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Our Fathers April 2017 development week

We’ve just finished our final development week on Our Fathers before we start rehearsals in mid-September. Our Fathers is a collaboration between me and playwright/performer Rob Drummond, based on Edmund Gosse’s 1907 memoir Father and Son and its connections to our own lives as the sons of clergymen. As I wrote in my last blog on the production’s development (Making ‘Our Fathers’), we’ve also begun to explore the modern connotations of the book to see what it has to tell us today about how people with opposing views might talk to each other more respectfully.

 

We were fortunate to be working in Traverse 1, which is where we’ll open the production in October. This meant we could get a sense of how we might talk to the audience – an important element of the show – and how we might use the space. Ian Cameron (who is co-directing with me) and Jenna Watt (assistant director) were with us all week and we were joined at various points by other members of the creative team: composer Scott Twynholm, designer Karen Tennant, lighting designer Simon Wilkinson and voice director Ros Steen.

Our aim for the week was to establish the structure and ‘voice’ of the production. Rob and I are collaborating with each other for the first time and, to make things harder for ourselves, are working in a way that is new to both of us, though it’s a method that incorporates elements of our individual practices. Rather than writing a complete script for rehearsals, we are creating what Rob calls a script-ment, which is somewhere between a treatment and a script. A treatment is a stage of screenwriting which describes in some detail what will happen and usually comes at the stage before a full script is written. In our case, the script-ment will combine dialogue for some scenes, outlines of action for others – the dialogue is for scenes adapted from the book, while the outlines are for the semi-improvised scenes of discussion between me and Rob. Ah yes, perhaps I should have mentioned that Rob and I are performing in the production. We play Edmund and Philip Gosse and versions of ourselves, exploring our relationships with our fathers – and our own sons – and talking to the audience about their own experiences of faith and disagreement. Rob has frequently performed in his own work, most recently In:Fidelity at the High Tide and Edinburgh festivals last year. I’m a more infrequent performer, but also performed at last year’s Edinburgh fringe – a semi-improvised movement piece with In the Making. What connects us is that we both trained with Anne Bogart.

 

As I’ll be performing and as the subject matter is quite personal, I decided that I wanted to work with a co-director who could be an outside eye and would bring some objectivity to the process. Ian Cameron has worked on many hugely successful shows like WhiteBlack Beauty and The Voice Thief and has a fantastic eye for what happens on stage, partly because of his background in both visual art and clowning. As anyone who has seen him perform knows, he has a wonderfully reassuring presence on stage, and he brings this quality to the reheasal room as well.

During the week, we worked on different aspects of the play, finding the different elements that will be threaded together in rehearsals. Scott taught us a hymn – Eternal Father, Strong to Save which we tried to sing in harmony; Ros worked on ways to speak Gosse’s sometimes rather purple prose – he has a tendency towards rich description which is sometimes beautiful, sometimes overbearing; Karen and Simon watched closely, scribbling away and every so often chucking in a wonderful observation. Jenna Watt has been working with us throughout the process and combines forensic note-taking with a great ability to remember details that Rob and I have forgotten in our rush onward.

 

The next time we’ll all meet again is on the first day of rehearsals in four months’ time. Meantime, we’ll all have worked on other projects, but I know from experience that the work we did will be percolating away at the back of our minds ready to be drawn forward

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Making 'Our Fathers'

When I was growing up, there was one thing that just about everyone I came into contact with already knew about me: that my dad was the local vicar. There is always a frisson of recognition whenever one clergy child meets another. This is because there are some things that are particular to being a clergy child: your weekends are always focused around your dad’s (or mum’s nowadays) work, people often assume you actually live in the church, people think you’re deeply religious as well, everyone knows who you are, and you exist in a strange world of genteel poverty because the clergy don’t get paid very much (I suppose on the basis that people don’t really go into it for the money).

A few years my dad asked me if I’d ever read a book called Father and Son by Edmund Gosse. When I said that I hadn’t, he replied - slightly cryptically, I felt – that I might find it ‘interesting’. I discovered that the book was about the relationship between Gosse and his preacher father and how Gosse junior gradually lost his faith in God. As my own lack of religious faith was a topic about which my dad and I never seemed to quite have a conversation, I assumed that he thought I might find some illumination in the book about our own relationship. After he’d gone home – my parents lived 400 miles away so we only saw each other a few times a year - I bought a copy and read it, waiting for the moment when I would think “Ah, that’s what he wanted me to see!”  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was he’d wanted me to learn.

When he was next visiting, I told him that I’d read the book and he said, “Oh yes, I read that years ago – I can’t really remember anything about it.”

Which was a bit of an anti-climax.

But it planted a seed in my mind about adapting the book at some point, though I felt I needed someone else to work with me on it and didn’t know who that person was. A while later I saw Rob Drummond performing The Bullet Catch and, when he mentioned in the show that his father was a Church of Scotland minister, a light went on in my head. We talked about it and agreed to collaborate on it.

That was 4 years ago, and now we’re in the midst of creating Our Fathers, which will premiere this autumn. From the starting point of adapting the book, we’ve found ourselves making something that is as much about us and the strange political events of the last year or so as it is about Edmund Gosse and his father. The Gosses’ story is still at the heart of the play, but one of the central themes that has emerged is about how people talk to each other when they disagree strongly. Are there better ways than those currently modelled by ISIS or Donald Trump, for example?  Is it possible to do it respectfully, whilst still agreeing to disagree?

Also floating about in all this is the conversation I never properly had with my dad, and now can’t have because he died two years ago. What I did do, though, was record an interview with him about his relationship with his own father (who was a born-again evangelical Christian preacher), and this has been the setting off point for conversations that Rob and I are having with people who do and don’t believe in God. We’ve had some fascinating conversations, including with two Mormons who gamely agreed to be recorded talking to us about their beliefs after they stopped Rob in the street on his way to work with me on the project.

We’re now having a pause in the development process, because Rob and his wife are about to become parents for the first time. I know from personal experience how life-changing this is, so will be fascinated to see what difference this event will have on Rob’s approach to the show. Especially if he has a son.

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Our Fathers

“It is not usual, perhaps, that the narrative of a spiritual struggle should mingle merriment and humour with a discussion of the most solemn subjects.”   Edmund Gosse, preface to Father and SonFSsq

Our Fathers is a new play by award-winning playwright Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone, artistic director of Magnetic North. It combines historical biography, autobiography, verbatim reporting and audience conversations in an exploration of the continuing effect of faith and belief on the way we live in the 21st century.

Rob and Nick are spending this week at Summerhall working on Our Fathers, joined by Jenna Watt.  Jenna is assistant director on the project, supported by a Federation of Scottish Theatre bursary.

Our Fathers is partly inspired by Father and Son, the poet and critic Edmund Gosse’s 1907 memoir of his upbringing as a member of a fundamentalist Christian sect in Victorian Britain. The book relates Gosse’s memories of his childhood and his relationship with his father - a renowned scientist with an absolute belief in Creationism who fiercely opposed Darwin. 

Rob and Nicholas are both atheist sons of clergymen and have relatives who believe in the literal truth of the bible.  The project will use this connection and the book as a setting off point for an exploration of faith in the 21st century, focusing particularly on inter-generational differences. 

As part of the development process, we will interview people who have experienced inter-generational conflict over faith – both those with no faith and those with profound feelings of faith.  Do get in touch if you’d like to talk to us.

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Erewhon by Arthur Meek

Slide01New Zealand playwright Arthur Meek is currently writer in residence with Magnetic North. As part of the residency, we have commissioned Arthur to write a new play, Erewhon, based on Samuel Butler’s 1872 utopian satire. 

Please join us at the Traverse Theatre on Wednesday 14 September at 7pm for a sharing of work in progress followed by a Q&A with Arthur Meek and Nicholas Bone.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Arthur’s starting point is the illustrated talk that Butler’s narrator describes giving after his escape from the land of Erewhon.  In this 21st century version Powerpoint meets the magic lantern lecture in a solo performance piece with plenty to say about familiarity and difference across cultures. 

Arthur worked on Erewhon as one of the artists participating in our creative development residency, Rough Mix, earlier in the summer and has also spent a week at Cove Park working on the text before starting these 2 weeks of development at the Traverse.  He has been supported throughout by our artistic director Nicholas Bone. 

The commission is supported through a Playwright Residency and Exchange Programme led by Playmarket New Zealand and Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, funded by Creative New Zealand. Thanks also to the Traverse for their support of the development and sharing.  

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We look forward to seeing you there.

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Magnetic North associate artists at the Edinburgh Fringe

There’s a great crop of shows by Magnetic North artists, associates and Rough Mixers at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and beyond this summer.

Denton and Me

Denton and Me 300x300Magnetic North’s artistic director Nicholas Bone directs the revival of Denton and Me by Sam Rowe, part of the curated Made in Scotland showcase.  This multi-layered, stunningly designed show weaves together writer and performer Sam Rowe’s autobiography with the writing of Denton Welch (1915-1948), a fascinating figure in queer literary history, and favourite of Alan Bennett, William S Burroughs and John Waters.  A hit in its first outing at The Arches ("amusing, complex and forthright" «««« The Herald), Denton and Me runs at Summerhall from 3-28 August at 15.05.  

 

In the Making Collective

Nicholas is also performing as part of In the Making Collective, a shifting assemblage of Scotland based dancers and makers.  Led by Matthew Hawkins with Rough Mix participants Merav Israel and Claire Pencak, the group are collaborating to develop score-based choreographic performances with a different offering each day.   The project experiments with collective devising and presentation, looking at processes of making, multi-authorship and shared leadership.  The group’s first public performances, Mushroom!, take place at Gayfield Creative Space from 24-29 August at 16.00. Tickets. 

Faslane

Fringe First winner Jenna Watt will join Magnetic North as assistant director on our upcoming production of Our Fathers by Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone, as part of the FST bursary scheme.  Her own solo show, Faslane, explores what happens when the personal and political collide.  With family having worked in Faslane all her life, and with friends protesting at the gates, Jenna navigates her own journey through the politics, protests and peace camps. Rough Mixer Kim Moore is the sound artist.  Faslane runs at Summerhall from 3-28 August at 19.15.    

On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as her Young Lover  HCYL HERO 300x300

Arthur Meek is currently Writer in Residence with Magnetic North, thanks to a joint initiative run by Playmarket New Zealand and Playwrights’ Studio Scotland: the development agencies for playwrights for their respective countries. Arthur takes time out from developing new work to present his absurd and very timely comedy lecture, On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover.  Premiered at La Mama Experimental Theatre in New York, the show runs at Summerhall from 5-28 August at 13.05

The Dwelling Place

Jamie Wardrop, an emerging artist at Rough Mix 2012, is presenting his collaboration with his brother Lewis, The Dwelling Place.  An immersive, limited capacity performance installation, The Dwelling Place transports its audience to an abandoned cottage on the Outer Hebrides with striking live visuals, electronic sound and the words of the great highland poets. It runs in the basement at Summerhall from 3 – 19 August at 4pm and 7pm.

Blow Off

Composer Kim Moore also took part in Rough Mix 2012, and subsequently wrote music and sound for Magnetic North’s production of Sex and God.  She has composed music for, and plays live in the world premiere of Julia Taudevin’s Blow Off, along with Glasgow’s indie-pop duo Tuff Love.  Part theatre, part gig, Blow Off is a fierce and playful feminist work exploring the psychology of extremism with haunting melodies and progressive punk riffs.  There are 2 performances as part of the Traverse festival programme on Mon 22 August at 4pm & 7.30pm

Extreme Light North: Shetland

Meanwhile in Shetland... Rough Mixer Clare Duffy is making a site-specific performance at Sumburgh Lighthouse in Shetland on 28 August 2016. Clare was resident at the lighthouse in January this year and will return to Sumburgh in August to create this one-off performance, Extreme Light North: Shetland.  Supported by a Creative Scotland Artist Bursary, the performance explores the effects of living in places with extreme light levels – a phenomenon only found north of the 60 degree parallel. As she prepares for the main performance, Clare will be also be making a series of daily short performances in view of the Sumburgh lighthouse webcams. These performances will be available to watch live via the webcams - check @xremelightnorth on Twitter for dates and times. 

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J. Sharp Taking A Walk
07 September 2014
Very much enjoyed your show at the Brunton Theatre last night and the silent walk to start was an excellent addition, creating the perfect atmosphere....