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Bringing time together

on Jun7 2017
Struggling with Mary Rose
I’ve been really struggling with the timeline for the play, and how to make that work. Originally I thought about the whole piece as Tudor, and then as contemporary, and then as act one being Tudor and act two contemporary, and then reversing that and then . . . I was exhausted.
 
I  watched a show recently which told one story in the first act, and then the truth in the second. I didn’t enjoy that structure as it felt – to me – that I had been manipulated too much. All writers manipulate their readers, and doesn’t a reader chose to be manipulated, isn’t that what they pick up a book for? It’s the same with shows – we want to be scared, or emotionally attached, or on the edge of our seats. The trick is entertaining your audience and taking them on that journey without them thinking that they have been manipulated – you don’t want them to be aware in the moments of experiencing the work, of the writer.
 
It is so complex, and while it would be simpler to choose one time period and work within it, I can’t help myself needing to use two. At the moment I am going for interlinking both. I’m excited by the conservation, I’m excited by the build. All I need to do is to bring them together with cunning dexterity.
Ha!
(On the plus side, there’re some absolutely cracking moments in there!)

Mary Rose Unbroken

on Feb15 2017

I am writing a play about the Mary Rose. This is exciting on so many levels, not only because it’s a new play (yah!), but also because it’s Arts Council funded, and I get to wear my history nerd hat all the time!

Research process

At the moment I am at the very beginning of the process. This is the research phase. This means that I spend time in the Mary Rose Museum, delving into the exhibits, and also viewing the Mary Rose. It’s a truly wonderful place. A little dark (that’s to protect the exhibits) and full of mystery. You can’t help wondering who it was that held the spoon, or sat on a stool, who practiced with the long bows.

The museum has a wonderful selection of volunteers whose knowledge is a rich seam that I intend to mine. Already one of the volunteers has showed me her favourite exhibit, the anti-boarding netting which covered so much of the deck. Although only a small remnant remains, it is thought to have helped to cause the deaths of so many sailors on board.

How you can get involved

One of the wonderful aspects of receiving a research and development grant is that I can spend time deciding what the final piece will look like. That means I am really keen to hear your thoughts too. Tell me your impressions of Mary Rose, share your favourite stories, let me know what fascinates you. Let’s go on this unique journey together, and who knows if you’ll hear your words being uttered on stage.

Keep in touch

Find out more specifically about the project by connecting with Mary Rose Unbroken on facebook and / or instagram.

To get back to my website, click on Zella Compton.

Lovely lists

on Dec13 2016

I’m not talking about shopping . . .  I am talking about writerly things.

Long list – long wait.

I have been long listed for Theatre Fest West’s playwright award. I had to send in twenty pages, and then wait ages, and was then told I was long-listed. Yah! This meant I had to send in the remainder of the play for perusal. I don’t know how many plays are on the long list. When I entered I wanted to be long-listed, that was my objective. And now? I desperately want to be shortlisted. Those that do – a mere three – get to work with a director and actors for a day and prepare the piece for a rehearsed reading. How cool would that be? Then the winner gets their show staged at Salisbury Playhouse.  So now I want to be shortlisted – but am not holding out much hope. I used tonnes of swear words as it is about relational aggression and teenagers. After working at a senior school for a few years, I heard it all. It can be horrible. Really tough. And also rather wonderful. But the question is, will the audiences of Salisbury be ready for my language. Hmm. We’ll have to wait and see. But I hope so. And I really hope I find out soon (if it’s a yes!).

Select few – short wait

I applied for a writer in residency role recently. And, brilliantly, I received an email today inviting me, as one of a select few, to an interview next week. I have to prepare a proposal of what I’d do if I am successful. I’ve just written pages and pages of ideas down and realised that I’ve planned out a full-time role rather than a residency. I can’t help myself, I’m super excited.

Auditions – Ambition

Then there’s the list of the people auditioning for Ambition – that’s the musical I was commissioned to write for Hampshire Music Service. Those auditions are next week.

Christmas – Santa and more

We all know what those are!

To get back to my home page, all you need do is cross your fingers and toes that Zella Compton gets on even shorter lists!

 

 

 

AMBITION – the most exciting project EVER !!!!!!!!

on Dec1 2016

I’m not really one for exclamation marks, but I am so excited about this project.

AMBITION has long been one of my ambitions.

(To write an all singing, all dancing, all shiny as you like, musical.)

Hampshire Music Service commissioned me to write a musical. I’ve been working on the book – that’s what the script part is called – since early 2016. I then met with a composer who works for HMS, called David Cefai. When we started working together (the day of the leave the EU vote), David had tremendously long dreadlocks. Then one day he turned up with them all shorn off. That was quite surreal, luckily he didn’t lose his musical strength (that’s a reference to Samson there, in case you don’t get it!).

Working with a composer

David and I worked together, I gave him outline lyrics, he composed. Some of the songs I have an original idea sound files for – when I was writing the lyrics the tunes popped in my head (I’ll try to figure out how to upload those – they’re truly awful). David made sense of them, and created other tunes, and made a magical score. He tweaked the lyrics to fit the music and introduced me to concepts such as the middle eight. I’ve always been in awe of people who can hear a tune and then play it, and sing to it, and make it better. It’s an amazing skill, and David would switch between instruments as he worked. Sometimes we made a chorus and then he’d send me a sound file of the verse later, sometimes we edited lyrics to fit, sometimes we argued, mostly we laughed.

Writing lyrics

That’s been a strange journey as I’ve never written song lyrics before. I have written poetry though, and I could feel the similarities. I learnt from David that you need to focus strongly on the idea behind the song, which was very hard for me to do as I like to to tell stories in my poetry – as I did in my original lyrics. Lots of my lyrics got cut, and that’s fine. As you work on projects it’s really important to edit, and reshape and stand-back and work out what really works, and what is vanity.

Workshops

I’ve run a couple of workshops with the book, and one with David for the music. I think that’s really important as a creator, to share your work, and listen to honest feedback. If it’s slow, or doesn’t make sense, or difficult in another way, sharing your work helps ease out those sticky moments. And you also learn what does work, where the laughs come, where the characters have emotional resonance, where your writing has hit the spot.

The plot

Ambition is about a boy band and its management. It’s a year in the life. I think it will resonate with audiences, we’re all well versed in this type of story about manufactured pop. But, Ambition is deeper than that – it asks what you’d give up for your ambition? This is an interesting topic especially in the new political environment in which we find ourselves.

Want to be involved?

There is just a whisker of time left for young performers to apply to audition (until Sunday 11th Dec). Search facebook for Musical Theatre Project: Hampshire Music Service, to find out the details. Or, put the dates in your diary to come and see it Spring 2017. 12 May, Berry Theatre, Hedge End. 13 May, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

To get back to my website, click Zella’s ambition came true!

Beauty and the Beast – Northern Ballet – Mayflower Theatre

on Dec1 2016

This is a stunning show running until the end of the week at the Mayflower. I’ve written a review for the Porstmouth News which I’ll link in as soon as it’s published. In the meantime, watch this ballet if you can get there!

The Wipers Times, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, Salisbury Playhouse, Nov 2016.

on Nov28 2016

The Wipers Times – world war one play, set in Ypres.

Well, this is the first time that I can ever remember that I’ve left a show at the intermission. I was so looking forward to seeing this piece, not only because I know a member of the cast (vaguely), but also because I am fascinated with World War One (I have written a play about it called The Devil’s Rope), and also I quite like Ian Hislop on Have I got news for you?

Sadly, this didn’t translate as brilliantly as it should. I felt that there was an air of smug superiority in the piece, based on the true story of a group of men who set up a printing press in the trenches. It felt – to me – like every old-fashioned and dull notion that middle ranks were jolly clever, high ranks utterly malignant and low ranks thick.  There was nothing new, fresh or challenging in the way this story was told. You hear a lot about echo chambers in social media, this felt like an echo chamber on stage.

The actors were all great, working with given material, the set was a little busy with transitions sung brilliantly, but never-ending punctuation to the story, and the costumes / lights etc all fine. But I felt that there was no real heart and what I was witnessing was Ian Hislop’s almost-witticisms far too frequently.

But as ever, it was me (and my husband who went to sleep within five minutes) against everyone else. The rest of the audience was chortling and clapping and feeling the joy.  Perhaps I had built this up in my head to be the most wonderful play ever, and I am judging against what I had hoped for, rather than against going to the theatre and seeing a regular play?

Either way, it did do one thing really, really well, and that was the programme – which has interested me in the bigger story. Darn. I feel such a humbug, but also quite grown-up about walking away from the show that didn’t deliver.

Wind in the Willows – Mayflower Southampton Nov 2016

on Nov28 2016

A quick link to my review for the Portsmouth News.

Frantic Assembly – Things I know to be true, Chichester festival theatre (Minerva) Nov 2016

on Nov28 2016

Frantic Assembly – Things I know to be true, written by Andrew Bovell

This is a really tricky show to write about as it is so dispiriting. The audience was snotting-out globules of sadness all around me from start to end. Considering I cry at TV ads, I was very surprised to keep dry eyes all the way through, and the show employed all the techniques known to pull it out of me including characters weeping on stage, cruelty of words, chopping an onion (not real, but still, your eyes should weep at the thought), miscommunications, and  . . . the big D(eath).

I loved the humour moments, and some of the movements. The relationships between the family members and the easy costumes. I was less enamoured of the structure which was so rigid we all knew that we were going to be delivered monologue after monologue and pain after pain.

I wouldn’t watch this again, but I am a very small minority. Everyone else around me loved it on so many levels. Perhaps that day I had a heart of stone? I don’t know, considering the storylines were coming at me from every angle, as a mother, having a mother, as a daughter, having daughters, as a wife, having a husband, as a sister, having brothers. You know what – if the emotional resonance had been one of these I suspect I would have bawled along with the rest? But as it was all of them? Too much pain to make me believe in the stage reality.

Find out more about Frantic Assembly online – I LOVED their Othello last year, or more about me: Zella Compton.

Theatre and fringes: what a ride.

on Jun8 2016

How to be a Girl! enjoyed its debut at the New Theatre Royal. It sold out the studio space and was moved to the main house. Imagine that. The feeling was immense, looking at the empty auditorium prior to performance.

I sat in the dress circle for the show, and tears flowed down my face at the first laugh. I knew I had written a comedy; there were some very dark moments in rehearsal when I doubted my skill. The cast were amazing, they puffed up on that stage, I could really see how the audience response affected them. There was a lengthy Q&A afterwards with lots of gushing (how wonderful!!!), a few questions and one dis-liker (who I can’t stop thinking about . . .  what’s that all about?).

A week later we went from a Matcham stage to a pub with a performance area of 2.5m by 2.5m. That was Brighton Fringe where we sold out both shows. And got an official review – I will post about that another time. Again the cast did a fantastic job of taking a show designed for a studio into another space.

What have I learnt from this process?

Make sure that there is sufficient storage on your memory card to record the show.

Check out space before booking it.

You can make a profit.

Rehearse your cast with Q&A questions (It worked beautifully getting them to think beforehand)

Take a hanky.

Nothing will prepare you for the loss when it is over.

Feedback is amazing.

The review from Brighton put as a recommended show. I’ll take that! Here’s the opening: Here is a show that serves up a large slice of satire, washed down with a good dose of humour, by ten young teenage girls, ably directed by Helen Jones with a script carefully crafted by Zella Compton. This show is a clear indicator that we live in a culture that teaches girls to judge their worth based on their appearance rather than their abilities.

Looky-look at the poster

on May17 2016

I love the poster for How to be a Girl! which was designed by ASR Graphics in Southsea.

It’s been really exciting working with NTR on this project, especially seeing this poster on the front of the theatre. I spent a morning popping flyers into coffee shops and the like – seems to have worked as the poet laureate for Portsmouth told me that she’d heard about the show from a local Barrista! Hopefully it’ll draw a crowd when it goes to Brighton Fringe too.

Show dates on poster

Pretty in pink!

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