Monologue Mayhem – Part Deux

So I’m trying to write more monologues at the moment for no apparent reason other than the world is tough and it can be hard to commit to something longer. Here’s one, anyway, called Mudslides.

Cassie (mid 20s) is sitting on the sofa with a remote control in her hand.

Cassie:  I got stuck in a mudslide once.  Yeah.  El Salvador.  I turned around and this .. just this wave of shit was cascading down the road. Anyhow – I mean I was wasted – but I did manage to scrabble away and then I lay down and I looked up at this big scab of a sky and I thought …

I’m going to write a blog post about this…

And I did.  It was called ‘Live It’ and it was about the mudslide and how exhilarating and rare these near death moments are.

I mean – I lost a flip flop that day, not my house.  But still – 3257 likes in two days – that says as much about you as it does me. So I kept pumping it out and then I got my first deal –  posing with vegan running shoes, then cork yoga mats, an an organic lip filler.  All in six months. 

And it means that 2 years later I’m now, well I was, the kind of woman who leaves her flat in the morning to go to another house that isn’t mine that has a beautiful bottle green kitchen so that I can pose holding a griddle pan like a newborn, extolling the powers of apple cider vinegar.  Or in down dog explaining the wellness of breath.  I tell nearly 1 million people how to be almost as good as me.

So you’re thinking that’s it then, the mudslide, that’s the moment that changed her, smug get. 

Nope.

The mudslide made me, but it didn’t change me. I was already a smug get.

The moment that changed me came about ten days ago. I’m standing in the garden of the hired house dressed in a white linen smock and I’m talking to the camera.

Talking about tea tree oil.  And how fulfilling it is to grow tea tree plants and then use them to distill your own oil and then to use this oil to tackle cellulite.

Now this, this is when I snapped to.  I could hear myself telling people to grow a plant, a beautiful and complex thing,  in order to destroy it,  in order to rub it on their own arse cheeks, just so that they could be their ‘best selves’ and by best I was definitely implying their thinnest, no question. And all the time the planet was shifting beneath me and there were probably mudslides going on somewhere so I – yeah just like that – I stopped talking and went home and I haven’t been out since.

I’ve got through three series of Law and Order since then.  Hashtag proud.  And the only post I’m interested in getting is the leaflets from pizza places or … no.  That is the only post I’m interested in getting.

There’s 20 seasons of Law and Order to watch.  In yesterday’s tracksuit.   And let’s face it –  no-one’s life is worse for me not telling them about tea tree oil and arse cheeks, is it?

Great, said the people

‘Great’, said the people, ‘shielding is terrible but at least you’ll be sealed in. you’ll be really able to ‘get stuff done’, you’ll be the shutterstock photo of productivity, scribbling away, steaming cup of coffee – no, turmeric tea – to hand. You’ll be wearing glasses, even!’

‘I don’t wear glasses.’

‘No, but in the photo you are,’ said the people, and by people I mean the idealistic voice in my head.

‘But I have a 5 year old to look after’

‘That’ll be great, too!’ said the people. ‘He’ll be acquainting himself with nature, independently making dens in the garden, exploring twigs. You’ll come together for meditation and a wholemeal muffin and he’ll put himself to bed. In the meantime – you’ll finish all the ideas floating around in your head and start new ones – podcasts, plays, poems, prose – you’ll generate all the pees!’

Great. Great.

Need I point out that the idealistic part of my mind was inaccurate in their prediction? I feel little sense of failure – more a battered pride, like a defeated rugby player, as I write this down before you. I did write some monologues and did a couple of fantastic workshops (more later). We did a little bit of home learning most days and on some days we only watched one film, which has become the seal of academic excellence in our house. My son has returned to school thinking that dollars are our national unit of currency from the amount of America he has imbibed, but that will be lost over time.

Childcare aside, I cannot avoid the image of the blank page which has loomed large during lockdown life. The blank white page is what writers have in common (along with crushing self doubt). And of course, the people (the idealistic voice) thinks that a blank white page is a brilliant bedsheet to doodle, to scrawl, to play on.

Now that my son is back at school, there is finally space to contemplate the blank white page – but there is nothing to fill it with. And now, when I need them most, the people are quiet, watchful, aware of the buzzing and droning of a million tiny other voices gaining momentum on my feeling of potential and positivity, ready to cut it off at the the legs. I walk away, think, and by think I mean watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for a bit.

Problem is that there’s been no stimulus for the LONGEST TIME. As a shielder, I’ve missed tuning into the overheard dialogue of the outside world; the initimate breathless chat of 2 joggers, the abrupt tone of an old man on a mobile phone that he doesn’t trust, the odd triangulated conversation outside the Pound Bakery. Not the stuff that’s already been turned into a line for an actor to say but the raw stuff, the fucking ridiculous things we say, I say, every day. I miss human contact as well of course – I’m not a psychopath – but I really miss the source material provided by being outside.

As one door closes, another one etc etc. I’ve been fortunate to have regular work coming in and I’ve taken proper advantage of the online goodies offered by great writers in the form of online workshops. A session with Jenn Ashworth organised by Arvon reminded me that, yes, now is weird, and yes, lowering one’s own expectations is also good. Also, as a substitute to those snatches of overheard dialogue, go on to messageboards for inspiration. Replace your ears with your eyes and trawl Reddit or Mumsnet for character ideas. You’ll miss the nuances of accent and emphasis, but you’ll have a pool of anecdotal inspiration as big as the universe.

From Anna Jordan’s fantastic workshop with Without a Paddle Theatre, I’ve thought about being a bit less precious about the blank page. It doesn’t have to be neat, it’s not a Personal Record of Achievement (Remember those, anyone?). It’s a living document, so fill it with notes, lists, automatic writing. It doesn’t have to be a script. As soon as you make a mark on it, you’ve made a mark.

And from a Q and A session with Simon Stephens, hosted by Up ‘Ere productions, I learnt a most reassuring thing. Writing is not just sitting at a desk, being the shutterstock photo. Writing is also thinking, walking around, reading, watching films that are relevant to my WIP or made by a creator that I admire or want to learn about. So even though my life over the past 4 months has been smaller and more compressed in scope, it has not been empty. that being said, I don’t think I can justify watching Minions as part of my research process.

Just. Leaving. This. Here.

Have a listen to this.

Being very lazy, I was kind of hoping someone would do a summary piece of the Hive experience, of developing a play, of being mentored, of sharing my work for the first time.  The opposite of striking while the iron is hot, on this occasion it worked! Mike Heath at the incredible Write for the Stage, Studio Salford interviewed me with Stephen Hornby for the podcast, which was brilliant fun as well as a terrific opportunity to reflect on what I have learnt.  The Greater Manchester Fringe is open again for business – if you have an idea, apply.  If you don’t have an idea, get one, then apply!

 

 

Development week -The Big Read (through)

This post relates to my debut play, Blue Lines, which has won the Hive Award 2019 and will be presented as part of Manchester Fringe.  Have a look here if you want to find out more about it:  

Wadda week.

World Book Day. International Women’s Day.  I got my mooncup in on first go.

It was a week of major wins.

It was also the week of the read through of my play, Blue Lines. The first time that I would hear it outside of my own head, read by other people.  In front of an audience of even more other people.

No wonder I’m still in my pyjamas today.

My play is super personal.  It’s based on my experiences of infertility – of being the woman who ‘is maybe leaving it a little bit late’.  People rarely see the feet pedalling frantically below the surface, do they?  I got sick of saying ‘we’re still trying’, which it would appear was the only acceptable response to enquiries about my lack of baby.  I digress – the play, yes the play – is an encounter between a teacher and student and the relationship that develops between them.  That’s all I’m saying.

Bearing in mind that it’s personal and it’s the first play that I’ve ever written, it’s a lot.  Oddly enough, I had no issue sending the piece off to my mentor, Tim Firth, to read and give me feedback.  He was reading it.  Somewhere else.  not loud enough for me to hear him.

Fate smiled on me though – the actors I worked with were intuitive and sensitive and despite having only a quick read through online the night before, did a great job of capturing the essence of both characters.  I obviously had to sit on my mouth (not a thing I know) to stop myself from interjecting, to ask them to try things out again, and over the course of the hour I produced the kind of fine, clinging sweat that I associate with wearing too many fine layers under an anorak.

But the feedback was what I wanted – it was positive but also constructively helpful, pointing me towards areas of plot and some dialogue that need clarifying, tightening, cutting or enhancing.

 

I just have to do it now.

BookLearning: Orphans by Dennis Kelly

I can’t help it – I get horribly ‘retired middle-class’ at Christmas.  I buy the Radio Times, listen to the Archers.  I attempt quizzes of the year in newspapers. I invest time and interest in entire episodes of Midsomer Murders.  The patina of glossy adverts for stairlifts and cruise – ships holds my gaze.  I can’t help it, and I love it.

 

So I needed some acid to cut through this muzzy, smuggy love in, and it came in the form of Orphans by Dennis Kelly, which was recommended to me to read for a piece of writing that I’m working on.  It reminded me of one thing and taught me another; firstly – reading plays for pleasure can be exhilarating.  I used to work in the bookshop at the National Theatre – my best ever job in retrospect and one that I only appreciate now, at a sorry distance of nearly twenty years.  I used to read plays all the time – it was encouraged for you to be seen reading plays at the counter, on the shop floor, on your breaks.  People would ask for recommendations and I could be learned and suave and theatrical (life goals, basically).  And I could also swan around backstage and pretend to be in stuff.

 

Now I don’t want to be in stuff anymore, but reading Orphans reminded me that actually reading a play can be more emotionally powerful than seeing it performed, where there’s always the risk that it can be a bit shit or indulgent or forced.  But a well written play plays in my head just as I want it to – and it turns out that I am an incredible director.

 

No, it’s the play.  And this is the thing that reading Orphans made me realise.  I think that playwriting has changed more than other written form, in terms of what is permissible and how it is expressed.  I couldn’t stop reading Orphans, which I am not going to spoil for you because you should just read it.  But, in brief, it’s the story of a brother and sister and her partner and how they deal with something that the brother has done.  Wow, vague, cool.  But you should read it, because it bites.  It really fucking bites.  And I think back to the plays that I read, including the classics, and I think about how ‘unreal’ they seem in comparison.  They’re polished, but they take a lot of craft from the actor to sound truthful a lot of the time.  With Orphans, you feel as if you are experiencing the dilemma with them, the godawful messiness of the situation, which is not to say it is written ‘off the cuff’.  Because when you’ve got through it and are lying in a sweaty fever dream, you’ll realise that each character had an arc, had something to say. It takes a really brilliant writer to put it together so subtly and effortlessly, so that you don’t see his hand in the writing of it until after you’re done.

So my booklearning is this: reading Orphans has taught me to spend longer on my structure and planning and less time ‘perfecting’ the words.  More at the front end, if you like, as much as it pains me.

 

And it’s given me a beautiful New Year’s Resolution: Read. More. Plays.

Angel Meadows and Sleeping Lions

I lived in London for 11 years and depended on the tube for every single journey I made.  Even now, I can plot a route across the capital in 30 seconds; I relish the challenge of finding the quickest route from A to B.

 

3 years into my Manchester residency (parp) and I still miss the speed and commonality of Tfl.  My  commute to work now feels like a portal into ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.  Trains are slow and they smell, a mixture of pollen, scotch egg and urine.  So I don’t leave the city centre much.  I’ve become a little insular.  But it turns out that it’s okay, because I only needed to walk 5 minutes from my flat to enter a world not dissimilar to how I imagine Hells Kitchen once was, a world of more than just spit and sawdust.

 

On Friday I went to see Angel Meadow, the inaugural project from HOME, delivered by the acclaimed ANU Productions.  We were told to meet in a square on the other side of the Oldham Road and I guess, await further instructions.  Curiosity piqued, I had a look online.  One reviewer had found it too much and had to leave.  Great.  I’d had a jangly week at work and would take ‘too little’ over ‘too much’ any day.  The pull of the sofa and a bland world cup tie between whosit and the other team was very strong.

 

Thank God I ignored this urge, because Angel Meadow was without doubt the finest bit of theatre that I have ever experienced.  And I mean experienced in the most literal sense of the word.

 

Angel Meadow takes place in and around the Edinburgh Castle, a derelict pub which called time 10 years ago after a particularly nasty riot of Oldham and Wrexham fans.  The Castle itself is slap bang in the middle of Ancoats, an area not unfamiliar with blood grudges.  Ancoats is the home of the industrial revolution and subsequently home to some seriously messy gang wars between rival factions who moved there to work, notably Irish and Italian communities.  Apparently the cast and creative team had arrived in Manchester without a space in mind and having discovered the castle, they moulded the piece from the lives and histories that the pub and surrounding area revealed to them; times when women believed in the devil and drank bleach for their sins, where men formed allegiances and rivalries at remarkable speed, where children were cheap and life was very fucking quick.

 

I’m not going to describe the show in detail, because I wouldn’t do it justice (I’ve wrestled with how to write this since seeing the performance 2 days ago) but also on the offchance that the company may perform it again, in which case I urge you to sell your least favourite body organ to procure a ticket.  Truth be told, I couldn’t speak of the full experience if I wanted to, as I only caught a fragment of it.  Each performance is for eight people at a time and we were picked off, reassembled and reformed many times over the course of an hour, but always made privy to performances of such heart-breaking conviction that it felt like a gift and a blessing to bear witness.

 

Angel Meadow is totally immersive  I’ve seen companies like Punchdrunk and Shunt and never felt truly touched – how could I with 50 other people in the room?  And then, for the inhibited amongst us, there’s always the nagging anxiety: ‘Don’t pick on me, please don’t single me out’.  Involving the audience can be enthralling, but it isn’t the same as making them perform.  When this happens, encounters become forced, uncomfortable and leave Sue the office manager feeling exposed, like she’s fallen short all at the same time.  Angel Meadow avoided this by not turning us into performers, but by taking away the audience.  We fell through the space in this funny old run-down pub, sometimes landing together, sometimes alone.  I might grease up a boxer for a fight or have a chat in the kitchen about flowers.  Either way it’s just me (and maybe one other) and the performer, no-one to mediate or judge.  We were free to play.

 

And if this still sounds eggy and uncomfortable, it isn’t.  The performers are so extraordinarily committed that you allow them to pull you through this sordid wormhole without resistance.  You move from watching a play, to watching people, to being part of the group.  The final event was delivered with such energy and conviction that I came out shaking.  And I know that sounds like a shitty theatre critic thing to say, but I’m not wearing a top hat, I’m not arsed about the fourth wall and I don’t cry at soliloquies.  I don’t care for a lot of the stuff that I’m supposed to, stuff that’s  ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘ award-winning’.  I’m a human being who thought she wanted to spend the night on the sofa and ended up having an earth-shattering experience in Angel Meadow.