Archive | September, 2011

Opp: The page is your stage: Can you write a winning tiny play?

25 Sep

Ever dreamed of having a play produced by a professional theatre company? ‘The Irish Times’ is supporting an exciting initiative aimed at broadening the range of voices in Irish theatre. JIM CULLETON , artistic director of Fishamble: The New Play Company, has some tips if you’d like to enter the Tiny Plays for Ireland competition, and, to act as inspiration, we have two examples of what can be done

FISHAMBLE IS LOOKING for tiny plays that explore contemporary life in Ireland. We want to create a discussion, through theatre, about our country, so we are inviting new, emerging and established writers of any age – in other words, you – to submit plays that capture moments and offer glimpses of Irish life. Fishamble choose the winners and pay each selected writer a fee of €250. We will work with you on the development of the commissioned plays and produce them in March 2012 at Project Arts Centre, in Dublin. A selection will be published in The Irish Times leading up to the production. If you’d like to enter, here’s what to remember.

1 Write about what you know or feel passionate about. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious, if you think the obvious needs to be stated, or to take us somewhere unexpected, if you think something needs to be made public.

2 If in doubt, keep it simple: a tiny play can have a big resonance but can also be confusing if it is crammed with thoughts. The play need not deal with a big issue: write something that benefits from the 600-word limit rather than squeezing a bigger play into too tight a timeframe. Simple encounters that might capture a turning point in one of the characters’ lives, or during which a character is changed by the experience, can work well.

3 Write a fully formed play. Even though it is short, it should not seem like a sketch or an excerpt from a longer play. Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw are both credited with saying “I’m sorry to have written such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Whoever said it, it is a good reminder of the unique challenge a short play poses. Your tiny play should feel satisfying and complete.

4 Don’t stretch the play to fill the word quota. Plays do not need to be as long as 600 words – and need have no words at all.

5 Read other short plays and stories, not so you can copy another writer but to consider what is possible within the genre. Fishamble has already commissioned a small number of tiny plays for this project; two of them are published here.

6 Think theatrically. A play is not just about words: it is about how the actors and audience connect, so consider this relationship. Think of yourself as the first audience of your play. There will be many tiny plays in the production, so staging will be simple, but plays can be set anywhere, and there are lots of ways to create environments on stage through the design of set, lighting, sound, costume, projection and so on. So think as imaginatively as you wish – and don’t be afraid to break the rules. A lot of great short plays do not necessarily follow the suggestions I’ve made here

Go to for an online conversation between Jim Culleton and Fishamble’s literary manager, Gavin Kostick, about the project

Tiny plays: The rules

Plays must be original to the writer and run for no more than four minutes – as a guide, no more than 600 words, including stage directions.

Plays should be performable by a cast of no more than three actors.

Plays must be in English or Irish – or, as long as the writer is based in Ireland, in another language.

Monologues are accepted, but dialogue plays are preferred.

Plays should have a title and should be submitted with your name to fishambletinyplays by November 11th, 2011.

If you are under 18, please include your age.

No more than two plays per person will be accepted.

Winners will be announced in The Irish Times and on

The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.



Things Fall Apart (c)

14 Sep

I liked the story of Achebe refusing to allow 50 Cent to buy “Things Fall Apart” , because it showed a clashing of egos, and drew attention to a truly great novel. Like when the Beckhams brought Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” back to popularity (now the most popular book in the UK), it’s good when we’re reminded of books every now and then. Good publicity all round, and a slight embarrassment of an arrogant star. All good.

Then a lot of people started asking how, when the title comes from a line of Yeats’ “The Second Coming” , Achebe had copyrighted it in the first place. Or pondered what Achebe would have done if Yeats had denied him the right. There are numerous instances of writers taking titles from lines of poetry, and I would hate for this to become a highly litigious field (I was astonished to learn yesterday that even the quoting of poetry in reviews is apparently a taboo ).

More importantly though, someone (the intelligent @datadivajf) mentioned to me on Twitter that one can’t copyright a title. Being no expert, I consulted the Great Google (oh, and a copyright lawyer), and came up with the short answer of: no, you can’t. And it makes sense, really. “Things fall apart” is a fairly common phrase, and applies in numerous situations. It’s highly unlikely that 50 Cent’s movie would in any way confuse audiences, or draw audiences away from Achebe.

Whatever you do, don’t tell Achebe – perhaps he should have taken that million after all. Now, I’m sure that his (and Fiddy’s) lawyers know a great deal more than me, but it does strike me as odd that this title debacle didn’t extend to the Roots’ album “Things Fall Apart” . Or Zomby’s “Things Fall Apart” . In fact, both “The West Wing”  and “Ugly Betty”  had episodes entitled “Things Fall Apart”

Curiouser and curiouser. I hope someone with more understanding of the legalities involved will set me straight.

(incidentally it would seem no one’s told IMDB yet that the movie changed its name )

Of Kerkorrel, the freedom of words, and singing out

12 Sep

When I was an impressionable eighteen year old, working at Grahamstown Festival on probably my first “grown up” solo adventure, I had the profound privilege of doing the lights – and on one memorable occasion, the sound – for Johannes Kerkorrel. Or, as I came to know him, Ralf. He stands out as one of the gentlest, kindest, most humble people I’ve ever worked with. At the same festival was an exhibition, “unbanned”, documenting all the music that had been banned under apartheid rule, including the letters people wrote in to request the banning. Albums like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles – as well as albums and albums full of local music, most of which, sadly, has been buried in history books. I spoke to Ralf about one album of his on which every song was banned except one about seagulls in Sea Point, and when he did radio interviews that had to play that song, over and over, until it became a form of protest in and of itself.

I was travelling, a few years later, when I learned of Ralf’s death. The sad futile death of a genius, misunderstood. The sad, lonely death of a fragile human. I cried for him, but I cried for our loss. The loss of an artist willing to challenge the way we think. I remembered the rooms in Grahamstown filled with people, who embraced the gentle mockery Kerkorrel offered them, the very people he was mocking. Who were quiet when the more serious moments came.  I remember watching him work his magic on them. I remember him working his magic on me.

Art should – amongst a myriad other things – make people uncomfortable. “Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.” – Finley Dunne. Every time we get riled up over a Zapiro cartoon, or “De La Rey”, or “Mshini Wam”, we are thinking. We are talking about issues we normally don’t engage with on public platforms. We reassess – and either reaffirm, or slightly shift – our perspective. No artist believes that a single piece can change people’s minds, but a hundred pieces, and maybe a tiny shift could occur.

You’d be surprised what other songs and books were banned, in their day. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is a blatant attack on Cromwell’s banning of plum pudding – “we won’t go until we get some”. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, “Alice in Wonderland”, Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, The Kinks’ “Lola”, Joe Brown and the Bruwers’ “My Little Ukelele”…from the sublime to the ridiculous, we’ve tried to legislate against the arts.

Yesterday and today on my twitter timeline a number of ideas collided and coalesced. Michael Moran was questioning whether we’d had any “meaningful” top ten hits since “Do they know it’s Christmas”, Amanda Palmer was blogging about how 9/11 influenced her song “Truce”.  Should we be horrified by Darren Scott saying kaffir? About Gareth Cliff’s alleged sexist remarks? About Mogoeng?About Russell Kane’s alleged sexist remarks? – what should we be expending our wrath upon? And then, above it all: Malema was found guilty of hate speech for singing “Dubul’ibhunu”. (Read Nomalanga Mkhize’s powerful piece on how this should not be transliterated to “Kill the Boer”)

Banning a song? Here, now, in 2011, South Africa is trying to ban a song. Because if Malema is not allowed to sing it, then presumably no one else is. If there is anything history has taught us, it’s that voices shall not be silenced. That banning things, particularly songs, gives them power. It also disturbs me profoundly when a government believes it can start to legislate our culture. Culture belongs to people. Culture is a living thing. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines culture as “integrated patterns of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that are both a result of and integral to the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Culture thus consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols”.

We cannot legislate people’s thoughts. We cannot legislate people’s emotions. Attempting to deny them the right to express those thoughts and emotions is dangerous. And artists need to speak. We need to cry out when our right to free speech is challenged. As soon as we start picking and choosing which elements of speech are free, none of it is. Words, like people, cannot be free unles they all are. As Voltaire almost said, “I do not approve of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I hope the wave of anger and upset over this breach of the right to free speech doesn’t become a trickle. I hope South Africa’s artists will be loud and tuneful in their call for every South African to have the right to sing any tune they feel like singing. I frequently quote Lawrence Lessig’s “Who owns Culture”. I’m going to do it again now: “How is art made? Tell us. Tell us how to use the tools of law to regulate you. Because unless you start showing us, you artists, you authors, you creators, unless you start showing us how you create and have always created…the only way to end this extraordinarily destructive rhetoric, is for artists to sing to us in a way that distracts us from the craziness.”

(You can listen to Kerkorrel’s Hillbrow here. RIP Ralf)