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.
Good morrow, dear reader. I must begin by apologising profusely for having been absent for a whole month, which is just morally wrong. Please forgive me.
My main excuse is that I have had pretty dreadful writer’s block, including all of the usual symptoms: staring blankly at my laptop screen, getting distracted in the middle of conversations and constantly thinking strange things like “WHERE ARE ALL THE WORDS?!” The weirdest thing about this bout – which is also kind of reassuring – is that I know where the writer’s block has come from. I have been trying to do too many things at once, and this metaphorical juggling act has landed me in a pile of broken plates and a lot of unfinished tasks.
A lot of the time life throws us all sorts of tasks and trials at once, and we have to prioritise accordingly. Some people thrive under pressure of the multi-faceted kind, but for the rest of us it feels impossible to keep on top of everything, and instead we tumble after our lives with a vague sense of having forgotten something important. In my case, it’s usually the house keys.
So what is it that you are tumbling after? Which small duties are distracting you from chasing after what you actually want? Do you have dreams and ambitions that you’re not fulfilling because your to do list is out of control? Who do you want to be? What kind of people do you want to spend your life with? Where – if I may paraphrase the question that haunts all twenty-somethings as soon as they wake up in the morning – is your life going?
These questions and more besides are driving a lot of the collaborative work in rehearsals for Tumbling After, the devised piece that I’m directing for the Edinburgh Fringe 2015. The cast, movement director and I are especially interested in why people choose to spend their lives with certain people. How often are our relationships the result of sensible choices that we make with clear minds? (Answer: rarely.) How often are we willing to blindly fall down a hill, hoping to find love at the bottom? (Answer: alarmingly frequently.)
It’s never easy to ask these questions, because they remind us so vividly of how much time we spend chasing after purpose, success and overall happiness. That can be stressful. But the unexamined life, as Socrates once said over feta and vino, is not worth living. Examining ourselves in detail and assessing where we are in relation to what we want is not an easy thing to do, but if we don’t check in with our lifetime goal list at least once in a while, then all we are ever doing is stumbling and tumbling without knowing what we’re getting into.
We all have our own ways of sorting out our lives: mine is to sit in a rehearsal room and tell four actors where to stand. Not the most ground-breaking approach, but it seems to be working for me. I hope that your method is equally enjoyable.
Hello, gorgeous reader! I hope that you’re keeping warm this chilly Tuesday.
I am delighted to announce that in August I will be returning to that fabulous world of sleepless nights, excellent shows and a bajillion flyers, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (For more information about my 2014 excursion, click here.) This time I will be pottering up the road to Scotland with the fabulous Kate Goodfellow, producer and performer extraordinaire.
My history with Kate is a classic example of how life can take you by surprise. Kate and I met through a mutual friend, who is herself a flipping fantastic performer (quite literally, in terms of her physical theatre training), and hit it off immediately. We have similar senses of humour, a like-minded attitude towards theatre and a mutual appreciation of red wine. As a result, Kate has asked me to direct her devised show Tumbling After, a story about two couples living next door to one another.
The thing about devised work – particularly when it centres around romantic relationships – is that it requires an entirely different set of skills to rehearsing a straight play. With a normal production you have clear instructions in the form of stage directions, lines of dialogue which have been written to shape the actors’ performance and a concrete context for everyone to work within. When you devise a show, you have starting points and end goals: stimuli in the form of images and pieces of writing, music that informs the tone of the performance, and an idea of how the story will probably play out. I say “probably”, because when a group of people devise they are basically being encouraged to go with whatever feels natural in the rehearsals, and that can take the whole performance off in unpredictable directions.
This is, to put it mildly, a bit scary. As a director I am very excited about the challenge of shaping a performance from scratch, but I’m also keenly aware that this is going to take a lot of work. In terms of administration, marketing and rehearsal schedules, Kate and I are Fringe aficionados who are completely comfortable with the production’s demands, but in terms of working with the actors to create something completely unique, this is uncharted territory for all of us.
The reason why (despite the various times throughout my Drama degree when devising was asked of us bright-eyed young students) this project is so much more daunting and exciting than anything I’ve done before is that it requires a level of emotional honesty about something that we all talk about, but very rarely publicise: our love lives.
Relationships are hard. Falling in love is exciting, but staying there takes effort. The people we form attachments to shape, make and break us, which is something that most of us seem to accept. For instance, a person with ongoing commitment issues may trace their problem back to an earlier, failed relationship, while someone who finds it difficult to trust their partner might attribute this difficulty to a previous infidelity committed by somebody else. We all allow our past relationships to give us attributes and attitudes, whether or not they are good for us. The emotional hangovers of our love lives are difficult enough to deal with, and now myself and four actors are going to try and make that premise into a show. Crikey.
The trick when it comes to putting real life into theatre is to take what you need, but nothing else. Over the course of this rehearsal process I will be asking the actors (and the movement director – and myself, actually) to be as honest as possible about how their own romantic histories will shape the characters and the narrative of the play. This is not because Kate and I like to make people cry – that’s a separate issue – but because we know that putting two relationships onstage means nothing if the characters don’t come across as genuine, and their problems are not rooted in something that the actors already understand.
The play, clichéd as the notion may be, really is the thing. I am very excited about working with such brilliant actors and a stellar movement director (who is, in fact, the person who introduced me to Kate in the first place – her name is Liz Williams, and she’s headed for great things), because I know that this is exactly the right group of people to make a scary, brilliant, challenging and emotionally demanding project with.
Plus, you know, there’ll probably be red wine somewhere down the line.
For more information about Tumbling After and all the nonsense we’re getting up to in rehearsals, like the company Facebook page. More information soon!
Hello, 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:
“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.
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.
Good morning, you charming human being! Got any nice plans for your weekend?
Elite Daily recently ran an article about socially acceptable behaviours between best friends. It’s very good (and worryingly accurate): give it a read here. The article focuses on the peculiarly feminine attributes of some women’s friendships, but I think that there a few more which apply to friendships between people of either gender. Here they are:
In every friendship there is a phrase that both parties know has mystical powers. For some reason, whenever Ash or I say that we won’t stay out late we invariably pull an accidental all-nighter, so nowadays when the phrase is uttered we both gasp and fight the urge to spin around three times, throw salt over our shoulders, etc. It’s WEIRD.
Everyone has a small aspect of life that they absolutely hate or just cannot understand, and we all need a friend who can back us up on it. For example, my friend Harry and I both hate Waterloo station. We have many reasons, none of which are rational enough to go into here, but we are adamant: no good comes from going to Waterloo. Isn’t it reassuring to know that someone you love shares your slightly insane prejudices?
I Hear Voices
Fairly straightforward: impressions, quotations, silly voices and random noises are always better when you are with someone who can truly appreciate them, i.e. someone who knows you well enough not to assume that you’ve gone insane.
Left Field Questions
Do you remember this blog post, in which I described getting a text before 8am asking what the plural of mongoose is? That kind of thing is only ever ok between very close friends, because they are the people who appreciate that sometimes you really, really need to know something incredibly random.
This applies to all manner of things, including the dedication of an entire day to stuffing your face and talking about the same love interest repeatedly for months at a time. Only true and loyal friends can engage in these activities together. Case in point: I am about to go and meet my friend Laura for a coffee. “A coffee” usually translates into “four or five pretty strong, industrial-sized soya lattes each”, and we don’t judge each other for it.
The Opinion One Eighty
When your friend is enamoured of someone, you nod and smile and agree (but not too heartily) that yes, s/he is indeed very good-looking, funny, clever, etc. When the relationship sours, your job as a friend is to agree (but again, not too heartily, lest the relationship starts up again) with the opposite sentiments. The Opinion One Eighty can be a difficult one to keep up with, but we do it for our closest friends because we understand that feelings are fluid and romantic relationships are absolute minefields.
The Inexplicable Field Trip
Only a true friend will walk to the shops with you in your pyjamas, accompany you to the play/gig/party where your ex is going to be or agree to walk over the top of the O2 arena with you. (That last one was Harry’s idea, and I’m actually pretty excited about it.) You just can’t make a fool of yourself/be emotionally vulnerable/scale a London landmark without a proper chum by your side.
Hello, lovely reader! How’s everything going with you? Did you get that essay/presentation/murder trial sorted out in the end? Oh good, glad to hear it.
Last night I went to the Etcetera Theatre in Camden to see a play called Leaves of Glass. While it was hardly light-hearted mid-week viewing, it was a very powerful and incredibly well-written play. The story featured disturbingly empathetic ideas of dishonesty within families in order to keep the peace, and papering over bad memories in order to enjoy the present. It was so riveting that I didn’t notice almost two hours slip by without an interval (and an audience always notices stuff like that). I love it when you see a play, or film, or read a book that completely takes over your head space for a few days. Even if it’s because it’s disturbed your inner well-being a bit, it’s good to really digest stuff like that. It means it was good.
One of the first comments I heard when I left the theatre was a woman walking in front of us who turned to someone and said “God, d’you think it was autobiographical?” Strap yourselves in, kids, I’m going in for a rant:
1) If it were autobiographical, would that make any difference to the quality of the play? Would you enjoy a well-written, energetically performed and cleverly directed play any less because you found out that these things did or didn’t happen in real life? Theatre is ABOUT life: the whole point of theatre is to show us something that could actually happen. That’s why we have political plays.
2) It’s really none of your business. If the playwright has been through any of the things that the characters have then s/he should not have to go into detail about it to gratify your morbid curiosity. Also, you just watched a whole bloody play about it; how much more detail do you really want? Wise up, as my friend Carly would say.
(I’m not really cross, by the way. I know I sound it, but I’ve actually got a very nice day planned, so I’m pretty chipper. Sorry for ranting.)
I love it when people see elements of themselves in my plays, because it means that I’ve managed to write characters who are sympathetic (and more importantly, empathetic). But that’s about having a good experience as an audience member and relating to the piece, not trying to look behind the curtain and undermine the story.
Playwrights get very annoyed when people try to detect people they know (or themselves) in their work, because it implies that we don’t have the imagination to come up with our own characters. Sure, we take inspiration from our real lives and the people in it, but we’re not writing Made in Chelsea here. Give us a break. If you switch your brain off to stop worrying about whether your friend’s play is about you or someone you know, you’ll probably enjoy it more.
By the way, I know that in my blogs and articles I talk directly about my friends and family all the time. I’ve named Carly in this one, for example. Oh look at that, I did it again. (Hi Carly!) But this is real life, not a story I made up. I don’t have to use my imagination to tell you about annoying my vegetarian friend on an Underground train. (Sorry – read this blog if that reference baffled you.)
Have an amazing day. Go to that slightly posh place near the office for lunch; you deserve a mid-week treat.
When Mario and I were in Paris, we saw this sign outside Notre Dame:
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.