|PREVIOUSLY UNPRODUCED, KATE BETTS WENT DIRECTLY TO LONDON’S WEST END WITH HER PLAY ON THE THIRD DAY, WHICH PREMIERED AT THE NEW AMBASSADORS THEATRE WHERE IT OPENED ON JUNE 22, 2006. WEST END PRODUCER SONIA FRIEDMAN, LITERARY AGENT MEL KENYON AND ACTOR NEIL PEARSON CHOSE KATE AS THE WINNER OF CHANNEL FOUR’S "THE PLAY’S THE THING" SERIES, AFTER WHITTLING DOWN MORE THAN 2,000 SUBMISSIONS FROM PERVIOUSLY UNPRODUCED WRITERS.
THE CHANNEL FOUR SERIES HIGHLIGHTED THE COMPLEXITIES OF BRINGING A FIRST TIME PLAYWRIGHT’S FIRST PLAY DIRECTLY INTO THE COMMERCIAL WEST END—AN EXTREMELY RARE, VIRTUALLY UNPARALLELED EVENT IN OVER 50 YEARS. RESEARCH INFERS THAT ON 22ND JUNE 1956 THERE WERE APPROXIMATELY 16 NEW PLAYS BEING PERFORMED IN THE WEST END, ALL OF WHICH HAD THE BENEFIT OF A RUN ELSEWHERE. ON THAT DATE THERE WERE 8 MUSICALS, 5 REVUES AND 23 PLAYS. ON 22ND JUNE 2006 THERE WAS ONLY ONE NEW PLAY IN THE WEST END—ON THE THIRD DAY BY KATE BETTS. ON THAT DATE THERE WERE 23 MUSICALS/REVUES AND 10 PLAYS.
edd: It is an honor to welcome Kate who went from TV star to the West End. Welcome Kate. Would you like to say something before we get started?
Kate: Lovely introduction. Thanks! It all seems like a dream to me now. I can't quite believe that a year ago I was in the middle of filming the TV programme and writing with steam coming out of my ears... It was an opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime.
edd: Are you ready to take some questions? I have two from members who could not attend today.
Kate: Okay...fire away!
edd: Playfull asks: What now for 'On The Third Day'? Will the play have a life after TPTT?
Kate: I hope so. It's up to me now to push this when the time's right. I would very much like to send it over to the US. But I'm still new to all this and am very aware that I can't rest on only one successful production. I have to write more.
edd: And from in media res: First, congratulations. Second, how much revision (structure, dialogue, your own vision of the play) was altered or changed during rehearsal? Did seeing it "up" with actors and director and producer in rehearsals fulfill your original vision or did it enhance your learning more about the script that you never imagined was there, so you could clarify or expand it?
Kate: Thanks for the congratulations. A lot of change took place during rehearsal - because this was a play always under construction in the glare of the cameras. I didn't have the luxury of working on it on my own because the whole idea of the TV programme was to show the viewers at home HOW a play is written. So it was rough and raw at the start of rehearsals. However, the actors then had a huge input (as well as the director) and they relished this. The structure of the play remained more or less the same, but there was a lot of character work, a lot of sitting round the table with the actors in discussion. BUT - every word was mine!
nikip: Hi Kate. What made you decide to enter TPTT in the first place, and what inspired this particular play?
Kate: Hi Nikip. I saw the competition advertised and decided it was too good an opportunity to miss! I was lucky because I already had an idea for a full-length play hanging around - and it was a big idea. So I thought 'West End' - they can cope with big: let's go for it. As for inspiration - the ideas, the passions behind this play have been with me for about 10 years or so and I've written around them for about that long in different forms: short story, poetry and drama. I went with what I was passionate about. It was the right decision in the end.
edd: Kate, tell us about the experience of actually rehearsing a West End show and the sense of celebrity after it opened.
Kate: Rehearsals were incredible - I was surrounded by professionals, made cups of coffee etc, could click my fingers and anything would be done for me. I tell you - that took a lot of getting used to! The actors were the most amazing people I have ever met and I have never seen actors so passionate and devoted to a project before (they were also under the scrutiny of TV). The rehearsal room itself was closed and private. The cameras were only allowed in with the agreement of all actors, director and me. We became a family - very close - and the play itself became our mission. A lot of things went wrong (great for TV - not for us) and we pulled together, withdrew into a tight protective group and the play became the most important thing to all of us. The sense of celebrity was unreal - literally. I sort of got used to cameras following me around everywhere (even the loo!) and even got used to signing autographs...! The critics were interesting, though. Hmmmmm....
swann1719: I was curious about your involvement with the set design. It was so spectacular and so integral to the play. But I am equally curious about your reaction to the critics!
Kate: Hi Swann. My script specifies what I want set-wise in so much as there has to be a planetarium, a pot-holing cave, etc. The design itself was out of my hands, really, It was conceived by the first director Steven Pimlott with the top West End designer Mark Thompson. When we finally arrived on the stage, the play had actually changed and I had to argue my point about the set colours etc. It was tricky. The design itself - i.e. the set flying in and the automation stayed the same (and it was spectacular, I think) but the designer had a thing about orange and red. Claire (main character) was to be in red shoes, red dress etc. and her brother had orange underpants... I said NO NO NO!!! The set had all sorts of weird colours too. I had a fight on my hands. Changed it to black and white. Swann - reaction to the critics? I guess the best thing is that they took me seriously. And mixed reviews are good, don't you think??????
It wasn't exactly as I imagined - except for the planetarium... the back projections were better than I expected. (Mind you - a lot of money was spent on those... the whole set cost in excess of 80,000 pounds). I imagined a revolve. But as I didn't know which West End theatre I would end up in, I couldn't count on that. The New Ambassadors is very old and didn't even have automation until my play arrived! It was a 'hemp' theatre - ropes only. And no room for revolve, so 'flying' was used instead. I was very happy because there was a lot more technology than I ever imagined for my play: I have never seen so many computers and techies in a theatre before. The sound, lighting, technology was out of this world...! And this is what I wanted when I was writing. I wanted spectacle. And I got it.
jille: Kate, to what extent was your input invited? Did you have to forcefully insert your opinions or were they invited?
Kate: Hi Jill. I'm pleased to say that my opinion was considered to be of paramount importance and it was expected every step of the way. Final decisions with the script always rested with me. Sometimes I had to dig my heels in, but usually, we all came to a mutual agreement with any changes. Sometimes I knew I had to change scenes or add dialogue, and that's what I did. I worked over night and handed out fresh scripts to the actors the next day. Sometimes I was writing at the back of the stalls. Strangely enough, some of my best writing came as a result of that!
jille: Do you know if the TV show will be broadcast in the US?
Kate: I've heard rumours that the US is interested in doing their own version of The Play's The Thing. Channel 4 over here is an innovator with new ideas and several ideas have gone to the US. If the UK version is to be shown it'll be on public broadcasting channels. I'll try and find out, I think. But look out for a US version!!!
wordcaster: Looking forward to it.
swann1719: Yay. OK, Kate, here's my big question and it goes to the substance of the play. What changed for Claire and Robbie between the beginning of the play and the end that made their reconciliation possible?
Kate: OK - it's a big question, but I can answer it quickly... What changed? Their ability to forgive each other and themselves. And what made that possible? Mike. Why Mike? Because he is Jesus. Why Jesus? Because that's what started the problems in the first place. Hope that answers your question a bit, Swann...
swann1719: Thanks for that. It helps.
edd: How will you turn your celebrity to getting another show up? Do have an agent working on that?
Kate: I thought very carefully about that, Edd. A very big agent came to see it and liked it. But I've decided not to approach an agent until I have more plays under my belt. The good thing is, you can promote yourself without an agent. And I don't think I deserve one yet. I need to prove myself first. The simple answer to your question is: I have to keep writing. And it has to be a full-length play.
edd: We've about run out of time. Are there any more questions for Kate?
nikip: You spoke on the forum about your next play being about regression and Shakespearean characters. Have you started writing it yet? You were at the research stage last time we spoke about it.
Kate: Yes. I'm in the middle of research. Have been on a paranormal ghost-hunting all-night session in a haunted pub (what an experience that was!!!) and am waist high in material. Next comes the hard work... it all takes such a long time. I wish I could rattle things off. I think I need to do a few of Paddy's exercises to keep limbering up!
nikip: Fascinating! And great image of you swamped in fabric! Thanks for speaking tonight. It's been great x
edd: You certainly do need to take Paddy's exercises. We all do. I see we're out of time. I want to thank Kate for joining us and sharing with us her experience--one we all wish to have one day. How about a big round of applause for Kate! :) :) :) Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Paddy: Thank you so much, Kate. Fascinating.
Kate: I'm always in the forum hanging around and look forward to speaking to you all (not just tonight) and sharing experience, knowledge, ideas, etc. Thanks so much. I'm so glad I;'m here!
thain: Thank you, Kate - and good luck for the next one.
wordcaster: Thanks for your time and insight.
VioletAmarie: Thanks Kate!
Kate: Thanks!!!!!!! Love to you all!!!!