Workshops lamb and cricket

There are so many transferable skills that we pick up in the line of duty. As often as not, practitioners end up spending more time transferring them that they spend practicing them. The amount of times I’ve had the thought “What is he doing running that workshop, he’s barely ever worked?” There are lots of people I can think of who trade off one big job, or someone they’ve assisted or worked for, to set themselves up as full time teachers of various aspects of the craft. We all need to make money. We all have something to teach, even if it’s just confidence. But it’s noticeable how many people rely on other people’s names to lend their own name credence.

Typically, since starting this blog I’ve publicly hit one of my longest ever spells without a consistent acting job. Hopefully before long I’ll be presented with the challenge of detailing the nitty-gritty of a rehearsal process. But for now it’s continuing the little weird jobs and pushing for TV work, and writing about the strange detail. So if I’m not going to do stuff I hate for cash then I need to start working out where the line is.

I have been asked to teach some teachers. I went to a training session today to run a workshop for them about physical presence in a room. I think I might find that rewarding and be good at it, and it’ll help me focus on those crucial first seconds in the audition room. It’s interesting work. I loved my studies at Guildhall with Patsy Rodenberg, and a lot of it was to do with presence. A lot of teachers feel the need to play a character in order to dominate a room. I’ll be working with young teachers in their first year of training to show them they can just be fully present and not have to restrict to the idea of a “character”, and give them tools to do it.

August is traditionally a quiet time because half of my industry is up at the Edinburgh Festival. But that also makes it easier to get castings if you’re not familiar to the casting director already. All of their tall sad funny clever posh men are at the fringe being funny or sad or clever or posh, so they can fill their spare slot with someone they haven’t met yet. I’ve had a good hit rate booking jobs in August so I’m sanguine something will come if I look for it. But in the meantime it looks like it’ll be teaching teachers.

I’m glad to be home. It’s been a long journey back from the golf, but you need to cover ground sometimes to leave things behind. Tristan and I had lamb with another of the victims of that tournament today. It was a happy, convivial evening with kind people. It left me smiling and extremely relaxed. So relaxed that I’m about to pass out, but I think that might be because I couldn’t resist a cocodamol top-up and now I can feel it beckoning me into the mire.

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Tristan and I are watching the cricket highlights while I’m struggling not to fall over from painkiller use. “England’s biggest collapses”. I’m next.

Reading

What a horrible drive. Sheets of rain slamming out of the sky. Flooded roads. Vile. I stopped off in Reading in the hope it would get better, but it only got worse.

I know Reading. My parents sent me to university there against my will. They were pulling out all the stops to prevent me from going to drama school. Their correspondence from this period has been largely preserved because they were already divorced so they wrote to each other. And the phrase “until he gets it out of his system” comes up countless times. My brother had been to Reading University on purpose, so mum knew it existed. I woke up one morning and my mother had phoned the English department, which was coincidentally flooded with female applicants, and told them my grades. She secured me a place through clearing. “Three years will be enough for him to get this acting nonsense out of his system,” my father had written. She then marched me to the phone and made me confirm the place. I never forgave her for it while she was alive, but I made the call. It was the source of so many arguments, right up until she died. But I did it. I wasn’t yet mature and self-defined enough to combat parental pressure like that. I forgive her for forcing me to do it now though. She thought she was acting out of love, not fear. And I could’ve walked. I didn’t. She told me I wouldn’t have a roof over my head if I didn’t make the call but that was just words. I could’ve got a job and worked something out but I didn’t. It was all a bit unexpected, which was the main thing. I had it all lined up for drama school but the plug got pulled. But I know from reading their correspondence that this was mutual parental care. They didn’t want this lifestyle for me.

I miss her. She was a good mum and cared about me. I miss both my parents. Dad was a brilliant man and made so much possible. They just didn’t know me as well as they might have, but I was the youngest of many. “Get it out of his system.” Pffft. It was wired in my blood, even then. Still, I ended up at Guildhall years later once university was done and dad was no longer there to fight it. And Guildhall was an extraordinary school, and exactly what I needed.

In Reading I stopped briefly at my (unrecognisable) old student pub, and raised a shandy to my mum and dad for their awkward love.

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Then to Castle Street for Sweeney and Todds pie shop. It used to be part of a run of three perfect consecutive shops owned by the same people – a pie shop next to a barber, and a butcher in the other side. So the customer can be amused by the reference to murderers, but know where their meat is coming from (or at least hope they know – the butcher, not the barber!) Now the butcher has gone, but the barber is still there and so are the tasty meat pies… Worrying.

I didn’t think too much about it, I just bought a load of pies, avoided having my hair cut, and missioned back home in the rain.

I’m so glad to be back in London in this flat I only have because of my parent’s passing. I’m working tomorrow in the morning and then slow roast lamb. Omnomnom. In a short time away, I’ve discovered some valuable things about myself and how I keep doing things I don’t want to do, to punish myself. Knowing as I have for years that my lost parents both spoke of my vocation in the same language as you’d speak of a disease has been tricky over time. But that was just their care for me mistranslated. They could never be happy living as I do. I am. But not when I’m doing stuff like that golf tournament. The disease still courses through my veins and invigorates them as it burns when I’m working in my proper medium. There is more to do, more to make, more to write on the wind. More friendships, more beautiful chaos, more joy, more fellowship.

It’s time for me to really focus the beam now, and identify and secure what I need to get into my system. The past is past. It builds us, but it doesn’t hold us. I’ll miss mum and dad until the day I die no matter what battlegrounds we had. Parental love is another thing that never gets out of your system.

When you are old

This afternoon I stopped in Wales and went to commune with the tree I tumbled from a few weeks ago. We were both feeling aggrieved. I’d ripped a good branch from it, and it had kicked me in the rib with a root when I landed. We had a little conversation in the rain and there’s no hard feelings. I’m definitely on the mend and it insists it can grow more branches. Next year if I go to The Willow Globe I will definitely climb it again. I’m the guy that doesn’t learn from his painful mistakes. Or I’m the guy that refuses to be taught to fear despite hard experience.

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Concerning my cocktail of drugs, I don’t get on well with cocodamol. I tried some again last night and then wrote that godawful ramble (don’t) and fell asleep halfway through (like you will). I wasn’t even able to stay awake long enough to delete half of it and stick in an arbitrary picture. I had no option but sleep. I need to go easy on things that force that sort of thing on me.

I’m close to home now and the general pain is definitely better than it was. I can sneeze without wishing I was dead. So it’s time to cut back on the painkillers before my colon melts. I’m probably addicted to codeine too now, so worth nipping that in the bud. Especially considering it knocks me flat. I don’t need something that shuts me off. I’ve got too much to do.

After hanging out with my leafy aggressor I went back to The Willow Globe itself. I popped into their International Shakespeare Centre to find Phil, who planted the theatre with Sue. It’s becoming more apparent to me this week that we don’t have to be trapped in London to make beautiful things gainfully. Phil is giving opportunities to young companies to make things and to explore new ideas. His audience gets a lovely show, the companies get R&D time in a beautiful place. And people are inspired by it. Just a few months ago I was chatting to a friend who has made a theatre community in a mill in Yorkshire. He cited Phil and Sue at The Willow Globe as his inspiration. A small group of passionate makers in Wales sending ripples of loveliness to North Yorkshire. That group then made a show in Yorkshire which is now going great guns in London. There’s something to be said for getting out of town and making things where things are lacking. Then they can bring their loveliness to London. I’m taking my mind back to an old idea I tasted a few years ago regarding going to The Isle of Man and building a theatre. It’s starting to appeal to me again.

Although right now I am looking forward to getting back to London tomorrow. To throwing myself back into the craziness.

For now, though, I’m still happily in a quiet place. I’ve made it as far as Swindon and I’ve been sitting in the living room with Tristan and his grandparents. They’re great. They’re both in their nineties. I miss my grandparents, but in their absence I’m glad to borrow his. His grandma comprehensively beat me at table tennis three years ago. His grandpa and I like to sit and talk about Shakespeare. He’s an actor, although at 92 doesn’t get out so much. Michael Beint at Jessica Carney if you need to pay someone handsomely for a short time to sit in a chair and be erudite on camera. He’s been remembering Banquo with me after I told him about The Willow Globe. He probably played it at The National. The man was acting years before I was born. He’s a legend. It’s good to spend time with people much older than we are.

He’s the only friend I have who was doing what I do when I was born. He’s just told me about when he was playing Marcellus for Peter Hall at the Lyttleton three months after I popped out of my mum, and he got the call that he was going on for Dennis Quilley as the ghost and the king. I know all three of those parts and was right there with him. He’s gone into detail about the quick change before Claudius’ first scene, and company politics with Peter Hall, Dennis Quilley, Angela Lansbury and Albert Finney in the 1970s. Delightful.

He’s discovered I’m a diarist of sorts and has suggested I consume Peter Hall’s diaries. “You think you know a man, but then you read all that and you wonder if you did at all. Wonderful.” I’m tempted. Just as he went to bed, we got into poetry. Yeats came up. I’ve just had the most beautiful rendition of “When You Are Old.” I told him I’ll learn it, and in 50 years time I’ll recite it to someone in similar circumstances. Now I’m about to fall asleep in a room full of terrifying Edwardian dolls. Here’s a love poem:

When You Are Old
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Leg breaking

So I suppose it could be said that Tristan and I are “resting.” In the sense that we’re actors and we are not working, even though the job we just finished wasn’t acting work. I hate the whole “resting” language. It’s like the widely known superstitions. I find them hard to honour. “Break a leg”, “Macbeth” whistling etc. They’ve become common knowledge, property of everyone. I’ve rarely met an actor that really cares if you say Macbeth. I’ll honor it with any stranger older than me though. I’m working on “The Scottish Play” with The Factory, and if you’re in it, you’ve got to be able to say it, so I can say Macbeth as much as I like until we’re done. Which might be years if Hamlet is anything to go by. And honestly, I won’t send you out of the room and make you turn three times, spit and ask to come back if you say “Macbeth”. However I’ve met many dedicated amateurs and volunteer stewards and keenly passionate supporters of our industry that care enormously. So I honor it as best I can lest I upset someone.

I will certainly rarely say “good luck” to an actor before they go on, but conversely I will never say “break a leg”. My habit is to say “smash it,” which can devolve into “smashy smashy” or “smashy smashface,” or endless variations on the theme of smashing. I thought I had evolved that as a solution at Guildhall, but I hear it from many sources and I question that it is mine. Convergent evolution? Who cares? These things just spontaneously evolve.

I don’t say “break a leg” because I don’t feel, as an actor, that I have ownership of “break a leg.” It’s a known phrase. People who want to appear knowledgeable tell me “oh, you don’t say good luck do you? Ha ha! You say break a leg.” I respond “ah well I don’t personally, sir, but yes, some people do. I prefer to say I hope you smash it.”

Often people ask me the origins of the break a leg. Nobody knows. I have a working theory.

It is 1717. You’re playing the lead at Drury Lane. As is often the case, you share a dressing room with your understudy, Sam. Sam is your friend. You’ve been on the job a long time. You’re fit and healthy. You go on every night, and it’s a sell out. Five stars across the board. It’s running and running, packed every night for months and months. It’s the making of you. You can’t take a night off, the public want you. Sam knows that. Sam’s happy with the way the cookie crumbles. You see each other daily. You know the details of each other’s personal life. You go drinking together, you hang out. You and Sam are friends. But Sam’s job is to show up and sit in the dressing room night after night. And Sam knows they can smash it.

If there’s an incident mid show, like in 1989 with Day-Lewis having a breakdown in the ghost scene of Hamlet at The National, the understudy (Jeremy Northam in that case) finishes the audience’s show and cements their name in the process. You both know and understand this

So it’s showtime and you’re in costume, and you head on, ready to smash the hell out of it. They’re calling beginners. “Here we go again,” you mutter, ready, and you head to the door. “Break a leg,” says Sam, smiling.

Sam’s comment catches you unaware. You laugh. If you were to literally break a leg, Sam your understudy would play that part. Sam saying “break a leg” under those circumstances is reasonably witty and apposite.

This snarky understudy story works better for me than theories I’ve heard about “breaking” the curtain legs, especially considering the German version is “Hals und beinbruch” Break your neck and your leg. There’s something about the laconic, provocative way that actors interact with one another that makes my theory make sense. We all know we are interchangeable, unless we have serious ego problems. We relate accordingly.

However it all came about, more people who aren’t actors care about it than people who are. The emoji movie for instance. It will affect how people use emojis. Just a few days ago I referenced Withnail and I, which is a remarkable film about actors that has touched the public imagination. There is much that is accurate, and much that is fanciful. But the story has affected the frame people have for the reality.

Having finished that event I’m glad to have some downtime. I’m”resting” from the event despite my distaste. I’m spent.

Rather than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, Tristan and I have been driving around Wales actively hoping it won’t. At about 6pm both of us visibly relax because our agent hasn’t called to tell us we need to be at Spotlight for 11 the next morning to meet for a beer advert with 700 people who look just like us. We would drop everything and go back for that opportunity should it arrive. But for now we can continue our meandering peregrination through Prydain. Before long we’ll get back to the stone walls of London. But for now it’s trees, grass, wind and cheap pubs.

I’m in Carmarthen now, an old Roman settlement with the remains of the most westerly amphitheatre of the empire just casually hanging out near the city centre. That was entertainment, back then. As a vocational performer it’s a curious thought that a large portion of one of the greatest civilisations in the world preferred watching terrified naked people being torn apart by hungry bears than the old Homeric bards. I like to make “live experience” work, but I’d like to do it without having my spleen hooked out by some starving tormented brute beast. Let’s get on it. I’m going to bed. Too late. Night. No photo today… X

 

Thinking the world

I woke up in North Wales this morning and listened to Anil Seth talking about how the brain hallucinates reality. https://www.ted.com/talks/anil_seth_how_your_brain_hallucinates_your_conscious_reality/up-next

I’m on my phone as usual so can’t link it normally. It’s a strong talk, delivered with assurance. It chimes with a lot of the work I’ve been doing with myself recently regarding patterns in my life, manifestations and boundaries. I’ve been thinking about the power of our own self-perception. How we can think the world better or worse for ourselves. I feel there’s a lot to be considered in that.

Having grown up with vast privilege, and living in a lovely flat that I didn’t earn, I’ve been consciously and unconsciously running masochism on myself for years which I’m trying to derail. I’ve had so much without deserving. I see other people from similar privilege thoughtlessly making value judgements about people who have not. I hate that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that as a result I’ve been unconsciously doing what I can to make things hard for myself. I’ve been self-sabotaging on a monumental scale for upwards of a decade, since my mum died. This habit has culminated in a week of working in constant pain on something I don’t care about miles away from home. My best friend sat down with me and passionately asked me not to do it before I even broke my rib, and I still went ahead with it. And then I had a horrible time. Plus I repeatedly forgot to bring painkillers to my long shifts, got into a power struggle with my manager which ended badly, and generally did everything I possibly could to make things even harder for myself. Looking at it forensically, it’s obvious I was on a mission to make things unpleasant for myself. I even had work that I turned down in London, and clashed with my agent about being away. Coming off the job, I messaged a confidante to tell her I’d done it again, I’d put myself through something I didn’t want to for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Her response was “That’s what you do.” No. It’s not, any more. Now it’s what I used to do.

As I said previously, if the head is sick the body follows. My unpleasant manager – he was insecure and he made the whole place nastier for everyone working there. If insecure people are at the top, insecurity is the benchmark. If cruel people are at the top, cruelty is the benchmark. Same with kind people. And the kind people have to start fighting. We have to fight using the nerves of the insecure and the entitlement of the cruel, but keeping the compassion that we get for free.

So this is a message to myself and all the people who think of themselves as kind out there: Get into the struggle! You have the tools. You deserve as much as the people you think of as entitled. You can prove yourself as much as the people you think of as insecure. Get in and stick in and use compassion. Get yourself to the head, so the body is kinder. Fight your kind corner. Fight hard and honest. Stand up and be counted. Lead. And keep your kindness while leading.

So that’s where I’ve been at today. Driving through Wales, this magical ancient kingdom, thinking about our identity towards ourself, about the potentialv we have to change who we think we are, about the need for a rise of kindness. Look at the leadership examples in plain sight. Over here, it’s someone panicky and insecure ducking questions and arbitrating. Over there, it’s someone cruel and entitled smashing things and normalising ignorance. Things are getting way too unkind. Kindness can lead, and has changed the world before countless times. But the people at the top get to dictate how things are done and their opinions are going to be determined by their proclivities. So let’s get to the top and be fucking lovely people. That’s how we stop this shit.

As I was having all these thoughts I drove out of a small Welsh village in a 40 mile an hour zone. Glancing in my rear view mirror I distinctly recall seeing a traffic cop with a speedgun point at the back of my car and then look at the top of his gun. “Fuck,” I said to Tristan. “I think that guy just got me.” (Obviously I wasn’t driving over the speed limit, I never break the law. I just don’t like being recorded. etc. This blog is a work of fiction.) Tristan said “It’s a scarecrow, you idiot.” I knew it wasn’t. I had seen him. He was male, and slightly overweight. And he definitely moved as I watched him, to look at his reading. I had only perceived him for a second but I had definitely seen all of that. For certain.

We turned round and I drove back round the corner into that village punctiliously observing the speed limit. This is what I saw:

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The brain hallucinates reality. I saw him move. I had an idea of what he looked like. Be kind, play to win on your own terms, and don’t let your own proclivities sabotage your chances of happiness.

Wales

Today I ate lunch on The Great Orme, facing out towards The Isle of Man, 57 miles to Douglas. If I had a speedboat…

The Great Orme. There’s definitely a dragon buried here. It’s a huge hill on a promontory. If you were a Viking you’d use it for navigation, and there were plenty of Vikings running around this area. Orme as a word looks like worm. Worm, for dragon, was in common usage. It fell out of common usage some time after Beowulf, and got clawed back into the language along with so many other archaisms by JRR Tolkein. But clearly the hill contains one of the great Welsh dragons, in deep slumber. Back in the day, one of the great Wyrms crept into a cave here, tired of slaughter, and laid her iceberg sized head down for a long sleep. When she rolls, the earth shakes. One day she will rise from her slumber and send her fire to the pathetic monkeys that have stripped her land and filled the air with poison and the sea with plastic. But for now she sleeps. And we ate our lunch on her.

Picnic from ASDA. Mackerel and French bread and camembert and tomatoes and salami. Cheap as chips and tastier. We sat and looked at the sea mist where The Isle of Man was hiding. As Tristan opened a can of gin, someone said “That’s a very civilised picnic.” Well, we have just been doing fine dining. And it was only a couple of quid.

Unfortunately, with the dragon sleeping below, the seagulls are channeling her boldness. We had an attendant seagull, frogging around and yarking at us. It got a whole half of mackerel and shoved it down in one. Then it was eyeing up our leftover salami.

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Thank God we are larger than birds. They are inevitable, like time. They’d have our eyes as soon as blink if they weren’t base level aware how easily we could break their necks. It knew where all our food was. At one point, with this particular gull, I lured it so close with a piece of salami that I could’ve broken its neck with ease. I gently touched the back of its head and it dropped low and yarked. It didn’t stop it from coming back.

In the evening we met Liam at Theatre Clwyd. I’ve never been before. It is an amazing theatre. A producing house surrounded by sheep and views with one of only 21 full sized paint rooms in the world, a 570 seater main auditorium and a gorgeous extremely customisable studio space. The things that you could make in this big theatre above a little Welsh village so close to Liverpool – it boggles the mind. As Liam said “You can see why we moved house for this job.” He’s Executive Producer here, and as part of our tour told me the extent of his plans and ambitions for the building. It’s already wonderful. He wants to make it more so. I’m sitting with him now, with 2 other lads. Four old friends who still make theatre, talking about life. It’s good to have a few days down. It’s good to see old friends. It doesn’t feel like summer if I don’t see Liam, having worked so many consecutive years for him at Sprite. I’m going to get back to the conversation. Stefan is talking about comparative genocide. How lucky we are to have the luxury for these conversations while other people are caught up in this shit.

Puddleducking

It is done and I am free. Time to stop this crap now. No more. No more. No more. I ran myself into the ground again for something that doesn’t fill me with passion. My habit to always commit myself and to work as hard as possible caused me a great deal of actual physical pain with this rib. I’m an idiot.

Today has been a glorious day. I got up late and escaped from Pontins (god it’s horrible there. All those squat concrete “chalets” louring by the seaside.) I dropped off the team at the station, and then went back for Tristan and we found the best breakfast possible at Remedy in Southport. Tristan had Gin for breakfast. I had one too. Perhaps that was foolish, but at the time I was feeling great, with my morning solpadeine bubbling away inside me. That done, Tristan and I embarked on a seaside funday. We played the penny pushers and the shooty game. We even ventured into a casino and came out with roughly the same amount we went in with, which is essentially a win. We walked down to the end of Southport pier and contemplated the sand flats. Then, following the advice of an old friend of my dad’s, we went for tea on Lords Lane. Afternoon tea.

A lot better than the one we had to rush out to the buffet stands. An Edwardian tea room with ticking clocks and wood paneling. “Mrs Blennerhasset, we want cake, and fine wine.” Cash or cheque only and everything comes out in sterling silver. We felt a little like Withnail and I although there might be a problem determining which of us is Withnail. Either one of us might end up reciting Hamlet to the wolves in the park. Either one of us might get that changing job.

Then we drove into Liverpool and caught The Cavern Club.

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Here we are with Cilla. A guy was refreshing old songs with a good level of call and response, a strong voice and an excellent understanding of how to get his crowd to sing bits of his familiar songs. Considering he was early evening Monday, I respected his competence even if he couldn’t use his own material for whatever reason. It made me think of my old mate John Holt Roberts who busks in York. John was my Marley for my first year on Christmas Carol. His work is electric. He plays with his whole body, and he attacks his guitar. He would be awesome in that venue. But he’s Yorkshire through and through. 

Now I’m in North Wales and the drive almost killed me. Ugh. Massive pain half of the journey, before I stopped and got some experimental cocodamol. Then I realised that I shouldn’t drive on cocodamol. I was driving through a painless fog but with zero reaction speed, for 20 minutes. It was terrifying. But I made it.

Now Tristan and I are staying together with an old mate in Wales. If one or the other of us gets an audition we’ll rush back. But if not we will puddleduck and hang out with old friends. A lovely way to spend a quiet week.