Category Archives: Blog

2014. Begin.

Well, only twelve months since my last blog post. At this rate if I live till I’m 80 I’ll only have another 44 blog posts to go before I’m dead. Better make this one count then…

Not that I was idle in 2013, honest. The year started with notification that I’d got a play on as part of 24:7. This is Manchester’s premier festival for new writing and something I’ve been trying to pull off for years. Having been selected at least once though I can at least draw some conclusions: a) it’s just fluke whether you get selected since the play they picked I’d sent them before and b) throwing shit at walls sometimes pays off since I sent them 3 plays instead of 1. It’s the same thing with the BBC. They say don’t send us the same thing twice but really you just need to wait a couple of years until people have forgotten. Or there’s a different bunch of staff in place!

Does that sound cynical? Maybe on the surface but here’s the thing – a piece of work doesn’t stop being good just because nobody notices it the first time. If cynicism is the only way to counter short-sighted policies like “don’t send us the same piece twice” then so be it. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of putting the play on (you can click on the Temper page above if you’re interested) except to say that afterwards I felt like I really shouldn’t have been obsessing about getting something accepted for so many years. It was all a bit of an anticlimax and I really didn’t enjoy the “festival” part of the festival. I don’t write in order to go to parties.

After that I really just felt like doing something completely different so I filmed myself playing Minecraft. It’s a good way to switch off from the arty stuff for a while but it does tend to turn playing games into work. It was the same thing when I was doing the Aartan Away podcast. It just became a chore. So, I’m conflicted about the relative merits of doing Let’s Plays on YouTube.  I do tend to be watching a lot of them though – and other stuff – like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9HS48vx1NQ Just a bunch of people playing D&D over Skype but I find myself listening to hours and hours of it. I think it’s because they’re real people doing what they enjoy. The average Joe or Jill on the street never used to have the kind of platform that’s available through sites like YouTube and I’m constantly surprised by what people come up with. I like the fact it’s someone’s raw, unfiltered opinion, or a piece of entertainment they’ve produced (even if the production values are laughably low sometimes – like mine!)  “Terrestrial” channels seem so predictable by comparison. I’d rather watch Sips from the Yogscast in a race for the wool than David Jason in a new episode of Open All Hours. I’m sure someone somewhere is wondering how they might reboot Morecambe and Wise as we speak.

If I learnt anything last year it’s that I’d lost sight of something very important. I’d started doing things that I thought other people expected, or doing things for cynical reasons (write this thing because it has a better chance of going somewhere than this other thing). It sneaked up on me. But now I’ve recognised it I’ve got a chance to remedy it. To get back to why I started writing in the first place – that is – to write things I want to read. I don’t care any more if any of it gets produced. All that matters is whether it engages me as a reader.

So, what’s happening right now? Well, I’ve written a radio script that I’ve shipped off to The BBC and I’ve started on a novel. It’s a return to an idea I had a long time ago but I’ve updated it. If I get to the end it will be the first time I’ve done that since university.

As always, I’m going to try and use this blog more. We’ll see how that goes! Here’s a title I did for the novel many moons ago – why the hell I copyrighted it do not know. Photoshop ftw x

Test

2013. Begin.

Well, the new year has started, contrary to the Mayan Long Count calendar, so I’m forced to continue…

Christmas and New Year was a bit stressful for me in that I’m still awaiting news of the day-job – so the festive period consisted of obsessing over an ever dwindling bank balance. Hopefully things will get sorted this month.

In the meantime I continued to write and have reached a certain milestone in that I’ve completed a draft of a full length play. This was written between Christmas and the New Year and is the piece I workshopped with Davinia and In The Red. I’ve written pieces that run to over an hour and a half before but they have never been good enough for me to feel comfortable calling them plays. If I’m honest – they were practice. Some of them I really think are only worthwhile as an exercise in hitting a certain number of pages. But this latest piece has merit. I think…

The shift in 2012 I put down mainly to the university course – and working with Julie Wilkinson. Also meeting people like David Eldridge. Although I didn’t talk to David one to one – I read all his plays, listened to his seminar, and finally assimilated the idea that this is a famous playwright, creating contemporary work of great quality, but he’s just a bloke. The later is the most important point. You can read all the literary theory in the world and wrestle with the intricacies of it all – but if it seems abstract, academic, or just beyond your sphere of experience, I believe you’ll never get a handle on who you are and what you want to write. Meeting real people who have had some success with writing just makes it seem possible. And gives you a place to settle. “This is where I am, that is where I want to be.”

On the topic of the university course the grades came in from MMU and I did well. I don’t want to say what the mark was coz it pisses me off when other people bang on about that sort of thing – but the fact I did well at a level beyond which I’ve worked before (my previous experience was degree level, this was MA) gives me confidence. Not necessarily that the work is good, since you’ve got to believe that or you’d just pack it in, but confidence that if I write well people will get it. Julie and NWP really seemed to understand my approach. Not that I’m writing anything particularly avant garde – but having received so many script reports from readers who simply didn’t have the experience, nor the intelligence, to understand what they were reading – you really need people who are good at what they do to counteract that.

On the final note of script reading and feedback – I have to admit to finding things a little difficult right now. I’m writing more than I ever have, to a higher standard than before, and therefore sending more stuff out into the world. Which is good. The down side to this is that volume and quality does not necessarily translate to success. Success is mainly to do with chance – all you are doing by producing more work is increasing the chances that someone, somewhere, will like something – but the random factor still applies. With more work comes more rejection – since there is simply more out there for people to reject.

Isn’t that depressing?

New Year’s resolution: continue to throw shit at walls.

Gutted

So, that was all a bit pointless. The play for Ignition has been pulled due to actor illness. Nothing much to be said, really. Except, I’m reminded of a time many moons ago when I spoke to an experienced writer about the joys of working with actors on a piece of work. He looked at me with a wry smile and said, “yeah, they can be brilliant or they can bring a piece to its knees.”

I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. Nowadays I do. Illness can’t be helped so it’s just bad luck. But for whatever reason a play you’ve written has been pulled and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can rationalize – but it’s frustrating and a bitter pill to swallow. Since you’ve done everything you needed to do, on schedule and to a high quality – and re-written once due to a previous actor-driven crisis – so the news that it was all for naught just makes you want to punch a wall. Or more specifically in my case – play computer games. I just want to forget about it and play Final Fantasy Tactics.

I’m also gutted for Carly – since she’s put a ton of hard work in and this would’ve been her debut directing gig.

Swings and roundabouts though. The day before this news I had the workshop with In The Red and this was fantastic. The actors threw themselves into the development of what will be my first full length play in a way that was inspiring and made me think – “I’ve got to do their hard work justice.” It was also a great opportunity to see The Houldsworth – a new venue in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. And I was delighted to see Sally Lawton there who is an inspiration. She’s so hard working and dedicated!

Onwards and upwards…and stop talking in cliches Rik.

New Play Workshop

Well, the workshop with In The Red is tomorrow. Davinia has done a really bang up job with the cast and also secured Anna Marsland (@anna_marsland) to run it. Anna has worked at the Royal Exchange as assistant director and now works at the New Vic Theatre. I’m looking forward to working with Anna and of course Davinia, whom I’ve known for years now. We first met at the Oldham Coliseum when I was assisting with the new writing course. We’ve since worked on audio pieces together and I’ve watched her set up her own theatre company (the aforementioned In The Red).

Once upon a time I knew no-one in theatre. Now I find I’ve known people for about six years (2006 is when I first got involved at The Coliseum) and in that time I’ve watched friends and colleagues change, grow and try different things in order to achieve their ambitions. Nothing in theatre is static. From the staff in theatre departments who change every few years, to the actors or producers who move on and shift their focus, change is going on all the time. This makes it difficult to align yourself with a specific place – it’s rather the people you make friends with that provide consistency. So, Davinia, whom I met as a new writer, ends up arranging a workshop for one of my plays through her theatre company six years later.

It feels a little self-indulgent to ask for actors and a director after writing only one act of a play – but I’m trying to do what I’ve read about other theatre writers doing – particularly my favourite David Eldridge (@deldridgewriter) – who spoke at a recent course I attended. Theatre is so much about actors that to write in isolation seems almost absurd to me – but then, new writers don’t usually have the luxury of doing anything else, so I’m immensely grateful to have the opportunity. It’s something I hope to continue – but again, it’s all about money and resources. And the goodwill of friends.

But I woke up today wondering how I can be the age I am and not be doing what I want to do for a living yet? So I’ve got to shake that feeling before tomorrow! Here’s my attempt –  okay, the thing is – all you can do is write, and the rest of it is fate. Or luck. Or bribery. And the fact is – Yoda was wrong. It’s not “do or do not”. It’s “just keep trying”. Try try try.

As long as you tried you can rest easy. The horrible thing would be to look back and know you could’ve done more. So, in the end, it comes down to a cliche – if at first you don’t succeed:

Try.

Try.

And try again.

And again.

And again.
Etc

Rushing Around

Went to see a play starring Chris Bridgman and Martin Harris of Rocket Theatre fame last night. Got there five minutes late due to Google Maps sending us up over the moors. I’m obviously using it wrong and need to click some option or other to select only main roads. I can’t find it however…

Good show – a sort of amalgam of Oscar Wilde and PG Wodehouse – adapted for the stage. Plenty of audience interaction and some very clever magic tricks! With the butler, Middlewick, apparently reading the audiences’ minds at one point! It’s an example again for me that theatre needn’t always be so serious. It can be about entertainment – and I would call the show a crowd pleaser; easily staged and appropriate for a wide range of audiences, from theatres like the one in Darwen, to non-theatre venues, like a golf club for instance, where members are looking for an evening’s entertainment after dinner.

The drama of finding these little regional theatres though is getting increasingly stressful. With S having broken her arm I was driving last night and it was my first time on the motorway – in the pouring rain and at night. Not ideal. Talk about jumping in at the deep end. I think S was actually more nervous than I was, which is understandable.

Then received news that an actor had pulled out from the Ignition gig and so re-writes where on the table. This irked me somewhat since the whole point in my mind was to meet actors and write for them – so to have one pull out was doubly frustrating. However, we found an excellent replacement in the person of the fantastic Peter George. This did mean I had to re-write the character to be younger but it was relatively painless. I also had to constrain myself by the fact that we are 5 days from performance and two of the actors have already familiarized themselves with the script – so it’s too late to go for a sweeping re-write. I think the character still works however and Peter will be great.

Just posted a script off to the BBC and now I’m going to eat some dinner. Lamb chops!

Ignition Rehearsal

Went well. First and foremost. At a pub in Salford called the Black Lion which has several “pods” upstairs. Why people involved in theatre and the arts have to come up with these weird words to describe their facilities is beyond me. They’re not “pods” they’re “rooms”, darling. Anyway, at least they didn’t appear to despise us – which sometimes happens with pubs that hire their rooms out. They really don’t like you being there and the only reason they do it in the first place is because they hope you’ll buy drinks. Thankfully, the Black Lion isn’t like that – and it’s got a good reputation for supporting artists in Salford and Manchester.

This is Carly’s first time directing someone else’s writing and directing actors (other than herself for her own shows) – but she took it in her stride. She’s very into the true emotion of the piece and I think we both feel it would be nice to have longer. These quick shows are good in that they force you to work fast and get stuff done but I think talking to several people they are all itching to try something longer. I’m not, really, since most of my longer work is ongoing anyway and I can continue with that when I like – but it’s different for writing. Short, sharp and brutal is the exception – so I’m still getting a lot out of it.

The actors are a great trio so I’m going to link them all below. Links to Carly also.

I came away again feeling like “yep, I know where I fit.” I feel comfortable as the writer. It feels natural to me. I nearly had a coronary when one of the actors joked I might have to take over one night for him due to a scheduling conflict. I really can’t think of anything worse! And I actually get fatigued having to express my thoughts to people for any extended period of time – so I’d be no good as a director. Being the writer involves just the right amount of interaction for me!

Peter Quinn

Anthony Thomason

Andrew Grogan

Carly Tarett And some of her plays:

Sinful Review and talking about “Princess Dee” below:

(BEAT)

Useful to have this blog for those times when you’re not quite ready to veg entirely but you’ve finished a bunch of work and feel the urge to reflect. Script for Ignition completed and sent to the director who seemed to like it. She had a few ideas for improvements and clarification – which were all on the money. I’m particularly happy this director has a background in comedy – so she’ll be able to locate where the the funny bits are working and where they’re not.

Strange delay always with writing though. Feedback or performance never comes when you want it and you’re invariably onto something else by the time it does. I’ve already shifted to a sitcom I’m writing for the BBC – which isn’t as rubbish as I thought it was. I’m not sure they’ll pick it up though – coz I’m not really sure I’m a comedy writer. There are funny bits in it but I struggle to write jokes. Funny stuff just happens sometimes – or the tone of the characters is such that they say slightly humorous things…not really selling it am I?! We’ll see.

I’ll finish that and send it off, do a bit of a play called Ghostwright the remainder of the week, then focus on another play “Caring” which I’m workshopping with Davina Johki and Anna Marsland on Sunday.

The other half’s arm is still broken so I’m trying to be supportive with that (forced me to drive the car more anyway!) but definitely get the sense she wants me to back off a bit. She’s very independant so I’m trying to walk the line between support and just being a cotton wool bearing mollycoddler. Oh, also trying to sort out the day-job situation – since I need something new again. Interview this Thursday.

Just can’t be bothered getting worried – but it’s there occasionally. Money, rehearsals, workshop, performance. I hope the play for Ignition doesn’t suck. I hate the first night when you’re sitting there…I just want to vanish, or peep through a crack in the door at the back, but you’ve got to support the actors and director – and it’s incredibly ungrateful to the production crew and venue not to be there. But I don’t enjoy it. I know one writer who doesn’t sit in on his performances. Whatever works for him – but I think you’ve got to force yourself to do it. If nothing else – you need to know where the writing is working and where it isn’t.