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Ubu Roi [Jan. 26th, 2011|11:18 pm]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
One of those chain of circumstances unravelled today. A colleague at work gave me a catalogue of drama dvds. Idly looked in catalogue - saw that there was a BBC production of Ubu, which I didn't know existed. $150. So I check the catalogue of the dvd library I run - no - but when I checked the main library catalogue, it was there. I went racing off and got it. Then returning to the office mum turned up, and when I mentioned Ubu she said she'd given me a copy as a teenager - which I don't remember at all (it probably got put with Rabelais and A Clockwork Orange, which I dismissed at the time and now wish that I'd had the nous to appreciate)... So was the origins of the whole project?

Anyway, I'd read the play (again) at the start of the project, and had a broadly similar reaction to it - recognising how unusual it was, and how relevant it was to my ideas, but not actually liking it much. It was really hard going to read, one of those plays that's particularly ill-suited to being reduced to a text and needs to be seen in performance to get it properly. It was the same for the Shakespeare and watching the whole BBC boxet - but until now I didn't know about the BBC's Ubu. Watched it tonight - a condensed version, with Donald Pleasance as Ubu, which I didn't spot till the credits. Donald Pleasance?! Per-schitt! At first I didn't enjoy it beyond its obvious usefulness in seeing it staged, but I warmed to it quite a bit, the deliberate 10p-ness of the production, and Donald P seemed to really get into the part by the end. Play prefaced by an amusingly dated introduction, precis and analysis (opening spiel by seasoned American actor Jose Ferrer) which basically points out it's a big parody of classical tragedies (implies particularly Macbeth), inverting, bawdlerising and lampooning the form and its conventions. It's 10p-ness and shambolic nature is as much a part of the parody as the crude humour and madcap action.

Bakhtin dismisses all theatre by virtue of its form apart from Shakespeare, Ibsen and Jarry - and Jarry he sees as recognising the grotesque, or at least capturing an echo of it... and the production captured it too, most noticeably Ma Ubu's grotesquely exaggerated breasts.

Need to refresh myself on the text and what Bakhtin said about it. And then work out how it fits into the thesis.
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Supervision Report 21/1/11 [Jan. 23rd, 2011|11:27 pm]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
Mick and I arranged a phone call to discuss progress on the project. I submitted a working draft of the thesis chapter ‘Madness and the English Stage’ on Jan 10, but rather than discuss this as it is as yet incomplete, we set another deadline of Feb 11 for a full version. Instead Mick asked me to describe the shape of the thesis to him, chapter by chapter, and how they relate to each other, trying to get a sense of the overall argument, current progress and the work left to do in the remaining time. He seemed happy in general, though raised concerns about word count and the potential need for the addition of a distinct (and shorter) literature review. We also discussed how the play text and/or dvd of the staged reading would work as part of the thesis, in light of the outstanding reflective chapter on Albion Unbound. Mick suggested that I should look at other relevant Exeter drama PhD theses to see how others had engaged with their practice and research. Having suggested that Anna (Harpin) join the supervisory team, we plan to all meet in Exeter in early March, at which point we will discuss the madness chapter in more detail.
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madness and the english stage [Jan. 14th, 2011|12:01 am]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
So as I described in my last post, the staged reading and events around it were quite stressful, but afterward I felt quite positive - getting to that point was a major point in the project, long anticipated (and delayed), a major hurdle overcome. With some impetus, my next job was to move the thesis forward and having my own play exist as a whole, staged entity lead me to start work on a key chapter 'Madness and the English Stage'. Seems amusing in retrospect, but I actually thought it would be fairly straightforward and therefore relatively quick.

Five months later.

Back to work and coming to terms with the new situation. Trying to be proactive and get stuck in, trying not to get sucked into the general doom and gloom of working in a struggling university in a tough economic climate in the face of a new Tory govt and game-changing funding cuts; arguing and tension among colleagues... I was hanging in the evening, absolutely shattered. In the early days of term I tried going into the library for a couple of hours each evening, but it was a battle against tiredness I soon lost. For a few months I was mostly useless in the evenings, tried to shift the emphasis to a more substantial session on a Sunday, which worked better, for a while. Life got busier (doing the LPA with Grandad on the non-football Saturdays)... and in between all this, I'd got well and truly stuck on the chapter.

Before the reading Mick had suggested that I look at Anna Harpin's PhD thesis - she'd recently started teaching at Exeter, and he'd noticed the overlapping interests in our research. I' tried to get it through inter-library loans but couldn't (Cambridge don't participate cos they get too many requests), so I'd contacted her and she'd very kindly emailed me the chapters of her thesis - the first of which, Disordered Stages: The Theatre of Mental Illness, torpedoed me completely when I read it. Apart from Mary Barnes, which was too early for the parameters of her study anyway, she discussed all of the plays I was considering, and a good few more. She also set out two precise summaries of the anti-psychiatry movement and the recent history of psychiatric treatment in Britain. And developed an argument using Blue/ Orange and 4:48 Psychosis to talk about form and staging the experience of mental illness, a dialogue between Penhall's political theatre and Kane's experimental.

Madness and the English Stage: wot she said

I was really stumped. I couldn't do any better. Simply put, Anna knows her shit. Making it plainly evident that I didn't, and that I didn't actually have anywhere near a coherent argument though I knew most of the material and the territory. So I read the plays that she discussed that I didn't know - leading me to finally read The Skriker, and three plays by Martin McDonagh (really good), among others. Did that and was still stuck, so I went back to her chapter with a fine tooth-comb, and finally just before Christmas something clicked. It had been staring me in the face all along - the dialogue that Anna frames was the key, and Bakhtin.

So I finally felt like I had an angle on how to approach it, and how to engage Anna's work without parroting or plagarising... contacted Mick, suggested a deadline of Jan 10, with holiday time to work on it. And then got the flu. Then it was Christmas, and some festive zombie-killing in the Wild West. Then I got going; tough going but I made good progress, scrapping quite a bit of what I had written and reworking it from the start, which meant that as the deadline approached I wasn't able to get into the detail of Anna's argument and my Bakhtin bit, which was a bit frustrating. Became quite tough-going after days of it, despite the darts on in the last week as the perfect antithesis (Wolfie had a shaky tournament but managed to retain his title). Rather than get sucked into some (futile) Herculean no-sleeper over the last weekend, yet determined to meet the deadline, I concentrated on developing it as far as I could and indicating in notes the ideas and shapes of the missing sections - but it was there as a whole thing, about 7000 words. Sent it about 1am feeling reasonably satisfied that things had progressed.

So the switch is back on again. Back to work again, and no less tired, but that block seems to have gone and I'm keen again. Over the past couple of days I've been exchanging emails with Mick. We're going to have a phone supervision next week, talk about the chapter and stuff - most significantly of which is that he's suggested that Anna join the supervisory team. I think it's a great idea, but it makes me nervous. She's got direct input now so even more pressure!  We're all going to meet in Exeter once Mick's got his book deadline out of the way.
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argh [Aug. 19th, 2010|02:37 am]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
It's a particular kind of torment listening to your own shonky dialogue. (Act 2 Scene 2 in particular) And this is even after rewrites. I am telling myself that's what this whole process is about, development, and there's no better way to see whether dialogue works than to have it performed - but really. Ouch.
I've just finished watching the performance back for the first time, as Bex needed me to ok the edit and to see if I wanted any changes. Only to the script!

To be more serious, for a moment, of course I needed to watch it. I've seen what works, and what doesn't. It's much easier now to get a sense of the whole thing, and begin to think about how it really relates to all the various ideas of the thesis, and to the other plays that it is supposed to be considered alongside. I'm not trying to excuse myself with self-deprecation or beat my breast - I am expected to be critical of my own work, and one of the key chapters in the thesis will be reflecting on the play directly in comparison to all the plays and ideas of the research. I was reminded of the original idea for the play, and the key plays that have struck me along the way - and what I might do to change it for what would be a third draft. I have always wondered about the structure, and whether to fragment it and mix it up in a subsequent draft, something that me and Mick have discussed in passing. There are pros and cons to both (and, bizarrely, it's so simplistic to have a straight split between the fantasy and reality that there are very few plays to compare it with in those terms, or at least that I have discovered - only The Wonderful World of Dissocia). Also watching it I had the feeling that I wanted it to be darker [Howard Barker and Victory or The Castle came to mind] and yet funnier, where appropriate. (While we're on the subject of other important plays, there is of course Blue/Orange). While I will obviously wish Albion Unbound was as good as these plays, I do actually think it works as a piece of theatre, and that it fulfils the criteria of the practice-led research and provided me with what I need to complete the thesis and the project. There is still scope for me to do a third draft, and submit that too - the reading doesn't prevent further development in the scope of the whole project - but not a necessity, and my attention does need to turn back to the thesis now, with a couple of relevant chapters overdue. With two years left, I need to complete these chapters - and then I aim to have a major rethink and thorough rewrite of the whole thesis. The play itself has a life beyond the project - I hope. That's the aim anyway, as my newest play, it'll get sent out, so the better it is...

So this video is invaluable not just as a record of the performance that those that couldn't make it can watch - including the examiners, submitted along with the script and the thesis as the whole research - it helps me enormously. I also am able to reflect upon what the actors and directors made of it, knowing how far we brought it from the first painful reading to this performance. Given more time I would have liked the characters to have been more nuanced - getting the right tone between the first and second acts was always going to be difficult, and I would have liked Robert in particular to have more time to work on that, John as John and not Albion - but a lot of that would come if we had been able to take it to the next level and stage it. And as I've been writing this I'm wondering if it wouldn't be useful to have a feedback session with Tom and the actors, an hour's discussion about the play and the process.
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the reading [Aug. 14th, 2010|02:35 am]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
Many stressful factors in the run-up. Firstly, the aforementioned personal crisis, which in addition to frying my brain also threatened at one point to result in not being able to take time off from work. (Which also meant that the planned rewrite was left until the last five days before we were due to begin; sleep became a very rare commodity!) Then there was the ongoing silence from the director, Tom, who hadn't replied to a single email I'd sent about the reading since originally agreeing to it, and indeed seemed to think that we were working on a different play (Matilda) - but I have to say a situation I contributed to by not actually being brave enough to raise the subject in person during the many times I saw him at work over the intervening months. If it hadn't been for Cath, the theatre tech, acting as go-between, it would have all gone tits-up. The confusion about the play meant last-minute panic about extra actors, casting, and worries about over-ambitious demands for staging. Then it was decided that due to everyone's commitments, we could only work on it for four days, not five; that it wouldn't be a staged reading as Mick had requested (a major concern, if it didn't meet the formal requirements of the PhD, but I wasn't in a position to argue); and rehearsals were limited to a few hours each day. Plus there was considerable unease on my part when we did start work on it with the actors - particularly the first act, the overblown, pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue sounded dreadful on first reading, made me think that it was cheesy rubbish and that I'd set myself up for a public fall, embarrassment, and potentially torpedoed the whole project...

I quickly decided that there wasn't much I could do about the first act, especially as a straight reading removed the physicality of the violence between Albion and Stinkwit, so my attention turned to the second act, which hadn't come out well with the time pressures on the re-write - indeed, for the first couple of days it didn't really have a proper ending, just petered out (either no-one else noticed or were too polite to say so). I don't think I was very popular introducing changes on the Thursday morning, but it had to be done, and I was a lot happier with the ending, and the pressure of time actually helped me solve (or simply avoid) some of the fundamental problems that had bothered me throughout the development of the play, namely the nature of John's madness. The reading also made it blatantly clear that Miranda's character was under-written, serving a narrative purpose more than anything (further emphasized by Leah's obvious talents as an actor; I felt I'd let her down) - and there were still problems in the major (only) scene between her & John in the 2nd act, which I failed to fix satisfactorily despite the re-writes.

So it was with some trepidation that we came to the performance. I had invited a select audience, friends and family making up the Supporter's Club, Val Hill, and of course Mick (whose late arrival at the station caused the only moments of real, visceral panic!), plus some friends of the actors came too, which I hadn't expected. Bex from work had agreed to document the performance, another formal requirement, with assistance from Jeanette. I actually missed the very start of the performance due to the last minute arrival of a couple of friends, but by that point it was too late to worry about it much anyway BUT

all the theatrical cliches about being all right on the night were proved correct - the actors really came to life and the performance went really well. The audience seemed to enjoy it - there was laughter in the right places, something that honestly surprised me, having long forgotten that elements of it were actually supposed to be funny. Performance lasted about 50 minutes, no post-show discussion as Tom and the actors vanished for emergency fags, and then those that could or would decamped to the Whitefriars, where I did my level best to ply everyone with alcohol.

Overall, a definite success and all the various stresses were forgotten. I still have reservations about the play, but I was left in no doubt that I'd fulfilled the criteria of the practical element of the project and given myself a good basis to proceed from with the thesis - so I have to again offer my sincere thanks to everyone involved, especially all the actors and Tom who did a brilliant job.
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blurb from reading [Aug. 14th, 2010|12:48 am]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
Albion Unbound

Rehearsed reading, Friday July 30th, 2010

Albion/ John - Robert Coletta
Stinkwit/ Simon - Michael Hunter
Smythe/ Martin - Dominic Watson
Miranda - Leah Alcock

Directed by Tom Gorman



Welcome to the rehearsed reading of Albion Unbound, a new play that forms the practical element of my PhD looking at theatre as a forum for public debate. As a playwright, I’m interested in the creative process, taking ideas and issues and turning them into stories to be played out on a public stage – our English stage. The academic thesis allows me to work through all the political and theoretical problems – but the play stands in its own right as a piece of contemporary English theatre.

Theatre is of course a fundamentally collaborative process – writing the script is only the first step in creating a new play. Working with a director and actors is an entirely new creative process, where the script is a template for development and the first chance that the playwright gets to really see whether the play works as a piece of theatre and not just as a text. That’s why this rehearsed reading is not just an important step in developing the play, but also a formal requirement of the research process.

I’m indebted to all those who have helped make this reading happen, giving their time and expertise for free – and thanks to the audience for being my guinea-pigs!

Antony



The cast

All are graduates of Coventry University’s Performing Arts degree and busy setting up their professional careers. Leah, Robert and Dominic have continued onto to the Masters course, and have established companies Clockwork Magpie and The Killer Show between them. Mike is a freelance technician and actor.
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Update - preparing for the staged reading [Jul. 18th, 2010|06:57 pm]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
These last few months have been the hardest time of the whole project, now some five years in... I was struggling as it was to maintain momentum, and then life got in the way in the form of a fairly major crisis, which has left me with a fried brain and a bad XBox habit. But in the middle of all this, the most important bit of the project has fallen into place with the arrangement of the staged reading, thanks to Cath and Tom at the uni - and the four actors, who I've not met yet. So in a week's time, Monday 26th July, we'll start the process of working on the script, staging the results on the Friday night, to a small audience in the Ellen Terry theatre. The performance will be videoed and edited to be submitted along with the thesis, and I'll also upload it to YouTube, which fits with the general intention to put all of the PhD material in the public domain.

So we've finally got to this key stage of the project (against the odds, it feels like at the moment) - and the weakest link is the script. I know that a week with a director and actors will have an enormous impact, but I would still like it to be the best that it could be before we started, to get the most out of it - and because I've failed to overcome the mental static of recent months, it's still only in a raw first draft state, particularly a bodged second act. There is hope - a week's holiday from work, and a fair few ideas, so it's crunch time, and maybe the sweaty bollocks of a real deadline is timely.

I am obviously nervous about the process, given my anxieties about the script - but I am also really looking forward to it. A week as a playwright, working in a theatre, can't wait!
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Snippet of the BBC adaptation of Blue/ Orange [Apr. 16th, 2010|11:09 am]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
6 minute extract towards the end of the play, a key scene

Link to youtube video
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Black Watch on youtube [Apr. 13th, 2010|09:01 am]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
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Index on Censorship discussion panel - From Behzti to Behud [Apr. 12th, 2010|07:16 pm]
Albion Unbound

generalzorn
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