Vera Shrimp – first night

Well now. The Soaking of Vera Shrimp opened last night at Live Theatre. I think there have been times when each of us has doubted that we’d ever get here, but here we are. In the thick of it, no less.

We did two performances yesterday. The first was a dress rehearsal to an audience of Graphic Design and Illustration students from Northumbria University who have been looking at the play as part of one of their current modules. Their brief includes designing a poster for the show. They have read the script, but now it was time to see it in action.

It was very useful for Tessa to have an audience given the amount of interaction there is in the play, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement!

Then it was on to the first performance proper.

Below are some of the nice things our equally nice audiences said about yesterdays performances …

There are three performances left – we hope you might consider coming along x

Vera Shrimp – the set has arrived!

Vera Shrimp rehearsals continue apace.

The set has arrived from Big House Events, Edinburgh. Designed by Emily James.

 

From concept …

 

 

To reality!

The set in the rehearsal room at Live Theatre. It took some lugging up them stairs, let me tell you!

 

 

 

Vera Shrimp designer Emily James about the set

Vera-Shrimp-Model-2

 

One of the best things about being a theatre designer is that you never stop growing – for each new production you find yourself researching something completely different. For The Soaking of Vera Shrimp I found myself immersed in the world of atmospheric sciences.

The starting point for my design was a visit to my old High School – my old stomping ground at the same age as Vera.  I rifled through the chemistry store cupboards looking for inspiration and snapped endless photos, trying to piece together what a teenage girl might use for a presentation about the Water Cycle. Rather like Vera and her raindrops, I wandered the classrooms absorbing everything. The dusty chalkboards and more hi-tech smart boards, the endless stream of information – posters, diagrams and maps on every wall.

Alison Carr’s beautiful script requires the audience to forget they are in a theatre and actually believe from the moment they enter the room that here is Vera, waiting to address them, with everything she has gathered together to help with her presentation. From the forgotten old suitcase found lurking in a dusty attic corner to the crude model banged together with bits of discarded wood and nails found in a neglected corner of the garage. A borrowed school chair, an anglepoise lamp from her dad’s study, her mother’s beloved watering can…a scientific equation of objects that create a visual snapshot to function as a backdrop to the play.

– Emily James

(published on the Live Theatre blog, 6.10.14)

Vera Shrimp – rehearsals

“Hello. My name is Vera Shrimp. I am going to talk to you tonight about my project.”

 

So, here we are, one month to go until Vera Shrimp takes to the stage.

And it is very much Vera taking to the stage, because this is her telling her own story in her own unique way.

You might be wondering why I’m so keen to stress that, but for anyone who saw the work-in-progress previews last year then this Vera Shrimp is a very different beast. 

For a start, she’s got a new face! Tessa Parr takes over the role from … well … me. I’m not going to go into the whys and wherefores (you can read my blog about it here if you want) but it’s absolutely the right thing for the character and the show. Vera is feisty, funny, resourceful, determined. She doesn’t need a detached narrator to tell her story for her.

This of course means a new script. Because not only are we changing the perspective, but also the way the story is told.

Vera is a girl who likes her facts, her statistics. Her ability to read the raindrops is not some mystical, airy-fairy metaphor. For her this is deadly serious; her future, her family are at stake. So she’s prepared you a presentation. There’ll be science, there’ll be things about Vera, and the science will help you understand the things about Vera and vice versa. So you might want to bring a pen and paper!

The set design by Emily James couldn’t be better and has everything Vera needs (plus a few surprises). We’re so excited for you to see it.

 

  

 

This has been a much more collaborative process than I have done in the past.

Rosie (Kellagher, director), Tessa and I have been in the room together discussing and devising. It took various forms. Sometimes drawing pictures of the characters and attaching character traits, or maybe devising experiments for each other to express what ‘grief’ or ‘heartbreak’ might feel or taste or sound like.

(And yes, I’d dismiss that as wanky, time-wasting bollocks too if I hadn’t been part of it and know how much it has informed finding the characters and the story!)

I then took the notes and ideas away and crafted them into a section or scene which we would return to and discus, try out and edit some more, until we had a script.

The process hasn’t been without its challenges, but equally its rewards. And as we head into this final stretch we can’t wait for you to meet Vera Shrimp

 

 (subsequently published on the Live Theatre blog, 22.09.14)

She’s ba-ack …

So, after a flurry of Vera Shrimp updates, posts and me generally yabbing on about it – it all went a bit quiet, didn’t it. But quiet doesn’t necessarily mean finished with, it just means … quiet.

Partly I was sick of talking about it. Just as I imagine everyone was sick of hearing me talking about it.

But mainly it was that talking isn’t what was needed. Rather time away to think and make big decisions. Which we have made.
And they are:
1. The play needs Vera Shrimp – she needs to be seen and heard, a character who is present and smack-bang in the middle of the action.
2. I will not be performing the play.

The first point is self-explanatory. Keeping Vera at arm’s length led many people to say it left them feeling alienated from her, that there was a Vera-shaped hole in the play. And the whole point of development time and previews is to put an idea/a show on its feet and say to audiences and fellow practitioners ‘here it is, what do you think?’ And they tell you.

The second point … I won’t lie, when it was first mooted I took it hard. To be ‘sacked’ from my own play – how humiliating. I was sure that I’d be a laughing-stock, couldn’t do it, wasn’t good enough. But maybe – deep down – I also felt a bit relieved. Writing, rehearsing and performing Vera Shrimp was hard. Not like curing cancer hard, but hard. I struggled with the rehearsals. And yes, it’s good to challenge yourself and challenge myself I did, but on the whole it made me uncomfortable, unconfident and – frankly – unhappy.

Looking back on it now, it is obvious that I was trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. Me being the peg and the play being the hole (keep up). I am proud of what I achieved with Vera and I am not saying I am abandoning my ambitions to write and perform a solo show, nor am I saying I should, but what I need to do is write the right solo show for me. Vera Shrimp isn’t that. ‘But you wrote the blasted thing in the first place’ I hear you cry, exasperated. I know I did. And only by doing it can I know that I am not the right person to do it.

So, Phase 2. We have been awarded a bursary from The Empty Space/Live Theatre to help us move forward in this next stage. We’ve got a week at Live culminating in a work-in-progress performance on Thursday 12 December … click [here] for the details. Following this, one of the 4 companies shortlisted will be awarded the full bursary to take their show further – watch this space (fingers crossed)

Much of this time will be spent finding Vera and her voice. And we are delighted to have actor Tessa Parr joining us to don the red raincoat. I’ve not worked with Tessa before but that fresh perspective is exactly what is needed for this bursary week and she sounds like a corker with experience working in the region and beyond.

Maybe Tessa is the Patrick Troughton to my William Hartnell. Although, Esther Smith is technically the original Vera Shrimp from my 2011 short When It Falls, so that makes her Hartnell, me Troughton and Tessa Jon Pertwee. Well, as long as none of us are Sylvester McCoy cos he was the worst. (I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, can you tell) 

These have not been easy decisions to come to. There has been plenty of doubt and hesitation and upset along the way. But they are the decisions we have made and are going to pursue to see where they lead us. I look forward to re-joining Vera and her raindrops for this next exciting stage …

All this Doctor Who talk has reminded me how amazing the 50th Anniversary Special was. Well, how AMA-ZING the last ten minutes were and the incredible return of you-know-Who!

Vera Shrimp – week #3

Hello! I’ve been a bit quiet lately, haven’t I.

So, since my last:

I was rehearsing for, and performing in, Bombshells at The People’s Theatre. A collection of monologues by Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. I got to work with a lovely and talented team and sport ‘librarian chic’.

I went to New York. I know, right, get me, swish swoo.

A Wondrous Place opened in Liverpool before heading to Sheffield. It’s had some great audience reaction and reviews so far, including  ★★★★  from  The Guardian. It pitches up in Newcastle on Tuesday. More info and to book [here]

I applied to, and have been shortlisted for, Northern Stage’s Title Pending Award – which is very thrilling. The judging weekend is imminent, gonna dig out my loose rehearsal slacks and soft jazz pumps.

I wrote draft #3 of Vera Shrimp, ready for our development week at Northern Stage last week. Now, when we left Vera things were all a bit gloomy. Rosie and I had just finished our week at ARC Stockton and I was really struggling.

Well, fortunately, last week things took a turn for the better. I made a concerted effort to shake off what had gone before and come into it with a fresh and positive attitude, not be my own worst enemy and harshest critic. (Rosie will confirm that it’s an ongoing effort, but I tried!)

We powered straight in to getting the show on its feet and the words in to my mouth, and made a huge amount of progress. We started thinking about its shape and its tone, finding the voices of the other characters and my voice as narrator. We welcomed award-winning designer Imogen Cloet to the fold, and starting to think about the visual elements was very exciting.

The week culminated in a showback on Friday afternoon during which I performed a 30 minute extract from the play. It’s amazing what you can achieve in four days, and I am really proud of what we were able to show of our work-in-progress. I won’t lie, I was nervous. My performance wasn’t perfect but, you know, that’s ok. I got out there and I did it, which feels like a real personal victory. We were able to give a flavour of some early design ideas, Northern Stage’s Kev and Mareike provided us with lighting and sound to support and create atmosphere and mood … all in all, we have a show. Or the beginnings of one. And it, and I, can only get better.

Some audience feedback:

Lovely work. Well done missus!
Really really enjoyed being taken into Vera’s world.
Excellent and can’t wait to see more!
You have a really good face (!) 

So, we’re looking ahead now to the previews in July at Live Theatre and ARC. They’re work-in-progress preview performances but of the whole show – so those who were asking about how it starts, and how it turns out, come along and find out! 

    

Big thank you to Northern Stage for hosting us and for their support. Equally big thank you to those who came along to see it – your encouragement, comments and questions are hugely appreciated … x

Vera preview performances announced

Roll up, roll up!

I’m delighted to report that the dates for the Vera Shrimp work-in-progress performances have been confirmed.

Big thanks to our supporter venues Live Theatre and ARC for hosting us.

It’s a chance to see what we’ve been working on and where we’re at with the show after this development process, as well as offer your feedback for us to use moving forward.

Tickets are on sale now, so if you can make it then it’d be fabulous to have you there … x

THE SOAKING OF VERA SHRIMP

Written and performed by Alison Carr

Directed by Rosie Kellagher

For fourteen year-old Vera Shrimp a rainstorm isn’t a soggy inconvenience, it’s an exhilarating, breathtaking whirl of colours and feelings and words. Because Vera has discovered an extraordinary ability, one that might solve everything.

This is a work-in-progress performance of the first solo show by Alison Carr.

Alison’s  writing credits include Can Cause Death (National Theatre, Northern Stage); The Girls From Poppyfield Close (Live Theatre); Dolly Would (BBC Radio 4). As a writer-performer her credits include Mary, Jesus’s Mam (Trashed Organ/Live), Come To Where I’m From (Paines Plough/Live) and she has been a two-time guest on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.

Live Theatre, Thursday 11 & Friday 12 July @ 8pm
Tickets: £5
Click [here] for more information and to book

ARC, Wednesday 17 July @ 7pm
Tickets: £3
Click [here] for more information and to book

Vera Shrimp – week #2

So, where were we?

Last time we met, Rosie and I had just finished our week at Live Theatre and I had a script to re-write.

Well, re-write I did. Or tried to. Because sometimes I think I can do more than I can. I forget that my days can’t be 100% devoted to writing; that I have to do things like eat and wash clothes and sleep; that I am not an automated ideas-machine (how I wish I was an automated ideas-machine … sigh)

In the end, I managed about half of the script during a week that turned out to be extremely frustrating, tiring and generally a bit crappy. On the plus, the work that was done was the work that most needed to be done – fleshing out the opening and the character of Dad, as well as introducing new characters and hearing more of their voices.

So we arrived at ARC on Monday morning armed with what I had got done. I’ve worked there before with Rascally Scoundrels and they’re a lovely team who are hugely supportive, always very helpful and accommodating. We were shown to the Studio, our home for the next five days, and off we went.

Because the script is still in its relatively early stages, a lot of time was still devoted to studying and talking about it. There’s little point in starting to get it up on its feet if it’s going to change massively again. This meant a couple of late nights for me cutting/re-writing what I had re-written the week before, and continuing re-writing the second half that I hadn’t gotten to yet. It’s not ideal but needs must, and sometimes having a very quick-turnaround stops you agonising over every line and just getting on with it.

The other main thrust of our week was starting to think about my telling of Vera’s story, my performance. I have always known that this would be the harder side of this endeavour for me. I have ten years experience as a playwright, safely hidden away, writing words for proper actors to say using their proper actor training. But now I am asking to step out from behind my desk and putting myself centre stage.

I – how do I put this? – struggled. As I knew I would. But knowing I would struggle and actually being there, struggling, are two quite different things. It made for a difficult week for both me and Rosie.

We now have over a month until our week at Northern Stage. Of course, things don’t stop just cos we’re not in a rehearsal room – I have to write Draft 3 based on all of the work done so far and we have to start approaching practitioners such as designers and technicians, start thinking about things like props and music.

I’m trying to resist the temptation to run away and hide and am thinking of it like rolling down a (steep) hill in a barrel. I have stood at the top of the hill, climbed into the barrel and away I’ve gone. And there might be moments on the way down that I don’t like or make me feel sick, but there’s no stopping now. And when I’m at the bottom, only then can I decide if I want to climb up the hill again and get back in the barrel for another go.  

Vera Shrimp – week #1

At last! After all the talk and form filling in we finally got to some fun stuff – our first official week working on Vera Shrimp.

I packed my trusty notebook, pencil case and a shed load of Post-Its and headed off to Live Theatre where we’d be spending the next four days ensconced in the Benfield Writers Room. I also, importantly, had the first draft of the script as we’d decided to focus our efforts while at Live on the text. I may be writing and performing this piece, but before we even start thinking about getting it up on its feet we need a story and a script that is up to scratch.

The first order of the day was to read it out loud. This might sound like the most basic of the basics, but it all has to start somewhere. And as I hadn’t really looked at the script since finishing the first draft in January, it was a good way to get my head back in to the story and its ideas. Some distance can prove to be a good thing – you can get so wrapped up in something that you sicken yourself – so to have some time away clears the head. Rosie and I took it in turns reading and listening, and almost immediately queries and gaps became apparent. Along with the fact that I had scrimped massively on commas!

 

And so we set about questioning and exploring the story and its characters. I’m not going to detail every moment, but we did lots of talking and asking and made lots of notes. We talked about Vera. We talked about Vera’s Dad and how he is a key player who needs to be brought more to the fore. We talked about Vera’s Mam and her friends and their neighbours, and Wendy and Aunty Karen and all the other voices who we might come to hear. We looked up cremations and spoke to a former police officer about procedure following a sudden death. I was assigned homework. We navigated timelines. And at last – hurrah! – we broke out the Post-Its and mapped out the story.

To sum up, we did a lot. And I think we both came away pretty knackered but pleased with what we had achieved. Not to mention wise to the fact that two people shouldn’t, really, try to eat a whole box of Tesco flapjack in one afternoon.

We now have a week before we head to ARC where we are going to concentrate on performance. No time for slacking, though, as I have to take all of the notes and the ideas and the questions and the Post-Its and start shaping them in to a second draft. I won’t lie, my head’s spinning a little – but it’s better than it lying dormant and trying to kick it in to gear.

All in all, we’re out of the starting blocks and on our way. And there’s no stopping. Not now. Plans are afoot – exciting announcements to follow …  

Me & pointing-pencil record The Verb

Back in August I got a call about a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb being recorded at the ARC in Stockton. ‘Do you have anything you’re working on at the moment that might be suitable for us?’, asked Producer Erin. ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘absolutely’. And thus I was booked as a guest. 

Let’s get one thing straight before I continue, ‘lying’ is a very strong word. But my ‘yes absolutely’ may possibly have given an impression that wasn’t entirely accurate. I had nothing written down, but thinking … I was way ahead in that department!

For a while I had been harbouring an idea about a hoader and her relationship with a woman who has lost her home and family in a house fire (cheery, eh). A woman with everything and a woman with nothing – how they might be the solution to each others problems.

For a longer while I have been skirting around the idea of writing a solo show that I would also perform. Recent projects like Come To Where I’m From and my first appearance on The Verb with Yackety Yak have made me realise that maybe this isn’t such an impossible dream.

During rehearsals for Poppyfield I broached the idea with director Rosie Kellagher, to see if she’d be interested in coming aboard. ‘Written by and starring’ is veering far enough in to Kenneth Branagh territory without adding ‘and directed by’ to the list. Another perspective would be an absolute must.

If anything, the call from The Verb simply spurred me in to action. Writing the solo show must, for now, run alongside my other projects when I have the time to spare. Of course, the risk is that nothing ever gets done. But this gave me a reason to get started and a deadline – there’s nothing more motivating than the thought of debuting your new work on national radio!

The recording was on Wednesday at the ARC. A couple of days before Rosie and I spent some time working on my performance – our relationship to this point has been director/writer so it was a bit weird being directed by her as an actor. But once I got over my self-consciousness, it was a productive session. And it turns out I was able to perform better when I had a pencil in my hand that I was able to point for emphasis. Of course, pointing-pencil will be lost on the listener but it became indispensable. It went AWOL, briefly, on Tuesday but turned up again in time for the show – phew.

The night itself was very enjoyable. Ian McMillan is a great host and got the crowd on side straight away. The show was recorded ‘as live’ and I think sitting on a stage, having an audience there to perform to, really helped – the ‘look-at-me’ show-off part of me kicked in and kept any crippling nerves at bay. I was more anxious for the interview part than the performance, and while I can’t now remember any of my answers I know there was no repeat of the ‘as’twere’ debacle from last time!

The show is broadcast tonight at 10pm on BBC Radio 3. Do tune in if you can, or you can Listen Again on iPlayer until 28th … x

  • In other news … Ian McMillan was kind enough to ask me about my BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Dolly Would during my Verb interview. Bat-eared listeners (surely the aural equivalent to eagle-eyed viewers) will hear that the broadcast date is confirmed as Wed 4 Jan @ 2.15pm.
  • In other other news … rehearsals are well underway for When It Falls, my contribution to Forward Theatre Project’s forthcoming Scratch My City event at the Soho Theatre, London on Sunday. Starring Esther Smith (most recently seen in the critically acclaimed Many Moons at Theatre503) and directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin, the play is inspired by designs by Left Luggage Theatre. Click [here] for more details and how to book.