Tag Archives: Theatre Royal

the art of good conversation

I am getting to that point in my life where sometimes I struggle to find the word in a conversation, sometimes a small everyday kind of word that normally you don’t have to even think about. This doesn’t matter when you are with a group of friends, people who know you, who understand because they are experiencing the same thing, or younger people who think ‘oh it’s just Ruth!!!’

But sometimes you need to put your point across concisely, with clarity so that hopefully people will listen. As a performer I believe I think instinctively, I am used to being in a rehearsal situation where I need to be able to jump up and improvise a situation, not to think about it but just see what happens. In terms of my conversations they tend to be similar, I am not strategic and I certainly don’t think before I speak, which I know has got me into a pickle before now. As I talk I have often focused on people mid sentence to see them staring back at me as if I am speaking an alien language. My usual problem is that if I am talking about something I know about or have created, lets say a performance or cultural event idea, then I talk as if the person listening knows about it as well as I do, I forget to come at it from their point of view. For example I have just created a performance about baseball and when talking to the other creatives working on it, who don’t know the game as well as I do,  I expect them to understand  and therefore I have to repeat myself, with explanations along the way.

Last night a few individual theatre makers within Plymouth all came together to talk about the ever growing Plymouth Theatre scene, a term that has grown to acknowledge an alternative to the Arts Council funded large organisations with the big buildings and resources. Here were graduates at the start of their cultural journey alongside actors and theatre makers who have been in the business for a couple of decades as well as those inbetweeners. From our conversation we realized that no matter what step you are at on your journey you would always be learning, and the one thing to keep us all going and to keep an alternative theatre scene was to communicate with each other, to know we are all in one group and that we can help one another. What was vitally important to everyone was to keep the conversation going.

Which brings me to a new ebook by Karl James, he is the director of the Dialogue Project and conversation is his main tool. I heard A Different Kind of Justice on radio 4 recorded by Karl about restorative justice and it was one of the best radio conversations I have heard. He also works in my world, the theatre world, as a co-director for Tim Crouch, (Adler & Gibb, What Happens to Hope at the end of the Evening, The Author) and his recording of children’s conversations created the fabulous Monkey Bars for Chris Goode and Company which we saw play the Theatre Royal (Drum) in 2012.

The book is called Say it and Solve it and it comes at communication from a business point of view; those work conversations that are going to be difficult, that you are not looking forward to, where the stakes are high. Karl creates a toolkit that takes you through the process from the absolute beginning. Checklists of the time and the space, i.e making the time and creating the space, to navigating your way through the conversation. I don’t belong in the business world of the suit and tie, the nine to five, the conversation at the water cooler but I can see how this book could help me find my way through countless different situations. Talking to an Arts Council advisor, talking to the keyholder of the building I want to use for a performance, talking to students who are all going to be the ‘next big thing’ in the arts.                                                  We all need to re-check our conversation techniques and this looks like a great resource. I wonder if it will help me with short term memory loss, I reckon it will have some tips.

For a free download of the first chapter click on this link.

Look out for What Happens to Hope at the End of the Evening coming to the Theatre Royal (Drum) next Spring.

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Solid Air

‘I idolise Drake, yet I cannot think of him without thinking of John Martyn, and vice versa, even though their individual styles were very different’.                                                             Mike Fornatale, Shindig Magazine, 1 November 2013 http://www.johnmartyn.com/

As a script reader for the Theatre Royal, Plymouth one of the most intensely satisfying moments is when you see a performance of a play realised on stage that you suggested for performance. The process, starting on my lap with a notepad and a cup of tea and then the journey it takes to get it produced, can be very precarious. Of the readers Solid Air could have been given to could have been someone who may not have seen the same possibilities or who didn’t have a particular interest in the subject matter. The process of reading a play is always subjective, except, despite whether the subject matter is something you are familiar with or have a liking for, the main matter is whether the writing is good enough; whether the dialogue comes off the page and transports you somewhere and you can visualise it onstage.

I first heard the music of John Martyn when I was at drama school, I was completely taken in by his turn of phrase and his voice that sounded like it hadn’t had a nights sleep in quite some time. Solid Air takes place on a night in 1973 where Martyn quite literally ‘plays’ all night. Hired to play at an Oxford student ball he brings along his friend Nick Drake, who he has written the song Solid Air for. Drake, according to Martyn, had had a nervous breakdown and the song was/is Martyn’s response.

When I first left drama school I worked at the old Leeds Playhouse and working behind the bar was a guy who talked about seeing Martyn at Leeds University; a gig which became a legendary ‘live’ album. That barman was Marc Almond, who not long after became a huge musician himself – did that ‘Live at Leeds’ gig inspire him?

This play speaks to a generation today just as much as mine who saw Martyn first hand, I saw him for *free* outside the old G.L.C building on the South bank. Many singer songwriters today (including Paul Weller, Keane & Beck,) are influenced by the music of John Martyn and Nick Drake, who has achieved cult status. Drake died a year later in 1974 (with an overdose of antidepressants; it is not known whether it was an accident or suicide) and it was after this that his music became fully recognised. Solid Air brings to life that relationship, that breakdown and that unfulfillment in a series of four scenes each bookended with live playing of Martyn’s songs, which only make one want to go back and hear them all again. It is also a great marketing tool for Drake’s songs, none of which we hear, but screams out that we should.

Where’s the freelance community?

Down here in Plymouth we have the award winning Drum that programmes and co-produces with some of the hottest theatre companies around. And The Theatre Royal with its huge production and learning centre TR2 can offer companies time and space to rehearse and perform premieres of their work, hence we see the latest from Complicite, Frantic, Hofesh and Matthew Bourne way before anyone else. The people of the South West like their theatre, dance and musicals so you would think that amongst all this there would be a thriving freelance fraternity.

WRONG… In the decade that I have lived down here I have produced two shows that have played the Drum and I was extremely lucky to do that. I was fed up of constantly leaving my home city to make work and in 2008 I tried to do something about it. I co-produced an arts festival with the intention of using local professional writers, artists, technicians and directors, in the vain hope that once a community was established as being here, and of a standard that other cities seem to have on their doorsteps, then more opportunities would develop amongst a freelance sector and the organisations that can offer the work.

YET… five years later there are no opportunities for freelancers in this city. The Theatre Royal hoovers up any funding by the nature of its reputation, kudos and therefore, power. On top of that we have a council who seem apathetic to cultural offerings and have very little money to put into events other than those which have the reliability of regular funding behind them. In fact the job of arts officer seems to have all but disappeared from the council website, there is no visibility of any arts awards or pots of funding. Where five years ago I was able to co create something that needed substantial funding behind it, today I would be hard pressed to find match funding from this city council.

SO how do we start again and sustain a vibrant artistic community? We have lots to offer in the way of training from higher education courses at two universities and a college, to classes and workshops run by the Creative Learning department of the Theatre Royal and the Barbican Theatre – who have a long reputation for excellent work with young people. These establishments are currently offering opportunities for ’emerging’ artists but seem oblivious  to the wealth of people who have emerged, plied their trade (elsewhere) and have a wide range of talent between them to offer up. And once those ’emerging’ practitioners have been well and truly primed for the creative industries, where are the opportunities for them? Yet again another generation will have to leave and go elsewhere for the jobs.

Over the last couple of years practitioners who lived down here have moved away to more vibrant cities with cultural offers for freelancers. The ones who remain here are those who have no choice but to stay because their partner’s work is here, or have other family commitments. Some have had to leave their freelance status and take up teaching work, or have left the profession altogether.

At a recent open spacer, that the council initiated after Plymouth failed to get to round two of the city of culture bid, there were plenty of suggestions to create a vibrant cultural community. Maybe its time for the large institutions to open their doors to the freelancers so that there can be a conversation about culture beyond the corridors  of the main organisations and, for the council to listen to the feedback. At the end of November New Model Theatre will host the first scratch night in the new space at the Theatre Royal, the Lab. But we could be doing so much more, where are the lunchtime play readings, the experimental festivals, the work in progress. Its a myth that local actors, writers, designers etc are not as good as those from the bigger cities, but we need to share our work in order to mature as artists.