March was a bit of a win and bit of a loss, but overall I’m leaning to calling it a success.
The month started off a bit crazy at Alexander Upstairs and got progressively more crazy as it went on. In addition to the regular work I got a number of design jobs for people’s National Arts Festival productions. Then there was the BASA/British Council fellowship, which included workshops and a conference in Joburg where I spoke on a panel and pitched for funding.
All of which is to say I have many excuses and they’re not completely unreasonable. Sort of the point of an excuse isn’t it? But I don’t buy them either. I don’t buy that me taking on more than I can handle is a reason not do the thing that I promised myself. Being there for other people is important. So is being there for yourself. Finding the balance is the most important.
This month my writing was a short play for Anthology, opening on Tuesday the 7th (this evening). It’s called Bullet Points and is a classic con story: two characters manipulating each other with layers of tricky deception. The dialogue is full of detours as they chase down the quirky reasoning and get distracted by little things. They’re not very good cons. Or are they?
I also added a lot of new material and substantially rewrote parts of Every Beautiful Thing, my January play. A lot of writing got done in March; enough that I could call it 3 down, not enough that I feel like I deserve a high five.
- Regularity breeds creativity. Don’t try to squeeze all the juice in snatched moments and odd places; that’s notebook time.
- Rewriting is an art unto itself, fear and respect it.
The second play of my 2015 writing challenge 11×11 is done. The Underground Library was an idea I’ve been kicking around since the National Arts Festival in 2013. It was going to be building the style of Get Kraken. Set in Jozi of the near-future, the Underground Library is about education and inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the thread of pro-autodidacticism that runs through the work of black intellectuals from Carter Woodson to Steve Biko. It’s an adventure story with spies, hackers, shady interests, and samurai (you know you like samurai).
The biggest challenge for this was that it was a radio play. My first ever. My preference is to write whatever pops into my head and let the director and designer work out how to make it happen on stage (in Get Kraken a stage direction reads, “The submarine rises up from beneath the little boat, stranding the panicked pair”). But in radio it’s all on the writer to figure out how to convey the info. None of it is visual, and since it was for a competition (SAfm radio playwrights) I also couldn’t leave it up to a sound designer – I needed to show that I understood the medium. It being a competition added more pressure. This one had to be good. Every Beautiful was written to be performed, but I will be doing further drafts, I’ll be revising. The Underground Library I had one shot at, and it kept me up late this last week.
Lessons this month:
• If writing is the most important thing to you, then you have to make finishing the most important thing. Prioritise finishing. Life will make you choose. Choose finishing.
• I’m useless at night. Rather take it off and recharge.
The first month of my 11×11 project has come to an end and I have done one play. Sort of. The rules I laid out put the page target at 30, but I finished at 26. Apart from a two page prelude, the play is a single continuous scene without entrances or exits. Two characters having a conversation.
So what did I learn? Firstly, finishing is the most important thing and how that may be defined is a not hard and fast. 30 pages is a good goal, but a piece that’s shorter but with a continuous spine and a real ending is also good. Secondly, to be careful of excuses. The one above makes sense but other excuses I made to not write were lame self-sabotage. Among them:
- I can make up the page count tomorrow (no, you won’t)
- I don’t have an idea what to do next (not writing is the opposite of solving this)
- I’d rather answer this email (that’s a damn lie)
- OK, but I have to answer this email (you know you don’t really)
- I’ll write better after a power nap (you won’t get back up)
- What’s happening on Facebook/Twitter/News24 comments section? (What is wrong with you?!)
And Finally, I confirmed it’s possible. For me. (So probably for you too)
The result of January’s labour is Every Beautiful Thing, promised to Briony Horwitz last year and finally delivered. It’s an emotional drama and comes from the same place as A Girl Called Owl – a spiritual sequel. To keep the 11×11 challenge interesting I’m going to pick very different projects each month, so February’s play is going to be The Underground Library. This is more in the Get Kraken! mould, multiple scenes and locations, an action adventure aimed at teenagers. Conveniently there’s an SAfm radio play competition and the submission deadline is the end of the month. Whenever possible I’m going to try incorporate opportunities like this into the challenge (because I like money).
There’s a pleasure in symmetry, a pleasure in pattern. Rituals and habits are reassuring. Looking at 11 x 11 with its palindrome promise, makes me think it doesn’t stand for anything out of the ordinary. It can’t represent anything challenging or impossible. Can it?
As a matter of fact it can. 11 x 11 is a project I’m embarking on, a gauntlet I’m throwing down against my common sense. It stands for something a bit ridiculous in its audacity: a promise to write eleven plays in eleven months. One play every month from January to November.
This year I’m not producing any shows. I’ve produced eight shows in the last five years (four of which I wrote) and it is time for a break – time to rethink my strategy. What better way to do that than to rewire how I think about writing? If you’re like me you’ve got a folder of ideas and bits of scenes lying around, maybe a couple of promises to write the script of an idea that your table of drunk friends came up with. If you’re like me you’ve got the material, you just sat on it.
11 x 11 is about quantity, not quality. None of these plays needs to ever be produced. The goal is not the stack of pages but the experience and the practice. What does it take to be prolific? How will my process change? What will I learn from this?
The rules are simple. I have to finish a play by the end of every month. It should be about an hour (or more) so if it’s a one hander then over 20 pages, and if it’s dialogue over 30 pages. So I’ll be writing between 220 and 350 pages.
Best of all? I’ve already started and have 8 pages to go to meet my target by the 31st. This is possible and I am going to do it.
Hello Cape Town,
In the wake of the vicious racially motivated attacks that have shaken and shamed Cape Town my mind has been in turmoil. How do I respond to this, as a white South African male, as a writer, as a Capetonian? How can I re-examine the city? I wrote, returning to reflections and a short story I wrote in 2007 as a springboard to articulate the inchoate feelings in me. The result is the seed for a new production and a collaboration with the brilliant Jason Potgieter.
We’re looking for two male performers between 20 and 40 years for And Other Events (working title). Written by Jon Keevy and adapted and directed for the stage by Jason Potgieter. This is a play about race and rage and the city, performed mainly though voice work so we are looking for strong vocal performers interested in tackling a tough subject.
- Email your CV & headshot to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an audition. Only by confirmed appointment please. Regretfully we may not be able to see everyone because of time constraints. We also can not do skype or taped auditions.
- Candidates must prepare a poem of their choice for presentation. Limericks and Haiku excluded. Unless you can make it work.
- Audition duration is 15 – 20 minutes.
- This session will be split into solo presentation and working in a pair with another auditioning performer.
- We are looking for: Strong vocal quality (clarity, projection, energy), varied local accents; ability to evoke and sustain audio-imagery through voice; playfulness and willingness to devise vocal mis-en-scene collaboratively; realistic, goofy, OTT and irreverent sound effects / vocal graphics.
- Being able to sing in varying styles is a plus.
- Candidates must be vocally warmed up for the start of the audition. So do your tongue twisters in the car, on the bus or on the train, or on foot – the looks you’ll get are great research.
- Candidates should bring a hard copy of their CV & headshot.
- Auditions to be held at the Alexander Bar Upstairs Theatre 76 Strand street CBD
- Saturday 13th December between 10am – 2pm
- Successful candidates will be notified by Monday 15th December
- Performance dates: 10 – 21 February (10 performances, may be extended)
- Rehearsal period: 17 December – 12 February
- Remuneration: Rehearsals will be R40per hour. Performance will be 25% of the gross (judging by other Alexander bar shows should be R3000 – R5000)
- Possible further runs.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, please share with anyone you feel would be interested.
Hola peoples, we are looking to cast a female character actor with excellent comedic skills and the ability to sing in my play Dirty Words. Whoever we cast should also have an additional special skill or talent. Think dancing, acrobatics, juggling etc. No ping pong balls please. The original performance, as portrayed by Alicia McCormick, included a burlesque number so that’s something to think about though we can write around it. We are not looking for an actor to replace Alicia or to duplicate her performance but someone who can bring their own unique talent to this show.
For those of you who don’t know: Dirty Words is a sketch-comedy show born in the fast and loose crucible that is Alexander Upstairs’ own monthly experimental platform, Play Things. Immediately it became a cult sensation. Filthy, explicit and incredibly funny… Dirty Words pulls back the covers on erotica, chat sex, dirty talk and naughty sexy grammar.
So what are we looking for in a performer? Female over 22, race immaterial, at ease with dirty material and great comedy skills, able to do many different characters / vocal qualities / performance energies.
- REHEARSAL PERIOD: September 2014 | PRODUCTION PERIOD: 6-18 October 2014 at Kalk Bay Theatre
- Please forward your headshot and brief CV to email@example.com
- We would like to see everyone but space and time is limited therefore performers who are currently still studying will not be considered.
- We will contact you to schedule an audition.
- Auditions will be held during the day on Saturday 9 August at Alexander Upstairs Theatre.
- Remuneration: details provided with confirmed audition
- WHAT TO SUBMIT: CV and headshot to firstname.lastname@example.org
- WHAT TO PREPARE:
A comedian observed that handing out flyers is a bit like saying, “Here, throw this away for me.” He’s not wrong. Flyering can be the most disheartening activity in theatre. Marketing general gets that reputation.
But like any challenge it has the possibility of being really exciting. Every year performers try crazy stunts to get people to take their flyers – they cavort in costume, they sing, they beg… And the for the designers the challenge is just as intense: How to deliver information in a way that engages the imagination of the target audience. As much as the aesthetics matter, the result is what counts.
Yusrah Bardien passed on a great idea to me from Fiona Gordon (if you’re interested in the up & coming generation of people who make theatre happen, it’s them). Instead of making the standard flyer, make a colouring book page. Suddenly the flyer becomes entertaining in itself, an item families can engage with and even look forward to finding on their tables. For me it’s a joy to be able to doodle the characters and a challenge to figure out what makes a good image to colour in. Usually I don’t work with vector graphics but since I’m travelling it became the best way to work.
First I’d doodle the characters, trying to find a nice clean cartoon style that is still energetic, then I’d roughly sketch ideas for layout, finally I’d rework these with the vector tools on Photoshop (I know, I know I should use Freehand or Corel if I’m serious about vectors. But I didn’t have time to learn a programme from scratch). I’ll do a work through when I have more time.
The results are still evolving. In these sketches you can see I went back to rework Jay – the first pass felt too non specific, too generic kid (a danger of writing young characters too?) while the new sketches give him more energy and expression.
I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction of kids. Hopefully they’ll enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them.
Get Kraken is on daily at 12pm at Oatlands Hall as part of the ASSITEJ Family Venue at the National Arts Festival 2013.