Tag Archive | "State of Play"

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State of Play: Edinburgh envy and London alternatives

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Pippa Howie

Anyone else wish there were in Edinburgh right now? For the fourth year in a row I am missing out on the Edinburgh Fringe, a festival that is perhaps the most significant in the theatre industry’s calendar. For the month of August, performers and audience flock to the Scottish capital to experience some of the best (and worst) that theatre has to offer. All this theatre comes with the added bonuses of music, film, comedy shows and plenty of drinks.

What’s more, for an aspiring producer this festival is the one to attend even if you’re not taking up an actual show. Seeing as many performances as possible and meeting actors, directors, writer etc., is always going to be worthwhile, particularly when they may be at stage in their career when they’re willing to work with a new producer.

So why am I still in London? Unfortunately, the constraints of full-time work, maxed-out holiday time and lack of funds are keeping me at home. I am sure some of you also feel my pain. However, all is not lost. I have instead decided to compile a list of all the theatrical goings on in London that I think might be a good antidote to missing the Fringe.

  1. Anna Christie by Eugene O’Neill  at the Donmar Warehouse – Because it has a pretty impressive cast (Ruth Wilson, Jude Law…) and it has the potential to be amazing.
  2. On the Record By Christine Bacon and Noah Birksted-Breen at the Arcola – Because it is always interesting to see how effective theatre can be when giving a voice to political and human rights issues.
  3. Crazy for You by George & Ira Gershwin at Regents Park Open Air Theatre - Because you should always have a summer musical moment, though the ticket prices may keep this firmly on my wish list.
  4. Watch this Space Festival at the National Theatre – Because it’s a festival so sort of like the Fringe… or at least it’s outside and there is likely to be better weather here then in Edinburgh.
  5. Camden Fringe in Camden – Because although it may not be the most popular of the fringes it is now in it’s sixth year and there may be some gems to find.

So anyone else stuck in London this summer, I hope you too can find some theatrical treats to keep you going; if you have more let me know. And next year I promise to break my Edinburgh fast and be there, hopefully with a show or too.

Image by T J Morris


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State of Play: Four Lessons Learnt by a Learner Producer

Posted on 08 July 2011 by Pippa Howie

Since the start of this year I have been working with the theatre company Pip Productions on a piece of pedal-powered theatre called The Bicycle Thieves. We have just finished our run at the View Tube as part of CREATE 11 festival and the show is transferring to Folly for a Flyover on 17 July.  As these six months have been a traineeship for me I thought I would take a moment to think about the greatest lessons learnt…

Working on the budget and funding has been the biggest eye opener. They affect every part of the producing process and there is sadly no escape. Deadlines for funding applications can’t be missed and each one is like a job application, you have to tailor them individually to the funding body – copy and paste is not the answer. This is also not just an evening’s work, it can take weeks. And you need details about the venues you will be using so applying before you have approached theatres is tricky. This then becomes a Catch 22 as you often need money behind you when approaching theatres, especially if you are hiring the space. And of course there is the wonderful moment when, after weeks or months of waiting with your hopes building, they say no.

Lesson One – Funding applications are a pain in the ______ (feel free to fill in) and you shouldn’t rely on them to financially support your show. You need to find other sources of income. This may be a good time to start eyeing up banks and investing in scratch cards.

Six months ago I knew you needed money to put on a show but I had assumed I could do it on a very minimal budget.  Say,
£1,000 tops. Now I am definitely re-evaluating my budget. Everything you need will have a price and not always a foreseen one. You can avoid some costs but not on insurance, wages and licensing. You want to use music in your piece? Then watch
out for the PRS. You will (hopefully) have an audience so public liability insurance needs to be paid too. If you want to do it right you have to pay for it. Although having a list of friends with useful skills and who owe you favours can also cut a few financial

Lesson Two – When thinking of your budget probably best to times your initial figure by three. Then maybe times it again by

Another lesson learnt was that you must always plan for the unexpected. Last night just as we started pedal-powering
our opening music, it began to pour. For an outdoor show with bike stunts taking place, rain is a cancelling factor. Putting actors on bikes and sending them onto a slippery stage is never a winning idea so we had to stop the show, and I got a lesson in audience relations. Offering date transfer or refunds straight away as well as a free drink seemed to work well with our audience and they left happy albeit disappointed.

Lesson Three – As a producer you must learn the art of negotiation and a fixed smile that never reveals the truth behind that actor’s “illness”.

Being a producer in a small team also means you have to be willing to muck in with everything, be that setting up chairs,
manning the box office, or riding a bike and trailer to pick up sound equipment, it’s all in your job description.

Lesson Four – Producing can really involve anything depending on the scale of your show. So best to have many hats in your bag, i.e. a box office one, barmaid one or technician one.

Bicycle Thieves is showing at Folly for a Flyover on 17th July, 7.30 pm.

Image by John Morgan

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State of Play: Workshopping the ‘Beautiful and Damned’

Posted on 01 July 2011 by Pippa Howie

When we found out a month ago that our writer Alex was heading down to London for a few days in June, my co-producer Nikki and I jumped at the chance to hold an afternoon of script workshopping. We have recently commissioned Alex to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Beautiful and Damned’ for the stage, and in our previous meetings have debated the overall structure of the piece. Do we go all out and create an epic show with a large cast or do we do the opposite and create an intimate two-hander? After much deliberation we have settled on a three-hander, allowing the show to focus on the intensity of the protagonist’s relationship whilst incorporating the world around them. So this is hopefully a decision that works both artistically and logistically. And from a producing point of view, a three-hander should prove slightly better budget wise; finding salaries for 20 actors may have proved challenging. But by using just three actors to adapt such a character-filled story we are stepping away from Fitzgerald’s original style. We could be taking a bit of a gamble here, which was partially behind my decision to arrange the workshop. That and talk of physical theatre…

As a producer you are not always at the forefront of the practical, creative process, no matter how many ‘creatives’ you put at the front of your name.  But as this was a show I initiated I have clear ideas of where I want it to go artistically. Understandably, the writer needs creative control to make the work, but it is also important for a producer to be backing a project they believe in. We’d already discussed the play as a whole in script meetings and over email but you can’t always completely understand someone’s vision this way. So for me, the workshop was also an opportunity for us all to be on the same page, from the beginning.

So having pushed for the workshop I now needed to organise it. This meant finding a workshop space, sorting our budget and casting our three actors.  Space was my first priority. Rehearsal space is  a theatrical factor that can be overlooked by young theatre makers. Unless you have a huge living room you are going to need organise somewhere, whether that be in a theatre, above a pub or a church hall. My very small kitchen didn’t quite fit the bill so instead I was very lucky to get a room at Jerwood Space in Southwark – first task accomplished.

Having secured space I now needed actors. I had recently worked with two actors who I thought would be perfect for the roles of Gloria and the Narrator.  Luckily they were both available, so that was surprisingly easy.  However, the part of Anthony proved to be a little harder. I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who really suited the part, so a director friend of mine suggested I do a casting call on Casting Call Pro.  I was a little dubious at first, especially as I put out the call so last minute, but I was pleasantly surprised by the responses we got. As we were only casting for the workshop and not the show my focus didn’t really need to be upon their ‘look’ fitting the role. However I couldn’t help but consider their appearances, questioning whether Anthony would really weigh 14 stone – surely his whiskey diet would have made him a little leaner? Butafter many hours on Spotlight and a few dozen emails comparing the actors and their ‘Anthonyness’ we finally made our decision.

So the afternoon of the workshop finally came and we spent a very productive five hours workshopping the script.  Alex had written sections of text that we then experimented with, concentrating on the dynamic of the three actors. The success of the workshop relied upon the actors’ ability to think on their feet and to be flexible in their approach to the characters.  Luckily they were all able and willing to do this and by the end of the session we had made some vital decisions about the show. With these decisions made it is time to really start working on everything else, which I guess means a summer of funding applications and venue hunting for me. Wwish me luck.

Images by Nikki Barrett taken at the Jerwood Space

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State of Play: Pedal Powering Theatre

Posted on 15 June 2011 by Pippa Howie

Last Saturday morning I set off to the Green Lens Studios in Finsbury Park for a lesson in pedal power.  So having got very lost, despite living less then a mile from the studio, I reached my destination, the very quirky and completely unknown to me photo studio, which happens to be both brillaint and the only sustainable photo studio in the UK.  What brought me to this workshop so early on a Saturday was the theatre and more precisely a show I am assistant producing on called BICYCLE THIEVES.  BICYCLE THIEVES is an entirely pedal powered show created by the wonderful Pip Productions theatre company which will be opening at the CREATE 11 festival next month.   The pedal power not only comes in the bike choreography but also that all the sound is powered by generators connected to bikes.  And these generators are built by an amazingly innovative company called Magnificent Revolutions, who are certainly making waves in the green power pond.  They power all sorts of things from film screenings to gigs, all through the power of the audiences bikes.

So the aim of my day was to learn not only how to use one of these generators but also to build one.  We first began with introducing ourselves to the group, who were all there for more domestic reasons, such as wanting to go entirely ‘off grid’ in their daily lives.  At this point a wave of panic hit me, was I green enough for this group?  Or would they string me up by my probably not very environmentally friendly shoe laces?  Don’t get me wrong, I try very hard but I am certainly not on the same level as my solely raw eating workshop partner.  But I needn’t have worried as they were all very lovely and didn’t once ask me about my home recycling program.  Introductions done we got started on the theory and just how much I had forgotten from GCSE physics suddenly became very apparent.  People twenty years older then me were recalling formulas they remembered from school, myself at 23 had nothing.  But luckily we had very nice teachers in Magnificent Revolutions who were very lenient on the detentions.

So I  learnt to crimp, test for voltage and understand the way an electron moves all in the space of one day!  And one of my favourite things about the day was that it was all in a days producing work.  Theatre certainly has the ability to take you on lots of adventures and I am sure this is certainly one of the main  reasons we all want to be involved.  Another highlight of the workshop was definitely, having completed our generator, getting to pedal power some music.   Because it finally all made sense.  There is something very exciting about making your own electricity and particularly when you know it has the potential to power an entire show.  Sustainable and renewable power sources will hopefully become the norm in theatre and BICYCLE THIEVES seem like a very positive step in this direction.

Because lets be honest Theatre is not necessarily the greenest of industries.  We print off scripts like there’s no tomorrow, use huge lights night after night and heat rehearsals rooms even in the summer.  But change is on its way.  Companies such as Magnificent Revolutions and Julies Bicycle are putting a green focus on theatre.  Ideas Tap also supports green initiatives through its annual Green Fund and multiple theatre companies are following suite.   Because green theatre does not mean environmentally friendly but artistically rubbish, at least not anymore.

BICYCLE THIEVES is showing at The View Tube as part of CREATE 11 from 1st July – 6th July

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