Ravi Thornton’s Diary

25 November 2013
A Wonderful Week
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Last week was a wonderful week. So wonderful I didn’t even have chance to blog about how wonderful it was.

Why? Because there’s something utterly joyous about honest hard work giving way to MASSIVE FUN! And that’s just what last week was. It was the culmination of my Barry Reckord Bursary. And the Daughter’s 18th. On the very same day! Which, over the course of a week, meant several days of very intense planning and preparation, followed by one day of it all being worth it :)

So it began with my heading down to London on Monday to meet director Ola Ince. Ola would be directing the staged reading of TREADING AIR and, though we’d exchanged a few emails to identify the extract we would share with the audience on the day, this was our first meeting in person. We met in the BFI on Southbank, talked over a couple of hours and got to know more about each other’s working methods. This was an invaluable meeting, as knowing these things makes all the difference to communication, specifically how you communicate to someone to ensure that you both end up on the same page.

I gained a much clearer understanding of Ola’s script requirements for the reading, and Ola learned that all she had to do was ask for any edits, and I’d make sure she had them before the day was out. It meant we could speak frankly with one another and cover a lot of ground very quickly; so by the time rehearsals came around on the Wednesday we were pretty well prepared.

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The rehearsals themselves were just awesome. I was blown away by how Ola ran the day: getting the most out of actors Jan Goodman, Jamie Harding and Shane Zaza, as well as myself; combining mental focus, physical focus, leadership, an open forum for ideas exchange, with plenty of laughter and dynamism.

Read-throughs were broken up by game playing.

(One that went something like this:

Aa-a tat tat, aa-a tat tat,

Gilly gilly gilly gilly, a tat tat.

Oh aay oh, oh aay oh,

Gilly gilly gilly gilly, a tat tat….

And another called Zip Zap Zoom, which was much harder than it looked, and is definitely one for Christmas Day!).

Question were asked to provoke a deeper understanding of the script. And mood-map exercises used a clever combination of thinking and doing to further cement the actors’ empathy with the characters. It was extraordinary to witness. Real skill in action. I felt very privileged to be a part of the process; and it meant that the following morning, when we arrived at Bush Theatre for the reading itself, we were ready and raring to go.

After a quick hour of set up and final positional checks, we let the audience in and proceedings began. First up was The London Hub’s Pauline Walker, who spoke of what it was that had brought everybody in the room there together: the culmination of the inaugural Barry Reckord Bursary; the bursary that had allowed me to write the first two drafts of TREADING AIR with the support of Bush Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company, over the several months since being awarded the prize at the start of 2013. May there be many more such bursaries for the many more emerging playwrights.

Next I gave a speech about the playwriting journey I’ve been on as I’ve been working on TREADING AIR: the difficulties I’ve encountered, the compulsion to overcome them, and the satisfying moment when things finally started to come together in Draft 2. Ola then introduced the reading, setting the scene and providing context for the extract. And the actors took the floor….

I don’t think I breathed for the full half an hour. I was so gripped by the performance, so nervous as to how the audience would respond, so excited to be there, so terrified at the overall outcome of the reading: would Bush and Talawa decide to take the play further, or wouldn’t they?
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I still don’t know the answer to that question, and won’t know for a few more weeks. But whatever happens, I really don’t think the staged reading of TREADING AIR could have gone any better than it did. Shane, Jan and Jamie were mesmerising. They made us laugh, they caused us shock…. They told the story. And the cheers that rose as they took their bow…. Wow! The best sound ever.

After the applause had died down, Talawa’s Michael Buffong and Bush’s Madani Younis both stepped up to share their perspectives on the bursary and its outcomes. It was inspiring to listen, and to hear the passion in their voices as they talked about the need to give emerging artists the chance and space to develop their work, the celebration due to women playwrights and directors (especially when they make such powerful teams!), and the legacy of Barry Reckord himself.

We ended the event with Ola and I taking a Q&A session chaired by Madani. More explanation of the script, more exploration of how Ola and I had worked together, lots of mutual admiration, and lots more laughter. The whole morning was wonderful.
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And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the Daughter, came up to give me a big hug and tell me I’d made her proud. Nori was there with me (as opposed to being at college where she should have been) because it was her 18th birthday, and we wanted to spend it together. We left the Bush on a real high, spent the rest of the day gadding about town with friends and family, and finished up the night at a burlesque cabaret! But of course!

It was definitely one of those ‘How do you juggle career with family life?’ weeks. Trying to stay one hundred percent focused on TREADING AIR whilst being one hundred percent committed to Nori having a brilliant time on this particularly special of her birthdays. But somehow, as tends to happen with good things, it all worked out :)

16 November 2013
The Rehearsed Reading is cast
It’s been lovely this week to concentrate on a children’s story, and create the beginnings of a whole new world. But, of course, other things have been happening too. Exciting things! Things to do with cross-media comics project HOAX. Also two new cross-media comics projects peeping over the horizon. And things to do with my
new play TREADING AIR as well.

TREADING AIR is The Barry Reckord Bursary play that I’ve been writing this past year, with support from The London Hub, Bush Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company.

It’s having its first rehearsed reading in a few days (November 21st) at the Bush Theatre RADAR Festival. And I’m ridiculously excited about this! Not least because of the wonderfully talented people that will be bringing it to life.

Director Ola Ince (who is directing the reading and who I just
like more and more!) is the first of those. I sent Ola some descriptions of the play’s characters, consisting of a couple of lines of writing, and a few blurry pictures of complete strangers that I’d found online. I’ll quite often find some sort of visual reference for a character when I’m writing about them, whether that be a person or a polar bear. If I can find an image of them that has something about it – it could be their expression, or the way they’re holding their body – that captures something of how I feel their nature is in my head, then I find it very useful. It helps me to look at the image when trying to write down that character’s nature and evolve it.

So I sent Ola the descriptions of our characters Addie, Shaq and Bill, and the next thing I know the reading has been cast with three incredible actors who absolutely fit the bill. Amazing! They are Jan Goodman, Shane Zaza and Jamie Harding. Actual real live actors
who’ve been in proper shows and films and things! I think I’m
a little starstruck :)

I already know that magical feeling that comes when talented artists realise your vision. There’s nothing else quite like it. So I’m literally on the edge of my seat wondering what will come out of this TREADING AIR reading. Fingers crossed it’s something really good!

7 November 2013
Incey wincy RADAR!
Radar2013So I was flying along with TREADING AIR Draft 2, up against a tight deadline (even by my standards, and I can work pretty quickly when I have to) when I had to head off to Cardiff for a hack week. Not that I minded. It was a brilliant week and I was very privileged to be selected for it. But it was an entirely different head space to where I’d been with my play. And I mean, entirely!

I arrived home with just a few days left to finish the draft, and got straight back to it. It took me a day to reconnect with my characters, but since then things seem to have been progressing fairly smoothly. Of course, the motivation helps. And by motivation I mean…

RADAR!

RADAR 2013: Signals from the new writing world is Bush Theatre’s new writing festival: ‘exploring the questions that face theatre alongside innovation and change in the arts, culture and society; and shining a spotlight on the hottest new writing talent of today’.

The festival, which started yesterday and runs until November 21st, hosts a number of performances, events and sneak peeks, and this year is also hosting me! Yes! There’s going to be a staged reading of TREADING AIR at Bush Theatre, Thursday November 21st, 10.30 am. And I’m absolutely thrilled! What’s more, the reading is being directed by the awesome and fast-rising Ola Ince, which only thrills me all the more :)

I won’t meet Ola in person till the week of the reading, but we’ve been chatting and I get a great feeling about her. We’ll spend Wednesday 20th rehearsing, which will provide useful insights for me, into Ola and her working ways and also how my script holds up – a great way to identify the weaknesses that will need addressing in Draft 3.

RADAR is yet another incredible stage in this remarkable journey that Mr Barry Reckord has set me upon. You’re welcome to be a part of that journey too. So if you’ll be around Shepherd’s Bush on the morning of the 21st, just let me know!

Find out more about RADAR and Ola here:
http://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/production/radar_2013/
http://www.olaince.com/


1 October 2013
THE SHAPE
Picture011013Sometimes writing comes easily to me, other times the process proves very difficult. I guess there are varying factors that contribute: how much sleep I’ve had, whether the sun is shining, my emotional state of mind (sad, happy, worried about something…).

But one factor I know plays a great part is ‘shape’ – by which I mean the architectural shape of a story, the shape upon which everything else hangs.

It can take me a while to find the right shape of a story in my head; but once I can see that shape, there is often a flow to my work that I find very reassuring.

Recently I finished the first rough draft of my Barry Reckord Bursary play Treading Air. It was a challenging piece to write, for all sorts of reasons, and to finish it felt like something of a relief. I could still feel, however, the struggle in the words I’d written. I knew it wasn’t right, and that it still had a long way to go. And this was largely due to the fact that, try as I might, I hadn’t been able to build a clear, firm shape.

I’d found threads, I’d formed a skeleton, I’d fleshed it out. But it was ungainly. There were moments, yes. There were peaks, troughs and all the things you need in a narrative. There was something there. But the shape was a misshape.

Of course this is all part of the process. It’s why you have drafts – so the work can develop and evolve. And it’s true that sometimes you need to be drowning in the depths in order to look up and see that perfect fan of illumination….

So now I’ve begun the second draft of Treading Air and, just as I hoped it would, the shape of the story has clarified. It’s a double helix (of course!) and I can see it as sharp and strong as anything. If I didn’t know better the vagaries of writing, I’d perhaps feel smug.

Instead, as I know those vagaries all too well, for now I’ll just be grateful – for Watson and Crick, the feedback of dramaturg Rob Drummer, and this reassuring flow whilst it lasts.

30 August 2013
WEIGHTLESS 
It’s only the draft of the First Draft – but it’s done. The whole thing start to finish, page 1 to page 60, opening line to closing scene. And it feels great. Like I’m the one who is, for this moment, weightless… with the air blowing softly past my face, the world spread out far below me, completely, beautifully… quiet.

Writing this text has been a hugely beneficial journey for me, and I’ve only just reached the starting point! But it’s a starting point I fully understand now, and as such feel I can take in absolutely any direction. I’m not worried about that direction. I’m don’t feel I have to know where Treading Air will end up, because I simply believe that from the right starting point, you will always travel to somewhere better.

Oh yes indeed. Hand-in-hand with Madani, Michael and Rob, I know we can move this story on to an even better place… a brilliant place… an amazing place! We are Dorothy, Lion, Tim Man and Scarecrow on our very own yellow brick road. The sky is blue, the dreams will come true and the great wizard Barry Reckord shall look down from his Oz and be proud.

It’s times like this, when I’m able to step back from the work itself, that I appreciate all over again the privileged position I’m in to be doing this work, under these very fine auspices, in the first place.

Thank you, to everyone who put me here. From the bottom of my hot-air-balloon heart… x

26 July 2013
‘MAJOR & MINOR’
Being that it’s a musical, albeit perhaps an unconventional one, the soundscape of TREADING AIR is crucial to its vision. Once the play moves into production, then it becomes more the realm of the composer and director; but in order that they understand how the musicality works as part of the narrative, I have to be able to explain that clearly in the script.

Not being a musician myself, however, I don’t have the appropriate musical vocabulary, and was finding it difficult to put my thoughts into words. So this week I arranged a meeting with good friend and classical-music guru, Caroline Brotherton.

A pianist and cellist herself, Caroline listened extremely patiently as I waffled on about what it is I’m trying to achieve with TREADING AIR. She then assumed a thoughtful air, chose chocolate brownie from the menu (we were meeting over dinner), and casually threw out a few names, phrases and suggestions.

I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but it sounded very encouraging! And later, when Caroline showed and played me some examples, I saw that she had understood my intentions completely and that her suggestions were spot on.

We’ll continue to work together on this, but already it feels as if a whole new layer is dropping into place.

24th June 2013
PAUSE FOR
THOUGHT
I’m part way through my Barry Reckord Bursary now, and of the many insights I’m gaining whilst developing TREADING AIR, I’d say the most impacting ones are coming through the working relationships with the bursary’s supporting partners. Meeting up to chat with Bush Theatre’s Artistic Director Madani Younis, Talawa Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Michael Buffong, and Bush Theatre’s Associate Dramaturg Rob Drummer is a hugely valuable process. On a macro scale I’m learning how playwriting sits within the overall sphere of theatre, and on a micro scale I’m exploring my own working process very carefully via their direction and comments. The combination of this macro and micro is really helping me to create a very robust piece of writing. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work alongside such a level of skill and experience.

10th June 2013
FATHOMING
[To warn you in advance, this is a long post about the inside of my own head.]

As part of my Barry Reckord Bursary to develop a play with Bush Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company, I’m given ongoing support from a dramaturg – in my case, Bush Theatre’s Rob Drummer.

Having written a sketch of TREADING AIR’s skeleton and sent this over to him, I was keen to hear Rob’s thoughts. We Skyped, and had a lively conversation around possibilities. In the space of just 45 minutes, a dozen or more questions were thrown out, none of which I had the answer to.

It was challenging, albeit in the best of ways. And left me with even more questions, this time about myself and my personal writing process…

… which is not something I was expecting.

In fact I became quite unsettled the more I thought more about this. And the more unsettled I became, the more I had to fathom why I was feeling this way.

Being temperamental and possessive about my work pretty much goes against everything I believe in. I’m a collaborator through and through. So it couldn’t be the specifics of the feedback that Rob was giving me, or any kind of resistance to his ideas.

What’s more I truly believe in this story. My desire to find it, cohere it and tell it is unshakable. There had to be something else behind the mental dilemma I’d found myself in.

So I went back to the drawing board – or rather my glass board – literally; and started to break down the less obvious components of mine and Rob’s conversation in order to find some answers.

It took me a full week to work out what the problem was. And, as with most things that appear complicated, the answer was very simple indeed:

I’ve spent a long time developing and honing a writing process that works for me. I’m not saying it’s the best process, nor that it can’t be improved or made more robust. But I don’t believe I can change the process fundamentally, because it’s built on the way that my brain naturally works.

All stories begin in my head as a great puzzle. A key part of my process is the order in which I study the pieces of the puzzle so that I can put them together. I didn’t realise this quite so consciously before. But now, thanks to The Barry Reckord Bursary, I do.

So it was not the things that Rob, as my dramaturg, asked me to do with TREADING AIR that unsettled me, it was the order I felt he was asking me to do them in.

Understanding this solves the problem in an instant.

And, because the sharing of working practices is as much a part of collaboration as the sharing of ideas, I feel that getting to this understanding was a very worthwhile journey to make.

I do wonder what other journeys lie in store for me with TREADING AIR? But whatever they are I embrace them, sure in the knowledge that they will only make this project stronger – and me too.

10th May 2013
FRAGILE BEHEMOTH
The biggest task I had last month was to break the back of my new play TREADING AIR. And by breaking the back I mean finding the thread. Not that I’m opposed to a good bit of back bashing where necessary, but TREADING AIR is a very intimate piece, wherein large actions occur through small gestures.

What this means, in my head at least, is that the skeleton is more a gossamer web than hard bone structure; which also means it’s far less obvious to the eye.

Last month I searched for, and thankfully found, that all-important hairline. I then put some semblance of this fragile skeleton onto the page, and after that it was time to discuss things with Dramaturg Rob. That proved a particularly interesting meeting for me in several ways – so much so that it probably warrants a post all of its own.

The play is coming on, however. And though I don’t want to spoil it for you, I can tell you this much: there shall be violins….

25 April 2013
A DRAMATURG IS…
Yesterday I met with my very own dramaturg for the first time; namely Rob Drummer, associate of Bush Theatre and assigned to me for my new musical play TREADING AIR.

Blimey! Talk about focused. It was a very exciting and provoking meeting, the outcome of which consists of me disappearing down the Ravi hole to do some serious writing, by which I mean hardcore as opposed to sombre, by which I mean bye-bye-world as opposed to sex.

I’ll let you know when I’m back above ground, but in the meantime I can tell you exactly what a dramaturg is:

A dramaturg is…

RIGOROUS.

Thanks, Rob, for the sound of your cracking whip! I’m really looking forward to the journey ahead….

18 April 2013
WHAT’S A DRAMATURG?
As part of The Barry Reckord Bursary, Bush  Theatre have assigned me a  dramaturg. I’ve been writing stories for a long time, however it’s only  recently I’ve started writing for theatre. So I’ll admit, I wasn’t really sure what a dramaturg was.

I Googled it, of course, and amongst the many entries came across a  lovely article from Playbill, 2009.  In this article, Chicago arts  blogger Robert Loerzel talks to a number  of dramaturgs to find out how  they describe their role.

‘Dramatic engineer’, ‘information  designer’ and my favourite ‘playwright whisperer’ were amongst the ways  in which these professionals saw themselves. But perhaps the most encouraging description was this: A dramaturg is ‘just someone who listens [to the playwright] well, and knows how to talk the play out of them.’

I love this. I’ve never had a writing guide before, and the thought excites me beyond measure. I keep turning this description over in my mouth just to enjoy the flavour of it.

I’m meeting my dramaturg for the first time next week. His name is Rob Drummer, and I’m busy working on TREADING AIR in the meantime so that we can make the   most of our time together.

11 April 2013
MY WORKING PROCESS
Because I often write stories across multiple platforms, or with transmedia traits (interactivity, pervasive narratives, alternate strands and the like), sometimes working on screen doesn’t quite give me the space I need. And that’s when I turn to my piece of glass.

I’ve a large piece of toughened glass, and a bunch of coloured pens to go with it. And this I find invaluable when I need to sort out the basics of a very complicated structure.

My new musical play TREADING AIR is a good example of this. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is quite an experimental piece in terms of its structure, requiring very careful positioning of very specific building blocks.

Imagination, coupled with some solid research, has given me a fairly clear idea of what these building blocks are; but working out how they all cross-reference and connect is far more difficult, especially because this experimental structure I’m creating has to work live.

The glass helps me to spread things out without losing sight of anything, and allows me to really think laterally about the connecting space in between. I then work those thoughts back at my computer, but without this visual stage to help me, I’d struggle to not get lost in the story’s intricate web.

It probably all sounds a bit cryptic, and it’d be easier to explain if I gave away the ‘twist’ – but of course that’s not going to happen :)

4 April 2013
MEETING MINDS (MADANI AND MICHAEL)
Created by The London Hub, The Barry Reckord Bursary is supported by Bush Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company; namely their Artistic Directors Madani Younis and Michael Buffong.

I met Madini and Michael both briefly at the bursary award ceremony back in January – too briefly to really form much of an opinion of either, apart from the general admiration one feels for people of their standing.

Once I’d started work on TREADING AIR proper, however, and got my head around where I think this script is going to take me, it was time for an ‘actual’ meeting. So last week I jollied off down to London in order to get to know better these two inspirational men.

I use the word inspirational because that’s exactly how Madani and Michael made me feel: inspired. And tremendously excited! Not only by their comments on the ideas I presented and how I might go on to develop them, but more so by their complete openness.

We met in the Bush Theatre Café Bar and, over the space of an hour and a half, went from being three strangers sat around a table to a genuinely tangible team – something I feel is only really possible if everyone is open from the start.

Of course it’s always a buzz when like-minded people meet, and you all start speaking in that same language of concepts and potential…. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll work well together as a team. This, though, is going to be a brilliant team. I can feel it. Michael’s intuition shone through, as did Madani’s sharp thinking. Their understanding of my ideas seemed almost effortless, and their choice of Dramaturg to work with me over the coming months is perfect.

I think the only thing we disagreed on was this: “You’re not here to impress us. Rather, we are here to support you,” said Madani as he and Michael reassured me of my place in the project.

It’s a wonderful, and very generous statement. But to be honest I WANT to impress Madani and Michael, AND for them to impress me also. And whilst I’m sincerely grateful for their support, I also see it as my role to support them in turn.

It’s the fun of collaborating, communicating, sharing….

And, as always for me, it’s the joy of writing to a project’s strengths :)

Michael Buffong & Madani Younis


26th March 2013
YEARS LONG (FINDING ADDIE)
I’d hoped, in this diary entry, to be able to tell you all about the ooohs and aaahs of taking a hot air balloon flight. There’s a hot air balloon in my new play TREADING AIR, and I’d arranged a flight as part of my research. It got cancelled. So I arranged another. It got cancelled too. Damn you weather!

I’ve booked another flight, but it’s not for a few weeks, so I turned my attention to another aspect of research – that of the character Addie.

Addie has been married for over thirty years. I haven’t. In fact I’ve never been married at all. And, although my imagination is pretty good, there are some things you just can’t really pull out of yourself if you don’t have first-hand experience. So I went looking for long-time married couples, and ended up down the street at my wonderful neighbours Kev and Margo Mealor.

Several glasses of wine later, I had a remarkably detailed snapshot of this couple’s life together: from their childhoods through to their own children, and grandchildren also.

Margo is very different to Addie, and Kev is very different to her husband; but that didn’t matter. What I was looking for are those tiny moments, decisions and actions taken in a shared life, that really show us the depths of what that life has been.

The Mealor’s marriage is rich with those moments. It was a privilege, and great joy to listen to their story, as well as an inspiration. I’m indebted to both Kev and Margo for their time and openness, and wish them many more years of shared happiness to come :)

18th March 2013
DOCUMENTING THE BARRY RECKORD BURSARY
Earlier this year I was the honoured recipient of the first ever Barry Reckord Bursary, created by The London Hub to support new playwriting. I’d submitted a synopsis of the play I wanted to write, and this month began proper its development.

Part of the bursary deal was to keep a diary of my progress, and so here is diary entry number one….

WORKING TITLES & WORKING TOWNS (GETTING A FEEL FOR BRADFORD)
My new musical-play currently has the working title THIRTY AND ONE. It fit with the synopsis, but now the story is developing just doesn’t feel right. Having a badly fitting title – even just a working title – is, to me, like having a slight gnawing headache; and though I’m searching hard for the right replacement, I haven’t quite managed to find it yet.

 The story involves two people – Shaq (male), Addie (female) – and a hot air balloon. I don’t want to give too much away, so that’s pretty much all you’re getting for now. But if there is anything there that inspires you with title ideas, then please do send them my way!

Shaq is from Bradford. In order to understand a bit more about my character I headed across to the city with the Beau to look around. We did speak to a few people (and listened carefully to their tone and pronunciation), but mostly this was an initial walk-around trip: walking the roads of the city centre and the streets and alleyways of the residential areas that surround it, building up an overall picture in my head.

It was a valuable insight. It’s always much easier to know what a character will say in a given moment if you know the life he’s come from.