Is it easier to be a male Feminst?

Deborah Klayman's Blog

It is likely that, if you have decided to read this article, you already know the answer to this question.

When Ross Putnam started his Twitter account @femscriptintros on the 10th February, I doubt he expected that he would have 50,000 followers after just a few days. Today, almost 62,000 are following his tragicomic verbatim postings, citing real descriptions of female characters, all focussing on the physical attributes rather than the actual character.

To those of us in the performing arts, Putnam is highlighting something we have all known for years. As an actress, casting breakdowns looking for “girl, beautiful, 20s” have long drawn groans, eye rolls and despair – even from women who fit the bill. Ever emailed a director and asked for more info on “girl”? I know many who have, and the response has generally been a tumbleweed, or an answer that defines her by her relationship…

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Show Us You Care

As part of the ongoing process of working on a play I lucked out on some notes that finally broke through the resistance I was putting in front of human compassion and heart. Also known as narrative.

Writers organise their work in ways that suit them. I have to confess to being heavily influenced by Brecht’s advice on dictators. It’s a risk to laugh before you know how dangerous they are.

What I think this means for me is I go all out on the danger and destructiveness of a world before I can organise resistance to this danger. I think this sensible, because I observe every day what we are up against. That’s my disposition, but I am optimistic. I question it also, vigorously, and I won’t ever accept it.

Many years ago I was rehearsing Mountain Language, the company took on the work very stoically, but also with great elan. We wanted to know the way the decks were loaded, and we tried our best to match Pinter’s fervent hatred of the sociopathic regime – actually that was not difficult to accomplish. We went as far into the operations of power as were in our grasp at the time. I rehearsed outside (it was Summer I’m not a sadist) with the company, and the stage was a concrete square in an arboretum. What I enjoyed about this was the clear contrast between the verdant surroundings and that strangely threatening and hard space within it. It helped shape our understanding of the play. Rehearsals were going well, things were progressing, but we needed to know what was being taken away. I called a break after a rehearsal that had got heavy, that’s no judgement, it was necessary to go there.

I wanted to know what was being lost and find a way to bring that into the rehearsal. I was disturbed by the cruelty. As it is right and proper to be.

When we reconvened from the break and emerged from the arboretum to go back to the concrete I noticed something.

A little patch of the concrete had cracked, and daisy’s were springing from this. But what was remarkable was that one of the cast on the break had built a little settlement around it. A few houses, and some fences made from twigs and leaves, and it gave it a sense of belonging, and delicacy, and care. We all looked at this and an improvisation emerged from this little bit of optimism. You probably know Brecht’s poem about the chimney? The one where he is filled with optimism to see smoke coming from it, and mindful of how desolate it would look without it? This improvisation helped us appreciate that feeling. It gave us a sense of what was being taken away, and it allowed the actors to grasp that intuitively and with spontaneity. It was felt, and something that is felt is enormously useful – in ways you can’t always get to through conversation.

So I had cause to examine my resistance on reading the beautiful notes I encountered today. What became apparent was the realisation that I have taken things as far as I need to in order to begin writing the resistance – it’s now time to feel, to write with need, and urgency about our agency and volition as people, and what we cherish, and what we ultimately hope for.

That is why we need to tell stories.

Populace Review


Populace has started 2016 well kicking off at MiSciFi – Miami International Science Fiction Festival. I was at the festival, it was very well set up, and I scored a job for next year’s festival as a judge for their screenwriting competition.

The selection of films on offer was very strong indeed, and yet Populace ran away with a Best Actor gong. An incredible achievement for the film and Jamie Pigott.

The people at IndieFlicks in Manchester Screened us at Texture in early February, and the film was very well received.

In April we are heading off to Phoenix Arizona for the Phoenix Film Festival, which is by all accounts held in high regard. I can’t wait to mix with the filmmakers of Phoenix, and from all around the world.

I will write a blog about the films and filmmakers I think you should look out for later this year.

Work on a pilot is going well, the result of a lot of learning from the Masters at Drama Centre, and Neil Arksey at LFS. It’s giving me a lot of joy.


Dishing Up

The few people who have permission to read my work before it is finished have earned my trust through their constant and unwavering pursuit of excellence. It is for this reason I ask them to look at my work while it can still change.

I recently had notes from an actress who had to contend with a play of mine during a terrible bout of flu. Talk about kill or cure. Her response was most provoking – in the very best way.

The point is you have to know why you are doing something, because if you don’t other people will tell you why you are doing it. They may well be wrong. Often they are, sometimes they aren’t. All the same, you have to know. If you don’t know, why should we be interested? It’s part of examining your own life. Sometimes we wish we didn;t have to, but we do. It’s part of answering the question of how to live. Or in this case, how to get a play to the stage.

So I am not going to post the notes, but I will post my response.

Why Am I writing this play?

Yes, the play is tricky at the moment. People are asking for more of a through line – a narrative to hang their hat on. Whose story is it? Why should we care? My job is to balance that very natural request against a world that is fractured and broken-backed, and reflects the times in which we live. To that extent it is a question of matching intention with the formal explorations of structure. What I want to say, with how I want to say it.

My intention is simply to welcome an immigrant into the play, the way we would our own home to a person who needed it. On one level it is that simple.

Come in and have a cup of tea.

Put your feet up.

Let’s share stories.

The play is a dark inversion of the Homerian concept of Xenia. In fact to make this more apparent, I may well go back to the Odeyssey to draw more on this concept. You are probably aware that each stop off in the Odyssey as the hero makes his homeward journey is an example of the abuse of Xenia. Drugging, cannibalism, turning into pigs, being a sex slave, etc. It’s rum old stuff. But it makes its point.

The play is in part designed to provoke a confrontation with the world we are living in as divisive and contested by a dominant capitalist hegemony and competing discourse. That’s the clever reason.

In its way it is reflecting the broken narrative of the immigrant experience – you had a family, home, nation – then it was smashed up and now you find you are living in a world where there is no place for you. In part this is to simply shake people out of the complacency that we live in a society perceived as coherent. In fact we expend great amounts of energy on pretending it is, the way some people expend great energy on pretending to fit into it. Or to be normal, when in fact they are artists or musicians, or just not normal in a none pejorative sense.To take this further it asks us to consider the balance between our freedoms and what we are being asked to give up in return.

The story takes place in the past and ends in the present. It asks us to consider what kind of future we want to have. It encourages exploration of the way we have arrived in the here today and now – this question is located in the realm of the family. The site of so much contestation.

If the play were too smooth and didn’t have levels of texture, and broken glass, nails, or splinters and fractures – it would be palatable. If it were palatable it would be complicit in numbing the terrible truth of the crisis we are pretending is not (in a significant way) our responsibility.

If it were the story of one person, in a traditional linear central protagonist sense, I would not be pursuing my aim to reveal the ways in which we are encouraged to align with a narrative that excludes.

Because my narrative (I am not anti-narrative, I cherish coherence) is focused on a white middle-class family – I am attempting to disrupt that privilege – and interrogate it. This is my agenda and is specific to this play. It is my question to pose and it is not the only way to pose it. It is the way I have chosen. We all have our own questions to pose and ways to pose them, and we all want to get on with it.

I have to divest myself of my bias and prejudice as much as the next person, my sense of entitlement, my inherent privilege – this play is part of a process of trying to interrogate those things. It is part of a process of discovering the way I am constructed as a social and political person has very little to do with who I may or may not be. In this personal way, I hope to make room for people I am told time and again are not to be seated at the table.

Finally the play asks us to welcome people in the spirit of faith and friendship.

(a piece of advice I had about this play was ‘why don’t you just say you’ve written a good play?’ The answer is: because I haven’t yet.  – But there’s a little light coming through, I’m going after that.)

Redrafting – The deeper question

The fringe, where I conduct most of my work allows a certain freedom.

I am redrafting and it got me thinking. Time and again we are told plays are built on change. Yet a lot of people treat a text like it’s carved in stone.

On the fringe you can start with a square and you can finish with a circle. This transformation occurs live over time, the result of continuous experimentation.

I am redrafting a play about consent. It was shortlisted for The Kings Cross Award for New Writing in 2009. It was treated very kindly by Writers Avenue with readings of the first 20 minutes at The Rosemary Branch, The Pleasance, and Soho Theatre.

At the time, there was a lot of pressure about redrafting the play for its various readings at each venue. I held off the deep redrafts, and provided only a few tweaks and a bit of polish. I have always been fascinated by how things change over time, and at the time the question about the play was ‘how do you end conflict responsibly?’ we were coming out of Afghanistan and the question seemed pertinent. I wasn’t ready to end the play, because there was no end in sight.

Coming back to the play I now see that the actual drive for the play was consent. I knew this at the time but the times we were living in (the interesting times) were talking about how we end conflict responsibly. I was caught up in this question and I admit it obscured the deeper question. The fact is we went to war without a mandate, and the dodgy dossier was a pack of lies. The Government did not have our consent to go to war. The people of Iraq did not invite us to destroy their lives.

Sometimes a play has a deeper question than those posed by the buzz of the zeitgeist. Writers are often put under pressure to comment in the present tense. Time and again I was told my play was no longer of interest because the war was old news. I knew these comments were hopelessly myopic, and I decided that the play would only do what it had to do during the process that was unfolding at the time.

I understood that I would return to it after a period of time and go for my sense of the deeper question. The play is about consent, and as such going to that preoccupation I hope will be a salient reminder that when the simple things are not given their due recognition the consequences affect us all. Going to war without a mandate or proper justification is part of a long line of transgression by continuous governments in the UK that led to unmitigated disasters and untold humanitarian suffering.

The changes to the script are the result of waiting. As such I feel a deeper commitment to the story and what I am trying to put out there for your consideration.