I saw one of my Write Sparks workshop writers today at the markets. He was busy at his foot reflexology stall, but I caught him between customers. He wanted to get some advice about where to go with his script and I told him a bit about creative developments.
Creative developments are pretty much the way of theatre these days. A script doesn’t seem to gather street credentials without one or two of them. I’m not convinced they are called the same thing in all countries, but I am convinced playwrights all over the world are doing them in pokey little theatre spaces. I’ve done countless ones in Cairns, ones in Brisbane, lots in Sydney, did three in New York, one in Banff, and I know playwrights who have-at them in the UK. They all amount to the same thing; a period of time (usually a week) in which the writer brings a script to a room full of theatre-makers. Actors, a director, and a dramaturg. Sometimes, if budgets are plump, you might get a designer or a sonic artist as well.
As I explained to my Write Sparks friend, sometimes they work. Sometimes they are really difficult. Sometimes the writer isn’t ready. Sometimes the mix of artists is out of kilter. Welcome to theatre, it’s all kind of an experiment. But invariably, I enjoy creative developments. The creative energy that gets generated and slammed around the room is exhilarating for me. But for a writer they are a lifeline. They serve to remind writers that ultimately their craft is not about words on a page; it’s about a huge collaboration of artistic forces. The script is the basic component but a creative development is designed to open the script out like a flower and let it breathe in a 3-D space, let be questioned, interpreted and questioned again.
But let me tell you about my experience with Here We All Are. Assembled, a script now in its final stage of drafting after two very unique creative development phases. It was the darnedest thing.
About three years ago, Suellen Maunder, the Artistic Director of my local theatre company JUTE, saw an actor audition with the Hamlet monologue, ‘to be or not to be’. She was very moved by the rendition, delivered by a young actor with Duchenne’s disease who is wheel-bound. She didn’t know what or how but she wanted the gist of that idea made into a play. She asked me to think on it. At first, I was thinking on it like this—huh? But she persisted and called meetings to discuss it several times. It was still a difficult concept for me to get a grip on.
She called for a creative development, by God. Usually, a creative development has a script happening. Here’s me with no script, no treatment, not even much of a general premise, just a half page of scribbled notes, a diagram of a fish, and a sense that this could be fun. And this creative development was also different in that not only was there the writer (me), three actors, a director, and a dramaturg, she threw in a costume designer, a set designer, a sonic artist and a lighting designer. I was walking into a rehearsal room chock-full of highly qualified artists anticipating a creative development and I had nothing, zip, the big zero, not so much as a sausage. Then it got weird.
At first, we all just talked. Talked about the scraps of ideas. People gave their opinions, told stories, debated over points. In my mind, the scraps started to get bigger, more complex. Then ideas became like rockets, missiles even zooming around my brain. It was so intense! At night I’d get home and my mind was on fire. I wrote late into the night, whole scenes poured out my fingertips. By day 5, I had over 20 pages of script. Powerful, hilarious, crazy good script. Some of the best writing I’ve ever done.
Thus was born Here We All Are. Assembled. After the first creative development, there was a whole year for me to write while JUTE got the funds to mount a second foray. I did manage to come up with most of a script. But the second creative development, somewhat like the first, was a hum-dinger fireball of creative energy. Fever pitch.
Out of all that came what I now want to tell you is likely the best script I’ve ever written. I finished the final draft about two weeks ago. It will work. It will do more than work.
I’m writing all this because I believe in creative developments. They work wonders. I’ve been in creative developments as a writer and also a dramaturge and not once have I felt the script came out the other end of a creative development week worse off.
I also believe that I would like to try another creative development like the ones I just described in which something incredible was built out of thin air. I just want to know if it was a fluke because I tend to think it wasn’t. It’s a very exciting (ok, and quite expensive) way to make really integral grass-roots work.