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Developing New Writing: The Big Room

It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 months since the ray of sunshine that is Nathan Bryon joined Team PP as our Big Room Fellowship playwright – and what a year it has been! He’s been to Barcelona, joined us at Latitude and in Edinburgh, and also managed to squeeze in two development workshops to develop a new script. Not bad, eh? 

We got him to write one last blog for us before jetting off to film Benidorm – oh yeah, did we forget to mention that he acts too?! What a guy. It’s not goodbye, just see you later – it’s been a pleasure!

It’s that time again to blog for PP but sadly it will be the last time as the Big Room writer!

Down to business!!! I feel like I need to do one of those catch ups they put at the beginning of cheesy American show ‘Previously on the Big Room Fellowship…’ in bullet point form.

  • Another One Bites The Dust: A short play I wrote about police brutality in America was performed in Barcelona
  • I wanted to develop AOBTD play during my time with PP and after 3 days of workshopping and talking lots, the idea for Mixed Brain was floating around in my head, I just didn’t know what it was.
  • A further 4 days locked in the PP Big Room with no food or water resulted in me writing the first draft of Mixed Brain.

So after 4 days locked in the PP Big Room, OK I wasn’t technically locked in and OK there was food and water, lots of it actually. I had a first draft of my new play Mixed Brain… I wrapped up the first draft and ran off to the pub to see the Paines Plough Crew Dem and just forget about it for a while!

‘Mixed Brain is about exploring what it means to be Mixed Race in London in 2016, the story is set in a Mixed Race family about two brothers who have been bought up VERY differently and an incident that separates the whole family…’

Lots of Life happened and then George and James asked me what did I want to do to end this ‘Scheme??’ One thing was that I wanted see LOADS of theatre before I went back to Spain… so I did, I went and saw a lot, but what I really loved was ESCAPED ALONE – it was everything! MA RAINEY was magical!

I also wanted to hear Mixed Brain read out loud, as there is only so many times you can hear you own whiney voice saying your words! George and James then told me was money left over in the budget, after they had said no I couldn’t use it too fly first class to Jamaica for a week, I decided I wanted another 3 day workshop with Mixed Brain.

The script was in a first draft state, meaning bare spelling mistakes and just general chaos, and Rachel the legend then went around attaching dons to the workshop! First to the party is the Don of Dons, my flat white partner in crime, just general O.G Natalie Ibu was the director. We met in a PRET obvs, and I just thought YES she is a DON.  Natalie is the sort of person I can chat with for HOURS about everything and everything and just get wiser! SHE IS A WISE WISE DON!

Natalie and Rachel then literally got the avengers of young performers, god knows how all these dons were available at the same time.

The morning of the workshop Rachel texted me the cast list – I had just got back from working in Glasgow so was a bit knackered but I was just like RAAAAAAAAR!!! They are the fire of young British talent right now and I get to work with them for 3 days – what a fucking honor!

The first thing we did was a read of the text which for me was super useful to hear lots of other voices read in, and could allow me to realize that… the story would appear and disappear and some scenes were totally useless, but it’s cool I’m not down in the dumps – my first drafts I call my vomit draft: just getting it ALL out! There were also bits of text that I really liked as well it’s not doom and gloom out here.

Like most workshops WE debated WE Discussed LOADS over the 3 days, about things that give us rage and what we would like to change, revolving around mainly race.  We would leave a session and I think it’s fair to say everyone’s brains were bulging with thoughts of what we had discussed.

Unlike most workshops I’ve done, I usually bring in new scenes during the days to play with new material but this time I didn’t. It was great to interrogate the text and ask questions, exploring it more as it was a new writing style for me as I had written the play by assigning no characters or locations to the lines.

I almost wished we had a camera in the room filming us and you dons could just live stream in but a) that would be kinda creepy B) it wouldn’t be the same. Natalie created such a free raw space everything felt open to bring forward their thoughts and tings.

Before a workshop I usually write a list of things I want to achieve by the end of the days. My main one for this Mixed Brain pt 2 workshop was to leave inspired to make the next draft. I AM SOOOOO exited to re-draft it!!! Let’s hope I don’t make it shit…

We ate Caribbean for lunch like everyday, we were in Brixton so it was live! Then the workshop ended with BEERS and MUNCH, the way life should just end in general. We all sat down and I asked the actors questions like… ‘What scenes would you like to see in this play which I haven’t written?’ ( I’m such a lazy writer hahaha) ‘What characters would you like to see most developed?’ etc, and then we just chatted about life! It was VIBES.

My time at PP has been legit the best year of my life so far!!!!! I am soooooo fucking grateful to have had this incredible opportunity. I’ve done so much. I’ve literally just heard the first draft of my new radio play BILAL’S BIRTHDAY which was recorded in New York – yep NEW YORK!! CRAY CRAY CRAY!!!! A Naked Angels and Paines Plough production, it will be out mid March I’m guessing… I still can’t get over American’s reading my words hahahaha!

PPS. I am going to produce my play NEGRIL BEACH and I’m looking for producers – HOLLA at yo boy!!!!

Big Love

Nathan :)

Developing New Writing: The Writer’s Perspective

Earlier this year, Nathan Bryon was selected to be our Big Room Fellowship playwright, and as part of the programme we are helping him to develop his playwriting skills. At the end of October we organised a development workshop with director Titas Halder, ably assisted by our Director Placement, Nadia, and four actors, to thrash out some ideas. Here’s a little insight from Nathan in to what happened…

Last week, was intense. Super, super, super, super intense… We had 3 days of rehearsal and development of my new play, and I had no idea what is or was going to be about. Then I set myself the mad challenge of writing a draft of my new play in 5 days… This is the blog that tells you how it went – it involved lots and lots and lots of COFFEE and expensive Eat sandwiches.

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(L-R: Nadia, Tanya, Nathan & Tunji)

I wrote a short play called ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST about the police brutality in America. I wrote it whilst in Spain watching the Walter Scott police shooting because I had major, major rage and the play was an immediate response to that. I knew for my new full-length play that I didn’t want it to be an extension to ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST because I felt, whilst it was short, the play was complete.

I met Rachel, the producer, a few days before the workshop like “Shit, I haven’t actually written anything proper to rehearse with the actors!”, just because I didn’t know exactly what I even wanted the story to be about. Rachel explained that it’s not about going into the rehearsal with a full piece, it’s about going in with provocations and bits of script to play with to inspire myself. This conversation was a massive relief so I went away and made like a 40 page pack for the day which the poor director, Titas, had to go through, hahaha. I had decided I wanted to discuss the black experience, black rage, police brutality, identity and a billion other things. It was full of short scenes, my wants for the pieces, the themes I wanted to explore, and a whole lot more.

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The Wall on Day 1

I had an amazing room of actors – Tunji Lucas, Llewella Gideon, Tanya Fear and Michael Hadley – who all came in on their weekends which I know is a long ting, hahah. They were so generous with their stories and thoughts, and I don’t think at any time I was not scribbling something down in my notebook. We would write things on a piece of paper – thoughts we had, sentences that we liked  – and stick them on them wall so we were literally surrounded by it all day.

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Titas in directing mode while Simone and Bhavini from Team PP watch on.

One of my favorite parts of the three days was us all watching Kendrick Lemar’s music video for ‘Alright‘, and just being mesmerised by how amazing it was. Nadia, the assistant director, printed me out a pack of research about Kendrick who is my favorite rapper right now, which I am slowly getting through.

We could have locked ourselves in that room for another 5 days, but thank god we didn’t because at the end of every day we all felt drained, mentally and physically.

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Tanya and Michael

Writing-wise, I sat down with Titas before we began the workshop and he really liked some of the poetry led pieces I had written in ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST. I have a poetry background as that was what I did before writing plays. He gave me debbi tucker green’s BORN BAD and RANDOM. I knew of debbi tucker green and loved her work but I had never read BORN BAD which blew my head off, just the anger in that play. I loved the non-naturalistic writing style which was something I had been learning loads about from my time in Barcelona.

The first day of the rehearsal I came in with some abstract scripts with no character names, scene headings, or locations and Titas directed the actors to perform this… For me it was a spark of magic – that night when the actors left, I stayed in the room for another 3 hours and just wrote, wrote, wrote. I came up with 4 more abstract scenes, so excited at the thought of hearing them read out loud in this new style the next day. I always used to think abstract theatre like that was totally wanky and would think ‘What’s wrong with being naturalistic?’. The answer is ‘nothing’, but I am so glad I now know I can try to do both.

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Covering the room over Days 2&3

The discussions got more intense as the workshop progressed and  after we shared some of the work with the Paines Plough team, the actors left on Monday. I was left in the room now covered in pieces of paper and I had to make sense of all the things we discussed figure out, with this new writing style, how on earth I was going to make a play this way which at first was very, very, very scary.

When I write, I try my best to make some element of the story relate to my life so that I can make it honest. I wanted to base this play around my family and my mixed raced background, which I hope I did hahaha.

For 5 days I wrote non-stop in that room, drinking copious amount of coffee playing Kendrick Lemar pacing around, eating expensive PRET sandwiches, sticking things up on the wall… it was fucking amazing. It was one of those moments were I felt like a proper, proper writer with writer problems, hahah. Everyday I would come home and just be a bit distant because my mind couldn’t switch off and I was just thinking about what I was going to write the next day.

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Sorting through and organising my favourite thoughts from the 3 days.

Everyday I would print off my progress (don’t worry it was recycled, I’m not about that wasteful life) and read it all out loud. The play was really taking shape and by Friday I had finished… god knows if it is total shit, I really hope not as I am definitely attached… To top it off, Hanna the producer brought me in a BOOM bowl of Mac and Cheese on the Friday which I was so happs about, as there are only so many sandwiches you can eat.

On the Friday at 5:30 I had finished the whole thing and I ran to the pub with the Paines Plough crew dem haha and had lots of pints which was wonderful. I felt like that week I had achieved something boom!

On the Saturday morning I woke up totally knackered, but also still feeling really affected by the subject matter, and on the Saturday evening I got rage that this white dude called his dog Django after the slave from the movie in a pub… After vexing and ranting for hours on twitter (tweets now deleted) I took a breath and
stepped away and watched RuPauls Drag Race. I think the subject matter really swallowed me up at one point which was fucking intense, but super interesting.

But yeah long story short, I finished the first draft, the play is called MIXED BRAIN: THE MIXTAPE and it is all abstract and that, I am super excited at the prospect of developing it. It’s a story about me and my brother and our different upbringings, what it means to be mixed raced, and an incident that split my family.

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Draft 1…

Now I need to get back to re-drafting something else as I said I would have it done tomorrow… I hope I didn’t just lie to the producer… first let me make another tea!

– Nathan