Unpredictable weather

And then the heavens opened. All my little bucolic observations. Ahhh nature!? Nope. Sod that. We had to do a matinee from the Marianas Trench. Horizonal rain seeping into every unprotected crevice for hours and hours, with nothing to look forward to but more of it. Plummeting temperatures, slippery pathways, everything soggy. Oh hell.

The show ended with a grumbling and mutinous crew slumping back to the community centre damply. Animals of the woodland, swearing like troopers and emailing their agents. The collective noun for actors is “a moan of actors,” or so I’ve been told. I was one this afternoon. Everybody dialed up the energy as needed for the punters. As soon as they were done, so were we.

Lou is here though. A flying visit. Here today, gone tomorrow. So I stuck a smile on and we went for lunch and the smile turned out to be genuine, as they often do when you make the effort. I had soup and pasta, comfort food all the way. Then sleepily we made our way back to the unit base in time for the evening show.

It looked the same on the weather forecast. I think that had a lot to do with why you found us in such a foul mood at the end of the matinee. It looked like there would be torrential rain once more and all of us alone and gradually disintegrating in a meadow. This is why you can’t trust the weather forecast.

It’s 18.30. The birds are singing. There’s a gentle rush of wind, and a light dappling of evening sun drying the soaking grass in front of me. Charlie just came round with a cup of tea. It’s easy to forget how pissed off and sodden we all just were when we look at a happy bright newly mown meadow and a sky without so much as a hint of rain. There’s been a gap in the show – audience groups discouraged by the rain. I’ve been able to jot these thoughts down as I wait here for the next lot to come round the corner.

The weather changes everything. We are totally subject to the whims of the winds here. This won’t change for the next fortnight. Swift shifts from storm to calm, from rain to shine, all the way to the end of the run. Now we’ve seen it at its worst. And we’ve also seen how quickly it can change. I’m gonna stay positive. As how could I not … ?

The cup of tea helped as well though. And with Lou here, it’s hard to sink into just being soggy and grumpy.

Just before it starts

Our first little review came out. Most of us get a sentence, although the reviewer appears to have forgotten some of us. I get “feels like you’re going further into the forest”. I can work with that. Come with me my dears, further now. Further into the forest. It’s one of the places I belong.

Find the irascible snuffly badger… Here he sits, in his sett, with his weapons and his whack-a-weasel, ready to teach you that fears are things to be confronted rather than avoided.

It’s another soft evening, and no rain is forecast. The good people of Oxford scull past in a variety of different aquatic vehicles, enjoying a summer evening that is closer to perfect than many we’ve had so far. A light breeze stirring currents on the surface of the Cherwell. Yesterday’s rain just a memory held in a few little puddles on the pathways. My hayfever has improved, although I’m still stealthily honking into tissues when they aren’t watching.

Sound carries a long way in the stillness of the evening. I can hear the knives and forks as some neighbors eat supper in their garden. They likely hate me, disturbing their peace on a loop every evening with my “left right left”. Then there are the dog whistles. Some bastard somewhere has recommended you go and get a whistle that can be heard six miles away in order to train your lockdown puppy. The sodding things are everywhere and they all sound the same. Dogs and kestrels for miles around are likely getting traumatised as their unfamiliar handlers substitute blowing into a tube for being a bit firmer in the first place.

A couple just went by on a punt and got totally snagged in a willow tree. We really are in Oxford now. They’re enjoying themselves anyway but they’ve been stuck for a good five minutes. “Clearly we are trying to get as much foliage in this punt as possible,” he says.

“All ready?” That’s the text on the show WhatsApp. “Always ready,” I reply. Although in fact I’m only half set up and I’m enjoying listening to everything going on around me knowing that there’s no chance of anybody getting close to me for at least fifteen more minutes.

Toad is warming his voice up behind me, singing up and down the octave, diligent as always. A lovely old fellow with a stick and a straw hat just stopped by to say good evening. “It may be alright tomorrow by this time,” he tells me, defaulting to the weather without a topic having been introduced yet – “but it won’t be during the day. It’ll be raining.”. Old men in straw hats tend to know these things. Lou said the same thing. I’ll be putting on my raincoat tomorrow.

For now I’m going to enjoy the stillness while it lasts. The children are coming and there’s a lot of energy between now and bedtime. I’d like to have a go on a punt before I leave Oxford. I remember many a drunken summer day with half remembered friends in the days before mobile phones, capsizing one another and getting stuck in trees… I think I’d opt for a more sedate experience now instead. But that might be fun on a day off…

For now, time to get up. Showtime. Switch that body on. Here we go…

Slow changes

Here I am once more enjoying a moment of calm in the evening before it all happens again. Many summers of working outdoors in places like this have taught me how changeable the weather always is at this time of year. The sun is shining, but I have no doubt there’ll be some rain before I’m done tonight.

They’ve mowed the meadow. There’s a guy with one of those mowers behind a tractor. His job is to be mowing things, and by God he’s going to do his job. We used to be working in a huge overgrown meadow. Now it’s just strips where the wild growth used to be. Unthinking I said to one group “You’re not here to have a pleasant stroll in this riverside meadow, you know?” and a child immediately told me “This isn’t a meadow!” I guess not, oh small precocious one. Not anymore mister mowerman. But it’s not a field either. So I’m still gonna call it a meadow…

Outside of these large sweeping distracting changes that we make with our noisy machines, the small quick changes are the things I like to observe when I’m doing this kind of work. How the lanky black winged damson flies of this afternoon are replaced by the low white lepidoptera of early evening. How the nettles bow down under the weight of the raindrops. The rise and fall of the river, the effect of the wind on the water and the willows. The plops of the fish taking a prize. The conkers suddenly thudding down. How quickly yesterday’s sodden mud has hardened. How soon it starts to crack again as all the water drops through to the water table and works into plastic bottles as per the diagram.

It’s well used, this urban meadow, despite being remote from the city centre. Dogs walk off the lead here, some already familiar, others new to me. People are here for their evening stroll. When I arrived at the bench today three pleasant young lads were getting stoned and listening to sweary music on Bluetooth. I warned them that we would be coming through armed with children and noise and they volunteered to move on immediately. I’ll have less luck with this chap. He’s a regular here, and likes to fish in peace. If a dog comes near him he mumbles imprecations to himself for a good five minutes after it has departed. I’m about to march past him repeatedly with armies of children. He might well kick off…


Time passes. He turned out to be absolutely lovely. Patient with all the noise and then as he was leaving he found a pair of lost sunglasses in time for me to return them to the owner.

Crayfish and weather

It rained hard last night. I went for a marathon twelve hour sleep and was woken the first time by cloying heat and then the second time by lashing rain. I’m rested now and in place for the first audience of the matinee. We might be able to keep dry.

I wait for the audience in a pathway flanked by overgrown nettles, with a little stream running by it. Everything is open to the public so occasionally I approach a dogwalker thinking they’re an audience member. Somebody was fishing in my sett earlier. Rain is forecast though, so there aren’t so many random members of the public today. We just build them in if they show up.

I wandered down to the riverbank and saw a string sticking out of the water. Immediately curious, and with the instinct of a geocacher, I pulled it up. Not a cache. A rather sickening moment of wondering. Chicken bones. There’s a bucket full of raw chicken in the river. Nothing else yet. It must be an improvised crayfish trap.

I wonder how effective it will be? Maybe I’ll check it again this evening. I won’t be taking any crayfish home though. Also I wonder if it’s put there out of necessity or greed. You’d think if they were hungry they’d eat the chicken.

I once put out a crayfish trap in Maine as a young man, for greed. I came back to find a drowned water rat and I felt terrible about it. If I’d been starving I’d have eaten the rat. But I wasn’t, and it didn’t look appetising so it died for nothing. I tried to sink it in the lake and it came back the next morning washed up in my sight to rebuke me once more. So I canoed it half a mile away and slung it into a bay where I correctly assumed it wouldn’t be able to find its way back to our little patch of shore. The whole experience rather put me off trapping crayfish. I used fish guts, which you’d think would be more effective and you can’t eat them. There were lots of crayfish in with the dead rat but my appetite for home caught crayfish was sorely damaged by the dents in the steel made as the poor drowning creature frantically tried to get out through the side of the cage.

I don’t think this bucket of chicken in this urban English stream is going to yield much. There’s probably somebody up river with an electric smartmesh that covers the whole river bed. Nowadays everything is done on such an industrial level it’s a miracle there’s anything left alive anywhere there’s water.

Here comes the audience…


Time passes.

And yep, the crayfish guy showed up by chance during the evening show. With his bike. Checked it and replaced it. No crayfish despite torrential rain. He hocked a great big loogie and wandered off. I reckon he’s working alongside one of the restaurants nearby. Like the guys in Richmond harvesting the garlic when the park wardens are trying to get them to leave it for the deer. He got none because they’ve had the lot already in that area. Another bit of the ecosystem funneled into the machine. “When I was a kid you’d lift up a rock around here and there’d always be a crayfish. Now you never see them.”

We suck. We’ll take ourselves out of the equation before long. But the more I think about how shortsighted and selfish we are the less I care about our continuance as a species.

Down day

I’m in the attic room, as the evening turns to night. It’s 8pm and bed is already calling. We were going to go to The Ashmolean or take in some sort of culture, but it’s the first week of the school holidays and I’m not in the headspace for crowds. I went and said hello to an old friend instead. On and off I’ve known her since I was 8. But we don’t see one another so often. Sitting together outside The Fishes we realised that nobody really does see one another nowadays. We all know what we are all doing because the social meejah tells us all about it. But it’s rarer and rarer to be in the same space with each other.

She’s a nurse. She’s been on the Covid wards. Unsurprisingly she’s thinking of shifting to research, and who can blame her? 9 patients per nurse now, so 2 nurses on a ward with 18 patients. It’s impossible for her to properly do the job she trained for. Everything is cut back, and it’s all very well to call them angels but we all know that decent pay is a motivator, and that seems to be like getting blood from a stone. It’s a tired and disillusioned workforce trying to stop us from dying.

We went for a walk through the meadows near hers in Oxford. Lots of empty space and the occasional tent springing up. “No camping” say the signs, so it’s obviously started to be noticed. Nothing like the canals and parks in LA, but there are a few people settling for the moment in these meadows. Better than sleeping in a doorway.

She has a delightful huge dalmatian. Dogs are too much for my lifestyle – I can’t manage Mao without Lou. But the physical nature of the dog, flolloping and bounding, it reminds me of all the things we are starved of. We need to be able to run around outside together and to paw each other and try to lick each other’s faces. But without ending up on her ward.

I went home, played some games, strolled in the early evening. Now I’m here, with my skylight and my comfy bed, between Oxford and the meadow, looking out.

It’s been a lovely day off. I feel rested, and I reckon I’ll be asleep in an hour. Twelve shows next week, but at least we get to connect with the audience one on one in an outdoor space and take them on a journey.

Last willows of the week

For ten minutes I can just sit here with my whack-a-weasel and enjoy the gentle curve of the river. There are wood pigeons and other less familiar birds calling out in the early evening. Nobody in the river right now, but often there are swimmers and boats. In fact somebody just leaped in as I wrote that last sentence and made a noise like a dying cow. But mostly there’s a peace here, marred by the distant whoosh of the road, if you don’t tune it out. Relative peace, marred by the occasional airplane. And mostly it’ll be marred by my voice barking orders and shouting “left right left right” in a half conscious imitation of the teachers who used to get a bunch of 8-12 year olds to march on the spot every morning whatever the weather at my first boarding school. I thought it was normal at the time. I think the Badger marching stuff I’m doing is closer to fun and further from trauma than it was out on that driveway in all weathers in my shorts. Mostly my audience is smiling, which we weren’t back then. From time to time there’s somebody crying a bit because they’re terrified of weasels but what can you do? Weasels are scary! Mostly this is a glorious fun experience for us and them simultaneously.

And we’re off. There’s the message. It begins. The first audience is go. WhatsApp makes it so much easier to run shows like this, but no more rest for the Badger. Not until tomorrow anyway, and tomorrow I just get to be in Oxford to relax and regather before the next weeklong willows push. Hurrah.


Well, as ever that was lovely. It’s a step in the right direction, being able to work with a small audience outside. Most of us are on our own with the audience, not doing scenes. There’s a lot of thought about bubbles and so forth. Sanitiser. We are all trying to keep as safe as possible, and if one of us tests positive they might be able to marshal a swift last minute replacement. We’ve all been filmed for that purpose. And brilliantly they’ve just added an actor to the company! Somebody to come on at the end of the audience’s journey and give them closure. I see that need. It’s easy in these experiential things to have so much fun in the middle that you forget to put a button on it. We have a song that we all share, but it’s logistically impossible to bring us together to sing it while we are still in world so it can’t be a button. People need to know it’s over.

It’s joyful to sing the song. We sing it while we walk across the playing field to return to our tiring house – all of us with our insecurities. There’s a certain romance in it – the actors scattered but bound by sound, walking home both in and out of character, sharing a breath and a set of notes. We stop at the climbing frame and wave to some of the young’uns – they who have brought us the element of random we so crave. “Will octopus ink work on weasels,” asked one fellow today clutching his fluffy octopus. “The thing I don’t like is weevils,” tried another. “Yes And.”

I’m having fun. And I’m working. That’s what I signed up for. Tick. So lovely to be back at Creation and with only one project on. It feels that everybody has a bit more time these days, myself included…

Weasels

The good thing is, the show finishes early. It’s just gone ten and I’ve been done for hours. The adrenaline is processed. I’m getting ready for bed.

I love this little attic room. It was oven hot when I first arrived, but those days are not representative. Mostly it seems to be just a haven, on the edge of the wild. The meadow where I work is just a scream away. I haven’t yet found a way to come here for a nap between shows, but today is just the first day. It’ll take me some time to find my routine, if I ever find it. All that is clear right now is that it’s gonna be hard work and fun.

We made a show in like five days. And it’s delightful. Hard work though. Very like the thing I was doing in The Tempest with these guys. Get a bunch of people, do a load of random stuff, keep a close sense of the passage of time, move them on when it feels like the right time. In The Tempest though I would just have time to make ten little boats out of leaves and twigs. Then I could count down the audience, boat by boat, and know how many groups I had left. I need to find something like that for this one, as I’m constantly losing track and it’s really good to know how many more times I’ll have to do the thing I’m doing. Budgeting energy is a fine art. And I’m not very good at it as I like to just spam everything I’ve got every time.

It’s a good company though. It was Lola’s 20th birthday tonight. She’s the youngest member. She’s great. We went to the pub to celebrate with her and a little bit of me remembered what it was to go from 19 to 20… I think I might be the oldest. I’d sooner not think too closely about such things. I’m still free and able to pretend to be a badger in a meadow in Oxford every day. Lucky me.

Since I started writing I’ve got into my bed. It’s so comfy up here, and they’ve got three cats! Only one of them dares come in to my room so far. I don’t know the name or gender, but such arbitrary labels are meaningless to cats. We snuggle and they go at my hands for stroking somewhat obsessively. Current arrival time is about 8am, which is entirely manageable. Arrival comes with shouting and the immediate insatiable desire for strokes.

Two shows tomorrow, followed by a day off but the shows are not instinctive yet. They still cost. I’m going to drift off to weird dreamy sleep until my very odd cat friend wakes me up with a “yark”.

Here’s a posed photo of Badger and his little mini practice weasels. My point of reference was Sandman. “I will show you fear in a handful of Weasels”

Here we Go…

Tech run and then dress rehearsal. It feels like we’ve just started. We HAVE just started. And yet I just badgered it up for a fair few loosely representative audiences. They were tame compared to what’s to come. Because THEY ARE COMING! THE CHILDREN! THE CHILDREN ARE COMING! BE AFRAID!!

But the heat is beginning to ease – hopefully not bringing another fortnight of deluge. If every day can be roughly like today I’ll be over the moon. Not too hot. Not too cold. I was very happy with the temperature so if you’re friendly with God thank him for me and tell him I’ll resist coveting my neighbour’s ox for 40 days and 40 nights if he’ll keep it roughly like this for the run.

I’m beginning to see the pattern of this. Shows like this are about careful allocation of energy and it takes a while to learn. I like to spam as much as I have whenever possible, and it sometimes takes a week or so for me to properly budget myself, and to work out when I can recharge. The showtimes are pretty relentless. We show up at half ten to start showtime at noon. Then we are back in the evening. Every day but Monday.

I got organised though so I’m able to retreat to my digs and power nap between shows if necessary. I reckon come Friday that’ll be part of the process after the matinee. A long hot or cold shower depending on the weather, and shut down and reboot the computer. I’m not the immortal twenty year old I was for the whole of my thirties. I’m the guy who organised his digs early and arrived on site with a sensible car and more than one pair of pants. I’m approaching middle age fuck-it-all. But I’m not above doing a high energy immersive mostly made up live show for kids in a field by a river. “We were talking about how much energy you send out – it’s brilliant,” says one of the lovely youngsters and I hear the unspoken part of the sentence: “… for someone your age.” Yeah I spam energy. I’m just having to be tighter with the budget, and there’s still a lot in the tank. I’m unfit post Covid. I doubt it’ll take me long though before I’m firing big guns every show. Although apparently I should stop using such military language.

I’ve missed the company aspect more than I realised. I’ve missed the immediate togetherness. Here we all are, new friends and old, making a thing together. There’s still a lot that isn’t possible. We are all doing scenes alone. Normally we would all hug each other before a show, with all the nonsense of superstition and ridiculous avoidance of saying “Good luck,” which is one of the clich├ęs still joyfully upheld by the idiots that do this for a living. “Smashy smashface, break a leg, kick it in the dick, have a whale’s arse!” I miss that hugging so much.

We sing together and that’s how we connect. But touch is a huge part of it too. We are a company of actors. We are doing hard hot work together. I want a hug.

Day off Willows

I’m not gonna keep counting these Willows days. Rehearsal will be a flash and then suddenly I’ll be a workhorse in a meadow in Oxford dehydrating and laughing and badgering.

Today, obscurely, we were given a day off. Thank God though. It couldn’t have rolled better. Three self tapes just came in. Two of them were due this morning and one of them tomorrow morning. Normally you get the whole weekend, but the casting Gods knew that today would be my day off, and they decreed that I would be able to send the tapes at an otherwise very busy time.

I have a Badger beard. For the most part I’ve sent the tapes unapologetically bearded. I’m not sure which photos my agent has been using. Fuck it – they’ve asked for the Barclay. That’s what they get. Sometimes there’s a beard and sometimes there isn’t.

For one of the roles I was clear in the tape that I can shave the beard on August 8th. The others just get what they’re given. One of them has a moustache in the script. The other fits the beard I have and it’s not specified. He’s just a job title.

The heartwarming thing is that these were all interesting projects, even if not all the deepest parts. Props to my agent. Good to at least be in the mix for some interesting material again after the Covid desert, and even if my facial hair might get in the way.

The parts were mostly functional so personality and individual takes are less important than just basic efficiency. If your photo on the mood board doesn’t match an existing cliche of the job you are named for, then somebody else’s photo will end up on that mood board.

Only one of the roles I read for today had a name – an excellent name – and a personality. That’s the one I’m most likely to get, I think. I don’t do well with functional parts. I’m a character lead by instinct, by experience and by attack. Nevertheless, there’s not much going on out there and I absolutely have to flex my muscles. Get me on the major set playing “Job Title” and the next time the director is looking for somebody like me to do something with a bit of heft, they know where to find me. “You gotta be in it to win it,” and lots of these casting directors haven’t looked at me in twenty years, so I’ll joyfully come in for a spit.

Tomorrow is my last day for a week without two shows. Aargh. Glad that all the distractions are away on WeTransfer and in the lap of the gods. Maybe I can just relax into being an Akala Badger for a while…

Wind in the Willows – Day 3

Only three days… Ha. We open on Saturday. Tomorrow is a day off. I love this sort of thing though…

It’s so hot. I’m not allowed to complain when it’s hot – my own rule – but man, it doesn’t get much hotter in this country. Today I tried on my costume, which involves woollen mittens and a plastic mac and a big hat with ears. It’s a sweatfest. The mac is, thankfully, optional. English weather doesn’t like you to feel relaxed, so it’s perfectly possible that it’ll shit it down with rain for every show, and the temperature will plummet. Right now though it feels it’ll never be anything other than boiling. We all know how quickly that changes on some level, and yet we can never think past the immediate.

Today I spent a lot of the day in a riverside meadow, thinking about how to manage a simple bit of storytelling when swarmed by children. It’s all very well for me to geek out about Pan, but this is a children’s show and the major thrust of the work will be making sure they don’t run headlong into the river or start punching ducks. I’ll have to try to find a way to get the tale told and deal with the logistics at the same time. It’s the old balance in immersive shows – to what extent do I just become a shepherd? How can I give them the sense that their actions affect the world? Is it really necessary to do so? It’s probably not necessary with kids, but when does it start to just be on tracks and steal all agency from the audience?

Frankly I just have to be Badger and get the troops whipped into shape somehow. The audience will have some form of an experience and more agency than the adults in large scale shows I’ve witnessed with the word “immersive” on the ticket. We’ve got a team looking after all the bigger things with Willows. There’s the joy of just being an actor for me. I can just think about physicality and seek to be clear about my choices and organised on my beats, and the overarching narrative and all that category anxiety – that will look after itself.

It’s hot though. Man it’s hot. We had a photoshoot while I was swimming inside my full costume. “Where do you think Badger wants to be to have his photo taken?” “As near to here as is humanly possible.” I stood and pointed in a little hedge. Maybe there was a shot they can use for publicity. Sweating in a hedge in my woolly gloves I felt more like Grandpa Steptoe on an unwanted holiday in Spain than a denizen of the wild wood with wisdom to impart. I’m going to have to wear that costume for hours most days. Then I’ll have to put it on again, the inner layer still soaking from the previous show’s sweat. I’ll bring my own towel…

And this evening I’m back in London. Day off tomorrow and we need to let things settle, and I’ve had a bunch of meetings come through all at once. God love my agent. This is how it goes. The world is switching back on. I’ve been round at Emma’s, nailing down the first two of three which have just been sent to my agent. I’ll need to be online tomorrow morning to make sure they went through ok. Self-Taping made it more possible than it would have been if I’d had to come into a room. These short videos of me are off to America. Fly, little pelicans. Bring me the work. That’s all I want.

That and sleep. Which is where I’m off to now. To dream of badgers and all the things I’ve been pretending to be while under NDA…