In my never ending quest to seek out opportunities for writers, I stumbled upon an ad in one of Marcus Bale’s really useful email bulletins earlier this year, calling for ideas to be submitted to a new theatre initiative. If your idea was chosen, you would benefit from free workshop space and a budget of €750 to develop the idea. Not being one to miss an opportunity, I submitted five of my finest ideas and was pleased when I received an email a few months later confirming that all five had been chosen. As well as this, I had been paired up with a well known director. Good times.
However, I had never workshopped anything before and although excited to try it out, I had an inkling that it wouldn’t prove the most beneficial way of teasing out an idea for me. Like many, I became a writer because I found life difficult and more importantly, because I found people difficult. In my head, the word ‘workshop’ in the artistic sense conjured up scenes in which long legging-clad limbs frolicked around a studio improvising the internal turmoil of turnips and lemurs, while a self-important moustachioed director barked officious sounding orders through a megaphone. Unfortunately, this was but a dream and in reality there were no leggings or megaphone – all’s the pity.
Having been lucky enough to recruit three professional actors who were interested enough in the idea to partake in the workshops for a pittance and having decided to concentrate on one idea rather than five, I awoke on the morning of the first workshop in terror. I was about to enter unknown territory without so much as a mini-monologue written. The director had asked me to show up with a few ideas that could be improvised but the idea of entering those workshops without a script was too much for me. What in God’s name would I hide behind when I realised how pitiful my idea was?! In a panic, I conjured up two scenes in the space of an hour and legged it over to the theatre, where the real panic began when I found myself having to answer in-depth questions about the back-story of four characters I had created an hour before. As the director sat there critiquing the finer points of the fledgling script, I must have lost about three pounds alone from shaking and by the time the first workshop was over, I had promised myself that I would never ever ever ever ever workshop anything again…ever!
And then the time came for the second workshop and this time, following the advice of the actors, I turned up without a shield…I mean, script so that the actors could improvise instead, and that would have been fine except for the fact that instead of letting the actors do their thang, the director, nursing a manic hangover, seemed keen instead on letting us all in on the world according to him. When his performance ended and theirs began, he instantly switched off, but not before sniggering at an actor’s improvised line. He then managed to upstage the actors by providing the most theatrical performance of the day when flushed-face he stormed out of the theatre half-way through the workshop, muttering something angrily under his breath about money. Embarrassed, I uttered swift apologies to the ashen-faced actors and called it a day. I couldn’t believe that a professional director had behaved in this manner and although I was advised to keep him on board because he was, as I mentioned earlier, very well-known and was at the helm of a hefty annual arts council grant so large that it made other theatre company directors publicly froth at the mouth, I didn’t see the point in continuing to work with someone who made the process so uncomfortable, and so another director was hired and the workshops continued.
Over the space of a month, the three actors, the new director and myself met regularly and we managed to develop five scenes that really worked. And when it came time for us to put on an open rehearsal for a scant audience (there were two audience members at the second show, one of whom had given birth to one of the actors), I felt that we had achieved something. However, I’m still not sure if that something was substantial enough to warrant all those hours spent workshopping a play that has yet to be completed; hours that might have been better spent alone in a dark room writing about moustachioed directors with megaphones and long legging-clad limbs invoking the internal turmoil of turnips and lemurs.
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