I had no expectations at all when I first submitted a piece of writing to Manchester ADP. I’ve had experience with these kind of things in the past and as general rule, you send a piece of writing off, and that’s pretty much the end of it. Most of these things start out with good intentions. But good intentions can only get you so far. Good intentions are pretty worthless without some professional commitment to turn them into something more.
It was something of a surprise then to find that not only was my first submission ‘Caminada’ acknowledged pretty much straight away, it was read, given feedback and chosen for the inaugural night of short plays.
Since then I’ve had four of my short pieces performed as well as one full length play, The Script. I have at least two more submissions that have been accepted and are in the pipeline and I’m probably going to submit another full length play any time now.
I remember when ADP first started I said to Diana that one day she would make me famous. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to appear on Andrew “Top Techie” Glassford’s excellent podcast and be interviewed about my writing and Scripts Aloud on local radio station, All FM. I’ve also had the aforementioned The Script long listed by the BBC and have been approached by a potential producer. On top of all that I am also staring into the dark, cavernous abyss that is the Arts Council of England grant application process, where all artistic hopes and dreams go to die and remain forever buried. If the BBC is the silver lining, the ACE is definitely the bleak and unremittingly grey cloud. Of course, none of this constitutes anything like being famous but it gets me out of the flat and talking to people, which is a start. It also gives me the impetus to just sit down an write. ADP is in a constant battle with my own sloth and indolence. Right now, ADP is winning.
Writing is meaningless until it finds an audience. Any piece of work is just an unwanted foetus that gestates in a draw or on a hard drive until somebody else decides to drag it kicking and screaming into the harsh light of day. Diana, Hannah and Lisa are the midwives. Some of the pieces I’ve had performed I’m quite proud of, some are unloved brats I would happily see taken into care, and some of them I think might grow up one day and turn out brighter than I ever hoped they could be. (I’m going to stop with this birth/child analogy now because even I’m getting bored with it.)
Initially, I didn’t care much for the Q&A after the performance. I thought it unnecessary and a waste of time for the writer. But over time I’ve come to look forward to it. Being a little argumentative and belligerent by nature I enjoy the challenge of the questions and I find the prospect of live criticism gives my writing a little more of an edge. I always believe in writing to the smartest person in the room and there are some very smart people indeed in the ADP audience.
Same with turning up for rehearsals. At first, I didn’t mind popping my head in and saying hello for a few minutes, and prior to ADP I’d found getting involved in rehearsals tended to suck what little joy I have in me away. I positively hate the word ‘creative’ and tend to run a mile when someone mentions collaboration but thanks to ADP I’m now warming to it. Watching the process of directing is endlessly fascinating and I’m happy to just sit and watch what some truly great directors and actors can do moulding and shaping a piece of work.
But that’s the thing - writing something is easy. It really is. All you need is a half-arsed idea and access to a keyboard, and who doesn’t have that? Writing something that actors and directors will have some faith in, and interpret it and represent it the best they can, not because it’s a bit of a job that might look good on their CV, but because it’s something they think is genuinely good, is far more difficult. Because a writer can only get to his audience by using the actors and directors as a conduit. The investment of faith has to be mutual. Without them the writer is impotent (I’m back on that baby/birth analogy again, aren’t I?)
One thing I didn’t expect when I got involved ADP is the debates that spill over into the bar afterwards and sometimes this is my favourite part of the night. Subjects such as: does theatre have a responsibility to be be political? Does theatre do enough to reach out to the working class? and is theatre still valid as a viable art form?
Long may those arguments continue and long may they remain unresolved.
Writers have a responsibility. More than anything they have a responsibility to tell an audience something they don’t know and not to treat them like fools. Or to tell them something they thought they knew but tell them in a way they’ve never thought of before. Or just to make them smile. They have a responsibility to let the audience go home and think it was a fiver well spent on something they couldn’t get from anywhere else.
All writers think that everything they write drips with the honeyed wisdom of the ages and only they are in possession of the keys to the kingdom of all knowledge. But that’s not true. The process of writing may be a solitary business, and so it should be, but it’s all for nothing unless a group of people are willing to take a chance on them and give them an opportunity to get whatever it is they want to say out there. ADP are the forceps that pull the ….. (Oh, God, I’m doing it again…..)
Best I just finish by saying this - Everyone at Manchester ADP does everything they do the best they possibly can. And they are very, very good at it.
Anyway, that’’l do for now, I have to get off. I have a half-arsed idea and new batteries in my keyboard.
See you next time.
*Photos credited to Mark Russell. Above - Robert Pegg and Esther Dix working on 'The Script'. Below - Zoe Iqbal.
That ghostly halo of light? The dark form at the back of Script Aloud evenings? The lightest pitter-patter of fingers flying across a touch-screen? That’s me, as opposed to the tweeting, theatre-loving ghost of the Kings Arms. Though, that has just given me a new account idea…
To those new to Manchester ADP (hello and welcome), I am Manchester ADP’s official Twitter account manager. Catchy title, I think you’ll agree. My job is essentially to make lots of e-noise from our twitter page @ManchesterADP in the hope we will keep raising awareness of this wonderful network.
I came into my grand title in a rather round-about way. I originally joined Manchester ADP as a script appraiser – a job I thoroughly recommend to everyone who loves theatre – before then being cast as ‘Maggie’ in Robert Peggs ‘Salutation’ on February 22. That evening, Hannah and Diana let me volunteer to help with the social media side based on my previous experience… not that I ever provided a reference (take note everyone)! I was lucky that we already had over 200 followers to the page and so many dedicated ADP-ers who retweet, like and follow nearly every post I write! Since then we have grown to over 700 followers, so thank you, thank you, thank you to all those who have followed us and continue support us.
A little insight into the life behind that retweet… My basic day includes my laptop, fluffy socks and large mugs of caffeine perched nearby as I peruse the newsfeed and various lists for the latest news in the Manchester theatre scene. It is utterly addictive: the thrill of finding a fantastic opportunity to share or reading the great work you all do every day is uplifting and exciting. Sad as it may seem, I find a lot of joy in the fact that, despite everything, Mancunians continue to nourish Greater Manchester’s thriving theatre scene. That’s the reason I try to tweet every day. That’s why your device is clogged up with notifications from @ManchesterADP whenever you try to check your emails or sneakily crush some candy… So please keep creating wonderful creative, artistic pieces and I will do my best to retweet, reply and heart each and every one of you! If I miss you, I am only a basic cyborg after all, do DM or tweet us and we will do our best to support you!
Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to read all your wonderful blogs soon too! If you have a tale to tell about Manchester ADP, be it your experience as a writer, director, actor, audience member or anything in between, write us an entry and send it to: manchesterADP@gmail.com
Thank you wonderful Sophie. And how lucky Manchester ADP is to have you!
I found out about the plans for Manchester ADP in May last year when I first made contact with Diana Atkins. She had put a message on Facebook asking for information about prospective venues in the Manchester area.
By August, the first Scripts Aloud was launched at the King's Arms in Salford. Prior to that she and Hannah had established a small group of directors and actors who were prepared to give their time free in order to put on rehearsed readings of new writing. Several writers had submitted scripts for consideration.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the writers who had a play chosen for the first Scripts Aloud night on August Bank Holiday. An amazing opportunity not only to try out new work but to have immediate audience feedback. Envigorating and a little scary.
The audiences at Scripts Aloud have grown. Nearly every event packed out and it seems like there's an extra row of chairs are added to every performance.
I had been writing short stories, short plays and some poems for a few years.
What Scripts Aloud has given me is the incentive to write and develop my work. It doesn't mean that everything I write gets performed.
Each script is appraised before it is decided whether it is accepted for performance. The appraisers don't know the name of the writer. Appraisers try to give constructive feedback and suggestions for changes or improvements. Feedback is from more than one appraiser. Sometimes appraiser views are polarised - what we call the Marmite effect. This doesn't mean they don't get performed. One Scripts Aloud evening was entitled 'The Marmite Evening' and included four such plays to let the audience decide how they felt about them.
I've found appraisals generally helpful. Many of the comments probably told me what I knew (or should have known) already.
I've been lucky enough to have had four pieces performed at Scripts Aloud. It's been amazing and heartwarming to work with some great actors and directors who have allowed me to sit in and actively participate in their three hour rehearsal process that precedes the performance of each play. Their generosity of time and spirit epitomises the cooperative nature of Scripts Aloud.
I can't thank Diana, Hannah and Lisa enough for their drive, determination, enthusiasm and support. As a writer, it's provided me with a new lease of life. But more than that they've created and fostered an atmosphere of support and cooperation. I've made many new friends and contacts. Scripts Aloud goes from strength to strength, especially with the introdction of fuller length plays.
It's wonderful that a network that didn't exist last year has burgeoned so quickly. Long may it flourish.
By David Chriscole.
Fringe theatre here in the North West is huge, as it is elsewhere in the country. So big in fact, it should probably have its own post code. Yet prior to February 2015 I hadn't an inkling that this sub-culture even existed. Having been exposed to it by my nephew Sean, a UCLan trained actor, I was and am hooked.
In October 2015 Sean hails his next appearance on a stage being at a pub in Salford called The Kings Arms. The event, called "Marmite Night" was to be presented by Manchester ADP, part of their freshly baked "Scripts Aloud" programme. Having already seen a multi-play "Scripts Out Loud" event in Manchester during July, I more-or-less knew what to expect. However, Manchester ADP went a lot further than just presenting a series of scripts. Oh no, they wanted nay demanded your feedback after each presentation in a Q&A session. This was something quite different, and it was met with an eager audience keen to give their views.
Something quite extraordinary happened on this night though, something I had not seen coming. After the last script had been read, and the Q&A session had ended, our delightful MC Hannah Ellis talks briefly about Manchester ADP. The request for actors, directors and writers to get involved goes up.
"Anybody can submit a script for evaluation & possible performing in a script aloud event."
This statement, of which I'm paraphrasing from memory of course, is duly heard. After returning my Nephew to his home, and arriving back at my abode just about midnight, I sit and ponder the evening. Sipping a Gin & Tonic to help me unwind, I hear the echo of Hannah's delightful Australian twang, melting gorgeously in my ears. "Anyone can submit a script...". Funny how the simplest things can take you by surprise. I sat there for a moment wondering what to make of this fleeting memory of a few spoken words that evening. I nodded to myself in silent acknowledgement of this query, slipping it into my mind, with a post-it note "todo: think about this a little more".
The following evening I did do just that. I became aware during that day of a growing ache in my head. Not a real one mind you, more like a thought that wanted to get out but was blocked behind a door marked "gone to work". Opening that door in the evening proved quite eventful. I realised I had been mulling over part of my own existence during the previous year. This period was quite a hard, self-imposed self-loathing kind of affair. Yet, I seemed to join these events with Hannah's simple request for script submissions for Manchester ADP and... boom! (as you kids say)
Could I? Should I?
Part of the recovery from my "dark period" saw me promising myself that I would not shy away from doing something different. So I considered something astonishing; Could I write a short play about the struggle I had? Would it be interesting, engaging, thought provoking or just plain crap? A line from the Coldplay song "Fix You" rang in my ears, "If you never try, you'll never know.". Okay then, why not give it a go.
Once the decision was made, the words came fast. I poured out some of my deepest feelings in text, abstracting those feelings into characters I could relate to. By the end of 2 or 3 hours of writing, fiddling, reading and more fiddling, I launched the script into the ether and to my nephew Sean for some critique.
It did take a while to have the opportunity to sit and discuss what I had written, but the feedback I got from Sean gave me the positive vibe I'd been hoping for. There could be something here, it has legs. Can we maybe call it "a thing". Gosh! Another couple of iterations and the piece was ready. The script was submitted to Manchester ADP April 9th, and I await evaluation, words of wisdom, and I hope plenty of constructive critique. Exited, yes I am!
So to my point of this missive?
Well, I'd just like to say a massive thanks to Diana Atkins for having the foresight to found this amazing idea called Manchester ADP, which has turned into a thriving community. So too my adoration goes out to Hannah Ellis for the superlative interactions with us poor mortals every month. The combination of an exceptional bunch of people, packed theatre, vibrant and friendly conversation, has given fuel to creativity I had not known was within me.
To date there have been 11 Manchester ADP events since its inception in August 2015. Of the 4 events in 2015 I was only able to attend October, but the 7 thus far of 2016 have been fully attended. So impressed, delighted and enthralled by what I have seen, my calendar now boasts a repeating appointment for the last Monday of every month... to Salford we will go! So to with the additional full length rehearsed Script Aloud events, they are given the highest priority in my schedule.
Speaking to an actor recently, a polite conversation ensued in regards to what was being gained by professionals at these events. The actor said "I wasn't going to bother with them, but having bitten the bullet I'm so glad I did. I've worked with, networked and made friends with some incredible people.". Testament to the power that Manchester ADP wields.
Even if my short play never sees the light of day, the experience of writing and sharing is an invaluable one. It is my hope too, that others follow me as I follow those that have been before. Join in, have fun, come meet some totally awesome folk doing totally awesome things. Perhaps in doing so, you'll end up like me; Attacked by inspiration.
Manchester ADP, I salute you!
Post by: Diana Atkins
Well this is a first for me…I’ve never written a blog post. For someone who has reluctantly become a tweeter and Facebook-poster, it seems quite scary bearing your soul to the world in a permanent form but here we go…gulp!
For me, I’m not afraid to step onto stage as a character or to tweet from behind the anonymity of a theatre company, but doing anything publicly as ‘me’ produces paranoid procrastination. I think musicians are very brave for this reason.
It somehow helps that I am writing under my stage name, as though Diana Atkins herself is a sort of character – one that boldly goes where Diana may not dare tread!
I began my acting career when living in Australia (no Hannah and I never met there! I love Aussies – they have a ‘yes’ attitude to life and I knew for this and for many reasons, Hannah and I would get on like a house on fire). I then had a brief stint in Sheffield where I have lived previously before going to the Big Smoke. There I founded the Acting and Directing Partnership, which is where we get our name from. At that time it primarily organised workshops for actors and directors (hence the name), with Robert Marchand, who teaches Mike Leigh’s film-making methods. I did Robert’s workshop as an actor in Australia and loved it so I brought it to the UK for the first time. (He’ll be back again this year for his second European tour). In London, I was also part of a group called Actors and Writers London. This organized fortnightly play readings and I performed for them a few times. I was really touched by the warm welcome I received from Paddy Gormley as a newbie but also impressed that they had regulars who have been members since they began in1973! I loved being able to perform great roles with minimal commitment!
I moved to Manchester almost exactly one year ago. I looked around to see if there were any play reading groups. I went along to Conor’s Scriptworks, which was good but I couldn’t find anything regular. What I loved about the group in London was how regular it was, as it gave an opportunity to make genuine friendships. Also most play reading groups seem to sit around a table and read, rather than have performances and of course, I love to be on stage! I also think it helps writers to visualise their work and see what works and what doesn’t. So I tentatively posted on Manchester Independent Theatre Network to see if anyone would be interested in a regular rehearsed reading group. And I got inundated! Actors who wanted to perform, writers keen to see their work on stage and everything in between. I hadn’t really decided when I posted whether I would actually start something and then when I saw how much interest there was, I thought, ‘Well I better do this now!” And so Manchester ADP was born.
Lisa Connor from the Kings Arms got in touch and we have had a sort of residency there ever since. We love it there! And we’re so grateful for all their support.
The wonderful Hannah Ellis Ryan saw my post and got in touch – and now I cannot imagine ADP without her. I was so lucky to have someone so experienced in producing (and so lovely) get in touch. We have such a laugh. We make all our decisions jointly, right down to the wording of important emails so this is a first for me – going it alone to write this!
We had some awesome scripts and actors involved from the get-go. Our first night was on August 31st 2015. We’ve been on with short plays or monologues on the last Monday of the month ever since (apart from leap years causing puzzling scheduling clashes). In January we expanded to launch our full length readings which are great for really getting your teeth into and settling in for more in-depth audience discussions.
Although we do put an enormous amount of work in, we are very lucky that many of our developments and volunteers come about without us trying. We’ve had great venues get in touch interested in having work performed there if we ever tour. Casting directors from ITV, reviewers asking if they can come and review and so on. We are really fortunate to have our resident directors Craig Sanders and Dan Jarvis, who help us maintain the quality of performances. Craig Sanders is resident director at Buxton Theatre whilst Dan Jarvis is Manchester Musical Youth’s director. We now have an awesome team with Lisa Connor, Mark Russell, Andrew Ruddy, Andrew Glassford and most recently Sophie Coward. Sophie is our twitter guru. I can only watch in awe as she doubles our twitter following with every week she’s involved.
Every month I am blown away by ADP. I was really keen to build a genuine community, not a pretentious one, where people get to know and support each other but without becoming cliquey. I am so pleased to hear time and time again and to experience for myself how warm and welcoming ADP is. We’re always open to applications of new actors, writers and directors. Without compromising on quality. I’m amazed at what is produced in 3 hours rehearsal time and often I can hardly notice the script. It really feels like a safe environment to experiment, take risks on stage and give authentic constructive feedback.
I love the range of audience members. We have those that can ream off different theatre practitioners like they’re bessy mates and those who’ll watch something and simply say “I didn’t get it!” And both are so important. We’ve had heated debates on gender bias, sensitive discussions about mental health and last month we even had audience members bursting into tears as they shared with us how much a particular piece meant to them. We were so moved. The audience feedback is what makes the night so special. Every month I get anxious at 7.29 pm, as we are squeezing in extra stools and seats but somehow we’ve always managed to get everyone in.
It is such a buzz after every show that is carries me through all the hard work (I volunteer two days a week of my time to run ADP). The downside is I generally can’t sleep for hours on Monday nights after our shows!
For me, my main love is still acting, which is my primary motivation for self-producing through ADP. I am extremely fortunate to be able to play some awesome roles. I feel like I need to pinch myself every so often to make sure I’m not dreaming all of this. If you haven’t yet been involved and think we’re exaggerating, we hope you’ll come and join us and experience ADP for yourself. Then you’ll get quite why we all love it so much.
I am so grateful for the generosity of everyone involved. I do hope that as we expand, we will secure sponsorship and funding to be able to give back to you all. Thank you also to all those who have supported me in setting this up: Angela Peters of the UK Actors Tweet Up for your unshakeable faith and optimism and The Actors and Writers London for your words of wisdom.
I hope we’ll be around for many years. We have really exciting plans for expanding Manchester ADP this year so watch this space!