Tag Archives: stage

Eighteen years of TLC Creative

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Linked In isn’t tremendously useful. Well, it hasn’t been so far. But this week it sent me a reminder that it’s been eighteen years since the formation of TLC Creative. Our writing partnership is old enough to drink in a pub and vote.

Nearly twenty years ago, writing was a very different experience:

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As a new Dad, I was still struggling with the challenges of domestic management, and I was trying to build a writing career in the cracks in between. It was a great relief when Steve and David contacted me with an offer to co-write a pantomime. Steve is an impeccable organiser, and David’s writing is inspirational (and he’s a champion fixer if you’re stuck for a punchline or a better joke). After months of trying to sell short stories and finish a novel (every first novel is bad. Every one.) writing the pantomime was fun, and collaboration was a joy.

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Over the years we have worked in many different ways – writing pieces individually, writing a scene each and collating, writing by dictation and having Steve try to type the nonsense we were spouting on the fly. As time has gone by, we’ve all accumulated more responsibilities, and me moving to a different continent has not improved the regularity of our meetings. But we stay in touch through email and Skype, and even manage the odd planning meeting online. Our joint productivity has slowed a but, but we’re still ready to take on new challenges, reheat old jokes and routines and try to breath life into neglected stories. But mostly the old jokes.

TLC Feb 08

I’m confident that TLC Creative will still be scraping the barrel for the next eighteen years, adding to our publisher’s grey hairs with our eccentric formatting and occasional non-standard stage directions (Stage directions are for the ACTORS. You cannot dictate what the audience are going to do. Even if you use ALL CAPS). Yes, it’s past time to thank Stuart Ardern, our long-suffering publisher at www.lazybeescripts.co.uk for his help and encouragement (and the odd gentle admonition) over the past decade and a bit.

TLC Creative are still looking boldly to the future (though not able to focus brilliantly on deadlines) and we’d like to thank our friends and family for their help, support and understanding, and the many, many theatrical groups who have performed our plays*

You can find a full list of our current works HERE , all available to read online, and economical to download and produce.

 

 

*And the kind volunteers who helped them recover afterwards.

 

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Bard on the Beach – Shakespeare in the Summertime!

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I’ve mentioned before how shockingly rare it is for me, a playwright, to actually go to the theatre. Well, one of the features of the summer here in Vancouver is the excellent Bard on the beach productions. Three years in a row we have missed out, but this year, with my parents over from the UK, we were GOING!

Since the show we were booked in for was “The Taming of the Shrew” we opted to take all three weasels. We’d primed the younger two by letting them watch Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, and youngest weasel had also taken part a class presentation of that play too. I was still a little nervous, since it was likely to be a long show…but I need not have worried. The production was hilarious. Funny because of the performers, the handling of the lines, the physical comedy. The acting was impeccable, moving from broad comedy to heartbreaking emotion. It was so gripping that the time flashed by and all too soon we were on our way out again.

The show proved that you don’t need an all-singing, all dancing mobile set to produce an epic show, you don’t need holograms, or explosions to show an audience a good time, and Shakespeare doesn’t need “translating” into modern speech to appeal. Youngest Weasel is eight years old and she loved it.

There’s a big question about the play, though. If I had read it, I think I would have had real problems with Kate’s speech at the end. You know, the one that goes “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee…”. From the text you may think that Petruchio is just mercenary, using some fairly brutal brainwashing tactics to bring his young wife to heel. But in this production it was clear that he was smitten with Kate from his first sight, and his “schooling” was aimed to bring her to the point where she could love him as much as he loved her. In the play, they really stretched the point where Kate reaches out to Petruchio and asks him to take her hand, until the whole audience was practically begging him to reciprocate. When he did take her hand, he kissed the palm with such passion I could feel my wife melting three seats away. As a result, I viewed Kate’s speech with a different slant, though I feel it would have been better directed at both halves of the newly-married couples. The best relationships are built on mutual respect, after all, with each partner trying to love and serve the other more.

We’ll definitely be back for more next year.

Setting the scene

Even with a minimal set, the description is important. As is the sofa.

It’s dark. There’s just the rustle of whispered conversation in the auditorium. Then the lights come up and the curtain swishes aside to reveal….What? That’s a pretty big question, and one that’s been very prominent this week.

Reviewing scripts for my publisher has kept me busy for the last three years, at approximately eight scripts a week. At such a volume of material, it’s inevitable that a pattern of errors or common mistakes should emerge, and this week the top offender seems to be a lack of description.

It’s something that’s easy to excuse. The playwright sits at home, imagining their play running on the stage. They concentrate on the characters, on the dialogue, but probably have a vision of the staging too. The thing is, they don’t want to be too proscriptive : if you say “There must be entrances here, here and here, and the heroine must recline on this chaise longue here…” aren’t  you restricting the Director’s creativity? Isn’t it better to just say “Curtains open on a living room” and describe the characters coming and going?

Well, no. If you’re hoping to sell your script, you should be aiming for your writing to conjure up an image in the prospective director’s mind. To do that, you need to describe each set at the top of the scene. That way the director knows what the room looks like as the characters move around it. It doesn’t matter that the director is envisioning a blue sofa instead of a paisley one. It doesn’t matter that he/she thinks a drinks cabinet is six feet tall instead of a little cupboard. What’s important is that when he/she reads ‘Charlie crosses to the sofa” it isn’t the first time the sofa has been mentioned. This is important because up until that moment the reader will have a scene in their heads. You mention, perhaps, a study. For me, that means a chair or two and a desk for working at. I’ll also imagine oak panelled walls. Sorry, can’t help myself*. Anyway, my personal view of a study doesn’t include a sofa. So, when I read that Charlie crosses to a sofa, the sofa appears BING! in the middle of my imaginary study. It’s annoying and surprising. You don’t want someone reading your script to be annoyed.

“But what about the stifled creativity?” you cry. Fair point. This is, indeed a tightrope you have to walk. Your first step here is creating a vision in the reader’s head that means they can see what YOU saw when you were writing the play. They don’t have to get every nuance, but they should understand the physical reality of the world you have built. Their challenge is to translate that vision into the performance space they have. So, in writing for the community theatre where facilities are often more limited, you may want to restrict the number of trapdoors you mention in the stage, or flying entrances, or holographic monsters. But don’t skimp on the description – tell the reader what you see, and do it at the top of the scene so they start with the correct picture in their heads.

*In case you’re wondering, my study doesn’t have oak panelled walls. They’re a kind of yucky green colour. There’s no sofa either.

Book, book, book…..

It's the book what I wrote...So, only….er….five months after the initial idea, and I now have a published e-book to add to my credits. Actually, that’s not strictly true, as this is a document in pdf format, rather than an actual e-book, but you get the point.

Back in January, as I may have mentioned, I went along to a Writer’s symposium, hosted by the Travel Writer’s Association of Canada (TWAC. I was there as part of PWAC. Acronyms are silly things.) One of the speakers talked about the need to build up your webpresence and your own brand for your writing, which lead me to rediscover this blog, for one thing, and to begin writing the book. She’d said that everyone is an expert in something, expert enough to write a book. And while your book might not be compelling enough to attract a major publisher in the paper and ink industry, the glory of the internet is that you can publish without the stunning overheads and publicise your product yourself.

I realised that for over a decade I have been writing plays for the amateur stage – what the North Americans seem to call “Community Theatre” which sounds less patronising – and therefore I could legitimately say something about doing that. Plus, of course, I’ve spent the last few years as a script reader for Lazy Bee Scripts, reviewing new plays and handing out advice and judgements and assembling my own set of “What everybody gets wrong, or right” rules.

The speaker at the symposium made a lot of sense, saying that the book itself is not the major feature, but you can build on the sale of the book with lectures and classes. I didn’t want to get too overexcited about that, and decided to see if I could write a convincing book first. It’s taken longer than I thought, thanks mainly to the hard work of my friends and co-writers, ensuring I didn’t settle for the first draft, going that extra mile to produce a document that’s not only worth reading but enjoyable to look at. I’m painfully aware of the number of projects that languish at the “half-completed” stage, not because I’ve run out of enthusiasm for them, but because I’m scared I’ll wreck what I’ve got by pushing on. Two plays are stuck in that limbo right now. I was determined that the book would not go the same way, and this week the final draft (number three, I think…certainly the third version to make it to the pdf stage, anyway) has arrived and been hosted, both on the Lazy Bee Website (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk ) and on the TLC website (www.tlc-creative.co.uk) . We’re advertising the book on various websites, pushing out news of it through Facebook, and later this week I’ll be attending another PWAC event where I’ll finally get to tell the other members that I have acheived something they can actually see.

So, what’s the book about? It’s NOT a “How To” guide. I don’t lay out the best way to write your epic play, there aren’t any simple five-step programmes included that take you from your idea through to staging your masterwork. The book talks about the aspects of community theatre that make it ideal for first-time playwrights, the things that you should be aware of before you begin writing. It discusses the limitations of the local stages, and how you can get around them or work with them. It talks about the different types of writing you can do for the stage, it highlights common mistakes and other issues to avoid. Best of all, it has funny pictures with hilarious captions scattered throughout.

I’ve read it about half a dozen times now, and each time I feel it’s necessary to point out that I only supplied some of the words. The organisation, proofreading, graphical work, factchecking (and occasional buttkicking) have been done by my writing partners Steve and David at TLC and by Stuart at Lazy Bee. I hope other writers will find it useful. I really hope some people who might not have considered play writing will give it a go as a result, because I hadn’t thought of plays until I was asked to write one, and they really have changed my life for the better.

And if anyone’s interested, I am available for lecture tours…..