I first encountered Dirty Protest about 9 years ago, after just moving back to Cardiff. I wasn’t aware at the time they were just starting out (stay tuned for some brilliant 10th Birthday events later this year!) But I did know they provided what I thought I wouldn’t see in Cardiff- and frankly what there wasn’t a lot of in Cardiff then- new writing, non-traditional work and most importantly a welcoming attitude. As an audience member, one who was apprehensive about a theatre scene in Cardiff that always seemed a bit ‘not for me’ they were a breath of fresh air. Almost 9 years later, I’m pleased to say that as a writer they are just as welcoming and still just as much fun to be around.
It’s fair to say Dirty Protest didn’t plan on having a June new writing night, but when like the rest of us, they were surprised by the announcement we were having an election, well the opportunity was too good to miss. Dirty Protest were having an election night special.
I heard about this through being invited by co-founder Matthew Bulgo to write a short piece. Having thought about it for about 30 seconds I accepted. As ever, there was a theme to respond to, this time ‘Here we go again’. The added guidance being to listen to this wonder from Dolly Parton.
Fuelled by in part by Parton, in part by election energy (or fatigue) we were set loose. With less than three weeks to pull together a piece, it was certainly writing under pressure. But , writing creatively to a deadline is a really great exercise for any writer. Writing to a theme also, forces you out of your comfort zone, and instead of being restrictive forces a more creative approach.
My response to the brief (and Dolly!) was to take the idea of election night, and the sense of ‘repetition’ that ‘here we go again’ implies and visit two election nights- one in 1987 and the one we were about to experience in 2017. Using two people talking in a bar meeting for the first time that night, with different views on politics seemed an effective way to take on the theme. With a little twist in a link between the two pairs, and a hint of romance (because even on election night there might be romance). No writer ever really feels ‘finished’ with a piece, and despite working on it amid a ‘day job’ and various other competing deadlines, I was pleased with what I eventually sent off.
With us writers only having a matter of weeks to put it together, the assigned directing and acting teams had only a matter of hours to make what we put down into something performance ready. With a team of 8 actors sharing the scripts between them, it’s a great achievement that they pull of such great work in so short a time.
The night of the election arrived, and I can’t speak for the rest of the audience but the chance to escape endless news coverage for a couple of hours was more than a welcome distraction. Dirty Protest have always performed in non-traditional theatre spaces, and this time had taken over Outpost a combination Emporium and Coffee shop in the heart of Womamby Street. These non-theatre venues are great for audiences and creatives- it makes for a welcoming space for those who don’t usually attend theatre (and usually plenty of alcohol available too) and for the creatives, the more relaxed space takes the pressure off a bit, feeling a bit more informal (and the alcohol availability helps there too).
The great part of Dirty Protest and their approach to giving a brief and letting writers run with it, is the variety of topics it always returns. Even with the dual ‘election’ and ‘here we go again’ theme, there were such a variety of pieces offered it makes for an entertaining and fascinating evening.
This time around there was the hilarious opener from Sam Bees in which man and woman (from Mars and Venus respectively) seek to repopulate the earth. Equally hilarious was Kieron Self delivering the opening to the second act with Katherine Chandler’s Whose Line is it Anyway? Which saw him as an ill-fated comic sent to entertain Wales on election night. Another more direct take on the election was seen in Trust by Dick Johns while Nicola Reynolds used the election to make serious points about the wider issues created by past governments in Hannah. Relationships took centre stage in Kelly Jones’ sweet karaoke driven ‘Here We Go Again’ and Jafar Iqbal’s more serious piece ‘Oscar and Me’ while Kit Lambart combined relationship based comedy and political reference in ‘Here we Go Again’. The range and style of the pieces proving just how broad a response a simple brief can create. And as a writer, being among such broadly different pieces, from different styles really helps as instead of feeling competitive you end up feeling inspired by the other work drawn from the same source.
The audiences who come to Dirty Protest nights really make the experience, and having a supportive crowd ready to laugh, concentrate and even join in when called upon (thanks to Katherine Chandler and Kieron Self) is a great indicator of the kind of audience they have built up over 9 years.
As a writer, I had a brilliantly supported, creative experience writing for Dirty Protest’s election night special. As an audience member, I had yet another hilarious and fascinating evening of theatre. And I didn’t have to think about election results for a few hours on a very strange night.