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THE DRAMA WORKS at the UNIVERSITY OF ART, BERLIN

May 28th, 2014

FOUR DAYS ON DRAMATIC WRITING,  A WEEKEND DOING WHAT YOU DO IN  BERLIN, WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT THAT?

UdK_Bundesallee_JennyUhlenbrock

September 4th -4th 2014 & September 8th to 9th 2014,

Lecturers: John von Düffel, David Spencer

This comprehensive four day workshop guides you through a series of precisely patterned exercises that demonstrate the essential elements of the dramatist’s craft with particular emphasis on the organised progression of emotional, imaginative and logical action commonly called structure. Once a shared vocabulary has been established the focus shifts to supportive critical feedback of your own idea in order to assemble and refine a detailed synopsis and accompanying scenes.

John and David have decades of experience in elite German, American, British and Austrian theatre training and performance institutions, this experience is combined with elegant sensitivity and extensive knowledge gained through their own struggles within the dramatic form.

The Drama Works is for all those, beginners or more experienced writers, with a serious interest in dramatic and performance text.

John and I have co ran the course for the last wo years:

John von Düffel, born in Göttingen, is one of the leading dramatists of German theatre, working as author and dramaturg for the major theatres such as the Thalia Theater Hamburg (2000-2009) and the Deutsches Theater Berlin since 2009. He is also professor for dramatic writing at the University of Arts in Berlin. He has adapted a number of novels for the stage, as well as contemporary texts.

www.johnvondueffel.de

500E, scholarships exist for those in economic hardship.

Deadline is July 15, but those considering scholarships should apply earlier; the process is simple:

More info at:

http://www.udk-berlin.de/sites/sommerkurse/content/kurse_2014

/darstellende_kunst/the_drama_works/index_ger.html

Testimonials from participants of the 2012 course can be read at  the site, you can also find them lower down this blog in the section dealing with UdK Courses from 2013 and 2012.

 

 

 

A ROOK FLEW THROUGH THE ROOM

December 15th, 2013

Room_3 

14-16 NOV 2013 EVERYWORD at www.everymanplayhouse.com

0151 709 4776

For a few hours each week, Jim escapes to a rented room. Here he is free from his family, his drinking, from even the tumultuous centuries unfolding around him. But tonight he is not alone – not without his younger self for company. Directed by Julia North, George Costigan and Niall Costigan play Jim in this script in hand reading of a heart breaking and often very funny new play from David Spencer.

If no other sings your praise, then are you left to talk to yourself of failure? To say it went well would being toxically modest; at least in the words of two I trust: George Costigan “wandering into the bar afterwards was like wandering into a Guardian review you’d written for yourself.” John Burgess “that electric atmosphere of total concentration on the word.” Anyway, for me, I started by writing what I thought was my play to cure me of my own fear of death – that’s a decadent ambition I know – but eventually I realised I was writing a play to cure myof my fear of life. In that sense, the best criticism has to be this: picture a full featured woman swathed in the shabby glamour of a Jean Rhys brown coat,  she has a mouth stolen from a young Glenda Jackson, its done up in a blast red lip-stick; she marches into the bar and says, “he’s right you know! The writer’s right you know, we don’t kiss enough. Where’s my husband?” And then she finds him and demands a Hollywood snog. If you write a play about the limits of your own species, that has as much hate for that species as it has love, then it is thrilling to provoke such a reaction: just one kiss. And then another.

 Room_2

A special thanks to Elizabeth for her smarts, to Lindsay for her vision and to Haley for her kindness.

RELEEVO IN LONDON – July 8th to July 24th 2013.

June 20th, 2013

How Did I Come To Write This Play?
(for Samantha…)

I grew up on a council estate, sixties and seventies; we had a neighbour out the back of our garden; she killed her husband, invited his drinking pals into her house for a chat with his corpse. After three days she was dragged screaming from the house. I remember the policeman on a ladder and her screaming “y’can’t take him off me!” I remember her pushing the ladder away from the bedroom window and the copper toppled into the privet below.

They say drugs were involved – that could have been anything; back then on a Northern council estate even THC containing substances were seen as something uniquely wicked. I never really found out what happened but the mystery of the situation intrigued me; later I learnt that she served only a two year suspended sentence and became a local Labour politician. RELEEVO started as a way of answering something that I couldn't research or really fathom; it then became something else completely.

The first Julie I ever wrote was in a short story, she got drunk on wine whilst waiting for Steven, decided she’d leave him but fell asleep and in the morning just went on living with him. The first part I ever wrote as dialogue was the little monologue she gives in scene two; it’s about the day away in Haworth and the ring; it was in a writing class in the City Lit, ran by Carol Burns, and I just started crying and had to leave; I felt Julie was there in me as an independent being and that her feelings were flowing through me. I could get her to talk, in fact she wouldn’t stop talking, but it seemed to me I couldn’t get her to talk about anything important or go anywhere I wanted her to go. In October 1985 I joined Steve Gooch’s playwrighting class at the City Lit Institute (I’d never been to the theatre but I had a girlfriend then who was an actress and the idea was I’d write her a good part.) Steve was an excellent tutor; he went on to run playwrighting at Goldsmiths in London. We went through all the stages of construction and structure as well as the finer points of actually writing for the stage.

It was also by talking to Steve Gooch that I felt supported in certain technical decisions; it was a uniquely dangerous decision to put a chattering mad-woman on stage with only a corpse for company. So? I knew at some point I’d need to give everyone a break: actor, actress and audience, and resurrect Steven; hence the non linear narrative; everyone needed a rest from the monotony of a woman talking to a dead man.

At the time I was fiercely conscious of class and had this un-reflected hatred of all things that were not proletarian; of course I was fascinated too by all such things, drawn to them. But for sure I didn’t want any middle class Southerners mucking this up, so I thought fuck this, “am gunna write it as yew’ve t’say it.” I did that cuz I was sick of hearing people say “I can do a Northern accent.” My standard reply at the time was, “Oh? You speak Finnish do yer?” Now I see that this matters less, not all Southerners are posh, not all well spoken people are anti-proletarian, and not all proletarians are pro proletarian. From the point of view of the accents, what’s important is to remain consistent with the accent, so choose one you can do and stick to it. Harder for any actor/tress is to shrink the range of possibility that you have; sort of deny your training and vision, and play someone whose life doesn’t have the range or scope of your own. Julie and Steven are the same or at least equal to us; intellectually, emotionally, but they talk differently and they have different training and they don’t have the escape routes we have. So you kind of have to shrink your options to inhabit them. I think that’s what I mean by "Babe down"; it’s not becoming a slob or a thug or a caricature, it’s simply demonstrating a different range of options; a narrower field of vision and opportunity. 

Technically Steve was good here too; he introduced me to the work of Franz Xavier Kroetz; it’s even more restricted in language than mine, more resolutely proletarian, or at least his early plays are. And he also taught me a bit about the Epic; I came to realise that it was possible to identify with a character without believing that you would do all they did.

I honestly think that when Julie crushes the tablets into Steven’s meal she’s not consciously planning to murder him; I just think she wants to pacify him so she can announce her departure, not simply run off; I think she feels she owes him this. I also think Steven is terrified, he’s “in his own mind” murdered the child, he’s allowed someone to dupe him and thus sunk the family, and he is full of impotent rage; so no wonder he goes on a bender, no wonder the pills and the booze do more than pacify him; it’s an accident, a tragic accident, and if there is any evil motive on her part it is deeply buried. That said, any thinking person may well have considered the possibility that Steven was in no fit state to eat pills, so it’s a choice, be it limited and impossible, almost, to make. I don’t know why she didn’t think of this. I suspect that she realises almost instantly what has happened and that fuels her madness: so as long as she keeps talking, interacting with him, getting the outside world to do the same, he might wake up. Once she realises he won’t then all that’s left is for her to retain possession of the corpse. “Yer not teckin’ him from me!”

By the time I was in Steve’s class I was already having dreams where the police were coming to me and asking me questions about Julie: did I know her? What she thought? Felt? I would deny any knowledge of her and they’d insist I did know her, there had been a crime and I was a witness. As soon as I woke I’d write down as much as I could remember. It was a very intuitive and instinctive writing experience. I couldn’t say I really knew them, I just let them happen. Ibsen said, my first draft I get to know my characters, my second the characters get to know the plot, the third draft my characters get to know the play better than I do.

Sometimes I’d be embarrassed writing it, like they shouldn’t be saying the things they say in front of a stranger or that I was somehow failing them by not intervening and trying to change their lives for the better – I suppose that it was a return to childhood where I’d watch my own parents interact. Or as an adolescent, where I was beginning to internally articulate the inadequacy of that parental interaction, I still couldn’t intervene, all I could do was watch, feel, as they wondrously destroyed any love they’d had for each other... and me still not understanding the mystery of the bedroom, or the poverty of their alternatives, trapped as they were with four kids, a second world war childhood... Anyway, I’d marvel at how, no matter what and right up to their mad mad end, their love restored itself each night.

You will have to forgive me if I seem to be talking about the characters as if they are someone else, it’s not me trying to make them grander than they are it’s just - well, two things really: One) even if Julie and Steven had managed to get it together, that is to say Julie had found a cause to connect with, the child, and Steven made a go of the bikes, I still wouldn’t have wanted their life no matter how strong my affection for them. Two) that’s how they came to me, as separate and intact people.

I finished the play on Christmas day of 1985, on a wobbly Formica slide-top kitchen table in the old house I’d lived in as a child. It was just me and Dad alone in that house then, Mum had remarried and my sisters were living away. Cold, desolate, everything through frosted glass; it was as chilling as the pantry stone, something like the daily bewilderment an amputee must feel as they reach to scratch an itch on a limb no longer there; it was the most beautiful Christmas present I ever gave myself.

Southampton, June, 2013.

BERLIN SUMMER UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS 2013

May 20th, 2013

July the 18th to July the 23: “A Dramatist Toolkit” David Spencer, UK and John von Dueffel, UdK – BRD.

Why not come to the one of the world’s most exciting cities and participate in this fine course; those who book by the first week of June secure their place.

 

Andreas_UdK

The course is in English but we both understand German;

 

I’m going to let the two following participants from last year; Denise Keane and Fiona Doyle speak for the course.

 

Testimonial for David: Denise Keane (May 2013 )
Von Dueffel and Spencer’s  Playwright’s Toolbox  Summer School  Course, University of Arts, Berlin
This is a challenging, intense and uncompromising course in playwriting craft , delivered with precision, compassion, fierce intelligence and humour by fearless British playwright David Spencer.   Combining techniques to tackle structure and pace with a compelling  sensitivity to the creation of meaning through rhythm , David’s approach makes for a moving, enlightening and unforgettable experience that I would highly recommend for people who are willing to  ‘go there’ with their writing.   After completing the course, and on David’s recommendation, I won a year’s attachment to the Traverse
Theatre ( 2013), Scotland.

Testimonial (Fiona Doyle)

In July 2012, I was lucky enough to find myself on a short but intensive dramatic writing course at the University of the Arts, Berlin. It was tutored by David Spencer. What I came away with was a whole new level of understanding about playwriting which continues to influence my work today. David, two-time winner of the Verity Bargate award, is a great writer. But he’s also a great teacher. His knowledge of technical aspects like plot and structure is invaluable, and his insights about what it takes to write a great play are shared openly and unselfishly with his students. Since my time in Berlin, I’ve had a number of short plays produced and I was recently asked to write for Miniaturists 40 at the Arcola Theatre. (Miniaturists are a reputable and long-established group of professional playwrights producing regular writer-led events in London). When it comes to the craft of writing, David is the ultimate craftsman and anybody wanting to write a play would benefit greatly from spending some time in his company.

Fiona now has a seed commission from the Play for the Nation’s Youth group - that includes the Joint Stock Company, one of England’s best known New Writing producers.

For details, payment, the setting, a brief description, follow the link to this exciting range of offers:      

 

www.udk-berlin.de/summer-courses

 

MEDICINE for EQUAL WRITES

February 21st, 2013

I got this e-mail today:
Many thanks for your submission to Equal Writes. Equal Writes has had a fantastic response to the call for submissions and we are very glad to inform you that ‘Medicine’ has been selected for performance at Tristan Bates Theatre on 11 March 2013.

I am especially thrilled to be included in this event as the brief is one that I have held a strong interest in for very many years.

My play SPACE, drew this remark from Dominic Gray, WHAT’S ON (1988): Paul Wyatt (as Dean) and Liz Ryder (as Pam in a performance that won her a Best Fringe Actress TIME OUT Award) are both excellent, merging affection and love with repression and dissapointment so that those oppositions become almost unbearable to watch. The play is very tightly wrought and builds to a breakneck speed, touching on areas most writers steer clear of and touching on them with awareness and care.”

You can find out all you need to know about Equal Writes by going to: http://equalwrites.co.uk/

“Women are 51% of the population and form 68% of theatre audiences yet recent statistics by The Guardian, Equity, FIA and Sphinx Theatre show a persistent 2:1 male-to-female ratio of roles for actors appearing on stage…
These statistics reflect the fact that the narratives of numerous women’s stories and identities are missing. While “all the world’s a stage” it is clear that many women are not seeing themselves represented; a wealth of their stories are to be uncovered, considered and made visible. Equal Writes will provide this opportunity within an environment uncluttered by present concepts of ‘market forces…’”

THE GLAMOROUS LIFE OF A SPUD

January 13th, 2013

The Glamorous Life of a Spud is a sinister, sometimes comic, psychological entertainment, not a well made play rather a dramatised poetic murder text, like a Cave song or even a Tarrantino script but done by Ken Loach.

The characters are all drawn together one mid summer’s night for a poetic feast of art, violence, of love, death and druggy nihilism; plus fish and chips.

02/10/2012 reading, SCRIPTWORKS http://www.scriptworks.net/

Manchester Contact Theatre http://contactmcr.com/

“…the emotional violence Spencer’s characters endure inspires a sense of sadness. Described thus baldly, his plays may sound harrowing. Painful they certainly are but the plays are also shot through with compassion and a poetic realism that borders on despair…”

Trevor Griffiths, Carole Woddis, THE THEATRE GUIDE: A comprehensive A-Z of the World’s best Plays and Playwrights, (2003).

_____________________________________________________________

Wow. It’s taken this long to write this up. A great big sorry to all concerned and a special thanks to Connor Mckee of Scriptworks, Julian Hill of Manchester Playwright’s Forum and Handsome James Patrick of Somewhere Soon and the young black woman who read John and confirmed my faith in non-naturalistic casting, thank you.

I wanted to make sure that I had the best possible draft of the play, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE OF A SPUD, in place before I started talking about it. It’s there now. Thanks goes out to those who gave the play a cold but dignifying reading, did battle with guts and swashbuckle through its non-naturalistic language and confirmed its strength (and their efforts have been made the most of in the new draft) and also occasionally to reveal its indulgence (exterminated by me with Dalek ruthlessness.)

Anyway, if that wets your appetite then check out Sue Dunderdale’s Website http://www.suedunderdale.com/ as she’s been trying to get this play on for a while now, the script has never been fitter!

Oedipus City at the DT Schauspielhaus Berlin

September 15th, 2012

A Thebian Trilogy – Oedipus, Seven Against Thebes and Antigone; translated together with Deborah Gearing from John von Dueffel’s reworking, currently in the DT Schauspielhaus programme.

From the current DT Schauspielhaus production in Berlin

Deborah Gearing & David Spencer

website: http://deborahgearing-playwright.moonfruit.com

A Dramatist’s Toolkit – Practical Workshop for Dramatic Writing

September 15th, 2012

Four days in berlin at the University of Art in Berlin, hosted and lead in part by John von Dueffel and Szenisches Schrieben. We met with a group of international students, English, Swiss, German, Scandinavian, Mexican, Irish, French-Italian and our language was English. It was intense, a lot of writing and a lot of learning and I rather suspect that what was seeded there will reward in later praxis. I am certain it was rewarding for everyone and evaluations were all consistantly high there’s some evidence of this. That is: as part of the UdK’s Summer School initive it was deemed a great sucsess and it certainlly looks likely to happen next year.

For me personally I’ll always remember the light, cool even in the summer, shiny like cold water, shimmering on the PVC corridors of the great old Bundesalle buildings. How good it felt to be back there. My little blue alarm clock (bought in the closing down sale; Hertie, on Turm Strasse) counting down the days as it had done in the Burg Theatre in Vienna, or the DT Hamburg, out of place but right in place, as it is now at my bedside in Marsden. It seems to me, most of our students turned up with some idea of where they were and what they wanted, all of them left knowing where they were going and pretty sure of how to get there.

Pictures and info may still be at: http://www.udk-berlin.de/sites/sommerkurse/content/index_eng.html

SHORTWAVES for SCRIPTWORKS

June 12th, 2012

From late May to early June I mentored two writers, Gail Scanlon and Robert Pegg; both writers, wildly different in their approaches and style, are new to radio. Gail had some experience of theatre and a natural gift for comedy of the Sarah M type, whilst Robert is one of those rare inate and intact talents that comes from a life lived and an inteligence coupled with wisdom and age. Both of these writers are over fifty, which is a rare thing for development and in my oppinion the results of this work is testimony that the fact that more should be done to bring on older writers and not just the cult of youth in the new writing box.

We took them through two mentoring sessions then via a life performance, excellently directed by Sarah Meadows, at Contact’s Space Two and on to a recording at the City College’s Lever Street Studios ten days later; a crash course if ever there was one and fortunately both were up to it.

Jason Crouch “it’s been very rewarding for me personally, and the participants and audiences seem to have thought it well worth the effort too.”

Once I get the broadcast dates from Abbie and the Noise Generation crew I’ll see what I can arrange with photos and links and such.

I will be preparing a CD of the 6 pieces (two from the pilot and four from the project), which will have an inlay sleeve with details of people involved. This will be sent to our contacts at BBC Radio and other partners in the project.

Once broadcast on ALL FM, the whole one hour shows will be available on mixcloud. I will also investigate the possibility of making them individually available on mix cloud/soundcloud.

A big thanks goes out to Conor McKee for his continued energy.

Theatre Now! With Edward Bond.

June 4th, 2012

I was delighted to be invited by Peter Billingham, as a discussion guest, to takepart in what was a fine day of debate, argument and insight; guests ranged from Tony Coult (who wrote an early and brilliant study of Edward’s work, Methuen published it) and Sarah Brigham (of The Point Eastleigh, she continues to bring exciting work of international importance to the Southampton region, witness their recent hosting of Kane’s CRAVE and Viripaev’s ILLUSIONS,) and then the ever entertaining Aleks Sierz, writer of IN YER FACE and REWRITING THE NATION (the best of the 90’s and 00’s books I know.) Recognition has to go to Mark Courtice for co hosting this event and further extending the reach of his The Winchester Theatre Royal. The event ended with Edward’s THE CHILDREN in an acurately directed (Peter Billingham) production that made it clear just how shamefully neglected Edward is. The after show discussion kicked off with that same old tedious debate of Edward and the violence in his work, yawn.

Anyway, he was as usual brilliant, well humoured, something his reputation fails to paint and one stand out comment (for after all I am a man who has spent most of his life a financial pacifist) – money is violence, geld ist gewalt! Edward Bond! – The great privilege of the evening was the chance to meet the man in person, to chat justice and mercy with him (“of course for me the contrast between mercy and justice isn’t the point. In an unjust society mercy and compassion are needed desperately. But they are individual qualities. How could you “quantify” mercy and compassion in a legal document?” Edward Bond;) I got to buy him an orange juice, I got to embrace him and we reopened our habit of letter writing; well perhaps Edward, the task is now to think of ways of quantifying mercy! Onward, onward! Repair the chair.