I must apologise for my prolonged absence – this is about 20% due to a bit of a confidence crisis, 10% due to laziness and 70% due to being completely brain-swamped by Tumbling After, the fabulously physical show that I’m taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with RedBellyBlack Productions.
It’s a gorgeous show that combines all kinds of ideas and disciplines, but as a devised piece it’s been an enormous (and welcome) challenge. Everyone’s journey from page to stage is different, and the great thing about the Fringe is that you can take almost any performance genre imaginable up there and find a receptive audience. Comedy, theatre, spoken word and performance art (and every other sub-genre and hybrid of those) show up on the Fringe programme every year. Isn’t it amazing that the arts hold so much variety and such a wide range of skills? (I’M TALKING TO YOU, CAMERON, YOU UNCULTURED SWINE.)
Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about getting ready for the Fringe this year is that, no matter which genre or sub-heading you’ve picked for your show, you go through a lot of the same stages:
Realising that your show idea is actually pretty darn good
Realising how much work this great idea is going to need
Refusing to acknowledge the huge amount of stress on the horizon
Getting into the swing of it
The first time you really and truly force yourself to look at the budget
The second, third and fourth time you look at the budget
The amazing moment when you can see how it’s all going to work
When the first cast/production team member cracks up
When it’s YOUR turn to crack up
Realising that you’ve only got a few weeks left
Still knowing, even after all the stress, that your show really is a great idea.
If you’d like to know more about Tumbling After and the magical mischief we’re getting up to, search #TumblingAfter on Twitter – there are lots of ridiculous photos and short videos to enjoy.
Dear reader, I am livid. (Not with you. You’re a legend.)
Given that we spend our entire lives being bombarded with logos, slogans, jingles, and all other kinds of advertising arse-aches, it would be easy to think that after a while the whole silly circus starts to pass us by. The brain can only take in so much information, and there’s a hell of a lot of marketing jargon about.
It is with an equal mixture of anger and joy, therefore, that I have seen my friends react with such fury to Protein World’s latest advertising campaign. If you haven’t seen it, it looks like this:
I am proud to say that the unanimous response to this horrendous advert seems to be: “YES I AM BLOODY READY. I LIKE MYSELF THE WAY I AM.”
I am so delighted that the constant dribble of drivel that is today’s advertising industry has not blunted my friends’ sense of righteous anger. I am so pleased that, despite the beauty industry’s best efforts, my friends are proud of their bodies. I am hugely satisfied to discover that not one person I know has suggested that any of us are overreacting to this. It is, purely and simply, not cool to make anyone feel unattractive.
D’you know what? It can be hard to like your body. It can be hard to like dimples, cellulite, body hair, scabs, scars, stretch marks, flabby bits, wobbly bits, moles, spots and eczema. Hard, but not impossible. Because nobody’s – NOBODY’S – body is (huge enormous sarcastic quotation marks coming up) “perfect”, INCLUDING THE MODEL’S ON THIS FLIPPING POSTER.
The Australian comedian Adam Hills has a brilliant set about a girl he knew who used to edit images for album covers, and how even an incredibly beautiful model was so “not perfect” that his friend had to edit out the model’s legs and draw new ones into the image. Even the girls who ARE (hang on for the enormous quotation marks again, team) “perfect” ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
So why on earth would the rest of us bother aiming for something so impossible (and ridiculous)? Even the women who daunt us daily with their flawless skin and flowing locks don’t actually look like their heavily-edited photographs, so what in the name of the Chuckle brothers does any of this have to do with us? Absolutely sod all.
I’ll tell you what you need to be “beach body ready”. You need sun cream. That’s it.
Hello, lovely reader! I hope that the universe is treating you with kindly good humour today.
I turned twenty-six last week, and it’s been a bit of a surreal experience. As someone who loves a bargain, I am already mourning the loss of discounts available to the 16-25 age group. (“You want me to pay MORE than £5 for a theatre ticket now? WHAT KIND OF WORLD ARE WE LIVING IN?!”) Up until this point I have always thought of the ageing process in the same way that I regard the stock market: a baffling, abstract concept that will probably have an impact on my life at some point, but is essentially just a random number thingy.
I’ve only been twenty-six for a few days, but I already think that I’m going to be ok at it. This is largely because my age may as well be a randomly generated number if my lifestyle, habits and friends are anything to go by. Here is a list of reasons why your age is inconsequential:
1) Your sense of humour doesn’t really change. For instance, I love the film Despicable Me, and if there ever comes a day when I don’t laugh at this moment, you have my permission to shoot me. Funny is funny, no matter how old you are.
2) You will always, always be able to get into ridiculous situations. I was waiting for a train the other day, and I got my earphones so badly tangled in my hair that I had to go to the station bathrooms and use a mirror to get myself sorted out. Is that the smooth, sophisticated behaviour of a woman in her mid/late twenties? Absolutely not. But things like that will still be happening to us during our retirement, so it’s as well to accept them.
3) Your friends will never see you as your true age. One of my favourite people on the planet is getting married in a few weeks, and it seems bizarre to me that she is anything other than a twenty-one year-old drama student who enjoys impersonating velociraptors. (I mean, she still enjoys impersonating velociraptors…but she’s also taking a huge step into adulthood, which is awesome but weird.) As you get older your friends start to do things that make you even more proud of them, such as relationship commitments and career moves, and you celebrate those with them. You wouldn’t turn up to your friend’s engagement party and mock them for being elderly, would you? Precisely. Age is not important, but life choices are.
4) Speaking of life choices, I would like to address this whole “if you don’t know what you’re doing with your life by the time you hit twenty then you have already failed” myth. No matter how old you are, you have to make decisions about yourself and your life based on what is going to make you happy and/or be good for you. If you still don’t know what you want to do when you’ve been out of university for six months or even six years, you are not a freak. You are totally normal, and you mustn’t panic. Case in point: my dad is sixty and he just changed jobs, so what does that tell you?
5) When my dad changed jobs, he was delighted to discover that the dress code at his new office was casual. He is now the proud owner of a pair of “basketball boots”. This leads me neatly on to my next point: clothes that makes you happy. As small children we delighted in Disney or superhero costumes; as teenagers we were ecstatic to wear more adult items like heels or suits (or both). There comes a point in life when we seem to abandon our garment-based glee and exchange it for obligatory outfits: “I need a new dress for this wedding”, “I have to buy some proper work clothes”, etc. We should enjoy our clothes no matter how old we are. For example, as I write this I am sporting a very fetching pair of turquoise harem pants, and I feel like Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin. I’m not even the slightest bit embarrassed by that. In fact, I shall probably wear this very outfit to the pub tonight (although perhaps I should abandon the purple slipper socks).
I hope that you are happy in yourself no matter how old you are, and that you can see your future birthdays as opportunities to be proud of everything you’ve achieved. Now, where is that handsome young man on a magic carpet?
Good morrow, dear reader. I must begin by apologising profusely for having been absent for a whole month, which is just morally wrong. Please forgive me.
My main excuse is that I have had pretty dreadful writer’s block, including all of the usual symptoms: staring blankly at my laptop screen, getting distracted in the middle of conversations and constantly thinking strange things like “WHERE ARE ALL THE WORDS?!” The weirdest thing about this bout – which is also kind of reassuring – is that I know where the writer’s block has come from. I have been trying to do too many things at once, and this metaphorical juggling act has landed me in a pile of broken plates and a lot of unfinished tasks.
A lot of the time life throws us all sorts of tasks and trials at once, and we have to prioritise accordingly. Some people thrive under pressure of the multi-faceted kind, but for the rest of us it feels impossible to keep on top of everything, and instead we tumble after our lives with a vague sense of having forgotten something important. In my case, it’s usually the house keys.
So what is it that you are tumbling after? Which small duties are distracting you from chasing after what you actually want? Do you have dreams and ambitions that you’re not fulfilling because your to do list is out of control? Who do you want to be? What kind of people do you want to spend your life with? Where – if I may paraphrase the question that haunts all twenty-somethings as soon as they wake up in the morning – is your life going?
These questions and more besides are driving a lot of the collaborative work in rehearsals for Tumbling After, the devised piece that I’m directing for the Edinburgh Fringe 2015. The cast, movement director and I are especially interested in why people choose to spend their lives with certain people. How often are our relationships the result of sensible choices that we make with clear minds? (Answer: rarely.) How often are we willing to blindly fall down a hill, hoping to find love at the bottom? (Answer: alarmingly frequently.)
It’s never easy to ask these questions, because they remind us so vividly of how much time we spend chasing after purpose, success and overall happiness. That can be stressful. But the unexamined life, as Socrates once said over feta and vino, is not worth living. Examining ourselves in detail and assessing where we are in relation to what we want is not an easy thing to do, but if we don’t check in with our lifetime goal list at least once in a while, then all we are ever doing is stumbling and tumbling without knowing what we’re getting into.
We all have our own ways of sorting out our lives: mine is to sit in a rehearsal room and tell four actors where to stand. Not the most ground-breaking approach, but it seems to be working for me. I hope that your method is equally enjoyable.
Hello, dear reader. How’s the world been treating you recently?
We all have guilty pleasures, don’t we? We watch television shows that we know will not enlighten us, and we listen to music that makes us feel uncool (anyone for a 90s pop binge?). Among the most worrying of these little weaknesses is my generation’s tendency to watch unrealistic and emotionally demanding romantic films. Sure, a decent rom-com can be uplifting and life-affirming, but most of these movies are designed to make us believe that if you don’t look like Katherine Heigl then no man will ever be able to look past your character flaws. Even worse, they make us think that you can be as much of a prat as you like AS LONG as you are physically stunning.
The worst (and most dreadfully acted) of these culprits is the Twilight series. I freely admit to owning the books and having watched the films, but I’m not proud of that. In many ways, the series is the definitive guilty pleasure. You might think that it’s a harmlessly gormless tale of supernatural pretty people, but it’s actually pretty offensive and worrying in the “lessons” that it tries to teach us. Here are the most disturbing ones:
1) You can be UNBELIEVABLY annoying as a person, breathing in weird places, mumbling and not finishing sentences and boys will find you fascinating.
2) If a guy is pushing you away it is definitely because he loves you TOO much, and/or is trying to save your life.
3) You should always date the most dangerous guy you can find. If no bloodsucking immortals are available, the nearest mythological beast will do.
4) Get married as soon as possible, without considering a career, travel or further education. Why bother with anything self-fulfilling when a pretty boy wants you?
5) It is totally ok to string someone along as long as you don’t enjoy hurting them.
6) Everyone you know secretly fancies you. You literally cannot step out of the front door without heartsick men swooning at your feet.
7) Your boyfriend’s family (and basically everyone else you know) should be regularly required to risk their lives for you, and fight other scary monsters just to save your skin.
8) Never, ever smile. You’ll get wrinkles and your boyfriend will be baffled by your sudden lack of brooding sulkiness.
9) The world revolves around you.
10) Vampires and shit like that are definitely real.
There is nothing wrong with having guilty pleasures as long as we know how to distance ourselves from them. There is nothing wrong with watching/reading stupid stories like Twilight as long as we ignore pretty much everything they have to say, and pay attention instead to people who say awesome things, like Dave Grohl:
Have a glorious day, lovely reader. Maybe get yourself a fancy sandwich for lunch.
Hello, dear reader. How was your weekend? I hope you managed to catch up on your sleep.
Last week my lovely friend Katie nominated me on Facebook to post “seven things that you might not know about me”. I love Katie very dearly, and I respect the fact that she met this challenge, but I will not be completing it myself. This is for two reasons:
1) Whatever the seven facts about me would be, there’s probably a reason that they’re not common knowledge, i.e. they’re boring as hell. Who cares about my Year 6 SAT marks? Not you, that’s for sure. Not really me, either.
2) I’m a very transparent person, and I’m not sure that there are seven facts about me which aren’t common knowledge. My Year 6 SAT marks, by the by, were 6, 6 and 5.
I make no apology for the fact that I’m an open book, because I think being honest about yourself is the only way to make real connections with other people. Obviously I don’t go around with a megaphone broadcasting my personal information to the unsuspecting public of London town, but if someone asks me a question I will do my best to answer it truthfully. (Except in very specific circumstances, such as when I’m being interrogated by MI5.)
Making connections with other people is important, because we need each other, don’t we? Even Bernard Black needs Manny. Ok, here’s something that you might not know about me but could probably guess: I’m very dependent on other people. I set a lot of store by my friends’ advice, because they’re a pretty wise bunch, and when I’m sad or ill or cranky I want hugs and sympathy. Sometimes we might berate ourselves for needing other people. We do this because it doesn’t really fit in with the whole “independent, capable go-getters of the 21st century” persona that we are all so determined to portray, but actually that’s just a knee-jerk reaction to feeling insecure.
It’s all very well to look like a self-sufficient success story, but in reality nobody is completely independent. No man is an island (or “no man is in Ireland”, which is what I thought the phrase was until I was about 11, and it confused the heck out of me at the time). Yes, of course we should be able to take care of ourselves, be aware of our own worth and cross roads without other people’s assistance, but there is no shame in respecting and valuing the emotional contributions of the people in our lives. That’s why we have them in our lives in the first place.
This is also true from a professional perspective. Working in the arts is demanding (not least because the amount of effort you put in very rarely corresponds with your salary), and we need each other’s support in order to stay motivated. In the case of Tumbling After specifically (the show I’m directing in Edinburgh this year – here’s some more info in case you missed my last post), the devising process means that we all need to trust each other and be as honest as possible. Just in terms of the admin, the producer and I find that we are more productive if we meet up to swear and glare at our laptops together. Sure, we could sit at home individually and do the same thing, but we are more productive (and more importantly, much happier) if we have someone to share ideas and coffee with.
Have a beautiful day. Go and hug someone who contributes to your life.
Hello, gorgeous reader! I hope that you’re keeping warm this chilly Tuesday.
I am delighted to announce that in August I will be returning to that fabulous world of sleepless nights, excellent shows and a bajillion flyers, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (For more information about my 2014 excursion, click here.) This time I will be pottering up the road to Scotland with the fabulous Kate Goodfellow, producer and performer extraordinaire.
My history with Kate is a classic example of how life can take you by surprise. Kate and I met through a mutual friend, who is herself a flipping fantastic performer (quite literally, in terms of her physical theatre training), and hit it off immediately. We have similar senses of humour, a like-minded attitude towards theatre and a mutual appreciation of red wine. As a result, Kate has asked me to direct her devised show Tumbling After, a story about two couples living next door to one another.
The thing about devised work – particularly when it centres around romantic relationships – is that it requires an entirely different set of skills to rehearsing a straight play. With a normal production you have clear instructions in the form of stage directions, lines of dialogue which have been written to shape the actors’ performance and a concrete context for everyone to work within. When you devise a show, you have starting points and end goals: stimuli in the form of images and pieces of writing, music that informs the tone of the performance, and an idea of how the story will probably play out. I say “probably”, because when a group of people devise they are basically being encouraged to go with whatever feels natural in the rehearsals, and that can take the whole performance off in unpredictable directions.
This is, to put it mildly, a bit scary. As a director I am very excited about the challenge of shaping a performance from scratch, but I’m also keenly aware that this is going to take a lot of work. In terms of administration, marketing and rehearsal schedules, Kate and I are Fringe aficionados who are completely comfortable with the production’s demands, but in terms of working with the actors to create something completely unique, this is uncharted territory for all of us.
The reason why (despite the various times throughout my Drama degree when devising was asked of us bright-eyed young students) this project is so much more daunting and exciting than anything I’ve done before is that it requires a level of emotional honesty about something that we all talk about, but very rarely publicise: our love lives.
Relationships are hard. Falling in love is exciting, but staying there takes effort. The people we form attachments to shape, make and break us, which is something that most of us seem to accept. For instance, a person with ongoing commitment issues may trace their problem back to an earlier, failed relationship, while someone who finds it difficult to trust their partner might attribute this difficulty to a previous infidelity committed by somebody else. We all allow our past relationships to give us attributes and attitudes, whether or not they are good for us. The emotional hangovers of our love lives are difficult enough to deal with, and now myself and four actors are going to try and make that premise into a show. Crikey.
The trick when it comes to putting real life into theatre is to take what you need, but nothing else. Over the course of this rehearsal process I will be asking the actors (and the movement director – and myself, actually) to be as honest as possible about how their own romantic histories will shape the characters and the narrative of the play. This is not because Kate and I like to make people cry – that’s a separate issue – but because we know that putting two relationships onstage means nothing if the characters don’t come across as genuine, and their problems are not rooted in something that the actors already understand.
The play, clichéd as the notion may be, really is the thing. I am very excited about working with such brilliant actors and a stellar movement director (who is, in fact, the person who introduced me to Kate in the first place – her name is Liz Williams, and she’s headed for great things), because I know that this is exactly the right group of people to make a scary, brilliant, challenging and emotionally demanding project with.
Plus, you know, there’ll probably be red wine somewhere down the line.
For more information about Tumbling After and all the nonsense we’re getting up to in rehearsals, like the company Facebook page. More information soon!
Hello, lovely reader! Long time no see! How have you been?
I recently came across this article on Buzzfeed about how it feels to be perpetually running late. I have a few friends who belong to this happy clan of tardiness, and I can’t say that I love them any less for their constant cries of “sorry, I thought we were meeting at twelve/my alarm didn’t go off/the dog ate my Oyster card”. However, on behalf of those of us who are so paranoid that we turn up obscenely early for everything, I would like to submit my own list of thoughts and problems. Here it is:
1) You must always, always have a bag that’s big enough to contain whichever book you’ve selected to keep you company while you wait for people.
2) Finishing your book (or – horror of horrors – forgetting one altogether) can completely ruin your day.
3) You get so involved in the plot of your book that when other people turn up, you get a bit annoyed with them for interrupting you.
4) You tend to look a bit too eager on first dates.
5) Ditto job interviews.
6) It is ALWAYS left to you to get the party started, because an invitation that says 7pm means 6.45 to you and 9pm to everyone else.
7) By the time everyone else turns up to the party you are at least three drinks ahead, which never bodes well.
8) You are often left to the mercy of the weather.
9) Thoughtless people assume that you have nothing better to do, whereas actually you are very busy but you hate the idea of letting people down. Consequently…
10) …Arriving somewhere on time rather than early makes you feel like an abject failure.
11) People who usually arrive late think that you secretly judge them.
12) You secretly judge people who always turn up late, and have to hide it from them.
13) You don’t understand how anyone could possibly be so laid back as to not mind being three seconds late for something.
14) You feel like a lone pioneer of good manners in an increasingly disrespectful and inconsiderate world of lateness.
15) You’re aware that there are more important things in life than being obsessively prompt, but you’re buggered if you can break the habit.
Happy 2015, dear reader. How are you? I hope your festive season was joyful, relaxing and as sparkly as possible.
I’m sure that everyone’s Christmas experience is unique, but there are a couple of thoughts that most (if not all) of us have towards the end of the holiday season:
1) I love my family, but I could probably go a few weeks/months/decades without seeing them now.
2) I have GOT to eat a salad.
Ending the year with good intentions for the future leads me neatly onto my main topic for today, which is new year’s resolutions. Of course, many people don’t want or need the excuse of January 1st to try new things or give stuff up. In some ways it seems bizarre to block out twelve months of our lives and classify them as having been collectively “good” or “bad”, and to make decisions about our future based on the events that took place during that time. Is that why the tradition of making resolutions prevails in our culture? Because we need to believe that we can divide our lives into units of what we have done and what we are going to do?
There is nothing wrong with doing this, of course, or with most traditions in general. Tradition – as the characters of Fiddler on the Roof know very well – is extremely important. Traditions can be religious, cultural or local. They can even be something that only you and one other person abide by, such as the annual game of pooh sticks that I play on Hungerford Bridge with my friend Paul. We do it on New Year’s Day, and each stick represents a resolution for the year ahead. The original idea was that the person whose stick came out first was most likely to keep their resolution. This year it was so windy that our sticks kept flying back to hit us in the knees, so we had to improvise slightly. (“Shall we just go to the other side of the bridge and chuck them downriver?” “Er…yeah.”)
I don’t know about you, but Paul and I usually find that our resolutions stay fairly similar year on year: there’s always a resolution about learning to manage our money, and another about improving ourselves in general. There also tends to be something project-based (Paul: “Build a PC!”) and an optimistic love life goal (Me: “Sort it out”). In some ways it is disheartening to think that our aims are inching rather than leaping forward, but then who can be expected to completely change their lives in just one year? Or two? Or three? Or…oh…I’m spotting a problem here…
People’s resolutions stay similar because we are only human. No matter how many years we are given or how good our intentions are at the time of resolve, we will probably never achieve complete perfection. Paul, God bless him, never criticises me for the fact that “clear my overdraft” has been on my resolutions list for the last three years in a row, and I appreciate that. He does remind me of my successes, e.g. last year I resolved to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe, which I did.
This time of year can be very tricky, because we are caught in a limbo world of recovering from the previous year and trying to plan the next. If we think that we have made little progress over the past year, we can become pessimistic about what we are capable of in the next one. The important thing is to keep going, keep trying, and to make sure that you have people around you who will remind you of how far you’ve come.
Have a glorious Friday, and a wonderful 2015. You have achieved a lot more than you think.
Hello, you. How’s it going? Did you remember to eat a balanced breakfast?
When I started attending primary school at the tender age of four and a bit, I felt pretty overwhelmed. Not by the lessons (organised colouring in and obligatory dressing up sessions? I’m all over that), or the social aspect (I have four siblings. Social stuff is a doddle), or even the school dinners (packed lunches for the win). I was overwhelmed by the older children. I remember walking into my first ever school assembly and being awestruck by the Year 6 kids. Who were these impossibly grown up people?
The Year 6 kids got to sit on benches. They had a different colour tie from the rest of us. They would soon be leaving to go to – whisper it – big school. For some reason, they seemed older and wiser to us than the teachers or our parents. No matter that as an adult I am now friends with people who are the same age – and in some cases, older than – those Year 6 children would be now. Stephen Fry said something similar in his novel The Liar; the older children from our early lives will live in our memories as the most mature and intimidating people we’ll ever know. No matter how long I live or how many people I meet, no one will ever be as impressive or as impossibly cool as those bored eleven year-olds who sat at the back of the school hall.
It would be nice to think that, twenty-something years on, I have outgrown the tendency to feel intimidated by ‘cool kids’, but I haven’t. None of us really have. This is for two reasons: firstly, I am friends (or friends of friends) with a lot of incredibly talented people, who are nearly famous if not already so. They deserve to be. Like I said, they are awesome people. The second reason is that we live in a society which encourages us to feel small in the wake of giants, whether they be intellectual ones, culturally influential ones or just unnaturally beautiful ones. Don’t you just hate the beautiful ones?
The problem with the ‘cool kids’ syndrome is that, unless it’s based on actual merit, we are perpetrating a ludicrous fantasy (à la Mean Girls). Believing that supermodels are worthy of special treatment is how teenagers start to think that anorexia is a solution for their low self-esteem. Allowing reality television celebrities to dominate our screens is making us all forget that real talent is a thing that exists. Thinking that hipster values are cool is how we end up with parts of London being no-go-for-normals territory: for example, I wouldn’t go to Shoreditch if Noel Fielding himself invited me. And London is a big, beautiful city with a lot to offer – why are we letting ‘cool kids’ shotgun certain parts of it?
Believing other people are cooler than you are automatically undermines your self-image. Of course it’s good to look up to people who are worthy of our respect, but we should look up to them because they can teach us something, or because they already have. Feeling intimidated by people who are more famous, more attractive or just more arrogant than you are is silly, and as I keep telling you, you should be far too busy being your lovely self to give a monkey’s what the ‘cool kids’ think of you.
With that in mind, go and finish your Christmas shopping. It’s getting a bit close for comfort.