Tag Archives: rehearsals

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.

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.

We Can’t All Be Ron Burgundy

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Good morning, and a very merry Monday to you!

Yet again, I find myself needing to apologise to you, you lovely and patient reader, for not having written anything for a while.  Truth be told, preparation for the Fringe is taking up an insane amount of time, and I’m afraid the whole blogging thing slipped through my incredibly disorganised net.  Today’s blog will be an extra 10% funny and uplifting, just for you.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from working in theatre is that everyone responds to emotional situations differently.  What makes one person cry will make another angry, and what makes one person laugh out loud will at best raise a small smile from someone else.  The bizarre thing is how drastically our emotional responses vary from those of our nearest and dearest.  Certain things that would put you into the Anchorman “glass case of emotion” might only dip your best friend’s toe into the goldfish bowl of vague discomfort.

This can be a very good thing and a fairly weird one.  It’s excellent to surround ourselves with people who can give us fresh perspectives, but sometimes it makes us feel less rational when our friends disagree with our responses.  When it comes to emotional reactions we are particularly vulnerable, because our feelings tend to be relatively instinctive rather than especially thought through.

This is something that has come up quite a lot during rehearsals for Chris is Dead, partly because the content is quite emotionally charged, but also because the people involved are all very different.  Despite his constant cries of “where are all the men?!”, our only male cast member is actually very sensitive to the most upsetting aspects of the story.  (In case you hadn’t guessed, the title of the show pretty much explains what it’s about.  You knew that already, right?)  One of the girls tends to be very good at distancing herself from her character’s grief, and the third is stoically open-minded about how different aspects of the story will affect her at different points of the rehearsal process.

The best and most rewarding aspect of working with these cracking people is the fact that they really respect each other’s views.  It’s hard enough working on a show about death without the cast disagreeing on their feelings about it, so I feel very lucky to be directing three such empathetic and lovely actors.

Although my head is very much stuck in a my-life-has-been-taken-over-by-rehearsals-what-on-earth-is-this-“sleep”-thing-you-speak-of-? sort of place, I can appreciate that the cast’s communal attitude is something that should be more prevalent in the real world.  It might be baffling or annoying to find that we are not on the same wavelength as others around us, but we should have confidence in the validity of our feelings.  We should also make the effort to try and understand where other people are coming from.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Monday.

Get That Poncho Away From Me

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:

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“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.

Have an incredibly amusing Thursday.

Shameless Plug Alert

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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.

Tricky Definitions

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Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you’ve all decided whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat.  These are the kind of decisions that can really make or break the start of your weekend.

Today’s blog is about definitions, and why they can be really good OR spectacularly awful.  We use them all the time, perhaps without even realising in some cases.  Definitions are meant to provide clarity and make something that is unknown more imaginable, but in some situations they may do more harm than good.

Let’s start with the basics: a dictionary defines words for us.  This is a wonderful thing, except when people start a speech or essay with the words “The Oxford English Dictionary defines (insert random abstract noun) as follows”.  That needs to stop.

In terms of human definitions, the most obvious initial one is whether a person is male or female.  Without delving too far into the complex issue of gender politics, I do think that this is quite an interesting one.  Firstly, there are people who are biologically one gender who identify more strongly with the other, and some prefer an androgynous identity.  In literature, many authors have chosen to use their initials rather than gender-specific first names: P.D. James, for example, and J. K. Rowling.  Again, I really am not trying to start a debate about whether women are at a disadvantage in literary circles and anonymity is necessary, but I do think it’s interesting that something as arbitrary as gender definition has a role in somebody’s reputation as a writer.

Physical definitions are incredibly tricky, and they come up most often in life.  When you’re talking to a friend and describing someone they can’t remember, physical definition is the first thing you turn to: “You know Simon.  Tall, dark hair.  Always wears a leather jacket.”  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, because it’s an aide to memory, but in some cases it can get pretty nasty.  Online dating profiles, for example, or when discussing the pros and cons of a potential partner: “She’s nice, but she’s got a really big nose.”  “I’m a curvy, bubbly socialite with long, blonde hair.”  Cringe o’clock.  These definitions are more disturbing than the memory aides because they are not about reinforcing a previous observation: they are about trying to create a mental picture of someone that allows you to judge them.  Why is an appearance-based picture of someone more important than what they’re actually like?

Appearance-based definitions are absolutely huge in the performing arts world.  Casting briefs can be incredibly specific about height, weight, eye colour and all sorts of other physical attributes.  As a writer and director I understand that you may have a very clear mental image of what a character needs to look like, but my favourite thing about casting is when somebody surprises you by being like the character, not necessarily looking like them.  On a fundamental level, I resent the idea that you could go through life being an extremely talented actor who doesn’t look “marketable”, and therefore miss out on work.  What on earth is the point of investing thousands of pounds in your education at a drama school, working hard to develop your skills and repertoire, only to discover that you just don’t look right?

Sometimes definitions can be helpful.  In rehearsals, I encourage my actors to work out as much specific detail about their characters as possible: favourite foods, pet peeves, family backgrounds and more.  These definitions may never be referred to in the performance, but they help the actors to build up as complete a mental picture as possible of who they are trying to portray.  But here’s the thing: this mental picture is based on personality attributes, not physical, and it’s there to help them do their jobs.

The issue of relationship status definition is among the most prevalent in today’s society, particularly for people my age: as those of you who have read this blog post will know, I hate the entire damn thing.  “We’re just dating.”  “We’re sort of seeing each other.”  “We’re not official.”  FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, people who are “officially” together do not have a certificate from the government or a permit from their local council; they’re just together.  And whatever you are to someone, it doesn’t matter in the slightest how the rest of the world sees your relationship as long as YOU know what the terms are.  What good does it do you if you tell your friends that you’re “not exclusive” with someone if, when they go out and sleep with someone else, it upsets you because you secretly hoped that the relationship was more serious than that?  Well, you may THINK you feel emotionally betrayed, but actually your social circle can testify that your relationship definition was “non-exclusive”, so actually you have no right to be sad.  Oh, ok.  I’ll switch my emotions off, then.  Ridiculous.

The main thing about definitions is that, if we do need to use them, I think we should use them for good things.  Aides to memory – fine.  Character analysis – fine.  (I hope so, anyway, because I get my actors to do a lot of work on that!)  But definitions that reduce a person in any way, or encourage others to judge them for something completely arbitrary, are a no-no.

Have a lovely Friday.  May your trains/buses/flying monkeys run exactly to schedule.