Successful Festival Launch

Liverpool’s famous Zanzibar Club saw the launch of Page to Stage 2016, the only such festival of new writing in the North West.

The event opened with a talk by international Journalist, Rory O’Keeffe who also read us a couple of short chapters from his new book, “A Toss of the Coin.” Hailing from Crosby, Rory spent many years reporting from and writing about North Africa and the Middle East. Material for this book comes from his experiences and contains first-hand accounts of refugees from these regions.

Zanzibar“Truly Exotic” was the first show to be represented as a live trailer. For about five minutes, the writer (Frank Swannack) and one of the cast entertained us with a specially written trailer for an absurdist, time-traveling, period drama.

The sweet Charlotte Dowson provided the first interval entertainment, singing without the aid of a microphone. Charlotte is a multi-talented thirteen year old actress who plays Charlie in “The Reluctant Celebrity,” which was the second live trailer to be shown. The comedy drama shows family life beginning to unravel after Charlies brother posts a video of their father’s heart attack on YouTube. Families, eh!

Two poems separated by an intermission and a couple of video trailers, were recited by local writer, actor, improviser and poet, Denise Kennedy. References to JC and “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake” will never have the same meaning again.

Due to cast illness, family bereavements, and all sorts of other trials and tribulations, not all shows were presented as live trailers, hence the two slide shows that could be seen either side of the intermission. These were “Bricks”, a story of two sisters disagreeing over the care of their father and “Chamber of Beheaded Queens,” an exploration of the meeting of four famous executed queens in a chamber somewhere in the afterlife.

A specially written trailer for “An Everyday Apocalypse” was the last live trailer and showed two strangers meeting on a roof top during a zombie invasion. Both of these character were trying to escape in very different ways.

Thomas Oleron Evans, writer of An Everyday Apocalypse, kindly offered to fill a spot by interviewing KT Parker, the writer of “Chamber of Beheaded Queens.” Thomas is no stranger to in interviewing and has produced a series of interviews with Page to Stage writers on his podcast – Little Written.

Rounding off the event was a cold reading of another of the planned plays – “A Role.” Showing an incredible degree of professionalism, two actors from another production stood on stage and gave a script-in-hand performance of the first scene from the play having never read it before. The play looks at the tensions between an actor and the gangster he is about to portray in an upcoming movie.

All in the preview/launch event was well received by the select audience in what is normally a noisy music venue.

This festival deserves support as it is aimed at providing a platform for new and emerging playwrights, something that is much needed following the 24:7’s recent announcement that they have ceased running such a festival in Manchester

More details of the festival can be found on www.pagetostage.org.uk.

Local Celebrities support Page to Stage

Liverpool celebrities have expressed their support for Liverpool and the North West’s only festival dedicated to showcasing new stage writing talent.

Actress and Comedienne, Pauline Daniels; Brookside Actor, John McArdle; Corrie Actress, Pauline Flemming; Poet and Playwright, Roger McGough; Actor Joe McGann; Historian, writer and radio presenter Frank Carlysle, have all offered support for Page to Stage festival, while one of the plays is directed by Emma Bird (Casualty’s Maxine Price)

Page To Stage is a festival of new writing for theatre running from 3rd to 17th April. Showcasing eight new plays from non-professional playwrights over two weeks, it gives new and emerging writers valuable experience in producing, casting and staging their own plays under the guidance of the festival director

“I believe in nurturing new talent” explains organiser John McArdle. “A festival like this is the ideal place for new writing and new productions”.

Actress Pauline Daniels added “It is imperative that something as important as Page To Stage Festival happens here.

“Merseyside and the North West are renowned for their wealth of talent”

Each play is performed five times in a variety of venues around the city centre,” giving the writers experience of touring their work in the relatively safety of a festival.”

John launched the festival back in September 2014 as Liverpool’s answer to Manchester’s 24:7 following the demise of the four-year-old Write Now Festival. “It just didn’t feel right leaving such a vacuum” explains John. “Where would be the outlet for new writing in Liverpool? And what about all the missed opportunities for actors, directors and stage crew?”

With 24:7’s recent announcement that they will no longer run as a festival, Page To Stage is left as the only such festival of new writing in the North West.

“Our Gift” is a play about the difficulties of grandparents caring for a severely autistic teenager. “A particularly poignant piece for autism awareness week,” said John. At the other end of the caring spectrum, “Bricks” deals with two sisters’ disagreements about the care of their aging father.

Celebrity culture is covered by “A Role”, when an actor decides to shadow a career criminal to research a part, while a father becomes an internet sensation when his son videos his heart attack in “A Reluctant Celebrity”.

Visions of dystopian futures are provided by the Orwellian “Welcome to Paradise Road” where Neighbourhood Watch really does watch the neighbours and dissidents disappear overnight, while a married couple in “An Everyday Apocalypse” fight for the survival of their relationship from the zombies knocking on the door.

The fantasy dramas, “Chamber of Beheaded Queens” and “Truly Exotic” add an historical element to the festival. Four Queens meet up in an afterlife chamber and discuss their various stories and beheadings while a time travelling trouble maker meets one of Elizabeth’s courtiers recently returned from exotic lands.

“A number of venues are on board,” says John, “Including the Zanzibar, Ship and Mitre, Small Cinema, Quaker Meeting House and The Treasurehouse Theatre in the World Museum; who knew about that one?”

In addition to these, there are four “Scouse and Show” double-bill evenings at Fruit and Fibres Canteen with all-you-can-eat scouse thrown in.

The festival begins on Sunday 4 April with a secret launch event. Further details and ticket information are on the website – http://pagetostage.org.uk/participants

The final words go to John McArdle – “I wish John Mc and his team the best of luck with it and hope it’s a huge success.” – and Pauline Daniels, “please support this festival WE NEED IT!”

Page to Stage 2014 – where now?

DAY. A MAN – EARLY 50’S, GREYING BUT CURRENTLY TANNED – SITS AT A DESK TYPING ON AN APPLE MAC. HE IS SURROUNDED BY THE OBJECTS THAT YOU WOULD EXPECT OF A MAN WHO HAS WRITTEN/IS WRITING AND WHO HAS BEEN/IS A MUSICIAN.

GUITARS LEAN AT ONE SIDE OF THE DESK IN GIG BAGS, MORE TO THE OTHER SIDE ON CONCERT STANDS. OCCASIONALLY HE WILL PICK ONE UP TO STRUM AS HE BREAKS STATE FROM HIS WRITING.

THE DESK IS COVERED WITH COMICS, BOOKS – THE MOST RECENT ADDITION TO THE PILE HAVING ARRIVED IN THE LAST TEN MINUTES AND CONTAINING A CHAPTER THAT HE WROTE APPROXIMATELY NINE MONTHS EARLIER.

THE WALLS CONTAIN ORIGINAL ARTWORK FROM A COMIC THAT HE WROTE IN 1990, A MOOD BOARD THAT HOLDS FAMILY PHOTOS, CONCERT TICKETS, A SET LIST FROM A SHOW HE PLAYED IN 1987. TWO CERTIFICATES ARE FRAMED SHOWING NOMINATIONS FOR NATIONAL PRIZES, A SIGNED POSTER FOR HIS FIRST PLAY HANGS BEHIND HIM.

HE LOOKS UP AND SPEAKS:

This is what you need to know. No, let’s start again, there are several things that you need to know and they’re all equally important.

I always wanted to write.

HE DIGRESSES FOR A MOMENT. HE HAS A TENDENCY TO DO THIS.
Did you see that TV play last year? ‘Fabulous’ I think it was called. Toby Jones playing a guy who wanted to be a clown, ended up as pitman for Stoke City. True story. Inspiring. About a man who the rest of society would think of as ‘handicapped’ but didn’t believe that idea himself. Fantastic quote in it; ‘I always wanted to be happy so I decided to be.

That’s an attitude, that’s THE attitude. Decide what you want to be then do it. Believe in what you are, in what you intend to be.

I always wanted to write. So I wrote. It just took a while.

I worked in a record shop. For twenty seven years. Then I stopped and I became what I was supposed to be. I joined a writing group – Merseyside Script Initiative as it was at the time, MSI for short – to find out whether I actually could write. Sometimes that’s what you need: an external voice, some feedback, contacts, a way to break in to an arena that can appear closed. And one night, this one night –

HE DIGRESSES AGAIN.

Yes, I know that I’ve started a sentence with the word ‘and’. And I know that you can’t do that. Are you going to pay attention to people telling you what you can’t do? Or are you going to tell people what you can do, what you’re going to do? I chose the latter. I choose the latter.

This one night then – the idea of a festival is mentioned. A festival of new writing. Of one act plays up to an hour in length.

I’d written nothing over ten minutes. I didn’t believe that I could write an hour long play. “We’re taking monologues” said John Mc, the organiser of the festival. That? That I could do. Talk for an hour? Easy. (Although, in fairness, asking an actor to learn an entire hour of script is another thing altogether, THAT’s hard.)

I submitted. Anonymously as the rules dictated. And waited.

And in the gap, while I was waiting, I wrote. And wrote. I wrote a full length play for a national competition. For the second biggest competition in the country. And I waited on that as well. And wrote. The first play that I wrote – or ‘wot I wrote’ if you’re of a Morecambe and Wise age – ‘Venus Rising’, was selected for the Page To Stage festival. Meetings began. Meetings with the other writers who had been selected (one I’m in very regular contact with still, one I bumped into in Buxton as my third play was due to premiere), meetings with potential directors.

The meetings are vital. I met with two extremely talented directors. One, I bumped into at his last piece at the Liverpool Playhouse a few weeks back, the other I’ve been working with for over a year now. We changed things round a bit. The director (Anna) had an interesting vision for the monologue. It became more than a monologue, it became a play. I rewrote. And once we’d cast the actors I rewrote again. Actors make a hell of a difference to your play – you want a performance, give them something to play with, collaborate, the collaboration is vital.

We performed five times: 81 Renshaw St, The Lantern, The Bluecoat (THE BLUECOAT!!) and The Treasure House in the World Museum where I used to go and look at the mummies when I was a kid. We performed, we rehearsed, we had a hell of a summer. I did that thing that writers aren’t supposed to do; I was at every rehearsal. I stuck my oar in. The joy of the way P2S (let’s call it that, shall we? I feel we’re all friends by now) worked was that I was a producer. Me and the director were the producers. Not The Producers, not Bloom and Bialystok and definitely not the musical version, that’d be weird. I made decisions about where we were going, what we were doing and I learned stuff. The learning is vital. The learning is always vital.

The other vital thing? The contacts. The actors that we’ve worked with again and again. On short films, on other plays. The contacts who will listen to you because you’re not a guy who works in a record shop (let’s be clear about that one as well – I was a manager of a major retail outlet. You know what production is? It’s management, no more, no less, piece of cake, make things happen. MAKE THINGS HAPPEN) you’re a playwright.

People ask me what I do. I’m a playwright. And a journalist and a film producer and a broadcaster.

Venus Rising was my first thing.

You need a first thing. The second thing can’t come without a first thing. Venus Rising told me – before it was selected, just in the act of doing it – that I COULD write.

The second thing?

‘The Comeback Special’ – Highly Commended in the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize 2015. To be produced later this year.

The third thing? ‘Half The Sky’; it’s a truly unique night of theatre and music that happens because of contacts, because of saying ‘we could do this, this would be interesting’, because of contacts and meetings and experience of MAKING THINGS HAPPEN. And that’s nominated for excellence in new writing at the Buxton Fringe Festival. And the film that Anna and I make – three of us, me writing, Anna directing, Reid acting and providing music – wins the best short film award at Buxton Fringe and is retweeted (because that’s what the cool kids do now) to two and a half million people. By Irvine Welsh and Sally Lindsay and Duncan Jones – who’s a hell of a director and just happens to be David Bowie’s son.

The fourth thing? It’s a secret. It’s happening. Next week I’ll start on the fifth. And that will sit alongside the novel that I’m in the middle of and the collection of journalism that I’ll publish in mid 2016 to accompany the e-book that I published in early 2014 just before all this started.

I am genuinely award winning. I can say that. It’s not pretentious, it’s fact. Simple as that. I have awards, in this room, on the wall.

A year ago I was in rehearsal for my first play. For my first ever play – oh yeah and we’ll take that to Edinburgh next year as well, works should have an afterlife otherwise why did you do them?.

That was the start. Everything needs a start. You can’t embrace every opportunity without embracing the first one. You want to be a writer? Write. You want to put a play on? Write a play, produce a play, write yourself a new life.

Make things happen.

HE SMILES, TURNS AWAY FROM US, OPENS A NEW DOCUMENT AND STARTS TO WRITE.

LIGHTS FADE

END. OR START.

Why Festivals Charge

While I was researching other festivals around the country, I stumbled across a forum post that was scathing about Manchester’s 24:7 Festival and the principle of charging writers for submissions and charging the successful ones a further participation fee.
“Yet another businessman has hit upon the idea of organising a play festival and charging the writers to enter.” it said. A number of following posts supported the call to boycott this festival and sympathised with the writers stance.

There seems to be a long held belief in the UK that art should be free; this is manifest in pirate taping of the twentieth century and the illegal downloading of the twenty-first. I don’t know if this is because there is no tangible value in a piece of art or some inherent jealousy. I suspect it is a conditioning born of the long standing British tradition of art galleries and museums that are free to enter, free libraries, free to air television, radio, (latterly) YouTube, Spotify, etc.

Continue reading “Why Festivals Charge”