WBN @ Ignite 2014

We’ve been excited about this for some time, but, since the Ignite programme launched today we can properly announce that we’ll be taking two shows to Exeter this year.

First up we’ll be premiering Blueprint at the Bike Shed from 3rd – 5th June. We developed Blueprint during our residency at the Bike Shed last autumn so, really, there’s no other venue we’d want it to start its adult life in. Continuing our preoccupation with how and why people tell stories, in Blueprint we’re exploring how a character named Kate narrates her life story (all filtered by her brain in the moment before she dies). It also includes some physics, a stopwatch and some distinctly disturbing Mark Owen masks…

Second up we’ll be doing a one off performance of Joseph Mills Presents…Reasons for Listing: 16 Facts and One Story About Things That Make Me Happy at Exeter Library at 4pm on the 4th June. As well as being a love letter to libraries, this show also means that anyone who saw Beneath the Albion Sky last year and would like to spend some more time with Andy Kelly telling them a story has the opportunity to do so.

It’s probably safe to say that, such is our all-consuming love for Ignite after our adventures there last year with Albion, even if we hadn’t been invited back we’d be turning up. Plus this year they even have THEIR OWN FESTIVAL ALE. Seriously, can you imagine a better festival?

Regeneration: The work-in-progress showing in numbers

SpikeLee001 B&W1
tea trolley during the tech (something of a first for all us, and something which is definitely going on our ongoing spreadsheet of the foodstuffs offered by venues we work in).

40 pieces of velcro keeping our drawing paper on the wall of the studio.

2 moments when Estelle, Charlie and I thought that, despite those bits of velcro, the paper was going to fall off during the performance.

2 uses of an expletive which made me acutely aware that there were a couple of under 13s in the audience.

1 visible scene list which proved that London audiences like a visible scene list equally as much as Exeter ones do.

New York B&W6 different cities where a scene of the play took place.

6 different areas in London where Myles’s character lived.

2 moments where Andy got to do “awkward flirting”.

3 variations of the name “Lucy”.

1 scene that took place on a ferris wheel.

1 scene in which Myles made Andy draw a horse, much to the audience’s amusement.

1 speech by Margaret Thatcher.

2 speeches by Boris Johnson, only one of which got a groan for one of Boris’s “funnies”.

1 speech by Spike Lee that caused a woman in the audience to exclaim “it’s exactly like that!”.

Lego0031 fact about ‘right to buy’ which made the audience audibly react.

1 joke which is only ever going to work for audiences in West Yorkshire.

1000s of pieces of Lego which were thrown across the stage during the final scene.

(11 audience members who stayed behind to help us clear up – and play with – the Lego)

Regeneration Blogs: Doing Things That Scare You

A few weeks ago, when I was still bumbling through pages of research for Regeneration, I sent Charlie an email. It had one sentence in it:


There weren’t any more words because, as soon as I wrote that sentence, I had to breathe into a paper bag for a little bit.

(NB: I’ve googled to try and find a good concise definition of ‘state of the nation play’ but it seems everyone expects you to understand the term implicitly. There are longer explorations, should you wish to tread there, here and here.)

It probably shouldn’t have come as as much of a shock as it did. Unlike the other plays I’ve created text for for WBN this one didn’t come out of an initial character idea. It came out of a subject.

Or rather, at first it came out of a process.

Since we saw Architecting in the Barbican Pit back in 2010, Charlie and I have wanted to make a play like the TEAM make a play. We wanted to do a huge research process and have multiple writers and an epic scope and history and literature and music and now, now, now. Only, where the TEAM make theatre about the USA, we wanted it to be about England.

The desire to do this is something we’ve come back to, with varying degrees of scale. We considered writers we’d like in the room, how to get a balance of styles, how we might structure a very long research process, how we might collectively decide what the subject was going to be. Then, a couple of years ago, an AD invited us to pitch some ideas to him for work we’d like to develop and (along with the play which would eventually become Blueprint, about which you’ll be hearing more than you ever probably wanted to in the coming months) we pitched the idea of us undertaking this R&D process. We didn’t provide a subject matter for it – just that we wanted to do this process. As is the way, nothing came out of that initial meeting – other than a stay in touch, but it got us thinking about maybe, actually doing this thing. The same AD invited us to submit a proper proposal to him six months or so later, and another London theatre was doing an open call out for proposals at the time, so we did some further thinking and this further thinking led us to conclude that we’d probably better propose a subject matter. And, undoubtedly influenced by our own experiences working in Brixton and Walthamstow, simultaneously Charlie and I came up with: regeneration. Then we got excited because, for the first time, it felt we had a subject matter to match our process.

Then, we pitched and got a polite no thank you. Which actually turned out to be a Good Thing, because we ended up making Beneath the Albion Sky instead and thus all is history. It also convinced us that no one was going to buy into the process, because there was – and we’d been honest about this – the possibility it might end in total utter failure. So, as is the way with WBN, we thought about how we might make it come about ourselves. And, as Charlie and I were so enthused by writing about regeneration (and we didn’t know if other writers we knew would be to the extent that we were) we thought we’d go ahead and co-write it. And, if we weren’t going to go all out on the writing process, then we were on the play itself. And, off of the back of Albion, we got a chance to do a paid scratch of 15 minutes of text at Salisbury Arts Centre last November. From which we all concluded: yes, we did have a play here.

Now, with Rich Mix providing development support, we’re probably a third of the way through the first proper stage of development for Regeneration. And, there is probably no way to describe the text currently other than: big. It’s got three major plot strands which, between them, run from 1903 to 2015. We see London grow from 1980 to the present day, but we also visit Berlin and New York and Newfoundland and, crucially, Yorkshire. People fall in (and out) of love, there are riots, a birth, a house which moves across place and time. There’s even some Spike Lee and Boris Johnson in there. There’s quite a lot of Lego too.

There are also times where the play gets proper, full-on angry. It’s the first time I’ve made a play which, even momentarily, does this (though admitedly I doubt anyone could see Reasons for Listing and come out being unclear as to my position on the importance of libraries). Somehow, the scope of Regeneration seems to have opened up the space for us to do this and it feels okay for us to include some of our anger. It’s also got space for us to be playful and funny and bemused and tell stories and make myths. But it’s maybe the fact that it can hold all of this – including the anger – that makes it the scarily official sounding ‘state of the nation’ (even when its form might suggest it is anything but).

I guess this blog post is therefore a dollop of writerly confession as we attempt to get the play up on its feet in the coming weeks. In Regeneration we’re making something that scares me. And that’s exciting.

2013 and Everything After

For the first time since March in 2013 we’ve had a six weeks where we’ve not been either making a new show or touring an existing one. This break finished last week – there was a re-draft of Blueprint which basically involved me, a white board, a marker pen and the frantic look of someone who is attempting to make a play which is composed of fifty individual one minute plays work (seriously, who thought that was a good idea?). This third draft of Blueprint is nicknamed the “jenga draft” for very good reason. Today Charlie and I had our first proper text meeting for Regeneration which we’re developing with support from Rich Mix, having scratched 15 minutes of it in November at Salisbury Arts Centre’s Practice. And soon Estelle will be back in the rehearsal room with Reasons for Listing. And then more Albion in the spring. And Blueprint in the early summer. And onwards, (hopefully) onwards.

But with this (slight) down time we’ve done some thinking and planning and (even) some not-working. So, possibly falling beyond even the category of being “fashionably late”, here’s our look back – and forward – of WBN…

Andy @ Residency Celebration Favourite WBN work related thing of 2013: Taking Beneath the Albion Sky back to Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre in October. Albion had already appeared in two incarnations at the Bike Shed, once at a scratch night the previous November, and then for Exeter’s Ignite Festival in June. When we showed up again in October, Albion had just done two weeks in very different spaces in Hackney and Bristol. It was great to perform it again in that lovely, bare cavernous space, which suits the mood of the piece perfectly.

Favourite WBN non-worked related thing of 2013: It’s Thursday Night. It’s Scarborough. You’re cold. You need a drink. It’s time for MECCA BINGO, people!

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: Rehearsing at the WBN office at the Albany is normally a pleasure. Charlie and I would sit with a coffee while he patiently waited for my brain to start working, then we’d lay out our chapter titles for each section of the show on a little trail of A4 sheets, and then we’d absorb ourselves in our work, serenely focused on our own little creation without any distraction from the outside world. Unless it’s a Wednesday afternoon and the market is on just outside our window. Some of those market traders like music. Doing the quietest, saddest, smallest piece of the play while the finale from Les Miserables is blaring in through the closed windows was difficult, but oddly moving.

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: The next Christmas social, in which an even greater variety of alcohols will be consumed, and I will hopefully have another religious experience while watching It’s A Wonderful Life.

Charlie @ Residency Celebration Favourite WBN work related thing of 2013: The opening night of Albion at Ignite Festival in Exeter in June. The feeling that all the work had been done (finally!) and people really liked the show and maybe I sort of knew a little about what I was doing. That I wasn’t entirely deluded about writing and directing!

Favourite WBN non-worked related thing of 2013: Running manically across Salisbury in order to catch the last train back to London after Salisbury Arts Centre’s Practice (with Corinne being ridiculous and not being able to breathe from the running), making the train, having a great creative chat on the way home and then eating a nice burrito from Waterloo Station.

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: Working TEN days in a row at Spektrix in order to make up for all the time I’d taken off for WBN.

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Still being alive come Christmas and not being a hollowed out husk of a human being. Oh, and hopefully finding an excuse to turn up at Ignite Festival.

Corinne @ Residency CelebrationFavourite WBN work related happening of 2013: All of Ignite Festival with its glorious sunshine, theatre for a pound, talking into the early hours of the morning about the meaning of life, meeting other awesome theatre makers, falling in love with the Bike Shed, Albion being better received than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams and the feeling – the one you can’t put into words – sitting in the audience of the first night performance and just knowing. When I look back on that week I want myself to know that I’m not hopelessly romanticising – it really was that brilliant. However, notable other mentions have to go to performing Reasons in its first library in Scarborough (which felt like the play coming home) and the post-show talk on Reasons which Andy, Estelle and I did with a group at Headway South East in June which resulted in the best, most insightful discussion I’ve ever had as a writer with audience members. Oh – and, and! – multiple audience members asking me if I was a physicist after seeing Blueprint.

Favourite WBN non-work related happening of 2013: Board Game Mania which descended on us during our residency at the Bike Shed, which resulted in a trawl through all the best (and worst) board games of the 1980’s and included a raft of new rules for the more mundane ones (largely involving shots of vodka). And dancing in The Yard’s empty bar with the rest of WBN to “I’ve had the time of my life” at midnight, with the bar staff letting us finish before they closed.

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: The balance between producing the work and actually being creative with your head in the rehearsal room, I think we’re all still working on how we manage this (or if, indeed, it is possible to do this). Also, Andy and I losing in the final of the Dawlish Warren table hockey tournament to Estelle and Charlie.

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Finishing Blueprint (looks like it’ll be three years from initial idea to finished staging) and doing at least one project during the year that I couldn’t predict doing at this moment.

Estelle & BingoFavourite WBN work related happening of 2013: Part of ‘Walking Stories’, our outreach project at the Bike Shed: hearing Ryan’s stories first hand and then seeing his monologue performed by three different actors and his story being interpreted on stage with images. All with him in the audience enjoying his moment of fame.

Favourite WBN non-work related happening of 2013: Fun with dabbers on my first ever bingo experience at Mecca Bingo in Scarborough!

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: Navigating to our cottage in the dark in Exeter – deeply stressful, writing our application to become a Community Interest Company (drafting and redrafting our aims) but really worthwhile. Preparing the curtain-raisers for ‘Walking Stories’ in only one day!

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Bringing Reasons to a larger audience (and redirecting it with a different Joseph).

Lucy @ Residency CelebrationFavourite WBN work related happening of 2013: Watching the penultimate performance of Beneath the Albion Sky at the Bike Shed Residency. It had been preceded by a curtain raiser performance of ‘Walking Stories’ which was created using stories collected from members of the local Headway group. It was wonderful to see the stage as an equal playing field for people of all backgrounds and experiences to have their stories told. The mix of producing work with theatre professionals as well as with local communities is my ideal way of working! So, when WBN asked me to be an Associate Artist of theirs directly after this show I rather gushingly and over enthusiastically accepted! And that is my favourite WBN work moment of 2013.

Favourite WBN non-work related happening of 2013: Arriving at the official WBN cottage in Exeter in the pitch black. Then waking up at 7am the next morning and discovering we were surrounded by green fields and hills. And then going out in my pyjamas to frolic with the local dogs and horses….much to the dismay of other WBN members who I woke with my squealing.

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: As an actor / freelancer it is always the bits in between acting work that are the most genuinely difficult. It means though that you flipping love when your real work comes along and difficulties within that theatre / acting work are just exciting challenges to be creative with!

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Work in progress performance of Regeneration at Rich Mix. And also working on my own writing ideas.

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.