Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Edinburgh #3: The Reading (or, how well do you know Doctor Who?)


“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” had its first public reading on Sunday night at the Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond.

The trick with readings is that you want to set audience expectations – it’s a work in progress and the actors haven’t had that long with the script. But you also want to get a good indication of what’s working and how much the audience is enjoying the show, based on the script as is – not on their expectations.

Petra Elliott
When you get a pair of actors like Petra Elliott and Ben McKenzie – ably assisted by Patrick Hill, who read the important stage directions to set the scene – the script suddenly comes to life in ways people love. And in ways that surprise the writer.

After a reading of a work-in-progress, I try to set an expectation for the audience themselves – stick around, have a drink and give me feedback. What did you love? What do you think needs more work? And did any of that make any sense for you people who have never watched Doctor Who in their lives?

But the best feedback for a new comedy script is getting laughs – in all the right places.

And what surprised me was the emotion in the dramatic beats. A writer can’t really know if the jokes are going to land or if the pathos is going to be there until they see it with an audience.
Ben McKenzie

Getting an audience to a reading is tricky, too. Some people don’t want the expectation of having to give feedback (it’s okay, I never force anyone) – and some aren’t interested in seeing works-in-progress. That’s fine, I’m quite happy for most to see the finished product! But the reading is an important part of the creative process for me – and for “Who Are You Supposed To Be”, it was invaluable.

The audience was made up along a scale of 1 to 10: 10 being they knew lots about Doctor Who (John Richards, semi-professional co-host of the Doctor Who podcast, “Splendid Chaps”) and 1 being they knew nothing about Doctor Who (my family). Everyone in between was Old Who fans. Or New Who viewers. Or know enough about the concept to get what I was talking about, but probably don’t know who Peter Davison or Paul McGann are.

Patrick Hill
And everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. And there were lots of laughs. Though not so much at the appearance of the theme to “Red Dwarf”. Ah, well, they can’t all be jokes about sexual perversion and Daleks.

This is not to say I didn’t learn valuable things about pacing, structure and character motivations. The script, after last weekend’s re-write, is a lot more dramatically sound than it was only a few days ago. But there’s some character motivation stuff that needs clarifying.

Thank you to everyone involved in the reading, everyone who was in the audience - and big thanks to Jason Cavanagh for the generous use of the Owl and Pussycat for the evening.

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All that said, this show is for everybody. As long as you know that the Doctor flies around space and time in a blue box, occasionally changes faces and often changes travelling Companions, that’s all you need to know.

This show is really a comedy about meeting people, arguing about trivia, getting to know someone new and finding a place and time to figure out who you’re supposed to be. Even if you enjoy dressing up as someone else while you do it.

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“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” is on at Edinburgh Fringe from August 14 to 26.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Edinburgh #2: Fake Geek Girls


The second in a series of posts about “Who Are You Supposed To Be?” – my rom com for geeks, that’s playing the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Tickets on Sale Now.

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Jen’s based in London but she was back in Australia at Christmas time to discuss what the show would be about. I knew about her various interests and which parts of nerd culture we had in common. And I wanted to find a way into telling a story about science fictions fans and convention goers that had a hook.

It started with an image. An image of a woman dressed as the Doctor from “Doctor Who”. No particular Doctor came to mind, but a woman dressed as the Doctor suggested a kind of conflict – if only because the Doctor has always been played by a man. And there’s often discussions about whether the TV show will ever cast a woman as one of his future incarnations. But that’s just an interesting image, not a hook to a story.

Besides, people who dress up in costumes for science fiction conventions don’t worry about blurring gender lines or race lines or body type. They dress as they feel comfortable. They dress as their favourite characters, no matter what.

The problems arise when people judge their costumes – and not in competition!

Another controversy that rears its ugly head every now and then in fandom communities – and particularly around convention time, is the idea of the “fake nerd girl”. There’s even a meme:

No girl I know would make this mistake.

The suggestion is that only guys are really geeks and girls are only into science fiction to A) get attention from boys and... well, that’s it. They dress in sexy superhero costumes to attract boys. They pretend to like Star Trek to attract boys. They wear Star Wars t-shirts but couldn’t tell a Rodian from a Sandperson. Supposedly.

What the nefarious end game of these “fake nerd girls” is supposed to be is anyone’s guess.

So, our characters Ash and Gene meet at a science fiction convention. Ash is dressed as the Fifth Doctor, as played by Peter Davison. (The reason for this choice of Doctor? So I can put Jen in the plunging neckline of a cricket jumper... and make jokes about celery!) Gene approaches and innocently asks, “Who Are You Supposed To Be?”

Wackiness ensues.

Peter Davison as The Fifth Doctor
Not a girl
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As part of the ongoing development of the script, Jen and I, along with our director, are meeting via Skype tomorrow night Melbourne time. We’ll talk structure. We’ll talk character motivation and dramatic stakes. We’ll discuss beginnings and endings. And lots of other things related to the show.

As part of my ongoing refining and rewriting of the script, I am holding the first public reading of the play at the Owl & the Pussycat in Richmond this Sunday night (May 26th) at 6:30pm. 

Come along, enjoy the show and let me know what you thought after. I need all the feedback I can get before I do the next revision. I need to hear the lines out loud. I need to hear the audience laugh. And I want to know what works and what doesn’t.

The wonderful Petra Elliott and Ben McKenzie - who have their own well-founded nerd credentials in the ongoing Doctor Who podcast, "Splendid Chaps" - will be reading the roles of Ash and Gene.

So, if you’re in Melbourne – Sunday 26th May, 6:30pm. Owl & the Pussycat, Swan St, Richmond. See you there! It's free.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Edinburgh #1: Who Are You Supposed To Be?



Meet Jennifer Lusk. She’s the producer and star of “Who Are You Supposed To Be?” – the show we’re taking to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. 14th to 26th. Tickets on sale now. Subtle.

“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” is a rom com for geeks and a valentine to nerd culture. It’s the classic tale of a boy in a TARDIS t-shirt standing in front of a girl dressed as the Fifth Doctor, asking her to love him... and a girl wanting to know why she can’t be the Doctor and Han Solo and Captain Reynolds. They’d star-crossed lovers – if the stars were Wars and Trek – but they have so much in common, it would be a pity if these two geeks couldn’t find a time and space to fall in love. But underneath the witty repartee and awkward flirting, this is a story about wanting to feel safe, wanting to be appreciated for who we are... and how far we’ll go to find people like us.

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Jen and I first met in a pretty geeky way. I’d gotten tickets to an advanced screening of “Serenity” – Joss Whedon’s first feature film and follow-up to his cult hit TV show, “Firefly”. This was a rough cut of the film, with temp music tracks included – but it was still the whole film, from single-shot opening scene to, well, as Captain Reynolds explained, “I aim to misbehave”. Which I think might have been Whedon’s mantra for the film.

While we were gathering to exchange money for tickets, a young woman approached the group. She was new to Melbourne. She barely knew anyone. But she did know she wanted to see the film. To desperately see the film, as did we all. She asked if we had a spare ticket. No luck. She asked others if they had a spare ticket. Nothing.

That was Jen. And I admired the fact she even tried this – that she even showed up to the cinema and asked. If I’d missed out, I would have been at home stewing about missing out. Jen showed up, asked the question – and eventually the publicist presenting the film found Jen a seat, and everyone was happy.

I don’t know if I caught her name that night, but I did find her online discussing her amazing luck at getting into the screening – and I followed her on social media for several years until we finally met at a Short & Sweet festival a few years back. Well, I was shy and chickened out one night – but eventually introduced myself and we kept in better contact ever since.

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Jen’s in London now. She took a show to Edinburgh Fringe last year – and I was lucky enough to see a work-in-progress performance of that show before she disappeared overseas. She saw a couple of my short plays a few months earlier – same venue; The Owl and the Pussycat brings people together like that.

We’d talked about working together before she left. If she hadn’t left, I’m sure we would have worked together already. But, of course, now we are working together – and she’s taking “Who Are You Supposed To Be?” to Edinburgh. And I shall watch its success from afar.

We’ve still got some work to do. I’m having a reading very soon, so I’m able to hear how it sounds – and how an audience reacts. Jen, across the other side of the world, will do the same. We have another actor to find for our two-hander. And then we need to think about publicity and costumes and... well, everything that goes into making a show. We should be thinking about it all now, since – as I said earlier – tickets are on sale now. Sledgehammer.

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“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” will pop up in Melbourne and Adelaide in the next couple of years – and we’re thinking about other places it might play after its world premiere season at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a fun little show – funny and heartwarming is the plan.

I’ll have more to say as the process continues. I’m very excited to have a show premiering on the other side of the world. In three months. From today. Wow.