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.
At the beginning of December the Royal Court created a series of ‘microplays’ in conjunction with The Guardian. Some were a bit hit or miss, but one really stood out as being great example of what you could achieve in just five minutes.
The piece was entitled Groove Is In The Heart. I loved that it evoked so many emotions through the use of very little language and instead played on the audiences associations with music and how one song can create such a vivid memory of someone. To me the story was straightforward (he is about to go to her funeral) but the comments section offered up a couple of other explanations I hadn’t thought of. It just goes to show how we can each interpret something different from a film/play, even if it is only five minutes long.
I have been involved in and watched a lot of ‘short play’ evenings, however when a play on stage is only five minutes long it often doesn’t quite involve the audience enough for them to really care about it. However when a film is just five minutes in length it can be enough for an audience to become totally engrossed in a story. It makes me wonder if there would be any way for a very short play to have the same impact as a short film like the one above? Music is often quite a difficult thing to get ‘right’ on stage and can come across as intrusive, so words become the main medium playwrights can use to tell a story – which can mean that not much is left open to interpretation. I’d be very interested to know if anyone has seen a very short play that they’ve really enjoyed, and if so what made it work particularly well as a five minute piece onstage – comments as always very much encouraged and appreciated! I’d love to have a discussion about this and hear opinions