Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ask The Archivist: Threatening To Quit

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd.
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: admin@alanayckbourn.net (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: In the most recent This Week In History feature, it mentions Alan Ayckbourn threatening to leave Scarborough in 1974. Why was this?

Answer: These isn't a short answer to this unfortunately! But the basic background was at the time Alan Ayckbourn was two years into his tenure as Artistic Director of the Library Theatre, Scarborough,  which in the wake of Stephen Joseph's death in 1967 was now a summer-season based company.
Alan wished to make it a permanent repertory theatre in the town and despite the limitations of being based in the Concert Room at Scarborough's Public Library, applied to the North Yorkshire Libraries Committee for an extension of the theatre's performance season to 40 weeks.
Despite support from Scarborough Council, this request was denied and Alan threatened to quit the town in an extensive open letter.
Embroiled amongst this was also a plan to restore Scarborough's Royal Opera House theatre - which had been dividing opinion on the council and is another story for another day!
Although the season extension was eventually agreed, it was in large part a motivating factor in the company leaving the Library Theatre in 1976 for a new home and finally becoming the permanent company in Scarborough which Alan had wanted.
This letter (excerpts reprinted below) also led to an offer by Hull Arts Association in 1974 to offer Alan Ayckbourn and the Library Theatre company a new home in Hull. It is fascinating to think what might have been!
As a real rarity from the Ayckbourn Archive, here are some notable excerpts from Alan Ayckbourn's extensive public response to news that the Library Theatre extension had been denied, which was published in the Scarborough Evening News on 27 November 1974.

"As Artistic Director of the Scarborough Library Theatre in the Round, I do feel bound to comment upon the recent decision by the North Yorkshire County Libraries Committee to reject our application for the use of two of the rooms on the first floor of the Scarborough Public Library. It has been planned, had permission been granted, to extend our season beyond our normal mid-September closing date and to play six performances, four days a week, until the end of January 1976.
I believe that, as a result of the decision, there wlll be several repercussions. First, Scarborough has been denied, unless other premises can be found for us, any chance of havlng its own permanent repertory company based in the town. Secondly, and again this depends on whether the company can find some alternative way of enlarging its activities, it will mean, regretfully, my own departure from Scarborough....
...What we were attempting to do when we applied for extended use of the Library was not, as some would have you believe, to force all the smaller socities of Scarborough out of the Library, but rather to add to what was already there. We were attempting to become a part of Scarborough life and a little more than a three-month sideshow for visitors. It ls something I would dearly love to establish after so many years associated with the town, and before finally quitting I shall assist in a search for alternative sem-permanent accommodation.
But lf we are to operate next year as we originally planned, we have only weeks, and not months, to find and convert somewhere, Revenue grants, as I have said, are made up long ln advance.
People often ask me what is there in it for you - presumably meaning the company and myself. The answer is that, financially, frankly nothing. I know that altruism is extraordinarily unfashionable these days, but what we really hope to get out of it is the chance to continue and develop our work in Scarborough amongst Scarborough people, both of whom we happen to like. It would be nice to hear that, in spite of the views of Councillor Lahteela and the North Yorkshire County Libraries Committee, Scarborough likes us enough to want us to stay.

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at: admin@alanayckbourn.net  labelled Ask The Archivist.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Writing For Children

Today marks the anniversary of the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's family play Invisible Friends.
Premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1989, it became the first of his family plays to be staged at the National Theatre and it has been popular ever since.
Today's blog reprints an article from 2002 by Alan Ayckbourn in which he writes about the importance of theatre for children and why it matters, both to him and to the future of theatre.

I immensely enjoy writing plays for children, or really what I prefer to call the "family" audience, because it's probably as hard if not harder than writing for adults. You have to be more aware. Children won't lie to you - they judge you immediately. They can get bored very quickly. Adults are polite people normally and if something is a little boring, they'll sit and watch it and think, "Well, it'll get more interesting in a minute." But children just go, "Boring" and turn round and talk to their friends.
All the things that matter in any sort of theatre matter twice as much for children. Good story, good dialogue, characters you are interested in. My imagination really catches fire sometimes! To write for such an audience sharpens your playwriting skills no end. It's affected my adult work, I know. In fact, one such play, Wildest Dreams - a quite frightening play - is in one sense entirely a children's play. I'd never have written it if I hadn't experienced the thrills and spills of writing for the younger audience.
The shame in this country, of course, is how little importance is attached to children's theatre. It's appallingly under-funded - the companies that do exist providing quality work all year round survive on a shoestring. There are many excellent writers producing scripts for children but there should be many more. But how can there be when they receive precious little monetary reward and hardly any critical acknowledgement?
Young people are the theatregoers of tomorrow, but if they're never given the chance to see exciting, innovative and imaginative theatre in their childhood, how can they develop an interest in watching plays in their adulthood? If we're not careful, they will be lost forever to television, cinema and all those special effects. They will never have experienced the joy of watching something 'handmade' especially for them in one particular place on one particular day. That's what the "liveness: of theatre is about and what we have got to keep alive.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ayckbourn Influences

The people who have influenced Alan Ayckbourn are the subject of a brand new section on Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website as part of its relaunch.
The Influences pages, which can be found in the Research section of the website, aims to shine a light on some of the well-known and less well-known people who Alan Ayckbourn regards as significant influences in his life.
These people, who Alan refers to as 'Guardian Uncles', often led to key decisions in his life or had a profound impact on his work.
The section - which will expand to include more people over the coming months - initially concentrates on three important men: Stephen Joseph, Edgar Matthews and Alfred Bradley.
Stephen Joseph, perhaps the most obvious and well known of Alan's mentors, was responsible for encouraging Alan to both write and direct and was the single most influential in Alan's life.
Edgar Matthews was Alan's French master at Haileybury College and it is because of him, Alan's nascent passion for theatre was aroused. He was also responsible for getting Alan his first two professional jobs in the business.
Alfred Bradley was the acclaimed and highly influential BBC Radio Producer who almost single-handedly launched Northern writing on the radio. He encouraged and nurtured a whole swathe of new writers and Alan, who worked for him at the BBC for five years, was highly influenced by both his work and the way he worked.
You can find out more about all these people and Alan's own thoughts on them in the new section of www.alanayckbourn.net.

This new section is part of an 18 month relaunch of the entirety of Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website, covering 3,500 pages.
Phase I launched last week with a new look for the major sections of the website. Phase II will see all of the Plays section relaunched whilst Phase III, to be completed by Alan Ayckbourn's 75th birthday in 2014 will convert all the remaining sections of the site. The complete website will work as normal throughout the relaunch.
During the next 18 months and beyond, new sections and pages will be added to the website to further expand the amount of information available on Alan Ayckbourn on the website and to continue the aim to make it the single most comprehensive resource on the playwright in the world.