Thing started

And so it is completed.

I remember giving someone this advice about an immersive show they were in as an actor: “If there’s something you need artistically, make sure it’s in place before the first tester audience even if you have to get it yourself. If you do without it for that first show, even by breaking character to explain its absence, you will NEVER EVER get the thing you need if you don’t get it yourself, because the show has played successfully… the money is in the bank… the team has moved on – even if they don’t tell you they have.”

Today I’m the producer. Part of it.

Fuck its hard.

Yeah, great if you’ve got actors who provide their own stuff then it’s golden.

We did a show. It was full of the dignitaries of Southwark. It happened.

Who the hell knows how it all went. But I hope and believe that nobody was left stranded.

My extensive wardrobe really added to things. The audience dresses up in glorious absurd things. I’m very happy to play dress up, and it’s pleasant to play with strangers as they put on these interesting garments I’ve managed to scavenge. Even tonight we had someone wanting a pattern cut from the capes. I love the capes. We are only using five now. We could manage more capes, but ideas are often harder than realities. This is a well bonded creative team. We had the right amount for what we needed. And there’s a dry cleaning bill to add to the budget. A fraction of the hire cost though.

I’m home, slightly addled with booze. Once the show ran clean, I fell into the trap of mollifying stale adrenaline via substance. Boozy boy. Don’t call me tomorrow morning unless you’re a sadist. There’s not much insight I can offer in this state, other than gushing about my collaborators…


Calm before the calm

I’ve been an ASM before but it’s not my calling. Still, today, a team of us helped with the build. It was optional, but surprisingly well attended. Sammy and I started at the bitter start and pushed on until the…

Uxbridge first, to rainily pick up some printouts before fighting through rush hour to pick up all sorts of crap plus Campbell. Then into the space. Caroline lets me put Bergman into her lockup, which means that Campbell and I both get to go in to work for £15.00 the pair of us plus fuel. The tube is so pricey that, since we don’t have to pay for parking, it’s the best option considering we can carry armload after armload of set dressing etc. I’m made aware by doing this how curious and bizarre and wonderful the random things I have at home seem to be. But also I’m happy to bubble wrap and box the fuckers and label them and put them away with knowledge.

Campbell and I played dress-up this evening and now we have mister Kirkaldy and his wannabe musician son William. He’s the same shoe size as me. I’ve put him in the snake skins, and a gorgeous tailcoat. He won’t get to keep them, as they are story-clothes and I know they will continue to be handy. If I give all the best stuff away I’ve only got the crap stuff left, but I’m very happy to see the extensive wardrobe being used. That’s why I have it, and why I was given it. Bits are scattered hither and yon, all across London. At heart its made to be used and loved, and it fell to me for that purpose. I still think of how we went to The National Theatre wardrobe and pretended not to flinch. Lou was incredible lending her ladycostume bits, and doubly incredible hitting me up with the contacts for what I still think of as the costume haul of a lifetime. It’s gamechanging having so much stuff to hand. Siwan too has brought wonderful random objects. Everybody is generating.

We looked at tech. I don’t really have much to do as an actor in this. I’m holding my status by doing very little. It’s lovely and unfamiliar. And I’m not freaked out about having to do stuff in front of an audience tomorrow, I’m looking forward to it.

We laid out lights etc. Nothing is set in stone. But I’d better go to sleep now as my sentences almost coming out backwards are sentences my og peels

Theatre day

It’s world theatre day. Everything is something day. But today (or yesterday if you’re reading this) is/was World Theatre Day.

Fuck I love theatre people. I love the community of the lost. Thousands of highly intelligent people who frequently have to jettison themselves into other professions where the money is better and where they have the advantage of being intelligent, hard working and unruffled. The shit we have to put up with in theatre. The hours. The pay. Ach. I went to the National this evening, to the Dorfman to watch Romeo and Julie, out of Sherman CYMRU with Rosie Sheehy and Callum Scott-Howells. What a piece of theatre! Not the Shakespeare, as I feared. A new play and so tightly thought through, about ambition and family and love and responsibility and pride and change and respect. It’s a really deep smart contemplation of some edges of humanity that intersected strangely with my journey through this madness of life. It’s so clear and yet so layered. Every moment was charged, no scene went for nothing. Tight scripted theatre. The medium at its best. I genuinely think there’ll be something for everyone in it.

It’s harder to achieve that as the budgets drain down. It CAN still be done. I think back over my twenty years in theatre – there for the love and the community. I am proud of so much of the work so many of us did with so little money. I am happy to have made many of the things we made. The community of it. The joy of it. Yes there were people and venues that manipulated us and our goodwill. I spent a good decade trying to make sense of things via pub theatres, mistakenly thinking that people would come and see me work. “exposure” HA. Sometimes though… A barely seen job in a stately home in Norfolk – in the hunting lodge of David Rocksavage the Marquis of Cholmondely – Victor in Private Lives and so long ago my whole cell structure has changed… That show led to friendships and connections that still vibrate now.

We are webs of connection. Actors have to cross a lot of webs. I have snags now in my web. People who, mostly because of their own shit, seek to dislike me. None of us can be all things to all people. Mostly my web is pretty pleasant, although it is frightening how many people have fallen away in the last few years and put their skills into more lucrative pathways. I get why. In my experience, actors are very much the opposite of idiots, but we frequently get treated as such.

I’m still here, with gaps in my web that will NEVER be filled. The dead, of course. And some who quit and I never knew why. For all actors there are other actors who just … do the thing we admire. I’ve seen too many of them quit. I’m always sad to see them go but I get it. One of them put a deposit down for a law conversion and then hit the big time. But mostly they drop like flies. It’s hard. You have to find and work a flexible day job for decades to even stand a chance of meeting rent. I thought I’d found one with the ribs and then BOOM. But… well my mother was the last of my parents to go and she went just before my early career launch collapsed. Some might say the two things were connected. I was just living, but I got this flat to do the living in however I chose. And I literally chose to do a decade and more of badly paid theatre. Big up to all the people I met in that period. I stand by that decision because fuck me it was fun and I made good friends. But also, what the fuck? We all thought that would help our careers. hahahahahahahaa

Now, again, I’m in the business of badly paid theatre. I’m never happy with what I’m doing until it’s over, sure. But we can try, and I love everyone on the team. Sammy and I are the only ones suffering. We are trying. And again it’s the old familiar push and pull between the “tell me what to do” and the “let it fall to chance”. There are many words that have been written down. There are also shapes and ideas in rooms. It will be what it will be. Thankfully the woman I’m collaborating with is a genius with the patience of a saint. Likely there’ll never be a full accord between the improv and the formal. We are trying to make it happen.

Happy world “theatre” day. Let’s make something live, together. It’s rare these days that we can say “hi” with strangers in a live experience without everyone demonstrably sanitising every two minutes. I hope this turns out to be a nice thing…

Too tired to make points

The habit of writing these blogs at the end of the day sometimes comes back to bite me. I’m not in a great state to be insightful.

Once again I’m shattered. It’s 11pm. We started the day getting loads of costume out of the attic. Then to the lockup to get some cushions. Whoever the hell broke into it last time has been working hard to try to jack the lock recently. It has been properly attacked, thankfully without any success. There’s fuck all in there, but last time it was a right ballache cleaning up after them, plus it bites a bit because it’s clear that they’ve tried to get purchase on the screws using my stolen impact driver. I grabbed a bag full of teddies and some old fucked curtains. I don’t think the optimists breaking in there have any concept of the sort of things posh artsy folk think to store in lockups. They are just dreaming of more tools. I should never have put the tools in last time. If they do get in again they’ll find some mouldy chairs, a few boxes of books, loads of random fabric and Christmas things and a few black bags full of absolute gubbins. And I guess a TV. But it’s shite. It’s all shite in there, but some of that shite is about to be useful.

One day of rehearsal before we get in. One day. That’s all we can afford. Crazytimes, but we at least have an interesting team. It’ll be something, this thing we have made. Who knows what. I know that two people as director writer designers producer and stage managers is too few by far. I didn’t really think of the amount we would be shouldering at the time I agreed to it. I’m still kind of enjoying it though. Who knows what it is. I guess we will find out in the next few days.

This evening we roasted a chicken. Nice to have someone to share it with, I might have done it solo anyway.

Considering I was still awake an hour before this posted yesterday, I’m glad that I’m already feeling the pull of sleep now. The next few days are going to be “every second counts” time. mmmm zzzz

Night lovelies.

Rest Saturday

All this stuff to do, and it would make sense to have a frantic day of scrabbling. But it’s a Saturday and I needed a break. Tomorrow I’ll be doing lots. Sometimes we need to pull back in order to push forward cleaner.

I had a lie in, only interrupted when Campbell hit the buzzer at about ten. He’s back in town with the Gennaro Maglioni mandolin I gave him half strung. I covered his bus back down from Scotland and bought some strings for the instrument. He was told at the shop that stringing it would cost £300 or break it. That’s just a shop getting business. This has been a working instrument before it was unstrung, and it didn’t break. I suggested that if I bought the strings we could have a go and get some sound out of it. If it breaks then it’s on theme for a show about breaking and we have a guitar as backup.

Campbell my nephew is very musical. He can noodle with guitar and mandolin for starters and I threw him an old mouth organ which he immediately made good as well. “I can taste the ancient dust,” he observed. But that harp is coming back into use now. I’m proud to have involved him in a thing I’m making. So many themes in common with the piece we are making about these machines that used to break things and now just sit and sleep. Old forgotten instruments, instruments that might break if they are used. It all fits the imaginative soundscape so well.

So yeah, we are thinking about the show. But also I’m just trying to have a day to chill out. I’m cramming my weekend into one day so tomorrow I can load up on random things and tweak the script for everybody else and also maybe finally work out what I will be doing in all this. Good lord. It’s a lot to be negotiating, but we have such a lovely team and I think Campbell will be a huge asset. I make most of my decisions through instinct and then go back over them and overthink them. I just saw him in my flat noodling on my guitar missing a string and thought he would be good for a joyful thing. Should you employ family? Yes, when it’s short notice and the money isn’t great.

argh and we got talking and suddenly it’s the wee hours and I’m gonna have to sleep… oops. Saturday night…

Volunteers and machines for breaking

Another day in a room full of machines.

Today we were visited by a volunteer. He used to be a software engineer and now, for how many years, he has made this museum his home. He’s on hand to demonstrate the huge sleeping metal creations. We were mid flow when he strode in with complete ownership and immediately started overlapping facts to us, twenty to the dozen. He was quite quickly short of breath from sheer enthusiasm and speed of speech. “Did you notice he was foaming at the mouth?” someone observed mildly much later, and yes – I thought it was my imagination, but he was.

A good brain to pick though. He knows the facts, and since I’m trying to play the man who is the object of his retirement obsession, I will need to have some command of them. Conscious that every question leads to a very long answer, I tried to ask things that will help in what we are making. I have some notes from that. Engineering terms and evidence of his opinions on some things. There’s no recording of him of course. He died in the 1890’s, and they just caught Tennyson on wax tape. David’s voice is lost to time. I fear he was mostly Scottish though so I’m channeling my uncle. Campbell my nephew is coming down and is going to get involved, and he has a laconic North Scottish drawl – “people up in Scotland tell me I sound posh”. He’s gonna be banging his head against the machines as I improvise in an accent. Perhaps if I just go full Day Lewis and refuse to talk any other way until we open then it’ll start to feel natural again. It’s a family voice, but just not one I’ve been exposed to much in my very anglocentric existence.

The issue with our lovely volunteer was getting back to work. He took us downstairs and explained the Dennison machine for breaking chains – did it in such a careful manner that I actually mostly understand how it would have worked now. I’m allowed to move the weight, so I shifted it to where it is unlikely to cause any unexpected movements and snip off an audience finger. There’s public liability insurance with my Equity membership, but I don’t want to have to use it.

Eventually we got through the day’s plan. I need to scribble some things now. We’ve got the shape. It’s almost at the stage already where we need it to have living witnesses in order to understand what it needs. We have no director so we just have to give notes to each other. Thankfully nobody is precious here. We have less than a week. Joy will be found…

Script and improv

Back to the self tape frenzy and I really should stop insisting on learning all my lines and just read them off an autocue like some of my friends recommend. I won’t though. I tell myself the learning and specificity will make me better at my craft, that it is helping keep my learning muscles flexed. Learning lines is a crucial skill for work where the lines are set in stone. That’s about fifty percent of the work I do.

I once wrote a letter from the heart to a major theatre company. I wrote a few back then, young and optimistic, thinking that my delight in my vocational medium would be enough on its own to recommend me. It was before I caught on that many of the gatekeepers to the jobs are not practitioners and never have been. I was talking about how I felt I was moving from apprentice to journeyman, but I needed to raise the calibre of my collaborations in order to secure the edges of my craftsmanship. Who knows what became of that letter. I’ve never been considered by that company. But I still think in those terms. This making things up stuff is a craft. Learning a craft takes time and practice. I was apprentice, learning to journeyman. Now I’m journeyman and looking to master, but for that shift to come I’ll need much more time at the coalface. I know some apprentices that tell everyone they are masters, and I’ve watched people believe it. But I’ve always played the long game, in every aspect of my life.

Right now it is really helpful for me to be in a collaborative process with someone as positive as I am but utterly different in priority. Sammy is fab and very different from me. I’m learning again and I’m never happier than when I’m learning. Theatre is community. We all have different skills and needs, but if we push together we can make live art that has some kind of a truth at the heart of it, hopefully.

I was supposed to have written something today but I had an audition with a hard line learn. I chose to prioritise that. There’s time. Not much, and I forgot that everybody doesn’t work like me, so suddenly someone needs a script in a small immersive experience. I just learnt a tricky script and played it back with every word in place for a self -tape. That’s one thing. Immersive theatre is the opposite craft and needs a very different head, in my opinion. You cannot be responsive with a script. It immediately makes everything all about you. And this actor is meant to be in a healing room. Eek.

I went on a date once where the lady was working through a “date script” – (if you were a colour what colour would you be and why aaaargh) – and by the end of it I had actually eaten both of my arms. I can’t bear that shit in dates or in immersive theatre context, and they are both similar in intention. Find points of contact, push a narrative, seduce or charm. But … my audience preference be damned, she’s gonna get a script, but not today, and I’m sure she’ll be able to respond within the frame of it. Her imagination is excellent and she doesn’t need the crutch. But which of us can say we haven’t relied on crutches from time to time, he writes, with a glass of lovely young Ferreret from delightful José Ferrer vineyard in Binissalem just hitting the spot as he finishes writing.

Bedtime now though. Much to do, much to do. Script? Humbug.

Kirkcaldy again and getting closer

Hurrah. We found the button. I do worry. We gathered the collaborators today and we talked through the thing we are making and I think I know more clearly why we are making it now. I think I might have been credited as Al Beverlay on the printed literature and there is a huge power in not giving a fuck. I’m not making this to push my name to the front of anything. It’s just another of the things I have made over the years where it’s about the thing. Big old life. I’m still in it, being ridiculous. I’m still hoping I’ll hit that vein of consistent work, but it comes with being known and the older I get the more I feel the lack of those early chances as I’m gonna have to be the late arrival now. But I’ll still be doing this when I’m ninety, cos I love it when I’m allowed to work. The industry is cruel and selective and contact-based and arbitrary. But the work and the people working? Glory. Apart from the inevitable plague of egomaniacs.

The guy in the coffee shop this morning was wondering. What’s the place you’re at? That building over there? I’ve often wondered what it is.

It’s a huge building housing a “universal testing machine”, where they would have to stop the traffic on one of the main thoroughfares in the area in other to pull or push huge girders. Bertha, the vast hydraulic machine, would pound and pull and twist and crush the best efforts of the world to make solid steel. She still sits, sleeping and hungry, likely craving another girder to destroy but ultimately starved in this new world. We have satisfied ourselves that we know the capacity of materials. We build higher and bolder because of what we learnt through that one man’s rigour.

What of the new tech? The latest revolution? The industrial revolution has overtaken us and there are too many voices making new things for a Kirkaldy to try and make sense of the breaks. There will be another Tay Bridge disaster as AI gets ahead of us, egged on by all of us who are only interested in what it can do and are failing to take into account how it might break.

With luck, in another 150 years we will still be growing and caring. David Kirkaldy was exactly the kind of pioneer I’m usually annoyed with. He was a man who wanted everything measured and quantified. He was almost certainly out of the same Scottish Presbyterian “wee free” stable as my paternal grandfather, who was held up throughout my childhood as an example of everything that was wrong with the world. Excessive care. Measurements. Facts not opinions. “He’s like a cult leader,” Sammy observed, when I tried out some of my written bits. And yeah, certainty can be intimidating, because there is almost no foundation available to us. We base all our notions on blancmange. It’s just about who insists that their blancmange is concrete.

Making weird things for fun

Thoughts flowing more freely today and words following, but still obstructed just because nothing is ever easy, least of all the process of creating something from scratch. Thankfully I’m not alone in this and my collaborator is more ordered and less inclined to trust the universe.

There are pricks on a page now. I made them. I’ve started to write on iPad and to make things more easily transferable to others as I still can’t find some of my early notes for this project which were scribbled in one of about eight identical yellow notebooks I saved from the bin on a set break.

Making work transferrable… there’s a skill I need to develop. I like to develop and respond, but in much of what I do the stuff comes out of somewhere squealing into the light. I pull it and dump it steaming in front of you. Then I immediately forget it cos I’m scraping for something else. So I’m trying to write a script for myself even though I’m 100% certain I’ll never come close to the words on the page when it comes to delivery. The points will carry. The pertinent information and facts. But this show I’m making is billed as “immersive”. My grandmother is billed as”immersive”, the loos in the Cirencester Rotary Club are likely billed as immersive. The word lost all meaning long ago and just became a shorthand for “we want you to buy this”. But I want to be able to respond if the audience does anything, and I know from experience that the tester audiences will be the only ones that do nothing honest. So I want to keep the frame loose, but I know that I’m probably in the minority as someone who is happier when I can’t control things.

I’ve been thinking about different ways of breaking things. Twisting and punching and bulging and crushing. The language of destruction and measurement is rich and lively in this project, and ripe for the plucking. I just want to make something fun in a remarkable place, but we also need to make something that has meaning. Something that hangs together. This place is about breaking things and so much has been broken recently. The edges and the limits – we have learnt much more than we expected about ourselves under pressure after what some might call an extended campaign of fear and isolation. Two years, we lost.

I still haven’t found the button. There’s a bit of time left, but without a button we are just showing off in an interesting place but in a way that’s ultimately empty and pointless. I trust my collaborators though and we only have a week of rehearsal which hasn’t even started yet. There’s a heart to this thing and we will reach in like Mola Ram and pluck the thing out and hold it up to be seen, somehow. We just need to know where it is.

With all these bouncing thoughts, I unscrewed my head and replaced it with my Factory head, and went off to walk the verse on Julius Caesar for a few hours in the evening as Mark Antony, as plebeians, as myself.

Joy. Now once more the heated bed. A varied day of thinking. I’m exhausted.

Memories affecting moods

I wonder if anyone else felt obstructed today. Being alive felt a bit like wading through soup. It’s the last day before the equinox so perhaps it’s just the clinging fingers of winter. Wet and cold, uninspiring. I was trying to write and the thoughts were like mud. I found myself wanting to just go to sleep at about 4pm. My wellspring was dry, and time is running out.

It would help if I wasn’t too tight fisted to put the heating on. It would help if the government wasn’t favouring the oil companies over the idiots who voted for them. It would help if a dying Russian lunatic hadn’t decided to try to make the USSR great again by imitating his genocidal forbears and murdering as many human beings as possible in pursuit of a delusion.

Nothing in the world is really making sense. Even the Hot Cross Buns are flavoured with blueberry and lemon. I bought them by mistake. They are… incorrect.

I’m hoping that a night of dreams and rest will help reset the general feeling of dread and horror that has dogged me all day. It’s totally irrational, but we are irrational beings. I’m dreading collapse. I’m dreading life. I’m dreading everything.

Aries new moon though, and equinox. So we have an excuse to look to new starts. A beginning time, and a time when the light is getting stronger. Even if you think its all hooey, the days are going to be longer than the nights now. We can all do with a bit of freshening up, and but for the temperature, all the signs point to spring. Crocuses. Snowdrops. Tulips on sale in Tesco. Daffodils.

I’m approaching my old nemesis, March 23rd. Perhaps the looming sense of dread is rooted in there too. It’s a hard time of year for me every year, this little week. New life inextricably linked in my memory to the death of both my parents. Falling down memory holes. Sad. Not alone though. Held by friendships. Held by memories. There’s love still there. Time is still proving unstoppable, but there’s joy to be found.

I’m setting an alarm and falling into dream. Writing tomorrow. Lots of it.