I’m sat watching a film (Tim Burton’s version of Alice In Wonderland just in case you’re wondering) with my wife and son. She looks up from her laptop and utters the words ‘Peter O’Toole has died’. The last of the great British acting Hell Raisers has left us, knowing how much he liked a drink it’s a miracle he lasted until now.
Many years ago I sat up late one night channel surfing on TV and happened across a showing of the play ‘Jeffery Bernard Is Unwell’ from The Old Vic. It’s Peter O’Toole at his very best and probably my first exposure to the man’s work. I must have stayed up until 3am glued to Channel 4 watching it and it’s remained in my memory ever since. I’ve searched for it on Youtube a couple of times in the past and it always seems to come and go, taken down for copyright reasons no doubt. Having heard the news tonight I’ve looked again and the whole two hour performance is there. If you have the time, settle down and watch. You’ll probably be taken in just as I was, about 15 years ago.
Checking my e-mails at work yesterday (during lunch break naturally, hard at work the rest of the time) and up pops this…
Thanks for submitting your play to us for consideration. I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you with a response. As a new writing theatre we have limited resources to extend to non-commissioned work and although we enjoyed reading ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ I’m afraid we are unable to offer you a production. I’m sorry we’re not able to assist you in the development of your play but I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you continuing good luck with your writing.
With best wishes
(Name Removed From Blog Post)
Administrator – Literary Department
Most rejection letters follow this pattern. Firstly, a thank you for submitting then an apology for taking so long to get back to you which really isn’t a problem in this case as they said it would be at least six months and it turned out to be five. Then they’ll say that whilst they enjoyed reading your script they either do not feel it’s right for them or they do not have the facilities and then a short word wishing you luck on your career. It’s fairly standard but totally understandable as far as the process goes.
So Seven Lucky Stars doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon and I’ve seen days past when I’d get really angry that I’d ploughed many hours into a project and got nowhere. Right now though I’ve found that the key is just to move onto the next thing before you’ve even heard the response from the last. I’m already into writing The Unlocked Project so I’d actually shoved anything related to Seven Lucky Stars right to the back of my head.
Unlocked (there, it feels better once it’s shortened) is still going through draft two troubles. I’ll start to post the alternative version on here once I’ve got something concrete. The removal of the insomnia has begun!
We hope to see you at the Traverse at some point soon.’
It looks like the standard, generated rejection response but then a place like The Traverse could hardly be in a position to write personally to everybody who sends them material. Whilst receiving this kind of reply might be a cue for being a bit downhearted it’s far better than receiving no response at all (which has happened to me before).
I’m not under any illusion of thinking Seven Lucky Stars will be taken in it’s current form and performed professionally as this hardly ever happens and the script would probably need somebody with a better knowledge than I to read over before another rewrite.
It’s been a slow slog to get it done but finally, whilst scribbling in my notebook the other night, I finally laid down a short synopsis for ‘Seven Lucky Stars’. Synopsis writing isn’t something I greatly enjoy for the simple reason that the idea is to blow your own trumpet about the project, something I’m usually uncomfortable with. Seeing the story laid out in simplistic terms often forces me to think that it’s slightly ridiculous.
The question as far as this blog goes is ‘How much do I show?’ which has been troubling me for a few days now. Many writers will lock ideas up and refuse to tell anybody anything about them for fear of them being stolen. I’ve been to writer’s where I’ve asked others what they’re working on and received the reply “Oh well it’s very top secret right now” as if they’re working for the FBI. It might sound enigmatic, they might think it makes them look cool but it’s a bit of a conversation killer at such gatherings. How am I so aware of these people? Because for a long time a few years back, I was one. There is always the feeling, at least in the beginning, that your ideas are so brilliant and so ground breaking that anybody you show them to will instantly copy them before walking into Hollywood on your ticket. It’s a terrible way to be and usually means that you finish stories and scripts but never end up actually getting them out there. They end up created in a vacuum, nothing ever touching them.
I can understand not putting full scripts on the blog, firstly because it would take up so much room and secondly because I usually keep rewriting them. On the other hand though it’s very difficult to talk about an idea when anybody reading this will have no clue what it’s about. Therefore, for your reading delight, here’s the synopsis I’ll be using to push the script.
‘Until now Edward Banks has had the TV world at his feet. Being the presenter of the 1980’s best loved game show ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ has brought him from performing stand up comedy in dingy clubs to the bright lights of prime time. He has all the houses, cars and video cassette recorders money can buy. During the filming of one particular episode however, the dream ends.
Driven by pressure from the heads of the studio, producer John Woodward has been lumbered with the job of breaking the news of Edward’s imminent sacking to his long time friend. Recent surveys have revealed that Edward’s brand of humour, once seen as fun and outlandish, is now viewed as sexist and outdated. Making matters worse is the fact that his replacement is Edward’s old comedy club rival Ken Moon.
During one episode featuring Brian, a man attempting to break a world record for most game show wins and Lisa who wants to win all the prizes for her Mum, the news breaks and a tense situation occurs between Ken and Edward over who is best to take the show forward whilst trying to avoid the numerous power cuts.’
One of the hardest parts was to make it clear the play is set in the 80’s without screaming ‘This is the 80’s’ from the rooftops. I just thought it sounded really blunt and obvious hence the ‘video cassette recorder’ reference. Apart from that it’s fairly functional and we’ll have to wait and see if it gets me anywhere or not. It was mainly constructed to send an application to The Old Red Lion Theatre in London but I’ve saved it on file for others.
Eventually I’ll get this done and I can move on to something else.
Honestly, I’ll stop banging on about Henry Barstow very soon especially as the final night was nearly three weeks ago. Today however, I received a link to the Carlisle Green Room Newsletter and a small part of which reads thus…
‘An evening without Henry Barstow (Because He’s Dead) Tim Padley writes: Just space to say if you missed this, you missed a treat. The celebration of the life and works of the (fictional) author enacted by his fan club was hilarious. The earnest leader (Michael Spencer), trying to get the others (James Spark and Lexie Ward) to be serious against the pull of a perfect ‘Beef Wellington’ was great. The culminating sci-fi epic with the green monster and the camp space captain was a perfect (and funny) parody of Star Trek (among others).’
And so it begins, I have a list of all the theatres I could find that either had new writer programmes or read unsolicited scripts. The first two have now been been contacted and, as per the previous post on the matter, here they are named.
First up there’s The Live Theatre in Newcastle. They only accept e-mailed scripts with a brief synopsis and biog which was fairly simple to put together. They aim to get back to you within three months which is probsbly one of the better turn around times I’ve seen whilst going over the various sites. Also, Newcastle is really easy to get to from Gretna.
Secondly we have Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre who also have a dedicated team to read unsolicited scripts and do offer feedback if needed. Edinburgh is also pretty easy to get to from here.
So the clock starts to tick and the game begins. There are more on the list but I’m concentrating on the ones outside London for now. Give it a few nights though and then we march on the capital.
This Friday gone, I sat in the front row of the Green Room Bar and watched ‘An Evening Without Henry Barstow’ as it ended its three night run. I knew a few friends were going to be there that night and I was a little bit concerned that was going to be all. Not that I would mind sitting in a room with my friends but it would have felt strange that we were there watching more of my friends perform something I wrote. Attendance had been good on the opening night but then quieter the next night. When I got to the door I was greeted with a small crowd of theatregoers paying to get in. People I didn’t know were paying to get into the show, it sounds crazy but it pleased me no end. The bar downstairs was dimly lit ad playing the Neighbours theme song, all was well in the world. I did a quick headcount of the people in the room and counted thirteen, the maximum capacity was twenty eight. With the show due to start at 8pm the message was passed to upstairs that there were no seats left over and there were to be no more admissions. This news pleased me even more.
It went incredibly well, my worries about the story being a little bit repetitive (because it’s single scenes from Barstow productions of old one after the other) were dealt with by the cast very well. The story went along at a fair pace and the audience seemed to be well into it probably as a result of me starting the applause each and every time there was a natural break in the play. People always join in if somebody starts first I find.
The audience on the night seemed to enjoy it. I hadn’t told anybody who didn’t know already that I was the writer but it came up on introductions afterwards. A couple of people said that 45 minutes of light hearted comedy would be ideal for Edinburgh but before I dealt with any of that I’d have to rewrite it again to sharpen up the rougher bits and to include some of the jokes that were added by the cast during rehearsals (one of which was the ‘rogering Debbie McGee’ bit).
I’m unsure at this time if I should go back to it so soon, the run was a fantastic chance to see something I’d written being performed for public consumption. It takes you rapidly out of the small bubble you can sometimes find yourself in when writing, the belief that you are alone and will be the only person to read what’s in front of you. Many thanks to Lexie Ward, Michael Spencer and James Spark for reading, rehearsing and performing it and to anybody else who came down to watch it. I certainly learned a lot from the process which will be adapted for going forward.
The best part was that a few people were saying “We’re looking forward to the next one”. The good news is that the next one is already written and it’s part of Project Theatre which we’ll be kicking off over the next few nights.
An e-mail from the director of ‘Henry Barstow’ arrived late last night. The last rehearsal had been performed in front of a handful of people. Whilst they had a good laugh it was agreed that the ending fell flat and as a result the show petered out. Would it be possible to rewrite the ending?
Of course it’s possible, even at this late stage. Bear in mind that the show was originally due to be performed in May 2011 but got put back (far back) due to casting issues and the extra time gave me the golden opportunity to rewrite large chunks of the show and make it better. When I look back now I often think that it would have been a pretty lame show if it had been performed in its original form. Minor tweaking now is fine so the ending has been reworked in time for another rehearsal tomorrow. Essentially, I’ve taken out the lines in which the two sensible characters wanted to wrap it up whilst the obsessive in charge didn’t and replaced it with a few more gags.
The opening night, just in case you didn’t know, is a week tonight and whilst that’s brilliant I still can’t help but wonder what exactly comes after this. There is another project I currently have being worked on elsewhere, something that I’ve been trying to get off the ground since 2007 in fact, but there’s nothing really concrete just now to write home about that one. I spent most of the day yesterday sifting through various theatre companies to see if they took script submissions with the intention of putting ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ forward. It’s a very similar process to what I’ve done before with TV companies in the past.
To my surprise I’ve found that it’s much more receptive to new scripts than TV ever was. Most theatres have some kind of new writer programmes in place and aim to put on new shows, probably because it’s a cheap way of doing it and the risk is a lot lower. TV shows not only cost much more to make but also have to find somebody willing to broadcast it at the same time. I’ll be hawking around ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ in good time because the script is pretty much ready to be looked at to see what they’d want from any probably rewrite.
When I’ve blogged before about my writing efforts I always made an effort not to name any companies I was in contact with, I thought at the time this had to be surrounded in some kind of privacy lest the deal not come off and everybody ended up looking a little sheepish. This time around I’m thinking about throwing that idea out of the window and having a running list of people I’m in contact with . If they’re willing to have contact details on their website then they’re going to get a mention. A list shall be posted as soon as I’m done formatting the script.
A couple more shots from Wednesday night’s rehearsal of Henry Barstow.
Michael Spencer who plays Scott. Currently cursing me for putting too many dates in the script for him to remember.
Lexie Ward who plays Patricia and James Spark who plays Derek.
They’re in space, hence the big steps.
It’s looking really good and that’s without the costumes. They’ve added a fair few parts which work better for the stage. I spent the whole thing laughing before remembering I was laughing at my own jokes.
The show is on at Carlisle’s Green Room Theatre Bar. The show starts at 8pm on September 12th, 13th and 14th. The bar will be open from 7pm though and you’re advised to get there as close to 7pm as you can because space is limited to 30 people each night.
I took delivery of a small bundle of these posters today. It seems strange that the last time I was really writing Barstow I was telling myself I had plenty of time because September was ages away. Now I’m very much of the knowledge there’s only two months to go. It’ll be the first time in years that I’ve written something that will get a airing in public so I have slight nerves about it. Because it’s a bar production (ie- it’s not in the main theatre) space will be limited to 30 for each performance so if you are coming down then please get there early.
The main difference between this and the films I’ve worked on in the past is the fact that once the run is over the project dies. If ‘An Evening Without Henry Barstow’ is never performed again then nobody will ever see it again. Obviously with film you have something in your hands and are able to watch/broadcast it at any time. It’s for this reason that I’m entertaining the idea of filming one of the later rehearsals so, once the run is over, I can stick the thing on Youtube and make is available to anybody who hasn’t been able to make it.