Tag Archives: Edinburgh Fringe

Here We Go Again…

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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.

Dear Scotland

The River Ness. If I were that way inclined, I would say
The River Ness. If I were that way inclined, I would say “#nofilter”, but that makes me feel a bit sick

Dear Scotland,

I love you.  You know that, don’t you?  I always have.  Ever since we first met, on a windswept and sulk-filled family holiday in 1999, you have amazed me.

I learned to ride my bike that year, do you remember?  My parents dragged the family up to a self-catered cottage for the Autumn half-term holiday.  It was a ramshackle building in the middle of a country estate, and an outlandish decision that baffled all of us at the time.  It was cold and miserable and the sheep had worryingly intelligent eyes, and I remember all of us desperately trying to find stuff to do.  I was ten years old, and I’d never learned to ride a bike.  You gave me the opportunity.

My hands kept going numb – either because I was cold, or because I thought that having a vice-like grip on the handlebars would help – and I was scared.  Every time I fell off, crashed into a tree or scraped my hands on the stones, I got back up and looked down the track.  I thought that stretch of road would go on forever.  There was always more space for me to practise.  I could learn; I could get better.  And I did.

You bring out that side of me, you see.  The hard-working, screw-you-adversity, I-am-the-master-of-my-fate side.  Remember the first time I did the Edinburgh Fringe?  Wowee.  What a hectic month that was.  You gave me an enormous challenge and I rose to it, because I knew you were worth the effort.  Every year since then, the Fringe has been a welcome whirlwind, and every year I take away something new.  Hey – remember last year when I fell in love with climbing after going up Arthur’s Seat?  Bizarre, wasn’t it?  But that’s why we work so well: you can always surprise me.

Besides, you always seem to know what’s best for me.  For example, the complete lack of phone signal makes me appreciate my surroundings, which is great when I’m visiting my friends in Inverness.  Instead of worrying about emails and bills and responsibilities in London, I get to relax and spend time with some of my favourite people on the planet.  This weekend was great, by the way.  Thanks for being so sunny and gorgeous.

I wish that we could spend more time together, but despite how much fun we always have, I’ve got to stick with London.  At least for now.  But thank you for always being there for me.  Thank you for being such a great home for my little brother and sister.  Thank you for being unapologetic, full of bizarre people, chilly, beautiful and – unlike everywhere within spitting distance of London – reasonably priced.

Love,

Vicki

Turning Points

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Hello, lovely reader.  I hope that the world is treating you exceptionally well today.

After a brilliant (but very tiring) month at the Fringe directing Tumbling After, I have now safely returned to the wilds of North London.  At the end of August, when the shows started to wrap up and the suitcases started to drag their exhausted owners towards the station, my team and I found ourselves having a typical end-of-the-Fringe conversation:

“Oh my God, I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed.”
“I hate packing.  Where did all of our socks go?”
“Won’t it be weird not to go flyering every day?”
“Has Rob got, like, ALL of our socks in his room or something?”
“I can’t believe we got through so much Berocca.”
“Guys.  Seriously.  WHERE ARE OUR SOCKS?!”

What our festival-addled brains could not yet process was the fact that we had completed a mammoth task.  Achievement Unlocked: Did Really Well With A Fringe Show.  After months of hard work, early starts, bruising, caffeine and hysterical laughter, we were finished.  We got lots of nice reviews, many lovely audiences and a very fortuitous sponsorship deal from Arnicare.  We did flipping well.

Finishing something like a project, trip, job, or even a relationship is usually a turning point.  When something that we’ve built our lives around – however temporarily – comes to an end, we are forced to make decisions about what happens next.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and life change is the mother of difficult choices.

One of the biggest problems with turning points is that wherever we decide to turn next, we feel the loss of potential.  However amazing something is, once it’s over the excitement of possibility is gone.  I was very ready to come home from the Fringe this year.  I had a lovely time, but by the end of it I was tired and eager to get on with my ‘real’ life.  Now that I’m back, I am finding it weirdly depressing to think that something I worked on for seven months is finished.  Where did all that potential go?

Potential becomes reality.  Turning points are much more obvious in hindsight.  A month at the Fringe puts your liver through its paces.  These statements may all be perfectly true, but we also have to remember that you can treat any decision as a turning point.  Not in a scary, butterfly effect-esque way, but in an exciting one: any choice you make has the potential to give you a better reality.  Pushing yourself to go to the gym when you don’t feel like it makes you more disciplined.  Remembering to call a friend back makes you more reliable.  Giving up on approximately twenty missing socks makes you less materialistic (as the Tumbling After crew discovered the hard way).

Of course, we’ve all come home and remembered that ‘real’ life is just as busy, just as exciting and even more fascinating than the Edinburgh Fringe.  The potential of Tumbling After has been realised, and now we get to explore the potential of a bunch of other stuff.  Life is nice like that: when one thing ends, something else is probably about to kick off.  Exciting, no?

Have an anecdotally good day.

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.

No Man is in Ireland

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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.

Pooh Sticks and Perfect Intentions

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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.

Cheesy Conversations

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Happy Tuesday!  Did you have a nice breakfast?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have brilliant friends.  Last night one of my nearest and dearest friends came to visit me at the new flat, and if seeing her were not enough of a treat, she brought three different types of cheese with her.  What a legend.

Over said cheese and a lot of diet coke, we discussed the whys and wherefores of our current life situations.  These are somewhat complicated to say the least.

Where are we going?  What are we doing?  Where on earth has my phone charger gone?  Being in your mid-twenties is characterised by asking a lot of futile questions, and even though we can postulate and theorise and debate, it’s no big secret that none of us have any answers.

That’s ok.  It really is.  We are not supposed to know what we’re doing: we’re supposed to know by now what we want to be doing.  By that I don’t mean that we need to have planned out the next five, ten or twenty years of our lives.  I mean that we need to know what we want to be doing right now, and be working towards it.  We need to know ourselves well enough to be honest about who we are and what really motivates us, whether or not we think that it’s financially viable or approved of by our parents.

I have no idea what my thirty-year-old self will want from life.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what my forty or fifty-year-old selves will be gunning for, either (although an educated guess tells me that it will probably be “more cheese” on all three counts).  What I do know is that I have ambitions and hopes and vague aspirations, and that all of these are achievable if I am willing to have (literally) cheesy conversations with the people who know me best and love me the most.

For example, last night was the first time that I admitted out loud how freaked out I am about writing my next play.  Chris is Dead went down so well at Edinburgh and got such an amazing response from audiences that I am genuinely terrified of writing another script.  Have I peaked already?  Do I have anything else worthwhile to say?  What if from now on everything I write is utter drivel and doesn’t resonate with anyone at all?

No one can say for certain that that won’t turn out to be the case, mostly because I haven’t started writing another play yet.  But my cheese-bearing friend knew that, even though she can’t foresee the future, her opinion of me matters and her optimism on my behalf is a very valuable piece of encouragement.

I can’t tell you not to worry about the future.  We are living in an age when we are made to feel like 25 is (professionally speaking) the new 40, and that if you don’t know what you’re doing by now then you have already failed.  That isn’t true, by the way.  But we all feel that way from time to time, and the key to getting through it is to be worried, feel nervous, and get stressed: the vital second half of that plan is to let someone who loves you allay your fears.  They know you well enough to make you feel better about it, and that is what will keep you going.

Have a stupendous day.  If your breakfast wasn’t all that, have an extra delicious lunch.

Skip to the End

Skip to the end

Hello there, and welcome to a brand new week!  I hope your weekend was extremely restful.

So, Bag End has now been vacated and Ash and I have both returned to our parents’ houses.  We are very lucky that our families are so understanding (and that they’ve kept bed space for us), but I think it’s safe to say that we both feel a bit deflated.  We’ve just had a year of living independently and building up our own home.  This next bit of our lives is going to be a bit tricky.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I had something concrete to focus on: a new job or a new flat would be great right now.  Anyone who has experienced job or flat hunting in London will know that both are extremely demanding, difficult and headache-inducing.  I’ve done both of them before and I’m sure I can do them again now.  The only thing is that I really, really don’t want to.

I have some very wise and sympathetic friends who have experienced similar situations, and the advice from all of them has been not to get bogged down in my current circumstances, because they won’t be forever.  Living at home and being unemployed can be demoralising, but they are temporary states.  Being less mature and more prone to whining than my sensible friends, my instinctive response to their sagacity is basically “but I want to have a new flat/job now.  Why can’t I skip to the end of this bit?”

It’s very common to wish time away when we’re going through a difficult patch.  We know that we’ll get over our break-up eventually, or that if we keep sticking to this diet we will see results at some point.  We just hate waiting.  Putting all of your energy into something and then having to hang about for the results is extremely frustrating.  

It’s actually a good thing to have to wait for what you want.  If we got everything we desired as soon as we wished for it, we would never learn to be patient.  If our dreams materialised as soon as we thought of them, we would never experience the satisfaction of pursuing and genuinely achieving them.  If we had magic lamps to give us what we wanted whenever we wanted it, we wouldn’t have anything to be proud of when we looked back over our lives.  Plus, where on earth would you keep a magic lamp?  Can you get magical knick knacks covered by home insurance?  The whole plan is riddled with extra problems.

I think that one of the best things to do when we’re going through phases of enforced patience is to think of other times when this has been the case, and to take lessons from them.  You got over that last break-up, didn’t you?  Exactly.  Your A Level results were eventually released.  The latest series of your favourite television show did eventually start.  And while you were waiting, I’m sure that you did and experienced things which may have been serving as distractions at the time, but which have now become important parts of your life.  For example, the last time I was in this situation I wrote a play.  That play has just done a great run at the Edinburgh Fringe, and is soon to be a short film for Sky.  

Life is like that: if we concentrate on what we can get done while we’re waiting, we will surprise ourselves with what we’re capable of.  Instead of wanting to skip to the end, we should try to enjoy the possibilities these difficult times contain.

Have a fantastic day.  Make sure your lunch represents all the food groups.

Moving Mountains (of Books)

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Hello, dear reader!  How are things?

Just in case I haven’t complained about this loudly or frequently enough yet, I absolutely loathe and detest moving house, mainly because of the packing.  Packing for a holiday is great, and even packing for the Edinburgh Fringe is ok (as long as someone remembers the props), but packing up an entire house is just ridiculous.  Here are some modern moving woes which I think we can all relate to (and some nice bits as well):

  • “Whose is this?”
    It doesn’t matter whether you only live with one other person, or you put your name in all of your books, or you have an excellent memory: there is always at least one household item which has disputed ownership.  For example, I cannot remember for the life of me who owns the cheese grater, and that’s a very serious concern in our house.
  • “No, seriously, whose is this?”
    Ash and I reconciled ourselves a long time ago to the fact that our friends see us as an elderly married couple, despite (or potentially because of) our best efforts to behave like normal girls in their mid twenties.  However, it has resulted in the other ownership issue that arises when you move house: what do you do with presents that were given to you jointly? Is it fair to call dibs on something that you both have an attachment to?  Ash has already said that I can have the beautiful cheese board our friend gave us for Christmas, so that’s ok.  And yes, everything in this household really does come down to cheese.  It would be sort-of funny if it weren’t so very true.
  • Furniture Tetris
    During the last twelve months, Ash and I have both tried to move the furniture in our bedrooms.  I say “tried”, because one of us got stuck between a wardrobe and a bed, and the other got halfway through before realising that it was past midnight and the neighbours might complain.  Trying to move furniture around and have somewhere to keep your clothes, books etc. and clean as you go is like playing four different levels of Tetris at the same flipping time.  I’m genuinely worried about how we’re going to get all of our furniture out of the front door and into the van.
  • Boxing Days
    You can never have enough boxes.  Every time we’ve left the house in the past week, we’ve stopped at our local Asda to ask the lovely produce staff for cardboard boxes that used to house melons and cabbages.  We now have approximately seven crates of books each and no floor space to move around in.  My main regret about this is that we didn’t even make a fort before we filled them.
  • Sweet Charity
    Moving house is a great time to have a bit of a clear out, whether you swap possessions or do a massive charity shop run.  This aspect of moving is characterised by questions like “Do you want these shoes?”  “This belt doesn’t fit me, do you want to take it?” and even “Do you know you look like one of the seven dwarves with that bin bag over your shoulder?” (Answer: yes.  Yes I do.  And I’m ok with it.  Cue singing “Hi ho” all the way down to the Cancer Research shop.)
  • Hostesses with the Mostest
    By the time we have our house cooling party tomorrow night, the flat will basically be empty apart from emergency coffee-making equipment and the magic internet box (which I think proper grown-ups refer to as a modem).  This is going to make hosting a party a bit of a challenge, but with a bit of luck and a lot of plastic cups, I think we’ll be ok.  

Right.  I’m going to go and tackle the kitchen.  Wish me luck, and have an exceedingly joyful Tuesday.