Tag Archives: acting

The Storytellers and the Scouse Suitcase

IMG_4350 (1)
The Box Clever cast, hard at work.  Or something.  From left to right: Helena Bumpus, Benjamin Ridge, Christopher Montague, George Weightman and (partial) Julia Yelland.

Dear reader!  How lovely to see you!  Do come in and get warm.

Storytelling is a great thing, and it takes many forms.  From pop-up books to anecdotes, we all love a good yarn (although after a certain age the pop-up book does tend to attract pitiful glances.)

A couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to explore storytelling for grown-ups, because I don’t think that enjoying a good story is age-specific.  So I emailed my long-suffering Company Manager, and we booked ourselves a show slot at our favourite venue, the Etcetera Theatre in Camden.  The initial idea was to get a group of actors together, ask them to write stories around a theme and then stage the stories using a box of weird props, hence the name Box Clever.

The best laid plans of mice and directors gang aft off-piste, and this was no exception: during rehearsals, it became clear that the stories were fascinating and fun to tell without considering props.  The only “props” we really needed were each other, so what we’ve ended up with is five actors interacting and retelling narratives in completely separate styles.  (There will also be party poppers, but then what is theatre without party poppers?)

The stories are all very different, but equally engaging.  I gave the actors a theme to work with, and under the umbrella of “endings” we have developed a show about friendships, death, robots, Edinburgh and carrying suitcases for a stranger.  (The suitcase in question is being represented by one of our actors, who inexplicably decided that this particular suitcase should a) talk and b) hail from Liverpool.)

Working with stories from real life is a very sensitive business.  Luckily, my actors are all very open, honest and good-humoured people, who may not have known each other before the project, but who have all become very close as they work together on their tales.  It is a privilege to be in a room with these people, and I can’t wait for them to share their stories on stage this week.  There are disturbing moments, thought-provoking ones, and a lot of very funny ones.  (And party poppers.  Did I mention the party poppers?)

Tickets are selling pretty sharpish, but if you’d like to come and join us then click here.

From Page to Stage (via Rage) – a GIF Guide to get to the Fringe

Hello, lovely reader.  How’s everything with you?

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.

Have a cracking Wednesday!

What Are You Tumbling After?

Photo credit: Flickr.com
Photo credit: Flickr.com

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.

Have a fantastic day.

10 Lessons Not to Learn from Twilight

edward-bella-twilight

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:

13-inspiring-dave-grohl-quotes-that-you-need-to-live-by-image-6

Have a glorious day, lovely reader.  Maybe get yourself a fancy sandwich for lunch.

“Are You Going To Do It Like That?”

3-shakespeare

My favourite moment in Shakespeare In Love is when the players are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, and one of them says a line in a silly, melodramatic voice.  Ben Affleck’s character Ned stops acting, turns to his colleague and asks “Are you going to do it like that?” in a voice dripping with disbelief and disdain.  Thinking about that moment always makes me laugh, except when it occurs to me just before I’m about to do something stupid.  At that point it makes me laugh, but also rethink my actions.

It would be wonderful to go through life doing everything graciously and well, but unfortunately we are humans and therefore unlikely to be able to maintain that sort of thing indefinitely.  The best we can aim for is being gracious and grown-up when it matters most, and even though I’m not sure how many of these I manage to do myself, here are a few key moments when I think Ben Affleck’s disdain might come in handy to prevent disaster.

  • Breaking up with someone: hard to do, but important to get right.  Breaking up with someone is about being respectful and considerate, not patronising or vindictive.
  • Being broken up with: equally difficult, and still about respect.  In this case, self-respect.  Your job as the broken-up-with party in a relationship is to occupy yourself with being a brilliant human being, not reducing yourself to a rejected mess.
  • Pursuing your passion: go for what you want in life, but do it well.  Work hard, don’t be bitter about other people’s success, and accept that you probably won’t be an overnight success story.
  • Losing: don’t be grumpy.
  • Winning: don’t be smug.
  • Talking about your parents: in most cases, our parents did the best job they knew how to do.  Even if they didn’t quite succeed, there’s no point dwelling on it.  You’re a grown-up now, and you can make yourself happy.
  • Watching television: don’t talk over the dialogue, don’t commandeer the remote and for heaven’s sake don’t force anyone to watch a reality television show.

Like I said, I’m not sure how many of these I actually manage to do myself.  The other thing about being gracious is that it’s a habit we have to learn over time, and hopefully knowing where to start – with life’s key moments – will help us to get there.  In the meantime, I’m going to put the kettle on.  Does anyone want a tea or coffee?

Actors are Awesome

kenneth_branagh_1552564c

Good morning, you fabulous human being!  I hope that you’ve started your weekend with a decent lie-in.  As you can tell from the time that this post was published, I did not have a lie-in myself.  This is not a problem, partly because I really like mornings (sunshine!  Coffee!  Optimism!  More coffee!!) but mainly because I’ve got an early rehearsal.  My actors are a lovely bunch with a pretty good understanding of my eccentricities, but it would be a bit awkward if they turned up and found their director still in her pyjamas.

We are rehearsing for a show on Wednesday called Date Night, which is a series of three short pieces about relationships and how bad Generation Y is at them.  (Apparently my generation is called that, but I don’t know why.  Pun not intended.)  Anyway, since I wrote all three pieces it would be a bit weird of me to start talking about them, so I’ll talk about the actors instead.  They’re brilliant.

Actors in general are a fascinating bunch of people, and wider society thinks that it’s got the whole lot of them pegged.  Wider society is missing out.  Actors have lots of things in common: passion for performance, a desire to create empathetic experiences with an audience, a clear speaking voice and the ability to memorise enormous chunks of dialogue.  But each actor is unique in the same way that human beings are, and they are blimming fascinating.

No matter how obvious I think a script is or how clearly I’ve imagined a character, there is always an actor out there who can turn my ideas on their head.  It’s actually the main reason that I enjoy writing so much: our minds are full of strange, complicated thought processes – to quote the great Bill Bailey “my mind is unravelling like a tapestry with some angry kittens!” – but we only get one mind each.  I am limited by my capacity to be be just one person, so whatever I write will be likewise limited.  I can imagine situations and write characters, but it is the actors who take the scripts and make them work.  The dialogue needs their unravelling tapestry minds as well as mine.

What do you think of when you read the word “actor”, by the way?  Do you picture Kenneth Branagh, or maybe Laurence Olivier?  Does the word remind you of tortured artistry or living on a pittance?  Maybe even the idea of being a bit pretentious?  You may well be right to think of those things.  But among my social and professional sphere are a whole load of actors who have made me laugh until I’ve cried, actors who have given me chills, who have made me fall in love with their characters or made me want to run a mile.  These are people whom I have grown up with, seen first thing in the morning, spent all day in a pub with and played Monopoly with: the people I know best in the world, in fact.  But they have all managed to astonish me at some point by becoming somebody else when they’re on stage.  It’s weird (and wonderful).

You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s a sensation that I don’t think I will ever become accustomed to.  I hope that I don’t.  Actors, like all people, have got the constant power to surprise you…BOO!  Ok I’m sure you were expecting that…but hey, I’m not an actor.

Have the most unapologetically awesome Saturday.

Twenty-Four Going on Sixteen

Hello and welcome to Wednesday!  I hope your week is treating you extremely well so far.

Last night two actor friends of mine came round for the first rehearsal of a short play that we’re performing in Camden in April.  The piece is about two people whose friendship is on the rocks, because they’re no longer sure what they want from each other.  The rehearsal went really well and we had a lot of fun (especially a certain unnamed actor who got a very serious case of the giggles), but we also had a very interesting discussion about relationships, friendships and how our feelings make us behave.

BjmQCdqIUAAwHS3

As you can see, we took the rehearsal very seriously.  Anyway, as those of you who read yesterday’s blog will already know, my friends and I are not fond of fancying people.  It’s difficult and stressful and it makes us feel unnecessarily girly (and yes, that includes my male friends).  Apart from the obvious vulnerability that goes with having feelings for someone, I think that one of the problems my generation has with the entire dating thing is that it makes us feel like we’re still sixteen.  Even in our mid-twenties, when we have  a fair amount of emotional experience under our belts, we’re still not entirely sure what we’re doing or what the other person is thinking.  That’s hard to process.  How can we not have conquered this in a decade?

We as a generation have been programmed to aim high: we’re fighting against a tidal wave of economic uncertainty, we have to fight hard to get jobs (and even interviews) in a way that not many generations have had to do before, and we are annually told that our excellent A Level grades don’t mean anything.  Of course the exams are getting easier; why would we be getting cleverer or more conscientious?  It’s not like we’re trying to succeed at life or anything.  OH NO WAIT.

If we are so good at working hard for professional success, why are we so bad at coping with our personal lives?  When we were discussing this last night, one of my actors made a very good point: to a certain extent, we have control over our professional progress.  We might not always get the jobs or the opportunities that we want or think we deserve, but to a degree fate favours the people who put the hours in.  When it comes to relationships, friendships and other people in general, we have absolutely no control over how they feel about us.  Sure, we can dress nicely, smile a lot and be the best possible version of ourselves, but there’s no equity involved: being as awesome as you can be doesn’t guarantee that someone will like you.  Unfair, but true.

The bizarrely reassuring thing about this whole situation is that it gives us all a level playing field: nobody feels completely sorted when it comes to this stuff, and even the highest-flying executive can be baffled by a crush.  We have learned a lot since we were teenagers, but no one has yet conclusively proved how feelings work, so at least we’re not alone in our confusion.

Have a wonderful day, and make sure you have something delicious for dinner.

Let It Go (or Drop it Like it’s Hot, if You Prefer)

Disney-Frozen-Elsa-Let-it-Go

Happy Friday, everyone!  Did you know that on this day in 1958 Grace Kelly gave birth to Prince Albert of Monaco?  Me neither.

As you may already know from previous blog posts, the songs from the film Frozen have been very popular in my flat of late.  The sound of my house mate wandering around singing “do you wanna build a snowman?” has become pretty normal background noise.  The other song from the film that’s had a lot of attention (and not just in our bizarre little household) is Let it Go, which was made unbelievably creepy by this kid on YouTube.  I like the song (film version, not scary children’s choir version) because it has such a simple message: let go of things that are not good for your well-being.  Fair enough.  It seems like very basic common sense, but how easy is it to actually do?  And how many of us are holding on to things that we shouldn’t?

So to round up a week of fairly self-help focused blog posts, here are some things that I think we should all let go of:

1) The Unfinished Argument
The comedian Ed Byrne talks about obsessing over things he wished he’d said in arguments that happened eighteen months ago.  The routine  strikes a chord with people because it taps into a problem that lots of us have, i.e. Post-Argument Eloquence Syndrome.  You can be left spluttering or even speechless by someone’s cutting words in the middle of a row, but hours or even days later the perfect witty response will come to you, unbidden, and usually when it’s far too late to do anything about it.  It’s frustrating that our brains don’t work fast enough to make us the Oscar Wilde of every argument, but there’s nothing we can do about it.  in the long run, it’s probably better that we can’t think of the ultimate put-down when we would have used it.  It probably makes us nicer people (even though it’s not by choice).

2) The One Who Won’t Go Away
A lot of people have an ex whom they always think of as “the one who got away”, who invariably won’t go away in terms of your thoughts and feelings.  I hate to perpetuate a cliché, but honestly, if it’s meant to be – or rather, if getting back together will ever be right for both of you – then it will probably happen.  Your job is to crack on with being a fabulous human being.  It’s not even a case of waiting for that other person; it’s about accepting that things are not what they were, and trying to move on.  Don’t try to get them out of your head just for the sake of it: get them out of your head so that you can concentrate on other things.  There’s a lot of cool stuff to think about, you know.  Like what you would call your pet dragon if you had one.  (Mine would be called Jiminy Billy Bob, and you have to ask why then we can’t be friends.)

3) Bottle It
We’ve talked about this fairly recently: you are the only person who lies awake regretting stupid things you’ve said or done.  No one who loves you or cares about you thinks about inebriated errors you’ve made or silly things you’ve said while sober: they think about nice things you’ve done for them, or times you’ve made them laugh.  I am terrible for thinking about stuff I wish I hadn’t said or done (especially after one too many ciders), but it’s not going to do anyone any good.  You and I will just have to trust that our friends still love us, and that maybe in future we can avoid drunk dialling by turning our phones off at the start of a night out.  Or, you know, by drinking less…but who am I to tell you how to wind down of an evening?

4) Opportunities Wasted
Because so many of my friends work on a freelance basis as actors, writers and suchlike, I have a lot of conversations about ‘perfect’ opportunities that they are dying to grab hold of: casting briefs that seem to have been written for them, directing placements at that brilliant fringe theatre or writing workshops with their literary idol.  We apply for these things in feverish hope that this will be the key turning point in our meandering careers, that this one thing will open doors for us and make us better practitioners, and if we don’t get them we are bitterly disappointed.  That opportunity would have been perfect for us.  Sigh.  I am no stranger to the deflated feeling that comes with professional rejection, but I don’t think that the chances we miss out on were quite right for us in the first place.  On a pretty basic level, why would you want to work for someone who hasn’t got the common sense to accept an application from someone as brilliant as you?  Don’t worry about it.  There will be other jobs and projects.

5) The Artist Previously Known As
You are not who you were ten years ago.  You are not who you were three years ago, or last month, or when you woke up this morning.  We change in tiny, seemingly inconsequential ways every time we feel or experience anything, and that’s something to be happy about.  You know when someone says something odd like “tomorrow will be a better day”?  (How do they know, by the way?  Do they have some kind of prescience that surpasses the freakish knowledge of television weather forecasters?  Very suspicious.)  It’s not tomorrow that’s going to different, or better: it’s you.  In a way, I miss being sixteen and having the time of my life at sixth form (and working my bum off for my A Levels, of course).  I know for certain that I miss being eighteen and feeling like an independent adult for the first time, and being twenty-one and discovering how much I loved directing.  I am not any of those versions of me anymore, and although it would be lovely to keep hold of the good times, we have to trust that the person we are now is all the better for having adapted.

Have a lovely day.  Maybe treat yourself to a take away coffee or something.  What the hell, you deserve it.