Monday, 25 August 2014

Angry Women, Theatre, Society - And Why We Want You To Donate

Last week writer Samantha Ellis and theatre designer Anna Bliss Scully came to Cardiff to chat to some staff at Wales Millennium Centre and explore the site. Anna's currently dreaming up designs for the Agent 160 Fun Palace in October. I was chatting to Sam when she mentioned Joan Littlewood's famous quote in relation to Shelagh Delaney. Littlewood said Delaney was "the antithesis of London's Angry Young Men. She knows what she is angry about."

It started me thinking. What am I angry about - as a woman and as a writer? Can I separate the two out? Driving home, I created a brief list.
  • The pay gap - its short-term impact on the way we structure family life and its long-term impact on female financial security.
  • The complete lack of real family-friendly policies from political parties looking at the work-life balance of both genders.
  • Gendered toys which encourage boys to be violent and girls to value themselves primarily on appearance.
  • The fact that, no matter how much tax I pay to fund the police and courts, if I'm in an abusive relationship, I probably won't get the protection I need. On average two women are killed each week by a violent or abusive partner or ex-partner.
And then I thought about things happening globally: female genetic mutilation, rape used as a tool of war and even genocide, refugees struggling to access basic sanitary protection. By the time I was home, I was livid.
And the more I thought about it, the more I felt this anger isn't divorced from what Agent 160 is trying to achieve - to do something to level up the number of male and female playwrights produced on our stages. Because theatre isn't separate from any of this. Theatre operates in this society and the fact Agent 160 exists suggests theatre is failing women. Gender isn't an arts council funding priority despite the Sphinx data that just 17 per cent of performed plays are written by women and Equity screaming from the rooftops about the lack of decent female roles. This morning, I switched on the Agent 160 twitter feed to find a retweet of a casting call which wanted women aged between 18 and 50 prepared to wear tape across their mouths, be pulled along by string and to be engaged in coitus. I wondered how many of the women applying will be desperate for a decent role, a Medea or a Beatrice.

The sixteen plays we're planning to stage will make a difference to this landscape. And theatre is, as Littlewood believed, active in its world, in its community. It reflects it, but it can also lead it. It can be a trailblazer for equality. It can say to girls growing up they shouldn't have to live in this sort of world.

So when we beg, bother and badger you to pledge a few quid, it really isn't because we want to put on our work for the sake of our own egos. That isn't what Agent 160 is about. We're trying to do something to change things, admittedly in a relatively small way, but we're trying anyway. Kickstarter donations will make a real difference to our ability to do that. If you'd like to pledge, the link is here.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

Fun Palaces and Bare Fiction

As I posted before, Agent 160 Theatre Company is creating a Fun Palace at Wales Millennium Centre in October as part of a nationwide event commemorating the centenary of Joan Littlewood. There's heaps and heaps on this on our twitter feed (@agent160theatre). Our plans are really taking shape in Cardiff now and it's ridiculously exciting. For lots more on this, including pictures from a recent site visit, take a look at the Agent 160 blog.



Meanwhile, if you're interested in finding out about how Fun Palaces came to be, who is behind it, and the influence of Littlewood on theatre makers today, the latest edition of Bare Fiction magazine is now out. It includes an article I wrote on just that and heaps of really exciting creative work. It can be ordered here.

The magazine is also having a London launch, with contributors reading their work as well as open mic slots. It looks like it's going to be fantastic. It's on September 24 at Dogstar in Brixton, between 7pm and 10pm. Tickets can be booked in advance here.




Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Fun Palaces

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. I've been working on a rehearsal draft of Blood, writing some new poetry and prose (Bare Fiction magazine number three is out soon with my article on Fun Palaces) and then doing some work for the wonderful Agent 160 Theatre Company.

Agent 160 is, for those who don't know, a group of female playwrights who came together in 2011 following the revelation that just 17 per cent of produced plays in the UK are written by women. The name is taken from Aphra Behn's spy codename. And now we're being inspired by yet another female theatre icon, but this time a director - Joan Littlewood.

 
 
This year is the centenary of her birth and, in celebration, more than 100 "fun palaces" are popping up across the country. More information on the nationwide project is available here. In 1961, Littlewood had a vision - she wanted to make a "laboratory of fun" that would welcome everyone in the community, would include the arts and sciences and, crucially, that would involve people from the community too.

Agent 160 is making a palace with Wales Millennium Centre - and we're absolutely thrilled to be doing so, and to be coming back to Cardiff where we launched. We'll be staging fifteen monologues, in English and Welsh, involving the public in writing a play based on the game Consequences, and will also be operating out of a gazebo in Cardiff Bay.

Personally, I really couldn't be more excited about this project. I studied Littlewood's Theatre Workshop at school and, of course, Oh, What A Lovely War - a piece that has even more resonance with everything currently going on to mark the outbreak of the World War One. Littlewood's work has been in my head for years.  I interviewed Stella Duffy for Bare Fiction recently and came off the phone overflowing with enthusiasm for Littlewood's legacy. It's criminal there isn't more written about her. It's criminal her autobiography is currently out of print.
 
We've received some Arts Council Wales funding for the work, but we're also running a Kickstarter campaign for the weekend. If you'd like to take a look (please do and pledge what you can), the info for that is here.
 
In the meantime, I'll be more active on the blog as it all comes together. It's going to be really fabulous.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Blood - research and development week

I've just come to the end of a week of research and development with Bare Fiction on my play Blood. The week, funded by Arts Council Wales, was extremely useful. We went through the play act by act, received a visit from a professor of health psychology, and then worked towards a showing allowing us to gather feedback from industry people. 
 
As ever with these things, I learnt heaps from being in the rehearsal room with actors - seeing how what's on the page does (or does not) translate to the stage, and working through motivations. 
 
Now I'm letting the dust settle before gearing up for another draft and we're gearing up for a tour in 2015. 
 
In the meantime, here are some pictures from the week taken by Brian Carroll.
 




 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Bare Fiction Number Two

Just a quick note to say Bare Fiction Magazine, issue two, is now available to pre-order. It's packed with prose, poetry, theatre and also contains my interview with Samantha Ellis about her book How To Be A Heroine and how writing non-dramatic prose impacted on her playwriting process. It can be pre-ordered by clicking here.