Tales From Ovid: Press

Just over a week ago – during the day where I was asked lots of questions and I gave vaguely coherent answers to about 33% of them – I ended up being interviewed by Katharine Hibbet for an article about arts and empty shops. And obviously I’m being cool and nonchalent about this (and not shrieking – Write By Numbers is in the same article as Punchdrunk and The Royal Court!!!! Or, as Charlie pointed out to me, that I’m quoted in an article before Dominic Cooke is. Hi Dominic. ) but the article was in today’s Sunday Times Culture Magazine.

Obviously Ovid Reworked – The Brixton Project is Write By Numbers’s first production so we’re just a little bit (read: a lot) merry about this.

Tales From Ovid: If I could change Brixton…

In the next few days I’m hoping to have the chance to catalogue all of our Brixton Village responses to our Wall of Change on our website but for now, they’re all up on our Flickr page which you can see here. The range of responses is both interesting and touching.

On pretty much the first day we opened our shop this tag appeared:

Brixton Theatre

I nodded when I read it but, two weeks later, I’d changed my mind slightly. I wouldn’t build a theatre, I’d ensure there was a space for theatre. And that space doesn’t need to be a theatre-building in the traditional sense. It just needs to be somewhere where people can perform – theatre, music, dance, spoken word, fire-eating – whatever category of performance they choose.

It doesn’t need to be the same space every week, there just needs to be a space. And while we’re at the subject of space, I’d throw in space to rehearse, space to workshop, space to meet. And I think we proved during our residency that all that space doesn’t need to be traditional either. Crikey, we rehearsed, workshopped and performed in a series of empty shops without heat at the end of January. Forget money (well, not entirely some of that might be nice but I know we’re looking down the shrinking corridor there), give me space.

For think of what we could do with that space. What the others like and unlike us could do.

And the first thing I’d do?

I’d start this process by making Shop 82 the first space for performance.

Audience - by Ash Finch

Everyone involved in the Space Makers project have proven that the audience is there.

Snap - by Ash Finch

So, just the space then.

Tales From Ovid: Day Twelve 1

Yesterday I blogged about questions and today it seems only fair to provide some answers. In amongst the press interviews I did yesterday I had the rather fabulous experience of being interview by Vobes of Empty Shops Radio who not only called me a “lovely young lady” (ah, still young!) but who asked pertinent, thoughtful questions even though they were utterly spontaneous. Respect is due. For any of you who might want to hear my witterings you can now listen to the podcast here. [We’re ‘Theatre in an Empty Shop’ as you scroll down]

[Warning: My voice is both shrill and a little bit high. Plus I use the phrase ‘learning curve’. Above all I do not sound like I come from Yorkshire AT ALL. I hang my head in shame]

Tales From Ovid: Day Eleven

Today was most definitely a day of questions:

Why do you choose to make theatre in an empty shop?

How are your audiences different?

How did this project come about?

How old are you?

Where is the dictaphone?

What are you doing next?

Can I have another slice of cake?

Are you writing at the moment?

Do you wish you were here longer?

Where did the toilet roll go?

What do you write about?

[brace position]

What’s your role in Write By Numbers?

Do you want to do a workshop for us?

Is that painting for sale?

What did we do right?

What did we do wrong?

What are you doing?

Can I have some sugar?

How are you?

Where’s Etta’s Kitchen?

Is ‘sleeping bag’ one word or two?

What are you doing next?

Do you have the key for the SHUTTER or do I?

Where’s the milk?

Do you know ‘The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock’?

Can I move you because the lighting here makes you look like a ghost?

Are you paying for the electricity in here?

But, really, what next?

Does culture have a part to play in a market?

Did we switch all the lights off?

Tales From Ovid: Day Ten

One of the most asked questions I get when I tell someone I’m a playwright is ‘What do you write?’. When I hear that question I’m probably already in the brace position because that question is not ‘why’ (because I have to and would combust if I didn’t) or how (pen to notebook diagram, diagram to keys on the computer, rarely in mornings, usually best at about 8.00pm). As I crouch on the floor with my hands around my head I’ll mumble something like – ‘well, drama, y’know plays’. And they’ll come back with are the funny or serious and I’m all ‘not comedy-comedy but not humanity is doomed and we’re all going to die alone either’ and by then I’m probably rocking. Maybe only Harold Pinter could have answered that question (‘well, there are these men in a room…’) and, let’s be honest, it’s not a very interesting question, is it? A writer can write about anything, yes we’ll have our own ticks and quirks but the ‘what’ – that can be huge. Or HUGE, as it should probably be given my current prediliction for capitalisation. By giving all of our writers the ‘what’ in Ovid Reworked (stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses) we’ve removed that question. Yes, they may be comic or tragic or one of the endless shades in between but I like to think that getting the ‘what’ out of the way allows us to look at more interesting things. Like ‘how’. And since we’re specifically talking about plays – how does it go from story-to writer-to director-to stage?

If I were being flippant then my answer to that for this project would be ‘quickly’. I did an interview for IdeasTap a few days ago and when they asked me what I liked about working in Empty Shops I posited about how the need to create (and discard) quickly is extremely liberating. Having a theatre-space which we can programme to our whim and will allows us to take lots of risks. And one of the plays we debuted today I think demonstrates this beautifully.

A week before we moved into the space we went out into Brixton to do a photoshoot for promo material. Retreating from the cold we went into a local cafe/bar where one of our Directors, Estelle, started having something of a quick read-through of lines with two of our actors. Our waiter noticed the script that was being read (The Fall of Troy as it turns out) and asked what we were doing. And so it emerged that our waiter, Eddie Molloy, not only knew his Ovid but was something of a writer.

Ten minutes later, Eddie had agreed to write a short adaptation of the story of Narcissus and Estelle had agreed to direct it. In terms of risk and possible insanity in terms of curating a festival this stands out. Not just for us (in as much as we’d never met Eddie before and that there’s always the potential for the elephant in the room of ‘can this person write’) but for Eddie. Writers can be spikey and self obsessed (hello, have we met?) and whilst I’m sure Mr Molloy doesn’t have the worst of my writerly characteristics he was still investing the time and energy into producing a script for a theatre company he had bumped into in a cafe. But having an empty shop gives you license to do all those things you couldn’t do elsewhere – like engage a Brixton writer to write for you with less than a week to go to opening day. To be entirely serious (momentarily) it would be wrong for us to play ‘safe’, particularly when the Brixton Village Market project as a whole is about engaging Brixton and embracing risk and experimentation and imagination.

Eddie duly delivered his script in the middle of last week and when I read it and saw how enthusiastic Estelle was about directing it I was glad we’d taken this risk. We always wanted to make writers do unsual things and I think this spectacularly counts as an unusual thing. When I read Narcissus we didn’t have an actor for the role (and we have, to put it politely, already had one WHERE ARE ALL THE MALE ACTORS? stress) but, rather fittingly, Edward Cartwright was recommended to us on the strength of a monologue he’d previously performed. Less than forty eight hours after Edward got the script he was performing in Shop 82. With a gas mask.

Narcissus - First Performance

Because sometimes, just sometimes, life and making theatre is like that.