Tag Archives: actors

Here We Go Again…

f609029a

Hello, lovely reader!  Are you enjoying March so far?  You do look well, I must say.

Last year I devoted about 96% of my time and energy to one project: Tumbling After at the Edinburgh Fringe.  It was an amazing experience, an enormous learning curve, and a privilege to be part of.  However, because devising a physically experimental, relationship-centred show with extensive character development and a seven-month rehearsal process was somewhat draining, I made a foolish mistake.  I made a sweeping statement to many of my friends and loved ones: “If I ever talk about directing a devised show again, punch me in the face.”

Dear reader, I am about to be punched in the face by everyone I know and love.

The problem with my sweeping statement is threefold (“Joey had reasons.  They were threefold.”):

  1. Just as when you are drunk, grieving, angry or ill, you cannot be trusted to make life decisions when you’re working on a Fringe show.  It’s a ludicrous idea.
  2. All theatre involves some element of making it up as you go along, so to disregard devising entirely was not a clever idea.
  3. No one should ever make sweeping statements, let alone an exaggeration-prone theatre director with a severe caffeine dependency problem and an appalling short-term memory.

So it should be no surprise to anyone that I have once again embarked on a show that will involve devising.  Line up with your boxing gloves, kids.

I am already very excited about this show, because I genuinely think that it will be fascinating (to make and watch, hopefully).  The show is called A Year From Now, and the premise is as follows:

Anyone can answer the question “where do you see yourself a year from now?”  Not everyone will necessarily want to answer: many of my esteemed colleagues from the creative sphere will have answers ranging from “oh GOD, I don’t KNOW” to “Living in a box under London Bridge.  Shurrup and leave me alone.”  However, the fact remains that anyone who is old enough to talk can consider their future existence, and my producer (the irrepressible Kate Goodfellow and the amazing mind behind Tumbling After) and I want to interview people, get some answers and build a show around them.

Kate and I have assembled a cracking cast and are currently in discussions about a fantastic venue in central London.  We can’t go into too much detail yet, but if you would like to be interviewed, please let us know.  We want as many contributions as possible from all kinds of people, and we are very excited about the answers we might get.

That’s all for now.  Have a wonderful Thursday.

Advertisements

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.

We Can’t All Be Ron Burgundy

ronburgundy

Good morning, and a very merry Monday to you!

Yet again, I find myself needing to apologise to you, you lovely and patient reader, for not having written anything for a while.  Truth be told, preparation for the Fringe is taking up an insane amount of time, and I’m afraid the whole blogging thing slipped through my incredibly disorganised net.  Today’s blog will be an extra 10% funny and uplifting, just for you.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from working in theatre is that everyone responds to emotional situations differently.  What makes one person cry will make another angry, and what makes one person laugh out loud will at best raise a small smile from someone else.  The bizarre thing is how drastically our emotional responses vary from those of our nearest and dearest.  Certain things that would put you into the Anchorman “glass case of emotion” might only dip your best friend’s toe into the goldfish bowl of vague discomfort.

This can be a very good thing and a fairly weird one.  It’s excellent to surround ourselves with people who can give us fresh perspectives, but sometimes it makes us feel less rational when our friends disagree with our responses.  When it comes to emotional reactions we are particularly vulnerable, because our feelings tend to be relatively instinctive rather than especially thought through.

This is something that has come up quite a lot during rehearsals for Chris is Dead, partly because the content is quite emotionally charged, but also because the people involved are all very different.  Despite his constant cries of “where are all the men?!”, our only male cast member is actually very sensitive to the most upsetting aspects of the story.  (In case you hadn’t guessed, the title of the show pretty much explains what it’s about.  You knew that already, right?)  One of the girls tends to be very good at distancing herself from her character’s grief, and the third is stoically open-minded about how different aspects of the story will affect her at different points of the rehearsal process.

The best and most rewarding aspect of working with these cracking people is the fact that they really respect each other’s views.  It’s hard enough working on a show about death without the cast disagreeing on their feelings about it, so I feel very lucky to be directing three such empathetic and lovely actors.

Although my head is very much stuck in a my-life-has-been-taken-over-by-rehearsals-what-on-earth-is-this-“sleep”-thing-you-speak-of-? sort of place, I can appreciate that the cast’s communal attitude is something that should be more prevalent in the real world.  It might be baffling or annoying to find that we are not on the same wavelength as others around us, but we should have confidence in the validity of our feelings.  We should also make the effort to try and understand where other people are coming from.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Monday.

Get That Poncho Away From Me

Hello, dear reader!  How’s the world with you today?  I hope you’ve remembered your umbrella.

So I am now ankle-deep in rehearsals for the Edinburgh Fringe, and already I have started to rediscover some of the things that inevitably happen in the run up to a show, including issues with rehearsal schedules, quandaries about the best place to buy lunch and realising that the script I’ve printed isn’t the most recent version (“Um, Vicki…didn’t we change that line?” “Oh shit, yeah we did…ok, cross that out.”  “It’s ok Vicks, don’t worry.”  “I DO worry!  This is UNACCEPTABLE!”)

It’s almost impossible to avoid hitting a few clichés when you work in the performing arts, but as a director there are a few traditional tendencies that I’m very keen to avoid.  Basically, I’m desperately trying not to turn into this guy from Friends:

directorfriends

“You are BAD ACTORS!  This is a TERRIBLE play!!”

Here are a few directing dramas which I sincerely hope don’t make an appearance in the run up to Chris is Dead:

Sleeping with the Star
The “casting couch” cliché is well-known in the film and theatre industries, but I think we can safely avoid this one for three reasons: firstly, I cast this show over a year ago, and there was absolutely no funny business involved at that point.  Secondly, everyone involved with this show is technically taken, so we won’t be looking for anything romantic inside the rehearsal room, and thirdly these people are all good friends who know each other far too well (and have seen each other in far too many compromising situations) to find each other attractive.

Being a Diva
We have a running joke in rehearsals that I refer to the actors as “my talking props”, which I have never and will never do with any serious intent.   Having said that, directors are under a lot of pressure to bring a show together and make all of the elements work, so it’s understandable that sometimes there’s a bit of egotism or drama queenishness involved.  I am very lucky because I know for certain that my cast and operations manager will tell me in no uncertain terms if they think I am heading that way.

Being a Tyrant
As a fairly maternal and “scary-eyed” (not my words) director, the few strict rules I have laid down tend to be followed to the letter.  These are, I hope, all fairly straightforward and reasonable: no alcohol before rehearsals, let us know in advance if you know you’re going to be late, don’t turn up unprepared.  Some directors (myself included) have a natural propensity to take control of situations, but I think that it’s important to keep the balance between laying down sensible laws and throwing your weight around for the sake of it.

Dressing Like an Eejit
It makes sense for directors as well as actors to wear sensible, practical rehearsal clothing.  Today, for instance, I will be rocking the “trainers and ancient jumper” look.  If you ever see me wearing a poncho and beret, you have my permission to shoot.

Have an incredibly amusing Thursday.

Play It (Again), Sam

6a00d834525a3469e200e553991f478833-500wi

Hello, and welcome to Monday!  How’s everything going with you?  Did you have a nice weekend?

Today is a big day for me, because this afternoon myself and a lovely bunch of actors will start rehearsing for our Edinburgh Fringe performance of Chris is Dead.  We performed the same piece last summer at the Camden Fringe and had a brilliant time, so we’re all very excited about working on it again.

The thing about returning to a project or repeating an activity is that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves (and the project) to do well.  If things went badly the first time, we are determined to learn from our mistakes, but if things went well then we are wary of changing anything for fear that we lose the winning ingredient.  The elements of the production that have changed since the first incarnation of Chris is Dead are largely good things: this time we have an excellent time slot, a very central venue and some nice reviews to put on our fliers.  These are all great advantages, but in a way that makes us feel more aware of the pressure to do well.

I would love for this play to do well, but I’d also really like us to enjoy ourselves.  There’s no point in spending a huge amount of time, money and energy on something if you’re not actively going to enjoy it.  I think that it would be good for all of us to remember that it’s impossible to repeat things exactly, but that it is possible to enjoy them to a similar degree.  When you think about it, that’s the perfect combination, isn’t it?

This isn’t specific to theatre, of course: people who are wary of new relationships due to previous misfortunes may find a little voice in the back of their minds saying “why bother?  It’ll be exactly like last time.”  Someone moving house might secretly be determined that their new place will never be as good as the old, no matter how much nicer the actual building is, and someone who risked a rail replacement bus service once knows never, ever to do it again if they can possibly avoid it.

Comparisons between things in life are inevitable, but they add a layer of pressure and stress that we just don’t need.  Enjoying experiences and making the most out of every moment is a big enough challenge, so perhaps we ought to concentrate on that instead of worrying about predecessors, precedents or prerequisites.  Let’s just get rid of all the “pre”s, in fact.

So, disregarding everything that past experience tells you, get out there and have a brilliant Monday.  It could be the best day of the week.

Shameless Plug Alert

A_Shameless_Plugs1lDetail

Good morning, you lovely thing!  How’s your weekend going so far?

Life takes you to some very strange places.  For example, my first play was written in a blind panic over two days because we needed a play to perform for an assessment, and we ended up doing it at the Edinburgh Fringe.  A few months ago I sat down in a sulk and started writing a scene that is being performed tonight as part of a new writing showcase.  Who’d have thought that having a hissy fit would be so productive?

It’s not as simple as that, of course.  Life is full of twists and turns and very confusing states of affairs, all of which combine and conspire to get us places.  The scene that’s being performed tonight may have started off as my exorcism of a bad mood, but it’s turned into something very different.  The actors have definitely made the characters their own, and the original source of inspiration is all but obsolete.

It can be very difficult to let your ideas change, but most of the time we have to trust that they are changing for the better.  As time goes by your attitude changes, you hear other people’s opinions, and you adapt to circumstances.  For example, the piece that’s on tonight (and tomorrow and next Sunday, just by the by) is called Irresistibly Drained, which is a reference to a Conan Doyle quotation that sounds a lot more emotionally fraught than it was meant to.  When I originally came up with the title I thought it was fine, but as time passes I feel less and less comfortable about it.  It kind of sounds like I’ve written a romantic melodrama worthy of Mills & Boon.

Letting your ideas change is something that comes up a lot for writers in particular, because you can imagine a line being spoken one way, but then an actor will interpret it completely differently.  Lines that I didn’t realise could be amusing in Chris is Dead (which will be on at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, just FYI) were made hilarious by the actors’ performances, and I loved that.

The main thing about letting your ideas change and develop is that you have no way of knowing how much better it could be.  Letting other people make their mark on your work could open it up to all sorts of possibilities, and you might unlock a huge amount of your own potential.

Whatever you’re up to today, have a glorious Sunday.  If you’re around in Kennington at 6pm, do swing by and see the new writing festival.  Details are here.

Two Towers, No Hobbits

Titus-Andronicus-Globe-6211-630x310

Good morning, lovely reader!  Got any nice plans for your weekend?  I know for a fact that there are barbecues happening in London over the next couple of days.  Loving that weather-based optimism.

When I was writing this post I nearly called it “Real British Theatre”, but I disregarded that title for two reasons: firstly, it smacks somewhat of Nigel sodding Farage (and I have many faults, but voting for UKIP is definitely not one of them), and secondly it reminded me a little too forcefully of a university module I think I did, which was called something similar and was about theatre in the nineteenth century.  Maybe.  I think.  I don’t know, it was a very long time ago, and I wasn’t paying attention…

Yesterday I went to the Globe with one of my best buddies to see the play which, time-travel allowing, I’m pretty sure is Shakespeare’s homage to Tarantino: Titus Andronicus.  It was bloody, disturbing and impossible to stop watching.  It also had my absolute favourite characteristic of theatre: dark comedy.  It was funny at odd moments, it lightened the more blood-stained and grotesque scenes with a bit of whimsy, but most worryingly of of all, the actual subject matter and the characters’ situations made us laugh.  They also made us wince in disgust, groan in surprised nausea and sharply peg it out of the way when the actors were running around in the audience.

The actors had two metal towers on wheels to propel themselves around the groundling pit, and they used them spectacularly.  It still amazes me that something so un-British – barging through crowds of people, for heaven’s sake, and actually shouting at them to move, how very rude, I shall write to The Times – is such an integral part of the audience’s experience at the Globe.  The Globe is a beacon of British history and culture, and it attracts people from all over the – well, the globe, I suppose.  Ahem.

The un-British barging in a very British theatre is important, because it makes the story so immediate for the spectators (which is, after all, why they went to the Globe in the first place).  It made us feel genuinely at risk from the seething anger, the all-too-real swords and the fake blood being sprayed everywhere.  It was amazing.

The best things about this country are way beyond what politicians have to say about immigration or the Europe issue.  The best things about this country are the things that people gave us hundreds of years ago, and that we still enjoy today.  This country is about Winston Churchill’s determination, Charles Darwin’s curiosity and William Shakespeare’s imagination.

This country is about standing in the middle of an open air theatre and feeling things that audiences have felt about the same story for four hundred and twenty years.  That’s called a communal experience by the way, Mr. Farage, and the whole flipping point of it is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.

Have an amazing Saturday.  (Not you, UKIP.)

Why Would an Elephant Want to Tap Dance?

download (5)

Hello and a very merry Monday to you, you lovely reader!  How was your weekend?  I hope you got some decent rest.

A lot of my weekend was taken up with a film project for my theatre company, Empty Photo.  We were filming a bunch of actor types doing monologues, and I must say they were all bloody marvellous.  The cameraman was my friend Paul, who is an excellent photographer, keen fan of coffee and all-round digital genius.

On the second day of filming he got pretty irate, because some people elsewhere in the studio building were being incredibly noisy.  I mean, elephants-having-a-tap-dancing-lesson kind of noisy, and it was affecting our recordings. This was a real shame, especially when the actors’ performances were so flipping good.  C’est la shared studio space.  I’m sure we’ll find a way to sort the sound out.

The reason I brought that up is because Paul got so cross that he expressed a desire to go upstairs and physically assault the unknown person or persons who were responsible for making such a racket.  While I completely understood and shared his feelings, I realised that people tend to be a lot more vocal and expressive about their anger when it’s directed at strangers.  Isn’t that odd?

We all get cross from time to time, and with people whom we might never meet: noisy neighbours, the person who pulled the emergency brake on your train and made you late for work, whoever it was that used up the loo roll in a public toilet.  These are all people whom we mentally direct venom, anger and disbelief towards: “how could anyone DO such a thing?!” we think.  Well, the awkward thing is that we’ve probably done some of those things ourselves, perhaps without even realising it.  After all, you’re a wonderful human being, but you’re not perfect.

Let’s look at this from the other side: how upset would you be if a stranger came up to you in the street, pointed an accusing finger at you and yelled, “YOU!  You’re the pratface who accidentally knocked my ankles with a pushchair in a shopping centre four months ago!  How do you sleep at night??”  You’d be mortified, wouldn’t you?  First of all, you didn’t mean to spoil this person’s day, but also you’re a complex person who says, does and thinks all sorts of things.  How can someone judge you for having made one mistake when there’s so much more to you?

That’s how I’m trying to think about the noisy people in the other studio yesterday.  I will only ever see them (or hear them, I suppose) as pachyderms with a Billy Elliot complex, but I’m sure that they are many-layered people who have hopes, dreams, sandwich preferences and allergies.

Have the kind of Monday that should be in a movie montage.

Life Is Not A Rehearsal (Except Today)

ambivalence-pic-3

Hello!  Welcome to what I hope will be the best Wednesday of your life so far.

This evening my theatre company is putting on a show called Date Night (don’t worry, this isn’t a marketing ploy), and so today will mostly be spent rehearsing, folding programmes and having a fight with the sound effects.  The reason that I bring the event up (apart from the fact that I’m excited about it) is that I think I’ve finally realised what I love so much about theatre.

I am, as you may possibly perhaps potentially have noticed from previous posts, not so good at relinquishing control.  Having said that, like most people I also hugely enjoy the spontaneous, unpredictable and wonderful moments that life throws at us from time to time.  (Case in point: you might be in a confusing on/off relationship, get sick of it, go travelling to focus on yourself for a while and then receive a life-changing declaration of undying love from said on/off person.  True story, although sadly not mine.)  Being a theatre director gives me the best of both worlds: I can dictate the terms of the performance, but I have absolutely no control over what happens on the night.  The actors can do what they like on stage, and I will not be able to stop them – not that I’d want to, of course.  They’re flipping brilliant at what they do.

I think that it’s incredibly important to find activities that bring out and reconcile the most juxtaposing aspects of our personalities.  I am incredibly lucky to have found a way to make something positive out of the fact that I simply MUST be in control at all times, AND want to be pleasantly surprised by life.  Not asking much, am I?  But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all hold opposing views simultaneously, and we are all trying to find ways to work them out all of the time.  There are pessimistic romance-cynics who really want to be swept off their feet, and frantically career-minded professionals who would love to be stay at home parents one day.  Everyone is capable of having these contradictions in their minds, and I know that it can be frustrating, but I think that we can all find ways to make those bizarre contrasts work for us.  Besides, life is too short to get ourselves in a tangle about having contradictory views.  Life is really not a rehearsal (except mine today, which literally is).

To summarise, you are allowed to feel more than one way about life, love and controversial issues.  You are all the more interesting for being able to see more than one side of an argument, and that’s saying something, because you are pretty blimming fascinating already.

I hope your commute today is the swiftest and least stressful it’s ever been.

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.