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Added: Friday 10th June, 2016

Putting a show on in Brighton Fringe

Playwright Neil Noon questions five writers on the artistic process of putting a show on in Brighton Fringe.

Catherine Ireton (Leaving Home Party)

Starting with artistic torture (sorry). Please give a one-sentence summary of your show (it's better you do it from inside than us from out, right?)

Leaving Home Party is a story – told through song – of how I didn't quite realise I was emigrating when I took a one way flight from Ireland to Scotland ten years ago, and it's a meditation on modern day notions of home and belonging, all performed by myself and multi-instrumentalist Ignacio Agrimbau.

What was the spark at the start of the work? (And when did you know it could grow?)

It is a personal reflection on how far I have traveled in terms of actual geographical distance, but more importantly in terms of self-belief.

It was sparked by going to Carphone Warehouse to get a phone, only to be told that I would have to sign a two-year contract. That simple thing made me realise that I was more committed to living in a foreign country than I'd realised. And that led me to question lots of things about my life. The show is sort of a culmination of my decision to make something, rather than just talk about making something.

How did the piece change in the making process? (What did you gain unexpectedly? What did you have to lose?)

The first version of the show premiered in Edinburgh two years ago. It was full of theatrics - we had a smoke machine, a large ladder on wheels that I moved around the stage, there were lots of stark lighting cues. I didn't enjoy that version because it was incongruous with the story I was trying to tell.

This is a very small story – leaving Ireland to move to the UK – but that’s kind of the point. We all have small stories that aren't profound but are epic to us.

What (hopefully practical) top tip would you give any writer contemplating writing for the Fringe?

The fringe is a great testing ground so I would recommend people to do lots and lots of shows again and again – and to avoid the temptation of inviting reviewers until you are certain you are happy with the piece.

Gus Watcham (The Crush / This Is Always The Result)

Please give a one-sentence summary of your show.

Two women say the unsayable in intimate stories of secrets, pain and shame.

What was the spark at the start of the work? (And when did you know it could grow?)

The spark was meeting Mark C Hewitt at one of his live literature courses at NWS. The strapline of the course was something like 'Do you have a piece of writing in a drawer that might find new life as a performance?' I had precisely that.

I read out my bit of writing with the paper shaking in my hands, but afterwards I looked at it anew and wrote a fresh draft when I got home. Then another and another.

I knew it could grow after a scratch performance at Lewes Live Lit's space above the Bus Depot. One encouraging thing was that I remembered my lines. But more important was the fact that people came and watched and gave feedback, and seemed to understand what I was on about.

How did the piece change in the making process? (What did you gain unexpectedly? What did you have to lose?)

The piece gained a lot of iambic pentameter, as well as a rhyming couplet or two, which was all to the good. I was flirting about at the edge of poetry, but the piece (ten poems about an embarrassing and totally unrequited crush) decided and demanded it should be the real thing.

It lost most of my favourite bits, and that thing about killing your darlings is true, I'm afraid. It was so much the better for the loss, getting tighter and funnier. Realising it could get laughs was lovely.

What (hopefully practical) top tip would you give any writer contemplating writing for the Fringe?

Say yes. Start thinking and planning early and visit some venues ahead of the big rush, and imagine your work there. Talk to people. Research articles by reviewers that you'd like to see your show. Start now!

Anna McGrail (The Museum Of The Recently Named)

Please give a one-sentence summary of your show.

The Museum Of The Recently Named is an immersive listening experience in which the participants are taken on a tour of the exhibits; unlike most museums, the audio-tour narration is not at all trustworthy.

What was the spark at the start of the work? (And when did you know it could grow?)

The spark was the fantastic amount of time I spend communing with podcasts. Once a largely ignored backwater of the web, story-telling in sound alone has recently gained new fans – Serial brought long-form narrative journalism to the front pages of the mainstream media. Night Vale turned people who would never dream of listening to ‘radio drama’ into addicts of radio drama. (This little community radio station has such a following worldwide, it now embarks upon global tours: coming to Brighton in October.)

Listening to radio drama and podcasts is usually a solitary activity, played out in our heads, often through headphones. I wondered what would happen if you made listening a communal activity, in which people could choose how to respond to the sounds that they hear in a group, and how those choices would affect the group.

How did the piece change in the making process? (What did you gain unexpectedly? What did you have to lose?)

My intention was to tell a story through sound. However, once we started thinking about the physical reality of the Museum, we realised we needed items for the exhibits that were interesting in themselves; after all, people would be staring at them, for a start.

My production team scoured the markets of Brighton and came back with various artefacts that were so strange, we couldn't begin to imagine what they were. So I invented a name and a back-story for them as I wrote. Thus came into being the marvellous machine which measures your kindness towards bushbabies to determine if you are human.

Also, I was lucky to have a very fierce curator, who welcomed people to the Museum. That was a tiny part in the original script ("Hello and welcome") but grew as we realised what a genuinely unnerving effect she had on the tour groups, always watching them and making sure they obeyed the Museum rules.

What (hopefully practical) top tip would you give any writer contemplating writing for the Fringe?

Learn how to persuade as many people as possible (voice artists, sound mixers, curators, etc) that your work is of such blinding artistic merit that to participate in the production will in itself be all the honour and glory that they need. That, and a free drink on the last night, perhaps.

I'd also add that the Fringe is the Friend of the Strange. Push your idea as far as you want – no one is going to say no.

Peter Kenny (A Glass Of Nothing)

Please give a one-sentence summary of your show.

A Glass Of Nothing is a dark comedy in a three-wish format, where a young woman summons her imagination to provide her with great beauty, the perfect partner and a career.

What was the spark at the start of the work? (And when did you know it could grow?)

Some time ago I was watching an actor rehearsing a play at the Nightingale Theatre and he was pretending to drink from an empty glass. Suddenly I glimpsed that this could be a great metaphor for the imagination – because this pretend drink could be drunk from endlessly.

Right away I sketched some dialogue out, but then put it aside for a year. Beth Symons is a fine comedy actress, who also happens to be my stepdaughter. We went to the pub and talked about what kind of things a mid-twenties woman like Beth would wish for and how it would turn out. I then wrote it really rapidly in a week.

In rehearsals the concept of the play seemed to expand and become quite philosophical.  I went to every rehearsal but there was a tipping point, about three or four weeks into it, where I thought, ‘blimey this really does work'.

How did the piece change in the making process? (What did you gain unexpectedly? What did you have to lose?)

Every writer has had a moment when a favourite brainchild gets horribly maimed. I was braced for it.

Instead I was absolutely delighted that the actors – Beth Symons, Dylan Corbett-Bader and Kitty Underhill – seem to enlarge the idea as they worked. It was one of those rare occasions where nothing was lost, but everything gained. There is a despairing undercurrent to the play, but they made it a thing of light and dark.

The other thing is money, of course. Fringe theatre can be a pit you pour money into, and I had no grants or anything. Luckily, partly because we’re all Brighton-based, we managed to sell out our three nights.

What (hopefully practical) top tip would you give any writer contemplating writing for the Fringe?

Don’t wait for permission, just do it. The acid test for your work is to get in front of a live audience. Whatever happens, you’re going to learn lots.

I became a bit obsessed about venues too. Last year Beth scoped out the Theatre Box at the Warren.  I wrote the play for that kind of space so we made nabbing it our top priority. The Warren is buzzy, and it’s practical for people coming from out of town. I just loved the energy there, and preferred this to staging it somewhere more remote.

Isabel Sensier (I Do It To Break)

Please give a one-sentence summary of your show.

Incorporating themes of isolation, self-harm and pizza, 'I do it to break' is a piece of immersive theatre which explores the infinite potential of human nature. 

What was the spark at the start of the work? (And when did you know it could grow?)

I Do It To Break's journey began way back when I was an angry 18-year-old, wanting to write a women's play about self harm. There were no real characters, no real format, and no real direction.

It was only in my third year at uni, when I did a writing module that I started working on it with any knowledge about theatre, and I found the characters taking on a life of their own, telling me what they wanted me to say about them. Then I realised that I was creating something that could transcend the kind of 'angry, issue play' that I had started writing. 

How did the piece change in the making process? (What did you gain unexpectedly? What did you have to lose?)

I think the main thing that the piece gained was the insights and additions of other creative people. They added the interactive, immersive elements, the unusual staging, the voices of the actors, which weren't exactly how I'd imagined the characters, but took on a new life.

I think I lost a sense of ownership over the piece, but that's something that always happens when you hand over something you've written to a team of people. The gains outweigh the losses!

What (hopefully practical) top tip would you give any writer contemplating writing for the Fringe?

Write the theatre you want to see. Don't write the theatre that the average Joe wants to see. You're a writer, so you have original insight, and that's what we as an industry need.

Not the most practical tip but it's what I believe, and there's nowhere else challenging and original ideas can thrive like they do at the Fringe.