Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Simon Paris: Not Our Play

By | Published on Friday 12 November 2021

I was immediately interested when I heard about ‘Not Our Play’, which is on at The Rosemary Branch Theatre this week.

It’s a rather interesting notion, which sees the company – Say It Again, Sorry? – opening up the creation of a script to the general public.

The company will perform two plays – each written by anyone and everyone that would like to contribute – without really knowing much about what they are about to stage.

To find out more about the project, and about the group behind it, I spoke to company member Simon Paris.

CM: ‘Not Our Play’ sounds like a really interesting idea, in that the script was/is to be written by “the public” – can you firstly explain exactly how that works in practice? How do the different members of the public interact in doing this?
SP: When figuring out the logistics of this idea we had a lot of complicated ideas on how the project could work. Like most things, the best version is the most simple one, so we decided to launch a completely blank document online, which can be edited by anybody.

Some people so far have written funny lines of dialogue, bizarre stage directions and somebody has even had their cat walk across their keyboard – apparently.

The challenge of the live performance is to justify the writing. Luckily we have all the tools of theatre at our disposal, so although some things may be performed naturalistically, you can expect puppetry, abstractions, dance, monologues and anything else we can conjure.

CM: How do you stop people from deleting other people’s contributions, etc? Is there a danger of it ending up one audience member’s vanity project…?
SP: I’m very optimistic when it comes to audience interaction, so although people could delete other people’s work, nobody has so far!

There absolutely is a danger that somebody could put their vanity project into it. I like to create work with danger, so this risk is the purpose of presenting it in the first place.

CM: Is the process ongoing up until the time of the performance, or is there an end date for these contributions? ie, can our readers head over to the right place on the internet right now and get writing?
SP: We’re taking contributions from now until the performance day OR the max line count. People can head over to this page here if they’d like to see what’s been written so far and contribute their own lines too.

CM: What was the inspiration for this? What made you want to give free rein to anyone that feels like it?
SP: This is the third show in Say It Again, Sorry?’s canon. The company ethos is to connect people to their inner artist. Our first show ‘Easel Peasel’ gets people to become painters and have their work exhibited. And ‘The Importance Of Being… Earnest?’ gets audience members to star in a show and perform on stage. ‘Not Our Play’ gets audience members to become playwrights.

CM: Is there a political point to be made here – ie, about free speech?
SP: Although this piece isn’t overtly trying to make a political point, free speech, cancel culture and platforming contrary opinions is regularly in public discourse at the moment and this show will offer us a small insight into what people are thinking.

CM: Do you have any idea of what sort of scripts to expect? Are you monitoring them as they come into being?
SP: I have some ideas of what I would write, but I have no clue on what people will submit. My estimations on what people would do in these situations are usually very wrong, so I’ve stopped guessing.

CM: How long will you have to rehearse them? Will they be presented as fully finished plays or will it be more like a reading?
SP: We’re going to do just one day of rehearsals, in which we figure out some devices for how to present a cold-read without it being super boring. Although, we won’t be rehearsing the actual scripts that are being written, these are being saved for a completely cold-read on the day of the performance.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about your company, now? How did Say It Again, Sorry come into being?
SP: Say It Again, Sorry? originally formed to present ‘Easel Peasel’, our interactive art show, at Nozstock Festival. One thing led to another and having been asked to come up with a ‘new, bigger show’ we came up with ‘The Importance Of Being… Earnest?’ And things have never been the same.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future?
SP: Apart from taking over the – theatre – world, we’d like to keep coming up with fun ideas on how to connect people to their inner artist. No doubt we’ll figure out how to bring other elements of the theatre and art making process into the company. As well as our shows engaging people creatively, we also run open-rehearsals and open-budgets, to completely lift the curtain on the often shrouded theatre-making process.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SP: Although I’m not supposed to give any solid answers, I can say that each of our three shows – and more – have a confirmed further life. If readers would like to keep on top of what we’re up to, they can join our mailing list here.

‘Not Our Play’ is on at The Rosemary Branch Theatre on 21 and 26 Nov. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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