I Feel Dirty

I have a confession to make. Last night I went to watch an NT Live screening of Hangmen by Martin McDonagh, I loved the play but I feel like I’ve cheated on my true love. I know it’s very common to to stream theatrical events live in cinemas or as ‘encore’ performances once the production has been and gone. But I don’t like it.

Obviously I want as many people as possible to be able to go and see the best quality theatre, regardless of whether they live in London, or can afford the top tier ticket prices. However, I don’t think cinemas are the solution. Mainly because this is not going to the theatre. There is no live performance for the audience to see, it’s just a recording, and it is just a trip to the cinema.

There is an argument that it widens opportunity by letting people far away see the show. I really wanted to see this play and missed it when I had opportunities in London but now that I am based in Chester, I am far away which means this was my opportunity to see this piece. That is, unless they were to mount a tour, and now I probably won’t go. If audiences have already seen the show at the pictures, why would they pay again to go to the tour?

There are even now websites where you can download classic productions to watch at your leisure. The RSC sell a DVD of their production of Richard II staring David Tennant. Now I’m sure these are a good money spinner, but if audiences know they can catch it in the pictures, on DVD or online later might this not stop them attending theatre in the first place?

Also I fear that it encourages the idea of a definitive cast and production. Not only that but a definitive performance. Surely the joy of theatre is that the same story and characters can be told by different people in different ways from production to production and night to night. If there is also the knowledge that this performance will live on and be accessible, is there not the fear that people will perform for the cameras. Even cast to improve the DVD sales later, would there become a temptation to create a production that is camera friendly and not for the audience who are present.

I know that most productions are filmed anyway for archives, and that these are accessible if required. But that’s how I think it should be, they are there if needed for reference and as a record, but not to peruse at your leisure.

There is of course a natural instinct to want to be able to live and relive enjoyable moments. But theatre’s ephemerality is one of its great strengths. It lives, then flickers and dies. It receives a rebirth each time someone decides to tell that story again – in a different way to a different audience. This is theatre’s other great strength – it speaks immediately to groups of people who are present, in time and vicinity. When watching a theatre stream in a cinema, or anywhere else, you lose these two critical things that make theatre unique and beautiful.

To reiterate what I think is the main point, if you’re going to a cinema you are not going to a theatre. I understand the temptation, and have caved in myself but next time I’m thinking about seeing a stream, I’m going to see what’s on at the theatre and go there instead and drag my friends along too.


Sorry No Entry

Earlier this year I put a show on at a fringe theatre and I was very proud of a lot of what we achieved. But I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until I started sending out the invites that I realised not everyone I was inviting could come. Like most fringe theatres the theatre we were performing in did not have level access, there was no hearing loop, we did not have the facility to do a captioned or audio described performance. I appreciate that at a fringe theatre there are many restrictions that you have to work with. But I was appalled to realise I was restricting the audience of who was allowed to enjoy my play, or at least see it!

In Like the Clappers we are committed to being openly and freely accessible and it is something that is very important to us. We are making efforts as best we can to ensure that our events are accessible, and we have sometimes failed, but we are working hard to make sure in the future this doesn’t happen. And embarrassingly again, it wasn’t until I was looking for venues to hold events for Like the Clappers that I realised how few theatres are accessible. Some of the big theatres are, or at least have specific accessible seats, but are the rehearsal rooms? And I’m hard pressed to find a fringe theatre that is accessible other than The Ovalhouse. Just think about all the fringe theatres you go to, how many of them are upstairs? (I don’t want to sound ungrateful and thankfully there are some theatres kind enough to put us up including The Young Vic – whom always seem to be leading the way in British theatre practice)

This industry is hard enough, but how it would be possible to be forging a career if most of the output was unavailable to watch is beyond me. In some venues it would be possible to work but then not see or be in the final performances, a lot of places you simply wouldn’t be able to work or see their work. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know I am more likely to support theatres that make work that is accessible. And I know that I never want to put on a show again that has barriers that stop people seeing it.

Writers Question Time

For our October Like The Clapper’s workshop, we decided to go all David Dimbleby on you and and create a list of questions for our favourite playwrights to answer. Alongside our regular workshops and podcasts, Mike and I are in the process of reaching out to playwrights – both emerging and established – in order to pick their brain and create regular resource that our members can make use of in their own practice.

Our hope is that their answers and insights will prove useful for our own members and emerging writers of all backgrounds and experience. At the very least, it will provide entertaining conversation for our future podcasts and workshops and shed more light on how the Simon Stephenses, Lucky Kirkwoods and Alistair McDowell’s of the world get cracking on a play.

Below is a list of questions that both individuals and groups came up with in the October workshop. It is by no means a complete list, and if you were unable to attend last month’s workshop or have thought of a new question to throw into the mix, feel free to leave it in the comments and  we’ll add it to the list.

What’s a specific, pragmatic piece of advice to help someone start writing?
When did you first realise you wanted to write plays?
What play or production changed your life?
Do you think giving advice is useful?
Is there ONE book everyone should read?
As a writer, is it necessarily to like the characters you create?
Tell us a line or piece of dialogue you wish had made it into one of your plays?
How many re-drafts does it take? 
What’s the secret to finding a great title?
Tell us one of your stimuluses? What motivates or inspires you to start writing?
What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?
How do you make a living?
How can I make writing a viable career? 
What’s the first thing you do when you finish a play?
What’s the most self indulgent thing you’re doing at the moment?
What do you think is the worst and best play you’ve written?
Would you redraft any of older plays?
Besides theatre, what is your favourite art form? 
Do you have a plan B? And if so, what is it?
How do you begin a first draft?
What  steps do you take leading up to your first draft?
How much pre-planning do you do? 
How do you interpret the idea of ‘relevance’ when it comes to writing?
How do you justify if something is ‘relevant’?
How do you choose your subject?
How do you judge a subject’s worth?
Do you write for a given audience or do you just write?
Where do you write?
How do you turn inspiration into an idea?
How do you turn an idea into a play?
How do you unlock the dramatic form of your play?
Are you conscious of the other collaborators when you’re writing? (Actors, designers, etc?)
Are you thinking of the economics and ‘producability’ of your play when you’re writing?
What do you read and what are you reading now?
What are your outside interests/hobbies?
How do you solve the problem of the ‘middle of the play?
Do you think scratch-nights are useful?

So, quite an extensive and in-depth list, as you can see. Is there a question you think is missing or something you want to add? Let us know.

Lee and Mike

Are We On The Same Page? Conversations on Text


Text – what is it good for? This was the question underpinning Catherine Love and Caitlin Hobb’s Are We On The Same Page? Approaches to Text and Performance symposium. Hosted in conjunction with Royal Holloway’s theatre department and aptly situated in the purpose-built Caryl Churchill Theatre, the symposium set out to ‘look beyond the schism’ of the text-based versus non-text based divide in contemporary British theatre. The overarching theme of the day was marked by antagonisms real and imagined; antagonisms between literary and performance cultures; antagonisms between conflicting approaches to criticism; antagonisms between theory and practice and – most interestingly – antagonisms between scholarship and creativity. Indeed, this being a theatre symposium, such battles were waged between the judicious nibbling of finely sliced tuna sandwiches, copious amounts of tea (strictly off limits in Royal Holloway’s purpose built auditorium, of course) and polite chitter-chatter in the sun kissed, leafy quad of the university’s Egham campus. Nevertheless, this attempt to reconcile the ‘source of friction within British theatre’ was one defined totally by oppositions – some theoretical, others practical, some real, others imagined.

The day’s events began with a conversation with Tim Crouch of The Author (Royal Court) and An Oak Tree (NT) fame. Indeed, Crouch was a fitting choice to commence a day of discussion on the veracity of text in British theatre culture. The text as artifact is pivotal to much of Crouch’s work; the on-stage presence of the play-text in productions as An Oak Tree – which involve one unrehearsed actor performing ‘on-book’ alongside Crouch for the duration of the performance – draws our attention to the authored nature of the work itself, as well as complicating our relationship with the diegesis of the on-stage world. Rather than serving as a blueprint or manuscript for performance, Crouch describes the text as representing a ‘code for performance’; a system of signals, letters and symbols that is open to a myriad number of different interpretations. It’s interesting to listen to Crouch espouse the merits of the text in this way; its presence as a physical object in the performances themselves signifying the partiality of the author’s voice and undermining the ‘trickery’ of what Crouch designates the ‘optical illusion’ of theatre. Instead of ‘submerging’ or ‘overwhelming’ the performances with the totalizing force of production elements, the on-stage visibility of the text as a tool ‘reveals the mechanics of the theatre event’. What emerges from Crouch’s conversation is a view of the text as a fluid and unstable wellspring of ideas; something tangible, but slippery. The text serves as the locus of the theatre event but one that is open to interrogation and vulnerable to the destabilizing forces of a performance.

What followed was the first of two panel discussions entitled ‘Beyond the text-based / non text-based divided’, chaired by Catherine Love and consisting of four speakers. The panel comprised Andrew Haydon (critic), Duska Radosaljevic (dramaturg and lecturer at University of Kent), Andy Field (Co-Artistic Director of Forest Fringe) and Jacqueline Bolton (lecturer at University of Lincoln). Whereas Crouch’s conversation had focused ostensibly on theoretical conceptions of British theatre’s fixation with ‘the text’, the panel discussion allowed for a more discursive and wide-ranging consideration of how institutional hierarchies sustain such binary definitions. The discussion began with a provocation from critic Andrew Haydon, who proposed that ‘the text isn’t necessarily synonymous with the play’ as published, a point that was supported and developed by Radosaljevic, who pointed to the fact that in other theatre cultures, ‘the text’ does not reside in the material document of the published work, but is located in the mise-en-scene of the theatre event itself. In other words, the way in which ‘text’ function’s as a critical term is contested terrain, as is the category of ‘devised theatre’. Bolton, who has written extensively on dramaturgical practices across Britain and Europe, points out that the very notion of ‘devised theatre’ is more or less alien to anyone beyond the British Isles. What’s interesting about ‘devised theatre’ as a category of work is that it was initially synonymous with the idea of radical, experimental, non-text based practice. It defined itself through its opposition to the prevailing culture of new writing. According to Bolton, it’s arguably as entrenched an idea as the text-based dogma that it set out to oppose.

But for me, it was Andy Field who attempted to alter the terms of the debate –re-focusing the conversation to consider such binary definitions within the realms of creative practice and institutional structures. For Field, the so-called text based/non-text based ‘schism’ is the result of ‘fluid creative practices struggling under the weight of fixed institutional pressures’. As someone involved in the making of performances and collaborating with artists, Field suggests that such categories are borne from a tendency on behalf of organizations to classify work according to the economic imperatives of commissioning, programming and funding projects.

The final panel discussion involved Vicky Angelaki (Lecturer in Drama at University of Birmingham), playwright Rory Mullarkey (Cannibals, Wolf From the Door), Cathy Turner (Senior Lecturer at University of Exeter) and Deborah Pearson (Co-Artistic Director at Forest Fringe) and was chaired by Caitlin Gowans. Entitled ‘Possibilities of text, narrative and performance’, the discussion allowed for a more inclusive vision of what ‘the text’ might offer in terms of its potential for performance. Angelaki spoke of the capacity for playwrights to ‘build unpredictability and flux into the text’ and ‘respond to the contemporary crises of our times’ with texts that offer the possibility of ‘disruptions’ in performance. Similarly, Mullarkey’s own work has sought to push the boundaries of what is possible within the text of a play, with daring shifts in tone, language and monumentally ambitious stage-directions that serve as a direct challenge to directors and theatre-makers.

A complete and comprehensive summary of the day’s discussions would require more words than I am permitted in the course of this article. However, what emerged clearly from its series of discussions, debate and provocations was a palpable desire to transcend the limits of this oppositional divide; to upset underlying assumptions; to dismantle ingrained hierarchies. It’s probably safe to say that we’ve reached something of an impasse in our attempts to reconcile our ‘text-based’ theatre with devising practices. If neither position is to become entrenched in theoretical point scoring, then what is now needed is for us to turn a new page entirely.

Lee Anderson

Dramatic Form: How do we build a play?

If you were hoping to join us for our latest Like the Clappers meeting on dramatic form, you’re too late. The curtain is down, we’ve finished that act, we’re in the bar afterwards discussing the acting and how comfortable the seating was. But just in case you couldn’t join us here’s a bit about what we did.

On Monday last week we came together in a pub in Clapham to discuss how we put stories together. What is their shape, structure and form? Are there any commonalities between good stories and if so, what are they? What is the secret ingredient to great storytelling?

I’m happy to say we’ve solved it and got the perfect formula for the perfect play, story, film whatever. Well sort of, we all kind of agreed on certain things we all find ourselves tending towards. We all knew about the elusive quality we were all talking about, but thankfully some of the magic remained frustratingly close – but just out of reach. So what did we mean?

We began by discussing STRUCTURE and FORM their similarities, their differences and when they overlap. We compared it to design and architecture – there was an analogy based around buildings and scaffolding and we decided that form was the overall shape of things whereas structure could be seen as the building blocks. Now, we are not saying that this is the definitive definition of these things, just that in this discussion this was the way we found it useful to define and understand these. And it was the endeavour not the definition that was most useful here I feel.

We touched on dramatic time, how chronology and order of events affects things. We discussed our own approaches to writing, dramaturgy and directing, whether we had formulas or approaches to writing scenes or stories based on these ideas. One piece of advice was to begin with a joke, advice that I think should always be taken on board.

We looked at the seven story types. Although more specifically we looked at the size of the book that I have on the seven story types which is more like a breeze block than a book and decided we had got all we wanted from the front cover (I will one day read this book I’m sure of it). We also talked about the three act structure. Now this is where we all really seemed to agree. And despite our best efforts and our desires against it, it seems to be the thing that keeps drawing us back.

The three act structure explained

The three act structure explained

It should be said we weren’t all slaves to it, and by no means go out looking for it. But often find that the more we refine and redraft our work the more it seems to resemble this shape. Some members have been experimenting with being more formal in their approach to writing and have been really enjoying it. Setting out with free writing and afterwards structuring and shaping it into a conventional story shape.

We also discussed plays and stories that play with this, change it and pull it around. Plays that make us think they’re going to use this and then send us in different directions. Plays that we think are not going to be the Three Act Structure and end up being. We also discussed the idea of the prologue and how, actually, sometimes we really like knowing exactly what’s going to happen and just want to see how it’ll all pan out.

We also began a discussion on what freedom a director has in the process and how much they’re allowed to interoperate and move things. However before long this became a discussion about stage directions and my right to ignore them. A discussion that is ongoing and I feel will continue for some time…

Finally we had a reading from Joseph Skelton’s radio play The Druid’s Horse, we didn’t quite get the full effect of this due to what seemed like the world table tennis finals going on not far away. But what we heard we liked and it is currently being recorded and will be available online soon. When it’s uploaded we’ll send the link.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the evening and what I think we should all be aiming for when telling stories. Finding that elusive moment that one of our members had when getting to the climatic moment in a brilliant play. She didn’t know whether to ‘cry, laugh or be sick’. If we can twist our audiences into that predicament I think we’re well on the way!


The Forgotten Medium

I know that it’s 2015, I know the Internet is everywhere and it’s all about Twitter and Facebook and blogs(!) and all that. But I’ve just got to say it. I bloody love the radio!

I listening to the wireless all the time, much more than I watch TV and miles more than going the cinema. And the king of all radio, in my eyes, is BBC Radio 4. Now I’m aware that by saying that it puts me in an audience demographic that my bank account and accent cannot back up – but please do give it a try! Granted there’s some dross, but steer away from The Archers and you’ll have a great time.

A highlight of my day, every day,  is listening to Front Row. It’s half an hour of theatre, art, books, music and all things cultural and it’s bloody fantastic. It could maybe be a bit wider reaching in terms of its coverage, but it includes work from across the whole country and does include some fringe theatres. I learn about things that I would have no idea about otherwise and am consistently inspired to make my own work because of quotes from the show. One of my favorouite recently was something a critic (and filmmaker) had been told once, that ‘you were very idealistic ever expecting films to change people’s opinion, all they did was reconfirm their prejudices’, I mean discuss…

They have daily, and Saturday drama’s which are radio plays often adapted from stage, or from literary works. The authors range from Agatha Christie to Iris Murdoch and the theatre is wide ranging, I recently listened to Tamasha’s My Name is… Which I missed when it was last performed.

The comedy is also well worth a listen. Many people had their first big break on Radio 4 including The Mighty Boosh and Chris Morris. And many people are still continuing their very successful careers on it. There is generally a more equal gender balence than on TV panel shows and the satire and synacisim of Jeremy Hardy is worth your license fee alone.
Now I should say I really listen live, I pick and choose what to watch and usually listen via iplayer or podcasts. But this is the future after all. I urge you all to give it a go. If you listen online and don’t like something it’s the easiest thing in the world to turn it off and find something new.

I get so much joy, entertainment and cultural provacation from listening to the radio I want to share it. So next time you’ve got some time, or you’re making dinner or whatever, leave the tele off, open the radio iplayer app and give Front Row a try.


The Dreaded D Word

So far we have had two monthly meetings. They’ve been really well attended and we’ve had some very interesting discussion about writing. How to write, what might help us o write and what might stop us (We will be publishing some helpful tips on here soon). But it has felt somewhat like we were ignoring the elephant in the room. This particular tusked paceyaderm came in the shape of dramaturgy.

We can (and have) looked up formal definitions of the word but these are more often than not unhelpful. Because It’s not that we don’t know what dramaturgy is. It’s just that we’re not convinced that the dramaturgy I am talking about is necessarily the dramaturgy you are talking about.

We’ve decided to bite the bullet and tackle this problem head on.  As such we’ve decided to dedicate our next meeting to discuss what it is, all the different forms it might take. How it can be useful and why we believe it is such an important part of the writing process.

Thanks, thanks everyone…

Now I don’t normally go in for this sort of thing. But being a proud employee of the Young Vic building I wanted to see the appreciation they rightly deserve, and I ended up watching the whole of ITV coverage of the Olivier awards ceremony.

There was a lot of people thanking themselves for being great and having the best friends. But there were a few standout moments for me.
One massive highlight was David Lan’s (artistic director of the Young Vic) acceptance speech (for A View From The Bridge – best revival), he said

‘I travel quite a lot and wherever I go, I meet people who say to me “Oh you’re David Lan, I hear you run the best theatre in London.” And I say, London is one of the great capital cities of the world. I’m perfectly happy to say I run the best theatre in Waterloo.’

And looking at the number of awards the Young Vic won, it would be hard to argue against it! Not to mention all the excellent work they do that is maybe not as obvious on the surface.

But a couple of other people actually made acceptance speeches that I thought meant something more the usual self congratulation and said something useful.

Sticking with the Young Vic theme, I really liked the sentiment of Mark Strong’s acceptance speech for best actor for his part in A View From the Bridge. As well as all the usual thanks he said that what amazed him about this show was:

‘The young people that came to see it who all wanted to talk about what they were seeing […] all wanted to discuss what the characters were doing on stage, why they were doing it, whether they they agreed with them, how they felt about what they were doing, who they trusted. And that made me realise that thousands of years have gone by and we still have this thing called live theatre; and the reason is that we need to be able to compare ourselves to what we’re seeing up there, judge ourselves as human beings, decide what’s right, what’s wrong, who we are, why we’re here. That’s the point of theatre.’

Also Ray Davies of The Kinks receiving an award for his outstanding achievement in music award shared this bit of advice

‘I think when you write songs you write about people. I know we’ve got fancy dramatists and amazing people here. But without people we have no plays, we have no films. And people are the source of my material. So the next time you’re sitting in a park somewhere and you see someone like me, looking at you, don’t phone the police.’

So keep staring, keep challenging audiences, and keep comparing yourselves to them up there.

The whole of the awards ceremony is available on ITV Player just click here to watch it, if you can put up with all the adverts, and see the relevant minutes below:

David Lan – 7:09
Mark Strong – 22:40
Ray Davies 1:23:15

Ding ding, round 1

I know we’ve been very quiet on here. But trust me we’ve been very busy behind the scenes. As you will have seen from our Twitter (@ClappersTheatre) but just in case you’ve not been seeing the goings on I’ll bring you up to speed.

Firstly, the collective has been swelling. We’ve now got writers, directors, dramaturgs, actors, producers, comedians and some who are a combination of these. Forefront of our aims is to incorporate ideas from all and get a clearer sense of why you need Like the Clappers.

But by way of an introduction the engine room is mainly me, Michael Beigel and Lee Anderson. You’ll get to know us better as we go on, but enough about us, what have we been doing?

We had a meet and greet last week and had a great turnout with really interesting discussions. We outlined some of the difficulties we face, how we can help with that and began drafting ideas for a manifesto.

In this last week I know there have been at least two occasions where Clapperers (that’s the official title) have been to new writing events with others. And myself and Lee have had a ‘thrash it out meeting’ where we got to grips with exactly how this is all gonna work.

Now, obviously we have only got a first draft, and those of you who know my views on drafting know that means there’s still a long way to go. But just to share some of what we’re thinking Like the Clappers will provide:

  • Monthly meetings with a practical focus on new writing and dramaturgy practices
  • A network of theatre proffesionals to develop working relationships with
  • A place to share information, opportunities and skills within the collective
  • Social trips to all things theatre (and maybe beyond)

And much, much more that I’m incapable of explaining properly right now.

So please do keep an eye on our Twitter. Let us know if you want to come to our next meeting (we’ll be announcing the date and content very soon). And generally keep us in the loop.

We’ll try and keep a shorter time between blogs next time!

So here we are!

This is my first blog for Like the Clappers – our new theatre collective. What is it? What do we want to do? Why even bother? I’ll endeavour to explain!
I’ve decided that I want to work more with new writing, using my skills as a director and a dramaturg. The drafting and development stage of scriptwriting can often feel like a luxury rather than a crucial stage of the process – and we want to help with that.
We want to work with writers, directors, actors, designers and audiences to take stories from page to stage – with a focus on all the many steps between them. Writing can be a very solitary act so our aim is to give writers the opportunity to hear, discuss and develop their work before it’s forced in front of an audience. Getting input from other creatives we want to help to develop scripts all the way from a spark of an idea through their many drafts and incantations until it’s a fully bound, warm from the printer final draft – for now.
We want writers who are willing to graft, actors brimming with ideas, directors, dramaturgs, designers and producers keen to stir it all up and us all to come out with a story to tell.
If you want in then get in touch, I want to hear from you. Whatever your experience and whatever you want your level of involvement to be. I want to know what you want from us and I want to find a way for us to do that for you.
Expect difficult conversations about whether jokes are funny enough.
Expect to hear opinions and advice from many different sources, and be ready to give it.
Expect to hear a lot more from us.
And expect us to go Like The Clappers.

Follow us here: @clapperstheatre
Message me, get in touch.