Twespians – A Revolution?

February 3, 2010

Take one part theatre, and one part twitter. What is the outcome? Twespians.

Last night I was lucky enough to be part of a mini revolution in the way that I communicate with people in theatre, by taking part in a TweetUp. The idea of a tweetup is essentially a group of Twitter users meet at a set location and time to mingle, talk and have a good few drinks. Twespians is the theatre version.

I’ll be open and admit that the effect that Twitter has had upon my life is quite strong. It’s allowed me to express a huge passion I have with other equally passionate people. It has scored me tickets for shows, and equally kept me up to date with the latest theatre news and gossip. Andrew Llyod Webber has cancer? Through Twitter. Peter Brook as part of the new Bite Festival. Twitter. Too Close To The Sun, the biggest flop to hit west end … Twitter. What about the Donmar’s bad attempt at recycling old brochures? Reported through TwitPic, and Twitter.

Twitter has allowed me to connect with people from all over the world, who share the same drive and passion that I have. It’s a slow process, that develops over the course of many months. Conversation is brief but to the point, with only 140 characters there is no waffling allowed. Strictly a ‘to the point’ matter.

Whilst all of this is great for communicating over the internet, what happens when you bring these people together in the real world? Twespians answered this questionl last night, by organising a TweetUp as part of Social Media Week.

Upon arrival you are given a name badge to which you fill in your username and favourite show. You get yourself a drink at the bar, and then you begin to talk to people. The course of the night is extremely varied, depending on who you talk with. There are several people who I’ve met off Twitter to see various shows with before, yet equally there are those who I’ve solely spoken to through 140 characters at a time.

The night was absurd, surreal and brilliant all at once.

To have in one room, such a mix of people from all forms of theatre interests and jobs – talking together is remarkable. From journalists, bloggers, actors, directors, students, social media artists, administrators, marketers and facilitators. You almost have to take a moment to take in what is actually happening around you.

If Twitter is to be integrated more into the theatre industry then it is through an event such as Twespians TweetUp that we can begin to break down these boundaries of theatre roles, and begin to work towards something greater. What that is I don’t know. Networkings, Jobs, Drinking Buddies… well… the possibilities are too vast to list.

One thing that did strike me though is the possibilities of such an event. A group of students from Queen Mary’s University studying Drama and Physical Theatre joined the event. Hearing their passion for an industry they are desperate to be in is inspiring, yet equally their craving for information and advice from people already working or performing showed how useful such an event can be to people.

People can laugh at the way in which people engage with the internet and social media, but there is no denying the power and potential it has. If you can write an opera through twitter and produce full length twitter plays – what can you do with it?

Interested in Twespians? Check out of the website and twitter account for more information. The next Twespians TweetUp will be announced shortly, so stayed tuned.


Script This…

November 30, 2009

Talent can often be found in the strangest of people or places. If the current trend of TV reality shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and X-Factor are anything to go by, offering everyone and anyone the chance to showcase their talent, there are talented individuals waiting to hit the limelight. Oh and of course let’s not forget the multiple Andrew Llyod Webber exploits into finding the next Joseph, Maria and Nancy talent contests, so it’s about time that we saw a little of this talent searching in other aspects of theatre.

Enter stage left Script This… brought to you by the Broadway Theatre Barking team.

Even in the depths of Barking at the Broadway Theatre, a place I had never experienced but completely fell for its charm on Thursday night, is showing that talent is everywhere and needs to have a platform. Their ongoing programme of Script This… invites new and unpublished budding playwrights from any background to submit their scripts to the Broadway Theatre where they are all read, returned with feedback but the most important part, given the chance to appear in their monthly Script This… event.

Four scripts are selected by the Script This team to appear in a short 10 pages, script-in-hand performance, directed by The Broadway Theatres artistic director, Karena Johnson, and professional actors. They are all rehearsed, and presented in the same day, which makes the process even more exciting.

Then in front of a small audience the plays are presented. Yet what makes this event different is after every short extract the audience discuss their thoughts and feelings on the piece. Did they enjoy it? What worked, what was lost? The feedback is valuable as hidden amongst the audience are the playwrights themselves, but are only revealed at the end.  After the discussions the audience then vote by manner of a card system, green for you liked it and want more, yellow for it was good, and red for you never want to see it again. The cards are totted up and the extract that gets the highest mark moves onto the next round where they can produce another extract at the next event.

The reason that I’m very taken with Script This… comes from the experience which I had at the event. There is something edgy and fresh about the night, where I find myself sitting next to two complete strangers but bonding over our opinions on the scripts being presented.

It was clear that not everyone within the audience were from theatre backgrounds or in the industry themselves, but this made the whole experience even more exciting. By discussing the scripts openly amongst a collection of mixed individuals and groups was rewarding to say the least.

I’ve often found that criticism from those within the industry to at times be too bogged down with the ‘know-it-all’ approach to theatre, so why not have someone who is completely fresh and new to plays and writing discussing their honest, open views? Encouraging discussion about the plays means that the playwrights gain an insight into what a whole collection of people thought about their work. At times the views are conflicting but this makes for interesting debates around the work.

Whilst I will openly admit that I am far from a critic or expert of plays and playwriting – my views were justly heard and discussed by the audience. Script This… really works in two ways; by engaging the audience with new writing work never seen before, and equally of the writers gaining feedback and an opportunity to showcase their work.

The Broadway Theatre in Barking really has taken up a challenge to broaden their work, and one which I fully support. If talent is to be found anywhere, then why not in Barking? Script This… will be returning to The Broadway Theatre in January and is highly recommended for a creative and inspiring night out at the theatre (with a difference).

See The Broadway Theatre website for details on Script This… and future events.

The Lone Theatregoer

November 18, 2009

I tried an experiment the other week, a test of my mental ability to attend the theatre on my own. Ah, this might be an easy task to handle for those of us experienced theatergoers who regularly embark on solo exhibitions to the theatre. So I set myself a larger challenge.

7 days, 7 shows, all alone.

Admittedly it is just by chance that this challenge came to pass as I was attending a number of shows for work purposes before it dawned on me just how many shows I had accumulated in such a short space of time, and all rather alone.

There seems to be some kind of stigma with the notion of attending the theatre alone. I know I’ve often looked at the lone person in a row and pitied them for a moment. But why? Theatre isn’t exactly a social event other than the fact that people meet on mass to watch something, and then disappear again after the spectacle. We generally don’t communicate during theatre, we sit in silence, surrounded by strangers, so what difference does it make if you actually know the person next to you?

Well, from my experience of the lone theatregoing, it does make some difference, but not always in a negative way.

I must admit that at times I like my own company, I enjoy long walks alone and sometimes it can be hard to find anyone to go see a certain show with me last minute. (Sounds like I’m forming a dating advert here!) However it’s the beginning part, the interval, and the ending of seeing a show that makes the experience of going alone to the theatre a rather daunting affair. You have no one to talk to… instead discussing key plot and characters in your head to yourself, instead of engaging in a debate with your other person. What happens at the end of a show too when you’ve seen something amazing? You want to tell someone, you want to proclaim to the world that you just saw the most breath taking event that has changed your life… isn’t it always good when you have shared that moment with someone else?

Well yes, I guess the answer to that is, yes I do want to share that moment with someone. But going to the theatre alone means you’re actually sharing it with everyone around you, even if you don’t actually know them.

Upon my visit to the National Theatre to see The Habit of Art, I was sitting next to another lone theatregoer who struck up conversation with me during the interval. The reason can only be because it was evident that we were both sitting alone, watching something truly remarkable and wanted to share this delight with someone, and who better than a complete stranger!

This lady turned out to be an out of work actress, who equally shared my passion for theatre, and for Bennetts latest work. We spoke about a whole array of things, about my work, what she does, our love for theatre. It was one of those slightly surreal moments, where I found myself talking to someone purely because we were both in the same position. The Lone Theatregoers.

If I was attending the theatre with someone, would this conversation with this complete stranger ever had occurred? I feel it’s unlikey.

The other 6 shows were far less exciting in meeting people, but proved valuable thinking time for myself. Whilst I would have liked the company at some of the shows that I was present at, equally witnessing these things alone proved a challenge for me. Often reviewers do attend shows on their own, and quite regularly, but I’ve always found that taking someone along with me helps to break apart work or to debate subject matter.

My experiment has in no way made me buy two tickets to all future performances and forcing unwilling friends to attend with me. It has certainly made me appreciate that going to the theatre  can and is a social affair in some manner. However I have the feeling that my attitudes to seeing shows will be the same. If I can find someone to go with me, I shall go with them, otherwise I’ll stick to knowing that I can easily transport myself to the theatre without the fuss of someone else.

So with the above in mind… would you dare to face the challenge of The Lone Theatregoer?

The Live Spectacle

September 17, 2009

If there is one thing that I have learnt in the past few weeks is just how live theatre actually is. We often forget that the very nature of theatre is the live spectacle. Often with this spectacle we get completely engrossed in the theatre, the magic happening before our eyes that we forget altogether that there are a crew of people, ensuring that everything is running smoothly.

It might seem obvious to some of us theatre folk, but the very nature of theatre itself is extremely live and exciting. We forget that there is someone controlling the lights, someone pushing a ‘go’ button, people whispering cues to each other, and a whole host of activity that we don’t see. Theatre is quote frankly a well oiled machine that functions without anyone actually realising anything is happening at all (of course other than the acting on stage).

Yet with most machines there comes a time where things don’t always go right, the machine breaks, has a bad moment, and causes genuine chaos.

Whilst I will not disclose my place of work readily on here, this has most certainly been true the past week. With electrical issues spanning nearly a week, shows being disrupted by power cuts, lighting boards breaking and a whole host of other activities, it is no wonder that my thoughts turn to how the very nature of theatre is that of “THIS IS LIVE”.

Looking elsewhere it would appear that this reminder was equally echoed in a whole host of theatres in the past two weeks. The Arcola theatre suffered technical difficulties making the Shady Dolls performance of The Spoils during the Grimebourne Festival where they had to do the performance by the House Lights. Alas as they “the show must go on” rings rather true here.

Even more spectacular perhaps is how The National Theatre manage to be behind on their technical schedule, so much so that the first preview of the highly anticipated Mother Courage was left without a second half due to the lack of a technical run through. The difficulties meant that the press night for the show has been put back by a whole week, whilst they attempt to tweak and alter the technical aspects of the show in preparation.

Whilst time is something which plays against all theatre performances, and where there never seems to be enough time, it is quite surprising that a place such as the National Theatre can suffer from from time running out.

But there we have it. No matter what sort of theatre establishment you are, no matter how professional a show is, nor how much money a show might have behind it, theatre is a truly live event, and things most certainly don’t always go to plan.

Theatre, therefore, is live through and through (and we love it for this reason!).

Save our theatre! (From the older generations)

August 14, 2009

The title of this post is pretty bold, but I feel under the circumstances there is every right to be bold, and brash. The theatre of the future, of even today needs to be saved from the middle classes. So why do I feel the need to state this? It boils down to the recent events that have occured in relation to several news papers (The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and The Mail) running articles on West End Theatres hiring Bouncers and Security to deal with the ongoing issues of ‘yobbish behaviour’ seen in the audiences.

This happens, and I myself having worked in a West End Theatre have witnessed what some audiences members are like after a little bit to drink and a swinging musical. At the theatre I worked at they have full time members of door security who regularly dealt with members of the general public who were upsetting other audiences members. This was most notable when audiences had been out drinking beforehand and believe they are going to witness a rock concert (it was We Will Rock You after all) The fact that it is a growing issue is where the problem lies.

I’m all for kicking out rude, loud, uncivilised and general audience members who can not comply to the rules of theatre etiquette, (yes there is an etiquette which should be held to: the general rule being shut up and watch), but these articles or rather the comments are digging much deeper that the face value of theatre etiquette and audiences.

Since I began writing this article the Daily Mail website has actually removed all the comments that were actually on their article here, which was driving my thoughts upon this blog. However lucky for me Sans Taste have the comment in full from one of the Daily Mail readers where ‘Sue’ states:

“This is what happens when tickets are given away to under 25s. They have no social skills at all. They are vulgar and have no culture at all. It is a complete waste of money. It should have been given to families with an increase in culture but cannot afford the tickets. Or it could have been given to pensioners who likewise are unable to afford tickets. The under 25s are an abomination and a disgrace to our society.”

I’d like to thank Sue for her charming words on the current state of a whole generation of under 25’s and the state in which we are bringing down the theatre industry with ‘no social skills at all’. Of course this is a strong reaction from some middle-aged woman who has unfortunately been scarred for life by the terrible disgrace that the younger generation brings to the theatre.

My reaction is simple: It is people like this that should be barred from theatre’s altogether. The act of going to the theatre is a social event, and whilst I agree that there is an ‘etiquette’ as I spoke about before to going to the theatre, that doesn’t mean that we should stop a whole age range of people from attending. I feel outraged that someone could be so narrow minded in regards to audiences and the arts.

As a 21 year old, who adores the theatre, spends his life involved in theatre, and attempts to pick up apart details of theatrical events and understandings of theatre – I implore the older generations to stop this narrow minded approach to audience and ages. Theatre changes, as does the audience, but there is nothing wrong with getting younger generations into the theatre, in fact, it boosts culture, education and even ticket sales by allowing more younger people to enjoy the spectacle of theatre.

Theatre has for years been an elitist event, and it is about time that ticket prices dropped, allowing more families, younger generations, and even the older generations to enjoy theatre. Schemes like A Night Less Ordinary have allowed for under 25s to finally afford to go to the theatres, and see and witness the buzz of culture that is thriving not only in London but all over the country.

Of course there is going to be criticism from those that are left out of the scheme, but that doesn’t take away from the opportunties that this is bringing to those that would have never experienced theatre because of the inflation of ticket prices (the West End in my opinion is shocking for selling tickets at £50+ – limiting its market audiences to those that can afford these over priced tickets. Theatre is meant to be accessible to everyone!)

So just because I am classed as under 25, that doesn’t make me ‘vulgar’ with ‘no culture’ – in fact I’m embracing all culture of the theatre as much as possible and loving it. If people are so concerned with the introduction of younger generations into the theatre then my advice is simple: Stop going to the theatre altogether and intead write hate letters into national newspapers complaining of the lack of standards in theatre audiences, and how all under 25 year olds are an abomination and a disgrace to our society because those who are so blatantly offensive and discrimitive towards younger audience members are obviously not a disgrace to our society, but just born into a generation that doesn’t understand the changes within our society, and most certainly not within the theatre.

Articles mentioned can be found at the following places:
The Times
The Daily Mail
The Telegraph

With original stimulus from Sans Taste

Does Age Matter?

July 16, 2009

There has been a question in my mind ever since starting this blog, essentially since I began to offer my view upon Theatre and the things that surround it. It relates to the very reason why I set up this blog, and why I stand firm that by doing this, I am offering something different to a critical world of theatre which is dominated by the older, white middle-class men.

If we look at some of the most influential theatre critics, who hold positions within the strongest publications you can start to see what I mean: Henry Hitchings, Benedict Nightingale, Charles Spencer, Michael Billington… anyone seem a theme building amongst these men?

With this comes my question:

Am I too young to be offering critical responses to Theatre?

Or in a wider context:

Does age matter when being a critic?

While I might state the above list of critics are ‘older’, I speak this in terms of my own age, and of the general average age of critics within higher ranked publications. However, with the questions I pose comes a whole barrage of ideas and thoughts related to them.

The likes of Charles Spencer and Michael Billington has been on the scene of critically accessing our nations theatre for years, decades is even more precise. Maybe they are set in their ways of what theatre should be like, or the way in which they engage with theatre after so many years. Yet they also have such a depth of understanding, they have years and thousands of productions hidden away in their memory to recall at any moment. Their understanding of theatre is great, immense even.

Having only been in this world for a matter of 21 years, and the best part of those naive to the likes of theatre, I have some catching up to do to gain an understanding of such knowledge that the likes of Billington holds. But is this a negative point? Does my young mind seeing only a fraction of the number that the above men have seen make me any more or less wise?

Theatre is an experience. That alone can not be argued. So does age need to come into it? Surely it does not matter if I don’t have many years behind me – not if I can feel and experience theatre. We go, and sit, in rows of seats angled towards this stage. The lights go dark, and to counter this, the lights reveal a world on the stage. It’s an odd phenomenon, but we do it because we love to immerse ourselves into a world parallel with ours, or even beyond ours. We then sit, watch and experience.

I would argue that as I sit there watching theatre I experience just as everyone else experiences theatre. I go through the emotions which the production is offering me. I gain goosebumps out of excitement, and feel the hair on the back of my neck stand to attention. Equally I can sit there staring into space out of boredom for a production lost on me. But above all of this, I am experiencing. I still have that gut instinct when it comes to theatre. I feel something inside of me, moving me, excelling in excitement when I watch a piece of theatre which completely shakes my mindset.

Surely these experiences that I feel, are the same ones that the theatre critics feel when they see the theatre which they rate in 5 star stardom. I may not have the same catalogue of productions to draw parallels between when writing about theatre, but what I have is instinct – this gut instinct of seeing something which throws me into excitement.

So does age matter if we can feel and experience theatre and know when it is good, or likewise bad? No, and Yes.

At times I have stated, and will continue to state that I am naive to theatre. Compared to the critics of the papers, I am but a child in a toy shop, spoilt and overwhelmed by the choice of theatre. My lack of understanding that doesn’t run years and years worth of productions can be seen in a negative manner. How can I compare productions if I’ve seen a handful?

I think it goes back to having a passion for theatre, and knowing when something truly excites me.

Having an eye for theatre helps too, something which I proclaim to have. I often spot the smaller things in productions, my review of Phedre for instance I mentioned hand movements, subtle yet powerful. This eye for detail means I will often focus in on points compared to just generalising a whole play.

So why yes to age matters? It goes back to not being able to compare the work to anything. To not having lived through the generations of change within theatre. Remembering productions that for me now, I can only read about, whilst these critics such as Billington have witnessed. Productions such as Peter Brooks, The Mahabharata which are so famous today, sadly I can only read about.

It is a matter of living through the development and change within theatre, and being able to witness these things.

Currently we are seeing a boom of digitisation in theatre, where I am being brought up among technology interweaved into theatre. The likes of Katie Mitchell and Punchdrunk are the theatre makers of my generation that in years to come I can say, “I was there, I witnessed this change” – In years to come I will be able to compare the productions of today with the productions of the future. I’ll be able to carve the patterns of movements within the form of theatre, track the development and witness the change. Eventually I will be the older critic.

Now, however, I am young.

With being young comes an enthusiasm to soak in as much theatre as possible. To completely immerse myself in the realms of theatre and survive off this alone. I have a passion, that has not dwindled over time. I might not be the master of my craft yet, but I have the years ahead of me to be shaped into a person of tomorrows theatre. If that is through critically assessing plays and the developments of theatre, or through performing and creating theatre itself. Either way, for now, I am young, and bringing whoever may listen A Younger Theatre.

So does age matter? Only if you let it.

Thoughts of a Drama School Boy No More

July 9, 2009

I have just come to an end of my drama school life. 3 years passed me by within a blink of an eye. So, it got me thinking about what I’ve learnt over this period of time, the sort of words of wisdom that I now hold. Of course I am a lot more maturer now than I ever was when I first started at the ripe age of 18, where I was eager to absorb everything I could as an actor. Interesting enough, I wouldn’t call myself an actor now by a long shot… I am somewhere between a performer [a vast difference than actor], a maker, a director, a writer, a… theatre maker or artist.

I’m pretty sure that some people are frowning at the term “theatre maker“, I remember a friend saying how ‘stuck up’ that sounds and how it’s far better to be called a theatre artist. No matter what labels you apply to yourself it is what you feel or want that matters. So all the same, my distinctions as to what I am in the theatre world is somewhat blurred, but there is nothing wrong with that.

Whilst I was at Drama School, it should be noted that I wasn’t on an acting course as such. I was ‘training’ in European Theatre Arts. The difference being that whilst we did train in acting methods and ideals, they were all born from European thinkers, practitioners and playwrights. Automatically the mindset of myself in terms of thinking as an actor/performer is slightly different from that of the ‘straight’ acting courses deep in method acting, I have a more European mindset.

My course took a more physical and contemporary look at theatre. We often engaged in lessons where we  would run around the room for an hour or so, before following another hour of rolling on the floor, without even speaking a line of text. What good does this do I hear you ask? It’s about training your body, to understand your body and to feel your body.

Again, it all sounds rather ‘airy fairy’ but for a actor/performer to have an understanding of their body is essential. To know where your body is in relation to everyone else in the class easily translates to when you are performing and being acutely aware of the distances between each of your fellow actors without needing to look.

You begin to learn an awareness and the essence of the ensemble.

Performers, Critics, and general theatre-going people are very quick to throw this idea of ‘the ensemble’ around. I can’t help but to think that there is a distinct lack of understanding as to what an ensemble actually is and does. For me, an ensemble are a group of performers who work together, extensively together in order to produce a form of theatre. They are a unit, a single body, and a team. Ensemble can be seen in the way that a Greek Chorus work with each other to build the dramatic action within a performance. From my learning, one of the easiest ways of creating theatre is as a collective, as this ensemble.

You learn to trust the ensemble, you gain support from the ensemble and you work together to form the ensemble.

This quickly can lead onto another fundamental idea that I learnt. Whilst there is an ensemble collectively working together to produce work, the role of the director as God, is dead. This might seem dramatic, but I have been trained that the time of when the director who rules over everyone, making all decisions and choices for a performance – this can no longer take place.

We are in the golden age of collaboration. We as performers are directors, or we are working with directors. What I am trying to get across is that the notion that the director and performer working together, collaboratively is what theatre is moving towards. By joining minds, you join together different perspectives of the creative work, and thus giving a broader outlook upon a piece of theatre. Collaboration also is found with designers too, where every element is brought together as a whole. Instead of one ruling person overseeing a production.

Some people might take delight in the fact that whilst I seem to be very critically minded through the articles I post on ‘A Younger Theatre’, my experiences come directly from being a performer myself. My course has built a variety of skills within me to work with companies in creating something which I completely throw my life into.

If I have learnt anything, it is a deep, deep, passion for an art form that I am willing to dedicate my life to. So maybe watch this space…?