The beautiful drawings in this blog are all by Manchester based artist Liz Ackerley, an inspiration in this playwriting process, (She’s graciously allowed the use of her images here).
I’ve dipped into Liz’s visual world as I’ve developed the first draft of I Love You Baby and as I move forwards (With Director’s hat on) into thinking about rehearsal room exercises and improvisations for the actors, in preparation for the scratch performances, her drawings feature large in my contextualisation of the onstage activity.
Place and a sense of it are very important when building an imagined world, for playwright, actors and designers alike.
Each of us in the creative team will have our own reference points and these are mine.
I know Salford a little but Liz’s drawings have helped me to root my internal view of Samantha’s penthouse apartment, and what surrounds it, into a reality- not a photographic one as this is too stark somehow- but an interpretation of a place which falls in well with the landscape I imagine.
Before making the move into the urban world at the beginning of the play Clarence lived with his elderly mother in a cottage in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The drawing above took me into Clarence’s past, a context he grieves for.
Liz’s drawings in the countryside have provided Clarence’s memories for me, which in turn inform his choices in the moment-to-moment activity of the play.
The sense of somewhere remote, with an established community and rural feel was important when developing his character and thinking about the clash of culture he experiences when he moves from east to west into Samantha’s apartment on the other side of a busy Manchester.
Middle sister Grace is a nurturer and professional carer for dogs of varying pedigrees and this drawing of a greyhound called Tanzi would be just the kind of thing she’d like to have on her wall in her living room in her house adjoining kennels somewhere in the Pennines.
Younger sister Sadie comes to Salford from London and Liz’s drawing of Camden Lock drew me into an area north of the river which makes sense for Sadie’s night-life focused existence- the image below resonated.
The context I’ve drawn from Liz’s work has been invaluable and demonstrates one of the principals of playwriting in particular and theatre-making in general.
It’s a collaborative medium.
Novelist’s novel away in private and can choose never to meet or communicative with their readers, their publishers, their cover designers and the people who put their book into a carrier bag and sort out the change. A solitary process and a single vision.
Writing a play involves a single vision at the outset but from a first draft onwards (In my case, usually) the glimmering light of that original idea ignites various other tapers in a long journey towards production and beyond.
Playwrights write for creative teams, directors, designers, actors and composers, production teams, technicians and stage managers and venues, marketeers, front of house teams, groups of specific people who the play may be of interest to, and ultimately- hopefully- any human being in pursuit of a story and ideas that entertain and engage.
I Love You Baby has entered the ‘opening out’ phase of the work.
In October I’ll direct the first process workshops for interested people, followed by a scratch performance in the round at project partners the Stephen Joseph Theatre, working with Artistic Director Chris Monks and Outreach officer Cheryl Govan to interest and engage a new audience.
Next week I’m at project partners Dark Horse who are resident at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, auditioning actors for the role of Tyler. I’m also working with Matthew Eames at further project partners The Lowry in Salford, in anticipation of the scratch performance there in November and I’m beginning a series of discussions with the set and costume designer and the digital projection designer for the planned ultimate production alongside some initial swimming in the aural landscape with the composer. Seven further actors are about to start their journey with the play and dozens of other people will input into it’s development over the next few weeks.
Playwriting is not for the introverted garret-residing fedora wearer, it’s a carnival of collaboration happening both on the street below and up close and personal, terrifying and exhilarating by turns.
He has thousands of recipes stored on his computer.
He used to pick fresh ingredients from the garden and the greenhouse at the cottage he shared with his Mum.
Now she’s gone and he’s moved into Samantha’s apartment he uses the supermarket for ingredients instead.
This is one of Clarence’s favourite recipes which he’s just added to his database.
Summer salmon salad
275g small tomatoes (Home grown are the best)
1 tbsp of olive oil
I crushed garlic clove, two if you’re feeling adventurous
I whole bunch of spring onions
250g of puy lentils (You can buy these in packets ready cooked from the Tesco Express across the road)
I tbsp of red wine vinegar
A handful of rosemary picked from next to the strawberry beds high up where the cat can’t get to it
A twist of thyme from the trough outside the kitchen window
One small chilli pulled from the plant on the coffee table
Or all/any of the above bought from the shop
70g of rocket or spinach leaves
2 salmon fillets already cooked and chilled (Tesco’s do these too)
1. The Aga needs to be hot. If you don’t have an Aga and live in on the 14th floor of a building instead where you can’t have one because it would fall through the ceiling apparently then preheat the oven to 180c or gas mark 4. Cut the tomatoes in half and put them onto a baking tray with some of the herbs sprinkled over the top. Cook for about 20 minutes. Long enough for a medium sized cup of tea and a rich tea biscuit. Take them out of the oven and let them cool down for a while.
2. Heat the oil in a big well sealed frying pan or one of Samantha’s fancy copper pots which are very heavy to lift up, difficult to clean and which you can’t get a proper stir going in. Put the garlic in and after a minute or so add the spring onions. Cook and stir as best you can for 1 to 2 minutes until they brown a little and then add the cooked lentils and fry for about 5 minutes until they’re heated through. The smell is lovely and woody. Like having a fire at the end of the cottage garden at sunset. Take them off the heat and let them relax for a bit. Its important that humans do that too sometimes they say. Don’t they?
3. Go back to the pan which is now cooler, not cold, but warmish. Now add the oven-roasted tomatoes and the red wine vinegar and mix together gently. Then put the green leaves in and stir them a little too, gently. Spoon into bowls which you’ve warmed in the Aga- no the microwave, you can heat them in the microwave- and serve with the salmon fillet on the top and the rest of the herbs. You can eat it at the dining table with someone you love. Or you can eat it on your own at the breakfast bar looking out over the city. It tastes the same in both places. It just feels different. Emptier.
You say participate, I say encounter…Let’s call the whole thing off.
The role of audience member in theatre currently takes two main forms.
The first form is participatory and it’s all the rage.
Being a participant audience member can mean: becoming a character in a live narrative, handling props, wearing a costume and being a member of a militia/choir/dystopian nation, choosing dramatic outcomes, shooting a gun, working the lights, cracking open a fluorescent baton, conducting the orchestra, writing the script, pressing buttons, singing, waving children at motion sensors, having your selfie blown up and projected to thousands of people and all possible manner of physical and emotional intervention and immersion in the event/concept/performance.
The second form, encountering theatre most usually means buying a ticket and watching actors deliver a piece of drama in a venue.
Encountering can pale due to the sheer novelty value, va-va-voom and occasional excellence of participation. ‘I’m going to pay twenty five pounds to sit in a seat in a dark space and
watch craftspeople deliver Peer Gynt’ feels distinctly dry when the participatory alternative is to run down the High Street with a flaming torch dressed as a troll while Bjork booms out of the back of a lorry, especially when it’s also absolutely free to wear the wicked hats with horns.
Both kinds of audience experience can live happily side by side but when one form begins to supercede the other in terms of both audience interest and economic expediency then there are some tough questions for producers to answer.
Have audiences had enough of high ticket prices in places they have to travel to, and do they want instead to be an active part of an experience which comes to them, and is often free? Is the whole idea of paying to watch theatre professionals at the top of their game old fashioned?
Theatre’s old and new have been built, and continue to be run, at public expense to house audiences watching works on stages. Actors, technicians, playwrights and directors are trained to work in these purpose built spaces. If the audience is less interested in the work on the stage than in the site specific piece taking place in a caravan in the car park then there is a clear dissonance.
Both experiences can be excellent or dire. Both can engage or repel.
At cost of sounding like an audience theorist with an axe to grind perhaps one can inform the other and the new golden age of (Fanfare or raspberry here if you wish to participate and internal rumination if you are simply encountering the blog experience) encounterpation can begin.
I like theatre spaces, love them in fact, love working in them and visiting them as an audience member and on both counts have a vested interest in seeing them thrive.
I want audiences to come to see I Love You Baby and am aware that working from the outset with an eye to audience engagement is crucial.
In preparation for this autumns scratch performances I’m chewing over central questions about who the production is pitched towards and how to make elements of participation- as it’s now understood- work inside a theatre venue (In order to attract an audience happily engaged by participation into an ‘encounter’ space). Traditionally this has been done through compelling writing and engaging performances and the aim is certainly to do that- but also to add a whole new layer of experience for theatre-goers whose expectation of visual and aural stimulation and control over theatrical activity is key.
At every stage of life we engage as audience, most usually in the context of social ritual, and its a collective experience. Everybody learns that it’s appropriate to make certain sounds when seeing a new baby, to chant at a football match, to smile and look delighted when watching someone else open a birthday present, and how to make the right noises and facial expressions for accidents and announcements, gauging the reactions of others around us and modifying as necessary.
Audience behaviour is society at its most conventional and least independent (As fascist dictators have always known to everybody’s cost) and this perhaps is one of the reasons why it’s approached with a degree of suspicion and fear. The praise or admonishment of the crowd is a primeval thing, ask any actor who’s been in a controversial play. Effective theatre in all its manifestations is powerful, and needs an audience, and is hard to control, there’s no getting away from that fact. (Retreating behind a cloak of non- hierarchical participation is in my opinion disingenuous as it simply means the auteurs directors and writers are hidden, let’s not kid ourselves that they’re not still there).
Theatre lives or dies by the reaction of the crowd. And a crowd being led by a story is still a crowd being led. A crowd or an audience given a decision, over life or death, or over the outcome of a drama, is very powerful indeed. We were all urging the Emperors thumb up or down in the Coliseum, we’re all urging Simon’s yes in the X factor and the roar of the crowd when the right choice- or the wrong- choice is made is the universal stuff of great drama.
Religious rituals are often active and physical, pilgrims encircling the haag are engaged in a visceral communal experience.
It’s possible to have an audience with the Pope and doctors still enjoy a healthy front row when operating in theatres.
We aim for a large house when getting married and perhaps an even larger one when leaving for the next room.
At both weddings and funerals the role of audience is clearly defined. In both instances encounterpationists wait for a very long time with good humour, listening, throwing things, eating and drinking and dancing, the sole difference between the two being the direction in which the flowers are hurled.
We know how to behave due to family lore and popular culture, the bulk of the UK population having gained most of its learning for these pivotal life events via Eastenders and Coronation Street.
Everyone knows where they are with these real life happenings where we’re called upon to be audience.
We know what to wear, what to expect, how to behave and that there’s usually something in all of them that is in some way, if not enjoyable, then certainly cathartic.
The issue with theatre and audience right now perhaps is that those expectations and the role isn’t quite so clear and rather than handing over the reins to the audience and balking the question, we need perhaps to make sure that what we’re delivering both inside the buildings and outside is something that people feel ownership and ease with.
Encounterpation will be central to thinking about engagement for I Love You Baby, and it starts with a firm promise never to use that word again.
TYLER is in his late twenties. He’s from Salford and he’s smart and knows where he’s going. He can talk too- he’s the smoothest talker. He left school a little early due to a misunderstanding about something he had going on with a teacher, but it was all good. For two years he worked in a call centre selling medical insurance, brilliantly- he was top of the leader board every week. He lived with his Mum, a single parent and his brothers and sisters in a high rise with a view over a building site but with the city in the distance and it was those lights twinkling away 24/7 that called out to him. He ducked and dived a bit trying to get a foot in the door. Worked as a holiday rep in Ibiza which was OK but no money, sold things for a while- the less said about that the better- and then came back home because of some personal stuff with his Mum. He followed the lights and got some work in offices, picking up some skills and now he works for Samantha as an Executive Assistant and this is the sweetest job ever- for so many reasons-but there needs to be a future doesn’t there? And that’s the issue right now. The big what’s next…
And now I need to cast an actor and work with him to move the character on through the development process so we can jointly and collaboratively work out what Tyler wants.
Most current working playwrights have multi-facted roles in the theatre making process, either they’re producer/directors like me or they’re very much immersed in the ongoing collaboration.
My apprenticeship involved bashing away in solitude, producing a draft and then handing it over to the director who would then set about casting, either from a standing company or, more likely, breaking down the roles into bitesize chunks of description and sending out a call to agents and/or casting service the spotlight.
The playwright waited for a date for auditions to be held and then sat in a chair next to the director, sometimes a casting director too, and listened and watched and chipped in occasionally as various actors read the script brilliantly or not so brilliantly and then the director made his/her choices and it was time to disappear again until the first day of rehearsal. The playwrighterly disappearing continued throughout the rehearsal process until the show opened and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief because the writer had disappeared for good.
A slick functional operation offering clear separation between creative departments it none the less felt like the opportunity for some exciting work was being missed- the fundamental connection between writer and actor- and fuller interaction and co-operation is now more likely to be factored into the early stages of making new work, brand new playwrights included.
It’s tremendously beneficial to work with actors- the principal drivers in theatre making- at the beginning of a new play and production process, so that they can feed the writer, as much as the writer feeds them.
After a few years of old school restless witnessing, I jumped out of the writers chair and into the directors and my process evolved as I started to cast actors before writing, at the concept stage.
I LOVE YOU BABY has been written to this point with four actors in mind.
Clarence and his sisters Samantha, Grace and Sadie have been clear entities to me during the first draft process as the actors who will deliver the initial scratch performances are already known to me, however I left the character of Tyler un-cast as I wanted to have a good look at him through this first draft.
He exists very much in reaction to other characters and I wanted to look at just that, how he reacted.
These are tough time for everybody, for those who work in the arts and for young people who want to get a foot in the door, and make a career out of something which will never pay riches but which enriches the whole of society.
I was lucky enough to be just on the tail end of a state subsidised grant system that saw me through drama school and into the acting profession, assistance which enabled me to do what I really wanted to do, and without which there would definitely have been no training for me, no further opportunity and no career.
Important debate is currently taking place around diversity in casting and like most of my colleagues and peers it’s an issue I take very seriously. If a new generation of actors isn’t developed from the broadest possible base then theatre becomes narrow and the preserve of the privileged, and the rich panoply of creative work generated over the past two decades withers on the vine.
Increasingly students from economically challenged backgrounds are precluded from actor training and it seems therefore increasingly unfair to focus casting searches on drama school trained actors.
This puts increased responsibility on producers and directors to mentor and train new talent on the job (As was the case in the 1940’s and 1950’s) but if this is what it takes to ensure a theatre fit to represent a 21st century society where disability, race, gender, sexuality and difference of all kinds is embraced and celebrated then so be it.
Sarah Brigham at Derby Theatre is heading up some serious current conversation around diversity and casting and the Guardians’ Lyn Gardner has also written incisively around the subject.
Companies such as Dark Horse theatre and others with a remit to offer opportunity and training to talented people with minority life experiences need to be supported to be able to continue to provide space for the excellent and under-represented to be seen on main stages.
Writers, directors and companies are continuing to bring new talent on and to offer chances to as broad a talent base as possible and, as times constrain options more and more, there is a greater impetus to look as broadly as possible for tomorrows actors.
I aim with the casting of Tyler to find an actor for whom this is a break- and an actor who might not get that break elsewhere.
An eclectic list of all kinds of things connected with the research harvest for the first draft of the play…
Aspiration, according to most dictionary definitions, is the hope for- and active striving to achieve- something better, it’s ambition coined in terms of the acquisition of ‘stuff’. A bigger house, better car and a wall-sized TV. The 80’s were meant to make us all ferociously aspirational and the lack of a political nod towards this veracity was blamed for labours defeat in the last election. We all (Allegedly) simply want a bigger one- give us a bigger one and we’re laughing. Aspiration also means the ingestion of water, or a foreign body into the lungs- in which case bigger is definitely not better.
In 2012 there were 698,512 births in the UK. Over the past ten years there have been 1,388 babies born to same sex couples and 1,149 babies born to single women.
Around 25 per cent of women are childless at 45. 13.5 per cent of single parent families are headed up by fathers.
In 1900 most babies would not live beyond 50, now, in most developed countries, babies born today will live beyond 85 and many beyond 100
(All things being equal, barring global meltdown, disease, war and all the rest of course).
A now popular term for an older woman ‘dating’ a younger partner or partners, with connotations of predatory and preying behaviour as befits a big sexy catlady with long claws, clangy jewellry and silver whiskers. Opinion differs with regard to entry age criteria for cougardom- ask a teenager and it begins at 30 and ask a 45 year old and it doesn’t happen until the Saga brochures start dropping onto the doormat- but all will agree that the younger partner in these relationships needs to be good-looking, enthusiastic and thick-skinned.
The average wedding in the UK costs £22,000 with the average divorce coming in at £39,000. As Cilla Black might say ‘Worra lorra wonga’. In 2008 marriages were at their lowest rate since 1895 but recently marriage rates have been on the rise again and divorce is now on the decline (Apart from in the older age groups, see above- maybe due to the rise of the ‘cougar’?).
Many engagements take place in exotic locations with lush cities like New York, Rome, Sydney San Francisco and Paris topping the question popping destination list.
There is however a market for the more adventurous and quirky proposer so a trip to the top of Mount Snowdon, or kayaking in the Lake District may have a ring attached- once the wet suits have been peeled off and the trench foot treated.
On the other hand you may just have been asked on holiday and erroneously spent the entire time moping over a brown paper wrapped box in your significant others suitcase, only to discover it contains a set of faulty spark plugs to be taken back to Kwikfit on the return journey.
Cemetery space is running out (25 per cent of councils state that there is no space at all left for burials and doubling up in older graves has become an option) and yet 150,000 people are still buried each year. Solutions to the after death overcrowding issue are many and various and go beyond the standard cremation option. Crymation involves freezing leaving a readily disposable powder, resomation takes the opposite approach by dipping into very hot alkaline and again leaves little ‘material’ to dispose of at the end of the process, and for those looking for something a little bit special human ashes can be transmogrified into engagement ready diamonds.
More recently a green option has been put forward in the form of ‘pods’ which will ultimately become trees.
Thriving town and artistic hub in West Yorkshire, home of the beautiful Lawrence Batley Theatre (Once a thousand seater Wesleyan Chapel, renovated and named after cash and carry magnate Lawrence Batley) and the excellent Dark Horse Theatre. Full of amazing industrial revolution architecture, fine ale from local breweries and more grade one listed chimney pots than anywhere else in the UK. When in Huddersfield look up at the magnificent building tops, and smile- it’s been voted the happiest town in England.
2.4 billion people use the internet globally (1.7 billion of these people are in Asia) and 40,000 google searches are made every second. 8.7 billion machines are engaged in work connect to the internet. 62% of all email is spam and where 1% of British people used the internet in 1995 today it’s a whopping 45%. In 2013 73% of people used social media, 74% of them were women and 42% men.
It’s not going to get smaller, it’s predicted that further ‘layers’, new internets will evolve over the next few years to deal with increased traffic but it’s likely that our current naivety with regard to data and security will mature and develop.
Every post we make on social media and to a high degree every internet action we’ve ever taken is searchable (The American Library of Congress maintains a record of every single tweet published) and our current lack of awareness of this invisibility can lead to ill advised private photo sessions which are later posted, and comments about employers which attract slander and defamation suits- not to mention dismissal.
A hybrid, or ‘designer’ dog- a cross between a Japanese Chin and a Yorkshire Terrier.
Celebrities and reality TV stars have added to the taste and market for cross bred dogs, the ‘sell’ being the perceived virtue of two particular breeds doubled up when matched together. The Dalmapoodle (Dalmation and poodle- charm and bounce), Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel and poodle- loyalty and bounce) and Boodle (Bulldog and poodle- ballsiness and bounce) have all proved popular in recent years.
The idea of designer dogs is for many a Frankenstein-ish notion, bringing to the fore as it does knowledge about the genetic engineering and manipulation of breeding lines that has always been a part of farming but for most of us is out of sight and out of mind, a long way away from the vacuum packed slices of perfectly formed meat on display in the supermarket.
However it has been increasingly revealed that the act of cross-breeding hybrid dogs amplifies the risks of genetic conditions which lead to a less than happy life for the animals concerned. In the case of labradoodles the known hip weakness of labradors and eyesight issues of poodles find themselves compounded and amplified in the hybrids.
This plus easy access to dog purchase on the internet, no licensing and celebrity endorsement has led to boom times for abandoned dog charities.
Offer someone a herring for breakfast and they’re likely to make their excuses and head for a coffee shop. However offer someone a kipper with some generously buttered bread and they’re likely to go misty eyed, pull up a chair at your kitchen table and flatter you on your hosting skills and exceptional taste. Most people like kippers due to their smokey non fish tasting alternativeness and the sheer decadence of having a whole fish on your plate at 8.00am.
To be ‘stitched up like a kipper’ means to be set up with no wiggle room. No one knows exactly where the phrase comes from or why which only adds to it’s wonderfulness.
L Lowry Salford
The Lowry, Salford is a stunning building, easily accessible from Central Manchester and home to two theatres, a gallery and one of the best riverside locations in the UK. Jump off the train at Piccadilly, pop into Manchester art gallery, jump on the tram and make your way to the Lowry for some lunch and some of the best of the UK’s theatre.
The time in a woman’s life when it becomes vitally important to go to Glastonbury, become a real or fantasy Cougar (See above)/feminist icon and always be seen in dim lighting. Men go through a similar process but without the mind altering hormonal shifts-the manopause- when they too consider it vitally important to go to Glastonbury (And pretend they’ve attended every single year since they were 9), become a real or fantasy sugar daddy/wiseman and grow a beard to cover the areas which would benefit from dim lighting- and compensate for hair lack elsewhere.
N New Age
It feels necessary to stress that the New Age is not a shop as the paraphernalia connected to this noble non religious idea of global unity, non heirarchy and anti-dogma, riding on a philosophy of love understanding and peaceful evolution is so often equated with swirly tree of life images on reflective glass and dusty joss stick holders. The new age is the age that is taking place after the age of Aquarius (The dawning) and it’s now.
Cougar’s going to Glastonbury during the menopause get up close and personal with the New Age and it’s not always a happy or readily understandable union.
O Outsider culture and art
A term framed in the early 1970’s outsider art has come often to be identified as art made by people from disenfranchised or ‘non-mainstream’ groups such as people with mental health problems, disabled people, prisoners and communities of people who are self-taught and in the main have their own aesthetic, sensibility and means of evaluation and critical analysis. In the U.K the disability arts movement, the creative minds project and other groups and individuals make and advocate for this work. An ongoing debate is currently being had around the concept of assimilation and/or separation from the ‘mainstream’ for outsider artists.
P Pest Control
Rats, mice and all manner of insect-based vermin act are completely non-prejudicial in terms of their target squats.
Buckingham Palace has mice, popular fable has it that you’re never more than 10 feet away from a rat (That’s below your feet as well as within your visual radar) and the cartoon time addiction of mice for cheese is in a fact a lie- they don’t like the stuff.
Cockroaches can live for a month without food and a week without a head, and infestations of domestic properties take all forms, from centipedes to wood lice. Lovely.
Q Quince jelly
The fruit of the quince was cultivated long before the apple and associated from the earliest of times with love and romance. In ancient Greece quince was offered as a gift at weddings and it was quince that Paris gifted to Aphrodite. Incorporated into a sweet and stiff jelly quince makes an excellent, if nauseatingly pretentious and frankly unnecessary, alternative to chutney on a cheeseboard.
R Relationship Counselling
People are seeking help from therapists and counsellors more frequently and with less apprehension than ever before, recognising that medical answers to mental health problems aren’t the catch all solution they once seemed to be. 1 in 5 adults have received and benefited from counselling and 50% of people know someone who has. 82% of a recent survey of ‘cross section’ respondents said they thought counselling to deal with issues and relationship problems was a good idea.
The largest resort in Yorkshire locals are known as Scarborians. The harbour bar on South Bay is the place for go for ice cream par excellence. The Stephen Joseph theatre, based in a converted Odeon cinema, is home to all of playwright and director Sir Alan Ayckbourns‘ new work, produces some of the best new writing in the UK and always offers a programme of exceptional theatre- and cinema too.
A heterosexual Cougar’s love object and technology consultant.
U Udon noodles
Chunky Japanese wheat based noodles served in a variety of dishes or simply as broth with dark soy and ‘scallions’- scallions are similar to quince above on the pretentiousness scale but actually slightly above it looking just like a spring onion but holding a martini glass.
V Virtual Reality
So much better than the real thing surely? Much better experienced than written or spoken about (Unless top end tech programming and design is your thing of course) we’re talking immersive, multi-media, computer simulated, life replicating experiences. Increasingly explored in film-making, video gaming, therapy, art, music and medicine, the use of these technologies in the live theatre experience is just beginning and opening up doors for innovative and immersive new performances, offering the potential for a whole new level of audience interraction.
W Water feature
A piece of design of various scales, often replicating in moulded plastic a rock pool or mini waterfall, which offers the ‘relaxing’ sound of running water in any environment, inside or outside.
Not advisable in the company of hybrid dogs, pets of any description, small children or people with weak bladders.
X X factor
Returning to aspiration once again the world of auditions, boot camp, knockout stages and a fast track to success and fame remains the dream for countless people.
The acquisition of skill, training and competency measured craft is a less enticing sell and leaves many working in the creative industries with a major task on their hands ensuring the next generation of actors, singers, dancers and entertainers know their time steps from their soundbites and hair extensions.
Yachts as we all know are very expensive indeed and owned by the mega wealthy and Bond villains.
A 50 foot ocean going yacht will set you back somewhere in the region of 2 million pounds. Most of the yachts we see film and pop stars- and Simon Cowell– enjoying some R and R on, are in fact chartered or rented which saves having to know anything about sailing or even where the petrol cap is.
They come with staff and integral ostentation.
A delicious Italian dessert made principally of egg yolks and sugar and sweet wine all whipped up and served with a biscuit on the side. Buon appetito!
My sisters left one by one. Samantha went to university; Grace went off to get married and Mum said Sadie went to hell.
After a few years we moved out of the semi because Mum said we were rattling around in it like ballbearings in a box and we moved into the cottage on the East Riding near Goole. It was ours, nothing to do with the other three, just Mums and mine and we were really happy. I worked for a long time in the charity shop in town and Mum did the garden and all the things that she wanted to do before she was retired from the council, like watching TV in the morning and putting a bet on the grand national, just for the hell of it. I did the garden and built raised beds for vegetables which we had with the Sunday roast. My parsnips won a prize in a show. Mum was very proud of the house and sometimes did unnecessary cleaning and became over-sensitive about muddy boots and dirty fingers and we’d have words- but not very often, we generally got on. We watched the lottery show on Saturday nights , a lucky dip ticket each, and sometimes we won a three number prize but never the bloody stupid raffle one with colours and numbers- what is the point we said if you never bloody win anything? Master chef was a favourite on the box and for my birthday one year Mum bought me a cookery book and I never looked back. For a bit we fought about who would cook the tea but after a while Mum gave up and handed the kitchen over to me. Too many cooks and all that. I would rustle something up most nights and cook carrot cake or lemon drizzle on a Friday afternoon to see us through the weekend.
I didn’t see it coming at first. No one did. It was really gentle, the change in her, like a door being shut really quietly on a latch.
She began to get words wrong, she’d say mozzerllie instead of mozzarella and keep asking me to guess who she was talking about from what they were wearing or some strange clue like what they smelled like. I called Sam then. She didn’t want to but she paid a visit. She was really annoyed because it was a campaign launch or something and the world was going to stop turning without her. She said I was to stop over reacting and that it was nothing to worry about, just Mum getting older, to keep my hair on but to let her know if there were any serious problems and then she bombed off in her fancy car- she never stayed long. Then there started to be a problem with mealtimes and eating the right food- all she wanted was cream cakes and chocolate and sometimes she’d burst out singing or crying for no reason. I think she was really sad. I had to do more and more. I tried to keep everything how she wanted it but it was hard. All the vegetables died in the garden, even the parsnips, and I had to start helping Mum to have baths. We didn’t talk like we used to. She was in her own world. And then one day we went to Scarborough like we always did for a long weekend, Mum’d booked it the year before, but we spent hours walking along the seafront because she couldn’t remember which B and B it was and in the end we gave up and just came home. We didn’t even have an ice cream. Then there was the last Christmas when Sam and Grace came over at 11 and stayed until Christmas lunch. There was lots of shouting and whispering in the kitchen and then Grace left really quickly crying. Sam told me she was getting some help in and then left us with our presents. She gave mum an electric toothbrush which wasn’t a very good present because she had false teeth and it took ages explaining what it was- eventually I just left it out in the shed and wrapped up a bar of dairy milk and pretended that it was from Sam and mum was happy with that. I loved my present though- it was a tablet and I could use it to get online (Sam fixed all that) and my life really began. Mum was difficult- I preferred the internet. The first woman came three times a week. She wore a uniform and had patent shoes. I hated her. She was angry all the time and shouted at Mum and I caught her stealing money out of her purse- I phoned Sam and that was the end of her. The second one was from Lodz in Poland and was learning English and Mum couldn’t understand what she was saying so they’d just make strange baby noises at each other and it drove me mad. That one left because she’d got a better job- she left a note with a box of Maltesers. That’s when it happened. I got really good on the tablet then.
I Love You Baby Clarence’s Mum has a long struggle with Alzheimers, providing the catalyst for a family crisis, and the renewed understanding of humanity which is at the very heart of the play.
In contemporary Britain it is a truth universally unacknowledged, run away from and generally avoided at all costs that we will all get old and eventually die.
Youth is valued and revered, age is feared, patronised, and increasingly and very sadly, in the context of an ageing population and austerity agenda, considered costly and burdensome.
The fruit of the welfare state and other revolutionary and beneficial social reforms of the 1940’s and 50’s have seen health and longevity among older people improve rapidly and the life expectancy of new babies born today leap to 100.
Sadly however there’s a palpable guilt affecting older people who are made to feel less than valued for drawing a pension, using a bus pass, receiving winter fuel allowance and simply being alive for too long when lower income and younger age groups are being financially squeezed.
The ageing process, a decelerating roller coaster we’re all on like it or not, is viewed with suspicion and fear and kept at bay with a facile focus on the physical aspects of decline- hair loss, vision issues, joint pain, memory problems- and a desire to label and compartmentalise older people as being in the throws of dementia at the first sign of forgetting a name or number (Something that affects most of us from age 8 up).
In popular comedy in recent years old age has become increasingly cruelly mocked though in some respects reversed via the ‘warmedy’ of the BBC’s Mrs. Brown Boys – though even in this instance an older women is portrayed by a man and one wonders if an actual ‘older actress’ playing the role would receive the same laugh quotient.
Older people are insightful, knowledgeable, interested, talented, valuable and, once they’re gone, missed as the cohesive glue they often are within contemporary families, providing childcare, financial assistance, emotional support and a world view informed by witnessing decades of world events and political sea changes.
The older people we meet are those who’ve survived the relentlessly rocky road of life and that in itself is worthy of respect.
Dis-ease, disability and old age affects all of us at some point, these different ways of experiencing life inform and enrich the human experience.
I’m engaged in two forms of swimming at the moment, swimming in water and swimming in ideas.
One physical and one imaginative.
Both pursuits are challenging and both are target driven. A first draft deadline for the former and decreasing time:length ratio for the latter, and both involve injury, mild R.S.I in the right hand and athletes foot respectively, and share the same principal risk; public humiliation.
I Love you Baby is currently bouncing around as a concept on the crest of a research wave.
Lots of ideas, sounds, visuals and impressions are being ingested; a great swirling ocean of the stuff, eventually the emerging play will be so buoyed up by it all that the up swell will prove irresistible, and it will simply have to be written down.
Well, that’s the plan anyway!
Finding the moment to catch the wave is important as there’s a certain amount of thinking and framing to be done, and ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ before there’s any point in committing the character’s words to the screen, in beginning to make the imagined real, in starting to form the play.
Do it too early and there won’t be enough substance to write the activity.
Do it too late and it’ll feel like all the questions have been answered.
Do it at the right time and there’ll be enough material and thought to push the vision through to shore, the first draft.
Writing processes vary from play to play in terms of what and when but listed below are the usual key milestones, to coin a management term, which makes sense as I’m currently immersed in the corporate world of character SAMANTHA.
1. Research. An on-going bath of facts, figures, music, images and opinion, which key into the themes of the play and the character’s world. Sometimes this may include interviews/journeys to relevant people and locations.
2. Characters. Small notebooks are jotted into throughout each day for each character. Aside from external views/opinions of the characters, notes begin to be made about the world from their separate points of view. This is on-going and will continue all the way up to the pre-rehearsal draft as there’s a need to know enough about the characters before they’re written so that their ‘voices’ can be heard.
Above is a shot of SAMANTHA’S opening pages.
3. Story. The story develops all the time and currently the fundamentals aren’t changing, the arc is there, its clear where the surprises need to be, where the twist is, how the narrative will unfold, escalate and resolve.
As the first draft is written certain elements will change and it’s always good to leave some ‘air’ and some unanswered questions, so that once the characters start interacting moments can be character, rather than plot, driven.
4. Plot and structure. This is where the real ‘craft’ comes in, the shape and the timeframe will be determined in the synopsis and scene breakdown which will be written just before the first draft is started.
Number 4 – the nuts and bolts craft side of the work- is going to happen very soon- the ocean swell is building up and currently stages 1,2 and 3 are in full swing and operating on a creative carousel system.
This play, rooted as it is in the world of theatrical realism relies on its characters to carry the drama.
Their opinions, what they represent, their interactions, and their conflicts, form the moments of the action-the activity- and a character questionnaire can be helpful at this stage of the writing process -the survey in the previous post has been a useful starter.
Interestingly a lot of these processes being worked through at the writing stage will be replicated by the actors later on when developing the characters (And making them their own). The playwright develops a ‘backstory’ for the character and the actor unravels it all later on in rehearsal, adding their own opinions and ideas.
I like to collect visuals as a speedy reference for each character’s starting points and landscape; here are some of SAMANTHA’S:
SAMANTHA is beginning to become clear and I can see her moving around her penthouse apartment in Manchester (Where the activity of the play takes place so it’s important to have a solid idea of her space) and as I build up a picture of her I listen to music which means something to her and relates to her principal emotional state.
So its all about swimming.
Todays key tasks are working out how to reduce core ‘rock’ when free styling with a pull buoy and chewing over how best to explore the way we treat older people and view the ageing the process within the play (A theme).
Both technical conundrums will be solved in the pool- R.S.I and athletes foot allowing.