Fail better

I moved upstairs on site.

Tristan and I destroyed pretty much everything in the mushroom basement of doom. Now it’s just the ceiling and a couple of bits of dressing on the walls. The bulk of it is in piles of timber, perspex, metal and rubble. Now we are in the offices of the FBI.

My mind is behaving strangely now when I look at things. I immediately try to establish how they were created with an eye to taking them to pieces. On site I have invented personalities for the people that built the set. Some of them really cared about doing a good job, and I don’t like them for it. The better the build, the harder it is to wreck it. “Glue-gun guy” in particular can fuck right off. He’s made a lot of work for me. And “Screw crazy lady” who would never use one screw when 27 will do. Although removing screws is somehow satisfying even in their thousands.

Some of the carpenters did a fantastic build, with multiple layers, shoring it all as they went, adding insulation. Fuck that, it’s theatre. Make it out of balsa wood and gaffer and then paint something pretty on the outside? Although I guess this had to be as nicely turned as possible. It was a huge scale immersive show with a high ticket price, giving gainful and respectful employment to so many people, including Tristan and myself as wreckers. It was an ambitious large scale drive.


In this case it didn’t work out financially. Arguably part of the fact it didn’t work out is because it was opened before it was made, both creatively and physically, and it never recovered from some atrocious press. Immersive shows often reach a point where they can no longer be rehearsed without an audience.

I’ve spent far too much of my time with well meaning directorpeople trying to pretend to be audience members but you can’t prepare for the random joyful mixture of willingness and fear, insecurity and bombast, nonsense and sheer fucking JOY that a real human watchy-person will bring to the half finished character concept you are fleshing out with the creative team. The wider the frame the more fun people can have. I’ll never forget some of the people who have surprised me in Carol – old ladies sharing their own Christmas poem, Romanian folk singers taking my accordion and showing me how it’s really done, lovers proposing just before the spirit of Christmas yet to come…

But as a performer you’ve got to be secure enough in the direction the scene needs to go. You have to know the end point and be flexible enough to get any group’s energy there. It’s not about scripting for all eventualities. It’s about collaboration, shared trust and the act of creation in the moment. Know what you can and can’t say. All of this deepens with time… The guys on the show I’m taking down now – they were just making sense of it. I saw the last night. It was smart. Witty. Occasionally flat still, and occasionally arbitrary. But it was alive at the point it had to die. I wonder what might have been.

I’m having a lot of thoughts, as I work extremely hard with a crowbar, hammer and impact driver, deconstructing this thing. Sic transit. Everybody involved talks in terms of what they’ve learnt. I think that’s a thing. The upshot of all this is a better entertainment industry. Fail. Fail again. Fail better. And eventually you make a masterpiece.

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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