Tag Archive | "showcase"

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Flourishing on the fringe: new writing in London

Posted on 21 May 2012 by Chelsey Burdon

Despite the economic gloom and cries of austerity, London theatre is thriving. But beneath the glitz and glamour of the West End lies the heart of artistic experimentation and revelry. In studio spaces and pub theatres across the capital theatre-makers of tomorrow are sowing the seeds of their careers. A Younger Theatre met with Ziella Bryars, founder of LoveBites (a series of new writing events with the theme of love and relationships) and emerging playwright, to talk about breaking into writing and working on the London fringe.

What do you consider to be the greatest hurdles facing new writers in the theatre industry right now?

A lot of the time, with the opportunities you see advertised, there’s a lot of importance on names helping you; if you’ve been involved in one project or initiative and it’s with a decent ‘brand name’ then you get the next one. If you’re going into something just based on your script it can be really tough. If you did something at Latitude for example you’re just up that little bit higher on the pile. It is a hurdle to feel like if you don’t have the right credits you don’t get your foot in the door or you don’t have the attention given to your piece in the same way. But I think that if you write something that really works you have a good chance.

Also, it’s important to hit the right theme at the right time. If you’re trying to break in you have to have that hook that means that you’re different, and that your piece is political and timely, and that’s harder if you’re starting out. You might want to do a story that’s personal to you and that you find interesting. and it might be a great play – but if it’s not about something that is ‘sell-able’ right now, unfortunately I don’t think you’ll get noticed.  You could be a worse writer and write a play about, for example, the London riots and you’d get way above somebody who had written a great family drama.

What about the representation of women on the London stage?

I think they maybe have a better chance in fringe than in the West End; there are a lot of women who produce and put things on themselves, and that’s much more popular on fringe. A lot of the comedies that I hear about are often run by girls who are creating their own work, and their own writing.

I don’t know how well they are represented in the content of plays. That’s a different problem because a lot of the time when you hear something is a ‘female play’, it’s a bit worthy; everything is overly seeped in female stories and themes, and I don’t think you get that with men. Plays that have more men in wouldn’t necessarily be about stereotypical males – they wouldn’t stand around and talk about football for the whole play. So yes, I would say it’s definitely a good area for women to try and work in, and produce and write in but it’s hard to have a story or a play be focused on women without that being the marketing edge.

A lot of theatres seem to be embracing new writing now and we have seen a renewed interest in contemporary British playwrights. How do you think this is shaping the industry?

I suppose I’m a little bit cynical with some of the bigger theatres because I think it’s a really good PR exercise to have that on your website - to have photos of happy young people going to the theatre and taking part in something.  The new writing theatres like the Bush, the Royal Court and the Finborough, they’re doing it because it’s good PR but also because they really care and they want to find good writers. Whereas a lot of the big theatres, it’s not their focus it just becomes an additional element to their work.

I think that what will come out of it is probably the most interesting writers will come out of the smaller venues. And although it must be really exciting if you’re a writer and you have a big theatre take you on with one of these programmes, I would say it’s important to focus on the smaller theatres because they will nurture your writing more. Lovebites is doing a showcase at the Southwark Playhouse of the best pieces we’ve done over the years and I think that’s a wonderful way of a bigger venue helping fringe. It’s a lovely way of stepping up – if you’re working in fringe and you get these little moments of being in a bigger space it’s invaluable.

So what do you believe to be the fundamental differences between writing specifically for the fringe, and for example something that you might submit to the Royal Court?

There’s the basic element of size; if you’re in a smaller venue you’re going to write differently because you know that it’s going to be more intimate. Also the expectation of the audience is different – that can really work in your favour in fringe. There is so much stuff that’s bad, often when people turn up they’re not expecting something really great. So if you work hard and write something that really matters then you can make a massive impact, which I think is really exciting. Writing for a big theatre - I can’t imagine it evolves in the same way as it does in fringe.

Doing fringe you get to edit so much; often the actors writer and directors are working so closely together because it’s a friendly set up. No-one’s getting paid a lot of money – you might even be rehearsing in your living room! If you’re working in fringe you have to really enjoy it. You have to do it for the love, at least that way if you’re going to spend a long time struggling you are also having a really good time. I think that must be the way most people work in fringe – they really love writing and they love putting on theatre.

Bryars is currently producing a showcase of new writing, LoveBites at Southwark Playhouse on Sunday 27 May at 8pm. Tickets are £12 and are available on the theatre’s website.

Image credit: LoveBites

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Exit Stage Left: Are graduate showcases an accurate indicator of talent?

Posted on 30 March 2012 by Tristan Pate

 It’s showcase season in London, and across the country this year’s throng of graduates are rapidly reaching the culmination of their training and their introduction to the wider acting world. After an exciting third year of creative endeavours, the drama school showcase looms on the horizon; the business elements of the course are becoming more prominent as and students are asked to consider their unique selling points and deliver them up to the industry. Over weeks and months, material is considered and discarded in a closely monitored process to find the best platform on which to present the school’s students. After three years of stretching themselves  in many different directions, the actor is asked to identify what they do best, and to find the right piece that sells it.

It is a challenging time, and one I found uncomfortable and worrying. The safety of the drama school bubble is suddenly burst, and the feeling of standing alone in an overly saturated business is palpable. I agonised over my choices of material, wondered how it was possible to sum myself up in a minute-long speech, and found the whole thing to be forced and artificial. I can’t say I enjoyed the day itself. It had the feeling of being a cattle market of young talent, parading ourselves around in front of shadowy figures in the dark scribbling notes in their programmes, making snap judgements based on the limited work on show.

Decisions at this stage are beyond the actor’s control. It can come down to appearance or cast type – perhaps agents have a 5’6”  blond already, and their books are full. Even the date of a showcase can count against students if the industry has already made its pick of the graduates that year. Actors can easily sell themselves short – having given accomplished and moving performances in training, they are forced to distil this into an inconsequential monologue that doesn’t rely on given circumstances, doesn’t upset? Hector is an odd choice the audience and primarily entertains.

But the showcase is a means to an end, and must be viewed as such. It’s unlikely one will feel they are doing their best work in this stilted, unnatural environment, but it’s an opportunity that must be seized . For the class of 2012 this is just the beginning, a chance to show a particular element of their wide spectrum of talent, and to embark on a journey that could take them in hundreds of different directions. It must be remembered that you are not selling yourself as one thing alone – casting directors and agents have a good eye for a rounded actor and the imagination to see them in all kinds of different contexts. It is important to know one’s strengths in any industry, but when you start work, you can be called on to do absolutely anything, and you must be prepared from it.

Since graduating in 2010 I have played significantly above and below my age, in a variety of genres, even in musical theatre, something I never expected. An audition can come up for something you may never have considered suitable; you can be called on to interpret multiple roles, try different accents, even drastically change your appearance. This is the spice of life we all seek as actors: the chance to transform and embody characters far from our comfort zones, and it is where a varied and comprehensive drama school training will stand you in good stead. In the days of regional rep seasons actors would “play as cast”: perhaps Romeo one week and Iago the next, creating roles quickly and efficiently, without considering whether this matched their carefully considered “brand image”.

The bottom line is that a showcase is the only time when you have to decide on what you do best. Happily, in the professional world, there are other people to interpret what you might be capable of for you, so it is of paramount importance that you keep an open mind. You never know, you might end up surprising yourself.

Image by John Walker.

Tristan Pate

Tristan Pate

Tristan is an actor and musician and graduated from the Birmingham School of Acting in 2010. Since then he has appeared in plays, musicals and physical theatre pieces both touring nationally, and in London. He lives in Oxfordshire with his fiancée and young daughter.

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