Bare E-ssentials 2020
"Online theatre is an opportunity for me to get my work seen by new and distant audiences, and for my work to be recorded, but I also hope lockdown will lift and theatres reopen, for the livelihood of producers, actors, directors and writers to continue."
Lucy Kaufman
Radio Foreplay & Vintage

Bare E-ssentials

Wed 13 May 8.00pm

Streaming live on Facebook, YouTube & Instagram

#BareEssentialsLDN @EncompassOnline

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Encompass Productions return from a two-year hiatus with a special online edition of Bare Essentials we're calling BARE E-SSENTIALS, London’s best-reviewed new writing night! 

Playwright Lucy Kaufman will be bringing Vintage, directed by Rachael Owens & Radio Foreplay, directed by Liam Fleming.

 

Hi Lucy, thanks for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?  


I know it sounds awful, but I actually prefer being in lockdown! I know, my introversion is showing. No, seriously, I get a LOT more writing done as there are fewer demands on my time. If it wasn’t for the fact we are living through an ‘unprecedented’, ‘difficult time’ which feels dystopian and often-terrifying, I could live like this for a lot longer. It’s my natural state to stay in and write and then reward myself by binging on Netflix. 

Do you think this time will offer up some creative opportunities?

Yes and no. As primarily a theatre practitioner, lockdown is generally bad for theatre and  creatives, as being live and temporary is part of the magic of theatre. However, people are in need of entertainment, and reading profusely, so this is a good time for writers to write and release their writing. Online theatre is an opportunity for me to get my work seen by new and distant audiences, and for my work to be recorded, but I also hope lockdown will lift and theatres reopen, for the livelihood of producers, actors, directors and writers to continue. I’m sure the world will be changed after lockdown, but I hope audiences will continue to flock to live theatre, and appreciate the live form.

How does it feel to be back at Bare E-ssentials with your new show?

It’s exciting to have another of my plays performed by Bare Essentials. ‘Vintage' is my most popular short play to date, and has been loved by audiences and critics alike, everywhere it goes, so it’s a pleasure to bring it to a new platform and new audiences. I love to work with and meet new people, and it’s always a pleasure when they want to use your work again. 

What was the experience for you bringing 'Radio Foreplay' to Bare Essentials in 2017? 

It was fun. 'Radio Foreplay' is one of my favourite short plays and it’s always exciting to extend its life and expand its reach. I wrote it under a male pseudonym originally, but now I’m extremely proud to claim it as one of my own. There is nothing better than sitting in an audience of people unfamiliar with your play and hearing them laugh. It went down extremely well with that (live) audience.  

Are you looking forward to be bringing 'Radio Foreplay' and 'Vintage' to Bare E-ssentials?

Yes. I can’t wait to see what the online world makes of my two favourite and most successful short plays, especially out of the context of the theatre. By coincidence, ‘Vintage' is being directed by Rachael Owens, and will star Josh Morter, who I worked with before on my 4-part WW1 play Till the Boys Come Home. It’s a pleasure to be reunited with old friends in this way. 

How important are opportunities like Bare E-ssentials for playwrights?

They are essential. I started my career as a playwright by sending plays to scratch nights. Back then it was intended as a bit of fun, and sent plays off in multiple pseudonyms (hence why I wrote Radio Foreplay with a man’s name). I never imagined where it would take me. Here I am, 33 plays later, and I earn money as a playwright and theatre director, receive commissions, and teach Playwriting. 'Radio Foreplay’, one of my earliest short plays, toured Australia for 6 months. ‘Vintage’, also one of my earliest plays, has been performed just about everywhere, and also in Australia. 

Do you ever get nervous ahead of premiering new works?

Yes. Being a playwright is nail-biting. It is nerve-wracking sitting in the audience, every single time, but also exhilarating. And, as I tell my playwriting students, there is no better way to learn how to write, and how not to write, than sitting in the audience of your own plays. As the writer, you tune in to the audience for every second of the performance and note where they get restless, where you can hear a pin drop, where they laugh, cry, where you cringe, and where you feel moved yourself. There is no better teacher than an audience, and audiences vary, so it is important to sit in as many performances of the same play as possible. They teach you something new every time. When I started out I didn’t know what I was doing. No-one taught me how to write a play. I learnt by doing and improved by seeing. 

Can you tell me a little bit about 'Radio Foreplay' and 'Vintage', what was the inspiration behind these shows?

Radio Foreplay comes from my own experience of writing radio drama for my university radio and the station almost getting shut down (or was it shut down and I’ve blanked it out of guilt?) because there was swearing in my radio play. Before the radio play aired, I sat with a producer and had pretty much this conversation (but not as funny). I wrote it when I was writing and sending off under a male pseudonym (because this freed up my creative process) and thought ‘what would a man write?’ I wrote it straight-off, inspired by the sketches of the Two Ronnies, thinking that is what men write and, as a woman, I usually felt too self-censored to. The play has received 5 star reviews and been pretty loved by audiences, but once I got a bad review that criticised it for being a Two Ronnies sketch. Little did the reviewer know! I was pretty proud of that review.  

Vintage was inspired by my buying a 1950s vintage dress when I was 15 (I never had the courage to wear it). One day, many years later, I opened the fridge and had a flash, and saw the entire play - the plot, the characters, the twists and turns, everything, and went and wrote it down. I don’t think I’ve ever changed a word. Both of these plays were amongst my easiest to write. It’s like they were just waiting to be written. 

What was the inspiration behind this new production? 

I believe it is lockdown which has inspired this online production, and the fact both plays work well filmed in lockdown. Radio Foreplay is a monologue, and very contained in terms of set and location, and Vintage is a married couple in a simple setting, speaking directly to the audience. They lend themselves very well to lockdown, and actors working from home. 

As a playwright what are the biggest challenges you face when creating a new show?

It depends. If I am purely the writer, then my challenge is sitting down and getting the work out, and the work being good. Then it’s about getting the work out there, to producers or potential theatres, and getting the interest in the play. If I am commissioned, and therefore have some collaboration with the producer, director and actors (sometimes I direct, co-direct or assistant direct) then the challenge becomes everything from finding the right cast to getting an audience. I have been lucky so far, having sell-out runs of my long plays, but that takes a lot of marketing and networking.

Have you always had a passion for theatre?

Yes. My parents met through amateur dramatics and older siblings used to put on shows in our garage. I used to beg them to let me join in but I was the baby so they wouldn’t! Primarily I loved to act, but always wrote books. My first play was performed when I was 12, it was a play I wrote for History about Sir Francis Drake and my teacher loved it and got me to put it on with my classmates in the parts. I studied Theatre Studies at A Level but gave up acting after that. Believe it or not, the last play I was in starred Idris Elba.

How much has your style and approach to you plays changed since your debut play?

Since writing plays as an adult, my style changes dramatically with each piece. I write for children and adults, serious drama and comedy, historic and contemporary, musicals and non-musicals. I also write novels of really different styles. There are some unifying features, however. I am obsessed with past eras, class and gender. My approach to plays is much more serious these days than it was when I started out (it literally began as a joke). These days I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and usually how to do it. I will still tackle anything I’m asked to do, and enjoy rising to challenges and going out of my comfort zone. I am also a therapist, so much of my work is informed by my acquired deep understanding of people. 

Do you have a favourite theatre quote?

'The show must go on’. Tacky, but true. When working on a show, the show - and delivering to a paying audience with expectations - becomes everything.

What has been the best advice you have been given?

‘Write with courage’ and ‘play’. Both of these are challenging, but necessary for writing well. 

Is there any advice you would offer a fellow playwright?

Just get something down. Anything. It can always be improved. Perfectionism is a huge barrier to writing, as is fear of rejection. My other advice would be ‘just send it off’. There’s no other way. Rejection is nothing, the fear of rejection is far worse. It stops you writing, it stops you getting your work out there. If someone is really having issues with writing or sending off, my advice is to write and send under a pseudonym. Pseudonyms free you up to do both. 

And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from these shows?

I hope they will laugh and be entertained, and maybe be made to see the world and themselves slightly differently. Then my job is done.

Bare E-ssentials 2020
"I used to think theatre was a self-regarding middle-class enclave for the pretentious.  There still is that element, but the new writing movement changed all that."
John Foster
Little Boy

Bare E-ssentials

Wed 13 May 8.00pm

Streaming live on Facebook, YouTube & Instagram

#BareEssentialsLDN @EncompassOnline

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Encompass Productions return from a two-year hiatus with a special online edition of Bare Essentials we're calling BARE E-SSENTIALS, London’s best-reviewed new writing night! 

Playwright John Foster is showcasing Little Boy directed by Liam Fleming. 

Hi John, thanks for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?

Staying indoors and pretending to write!  It’s a weird atmosphere, like being trapped in a scifi movie from which there is no escape.  I’m watching a lot of movies, feasting off KILLING EVE, and discovering new books.  But mostly sitting in my office writing away on this computer – which is what I do most of the time anyway, self-isolation is a way of life for writers!

Do you think this time will offer up some creative opportunities?

I do.  I think there will be a surge in online drama and online writing.  This has always existed but Encompass’s lead in presenting live plays could hopefully mean more of this in the future and opportunities for new writers and there will be more online writing of single drama.  The single drama rather than series is where writers cut their teeth and develop their individuality as writers.  The BBC used to put on plays, but now they just do series, often quite formulaic.  The online drama could also provide an alternative kind of drama from the mainstream.

What was the experience bringing Chummy to White Bear Theatre?

It was fantastic.  The White Bear is such a distinguished fringe theatre with a whole back history of theatrical excellence.  The production was wonderful – great performances, design and direction, and terrific music which made your skin itch.  Encompass really pulled out the stops and it was an ambitious production, a noir for theatre, quite a new concept – but I feel theatre is well suited to noir through design, lighting, sound and interior monologue.  Theatre is a psychological medium, an exploration of inner lives and also suited to the surreal element in noir.

"I’ve always found it disturbing that they should have called that bomb Little Boy when you think of the destruction and suffering it caused, the eighty thousand deaths."

Did you expect it to gain such a great reaction, what did it mean to you to get 4 Off West End Awards?

Well, no I didn’t expect anything.  You always hope people will like what you do, but you never know beforehand, there’s no way of telling.  I was delighted with the Offie nominations, that was great.  It was gratifying to be Offie nominated for ‘Best New Play’ and great that the work of other artists on the production was recognised.  There were some good reviews too.  Noir is not that common in theatre, so it was good that some of the critics recognised the noirish elements in the play.

Are you looking forward to be bringing Little Boy to Bare E-ssentials?

It’s very exciting and quite unexpected.  I can’t wait to see the final result.  I am very lucky to have such a very fine director and performer doing the play.  It is a very difficult highly charged piece based on a real person and real history.  It will be interesting to see how it all works on the small screen rather than theatre.  The production of these four plays could be a breakthrough in how we produce fringe drama.

How important are opportunities like Bare E-ssentials for playwrights?

Encompass is a wonderful company and has been missed very much these past two years.  Bare Essentials produced many writers new to theatre, like myself, although I had a film and tv background.  The company is amazingly inclusive and welcoming of new people which so many theatre companies are not.  There is an elitism and cliquishness in theatre which I find a real turn-off.  Encompass is free of that and genuinely likes finding new and exciting talent, and that is so refreshing.  Encompass is also interested in genre and cinema and and bringing these influences to bear on the kind of work it produces.  This again is a refreshing approach in that it allows experimentation of form rather than the narrow aesthetic constraints of ‘pure theatre.’

Do you ever get nervous ahead of premiering new works?

Terrified!  Usually it means a large consumption of wine and hiding in corners!

Can you tell me a little bit about Little Boy, what was the inspiration behind this show?

Little Boy was the name given to the first Atomic Bomb, the one they dropped on Hiroshima.  I’ve always found it disturbing that they should have called that bomb Little Boy when you think of the destruction and suffering it caused, the eighty thousand deaths.  It’s the story of one of the team of pilots who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and the psychological impact of the event had upon him, which was devastating.  It explores the idea that in modern warfare individuals are asked to perform momentous tasks which subsequently they are unable to bear psychologically.

As a playwright what are the biggest challenges you face when creating a new show?

There are many challenges.  First, does the idea stand up, will anyone be interested in this?  Does it work?  You never really know.  Writing the first draft is always difficult I find.  You are very much on your own, there is no-one to bounce off, you only have your intuition and instincts, and they can be unreliable.  That’s why people say writing is lonely.  Someone described writing as swimming underwater holding your breath.  Unfortunately I can’t swim!

Have you always had a passion for theatre?

Not at all.  I used to think theatre was a self-regarding middle-class enclave for the pretentious.  There still is that element, but the new writing movement changed all that.  I used to write for television, but that has now become so risk averse, theatre is the only medium which will explore the dark places.  When I started writing theatre I found it amazing, a sudden rush of creativity, it was inspirational.  But also theatre is very unforgiving and you can’t use all those tv tricks of cutting away or leaving a scene out.  There is no escape.  You have to deal with the material and deliver.

How did Doppelganger Productions come about?

It’s based in Bournemouth where I live, but we try to be regional and have done shows in London.  The idea was that we could put on plays without having to ask the permission of the gatekeepers.  We also run workshops and staged readings, and hope to do some short films.  Local theatre can be cliquey and rarefied as well, but we have tried to break away from that and to be inclusive.

Do you have a favourite theatre quote?

I have a favourite Hitchcock quote – ‘reverse the cliché!’  Very helpful.

What has been the best advice you have been given?

Write about whatever is painful or embarrassing, something you’re ashamed of, out of comfort zone – this often produces the best writing.

Is there any advice you would offer a fellow playwright?

Keep writing!  Never stop!  Work every day – if only for an hour.  Writing needs momentum, so keep going.  Ignore the rebuffs – as William Goldman said, ‘nobody knows anything!’  Don’t give up and work towards developing your unique individual voice.

And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from Little Boy?

I hope they will be shocked and moved by it.  I hope it reveals a side to a historical event which is little known and the largely unknown story of a man who had bought into the system and then took on that system when his perspectives dramatically changed.

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