I spent a busy three days with the Lyceum Theatre directing a “theatrical exploration” as part of a partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival - Playing With Books.
Playwrights had been paired up with authors to create adaptations of recently published books. I was working with Stef Smith on Amy Liptrot’s memoir, The Outrun. Nature and too-muchness. Territory I love exploring.
Stef had produced a great response to Amy’s book in a 30 or so page script. It remained utterly recognisable to the book but also created imagined conversations and presented completely different perspectives on the feelings explored in the memoir.
Frances Thorburn and John Kielty powered through the three days of rehearsal/experimentation, playful, smart and craziy skilled musically.
I enjoyed working with Cat Reilly, awesome human being and DJ, who joined us to score the piece. I was interested in how the registers of dance music can be felt in our bodies. Tremors. I’m learning that I really love working with someone who speaks a different creative “language”. You can’t get away with bullshit and it opens up so many more possibilities to explore. Working with people who don’t come from a theatre background also helps me to focus on my own skills and recognise the value I offer the partnership too.
The actual event was sold out months in advance. There was lots of interest in Amy’s story and the audience who joined us to see what we were working on clearly had a lot of love for the book – and now also any potential theatrical adaptation!
The whole Playing With Books project was a right cracker and I enjoyed seeing how the different teams approached the different texts. It was my first contact with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I think it may have spoiled all other festivals taking place in August for me. That place is serene but vibrant and oh my word, dude, if only my life was an Authors’ Yurt.
All Edinburgh Theatre wrote a write up of the event as part of the opening celebrations of the festival.
I've just come off the back of working as Assistant Director with the Lyceum Theatre thanks to support from a Federation of Scottish Theatre bursary and the openness of David Greig to let me hitch my wagon.
I met with David after his prompt in his inaugural season announcement that as a community we need to "encounter each other off social media". Social media has been my main source of income over the past six years, creating opportunities for me to work with theatres in an area I had been passionate about. But I've been progressively getting more and more disillusioned by social media. This little nugget to get offline and go outside felt like asking for a coffee chat with David was a fine thing to do. I'm generally awful at asking to meet people as I assume I'm hassling people. Which I KNOW is counterproductive because how are people going to know what you want/need if you don't tell them. And if I find a path to stability in theatre, I would want to pass the ladder down. So ask. LET PEOPLE HELP YOU, EVE. Sake.
Anyways. I was really keen to connect with a company at an exciting stage in its history. I'm coming more and more to terms that what does it for me in theatre is stuff which is often dismissed as being traditional - characters, narrative, dialogue . It doesn't feel cool and often isn't the work which gets me most excited (hello guitars and glitter and noise and declamatory text!). But when you hit the sweet spot (as the Lyceum has consistently been doing in David's first season) you can stage big works in a proscenium arch and for it be hugely modern, smart, generous and connected to the world outside its walls. So, yeah. This felt like a really good place for me to be. And it was. A ball.
It's the largest scale piece of work that I've been involved with. I adored learning so much more not only about the process of working with a playwright and directing a brand new piece of writing but also about the relationship with the creative, technical and administrative teams who all contribute to a production. There was loads to do and I loved doing it. Yeah. This.
We were invited to share Heroes' table top production of Sea Wall as part of INCOMING Festival, a co-production between A Younger Theatre and New Diorama Theatre, London.
It was an opportunity to test my if theory that this show could go to any pub proved true. The fact that the entire show can fit in a box the side of my head is pretty exciting and pro-touring. Let's go!
The venue was ace - props to the INCOMING team for setting us up in a great bar. We didn't have any technical specifications but I gave them some vague guidelines for the kind of vibe we found worked well - the kind of place you'd go to the pub quiz with your pals on Wednesday and get lunch with your parents on a Sunday.
Once Alan and I arrived In the basement venue, we dragged chairs around, fiddled with the dimmer switches, lit some candles - set the mood, baby. I kept finding lots of little secret stories in the decor around the space which supported the production. I like that as humans we look for connections and patterns in things. Always looking for the story in things.
Alan performed three shows back to back. We were delighted to have a large ex-Glasgow contingency show up to support us away from home which was ace. But it was also great to try out our ideas for the production on more people who don't have a personal connection to us or Heroes.
A great little jaunt with a great script and performer.
I have a list of qualities/themes/stuff that I use to prioritise my projects. There are 42 priorities that contain things like;
I really wanted to do Sea Wall as it checks off my main priority with Heroes of staging brilliant contemporary plays. But how could I make it more in line with my other priorities?
The “beer” and “new structures” boxes were currently unchecked. They seemed to go well with “looking people in the eye”, “heartache” and “wounds” boxes that Sea Wall was currently filling.
Staging Sea Wall as a pub crawl of Glasgow bars, gathered around a table in the venue and asking people to chuck whatever they wanted in a box afterwards felt like it would work for both the type of play Sea Wall is and for the production I wanted to make. Beer. New structures. Boom.
Here’s what I found from our experiment. There’s not much in the way of analysis – I’m still trying to work it out and I’d be happy for a coffeechat to go through my budgets and our box office. The production was all in response to ARC’s Pay What You Decide toolkit. It’s invaluable. Go read it.
Average ticket price across the run was £8.40.
Show to show, this varied between £3.75 - £13.10
I’d budgeted in line with ARC’s findings of average ticket yield of £7.20 and a 30% drop off (we had a 20% drop off) so I was pretty happy with this.
If we had performed in a theatre space, our ticket price would be set in line with the rest of the theatre’s offerings, typically £10 (£7.50 concessions). With Pay What You Decide, there is no capped ticket price but there is a risk that you might sell out and still make a loss.
With this model I liked that some audience members could pay more if they were in a position to do so and their contributions would bolster up folks who couldn’t/didn’t donate more. A fiver is worth something different to everyone. Christine Irvine had some thoughtful comments and critiques of the pressure she found as an audience member in her review of the production for Exeunt.
We did take reservations for bookings which took us to 110% capacity. There were quite a lot of non-attenders but we did take additional business on the door and played to 80% capacity across the run.
There is an audience development model that exists for this production in another universe where you forgo any traditional marketing channels and rely solely on drumming up interest from the folk who happen to be in the bar that night. This would be my preferred model as we had a great time with people who decided to join us on a whim. I really like the idea that person’s day ended in a completely unexpected way than they wouldn’t have imagined. That’s kinda magic and wonderful. Actually. It is just wonderful. Unfortunately I am not the person to do that. I am shy. I am S-H-Y.(it’s probably why I have to make theatre. I’m trying to make myself understood and understand other people).
Usually we'd present work in theatres with a 60:40 box office split in our favour. With Sea Wall, we had a range of deals with the venues;
Pub theatre isn’t a thing in Glasgow, which makes me really sad as a lot of my favourite work I’ve seen has been shared in pub theatres and studio spaces. Some artists who I look up to say there isn’t an audience for it but I dunno. We’re also the city that routinely sells out lunchtime theatre with UK’s largest producer of new writing in A Play, A Pie and A Pint and has a National Theatre that is more at home in towerblocks, barns and ferries than in theatres so it’s not as if we aren’t up for a range of opportunities to have a good time.
This model worked for us on this production. I was able to pay living wage, cover our costs (a pint of beer a night) and offer audiences more options by having flexible pricing and a range of performance times in different venues around the city. It was a win: win with wine. The licensor was very helpful in being flexible and offering us a good deal that enabled us to work this way. Thank you.
The level of risk involved was really low. There was only two of us on the project and we made the most of our week's rehearsal that the budget allowed. If you wanted to do anything other than have one person telling a story, this model wouldn't be as effective for you as it was for us. And theatre needs range.
Our model didn’t differ from the hunners of folk who do the Free Fringe in August and versions of that. The difference here was the context, producing something outside of that oversaturated marketplace I think made audiences more generous and perhaps surprised by our stripped back staging (we didn’t even have a stage, sake.)
With just the two of us on the show, some things were a bit sticky as we adapted to a different method of presentation than we were both used to. We got better at it as the run went on. A third team member would have been useful to take care of front of house, make sure I didn't forget the gorgeous handmade freesheets designed by Georgie Mac, hustle the venue for audience members. But one extra person would drastically inflate our costs and mean no-one was getting paid properly. Better for me to roll up my sleeves and get-over-myself.
(photo by Ruth Armstrong)
I love animals. It’s been a constant. They are amazing. Their diversity, their super powered senses and, yes, their cuteness.
I lept at the opportunity to create work for Imaginate’s Festival Family Fringe in April. The two-day event was being held in the beautiful National Museum of Scotland and I knew I wanted to create something that could live in the eye-popping Animal World gallery.
My desire to make a show about animals overrode my instinctual disinterest in making work for children. I like dark stuff right? Stuff too weird and sexy and bleak for kids, right?
Turns out making work for young people is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. You get an instant response. Seeing new connections getting made in impressionable brains. Sharing something I have a waterfall of enthusiasm for with people who are as equally enthusiastic about their own obsession – dinosaurs, cars, princesses, whatever.
(photo by Ruth Armstrong)
My job was made considerable easier by Georgie Mac who works with young people every day and is entirely on their level for all the right reasons. Together we discussed what we found
On an early recce to the gallery, we watched how families interacted with the space. With so much to see, its tempting to whisk through all the exhibits to make sure you don’t miss anything. We were interested in how we could get people to stop and look at the wonders of evolution that have honed a creature to being highly specialised. Look at that lion! Look at its paws! Look at its claws! Look at that one particular claw! Look at all the fibres that make it up! WOWEE!
We created the character of The Undiscovered Creature. A curious hotchpotch of all the animals we saw and taking influence from the lifelike but whimsical Beatrix Potter illustrations. I whipped together a costume using the contents of my wardrobe and the best £60 I ever spent on a handmade hat on Etsy. The Creature looked great. He drew gasps wherever he went. He was weird and still totally legit.
A friendly but nervous creature, he invited exploration and conversation. He was trying to trace his family tree in the Animal World Gallery and needed your help! Children (and weirdly, teenagers) were drawn to him like a magnet.
It was great watching young kids work through the logic of how a polar bear’s fur is different from a camel’s fuzzy coat just by talking to The Creature and really looking at the exhibits.
We initially thought the performance was just these interactions with children and families. Yet something more interesting was beginning to emerge. The mere presence of The Creature, fantastical and out of place, was a theatrical event that invited curiosity and creativity. The Creature’s intense focus and exploration of the exhibits made visitors to the gallery slink over to see what he found so interesting or murmur “what’s that? A goat, a dinosaur? I know, a goatasaur”. Just by thinking “that’s different” was enough to make people rejig their brains.
We had such fun and a great response that we signed up to present the work at the Belladrum Festival.
A new challenge, putting The Creature outside and in an environment far less structured than the carefully planned layouts and signage at the National Museum of Scotland.
We were committed to the using The Creature as a conduit to close examination of the environment but shifted our intention to finding help in building the creature a nest. Would mud, straw or twigs make the best house for a fuzzy friend.
Again, we found the presence of The Creature to be hugely successful in creating indirect impact. His journey from the campsite to the festival arena was a catwalk of startled, smiling, laughing observers. It was really great knowing that you’ve made one person’s day one degree more sunny.
Belladrum was a hoot. We got so many people to play in the mud.
From the success of Belladrum, we’re hoping to book a tour to more festivals next summer.
Police procedural reports, YouTube comments and Daily Mail headlines fight it out to be heard in a chilling real life story. When an online gaming relationship turns from fun to horror, personal tragedies are made public. Everyone has an opinion and no one has a filter.
Three performers find new connections from evidence and testimony each time the parlour game is played.
Created by Nathan Byrne, Zoe Hunter, Colin Little, Eve Nicol & Elliot Roberts.
Photography by Matthew Thomas for Tron 100 Festival.
I’m more than obsessed with scripts. I love being dunked into someone else’s imagination and taken somewhere outside of my daily experience. I like writing that goes beyond the extremes of human existence.
But sometimes the drama of real life exceeds anything we might create.
There was one story, a relatively recent utter tragedy that made my head spin. The crime at the heart of the case was horrific and tragic but the emotive language and narratives being carved out from police, perpetrator and parents was complex and tragic.
Parlour started as me imagining if my mammalian mates in Animal Crossing: New Leaf went feral but the more research I did on crimes spawned from online worlds, the more the research demanded to be heard.
The story that had first ignited my imagination became The Story of Parlour. A quick Google turned up more to the story that I'd seen in papers and on the news. There were whole transcripts of concerned calls to police that hint at “off-stage” drama and weighty with foreshadowing. There were vitriolic YouTube comments from people with cutesie usernames. There were the blog posts that appeared to be written by the perpetrator from prison. There were breakfast TV interviews, campaign websites and scandalised headlines. Dig a bit deeper and there were online echos of everyone involved from a time years before two young lives were destroyed.
The material was exciting, immediate and hugely human.
With dramaturg Elliot Roberts and actors Colin Little, Zoe Hunter and Nathan Byrne, we tossed dozens of sources up into the air and tried to find our way through it in order to create a fifteen-minute performance for the Tron 100 Festival. We spoke about gaming, the importance of establishing the rules and the fun being in trying to test the rules to their limits.
Parlour took the form of true-crime, cut and pate, docudrama game. To play you need:
After a round of rock-paper-scissors, the game kicks off with one reader choosing a source to read. The others then have to respond with something connected to what they hear or arguing the opposite point.
For a piece existing only of pre-existing material, it felt fitting to look to other theatre makers’ pieces. We referenced Forced Entertainment’s Speak Bitterness and mined Barrel Organ’s Nothing’s “Rules of Performance”. The ones I leaned on most heavily were:
We didn’t want to impose meaning or pass judgement on any of the real life people whose words we borrowed. We wanted the audience to listen, find their own patterns in the story, make their own connection. We wanted to replicate Wiki-holes. Late night browsing sessions. We were trying to stage the internet. We wanted to play a game.
Parlour totally played into my current curiosity about language as spectacle. What more to you need than words poured into your ears? Words are imagination seeds. Let’s plant ‘em!
All five of us were out of our comfort zone but putting together Parlour was hugely enjoyable and rewarding processes I have undertaken. I love making collages and Parlour was just that.
I discovered that working with existing material doesn't limit your creativity. You can experiment, edits and try new patterns quickly without having to commit to them. You can create something unexpected and detailed that prompts the audience to create their own interpretations. Its fun and fast.
Parlour was made in Govan at GTAC, Glasgow Arts and Theatre Collective at Water Row.
Tron 100 Festival photography by Matthew Thomas
(James Anthony Pearson in Cock at Tron Theatre, Feb 2016. Photo by John Johnston.)
It’s always a good sign if you can listen to a play multiple times a day for multiple weeks and still feel like your heart is being ripped out everytime.
I’m been working as an Assistant Director on Cock at The Tron. Mike Bartlett’s play about relationships and (lack of) sexual orientation has been a favourite since I listened to Ben Whishaw and Andrew Scott going at it on Radio 3 whilst I did my ironing in 2011. Well. It had been high on my radar since its Royal Court premiere in 2009 due to its content and how funny its title sounded in a sentence on Twitter.
(I’m still pissed off that it took my living in the South East for three years before I started going to the Royal Court regularly.)
But it was listening to Cock that really shocked me. The radio drama had so much air around it. And where were the clinking glasses sound effects in the dinner party scenes? Surely the playtext would prove to be chockablock full of stage directions and faff?
Get a copy of Cock and look at it on the page.
It is beautiful.
The play is full of half thoughts and half thought through thoughts and sentences that never seem to
It’s a tricky play to read because the text so closely mirrors the patterns of IRL speech with all its hesitancies and meandering anecdotes. The text invites you to put this most naturalistic of speech on a bare stage with no props and suddenly it becomes exposed, alive, raw.
Watching actors navigate this thinnest of blueprints was remarkable. But no wait sorry but I’m sorry it isn’t thin. The gaps on the page and in dialogue are huge and massive and tell the story of what’s happening in the play.
Working on Cock showed me the elegance of a light touch. Of letting a play really speak for itself and letting brilliant actors get on with being brilliant.
I've been helped along every step of the way whilst making Fairytaleheart for Govanhill Theatre Group.
From Bruce, who has taken on a load of work, made everything so easy and encouraged me to go bigger and bolder with what I pitched as "a simple wee play". Stevie who's helped us navigate the sprawling prop store of the baths, kept us giggling and show cased an impressive array of rainbow coloured t-shirts. Alan D who has helped create Babes in the Wood in The Steamie and is keeping the show running. Ursula who rigged our lights in double quick time and made sure we could actually see the cast despite my insitance of the strength of a pocket torch from the Pound Shop. Alan W who set up the PA system and told us stories about having a dip in the slipper baths every week when the Baths really were Baths. Eoin who took the photos above and will help us to document the project and The Steamie theatre in use.
And my friends, Catriona and Georgie, fantastic solo theatre makers both, who have gone along with my love for scripts and characters that come out of other people's heads.
We'll be helped out more during the week by volunteer ushers who'll save audience members from falling in the pool in the exciting wee trek to The Steamie - I think I'll be doing a shift at the bar myself.
I'm hugely thankful for all these people who in big and little ways have helped me to pick up my confidence after loosing out on a couple of first-rung-on-the-ladder professional jobs that I foolishly fallen in love with and then not gotten. It's given me a slap around the chops, reminding me that it is important thing is to just keep doing, making and learning and that I can actually put on a show. Working in the Baths has the added bonus of feeling like I am contributing to a bigger project that I really want to see succeed - the growth of the Govanhill Theatre Group.
Photography by Eoin Carey www.eoincareyphoto.com
Fairytaleheart is at The Steamie @ Govanhill Baths 14 -17 October, 7pm. Tickets are £8 (£6 concession) and available on the door or in advance from brownpapertickets.com
"It felt so safe and comfortable. You know. Warm with all the people who’d used this place. To drink tea and gossip. Bingo. Disco.”
I’ve been directing Fairytaleheart, one of Philip Ridley’s plays for young people, for Govanhill Theatre Group which opens next week. When I heard that the community theatre company was looking for plays, I thought of Fairytaleheart immediately as being brilliant for showcasing the atmospheric environment of the Govanhill Theatre Group’s home in The Steamie – a 96-seat theatre nestled in the heart of Glasgow’s last surviving Edwardian public bathhouse.
The play is set in an abandoned community centre, in the middle of a part of town that’s seen better days. Two lonely teenagers find refuge from their difficult home lives amongst the dust and rubble. From their unexpected friendship and boisterous imagination, the community centre finds a new purpose as a place full of colour, laughter and people.
It felt a fitting analogy with the story of the Baths, itself saved from the grips of ruin by a zealous local community who have taken ownership of the care and future of the labyrinthine building in the form of a charitable trust.
Nowadays, the Baths is home to cultural tenants, community enterprises and its very own resident theatre group. Govanhill Theatre Group is a community theatre company, open to everyone with an interest in theatre regardless of experience. The Group was formed by members of the former Strathclyde Theatre Group to help bring together the local community. The Bath’s old washhouse is now a neatly appointed black box studio theatre.
I fell in love with the space when seeing a friend’s show here earlier in the year. Plants and pigeons take roost in the corners of the room. When it rains, it pours into one particular spot. On cold nights, actors’ breath hovers in the air. This is all part of the space’s beauty and its story. There are ghosts in every one of the poolside changing booths you pass on your torchlit path to The Steamie. Echoes of swinning lessons and the smell of chlorine and bleach linger.
My hope with Fairytaleheart is to share the space with more people and to see what creative ideas might spark from them being in there. We’ve had fun exploring the building from top to bottom, have been made to feel welcome and encouraged by everyone we've met in the past few weeks. It has been a fantastic experience. Our varied rehearsal spaces have been immaculacy clean, the coffee has been flowing, the well stocked prop store has been renamed the Room of Requirement and a direct bus route between home and the Baths means I can get home as quickly as when I'm at the Citizens or the Tron.
Drop in to the Baths and Bruce will give you a tour around the many rooms just calling out for use. I am hoping to see many more people working with or supporting the Govanhill Theatre Group or creating their own work for the Baths. The freedom we've been given and the atmosphere of the place has made every rehearsal a wee dream. I can't wait to share The Steamie with audiences at Fairytaleheart next week and look forward to being wrapped up in blankets enjoying other people's work in this most beautiful of spaces and communities.
Fairytaleheart is at The Steamie @ Govanhill Baths 14 -17 October, 7pm. Tickets are £8 (£6 concession) and available on the door or in advance from brownpapertickets.com