Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Home Sweet Home Tour: We've Got A National Telly Interview...

Right. Tomorrow (Wednesday 10th September), along with Freedom Studio's  Home Sweet Home cast members Jean and Florence, I'm going to be on BBC Breakfast* talking about the up coming tour of our age defying, immersive, multi sensory, magic realist adventure which is all about the journey we take as we get older... No, you read that right. The UK's national BBC morning telly programme... Yep. I know! I'm quite nervous. I'm not really that into being on the telly. Not because I don't have secret pretensions toward grandeur. Of course I do. I write plays. But my secret pretensions are all theatrey and filmy pretensions, poppet! The idea of national telly and my big nose being on it, in the morning, when I'm still half asleep and it's live, so there won't be a chance to edit out any of the bits where i get muddled?  That feels like quite an ordeal. EVEN SO (or if you're cruel because of this?!) please watch if you can. 1 because Florence (one of our elders in the community cast) is SO INCREDIBLE that it will brighten your day. 2 because between Jean, Florence and me, are going to be talking about Home Sweet Home, a play that I would love you to see. It's going on tour. It's coming to Bradford, London and Stockton. Very soon! I mean super soon! Seats are super limited because of how it's staged. We only have 60 seats on offer per show.  And this play? It means a ton to me. So far, it may be the best thing I've had a hand in creating. Though that's not really for me to judge. But lets not start getting all philosophical now, for gods sake. Now is the time for tits and teeth, darling. TITS AND TEETH (but not the side where the funny gap/fang thing is going on, please TV gods. If you can sort that for me that would be ace). Onward.

* I don't know what time we'll be on.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

360º Of Hope: 2nd Draft Writing Lockdown begins...

Yesterday started with procrastination...

But by 10 O'clock last night I had reviewed the notes / feedback I've received for draft 1, done a scene by scene breakdown and worked out (in a lot of ego-denting detail) what is not working with this draft and what I want to do to make the script work better...

So now I know what needs to be fixed and why in draft 2.

Now all I need to do is find all those elusive solutions...

Onward : )

Monday, 4 August 2014

100 years ago today...

The Great War. 
The war to end all wars. 

It is also the day when I woke to read that the UN (not for the first time) is demanding an urgent investigation into why one of its schools in Gaza (despite 33 reminders about it’s position) was hit killing 10 civilians and injuring dozens more by the Israeli Defence Force.  

It is also the day when I discovered and signed a petition entitled: ‘David Cameron - Hold an inquiry into benefit sanctions that killed my brother’…  

We live in frightening, brutal times at home and abroad… 

It’s easy in the face of this to feel small, insignificant and hopeless.

But it’s also the day I woke up thinking about something hopeful. Something that happened this weekend, which got me thinking about the possibility and power of small interactions…

Because this thing that happened? It wasn’t a huge thing. It was a very small, personal thing. It was just a conversation between my Mum and myself …

The Context:

My Mum is 85 and has developed some mobility problems. Because of this she now spends a lot of her time stuck in doors. I was over at her house this weekend to do a bit of shopping for her but mostly to hang out and chat.

During our chat we traveled from the mundane to the wonderful, the sad to the funny, and from the personal to the political. She is good company, being Endlessly inquisitive and funny. But it also must be said that there was nothing during the day that made me think I was doing anything other than shoot the breeze with my Mum.

But then just before bedtime...

The Illumination:

Mum said out of the blue ‘Have I shown you my Father’s medal?’

I was taken aback really. We very rarely discuss her father.  I said ‘no’. She said ‘it’s on the top of the fire. Have a look if you like’.

I found a small brass medal with 1914 -15 embossed on it’s front. I’ve looked online and discovered it is in fact a 1914 – 15 Star Campaign Medal. 2 million plus were awarded in 1918 to soldiers who served. It’s not a gallantry medal. It’s just an object that says ‘you served, you were there’.

I held it in my hand.  I flipped it over. 

If you can't make the words out, here's what it says:

S – 13037

That’s it. But to have this in my hand felt suddenly really emotional. It is only the 2nd thing I’ve ever touched that has anything directly to do with my Granddad.

And as I sat there turning this medal in my hand, Mum went on to tell me everything she knows about her father. Some of it I had heard before. A few things were new:

Things My Mum Knows About Her Father:

1 His name was Donald Thompson
2 He was a Dr.
3 He was from Glasgow.
4. He fought in the Great War in the Cameronian Highlanders.
5. His arm was shattered in combat and this injury never entirely healed.
6. He died in 1932 when Mum was 3 years old, from septicemia. This blood poisoning slowly spread from the wound in his arm to his heart. Today antibiotics would have cured him. 
7. He dreamt of being a composer and was an accomplished pianist. When his arm was destroyed his dream was shattered with it too. 
8. My Mum has one memory of him. She remembers lying on a sofa with a perforated eardrum while he stood at the fireplace. In the memory he turns and he comes towards her.
9. My mum has one photo of her dad and the medal.

That’s the lot. That’s everything she knows. And most of these facts about him were things she gleaned from reading his obituary, clipped from a newspaper after he died. My Gaga (family name for Grandma) remarried after he died and found it difficult to talk about him to my Mum.

I suspect Mum got the medal out because she had been thinking about the W.W.1 centenary. But she didn’t say as much.  Getting it out and sharing it with me? That was a small act but a powerful one. Because this moment with my Mum has made a lot more sense of the idea of the centenary to me. Before, it felt separate from me. Something that the establishment is promoting / using to deflect difficult conversations about the here and now. Holding this little medal and having this conversation with my mum reminded me that it was and is more than that. (Though it may be a bit of the former too. Sadly.) And going on from this, this conversation going on into the night with my Mum made me remember the power of the personal. The moment when a bigger picture comes into focus and starts to mean something profound because of an illuminating connection. That's how we make sense of the world, so why is it that we often feel that the personal is no place to start when we wish to make change? In many ways you could argue it's the only place to start.

I almost didn't write the bit about my Gaga not talking about my Grandad. I thought it might make you not like her. Because I am assuming that you may be judging my Gaga for struggling to talk about my Grandad to my Mum? To be honest as Mum was telling me this story, I know I felt a bit like that... But I really loved my Gaga. I don't want you to think badly of her. She was in her buttoned up way a sweet heart. And it’s easy to judge. It’s especially easy to judge people by the standards of our own day. The death from an old war wound and then his strange erasing from conversation and memory by my Gaga is something I doubt modern mothers would do. But she did not live in a vacuum. She was born while Queen Victoria was still alive. She lived in the world of her day. A world, which had barely begun the journey toward understanding the subconscious let alone emotional literacy. Her world was a world that sanctioned the execution of young men with shell shock (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD to you and me) for ‘cowardice and desertion’ for goodnesake. A world in which emotions were thought to be better  off repressed / hidden. A world in which she may have questioned what good raking over memories of a dead man would do, when her young daughter had a new father to focus on.

I will never know, neither will my Mum. What we do know is that a war shattered this man’s dreams and then slowly took his life. And the impacts for my Gaga and my Mum were profound.

So now times that by 37 million. That’s the number of casualties (deaths and injuries) recorded during the 1st world war.

That's what I found myself thinking about when I read that figure... Times the impact on your Mum by 37 million... It's impossible to imagine.

So this unexpected conversation has led me today to stop and take time to think of those men and women killed during the 1st world war. But most of all, today, I’ve thought about the ones, like my granddad, who survived. The ones who stumbled back, with broken bones and hearts. We tend to think about those who are injured as being the lucky ones who will recover somewhere in a neat hospital bed before returning to their lives. Perhaps this conversation with my Mum over the weekend has laid that lie to rest forever. There is no returning to how things were after going to war. The injured return bringing their broken bodies and hearts home with them. And the trajectory of their lives and their family’s lives are changed forever. In the act of remembering this, I also think forward and remind myself to care about today and tomorrow. I wonder to myself how many musicians will never play again after the bombing in Gaza because of shattered bodies? I wonder how many children will not know who their father’s were after another bloody day in Libya. I wonder how many of our living ex British service men, struggling with PTSD after tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, will get help to rebuild their lives when mental health care is being cut all over this country. 

Most of all? I will remember that the world comes to us wherever we are. That we are shaped and also shape the world as we sit for hours in an armchair looking out at the street, or kill children by launching a shell at a UN school in Gaza or indeed struggle to write while tucked away in a cubby hole in Bradford.

The public and the private, the local and the international. The world and how to change it? It’s all right here, under our fingertips, in our conversations, in our friendships, in the moments when we're down the pub having a pint, or when we have a chat and ask 'how are you?'. It's in a protest march, in a letter to a newspaper, in a blog. It's in refusing to do something. Or joining in with something else. Its in the following of a dream when others have had theirs stolen from them. It's all there for us. Everyday. We have more power than we remember. We would do the casualties of the first world war and all those still living in war zones like Gaza tonight, a great honour if we remembered that.

Monday, 14 July 2014

360 Degrees Of Hope: The Post It Outline's job is done

The 1st draft of 360 Degrees Of Hope (a new play I am developing with DepArts and Alan Lane of Slung Low) is done. And I am tired and wired... One day off to sleep and go see 'Beryl' at West Yorkshire Playhouse and then I am back in the #writing chair. Tired but (largely) happy.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Save Red Ladder Theatre Company

Red Ladder gave me my first break as a writer. When everyone else said 'you're not experienced enough' they just said 'yes'. Looking back, no doubt i wasn't experienced enough, but that 1st job was gold dust to me. I learnt so much. And if there is no place for people to learn, then we shall be having Shakespeare and Alan Bennet for breakfast, dinner and tea until its time to die. There we are. That's the facts. So, yep, I would not be a playwright now if it were not for Red Ladder and there are many like me who got their first or an important break with this company... But put that personal experience aside for a moment... Being objective, they are brave and radical and they put their money where their mouth is. There are few like them. While the theatre world wrings its hands about diversity and appealing to a wider range of audience and blah blah blah etc etc (while largely doing little about it) Red Ladder has consistently tried to make work about stuff that matters to (a wide range of) ordinary people. Be that raising political awareness or celebrating working class history or at a nuts and bolts level providing support / opportunities for artists who don't have money. Red Grit was a free scheme giving actors free professional training, with the chance of a professional job at the end of it... Yes! More gold dust...And I haven't even mentioned where Red Ladder tour to yet!  They tour / play places that non-theatre people go to. They fill city varieties, they tour to working men's clubs and schools and sure, while they may not be cool or hip, let me tell you they and what they do are more 'important' than 99.9999% of the hot air that gets touted as such on a daily basis on Twitter / Facebook. They are not perfect. Who is? But this company by anyone's standards creates excellent work. Just check out the reviews for 'Wrong Un' by Boff Whalley and performed by Ella Harris - it was awesome theatre... So to my point... Red Ladder have constantly tried to make great art inspired by and infused with radical thinking while trying to put those principles into practice in the way they bring their work to the stage. Which is pretty extraordinary/beautiful really isn't it?  How many others can honestly say that?  For that reason alone Red Ladder Theatre Company are awesome and for real (not just hot air up yer bum) important... Even so, on Tuesday last week they were cut 100% by Arts Council England... This decision is a terrible mistake. Please support this great theatre company as it works to find a new future. If you have a spare £10 they could do with it. They have a fundraising page here, if you don't, please help spread the word. Long Live Red Ladder. #GisATenner

Monday, 16 June 2014

Method Writing... 360º Of Hope

For the last 8 weeks or so I’ve been attending a Parkour skills training session in a gym in Pudsey. I have a lot of bruises now because of this. Every week I take myself off to be in a sweaty room full of amazing kids who can do amazing physical feats. And while they do that, I jump off small, low objects and tear muscles in my thighs. Or practice jumping into a roll and bruise my arm. Or… You get the idea. There’s them being ace and then there’s me, being, well, me. Which isn't good. But in some ways worse than the physical pain, every week there is always a moment when the eyes of some kid will fall briefly upon me (an unfit woman in her middle 40’s) with a mixture of embarrassment, discomfort and amusement. The look unmistakably says

‘Why the fuck are you here?’

And you know what? I think that’s a very good question.

So here’s my answer…

I’m doing this because I’m researching and writing a play called 360º Of Hope, which features a gang of kids who do Parkour. It’s taken a good deal of love and determination to get this project to this point. But we’re here. We’ve raised the money to write and then R+D it. DepArts are producing, and Alan Lane and Barney George are on board to direct and design a week of play and experimentation with the script at the end of September... Which is all hugely exciting. But first, two drafts of the play have to be written. So now, I’m in the midst of chewing ideas and researching. And this weekly humiliation / mini baby steps attempt to physically explore what Parkour is and how it feels, is all part of that...

The start of 360º Degrees of Hope came during the time I was in residence at West YorkshirePlayhouse. I was visiting Leeds City Centre to inspire some new ideas and I began to notice kids around the steps of the art gallery and library doing Parkour / Free Running. They were leaping off the walls and railings. What they were doing was impressive, but how they were doing it was the thing that really blew me away. They were lost in a world they had created together; laughing, helping each other, trying to outdo each other but always keenly interested in what each other was doing...  And the thing that really excited me was, despite being perhaps ‘troublesome’ on the surface, they were actually displaying all the attributes that we adults associate with ‘good citizenship’. They were tenacious, daring, they supported each other, they were ‘self starters’, motivated, incredibly fit.  It got me thinking about sub-cultures and the way we assume that young people, if left to their own devices, are bound to get into trouble. Here were examples of kids, ignoring what adults might expect was a ‘normal’ way to use the city, perhaps even creating a knowing challenge to adult authority, yet at the same time creating an alternative way of being that was incredibly positive. You could see that, looking in from the outside…  

From this starting point I have been developing a story set over one autumnal day in Leeds, which is going to be a kind of modern, magic-realist, reworking of the search for the Holy Grail... kind of! On one side of the story is a gang of kids who train Parkour together and fly the rooftops of Leeds but whose friendships are falling apart. They’ve reached a moment where the gang’s identity is under attack from the pressures of the adult world and a fight for the survival of their ideals is on.  On the other side is an old woman who’s just fallen in her house and who is trying to drag herself from her bathroom to reach her phone down stairs, to get help. There is little that this woman or the gang seem to have in common at the beginning of this day, but as nightfall descends and their worlds unexpectedly collide, they will find new hope in each other.

Or that’s the plan… My holy grail… That’s the play I’m trying to find…

The thing is, it would be quite possible to write this story having never humiliated myself in a gym full of super fit kids. And you know what? I might not have done it if it were not for the aceness of Depart producer Ben Rothera. He's gone way beyond the call of duty and has been coming with me every week... Only, tomorrow night he can’t. He’s got to go do a get-out with those pesky Third Angel folk. Yeah! Whatever! Thanks, Third Angel!  Which means, that tomorrow night, for the first time I’m going into that gym on my own. And I’m a bit scared... But the reason that I will go and train in that room (and indeed the reason why I have been throwing myself around in our back garden much to the amusement of our neighbours in-between times) is because for a writer I’m not really a very literary person. Reading is fine but If I don’t ‘do’ stuff, I don’t really get it into my head. And if it's not in my head, how would I know what to think about when I'm writing the play?.. How to explain?.. I was interviewing Jim (who runs the sessions in Pudsey); he’s an amazing traceur (free runner). I said to him ‘I’ve been noticing that when I think too much or I don’t think at all, I mess up. But once in a while this amazing thing happens. It feels like something that sits somewhere between thought and thoughtlessness. And when I’m in that kind of zone things just connect and everything works just as I want it to... Does that feeling sound familiar to you?’ He just smiled and said ‘Yes!’ as if I’d mentioned the most obvious thing in the world. And then he went on to explain that it's 'that thing' that lies at the heart of Parkour. Training and training and training and getting it wrong and wrong and wrong and then more often right until you just flow it. The flow is the thing. But if I’d never tried it, I’d never have known this odd half way place between being in your body and being in your mind could exist, because it's not something I've experienced before. And I have a feeling that this discovery is something that is going to become central to my play… 

I don’t like getting bruised or doing these awful exercises called ‘Cat Crawls’ that are designed to firm up muscles in places that I never knew I had them. But, I do like having a window into the insides of the heads of kids who do this incredible sport. I do love that when I fall and hurt myself at the gym, sometimes a kind kid will come over to try and explain to me why I just fucked up. I do love posting my babysteps videos on Instagram and getting ‘likes’ from kids all over the world, who sometimes even leave messages that say things like ‘keep trying’ and ‘a bit each day!’. I do like those bits. Those bits give me great hope. And I think that hope and that little bit of knowing will help me write a better play.

That’s why I’m going to make myself go to that gym on my own tomorrow.

And yes, I did write this blog today so that tomorrow I can't bottle it.