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: 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.

Tales From Ovid: Day Eight

Let’s get something clear: I love a deadline. I think all writers secretly love a deadline (however much we moan about them and the late nights and fifty-three cups of coffee they involve). If I don’t have a deadline (self imposed or otherwise) I tend to fall into a hole of procrastination that revolves around twitter and reading blogs and watching another episode of Project Runaway when I should be writing. Deadlines are my friend.

The entire process of staging Ovid Reworked – The Brixton Project has been probably one of the biggest DEADLINES of my life (that and the fact that it has caused me to start writing certain words and phrases – like SHUTTER and SEATING CHANGE and DEADLINE in capital letters – just to emphasise the power – and fear – they hold over me at the moment). We have pretty much turned the whole project round in 8 weeks. And when you take into account that pretty much 1 and 1/2 weeks of the 8 were taken up with Christmas/New Year the fact that this is a deadline which we have not so much strolled towards as had smack us directly in the head is probably obvious.

So what do you do when you’ve had a deadline to the forehead? Well, you inflict it on other people is what you do. Which might have not exactly been the reasoning behind Cold Writing but it probably played its part. Cold Writing in a nutshell is us putting five writers into our shop in Brixton Village, having them take part in a three hour workshop, sending them away to write a short play in 48 hours, spending a day rehearsing said plays and then performing them for the public of Brixton on Friday afternoon. And that is what I call a DEADLINE.

I have to say that the cohort of writers who took part in the workshop were brilliantly enthusiastic and up-for the process, dealing admirably with both the fact that after two hours in the shop they probably couldn’t feel their feet and the fact that I had to swoop into the workshop twenty minutes after it had started to rescue Charlie who was very ill today.

Charlie’s penchant for extreme planning proved to be for the best (winging my way through a workshop after being awake for just over an hour with no plan would have been interesting to say the least). As it was I was able to work my way through Charlie’s workshop plan (albeit taking it upon myself to Corinne-ify it in parts – ie. the bit where I took everyone off to Etta’s Kitchen to have coffee because I couldn’t feel my toes any more) and I was incredibly pleased with the variety (and indeed quality) of ideas which the workshop generated. Indeed I almost wanted to have a stab at writing an adaptation in 48 hours myself (I say almost, sleep deficit is still too prevalent to allow me anything more).

Needless to say I’m really excited about reading what the five writers come up with on Wednesday night.

Tales From Ovid: Day Six (Part Two)

Today is officially our day off from living in our shop in Brixton Village. Obviously, I still have a ‘to-do’ list the size of a small country but the fact that I didn’t have to get out of bed after only six and a half hours sleep has made the ‘to-do’ list infinitely more pleasant.

But rather than tell you about what I did today, I’m going to write about what Write By Numbers did yesterday during the ‘All The World’s A Stage’ event at Brixton Village.

8.45am: Finish typing up the day’s programme – after three days of performing two plays twice a day today we’re performing 4 plays twice, 1 play once and throwing in some music for good measure.  Eeek.

8.48am: Why is my printer cutting off half of the text that I am attempting to print?

8.50am: Tell printer off.

8.52am: Suitably chastised printer decides that it wants to work.

9.30am: Arrive in Brixton. Try and plug the hole in the universe which contains all the pens we have lost in the last week by buying some more.

9.45am: Nice man in Print Shop on Coldharbour Lane gives me a discount, what with the fact I’m currently single-handledly keeping the photocopying side of his business running.

10.00am: Rush to the shop as I have the key and had said I would be there fifteen minutes earlier.

10.03am: There is no one at the shop.

10.08am: Bang head on the SHUTTER as I am carrying chair out. Decide it might be a good idea to raise it slightly.

10.15am: Start writing today’s plays on the ‘A’ Board a job that is both repetitively numbing and thrillingly addictive.

10.18am: People arrive.

10.19am: Charlie bangs his head on the shutter which is now at 5ft 3 Corinne height rather than Charlie height.

10.20am: We decide to open the shutter completely before someone gets concussion.

10.22am: There is only £2 of electricity left in our meter! Forget things like our theatre lights, we’ve a heater and a kettle to run! This means going to a local off license and purchasing some more. Having never before been in charge of a top-up meter (is that what it is called? Does it have a special name?) this is, if not exciting exactly, something to tick off ‘I have never…’. Not a particularly thrilling ‘I have never’ but an ‘I have never’ nonetheless.

10.27am: The top-up machine in the first off license is not working!

10.30am: Suceed with second attempt and top up key.

10.35am: Erm, how do we get this key back into the meter again?

10.40am: The realisation dawns that we have a show on in twenty minutes and no actors.

10.45am: Ah, ACTORS.

10.47am: Photographer from Attitude Magazine wants to take photos of our shop. Oooh. Mini photoshoot begins.

10.48am: Chat with a very interesting artist who’s going to be exhibiting in the shop opposite us next week and the beginnings of a new plan are formed…

10.54am: Photoshoot continues. Sense that people are itching to set shop for the show which is due to start in 6 minutes.

10.55am: Shop cleared. Kettle switched on. Flyers have been given out.

10.57am: Cake is cut (lemon drizzle).

11.05am: Patrick Dunlea’s The Fall of Troy starts fashionably slightly late.

11.25am: The Fall of Troy finishes, there is more tea and cake and flyering.

11.30am: Erm, we’re missing another actor.

11.33am: See actor rush past me and feel not a little relief.

11.35am: Bump into Lovely Julia (as has now become her WBN blog name) who offers to announce our next performance over the tannoy. She asks what our pitch is. Answer? “Free tea, free coffee, free cake, free theatre – in that order”.

11.40am: One of our audience members found out about us by twitter! This is my second person in two days. Okay, not a flood exactly but this is why I scoff at artsy-people who don’t understand why they should be engaging on twitter. Plus, twitter just rocks.

11.45am: First performance today of she is beautiful, she is barefoot by Christopher Bailey begins. Or, as he is on the ‘A’ board since he is not around today to tell us off, Christopher Brett/Bailey.

11.48am: Arrggh, we’ve forgotten to put up our ‘contains swearing and some adult content’ sign.

12.05pm: I finally finish the second side of the ‘A’ Board having had to resort to using blue marker mid-way through as my black pen has disappeared into the hole of lost pens.

12.10pm: It’s quick SEATING CHANGE time as the staging for the next play in the space, Susan Hodgett’s Time of the Wolf, requires the audience to be seated inside the shop. We move cushions and crates and a bench all the while giving out cups of tea and coffee and what remains of the lemon drizzle cake.

12.20pm: Time of the Wolf begins.

12.25pm: Emily arrives with homemade Chocolate Cake!

12.27pm: We discover we’ve run out of flyers.

12.32pm: We’re asked if one of the musicians arranged by Space Makers can come and play in our shop since we have a pre-made audience.Yes!

12.38pm: Erm, where exactly did we put the master copy of today’s flyer?

12.40pm: SEATING CHANGE done, Tom and his guitar take the stage.

12.45pm: I rush out to buy more milk, more coffee and more cups (our policy of using mugs and washing them between shows is proving impossible unless someone is to be permenantly on washing up duty – note to self for next week).

12.57pm: Tom’s set comes to an end in a perfect meeting of our needing to set-up time.

12.59pm: Director Olly rounds the corner carrying a table that is almost bigger than him and has been loaned to us by one of the brilliant market restaurants.

1.03pm: Set up finished Skipping Games by Corinne Furness (erm, yes, cough, me) starts.

1.08pm: I give myself a couple of minutes to feel suitably happy and writerly at the size of the audience who appear to be engaged with the piece.

1.13pm: As I start the tea and coffee train again four people come over to say blush worthy things about Skipping Games. I do the horrible writerly thing of nodding and thanking without coming up with a vaguely coherent way to respond.

1.15pm: Mercury and Battus by Suzanne Jackson begins.

1.25pm: We have more flyers!

1.35pm: Set change again for final performance of she is beautiful. Remember to put our FOH signage up this time.

1.37pm: Make tea for the actors in Mercury and Battus who have the kind of tea-seeking facilities I can only admire.

1.45pm: Perfectly on time she is beautiful begins. With its music and shouting it’s the most crowd-drawing of all of our pieces and soon it’s difficult to move around the shop for fear of tripping over someone.


2.07pm: As Time of the Wolf is very family friendly we pull out lots of cushions  and soon the shop is half full of children.

2.12pm: There’s a palpable energy brought by the children as the show begins and it’s thrilling to see the actors work off of this.

2.17pm: A child makes a bid for stardom and goes running across the stage.

2.17pm and 5 seconds: Everyone in the production team stops holding their breath as the child is reunited with her father.

2.25pm: Clapping and distribution of cookies and tea.

2.26pm: A little girl tells Charlie that she wants to be part of the show. He promises her an audition.

2.30pm: I speak to a couple of today’s writers and am, once again, pleased to discover that they don’t want to make us delete their scripts from our computers.

2.40pm: I am expecting SEATING CHANGE but Olly has decided to try Skipping Games and Mercury and Battus with in-shop seating. Am, secretly, pleased we don’t have to move our bench again.

2.44pm: I overhear someone asking if Skipping Games is child friendly. Yes! I exclaim (Though maybe more for girls than boys, I confess). Again the cushions on the floor find their use.

2.55pm: Discover that a friend of mine arrived a couple of minutes into Skipping Games – when I go to get her some promised free cake, it has gone. I make noises about karma.

3.00pm: Our last play of the day, Mercury and Battus, begins and I contemplate having time to breathe again.

3.20pm: There is MORE cake. All is good with the world.

3.24pm: I make tea for and talk to a couple of Brixton locals who have stumbled upon today’s events – render myself utterly uncool by being thrilled at how excited they are about coming back next Saturday.

3.30pm: Talk to an illustrator and another idea is sparked…

3.37pm: SEATING CHANGE. We’ll be doing this in our sleep.

3.40pm: We have music. Dan Mays and Geoff Bartholomew take to the stage to perform ‘Metamorphoses’ which they have created specially for us.

3.45pm: Charlie grabs me – there is to be an impromptu jam in our shop with all of the musicians who have appeared in various places throughout the day.

4.00pm: Our shop is now a gig venue as people fill every available space.

4.10pm: I take my first break of the day and go and get something to eat. Hmm. Probably should remember to do this at an earlier point in future.

4.35pm: When I arrive back at the shop music has finished but people are still milling around, chatting and filling in labels for our ‘Wall of Change’. I speak to a lovely man from Brixton Transition who is both full of compliments and of helpfulness. It’s a winning combination.

4.45pm: We stick the last labels to the wall.

4.47pm: What’s that? Ah, yes washing up.

4.50pm: And it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have SEATING CHANGE.

5.00pm: Ponder if we’ve forgotten anything.

5.01pm: Start to close the shutter.

5.01pm and 10 seconds: Have a panic we’ve left the heater turned on.

5.02pm: We haven’t.

5.05pm: Close our shutters for the day. Fight desire to collapse in a heap or go immediately to bed and instead go have a celebratory drink.

5.07pm: Realise we have to do this all again next week.