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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Don’t mention the M word!

Film director Georgie Weedon’s journey into feminist theatre.

As a director of factual movies (I have stopped saying documentaries following Michael Moore’s recent brilliant advice), the opportunity to direct a play was thrilling and a little terrifying.

I met Ali and Debs for the first time, in a cafe in Covent Garden in March. I had seen an advert calling for directors for a night of new plays that would pass the Bechdel TestWhoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

To me the appeal was two-fold: I am dazzled by Mark Rylance’s performance in Wolf Hall but bored by the number of male characters wafting about the screen in some kind of Tudor stag night saga; And then those ugly stats about the dismal number of female directors and lack of trust in female-led films and theatre.

Ali and Debs weren’t just ruing the situation, they were doing something about it. I wanted in.

I was given three plays to read and chose The M Word by Brian Redmond. In the world of the play, women are not allowed to talk about men at all and a KGB-type surveillance drops in when our two lead characters wander into what seems to be a conversation about a man. It had humour and a point.

Now the task was to get the play on its feet, to find the right actors to bring the characters and tone of the piece to life, to push and tug at the script until we had found its shape. I cast Sharon Maughan, Amy Cooke Hodgson and Jonah Fazel.

The M Word by Brian Redmond. Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan

The M Word by Brian Redmond                           Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan

Sharon’s career was somewhat terrifying to a newbie stage director. She has starred with Hayley Mills in Flame Trees of Ithaca, countless other stand out films, performed at the National Theatre, the Royal Court and also for the Queen alongside Helen Mirren and Joan Plowright.

Equally daunting to me was Amy Cooke Hodgson, a comic genius and star of the sell-out improvised comedy group Austentatious, as well as being an accomplished director herself. And to cap it all, both dazzling performers were to be interrogated through a megaphone by the brilliant Jonah Fazel, comedy actor and artistic director of Forked Path Theatre.

All in all, they were theatre gods to me and at the start of the rehearsals I did that thing where you pretend you have it all in hand when deep down you can’t quite believe this is happening.

We had three days to rehearse at the storied Troubadour pub in Earls Court, which has a legendary artistic history of its own and it felt like the right place for our project to take shape. I had read all the books I could on the rehearsal process, from Katie Mitchell’s The Director’s Craft to John Caird’s Theatre Craft, but now it was time to do it for real.

Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan in The M Word

We were opening the show, which was scary but a brilliant programming decision by Ali and Debs. Our play talked about the Bechdel Test head-on in a playful tone, and the cast’s electric performances got the audience laughing and comfortable to open up to the five excellent wide-ranging pieces which followed.

Perhaps the hardest part of all, coming from directing film, is learning to accept how transient a theatre production is. You can spend months shooting a film and many more in the edit suite trying to create an atmosphere or an argument which will be watched again and again.

Theatre actors create experiences of the same intense fascination and watchability, but when the run is over everyone disbands and moves on to tell other stories. But there is a huge positive aspect to this: the constant re-engagement with texts and fellow theatre-makers means that your own imagination, and those of audiences, are challenged and delighted in new ways over and over.

I’m thrilled to have been part of Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and highly recommend you pop along to their next festival to get your hit of powerful, perspective-changing entertainment.

Georgie Weedon is a filmmaker, author and emerging theatre director. She runs Gingerwink Films and is a founding associate for the global arts initiative @ProjectARIADNE, profiling female theatre makers working in conflict affected areas around the world. 

Still some tickets for tonight’s show…but there won’t be for long.

Well here we are. At Whoop ‘n’ Wail HQ we can’t quite believe that we are about to head to the theatre for our third Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents….

As always, Debs and I have not seen what the actors and directors have been doing with each piece of writing; during the tech day today we will meet a lot of the actors for the first time; and this evening will be the first time that we see the fruits of all their creativity. We can’t wait!

We have a busy day ahead, coordinating 6 technical rehearsals with 6 directors and 6 casts, so, as always, Ali is on her way with a batch of those all important WnW Caramac cookies to keep everyone going.

There are still some tickets left for both shows but we are selling well, so if you are planning to come tonight or tomorrow, book in advance to make sure you don’t miss out.

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

Sharon Maughan talks to the Huffington Post about Whoop ‘n’ Wail.

Acclaimed actress Sharon Maughan talks to Carrie Armstrong about her involvement in Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

Sharon Maughan, The Bechdel Test & The Glaring Gender Equality Gap in British Theatre by Carrie Armstrong

Two female characters. With actual names. Talking to each other about something other than a man.

Not exactly shooting for the moon. Is it?

Read the full article 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

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