Interview: Caley Powell Talks Unexpected Opportunities & the Light On Showcase

Lights Down Productions might be away from the stage for now but Producer Caley Powell has taken the opportunity provided by this unexpected hiatus from live theatre to launch an exciting online showcase. Powell is all about providing a platform for female identifying playwrights and new writing – and this showcase delivers exactly that each Tuesday. Now in its ninth week, the showcase has already seen some great success, including a piece receiving recognition from Off West End with an On Comm commendation. With the work going down a treat, I caught up with the very busy Powell to get the lowdown on the Light On Showcase…

It’s great to see Lights Down Productions producing the Light On Showcase during lockdown. What prompted you to launch the showcase?

The first few weeks of the lockdown were tough for me as it was for many people and I was reeling from the loss of getting to create work in theatres, though thankfully I didn’t have any shows that were affected by the lockdown. As the lockdown progressed I started spending a lot of time on Zoom calls, in particular Common has created a Working Class coffee morning and it was during one of these mornings the discussion turned to what we can do during the lockdown and I suddenly thought of how I could continue to promote female led new work.

I have always wanted to produce a new writing showcase but never found the time before lockdown and thought that it would be a good idea to start now I had more time on my hands! I was seeing images on Twitter from theatres saying they were leaving a light on and would return and I thought that with my intentions for the showcase and my company name that the Light On Showcase was the perfect name!

Can you tell me a little about the process of selecting work to develop from the submissions you receive? Who ultimately makes the call?

The only real basis for a submission is that it has to be written by a female identifying writer and the scene shouldn’t be over 15 minutes but other than that I am open to reading everything that is submitted and making a judgement call myself purely based on my own tastes. It may sound odd but when reading a script, whether for the showcase or not, if I can see it being performed then I know it is one I want to programme. If I get a blurry image of an actor or actors reading the lines via Zoom right now I then get back to the writer to say I want to programme it!

Your work to date feels very much geared towards advocating for minority voices and experiences to be heard. Is the material you tend to select or that you’re looking for still very much driven by that sense of advocacy?

Yes, I started Lights Down Productions to promote minority voices and share stories not often represented in theatre. I wanted to give female identifying writers a platform to share stories not often told and that is part of the joy of producing this type of work, the opportunity to show audiences stories and characters they may not have seen represented before and characters an audience can identify with but that they haven’t seen themselves represented in on stage before. I wanted to carry on this ethos through the showcase and share stories I think deserve to be told and shared.

Is there a set of ideal elements you look for when seeking work specifically for an online platform?

Not really, I just want something that I enjoy reading and think would be a good story to share. I do like the idea of experimenting with the format of what an online piece of theatre can be and have some ideas of work I’d like to programme in the future but I would have to commission a writer to create these pieces, unless I just got really lucky with the submissions!

And what have been the challenges and perks of directing and producing work for online as opposed to live audiences?

Internet connection! That is the main limitation when producing an online showcase. Sometimes we will rehearse on Zoom and I will record a take but I always ask the actors to record another version on their cameras and send me the footage as sometimes if the internet connection is bad we are not getting the best version of the piece.

It is always awkward at first when we’re rehearsing on Zoom but I find it’s best to just note how weird it is that we’re not in the same room but I let the director run a rehearsal room as they normally would and you kind of forget about it after a while!

The best part of producing the showcase is with it being online it means it is always readily available for people to watch so if you miss it when it first goes up on Youtube you can just watch it whenever you like and share it with friends to watch too. It also means that these pieces have the potential to reach a much wider audience than they would if it was in a theatre.

You also have an impressive schedule, with a new piece landing weekly each Tuesday. How big is the team behind the project? Are you working from a specific pool of creatives or are you actively looking to broaden the team of directors you work with?

It’s just me that is behind and leading the project. I have been working with creatives I’ve worked with before but have also used this opportunity to work with new writers, directors and actors. Some scripts I have read and envisaged actors I’ve worked with being perfect in the roles and some scripts I’ve read I feel would suit certain directors I’ve worked with too but with most of the pieces I’ve been working with new people.

It’s been great that when I worked on the 5th piece ‘I Digitally Do’, one of the actors, Saba Nikoufekr recommended her friend Moureen Louie for a role in the 6th piece ‘Milton Keynes State Of Mind’ by Catherine O’Shea as she knew I was looking for an actress that could also play the guitar and sing. I’ve also worked with people like Sophie Flack, who I worked with as an actor several years ago but worked on ‘Milton Keynes State Of Mind’ as a director.

I will be taking a break for a few weeks when I reach 10 pieces of the showcase, which will be at the end of this month, to give myself time to choose the next 10 pieces to programme, work on hiring the directors and actors for each piece and look to secure funding to continue.

You are welcoming submissions from work in progress to shorts to selections from longer works. Are you managing to attract work across all of those areas or is there a particular area which you’d like to see more submissions from?

Most of the scripts I’m sent have been complete short scenes but I would like to have more submissions from longer works. ‘Milton Keynes State Of Mind’ by Catherine O’Shea is the only showcase piece that is a snippet from the longer play and from having the piece performed and by getting feedback on it it’s now led to Catherine continuing to complete the script, which is great and I’d like to give other writers the same opportunity.

You’re also eager to see a wide variety of subject matter in the work submitted – do you feel like there’s a saturation point with work about lockdown and if so, how close to that point are we as online audiences do you think?

I don’t think there is a saturation point. It’s a strange time we’re living through and there must be thousands of stories to tell of people’s experiences of it. I think work shared about this time shares with people how much they are not alone and that other people are going through the same things and feelings, which has definitely been a comfort for me. With one of our pieces ‘The White Hart’ by Judy Upton I fell in love with the piece and wanted to programme it as part of the showcase as it shows the life of a female truck driver during the lockdown and without Judy sending it in I don’t think I would have thought about what it must be like for truck drivers right now. It has been great to see that piece resonate with so many people and to see that piece get awarded an On Comm, an online commendation award, by Off West End.

Highlighting the lesser heard voices of women specifically was the drive pre-lockdown for Lights Down Productions. I’m interested to know if you’ve been aware of an increase in the focus on female voices in the work coming out during lockdown? And also whether you think the exposure lockdown projects are providing will lead to greater representation when work on stages becomes possible again?

I’ve not really seen an increase in female led work during this time but out of all of the online content out there during lockdown I find myself seeking out and watching more female led content. I’ve been loving Slackline Productions Cyberstories, The Painkiller Podcast and I’ve discovered sites like the Online Fringe Festival and SceneSaver, which has recorded work created before and new work created during the lockdown. I’ve seen, amongst others, Claire Louise Amias great plays ‘The Masks Of Aphra Behn’ and ‘Oranges and Ink’, Rosalind Blessed’s brilliant ‘Lullabies Of The Lost’ and the hilarious and heartwarming ‘Jake’ by Verity Williams.

I’ve also watched a lot of great female led new work in the ‘Around The Globe In Eighty Plays’ festival by Fractured Time Productions that raised money for The Globe Theatre with an online festival of new writing, that ran from 15th June to 4th July and our sixth piece, ‘Milton Keynes State Of Mind’ by Catherine O’Shea was part of it.

I hope that there is a systematic reform during lockdown so when theatres can successfully reopen more work by marginalised artists can be programmed and there are a lot of exciting discussions happening around this. During lockdown this type of new and exciting content is thriving though as people adapt to new ways to get their stories out there and there are less barriers to creating work during this time. I hope that programmers and producers are all watching this content and looking at ways to support and programme these creatives.

And finally, with the industry on a very precarious footing, are there ways for audiences to support your work while enjoying it?

As the showcase is not ticketed I am not making any income from ticket sales but I am asking for people to donate after each showcase piece to help me and the artists to continue to create work during lockdown. Any donations received are split between all artists on board. Money aside I also would love for people to share the pieces so if you’ve enjoyed any of the pieces, share it with a friend and family member and leave a review as its helpful for the writers who have submitted pieces to get feedback on their work.

So there you have it! Remember, a new work lands each Tuesday so keep up with all things Lights Down Productions and the Light on Showcase via their Twitter and web pages. You can also keep with with Caley Powell’s work via her Twitter page.

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