I just ran (ie, walked very quickly) up a whole load of steps from Live in Newcastle to the train station, having ever so impolitely not made formal goodbyes, eagerly hoping to get the train home an hour earlier because the event finished earlier than advertised – hopes dashed by BR telling me it would cost another £95. No, not even live Masterchef THE FINAL is worth that. So, here I am, in the Starbucks (free wifi – so judge me) sitting down to answer a day and a half’s worth of emails instead. (23 since you ask.) But …

My head is full of Document – the symposium I’ve just attended at Live Theatre on verbatim/document theatre – discussions, shows, works in progress, talk. Regular blog readers will know I am an Open Space devotee, and this event wasn’t in OS, so I admit I came to it a little “you want me to do what?” “have a discussion and report back?” “Really?”
But of course, it wasn’t really that, it was people talking to each other about something they cared about, sharing practice, sharing methodology, sharing hopes, sharing aspirations, sharing ideals. And failures. And fudges. And much MUCH lighter and easier than all that sounds! (Not least, I think, because – other than for the performances – there were no more than 25 people in the room. Nice, handle-able.)

Here’s some of what I’ve come away with :
– as ever, enthusiasm for Newcastle (always a lovely city, the first time I came here was at the invitation of Julia Darling, many years ago, when I taught an impro/writing workshop at Live and had a brilliant time – so it was very lovely when Gez Casey, Literary Manager of Live showed me the room dedicated to Julia and the stunning portrait of her. Lovely and sad and lovely again.)
– catching up with Melanie who used to work with Improbable and is now making work up here, and the pleasure of seeing old mates Bev and Ian and Carl from The Suggestibles with whom I sometimes improvise
The Paper Birds funny, sad, physical, engaging show Thirsty – from their own and others’ experience of drinking
Nicolas Kent from the Tricycle talking engagingly and passionately about 30+ years of making verbatim, political, world-and-society-changing work
– other people talking about personal work (like my own two solo shows) as also being in the spectrum of documentary/verbatim theatre (something that hadn’t occurred to me before, but now seems very obvious)
– a realisation that the work we do in Improbable’s Lifegame is ever so verbatim in a very pure way – and that having the guest/interviewee on stage with us very clearly shows the PROCESS as well as the result – and remembering that over the years the thing we have worked very hard to achieve is an ability to show/share the process even more clearly in that show.
Jane Arnfield‘s incredible work in progress of The Tin Ring (from Zdenka Fantlova’s memoir) – perfect embodiment of everything I most respect in performance – honesty, openness, clarity and no awful actor-inhabiting-character stuff that gets in the way of telling the truth of the story. Jane’s process (with Mike Alfreds) – and the live piece – clearly delineate (within one performance) narrator/actor/’character’. A brilliant object lesson in making process both obvious AND theatrical.
– lots of talk about authorship/ownership. Who is the ‘writer’? A suggestion – from me! – that if we treated our writers as craftspeople more and as muse-led-artists less, more people might be willing to call themselves dramaturgs or editors or choreographers of the ‘script’ which is what more of us feel we do when we crate devised/verbatim work anyway – but as long as we denigrate those other titles and over-laud “writer” everyone grabs for the title that has status. Which, simultaneously, of course, means we also denigrate the term writer, because making it all about talent and muse (concepts I don’t believe in anyway) denies the craft and graft involved in making work.
– um, what else – questions of who gets paid; of moral responsibility; of ownership (not necessarily the same as authorship); of venues that don’t perceive makers of verbatim work to be writers (yes, that is contradicting what I’ve suggested above, oh well) and so only the people creating stage fictions get to win prizes; that much devised work is from personal story/testimony and so that’s kind of verbatim too; that it’s a broad church; that sometimes there’s a very pure desire to make extremely political work to change attitudes and sometimes not at all; that even the maker-as-editor is still doing a massive amount of shaping and narrative-finding, so perhaps it is ‘writing’ after all?; questions of fact or fiction; of when we edit and how we edit; of when interviewees/participants get to say “no, you can’t use that” – if ever; less fear of the academic/practitioner divide (not least because most of the academics were also practitioners and no-one made me feel stupid!); questions of the role of narrative (both the ones we all tell of our own lives and those we try to construct from another’s testimony); and always always WITNESSING. The audience as witness. The makers as witness. The piece as witness. (I actually think most of these questions and discussions are relevant to all forms of artistic endeavour, not specific to verbatim work, they’re just what we kept coming back to in the past 24 hours)
– my own always-question : “are there other words that might explain the role ‘writer’ more clearly/honestly” remains unanswered, but I think I’m edging closer to what feels right for me … something like narrative-maker (narrativer?!) which might just as well be called a dramaturg? (if we could all agree what that means – hah!!)
– oh and, of course, several instances of “I wrote that line/those lines in rehearsal, why does that writer get the credit” – but then that most certainly is not limited to verbatim work!

So. That’s my past day and a half. Tons of stuff. Great stuff. Live’s building is welcoming and warm and so use-able! Makes me very keen to get on with a couple of my pending projects (stage things and book things), bringing in some things I’ve heard from others that has made me look at my own process in a new light. Which is most definitely a gift – so thank you Steve Gilroy from Northumbria University and Live.
Keen too, as ever, to come back to Newcastle. (But after I’ve gone home first!)

Right then, 3 hour train journey, 23 emails to answer (or delete!!), 5 pages of script to write on the journey … I’ll be the one avoiding all twitter refs to Masterchef.