Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ask The Archivist: 27 March 2012

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd. 
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: ayckbourn@gmail.com (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.  

Question: Having recently seen the West End production of Absent Friends, how many of Alan Ayckbourn's plays are set in real time and which play has the longest time-span of his plays?

Answer: Absent Friends, written in 1974, was Alan Ayckbourn's first full-length play set in real time (where a minute of stage time equals a minute of real time). Since then he has written only one other full-length play in real time, Haunting Julia. If performed as intended, Haunting Julia is the epitome of the real time play as it is intended to be performed without an interval (unlike Absent Friends, which does have a scripted interval).

As for the play which has the longest time-span for the characters, this would currently be Joking Apart, which is set over a period of 12 years. Although this will be superseded this summer by the premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's new play Surprises which covers a period of fifty years for the characters.

As for general time-span (in which time does not affect the characters), this would have to be Whenever, which by virtue of a time machine sees the characters venture from Victorian times to the end of time and back again within the course of the play!

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: ayckbourn@gmail.com labelled Ask The Archivist.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Alan Ayckbourn In His Own Words

The BBC has just released a new digital album offering a selection of interviews with Alan Ayckbourn recorded over the past three decades
Alan Ayckbourn In His Own Words collects various interviews recorded at the BBC between 1979 and 2011 offering a fascinating opportunity to hear Alan's thought on his plays and career at different points in his life.
The audio interview extracts are taken from both BBC Radio and BBC television features on Alan Ayckbourn with more than 100 minutes of interviews. The album is split into five tracks, each containing a couple of interviews.
Extracts are included from interviews with the playwright on: Today (1979); The Saturday Review (1980); The Levin Interview (1984); Kaleidoscope (1984); The Michael Parkinson Programme (1987); Meridian (1989); Omnibus (1990); Alan Ayckbourn In Conversation (1991); Simon Mayo (2010); Imagine (2011).
Alan Ayckbourn In His Own Words is currently only available via iTunes as a digital download and is priced at £4.49. You can purchase the download or find out more information by clicking here.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ask The Archivist: 15 March 2012

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd. 
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: ayckbourn@gmail.com (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.  

Question: We're extrapolating on a recent question about Alan's directing career today, by focussing on a less well known area of Alan's directing career - with a look at where, other than the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan has professionally directed.

Answer: As we noted in the 17 February edition of Ask The Archivist (click here), Alan began directing at the Library Theatre, Scarborough (the company which now the Stephen Joseph Theatre) in 1961, where he has spent the majority of his acting career. However, he has also directed for a number of other venues and companies over the years.

Victoria Theatre, Stoke: In 1962, Stephen Joseph founded the first permanent and professional in-the-round venue in the UK (he had previously founded the UK's first professional in-the-round company in Scarborough in 1955). Alan joined the Victoria as an Associate Director and worked as actor, playwright and director at the venue between 1962 and 1964. During that period, he directed six productions which included his first opportunity to direct one of his own plays (Standing Room Only) and the world premiere of his sixth play Mr Whatnot.

National Theatre, London: In 1977, Alan co-directed with Peter Hall his first play at the National Theatre, Bedroom Farce. Between 1977 and the present day, Alan has since directed 12 full-length plays at the venue (Bedroom Farce, Sisterly Feelings, Way Upstream, A Chorus Of Disapproval, A Small Family Business, Invisible Friends, Mr A's Mazing Maze Plays, House & Garden, Will Evans & Valentine's Tons Of Money, Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, John Ford's Tis Pity She's a Whore. Alan was also a company director for two years at the National between 1986 and 1988 when he took a sabbatical from Scarborough.

West End, London: Between 1977 and the present day, Alan has directed 14 West End productions - predominantly for the producer Michael Codron - including Just Between Ourselves, Ten Times Table, Joking Apart, Season's Greetings, Woman In Mind, Henceforward..., Man Of The Moment, The Revengers' Comedies, Time Of My Life, Communicating Doors, By Jeeves, Things We Do For Love and Comic Potential (note: this figure does not include transfers of productions from the Stephen Joseph Theatre or the National Theatre).

Royal Shakespeare Company: In 1994, the Royal Shakespeare Company asked Alan to direct his most recent work for the company. He directed Wildest Dreams, which was performed at The Pit at the Barbican in London before transferring to the company's home town of Stratford.

Alley Theatre, Houston: As well as touring several of his Scarborough productions to Houston in the USA, Alan also directed the American premiere of his play Henceforward... with the Alley Theatre in 1987.

Goodspeed Opera House: In 1996, Alan was invited to direct his and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical By Jeeves at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. Between 1996 and 2001, Alan re-directed the piece several times in different venues for the company until the play opened on Broadway in 2001.

Hampstead Theatre, London: In 2002, Alan Ayckbourn directed a revival of Tim Firth's The Safari Party which he had previously directed in Scarborough.

Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond: Most recently, Alan directed a highly acclaim production of his farce Taking Steps at the in-the-round venue in London in 2010.

Since 2009, when Alan Ayckbourn stepped down as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, he has - essentially - become a freelance director so it is probable this list will expand in the future.

To find out more about Alan Ayckbourn's directing career, visit the Directing section of Alan Ayckbourn's website.

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: ayckbourn@gmail.com labelled Ask The Archivist.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ask The Archivist: 9 March 2012

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd. 
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: ayckbourn@gmail.com (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.  

Question: The Week In History mentioned Absurd Person Singular closed on Broadway this week in 1976. I've read that Alan was asked to swap Acts 2 and 3 for when it opened in New York, is this true?

Answer: Extraordinarily this is true and there is a significant amount of correspondence from the time held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York between Alan Ayckbourn, his agent Margaret Ramsay, the director Eric Thompson and the play's American producers concerning this subject.

After its enormously successful London opening in 1973, plans were made to transfer Absurd Person Singular to Broadway. One of the key elements in making this possible was the involvement of The Theatre Guild (a New York-based organisation formed in 1919, one of whose remits was to produce non-commercial plays on Broadway by American and foreign authors).

Although the play was presumably optioned for Broadway due to its success in London, at least one of the producers within The Theatre Guild had certain issues with the play and in lunch with Alan Ayckbourn had seriously suggested the second and third acts should be transposed so the play finished on a comic high rather than a dying fall. Alan, naturally, refused and felt secure in a contract which forbade any major changes without his approval.

Once the play went into rehearsals, the director Eric Thompson found himself fending off suggestions that “the set should collapse at the end of the third act to give the show a big finish” alongside other fairly inappropriate suggestions. Thompson refused and in correspondence recalls how he was rebuked by the producer saying that Alan was contractually obliged “to make such alterations and additions as the Producers deem necessary.” Of course, this was not the case and Alan's very experienced and formidable agent made it quite clear the play could not contractually be changed.

The play went on as planned on Broadway and was an enormous success, but presumably the producer wanted the last word and famously brought in statisticians to see a performance to count the laughs and prove the second act was funnier than the third; this fascinating document is also held in the Ayckbourn Archive and contains the following figures:


The document was presented to Alan, although it's difficult to understand with what intention; the play having opened six weeks previously and was already a huge success. Alan apparently read the document and noted approvingly the play was doing exactly as he had intended, ending on a dying fall!

The story has been often repeated by Alan ever since and is one of the stranger tales attached to productions of his play. To find out more about the Broadway production of the play, visit the Absurd Person Singular section of Alan Ayckbourn's website here.

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: ayckbourn@gmail.com labelled Ask The Archivist.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ayckbourn Notes & Quotes: Directing

Notes & Quotes is a new occasional column in which we reproduce articles Alan Ayckbourn has written over the years, offering an insight into his work, his plays or his views on a specific topic.
All material published in this column is copyright of Alan Ayckbourn and should not be reproduced without permission.
We begin with a short and succinct piece in which Alan offers his thoughts on what the role of a director is.

Alan Ayckbourn discusses the role of the director

Stephen Joseph [Alan's most influential mentor] said something to me once when I did my first production for him. I went to him for advice. I was an actor and he'd asked me to direct a play, and I got very nervous. You suddenly realise how much energy you have to generate as a director. Actors tend to wait and see. And I said to him, 'What is the role of a director?' And he made one of the simplest and one of the most complicated statements that I've ever heard; he said, 'The role of a director is to create an atmosphere in which the actors can create', and indeed that's what I try to do. Take eight to ten different people, all with different temperaments and working styles; some work Stanislavsky, some work Brechtian style, some just blunder around and find things, and you have to somehow give them space to develop what they want to do and yet bring them together into some sort of unity.
My rehearsals are rather gentle affairs. I always think that if an actor feels that an idea is his own, he's much more convincing than when the idea is put in from outside, so I drop little seeds of ideas which they'll discover. And I suppose that in the perfect production, I don't appear to have done anything. Although I hope that later on the actors will say, 'Oh, I think he did quite a lot, but I wasn't aware of it at the time'.