BETH diaries part 2. Cold-readings and musical feedback.

April 4, 2016

Since I began the project I have finished the first draft of BETH, done a cold-reading and also done a scratch of a small section so thought I would share some developmental thoughts. 


First I'll go with the cold reading. I've never done such a cold reading, I've done first draft work-sharing before where I've run through the text with some performers and then we've stood with some scripts and performed it for friends I've asked to come and critique but that's not truly cold. It was an incredibly useful process, part of that was the fact that we had some absolutely amazing actors playing with the text.

Cold-readings can be really daunting but they can also be exciting, you are literally giving your text bare so there is no director mediation to communicate the story to your actors, therefore what is performed comes directly form the text-actor relationship. This is really useful but it can be really dangerous if feedback is not done in a safe and healthy way for the writer because you are so exposed. 

The way we thought about it was first by not creating a divide between writers and actors (6 writers were doing readings with the same actors on that day) so that actors knew they had the right to respond to the text openly without being thought somehow "less qualified" to speak about it. As the people who will eventually perform your writing, Actors are often the people who can feedback the most about how it feels to perform. Then we used our usually feedback structure. 

We always begin by asking people what stood out to them about the text. It seems best to do this without looking back at the text, what have they taken from it in memory? Then we invite questions from the writer of the text, what does the writer specifically want to know about the text? It is usually less useful to ask "Does it work?" because that's quite a general thing and this process is about achieving the writers intentions, not about telling the writer how to write. 

We then move on to allowing the "audience" (anyone who has not written the text) to ask questions. This usually goes along the lines of "I have a question about....." because the writer gets to choose whether they want to hear the critique or not. Sometimes as writers we understand a fault with a piece of our writing already and we don't want it hammering home to us constantly because we already know it. I personally find it useful to hear all critique as people might sometimes bring a fresh angle to it. 

A few principles to keep in mind are:

1) Take away what you already knew. In the sense that if someone says something and the writer has a realisation that they already knew that about the text, then it usually means that the specific critique is about achieving the writers' intentions. 
2) Try not to tell the writer how to write. The writer is the person who makes decisions about what goes into the text, so try not to suggest how you would write it. This is kind of unavoidable, in the excitement of looking at new work we all often make suggestion of how we would do it, and when someone does it I really encourage writers to remember that they should write it using their voice, not just channelling someone else. That said, sometimes these suggestions align to our voice so much that they seem like the choice we want to make,at which point making the decision to include it in the text means the writer now owns it. I don't really have any solid thoughts on how to understand the line between your voice and someone else's yet, I guess the best thing I can say is trust your instinct and whatever you already knew to be true. 

We also provided lots of food, snacks, tea, coffee, water etc. and a welcoming environment because work-sharing in the early stages can be daunting so a comfortable environment is really important. 

Writing a Slam Musical


I learnt a lot about specific characters in the feedback. The way in which an actor instinctively reacts to the text can sometimes realise things in a character that you haven't yet consciously decided. For example, one of the actors read a character and made a decision instinctively about the character that I now realise I had been scared to make because I didn't know if I could push it that far and still have the character hold together. Hearing him read it in the way he did allowed me to make the decision and shape the character energy around the decision I wanted to make but hadn't been sure about. 

I also learnt a lot about how slam poetry might exist in theatre. It can definitely function as an acting text in the same way a speech / dialogue / scene / song can exist as an acting text. We often think of slam poetry as something internal erupting forth in a moment of energy, the space for the actor n writing it comes from building a character from whom the text they are given can erupt. I still have questions about the creation of the text, so far I have created by writing in the air and redrafting until I have a shape I like in my head. Then I'll write and tweak from there, I think the creating of slam poetry as an acting text lies for me in the same way you would create slam poetry for performance so I am trying to do that.

You can use musical theatre structures to shape the play text. The way that songs emerge in a musical is similar to the way the same appear in BETH and it felt very natural usually. I don't really know how to define how a song emerges in a musical yet, other than to say that something is musicalised when it is a better choice than having it spoken. This goes for the slam moments in BETH too, they respond to the function of slam in the piece in the same way song moments respond to the function of song in the piece. Also, musical theatre song forms seem to have offered some good narrative structures for creating the poetry too. I think adhering too strictly to them is difficult, using whole repeated sections is less useful but understanding the narrative development of songs which use AABA or V/C structure is useful to transfer into narrative slam poetry. This is especially useful if you want to bring some kind of musical element into it, these musical elements can be the same while the text over them varies. 

If you do want to hear more about cold-readings and writing development spaces do drop me an e-mail!


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