Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Arch Disbeliever

John Nevil Maskelyne was a Victorian magician who gained notoriety by challenging spiritualists to prove they weren't charlatans fraudulently misleading audiences. He was known by some as 'The Arch Disbeliever' for his ceaseless challenges through the law courts.

His career began when he watched the Davenport Brothers act in Cheltenham and worked out the technique they were using to create the illusion of a spirit manifestation. Shortly afterwards he recreated the illusion, and pronounced it to be a spirit free demonstration - but not everyone was convinced.

A family legend followed him around about a deal his ancestors made with a Mysterious Gentleman who gave him and his forebears supernatural powers. And JN himself did become the most famous magician in the world, known today as the father of modern magic, and lending his name to an annual award given by the Magic Circle for services to British Magic -  won incidentally this year by the fabulous Debbie McGee for her work with the late and rather wonderful Paul Daniels.

JN Maskelyne died in 1917, but will be returning to the stage in just a few weeks time - 100 years after his death in a play called 'The Mysterious Gentleman'.

The play follows his rise to fame, his many challenges in court, but also his struggle to cling to his disbelief in an afterlife. Despite his disbelief in the spirit world, his dying wish was to find a way back if he possibly could. So is there a danger in calling him to return live (probably not the right term, but you know what I mean) onstage?

For the company producing my play it's a difficult question. We all have our own beliefs and hopes about the existence of an afterlife, but even as an open minded skeptic I can't help feeling a tingle of excitement as we mark the anniversary of his death with a performance featuring his story.

Will the real JN be watching? Will he be pleased to see how we're telling his story? We'll have to wait and see.

But you can join us for that journey at the Courtyard Theatre in London when the play opens on Halloween.


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Creative Producing

As a Creative Producer taking my own script through to production has been an interesting journey. See my previous blog for how I got the funding and the theatre space.

But at this point, I've done all the writing and rewrites on my play The Mysterious Gentleman, and now it's time to hand that over to the director, Kasia Różycki and the actors to work their magic with my words.

We held auditions for the two actors who are joining the already cast Andrew Thorn as JN Maskelyne, and it was really interesting seeing lots of actors reading for us and playing around with the script. It wasn't obvious who to choose at first, but we did a few recalls and asked the actors to delve a little bit deeper and to start building characters and soon two obvious choices emerged. So Dave Short and Josh Harper have joined us to play George Cooke & Nevil Maskelyne.

We start rehearsals in a week, and finding space in central London was tricky, but we finally settled on the very reasonably priced Theatre Delicatessen

Marketing is the bit most creative people hate, but it's necessary if we're going to get an audience, which is really the point of all the work we've put in so far. We've got a great team doing all our online stuff - thanks Kelly France & Chris Hislop. But I'm thinking about what it is we're offering to our audiences. If you were thinking of coming along, what could I say to entice you?

It's a play about a magician who asked the question 'what happens to us after we die'? It's funny in places, and spine tingling in others. There will be magic onstage which will hopefully impress you, and there will be thought provoking moments where you'll see the struggle the characters have holding on to their beliefs. But most of all you'll be taken on a thoroughly entertaining journey into the world of Victorian magic.

I'll leave the last word to an audience member who saw the original production - 'It appealed to my dark side, of course, and I loved the mix of scepticism and the poignant desire for 'contact' after a death.'

And the final, final word to the Gloucestershire Echo who gave it a 5* review

From the outset, I was transfixed by a highly absorbing story that drew me inexorably in as the revelations unfolded.


Monday, 24 July 2017

A Self Producing Playwright's Journey

I’m a playwright, who became a producer when I realized the odds of my script being picked up by a theatre company who’ve had over a thousand plays sent to them seemed pretty slim.

So I chose to self-produce – BUT – always working in collaboration with other creatives whose work I know – AND – with funding support from the Arts Council and others. My rule is ‘never spend your own money making theatre!’

I’m on my fifth ACE funded project at the moment, and I thought documenting the development might be of interest and of use to other writers and producers thinking of taking the same route.

The first grant I got was to develop a play about an enigmatic Victorian magician, JN Maskelyne who started his career in Cheltenham. So I worked with a theatre company based there, agreed a run of three nights at a local theatre, and found seed funding from the city council. All that and a track record of writing TIE was enough to get me ACE funding to produce ‘The Mysterious Gentleman’.

Several projects later I’ve realized the need to get my work seen in London, and that play seemed the best one to showcase. So again I found a director to work with, Kasia Różycki from Off The Cliff Theatre, who I met when she directed a Rapid Write Response play of mine at Theatre 503. 

Finding a theatre was the next hurdle. Many talks went on, and our hopes were dashed several times when spaces we loved couldn’t fit us into their programmes this year. So, eventually we found our way to the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton. Not the most illustrious name in theatre land, but a space that was willing to take us for a three week run opening on Halloween – how perfect is that for a play about magic that explores life beyond death?!

We’ve become aware of a number of difficulties other companies have had there, but decided to move forwards anyway once ACE agreed to fund us. I’ll elaborate on that in further blogs.

But for now the director and I have two key goals for the project.

First is getting our work seen by industry professionals. So we’ll be inviting everyone we can think of, but more than that we’ve budgeted for a press agent to make sure the press is aware of what we’re doing so hopefully we can at least get a few reviews that we can use to build on.

Our second goal is to move towards a commercial run of the play, so we need to prove it’s a pull for audiences. Getting audiences to a theatre that’s less well-known and a bit out of the way will be a big challenge. So we’ve also budgeted for a marketing coordinator to hopefully pull in audiences.

I'll post a bit more as we get closer to the production dates, but if you have any questions along the way I’d be happy to hear from you.

Friday, 9 June 2017

I'm over here!

So Hackers - rather smart, but also really annoying.

I'm posting here to say that for the time being this will have to be my website. Although I haven't been hacked, my web host has and as a consequence they've decided to quit the business. This means my website has to be moved and rebuilt, so it will be down for a little while :-(

If you need to contact me you can find my details on Facebook

But now I've got your attention I'd like to give you a quick update on all my work.

A few weeks ago the Scriptorium (the group of emerging playwrights I run) presented their collaboratively written play 'Tapestry' at Gloucester Cathedral with great audience feedback:

'I was captivated the whole way through. From the dramatic opening through all the scenarios, this production was joyfully unpredictable. A strong cast played different parts with conviction and interacted well with each other - really listening and responding. They handled the cathedral echo well and co-operated with the unusual sound environment to enhance their performance'.

'The Mysterious Gentleman', my play about Victorian magician JN Maskelyne is going to have a three week run at the Courtyard Theatre in London opening on October 31st, and once again with support from Arts Council England. I'll be working with Director, Kasia Rozycki from Off The Cliff Theatre, and actor Andrew Thorn will be taking the lead role - image below.

I've also just been commissioned to write something, but as it hasn't been officially announced yet I can't say what. But it's a really exciting invite to join a really amazing club of the UK's top playwrights.

And for all fans of comedy and great music, I'm hoping that 'The Secret Life of Dads' will be back onstage next year - I'll keep you posted on that, but here's the new poster below.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Secret life of a Playwright

So you’ve written a script that you’re really happy with. You know it’s a real crowd pleaser. You just have to find some way to get it onstage.

Do you send it out to competitions or submit it to theatres? Then wait and wait only to find it wasn’t their cup of tea, or that there were 2,000 entries and losing was a strong possibility no matter how good your play was.

Well I’ve tried that route and had a few small successes, but there is a third option, and that’s self-producing. Those small successes were enough to convince the Arts Council to give me a production budget.

I just need to pause here to say – Yay!!!

But then comes the scary bit.

My current production is The Secret Life of Dads, and I’ve got a really great team pulling the project together with me. Three great actors playing the dads in my play who deal with their mid-life crises by reforming their old band and playing a battle of the bands gig live onstage. I’ve got a great director adding all the visual touches that I just couldn’t put into a script, and a really smart musical director who helped make my lyrics into songs.

So it’s all good.

Now here comes the ‘but’.

In order to get a grant I needed to show there was an audience for the play so a large chunk of our income needs to come from ticket sales. If I’d given a low estimate that wouldn’t show confidence in the production, but too high and we’re left out of pocket. Added to that I’ve chosen a venue that isn’t known for theatre productions, and we’ve got nine performances to sell.

So here’s where I have to set aside my writer’s hat and become a marketing whiz – not a comfortable place for me to be.

But that’s what I have to do now if I want my play to be seen, and more importantly if I want to get paid for the work I’ve put into this production, because there’s an odd twist to this tale. As the producer I have to make sure everyone is paid their agreed fees, but if there’s any shortfall in income it’s me who has to take a cut.

Would I do this again? Well this is the second time I’ve done this, so yes. It’s not for the faint hearted but it is a thrill when you see your words coming to life on stage, which is the goal of every playwright.

So please come and see The Secret Life of Dads at the Guildhall in Gloucester this August, and feel free to say hello to the writer sitting at the back of the auditorium grinning from ear to ear, but also counting heads and trying to work out if I’ll be able to pay the mortgage this month.


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Diary of a Menopause Denier

I’m pretty sure my new neighbour now thinks I’m an alcoholic.

Just to give you some context, I’m one of those people who never gives in to illness, so I refuse to admit that I am in any way experiencing menopause symptoms, even though I keep finding myself wandering around the house in my bra and pants this winter. I keep blaming the new central heating system, despite the fact that my other half is bundled up in a blanket huddling in front of the fan heater. I am not having hot flushes!

So at the housewarming party of our new neighbour, wearing a full length Victorian dress, I was having a lovely time, despite being rather warm – they have a new central heating system too. The room was full of people and as the fun started the temperature rose to the point where I was feeling rather clammy.

Then all of a sudden I started to feel extremely unwell – and please bear in mind that I’d only had one very small glass of white wine at this point, so I was not in any way squiffy – but I suddenly felt very hot and decidedly not right. Cutting short an interesting conversation with a very nice lady I found my way to the hall where my other half stared at me wondering what the heck was wrong. My first thought was to get to the bathroom where I could lock myself in and be ill in private because that’s how my mind works. But realizing I wasn’t going to be able to make it up the stairs I lurched for the front door, and on hitting the cool evening air I promptly fainted. Now I have never fainted before, and I don’t ever want to again – it was really unpleasant. To my credit I managed to stay upright by clinging to the front door, and for a brief moment I felt absolutely lovely – all floaty and dreamy. But then I opened my eyes and saw my new neighbour, let’s call her Cleo, staring at me, but I was unable to articulate that I was not drunk, just hideously overheated.

Back at our house after a cool shower and a pint of iced water I felt absolutely fine, but my other half refused to let me go back to the party wearing a bikini, which was probably wise as I don’t think it was that sort of party and at no time had we been asked to put our car keys into a bowl. The new neighbours seem like nice people, although they’re probably thinking twice about their new neighbour who they probably think is a lush, while I adamantly refuse to admit I had a major hot flush and continue blaming overly efficient central heating systems for my symptoms.  

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Invisible me

I know I've been a bit invisible for the past few months. I am still here, but I've been doing all the things a writer has to do, but which are far too boring to share. Such as working out funding applications, having meetings with people, and bouncing around hundreds of emails with other creative types to work out future collaborations and partnerships.

But now that's nearly all done I will soon be able to start telling you all about the fabulous projects I've got lined up to do over the next couple of years. There are still a few things to pin down, but there will be at least one new play next year, as well as exciting plans for my fabulous Scriptorium writers.

So I will try to be a bit more exciting from now on and to keep you posted on developments about 'Urban Myths', 'The Secret Life of Dads', 'Aethelflaed', and much, much more.