Thursday, 12 January 2017

Sea Wall Dramaturgy: Eve Nicol @ The Pub

Theatre audiences pick the ticket price when Simon Stephen’s acclaimed monologue, Sea Wall, tours Glasgow bars in January 2017. 

Sea Wall

Written by Simon Stephens, directed by Eve Nicol and performed by Alan MacKenzie.

Touring Glasgow pubs 22 -26 January 2017

Sea Wall will see the emerging Glasgow-based company to break out of existing limiting structures for creating theatre, paying artists and talking directly to audiences in non-traditional spaces.

For their Glasgow pub new tour of Simon Stephens’ acclaimed monologue, Heroes Theatre are implementing the innovative Pay What You Decide pricing model pioneered by Slung Low and ARC, Stockton, where audiences are under no obligation to pay until after they see the show. Pay What You Decide allows audiences to pay only what they can afford and removes the financial risk of buying a ticket in advance without knowing if they are going to enjoy a production or not. For Sea Wall, audiences will get to set the price of their ticket, paying as little or as much as they think the show was worth.

Written by the Olivier and Tony award-winning author of the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeStephens’ Sea Wall is a portrait of guilt, grief and the still waters that run deep in us all. 

Sea Wall tells the story of young parent Alex. His life is going swimmingly - a great kid, a happy marriage, good job – when everything is swept from him in one devastating moment. Heroes Theatre invites audiences to join them at the table for Sea Wall, sharing this intimate story over a beer in the back rooms, snugs and dens of pubs across Glasgow. Previously seen at the National Theatre and The Bush, London, Sea Wall is pint-sized theatre that packs a crushing emotional punch.

I know that you like good quality, contemporary scripts... in fact, you got me into Philip Ridley, which means I kind of owe you one! So what was it that made you select Sea Wall?

Sea Wall is one of those stories that haunts you. My first encounter with Sea Wall was in performance with Paines Plough's touring production a few years ago. It blindsided me. The friends I was with all sat in the pub afterwards, hearts broken, needing the warmth of human company.

I had been looking for a script that would suit Alan MacKenzie, who I worked with on The Pitchfork Disney. Both Alan and the character in Sea Wall, Alex, have personalities that you make you want to have a drink with them, to spend time in their company. It’s a wonderful trait in a performer and for a writer to accomplish. Like Philip Ridley’s plays, I don’t think we see enough of Simon Stephens’ work in Scotland. I selected Sea Wall as it was an opportunity to work with actor I wanted to work with and a tell story I wanted to share. A perfect combination for me.

As a resolute anti-social non-drinker (most of the time), I am both intrigued and slightly frightened by the idea of theatre in the pub. Can you persuade me why having a performance in a pub is a good idea?

Just as you might not feel at home in a bar, many regular pub goers would be apprehensive to step into a theatre. It’s probably healthy for theatre audiences to be a bit more awake to the real world they inhabit from time to time. The seclusion of theatres can be seductive but false.

Hospitality and a drink amongst friends is important to Heroes and pubs are geared up for this. Putting Sea Wall in a pub setting made me think of barflies who quietly nurse half a pint half the night then slip out into the dark. What’s their story? By inviting audiences to sit down at a table with Alex, I’m hoping to encourage people to consider the still waters that run deep in us all.

From a financial point of view as unfunded company, having a performance in a pub is an excellent idea. You get 90-100% of your box office takings whereas in a theatre 60% is seen as good deal. Heroes simply couldn't do this production in a theatre without breaking employment law. It’s an issue theatres who programme emerging companies need to address. Immediately.

As we've removed the financial risk for Heroes by performing in a pub, we're able to share the benefits with audiences too. Sea Wall is running on a Pay What You Decide pricing model where audiences decide the price of their ticket post-performance based on their experience. We’re busking essentially. If money is a bit tight post-Christmas, we’re not excluding anyone because they’re skint.
Apart from your enthusiasm for a good script, it's clear that you have a passion for getting theatre back into a wider public attention. Was there a particular inspiration that made you think that theatre was the art form that you wanted to engage with, and what makes it special for you?

My parents instigated theatre trips regularly and I would dog school to go see Jesus Christ Superstar matinees, but it was the Citizens Theatre’s Circle Studio that did it for me as a fifteen year old. It was sexy and clever and it was right in front of you. Going to the theatre as a 30 year old still makes me feel like an impressionable teenager – it shows me new perspectives, new emotions, new images. I’m a fangirl. In sharing plays that excite me with other people, I get to express a little something of myself too.  

You know I have to do this - but can you tell me a little about your thoughts on dramaturgy? Do you have a particular process in creating theatre that can be described? 

My dramaturgy is in detail of the decisions I make to bring the text off the page and in to real space, in real time. Semiotics, right? What does the brand of beer Alex drinks communicate to an audience?  I am a big fan of Katie Mitchell’s preparation process outlined in her book. Her methodical approach of deep textual study and real world research opens doors to avenues of investigation that would otherwise remain hidden.

What am I doing with my life? I mean, seriously, I sit around all day reading about The Enlightenment and worrying about purpose... sorry, I am interested in how you use the theory that you have learnt in the rehearsal room. Does the academic have any use within the creative process?

Theory is fine but practice is everything. With study you learn a lot about what other people in the industry are doing but there’s not a lot of personal excavation going on. Theory can be an impediment. You’re more aware of all the things you don’t know. The books that remain unread. The individual human lifespan isn’t that long. “How do you do you” might be the most informative, surprising, uncomfortable but hopeful point of study for anyone. The art that inspires me - and which I aim to make - are stories that inspire people to take action, to live their lives with more vigour. To do.

The academic does have use within the creative process because they are human and in being human, they have a unique perspective to offer which can enrich the lives of other humans. I think we might only have purpose when it becomes a shared purpose.

How does Sea Wall relate to Nordic Noir?

You can see the influence of The Killing all over contemporary drama. The pacing of storytelling. There’s a slower, more contemplative, burn. It’s not the hyperactive cosmopolitan settings. There’s a lack, a missing. Space.  It’s concerned less with the glamour of the event – the explosion, the hit, the abduction, whatever - but with examining the effects human horrors have on the people left behind.

Sea Wall shares these qualities. Alex takes his time in unloading his story. For the audience there’s a puzzle to work out. What happened? Who is to blame? How do you carry on?

Sea Wall builds on the success of Heroes Theatre’s debut production of Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney at the Tron Theatre in 2014, and 2016’s storming punk performance poetry duet for words and drums, GLITTERED, created for Hidden Door Festival.

Join the conversation: #SeaWall
Touring Glasgow pubs 23 - 27 January 2017
The Bungo, 17 Nithsdale Road, G41 2AL
22 January 2017, 6pm & 7.30pm
Sloans, 108 Argyle St, G2 8BG
23 & 24 January 2017, 6.30 & 8.00pm
Dram!, 232 Woodlands Road, G3 6ND
25 & 26 January 2017, 6.30 & 8.00pm (18+ only at 8.00pm performances in Dram!)
Suitable for ages 14+
Running time: 35 minutes 
Artists’ Biographies
Simon Stephens – writer
Simon Stephens is an Associate Artist of the Lyric Hammersmith and the Royal Court Theatre. His many plays include: a new adaptation of The Threepenny OperaCarmen DisruptionHeisenberg, Birdland, Blindsided, MorningThree Kingdoms, WastwaterPunk Rock, Pornography (Best New Play at Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2008-9)Country MusicChristmas and Herons.  His adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for the National Theatre - concurrently touring the UK, in West End and on Broadway - won the Olivier Award for Best New Play 2013 and the Tony Award for Best Play 2015.
Eve Nicol – director
Eve Nicol is Artistic Director of Heroes Theatre. Work includes GLITTERED at Hidden Door, The Pitchfork Disney and Fairytaleheart. She is a graduate of the Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland Mentoring Scheme and is currently supported by the Tom McGrath Trust and FST Assistant Director Bursary, working with David Greig on the premiere of a new play by Linda McLean at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.
Alan MacKenzie – Alex
Alan has previously worked with Heroes on The Pitchfork Disney. His theatre credits include touring with Mull Theatre’s Movie Time and Visible Fictions’, Friends Electric and as Hamlet with Wilderness of Tigers for Bard In The Botanics.

Notes to the Editors 
About Heroes Theatre 
Formed in 2014, Heroes Theatre is led by theatre director and playwright Eve Nicol and creative collaborators from Glasgow’s grassroots theatre scene. Eve established Heroes to share brilliant contemporary plays and the text-based theatre of tomorrow. Heroes make shared cathartic experiences of hope, heartbreak and horror to make humans feel more human. 

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