Roundabouts

Another week at Vault. Today I experimented with getting in after congestion charging finishes. This mostly involved driving around the great big roundabout at Vauxhall at 10mph, avoiding potholes and listening to radio 4 until they played the chimes of Big Ben. Then I was crawling past the ambulances and rush hour traffic until I could swing down Leake Street praying that there isn’t a tagger in our spot and hoping we can find Rich in time to sling cables over our roof and get us power.

Last week we were parked in the smoking area, which was brilliant for passing trade. This week they’ve moved the smoking area and surrounded us with barriers, almost as if they don’t want people walking up. Plus I realised today that they’ve kept one ticket back for last minute VIPs on every single show, which means that with four tickets on sale per show that’s a quarter of our tickets offline. That sort of thing makes sense if there are lots of tickets, but it’s a bit shit if there’s only 4 available per half hour.

It was slow at the start, being a Wednesday,¬† and these are the sort of things that occur to me when I’m debating how to get more bums on seats. Marketing it a little bit would’ve been smart. Anyone who has a mailing list of people who like eccentric spiritual theatre stuff do send it out, as we’ve only got a few seats to fill but it’s good to fill them. It’s lovely doing this show – the audience makes it, and even though it’s lovely chilling in here with the snake and ragtime music it’s more fun chilling with you guys. We had six people bundle in at once at 8pm though, so lost our break, and I don’t think most of them paid for it. The box office volunteers are helpful but they’re volunteers, and the one tonight was new. I hope karma comes back to us even if money doesn’t. But both would be the best result!

I’ve had a very full day and the show has helped me wind down. It’s rare you can say that about doing a show. Usually I end up wired afterwards. But it’s lovely. I get to just hang out with people.

The day started rehearsing West Side Story in the upstairs room of a West End theatre with friends. Then I went to a workshop audition in the upstairs room of a different West End theatre with different friends – that’s always going to be a kick of adrenaline, auditioning, and it was compounded by mainlining a shit-ton of coffee beforehand. An hour and a half later I was still wired, gibbering in the cab of the van while spinning around a roundabout about six times at the helm of a van full of precarious furniture.

Now I’m heading home in a bus, freezing my ass off. I realised I had to leave my costume in the van to be able to get it in time for the show after filming, so I’m heading home dressed in whatever tufts of clothing I’ve scattered in my wake over the course of van shows past. Another lovely day. Another lovely load of shows. I’m dreaming of a hot bath.20190130_192827

Salon

In a day or so I’ll be doing a website shoot. One of those jobs that blurs the line between actor and model. Way back before Guildhall I was with a modelling agent so this is a familiar context. Back then I used to spend money on expensive facials and stuff before auditions. The problem with that is, if you get the job you think you have to get the facial every time you audition. If you don’t get it then you feel you’ve wasted your money – and people ask for a lot of money for a bit of cream. I stopped doing it because I started getting jobs after just rocking up hairy in my boots. I decided it was an unnecessary luxury.

Today, though, I had a facial. And a haircut. And a beard trim. And a manicure. On the client. That’s feature film treatment again. But it’s an unusual circumstance.

My modelling agent back in the nineties taught me something very helpful. It has won me lots of commercials. “You can act darling. The director will be pleased to see you audition. But if the client doesn’t think you’re on brand he’ll block you. Research the brand. Wear their colours. Use their buzzwords casually. If you don’t overdo it then you’ve maximised your chances. Then you just have to do a good audition.” She was right. I’ve ticked over with commercials and corporates over the decades. It’s not the process driven work that feeds my heart, but it can be fun and it butters the crumpets.

This approaching shoot is a website shoot for a company where the business owner is a friend of mine. He’s the “client” and he wants me on board. Saves them booking time off and renting studios for auditions. It makes sense too, using me for this, or I’d have stopped him by now. I’m on brand. Butter for the crumpets ahoy! And because we’re mates and he wants me looking good, so he booked me into a salon and I got all the treatments I had long since deprioritised as “expensive luxury.” Legend.

I have cute cuticles. Manly soft hands. I’ve had a man-facial, which is like a facial but it’s black and it smells of Man Stuff for menmen. My straggly hair is corralled. My beard is no longer “Hungover Gandalf”. And by chance I’ve got an audition tomorrow for a job that will perfectly slot in after Vault is finished. So for free I’ll make a good impression, unless they only wanted me for my wildman beard in which case there’s plenty of time to grow it back. Although if I get the gig then I’ll have to fight the superstition that it was the treatment that clinched it. That could be an expensive pattern to get into. The bill made my eyes water more than any of the smelly things he put on my face. I could’ve gone to my Barber in Camden six times for that. Although he wouldn’t have given me free shortbread.

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Ashtanga

I love a Monday day off. Today was a lesson in idleness. If Shama hadn’t persuaded me to come with her to Ashtanga yoga I wouldn’t have left the house. I didn’t even get out of bed until noon.

I made a couple of phone calls, booked an audition and had about a gallon of coffee. I watched a few episodes of The Good Place, ate crumpets, played FTL and read. At one point I halfheartedly messaged someone about voicereel stuff. At another I had some sausages and beans. Right up until I walked in the door of the studio I was coming up with reasons why I didn’t want to do Ashtanga. I don’t want to spend the money, it’s cold, I’ve never done Ashtanga before so I might not like it especially if it’s one of those ones that try to make you restrict your breath.

It wasn’t. It was mostly familiar from other yogas that I’ve dropped in and out of over the years. I was late, but Shama somehow contrived to be later.

The studio was in London bridge in an old tanners yard that has been converted into hipster offices in containers with bits of steel and wood jagging around signalling “cool” to people as they sick out their lives into offices. It’s a good studio. Wooden floors, but smelling of wood not feet. Lots of airflow. The woman next to me was extremely flexible so I was cribbing off her but not going so deep. I managed to achieve the headstand, thanks to Guildhall all those years ago. Some things stay in the body. God I could use three years of training like that again for my body. Going back to yoga is helpful, but in some of the inverted poses I caught sight of my belly and groaned. There’s a lot of work to do, and a lot of pies to avoid. Camino and dry January is helping but regular stuff like this is the key. And it’s hard to get motivated every … single … time.

I then went home through the chill, cocooned into bed, read a bit, and then got into bed, switched the light off, cuddled up with Pickle and started to drift off before uttering the word “fuck”, rolling over, grabbing my phone and writing this. It’s 3.13am. I’m not rehearsing tomorrow thankfully. Just grooming, cleaning out the van and sending invoices. But I can tell from the screaming of the vixens in the park over the river that it’s the dead of night. I should be asleep. I will be momentarily. That’ll do… Monday. Actor’s weekend. I can write a short one with one eye open. Back to cocooning in bed with a small cat. Zzzzz

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Graffiti Tunnel crowd

There I was thinking I’d get in early with the van and get set up so I could watch some theatre. No chance.

The entrance to Leake Street has 23 cars including some supercars parked in it for a photoshoot. How the hell did they all fit?

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Then there’s taggers all the way down to where I need to get the van, squirting away in their obligatory Banksy hoodies. In my parking spot, some guy has just started spraying. “We’ll need to be here from six with a big van. Is that going to be a problem?” I ask the guy. He cogitates. “Yeah, mmmm should be near that time I’m finished maybe.” That means no.

It’s just gone three. It was the same yesterday. Once again I wish we could just pallet wrap the van and leave it in situ. I’m going to be sitting in it all day watching people in gas masks stamp their identity on damp walls, gradually rolling the van forwards if and when it becomes possible. Strongarming the situation will almost certainly result in someone squirting paint on the side when I’m not paying attention. Once I’m satisfied I’ve left it safely somewhere, I’ll have to run home to get the mugs for the second time this week. I’m not going to be able to see Melissa’s play, Holly’s play, Casey’s play. It’s disappointing. I’ve been involved in this festival a week now and I haven’t witnessed anybody’s work. Some of my friends finish today.

This graffiti tunnel is a place where they make art that’s even more ephemeral and pointless than a lot of the stuff we make. I had no idea the turnaround would be so extremely quick on graffiti here. The whole tunnel changes utterly on a daily basis. People spend all day making an elaborate tag and the next morning it’s covered up and repainted by someone else and so it goes on and on and on. The artists all seem quite fun, in a rough-geek way. They always mime spraying my van as I drive it past, and look to me to see if I’m laughing or scowling. Here, in this sanctioned and regulated official subversion area, these lads who work as telemarketers and clerks and bank tellers put on a hoodie and enjoy it when people mistake them for threatening people. Admittedly some of them have dropped through the bottom. Today there’s a guy sprawled on the floor of the tunnel. He’s had acid I think, and it’s not sitting well with him. He has skittles scattered around his feet that he’s long past being capable of juggling, plus plenty of beer cans and rage. He hates everybody. It’s important we know it. Occasionally one of the guys in hoodies takes off their gas mask and tries to ground him. But he’s too high right now. He’s into vitriol. I get a good load directed at my back, and rarely for a situation like that, I choose not to look him in the eye and talk him down. I don’t want to raise his awareness of me as an individual in case he fixates on my van and starts rolling in during shows to tell everyone how much he hates them. I imagine he’ll be asleep by 7 though, or off wandering again.

Launch party

Vault Festival launch partAY! I realised that I’m not very good at going to thumping great big parties without booze assistance. “She’s totally hitting on you,” says Tim when she goes to the loo. “Hmm?” I’ve been looking at the door feeling unbelievably sober. I’m not sure she was, really. She was tanked enough that she could’ve mistaken me for a cute puppy.

I get into lots of conversations. There were many different words in people’s sentences, but if you spoke no English you might think they were just saying one extremely long word. I think I got out of work too late. It was already that time of night where the conversations get circular by the time I started.

Our little van has been the chill out area, but also we don’t close until 11. You get nice smokey things and stuff that smells good and a cup of tea and maybe some whisky and so forth. I’d just spent a few hours there having lovely conversations with people, still wearing my kilt “It was Burns’s Night last night but I haven’t slept yet so for me it still is Burns’s Night. Whisky?” Coincidence has it that I have two identical flasks so I can fill one with whisky and then down water from the other one and not break dry January, plus drive the van home without causing death and wrecking the show. But it was hard not to drink in that party. “Oh go on, have a drink,” said many people. And it was tempting. The music volume was high. There wasn’t much else to do but stand in groups and shout at people or dance crowded. A little bit to take the volume down, file the edges off, make the body floppy.

I said my long goodbyes and drove home. Five more minutes and I’d have had to have that beer. The van was still parked in the tunnel, and by some remarkable coincidence it hadn’t been tagged. I’ve been working hard to be accommodating to the guys who come and spray in there. Pissing them off might prove expensive, although it’s tempting to show one of them the blank side of the van and say “This is the vibe we’re after.” It’s not my van though. It belongs to a company who is renting it to Phil Grainger and I’m using it while he’s touring all over the beautiful hot places in the world with his clarion voice and his Orpheus show.

I now know every bump in the road on the drive home. Every sewer grate, pothole and unpredictable traffic light. Every sharp ascent. There’s an upright slightly top-heavy wardrobe in the back of the van, an urn full of water, shelves, clocks and Mel’s extensive collection of alligator bits, skulls and mystical gewgaws most of which are left on a parcel shelf four feet up and housed in glass cases. I crawl along the streets at night at 20mph, weaving around in the road to avoid the bumpy bits. The lines of cars behind me must be convinced that I’m drunk. I’m convinced I’m drunk. We were hoping we could wrap the van in pallet wrap and leave it in the tunnel for the duration, but it’s not to be. Likely it’d get tagged so it’s for the best.

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Tarot Truck

This is why I do this sort of thing.

This evening was a validation of my quest for joy. I arrived at the van very much not in the right headspace. I had driven in, realised I’d left all the cups at home. Disaster! One can’t take tea without cups. Heavens to Betsy!

The van was already wired for power, and the tunnel was too crowded to reverse up. I had to get a black cab back to get the things in time for the show. We got stuck in traffic, and I ended up having to get involved in a scheduled video conference call using unfamiliar software on the line to M&C Saatchi about creative things related to a spot of lovely work I have coming up. I’ve never spoken to these people before. There are police sirens blaring past the window, the cabbie making conversation, me having to pay him on arrival. So much for my plan.

I wanted to have taken the call whilst reclining in a chaiselongue inside the van interior we built. Maybe some lights, a cigar, a silk robe. “Ahh I’m the talent. You find me at rest. How are you my darlings.” No such luck. Black cab, bag of cups, sirens and a geezer who wanted money. Make your first impressions count, kids.

Thankfully the client is a friend and it’s a done deal already, otherwise I’d be filing that with “video audition nightmares”. The creative team are probably worrying about me now which is great as they’ll be double happy when I go to the shoot and turn out to be on it and professional. One of my most fruitful and enduring creative partnerships, with the joy that was Sprite Productions – that started up with them worrying about me when I drove to Yorkshire a day early by mistake, leaving my luggage in London. My work is the bit that works, though. It’s the rest that goes blooey.

I made it back to the van a bit spun out though, knowing in a semi resigned semi amused way what had just occurred. My dear friend was shadowing me on the show as she’ll be covering me when I’m filming for the website, Gods bless her. She’d just given blood. I was halfway through improvising a story about the sexy devil taking my name when she almost passed out, and went home. I always could knock ’em dead.

I went to the loo. In the queue I ran into the eminent theatre critic, who said lovely encouraging things. This is why I love her. I strode back to the truck determined to change my head for a better one.

I’ve got all my mystic stuff in the van. If I can do it for others I can do it for myself. So I chanted the heck out of myself, got stuck into the Palo Santo and Florida Water, and generally cleared out the contents of my head. Then I went out there and got a load of people to come play with me. They did. It was immense fun. The last person in was a thoughtful and very well traveled American man. He completely got it, appreciated what we were doing, had a clearly very emotional tarot reading from Mel, and then sat with me for a good twenty minutes with tea and ceremony before heading back out with the best soundbite be could ask for in terms of a review. “Everything about this is just perfect.” We should put that on the poster…

Get your tickets here.

Spread the word. First weekend of shows coming up! Aaaaaa

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Button

I need a button on the show. Something to finish it off. I think I might formally write one. Up until about a week ago I basically thought I’d be reading tarot in the van, but now with a couple of days worth of audience, I’m doing a one man interactive performance piece about identity. And it doesn’t do to improvise that entirely. I mean it’s been an interesting exercise, but for my mind, after today, I want a button. I don’t have to push it every show. But if I’ve got a button I can push it when it needs pushing.

I’m also looking for stuff about names. I’m literally going to Google “Teach yourself numerology” in the bath once this blog is written. Then tomorrow I’ll do some good work, drafting options. Based on my crap improv today in front of various eminent theatre notaries there’ll be a story with a very sexy boy who turns out to be either the devil or death. And then a button. Something to shift the world in my van. At the moment I just hustle everyone out but it’s unsatisfactory and I don’t like it. It’s a thing, but not necessarily the right thing. My character is a snake oil salesman, but occasionally they can sell medicine that actually works.

I’m beating myself up because I made what I think of as a bit of a horlicks of a show with a reviewer. She wasn’t really game for it, but I did it all the wrong way round as I got spun out. The fact is it was still a very lovely show, I just hate it when reviewers are in, making the ephemeral concrete. I got disordered and it devolved in the end into me actively running out of material. Not because I had none but because the fundamental ability to form coherent sentences was stolen from me, as it is sometimes can be by the presence of astonishing beauty. I had a klaxon in my head going “THAT’S WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE I’VE READ SO MUCH OF HER STUFF I HOPE SHE LIKES ME.”

Fuck it. Everything else about the evening was delightful. Trust me to fixate on the one thing that didn’t go according to plan. The solution: a bit more work. And that’s what a scratch festival is like, my dears.

“Scratch”. I should elaborate. I’m using theatrespeak. Like when I walk into a room and call it a “space”. When you scratch something, it’s when you put it in front of the public before it’s completely finished. Immersive work is sometimes very scratchy in the first few days of its run (unless you’re deliberately shutting down the risks which can also shut down the possibilities). It’s extremely hard to pretend to be a paying audience. So you put it out to them. I think I know what this is now with that audience and that’s why I want the button. They seem to want it too. Who am I to deny them? I just need to work out what colour it is… I’m like this guy at the moment, with a load of different spray cans, and I want to use all of them, but sometimes you just gotta choose. Fixed and flowing. That’s good theatre. We’ve got loads of flowing. We need a little bit more fixed.

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LAST TWO YEARS

Vikings in Griffith Park

Neverland at Vault

First night Pantechnicon

Good. That’s done. A quietish night but we had very little on the outside of the van, and we kind of wanted it quiet so we could make sense of what precisely¬† the show is. Now it’s to bed and tomorrow it’s reflection and reworking. There’s plenty to take away, but it holds together.

One thing I’ve realised is that there’s loads of work going on at this festival in the next three weeks and I don’t get to see any of it until I’m done with the van – but then my pass is valid until the end of the festival. I’ll get to see all sorts of wonderful stuff. I hadn’t realised how coveted they are, these passes. It’s a bonus.

Vault Festival is lovely. It’s how I imagine Edinburgh must have been in the early days, before it became a money sink. It’s great, apart from the Eventotron which is the seventh circle of hell. All the team are super helpful and up for it. It’s known to be a scratch festival, so everyone is testing out material, shifting it, changing it, knowing some of it might not work as intended. And there is so much on! The variety of different approaches in the posters is enough to make me very curious to see things. And so many friends, old and new, are making work there.

In a break in the middle of the night I saw one friend sucking up a fag in the gap, looking dog tired. “I’m halfway through operating two shows I’ve never seen before,” she tells me between draws. “The next one’s got 300 cues.” Two other friends wander past as I’m distributing business cards. We have business cards that double as tarot. It’s a conversation starter. I get poked, winked at and waved at by numerous other people, so many actors either supporting or working. Either there full of booze and jollity, supporting their mates. Or running to the loo between shows wondering what they’ve forgotten while strangers queue in the street.

Because there’s an audience. People come. The queue was long at the start of the night. This stuff is affordable theatre, it’s an unusual experience, and it’s a little loopy. If we dress the van right on the outside and work with the business cards well, we could fill the place pretty easily I reckon. We were getting walk-ups tonight without really even trying, and with no exterior dressing and no posters – they got posted to the wrong place and subsequently buried. Maybe they’ll show up tomorrow.

And tonight I’ll sleep. Last night I had a hostile cat locked in my room with me. I slept about an hour. It’s just as well my character doesn’t remember his name because I didn’t either.

Come play in our cosy little van in a tunnel.

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Now we’re up and running my inability to frame the unknown has given way to my ability to tweak the known. This one is going to grow and grow. My show will likely be totally different in three weeks.

Meanwhile I’m in the bath again…

LAST TWO YEARS

Yoga and street signs

 

Family

 

 

Cats and audience

Well then. The Pantechnicon opens tomorrow. Bring your name. If you are a supplicant, bring a laurel branch. If you’re afraid of snakes to the extent that you’ll fly off the handle, don’t be a supplicant. If you’re afraid of me so much that you’ll fly off the handle come anyway. I can handle it. First few days are just going to be scratching the material we’ve got and making sense of what flies and what doesn’t within the frame of what we are making.

Mel and I collaborate so well together despite the fact that we can fight like cats. It’s an odd pairing but it works. We both generate sheds worth of raw idea soup. But then we look at all the ideas we have and add more. Occasionally we pick one up and refine it but then as often as not we abandon it for a shiny new one and forget it ever existed. But today we have been forging order from chaos. Now we can bring paying people into the mix and notice how things work outside of our very different slightly bonkers minds. I suspect it’s going to be lovely.

I just picked up a robust and beautiful set of stairs up from New Cross, so now we have an entrance that the audience can use. I have to go home and write some material now, just to thicken the idea soup and make sure the flavours all blend together nicely. But right now I’m sitting in a pub with a Heineken 0, getting this blog down.

I have no house keys. I didn’t think this through. My friend Emma arrived today with her cat in a bag, five minutes after I was supposed to leave for work. Her house is being fumigated. She works at The Lister Hospital which is right round the corner. We locked her cat in my room and went to work. I gave her my keys. It’s now past ten in the evening and she’s walking here having only just finished.

I gave the other set of keys to my nephew Campbell. He’s brilliant. He’s partly responsible for a Shelley poem having made its way into the idea soup. He also is extremely good at switching all the lights off, which is a mixed blessing. I have no idea what I’m going to get home to. Two cats in a pitch black flat with nothing but a locked door between them…

We didn’t have time in the morning to introduce them and supervise it. If Pickle goes for boy, her claws are like razors right now. If Boy goes for Pickle, he is twice her size, although lacking in testicles. They might end up the best of friends… Or they might have been yowling through the door at each other all day and spraying on everything they could possibly spray on. They might have trashed the place running around in crazy circles in the dark.

But this sort of thing is just speculation. Likely everything will be fine. But it’s the nature of what we have had to do all day in the van. “What if an audience member is terrified of snakes and smashes everything trying to get away?”

I’ll let you know when I get home about the cats. I reckon everything will be fine. And if it is then maybe I can let myself off the hook worrying about the show, because it’s the same thought pattern.

Here I am in a fabric shop with snow outside. We got some shiny material, and some Chinese ink. But cripes it’s cold.

(The cats didn’t kill each other. Yet.)

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LAST TWO YEARS

Digging Cars. I just read that a year after it happened. Proof that time is a healer. It’s funny now. I almost died of a heart attack.

Toscars Selection.

Calm night at home

Now it’s time for me to start splitting my head. This’ll be good practice for me. Anyone that knows me well will recognise that I struggle to focus on multiple things simultaneously. Now I’m going to have to.

I’m rehearsing daytimes for a thing in February – one night only, bunch of A-Listers. All very hushhush all of a sudden. It’s not a huge part but it’s well loved and it gets the gags. American accent, but I’m not certain if I’m going to be under NDA right now so I’m being deliberately cagey until I know more. Once I make sure I can, I’ll talk about it. But I’ll have to spend time learning it, working it and developing a character. And then in the evening, fun with logistics, followed by (is it theatre?) our thing in a van – (if I can get the van on site without everything going everywhere.) I like our thing in a van but it’s still a great big unknown to me. And Vault just told me that one of my favourite people that write about theatre is booking in the first few days to come play. Which means squeaky bum time. Suddenly I wish we had a budget, or lots of time. Although this person doesn’t usually mind. She’s as close as we get to an ally on that side of the paper. She likes people working with their heart, on a shoestring. So we should be okay in our odd little Pantechnicon type thing.

It’s good having my nephew staying. I’ve been bouncing ideas off him, thinking forensically about what interests me for this piece and then seeing if it washes with him. He agrees with me that we are starved of ritual in this culture and he’s barely 20. I’ve roped him into helping out on Wednesday as another pair of hands will be intensely valuable and he’s game for it. He also plays guitar and is young and creative. I suspect we will find good use for him, as we can for any number of friends who fancy showing up. We even have a death robe with a big hood. Shy people could just sit in the van silently and occasionally point at people. Or buy a ticket yayyy!!!

I’ll likely keep a tally and let you know when/if the expenses have all been paid for, just as I’m curious and why not.

I’m getting an early bed, for an early rise. Me and Pickle are hanging out in my room – she’s using me as a hot water bottle. Brian and Melissa are dying in the room next door after doing a class with one of those names like “Body Wombat”. Part of me wishes I’d gone too, most of me is relieved I still have use of my arms. Campbell has it right. He’s reading “The Mask of Anarchy” on the sofa.

It’s peaceful, positive and creative here in the flat tonight. Just how I like it before an early start. I just read The Mask of Anarchy as bedtime reading. Now I’m off to dreamland, hopefully to dream some more ideas for the show. Sleep well, pilgrims.

“Rise like Lions after slumber,

In unvanquishable number –

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many – they are few.”

Also, I found this book today… Using that in the show somehow…

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LAST TWO YEARS

Interviews

Grey River and Stream of Consciousness