A New Play of a Monumental Life … or … a Gothic Adventure!

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What a Week … Already!

This weekend (31.08.13) I travelled to Mechelen, a small city in Belgium between Brussels and Antwerp, to see a “Cavalcade”; a parade through the city that only happens once every 25 years. It was the calm before the storm! I always knew that the week leading up to the rehearsals for “The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat: Pugin’s Gothic Adventures” was going to be a bit mad and thought that a weekend being out of the country and therefore unable to do very much about any disasters that may occur would be a “good thing”. One has to relax, doesn’t one. And I was right, which doesn’t happen often; it was a “very good thing”. I got back last night relaxed and ready to face anything that the world could throw at me. I am now, not relaxed, though I have spent a day ducking things that the world threw at me. It has been a great but very hectic day and to be honest I have no idea whether I’m coming or going. I’m going mainly I think. There were moments when I felt all at sea …

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… but now, as I write this, I feel once again relaxed … why?

Why? because I have a brilliant team of people that make things happen … I’m not going to name names but there have been a number of people that I’ve worked with today that are amazing … hence this post really. I wanted to thank them for their help and write about the process of putting a piece of theatre onto the stage into the bargain … so, thank you and here goes.

About eighteen months ago I received some funding from Arts Council England, to do some research and development on, what was then just known as, the Pugin project. I was very aware that I needed to do a huge amount of research and I talked to hundreds of people about Pugin, his buildings, his design, his publications, his character, his faith and found out things that I couldn’t have done just by reading or trawling the internet. I also knew that there was a great deal of development that needed doing … plays don’t grow on trees, you know … well … in a way they sort of do but they need constant nurturing, watering, protecting against the heat and the cold and some of these are skills that I don’t necessarily have … but I know people who do have them. These people were sought out and pounced upon for help and information. Slowly, I began to find a route through the world of technology, the world of Catholicism, of architecture, of design and eventually I felt I had enough knowledge and information to start writing a play.

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So, I got a few heads together and picked their brains to help me to work out what the style of the play was that I was going to write … as I’ve said in a previous post, I went for the Bluderbuss approach … fire loads and loads of emotion, information, dialogue, characters, light, sound, images et al into the audience … some will hit some will miss, some will wing and graze people and some will strike them right between the eyes. The Blunderbuss style of writing is very labour intensive; the play does not meander slowly, it hurtles, ricochets and bounces from the beginning to a very definite end.

“There are not enough hours in a day, minutes in an hour, seconds in a minute”. A slight paraphrasing and addition to a Pugin quote that I kept at the forefront of my mind as I wrote. Pugin’s life, like a locomotive, started off slowly, then picked up speed and hurtled, en avant, until it hit the buffers at the end of the track. The format of the play follows the pace of Pugin’s life.

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Once the play was written, which took much longer than I imagined, I wrote it again, and again, and again … writing, I’ve discovered, is as much to do with editing, cutting words out, as it is to do with putting them in. I always use the same, or at least, a similar methodology in my writing. I pare scenes back to the bare bones, find what the scene consists of, and then I re-clothe the skeleton; put the fun, the character, the meanings back on to the creamy white bones. So, the skelly has clothes and I have a script!

Is that it? No! There is, obviously, much more to making a piece of theatre, than writing the words. The are many stages to the next part of the journey: a team has to be put together; actors, makers, designers, a director and so on, then we have to go about creating the look, the feel, the sound, the style. What do we want the audience to come away with? What do we want them to concentrate on? What is our aim with the script that we have? How do we make it work on different levels? Which parts are humorous? Which pathetic? Which empathetic? Who is it aimed at? What is our message? (These were obviously thought about during the script writing process but the process continues). So, how are we actually going to make it work? Most of these things have been talked about endlessly but this week, the week before rehearsals begin, is a coming together of all of these thoughts. So, have we decided exactly how the play will be? No.

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John Wright, an amazing director, often says, “Certainty stultifies creativity” … if we are sure what the play is and how it works, there is no reason, or rather, no room for creativity. The team of actors, director, lighting designer, musician, etc are an incredibly creative bunch of people … I don’t want to “stultify” their creativity. Likewise, the script, although I’ve laboured over it for some time, is not sacrosanct, it is not set in stone, nor indeed, is the style, or the feel, or the look; in fact, nothing is set in stone. The monster in the room (or stage-set cave) is certainty! So, next week … we play!

What we do know at this stage, is that the play will hurtle. It will be a mixture of styles. It will happen on a stage, in the auditorium, in the bar, behind the audience, in the dark, in bright light, in silence, in noise, in silhouette,on a screen, in … ah, we will play and discover … who knows what?

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All we really know at the moment is … it won’t hang around.

There are lots of people to thank for getting us this far … they include (and I’m sure I’ll forget someone) … Arts Council England, Kent County Council, The Pugin Society, St Augustine’s Church (and Father Marcus), Heritage Lottery Fund, Urban Vision North Staffs, Judith Al Seffar, Catriona Blaker, Nick Dermott, Rosemary Hill and a whole host of other people who really are too numerous to mention … so a big thank you to you all.

Please pop back to the blog as I will attempt to put up rehearsal photos, footage and witty, pithy posts that will intrigue and delight … though I will be tired and emotional so don’t hold me to all of the aforementioned claims!

Clickety Click to take you … Home.

Clickety Click to take you to … Tickets and Other Things.

Clickety Click to take you to … Red Sky at Night; Shepherds Pie

Clickety Click to take you to … The Wide-Awake Hat

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