Tag Archives: writing

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

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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.

Seal of Approval

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

When I was a child, it took me quite a while to work out that the phrase “seal of approval” referred to a stamp-type thing on a piece of paper, not an actual seal who followed you around and nodded approvingly when you did something right.  (Trips to the zoo became slightly less fun after this revelation, if I’m totally honest.)

In modern life, seals of approval come in many forms: likes on Facebook statuses and photos, retweets, promotions at work and the knowledge that awesome people like being your friends.  This is all very well and good, but how much time do we commit to gaining the approval of the only people who matter: ourselves?

I freely admit that I rely too much on the good opinion of other people.  Hence the writing, I guess.  I have built my entire professional life around entertaining other people, and it’s not that different in my personal life: I am one of those people who automatically assumes that an unanswered text means that the recipient despises me, for example.  I’m exaggerating, but modern life does encourage us to believe that silence is passive aggressive and that a friendship isn’t real until you’re connected on Facebook.  Not the healthiest way to approach social interaction, is it?

How do we fix this?  Can we go about our lives in a way that balances a strong sense of self-worth with knowing the value of other people’s respect?  Is there an attitude that will allow us to like ourselves enough not to worry too much about our reputations, but at the same time make sure that our reputations stay intact?  Can we be the best versions of ourselves without needing to hear about it from the people around us?

Some people are already able to do this, of course.  Lucky you, if you’re one of those types.  But for the rest of us, whatever aspect of our lives/upbringings/personalities has led us to this point, we need to focus on gaining our own respect before we work for anyone else’s.  You know the irritating but true phrase “no one will love you until you learn to love yourself”?  Well, it’s the same with respect (and slightly less cloying to think about): what use is anyone else’s if you haven’t got your own?

Pursuit of what we know (or hope) will make us better people is the key to finding self-respect.  Think about the people you admire in life: the achievers, the constants, the optimists.  All of those people have worked hard to achieve those great feats and obtain those virtues.  They identified what they wanted to be or do, and then pursued it for their own sense of self worth.  If they can do it, you can, too.

It’s like playing Pokemon on a GameBoy (showing my age here): when you’re working towards a gym badge in those games, you don’t give a crap what Team Rocket are up to.  In reality, when you’re working towards becoming a better version of yourself, you forget about what other people think of you.  You know deep down that your opinion is the only one which matters.

Having said that, I think all of our self-improvement programmes would develop much more rapidly if seals actually followed us around and applauded our good deeds.  I’ll have to look into that.

Have a stupendous Tuesday.

Mind-Altering Circumstances

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Hello, reader!  How are you?  Take a seat.  Don’t mind the mess, I’m still unpacking.  Would you like a coffee?

I recently discovered that many forms of urban wildlife like to visit my garden, and in my naive, not-a-real-Londoner state I was delighted.  “I’m living in The Animals of Farthing Wood!” I thought.  (Except that time I saw a squirrel eating a potato waffle – pictured above – which was just baffling.)

Well, waking up this morning to discover that said wildlife had seen fit to POO on the patio made me rethink my position.  I have spent the last hour Googling how to deter foxes, with mixed success.  According to this nice pest control man, “young male urine” will do the trick.  Excuse me, but a) gross and b) I live with my sister.  How on EARTH are we supposed to ask our next young male visitor to oblige us with that particular type of pesticide?  It’s just not happening.

Anyway, vulpine poo problems aside, this last week or so has demonstrated to me that changing your mind is an inevitable part of life.  It doesn’t even take an unwelcome surprise (as it were) to create the change: as we experience life, we discover that our feelings about the world change accordingly.  This is a good thing, because it shows that we are not closed-minded people, but it’s also a bit disorientating, because our opinions form an integral part of who we are.  Here are some of the things I think we worry about too much in terms of where we stand:

The Career Conundrum
I won’t lie to you: pursuing a writing career is hands down the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and this is coming from someone who’s been to Hackney at night time.  Sometimes our choice of job or pursuit of passion leaves us feeling a bit lost, and we start to wonder whether we’ve made the right decisions.  This week I genuinely started to panic about the writing thing, and even though it’s sort-of on the wane now, it was weird how unappealing my lifelong passion started to look.
I really don’t believe that it is ever too late to change your mind about what you want to do.  I have a friend who is doing a degree course at the age of 26 (and getting insanely high marks as well, the jammy madam).  A lot of people I know – especially those lovely creative types – are constantly turning their hands to all sorts of endeavours, and it makes them much more rounded and fascinating people.  Society tells us that we must introduce ourselves with our job titles, as though our careers defined us.  They don’t, even though they do take up a lot of our time.  It’s not worth wasting time worrying about what your job title sounds like when the main thing is to be happy.  If you change your mind about what you want to do, that’s your business.  As far as I’m concerned, you should be allowed to introduce yourself as Grand High Master of the Universe for all that your job title actually matters.

The Marriage and Kids Debate
“I definitely want to get married one day.”  “I want lots of kids, but not marriage.”  “I would never have a church wedding.”  We’ve all had these conversations, haven’t we?  Especially once you hit my age, lots of people start to seriously consider what the long-term landscape of their personal lives is going to be.  At this point, particularly if you have a serious boy/girlfriend, it becomes very important to be completely honest with yourself about what you really want.  You may have spent your entire life saying that you categorically MUST be married by a certain age or have a minimum number of children, but of all things your vision of familial happiness has to be allowed to change.  It’s nice to have a hypothetical idea of what you want, but you have to be able to adapt to what your heart tells you as you get older.  At sixteen you may have been adamant that marriage was not for you, but if you meet the man/woman of your dreams at twenty-six and you change your mind, don’t fight it.  Your past self had no idea what life had in store for you, so why does s/he get to dictate your decisions now?

The Really Big Issues
It is a truly excellent thing to have an informed opinion about Syria, Scottish independence, euthanasia and how we can persuade David Cameron’s home planet to take him back.  The key word in that sentence is “informed” – new information and updates about all of these issues appear on a daily basis, and if situations change we are supposed to readjust our views accordingly.  It takes a much more intelligent and honest person to change their mind about huge political problems than it does to stick to narrow-minded guns.  Consistency is all very well and good, but have you noticed that the news is not consistent?  It changes every day, in fact.  We need to keep up, otherwise we’ll end up like those eejits who think that gay marriage causes hurricanes or whatever.

The main thing to remember is that changing our minds once doesn’t mean we’ll never change them back, or that we won’t form a new opinion entirely.  My writing worries will go, I’m sure, as soon I get stuck into my next play.  If they don’t, I could always retrain as an accountant or something.

Ok, that will NEVER happen.  But the point is that we can and should keep our options (and minds) open.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Thursday.

Cheesy Conversations

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Happy Tuesday!  Did you have a nice breakfast?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have brilliant friends.  Last night one of my nearest and dearest friends came to visit me at the new flat, and if seeing her were not enough of a treat, she brought three different types of cheese with her.  What a legend.

Over said cheese and a lot of diet coke, we discussed the whys and wherefores of our current life situations.  These are somewhat complicated to say the least.

Where are we going?  What are we doing?  Where on earth has my phone charger gone?  Being in your mid-twenties is characterised by asking a lot of futile questions, and even though we can postulate and theorise and debate, it’s no big secret that none of us have any answers.

That’s ok.  It really is.  We are not supposed to know what we’re doing: we’re supposed to know by now what we want to be doing.  By that I don’t mean that we need to have planned out the next five, ten or twenty years of our lives.  I mean that we need to know what we want to be doing right now, and be working towards it.  We need to know ourselves well enough to be honest about who we are and what really motivates us, whether or not we think that it’s financially viable or approved of by our parents.

I have no idea what my thirty-year-old self will want from life.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what my forty or fifty-year-old selves will be gunning for, either (although an educated guess tells me that it will probably be “more cheese” on all three counts).  What I do know is that I have ambitions and hopes and vague aspirations, and that all of these are achievable if I am willing to have (literally) cheesy conversations with the people who know me best and love me the most.

For example, last night was the first time that I admitted out loud how freaked out I am about writing my next play.  Chris is Dead went down so well at Edinburgh and got such an amazing response from audiences that I am genuinely terrified of writing another script.  Have I peaked already?  Do I have anything else worthwhile to say?  What if from now on everything I write is utter drivel and doesn’t resonate with anyone at all?

No one can say for certain that that won’t turn out to be the case, mostly because I haven’t started writing another play yet.  But my cheese-bearing friend knew that, even though she can’t foresee the future, her opinion of me matters and her optimism on my behalf is a very valuable piece of encouragement.

I can’t tell you not to worry about the future.  We are living in an age when we are made to feel like 25 is (professionally speaking) the new 40, and that if you don’t know what you’re doing by now then you have already failed.  That isn’t true, by the way.  But we all feel that way from time to time, and the key to getting through it is to be worried, feel nervous, and get stressed: the vital second half of that plan is to let someone who loves you allay your fears.  They know you well enough to make you feel better about it, and that is what will keep you going.

Have a stupendous day.  If your breakfast wasn’t all that, have an extra delicious lunch.

No More Drama

Hooray, it’s Monday!  A brand new week!  A fresh start!  Potentially the beginning of the best week of your life!  Joy and fuzzy feelings for all!!

Bit too cheerful?  Sorry, I’ll tone it down a bit.

Today I would like to show you the most upsetting and infuriating thing I’ve clapped eyes on since my house mate made me watch Jingle All the Way.

Here it is:

Rage (1132x436)

My university is discontinuing my degree course.  What the actual hell.

Perhaps this shouldn’t bother me so much.  After all, I graduated three years ago.  I spent four years doing spinal rolls and writing essays (and drinking cider and other extracurricular activities that we don’t need to go into here).  At the end of it all I got to spend a day wearing a fancy gown and throwing my hat in the air.  In short, I got my degree.  So why do I have a problem with this?

First of all, it seems to be symptomatic of the degeneration of higher education in general.  People not being able to afford university fees means fewer applicants to previously popular courses, and eventually the courses become too expensive to justify running.  Due to the screw up with student fees (thanks a lot Clegg, you asshat), university education has gone from being something that anyone could pursue to something that requires re-mortgaging your kidneys.  This is unfair and elitist, and it can only lead to an increased class division between those who can afford university and those who cannot.  Why on earth should something as arbitrary as wealth decide your academic path?  

Secondly and more specifically, my drama degree is the bee’s knees.  I realise that I’m pretty biased about this point, but for people like me that course was the making of us.  The fourth year of the course is the main selling point of the degree, because it’s that final push in the right direction that gave us all the impetus to pursue our careers.  My Masters in Directing got me to start up Empty Photo Theatre.  A lot of the guys who took Stand-Up Comedy are still gigging now (and doing insanely well, in many cases).  My friends Laura and Jess set up the arts charity Ingeenium because of their year specialising in Applied Performance Practice, and Little Cauliflower would not exist if those guys hadn’t specialised in Contemporary Performance Practice.  

At £9,000 a year in fees, who is going to opt for a four-year course when they can just do a BA?  It’s such a shame that fear of lifelong debt is going to deprive future students of a lifelong creative passion.  Essentially, the most important thing about that four-year course is that it taught us to make our own work.  You will never find a Kent graduate sitting around waiting for the phone to ring – we get out there and we do stuff.  Dozens of excellent professional theatre companies, performers, writers, directors and producers have come out of my university.  And they are not happy about this situation:

“It’s a terrible shame that the Conservative ideal of economic viability being the presiding factor in academia has forced such a unique course that has value beyond the career it may or may not instantly provide for you.  The fourth year of specialised study at the University of Kent trained, inspired and invigorated me in ways that the previous three years of undergraduate study never did, and I know that I’m not alone in that.  My greatest fear is that great traditions within the university, such as the Monkeyshine comedy club and the week of directors’ plays, may fall casualty to this horrid decision and be lost forever.”

“It seems a shame that UKC has discontinued one of the only university courses that actually gave students an idea of the working practice of the theatre. I understand that as a qualification on a piece of paper the MDrama is next to useless and causes an endless need to explain exactly what on earth an MDrama is, however that extra year gave us the focus and work skills we needed to succeed that the general study in the other three years didn’t. The drama department at UKC however seems to have gone down hill in recent years with budget cuts, unexplained course changes and staff losses and losing the fourth year as an undergraduate seems another cut that only lessens the experience for the students.”

“I think it’s really sad, I found it to be such a fun and interesting year to specialise in one subject for a year, in something I never thought I’d even get the chance to do. It really got you to grips with a specific area and focussing on a particular topic, rather than just kind of glancing over a few areas. It’s a shame more people won’t experience that amazing and eye-opening year!

“It’s a complete shame and I feel very sorry for prospective students who will miss out on the invaluable fourth year that myself and many others benefited from immensely. It’s a year in which you are able to fully explore, deepen, and develop your specialist skills in either directing, producing, dramaturgy etc. that will make you stand out amongst fellow students from other theatre courses when you graduate.”

“I am saddened to learn that the course I gave four years of my life and many thousands of pounds to is being stopped. I don’t know if it saddens me because of the experience I had there – if only for the fourth year specialism, which is the one year I really felt as if I learnt a great deal and was given the opportunity to develop and grow, creatively and intellectually. It was also the year which I felt genuinely benefited me in terms of career progression, particularly for the contacts – and friends – I made along the way. But I fear that, selfishly, one of the main reasons it saddens me is that it may diminish the value of my degree. I fear it will go from “oh you went to Kent, that’s quite good for drama isn’t it?” to “Kent? I never even knew they did a drama degree” in a matter of short years. I know, realistically, that this will not hamper my future job prospects; no one will probably even ask where I went to uni, nor have an opinion of it if I tell them. But I’d like to think that those four years of hard work has a lasting value outside of my own development at that time. After all, it cost me enough.”

“It seems we’re seeing the repercussions of our government’s attitude towards the arts. The sad thing is, at the current extortionate prices, even I’d think twice about taking the course, and that’s coming from someone who has benefited immensely from it. Remember when we voted in that guy who swore he’d not raise the fees and then he stabbed us all in the back? At least Cameron and Clegg listened to us we turned out in huge numbers to march on the capital to voice our disapproval. Oh well, so long as the government gets its way, what does it matter if the arts get swept to the side and young people lose faith in democracy.”

“It’s a crying shame. UKC offered a unique course that appealed to such a wide range of potential Drama Students. The chance to choose a specialism in the last year makes the course feel focused and personal. UKC will now join the countless other universities offering a generic Drama and Theatre Studies MA. How is it going to stand out from the crowd? And how are its future students going to stand out from the crowd?  The four year course also offered another unique opportunity to it’s students. It kept then together for longer! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many strong theatre companies are formed at UKC. Would The Noise Next Door have started if we’d only had three years? Would Little Bulb? Would Spun Glass Theatre? Would Accidental Collective? Would Wide Eyed Theatre? Would we have all developed into the varied theatre makers we are without our final specialisms?  What’s happening to Dr. Oliver Double? He’s the only Doctor of Comedy and a superb lecturer and inspiration. If UKC stop doing the final year stand-up specialism aren’t they wasting this unique asset? Ollie’s course has produced so many excellent comedians: Jimmy McGhie, Tiernan Douieb, Laura Lexx, two of Pappy’s, two of The Noise Next Door and many more besides. All these people are working in the industry that their final year trained them for! And for a drama degree that’s rare! It seems to me that in dropping the four year MDrama UKC are throwing away the thing that has made them and their students special.”

“As a graduate of the reputable MDrama & theatre studies degree at UKC, I’m really disappointed to hear of its discontinuation. Having the opportunity to gain further experience and to specialise in your area of choice is something that a BA simply doesn’t offer you. The specialism was, for myself and many of my peers, the stand out reason for applying to Kent, and it really set itself apart from competitor institutions. Admittedly, higher education faces more pressure than ever with the rise of fees and cuts in funding, but I feel giving into this pressure is a real disappointment for students, lecturers, alumni and of course prospective students.” 

“It’s sad to learn of the end of pre-professional practice at UKC. As someone who partook in the programme, studying stand-up, I found the resources and almost one on one tuition astounding. To be able to specialise practically at a high level with accomplished tutors in arts is something of an enigma amongst many theory-heavy courses on offer today. In terms of employment, university allows you to present the best version of yourself. It’s not to say that specialist skills can’t be learnt on the job, but being able to do so in a safe and progressive learning environment was well worth the time, money and fun!”

“In a nutshell I think losing the MDrama would be losing a big part of why a lot of people choose Kent to do drama. The ability to specialise for a whole year in something you find genuinely interesting without incurring the costs and lack of funding for a full masters was a huge draw. Also it sent Kent apart, showed that for however long a time the department really cared about taking a standard drama course in a new individual direction, one personal to the student. Now it will fall into the category of ‘another uni that does a 3 year BA in drama’. It’s reflective that for whatever reason, drama at Kent is changing, it’s falling into line with everywhere else and perhaps may indicate that people involved in the course don’t care about it as much as others that preceded them did. Or maybe they just got less funding. What do I know? I’m just a drama graduate.”

I realise at this stage that there’s nothing we can do about the discontinuation of the MDrama course at Kent.  Having said that, can we all agree that enough’s enough now?  This has to stop.  We cannot keep accepting the funding cuts and political decisions that are ruining our education system, particularly in the arts.  I hate to think of future drama students missing out on the life-changing year of education that inspired me and so many others to work in the arts.  Who knows what kind of side-splitting comedy or eye-opening theatre we will miss out on in future because the students who would have made it never discovered their passion?

I’m calling you out, David Cameron.  You’ve got to stop spoiling stuff.  If I were feeling particularly immature and petty, I might even tell you to do this.

Thanks for reading what turned out to be a pretty hefty piece.  Have a beautiful Monday, and I promise that tomorrow’s blog will be much more cheerful (and shorter).

Sarcastickled: Blog Tour

Good morning, darling reader.  How goes the world with you?

My dear and hilarious friend Laura Lexx asked me to join in a “blog tour” where I talk about me and my writing stuff.  Her blog can be read here.  It’s being passed round bloggers who love each other. Lovely idea, no?  There are 4 questions that need answering.  Let’s do this.

What Am I Working On?

Er…that’s an awkward question.  It brings out the Sunday evening, guilt-ridden “OH GOD I HAVE NOT DONE MY HOMEWORK” side of me that inevitably makes me feel slightly grumpy.  In real terms, I am working on my film script for the Sky version of Chris is Dead, which is also a play which will be on in Edinburgh from 1st-9th August.  Do come and see it.

How Does My Work Differ From Others Of Its Genre?

It doesn’t.  My genre is a richly populated and well-fuelled arena that positively throngs with lively discussion and worthy conversation.  The things I have to say are just louder and more grammatically correct, that’s all.

Why Do I Do What I Do?

I’ve always liked words as a means of connecting with people, and although I tried to be a “proper” grown up who works nine to five for a living, I discovered quite quickly that it doesn’t suit me.  There are all manner of other complicated and boring reasons why I write, but at the heart of things I do it because it makes me happy, and because I want it to make YOU happy.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I get up, I frown at the kettle, I sit at my desk and I write down the first thing that I have an opinion about.

No, really, I take ideas from television, conversations with friends, etc., and then I tend to scribble a load of nonsense onto whichever surface is nearest (up to and including my own arm).  After that I try to make some sense out of the notion before I subject you, my lovely reader, to the inevitable nonsense.  I like writing so much because it doesn’t really matter what my process is: the end result is that you laugh, smile, cry or get angry.  I hope.  I genuinely don’t care how you feel about what I say, as long as you feel something.  Apathy is the enemy of everything we hold dear, including Crunch Corners and student discounts.

I will be recommending the marvellous Fran Paterson for taking this on next. Her blog is here.

Face Value

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Hello, and a very happy May Day to you!  Did you know that 1st May used to be considered the first day of summer?  Yeah.  Apparently that’s why the summer solstice (25th June) is known as midsummer, even though we all know that it will still be cold and rainy at that point.  Ah well.

Also, this day always makes me think of an episode of Red Dwarf when two of the main characters get marooned and are discussing the distress signal:

Rimmer: I wonder why they call it ‘May Day’.
Lister: Eh?
Rimmer: The distress call.  I wonder why it’s May Day…it’s only a bank holiday.  Why not Shrove Tuesday or Ascension Sunday?

I digress before I’ve even begun.  ANYWAY, one of the slightly surprising side-effects of writing a blog has been my friends’ reactions to it.  If I’m being ambiguous about certain situations or what have you (mainly due to respect for others, privacy and suchlike), my friends tend to ask “was that post about such-and-such?” or “were you talking about so-and-so?”  Sometimes the answer is yes, but to be honest I’m not sure that it matters.  If it’s really important I’ll talk to my friends about it in real life, anyway.  We’re supposed to be going to the pub in about five hours, after all.  Plus it’s your round.

This is something that lots of people (not just girls, before you think I’m stereotyping) find difficult: accepting a statement at face value and not trying to find hidden meaning.  I am terrible for this, so please excuse the blatant hypocrisy.  (I’ll make it up to you with biscuits.  D’you like chocolate digestives?)  I over-think like it’s going out of fashion, so I am constantly asking in wretched tones “but what does that MEAN?”, and trying to determine people’s exact feelings about life, the universe and everything based on sentences as simple as “I’ll see you later”.  I’m a lot better than I used to be about this, but I think a lot of us are constantly dissatisfied with transparency and longing to find some obscure meaning in a bit of opacity.

Why do we do that?  Is it because we are genuinely convinced that every sentence spoken or written has an ulterior motive, a deeper meaning or a secretive subtext?  We do it with everything: text messages from the person we’re enamoured with, oddly formal emails from colleagues, passive-aggressive messages from friends with whom we’ve sort of fallen out.  Why can’t we accept things for what they are, and trust that what people say to us is usually what they mean to say?

I’ll tell you why: because we’re British.  We hardly ever say what we mean out of a neurotic fear of seeming impolite.  This is the nation that can make “sorry” sound like anything from a sincere apology to a vicious death threat, for crying out loud.  So I have a challenge for you, lovely people of this United Kingdom: cry God for Harry, England and St. George, and try to be a bit more open with people.  If you want to be able to take statements at face value then you have to start with the man (or lady) in the mirror.  Michael Jackson would be proper chuffed.

Have the kind of Thursday that would make an excellent movie

Life Is Not A Rehearsal (Except Today)

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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

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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.