Fat Alice at the Fringe

So, I finally made it up to Edinburgh last week and got to join in with the Fringe-funtimes. It’s very easy to feel like the whole world is at the Festival in August, while I’m sat in my flat watching Sharknado 2.

 

I was there for Fat Alice. It’s been a long, rocky road to get there but five drafts (although we try not to talk about the first two cos they went in the bin) and quite a lot of notepaper headed ‘what is Alice?’ later we got there.

 

Traverse Associate Director Emma Callander has been with me every step of the way, and it was a real joy to finally be in the rehearsal room with her, two actors, AD Caitlin and SM Camilla and get to hear it out loud for the first time. The first time read by other people I should say. You know, like, proper actors, and not just me reading it out loud at my desk in – worryingly – a Scottish accent which I didn’t mean to do but couldn’t help it.

 

Anyway. It was a brilliant day. I’ve said before how much I enjoy being in rehearsals, hearing the play, seeing it start to come alive and so on. I might not look like I’m enjoying myself as I go ghost white and sit there shaking and trying to fold myself invisible in my chair, but believe me – there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

 

I was lucky to get two great actors for the roles – Meg Fraser and Keith Fleming – and it was gratifying that everyone at the table ‘got’ it from the off, liked it and went for it.

 

The first performance on Friday was to a sold-out audience which was lovely to see, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits with their bacon butties and cuppas. I hope they enjoyed it. I did. I even remembered to breathe. I have a couple of script tweeks to do before the next one and can’t wait to see it again. (also sold out – whoop!)

 

Below, some poor quality rehearsal photos taken by me, plus the massive poster outside the Trav cos having your name on a massive poster never gets old …

Big massive posters with your name on NEVER get oldA poor quality rehearsal photo (Keith & Meg)And another one in Trav2. Still Keith & Meg - Alice not pictured. Or is she ...? (No)

In the meantime I’ll leave you with my Fringe tips, as I’m sure you’re waiting with baited breath …

Show#1: The Carousel at the Traverse – a beautiful monologue performed outstandingly by Maureen Beattie. Gorgeous set, mood, tone, all right up my street. I got a little lost sometimes with the multiple narrators and jumping about in time, but it didn’t matter.

Show#2: riverrun also at the Traverse. Indescribable. Kind of beautiful and a bit intimidating. Once I stopped fighting it and just let it wash over me, then I had a better time. Reminded me of Not I.

Show#3: Buffer (Thrive Theatre) – enjoyable new play by fellow Trav50 writer Alan Gordon about relationships and online life. Funny. Good use of the limited space and good performances. It’s finished now though so, yeah.

Show#4: Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen Vol2 – engaging, fun, endearing, even for someone like me who doesn’t really know Cohen. A potentially rather moving ending spoiled by a fire alarm. At least they didn’t start evacuating us til the show ended!

Show #5: Ernest And The Pale Moon at the Pleasance – possibly my favourite of the day. Stylised, inventive, a couple of scares, atmospheric, energetic. We were accosted by a man in the queue who told us in great detail about how amazing he and his play are. We did not appreciate this. I don’t think he comes with the show though, so a strong recommend for something a bit different.

Show #6: Spoiling at the Traverse (do you see a theme?!) – interesting, funny and sharp two-hander about a Scotland in transition after a ‘yes’ vote. Great performances, especially Gabriel Quigley who I think is ace.

So there you go. Wish I could have seen everything I wanted to and more, but I don’t think we did too badly for one evening and one full day.

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Traverse Write Here – Fat Alice

I spend quite a lot of time on my own. More so since I recently left seven years of flat sharing in favour of solo living. I’ve named my plants (Nick, Tiggy and Valerie) and spend a fair amount of time looking out of the window from my desk watching the cat over the back (who I have named Seymour) in lieu of being allowed a pet of my own. This is not a bad thing, by the way. I like it. And I need to be on my own, in the quiet, to write. I’m not one of these who can have the telly on or music blaring.

I am my work. If I don’t sit on my own at my desk in the quiet then it doesn’t get written. The reward is having the play done – in the hands of a director, in the mouths of actors, an audience there watching and enjoying it.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing this year. So it was with much excitement that I peeled myself away from my desk to head up to Edinburgh for the Traverse Write Here Festival.

As one of the Traverse Fifty I’d had the opportunity to pitch various ideas and was delighted to have my play Fat Alice amongst the lunchtime readings, my audio short Noise in the Headset Play line-up and my Hidden Play secreted somewhere in the building.

I only had two days up there – 28 hours to be exact – so I was going to have to make the most of everything going on. It’s safe to say I spent the time up to my eyes in theatre and I frickin’ loved it.

High points included finding all of the plays around the building – scribbled on the walls to scrolling across the till displays – the Lunchtime rehearsed readings by some of my fellow 50 and hearing my audio short Noise performed by Gabriel Quigley. Because you listen on an individual headset but can see other people around you listening too and hearing the same thing at the same time, it’s both a collective and personal experience. Not an unpleasant one, just different.

“super charged with energy and invention …
… small audio plays – including a superb foyer piece called Noise, by Alison Carr, brilliantly performed by Gabriel Quigley …
Among the hightlights so far … Carr’s extreme comedy Fat Alice in which the obesity crisis suddenly and literally intrudes into the new love-nest of an adulterous couple …
… explosion of creativity” ★★★★ – Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman

The day rounded off with the unveiling of the Writer Pictures exhibition. The photos had been hanging in the bar since the previous day, I’m not sure if people had to walk around with their eyes closed until the ‘official launch’ but anyway, here’s mine …

The highest high point, though, was rehearsing Fat Alice.

This is why I do what I do. This makes all the worry and self-doubt and solitude worthwhile – to be in a room with the director Zinnie Harris and two superb actors, hearing and working on my play which I wrote at that desk by the window in-between naming my plants and watching the neighbours cat.

Whether it be a development day, a reading, a fully blown production or anything in-between, I love this bit – the process, the chat, hearing the characters, seeing it getting up on its feet for the first time. There were questions and some cuts and small re-writes on the hop, and bits that weren’t working and bits that were – but that’s the point of sessions like this. Three hours to rehearse a script-in-hand performance of a twenty-minute play, you’d think it would be more than enough time but it flew by.

Fat Alice was a bit of a risk. It’s a black comedy in which a lot of physical things happen. This can be tricky in a rehearsed reading as those things aren’t going to happen. The event that kicks the whole thing off, for example, the foot that comes through the couple’s ceiling – well the audience are just going to have to use their imaginations.

So while it was a reading, Zinnie got the actors on to their feet as much as possible. She also got them up on their chairs and down on their bellies, so hats off to Gabe and David for being so game. And when it came to the audience watching the performance the following day it all paid off, they got right with the story and the characters – they also laughed lots and said nice things afterwards, which never hurts.

So I head home. And back to my desk. I wonder if Seymour’s missed me …

I nearly forgot, my Hidden Play. Very hidden!

For those of you without super-sonic vision, it reads thus …

YOU TOO? by Alison Carr
I sometimes feel, you know …
I know.
Do you?
Yes.
And do you feel …?
All the time.
Me too.

Girl on film …

So, what did you get up to yesterday? 

I walked around Newcastle getting my photo taken in a variety of locations. Like you do. 

Some explanation is probably required.

As part of the Traverse Fifty, each writer has been paired with a professional photographer to create a portrait to be exhibited at the Traverse later in the year.

It’s the brain child of Writer Pictures and at first I was … what’s the word? … ah yes, unimpressed.

I hate getting my photo taken. Hate. It. I don’t like my smile. This wouldn’t be so bad if my non-smiling face was less, you know, pissed off looking. I don’t like my profile. Face-on is little better. Basically, I am not photogenic. Which is fine, normally, as there isn’t a huge demand for photos of me. It is less fine when I am paired with a photographer and tasked with creating a photo that is going to be hung on a wall.

Ian Forsyth, Lord love him, drew the short straw, and he travelled from Saltburn yesterday so we could met up. A documentary photographer, Ian’s style isn’t suited to a studio setting but to walking about and seeing what strikes him. Lucky for us it was glorious sunshine on Tyneside yesterday, so we headed down to the Quayside. As I am the only Traverse Fifty writer from Newcastle, I was pleased to see the city included in the shots – flying the flag for the North East and all that.

It’s safe to say I am not a natural model. If you want someone looking stiff and/or awkward in a range of locations then I’m your gal, but I doubt Cara Delevingne will be losing any sleep.

Ian, though, was great. He didn’t made a big deal of anything, it was all very relaxed and ‘how about here’ or ‘let’s try this’. We were all over the shop, along the Quayside – including the temporary beach! – on the Millennium Bridge, around and inside the Sage, then back across and up to Central Station.

It’s a wonder Ian ever gets anywhere, he sees shots everywhere and admits himself he never leaves home without his camera and has to give himself extra time when he goes out ‘just in case’.

It ended up feeling more like a stroll in the sunshine and a chat than it did a Big Scary Photo Shoot. And there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than that.

Of course, the real horror was yet to come – seeing the photos. Would any of them be acceptable? If it was a case of the best of a bad lot, would I have to leave the country once it went on public view?

Well. Ian sent me a selection last night – there were no tears (from me, not sure if he was sobbing in despair) and I narrowed it down to a shortlist of, erm, two! Fortunately we are in agreement of the one to choose and it’s been sent off to be printed up.

We are strictly forbidden to reveal the selected image – top secret until the exhibition is unveiled. We are, however, able to share some of the shots not selected [click to enlarge]

   

       

 To visit Ian Forsyth’s website click [here]

It’s raining, it’s pouring

After all my badmouthing of 2012, 2013 has got off to a much better start. I’m not counting my chickens, but just saying that it’s keeping me busy so far (and long may it continue – touch wood)

 

The big news at this moment is that NEVER RAINS BUT IT POURS is going to be produced as part of Theatre503’s LabFest next month.

You might remember that NEVER RAINS started life as part of Past Glories at The People’s Theatre back in 2011. Well it’s never really gone away and I’ve always had it in my mind as one I could do more with. I’ve revisited and reworked it recently so am delighted that this new version is part of the Festival, directed by     Tom Latter for Sheer Drop Theatre.

For all the info and ticket details, please click [here]

  • In other news … The Traverse Fifty is well underway and we’ve all be paired up with our photographers. Your photographers? I hear you cry. Yes indeed. Writer Pictures, who specialise in literary portraits, are collaborating with the Trav50 to produce portraits of each of the writers and they’ll be displayed later in the year. ‘My’ chap is a very talented documentary photographer called Ian Forsyth. I opened my introductory email to him with the words “I hate getting my photo taken” … we’re yet to meet but plans are afoot and I just hope he doesn’t end up feeling he pulled the shortest of short straws.
  • In other other news … I am busy working on my play for A Wondrous Place. It’s not been an easy one this one (are they ever?!) but I think I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Apart from that I can’t really say much, but I’ll update as and when.

Laters alligators. See you at Theatre503, maybe … bring a brolly! x

Goodbye 2012. Close the door on your way out.

If you’d asked me, even as recently as a month ago, how I felt about 2012 (not sure why you would, but bear with me) then you’d have probably been met with a barrage of swearing.

Maybe it was always going to struggle in the face of 2011. Of course, rose-tinted glasses do come in to play somewhat so I won’t pretend there weren’t wobbles along the way that year. My eczema recurred in a big way (too much information?) and I suffered rather frightening anxiety dreams as I tried to balance everything. But even with all that, two words – Dolly Would– made 2011 the hard act it was to follow. It dominated my whole year and its early January broadcast saw me start 2012 on the highest high imaginable.

And the rules of the universe dictate that highest high must be followed by the lowest low.

The pressure I felt to keep up the momentum was huge. And projects did come along, I strengthened some existing relationships, started new ones and tried new things like my first stab at dramaturgy (never again, but that’s another story for another day!)

I failed, however, to win the Culture Award for Writer of the Year. I failed to get this commission, or that project, or the other scheme. Things were slowing down, not speeding up. I was slowing down. It’s hard to keep going in the face of, what seems like, a wall of rejections. I had spurts of productivity, creativity, but doubts – never too far from the surface anyway – creep in, the whispers of “what’s the point?” get louder.

Maybe I’d peaked, maybe that was me done. And when I got screwed over financially for the first time (that I know of) in my career, maybe that was the last nail in the coffin – not cut out for this business after all?

I spent much of 2012 frowning. Frowning while Googling my contemporaries to see how successful and happy and funny they were. I cried in public at least twice (mortifying). And there were the darkest few weeks about 3/4 through when I refused to leave the house.

But you don’t take up this profession to be able to walk away from it easily. It’s not a hobby, not a sideline. Something inside me still had fight – something that was still getting me up in the mornings even if the rest of me wanted to pull the sheets over my head.

I submitted my application for the Traverse 50 at 3am on the deadline day. I didn’t write it then – I’d prepared it way in advance during one of the spurts – but I hadn’t sent it. The “what’s the point?” voices thought they had triumphed when I went to bed that night. But when I woke up in the early hours it felt like do-or-die. Was I in this or not? Well I am, as it goes, cos I got up, turned the computer on and a month later I was listed alongside 49 other writers for the year-long attachment to Scotland’s Traverse theatre.

So the back end of the year has seen things looking up. As well as The Traverse 50 I’ve been commissioned for A Wondrous Place, a production that aims to challenge the negative ‘grim up north’ stereotypes and will tour to Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester in May/June. It’s a fantastic opportunity and concept that I hope I can rise to. December saw me perform my first solo show, and the whole writer slash performer path is one I’d be keen to walk down further (fingers crossed, touch wood, etc).

Who knows what the New Year will bring. Promises and predictions seem futile. All I want is to keep writing and write better. And to shop more in Next.

So then 2012. You’ve had your moments, but I won’t be sorry to see the back of you. Although well done on the Olympics, I did enjoy that very much.

Big thank you to all my family and friends who have supported me this year (and the rest). I know it’s sometimes not easy and I can be a right pain to know, but sometimes I’m quite funny too, and occasionally bring sweets, so hopfully that balances it out somewhat … xx