Friday, August 31, 2007

Shameless Plug

If anyone out there isn't busy on Saturday (1st September 2007) and are in the Leicester area, feel free to come down to Sumo for the Ladyfest fundraiser that I'm involved with. There's going to be readings and short sketches and extracts from plays and specially written ten-minute performances, as well as live music from a number of different bands, from 4:30pm onwards. An actress friend of mine is going to be performing Lupus for me, which should be good (fingers crossed!). I think she's just about gotten over the fact that it's 'rude'...
Anyway, it costs £4 to get in.


I really don't know what to do about Inter Vivos. I mean, since NaNoWriMo finished (which was when I started this project), I've been sort of carrying on in the same way, just opening up the document, reading the last paragraph, and then carrying on from there. Should I stop writing anything new and go back and put the first half into some sort of order? Or should I just keep on until I get to the end of the story, and then go back and change all the mistakes I've made along the way (ie plot inconsistencies, mysterious disappearing characters, etc)? I want to just finish it, but I'm a bit worried that if there's too much 'fixing' needed for my first draft, I'll just pack it in.
I've had to reformat my blog so that I could add a links section, but now I'm not happy with the spacing of the page. I have no idea how to fix it though, so guess I'll just have to learn to live with it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back online again

After my holiday from work and the bank holiday weekend, this is my first day back at a computer with an internet connection, and after going through the 57 emails I had received since Wednesday (most of which were spam), I've just gotten around to posting on my blog. It's been a busy few days. I'll try to recap here what I've been up to.

Wednesday: Awoke with acne (I'm 26 for Pete's sake!). Had to catch an early train to Beeston, to get to Nottingham University for the first day of the Momentum Festival. I attended a workshop by some people attached to the Royal Court, which was ok - basically there was a Court writer there called Alex and we had to read a couple of scenes from her published play and then write our own version. This struck me as a bit egotistical on her part and a bit embarrassing on mine (what if she was outraged by what I had done to her play?). Anyway, that was all ok. And then there was some lunch (thank God for Boots) and then there was the 'Script Slam' session where everyone got about ten minutes with the director and two pro-actors and they basically performed the extract of your play for you. Mine seemed to go well; the director was really good, and the actors kept saying they liked the extract (the male actor kept reading lines from my script at inappropriate moments saying he liked the language, which I found a bit embarrassing, though I guess it was a compliment). Then I even got to act in Sabrina's play, because she needed three actors and the director designated me the 'confident person' to do it. That was weird, receiving professional direction whilst being pulled about by two actors. So all in all the Script Slam was great. I have more of an idea of what to do with Hoodies now. I knew before that I needed to rewrite the Naomi and Jase scenes, and the Mouse=wood glue thing is so cliche it's ridiculous. But now I also need to figure out what happens to Brick and Sandie too, and what their journey is. After that, it was time to jump on a train back to Leicester, and then into a cab (with the world's slowest cabbie who didn't know where Fosse Park was) to go to the Short Story awards thing, where I received a 'commended' certificate and met loads of cool people (including my secret blog idol). I was a bit disappointed about not winning, seeing as it would have meant I could paid off some credit card and afford to have a haircut (finally), but I didn't really expect that I would win. Glad I didn't have to read my story out though, as it's quite rude.

Thursday was a bit less manic, and acne had mysteriously cleared up over night. I attended a presentation about the development of a short film, led by EM Media, which was really interesting. I've never really thought about getting into film before, but the process of pitch to finished product was really inspiring. There was also a session on promenade, or site specific theatre, which again was really good, as it's sort of like the opposite of regular theatre writing, and you're really encouraged to think big. So I spent the afternoon setting the myth of Echo and Narcissus in the grounds of University of Nottingham, which was good (though I think I was a little too bossy, sorry Alex!).

Friday: Early start again, but only because we felt guilty for skivving the 'Bottomless Coffee' session on Thursday. Attended a session held by the Gob Squad about performance art and installations and about generating ideas, which was good, and then a really excellent session by Jack Bradley about how to structure a play and about finding your story and the elements of a play you should really consider. I think this session is going to help loads when I come to redraft Hoodies. Also went to see Dec's play, which had a professional performance in the main theatre, and it was really good, so much better than the first draft. Well done!

My weekend was pretty lazy. I met up with Cat to talk about the event at Sumo (she will be performing the story I wrote for the Short Story awards at the Ladyfest fundraiser event at Sumo on Sat 1st Sept), and had barbeque, and made some really lovely double chocolate chip cookies which I'm now wishing I had bought to work to munch on this afternoon.

Rehearsals for Witches of Eastwick are going well. I'm a bit nervous because we're running act two on Wednesday, and we've not practiced my solo bit in the gospel number and so I'll be doing it for the first time in performance-like conditions, and I'm not really sure what note it starts on!

So that's about it really. As you can see, I've also figure out how to do that link thing in my blog, so you can reference anything I've written about. Well, I think it's cool anyway, but I have a feeling I'm easily pleased!

Monday, August 20, 2007


Well, I've decided that the only way to get stuff done is to give myself 'Daily Writing Goals' so that I actually do something every day and don't get overwhelmed by things.
So this lunchtime, I'm going to figure out what the Hell I'm going to do for Sumo, as not only is the deadline looming and the others are all wanting to know what I'm up to, but my actress is also apparently getting a bit arsey over the fact that she's not seen a script yet. If she's going to go off on one, I might just do it myself. But I'd rather not, obviously.
On my train to rehearsal, I've set myself the goal of planning what is going to happen in the chapter I'm trying to write for Inter Vivos, as I think that's what's putting me off actually putting pen to paper. So I shall plan it on the train, ready to write tomorrow.
It's the awards thing on Wednesday for the Short Story comp, and I'm not sure what to wear. I know that's a really dumb thing to worry about, but I'm going straight there from Momentum (where an extract of my play is being workshopped with a couple of pro-actors), and I don't want to turn up in soggy jeans and a jumper when everyone else is wearing ballgowns and dripping in diamonds. I don't really have any options, but I'm taking Alex with me, so at least I won't be the scruffiest there! (only joking, honey!). I'm sure it's not a black tie event, but even so, it'd be nice to make a good first impression and not look like I've literally been dragged through a hedge backwards. Oh well.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Writer's Block

It's confirmation and Clearing at the moment, so I'm completely swamped, and sick of looking at UCAS forms (I work in University Admissions). Because there's so much on the go here at work, it feels like I'm busy in all aspects of my life, which means that I'm not actually getting anything done (except cleaning my kitchen, which is going well).

I read in another blog about a writer who claimed to have written his book in two weeks, writing from 11pm - 2am every night, whilst also doing a full-time job. At first I was all envious and thinking "well, maybe I can do that too", but then I started to think realistically. No way could I write like that, 1) because going from work (8:30am -5:30pm) to rehearsal (6:00pm - 11:20pm) to writing (11:20pm-2am) for two weeks would be a complete nightmare and 2) because if I don't get at least 8 hours sleep, I get grumpy (right now I'm functioning on about 7). This also sounds like a bit of a stereotypical 'bloke' way to go about things, you know, to compartmentalise everything thus. I tend to do fifty things at once, so I would be writing whilst doing the washing up (wash til water goes dirty, write until dishes have drained), or write whilst eating lunch at work. To spend a whole 3 hours doing nothing but staring at a computer screen/blank piece of paper seems very daunting in comparison. So I've decided to try the much more watered-down version of "writing for an hour a day", which I've not actually managed to do yet, but am starting tonight.

I'm in a phase at the moment (possibly spurned on by the A-Level results and admissions cycle) where I feel like I have to do something with my life to get it going in the direction I want. I've been looking into creative writing courses (which I can't afford) and thinking about doing my PGCE again (which I don't quite qualify for just yet), and about moving to new and exciting cities and things like that. I know that I just need to KEEP WRITING, but I think I'm having a block or something right now, as I just can't seem to make myself sit down to do anything.

Have a new idea (which I kind of wrote about earlier) called 'Gloria, the Dog and Me' about a 20something newly-single woman who befriends an eccentric bohemian woman called Gloria, who's in her 50s, and lives down the street from her. Going to publish it online, but have to write the first two chapters first!

Also, the thing at Sumo is getting closer and closer, and I have 2 pages of dialogue that isn't going anywhere, and I'm getting quite stressed. I think this weekend I'm going to start going through my old stuff and see if there's anything I can recycle from that. I just don't know what's wrong with me at the minute!

Friday, August 10, 2007

I Wanna Live Forever!

Well, on Wednesday I went to audition for the BBC Fame Academy bursary, and I felt like one of the kids from Fame, though without the legwarmers and leotards. I had been shortlisted by the BBC from over one thousand applicants down to 260, so thought I shouldn't miss the opportunity to audition, which was held at Central. We had polaroid photos taken and were divided into groups of about 15 people, and then went into one of the rehearsal rooms and had a performance warm-up with a pro-actor/coach. We then had to perform our songs for a panel of three judges, using the best pianist I have ever heard (one girl had forgotten her music and he played the song from his memory!). Everyone did really well, but the judges decided to chose the pale guy who forgot his lyrics. Oh well. Afterwards, our little band of reject Fame-kids decided to go to the pub, only to realise that it was not yet 11 and the pub was closed. So we set out on our "Big Adventure" to try to get cheap Wicked tickets. Some of us made it all the way to Leicester Square's half-price ticket hut before realising that this was probably not such a good plan, as we all had lives to be getting on with, but the idea of doing something so spontaneous after performing in from of 19 people in a little room was rather nice. Once we had gone our separate ways, I then proceeded to wander the streets of London for about seven hours carrying my suitcase that must have weighed about 2 stone, and, consequently, I am still knackered.

I knew in advance that I wasn't going to get the bursary, and was kinda dreading the interview part if I had have been called back for the afternoon - I had no idea what I really wanted the money for! I mean, going to drama school would be great, but the sensible side of me says "it's not worth getting into debt for over £20,000 as there's no guarantee that I'll get a job afterwards". Also, I just kept thinking about my writing, and how it would have to go on the backburner if I decided to go to drama school, and this idea really did upset me after a while. I'm not one of those Fame kids - I think I did a pretty good impression of one on Wednesday, and everyone thought I was about 7 years younger than I am, which was good, but I'm just not that driven, like them. I really admire these kids, because they seem so sorted and know exactly what they want (some at 17 years old!), but I just don't have that instinct to get up and do a song and a dance in the middle of the tube station. I've spent most of my life wishing I was invisible, so why I ever thought that drama school would be the place for me, I don't know. I like singing, and I'm good at it (I gave a "classy" audition, apparently, and was one of the stronger singers there), but I think I will save it for amateur shows and my singing lessons. I want to be a writer. I've wanted to be a writer since I was about 7 years old. So that's what I'm going to do!

Monday, August 06, 2007


I love the feeling you get when you get a new idea, a really good one, and you have it buzzing around in your head, and it makes you feel happy and excited by the millions of possibilities it generates. And it's like having a secret, a really exciting secret, which makes the whole day brighter, because it's really good, but nobody knows about it yet.
Well, that's how I feel right now, and I'm finding it impossible to concentrate on anything else other than the characters that I have just magically created from thin air, and I know I'm not going to get much done at all today, because all I want to do is spend time with them inside my head.
So if you see me walking around today with a glazed expression, you know why.

Wow, I'm Famous!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"West End in Crisis" rant

Just read the article below. My initial thought was to defend musicals (I think Avenue Q is great personally, and what’s wrong with ‘lightweight’ anyway?), although I have said for ages now that I’m sick of these jukebox musicals that seem to dominate the West End at the moment. At least the Yanks’ trend of adapting a film into a musical is a bit more creative than stringing together some pop songs with a really flimsy story. One of the main problems is the lack of new talent in terms of composers and lyricists; Broadway seems to have a few, but the UK hasn’t seen anyone really since Andrew Lloyd Webber. Thing is, the new composers are probably out there somewhere, in grotty flats, writing their masterpieces but having no where to put them on. Billington’s comments about writers/producers with ‘small scale ideas’ are partly the blame of the production houses, telling new writers that they only want small scale plays. I mean, companies don’t seem to have the resources (or more likely aren’t willing to take the risk) on a play with special effects and a cast of more than six. Writers have it drilled into them at an early stage that they need to write plays that don’t cost any money. So much for imagination running free then.
Personally, I’d rather go and see a really brilliantly written play than see a Hollywood actor in something dire. And I don’t (and can’t afford) to pay more than £30 for a ticket. If the theatres want to charge people £50-60 for a ticket, then, yes, the audience is going to want it’s money’s worth. People see a cast of four relatively unknown actors, on a set with minimal dressing, no changes, no visual effects, actors wearing contemporary clothes, etc. and think, this isn’t worth £50. At least with a musical you can see where your money is going (scene changes, costumes, set, musicians, large cast, lighting, sound, etc). And I think marketing has got lazy, and instead of trying to find interesting ways of promoting a really good play no-one has heard of and getting the crowds in that way, they just stick Madonna in it and hope that will work instead.
We are heavily reliant on the US theatre scene, and I think part of that is that there’s a lack of resources here, for example theatres and theatre-related companies offer these new writing schemes but then don’t have the resources to do anything with these new people. TWP hasn’t taken on a new writer since the first year it did the Momentum Festival, so, cynically one might ask, why do they bother running the workshops? Royal Court has been showcasing international talent this season, Soho seems to do more one-man/two-man ‘comical’ showcases or contemporary dance pieces than ‘real’ theatre, well according to their e-newsletter promoting what’s on they do. And whatever London is doing, the regional theatres seem to copy, like geeky kids trying to join the most popular clique at school. Sigh. Maybe that’s why amateur theatre/fringe theatre is better, because they put on stuff that is actually interesting, and aren’t run by a load of idiots who are so concerned with what everyone else is doing in London that they’re not afraid to take a chance on something new or a bit different.

Crisis in the West End
Theatreland is in dire straits. Second-rate musicals rule, new drama is dying, and the venues are falling apart. The time has come for a revolution, writes Michael Billington

Thursday August 2, 2007The Guardian

We have cried wolf once too often. Over the years, whenever a handful of commercial theatres has been closed, newspapers have prophesied gloom and doom. This, we are told, is the end of West End civilisation as we know it. But today the crisis is real. Never in my lifetime has London's West End theatre looked so narrow in its range of choices or so out of touch with contemporary reality. And it is high time the crisis was confronted and a debate launched about what we expect of commercial theatre.

"What crisis?" some may ask. The Society of London Theatre last year announced record attendances of more than 12 million visitors. They also pointed to the West End's contribution to the wider economy: the commercial theatre regularly generates more than £200m in tax and produces an estimated £400m of ancillary spending on restaurants, bars and transport. Stroll around the West End any evening and the place seems to be seething with visitors, many of them heading towards a theatre. But numbers alone cannot disguise the truth: that the West End lacks any dynamic creative initiative and is living on borrowed time, in that many of its buildings are barely fit for purpose.
Look, for a start, at what is actually on offer. At this moment, there are 26 musicals in the West End but only seven straight plays and three comedies. "The drama's laws, the drama's patrons give," said Dr Johnson, and it would be absurd to deny the public hunger for tune-and-toe shows that offer fantasy and escape. Economic factors also shape public taste: if people are paying up to £50 for a West End stall, at least with a musical they feel they are getting visible value for money in terms of sets, costumes and number of people on stage. I have nothing against musicals. Doubts only begin to arise when you examine the provenance of the shows currently playing.
Of the 26 musicals now showing, 12 derive either from films or TV programmes or are compilation shows drawn from back catalogues. That leaves 14 shows that might loosely be described as "original", even if many of them are adapted from novels. And of those 14, only four hail from the current decade: Wicked (closely based on The Wizard of Oz), The Drowsy Chaperone (due to close after mysteriously ecstatic notices), Avenue Q (a lightweight American import) and The Lord of the Rings. In defiance of my critical colleagues, I happened to like the last. But the melancholy truth is that the musical as a living creative force seems to be in decline. In Britain we have seen no popular, native commercial composer emerge since Andrew Lloyd Webber in the early 1970s: even AR Rahman, chiefly responsible for Bombay Dreams and The Lord of the Rings, has been dubbed by Time magazine the "Mozart of Madras". A genre that in Britain once produced estimable figures such as Ivor Novello, Lionel Bart, Sandy Wilson, Julian Slade and David Heneker is now heavily dependent on a single composer who, at the age of 59, cannot be expected to last for ever.
Also, I wouldn't say the list of musicals opening late this year or early next sound like models of innovation: Desperately Seeking Susan, enhanced by the greatest hits of Blondie, is yet another movie-based musical, while Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And does the pulse race any faster at the prospect of a second musical version of Gone With the Wind?
But, if the West End musical relies parasitically on American imports, the straight play as a commercial proposition seems to be in an even more parlous state. When I started as a critic in 1971, I lamented the fact that virtually all the best plays in the West End stemmed from the subsidised sector: they included John Osborne's West of Suez, Peter Nichols' Forget-Me-Not-Lane, Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves and Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist.
From today's vantage point, however, that seems to have been a time of enviable riches. Of the seven straight plays in the West End today, five are thrillers ranging from The Mousetrap to The Last Confession. The other two are Elling, adapted from a cult Norwegian movie, and David Storey's In Celebration, which is a revival of a fine 1969 Royal Court play. But, however good these two are, their commercial viability clearly rests on the presence, respectively, of John Simm and Orlando Bloom. What we have in London is a clear and potentially damaging trend. The audience for plays basically goes to subsidised theatres. They will only pay West End prices if offered a bona fide star. The most one can say is that there is still a market for comedy as shown by the success of Boeing Boeing, The 39 Steps and The Reduced Shakespeare Company.
At the risk of sounding like a critical Thersites, I would add that the fabric of the bricks and mortar also raises cause for alarm. Cameron Mackintosh is the prime example of a West End theatre-owner who has taken serious steps to improve his properties and plough his profits back into the buildings. Under his stewardship, the Prince of Wales and the Prince Edward have been magnificently restored, and the Novello has acquired something of its pristine splendour. The Theatre Royal Haymarket is also a delight to enter. But too many West End theatres are crumbling, decaying edifices. In 2003, the Theatres Trust produced a report confirming that 60% of West End theatres had seats from which the stage was not fully visible, and that 48% had inadequate foyers and bars. They estimated that at least £250m would have to be spent over the next 15 years to make the theatres safe, usable and attractive. But where is the money to come from? There is a clear case for rewriting lottery rules to enable public funds to be spent on modernising our theatres. Otherwise, visitors to London for the 2012 Olympics will be confronted by a bizarre mixture of spanking new sports stadia and theatrical slums.
But what can be done to improve the West End artistically as well as structurally? The most urgent need is for dynamic young producers to succeed the senior generation of Michael Codron, Robert Fox, Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt. Only two have made their mark in recent years: the admirable Sonia Friedman and Matthew Byam Shaw. The latter was the beneficiary of a bursary called Stage One, in which money from the Theatre Investment Fund is used to kick-start individual careers. I sit on its selection panel, and twice a year we meet to interview a dozen young hopefuls. It is an intriguing process and a valuable scheme. But what strikes me, and some of the other panellists, is the relative scarcity of applicants who think in broad commercial terms: reared in the ethos of Fringe theatre, they largely come armed with small-scale projects.
My belief is that the really imaginative producers of today are to be found not in the commercial sector but among the directors of subsidised theatres. People like Nicholas Hytner at the National, Michael Grandage at the Donmar, Dominic Cooke at the Royal Court, Vicky Featherstone at the National Theatre of Scotland, Jonathan Church at Chichester and Gemma Bodinetz and Deborah Aydon at Liverpool are the real Diaghilevs of modern British theatre. They may be partially protected by subsidy but they still have to think in terms of filling theatres and of devising a dozen or more productions a year that will combine quality with audience appeal. Without wishing to denude the non-profit sector of its talent, it seems vital that the commercial theatre benefits from the wisdom and shared experience of people with a proven track record.
To some extent, it happens already with subsidised transfers. Rupert Goold's Macbeth and the Jonathan Church-Philip Franks Nicholas Nickleby are scheduled to move from Chichester into the Gielgud Theatre this autumn. Mackintosh's theatres also have a tie-in with the RSC. And it would be madness if Peter Hall's revelatory production of Pygmalion at Bath, which captures both the pain and the ecstasy of Shaw's original play, did not move into the West End.
Jonathan Kent's impending season at the Haymarket is clearly an attempt to capitalise on his experience at the Almeida. And, although I've urged it before, I repeat that this should be a working model for the future. Why not give Richard Eyre or Stephen Daldry the freedom to create a West End company? Or why not turn over a West End venue to Emma Rice's Kneehigh troupe for a year in order to woo the audience for visual theatre?
What the West End needs is a radical makeover, even a minor revolution, in the interests of both quality and variety. I'd like to see Sunday openings, lottery money for the rotting fabric, more imaginative use of the buildings themselves: in particular, pre-show talks, jazz and poetry recitals, stand-up comics in the dead hours before the 7.30pm opening. If the commercial theatre can't beat the subsidised sector, it should, in effect, join it: not only by adopting its practices but by employing its personnel. In the old days, the West End theatre relied on actor-managers to give it body and substance. Now what it needs are director-managers, or even dramatist-impresarios, of proven vision. Otherwise it is destined to become little more than a gaudy musical fairground based on sinking land and of scant relevance to the art of theatre or to life.