This week sees Waterloo East Theatre go amorous with Love Bites, a yearly event that invites writers to contribute a monologue or two-hander based on the theme of ‘Love and Relationships’. A well-known topic, perhaps, but playwrights are encouraged to think outside the box and deliver stories that are heart-warming, fresh and entertaining.
First-time playwright Edward Franklin snapped up the opportunity to take part in the project. “For me it was the idea that it was something I could do concisely but that it would also force me to push my creativity into that space, into just 10 minutes.” Since beginning in November 2008, Love Bites’ theme has always been ‘Love and Relationships’ but each year the pre-defined setting changes. With an open script submission policy, the strongest entries are chosen and come together to form a cohesive piece of work exploring a set theme within a set location. Characters this year are all guests at the same cocktail party and the plays unfold chronologically. Previous Love Bites events have seen characters explore lust, loyalties and loss at a Christmas office party, a summer wedding and a restaurant, and to date the project has showcased more than 20 examples of new writing. So what is the appeal of this project compared to other open submission showcases?
“There was something nice about being given a brief,” recalls Franklin. “Although – obviously – briefs are there to be stuck to because they want there to be a consistent theme, they’re also there in a way to be subverted so that you can take what may be superficial or obvious about the brief and think about tackling it from a more interesting direction. Which as a new writer was something that was quite interesting to me.” After spotting a Twitter call out from Love Bites (@lovebitesplays), established writer Franklin turned his hand to playwriting. Perhaps that is one of the many beauties of Love Bites: it is open to all. You don’t have to be a practising playwright or even somebody who has studied the craft – you just need to have a good story to tell and a desire to see your creations come to fruition on stage. The process is supportive, with chosen writers given feedback and guidance from original submission to final draft, making the project all the more inclusive to budding and established writers. As Franklin adds, “Anyone who has an idea and decides that they want to sit down and work at something can potentially bash out nine or ten pages of a script.”
Franklin’s contribution to Love Bites is entitled Everybody Happy. “The theme was ‘Love and Relationships’ and I suppose that although love might be the word that stands out there, what I really wanted to explore was the idea of relationships and the balance of relationships.” ‘Love and Relationships’ is a very broad term. They are things we all experience in some form or another, not to mention them being pervading themes in film, TV and literature. The challenge for each of the five writers involved in Love Bites is to present characters worthy of our intrigue and emotional investment whilst bypassing the clichés and gushiness that we have come to expect from a typical love story to remind us that love can exist in the mundane, the familiar and the unexpected. Franklin explains: “Everybody Happy has two men, Greg and Mark, as its characters. It explores the relationship between them, and although their romantic relationships are referenced throughout the piece, it is the balance and the interplay between the two of them as friends – and as men – that interested me.”
The appeal of Love Bites goes beyond aspiring and established writers. Casting Director Sophie Davies reveals that more than 400 actors expressed an interest in the challenge. “I think that shows how much of an appetite there is for performing new writing. We’ve been very lucky with such a high standard of applicants.” New writing is often considered an exciting field to work in for actors – as well as writers and directors – and it is important to explore new drama in a safe creative environment. Open calls were posted across the internet for Love Bites and Davies relished the opportunity to match top quality talent with such an interesting mix of characters. “The actors that we’ve got this year are outstanding, and we’ve got a broad range; we’ve got established actors, actors who have toured with the NT, and we’ve also got some who are just starting out in their careers. And I think that its a real springboard for them; its a lovely community and a real ensemble.”
To young actors interested in tackling new writing, Davies advises an understanding of where new plays sit in the larger theatrical landscape. Having also worked with Paines Plough on open call auditions, she knows that a genuine thirst for and knowledge of new writing contributes to an actor’s potential. “Go to companies and do your research; know what they have done in the past; know about the successes they have had, the writers they like to work with; and immerse yourself in new writing so you’re in a better position to take that script.” Whilst companies such as Paines Plough and new writing theatres such as the Royal Court Theatre and the Bush Theatre can demand a proven practical familiarity with new writing when casting, Love Bites is a more fluid process. For Davies, “the draw of Love Bites is the fact that it is an opportunity for actors to get their teeth into new writing. They get the opportunity to work with great new writing and the writers have their work showcased to the best it can be. So its really mutually beneficial.”
The benefits are clearly being felt by audiences too, as Love Bites has grown out of its previous home. Davies herself first experienced Love Bites as an audience member. “I went last year to the Calder Bookshop Theatre and it was a fantastic night. It was such a high standard. I couldn’t believe how much talent was in the room. The producer really had everything down to the last detail – the set, the look of the show, the feel of it – it was very classy. It had lots of nice touches.” Having outgrown the cosy but quaint Calder Bookshop Theatre, Love Bites now plays to larger audiences at the 110 seat Waterloo East Theatre and last year visited Southwark Playhouse. Love Bites Producer and Founder Ziella Bryars has overseen these changes: “We want the audience to have a great night. We want to produce an engaging set of plays, and I think more and more Love Bites will build on that ethos. Moving to the Waterloo East Theatre, which is a bigger and commerical space, we can’t act as if we’re a small company which is just trying things out.”
However, that doesn’t mean sacrificing Love Bites’ ethos or individuality. Bryars continues: “For me, the focus of Love Bites has always been on content and entertainment. It can sound a little wholesome when you say you produce new writing, as if the audience is going to have to suffer in some way. Love Bites’ use of new writing and young talent keeps the show fresh and gives it energy but the intent has always been to create a professional, entertaining show. When people come and see the show we want them to have a great evening. And from a new writing perspective that feels like the best way to get exposure for new plays and encourage people back into the theatre; by making sure the whole process is enjoyable.”
Love Bites has gained much momentum and critical acclaim since its inception in 2008, offering a refreshing and entertaining evening for the typical fringe theatre-goer whilst presenting an inspirational challenge to those aspiring to write for the stage. As Bryars and team make the move into commercial venues, it seems that its nourishment of new writing, young talent and engaged audiences will be one relationship that shall continue to flourish.
Image credit: Love Bites