Keep Calm And Make Theatre

Today I want to give a shout out to a couple training and learning opportunities that are happening, physically or online, in the coming year.

Patronlogo_FotorTeaching – and learning – theatre in an international context is an immense privilege. Many of you reading Theatre Room, students and teachers, will be doing so in this setting. As a result, it is likely that you have heard of ISTA, the International Schools Theatre Association which is an international arts organisation, a global community of young people, teachers and artists that operates on every continent. ISTA began life in 1978 with just one High School Festival in Europe. Today ISTA holds over 30 annual Festivals and training programmes worldwide,  with a membership of more than 200 schools.

298My own school have been members for many years and it is a vital part of how we promote theatre in our school and connect with theatre makers across the region.  In the last couple of years ISTA has launched a summer training programme for young people (aged 15 to 19), called The Academy, which is a two or four week intensive international summer theatre Festival, held in the south of France. It is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in all things theatre, training and working with professional theatre practitioners from around the world. I’d be there in a flash, but sadly. I’m slightly (ahem) above the upper age limit. Click the image above for more details.

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The other opportunity I’d like to mention is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) taking place in March. A MOOC is an online course (usually free) with unlimited participation and open access via the web.  They are becoming an increasingly popular way to take short courses in a globally accessible way.

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This MOOC is an introduction to physical actor training, with a focus on biomechanics. It takes place over three weeks with participants expected to commit 4 hours per week. It is being led by an old friend of mine, Jonathan Pitches, who is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds in the UK. Again click the image above for more information.

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Future Learnwhich is hosting the above MOOC is also hosting two others in the new year that may be of interest to theatre makers, young and old. Firstly there is Shakespeare’s Hamlet: text, performance, and culturewhere academics from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford Upon Avon introduce aspects of the most famous play ever written – its origins, texts, and history.  The other is Shakespeare and his World which explores Shakespeare, his works and the world he lived in.

Get clicking!

Mandela, Apartheid And The Theatre Of The Fight

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The death of Nelson Mandela two days ago has, quite rightly, brought about a slew of obituaries, articles and opinion pieces from around the world. One particularly caught my attention, written by Emily Mann for the LA Times. It talks about the great man’s unwitting, yet powerful effect on theatre. I’m posting it today simply as a tribute, but is worthy of a read and I whole heartedly suggest that the plays Mann talks about are worth a read too.

I especially recommend Athol Fugard’s The Island and Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (which was also written by Fugard in collaboration with Winston Ntshona and John Kani). The former is set in an unnamed prison, clearly based on South Africa’s notorious Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for twenty-seven years. It focuses on two cellmates, one whose successful appeal means that his release draws near and one who must remain in prison for many years to come. The latter is a beautiful elegy about the loss of identity and how oppression can make desperate people do desperate things. The play’s protagonist, Sizwe Banzi, is forced to steal the identity papers, and thus the identity, of a dead man in order to get work in apartheid era South Africa.

Nelson Mandela dies: His legacy to the arts

Many people know that Nelson Mandela’s life inspired novels, poems, plays and films, but few people know how powerful his effect on the theater was and how powerful the theater’s effect was on him.

The theater served as a mirror to Mandela, each side influencing and reflecting the other, placing them both in time.

At the height of the apartheid era, the Market Theater in Johannesburg and the Space Theatre in Cape Town, both defiantly nonracial venues in a racially divided country, produced shattering plays about black life under the apartheid regime.

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These plays premiered in South Africa in the 1970s and ’80s and then flooded onto the world stages. The plays triggered global outrage at the South African government and support for the struggle for freedom Mandela represented.

Athol Fugard’s “The Island” and “Sizwe Bansi Is Dead” (co-created with actors Winston Ntshona and John Kani) and “Master Harold and the Boys”; Percy Mtwa, Barney Simon and Mbongeni Ngema’s “Woza Albert”; and Ngema’s “Sarafina” along with many other plays of staggering power sparked a conflagration of local and international protest and helped Mandela bring down the apartheid government.

As Fugard once said to me and others, “I sometimes have to subscribe to the old cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword. It certainly was true in this case.”

Mandela’s arts legacy reaches beyond the apartheid era. He continued to inspire theater makers around the world to write those plays that would expose social injustice.

One of my plays, “Greensboro, a Requiem,” is about the Ku Klux Klan massacre of a multiracial group of anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1978. It brought national attention to the event and to the shocking acquittals of the Klan by an all-white jury.

In its wake, the play inspired the mayor and the city of Greensboro to convene America’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled on Mandela and the Rev. Desmond Tutu’s commission in South Africa.

The citizens of Greensboro, as in South Africa, chose to face painful truths about their past so they could enter a future together with a mutually agreed-upon history and a new understanding of each other’s lives. This, too, is Mandela’s legacy. A play can inspire social change.

During Mandela’s long life on the world stage, his influence has been multifaceted and his reach long. His profound contribution to the arts, both the work influenced by him and for him, made not only world but theater history, and his legacy continues to inspire those who work in the theater for social justice.

1990. Nelson Mandela as he is freed from prison after 27 years

1990. Nelson Mandela as he is freed from prison after 27 years

 

It Does Matter

This post is a milestone for Theatre Room – the 200th since I started it, 18 months ago. So it seems only fitting that the post has come about after an intelligent, heartening, occasionally saddening conversation yesterday, with my final year Theatre Arts students. I can’t quite remember how we got started, but in essence we were discussing the value of a theatre arts eduction and more generally the need for arts in society.  Now this particular group of young people are inspirational at the best of times, but when they started to list what they felt they had learned from the course – the skills (non-theatre related), the cultural understanding, the ability for arts to impact the world, and so on – I was humbled. They hadn’t been indoctrinated by my (well, not much) and had discovered and understood all this themselves. I am a proud man.

Howard Shalwitz

Howard Shalwitz

During the course of the discussion articles and videos were shared and this was one that touched a nerve for all of us – encapsulating what we talking about. It is from a post on theatrewashington entitled 7 Reasons Why Theatre Makes Our Lives Better. It is an extract from a speech, actually more of a treatise,  given by Howard Shalwitz, the Artistic Director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, from Washington D.C., a fund-raiding event in 2011..

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As someone who came from a family of doctors, started out pre-med in college, detoured to philosophy, then teaching, and finally to theatre — not only did my career choices slide steadily downhill from my mother’s perspective, but I was left with a moral conundrum: does my chosen profession, theatre, make a valuable contribution to the world when compared with the other professions I left behind? I guess this conundrum has stuck with me, because as recently as this past winter I made a list of seven reasons why theatre matters and I’d like to share them with you briefly tonight.

First, theatre does no harm. Theatre is one of those human activities that doesn’t really hurt anyone or anything (except for its carbon footprint — but let’s ignore that for now). While we’re engaged in making or attending theatre, or any of the arts for that matter, we are not engaged in war, persecution, crime, wife-beating, drinking, pornography, or any of the social or personal vices we could be engaged in instead. For this reason alone, the more time and energy we as a society devote to theatre and the arts, the better off we will be.

Second, theatre is a sophisticated expression of a basic human need — one might call it an instinct — to mimic, to project stories onto ourselves and others, and to create meaning through narrative and metaphor.. We see this instinct expressed in children when they act out real or imagined characters and events. We have evidence of theatre-like rituals in some of the oldest human societies, long before the foundations of Western theatre in Ancient Greece. So theatre matters, in essence, because we can’t help it. It’s part of what makes us human.

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Third, theatre brings people together. For a performance to happen, anywhere from a hundred to a thousand or more people need to gather in one place for a couple of hours, and share together in witnessing and contemplating an event that may be beautiful, funny, moving, thought-provoking, or hopefully at least diverting. And in an age when most of our communication happens in front of a screen, I think that this gathering function of theatre is, in and of itself, something that matters.

Fourth, theatre models for us a kind of public discourse that lies at the heart of democratic life, and builds our skills for listening to different sides of a conversation or argument, and empathizing with the struggles of our fellow human beings whatever their views may be. When we watch a play, we learn what happens when conflicts don’t get resolved, and what happens when they do. We develop our faculty for imagining the outcomes of various choices we might make in our personal lives and our political lives. It’s not surprising that, in repressive societies, theatre has often been aligned with the movement toward openness and freedom. In South Africa theatre played a role in the struggle against apartheid; in Czechoslovakia, a playwright became the leader of a new democracy. If our own representatives and senators in Washington went to the theatre more often, I suspect we’d all be better off.

Fifth, both the making of theatre and attending of theatre contribute to education and literacy. Watching the characters talk back and forth in the theatre is tricky; it requires sharp attention, quick mental shifts, and nimble language skills. It teaches us about human motivation and psychology. In historical plays we get lessons in leadership and government. In contemporary plays, we learn about people and cultures in different parts or our own country or in other countries. Studies have shown that students who participate in theatre do better in school. Making plays together also draws kids out of their shells and helps them learn to socialize in a productive and healthy way.

Sixth, theatre as an industry contributes to our economy and plays a special role in the revitalization of neglected neighborhoods. We’ve seen this quite clearly in our own city. You can look at the role that the Studio Theatre played along the 14th Street corridor, or Shakespeare Theatre along Seventh Street, or Woolly in both these neighborhoods, or Gala Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights, the Atlas along H Street, or the new Arena Stage along the waterfront. As each of these theatres opened, new audiences started flooding in, new restaurants opened, jobs were created, the city improved the sidewalks, and neighborhoods that were once grim and forbidding became vibrant hubs of activity. And this pattern has been repeated in cities across the United States and around the world.

Finally, the seventh way that theatre matters — and this one applies to some kinds of theatre more than others — is that it influences the way we think and feel about our own lives and encourages us to take a hard look at ourselves, our values, and our behavior. The most vivid example of this I’ve ever experienced was during a post-show discussion at Woolly Mammoth when a woman said that one of our plays made her and her husband decide that they had a serious problem in their marriage and needed to go for counseling; and she was pleased to report that they were still together and much happier as a result. Now, I’ll admit, I don’t hear things like this every day. But speaking more generally isn’t this one of the things we go to the theatre for, to measure our own lives against the lives we see depicted on the stage, to imagine what it would be like if we had those lives instead? And isn’t it a very short step from there to saying, gee, maybe there’s something I should change about my own life? And it may have nothing to do with the message that the playwright wanted to deliver! Maybe the play is about a fierce battle over a family dinner that breaks the family apart over irreconcilable political divisions — but maybe you watch the play and say, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to at least have a family dinner once in a while, and so you decide to plan one for next month.

So, those are my seven ways that theatre matters: it does no harm, expresses a basic human instinct, brings people together, models democratic discourse, contributes to education and literary, sparks economic revitalization, and influences how we think and feel about our own lives.

With one exception, the comments posted about the article are worth a read too. One of the commenters even goes as far as adding an 8th reason, which particularly resonates with me:

Theatre helps us to understand the lives of others on a visceral, rather than intellectual, level……. theatre expands our connection to the larger world, and our empathy for lives lived differently from our own.

I couldn’t agree more.

To finish I share a video interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) making a strong case for theatre’s role in modern society.

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Palaces of Fun

I have been collecting material for today’s post for quite a while and following the development of one aspect for most of this year. 2014 marks the centenary of the birth of Joan Littlewood, the celebrated founder of the radical Theatre Workshopand director of the internationally renowned Oh What A Lovely Wara piece that was widely recognised as changing attitudes towards World War I, as this recording from the BBC Witness programme describes.

Another, longer, programme broadcast yesterday, also by the BBC, talks about the creation of the show and is really fascinating.

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joanlittlewood460Outside theatre circles, Littlewood is largely remembered for Lovely War but she in fact had an impact on the development of theatre and theatre practice to such an extent that she is credited with being a radical theatrical visionary and one of original figures responsible for the regeneration of the British theatre. Her obituaries in the New York Times and The Guardian paint great pictures of her life and career. However, having had an incredible impact on the development of British theatre, there was one aspect of her work that was never realised – The Fun Palace. An article by writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy in The Guardian explains:

Celebrating Joan Littlewood: it’s time to build her fun palaces

The trailblazing director wanted to create cultural spaces across the UK. In 2014, her centenary year, you can make it happen

In January, at Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, I called one session:“Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014, that isn’t another revival of Oh! What a Lovely War?”.

Oh! What a Lovely War, which Joan developed, is brilliant, but with the first world war anniversary next year, there will be many revivals and Joan was more than a director. She was one of the few British directors (before or since) to work fully with an ensemble, from training to performance. She made “immersive” theatre long before immersive was cool. She kick-started improvisation in the UK. She was political, formidable, inspiring, and far ahead of her time.

In 1961, Joan and the architect Cedric Price came up with the idea of thefun palace. Their blueprint says:

“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”

An idea descended from pleasure gardens, the fun palace was designed to link arts and sciences, entertainment and education, in a space welcoming to all – especially children and young people. Joan knew she had not yet discovered a way to welcome those who found buildings and institutions daunting – the fun palace would be about public engagement at its most open and inclusive. Perhaps because they wanted to make links between places such as the zoo and Wembley, via screens and technology that did not yet exist; perhaps it was just too soon. But the councils wouldn’t give the land, the permissions and money did not eventuate.

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In the D&D discussion we talked about fun palaces maybe happening anywhere. I tweeted that maybe, and there were dozens of immediate responses. It helped that some were from big buildings like the RSC……. I thought we might make three or four fun palaces for Joan’s centenary.

Today we have 134 venues, companies, schools, universities, museums, arts centres and digital companies engaged, as well as hundreds of independent artists. There are scientists, film-makers, fine artists, walkers, storytellers, a cub scout pack, massive venues and tiny two-person companies, wanting to make their “laboratory of the streets” on 4-5 October 2014.

Sarah-Jane Rawlings and I……. aim to bring it all together with a brilliant, yet-to-be-created website, digital and physical links. We don’t know what your locality wants – but you do. Together we’ll make fun palaces 2014, across the UK and beyond, a step towards the kind of engagement many of us believe in and most of us have yet to achieve. Doing it together, jointly and uniquely, will be a huge shout about the value of cultural engagement, just as 2012 was for sport.

And if we don’t change the world next year, we’ll do it again in 2015 and 2016.

Since then, individuals, groups, theatres, companies, professionals and amateurs from across the world have signed up to take part. Theatre Royal Stratford East, Littlewood’s own theatre,  has become the organising hub and their website is hosting The Fun Palace site. Stella Duffy is an avid tweeter and there is clear excitement from people on there. You can read the Fun Palace 2014 Manifesto here which also gives you the statistics for who is taking part as of this month – 264 and rising.

Untitled_FotorI think this is a great idea and I am looking forward to see how and where it develops over the next year.

It’s All Greek

One of things that constantly fascinates when I am exploring the digital world for Theatre Room is the sheer variety of sources out there, and moreover, how they are being added to at an incredible rate.

The resource I’m sharing today is wonderful. A study of greek theatre in performance, hosted by Google on their Cultural Institute. It’s chock full of interviews, video, images and so on and is a delight to navigate your way through.

Untitled_FotormmmClick on the image above to take you to there. Hopefully there will be much more to come like this little gem.

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No Stone Unturned

kj1Keith Johnstone is widely regarded as the father of modern improvisation and has been practicing and teaching his techniques for over 50 years. I doubt there is a theatre department in the world that doesn’t own a copy of his first book, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre. It was published in 1987 and has been reprinted, updated and translated many times, and is still in print. It is divided into four sections, ‘Status’, ‘Spontaneity’, ‘Narrative Skills’, and ‘Masks and Trance’ and is a fascinating exploration of the nature of spontaneous creativity. I would regard it as a must read for any theatre student.

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The reason for me writing about him today is that Johnstone has just given an interview to Geoff Coleman which is being serialised by Actors & Performers. There are three parts, two of which have been published so far: Part 1 and Part 2 and worth a read by anyone interested in his work. It should be pointed out that he is 80 years old and still hard at work, having given the interview during a lunch break at one of his workshops, which he continues to give around the world.

coverHis later book, Impro for Storytellers, is more specialized: a handbook for putting IMPRO (the first book) into practice, including detailed improvisation structures for performance and for rehearsal, and chapters on how to teach these games. It explores the way improvisation can be used as a way of generating narrative and using it to explore human relationships. Again well worth a read for a theatre student.

Don’t Take Yourself Seriously

I have stumbled across three articles giving tips to budding playwrights and I thought it would be good to share them.

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Firstly, in a piece called Writing for the theatre? Be practical, by Miriam Gillinson, playwrights are told to use their instinct and heart but also to be pragmatic and stay grounded.

Writing for the theatre? Be practical

Write what you know, write what you feel and remember you are writing for the theatre. These are the fundamental tips I would pass on to a first-time playwright. But playwriting isn’t just about instinct, integrity and heart – it is also about pragmatism.

I read for a number of theatres and playwriting competitions and I’m surprised how often writers neglect the practical side of playwriting: the presentation of the play, the lay-out, stage directions and even the cast list – all these aspects matter greatly.

Some writers are so brilliant they can ignore such concerns, or at least give the impression of doing so. Beckett could have described his characters as vegetables and written his plays in comic strip form and their cool power would have still blasted off the page. But if you’re just starting out, it’s worth paying attention to the small details – they’re a bigger deal than you might think.

Synopsis

Unless this has been directly requested, I would strongly advise against including a synopsis. They are rarely useful and often a hindrance. Most distracting is when a playwright explains or justifies his or her play in the synopsis – no good can come of this.

Such suggestions are always limiting and, strangely enough, often out of sync with the play itself. Playwrights often don’t have the foggiest what they’re writing about or why. This really doesn’t matter – as long as the playwright stays schtum.

Title page quotations are often much more useful. For example, Philip Ridley precedes his brutally moving play Vincent River with Margaret Atwood’s words: “Grief is to want more.” Jez Butterworth uses TS Eliot to introduce his eerie play The River: “Except for the point, the still point/There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” And Simon Stephens begins The Morning with this: “What it was … still mostly in my mind … is unconnected flashes of horror.” These quotes are brilliant; they give us a whiff of the play without ramming it down our throats.

Character list

I’ve read a huge number of plays that are preceded by pages and pages of character descriptions. Such extensive character lists won’t ruin a good play, but they certainly won’t help a mediocre one.

Look in almost any published play and the character list will be just that, a list of the characters’ names and nothing else. Sometimes, if a playwright is feeling particularly verbose, the character’s age might be included or even a sparse physical description. But that’s about as extensive as it gets.

Just as a lengthy synopsis risks undermining a play, so too does a comprehensive character description. They tend to reduce rather than enrich the overall reading experience; to shut down the imagination rather than provoke it. The best thing about reading a new play is those rare moments of surprise. This is not going to happen if we’re told all the characters’ secrets in advance.

Stage directions

These are often overlooked or underwritten, but they are a crucial component of any play. Stage directions don’t just help visualise a play, they also reveal a lot about the playwright. Good stage directions distinguish a great dramatist from merely a good writer.

The style of stage directions says a great deal about the writer and the time in which he or she is writing. Lyrical stage directions used to be in vogue – see the beginning of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman: “An air of dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality.”

Since then, stage directions have become increasingly sparse. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a prime example: “A country road. A tree. Evening,” or Sarah Kane’s infamous stage direction in Blasted: “He eats the baby.” More recently, Payne’s directions in Constellations are as restrained as they are extravagant: “An indented rule indicates a change in universe.”

In some ways, the stage directions need to be more honest and lucid than the play itself. They are the reader’s direct line to the playwright and the director’s link to the visual world of the stage.

Presentation

I’ve read plays illustrated with pictures, photos and masses of symbols – some scripts have even included links to clips on the internet. Apart from a few inspired examples, these additions don’t help. Instead, they come across as amateurish: a rushed afterthought rather than a crucial component of the play proper.

These visual touches – which are often poorly executed – suggest a lack of faith in the writing. Obviously, there are no set rules and a series of brilliant sketches could, theoretically, beautifully complement a play. But such additions shouldn’t be shoe-horned into the work; they need to be as carefully considered as the rest of the play, or they will only take away from the writing.

Write your own play

Most playwriting competitions and (fringe) theatres are not looking for adaptations; they are looking for original work. Despite this stipulation, I have lost count of the number of imitation plays I have read, faintly disguised as new work. Even if the play is set at a bus-stop and the central characters are called Victoria and Esteban, it is still Waiting for Godot.

There’s nothing worse than a playwright trying to pass off another writer’s idea – or even their diction, rhythm and use of pauses – as their own. Such iterative writing feels brittle, ugly and thin. But an honest writer, who is true to themselves, their material and their medium? Magic.

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Secondly in a piece published on his blog, Nick Gill offers his own rather satirical take, although with some wise words too.

Some advice for newish playwrights

1. Get a job.

Statistically, the number of people who define themselves as ‘A Playwright’ and who make a living from writing plays is so small that it might as well be zero. It follows that you’re very unlikely to be one of those people. Find something you can cope with, and that allows you enough time and space to write.

2. Take the work seriously.
Work at it.  Don’t say ‘Oh, that’ll do’. If what you’re writing ever gets anywhere, it’ll be judged on the same scale as the most successful shows there are – if you don’t take it seriously, who will?

3. Don’t take yourself seriously.
You want to spend the only life you’ll ever have making up stories.  Have some perspective.

4. Avoid oxides of metals.
By and large, metal oxides are pretty toxic; it’s a good idea to avoid them if at all possible. If it isn’t, be sure to wear relevant protective safety gear when handling them.

5. Don’t have a process.
If you have A Way Of Doing Things, it’ll be very easy to make minor variations on The Same Thing every time you sit down to write something new. The assumption here, of course, is that you want to write something new each time…

6. Suit your medium.
Be sure that the thing you want to write about should be a piece of theatre. Maybe it’s just a story that would work better as a novella, or a short story, or a secret little dance you do in front of your girlfriend.

The thing about defining yourself as A Playwright is that you’re confronted with a classic problem: if all you have is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail. I suspect there’s a strong impulse to say to yourself ‘I find this particular Thing I Saw On The News interesting; I will write An Important Play about it’, while not considering what it is about live performance that particularly suits what you’re trying to do.

I would also add that it’s a good idea to have some perspective about what theatre can do.  Andrew Haydon put it very nicely in his Postcards from the Gods blog:

…there was a repeated strain of question which seemed to be formulated thus: “How can Theatre block the flow of a river in a steep valley, thereby storing all the water in a reservoir, which can then be used for hydro-electricity or irrigation?”
To which the sensible answer is: You want a dam for that, not theatre.

7. Go to see some plays.  But not too many.
Let’s be honest, most plays are rubbish. Not just plays, of course:  plays, films, paintings, albums, novels, dances, drawings- most of them are rubbish. If you go to see too many plays, you may well see too many terrible things, and become disillusioned with the whole medium, which would be sad. Moderate your theatre intake.

8. Network. A bit.
This is a horrible thing for me to write as I hate it, both in principle and practice.  Nevertheless, meeting people is A Good Way to get people interested in what you do.  I find that very few directors and producers pop round to my house to see what I’m up to, so leaving the house seems the only option. I recommend you do the same; but, once again, moderate it.  You need to leave some time for video games and general procrastination, after all.

9. Know your tools.
I have been called a snob for wanting writers to construct a decent sentence, with properly spelt words and even some punctuation in the right place.

If I see a carpenter trying to use a slotted screwdriver on a posidrive screw, I’m going to be a little sceptical about his ability to put up a sturdy shelf; if I see a script with ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ used interchangeably, or paragraphs of text without a comma or a semicolon to break it up, I’m going to be sceptical about the writer’s ability in other areas.

Likewise clumsy metaphors, ham-fisted emotionally-manipulative dialogue, characters so clichéd they could have been culled from 90210, lazy pop references, all that jazz. If you care about writing, you should care about imagery, sonority, grammar, allegory, form, structure, spelling, all the good stuff they teach you in English literature.

10. And finally.
When the first day of rehearsals comes round, and you meet the actors, and the director, and the sound designer, and the wardrobe mistress, remember this:

You have not written A Play.
You’ve written A Script.

And if you really need the difference explained, you should probably reconsider how you’re spending your time.

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And finally Top 10 Tips for Playwrights: Advice from the Other Side of the Line. This is written by Van Badham who is both a writer and literary manager*.

* In a theatre company, literary managers are responsible for reading and selecting plays for production.

Why? Why Not!

As a theatre teacher working in the northern hemisphere, this time of year always makes me question my motives a little.  It is the time when the graduating class are making their university choices and younger students are choosing their electives at various examination levels. With these decisions comes conversations with both parents and students that usually centre around the questioning of the value of taking a theatre course at any level.

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a sentence that started with “but what’s the point”  or “how is that going to help in the future” or “but he/she doesn’t want to be an actor”, I would be a rich man. I then find myself churning out the usual responses about life long learning, confidence building, being an effective communicator, the value of team and cooperation skills – the list is long.  I have developed it over my career, almost as a defence mechanism, as I find myself a little offended every time one of those questions is asked.

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I know the value of a theatre course. When my students leave high school to continue the study of performance at university I am immensely proud, but I am equally proud of those that go off to become doctors, lawyers, business people, writers, veterinarians, linguists, teachers, visual artists, bankers (yes, even bankers)….the list is long and wonderfully varied.

So it was with some glee, a little churlishness and a lot of delight that I read the following blog post by Brian Sibley, under his alias, Change Agent.

9 Ways a Theatre Degree Trumps a Business Degree

Some of you may know this about me, some may not. Despite having spent the last 15 years as a PR & communications professional, my college degree is in theatre. I have never in my life taken a marketing class, or a journalism class, or a business class. Yet, by most measures, I’m enjoying a successful career in business.  ”So what?” you ask… read on.

what_can_you_do_with_theatre_degree_Fotor

I was having a conversation with a friend this week. She’s an actress. Like most actresses, she also has a Day Job that she works to pay the bills between acting jobs. This is the reality for most working actors in LA, New York and the other major centers of the entertainment industry. She was pointing out to me that she viewed her theatre background as a weakness in her Day Job career field, and that it was holding her back. She asked for my advice.

My advice? There IS no weakness in having a theatre background. There is only strength. Here are just a few skills that a theatre degree gave me that have served me enormously well in business:

  1. You have advanced critical thinking and problem solving skills: taking a script and translating it into a finished production is a colossal exercise in critical thinking. You have to make tremendous inferences and intellectual leaps, and you have to have a keen eye for subtle clues. (believe it or not, this is a skill that very few people have as finely honed as the theatre people I know. That’s why I listed it #1).
  2. You’re calm in a crisis: You’ve been on stage when somebody dropped a line and you had to improvise to keep the show moving with a smile on your face, in front of everyone. Your mic died in the middle of a big solo musical number. You just sang louder and didn’t skip a beat.
  3. You understand deadlines and respect them: Opening Night is non-negotiable. Enough said.
  4. You have an eye on audience perception: You know what will sell tickets and what will not. This is a very transferrable skill, and lots of theatre people underestimate this, because they think of theatre as an ART, and not as a BUSINESS. I frequently say (even to MBA-types) that theatre was absolutely the best business education I could have gotten. While the business majors were buried in their books and discussing theory, we were actually SELLING a PRODUCT to the PUBLIC. Most business majors can get through undergrad (and some MBA programs, even) without ever selling anything. Theater departments are frequently the only academic departments on campus who actually sell anything to the public. Interesting, isn’t it?
  5. You’re courageous: If you can sing “Oklahoma!” in front of 1,200 people, you can do anything.
  6. You’re resourceful: You’ve probably produced “The Fantasticks” in a small town on a $900 budget. You know how to get a lot of value from minimal resources.
  7. You’re a team player: You know that there are truly no small roles, only small actors. The show would fail without everyone giving their best, and even a brilliant performance by a star can be undermined by a poor supporting cast. We work together in theatre and (mostly) leave our egos at the stage door. We truly collaborate.
  8. You’re versatile: You can probably sing, act, dance. But you can also run a sewing machine. And a table saw. And you’ve probably rewired a lighting fixture. You’ve done a sound check. You’re good with a paintbrush. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty for the benefit of the show. In short, you know how to acquire new skills quickly.
  9. You’re flexible: you’ve worked with some directors who inspired you. Others left you flat, but you did the work anyway. Same goes with your fellow actors, designers and stagehands… some were amazing and supportive, others were horrible and demoralizing to work with (we won’t name names). You have worked with them all. And learned a little something from every one of them.

These are the top reasons I’ve found my theatre degree to be a great background for a business career. What are yours?

What I liked even more that the blog post itself were the comments that people made, reinforcing his view. If you need to convince anyone about the value of theatre education, get them to read those comments.