Damsels In Distress (2001)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the world premiere production of the Damsels In Distress trilogy.
Long, long ago when this company was very young and called something altogether different, we operated what was then termed the company system; a small, semi-permanent group of actors, writers, directors and stage managers who boxed and coxed between every conceivable job, the stage managers regularly acting, the writers running the Box Office, the directors occasionally painting the set and the actors designing (sometimes making) their own costumes.
Since those youthful fringe days we have grown up a bit. Nowadays it is not the done thing to do everything, for we live in the world of the specialist, the designated expert. And most of it, frankly, I don't miss. The stage managers were usually appalling (and reluctant) actors, the Box Office rarely balanced, the costumes were a mess and the director invariably got black paint all over everything.
But what I did grow to miss was the permanence of the acting company. The strength that can be drawn from the group rather than the individual; the team rather than a solo performer plus anonymous backing group. Yet all that's rather fallen into disrepute. Regular permanent companies are the exception these days, partly due to finance. After all, it's expensive to hold on to a team of eight actors if you opt to produce a four-handed play. On the other hand, if you can find two four handers...
To make such a company work requires a lot of planning and considerable ingenuity. It can be done but it usually demands that the plays are either improvised by the company or specifically written to fit their needs or numbers. It seemed to me I was in the best position to address this. I'm a director who is known to enjoy planning and I have a resident dramatist ready, willing and still relatively able.
So this is my attempt to return to an ongoing 'permanent' company. Inevitably, individual performers will change over the months (it threatens to be very hard work) but the group will go on, the repertoire will grow as I hope, with confidence and trust, will the quality of the work.
GamePlan and FlatSpin mark the start. Under the joint title Damsels in Distress, they were written for an identical seven-handed company.
They were also written to be performed on the same set. Economical? Yes, certainly (but at the rate things are going, I predict in a year or two all my plays will be played on the same set, but that's by the by). Yet also practical, both whilst in the repertoire here and when touring later - two shows, one fit-up.
Will it all work out? Who can tell? But as the director in me remarked to the writer in me only the other day, it's about time we both tried something new, isn't it?
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.