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.

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.

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.