I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle based on the novel by Dodie Smith Book and lyrics Teresa Howard music Steven Edis

Sunday, 28 October 2007

BEHIND THE PAINT


I have been sending out copies of the new POSSESSED script to producers and directors.

I am amazed that I can still slip back into the world of the musical again and write for the characters as if it were the first time, but somehow this is possible. It is as if they were contained within a room in my mind and I only need to revisit it to see and hear them again. The most important thing that came out of all this was that Jane, the main character, has more of a voice now than she ever had before. The research into the story produced less of her character than anyone else. She had been hidden behind the artists and their world. Even Lizzie Siddal had more of a voice than she did, through her art and poetry.

Although the Jane I have written about is based on my research, there were far more decisions I had to make about the choices she made in her life, why she made them and how she felt. It was not enough to take on face value the woman the artists were trying to portray because the woman they painted was an ideal and not her. Even the photographs of her were very posed. Many of the people who met her and wrote about her, like Henry James and George Bernard Shaw, were writing about the carefully constructed social persona that she performed for the outside world. The closest I came to discovering the real woman, was through the writing of her other lover, Wilfred Scawen Blunt.

Luckily, I have never stopped liking Jane. When I was working on GROCk, (based on the life of the clown), I began to grow disenchanted with him. He was interesting, but I did not really like him as a person by the end. Sitting, chained to a desk in Petersfield, doing rewrites for the Chichester production I felt as if I had brought some monstrous creature to life. I don't think I will ever feel this about Jane Burden.

Above is the picture Rossetti painted of her, entitled Water Willow, dated 1871, now owned by the Delaware Art Museum. In the background to the left you can just see Kelmscott Manor.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

TALENT AND PASSION

I have just heard from Chris Grady, one of the people who was so helpful when I was working on the Arts Council application. He has just returned from New York, where he was attending the NAMT (National Alliance for Musical Theatre) and NYFT (New York Musical Theatre Festival) festivals. It is festivals like this that help new musical writers to start out on the road to success in the USA. These organisations hold workshops and masterclasses too, before exposing their raw talent to the audience. Chris is in the process of setting up The Quest Foundation, to support new musical theatre in Britain. On the front page of his foundation proposal is a quote from the great Kurt Weill:

"I believe that the musical theatre is the highest, the most expressive and the most imaginative form of theatre, and that a composer who has a talent and passion for the theatre can express himself completely in this branch of musical creativeness"

I have a feeling that this opinion is not shared by everyone in the theatre world in this country. Given the right conditions, and enough support, it could be true.

Monday, 22 October 2007

THE RELUCTANT ARTIST

I am thinking about the muse idea again. What is the difference between a muse and someone who just influences us? Is the difference some magical substance?

My writer friend Antony Mason, agrees that a muse correlates to 'unobtainable desires of one kind of another' but that this is why "many people keep quiet about them (and others can only speculate). Influences are a different thing, of course -- but all are important in goading the (ever-reluctant) artist into productivity." Perhaps it is this goading which is the important element. Why do artists have to ascribe the desire to create to an outside force?

I have known for a long time that my desire to write, which came from a very early age, was a way of translating emotions I found too difficult to deal with in the real world. Somehow, by removing these feelings into poetry, plays, music and lyrics makes them more bearable. But where does the reluctance to work come from? I think it is the fear of facing the feelings in order to translate them... this can be a painful process and one we fear as much as we desire.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

"DON'T BEND IT!!"

The last push to get the ACE application done came on Friday. I was exhausted from sitting up half the night working on the detailed expenses sheet, which has to accompany the Application Form. It was the dreadful Excel program, not the figures, which made the final draft almost impossible. When I put in the VAT some pence were included. These have to be hidden, because they stipulate there mustn’t be any - then the figures didn’t add up. I had a lot of fiddling around to do before this would all work and some extra help from my IT wiz Charles, but managed it in the end.

There were some hurried emails to the Stage Management Association and a few other companies for up to date fee quotes. Then a call from Tish, at the Oxford Playhouse, put my mind at rest about a few other queries.

The proposal was almost thirty pages long and more like a dissertation than a request for a grant. Jemima Lee told me not to worry about length, it was important to get everything in. I think they are going to regret it!

I felt quite sick in the post office, and nearly forgot to enclose the CD. “Don’t bend it!” I implored, almost hysterically, to the postmistress as she grabbed at the precious envelope. “My life’s in there.”

Well, it’s done now, and the twelve week wait begins.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

MERCURY MUSICAL DEVELOPMENTS

I have rejoined MMD (Mercury Musical Developments). This is one of the few societies set up to support musical theatre writers and composers in this country. Over the last couple of years I have had little time to be part of anything because there has been so much to do on POSSESSED, but now I feel the need to belong again. The salon evenings they run are extremely helpful and interesting. I am hoping to get the Arts Council proposal in by the end of the week and it will be useful to practise my craft while I am waiting for the ACE results, which take twelve weeks.

When I first joined MMD I got the chance to have a master class with John Sparks at the Old Vic. John is the Artistic Director of the Theatre Building Chicago and the Academy of New Musical Theatre in LA. It was terribly exciting to have. not only the book, but also the music and lyrics criticised by such an experienced practitioner. My lyrics had never been discussed in a technical way before and I have been able to analyse what I do in a far more informed way since then.

The society also runs workshops and master classes with a whole host of other brilliant people, from all walks of musical theatre including Francis Matthews, Jeremy Sams, Mark Warman, David Wood and Stiles and Drewe. The next MMD Salon is on 15th November and is about Musical Theatre Development in the USA. I have put it in my diary and hope to attend. The USA is bursting with new musical theatre talent, but they have a history of nurturing it. As the theatrical genre that is one the highest earners in the West End it seems rather odd that we, as a nation, do not do more to encourage this art form.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

KELMSCOTT MANOR


Steve and I had a script meeting yesterday, to discuss the new draft of the book. Then we went off to meet Sally Sandys-Renton, a fascinating woman, who grew up at Kelmscott Manor. Kelmscott is a late 16th Century limestone manor house near Lechlade, where Jane Burden sat for many of Rossetti's paintings. Two of the most important scene's in the musical take place there.

Sally's family lived on and off at Kelmscott from 1965 onwards - primarily in Garden Cottage - though
sometimes in the Manor. Her Father was instrumental in geting the Manor restored with the expert help of the Architect Donald Insall, and Peter Locke. Above is a photograph by Charles Girdham of the house as it is today. I have visited Kelmscott three times over a number of years and was struck by the magic of the place. It was thrilling to talk to Sally, who spent her childhood there, and she was almost as obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites as I am! She has always felt the lingering presence of Jane, Morris and Rossetti at the old house by the Thames.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A MUSING AGAIN

I have just read a fascinating book by Julia Forster called MUSES. Forster links different creator and muse relationships throughout the book, like the exotic muse relationships of Salvador and Gala Dali and Henry Miller and Anais Nin. She goes on to analyse the power of these relationships through philosophy and physics to try and explain the magic of the muse in a contemporary and scientific way.

I bought the book at the Tate when I went to the Millais opening with Pippa Graber. Pippa runs ARTDOG an artist based company which represents artists in South East London. Pippa's theory about creativity is that the artist is only a channel, and so she cannot stand the idea of celebrity artists and actors...it is misplaced admiration. She thinks this is why a lot of "famous" artists had all their personal letters and notes destroyed before death. Knowing the actor/artist almost diminishes the art. This is also why art training is SO important: to hone the channel. She also believes that the Muse, on the other hand, can be far more interesting being the actual source through which the art flows.

A snatched lunch with mixed media artist Ilinca Cantacuzino at the Dartmouth Arms also ended up as a discussion about the idea of the muse. Ilinca is about to have an exhibition of her work in Bucharest, along with that of her grandfather George Matei Cantacuzino. It is called IN THE BLOOD and runs from 1st to 30th November at the Libraria Carturesti, Str. Pictor Artur Verona nr. 13, Bucuresti. The spirit of Ilinca's grandfather has been her muse while she's been working on her collection for the exhibition. She feels that the fact that she never knew her grandfather, George Matei, has enabled him to remain a pure source of inspiration, unsullied by an earthly relationship as a granddaughter. In a series of her notebook drawings his face appears over and over again, haunting the pages of her work.

Most of the well known personifications of muses have been women... however, of course, for a female artist a muse is usually a man. To quote Julia Forster it is love which "bonds the artist and muse together - sometimes across continents, often beyond words and occasionally, in spite of each other". It appears to be a love, which has unobtainable desires of one kind or another.

I would be interested to hear anyone else's views on what they think a muse is and their experiences.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

TALENT TO A MUSE


Jane's role as the Muse in POSSESSED is central to the musical and so it has been important to understand the concept. Rossetti painted her as Mnemosyne, the personification of memory and mother of the Greek muses. Poets receive their powers by possessing Mnemosyne and their relationship to the muses, her nine daughters, fathered by Zeus. The words that accompany the painting are:

"Thou fill'st from the winged challice of the soul
Thy lamp, O memory, fire-winged to its goal."

The painting is curiously erotic, Jane stands holding a lamp in one hand (which looks more like a golden pepper grinder or some erotic tool) and a winged chalice in the other. This painting was originally called rememberance and was begun as a study for Astarte Syriaca. Rossetti believed it was one of his best works although it is probably the Proserpine painting we remember him for now. The pansy at the bottom of the painting is an artistic symbol for memory but it was also the code Jane used to invite Rossetti to her room, by leaving a pansy on his bed. She did the same thing with Wilfred Scawen Blunt, a lover she turned to later in her life.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

ART OF MAKING ART


After the last few intensive writing days I think the Proposal for the Arts Council is ready. I have shown them a draft and they also think it is in a fit state to be seen by the GFTA (Grants For The Arts) panel and they said that the creative and project descriptions are strong. However, I have also been advised to articulate ACE's priorities and objectives that the application meets. It is not enough to have them embedded in the Proposal. I have spent a lot of time reading through all these Arts Council documents again and putting quotes into the Proposal. They think we have a lot to contribute in terms of possible audience reach of the final piece, and also in terms of the creative economy behind musical theatre. But I have also attempted to address the internal thinking that ACE has been doing in terms of how they support the development of new musical theatre. I am very aware that we are setting a precedent and must get it right.

I now only have a few bits of fiddling around to do with the detailed expense pages. They are written on an Excel program, which is renowned for its complicated style. I have been shown how to do it quite a few times, but things still go wrong and I end up with loads of codes all over the page and have to keep clicking the escape button and swearing loudly.

Oh to get back to the actual writing for the musical again! I feel as if the characters are sitting in the corner of my study feeling neglected, but this job has to be done in order to bring them to life.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

ACE HIGH

Today I have been working on the detailed expenses for my Arts Council proposal. It's extremely exacting work for someone who is hopeless at maths. I have to work out what each section of the project is, how long it will take, who and what is involved and how much everything will cost.

I never realised when I first embarked on this challenge how much work it would entail. However, I have learned an enormous amount on the way. I've listened to a lot of advice from the Arts Council officers, my agent Micheline Steinberg, Clive Paget, Chris Grady (Musical Theatre Matters) and numerous other people, who have really gone out of their way to help. Steve and I have always felt a sense of hope because, rather than dreaming up the idea of approaching the Arts Council, it was they who suggested we apply. Jemima Lee, who has now left ACE to work with Box Clever Theatre, came to see the showcase at Greenwich and was my guide through the first stages.

I have contacted almost all the regional theatres in the country that have a resident theatre company and there seems to be a lot of interest. I've also called hundreds of charities and funding bodies from the Funding for the Arts Guide. Only being an individual makes any possibility of funding from one of these companies almost impossible. To work out what people should be paid on the project I have had to contact: The Writers' Guild, The Musicians' Union, Actors' Equity, the Independent Theatre Council, Mercury Musical Developments and a whole host of other people. Tish Francis, the Artistic Director at the Oxford Playhouse has been an enormous support and just knowing that she believes in the project has also been something that has kept me going.

I realise now that what has happened while I have been doing this is that I have accrued a network of contacts I did not have at the beginning. But you have to aim high and have a very steady hand if you want a bull’s eye. I am hoping to get the proposal finished by the end of next week and then the long twelve-week wait will begin. I think this process is a lot harder than people imagine and I am hoping that ACE will invest in our project because at this stage a musical needs all the support it can get. Lyn Gardner, from the Guardian pointed out " that the money that the government gives to the arts is not a handout but an investment. The arts gives more back to the economy than it takes in subsidies, but what cannot be measured is what it gives back in nurturing the imaginative health and well-being of the nation."

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

CROSSING THE DIVIDE

Jane Burden was a muse - something she gave Morris and Rossetti made them better artists. Being a muse is not a passive condition. She inspired and transformed them, as they in turn transformed her life.

Karl Roberts from JABOD called up today to tell me he is having a general meeting with Peter Dunphy our Multi-Media Designer and will also be discussing POSSESSED. It is Karl I have to thank for introduced Peter and I at a riotous supper party a few weeks ago. Karl is one of the most imaginative people I know. Once you manage to light the blue touch paper he is transported and can come up with the most amazing ideas. He had come up with the concept of fusing not only the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and contemporary technology and design but also introducing elements of Victorian theatre technology as well. Zeotrope, Magic Lantern and Phantasmagorie effects could be used, especially in the ghost sequeces in the musical. They would be realised in a contemporary way but add something quite unique to the atmosphere of the musical.

Trying to bring the theatre and the film design world together feels extremely exciting. I know it is not new but I don't think it has been approached in this way before. We are not just trying to make the musical more spectacular, we are actually trying to cross the divide between these art forms and say something about "art" and inspiration as well.

Monday, 8 October 2007

THE CLOSEST THING TO CRAZY

Hilary Strong, who was Artistic Director of Greenwich Theatre when we did the showcase, is now working as a freelance producer. She has suggested that we approach a producer to make a recording of the songs, particulary "Raft of Love", her favourite, and would suit someone like Katie Melua (of "The Closest thing to Crazy" fame). I have no idea how to go about something like this, or how you would keep control of the rights of your work even if, by some amazing chance, it did happen. I have discovered that Katie's producers are called Dramatico. Would it be close to crazy to even attempt such a thing?

I managed to cross the procrastination barrier today and have now got a new draft of the Book, which I just have to check through for errors. Tomorrow I am going to attempt to make a new draft of the ACE proposal. Apart from all the writing this also involves a lot of figures which also drives me completely crazy!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

DON JUAN.WHO?

With Rossetti being an architype Don Juan figure I thought it might be interesting to go and see DON JUAN.WHO?, a co-production between Mladinsko Theatre and Athletes of the Heart, directed by Anna Furse at The Shunt. What could I glean from their year of research into the idea of the 'womaniser'? I hadn't witnessed anything which promised to be so new and innovative, for a long time. So many people believed in the project, which had begun in an international internet cyberstudio, and they had received support from major funding bodies including The Arts Council, British Council, Goldsmiths and The British Academy.

THE SHUNT was an exciting place, under the arches at London Bridge, swarming with young intellectuals. It smelt of damp brickwork and ancient dust. Ironically, I was reminded of the the alleyways in Urbino, where Raphael was born; the man Rossetti loved to hate. Sadly, I learned nothing new from the production. This was the kind of theatre I had watched at the ICA in the 70's and 80's and gave me the same uneasy feeling that I wanted it to end, and soon, to put me out of my pain. There were moments of brilliance like the image of three men having pillows thrown at them by the female performers, who shouted abuse at them. The pile of pillows grew and grew until the men were almost obliterated. I could not fault the performances, which were superb. It was with awe that I found myself watching Giovanna Rogante, who had worked with Barrault, Decroux and Grotowski.

Unfortunately, all I discovered was that women hate the Don Juan male and yet they want to possess him. Yet, he is unobtainable because they have been responsible for inventing him in the first place and that even women can be a Don Juan at times... This came dangerously close to the idea that women are masochists and like being raped and abused. Rather than being a new concept, I think that these are the kind of ideas we moved away from a long time ago. So, it was no help, although an interesting experience.

Friday, 5 October 2007

PROCRASTINATING

Today I have to atttack the last scene of POSSESSED and am procrastinating, because it is the most difficult part of the musical. My youngest daughter is upstairs in bed with flu. Having someone in the house while I am working has always been inhibiting. It feels so much more difficult wandering around, singing (very badly) and emoting lines from the script when there is someone around to hear.

We have a space reserved at the JERWOOD SPACE for the end of February, beginning of March for our Arts Council project. Richard Lee, the Jerwood Director called to suggest a new space because Trevor Nunn wants to use ours for rehearsing GONE WITH THE WIND. I have agreed on a new space for the second two weeks, larger and better in fact. I am trying to keep all costs down for the project, otherwise we won't get our grant and Richard has agreed to a 15% subsidy, which is great!

Anthony Howell also got in touch. I met him at the Channel 4 event at the Barbican, celebrating the three observational documentaries: MUSICALITY, BALLET HOO and OPERATUNITY. Antony was the narrator of all three programmes and has a fabulous voice. We got rather drunk on Prosecco that night at the Barbican and shared a taxi home with friends. I told him about the BBC interest in doing an Ob. Doc. about putting the musical on. David Jackson, Head of BBC Wales seems to be really interested, so I am keeping my fingers crossed. A documentary would make all the difference. I have suggested calling the documentary PUTTING IT TOGETHER and even thought that the Sondheim song of the same name, from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE would make a great song for the opening credits.

The breakfast things are still hanging around on the table, the answerphone is on and my mobile is upstairs in my dressing gown pocket. There is no excuse, I had better stop procrastinating and get on with that last scene!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

P. R. B .

At the moment I am writing a new draft of the musical book and also trying to sex up our ACE proposal. Steve, the composer has been working on THE COUNTRY WIFE at the Haymarket and Clive Paget, our dramaturg/director is working on RENT.

I have been a bit manic trying to get more investment in the show and, as you can imagine, it has not been easy. I got a very nice letter back from Richard Stilgoe, who wrote lyrics for Cats and Starlight Express and collaborated with Charles Hart with lyrics for Phantom. He said he really enjoyed our songs but didn't have enough clout to be able to help. He reminded me that Morris refused to have anything in his house that was not useful or beautiful and "that seems a perfect rule for the content of a musical as well". I agree but even Morris needed money to run his business.

Peter Dunphy, Senior Designer at Eyeframe has agreed to work as multi-media designer on the ACE project, which is pretty damn fantastic! Eyeframe did the post production work on Pan's Labyrinth and he has won a lot of awards, so I think we will be in very good hands.

Clive has won the Encouragement Award from the Writers' Guild. I nominated him months ago, for being my guide and mentor since the first scrappy draft of the musical. We would never have got this far without him. We are invited to a Guild lunch at the Old Vic on 23rd November to celebrate!

The Dulwich Picture Gallery have just started a series of lectures on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and so I thought I ought to go along as a little refresher. I did a lot of research for the musical in the early days but still try to keep my hand in, just in case something new crops up which I think ought to go into the book. Val Woodgate, who lectures for the Tate, hosted the first talk - "What's in a Name" which was a general introduction to the PRB. I did glean a couple of interesting bits of information, so it was useful. She was an extremely funny and down to earth speaker. I just kept longing to stand up and tell everyone what Rossetti's joke name for the initials stood for, but didn't have the courage, there were too many white haired Dulwich ladies who might have been shocked. Most people think of Rossetti as a purely romantic figure, they'd never guess he said PRB stood for "Penis Rather Better", but do I put this in the book or not? Perhaps it ought to read Producing Rather Bloody. Oh well, at least the battle for POSSESSED is still being fought!