Theatre Series 2020
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."
Radio Foreplay & Vintage
Wed 13 May 8.00pm
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.
Encompass Productions are back with their 2nd evening of shows under their new online BARE E-SSENTIALS, London’s best-reviewed new writing night!
Keith Gow is an Australia playwright who has adapted his play Like A House On Fire to Bare E-ssentials after receiving great acclaim when it was staged in London.
Hi Keith, thanks for talking to TNC, how have things been going, has this time offered you new creative opportunities?
This period of isolation hasn't really left me with the mental energy to do much new writing, though I have been thinking about new ways of presenting work in this new era of streaming media and streaming theatre.
You're no stranger to Bare Essentials having previously staged Like A House On Fire, what was your experience being part of this Bare Essentials?
As I'm based in Australia, my experience of the original staging was entirely through responses on Twitter and from Liam, the director. Sometimes I send my plays out to various parts of the world, knowing I won't get to see them, but happy that people somewhere are experiencing them. Getting good feedback from audience members after was enough for me.
Are you looking forward to bringing Like A House On Fire to Bare E-ssentials?
Yes, I'm excited the same actor who performed it live in front of an audience a few years ago will perform it again and the performance will stream live across the world. I finally get to see her take on the role, having seen two other actors tackle it in Australia and a third in New York.
How important are opportunities like Bare E-ssentials for playwrights?
Well, it says "essential" in the title not just because of the stripped back nature of the productions, but because this kind of thing is essential for playwrights - to get to see their words performed. An in-person performance is important so you can see how an audience feels about your work, but a live stream lets a writer see how their words sound and how an actor interprets what they have written down.
The opportunity to send short scripts to a company for free and then have them performed and now streamed globally means there is no barrier to entry. Any writer who can email a script to the company could have it performed. A lot of other companies charge a reading fee for submissions or only accept limited numbers for performance. Bare E-ssentials being a monthly program means more writers get the opportunity to see their work performed. It's invaluable.
"So I might very clearly have an idea of character and story, but figuring out how to reveal character and narrative is the real trick."
Has it been easy for you as a playwright to adapt to this new way showcasing your work?
Well, in this case, very easy as the play was written a number of years ago. I think it will be more of a challenge for Liam and a technical challenge behind the scenes. I am also a screenwriter, so in some ways if I start writing for streaming performance, I understand the limitations of screen and space. But I haven't written anything specifically for streaming yet, as I'm really hoping for live theatres to return!
Can you tell me a little bit about Like A House On Fire, what was the inspiration behind your show?
A lot of my work explores gender politics and I started with the idea of writing about a male pyromaniac and his attack on a brothel. And then very quickly, I decided to change the character to a woman and see what that said about gender and how we perceive acts of criminal destruction if the story is about a woman. And then it turned out to be more about sexuality, especially how it's expressed by an older woman - and how we perceive sexuality in older people.
As a playwright what are the biggest challenges you face when creating a show?
Finding new stories to tell and the right ways to tell them. I'm not interested in telling naturalistic stories in straightforward ways. A lot of my work is about people you might meet, but told through an unconventional structure. So I might very clearly have an idea of character and story, but figuring out how to reveal character and narrative is the real trick. None of my work ever really goes from A to B.
Where did your passion for theatre come from?
I was taken to see theatre as a child which started it but then when I was studying writing - a wide programme that covered theatre, screen, short stories, essays - I had a teacher who was a playwright who was really inspiring. Watching plays in small theatre spaces around Melbourne, more intimate than the big theatres where I saw musicals as a kid, made me want to be in the middle of it. I always liked writing, but theatre was so immediate and present. And part of it is because you can make it cheaply and do it quickly if you want.
How much has your style and the approach to your plays changed since you started out?
Radically. I used to approach it as a solo exercise to then be handed off to a producer or a director. Now a lot of my work is developed with a director or an actor or a producer so that other creatives are invested from the ground up. I occasionally still write short plays in isolation, but more and more I develop with other people in mind or in collaboration.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
I don't think I have a favourite quote about theatre, but my favourite quote from a play is "The world only spins forward" from Angels in America. The play is about the AIDS crisis in America in the 1980s and the line is about how things were changing once gay men and women were allowed to come out of the social closet. That things do improve, incrementally. Things move forward, even when they seem to be creeping backward. It's a really inspiring quote and can be applied to playwriting - even if something seems not to be working, you're always learning and getting better.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
Writing is rewriting. The first draft seems hard because there's a blank page and so much uncertainty but get that first draft out. Write down the idea that's in your head and get that first draft onto the page, even if it's in bad shape. Then fix it in draft two, three, four, and on and on. A first draft is never going to be perfect, so don't try to make it perfect. Get it out and then the real writing begins.
Is there any advice you would offer a fellow playwright?
Plays are only as long as they are meant to be. Write 10 minute plays, 30 minute plays, 90 minute plays. Angels in America is 5 1/2 hours. Don't drag things out. Let the story dictate its length. There are places that will do your 10 minute and 30 minute plays. Or do them yourself. Or put them online. Don't feel like you have to write a two hour show. A ten minute play can be powerful and potent, too.
And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from Like A House On Fire?
People have a lot of layers and people don't like to be judged on the one aspect of them you know or can see. Listen to them. Hear them. You might wind up not liking them anyway but at least you know more about them.