Parallel is my ‘troublesome second album’. After the rather unexpected success of Hidden, I have to admit writing something else filled me with a fair bit of trepidation. Fear of failure, imposter syndrome and a distinct lack of ideas threatened to relegate me to a theatrical Chesney Hawkes. Not that I think Hidden is on a par with the sheer 80s brilliance of The One and Only, but you get the point.
This is where R&D was so very useful. I had the seed of an idea. Or rather several seeds that had been sat in the packet for a while, that I’d kept meaning to plant. Planning a period of R&D meant that I could explore the ideas through research, drafting, workshops and rehearsed readings without the pressure to deliver. It also allowed me to develop my process as a writer and build relationships with partners and theatres.
Rather than blathering on about my own personal artistic discoveries during the process, I figured it would be most useful to give some advice if you’re considering doing something similar yourself.
Plan your funding bid carefully, give yourself plenty of time to provide a clear outline of your desired outcomes and make sure you get partners on board. Building these partnerships doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time to establish a relationship and to get them to believe in your idea as much as you do. Do some research, arrange meetings, ask for advice. This is ground work that should be done before you put your funding bid in.
Research is sometimes fruitless. You will probably end up discarding 99% of it, but you need to do that 99% to find the golden 1% that gets your creative juices flowing. Don’t worry too much about forcing the research into the piece – it’s not an exercise in proving how much you know. Trust that it can’t help but infuse, infiltrate and influence what you write.
Set up informal chats with people who have experience, knowledge and interest in the subject matter. You’ll probably find you get a lot more of an honest and frank response if it isn’t set up as a formal interview.
Every first draft is awful. Truly awful. It’s all part of the process. Try not to censor yourself. Get it out of your head and onto paper. Thenyou can refine it.
No matter how you decide to structure your process – whether it is simply a process of private research, drafting and re-drafting, or if it is a more expansive process, like mine, including workshops and sharings – I think you need a good critical friend. Someone you can bounce ideas off, who’ll give you honest feedback, who knows you need to be nurtured, but who also holds you to excellence. I was blessed to have three hugely supportive critical friends throughout my R&D process - Peter Carruthers (script editor), Adam Quayle (dramaturg) and Stephanie Upsall (now Assistant Director).
With a more exposed development process such as mine – one that actively sought feedback from partners, audiences and peers at each stage – the feedback can be quite overwhelming. Remember that all feedback is given to help the development of the piece, but it is subjective and not all of it will be useful. Make a note of it all. Don’t dismiss anything out of hand. Know that some things you will have to discard, some things may have to sit for a while before you are able to process/address them and some things will surprise you by unlocking something for you. The interesting thing is you don’t know which pieces of feedback are which until you give time to absorb and reflect on them. Be gracious with the feedback given, people are investing their time in helping you.
7.Taking a break:
There will come a point where you know it still needs work, but you just don’t know what. You’ll feel you’re going round in circles, tied in knots and feeling lost. At this point, put it in a drawer and immerse yourself in something else creatively consuming. Have a break from it. Like a couple of months kind of break. Come back to it with fresh eyes, you’ll be amazed how much clearer you will see it.
The next few blogs will be from other members of the Parallel creative team. First up is James Baker, the Director. I worked with him previously on All Because of Molly and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and have always loved and admired his honesty, heart and commitment to delivering quality to audiences. With this in mind I was keen to see if he’d be interested in directing Parallel. He attended the final reading at the end of the R&D process. After which he agreed to direct the piece, but not without some strong suggestions for improvements. James is an example of a fantastic critical friend. He was honest, nurturing and held me to excellence. He’s a very rare find.
Working in partnership with West Yorkshire Theatre Network we'll be sharing the creative process of our next production, Parallel from start to finish.