The Column 2015

13th May 2015

FringeReview, The Theater Maker

I’m using this column entry to remind myself (and you reading) that FringeReview is a publication written by people working in theatre – people writing, directing, researching, supporting and, most of all, making theatre. We’re not journallists. As founder of this thing, that also includes me. I make theatre too, and I make FRINGE theatre.

We have had a lot of wonderful feedback from friends, colleagues and strangers about the last two performances of Text at the Brighton Spiegeltent Bosco Theater at the Brighton Fringe. (“Great play”, “believable”, “strong performances”, “thought provoking”, “moving” etc)

(photo credit: Peter Williams)

I won’t gush it here. What’s gratifying is that people I respect, from different disciplines and different points of view have spoken so positively about the show. It’s a play aboout “fingertip connection” – what happens when we trade physical for digital intimacy. We sold out on the first night and had a nearly full house on the second night. On the first night, the audience really gathered themselves in and, despite the outside noise, gave us their entire focus. There was a lot more laughter. On the second night, the audience were a bit more split. The noise outside seemed louder, impinging on the space, the silences felt a bit more a laboured and the feedback was a bit more mixed. But that second night feedback has been full of the positive comment from the fiirst night along with some really helpful thoughts that can take the play forward. The Bosco is a circus space and needs louder, brasher theatre. We coped, but didn’t command the space. That said, we coped well enough to create moments of utter stillness and audience attention. I felt very happy from an artistic point of view that we had told our story and, judging from the feedback, we told it well..

As FringeReview editor it is almost impossible to get my work reviewed at all, or fairly in Brighton, so informal feedback is vital.

‘Text’ really is a quintessential Fringe play. Though the editor of this publication, I also have a go at making  Fringe. I make theatre, we pay actors real wages, and we work hard, take risks and put something “out there”. That’s what fringe is about – creating something and putting something out there. No, we don’t have £50,000, and no we don’t judge against perfection. We squeeze every creative ounce out of whatever we have, we set high but realisable standards and we commit. Then we show it.

(photo credit: Peter Williams)

It’s important for me to make theatre if I am to review it. It also aids my own reflection and ability to hear the input and feedback from my peer group. I think that’s the one quality that eludes many non-theatre-making reviewers – they can taste the food – they usually end up on a “like-don’t like” line of polarity. But, some qualities that are “fringe” elude them. It bothers some reviewers and then all they have left is personal judgement, instead of humble enquiry and experiential learning. They are audience and judge but they are talking about waters they have never bathed in, food they have never cooked. Many then play a numbers game and quote the number of shows they have seen – “thousands” perhaps, over many years. They are audience veterans, reviewing-old-soldiers and yet they still can’t cook the food they are eating. That gives them a useful perspective, but it is not the only one and I would say, not the vital one.

The Bosco tent was a hard space to play a slow, intimate theatre piece as it is surrounded by noise bleed – traffic, music and human voices – the rumble of the city of Brighton. We decided to mike up – which helped but also distorted voices a bit. From over-ooomph to sharp clack. Mostly it worked. But now I crave either £50,000 to tech it all up properly or a lovely silent theatre space. I’m delighted, judging on the audience and peer feedback, at just how much we managed to claim the space for our performance.

We use a lot of film in “Text”, filmed on the digital devces used in the play – smartphones and flipcams. It worked fairly well and is part of the theme, though the balance between film and live action didn’t always feel right. Time for some film/theatre dramaturgy – that’s always interesting – reshaping and cutting the script conceurrently with the film editing and reshooting process.

Also, we’d love to link live texting at the heart of the show more tightly with the film. That’s the funding opportunity. Though some people said we should pare it all back to more simplicity.

Text is a slow play – it is meant to model how relationships really are, in real time, compared to the fast-trance state of tap tap tap digital communication. But pace and speed are strange bedfellows. On the second night, the pace felt better from a performance point of view, yet too slow in the space as well.

Text contains messages and we don’t want them to weigh too heavily on the narrative. More reflection needed there.

So, back to FringeReview. It’s vital that FringeReview’s people make Fringe theatre and that we step into the shoes of what and who we are assessing, judging and writing about. I don’t buy the idea that reviewers need to be outside of the process of theatre making. Sure, there can be conflicts of interest and these need to be handled with professionalism and ethics. But to cook the food is to know the food. We can all love it as we eat it, but those who grow it, make it, and serve have a vital perspective to add to the conversation, as long as they can also learn the skills of observation, reflection, description and self-awareness.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve felt myself in the skin of a fringe theatre maker. It’s humbling and a reminder of the responsibility we have when we review work. People give theimselves to their work, often with little material reward. It’s a journey and it is important and valuable for those not directly on that journey themselves to respect it, be humble in the face of it, enquire into it, and not kid themselves that watching from the sidelines gives them all the relevant viewpoints on the process. For then, their star ratings become smothering roses or poison darts.

Text will continue its journey. We’ll make it, remake it, refine it, redesign it, with the help of feedback from different people. I’m glad we are making another successful Fringe show. And I’ll harvest what I’ve learned to be an even better reviewer at the Fringe.

8th May  2015

All Change, Little change

It’s been a while since I’ve written a column entry. This is largely due to self-obsession with this book which was published at the start of 2015, and this play which is on in the Brighton Fringe in May this year.

So, the editor of FringeReview does write real books and does actually create real theatre.

That’s enough about me. And that’s enough of the General Election which took place today. We now have blue to the east, green in the middle and red to the west of Brighton and Hove. Diversity can’t be bad, can it?

With many Fringe festivals looming, Brighton isn’t the only happpening on the FringeReview agenda. Prague imminent. Bedford not far away. Buxton, Oxford… oh yes, and Edinburgh.

Brighton now boasts four large tents (and other outdooor structures) – A Spiegel/Bosco, a Warren/Box, A Sabei/Ladyboy and a Circus/Somewhere. The Brighton Fringe landscape has changed, grown, moved. Upstairs at Three and Ten is now Downstairs at The Basement. The Dukebox is now also a large church, and the Lantern has arrived. I love change. Yet the more it changes the more it stays the same – truly. This year’s Fringe feels the same in so many ways. That’s reassuring and a bit creatively disappointing. Reassuring is what I’ll focus on. I love what Otherplace have done with the Basement. I love the fact the new Fringe app is a non-starter (which means it can only get better and will have to change or die). I love the transformation of ACT into the Lantern and the boldness of Mill Goble at the Dukebox. No Five Pound Fringe this year (I’m sad about that) and the bith of BOAT (in memory of the modern day Kemble, Adrian Bunting).

Our cat is 17 and would flee from an ant. Last night she caught a mouse and delivered it dutifully to a yoga mat; this, on the day when the political map looked like a fringe – another rearrnagement of largely the same pieces.