A Different View – the Actor

We continue our blog series “A Different View” from Kim Burnett’s point of view from The Collective Project 2013.

Having been part of Pensive Federation’s Significant Other Project I was over the moon to be on board for their 2013 Collective Project.  In reality, I was pretty terrified.

It began with the Inspiration night.  Nerves soon turned to excitement when I saw some familiar faces and we got started. I know people say it regularly but it is genuinely like a big family. The Pensive Federation create a safe, warm and supportive atmosphere to work in with a group of giving and humble collaborators. There is a definite lack of ego and a sense we are in it together working towards something very special. From nothing we were going to create eight brand new and unique plays. There was something magical about this…yes I did say magical…because it was.

galsThere was a male cast of six and a female cast of six. I instantly felt comfortable with the women I was working with. We had a brilliant connection from the beginning. All five women were open, talented and fun. It was incredible how quickly we bonded. My ‘comrades’ were Alexandra Donnachie, Caroline Short, Cassandra Bond, Dilek Latif and Rhiannon Story…The Z FORCE!

We had one weekend of workshops where we worked with four male directors and four male writers and developed characters and ideas…some of which ended up in the final scripts.

The next Thursday we did a first read through of the scripts. During the following weekend we were directed and the following Monday was our tech and dress run. Tuesday was the first night. Boom!

The biggest question for me was when are we going to learn the words? I just kept thinking it must be possible…they did it last year. It must be possible.

The initial workshops were absolutely brilliant. I loved every minute. As an actor it is like heaven to be able to play and improvise and develop characters for a full weekend. I think it is imperative to be working with people you trust due to the constraints of the project. It was surprising for me how quickly I trusted these five other women I was working with. We had an amazing chemistry when acting together. At the end of the second day of workshops I realised I knew very little about them personally and yet creatively I felt like we had been working together for years. The wrong directors may have found this a little intimidating…particularly our enthusiastic renditions of 5ive however we were lucky our talented directors and writers were up for the challenge… with only a small hint of fear in their eyes!

Each director directed us for four hours on a different play from the one they had workshopped. The girls’ collective nouns and four plays were Party, Coven, Pack and Congregation. The rehearsal weekend was certainly more intense than the previous weekend. It was great fun but very focused. I was quickly reminded that panic is a total waste of energy.  It was my job to stay present, positive and trust that the producers were in control of the process.

It was the slick organisation of the producers that made us feel safe and prepared. They made us feel calm and reassured and yet they were firm when they needed to be, which was great. Props and set were fully organised and the fine details added to it being a well-oiled machine. Neil would always do a full warm up with all twelve actors – for me this was so important. It centred us and connected the twelve actors. As well as a physical and vocal warm up he would also do some relaxation and positive visualisation exercises which were invaluable to calm us down. Having said that, for weeks after I missed his pop video warm up…I won’t go into any more detail than that!

When it came to our first night I was scared but adrenaline was running high and I felt ready. For me personally as ankim actor, I found it exhilarating that I had to be totally in the moment. There was too much to remember to be worrying about what came next. I trusted the girls I was working with and it became an exercise in listening more than anything else for me. Running each piece together along with full costume changes was remarkable. Once the male and female casts came together the process was complete and we were proud of what we offered the audience as a whole company. Without a doubt it was one of the best projects I have ever been part of and I feel very lucky to have worked with such talented and wonderful people.

A Different View – the Playwright

With our blog series “A Different View” we aim to let our audiences into a glimpse of our process, from a …different point of view.  Below is Andrew Curtis‘ musings from The Collective Project 2013.

I learnt long ago that if something’s enjoyable it’s bound to be bad for you. And so it was with the Pensive Federation’s The Collective Project. When it was all over I suffered the ‘Collective Project Blues’ or rather the ‘Post-Collective Project Blues’, and judging by comments on twitter from other members of the collective, ex-members by then of course, I wasn’t the only one.

Being part of a theatre company has always seemed hugely appealing, from creaky rep to the travelling troupe in the Seventh Seal or the players in Hamlet. Yet these roving thesps didn’t appear to be dragging writers along with them. So it was nice to have a role and be part of a company that included other writers.

The first meet – No place for old men with backache
So, the beginning. It all started in a rehearsal space in Elephant and Castle. Well it actually began when I was recruited Mafioso style in a Southwark bar some weeks before, but I’m not going into that here.

IMG_0580The introductory session brought together the writers, actors and directors and was facilitated by the ever energetic producers. Various theatrical games ensued and physical tasks which were fun but exhausting. Having been through this ordeal together there was already a great camaraderie developing. As a writer it is rare to interact with actors and directors to any great degree outside the rehearsal room, never mind enacting tasks necessitating being physically linked with each other, scrambling to get up from the floor. But around 10pm the rest of the company were cleared out and the writers remained for an ‘inspiration session’.

Despite Hollywood’s best attempts to glamorise the writing process – the screwed up page, the sighs, the sudden flashes of inspiration, the ‘eureka’ moments – it is usually rather mundane. And so it proved. Despite a vast supply of booze and crisps, the initial outlining of each of the eight writers’ ideas was tentative. It was fascinating how the other writers started to articulate their ideas. Joe came up with an idea that was pretty much fully formed, whereas Guleraana’s probably changed the most, the excellent Dossier quite different from her initial musings.

I had the idea of putting the six female characters in danger on a climbing expedition, a party of climbers. This sort of scenario is not unfamiliar with male characters but rare with female ones. I was keen to confound gender expectations as much as possible.

We were then booted out into the cold south London night ourselves, and so the twelve manic days had begun.

The wooden spoon award – three cheers for improv
The next stage was what had always promised to be the 24 carat gold aspect of the whole process for the participating writers, the ‘USP’ indeed, a four hour session with the actors and director devising characters and scenarios around my initial idea. This aspect of The Collective Project is nothing like anything else I have experienced elsewhere and it did not disappoint.

My director Gavin brought a particular type of energy, indeed a unique type of madness, to proceedings. Always dressed in the seemingly obligatory outfit for directors, flat clap and scarf regardless of room temperature, he worked his magic. Despite the short notice, Gavin had planned meticulously for the session. Yet he was happy to tear up everything and try something else if needs dictated.

The actors were all superb, and very creative in this session, despite having to do the same thing three other times that weekend. They were a good mix and the main headache was trying to find a good use for all of their talents in a twelve minute play.

The session was punctuated by Gavin, after setting the actors a task, turning to me and winking, indicating that it was all under control. Admittedly there would be many WTF? moments – half an hour sequences involving obscure activities revolving around a wooden spoon where I really couldn’t see where it was all going, only for a fantastic new idea or key aspect of characterisation to emerge at the end.

After the session I appreciated how brilliant the actors had been in working on various ideas and characters. What I wasn’t aware of until I was in the depths of the rewriting process was the richness of the material they produced under Gavin’s watchful eye, and I kept plundering this to strengthen the script.

Go on my son – It’s the script, stupid
The key contribution of the writers in The Collective Project is, obviously, that they have to complete a 12 minute script in a short space of time, in effect a couple of days. Being a veteran of theatre503’s Rapid Write Response nights I had no doubt that I could do this, so turning a short play around quickly produced little fear in me. In the past the minimum time I had done this in was five hours. But producing something of quality was quite a different matter. Having polite but politely damning feedback on the first draft, like: ‘what actually happens in this play?’, as well as great encouragement all round, including from Gavin – ‘go on my son’, really helped. The second draft drew heavily on the actors’ improvised situations and characters, in fact much more so than the first draft.

It was great hearing in the read-through how all eight pieces had developed. This was one of the most exciting parts of the whole process, when ‘the baton is passed’ from the writers to the directors and actors, who then have the minor task of getting the plays to performable standard in a few days.

Rehearsal – Where there is discord there will be harmony
One of the biggest quirks of The Collective Project is that the director gets swapped at this point. The indefatigable 3Gavin was now unleashed on Pack and Neil took over control of mine. Similarly wrapped in flat cap and scarf, Neil had an otherwise contrasting style. Calm, spare in rehearsals, Neil had a clear set of ideas about staging. From the moment he made the actors lie face down on the floor, in the style of a skydive, with each standing as they ‘ascended the summit’ of the mountain, I knew it was in very safe hands. It was great to see the script come to life, fascinating how he dealt with the physicality of the piece.

The most startling aspect of the dress reversal and subsequent performances was the emotional investment I had in the other plays, not just my own. We had all seen each other’s ideas grow; it was great to see the finished products.

The dress rehearsal was a riot. One of the other writers later said to me it was a slight shock during the first ‘proper’ performance he saw because it didn’t get nearly as many laughs. It was exactly the same for me. But it was a friendly audience in the ‘dress’ – the rest of the company. Even the male actors doing the scene changes in the first act provoked laughter and catcalls.

I saw two actual performances. Both were good but not totally alike. The second, the penultimate performance, was pacier and funnier. Why, I don’t know. But it was a great experience seeing it performed twice in front of a different audience a few days apart.

And so that was that. It was a great experience and brilliant to be part of a larger work, opposed to being responsible for producing one fragment in isolation. It was exhausting but worth it!

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.

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!