Friday, April 19, 2013

Literary Habits

Alan Ayckbourn recently offered an insight into his current and favourite reading habits.
The article reprinted here - originally published in The Scarborough News - offers an insight into the literary habits of the playwright.

I am currently reading - or rather should I say exploring - Building Stories by Chris Ware. It’s not really a book in the conventional sense but an interactive novel. It comes in a box containing an assortment of pieces of printed matter in various shapes and formats. A good deal of it is in the form of cartoons but don’t get the idea it is kids’ stuff. It’s a long way from the Beano and occasionally contains what we delicately refer to these days as ‘adult themes’. The speech bubbles hold strands of fairly complex narrative and occasionally strong emotions with each separate section seemingly related to another (or maybe they aren’t at all, time will tell). A series of interwoven stories which may be read in any order. Fascinating and absorbing. And for someone who has spent a lot of his life experimenting with theatrical forms, particularly exciting.

My favourite author? When I’m not writing or rehearsing, I spend a lot of my time reading crime fiction. I tend to move from author to author, alighting on one and devouring their entire output. I’m currently half way through Ian Rankin’s splendid Inspector Rebus cycle. Before that it was Michael Connelly with his Harry Bosch. And before that were the Scandinavians, Jo Nesbo, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, Henning Mankell etc. etc. So my favourite author is usually the one I’m into at the time.

My favourite book? Undoubtedly Winnie the Pooh - with House at Pooh Corner a close second.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

50th Anniversary: Directing An Ayckbourn Play

Yesterday marked a significant anniversary in Alan Ayckbourn's career in theatre. It Marked the 50th anniversary of him directing one of his own plays for the first time.
On 14 April 1963, Alan directed a revival of his fourth play Standing Room Only at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent.
Alan started directing professionally in 1961 with a production of Gaslight at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. Following that he had directed more than a dozen plays professionally before he tackled one of his own plays.
Although this would not be viewed as unusual now, at the time it was not common for playwrights to direct their own works and largely it was only well-established playwrights - such as Noël Coward - who had made the successful transition.
Alan was part of a new wave of writers who would begin directing their own plays - Harold Pinter notably fell into this group - although very few had either Alan or Pinter's professional experience both as actors as well as experience of directing other people's plays.
The production of Standing Room Only - which was heavily revised from its original production at the Library Theatre in 1962, directed by Stephen Joseph - featured Elizabeth Bell, Peter King, David Halliwell, Stanley Page, Caroline Smith and Heather Stoney.
It also marked the first time one of his own plays was attributed to Alan Ayckbourn. Prior to this production, all his plays (including the original production of Standing Room Only) had been attributed to his pseudonym Roland Allen.
In the interview extract below, Alan Ayckbourn talks about his early work as a director directing his own plays

The two careers - writer and director - developed separately. I didn’t begin with the idea of directing my own plays; at the time people said writers should not direct their own plays. It wasn’t done, although there were notable exceptions including Noël Coward and a few others, but really you weren’t supposed to do that. And then I was allowed slowly to direct my plays in Scarborough, but never in London.
I think the experience of acting in the plays was so mind- blowing that I initially had no thought of directing at all. But as my directing career developed, it encouraged me towards a director’s eye and so the last few plays I was in as an actor, I spent the time checking the lighting, checking the set, checking the pace of the scene and was really a bore as an actor. I would have fired myself! I became more and more objective to what was happening as a director and a less objective actor. I was a waste of space as an actor by the end of it.
It was only a year or so before the two careers joined up and one or two of my writing contemporaries at the time saw this and said “This is good, you can direct your own show” and many a writer tried to follow me, but they didn’t have, of course, independent directing experience. They were going into a rehearsal room with their own play for the first time as a director - it’s difficult enough going in as a director full-stop, but going in as a writer-director unless you’re really experienced is incredibly difficult. I was reasonably experienced by the time I got to direct my own first play, I was at least able to understand the procedures, the geography of directing and I was able to do the plays.
I’m able now to step away from the writer and become the Mr Hyde or the Doctor Jekyll side of myself. I think of Mr Hyde as the writer and Dr Jekyll as the director. I’m slightly more benign as a director than I am as a writer.

This extract is taken from an exclusive article in the website's new publication Unseen Ayckbourn. A completely revised and heavily expanded new edition of the 2009 book Sight Unseen which includes new and expanded entires on Alan Ayckbourn's unpublished, unproduced and 'lost' plays as well as an exclusive interview with the playwright about his early professional theatre experiences and a behind-the-scenes look at his flop 1975 musical Jeeves,
Unseen Ayckbourn is currently available via by clicking here, but look out for further details about the publication and other news soon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: First Plays

In the run-up to Alan Ayckbourn's 75th birthday in April 2014, a monthly feature reproduces articles by the playwright highlighting his life in theatre through the years.
Last month we looked at Alan Ayckbourn's mentor Stephen Joseph, whom Alan met in 1957 and who had a pivotal role in his development as playwright and director. This month we move forward to 1959 when Alan Ayckbourn premiered his first professional play, The Square Cat.
Alan Ayckbourn has never written specifically about his experiences with The Square Cat, but in 1976 he wrote a piece about how to cope with the first night of your first play - which was no doubt inspired in part by The Square Cat and the numerous first nights which followed!.

First Plays And How To Cope
As far as an author is concerned, the only certain thing about First Nights is that they don't get any better. All that happens, assuming of course that he's fortunate enough to have more than one in his career, is that he develops little tricks and conditioned reflexes to see him safely through this most awful of ordeals. He can drink to excess and miss the whole thing, persuade the management to cancel, or emigrate and start a new life. Failing anything quite so drastic, here are a few essential Do's and Don'ts for new dramatists facing their first First Night:
Never look to the Actors for reassurance. Remember they are front line troops about to go over the top and are already telling themselves that their instincts were right and they shouldn't have taken this job in the first place. In a word, they have enough Inner Doubts of their own without listening to yours.
Don't expect words of reassurance from the Director. He is faintly optimistic that he may just about have saved the evening through his dextrous ingenuity but it's no thanks to the play. He is on the actors' side.
Don't stand about at the front of the theatre smiling at Critics as they arrive - or worse, attempt to greet them cheerfully. They mistrust cheery dramatists and besides they are as shy as High Court Judges of mixing socially with those upon whom they intend to pass sentence.
Never sit in the auditorium whilst a first night is in progress. If you must watch the play, stand. If you're incapable of standing, sit on the end of a row near the door. But beware of leaving and returning too frequently. This may, to those sitting in front; give the impression of a mass walk out as the door bangs to and fro. Better still keep well away from the theatre altogether. But keep an eye on the time. It is embarrassing to return and find the place is locked up for the night.
Don't smile at Critics as they leave. Their minds are made up.
Never eavesdrop on departing audiences, hoping to hear nice things said about your play. You never will. Those who enjoyed it will be glowing with silent, inner contentment.
Don't wait up for reviews. They all look better in the morning.
Don't plan in advance any celebrations. Better go home and write another.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.