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



video
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. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Something New Rising


About this time a week ago I was sitting in London's South Bank with Hannah Nicklin talking about the internet. Because Hannah is not just a friend, she's also ace at theatre and a mega digital brain. And I had gone to her for help. About digital stuff. The internet. Blogging and the like. I was after a fresh eye on what I am doing here online... And she had a load of stuff to say... You will for example have noticed (if you have visited these pages before) that my blog has had a super smart face lift. Well, that's down to Hannah suggesting that I change the 'weird orange and skin colour scheme'…It's amazing how something can look so right until someone points out just how very wrong it is. The orange had to go…

But we didn't just talk about how things look.  Much more importantly Hannah suggested 'you don't always have to write pieces that are finished. You could just share stuff that you're thinking about. People don't always expect to get fully formed reflection. Sometimes they just want to find out what you're thinking about today'...

This had never crossed my mind before.   That it's possible to sometimes use this space as a place to just share thoughts / excitements / inspirations... 

That I could post something about the feeling of being half way there... 

That a half finished nub might be interesting...

That's quite exciting! 

It's like saying sometimes you bake the whole pizza but sometimes it's ok to say 'look, I've been making dough'.

Onward




Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Palimpsest

A manuscript on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible…



I’m redrafting my latest play, Home Sweet Home, for Freedom Studios.  I’m thinking about the layers and layers of decisions and thought that led to the first draft, and which have taken me to a point. This point. Even so, a first draft can only ever go so far. There is always a step further to be taken. So now I find myself into the real process of writing: the unpicking, erasing, rebuilding and adding.  I'm into the unfixed liquid moment between drafts. Wading in, still turning ideas. I’m thinking. Should I? I’m not sure yet. Should I? I’m thinking about the moments that will stay, the lines that will go, the new images that are forming. I’m submerging myself in it. Reentering. Refocusing. The hunt for something seamless and whole is on again. A seamless whole, with no loose ends, that will add up to something more than its parts. Something entertaining, fun, moving, exciting but thoughtful and different. Different but familiar. Fine tuning the tone. Making the right choice. Chasing the thing. This thing. Chasing it to nail it. Making a moment in time, a story that can mean something important to me and something important to you, if you come to see it.  And of course you can. You can come. I mean, they started selling the tickets for it already. So this feeling of being between worlds, it can’t last forever. The draft will be done. The deadline must be hit and the story will be told.  It’s an unstoppable thing, once you get this far in. It will happen because it must. 

But there is something magical/frightening/wonderful/sick-making about this moment between drafts. This liquid state, when just for a moment all the layers of old, present and new thinking sit side by side...

Where is Home? 

Coming from Bradford. Having been born in Bradford Royal Infirmary and then having been taken as a baby to live in Shipley where I stayed until I was 18 and then taking myself to Liverpool, then back to Shipley, then to Leeds, Hawkworth Estate, Burley, Headingley, back to Shipley, then to Potternewton, then Gledhow, Gildersome, Saltaire, then back to Shipley, then to Bradford city centre, then back to Shipley, then to Bingley and now Crossflatts… Having moved and moved and moved in and around the same place, over and over again.  Building up layers and layers of knowledge of a few tiny pockets of an 18 square mile chunk of this planet? I have this feeling, that I could run back into myself coming down a hill 5 days, 5 weeks, 5, 10, 20 years previous. All those different versions of myself. All those different versions of family, friends and lovers. Ghosts hanging around. Different then, yet now, still the same...

Being this person who has been around and around this particular part of the world, I was aware of the Ukrainian Club in Bradford. There used to be gigs there, I think, when I was a kid.  I knew that someone from The Wedding Present (an iconic Leeds band from my youth, who I never much liked) went on to form The Ukrainians. So somewhere in my mind, I knew there was a Ukrainian community ‘here’, but in a vague way. I knew but didn’t know. And so, I had to go all the way to London last summer to meet Nina and Maria who have been living in Bradford for the last 50 or so years. Just a few miles from where I live. Have lived. Will live. To come across them. To register them. I was in London to spend time with the Entelechy Older Artists who were hosting this exchange... And then Nina and Maria started to tell their story. And their story was at once alien and mine. They mentioned places I know and where I go. They talked in a broken English that was peppered with Bradfordian words and vowels.  Sounds that only a Bradfordian makes. I can’t tell you what those sounds are, but I know them when I hear them. And so, to hear them speak these alien stories of the 2nd world war, in my home town's accent?  To hear their experience of becoming 'Untermensch', being stolen into forced labour as teens and losing everything? To hear them telling their story of surviving when friends didn’t. And then of coming here to start again… But never forgetting... The then and the now going on together... Well. Sometimes you have to go all the way to London to find out something new about the city you were born and live in. Ever since that afternoon I find myself thinking of our lives, Nina, Maria's and mine, going on, circling, layering, building up a shared experience, which I didn’t know we had. But it was always there. Discovering this is what began to make sense of the heart of this play for me... A play that is set in 3 city's in the UK at the same time. A play that has 8 unique stories which are all interlinked... A play that slips back and forth between the real and the magical...

I am thinking about all of this as I start the spitting, polishing, the head butting and swearing that will lead finally to the rehearsal draft of this play... 

I’m thinking about the things in the script that are quantifiably true and the layers of magic and fantasy that sit side by side with all of this 'real' stuff now.  I’m thinking about the bits that came from nowhere. They just came. They just did. I’m thinking about the other plays and films and TV and music that I was thinking about while I was writing the first draft: As You Like It, Om Shanti Om, Daft Punk, The Tempest, Oh What A Lovely War, Live and Let DieThe Good Old Days and Camberwick Green. To a lesser or a greater extent, all these inspirations are alive in my play. I can see bits of Bradford and bits of London and slithers of Stockton. Everything jostling for attention. The jottings of scientists explanations, the half seen incidents, the smell of piss under Dettol, the cups of tea, the fear I felt whilst being approached by someone with later-stage Alzheimer’s for the first time. The smiles and sad eyes lifted to mine when I was interviewing. The memories entrusted to me by an incredibly generous stranger ‘because people should know’. The responsibility of that. The weight of that. And then the realisation that the only way to do justice to that responsibility was to cast off the weight of it. Otherwise I would never be free enough to write this fucking play.  This fucking play that I want to get right. This fucking play. With fuck in it. The fact that people do say fuck. People do. All sorts of people do. For all sorts of reasons. But in our feedback session last week, many of our older volunteer performers asked me to take the swearing out. Not comfortable with that. No need. Only, is there no need? I have to think about that carefully. The fact, that facts are debatable. Even when they’re not. For some people they are. And always will be. Under certain circumstances. Depending on. What? On things. On other things that have happened to us. That we have thought about. That sway us. That make certain untrue things more real for us than the real things other people see. The way that despite all of this, we long and search for a defined sense of meaning. Out of the layers and layers and layers of now and then and who we are and were, and who you are and were. Out of all of this, we still want to find a moment of clarity. A moment that makes sense. That from a certain angle, at a certain time allows all this palimpsest to somehow, even so, add up to a moment of truth. That is what a story is and why stories matter and why they can come as easily as breath yet can be as hard to nail as quick silver.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Burn Brighter

I woke up this morning thinking about the loss of Nelson Mandela's late last night. I heard the news just before bedtime and went to bed feeling just very, very sad. But this morning, that has changed. Now I am all strange happy sad... Because, yes I am very sad for us, that we have lost him. But I am happy too. Happy and glad that such a decent, thoughtful person was with us for a while. And so loved. And that he didn't just think and feel intelligent heartfelt ideas, but somehow found a way to make himself heard. And so, because of all of this, he was able to do much good in this world. I don't think we need to try & make him a saint. He was a good man. That's good (& hard) enough. I don't expect or need to believe he was perfect. I just know that we are better for having had him around, while we are around... So now, in honour of him and his life, I am going to go grab this beautiful day & try to live it with love and delight and hope and passion and belief, because that's what he did. When we lose such a bright light in the world, the temptation is to say, 'who will fill the darkness now?'. But really, the obligation, our obligation, is to try and burn brighter ourselves. Not easy. But here we are. Onward.