Review: Reprehensible Men Part 2 at Tristan Bates Theatre @CamdenFringe

Camden Fringe Voyeur

Reprehensible Men 2.jpg
By Samuel Smith
Five men, five characters all with troubled stories. Five monologues about despair anguish and regret from writer Dan Horrigan. In each case, the men are seeking something from the audience by telling their story. They are imploring the audience. Hopeful that someone will understand and perhaps even interact.
It is a production which relies solely on each actor and their storytelling ability, aided only by a chair and, in the last case, a small selection of pocket-size props. Each performance is standalone though there are some definite parallels in tone, journey of the story and the questions they ask of the audience.
Broadly, the performances are very good – some slightly better than others. The actors work hard to tell their tales with conviction. Some performers have either a more interesting story to tell or a better knack for being able to deliver it.
The writing is…

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Protect the Feeling

When you get into writing you learn how to protect the feeling you are writing from. It helps if you can name the feeling – joy, love, bliss, anger, regret, sorrow, fear, sadness, happiness, scepticism – whatever the feeling is you are writing from – you should try to name it. Once you’ve named it, tap it and keep tapping it, and be brave. You have to stay connected to that feeling – but you also need to protect that feeling. Find a way to protect it and find a way to keep the water in the well.

It helps to have a disciplined approach to writing – I don’t mean sit up straight in your chair – I mean a way of protecting the feeling so it remains alive to you. When you are doing the writing you’ve got to keep the channel open.

You might find your feeling, all that water in the well, goes into your day to day. This can be a positive and a negative – I have learned to let the world be available to me. You can’t deny the world and what happens in it, not only is it a poor way to be in the world, it will run your well dry.

What is useful is to develop a way of being in the world that keeps the water in the well, that replenishes the water. Sometimes, the world can run your well dry. There are many demands and distractions and sometimes an insoluble problem or two to keep you distracted.

That is why you should be disciplined with your writing – you should protect the feeling from which you write. When the feeling can help you live in the world that is good, very very good, and it is why the best writing teachers will help you write from a place of love – with courage – and an open heart. It makes you strong, strong enough to protect the feeling.

If you write from a secure place you can write with anger. Or regret, Or any of those hot feelings – which are difficult to live with. However, I strongly urge you to consider writing from your most secure space and I would encourage you to consider this to be a place of love. Love lets you visit the underworld and gets you back again. It is your best bet in a script/world that has plenty of vicissitudes to create a drama.

You will know when you need to protect the feeling and you must, I’m sorry to say if you don’t already know, be prepared for some bruises. These bruises you can tap and you must always think well of yourself as you do this – let love in.

Getting the next play out

What I think will help with this one is to approach the play with an idea that I am not responsible for what people think of it.

Freedom, which all artists – writers – directors – and most of us in our day to day, seek (we secretly hope to at least) implies responsibility.

Freud reckons we are scared of responsibility so we give away our freedoms. The responsibility being too great a burden and even terrifying in some cases.

So, what I have decided (because this work I’m doing has a history) is to say ‘you know what? Art, writing, directing, painting (choose your poison) – can be a place of freedom without responsibility.’ Because then we are free to fail and facing failure is one of life’s biggest responsibilities.

I have something to say – I am creating the positive charge of the story with this current draft. It’s up to you what to do with it when it gets to the stage. I’d be glad if you came to hear it.

The first draft was the shadow play. Not my shadow – the shadow that is sold to us every day. It was a play built on a tabloid mentality – and the story was raw and shocking and filthy and full of detritus and pain.

Yet, and yet, there was one thing that shone through for me. And that was my deep displeasure in writing it. I’ve held on to that for years – it’s a great lesson.

I also found it difficult to deal with the response it brought out of people. Positive and negative. The support for the play was there, I was not there, and I could never accept the kindness – because the writing wasn’t doing what I really needed it to.

What I had written was a story about professionals whose walls between what they reported and what they lived dissolved. Eventually, there was no discernable difference between, and it was a great experiment.

Imagine living the life you read about in the most lurid details in a tabloid – it’s not a trip for happy campers and it could make for a great drama. If you revolt against it. If you push back. If you fight for something a little more edifying…

But it didn’t please me to write. The draft was not where I needed it to be and I wasn’t adroit enough at the time to face the changes – now I can do something about it in a creative way.

I have decided that I am right to explore what happens if those walls between crumble. The characters lives and what they report on and the vanishing distance between them – and having got the shadow draft done I can switch the poles and write the version that I consider mature. The positive charge. The light. The empathy and connection. The cautious optimism that delights.

I am writing a play driven by sex, work, and death – and at the end there will be no discernable difference between the lives the characters document and the lives they live. They will synthesize these things and make them complete.

The method may be the same but the tone and mood is completely different – it is driven by optimism this time and not anger or despair. It is driven by hope and an awareness of the fragility of life and that there is more that unites us than divides us. That makes all the difference and makes it, for me, an exercise in freedom worth exploring.

Tips on writing

Imagine being able to write really badly and its ok…

Imagine a world where it doesn’t matter if people understand you or get you… it’s easy and you don’t even have to try that hard 😉

Imagine a world where you can write something and hate it even if you really really tried hard – you have the right to repudiate your work

Always know, no matter how badly you fail and how badly you think of yourself it was worth it and you should think well of yourself even if you fail utterly and spectacularly

Writing a play is never worth it (sometimes, and you should just carry on)

Those closest to you may well end up hating your favourite bits (for excellent reasons and you should listen)

Sometimes, everybody will have a different dislike and nobody will agree – this could mean its working really well or is genuinely a waste of people’s effort in reading and you have to be able to discern and stick to it once you have

Writing is good for you and may not be good to you

Don’t write about your own life and let what happens in your life be available

Write about your own life if you want to

Don’t get hung up on the truth or the message listen to the characters and be vigourously honest about what they are up to and why

If you get a voice write it down and coax it back if it comes and goes

Enbrace the fact you have no voice and keep writing

The most important thing is to remember only you know and nobody else can tell you why (except genius directors who are always worth listening to and actors who surprise you and delight you and scare you and an audience may want to have a say) and in the end its up to you what to beleive so listen to yourself and have faith

You are not responsible for what people think of your work. If they agree chances are they came in agreeing in the first place and only a few plays in the history of writing have ever genuinely changed peoples minds – so don’t worry about this and stick to a good story.

Good luck in your writing and remember you can do it whenever you like and the more you do it the more it gives you. Let it enlarge your heart

Good luck in your writing and be well with yourself

Sometimes it needs to be heard

When to cut? What to cut? How to cut?

Working through a process with actors and making cuts is a delicate process. It’s on a spectrum from ‘excellent choice’ to ‘How could you cut that?’ and most of the time it’s clearly ‘excellent choice’ – especially in a developmental process when a script is in its early stages – and capable of change.

Lines are emotions words are emotions – we must always remember that. If the line is not charged with emotion you are not cutting an emotion you are making room for the emotion to come through.

Then there is the moment where you have to insist as the writer that something stays – and you must hold your ground. That’s because there are some things we simply must hold on to – because we believe deep down to the core of our being that it needs to be heard by an audience. Sometimes, not all the time and often enough that I would mention it here, we have written things not solely for the actor to feel – we have written something that we want an audience to hear. Ideally, there is a complete synthesis between what an actor can feel, the text, and the affect on the audience.

It can be the case that the actor has to really work at feeling the text and bringing it to life – they have to charge that text that doesn’t sit well with them with some significance that brings life to it. Each thing in a work for the theatre needs its full expression and significance to resonate and have some meaning – if that’s not the case then there has been a break in the creation of the work – a little vacuum opens up in a moment and it’s dead air.

Writers, rather than impose your intention on an actor for whom it may well mean nothing (our delight is another’s Meh) talk to your director about creating the way to make that line mean something. If your director simply cuts the line you must stand your ground and ask them to work with the actor on bringing the line to life in their imagination. The imagination is an incredibly supple and transformative phenomenon – you can work with your director and actor for them to imbue the line with a significance that resonates personally for the actor. An actor can say anything in any way at any time – and what it personally means to them is none of your business.

What you must not do is insist they agree with your specific sentiment regarding the line. The actor must bring it to life in a personal way that has significance to them and justifies their work. Don’t insist they interpret it your way if it will stop them feeling it. If the line is blue for you and the only way it works for them is if it’s vermillion rest assured if you go with vermillion the line will be heard by an audience (who could turn it yellow for themselves).

This supple and subtle process of working out how to feel requires sensitivity, cooperation, patience, and generosity.

Don’t get drawn into cutting before this process has had the chance it deserves – imagine how wonderful it is for an actor to turn something they don’t feel into something that becomes energized and active with the life they create for it.

Know when to let go and when to insist and don’t impose.

Enough To Get The Feeling

At a recent and beautifully curated scratch night, I had the pleasure to not only watch my work deftly and boldly thrown out into the air, I also got the chance to field a few questions.

I was asked if I researched my work. Now, research is useful, and there are many ways to do it. For some, it involves sitting in a library, for others surfing the net, and for others still lengthy interviews with experts. Any combination is possible, and sitting in a cafe and simply listening is research.

During my time as a writer I have interviewed sex workers, journalists, met with experts, and more.

I consider it important to be informed, and I consider it sensible to expand the lens.

I also consider it important to only do as much research as allows you to feel, to be credible, and to create the given circumstances of the world coherently. As much as helps you find the spark that ignites the inner life of your characters. In short, research is only useful if it helps you tell the story.

I know when I have reached the point I can write credibly and honestly, and do not consider it necessary to be an expert. I do enough to tell a story and I never do too much. It’s a fine balance, sometimes the unlikeliest thing can open up something really rather important – research is exciting like that.

When I was researching the sex industry I had the pleasure of sharing drinks with a specialist in BDSM. We spoke about her career in the army, her way into BDSM, and her typical encounters. All of this was useful, and what was really extraordinary was the feeling of growing mutual attraction during the process of discussing the research. It was this aspect of the interview that was most revealing and most useful. (The attraction had nothing to do with her work, and I was in no doubt she was very good at it.)

So research is, like everything to do with writing, about what you can feel.

I want to feel as much as is humanly possible and always leave off research if it starts to clog up this process.

In short, enough to tell a story.

Moral Bandwidth

Paying for it is as easy as ordering a curry. That’s the problem.

Curry is a national dish, men like you are a national problem.

Men like me need something back, something to build. Or it leads to problems.

Like murder?

I never murdered. But is it surprising that I find myself in this situation? Women who provide these services are considered expendable aren’t they?

In what way are they expendable?

What I’m saying is we are conditioned to believe they are trash. Aren’t we?

Are you?

And it starts young this idea that women are there to be consumed. You know? They are there to gratify. It’s wrong. But that’s the way it is. Come on, don’t pretend you don’t see it every day.

I think it all depends where you’re looking, what you hear.

 

from UNRELATED by Dan Horrigan

One of the pleasures of spending time on your own, especially in places where people gather, is listening to what’s around you – your ear is your moral antennae. It tunes in to the things around you, and it’s a kind of moral bandwidth.

What do we hear and why? What do we see and why? What stories do we tell and why?

Writing opens you up to all sorts of tests – your moral bandwidth is the aural version of the reticular activating system. You hear things for a reason.

Do not be afraid of what you hear – you hear it for a good reason. Sometimes when you tell stories involving moral issues, violence, amongst other things, some will assume the worst. They may well have good reasons – which may have nothing to do with you actually. And some will shame you for it.

You will expose yourself to scrutiny, mockery, accusation, and questionable moral assumptions. People will try to pin the tail on you, make you an ass and load you up.

You will face every test and do not be afraid. If we only wrote about what we could handle there would be a lot less understanding going around. Sometimes we have to go towards what we can’t handle, what we are afraid of, what we have seen and heard that appals and frightens us. The process of writing is never a process that makes us smooth all the edges, it’s the process whereby we put things together and show each other that the edges are sharp – some pieces are missing. Your feelings run along them and it cuts you deep. Yes, absolutely, writing helps us overcome what we fear, what makes us angry, and it never takes away completely the sting that compelled us in the first place to get that work down on the page. If writing were simply a balm I would not be as interested in doing it for a living. Neither do I consider writing to be exclusively about picking the scab. Writing is a tightrope walk between consolation and anger – that rope is placed high, there is not really a net beneath you, and meaning can only occur if you cross the wire.

You will meet people who read your play as if it’s your personal bank statement – and they will try to shame you for the things you have seen and heard and thought about – which you have carried as you cross the wire. They will attempt to shame you for taking a risk. They want you to sit in the shame chamber. Sometimes it’s correct to sit in the shame chamber because you are going to make mistakes – you will be called out. When you are wrong you will know it. Being wrong doesn’t mean you have written a bad drama. If you raise just one question, you have made a contribution. If you make 100 mistakes and raise one question that is worth asking, you have done your job.

 

Don’t tell us how to live. Help us raise a question about how to live better.

What’s There?

I’ve been thinking a bit about the work I’m doing in writing. I want to go further into the process of understanding where things come from, so I can shed them, and find a core that I can say is authentically mine. I’m prepared, if I find this, to accept it means I may have nothing at all. What’s there? Perhaps nothing.

In an earlier blog, stealing from Brecht and Nina Steiger, I talked about core poetics. How a writer has to uncover these, unpick them, and be aware that what’s going on that page comes from somewhere. So I’m looking at that and thinking – what would be different if that layer or level was found to be not of my own? It is inherited perhaps, handed down, or it’s a transference or a recontextualization, could it be that the job of a writer is to really leave a page empty?

Could my aim as a writer be to find that empty page? To get to a point where there is nothing left to say? No more words, nothing left to convey, and to be able to leave off this writing?

Perhaps that empty page is worth writing for?

What Am I Doing?

Today I ate lunch with my wife and talked about writing.

I did the dishes and thought about writing.

I read a really good blog about Labour and thought about writing.

I went to the shops and bought ‘water’ and thought about writing.

I listened to some music and thought about writing.

Tonight I would like to make love to my wife but I am scared I will think about writing.

Could it be I think too much about this writing thing?

Trojan Horse

‘Have you ever felt as if your soul leaves your body to look down on you? Sees all this mad creation around us? This desecrated earth. What we have done to our garden. Only it’s a picture of peace. No struggle. No brutality. It returns to the body. Feels the sensations of life. The two vibrate. Body and soul. You begin to shake. There is a beautiful feeling that helps you trust yourself. You know what it means, to be alive’. The Forest.

The smallest things, the simplest things, can be enjoyed as unencumbered. They console with their apparent attachment to the way things really are. They speak only of themselves as they present themselves. You can see them clearly. They have clarity.

I’m a writer and I appreciate the simple things, I really do. Yet I will insist on speculating.

It’s possible to go so deep in a few moments that you reach a place of utter stillness and calm. This could be the self, who you really are, and it can be nothing at all. It can be an empty space, and you may not get to go there very often. If you can you are doing very well. When you come out of it the world of phenomena expresses itself, what is apparent to you on returning from that empty space is ineffable on occasion. You can’t be blamed for thinking something you don’t have access to is at work, and if it makes you feel safe, well that’s not to be taken lightly.

Trying to get back to empty space (we do not exist) cannot be achieved without letting go of meaning. So much of what we encounter in our day to day life doesn’t seem real. So we bestow meaning on many things. Meaning is the best we can manage when we can’t get to the empty space. It’s what we give ourselves to help it all matter.

A whiskey with a friend can be a simple pleasantry, yet take a turn, and the whiskey becomes a trojan horse. It resonates, it contains within it an entire array of competing histories. Perhaps mourning comes to mind, betrayal, seduction, a whiskey can mean so much. Or nothing at all, and the nothing is only a forgetting. When a whiskey means nothing you have let the trojan horse into the gates. It’ll come at you later if you ever manage to sleep. There will be a lot of remembering rampaging through your neatly arranged mind whether you like it or not. You should never get involved with whiskey if you can’t answer what it asks of you.

A question is a trojan horse. Should it be answered truthfully or not at all? How many times do we give answers honestly? Dishonestly? Sometimes a question is not so simply answered – it is this or it is this or it is nothing at all. That’s when you have a drama.

It may sound exhausting to think of everything as a trojan horse but see how many more questions come out of it. Account for as many as you can, and maintain the sanctity of your Troy, meantime you can get into a complicated drama. We have to mean something before we can face the final truth of what must happen. Which is to die. We all hope before we get there we can have made a difference. We can have made our mark. We can mean something. We all find the empty space in the end. That is what we earn. Some get to go there a few times before the big nothing. So your drama can be how to answer the questions embedded in the things you do, the relationships you encounter, the life you make. So enjoy your whiskey responsibly, whatever it means. Write the resolution sober and you’ve probably done the job.