Mary Couzens - editor, EXTRA! EXTRA!


The London SE1 website is teaming up with locally-based theatrical newsletter EXTRA! EXTRA! to provide better coverage of local fringe theatre. Editor Mary Couzens explains all...

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It all began in Rome, last spring, via the Barbican Theatre, that is, and Deborah Warner's mammoth production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar…

When a flyer from the Young Vic Theatre came through our letterbox in March of last year, asking if we were interested in being part of a group of sixty community players in a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the Barbican Theatre, to open in May, I was naturally, intrigued. That was before I had any idea that the production would star such luminaries as Fiona Shaw, Ralph Fiennes, and, one of my favourite actors of all time – Simon Russell Beale! However, since I was then in the process of completing the final year of my BA Creative Writing and English studies as a mature student at University of Greenwich, I passed the flyer over to my husband John, and the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to take part in the play, and I graduated with First Class Honours and subsequently garnered a scholarship for the MA Creative Writing course at Royal Holloway, University of London, where I am now studying under the tutelage of Prof. Andrew Motion.

In the aftermath of John's stint as part of the crowd on the Barbican stage, and my rather manic exam preparations; I searched for a new creative project. Following the final curtain calls of Warner's gargantuan production, the star-studded play had headed off to Paris, but enthusiasm levels were still very high amongst its supporting cast members in London, so it seemed quite natural for me to put a newsletter together, in order to keep them connected. I envisioned it as a free forum of sorts, through which the community players, forty equity actors, and other cast and crew involved with the production could promote their upcoming creative projects, as well as contribute their views on all things theatrical. And, given my love of theatre, and three years, recently spent working for SOLT (Society of London Theatres) during which time, I'd watched over two-hundred productions across London, I seemed to be the most likely candidate for the position of self-appointed editor. The first couple of 'editions' of EXTRA! EXTRA! consisted mainly of memories and photos from the Julius Caesar experience, along with my reviews of a couple of West End productions I'd seen – Death of a Salesman and Guys and Dolls, put together by yours truly, with a little help from John, and a couple of J.C. cast members, who also made contributions.

By the time the weather was in agreement with the calendar last summer, my e-mailed 'pages' had expanded and John was well on his way towards creating a website for our newsletter, with the help of assorted reference books. And I'd begun to expand on my recently cultivated habit, of writing theatre reviews, having, then, 'officially' reviewed a play for the directorial debut of one of our readers at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington. As is the case with too many fringe venues in London, I'd heard of the theatre, without knowing where it was, or the wide variety of outstanding, and, in their case, eclectic productions they offered!

That enlightening experience has encouraged us to link EXTRA! EXTRA! with various other theatres, across London, with an eye to cultivating both larger venues, with strong links to their surrounding communities, in the hope of discovering what they have to offer, as well as tying in with selected fringe theatres around town, which pride themselves on high standards of excellence in terms of their productions. Our intent in doing the latter was that hopefully, by actively promoting these venues, we might eventually, raise awareness of both the whereabouts of the theatres themselves, as well as shed light on the benefits of attending their oft wonderful, all too often, poorly attended productions.

In addition to writing about numerous theatrical productions, we quickly realised that some members of our highly creative pool of readers might feel the need to speak in more depth about what it was they were trying to accomplish, theatrically speaking, and how they planned to go about it. That idea has inspired us to explore various aspects of theatre, through our interviewees, from an actor's standpoint, through to a technician's point of view, with a healthy sprinkling of talks with new playwrights in between. In the not too distant future, it may even become feasible for our newsletter to function as a connecting hub between individuals and creative bodies, as the variety amongst our readership and involved production companies, producers, directors and writers evolve.

As EXTRA! EXTRA! has been added to more press night lists, and I've taken on the challenge of reviewing productions across an increasingly wider range of venues, our mailing list has similarly grown, as we've intermingled with creative individuals associated with many of the productions we've seen, and they've happily joined our ever-expanding readership. We now have plans in the works to engage with more theatres throughout London and beyond, and, incorporate additional budding reviewers onto our pages. Despite the fact that, so far, we have encountered limited options for funding, at least in Southwark, we are determined to carry on with our work. So, at this point, any and all leads in regard to funding would be gratefully acknowledged and appreciated…!

We sincerely hope that EXTRA! EXTRA!' s link-up with informative, widely read community website London SE1 will encourage our shared readers to grow with us, as the scope of our pages expands, so that, in addition to enjoying the benefits of their usual entertainment venues, they'll branch out a little, and experience even more of what London has to offer in the process.

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