I’m going to say something controversial. I am not totally cut up about IdeasTap closing. There, I said it.
To break it down a little…the website was notoriously difficult to navigate, and despite persistent changes of format it was never user friendly. As a result of this there were a myriad of half finished profiles, and documents/pictures were difficult to upload (particularly in an attractive way that showed them off to their best potential) Also whilst the site was meant to be partly used as a way of networking with other theatre-makers I personally never knew anyone who had done any networking whatsoever via IdeasTap that they couldn’t have done in person, on Facebook, on CCP, stalking (ok maybe not stalking but…you know). The networking element consisted of ‘friending’ someone much like you do on Facebook, with the idea that you could follow their work through their profile. Except no one ever updated their profile. So…it didn’t really work.
I’m not dissing IdeasTap for the sake of it, rather I am of the opinion that it wasn’t the pinnacle of resources for young theatre makers that everyone seems to be making it out to be. I absolutely think there should be more resources for theatre makers to network, have access to opportunities and generally have a bit of a community going but I don’t think that IdeasTap ever achieved this. Surely there is a better way of doing it? Does it even have to be a website?
Funding naturally plays a big part and it’s always sad to see the arts lose financial support. I think this is perhaps why a lot of people are upset about this because it seems to signal even more cut backs on artistic resources with no happy end in sight. However, support for the arts has been dwindling for a long time now with lots of casualties so really we should have got to a point where this isn’t a massive surprise. If you work in the arts you know there is little money in it and whilst there is nothing wrong with lamenting this it’s what you do about it that makes the difference.
The website will cease being online from June and I think instead of complaining or setting up campaigns to keep it going we should look to making something bigger and better, and perhaps something that doesn’t require such a huge injection of funding to keep it going. All young theatre makers want to do is have the chance to network with people because when it comes down to it, that’s what will get you a job at the National Theatre or the RSC, not a profile on a website.
So how about a networking event. A cheap one. In a space in London. With cheap booze (obvi) Invite the big theatre’s, invite the little theatres, invite the young theatre makers AND the old ones. Maybe only a few will turn up but it only takes one connection to get the ball rolling. Instead of an online profile have a REAL profile in the form of yourself…in person…talking to people. What does everyone think?? Whose with me????? (I’m deadly serious about this!)
Last week I went to see Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic. It starred Juliet Stevenson and was directed by Natalie Abrahami.
I have to admit this wasn’t really my kind of play. I can absolutely see why others enjoy it, not least because the role is an absolute feat for any actress – I was exhausted just watching and couldn’t believe Stevenson could do this for 7 shows per week! Also the language itself follows an unusual rhythm, not unlike Molly Blooms soliloquy in Ulysees, and it’s always interesting to see how a director/actress tackles such dense monologue whilst also exploring how to interpret the physically demanding stage directions.
I went into the play having never studied it. All I knew was that the lead character is buried up to the waist (and later) neck and that there was a (often silent) off stage male character. I did know this was predominantly a monologue so I wasn’t expecting too much action on stage, in fact I was probably most excited to see how they were going to realistically bury someone up to the neck in a pile of rubble!
Watching it I understood how when this play was first performed (1963) it must have felt quit revolutionary in the way it explored relationships between women and men, how marriage can gradually suffocate us, and the affect that ageing has on a woman amongst other things. I do believe these themes are still very important and relevant, however the way in which they are presented in this play feels very dated. That is not to say if something that is ‘dated’ it cannot not still be enjoyable and inform us about a time that is different to ours, but for me, in this particular case I was wishing for something to happen that would ‘surprise’ me, or that would at least make make me feel anything but slight boredom. I’m aware that many won’t feel the same but this is just personal opinion! I came out of it feeling quite drained, and not in an good way – rather after the first fifteen minutes I realised this wasn’t for me but felt obliged to see it through to the end before passing proper judgement.
I wondered if there would be any way one could stage this play in order to make it more relevant? I don’t mean adding in a gimmick or changing the language, but is there a way that a play about a woman’s struggle within her marriage and her struggle to find a sense of self in a world where she seemingly doesn’t matter could be transferred to a modern day setting? A setting that might offer the audience a few more surprises perhaps? It’s something to think about…!
What can we learn from the past? Based on the video below I’d like to think we can learn how to put on a pretty darn epic site specific 24 hour play that hasn’t even been rehearsed! For all the techies out there, please try and see past the somewhat grainy footage and feast your eyes on the absolutely fantastic “The Warp”, a 24 hour production staged by director Ken Campbell in 1979.
It’s true that 24 hour plays are not unheard of these days, with the Old Vic staging possibly the most well known one where a collection of writers, directors and actors come together to write, direct and stage a series of short plays over 24 hours. But what is different about The Warp is that it is actually ONE play, not a collection of them. It is the story of one man and his journey into the past, future and quite frankly other worldly spheres of the universe, meeting a whole host of characters along the way (eagle eyed viewers may spot a young Jim Broadbent in the mix!)
I wondered whether anything like that could be put on today? Sadly my guess was no. My opinion (and it is only my opinion!) is that the larger, public funded theatre’s would keep a distance from something like that, it’s far too unpredictable, and dare I say it, amateurish – which is a great shame as it is that very ‘amateur’ energy and enthusiasm that makes it so special. However, I also feel that fringe companies would also be wary of attempting something on this scale for the simple fact of lack of funding and also concern for lack of audience. Ken Campbell even confirms in the video that everyone is working for free!
In the video the BBC reporter talks to Ken Campbell about the production and also his method of directing, Campbell comments that he always tries to put something funny into a scene, or at least something that at least one audience member will find amusing. He also remarks that he finds drama, or more specifically theatrical drama’s, to be a “dangerous” thing. It’s an interesting perspective from an interesting man and I can’t think of many well-known directors these days who seem to share his ‘get up and go’ and joy for making theatre. Of course, that isn’t to generalise a whole profession (including my own!!) but theatre certainly seems to be a more serious business than it did in 1979, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing.
A play I really wish I’d got the chance to see when it was on a few years ago was Lucy Prebble’s Enron. It was play which explored the infamous financial scandal through the use of physical theatre, fantastical elements (men with velociraptor heads spring to mind) and also musical numbers. Not the obvious way one might stage a production on something of this topic! I read the play whilst studying creative writing and it was fascinating just how specific the writer had been with her stage directions, from reading it you had an incredibly clear picture of how it should be staged and what the ‘feel’ of the show should be. Here is a clip from the original West End production.
Interestingly, whilst is was a massive hit in the West End it closed after only 15 shows on Broadway! This video goes some way in explaining why – interestingly in the video, a critic who reviewed the show put the early closing down to the topic being ‘too close to home’. He also suggests that a British show satirising one of America’s biggest banking scandals could be seen as a form of ‘mocking’ the American culture. Both are interesting points yet I wonder if there are any American stage shows mocking British events? And if so, would they get the same reaction from the native audience? As always, answers on a postcard (or a comment)!
I just read a great interview with Maxine Peake about playing Hamlet – click here for link to The Guardian article. The interview offers an interesting perspective on what it is like to perform one of Shakespeare’s most famous male roles and how she approached this part from the perspective of a female performer.
She also rightly points out that there seems to have been a significant increase in female actors getting the chance to play some of Shakespeares more iconic male roles –
“It feels like there’s going to be a real sea change in theatre… I never thought I was going to be a fantastic Hamlet, I just thought, “What an opportunity!” … There aren’t that many great female roles in Shakespeare – none that I’d be desperate to play.” – Maxine Peake
This is an exciting time for female performers and I really hope productions like Peake’s Hamlet continue to pave the way for other female actors to experience performing not only some of Shakespeare’s famous male roles, but other classic parts that have been set aside exclusively for men.
Peake’s version of Hamlet, directed by Sarah Frankom, is going to be shown in cinemas from the 23rd March, I’m definitely going to check it out and would be really interested to know if anyone else is planning on doing the same Perhaps an excursion could be organised??
How do you measure success? It’s a question that the entertainment industry forces you to ask yourself many times.
Is success directing/acting in a play at the National Theatre? Is it writing a hit musical? Is it having the opportunity to actually turn down work? Is it getting your foot in the door at a large venue? Is it getting a review in The Guardian? Is it earning more than minimum wage? Is it earning anything at all? Or is it simply finding the motivation to keep dreaming big when haven’t worked in six months?
We all measure success in different ways, for some you’re either making it big or you’re not making it at all. For others it’s the smaller things that give us success. And for some it’s measuring yourself against your peers. The latter one is the dangerous way of doing it – it usually leads to the Royal Court/NT/Donmar/Young Vic website, CV stalking, a bottle of wine and a drunken cry of “WHY NOT ME??” *
At the moment I’m trying to re-evaluate the way I measure my success (or lack thereof at certain times). It’s far too easy to look back five years ago and scold yourself for not seeing an opportunity that could have sky rocketed your career or forever anguish over that time you said something really stupid to someone really important. Likewise it’s all too easy to dismiss all of your hard work, moments of inspiration and praise from those you respect because for whatever reason it didn’t immediately propel you to instant stardom.
But you know what? Maybe the key to measuring your success is just being, well, realistic. Burns a bit to say that, even for me. Always dream big, and aim for the best but don’t diminish your own successes, however small, by comparing them to others who seem higher up the career ladder.
* Personal experience? Noooo. Never. Not at all. AS IF. Nervous laughing etc etc.