Write: righting

To be clear, I made this chart for myself…

WHY IS YOUR PLAY BORING?

(Click image for full-size readability fun.)

I’ve been getting back into the frame of mind where I’m writing theatre for other people to produce.

And I kept having to ask: why am I returning to these old structures / methods / mistakes?

So I made this, to help me not.

Write: different

morpethcarol-55.jpg

A bunch of barely connected thoughts on writing for different media. Warning: broad terms.

When I write for screen, I use Final Draft. When I write for the stage or performance, I write in Word. Why do I do that?

When I write for the screen, I write for a frame. When I write for the stage, I write for an amount of time.

Time is different on screen, different in live performance.

In writing of any kind there’s one rule, just one: don’t be boring (sometimes you even stumble upon a good reason to break that rule.)

I write in linear narrative order for screen, beginning to end. I write a ‘play’ the same way.

I write a piece of performance in whatever way necessary. Cut and paste / too much of it / too little / poetic / technical / the end of it first, the middle of it first / anything.

A feature film is an album. A 30 minute TV show is an EP. A short film is a song.

Stage or screen, image drives both. Not words. Dialogue is an illumination.

For radio, I hear the sound image first, before the words.

Interactive = unfinished. I finish the writing itself but I don’t finish what it contains – because the audience choose whether or not to do that.

Sometimes theatre is unfinished.

It’s more difficult to make the screen unfinished, to make its aims unfinished. It’s a frame, wherever it appears.

Music is always unfinished.

When I write music, there’s always a story. And it’s always unfinished.

Radio drama: a peculiar type of finished music.

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Grammar is important to me, especially in an unfamiliar language.

How do you tell someone the sentence you’ve begun isn’t going to end? What’s the best way? Is it even possible?

Many pop songs used to fade out at the end. Not as often now.

When I write, I hope to be transported.

When I’m in an audience, I need to be transported.

I used to write as a promise. Now I write as an invitation.

An announcement isn’t an invitation.

Sometimes when I play a musical instrument, I do so knowing that later, a digital plug-in or process will make it sound older or further away or angrier, etc. It’s the same feeling when writing for stage or screen.

The text for a stage play, especially, is like a set of stems for remixers.

In a process, there’s the seeds of the visible result. So I never expect producers to treat my writing with ‘respect’ by default. Because ‘respectful’ is just one possible result.

Audiences, especially, have no obligation to be respectful of the writer’s intentions. That’s academic.

Every new show or film or experience is an invitation to an audience, to pick up and play a new kind of instrument. Sometimes slightly unfamiliar. Sometimes completely alien.

What can you do with this instrument? What tunes can it play? The writer’s, the readers’, the makers’, the audiences’.

Give an audience a fish. Etc.

Increasingly I have to write in the world. I’m falling out of love with romantic writerly seclusion. Why isolate yourself? Pull focus.

If you’re writing for unfinished, maybe you have to write it in an unfinished place.

Cities are good for unfinished.

Journeys are good for unfinished.

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Pictures:

1. Scripts on set during performance of The Morpeth Carol, December 2011. By Paul Blakemore. 2. Index cards from the depths of time. Can't remember what most of them were for. 3. Lyrics to a song by angeltech. Written on a train.

Collaborate: or die

Herewith, a blogburp about collaboration, and being cross-disciplinary an’ that. In the last year or so I’ve been involved in screenwriting, making music, theatre, audio drama, film and pervasive media. So this is a wander around all of those, and the alleyways in between.

If you’re enough of a glutton for punishment to read the whole thing, I suggest you make a cup of tea first.

Angel Tech Bedminster

Probably the longest and most involved collaboration of my creative life has been with the band Angel Tech. We formed in 1995, influenced by Warp Records, The Cure, Bjork, New Order, Seefeel, Talk Talk and Stina Nordenstam. We played gigs, recorded an (unreleased) first album in Germany, composed film soundtracks, got signed to a major label, recorded another (unreleased) first album at Real World studios, toured relentlessly, got unsigned to a major label, made performances with a theatre company, formed our own indie label and self-released a debut album some 10 years after we first got together. We’ve toured all over the world, won awards, hung out with the stars and played gigs with every kind of band from Sparklehorse to Right Said Fred (long story, promoter in Austin TX, “British Bands” theme night.) I once met an A-level art student in Germany who told me that, as a final-year project, she’d painted the lyrics to our song Freiburg in massive seven-foot high letters across the facade of her school.

Anyway, you won’t have heard of us.

Or at least, no, maybe that’s not fair – I’m always very surprised when people actually have heard of us. Let’s put it this way: we’ve always made music we believe to be accessible, yet at the same time we’ve only ever followed our curiosity, our instinct, our desire to hear something different. If I think back on all my creative collaborations over the years I reckon the ones that worked best were with people who, given the option, would rather be confused for 10 minutes than bored for 10 seconds. At any rate, that’s certainly true of my bandmates Neil and Doug.

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Magdalene: wires

Some pictures from rehearsals for The Freelance Magdalene, my contribution to Bristol Old Vic’s Short Fuses programme last month…

Freelance Magdalene rehearsals 1

Short Fuses was performed in the round (with yours truly surrounded ON ALL SIDES by an audience hungry for TASTY STORY and FINE THEATRE.) I haven’t done a show in that configuration for a while, and never as a solo performer. Lessons? Even though it’s just you, sole focus of attention, alone on stage, you don’t necessarily need to turn constantly, like a pig on a spit. Freelance Magdalene is performed in conversational mode, acknowledging the spectators rather than shoving an imaginary fourth wall (or, indeed, a fifth wall in this case) up between stage and audience. The resulting instinct for the actor is to try and make ‘contact’ with as many people as possible, all the time, and you just ain’t gonna do it.

I imagine if I were an owl, able to rotate my neck 360 degrees at whim, then director Tanuja Amarasuriya and I wouldn’t have had to carefully choreograph every step I took whilst telling my weirdy tale. But, let’s face facts – I’m not an owl. So we had to. And we did.

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2010: Move ‘em out

Curtis Eller at the Cube

I’ve loved Curtis Eller since I heard his lament for old-school Hollywood, “Buster Keaton,” at the sadly missed Seymour’s Family Club, way back in the day. So it’s tip-top-notch to be supporting the mustachioed one come mid-March. I might even try to dredge up a new song of my own. An album by The Heath Robinson is hopefully not too far off; I’ve certainly got the songs, but I’ve also got a madman’s dream of recording particular tunes on particular pianos that “suit them”… which, in some cases, requires travelling to stupid places like Bishop Middleham in County Durham. Or being really nice to bearded troubadour Stanton Delaplane and asking to make use of his beautiful Knight upright piano for an afternoon. Am I boring you by talking about pianos? Really? Oh, right. I hate you. Go away.

Speaking of El Orchestro Dos Hombres Beardo, here’s me assisting Stanton with some serious “Old Men In Pub Singing” action at St George’s in Bristol, mid-January:

Stanton Delaplane at St Georges

You can see I’m barely using the mic. That’s because St George’s has an acoustic you could practically ride out of the room and down the hill on. I’ve never played there before, but once up on stage I understood in seconds why musi-people drone on and on about the gorgeous reflections and tones you get in the place. Am I boring you, talking about acoustics? Yeah? Yeah, well. Shut up. Shut up, wake up and SMELL THE RESONANCE.

So, if we’re not going to talk about lovely pianos, or acoustics, what ARE we going to discuss, you and I? I dunno. What do you like? Do you like sitting in the dark and looking at things? You DO? Oh, marvellous. So do I. We have so much in common.
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TOTP: RIP

Comrade Rick

- TOTALLY OUT OF ORDER, THAT’S WHAT I SAID, COMPLETELY OUT OF ORDER, HE SHOULD WATCH HIS – oh, sorry, hello! Didn’t see you there. How are you? Mmm? Jolly good.

Yes, I’ve been a stranger. It’s been two solid months of writing outlines, pitches, applications and synopses round my neck of the woods. I’m emerging from the clammy darkness with some new work at the end of January, but in the meantime, come with me down memory lane…

In 2004 I embarked on one of my weirder projects, a square-eyed marathon where I resolved (for reasons still unclear) to watch one episode of Top Of The Pops for each year it’s held in the BBC archives, in a single sitting. I dug up bagfuls of VHS off-air recordings from Auntie Beeb’s vaults (one random date per annum) and chained myself to the gogglebox for a whole day. I took notes throughout, writing up the dubious results in brief installments for the really rather wonderful Choke Zine in Bristol. Unfortunately the zine quietly expired (probably for tax reasons) before the full story had seen the light of day; but many years later I chiseled apart a dusty hard drive and recovered my running commentary from the original exploit. Why not finish it, I asked myself? Why not end it all?

And, lo and behold, you can read about the sorry mess, in full, right here: TOTP: RIP

I hope it might bring you some small comfort in these dark times. Happy New Year.

Buzzard: yak yak yak

Boring picture of script

Luckily, summer has been awful so far. I say that because even if the isobars had smiled upon the South West, bringing sunshine, picnics and gambols in the hay, I’d have spent the entire time stuck indoors with a laptop, channelling an incorrigible curmudgeon of a protagonist whilst the birds sang and the rest of the world stuffed its fat face with ice-cream and cider. Bollocks to that. Let it rain whilst I draft.

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Unwanted water: lazy wizards

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Hey hey. Above, a photo from the production of and the line goes dead at Battersea Arts Centre. Apologies if you were in the audience either night, and were unlucky enough to get ‘rained’ on. The NY-based artist Ann Liv Young was taking a post-show shower upstairs, and… what can I say? — apparently the sealant wasn’t up to much.

A shame, as I got the feeling that much like Astronaut, my show last year at Burst Festival, this was a story which you had to watch uninterrupted. It’s a quiet, ominous sort of piece and I can’t imagine that the pitter patter of someone’s ill-sluiced ablutions did much for the atmosphere. Given that rehearsals had been extensive and emotionally draining, I spent a few hours immediately after the show feeling pissed off and / or upset in a sort of see-saw motion. Then I went back to Bristol and calmed the fuck down. Hooray!

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VHS: diary two, the pre-production

VHS on set 1

(On-set photos by George Chan)

Between greenlighting in January and the shoot in July, the task of labeling 1, 200 VHS tapes forms a sort of constant background noise to the business proper of making a short film. Every now and then I retreat into it, conjuring up 50 or so titles as a ‘reward’ for progress on more concrete matters like the location, or casting, or prospective crew. I soon learn that the role of film director involves answering unending questions from all angles with as little hesitation as possible, never procrastinating. It’s not quite like directing theatre, which operates at a very different speed. As a creative endeavor it’s also very, very different from writing; if screenwriting is mostly a process of cogitation, quietly piecing together a puzzle, then directing is the equivalent of walking into a room and bawling, from the top of your lungs, “HELLO EVERYONE. HERE I AM. COME RIGHT OVER AND ASK ME ABOUT MY AMAZING IDEA.”

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Week goes: phones, birds, speaks, tunes, scribbles, listens

This is the first image from The Dead Phone, a stageplay I’m writing for the Inbetween Time Festival 2010.

Deadphone

It’s been a scattershot week. Good and productive for it. But to give you a picture, woven in and around the day job, I’ve had -

Thursday: Writing the first drafts of The Dead Phone. It’s a series of conversations, conducted on a stage, empty and blank but for 1) a table 2) a succession of performers and 3) a telephone connected to the afterlife. Currently drafting an extremely upsetting and foul-mouthed exchange, full of violence and regret.

Friday: reviewing Forced Entertainment‘s Spectacular for Venue Magazine. An amazing show – succinct, unexpectedly affecting, totally focussed. Remarkable in that it even survived constant interruptions from a self-obsessed tosspot of the highest order (the link is for Ed Rapley’s description of the event — I have to stress, Mr Rapley is by no means the tosspot in question.)

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