Monday, 26 November 2012

RADAR 2012 at the Bush Theatre: New Writing Beyond Its Definition

Written by: Peeny (@AdamPeeny)

Where's Peen been?
Bush Theatre, London

RADAR 2012 has been a festival centered on ‘new writing’ at the Bush Theatre, which was aimed at being “a platform to lead us forward”. On the final night, a genuinely interesting and thought-provoking platform from beginning to end saw some great speakers at the peak of their career discussing what ‘new writing’ means and means to them, where it can go from here, and even how it came about in the first place.

First up was Omar Elerion, associate director at the Bush Theatre, who gave good insight to how he feels British theatre is a writer’s theatre. It’s an interesting, and actually, not that unique a standpoint on theatre in London and the rest of the UK, but certainly provides food for thought and not least of all, inspiration for the hundreds of aspiring writers and theatre makers. From this, Elerion raised some great questions; what is new, what is writing and what does it even mean to the world? Do we care too much about writing, or not enough? Where can it go from here and where will it be in, say, twenty years down the line? Well, as raised later in the platform, actually nowhere is Arts Funding is cut. The idea of that happening does terrify me, which tells me that I clearly do care about ‘new writing’ and it does matter. I feel confident in saying that it matters to you, too.

Caroline Horton, a writer and theatre maker, followed up with what ‘new writing’ is to her and what it means; and further the importance of the factors that she looks for when she sees ‘new writing’ being performed. Gags of asking Google what ‘new writing’ is aside (the kind of gag that deep down, you know actually happened), Horton discussed how ‘new writing’ to her is such when it still feels like it can shift: like it doesn’t entirely know what it is yet, but the potential of the work is evident.
            Next, from a somewhat similar standpoint, came Joe Murphy the artistic director of Nabokov. Whilst he let the audience do most of the talking, by handing out slips of paper with quotes on which were individual responses to a question he put out on social media sites, he helped to provide my favourite quote of the evening: “every old play was a new play once”. It’s the kind of quote that seems so blindingly obvious that it makes you want to kick yourself (hard) for not thinking of it before. In fact, we probably have thought of it before. But in this context, in this platform, there is little argument against it and it’s all you need to hear. Murphy finished up with an interesting point that makes a lot of sense, but isn’t something that I would say British theatre already struggles with: “we have to be as diverse as the challenge that we face.”

Louise Blackwell, co-director of the well-known and successful company Fuel, spent some time talking about why she loves theatre and the aforementioned proposed cuts to Arts Funding. It wasn’t preaching in any way because evidently – or, you would be forgiven for assuming – Blackwell was speaking to a room full of regular theatregoers that care a lot about the issue. Her idea of theatre is like a whole load of people – cast, creative and audience – coming together in one connection, and for one event. When I try to picture what she means by this, it puts a smile on my face and strikes up an image uncanny to that of an orgasmatron. A huge one. She encourages everyone to “invite your neighbour” which is an especially nice thought with regards to introducing someone to the theatre for the first time. I did it myself, this weekend, when I took my parents to see Wicked and are officially converted. God forbid; they had never seen a large scale or West End production. So please, Louise, I’m on your team.

The penultimate short discussion came from Alex Turner and Fran Miller from the new company responsible for the closing performance at the old Bush Theatre, non zero one, who are known for “writing blank spaces”. Starting with some deliver of dialogue from one of their shows, the time out (which was effortless in showing that some writing does need to be seen), they went on to explain how much they rely on the audience being willing and taking part.
            non zero one are revolutionary in the work that they produce; hearing a bit about their process in rehearsals and leading  up to a show, it’s safe to say that they certainly have a way of working that’s not only unique to them as a company, but unique to their writing skills too. The work that they deliver is one of many statements on ‘new writing’ but it also asks a prevalent question that Miller left with us at the platform: “is ‘new writing’ a problem, or is it a possibility?”

Closing the platform was the world-renowned playwright, director and all-round dramatist, Neil Bartlett. Picking up on a variety of factors, he prevailed in giving some advice at the same time as critiquing the topic in hand. Bartlett is undeniably successful and as was mentioned in his introduction, managed to have two shows open on the same night – one of which being at the National Theatre – so he was a great man to listen to and hearing him speak was an opportunity not to be taken for granted.
            Discussing some of his history, and some of the difficulties he had faced to get to where he is now, he urged that any aspiring writers must “know whom your voice is targeting.” Not only that, but “you have to know where you want your work to be staged. In the past, I’ve put shows on in derelict buildings and now I hear that’s called ‘site specific theatre’.” Indeed, these are two factors that are crucial to the beginning stages (should you be following in the footsteps of Bartlett, anyway) of ‘new writing’, and from there, you take your own lead. Authenticity was something that spanned from this previous point: because nowadays, ‘authenticity’ doesn’t mean ‘new’ or wholly ‘original’. Rather, it refers actually to a personality or style of work. Because of this, it’s “dangerous to study new writers” and by extension, I would argue, other styles of work that are specific to one or few artists or companies. He proposed that we can’t actually help but be new; so lets be new by ourselves, and be new in a new way every time.

Although RADAR 2012 is now over, I don’t doubt that we’ll see more of the same kind of thing very soon – at the Bush Theatre or elsewhere – and I insist that you await it with anticipation. Go along, even if it’s just to listen to the speakers or get stuck in to the conversation as well as diverse and brand new work that you get to see in between. 

For more information on the venue:
@BushTheatre #RADAR2012 

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