Writing challenges

The quest for a final version of a script often seems to be one that never ends. You can always go through a scene and tighten up a few lines ‘one last time’. And then one more last time after that. And a couple more revisions after that….

By the last few rehearsals you may not actually bother to adjust the actual script – if I look at the final drafts of previous shows they are always surpringingly different to what we actually did on the first night. That being said there is a distinct stage when you realise the latest draft is, well, pretty good. A draft you feel you could actually perform, or at the very least read-through without wincing at that crappy bit in scene 5.

It has been a tricky little writing process, mostly because it has the play changes tone so regularly. Obviously with any script, different scenes have different aims – one scene might just be there to introduce a character, another is to bring comic relief, etc. That rule is particularly stringent for The Ice Maiden as Hans Christian Andersen can vary the style from one chapter to another a great deal. Combined with our own plans for keeping the theatrical effects mixed-up can make scriptwriting a bit of a headache.

More than anything it’s a simple question of headspace as you have to change from writing a piece of narration, to a lighthearted piece of banter between two talking cats; from a naturalistic dinner scene to a thunderous, declamatory speech by the Ice Maiden. As it turns out we’re considerably stronger at writing the dramatic bits than we are at the simpler stuff, and have become quite efficient at combining the original text and our own writing together.

But dialogue-heavy scene are a different story altogether. Perhaps the lack of a jumping-off point is the problem – it is easy to find a well-written  descriptive passage that you can build around to creat a chunk of narration, while finding some of Andersen’s dialogue that isn’t pretty terrible is quite a challenge. In the end the best way we’ve discovered is storyboarding out what needs to happen in the scene, convert that into rough dialogue and then ‘age’ it by trying to find more archaic phrases for what you’re struggling to say. It certainly gets the scene done but they lack that little bit of detail that makes them seem more real, our dialogue often ends up being pointed and functional, lacking the filler that helps it flow.

Still at least it gives us something to use for rehearsals, and perhaps improvise around, though we’d probably have to then transcribe our improv lines and age them all over again. Will that work? Watch this space


The Ice Maiden

It’s about time I reveal the detail of our major new project – The Ice Maiden, inspired from the original short story by Hans Christian Anderson, a strange little fairy tale that will work as the source for a very SourDough adaptation.

Following on from the previous blog, I’ll summarise how we came across this relatively-unknown tale. Having decided that we wanted to do an adaptation of a pre-existing text, probably an archaic one with a nice mythological flavour, we ended up looking at a wide variety of classic stories from around the world, eventually narrowing it down to 2 possiblities – The Ice Maiden and The Odyssey. We were quite split over which one to do, but ultimately decided that while we had a lot of ideas for The Odyssey they were logistically and financially too ambitious right now – and so we came to The Ice Maiden.

Anderson’s story is pretty dark, a tale about a young man in Switzerland called Rudy, whose life is beset by an evil being, the queen of the glaciers, a force of icey rage from the natural world, the titular Ice Maiden. Its translated, archaic dialogue gives you a gothic richness, while also leaving room for our own writing to fill in the gaps inevitably left by the novel-play transisition. If you glance through the original text you can see the sort of thing many theatre companies would do with it, it would really work as a folksy, whimsical piece for children – Theatre Alibi would love to do this play.

But we wanted to do something a little more interesting. Family-orientated theatre has never been our thing and we saw a lot more potential in the story. Our version would be ‘multi-old-media’, deeply immersed in a morbid fairy-tale atmosphere, a world both beautiful and grotesque, illustrated with many of our favourite devices; shadows, projection and live music. If you’ve seen our previous productions the most similar we can compare it to is A Christmas Carol, at least in it’s more theatrical parts where we used several set devices to create the effects we wanted. We should be able to make this quite a fascinating performative journey though a dark little world.
We’ve been working on it for a few weeks now and are making steady progress. We started by repeatedly running through the text, working out how to change the structure, narrowing down the characters and gathering more and more ideas of what we wanted to try. A list of conventions was made – shadow puppets for animals, wooden puppets for children for instance – and gradually a script started taking form. It was a tricky one to write, mostly because we end up changing style so frequently; it is hard to change your mindset from planning a part-live, part-projected video dream sequence, to writing naturalistic dialogue for an awkward dinner scene. But we now have a working script and are beginning to create and experiment, bit-by-bit.

From now on we’ll try and keep this blog a little more updated, and give you all the latest news on the high and lows of making such a changeable, complex piece.

What we’ve been doing with the past few months

Looks like I haven’t been keeping this very updated, so it’s about time I let everyone know what we’ve been up to lately.

When we finally finished You Only Let Die Anyone Who Loved Me Forever, we had to make a decsion about what we were going to do next. The Watcher and the Watched is still something we really want to carry on doing one day, as we think the idea has a lot of potential. However it is really dependent on getting the right space for the piece – we can’t construct a set, but need to find a perfect venue for both rehearsal and performance purposes, and we have yet to find this elusive place which can cure our creativity blocks and give us the momentum to play with the idea. So we’re putting the piece in a box for the time being, though with every intention of coming back to it in the future.

So instead we decided to start on an entirely new project, with a brand new idea. Now one of the hardest stages of any process is coming up with that initial concept – there was nothing we were trying to inspire from, we had to choose from pretty much every idea we could think of, which takes a lot of narrowing down to say the least. As we branstormed through various concepts, some ended up being explored in more depth than others. One idea we liked, one born of Laura’s and Charlotte’s experiences as teaching assistants, was what it was like being 12 – the ridiculousness of that age, the things that seem important then, and so on. This sort of expanded into contrasting ourselves now to ourselves at various other ages, and we ended up writing little individual bits and podding out some small performances to play around with the concept a little more.

In the end however we decided to go down one of our favourite routes – adapting from a pre-existing text. We’ve never had much strength in writing a good script from scratch, but have alwys had much better results when we have some original work to start from. Sometimes we’ve been pretty faithful to the original, such as in A Christmas Carol, but this time we wanted to use a piece as more of an inspiration from which we can go down a really interesting artistic direction. We talked about variuys texts, mythologies and stories and eventually settled on one. In fact, we’ve been working on it for a little while, but I’ll give you the details in another blog shortly. Suffice to say, we are very keen on it….


Membership changes

I’m a bit late posting about this, but thought I should make a blog to update everyone about this.

Recently there has been some major changes in SourDough – one of our main members, Bec Benzie, has left the group. She has been a vital part of our group, a performer in many of our productions, a constant contributor, a Shakespeare expert – her importance in our work cannot be understated.

We are very sad to see her go….

…but we are even happier to welcome our new member Bec Fraser!

Bec and Theo got married on August 3rd and are now living like a proper grown-up couple in Bristol, commuting down to Exeter for rehearsal purposes. So share in the congratulations to the happy, performative couple!

You Only Let Die Anyone Who Loved Me Forever


And so the moment is finally here

After much writing, filming, improving, recording, editing and re-editing we have finally finished with out brand new James Bond film -You Only Let Die Anyone Who Loved Me Forever.

We premiered it to friends a couple of weeks ago, but kept the focuing on promoting Edith’s Walk while the anniversary of the Exeter Blitz was still going on. But now we can present our amateur, low-budget, roping-in-friends version of a Bond movie. It may be ridiculous but we do feel it is an ‘accurate parody’


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Edith’s Walk

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Exeter Blitz we have made an audio tour –  Edith’s Walk which  is now ready to be downloaded! Just click on the link below to download the track onto your computer so you can transfer it to your ipod/mp3/smart phone. You will also need to download and print off the map that accompanies the tour (click the link below). Once this is done you are ready to take the tour! Start outside The Bike Shed Theatre and press play and follow the instructions on the track! Organised tours are taking place on Monday 7th May at 10am, 12pm and 2pm but the tour can be taken at any time.

Feel free to let us know what you thought by leaving a comment.

Click here to download the map

Bond is almost there!

As a company we have a great fondness for letting a project takes as long as it needs to, presenting it only when it is finished. That being said it is always a bit embarrsing when a short project indended to take only a few weeks ends up taking 4 months!

It has been hugely enjoyable throughout, but it certainly is a slow process. Filming-wise this is mostly a secheduling issue, particularly when it comes to the precious-few daylight hours we have after everyone gets out of work. But the part that has really taken up our past few weeks is the editing process, and it does feel like we have spent an awful lot of time crowded in a room staring at a screen. Part of the delay is the fact that we to go through 2 editing stages. While Theo does have some very nice Sony Vega Pro editing software it isn’t compatible with the format the camera records on, so we therefore have to do an inital basic edit on Windows Movie Maker on all scenes, so it can then be rendered into a format that the better software can recognise.

The first stage of the editing is primarily about visuals, working out which take to use and putting it all together. One problem we would sometimes find outselves in is not having enough footage – because of a tendency to shoot only the moments and lines we already had in our heads, and therefore missing out the in-between parts, which would leave the scene with a rather choppy feel to it. This would lead to a list of re-shoots that had to be done, or chunks that needed to be found in stock footage when it was past our capabilities budget-wise. At the end of this we had the main body of the film, but far below presentable quality.

This is where the second stage comes in. With the Sony Vega software’s superior range of options we could add the necessary visual tricks, from simple subtitles to the effects-soaked opening titles. However the main task of this stage was to get the sound right, and while in some scenes this is only a matter of minutes in others it can take a lot of time and complex layering. Often it is a case of cleaning up background sounds of cars or rain, or using the dialogue from another take which sounded better, or perhaps even dubbing a few lines over. But to really give the film the right film you need the right sound effects and music. With the exception of a few Bond themes and our fantastic title song by Jack Davy, all of these these can be sound from our good friends freesound.org and freeplaymusic.com. It can be quite a fine balancing act getting the levels right between all those layers, and while we had most of the things we would need already noted down and sourced, we would still have to have a couple of people ready to hunt down some forgotten gun shot sound, and film, render and transfer it across as quickly as possible.

And so at the end of a tricky but fun process the film is almost ready for public viewing. It is currently chugging through the many hours of rendering but will be uploaded to youtube in the next few days, so watch this space!



The Exeter Blitz Project

Edith’s Walk: An Exeter Blitz Audio Tour. Follow Edith through the city centre as the ghosts of Exeter emerge from the rubble to tell their stories.

Amongst all the Bond fun, Charlotte and Laura have been working on their audio tour Edith’s Walk. The tour is part of the Exeter Blitz Project commemorating the bombing of Exeter 70 years ago this May.

We’ve had a really great time doing all the recording. Lots of voice actors coming in and out, performing in our make shift recording studio (Laura’s hallway and wardrobe), sustained with copious amounts of tea, bourbons and easter cakes. A massive thanks again to everyone who was involved. We are lucky to know such talented people, they have really brought our audio tour to life!

We are starting to edit the piece together now with the help of Dan Smith our sound engineer extraordinaire.

We have both really enjoyed working on this audio tour. We want the people of Exeter to walk through the city with a new perspective. For us, this project has uncovered a part of Exeter’s rich history. We now look at the high street in a very different way, realizing what was lost and why the city is now shaped as it is.

Over the next month we will be getting everything together ready for our first tours on May 7th. When the tour is ready you will be able to download it onto your mp3/ipod from here on the website. More information coming soon!

Bond 24

Filming is going very well on our new mini-project, a brand new Bond film.

We’ve spent a lot of time analysing the films, identifying the plot structures, character motives and shots that so define the movies that are a genre in themselves. And as such we think we’ve managed to write a quite accurate parody, albeit one with a smaller FX budget. Most of the elements, both the ones you expect and the ones you are only subconsciously familiar with seem to be in there, so we’ve therefore titled our definitive Bond film You Only Let Die Anyone Who Loved Me Forever, in recognition of its status as a mash-up of multiple movies.

We won’t reveal too much of the plot, but we will say that it involves a shady corporation, a masterful villain, a variety of sexy and semi-helpless women, a large number of dead goons and plenty of painfully-shoehorned-in puns. And the title of every Bond film is mentioned somewhere in there…

Of course this is real budget movie-making with no extras, a Ford Fiesta for a gadget-equiped car and Devon standing in for Russia, Spain and Switzerland. It’s also taught us a lot of lessons about the difficulties of filmaking: how to pull off efffects; the problems of co-ordinating lighting, sound and composition into one shot; the pacing of scenes – trying to work out when you must have something going on constantly and when you need to let the camera linger to establish a mood, and so on.

Most importantly though it’s a lot of fun and our lets just say our outtakes reel isgetting  pretty full allready…