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Like vampires in the dark

It’s tech day, which essentially means we’ve become like vampires, scared to step outside into the light. Tucked away in the darkness of the auditorium, with only the glow of the parcans and 2Ks from the stage, and the red neon glare of the control desk, it’s here that we will feel safe.

Sixty Five Miles, is a play that most theatre’s would put in their studio. It’s perceived as being delicate and intimate. Hull Truck’s main auditorium is colossal. 400 seats. It’s as far from a studio as possible. Amy has created a sweeping, multi level design, that embraces the opportunities the space provides and allows the action of the play to step out of the confines of being a traditional studio piece. The journey between Sheffield and Hull that is central to the play, and the multiple locations that the action unfolds in, are allowed to merge seamlessly into each other, the play now has an epic feel. Tim’s lighting, enhances and compliments this idea, using a palette of colors to stamp strong visual images on the action. Add to this Ed’s delicate yet bruising score, and the play, still retains the subtlety that I hoped for but also has found a bolder, tougher and searing quality.

It’s thrilling to see this. As a young writer I’ve often been convinced that the only plays I will ever have produced are in studios. So it’s great to see the play fighting against this notion. I hope that when we open tomorrow the audiences will feel the same! And I also hope that in years to come, I will get a chance to see plays like James Graham’s ‘Albert Boy’ or DC Moore’s ‘The Empire’ revived in spaces that go against the preconceived image of where such plays should be produced.

I spent three of the best years of my life in Hull. Between 1999 and 2002 I studied at the University, my time was spent living and drinking on Beverly Road, watching Hull City at the old Boothferry Park Stadium, learning and making my first mistakes as an independent adult, and regularly making the trip back along the M62 to my parents home just outside Sheffield. It’s a city that has defined me in many ways, in terms of the choices I’ve made and the people that now occupy my life. It fills me with joy that my first full scale production will be produced by Paines Plough and Hull Truck, it feels like a homecoming.

I started writing Sixty Five Miles in 2006. It wasn’t the first thing I’d written by any means but it was the first thing I was proud of.  I sent an early draft of the play to Paines Plough in order to try and win a place on their Future Perfect scheme. At the time I was doing a job in London, that bored me to tears and writing at night, so I was delighted when I was offered a place on the scheme.

It was whilst on attachment at Paines Plough that I met George Perrin, who was then the trainee director in residence. George, having been to University in Sheffield felt a connection with the play and we worked on developing it together. The play’s had a long and windy journey, hundreds of rewrites, several attempted productions, an award, some fantastic advice and guidance from brilliant friends and actors but it seems right that it has come back to the company and the director it began with.

I hope the journey, from starting this play to getting it staged, gives hope to other writers. Patience and perseverance can often be the most frustrating of qualities to possess, but when they pay off, my oh my they are worth it.

For those of you that make it up to Hull, thank you, and do please pull me aside and have a chat. I’m normally found at the bar with a pint of Guinness.

SIXTY FIVE MILES – Rehearsal Week Two

Last week saw half of team PP decamp to Hull to continue rehearsals for SIXTY FIVE MILES by Matt Hartley – the first production of our Programme 2012.

Before Christmas we spent about 10 days working through the text, gathered around the rehearsal room table at PPHQ, building a shared understanding of the world of the play (Greater Sheffield in 2005), the backstory of the characters (from 1940 until 2005) and agreeing what actually happens in the course of the action of the play. From there we were able to build a detailed time-line that recorded key moments in the lives of the characters (starting with when they were all born) as well as the events that take place over the course of the play itself, alongside important social, cultural and political events that help explain and contextualise the choices Matt has made in crafting the imagined previous lives of the characters in the play.

Alan Morrissey and Katie West in rehearsals for SIXTY FIVE MILES

One of the central themes of Matt’s play is family. Nearly all of the characters are related to each other by one form of familial bond or another. As such, they have vast numbers of shared memories and experiences from the lives they lived alongside each other, many years before the beginning of the play. These memories and experiences, like in life, have a huge impact on how they behave in the ‘here-and-now’ of the play – the choices they make, the feelings they have towards each other and what they say and do to each other. In order to accurately capture the characteristics of the characters, to truthfully portray their onstage relationships and to understand their behaviour, we went through a process of identifying these past lives, so artfully built in to the play by Matt when he wrote it. In other words, we aim to understand the action of the play by clearly and continuously uncovering and articulating everything that pre-dates it.

With the bulk of that work completed before Christmas, and digested over the festive season (along with lots of turkey, wine and chocolate), we reconvened on Wednesday last week to begin rehearsing the action of the play. Heavily informed by our research in to the world of the play and the characters’ backstory, we started to practice the words, actions, intentions and spaces of the play, all with the purpose of making Matt’s story clear, accurate and life-like. These have been the ‘first draft’ rehearsals of the scenes of the play, with the actors on their feet, acting out the scenes with each other for the first time. We will have three or four rehearsals of each scene before we start running the play in full.

As I wrote about in my last blog from the SIXTY FIVE MILES rehearsal room, this approach to rehearsing a play is rooted in a Stanislavskian approach to acting and is pretty much common practice in one form or another, as I understand it, throughout Western Theatre. I remember reading about it in An Actor Prepares and Building A Character when I was doing my Theatre Studies A Level. Then a few years ago I was offered an incredible opportunity by the Young Vic to better understand putting the ideas in to practice – David Lan arranged for eight directors to spend two weeks at the Maly Theatre in St.Petersburg, where we learned from the theatre’s Artistic Director Lev Dodin how they used the Stanislavky Method to rehearse their work (with the most striking revelation being that the company often rehearses productions for up to three years before opening them). Most recently I have found Katie Mitchell’s book The Director’s Craft to be the clearest and most practically applicable way of using the method within a British production model.

Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production  on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.

Matt Hartley’s 65 MILES in Hull

We’re super excited to announce another new show for 2012…

With our friends at Hull Truck we’re co-producing the world premiere of Matt Hartley‘s electrifying and moving new play 65 MILES.

The production will open at Hull Truck on 1 February, directed by George and starring Ian Bleasdale, Craige Els, Becci Gemmell, Alan Morrissey and Katie West.

I don’t even have a photo. Every girl I see could be her. You’d know yer own child if they walked past wouldn’t you?

Sixty Five Miles. The distance between Hull and Sheffield. The distance between a man and the daughter he’s never met.

Pete and Rich are two very different brothers. Reunited after nine years, both are seeking forgiveness. Rich needs to confront ex-girlfriend Lucy, and the shadows of his recent past. Pete’s search is for the one woman in his life he has never known, his daughter.

They soon discover that – even separated by sixty five miles – people never forget.

We’re thrilled to be working with Matt, who wrote for COME TO WHERE I’M FROM last year in Sheffield, and whose blog about last week’s Jersey residency you can read here.

And we welcome a stellar cast to the PP rehearsal room:

L-R Ian Bleasdale, Craige Els, Becci Gemmell, Alan Morrissey, Katie West

George is working with a crack team of creatives with the brilliant Amy Cook designing, lighting by Tim Deiling – who’s previously worked with PP on THE 8TH and our A Play, A Pie and a Pint season – and Ed Lewis on sound.

And we’re thrilled to again be working with Andrew and his brilliant team at Hull Truck after our lovely visit with LOVE, LOVE, LOVE earlier this year.

Full details of the production are here. We can’t wait.

One day gears up…

Rehearsals are well underway for ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE YOUNG. We’re settled here, enjoying Sheffield and the unseasonable warmth. (who says it’s grim up?)

We’ve worked through the play a few times, layering up detail and making small changes to the script. It’s a great help to have Nick Payne with us to tailor the play to the demands of the Roundabout. Where the script asks for a window, our challenge in the round is either to plonk a window in the set (undesirable) suggest the window somehow (possible) or find another way of staging the moment (playful). The writer can help supply the director with a great solution – collaboration in the room is crucial.

Paines Plough's rehearsal room... *cough* honest...

We’re gearing up to leave our rehearsal room and get into the theatre for our tech week. Not only are we nearing the point at which theatre lights and full sound boosts the production but the Roundabout itself is being built. We can’t wait to have a play in the space…

1-A slots into 2-D? ... What do you mean THERE AREN'T ENOUGH SCREWS?

And until we start running technical rehearsals in the space, we keep on practising…

The best way to get to Carnegie Hall? (answers on a postcard)

PS – Zooby’s is the current favourite for coffee. More suggestions please…

PP Around the UK in 81 days

As we are in rehearsals for 4 plays, with two set to tech and open next week, plus a 5th play to start rehearsals and a 6th to join in four weeks time – it can be difficult to keep track of who is where!

Enter the joy that is the EXCEL spreadsheet.  This paired with our brilliant intern, Amy, results in the glorious schedule below.

Take a peak to see who is rehearsing what, where and when…

Colour coded and everything!

Of course there is also Claire, Hanna and Amy who are our rocks at number 43 Aldwych during these busy periods.

One day when we started rehearsals…

Nick’s play is set over a period of sixty years, and in order to try to get a sense of what the two characters would have seen in their lifetime, we spent a day at the Imperial War museum, the National Army museum, and then the V&A. It was invaluable to see the sheer scope of change over time. Colours change as materials change – wood and stone gives way to garish technicolour plastic. Preciousness gives way to cheap commercialism. Over the day we found two particularly contrasting slogans: “To dress extravagantly in war time is worse than bad form it is unpatriotic” – and later “I shop therefore I am”.

After a week in London, we moved rehearsals from Paines Plough’s rehearsal space to Sheffield Crucible. We’re all excited at the prospect of performing ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE YOUNG at Sheffield in the Roundabout space. The rehearsal facilities are excellent, and we’re helped by props and furniture appearing continuously, thanks to our great Stage Management team and designer Lucy Osborne, allowing us to create the hotel room in Bath in the 1940s. We’ve been given a very warm welcome by the theatre, its staff, and artistic director Daniel Evans who kindly took the time to pop his head into our room whilst we were busy experimenting with 1940s period hairstyles for our actors. Everybody in our team is happy in their digs, keen to explore the city, and we’re all looking forward to seeing Sheffield’s production of OTHELLO tomorrow night.

PS challenge is on to find a great cup of strong coffee in the morning… suggestions very welcome for independent coffee shops…

Baby’s Big Builders Day Out

As we continue to build the ROUNDABOUT auditorium, with Sheffield Theatres, Bernd (Production Manager), and Lucy (Designer) are continually popping in to Factory Settings to see how developments are going.

Today, Factory Settings also had an extra small surprise – Fred, Lucy’s baby.

Fred’s middle name is Kenneth.  A prize goes to the first person who can tell us the recent Paines Plough production that featured a character of the same name?

P.S. In case you don’t know the answers on the link!

Baby on board!

Step Changing from NT to Play, Pie, Pint

please note: pint pictured is not actual size

As this is the end of my third week working with Paines Plough I thought it was about time I wrote a blog. I’m Rachel, and I’m here due to a frankly brilliant scheme called Step Change.

The idea behind the programme is to try and counteract the fact that the theatre industry can be haphazard in terms of spotting and nurturing people who have management and producing potential. My experience, working at the National Theatre as the Technical and Production Administrator, has been great in terms of teaching me about the theatrical process on a large scale; but when it comes to the next step in my career, I’m going to need specific experience that my role at the NT as a little cog in a big old machine doesn’t afford me.

Participants on Step Change get a week of masterclasses from industry experts and several follow-up sessions; a mentor to give advice/drink with/be talked down by (mine, Ros, is General Manager at the Old Vic); and a secondment of around 40 days in another organisation. And this is where my path meets Paines Plough’s.

Paines Plough had put together two secondment proposals, and when I first met with Tara and Claire I told them I was interested in working as Assistant Producer on what turned out to be the upcoming Roundabout project. I’m a Sheffield girl, and the concept – a portable theatre space, initially within the Crucible, a company in rep, three brand new plays – sounded very exciting whilst still allowing me to cling on to my comfort zone (read: opportunity to jump on the 82 to my Mum’s for a cuppa if it all got too much). I still think the Roundabout project is going to be brilliant and I’m really enjoying being in the office watching it all coming together.

But when Tara called and said they thought I’d be better served by being given even MORE responsibility, and would I be up for being the Trainee Producer on this year’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint, I was thrilled. Then terrified. Then thrilled again.

So I’m spending two days a week south of the river with the NT, and three on the north bank with Paines Plough, until mid-September when we hit Òran Mór in Glasgow with our three brilliant plays. We will then be touring to the Traverse in Edinburgh, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and the Belgrade in Coventry. So far I have been meeting with the writers, putting together our teams (Stage Management, Lighting and Sound design), drafting ideas for marketing material and next week I’m travelling up to Edinburgh to continue casting one of the plays – at the National, there are whole departments to do each of those things.

I can see that our three plays are going to present me with completely different challenges, and I’m sure that that will mean a lot of thinking on my feet – particularly when I take the lead once we’re in Scotland. But that’s what I’m after – a buzz, a challenge and above all, the opportunity to get properly hands-on and help create some excellent theatre. I’ll keep you updated.

In the mean time, if you’d like to know more about Step Change, let me know by posting a comment here, or check out

Hello! Let the show begin – I’m ready!

Having worked on a freelance basis over the past 8 years, I was more than excited when I walked into my new full-time position as Production Manager for Paines Plough. Overlooking the BT tower from my desk, it has been a real jump into the cold water – or to be more truthful, a jump into a busy and exciting period here at PP. Preparations for the ROUNDABOUT season are in full swing and the annual A PLAY, A PIE AND A PINT season (touring to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Coventry) is just around the corner.

All in all, six new productions in a wide range of spaces and settings need looking after, planning, finalising and delivering before the year comes to an end. So it is no wonder that I am still introducing myself to directors, stage managers, venue contacts and many more creatively involved people. All of whom are passionate about making each performance something special.

In my short time here, I have already had the chance to travel to Coventry, Holloway, Walthamstow and Sheffield. The highlight here is undoubtedly  a rather rushed but successful visit to Primark in a cold and rainy Sheffield. Thanks Tara! And, there is much more to come.

Over the coming weeks I shall be using our national rail network on a regular basis, visiting workshops and venues across the country; meeting all the more folks who help us make our work a success.