Well we made it. From an initial open submission of plays in November 2018, each of which had been previously professionally produced but not published; through the eyes of 25 professional readers; down to a longlist; onward to a list of 11 works by 11 writers; these gathered into a published script compilation entitled 11@11; and last night 22 actors and 11 directors brought the works to life in celebration.
We had bumps along the way and a couple of big setbacks. Firstly the trade press and major message amplifiers completely ignored us. No paper or blogger or trade writer felt this good news story was worthy of note. So we were on our own with just Facebook and Twitter and our mates to help. [Honourable exception, the lovely folk at Brockley Jack shared it with some of their alum writers, and the Writers’ Guild gave mention in their newsletter]. Next time, if there is a next time, let’s hope I can do a better job of persuading the arts media that Stagescripts are doing something necessary.
And then the Arts Council turned a funding application down which would have allowed us to work with Theatre503 and engage (pay) actors to bring all the plays to life in a weekend of staged readings. Thank goodness Steven Levy and Charing Cross Theatre stepped in to offer their Players Bar to us for free, and we had enormous goodwill from a team of directors and actors who volunteered their services for free to be part of a rollercoaster night of sharing. Next time, if there is a next time, I hope the energy generated last night can help to tip us into the “yes” pile for ACE support.
Yesterday there was a moment when I was standing in the middle of a room with 8 directors rehearsing 8 different plays simultaneously in huddled intensity. By 6pm all 11 companies of actors were ready and the audience was gathered, we were missing just one actor who arrived for their 4pm rehearsal at 7pm (but hey the amazing director and cast had already prepared to double cast his role with an understudy from another company if needed, but our original actor was rehearsed during a 15 minute interval and delivered his role powerfully…the show must go on)
Our directors got me out of a couple of pickles of my own making – sending the actors one script and the director another, and casting one person to play a role which didn’t exist in the extract, and not casting one that did. Again by the magic of collective problem solving the audience won’t have noticed a thing.
When I used to produce the Vivian Ellis Prize at the Palladium or Drury Lane we had 8 companies of actors, 8 directors, 8 MDs, a week of rehearsal and a budget to pay them. We even had a casting director helping. Last night was done by a wing and a prayer and a favour or thirty. Agents were great as we sought the more specific casting types – “now where can I find a 19yr old Albanian actor in London who is free on Tuesday?” or a 50yr old black French actor and a 40yr old Mandarin speaking Chinese actor. The wonderful Billboard agency went one step further, asking for the whole casting breakdown and then doing me a full proposal of actors – not surprisingly 4 of the 22 actors came from Billboard and shone on the night in each of their roles. Only one agent emailed me curtly “our clients do not work for free”. Whilst I completely respect an actor telling me, or telling their agent, that this voluntary gig is not for them, I am saddened the actor I wanted to read a script and consider a role probably never saw the enquiry. They may also not have been available on a wet Tues in sept, but at least they’d have seen the play and might have been interested to talk to the writer and director. In the end we had 3 possible 19yr old Albanian actors. I cast one of them and then invited the others to the show so they could meet the directors and the author, and just do the networking thing.
On the night I acted as MC and eloquently introduced one play with completely the wrong setting needing the actors to tell me they were doing a different scene, and often offering mangled misreadings of many people’s names. My apologies…its why I work behind the scenes and always got people like the late great Sheridan Morley or Benny Green to read my script as host. But we came through the evening with a great sense of joy and achievement.
Why did we do it and did it work ? We believed that there were plays out there which deserved attention from professional, fringe and festival producers and directors. David Waters wanted to extend the catalogue and have more reason to talk with the professional sector. We knew there are professional directors who crave to find exciting plays to champion, and even better if those plays already have a known track record and are by writers with experience and an abiding passion to tell important stories. We realised that the “single use plastic…playwright” challenge written about by Paul Miller of the Orange Tree Theatre in the Evening Standard was a perfect complementary rallying cry. And we wanted to find ways to amplify the message and awareness of Stagescripts as an independent publisher overshadowed at times by the global brands and the script/programme publishers.
I think we have created a foundation of energy and goodwill with which to try to seek Arts Council funding and Media/influencer coverage for our work. I have learned that, however mad and seat of the pants it was last night, the process is welcomed and does bring writers and directors together in a process of re-alighting work. I was also delighted that the chance process delivered a very diverse spectrum of authorship, topics and meaty roles. That had been an aspiration but we did no adjustment to get to the 11 works – the cream rose to the surface.
And I loved those conversations happening around the room as the directors worked with their casts and authors – what is it like to be black and bisexual today in London, what was the union position for immigrant workers, especially the female workforce. Who was the prisoner in the cells, and what do you do when you are bored and drunk and bored and drunk and an expat living in Spain. The actor’s task is to make each character sympathetic to the audience, and to get across in a 5 minute extract the essence of their world. My goodness they delivered last night.
The plays launched were Thank you by Catrin Evans, Hungry Ghosts by Tim Luscombe, The Golden Fucking Years by Adrian McLoughlin, That Was All by Francis Grin, We Are The Lions Mr Manager by Neil Gore, Better Together by David Weir, Battieman Blues by Oscar Watson, Under A Foreign Sky by Paula B Stanic, The Shadow of the Mountain by Felicity Huxley-Miners, Almost Forever But by Robert Farquhar and Citizen George by Brian Weaving. You can download and explore more on the Stagescripts site here
Thank you to everyone. Next time, if there is a next time, we will need a bigger space for the audience and we should/could have some extra discussion with the authors on stage to enrich the night. Will we do it again…let me breathe again before opening the portal into the “Grantium” Arts Council website which is not my favourite task. Oh well, maybe since I’m on the train and the wifi is not working, I could re-visit the budget again.