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How some directors treat living playwrights

I’ve been a director, an actor, and a playwright. Sometimes, all three at once.

I’m happy to say I have never had this experience. I was shocked to read in this blog that some theatre directors think it’s okay to cut and paste the work of a living playwright without consultation or permission.

I love working collaboratively, love being in rehearsals and seeing how a great director can find things in my text that illuminate, develop and intensify the piece I have written.

I’m always open to hear from actors if they have a different, more authentic, or just plain better way of saying a line.

But for a director to take a play by a living playwright and carve it up – that is not acceptable.

What do you think?

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Why hell? Because no one wants to subscribe to the limitations they believe having political views would impose on their artistic freedom. But the truth is, politics, the word, is rooted in people. Politics is about how people behave, act, betray and rule each other.

The best theatre I have ever seen was uncomfortable to watch from a complacent, detached, ethereal viewpoint.

Theatre needs to get its hands dirty – as dirty as politics does, so greedily.

Two recent events illustrate how married politics and theatre are, whatever artists may say. A recent Irish government commission reported on the performance of Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey, and found the majority of the productions it put on were of a poor, unsatisfactory and unprofessional standard. This, in a country that is crowded with passionate and brilliant playwrights and performers, some of whom cannot earn a living, and with a studio theatre, the Peacock, dark for some of the year.

Here is a thoughtful article by a previous Artistic Director, Gerry Hynes:

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/fixing-the-abbey-where-next-for-the-national-theatre-1.1664388?page=3

The second item that is worth your attention is the stand taken by playwright Margaretta D’Arcy on the rendition flights through Shannon Airport – a situation the Irish government would like to pretend does not exist. When they asked her to shut up and stop annoying them, she refused. She is now in Limerick Prison. You can sign a petition to free her to the Irish Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, here:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Irish_minister_for_Justice_Alan_Shatter_Free_Margaretta_DArcy/sign/?aVzadab

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Irish_minister_for_Justice_Alan_Shatter_Free_Margaretta_DArcy/?pv=0

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writers earn money? I don’t think so.

I’ve had two books published in the past two years, both digital. I have no idea what the sales figures are.

All I know, is that for two years of work, I haven’t been paid a penny, a dime, a euro, a cent.

I won’t be writing in this genre [romance] again. And I knew what I was doing when I agreed to a ‘royalties only’ contract. However, I did think that after two years, I might have got some royalties.

I also work as a playwright, to commission, and for this I am heartily grateful. Writers need to eat, even if only crumbs from the rich man’s table.

Thanks for this blog, Sara Sheridan, I read it with empathy.

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Why taking play away from children is a bad thing to do

I couldn’t agree more. I grew up in the 1950s, where street games, two ball rhymes, skipping rope songs with endless possibilities  and the rules of ‘Kick the Can’ or ‘Chain He’ were known to us all. Long, complicated role play games took in Davy Crockett, Dragnet, Robin Hood and Peter Pan.

Children need to play without adults watching and controlling. Children need to play, and they aren’t being allowed to.

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Here is a rather long link…

http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/columnists/guest-columnist/a-portrait-of-the-artist-as-childish-reckless-and-dangerously-subversive-254532.html?fb_action_ids=10152147249239672&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_ref=.Us2RRr-dryo.like&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B707021905983589%5D&action_type_map=%5B”og.recommends”%5D&action_ref_map=%5B”.Us2RRr-dryo.like”%5D

The resignation of three members of the creative team working for LIMERICK CITY OF CULTURE has shone an unpleasant spotlight on the chasm between artists and the present government, who is entrusted with millions to pay out to us, lucky and grateful as we are supposed to be for any crumbs that come our way.

This article hits the nail on the head about the present climate in Ireland, a state we who write, compose or make art have known for years is heavily weighted in favour of bureaucrats  - the very fact that ‘the arts’ are lumped in with Sport and Tourism shows government thinking.

Two of the resigned team – Karl Wallace and Jo Mangan –  are friends, and I have certain knowledge of their  outstanding administrative competence, their visionary imaginations, and their passion for the arts. So my view is not balanced.

As the article says, the wonder is that we go on creating at all.

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Writers don’t need to be paid – read what Philip Hensher says about that…

mm, this is a tricky one.

Coming from a theatre background, the number of times I’ve been told by funding bodies that ‘You love acting/directing/playwriting, you’d do it whether you were paid or not’, or ‘Thousands of people want to do what you’re doing – if you ask for payment, then we’ll use others who don’t’, and even, ‘ We find artists work harder if they have to struggle a bit, and that makes their work even better’… I am not surprised that writers are being treated the same way.

Of course, it’s important that we have a real relationship with our readers; I read and comment on other people’s unpublished novels for free – I also do events, especially for children, unpaid…  and yes, of course, I write out of compulsion and excitement, for financial rewards, or none – but if I had a young family and a mortgage to support, I don’t think I could be so lofty and idealistic. Writers need money. Like everyone else.

Do you agree with Philip Hensher?

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I feel deeply, passionately and bitterly sad to hear of the death of Team Educational Theatre Company, announced last month by email and on their Facebook page. After a courageous and painful struggle with strangulation by public neglect, and fatal haemorrhaging of its financial base from cuts from the funding bodies, it can no longer survive in this time of market forces, when the arts, like every other ‘business’, now knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Neither the Arts Council nor the Department of Education, which for years had kicked this company between them like an old football, was willing to champion it. In times of recession, funding for children, and especially theatre for young people, is an easy cut to make. Who cares what children think? Do they have a vote? Are they on any boards? Do they have any money to influence people?

Team Theatre had survived for 33 years, through times of great national poverty, all through the 1980s, a little sibling of the Abbey Theatre, who gave it a home and a rehearsal space in Marlborough Place; no doubt the Abbey also felt relieved that the unspoken national obligation to provide excellent theatre for young people was being minded, leaving them free of the responsibility. And Team embraced this wholeheartedly, perhaps to the detriment of their public face, because on their tight budget they had nothing left for spin, public profile raising, or marketing themselves. In the twenty plus years I have lived in Ireland I have only once seen a full interview with the director of Team in this newspaper. All their time, their best energy, love, and talents were dedicated to their audiences, not just the performances of two brand new plays a year, but the devising of interactive workshops to run with the play, showing kids a participatory way in to drama as education, and the actors listened to what children had to say on issues like suicide, death, poverty, even the excitement of being a hive-dwelling co-operative of bumble bees. How anyone can think this is not important enough to continue beggars belief.

I speak from personal experience; one performance of one play changed my life. I was sixteen when I saw Joan Littlewood’s original Theatre Workshop version of ‘Oh, What A Lovely War’, and it left me stunned, inspired and excited. Theatre could be about things that really happened, theatre could be about and for ordinary people, theatre could come down from its pedestal and talk directly to members of the audience, improvising responses! I knew then that this was the kind of theatre I wanted to spend my life with. I hope that out of all Team’s young audiences over the years, some have gone away with a similar feeling of excitement – not necessarily to be involved with theatre, but to feel they had a voice and something to say, in whatever field they might choose.

Many fine Irish playwrights have written for Team, many young actors cut their teeth on the fresh and challenging responses of their audiences. When I worked for them and Martin Murphy, their director, in the 1990s, any idea I brought to the table had to be road tested by workshops in classes of the target age, so that no ivory tower thinking would be loftily handed down for the kids to admire – these kids gave every idea and its originators an honest and realistic appraisal. Team’s funding from the Education Department in those days depended on a slice for the special inclusion of disadvantaged schools, and the workshops in these were of particular interest to me, coming as I did from a background of working with poor, marginalised, disturbed kids. One workshop I attended was to sound out their reactions to a play set in the Emergency – did they have any family stories about the bombing of the North Strand? They did – but even more exciting than that was the spirit of friendly anarchy that suddenly took over the class as they realised we were not teachers there to keep order – one boy swiftly executed a cock and balls on the blackboard, and even though we’d watched him do it, swore blind ‘it wasn’t me’. The same class responded to the play, ‘Burning Dreams’ avidly, and joined in the workshops after the play with that freshness and enthusiasm that all playwrights and actors long to provoke in their audience.

I write for children not because it’s easier – it isn’t – or because no one else wants to – I am sure there are other playwrights out there who would love to, if there was a decent living to be made out of it – but because I have a lifelong commitment to the arts for young people, and because my best ideas are inspired by children.

The Ark is still here, and Graffiti Theatre in Cork, and Barnstorm. Two dedicated theatre companies and one arts centre to cover the entire republic. This is shameful, and that we have allowed ourselves to elect a government who sees nothing wrong in ignoring the other needs of children, for decent medical care, housing, education and loving attention, reflects the attitudes we have subscribed to, albeit by being mislead by politicians who promised us to carry out a mandate we elected them for, later changing it to another mandate we specifically asked not to have, and explaining this on air as ‘the kind of thing you do when you want to get elected’. Yes, you tell lies.

Theatre for children that does not tell lies – that is the business I am in.

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I’ve been digging into my memory lately to think of ‘dips’ – ways we used to choose someone to be ‘it’ in chasing games. London school playgrounds were unselfconsciously rich in culture – I used to know about twenty different dips. And if I was being chased and I needed some time out of the game, the cry of ‘Fainlights’ with simultaneous holding up both hands with crossed first and second fingers was universally respected.

Here are the words of a song from Scottish children, immortalised on film in the Scottish Screen Archive’s site.

Well I sent her for eggs, oh then, oh then
I sent her for eggs, oh then
Yes I sent her for eggs, and she fell and broke her legs
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye

Well I sent her for butter, oh then, oh then
I sent her for butter, oh then
Yes I sent her for butter, and she fell down in the gutter
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye

Well I sent her for bread, oh then, oh then
I sent her for bread, oh then
Yes I sent her for bread, and she dropit down dead
Oh the world must be coming tae an end, ach aye.

You can watch the film if you go to their website. http://ssa.nls.uk/film.cfm?fid=0799

But coming forward to the present, Bess, aged six, says the recognised shout for time out of a game of tag is ‘pause game’….

How about you? Did you play games with dips and fains? How about your kids now?

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I remember a time when: 

arts subjects in schools were encouraged and children under 11 were helped, not to pass tests, but to blossom as individuals and to love learning. In my secondary school I had the chance to learn French, German, Latin, Greek & Spanish, art & pottery.

Teachers were happy to give up their after school time to arrange sports matches, direct plays, and help us with drama competitions, including, at my school, teaching us how to be a Greek chorus.

The Belgrade Theatre led the way with a permanent Theatre in Education company that went into schools and performed plays of relevance to their young audiences. Theatre in Education enabled children to enjoy live theatre for the first time; quality writing and performance of this theatre spoke directly to their hearts and growing minds,respecting their experience.

The network of Theatre in Education companies has vanished, along with the philosophy that arts funding should extend to children and people who cannot afford theatre tickets. Arts are now a business.

Like Thatcher, I came from a working class background – both my parents left school at 16. We had no money to spare for holidays abroad – we went and stayed with my grandparents. My education relied on free and excellent public libraries and a grant system that enabled me to go to university [the first person in my family to do so]. All through my childhood and young adulthood I could absolutely rely on free health care. 

As a result of this upbringing, I did not have a burning wish to make money. I wanted to work with people who had very little opportunity to make their voices heard. I worked in the poorest districts of Newcastle on Tyne, with travellers in Scotland and the west midlands. I saw there was still poverty and hopelessness where people felt left out of the affluent society that Thatcher encouraged. Her dreams were of goals that could simply be achieved by having more money. She was always a woman who knew the price of everything, and the value of nothing. And those values entered into the minds of a whole generation of children who now hold the reins of power and cannot understand that some people would rather spend their time helping other people.

That was society as I knew it. I still know people who cherish this idea, but they are getting older and the vision that we once shared is no longer accepted as anything but batty individualism. 

I’ve been an actor, director, puppeteer, playwright and novelist all my working life. Choosing the arts as a profession guarantees living on a shoestring. I’ve been lucky. I have never drawn the dole, or felt constricted by a lack of money. My life has been so rich in other things that matter more to me. 

Today as her funeral procession moves through London my heart will be with the silent protesters who will turn their backs on her coffin. I mourn what we have lost. I mourn the lack of strong and principled politicians who could stand up to her juggernaut of confident delusion, and show us, society, their voters, that there are other ways of thinking.

 

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franceskaywriter:

My friend Sile sent shivers down my spine with this post. It’s like the haunting tune of ‘Cape Clear’ – yearning, joyful, lonely, questing.

Originally posted on Síle Looks Up:

On Saturday I went to Inis Bearachain in Conamara with my sisters, their husbands, two small people and a friend whose father came from the island. We were going to visit a very particular art exhibition as part of Tulca, a multi-venue visual art festival. This is our afternoon in pictures.

We drove to Leitir Calaidh, got on a boat at the pier and sailed out to the island.

View original 612 more words

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