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A week last Thursday night….I went to see  As You Like It at Keswick’s Theatre By The Lake. It’s the first Shakespeare play I ever saw on stage, at Birmingham Rep, with, seemingly, half the cast of Crossroads in the company. Good old Burton Boys Grammar School (I’m being ironic, you should know), had gone to pains to teach us that when we call a Shakespeare play ‘comic’, we don’t mean it’s funny. Birmingham Rep blew that piece of disinformation right out of the water, and won me over to Shakespeare despite everything that the Education system threw at him.

It must be twenty years since I’d seen the play, and last night I was amazed at how much of it – almost every line – came back to me, though I couldn’t have written down more than a few of them without that prompting. It’s remained my favourite play, though I can see it’s not the slickest (and yes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream pushes a hard second).

The TBTL production was as good as I had come to expect, and celebrated the essential romanticism of the play. Jessica Hayles made a fabulous Rosalind – all Rosalinds should be fabulous. I can remember Eileen Atkins in her Ganymede jeans, and still have the theatre programme somewhere! But Layo-Christina Akinlude as Celia/Aliena gave a master-class in how to play the part that is on stage a lot of the time, but has few lines and very little action. With nods, head-shakes, grins, eye-rolls and other micro-movements she mirrored, re-inforced and nudged our responses to what the other characters were saying and doing. It’s a fine line sort of part to walk between too much and not enough, and she was absolutely spot on.

One slight change to Shakespeare’s script puzzled me. An exchange of words, very near to the end, one that you wouldn’t notice was missing unless you were expecting to hear it, had been excised; like a sprig of bitter herb left out of a gourmet dish.

But Bravo! Theatre ByThe Lake, cast and crew.

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Last call for tomorrow at the Theatre Royal, in The Studio, from 4.30 – 6.30 pm you can be there at a rehearsed reading of five new pieces for theatre which will have been intensely explored through the day with Director, Ken Gouge, and four actors who have never seen the work before. The writers have been meeting regularly as a peer group to develop their work, also generously hosted by the Theatre Royal. This is the second such event. It’s free to the public at the reading stage – the first event was much appreciated by all concerned as a fascinating insight into the process of turning a script into a performance piece. If you’re a writer, an actor, a director or someone who loves the theatre arts, do come if you’re free. 

ALSO NOTE the  Playwrights Scratch Project  in the D&G Arts Festival on June 4th – this one with an open submission for writers CLOSING DATE for scripts is 26th April. For full details e mail carolynanne57@gmail.com or see the Creative Scotland page here:

http://opportunities.creativescotland.com/opportunity/index/82f8ca4a-3d7e-4991-b22d-07919bdb6a28/?Ref=%2F%3Ffilter%3D%26area%3D19%26location%3D6

Extracts from three brand new scripts will be presented by actors at a directed, rehearsed reading. Selected from across Scotland and Cumbria, the scripts are read for the first time by the company that morning, then the director and actors get to work. This event is a must for those interested in how new writing for performance develops. There will be an informal gathering in the bar post-show to discuss the plays with the playwrights, actors and the director, Ken Gouge, Edinburgh Festival Fringe First winner. See the Festival brochure page http://www.dgartsfestival.org.uk/event

49 stories,flash fictions and monologues by BHD

Rehearsed reading of five new short plays scripts. All for the price of…

…Its a FREE event. No need to book just turn up.

You’d be very welcome. Spread the word and let anyone else know who you think would be interested.

Playwrights: Tom Murray Vivien Jones Marilyn Messenger Mike Smith Carolyn Yates Lucy Cameron

Director: Ken Gouge

At the Theatre Royal, Dumfries, Saturday 15th April, 4.30pm to 6.30pm.

 

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Bartleby Snopes, the literary website, runs an annual ‘dialogue only’ short story competition.  It’s an unusual concept, but if, like me, you write the odd short play, (odd being the operative word)  it’s not unheard of. A more singular curiosity of the competition, is that, having paid your fee and sent in your story, they come back at you with an e-mail saying that you’re not in the top five, but would you like to re-submit for free? I don’t know whether or not they do this with everyone, but I ended up having several goes – and none of them in the top five, but hey! They say, that in this way, they hope you get the value of that initial fee; and you know what? I think they are right.

Having those goes  reminded me how much I like writing dialogue, and one of the differences between writing dialogue for a play, and dialogue for a ‘dialogue only’ short story, is that you don’t even have the names of the character next to speeches as you do in the script. The first couple I tried were simple two-handers. Games of verbal ping pong, easily played you might think, but even there, unless you pay attention – in the writing as well as the reading – you get to lose track of who is saying what.

When you’ve written a couple of those though, you can’t resist feeding in another character, or five! That’s when it gets really interesting. I remember once a student writing, with the aid of narrative, a scene involving a poker game with five players. Not only did it take up an awful lot of page, but it was impossible to follow who was saying what, to whom, and why! We worked on sorting it out, and ended up using a technique familiar to auctioneers, where, no matter how many people want to buy whatever he (or she) is selling, the auctioneer takes bids from only two at a time. Something similar can be used to simplify the narration of mob-handed conversations. Working without any narration, and with no attribution either the problems are little more complex. It’s not just about differentiating the voices, but realising that with some of the asides, remarks, and comments that are really just part of the background scenery, it doesn’t matter with every utterance just who said it.

I remembered that I’d written a piece a couple of years ago, in which about half a dozen characters discussed someone whose funeral they were about to attend. Topped and tailed by short paragraphs of narrative that placed them in a bar, I wanted to create the illusion that you were overhearing voices, the owners of which could not be seen. I still harbour urges to make it into a film, in which you would see the talkers’ hands as they sat around a table, lifting and replacing the glasses. Threads of conversation would imply the speakers, but never exactly pin them down. Some voices would be more distinct than others, as they might well be in an overheard conversation. Making it film though, would require a decision as to precisely who was going to say what. I suppose a staged version could swap some speeches around, from performance to performance, but a recording, in film or sound only would have to commit itself, and that would lose, rather than gain, something of the original intent.

I like writing pieces like this, but the more my attention has been directed towards them, the more I have come to think that they are not truly ‘short stories’. The distinction, for me, is that a short story is a piece of narrative fiction, and the important word there is narrative – a lot of short stories are narratives of real events, with the names, times and venues transposed ‘to protect the innocent’! A dialogue, though, does have an author, when created by an author. It does not have a narrator, and it is the narrator’s take on the events he, she, or, presumably, it, or they even, recounts that is angle of the story we are being invited to slide down! To have a dialogue without narration still gives us the chance to have an opinion on what is being said, but for me, it is a drama, rather than a story.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m beginning to notice more and more, as if it were widening, the gap between the narrative telling of stories, and the presentation of direct speech. Sometimes, and perhaps more often than used to be the case, I find that my own stories are falling almost exclusively into one or other pattern: narratives have no, or almost no direct speech; dialogues have almost no accompanying narrative. Were it not for the fact that most of my short stories are around, or under the one thousand word mark, I would turn many of them into short plays (which need c5,000 words of direct speech), turning the small amounts of narrative into stage directions, or removing them entirely.

When I am consciously writing plays I do try to limit, and if possible eradicate stage directions – believing that Directors should have the freedom to decide how the words should be uttered.

Moving in the opposite direction, towards a ‘no direct speech’ narrative throws more emphasis on the narrative voice – more awareness in the listener or reader, that here is a he or she telling us a story from a particular viewpoint. Such a narrator reports the events, and the words of the actors, as they appeared to them. During the twentieth century many writers and critics began to move away from this idea, looking for a ‘un-authored’ narrative, with multiple voices, or, as James Joyce suggested, one that had been ‘refined out of existence.’ There was an attempt to spread the narrative across the voices of equally important characters, rather than – as A.E.Coppard suggested, telling the story through the ‘eyes’ of one character only. To me, it has always seemed that so long as one person is providing the words, that person is, mixing the metaphor, calling the tune. The agendas, insights and limitations of the author will inform those of the narrator, however many of them there are, and it maybe that that is what makes any author worth reading.

With an entirely narrated piece, where everything, including the reported words of the characters, is presented through the narrator’s voice, we have come, in a sense, full circle, back to the wholly spoken state: the monologue. The narrator, however, is giving us a monologue that is not, ostensibly, about him or her.

In a curious co-incidence, the same day as I jotted these thoughts down in my notebook, we had a first person monologue that evening at the Facets of Fiction workshop, in which there was no direct speech. Such a piece is likely to look different on the page, and it did. Blocks of text, unbroken by the more fragmented layout in which direct speech is conventionally cast, seem heavier, and the white space on the printed page is far less. But it’s not only the visual that is affected. Reading aloud too, I feel, is a different business when the single voice carries the whole thing.

If this effect is something we don’t welcome in a specific piece, we can get around the problem perhaps, by re-paragraphing, and breaking up the monolithic chunks of text in that way, but paragraphing too affects not only the look of the writing. By throwing emphasis on the sentences that open, and close the paragraphs, it can skew the meaning of a piece. (I looked at this issue briefly earlier in the blog, in reference to a Russian text, the translation of which had been paragraphed entirely differently to the original, and with noticeable effects on the focus of the story.) Arthur Miller, in a preface to an earlier collection, replicated as the introduction to his collected stories, Presence (Bloomsbury, 2009), makes some interesting observations. He is writing from the perspective of a playwright introducing a collection of his own short stories, and has a strong sense of the differences between the two.

‘This was when the author stopped chattering and got out of the way;’

This is the play, by the way. But he says this too…’the novelist’s dialogue is pitched towards the eye…and falls flat when heard.’ And, ‘the dialogue in a story needs to sacrifice its sound.’ Here are two statements which, for me, at least need not be true, and better not be, for he is making an assumption about the printed word which I reject. He does say, of his stories, that ‘some of these stories could never be plays, but some perhaps could have been.’ The distinction he makes centres on sound, but it seems to me, that what the play adds to story, is observation (as does the film), whereas what the story (as text), adds to play or film, is imagination.

Neither pattern, direct speech or narrator, is right or wrong, and neither is a balanced blend of the two a desirable end in its own right, but the differences are worth being aware of, and matching to the stories we want to tell, and the way we want them to be received.

Words on stages, by the way, are part of the thing, where Borderlines, Carlisle Book Festival, 4-6th September, is concerned. You can check out the details here:

www.borderlinescarlisle.co.uk

In the meantime, if you Kindle, why not grab an e-book copy of Mike’s collected essays on short story master, A.E.Coppard : (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UEONRV6)

English of the English