So, earlier this week rehearsals started for Fat Alice. I was, frankly, giddy with excitement. I bought two (count ’em) jumpers to celebrate and took myself off up to Edinburgh. Below are some poor quality photos I took. The actors are Meg Fraser and Richard Conlon, directed by Joe Douglas.
“By trying something new you might discover something great.”
This month, Write Here, the Traverse’s New Writing Festival will showcase the best in new writing from Scotland and beyond. As one of the Traverse Fifty I have a few things amongst the line-up …
Lunchtime Rehearsed Readings
Tues 22 – Sat 26 Oct, 1.30pm
Want nourishment for the body and the mind? In the spirit of the hugely sucessful A Play, A Pie and a Pint, Dream Plays and Breakfast Plays, we have a special series of Lunchtime Rehearsed Readings all week as part of Write Here. Each day there will be readings of two mini-plays from our Traverse Fifty, accompanied by a refreshing bottle of Innis & Gunn beer (or soft drink) and a warming bowl of home-made stovies. A perfect way to spend a windy Autumn afternoon.
Wed 23 October @ 1.30pm – directed by Zinnie Harris
FAT ALICE by Alison Carr
ASSESSMENT by Robert Dawson Scott
Mon 21 Oct – Sat 26 Oct (2.30pm – 6pm)
Experience theatre in a different way, through our free headset plays. Featuring five five-minute plays, audience members simply collect a headset at Box Office and tune in to hear nuggets of brilliant new work, created by our Traverse Fifty.
Mon 21 Oct – Sat 26 Oct
Proving that art is everywhere, these tiny gems of plays are hidden around the Traverse building, waiting for you to discover. Discover a new voice in the Atrium, meet a new writer by the sofas – expect the unexpected.
Writers’ Pictures Exhibition
Mon 21 Oct – Sun 3 Nov
To celebrate our Traverse Fifty writers, our friends at Writers’ Pictures paired each writer with a photographer back in January. Throughout the last 10 months, each pair has been working together to create a portrait of our 50 playwrights. Over Write Here, all 50 images will be exhibited for the first time in our bar. Come and take a look at the faces behind the words. Click here to read my blog about the experience
Not that long ago, something like Forward Theatre Project’s SCRATCH MY CITY would have seen me running screaming for the hills. These days, though, I tend to say’ yes’ to things that scare me. Don’t get me wrong, falling off a cliff on to a spike scares me and you won’t see me doing that anytime soon (at least I hope not), but in terms of my writing life I have learnt to embrace a challenge. Because you just never know.
I think the most frightening writing-thing I have ever done was the OVNV 24 Hour Plays. Having a play you wrote overnight introduced on to the Old Vic stage by Jeff Goldblum takes some beating on the Fear Chart. But I did it.
And in a twisty-path way, that led to my play Fine being performed on Sunday night as part of FTP’s latest SCRATCH MY CITY. Because I met Artistic Director Charlotte Bennett while doing The 24 Hour Plays. She invited me to join FTP and the rest, as they say, is history.
I did my first SMC with the company last year. There’s always a jumping off point for the writers. Last time it was design ideas from Left Luggage Theatre Company. This time it was puppets. Yes, puppets. The brief – how puppeteers create characters differently and what happens if these are humanised on stage. At first I was sceptical. Then Cuthbert came in to my life and I realised how brilliant these Colossal Crumbs creations were.
This is Cuthbert. He is a fish. [Click] the picture to see his story.
See?! See what I mean! Just looking at him I knew I loved him and he broke my heart on first viewing.
Clearly the pairing of Cuthbert and me was no fluke. In her initial email, Charlotte wrote “ … the tragic/comic style in Cuthbert’s story which I thought you would be very good at”. Clearly my reputation precedes me … a lonely fish who dreams of suicide? Give it to Carr, that’s right up her street. And indeed it is.
I knew fairly quickly the angle I wanted to take. Which is fortunate as the turnaround on these things is tight – a fortnight to turn in your script.
The things that stood out for me the most in the video were Cuthbert’s solitude despite not being the only fish in the pond and his book ‘The Way to Happiness’. So I gave Cuthbert a friend, or at least someone who might become a friend eventually, The Librarian. She’s come for the book which is 30+ years overdue. What I didn’t want was to make Cuthbert a victim – all those lonely years have taken their toll, he’s spikey, he’s put walls up, he’s not going to fall in to the arms of friendship with any passing stranger. And the Librarian too, she has her own reasons for her visit, her own needs.
Two lonely people, one magic library book. Yes, that’s right, because before we start getting all angsty and deep, ‘The Way to Happiness’ was no ordinary tome. It had Rolos inside (you had to be there, I’ll say no more).
Below are some production shots:
Fine – first produced by Forward Theatre Project as part of Scratch My City, Soho Theatre, August 2012
The cast was as follows:
CUTHBERT: Rhys Meredith
LIBRARIAN: Jackie Lye
Directed by Sarah Bedi
Back in June I took part in Paines Plough’s Come To Where I’m From … 61 playwrights from 14 cities across the UK writing about their hometowns, the places that shaped them.
Click [here] to read an article on The Guardian website by James Grieve and George Perrin about the project.
Click [here] to read my blog about the experience, mainly involving biscuits and near hysteria.
Subsequently, we were invited to record our monologues that would then be posted on the Paines Plough website. A chance for a UK-wide project to come together as one … and another chance for me to panic about having to ‘perform’ my own piece … gulp.
The podcasts are being made available a city at a time, a day at a time … Newcastle took to the online-super-highway TODAY!
Listen [HERE] to the dulcet tones of Mr Michael Chaplin, Sir Dick Curran, Lady Tracy Whitwell and myself … waxing lyrical on topics ranging from memories of the Tyne, American tourists in Jarrow, living in a caravan and the perils of low ceilings …!
If you think it was all glamour – a plush recording studio with them fancy-pants giant headphones like Beyonce would have – then think again … I recorded my play in my bedroom on my MP3 player and emailed it to the offices!
Just a quickie to say that tickets are on sale NOW for ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF TOBACCO / CAN CAUSE DEATH at Northern Stage.
The dates are Wednesday 16 & Thursday 17 February 2011, 8pm. You can book via the [website] or call the Box Office on 0191 230 5151.
For more details on the play, click [here]
Suffice to say, it would be super aces if there were more than just me and my folks in the audience, so do come along if you can …! xx
You know at the end of the film Babe when the farmer says “That’ll do pig, that’ll do” … well I felt a bit like that last week.
I spend an awful lot of my time worrying – I worry if I will ever be able to write another play; if I do then I worry it will be awful and no one will stage it; if they do I worry it will be awful and no one will like it; if they do I worry if my next play (if it’s any good, if anyone stages it, etc) will live up to the last one. As such, I spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room frowning and biting my nails.
But last week I emerged from said room to go down to London to see my play Can Cause Death performed at the National Theatre. And for those 24 hours between boarding the train to go and boarding the train to come back I was determined to enjoy the moment. I allowed myself to be happy and – rarer still – I allowed myself to feel proud.
I wish I could bottle the anticipation I felt from about 6pm the night before … to know what was coming, to have it ahead of me. I must be honest, even the night before I felt a little sad knowing that it would be over the next day. Of course I was nervous, but something inside me was telling me to make the most of the experience and not be overwhelmed by The Fear.
I had not seen the play since workshopping it at the beginning of September with Charlotte and David. Since then David had been in Dublin performing in Endgame at the Gate Theatre, returning about a fortnight earlier for final rehearsals. Chatting to him after the show, it was weird to think he had been learning his lines for my play during the run of that one.
I knew he would give a good performance – it’s David Bradley for f’s sake – but I couldn’t have been happier. It’s quite an ask – play both husband and wife – and there was every chance it wasn’t going to work. But David’s performance, along with Charlotte’s direction, meant it absolutely did – and the change from Nyukhin to Popova was a highlight in itself.
As often happens with me, as I waited for the play to start I found myself thinking back to the beginnings of it – 1 May going to York with my friend Sarah to see On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco and getting the brief for the project for the first time. Snorting with laughter when the deadline for submissions was announced, given the short time frame and the fact I was in the midst of rehearsals/organisation for Prague at the same time. Heading home on the train thinking it had been a nice day out but no way was I going to have time to write something for it … but not being able to get it out my head for the next week. Writing the first line of a first draft – “while the eldest I was the last of my sisters to tie the nuptial noose around my neck and kick the matrimonial stool from under my feet” … a line which remains having survived my rewrites. Such thoughts make it all a rather out-of-body experience but there it was in the flesh, out-loud, on the Cottesloe Theatre stage at the National – Can Cause Death by Alison Carr.
All of the feedback, I am happy to say, has been positive. The audience reaction on the night was great. The first laugh it got, I relaxed. One line got such a belter David had to take a pause while it died down – I couldn’t help but grin.
I can’t praise Forward Theatre Project’s Artistic Director Charlotte Bennett any more highly, not only for her direction of the plays but for making it all happen in the first place. And the rest of the team – it is all quite an achievement for everyone involved.
And that is not the end as the double-bill is heading up to Newcastle’s Northern Stage in February. And who knows what else the future holds for it …? Regardless, I can safely say the whole thing is up there as a highlight of my career to date.
So how am I going equal and/or top it? Oh cripes. Back to the darkened room … back to the fretting and the anxieties. Next up is But Otherwise Went Well, part of the OVNV ‘Ignite’ programme … click [here]for details.
Sometimes you wait days, weeks, months for the next something to come along.
Other times – and much more rarely, unfortunately – the somethings roll after each other one after another. I’m not going to say ‘like buses’ because in my experience, you wait ages and then your bus actually arrives or a different one does, rather than the fabled ‘three come along at once’ scenario.
June has been a good month. I like June. It has seen me have a different something on every week …
So, it’s been 4 plays in 4 theatres in 3 cities across 2 countries, with 6 actors (plus me). And it’s been sunny, although I can’t take credit for that.
Not too shabby really. Yey me!
A word to July, August, etc – don’t let June be an anomaly. Please. Cos that would be rubbish.
(Q) What do you get when you ask a writer (me) to pen a monologue about his/her (my) home town?
Not at first, anyway.
Back in April I was asked to be one of the writer’s for the Newcastle-leg of ‘Come To Where I’m From’, a project dreamt up by Paines Plough to launch their new artistic-directorship. 61 playwrights across 14 cities asked to write a short play about his/her home town, the place that shaped them.
I was over the moon to be asked. I may have even done a little dance. Paines Plough. Like, the Paines blinkin’ Plough. I had to make this good.
But. You may have noticed amongst these pages a little thing called Blood & Money @ the Prague Fringe Festival. As writer, co-producer, publicity person, stage manager, dogsbody, et al this project took up a considerable amount of time. Before I knew it, it was the last week of May, I was in Prague and I hadn’t written a word for CTWIF. I hadn’t even written the title with a blank page dangling optimistically underneath. But when you’re busy and abroad it is very easy to think you will never be at home again. So really, nothing to worry about.
Cut to: 8am on Monday 7 June. I got back to Blighty at 10pm the previous night. I wake up with a start. I appear to be experiencing a cold sweat of fear. But why? Prague is over, we lived to tell the tale, it’s all good. Oh. I remember now. That’s why. 13 days until CTWIF. I am in serious trouble.
I react as any sane person would do. By doing nothing.
Cut to: 6am on Tuesday 8 June. Bollocks. Inexplicably a play about Newcastle does not appear to have written itself. I set to work. About time.
I write a first draft by the end of the day. It is awful. I eat biscuits and worry. Because I have not mentioned the extra element in play here. The horror that is keeping me awake at night. I can’t just rush off some substandard piece of fluff to palm off on an actor and hope they can work their professionally trained magic on it. Why not? Well, a) I have higher standards and more self-respect than that and b) I AM the actor. Paines Plough added a little kicker in to the agreement – the writer must perform his/her own work. When I had two months then that was fine – scary but fine. After all, I’d have it all polished and ready no problem. I have two weeks.
I eat another biscuit and get on with the re-write. I am too scared to send it to Paines Plough in case they are so horrified they rescind the commission, so send it to my Agent for reassurance. She rings me and tells me it’s not awful, it’s good. I am pleased. Then I remember she might be lying. I finish the biscuits and re-write the re-write.
Some time later. I have managed to come up with a fifteen minute monologue I am not ashamed of. I pluck up the courage to send it as a draft to Paines Plough, and co-Artistic Director George Perrin says he “adores it”. I also send it to Gez at Live. He says it’s “fine”. I resolve that I like George better. And do another re-write.
The day of reckoning – Saturday 19 June. No more re-writes. AD’s James Grieve and George meet with the ‘actors’ at Live Theatre at 5pm. It’s me, Dick Curran, Tracey Whitwell and Michael Chaplin. We are going to read the plays on the stage. One rehearsal. It’s in the main auditorium at Live Theatre – a lone chair sits on the stage in spotlight. G.U.L.P. We read. It is fascinating. With those five words – ‘Come To Where I’m From’ – and that simple brief of ‘write about your home town’ we have each come up with something totally different. Tracey’s spans from her childhood to the present day; Dick has chosen to create a character piece set at Bede’s World in Jarrow and Michael takes us on a journey along the river. And me. Well. I decided to pare mine right down, right down to the basics of my actual ‘home’. My house. My Agent described it as “miserable and funny”. Rather like me, then. I hope the audience will like it.
7.30pm finally arrives. I have had two halves of lager and a glass of champagne. Idiot. Overexcitement, terror and alcohol don’t mix. Fortunately when I see the size of the audience (a lot more than the one man and his dog I was hoping for) and that chair alone on the stage, any giddiness evaporates in to stone cold fear. Tracey gets proceedings off to a great start, then Dick entertains, then … me. The walk from the stairs to that chair seemed to take an eternity. But. I did it. And the crowd seemed to like it. They laughed, no one booed me and I didn’t trip over – I can’t ask for much more! About half way through I relaxed and realised I was enjoying myself up there. Before I know it, it’s over. I’m back at my table and Michael is delivering the final piece.
Good luck to the 44 writers still to perform (the next event is today in fact, in Birmingham). And good work to the 13 writers who came before us in Liverpool, Sheffield and Ipswich. I hope they enjoy(ed) the experience as much as I did … and I mean that in a good way!
Friday 11 June sees the launch of the INK Festival, a brand new initiative to promote and support writers, artists, directors, actors, musicians (and the rest!) in the region. Running until Saturday, it’s scratch performances of poetry, short stories and mini plays. Plus live music, to boot.
My short play Maggie & Mary is amongst the line-up.
7pm both evenings, it’s on at The Cluny2. Tickets are £5, available on the door …
Maggie & Mary by Alison Carr
Performed by Gill Laverick & Penny Lamport
Directed by Rachel Glover
- MAGGIE: Morning.
- MARY: Morning.
- MAGGIE: Sleep?
- MARY: Well. You?
- MAGGIE: Yes. Dream?
- MARY: Of you.
- MAGGIE: Of course.
- MARY: You?
- MAGGIE: No.
- MARY: No.
And as no event is complete without the obligatory Facebook Group, you can join INK’s [here] for updates on future projects and next year’s event …
It was first mooted as ‘a bit of an idea’ over a coffee in the middle of last year.
By October proposals had been written and forms filled in, and then an email arrived. I still have it. It reads thus: Dear Ros, Degna and Alison, we are delighted to tell you that your production has been selected to perform at Fringe Festival Praha 2010 …
Blood & Money was alive, scheduled to perform and we hadn’t even written it yet. Gulp.
I’ve kept the website up-to-date with some of the process that followed: extracts from early drafts performed at First In Three; deadlines; preview reading at The People’s Theatre and most recently a preview performance at Live Theatre.
A week after said preview performance we boarded a flight to Prague … well, some of us did. One of our cast had her flights moved about due to the BA strikes, leading to a delightful six-hour solo wait in Brussels Airport, while another followed on the next day. Anyway, I digress. We all made it there in the end.
With 38 shows performing in 7 venues across 9 days there is no time for slacking.
The day after we arrived, two of the company – Jill and Faye – performed a short scene from the play as part of Fringe Sunday. A laid back, good-humoured affair hosted by Fringe co-founders Carole Wears and Steve Gove, it’s an afternoon when companies perform extracts from their plays. The crowd were fantastic, up for a good time and supporting everyone all the way. Our piece went down well – it was a good start. And we were now officially international artistes!
Guide book in hand (in Roz’s hand I hasten to add, if I was put in charge of directions we wouldn’t have made it out of the Apartment building), Roz and I went round local cafes and bars leaving flyers and posters. Unlike at the Edinburgh Fringe, the people of Prague don’t get bombarded on the streets as flyering is illegal. On the one hand this is frustrating because you don’t get to chat to people and see where the flyers are going. On the other it’s fantastic, because I can testify from personal experience that there is nothing so soul destroying as trying to flyer a disinterested public, especially in the pouring rain.
While we spread the word in Old Town and New Town, director Degna led the cast in last minute rehearsals in the Apartment in Mala Strana. They pushed all the furniture out of the way and marked out the size of the stage on the floor. That’s one of the great things about Fringe, it’s pretty ad hoc, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants theatre! Our actors really rose to the challenges and did us proud.
The show opened on Tuesday 1 June at Divaldo Na Pradle-Kavarna. We had spent the morning convincing ourselves that no one was coming. I tried to drown myself in a glass of Pilsner, while gnawing off what was left of my nails. But amazingly, 3.30pm rolled around and there was an audience. They came. This must be what Kevin Costner meant when he said “if you build it they will come”. They will indeed Kevin, they will indeed. Phew.
And they kept coming. On the Thursday we played to a capacity crowd, which was fantastic, and topped off with a reviewer calling the show “a high point of this year’s Fringe”.
After four performances it was all over. All the work, all the stress, all the money, all the organisation, all the logistics – all folded up with our set and tidied away. It was both the longest and the shortest week of my life. Sitting here now I can’t believe it’s over – that we’ve been and done it and lived to tell the tale.
In hindsight, debuting Rascally Scoundrels at an international Festival was pretty ambitious – Roz, Degna and I did keep catching each other’s eye and laughing at the audacity and stupidity of it all. But, we did it. And any future projects will seem like a doddle in comparison!
Fringe Festival Praha 2010
Some of the highlights: Blood & Money (obv!); that chocolate pancake; Carol, Steve, Giles, Honza and the team; The Harbour; sunshine; visiting the British Embassy; Horse, the views; other people being able to read maps; Municipal House; making it through in one piece …
(Lowlights? A few. Wylliova Tours in the pouring rain; the shows we missed; the crushing disappointment of the Astronomical Clock; there not being enough hours in the day for another pancake)