Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why Wait? Writer-Led Company Inkling Productions Reflect

Tom Hunt as Theo in LABYRINTH

The group of us (fourteen writers) who did the last two-year Creative Writing for Performance course at the University of Bristol (graduating 2010) wanted to continue to give each other support in our writing. We’ve been meeting once a month for almost another two years with two produced writing projects to our credit and a third in the wings. I could probably write a volume on what we’ve learned but will try to be brief.

We became Inkling Productions after our proposal was chosen for the Barnstaple Fringe Festival a year ago. We suddenly had a play to write AND produce. For Loose Tongues (2011), five writers wrote six monologues and I volunteered to direct, inter-cutting the monologues, with help from group members, for the final play.  This went on to Tisbury Festival and a run at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol and is being revived this year for Exeter Fringe and a short run at the Cornerhouse in Frome with the support of Nevertheless Productions. Meeting people and making connections was key to these things happening.

Our second play Labyrinth (2012) was created in response to a request from an Inkling member for a stimulating performance piece suitable for The Dean: a Gloucester centre for brain-damaged people. The script was loosely written and then devised by the actors and director. The show was sold-out at Bordeaux Quay for our public Bristol performance and was a hit at The Dean. It will also play at Exeter Fringe, but we’d like to take it to care homes, schools and other venues (see production woes). Our third play Twisted Yarns is in the revising stage.

We learned by sitting in on rehearsals that our writing wasn’t so precious. With actors and a director questioning the text we became more flexible at writing for actors. Also collaboration is a good experience, but some of us want to get back to writing as individuals. As a director I learned it’s easier to work with two to three writers rather than five. As a writer, collaboration is smoother if there are fewer of you writing.

Fundraising is the most serious requirement of this endeavour. As a not-for-profit group, we pay subs each year for start-up funds. We’ve given what we earned with our productions to actors (after some expenses). We’ve had brilliant actors and to keep them, they need to be paid. I had a terrific professional stage manager for Labyrinth who made directing so much easier. Luckily the Bristol area has great talent who are willing to do shows for next to nothing. But I feel very badly that we can’t pay them what they deserve for their creativity, time and energy.

We learned we’re not a production company. We don’t have enough people who have the time to devote to all the parts of production: fund raising, publicity, rehearsal venue search, accommodation and transport if the play tours, and directing. But if we concentrate on writing, where does the production come from? We need a production group who would like to use our writing.

Our original purpose was to meet to critique each other’s work-in-progress. In the last few months we’ve returned to that, but much of our meeting is still devoted to production business: where to find housing for actors in Exeter? Who’s doing the flyers? Has anyone heard back from the latest fund-raising application?

But we do have two successful plays out there; we’ve begun to build a name; we’ve learned to use social media; developed a website, Twitter and Facebook pages. For rehearsals - after dark, cold or cramped spaces, university rooms, the hold of a boat - we’ve found a wonderful pub landlord who loves theatre and only reserves the right to his room above the pub on Monday nights (and his name shall remain a secret).

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