Leading new writing venue announces new literary policy

The Portaloo Theatre is one of London’s most vibrant new theatres for new writing and has just announced its exciting new literary policy. Portaloo’s artistic director Yolanda Bogg-Brush has urged theatre-makers to “think outside the cubicle” and look at new innovative ways of creating theatre beyond just putting on plays that people have written down on pieces of paper.

“Let’s look beyond the traditional writing methods, we want to get away from that fusty old fashioned view of writers, y’know, all quills and parchments by candlelight, let’s look at what new writing means today, now, here, in the here-and-now. What do we mean by ‘new writing’? What do we mean by ‘new’? And what do we mean by ‘writing’? Do you have to be a writer to write? After all, I write, you write, the traffic warden writes, the girl in Starbucks writes my name on a cup for my soya latte every morning, even my little four year has started to write. In fact little Ocado’s debut play is part of our 2013 season of provocative new work! Conversely do you actually have to write in order to be a writer? After all, its all done on computers nowadays isn’t it, so maybe we should just call them typists, in which case aren’t they just secretaries?”

The Portaloo has certainly come a long way since its inception. Originally housed in a real portaloo, it gained a reputation for daring, dazzling new work that belied its humble location and tiny seating capacity (one). Then, three years ago it looked as if the theatre’s future was about to be flushed down the pan after the portaloo hire company announced that it wanted its portaloo back. But with a £6 million grant from the Arts Council they were able to re-house themselves in a new, specially built state-of-the-art venue but one which nevertheless stays close to the spirit of the original Portaloo Theatre by being the exact same shape and size of a portaloo. And with an exciting new venue comes an exciting new submissions policy!

Instead of accepting submissions all the year round, at certain times of the year the Portaloo door will creak open for a few seconds and Yolanda will blow a whistle. That’s the cue for any writers to throw their scripts through the gap before the door slams shut again for the next six months. But if you are amongst the thousands of writers who have already submitted scripts to the Portaloo, then fear not, Yolanda and her team are already putting your scripts to innovative use. “We’re printing the best scripts onto rolls of toilet paper in a groundbreaking new way of bringing our patrons into direct contact with the very best in new writing.”

But what of all those people who don’t submit scripts to the Portaloo? People who live in the area who aren’t aware of its existence, who perhaps assume it’s merely a portable toilet, what is Yolanda and her team doing to reach out to those untapped sources of creative genius in the community. “We want to engage with people who’ve never written plays before, who have never even thought about writing plays. We want to get away from this elitist notion of playwrights being people who sit on their own in cafes self-consciously scrawling in a tatty notebook, going, “ooh, look at me all dressed in black like a young Harold Pinter,” I mean, just piss off you losers! We want ordinary people, real people who work behind the counter at McDonalds, people who stack shelves in Tesco’s and who’ve never been to the theatre, people who hate and despise the theatre and thinks its all for “gays and luvvies”, people who wouldn’t step foot in a theatre if you dragged them there at gunpoint, people who want to hold those of us in the theatre at gunpoint! What we really want is people with guns in the theatre, firing bullets at the actors, creating exciting immersive theatre that blurs the boundaries between reality and drama!”

But for those struggling writers out there who plan to get a job in McDonalds or involved in gun crime as a stepping stone to getting your work on at the prestigious Portaloo, Yolanda has a few words of warning, “We can sniff you out! There’s a simple test. If you answer the question, ‘Who is Caryl Churchill?’ with anything other than the baffled query ‘Winston’s wife?’ then you and your intellectual pretensions shall be kicked straight out that Portaloo door and halfway down the street!”

And what of the next artistic director of the Portaloo, when Yolanda leaves to run the much larger Portakabin Theatre next year? Will the Portaloo be similarly looking for their next boss behind the counter at McDonalds? On this Yolanda is unequivocal. “Absolutely not! You can’t have just anyone randomly traipsing in off the street to run a vibrant arts organisation.”

Dawn Rescue website

(Click on the above panel to access the Dawn Rescue website. Picture by Tom Ross)

“I’m sorry to bother you, but do you mind if I ask you a question?” A well-spoken, elegantly dressed woman had stopped me on the Charing Cross Road back in late 2007. My heart sank as I felt certain she would ask me directions to someplace I’d never heard of, and I do hate to shatter the illusion of myself as some kind of Peter Ackroyd/Iain Sinclair figure with an encyclopediac knowledge of every obscure alley and side street of this dark metropolis. But I signalled my assent for her query to commence, and much to my surprise she asked “Do you know why the blood of Jesus poured out of him on the cross?”

This bizarre question stayed with me, burrowed into my subconscious, and eventually, one day, hatched forth a short play ‘Eyes Full of Pornography.’ As is often the way of things, real-life inspiration had led down a meandering path to arrive somewhere rather different. In my play the questioner was now a man and the location had moved to a gay bar in nearby Old Compton Street. The play became about an evangelical Christian organisation named Dawn Rescue which trawls the pubs and clubs of Soho trying to “save” young men from embarking upon (what they see) as a life of sin. Of course the irony is that Dawn Rescue (and religion in general) is in fact the true corrupter of youth, a decadent predator stalking the vulnerable and poisoning the minds of the innocent. (Here endeth the sermon.)

The play was performed in 2010 by Eyebrow Productions, at RADA and then Theatre503, and was filmed in 2011 as Dawn Rescue by myself and my film director brother Tom Ross. This year the film was shown at the Portobello Film Festival. (See video below)

I have also now created a website to accompany the film, a spoof site by the Dawn Rescue organisation, complete with information about their mission and a blog by the character of Matthew (entitled ‘Going Straight’) detailing his struggles to remain pure and chaste, (he’s already hit a bump in the road, you’ll be sad to hear), and with some wonderful artwork courtesy of my brother Tom. I have no idea where I’m going with it, but I intend to keep it chugging along until either I get bored or get smote down by a heavenly thunderbolt, whichever comes first.

I’m aware that picking fights with religion may seem, these days, like shooting fish in a barrel. Especially in ‘the arts’ (if I can claim to be a member of that club), in this corner of secular Western Europe. But religion still insists on singling out homosexuals as scapegoats for universal human lusts and kinks and depravity, and religion still furiously (and very loudly) opposes bestowing equality and dignity upon gay people (witness the recent marriage debates) and it will insist on doing so publicly, not just in the privacy of its own pulpits. So excuse me if I reload my revolver and fire a few more rounds into the barrel.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my reply to that woman on the Charing Cross Road was “Oh do fuck off!” Yes, it was a bit rude of me, wasn’t it? I should thank her really, for her golden shaft of inspiration.

Off Cut Festival 2012 opens at Riverside Studios

This year’s Off Cut Festival of short plays opens this week at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Showcasing some of the best new writing in theatre, 4 groups of plays (28 in total) will do battle in a gladiatorial contest to win the votes of a capricious, hard-to-please audience, (that’ll be you) with the eventual winner crowned almighty god of fringe theatre on the 12th of October, (banquet and jousting to follow). You can book tickets here and also read an interview with Off Cut’s organising genius Daniel Brennan on the OffWestEnd website.

My play ‘Armed Forces Day’ is in Group 3, opening next Tuesday the 2nd of October at 7.30pm (with further performances on the 4th and 6th, plus a matinee on Sunday the 7th at 3pm). Its being directed by Ng Choon Ping and the cast are James Unsworth, Darrie Gardner, John Hoye and Zara Radford. I’ve been to rehearsals and it’s shaping up to be really good, fingers crossed it should be something special.

I’m also looking forward to seeing this week’s groups, as the cast of my REDfest finalist ‘Nothing But Mammals’ are both acting in plays. Matt Houlihan is appearing in Personnel by Hugo Plowden in Group 1 and Antonia Reid is in Buzzkill by Annabel Wigoder in Group 2. Fine actors both, I can’t wait to see them on stage again.

So get booking!

Dawn Rescue at the Portobello Film Festival

(above: Christopher Brandon and Cameron Slater in Dawn Rescue)

Delighted to find out today that my debut short film Dawn Rescue (see my Film page) has been selected for the Portobello Film Festival. It will be shown as part of the Independent Showcase on the 11th of September in the Pop Up Cinema on Acklam Rd. Details here; http://www.portobellofilmfestival.com/2012/sept11_pop.html

This is my first film so I’m really chuffed its made it into a film festival.

The film takes the form of a promotional video by an organisation named Dawn Rescue, with Dan and Matthew recounting how they first met in a gay bar in Soho 11 years ago. But these two men aren’t quite what they might at first seem. There’s a Dawn Rescue diary on this website, to accompany the film, which deepens the story.

Oh, and admission to the Portobello Film Festival is FREE so why not pop along?

Armed Forces Day at the Off Cut Festival 2012

My next project is the short play Armed Forces Day for the upcoming Off Cut Festival at the Riverside Studios in the Autumn. 28 plays (divided into four groups) will battle it out for audience votes, 2 plays being voted through from each group to a final week where the ultimate winner of the festival will be decided.

Dates for the plays were announced yesterday, and my play is in Group 3, on the 2nd, 4th and 6th of October at 7.30pm, and on the 7th at 3pm. This is the second year I’ve had a play selected for Off Cut, and its a great (if somewhat tense) experience being part of this festival. This year there are a few names I recognise amongst the other writers taking part; I’ve seen plays by at least three of them, but a lot of other names are completely new to me and I’m really looking forward to seeing their work.

Anyway, the really exciting part is yet to come, as I’ll be assigned director and actors for my play in the next few weeks. Further details to follow.

http://www.theoffcutfestival.com/the-plays/