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