Tim Foley has been spending a year with us as writer in residence. Tim Foley is a playwright from Northern England and Northern Ireland. His first full-length play, THE DOGS OF WAR, premiered at the Old Red Lion Theatre in May 2015 and Tim was awarded Most Promising New Playwright at the Off West End Awards 2016. Tim was previously a writer with Soho Theatre's Young Company.
Here's what Tim said at the start of 2016 (we'll make him write an end-of-the-year post soon):
"This sounds like a terrible admission for a writer to make, but here we go: words cannot express how excited I am to be joining Pentabus for the year. I’ve had this big silly grin on my face ever since I got the news. Two months into the residency and my smile is going nowhere.
For a company with such a strong local base, Pentabus are renowned nationwide, and it’s well known that this theatre company has set the bar with new writers. Both Simon and Joe, previous Channel 4 writers for Pentabus, have been giving me lots of advice. They’re wonderful artists and they leave very big shoes to fill. We’ve got a great Young Writers group and I’m very pleased we’ll get to take their show to Latitude this summer.
I arrived at the Pentabus Christmas party last year with an incredibly gaudy jumper, and I was delighted to see the entire team wearing festive sweaters as garish as my own – a sign, if one were needed, that these are My Kind Of People. Since moving here I have curled up in the writers’ studio, drank my body weight in cups of tea and attempted to make soup in the kitchen (with varying degrees of success). Oh, and I’ve done some writing too, honest. This is going to be a very good year."
- Tim Foley
Last year's writer in residence was Joe White. During his time he wrote a new play, worked with the Young Writers Group, and immersed himself fully in the life of the company. Joe won the bursary with ‘Pangaea’, a moving and inventive play about what home means when the nuclear family breaks apart. Joe was the company’s second bursary winning writer in as many years. Simon Longman won a bursary under the same scheme last year with his play Milked, which we toured nationally in spring 2015. Both of them continue to be involved with Pentabus, reading plays, supporting with the Young Writers, and eating all the biscuits. Here is the now traditonal 'Goodbye Blog' written by Joe:
"My year as the Pentabus Writer in Residence was, by far, the happiest of my career. I got the time and space to develop my writing, and the freedom to experiment with, and better understand, what sort of writer I am. I was surrounded by amazingly supportive people, who inspired me daily, shifted any shred of writers’ block, restrained themselves to not lunge for me during one of my 4pm whistling-wanders around the office.
After seeing the Pentabus Young Writers Festival in 2014, I knew this company thrived on an unrelenting enthusiasm to make brilliant, important work for and about rural communities, but I never quite understood how much Britain needs Pentabus until I was there. This company is truly remarkable. Their commitment to taking stories to places otherwise starved of new voices, big ideas, or the platform on which to hear them, is so refreshing, honest and infectious, that you can’t help but want to get into the van and go along with them.
The small teams’ work-ethic and focus is so strong and unrelenting that had they chosen other - more villainous - career paths, I’m sure they would have all conquered a part of the world by now. They’re like the Avengers of rural touring theatre (except all of them are green). Crayg is the happiest, most enthusiastic person I have ever met. He works tirelessly, and has unhuman reserves of energy and positivity - even after 10-hours of stand-still traffic on the drive to Latitude Festival for the young writers’ show in 2015. I don’t think I’ll ever get better notes than those from Elizabeth Freestone – the most incredible and fiercely intelligent dramaturg I’ve ever been lucky enough to have read my work – articulating, in seconds, that which I have been fumbling around in the dark with for weeks. The way she thinks about theatre, and what this country needs, is totally eye-opening, and I wish all artistic directors had an iota of her passion, loyalty and drive. Jenny puts all octopuses to shame, doing more work with two hands than they ever could with eight – the girl is non-stop, sorting tour-bookings, casts and creatives, marketing materials, and a whole host of other things too complicated for me to understand. She also stopped me going mad on a number of occasions, offering tea, or food, or a lift, or a kip on the most remarkable air-bed I’ve ever experienced (and it is an experience). Lynda, the bookkeeper - who is always lovely - basically runs the gaff, and knows Pentabus inside-out - and she’s a Brummy too, so that's ace. Fran (now on maternity leave with baby Audrey) was a light at the end of the tunnel of offices – brimming with enthusiasm for all things, but particularly food, rural arts, and how to get Pentabus out to more and more people. And she has the best dog in the world, whose face I sometimes see in clouds and things – I miss her that much. Kitty, who is covering Fran’s maternity leave and is equally enthusiastic, joyful and brilliant, has only one thing that Fran doesn't: Dizzee Rascal’s discarded hand-towels, which she brought in for our toilets. I’m not sure, however, that I’ll ever want to see the faces of her pugs in a cloud. Mike is a kind, committed and brilliant volunteer, who has done extensive work collating archives about Pentabus’s history. But that still doesn’t excuse the terrible secret Santa I got from him - I mean, who needs a pocket-sized rain-maker around Birmingham? Quick shout out to cleaner Lynn, who could never remember my name (it's Joe, by the way), and, lastly, who could forget the award-winning stage-manager Sam Eccles?
Basically, the team is incredible, they make Pentabus what it is, and I just wanted to thank them so much for having me. It was an honour to be there for a year. I miss it terribly. Do all you can to work with them.
Now go breathe on 'em Salop!"
Simon won a bursary from the Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme (formerly the Pearson Playwrights' Scheme) to work with Pentabus Theatre Company during 2014. Over the year he continued to write (of course) and he curated our hugely successfull first Young Writers Festival. In spring 2015 Pentabus produced and toured Milked, Simon’s first professional play. Here's a word from Simon about his experience, post-residency:
'I’m not the best at writing about myself and things like that. In fact this is the first blog type post I have ever tried to write. It is very difficult. So when Crayg asked me to write a goodbye type post it took me a while to work out what to say. I’ll try in some way. I’ll keep it simple and try and do justice to Pentabus, who are amazing.
To start with, that’s the most important thing to stress: they are amazing. They constantly ask questions of what theatre should be doing. Not just in the rural sense, but in terms of how it should be used to engage communities and tell new stories. They constantly want to be better. To be more open to more people. To include. My year as Writer in Residence with them helped me in so many ways. But thinking about it now, the main thing that I keep coming back to is the company itself, and what Pentabus are doing, because it is incredible.
I saw this first hand when they were developing the tour of Rory Mullarkey’s brilliant play, Each Slow Dusk. Although I had nothing to do with the planning of this tour (aside from floating around asking annoying questions like “how’s the booking going?” and “have you found the actors somewhere to live yet?”), watching the team put it all together kind of reaffirmed my faith in how important theatre is. I saw first hand Pentabus’ continued commitment to it. A commitment to packing up a play, putting it in a van and taking it to people who live in rural communities far away from big theatres and limited by rising costs of basic transportation.
Being sat in a room trying to write a play which isn’t an incoherent mess (still trying), it’s hard sometimes to see beyond what you’re trying to write. And, for me, why you’re even writing it at all. But seeing Pentabus work; seeing them piece together how to get plays out to new audiences; seeing them work out how to drive an entire production in a van from Norfolk to Cornwall in a day; seeing them listen to local people and how they welcome everyone into the building, all that was one of the most rewarding and inspiring things that being part of the team brought me. Seeing all that kind of makes you think that the frustration and self-confidence breakdowns that trying to write a play brings is actually worth it. Because people might see it. Especially people who, unfairly, don’t get to see new theatre as much because of something so basic as geography.
The Young Writers Festival was also a massive highlight. What other theatre company would make a promise to a group of 16 to 24 year olds of ‘Whatever you write we will produce’? Pentabus did that in the summer, which was amazing to be a part of. To see a sell-out audience watch those plays was, again, another reaffirmation of theatre as a way of trying to understand what we are doing with our lives, and how difficult they can be a huge amount of the time. Working with the young writers, organising and running the workshops was also hugely rewarding. In the end they probably taught me more about my own writing than I did to try and help them with theirs. But to be a part of bringing those plays to life was really inspiring.
There’s been loads of things this year that have made being with Pentabus so rewarding: going to Edinburgh with the gang; attempting to collect the complete World Cup Sticker collection with Elizabeth (the forever elusive France team sticker still haunts me); sitting in a room with everyone watching Raheem Sterling nearly score a screamer against Italy (weird that my only highlight/memory from England’s World Cup campaign was essentially a missed shot…); cheap beers in Ludlow pubs; a castle on my doorstep; cycling (very slowly) up Shropshire hills; fixing many, many punctures; writing.
And one of the best things about this whole year is that Pentabus have won the Channel 4 Bursary again to work with the wonderful Joe White, which is amazing. I’m sure when Joe is asked to do the same thing as me with this goodbye-type-post a year from now, he’ll struggle as much as I have to put it all into some kind of coherent context, because there’s kind of too much to say. I went back to the start of the year to try and think what to write. And found that when Elizabeth asked me to write a little paragraph at the start of the year about working with the company, I said that I hoped I could justify their faith in me and help them in some way to continue their commitment to bringing new stories to new audiences. I hope I’ve helped.
It’s odd that the year is over now. I got to ride my bike a lot and had a room to write in. I was very lucky. It went far too quick. But I guess that was the only way it could of gone, working with a company as supportive and beautiful and fun as Pentabus, to which I can only say the biggest thank you ever.'