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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Ghosts, trains and audio adventures...

It hasn't been the kind of week for indepth writing, as it's been a week of admin and other more exciting elements.  Firstly, first date for the tour is in negotation and gave me the idea for a new story.  I'm planning to perform a set in October in my local town, Lavenham, for a limited audience.  And to give it a local flavour it'll have a new story tentatively titled The Ghosts of Lavenham.  It will feature some of the other stories I'm working on, but that will be the main feature - I will probably alternate it with Encounters with Trolls of the Northern Line in the later London run. 
Also we've been recording stories from the Teaching Gods and Other Stories... collection.  So far recorded is Keynote Speaker and Bink!  The Alternative Seagull was also recorded, but I'm thinking of re-recording it with an audience, as I think it loses something without laughter.  More on this soon, but the recordings do bring me onto the issue of drift.  Drift.

The chief difficulty I face with monologues is drift.  That is the slight adjustments that get made naturally across a run, and how far do they get introduced into the “final” script.  Is a joke, added by the actor (with permission) to be added into the script?  I found recording on Sunday morning a number of slight variations which Simon and Cat had to their performances – but as they’ve “owned” those stories for two years now, is it up to me to say that isn’t the real text?  Well – legally – yes, but I think as storytelling is close to a folk art, the old bardic tradition, there is a legitimacy to their adjustments.  And I shouldn’t complain.  Especially when they work.
Of course drift occurs in my own performances too.  I’ll come back to the script after a year and go: “oh... is that the line?  I’ve been doing --- instead.  And it’s better.  I think.  Hmmnn...”  Do I rewrite the text and add that to the next edition (and Teaching Gods goes through editions and versions faster than... add simile later) or leave it as was?  Still haven’t come to any firm answers to that one. 
Add to that the issue of explicitly rewriting a previously performed story - as I am doing at present with The Examiner of Small Ailments.  The new version should end up being a complete show, something at a length of Cuckold’s Fair.  Do I keep the old version in the Teaching Gods collection as was, or do I delete it and leave the new version for separate publication?

I have also tentatively set down the start of a new story set on a train.  It's based on an incident that nearly happened to me.  I was on a train and something unpleasant started to happen, but didn't in the end as the person doing the unpleasant thing thought better of it.  I've started playing with this set up, seeing how far it might have gone.  It's the same kind of process I used with Fantasy Terrorist League, imagining myself into a situation and seeing how I might react if x happened.  Which in real life it didn't.  Thankfully. 

Just prior to the audio recording I also held a little read through for Amleth - my new(ish) play.  It's been a sod of a play to be honest.  The first draft was completed three years ago and then my computer died.  Died after a sudden burst of creativity in a very short period of time which didn't survive post-crash recovery.  So I had to start again with earlier remnants.  But I had other deadlines then and couldn't come back to it for ages, by which time the play had changed in my mind. 
So I started again and again... and finally it is done.
What I haven't mentioned above is that it was a two-part play, so there is still a read through for the, as yet, completely unheard second part.  That will be late march, details will follow people, details will follow.

Enough, dear blog, enough... I'm a day late as it is.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Meeting of Many Words...

This week has been largely full of admin based distractions, so only a modicum of extra work has been done on the writing of Storyteller.  It has all been good work, so I am content.  See my second video blog for the more personal view of the week...

So, as recently posted, just completed new piece Sleep Inc. which I'm quite happy with.  It came into being in a lovely self contained way over the bar in conversation about my recent bout of non-sleeping.  From there I will say no more for, as with many short monologues, it is greatly made of an idea - and so that idea is best kept obscure.
So let us talk about character, which is important because that is the next phase of writing.  Having found a situation to discuss sleep problems, we have two characters in the room.  One with the problem, Mr Morris, and the other, an (as yet) unnamed specialist.  It is the specialist who does the talking, who holds a silent, one sided conversation. 
This is a technique I have used in the past, it is nothing new, but it has rarely featured prominantly.  It only ever has in an unsuccessful story Myth / The Fingers of Fate.  Not that the "dialogue" didn't work, the story round that didn't.  In fact it was the success of a few sections of really good "dialogue" which kept drawing me back to that doomed monologue. 
Encounters with Trolls of the Northern Line has seen developments - in that I have started doing detailed work on one of the characters.  There are four main characters in all, a modern day figure who is drawn into the world of the Trolls, and three others from different points in history - late Victorian, Inter-war and the original Angry Young Man of the post-war boom.  The outline of the story is now plotted, so I can start turning these elements into people.  The advantage of the fantastical setting is that I can take relatively "normal" people* and put them into impossible situations and see how well they cope.  I'm not sure how well they're going to be, but I'll let them decide.
*No such thing as normal people, everyone is a mass of weird contradictions.  I don't know why anyone does what they do, and amateur psychologists should remember that.  Analysis comes after someone does something, not before, and so must the motivation for actions of my characters.  (That's a blog in itself - will come back another time to write in detail about that...)

But, though I'd love to say I've been working hard at these pieces, this week I've mostly edited texts, as the various meetings I've bounced between has stopped me getting into writing.  I do find a good run up helps.  Having the time to get immersed - to mix my metaphors - to get going on a section. 
Except for those times when you just sit down and get on with it.  It's a fickle world, my brain.
So Wednesday this week, in a foul mood it must be said, I sat to edit a new stage version of the medieval Mystery dramas, focusing soully on the life of Christ (i.e. skipping the creation - I'm taking that as read).  It'll be in two parts for performance next year, a big community production a few weeks before the Olympics. 
Now for those who know their onions the Mystery Cycles were numerous, linked, episodic plays - some 40 or so performed together by city guilds.  In theory there's a good day or two's material - and there are four mostly extant and differing versions - and they're in medieval English.  So I've a lot of material and a lot of decisions to make.  Firstly, how much mixing and matching do I do between the different city Cycles?  Secondly, how do I present the dialogue?  I.e. How much do I update the spelling/pronunciation?
Luckily I have done this before on a smaller scale a few years back, and I do know the texts very well.  As far as the first question is concerned I have decided to largely follow one Cycle per plotline.  So for the first Act of the new play - covering the Nativity - I have chosen one text to follow Mary et al and another to follow Herod.  There is the odd change of text when one plot meets the other - the close of the Herod plotline will be a positive pic n mix - but otherwise I am being quiet consistent.
So far as spelling is concerned I'm happy to touch it but lightly.  The texts work very well once the actor says the word as writ.  These plays have a pure oral power, in addition to meaning.  It's something about the sound.  But it is early days - I've only touched the surface of one quarter of the whole - and the easiest quarter at that.  Maybe I'll come unstuck later.
!!! I wrote those words only a few hours before and already I've completely changed my mind on the text for Mary and Joseph.  There go my rules out the window.

Beyond these writerly things I had a most successful recording session on Sunday with my sound engineer Peter.  It was supposed to be only a test, but it went so well we went for a take and recorded a version of Problem Tree, from the Teaching Gods and Other Stories... collection.  Have yet to go through the takes, but had a brief listen and it sounded really good.  We'll be getting together soon for a full session - so hopefully I'll have the first recordings available really soon.

More next Tuesday...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

In the Jogging...

Hello Bloggers...

Here are the projects pending.  I'm working on a new show of stories "Storyteller 2011" for September (ish).  In practical terms this means having the work, the writing work, done by April / May, as I'll have to have them rehearsed and ready by September and, despite trying to clear away my schedule, other activity keeps jumping in the way.  That said, there are a number of stories that are sitting on the back burner, or I'm working on at the moment.  Working titles only, so don't expect subtlty.

List of stories in the jogging...

1. Encounters with Trolls of the Northern Line - this is probably going to be too long.  I started writing up my notes on it the other day and after too much activity they come to nearly 7000 words.  And that's before the ideas behind those notes get expanded and turned into character and action. That said, beyond the slightly naff title, quite happy with this one.  More on that in a future blog.

2. Much Like... - can't say too much about this one, it's a trick story, so I can't give away too much at this stage.

3. Database State - has been hanging around for a couple of years, and really needs to be written.  Sometimes you start on a play or story and get distracted and the poor thing dies of neglect.  It happened to a piece called variously Myth and The Fingers of Fate.  Do what I would, it never became a piece of work, just a mess.  But that was a very different piece, the idea behind this one is simpler.  It's about a person battling against modern technology to the point of absurdity.

4. The Fall of the Gods of Commerce - actually a piece that doesn't feature mythical creatures or any fantasy element.  It is interesting how often gods turn up in my work, if only to prove they don't exist in real life.  However, this is a more disjointed work, and I don't know where it is going.

5. Molly: the ongoing adventures of... - I wrote a little story called Bink! a couple years back, and it is one of my favourites.  It's a childs tale, but not a childrens story, and I would like to see whether there are more Molly stories to come.  My second attempt has so far been put to one side, let's see where it is at.

6. Sleep Inc. - which came to me all in one go the other day.  Very short, but rather fun.

All or none of these stories may appear in Storyteller 2011, we shall see.  I'll start sharing a new bit in my second video blog - out on Valentines Day.