Eleanor Capaldi is a member of the Citizens Young Co. and one one of the writers from the company's most recent performance piece "Reflections on the River". Eleanor has reflected on her experiences in the build up to the production...and the post show glow!...
"The Reflections journey began almost a year ago when the Citizens Young Co. conducted writing workshops with Peter Arnott of the Playwright's Studio. A basic insight into writing for the stage followed, but the project for me didn't fully get under way until next spring. In the middle of rehearsals for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I happened to mention to Neil Packham that I had written a script for the Young Co. project, but hadn't really done anything with it since. In his usual encouraging and enthusiastic way Neil said to submit it, go for it, get involved. I did. And almost a year since the first writing workshops began, I was sitting in the audience watching five new plays performed in a beautiful set to a paying public.
As soon as They Shoot Horses was over, Reflections picked up apace. We were due to stage rehearsed readings in June, as an exercise for the writers to see their work in a new light, with a view to further edits before the full show in October. Around this time the writers - Mike Burns, Claire Dyer, James Harkness, Rea Karnowski, Eddison McKenna and myself - met up with Peter at various intervals to edit our plays. This was a great opportunity to sit down with an experienced playwright, see my work crafted into shape, and learn more about writing along the way. Additionally, I was invited to sit in on rehearsals, and found myself in discussion with the director over the characters and the nature of the play. I was surprised to see my work being taken seriously. This shouldn't have been in question, but this play was originally written in a flurry of energy and expression one night on my laptop. Here were actors reading it aloud and a director analysing it. I was also lucky enough to be cast in another of the short plays, so as performance time approached I wasn't so much apprehensive over the performance of my own work, but concerned with hitting my cues for the play I was in.
As a rehearsed reading we performed script in hand, sans costume, in the stalls theatre. The plays were split over two nights. The night I watched my play performed, I held myself in a state of total tension and fear. This was it. My mind being acted out in front of me, and several strangers. Would it work? It seemed to. I could tell a few things that needed to be changed, but for a first go it went okay. Seeing everyone's plays together over the two nights was interesting in itself, to see how differently each play was staged. Also to see how some of the plays had changed, plays I hadn't heard or read since our earliest meetings some months before.
Buoyed by this experience, the summer (such as it was!) involved a few more meetings on my part with Peter, as I'm sure others did too. The difference in experience, and the confidence that brings, showed. I could feel in my gut when a passage or a sequence of dialogue did not fit, or was flat. However even though I might know deep down it would have to go, I couldn't quite bring myself to hit the delete button. Even if I could, how would I join up the flailing parts of the play that preceded and followed the newly found gap? Peter could hit that delete button with ease, and he'd know how to coalesce what was left. I was learning all the time. Very quickly the rehearsal time was upon us for the full performances in October. At this juncture we lost one of our writers to the bright lights of London. Rea's play disappeared off the roster as she headed down south to study. This left us with five plays in total, which would each play every night, with an interval. A proper showcase of the Young Co.'s work.
Change was in the air as the casts changed and directors shifted around. On the Trainee Director's Scheme at the Citz, Leann O'Kasi was assigned to my play. We were able to have quite in depth discussions, and as I faced such considered questions regarding my play, I once again realised with such professionalism the project was being taken. I became concerned I might not be able to answer everything asked of me. Why did a character do this or that or the other? I don't know, he just does! A lot of which spilled out on the page was unconscious on my part, but I was seeing how important it is to know those details, at least for the ease of the actors who then have to work with my writing! Not acting this time round I came to the performances as the writer in the audience, nothing else. This afforded me a different experience. Three out of four nights I went to see the plays that the Young Co. had written and were performing. The first night I stepped into the Circle and immediately noticed with excitement the set. As an actor, in the day to day process, after the initial discovery of something like set, or costumes, it's easy to take it for granted. It just becomes part of the job essentially. But here I was seeing the set for the very first time, taking it all in as quickly as I could before the lights went down. Seeing actors in different roles, the ways in which they variously mastered their characters, the music, the direction, even the scene changes - it was all for the taking, and I was so proud of everyone involved and what they were achieving.
As my play came near, that first night, the nerves invaded. "This Way, That" is unapologetically upfront, and it's young and it's raw. I surveyed the crowd. The first night relatives were in. Would they walk out? Would someone proclaim this was a terrible smite against the fine playwriting tradition of the Citizens Theatre? Could the grannies take it?! They did. Worst nightmares were not realised. Each night it got easier, and I was so pleased with how the actors performed and how the play turned out. By the Saturday I was thinking "Gee, I could do this every night now. Come along, see the plays, go out for a drink". Could be a nice life.
Speaking to professional writers and directors post-performance, I would hear them say again and again, "This is only your first play?" incredulous that on the first go we got our work performed in the Circle Studio at the Citz, with everything in tow which is attended to plays taken on at the theatre. Not only that, we young writers even got our names on the giant billboards that grace the outside of the theatre. That doesn't happen very often, if at all, for a group of young people having a first go. What the Citz gives us is beyond anything, I'm sure, any other theatre would. They trust us, and they celebrate us. I didn't even think twice about the content of my play being queried until someone commented on whether I'd been asked to change anything, to effectively water it down. It honestly never crossed my mind. The Citz has given all of us a platform to showcase our work, but also a chance to do something with it. For some it might just have been a good experience, for others it could seriously be opening the doors on future careers. It's whether we choose to pursue those chances, and keep going, as to whether that might happen for us. You never know, one day it might be our names on that billboard representing our full length works, staged in their own right. It could happen. That's what the Citz also gives us, the hope.
You can see more photos of "Reflections on the River" (by Iain G Farrell) on Flickr.