Friday, 12 October 2018

‘Written Off’ - Questions for Theatre Literary Departments.

I'm currently working on a report for the Writer's Guild of Great Britain about ageism in theatre with particular focus on writer development opportunities. Below is a series of questions I will put to theatres, but I'd like some feedback before I do that. Have I missed out any questions? Are there any other questions you think I should ask?

We have a Facebook group called 'Written Off! where you can post feedback or you can find my contact details and email me via my website 

1.  Theatres do a great job of targeting underrepresented groups, but not often when it comes to age:  When targeting underrepresented groups in your writer development programmes, do you specifically include older writers as an underrepresented group, and what do you consider to be an older writer?

2.  Age restricted opportunities: Do you run age restricted writer development projects? What are the target age groups? Is this dictated by funding or artistic policy?

3.  There is a perception that open opportunities are not really open to all ages: Where you run writer development opportunities that are not age restricted what are the ages of those who have participated over the past 3 years?

4.  Use of the word ‘Young’ obviously excludes older writers: Do you use the word young in opportunities where there is no age restriction? Have you used the word young where you actually meant new? Are there images of older writers on your website?

5. Finding the very best new writing: Do you have a statement outlining what you aim to achieve through your writer development opportunities? How do you ensure that it encourages the broadest possible range of applicants?

6. In my research so far I have discovered a general preconception that literary departments are run by young white males. Could you share details of your team using basic equality monitoring figures?

7.  In my research so far it has emerged that older women face specific barriers. Do you have opportunities aimed specifically at women that are open to any age? Do you do anything to specifically encourage older women to apply?  If so what are the ages of participants over the past three years?

8. Please give examples of good practice where you feel your organisation is offering good opportunities to older writers, or where your organisation is making an effort to reach this group.    

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Written off: Part 2

An open letter to theatre professionals and Artistic Directors

I recently posted a blog about how many writer development opportunities are for young people only, and how older emerging writers feel shut out by theatres.

The response I had was overwhelming.

There is a tidal wave of anger from writers who are excluded from opportunities that didn’t exist for us when we were younger.

Focusing resources on a tiny demographic of an ageing population does not make sense.

It’s time to make a change and you can help.

Any form of discriminatory practice is unacceptable, and the arts world often leads the way in breaking down barriers.  

At the moment a vast number of development opportunities being offered by theatres are not open to people over the age of 25-30. But surely the goal in theatre should be to find the best ‘new’ voices and that doesn’t have to mean ‘young’ voices.

Although there are many opportunities that are age-blind, there is a growing suspicion that by ticking boxes on equality monitoring forms older writers are condemning themselves to the rejection heap. Even when an opportunity is not age restricted, it’s often younger writers who seem to benefit most, causing a suspicion of surreptitious ageism.

However, given the amount of developmental support offered to young writers it could simply be that they are then able to produce work that is tailored to current theatre trends more closely than writers struggling to develop their work in an unsupported void.

One truly unsettling thing that came out of the discussion my blog prompted was how the practice of shutting out older writers had a disproportionate effect on women and on people from working class backgrounds.

I understand that in many cases the age limit of development opportunities is down to the funding available to theatres. And this is where you can help.

We are asking that you challenge the trusts, charities and organisations that fund your writer development projects, and that you commit to exploring further opportunities for older writers.

People emerge creatively at all ages and at all stages of life, so please make it your artistic policy to strive to support all emerging writers with development opportunities so theatre can truly reflect a broad range of voices and life experiences.    

Monday, 5 March 2018

Written off!

I’m old!

I don’t feel old. In fact I don’t feel any different to when I was in my twenties – well maybe a bit smarter and more willing to question the world.  

BUT – as a playwright trying to make my mark on the industry in my fifties I feel truly ancient as there are so many opportunities which are for Young Writers usually under 25.

Which would be fine if those opportunities had been there for me when I was 25, but they weren’t. I come from a very non-arts background and it took me years to find my way into drama school. Then when I realized that writing was what I wanted to do I set up my own company and very quickly was commissioned to write over 30 plays that have been seen by over half a million people. But they were educational theatre, and paid me a much needed wage until I reached a point of security where I was able to start my push towards writing for theatre.

And I’ve done OK, self-producing with Arts Council support. But now I’ve hit a wall, and I’m banging my head against it trying to find support to move to the next level.

There are a few amazing people out there who have given me support, but I still see a strong push to support Young Writers everywhere, as if at my age I should know all there is to know. But I don’t.

I wonder if there’s an issue with the fact that some of the people I need help from are younger than me. I don’t have a problem asking for help from anyone who has knowledge that I don’t, but I wonder if people feel more comfortable supporting people younger than themselves?

I feel like I’m fighting against the saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ – but sod that! I am hungrier now to gain new skills and to access new knowledge than ever before. And that is I suppose in part because of my age. I am aware of the number of years I might have left to achieve things in – which I was blissfully ignorant of when I was 25.

So apparently age does matter – it makes me hungrier than ever to achieve amazing things, but it also makes it much harder for people to see me as worthy of support.

It feels like ageism is the last acceptable prejudice, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

Any thoughts?  

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Reviews are in!

This is my first full-length London production, produced on a shoestring budget, and in a rather hidden away venue. But with 3 & 4 Star reviews coming in I'm extremely happy!

The thing that's made me happiest is that critics have all loved the actor's portrayals of their characters, and that praise is well deserved. It was a real pleasure watching Andrew Thorn, Dave Short & Josh Harper in action last week, and I hope they keep having fun until the end of the run on 18th November.

I've already spotted script adjustments I'd like to make, and another production can be bigger and better, but for now I'm satisfied that the director, Kasia & I have done our best, and it's showing in the feedback we're getting from audiences. The critics are always a bit harder to please, but I think we've done pretty well so far :-)

Review by Terry Eastham ****
‘A magical evening of wonder, suspense and good old-fashioned theatrical fun’
Well, what a fascinating story The Mysterious Gentleman is. J N Maskelyne was a real-life person who did all the things spoken of in the play – including getting the phrase to ‘spend a penny’ into the English language. He is an amazing character in his own right and, when the mysterious ‘extra’ bit of his family ‘story’ is added by writer Jarek Adams, then the stage is set for an amazing tale.

Review by Claire Roderick ****
‘This is a magical gem of a show’
Writer Jarek Adams takes us from the very beginning of his career through to his death in a magical and entertaining production. The relationship between JN and George is beautifully written.

Review by Simon Scott
The play is written with a gentle wit, be it in the friendly chiding between George and Maskelyne, John Nevil’s contemplation that his lasting legacy will have more to do with public conveniences than conjury, or his delight at being described as a self-publicist. It does not shy away from its undertaking though. Maskelyne is introduced to us as a sceptic, but what drives his scepticism is a powerful desire not merely to believe in a hereafter, but to know it exists. Maskelyne’s decline, however, and his apparent descent into madness, through paranoia about losing his edge to younger magicians, and his scepticism crumbling as he approaches death, is delivered with strength and conviction.

Review by Howard Loxton – who loved the stage magic
‘What these guys do with cardboard boxes and dexterity is worth watching’
These are actors not David Copperfield but they give you a play and a magic show: talk about actors’ timing—they’ve got it down to the microsecond.

Review by Joanna Hetherington
‘Overall an entertaining production’ ***

Images courtesy of James Hall

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Arch Disbeliever

John Nevil Maskelyne was a Victorian magician who gained notoriety by challenging spiritualists to prove they weren't charlatans fraudulently misleading audiences. He was known by some as 'The Arch Disbeliever' for his ceaseless challenges through the law courts.

His career began when he watched the Davenport Brothers act in Cheltenham and worked out the technique they were using to create the illusion of a spirit manifestation. Shortly afterwards he recreated the illusion, and pronounced it to be a spirit free demonstration - but not everyone was convinced.

A family legend followed him around about a deal his ancestors made with a Mysterious Gentleman who gave him and his forebears supernatural powers. And JN himself did become the most famous magician in the world, known today as the father of modern magic, and lending his name to an annual award given by the Magic Circle for services to British Magic -  won incidentally this year by the fabulous Debbie McGee for her work with the late and rather wonderful Paul Daniels.

JN Maskelyne died in 1917, but will be returning to the stage in just a few weeks time - 100 years after his death in a play called 'The Mysterious Gentleman'.

The play follows his rise to fame, his many challenges in court, but also his struggle to cling to his disbelief in an afterlife. Despite his disbelief in the spirit world, his dying wish was to find a way back if he possibly could. So is there a danger in calling him to return live (probably not the right term, but you know what I mean) onstage?

For the company producing my play it's a difficult question. We all have our own beliefs and hopes about the existence of an afterlife, but even as an open minded skeptic I can't help feeling a tingle of excitement as we mark the anniversary of his death with a performance featuring his story.

Will the real JN be watching? Will he be pleased to see how we're telling his story? We'll have to wait and see.

But you can join us for that journey at the Courtyard Theatre in London when the play opens on Halloween.


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Creative Producing

As a Creative Producer taking my own script through to production has been an interesting journey. See my previous blog for how I got the funding and the theatre space.

But at this point, I've done all the writing and rewrites on my play The Mysterious Gentleman, and now it's time to hand that over to the director, Kasia Różycki and the actors to work their magic with my words.

We held auditions for the two actors who are joining the already cast Andrew Thorn as JN Maskelyne, and it was really interesting seeing lots of actors reading for us and playing around with the script. It wasn't obvious who to choose at first, but we did a few recalls and asked the actors to delve a little bit deeper and to start building characters and soon two obvious choices emerged. So Dave Short and Josh Harper have joined us to play George Cooke & Nevil Maskelyne.

We start rehearsals in a week, and finding space in central London was tricky, but we finally settled on the very reasonably priced Theatre Delicatessen

Marketing is the bit most creative people hate, but it's necessary if we're going to get an audience, which is really the point of all the work we've put in so far. We've got a great team doing all our online stuff - thanks Kelly France & Chris Hislop. But I'm thinking about what it is we're offering to our audiences. If you were thinking of coming along, what could I say to entice you?

It's a play about a magician who asked the question 'what happens to us after we die'? It's funny in places, and spine tingling in others. There will be magic onstage which will hopefully impress you, and there will be thought provoking moments where you'll see the struggle the characters have holding on to their beliefs. But most of all you'll be taken on a thoroughly entertaining journey into the world of Victorian magic.

I'll leave the last word to an audience member who saw the original production - 'It appealed to my dark side, of course, and I loved the mix of scepticism and the poignant desire for 'contact' after a death.'

And the final, final word to the Gloucestershire Echo who gave it a 5* review

From the outset, I was transfixed by a highly absorbing story that drew me inexorably in as the revelations unfolded.


Monday, 24 July 2017

A Self Producing Playwright's Journey

I’m a playwright, who became a producer when I realized the odds of my script being picked up by a theatre company who’ve had over a thousand plays sent to them seemed pretty slim.

So I chose to self-produce – BUT – always working in collaboration with other creatives whose work I know – AND – with funding support from the Arts Council and others. My rule is ‘never spend your own money making theatre!’

I’m on my fifth ACE funded project at the moment, and I thought documenting the development might be of interest and of use to other writers and producers thinking of taking the same route.

The first grant I got was to develop a play about an enigmatic Victorian magician, JN Maskelyne who started his career in Cheltenham. So I worked with a theatre company based there, agreed a run of three nights at a local theatre, and found seed funding from the city council. All that and a track record of writing TIE was enough to get me ACE funding to produce ‘The Mysterious Gentleman’.

Several projects later I’ve realized the need to get my work seen in London, and that play seemed the best one to showcase. So again I found a director to work with, Kasia Różycki from Off The Cliff Theatre, who I met when she directed a Rapid Write Response play of mine at Theatre 503. 

Finding a theatre was the next hurdle. Many talks went on, and our hopes were dashed several times when spaces we loved couldn’t fit us into their programmes this year. So, eventually we found our way to the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton. Not the most illustrious name in theatre land, but a space that was willing to take us for a three week run opening on Halloween – how perfect is that for a play about magic that explores life beyond death?!

We’ve become aware of a number of difficulties other companies have had there, but decided to move forwards anyway once ACE agreed to fund us. I’ll elaborate on that in further blogs.

But for now the director and I have two key goals for the project.

First is getting our work seen by industry professionals. So we’ll be inviting everyone we can think of, but more than that we’ve budgeted for a press agent to make sure the press is aware of what we’re doing so hopefully we can at least get a few reviews that we can use to build on.

Our second goal is to move towards a commercial run of the play, so we need to prove it’s a pull for audiences. Getting audiences to a theatre that’s less well-known and a bit out of the way will be a big challenge. So we’ve also budgeted for a marketing coordinator to hopefully pull in audiences.

I'll post a bit more as we get closer to the production dates, but if you have any questions along the way I’d be happy to hear from you.