The Courtyard Theatre – 4th July
I first heard of the Write On Festival when I studied Writing for Theatre with Alan Harris at The Courtyard Theatre Spring 2013. This year Sarah James made an application with her poetry collection ‘The Magnetic Diaries’ and what happened next was a sequence of events which created a wonderful piece of theatre.
I know theatre, it is what I trained in and worked in until I pulled back my ego and found out writing was something I enjoyed better than the lights and action in front of the camera and there is no doubt about it this was theatre.
Sarah made the decision to use a professional actress Vey Straker and Director, Tiffany Hosking.
The set was a multi-use masterpiece and the SFX (Special Effects/Lighting) was used to change the whole focus and feel of the piece throughout. Very clever elements of physical theatre sprinkled throughout the performance kept up the belief of place.
I am certain it was a golden egg for The Courtyard and the Write On Festival. We knew we were watching something special. I always like to read the book before there is a film adaptation, so I was thoroughly delighted that I had managed to do so and was looking forward to making sense through theatre, excited at how it would be approached.
Sarah’s face as it was about to start looked like pure nerves, she didn’t need to be nervous of course, but that’s theatre for you!
What was to unfold on the stage had the entire audience captivated. With a foundation of a strong, emotive tale and the unusual concept of a poetry manuscript, combined in a heart wrenching piece of theatre. One that I believe (from suffering depression) could actually help promote mental health, it is possible that people may be able to learn what it is like for the sufferer. I certainly did, that didn’t surprise me… the book moved me and I have been dancing with the Black Dog since before 2011. Other people in the audience had not come with the same insight to the illness and were still affected by the performance. A strong piece. So how did it all come together?
Micro-interview with Sarah James
- What were your initial thoughts behind sending a poetry entry to the Write On Festival?
I was simultaneously thinking it’s unlikely they will take something so different while absolutely believing it could be something amazingly different and intense to put on stage. I was delighted, yet almost couldn’t quite believe it, when they accepted it!
- At what point was the decision made to use an actress and director?
As with so many arts project, funding was the biggest block to not using an actress and director – because there was no money except the potential of the box-office split. The script I initially submitted was very much based on the notion of an enhanced poetry-reading, a poetry-show if you like, in which I would therefore play the main character, Emma. This meant the amount of acting possible was limited; I was using a lot of props and some stagey movements with elements of physical theatre. This was what was accepted in January and I tentatively started rehearsing the lines.
Meanwhile in February, the festival organiser had put me in touch with actress Vey Straker who played Emma. Through Vey, Tiffany Hosking from Reaction Theatre Makers agreed to take on directing. I think it was around May when it firmly became a poetry-play with actress and director. Throughout this period, I did quite a bit of rewriting and there was some re-ordering to make it more of a poetry-play, to fit with Vey’s excellent portrayal of Emma’s character, the greater scope Vey’s taking on the role allowed and how Tiff envisaged it working best on stage.
- What was the most challenging part of this project?
Probably the ‘producer’ aspects and having to juggle those jobs alongside the creative aspects. I love the creative side, the re-writing, the seeing it through Vey and Tiff’s eyes was fantastic. But in effect, I was also producer as the contract with The Courtyard was in my name. So that was dealing with things like the financial constraints, the marketing, liaising with the theatre. Also the whole finding the line between being involved with the play as writer but not trespassing too far into the director’s realm, which I think is harder if the writer is also part-producer. I was very lucky to be working with an experienced director and actress, so that this was much easier than it might otherwise have been.
But, as we’d still like to tour with The Magnetic Diaries, it could be that I’ve not yet reached the most challenging part of the project!
4) How long did the whole project take?
Well, the original poetry collection that the production is based on was mostly written in the second half of 2013 into the first half of 2014, when I submitted it to my publisher Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. Towards the latter end of this period, I had the idea of also doing a poetry-show version, potentially for poetry festivals and did some recordings in advance with my publisher Alec Newman. But I didn’t start work on the actual script until the latter half of 2014, in case any of the collection poems were omitted or drastically edited. In my head, I already knew how I wanted to link the poems and which poems from the collection I wanted to use, so I created the script as soon as the collection contents was fixed. Then I submitted it to the Write On Festival over the Christmas period 2014-2015.
Thanks for taking time to be interviewed and I really hope you secure funding to tour this work, which would work at Poetry Festivals but could stand as a piece of theatre too.
From the theatre website and Sarah’s blog.
A narrative of love, lust, betrayal and depression, The Magnetic Diaries re-envisages the characters and storyline of Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece Madame Bovary in a modern twenty-first century English, poetry setting. The contemporary heroine, Emma Bailey, battles with romantic idealism, illusions about love, a stifling middle-class lifestyle, boredom and depression.
Moving lyrical fragments and crafted poems reconstructed by fictional researchers from Emma’s diary and treatment notes are set alongside the voices of her doctors and emails from her husband Carl. But will modern medicine save Emma and her marriage in the wake of two affairs?
Written by Sarah James
© 2015 The Courtyard – Herefordshire’s Centre for the Arts | Reg. Charity No 1067869
Oh, what a night…last night’s performance of my poetry-play at The Courtyard in Hereford was one of those memorable nights. Actress Vey Straker was amazing as Emma, and with Tiffany Hosking from Reaction Thaetre Makers as director, they really brought The Magnetic Diariesto life on stage. It was a truly exciting evening,enjoying the production, listening to people’s comments and feeling the buzz afterwards.
© 2015 Sarah James