So 2019 was my quiet year (honestly it was) so to prove that point I thought I’d go for all-out ‘disgustingly over-achieving’ levels of busyness in 2020 and open three shows in the space of 2 weeks. It was pretty full on and I did then spend the next 10 days ill in bed with a chest infection. But they were three beautiful shows and I’m really proud of all of them.
Firstly ‘Madam Butterfly’ – such a joy to come back to the wonderful world of opera after a bit of a break – and this was my own new English language adaptation (with a new orchestration from the wonder that is Ruth Chan) as well as my production as director. Then a showcase performance of my new musical ‘Cold Front’ with composer Jason Carr, starring the exquisite Anna Francolini at Paul Taylor Mill’s MT Fest 2020 at The Turbine Theatre. And last, but by no means least, another little storytelling concert for Aurora Orchestra – ‘Chopin and The Dragonfly that Brings Spring.’
And if that wasn’t enough – I even found time to finish a first draft of my climate crisis musical ‘HouseFire’ with composer Ben Toth, and record a table-read that will be aired on Radio Four’s Front Row. They’re following the progress of the musical from ‘first song’ to UK premiere which is going to be much sooner than we all thought (Ooh mystery, when’s it gonna be Poppy, tell us, tell us!!!) so watch this space for more on all of that…
Butterfly was so beautiful – it needs all the photos. But Cold Front and Dragonfly had their moments too…
Dragonfly Brings The Spring
Clearly being too busy to update my blog.
So what did 2019 bring? A large-scale new musical which toured the UK for 16 weeks to ecstatic standing ovations and 5 star reviews (In The Willows). Nice. And some other little bits and bobs (when I say little bits and bobs I mean a workshop at the National Theatre Studio for my musical of Great Expectations with composer Tim Gilvin, a workshop at Birmingham Rep and The Other Palace for my musical The Rhythmics with composer Ben Glasstone (about Manchester’s Premier All Male Rhythmic Gymnastics Performance Ensemble), and three small shows for Scottish Ensemble (Babel) and Aurora Orchestra (Mozart In The Garden and Beethoven And The Dinosaurs).
This was my quiet year…
In The Willows UK tour
The Rhythmics workshop
Great Expectations workshop
Babel (staged concert) tour
Mozart In The Garden
Beethoven and The Dinosaurs
My work is so visual I thought it would be nice to show the range of what I’ve been up to so here are 9 of my most recent productions from the last three years:
Little Mermaid, Theatre By The Lake 2018
Roles, V&A 2018
Pixel Dust, Edinburgh Festival 2017
Wondr, Edinburgh Festival 2017
Jungle Book, Windsor Theatre Royal 2016
Mouthful, Trafalgar Studios 2015
King of Tiny Things, Lowry 2015
Cosi fan tutte, New Theatre Oxford, 2015
Comedy Of Errors, Exeter Northcott Theatre 2017
As the year draws to a close I find my time increasingly spent on writing rather than directing. In the same week I was asked by three separate organisations to write funding applications for them (one for £1.3 million). Meanwhile I’m redrafting two musicals, mulling over a short play for 2018 and researching my next full play (not to mention all the funding applications I write for my own company Metta Theatre). So lest the balance of creative writing be outweighed by funding application writing – suddenly a dangerously real possibility – I have taken up writing poetry again, just to tip the balance back towards artistry. Of course there is artistry involved in my fund-raising – it’s all storytelling isn’t it, all finding a compelling narrative, all sparking something in the reader’s heart, mind (and for funding applications – wallet). Still, it’s a different kind of craft.
So here is my offering for December – having spent a week (and many sleepless nights) with a poorly three year old. I shall endeavour to produce something once a month (Poppy loves a deadline).
SITTING IN THE SCREAM
Sitting in the scream
The wet cheeks
The endless moment
After, immediately forgotten
Like the memory of pain
But in the moment
You will not be held
Will not be consoled
I am here only to bear witness
Witness the raw mouth
And the pain
The compact of motherhood
Ebbs and flows
It takes you again
Unbearable we bear it
Unbearable the reminder
Of our own pain
Sitting in the scream
It takes you
Poppy Burton-Morgan, December 2017
Tonight is the premiere of my debut play Wondr. Now I understand why writers are such emotional people and so protective of their work. It’s a whole different kettle of fish from directing. You’re putting part of yourself out there – baring your soul.
Wish me luck…
The joy of 2017 (besides directing 4 shows, developing 2 more and seeing the world premiere of my play Wondr in Edinburgh) is that this year I have so many opportunities to support others. I’ve taken to offering emerging artists (free) guidance on their Arts Council applications and I’ve just spent 2 days facilitating workshops at the Exeter Northcott Theatre for a group of emerging SW based directors and theatre-makers. I love it! There is so much that I can share, and some many provocations I can give them.
There is a such a joy in realising you’ve reached a place in your career (life) where you have the capacity to start giving back to the rest of the sector and other artists. Though as I interrogate that thought – or my use of the word ‘opportunity’ – actually it’s just a choice. It’s a choice to feel we have enough capacity or headspace to help others. That’s in no way intended to make others feel guilty for not doing more – of course in every area of our lives there is always more we could/can do – and indeed that thought sometimes paralyses people into doing nothing at all. But I’m glad I have begun to give something back to the sector and the community of artists that have so nurtured and supported me over the last 12 years.
Now that the children both (mostly) sleep through the night is also a massive help.
I have started writing. This is new. Or at least, writing original plays, which is new for me. After a decade of dabbling in stage adaptations and opera libretti (easy when someone else has done the hard work of creating story and characters for you) I have finally taken the plunge and started writing my own plays. Not just one play but three, and counting.
All of them explore, in varying ways, my ambivalence about motherhood, and indeed the impetus to write them was born out of my increasing frustration with the dearth of mothers portrayed on our stages. Or to be more specific – the dearth of plays that explore motherhood (or parenthood) as a theme. Plenty of plays feature mothers as characters, hundreds in fact – family dramas are after all the mainstay of our theatrical canon. But very very few actually explore the experience of motherhood. Even ‘The Mother’ – which just closed at the Tricycle, which I had hoped might perhaps explore motherhood – that messy, complex, mind-numbingly-boring, wonderful, lonely, necessary, primal job that occupies around 50% of the human race at one point in their lives. But in fact it is a play about archetypes, not about motherhood at all, although Gina McFee does give a wonderful performance finding a precious vein of humanity in a very brittle and unlike-able character.
The newest of my theatrical writings – a solo piece written in rhyme/spoken word – I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago as a bit of an experiment. A non-theatre-mum friend had asked to read it and found it such an accurate reflection of her own experiences of motherhood that I wondered if other fellow mums might take something from it. The response was overwhelming, and overwhelmingly positive, so I thought I’d post it here – in an even more public capacity – in the hope that it can reach more mums, and dads too, and non parents – just more human beings with whom it might strike a chord.
I hope it may be staged at one point too, but even if that never happens it’s heartening to know that simply the reading of it is touching some lives.
Here it is – feel free to share:
YOU LAY YOUR HAND BACKWARDS ON MY HEART