mulling over is, do you need to add references to COVID-19 in plays you’re writing that are not about COVID-19? There was a lot of discussion in this group about projects that have been put on hold because of the pandemic and are waiting to go on, booked for touring in 2022; and then projects created during the pandemic, responding to the world as we’re finding it now, which will want to be produced once theatres are open again. And of course there are questions like: how will the world be when we are in theatres again? Will an audience member be wearing a mask when actors on stage won’t be? If it’s a naturalistic play does that make it absurd, as the goal of the play is to represent the world as it is? Or actually will we have had enough of COVID-19 by then and we’ll be wanting to see plays without any reference to it, as we suspend our disbelief and dream of a time before or in the future where COVID-19 isn’t a feature?
There’s no real answer. However, as my plays have a more mythic and fantastical bent it was felt that maybe those kinds of stories transcend time, and you don’t need to reference COVID-19 in that kind of work. As long as the play you’re writing feels emotionally true to the times we live in -even if the actors aren’t commenting on the new rule of 6, for example- it will still feel true to an audience. If you have a strong view either way I’d be interested to hear it. Please add your comment at the bottom of the blog. However quickly we get out of lockdown, COVID-19 is with us and as all theatre holds some kind of mirror to society, questions around this will be with us for a while.
One light in the dark however was when writer-director-producer Jennifer Lunn, who I’ve worked with previously, shared a quote from a writer friend of hers Aliki Chapple. We were discussing whether you can really plan a production in 2022 for a play that felt urgent to get on in 2020? Will that play still feel relevant for an audience? Her response was this quote below. I loved it so much I just had to illustrate it:
This quote has given me comfort ever since I heard it, and the afternoon after D&D finished, I was inspired to go back and write the full synopsis of my new play that’s been on ice since the pandemic. It felt good to be looking at that story again, and I think I might have sorted out the ending. So watch this space as I may have more news on that project soon! If you’re interested in reading more about the discussions at D&D see the website.
My novel project
As far as my novel goes, after a month of not looking at it, I read the whole first draft through. I’ve been following NaNoWriMo’s workbook on redrafting and the recommended next step is to ‘read it like a reader’ (so for the pleasure of the story rather than to correct/change anything). I wasn’t convinced it was going to help, but it ended up being very similar to having a play table read by actors: the moment you hear it aloud, you can tell what’s not landing; the moment I read the draft as a reader, I could feel what was and wasn’t working. Something that I was reminded of when reading the draft was a tip writer Philip Ridley said in a workshop I attended with him once. This is not exact, but he said something along the lines of:
He went on to qualify it with something like, “they might remember how this bit was clever and that bit made them think, but a sure fire way to leave a mark is to make them feel something.” We are all the sum of stories we’ve heard over our lives, we know instinctively how they work. Reading the first draft as a reader -to enjoy the story and get wrapped up in the emotional journey of the characters- illuminated a lot. Not least that I have a lot of work to do! I love the process of writing, of crafting a story and am looking forward to getting stuck in.
I just wanted to share a couple of online events I’ve come across happening next month which might be of interest:
The girl on the altar by Marina Carr
I first read a play by Marina Carr during my ’12 new playwrights in 12 months’ blogging a few years ago. I absolutely loved her writing but haven’t seen any performed so I was very excited when the Kiln’s latest email hit my inbox announcing a stream of a rehearsed reading of her new play. Check it out here.
Imagining the city
Another email hit my inbox, this time from the National Writing Centre. During February they’ve been running virtual residencies with five writers from UNESCO cities of literature, exploring their connections between their own city and Norwich. Some virtually visiting it for the first time. I thought this was a really interesting idea and recommend checking out the articles on the website. They have a couple of free events too. Find out more here.
Well, that’s it from me for this month. Stay safe and take care. Catch you in March!