It's mandatory for 70% of blog posts to begin with an apology for their own recent paucity, so here goes. I promised myself I'd post at least twice a week while making the new show. At least three separate people have expressed an interest in following the process. Instead, I've been up at six every morning rewriting pages, or writing pages based on the work of the day before. We've worked until seven or eight, at which point a few emails, tea, then bed. I'd have done lots of useful thinking about ways of working as a writer within devised theatre if I'd any space left in my head. Sorry about that.
As it is, I've learned nothing that isn't in one of the two following categories: stuff we all already know, but didn't necessarily feel in our bones; and stuff that's useful only for making this show. Certainly, nothing that I can think about in sentences I'm prepared to publish. Instead I'm going to talk very briefly about titles, then maybe I'll have something more substantial to say once the show's open.
The new show, then, is subtitled How to Occupy an Oil Rig, and when its full, finished version goes out next year that will be its actual title. Publicity for this six-show preview run had to go out before we'd really figured out which show we were making, so at the moment it's still called Ash. This is a fine title, but it's not quite the right one. In my notes, The Price of Everything crops up repeatedly as Value and then as Milk before appearing as itself. It seems I work through from the subject, to a substance with some metaphorical weight in the piece, towards an actual title that relates somehow to form as well as content. I'd never have noticed this, but at two out of two, on recent form I'm dangerously close to developing a method.
Fortunately this is by no means apparent in the form of the work itself, which is in lots of ways totally different to The Price of Everything. There are three of us in it, for a start.
I find this process of generating titles unbearably difficult, so it made me laugh out loud when Erica Whyman, hearing the projected title for next year, said "you're really good at titles". I dread starting work a new show not because of the show (that's always exciting), but because of the title. It has to be somehow a promise of the piece, a bunch of grapes identifiable but just out of reach. Ash, I thought had that: it connotes so much. Too much, as it turns out, for the form of this work, which is explicitly a series of how-to demonstrations created or culled from various sources, juxtaposed to create or reveal narrative. The title needs to be flatter, less allusive, more mechanistic. The ashes of Ash are still in How to Occupy an Oil Rig's DNA, but this is an instruction manual, not a volume of poetry.
It's surprising how much poetry there is in the instructional form. How playful it can be, how various. How bizarre as well as banal. Put the words "how to" into YouTube (this is safe for work) and you'll see what I mean.
Because no-one reads the instruction manual. Maybe they would if it told them a story starring themselves.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will