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Welcome

This is the eleventh edition of the monthly newsletter from Short Attention Span Theatre. It features news about our shows, opportunities for writers and creatives that we've seen, plus plugs for other shows and anything else of interest. If you have anything appropriate you'd like us to include for future drop us a line at info@shortattentionspantheatre.co.uk
Grant McDonald, Scott Canvey and Sarah Meikle in A9 by Michael J Houston
Grant McDonald, Scott Canvey and Sarah Meikle in A9 by Michael J Houston
Grant McDonald, Scott Canvey and Sarah Meikle in A9 by Michael J Houston.

October's SAST Shows

Thanks to everyone who came along to see our shows at the Old Hairdressers and the Gilded Balloon Basement Theatre in October. We had a sell-out in Glasgow and a packed house in Edinburgh. Thanks to our writers David Bratchpiece, Catriona Duggan, Jamie Graham, Claire Gray-Simon, Michael J Houston and Tom Murray. Thanks to our actors Derek Banner, Gregory Bonnar, Tom Brogan, Scott Canevy, Euan Cuthbertson, Kat Harrison, Sarah Meikle and Grant McDonald. Thanks to our dramaturgs Daniel Gee Husson, Erin-Louise McGee and Sanna McGregor. Thanks also to our directors Karen Barclay and Mairi Davidson.

Some audience comments are below.

"Short and sassy! A great variety of material."
"Such good quality and acting and well timed - Loved it!"
"Such a brilliant idea! Was great to see so many ideas."
"I felt that as a first time audience member I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of shows. The length  of each performance was also very good as it kept your attention without dragging or feeling too short. Thoroughly recommended."
"Engaging. Absorbing. Provoking. Interesting. Different. Immediate. Spot-on. On trend. Enjoyable."
"Fabulous writing quality and performers were outstanding. Worth far more than £5."


There's news about November's shows later in the newsletter.
10 Things Worth Sharing
 
Here are ten links we've seen that are worth sharing.

On her website author Claire McGowan offers a free ebook 'How To Be Creative Ten Top Tips'. 6. Overcoming fear What is there for a writer to be scared of? Well, how long have you got? Lack of success. Success. Exposure. Lack of exposure. Being ignored. The limelight. Being criticised. Not being liked. Hard work. Living in fear is all part of being creative, and a certain amount of terror is useful, like a snapping dog urging us on. The trick is to not become paralysed by it.

Comedy writing legend Ray Galton passed away in October. This is his obituary from The Guardian. This is a 2009 interview with him from Chortle. The British Comedy Guide interviewed Ray and his writing partner Alan Simpson, (who died last year), at length  in 2014.

On his blog playwright Adam Szymkowicz spent eight years interviewing playwrights including Annie Baker, Lauren Gunderson and Amy Herzog. When he reached 1000 he decided to draw the project to a close. He's recently come to the conclusion that he had to get back to it. Now he's put up interview 1001 with Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons. The archive is an absolute goldmine of playwriting advice.

Necessary Fiction's Research Notes invites authors to talk about their research process for a recent work. Dating back to December 2011 there's quite an archive to browse. It shows a variety of ways to begin writing.

Scottish theatre lost Pauline Knowles in October. Many of her friends and colleagues paid tribute to her talent and generosity on Twitter. All Edinburgh Theatre carries an obituary for her. Here she is talking to Mark Fisher in The Guardian's How We Made series about Knives in Hens.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia has had a run of solo shows over the last few years which have straddled stand-up and theatre. Three of them are currently on Netflix, with My Girlfriend's Boyfriend the pick of the bunch. For the New York Times he's written 6 Tips for Getting Your Solo Play to Broadway. "If you want to try writing a solo play, I’d suggest that you: 1. WRITE IN A JOURNAL. Document your life. The good stuff. The bad stuff. But mostly the bad stuff. What’s wrong with you is more interesting than what’s right. I’ve always felt like we go to solo theater to be told secrets. When I was developing “The New One” I was writing in my journal all of these secret feelings I had about being a new dad. Feeling like everything I did was a mistake. One day I wrote, “My wife and daughter love each other so much … and I’m there too.” In the margin I wrote, “This could be something!”"

Canda's CBC (not a clue) have a series of podcasts of contemporary plays, Play Me, that also includes interviews with the playwrights covering issues from cultural appropriation to dysfunctional families. Each play is split into episodes like a t.v. show to encourage binge-listening. 

London may be far away and often ignored by the rest of us, but it has a theatre scene too, and The Evening Standard has awards to dole out to the best of it. Here you can read the full shortlist, which includes nods for Home, I'm Darling (best play) and Everybody's Talking About Jamie (best musical). 

The Guardian has a feature on debbie tucker green (she has it in for capital letters) and her new play 'ear for eye', with a cast of 16! She doesn't like to explain her work so instead we have interviews with the cast, musings about her process, and speculations on the future of theatre. 'The raised stakes of this kind of storytelling, where audiences come in relatively blind, are welcomed by cast members too; Lashana Lynch, who starred in tucker green’s previous play and features in ear for eye, says the industry “has such a way of holding the public’s hands and feeding us what they think we want… or [feeling] that they need to leave it another five years to tell a certain type of story. But we don’t always know what the public is ready for, so sometimes you have to push the boundaries and allow people to make their [own] minds up.”'

A couple of recent podcasts have some interesting observations on writing. Towards the end of his conversation with Robin Ince on Bookshambles Jeremy Dyson talked abut how he came to write short stories. In the most recent episode of Adam Buxton's podcast Louis Theroux offers some thoughts on what he's learned from writing his latest book, along with some advice his dad, travel writer Paul, offered him. "Your brain has already done a first draft before you sit down to write."

What We've Been To See


At the start of the month we went to see The Frightened Lady on tour at The Theatre Royal, Glasgow. It's an old Edgar Wallace thriller, based on his novel of the same name, and as with everything Edgar wrote, what it gains in energy it loses in coherence. Actors wander on and off stage, shout the plot at each other, and occasionally scream. It's a fascinating period piece, but it needed a tighter, smarter production to really shine. 

Hello/Goodbye by Novem Productions at the Scottish Youth Theatre was probably one of the best things we've seen this year. The show looked at the modern world and all its attendant anxieties and uncertainties. The cast of five took on the multiple roles with aplomb creating a show that was moving, thought provoking and funny. Hopefully, the show will have more outings in 2019.

We were at East Kilbride Arts Centre to see Bookends Theatre Company's production of Smalltown. First seen at The Tron in 2011 it's a triptych of Ayrshire plays written by Douglas Maxwell, DC Jackson and Johnny McKnight. Bookends' shows are always well worth seeing and this one was no exception. I would have appreciated a programme so I could have puts names to some of the hilarious performances. SAST's own Johanna Harper was part of the large cast of hapless council workers, zombie besieged dinner ladies and mutating teen lovers.

And we (nearly) ended October at The Tron for Ballyturk, a surreal, metaphysical comedy, by Enda Walsh. It had a beautifully disgusting set, and the actors threw themselves about it with gusto. They seemed to be in some kind of limbo, making up stories about a real world they couldn't reach, until Death, like a friendly gangster, came to take one of them away. Despite being about life and death, the plot was a little thin, and could have been dull if it hadn't been saved by the intensity of the language and physicality of the staging. 

Things to Read


 
20 Master Plots and how to build them
by Ronald B. Tobias
 
In storytelling it's never a good idea to rigidly follow a formula, but it is a good idea to know roughly what kind of story you're telling. This book explores 20 common story types - Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, Rivalry, Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension & Decension - charting their vital elements and explaining the deep structure that makes them work. As with almost every writing guide the best advice boils down to balance - don't let one aspect of your writing overwhelm the others - and purpose - your writing needs to be saying something, your characters need to be wanting something and the audience/readership needs to be getting something out of it. This book is perfect for learning to spot and create patterns, and could easily be used as a set of exercises, working through each plot until you find the type that best suits your unique voice. 
Audio Description in Theatre
 
This month we have a guest post from Christopher McKiddie who provides Audio Description in theatres around Scotland.

Hello. My name is Christopher and I am an audio describer. I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the SAST newsletter by telling you a little about what audio description involves. Why? Firstly because it is such a very enjoyable/challenging/maddening way to make a (partial) living.  I have by now described more than 150 separate productions and it is always different, always new. One week Pinter, the next a west end musical, the next a film documentary. Last night I was describing a BSL stand-up comedian demonstrate the sign language for muff-diving. 

And secondly, because audio description is something that so many people have heard of but know very little about. 

I’m sure you’ve all watched television or gone to the theatre and observed a BSL Interpreter, for the benefit of hearing-impaired people.

However, unless you were visually-impaired, you could attend an audio described performance and not know it. VI patrons (or VIPs) access the service either through a button on their remote control or, in the case of theatre, via a headset. As a result, it remains a mystery to many. My own Dad still thinks I’m a BSL interpreter. 

So what is audio description, or AD? AD is a narrative track designed to assist blind and visually-impaired consumers of television, film, theatre, dance, opera and visual art. The audio describer talks through the performance, exhibition or presentation, describing what is happening on the screen or stage during the natural pauses in the audio. In the case of theatre, this is usually done via a microphone and headseat, delivered live from a specially-designed box (or broom cupboard).

AD is a supplementary commentary that describes body language, expressions, movements and actions, hopefully making the story clear and filling in any gaps not made explicitly clear by the dialogue. Where possible, and often as part of a pre-show introduction, the audio describer will also offer details regarding props, scenery and costume which might a.) be crucial to the unfolding plot, and b.) help enrich the atmosphere.

We are commissioned by a theatre, film company, museum or other venue to audio describe an event, play, film etc. We receive a script, if there is one, or if the show is a long-running touring production, we might receive a DVD. We then view the production, sometimes with a colleague, decide who will describe which act (or acts), then begin to prepare our scripts.

Beneath is an excerpt from one of my scripts from a recent production of Cyrano de Bergerac:

Blackout. We are now in The Poet’s Patisserie, owned by Ragueneau and her wife Lise. The name Ragueneau is emblazoned in yellow neon above the door. In the centre of the cafe is a table laden with cakes and pastries. Ragueneau is sitting at another table, tapping a typewriter.

LIGNIERE          Nougat! Flan! Peacock! Gateau!    Stew!
RAGUENEAU    Ma copper pots, dawn-silvered, gleamin new!

Her apprentice enters with a tray of his own pastries.

- C’moan, Ragueneau, gie yer auld Muse a by!
    The lyre’s fur later. Gie the furnace a try!

APPRENTICE       Ah’ve baked this in yer honour, sir – weel-fired! Ah hope ye like it, sir!
RAGUENEAU       Oh, it’s a lyre!
APPRENTICE       Best Dough, sir.
RAGUENEAU       And is that crystalized fruit?
APPRENTICE       Aye, and the strings is pure sugar tae boot!
RAGUENEAU       Go drink ma health! Oh Fuck. Ma wife! Vamoose. And hide that money!

Lise enters.

- It’s nice?
LISE                    Whit’s the use?
RAGUENEAU    Ye’ve broat some paper bags?... Good. Thanks.

Essentially, where possible, we describe what’s in front of us. Simple? Not quite, and I’ll try to explain why. 

Code of Practice

Vocaleyes, a UK-based audio description charity, have established a Code of Practice. 2.1 states that a describer should: only accept work where they have appropriate qualifications, skill, experience, and competence. Individual Audio Describers are expected to know their own limitations and act within the spirit of the Code in deciding which assignments to accept. In short, if you feel out of your depth, either don’t accept the job, or ask for help.

I know nothing nothing about fashion, and so describing costumes is tricky. A dress is a dress is a dress. If I’m not sure, I ask. Family, friends, colleagues, social media. I use all the resources available to me to be as accurate and clear as I can about exactly what someone is wearing. Don’t guess. Find out. 

Several years back I described Black Watch. For those of you that have seen the play, there is a scene which takes the form of a fashion show catwalk, where a soldier marches up and down modelling the various military uniforms worn by the Black Watch regiment through the years. I went straight to the costume department, who were only too happy to advise me of the correct terminology.

It is equally important not to be overly technical. This might sound odd, but there is little point meticulously describing every detail, when the audience don’t have the first clue what the terms mean. For example, in Spamalot the French Guards wore cocked Bicorne plumed hats. That’s useless unless the audience know what that actually looks like. It’s useful sometimes to offer a comparison. You could say “a black, plumed Bicorne hat, the kind worn by Napoleon Boneparte”. A bit of a mouthful but it at least conjures a mental image.

There’s also a limit to the amount of detail a person can absorb, particularly when they are also having to focus on a plot they may not be familiar with. I like to think of my (usually) ten-minute pre-show introduction as like the Generation Game conveyor belt. There’s only so much information people can take in one go before they start to forget the first things you told them. 

We should also be completely familiar with the play in order to be able to pick out the key visual clues which a visually impaired viewer may miss. If, for example, a candlestick is sitting on a kitchen table and is used later as a murder weapon, it should be mentioned but in an off-hand way, because that is how the sighted viewer will see it. However, any obvious spoilers should be avoided.

Objectivity

Audio describers are trained to always be objective. They should never voice a personal opinion or interpret events. This is harder than you might think.

The description is there to clarify what is going on but value judgements should be avoided. It is patronising and potentially misleading. We as describers cannot always assume to know the meaning behind the actor’s movements, the director’s vision, or the writer’s words.

Rather we must use language creatively and study body language to allow the VIP to understand what is happening, without spelling it out. For example, we would avoid saying that a character ‘looked angry’. We would instead look for evidence that they looked angry, and say that he or she ‘narrowed her eyes’ or ‘bared her teeth’. We would avoid saying that she ‘looked surprised’, we would instead say that she ‘raised her eyebrows’. Describing physical movements can be an effective way of expressing emotion. For example, she did not ‘move dejectedly’, she ‘trudged’. 

Signposting

The other key rule is that we must never speak when there is dialogue taking place. It’s the one major bugbear of VIPs. However, often information which is crucial to the plot may be revealed during a period of heavy speech.  

So, where even the briefest of descriptive words is impossible, a describer will use a technique known as ‘signposting’. For example, during a blackout, or scene change, we might introduce a character by saying “When Charlie enters, he grabs a beer from the fridge and swigs from it. He is wearing only his underpants”. Now, it may be several moments before Charlie enters and for audience members who are partially-sighted this can be potentially confusing, and some will notice that the words do not co-ordinate with the actions. However, at least they will be able to understand why the audience is laughing. 

It’s an uncomfortable compromise and should only be used when the information provided is, a. crucial to the plot or b. likely to provoke a strong audience response i.e. a laugh or a gasp. For a VIP there is nothing so frustrating as to be surrounded by people laughing, and you aren’t in on the joke. In fact, this is one of the key areas where audio description is crucial. In slapstick comedy like One Man, Two Guvnors, or What the Butler Saw, much of the humour may be completely lost on the VIP without the assistance of audio description. In a dialogue-heavy production like Blackbird or The Rivals, less so. 

Reflection

Visually-impaired comedian, actor and audio description user Jamie Cuthbertson once addressed the ADA Scotland AGM. He referred to a conversation with Marjorie, a long-serving audio describer, who was adamant that the language we use should reflect what happens on stage, both in tone and in content. 

When describing pantomime or children’s theatre we are encouraging to ‘enter into the spirit’ by using language and adopting a tone which is more appropriate for a younger audience. When appropriate, it should be fun, light and responsive to the content.

That said, we shouldn’t take ‘’entering into the spirit’ to extremes. Humiliatingly, on one occasion I burst into song during a performance of Wicked and am guilty of the occasional LOL, particularly during panto season.

With regard to describing sex scenes, Jamie quoted Marjorie as saying 'if they're making love, they're making love, if they're f***ing, they're f***ing.’ In a profession where being concise is key, such an undeniably evocative word can say so much. 

However. Many describers are reluctant to cause offence, or overstep boundaries. Others, like myself, are just plain prudish.

One of the first plays I described was a production of The Libertine. During a scene in a brothel, a prostitute performs oral sex on Rochester. When comparing notes, my colleague suggested that ‘she sucked his c**k’ would be more ‘in the spirit’ of the production, and more effective in conveying the mood and nature of the liaison.

Sex scenes are not all the same - they can be romantic/tender/rough/violent etc. The VIP needs to know who is in control, initiates, body position and perhaps facial expression. Who is dominant? These are all questions we have to answer.

It is also crucial to avoid being prudish in more general physical descriptions. If someone is greatly overweight, or has a larger than normal nose or ears, we should not flinch from describing that, for fear from sounding unkind. What matters ultimately is the VIP, and their ability to enjoy the performance on an equal footing.

Integrated description

Some of you may be aware of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company. Many of their productions, such as Tell Me What Giving Up Looks Like? and Wendy Hoose, featured what is known as integrated audio description, as well as integrated captioning and BSL interpreting. Put simply, this is audio description which the entire audience can hear, which features in every single performance, not just one or two. 

While this approach may not be suitable for every type of production, it has many positive consequences.  First is in terms of accessibility. In an ordinary theatrical run, only one performance may be audio described. If the visually-impaired person is not available on that Thursday evening or Saturday matinee, then tough.

So integrated description benefits visually-impaired people by improving accessibility. But it also benefits the service by raising the profile of audio description in general, removing it from its somewhat ghetto-ised status. Almost all creative output are sighted productions for sighted people. 

Audio describers have to work within the constraints of a culture that creates television, film and theatre for a sighted audience, while audio describers/BSL interpreters/captioners must work around those constraints to make them accessible, with varying degrees of success. Integrated productions like these are important because they seek to put the interests of a visually or hearing-impaired audience at the heart of the creative process, not merely a well-meaning afterthought. It removes the need for a VIP to announce themselves at the box office and fiddle with headsets. They can enjoy the magic of the theatre like anyone else.

A few years ago I collaborated with Claire Cunningham, a multi-disciplinary performer and choreographer from Glasgow, on her fascinating work Guide Gods, which explored attitudes of religions towards disability. It stemmed from a visit to Cambodia where she met a Buddhist monk who told her that her own disability was certainly the result of karma, being punished for sins in a former life. 

“Do you ever think of yourself as being like God”, she asked me? She was interested in the notion of having someone in your ear, acting as your eyes out into the world. What I believe she was trying to get at was the notion of power and trust in the audio describer/visually-impaired patron relationship. It was a reminder not to be blase about this responsibility or abuse that position of trust, and to always strive to be 100% professional and accurate.

This description too was integrated, although on this occasion it was pre-recorded. My voice has been to Belfast, London and Sydney, without me. We played around with the idea of audio description as the voice of God by writing the introduction in the style of the book of Genesis, as if I was not only describing the set, but creating it with my words. 

This idea was explored further during a dance sequence involving tea-cups, where Claire quite deliberately moved only after I spoke, giving the impression that I as the describer, or God, was driving her actions and that she was responding to me, rather than the other way round.

So.

I hope that has given you a little insight into the world of the audio describer. There is always another artist/writer/director/performer willing and able to push the next boundary, throwing up another challenge for the describer. However, by sticking to one basic principle we can’t go too far wrong: Say what you see (or what you think you see).

If you’d like to know more about audio description, or which audio described performances are available in Scotland, there’s lots of information and listings on the ADA Scotland website, and also on Access Scottish Theatre. Or just ask me. If you’ve made it to the end of these dribblings, you’ll know that it something I like to talk about. A lot.

Things Coming Up We Recommend


The CCA has finally opened after several months of enforced closure. Get along to see something there if you can. In November they have a number of events on. They include - Tonight (1st November) is St Mungo's Mirrorball a Poetry Showcase. The Fallen Angels Club have Robbie Fulks performing on Sunday 4th November.Scottish Screenwriters have their regular monthly meeting on Monday 12th November. Seeds of Thought's Poetry Night is in the clubroom on Friday 16th November, while their Writing Sessions are on Tuesday 20th. Red Squirrel Press have a free event on Tuesday 20th where they launch three new publications. . 

Tandem Writing Collective have a show at Dram on Woodlands Road in Glasgow on Friday 30th November. Check their Twitter for more details.

It'll soon be Christmas, and even sooner than that there will be Christmas shows. Oran Mor's panto has been sold out for several weeks now. There's still plenty to go and see around central Scotland though. Mammy Goose begins at The Tron from 27th November. It's written, directed and performed by panto stalwart Johnny McKnight. At Eastwood Park Theatre from 11th December is Jack and the Beanstalk II: Return of the Farmer by Andy McGregor. Running Late Theatre Company are back at East Kilbride Arts Centre, this time with an original Christmas show called Waiting for Gabriel. It's on Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd December, with two performances on the Sunday. Tickets are available from the South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture website. The Citizens Theatre are doing A Christmas Carol at the Tramway, opening on 4th December. In Edinburgh Wendy and Peter Pan, adapted by Ella Hickson, opens at the Lyceum on 29th November. A bit further afield Pitlochry Theatre has The Wizard of Oz from 23rd November to 23rd December.
Running Late Theatre Company's Waiting for Gabriel

Opportunities

The following are creative opportunities we've noticed over the last few weeks. 

Speculative Books are currently looking for novellas. The deadline is 31st December 2018.

Tiny Theatre Company are looking for 15-20 minute playscripts for a showcase in London.

Theatrefullstop accepting submissions for Pub Theatre Festival – Deadline: 1 December 2018

365 Women a Year Playwriting Project – Deadline: 31 December 2018

Our friends at the Gilded Balloon are hiring  for Head of Ticketing and Registration. The deadline is 19th November. Have a look at the Gilded Balloon website for the details.

Edinburgh Dungeons have vacancies for actors, both full-time and part-time currently, with a deadline of 16th November. 

Creative Scotland are currently looking for a Theatre Officer. The deadline is Tuesday 6th November.

Scottish Youth Theatre are advertising fro Venue Staff with a deadline of 18th November.

404 Ink have a couple of vacancies with the deadline of 16th November. They're looking for a part-time freelance Project Officer and a freelance Bookkeeper. More information is on their website.
Third-party opportunities disclaimer

Please note that third party listings and links to third party websites listed on this website are provided solely for your convenience and not as an endorsement by Short Attention Span Theatre. We are not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and make no representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party websites. Additionally, Short Attention Span Theatre does not provide or make any representation as to the quality or nature of any of the third party opportunities or services published on this website, or any other representation, warranty or guaranty. Any such undertaking, representation, warranty or guaranty would be furnished solely by the provider of such third-party opportunity or services, under the terms agreed to by such provider.

November's SAST Shows

We have two shows in November. On Monday 26th 7.30pm at the Old Hairdressers in Glasgow and Wednesday 28th November 8pm at Gilded Balloon Basement Theatre in Edinburgh. You can buy tickets for Glasgow from See Tickets and for Edinburgh from the Gilded Balloon.
 
The six plays are:
Dig by Derek Banner
United Front by Liam Bruce
Playing in the Sand by Cicely Gill
Betrayed by Daisy-Jo Lucas
Frank's Wild Years by Carl Pickard
The Interview by Elissa Soave

 
Look on our Twitter and Facebook pages throughout the month for more information about the plays and their writers.

What Our Previous Writers Are Doing Now

Here you'll find what some of the writers of our previous shows have been doing and what they have coming up in the next month or so.

Chris McQueer - Chris has a new short story collection 'HWFG' published this month. You can buy it on pre-order from publishers 404 Ink. He launches the book at Waterstones on Argyle Street on Thursday 8th November. This is an interview with him from The Skinny.

Julie Rea - Julie's story 'Rattle' appears in the latest issue of Barren.

Fraser Campbell - Fraser's comics 'The Edge Off', 'Alex Automatic' and 'Sleeping Dogs' can be purchased through Cabal Comics

Julie McDowall - Julie's Atomic Hobo podcast is updated weekly and focuses on how Britain prepared for nuclear war.
Thanks for reading. If you believe this newsletter might interest others, we'd love for you to tell your friends or share it with them. Our next newsletter will hit your inbox on 1st December. 
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Short Attention Span Theatre · 2 Berl Avenue · Houston · Johnstone, Renfrewshire PA67JJ · United Kingdom

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