Yearly Archives: 2013

Estelle’s second blog: (extension of first blog as it’s been a busy few weeks since we got back) Highlights of the last few weeks.

So its just over two weeks since WBN returned from just over two weeks in Exeter for our residency at the lovely BikeShed Theatre. We may have expected a rest after returning from Devon but NO, we have staved off the post-show blues by being very busy.

Here’s my view about what’s been going on. In no particular order…

Acting in a WBN show (I shall blog separately about this). OK, so I was a zombie that looked like Myles and tried to snog Andy (sorry Andy) in the shop in Wood Street Market for a morning in 2012, and I fell in love through some glass for the National Theatre of Scotland five minute theatre on film around the same time, but none of those were quite the same as doing an actual Scratch in Salisbury (whoop).

Finding out, whilst rehearsing for said scratch, that we have a performance platform for the piece in April 2014 (gulp).

Having a board meeting where our lovely board pointed out some really obvious things that we couldn’t see ourselves (this, I remind myself, is the reason we have a board).

Spending a whole day evaluating the residency with the glorious Charlie and Corinne (we concluded that it was mostly brilliant).

Meeting the #Bluecrew (otherwise known as the cast of ‘Blueprint’) for a debrief and sneaky drink.

Being creative enough to spend whole days discussing project ideas that we really really want to deliver but still need to actually write the funding application for.

Actually having the thought, for the very first time ever, that there might, I mean there just MIGHT be a way that we could make this work for us as a living (albeit a meagre one)

Highlights (and the occassional lowlight) of the WBN Residency

The good ship Write By Numbers returned from a two-week residency in Exeter at the wonderful (and very welcoming) BikeShed Theatre just over two weeks ago. Whilst in Exeter, we performed our show ‘Beneath the Albion Sky’, developed and shared a new show ‘Blueprint’ and did an outreach project collecting ‘Walking Stories’ from the good people of Exeter which we then put together as a series of curtain-raisers. We drank too much coffee, experienced stress and sleep-deprivation but we did it! Here is my list of memorable moments:

Actually making theatre for two weeks straight. That has got to be a bonus.

Going to see Thor: Dark World on a rare night off & Marvel-ing (get it) at the parallels with ‘Beneath the Albion Sky’ & ‘Blueprint’. They’re in there if you look hard enough.

Programming lights (twice – long story) with the wonderful talented Dermot O’Brien (seriously guys, Dermot is da bomb – any Southwest peops who want a contact drop me a line – we are willing to share him).

Sleeping in a cottage surrounded by horses & dogs (and spiders and other creepy crawlies).

Our last night at quayside saying goodbye to Exeter (I might have fallen a little bit in love).

Meeting the good people of Headway Devon & hearing their stories. The most performed of these was ‘Legend’ which was a verbatim piece performed by 3 separate actors on different days!

Being welcomed by the good people of Exeter wherever we went and hearing their feedback on our work.

Coffee at Boston Tea Party (and the occasional cake).

Board games, in general.

The cast of ‘Blueprint’ reducing Charlie and I to tears in rehearsal. In a good way.

The easiest (because the performers were so good) workshop I have ever delivered with Razzamataz Exeter.

The amusements at Dawlish Warren, scarily addictive.

Singing ‘Where everybody knows your name’ in the UK’s most welcoming theatre The BikeShed Theatre.

Old Maps

This is a ley line:

The St Michael's ley line

This particular one is the St Michael’s ley line. It’s an imaginary dot-to-dot across southern Britain, connecting various pre-historic and medieval monuments,.

Ley lines were first proposed in 1921 as an archaeological theory. Albert Watkins suggested that in an earlier age, when this country was covered in forest, there were a few straight tracks that crossed the island from coast to coast. Important sites of pilgrimage were therefore built close to the tracks. His idea did not catch on with other archaeologists. They pointed out that, given the large number of historical landmarks littering the map of Britain, almost any straight line you draw across it is bound to hit a few.

Nevertheless, since the 60s a New Age mythology has been built up around the lines. Writers have claimed ley lines are natural sources of ‘vital energy’, that they having healing properties, that they are somehow linked with feng shui, ancient astronomy, or the Nazca lines of the ancient Peruvians.

Here’s an article on ley lines as part of an ‘earth matrix’. There’s a lot of information in that article and I wouldn’t beat yourself up if some of it didn’t make sense to you. But while we might all enjoy a smug laugh at the mystics, I can’t deny that there’s something seductive about looking at a map and seeing, buried underneath the motorways and rivers and other lines carving up our island, evidence of an ancient order totally different to our own.

Well, recently I found something that gives me that feeling. This is the Atlas of true names. It shows the original names of towns and cities, translated from old English, Gaelic and Danish. These names evoke images of what familiar places may have looked like a thousand or so years ago- when Hampshire was an ‘enclosed settlement’, and Scotland the ‘land of darkness’.

Take a good look at this map, and you start to picture a densely wooded island filled with separate peoples living in fortress communities named after their leaders- the Red One, the Short one, the Hasty one- it might help you to translate those town names if you bear in mind that in Old English ‘ing’ meant something like ‘the people of’. Also, good to know there was a whole town of people living ‘on the edge’. So they weren’t so different from us alter all.

And there’s so many mysteries in those names. How much more tattooed were our ancestors than their neighbours? Just what went on at the sinister-sounding ‘Important Place on the Remote Farms’? At what point did London change from being unfordable to unaffordable?

It’s refreshing to look at this island of concrete and gardens and see a wilderness. It is a world that has now been entirely abolished, and even in the remotest corners of Britain you can only catch a glimpse of what that world might have been like. But it’s good to remind yourself how recently, in fact, this land was cleared and tarmacked over. On the scale of human history, it was not so long ago that we moved from farms and fortresses to subways and skyscrapers. We’re still using the names of Saxon chieftains to guide us from one service station to the next. There is a long and rich history to this island, and you’re living in a particularly strange and tumultuous part of it.


(Co-)Writing and Directing Beneath the Albion Sky

Beneath the Albion Sky is the first piece of work that I have ever written (in this case co-written with Corinne) and then directed.

I must admit that there was a bit of fear in directing the show. Not least because I had written some of the words and maybe some of them were really precious to me and I hadn’t realised yet but also because I had lovingly crafted this script with Corinne. Now, Corinne is precious about certain lines and words. In some cases really rather precious. Far more than I am. Whereas I don’t have favourite lines to things I write I know that she does and that she did have special lines in Albion.  I knew that if I (or Andy) screwed up this line up, she would be disappointed. We would be getting one of her ‘It’s fine’ retorts that is so loaded with (potentially imagined by me) bile, hate and contempt that all you would be able to is say how sorry you are a million times over until you feel at least half way close to forgiveness. ‘It’s fine’ she would say… Over and over again.

But that’s enough about the fear of butchering the favourite line of Corinne Furness and my over the top imagination of how she might react. I had another fear in directing this piece in that I had written a bit of it myself. What if I shoehorned my writerly vision in to the piece at the expense of it? What if I couldn’t accept another reading of my words? What if any sort of ability I have to direct simply fades away as soon as we move from a line of Corinne’s to a line of mine? These were just some of the fears.

But it turns out – I was absolutely fine. I’m not being egotistical and saying that the directing is super awesome (you will have to come to The Yard, The Wardrobe or The BikeShed and decide that for yourself) but that I didn’t have a problem with directing something I wrote. I was delighted to find that I could take my writing hat off, put my directing hat on and just approach the play that was in front of me. Before I knew it, I was cutting lines, changing bits and seeing the play a-new. By the end of it all, I honestly couldn’t remember if I had written certain lines or if Corinne had.

I remember, back during my BA, Howard Barker came in to one of our Playwriting sessions. I was very excited (as I think Howard Barker is brilliant) and one of the things he said (amongst others) really stuck with me. He said something along the lines of ‘It is important to direct one’s own work because then you understand it better. You understand how it, and drama, work’. I can’t remember if that is exactly what he said but I remember the sentiment. I also remember the fear. I thought to myself ‘I can’t do that’, ‘I can’t direct’, ‘I’d end up blocking myself’, ‘Don’t try it you silly boy’ etc. Well, I finally had a go (admittedly with a piece I half wrote) and it was really rewarding.

I’m definitely going to try and direct my own work again (some, not all – let’s not be silly) and I would recommend that other people give it a try too.

Just please don’t blame me if, for you, it is the disaster we all fear. But I reckon there is a good chance it won’t be.

Charlie of WBN


Beneath the Albion Sky: Reflections

And so it comes round again – next week we start rehearsing for Beneath the Albion Sky before the show visits London, Bristol and (back to what might be its home) Exeter.

It is, in the honesty I always want us this blog to have, a spectacularly busy time for us. It’s the first time we’ve done any sort of full-on-theatre auditorium tour and we’re combining this with getting things in place for 2014, planning an outreach project for Exeter, getting our next show Blueprint to a point where we can make the most of our time to develop it at the Bike Shed, dealing with the “business” element of having a theatre company and sorting out potential scratches for a play idea that is merely a twinkle in our eyes. And that’s without other work (and life) demands. I’m considering marking in my diary the entirety of December as “sleep”.

But, if it’s exhausting, it’s also exciting. And going back to Albion Sky is something I think we’re all looking forward to. So, before we get back in the rehearsal room and are consumed with biscuits and lines and probably moving some furniture, I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on some of the process thus far. First up – Charlie tackles the whole “directing something you’ve written” lark.

On Mark Ravenhill, Rhetoric and Honesty

On Saturday I read something on the internet which made me angry. Which is, in and of itself, deeply unremarkable in as much as the internet is powered by cat pictures and anger (though, thankfully, rarely at the same time). What is noticeable about this one is that I got angry over something which a lot of people I know and respect thought was brilliant and important.

I got angry over the speech Mark Ravenhill gave for the Inaugural Opening Address of the Fringe Festival.

Quite rightly people had jumped in to defend Ravenhill from what I can only assume was a wilful misrepresentation of his words by the BBC and the speech got RT’d in to my twitter stream and a parade of friends “shared” it on Facebook, all indicating their endorsement by degrees of superlatives. And – me? I just got angry.

More angry than the content of the speech merited.

And I did wonder if this was one of those things – like the NT’s Curious Incident… or cheese – where my own disquiet about it is pushed into anger because no one else seems to have noticed what I’m talking about.

But then I came back to it today, as I’d promised myself I would once the momentary flare-up had passed and, free from the initial flame, I could actually see what troubled me.

I think the first thing to note – and this is important – is that it’s very well written. It’s funny – albeit knowingly funny (but then I just tried that with less success by comparing Curious Incident to cheese so who am I to throw stones?) – and there’s a lot of Big Issues contained within and it builds to a satisfyingly rousing conclusion and call to arms. Most of all – it’s hugely flattering to its audience. Us old guys – we did it wrong, but you young ‘uns – you can change all that. And you finish up wanting to punch the air and shout – YES! We shall be different! We shall have a cooperative van company paid for by all our members! (Seriously, we should have a cooperative van company – I totally volunteer to administrate it).

In short: it’s really, really good rhetoric.

And if you want to see what’s the problem with that I should point you towards Andrew Haydon’s own state of the (arts criticism) nation, which is much less rhetorically controlled and much more spiky and obviously problematic but also much more brilliant and risky and angry and important. There’s no getting away from the honesty of that piece. In contrast – and you can only properly see it when you stand it next to something like Haydon’s – Ravenhill’s is curiously sterile in the honesty department. It postures at being honest – the humour and the critique of “the arts sector” and what “we” have done – but that’s not actually honesty. That’s critique dressed up with extended metaphor.

The defence for this then becomes that Ravenhill’s speech actually proves the point he is making. Haydon – free of the “system” in his own blog and without the weight of delivering the Inagural Fringe Address and a contract with the RSC and all of the stuff that goes with being Mark Ravenhill – has the honesty which Ravenhill is lamenting the loss of for those who play within.

Form expressing content – it’s a writer’s wet dream.

Until now the word I have chosen to describe Ravenhill’s speech is rhetoric. If I were being less kind – or if I hadn’t been beaten around the head with examples of classical rhetoric during a particularly ill-fated episode during my BA – I might use the word “spin”. If I use the word “spin” Ravenhill becomes not trapped by the prevailing climate but complicit with the “New Labour” mode he is ostensibly railing against.

And that’s what made me angry. Because the speech raises a number of important, salient points but never properly owns them:

“I think the arts sector as a whole went astray during the last couple of decades.”

“I think they [the arts] weren’t telling the truth”

“most artists are…”

we were talking about working in the creative industries”

[my italics]

What we actually have there is some pretty broad brush strokes (am I to seriously believe that in two decades no one in mainstream art was telling the truth – whatever ‘truth’ might actually be, subjective as it often is? NO ONE?). And then there’s also a problem with slipping from “the arts” (which, in its own way, is as meaningless and unhelpful as “creative industries”) to individual artists to a “we” I’m not exactly sure who is part of.

The only point I come close to thinking we might get some honesty is:

and after a while for a few years a modest but real terms increase in government funding for the arts. And we artists were so grateful for that relatively modest bit of attention and money that we changed substantially what and who we were as artists.

The first “we artists” in that doesn’t even trouble me too much, it’s a we that seems to have some truth. The second one, however, that’s the sort of generalisation that makes me sad. Because I can’t work out if it’s an inability to say the word “I” – which is fair enough, it would be a difficult thought to say in your head, let alone in a room full of people in your industry – or if it’s because it’s a casual sweeping statement, suggesting something important is being offered whilst in reality being a bit meaningless. Then, just in case there was a risk of an “I” getting in there, we get an imaginary conversation between a mother and a child to send up the point. Which is nice as far as I like imagination and I like jokes, but not something that stands up to any sort of discussion about what truth this speech is based on.

And because there is nothing solid in the speech and no ownership I can only conclude that the speech is a negation of responsibility.

And if there’s anything I’m absolutely fucking sick of then it’s negation of responsibility. Since 2008 we’ve been drowning in the stuff.

But it’s okay – you, this new generation, you’ll get us out of this. You’ll dream up new ways of working.

Yes, me and my £13,000 in student loans (and it makes me blanche that a debt of that amount marks me out as one of the lucky ones) and overdraft and not really remembering what a weekend is and forgetting what normal social lives are and doing everything I can just to stick at this for long enough – just as everyone I know who is still hanging in is – we will imagine and re-design and it will be amazing and we will just have to eat a lot of toast and carry all of our stuff to Edinburgh.

I might only speak for myself here, but I think this particular “we” could do with some help. Help that’s better than a collection of well written words, or to borrow a phrase from some women who knew what they were talking about, “deeds not words”.

You’ve identified the problem (at least as far as you see it), Ravenhill. Now what are you going to do about it? Because my “we” – the disparate “we” I’ve seen doing and imagining and helping – it’s a “we” I embrace my part in. Own it. Own your words.