Drama Online: the Netflix of Theatre

DO_On BlackThis week saw the launch of the Nick Hern Books Collection on Drama Online, a groundbreaking new educational resource for reading and studying drama. Here, NHB’s Digital Editor Tim Digby-Bell explains how it works, and how it sheds new light on familiar plays.

Finally, it’s launch week. We’ve been working hard preparing a selection of our plays for Drama Online, the amazing new platform for anyone studying drama. For more than twelve months we’ve been planning, editing, revising, checking, drinking cups of strong coffee, fretting, and then doing some more editing. It’s all been worth it, though. It’s a thing of wonder, and it’s open for business.

Drama Online is a joint venture with other leading theatre publishers including Bloomsbury, Faber and Faber and L.A. Theatre Works, and incorporates archival material from the Victoria and Albert Museum and The American Shakespeare Center. As the name suggests, its focus is very much drama, and the place very much online. It’s essentially a subscription service aimed at schools, universities and libraries, giving instant online access to the best of world drama alongside a range of scholarly works for criticism and context. There is also a range of tools for exploring and analysing plays in new and extremely useful ways (more about those later).

Because it’s all online, students can access the plays they’re studying at any time of the day and night, without having to wait for a copy to become available. Think of it as a theatre-based Netflix. ‘Want to come round to my place for some Drama Online and chill?’ is now an actual thing.

Deep_Blue_Sea_title

Drama Online – The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan, from the Nick Hern Books Collection

There are some 1,900 plays already available, with more being added all the time. You’ll find everything from Aeschylus to the present day, with a full range of classic drama, the complete Arden Shakespeare Series, modern classics and the latest work from contemporary playwrights. The Nick Hern Books Collection comprises 400 titles, including classic plays by writers such as Molière, Gogol, Strindberg and Alfred Jarry, the works of Terence Rattigan, modern classics by Caryl Churchill, Conor McPherson, David Edgar and Howard Brenton, and some of the most exciting new writing from the likes of debbie tucker green, Lucy Kirkwood, Jack Thorne, Steve Waters and Enda Walsh. With a Drama Online subscription, you have the whole pantheon of drama in English at your fingertips.

And, as if that’s not enough, you also get some really impressive tools to work with. At a keystroke you can call up Character Grids, Words and Speech graphs and Part Books for any play. For instance, if you want to compare the number of words spoken by different characters in a play, act by act, or even scene by scene, you can quickly and easily generate a table that lays it all out for you. If you’re performing a play, you can call up a Part Book showing just the lines spoken by your character. If you want to see plays set in London, or in nineteenth-century Paris, or written during the Belle Époque or the Spanish Golden Age, you can call up a list, and cross-refer to your heart’s content.

Jerusalem_Playtext_tool1

Character Grid for Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, from the Nick Hern Books Collection

WordsTable

Words and Speeches table for Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, from the Nick Hern Books Collection

The platform is designed to give you a simple but powerful set of tools to break down any play, making them easier to study. It might all sound a bit Orwellian at first, but start using it and you find it both incredibly useful and really quite addictive. The plays in the collections are all interconnected: every play is connected to other plays via their themes, characters, settings and genres, allowing faster analysis and deeper insights into the works themselves.

Beyond that, the site provides you with every bit of information you could possibly need about each title – including insightful introductions and expert analysis, production history, performing rights information to enquire about staging the plays, and even links to places where you can buy the good old-fashioned print editions (remember them?).

So if you’re studying plays at school, college, drama school or university, you absolutely must have Drama Online. Ask your librarian or resources manager to get a subscription immediately. If they say no, then stage a non-violent protest citing the fact that the first thing any totalitarian regime does when it comes to power is to ban access to the theatre. But do check if you already have a subscription before you do any of that – it could save you some embarrassment.

Having worked on preparing Drama Online for many months I can genuinely say that it’s an exciting new way to read and study plays. It’s the future, right here.


For more information about subscriptions, trials and pricing, visit: www.dramaonlinelibrary.com/pages/how-to-subscribe.

Advertisements

Spotlight: playwright CONOR McPHERSON

Conor McPherson

Conor McPherson

Playwright Conor McPherson – ‘a writer who can make inarticulacy sound poetic’ (Evening Standard) – returns to the theatre this month with the premiere of his new play The Veil at the National Theatre. We’ve published the playtext along with a striking new edition of his earliest works, McPherson Plays: One, which includes a new foreword by the author. In this extract from the foreword, McPherson looks at why in the nineties the monologue form became so dominant in Irish theatre.

The nineties in Irish theatre will probably always be associated with the monologue. Almost every successful new play that emerged from Ireland at the time had an element of direct storytelling. It was as though the crazy explosion of money and stress was happening too close to us, too fast for us, making it impossible for the mood of the nation to be objectively dramatised in a traditional sense. It could only be expressed in the most subjective way possible because when everything you know is changing, the subjective experience is the only experience.

Production photograph of The Veil, by Conor McPherson, National Theatre, September 2011

Hannah Lambroke (Emily Taafe) and Grandie (Ursula Jones) in The Veil at the National Theatre. Photo by Helen Warner

I would suggest that the hunger for this kind of highly personal work was unprecedented because the whole phenomenon of living in Ireland at the time was unprecedented. It has been argued elsewhere that a secular need flooded the space left by the disgraced Catholic Church and a contemporary dearth of true political leadership. We still had souls, but we just couldn’t trust anyone with them any more. Thus monologue theatre flourished because it was a mirror which took you inside your own eye. The work had to become more private and the humour more painful in order to reflect the mood of an audience who didn’t feel like they were living in a sustainable reality on any level. Big old ‘state of the nation’ plays simply couldn’t have reflected that feeling, I don’t think. The dramatic problem was far subtler than before so the successful plays of the time took a subtler approach.

The Seafarer production at National Theatre, 2006

Jim Norton (Richard), Michael McElhatton (Nicky), Ron Cook (Mr. Lockhart), Conleth Hill (Ivan) in The Seafarer at the National Theatre, 2006. Photo Catherine Ashmore.

As young writers, we knew of Beckett’s great monologue plays and Brian Friel’s iconic Faith Healer, but these were examples of a form rather than the norm. When one considers the tumultuous time in which this form re-emerged and became almost ubiquitous it doesn’t feel like mere coincidence, and I would contend that to dismiss such a sea change in Irish drama is to ignore how well it charted the peculiar history of the Irish mind for its time. And all the more so when one considers how organic and unconscious this movement was. It just happened. The more Ireland’s economic fortunes appeared to catapult us into a twenty-first-century orbit, the more our theatre seemed determined to return us to an almost ancient mode of storytelling.

The Veil: playscript

The Veil (£9.99)

For myself, I haven’t written a monologue play for well over a decade now. This year I am forty and consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have worked as a playwright for the last twenty years. The hard-won perspective of the intervening time shows me that I thought I was free and independent back then, but now I know I was struggling with history just like everybody else. I used to find it so difficult to even think about my own past work. I always felt the need to look away into the future. But as I enter middle age I look back with a more forgiving regard. I read the very first line of the first play in this volume, which says: ‘I think my overall fucked-upness is my impatience.’ It was true then, and it’s true now, and probably not just for me. And maybe that impatience drew me to the monologue form. Because it could take you right where you wanted to be so fast and keep you there because it just felt real.

Conor McPherson, 2011

Jacket: McPherson Plays 1 (collection)

Mcpherson Plays: One (£12.99)

***

Conor McPherson’s latest work – The Veil – is currently running at the National Theatre until 2nd November – click here for more information and to purchase tickets. His earlier play, Dublin Carol, will run at the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End 8-31 December 2011 (a Donmar Warehouse production), click here for more information and to purchase tickets. 

The NHB publication of The Veil and the new edition of McPherson Plays: One (with a new author Foreword) are available now to purchase. To order your copy with free UK P&P click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed).


Spotlight: Headlong’s DECADE

Decade jacket

Decade (Nick Hern Books, £10.99)

As Decade, Headlong’s imaginative investigation of 9/11 and its legacy, opens in London, NHB Commissioning Editor Matt Applewhite considers a play publisher’s role in documenting the theatre of our times – and why it’s worth pulling out all the stops to do so.

When, in 2009, Caryl Churchill wrote Seven Jewish Children, her short, sharp response to the situation in Gaza, the Royal Court programmed and produced the play within weeks. As Caryl’s publisher, but also as individuals similarly concerned by the crisis, we felt it was important to publish the play alongside its run. Printed copies were given free of charge to all audience members, and the play is still freely available as a PDF download on our website, enabling it to be read, studied and hotly debated around the world.

Since theatre is the art form most able to react to and explore, in imaginative ways, major world events as they happen, our responsibility as a theatre publisher is to respond likewise. Whilst the work itself might be performed for only a very short time, publication will guarantee the play an ongoing life. Bringing permanence to the essentially ephemeral is the guiding principle behind the publication of any play; when the work combines a wider but immediate significance with something of lasting artistic value, it can feel even more vital.

***

Headlong, Rupert Goold’s theatre company, has a track record of producing provocative, challenging theatre about urgent, contemporary issues. In their productions of Lucy Prebble’s ENRON and Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, the Big Subjects of financial meltdown and climate change were respectively explored, in brilliantly theatrical and exhilarating ways. To mark ten years since 9/11, the company began work on their Decade project, commissioning twenty writers from both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond) to respond to the events of that day, and what has happened in the world since.

We all know the profound impact that 9/11 has had on international politics and global security, but the twenty plays making up Decade are all the more powerful for telling us the stories of individuals. So we see the Muslim shopkeeper who has a brick thrown through his window, the souvenir-seller at Ground Zero who seduces weeping tourists, the widows who meet up every anniversary, the passengers grounded at a unnamed airport, the young US solider and the photo which makes her infamous, and – almost comically – the person born on 11th September who must evermore share her birthday with a date remembered for all the wrong reasons. Through these stories we glimpse a bigger picture of how all our lives have changed by varying degrees in various ways.

Decade production shot (photo: Tristram Kenton)

A scene from Decade by Headlong Theatre (photo by Tristram Kenton)

***

We’d been discussing the possible publication of these plays for a few months with Headlong, but it was finally confirmed less than two weeks ago that they’d like us to publish all twenty pieces in a single volume and in time for press night. Eight working days is not a long time to get any play into print, from signing a contract to having finished copies, via the processes of typesetting, proofreading, copyediting and design, not to mention the actual printing of the book. And the challenge is all the greater when there are twenty playwrights and their agents to deal with, twenty contracts to be negotiated, twenty plays to be typeset, etc, etc. – and a book of 256 pages to be produced. Thanks to the goodwill, cooperation and hard work of a lot of people, copies were on sale to audiences at the press night.

And, after the production ends on 15th October, and the attention around the tenth anniversary of 9/11 has passed, copies of the publication will still be on sale. Just as the plays explore the legacy of a moment in history, they will have a legacy themselves.

The NHB publication of the twenty plays that make up Decade is available here. To order your copy for £10.99 with free UK P&P add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout (to ensure your discount is applied when the order is processed). 

To see Headlong’s thrilling production of Decade running at St Katharine Docks, London, until 15th October, book via the National Theatre Box Office here

Spotlight: THE PRIDE at Crucible Studio, Sheffield

Alexi Kaye CampbellAlexi Kaye Campbell’s award-winning debut play received its regional premiere this week at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre, following its sell-out world premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2008, and subsequent off-Broadway production. Directed by actor and director Richard Wilson, the production has been praised as ‘a brave and rewarding drama that speaks to us all’ (Guardian), ‘beautiful, hopeful’ (WhatsOnStage.com) and a ‘sharp, funny and deeply affecting debut play’ (Telegraph). Exclusively for the NHB blog, Alexi tells us about the experience of reviving The Pride, and using his considerable experience as an actor in his writing…

The Pride was your debut play and won multiple awards after it premiered at the Royal Court in 2008 – can you tell us what first inspired you to write it?

 I suppose the starting point was wanting to explore what it meant to be gay in two very different eras on each side of the sexual revolution and to compare and contrast them. I started thinking a lot about the seismic social and cultural changes that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s and especially how those changes influenced gay identity. But once I began to do that I began to realise that in many ways what existed today seemed to be a quite extreme response to what had gone before: from the covert to the overt, from the implicit to the explicit, from everything being subtext to everything being overstated, from a state of being repressed to a state of taking everything for granted. And so I began to not only compare the two different periods but to try and identify connections and also explore some sense of inheritance – of how one generation receives a sense of self from a previous one and then has to struggle to  throw it off and find its own. Finally I suppose there was a part of me that wanted to pay homage to the people who had brought on those big changes by remembering what it was that they had to fight: the hypocrisy, the hatred, the oppression. That was an important part of it.

Daniel Evans in rehearsals for THE PRIDE

Daniel Evans (Oliver). Photos Robert Day

How would you describe the play for people who haven’t read or seen it?

I think The Pride is really a play about characters trying to discover something about the forces that drive them. And to put it simply, a love story.

Do you imagine the play’s themes still holding relevance to audiences in decades to come?

I really don’t know. I suppose you always hope that what you have written is honest and human and that its qualities will travel beyond your own time but I can’t say I spend too much time thinking about that. If people in my own time are moved or affected by it, that’s good enough for me.

You are also an actor, and have acted for companies including the RSC, Shared Experience and Chichester Festival – what made you decide to turn to playwriting?

Honestly,  it was the frustration. I had always written bits and pieces but had spent all my professional life focussing on the acting and then it got to the point when I simply wasn’t fulfilled enough. Unfortunately, unless an actor is very successful he or she will end up spending quite a bit of the time either being out of work or often doing jobs which don’t quite tick all the boxes as it were. And so I sat down and wrote my first play. And it was when I completed it that all my excuses ran out and I knew that this was what I was meant to be doing. It just felt right. If nothing else I was  suddenly too caught up in it all  to spend the time wondering if the phone was going to ring with news of an audition.

Claire Price in rehearsal for The Pride

Claire Price (Sylvia). Photos Robert Day

Do you feel your acting experience has helped your writing?

Completely and absolutely. It’s no surprise that it is a common trajectory, from actor to playwright. Both are storytellers who put themselves in other people’s shoes. And I spent a good fifteen years as an actor learning all about plays: character, plot, dialogue, drama.  It was reassuring to know that all my time as an actor – the good and bad experiences – had been informing my work as a writer.

The Pride toured to the off-Broadway theatre MCC following its debut at the Royal Court, London, in 2008 – did you find any particular differences between the audiences’ reactions to the play?

New York audiences were great. I was worried about some of the comedy falling flat but it was the opposite – if anything, they took to it even more than the London audiences. For the most part I found them very engaged and generous.

What is it like having the prolific actor and director Richard Wilson direct this new production? And how important is it to you who directs your plays?

Richard is very open and trusting and he allows the play and the actors to discover things without imposing them. He seems to be quite back-footed and then you realise that what he is doing is helping everything to develop organically. He suggests, coaxes, invites  – and the directors who do that are the ones who get the best results, I think, because they understand how collective the whole creative experience is in a rehearsal room. It’s been a pleasure to work with him. I have been very, very spoilt with the directors of my plays so far – Jamie Lloyd, Joe Mantello, Josie Rourke and Richard Wilson – so luckily I haven’t had a bad experience. But getting on with the person who is directing your play is paramount. The trust is all.

Jame Sives in rehearsal for THE PRIDE

Jamie Sives (Phillip). Photos Robert Day

Your new play – The Faith Machine (also to be published by NHB) – will premiere at the Royal Court this summer directed by Jamie Lloyd. Can you tell us a little about it?

I’m thrilled to be working with Jamie again and we have an exceptional cast so I’m very excited. The Faith Machine sometimes feels like the third play in a trilogy following The Pride and Apologia in that all three plays share inheritance as their common theme, but maybe I only say that because I quite fancy saying I’ve written a trilogy! Really it’s a play about the death of religion and about the void that  death leaves behind it  and exploring if there is anything at all that can fill it. . But that all sounds rather boring and worthy so I better add it has a few laughs in it. At least I hope it does, we’ll find out.

TICKET GIVEAWAY!

The Pride is an emotionally charged play about love and relationships set in two different eras. It tells the story of Philip, Oliver and Sylvia and imagines their lives in two different time periods. In 1958, Philip is married to Sylvia, but is secretly in love with Oliver. In 2008, Oliver and Philip are together, but struggling with Oliver’s infidelity, whilst Sylvia is liberated – single and pursuing her dreams.

The Pride play text

The Pride (NHB £8.99)

To enter our competition for the chance to win 2 tickets for the performance on 14th July (Crucible Studio, 7.30pm) answer the following question:

THE PLAY IS SET IN WHICH TWO YEARS?

Send your answer, name and address to sasha@nickhernbooks.demon.co.uk by Friday 8th July (4pm).

To book tickets for another performance click here.

Nick Hern Books proudly publish The Pride playscript. To purchase your copy with a 10% discount and free P&P (RRP £8.99, UK customers only) click here and add ‘Blog Offer’ in the comments field at checkout.