When, after this, Ruskin met the Pre-Raphaelites, he encouraged them in their ideals, acting as tutor, mentor, and generous supporter to Rossetti, Millais and Holman Hunt, as well as later artists in a similar spirit such as John Brett and John William Inchbold. He was a long-time friend of the children's illustrator Kate Greenaway, and also of the bird-painter H. S. Marks.
Ruskin taught Pre-Raphaelite style drawing at the Working Men's College in London for some years, enlisting Rossetti to teach figure and watercolour painting, and afterwards Ford Madox Brown to fill the same position. Afterwards, he left London, becoming Slade Professor of Art at Oxford (where there is an art college named after him) and then removing to the Lake District where he helped to start the Environmental Movement.
|Playwright's note: November
"with brave people the work is first, and the fee second."
John Ruskin, Lecture on "Work"
Camberwell Working Men's Institute, 1860's
I wrote my play Dora : A Case of Hysteria (Nick Hern Books, 1994) in 1985 and then rewrote it, working with director Steve Gregg (Wheatland Theatre). We used a series of workshop readings set up by the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre in 1985-86, over the course of nine months, ending in a staged reading, dramaturged by Ken Gass. The first professional production of the play was directed by Steve Gregg at Wheatland Theatre (March 1987). Steve gave me one of the best pieces of advice for writing satire and black comedy: 'Go for the joke and let the tragedy take care of itself.' I found the process so satisfying that I have workshopped my plays the same way ever since.
For the Mrs. Ruskin project, we have scheduled a series of workshops over a year, working closely with Amy Oliver (Effie Ruskin) and Michael Yale (John Ruskin) and director Jacqui Sommerville, with additional help from the Theatre Metropolis company of actors.
In The Beginning ... First, catch your playwright...
First Step: Amy and Mike, Artistic Directors of Theatre Metropolis contact me through my union, Playwrights Union of Canada. They have read my plays and like them and would like to meet. They meet me for lunch and several bottles of wine in a murky, basement wine bar near Embankment, and I give them a long list of Canadian plays, other than mine (amongst them, Maureen Hunter's plays, Sally Clark's, Geoge F. Walker's wonderful The Art of War) that they should read and consider producing. Amy has glorious long red hair, just right to play Lizzie Siddal. Unfortunately for Theatre Metropolis, my Siddal play, Clever as Paint was done at the Hen & Chickens in 1995 (with Sharon Broadie) and just done again by the Cornwall Theatre Collective in 1998 (with Helen Speed). I like Amy and Mike: they have read a great many Canadian scripts, they seem clever, compassionate and funny, I like their politics. I also like that they buy the first round. I'm sorry they only produce plays that haven't been already been produced in London. The only plays of mine which haven't been produced are children's plays. I offer them Raisins and Almonds, my adaptation of Fredelle Bruser Maynard's memoir of growing up Jewish on the prairies; they don't do children's plays.
Second Step: Amy invites me to see a play with her at the Battersea Arts Centre in a week's time. We agree to meet in the cafe. Rushing over to Battersea, I realize that I spent several hours with Mike and Amy several days ago in a very dark wine bar, and I think 'Oh no! I know all the plays they like, but I can't remember what either of them look like.' A striking woman with glorious long red hair sits for twenty minutes in the Battersea Arts Club cafe, smiling in a friendly way, whenever she catches my eye, before she comes over to introduce herself. She does this graciously, pretending she hasn't recognized me either. I decide, at that point, that if she is a good actor, I would like to work with her, since she clearly has the patience to work with me. We see the play and agree on the things we liked and didn't like about it and discuss theatrical solutions. We also discuss possible historical subjects for a play and I promise to do some preliminary rooting around, to see if any of the subjects interest me dramatically. Amy invites me to a reading of three political plays from South America, which Theatre Metropolis is staging at the Latchmere Theatre, Battersea.
Third Step: May 2002. After the readings, in which the company of actors, including Amy and Michael take part, Amy, Mike and I agree about the subject of the play (Effie Ruskin). They agree to my terms. We discuss possible directors for the project.
Fourth Step: September 2002. First meeting with the actors and director, to review the first draft of the first scene and have a general chat about structure and themes.
Workshop Schedule :
First draft, November 2002 A cold-reading of the work-in-progess, with a quick edit and then a second read-through and discussion. After six months of research, the structure of the play should be in place, with scenes which may not be in order but which I feel are essential to the play's thematic progress. At this stage, I want to use historically accurate language, details and chronology whenever possible (noting carefully things that are obscure or awkward, so that those problems can be considered in the second draft. The use of their own language is important, to get a sense of their voice. These phrases may not be used in the final version of the play, but they reveal the sorts of speech rhythms and mind sets of various characters. The reading should give a sense of the various character's relationships to other characters in the play and will suggest other solutions to expositional problems.
Second draft, February 18, 2003 The draft should be a rewriting and extension of the play after the read-through, ignoring the historical accuracy, for the moment, with more attention to psychological accuracy of the characters. The work should be about 2/3 the length it will eventually be. The workshop will be a one-day workshop, with attention to plot development and character consistency. The language for characters may not be quite right, but there is a sense, in this workshop, of what the character may or may not say, and a general feel for each character which can be carried through to the next workshop. The play should be about half its length, or more, if possible..
Third draft, April 23, 2003 The draft is the result of re-reading source books, and making sure the dramatic, psychological and historical references are accurate, especially for characters surrounding the title character (every character is the hero of her/his own story, whether others see it that way or not). . At this point there should have been as many rewrites as there are characters in the play - to be sure that each character is psychologically rounded and that characterizing dialogue is consistant. In this instance, it is the 'major' characters who aren't quite right, because the focus is on the other characters. There will also be an emphasis on narrative: what's the story? The play should be at least half or 3/4 length and include at least a draft of the second act as well as the first, so that you can see where the dramatic shape of the piece is working (and, more importantly, where it is not).
Stage Four (final worshop, May 28, 29th 2003, Canada House) This final workshop brings the piece back to its dramatic roots, subordinating the characters to the story the play tells. Every word and every phrase must be characterizing and considered and every action must mean something. There is an emphasis on motivation. This is an in-depth director-led workshop, followed by a staged reading (scripts in hand) to an invited audience, with a discussion following the performance.
Production Stage: (September 12 opening night, Warehouse Theatre) The first week of rehearsals also includes one week of further rewrites. At the end of that week, I will have what I will consider a finished script, for this production. At this point, I won't see the play again until the opening night, unless asked and no further changes should be made to the script, without my permission. This allows the actors and director to get on with their job and gives them the confidence that I have done mine.
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