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've been supported by external bodies to develop work for the first time and it is good.
Most of the time has been spent writing, redrafting, on dramaturgy work or in rehearsal room, but here are some of the other things I was able to do that I wouldn't have time/resource/confidence to do without external support and it's all stuff to feed the well. Don't run dry.
Took a break from my day job
Played electric guitar loudly and badly
Cut up the script
Read old diaries
Read old LiveJournals
Did Higher Biology revision papers
Bought 10 year anniversary vinyl
Went to gigs
Went to theatre
Went to Sea Life centre
Looked at old photos
Read books on marine life
Thought I was brilliant
Thought I was shit
Took the pressure off myself
Bought a mic stand
Trusted other people
Made beat sheets
Punched myself in the face (accidentily)
Cut my hands numerous times (it feels so good to use my hands)
Watched hours and hours and hours of Youtube
Listened to months and months and months of podcasts
Began to understand what my myth is. Which is pretty great when development on one project can help to put all my work into a bit of perspective.
Georgie Mac and I spent three? four? five? hours generating material together.
I wrote words responding to his drawings.
A computer read my words to him.
He drew responding to my words.
I wrote words responding to his drawings.
And so forth.
And we livestreamed it because we're curious about the theatre of something being made.
Georgie created a beautiful collage of strange and wonderful images that was almost as big as he was.
I created eight pages of fractured fantasy.
Together we created nightmice and a hero called Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who finds solace in caves.
We'll do something with this. Dunno what yet.
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.
Most of us continue to survive because we’re convinced that somewhere along the line, with grit and determination and perseverance, we will end up in some magical union with somebody. It’s a fallacy, of course, but it’s a form of religion. You have to believe. There is a light that never goes out and it’s called hope.
And so says Morrissey.
Seven Minutes in Heaven was the eleventh new piece of work I created this year. Well, it was 85% percent new. The rest stemmed from an earlier piece of work that I developed during my postgraduate studies.
Seven Minutes in Heaven is also the piece I've worked most on redrafting. The piece comes from my investigation of asexuality but I didn't want to make a play ABOUT asexuality. So I needed to rework, redraft. Keep asking myself what is the play literally about (getting to space), what is it metaphorically about (you're always going to be you, ain't no changing).
It's feeling healthy. The first draft had the word "sex" in it 45 times. The most recent draft has none. The first draft followed a different character. My recent draft gave E.T. a speaking role. It's been really fun being able to see the current version as a palimpsest. I know what characters are now not saying. And that's also making my heart ache a little. In the first draft I didn't care about my characters. My recent draft - I really do care about them. And they're sad. So I'm sad.
Seven Minutes in Heaven was presented as part of In Motion's Winter Words Festival, I was happy to sit back and spend fourty minutes in the company of my favourite artists - Paul Brotherston directing with Alasdair Hankinson, Meghan Tyler, Ross Mann, Scarlett Mack, Alan MacKenzie daeing the actin. Thanks folks.
Please Please Please let Me Get What I Want
created by Eve Nicol and Mark Durnin
"Did anyone manage to take any photos of The Smiths at Manchester Academy on the 10th March? I was on stage. Will pay for photos/negatives. Michelle 0629 57257"
Wanted, seeking and hoping. The small ads of music magazines hold the last ditch dreams of diehard fans. Will they find the missing piece to their collection? Lord knows, it would be the first time. A new collaboration between words and music, playwright/performer and singer/songwriter.
6 November 2016, Tron Theatre
I had a really enjoyable time with Mixtape.
Please Please Please was the twelfth bit of new work I've shared this year and I have become a bit fatigued with scratch performances. My frustration is down to me chasing
The Mixtape process of creation, rehearsal and performance was facilitated by Erin and Nico of Mixtape. It was really refreshing how hands on they were. There was wine involved, which is always appreciated. The aim of Mixtape is to smush together writers and composers of different forms and see if together we can bridge the gap between play and musical.
I was really drawn to the stories contained in the small ads of old copies of NME and Q. People looking for Christmas episodes of Top of the Pops because their dad had recorded over their VHSes. People looking for pen pals. People looking for connection.
There's an interesting performance that exists in another timeline that only uses the words contained in the small ads. But this was a one off scratch about investigating Mark and I's collaboration and it was simpler to create new text around our imagined lives of the people who took out ads in the paper.
I aimed for a kind of Solomon Grundy or cautionary tale feel - like the cartoons shown alongside Ivor the Engine on TV about kids who got trapped in fires all because they didn't eat their vegetables or something. Man. They were scary. So I was looking to write a cautionary tale about putting all your hopes and heart into completing a collection WHEN THE REAL SATISFACTION IS INSIDE YOU ALL ALONG! So don't, you know, become a skeleton waiting for something/one to come along.
We produced a bit of work that had me doing my best Mike Skinner impression with words that I had written and Mark encorporating sounds from his acoustic guitar and a bit of the Smiths - Please Please Please.
This year I have discovered that I really enjoy performing my own work. It feels like pushing a huge bolder up to the top of a moutain (writing it) and then rolling down the mountain (performing it). Just you rolling down the mountain. No boulder. Leave that fucker behind. Wheee!
I enjoy performing my own work. I'd like to get better. I get stuck in my own head far too much. Sometimes the boulder follows behind me and squishes me. Ow.
There’s a rehearsed reading of a new play I’ve written at the Tron on Thursday 25th August at 6pm.*
It's billed as Scorched Earth but I think it wants to be called Fubar now. The previous title came from a time when the play hinged on someone getting their feet set on fire (which I think I stole from another play) and when they came back in a second act as a robot angel.
Neither of these things are still in the script.
Probably for the best.
My interest recently has been in non-traditional texts so it is satisfying to draw a line under this Play (which a capital P). It's been sitting around with me for a while. And now it doesn't have any notes in it that say I DUNNO or OH LOOK IT JUST ENDS or ARRRRGH WHAT?
Which is good.
It’s hard, man. I’ve found it far easier (though still not simple) to stage a thesis or create a bit of atmosphere than to wrought something cohesive with its own internal logic. A kick ass lighting design or a clever chorus line of ukulele playing tadpoles can't make it interesting. It’s out on its own. Playwrights. Respect.
I'm looking forward to watching director Alasdair Hunter work on it. Al's pulled in a great cast Tori Burgess, Janette Foggo and Alfie Wellcoat.
This will be the first time I’ve had a full length Play (note the capital P) read in public. I’m not sure what to expect from having a room full of other people sitting inside my head for an extended period of time.
Can you tell how tentative I am?
A few things that have informed the piece
Here's some pics I took from a research trip to Kew.
* Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to come along.
(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.
I had an experience taking part in Asylon Theatre's 24 plays project as a writer. It was tense, man, was it tense but the quality of work by all parties by the end was brilliant and ultimately rewarding.
I enjoyed the ambition of kitting out each piece with a complete design on £50. I really enjoyed working with designer Alisa Kalyanova and was hugely impressed by her approach and what she rustled up in a short time
It was nice to get a wee mention in TV Bomb's review of the event; "What makes this piece stand out is the writer’s skill in portraying arresting human relationships in such a short space of time."