Toolkit Extra: Isolation with Tim Foley (and Bunny)

The Royal Exchange Theatre, the home of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, may be closed, our stages may be quiet, our hearts may be breaking, but we continue to be creative, to be writers, directors, artists and theatre makers. We are in unknown territory and are busily making plans about what this means for our future work. We do not yet know what the impact will be across our sector, for the artists who we make work with, the participants that we support and for our audiences going forward.

We are exploring ways in which we can all remain connected and optimistic. Human connection is something we all need, to share stories, to engage our imaginations and emotions. As well as reposting our writing Toolkit– winning writers have been offering insight and (hopefully) support from lockdown.

Tim Foley won a Bruntwood Prize Judges Award in 2017 for his brilliant play ELECTRIC ROSARY 

 

A day in the life of an isolated playwright is just a day in the life of a playwright, but one who is feeling a little more vulnerable than usual.

I’m not working on any plays in particular at the moment, because I do not feel greatly inspired. I don’t yet know how to respond to the world around me. Some people have leapt into action with amazing online monologues and exciting digital endeavours, and that’s fantastic. I’m currently wrapped in blankets and cradling my guinea pigs. I think that’s fantastic too.

It’s true that I’m still writing, because I enjoy writing as a fun and creative exercise. Jotting down weird things about aliens and spaceships works for me, I find world building an effective form of meditation. It may not work for you, and that’s okay. Hopefully we’ve swatted down the ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear whilst in quarantine’ meme that was buzzing around. Because the bottom line is – you shouldn’t pressure yourself to write a King Lear in this time. You shouldn’t pressure yourself to write anything in this time. Only do it if you enjoy it, and if it helps. Frankly that’s pretty good advice, even outside of a national pandemic.

This wonderful website is going to provide you with tasks and challenges to keep those artistic thoughts flowing. But if you’re not up to that yet, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by things, maybe you should REST. When I say REST, I’m talking about an artful acronym I‘ve just made up on the spot. Let’s go through it and see if it holds up.

 

R = REFUEL

I don’t mean physically (but by all means eat pasta if you have any). I’m talking about refuelling in terms of inspiration. The way I do this is with stories. People are bending over backwards to provide you with free content during this period, and that’s phenomenal. You can find a list of free plays streaming here: https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/promoted/2020/where-can-i-watch-theatre-online-coronavirus-and-theatre-streaming/

Maybe look beyond theatre as well. Imagine yourself on a scouting mission, finding out what other mediums are doing so you can filter it theatrically onto a stage. There’s a glut of great podcasts – perhaps listen to Podcast Radio Hour on BBC Radio 4X (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09n14fm) for a weekly suggestion list. You may have books kicking around the house you’re yet to read, or if you’re lucky enough to own a games console you could immerse yourself in the narratives there (Lucy Prebble was Head Scene Writer for Destiny, pass it on). Yes there are streaming services, but I don’t need to mention those. We’re probably all knee-deep in Tiger King anyway.

 

E = ENGAGE

I’m going to sound like Old Uncle Timmy when I say this but – get yourself a video chat app. I thought myself a hermit, but connecting with other creatives over calls has gone a long way to soothe my aching soul. Don’t be squeamish about your appearance – nobody has had a proper haircut in a while. Look at me – with my wild facial hair I look like a walrus. Step outside of yourself and connect. Perhaps you’ll idly consider future projects with people. But that doesn’t have to be the agenda here. Catch up, play virtual games, swap recipes. I’ve spoken to people I haven’t spoken to in years. It’s nice, I recommend it. Obviously it all sucks we’re not all in the same room and touching each other’s faces, but it’s great that this kind of stuff exists. Why don’t you and some friends do a play reading? Give D&D a whirl? Sophie Motley, AD of Pentabus Theatre, recently talked of the ‘virtual village hall experience’ when it comes to sharing their theatre online (https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2020/coronavirus-pentabus-theatre-to-make-its-shows-available-online/). I imagine ‘virtual’ is a word we will be digging into for decades to come, so give digital communication and storytelling a whirl and experience the positives.

 

S = SOMETHING

I had a variety of Ss. Maybe I should immediately undermine my previous point and say SWITCH-OFF? Technology is neither good nor bad, it is a tool, and like all tools they should be used properly and you should take a little rest when your eyes start to blister. Or what about SYNTHS? Getting out a keyboard and going a bit strange helps me in the dark times, but that might be specific to me. SEPARATE? Keep your work space separate from your sleep space and have a distinct pile of day and night pyjamas? Shakespeare may have written blah blah blah but I bet he didn’t write it in his second-best bed.

I’m content to let this S be nebulous and fuzzy because the one S we don’t need just yet is SOLUTIONS. We’re all still working out another S, STUFF. Though the most important S of all is to SURVIVE, so STAY SAFE and use SOAP.

 

T = THINK

I mean if S was rocky, T is even more ridiculous: ‘THINK’. We all think anyway. I can tell what you’re thinking right now, you’re thinking this is a cop-out to a mediocre acronym. But. But. On the other side of all this, theatre will need to do a lot of work to get people through those doors again. To build those audiences up. We have gone dark, and soon we must bring light. I’d like you to think about that. Not in an urgent, stressful way, but in a ‘stare out the window and ponder’ way. We will need solutions. The more creative the better. And that’s all going to come from the likes of you.

There may be a baseline of thought that is stress and anxiety. I’m worried about future work, I’m worried about relatives, I’m worried about paying my rent. But I must not be driven by worry. I like writing about aliens and spaceships because I like to imagine future worlds, ones which put my own into perspective. These are troubling times, and they take some adjusting – but we will get through this. And our theatre needs to be all the stronger for it.

 

 

So. That was REST. Maybe it worked for you, maybe it didn’t. Perhaps I’m the wrong person to write a blog post at this time, but maybe the honesty helps. There will come a time when you have Refuelled, when you have Engaged, when you are up for Something and you Think the time is right. I’ll be tuning into this website’s content in days and weeks to come. Hopefully the exercises and prompts will kickstart something within.

 

In the meantime, if you want to get in touch, I’m @verbatimfoley on Twitter. I am willing to share more pig pics.

8 Apr 2020

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