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Dennis Ockerby On Ice

Debbie Oates reflects on the NWP WORKSHOP on her play Dennis Ockerby on Ice – February 2010, directed by Joe Sumsion

Actor James Nickerson, writer Debbie Oates and director Joe Sumsion


What were you expecting/hoping for from the workshop process?

I had a fairly good idea of what to expect, having been through it before, a century ago, with my first play Belly. What I was hoping for was to identify the problems with the play, which I couldn’t see anymore because I was too close to it and had reworked it so many times.


Did the workshop deliver this? If not, why not?

Yes, I think having actors inhabit the characters made me examine each character and character journey more thoroughly, as there is an individual actor with an investment and questions about their specific character. Having a director too to look at the staging and also guide the actors into trying things different ways – including ones I hadn’t thought of, helped me question how well drawn each character was, how the story progressed them (or didn’t!) and where there were problems. It also identified where things that I knew in my head weren’t in the text, and where the writer’s voice took over from the characters etc. It’s also quite scary and exciting, nice to have a buzz and intensity around something that has involved only thinking and typing for ages!


What was the most fruitful aspect of the workshop for you?

All kinds of things. Um… where to start… well, it being three days gave time to see what was there, then take it apart, then put it back together. I think the constant questioning and interrogation of every aspect – from the larger things like themes, story and character, to lines and punctuation was invaluable, especially as it comes from different perspectives, actor, director, dramaturg. And me.


What was unhelpful or difficult about the process?

I’d say the most difficult thing is finding enough writing time. Ideally there’d be a writing day before the last day, but I know that would be impractical in terms of employing actors and a director. As a result there isn’t much sleep involved and I had to prioritise what problems were fixable in the time I had, and what I had to leave for another draft. Actually, that’s probably not a bad thing, with a day’s writing I might have done more damage!


What would you like to have been done differently?

Only the temperature of the theatre! There was a problem with the boiler, working in freezing temperatures on the first day wasn’t ideal. But that wasn’t the workshop’s fault. Other than that, no, it was good that it was in Manchester and Joe structured the workshop well to balance between process and the fact there was a public reading to prepare for. Oh, and you could have built a nice pub next door too. Could you put that on your list? There wasn’t one anywhere near so everyone drifted away and I couldn’t buy anyone a pint.


What do you hope/plan to do next with your play?

Another draft, I’ve got pages of questions and thoughts. I’m looking forward to moving it forward and think I have an idea of where I want to go with it next. Which is great, I’d got to the point where I’d gone right off it before the workshop.


What other services would you like to be able to call on in developing your writing and/or your writing career?

Isn’t asking you to build a pub enough? I can’t think of anything else. 


LATEST NEWS April 2011 – Joe Sumsion is looking at producing Dennis Ockerby on Ice at the Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster

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