Tristan and Isolde

…and another random job comes to an end. Four days is enough to build a community it seems. Principally, this was 3 of us and a piper, in a cavernous room. 120 audience, with 3 actors and a musician, while they eat hog and laugh -the happy bastards.

As you know I’m the king. Of course I’m the king. Benevolent but sad, and prone to fits of rage. Nathan was the jester. Another Guildhall actor, ragging his body while I ragged my voice. Dancing to the pipes like a fiend. One of my closest friends at Guildhall was called Nathan. They share the same name, they share the same trope. Meanwhile Cat – (Guildhall too, natch) – was the grounded witch, the apothecary – mysterious, joyful and busy. Two brilliant, open actors. Virtually no brief. Like the line in the Christmas Carol script “and then the dinner comes in.” An hour long stage direction. We had to bring people into the medieval world of Tristan and Isolde and give them a composite experience, while getting them to have fun with strangers and letting them eat without pressure. Getting people to have fun with strangers is one of my fortes. As it happens it’s the same for Nathan and Cat. My friend Mel cast it, and she knew what she was doing. We all let the audience play. In fact, we positively encourage them to mess around. To be frank, that’s a big part of what I do instinctively, but in this case it was delightful. I could – and did “pimp” Nathan repeatedly. And he started to pimp me back.

Pimping, in improv terms, is when you say to an actor in front of audience something like “Sing me that wonderful song about flies that you sang last night.” It’s not the most chivalrous thing to do, but it’s a good acid test. The actor does one of two things. “Oh no my lord, I couldn’t possibly for X y reason etc etc.” That’s the way of fear, and all too common. Afterwards in the green room you get “I wasn’t ready,” or “If you did it now…” Cowardice! Although you can get a polite snigger if the reason for your “no” is creative, which is only going to validate your “no” but actually proves that you had the facility but not the courage. “Ah yes, my lord. It is the best song that I, or dare I say it any of you have ever heard, let me sing it again but better, for I am in the best vocal form of my life” followed by an improvised song about flies with no voice that might be atrocious and might be remarkable but pleases the audience because the pimper continues the fantasy that it’s great. That’s joyful to do and to witness. And then the balance of power shifts to the person you did it to, and they know they can pimp you next. I pimped Nathan on the first night – unsolicited or discussed. He instantly improvised a song. I can’t remember the theme I gave him but it was along the lines of “The crab that gets a house.” It doesn’t matter. He immediately sang something about a crab getting a house or whatever and I loved him for it, as did the group watching.  He then freely pimped me back with some glorious strange offers over days. It got very playful.

It’s such a shame though that that aspect of the language of improv is rooted in the language of prostitution and of power. It could’ve been called “spotting”. But “Impro”, the seminal book on the subject, was written in the 1970’s. It’s a brilliant, practical workbook and has been a bible to many. And it brought us “pimping”. Is that still appropriate? Probably it’s okay, but recently I’ve been made aware that this blog is no longer just for friends who get me – it has to be conditioned for a wider audience.

Semantics/misconstrued intentions aside, our wayward bawdiness left Adam – our Le Coq trained storyteller actor – with a job to do. By the time they got to him, in his quiet room upstairs, they were rowdy as hell. We left it to him to stop them being rowdy, as they’d need to be quiet before they got to the  fantastically beautiful orchestra and soprano in the third room – (The audience covers a lot of ground.) 

Adam managed, with some ructions, to calm the banter, most likely whilst inwardly cursing us for geeing them up in the first place. What joy though for the court of King Mark to be a happy anarchy, while everyone eats and talks to strangers, and messes with boundaries. My line on the king was that this was his last ditch attempt to remember how to be happy despite his heartbreak, by throwing his cold halls open to the hoi pollioi to learn from their naive happiness. “If you with your desperate life of endless drudgery can eke happiness from your misery, surely you can teach me that simplicity and allow me to be happy just like you. Look at you laugh. Show me how to laugh at nothing” etc etc. It ain’t rocket science. But if you then don’t roll with whatever comes at you, you look like a prat. All three actors in my room rolled and kept rolling. And the piper was masterful! I can’t imagine my court without him. Banging tankards as the fool danced and Branyen got the guests hammered on gin cocktails dressed up as potions. 

What a lovely temporary community. Here’s to the next one. Do I have any photos of the show? Hmmm here’s one of the orchestra and the ghost of Isolde.

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Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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