Monthly archives: June 2012

Good with People rehearsal diary – Day 4

Glasgow is a cruel mistress – she gives, she takes away. She always keeps you guessing, though. And after three full days of rain, this is how the evening ended up. Wish you were here?

As for rehearsals, today was spent in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. A recce of Traverse One, our home during August was followed by a meet and greet with those who work there.

Playing on the space itself was an insightful exercise. There is no getting around the fact that the rake means delivery must be considered, as well as the practicalities of performing a two-hander in what is a large space.

We ran over the road to the Lyceum to use their rehearsal rooms for a while and carried on experimenting with the roles we discussed the other day.

All the thoughts we had will be taken back into the rehearsal room tomorrow, before we break again until mid-July. A lot has been covered over the last week – minute detail, physicality, background – but it feels worthwhile to have done it well in advance of the opening night.

We’re looking forward to seeing what tomorrow throws up, and what work is set for our next set of rehearsals in July.

Good with People rehearsal diary – Day 3

Today was a busy one, no two ways about it. We spent the morning with pens and heads in hand, finishing the detailed work we began yesterday. When we got to the end of the script there were far more questions produced than answers given, but that is the beauty of rehearsals. All in good time.

With the whole play fresh in mind, we spoke about the many roles the characters play in life, to other people and for each other. And if this sounds like a potential fun game to play in the lounge with someone you are close to, our advice would be otherwise. Unless you’re prepared to accuse them of being a mixture of luster, savage and snob, it’s best to stay clear.

A few more lists added to our detective work and before you know it the actors are on their feet for the first time. This transition from chair to feet can be a decisive one. Some leave it weeks, others start on the first day. For us, it was the right time to play with space and proximity, and to get out of our heads after two days of conversation.

Not to go without mention was the arrival of David Harrower, the playwright himself, at the end of the day. Rather than overwhelm him questions from every page, we asked more relevant, playable questions and he also got the chance to see how the chemistry between Evan and Helen is developing.

Please do the same yourself tomorrow.

Ps. If anyone can tell us what the bird fish and the tree mean in the picture, we’ll mail you down a Fried Mars Bar.

Good with People rehearsal diary – Day 2

We jinxed it. Although day two of rehearsals for Good with People looked to be as much of a scorcher as day one was, by lunch time it was another story. The rain poured down on Glasgow.

It’s just as well, then, that we had enough timelines, pictures, print-outs and articles in the rehearsal room to distract us. Today was about knowing exactly what had happened when in the story, as well as scrutinising every reference made in the script.

Discussions about why the characters speak about these things moved us onto another reading of each scene. This time, we focused on what was a statement and what was a question, to begin placing where Evan and Helen’s minds are at any one point.

In a play with such strong contradictions, it was really useful to begin looking at the moments that are open for interpretation. And there are lots of them! We realised that the number of ‘facts’ in Good with People are very few, and that often we cannot even take what a character says at their word.

And in a script full of ellipsis and overlapping thoughts, it was also really helpful to consider when Helen is being interrupted by Evan, or vice verse, or when a character lets a thought, well, just, drift  . . .

More musings from Trades House of Glasgow tomorrow.

Good with People rehearsal diary – Day 1

We’re not quite sure what’s going on, but something looking a lot like summer came out to greet the Paines Plough team this morning, as we made our way to Scotland’s culture capital for the first day of Good with People rehearsals.  Whether we’re actually being teased and are due a healthy lashing of Scottish rain tomorrow we’ll soon find out, but it provided a happy welcome to our current residence at The Trades House of Glasgow.

If you, like us, aren’t sure what a Trade House is, think along the lines of the guilds that used to run cities in times gone by. Tailors, blacksmiths, skinners, haberdashers – to name but a few – would gather in wood panelled halls to decide who took home what and who did business with whom. And they didn’t do this in any old room – the four of us gawped upwards at the size of the main meeting place and its crest laden walls.

Enough about the setting though – as theatre people, we know that the characters that fill it are what counts. Today we had our two actors Blythe Duff and Richard Rankin in the room together for the first time. Blythe played Helen in the first production that Paines Plough did with Oran Mór, and Richard is our new Evan.

We spent the day reading through the script as it is, then pulling it apart page by page to try and form a timeline for both characters. David Harrower’s lean, exact word choice is meant to titillate and it has already become obvious that our version of events will develop as we investigate each scene over the coming weeks.

Tomorrow we’re meeting with David himself and as well as asking him some of the questions that came up today, we’ll be looking at the place of the piece and how that changes what we do on stage.

Until then!

Administrator – Sabbatical Covered

Three and a half months ago, on a rainy Thursday morning I stepped back into 43 Aldwych, climbed the four flights of stairs, reached the top, caught my breath (trust me, if you’ve ever done those four flights, you’ll know they’re a killer!) and hey presto I’m back in the Paines Plough offices and ready to go.

Earlier this year Paines Plough received some funding from Esmee Fairbairn to do some audience development work on a small scale tour to discover more audiences, in more venues, in more places than ever before. In comes producer extraordinaire Hanna who took up this mantle and headed out on the road with the WASTED team to Aberdeen, Birmingham, Cardiff, Folkstone and everywhere in between to compile some serious research that will help Paines Plough tour for years to come. Bonza!

This meant however that I was left to look after Hanna’s job as PP’s Administrator…well I promise nothing too serious went wrong; I excelled at spreadsheets (geddit…?!…sorry…), financed my way through Thursdays, booked that rehearsal room to within an inch of its life and yes, of course, ate enough cake/sweets/chocolate/doughnuts/cookies to sink a battleship.

It’s been a cracking few months at PP Towers with WASTED out on the road and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE at the Royal Court and after they were both up and running we announced the full programme for 2012 which has got some absolute corkers in it heading all over the country so be sure to check it out and book yourself a cheeky ticket or two.

I’ve had a cracking few months back with the brilliant PP Team and so I’ll leave you with some very wise and very apt words when working in the PP office courtesy of Sandra in Love, Love, Love:

‘Now, does everybody have a piece of cake?’

30 seconds with… Maia Alexander

This autumn we will be presenting three new plays by Duncan Macmillan, Nick Payne and Penelope Skinner in our purpose built, portable in-the-round Roundabout auditorium at Shoreditch Town Hall.

Following on from Alistair Cope ‘s interview on Tuesday, Maia Alexander (One Day When We Were Young and The Sound of Heavy Rain) gives us her insight on performing in the Roundabout auditorium…

Q.       Have you worked in the round before?

A: I have worked in the round only once before, in a production of The Crucible I did when i was at drama school.

Q.       What surprised you the most about creating work for  and performing in the Roundabout auditorium?

A: The most surprising thing? There’s this little spot exactly in the middle of the roundabout where you suddenly feel like your in a bubble of sound, or like your mic-ed or something, you hear yourself completely differently, which can really take you by surprise when you suddenly walk into it!

It also surprised me how easy it was to find the world of the play (which changes dramatically from scene to scene and from play to play) in the Roundabout; which i think has a lot to do with the audience’s focus surrounding you and locking you together within the space.

Q.       What do you think makes the Roundabout Auditorium a different audience experience?

A: I think the way in which the audience enters the space – through voms onto the stage itself or arriving at the top and making your way down into to the middle – immediately makes the space an active one, and the audience a part of what ever happens in that space from then on.

To book tickets for the Roundabout Season click here or you can ring the National Theatre box office on 020 7452 3000

Photo by Elyse Marks

Bright on Things

Some say that Brighton might as well be added onto the TFL travel maps. Here at Paines Plough, we are inclined to disagree. Famed as a place of calm outside of neurotic London, last week the team spent two happy days auditioning, work-shopping, rehearsing and performing somewhere proudly different to the capital.

It can be easy to pigeon-hole Brighton, though. And as became very clear over the two days we spent there, the city has a life far beyond Mr Whippy, chubby thighs and fluorescent lights. Although all the creative types we met raved about working on the south coast, the determination to put Brighton back on the map as a theatre town is what we will take away from our short stay.

Almost every actor we auditioned was part of a company, or better yet, ran one. They had produced and performed plays on balconies, in converted double-deckers, even in the ancient cells of the town hall: the entrepreneurial ethos was palpable. There were also plans afoot for café-theatres, Edinburgh Fringe transfers and a complete overhaul of how the Brighton Dome is run. The energy of everyone we met was rather inspiring.

One of the people behind the revamp is Orla Flanagan. Her dedication to both the theatre and the community that fills it is second to none. She spoke to us avidly about plans to rebrand the three spaces under the guise of one venue. Her hope is that the ornate, marble interior becomes home to a year-round programme. Our invitation, we hope, is already in the post.

This hunger to create made for animated workshops. Points of discussion began with the practical – such as fundraising, or where the best writing spots in the city are – and moved onto the logistics of progressing your own work. And even though the focus was on this forward motion, what we kept on coming back to was the simple fact that making the best art possible is the key to success, no matter how bullish you may be.

Which was evident in the Come to Where I’m From part of the schedule too. This time round the four pieces were shared by Fin Kennedy, Kefi Chadwick, Sue MacLaine and Judy Upton. So very different to the tone of last week’s visit to Chipping Norton, this leg of the tour reflected the true nature of how a Brightonian thinks, feels and then speaks.

No one can pretend that two days is enough to fully ‘get’ a city, but we’d challenge anyone to listen to the podcasts and not appreciate the spirit that emerges from the writers’ words. Yes, Brighton is a party town, but on its own terms and when it chooses to be so. There are pulsating hearts joyous to be there that give the city its unique beat, but which when knocked too hard skip like any other. The city is happy to house those who want to be there, no matter the length of their stay. And yet, it takes time for a place to become your own. It’s just like our writers told us – no amount of sun-drenched fun can guarantee a picture perfect home.

We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and hope everyone involved did too. Let us know your thoughts here, on facebook, on twitter, or next time we see you.

The podcasts should be available next week, just keep checking the blog. Our next Come to Where I’m From will be on the Isle of Wight, on the 18th August. Hope to see you on the ferry over! 

30 seconds with… Alistair Cope

The summer has still not started properly (lots of pale skin in the office) but we are already looking ahead to the autumn when our Roundabout Season comes to town!

We will be presenting three new plays by Duncan Macmillan, Nick Payne and Penelope Skinner in our purpose built, portable in-the-round Roundabout auditorium at Shoreditch Town Hall.

To whet our appetites, actor Alistair Cope who is in two of the Roundabout plays (Lungs and The Sound of Heavy Rain) gave us an exclusive interview to discuss what it is like performing in the Roundabout auditorium…

Q.       Have you worked in the round before?

A: I have worked in the round before on numerous occasions. It’s actually something that really attracts me. I was fortunate enough to appear in The Old Vic’s production of The Norman Conquests when the theatre was converted into the round 4 years ago. It was a fantastic experience and really showcased the benefits of having an auditorium like that. I can’t think of one person I spoke to who who didn’t love the fact that they were sat around the stage. I feel it really makes the audience feel part of the piece.

Q.       What surprised you the most about creating work for and performing in the ROUNDABOUT auditorium?

A: The intimacy of the ROUNDABOUT was probably the most surprising aspect for me. Certainly in Lungs, it felt as though the audience were listening to your every heartbeat and their combined energies were focused on the stage. It’s also surprising how much you can do in a confined space. Being clever with a space is part of theatre and the ROUNDABOUT forces you to challenge your preconceptions of how a scene should and could be played and re-evaluate it from a different angle.

Q.       What do you think makes ROUNDABOUT auditorium a different audience experience?

A: I think the audience feel they are immersed (in a good way) within the ROUNDABOUT. Once you have got used to sitting so close to everyone and being able to see the other side, people really let go and seem to invest much more in the piece. They feel as though they are onstage themselves and well and truly in the middle of the action. I think it can be quite a daunting experince for an audience to sit in the round in such a compact auditorium, but after the first few minutes, I feel the audience understand the uniqueness and excitement of the space.

 

To book tickets for the Roundabout Season click here or you can ring the National Theatre box office on 020 7452 3000

Brighton Open Auditions

 

Last Friday the Paines Plough team made a trip down to sunny Brighton to hold some open auditions. It was a rather difficult morning (thanks to TFL and Southern Rail) but everything brightened up when we got there.

We were blown away by the high standard of auditionees and how entrepreneurial everyone was. Nearly everyone had done the Brighton Fringe and were involved in creating their own work. Thank you so much to those who came along – we really enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing what they were up to.

As we were meeting so many different people we decided to do a poll of everyone’s favourite contemporary playwrights. It was a very closely fought thing and there were new entries still being added in the final audition. But we ended with a three-way tie for 1st place, shared between Simon Stephens, Che Walker and Philip Ridley.

Congratulations to our winners and let us know whether you agree with the result?

The new Chipping Norton set

According to the taxi driver who took us from the station to The Theatre in Chipping Norton, there’s a lot that goes on in town. Amanda Holden upsets the ‘Chippy’ locals with a bespoke thatched roof that does not fit the local style, Jeremy Clarkson accumulates speeding tickets in the latest Top Gear prototype, and the removal men continue to find curling irons in Rebekah Brooks’ (former) residence. But whilst the Chipping Norton Set indulge in their own Cotswolds shenanigans, there are a numbers of playwrights up to far more remarkable activities.

This is precisely why we went there. Last Thursday, Paines Plough added another patch of the UK to its nationwide theatrical tapestry, Come to Where I’m From. Once again we asked writers to tell us about the place that they call home. And this time, it was the turn of the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire writers Greg Banks, Clare Bayley, Susannah Finzi, Joe Graham and Rose Heiney.

The brilliantly welcoming Artistic Director there, John Terry, greeted the team and five writers out of the rain and into his theatre. We could not have asked for a better home for the day. If you have not paid a visit before, we’d suggest booking a seat on the train from Paddington and making the hour long journey. A tight rectangular balcony hovers above the stalls, giving The Theatre the feel of a miniature music hall. The green furnishings, wooden rafters and muted lighting contribute to the unique atmosphere of this intimate 213-seater.

All five writers got the opportunity to rehearse onstage during the afternoon and hear each other’s pieces. A single chair was placed dead centre for Greg, Clare, Susannah, Joe and Rose to give voice to the pieces that they had begun two short weeks beforehand. The writers themselves were a mix of performers and debutants, so we spread ourselves across the auditorium to check for pitch, but mainly just to enjoy the words being spoken. More on them later, though.

The order memorised and read-throughs done, the only place to go to was The Chequers round the corner. A respectful selection of ales and pub grub calmed last minute nerves, as conversation focused on local theatre hubbubs and the infamous Chipping Norton panto which had already begun casting. The only disappointment was that Clarkson did not make an appearance, so that we could pelt a few thick-cut chips in his direction.

Plates polished and pints sunk, it was time for the main event. Locals braved the rain and arrived en masse for the 7.45 performance. The Paines Plough team and writers gathered front of house, with the audience members, and then took our seats in the auditorium. Rather than waiting in the wings, a decision had been made earlier on in the day. There were to be no lighting states and the everyone was to be visible at all times, to reflect what Come to Where I’m From is all about: writers telling a room full of people, including the others involved in the project, what home means to them.

Clare played with form and recounted memories of friendship politics in her later teens, and running between friends’ houses, to the banks of the Isis, to the pub, defining who she was along the way. Joe, a Glaswegian by birth, told us about the problems of not quite being from neither here nor there. Susannah spoke to us about the happy isolation of her village in the Cotswolds and the delicacy of selling a family home. Rosie highlighted why there is always more to returning to somewhere you once lived than first meets the eye. And Greg remembered his itinerant mother who never quite set down roots, using stories from the past to justify why he had decided to do so himself.

Fictional or fact: that is the question asked of most writers these days. With Come to Where I’m From, though, it simply does not matter. It was evident that the audience were captivated by the words being spoken throughout. No matter the truth factor, everyone could find something to muse on or appreciate. A rapturous applause rounded off the evening and we headed to the bar to discuss the day and bid our farewells.

All the writers agreed that although short, an impending deadline always give rise to frantic moment of inspiration. Rather than second guess themselves, all five had to commit pen to paper, or finger to key, and write. You too can listen to the final pieces, just as soon as we upload them onto the website. Watch this space.

This weekend we are off to the coast. As well as open auditions on the Friday, we have the pleasure of taking over the Brighton Dome on Saturday for the next leg of Come to Where I’m From. See you there.