Meryl Streep funds screenwriting initiative for women over 40

A week since my talk at The Ovalhouse on the difficulties faced by emerging older writers, and a few days since my last blog post here, I happened across this article in The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/20/meryl-streep-screenwriting-initiative-women-over-40-writers-lab

Just when you think the fabulous Meryl Streep couldn’t be any more fabulous, Meryl has cemented her iconic status by making a “significant” contribution towards a screenwriting initiative that nurtures women over the age of 40.

The Writers Lab, run by New York Women in Film and Television, will mentor eight older female screenwriters at a retreat in upstate New York.

The announcement of the initiative, at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival, comes following a study last year that found the number of female screenwriters in the US was falling, from 17% of the sector in 2009 to 15% in 2014.

Meryl also clearly recognises the value that older women writers can bring to the world of stage and screen. And if Meryl, surely one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, is motivated to take steps to redress a rather glaring inequality, isn’t it time that the creative industries thought about following her lead?

 

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Is it harder to break through as an emerging playwright over the age of 26?

“My advice would be not to write until after 35. You need some experience, and for life to knock you about a bit. Growing up is so hard you probably won’t have much emotion to spare anyway.”

Joanna Trollope

On Friday, I was asked to deliver a provocation on whether it’s harder to break through as an emerging playwright over the age of 26.

It was one of several questions posed by artists invited to the Ovalhouse Theatre, London, to speak as part of an event called This Thing Called Artist Development. The theatre wanted to hear from artists on the following questions:

What does Artist Development mean? Why is it important? And how could we all take a small bit of responsibility for it working a bit better?

The issue of ‘mature’ emerging playwrights is an important question that should be addressed, particularly as people are now changing careers later in life. Although I wholeheartedly support youth schemes for those under 25/26 and believe they’re vitally important, it’s easy for anyone trying to break through over that age to disappear into a funding black hole. With the funding cuts the arts seems to be becoming ever more marginalised, but there is something theatres can do to help, and that’s remove age criteria on their development schemes.

Late bloomers have an experience and wisdom that makes their work every bit as valuable.

On the day, I got strong responses in support of the topic, so it’s a question I thought it might be of benefit to share.

You can see my full 5 minute presentation on the topic here:

 

 

Discovering your text

Something it can be hard for us writers locked in our garrets to remember is the extraordinary dimension that can be added when our words are finally lifted off a page: either by an actor in a theatre, or by a reader curled up on a couch.

After all, that’s what those words were put there in the first place for, weren’t they?

After long months of writing, it’s a pleasure to re-discover this power of connection, the real reason for writing. And so much is unlocked through this final, and most vital, part of the process, things that you didn’t even know you had written.

This year so far, I’ve had two short pieces of theatre produced: in February, the monologue Forget Me Not was performed as part of the FIRST festival at Tristan Bates Theatre, and in April, Blinded By, an experimental theatre poem written and conducted as a musical score.

Both were different but equally sublime experiences, serving to jog that distant memory of one of the beauties of being a writer – the moment when what you’ve written becomes active in the world, entering into the consciousness of other lives and minds, and hopefully effecting something positive, or at least provoking thought. Arguably the culmination of all of your efforts is the most electrifying, and nerve-wracking, part of the writing process.

James Lorcan in Forget Me Not

James Lorcan as Geoff in Forget Me Not

In Forget Me Not, it was great to work 1-1 with James Lorcan, who took on the title role of Geoff. James asked a selection of intelligent questions that forced me to consolidate and articulate exactly the reason I had used each word and line; how it furthered the plot, or what it told us about the character of Geoff. This is what we should automatically be doing in our writing process anyway, but those prompts as questions are fantastically satisfying for both writer and actor, in achieving a clarity and consistency of goal and character. And if you’re both clear on those things, hopefully an audience will be, too. By going through this process of excavation with a collaborator, connections are made and deepened about things you wrote instinctively. You may not have known the reason that your character used that exact phrase at the time of writing – you were just listening to them, and they were using very particular words, or you visualised them behaving in a very particular way –  but you’ve just discovered why, and the connections can be profound.

Blinded By was a different experience again, involving 3 actors of no specified gender or age and allocating lines based purely on voice.

Llila Vis, James Killeen, Susan Hodgetts in Blinded By

Llila Vis, James Killeen, Susan Hodgetts in Blinded By

Blinded By was a theatre poem approached as a musical score, and each voice represented the instrument of an orchestra.

Assigning lines depending on voice also meant the freedom to carve out characters and stories from the given lines; this takes excavation of character beyond the norm, leaving the actor free to create their character’s story themselves with the director, guided within a very defined word structure and form.

A very exciting form of excavation that I’m keen to continue exploring.

So, writers…keep writing. When an audience member or a reader finally comes to see your work, in the excavation of your text, there is the possibility of true understanding of your words and their intentions, permitting communication between hearts and minds.

A theatre experiment…

Blinded By

This Sunday I’m excited to be presenting a short experimental theatre piece at The Space, a converted church in East London.

To me, when I write dialogue, prose or poetry, it feels like writing a musical score, so combining theatre, poetry and music is something I’ve found myself increasingly wanting to experiment with.

Sunday’s scratch performance will enable me to see how my notion of a “theatre poem” approached as a musical score will translate, and help me to explore the boundaries of what is possible in performance across art forms.

The questions I’m looking to answer are: 1) How do the audience respond to this form of arts fusion, and is it successful? 2) How much further could I push the limits of what is possible with these art forms combined in performance?

An alien invasion is used as a metaphor in the piece for the constant flux and instability that human existence is subject to; the fragmented yet rhythmical nature of poetry, and the unpredictable and extreme nuances possible in theatre and music, are, to me, perfect forms to mirror a demanding and dramatic subject matter.

Lines have been loosely distributed between 3 actors of varying gender and age, depending on which lines have been working best with which actor’s voice in rehearsal: each voice is used here to represent a different instrument in an orchestra.

As our rehearsals increase, we’re gaining a growing sense of character, rhythm and scenario from the text, allowing the words to dictate performances that change constantly with each new reading, mirroring the subject matter of life being in constant flux.

It’s been hugely exciting having the flexibility to create characters based solely around how lines have been allocated; in future performances, the allocation could even be random.

I love the idea of playing with freshness and flexibility in performance, and the text allows us to create and set our own rhythm with the pace and tone of our voices – each of us is like the conductor in an orchestra, free to direct those voices in any direction we choose at any time. Each performance will always be different, as, even with the same performers, each has the power to guide and conduct flow, pace and rhythm, and thus consistently change the musicality of the piece.

I’ve long identified strongly with a connection between the written word and the musical score, and I’m loving having the opportunity to explore this further.

Blinded By is on at The Space, this Sunday 12th April, at 7.30pm, in association with Limb2Limb Theatre.

https://space.org.uk/2015/03/30/the-purpose-of-living/

 

Happy New Year!

Now that Santa has returned to Lapland leaving a trail of mince pies in his wake,

I wish you all a sparkling 2015, and a year of happy writing ahead!

I hope you had an enjoyable festive season, and, now the Christmas jumpers are out of sight, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy and healthy, and of course creative, 2015!

To celebrate the arrival of the New Year, I’m introducing a new 1-1 mentoring service for writers, which allows me to mentor students direct in person or via skype. If you’d like a personalised mentoring session, or a one hour consultation on developing your idea for £35, please check out the below webpage link:

http://www.susanhodgetts.co.uk/?page_id=512

I’ve also published an updated and revised version of my wellbeing booklet, 10 Tips for Living Creatively in the Everyday, for 2015.

10 Tips is a beautifully designed 30-page booklet exploring 10 easy ways to use your creativity in daily life – whether you consider yourself to be creative or not. It embraces the idea of making small, simple daily or weekly changes, and encourages people to think about how they approach their day, empowering each individual to explore what their own creativity means to them.

It’s available to buy online through my website, at http://www.susanhodgetts.co.uk/publications.html, or on Amazon sites worldwide, priced at £2. Do take a minute to have a look.

And last but not least, the next Writing for Wellbeing course, which runs via email, is coming up on January 19th, and can help you kick-start your year and your life:

http://www.susanhodgetts.co.uk/?page_id=344

“Open, inclusive and inspiring.”
R. Brooker, Writing for Wellbeing, 2014

Be inspired in 2015!

Susan x

Letter to an unknown soldier

I recently came across this beautiful project, which asks the public to write a letter to an unknown soldier as part of the centenary commemorations of WWI.

On Platform One of Paddington Station, Charles Jagger’s sculpture of a bronze soldier can be found reading a letter from home. Members of the public are being invited to write that letter, and submit it online to a specially created website. All letters will then be added to the web archive at the British Library, and stored for generations to come.

It’s open to all, and some of the famous faces spearheading the campaign by writing their own letters are Sebastian Faulks, Stephen Fry and Sheila Hancock. Find out how to add your letter here:

http://www.1418now.org.uk/letter/how/

The website is open to receiving your letters until the 4th August.

New Writing for Wellbeing course online, and exploring your writing voice

summer flower

(c) Robert McCann

I have some exciting news to announce! Following on from the enthusiasm of a fab bunch of participants on the recent Writing for Wellbeing Taster Workshop, I’ve created a brand new 4 week online course, meaning the course is open to YOU – yes, it’s open to anyone, anywhere in the world!

Writing for Wellbeing is a brand new online course that allows you to work through weekly writing tasks at your own pace, and then share your progress with the rest of the group in a structured discussion via Skype.

It’s now proven that writing expressively about our lives and feelings can lead to a profound improvement in health. Building upon the ground-breaking research of Dr. James Pennebaker and the work of John F. Evans, the course will explore guided writing experiences including expressive, transactional, legacy, affirmative and poetic writing. Participants do not need to have any proficiency with or affinity for writing to benefit, just an enthusiasm to explore their own voice, and express themselves on the page.

The course runs for 4 weeks, and starts on the 21st July. Cost is £40/$70, and includes a minimum of 3 weekly tasks delivered via email, plus a 20 minute skype catch-up at the end of each week.

Please see http://www.susanhodgetts.co.uk for booking, and further details.

Thanks to Ruth, Kate, Alessandra and Cedric for inspiring the creation of this course!

Before I sign off, it seemed relevant to this post to say a word or two on the meaning of exploring your writing voice. I had a student recently who asked me how long it might take to find her voice, and expressed a wish to find it within a given timeframe.

I’m not sure anyone should worry too much about when they’ll find their voice, and I think sometimes too much emphasis is placed on this concept. Your voice isn’t something that can be quantified or measured, and it will grow, develop and change throughout your life journey. I believe that we each already have a voice, and it will gradually become clearer, stronger and more familiar as you develop both in terms of your writing craft and life experience.

The most important thing I’ve learned is to enjoy the journey, rather than being entirely  focussed on quantifiable results.

Wishing you another enjoyable beautiful sunny day!

Susan