Yearly Archives: 2009

Tales From Ovid: The Shutter

Today I went down to Brixton Village with our Designer Emily to try and work out what we’re going to do with our shop.

The Shutter...

When you look at that picture you’re also looking at one of the biggest ‘issues’ we’re going to have to solve. That mechanical shutter. Some of the shops in the market have proper windows and doors. Others have proper windows and doors and a shutter. Number 82, however, just has a shutter. So when the shutter’s up we’re open.

Which is nice in some ways – you can literally just stumble into our shop and I like the fact that we don’t have a physical barrier stopping people coming in.

It’s also problematic. Yes, our audience can stumble in, but then so can every other noise and distraction from the rest of the market. We want people to have the chance to watch short performances but also want to cocoon them in the world we’re creating.

So, yes, the shutter…I think this is one subject that I’ll return to.

Brixton Village Transformation

If I’ve been a little quiet over here recently then it’s been for good reason. The last few weeks have had rehearsals and workshops and meetings and applications. There was even a day or two when it looked like Charlie was going to cancel Christmas.

More than all that, however, has been the fact that we’ve been waiting until we could announce our latest project and, having had confirmation of our dates today, this means I’m officially allowed to write about it on here.

From Monday 25th January until Saturday 6th February 2010 Write By Numbers will be participating in what is currently the UK’s largest empty shops project and taking over a shop in Brixton Village Market. Taking our inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses we’re going to turn the shop into a grotto of live performance and interaction, staging short adaptations of and responses to Ovid’s stories of love, hope, terror and transformation.

We’re a writer-centric company but we also want to encourage writers to work in unsual ways or form unsual connections so not only will our writers have to work to the space, we’re also encouraging cross-art form collaboration and participation, with performers, spoken word artists, musicians and visual artists (to name a few) being invited to take part.

In addition we’ll be encouraging Brixton community (and indeed anyone who feels like wandering into our shop) to take part in the transformation of the space, contributing to our wall of change. We’ve also got a couple of other ideas we’re hoping will slot into place (including some workshops and the opportunity to create your own writing for performance) which we’ll announce as we finalise details.

I’ve been excited about the Brixton Village Market project since I first heard about it just over a month ago. There’s a real energy and commitment to regenerating and reimagining a space where (at present) 20 shops remain empty. And this isn’t just about a temporary plaster for the area, but a means of showing a viable, alive location with either projects proving themselves sustainable or the location becoming atttractive to other businesses.

For Write By Numbers it’s a chance to try something we wouldn’t have the resources to do elsewhere (our ‘shop’ will be open full business hours, Monday-Saturday), pulling performance outside of an auditorium and giving writers and theatre-makers the opportunity to do something completely different. Because why shouldn’t you be able to do your shopping and then pop into a ten minute performance?

The result of all of this? We’ve got seven weeks to create the project before we open our shop for the first time…

One Hundred Days

I saw One Hundred Days To Make Me A Better Person on Facebook from someone I went to University with (the first time round at the Uni where we argued about Beowulf and Dickens rather than the second time round at the Uni where we argued about Pinter and gratutious use of rope climbing in plays for children). And as soon as I saw the project I knew that I rather loved it.

Josie Long’s idea’s simple enough. Pick one thing. You then do that thing for one hundred days, hopefully documenting it along the way for us all to share in. Then after one hundred days glory will be yours and, hopefully, you may be a tiny bit better as a human being. Or, at the very least, you’ll have done something which made you/ a friend/ a stranger/ your dog smile.

And, drum roll, my pledge is:

‘Once a day for one hundred days I will write a postcard (and, where appropriate, send it to the person concerned)’.

I’m going to write properly about why I chose this over on Distant Aggravation though I shall undoubtedly pop over here to bask in triumph/ never mention it again when I fall flat on my face on day 37.

But – 100 days? That’s a lot of postcards. And let me not think of the stamps.

So – what are you going to pledge?

On Ambition

By a stroke of chance (and the availability of two returned tickets when we strolled up to the Barbican) I happened to spend Friday night watching the TEAM’s Architecting. Which means that not only did I see the same production as Matt Trueman discusses on the Guardian Blog I also saw the same performance.

I’m with Matt in as much as I’ve never read or seen Gone With The Wind (though I did know it was a novel, but then I am a Book Geek as well as a Theatre Geek) and when I came out in the interval I couldn’t work out if I was enjoying the show or not. Because though I’d seen moments of brilliance Architecting lost me when it got deep into Gone With The Wind – and, yes, I did feel that my lack of knowledge of this particular American classic was proving a barrier to my engagement. I could sense that an important point was being made, that the text was being re-interpreted, re-visioned, questioned but I couldn’t for the life of me work out exactly how.

Perversely, by the time I came out of the second act I had become convinced that I had seen one of the defining productions of my year (I might even go as far to say it might one day make that list of productions that make me the writer I am). All the strands – and the TEAM hadn’t exactly scrimped with them given they’d taken on Gone With The Wind, the relationship between North and South USA, reconstruction, individual genius vs community, race, the effects of Hurricane Katrina, feminism, the American psyche…well, I could go on – were pulled together. Architecting is a play with huge – epic – ambitions, reaching out to questions that truly need space to breathe (and, indeed, filter through your brain). Yes it is flawed; it is too long, at times too self indulgent and, at least in my opinion, too reliant on direct engagement with Gone With The Wind in its first 90 minutes. I felt in times it was a play in need of a Dramturg. But I would gladly see a play with those flaws which had even half of the aspirations, intellectual clout and sheer exhilarating presence as Architecting.

Though a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland (having seen four of their productions now I would trample over people to get tickets for their shows) I honestly don’t know if new writing of this nature would be created in England, at the very least it isn’t created for the major theatres. Which is a challenge if ever there was one.

As for Matt’s question as to if theatre can be too clever for itself I have to say that the question is a fairly flawed one. What is “too clever”? Something I don’t understand, or you don’t understand, or that the person sitting next to you doesn’t understand? At no point when I wasn’t getting the references did I think that Architecting was too clever. I thought it wasn’t properly edited. More so this is a play concerned with America and me, a 26 year old from the North of England, well yes – I may lose things in translation.

Are Hamlet or King Lear too clever because of their intellectual gymnastics? Arcadia? Katie Mitchell’s production of Attempts on Her Life? And where do we stop – is The History Boys too clever because it has a scene largely performed in French?

The notion that there is a level of “accessib[ility]” that theatre should include is blatantly a non-starter. We Will Rock You is accessible, that doesn’t mean I’m beating a path to its door. Content can create accessibility, but so can theatricality. There was a moment in Architecting when the space around me transformed (I’m not saying how as it’s still running and I wouldn’t want to spoil the moment) that made me understand absolutely, to the very core of my being.  And should we, as theatre makers, have our main concern be having every audience member understand every moment every single night? Maybe because I found theatre after I found books (which are certainly not scared about understanding) I never assumed this was the case. Plus, I work on the basis that the audience is (at the very least) as clever as me. And I love it when a production or play treats me in the same way, even if it leaves me running after them (I still run after Hamlet to this very day, and I love it all the more because of that).

There is of course the question of audience numbers. Architecting would never support a West End run (well, maybe if you stuck David Tennant in the middle of it and even then it had better be a limited run). Did everyone in The Pit at the Barbican on Friday night love it as much as me? Matt Trueman’s article proves that isn’t the case. And that’s almost inevitable with Architecting‘s ambitions – and should we limit aspiration on that basis?

I think not.