Monthly Archives: October 2013

Schoolwrights: A new playwrights-in-schools training scheme

Photo by Phil Adams

Schoolwrights is a new scheme which has just started in MulberrySchool, run by playwright-in-residence Fin Kennedy, new co-Artistic Director of Tamasha. It is a training scheme designed to equip a new generation of young professional playwrights with the skills to become writers-in-residence in urban state schools.

Six professional playwrights have been recruited. They include Alia Bano, who won the Evening Standard’s ‘Most Promising Playwright’ award in 2011, Morna Regan, winner of the Irish Times best new play award 2013, and Rachel Delahay, whose play Routes is currently selling out the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs.

All six writers will receive training and development over the course of a year the end result  polished productions which will be presented at leading new writing venue Soho Theatre, Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, as well as touring to each school.

The scheme is a partnership between Mulberry School, Tamasha Theatre Company, playwright Fin Kennedy and OffWestEnd.com, the leading listings site for off-West End theatres. Fin Kennedy has been MulberrySchool’s writer-in-residence for six years and has just been appointed co-Artistic Director of Tamasha.

The ambition is for Schoolwrights to become an annual rolling programme of playwrights-in-schools training, sharing the expertise in this field which Mulberry has developed over the years and it aims to establish a permanent two-way street between the theatre industry and London schools.

Schoolwrights blog by Fin Kennedy (cross-posted from www.finkennedy.blogspot.com)

This is a piece I have been meaning to write for some time, but after last week’s exciting news I thought I would wait a while so that it gets a bit of its own space.

The first public mention of Schoolwrights was actually in the Tamasha press release about my appointment, but regular readers may recall that it is a scheme I have been working out how to run (and how to pay for) for some time. The background is the long association I have with MulberrySchool in East London, stretching back almost ten years now, and taking in seven plays, three Edinburgh premieres, a Fringe First Award, our own London fringe festival and a published play volume.

Each year Mulberry and I have sought to evolve this work in some way, to produce bigger, more ambitious projects, to offer new opportunities to students, and to find new ways for theatre artists to work with them. In 2010, the SpecialistSchools and Aacademies scheme, under which much of this work was financed, was scrapped by the incoming coalition government. So, in 2011, I applied to Tamasha to work as their Associate Artist, in order to continue this work in a new form, and share the costs with a new partner.

The pilot playwrights-in-schools training scheme which we set up together attempted to test out a new model. It went phenomenally well. Even though the scheme was barely able to offer much more than expenses, we had over 60 writers apply for 8 places, proof of the strong demand among playwrights for some sort of managed training around working in schools.  The 8 writers we ended up working with, who included Sabrina Mahfouz, Tim Cowbury, Neela Dolezalova and Amman Brar, each wote touching, funny, quirky and heartbreaking 15-minute plays which Mulberry’s students presented at Soho Theatre.

To their immense credit, Tamasha really put their money where their mouth is. After the project was finished, they commissioned me to conduct a feasability study into how the scheme might be extended across the school year and be rolled out to more than one school, and even how it might become and annual programme of managed training with different cohorts of writers each year. I spoke to schools, colleges, new writing companies and playwrights across London, and put together several draft budgets for how the scheme might operate at different scales.

I’ve been very lucky in the partners this idea has inspired. My friend and longtime collaborator Sofie Mason, who runs listings site www.OffWestEnd.com entirely from private donations, and with whom I set up the Adopt-A-Playwright scheme, offered to back Schoolwrights and help me with fundraising.

Sofie once worked in opera so knows a lot of wealthy people. She specilaises in getting private individuals to donate to the arts. (Adopt-A-Playwright, for example, is run along a Roman or medieval patronage model in which private donors rally round one emerging playwright per year and donate funds to a pot to buy them out of their day job so they can write a first draft).

Sofie introduced me to a former hedge fund manager, Paul Wedge, and took me round to his house to talk more about my idea. This is what I think of as ‘proper’ fundraising! Not an Arts Council form in sight, just you, your idea, and a potential donor sat across the table. It was scary. But I must have done something right because at the end of the evening he pledged £6,000.

That first chunk was absolutely key. With an amount like that in the bank, we were able to go to further trusts and foundations and show that the scheme had some chance of becoming a reailty. Sofie marshalled a few of her contacts and between us we were able to raise further funds from The Writers’ Guild Foundation, the Herbert Smith Trust, and the Mackintosh Foundation. Tamasha also continued to support the scheme by pledging £1,500 of their own.

But towards the start of this year we were still £9,500 short, so I bit the bullet and put in a couple of weeks applying to ACE’s Grants for the Arts. It was the right time to do so – at that point we could show that the majority of the funding had been raised elsewhere but that we could not run the scheme without a top-up. We were successful. In total, we raised £26,000 in two years – a longer wait than we would have liked, but it was worth it.

So what is Schoolwrights?

Schoolwrights is a professional training scheme which sends playwrights into inner city schools, focusing initially on schools in East London. Playwrights are recruited from within the theatre industry and embark on a managed period of training to equip them with the skills to become writers-in-residence in an urban state school. They will have regular, direct contact with the school’s students, working with them to generate creative ideas for stories, and write a short play (15 minutes) in response. This first phase takes place at Mulberry, which is very well-placed to offer itself as a training base for this sort of work. It’s also a lovely, supportive school full of friendly, well-behaved kids, in which to cut your teeth if you’re doing this for the first time.

From now until Christmas is Phase One; a discrete term of work at Mulberry which doubles up as a training phase. I train the writers and pass on a whole host of creative exercises I’ve developed over the years, and support them developing session plans to generate the ideas they need to write the play for their group.

In January, the writers start a new residency in a second, nearby school, this time with more autonomy. They will work in pairs to support one another, though each will write their own short play with their own group of students. In total we have six writers who will work across three further schools. Each will deliver a further 15 minute play at the end of this second residency.

After Easter break, we will hopefully have twelve short plays developed across the four schools, each of which has those students’ voices at its heart. Each school will take responsibility for rehearsing these up with their students, in polished productions directed by their teachers. There is money in the budget for a masterclass for teachers with a high profile theatre director, as well as follow-up sessions where the director will observe rehearsals and give the teachers some notes. All the productions will be off-book and there is a small budget for set, costume and props.

The twelve short plays will then embark on a mini-tour in June 2014. Clearly, twelve 15-minute plays is too much for one evening, so we will present them in different combinations; once in each school’s own theatre, then at Rich Mix in Whitechapel who have generously donated their entire upper floor for one whole Saturday so that we can make something of a festival out of presenting all twelve across the day. And finally Soho Theatre have also offered to continue to support us, this time (we hope) on their main stage.

One of the key principles of Schoolwrights is parity of esteem between the venues and professionals involved. The same plays are presented in East London school theatres, at local professional venue Rich Mix, and at leading new writing theatre Soho. And for the professionals involved, everyone can learn from everyone else: playwrights from experienced Drama teachers, and the teachers from a professional writer and their process. Asking the teachers to direct the productions, rather than bringing in someone external, provides a professional development opportunity which many teachers are eager for, but all too rarely receive due to the pressures of delivering the curriculum.

I’m thrilled with the calibre of writers we have managed to attract. Since they are all now contracted and confirmed, and had their first day in Mulberry last week, I can exclusively reveal that they are:

  • ·         Alia Bano, acclaimed writers of Shades and winner of the 2011 Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award.
  • ·         Rachel Delahay, whose play Routes is currently selling out the Royal Court upstairs
  • ·         Rex Obano, 2010 Alfred Fagon award shortlisted
  • ·         Jane Wainwright, Royal Court Supergroup and BBCWritersAcademy member
  • ·         Morna Regan, 2012 Irish Times Best Play award winner
  • ·         Abi Zakarian, 2012 Soho Theatre attachment scheme.

I admit that this year I made personal approaches rather than solicit open applications, just due to the workload that generates. But in years to come I hope to be able to open the scheme up to unsolicited applicants.

I’m also due to have a conversation with my publisher Nick Hern Books around digital publishing. With the twelve plays next year, plus the eight from the pilot scheme, we will potentially have twenty 15-minute plays written with, for and about London’s young people. I have a theory (backed up by every teacher I speak to) that there is a gap in the market for good quality, well-structured plays which can be read from beginning to end within one school lesson – with time to spare to then discuss and analyse them. And schools which might not be able to afford to commission them from scratch may well be able to stretch to a few pounds to download them as a professionally-typeset digital collection. This could potentially be a really happy marriage – quality plays for schools, available nationwide, structured to support teaching and learning, plus a steady trickle of income for writers.

Schoolwrights is a new way of working. It is a manifestation of one possible solution to the problems surrounding new play Research and Development identified in my In Battalions report. One silver lining amidst the gloom is that fewer resouces to go around means we will need to work together more, in particular with community partners. If we can find ways to stretch and develop our artists, which simultaneously benefit members of the community organisations which host them, then we might be onto a winning formula. And what’s more, we’ll make some great theatre together along the way.

Sofie Mason, Tamasha and I have every intention of making Schoolwrights an annual programme; the UK’s first centrally-managed, quality-controlled playwrights-in-schools training. We will need to be very on the ball around fundraising, but I hope that after this first year it will be easier to showcase what we have achieved, and inspire donors accordingly.

And at some stage, we will need an audience too. I hope to see you among them next June.

http://www.finkennedy.co.uk


Masterclasses with Iqbal Khan

Iqbal Khan

Shakespeare

“He’s incredibly knowledgeable about Shakespeare and acting generally and is very generous in his teaching and directing striking a fine balance between allowing the actor to indulge themselves yet at the same time guiding them without feeling hectored or taught i.e. he encourages the actor to discover answers for themselves. I most enjoyed working on my prepared monologue and listening to others perform their monologues. I enjoyed this because it was a revelation seeing that most of us were too concerned with our own performance rather than making sure the audience gets the message of what we’re saying. The feedback I got from Iqbal means I can practice the monologue by myself and not be worried about becoming fake by developing a preconceived intellectual idea of playing the part because Iqbal’s advice is to keep changing the performance without becoming attached to any one style of playing. Hopefully the end result of all this is that when I do finally perform to an audience that I no longer care about my performance as I’ve got the idea of getting it right out of my system.”

“Lovely – he’s someone who really knows and loves his Shakespeare from a performance perspective. He innately understands how to make the text come alive in performance. He’s also extremely approachable and patient and works very intuitively with the actor as an individual. It was refreshing to have so many guys in the room! So often I go to workshops and they are swamped with young middle class women so always a delight to work with a properly diverse group of actors.”

“I wanted to work on text and to play. The class was fantastic and I was left with lots to think about and work on. Iqbal got us playing, warmed up and ready to go. We worked on our monologues and then on Macbeth. It was very good indeed. I loved the fact that it was not all white, middle class actors! It was like being in a proper London setting. I am just really grateful that Tamasha hold workshops like this and that its affordable and enables one to meet such good creatives in the industry.”

Chekhov

It has encouraged me to look at Chekhov in a new way and inspired me to investigate other Chekhov plays I wouldn’t have thought of doing before. There is nowhere with as inclusive and interesting a participating workshop group as Tamasha attracts.”

“I absolutely adored working for the day with Iqbal. He has a very generous nature and a clear instructive manner. The way in which Iqbal uncovers the text and brings it to life is absolute magic. This was the first all day workshop I have been to. It made me crave work and auditions!”

“Iqbal was very relaxed and laid back, not at all intimidating which is sometimes the case when meeting directors! He was very open to answering personal questions and was happy to share his experiences. I really enjoyed breaking down the text and learning to read between the lines, which sometimes is a lot simpler than we think. We have the tendency to over-complicate characters, of course there is always subtext, but a monologue from the character can be so truthful that all it requires from the actor is to be open and vulnerable towards the audience. I’m definitely better equipped to read through scenes and break them down. I would pay more attention to ‘pauses’ and ‘beats’ in scripts – it all has a meaning. It’s so important to look at stage directions too; it gives the actor clues as to how their character is feeling at that moment in time, which is something not all directors will point out to their actors.”

Contemporary Texts

Made me realise that ethnicity/gender should not stop you from developing your imagination by playing parts that are against your type.”

“Iqbal’s empathy with the plight of actors, his depth of understanding with contemporary text and the feeling that he set up in the room which was one of lightheartedness and yet complete commitment to our learning.”

“I absolutely loved working with Iqbal. He gives his knowledge and direction graciously whilst highlighting our occasionally misguided decision making. He reminded me especially that the only thing that matters is truth.”

“The atmosphere that Iqbal created was very relaxed and I felt very confident to try things out in a safe environment. The direction was very clear and helpful and the advice I was given will certainly inform my acting in the future.”


Workshops in Writing & Making Theatre as part of the RichMix Youth Takeover Festival

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The Youth Takeover Festival was held in August 2013 and provided free workshops and events for 16-21s.

Below is some of the feedback we received from our workshops:

‘Writing, improvisation, there are many threads to play with. There were so many differences between us and our interests and so many common things emerged’.

‘It’s been an amazing four days, working together. I loved how you can start from simple things and write something that’s not direct’.

‘I realised that there are so many important stories out there and you can respond to them, react to them. It was great seeing what we wrote this week come to life and learn from that’

‘I had seen writing as private and for myself and I wanted to learn how to collaborate. That’s what it’s been’

‘It’s a shame that it’s only four days. This should have been an intro week. I’m always so anxious to start things and I’ve realised there are so many ways to get the wheel turning. It was nice to have all the different techniques’.

‘Everyone is outstanding in their own ways. It’s changed my perspective on writing. I’ll take it more seriously now’.

‘Thank you kindly for these days. You’ve truly opened doors for me and made me fall in love with writing!! Good luck on all your creative endeavours. In any case you’re great teachers!!’


Intracultural Actor Masterclass with NIDA via Video Link!

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Read below some of the comments below on our exciting experiment to see if we could lead an Intra-cultural Actor Masterclass with Kristine, students and observers from NIDA and the UK, all in a very high-tech space via Video Link:

“As an artist and researcher in intracultural artistic practice I find Kristine Landon-Smith’s method of work inspiring and seminal within the theatre field.”

“I wanted to revisit things covered in the actors’ workshops I took with Kris in 2012. Observing the session, as opposed to participating in it, allowed me to write down the warm up exercises and the process. Seeing the actors work made it easier to detect patterns of intracultural acting and what processes were similar to all the actors when approaching their texts with Kris’ guidance. Watching Kristine’s way with actors as she incorporates cultural and linguistic backgrounds in the work process in today’s multicultural environment is something I feel strongly about and I learn a lot from it (as an actor but also as a director). I was there as an observer and the time went by very quickly, the experience was very rich and watching only allows you to be more analytical without the pressure to “perform”. Observing only was a highlight for me as I was free to take notes and not worry about “lines” or “performing” in any other way. Using modern technology to work on a piece despite time and space constraints was very interesting and I felt very inspired upon leaving the masterclass, Kristine is a great teacher live or on screen. Always a pleasure to be involved with Tamasha, I have a great respect for the work the company does and the opportunities it provides. It is a rare thing in the industry in this day and age.”

“It was incredible watching the actors in London engaging in an intense scene with the actors in Australia!!! Via webcam. Unbelievable. Theatre is often such a specific experience that only the actors and audience in that room feel. But the actors in Australia and London were able to create this tension and relationship virtually. It’s difficult to put into words but it felt almost magical when the scenes between the actors were alive and true. I had been to a workshop with Kristine before, as an actor, and loved it. I was, of course, too absorbed in the experience to fully acknowledge the techniques she was using on the actors and how they responded and were affected by her suggestions. As a just starting theatre-maker myself, I want to see as many different methods so I can use them in my future work. I also found Kristine’s method exceptional – so really wanted to be able to use it in my own work.”

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