Greg Dallas shares his process creating a new play with Warts and All Theatre’s The Collective. Follow the action month by month with The NeneQuirer
When it comes to making a broth, you can, according to the idiom, have too many cooks; while if you’re going on a date, two’s company, but three’s definitely a crowd. However, when it comes to collaborative theatre making, it would seem that the more collaborators you have, the merrier it’s gonna be.
At least that’s what Christopher Elmer-Gorry, the artistic director of Warts and All Theatre told me before my carefully crafted theatrical piece was subjected to a collective mauling by the performers group that meets every Tuesday evening at Foodies.rocks in Northampton. It would be an exaggeration to say that I felt like a Christian thrown to the lions, but it certainly felt a little like an inquisition, albeit without the thumb screws.
It should be remembered that I had volunteered for this and that an excerpt of my play had been chosen at July’s Scuff Night to be one of two that were going to be developed by the group and hopefully performed in the March of 2018. I knew what I’d let myself in for, but it still didn’t change the fact that my heart was beating a little faster than usual when I turned up for the first session. I had been encouraged by the fact that Chris had said we should “take our own ego as artists out of the equation” and share the process with others, but somehow my ego was still adamant that my integrity as a budding playwright might be in question.
Before getting down to the nitty gritty of examining the two scenes which I had brought to the group, we were asked to pair up and create a small dialogue in which we clearly expressed to our partners how we were feeling by just having two lines each. My partner Dan and I came up with a scene which involved him being extremely happy while mine involved me replying how anxious I felt that day. Not a million miles from the truth. We were then asked to recreate the same scene but this time only with exaggerated actions to sum up our feelings.
When we performed these scenes to each other it very soon became obvious that our pieces were pantomime like and lacking in any subtlety whatsoever. It was only when we were asked to revisit the scenes and replace our feelings with simple everyday lines and tone down the actions that we realised how this produced theatrical pieces with a subtext of meaning, but which didn’t have to be explicitly stated. I was already starting to realise how my own two scenes were in desperate need of the same kind of theatrical treatment.
When we got round to reading through the two scenes, I soon became aware that the dialogue I had created was in places far too explicit. The first read through of something you have written can be quite excruciating. That line that seemed so carefully crafted, now seemed clunky and lacking in rhythm. An inner voice tells you, “no one speaks like that, do they?”
Chris asked various members of the group to take on different roles and others were instructed to click their fingers when some new piece of information was provided by a character.
This immediately gave me a good idea as to which of the lines might be superfluous and which were moving the story on. However, the most helpful exercise was when the performers were asked to shout out, “yeah, we get it”, if they felt a piece of dialogue was overstating a point or reiterating something that had already been said. When you are working on a piece in a back bedroom at home you often lose sight of these repetitions, so it was great to see it on its feet and hear the reactions of the group.
I was encouraged by the enthusiastic comments for some parts of the scenes but was also happy to take on board some very constructive criticism. Chris was keen to let me know that I could accept as many or as few of the comments as I wished and that ultimately decisions about the play and its direction were mine.
It really was an exciting and invigorating process and rather than being deflated by the evening’s events I actually felt spurred on to approach the pieces anew and turn them into tighter theatrical scenes.
Maybe, I thought, this collaborative working is not so bad after all. It would seem that you can make a theatrical broth with lots of cooks, as long as the recipe writer keeps tasting it as we go along and has the final decision as to what ingredients are going in.
Deep Freeze by Greg Dallas will be presented by Warts and All Theatre’s The Collective in 2018.
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