The Collective Project 2013 – day 1

IMAG0005And we’re raring to go!  We are thrilled to announce this year’s Collective Company.

The Collective Company for 2013 

Cassandra Bond, Kim Burnett, Mike Carter, Polly Churchill, John-Paul Conway, Andrew Curtis, Gavin Dent, Alexandra Donnachie, Sarah Ford, Will Howells, Richard Jaques, Laura Kim, Dilek Latif, Christopher Lawson, Joseph Lidster, Guleraana Mir, Madelaine Moore, Patrick Neyman, Daniel Page, Jo Pockett, Alfie Rowland, Neil Sheppeck, Michael Shon, Caroline Short, Rhiannon Story, Bryony Thomas, Kate Webster, Ryan Wichert.

Day 1 has begun with our inspiration session.  At the end of this, writers will no doubt be scribing away as the countdown begins.

The question for you is, have you booked your ticket yet?

8 writers, 8 directors, 8 plays, 12 actors, 12 days

The Collective Project
19th-23rd November 7.30pm nightly | 2pm matinee on the 23rd November
£12, £10 concessions
Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Rd London NW1 2PY
To book tickets, click here.

Post production musings

Post production blues are in full swing.  In that haze, Neil J. Byden writes his musings on the whole experience.

Rewritten was a continuation of what we as a company are trying to explore in theatre. We are a new writing company, but we hope to put the writer at the heart of what we do, to challenge them to work in ways they haven’t before, to have them write for specific actors, to discuss their stories with directors, and most important to collaborate. With carefully chosen restrictions we hope to release their creativity, inspiring them to write in new ways. These restrictions, such as the same props, a simple set or the same group of actors began to have their own effect on the work we have produced as a company. Whilst we have always tried to produce theatre festivals of short plays that have a thematic link. A recurring prop, or a reversal of a relationship brought their own unexpected connections.

That is how Rewritten was born, we wanted to see how we could further connect short plays together into a longer play to reveal more connections. We gave them our trademark restrictions; the same actors, a few props and crucially on this occasion, a simple 3 page script. The script suggested nothing and everything, lines hinted at the hold our past has on us, the need to connect in the present and the desire to have a meaningful future. The writers mined the script to find their own stories: reordering, reworking, rewriting. The four plays that we chose were very different, but all had those themes woven through them. Like the word reincarnation, phrases reappeared with new meaning. We were surprised how often the blue cat kept coming up; it was a line that appeared in all four plays. Keeping the line straight and making sure you were having the right recollection was tricky but we got there! It made us realise how important that first teddy is to us!

It also became a challenge for myself and Laura as actors, something we welcomed. We like challenges; we believe these help you grow as an artist. We have stood there as producers and watched as we put our writers, directors and actors through it. Learning four scripts was a challenge enough but creating four distinct characters was also difficult. In the rehearsals however with our director Cat, we poured through the scripts creating back stories for our characters and importantly what the characters meant to each other. This really gave us something to hold on to: friendship, companionship, adulation and concupiscence.

One of the most rewarding elements was how over time, both through rehearsal and performance, the characters were still IMG_9052growing. On the last performance, as I removed a key piece of costume, I said goodbye to each one of them.  I had grown so fond of them. Playing four characters and having four emotional journeys is an amazing opportunity for an actor.  We are truly grateful for that gift. I loved working with Laura, she is a wonderful actor and together I believe we’re a pretty formidable team.

Rewritten has ultimately reminded us why we started this company.  Good stories simply told, which reflect what we all feel, and what we want are compelling and entertaining. After all aren’t we all searching for a connection, and to find our place in the world?

‘to feel that I mattered, to something, someone.’

Rewritten ran from 20-23 August, 2013 at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.

Thoughts from Cat

We were delighted to work with Cat Robey, our fabulous director of Rewritten.  Read on for her thoughts about the production.

IMG_8924Rewritten has been an interesting journey, the concept being so different from anything I’ve done before. When selecting the plays, it was fascinating reading the vastly different ways the writers had interpreted the bare-bones script and the number of directions a story could go. Creating a coherent full-length play out of four different shorts by four different playwrights was the main challenge; how to ensure the audience feel they are watching four inter-connected duologues in one play and not a festival of new writing shorts.

This was a main point in the selection process: finding a through-line through the four that the audience can follow. The four selected each tell a different story and explore different genres: from tragic drama to light comedy. As a director, this was a lovely opportunity to stretch my muscles and focus on working with a number of genres at once. Even though each writer’s story is personal and very different, moments from the original bare-bones script are clearly reflected in each piece, like a “join-the-dots”.

The transitions between the pieces are a vital part of the overall performance, and we have embraced the theatricality of them. We allow the characters to disappear and reappear as someone new in front of the audience’s eyes, never allowing a conclusion to each piece, but rather a vehicle into the next and ultimately four plays into one.

Rewritten ran from 20-23 August, 2013 at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.

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.