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1.             What was your inspiration for creating F*cked.com – A Tale of Bubbles and Crashes?

This was observing some bubbles - the staggering delusions that have grabbed hold of the minds of many millions of people three times since the year 2,000, in the markets themselves, but in the other spheres of life that were swept up too (namely the dot.com mania in 2000, the sub-prime frenzy of 2007, and the current bout of speculation) and then noticing that the phenomenon has never been portrayed on stage, or in fiction.

As I mused on the subject, it occurred to me that the all the writers who covered the events in these periods identified corruption as the driver of the process. But while Enron, The Big Short, Wall Street etc are fantastic dramas which I couldn’t hope to emulate, it seemed to me they had missed the point when it came to financial market speculation, and that the truth was much more unexpected and probably more interesting than plain old corruption, and would revolve around the questions: how can we all, not just financial types, periodically abandon our reason? How can we think we are being rational and objective when we’re not, when it’s our environment and our emotions that are dictating our thought? How come brilliant people are no better at figuring out what’s going on, that intelligence doesn’t help? I think these questions are not just relevant to trying to understand markets, but ourselves.

In a way, the best dramatic portrayal of financial bubbles and crashes is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, because it gives a genuine insight into how a group frenzy can occur. Miller was brilliant at seeing how demented and destructive people can be when they think they are being rational.

2.         Where do you do your writing?

I only ever write between 9.30am and 3pm, when my concentration, never great, rapidly wanes, but the location can vary. I once heard of a writer who wrote going round and round the Circle Line in the London Underground, and always rather liked that idea. Infinity would give you enough time for adequate revision.

2.             Do you have a favourite line or moment in the play?

Yes. I have a friend who recently had a manic episode. One evening he turned up, sat down in my sitting room, and began holding animated discussions with himself. He then suddenly ran out, saying he was going to commit suicide. I chased after him, and called the emergency services, but we couldn’t track him down. Later in the evening he wandered in again, and picked up his conversation with himself. Then the police came, and one of them took me aside and told me that when I’d lost track of him after he turned into the High Street, he’d slipped off down into the tube station on the corner, and thrown himself onto the tracks. A train had actually gone over him but not touched him. He’d then climbed out between the carriages, and come back to my sitting room, to sit back in front of the TV.  Eventually an ambulance came and they bound him and took him off to a secure psychiatric ward. When I visited him in his bolted room with sealed windows a day or so later, he was doped, but still disturbed. At one point he leaned forward and said to me, confidentially, “Some of the people here worry me.” I thought, in the circumstances, this was a great line, and included it in the play when one of the characters is in a psychiatric institution.

         If you had to give F*cked.com a theme tune what would it be?

I’d like to write the lyrics for a new song if I could find a composer. I toyed with somewhere including Tom Lehrer’s ‘Selling out’.

5.         What are you most looking forward to about having your play staged at the Traverse?

Seeing which bits work and which bits need work, courtesy of a sophisticated audience.

6.         Do you have a favourite Edinburgh haunt?

My daughter Hannah lives in Edinburgh, and my favourite place would be wherever she is.

Otherwise, the marvellous art gallery. Edinburgh is obviously a majestic city with countless wonderful haunts – that said, I’m half Glaswegian, so that city has to have a place in my affections, too.

7.         What’s been your most memorable theatre experience?

Maybe watching a children’s show when my son Joseph was still inside the tummy, and noticing him kick in time to the music; now that he’s been out for a few years he is interestingly still hyper-sensitive to sound, so perhaps personalities really do develop in the womb.  I remember seeing another show when a tide of emotion, which you could almost see, suddenly rippled over the audience, and you knew that from that point that the audience were on board and had bought into the show. I always love seeing Shakespeare because you know that no matter what the quality of the production you can be thrilled by the language, so a Shakespeare production is a risk-free proposition. Ranjit Bolt’s Tartuffe at London’s National Theatre was a specific high point.    

8.         What’s been the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve been given?

I love advice, and I’d cite three pieces of it. I read that the playwright Duncan McMillan said: don’t write what you think people like or ought to like, or what you think theatres want, write what you yourself would like to see. I think that’s a good principle for everybody trying to write for the stage. In my case, it’s encouraged me to put in lots of plot/story, and as much action and spectacle as possible. David Hirson the playwright once told me: be extreme! Moliere was extreme. Thirdly, Timberlake Wertenbaker said: people write plays with the characters sitting around in a room all the time, and that’s dull – people’s imaginations are rich, and you can set scenes anywhere you like, and change scenes too, and that will make it more interesting.        

9.         If you could put together your dream cast to perform in any play, who would they be and which play would you choose?

In finance there’s a thing called ‘The efficient markets theory’ which basically means that the price of a share makes sense – it accurately reflects all that we know about it and its environment. Actors live in an inefficient market. That is, there are lots of absolutely top class actors who are not that famous but who are better performers than some with Oscars and Knighthoods/Damehoods. I think this is particularly true of Scotland, where there is a wealth and depth of amazing acting talent. So the dream cast would include brilliant professionals who are not necessarily the biggest names. But, who specifically, I’d prefer not to say here and now.  

10.        Finally, describe F*cked.com in three words.

A different take.

DC. 12.9.16.


 
 
Actress Steph Parry boasts a rich and varied CV which includes the musicals Thoroughly Modern MillieBilly ElliotAnnie and Mamma Mia!.

And yet Steph is not resting on her laurels. As well as understudying the role of Madame Morrible in the West End production of Wicked, Steph is currently hard at work putting together a one woman show. Entitled Rewrites and Delights, it will play for one night on the Battersea Barge and promises to be ‘filled with comedy, music and fun’.

Steph was recently kind enough to share a little more about the show and the life of a West End understudy.

Your cabaret is entitles Rewrites and Delights. What made you choose the title?

I'm a big fan of taking a song and rewriting the lyrics so it becomes relevant to my life.  I wish I could write a song from scratch. Maybe that is a future goal for me but for now it’s all about using the comedy of the rhythms that people expect with different words.  The ‘delights’ element will be songs that people know and love or just downright good songs. As my musical director Chris Hatt so rightly said, "no one wants to laugh solidly for over an hour”, so I'm hoping to take the audience through a whole host of emotions.

You are a highly respected comedic performer. Who are your comedy heroes?

Oh, thank you! There are so many. I worked in a stand up comedy club for a few years and was absolutely fascinated watching comedians at work every week.  I thought I can do that, and next thing I know I'm doing stand up comedy myself.  I've moved away from that now but the skills I learnt have really helped with cabaret.  I remember when I couldn't even speak on a mic, just a quick thank you after I'd finished a song. I love Kristen Wiig. I think she's incredible. I sit for hours watching Saturday Night Live.  Her and Melissa McCarthy are brilliant. Bette Midler is a dream. She's someone I look up to hugely. And of course, Victoria Wood, who we are hoping to do a little tribute to on the night.  

‘Rewrites and Delights’ is a one woman show. Having performed in some of the West End’s biggest musical casts, do you miss the energy and companionship of other actors around you or is there an element of liberation being the only person on stage?

A bit of both I guess.  I love being a part of a company, connecting with my fellow performers and bouncing off each other's energy.  However when you're alone on stage the only people you can connect to are the audience.  That ‘imaginary wall’ is taken away and it's just you and them having a conversation.  You may say a very one sided conversation, but you'll be surprised at how much you can feel from an audience. It's totally about a connection.  If you're not enjoying yourself up there then they will get that and switch off. 

You are currently understudying the role of Madame Morrible in ‘Wicked’ and have previously understudied Mrs. Wilkinson in ‘Billy Elliot’. What are the joys and challenges of being an understudy?

The joy of being an understudy is the amazing opportunity I've had to play certain roles that I'm probably still too young for.  I've played some fantastic women. Mrs. Wilkinson was probably my favourite. That part is just a dream.  I got to do it on a night when one of the young boys playing Billy was leaving. It was so special. The energy in the theatre that night was electric (excuse the pun!). In Mamma Mia!, I understudied all three of the dynamos so that was pretty cool. I can say that I played them all too - even if I only got to do Rosie just the once. 
The challenges of an understudy are mostly fun challenges: Being thrown on during a show, having to be prepared at a moments notice, or not having done it for seven months. Suddenly you're wigged, costumed and ready to go.  

Working on ‘Wicked’ and ‘Rewrites and Delights’ must keep you very busy. What do you like to do when you’re not on stage?

Oh gosh, lots of things! I train pretty consistently in the gym - it's my second home. Spending time with my husband, seeing friends, eating, writing… I'm pretty busy! 

What does the future hold for you?

Wow! I have no idea. I'm choosing to not get scared by that thought. I have four and a half weeks left at Wicked, then I go on holiday and then who knows?! But the great thing about this business is that things can change in an instant. I'd love to do more film and TV work so hopefully that's where I'll be in the near future.  All I can say right now is that I'm excited about the possibilities.  

Rewrites and Delights plays the Battersea Barge on Sunday 21st August at 6.30pm. Tickets can be booked here: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/364664
 
 
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Frustrated passion can feel demotivating. Photograph by Steve Beeston (www.stevebeeston.co.uk)
Actors and the Science of Passion by Phil Willmott

When someone tells you they have a passion for acting, how do they seem to you? Perhaps a warm smile spreads across their face as they describe their feelings for the craft; or perhaps a steelier, more determined look appears in their eyes. The response you get may well be influenced by their levels of what psychologists call ‘harmonious’ and ‘obsessive’ passion.

Harmonious passion is experienced by an actor as a pure enjoyment of something she’s good at. When the acting is finished, she goes about the rest of her life quite happily, looking forward to the next time she can act, but her passion is in balance – harmony – with the other things in her life that are important to her.

Obsessive passion, by contrast, develops when other important psychological needs are tied up with the activity: the young actor who realises that acting is a way to get her parents’ approval, or a feeling of belonging, enjoys her craft every bit as much as the ‘harmonious’ actor, but when the acting is finished, all that sense of approval and respect disappears too, leaving her with anxiety and low self-esteem, and a desperate desire to get back to acting as soon as possible. A degree of obsessive passion may be useful for professional actors in providing a drive to get out there and find more work, but – perhaps not surprisingly – it is also linked with anxiety and burn out.

A study at the University of East London is currently looking at how different levels of these two types of passion impact on psychological well-being and career satisfaction in professional actors, and how harmonious and obsessive passion arise. Lead researcher, Andrew Sharp, told me, “Passion is clearly very important for actors – no one becomes an actor because it’s the sensible option! – and I’m interested in the role it plays in well-being. We know that harmonious passion is associated with higher levels of happiness and well-being, and what we’d call ‘flow’ – that satisfying sense of complete absorption in your work that makes you forget about time passing, or needing to eat or drink.”

“Obsessive passion, too, appears to be important in most professional actors’ lives, although we don’t yet quite understand how – which is another thing we’re hoping this research will shed some light on. Not enough of it, and the actor may simply give up and do something else when times are tough; too much of it, and the resulting anxiety may damage both their mental health, and their chances of finding or getting work. Obsessive passion may well be at the root of that toxic feeling of desperation that many actors experience in audition rooms after a period of unemployment.”

Because of the scarcity work, and the multitude of agents and casting directors, who sometimes appear to act as gatekeepers to what little work there is, actors can often feel rather powerless. This perceived loss of autonomy can be deeply corrosive to actors’ well-being, and many can come too feel like they’re no longer in control of their careers. By better understanding how passion works, the researchers hope that more actors will be able to take back control both of their careers, and of their psychological well-being. “One of the things we’re seeing from initial results is that activities that keep your skills honed, and put you back in control – like having your own creative projects, or collaborating with other creative people – is strongly correlated with harmonious passion, as well as positive psychological traits such as hope, a sense of meaning & purpose in life, and career satisfaction. Agents hate their clients having their own projects, of course, because they can stop people from being available for paid work, but there may well be a scientific case for finding a balance between availability, and pursuing less profitable ventures that nourish one’s passion, and one’s sense of autonomy.”

If you’re a professional actor, and you’d like to participate in this research by taking an online survey, you can find more details here: 

www.thewolfyoufeed.co.uk/research/

 
 
Interview: Denholm Spurr from The Chemsex Monologues

As sell-out success The Chemsex Monologues  returns to the King’s Head Theatre from August 15-20, we speak to one of the cast, Denholm Spurr, about the play, and his own experiences being a young gay man in chemsex-era London.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm an actor, director and producer based in London. I also go to the gym a bit... Ummm, I've two degrees, is that interesting? I can cook too. Basically boyfriend material.

What drew you to the role of Nameless in the Chemsex Monologues?

Patrick Cash (the writer). But if you want other reasons I guess I'd seen several other plays on and about Chemsex but none of them had been brave enough to take the audience to the heart of the world and answer the question: what drives gay men to spend sleepless weekends on cloud nine having their brains – and hearts – fucked out of them? 'Scuse my French. Patrick's play gives an answer to this question.

As a young gay man living in London, do you feel the play is relevant to what’s going on in the city today?

Absolutely. I have no shame in saying I was sucked head first (in many ways literally) into the Chemsex scene when I arrived in London. I had been really depressed after coming out and when the first man I went home with shoved mephedrone up my nose I was like: “Wow, I feel incredible”. It was the magic answer to all of my problems: suddenly the world loved me being gay, loved my sexual desires. But what was originally a solace quickly became a prison: the real world isn't like this and the draw to return to 'forgetting' every weekend was overwhelming, despite the two day hangover... I mean, three days... Sorry, four.... Wait, what does it feel like to be happy and sober again?

Do you have any opinions on why such a large cross-section of gay men appear to get involved in the chemsex scene?

There's a lot of pressure on gay men to be highly sexual, and to be desired physically. Add this to feelings of self-loathing from growing up in a heteronormative world, and living in a community still dealing with the fallout of the AIDS crisis, and you've got a perfect boiling pot to make any person go off the rails when things get a bit tough. I’m not saying sex and drugs have to be used badly - I have plenty of friends who are able to use them for 'enhancement' rather than 'escapism' - the problem is there's plenty who aren't and from thereon in it's a slippery slope.

We hear the play is funny as well as serious: how does it find humour in what are often dark issues?

Because it has to find humour, right?! What makes Mercutio so tragic in Romeo & Juliet? Because he's so entertaining and funny and he does this to hide his flaws, making him all the more human. There are also some pretty ridiculous things that happen at chillouts.

Why do you think the play should be seen by a straight/mixed audience as well as a gay male audience?

It's directed by a straight man for a start – Luke Davies' ability to tap into the motivation of these characters shows that the trials faced by gay men in modern society are not just relatable to the LGBT minority. What Patrick has done so brilliantly is explore every facet of the phenomenon, from he who dabbles occasionally in Chemsex but stays in control, to the sexual health worker who attends his first chillout – there's even a straight female monologue! Why would a woman want to go to one of these parties?! It's got it all.

And finally, what would you ideally like a spectator to leave the play feeling?

That having chemsex and taking drugs doesn't make you a somehow lesser, disgusting or evil person. Hopefully they’ll leave feeling like they understand why people might be driven to take such risks with their own safety and how they might be able to support people around them with acceptance.

The Chemsex Monologues is at the King’s Head Theatre (115 Upper Street, N1 1QN) from 15-20th August at 9.45pm. £18 (£15 concs), £10 previews on Monday 15th. Booking: www.kingsheadtheatre.com

The Chemsex Monologues is being published by Oberon Books for this run. To pre-order a copy, follow this link: http://oberonbooks.com/chemsex-monologues

Denholm will also be appearing in Simon Blow’s ‘The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor’ from 2nd-27th August at the Old Red Lion Theatre (418 St John Street, EC1V 4NJ): www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/the-past-is-a-tattooed-sailor.html

 
 
Over the past few months, we've all been shocked by a series of humanitarian, political and ethical horror stories illuminating the mindset of those whose thinking is opposite to most of our liberal artistic community.


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HERSTORY : FEMINIST THEATRE FESTIVAL at Theatre N16 6&7 of August

By Nastazja Domaradzka

I recently became a literary manager at the fringe venue Theatre N16 in Balham. Since taking the position in April, and reading plenty of new writing, I have been thinking a lot about the female voice in theatre and how often it gets lost amongst many other things. I began to crave a platform for women's stories, a way in which playwrights and artists be it male or female could come together to talk about modern feminism.  This is how HERSTORY was born.

“I am a feminist”, in the liberal world of theatre in which I tend to spent most of my time; is a statement that won't really shock or cause a negative reaction from anyone. Of course bad apples tend to pop here and there with their chauvinistic attitude, but in general artists are happy to admit that women are people too. But does that mean that gender equality has been achieved in the arts industry? No. As I write this article there is a Facebook post going viral from a young female director who was rejected for a position at Kenneth Branagh New Writing Awards at the Windsor Fringe Festival. The post includes a screen-shot of the rejection email in which it states “the committee and play's writer have agreed that a male director would be better for this play”. Pretty shocking. So, yes, still a long way to go.

However there is also a different agenda behind HERSTORY. I want to curate a festival which will be a chance for up and coming playwrights and artists to tackle important issues surrounding feminism. We live in times when one of the main contestants for the position of PM, is a woman who openly admits she is not a feminist for she is not anti-men. Are we regressing? But forget this country for a second and look to the east, where women in Poland are under threat as the right wing government gets ready to alter abortion law, making the termination of pregnancy illegal under all circumstances. Yes, that includes rape too. Look further east and see women being stoned to death. You might think that serious gender equality problems don't really concern the “modern western world”. Have a look at Ireland, where every day around 12 women travel to the UK to undergo an abortion. And then of course there is the Sanford case in the US, where in the aftermath the newspapers decided that it was their duty not to highlight what happened, but instead publish Brock’s swimming times.

Gloria Steinem, one of the most influential women on this planet, began her fight for women’s rights over 50 years ago. A lot has changed since then, but not enough. I believe that it is our duty to keep this fight going, speaking out for the vulnerable and ill-treated. Making theatre is all about telling stories, provoking thoughts and inspiring revolutions, no matter on what big a scale. And it is time to make HERSTORY, not history.

HERSTORY A FEMINIST THEATRE FESTIVAL IS ON AT THEATRE N16 6&7 OF AUGUST