A Different View – the Playwright

Having started a blog series “A Different View” last year during our inaugural Significant Other Festival we continue onwards with Jonathan Skinner’s story as a writer in this year’s festival.  

I’m a Confederate. A PenFedder. There – I’ve said it. Which means I’ve joined the extended theatrical family know as The Pensive Federation. It also means I’m susceptible to the post-PenFed Blues. And there’s no cure. Let me explain.

The idea of the Significant Other Festival seemed fascinatingly improbable: 10 writers would write 10 short plays to be rehearsed and performed by 10 directors and 20 actors at the spanking new Park Theatre – and all this within 10 days. Yeah, right. And just to make it, ahem, more interesting, each play would be written to a particular genre: action; western; noir, and so on. All this while reflecting the double-barrelled Pensive Federation mantra: the magic in the mundane; the extraordinary in the everyday.

I was up for a slice of this and was invited for a chat with producers Neil and Serena who asked if there were any genres I’d never usually consider writing for. Proving that my IQ can be measured in single figures I think I may have naively mumbled “crime maybe”. Did I spot Neil gleefully scribble a note on his pad? They like to challenge their writers do the Pensives.

The whole caboodle kicked off with the “Inspiration Session”. A few fun warm up games and then it was down to business.stop-watch We were put into our groups and I had the good fortune to be teamed-up with fab director Maddy Smith and two super actors Lynne Rodgers and Caroline Short. With no warning, we writers were then asked to write a one-minute play in five minutes flat, and yes there was a stopwatch. Watching your hand scrawl words when your brain is totally disconnected is an interesting experience, but amazingly our petite playettes were rehearsed and performed on the spot and were surprisingly entertaining. If you can do that in five minutes, Neil suggested, imagine what you could do in five days. Perhaps he had a point.

Then it was crunch time. Each writer opened the gold envelope (I kid you not) containing their IMG_6334allotted genre. And yes, mine was crime. Another of god’s custard pies landing right on target. Suddenly every other genre became immensely appealing, but it was too late for regrets. A quick team guzzle in a local boozer then, armed with some helpful suggestions, I tubed it home determined to act cool, retire for the night and calmly set about my first draft in the morning. Six hours later as dawn broke and I ran out of fingernails to nibble on, I finally surrendered to snoozedom, hugging the laptop.

The next three days passed in a blurred frenzy of rewrites, phone chats with director Maddy to refine the plot, and some incisive e-mailed feedback from The Pensives, always positive and encouraging. The only downside to this entire exhilarating business was that non-delivery simply wasn’t an option. I’d worked to deadlines before of course, but never one where tickets were being sold at the theatre before the script was finished. Adrenaline can work wonders though and after a few more drafts I had a play. Of sorts. I strolled by the Thames, relieved that I’d been spared from throwing myself off the Millennium Bridge, an option always pencilled in as Plan B.

But there was no time to relax. The spirit of PenFed is teamwork and anyway try keeping me away from a rehearsal of my work, especially when such an ace director and actors have their mitts on it. Together we tweaked and moulded the script into a coherent fun character piece. Hard work yes, but highly enjoyable and truly a team effort.

Opening night at The Park Theatre saw a packed house in the Morris Space and, after siphoning down industrial quantities of Pinot Grigio to counteract the nerves, I settled down to watch our crime play superbly performed by Caroline and Lynne. Now I could relax and enjoy the rest of the programme including, incredibly, a 10 minute musical (which pound-for-pound was as entertaining as many I’ve watched on the West End stage). If decibels are any measure of approval the audience enjoyed the show as much as I did. Even theatre dog Hazel seemed to be wagging her tail in approval.

Then suddenly six performances were done, it was all over and the post-PenFed blues struck. It had been a unique experience, new friendships forged in a riot of fun and creativity with occasional bursts of writer’s angst for good measure. Would I do it all again? Tomorrow.

And we’re wrapped

So all good things as they say…
It was a interesting moment when Siân playing Siân in Bevy by Mike Carter said the line: ‘C’mon guys this is the last time you’ll be together for a while’ it was a real case of life imitating art.  Our cast had by this point, become so bonded and a highly functioning unit they’d even started referring to themselves as PenFedders.  So in many ways while the first night recognised the achievement that we, in the 12 day time limit created 4 new 12 minute plays, it also demonstrated that our secondary goal of forming a team/group/company – a collective – had been also achieved.
As Producers, we could not have been more happy with the way things went and what everyone achieved in just 12 days and 7 performances. Of course we’ve learnt a lot, this being only the first time we attempted The Collective Project but its success means that it won’t be the last. We are excited to try and build on this and pour all the knowledge and experience we gained into the second annual Significant Other Festival.
Our company is growing and we really feel we are defining and refining what it is we want to be.  The magic in the mundane and the core things that all people can relate to; the need to love and the desire to be loved, to be seen in the world and acknowledged for the person you are and not the labels you wear.
One thing to be particularly pleased about The Collective Project was that we had 6 actors interacting with each other on stage.  All 4 pieces were truly ensembles.  An aim of our company is to really examine the way people communicate with each other – the spoken and the unspoken – and that was true in the moment Siân said that line.  For all of us PenFedders, it had even more resonance that you can imagine.
A huge thank you to our collective team.  You were magnificent.

And we’re on…

After an exhaustive week of intense rehearsals we left our rehearsal space behind and arrived at Camden People’s Theatre. Tech days are never easy and trying to tech 4 shows in 4 hours, with the additional challenge of video, made it seem at some moments insurmountable.

But as our actors arrived, we realised that they had the real challenge. Let’s not forget they only saw a finished script on Thursday evening only 96 hours before they were due on stage. It’s like the acting equivalent of high wire walking, you have to just keep going even if you wobble. The strength of this project is their incredible versatility as actors; They inspired our writers to create four very different scripts and all the directors have remarked on how brilliant they are as a team, which of course was the genesis of this project.

We’ve compared this project to a relay race with the baton being passed from Producer to Writer to Director to Actor and that’s where the show is now, safely in the firm grip of our actors.   And what’s more, we’ve had magnificent crowds who’ve loved it; We think they understood what they were witnessing was a great team doing what they do best. 2 performances down, 5 to go.  Do you have your ticket?

We’re nearing the end of day 8…

And things are kicking off.  So far we’ve had:

Day 1 – The Exploration Session – putting the whole company in 1 room and challenging them with activities as a group. By the end of the night, we sent off the actors and directors and started collaborating with all 4 writers to develop an arc to the entire show.


Day 2 and 3 – We paired up the writers with a director to begin preparation of the workshop sessions in Day 4 and 5.

Day 4 and 5 – Inspiring sessions in collaboration.


Day 6 – Deadline for the first draft – stunning work!

Day 7 – Checked in with director and writer pairs.

And here we are approaching the end of the day 8.  It’s been a real whirlwind and it’s just over halfway.  Props, costume, tech – it’s all crowding our heads but we look forward to our next few sessions this weekend.  The company has been absolutely fantastic.  We know this could not happen without them.

As important as the 12 day process is, we recognise the next step and invite you, as an audience member, to join the collective.

We open in less than a week and hope to see you there.

4 writers, 4 directors, 4 plays, 6 actors, 12 days — 1 group

1-5 October, 8pm
6 October, 3pm & 8pm
Camden People’s Theatre
58-60 Hampstead Road, NW1 2PY
08444 77 1000 www.cptheatre.co.uk
Tickets £12, £10 concessions


colony, congregation, company, murmuration, gang, coalition, litter, pack, brace, horde, pride, family, blessing, mob, cohort, army, swarm, faculty, troupe, team, squad, bevy, troop, chapter, company, congregation, panel, gang, bench, colony, audience, band, crowd, posse, crew, choir, picket, coven, fellowship, host, dossier, bunch, rosary, galaxy, anthology

End of day 5 already…

Time is rushing forward.  After an immense start on Wednesday exploring collective nouns and group dynamics, we had an epic weekend.  A huge congrats to our actors for giving up their entire weekend to provide inspiration to our writers.  We definitely envision the writers taking all that information (some said too much information) and scribbling furiously.  The directors were also an integral component – facilitating for the writers and helping make their ideas come to life so thank you to the entire team.

It’s been a truly awesome weekend!

It’s only the end of Day 5 though, 7 more to go.  The weekend’s a tough act to follow but we know more poignant moments and drama are to come.

More photos can be found here and join us on Facebook or Twitter for updates on our day to day antics.



The Collective Project

The time has whizzed by and The Collective Project is here. Unbelievable really.  But we’re absolutely chuffed to bits to kick it off with Day 1 in proper style.  Tonight we welcome the entire company, put them in a room, and see what happens… updates to follow.

But first, read on about where and how the project began.

What’s it all about then?
After a truly inspiring (and sold out) run of The Significant Other Festival, we re-grouped and looked at what we should do next.  We wanted to work with The Significant Other company again but how?

It took 1 night, over a bowl of Itsu curry for it all to come together (in retrospect, surprising how fast the ideas came and over curry to boot).

We wanted to:

  • challenge our artists
  • ‘force’ the company to work collaboratively
  • stick to a short timeline; we find this feeds creativity and urges the company to trust their instinct

And so The Collective Project was born.

The Numbers
We love our numbers so we chose:

4 x 12 minute plays over 12 days
4 directors, 4 playwrights, 6 actors

The Theme and Inspiration
Collaboration was the key; blurring out some of the defined roles of actor, director and playwright; groups and group behaviour – all whilst seeking out the extraordinary in the everyday.

The inspiration? Collective nouns.

colony, congregation, company, murmuration, gang, coalition, litter, pack, brace, horde, pride, family, blessing, mob, cohort, army, swarm, faculty, troupe, team, squad, bevy, troop, chapter, company, congregation, panel, gang, bench, colony, audience, band, crowd, posse, crew, choir, picket, coven, fellowship, host, dossier, bunch, rosary, galaxy, anthology

The Process
It all takes place in 12 days, so think: writing vigorously, directors facilitating and leading intensely, actors improvising and memorising furiously.  It will all come together at the end of Day 12 for performances at The Camden People’s Theatre.  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on the play-by-play of it all.

The Company
We’re pleased as punch to announce our company for The Collective Project 2012:

Mike Carter
Polly Churchill
Serena Haywood
Vanessa Wilkins

Tutku Barbaros
Nick Myles
Cat Robey
Ben Vardy

Oliver Britten
Adam Christopher Martin
John-Paul Conway
Siân Gordon
Danielle Nott
Carly Sheppard


Join Us – Tickets on sale now!

The Collective Project
1-5 October, 8pm; 6 October, 3pm & 8pm
Camden People’s Theatre
58-60 Hampstead Road, NW1 2PY
08444 77 1000 www.cptheatre.co.uk
Tickets £12, £10 concessions

4 writers, 4 directors, 4 plays, 6 actors, 12 days — 1 group

And then there were 3…

We’ve been busy bees (which is our excuse for the long overdue blog post) but we are absolutely thrilled to welcome a third addition to the Pensive Family.  How did we get there? Read on…

After performing at the Camden Fringe 2011, we were at a crossroads.  Pagan Love Songs for the Uninitiated was about two disconnected souls; we knew that we were interested in exploring the connections between people; the spoken and unspoken communication with real and relatable characters; great stories, simply told.  This all fed into our company mission but what next?

We wanted a new project, like-minded artists and an audience. 

The Significant Other Festival was the answer and while at times we worried that it was a massive jump up from our little two-hander, it felt like a natural progression.  We were overwhelmed with the response especially by the quality of artists that were interested in the project and our ethos.  People even started to describe things as very PenFed or not so PenFed. As the project progressed, phrases like ‘extraordinary in the ordinary’ and ‘magic in the mundane’ came flowing out of us as we solidified – no – crystallised what our company stood for and the theatre we wanted to create.

The final result was not just 7 well crafted, beautifully written and excellently performed plays but friends, future collaborators and the beginnings of an idea that would become The Collective Project.

Out of this, we also gained a significant other for The Pensive Federation – Dr. Serena Haywood, one of our writers who understood instinctively what we were trying to achieve and shared so many of our thoughts and ideas about what theatre could be.  Also the journey to her craft had echoes of our own.  As a company that aims to focus on new writing it made sense to have Serena on board to contribute the writer’s perspective.

We gathered together and made her a proposition- one which, in our opinion, couldn’t be refused.  But in classic writer style she built the tension by asking us to wait a few days.  So we did just that with fingers crossed.  Our patience was rewarded as Serena accepted and became one third of our creative team.  You can read all about her here.  We are delighted to officially welcome her on board.

The Other Half’s Story

I realise this post has been long overdue.  My partner in ‘theatrical adventures’ Neil, has already told his story and how it all started, I suppose it’s about time for mine.

When I was growing up, my parents constantly told me the story of how, at the age of 2, I was taken to an amusement park and a brass band started playing. I ran right up to them and started providing entertainment in the form of dancing.  Apparently there was a lone video camera (one of those old skool ones with a VHS loader on the side) who captured my first performance.  If only I could get a hold of it!

 When I was growing up, my choice of games were playing secretary and librarian… seriously.  At least I can say that being organised and perhaps slightly anal-retentive were always in me.

Fast forward a few years into primary school and I was cast as Emily Jane in The Ransom of Emily Jane.  Who knew I would play a rotten spoiled rich child so well?  For some reason, it was easy for me to do it. In retrospect I don’t think it was the theatre bug that bit me, but luck? Chance? In the same year as my theatrical debut, I learned how natural it felt to be onstage, had an accident involving the set (not so much Health & Safety back then) which left a scar on my right wrist, and realised that I was a visible minority (that is a whole other story).  But it did the job it needed to do.  From then on, I naturally stepped into extracurricular theatre groups throughout secondary school.

It was the moment a young person starts getting questioned about their future that it really got tense.  I knew I was going to uni, but I didn’t know how to convince my parents to let me study theatre.  I started researching options quite early on and came across a program that was at a very reputable university and involved practical and academic theatre studies.  I was lucky (?) enough to be accepted into the Theatre & Drama Studies Program at the University of Toronto.  The time had come to take everything a bit more seriously and to embrace the theatre arts.  The program was without a doubt, the perfect one for me; well-rounded with a taste for everything and a piece of paper at the end of it with the university’s stamp on it.

Theatre school tends to be a bubble and I realised early on that my journey only began there. There was so much to see and do outside of the bubble and I couldn’t wait until I could start exploring.  My taste in theatre refined itself and I was drawn to modern stories – ideas and experiences I could relate to. At the time and perhaps even still today, Canadian theatre wasn’t very good at colour-blind casting.  As an actor, I struggled with finding projects which challenged me creatively and artistically.  And then one day, I needed a break.  I wanted to pay my bills.  I wanted to feel in more control of my life.  I wanted to stop working 3 jobs at the same time, making lattes and serving food.  I wanted a change.  I ‘retired’ from the pursuit of being an actor.

Years and detours passed. I drove a massive lorry shaped like a monster named Oooze across Canada, and went behind the scenes in TV production.  All the while, I was writing and creating secretly.  I finally took the plunge – something I had personally wanted to do for a few years – quit my job and came to London.  Being here was exciting and new but completely overwhelming.  I had no idea how to branch out into the theatre world. I came from a small city knowing many people in the tiny theatre community and now no one.

These days my outlook has changed. I feel extremely fortunate to have been involved with Old Vic New Voices and to have met Neil.  Not only that, but with every project we create, we attract amazing people and for this I am grateful for.  Somehow I knew that there were others out there, but I’m only realising the truth of it.  I feel passionately about creating opportunities which challenge every individual involved: playwright, director, actor, audience member.  I also firmly believe that it doesn’t matter what theatre school you’ve been to, or what your CV says.  People have stories inside them, we should make them feel safe to let them out.

I’m still on my own journey, figuring things out, being kind to myself, crafting, cycling, and creating as I go.  I guess as a fall back plan I could go back to school to become a librarian… and yes, there is such a thing as a Masters of Library and Information Studies.  Until then, onwards and upwards.

Laura Kim

Theatre created by people like you that reflects people like you, made with people like you in mind.

How it all started…

I remember at aged 5 asking my sister, who was much better at colouring in than me, to make me a Superman style ‘S’. I pinned it to my vest and wore it to school that day.   During a breaktime and any opportunity I had in class I sneakily revealed it to my friends to prove I was a true son of Krypton.   Wanting to be a Superhero has always been my main ambition, though through the years it changed from Superman, to Spider-Man, to a Thundercat, to Super Acrobat (one of my own, who had a magical transforming hoodie) and even Midnighter from the Authority (which believe me if you’re a geek makes me very cool).   As I got older I realised that perhaps I needed slightly more realistic goals.   So I decided that I wanted to be an actor.   Perhaps not the most stable of professions but surely more achievable than gaining the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. 

I did the usual things at school.   I was Joseph in the Nativity, and I distinctly recall a moment arguing with a teacher over a line in a Nativity alternative Baboushka, ‘Star, star what star?”.   I still say to this day that with a small rewrite to ‘Star, star which star?’ the line would have worked much better.   But it’s hard to argue your point for better material when you’re 7.   I joined an amateur dramatics group when I was 11 but caused more problems there too when I wanted clarification why I was walking into a shop scene and then 3 minutes later walking out empty-handed after not stopping to look at any merchandise, what was I doing in this shop if I wasn’t looking for something?   It was only later that I realised that at 11 I had unknowingly paraphrased that famous line ‘What is my motivation?’.  Needless to say,  I only lasted 4 months in that group.   Drama at senior school was easier and I fell in love with creating my own work and that led me to choose a course at University that specialised in small scale devised theatre.   A few detours along the way led me down the road of music and being a vocalist.   That experience more than any other, influenced me as an artist. I couldn’t read music or play an instrument when I started and my tastes were considered by my fellow muso students as mainstream at best, but all that didn’t stop me creating, and learning as I went along.

For me that is the essence of the Pensive Federation;  Talent, aptitude and passion aren’t things that can be taught in only one specific way and different people find themselves at different points in their careers and lives.   Unfortunately we can’t all afford to go to Drama School or study a theatre programme at University but many of us have a voice, an idea and the passion to tell stories that reflect our own lives.

Life took me on some funny road trips, after university I was full of ambition and wanted to conquer the world with my theatre company Edible Rodent.   We had produced and performed two successful shows in my local college theatre in Dorset but convincing other venues that there was an audience for contemporary new writing was an uphill battle that I eventually walked wearily away from.   Also as with many creative people, the need to feed and clothe myself led me to look for other ways to generate income.   I moved onto retail on the shop floor and then behind the scenes so to speak, in a head office environment.   I was and still am constantly amazed how the skills that I learnt from my theatrical career are so highly appreciated and constantly in use;  The ability to jump in to a project, to digest masses of information and regurgitate it to others in ways others will understand, to work under pressure, with looming time scales and to accept new ideas whilst still challenging ideologies and practices.

Eventually my career brought me to London due more to accident than design, well perhaps the universe’s but not mine, and I quickly became enthralled in theatre again.   Being an avid theatregoer wasn’t enough and I soon wanted to perform again.   Old Vic New Voices Community project gave me that opportunity and the fact this project was open to people of all ages made me snap it up as at 32 I was long past the 25 age limit that so many projects and opportunities seem to cut off at.   The experience was terrifying, brilliant, confidence building and set me on a path again to creating theatre that reflects people that I could identify with.   I made some great contacts, some awesome friends and a very special person in Laura Kim.   Our backgrounds couldn’t be more different but our shared aspiration in theatre and all day breakfasts meant we bonded quickly and set about creating our company.   So while I’m still waiting for my X-Ray vision to kick in or for that radioactive spider bite I will concentrate my efforts on The Pensive Federation.

Neil J. Byden

Theatre created by people like you that reflects people like you, made with people like you in mind.

Post show blues day 1

And so it’s come to an end.  Last night’s Significant Other Festival included mesmeric performances, tears, laughter and lots of applause.  Thank you to everyone who came out to support us.  All 4 performances sold out!

And a huge thank you to the entire company – every writer, director and actor. We truly could not have done it without you and we hope the process was challenging, creative and inspiring.  It certainly was for us.

Photos of the process can be found here, courtesy of David Curtis.