Tag Archives: Empty Photo Theatre

The Storytellers and the Scouse Suitcase

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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.

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Anecdotally Speaking

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Hello, dear reader!  How are you?

After four and a half very giggly/sleepy/coffee-y hours on a train, yesterday afternoon found myself and most of the Empty Photo lot staggering into the Edinburgh sunshine.  Yesterday evening found us at Parlour Tricks, which was wonderful, and yesterday night found us drinking at the Three Sisters.  

This morning (which will surprise absolutely no one, I’m sure) finds me feeling a little worse for wear and vaguely ashamed of myself for having become a bit weepy whilst under the influence.  (Having said that, Harry just had to lean his head on the counter top while he emptied out the cafetière, so things could definitely be worse.)  

Having been at the Fringe for a mere twenty-two hours at this stage, we have already racked up a fairly respectable number of anecdotes and amusing incidents (which I’m sure Ash will be delighted to hear when she joins us tomorrow), and doubtless more will follow.  Anecdotes are a bit of a weird one, because a lot of them fall under the heading “you had to be there”, but the ones that are universally funny can bring a lot of joy.

I am wary of writing blog posts while I’m in Edinburgh, not because I won’t have very much free time, but because I don’t want to bore you, dear and gorgeous reader, with “oh my God the Fringe is so awesome look how much hilarious fun I’m having at an event which you either don’t care about or couldn’t make it to, depending on who is reading this” entries.  I don’t want to bore or alienate anyone, so I will do my best to keep these posts interesting and about all manner of topics.

I will also make sure to tell you all of the funniest anecdotes.  Coming soon: the time I thought I was going to be murdered and chopped up into tiny pieces at a review briefing.  (It is funny, I promise.)

Have an incredibly productive Thursday.

Why Would an Elephant Want to Tap Dance?

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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.

Fight or Flight (or Flail)

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Hello, lovely reader!  How are you?  Yeah, I think I’m coming down with something too.  Do you want some Lemsip?

Last night was the Empty Photo Theatre performance Date Night, and I would like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to everyone who came, was in it or has listened to me wittering about it recently.  Also, thank you to everyone who has contacted me to say nice things about it.  You are far too kind.

For absolutely no good reason, today I am thinking about our instinctive responses to stressful situations.  In physical terms, the fight or flight response is pretty fascinating: did you know, for example, that under stress our digestion and immune systems shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions?  Me neither.  I’m so glad that we’ve evolved to be able to deal with a sabre-toothed tiger.  Our bodies are weird and wonderful.

Our brains are weird and wonderful too, but in a different way: our emotional instincts tend to mirror our physical ones, and when an emotionally or just cognitively stressful situation occurs, we tend to either confront it or flee screaming in terror (metaphorically, of course.  In reality we tend to smile politely and change the topic of conversation).   Most people would respond very differently depending on different situations: for example, the person who would calmly walk away from a bicker with their friend might pull a machete on their partner in the event of infidelity.

Having said that, there are some people who tend to respond pretty much the same way to most things, and we know about this because we have terms for them.  For instance, the people who would usually favour a flight response to emotional problems are referred to as “emotionally unavailable”.  (I love that phrase.  It makes it sound like we’re doing a nativity play, and the emotionally unavailable people are the innkeepers shouting “NO ROOM AT THE INN, I DON’T LIKE TO FEEL THINGS!” before slamming the door on an awkward conversation.)  Bizarrely, people who would rather fight in response to emotional issues tend to be drawn to those who would not, and the consequences are usually frustrating and confusing.  I know lots of outspoken, heart-on-sleeve kind of people (myself included) who are attracted to fairly stiff-upper-lip types, and that has yet to end well for any of us.

Weirdly, I think that that’s probably for the best.  People who would run away from confrontation need the argumentative types, and people who are easily upset need to spend time with those who are slightly less fragile.  No one has yet worked out a sure fire method of dealing with emotional stress, so we need to try to learn from each other.  If we balance out fight and flight we usually end up with a flail, and although that doesn’t sound very effective, at least you won’t be doing it alone.

Have a supreme Thursday.

I’ve Got “Changes” Stuck in My Head Now

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Happy Friday, lovely reader!  Got any nice plans for your weekend?

Last night I watched the season finale of My Mad Fat Diary on that absolute blessing of a website, 4oD.  For those of you who don’t watch it, don’t worry: I’m not going to go into any massive amount of detail about it (although it’s well-worth watching just for Nico Mirallegro, who is beautiful, as you can see).  For those of you who do watch the show but haven’t seen the finale yet, also don’t worry: I won’t spoil it for you.

The reason that I brought it up at all is because one of the key messages that came out of the episode is that you really never know how things are going to change.  You might think that you know how you feel about something, and then find that your opinion is entirely turned around.  (For example, I live in hope that one day I will wake up and discover that I like olives.)  You can think that you know how you feel about a person, and that can change without you even noticing.  That’s how old friends fall in love and old couples fall apart; sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s terrible, but it does happen.  You never know how you might change.

I’ve just typed the word “change” so many times that I’ve now got Bowie’s Changes stuck in my head.  (Weird fact about that song: when it was released as a single in 1972 it never reached the Top 40 in America or the UK, but it got great reviews and has since been listed as #127 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.)

Lots of us think that things happen to us, and that we are forced to adjust to them.  Sometimes this is true, but a lot of the time we actually have more of a say in how we feel than we realise.  If something changes that you genuinely can’t help, you can always find a way to adapt to it.  For example, when I lost my job a month or so ago I could have sat around feeling sorry for myself, but I didn’t.  (My friends and loved ones would never have let me do that, because they’re brilliant.)  I have registered as self-employed, I’m writing this blog and articles on other websites, and I’m finally giving my theatre company some much needed attention.  I have time to see my friends, and I can appreciate living in London for what it is: a bizarre adventure.  Sometimes it can be confusing or a bit lonely, but mostly it’s bloody good fun.

I decided to take that course of action.  I chose not to accept “Episode 7: The One Where Vicki Loses Her Job” as the season finale.  Think about times when something’s gone wrong for you in the past.  Did you sit around and feel sorry for yourself?  Maybe for a while.  But where are you now?  Are you still sulking?  Of course not.  You’re a wonderful human being with a lot of brilliant stuff to do.  You chose to respond to that situation by getting the flip on with your life.  You, my friend, have been commissioned for an additional twelve seasons at least.  (I don’t know why I picked twelve.  I have no idea how the television industry works.)

Most of this week (as you may have noticed from previous posts) I have been in a bit of a strop on behalf of myself and my friends, because we think that having feelings for people makes us vulnerable, and we don’t like that at all.  No siree.  But I had a truly enlightening conversation with a friend the other day, who told me that loving someone (in any way, not just romantically) is not just something that happens to you; it’s something that you decide to do.  You can fight your feelings and you can hide them, but they’ll still be there.  Isn’t it better to use them for something positive, even if you don’t know what will happen?  You don’t necessarily have to make massive declarations of eternal devotion or (God help us all) some kind of huge gesture worthy of a Hollywood rom-com.  You just have to be brave.  You have to admit to yourself how you feel, and then see where it takes you.  I suppose that’s an example of instigating change rather than being a victim of it, which can only be a positive step.

I think that that’s a big ask (especially on a Friday, for crying out loud), and I think it takes most people a while to be able to do that.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite there yet.  Although surely if I can master that bit, the olives thing will just happen automatically?

Have the Friday to end all Fridays.

A Kick in the Right Direction

Hello, reader!  How are you?

When Mario and I were in Paris, we saw this sign outside Notre Dame:

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We were surprised and amused to discover that, even in the beautiful capital of France, people needed to know how to cycle to London.  (We realised later that it probably had something to do with the Tour de France, but at the time it seemed very random.)  Cycling to the city of drizzle and pigeons seemed like a mammoth task from our location in the sunshine outside a famous cathedral, and yet it would appear that people wanted to do it.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two friends of mine who are of the creative ilk.  One of them in particular is a woman of many talents: she designs vintage dresses, she is a director and actor, and she is full of ideas for exciting performance projects.  Like most people who want to make stuff, she is hindered by the usual concerns: time, money, finding a rehearsal space, money, finding the right actors, and did I mention money?  Not only is there not a lot of it about, but funding applications are about as easy to navigate as an underground labyrinth when you don’t have a torch (or a very good sense of direction).

Red tape gets in the way of a lot of projects.  I am assured that when this friend of mine rules the world, there will be no more red tape: it will all be pink, blue and possibly green.  (I also put in a request for it to be sparkly, which is under consideration.)  With many creative projects, the best way forward is make a good to do list.  Breaking things down into manageable steps is a good way to get cracking on making stuff happen.  For example, I am taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe with Empty Photo Theatre this summer, and the tasks that that project will involve make for a hell of a to do list – four A4 pages, in fact.  But looking at the individual jobs in a list helps me not to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the entire project, and I’m also very lucky to have excellent friends and colleagues to support me.

The same sort of idea applies to writing.  I remember someone telling me once that the best way to check whether the story you want to tell is a good one is to break it down into shorter and shorter synopses until you can sum it up in one sentence.  I tend to do that the other way around: I try to come up with a one-sentence summary for a script idea, and then flesh it out until I have the entire storyline set down.  The process is different, but the purpose is the same: writing an entire play is much less worrying when I know exactly what’s going to happen.

When my red tape-hindered friend and I were discussing her ideas yesterday, we managed to break them down into small steps that she felt more positive about being able to achieve.  I would imagine that any project can be broken down and made less daunting in this way, even a Presidential election campaign, or cycling from Paris to London.

The main thing about starting a huge project is to make sure that somebody who is rooting for you is there to give you a kick in the right direction.  A problem shared may or may not be a problem halved, but an idea shared is definitely an idea started.  By the way, if your dream is to cycle from Paris to London, the kick in the right direction is probably best left metaphorical.

Enjoy your Thursday!