Monthly Archives: February 2014

Production Update #8

I’m currently working on a final draft of the script, which will be uploaded once finished. This week I’ve decided I want to talk about the actors specifically, and what I’m learning from them.

Firstly, I do realise that not all writers have the luxury of writing for a particular cast, and I think that this is a shame in some ways. I wrote a scene in which Gez forces Gwyn to sleep out on the balcony and originally I just wrote that Gwyn would go outside and shiver miserably. Ash, the actor playing Gwyn, surprised me by adding in a little pathetic cry. He just got onto that balcony whimpering like a coward and curled up into a ball and cried. It was absolutely hilarious.. honestly, hilarious. In another scene, I wrote that Gwyn walks off-stage (to the kitchen) and his line is simply “I don’t believe it!” Now, Ash did ask how we wanted the line delivered, and I just said to go with what felt natural. His line delivery actually almost killed me, for I could not breathe. In fact, I’m laughing out loud right now as I type about it. It’s such a simple line, one I didn’t even imagine to be remotely comical actually, and it’s now (in my opinion) the single funniest moment in the play. What I’ve realised over the weeks of rehearsals is that Ash is naturally hilarious. He has the ability to turn the bland into the comedic, a giggle into a bellow. He’s perceived his character in a way that’s different to what I imagined and is playing him so much better than the way I intended originally. If I’d had the foresight to write this part with Ash in mind I wouldn’t have bothered trying to write jokes into his dialogue, because this actor doesn’t need to be fed comedy in order to project it.

Tasha was a part I wrote with ease because I based her on someone close to me and I basically just wrote her as she is in real life. When I wrote her lines I imagined her to come across funny, because that’s who the real Tasha is. Unfortunately, the first time I heard the words read aloud I realised that the character (not the real person) comes across as quite boring in comparison to the others, weak even. In the end she turns out to be quite devious and manipulative, but the road to get there in terms of her character is actually a little tedious. But I didn’t know this until we cast it and started rehearsing. Luckily for me, I have two great things in my favour; Rob – the director who I can’t speak highly enough of. I’m learning a lot watching him direct, he just has a way of easing what’s needed out of the cast and he seems to pick up on things within the script that I was barely conscious of myself; Beth, the actor playing Tasha. She’s perfect for the part in terms of looks. She’s naturally pretty and quite sweet looking but with a smile that hints towards a devilish side! What I’m finding with her is that she’s added an element of sarcasm to Tasha’s nature. It’s very subtle, and it’s not always through her dialogue, but there’s a little ripple running through each scene that just about hints that maybe she isn’t quite the way she seems. Sometimes it’s just an eye movement that contradicts the tone of something she has just said, and it’s working a treat in adding a bit of mystery to the character. If I had written the part with Beth in mind, I would definitely have played more to this specific skill that she has as a performer, to make the character more three-dimensional. At the moment, Beth is managing with Rob’s help to create this interesting element to the character, and I feel that the way I’ve written the part is making this harder for her than it actually needs to be. Definitely a lesson I’ll be taking forward as a writer – if I can’t write with the actor’s strengths in mind then I need to clarify and emphasise the strengths of the actual character so that they can be brought to life.

Scott, who plays Gez, is also a naturally funny person who’s bringing a lot of comedy to his role in places I didn’t imagine there could be. The thing that works for me with Scott in this role though is that he is a very nice person, and this quality shows in his role. Of course, if Scott were supposed to be playing someone completely dislikeable I imagine he’d be perfectly able to (he’s a talented chap is Scott), but Gez isn’t meant to be that one-sided. There’s an underlying reason for his bullying tactics and it boils down to his self-esteem issues, which Scott manages to get across wonderfully through his line delivery. In fact, appropriate line delivery seems to be a real strength for Scott – very rarely does he need the inflection in the line explained to him as he’s already interpreted it accordingly. Gez originally was meant to be disliked but understood. With Scott in this role however, it’s impossible to dislike Gez, even when he’s behaving badly, but this adds so much more to the character than what I envisioned and I think it’s working out beautifully. I much prefer the character the way Scott plays him as opposed to how I wrote him. If I were to write this part with Scott in mind I think I would dare to crank his bullying up and tone his low self-esteem down (in terms of when this is expressed through dialogue), as I don’t think Scott needs to explain this to the audience – it just comes across naturally with him.

Kristy was the hardest part to cast for me personally, as this is the character I care the most about and the one I was most concerned with ‘getting right’. She’s the source of the majority of the conflict and is involved in all areas of thematic plot development, so she is very important. The main thing about the character is that she’s so over-dramatic, whereas the other characters are relatively believable. What I was concerned about was that the actor playing her wouldn’t be able to capture her sense of drama in a way that was both fitting of the character but believable to the audience as someone who could actually exist. I’ll admit that I was so stubborn about this character that I was reluctant to cast anyone at all (in the entire world), but luckily for me Rob wasn’t about to take any of my crap about it and then we found Elena. I was concerned at first because she’s so entirely different to what I imagined the character to be but I’ve found that her main strength is something she actually has in common with Kristy – she’s fearless. And she just gets things. She’ll deliver a line one way, but if you want it done differently it’s just a matter of a three second explanation and she just knows what you mean, and will deliver exactly what you want. Additionally, she’s obviously very hard working (as is everyone) and is already off-script the majority of the time, which impresses me because the play is extremely heavy with dialogue. Kristy was the part I wrote with the most intentionally funny lines, and although Elena delivers each and every one in a way that totally contradicts what I actually envisioned, she’s hilarious. She’s able to tone a line down so that it’s not over the top, but all the comedy will then come through her facial expressions and general manner. She never misses a joke – she simply conveys the humour in a variety of ways and this adds a lot more depth to the character and actually makes her more consistent (rather than ridiculous) as a person. If I were to write this part with Elena in mind, I think she would have a lot less dialogue. She’s incredibly skilled at making exactly what she’s thinking known through her face, so much so sometimes that if the dialogue wasn’t there, the audience would still understand and it would still be funny.

Finally, I don’t think I can talk about what the performers are bringing to Kill ’em in the Brain without mentioning the other people involved. I’ve mentioned Michael, the sound technician in previous posts so I need not repeat the level of creativity he’s already adding to the production. We have just acquired Josh, our lighting technician, who hasn’t been involved for as long but is very enthusiastic and has jumped right in to the work.  Our stage manager Naomi has been to every rehearsal, and actually I think she would make a great assistant director as she’s often suggesting helpful things and has come up with some great ideas that have actually changed bits of the script, including crucial things near the ending. And then of course we have Rob, who has been discussed in more or less every post. I’ve rambled on enough I’m sure about how much I’m learning about writing and directing from him, but I just can’t stop talking about this as I just haven’t stopped learning from him yet. He’s managed to extract the best things to work with out of my script and hasn’t been afraid to discard the bits that are, frankly, rubbish.

Now that I know some of the strengths of the people I’m working with, I would love to create something new. This time though, I would write as we devised, building characters from the strengths of the performers and really utilising their skills, rather than handing them pre-formed people to inhabit. In future writing projects, I imagine that I probably will construct characters with actors in mind (even if those actors aren’t a sure thing). I believe in creating characters from scratch and using my imagination, but I’ve now learned the value in building from the strengths of the people you need to make these characters a reality.

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Production Update #7

The sweet sound of zombies….

Last week I had a bizarre experience, even for me, and I’m always up to weird stuff. Head of sound, Michael, organised some studio time and recruited a group of willing volunteers to record the zombie horde for Kill ’em in the Brain. The zombies are a continuous noise heard throughout the entire show, so it’s quite important that the actors have several rehearsals getting used to this before the show.

I assumed that Michael would simply take a zombie horde loop from somewhere on the internet, but he insisted on creating his own for authenticity. We had twelve volunteers in total and Michael managed to make each one of them, including myself, feel comfortable enough to perform individual zombie sounds. At first, this was embarrassing and hilarious to everyone. Hearing the sounds in a film in context is one thing, but seeing someone stood in front of a microphone looking normal but making these sounds is quite another! After this, Michael had us all walk around the studio, groaning and rasping like zombies to create a ‘horde’ track. We then repeated this but went from ‘calm’ zombies, to ‘slightly agitated zombies’. Finally, Michael explained that we were now ravenous, he explained – “You’re irritated, you’re bored, bits of you are rotting off and you’re starving. But oh look, there’s some food! But oh no! You can’t quite reach it! You are starving and now you’re really p***ed off! Go!” And with that, he hit the record button.

sound zombies

Michael, second in on the left, and some of our ‘sound zombies’.

Additionally, Michael also had a few of the volunteers scream, swear and yell other panicked expressions to create a nice field of depth to play with when constructing the loop we’ll be using for the production. Naomi, the stage manager, then came up with a stroke of genius. In the play, Gwyn is constantly getting angry at the very word ‘zombie’ and insists that ‘they’re not zombies’ several times. At the end, Gwyn makes a run for it. Originally, I planned to just have the actor record some panicked noises as he ‘runs through the horde’, then Naomi suggested we record him screaming ‘they’re not zombies!’

This is what we did, and I’m now re-writing this small section near the end of the play. It’s so fitting that this phrase is the last thing we hear from Gwyn, and I think it will be funny that he still insists this even while he’s pursued by the horde. This day recording has filled me with a new energy for the production, I can’t wait to get these effects into rehearsals!

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Just a wee update…

There are additions to my blog on pages MA Notebook and Current Projects. No Production Update report this week as we were simply rehearsing the sections already detailed in my previous posts. We’re now very close to setting a date….scary stuff!

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Production Update #6

Just a quick update regarding the initial sound meeting with our sound technician, Michael Edwards. Wee bit of background about him: he’s a first year Music Tech student also at The Atrium, is 20 years old and as you might have guessed by his surname, is my brother. I asked him to do the sound for our production because he’s extremely reliable, trustworthy and hard working. He thinks this will be a great experience in terms of work and is very enthusiastic about the production as a whole. Additionally (and this isn’t so much sibling bias as general consensus among all who are familiar with his music), he is a phenomenal musician and composer. He’s achieved grades for several instruments, including grade 8 drums and can play everything from percussion to the ocarina, from the saxophone to the piano. Brother aside, I wanted him as Head of Sound because he’s a highly intelligent, skilled and creative individual who I think will add another layer of creativity and depth to the production.

I gave him a list of sound effects we need (identified by myself in the script and then others by Rob during rehearsals), and he’s agreed to attend rehearsals from now on to get a ‘reading’ of the rehearsals, and in 2 weeks he will start filtering in sound so the actors can get used to it. Additionally, he has read the script and has suggested some sound effects of his own to add in some extra comedy moments where he felt there was an opportunity – so I’m quite excited to see what he’s come up with. As the audio clips and sound bites become available they will be uploaded with the production updates so that you guys can get a sense of the atmosphere we’re trying to create.

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The Cold Hard Slap of Rejection

I felt it today… that slap. I submitted a short story to a competition, hoping to be placed in the top 5 so that it would be published on the website. Well, the winners have been announced.. and I’m not one of them. This has led me to deduce that if I’m not a winner I must be a loser *cries dramatically*, oh the heartache!! I was pleased with that little story.

The hardest part of this ‘rejection’ I’m suffering (yes, suffering) is that you don’t get any feedback about why your story wasn’t selected so it’s really hard to focus on an area of improvement. Out of pure spite (you know, because I’m suffering) I have not yet read the 5 winning stories, but I suspect that when I do I’ll be able to reflect on my own work and see what was missing. For the time being I’ve decided to do something that scares the bejeesus out of me – post it here and ask you what you think is wrong with it. I can take the criticism (I really can, I promise!), I’m just quite nervous because I’ve never let anyone I actually know read one of my stories.

The brief was simply to write something horror-based with a 5000 word maximum limit. If anyone has time to read it and comment I’d be most appreciative, I really need the feedback!

The Collector

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Production Update #5

The play is really coming along now 🙂 On my Writing Examples page you can find the original script (excuse the formatting for the time being, a final draft will be uploaded in it’s place once final changes have been made). Underneath is a file link to what has been edited by myself, the director Rob Dean, and additions/cuts suggested by the cast. Changes are highlighted in red, with explanations for these changes underlined in green.

Kill ‘Em in the Brain – Edit 1

Some changes were made just for the sake of practicality, what works on paper is sometimes very difficult to actually block and this is a lesson I feel has been extremely valuable to me as a writer. In future I will be acting out what I write with willing friends, just to make sure that what is on paper is doable effectively. All of the changes highlighted in the Edit 1 will not necessarily go down in my Final Draft as some of them are Robs directorial decisions and every director would do something different. However, I thought it useful to cite them here so as so pay attention to how my material is being worked with, interpreted and manipulated (all with positive results, I think, so far).

I’ve been encouraging the cast to improvise during rehearsals according to what they feel their character may do/say at particular moments. The system we now have is that they don’t run these changes by me first, they just perform them and if Rob and I like what they’ve done we include it. This has turned my work into a collaborative process – and much to my surprise I’m absolutely loving the experience. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve finally ‘let go’ when it comes to how my script is being adjusted, mostly because I’ve realised that everyone else’s opinion is very valuable. Rather than fighting the changes, as I was a little at the beginning, I’m now embracing what each person is adding.

Set pic 1

Above is a picture of Scott (playing Gez) being directed by Rob Dean (in his lovely pink shirt). This is the basic set up of the stage, as seen from the left side of the audience. That little structure on the left of the picture there is what we’re working with as our balcony at the moment, although we will be building this up. In the middle we have our sofa, which much of the action revolves around, and scattered on the floor there is a load of popcorn (not so tasty once it’s been on the floor unfortunately..).

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It’s Burlesque..

For a while now I’ve been mulling over whether or not writing about this part of my life is a good idea. I’ve been thinking even harder about whether or not it’s a good idea to write about it here. In my experience, people can be a little judgemental about Burlesque and people who perform in this area. Then I thought ‘screw it’. This was a huge part of my life, one I wanted to make a career out of actually, and something that I feel relates directly to the world of storytelling. So here we go…

When I was 18 and very into Marilyn Manson, he was involved with Dita Von Teese and, interested in seemingly all areas of his life, I googled her and thus fell into the world of Burlesque. It looked glamorous, it looked sparkly…. but what was it? Was it just fancy stripping? Was there only type, one road one could travel along to be involved in this world? What was it? And so began my obsession with a long forgotten but once scandalously popular form of entertainment. The first thing I knew of Burlesque was the strip-tease element of it, and the first thing that appealed to me was that this was a form of art in which any woman could express herself. The message was ‘all women are beautiful’, regardless of age, weight, ethnicity, physical handicaps, etc. No one is excluded, no one is made to feel that they don’t belong, that they’re not pretty enough, slim enough, tanned enough.

I started reading everything on it, from books by burlesque performers about the craft, to any old magazine and news clippings I could track down on the internet regarding the history and creation of the form – and what a rich and interesting history it has, present in both world wars and popular during the Victorian era. I wanted to know, is burlesque just about stripping though? The answer is of course, no.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Burlesque as “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.” Well I loved parody, and I set out to create some acts of my own. Here are just a few examples…

Burlesque 4

“Alice on Drugs” was my first real character, and proved popular in terms of bookings around Cardiff and as far as Bristol. I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland but as I grew older the suggestion of drugs became apparent (chasing a white rabbit, eating mushrooms that seem to warp her perception of size, eating and drinking things simply because they’re labelled for her to, and waking up and finding it was all a big, warped, dream). The story within this routine was one of Alice stumbling across some labelled, seemingly innocent treats whilst in pursuit of the white rabbit and the dire consequences of consumption…

Burlesque 3

“We Quit!” was a debut performance from my double-act ‘Bit’s ‘n’ Bobs’. This was performed for Christmas using the Kevin Wilson song ‘Ho Ho F***ing Ho’. We asked the sound technician who edited our music to cut a sleigh bell sound over the most offensive swear words in the song, to add a nice seasonal sprinkling of farce to the whole thing. The theme of this routine was that we were extremely angry elves, working in freezing conditions for no pay and ridiculous working hours. We wave Santa off on Christmas Eve, proceed to destroy his workshop then ‘strip’ out of our elf uniforms in an act of defiant resignation from our jobs. We were afraid we’d gone too far, but the audience were in uproar laughing throughout… phew.

Burlesque 2

“Zombie Prostitute” was by far our most popular show as a double-act, and we were consistently performing this at a variety of venues at the request of the person booking us. Named after, and inspired by the Voltaire song ‘Zombie Prostitute’, the story was vaudevillian in essence, with elements of cabaret and was a highly farcical take on the world of prostitution and the notion of the ‘gentleman’. I took the role of the ‘gentleman’, as seen in the above picture by my glorious moustache. The routine was the story of the gentleman being snubbed by a prostitute, who effectively turned out to be a zombie, and with each grab the man made for her, a piece of her became detached as though it was rotting off. It was a little grotesque, but hey, it was originally for Halloween.

There are numerous wonderful Burlesque performers who create beautiful feather-fan dances and other classic routines, but what I focused on and took joy in was the creation of the story of my character for any given routine. Even in the construction of a strip-tease I would take months over it, rehearsing over and over until each element of the story was coming across. It had to have a clear narrative, my character had to have a goal, it had to be a parody of something and above all it had to be funny.

I loved being a part of this world, of getting to create my own stories and performing them to a huge variety of people and am so sad to longer be a participant of it, but I can share my experience and perhaps shed a bit of light on an art form that is constantly unfairly scrutinised for its tongue-in-cheek sexual characterisation by the media. Instead, I now watch as much as I can, including ‘amputee’ burlesque and male burlesque like the Dream Bears. It’s a wonderful, but sadly misunderstood world of rich characters and even richer performances, with each event taking the viewer through a variety of mini-stories. Viva la Dita!

Burlesque 1

 

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