12 hours down, 12 to go.
We have bits and pieces, but nothing approaching a play – yet. It’s time to knuckle down and start making decisions. After a morning of pooling resources and recapping on ideas, everything is still a bit fractured and disparate – the early half of the afternoon is taken up with trying to find a way to make all of the different elements gel together and put them into some sort of order. It’s not easy. There is a lot of going round and round in circles. It’s hard to say whether the song structure is a help or a hindrance.
By mid-afternoon, we seem to have hit a wall – that horrible point where we might have to consider jettisoning stuff that people have worked on for hours – not because any of it is bad, but because it bears little relation to anything else. The difficulty with collaborative work (particularly when all the components are dreamt up independently of each other) is that it often pulls in too many different directions and cohesion is all but a distant memory. It feels awkward and futile – we are primed for all of this to fall flat on its face and for arguments to break out.
But they don’t.
I love The Apprentice – I love watching that car-crash-TV moment where in a brainstorming session someone isn’t listened to (or is overruled), so they spend the rest of the task being uncooperative and sniping at their manager, until their project ultimately fails and they’re being pointed at by Lord Sugar and fired from the process. But that is pseudo-business-turned-entertainment, and this is theatre. I like these people and I desperately want something good to come out of this experiment.
Instead, everyone pours out everything they are thinking. Everyone from the actors to the stage manager to the producer are encouraged to speak up – even I am asked for my opinion. We all have a stake in making this succeed. Themes, sequences, ideas, juxtapositions – everything is discussed, nothing is ruled out. There are no stupid ideas, no silly questions – by drilling down into what we have and what links it all together, we finally have a breakthrough. It is a joy to watch the complete opposite of what happens on The Apprentice. We move forward as one, and suddenly the momentum picks up. Working to lots of little deadlines – 20 minutes for this and 30 minutes for that – helps to maximise use of the time rather than letting people drift along aimlessly.
Cue feverish activity: They run scenes, they walk things through, they play around with everything. Ash is plugged into his headphones, absorbed in his own little world of composing music on an electric piano and a guitar. Monologues get fleshed out further, they build a den with chairs, blankets and pegs, they find inventive ways to use props. Suddenly everything slots together and more ideas are had on how to improve certain aspects. No one is afraid to take an honest, critical eye and ask questions. They trim and refine – everything is valuable, but nothing is sacred. After this much work, they’re focused on the bigger picture and there isn’t room for anyone to be precious.
As we head into the evening, the room is feeling very industrious. People write and type furiously, a great hush descends, tempered only by the soothing sounds of Laura Marling on Spotify, with the occasional outbreak of softly-spoken chatter. I finally get around to writing most of this down at about 7 o’clock (I’ve been too busy watching and listening until now). After a bit of re-jigging, scenes are run in order – we have about 20-25 minutes of material. It’s a start. It can still be fleshed out further, but it’s a start. Some of it still needs a bit of honing, but it’s heading in the right direction.
As we draw close to 10pm, we have not only something to put in front of an audience, but something actually worth watching. It’s poignant, it’s funny, it’s human, it’s truthful. It’s been made from scratch in 24 hours. We are even more tired than yesterday, but all set for tomorrow. I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone involved in Fringe 24 for inviting me to come along – the whole process has been a real eye-opener and I’ve learnt a lot about making theatre, and above all, how important it is to play and never stop playing.
(I should have posted this yesterday morning, but I was shattered and stayed in bed until 12:30. At that time, they we getting into the theatre to have a final runthrough and do a matinee. They are amazing).