A matter of consent

Playwright and long time Whoop ‘n’ Wail collaborator, Dan Horrigan, tells us about his play, Face the Camera and Smile, which features in this month’s 50/50 at the Arts Theatre, London as part of the Women In The West End Festival.

The 50/50 Festival caught my attention because it’s a welcome and required concept – present work where the balance of genders is equal, what you see on the stage is a parity. In it’s way it is contributing to a sea change taking place right now in British Theatre – to do with representation.

I am currently redrafting my play Face The Camera And Smile, a scene from which is part of the 50/50 Festival. It was previously shortlisted for The Kings Cross Award for New Writing in 2009. It was also treated very kindly by Writers Avenue with readings of the first 20 minutes at The Rosemary Branch, The Pleasance, and Soho Theatre.

At the time, there was a lot of pressure to redraft the play for its various readings at each venue. I held off the deep redrafts, providing only a few tweaks and a bit of polish. I have always been fascinated by how things change over time, and at the time the question was ‘how do you end conflict responsibly?’ – we were coming out of Afghanistan and the question seemed pertinent. I wasn’t ready to end the play, because there was no end in sight.

A repeated comment on my play was it may no longer be of interest because the war in Iraq was old news. I knew these comments were hopelessly limited. Sometimes a play has a deeper question than that posed by the buzz of the zeitgeist. Writers are often put under pressure to comment in the present tense.

Coming back to the play I now see that the actual drive for the play was consent.  The fact is we went to war without a mandate, and the dodgy dossier was a pack of lies. The Government did not have our consent to go to war. The people of Iraq did not invite us to destroy their lives.

I hope Face the Camera and Smile will be a salient reminder that when the simple things are not given their due recognition the consequences affect us all. Going to war without a mandate or proper justification is part of a long line of transgression by continuous governments in the UK that led to unmitigated disasters and untold humanitarian suffering.

Working on the 50/50 Festival is an opportunity for me to re-ignite the powder trail that leads to the play’s themes – themes which are played out through consent on a micro and macro level and are gendered. In doing so we hope to inspire our audience to ask questions about what is done in our name, or not, and where it is taking us.

The changes to the script are the result of waiting. As such I feel a deeper commitment to the story and what I am trying to put out there for your consideration.

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Dan Horrigan (@DBHorrigan) is a writer and director working in film and theatre. His play Three Women and a Music Box recieved a five star review when it was performed at Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…The Launch in 2014 and then in 2015 Dan returned to Whoop ‘n’ Wail for Represents…Desire in 2015 but this time, as a director. His work on 3AM by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich was also reviewed with five stars.

Face the Camera and Smile by Dan Horrigan, directed by Zachary James, will be performed by Ali Kemp (Sarah) and Fergal Phillips (Danny) on Wednesday 30th March at 3pm & 7.30pm at The Arts Theatre, London. Click here for tickets and for more information about Women In The West End, head to the Anonymous Is A Woman Theatre Company website.

 

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Let’s talk about female characters, not just the lack of them.

@bechdeltheatre’s Beth Watson meets up for a coffee with Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s Ali Kemp to celebrate the upcoming Bechdel Theatre Festival launch.

So Beth, as a fellow actress and feminist, you wanted to do something about representation of women in theatre – what did you do?

I set up a Twitter page. I did it while I was in a room full of feminist theatre types. Actually, I’m not sure if it was my idea or not. I raised the idea of using the Bechdel Test for theatre and someone came up with the idea.

I’m friends with the Bechdel Test Fest people and we started making comparisons between film and theatre.

Twitter is a way of spreading a simple one line message and getting people involved simultaneously. The Bechdel Test is perfect for Twitter because it reduces a very complicated argument to a simple point.

So, why not get people to tweet about Bechdel-busting plays?

When did you know you were onto something?

The amount of tweets I got really quickly. Within a month, I had double the amount of followers than my personal account.

With Twitter, it’s a really supportive thing. Before we’ve even seen a play or passed judgement, we can celebrate that it has women in it, retweet and spread the love.

How did you get from @bechdeltheatre to the Bechdel Theatre Festival?

There is a limit to how far Twitter can take the debate.

I started my own blog but I don’t like ‘Here’s my opinion, take it or leave it’. It’s not my natural way of doing things.

I get a lot more from ‘Hey, let’s meet up for a coffee’.

Where did you find people to meet up for coffee with?

Operating as I normally do by going to lots of events, but rather than saying ‘Oh, it’s a bit shit that there are no parts for women’, I was saying ‘I’ve set up at Twitter page’.

As soon as you say you’re doing something, people say ‘You should speak to …’
Amy Clare Tasker from Gap Salon said why don’t you speak to Whoop ‘n’ Wail; director Bruce Guthrie suggested Naomi Paxton’s Suffrage Plays; Helen Barnett from Sphynx Theatre invited me to one of their salons, and Jo Caird from The Stage wanted to write an article.

You’ve really answered my next question, which was: was it a conscious decision to pull together all the great work that is already being done by practitioners in this field?

Initially I thought, I’ll produce a bunch of new plays that pass the Bechdel Test – but then I found out that’s what you guys do with Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and I like it a lot but I don’t want to copy it!

So, I decided I’d be more of a vehicle for spreading the word.

Bechdel Theatre meeting Feb 16
Bechdel Theatre Festival planning Feb 2016. (L-R) Beth Watson, Bechdel Theatre; Lizzie Milton, playwright; Ali Kemp, WnW; Ellie Bland, Siberian Lights; Deborah Klayman, WnW; Sophie Dickson, actor/producer; also present Jen Wallace, Bechdel Test Fest; Karen Healy, Pondering Media

And in doing so, you’ve taken a very collaborative approach to your work.

People were asking me, is it just you? Are you doing this on your own? But I want it to be everyone.

There is a lot of talk about when women make theatre, collaboration is the way we work and I thought this approach was more feminist, but a lot of the people who have been involved with Bechdel Theatre have been men.

Perhaps it’s my social conditioning. Before I do anything, I want to ask everyone else’s opinion. We can see it as asking for permission, and women in particular get slagged off for this, but maybe it’s a positive thing.

If you are doing something about feminism, then it’s about supporting other women and so, how could I do that on my own?

And how does talking about women in theatre connect to women in the world?

It’s the feeling of being welcomed into a room because you share certain struggles or lack of privileges.

That’s what I get when I watch a play that represents women. I want to share what I’ve experienced with other women who don’t usually go to the theatre – it’s a misconception that you have to have a degree to understand theatre.

The best conversations I have about theatre are: ‘Oh my god, wasn’t that woman on stage just like your mum?’ or ‘I couldn’t believe she did that, I thought she was making a huge mistake, but maybe she did it because…’.

How will you know that the Bechdel Theatre Festival has been a success? What does success mean to you?

To get people to see plays with women in them and that someone, if not everyone, brings a friend who doesn’t usually go to the theatre.

I want to bring together theatre buffs and first time theatre goers with the people who make theatre. Not just in a Q&A situation where writers, actors and directors tell audiences what feminist theatre is, but by talking together as equals about how female characters affect them.

And ultimately, I want people talking about female characters, in a way that’s not talking about the lack of them.

tNyDnUIf_400x400Meet Beth at The Bechdel Theatre Festival, which launches a series of pop up conversations on Sunday 20th March 2016 at The Arts Theatre, London;

Or follow the conversation @Bechdeltheatre

See you there!

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What’s in it for me?

Guest blogger, actress and award winning writer Dani Moseley says  if put yourself out there, you’ll find out.

Dani

Last year summer my best friend had started acting in short, one off theatre showcases and going on about how great they were and how I should get involved. I turned my nose up at the idea, thinking: ‘I don’t need to do work like that anymore’. I know, right, who did I think I was? Lol. But, work was getting quiet and I, wanting a change from just doing youth theatre tours, trusted her so, when director Alice Bonifacio, offered me the opportunity to take part in Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents….The Launch, I slightly reluctantly took it.

Music Box 3

Dani taking notes from director Alice Bonifacio with actress Lizzie Bourne in Three Women in a Music Box by Dan Horrigan

I was cast in an all female three-hander, Dan Horrigan‘s Three Women in a Music Box. The experience was great. I got to work with talented, hard working actresses – Lizzie Bourne and Thea Beyleveld – an inspiring up and coming director and Whoop ‘n’ Wail were really accommodating and approachable with anything we needed to help support the piece. It was great having a tech/dress rehearsal beforehand and having two nights to perform was so nice to learn from. Excitingly, I also received my very first review, which got 5 stars, and that was crazy for me, as I’d never been reviewed in any of the other stuff I’d done.

I hadn’t really thought about inviting anyone to see the show as it was my first time, but amazingly, a director from one of the other plays in Represents… scouted me for The Story Project at the Arcola in Dalston. I performed in The Bird Woman of Lewisham by Chino Odimba, directed by Emily Bush. And from the Arcola, one thing lead to another: I got scouted by a director there for a sight-specific piece in Leicester Square, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, directed by Eva Sampson. It was awesome and all from Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…, the very thing I had turned my nose up at originally.

So, when I heard Whoop ‘n’ Wail were doing another one, Represents…Desire, I was intrigued and then when the same director, Alice, sent through the Nice Jumper script by Daniel Page, I was on board, no hesitation!

Nice Jumper 2

Dani and Lizzie Bourne in Nice Jumper by Daniel Page

The process and experience was even more enjoyable and joining the team was actor Anyebe Godwin. Again we got to see the other plays in the showcase, which is always nice for actors. Again the performances got reviewed and again our play got 5 stars – I even got a double personal mention for my performance!!!

So, for any actors, directors and writers sitting there reading this, thinking that small scale new writing showcases would be of no benefit to them, THINK AGAIN!

Opportunities come from any and everywhere as a creative in the entertainment industry and the fact that you get good writers, directors, actors, reviewers and the chance to invite people to come and see you, what really is of no benefit here?!

So, get off high horse or out of your comfort zone and get involved with Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents... It all adds up to you putting yourself out there and it’s all experience on the ladder to success.

Dani Moseley is an actress and writer, winning an award for the screenplay of The Forty Elephants. She’s appeared in various TV shows such as ITV’s The Bill; BBC’s Eastenders; Sky1’s The Runaway; and London Live/web series Brothers With No Game. She has appeared on stage at the Arcola, The Cochrane, Leicester Square Theatre and The Catford Broadway. Dani’s showreel can be viewed here.
To see the 5 star reviews Dani refers to, please click here: Three Women in a Music Box and Nice Jumper

 

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There’s nowhere to hide (apart from in a cupboard!)

From Represents…. to The Pleasance: playwright Sarah Davies on how her short, Grit, has been developed into a full lengh play.

‘She deals with the world now with a grimace that to her looks cheerful, and to everyone else, looks like the final stages of rigor mortis setting in. She puts it on as she reaches the school gates and leaves it in her lap-top case at weekends. Pupils go out of their way to let her pass now in corridors, heads respectfully bent to the floor. Because she never checks her reflection she can’t see their view; that carnival mask grin and her eyes like dead things that float in ponds. Belly-up and sweetly rotting she goes about her day, the coffee-prep-register-teach-coffee-prep-teach-mark-coffee-mark-never-finish-coffee-mark day that stretches into months’.

Colleen Daley as Val

Colleen Daley as Val

I love the fact that I live in a world where I can say ‘Ok, I’ve written this play about a school teacher who has a breakdown and decides to secretly live in a cupboard’ and there are people who will help to develop it! My play Grit centres on long-time teacher Val. She can’t remember yet what she has done, but she knows it is bad. Bad enough to lose her job, and bad enough to reduce her world to the size of the school stationery cupboard that she decides to hide in whilst she tries to work it out.

Originally written as a novel, I adapted a section of Grit for Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…. (April 2015) and having seen it successfully up on its feet, was convinced that it could be developed further.

Simply, I LOVED director Marc Kelly’s take on my play. Usually in the process, the playwright will have the chance to attend rehearsals, but at the time, being based in deepest Kent under a pile of marking and only surfacing for occasional caffeine shots made this impossible. So I turned up slightly nervously on show night and downed a glass of wine so quickly that I fell up the stairs of the auditorium into the lap of a random man in a stunning display of clumsiness wholly unfitting to a night of feminist theatre!

BUT my nerves were unfounded; Marc and his cast fully captured my concept for the piece; hanging as it does on a Brechtian style including narration, freezes and multi-rolling , making me certain that there was scope for much more.

Rachael Olivant, Ian Curran, Miranda Dawe and Colleen Daley in Grit by Sarah Davies

Rachal Olivant, Ian Curran, Miranda Dawe and Colleen Daley in Grit by Sarah Davies, directed by Marc Kelly

Excitingly, Grit was seen by a producer from The Pleasance Islington, who was open to discussing possible avenues for development. With her encouragement, I began the process of developing the play in to a full length piece for a rehearsed reading with them. I decided early on that I wanted to retain the style, and I had a good idea of the overall narrative having already written most of it in novel form. There was simply the small matter of changing the protagonist from a 6ft 4 man into a middle aged woman, adapting the novel in to script form and cutting about 70% of the description. Easy!

Actually, despite these challenges, the task was incredibly enjoyable! Writing with a specific remit, cast and director in mind, using material that you have already created in another form, is a very different experience. On the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, playwright Simon Stephens would often refer to the concept of ‘killing your babies’, getting rid of those lines that you love but that just don’t work. This resonated with me particularly as  I went on to perform a metaphorical infant massacre just to get an outline for this script! I couldn’t afford to be precious if I was going to even approach the idea of ‘showing not telling’, and so vast swathes of description were replaced with action and sub-text.

I also had to tread what sometimes felt a fine line in using my own experience as a teacher. It goes without saying that this is a work of fiction, exaggerated for theatrical effect, yet I still feel a strong moral impetus to make that clear. After twelve years and at times LOTS of pressure, I still genuinely love teaching. I relish the fact that every day I get to explore theatre and plays with enthusiastic students (and sometimes as a bonus canter around a room under the guise of a ‘warm up!’). But as in any job, I see the flip-side too, particularly having worked in a school environment, which was a markedly different experience for me. In the process of developing my play, I’ve discovered the reality of something that I’ve long advocated to my own script-writing students; the importance of real truth in writing. Here I am now, a female teacher, writing a play about….a female teacher. There’s nowhere to hide (apart from in a cupboard!) and that’s scary. And exciting!

So, I dashed off a first draft to Marc and the cast, roughly 45 pages long (I generally go by a minute a page for timings) and….found out that I needed to cut roughly a quarter of the play or the audience would need to bring thermos flasks and sleeping bags! That in itself was a challenge, but I enjoyed having to be ruthless, and I think that the script is stronger as a result. Now, we are at a more manageable length, and I have very high hopes of developing this play; simply, there is so much that I want to say through it.

Writing for theatre is like nothing else; you have a live audience right there, with the opportunity to create a specific atmosphere solely through action and words. There’s an element of risk that appeals hugely to me, and the director has patiently responded to me enthusing that ‘in my head…the whole stage is a giant cupboard, right, with different compartments that ping out at key points’. To be fair, he didn’t even blink an eyelid about the scene where Val is force to defecate in a box file……! Of course, his task now is to bring all this to life within the confines of an empty stage, and I have every faith that this will be achieved brilliantly! I WILL get that cupboard eventually though!

So, next week it is! The purpose of the rehearsed reading is to share the work, invite feedback and to secure a producer.  It takes place at 3pm on Thursday 29th October at The Pleasance Islington in London. If you’d like to come along, or are interested in hearing more, please email me to be put on the guest list – I’d love to see you there! : sjd_@hotmail.com

Sarah Davies is a drama lecturer, playwright, director, and reviewer for Total Theatre – follow her on twitter @TallTalesSarah

“Acting is the reality of doing”

This month, Sienna Miller revealed that she turned down a Broadway play, a two-hander, because she was being offered less than half the pay of her male co-star. Turning down an opportunity like this is a brave move career-wise, and revealing the fact braver still.

As we well know there are far fewer roles for women in theatre, film and TV – and as a result, actresses can ill-afford to be turning any roles down, even if you are a Hollywood star. Emma Thompson acknowledged that, at the age of 56, she took the role of a 77 year old woman in the film The Legend of Barney Thomson – even though it would have been nice for a 77 year old actress to play it – because it was ‘a wildly comic role and I couldn’t resist’. And having been told by a producer that, at 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was too old to play a romantic counterpart to a 55 year old man, she apparently felt sad, then angry and then laughed.

Well, perhaps if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. How should we respond to this?

Legendary American acting coach Sandford Meisner said “Acting is the reality of doing”. He was talking about an actor’s approach to their craft – living truthfully in the imaginary circumstances of the play. Should not a play then live truthfully within the world in which it inhabits, in order to reflect and engage with the audience, no matter what the imaginary circumstances? So, if it’s all about the ‘reality of doing’, let’s do it!

As Viola Davis accepted her ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama’ Emmy, the first African-American to ever receive the accolade, she made a point of thanking the writers of How to Get Away with Murder for being the people who “redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black”. On the same night, Orange Is the New Black star Uzo Aduba became the first actress to win both a drama and comedy Emmy for the same role. She expressed her gratitude to show creator Jenji Kohan, thanking her for “making this show, for creating this space, for creating a platform”.

At Whoop ‘n’ Wail HQ, we are very proud of all the writers who have risen to the Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… challenge since it’s launch in 2014 – because it is that very reality of doing, and of having a space and platform, that will make real change in the future.

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