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The Country by Martin Crimp - Dramaturgical notes from Sarah Mantell

Posted by Emma Gibson on June 17, 2012 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Martin Crimp doesn’t like to speak about his plays. He doesn’t like to speak about his family. In fact, he doesn’t like talking to journalists at all. “Whatever I say to you, you will go away and make a shape from it….You will undertake a shaping process…in which I as a person will be misrepresented. It’s inevitable.”*

Crimp’s discomfort with being written about is understandable if you are familiar with his plays. His work is character-ized by spare, carefully controlled language. Directors and actors speak reverently about how he puts each word, each comma there for a specific purpose. “With Martin, it all comes down to the difference between ‘slight pause’ and ‘pause’...you had to have a sense of musicality in order to do it justice.”* Crimp himself describes his work as “text obsessive” and admits to speaking each line aloud. “That’s my own private craziness, talking to myself.”**

Since his first plays were discovered by London’s Orange Tree theatre in the 1980s, Crimp has become an important voice in British theatre, the author of over fifteen produced plays and nearly as many sought-after translations. His work has inspired many other playwrights, especially those of the confrontational In-Yer-Face movement: Sarah Kane referred to Crimp as “one of the few genuine formal innovators writing for the stage.”*

Crimp is known for inventing new structures with each of his plays. “I’m just always looking for new rules, I’m looking for constraints, looking for constraints all the time, and it’s the constraints which will let the material be created by me. It is the constraints that I need.”* His play Getting Attention (1991), about a couple who abuse their young daughter, never allows us to see the child. Instead, Crimp designs the play to allow audiences only the ambiguous sounds of her distress, forcing us to experience events as the neighbors would, with their limited understanding—unsure what they are hearing and reluctant to invade a family’s private life. Crimp’s most famous and most radically structured work is Attempts on Her Life (1997), made up of seventeen scenes about a woman named Anne. As the play progresses, she is described as the girl next door, an international terrorist, a casualty of civil war, even a make of a car. The number of actors is left up to each director, as is their gender, race, and age. Even the lines of dialogue are not ascribed to particular characters but are designed to be distributed differently in each production.

The Country (2000) is also created with rules Crimp has never used before. Written after Attempts on Her Life, The Country is a tightly structured work, designed to be delved into rather than restructured with each new cast. The constraints Crimp chooses in writing The Country come from both literary and everyday sources. The structure is five acts, taken from classical tragedy, while the scenes in this three-character play are modeled on the child’s decision-making game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Crimp’s plays are never easy. His work is, as he himself puts it, “deliberately constructed on cultural fault-lines.”* Relying on audience interpretation, the plays rarely fall into neat patterns of revelation and resolution. Crimp is less interested in telling a particular story than he is in having you extract a story from what he has created. His work revels in subjectivity. As biographer Aleks Sierz puts it, “What Martin does is to bear witness. He asks us to look and trusts us to make up our own minds.”*

Quoted Sources: *The Theatre of Martin Crimp by Aleks Sierz, Methuen Drama, 2006 **”Grievous bodily harm” by Maddy Costa, The Guardian, 2007 A word from the Dramaturg Inside spread Martin Crimp, Playwright

The One Act Play

Posted by Emma Gibson on December 5, 2011 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (0)

For season two of ‘a Play, a Pie and a Pint’ I have had over 70 script submissions. Playwrights from the UK, across the US and Philadelphia have submitted scripts. Most are set in restaurants or diners, eleven are in bedrooms, five require musicians, three need small children and one asks for an inside out badger skin as a central prop (it’s an incredible play). Cast sizes range from 1 - 8. Lengths vary from 15 minutes to 75.

To narrow choices down to just four plays is a humbling task. It will always be a subjective decision and there is the question of loosely fitting the four plays together within a season. But what a joy it is to read the scripts. I like devouring a play in a single sitting. I like experiencing my characters lives in that one transcendent moment, glimpsing something of importance before everything changes, all in under 60 minutes.

As I read more and more plays, the one act play seems a fitting form for our world of ipads, tweets and fast paced existence. The perfect antidote to three hour Shakespeare with its’ quick fix theatrical high. There are no second chances, sub plots or lengthy expositions to contend with. Characters must be established within a few lines.

So what works for season two? I will be announcing the full line up in a couple of weeks. There will probably be a play with an inside out badger skin in there somewhere. In the meantime, whilst submissions are closed for this season, do keep sending plays along or let me know writers that you love. It is an honor to read your work.

Finally to The Guardian and a post by Alexandra Coghlan. “Every age, it is said, gets the culture it deserves. Surely the short play – the loaded miniature, Blake's "world in a grain of sand" – is a genre fit for our babel age of isolated internet chatter and white noise.”

Served up with a pie and a pint, I think it works.

Putting the 'dram' back in drama

Posted by Emma Gibson on September 17, 2011 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I really enjoyed reading an article online last week by Guardian writer, Alexis Soloski, in which she laments the lack of good theatre bars in NY. She explains it by saying, " In 1774, with war approaching (you English remember the one), Congress passed a resolution discouraging "exhibitions of shows, plays and other expensive diversions". Nearly 150 years later, a rather larger House forbade the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Neither prohibition lasted very long - only a decade or so in each case - but perhaps a whiff of those puritan impulses still lingers."

It seemed rather relevant to me with all the work we are doing with ' a Play, a Pie and a Pint'. Yup, just like NY, good theatre bars in Philadelphia are few and far between and I am afraid that unless your play is being served up in a theatre pub, you are probably going to have to make do with a weak cup of coffee and some peanut m and m's before you enjoy your show. That post show discussion, drink in hand, will have to take place somewhere else (a few notable venues excepting).

And it's not just the absence of good theatre bars - maybe we can also blame Congress for the expensive formality that now accompanies 'quality theatre'. Whilst we do not extoll drunken theatre viewing (it's not fair on anyone and besides, it will make you snore), but serving up a drink, alcoholic or otherwise, and something to eat with your theatre experience is a way of expanding the event, of savouring a shared experience. Look how well the pub theatres in London do this. Crucially, less formal does not mean low-quality, it just means the etiquette books have been rewritten.

With 'a Play, a Pie and a Pint' we are bringing the best playwrights and the best artists and directors to our own form of 'brilliantly casual' theatre, where, if you want a drink and something to eat, you can enjoy it whilst watching some amazing live theatre.



Scottish Pies and Pints

Posted by Emma Gibson on August 26, 2011 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)
The Edinburgh Festival is in full swing and it seems somehow fitting to post this week with the updates from 'a Play, Pie and a Pint'. Edinburgh, for those who have never been, is an amazing artistic celebration and this year five of the plays which started life at the Oran Mor (Scottish) 'Play, Pie and a Pint' are having productions there. 
Oran Mor have also just announced their season beginning September 5th with some amazing new shows. Their success with 'a Play, a Pie and a Pint' has been groundbreaking, reinventing the UK theatre experience and bringing new audiences to the Arts. With the full support of our Scottish counterparts, we are launching the first US version of 'a Play, a Pie and a Pint' in just a few weeks. I feel enormously privileged to be producing this in Philadelphia and thrilled by the quality of artists that are now associated with our project. I urge you to be a part of this. Please come and see the shows, donate to our matching grant challenge, tell your friends, like us on facebook,or just send us a message of support. Oran Mor started small like us and we aspire to their success and to our long term goal of creating low cost, brilliantly casual theatre that unites our community.

"A Play, A Pie and a Pint has clearly tapped into a hunger for work seen in the raw. A Play, A Pie and a Pint... has become a fixture that has spread its tentacles throughout the rest of Scotland's theatre community and beyond." The Herald 

As our artistic team grows, so do our costs. Most urgently, our kickstarter online donation campaign finishes on September 2nd. We need to find another $1800 to reach our target of $5000 otherwise all donations are declared void. I know we can do this with your help. There are some fabulous prizes on offer including limited edition 'a Play, Pie and a Pint' coasters, t shirts and free tickets to the shows. Please consider a donation.
Our kickstarter campaign only reaches a fifth of our needed funds. If you would rather donate by personal check, please make it payable to "The Miami Foundation" and in the subject line put 'Tiny Dynamite'. Checks can be sent to 5, Four Winds Lane, Malvern PA 19355. All donations are tax deductible and will receive a mention in our program.
Two of our chosen plays for our first season in Philadelphia were premiered at the Scottish 'Play, Pie and a Pint'. 'Fly me to the Moon' by Marie Jones went on to become one of the most loved plays of the series and toured around the UK and beyond. Alan Bissett's 'The Ching Room' represents to me, the perfect one act play. It's funny, smart, unexpected... and set in a toilet cubicle (ho hum, how the British love their toilet humor).
'Peaches en Regalia' by Steve Lyons had a sell out success at Edinburgh in 2004 and opens our season. 'Hazardous' by Philadelphia's own, Quinn Eli, marks the beginning of what we hope will be a long term collaboration working with local playwrights. 
Thank you again for all your support. I look forward to sharing some brilliantly casual theatre with you while you enjoy a pie and a pint in October,

Keep Calm and Carry On

Posted by Emma Gibson on August 8, 2011 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Fundraising for the Arts is an unpleasant process. Friends who I normally rely on for good times, great conversation and occasional enlightenment, are now just called on for cash. It's rather embarrassing. I started off with an occasional, subtle reference to the project but just a few weeks in and I'm about to lose all my facebook friends and my family are not answering my phone calls. I'm sorry everyone, really I am (but if you would like to donate, click here)......

But these are the bad things. Thank goodness there have been good moments too. Support appears in unlikely places at crucial moments: A large donation to kickstarter just when I have given up hope, a brilliant discussion about one of the plays with an artist involved in the project, the kindness of a stranger, an amazing graphic designer who has just come up with the poster design of the century. 

On October 4th I am going to make sure that I have a big glass of beer to hand as I toast all you brilliant people out there who have transformed this experience into something quite magical. I may have no friends left, no money and a stomach ulcer from all the fizzy chemicals, but I think I will be extremely proud.

Climb every mountain

Posted by Emma Gibson on July 26, 2011 at 6:46 PM Comments comments (0)
This is the first blog entry for ‘a Play, a Pie and a Pint’ and I promise that this is all the alliteration that this entry will contain;) 

We are in a great place this week - we have finalised the details of our first season and our kickstarter campaign has gone live. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/884579649/british-pub-theatre-in-philly-a-play-a-pie-and-a-p It’s a huge relief. Next step is to continue the hunt for matching funds and start work on our marketing campaign. Everything is a learning curve and without the support of some amazing people around me, I think I would have to turned to the ‘pint’ part of our project with considerable gusto.

But the major decision of this week has been to not perform in our first season. The deciding factor came when I spoke to a good friend who has climbed Everest(and not just the once). “Emma, expedition leaders for Everest do not summit”, he told me. Each thing we do must have different goals and the summit for each changes. To climb this mountain of fundraising, producing and to legitimately fulfill the potential of this project requires me to stay firmly in base camp (where hopefully there is a little more oxygen and supportive colleagues camping nearby.) It is a difficult but ‘right’ decision.

So now to marketing, management and motiovation (ok, I lied about the alliteration). If you, like me, are climbing your own mountain, I hope the ascent is easy and the view from above, quite, quite breathtaking.

Knight Arts Challenge Winners!

Posted by Emma Gibson on May 10, 2011 at 6:42 AM Comments comments (0)

We are incredibly proud to announce that we are one of the 36 winners (of 1751 applicants) of the 2011 Knight Arts Challenge. The awards were announced last night in an amazing ceremony at the Museum of Art with Mayor Nutter in attendance (and he chatted to us!). It was incredible to finally feel part of Philadelphia's extraordinary Art community. Now to raise the matching funds........

Knight Arts Challenge Finalists!

Posted by Emma Gibson on January 19, 2011 at 12:40 PM Comments comments (0)

We are extremely proud to announce that we are one of the 63 finalists (from 1752 applications) for the Knight Arts Challenge. Further information can be found on our web site in 'up next'. Thanks!

Our news

Posted by Emma Gibson on January 18, 2011 at 9:52 AM Comments comments (0)
Tom (Tansey) has just completed 6 days work on SAFE, the feature film featuring Jason Statham. Phillip (Brown) will be performing in Philadelphia this January in 'Pimps in the Pulpit' and has also been cast in the feature 'All about the music' which is shooting in the new year.  Emma (Gibson) is doing a reading of EAST by Steven Berkoff for Egopo in January, directed by Andrew Gorell and will be directing Hamlet in the spring. Check back soon for further information about our next production at the Walnut Studio.