Never forget: the path to production is paved with tears

tissuesThink about all the plays that are on.  West End, Fringe, Regional – there are 100s upon 100s. And when you work in the industry at any level you’re constantly aware of colleagues working on different projects. Some you’ve heard about from inception, others arrive fully formed in your inbox or social media feed.

And it’s easy to feel a bit envious about all the amazing work your friends are making – perhaps even wish you’d had that opportunity. So it’s worth remembering in this often super presented social media world that no production is easy and every birthing has it’s complications whatever level you are – from first outing to seasoned vet.

I’m not the former or the latter and not quite in the middle. I’ve have had a few things on. And when you’re part of the process as the writer (hopefully) usually you are a party to all the hiccups that occur in even the best laid plans.

In my experience so far:

  • I’ve had many more funding rejections than approvals (very few of us tweet about the nos);
  • lost actors/ directors/ crew at the 11th hour;
  • had power cuts;
  • had to cancel first night because a show wasn’t ready;
  • had to clean dirty dressing rooms myself (despite paying the theatre a massive hire fee);
  • had contracts changed;
  • dates moved without consultation leading to knock on problems;
  • had actors/crew shout at me about how little they are getting paid/ that they haven’t been paid (often unaware of the irony that I’m  not getting paid at all);

….you name it it’s happened.
In those moments I’ve pow-wowed with the team to problem solve, had extra rations of wine and cried to my friends or other half. I certainly haven’t publicised my pain to the world.

I guess this blog is just my way of reminding myself that there is no easy path in life, every ‘break’ only comes after much pressure is applied and that when I look at others’ timelines and the old green eyed monster is whispering I need to remember it’s tough for us all whether we talk about it or not… So we should celebrate each other’s successes and remember every production is a little miracle – especially in this age of ‘austerity.

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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?

 

The session I SHOULD have called at Devoted & Disgruntled or Why fringe theatre is only for trustofarians

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Last Saturday I went to Devoted and Disgruntled 12: What shall we do about Theatre and the Performing Arts Now in Bristol, hosted by Improbable. For the uninitiated it is an open space event – a sort of free for all conference, where attendees make up the seminar agenda when they arrive.

I’d never been to one before and it was an engaging experience to say the least. I didn’t call a session (though now I realise I should have hence the blog), but went to a broad range from ‘(How) can we teach playwrighting‘ (I had stuff to say about that); ‘Mothers who make’; ‘Can you be an artist in the evenings and weekends’; and the one that inspired this blog: ‘Come and rant at two White Male Artistic Directors’. That last one got me curious for sure.

I bumbled bee-d into it for the last 15 mins as I’d got caught up in another conversation and in fact (disappointingly) no one was ranting at these two Artistic Directors at all. This was because they were talking about things they were doing right – and differently – to most other small theatres to try an enable new theatre makers to get their work going, and their methodology was refreshing to say the least.

Although no one was ranting when I arrived at the session, I have to admit I did rant a bit.

You see, hearing about these seemingly great models of getting work on got me thinking about the way most theatres (on the London fringe at any rate) do things: in a way that is almost impossible for anyone who doesn’t have MONEY.

Let me explain: normally if you want to get your play on it’s a case of an approach to that theatre and then IF they like you and your work and want it in their building they invite you to be part of the programme.

That invitation however does not come with any funding attached. Au contraire, in order to have your work on in said theatre you need to be about to raise the cash (normally in the vicinity of £1.5/£2k per week for the theatre hire alone) to put it on there. The theatre may well help in kind, with marketing or rehearsal space if you are lucky but the onus is on you, the producer or creator,  to find at least several grand up front to secure the venue.

Then you’ve got to pay the actors, and the director, designer, stage manager, get insurance, and there’s set, props costumes and a million other things besides.

In most cases where this model exists you DO get 100% of your box office. But I’d argue this is NOT a good thing, here’s why:

1. You don’t get it until the show has closed so you have to defer paying for things, and most things you can’t defer payment for and

2. It means that the theatre doesn’t have anything at RISK by having your show on there. If there was a box office spilt (where some of the box office goes to the theatre and some to the producers instead of a hire charge) there would be more onus on the theatre to sell tickets, get bums on seats. At the moment all the risk is with the producers, so if the show is a failure the theatre can pretend it was just a hire, but if it’s a hit it’s the theatre who gets all the credit.

This is a broken system. It makes theatre exclusive – if you’re not a trustofarian how on earth can you get work on? Of course there are charities and funds and the arts council but everything is getting more and more squeezed – when I first put on a play back in the mid 2000s there were charities that could fund emerging artists – now those same charities are giving to the huge established organisations so what hope do newbies have?

What’s more the people at the top of the industry seem to be blind about this problem. Anecdotally several directors I know have been told by people who run buildings to ‘keep putting on plays and we will come and see something’. In one case the emerging director had to explain the current model to the established director who presumed box office splits were still the way things worked as they did ‘in his day’.

During my D&D rant I asked the two Artistic Directors with innovative models to go and evangelise about them to the people at the top. Because without another way forward fringe theatre – the space that is meant to be a training ground for emerging artists – will continue to get whiter and more privileged and frankly more boring and dead.

I hope they will spread the word and the people who count listen – then there might be a chance for change.

Rant over.