A Different View – the Director

Having started a blog series “A Different View” during the Significant Other Festival, we continue onwards with Tutku Barbaro’s story as a director in The Collective Project 2012.

So rare is it to partake in a project which is in itself excellent but also filled with totally excellent people that I can barely believe I had the privilege of working with The Pensive Federation not once, but twice now. This being my second time working with the company, I thought I knew what to expect – what an idiot; The Collective Project was COMPLETELY unpredictable.

Every day was different from the one before (in that respect, probably lucky there were only 12).  The Collective Project provided a creative environment in which the only rule was that we all muck in all of the time.  Ideologies such as ‘actors act, writers write and directors direct’ were flagrantly disregarded every single rehearsal.  Exhilarating!

WE is the word. We shared stories, we improvised, we made script suggestions.  In the first rehearsal, I was directing Swarm.  All myself and teenthe writer Polly really knew was that it’s about teenagers and it’s set at a bus stop.  After a bit of, what quickly felt like forced improv, I just started asking questions: have you ever been dumped? who was your first crush? what was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you as a teenager? when did you first feel guilt? Instead of stopping to feel vulnerable we just kept paving common ground – all our combined stories cut the path towards Swarm. Quickly it was obvious that between us, we’d had enough drama, hilarity and teenage awkwardness to write an epic.  The end script had a little bit of all of us in it.  We thought our stories were mundane, but actually they were magic.

In the second week, just when we got kinda comfy, we had a switcheroo.  All directors were given new scripts – into my grubby little hands arrived Serena’s Galaxy.  I felt like a mistress trying to worm my way into the play Cat had started to direct. To be honest, it was a really quite strange experience – knowing that someone in such close proximity had already had their way with my lovely little script.  And what a lovely little script it was, full of characters in the middle of a moral crux and that agonising idea – what if you don’t want to be part of the group? Better still, what if you can’t?

Being part of a group is difficult, you have to be yourself but you have to be everyone else as well.  If I’m going to be a good director, then I have to put myself in the position of both the actors and the writer.  I have to ask myself what do they need and how do I help them achieve it. With The Collective Project, we were able to see a play we’d originally worked on transformed by a different director – examining each other’s process and offering support was really refreshing and a great way to learn from each other.

The whole process, was simultaneously totally unglamorous and yet completely magical: sweating faces stressing over unlearnt lines, and yet theatre appearing as if from nowhere.  Obviously caffeine helped – but nothing would have been achieved without trust, hard work and talent. My only regret is walking directly into that pillar during a blackout.

The Pensive Federation isn’t just a company, but a pride of capable, versatile and totally bloody gorgeous writers, actors, directors, producers and stage managers.

As we all go off to do separate things for a while, at least we all know: we’ll always have Bridlington.

A Different View – the Actor

It’s almost been 2 months since The Collective Project wrapped.  So difficult to believe – but alas, we reminisce with John-Paul Conway, one of our actors about his experience working with us.

Twelve days, four plays. Four plays, twelve days? Whichever way you spin it it sounds like a trick doesn’t it? A sleight of hand, you’re thinking ‘but how?’ These plays were not written, let us stress (and we did), nor were they even conceived; all of this, along with the learning of the lines, the direction, the rehearsal, had to happen inside those twelve days, four plays.

I was apprehensive, but when voiced producer Laura just said to me ‘we know you can do it’ I was ok.  Sometimes when somebody tells you that, you believe it.  Whether this was wise, stupid, or blind, I was in.

Day one and we were playing games. Why not, everybody loves a game don’t they? (Never mind that we’re on in eleven days!) We stood in circles and talked about our favourite ‘collectives’, a coming together as it turned out of Pulp, The Pink Ladies, The Power Rangers, and The Care Bears, amongst others; a motley ‘kick-ass’ crew, we can take four plays in twelve days!

We literally ran ourselves ragged chasing after each other in ‘stick in the mud’, we built furniture (collectively, geddit?) and saved ourselves ropefrom impending doom and death on a desert island adventure. Producer Neil (or Pensive Neil as he’s saved in my phone) introduced a tennis ball, pens, lots of numbers, a bucket, a length of rope (I thought this might be to murder us ‘Colonel Mustard’ style, if we didn’t learn our lines, though thankfully we all did . .) We talked about ‘packs’ and ‘schools’ and ‘sets’ and ‘swarms’ and ‘gangs’ and ‘prides’ and ‘murmurations’. We were playing, pretending, having a lot of fun together. It started to feel pretty good.

Days four and five – ‘Hold on!’, you’re saying . . ‘you’ve missed a bit!’ But not so.

Days two and three were for the writers to put something together, a first draft, after the events on day one. ‘What, a first draft after just a game of ‘stick in the mud’?!’ Oh yes, we work quickly!

So, fast forward to day four – workshopping ideas from the writer.  Fuelled by croissants and biscuits from baker/producer/pensive Neil we took the writers’ words and ideas and started getting into character. Which character? Well yes, in most cases there weren’t any yet so we were creating them, and the story, the plot, the setting – writers, directors, actors, producers all together in one room – brains whirring, limbs whirling, putting whole worlds together as we went along, just stopping every now and then for a quick biscuit (thank you Neil).

Days eleven and twelve. ‘What?!!’ ‘Twelve?!’ This is it, it’s here! Yes, yes that’s right, it’s here. What the hell happened to days six, seven, eight and all the rest of it . . Well, the writers were very busy, scribbling away furiously in order to write a full, finished, polished final version of a twelve minute play. Pretty good going huh?

Then, the actors had… ready for this… two nights and one day to learn four plays.  Tricky!  But we did it.

We did it because since day one we’d been working in and out of each other’s pockets the whole time, creating the project together. As actors, after all the games and workshops and shared experience that had preceded and informed where we were now, on day eleven, script in hand, we were ready. Of course we were nervous as hell! But we were ready, we knew we were working together, we had each other for support, and we were going to do a damn good job!

slapThe scripts were excellent. The writers knew us as actors, what we were capable of, where we could take the characters, where they wanted us to take them. In just two days we had all four plays on their feet, and dancing. (We literally danced every night in the theatre, and Pensive Neil can tell you more about his trademark move, the ‘slap and hit’, but that’s another story, another time).

The week of performance was a riot. We had packed houses as word got around and the audience lapped up the antics and the drama on stage every night. Indeed there were on occasion cries for ‘One more play!’ as we walked off after our bow. The characters and the stories and the dialogue and the action continued to develop throughout the week; we plunged new depths every night and discovered new facets of the writing, such was the quality and the joy of what we had done together.

Life after The Collective Project was a little sad at first, but ultimately richer. I’m very proud of what we achieved and immensely glad that I can look back on it knowing that I was a part of it.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

A Different View – the Playwright

Having started a blog series “A Different View” during the Significant Other Festival, we continue onwards with Mike Carter’s tales as a writer in The Collective Project 2012.

I can say it now of course but I’m afraid my heart sank a little with talk of The Collective Project. Collaboration? Against the clock?  I’ve worked collectively before, most notably with my friends at Crow Theatre,  but over a period of months. They try things, play, go down blind alleys and take wrong turns maintaining a stress – and pretty much deadline – free environment. The exact opposite of what was being proposed.  How on earth would it work? I did vocalise my concerns and was told, with a knowing that hinted The Pensives expected them from me, that all would be fine.

So to a first ‘kick start’ evening where team building games combined with more specific exercises which saw me – Mr Script – engage in improv and survive. The evening ended with a slightly guarded writers meeting where we ‘pitched’ our early thoughts. There was a spectrum between “blank sheet of paper” to “fully realised idea.” I was in the middle with an “opening image” in my head.  But we left with our collective noun and title selected and awaited news of the director allocated for our first workshop.

I know Nick Myles well as a darned talented writer so a slightly odd experience having him in director mode, but what an excellent choice. We agreed I’d take  nothing into the workshop but ten to twelve line character monologues. He would lead improvisations and  magic would happen. I’ve never felt so unprepared for anything in my career.  But foolishly I’d forgotten good actors don’t sit around waiting for writers to provide for them.   Four hours of expert improv flew by. At the end, I had a cast of wonderful fully formed characters, but also a glorious hinterland of wives, husbands, jobs and mothers and a past of friendships, lost loves and missed opportunities.  I had my play.

All I  had to do, in a sleepless blur, was put it all into twelve minutes and, it turns out, a ridiculous structure.  My play Bevy hung on the countdown to a photo being taken.  I’d made it difficult for everyone. A repeated 5,4,3,2,1 countdown is, yes, a short cut to pace and tension, but it gives actors repetitive staccato dialogue to learn.  They were very kind to me, but I’m sure they were cursing me under their breaths.  If the actors had a reason to dislike me, so did director Cat Robey. It soon became clear the script was a puzzle. It required huge amounts of clear thinking, logic and will power to get on its feet. I had been, I fear, a tad ambitious, but genuine heroics were achieved in the last four hour rehearsal. (Four hours, I know crazy, right?)   The more I think about it, the more impressed I am.

The run was a blur, but there was a definite arc. New things were found in all four plays over the week – subtleties played out and depths were found. Proof The Collective Project had created no mere sketches, but plays with relevance, meaning and heart. Imagine our pleasure, when a rather wonderful review from Everything Theatre said pretty much the same thing.

So I learnt something. Collaboration is not all about exploration. The model adopted by devising companies is great, but there is another way of working. You could call it the “Blind Panic School of Theatre” which is why it will probably never catch on. It’s all about trusting the people you work with and going for it. I’m proud of Bevy and the whole Collective Project. I hope everyone else involved is.

“Could not have done it without you”  has never been more heartfelt.

A Different View – The Actor

In the third of our blog series “A Different View” Oliver Britten writes about his adventures with us as an actor in the Significant Other Festival.

#significantotherfestival. A hash tag, I became very familiar with over the course of the process. A mark to brand my sheer enthusiasm over an event I was desperate for people to see, and desperately proud to be involved in. Why? Because unlike so many un-paid, freelance acting jobs, this was a gig not just for the show reel, not just for the ‘experience,’ not just for the, ‘networking’ potential but for the raw talent, the originality, and the absolute unrelenting fun that was inherent throughout.

The process was simple: 7 writers, 7 Directors, 14 Actors, 2 producers and 7 days. The end result: a one-hour show consisting of 7 plays all 7 minutes long.

It began with a meet and greet; A chance to meet everyone selected for the festival.  You had the actors: the usual crowd of eager beaver show-offs, some new faces some old, all hungry to shine.   And shine they all would.  The writers: An oft’ varied bunch, some more apparent than others with a funny hair cut and a pencil behind each ear -should an inspirational moment grab them by the balls and result in a literary ejaculation so formidable as to release a whole pencil of its led, they would at the very least have another one to hand- some less so, lurking in the shadows observing with a mild grin, and a tilted cap so as not to reveal their innermost thoughts and ideas to the hoard of creatives’ desperate to embody, to become and to harness whatever may fall in their way.   And the directors: A band of leaders, visionaries, ready to lead their performers down a path of discovery and wonder with whatever script was eventually set before them.   Of course hyperbole aside, there was something in the air, a distinction between each group that hinted toward a truly well selected crowd of individuals ready to take part in a team within a team.

After some typically hilarious but ultimately necessary warm-up games, we were ready to test the waters.   A random pairing saw myself teamed up with a lovely young actress and given a few minutes to rehearse some original material constructed by one of the writers in the building (we did not know who).   After this brief period, every pair was allowed to perform this to the entire group.   It was a truly fantastic exercise, as everyone in the room was both a performer and an audience member (except the directors but more on that later).   The writers on display by proxy, and the actors on display more obviously, were all totally vulnerable and yet totally safe, in this cocoon of shared creativity. It was clear that this exercise wasn’t just a chance to showcase all the talent in the room, but to pull together a group of relative strangers into a place of intimacy and respect.   Aside from this we were subconsciously digesting the format for the whole festival.

After this seemingly ceremonial (and might I add) hugely entertaining activity we were briefed in the team structure (1 Director, 1 writer, 2 Actor/ress’s).   All 7 groups were then told they had 7 minutes for the writers to write a piece, and a further 7 minutes for the actors (with direction from the directors) to rehearse this new material ready for performance.   This was the real pre-cursor to the following week and here we were really allowed to feel the full pressure and weight of what we were about to embark on.

As before, the resulting’ show’- as it were- was fantastic, and everyone was thoroughly amused and suitably impressed with all the actors, writers and directors.   This was a superb finale to a great day and I can remember being oddly satisfied at the bizarre juxtaposition of inspiration and entertainment I was left with upon my departure.   Left with a one-day-only rehearsal schedule and a few contact details I was off.   Excited and raring to go, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

The rehearsal process went by in a flash and before I knew it, I was standing in the green room, script still in hand, lines half learnt, play half rehearsed, with a belly full of nerves and Chinese food. Chinese food I probably shouldn’t have eaten 10 minutes before the first performance of a 2-day, 5- show run in a ridiculous festival I’d stupidly signed up for. Or at least that was my thinking at the time.

If I thought the rehearsal process was swift I had another thing coming, my 7 minutes on stage went by in a flash of the flash that the rehearsal process went by in.   In a flash of the rehearsal was the new flash of my old flash wasn’t even a flash compared …fgueifbwsfgwuqid;/. Great I’ve confused myself, and let me tell you I was confused when I left the stage. Not only had we managed to deliver a respectable piece of theatre, challenging, enjoyable and hopefully highly amusing, but we had managed to remember our lines, the blocking, the stage craft, when to pause, when to move, how to flipping speak!  It seemed like we had so much to do, and so little time to do it in.  But we had done it.  In seven days we had created theatre and we weren’t the only ones.  Every group had produced something brilliant, original and immensely enjoyable.  It wasn’t long before that feeling of confusion was instead replaced with joy, elation and relief.  Not to mention a seriously overwhelming desire to do the whole thing again!!

And that sums up the Significant Other fFstival in general really. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet some incredibly talented and lovely people, a privilege to be involved in new innovate theatre and a great way to challenge your ability and resolve in your chosen career.  On top of that and maybe most important of all though, it’s hugely fun! It’s made a significant difference to the way I view theatre and I cannot wait to do it again.

Significantly yours,
Oliver Britten

A Different View – The Director

In the second of our blog series “A Different View” Neil Sheppeck tells his tale of being a director in the Significant Other Festival.  

Limitations can give birth to some very fruitful results, and boy did we have limitations! Seven days for Polly to write a seven minute play, and seven days for me to direct Matt and Dani. Then twenty minutes to tech the play before performing to a sell-out audience!

None of us knew each other so the afternoon we had to get to know each other on day 1 of the writing process was vital. We spoke a lot about what inspires us – playwrights, actors, characters etc. Then Polly had six more days to write a play for Dani and Matt to perform.

I really enjoyed working with Polly. She came up with the idea of two comics and the implications their ambitions had on their relationship within the first 24hrs. She would then send me copies of the script and I would give her feedback. Some writers prefer to work in isolation, but communicating during the writing process was both fun and productive. With only 7 days to rehearse (only 3 really, due to our personal commitments), it was vital for me to have a thorough understanding of what Polly had written before rehearsals started.

In the same way that I was an ‘observer’ to Polly’s writing process, she was then an ‘observer’ to my directing process. Matt and Dani had a couple of days to look over the script before our first meet-up as I was out of London. Both really liked the play and their character. I drilled them really hard on learning lines, as I believe any percentage of the brain unsure of the lines isn’t in the moment on stage.

Our second rehearsal was memorable as we sneaked into a room at the Royal Festival Hall that wasn’t being used. We managed 90mins before we were asked to leave. We moved on to a quiet corner at the National Theatre to do more text/lines work. Projects like this are rarely funded and so guerilla tactics are essential.

We only had 20mins on the Saturday morning to rehearse all the technical aspects before the first performance. We had managed to wrangle a spotlight for the beginning and ending of the play when the characters are ‘onstage’ performing comedy. Fortunately everyone was very focused so we only overran by a few minutes.

The first performance went very well. Matt and Dani were fantastic, and Polly and I were very proud of what the audience saw.

The whole project was very enjoyable and rewarding.

Neil Sheppeck


A Different View – The Playwright

This marks the beginning of our blog series “A Different View” where The Pensive Federation have asked a few of their alumni to recall their experiences working with them.  First up: Serena Haywood.

On the morning of 21st January 2012, I updated my Facebook Status to, “Unexpectedly very nervous about meeting a theatre company. Last minute shoe panic and vodka for lunch…”. One interview and a spare pair of shoes in The Royal Festival Hall later, I was told I was working with Neil and Laura and the team of the Pensive Federation as a writer for The Significant Other Festival. So quite rightly I then went out and got properly and gleefully sozzled.

I really, really wanted this gig. The title was intriguing and the concept of 7 writers, 7 directors, 7 props, 14 actors, 7 plays, 7 days had a sort of Biblical numerical mysticism. How could anyone resist?

The writers were asked to provide an example of our work and a covering letter. In this I perhaps foolishly blathered about liking deadlines. Then we were given the task of writing 12 lines of dialogue between person ‘one’ and ‘two’ using the theme of significant other in a ‘real’ setting, thinking as much about what the characters were not saying as what was in the dialogue and to include ‘the magic in the mundane.’ I spent more time per word on this project than I think I have on anything else in my writing career. I really wanted to get it spot on. I like to hope my opening line ‘You disgust me!’ helped. I then checked my email a ridiculous number of times and was bowled over to be invited for an interview.

What impressed me particularly was Laura and Neil’s strong identity as a theatre group including a mission statement “…..work that examines our hopes, fears and dreams and all that matters when you strip away race, religion, and sexuality”. This was referred back to and was consistent throughout the evolution of the pieces. This was very comforting. Their organisational skills were phenomenal and their availability to the whole team was second to none. So much of themselves was thrown in. At the interview, they asked very politely whether I minded keeping them updated with drafts during the process. Again, I found this very reassuring as a sign of the integrity of the festival. They also didn’t seem to mind when I answered the question, what was my main creative influence? with, ‘Dunno. Life?’

I am a relatively new writer having only really emerged from my healthcare based profession via the Brockley Jack writers’ course in Summer 2010. What was so lovely to hear through this is that I appear to have evolved a ‘voice’; a bit of a woolly wordy one I suspect but apparently very female which would impress my mother who still reminds me at intervals that I should have been called George. Every writer wants to hear they have a voice; thank you so much! I am always indebted to my friends of The Coach and Horses writers Group, Clapham with whom we share new writing. It’s mostly through their constant support and encouragement that I felt brave enough to embark on this adventure.

Talking of bravery, the Meet and Greet day when the whole team was brought together for the first time was an utterly terrifying experiences but ultimately one of my life’s most memorable. Ah, who said writers are immune to a bit of drama. We first got our stickers with ‘Writer’, ‘Actor’ or ‘Director’ and to be frank, I could have spent the afternoon just swanning around showing everyone my sticker and I would have been satisfied. It was great meeting everyone and then we had to do creative things in circles which made me panic. In one of the circles we had to name our fictional Significant Others; everyone was so clever. I wasn’t thinking straight. Can I change my answer to Scott Pilgrim now, please? 

We watched our 12 lines being expertly acted and then were united with our teams. Score! I ‘got’ fabulous director Adam Marchan, and wonderful actors Ryan Wichert and Thomas Edge. There was sadly little time for hugging (although I made sure I got my money’s worth) as the writers then had exactly 7 minutes to write a page of dialogue. After my intestines had rearranged themselves in their rightful order I put together something off the top of my head which resulted in me liking my head much more than I usually do. Thomas, Adam and Ryan made something beautiful out of this verbal doodle and then I think we all went to the pub. At least everything then got a bit blurry for a week. It’s worth mentioning that the poor regulars of The Good Intent pub had a fairly disturbing night; one toothless man opened the door to witness a very animated conversation about mime, closed it again and slunk off back into the night possibly never to be the same again.

Then it was go writers!

I basically wrote my play on the train, in the loo, on a sofa, on another sofa and mostly at 10pm or beyond. Adam was the most sympathetic director who read draft after draft, nudging, coaxing suggesting and even set me homework (which I didn’t do, so sorry again Adam). It turned out to be the busiest working week in a long while but the writing somehow made everything better. It also helped having my lovely Coach and Horses writer friend Mike Carter on various messaging forums also crafting away on his piece for Laura and Neil. Conversations went along the lines of:

01.00 – Hey! How’s it going? Great! (arghggh).

02.00 – I just sent off my final draft! Did you?!. Yes! (No -that was a complete lie).

02.30 – I’m off to bed. I’m writing. Oh look, a film on telly. etc etc. I like to think it’s what Shakespeare would have done on his laptop.

I kept Laura and Neil up to date with drafts and we all merrily twittered and tweeted until it was time to put our pens down. Oh actually not until the final draft where I took just about all my words out and Neil rang and gently suggested I put them back again. So, Now Wash Your Hands was finally in the hands of Adam, Tom and Ryan. As part of my gift to them were the words: ‘Woolly cuckoo’s egg’ for which I cannot apologise enough.

I went to the one rehearsal. I was late. I jumped up and down like a primary schoolgirl on amphetamines. I giggled with Neil in the back of the room. I realised I probably wasn’t very much help but I LOVED what they were doing with the scarf; my sexual abandonment, relationship security metaphor…and in Ryan’s expert hands, a rhythmic gymnastic prop.

I tried so hard during the performances on Saturday not to say the lines out loud, but team Adam had transformed it beyond the words breathing energy into the text and bringing heart tugging emotion. Some things were funnier then I’d realised, the innuendo went down a treat (see, I can’t help myself) and the hoped for sexual tension was a thing of beauty. I cried. By the time Mike, Pieter, Laura and Neil had finished up with Crazy Lucky People I was a sobbing blob. That sniffling you can hear in the background of the Sunday closing night video is me.

We had a lovely after party. I then had a little lie down for a fortnight. In the meantime, The Pensive Federation is planning the next festival and world domination. I would be very happy living in a world run by them.

I made fabulous friends, I made some words for a play, I developed a dangerous Twitter habit and a now totally insatiable thirst for vital, new, innovative theatre with crazy, good people. I hope they’ll have me again.

Oh, my mother-in-law still is delighted I had ‘something on in the Royal Festival Hall’ and that night, my shoes got nicked in Soho but I didn’t care because then and now I am a WRITER!