Katie Mccullough Talks and Writes

Words will get written here and some videoblogs will appear. You don't have to look but it would be nice if you did.

Children Of The Comic-Evolution May 13, 2009

Now there’s a point in every writer’s career where the giddy excitement of having your work read out will tease you senseless that you can’t help but pride yourself of the perversity of it all. I’ve been in the fortunate situation a fair few times (let’s be honest, it’s not that hard to get an actor to read something out) and every time I’ve been happy with anticipation to hear the lines… Only to scratch score marks on my script on the bits that just don’t work. But anywho, I digress…

I’ve found a new level to that excitement one feels and that is when your work is read out by children. Yes, the snivelling, bouncy, temperamental things that are invariably small but some are like giants on acid.

Let me put this into context for you: I’ve been commissioned by a children’s theatre company called Theatrix to adapt “Alice in Wonderland” for them. This has involved me watching children improvise and then merge their ideas and craft them into dialogue resulting in new work. Voila! I was recently asked to write something for their newsletter which went a little something like this:

“I’ve kindly been asked by Theatrix to come along to rehearsals and scoop up the energy and wit from the children involved and re-write it into the original text. I’m often seen hanging around at rehearsals with a pen and pad in hand laughing at the brilliant exchanges the aspiring actors come out with and scrawling like mad to get all the juicy stuff down. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a classic story that everyone knows but it often takes someone else’s fresh approach to really bring it alive; it can lie already told and dormant in the mind but deserves to be given a new lease of life. The story is riddled with colourful characters and confusing text but upon giving it to a young fresh mind it can take on a completely new appeal. I’m aiming to make the text more modern so the actors involved can really get their teeth into it and flesh out the characters that we know and love. It’s been fun and really challenging but most of all it’s been great interacting with the rehearsals and hearing all these budding actors chipping in with their nuggets of brilliance. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a really intriguing text to adapt because it’s laden with vibrancy and imaginative narratives and I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of bold and explorative people to write for than that of the students of Theatrix.”

How much do I sound like I know what I’m doing? Incredibly. So there was one particular scene which I had extended by a great deal and that is the Court scene towards the end of the piece. The rehearsal on Monday was a hectic one in that the scene has pretty much everyone in it and they’re all kids. Cue noise limitation out of the big window. The general gist of the scene mirrors that of parliament with the rabbles of men scoffing and protesting at the opposition’s exclaims. Directors Rosemarie and Miriam decided to start with a little bit of improvisation which involved two opposing parties battling it out over the following debate. Bourbon biscuits are better than custard creams. These are children ranging from eight to eighteen. What followed next was hilarious to the point of me wiping away happy tears. I’ve never seen people think so fast on their feet yet stay in control of the improvisation. I won’t do it justice by writing it down verbatim (partly the straight faced delivery was the killer punch) but a few snippets involved: racial equality making the bourbon more socially friendly, outrage that ministers were claiming for custard creams on their expenses, the bourbon being statistically proven to sustain a higher voltage of dunking and custard creams having the reputation of keeping our boys in check of much needed carbohydrates whilst fighting in the Second World War. Like I say the panache these kids had was amazing and it’s always a joy to watch them work and develop.

Roused by the mock Parliament we set about dropping them into the Court scene and given free reign to ad lib. Someone asked me whilst I was watching (and admittedly laughing like a loon) did it make me angry or annoyed if someone didn’t deliver the line the way I intended? To be honest, no. Once it’s on the page it’s in the hands of the director in my personal opinion. If it’s wildly misinterpreted then I’m sure I’d say something but if I were to pre-empt each line and guide actors to the ulterior motives I would wander into directing. As much as I’ve done and relished that in the past, it’s not something that I’d want to hone in on at this point. I prefer to dust my hands after handing it over because if I got too attached to anything I’d be tearing my hair out. But after saying all that the joy of the rehearsal was that the kids were delivering the lines as I intended them, how I heard them in my head. That probably contradicts what I’ve just said, but what I mean was that it’s an added bonus if that happens! These kids are seriously funny and like kids of any age under twenty can command a great sense of noise when needed. More than often the court descends into pure noise and they delivered that in bounds and extreme volume.

I walked back with a mahoosive smile on my face and a spring in my step. It felt good that something I’d written had engaged with the children and that they could see the humour and run with it. The directors were equally enamoured with the results and proceeded to email the next day saying they were still buzzing from directing it. In their words, “Just want to say that the Court script kept rolling round my head like the after effect of a good play/ film/book . It was great fun to direct.. ..so something is very, very right!”

You may have noticed by now that this is not a video blog. The reason is that I have worked on my (adult) script for many many hours today… 12 in fact give or take a few hours rest. This in turn has made me look like I deserve to be made a Gin and Tonic and handed a tub of custard. Instead I’m listening to Mercury Rev and drinking water. That’s life for you kids, what you want is not what you get. I’ll be damned if I can get someone to make me a Gin and Tonic. Top of my list when I start making money.

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