Week 1: Banana Suit R&D
Eve Cowley and I have documented our first week of research and development on our new show Banana Suit, a one woman comedy about a female prison officer. As an account for ourselves, but also in the spirit of sharing, we wanted to write about what we got up to at Theatre Delicatessen.
We arrived at Theatre Delicatessen in Sheffield.
We started with a stretch. Someone once told us that nothing creative ever came from being stiff. We then began to delve into the world of the play that we are creating.
We stuck flip-chart paper up on two walls: one wall dedicated to the character and the other to the character's world. We then looked through the research that we had gathered before the R&D week and added all relevant information to our flip-chart paper.
Research we had included:
- Transcriptions of our interviews with female probation officers
- Transcriptions of our interviews with female prison guards
- Notes from our conversations with charities working with prisoners
- Blogs written by prisoners on their relationships with prison officers
- Blogs written by prisoners on their experience of being in prison
- Blogs written by ex-prisoners on their experience of being in prison
- GOV.UK articles and resources on the UK prison system
- Ministry of Justice articles and resources on the prison system
- Extracts of our own writing on the subject
- Notes on documentaries, books and podcasts about the prison system
- Recent newspaper articles on HMP Styal
We also had a piece of flip-chart paper reserved for noting questions that we didn’t know the answer to (that were thrown up by the research).
We have two 10-minute scratch slots that we are working towards - one at Lyric Hammersmith and one at Sheffield Theatres - so we discussed the technical rider and what we wanted to include within the scratch so that this week can be focused around making that.
We did some free-writing after recapping our research and Eve performed some extracts that we had written pre-R&D. We tested these initial bits of text and edited them as we went. We used these extracts as a springboard to discuss our character and her world in more detail.
In other news, we met Theatre Deli's dog, Badger!
We started today with character building. We asked questions that seemed pertinent to our character and we discussed the answers in order to give us a better understanding of her.
- Where does she live?
- Who does she live with?
- How old is she?
- How long has she been a prison officer for?
- What did she do before she became a prisoner officer?
- How long has she been with her boyfriend
- Why did she become a prison officer?
- Who are her support networks?
- What does she feel is ‘lacking’ in her life?
We then got the monologue we worked on yesterday up on its feet and played around with it in different ways, bringing the characterisation work into the monologue. We then explored different ways of playing with the monologue.
We had additional research in the room today including:
- Talking with Female Serial Killers by Christopher Berry-Dee
- Wandsworth Prison a documentary on the BBC
- A glossary of UK prison slang - https://www.dissidentreality.com/articles/uk-prison-slang/
- Inside Times: How One Bank Robber Made It Through 32 Years Behind Bars - Noel ‘The Razor’ Smith documentary
- Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women by Helena Kennedy
We took facts and questions thrown up by these additional resources and added them to our research walls. We also asked additional questions about prison procedures (that were thrown up by our research) to one of the ex-officers that we interviewed before the R&D week started. She sent us her answers. E.g. Q: Do women have access to razors in prison? A: Yes, but only one at a time and they have to bring their old one to get a new one, and never electric. Officers never touch the razors.
We then extended the monologue a little further and plan to edit this tomorrow.
This included a prisoner’s day-to-day routine, which we researched to find out more specific details about, e.g. meal times and bed times.
Today we also listed the key themes that might be touched upon in the show. This has given us alternative strands to research in the future.
We started with a stretch again this morning, as we wanted to start with a more physical exploration of our character. How does she move? Does her movement differ depending on her situation, e.g. inside vs. outside of the prison? How does she move when she is confident? How does this differ when she is less confident, even vulnerable?
Eve walked around the space describing her character's prison surroundings. As she did, she described what was going on around her so we could familiarise ourselves with her world. We also improvised specific situations, e.g. a fight has broken out on the ward. Eve would respond to this stimuli by improvising appropriate movement for the situation.
These movement exercises threw up further questions including:
- What kind of prison guard is she?
- For what reasons does she love the job at the start?
- Why does she exaggerate and lie?
We then spent time answering these questions and adding more detail to our character wall.
Following this, we worked movement into the monologue we had been working on since the start of the week. This led us to a discussion about the way movement would function within the piece. Working movement into this section of text (which will be the start of our scratch piece), led to a discussion of the immediate circumstances of the monologue. Where she is at the time of speaking? How she is feeling? Why is she feeling like this? This gave us a much clearer picture of how to start the monologue tonally and the character’s relationship to the audience, which had been unclear previously.
We then rewrote and restructured later sections of the monologue and had a play around with order. We also binned a lot of stuff that we had already written. We then continued looking at movement in these latter sections and pinpointed a section that could be quite movement heavy. We will be playing around with it tomorrow.
In addition, we looked into one-woman shows, including Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and asked ourselves these questions:
- How do they present other characters in the story? (First, second, third person, caricature, realistic impersonation e.g. debbie tucker green’s random?)
- What is their relationship with the audience?
We read this great article by PWB: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/47ac38cd-d937-4e38-a839-a1a400958d34
At the end of the day we timed what we had made so far this week and it was running at 5 minutes.
We edited and refined the latter sections of the monologue. We then planned to generate lots of material today, as we needed 10 minutes by the end of the week.
We re-looked at the structure of the piece we wanted to present at the scratch and we reminded ourselves of what would come next. We have got to a section where we need to introduce more characters from the world we have created, so we spent the first half of the morning looking into these other characters:
- Who are they?
- How do they fit together as a group?
- What are their relationships with each other?
- What is their relationship inside and outside of work?
Before writing, we set a strict framework about how we were going to describe her four colleagues’ (predetermined) stories, so the writing task that followed came from a strict structure and a clear idea of what needed to be said.
We then both set about writing individually. We did this for about an hour, and every fifteen minutes or so we would check in with each other, in order to check the direction we were going in, and editing our structures slightly according to new ideas.
We then compared our two versions of the same thing and amalgamated them on Google Drive. We later spent time watching female stand up comedians on YouTube with the specific intention of looking at how they address an audience and how they vary the delivery of their material.
We then went back to the text and refined a chunk for clarity.
We finalised the scratch text at the end of the day so that tomorrow we can rehearse, make minor tweaks and finalise the movement sections of the piece. By the end of tomorrow, we hope to be able to make plans for beyond the scratch nights.
We had a stretch session to begin the day as we were jumping straight into rehearsing the piece. From there we worked through the text chronologically, spending time on learning lines, solidifying blocking and movement, and tweaking any sections of the text for clarity.
We wrote a section yesterday that was based on sports commentary, so we took a break from rehearsing to listen to the speech of commentators on close calls in sporting finals, in order to emulate the feeling of a highly pressured race between individuals.
We also treated ourselves to the curry of all curries (below - from The Hungry Buddha in The Moor Market) that we had been eyeing up since day Monday.
The remainder of our time at Theatre Delicatessen involved running the material we had, noting it and re-running it.
Thank you to Theatre Delicatessen for having us - we had a great week!
SCRATCH PERFORMANCE 1:
We arrived at the Lyric Hammersmith for our first ever outing of Banana Suit. Very exciting! We were part of two scratch evenings called Maybe She's Born With It, as part of their annual Evolve Festival. The festival this year put a spotlight on women and celebrated the most exciting new female-led work. We couldn't wait to watch the other pieces.
SCRATCH PERFORMANCE 2:
We got to Sheffield Theatres early for a quick technical rehearsal in the Studio and then we met the other acts who made up the second night of the Making Room Studio Takeover 2019.
Since the first scratch performance, we made edits and extended the monologue a little. Without any more R&D time, we wrote chunks by ourselves and used Google Drive to amalgamate and edit each other's work. We plan to hone these newer sections during our second R&D week later on this year.
The evening was a great success and the audience were very supportive. We spoke to a lot of people post-show about further development and it was great to have staff from Theatre Delicatessen there to see what we had made with them.
Watch this space. More Banana Suit action coming very soon...