Thursday, 28 July 2011

let the bloggers in

The Wheel (image by Gottfried Helnwein)
Oh, I like this. The National Theatre of Scotland have issued a social media call. for their latest production: The Wheel, by Zinnie Harris. This, presumably, in addition to the more standard press call.

They've set the barriers for involvement pretty low - anyone with a blog, facebook account or twitter feed can go along and take some pictures and find out more. So a self-selecting group of interested parties can go along and promote the play.

I don't know if many theatres have already gone down this route. But I'd like to see it happening more. Not just because I have a blog and like the theatre (send me free tickets, people, obviously). But because it reflects the way that most people hear about new stuff and get interested in it.

I often look at reviews in the press, but I'm just as likely to be swayed by a trusted friend talking about a play on their blog, or mentioning it on Facebook.Perhaps even more so. And of course, it all helps to generate a buzz, which takes interested theatre-goers from 'maybe I'll get round to seeing this' to 'must book now'.

Oh, and here's a video about the play: 

Friday, 22 July 2011

getting ATTENTION as a writer

Harry Potter and the tenous connection picture opportunity
I had a short play on in Camden recently. Afterwards, one of the actors told me that his next job was to wander around in a cloak pretending to be a deatheater, at the red carpet premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2.

Which is a pretty cool gig!  And of course, it left me wondering if I can inject some kind of Harry Potter angle into my writing CV. I can't. Obviously I can't.

Writing is the main thing. OF COURSE. But a neat marketing angle doesn't do any harm either. My first ever script that got produced was part of the Sitcom Trials - a comedy competition. One of the other writers sent out a press release, based on the fact that one of the actors was the niece of the bloke who used to play Mike in Coronation Street. Clutching at straws? Hell, if it gets bums on seats, it has to be worth a try...

Failing spurious celebrity connections, I also like this approach - the website for Redundancy: the musical.  Writer Naomi Lowde has created the site for her musical before it's even been staged.

She's also set up a Facebook page to start gathering followers. I think this is a great idea. You have to market your work to a theatre, company, or producer to get it on. And if you can prove that you already have a fanbase in place, well, all to the good. And especially with a strong concept like this.

My next play isn't quite at this stage sadly. I don't thing the world is ready for www.playaboutsomestuffnotsurequitewhatyetbutabitpoliticalyeah?

It is the world's loss, obviously.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

the ideas phase

And so it transpires I am now in the ideas phase. I've finished a short piece, there are some rewrites to be getting on with, but there's a gap in my writing schedule for the main event. The thing I have to write. The one that gets under my skin right the way until completion.

The ideas phase is a dangerous place to be.

The best plays you (n)ever write are those ghostly, fantasy plays that get written entirely in your head, and never make it to the page. You can spend hours on them - imagining dialogue that is heartbreaking in its poignancy, side-splitting in its comedy. They will bring a profundity to the British stage never seen before or since. You are dazzled with the brillance of your ideas.

Almost without exception, these plays don't work. I don't know quite what happens, but when it comes to putting them down on paper, everything is lost. The dialogue, that was so brilliant in your head comes out stilted and unconvincing. The plot doesn't make sense. That character, that amazing character that was going to have Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart fighting to play the part? Yeah, turns out he's a total wally, and dull to boot.

The solution - the only solution I've come up with to all this - is to write it down first. When the first inklings of a work of genius arise, I get me straight to my notebook. And I know, pretty quickly, whether it will work or not. But honestly, some of these plays I've written in my head.... It is no exaggeration to say they could have been literally better than Shakespeare.

Friday, 15 July 2011

today I was distracted by shopping

Short floral culottes. Why?
...I say shopping, I mean wandering round the summer sales in a daze and being too overwhelmed to actually buy anything.

I am rubbish at shopping in lots of ways.

I pick stuff up and then I make the mistake of asking myself whether I need it, and whether it goes with anything, and is there honestly a gap in my wardrobe for short floral culottes or whatever the item in consideration. And the answers are usually no and no and no.

(There are a lot of short floral culottes around at the moment. I would like to embrace fashion, but fashion is not making it easy for me. Dammit. )

When I go out on a mission for something I really need: summer dresses, say, or work trousers - I invariably can't find anything, and come back with a black top that cost in the region of £12 to £18 instead.

I have this sense that by now I'm supposed to have a capsule wardrobe, which is to say a set of clothes which can be combined endless clever ways and made into new outfits with the addition of a belt, or a scarf.

Instead, I have lots of tops that go with one or less pairs of trousers that I own. There is no coherence in my personal style. I don't have a look. I just have a load of clothes stuffed in a wardrobe and if I get out of the house wearing stuff that is clean, and kind of matches, that counts as a successful day.

So this is why I wander in a trance-like state around high street shops, and don't quite manage to buy anything.

And this is why the Next Big Project didn't get started this afternoon. The only advantage of being in the, ahem, ideas phase, is that everything is research. OK? All this pottering about is research. Shush over there.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

write what you know

I started writing plays because I did an Arvon course - something I would highly recommend. Douglas Maxwell was one of the tutors and he had lots of very wise things to say about bring a playwright. This included being an expert on what you were writing on. Not just on the facts though, on the emotions.

It was a real breakthrough for me, this idea that you had to have an emotional connection to your work. That it's the only thing that gets you writing, and keeps you writing, and makes you write well, or at least as well as you're able to.

Lots of my writing is about hurt, disappointment and anger. The thing is, I'm not relentlessly miserable. (Except when I listen to the Today programme and shout at the Tories.) But these emotions are all in there, and they're really good places to write from. Even comedy. Especially comedy.

I thought of all this because I was browsing the t'internet in my perpetual quest to waste time and I came across some more of Douglas's advice, and it's all pretty brilliant, and worth a read. So do.

Friday, 8 July 2011


When I was a teenager I had a brief foray into amateur dramatics. In the heady days of fearless youth, I got up on a stage, and acted. (Badly, but enthusiastically.)

I even sang a bit. (In musicals. Because I was supposed to. Not just randomly, in the middle of Pinter of something.)

My trick, as I recall, was to leave my glasses off, so I couldn't see the audience. And yes, yes, I occasionally bumped into a table, or went off the wrong way, but that was basically the only way I could do it.

I'm giving a presentation tomorrow, as part of a postgraduate course. I'm incredibly nervous. It's not as bad as acting. I don't have to ask what my motivation is, or remember any lines. But it's still a but scary.

Unfortunately tomorrow I do have to wear my glasses or I won't be able to see the Powerpoint slides. So cross fingers for a sympathetic audience...