Report on the past #1

As I have mentioned on a previous blog I have been going back in order to go forward. Having been recomposed, turned inside out, and formed into a pro at the writing game at Drama Centre during 2013-15 I thought it would be interesting to go over the work I did between 2001 and 2012.

I am pleased to say that the guy writing that stuff back then was right to go and do the MA Dramatic Writing, and I have a lot of time for him.

One particular play – which led me to Ola Animashawun and in turn led me to Drama Centre struck me as very interesting. I can read that play with some justifiable pride. It’s a play about consent, I always knew that, and it is reassuring to see how I handled the theme. It got me shortlisted for The King’s Cross Award for New Writing and it got me in the room with a brilliant cast for a fine adventure with Writers Avenue.

– What is it you want?

– Consent

– Joanne

– Listen to me. You have to do right by me and Jen. That’s what you owe us.

Thinking about it now – armed with the knowledge I have acquired since 2013 – I have no doubt that those years spent writing – because I wrote consistently – and as a habit – were crucial in preparing me for form and structure. The work was sprawling, some of it was terrible – but some of it was not. I did the right thing, I learned craft and technique. I was writing very hot things, and I got burned more than once. Now I can hold on to what I need to because craft and technique are like oven gloves! You can be writing at 180F but if you can’t get a handle on it you aren’t ever going to set it on the table.

Craft and Technique help you handle those things that would otherwise burn you.

A Love Letter

On the MA Dramatic writing us writers were often challenged to try things that might be considered risky. One lesson we were encouraged to write a suicide note – I had a go at this writing exercise (it was called Back To Life and is on Soundcloud). Having been given this challenge was liberating in the best possible way. Sometimes you need permission from another person to go to these places. It’s liberating, and it is very risky. Yet it poses existential questions that are very healthy to engage with. That’s what writing is. Risky business. With rewards. You are going to upset people, and very possibly yourself. That’s what being in the world is.

I’ve always had an enormous respect for the writers who were part of my education, and it has been brilliant to see their work, listen to their writing, and have an opportunity to be a part of their thinking about the world and what is going on in it. One of the things that inspires me is the respect they have for each other, going back years. Years and years. Even with all the developments, and the innovations, and the continually changing landscape – there is a continuity and respect that is apparent. We all know writing is a risky business, and you just know those writers who are doing great things are part of a writing ecology that is delicate and subject to disaster – but also capable of flourishing. Those writers are extraordinary, and they endure. And they are aware that many don’t.

It’s not all a rose garden, of course it isn’t. Every occupation has its shadow. But from what I could glean from my time on the MA at Drama Centre, there is a lot of courage and respect going on in New Writing. There are people who want to drive positive and lasting change that we could all benefit from. The rewards in the theatre would be excellent, as is the possibility that this change (or innovation) might have something to say about the world we live in.

I was especially interested (this is my concealed objective) in seeing and hearing all these writers because I only know their work (and in some cases not as well as I should) – so an opportunity like a symposium gives me a chance to see these writers together, talking about the theatre and the world. It’s salient to see this side of things, because its part of the industry, and it’s informative. It helps you see a little further and in a different way.

On the MA we were also asked to write a love letter. I am currently working on that. Love is a tricky thing, because my idea of what it means is constantly changing, and like time it means that what was there yesterday is no guarantee of what will be there tomorrow. Today, the best you can hope for is that your love is wanted – love transforms. Hopefully we’ll all keep changing.

Elements

As I have remarked elsewhere, one of the ways to get into a play is through experience. Things occur out there in the world that make it into your poetics.

I was flying out from Miami recently, a gorgeous city. The flight out afforded me a view of the city at night. I have to say it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The city had a beautiful texture – it was all lit up – and it looked like a Klimt painting run through a power grid. It was beautiful and it will stay with me.

Before I got this wonderful privilege I was wassailing in the bar. Drinking Budweiser, a real American beer. Sarah Palin was on the TV endorsing Donald Trump. I won’t go into details about the content, you can watch it yourself. It was an event.

After Palin’s endorsement, the news turned to ‘Europe’ whatever that means. A trio of GoP women were giving their opinions on the import of ‘rape culture’ in Europe. They were saying Multi-Culturalism doesn’t work, and assimilation was required. To back this up they played a recording of a man (whom we were led to believe was an immigrant) making a pass at a woman (who was handling it brilliantly, she shut him down). It was pretty disturbing stuff as you are no doubt aware.

I was worried about this because in classroom’s young men are talking more and more about rape, and they are boys really, and they are as far as I am aware immigrants or the children of recent immigrants. As we have seen with ‘I live in a terrorist house’ (sic terraced) teachers are now obligated to report any instances of suspected extremism, and students are being interrogated by the police.

These things were on my mind because I was writing up an assignment for my teacher Greg Mosse – he wants me to write like a genius (he is literally teaching us to write like Shakespeare). It fell into place as I was getting on the plane.

A picture of a woman’s arse, in tight jeans, with a mobile phone in her back pocket. Above the picture the message (I don’t have a problem with the medium) ‘Tap The App’ – I must say it did cross my mind what the ad guys were exporting.

So you see these things combined – they all occured in a sequence – and I had that feeling I get when something new that I must write about awakens.

Sometimes things happen and you simply have to do something about them, I am a writer, so I will write about it.

Cluedo

I’ve never been worried about being inspired.

I’ve never been fearful that I can’t take something magnificent and try to make something of my own from it, certainly learn from it and let it do what it is there to do to me.

I don’t see why people would want to hide their brush-strokes, unless they’re ashamed.

But it does draw the sleuths out of people sometimes. People like a bit of Cluedo. It was Album X in the charts in the 90s, with The Grammy. Well of course it was. It was Album X in the 90s, with the GRAMMY.

Essentially a lot of people are afraid to miss references. It goes back to school, where you could get points and win prizes for knowing what was what – and categorising the various fauna and flora of your English teacher’s favourite writers. And I know, because that’s what I did and it was huge fun.

So you have to unpick all that, you have to be very careful with what you surround yourself with, and you have to be patient as these influences you adore – from film, art, architecture, music whatever they may be – come into your work. You have to be patient in letting them do what they are there to do. Then you have the chance to show what its done to you, and how you have done something of your own from this experience.

So why worry? If you have the will and the motivation and get ideas above your station – it is entirely possible you will learn the lessons, let those gorgeous things do what they are there to do, and make the work you need to.

It’s as natural as rain.

Clean and perfectly delineated

One of the challenges of writing is knowing when to leave your work and its contents alone.

When I am writing I have a clear ‘in’ and a clear ‘out’ its similar to the way I prepare for a slam. I relax, and place my mind where I need it to be. Sometimes I have a song that provides the ‘in’- this inspires me and places my attention where I need it to be. It awakens what I require – a feeling or affect – to begin.

Equally, I have a clear ‘out’ this is the part of the process that when I was younger and less experienced was tougher to negotiate. I usually go ‘out’ in silence – and find something practical to do that I can focus on. It might be a small chore or a bit of diary management.Often it is a conversation with a friend or family member.

It’s helpful to me to think of my writing as I would a relationship with a person I respect. I find this helps me write truly, and respectfully – towards the work.

Having said that I often write in ‘hot zones’ – I go to places I find challenging. Writing is about pushing boundaries, and you have to leave your politeness behind. ‘Fuck Polite’ – there are places you go in the work that very correctly upset people. You must respectfully face the enquiry in regards to your motives and integrity. That is only fair. However, misconceptions can sometimes surface. It is entirely possible you will upset somebody, especially if they are invested in your work. If that is the case, they have every right to enquire as to your intentions in the work. I hope in these cases that my clean and delineated process is apparent in my interactions.

There is a character in a Dickens novel, a banker. I forget his name and I forget the novel he appears in. At business and in the day to day, he is exacting and not very generous. A hard man to get a favour from, though excellent at his job. A paradigm of his chosen profession. But if you catch him at home, his sentiments are entirely different, and his generosity and compassion is apparent.

So my question is this: is writing a job to do; or a place to live?

Back To The Future

It can seem wrong to go back. Where you are in the here today and now is what you have.

Deals are being struck everywhere you look, for a better tomorrow. There are no guarantees for what we are living now. Paradise is contingent on a promise for a better tomorrow if you put away your hopes for today.

For that reason people look back, thinking they had it better in the good old days. They want to bring back the good old days. But the good old days weren’t really as good as we think. The same thing was going on, we were being promised a better tomorrow if we could only put away our hopes for the present. The difference is the deal at that time seemed palatable. So we were optimistic. The past was a herald to a bright future, so we look back on the times we had some hope.

Then another day passes, and another, and the deal gets a little less palatable with each passing day. So much so we forget what we had to be optimistic about.

That’s why I am going back. I’m going back to remember what was promised, and how I felt about it. When I rediscover that feeling, I’m going to bring it more and more into the present. Then I’m going to do what I can to make it work here today and now.

I hope to be a little more proactive about the future, because once you have something that is good, you are inclined to take care of it. Getting that good thing, bringing it into the present, and nurturing it. That’s how I can make sure it’s here today, and tomorrow, and so on and so on. For myself and other people.

It’s also how I am going to look after my art this year.

It’s a little bit retro, and its forward-looking as well.

Happy New Year.