On July 31st 2012 The Old Fire Station in Oxford hosted the first Scratch Night held in the City.
Three playwrights had the opportunity to present excerpts from their work to an audience for fifteen minutes, and receive feedback directly from the audience.
As the first playwright to go out front I must give the concept and the organisation full marks. Though I was supposed to have my own actors for the performance, Lizzie, the host, was able to rustle up two fine young men to help me put on the show, after I arrived unprepared. In spite of a short preparation time the session went well and the audience was very interested and responsive.
I came away with lots of ideas and a potential producer for my play Birthday Tales, where mothers and babies tell their stories of birth. I need to add a little more depth to the mother in the tale I told. She came over rather too thinly.
The second session was so funny I was lost in the laughter. The writer kept putting a play inside a play inside a play till you could not tell if there was any reality behind the facades. I doubted it could stand up for the duration of a full length play, but it was fabulous for fifteen minutes.
The final session was about gender and under age sexual display. It created a lot of controversy from parts of the audience. It was innovative and well performed. The two authors were rather apologetic under fire from their critics.
I would encourage anyone to come along to engage with writers who want to expose themselves in public at monthly Scratch Night events at the Old Fire Station. I would also encourage writers to give it a try.
nick_owen (Unverified), 15/08/12
The Old Fire Station held its first ever ‘scratch night’ on 31st July. Three plays were on view - Birth Tales, Flail and Solo. All three were at an early stage of development. The purpose of Scratch Night was to see what worked and what didn’t. After the plays I spoke to one of the directors and told him I was doing this review. He said (and I quote): ‘If it’s cr#p then you’ve gotta tell them it’s cr#p’ and I think this sums up the whole evening, i.e. the whole event was about feedback.
It should be stressed that all the plays were very much ‘works in progress’. Birthday Tales (Nick Owen), for example, consisted of four actors reading out three scripts (one copy short!) – and two of the actors had only been ’found’ half an hour before performance! Also during the reading, for some reason, Nick took pictures of the event. Most strange.
Flails was a play within a play (excellent acting by Jodana). The ending was a bit odd – apparently ad-libbed . What we saw was merely an extract, not a whole play.
Solo (David Ralf) was well written, somewhat spooky, very modern and, with a dice rolled by a member of the audience to determine which actor played which part, somewhat too clever. The theme was child pornography on the internet.
After each play the audience were invited to give feedback. This could be orally, direct to the actors/writer/producer, or written. Much of the feedback was anonymous; audience members went up to the front and put their comments down on a flipchart, plus there were sheets available at the end for further feedback, so I am pretty sure that ‘tactful honesty’ was the theme.
Comments about the evening as a whole were also put on the flipchart. The comments included ‘have more plays', 'change the entrance price to £5’ and ‘more guidelines for artists’. I think there should have been a programme, even one just typed out an hour before the performance, so we could know more about the actors/producers/writers. Certainly in some ways the whole evening was about networking – I know some writers approached producers suggesting their own plays, and equally, at least one director in the audience from another theatre was going round asking actors for their contact details.
Did the evening work? Most definitely. Could improvements be made? Of course – to both the plays and the whole event . One other example is for the Scratch Night to have a Facebook page for audience members to further engage in feedback after the evening.
The next Scratch evening at the Old Fire Station is in September. To writers/producers/directors I strongly suggest you contact the Old Fire Station and submit proposals. To everyone else interested in theatre development – or just seeing some very good ideas that have not fully come to fruition – then this type of evening is a must!
Also keep a look out for the three plays detailed above – all of them look interesting, original and well worth seeing.
chrisOSL (DI Reviewer), 10/08/12
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