Write By Numbers

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.

(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


And the Cold Writing theme is…

As I type this, our latest batch of 6 Cold Writing writers are frantically writing a ten minute piece based upon a theme I sprang on them yesterday afternoon at Babble.Jar.

And that theme was ‘Watching You’.

If you want to see what our writers come up with, come along to Babble.Jar in ‘Stokey’ this Wednesday at 7.45pm.

Tickets are £5 on the door – £4 if you email tickets@writebynumbers.co.uk asking to be on the cheaplist.

See you then.

Charlie of WBN

Theatre.Jar: Cold Writing writers chosen for our first new writing event @ Babble.Jar

May I have a drum roll please…

(hear this in your head as appropriate)

After scouring through a very high level of applications and much deliberating and pontificating, the chosen writers for Cold Writing @ Babble.Jar are:

Mike Carter
Matt Cunningham
Thanh Dang
Caro Dixey
Olivia Furber
and Felix O’Brien

I can’t wait to work with this fine bunch of writing talent. I will give them a theme in a workshop on Sunday 7th July. And then I will give them just 24 hours to use all their craft and guile (who says writers don’t have ‘guile’?) to make us an awesome short play.

And then we will put them on. On Wednesday 10th July at 7.45pm @ Babble.Jar

Fancy tickets for £4 instead of £5 on the door? Email tickets@writebynumbers.co.uk before Tuesday 9th July and get yourself on the cheap list. Numbers permitting. Obviously.

Charlie of WBN

Being a Freelancer

Life has been (voluntarily) stressful of late what with the ‘running a theatre company whilst trying to make a living with lots of freelance jobs and also trying to have a life’ sort of thing. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or repeatedly kicking myself for all the mistakes I constantly repeat, I thought I’d write (in true Joseph Mills style) 16 facts I need to come to terms with about being a freelancer:

1. I will always have a home full of clutter, from books and workshop plans to random props, balloons and bits of string.
2. I will spend 1000s of hours a year on trains.
3. I will not be paid for these hours so should spend them reading high quality fantasy.
4. I will take on too much work. ‘Well, I’m in Hammersmith til 12 so I should be able to get to Wimbledon for a workshop at 2 then back to Hampstead for a meeting at 5pm, no problem’.
5. I will underestimate the emotional impact of my work.
6. I will have a complex love-hate relationship with my smartphone. I LOVE that I can read BBC News when I’m bored, turn on spotify and search for a song on the spur of the moment in a workshop, and use google maps to find a school when I’m running late. I HATE receiving work emails on the move, rubbish battery life, and google maps’ occasional lies!
7. I will forget I have to plan each session I do/meeting I have so I have to spend aforementioned travel time planning.
8. I cannot commit to regular evening activities.
9. I will go and see lots of shows that friends/colleagues are in (sometimes for free).
10. I will sometimes remember that I AM freelance and it’s OK to take a 2hour lunch!
11. I will get invited to awesome networking events and I go as me, not representing anyone else!
12. I can have creative meetings at midnight and enjoy them (although this mostly comes with living with WBN!)
13. I will constantly forget that if I work 20 days without a break my body will rebel and make me ill.
14. I will struggle to understand the concept of ‘the weekend’ and ‘payday’.
15. At the start of each new project I will completely forget what went wrong on the last one and remain steadfastly optimistic that this new project will be THE BEST EVER!
16. Whenever I get stressed I need to remember that being a freelancer is (usually) something that makes me happy.

OK, feeling a bit better now. Onwards!

And the upcoming Cold Writing theme is…

Due to the wonders of scheduled blogging, this post will be reaching the the world whilst I am in the middle of leading the workshop with our fine Cold Writing writers.

The theme of the festival should just be settling in with our writers now and (right now) I will be leading exercises with them as they explore the possibilities of the theme.

So without any further ado, I give you:


Yes, our third Cold Writing festival is to have the theme of ‘Reinvent’.

To see what our writers come up with, don’t miss Cold Writing: Reinvent at Jill, the Community Hub on Thursday 21st March at 7.30pm and Saturday 23rd March at 12.30pm and 3.00pm.