Saturday, 14 December 2013

2014 Plans

Lisa Parry writes:

I'm currently going through a bit of an end of year tidy up, filing reports, sorting out applications, getting stuff read that I said I'd read ages ago... Agent 160 makes up a fair chunk of this paperwork. I'm writing up an Arts Council Wales report form and helping sort out plans we can't really share yet, but it's all very exciting.

2013 was a bit of a quiet year for us. The very nature of the company is that our output can ebb and flow depending on work commitments, family commitments and so forth. And 2013 was a year of babies and a huge number of productions, workshops and readings for us all individually. However 2014 is looking much more active on the 160-front. Our members have met in London and Cardiff (with Skype calls to Northern Ireland and Scotland) with a view to work next year. One of the projects is happening here in Wales and seems a perfect Agent 160 fit.

We're involved in Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings' plans to build a network of Fun Palaces across the country in October 2014. Myself and Samantha Ellis attended an open space event earlier in the year and we've since thrashed out our plans. Much more on this will follow, but in the meantime my blog on the day is here and Samantha's blog on Joan Littlewood is here. The trip and planning sessions were funded by an Arts Council Wales grant for which we're really grateful.

So here's to a fabulous 2014. Keep an eye on this blog - more content about Fun Palaces and much more besides will be added soon - and we hope to see you all in the new year.





Tuesday, 22 October 2013

New Members

Lisa Parry writes:

It's been a while since we've blogged but we have been busy! Projects are in the pipeline for next year and we're all very excited. In the meantime, three more playwrights have joined the Agent 160 throng. Check out their details below - you can see why we're chuffed to bits they've joined.

SANDRA BENDELOW
Sandra Bendelow is a scriptwriter and theatre producer.  Her short monologue One Hour and Forty five Minutes was produced by Dirty Protest Theatre as part of their plays-in-a-bag project at the Royal Court, Theatre Clwyd and National Theatre Wales Dirty, Gifted and Welsh. Her short audio drama Cursed was produced by Scriptography Productions for EarCandy, an audio drama project from a web-platform and her short play Split has been selected for PlayPen at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. She is currently working on a transmedia project, Floodstain,  inspired by the Talybont floods of 2012 and is producing and writing for Response Time, a performed response to art, space and environment in art galleries in Aberystwyth. Her website is here.

KATIE McCULLOUGH
Katie McCullough is a graduate of Bournemouth Media School and the Royal Court Theatre, London. She's a playwright, screenwriter and also works in film festival distribution, social media, and is a campaign manager for crowdfunding projects. Her written work has been performed at many venues including the ICA, Theatre503, Southwark Playhouse, Old Vic Tunnels, Arcola and the BAC. Her website is here.

SHANNON YEE
Shannon Yee is a biracial writer who’s been living in Belfast since 2004. While in NI, she has had the pleasure to work with skewiff theatre company, Assault Events, Replay Productions, TheatreofplucK, 25Belfast, Hanna Sl├Ąttne (Tinderbox), Paul Stapleton (SARC), and Accidental Theatre. She has received awards from the Arts Council NI, Arts & Disability Forum and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Earlier this year, Shannon secured a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award to complete her sonic arts/theatrical trip for an audience of one about her experience of nearly dying and recovering with an acquired brain injury. She was on the Royal Court Theatre’s National Playwriting Group (London), and is currently participating in Fishamble/Pavilion Theatre’s Playwriting Mentoring Programme (Dun Laoghaire). Her website is here.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Talking About Women and the Arts

Lisa Parry writes:

I previously blogged about women, theatre and the importance of debate and talking in the run-up to an Agent 160/Theatre503 panel discussion. The talk took place last week. (Apologies for not blogging about this earlier - things have been a bit hectic.) The discussion, after a performance of Desolate Heaven, was really inspiring and - I hope - productive. Theatre503's rather brilliant producer Flavia Fraser-Cannon chaired and the other panellists were:
  • Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, co-director of London's Oval House Theatre
  • Honour Bayes, freelance theatre journalist
  • Pia Furtado, director
  • Amber Massie-Blomfield, principal consultant at Borkwoski.do
  • Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director at the RSC
What was great about this discussion was the range and depth of experience of the panellists. In other talks Agent 160 has produced, we've focussed, understandably, on playwriting. Here, the scope was wider. The panellists touched on the current position of women in the contemporary art world and spoke about women in theatre criticism and PR. What was fascinating for me however was listening to female directors speak, because their experience was relevant to the debate in two ways: firstly as women working in theatre and second, as the commissioners of playwrights.

There was a consensus that we're crying out for new (funded) research. The Sphinx data (the much quoted 17 per cent figure) desperately needs updating and even though the arts councils have all been supportive of the idea of research, cash to fund it has yet to appear. Recent research from The Guardian only looked at the top ten funded theatres. The panel were therefore keen to stress some of their observations were anecdotal; however there did seem a consensus that whereas other areas in the arts had improved in terms of gender balance over time, playwriting itself had stalled.

A consensus was reached that to help overcome this a two-pronged approach might be needed. Women need to be confident to compete with their male peers; but also, as an industry, we need to be less ready to assume that there is only one way - the bolshy way - things should be done. Often the more considered approach frequently employed by women is better. Erica Whyman told how a female writer recently emailed the RSC once she had gone through her notes. She compiled them and sent a 'just checking - did you mean this?' email which they all thought was time saving and brilliant. Rebecca Atkinson-Lord told how, when giving notes, it was often the male writer who would immediately agree and come back with a draft, whereas a woman would go away and consider the notes more. Although the drive for a production that sees swift agreement can result in work, consideration can often result in a better draft.

Honour Bayes spoke about how important she considered mentoring and how important it had been to her in her career. Ageism and what happens after the emerging label has been exhausted was also touched on. Erica Whyman said how one of the best pieces of advice she'd ever been given was simply not to go away. We discussed the gender ratio in public relations and the differences experienced by men and women when making the leap from assisting to directing productions in their own right. Erica Whyman told a story about how she sent a male and a female for the same job and the man was asked: 'Don't you think it's time you stopped assisting now?' The woman was asked: 'Is there anyone left you'd like to assist?' Bias is there and we need to overcome it.

A real feeling came through the discussion that female directors weren't encouraged to take that leap; that women in the arts generally were encouraged to play it safe. One recent graduate in the audience told how, when she said she wanted to direct, she had been told to do theatrical admin for a while - a comment which drew pretty strong advice from the panel.

No blog post can really do the talk justice. It was a brilliant and informative evening. A huge thank you to Theatre503 and Flavia for having Agent 160 on board with this and helping us continue the debate.

This blog post also appears at http://www.tpfp.co.uk

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Talking

Lisa Parry writes:

Last year, when Agent 160 launched, we held panel discussions at each venue discussing women and theatre. At the end of the session in Glasgow, one of the panellists said she hoped we wouldn't continue hosting such talks. She'd been doing them for years. She didn't think they helped. The most important thing, she said, was to get work by women onto the stage.

At the time, I completely agreed. I thought the talks were important as part of the launch but I didn't feel they were a huge part of our work. And I still do agree that getting plays written by women on is more important. But in terms of hosting the talks themselves? I've since changed my mind.

Why the change? A comment from a playwright-friend of mine along the lines of: "That's all very well, but our generation wasn't around for those talks. Maybe we need to have them too." And I think we do. Talking, debate and discussion is never a bad thing. Progress isn't always linear. Sometimes topics need to be revisited and reassessed according to the current climate.

And progress can be made through talking. A few months back, I attended Devoted and Disgruntled at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff. It was refreshing to see thoughts and opinions changing when it became clear that what people thought was happening on the ground, wasn't; that the presumed situation wasn't the actual one; what people thought playwrights wanted wasn't in fact what they did want. So too with the women and theatre debate - some people have said they think the problem isn't in fact with commissioning, but with a failure to deliver final drafts. Others have voiced concern that women directors don't want to work with women writers for fear of being pigeonholed. Debate - talk - opens up detailed arguments that need to be worked through for sustained change. Sometimes sweeping change is needed and welcome. But for real sustained change that will last decades and improve the social lot, the devil is pretty much always in the detail. And the detail tends to come up in extensive conversation.
  • Agent 160 is co-producing the talk Women and the Arts at Theatre503 on Wednesday, February 27.
  • The discussion will take place after that evening's performance of Desolate Heaven and will last about an hour. 
  • Other panellists include Rebecca Atkinson-Lord (co-director of Oval House Theatre), Amber Massie-Blomfield (principal consultant at Borkwoski.do), Pia Furtado (director), Honour Bayes (freelance theatre journalist).
  • To book, visit www.theatre503.com or telephone 020 7978 7040.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

February 21st Writers' Night at The Bush: Money the game show


Dear Agent 160 friends, below are some links and pictures for my play Money the game show, on at The Bush till the 9th March.

On the 21st February, so next Thursday, there's going to be a 'writers' night' with the actors Brian Ferguson, Lucy Ellinson and me, chaired by the amazing Selma Dimitrijevic, dramaturg at The Bush. We're going to talk about dramatising contemporary political issues and events. I might talk a bit about writing non-gendered roles as a feminist strategy, as the end of Money is scripted for the 'Loser' and 'Winner' rather than the female and male characters 'Queenie' and 'Casino'. I'll definitely be mentioning Agent 160. I think we'll also be talking about the role of actors/performers in the process of directing your own work. If any of that sounds of interest it would be great to see you there. Clare x

MONEY the game show - praise from the press:
''This playful, thoughtful and riotously entertaining piece is right on the money', 
The Guardian.
'Engagingly explores the build-up to, and the aftermath of, the 2008 financial catastrophe',
Financial Times
''Hilarious and tragic...the writing glitters',
The Scotsman.
'Think Deal or No Deal but 100 times more entertaining', A Younger Theatre
MONEY the game show, by Clare Duffy, is into its 3rd week at the Bush and delighting critics and audiences alike, who have been getting stuck into gambling with the £10,000 loot on our stage.
Due to demand, the show is extending until 9 March - giving you even more chances to catch it - but book quick as performances are filling up.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Agent 160 in Belfast: Panel & Workshop


On October 25th, the day after the shows ended,  Lunchbox & Agent160 held two events:
The first was a workshop exploring how to perform being a female playwright. The aim of the workshop was to unpack what we think, assume, hope and fear being a woman and a playwright is and creatively explore the tricky, fruitful and sometimes paradoxical relationship between the two. Agent160 Writers, Ioanna Anderson & Clare Duffy asked: 'If you are a woman who writes, how do you feel about being a 'female playwright'?

What the participants had to say about the events:
Inspired me to write more
I found both events very encouraging and inspirational as well as being realistic about the challenges that can be met in getting work produced. The workshop was very enjoyable. It didn't provide new methods of writing for those attending but I don't think that was the aim of the workshop. It did promote discussion in an open forum and encouraged sharing of experiences and writing, promoted confidence and networking within the group of female writers.
The panel was incredibly informative. Hanna kept a great focus and I was inspired by each of the speakers
I found the event very informative. Interesting to have heard from those involved in different aspects of theatre across the UK/Ireland.





Clare Duffy (Agent160)

Ioanna Anderson (Agent160)


Workshop participants Playwright Shannon Yee, Director Mary Lindsay, and screenwriters Christine Morrow & Elvina Porter


This was followed by a panel, chaired by Hanna Slattne of Tinderbox, Belfast, with the aim of discussing women in the Irish Theatrical Landscape.

The Panel members were:

Hanna Slattne, (Tinderbox, Belfast), Richard Lavery (Accidental Theatre, Belfast) Suzanne Bell (Royal Exchange, Manchester) Alice Coghlan (Wonderland Productions, Dublin) Andrea Montgomery (TerraNova, Belfast) Louise Stephens Alexander (Agent160) Aislinn Clarke (Wireless Mystery Theatre & Fickle Favours)
Topics:
1. Does the 17% Figure applies to Northern Ireland: & Suzanne & Alice  how they are doing in their parts of the world?
2. Aislinn and Louise: setting up new companies focussing on female practitioners. What were the main reasons behind it? 
3. Richard and Andrea's experiences, both in setting up their own companies and how they work with women writers. 
4. Has the abundance of female theatre makers contributed to the healthy figure that we have? 
(i.e. Does the gender of the director make an impact? the gender of development teams? And from the writer's p.o.v. - Is there a pressure to write in a certain way, about certain issues, - Is there a female aesthetic? )
5. Winter is coming,( i.e. cuts) - how can we protect that figure? why is it so important to keep the figure up? 
Panel in full swing

Hanna Slattna very kindly offered to chair the panel: and started off by addressing the question of; is Northern Ireland the same as the rest of the UK? Do we only produce 17% of female authored work on our stages?
In fact , NI is doing well- A 50% commission & production rate of women's plays. However of Hanna's incoming scripts only 20% are from women. 
Suzanne told us that in the 1st Bruntwood – which worked on an anonymous submissions policy – the scripts were 80% male authored:. Now after pushing, it has risen to 50/50- The rise in female submissions is now reflected in winners as well.
Alice, working for the Abbey Theatre,in Dublin, stated that 23% of unsolicited scripts were from women and that 31.5 of new commissions in the abbey this year were female authored .However, she describes the abbey's programme jokingly as 'men, men, men and Marina Carr" Using information provided by the Irish Theatre institute, it would seem that of the new plays produced in 2010-211 (Both original & adapted) the figure stands as 29 % (However, this could be slightly inaccurate: no research of this kind has been undertaken to date in the republic.) 

Moving on to the rationale behind setting up Agent 160 , Louise said it had been as result of a combination of  things: the Vamps Vixens & Feminists conference at the Sphinx theatre in 2010 & the fact that Lisa Parry (Agent160 AD) was seeing some good women's work at the time. Just not enough of it.  She had then begun thinking about setting up a company of Female playwrights. Aislinn (Fickle Favours) after chatting to actress colleagues and seeing that in her own productions at Wireless Mystery theatre, there were not enough plays produced with challenging strong roles for women, including in the classical repertoire. She wanted to get away from the tendency for people to think of women's writings as a 'genre'- and to create a platform for just 'good theatre. ' She wanted to be able to include actresses and writers of all ages, using the Agent160 short Nancy as a great example of a strong piece both in writing terms & as a role for an older woman. 

Richard Lavery From Accidental Theatre said that when he first put a call out for scripts, just 10% were from women- but that in interestingly, he'd found an large increase of expression of interest from female directors, something that is reflected in their productions this year.

Hanna mentioned that to get their figures up, Tinderbox set out to address the gap 8 yrs ago-when she first joined the company- she had to form a strategy, one of which was creating projects to work with women. She said that she could not leave it to random chance: this was something that all companies would have to undertake to avoid.

Aislinn thinks the problem is deeper than that: why are young women not thinking 'I could be a playwright?' She thinks no one in schools/ thinks of playwrighting/directing as a career:  An audience member agreed, saying that there were not enough female dramatists on the school curriculum. Vittoria (Agent160) pointed out that in her research for the panel, she had noticed that Educational theatre companies in the republic of Ireland, only one had a female authored play in their repertoire, and when looking at companies doing classical plays there were none by women- understandably since it's not on the curriculum, but she wondered why someone like Aphra Benn wasn't ever mentioned at school. 

Andrea Montgomery talked about how studies of sociological/psychological analysis of gender and speech have shown a difference in the way that women put themselves and their work forward- that many women had a culture of 'I put me down, you pull me up' – Suzanne agreed, saying that it was perfectly reasonable for a man to come into a meeting saying 'this is a great script, - it's fantastic etc” whereas if a woman did the same, even other women would be taken aback.
Aislinn said she also found this as a female director: one was supposed to act in a certain way. Suzanne pointed out that female linguistic structure and male linguistic structure were distinctly different- something that Andrea backed up. With Terranova, she works with women in many different countries- She spoke about how important is to remember cultural differences affect women's voices also: working with women in Tehran, she found their voices and ideas very different than say somewhere like Hong Kong. 

Suzanne noted that while, 67% of audience are women- they expect male stories, and wanted to pose the question to the panel and audience: Why is there a lack of exploration of female sexuality on stage?
An audience member pointed out - women are punished for being sexual in plays. The panel thought that was no reason not to show it: Both Hanna-& Suzanne- emphasized that you should write what you want to write- Write passionately- not what you think a certain theatre wants, or doesn't want. Hanna mentions that she finds when it comes to sexuality , she sees that female writers censor themselves. Is it Cultural? The conversation came back to schools and kids- and what they see both at school & in society- &  to help change the perceptions we need to make sure that the younger generation don't just watch the same old dramas. Alice and Hanna have both done scriptwriting workshops with children: Alice said that if you get the kids around age 8-10 they are super confient- the seeds could be sown then. 

Andrea bought up what she sees as the main problem in NI: As a member of NITA (NI Theatre Association) she is struggling to communicate to politicians of benefits of theatre -it's seen as a hobby - theatre not regarded as 'professional' An audience member seconded that, recounted countless mentions of others to her work as 'her wee play”
Hanna pointed out that the press were not overly interested in theatre here: that that would have to be addressed to combat that issue.
Alice found that surprising, describing the audiences in Northern Ireland as much more engaged than in Dublin. From the outside it looks like a buzzing scene.
How do we keep the figure up at it's current level? Hanna suggested that it was the bigger funded companies responsibility to do so and set the standard for others to follow.
In conclusion:
Hanna says -stop being polite- do not censor yourself. Claire Duffy (A160) says- just be prepared to be slapped down in the process, but get up & keep going!
To which Hanna added- target the right company when sending your work! Andrea noted the importance of 'allies' in the theatre world- in Northern Ireland, the theatre network is very strong- so use it. Suzanne, agreed, adding that once you do have allies in the theatre industry they are very loyal, and tend to stay that way. 

So proud of our actors and directors, and thrilled with the response we had to the pieces: there's a 4 star review here:
We are also very grateful to have had support from The Belfast Festival at Queens, The Black Box, Belfast Film Festival, The British Council, and Belfast City Council and from the many people who contributed through Fundit as well as everyone who came down to the shows-  Thank You!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Agent 160 in Belfast: Rehearsal Photos

Only 8 days until we go up in Belfast,  so we thought we'd give you a little sneak peek at rehearsals. 

October 23rd & 24th, Black Box, Belfast, 8pm, £8 
Tickets are available here.




Aislinn Clarke, (Directing Red Shoes By Sarah Grochala,  Nancy by Lisa Parry & Pantomime Horse by Ioanna Anderson)  chats to Alana Henderson during a Rehearsal for Red Shoes.



 Charmaine McBride during a rehearsal for How Do You Sleep At Night?' By Clare Duffy



 In rehearsal for Red Shoes


 Amanda Doherty & Charmaine Mc Bride rehearsing ' How Do You Sleep At Night?'


Monnine Dargan (Director of  The Last Word by Vittoria Cafolla, Skin by Morna Pearson & How Do You Sleep At Night? by Clare Duffychats to Geoff Hatt  during a rehearsal of Skin.




  Amanda Doherty & Charmaine Mc Bride rehearsing ' How Do You Sleep At Night?


Geoff Hatt & Charmaine McBride rehearsing Morna Pearson's Skin