Frequently asked questions
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Frequently Asked Questions

Because all websites have one of these pages, here you go.

I reserve the right to not take your question seriously, go off on a tangent, and end up answering something completely different to what you asked.

Myself:

Who are you?

Chris Neville-Smith

Yes, I worked that out from the title of the website. I mean, do I know you?

Possibly. I have my fingers in a number of different pies across theatre.

Ah, right. Your face does ring a bell. Where have I seen you?

You might have seen me active on the fringe circuit. Brighton and Buxton Fringes are my go-to for trying out new original work. I have taken work elsewhere, but those have been the two places where I built up my reputation and all other opportunities have stemmed from.

Eh? Don't you mean Edinburgh Fringe?

Nope. There is actually more than one fringe out there.

That's not it then. Not seen you at any of these fringe things.

Then you might have read my theatre blog. That's been running for over a decade now and I review over a hundred shows a year, mainly at Edinburgh and Brighton Fringes. (Edinburgh is okay to review - just ridiculously expensive to perform in.) My reviews do actually get quoted quite a bit by the groups who invited me along, and if you've been following the fringe circuit a lot, you've probably seem one of my reviews mentioned at some point.

You can find the blog here. If you're thinking of inviting me for a review, you can read this.

No, that's not it either. I think it might have been the telly.

No it wasn't.

Yeah, it was. I remember now. Some reality TV show?

No that was someone else. Who looks like me. And anyway, it couldn't me me because they said that guy was a Manchester student and I want to Durham. And they got my age wrong. Did I just say my age? I mean his age. Yes, they got his age wrong.

(Serious answer: If you really want to know why I now want nothing to do that and why I have since developed such a poor opinion of this type of television, you can read this.)

Okay, okay, fine. Anything else?

Pretty much whether things take me. I've done some writing for Elsyium Theatre which was performed for people other than me, but done quite a bit of work for them with sound design. And I've been doing operational running of a fringe venue at Durham Fringe. Oh, and also, out of all things, I'm now doing a comedy game show.

And is this your day job?

No, my day job is in software testing. I have a very accommodating employer who allows me to fit time and place of work around my various theatre commitments.

Playwriting:

So why do you write plays then?

Not sure. Got a lot to do with sheer bloody-mindedness.

That's not  very helpful. Can you be a bit more specific than that?

I honestly don't know why I do this. I started writing when I had an idea, and when I started off I was fortunate enough to have people in Durham Dramatic Society who tried out some of my shorter scripts. The early plays weren't my better ones, but the more I put on stage, the better I understood how play writing and theatre works. And the more I understood that, the better my ideas got.

There is a strange kind of stress associated with putting on your own play. It's a similar kind of stress associated with putting on someone else's play, except that the stakes are a lot higher. You will rarely see people put in so much of their own time because it's something to do. We do it because it means a lot to us. There are few joys greater than seeing a story you care about come to life on stage, especially if it's come to life on your own terms.

Although the sheer bloody-mindedness bit is that I double down because, until the last few years, I did this with no support or even encouragement from the new writing theatres who were meant to encourage this sort of thing. As far as most of them are concerned, the only correct way to be a play writing is to send plays off to them and hope for the best. Anyone who actually goes ahead and puts on their own play gets treated like they don't. If there's one thing more than anything that pushed me to doing things my way, it was the knowledge that I was doing what I wasn't supposed to do.

Why don't you just do script submissions instead, like everybody else?

I've had a few successes with script submissions, but most of the time I don't bother. The number one problem with script submissions is that - with a few honourable of competitions who make the effort in feedback - the majority of people who enter gain nothing. There are two particularly harmful myths surrounding script submissions. One is that rejections are a learning experience, and the other is that you're only ever one play away from a life-changing breakthrough. Neither myth  is true, but little is done to counter them.

There are numerous other problems with script submissions. However, much they want you to believe otherwise, the artistic preferences of reading rooms are extremely subjective. A script that does well in one submission can get nowhere in another. Who is correct? You have no way of knowing. Script submissions often impose creative stipulations for no good reason, and, yeah, so people like to be inspired by writing to briefs, but it's a lot harder to develop your own individuality if your hands are constantly tied. Some competitions' sole source of income is entry fees - you should be extremely suspicious of anyone who makes money from writers to offer nothing but an "opportunity". Some competitions get greedy in the terms and conditions, claiming ownership of your play whether or not you get picked.

And some competitions do behave themselves. But what you have to realise is that in the big national competitions, the winners and finalists are almost always people who already have numerous professional writing credits to their name, or already have a job in the arts, or both. And yet this is frequently passed off as the logical next step after finishing an introduction to playwriting course. I hate to break it to you, but that career progression is almost non-existent. If you must go down the script submission route, you are probably better off going for regional competitions. The odds are still heavily against you, you are still hostage to fortune with the readers' personal preferences, and you'll probably learn nothing about how to improve if you don't get shortlisted, but it is at least possible to get somewhere with those.

But this is my firm call: if you have the means to produce your own play, or have it done by somebody who you know and trust, for God's sake don't wait for the thumbs up of a script reader, because it will probably never come. No harm on doing script submissions as well, but have nothing to do with people who tell you to do this instead to the exclusion of everything else. Your first play will probably not be that good. But - crucially - you will get to see how it unfolds on stage, and quickly find out what works and what doesn't. There is no guarantee this will work - there's a very delicate balance between having confidence in yourself and the ability to learn from your mistakes - but it's worked for me. And there's no way I would have got where I am now with an endless loop of submissions and feedback-free rejections.

For more extensive thoughts I have on this subject, come this way.

Wait, are you saying I should just go ahead and direct my own play?

Hold your horses. There's one notable notable caveat to this. When I said "if you have the means to produce your own play", that includes knowing how to direct. I really don't recommend directing your own play with no experience of directing. It's hard enough when you're an experienced director working with an inexperienced writer. Or you're an inexperienced writer working with an experienced writer (or published text). It's really not a good idea to combine an inexperienced director and inexperienced writer - especially if you're the same person. My advice is that if you want to get your hands on producing your own work, take any opportunity you can to learn how plays are directed. If possible, direct a play yourself. Not only will you have a better idea of how to successfully direct a script of your own, you will also have a much better understanding of how a script works with a director in the first place.

If, however, you're comfortable directing plays, go for it. There is a school of thought that it's better for the director and writer to be different, but there's really no firm advantage one way or the other. Some people find it better to have a second perspective on the script, some prefer to stay in charge known exactly what it is they want. Go for whatever works for you. And definitely don't the idea that you can't direct your own work without somebody else's permission.

Actually, it's not just directing I recommend learning. Try to learn how to do as many different theatre jobs as you can. You might have access to somebody else who can do the job better, but the more you understand other jobs, the better to can write to make these work. This includes lighting, sound, props, set, costume - and yes, acting too. If you know how act, you'll be in a far better position to write something meant to be acted.

Or, you can always write something for yourself to act.

Writing something your yourself to act? Are you mad?

Yes, I know. Making yourself the writer-director-actor can end badly. Do you really want write a new The Room?

However, lots of people do it. A very large proportion of plays on the fringe circuit are solo plays where the writer is also the performer. Some of them have a director to work with, some of them don't. This is particularly popular with drama school graduates, many of whom having this as their only option to build a reputation, though anyone can do this successfully. They also have the advantage that nobody can bail on you.

But, for God's sake, make sure you know what you are doing if you try this. Knowing how to act is a bare minimum. But there's other things that aren't quite as appreciated. If you're doing a fringe on your own - even a small one - it's a hell of a lot of work to organise everything yourself as well as act in your own play. Also, is a VERY stressful job in a fringe environment. It can help if you're performing at a festival where you know other performers and other performers know you, but you may have to start with no-one to talk to if things get on top of you. And if you are waiting on a review, it's the most agonising wait.
However, it worked for me. (My biggest breakthroughs came from things I did on my own.) And it's worked for many other people. Or you might be the next Tommy Wisaeu, Only you can decide if it's worth the gamble

Isn't doing your own play really expensive?

This is a common misconception - one that I suspect is popular amongst people who'd rather you knew you place and didn't your own play without their say so. But that's not necessarily true.

It is true that Edinburgh Fringe is insanely expensive. Even if you can avoid hefty venue hire fees, accommodation costs are ridiculous (unless you are lucky enough to already live there, or know someone who lives there). However, contrary to what some people would have you believe, this is far from the only option. My first Buxton Fringe production, with three actors, cost me a few hundred pounds to do all-in. I would be a bit more careful over Brighton Fringe - costs can more easily add up to something you'll struggle with. But for a Buxton-size fringe, most people can afford that if they're determine to do so. (Or, even cheaper, you might be lucky enough to have a properly inclusive theatre environment on your doorstep. So far, however, we have yet to see this in the north-east.)

What I would recommend doing before committing yourself to any expenditure is think about what you expect to achieve. Making money or being "discovered" are generally bad reasons - if you're new to this, the chances of either of those are near zero. Better reasons are learning how to be competitive in a semi-professional environment or networking in a semi-professional environment. Or you might even find it fun.

True, not everybody can scrape together a few hundreds pounds. I sympathise - but you're not going to make theatre more inclusive to anybody by excluding other people. What particularly irks me is that the moralising over spending your own money is very selective. Funding yourself to a small fringe is no more expensive than submitting your scripts to reading services, which some people advocate as a route in - but nobody decries that as exploitation. I make no apology for funding my own productions when I have something to gain from it, you shouldn't either - but make sure you're not just considering the most expensive option.

More thoughts here and here.

Where did you get your ideas from?

I don't think anybody has a script answer to that. There really is no pattern to what causes me inspiration that sticks. Sometimes I set out to do something and find something that works - but many of my best ideas simply came from my mind wandering, and something occurs to me.

But, to be honest, I think the whole discourse of "getting ideas" misses the point. A great play is never just about having an idea. It's just as much to do with making the idea work as a play. A lot of the time, a great concept is sadly unworkable as an actual play. And whenever an idea and all the things needed to make it work line up, it really comes down to luck. To be honest, I think one of the biggest skills you can have as a writer is spotting such an idea when you have one.

For this reason, I would urge anyone getting started to be sceptical of any these playwriting tools promising to "kick-start the creative process" by listing ideas for you. A book might list 100 ideas. If you're not getting ideas that you can make work as plays, it's unlikely you'll solve the problem by getting a list of more ideas - you've got to get better at finding ways of making good ideas work. And that's something that only comes with experience. But, on the plus side, if you have an idea where everything falls into place, you are probably on to a winner.

You're aren't half being cynical in these FAQs.

Believe me, this is just a warm-up. I write at length about the state of theatres and the wider arts industry on my blog, and I regularly bite the hand that feeds me. I will support theatres when I think they're doing the right thing, and speak out when I think they're doing to wrong thing. There's a lot of things I have strong views on. I strongly believe in artistic freedom, a true drive to root out harassment and prejudice (not just when it's popular), and a level playing field where aspiring writers who aren't hand-picked by a handful of artistic and programming directors stand a fair chance against those who are. And if the price of doing so is fewer opportunities for me, so be it. I'm not really keen to work with people who want yes men anyway.

In the earlier days, I did actually manage to piss off a healthy number of people. I know I pissed them off, because I got a lot of responses along this lines of "Well, you don't know anything, how many commissions/reviews/awards/shortlistings/productions have you had? How many professionals have you worked with?" But I have since gone on to do all of those things, and my views have remained largely unchanged. And on the particularly thorny issue of why nowhere gives any feedback for script submissions ("Oh, don't be stupid, that can't possibly be done, anybody who's got any experience knows that"), Papatango did me a big favour that demonstrates it can be done and lots of people find it useful. So ner.

Where can I see you?

You should be able to find upcoming times and places on my projects page. And probably in the latest stories on News too. If I don't manage to keep this site up to date, you'll probably find info in my Twitter feed, until that finally gets Eloned to death.

Can I be in your play?

Most of my projects now are created either for me, or people I already have a working relationship with. I no longer regularly put out casting calls - it's just too unreliable to commit first and hope I have a cast later. Performing a play you wrote for yourself an extremely stressful experience (and I would only recommend doing this if you really really know what you're doing), but at least I don't have to worry about somebody bailing on me. That happened surprisingly often. Even with people I considered to be reliable. Even if I was paying. Where I've written for Elysium theatre, I've generally stepped back and let them choose the actors.

But if you're interested, ask me anyway. The best indicator of reliability is enthusiasm. You never know, you might be perfect for a future project I'm thinking of taking on.

I want to tech your play.

Okay, I confess. Nobody has ever asked that. But whilst I can both act and operate tech, I can't do both at the same time. Most venues will provide someone, but that limits me to a very short window in which to give instructions. If I had reliable people to come with me, that would be grand. I will pay. That's fair enough - at a fringe I would be paying techies anyway.

I must warn you, however, that I am not be be trusted when I summarise what's needed from you. "This should all be straightforward" never turns out to be straightforward. One sound cue per minute tends to be my usual fare.

Can we perform your play?

Very occasionally I get this query. Short answer is, yes, probably, provided you can satisfy me that you know what you're doing. If I'm planning to produce it myself, you'll probably have to wait until I'm finished with it. Unless you have the means to do a better production. But that'll have to be a good offer. Drop me a line saying who you are, what you want to do, why you want to do it and how you propose to do it, and we'll take it from there.

Under most circumstances, I will expect payment for this. This isn't because I'm after money - actually, I really am up shit creek at the moment so I could do with the money. But the point is that whilst I could stop getting income from all theatre activities tomorrow and still make a living from a steady job, I'm aware a lot of artists don't have that luxury. I do not want to be the artist who deprives other artists of a living by undercutting them. Obviously I will take into account circumstances, as well as likely income. Amateur performances can expect a lower rate than professional companies, as long as I get my fair share. Mates rates at my discretion.

The exception is my ten-minutes plays. Those are freebies for amateur performances, and you can go ahead and do that without asking me just so long as I am credited. Professional performances will probably also get a waiver if it's a free and/or charity performance, but I'll need to be asked first to check it really is free and/or charity. Anything else, I'll probably settle for a token payment.

Will you perform your play for us?

This does sometimes happen, most notably with Waiting for Gandalf.

Ask me, I'll probably be interested. Terms negotiable. I will at a minimum expect expenses to be covered. Payment will probably depend on who you are and what you want me to do, but I won't agree to anything that I think is undercutting other artists who do this for a living.

Of course, if it was something I was planinng to do anyway, I will be more amenable.

Will you ever publish your scripts?

Maybe. There are ways of doing it. But so far, I've never got round to it.

In general, to get a play published by Samuel French or Nick Hern, you need it to have received a full professional production. Bit of leeway over what a "full professional production" actually means, but a long way to go before I'll be a candidate for that. Beyond that, there are other smaller-scale publishers (either paper or online) which are a lot more inclusive about scripts. I am a bit wary about those, because some of the terms and conditions seem a bit of an over-reach. In particular, I've seen a somewhat questionable practice of some publishers "waiving" rights so that playwrights can perform their own plays. I am not comfortable with giving somebody the veto over producing my own play - even if they claim they'd never do this. That might not be the case for all publishers, but the requires me having a good look at the terms and conditions. Not a big task, but I've always had other things to keep me busy.

So for the foreseeable future, if you want to script of one of my plays, just ask. If you're thinking of performing it, you can probably have a copy for free. If you just want to read it, I'll decide on a case-by-case basis. You might get it for free if I decide it's too much hassle to arrange a payment. As always, ask nicely.

What about the plays you didn't write?

Over the years I have, for one reason or another, I had a major role as a creative lead other than writer. The big one is Waiting for Gandalf. That started off as a way of maintaining a presence at Buxton Fringe after a debut in 2013. I didn't have an idea for another play in the pipeline, but I did quite fancy doing a play written by Adrian Marks at the same Live Theatre writers' group I attended. He said yes, and a performance at Buxton Fringe ended up going to Brighton Fringe, and then got picked up and professionally directed for Brighton Fringe again. The time has finally come to move on from this, but it was the play that got me noticed on the fringe circuit, and has been hugely influential with how I've approached my own writing.

I did Howard and Mimi as director. I've been trying to do that one for years because - come on! - who doesn't want to direct a play where the two characters in it are a dog and a cat? I finally managed to do that in the opening year of Durham Fringe. Long story, but it was an absolute joy when it finally went ahead. And in 2015 I was producer for A Nasty Little Play, which was set in a 1950s sex shop. This happened because a theatre friend Alan Godfrey wanted to take his play to a fringe. He was ready to finance and direct it, but I knew how to navigate a festival fringe and work with a venue. Credit where it is due - that had far better sales than anything I did. Seems that 1950s smut is a better audience pull than I gave credit for.

The short answer is that I have no plan. Any time I've done my play or someone else's play, it's always been what was the best opportunity at the time. I will probably do this again, but as to what that might be, your guess is as good as mine.

Will you help bring my play to a fringe?

I've done this once. It was A Nasty Little Play in 2015. That was - as many things are - a useful thing for me to do at the time. I have no plans to do something like this again

But I might consider doing it again if you're something I like working with, and I think you know what you're doing. Ask and we'll take it from there.

I'm looking for someone to produce my play. Will you read my script?

Unfortunately, this is currently unlikely. I've made encouraging noises about this in the past and failed to live up to them. I don't want to over-promise and under-deliver.

As I said, where I have directed or performed plays other than my own, I did decide I was going to do a play first and then look for a script - it was always a play I knew about which happened to suit the situation I was currently in. True, it is possible that a script that someone gives to me might be perfect for me to do. But it's not just whether a play is any good, it also a question of whether I have the resources to do it, I have access to an audience it will appeal to, and whether I have something to offer by doing it. The chances of all of those lining up are slim. I sadly don't have time to read though endless scripts I have no use for in the hope of finding a gem.

But I remember what it was like to get started, and how valuable every chance was to get something of mine on stage, so I will make one concession. I will read your script if you pitch it to me and somehow persuade me that this might be the sort of thing I would be interested in doing. To do that, you will probably need to be quite familiar with what I do. If you manage to get me to read your script, I will give feedback.

I won't tell a lie, this exercise will probably be an even bigger waste of time than the national playwriting competitions that I think aren't worth bothering with. But if I still haven't put you off, get in touch. Tell me who you are, what you want me to consider, and - crucially - why you're approaching me. And good luck.

Hey, I'm from the National Theatre. We want to commission your play on the main stage. We'll give you a 10K advance, a month in the south of France, and your own A-list girlfriend.

Okay, that sounds interesting. Same as everyone, I'm happy to consider it as long as I'm satisfied you value my play for what it is. We should arrange a meeting, except your your PA has just turned into an alsatian. And my late grandmother's just come to tea. Wait a mo, that's not right.

Ah crap, it was just a dream.

Other stuff:

How did you get into sound design?

Completely by accident. I almost always design my own sound and lighting in plays I'm producing/directing myself. When I did Haunting Julia in 2018, this was picked up by Jake Murray for Elysium Theatre, and I ended up doing sound for most of their projects. (Not all: which one I do tends to come down to practicalities in individual cases.) My sound design for Haddock and Chips (CaroleW Productions) was also through Jake Murray as director.

Is sound design difficult?

Yes and no. I believe anyone can get the hang of doing sound design, and it's not too difficult to teach yourself. I recommend Freesound as a good sound repository and Audacity as go-to resource for mixing sounds together. I also recommend using some sort of sound cue software. A standard media player is okay, but even one I've seen run on to the next track if you don't stop it manually and that's fiddly. I reckon I could teach you everything I know in an hour - everything else is experience.

The difficult bit, however, is doing the job quickly and making adjustments at short notice. I maintain that anybody who's willing to learn could create any sound plot I've done given enough time. However, real productions tend to involve lots of last-minute changes are very short notice. Individual sound levels can be too loud or quiet, sound cues might need lengthening or shortening, and people can outright change their mind of what works on stage. It's a much more energetic task to be constantly changing things without holding up a tech rehearsal, and you really need to know what you're doing.

As a rule of the thumb, sound design is easy if the actors work round the sound plot, and hard of the sound plot is working round the actors. Professional theatre is usually the latter. There was a time when I felt embarrassed over the amount of money I was being offered for something I considered easy. I've long since realised how they get their money's worth.

Don't you need QLab and a Mac to do sound?

Qlab is analogous to Final Draft in a lot of way. Both pieces of software have some very powerful tools which in certain situations are extremely useful. In the case of QLab, this means you can perform some very advanced operations on a sound board, such as multiple tracks on multiple speakers, integration with lighting plots, and even editing cues on the fly during a performance. However, you need to be doing something exceptionally complicated for this to make a difference.

My generic advice for expensive technology is to start with something cheap and learn as much as you can. Only move on to something pricier when you've reached the limit of what you can do with the cheap stuff. Somebody who's made the most of photographs on a bog-standard smartphone will do a better job than someone who worth £5,000 of equipment and no idea how to take a photo. If, however, you know exactly what you want to do and exactly what it is QLab can help you with that cheaper alternatives don't, go ahead.

(You might need QLab if you're regularly exchanging files with other people, but so far I've never needed to do this. I prefer to bring along a physical device and just plug it in.)

Will you do sound design for us?

Quite possibly. Tell me what you want me to do. Money is going to make a difference because I'm currently up shit creek financially, but it will also make a difference how much I'm going to enjoy doing this. A challenging sound plot for a play I love beats an easy and laborious job for something tedious and predictable. (I wince harder and harder once I identify terrible lines in a terrible plan, and hear them repeated over and over.)

Please bear in mind I do all of this on top of a full-time job. I can only take on a finite number of jobs before I run out of time to do this. Don't assume I can take weeks of unpaid leave, even if you're paying more - I can't just hand over my work to someone else for a month and pick it up when I return. Joining you on tour is possible, but usually more trouble than it's worth. The good news is that I put a lot of care in handover from sound designer to sound operator, and it's always gone smoothly so far.

However, also bear in mind that sound design isn't the career I'm trying to build for myself. I am quite happy to do sound design for Elysium Theatre because I also get to build links as a writer. That doesn't mean I'll say no if you only want sound, but all other things being equal, an all-purpose relationship with a theatre company beats a cog in a machine.

Will you do [some other form of tech] for us?

Again, just ask. My experience varies from discipline to discipline, but I'll give you an honest appraisal of what I can and can't do for you.

Other than that, all above caveats apply. I'll be more enthusiastic over a project where I'm a valued partner than an unpaid role where I have no creative input. Your call.

Hey buddy, great website! Just the thing I was looking for! My name's Crystal. Why don't we hang out on my page? I'm single BTW.

Fantastic. I've already sent you my credit card details, PIN, security code, online banking password and mother's maiden name.

Didn't you use to be in Durham Dramatic Society a lot? What happened to that?

Long story. Short version: too much work from me taken for granted, too little help when I needed it, too much micromanagement instead. I don't mind working for free if it's something I enjoy, but few people enjoy being kept on a short leash when they know what they're doing. And that's the toned down version. I might one day go on the record over what the final straw was, but I'll refrain from giving a blow by blow account until I fulfil my much-delayed promise to tell the Durham Dramatic Society people exactly what it was.

I said in late 2022 (following aforementioned last straw) that I was taking a break for at least a year, with no decision after that. I will consider helping out where needed in future, but I will expect a clearer understanding of what I'm doing and what I'm getting in return. I think it's better that small organisations run on mutual goodwill, and I tried for a long time to make this work. Sadly, that's not working any more.

Apologies to anyone who liked seeing my plays or my acting at the City Theatre, this wasn't your fault. BI would come back if we can find a way of making this work. At the moment, it's up to the rest of Durham Dramatic Society to suggest a way forward, because I'm out of ideas. Sorry.

Tell me a joke.

How many amateur dramatics directors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Change? ... Change? ... CHANGE?

What about Durham Fringe? Are you still doing that?

I've provided a lot of tech support for Durham Fringe at the City Theatre, mainly because I'm the only person who knows the way around the back half of the theatre. I carried on doing it after the infamous late 2022 by mutual agreement because it is in our own interests that this succeeds. If you ran any event and needed any kind of technical, staging or logistical support from the venue, I was probably your contact.

However, I am loyal to grass-roots artists first and Durham Fringe second. There is an extraordinary amount of resistance in the north-east to grass-roots theatre-makers finding their own spaces and turn up to festivals. This works very well at Brighton and Buxton Fringes, and has arguably saved festivals from disasters in years where venue deals fell through - but so far, few people in the north-east value this. My support will always be for whatever's the best available solution to the north-east's gatekeeping problem. If you have an act and you're being excluded, I am on your side.

Doesn't it get tricky doing both theatre and theatre reviews?

It's actually not that uncommon on the fringe circuit. There are two schools of thought with regard to theatre makers also doing theatre reviews. One is that you shouldn't do it because it's too big a conflict of interest. The other is that this is good thing because the people doing the reviews actually understand creating theatre and not just watching it. Whatever side of the debate you're on, the fringe reviewing publications are more likely to lean towards the latter than the former. Some even require you to be some sort of fringe performer yourself.
However, I do make a lot of effort to keep the two reasonably separate. Obviously I can't keep things completely separate - if I'm going to Buxton or Brighton Fringe as a performer, the shows I review will inevitably be ones that were running around the time I was performing. But I draw the line at self-promotion. I might draw on my own experiences to comment on the state of theatre in general, but self-promotion is a big no-no.

Oh, cool. Can you review my play that you're helping with then? We need some publicity.

No. Please don't ask me to do that. I do relax the rules a little on conflict on interest for previews, but under no circumstances will I review anything that I've had any involvement in myself. If I'm in the situation where I wouldn't be comfortable giving you a bad review (both productions I'm connected to and productions friends are doing), it's not appropriate for me to review you at all. And it's DEFINITELY not appropriate for my to give you any kind of publicity if you've been leaning on me. At my discretion, I may find a way to publicise you which doesn't have conflict of interest issues, but I won't be able to help you if it comes across that you think I owe you publicity.

Also, please bear in mind that when I get involved in plays, I don't always think that highly of it, or the way it's being directed. I may be doing my best for a play I don't really care for out of professionalism, but I only a finite amount of patience over how I get treated. Especially if it was supposed to be mutual support but it's only going one way. The last thing I need it to top off this experience with a request for a good review. I advise to refrain from that in future. I may be forced to say what I really thought of your play. (You know who you are.)

What about if I want a review and you're not involved?

Come this way. (This is a little out of date at the time of writing, but it should get you started.)

If you are north-east based, please be aware I now have a lot of conflicts of interest. Durham is especially difficult. Anything connected with Durham Fringe is definitely out. I may reach the point in the near future where I decide I can't review local theatre at all, but for now I'll consider things on a case-by-case basis.

What if I don't want a review but would still like to know what you think?

You're welcome to ask. I want reviews to be useful to people, so if I can't help you with a review, I'll be happy to look at helping out some other way.

Not committing to anything yet, but that's another case-by-case thing I'll consider if and when it happens.

Hey, wait a second, you just admitted that last FAQ isn't asked frequently.

Okay, fair point. I'm using the modern definition of "Frequently Asked Questions" where the word "frequently" also includes occasionally, rarely and never. Be fair, all FAQs do that.

And that wasn't even a question.

Oh shut up.

A comedy game show? Is this is the same Chris Neville-Smith?

Yes, 2024 is the first year of It's Not Cluedo! Believe it or not, there is a much bigger overlap between fringe theatre and comedy game shows than you'd think. My previous fringe ventures have got me on Imaginary Porno Charades and Late Night Dirty Scrabble. I had an idea for something in this format, it stuck, and to my surprise the test runs worked exactly as I hoped they would. I mentioned this idea to the Rotunda with the hope of having an informal run in Buxton Fringe 2023, and they've ended up as co-producers.

Sounds cool. Can I be in this Not Cluedo game?

Maybe. The Brighton Fringe Rotunda one will be primarily aimed to other Rotunda performers. Apart from that, no decision. I encourage the people taking part in this to be comfortable with comedy, or improvisation, or both, but that's not a hard and fast rule. In case you haven't already worked out, there object of the game isn't to win as such. Is to give yourselves and your audience the most fun.

But let me know anyway if you're interested. If I know people are queuing up to take part, that will encourage me to do more of this. And if your enthusiasm to be a guest spelt a difference, you will have probably earned yourself an invitation.

Nice website. Who did it?

I did. I'm using a generic web hosting package that i also use for theatre e-mail, installed WordPress on that, and just used a standard-ish template and updated the content. Only reason I did this was because I suddenly needed to train in website development in my day job, and this was a good learning opportunity.

In my experience, 90% of the job of doing a website is easy. All of the flashy stuff is now part of some very standard packages. However, the final 10% of the job is a massive faff. This is a playwriting website and not a computer website so I won't give you a blow-by-blow account, but, boy, the last bit of programming was blood, sweat and tears. You have no idea the amount of pain I went through to get a working contact form.

If you're wondering, the theme I used is "Scoop", which by default is set up as an ice cream shop website. It is, however, very very strongly configured for selling ice creams and puts up a lot of resistance to being anything else. If you find a stray reference to two-scoop Raspberry Ripple, this is way.

Will you make one for me?

I wouldn't recommend asking me this. I probably could make one for you, but whether I get round to it is another matter.

There again, I wouldn't consider myself a website expert at all, but I've seen some companies produce considerably crappier websites than this one for considerably large sums of money. If enough people ask, I might make this template open source.

Hey, this article isn't half going on and on.

Don't worry. We're nearly done now.

Oh yeah. I can see the footer.

Yeah. me too.

Will you ever take an FAQ page seriously?

Nah.

Last updated 11th March 2024.