January 27, 2011

Haiku and task

Motion, Andrew ill.

Seminar disappointment

Flu immoveable.

Andrew Motion can't make it to our seminar today and I haven't got time for the additional task for ICW (write the 'other other inanimate' perspective on the other story) so here's a bad Haiku. Not happy with the imagery but the mandatory pun was fun.

January 25, 2011

ICW Week 3 Task

Writing about shoe–induced mania from another sunny day

This weeks ICW task is a short narrative from the 'other' perspective. The original perspective was lifted from Rebecca Payne's blog. How's that for intertextuality?

Annette seemed bent on bleeding the last watery saps of our anaemic conversations and taking them with tea. The Yoga class had been physically unbearable; my hips aching and my back involuntarily twitching throughout the lotus-to-half-moon-sunshine move that was supposed to engage my brain, soul and pelvic floor muscles in one invasive movement, but which actually consisted of me squirming around on a bed-mat like an armless prostitute trying to hold out a hand for payment, and even the simple moves were wracked with the guilt of trying to suppress and quietly filter digestive wind. Despite this, Annette’s conversation represented a new low. A patchwork of pointless memories and comments on our surroundings, she managed to bridge the gap between directionless and inarticulate. I could only pray that she would have no access to a conversational-source like television or, worse, the internet during our arduous rendezvous, as I assumed these would provide her with inexhaustible observational material and ultimately drive me to suicide.

Coming through her own front door she tripped on the mat. Attempting to impress upon her the importance of my schedule, and beginning to suffer from the effects of a caffeine and Ritalin binge I had engaged in in order to stick to this schedule, I talked quickly; pre-empting her, knocking off the last few words, literally talking over her until she stopped. Somehow, she kept on trying to talk, inanely, until I had swallowed her entire conversational repertoire and effectively communicated the fact that I was not much of a listener.

But instead of encouraging me to leave, she just went quiet. This left me standing, rattling away like an engine, talking about things I really didn’t give a damn about like schools, the Middle East and Yoghurt. I began to wonder whether she was in some way deficient when she got down on her knees and began staring into the fireplace, mumbling ‘my father... twisted ... to start ... to firestarters. hmm. lovely.’ Terrified that her new fireplace, which even I could tell was a cheap electric without a chimney and necessitated no firestarters, was resurfacing repressed memories of father-daughter fire abuse, and worried that I was about to be their first victim since some techno-induced spate in the early nineties (when at least most houses actually had chimneys), I turned my attention to the carpet. ‘Is this new, Annette?’, I said, my eyes wide with terror.

“What Jean? Sorry? No, no that came with the house.” She trailed back-off into what I could only imagine was a reverie about a Ceilidh in a barn that she had doused with petrol and lit with the cigarette-lighter from her arsonist Dad’s Ford Escort.

“It’s so plush, Annette.”

Come back to me Annette, you were boring before but now you’re too much to handle.

Annette mumbled something about Peppermints and wandered out to the kitchen. I remained standing.

The double–bill and the de–brief

I usually feel like there's a remainder from a show that's swept away on the last night with the set and the piles of dust and dirt that somehow makes it into those sterile studio spaces. Giving notes after the last performance is unnecessary, undoubtedly, and a director who tells you that you fluffed a line when you're opening the first can of the after-show isn't particularly popular. But here are my own debrief notes.

Seeing Discords alongside Diary of a Madman, a piece based on the works of Gogol, suddenly made so much sense for me. The evening became about watching a descent into madness, then about being mad. As a theatre-goer, you evaluate what you see in relation to the oeuvre of theatre that you've seen before. So to be confronted with a sequence of heads reciting Shakespeare's lines, shredded and repeated, which you've almost certainly heard before but never like this, becomes your own madness; as you constantly try and lace together a narrative from the shards of past conceptions, never quite pulling one together. It's a torture and a breakdown, not for the heads themselves but for the contemporary theatre-goer, and the double-bill created that connection.

This brought to my attention the idea of the double bill in general: I suddenly found myself trying to think of what two plays would go together in a challenging way. With Discords and Diary, entirely new interpretations were opened up (not necessarily deliberately). Adding the second knot to the rope defines a new space to examine; to fray; to peel away; to eventually sever. Andrea Dunbar's Rita, Sue and Bob too alongside the verbatim piece A State Affair is an excellent example of a double-bill that challenges and fractures both plays, creating a whole new discourse between them.

Perhaps all plays should be performed as part of a provocative and challenging double-bill. Or perhaps its just a search for the polyvocal, the second perspective, the contradiction in everything. As a head in Discords, each night I stared out into the audience or down at the floor and could see nothing but blackness. You can't always count on things that are there being there. The truth about all of these interpretations is that there isn't a true one; where others are hidden, more light up. The most important thing I've taken from this process is not to assume that there is nothing to be gained from having to put a lot of imagination into interpreting other people's works, regardless of how much they've put in.

January 20, 2011

Introduction to Creative Writing T2W1 Task!

The first of our ICW tasks. Here is the exceptionally generic text I generated in class:

A: You weren’t supposed to see that.

B: No. I didn’t...

A: You didn’t see it?

B: No, I didn’t mean /to

A: You didn’t mean to see it.

B: No.

A: Sorry.

B: No.

A: No I mean I’m sorry that I...

B: That you wrote it down?

A: That I did it.

B: Right.

A: Right. I certainly shouldn’t have left it in the bin...

B: Why would you write that down?

A: I don’t know

B: No.

A: It won’t happen again! Ha.

B: No.

A: It certainly wasn’t that I was proud of it or thought it was Ok to do that...

B: No I shouldn’t think so.

A: Right.

And here is my first draft of it translated into a third person narrative (and a lift.)

As A entered the lift, the predictable unpredictable happened. A gust of shaft wind, or an air conditioner's first gust, or the butterfly’s wings beating blew the piece of paper into the air. That despicable and ill thought-out note, written as an attempt to work out whether shame was really warranted, which it most certainly was, flicked in unpredictable wisps around the air of the lift, until the doors closed and the atmosphere stabilised and the paper tamely floated into the open hot drink, discernible by its smell as some bastard form of coffee, a fruitymachimoccalatte or something, of the only other person in the lift. B, a tall and pale but slight-figured girl, peeled it slowly from the liquid, pushing the flecks of shredded fruit from the now sepia paper, and ingesting the six words scratched onto it.

Ill advisedly but understandably, A did not snatch the paper from the fruity bastard drink immediately, thinking that perhaps there was still time to deny association. Realising that this was no longer possible, the paper having clearly originated from his breast pocket in the freak gust, A tried to explain himself.

You weren’t supposed to see that.

No. I didn’t...

You didn’t see it?

No, I didn’t mean to see it.

You didn’t mean to see it.


A short pause naturally occurred, neither perceiving anything further to be gained from the conversation but neither able to bear the silence.



The No seemed sharper than before. Perhaps B had become more sure of her personal indignation towards the new information she was privy to, A thought.

I mean I’m sorry that I...

This time she sliced through the sentence, quite uncharacteristically for someone so tall-yet-slight.

That you wrote it down?

That I did it.




Each time the word got longer, like dragging a whip before a lash.

I certainly shouldn’t have left it in my front pocket, vulnerable to freak gusts.

A thought that he’d thought that, but actually found that he’d said it.

Why would you write that down? And what’s wrong with this lift, why is it taking so long?

Pouncing upon an opportunity to express self-disgust and distance himself from his perversion, and confusing the answer of two questions into one, A loaded his next sentence with all the pathetic self-deprecation he could load three words with.

I don’t know!

The line became so overly emphasised that the lift shook and the exclamation mark took on its own sound. It actually only made A seem more maniacal. B responded in a manner she was beginning to perfect.


It won’t happen again. Ha!

A brief burst of horrific, echoing laughter that spilt some of B’s still-open-topped drink.


It certainly wasn’t because I was proud of it...


Sliced again.


The lift doors didn’t open.

More groundbreaking literature and tired irony to come.

January 14, 2011

The erosion of Shakespeare and Beckett

In British theatre, Shakespeare and Beckett have cult hero status. Shakespeare is frequently seen as the source of all archetypal narratives in theatre, and arguably Beckett has done the same thing for the theatrical form. Jonny Heron’s script for Discords remains loyal to Shakespeare’s characters but slices lines from Macbeth and King Lear into a deliberate, poetical order, but without any clear narrative intention. I believe he does this very well; to the extent that a Shakespearean scholar could recognise each line and its source and still not be distracted from the performance in front of him. Lines are repeated, the sense is deliberately drained from them. New characters are created from these lines, ghosts of the old.

This has two results. The seemingly invincible stigma wrapped around Shakespeare’s characters – almost every modern day character can be seen as derivative – begins to leak. We also become very aware, as an audience, that the characters we have so aggrandized in our minds are derived by readers and actors from their text. They are not the characters of a novel; they are assumed and interpreted from what they say. Now, the interesting part of this is that it is almost exactly the same for the plot of Shakespeare’s plays. His stage directions are sparse, and we generally get all our inspiration for movement from the words of his characters. These words, the words that the ghosts in Discords speak, contain as much of Shakespeare’s plots as they do of the characters.

Discords detaches the language from these plots to create a new piece. By doing this, for me, Shakespeare’s characters are deconstructed; they become the sum of their parts, slaves to their own voices and words. Here, again, Beckett starts to re-appear. Instead of real people, Discords takes Shakespeare’s characters and shows them as slaves to their bodies; but this time, they are slaves to their embodiment in a theatrical space.

To turn Discords into a piece of meta-theatre, the machine we reside in is perhaps ‘language’, viewed from the 4th dimension, as an embodiment in space rather than just in time. Hopefully that bit of interpretation is too convoluted to allow Discords to be written off there. There certainly seems to be more in it for me.

Theatrical Scales

Brecht and Stanislavski have created a sort of theatrical spectrum for any director approaching contemporary theatre. Alienation, the erosion of character and transparency in the theatrical mechanics of a show are all Brechtian notions; if you don’t want this, then you make character central to the play and search for 'truth'. Popular theatre is seen as aiming for the latter, Stanislavski’s legacy. Experimental theatre tends to be seen as the progeny of Brecht.

Trying to avoid these stereotypes, to create a new theatre, has caused some stagnation in the minds of the theatre world. Every device experimented with is shunted into a category and reduced to a point on a Brecht-Stanislavski spectrum. Escaping this spectrum seems impossible. Though I don’t believe that this is true for many theatre practitioners active at the moment, theatre critics have been handed a helpful lens which has proved limiting in perspective for many.

Discords, the play I’m currently rehearsing in, seems to have one solution: it embraces limitation. Thanks to Nomi Wallace’s set, we are given only our neck and head movement, our entrances and exits, and the nine positions in the set to play with. Jonny Heron has been working with us using Laban for actors, a three dimensional spectrum developed to describe any movement using three modes – put simply, speed, force and directness. The form of the play, like the Beckett that influences it, is hugely reductive. I am constantly aware that I am acting, and being evaluated, using these scales. I cannot escape them if I want to be part of the performance.

It is a deliberately scientific approach to theatre. I become part of a machine, with certain limitations, designed to fulfil a function. The machine can be tweaked through Jonny’s direction – the Laban modes – and his re-structuring of his script. But I am also part of an experiment, in which the variables have been fixed, hoping to work out what a theatrical experience is fundamentally based upon. I am sure that the audience will go away confused, as I did. And perhaps that says that theatre cannot be confined to spectrums or scales. Or perhaps it says that theatre is confined to these spectrums, but meaning is not.

Discords; or an actor’s meta–experience

Though I had the privilege of seeing Discords, Fail Better’s re-interpretation of Shakespeare through a Beckettian lens, nothing has been explained to me. I entered the machine for its second incarnation at the Warwick Arts Centre Studio as part of a recasting, and feel as if some transcendental logic, now unspeakable, has passed between the original cast. I am currently trying to catch up; I am floundering. As an actor, I am currently only emulating the rest of the cast. I have started this blog to help myself try and find the logic behind the piece, and hopefully discuss some  ideas about contemporary theatre in the meantime.

Approaching a play having originally been in the audience, particularly a devised piece in which the entirety of the cast were present and active in its formation, has been a slightly surreal experience. Many of the actors I know on a personal level, and yet I enter rehearsals and see them comfortable and un-self-conscious in the most bizarre of exercises. Perhaps here I should explain the form of Discords. Two huge structures with 9 head-sized doors face each other. The audience enters and watches as the doors open to reveal the heads, which speak lines from Shakespeare’s plays. Various tones, speeds and meanings are drawn out from the lines by the actors. The heads go back behind their doors. Then the audience leaves.

When I saw Discords, I was constantly sensing the beginning of a narrative, a relationship between two characters or even an emotion. But each time, this was subverted, snatched away from me. I came away believing it to be a powerful piece of theatre, purely for its subversion of language; it’s drain of meaning. All of the theatrical commodities theatre-practitioners of the 20th Century defined and interpreted were explored almost scientifically – space, character, time, voice and so on. Yet I was completely removed from the creative process of how an audience gets these impressions, and aware that what I was interpreting was the tip of a creative iceberg.

On entering rehearsals, I see actors doing a variety of bizarre exercises that are treated as essential. My friends are making absurd faces, sounds and shapes, dragging lines into frankly hilarious voices and deliberately making their meanings stupid. Yet no one laughs. I wonder if they’ve all lost their sense of humour, or whether it’s a competition to see who can stay stony faced for longest. I corpse continually. And yet this seems to be part of the process – when I do, I am told to keep my head ‘on stage’ to see what it brings. Suddenly I am trapped in the machine, laughing unstoppably out of fear and unable to leave. This is for me, at this stage in the rehearsals, what the piece is about. It’s not a new idea; being trapped by bodily functions was an idea that Beckett revolutionised. But it’s one of many ideas that I think Discords is trying to shed new light on in relation to Shakespeare, language and the theatre itself.

Filling up this awful empty

So we were told to start a blog for our ICW module. The problem was, I'd just started an abortive blog somewhere else to document some things I'd been thinking about Discords, Fail Better's ensemble piece at the arts centre next week. Feeling bad about the waste of internet space (I hear the internet is almost full), I decided to copy them here. They really were only a few days old.

Following this, I'll start on some 'real' stuff.

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