Friday, 29 October 2010

Music from the heart!

A team from Citizens Learning have been working in HMP Barlinnie on a drama, music and writing project called Platform 2:10, part of the wider Inspiring Change initiative.

The prisoners at Barlinnie who have been taking part have written and performed the most amazing set of songs. Seriously, we think you'll be exceedingly impressed at the skills. We are very proud of the work they have produced and can't wait for you to hear them.

There are eight tracks in total which were produced in collaboration with the talented Alan Penman, with additional vocals provided by Lorna Gilfedder from Motherwell College (one of our project partners).

All tracks were written and performed by the prisoners:

Singer: John O'D, Writer: John O'D

Rapper: Ryan H (featuring Lorna G), Writer: Ryan H

Singer: Robert G (featuring Lorna G), Writers: Christopher R, Brian E and Stewart McD

Singer: Joseph I, Writers: Neil McN and Andoni B

Singer: Stephen K, Writers: Brian E, Stewart McD, Christopher R and Grant G

Rapper: Ryan H, Writer: Ryan H

Singer: Robert G

Singer: Joseph I, Writers: Stewart McD and Barry W

Find out more about the project here.
Listen to Citizens Theatre music, interviews and trailers on AudioBoo.
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Friday, 22 October 2010

Getting to know Tottori city

The next instalment of Ros Philips' blog from Japan:

I am being incredibly well looked after. Yesterday was a day of formal greetings. Formal greetings are very important here, I was led into the room with the view and posh sofa and sat opposite everyone. I was told that this production is very important to the Tottori Foundation and the Citizens Theatre was heartily thanked for their involvement in this production. I handed over gifts of a Citizens theatre pencil case, a Citizens theatre pen and a whisky miniature. I'd placed the whisky in the pencil case and the delight at finding the whiskey needed no translation.

The theatre we're working in, is state of the art perfection, a 2000 seater...beautiful seats I might add. With two studio spaces. I was invited to a display of the three computer-operated specially-commissioned ‘very-expensive’ curtains. I think it would have made (Citz Head of Production) Chris’s eyes water. Mind you so would the risk assessment for earthquakes. I have been reassured that they haven't had a significant quakes in the area for years. But I was also told not to keep glass or crockery on high shelves, they do have a couple of mini quakes a year.

Today I had a quake of my own as I discovered the rehearsal room is a disused showroom that had been squatted as a rock venue. 17 years ago when Japan was an economic power house theatres where built to display the culture of Japan. However no cultural strategy came with these theatres which meant they where just receiving houses for Tokyo companies. Now in times of recession the Tokyo companies are struggling. The theatres are beautiful (spotlessly clean) but have no in-house infrastructure, no rehearsal room, no workshop, no production dept. The Tottori foundation are national leaders trying to build a regional rep company here and Top Girls is a flagship production for their aspiring company (pressure!). So, small matters such as rehearsal rooms need to be ironed out as we go!

Tomorrow I audition the cast. Again, slightly odd procedure. The cast have been cast, as in 7 actresses (2 professional, 5 amateur) have been told they are in the show, I now have to decide who plays what.

Business card update...I've got the cards but keep missing the appropriate moment to whip it out and exchange. It's the real deal here, I'm going to have to step up.

Ros San X

PS I've included some photos of me and Mikiou (the translator) with the chief exec of the Tottori foundation and his gang. The Sand Dunes are a nature reserve that is a big tourist attraction in the region, I felt like I was Lawrence of Arabia or maybe more the tin character in Star Wars (sorry I'm a Star Wars ignoramus)

[Ed. Tin character??...sacrilege]

Monday, 18 October 2010

Top Girls in Japan - by Ros

A year ago when I joined the Citz as trainee director I blithely offered to contribute to the citz blog. I didn’t know what a blog was, I was just trying to be ingratiating.

One year later I am no longer Trainee Director, my learner plates have been torn from me and I’m a fully fledged freelancer. Thankfully the Citz have dragged me back from oblivion. They are sending me to Japan on Monday, working in association with the Citz in the small city of Tottori (West mainland, near Hiroshima) on a community production of Top Girls.

The Citz is turning Japanese- yes I do know what that song was referring to. So, to keep you citizens informed as to their cultural imperialism I thought I should start the much belated blog.

I’ve read the play, and the weather forecast. I’ve met with my charming translator Mikiyo and discovered we share a passion for David Bowie (so the long haul flight with a comparative stranger will be a stardust breeze).

Most importantly I have been educated in the ‘exchange of business cards’ ritual and am awaiting my first ever batch of business cards. Apparently you’re a no-body in Japan if you are cardless. I hope they arrive on time.

Keep you posted. X


[Ed: Sounding good so far...better late than never eh?...I heard presents are important as well, so hope you've got plenty of See-You-Jimmy hats packed!?]

A Clockwork Orange - Director's blog (pt 5)

Monday: It feels like the countdown has begun. We're now in the final week before we open and we're onstage trying to make sense of it all. We have less than three full days until the first audience will arrive. We spend four hours over the first three pages of a 67 page script. But no-one panics. The actors are amazingly patient standing around waiting for all the technical work to be done around them, or re-doing scenes over and over again, or running quick changes. The detail is necessary and I know there are less sound and light cues later in the play. We're still a bit short of music at times. Gradually the soundtrack is being built during the technical rehearsal. I can begin to see a shape emerging, although we have no idea yet if the different sections of the play, which are in quite different styles, will work as a whole. The whole show is in Alex's head - he is Our Humble Narrator looking back over his past - and the first section of the book is the most visceral. The actors work from 9am until 9pm, as it's a designated 13 hour day, and Alex is onstage pretty well all that time. Then at the end of the day we have a stunt to perform from height and Jay has to be taken through it so that he won't hurt himself during the run.

Tuesday: the technical staff have been in the theatre for a week and a half now setting up the stage for us. In a break in technical rehearsals, Jay Taylor and I rush off to the BBC to do an interview. We're sat in a room answering questions from the unseen interviewer. My mind is scrambled at first - I'm still deep in the technical rehearsal - but I'm very aware this is live! Everyone wants to know if this piece is still relevant, whether we're copying the film, how we stage the violence. Gradually my mind clears and I explain that this show is as relevant now as ever, that current government policies will make people's lives poorer, mass unemployment leads to a more violent society, that violence among the young and overcrowding in prisons are not problems that will go away. I also say that we're not copying the film but making our own version. We talk about the style of the piece. We're still in the middle of trying to find out what it's final shape will be as we're still a long way from the end of the play in our technical rehearsals, having not yet finished the first half! I still have a very long list of to-dos.

Wednesday: we finally finish the technical rehearsal - two and a half days after we started - and have our first audience tonight. It's another long day: technical rehearsal all morning, dress rehearsal for photographs in the afternoon and then our first show to an audience this evening. You need stamina to do theatre, especially the actors. In the morning we're trying to work out how to end the show - we tech two different versions until it feels right and will go on refining this end right up until Friday (the first time we have it fully working is the press night). It's been a very creative tech which is not often the case - more often it's just a rush. Working with a familiar team - Charles Balfour on lights, Graham Sutherland on sound and Jason Southgate on design - means I can trust them absolutely, so things keep improving even when I'm not directly involved. It's a huge bonus. At the start of my career I would work out all timings on cues, but now Charlie does it for me instinctively having watched runs, and keeps changing it in tandem with the sound.

Graham is the same. It means that when there's a problem of timing, it's often fixed before I've even had a chance to say anything, and so the staging starts to become really fluid. It leaves me more free to look at the staging and work with actors as we go, while they sweep up after me. Ella Vale, movement director, is also putting in suggestions and tidying up business. Amanda Gaughan, Trainee Director at the Citizens whose first Citz show this is, is also putting in ideas. We're all working towards the same vision and it's wonderful. None of the creative team are worried about saying things don't work, or talking about which story we are trying to tell. The best creative teams work this way. I learned a lot from Backbeat at the Citizens which had a top West End team (Christopher Oram won the Tony Award for best design of “Red” a month later). All of them had very definite views on the production they were making. It's the same here. You need vision to be a director, but the final show is never just one person's vision as so much is contributed by others. Our joy-riding sequence, for instance, appeared on the very first morning of rehearsal before we'd even done a read-through and less than an hour after the actors had first met, when I simply divided the actors into two groups and told them to make up a car journey, giving them a few pointers but nothing more. We've refined that, and set it to a soundtrack, but it's not far off where we began, most of which came originally from the actors. The dress rehearsal is OK. We're all expecting disasters onstage - it's a complicated show technically - but everything goes remarkably smoothly.

Laura Walshe, our stage manager, does an amazing job of making sense of a show which is very full of cues, all of which she has to call at exactly the right moment, and often with a number happening at the same time. We're all looking forward to the evening now, but have no idea what to expect. As Director, I consider previews as another chance to tweak the show, there's still quite a bit not finished. But for the actors the audience means that this is the first night. In the event the first preview also goes well, with whistles and cheers at the end of the evening. It's been a long week already and we've got two more days to press night, but there's a sense that we've created something different and also good.

Thursday: there are two five star audience tweets from last night, but we don't feel the show is finished yet. We work during the day, changing, refining, talking about the experience of last night. We're building back up towards the second preview, and this is the last day for major changes. We re-tech some sequences that aren't quite right, change two scenes, partly based on audience feedback cards from last night. We've staged one scene completely differently and it now works much better. We work without the actors for a while and so pretend to be all the characters. At one stage Ella is asked "Would you mind being a one woman horrific experience up on the bridge please?" The process of working on a play is often worrying away at little niggles until things are solved.

When you run out of time, you're left with things you don't like in a production but haven't had time to solve - they're often solved a few days into a run, but by this time the press are gone. In the evening there's a full house. An interesting, mainly younger audience. One audience member is overheard saying "It's the first time I've been in a theatre in ten years". More whistles and cheers at the end including one person who starts clapping early - it makes the perfect end to the evening as Alex eyeballs him menacingly...

Friday: nerves, good luck cards, last notes. A sense of anticipation. Some rehearsal, but not much - changes on press night tend to be forgotten so it's better to consolidate rather than change. The actors are also tired after a long week in the theatre, particularly the amazing Jay Taylor who plays Alex and is onstage almost throughout the play. It's time to conserve energy before the press arrive. One of the actors is ill but has to carry on regardless.

We've had great feedback so far - 'the best show at the Citizens ever' is written on one audience response card. The first comment posted on our website is five star. We do get a couple more interesting comments from the audience response cards - one about our use of the moon and the other about one specific moment in the play. As a result we change the way both work in order to clarify them. Overwhelmingly it seems the public are saying "I thought I wouldn't like A Clockwork Orange but I love this". It can be a difficult story to tell because of the violence in particular, but people seem to be responding incredibly well to the way we've staged it.

Now for the press.... the play and production seems to have struck a nerve but tonight will tell what the critics make of it. Most important of course is what the audience make of it and how it sells. There are huge cheers and whistles at the end of the show and a real feeling that this show is a hit. I'm really pleased and proud. A Clockwork Orange and the Citizens seem a perfect match, and this feels like the kind of iconic theatre for which the Citizens got its world class reputation. People are already planning to see the show more than once. We finish off with a legendary Citizens party in our workshop space. It becomes a delightful and very touching send off for me after seven years at the Citizens, but also a wonderful celebration of both the show and the fantastic staff at the Citizens. I wander off into the night, happy after one of the most joyous experiences of my professional career.

(Photos by Jeremy Raison)
Read Part 1 of our Director's blog
Read Part 2 of our Director's blog
Read Part 3 of our Director's blog
Read Part 4 of our Director's blog

A Clockwork Orange
13 Oct - 6 Nov

Watch Trailer
View Jason Southgate's Production Design sketches

Thursday, 14 October 2010

A Clockwork Orange - trailers now live!

We are fairly excited (if not over-excited) about our new trailer for A Clockwork Orange. We were really pleased to work with Toad's Caravan on this, in association with the brilliant UpUp Design. We hope you like it. Feel free to let us know using the comments below (or via YouTube/FB/Twitter etc):

For our visually impaired audiences, we have also produced an audio trailer. Click here to visit AudioBoo or listen on the player below.


There will be Audio Described performance on Thu 21 October at 7.30pm. Call 0141 429 0022 to book.


Monday, 11 October 2010

A Clockwork Orange - Director's blog (pt 4)

A gang fight in the staff car park which draws the attentions of the Procurator Fiscal's office, a increasingly meticulous joyride, a beating with mops and a heavy bible, trousers too tight to bend, a radio broadcast in which we find that the word 'bastard' is not allowed on the BBC and have to adapt our script accordingly! - just some of the delights of this weeks rehearsals. Not to mention the demolition of Norfolk Court opposite the theatre which was spectacular - a new landscape faces us. We're beginning to hunger to get into the theatre but there's more work to be done and we must wait...

This is the last week of rehearsals before we head to the stage. Everything must come together NOW. I can feel the pressure in the rehearsal room: the actors are more nervous, wanting definite choices to be made. Directors tend to want to keep changing things until the last minute, actors tend to like to be able to solidify what they're doing since so much of acting is about confidence. Clarity is the key to the week.

We have to tighten up the movement sequences. Simple drilling is the order of the day. If the movement isn't sharp it will be immediately obvious. We also start building our soundscape, with visits from our sound designer, looking at specific timed sequences. The sound aesthetic will be complex and bold early on, gradually being stripped back as the play goes on, all the time mirroring Alex's experience. Once it's in place it will give a great depth to the play, but at the moment most of the sound is in the heads of myself and Graham Sutherland, the sound designer. The actors and I make sound effects in rehearsal at key moments to mark what will happen - sirens, cars starting, doorbells, music beats. But gradually during the week these are being replaced by the real sounds that we will hear on stage.

The set is also going up in the theatre. Lights are hung, based on what the lighting designer, Charles Balfour, has seen of the work so far (and of course this may change over the coming week). Every lantern must be individually hung, focused to a particular area of the stage and coloured with gel. It's always a very time consuming business and involves using a special ladder called a tallescope on the sloping raked stage. At the top of the tallescope, the ladder always sways....

The set is beginning to go up. This will be one of the hardest things next week - adjusting to this new stage of ramps, and upper levels and tricky staircases and wire mesh flooring. It will change the timing on sequences which we have essentially been miming up to now. One actor is also not fond of heights, and the upper level feels very high to actors on stage. It is at the same level as the dress circle. I always feel very privileged to be able to walk round the theatre and see the set being build, costumes made and props appearing. It's invaluable in rehearsal to see these things early as one can pre-empt problems but it is rare now for theatres to have their own workshops. The actors also take sneak previews which is very useful as it starts to clarify for them what they will actually be working on, and they can think about any issues that will arise later. The auditorium itself looks like a bomb-site.

We are looking a lot now at character and refining scenes. Some just feel wrong, or still under-developed, particularly after changes made last week. Every actor wants rehearsal time and it's surprising how quickly time is eaten up. Some things we're touching for the first time such as a dressing and undressing sequence. This can only be done with costume and with the right music, which has to be designed as no single piece of classical music does what we need.

The creative team pop in and out of rehearsals as much as possible to keep abreast of any changes. Laura Walshe, our stage manager in rehearsal, types up meticulous notes every night after rehearsals detailing what we need and any changes. These notes are emailed to every department. Louise Brown from Citizens Learning and TAG also comes in with a mountain of paperwork which will become the online education pack, having interviewed a number of us also. There's a comprehensive look at the play, novel and the ideas behind them, mainly for schools, which will be complemented by this blog. Actors biographies must be checked for the programme. I write a director's note for the programme as well, mindful that critics tend to latch on to what is written. They're always keen for a context and contemporary relevance. We do some live sound recording including our 'riot' in the car park which is for the soundtrack. The ensemble are taken through everything they will be doing in the show for the first time and are incredibly disciplined and professional. We have interviews to do over the phone. It's a week of high activity.

Onstage activity continues. The floor's been painted, doors have been hung, and the set is beginning to look wonderful. Lights are being added all over the set, giving it a futuristic look and a really unusual quality. Designer Jason Southgate has started adding bits of details which is one of my favourite part of the process - seeing a basic shell becoming a finished design.

We run the first section and it works surprisingly well - sequences are faster, tighter, with more dynamism. Now we must get the rest of the play to this level. I can begin to see the shape of the overall piece and what still needs to be done. Ideally by the end of this week we will have a very robust piece which can survive the technical week. Brilliant productions can fall apart when they get to the stage as the space is so different and lights and sound can overwhelm a production. You spend four weeks rehearsing and then two days putting it onto the stage unless you are very lucky and have more time. It's very fast and calls for extremely rapid decisions at an exhausting part of the process when people are very tired. As a director you then have to live with those decisions. So the more pre-planning the better - the stage manager and I spend an evening going through all the lighting, sound and video cues in the show. Many more will be added later once we're in the theatre, but it's a start.

And by now all of us can't wait to get onto the stage and play a bit. The set is like a giant playground and we want to do it justice. It needs to feel an integral part of all we've done so far. And of course one of the actors has to jump off the top level and so we're working with someone who can teach us how to do this safely.

Some directors build shows almost matchstick by matchstick, meticulously, with the whole play pre-planned and everything gradually glued together. I tend to work more like a sculptor, starting with a mass and gradually whittling away to find the form within - coming at it from all angles, finding some more polished and complete than others, taking off large chunks or smaller depending on what is needed. I like to get actors on their feet almost from the very beginning. Others like to sit around a table and discuss the play for a long time. There is no correct method. The proof is in the production that is made and how audiences respond to it. It's an exciting time, and on Saturday (this morning as I write this) we will be on the set for the first time, and will also be lighting the show, so it is ready for the actors to begin the technical rehearsal on Monday...

(Photos by Jeremy Raison)
Read Part 1 of our Director's blog
Read Part 2 of our Director's blog
Read Part 3 of our Director's blog

A Clockwork Orange
13 Oct - 6 Nov

Monday, 4 October 2010

A Clockwork Orange - Director's blog (pt 3)

WEEK THREE continued

Half way through the week, we do a run to the creative team and it reveals a lot of holes and issues to be dealt with, usual at this stage but nonetheless still depressing! But there's still time now to put things right. Accents, pacing, narrative clarity, physicality all need to be looked at. Sometimes these things don't become clear until dress rehearsals or previews by which time it's often too late to do much about them, so it's hugely valuable to find these things out now. We look at Alex. We don't feel we really get to know him until after the Lodovico treatment as he's always 'on', giving his view of events but with no explanation for his actions, but we need to find a way of letting an audience into this character who in reality gives little away. We also need to work on the energy of the different sections in the novel - In Section 1 Alex is the aggressor and drives the action; in Section 2 and 3 things are done to him, so the story can seem less dynamic, and the energy can drop in the play if we're not careful.

We have a wonderful session with sound designer Graham Sutherland where we hone a car sequence so that it's all timed. We trim what we have and tighten everything, as well as finding new details in the process. We also look at fights set to a soundtrack and they really start to come alive. We have a lot more sound to put in over the next few days - and Graham also has a full time job as Citizens Head of Lighting and Sound - but this is a great start, and with the right soundtrack the play will start to feel seamless. The closest equivalent experience I have had at the Citizens was on The Sound of My Voice, also with Graham, where we had time to develop the soundtrack in a similar way. It's how I like working best: with a tight team all working closely together with minimal distractions, feeding off each other's ideas.

Work has become really good after our notes, focused, getting rid of 'ghosts' - old blocking and ideas that worked in week one but no longer feel right. We strip away the non-essential and keep delving deeper into the text itself.

The run has, for instance, exposed that the riots don't work. They have no connection with Alex and so are cut, despite a battery of riot shields and helmets having been found for us.

We also find that the end needs trimming. It's too long and also our doubling means that Alex's new gang look suspiciously like his old one!

Mike Nellis, Professor of Criminology at Strathclyde University, comes in to talk. He is writing about the book, and will contribute to the schools pack. We talk about the origins of social workers as Police Court Missionaries, but by the 1960s increasingly influenced not by the church but by sociological studies. We talk about Alex's age - he seems far older as a narrator than he says he is. We discuss the concept of free choice and in particular Anthony Burgess's pessimistic view that by God's grace we can choose good or evil but more often people will chose evil. There is also discussion about the faults in the novel. That man is allowed to be evil in Burgess's world, but there is no discussion of what to do with those who are consistently anti-social. Mike also feels that the last chapter in the novel seems tacked on. Petty criminals may grow out of their criminality, but can those who commit serious crimes such as rape and murder. Kubrick's film didn't include the last chapter nor do America editions and surprisingly some UK editions of the novel. We talk about Jimmy Boyle and the Barlinnie Special Unit, the Bulger case and others. We also discuss the debt to James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man in the portrayal of the Prison Chaplain, which shows lapsed catholic Burgess's mockery of the Chaplain's views about hell and damnation.

And to round off week three, one of the younger members of the team suddenly says that the gang are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Alex is Leonardo, the leader who has a sword; Georgie is Raphael, the wannabe leader with a knife; Peter is Donatello who carries a stick and Dim is Michelangelo the goofy one who has nunchucks. We look around and his is pretty well the weapons each of our gang has, as well as their role. Every book I've read recently seems to reference A Clockwork Orange at some point. Now it seems even the Ninja Turtles were influenced by a Clockwork Orange - it's the perfect end to the week.

(Photos by Jeremy Raison, unless otherwise specified)
Read Part 1 of our Director's blog
Read Part 2 of our Director's blog

A Clockwork Orange
13 Oct - 6 Nov