In January last year I entered a play into the Tobacco Factory Theatre‘s annual Script Space scheme. It interested me as a unique opportunity among playwriting competitions in that it was concerned with ideas at early stage or first draft stage that would benefit from script development.
I was concerned that my writing had become a little sterile and po-faced so I resolved to write something very fast, very fun and with all the strangeness I could throw at it. This became a play called Bug Camp! It is the story of Lola who decides rather than doing the weekly shop she will abscond with the frontman from Metallica and head to the fantastic world of Bug Camp. Reality is close behind her in the shape of her oldest friend Jas, a security guard and her teenage son. Lola leads them into a childlike world of imagination and memory from which she does not plan to return.
They liked it!
When I heard the play was though the first round of reading I was pleased. When it got through the second that was great. When I was told that Bug Camp had been shortlisted I started actively talking down my own growing expectation. Then I had a call from Carrie, Artist Development Producer at the Tobacco Factory to say that Bug Camp was one of the scripts that would be taken on for research and development.
Over the next few months through trips to Bristol and phone calls we talked about the play, where it came from and what kind of form its development might take. Script Space is very much a bespoke opportunity where the development is tailored to the needs of the play and its writer. Directing the work would be David Lockwood (Director at Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre), and we had some really useful discussions ahead of time about what it was I wanted to get out of the three days and what the approach should be. Most important to me was to get a handle on how a play like this could be staged and to understand more fully the relationship between Lola and her best friend Jas, which is key to the story.
David suggested that we focus on one scene in terms of how it could be practically realised and another to look at character, in terms of layers and shifts. We would look at these the two scenes in isolation with actors, bringing in a designer to work on ideas for staging and a musician to explore how music and sound could be used to tell the story.
We agreed that the process would be an open one that would encourage a collaborative exploration of the play from everyone involved. David admitted that this was a kind of new way of working for him and that if it didn’t fly then we could walk away at the end with not much to show for it. Well no guts, no glory. I was excited!
In March we convened in the theatre’s Brewery studio for three days of, well, I didn’t quite know what. I showed up ready for a new experience, but with the familiar anxiety about having my words read. I needn’t have worried, because the play that I had reread as being peculiar and outlandish was now being fully indulged by a wonderful group and creatives and performers. And for the most part, it worked. The scenes, even read cold, came of the page really easily.
Actors Kirsty Cox and Rachael Fagan threw themselves (sometimes quite literally) into the characters of Lola and Jas. Their thoughtful and boundless enquiries into the two friends made me appreciate that I knew the characters and their engines pretty well. It also exposed the need for a clear decision to be made on the rules of the world in which these children-as-adults-as-children were operating. Jake McGann made a terrific James Hetfield and his performance made me see that I could go even bolder with the character, because those moments really flew along with the energy.
All the while the scenes evolved the room was filled music, toys and colour as composer and musician Ed Patrick (aka Kid Carpet) and designer Ruth Webb worked to interpret and add layers to the world. Ed’s palette of sounds brought playfulness as well as a new dimension to what was going on in Lola’s head. I loved the idea of an audio collage representing the influences of Lola’s memories on the reality she was creating.
Ruth provided props and materials for the cast to play with and build their own set. It brought joy to my heart to watch actors riding on tiny cars, play with blocks and shine torches around in the dark. As they played Ruth sketched out possible set designs based on what was working on stage. I really liked her ideas about playing with scale and that in turn made me appreciate how in Lola’s mind I wanted everything, reality, memory and fantasy, to all be the same size as each other.
As a bonus we also had Katherine Mitchell, fellow writer and dramaturg, on hand. Katherine’s writer’s perspective was a great resource to have in the room. Her insight and encouragement was
Most welcome when I found myself cringing at the raw nature of some of what I had written. But as Katherine said if it is difficult to write and hear then it is probably something worth saying, which I loved.
As a culmination to the work we had a low key sharing to a small friendly audience. Though they were seeing only a few quickly developed isolated scenes the world of the play really came across, so much more than in just a reading of the script. It showed what was unique about the piece, and gave an exciting taste of what could be. It also showed what needed work, and gave me questions to answer. But, dammit, it made me want to see that play!
Now I am revisiting the script with what have gained from the experience. Of no small importance is the confidence I now have in the piece. For that, the efforts and talent of all involved and for the ongoing support and interest, I am thankful to Script Space.
This will be the most awesome tale of that time Lola went to Bug Camp!
What I took away on a more general note were these thoughts:
Embrace what you love.
Write and create what is fun, what you would want to see. Then even if no one else gets it you at least will have made something you enjoy. But someone else will probably get it.
Playing is fun.
All kinds, like playing with toys on the floor, play fighting, building camps and taking leaps of imagination, just like I did with my sister and brother when we were children. It turns out that grown-ups still enjoy that stuff. Maybe we should all do it more; it’s good for the creative mind.