Highlights from March 2017

 Cultural highlights for this month include theatre, podcast and something a bit unusual … auditions.

I’ve been part of the team meeting actors for my new play The Scar Test which will be at Soho Theatre in July. The play explores life for women in detention in the U.K. And although the play has a large number of characters in this first production it will be performed by 5 actors: 4 women and 1 man. So we’ve been meeting actors of different ages and ethnicity, it’s completely open. And I’ve been astonished by not only the quality of the actors we are seeing but the dedication and preparation they’ve put in, many learning lines in advance, all of them reading and having thoughts on the play and doing research themselves. It’s been a properly exciting process. So not a usual cultural highlight but a very real one!

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My play experience was Black Lives Black Words at the Bush. Part of the reopening programming of the new building Black Lives Black Words is the brain child of award-winning American playwright Reginald Edmund, who produced the USA premiere at the Greenhouse Theatre in Chicago in July 2015. The Bush Theatre presented its UK Premiere in Oct 2015 produced by Artistic Directors of the Future. This new iteration featured two plays from African-American writers:  #Matter (Idris Goodwin), This Bitter Earth (Harrison David Rivers), and four new plays by British writers: Womb (Somalia Seaton),The Principles of Cartography (Winsome Pinnock), My White Best Friend (Rachel De-Lahay) and The Interrogation of Sandra Bland (Mojisola Adebayo). Poet Anthony Anaxagorou also performed his poems If I Told You and Master’s Revenge.

The culmination of the evening was Mojisola Adebayo’s reimagining of The Interrogation of Sandra Bland, an African-American woman who was pulled over by police in Texas for failing to signal, the interrogating officer took against Sandra and arrested her. Three days later her body was found hanging in a police cell. Adebayo has transcribed the original interrogation and presents it here with a cast of seven women of colour playing Sandra. They are joined by more actresses from the community in a chorus as the piece continues. It was a powerful, breath-taking and unforgettable memorial, deftly directed by Omar Elerian.

Black Lives Black Words  only had three performances and I do hope it will come back.

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Finally a podcast – here was me thinking only BBC Radio could make compelling drama but Gimlet’s Homecoming proved me wrong. Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaacs and David Schwimmer lead the cast in what is billed as a ‘psychological thriller’ about a programme to rehabilitate disturbed war vets. I don’t want to give anything away so I wont say any more except have a listen – it’s free to download – but download all 6 because you will eat them up.

3 things writers are doing while you are reading (or failing to read) their script

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We’ve all done it. We’ve all met writers at parties or conferences or an event and said “Send me something, I’d love to read your work”. 80% of the time the writer will do it (and the 20% who don’t I’ll talk about later) and it lands in your mailbox and you think – “oh great I’ll read that this weekend”.

Three months later you’re on the loo, or making a cuppa or walking to the station and you think: “Shit! I haven’t read X’s piece yet – must do that”. Then at this point you either forget about it again or consign it to the pile of things I must do that I feel bad about and never get round to.

If you recognise this scenario, now is the moment to resolve not to ask to read people’s stuff again. You’re not a bad person (I’m including myself in all this to be clear – I’ve done it) but if you don’t have time don’t ask, because it can really mess with a writer’s head (I’m talking for all writers here – I know that’s ridiculous so actually scrub that I’m talking about myself).  Here’s three things writers (me) might be doing while you are sitting on their script.

  1. Sending test emails to their best mate to ensure their email is working
  2. Looking at your twitter/facebook/instagram account to see if you are in the country/still alive/ sending subliminal messages about how much you hate their script
  3. Feeling 100% sure that you have read it and hated it so much you can’t bring yourself to send any kind of message about it.

Pathetic perhaps but very true. We are delicate beasts us writers – thin skinned to let the world in and not thick skinned enough to keep it out when insecurity strikes.

The 20% of writers who DONT send a script when you ask are probably smart enough to know you are unlikely to find the time to read it and don’t want to open the door to paranoia (as detailed above).

So next time maybe think twice about asking – or when you realise you haven’t read it send a message just to say “I’m busy but nag me” (only if you want to be nagged) or “don’t hold your breath”. Seriously its much nicer than leaving a poor writer spending their time fixating on you. There’s only so many times we can check our email in one day.

Or perhaps us writers (me) should resolve to become one of the 20% and not bother to send work just in case it never gets read…

Nah!

PS This is not a dig at any one – or a cry for help! Currently I am fairly sure I’m not waiting for anyone to read any of my work 🙂

How many hours of dead women do we watch on TV?

I was happily watching a TV show I like the other night.  It started: a woman – beaten… abused. Suddenly I wasn’t concentrating on the story, I was feeling uncomfortable, realising how often women on screen are beaten, abused or dead on a slab. It’s something my other half complains about often, but this was the first time it really hit me.

I don’t want to name names, because this isn’t about slagging off individual programmes, but it got to me. So I did something I try not to do, I ranted on Facebook. This is what I posted:

Another night another tv programme where a woman is abused – I’m getting tired of so many shows with women being killed or beaten or hurt I KNOW there are other interesting genre busting shows being pitched by writers everyday – it’s time for change!

Give women writers and directors the reins then that change will come!”

Very quickly the post got a lot of likes and comments. Most people seemed to feel the same. It made me wonder if programmes about the abuse of women and children are made because audiences want them or because commissioners THINK audiences want them.

And then I wondered, am I being hysterical? IS it REALLY that bad or is it in my head – do those programmes just stand out a bit more?

Other half and I chatted and he challenged me to do a test – see how many hours of telly in a week are devoted to programmes with a storyline in which a woman or child is abused or murdered.

Challenge accepted.

But when I started scouring the telly guide for next week I realised I’d have to put in some parameters – for example these kind of topics can’t be shown till after the watershed. And there are so many channels now and I do have a life… So I took a sample- one week,  the four main channels, between 9pm and midnight. Here’s what I found out:

  • In total across 28 hours of telly 8 of those featured these kind of stories
  • There was one hour every week night bar Friday and more than that at the weekend because of films.

That means 38% of telly in that slot features stories where women and kids are abused and/or killed. And to my mind that’s far too much. I’m not even including in my sample storylines in soaps or continuing dramas.

Imagine if we could get commissioners to commit to lowering that percentage significantly? Or just to take one of those hours and devote it to something different – something innovative, something where  woman walks around talking unscarred…

Might we be able to make a wider positive change in the way people think about women and children by commissioning uplifting, positive stories that explore what it is to be human and have relationships in new, unusual ways. And make new genres, or – hell – get rid of genres all together.

There are other kinds of dramas waiting to be born and plenty of female (and male) writers, directors and actresses ready to step up and make them given half a chance… So come on commissioners, what are you waiting for?

 

Highlights from February 2017

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It was half term in Feb, so in honour of that, my choices this month are all kids movies.

Firstly Zootopia. I’m late to the party I think (hell it won an Oscar at the weekend), but Disney making a film that featured animated animals to explore the nature of prejudice is mind-bendingly cool. I loved it, mini-me who is 5 enjoyed it but I think the detailed plot was a bit tough for her in places. If you’ve a 7 or 8 year old in your life I bet they’d adore it.

mv5bmji4mzu5ntexnf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzy1mtewmdi-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Next up ANOTHER Disney – Moana. Some catchy tunes – outwardly, more obviously ‘Disney’ – one girl’s quest to save the world (rather than find a husband as Disneys of old worked) and a nice twist around the notion of the monster. It’s very watchable, though there’s a bit on a boat 3/4 of the way through that loses its way a bit. All in all a positive watch and safe bet for mini ones.

Finally Sing. You’ve probably seen the trailer – a theatre producing koala decides to run a talent contest… cue lots of amusing turns by animals singing well known songs. The Brit thug gorillas were my favourite, with a son who sung like Elton John and whose rendition of “I’m still standing” secured a big thumbs up from me. This was the one my daughter loved the most – the song vignettes, humour and different characters journeys really hooked her.

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Sing’s probably the only one of the three that doesn’t try to consciously cater for an adult audience too with tongue in cheek asides or anything like that – but I actually really liked it for that. And it did make me giggle a lot.

To be clear those aren’t the only kids movies I watched – in a rainy half term there were more but these were the ones I liked best. A warning about Lego Batman: we took mini me as it was a U and were shocked at how violent it was. It seems violence is ok to the people rating if it’s between Lego characters rather than humans. So be careful with that one.

March is more grown up: I’m most excited about the reopening of the Bush and the Black Lives Black Words event.