Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Blog Updates and Collations #2 - The Home: What Are We Doing Here? - PROCESS AND PRODUCT

Here's a blog I wrote for Freedom Studios about the process of writing my 2nd draft Treatment for 'The Home'. This was first published on the Freedom Studio's site on 17th June 2013...



Process and Product

I’ve just finished writing the 2nd draft treatment for The Home: What Are We Doing Here? I say treatment, but it’s unlike any treatment I’ve ever written or submitted before. It runs to almost 60 pages and contains about 10 pages of questions and provocations. It even has some diagram flow charts! It does contain character biographies, sample scenes and test monologs but none of the 7 characters outlined is guaranteed a place in the final piece. Everything is still in play.

Or put another way, I’ve not really been writing a treatment at all. In reality I’ve been creating a kind of mapping document. A mapping document made for a gang of people who want to go on an expedition up an enormous, alluring, hugely challenging, unconquered mountain.  A mapping document that suggests several different routes that could be used to reach the peak, with notes and sketches of particular views and vistas that could be seen on the way.

I didn’t find it easy to write.

Treatments are usually all about nailing something down, outlining a story and beginning the process of honing…. When I’m writing one I’m usually aiming to produce a pithy three-line summation of what the story is, then a fuller outline that’s about a page long, plus descriptions of things like tone, style, target audience and so on. Sometimes treatments work as a selling document, attempting to lure a busy producer into reading a full script. Other times writers use them as a creative tool; a planning document which aims to iron out problems before diving into the full-on process of writing a script.  I’ve written treatments for both of these purposes many times before, and to an extent what I’ve just written for The Home does have elements of both these things about it, but at it’s heart it is very, very different…

So why the different approach for The Home?

The short answer is:
The Home is unlike any commission I’ve worked on before and so requires a massive shift in my thinking and the approaches I use when I’m writing. I guess I’m trying to alter the process of how I work to engage with what we’re attempting to achieve with the project.

The long answer goes something like this:
The Home is shaping up to be one of the most interesting / challenging / quite extraordinary projects I’ve ever worked on.  The process of making it has everyone involved scratching their heads and tipping their toes over the line of what their ‘normal roles’ might be, in an attempt to find a way of working that allows us to produce something extraordinary. Something that genuinely melds a professional cast with community performers, which changes each time the show moves venue so that the production properly reflects the experiences of people who are aging in the places it will be performed. A show that makes room for (not just lip service about) the many different people who are coming together to make it. At the same time, we want it to be a cohesive experience that packs a punch. We have dreams that this show will be theatrical, fun, thought provoking and moving. In short, we want it to look and feel different to all the things you’re expecting it should look and feel like. Because be honest, as I explain that the show is about aging, you’re already beginning to find yourself thinking ‘Ah yes… It will be well meaning. It’s got a community cast, so there will be some funny little moments, not very well performed of course, but it will be sweet. Yes, a bit like ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ but with a few serious bits too. And they’re bound to throw in a few sad bits where we all put our serious faces on as the person with Altimeters gets rolled out. Yes. Very sad… But by and large it’s going to be gentle and fun and not too taxing and we’ll have ice cream in the interval and…’. 

OK I’m being a little bit mean. But you were thinking something along those lines weren’t you? That’s OK; you’ve every reason to. That’s how most work about older people is presented, but with The Home, you’re going to have to think again. For a start off there is no interval, and you’ll be in the thick of the show, with the performance happening around you and just about everything you thought will happen, won’t.  We are aiming to blow your mind with science, emotion, performances by exceptional older emerging artists, magic realist fantasy, fun, sex, revelations, explorations through dance and projection, juxtapositions, sound instillations, circus skills, drama, direct address and more. It’s going to be a massive experience.  I mean a properly, properly MASSIVE experience.

Which means we’ve gone and set the bar quite high!

Which is great, but it does mean that a lot of the processes I would usually use to write a show just don’t feel appropriate in this instance.  And while that’s exciting, it’s also at times quite scary and demanding. Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean. A few weeks ago I went down to London to meet with Deborah from Freedom Studios and David from Entelechy. They wanted me to meet Allison Walker who is going to be the designer on the show.  Specifically, they wanted Allison and I to meet before the 2nd draft of the Treatment started to be written so that Allison’s ideas could inform what I wrote next… Do you see what I mean? It’s unheard of for a writer to meet a designer at this stage. Writers rarely meet designers until it’s model box time. So how incredible to be given the opportunity to be sitting in a cafĂ© in London talking to a designer about what the idea of the show could be and how design ideas could influence the structuring of the story rather than a designer simply being given a script and told to ‘go do something good with that’. 

As soon as Allison started talking about how decisions in her house are made by playing thumb wars I knew I was going to like her brain. AND BOY! DID I LIKE HER BRAIN… Anyway in the course of our meeting, she made some suggestions that pretty much revolutionized my thinking about what the show could be. I’ve been struggling with the overarching structure of the show and how to make it work… With the use of some straws, milk pots, sugar bags and coffee cup lids, Allison created a diagram on the table at the South Bank center and went ‘OK, the structure could work like this? Or (shoving some sugar this way) like this. Or (shoving straws away from the sugar and toward the cup lids) like this. Yes?’ I looked at David and he was nodding, grinning and saying ‘yes!’ and I was looking at the adhoc diagram thinking ‘OK! Yes, I think I get that’…  

And that’s when I started to rewrite the treatment (which has become affectionately known in my house as ‘the monster’)

During our meeting, Allison talked about such things as ‘nudge design’ and ‘modular design’. Things that are probably very familiar to you if you are a designer but which were / are news to me.  She comes from a really interesting background. She has worked in museums before moving into performance work and this means she’s interested in finding ways to get audiences to move and flow in certain ways.  One of the big headaches I was having with draft one was working out why / how the audience might move at certain times. Suddenly watching Allison create her adhoc diagram on the table, I understood that there are ways to write that allow the designer to not just ‘facilitate’ the story but to have a hand in ‘creating’ the story. That was quite a revelation. In truth it’s something that in practice I’m finding hard to implement on paper, but I saw the possibility at this meeting…

Usually when I write, creating the form and structure of a narrative is something I would consider to be ‘my job’. Form and structure is something I love to play with. It’s something that I think about a lot because I don’t want form and structure to simply support a story I’m telling, I like it to be an essential part of what the story is. So for example ‘Brimming’ a play I’ve written which is touring the North of England this June, has an excruciating family meal at its centre. I wanted to find ways of exploring that unease in ways that went beyond the dialog. So I set the story in an absurd world. This way the meal becomes literally unswallowable. The food is plastic and the wine is set resin in giant wine glasses. … You get what I mean then? Usually I use that kind of thinking about the way a story develops. I’m not just interested in ‘what happens next’. But with The Home, what I’m exploring is sharing that process of discovering the form.  I’m not giving up the passion, but I am trying to let down my guard and see what happens when I invite other artists into sharing the creation of the shows structure and so it’s narrative. At times this feels very exciting at other times it feels quite alien and difficult.


So you start to see how the process being different is effecting what the show might be? It’s not easy but wow is it exciting work. I’m in the middle of a process, which I’ve genuinely a lot in love with but also a little frightened of too. And I think that’s true for everyone involved in the project. None of us have tried working in this way before. It can be (on bad days) pretty frustrating. It can feel sometimes as if we are going around in circles and circles. I’m used to making a decision, pushing forward and getting on with it. In this process, we try things and take tiny steps back and forth, back and forth, testing out the possibilities. I’ll be honest, this way of working is not for the faint hearted, but it’s also (on good days) bringing me a glimpse of something that feels thrilling. Something that feels hugely collaborative. And we really are putting our money where our mouth is. We really are attempting to work differently so that the performance that we make will feel significantly different, be richer and more meaningful than your average show. To that end, before I write another word for this project we are going to have a week of workshoping down in London. We’re going to meet scientists who are doing research into dementia, we’re going to workshop the sample scenes, we’re going to host a meeting between members of the Bradford community cast and the Deptford community cast. I’m expecting that the treatment will be picked apart, that bits of it will be thrown away and bits expanded upon. I wouldn’t be surprised if something entirely new and un-thought of comes to the fore during this week of exploration. I’m half excited and half pretty nervous. Still that’s how it’s meant to be when you’re on a proper adventure isn’t it? Onward!   

Blog Updates And Collations #1 Enough Project - THE C WORD

Here's a blog that I wrote and was first published on the Enough Project Tumblr site on June the 9th 2013...

Lamb and Johnny (Terence Rae) in Rehearsal. Picture by Sara Teresa

The C Word

There is a part of me that thinks the reason I write plays is that I feel more comfortable writing about stuff that I care about in a way that allows people to decide whether they care about it for themselves. I’m not so keen on the idea of telling people what to think or feel. I went through a period of blogging a lot about the process of writing my work and then realized I didn’t much like doing it. Now I tend to blog about the work after its over.  That feels more comfortable for me… But I’m also living and working in a world which is cluttered and noisy and where it’s hard to get people’s attention. It’s hard to find ways of letting people know about shows and it seems that for a lot of people the idea of knowing what a play means (or what a playwrights intentions in writing a play are) is important. Important in the decision making process they have in deciding to go see the work or not. And obviously I’d like your bum to be on a seat watching my play. I spent a ton of time writing it. I care about it. From a darker point of view, I’m also aware that we live in a world where the value of a piece of work is usually measured by how many people pay to come see it. If it sells out it’s ‘good’. If it doesn’t it isn’t. So you see my conundrum? I’ve been asked by the fantastic Fran Graham, who is working her arse off to get you to come see The Enough Project, to write a blog about the work to help her help sell it to you.  And I want to help her to do that. But writing this has been a bit of a struggle… Because it is a conundrum… And it’s a conundrum created in no small way by capitalism.  Which is pertinent I suppose since this post turns out to be a lot about that damn C word. Though don’t worry, it’s mainly about love and it’s got tons of stupid bits in it and some gratuitous swearing so overall its really quite readable. Though you may need to do it in a few sittings because it’s rather long. It turns out that even though I’m not really into writing about the plays I write, once I get going you can’t stop me from fucking gobbing on.  Anyway here is my blog/essay/post. If you’re busy and don’t want to read the whole thing then why don’t you just come to the play and find out what we’ve been up to with the Enough Project. It’s a ton of fun and it’s thoughtful work. Something for the heart and brain. How can you lose? If that doesn’t convince you, read on… 


One of the things about capitalism that on good days makes me wryly smile and on bad days makes me want to weep, is that however much one loathes it as a construct (I do), we're all part of it, and to a lesser or greater degree, dependent upon it. That's how massive capitalism is. It's a great big blancmange of sticky goo filling just about every imaginable hole and crevice in our existence. As people seek to find ways to destroy, damage, mitigate, realign or simply critique and re-imagine capitalism (depending where one sits within the mind boggling spectrum of thinkers and activists who wish to put capitalism on the naughty step) all of us have to use tools and pathways of thinking that Capitalism deems suitable and supports to exist. Every thought I've ever had about what the world could be like has been thought about through the prism of Capitalism. 

In wrestling terms that’s a slam dunk to the Neo-Cons isn't it? 

Which is why Capitalism is such a tricky fucker to destroy/damage/mitigate/realign/critique or simply re-imagine.

Yep, within the Top Trump 'Powerful Shit' pack, Capitalism is a pretty golden card to have in your hand. 

Nothing beats capitalism. Ever. 

Apart from...

There is one thing. Capitalism does have an Achilles heel. Yep, its big weakness is its people, the very capitalists at its heart. Capitalists have created capitalism because they wish to convince us that the world can be run best if we pretend it’s a rational, emotion free place. That way we can all focus on making them profit. But they are all dreaming! No one on this planet is as objective, rational or focused as the capitalist ideology demands. Not even the capitalists! We are all far too driven by emotion / whimsy / moments of inexplicable madness etc etc.

Now you might say, 'Ha! Capitalists have that covered! They know that we're all just Darwinian nightmares of hormones and selfishness and capitalism helps us maximize that dark side and make… well… make….  Um? Helps us make profits. Yeah! That’s right. Profits!' 

To that I say 'hold on there and listen up'. 

Sure, people are led by greed and all the selfish crappy things that make life harsh. But the double-whammy-ker-zammy trumping these negative aspects is that humans are even more mad for love. All of us. You dress up with a silk tie and get yourself an MBA from Harvard if you need to, it doesn't change this truth: Capitalists just like lefty do gooding eco pinko lesbian art cunts (like myself) and everyone else in-between, are suckers for hope and boss eyed for sentiment. We all want to believe in a happy ending. That's what keeps us breathing. 

Love beats Capitalism. Everytime. For Real. 

And there dear reader lies the 'in'. 

Anyone who is opposed to capitalism has this truth tucked tight inside their wrestling leotard. We know that deep down all these people who wreck damage on communities, exploit, rig financial systems to benefit the few, justify wars for profit and exhort over-consumption so they can have jam today and fuck tomorrow, yes? We know that these very same folk, deep down, (OK really deep down) just want to be loved too. They just want to feel good about themselves and be understood and and and...

But here's the thing. Just as real love cannot exist in an unequal relationship neither can it fully flourish in an unequal world. Real love has its foundation in equal give and take. I'll say that again. Everyone instinctively knows that when love works best and we are at our happiest, its happening in an environment that is defined by the word equality.

SMASH DOWN! 

YEAH! 

You heard me! 

SMASH DOWN FOR LOVE and EQUALITY!

Human beings existing in co-operation, valued for who they are, advocating their own power but respecting the needs of the other.

And what stands opposed to equality and therefore cannot exist in an equal world?

That's right! Capitalism!

YEAH! 

Capitalism sells the good life, but the good life is destroyed by Capitalism. It’s a kind of logic vortex that makes the whole ideology vulnerable.  Love is poison to Capitalism. So all we have to do is focus on love and keep focusing on love until the Capitalist walls fall in…

Some might say ‘How can you say Capitalists are opposed to love? My aunt does the stocks and shares and she’s a lovely person and wouldn’t hurt a fly and does ever so much for the spastics. You are a monster for being so judgmental.’ 

To which I’d say ‘Hang on! I’m not quite finished yet. Listen up’ 

Capitalists are people who so want to do good. They do. Many of them really want to do good. They think about how to promote social mobility. They do lots of charity stuff. They often go large for Jesus or Allah or what have you and really really do good works for their community. That’s because they’re human and are mad for love.  But however they dress it up, the thing they have at the centre of their ideology is the concept that 'competition is good for you'. And competitions have to have winners and losers... So if those of us who want to put capitalism on the naughty seat are right (and we are) here's the double-head-lock-rope-bounce beauty of a conclusion:

As real, true equality is not possible within a capitalist system then we must conclude that capitalism stands in total opposition to love. If that's true (and it is) then who in their right mind could truly believe our capitalist system is the best we humans can achieve?

If you're a capitalist, trying to do good in the world, that's not an easy truth to look in the eye. And most capitalists choose to fudge it so they don't have to, but it doesn't mean it's not true.

Ever wondered why MP's get to have a free vote on matters of 'conscience'?

Ever wondered how free marketers can get away with arguing for subsidy for the banking industry because its 'too big to fail' while in the same breath justifying slave labour wages because 'the market has decided'?

Ever wondered why we have the concept of 'personal politics' full stop?

It's all to allow the compartmentalisation of emotion away from the brain. It’s to allow capitalists off the hook so they don’t have to confront themselves with the illogical nature of their own behaviour. Because Capitalism does not and will never add up in any human beings heart. Even the capitalist's own hearts.

POW.

BOSH.

And

KERZAMMY KABOOOOOM. 

That’s right! 

It’s not that Capitalists are bad people, it’s that they’re addicted to self-harming. They’re looking for love in the wrong place. So, all we have to keep doing is holding the mirror up and forcing the capitalists to acknowledge that their ideology is built on irrationality and eventually every one of them (or at least those who are not psychopaths) will have to succumb to the truth that love beats everything.  And when that day comes, Capitalism dissolves. You see?  Yes? The seed of capitalism's downfall lies within the capitalist’s own confused, self-hating, irrational, all too human hearts. Because not even they really believe in the logic of the world they are creating. Apart from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. They really do. So you want to watch out for them because they're quite dangerous.

But the rest? The rest are kittens baby. Kittens! Ozzy, Nicky and Dave? One day they’re going to roll over and let us tickle their tummy. Donald Trump? One day he’s going to find himself throwing open the doors of Trump Towers and letting everyone, everywhere play golf for free.  If we can just find a way to show them the reason they are unhappy self haters caught up in a mega institutional illusion / addiction / self harm phenomena, they and everyone else are going to start turning their back on this nightmare and start coming home safe.

YEAH!

OK. It's the long game but it can work. Hearts and minds baby. One at a time.

And that's part of the reason why I write plays. To create stories that find new ways to look at the world. It’s why I love dark comedy, fantasy, absurdity and the like. Its fun, but its also gives a chance to find ways to disrupt things and look at the world with reality specs on... And that's why I wanted to be part of the Enough Project with Cathy and that’s why I wrote Brimming. Not that it’s 'about' capitalism. But to my mind, if you set a story in a world can it help but comment on the environment it's set within? Every character in my play has had a million mini hits of hurt and made a million hurts back of their own. Are they responsible for themselves? Yes. Absolutely. But has who they can be, been limited by the boundaries of our world of transaction and patriarchy? Of course! We all are. We all make choices trying to survive in the world we are in. Those tiny moments where we decide to buy a GAP T-shirt to cheer ourselves up after a stressful day at work, pay for sex because the wife is lovely but just not exciting any more, binge on food then feel guilty and plunge into buying the latest diet book, do a line because getting high takes the edge off the world for a moment?..  Are we marked by the sum of these moments? Are we? Are we all marked by all those millions of decisions/transactions that also happen to keep the capitalist world ticking over? That keeps people stitching clothes in unsafe Bangladeshi factories? That gives reason for people to abduct young women into the sex economy? That allows companies to continue to push unhealthy foods into our food system and profit twice? That give reason for billions to be spent on a war on drugs that can never be won but which delivers massive profits non the less? Are we, in the act of trying to find ways to survive in our world, our capitalist world, fucking ourselves and other people with a million tiny shards of disappointment, compromise and despair instead of daring to try and find a way to live life with dignity and love? Are we? I'd say so. We’re humans. Of course we are! We’re all just doing the best that we can in a world set up to make most of us fail. And the irony is, we do all of this because we are all seeking love, but looking for it in the wrong places. That's what capitalism does to us.


You won't hear the word capitalism once, not once during the 45 minutes Brimming lasts. I promise. You can come to this show and immerse yourself in the dark comedy, the story of a woman escaping abuse by reaching her moment of ‘enough and no further’, the surreal surprises, the rush and shove and the heartbreak and hope of it all. But, now you've read this blog, you'll know, it's a little bit more than that for me. Brimming is my attempt to land a mini-lefty-left-hook-smack-a-dooby in the long (very very long) battle to change hearts and minds. Because I am (and so my plays) are obsessed with what is absent. Brimming is a great adventure, but in following it, I ask an audience (very very quietly) to think about what is missing in our world and why.  Why do we put up with glimpses of love seen now and then, somewhere over there, glowing just out of reach in our lives (personal, local, national and international)? Why are we surprised that humans do terrible damage to one another when we don’t focus on love? It’s my way of trying to be part of a conversation that leads to change. Do with that information what you will.  Just come see the play because however you choose to engage with Brimming (and Cathy Crabb's fantastic play 'Something Right') is OK by me. But if you do come and think about Brimming  in terms of it as a provocation in the ongoing conversation about capitalism, I will be made up. Not because I want you to agree with me (OK I do, a bit). But (mainly) because every time people of all kinds of opinion think about this stuff, talk about this stuff, argue about this stuff, you know what? The possibility of a world existing where true love and equality rule gets just a little more possible. And if real love rules, really for real? For proper real? If that day ever comes, the capitalists are going to be out of a job (and they'll be happy about it).