Tag Archives: rehearsal

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.

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!

The Play’s The Thing

DSC_0061
Cast of Tumbling After from left to right: Steven Laverty, Marietta Melrose, Kate Goodfellow, Robert Boulton

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!

Have a truly sublime Tuesday.

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.

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.

Twenty-Four Going on Sixteen

Hello and welcome to Wednesday!  I hope your week is treating you extremely well so far.

Last night two actor friends of mine came round for the first rehearsal of a short play that we’re performing in Camden in April.  The piece is about two people whose friendship is on the rocks, because they’re no longer sure what they want from each other.  The rehearsal went really well and we had a lot of fun (especially a certain unnamed actor who got a very serious case of the giggles), but we also had a very interesting discussion about relationships, friendships and how our feelings make us behave.

BjmQCdqIUAAwHS3

As you can see, we took the rehearsal very seriously.  Anyway, as those of you who read yesterday’s blog will already know, my friends and I are not fond of fancying people.  It’s difficult and stressful and it makes us feel unnecessarily girly (and yes, that includes my male friends).  Apart from the obvious vulnerability that goes with having feelings for someone, I think that one of the problems my generation has with the entire dating thing is that it makes us feel like we’re still sixteen.  Even in our mid-twenties, when we have  a fair amount of emotional experience under our belts, we’re still not entirely sure what we’re doing or what the other person is thinking.  That’s hard to process.  How can we not have conquered this in a decade?

We as a generation have been programmed to aim high: we’re fighting against a tidal wave of economic uncertainty, we have to fight hard to get jobs (and even interviews) in a way that not many generations have had to do before, and we are annually told that our excellent A Level grades don’t mean anything.  Of course the exams are getting easier; why would we be getting cleverer or more conscientious?  It’s not like we’re trying to succeed at life or anything.  OH NO WAIT.

If we are so good at working hard for professional success, why are we so bad at coping with our personal lives?  When we were discussing this last night, one of my actors made a very good point: to a certain extent, we have control over our professional progress.  We might not always get the jobs or the opportunities that we want or think we deserve, but to a degree fate favours the people who put the hours in.  When it comes to relationships, friendships and other people in general, we have absolutely no control over how they feel about us.  Sure, we can dress nicely, smile a lot and be the best possible version of ourselves, but there’s no equity involved: being as awesome as you can be doesn’t guarantee that someone will like you.  Unfair, but true.

The bizarrely reassuring thing about this whole situation is that it gives us all a level playing field: nobody feels completely sorted when it comes to this stuff, and even the highest-flying executive can be baffled by a crush.  We have learned a lot since we were teenagers, but no one has yet conclusively proved how feelings work, so at least we’re not alone in our confusion.

Have a wonderful day, and make sure you have something delicious for dinner.