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BETH Diaries Part 3. Scratch nights and dark audiences.

April 5, 2016

On March 28th I took part of BETH with the help of some actor friends to a scratch night called Unheard Of (http://unheardofmt.com) which I can massively recommend to writers, Andy and Cassie who organised the night are very writer friendly and make lots of space for feedback and supporting the intentions of the writer. 

I took the final 15-ish minutes of BETH and me and 4 friends did a few devising rehearsals with the text and tried to figure out how the rhythmic elements might fit into the slam poetry. It ended up proving pretty difficult because the way I imagined the music in my head proved very difficult to realise on stage. We did manage to move towards hinting at what the function of sound might be in the piece eventually though. 

 

Scratch performances can be incredibly useful for the development of work but again, when there is a paying audience it can be difficult to pitch the work. What I would say is that as writers we shouldn't be ashamed of presenting first draft work but also, we should present first draft work in an appropriate way. Platforming first-draft work with so many other things where you have no control over feedback can be difficult, because there is an expectation that something is "staged" whereas I would suggest something gets staged at some point after the first draft. 

You can get just as much from reading first draft material to friends in the back room of a pub as you can from doing it on an established platform, in fact it is often a better environment for sharing fragile work. 

 

One of the things I took from Unheard Of was figuring out a way to note my intentions with slam poetry. I found it very difficult to set the poetry onto traditional staff paper because poetry should emerge from a persona place and I didn't want to dictate the delivery but I did need to capture things in a way I couldn't do with a traditional script. I came up with what you see below. Basically the five characters in the poem have a column each and then text runs downwards, I left out all punctuation in order to leave it as open as possible. I only put in line breaks in places where I think the audience would need a minute to land and catch up with the information they had been given. It also means that as you read it, if two characters speak together, it's easily noticed because they're on the same line.

Before a rehearsal I then had time to make notes on the shape of the devising, where tension would build, where I wanted percussive stops, where I thought things might go and it was pretty easy to add to this. It's a method I'm still figuring out but it proved really useful for creating the more complex poetic moments.

 

The experience of putting myself into the scratch was difficult too. I would say that in most circumstances it is better for the writer not to put themselves in the moment, the foundation of theatre is collaboration and working with a  director and actors is only going to strengthen the growth of your work. What I got form it in this case was learning about the experience of performing this, though I've performed slam poetry before, I've never done it in a narrative context so being able to feel that this once was incredibly useful. The first thing that struck me was how far away the audience felt, slam poetry is like a performed conversation and I've never done it in an environment where the audience were cut off by being in the dark. It almost felt like I didn't have space to expand into the poetry because you need your audience to come on this journey with you. 

 

That experience was useful for me, but now I have a better grasp on the form of communication I imagine I wouldn't put myself in a performer position again for a while at least. 

This is a great blog on the process of sharing work by the fab Chris Grady: http://www.chrisgrady.org/blog/new-dish-be-careful-who-tastes-it-first/

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