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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Preview: My Mind is Free by Sam Hall

The fantastic Sam Hall (17%) brings her new play to London!

17percent

My Mind is Free imageAs regular visitors to this website will know, 17Percent’s founder, Sam Hall, has been working on a play about human trafficking, which tours in October 2015. The play has been cast and rehearsals are about to begin. 

The main aim of the play is to raise awareness for World Anti-Slavery Day (18 October 2015). There are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world, with approximately 13,000 in the UK. Modern day slavery victims include: women forced into prostitution, imprisoned domestic staff, and workers in fields, factories, building sites and fishing boats.

Jude Spooner, founder of London-based Rah Rah Theatre Company, commissioned playwright Sam to tell stories of human trafficking in a play, which tours venues in London and the Southeast this October, supported by Arts Council England.

Jude and Sam were inspired to team up on the play to raise awareness of this injustice in the UK. Sam was first…

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My worst nightmare!

Preparing to go on stage as Katie in Madjesty for Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday, I put the finishing touches to my make up. Lipstick on and dabbed, I stood by the wings and waited for my cue. The opening music, The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, fired up and on stage I went.

As the lights went up there was a howl of laughter, screams and wolf whistles from a packed house. What was so funny? We hadn’t even started yet. Why were people laughing?

And as I stood there, bemused, I felt an uncomfortable draft. With horror, and hardly daring to look, I went to place my hands on my stomach, now sick with nerves. My hands were met not with the soft cotton of my blue wrap around dress but the synthetic polyester and elastane silkiness of my big black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants. I stood there, the bright stage lights staring into my blinking eyes, heart pounding and sweat slowly inching down my back.

Taking a deep breath to calm my thumping chest, I slowly opened my eyes. I found myself, rigid and slightly sticky, looking at the streams of bright sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. It was Monday morning and I was due at the theatre for the tech rehearsal. With a huge dose of relief, I chastised myself for not managing a more original anxiety dream. I am a playwright after all!

Madjesty 11

Ali Kemp, Ian Crump & Tom Neill in Madjesty by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman

Thankfully Represents…Mayday went without a hitch. We had packed, appreciative audiences on both nights; six, fantastically interesting plays, all including fully rounded female characters; wonderful performances, beautifully directed;  and although I did flash my big, black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants from under my cobalt blue kimono, it was rehearsed and a part of my character choice!

Debs and I would like to extend our thanks to: Writers Brian Redmond, Paul Howard, Sarah Davies, William Patterson and Lizzie Bourne; Directors Georgie Weedon, Alice Bonifacio, Marc Kelly, Janet Palmer, James Callas Ball and Paul Kevin-Taylor; Actors Sharon Maughan, Amy Cooke Hodgson, Jonah Fazel, Chinwe A Nwokolo, Bronte Tadman, Coleen Daley, Miranda Dawe, Ian Curran, Rachal Olivant, Laura Garnier, Anna Brooks-Beckman, Roberta Morris, Sophie Mackenzie, Lydia Huhne, Gerri Farrell, Tom Neill and Ian Crump; Technical support Tom Neill, Paul Kevin-Taylor, Eirik Bar and Gareth Radcliffe; Photography George Riddell; Graphic design Stewart Calladine @arty_stew; Waterloo East Theatre Gerald Armin and staff; and Sam Hall with 17percent for continued support.

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

That old white man Patrick Stewart, we salute you.

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Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday
Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th April 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 / www.waterlooeast.co.uk

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

Ali & Debs feature in Female Arts Magazine

Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman: Whooping and Wailing on the Road to Gender Equality

Read our feature in Female Arts here.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday
Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th April 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 / www.waterlooeast.co.uk

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

Baked goods at the ready – we’re in full rehearsal swing!

Here are Whoop ‘n’ Wail HQ we are excitedly moving into the next phase of pre-production. It is great to be working with our fantastic team of directors: Marc Kelly, Janet Palmer, James Callas Ball and Georgie Weedon, who are Represents… first timers; and Represents… returners Alice Bonifacio and Paul Kevin-Taylor, all of whom have been busy casting and getting rehearsals underway.

Debs and I have also been busy in the last few days getting our publicity out and inviting press and industry to the show. This is our third Represents.. showcase and although we know what we are doing now – well sort of – we are always looking at how we can further promote playwriting which better represents the world in which we live.

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THE ACT FOR CHANGE PROJECT, which was launched in 2014, is gathering pace. Founded in response to a TV ‘season of drama’ trailer that featured only white faces, the campaign has garnered support from many high profile performers and creative artists who have a simple mission – to increase diversity in live and recorded arts that can communicate with the unrepresented audiences that make up British society today.

We feel really proud of the small contribution that Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and all who take part in it, are making to this dynamic movement for change. And of course, you can be a part of it too by booking your tickets here for Represents…Mayday! Don’t forget, we do sell out and you don’t want to be disappointed.

In other news: I have had the pleasure of being cast by Paul Kevin-Taylor in Madjesty, written for Represents…Mayday by myself and Debs. So, I’m off now to learn my lines. And, in my capacity as Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s resident baker, prepare a batch of freshly baked goods to take to our first rehearsal on Sunday. Whoop!

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday
Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th April 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 / www.waterlooeast.co.uk

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice