The Wordplay Twenty Four Hour Panic
Part Two – The Show
Prologue – Morning
So I got little to no sleep after submitting my play. I dreamt of a man using an axe to smash my door in, and I dreamt I was holding the door with my shoulder to stop him.
My morning alarm, in all honesty, should have been a heralder of good tidings in comparison to the angry axe man, currently stopping short of shouting “here's Johnny!” as he pounded at my door like a disposable set of porn actors might at Sasha Grey.
“Fuck off phone” I burped from my pillow. I could feel my partner grin from her own, could sense the telepathy crossing between us and stating like a bitch : “it's your own fault.”
At eight-thirty am on the 17th of May I clambered out of bed into the rays of burning sun beaming jollily through the blinds and thought – well this should be a pretty fucked up day...
Meet the cast / Warm-ups
So, the day was scheduled to play out like this – at ten am we would meet up with the entire cast and crew of “20:14” in the local Irish school ( the only relevance here is the money clearly pumped into this school and the size of same – hard to fault yet still strangely nauseating when participating in the underfunded Arts, especially given my partner's current redundancy situation ) to compare notes, and kick off the day proper.
From then until 12:30 we would rehearse in various rooms around the school, before taking lunch and, one by one in our groups flock down to the Arts Centre – where the show proper would ultimately be presented – for a thirty minute tech rehearsal.
At five pm we would do our dress rehearsal and run our set-ups, get-outs, and bows.
And at 20:14 pm we would gather together in front of an audience and perform our pieces over the course of around eighty minutes. And at 22:14 pm we would after-show all over the place in the lovely “Sky in the Ground!”
Frankly that was the bit we were all looking forward to the most.
So I clambered out of bed, tried desperately to remember how to dress myself, then grabbed some toast and coffee and tried to set myself up for the day, starting with making damn sure I had my damnable props back in their plastic bag, and that my damn MP3 player was charged damn it.
When my partner realised I hadn't changed my underpants from the day before, she marched me back into the bedroom to dress properly, while she went about making me sandwiches for lunch. She had come full circle too!
I left my apartment at 9.15am, knowing the walk would bring me into contact with a fuck-off Wexford-style hill and a great deal of sweat to fit into my tee-shirt. It turned out only one of my earphones was working so that great big blast of black metal I had wanted to enervate me on my huffle-puffle walk, turned into a tinny little whistle of squeaks blaring from my left earphone.
It was already a beautifully sunny, blastingly warm day so early in the morning, and not only did I take this as a good omen for the chores ahead, but it put me in good spirits despite myself. ( It should be known that I am perpetually grumpy. The reasons behind this are varied and uninteresting, but suffice it to say that it's a lot easier to start grumpy and get happy, than start happy and go grumpy. )
I was extraordinarily nervous to find out what my cast felt about my play, and equally nervous about mounting it in such a short period of time. Even worse was still the lingering knowledge that this piece would be going up in front of an audience – including my writing peers on this project - in less than twelve hours. That was the shit-scardiest aspect of this whole thing ( although personally, I was taking solace in the fact that I wouldn't be up there performing, trying to recall lines I'd only read for the first time a few hours earlier. )
There's also a strange sense of guilt involved in compendiums like this, where other writers and groups are involved because, let's face it, we just want to focus on ourselves, our little nuggets, to the detriment of everyone around us. I wanted to grab my group and get to work and feck everyone else around me, but that's not how it works – one has to be polite, if only on the surface. That guilt was of course compounded when on arrival I realised just how nervous everyone else was too, and it made me feel slightly better.
So we were rehearsing in the nauseatingly well-funded and massive Irish school, in various class-rooms and designer gardens outdoors, but first we had to do the big group warm-up, led by the over-all show director.
Now – I am not a fan of warm-ups, I never have been. Partly down to my grumpy inability to connect with other people ( generally enforced in these things by running around a room flapping your arms with them and doing stupid things at the behest of the facilitator of said warm-ups, blushing with embarrassment and puffing breathlessly because I'm fat ) and partly down to the realisation that nine times out of ten, under these circumstances warm-ups don't work, and can in fact be detrimental – either for the time taken, or for the mistaken belief that a fifteen or twenty minute warm-up is enough to sufficiently work on your body before rehearsal or performance. It's not. I recall in this moment the idiot diva performing in an outdoors Shakespeare show with me last year, spending twenty minutes rolling on the ground variously grunting and shouting “OH!!!” and “AY!!!” four or so hours before performance. Now, of course we all know the reason why she did this was to be seen and heard. But as warm-ups go, one would suggest one does them a little closer to performance time if one believes these things work. Not four hours before you're scheduled to perform. Though I did get to see her knickers while she reinterpreted The Exorcist on the floor during her vocal expulsions, which was obviously awesome.
However, in this instance what the warm-up carefully achieved was a collective mindset, a calming of the nerves and a reminder that everyone in this room was in this together. It introduced a couple of faces to other faces and allowed directors to take part in something with their actors, before taking them away and essentially ordering them around. Irritatingly, it did it's job perfectly and completely discounted the above paragraph even before it was written.
Phase One – Highlighting and Readthroughs
Once warm-ups and final scheduling was sorted, we were shown to our classroom, where the first order of the day was to move all tables and chairs to one side and pretend we knew what position they had started out in so we could replace them at the end of the day. This allowed me to shirk starting the readthrough; I had noticed a startling tremor in my hands and I wanted to hide this for as long as possible or at least make it look like it was the result of some heavy lifting.
I told the actors to highlight their lines ( made easy by using their own names as character names – score one for the long-hair ) and as they did, I discussed with them the frustrations I wanted to work around, namely the fact that I had been unable to work a familial theme into the piece, one befitting of Hamlet's own father issues. As they highlighted their lines, this became the main point of discussion, until my Hamlet performer said, what if we just refer to each other as mum and dad or something?
HA! Awesome. What if the director was the actor's father, and what if the understudies were his parents. It could remain mostly subtext, but with a couple of well-placed “mums” and “dads” within the text, we could create a set of punchlines at the end that opened the piece up for the audience after the fact, and still allowed for my hugely self-centered desire to be “clever-clever” by using the director as “the king” and the actor as “Hamlet” being replaced.
As I said in part one : I lucked out with my actors. Did I fucking ever!
I told them as we moved into our first reading – around 10:30 am - to see if they could find an interesting place to insert references to this familial subtext throughout the day, it would add to the comedy ( I obviously used far-less pretentious language, I could barely form words at this early stage in the proceedings through alcohol abuse the night before, and a genuine fear that I had bitten off more than I could chew by taking part in this challenge ). I shit you not, the first readthrough took fifteen minutes and within that time they had nailed that theme in style. I rubbed my hands with glee : they were going to make me look gooooooood!
At around 11:15 am, we had started moving, blocking, and detailing the play. We were asked if we wouldn't mind moving outdoors, as there were a lot of groups working together in the hall to the detriment of their rehearsals.
Shit yeah! One of the sunniest days of the year and we were going to spend it outdoors rehearsing faux-Shakespeare! Damn right we were happy to jump outside!
Phase Two – A day in the Sun
For the day, we rehearsed our piece in the sun. My own personal directing style – ha, style, like I know what I'm fucking doing out there! Some joke, most of what I do is based on what annoys me about others that I've worked with – is to allow the performers a couple of runs of a scene to see what they bring organically, before honing in on what I like, and what I might like to develop. It's called not having a clue what I want until I see it, but for me, it works.
The most difficult aspect of this whole thing ( aside from panicked and sweaty writing at midnight, obviously ) was the lines. It's easy to present a seven page manuscript to four actors, it's even pretty easy knowing how difficult it is to learn lines over several months, to expect those four actors to learn those lines in half a day. How hard can learning lines be?
It turns out – oddly enough – that it's not so easy for four actors to learn lines in half a day, let alone present them in a naturalistic way for an audience.
It became a source of frustration for the actors ( I think it's safe to say for all the actors taking part in the challenge ( perhaps with the unfair exception of one or two people who seemed to have decided right at the beginning that they couldn't be arsed learning their lines, to the detriment of their performance on the night ) found this element mightily frustrating.
I am a fond believer of holding onto a script throughout rehearsals. I've worked with some real ball-bags in my time, and the unspoken rule particularly in am-dram ball-baggery is usually this : an actor isn't an actor until he learns his lines. It's bullshit. Everyone has their own method for learning lines of course, but generally speaking, an actor learns their lines as they block their moves. In other words, they learn their lines and their movements in tandem. They tie them together organically throughout the rehearsal period, until they feel comfortable to drop their script and relax. It's called muscle memory, and it's vastly different to cramming your studies before your exams.
The theory is, and it can certainly be borne out by practice, that an actor is restricted by glancing down at their script every few seconds. That's true. But that's also what rehearsals are for. The only time an actor should be without a script, as far as I am concerned, is when they are comfortable doing so, and on-stage.
Because you know what? An actor constantly fluffing their lines, forgetting where they are, and stopping halfway through a sentence because they crammed their lines and now can't remember them, is twice as restricting for everyone involved than simply glancing down at their script, not least of all for the actor's ego.
We can mock an actor's sensitivity all we want but we're talking about putting on a play here, and we are relying on an actor to achieve something beyond ego on-stage. And to do this, we have to appeal to their sensitivity, certainly as a director.
Unless their spread-eagling on the ground alternatively shouting “AH!!!” and “AY!!!” whilst flashing their underpants. Then they're probably fair game.
Lines, lines, linety lines
Where I lucked out in my actors was in their desire to serve the text and the challenge at large. This meant, for them, learning the lines and presenting them onstage without a script to hand.
The problem I had created, as a writer, was to overload my dialogue in favour of the “director” character, giving him the longest sets of lines and even a speech toward the end. I had done this in the – mostly correct – assumption that he he would be able to learn and remember them. Where I therefore sold the play and the other actors short was in giving most of the others short interspersed lines throughout the piece as a whole, tying into the directors speeches without giving them moments with each other. It meant that more often than not, they had to cue off the director, or cue back to him.
Though I had willfully created a sequence of three landmark moments to keep the actors on-track throughout the piece I had neglected to do so with the lines, leaving in particular the two understudy characters with a couple of piecemeal moments where not only did they have to remember their lines after spending a few moments silent on-stage, but cue other actors.
The male “understudy” in particular, I had given a short sequence of lines on his entrance that although in my mind was contextually funny, sort of came from nowhere. He struggled, throughout the day, to remember the lines as a result.
The female “understudy” had a more prosaic problem – I had made a point of bringing her onstage with a line, but then left her standing there for half a page before her next line. We had established that the two understudies were mummy and daddy to the director, which led the two actors to stand together for much of their time. This then led to the problem that they were relying on cues and cuing from actors who were across the stage from them, which meant they had to concentrate not on what was happening around them as part of the play, but on where their next line was.
Throughout the day it became apparent to us all that we would most likely have to rely on a level of improv to get us through these moments, as the understudies were finding it difficult to remember the right places to repeat their lines. As often as we went over the piece, the lack of soft-cues in the piece had become apparent.
This was a very definite failing in my writing and was difficult to make up for while directing. Had I more time, then perhaps we could have workshopped the piece. But hell, the whole point of the challenge was to mount a play in a day, not a masterpiece. I'm sure all participants that day would concur that, if only we'd had a little more time, etc etc. Tough titties folks, this was the nature of the challenge!
How did we deal with this situation? We kept running the play. The benefit of having a ten minute piece is that you can run it at least four times within one hour, and so for that beautifully blue-skied day – until we had to head down to the art centre for our run-through – this is what we did, my hope being that the more we ran it, the more familiar they would become, if not with the exact lines, then with the general piece. To a degree, it worked, and certainly by the time the actors performed the piece in front of an audience they had a good idea of the sequence of events within the play, if not the exact wording.
With the exception of our Hamlet, who had rather brilliantly succeeded in memorising his lines through rehearsal-osmosis by lunchtime, the actors were still very concerned about their lines. They knew them separately, but were finding it difficult to place them into the piece. That's fair enough, they had little time in which to learn them, and we were edging ever-closer to the tech run in the Arts Centre.
I repeatedly stressed to them that as long as they knew where they were in the piece, and as long as they weren't throwing the others off or extending the play by half an hour, I had no problem with them jiggling the lines around or ad-libbing, rather than saying them exactly as written. And although they were all for learning the piece as-was, I think it helped them to know they had a little lee-way.
I think that's a benefit of directing your own piece – there's less guilt involved in editing, cutting, or desecrating a play if it's your own. And it's also a lot easier to come up with lines and ideas that fit in with your original tone. I'd be interested to find out from the directors how difficult or easy they found it to edit their pieces, knowing that the writers were literally in a room nearby.
As we rehearsed we were able to add or subtract within the script. I was still aware that the ending didn't quite work, that we had no way of leaving the stage. Over the day, we tried different things out until finally, we came up with a simple solution – the director would turn to his mother and ask her what was for lunch. She would tell him sandwiches. This would give them reason enough to walk offstage. We had an ending.
We drove to the Arts centre from the Irish school together, which allowed us to discuss other things than the play and the night ahead. It was a nice moment of levity given what we were about to do.
Forgive me this – but when we arrived at the Arts centre, I snuck in to watch the group who were currently teching. I was desperately pleased to see that they were still holding their scripts! And although I had no malice towards that group, and wanted it to come off perfectly on the night for them, it heartened me just a little despite my guilt over same, that we were off-script, even if not word perfect, while other groups were still struggling with dropping the book.
When it came time to tech, I did what I always do in these situations – completely forgot that teching is a slow, painful process of aiming lights, placing props, and explaining to people who haven't seen your play why you're doing something. It's agonising and it's why I very rarely use lights, props or even set in my plays. It's a limitation and a failing on my behalf as both a writer and a director – but they do say play to your strengths.
However, it gave the actors the opportunity to perform the piece fully on-stage and to their credit, with the exception of a couple of line-drops and one sweaty onstage panic attack, not only did they get through it but they got a couple of hearty laughs from the few others in the room. Toward the end, and his speeches, the actor playing the “director” achieved a complete flobbing of lines while still nattering confidently as though he knew what he was saying. I wouldn't go so far as to say we were audience-ready – but hell, I was beginning to suspect these guys were gonna pull it off.
Plus we finally nailed the ending – at the last second I asked my actress not just to say sandwiches, but “ham” sandwiches. I reckoned it was a perfect, cheeky last line and if nothing else, would get a laugh.
I was getting confident. And terrified.
Time – Ticky ticky time
We finished our tech and returned to the school, a couple of hours still to go before the full run. I was excited about seeing other people's plays, seeing them come to life. I was interested too in talking to the other writers, to see how they were feeling, and what their overall experiences were. Of the eight writers, only three of us were directing our own pieces, and I wanted to know how they felt now that we were so close to running them.
The nature of the beast was, unfortunately, that we were all still very entrenched in what we were doing. Some groups were still panicking over losing their scripts, some had yet to run their piece solo. Each group were head to head, working, and as my own actors had split off to run their lines separately, all I could do was wander around the school ruminating, hoping for the best and happy that I had personally lucked out with the performers I had been given.
They had spent an entire day running a ten minute piece over and over again, yet had shown no signs of boredom or irritation. Better still, for me both as a writer and director, they were exhibiting strong enough signs of both confidence, and excitement, as well as fear, that they were keeping me from flat-lining.
So they ran their lines, and I wandered around trying to take in the other groups as they worked, without getting in their way.
I had a moment's pause to think : this is what I love. This is what I want to do. And this is why I do it. I was truly enjoying myself. I had gotten to spend a day rehearsing a play I had written. I had gotten to do so on a beautifully sunny day with people I liked.
“Wordplay” had given this to me and once again I can only stress this – it is so unusual for a drama group, not only to be working with an original writer's piece, but to be actively pursuing it.
There is a great deal of bitterness in drama; I suppose it's a necessary evil when one is dealing with ego. The writer often dislikes how the director has approached their baby. The director is often frustrated that the actors are not instantly on the same page. The actors might not appreciate how the director is approaching them. There may be infighting and clashing egos. Backlashes, as one person learns their lines faster than the others and seems to be showing the rest of them up. Actors don't like it when another actor tries something new, or different, especially when they're actually good at it. Fear permeates throughout, fear of dropping lines, fear of looking bad, simple fear of performing in front of an audience, and often, simple fear that we're not as good as we think we are. Am-dram is home to many cliques, and there's a reason for it – fear.
I often find that the simple joy of putting on a play is replaced by the joy-destroying egos of those cliques involved. Very often what you're contending with – especially as an actor or a director – is someone who believes they know better than you. Here's my advice to you - they don't. They just think they do and would rather put you down for fear of you realising it.
In professional drama they like to pretend they are professionals and are above the pettiness of ego. Obviously they're lying to themselves but it sometimes creates a strangely cold atmosphere in a production, where each person is pretending to treat it as a job while outwardly telling everyone around them how wonderful everything and everyone is. In amature drama of course, there can be the same ambience – but more often than not in am-dram, performers are escaping themselves for a little while, their jobs, their families, perhaps the awful stuff that's going on in their lives. As a result, they often play the “role” of the performer. It can be terribly irritating to the outsider ( or the grump ) but taking a step back, one has to understand why we do it.
Ego, yes of course. But also this - for the love.
And as far as I could tell as I wandered around the school in the last hour before we moved back down to the Arts Centre to fully run eight ten minute plays, we were all in love with what we were doing in that moment.
The show had been separated into two halves, with four plays on each side. Ours was to be last, which was a great benefit to us in timing ( it meant we had longer to run and rehearse than other, earlier groups, ) but left us a hell of a lot time during both runs to procrastinate. A mixed blessing then. I was personally happy that we had the final slot – it meant that the audience would remember us, being the last piece they saw.
At around five pm the entire group gathered together in the Arts Centre auditorium to start our run.
It was probably a mess for most people. That's just a fact. All groups gathered to watch the run-through, hoping I imagine that all the shows were good, but their's was the best. That's natural.
And it was an eye-opener and reality check for all of us all rolled up into one scooby-fuck of an evening.
The first group on had the unfortunate difficulty of being first on, which meant that everyone was gathered there watching and they had probably had the least time to rehearse. Nerves perhaps got the better of them, lines were thrown, a couple of panic-attacks occurred and it became an uncomfortable performance for all. As an audience we willed them on, we were behind them, but that was no help in that small auditorium each time a cue was called out by the director during the increasing silences. As we sat there, writers, directors and actors, I can only assume that the same thought went through our minds – that's going to be us up there too.
Those groups who were in the second half soon realised that they had time for one more run-through. We slowly slipped away to do so, which meant that slowly but surely, each succeeding group had less of an audience to cheer them on. Detrimentally, they therefore had little idea of what might work for an audience, and spent more time fulminating over their few failures than their many successes as they waited for the show proper.
The evening ran on, edging ever closer to official opening time, while we waited to get our chance for rehearsal. I finally got round to eating my cheese sandwiches, and as they gurgled unpleasantly in my empty stomach I realised how nervous I actually was.
I hoped I wouldn't need to poo. It might take a while. They might begin to wonder if I had done a runner, little realising they'd be half right.
Finally, my actors got up onstage and performed. It was sweet relief after the waiting. Was it perfect? God no. We had several moments of panicky sweat up there! Did it make people laugh? Fuck yeah. Did it make me laugh? You're damn right.
They got through it. They dropped lines. They made shit up. Sometimes it was better than my writing, and sometimes it was worse. I didn't need to say anything to them as they stepped off the stage, they knew it themselves and pledged to perfect it before going onstage.
There was more waiting. A hell of a lot more waiting. One by one I got the chance to chat to the increasingly nervous writers. I had little to say, I was happy with how my play was turning out, and although I was as nervous as the others I at least had the benefit of having been through this before. It's hard to explain to someone that the reason I seemed confident was because I wasn't going on stage for a change! For me, the work had been done and of course I wanted the best for my play and my actors, but it was now in their hands. I was going to enjoy the night with the knowledge that I was not getting up in front of people with the responsibility of speaking words, remembering moves, and cueing cues. Believe me, that was a weight off my shoulders and it meant I was extremely relaxed.
The other writers did not have that lack of burden, for them the terror now was that a large audience would see their writing onstage. Not one piece was bad, and with the exception of only one glaringly obvious actor, everyone had taken to the challenge of learning their lines with a mix of terror and determination. But how can you know what to expect from an audience if you've never been through this before?
And so we waited. And we fretted.
Before we knew it, the first half actors were waiting in the wings of the stage and the rest of us were clumped together trying not to breath in the green room, lest the audience hear us and have the illusion ruined!
I had yet to see anyone else's piece, and I had intended to watch the first half from the side. It's nice to get a sense of what the audience is responding to, and it's always lovely to see once-nervous performers hit their stride as they relax on-stage, and likewise writers lurking in the darkness at the sides.
As it happens, the first half was spent standing outside the theatre with one of my actors, going over a page of lines he was terrified of dropping. We spent a good half hour going over and over those lines, and though my teeth were gritted by the end I must admit it cheered me to know how dedicated my performer was in getting it right.
The first half came and went in a terrifyingly swift blur, and as I sent my actors around to their places in the wings I truly began to feel the nerves snapping at my heels. That tremor had returned, along with the adrenaline that accompanies fear. I found myself unable to form proper sentences again.
For all my fancy talk about other writers never having experienced their work in front of a live audience, my own experience smug etc arrogant etc yaw etc, fact is when it came down to it, I was very nervous that the audience would simply discount my piece.
Maybe they would all know about my Facebook argument with the other group. Maybe they would boo the actors purely down to their association with me. Paranoia about hate permeated my body and I began to plan my apology speech to the actors in my head. What if the entire audience had paid their money and sat through the show purely to boo me and my piece? What the fuck had I done taking part in this ridiculous challenge? What was I thinking? I mentioned suicide on the first fucking page for fuck sake, what was I thinking?
I was reminded of a moment in secondary school, my first attempt at satire. A mocking of a teacher who had willfully robbed me of marks to put me down. I had sledgehammered a piece into an essay about this person, questioning someone who would do that to a pupil, to a fourteen year old boy.
It had the right result. It pissed her off. It got back to my parents. It pissed them off. It snowballed. It wasn't a good outcome.
It never is for me when it comes to my consistent foot in mouth syndrome. The only justification I have for it is, it appears to be in my DNA. I can do nothing about it. Other than act upon it and cause righteous amounts of trouble.
Was that what was going to happen here?
I entered the auditorium with my fellow writers to watch the second half from the side of the stage, mentally steeling myself for the cavalcade of boos.
I was aware that the other writers standing near me were going through their own personal hell. That made me feel better if I'm being honest.
The audience, warmed up and receptive to the plays, seemed to enjoy each piece preceding mine. Forgive if now, with hindsight, I can't really remember those plays myself. You'll understand. In fact if you were there with me, watching your own play, I know you'll understand. You went through it too.
At last, after a night of writing, and a day of rehearsal, it was show time.
To be or not to be
It went well. It went really well. The actor playing the “director” was brilliant; tall, wrapped in a suit, shades and scarf, and deadpan to an intense degree, whether saying my lines or panickdly ad-libbing nonsense, he was hilarious. Each time he raised the squeaking toys in frustration, he got a ripple of laughter ( which I have to say he milked with half a dozen extra squeaks – note to himself, remember there are other actors onstage, and they have shit to say and do too! ) As it had been he who had suggested using them in this manner the night before, I couldn't help but feel pleased for him. “Hamlet” was a joy. Naturalistic, gently funny, and consistently in-character, whether happily reciting Shakespeare or slumping into the background to text, he was the heart of the piece.
The half hour of extra line runs outside helped relax the actor playing the understudy and he pretty much would have stolen the show had it not been for his understudy. She was a delight. They both endeared themselves to the audience but better, they made us laugh. Consistently. Even better, it was obvious they were enjoying themselves and the audience were enjoying them.
It went really well. The director made half his shit up towards the end, there was a nail-biting moment of dead silence as all four actors wrestled on-stage with where they were in the piece, and if truth be told it was obvious that I had spent far too long working on a subtext no audience were going to get in ten minutes.
But they liked it. They laughed, they got the jokes, the suicide punchline “you're committing it professionally” got a great ripple of slightly shocked laughter, and as I relaxed, I too began to giggle.
It was over before it started. Before any of us knew it, we were standing onstage bowing. The audience seemed genuinely warm towards the massive cast and the incredible undertaking and happy to indulge the many overlong speeches various people were giving.
And then we went to the pub to deconstruct the last two days. I was tired. I went outside and stayed outside and to my regret, didn't get to speak to any of the participants before we left the pub.
I went home that night with taco-fries, tired eyes, and a desire for nothing more than to sleep.
Conclusion to part two
So was it worth it? What could we have done differently, and as per part one, what truly worked.
I can only speak for myself and perhaps the actors under my charge, but I think it was a worthwhile exercise overall. It was certainly a learning curve for all involved.
The tough elements were rehearsing and directing a piece practically on-spec, in one day. But then that was the challenge and I think most of the actors involved in the pieces acquitted themselves extraordinarily well to learning their lines, remembering their cues, and staying onside with the other actors and their directors.
I don't mind repeating myself here a little bit – I lucked out with my actors. They each brought something to the table, ideas and idiosyncrasies, and a willingness to commit to the piece entirely. They made the day a hell of a lot easier for me.
I remain convinced that this is not necessarily an exercise for volunteers. As with the writing aspect, the day we put in was long, and extraordinarily tiring. There was a lot of stress involved by the end of the day and a lot of fragile egos ( and perhaps one or two egos who could have done with being broken a little more. ) It's not an easy day and again, I think it's a bit of a muscle-flexing exercise for people who have been doing this for a while and are looking for something different.
However, I would add this – we're all adults. We all knew what we were letting ourselves in for. We have no reason to complain, and I think almost everyone would admit they got something out of it, and that there was very little negativity involved along the way. Most of us are happy to have achieved what we achieved, and most of us know we walked away from this challenge with more than we went in with.
I know of only one actor who would perhaps think they brought more to this piece than they took; they're wrong. Luckily that actor was not in my group. You know who I'm talking about but PM if you want a full and unexpurgated opinion. I'll be happy to unleash the fury.
The few drawbacks I feel about the day were down to the limitations caused by the flurry of activity. Personally, I would like to have to had the opportunity to see the other shows, and to have peers see mine. We were all so entrenched in our own pieces it would have been lovely to take part in other's successes, and even be part of the audience and enjoy their vibe.
As it was, most of the writers were slunk at the side of the audience, barely able to see the stage as the shows bounced along without us.
That was a lot of work to put in, not to be truly able to enjoy the fruits of our labour.
I think the audience liked what they saw. It's not a challenge really designed to take an audience into account, and I would worry that we – the writers in particular – might have been given a bit of a soft ride because the audience were made up of friends, and family members. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with having an audience who are friendly to you – just ask the disgracefully awful Ross O'Carroll Kelly plays! Fucking travesty pissing on art, and this is what people like? At least with our show they got something different!
It was mooted to me that an audience member walking in off the street would enjoy this show for what it was but I think there was a context to the show and it was within this context that it worked. Our audience knew we had written our pieces in one night, and rehearsed it in one day. They were generally friends ( not mine, I don't have any because I'm objectionable, just ask my partner, who was there ) or family ( or both? Can we ever truly consider our family friends? Probably not, I hate my family and you should hate yours ) and that means they understood, fully understood the nature of the challenge.
They were with us. They were more willing than the average audience to accept a slipped line, an on-stage strop, or script-pages obviously taped to a newspaper.
I think this challenge is a writer's and actor's challenge. A general audience don't care about the circumstances behind a performance ( unless it stars famous people who are licking each other on Twitter or something ), and as it turns out don't care about my suicide satire. They like men with squeaky toys apparently.
As a result, I don't know what audience – other than, like a school play, family and friends – it's actually aimed at. Certainly, as it stood, I feel we didn't properly interact with our audience to allow them to enjoy the challenge aspect fully – they didn't get a chance to own the show or the night with us, and as such were simply presented with plays and a justification that to some, felt like an apology. That meant that in the end, although they may have enjoyed the show as a whole, they were waiting for the pieces involving their own peeps, and that makes for a quite disjointed experience.
Maybe that's inescapable given there were eight plays on show. I think everyone did a good job of individually presenting their pieces, and it feels churlish to complain beyond that. It worked. But already there are mumblings that we need to do another show, and therefore I think it's good to be able to look objectively at what we've achieved and say, maybe next time we'll get it even stronger!
It was worth it.
Initially, I had put myself down to act as well as write and direct. I'm a narcissist. I chose not to act and for that I'm glad, because I enjoyed the performance night without stress.
I think it would be worth doing again, worth following up on, now that we've done it once. I would question whether it needs to go on in a theatre space but it was nice to get the opportunity to so all the same.
I think the writing challenge needs work, and I think the rehearsal and performance challenge needs consideration.
I think next time, writers should be given seats in the auditorium, especially those who did not deign to direct their own pieces.
I also believe that the presentation to the audience can be improved, now that we have done this one and they are clearly receptive to it.
With that one exception, everyone acquitted themselves professionally and seemed to have a blast, and I hope the writers in particular got the praise they deserved for their pieces.
They and this challenge were worth it.
Bring on the next one!