Sally Wainwright (and a second second sift)

Like all right-minded people I thought Happy Valley was brilliant. And this Adam Buxton podcast with writer Sally Wainwright is a lovely thing.

The thing that leapt out at me was the chat about comedy: the way it gives you licence to tell much darker stories, and bring the audience with you. I started out writing comedy, and I love it. Lately I’ve tried more Serious Stuff, and that’s been interesting too. But it feels like a very timely reminder that there’s nothing quite as satisfying as making people laugh. (I mean, if you can make them cry in the same piece, that’s perfection.)

All of which means I was extra pleased to get through to the second sift for BBC Writersroom with a comedy script I submitted a little while ago. Not least because I’d completely forgotten I’d sent it in (like a genius). It’s the second time I’ve got through to this stage: last time I didn’t really do anything with the feedback, because it wasn’t the right moment. This time? Well, we’ll see. As always, watch this space.

A short piece of self-promotion

I’m really excited to be taking part in Engine Room later this month with a new solo performance piece. I’ll be showcasing 30 minutes of work, which will be the longest performance I’ll ever have done. (Did I mention my 17 minutes of stand-up comedy in Budapest? I think I mentioned that already.) And I’m really grateful to the Omnibus in Clapham for giving me a slot.

More news soon.

On confidence. (Or, just hit send.)

climbing-ladder-1940x900_34483Right now, I’m going through the exciting phase of writing that consists of feeling like everything I write and have ever written is terrible. So that’s fun.

Despite this, I’m busy inviting people to see my next play, which is on at the Arcola this weekend for the lovely and brilliant Miniaturists.

Does it feel odd to invite friends and agents and literary departments to see something when I’m the midst of an existential crisis about whether it has any worth or value? Well, simply put, yes. But to paraphrase the well-known saying: I’m feeling the self-crippling doubt and doing it anyway.

I’m doing it especially because all too often I hold back. Not long ago, I saw a call for full-length plays. My first thought was: what a shame I don’t have anything ready to go. My second thought (quite a bit after) was: HANG ON A MINUTE I HAVE TWO FULL-LENGTH PLAYS I COULD SEND.  It was too late. Sigh.

All too often I write something, and then don’t send it out at all because I’m not happy with it. Or I put work on and don’t dare to invite people in case they don’t think it’s the best piece of theatre they’ve ever seen. Yes, I am an idiot.

I’m not the only person doing this. And honestly, I think it’s often a woman thing. We doubt ourselves. We want to wait until everything is brilliant, everything is perfect. It never is.  My friend Lucy Avery ran a whole session on the topic at the last Devoted and Disgruntled.

The solution? Well, there was talk of a campaign called Just Hit Send, encouraging women and all writers to just do it. For now that’s my guiding mantra. I don’t know if people will like my work. I don’t know if anyone I invite will even make it. But all I can do is to write an invitation. And just hit send.

Ladder is on at the Miniaturists on Sunday 5th June.

On being oddly upset by the new café at York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal: the old arches.

York Theatre Royal has just reopened, after a massive refurbishment. I don’t know, yet, what the auditorium looks like.  I’m sure it looks brilliant. But I had a strange response to the fact that the space under the arches, which used to be in the open air, has been turned into part of the café space and boxed off behind glass.

I don’t know why this should feel like such a big deal. I’m surprised at myself.

I suppose it’s because I feel so attached to the Theatre Royal. When I was 15 I got into seeing plays there in a major way. I went to see everything. I saw the Madness of George III and The Rivals and Dracula and The Way of the World. I got mildly starstruck talking to actors in the bar afterwards. I was a fan.

And I suppose it’s because this used to be public space. You used to be able to wait for your bus there. And now you can’t. Now you have to go in and buy a coffee and look out at the city centre from behind a glass wall. And there’s something I’m really struggling with.

Now, honestly, I know that no one cares what I think. I don’t even live in York any more. I’m not someone who’s scared of going to the theatre, or doesn’t feel like I belong there. And there are good reasons, I’m sure, for the redesign. So the 20 square metres  or so of café behind glass walls shouldn’t affect me at all.  All I can tell you is I feel oddly distanced. And that it’s really thrown me.

I tried a new thing and it went quite well

Last week I made my UK performance debut, which sounds slightly grand, but basically means I stood and chatted at people for ten minutes. I say performance debut – I’ve done acting before, when I was a nipper. (I can’t act.) But this is the first time I’ve tried a real, personal theatrical thing.

I was trying out the possible beginning of a new piece about drinking and not drinking and identity. It was completely terrifying and really fun. Here are the three questions I’m asking myself, as a result.

How do I describe what I want to do?
For theatre geeks, my (incredibly aspirational, I’m not in her league) reference point is the brilliant Bryony Kimmings. But otherwise, it’s trickier. It’s a kind of a…. personal storytelling theatrical conversation type thing. Which is a bit long for a flyer.

Does it matter that I don’t know what to call it? I mean, technically not. It’s 2016, we don’t have to pigeonhole everything we do. It might be helpful though. Not least so I could explain it to my mum, who’s currently telling everyone I’m a stand-up comedian. (I’m not.)

How much do I want it to be a conversation with the audience?
I was delighted that the audience responded to my questions/put their hands up when i asked them to. (I feared the tumbleweed of awkward silence.) It was really cheering to discover that audiences want to get involved. And yet… there was a tricky moment on one night when someone said something I couldn’t hear and a quarter of the audience laughed and I didn’t quite know how to respond. I felt weirdly vulnerable. I know, I know, there are logistical things I can do about that. But I’m going to have to be comfortable with vulnerability (and uncertainty) if I’m serious about having a conversation with an audience, rather than making a token effort to involve them. And I need to work out a way to involve people that still fits within a structure.

What do I do next?
I developed this first ten minutes out of a workshop with the lovely Lab Collective. And I wanted to dip my toe into the water, to see if it worked. Up to now, it’s mostly just been me and a series of coloured pens and some bullet points on a page. So what next? The obvious answer is to find a collaborator (or two). So we’ll see how that works out.

(Oh, and I know it’s early days, and it’s only 10 mins but there’s a few people I’d like to acknowedge. So, thanks to:

Dilek at Scratch at the Jack for programming me even though I didn’t have a script or even any way to clearly describe what I planned to do.

Michelle Madsen for putting me on the bill at The Seven-Minute Itch, her ace new scratch night.

Kate Webster, for letting me perform a rough version at her so I could check it wasn’t the worst thing ever, before an audience saw it.

 Joe at the Lab Collective, for running the workshop that kicked it all off, and generally being not making me feel like a hopeless amateur when I was trying something I’d never done before.)

Typing/not typing

File:Keyboard on a German mechanical Olympia typewriter.jpgI wrote this blog out on a piece of paper before I typed it up. Because I had time on a train. Because I think better with a pen and paper. But more than that. Because I’m less and less motivated to open my laptop and type as the starting point of a creative process.

I’ve known for a while that I’m an extrovert writer, which means I get my energy from others, which means lots of ‘just get on with it’ writing advice just doesn’t work for me,- because sitting in a room on my own for extended periods is beyond disastrous for me. And when I did a creative retreat at Invererne last year, I just found the time I spent doing movement and voice work felt more intensively creative than anything I ever do in the glare of my Mac screen.

So if this blog has been a bit quiet for the last year or so, it’s because I’ve been trying to find a different way to work. To see how it might feel to be a theatre maker as much as a playwright. The operative word there is trying, because honestly, I haven’t got it even a little bit sussed. It’s been slow-going. And I spent most of last year with a frustrating sense of doing nothing and going nowhere. Not writing, but not quite doing anything else either. False starts galore.

Where I’ve got to? Well, it’s complicated. I like writing. It’s easy to fit around the rest of my life, too. But I’m not willing to give up on trying other stuff.

A few things have really helped already this year. I found heaps of inspiration at Devoted and Disgruntled in Birmingham, where I talked to people precisely about that question of shifting from writer to maker. And yesterday, I went to a Lab Collective workshop, where I put my money where my mouth is and started to plot out a new show that would be nothing like I’ve ever done before. I even scratched a whole 90 seconds of it at the end of the day. (This is progress.) There will be more progress, I think. I can’t promise I’ll blog about it all. But if I have a pen and paper and some time on a train, I’ll do my best.

Echoes at the Vault Festival

Echoes by Henry NaylorSomehow I have never been to the Vault Festival which is a massive error on my part,  because it’s brilliant.

I finally got there on Friday to see Echoes by Henry Naylor. It’s a piece that cleverly entwines the stories of two women, born 175 years apart. Both leave Ipswich in search a new life abroad. Both have a pretty terrible time.

I really enjoyed it. It was sharply written, with strong performances and an attention to detail that swerved contrived parallels. It was also an excellent reminder of how powerful simple staging and precise storytelling can be. It really packed a punch. And the underground setting added an unsettling layer to the piece.

With unlimited time/money I could spend a whole weekend seeing stuff down in the vaults. (Plus point: with terrible weather this is a much better time of year to see a ton of theatre than that there Edinburgh and its theoretical summer weather.) As it is, I’ll certainly try and get back for a piece or two before the festival ends in March.

Fake it ’til you Make it

Fake it 'til you Make it

This summer I managed to see two very uplifting pieces about depression. Fake it ’till you Make it was one of them. Bryony Kimmings has created a really beautiful show. Theatrical storytelling at its finest, I think. And just the kind of work I want to see, and make. It’s on at the Soho till mid-October, and is well worth catching, if you can.

The other piece was me belatedly catching up with Every Brilliant Thing – a really charming piece that used audience participation very inventively.

Two plays about (male) depression that didn’t feel heavy-handed, or overly ‘issues’ led. Just real, brilliant stories told with panache and theatricality.

Under a Northern Sky

Nick Drake
Singer-songwriter Nick Drake.

I’ve been writing a 3 minute 22 second short story about a Man in a Shed, set in Kilmarnock.

Because I needed a writing prompt to get writing again.

Because I embrace the random.

Because this is what happens when you say yes to stuff.

In this case, I said yes a callout from 26 to write a piece based on a Nick Drake song and a Scottish town. Both randomly allocated. And to be performed on a train from Newcastle to Glasgow some time in April by 26 writers involved in the project.

No, I haven’t finished it.

Yes it is really hard.

No I’m not sorry I said I’d do it. Because it’s still a million times easier than coming up with something out of nothing.

(Wish me luck, mind.)

A View from the Bridge

36viewbridge1404a…is as good as everyone says it is.

I didn’t go in with massive expectations. I don’t like the text that much. And I’ve seen a perfectly ‘meh’ version in the past. But the stripped-back set and the sheer theatricality of it all completely won me over.

It helped to have the best seats in the house – up on the stage, facing the action from the side, 5 metres or less from the actors. It’s on at Wyndhams, a proper West End theatre. And it feels completely transgressive to be sitting there. To be aware of another audience off in the distance. To feel implicated in the unfolding action just because of your sheer proximity.

Last year I saw a lot of plays. A lot. Two in one week, occasionally. And it was mostly brilliant. But by the end of the year, I was jaded. I didn’t look forward to the lights going up, I just wondered how long the bloody thing was going to last. So I took a few months off. And I can’t think of a better way to get back into theatre-going than this.