Category Archives: Original Content

Four tips on how to write a historical play that still feels contemporary

Reflecting on her experience of writing ‘Dandelion‘, which is set in 1988 and centres around the impact of the homophobic law Section 28, guest writer Jennifer Richards discusses writing a play for a modern audience that isn’t about the modern at all. 

Writing a play that’s not set in today’s world feels risky; with the idea of “newness” often favoured in theatre, with new writing theatres tending to ask for plays about the modern world. This suggests that historical plays (new ones, not the classics!) may not have a place in today’s theatre scene. But just because a play isn’t set in a contemporary time period, doesn’t mean it can’t have a contemporary feel.

My latest play Dandelion is set in 1988 and explores the impact of Section 28, a piece of legislation introduced by Thatcher that banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by schools and local councils.

You may be thinking that 1988 isn’t exactly Elizabethan times, but history is so important to this play, with the entire one hour and 20 minutes centred around the fallout of this legislation on the two queer female protagonists. As I was writing Dandelionlearning to make a play that so steeped in history feel contemporary was definitely a learning curve, but here’s the tips I picked up:

  1. Ask yourself: why is this story still relevant today?

When learning historical texts at schools, whether that was a Shakespeare play or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I always felt slightly distant from the story.

I was 14 and knew nothing of forbidden love or scary scientific inventions; and it’s not that I’ve now spent all the years since I’ve left school having my own Romeo and Juliet story set in a mad-scientist’s lab (though, great idea for a play), but I’ve seen loads of wonderful new takes on these plays and stories, which has helped me discover my connection to them.

Also, finding myself in unequal relationships where there wasn’t the correct balance of power, I’ve learnt the universality of the themes in those stories, which often do deal with power and love.

Shakespeare’s plays are still staged so frequently as they have something important to say to a modern society. In writing a historical play, it’s about looking where that universal connection still lies, that point within your play that exists outside of its time period.

With my play Dandelion, its’ ideas around identity and learning to be comfortable with yourself are not thoughts that only existed in 1988. And though the intricacies of any historical play are likely contained to that time period, it’s the wider themes that should make your story enduringly relevant.

  1. Plan an event exploring the history

Exploring that relevancy I mentioned above doesn’t have to just be contained to the script or stage. With Dandelion, we’re hoping to run a panel event in the New Year centred around the impact of Section 28 and why it’s important to remember queer history.

This has further helped us explore that historical significance of a piece of work in a modern setting. Putting on events like this, or perhaps running workshops that offer the chance for people to learn more about the history of your play and why you chose to explore that history, will further foster this connection between the historical and the modern.

  1. Don’t shy away from the time period

Making a historical play feel contemporary doesn’t mean trying to minimise the history as much as possible for fear that that part of the play will seem dull. If you want the world you’re creating in your play to really resonate with your audience, it has to feel genuine.

Using the correct language from the time period, having fun with the costumes and the music all helps cement the time period. Building a world that does seem different from today also encourages audience members to examine this difference, and look at how we’ve changed as a society, or perhaps how we’ve not changed.

  1. Understand the historical significance through the character

When I first started writing Dandelion, because it centres so specifically around a piece of legislation, I didn’t know how to introduce Section 28 to the play without it sounding like I just really needed to funnel in the description of what Section 28 was so the rest of the play could work.

And it would have been these stilted historical references that would’ve prevented the play from resonating with a modern audience. I needed to learn to tell this history through the characters rather than name-dropping legislation every other word.

Therefore, at the beginning of the play, we play the sound clip of lesbian activists crashing the BBC News to protest Section 28 (an event that really happened) to make it clear from the start that though this play is about a time of historical significance, it centres on the people of that time.

Plays are typically about having a strong voice and characters that people connect with and it’s important to remember that doesn’t change when it comes to historical plays.

Rehearsal shot for Dandelion, taken by Rosie Featherstone

Dandelion has been my first time writing a play not set in the modern day, and it’s been great learning how to combine the historical and the modern – and decking myself out in all the 80s costumes hasn’t been too bad either!

Wait – you’re telling me those costumes are only for the actors?

 

Jennifer Richards’s show Dandelion is running at the King’s Head in Islington on December 16th and 17th December.       

 

LPB Members’ Monologue Competition: Winning Entries Week 3

In the summer, we ran an online course for our members on How to Write a Monologue. We then invited participants to submit their monologues to us and promised to publish our favourite ones on the blog!

We received some fantastic entries which encapsulated  some vibrant characters with unique voices, so it was a difficult task to choose the ones we wanted to showcase. However, we managed to make our selection and we’ve published them over the last 3 weeks, with this being the final winning entry…

This week’s selection: A Dark Place by Jane Walker

Jane’s short plays have been performed on the London Fringe, and ‘King of Hearts’ was voted second favourite in a Valentine-themed evening of short plays by Spontaneous Productions. Her one act plays have reached the longlists for the Funny Women Comedy Writing Award and the Windsor Fringe Award for New Drama Writing. 

Introduction:

I was inspired by LPW’s online course to write this monologue, which is loosely based on a relative. I changed the setting and the story developed from there.

A Dark Place

By Jane Walker

1922, Whitehaven, Cumbria.

Night. A tired-looking working class woman in her forties, wearing an apron, is cleaning a railway carriage.

The mess these passengers make. Mind you, found a pipe the other day. Exchanged it on the market for some cotton. I’ll run up some dresses for the girls with that, do as Christmas presents.  Every job has a little bonus.

She picks up a newspaper from one of the seats and looks at it.

They’re still talking about it. What happened, who’s to blame.

‘Firedamp’ they call it round here. Other people call it methane. Either way it caused an explosion. Thirty-nine gone, just like that. Everyone’s still reeling, two months on. What a Christmas.

Some of those men hadn’t even reached the age of twenty. I don’t know what to say to Evie, she lost her lad.

Looks up.

What can you say?

Puts the newspaper down.

He was a big man. Quiet at home. A presence – you could sense him. The children never spoke when he was at table. He never had to put up with their noise. Always the same announcement when he came home: “Breadwinner’s here.”

Tired, all the time, he was. And filthy, six nights a week. I had to make sure the bath was ready. Haul it up from the cellar, take it back down again later – he didn’t want to see it once he’d had his bath. Sometimes, when I was pouring the water, I’d think about what it must be like, working down there in the dark.

Pause

Out to sea on a fishing boat, or down the pit, that’s the choice round here for fellas.  And the pit pays better. Me Dad was a miner too. He was good to us. It was just Mam, me and me sister. Tight-knit we were. Wish our Isabel was here now, I’d talk to her. She’s trapped, frozen for ever at the age of eight. Was it Scarlet fever? I wasn’t well after they told me, can’t remember.

Wish I had a timepiece. Maybe I’ll find one. No, I’d have to hand it in. Only keep small things, that’s my rule. Could do with knowing the time though – I want to miss last orders, don’t want drunken oafs following me home.  Our Flo will want to get to bed. She’s got school tomorrow.  She likes school.

Your husband, they would say. The stories he tells. Has us in bits he does. I never heard them stories. He preferred the company of men. Liked working with them, laughing with them… fighting with them. Bare knuckle champion he was. I went along once, to one of the fights. I wasn’t sure, but people told me it was all good natured.

As soon as I arrived I wanted to leave. They were all standing round, no boxing ring, just a big crowd in a circle. You could taste the fear, sense the bloodlust. I wanted to leave, but someone spotted me and pulled me to the front. I looked down, ashamed. And I could see bloodstains from previous fights.  They said, “Your Tom’s on next!”. I was meant to be the proud wife.  Had to stand there as he belted the soul out of some poor lad, and when it was over and the lad was spitting blood, his eye swelling, they patted me on the shoulder as though I’d achieved something. I felt sick.

I’m a widow now, a Colliery Widow. Got me name in the paper. People have been sending money for widows and children. I’ll believe it when it’s in me hand. Need it though. Can’t make ends meet.

I stand and nod and accept their condolences, their sympathy for the children. Except while I’m listening I’m having sinful thoughts.

In my heart there’s a dark, secret place, coal black it is and cold, cold as the depths of the earth. And in that place I’m thankful, so thankful for that Firedamp, that pocket of gas which ignited and took him away.

If reading this gets you in the monologue writing mood, you can still access the course on our members’ site here. If you’re not a member yet, sign up here!

Catch last previously featured monologues here:  Week 1, Week 2.

#WrAP is back for 2019! Write a play this January!

**Announcement!**

 #WrAP is back for 2019!

 

Last January, more than 150 of you kick-started 2018 by taking part in WrAP (Write a Play) – where you took on the challenge of writing a play in a month.  Some of you managed to get a whole first draft finished, others wrote a few scenes, or came up with ideas that were seen through later in the year.

We got some great feedback from writers who, whether they finished their scripts or not, felt #WrAP gave their writing a boost for the new year!

So, after last year’s success, we’ve decided to bring the challenge back for 2019 and we want YOU to join us!

You CAN write a play this January!

Forget overpriced gym memberships or learning how to crochet, the only new year’s resolution a playwright needs is to get  writing!

Throughout the month we’ll be posting a whole host of writing prompts, exercises and resources to guide you through the process of getting your first draft on paper.

Sounds a bit full on with your other commitments? Don’t worry. #WrAP2019 is all about writing as much as you can manage in January; if you finish your play, great, if you only write 20 pages, also great – that’s 20 more pages than you had at the beginning of January!

Who’s it for?

Anyone who wants to write a play! It doesn’t matter if it’s your first play or your fiftieth – as long you’re willing to give it a try and commit some time to writing your play in January, then you should go for it!

How does it work?

Throughout January, we’ll share regular writing prompts, exercises and online mini-workshops. These are all designed to support you in writing your play.

All the materials will be sent directly to your email inbox. (These will also posted online for easy reference if you want to look back at something that came before.)

The resources will take you chronologically through the playwriting process. We’ll kick off with looking at how to develop your idea and end with writing your final scene.

There will also be the opportunity for online discussion with fellow #WrAP2019 writers (and us!) via our Members Facebook group, with scheduled sessions where you can ask questions or share concerns.

How do I sign up? 

Participation is FREE but you’ll need to be a member of LPW to take part.

If you’re already a member, simply click here to sign up and receive #WrAP2019 emails in January.

If you’re not a member, you can sign up here. 

Why do I need to be a member to take part? We love supporting the next generation of playwrights but running the organisation comes at a price. Our subscription fee for members helps us to cover our basic running costs and means that we can continue to provide free resources for emerging playwrights (like you). Whilst we’ll never charge for the content on our blog, we provide additional resources over on our members’ site for paid subscribers. The great news is, monthly membership only costs around the price of a coffee! Read more and sign up here. 

Watch this space for more #WrAP2019 news!

LPB Members’ Monologue Competition: Winning Entries Week 2

In the summer, we ran an online course for our members on How to Write a Monologue. We then invited participants to submit their monologues to us and promised to publish our favourite ones on the blog!

We received some fantastic entries which encapsulated  some vibrant characters with unique voices, so it was a difficult task to choose the ones we wanted to showcase. However, we managed to make our selection and we’ll be publishing them over the next few weeks…

This week’s selection: The Wrong Leg by Rupert Mallin 

Rupert has variously worked in community arts and as a teacher. He has had much poetry published  from1970s to 1990s. Two plays on BBC Radio 4 1990s and various small theatre projects since then. From around 2005 he turned to visual arts and have my own city centre studio. Rupert is involved with ‘Creative Working Lives,’ a group of older people who have been squeezed out of working in public services. They put on exhibitions, small shows and make short films.

Introduction:

‘The Wrong Leg’ is a monologue based off of something similar which happened to my best friend’s 89 year old mum in May. Unfortunately, her mum is still in hospital and is among the bravest, warmest people I’ve ever met.

The Wrong Leg

By Rupert Mallin

HOSPITAL WARD. MAUREEN SITS IN AN ARMCHAIR WITH HER LEGS UP, COVERED IN BLANKETS.

Aren’t the flowers lovely? Put them out of the way, Dear. That’s it. And thank you for the jigsaw…

I shouldn’t be here. Pops found me on the floor – middle of the night. I sleep on a chair at home – a fancy expanding chair. Press the button and you’re lying down, press the button again and you’re sitting up! Trouble was, I kept my finger on the button and I just kept going up! Was ejected without a parachute – crash I went on the floor.

We waited three hours for an ambulance. If it had been daylight though, I might have got a ride in a helicopter. Well, there you are. Took me to hospital along the A47. Very busy. Road. Hospital.

Pain in my leg. A rotten pain. They took me for an x-ray and, guess what? No fracture at all! Just bruising, they said.

Pops got up with a terrible start – steam coming out of his ears: “That’s an x-ray of her left leg. What about her right leg?”

“What about her right leg? She only complained about pain in her left!” said the nurse in charge.

Pops went apoplectic: “She’s paralysed in her right leg! Been paralysed in that leg for thirty-three years! She only feels pain in her left leg!”

Thought he was going to explode. Well, there you are. Apologies all round and then they took an x-ray of my right leg: clean break high across my thigh bone! And I didn’t feel a thing – in that leg!

PAUSE

Six more weeks in here before I get out. Could be more. Got a thigh to toe plaster and they’ve put some kind of bolt in my leg – some sort of hinge. Of course, I won’t be able to use the leg but I need to stand on it, so Pops can hoist me up properly. On his own. And swing me about in the harness.

But with a lump of metal in my leg, will I be magnetised?  I don’t want to find myself stuck to the fridge door. Or worse, Pops can’t get me out of the wheel chair because of me magnetisation.

PAUSE

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t speak at all.” We were brought up on that round here. If you can’t say nice, zip it. Well, there you are.

It’s a bit quiet on this ward though. We don’t say a lot to each other. Just “You’re awake now then?” And “It’s raining again.” And things like that to pass the time. Mostly we dose. And if we’re not dosing we’re asleep. Sometimes, I have a funny old dream…

LIGHTS FADE TO BLACKOUT. SPOTLIGHT UP ON MAUREEN WHO THROWS OFF BLANKETS AND FAST UP ON HER FEET – DANCING

All washing’s been done and dried in the drum

I’ve polished and dusted and cleaned out the bin

Kids have been fed and are tucked up in bed

Dinner’s been eaten and Pop’s in the shed

Finally it’s my time to let go and relax

Away from the chores and polishing wax

Me and my radio, volume on max

Oh no, not this one – it’s Jumpin Jack Flash!

 SPOT TO BLACKOUT. LIGHTS UP ON MAUREEN SLUMPED IN THE ARMCHAIR WITH HER FEET UP COVERED IN BLANKETS AS BEFORE

Glad Pops noticed it was the wrong leg. You hear all sorts about people coming in to hospital and having the wrong limb taken off. Doesn’t happen all the time, does it? Take jockeys, they’re breaking bones all the time. If they took the wrong limbs off, well. You can’t have legless little men riding horses at the races, can you?

But if you’re able I suppose you can do anything, even if you can’t hang on properly. Wind surfing, wing walking. I wouldn’t want to. I prefer jigsaws. Slowly, piece by piece, you put the picture together – and what a picture it is – country scenes, Winter, penguins, dogs, people, boats, The Broads – five hundred, a thousand piece jigsaws – all in living colour. Magic how you can put it all together… Well, there you are.

If reading this gets you in the monologue writing mood, you can still access the course on our members’ site here. If you’re not a member yet, sign up here!

Catch last week’s featured monologue here.

LPB Members’ Monologue Competition: Winning entries

In the summer, we ran an online course for our members on How to Write a Monologue. We then invited participants to submit their monologues to us and promised to publish our favourite ones on the blog!

We received some fantastic entries which encapsulated  some vibrant characters with unique voices, so it was a difficult task to choose the ones we wanted to showcase. However, we managed to make our selection and we’ll be publishing them over the next few weeks…

This week’s selection: Blessed be the Peacemakers by Alison Rayner

Alison is a graphic designer and has returned to writing after a short film she wrote about a sweet seduction was shot in 2016. A slim volume of her short stories was published in conjunction with the film and ‘Pastry’ (13’, dir: Eduardo Barreto) is now doing the festival circuit and being televised through Eurochannel TV. Alison has written several spec feature screenplays and has recently completed her second full-length stage play.

Introduction:

‘Blessed Be The Peacemakers’ was written in response to a prompt, ‘She turned on the radio’, in a creative writing class and is set when radio was in its heyday. Already, before the Second World War and Churchill’s powerful speeches, Hitler was galvanising an inflicted German nation with his passionate broadcasts. The voice of a little girl was used to capture the innocence, curiosity and confusion that reflects not only the tension in her family but, equally, a nation in crisis. A winner in the themed 2018 Waterloo Festival writing competition, it was subsequently published in Bridge House Publishing’s e-anthology ‘To Be … To Become.’ This is the shorter, published version.

Blessed be the Peacemakers

By Alison Rayner

“I’m so excited! I can already hear the crowds cheer. I can’t wait.

My brother Hans is beside himself. He says our time is coming. He says this will be the start of everything he’s been preparing for. He said that last time, too. And the time before that.

Hans finished dinner early then left the table without even asking! He’s waiting for mother by the radio, but he’s still in his uniform instead of his pyjamas. Father seems angry. He doesn’t like seeing Hans get excited, but I do! He’s all wide-eyed and cheery and smiling and it’s much nicer when he’s like that and not being mean and nasty and pulling my hair or screaming at my boy friends if they don’t follow his orders. And worse. He even punched little Bertel last week. But I’ve seen the older boys do the same to him. And sometimes I hear Hans crying when he goes to bed. I don’t think soldiers are meant to cry. He asked me not to tell anyone and I promised I wouldn’t because he said he’ll take my teddy bear and pull his eyes out and I don’t want Teddy to suffer so it’s our secret even though I don’t want to have any secrets, especially not from mother and father.

Hans tells me he’s a good soldier and he won’t let the Fuhrer or the country or our family down. I don’t know. I don’t think he likes soldiering very much but he likes it when the little boys follow his orders. Yes, he likes that very much.

Hans is itching for mother to turn on the radio. We’re going to hear if we’ve won. I’m not sure what we’re winning, but Hans is already jubilant. I don’t understand why mother and father are so quiet. I think mother is secretly excited because she likes the Fuhrer… a lot. When father isn’t here, when he’s working late, and we hear the Fuhrer talking about what they stole from us and how he’s going to get it all back, she’s very happy. Me too. It’s like Abel at school when he takes our sweets. He’s a big bully. The Fuhrer says that we were bullied and they took all our sweets and he’s going to get them all back for us. And he will. He fixed the country and made it happy again because everyone was sad and poor and hungry and now we have lots of food and nice homes and good jobs and we have fun together like a big family that all thinks and feels the same and I like that feeling too.

I don’t know why father isn’t happy about that. He was angry after the squad leader came with the brown shirts for Hans. I was only little then, but I remember. Mother was pleased because Hans needed more shirts but now he only wears the brown shirts anyway. Hans has such a fine time, I don’t know why he cries about it. He marches and sings and fights and plays cowboys and I think it must be a lot of fun! When I join the League, I can march too. I’m really looking forward to that. We all sing in school. Exciting songs about our dear Motherland and our countrymen. Comrades that are our brothers and sisters even though we don’t know them at all. That makes me feel really special. But when father tells us to stop singing, I just feel sad.

Mother turns the radio on. There’s music. Hans stands to attention like he’s the conductor. Father fidgets. He doesn’t want to be here but he doesn’t want to miss out either. I look at father and I worry sometimes. Maybe he knows something no one else does. Hans ignores father now. He doesn’t believe in him anymore. But I do.

Oh, stop. Listen.

There’s a really long list of countries that are also listening in, just like us. It must be good news!

The crowds are so loud. It’s amazing. There are so many people! I get tingles. Then the Fuhrer speaks. Mother’s eyes twinkle and she smiles at me like I’m the most precious thing on earth.

It’s way past my bedtime and the Fuhrer talks a lot about things I don’t understand but mother tells me to be quiet and that I will understand when I’m older. It’s a very long speech and I’m very sleepy.

The crowd roars again and I jerk awake. Great news! Our stolen Sudetenland has been given back to us! The Fuhrer is so proud. We grow bigger and stronger every day and no one can make fun of us anymore. We are so blessed. We truly are the best people in the world.

The Fuhrer wants peace and happiness for all but he says that everyone else wants war. Why do people want war? I don’t understand. Even Hans wants war. I hear my parents argue at night about how they don’t want him to be a soldier and about him crying. I swear, I didn’t tell them that.

They whisper about the Eidleman’s, our old neighbours, going to America and us not having enough money to go there too but I don’t want to go because all my friends are here and the teacher told me they don’t even speak German there.

I know everything will be okay because the Fuhrer will protect us. He’s built a really big army and we’re very powerful now so we would beat everyone anyway.

Mother says don’t be silly, there won’t be a war. I trust her because she’s happy and positive and wise and I trust the Fuhrer because he’s working hard to make sure everyone feels blessed with the good fortune of our Motherland. But father says there will be a war, and soon, because people are just plain stupid. But he’s been saying that for years.”

If reading this gets you in the monologue writing mood, you can still access the course on our members’ site here. If you’re not a member yet, sign up here!

Adaptation, or what you will: Chloë Myerson from Monkhead Theatre on writing adaptations

Ever wanted to know more about writing an adaptation? We asked writer and co-founder of Monkhead Theatre,  Chloë Myerson, to reflect on her experience of working on adaptations and to share her tips with us…
Monkhead Theatre’s latest show, Collective Intelligence #1 The Interpretation of dreams, an adaptation of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, takes place at the Bunker Theatre on Monday 12 November. Book here

 

Sir Toby Belch is wearing a gold lamé doublet and matching hot pants, Elizabethan boots and a blonde 60s-style wig. Andrew Aguecheek has long stringy cornflake-coloured hair and wears a watermelon-stained white onesie with suspenders, his feet are bare and his mouth is always open. They stand on the side of the stage behind two microphones, drinking wine, making obscene puns and cracking jokes about French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent ‘Benalla’ scandal.

The audience, packed into the gorgeous, two-hundred-year-old baroque velvet shelving system that is the Comedie Française theatre in Paris, howls with laughter. But something else happens as well. They sit up, they shift their bodies just a little closer to the performers, they shuffle their buttocks as if they want to stand up, they take quick, tight breaths. You notice it most sharply with the kids and teenagers (this is a Sunday matinee).

The one in front of us swivels her tweeny bespectacled head around to the parent/ guardian next to her with a half-scandalised-half-delighted look that says ‘can they do this?!’ They react the same way when Andrew waggles his penis at Malvolio in fury, when Malvolio is trapped in a well with turds schlopping down on him from above, and when at the end of the play the walls behind the stage are literally pulled down.

These kids weren’t exactly bored for the rest of Thomas Ostermeier’s bombastic La Nuit Des Rois Ou Tout Ce Que Vous Voulez (Twelfth Night, or What You Will), but until these moments had perhaps forgotten something that we all forget most of the time.

There are no rules (in art).

We’re in a constant state of forgetting this. And when we are reminded of it, by a piece of great art, there’s a kind of physical feeling, isn’t there? I feel it in my chest, like a little motor’s just been switched on. Like I want to get up and run.

Hopefully, all good or great pieces of art perform this function in some way, but when it comes to adaptation, particularly of the serious classics, it becomes the whole point. For me, anyway.

My name’s Chloë, I’m a TV and theatre writer who (without thinking all that much about it) has come to specialise in adaptations. I’m currently developing a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park for Wall to Wall (Warner Bros.) and my theatre company Monkhead Theatre, which I co-run with director Nico Pimparé, does experimental versions of classic literature. We began last year with a full-length adaptation of Gogol’s unfinished novel Dead Souls and since then we’ve worked on site-specific pieces, setting Julius Caesar in an actual hip-hop festival stage-and-mosh-pit in Senegal and Hamlet in an abandoned suburban house in Paris. Now we’re back in London and although we’re in an actual theatre again, our latest venture – The Interpretation of Dreams – is by no means a more traditional adaptation.

 

Monkhead adapt a site-specific Hamlet in a house in Paris, September 2018. L-R:Thibault Matard (Barnardo)
Sean Hardy (Horatio), Thomas Peterson (Hamlet),, Kasper Klop (Marcellus), Nico Pimparé (Director)

As part of our new semi-regular rapid-response night Collective Intelligence, we’ve invited a range of writers, artists, musicians and performers to collaborate on a collective adaptation of Sigmund Freud’s seminal turn-of-the-century-text about the inner workings of our sleeping and waking brains. This involves bringing our 3 writers, 3 performers, 1 movement director and 1 sound & video artist together on a grey Wednesday to chat about psychoanalysis, dreams and fantasies and to run around improvising pieces at SET Dalston (thanks again, guys). Right now our creatives are all squirrelled away, working on their pieces (due in Friday!) which will be collated along with my material into a full-length show by us, in time for November the 12th.

So, what advice would I give them if they asked me what the four keys to a great adaptation are?

Well, that’s very specific, I’d say, but here they are:

1. Why this? Why now?

Our Collective Intelligence artists didn’t have much of a choice of material. But it’s true that, as corny as it sounds, the material often chooses you. Sometimes you pick an old book up off the floor outside your housemate’s room and read it and, instead of feeling like you’re in a cosy little 19th century drawing room, you feel like you’re suspended upside down at the highest bend of a rollercoaster, watching your own society below. It’s a feeling both exhilarating and worrying.

For instance, we were attracted to Gogol’s flaming satire Dead Souls partly because of how similar the subprime mortgage crisis that precipitated the crash of 2008 was to the protagonist’s task in the novel (collecting technically dead but legally ‘alive’ souls from idiotic landowners in order to fraudulently use them as collateral for a government loan). There seems to be something nauseatingly enduring about Capital’s ability to turn human beings into numbers and profit, and wedded to that was the fantastically specific story of Chichikov, the broke and insecure upper-lower-middle class nobody that pursues this wretched scheme.

And there comes the second key…

2. Embrace/ Incorporate problems.

At Monkhead we’re often attracted to texts that present both a clear modern analogue and a lot of contrast with our current world. Chichikov’s a specific character, formed by Russian society’s complicated relationship with the emerging middle class at the start of the 19th century. We wanted to explore that too. We let the modern world and the old world co-exist on our stage. Anachronisms and glitches abounded. Our characters dressed in 19th century clothes and used Skype and phones. On live video, they left the stage and chatted to the ‘real people’ in the pub below the theatre, asking about local landowners and plagues. We let the audience take it all in, without patronising them by trying to jam a round peg into a square hole for an hour and half. That’s probably a Beckett play…

3. Be Experimental.

People, some more politely than others, have asked what we mean when we call ourselves an ‘experimental theatre company’. One answer is that it associates our work with a certain school of theatre-makers (more German, less British, more multimedia, less text-based). But that’s only half-true. If you ask me what it really means I’d say just remembering that there are no rules, and seeing where that takes you. Letting the creative solution become the play.

We did this with our live video in Dead Souls, our collective creation in Dreams, and our use of two languages (French and Wolof) to represent the divide between politicians and plebeians in Julius Caesar. The great thing about having a classic text upon which to base your play (especially one written by someone long dead) is that you as the writer are freed up from the usual don’t-touch-my-fucking-script-you-don’t-understand! role and instead take on one similar to the actors and director – one of interpretation. Suddenly you’re free to tear things up and start again, in a way that’s so hard to do with your own work.

4. Think Like a Director.

It’s that separateness from the text that is so freeing, and it will also make you a better writer. There are many British playwrights decrying the German/ European style’s disregard for the sanctity of the text (including me, especially when I’m drunkenly arguing with my French co-Artistic Director, Nico). But it might be useful to think about what writers can learn from directors, or from performing a similar role themselves.

In our recent Hamlet et Le Spectre (Hamlet and The Ghost), I reconfigured the early scenes from Hamlet, smooshing together all the parts involving the ghost: Horatio and the soldiers on the battlements where it first appears, them telling Hamlet, and finally Hamlet confronting it. This became a single 20 minute play, set during the late/ early pitch-black hours of a suburban twenty-something house party. We had to come up with creative ways to glue the scenes together – Hamlet’s I.2 scene became an irate phone call with his mum, and the space between Hamlet being told about the ghost and seeing it for himself became an impromptu music jam featuring drums, guitar, piano, trumpet and megaphone.

Those parts were fun, but there’s a deeper satisfaction to making an adaptation really flow, and it’s not just about chopping. It’s the thrill that comes from holding the text’s heart, its problems and your own ideas in your head at the same time, and finding the magical points where they converge.

As I queue for the toilet at the Comedie Française (almost three hours, no interval, wtf), the old ladies behind me chat about the play. They aren’t sure it was suitable for kids, but their attitude seems generally tolerant and amused. They all agree it was thoroughly déjanté. Later I ask Nico what this word means. Crazy, he says, and goes on to tell me that a jante is the rim of a wheel, and déjanté means that the car has been going so fast and furious that the rims have spun completely off.

I certainly don’t believe that theatre should be all destruction and bombast. I don’t think Ostermeier does either. But I do think, in these specific times, that it might be important to make works of art in which things come violently apart. I like to do that with texts I love by old white men, but it could be anything.

There are no rules.

Chloë Myerson is a TV and theatre writer represented by The Agency  She co-founded Monkhead Theatre with Nico Pimparé in 2017 and their debut play Dead Souls received critical acclaim for its sold out run at Theatre N16. She now lives and works in Paris and London.

You can watch the trailer for Collective Intelligence #1 The Interpretation of Dreams below…

LPW Online Book Club: The Effect

The LPW Online Book Club is just one of the things you can access if you become a member! Not a member yet? Well, if you want a jump start for your writing for the price of a cup of coffee, what are you waiting for? Sign up here today! (Want more reasons to join and a bit more info? Read this).

As a result of your feedback, we’ve changed the way we do book club, find out more here.

This month’s pick

For our November’s selection, we’re going to be reading The Effect by Lucy Prebble.

Why did we pick this?

We’ve done things a bit differently this time and November’s pick is a suggestion from one of our members! We’re really excited about discussing the play with as many of you as possible.

Here’s a bit more information about the play: 

The Effect is a clinical romance. Two young volunteers, Tristan and Connie, agree to take part in a clinical drug trial. Succumbing to the gravitational pull of attraction and love, however, Tristan and Connie manage to throw the trial off-course, much to the frustration of the clinicians involved. This funny, moving and perhaps surprisingly human play explores questions of sanity, neurology and the limits of medicine, alongside ideas of fate, loyalty and the inevitability of physical attraction.

How it works

All you need to do is read the play then head on over to our Members Facebook Group from the 15th of the month to join the discussion! Book club threads will be marked with the hashtag #bookclub, so it will be easy to find the discussion. Feel free to comment on existing threads or even start your own, the more discussion, the better!

Once the discussion is open  on our Facebook Group, it will stay there, so you can dip in and out throughout the rest of the month as much or as little as you like, whenever is convenient for you.

(Please note, to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t finished the play yet, any comments posted on our Facebook Group prior to 15th of each month will be deleted). 

Need a copy?

If you need to buy a copy, you can do so at the link below. (And if you buy through this Amazon Affiliate link, a small portion of the sale will go towards supporting LPW – at NO extra charge to you!)

The Effect by Lucy Prebble

Find out more and sign up to become a member here!

Image by AL Eyad via Flickr Commons

LPW Online Book Club: Look Back in Anger

The LPW Online Book Club is just one of the things you can access if you become a member! Not a member yet? Well, if you want a jump start for your writing for the price of a cup of coffee, what are you waiting for? Sign up here today! (Want more reasons to join and a bit more info? Read this).

As a result of your feedback, we’ve changed the way we do book club, find out more here.

This month’s pick

For our September’s selection, we’re going to be reading Look Back in Anger John Osborne.

Why did we pick this?

Look Back in Anger is one of the big guns when it comes to British plays. Written in the 1950’s, it makes a strong comment on post-war Britain and marked a change in the direction of theatre at the time. It was also made into a popular film.

This is one of those plays that can be overlooked between the ‘classics’ and ‘contemporaries’ but every time you revisit it, you remember why it’s important. We’re really looking forward to the discussion that this one provokes.

How it works

All you need to do is read the play then head on over to our Members Facebook Group from the 15th of the month to join the discussion! Book club threads will be marked with the hashtag #bookclub, so it will be easy to find the discussion. Feel free to comment on existing threads or even start your own, the more discussion, the better!

Once the discussion is open  on our Facebook Group, it will stay there, so you can dip in and out throughout the rest of the month as much or as little as you like, whenever is convenient for you.

(Please note, to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t finished the play yet, any comments posted on our Facebook Group prior to 15th of each month will be deleted). 

Need a copy?

If you need to buy a copy, you can do so at the link below. (And if you buy through this Amazon Affiliate link, a small portion of the sale will go towards supporting LPW – at NO extra charge to you!)

Look Back in Anger (John Osborne)

Find out more and sign up to become a member here!

Image by University of Bristol via Flickr CC

 

Self-Producing: Tips for putting on a new writing night

Writer Samia Djilli shares her experiences of self-producing her own work, and looks into what it takes to create a night of new writing. 

Working in the arts is not an easy feat, especially for emerging artists. As an writer, you often have high expectations of yourself to wake up one day and create that one play that every theatre in town will be waiting to get their hands on. But something you quickly learn from working in the industry is that it isn’t always that simple.

When myself and my production company, Kine Productions, decided to put on a night of new writing, we were conscious that there would be a few variables to overcome. However with enough drive and dedication, self-producing can be one of the most rewarding ways to get your work on a stage. Here’s a few tips on how to do it and a few things to avoid along the way:

1. Work with others

Self-producing work by yourself is quite a daunting prospect, and in terms of budget, not always that plausible. Working with others is the most efficient way to go about putting your work on a stage.

One of the major pluses of working with others is that you’ll get to build a network of people around you and get their perspective on your work. As we all know, tunnel vision is a common side effect of being a writer but working with other creatives is a pretty good antidote.

Although it can be scary to put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to connect within your local community. Fear is one of the biggest things to hold us back but you’ll quickly find that there are plenty of people in the exact same situation as you. Not only that but you’ll get to learn new skills from those you work with and learn more about what you do and don’t enjoy as part of the process of self-producing.

2. Connect online

For a lot of people, the whole creative process of producing can seem alien. When I first started I felt way out of my depth. One thing that helped me was connecting online with theatre communities.

If you don’t know the first thing about putting on a night of new writing, contact your local theatre and ask them if you could come in and have a chat or even tweet them asking a few questions. It may sound simple but you’d be surprised how much clarity you can get simply through outreach alone.Don’t forget to use online resources. There are plenty of blogs, Twitter pages, webinars and Youtube videos all dedicated to educating you in the process of self-producing. With a bit of hunting around you’ll find the right avenue for you and start to build up your knowledge in no time.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

This one is a hard one and I’ve definitely felt the backlash of when things go wrong. The thing about theatre is that it’s not a solid structure; pieces are always falling off and you’ll find yourself in a constant state of rebuilding. But that is simply the nature of how it works.

The trick is to try and be ready for when things go wrong. It may be that an actor drops out last minute or a director gets sick, these things are all common and they get easier the bigger your network becomes.

It takes practice and I’m still trying to master it myself, but don’t be afraid to get back up if it all falls to the ground.

4. Utilize your resources

One of the biggest struggles in self-producing is, and will always be budget. Having to empty your pockets to get something on a stage is not the biggest highlight of the experience and is something I’ve learnt not to do.

It may seem a little implausible but putting a play on for next to nothing is somewhat doable if you have a good team of people around you. In my experience a good team means people that will come together to use their resources so no one goes home with their pockets hurting.

One of the key things is to know what you want from a production. If you want the show on for a week, crowd fund a year in advance. Or if you want it on for one night, contact a bunch of theatres and see if any of them have a space you can use for a discounted price. With enough get-go you can find a way to make it work. It just takes time and a lot of patience.

There are plenty of things you can do to self-produce but as cliché as it sounds you really have to love what you do in order for it to work. If you enjoy what you’re doing you’ll be more willing to put the work in and in my experience that’s the best way to succeed.

Kine Productions show Remote will debut at Theatre503 Monday 20 August 2018 

You can find tickets here.

How to write about your own experiences

Editor Jennifer Richards reflects on writing a play where the subject matter’s close to you heart, looking at how to look after yourself when delving into personal experience.

The ‘write what you know’ cliché is often tossed around in articles about learning to be a writer, but sometimes creating a play about a personal experience you went through isn’t as easy as just following the cliché.

When I was writing my play All In Your Head, it was the first time I had written about my own experience, reflecting on the OCD and depression I suffered with as a teenager. I discovered the hard way that reliving negative experiences can take a lot of energy, both physically and emotionally.

If you’re thinking of drawing on personal experience for your next play, here’s what I learnt about looking after yourself in the process:

1. Don’t be in the eye of the storm

There was no way I could have written about my mental health experience if I was still had OCD or depression. I needed to feel enough distance from the subject matter so that my emotions wouldn’t cloud my judgment as a writer.

Even if the story you’re writing is a representation of you, it’s important to remember that you are still writing a story. And you want it to be best story it can be.

That means you have to look at what you’ve written objectively, and decide if each piece of dialogue is really beneficial to the play.

I wrote a very emotional scene that included dialogue lifted straight from a conversation I had years ago with my dad. And though I remember this as a significant conversation in my life, when I read it back, I realised that it didn’t move the plot on and was unlikely to be of any interest to the audience. So I had to cut it.

Remember when you do have to cuts dialogue or even scenes, this doesn’t mean you’re rewriting what you went through.

2. Be as honest as you’re comfortable with

You can write something that’s based on your experience without ever telling anyone it is. Very few people in my life knew the extent to which I suffered with OCD and I was nervous about saying that the play was based on my experience, and opening myself up in this way.

You shouldn’t feel any pressure to share personal information if you don’t want to, it won’t make the story any worse or better if you do.

It was actually only after completing All In Your Head that I decided I wanted to tell people it was a reflection of the mental health conditions I used to have. I realised that, through that play, I want to open up the conversation around mental health and also wanted to be a part of this conversation myself.

That’s why I decided I was comfortable enough to share the truth behind the play, but there may be times in the future when I don’t want to share that something I’ve written is based on things I’ve been through – and both reactions are absolutely fine.

3. Take someone to see it

This point isn’t just about bringing someone you know to see your play as a way to drum up audience numbers (though it all helps!), it’s actually about ensuring you’re taking care of yourself.

Seeing experiences you lived through acted out on stage can be quite emotional, and it can also bring up memories you long thought you’d dealt with and moved on from.

Be prepared for this, and bring a close friend or family member to opening night who is aware that the play is personal to you, and will consider how you feel first and foremost before they talk about whether they liked the play.

Asking the director to come along to a few rehearsals is also a good way of dipping your toe in the water and gradually introducing yourself to seeing such a personal piece.

4.  Reviews don’t invalidate your experience

This is another reason that it’s important to have distance between yourself and what you’re writing about. No matter how much work you put into your show, unfortunately someone is bound to not like it. And if you see a negative review either in a publication or just on Twitter, it can feel like a reflection on you when the story on stage is your own.

Remind yourself that the person is commenting on the fictional account on stage, they are not commenting on what you went through, and they are definitely not invalidating your experiences. No matter what anyone says about your play, that shouldn’t change how you view yourself or what you’ve dealt with.

Ultimately, be kind to yourself. If you’re writing about something personal, you shouldn’t be punishing yourself if you’re struggling to finish a scene, or if you’re perhaps not in the position where you want to share the piece yet.

Taking care of yourself should always be a priority, which is something we’re sadly not taught enough about in the arts. But as long as you do this, writing about something personal can in fact be a cathartic, positive experience.

Though you may be making yourself more vulnerable, that vulnerability translates to authenticity on stage, helping audiences to connect with the piece more, which theatre is all about.

Jennifer Richards’s show ALL IN YOUR HEAD is running at the Faversham Fringe from August 26th to 28th.