Cough

I am home alone on a Friday night. I’m playing Pendulum and cooking chilli. Today I’ve mostly been coughing. The horrible illness that took me out about a week ago is in its death throes. Its dead bits are flowing enthusiastically through my nose, down my throat, into my lungs. Millions of defeated bits of virus, wrapped up in phlegm, trying to choke or drown me.

Last time I broke my rib I ended up with double pneumonia and, eventually, lung collapse. I was 12. It was partly my own fault, owing to my habit of stoicism, but I had no context in terms of relative bad and good. And I knew how much noise some people made when they stubbed their toe. I knew it couldn’t be as bad as that.

Nobody worked out it was as bad as it was until it was too late. Partly my lack of desire to make a fuss, partly my parents assuming I was being a teenager while they were getting divorced. It was spotted by a matron at my boarding school, after the kids sharing a room with me started complaining that my coughing all night was keeping them awake. “You’re coughing all night.” “Yes, but I find I can still get sleep in between fits. I’m used to it now. It’s been like this for months ”

Back then I had nothing to compare it to, so thought that maybe grown-ups coughed for months all the time. Now I think I know roughly what’s normal, so the alarm bells will ring on time.

Today I’ve been doing the old deep bronchitic coughing pretty consistently though. It’s horrible. I’m letting myself cough at the moment, and bringing up what’s needed. As a kid I was mostly told to stop as it sounded vile. I’m parenting myself this time, and letting myself hock. Don’t hang out with me unless you want to hear the inside of my lungs.

I spent the morning with Jack, my business partner, and for him it was a bit like I’d shoved his head down my gullet while gargling oysters. If I’m hacking for more than three days I’m going to go to a doctor. These lungs are tough as hell after all that teenage physiotherapy followed by decades of theatre warm-ups. But I’m not letting it complicate again. For six months of my life I coughed whenever I breathed. Now I need to use my lungs and my voice to make money. Constant coughing is not an option. That coughy year around my voice breaking – it deepened my vocal timbre and gave me useful damage in my vocal palette. But no more thanks. Now I’m the healthy guy. I rarely get sick as an adult, touch wood. Now I can ply my trade. When people let me.

Today we were thinking about Christmas Carol again, practically. The nitty gritty. It’s such a glorious show that it’s worth these conversations. However it pans out, we’ll be able to build into a venue. However it pans out it’ll be a lovely thing to come back to it for a fifth year.

I wonder what I’ll write when I’m in a consistent run of a show. In a normal year I’d have found out by now, but the year I’ve documented turns out to have been the one with the longest theatre gap I’ve ever had. I’m not going to let myself believe that this blog is a jinx. I think it’s to do with my stricture towards myself not to work for too little.

Right now though I’ve cooked a mean chilli and Brian has just come home. Here he is with his gruel and a beer. Friday night.

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Power Under The Globe

Events season is starting to kick off. I’m at The Globe again. Tonight I’m Demetrius in some vignettes from Dream, which is lovely. He’s an uncompromising bugger. “I’d rather give his carcass to my hounds.”

It’s an award event for the power industry. The UK Power Networks “Living our Values” Dinner to be precise. Hundreds of waiters are buzzing around in Prangsta costumes. Upstairs a string quartet is playing, flanked by human statues dressed as Shakespeare. Guests are guzzling free champagne and talking about the power industry, surrounded by Shakespeareana.

Downstairs is filled with flowers and dry ice and glass baubles and light.

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In the wings there’s a sixteen piece choir in black tie, and some solo singing acts in ridiculously beautiful dresses. Magicians and makeup artists and silhouette artists and even a graphologist wait quietly in the rooms at the sides, with empty wine crates and musical instrument cases strewn around. People with clipboards and earpieces keep coming up to talk to us about timings. Chad the sound man has just sorted us all out with radio mics which means I’m terrified to sneeze unless it’s accidentally live. One of my wine waiters from Ascot is working the bar. “Yeah mate. This is what I normally do. I was only moonlighting.” He was pleased to see me, and I him.

The event is taking place in The UnderGlobe, which is a huge basement space with a fake tree in it. It’s directly under The Globe stage, hence the name. In the daytime it hosts a museum. At night they change it round and fill it with colour and music. I’ve spent many evenings here now, over the years, doing many different scenes in many different styles.

Usually they don’t give us mics so that’ll be an interesting stricture. Working on mic allows much greater vocal detail in this space. Without one you have to work hard to project in here. It’s a cavernous acoustic. Mics also necessitates precision, physically and vocally, to minimise scratching and feedback. Especially as we’ll be jumping on each other a bit. You lose some attack, and it becomes harder for the people watching to know it’s you that’s speaking. But it’s a lot less tiring. I’m looking forward. Best do some line runs though, and stop writing this.


These event jobs have been bread and butter to me for ages now and I love them. They aren’t a process, of course, and I always feel the lack of that. But they’re an opportunity to throw something around with people you trust. Shortcutting to performance is a lovely way to open your understanding of a piece of text. Invariably afterwards you want to revisit it – it becomes painfully clear how little time you’ve spent examining detail. But also it’s joyful painting it quickly and seeing what’s to find.

As ever, I had a brilliant time shortcutting a great piece of text with 3 wonderful actors who are also good friends. The bigwigs in the power industry were happy with our work. The client even secretly covered a round of drinks for us after the event. And in a month or so they’ll pay us, and I’ll use the dosh to pay them my quarterly bill before the doorbell rings.

Winsum loosum

I feel a bit stumped for what to write today. A job I thought was in the bag has, it seems, almost certainly been pulled out from under me by the studio. It’s left me feeling a bit deflated. I’m used to frustration, but as often as not that frustration stems from not getting considered in the first place. I have auditioned for only two roles in feature films in 15 years. I booked them both. This job ain’t quite a feature but it’s good. The director and producer flew over to see me and are both on board with me. But the studio have suddenly thrown a spanner in the works in favour of someone with more bankable recent credits. Now it’s suddenly in the balance and I don’t like it. It’s not definitely lost but it feels like it might be. It’s a new kind of frustration. But these roles are always slow to confirm. The first two went months from meeting to job. This has already been a month or so. Ironically the reason I want to keep it is the reason I might lose it. I need some recent bankable credits. I need three lines on a BBC something on the CV so people sitting in the world of theory in an office somewhere in America can say “oh yeah I’ve heard of the BBC. They’re good. We want that guy.” But for that I need the meeting. And so we’re back to square 1.

Also my pride’s up. I wanna keep my statistics good. If I’d only had two high level meetings a year since I started, and I’d only managed to book 10% of them I’d still have booked more high level jobs than 100% of two. But…

But in the end, blah blah blah…

I’m doing what I love. Loads of people have been calling me this week. My diary is full and varied and blocked out. My friends are brilliant. I’m loved. “What we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it.”

Someone somewhere who looks a bit like me might get a call soon and be thrilled. If it’s not me, I wish them joy of it. If it’s me then it’ll quickly just be compartmentalised in my imagination, along with everything else, as “oh but that’s just something that I did once.” I’ve tried to fix on the present for so long to avoid the past that I forgot about the future. Recently I’ve started trying to care about the future a little. So it’s frustrating when my efforts get thwarted. But it’s the human condition. It’s why we are so achingly angrily alive, every one of us. The Native Americans had a blessing “May all of your dreams be fulfilled but one.” We need to keep striving for something or we atrophy. So sure. I wanted that. But so did the other guy. If my journey wants to go elsewhere then I have to have peace about that and keep plugging.

It’s shitting rain in London and I’m on a three day hangover. That probably doesn’t help my mood. I’ve been guarding this door for a living tonight: 

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Swipe writing

“What, you write your blog on your PHONE?” someone asked me the other day. I do. Virtually every day. At first I hated it, but now I’m surprised I ever wrote on any other medium. I reckon I can write as quickly on my phone with one finger now than I can with two hands on a keyboard.

Ages ago, a man on the tube lost his balance and put his whole weight on my IPad in my bag, so I sent the catastrophically dented ruin off to the insurance guys that come free with my bank account. It was so buggered I thought I was quids in for a replacement. But that isn’t going to happen with bank account insurance…

I got it sent back just before I went to LA. No new iPad. Somehow they had straightened it, and hammered out the dent… But they’d done a bad job of it of course, and then put a pane of weak glass on top. Gradually the screen cracked with normal use until it began to speak madness to itselfb through a fucked touchscreen and four months after repair it was unusable. I tried another claim. They wanted a specific date of the accident. I said it was a bad repair. It was outside the official three month window for bad repairs being sent back. I had to make a new claim. You only get so many claims. Etc etc. The long and short of it is I now have a very expensive brick in my bedroom, and I write my blog on my phone. One day I’ll take the thing to iSmash and sell my firstborn for a bit of gorilla glass. Right now I’ve got better places to haemorrhage money.

I frequently have people stand near me and say “how the hell are you writing?” I’m using the swipe function of Google Keyboard. It is simultaneously brilliant and fucking unbelievably annoying. Some words it refuses to suggest no matter how many times you swipe them, and others are absurdly popular. A year ago the name “Wyeth” got added to the user dictionary of an old phone and every time I tried to write”when” it chose “Wyeth” and didn’t give “when” as an option. I don’t even know anyone with that name. God it was annoying. I only fixed it when I changed phones.

It works by running your finger consecutively through the letters in the words. You don’t have to be particularly precise most of the time. I’ve got my word per minute count very high now. I find the flowing movement allows it to run as my thoughts flow. I prefer the flexible loops to the definite stamp of a keyboard. But there are occasional arguments that slow the process down. For instance I will now demonstrate with absolute confidence that it won’t get the word “swipe” at normal speed first time. I will keep writing until it comes up, and if it happens first time I’ll style it out: sir door site swipe. 4th time. Which is annoying. But it’s only an issue occasionally, for words like swipe that are in relatively common configurations. You start to learn that if you want it to write those words, you have to slow down and hit each letter individually. The original app that brought this way of typing to me in the early noughties was called “Swype” but they vanished. Either they fucked up the patent or they sold the tech to Google Keyboard

Did I just write a tech blog? Well then. I think a beer to celebrate…

PS I just looked up Swype and it still exists. It costs .78p. I wonder if the reason I don’t have it anymore is because there’s a ticket price… I’m tempted to try it out. This one on Google… It can be annoying when it doesn’t suggest anything and just thinks it has the right word when it doesn’t.

Photo? Ummmm

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The Amazing Devil redux

I’m sitting on the floor of The Islington, rancid with hangover, sweating old rum through my eyes. It’s hotter than I’m dressed for. In front of me six musicians are making a beautiful song and I’m the only person watching. It’s a soundcheck but they’re enjoying it as much as they’ll enjoy playing the gig. It’s The Amazing Devil. I’ll be on the door because they’re good friends and it saves me buying a ticket. But God I’m hot.

Fronted by Maddy and Joey, it’s an alternative folk punk rock outfit, and they’re brilliant. Their sound soars with violin and bleeds with cello. Maddy’s healing voice wings out above it all, Joey’s gutsy voice cuts in, darkens it and finishes the sound with crunch. They complement each other beautifully, and being actors they bring narrative and charisma to their set. Their lyrics are strange, bright, mystic and emotive. “Give me back my heart you wingless thing.” is the one that always strikes me. For me it talks about my old depressions. A ”wingless thing” is a good image for that bastard black dog. I haven’t felt it on my back for years, but I think it’s definitely wingless and definitely had my heart.

The first time I saw them play, Maddy got an audience member to pour a bucket of water over her head at the top of the set. She performed barefoot, dripping, mascara running. It was electrifying, but not literally despite water and cables and sound equipment. Although that interaction might be why she stopped doing it. Back then, after their ownership of what they were doing, their passion was really striking.

I love people who work with real passion and fire – (and water). Of course I do. And they have it in spades. Ok, I always enjoy things made by my friends, but I think it might be because I’m lucky enough to have friends who are good at making things.

Spending time with Maddy before she plays it’s apparent that she’s nervous. She looks great and I can tell from the soundcheck that she’s in form. But those nerves… they never quite go. The two of us must have improvised The Odyssey 100 times over three years, in utterly uncontrollable and unpredictable circumstances. And yet that frisson was still there the last show we did. It fuels the work. It’s why we love working live. And Maddy doesn’t do things by halves.


And she didn’t. None of them did. By the end of the first song, Maddy’s makeup was all over her face because she’d cried as she sang. Joey had bust a guitar string whilst smashing the shit out of it. Their sound, as evidenced in the soundcheck, was bang on in. So complete. I want to see these guys playing festivals and not just because they’re my friends. Well partly.  But they’re utterly composite, powerful and honest musicians and they’re doing it for love over ego. I won’t put my name to something I don’t believe in. Program them. Lots of people need to have the things they can do with sound happen to them.

I like photographs of people getting ready for performance. There’s such a distance between the preparation and the delivery. I snuck this one of Maddy doing the makeup she ended up weeping out. I’m thrilled the gig came over so well. Damn I love having talented friends.

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And I’m older

It’s a beautiful warm Indian summer Sunday. It’s also my birthday. Imagine if I was some sort of narcissistic personality. Imagine if I felt called to do a job that involves standing in front of loads of strangers, being watched. Imagine if I wrote statements about myself EVERY DAY and then made them available online for everyone to read about me. Imagine if I woke up every morning and lovingly oiled my muscles with castrol gtx while singing Barry White to a mirror. If I was that sort of person I’d write: “It’s always lovely on my birthday. That’s the rules.”

But it IS. Is always nice on my birthday. That’s the rules. Mostly those rules haven’t been broken over the years.  Pass the engine oil.

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Today I’ve had a brilliant random cross section of my life come in and hang out in the park. I love putting people together. I respect my friends greatly, and I love it when they mix together, and more so when they get together. Right now two of my close friends are starting something. It’s brilliant to witness because they’re both people that live with every fibre of their being. 

Birthdays are a delightful thing. A chance to work out who matters. Also to remember who we are to others. Which differs from who we think we are.

We learn a lot about the people we are spending time with. Right now Lyndon and Jack abd I are still standing, and I’ve had to take myself away from fun for a bit. Lyndon was my constant companion in LA. Jack is my business partner. Both of them understand the need I have to write this daily. They’ve let me exit onto my phone to write my blog. I love that I’ve now cultivated friends who are willing to let me vanish from time to time to make this happen. Part of my respect for Lyndon is based in the way he lets me write my blog, irrespective of the circumstances. This blog is important to be now. Even though I’m sometimes very very drunk and rambling. Morning!

“We need to create cold,” says Lyndon. “Can we do it with sound!” asks Jack. We are brainstormingb Christmas Carol. We have creative freedom, to a large extent, and a format we know that works. It’s our show now. “What would you want it to smell like, when it’s Christmas?” “Cinnamon.” I love these idea sessions.

I also love how this discussion forms the dregs of my birthday party. I kept it very small, and ended up feeling very very loved. Yesterday’s blog wasn’t great in terms of insight. Today is similar. I’m sitting talking about how to use smell in theatre and God it’s exciting because I love that show.

But I am sitting with close friends, writing. I’ve tried going into a dark room to write something, but to be honest this evening it’s never going to be anything other than a workmanlike blog. So yeah, I’m going back to thinking about Scrooge and Marley. Thanks for reading. Have a brilliant week. Turns out we didn’t get destroyed by a rogue planet. Hooray!

Birthday

Sometimes close friends of mine express confusion about my actual age. This is down to a number of factors. My father habitually concealed his age. My reasons are different. I don’t want notional decade numbers to shift me out of the mix for parts that I could very efficiently play. I can play a wide range of ages. Partly because I’ve kept a youthful heart. Partly because I can grow a beard that adds minimum five years. Today is my birthday. I’m 64,156,643 years old. It’s my birthday in that I’m writing this after midnight. I should be in bed. I can’t afford an uber, and even mentioning their name right now makes for some big debates that I don’t have headspace for. I’m splashing out on a night bus instead.

The occasion of my birthday makes me remember my old friends the dinosaurs. It’s so uncomfortable how the millennials make them out to be great big terrifying man-eating lizards. I can guarantee you that none of them ever ate a human in their life. Not even Rex. He had a heart of gold, did Rex, despite those tiny hands. “Yeah, they’re tiny,” he would say to detractors. “But my penis is 20 foot long.” Then he’d show people. “Any world leader that lets their own tiny hands worry them – it’ll be because at heart they’re worried their penis is miniscule.”

Then there was Stego. In the end she was just too spiky for our relationship to last. I love spiky lovers usually. I’m drawn to the sharp edges. But not when I nearly lose a leg. Enough is enough. Plus I was jealous of her tail, if I’m honest.

As you might be able to glean, I’m hanging out with lots of people who are marginally younger than I am. I was working the immersive Gatsby as front of house/security/deal-with-the-drunk-people-guy. My first night in that role, but working with friends. Afterwards we all sang improvised songs to guitar, played cards, chatted, and laughed. Here some of them are, looking drunk. Imagine how I look:

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Now I’m making words on a nightbus that might as well be a daybus. It’s 5.25am. I put an incomplete filler blog to post at this time so I expect I’ll have to paste over it. Tomorrow is my birthday proper. Who knows what madness I’ll manage. It’ll be nothing to what Tracey Ratops was capable of back when Rex and I were homies. She and I would have it LARGE. I’d wake up in those days with my mouth full of raw Plesiosaur fins wondering how I even got into that cave in the first place.

Tomorrow i’m thinking a late pub lunch in Chelsea. 3pm. I’m not 64,156,142 any more so I need to sleep. Time to rein it back. It’s almost six and I haven’t slept yet. When you get close to 65 million you need to start thinking about longevity and taking care. I’ll learn in time. Another million years or so.

I haven’t thought my birthday through at all. Phone me if you’re free and fancy Altime. I want to see you. I’m just crap at organising. No Icthyosaurs. Last time one bit off my tail. And absolutely no bloody Velociraptors. Seriously guys. Even Rex hated those fuckwits. God rest his soul.