Developing the Show – Team Green Knight!

Following on from my previous post about writing Green Knight, I wanted to blog a bit about the next stage – the process of developing the show, and the community of people who helped me to get it from script to production.

First of all, it’s worth talking about the reasons why I decided I wanted to write, produce and perform a one-woman show – having never done two of those things before! A very big factor was the control it gave me over this area of my work. As a working parent with day-jobs, producing my own work gave me the freedom to schedule rehearsals and then performances when I wanted to. I’ve always been really lucky with the directors I’ve worked with, who have been very supportive with organising rehearsals around my life; but it’s still frequently felt like a stressful experience – it’s hard not to have feelings of guilt around not being flexible enough. With Green Knight, I organised everything around the gaps I had in my working week and year. My son sat in on most of the rehearsals – he knows a frightening number of the lines, although he’s not quite ready to step up as understudy! Doing a solo show also meant I could minimise the expense – something that was especially important as I funded everything myself.

Most of all, though, I really loved the idea of the challenge! I’d been lucky enough to do a solo show in 2013, written and directed by the brilliant Jen McGregor, and I loved it – the close connection with the audience, the opportunity to tell them a complete story, and the chance to shift between characters. And I’d been longing for a while to write my own performance piece.

So, I had a script, and a desire to do it. But what about developing that script into a performance, and producing it? Cue a steep learning curve that would wake me in the early hours of the morning on several occasions!

The early steps were all about calling on the goodwill and expertise of friends and colleagues from the Edinburgh theatre scene. In particular, two brilliant women came on board and worked their magic. I did some early workshopping with Jen and with the marvellous Flavia D’Avila of Fronteiras Theatre Lab, which helped to build my sense of the characters. Jen did a number of invaluable dramaturgy sessions with me on the script. Flav started working with me with some hand-held props. One thing I did know about the show was that it would have to be simple and portable – otherwise, it wouldn’t be affordable. So – no set and only props I could carry collectively in a shoulder bag. I think we started with some fabrics, a ribbon and an artificial rose. What we felt from early on was that these props had to be the kind of thing that this woman, my character, might be carrying with her. Ultimately, this would resolve into a spoon, bowl, plate, apple, ribbon and sheet, props which would in the show represent – amongst other things – a king’s crown, a shield, a mirror, a girdle, and a ‘green’ knight.

Bless Flav and Jen, because these early sessions were done purely for love and an exchange of coffee and jaffa cakes.

As far as production was concerned, I had very little idea where to start. Fortunately, I had a friend who did. The brilliant Philip Kingscott of Peapod Productions sat with me one evening in the Filmhouse Café and basically downloaded all the details from the producer part of his brain for me, while I scribbled furiously.

I was also really lucky to have the support of the wonderful EPAD (Edinburgh Performing Arts Development). EPAD is an incredible resource, supporting independent artists and companies in Edinburgh. They organised meetings for me with established theatre-makers in the city to provide advice on development and production.

Meanwhile, other chats with friends and acquaintances on where and how to try and stage the nascent show led to an offer of a run at the Royal Scots Club in the Edinburgh Fringe. I had dates and a venue. And a commitment – I really had to do it now!

Flavia and Jen continued to support me. Jen came in and did voice-work with me, using the Nadine George method. Flavia came on board as director and, amongst all the other brilliant things she did, devised – and coached me through – the choreography of the show. It has been such a joy (and involved so much laughter) and a privilege to see the show develop alongside her. Meanwhile, I learned on the hoof to manage social media, and organise posters and flyers. The excellent Sandy McGhie from Channel 7a came and filmed video trailers with me. A group of trusted friends came and gave feedback on a first run-through (my lovely friend Danielle Farrow has been particularly generous with her time and advice); the Scottish Storytelling Centre gave me a space in which to do this run-through. It was a rollercoaster of very, very hard work in which I was continually expecting to find out I’d forgotten to do a dozen vital things. The buck for pretty much everything was going to stop with me, which was simultaneously terrifying and a huge thrill. But it was coming together.

All of which led me in August 2017 to my first performance. It was scary, a bit emotional, and an incredible feeling.

Three years on, and Green Knight has been back to Edinburgh Fringe, to Buxton Fringe (twice) where I won a best female actor award, and to York Theatre Royal, and I’m currently deep in preparations to take it to Cambridge’s Corpus Playroom from 24-28 March. I am inestimably grateful (to pinch the words of my character) to the people who helped me to get it on its feet. Without Flavia and Jen in particular, Green Knight would still be an epically over-long script sitting festering somewhere on my hard-drive. Everyone who comes to see the show gets a book-mark, on which the full list of people I’m indebted to is listed. I’m happy that this reminder is there that while the show may be a one-woman performance, it’s very much alive as a result of this community of talented and generous people.