Crowd written play in Havant Brewery

In May, we started creating a crowd-written play online with playwrights all over the world. On Friday night, a host of actors performed the crowd written play at Havant Brewery as part of Havant literary festival, while it was still being written…

 

This is the information about the play from the performance trail programme.

This is the information about the play from the performance trail programme.

 

How we created the crowd written play.

When I started this project I didn’t know if anyone else would be interested in it. I started a Facebook group, followed a few playwrights on Twitter and put the idea out there. There was such an overwhelming response to the suggestion from friends and strangers alike, that I quickly started a mind map where anyone could add ideas.

After a while of collecting playwrights on Twitter and encouraging contributions to the mind map, I created an online voting and commenting form for everyone to vote on which of the ideas they liked best. Nine of the playwrights took part in the vote, see the results here.

From this, I took the most popular ideas and created preliminary writing tasks to develop these further. I set individual tasks for all 32 playwrights that had so far signed up to the online form and sent them out by email. You can see the great and varied work that came out of the tasks, and what I set people here.

It was clear that fitting all of this together was going to be a challenge! People responded to the tasks in completely different ways and the styles varied considerably. But I really wanted the play to be as collaborative as possible, and not to make any executive decisions by myself. So I simply took everything that had been created in the tasks and put it into 3 documents:

1. a list of all the characters that had been created and described

2. ‘The Play’ (at this point a dump of all the dialogue written so far into one document!)

3. ‘Inspiration for your next line’. – A document with all the other supporting brainstorming and idea generation everyone had done so far.

All the playwrights were then encouraged to write the play. I was amazed at how many joined in and added to it!

Meanwhile, I had assembled a group of actors and performance poets from Rhymes with Orange to perform the play for Havant Literary Festival. We were having rehearsals, which is tricky when the script is changing before your eyes. While we were having our first read-through, we found the script had grown by an extra page. We quickly abandoned the idea of acting from print-outs because of how quickly they became out of date, instead we would all read from the live document on our phones and laptops.

On the night

To keep the play malleable, we decided that we would keep it open for editing right up to, and during, the performance.

The play took place after a performance trail through the town, beginning at the local Spring arts centre and including poems and performance in local pubs and in the street. When they arrived at Havant Brewery, our audience had heard poetry about having sex behind the bins, from someone the’d just found in a compromising position behind a bin. They had been attacked by the personification of Envy and splashed by Covetousness as she dived into the local spring to retrieve the coins they had been encouraged to throw in for luck. They had been auditioned for a pub quiz team by a very picky quiz master and boasted at by trustafarians. They had been drinking along the way, laughing and joining in. They were perfectly primed for participating in the play.

At the brewery, I explained and introduced the concept of the crowd-written play. Then we put all the characters into a hat and each actor pulled one out and read aloud to introduce their character. We then had a 20 minute break.

During the break, the actors went into the audience to find suggestions…

We sourced our costumes from the audience. One lady leant me an excellent bright pink jumper to play Poppy. One person suggested that Stevie, who was playing Jago, should have a moustache – so Stevie asked her to find a pen and draw the moustache onto her face. Thomas, as the brewer master ghost, borrowed apron and glasses from the brewery. Everyone was quickly transformed to look like their characters.

Meanwhile, the audience were also encouraged to edit and add to the text. We had two laptops, one of which was projecting the script onto the wall of the brewery. All of the actors also had phones with the same Google doc open. Our highly amused, and by now rather tipsy audience had great fun editing the text to include local references and jokes and improving individual lines. (After a five minute brainstorm, three of the audience I was speaking to amended the line “a ghost?!” to “What the bloody hell are you talking about, ghost?” which they felt was more realistic.)

Other audience members gave directorial advice: for example they apparently informed Liam that he ought to play Guildroy in a high squeaky voice.

Then we performed the play, with the laptops still open for editing and the script being scrolled through during the performance, so the audience could read along. We stopped and edited occasionally as we went, some lines now didn’t make sense and had to be tweaked. Liam’s squeaky voice proved impractical, and the audience decided that he should switch to a Scottish accent… then Swedish.

There were some great laughs in the play, and (miraculously) it had ended up with a beginning, an end and pretty much a story line. Occasionally we would suddenly realise we were supposed to come back on when we hadn’t gone off. Performing it was a hilarious experience and the audience seemed to really enjoy the show, particularly when a bit they had edited or contributed came up!

I think having the trail of interactive performance beforehand (and the excellent Havant beer available at £2 a pint) really made the participatory aspect of the play a massive success. Credit has to also go to the actors who took to this crazy idea and really got the audience involved and brought the characters to life.

A massive thank you to everyone who contributed and helped us write this incredible MASTERPIECE of theatre! You can read the play here, please feel free to continue to edit and improve it! And, it should go without saying, that if anyone else wants to have a crack at performing it in a similar fashion please do – it is your play, not mine.

Photos from the performance of the play (thank you to Paul and Judy Valentine!).

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Preparing the character descriptions to pull out of the hat!

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Rachel Malham as Cheri, arriving to photograph the brewery.

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During the break, the audience direct the actors, contribute costumes and edit the play.

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Thomas Muirhead is decked out as the Brewer master ghost by the experts: the brewers of the Havant Brewery.

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Rachel Malham as Cheri

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Alison Lee as Abigail and Lynsey Pennycooke as Malcolm.

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The actors read their lines from the play document on their phones, and the script is also projected behind them so the audience can see what is coming up and suggest and make edits.

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Jago (Stevie Tyler, right) and Poppy (Me, Ellie Dawes, left) come in full of enthusiasm about buying the brewery.



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