So, erm, didn’t quite expect the (lovely, slightly overwhelming) response which the love letter got. I’m still trying to find time to respond to everyone who contacted me but, needless to say, you’re all wonderful. And to everyone who tweeted, re-tweeted, blogged, commented, emailed – thank you.

One of the results of all of this is that I have about a squillion new blogs (see, that A in GCSE maths didn’t go to waste) to add to the blog roll. I’m in the midst of writing a play at the moment so have forbidden myself anything I recognise as being procrastination but I intend to schedule in a slot in the next week to do the updating. So, feel free to wave manically in my direction if you’ve got a blog I should be reading.

As a final piece of housekeeping, I should say for those who are visiting here for the first time that I also blog about theatrey-things over on my personal blog (only, I swear a bit more and tell marginally embarrassing stories over there).

I’m going to write down a date. Friday the 10th of September 2010. One day everyone who has ever written – or read – a theatre blog might want to remember it. The day that the Royal Opera House not so much poked themselves in the eye as repeatedly bludgeoned themselves with a heavy instrument (an instrument which, in the subsequent health and safety report, they spelt incorrectly). The wonderful irony to the whole thing being that whilst the storm was raging the ROH’s Head of Digital Marketing, Rachel Coldicutt, was at The Media Festival Arts talking about the importance of open data. It is indeed all in the timing.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account (or analysis) of the events because you can read them first hand on Intermezzo’s blog, with the legal view here and the marketing view here. I also feel it needs pointing out that there were two distinct issues that got tangled up on Friday, issues which should be separated out:

1. The specific case and what it shows about theatre bloggers, blogging and theatres.
2. The perception of the ROH within the arts community (which is bundled up with the issue of funding and the level of fear that is – justly – prevalent in much of the arts community about what the Autumn funding cuts will look like).
I’ve lots to say on the latter subject but, for today at least, I’m going to stick firmly to the former.

Theatre blogging is a niche pursuit. But then going to sit in a darkened auditorium and watch people speak – or in the case of opera, sing – someone else’s words multiple times a month (or some times a week) is also a niche pursuit. The internet, in all its multifaceted joy, allows a niche to flourish. Like attracts like (or compels like). It not only cements tendencies (that of reading about theatre, of continuing going, of knowing more than you could ever keep in your head), it also allows tendencies to grow. Knowing there is a community of people out there doing the same thing – theatre-going is a tribe as much as anyone else. Of course not all repeat theatre goers blog but, in 2010 with the ease of google, I’d be surprised to find a repeat theatre-goer (who wasn’t directly involved in the industry*) who had never read a theatre blog. These people – the people whose names might otherwise be simply one in a marketing database – should be hugely valued (and respected). And if not now, then when? As we get ready to batten down the hatches and weather the oncoming storm Theatres should be respecting these people more than ever.

Theatre blogging, like all individual blogging, is massively democratic. A “name” will only get you so far. But you can make yourself a name within the community. There are many, many ways to do this – most are a niche within a niche, either because of their predilection to certain types of theatre or because of their locality – but what unites theatre bloggers is their dedication (have you tried going to see multiple shows and then coming home and writing them – without being paid to do so? It’s bloody hard work when, frankly, you’d rather be in bed). Every single one of them, even the most world weary or caustically brilliant (you know who I’m looking at), love of what they write. They want theatres to succeed, they want the next show they see to be the best thing they have ever seen, they want to share their excitement (or, as it may be, disappointment).

Recently the Guardian Theatre Blog made me want to put my fist through my computer. From the moment I saw the title of the article – Five stars in their eyes: can you trust unpaid theatre critics? – I knew it was most likely going to result in my feeling the need to jab a knitting needle in my eye. Theatre bloggers, with their wordpress and blogspot accounts, are unpaid. Some might occasionally get free tickets but by and large they pay for the privilege of sitting in a theatre’s seat (or standing as the case may be) and then come home and write about it for free. I was genuinely pained when I saw that the article had caused Jake Orr, who founded the – excuse me for the expletive – fucking important A Younger Theatre, say that he was “somewhat down heartened and questioning the value of what [he writes]”. No one comes out as a fully formed theatre critic. What you need is dedication, some degree of writing flair, a willingness to see a lot of theatre, the knowledge you can always learn (or re-learn) and a whole bundle of passion. Theatre bloggers in the UK have these characteristics in abundance. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be writing about theatre and people wouldn’t be reading them. For me a critic is only as good as my relationship with them. Through my reading – whether I visit their blog in a vaguely stalker-ish manner on a hourly basis or whether I drop in and out according to interest in what they’re reviewing – I know their biases, I know their specialisms, I know where I stand in relation to them. This is what matters. That they also entertain, inform and (sometimes) provoke me is all part of the package.

What blogs create – something which Twitter’s popularity amongst the art-prone has intensified and broadened** – is a web of community. Forget six degrees of separation, I’d decrease it to one degree for the online arts enthusiasts. What role you play in this community can be as diverse as any real-life community might be (whether you see yourself as the Mayor in waiting, the person drawing graffiti on the bridges or occasional tourist who wants to see the major attractions). Words spread (with some voices, as in any community, being louder). In the offline world I’m often asked about shows people should see and I clocked recently that my default response is to fall back on what the “buzz” is on the theatre blogs. Theatre bloggers are word-of-mouth amongst friends magnified – because anyone who can access the internet can be their “friend”. If you under estimate the scale of this community and its ability to communicate – well, then you end up with the Royal Opera House on Friday.

As Intermezzo says on her latest post on the subject theatre blogging is here to stay. I first blogged about theatre-going in 2001, I first bought a theatre ticket directly because of something I’d read on a blog back in April 2007 (when I didn’t even live in London) because of this. It’s laughable that it’s 2010 and many of our major arts institutions haven’t realised that blogging exists as more than a vague concept (or something that someone in their marketing department does in a half-arsed, vaguely inept manner). The theatre companies who have embraced social media (and embrace means more than just being there with your twitter account RTs of positive comments and Facebook page of official photos) are largely the ones without buildings (there is a notable exception up in Stratford). When you’re filling spaces with hundreds of seats every night it’s easy to forget the individual theatre goer sitting in E23 up in the Amphitheatre. When every person you engage with your work matters – as it does for many small and medium sized companies – you don’t forget the individual. That ticket sale – those future ticket sales – matter. That’s why these companies understand that “social” goes both ways.

Having been a long time blog reader I’m happy to say that theatre blogging in the UK is more exciting than it has ever been. It’s also expanding at a faster rate than I’ve ever seen before. Am I surprised that Friday happened? Absolutely not. Maybe the ROH is lucky that it happened now and not six (or twelve months) later, just as the Tricycle is lucky that this happened in 2008. It’s time, however, not just for (if an organisation is lucky) having one person in a marketing department who knows what a theatre blogger is. All it takes is a clear policy, a lightness of touch, and the humility to remember that these people buy tickets to your shows.

Remember that love I mentioned earlier? That love is for your industry, your venue, your show. Embrace it, don’t stamp all over it in steel-capped boots. Why shouldn’t press photos be available to bloggers as long as they’re properly credited? Given that you have charged them money for your product why shouldn’t bloggers review show whilst they’re in previews? Talk to us. We’re bloggers, we love a conversation. But – and here’s the big lesson – bloggers will not bend to you. Five years ago, maybe, but not now. This community – it’s too big and vocal, for that. You need to adapt and respond to us, not the other way around. Change, innovate, blaze a trail. You might even learn something.

*I’m constantly shocked when people inside the industry can’t name a theatre blogger.

**Not every tweeter blogs but I’d guess 97% of bloggers tweet.

In the name of writing a play I have:

Done all of my washing and ironing. And then some washing that, if I were to be totally honest, could have waited.

Compiled the order in which everyone should (ideally and for maximum enjoyment) read every Virginia Woolf novel.

Caught up with the Guardian theatre blog.

Read a lot of twitter.

Lamented my lack of biscuits.

Bought biscuits.

Spent time working out what is the best (free) App to use for dictation.

Read the internet. Yes, all of it (or something like that)

More productively, though, I have:

Written the first five minutes of the play.

Read things that confuse me about hedge funds.

Written lots of notes on to lots of separate pieces of paper.

Dictated several random half-thought-monologues.

Typed up three pages of other random-half-thought-monologues and lines.

Written poetry.

Thought, decided, then re-thought and re-decided exactly who my characters might be.

Told real-life people about the play. Thus making it even more pressing that I actually finish the bloody thing.

Drunk coffee, walked through London with my music on and just thought.

In many ways this is the exciting bit. There’s still the endless possibility. It also means the release of pure joy that won’t come again until I can see the end of this draft. And that, as far as understatements go, is nice.

Next week, though, I’m making myself be more disciplined – I’m going to try and eliminate things like reading the internet in its entirety and replace them with solid page counts. So, erm, twenty pages in the next week? We’ll see.

I always envisaged that the WBN blog would be a mishmash of many things, not only the work we’re making* but also of theatre and writing in a more general way.

As of today I officially started writing a new play. I’ve written a couple of one-act pieces in the last 12 months, but not a full-length extravaganza. At this stage I don’t quite know where or how this play might go, I don’t know if it’s a WBN project or not, I don’t know – with all the uncertainty of a new script – if I will ever show it to anyone.

I’m telling you this because I’ve previously found keeping a writing diary useful for bigger projects. Generally I go out and buy a new notebook (yes, like many writers before me I have a relationship with new stationery that borders on the worrying) and begin work there. This time, however, I’m going to plot it on here. One – because I think it might (hopefully) be an interesting record of a writer’s process (or lack thereof). Two – there’s nothing like a watching audience to shame you into continuing. So I’m aiming to keep my patched notebook come scrapbook on here. Which is either genius or insanity. I’ll come back to this at the end of the process.

Today I’m going to set out some of my rules and starting points for this play (yes, I have rules when I start plays. This speaks volumes about me).

The big ones:

I’m aiming – no demanding – that I’ve finished a first draft of this play in six weeks. Generally once I’ve got writing I write quickly and hard, so in and of itself this isn’t too unrealistic. Providing life doesn’t come and bite me in the butt or something. Six weeks from here puts us in mid October. So, come October the 14th I’m wanting a printed copy in my hand.

The idea I’ve got for the structure of this play makes the text a little bit more fluid than anything I’ve written before. Having loved the process of working on Reasons For Listing, where I went into a rehearsal room with what I labelled draft 0.75, I want to let this script loose on actors almost as soon as it’s written. I want it to grow from this starting point and I’m quite keen to have some element of music or dance or juggling or kazoo playing (or maybe not) that’s integral to where it goes and what happens to it next.

And my thoughts as things stand now:

This is a play about…

Four people.

Ten years.

Cities.

Beliefs.

Differences.

Little moments.

*And though we might have been a little quiet on that front recently, be assured we’ve been beavering away in the background. Even if the beavering did turn into an extended sojourn in Edinburgh, of which you can read more about on my personal blog. I’m also going to grab Charlie and force him to do an audioboo about his first experience of Edinburgh Fringe

Last year my Latitude journey started with a rush across South London (halfway through which I realised I’d forgotten my oyster card), complete with bags, tent and over-sized Cath Kidston roll mat in order to deliver the major component of not mine, but someone else’s, MA. After that, this year was going to be blissful and stress-free and, crucially, devoid of me swearing at a Goldsmiths College printer.

Or that was the plan.

Now it is raining in Suffolk, the trees are beginning to bend from the wind and I have been sat on a non-moving train somewhere in Essex for almost one hour. And it’s not that I’m stressed – I’m sitting down and not hitting a printer – but more that I’m stuck here whilst the teenage girls on the seats in front of me have begun hitting each other with their roll mats. Then – at the point when I’m considering mild physical violence – we’re unceremoniously dumped off of the train at Colchester station. Overhead line failure! Chaos! Teenagers bound for Latitude!

It continues in this manner for twenty minutes or so, but with added incomprehensible tannoy announcements that go something along the lines of “Baaaaaah…shufffle…rustle…THERE ARE NO TRAINS…rustle…shuffle”, before I’m back on a train with someone else’s luggage in my ear. Thankfully for both you and me (really, do you want another paragraph of my travel woe and increasing need to use exclamation marks?) pretty much the next thing I know I’m on a shuttle bus to the site (luggage taken out of ear), the sun is shining and all that is left is for myself and @cat_elliott to voice our not inconsiderable opinions on the changes that (from the online map) have been made to the Latitude site. For, yes, attendance at three out of five possible Latitudes has filled me with many opinions and views, of which I am not reluctant to share. Because – did anyone else notice that they’ve moved the comedy tent?

Aherm.

Flash forward to arrival and, being a two mallett campsite (smug, us? Well, yes), our neighbours have borrowed my mallett and we’re sat on the grass drinking Pim’s. Which is how any Latitude should begin. Albeit next year I’m going to make sure I check exactly how many of my tent pegs I’ve destroyed before arrival at a windswept campsite.

After the preliminary wander around the site – did I mention that someone moved the comedy tent?, the annual don’t look down toilet trip and a trip to the hog roast van (other than maybe Early Edition and blue splashback jokes, nothing says Latitude to me more than a hog roast. Which probably proves I should spend my time at Latitude eating less pig) it was time, in true WBN form, to check out the theatre tent. Which also has been moved! And only has one entrance! And a queue being marshalled by stewards as opposed to a random free-for-all survival of the fittest. If I could use the word without sounding like a numpty (and believe, I have tried) I’d say awesome.

We’re just in time for Les Enfants Terribles‘s The Vaudevillians which combines song, a murder mystery and pyschopathic puppet. Now before you read on here you should note two things: i)I spent the first half of this show standing at the top of the raked seating (more uncomfortable than it sounds) and ii)it is only partly in jest that a WBN catchphrase for new writing is “cut the first 15 pages!”. As @cat_elliott rather asutely noted the opening monologue of this show sounds like one of those vaguely poetic McDonalds adverts and though it is all very competently done I can’t help but feel that The Vaudevillians spends a lot of time circling before it gets to its point. If I were being flippant I’d say something like SHOW ME THE MONEY here. There are some lovely touches – the mime artist has the kind of pay off that must have made the company squeal with delight when it was realised (and if they didn’t squeal with delight then they should have, it’s good) – but touches can’t disguise a show which is a good twenty minutes longer than it should have been (I’m being a little bit polite here, at one point I thought it might go on forever and I’d have to spend all my Latitude watching it). Plus, and again this is a particular rant of mine, the show was being played on a thrust stage but had clearly been directed for an end-on audience. Not good.

Post The Vaudevillians there was a mass exodus (undoubtedly in a bid to not-quite-see Tom Jones play in the woods) whilst I staked my claim to a prime spot for the RSC’s The Thirteen Midnight Challenges of Angelus Diabolo.

[Interupting this broadcast for some backstory – I know, if I was dramturging this blog post I’d CUT it all: the RSC and I have some Latitude history of the not entirely pleasant kind. I came along to their 2008 show, ostensibly written by Anthony Neilson, fresh off the back of thinking that Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia was one of the most original, brilliant pieces of theatre I’d ever seen. It was midnight, my first Latitude and the RSC. I was expecting magic. And what I got instead were two actors wearing ill-fitting black leggings and reciting lines from Eastenders. By the time the zombies came out of the woods – the one moment when I thought theatrical magic might explode upon us – it was too late. I was filled with contempt that the RSC thought they could treat an audience in this manner just because we were at a festival. I raged at the most basic of misunderstandings. Cut to 2009 and the RSC did manage to pull it round slightly with a solid if not exactly spectacular midnight performance of witchcraft and witchburning that at least gave a nod to its Suffolk setting. Plus this was at least spooky enough that when I saw the lead actor in the foyer of the Globe a few weeks later I was sufficiently spooked by his presence to step backwards and hope he’d stopped the witch burning and all that]

Back to 2010, Angelus Diabolo is a reworking of the Faust story, with an under-talented but over-egotistical actor making a pact with the devil. And, you know what, I’m actually laughing. Proper, this aches slightly laughter. Whilst also cringing slightly for the poor audience member who is unexpectedly dragged on stage to have his bottom fondled. Plus as the play goes on I actually start to feel some of the huge emotional pull that the final minutes of the Faust story bring with it. But – and, oh I hate to have a but given how much more I enjoyed this than 2008’s effort – it still feels under-developed and, well, like the RSC aren’t taking their Latitude effort entirely seriously. Because this one could have been actually good (as opposed to ‘good for the RSC at Latitude’ which isn’t the tag they should be striving for) if they’d shaved off some of the audience indulgence and oh-we’re-the-RSC-we’re-going-to-lampoon-ourselves-for-being-serious-and-Shakespearean. Me, I’d have taken a real-time Angelus vs the Devil final confrontation (because the actor playing Diabolo was more than good enough for it) and had them thrill me to my core. Some times you really shouldn’t be scared of dropping the gimmicks and just being excellent.

And with that it was time to crawl back to the campsite to dream of actors having their fingers cut off…

WBN has grown in something of an organic way (no rolling eyes please for that use of the word ‘organic’) and I like how we’ve met people along the way thus far who have (inadvertently) shaped how (and what) we are as a company.

But now we’re wanting to shape the WBN team to help us with all the things we’ve got coming up in the next 18 months or so. Thus – we’re looking for Project Managers to join us.

The job advert is here, currently the roles are unpaid though, on a project by project basis, this could change.

We’re happy to answer questions, either about the roles or about the projects we’re hoping to match people to so feel free to drop us an email (or a tweet @WBNtheatre) if there’s anything you’d like to ask.

Did you know I have a ‘thing’ about water? Not a ‘thing’ thing, just a writer’s thing. I blame early indocrination on Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and T S Eliot – and, oh, I could go on. Thus far in my writing life I have made characters fall into the river Cherwell, mythologise a trip to a Scottish loch, dance in a fountain, skinny dip in a lake as 1999 passed into 2000 and decide the future of their thirty odd year relationship by a duck pond. Indeed in a first draft read through of that particular play the most universally loved aspect of the play was the ducks and I understood why. I could list the one hundred and one metaphorical/ literary/ allusive reasons I come back to water time and time again, just like I could try and list the reasons why I could never live somewhere that wasn’t (at the very least) near a river. And why I have to make periodic trips to see the sea or else I might combust. But I’m sure you’re smart enough to guess them – or, better still, invent your own more complex ones.

The water thing, then, was part of the reason that I immediately loved the idea of Hannah Nicklin‘s The smell of rain reminds me of you. The idea is that you submit your (true) stories of kissing someone in the rain. As it happens, in the depths of my ‘Unblogged’ file I had one such story I’d already written up (but then, as the title of the file it resides in suggests, had never published because of things like scruples and privacy and the fact that the blog post concerned goes on to talk about my watching the son of someone famous take drugs in the lobby of a hotel. Ah, those were the days). So I found said blog, cut and pasted the relevant bit as – crikey – four years later I know I’ve shared much worse.

So now it resides as part of the growing collection of  The smell of rain reminds me of you. Th0ugh, no, I’m not saying which is mine (though, if you know the lyrics of Gary Lightbody then it shouldn’t be too difficult). And if you’ve got a story and feel even vaguely writery then you should add yours too to what is fast becoming a beautiful, funny and often moving project.

[As a side issue should anyone feel like taking in other weather conditions I have a cool snow story too].

I felt the need to finally break my blog silence today (if the fact I have only blogged about once before can count as breaking a silence).

That is for one reason. In Deptford (which in SE London nestles between its trendy student cousin New Cross and rich sometime snobby uncle Greenwich) a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions is taking place.

I have grown to love Deptford during my time in London. It is where my place of work resides so I have spent lots of time walking its streets. I love its awesome market and the quirky nature it holds, and its inhabitants all possess. One of its gems is being taken away however. And without a sad whimper.

The Deptford Arms on Deptford High Street is closing down. Without warning and without any sign of a petition or anything. It is being replaced with a Betting shop… Or should I say ANOTHER betting shop. PADDY POWER coming soon! – It says in the windows of the boarded up pub. That will mean that a 100m stretch of Deptford High Street will have at least four bookies. Nothing seems to hit home more about the fact we really might have to deal with a recession (apart from the actions of a Tory government –… Liberal who?) than countless Bookmakers popping up everywhere when everyone else is closing down. Suddenly gambling with risk and chance is the only way some will find to make ends meet – to find a way to gain the wealth people feel is at least acceptable. It is this risk that seems so more appealing when your pay check no longer stretches further than one pint (thus the closing pub)

… So where do the arts fit into the changing face of Deptford High Street (and changing name to Betford or perhaps Debtford). Two things:   The Deptford Arms closing is tragedy of Shakespearian proportions because it is the place Marlowe met his tragedy. It is where Christopher Marlowe is meant to have been stabbed and it had still existed till this very day (does anyone know if it is still the original building? – answers on e-postcards, please) until Paddy Power decided to move in and give the people extensive choice on where they want to gamble their money and loiter in until about 9pm (!). The second thing is it reminds me of something that someone from Birmingham Rep once said at Exeter Uni at a conference at some point (my memory is profound). We seemed to be just approaching the recession then and many people were pondering how this would affect the arts. The chap from the Birmingham Rep stated that a recession meant that theatre had to take MORE risks and not play safe like he felt most would. He believed that it would be risk that would find the success stories and that a recession meant artists had to be even more creative, think even further away from the dreaded box to find the next big thing.

It is in this regards that I think performance should follow the example of Betford. We need to gamble to find the products and shows that will give us cultural wealth. Even if we remain short of pocket. It is that empty feeling in our wallets that should make everyone push the boundaries of theatre to find the next huge show.

So pay heed big theatres and producing houses. Pay heed companies and artists who think now might be the time to play safe. People short of money will take a risk on something they think could be new and great. Not safe, old and more of the same. They can’t afford it. Pay heed or find your establishment go the way of something similar to Marlowe’s now defunct watering hole. Pay heed or watch your theatre become a Foxy Bingo bingo hall.

Charlie.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that in the British Theatre Blogosphere (yes, you may shoot me for using that word) Such Tweet Sorrow, the RSC’s twitter adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, has been as well received as a proverbial lead balloon. Or a Montague at a Capulet cabinet meeting if you want a more story-appropriate simile.

I confess – my problems with Such Tweet started quite early on. I’m going to quote Such Tweet‘s Director Roxanna Silbert from an interview that appeared on the Guardian site and see if you can spot where my problems started:

“I think [Shakespeare] would’ve loved it. All you’ve got on Twitter is the actor, the story and the audience. I’ve directed at the Globe where there aren’t lights, sound effects or much staging so in fact there’s something rather pure about this.”

Yep, that would be my highlighting (the academic in me almost put a ‘my emphasis’ note in there). Now twitter might be lots of things, but an actors medium? Really? The elephant in the room would be the word ‘writer’. I could (and will) continue on this point but since I’m here and Silbert has expended words that are so blatantly questionable I can’t help but look a little closer at the comparison between the Globe and twitter (not a sentence I would ever have thought I’d type). Not only is Silbert wrong in her perception of what does or doesn’t make a production at the Globe (need I go any further than Lucy Bailey’s current production of Macbeth to prove her assertion at best outdated, at worst lazy?) but twitter being ‘pure’? One of the joys of the medium is everything you can throw at it – all the twitpics, the audioboos, the YouTube links, the spotify playlists, the blog links, the RTs, the memes…and on and on until you get to doing that quiz to work out which member of NKOTB you should marry. Twitter is about the words – those 140 characters – but it’s also about the noise that goes with it. Coming in unaware – or in denial – of this is to fundamentally misunderstand your tools.

I think many of my problems with Such Tweet stem from this starting point. The failure to address the fact that twitter is a writer’s medium became immediately apparent. Anyone can use twitter. As with anything, some use it better than others. Some people give information, some make me think, some make me smile. Some people use it brilliantly to create – or ape – character (I follow a Malcolm Tucker who is pretty much pitch perfect). Such Tweet, however, requires more than all that. It needs not only character but also story. Whether you’re writing, devising or improvising dialogue (for twitter is dialogue, in all the ways that something can be dialogue) it’s often not about what you say but what you don’t say. It’s the wants the characters feel they must hide or – and this is where it gets more difficult – the wants they don’t know that they have. It’s the much uttered show don’t tell. Don’t write on the nose. All the things that writers get told or learn or ignore and end up writing Days of Our Lives. The “I” form of twitter encourages on the nose writing. We all do it. The best tweeters just do it a lot less than the rest of us. But to be dramatically interesting – to build the connections and the interest that a play demands – Such Tweet should have created some warning system whereby if more than 10% of tweets were of the on the nose variety the actor typing them got a small electric shock.

I can only conclude that even a less cruel-to-actors system wasn’t in place. Had there been discussions about language? About cliché? About reversing audience expectation? About what you can do with the unsaid? In the same interview that Silbert suggested the Globe/Twitter parallel Charlotte Wakefield (Juliet) also said something that made my warning alarms go off:

“I’m nearly 20 so I would normally type in quite a sophisticated way, but a 15-year-old today will use a lot of text speak.”

If that statement were a bucket then it would have a lot of holes in it. Again I lay my prejudices down: if the Goldsmiths teaches you anything it is that a generalised statement in the place of accurate research is, quite frankly, not good enough. Maybe some teenagers do use lots of text speak. Maybe some don’t. But what about the specific teenager you’re portraying? The chances are that when a writer is praised for how accurate their language is they’re being anything but literal. Listen to how a conversation actually goes. Listen to how people communicate. Not only would it make pretty much no sense if it were directly copied down, it would also be incredibly dull (look at verbatim theatre, for every play of that genre that works and is pleasurable to watch/ read there’s at least ten which will make you fall asleep). You need the lexicon but beyond that you need imagination not reality. We’re adapting from Shakespeare  – if that doesn’t give you a license to engage your imagination then I don’t know what does. The blunt truth, however realistic or not, is that I (and I imagine others) do not want to read text speak.

It wasn’t until the list of credits that @SuchTweet tweeted today that I became aware that there were writers (plural) involved in the project. Their role (as far as has been declared) was to create the overall narrative and then the mission sheets which the actors were given each day. And here we have another problem. Such Tweet didn’t need a writer (if we take it that the actors are going to devise/ improvise the actual text) – Such Tweet needed a Dramaturg. It needed someone who not only planned the narrative but who dealt  with the structural problems that twitter brings with it. Someone who sat down and before a single tweet went live decided what the conventions of the piece should be. Depending on conventions we might accept that people burst into song (and know all the dance steps), that there is a narrator, or direct address, or Pinter pauses. Audiences will go places with you if you set your conventions – and then stick to them. How should the public/private oxymoron of twitter be addressed? Would characters respond (or not) to those outside the narrative? Would they respond to criticism within the play or ignore it? It seemed that no one had sat down and found an answer to these (hugely important) questions. Equally the huge change in tone – and lexicon – midway through from Romeo pointed to the distinct possibility that there hadn’t ever been a character tone (and how a tone might be created) meeting somewhere down the line.

I know I’ve chosen to analyse Such Tweet on its artistic rather than social or marketing merits. I think there is much to be said for how it has clearly engaged an audience (and proven that a twitter full length play might be a feasible prospect). I’m also aware that the project marks a significant experiment in form (of which no one, least of all me sat pontificating here, could have seen the ways it would develop or the problems which would arise). I do know though: I stopped properly following the story one week in. I dipped in and out of the @SuchTweet list for the rest of the project but with something approaching duty rather than real interest (Shakespeare. Twitter. New writing. I couldn’t ever abandon it entirely).

I wanted more. I wanted everything that a play can be. I wanted the RSC to have taken it seriously enough to have thought of all the stylistic/ narrative problems that it would inevitably encounter. I wanted it to not just be a gimmick.

I wanted the writing to be as innovative – and as exciting – as the concept itself was.

Election night in WBN Towers went something along the lines of: watch rolling news in a vaguely obsessive compulsive manner, order pizza, discover that said pizza wasn’t as good as it used to be and thus blame David Cameron for affecting crust quality already, rubbish the exit poll (no one exit-polled us. In fact no one has exit polled me ever), drink wine, feel amused at the army of young people lifting ballot boxes in Sunderland (“Child labour up North – they better get used to it”), drink more wine, talk a lot about voting problems – and which polling station in Lewisham it had been that continued voting until 10.30, feel pain when the Conservatives make their first significant gains, WHERE ARE THE RESULTS?, shout loudly when Tooting stayed Red, generally be a little bit confused, drink more wine, indulge in calculations about seats needed, concede we might have been a bit wrong re: exit poll, feel sad for Dr Evan Harris (in twisty, turvy nature of fate someone who’d been MP for everyone sat in the room at various points during the previous decade), still be confused, fall asleep for twenty minutes somewhere around 5.00am, wake up with head in sofa cushion and discover am even more confused, swap wine for water, what – Lewisham have only just started counting?, like Caroline Lucas lots, conclude that we’re not the only ones who are confused as Nick Clegg retains his seat, COFFEE. And – er, who’s in charge exactly?

Along with what I suspect is every playwright in the country Charlie and I immediately wanted to write a play about the events (we’re now expanding to a six part television series). But the need to do contracted work that didn’t have anything to do with the election and sleep and whatnot filled up the next 24 hours. So I was rather excited (and impressed) that supporting wall had gathered together five hardy writers and (possibly) a copious supply of pro-plus, locked them in a room at 10.00pm on 6th May and made them write a short play in reaction to election day. Then merely one day later staged them. Things like this make me punch the air in delight – not only are they a little bit insane in the amount of work (and lack of sleep) that has to go into them but they demonstrate exactly how theatre can react to the world around it.

As Producers Ben Monks and Will Young (no, not that Will Young) noted the writers weren’t reacting so much to a result as to a question. And I was interested with what answers (or not) the five writers would dream up.

But…erm, it quickly became apparent that (on the whole) the writers weren’t reacting to election night (as the publicity suggested) as much as they were reacting to the election campaign (or, in one case, a rather generic election night). Which is all well and good, and in another type of evening, I’d have been very much up for a bit of campaign gazing.  But I was expecting quick fire responses to what was becoming apparent was the most dramatically interesting election night of my lifetime. I couldn’t help but feel that aside from a couple of references (hello, Nigel Farrage) there was no reason at least three of the plays couldn’t have been written at a more leisurely pace (with all the tightening and editing that would have allowed).

The stand out piece – that had me from the moment its premise was announced if I’m honest (a group of prisoners watch election night on television) – was Anders Lustgarten’s Bang Up. Not only did it have a genuinely provocative premise (Prisoners can’t vote after all) it also had something which, I hate to say, was missing – or unintelligible – from the other plays: a politically beating heart. Which is before I get to the part about it being genuinely funny – so much so that I found myself writing down lines (“You winning Sunderland is like getting an STI at a Stag Party. Unfortunate but not exactly unexpected”. “I don’t understand how you’re a Conservative” “Why?” “You’re black and a criminal”. “We need change. Yes, that’s right – change is what we’ll be living on for the next five years under you”). As with any hastily written play there were problems (the ending jarred) but I hope Lustgarten continues with this piece – I’d certainly pay to see its final outcome.

In some respects the evening felt like a homage to other playwrights (Rex Obano gave us vintage Harold Pinter, Che Walker channelled Caryl Churchill’s Far Away and Phil Wilmot even went as far subtitling his play After Uncle Vanya). What I didn’t get was five distinctive voices (though there were five distinctive styles) on the events of May 6th 2010. And – schooled as I am by the Goldsmiths method – there was a definite lack of basic research going on (I know, I know, but pro-plus, coffee and a quick google about how PPCs are chosen wouldn’t have hurt). And, erm, other than actual politicians, no one does The Thick of It as well as The Thick of It so – stay away.

When I discovered that the writers had to deliver scripts by 3.00pm on Friday I wondered if the timings had led to some of the problems. My experience of the election night (if we take out the wine) would mainly have been characterised by mild terror, mild (blind) hope and confusion. To react to election night, really, you couldn’t have started to write until morning because the story took so long to play out. Did that impact? What parameters were given to the writers? And, out of interest, how politically engaged (or disengaged) did the writers consider themselves to be?

I’d like to think I’m fairly aware of the compromises that have to be made by shows written and produced in such a short space of time (both as a Writer and as a Producer) and my expectations (and enthusiasm) were for these reasons rather than against them. I guess – I wanted more. I wanted aspirations and anger and fire and triumph and loss and hope and – well, everything election night 2010 felt like to me.

Write By Numbers is a new-writing theatre company. This is where we blog.

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