Ten tips for theatre makers

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1. Collect data.

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Aside from evidencing everything you do, numbers of creatives, participants, audience etc. related factoids and statistics from trade papers, general media and specialist organisations can be helpful. 

Its neither interesting to write about nor fun to do but nothing values your proposed work better than a clear need for it evidenced by a percentage.

 

2. Compare and contrast

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Learn about the work of peers in your field, make friends, have coffee, share experiences, tips, support and mutual respect.

You can then ensure that all of your planning and output clearly defines your differences and flags your USP. 

 

3. Make facetime meetings

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Being in the same real world space with another human being is invaluable, theatre is a people-focused creative process and the dynamics between people at each point in the journey to the work inform the work itself.

4. Learn to predict

Design Buch von Condé Nast International für Mercedes-Benz

It takes a long time for any theatre project to reach the stage. Content is anticipated months or years before its delivered.  Research current and upcoming productions for trends, consider the world and politics and anticipate, as best you can, the space your target human psyche is likely to inhabit at this future time.

You can then generate work appropriate for this imagined future.

 

5. Chase the dream, not the funding

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Projects cost what they cost to realise.  Hitting a figure because its available reads to a funder like hitting a figure because its available.  It needs to feel important and stimulating enough to do without any money being involved at all.

Its art, not a transaction.

 

6. Know the difference between persistence and being a pest

 

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Not everyone wants to work with you. Read the signals. Stop just before someone is likely to give you a definite ‘No’. Keep doors open for next time.  Don’t be irritating. Radiate happiness and positivity.  

You’re privileged to be doing something you love as your job, most people aren’t.

 

7. Expect timelines to stretch

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Time gives air and space to projects, new collaborations form and artistic content gets richer.  Fight any urge to do anything quickly and relish time taken thinking strategically, its never wasted.

 

8. Offer something

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In kind contributions and cash investments are of great value to projects, clarity about what you’re offering and what value you’re bringing in return is vital.

Your theatre work has to give something useful, enriching and unique, know exactly what it is and be ready to make that case.

 

9. Review sent and received email

The Letter

There may be a positive response you’ve forgotten, an invitation to be ‘updated’ or an email you sent which was never replied to which warrants a follow up.

Your future may lie in your past.

 

10 .Embrace the long term view

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None of it is now, its all tomorrow and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Risk, theatre and a divided nation

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Opportunities to make theatre are rare.

In the realm of venue-based work the theatre maker needs to dive into a commitment to a vision, attract allies with an original idea and then push up and through a series of waves to eventual production.

A show is the consequence of persistence and alchemy, the right idea plus the right money plus the right people at the right time.

It’s a long game.

Where the aim is to reflect our society dramatically (as it most usually is in theatre which speaks to general audiences) prediction of zeitgeist, and hitting that trend before its passé, or before its even happened, requires almost psychic levels of precognition.

And luck.

And courage. Or lack of a fear of failure. AKA taking a ‘risk’.

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Painting by Eric Zaner

There are two main areas of risk in theatre, financial and creative.

Common sense dictates that high financial risk equals bad and that high creative risk equals good but both come with modifiers.

Some financial risk, for investors from funders through to ticket buyers is desirable. The unknown’s of a theatre experience make for excitement, the more intriguing the concept and story, the ‘what if?’ the surprising casting and the buzz around the show the more risks investors will take.

Conversely all creative risks need parameters; who wants the play to not speak to anyone in the audience at all or for the stunningly designed glass set to dazzle the audience when lit?

Finding the boundaries for both kinds of theatre risk is hard right now.

Money for most people is very tight and opinion on virtually everything is unpredictable, party lines no longer apply, bigotry calls itself patriotism. The choice feels like put up and shut up or risk approbation but the consequence of rattling cages and challenging the status quo is rarely empty houses.

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Painting by Eric Zaner

Theatre history indicates that agitation and dissent in dramatic format has acted as focus and catalyst for change, provoking it or mirroring and amplifying movements in society.

Ibsens’ DOLLS HOUSE, questioning female subjugation caused outrage but lit fires, THE CHILDRENS’ HOUR, TORCH SONG TRILOGY and ANGELS IN AMERICA addressed injustice and drove gay rights forwards and BEHTZI questioned abuse and violence veiled by religious impunity.

In an era where much that is progressive in terms of equality and emancipation is in jeopardy drama representing the journeys, status and values of people with learning and other disabilities can speak volumes to people of all kinds trying to make sense of a skewed current reality.

Funding cuts and Crowdfunder fatigue don’t have to equal a retreat into known theatrical formulae. Creative risks can get bigger.

If the fields are on fire why not bet the farm? Why not spit in the eye of political meltdown with a pot boiling musical about a modern day UKIP voting Boadicea and her daughters?

In an uncertain and volatile political climate, when we’re aiming to make work for a society split in two, its vital that theatre deals with contemporary UK life, with its division, prejudice, shocking poverty, nostalgic self-delusion, neglect, resurgent class distinction and simmering anger and ensure that people with vastly different opinions are able to sit next to each other and consider alternative stories, with cathartic endings, offering views which lead to a vision for a better future.

If theatre of contemporary societal and political relevance becomes too hard to countenance for fear of upsetting one side or the other then we’re all the poorer.

The loss of an agitating and provocative theatre experience for a disparate and diverse audience is the biggest potential risk of all.

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Writing paraphernalia

Juvenilia…

The School Pencilpencil

Achingly hard edged and dryly H graded when a dash of B would have assisted with colouring in doodles on the bottom of maths notebooks, the school pencil acted as an early introduction to the joys of displacement activity by virtue of the….

Teachers’ desk sharpenersharpener

Positioned on Misses desk and accessible to all not as an embodiment of shared ownership but as a demonstration of hierarchy; entry to the larger, sharper opening only bestowed on the favoured, alongside the privilege of autonomous handle turning. 

 

Learner fountain pen, coloured pencils and ink

 

 

 

Leaner fountain pen: perfect for pretending to smoke and shoot with, less effective for writing with a tendency to splash Rorschach patterns all over your tectonic plates essay.

Coloured pencils: the tools with which to become an internationally renowned artist once you’ve worked out how to do perspective and draw hands.

Ink: blue black so rich in the jar you want to dive into it. Classier design than anything anyone could ever write.  An object to look and marvel at.

 

Sticky tape you can write onto

 

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Anything is now possible.

Including expletives on the back of peoples’ blazers.

Maturity…
The Manual typewritersilver-reed_silverette

You are a writer because you have one of these in a case with a handle which makes it PORTABLE.

It makes a proper Virginia Woolf style NOISE when you bash away at it and everything else on the desk jumps into the air.  It is imperative to chain smoke when using one. Demands carbon paper as there is no such thing as photocopies yet. Make one mistake on a page of dialogue and you must start again. Encourages thought before pressing keys. Makes hands hurt and heart pound.

 

A word processor actually, what do you drive?

 

 

 

Welcome to the mid 90’s.

You now have a screen on which you can edit 3.5 lines of dialogue before you then press a button and it rattles out really fast onto the page like a telex machine type thing while you sit back and light a fag.  Smoking is still necessary.

A MAJOR INNOVATION is the CORRECTOR ribbon inside. It is now possible to make mistakes and go backwards over the word with white stuff on a reel and it almost looks like no mistake was ever made. Brilliant.  It has a handle too and is just as portable at 5 kilos as the manual typewriter.

 

Transitional period…

From treasury tags to Acco clips, or trombones, the means with which to secure pages in a script gently and imperceptibly shifted from the rope to the metal age.

 

 

 

And today…

 

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Audio recording

 

“You are most powerful when you are most silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defence, offence, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging from their mouths. Silence? No.”

Alison McGhee/Author

 

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“Theatre is a mirror, a sharp reflection of society.”

Yasmin Reza/Playwright

“If you want people to come to the theatre you have to make theatre inclusive. You have to lure people by getting them excited about a theatrical experience.”

Catherine Tate/Actor

 

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‘Theatre is a way of showing us lives far beyond our own experience; but it lets us into those stories by reflecting our own lives.”

Mark Shenton/Critic

 

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How to write a report

10 tips: advice to self- not necessarily followed.

1. Use an appropriate writing style

 

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Reports offer information.

Resist the almost overwhelming urge to add florid descriptions, narrative twists, cartoons, exclamation marks, swearing, Russian or dialogue.

Your audience doesn’t want to be entertained.  

Your audience wants to feel wiser than they were before reading your report.

And no jokes whatsoever.

Reports are not funny.

 

2. Reap and ye shall sow

 

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A report is an organic sausage; its flavour directly correlates to the quality and density of ingredients contained within.

Gather up factoids of use in a text box when stumped on page 33.

Pull in opinions and lists until your idea harvesting hands are calloused and stained red with opinion.

Only when the field is empty and devoid of material shall ye actually write anything.

 

3. Evidence everything

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Fact.

Not fiction.

Enough said.

 

4. Weights and measures

 

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The difference in postage price for envelopes under and envelopes over 250 grammes is considerable.

The wise report writer considers this when choosing paper weights and determining report length.

This is experience talking…

Not wisdom.

 

 

 

5. Cast iron copper bottom ad nauseum proof reading

 

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Proof read, leave, return and proof read and repeat countless times.

Proof read, ignore for a fortnight, return and proof read many times more until nothing on any of the pages makes any sense at all.

Give to anyone who can bear it to proof read, when they stop speaking to you pay someone to do it and then do it again as much as you possibly can, neglecting everything and everyone else in your life.

Finally, deal with the inevitable errors that still make their way to print and hope they’re not too noticeable.

 

6. Say the same thing 3 times over

 

série répétition, Paris, France, 2013

 

Say the same thing in three different ways and it will be read and absorbed.

In other kinds of writing repetition is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs, in story arcs, chapters/scenes and definitely in sentences.

In a report, it’s helpful and makes the argument clear.

Funny that, and yet not funny at all of course, because its a report.

 

7. When typesetting use no more than two fonts

 

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Its written.  

Its taken a while and it says what it needs to say.

You’re pleased yes, but its been a dry old process. 

You open up InDesign and now its CARNIVAL TIME! You cut and paste your findings into text boxes, a literary Sarah Lucas.  You slap in obscure fonts you’ve downloaded into your typekit and-yeah- do them in different sizes and colours too. The words you’ve been staring at for so long can suddenly become REALLY INTERESTING. You are WHACKY and CREATIVE and UNIQUE!

And then you realise its virtually impossible to read and inaccessible to anyone without superhero vision.

It then takes a soul obliterating epoch to rectify it all.

So…

Before starting choose two accessible fonts and two sizes.  One for titles/boxes and one for the main body of the text. The odd italic and bold is as outre as you’re going to go from here on in.

A report is to be read and understood, not marvelled over.

Just calm down.

 

8. Don’t put text on top of photos

 

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Only graphic designers can do this and make it look good.

You’re not a graphic designer.

Wind your neck in.

 

9. Check every box that comes back from the printers

 

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Printers sometimes make mistakes.  

The mistakes are sometimes not at the top of the box.

The mistakes can be epic in proportion, double covers, missing pages, upside down chapters, smudges, pages stapled together…

Check every single copy.

 

10.  Expect to be hated in the Post Office

 

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Its rare to send things through the post.

Going to the counter with 60 envelopes which then have to be fed through a post code gleaning machine one by one can cause a distinct atmosphere shift behind your left shoulder.

Don’t go during a busy period.

 

 

 

 

From a scream to a whisper

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Every actor knows that shouting on stage only works in tiny doses but that speaking quietly, with conviction, makes an audience lean in…and listen.

This weeks’ Arts Council and British Council supported NO BOUNDARIES conference, live-linked between Hull Truck Theatre and Home in Manchester was a gathering of the UK cultural clan.

The great, the good and the doing it anyway to the best of their ability sat in the two auditoria, in front of a heady mix of opinion, reflection and prophecy delivered rapid fire, in 10 minute blocks, by a diverse range of speakers. 

Provocations from dynamic artists, producers, shapers and thinkers chewed over the indigestible Brexit cud, and break out groups wrestled with challenges for the arts around identity, collaboration, diversity and it’s birth mother- inclusion- brought giddily out of the Ashram on the hill and back into town-  a repositioning generally viewed as a far better active aim- after all it’s very possible to be diverse without including anyone in anything, least of all decision-making.

The symposium highlighted disability-focused theatre as a political mechanism and platform, powerfully articulated by the extraordinary Jess Thom.

The Separate Doors 2 project ignites at RADA in London next week and the NO BOUNDARIES symposium served as a timely reminder of the many different ways people are fighting the battle for disability representation in theatre.

Complementing the polemic charge, Separate Doors 2 aims to find routes for actors with moderate learning disabilities, less equipped to fight verbal battles, to take their place on stages, in stories crafted to move, to shift perception, assumption and prejudice via imagination and analogy.

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It’s hoped that by finding a place for exceptional actors with learning disabilities on main stages, in TV and film, collaborating with exceptional writers and directors, in drama and comedy that appeals to general audiences that the rudderless dark sailed boat the UK currently drifts along in is guided away from the rocks by warm breezes of knowledge and understanding.

Or at least to be part of that drive for a broad-viewed future.

The artistic integration in high quality theatre programming and making that Separate Doors 2 wants to encourage won’t shout, but it will influence those who need to hear the message, delivering a compelling argument for inclusion to those who can effect change… in a whisper.

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Pioneers at RADA

Separate Doors 2 aims to change the UK theatre landscape for the better, offering tools for producers and directors to cast actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.

The project, focused on an exploration of the silent approach with RADA in London, starts soon.

Its going to be a dynamic and diverse rehearsal room.

Here are some of the key creatives making fire…

 

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This is me. I’ll be producing, directing some new writing, chairing the panel at the event and writing a printed report of the whole project. I can’t wait to work in the rehearsal room with this inspiring and brilliant team, all committed to finding ways to build bridges into general programme work for exceptional actors with learning disabilities.

 

Geoff BullenGeoff Bullen is director of short courses at RADA where he is Emeritus Director of actor training and specialises in teaching Shakespeare. Geoff will work with me to direct the project in the rehearsal room and in the performance space.

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Toby Meredith will work with me and the RADA team on the silent approach and in developing character through scene work. A graduate of Dark Horse actor training programmes he recently worked on the research and development process for A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY.

Jack Condon is a finJack Condonal year student actor at RADA and he’ll be working with the team to explore Shakespearean text, character and ensemble movement work, developing skills in the silent approach and considering the opportunities offered by working as an actor in an integrated process.

 

 

Version 2Rebekah Hill is a Dark Horse actor training graduate with production experience.  She’ll develop character and scenes using the silent approach and Stanislavsky based techniques. 

 

 

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Angela Gasparetto is a movement director and specialist and she will explore the silent approach and the possibilities of integrated work with an emphasis on physicality. 

 

 

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Joe Sproulle is an actor with production and national touring experience who recently worked on the research and development process for A MAN WITH DOWNS’ SYNDROME TALKS ABOUT LOVE AND TELLS A STORY. Trained in the silent approach he looks forward to sharing and developing his skills within this project ensemble.

Joel Trill

 

Joel Trill is a voice and accent specialist and he will collaborate with the directors and ensemble to explore sound, character and vocal transformation through story, working with and learning about the silent approach and integrated rehearsal processes.

 

 

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Alice Rogers has recently graduated from a Dark Horse foundation acting course and is developing her skills in the silent approach and building performance for production. 

 

 

Gary LagdenGary Lagden is a text and acting technique specialist and he will work with the silent approach to explore non verbal narrative and technique for actors with learning disabilities in integrated work which plays out to general audiences. 

 

 

A further female actor, two Assistant Directors and two creative associates complete the team, more news is to come soon alongside information re: the esteemed panel who’ll debate potential and obstacles in representation and casting after the process showing at RADA.

It all shapes up to be very exciting indeed, check in to the Separate Doors 2 page on this site for insights into the project as it happens.

Making tomorrows theatre today.

 

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