Thoughts about things I've done and news about what I'm going to do.

What my thoughts look like after editing/second-guessing.

An irregularly updated blog (mostly) about theatre.

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    I saw Red Bastard last night. And I really need to talk about it. And if there’s anything Red Bastard teaches you, it’s that if there’s something you want to say that’s important to you, go ahead and say it. 

     

    This is, however, quite a tricky post to write. Because it’s, ultimately, about the dicey nature of putting people’s real lives centre stage - of turning actions with consequences rippling beyond the theatre’s walls into dramatic moments. Of making significant moments in people’s lives into something audiences will discuss over a couple of pints in the bar afterwards. Of transforming major life decisions into something that’ll become the subject of a stranger’s blog post.

     

    It was my first time seeing Red Bastard, though I’d heard plenty about the show beforehand; a friend I went with had seen the show before and felt the potential for something staggering and heart-stopping to happen, but this hadn’t been realised in the performance he’d seen. He was tempted back to the show by the ‘what if’ - what if something truly shocking, unbelievable, heartbreaking, etc happened tonight. And it did.

     

    For those who don’t know Red Bastard, the show - through various means - tries to force upon its audience the truth of the following: we all have things we want out of life; there are steps we can take to get those things; we make excuses for not taking those steps; we have to see those excuses for bullshit, stop making them and get on with getting what we want.*

     

    Now, I’d argue it’s not that hard to get through the show without actually committing to these ideas - whilst Red Bastard challenges his audience in a variety of ways to encourage them to go after what they want, act rather than excuse, grasp opportunities eagerly, it’d be easy for someone to side-step these challenges. Enjoy the show for an invigorating, light thrill - taking in the atmosphere of possibility and risk whilst never putting themselves in any position of vulnerability. Which, I’d argue (for this show at least), makes them an observer rather than a participant - and significantly different to the participants.**

     

    Towards the end of the show, everyone has to shout out something important they want to say to someone they know, but haven’t. Individuals are picked out, asked to share what they said. Four people were then selected by Red Bastard and issued with this challenge: take your phone, ring that person and tell them what you just told all of us. The first person said no. The second person asked him to come back to them. The third person said they would tell them, but not now and not over the phone. The fourth person said no. Back to the second person, who said yes. 

     

    Now for the point where I get frustratingly vague - because it doesn’t sit comfortably with me to detail the answerphone message that followed. Sitting directly behind the person making the call, close enough to hear the answerphone beep, I know it was a genuine call that was made and an actual message left. It wasn’t a petty or small thing. It related to a major life event, and telling someone who it would understandably be difficult to tell. After leaving the message, they made a comment - something only loud enough for those to be sat next to them to hear - which made it clear they believed the impact of making that call wouldn’t be positive. (That’s not to say it definitely will be - but they clearly believed so at that point.) The audience - again, most of them having not heard this - then loudly applauded this person for their bravery and honesty.

     

    Most of those people applauding will - I’d argue - have been observers, rather than participants, having put themselves in no real position of jeopardy over the course of the show. Why I think this is important is because it means it’s not a level playing field - the audience aren’t equal. We weren’t all ‘in this together’, equally at risk, equally laying ourselves bare, equally putting ourselves out there in front of each other. For a show that’s about taking charge of your life, I’ve no doubt some people just got vicarious thrills through what other people did during the show. (And I’m not saying all participants are equal - had I been asked to make the call, I wouldn’t have, for a variety of reasons - the importance of context being prime among them.) 

     

    After the show, talking to the friend who’d come a second time in the hope of that elusive, staggering *something* happening, he admitted that, having experienced it happen, he kind of wished it hadn’t. Because a major moment in someone’s life - something that will, no matter the response to the answerphone message, have lifelong repercussions - felt somehow cheapened, somehow diminished because, ultimately and unavoidably, for many people in that room it will have been a form of entertainment. I didn’t come away from the show feeling that that specific moment was empowering or inspiring (in the moment, however, I think I did feel that - it was the after-message comment and the audience applause that burst the bubble for me).

     

    I don’t mean this as an attack on Red Bastard - no one in the show is forced point blank to do anything (though it’s hard to gauge how much the fact that everyone else had said no to making a phone call felt like pressure upon them to say yes). I can see the many positive things that the show does, and what a valuable shock to the system it can provide. I can imagine phone calls and messages that wouldn’t be quite so complex or elicit such conflicted feelings. I also enjoy shows that link us to the outside world, to our real actions and relationships, that can have an immediate and concrete impact on our lives. 

     

    But I’ve ended up feeling deeply uncomfortable at the idea that, last night, something happened which only one of the audience members will feel the consequences of and for everyone else, that event will be framed in the inescapable context of ‘something that happened in a show’. (I’m not suggesting the other people there can’t distinguish between real and pretend, but that, for us, what happened was simultaneously a real thing and also the dramatic climax of a show and it’s impossible to completely divorce those two.) Maybe the audience member who made the call will be glad of it, and good things will come of it, and I needn’t feel so unsettled. But I’m finding that feeling very hard to shake.

     

     

    *For me, the show’s the theatrical equivalent of Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism and The Dice Man. Of course, a loud, energetic, distorted, frantic red figure may get to the point more succinctly, but I’d definitely say all three things are making the same point.

     

    **I personally fall into the participant camp, having taken the opportunity to call out a personal goal/desire which I’d never previously vocalised (with my failure to take practical steps to achieve later highlighted by Red Bastard).

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    Last night I saw Secret Theatre’s Show 5 for the second time (the first being during its original run at the Lyric last year). The show’s *proper* name is A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, but I’m going to stick with Show 5 - the slightly ominous anonymity of that name makes it feel like something printed on an MoD folder detailing some landmark event, so important it can be identified even by the most impersonal of titles. I quite like thinking of Show 5 like that (partially since it’s my favourite show of 2014, and will likely have a lasting impact on me and the work I want to make).

     

    These are just some slightly nebulous thoughts in response to seeing the show a second time, and also having sat in on a Young Vic discussion with Sean Holmes about the company. For those who haven’t seen the show, it essentially revolves around a protagonist (selected a random from the eight-strong company) who participates in a series of challenges, scenes, exercises and games that all in some way or another touch upon love and relationships.

     

    There was a totally unexpected consequence of seeing the show a second time, which struck me towards the end (when the whole cast fill the stage for a dance routine). Last night’s protagonist was Cara; when I previously saw the show, it was Adelle, who came downstage for the dance routine looking fresh, alert and healthy. Cara, by this point, had been exhausted by lengthy dances, downed drinks, wrestling matches, emotional confessions (my instinct is to treat her tears from last night’s show as real, but I can’t be sure) and relentless activity. The contrast between the two was pretty vivid - but I knew that, no matter how long ago, Adelle had been at this point (if not even worse). She had been through this too. And she was fine now. In a show that, for me, highlights the difficulty of loving someone and maintaining a relationship, the chance at play in finding someone, the heartbreak that opening up that much brings and the reality of enduring pain in the hope of finding something worth it just as much as it explores the joys and victories to be found in love, it’s a hugely comforting sentiment to be reminded that absolutely everyone’s gone through what the protagonist is going through, and came out the other side. 

     

    I also left the show wondering whether the cast is the most loveable in London (maybe beyond London too, but often I find it hard looking past the shiny tall buildings to see what the rest of the world’s up to) - I mean this in the sense of them being the easiest to love. A recent article detailed a psychologist’s attempt to make people fall in love, involving a series of questions of increasing intimacy which couples would ask each other. With Show 5, you of course do get to know - or at least feel like you get to know - quite personal things about one of the cast members. But there’s also a sense of getting to know the rest of the cast - whether it’s minuscule giveaway expressions as they react to something onstage; their tactics and responses during wresting matches; how and when they step in to care for the protagonist; even the little differences between each of them when dancing. I find it hard to think of another show where you see so much of the performers, you can feel so much like you’re getting to know them. 

     

    I know that there’s the significant factor that everyone in Show 5 is being themselves, rather than playing a set character. But, having seen the company’s Woyzeck and Streetcar, I think the openness of these actors, with each other and with the audience, does spill a little into those pieces. Which has made me think: wouldn’t it be amazing to see shows where everyone onstage was made easy to fall in love with? Where the antagonist was as loveable as the protagonist? (And this isn’t a matter of positive/negative traits - it’s a matter of intimacy.) So many productions could become more engaging, complex, difficult (in the best sense of the word) for giving audiences that kind of ‘in’ to each character onstage. (Yes, waxing lyrical; yes, no concrete offerings - let’s just start with the nice thoughts and leave the difficult practicalities till later, okay?)

     

    My final thought is one that comes from a few places - my own feeling when seeing Show 5 the first time that no-one but Secret Theatre could’ve made a show like this; Sean Holmes’ comments about how having guaranteed employment for a significant period of time affected the company’s attitude to work and rehearsals; how special the show feels almost a year after first seeing it.

     

    How far Show 5 goes in pushing individual cast members and pitting actors against each other is intrinsically linked to the trust between the performers. They’re able to put one person in a potentially very vulnerable position onstage (physically and emotionally) because, ultimately, they’re surrounded by an incredibly supportive group, yet one that knows them well enough to know how hard they can push. Show 5’s strengths feel intrinsically linked to Secret Theatre’s status as a rep company. 

     

    Sean Holmes commented in the discussion that I attended how the actors developed an attitude to work that he hadn’t really seen outside a rep company. In a more stable, less precarious situation than the majority of actors, there was less of a drive to spend time trying to be everyone’s friend, impress the director, catch people’s attention and suchlike. The focus was on knuckling down and making work, not on keeping half an eye out for the next job or trying to make people like you. I think you could argue that the shift in attitude and mindset that a position in a rep company can bring is also a contributor to Show 5’s strengths. It doesn’t feel like a show where people are trying to impress us or charm us or show off their skills (even if that may be a side-effect of what happens in the show), and that’s essential to the honesty that makes it feel so special to witness. 

     

    It’s not the kind of discussion I really engage with online (because there’s a lot of discussions I don’t really like getting involved with online), but the natural place this line of thought leads to is: money. A rep company requires a considerable amount of money, if only because it requires a steady stream of it over an extended period of time. I know people like myself who’d rush to use the format of a rep company if they had the cash to sustain it and I think at least one of the reasons is because rep companies provide the right kind of environment (one that breeds trust, safety and a lack of anxiety) for people to work at their best.

     

    I’m not saying rep companies are perfect, or that other modes of working aren’t valid. I’m obviously coming at this from an instinctively pro-rep standpoint (and here’s crossing my fingers for the day I win the lottery and can start my own without a care in the world). But it seems so obvious that their absence genuinely limits the work that can be made and shared with audiences - I really mean it when I argue that Show 5 could never have been made by a non-rep company. 

     

    TL;DR: Show 5 hasn’t become any less wonderful since I first saw it. I’ll miss Secret Theatre when they’re gone.

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    A: They both feature in Object Love (thought not personal appearances, obviously). 

     

    Having done a list of the inspirations and influences behind SPARK last year, only feels apt to do the same of Object Love. I also find it a odd, but in kind of revealing look at a show - so here’s a list of the various things that have somehow influenced (at least the script for) Object Love:

     

    The obvious

    Articles and testimonies on OS Internationale

    Documentaries on objectum-sexuality

    Direct interviews with objectum-sexuals

     

    The not-so obvious

    Nikolai Tesla

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    A Yeah Yeah Yeahs song

    A real-life traffic accident

    An attempted solution to the mind-body problem*

    Ben Jonson’s poetry

    Half-remembered pieces of Physics GCSE

    An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition at the Wellcome Collection

    A Christmas present I’d forgotten I had

    Various shows (including Confirmation and A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts)**

    An episode of This Morning

     

    There’s also another whole category of inspirations for this show:

     

    The conversations

    (By no means a comprehensive list, but particularly important ones that stick out)

    In the VAULT Festival bar following a performance of SPARK

    On a train to Newbury with Young Vic Directors Network members

    At the Bush Theatre following Am I Dead Yet?/White Rabbit Red Rabbit

    At a cafe near The Print Room one Summer afternoon

    Whilst propped against the Southwark Playhouse’s bar after a show

    During R&D at Theatre Delicatessen

    With actors auditioning for the show

    At midnight in the Blue Blazer in Edinburgh (maybe not so much a conversation as an, ahem, drunken and intense exchange of ideas…)

     

    There are a few reasons why casual conversations have influenced this particular show so much - the obvious one being that the show deals with a complex, unusual and little-known subject, which many audience members will be engaging with for the first time. Hearing people’s instinctive responses to objectum-sexuality has, therefore, been a good starting point for thinking about what the show should deal with, questions it should answer and misconceptions it should address.

     

    Some conversations - or rather, the responses and reactions those conversations have exposed - have shaped the show in a very specific and concrete way. A comment from someone on a Young Vic trip to the Watermill struck me so strongly, I knew the characters had to finish the show by addressing it.

     

    What’s also been interesting is when conversations have veered onto people’s own (or their friends’) experiences with objects. No one’s spotaneously come out as objectum-sexual to me, but - for instance - someone did recall a university acquaintance who slept with their bicycle in their bed. Or people will bring up childhood possessions - objects they could never be without, that they named and cared for. Of course, I wouldn’t directly equate these with objectum-sexual relationships, but I guess it’s been good to hear about parallels in people’s lives since it shows that at least some people are open to grappling with the task of understanding objectum-sexuality.

     

    I’ve never had this kind of experience before, of developing my ideas and writing a script in tandem with talking to whoever’ll listen about the subject matter (beyond, say, devising shows with casts). Of course, the people I’ve spoken to are friends, or friends of friends - I haven’t orchestrated conversations with people other than those who I naturally speak to (partially because I suppose the whole ‘conversations’ thing wasn’t part of some premeditated game plan). But, even granting the relatively small circle of people who those conversations have been with, it has given me a far stronger sense of making the show for people. 

     

    Of course, all of this runs alongside making an engaging, entertaining and theatrical piece - simply responding to people’s curiosities would be worthless if all that emerged was a live reading of an in-depth and thoroughly researched Wikipedia article (not sure if there’s an inherent contradiction there). I guess that’s where the two kinds of conversations I’ve talked about lately link - those with people unrelated to the show, and those with the show’s dramaturg. Conversations to keep me thinking about what people are interested in, and conversations about what’ll be an interesting experience for them. And just as I’ve said how I’ve absolutely fallen for having a dramaturg and getting to engage in the kind of conversations that brings, I definitely don’t want to lose the inspiration, focus and ideas that conversations with people beyond a show’s company has offered.

     

    ---

     

    *YES I’M USING MY PHILOSOPHY DEGREE. I SAID I WOULD ONE DAY.

    **We should probably take it as read that ASOIIA is implicitly on any/all future inspiration lists…

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    Due to obsessive note-taking when it comes to theatre, I know exactly how many different shows I’ve seen this past year: 125. A figure which is a little less impressive when remembering at least 20 of them were over four days in Edinburgh, and nine of those in just one day. But it’s still a decent average, and means there have been a few unexpected recurrences: bleeding sets (A View from The Bridge and Grand Guignol); sinking sets (Birdland and The White Whale, though admittedly the latter committed to the sinking a hell of a lot more…); shows with no performers present at all (Theatre on a Long Thin Wire and Blind Hamlet); narratives determined by audience vote (Choose Your Own Documentary and Eden Gate) and clashes of projected pornography with operatic singing and mimed masturbation (okay, that’s just me seeing Sirens twice).

     

    I’m not going to do a ‘best shows of 2014’ list. That requires a lot more thinking than I’m willing to engage with on Boxing Day. I thought I’d go for something a bit more instinctive – a selection of moments from shows over the past year that have stuck with me, for one reason or another. Various moments that all make me both excited and extremely intimidated to work in theatre.

     

    [I’m consciously avoiding talking about shows I’ve worked on, all of which I love for various reasons, as this blog post is self-indulgent enough already.]

     

    Shadows

    Penn & Teller’s show was the most I spent on one show this year (£50), but was undoubtedly worth it. I challenge anyone to find a more hypnotic, absorbing and heart-stopping few minutes of performance than Teller’s Shadows trick. A knife is taken to a flower’s shadow, cutting the shadow to pieces and causing the flower to fall apart in exactly the same way, before a cut made to Teller’s shadow results in real blood smeared from his palm. Somehow romantic, dark, deathly and beautiful all at once, it’s a simple idea done to perfection.

     

    Death of a puppet

    …Or several puppets, technically. I saw Boris & Sergey’s Astonishing Freakatorium several months after having initially heard of the faceless, leathery puppet double-act, and was instantly impressed by the skill of the puppeteers, particularly when interacting with the audience. But it was the show’s unexpectedly haunting and emotional climax that has really stuck with me, with the many puppets who’d perished during the course of the show being hung, lifeless and unmanned, from grim hooks and chains. I’d spent most of the preceding hour laughing, and ended the show in silent tears. (You would have too.)

     

    Imaginary lemons

    Possibly one of my most anticipated shows of the Fringe wasn’t a piece of theatre, but comedy: Hooray for Ben Target. Target lived up to my previous experience of his relentlessly original work, that always seems like expertly masterminded ramshackle chaos. Various factors meant myself and two friends had a much different experience of the show to the rest of the audience, being instructed to collect 108 imaginary lemons before entering the show. We spent 5-10 minutes approaching passing strangers for these (eventually collecting 113) in what was possibly the most joyful, ingenious and hilarious start to any show I’ve seen this whole year.

     

    YOU AWAKE TO FIND YOURSELF IN A DARK ROOM…

    I wasn’t sure what The Dark Room was going to be like (or even going to be), only knowing it somehow invited the audience to participate in adventure-text gameplay. The humour and brilliantly twisted, absurd nature of the game aside, what was truly incredible about The Dark Room was how quickly everyone (well, those new to the game/show – many were clearly long-time fans) caught onto the catchphrases, the audience taking next to no time to form a cheering mob both eager and encouraged to cheer, jeer, and generally join in. It was like how you play games with friends, except with a room of strangers, which was pretty magic.

     

    Dance break

    I saw the 50 Hour Improvathon for the second time this year, so had more of an idea of the mania it involves, but was still pleasantly surprised when the show hit its halfway mark and there was a celebratory dance break onstage. Both cast and audience flung themselves around with abandon, the cast no doubt enjoying the mental break it afforded them, and some audience (those who’d decided to try and stick out the full weekend in the stalls) celebrating their own endurance as well as the performers’. No divides, just everyone in that theatre dancing like mad.

     

    Saving Simon McBurney

    I came to the White Rabbit, Red Rabbit party fairly late, only seeing it a couple of months ago, and am still a little amazed it never got spoiled for me. [Warning: spoilers ahoy.] What I remember so strongly about that show was how ineffective my internal monologue of ‘it’s just pretend’ became. I’ve actually seen a few shows this year that climax with someone’s suicide, but none made me feel as tense, complicit and concerned as the 50/50 chance McBurney was given in the show. Being the note-taker for that performance, I even took the opportunity offered to say something before he made his potentially fatal decision, repeating the earlier statement that he could leave the stage anytime he wanted. It was possibly the most invested I felt in what was happening onstage this entire year.

     

    The unavoidable favourite

    As much as I’m not making this into a list, I can’t really deny that I have a clear favourite show from this past year. It’s a show I saw back in May, but is still incredibly vivid, an HD-clarity whilst shows from only a couple of weeks back have already faded to a Betamax fuzziness. I remember leaving the venue with my head spinning from the bravery, heart, inventiveness and scope of the show, as well as the distinctive personality it seemed to possess. It was A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts (otherwise known as Show 5) by Lyric Hammersmith’s Secret Theatre company.

     

    Whilst I can appear to be an unquestioning fangirl when it comes to Secret Theatre, I wasn’t really that onboard before Show 5. I’d only seen their Woyzeck which had left me intrigued, but also unsure and a little lost as to what I’d really got from it. I’d consciously decided to wait a while before seeing another show, and caught Show 5 early in the run, before any reviews or feedback, purely by chance.

     

    Trying to move away from a succession of superlatives, I think what really grabbed me about Show 5 – what makes it still feel fresh in my mind – is that the cast never felt safe; there was never any sense that at any point in the show they’d be off the hook, on dry land or anywhere near autopilot. There was something down-to-earth about the tasks being sincerely attempted in the small rehearsal space and something exhilarating about a cast so unafraid of pushing each other.

     

    I’m tempted to see it next month (no, they’re not paying me to plug the show and yes, they absolutely should be), but I typically have a strange aversion to seeing shows twice. Of course, you could argue that two performances of Show 5 can be completely different shows. It would definitely get 2015 off to a damn fine start.

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    (Sure, maybe this post could be shortened to ‘dramaturgs are bloody great, aren’t they? Good. That’s done.’ – but hopefully I’ll get round to articulating why I think so.)

     

    It was at a recent Young Vic Directors’ Network discussion when I heard Sean Holmes talking effusively about having Joel Horwood on board as dramaturg for Secret Theatre’s Show 5/A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts, and couldn’t help but wholeheartedly agree with him about working with dramaturgs. (Okay, maybe I also agreed with the majority of everything else he said, because I’m a shameless Secret Theatre fangirl, but the dramaturg praise still stands.)

     

    It was only a couple of years ago that (in another YVDN discussion – seriously, what would I do without these) I was asking what ‘dramaturg’ actually meant. My only experience of working with a dramaturg up to that point was assisting on a week of R&D where a dramaturg was present, but I was a) too busy documenting the week’s work or b) too busy filling in for an actor in the final day (so stuck inside a giant cat costume, trying to pick up a cigarette in my paws whilst slipping over in copious amounts of fake snow) to really understand the role he played in the process.

     

    But then, for various reasons, I brought a dramaturg on board for Object Love. I still find it a bit of a fuzzy role to define, particularly as it can vary depending on the individual production/director/etc – so I can really only talk about my own, admittedly limited, experience of working with a dramaturg. So far, on this show, I’d define the dramaturg’s most significant role as being the person who drives the development of the script (and, to some extent, the shape of the production as a whole).

     

    The dramaturg identifies the main concerns of the script, the intended effect upon the audience of individual scenes and the play as a whole, the relationship between show/performers and audience that the play seeks to establish, how the show’s structure relates to its content, and then seeks to make these aims/relationships/links are as sharp and focused as possible. Perhaps this seems to some as responsibilities the writer could carry themselves – after all, no one knows what the play’s trying to do as well as the writer, right?

     

    Well, firstly, I’ll admit that – in my ‘writer’ role – I am feeling the benefit of working with a dramaturg who has, unlike me, studied scriptwriting and therefore can offer rigour and analysis in ways I wouldn’t instinctively think of. But there’s also the undeniable value of someone to exchange ideas with. Rather than writing inside a closed system consisting of your mind and the page (where, even if you do get feedback, it won’t be quite the same as the understanding and ongoing development a dramaturg can offer), working with a dramaturg turns the writing process into a more of a dialogue.

     

    Having that external eye forces you to be more disciplined; a person who stands at a slight distance to the script will more easily identify the babies that need to be killed*; someone who provides support, yet you can trust to be honest and critical, makes a huge difference in terms of your confidence to push the form or content or structure of a show.

     

    I’m not sure if it’s this ‘dialogue’ feel, or the particular style of this show (where the actors acknowledge the audience’s present throughout and regularly address them), or the concerns and focus of this particular collaborator, or a combination of those and other factors, but a huge thing I’ve gained from writing with a dramaturg has been a greater awareness of as the script as defining the performers’ relationship with the audience.

     

    We’ve talked a lot in meetings about the atmosphere that the script creates, whether it’s the abruptness of certain lines, the refusal to touch upon some subjects until late in the play, the sudden and violent shifts in tone or focus, or various potential endings, and it’s made me far more conscious of how what’s actually written (independent of possible direction and suchlike) defines the audience’s experience inside a theatre. Maybe that sounds painfully obvious and I’m just late to the party (or making a right hash of trying to articulate this – cue comment about how much this blog post could be improved with some dramaturgical input), but it’s really shifted what I think about when I’m writing and will no doubt have a significant impact once I’m on my feet and directing the show.

     

    So, basically, I quite like dramaturgs. Of course, this all hugely depends on the individual dramaturg, since it involves such close work between dramaturg and writer/director. Considering mine’s just used the word ‘tubthumping’ in his latest script feedback, I’m feeling pretty confident I’m working with the right one.

     

    *People have reacted oddly in the past when I’ve used the phrase ‘kill your babies’. It’s not something I’ve made up. It’s totally a thing.

     

    Object Love will be at VAULT Festival from 28 Jan – 1 Feb. Early bird discounts are available until 31st Dec, tickets available here.

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    The above is how a Q&A about why I’m doing a show about objectum-sexuality would likely go, if I weren’t currently trying to reduce my day-to-day snarkiness (and if there weren’t actually far better answers). The question’s been a recurring one ever since I started working on the idea, but now the show’s actually happening and I’ve even held auditions involving admired clocks/cradled guitars/beloved rooms, it’s become a lot more frequent. So I figured that maybe I should answer the question properly.

    Also, due to what I can only think is the result of a nostalgic pang for UltraCulture, there may be a couple of homespun graphs involved.

    Reason 1: sheer curiosity

    Before researching for Object Love, my primary reference point for objectum-sexuality was the documentary Married to the Eiffel Tower. I started simply wondering what a performance would be like if the venue was someone’s partner - but once I actually began researching objectum-sexuality in earnest, I became fascinated with the relationships themselves and not purely the theatrical possibilities. I had the natural curiosity that I think anyone has about objectum-sexual relationships, but this quickly grew beyond the unusual practicalities of them and into their emotional aspect. Doing a show about a subject that’s alien to most people’s experience of the world has always appealed to me

    Reason 2: it’s nice to do nice shows

    A friend once told me that practically every play I directed or liked involved suicide. That was a few years ago, but they weren’t wrong about there being a trend. I definitely have often tended towards the gothic or dark or tragic (though I once directed Twelfth Night, that’s something, right?); so it does feel like a welcome change to do a show that feels so positive. Object Love is, to me, quite an uplifting play, being focused so strongly on love and resilient, beneficial relationships (atypical as they are). Also – something that I hadn’t anticipated but has been a pleasant bonus – in developing the show, I’ve often had to consider the idea that any object could be a beloved one, which is actually quite a nice way to look at the world.

    Reason 3: the challenge

    I’m aware that most people who see Object Love will have little, if any, prior knowledge of objectum-sexuality; I’m aware it’ll be difficult to predict exactly how an audience will respond to the show; I’m aware that it’s easier (as many programmes and articles do) to not treat objectum-sexuality seriously; I’m aware that creating a show about objectum-sexuality that’s at once sensitive and entertaining, faithful and theatrical, is, let’s say, ‘tricky’.

    But challenges are fun, and the challenges inherent in transferring this subject to the stage are forcing me to create something that feels new and exciting to me, both as a writer and a director. For me, good things often come from backing yourself into a difficult or awkward corner, and having to figure a creative way out.

    Reason 4: I’ve spent too much time over the past year thinking and talking about objectum-sexuality to not, really

    Self-explanatory, this one.

    Reason 5: it’s a subject worth talking about

    No handdrawn graphs/charts/whatever for this one, because I guess I’m being a tad more serious. When speaking to objectum-sexual people as research for the show, they spoke eloquently and beautifully about their relationships and feelings for their partners. They also spoke about how few people they’d told about being OS, how they'd lost friends and family because of it, and how people even just knowing that objectum-sexuality existed would make them feel more comfortable to talk about what is a huge part of their lives. Hearing things like that does naturally give you more of an impetus to go ahead and make something.

    So that’s, generally, why I’m making the show (hopefully it also goes a little way towards saying why I think the show will be worth seeing). Working on Object Love has made me really keen to search out more unusual subjects that aren't really seen onstage - but the difficult thing about little-known subjects is, well, knowing about them in the first place. There's only so many times Cracked or Vice will unwittingly reveal a potential lead...so suggestions on a postcard, I guess.

    Object Love will be at VAULT Festival from 28 Jan – 1 Feb. Early bird discounts are available until 31 Dec, tickets are available here.

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    Casting’s been on my mind a lot lately, not just because of having just opened up applications for an upcoming show, but also due to the Young Vic’s integrated casting workshops, the most recent of which was only a couple of weeks ago. So I guess it just seemed like an apt time to write about some of the things I love about integrated casting. The below aren’t necessarily why I think integrated casting should be practiced (for that, see: my belief that the people we see onstage should reflect the people living beyond a theatre’s walls, and that homogeny onstage contributes to a homogeny in the stalls) - they're more why I see integrated casting as offering opportunities worth grasping, rather than challenges to shy from.

     

    Integrated casting, to my mind, requires you to dispense with the idea of a ‘default’ when casting (whether this is casting according to the written gender, ethnicity, age, etc of a character, or – if those aren’t explicit – according to some assumed ‘bracket’, often white, able-bodied and male, though this likely depends on the individual director).

     

    This isn’t me advocating for arbitrarily changing characters’ genders (or the genders of the performers portraying them, since the two choices are distinct)/ignoring what writers have said through their scripts*/creating a production in constant conflict with the text. It’s also not about arbitrarily avoiding casting a role within the default bracket - it’s about acknowledging that every casting, whether or not it falls in line with the designated or assumed bracket for a character, is a choice – and one that should be well justified by an understanding, knowledge and exploration of both the text** and how those choices will affect the text’s translation to live performance.

     

    Whilst it shouldn’t necessarily be this way, deviating from the norm or expected in casting usually results in a director having to justify their choices more frequently and/or rigorously – but surely that’s actually a *really* good position for a director to be in (or rather, prepare themselves to be in). For me, thinking about casting in this way makes me think in far greater detail about characters, their relationships, the power dynamics between them in different scenes, and how these elements of a production (and more) are affected by different casting options.

     

    Something else I love about integrated casting (and, I guess, is also a response I have to some of the reservations I’ve heard in discussions about it) is how directly it links to one of my favourite things about theatre. There’s something fantastic about gathering a group of people in one place – both actors and audience – and them all imagining something together. Integrated casting (typically when applied to well-known, classic texts, but often with contemporary or new writing as well) makes far more explicit the fact that theatre requires actors to pretend and audiences to suspend their disbelief.

     

    An actress playing Moliere, for instance, is of course pretending to be someone else – but so is the actor who’s still a different age, or has a different build, or a different hair colour (or, you know – not Moliere). It’s just that in the latter case, superficial aspects of the performer do part of the imaginative work for us and it feels like less effort goes into the suspension of disbelief.

     

    Adhering to certain casting brackets limits the gap between what’s onstage and the thing it's representing; challenging these typical brackets potentially widens it and requires more work on the part of the audience’s imaginations. But, for me, that’s a brilliant thing because theatre is all about asking people to imagine something and if, right from the outset, you’re asking their imaginations to work harder, that can set the tone for performances that joyfully exploit people’s imaginations. Some of the reservations I’ve heard people express with regards to integrated casting seem tied to a literalistic form of representation that seems to forget that part of the point of theatre (and of acting) is that you can take something and say that it’s something else. And what’s more, having a massive disjunct between what’s actually onstage and what it’s representing can produce brilliant effects.

     

    Naturally, there are various reasons that people may choose to cast shows diversely – and the impact of integrated casting will vary depending on the production and the individual director’s choices. There are shows you can cast diversely that don’t necessarily result in greater leaps of imagination; integrated casting doesn’t automatically require that a production only represents things in a non-literal way. This is just what excites me about integrated casting and how, rather than the potential attitude of seeing it as something that ought to be done but presents countless challenges, I see it as part of a process that encourages detailed, in-depth, imaginative and inherently theatrical work.

     

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    *Granted, in some cases, due to writers or estates, directors are denied this choice. But often it’s there and simply overlooked.

     

    **This is going to be more about integrated casting when working with a pre-existing text than not, mainly because I’m more used to working that way.

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    (Generally inspired by a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago – in the Royal Court bar, of course, as I don’t seem to exist anywhere other than rehearsal rooms, theatres, and theatre bars right now.)

     

    Whilst at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I thought quite a lot about theatre-makers’ possible responsibilities to take care of their audiences’ psychological/emotional wellbeing: whether there was such a responsibility and, if so, how far this responsibility extended and what practical ways to fulfil it.

     

    It was one of the first shows I saw that started me off on this line of thought: Theatre on a Long Thin Wire at Summerhall.*

     

    *insert generic and half-hearted spoiler warning here*

     

    No performers are physically present during Theatre… – there’s only around fifteen audience members, a chair, and a phone in the room. The phone rings and various audience members speak to the voice on the other end of the line, whilst relaying various descriptions, instructions and confessions to everyone else present.

     

    The voice on the phone clearly belongs to someone who’s quite nervous, insecure and uncomfortable around people; near the end of the show, the voice asks someone to stand beside the empty chair in the room. A girl, late teens/early twenties, does so. It becomes increasingly clear that we have been talking to someone as they prepare to commit suicide. We are instructed to count down from 10 and, at the end of the count, for the girl stood beside the chair to tip it over onto its back. The girl is visibly upset, but does not move away from the chair, instead simply shaking and trying not to cry. We count down to 1 and she, still very distressed, tips the chair backwards; the act feels somehow both like a representation of the suicide and an active enforcement of it. I walk over to the girl and ask if she’s alright. She begins to cry and we hug. After a short while, she recovers and releases me from the hug. The show now over, everyone slowly shifts out of the space.

     

    I’m not really comfortable with the above scenario. It’s not that the show made someone so distressed, but that it felt like the audience were left responsible for dealing with this – for comforting and reassuring her. Now, I’m all for shows that encourage touching, positive interactions between audience members – that use theatre as an opportunity to bring strangers together. But that wasn’t what this felt like.

     

    For one thing, the atmosphere created at that moment – the slow countdown, the general passivity of the audience (and nigh-on total absence of interaction between audience members) up until that point, the sensitive and sobering subject matter, the static and quiet performance – wasn’t one that felt designed to encourage strangers to interact, much less in quite an emotional way. The girl had actually come with friends, as became apparent to me when everyone was leaving – and they’d clearly felt hesitant about breaking the stillness and silence to comfort her, unsure generally of what happened next. (I'm inclined to suspect my own response to the above scenario isn't typical - due to various experiences as a performer or audience member, I'm quite comfortable around strangers, particularly in theatrical contexts.)

     

    Now, the show’s form meant there wasn’t a company member present – the audience were the only people present to deal with the show’s impact upon the girl. I can’t imagine many obstacles (aside from the obvious financial one – which even so, might be avoided by offering friends of the company a free ticket and some briefing) to having a plant in the audience, and thereby a person sensitive to everyone’s reactions. What concrete steps such a plant could take – whether it’s simply offering comfort and reassurance at an apt moment, or something else/more – I’m not sure of. But I think it's a possible step towards ensuring audience members aren't left in an especially vulnerable position.

     

    It feels like this question of responsibility and care is one that becomes more important as shows ask more of their audiences. Interactive performances, where audiences might make decisions or affect events, or immersive productions in which people are encouraged to role-play and involve themselves in the action, can put audience members in a far more vulnerable position than more traditionally-staged work. (Obviously a generalisation. But one that I think’s pretty justified.) If we're essentially asking audience members to place themselves in a more exposed position, surely that also means we have to be more sensitive to the potential effects on them and provide some kind of support if necessary.

     

    I don't think this is an issue that only arises in the rare cases like Theatre..., where no company members are physically present during performances. Another show at Edinburgh that made me think about this subject was Eden Gate, an immersive and interactive piece which casts the audience as survivors of a virus that has wiped out most of Britain’s population, focusing on their arrival at safe, self-sufficient compound. However, after various system errors, breaches of trust, unnerving discoveries, debates between survivors and an eventual vote, there was one particular final choice at the performance I attended: enter the compound (and undergo unavoidable medical treatment, which would erase your all memories of places, people and things), or stay in the induction room (and die from poisoning when a toxic gas is shortly released). I chose to stay in the induction room.**

     

    This alone left me feeling somewhat uneasy for a few hours, but after unpicking my reasons for making that decision, which were quite personal and emotional, I felt quite shaken for a few days. (I’m well aware of people using shows that invite role-playing as an opportunity to do things they’d never do in real life, but my decisions during Eden Gate weren’t made with that mindset, and were rooted in something sincere.)

     

    When I discussed this show and its effect on me, my friend felt the company should have done something to help make sure I was alright when the show ended – after all, they couldn’t have failed to notice my emotional behaviour and the bare fact that (within the world of the show) I’d elected to commit suicide. My instinct, however, was that the company couldn't have been expected to do anything - after all, there’s no way the makers of the show could’ve guessed at my highly personal reaction to the it, or known the extent to which my behaviour during the performance was sincere or play-acting. (There was a company member present at the performance as some kind of 'safety marshal', in case anyone became clearly upset or distressed during the show, so the company were clearly taking reasonable steps to take care of their audiences.)

     

    I'm aware of some actors, when performing in immersive and interactive shows where they may be improvising in character for several hours and don't have the control or set path that actors performing more traditionally staged, scripted work may have, perform post-show cool-downs; they list facts about themselves as a means of reinforcing the divide between their character's personality, behaviour and actions and their own. The idea of this for an audience at first seems excessive - but I wonder if there's something in it, the idea of a post-show debrief. (Why do I find it excessive for an audience and not for actors, when some shows essentially invite audience members to take up an actor's role?)

     

    This is probably the least sure I've been in any of my blog posts and - obviously - what's offered here are thoughts more than anything concrete or practical. What's the line at which a show's treatment of its audience veers into the irresponsible? (The few times I've known the accusation made, it's been in reference to Ontroerend Goed's Internal, which I've not seen so can't really comment on.) If theatre-makers are to be held responsible for ensuring that audience members aren't made isolated, vulnerable or exposed, how far does that responsibility reach? Is it to having an in-show plant or company member, having a post-show debrief for those who need it, or some other form of support? Or is this all overexaggerating what theatre-makers should do, and what audiences actually need?

     

    I'm genuinely interested to know what people make of the notion that, as interactive and immersive shows become (seemingly) more and more common, theatre-makers have a greater responsibility to ensure the safety of their audiences (this 'safety' possibly having multiple senses). It feels like it's woven into the increasing complexity of the relationship between performer (/theatre-maker) and audience, the ever-shifting contract between the two. And it's very difficult to pick out any clear, fixed points to work from.
     

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    *My friend also saw this show, but walked out part-way through – theatrical walk-outs have also been a recurring theme of conversations I’ve had lately.

    **Yes, this sounds somewhat overblown and possibly more holes than plot. But that's purely down to my condensing the show into a couple of sentences - it was remarkably well thought out with pretty damn robust internal logic (and that's with me asking no end of questions to test the show's logic during the performance. I'm such a fun audience member).

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    Last night, I watched the livestream of Forced Entertainment’s Speak Bitterness (or the latter three hours of it, at least - I’d been busy rehearsing a musical with a pug called Nigel up until then).

     

    I was mesmerised by the show (which was a stream of possible and actual confessions, all delivered as statements of what ‘we’ had done). It felt to me like an exercise in – or challenge to – empathy. It was left to the audience to impose order on the constantly spooling list of actions – to decide what mattered, which narratives weighed as more significant than others, which parties were more wronged. The audience were given responsibility for acknowledging each individual act confessed to, for preventing the ongoing stream becoming background noise, for ensuring that horrific acts weren’t lost or overlooked in amongst the chaos.

     

    But it wasn’t just the show itself that struck me (I use ‘show’ here to mean, essentially, what happened onstage – it’s arguable that what I’m going to talk about could be viewed as part of a wider show, or a show in itself). It was the experience of being on Twitter during the performance.

     

    Last night was the first time that I felt like I got Twitter, that I saw how Twitter could be good.

     

    I joined Twitter a couple of years ago because it felt like something I should do (never a great reason for doing anything). After a brief period of novelty (ending somewhere around the point when I received a DM from Rupert Goold, only to discover it was spam rather than an impromptu job offer), I settled into using it sporadically and not with any particular enthusiasm or affection.*

     

    Conversations with friends on Twitter have felt strange and misplaced, and solitary tweets akin to shouting from the rooftops (i.e. impulsively hurling messages out into the world, with little consideration for who actually hears them, if anyone at all). I think, more than anything, Twitter’s tended to strike me as a vertical, barely curated clusterfuck.

     

    But the use of/activity on Twitter during Speak Bitterness last night finally made me think ‘this is what Twitter’s for’.** I typed #FESPEAKLIVE so much it’s more ingrained in my muscle memory than my own signature. I flirted with watching the show on its own, but quickly discovered I largely preferred to watch it with the accompaniment of others’ responses, reactions and discussions.

     

    Now, the techno-wary side of me (the side that thinks of downloading apps as the start of a slippery slide towards Skynet-inflicted doom) does wonder if this is possibly a bad thing. Is my attention span so lacking that simply watching the show wasn’t enough to occupy me? Is looking to other people’s thoughts and reactions, before I’ve barely even experienced my own, a kind of mental/emotional complacency? Have I somehow slipped into preferring faceless, typed messages to the spoken words of live(streamed) performers?

     

    But, ultimately, I don’t think the role that Twitter played in last night’s performance (both for me and for many others) is a negative one. Because, for the time I was on Twitter, I felt like part of an audience, rather than some voyeur, watching both performers and audience members from a distance.

     

    And this Twitter-forged audience was a wonderful one for various reasons: first off, everyone in that audience was there because they wanted to be there. The livestream format meant that no one was being forced to watch the show – no one was sticking it out in order to get their money’s worth, or continuing to watch simply because they felt uncomfortable walking out. Those on Twitter wanted to join in the conversations being had, to share their responses and discover others’.

     

    Secondly, this was an audience able to give detailed responses to the performance in real time. The various tweets often felt akin to the laughter, tears, gasps or silences you might note in a live audience, but with the benefit of being more precisely articulated; conversations about certain moments didn’t have to wait until an interval or after the show, but happened the instant those moments occurred (something that I find far more interesting, as (for myself at least) the more immediate the response, the more instinctive and inalienable it is).

     

    Of course, no performance happens in a vacuum – but with Speak Bitterness, watched online and accompanied by Twitter, it felt like there was a greater interweaving of performance and audience than many live shows I’ve seen. Comments made about how other people reacted to different performers made me reassess how I watched the piece midway through; the confessions delivered by the performers were occasionally interrupted by ones offered by those watching. The show was, for me, shaped just as much by what other audience members said and did, as what happened onstage – and at no point did this feel intrusive or distracting, but always natural and entirely befitting the show.

     

    Maybe this is partially a result of how I view the show. If Speak Bitterness – the show happening on a stage – is an exercise in, and challenge to, empathy – then the experience of watching Speak Bitterness whilst engaging with other audience members on Twitter is merely a more complex exercise and challenge, one expanded beyond your own empathy to other individuals’, and then other groups’ (which you may or may not be a member of). What was happening on Twitter became, in and of itself, worth watching.

     

    I’m finding it hard to pin down, succinctly, what it was I felt I got about Twitter last night (here’s hoping I don’t have to wait for another Forced Entertainment livestream to get it again). I felt like I finally experienced how Twitter's uniquely positioned to facilitate fascinating conversations (rather than simply having to trust that it can). Also, in being coupled with Speak Bitterness, I saw how Twitter can be a platform for an extension or development of a show, can enhance or enrich viewing a performance online. Twitter seemed like the online space that Speak Bitterness spilled into, and being on it during the performance meant I didn't feel like some isolated and detached voyeur, but a member of a group organically formed by - and therefore somehow a part of - the show.

     

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    Additional: Jason Crouch wrote some interesting (and far more succinct) thoughts on this subject, and also has a brilliant Storify of the final #FESPEAKLIVE tweets. It shows how shamelessly I enjoyed tweeting last night that I’ve ended up on the Storify via both my personal and company accounts…

     

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    *There is one high-point where I was actually grateful for Twitter. I was able to apologise to Edgar Wright after excitedly spotting him in Angel and being so starstruck that I only managed to say ‘I fucking love you’. And he replied with a very sweet DM. But that’s a pretty niche purpose, really.

     

    **I did watch Quizoola and dabble in some tweeting then, but only caught that show in snatches, never really able to build up any Twit-steam.

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    Filthy Lucre are looking for a stage manager for Lost in the Nameless City at Bussey Building on 11th July (flat fee £50).

     

    Filthy Lucre specialise in events that move from concerts to gigs to clubnights over the course of an evening. Their upcoming event includes UK premieres from innovative composers, original commissions, orchestral covers and spoken word, all in the setting of an abandoned building in a ghost town.

     

    The stage manager would be needed to help with the get-in (from 3pm on 11th) and likely the get-out too (12th July). Responsibilities include: overlooking storage of instruments, organising orchestral set-up during get-in, timekeeping for final rehearsal and break before performance, co-ordinating use of equipment during performance, and assessing any health and safety concerns (I will be able to offer some support in these roles if necessary). The majority of responsibilities are pre-performance, leaving you largely free to enjoy the original and unique performances during the evening.

     

    Experience of working with an orchestra is desirable but not essential. 

     

    If you're interested, please get in touch at cmashiter@hotmail.co.uk by 24th June with a CV and short paragraph detailing your interest in the event.

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