Power of Invention

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At last! After several postponements, BOLDtext Playwrights’ latest site-specific show is happening in the gardens at Soho House, Birmingham, bringing those great brains of the Lunar Society to life again but with a twist – our all-female cast.

My play, Power, starts the show and sees the host Matthew Boulton urging his master craftsmen to support his latest ground-breaking though extremely risky project. His persuasiveness was another of his notable powers. Once again, Boulton is embarking on the impossible – but what is it?

Performed in the gardens of Matthew Boulton’s home, Soho House in Handsworth, the show is on 30th, 31st July and 7th August, at 12, 3 & 6pm on each day. The production is a collaboration with Birmingham Museums Trust, and funded by Arts Council England and Sir Barry Jackson Trust. Please do join us for a picnic and a play at Soho House!

MORE INFORMATION AND TICKET BOOKING HERE

POWER

BOLDtext Playwrights’ latest site-specific show, Power of Invention, tells the story of the Lunar Society and their families, servants and workers, revealing how their lives shaped our own.  My short play, Power, focuses on the man who hosted the Lunar Society – Brummie entrepreneur and industrialist, Matthew Boulton – and will be performed in the gardens of his elegant home, Soho House, this summer.

MATTHEW BOULTON (1718-1809) is best known for his partnership with James Watt in developing steam engine technology, heralding a technological revolution in 18th century England.  In fact, Boulton was far more than this. His combination of engineering know-how, entrepreneurial ambition and an ability to inspire the brightest minds to collaborate, gives him a unique status in Birmingham’s history books.

Meeting monthly on a full moon, his Lunar Society brought together scientists, engineers, doctors, botanists, geologists, poets, philosophers – all the sharpest brains of the day – to develop and challenge each other’s theories as they explored whichever aspect of the natural world they chose to focus upon.  Boulton’s most ambitious and ground-breaking success was the establishment of the steam-driven Soho Mint next to his vast manufactory, and meant that he was literally making money – much to the fury of the nation’s counterfeiters who preferred the less standardised and easily forged coinage of London’s Royal Mint.

Boulton described himself as “selling what all the world desires – power.”  But to him, ‘power’ wasn’t about politics or finance (in fact he often had money worries), it was about inventiveness.  His ability to apply clear thought and scientific knowledge to engineering problems, and to empower others to work with him to perfect each stage of a new invention, was second-to-none.   So yes, he sold power, but he also shared it with other Lunar Society members, with his workers (they enjoyed an early form of sick pay), and with the community of Birmingham which greatly benefited from his businesses. 

Performed in the gardens of Matthew Boulton’s home, Soho House in Handsworth, the show is on 30th, 31st July and 7th August, at 12, 3 & 6pm on each day. The production is a collaboration with Birmingham Museums Trust, and funded by Arts Council England and Sir Barry Jackson Trust. Please do join us for a picnic and a play at Soho House!

MORE INFORMATION AND TICKET BOOKING HERE

Young man on phone

Online narrative & young viewers

Nicola Jones and I will be sharing the results of our R&D THRIVE project on Tuesday 29th June 2021 10am-12 , as part of an Arts Connect open event taking place online. Tickets can be booked HERE.

Representing BOLDtext Playwrights, we were awarded an Arts Connect Thrive research bursary 2020-21 to explore how young people 14-25 engage with short-form digital content. Our aim is to use this R&D to reflect on and innovate our short-form theatrical writing practice, while developing strategies to build up our younger audience.

As part of the project, we surveyed young people about their viewing – what drew them in, which content they returned to, what made them switch off. We particularly wanted to focus on characterisation, structure and tone. We are also exploring virtual reality and augmented reality theatre and how that can be used to appeal to a younger audience. We’ve consulted academics, researching web series and their contrasting narrative structures, as well as transmedia where a story is told across different platforms delivering narrative in whichever way best suits each platform, e.g. a crowd-sourced whodunnit like The Last Hours of Laura K.

A current focus for us is audience interactivity, where the role is one of interrogator – even participant – of the story, fully invested in it, rather than a passive spectator consuming a fixed narrative.

Our project has been somewhat complicated by lockdown and the closure of schools and colleges in January, but we were lucky to secure other routes to elicit survey responses. We will be engaging with Arts Connect, other Thrive bursary holders and Local Cultural and Educational Partnerships to share our results.

For protection

I’m no beautician as anyone will tell you, but I recently had to give my mother a much-needed manicure (long story).  The only quiet place we could find was a bench outside the hospital (very long story), slightly away from the busy path and surrounded by neglected perennials – no, the metaphor didn’t escape me.   My more dextrous sister usually does the nail-cutting, so I’m not as adept as I ought to be, and I was terrified I’ll slice off a fingertip.  As I searched for my nail clippers, Mum said she wanted her glasses ‘for protection’.  I wasn’t sure greater scrutiny would assist either of us in our joint endeavour, but I couldn’t really refuse.

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May your enemy be happy

Photo by Lorraine Penrice

There was a time a few years back when the media was full of tales about how Mindfulness could change people’s lives.  “That’s so Kings Heath!”, I remember scoffing to one of my friends as we sipped our skinny decaf americanos in a vegan-friendly café in, you guessed it, Kings Heath.  The irony didn’t escape us but neither of us can afford Kings Heath so we do enjoy dissing it – never too loudly, though, seeing as half the West Midlands arts community seem to live there. 

Imagine my surprise when, at our next rendez-vous, the same friend piped up about a Mindfulness class she’d attended at work during lunchtime.  Worse, she claimed it had been well worth missing her chicken baguette.  ‘It was quite relaxing’, she ploughed on, without a hint of shame. ‘We climbed up this massive mountain, and actually smelt the air!’  Hmm, I thought, mentally scrubbing out our next two caffeine dates.  But we have been friends a long time and she does always insist on buying me cake, so perhaps there was another option.  I could attend a Mindfulness class myself. I mean, why not? You probably shouldn’t slag off something you haven’t tried, although it’s never stopped me before.  Eventually, following a brush with anxiety, I thought perhaps I’d better give it a go.

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Goggle eyed

My New Year’s resolution is TV-related due to the many hours I’ve spent goggle-eyed in front of the box recently.  In fact, over the 43 weeks since the first lockdown, I’ve probably watched upwards of 1,500 hours of television. That’s an incredible 62 days!  For two whole months, I have squirmed around on my lumpy sofa getting neckache, while voraciously consuming the likes of Netflix, BBC, Ch4, ITV, Youtube and even Ch5 (I couldn’t resist All Creatures Great and Small).  My kids want us to apply to Gogglebox so “We can earn p’s” for our mis-spent leisure time. 

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Aldi shopping trolleys

Essential trips

Ugh, I hate lockdown.  Okay, for those of us already ‘home-working’, it’s not that different – I can still put on a wash or drop the forgotten PE kit/homework up to school (when it’s open), and the fridge still beckons every half hour.  But I keep hearing about other writers feeling “just SO inspired” (huh!), churning out shiny new scripts (puke), and being “more prolific than ever!” (whatevs).  Haven’t they heard there’s a pandemic?  Who can concentrate on being creative when there’s so much going on?

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Young man on phone

THRIVE-ing!

Along with two other BOLDtext writers, I’m delighted to have started some research into online narrative structure and form for young audiences. Funded by ArtsConnect, our THRIVE project will allow us to identify and analyse the favourite short-form content viewed by 14-25 year-olds in our region on platforms such as TikTok and Youtube. We’ll be exploring any narrative elements that improve engagement with a young audience, in order to innovate our creative practice as theatre-writers and members of BOLDtext Playwrights. We’ll be sharing our findings with our Local Cultural and Education Partnerships, and on the BOLDtext website.

Soho House

Power of Invention

As one of BOLDtext Playwrights, I’m spending lockdown developing our new site-specific & science-specific show, Power of Invention, which will explore Birmingham’s Lunar Society around the turn of the 18th century, and the ground-breaking scientific advances inspired during their full-moon meetings.   Centred on the home of industrialist Matthew Boulton, our audience will meet above-stairs figures such as James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Anne Boulton and Joseph Priestley, as well as the below-stairs folk who kept the household going, and protected them from the riots.   Collaboration between the physicians, engineers, chemists, botanists, geologists, philosophers, poets and entrepreneurs of the Lunar Society, led to the development of many of our modern technologies.

Our shows will take place at Boulton’s home, Soho House in Birmingham, with input from Birmingham Museums and ThinkTank, and funding from Arts Council England and the Sir Barry Jackson Trust.  We’ll issue confirmed dates as soon as we can.

Following the success of Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up at Birmingham’s central lock-up, we look forward to bringing the Lunar Society and its important scientific discoveries to life in its original space.  Watch this space!

STOP PRESS:   We are also preparing another of our regular evenings at The REP with staged readings of four new short plays under the heading of Common Wealth, penned by myself, Helen Kelly, Vanessa Oakes and Tim Stimpson.  Originally scheduled for June, we will let you know when we have a new date.

Learning to love feedback (yes, really!)

I’m giving a workshop at the East Meets West festival later this year (date tbc) on the tricky subject of Feedback.  My mission is to persuade you that it’s a positive thing – even when it’s negative, in fact especially when it’s negative!  Don’t believe me?  Well, come to the workshop and find out how I learned to love feedback.  More info and booking details will be added when confirmed.

The workshop is primarily for drama writers of all levels of experience, however producers and directors will benefit too by understanding the intricacies of the feedback process.  Learn how to listen to ‘notes’ and analyse their underlying message, then how best to use that feedback to drive your script forward into a new, much-improved draft.