Tag Archives: pressure

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.

Confidence Tricks

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s your week been?

For those of you who didn’t catch my last post about active problem-solving, the main aim of this post is to report back on my first ever indoor climbing session, which took place on Wednesday.  I was accompanied by my friend Laura, who has been going mountain climbing since the age of three and a half, and who kindly agreed to teach me how to climb.  Needless to say, she’s a very brave and patient woman.

Despite my novice status – and predisposition towards swearing profusely when under pressure – we ended up having a great time, and have therefore decided to make the climbing a weekly thing. I look forward to learning a lot more about it.  In the meantime, here is a basic report of my findings thus far:

a) Chalk gets everywhere.  You need it to stop your hands from getting sweaty and slipping on the grips, but seriously.  EVERYWHERE.
b) The names for various climbing holds and techniques sound like they came from a Carry On script, “jugs” being the least outrageous example.  Which leads me neatly to:
c) You can’t climb and giggle at the same time.
d) As with many things in life, it’s best to be cautious without over-thinking.  Staring at a wall for ages and trying to work out your route is only going to freak you out, although obviously it’s important to be careful.
e) Speaking of which, the climbing centre went to a lot of trouble to remind us that CLIMBING CAN CAUSE SERIOUS CASES OF DEADNESS.  So be warned.
f)  Climbing is a lot easier when you have confidence.  If you don’t have actual confidence, pretend that you do.

I am genuinely starting to believe that the way to get things done is to lie yourself into confidence.  For example, when Laura gave me a short bouldering demonstration at the beginning of Wednesday’s session, I mentally freaked out because the whole thing suddenly seemed impossible.  Laura has been doing this climbing thing for years, but I’m old and set in my ways!  I’ve been abiding by the laws of gravity for twenty-five years – what on earth makes me think I can start defying them now?!  Confidence, that’s what.  Stubborn, bloody-minded, if-R-Kelly-believes-he-can-fly-then-I-believe-I-can-climb-a-wall confidence.  If Laura makes it look easy, then it must be easy.  (It wasn’t.  It was brilliant fun, but it wasn’t easy.)  The kind of confidence, in other words, which is only ever borne out of a negative or scary scenario and is almost entirely composed of self-deception.

This kind of motivation might seem silly or counter-productive, but it really does work.  It would be nice to spend our entire lives feeling constantly capable, meeting new challenges with panache and overcoming obstacles with the right footwear.  However, sometimes we have to accept that things are going to be difficult, or frightening, or involve an excessive amount of chalk.  In those situations, we need to know ourselves well enough to pull out all the stops.  Procrastinator, know thyself – and know how to trick yourself into feeling confident.

Sometimes it’s as simple as wearing clothes that make you walk taller, or listening to music that puts you in a good mood.  Whatever your tricks and treats are, make sure you use them whenever you have need.  Eventually, they will become second nature and you genuinely will feel as confident as you’ve pretended to be.

Have an amazing weekend.  Make sure you get a lie-in at some point.

Stress Can Sod Off

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s your day going so far?

Today I’d like to broach the awkward subject of anxiety; specifically, anxiety related to pressure and stress.  We all feel anxious, tense and worried at various points in our lives, and it can be petrifying (in the original sense of the word, i.e. it temporarily immobilises you).  Fun aside: when I was about eight years old, my family went on holiday to Norfolk and, good little Catholic clan that we are, we invited the local priest round for dinner one night.  Apropos of absolutely nothing, he kindly informed us that the word ‘petrified’ comes from the idea that the apostle Peter was the rock upon whom Christ built the Church, and that it basically means being as still and solid as a rock.  I have no idea how true this is.  Looking back as an adult, it doesn’t seem very likely.  I’ll look it up.  Anyway…

The problem with being immobilised by worry is that it prevents you from resolving the very things that are making you feel stressed.  Being so worried that you can’t think straight is no way to tackle your to do list, and giving yourself insomnia over a crisis is not going to do anyone any good.  So what the heck do we do about it?

Well, first things first: make that to do list.  Even if it’s full of jobs that that you’re sure you’ll never be able or in the mood to do, write them all down.  All of them.  Break bigger, scarier tasks into smaller ones, and include every single item that is giving you even the smallest amount of stress.  That way every item you tick off that list (including, if you like, “get out of bed”) gives you a sense of achievement, and it will make the daunting tasks seem less scary and separate from your day to day life.

Secondly, prioritise.  Which email has to be sent off first thing in the morning?  When is that job application due in?  Order the tasks in a way that honestly reflects which ones you need to do first.  If you’re anything like me (i.e. a hopeless procrastinator) you’ll probably find that those big, scary tasks have all ended up at the top of the list.  Ah…

Here’s what you do now.  You set yourself a goal – one scary task and two small ones, for example – to do today.  Be realistic about how much you will be able to do in the time that you have.  Don’t worry too much about tomorrow, or the next day, or the rest of the week.  One of the reasons that anxiety is so debilitating is because it forces us to look at the sheer enormity of our workload and it makes us feel overwhelmed.  Well, scrap that.  We only live one day at a time.

Intersperse your to do list with little rewards.  Keep it simple: a piece of chocolate, ten minutes on Facebook, a big cup of tea – and don’t integrate your treats with your tasks.  You won’t enjoy them if they’re alongside your stress.  Give yourself something to work towards, not something to distract yourself with.  Once you’ve achieved your goal, stop working for a minute and focus on enjoying your reward.

I know that this all sounds incredibly simple and obvious, but it’s surprising how little time we spend properly looking after ourselves and how, after years of exams and deadlines and suchlike, we don’t always give ourselves a chance when it comes to being productive.

So be nice to yourself, and have a stupendously brilliant Tuesday.

Play It (Again), Sam

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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.

Crowded Carriages Are All in Your Head

Tube crowding

Good morning, you marvellous creature.  How’re you doing?

Today I would like you to imagine that your brain is a London Underground tube carriage.  What do you think it would be like?  Is it full of commuters?  Is there a school trip of fluorescently-clad children accompanied by one harassed teacher?  Maybe it’s the last train home, and a few sozzled friends are giggling manically in the corner.  For many of us, it will be the one with a homeless person wandering through asking for change, and a baby screaming at top volume.  In other words, our brains are crowded, noisy, awkward and confusing.

There are approximately 34 seats per tube carriage on London Underground trains, but you hardly ever see a train carriage that’s just neatly filled with 34 seated people, do you? In the same way, our thoughts and feelings do not sit neatly in our brains in a designated space; they run around and confuse us.  For example, the items on your mental to do list are like the school kids on a day trip, who run around and worry you in case one drops off.

Life is difficult , and worrying, and exciting.  It’s also going by very quickly.  Particularly in cities and especially for people who have busy lifestyles, it’s difficult to feel properly connected to one another.  (Like ships passing in the night, perhaps.  I have no idea where this transport obsession has come from, by the way.  I’ll be banging on about the “aeroplanes of ambition” next, I expect.)  It’s so irritating in its self-exacerbation: we get stressed out because we’re so busy and we have no time to see our friends and loved ones, and then we get more stressed out because we haven’t seen our friends or loved ones for ages, ad infibloodynitum.

It’s not easy to do, and for some people social stuff goes completely out of the window when the pressure’s on at work or what have you, but we have to keep connections with people during times of stress.  I’ve got a huge to do list on my desk (and I’m genuinely starting to think that it might be sentient), but I am aware that I’ll go loopy if I don’t talk to a good friend today.  Similarly, my friend Laura is studying all morning in the British Library, and her PhD will make her crazy if she doesn’t switch of from it for half an hour, so to solve both of our problems we are going to drink coffee together and have a chat.

Sounds like I’m encouraging procrastination, doesn’t it?  I’m honestly not.  I believe in working hard and doing something you’ve set out to do, but I also believe that burning out and cutting yourself off from people is an incredibly stupid and damaging thing to do.  Thinking that you are alone with your crowded carriage mind is silly, because everyone feels like that.  Also, when did you last see a train with six empty carriages and one full one?  Exactly.  Now go and ring someone who likes you.

Have a fantastic Tuesday.