Recorded zoom training madness

Home. This morning I staggered out of bed at 8 and set up the studio. Hamhanded, I tried to take photographs that would serve as an office background for a major building contracting manager. I thought about shaving my beard but somehow I felt that my boy Brian would be proud of a bushy one. I kept it. I would probably have cut my nose off if I’d tried shaving, the state I am in the morning, especially considering I’ve got a whole ecosystem attached to my chin right now.

We had to have a fifteen minute Zoom conversation about the price of wallboards. I was buying in bulk by the millions for a major housing project, and playing hard ball with the seller to see how cheaply I could get them on a renewed contract. We were recording it to send to the client, who was teaching about bad selling and wanted to use the video we make around a teaching point.

Problem was the length of the conversation – and therefore the length of the shot. We got very good at the first five minutes. We were ok at the middle five. By the time we got to the last five it was frequently slipping, because it only takes one irretrievable fuck up or some ridiculous shouting outside your door to bin the whole take and then you have to go back to the start or likely take even longer in the edit than you would retaking.

There’s no saving it in post or starting halfway through if it’s a recorded zoom meeting and it’s just the two of you and you’re both shit at editing. We had to get fifteen minutes of involved sales talk down pat in one long long shot. It took us a couple of hours all said, with breaks. I recorded it as a screengrab, the same way I’ve been recording myself playing a computer game occasionally just for YouTube shits and giggles. I’m glad I even learnt that much as it served me well today.

My terrible design head didn’t serve me so well. After failing to take photographs for my background without wacky perspective, I panicked that I’d never be able to find something that would work for an office background for my character so I decided to try and build something. I pulled all the pictures off the wall in my living room and built a weird pile of tools and cushions and boxes behind me. Panting from exertion I proudly showed it to Sylvia when she logged on at eleven. “I couldn’t find a background that worked and wasn’t right-protected. I thought rather than risk someone trying to pull down the video because we’re using their image, I’d make this. What do you think?” TADAAAA. I proudly reveal it.

“It’s shit. It doesn’t work at all.”

“Oh. Um. Well I’ve got a greenscreen…”

2 minutes later: “What about this image as background?” Oh skill-sets. She had found a public domain image that was perfect. In no time. After I fucked around for TWO HOURS! While I was berating myself she sent three more.

This is why collaboration is the key, generally. She then supervised multiple costume changes (“too smart” “too casual” “too vintage”) until I looked right, whereas she had logged on (albeit half an hour late) looking the bees knees immediately. We rolled into the takes.

We work very well together, the pair of us. Guildhall in different years but contemporary. Always friends. Always allies. Now she trains rich people to unblock themselves and tries to make herself rich in the process. It’s good work, needed work, kind work and valuable work. I occasionally come on board as her second, or help her out with writing, and it’s because of the way we complement each other. She’s dyslexic, instinctive and sharp. I’m overlexic, instinctive and blunt. Here we are. With invisible costume and prop carnage.

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Ringmaster costume

A friend of mine and her husband have been doing their shopping and daily walks in character as superheroes around Shepton-Mallet in Somerset. It’s just their way of spreading a little joy. They’ve got two kids, so they take them along in the pram, and parade around in brightly coloured tight fitting costumes. The photos on their Facebook are delightful and they got an interview with BBC Radio Somerset and even some of the Arts Council Emergency Funding, being some of the only people who are bringing silly creative joy abroad in these strange times. Recently one of them posted a photo of a protective bushel that had been slung onto their windowsill by somebody local and witchy. Looking out for them, making sure that while they’re shiny and visibly bringing weird joy they aren’t accidentally bringing home nasties from anyone throwing bad energy their way, as can happen when you’re visible.

I only fully appreciated the power of a good costume in these times this afternoon. “Get that video done!” said a friend by WhatsApp. I haven’t really seen her for a decade but I’m hardwired to do exactly what she tells me. I had a video to shoot. I had been procrastinating for too long. Time for action.

I threw on my ringmaster jacket and headed to the park. I didn’t really think about the time it would take between my flat and the video, walking down the river in my ringmaster jacket.

A couple of years ago my friend, the snake owner, was in New Orleans. She’s part of a Mardi Gras crew out there, and involved in theatre as well. She knows the creative lot. An old costume store was emptying out their stock. There’s only a limited amount you can take in your checked luggage, but she’s got an eye. “What’s your chest size?” comes a message, and I tell her. “What colour is magic?” she asks next and for some reason I say “green”. “I’m getting you a present.”

Brooks Van Horn and Son made a ringmaster costume in green for the Mystic Club New Orleans some time ago. It’s blazoned with the name J Kenneth Baer. It fits me like a glove, as if it was meant to be worn by me, and it is very much mine now through familiarity and use. Big buttons, epaulettes. It’s a work of art and I love it. I’ve spent more on repairs for it than on any other garment I own because it gets a huge amount of active use and it is exactly what I need for much of the strange work I end up doing.

Walking to the park in it was delightful and surprising. I forgot how visible I’d be. I was just thinking about the video I was going to make and I realised that everybody was grinning at me as I walked past. I wasn’t even doing anything but they took some strange pleasure in a good item of clothing and a brisk walk…

I once stood on a podium for a few hours every day and barked for a sideshow on the South Bank. “Roll up roll up” you know the score. But for hours, and I kept it fresh despite running my voice into the floor. Hours every day in the hot sun for tuppence and the manager was a dick. This was before I got the jacket. I was just in something I’d pulled together, running my imagination. They didn’t provide costume, of course, or any help whatsoever. But that’s cool, I’m generative.

The woman running the candyfloss came up to me one day, as carny as toffee apple, long grey hair and all the tats. Is that the remains of a tooth? What’s that smell?

“My dad was a ringmaster,” and there she is right in my space, small but fervent, like a dangerous ancient otter. “There’s a few of you lads do the job you’re doing – I’ve been watching – and you – you’ve got the gab alright. You don’t have the costume though, boy. The costume does as much as the gab. Don’t matter what your saying if you don’t look right. Get a costume.” It was my last day. I guess, for the money, I hadn’t really considered anything more than throwing energy at it. She was totally right though. I’d forgotten the power of clothing. In retrospect I wish I’d had my Van Horn.

Here I am in the park. Everybody said hello. It was lovely. I wish I hadn’t left my top hat in the artists container at Wilderness two years ago. “No mate, none of us have seen anything like that left here. Certainly not my mate who left an hour ago wearing it.”

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Shifty time

I’m on my bench. At least summer isn’t cancelled, even if all the events are. Today’s weather was summer alright, even if it felt like it was summer laid on by a supreme being who is as discombobulated as we all are right now. The barometer hardly shifted, but we went from shocking sunshine through several tremendous hail deluges and back to shocking sunshine again.

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The bench has already dried in the sun despite the faint petrichor smell still hinted at warmly in the wind. And the wind is starting to rouse itself now, firing across me from right to left as the tide ebbs out in the same direction.

I’ve got some filming for a training video lined up. A recorded zoom call. My job is to pretend to be a client and get really mardy about little niggling things just before the possible renewal of a lucrative contract. It’s teaching a technique to sales people which appears to be : “don’t just pretend to give a shit about your potential client, trick yourself into actually caring about them”. It’s this kind of thing that helps me understand why a fair few of my early acting contemporaries are now doing very well indeed in sales and marketing, and supporting their burgeoning families. Like teaching, the skills are entirely transferable. Marketing. Sales. Advertising. Law. Teaching. PR.

Meanwhile I’m dreaming by the river, still wondering how to fight the negative projections and make live theatre, dammit, despite this thing that unexpectedly blossomed from “oh gee there’s another distant SARS or something because people have been eating pangolins in China” to “STOP THE ECONOMY! FORGET HOW TO BE WITH HUMANS! HIDE IN YOUR HOME! COVER YOUR FACE IF YOU LEAVE HOME! BE AFRAID!” Every day I’m glad it’s not Captain Tripps, even though it’s the lack of symptoms in many that allows the stealthy spread.

I mean I could just dump all the theatre stuff, and tell my agent I want to go into full time “I’m only filming from now on” mode. But no. I love both disciplines, and I think that keeping a hand in both is key to helping someone like me who thrives on new stimulus to be balanced and sane. So. Theatre in a time of cholera. Expect some phone calls in the next week or so once I’ve crystallised this shit in my head. These major venues going under? It will be so culturally destructive as to be almost impossible to contemplate especially as the venues will all be replaced by flats which will be immediately bought by the same 12 people and rented to humans at a rate designed to keep their heads down working to pay the rent. I can’t bear that to happen in venues that have been about shared joy for hundreds of years.

Fundraisers don’t set a healthy precedent even if they help us feel engaged. Like that guy walking round his garden, God love him. But the NHS isn’t a charity and we shouldn’t start to think of it as one or we will end up with Go Fund Me pages of our own when we get hit by a bus, and losing our house when the teenager gets MS.

There’s got to be a way with theatres. With the buildings as well as the output. Adapt or die has always been the law of evolution. Watching Black Cabs atrophy vs Uber by digging their heels in, I thought it was pitiful. Then Coronavirus makes black cabs viable again because they have a partition, so they are potentially given a stay of execution and time in which to work out a better business model in different times. But they might still go under if they can’t embrace change.

Business models in theatres universally are still following patterns that were set before the internet was universal and generations shifted. What is possible now with new heads and new technology? What are we overlooking because it’s new and we haven’t wanted to shift too far from the old model?

So much. So much more. Time to start implementing, surely.

 

New moon new regime?

I’m in bed early. Nic is back in Hampstead and I made the mistake of listening to the news.

It wasn’t a happy listen. The passenger plane going down in Karachi… And it’s the anniversary of the Manchester bombing. Not to mention quarantine and death toll and travel restrictions and oh God it’s all so depressing.

Having an unexpected short term sofa guest made things a little more bearable for a while, but also exposed how far I’ve retreated into myself over this strange period. I’m very used to moving in my own rythms and dealing with just my own needs. It was more of a jolt than I expected to share energy and space with another person. As soon as he left I took most of my clothes off and started spreading out again.

But it’s time to start back to work on self discipline and maintaining useful and helpful patterns of waking and sleeping. I had a short rehearsal this morning and by the end of it I was overheating, dehydrated and tired. I’ll be filming from home on Sunday, and I need to make sure I’m firing on all cylinders by then. So that means switch off the news, ease off the booze and try and shift properly into self care and self discipline despite the excuse of a weekend. It’s not like days of the week hold any particular meaning right now. Every day is just dayday.

It’s a new moon, so a good time to move forward into something fresh. The last couple of weeks I’ve not been parenting myself as well as I was at the start of this. Gone are the involved healthy meals at the table, replaced by a snatched bowl of tortellini and “this pesto should be fine if I scrape the mold off first”. Now it’s time to start thinking about what is going to emerge from the flat when the moment comes around. It feels like this is never-ending but some day we will find a way out. I’d like to come out ready to fire forward alongside the inevitable army of people with a ninja fitness regime.

I’ve been crystallising ideas about how those of us who work in live theatre can start to try and claw back the things that make live theatre special. I’ve been making various crazy plans like a mad professor banging around this flat that turns into an oven on days like this. Maybe the heat makes me think wider. I’m having to keep Hex well ventilated and topped up with water while I’m filling pads with words.

Now I’ve had a hot bath, herbal tea and maybe – just maybe – sleep will come. It’s noisy in my head today.

I’ve been breaking my own rules with Mubi and started watching Kurosawa’s Ran this evening even though it’s there for a few more days. I don’t want to miss out on King Lear with Samurai. It’s started well but it’s incredibly long and I’m trying to prioritise rest.

The sun cooks me awake like I’m in a tent unless I have the windows open wide all night in which case the traffic keeps me up. So I’m forcing myself down by midnight. This guy can wait.

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Spin on a bike thing

Oh fuck. It’s the end of days for WordPress.

WordPress have decided that being a platform on which you can conveniently write isn’t enough.

They’ve decided to try and transform the language with which we think about content. Oh God, really? What the fuck does that even mean?

It means a pile of gobshites in Silicone Valley have lemminged behind a “visionary” with a trust fund and mirrored shades who reckons that if we change the language around writing words then we can make so much more money, ya? Utter bollocks.

Now there’s no wordcount and “content” is divided into “blocks”. Basically it’s a monster of misguided ambition and we will all have to shift to it on the 1st June or so. I’ll likely use the opportunity to shift host onto a different site that isn’t quite so full of shit. Especially since all I really need is a running wordcount. But I suspect a wordcount is at odds with the new futureconcept of “content blocks”. This Butthead visionary has decided that words are more than just a number, ya. I would like to dissolve him.

It’s always the way. The seeds of destruction are sewn from within. The Roman Empire was destroyed by too much expansion in The Roman Empire. Ditto The British. Ditto The WordPress it seems. Arses. I’ve managed to set it back to the old editor for now.

Nic and I got bikes. I decided to experiment with one of the new “Jump” bikes with a built in rider assistant dynamo. They are littered around the pavement outside my home, dangerously close to the river. Going to Richmond from mine on one is not a good idea though. I realised too late that if I left it there I’d end up paying them £25 to recover it on top of rental. I told Tristan I’d meet him in Barnes and left it there instead but with a five quid “wrong place” fine it still worked out over £20 for a spin. Still, I bought my first Flat White since this started, on the Lower Richmond Road, and constant readers will know how much that means to me…

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What a glorious day and at least I’m ticking the economy over, which I totally have to be after the government paid my self-employed assistance remarkably quickly after I overcame my blocks about filling in forms.

I’ve got to thinking how we can try to prop up the theatre industry through resourcefulness. We can’t open the theatres and there’s lots of very negative projections bandying about. So I’m starting to talk to makers and thinkers I know because these times call for creativity and thinking outside the box. The world is starved of Live content, but there are structures in place and technology available that a small group of creative people isolating together could lead to many different and interesting ways of getting live content to people who have been allowed into the creative process somehow. Making a show for the audience.

Ownership and live theatre. It’s something…

But right now, frankly, I’m tired and a little too drunk to make any sense of sentences. My short term memory is temporarily shot to hell. Tired through sun and exercise. Bed is calling loudly.

I’m listening to Erykah Badu and cooking sausage and beans. This evening I’m a basic bitch. So be it.

Buddhas and togetherness and a little bit of Cher

Half past eight and another glorious London day. I wandered over to the park and hauled myself up onto the Buddha in Battersea Park. If you’re on your own with nobody to boost or pull you, you need good stomach muscles to get up there – they don’t make it easy. No handholds and the fencing is too wide to comfortably grasp. You have to jump and scrabble. It’s almost like you’re not supposed to do it.

With my stomach muscles in the state they’re in I knew I probably only had one shot, but I planned the jump and made the jump, spectacularly inelegantly. I flopped up like a seal. But I made it.

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I sat under the Buddha, facing my flat and the river, and chanted quietly for a while, a little non-idolatrous bodhisattva beneath the graven image of the Shakyamuni. A not so wise man facing in the same direction as the memory of a wiser man, looking at the place I sleep in. It really is pole position up there and on a day like today. London doesn’t give much better.

I sat there until a passive aggressive young ripped dude started making it obvious that he wanted to sit where I was sitting and he didn’t like me for existing. I’ve never seen anyone up there at the same time as me, and likely neither has he. He walked past me three times huffing. Every time he walked past it was like he couldn’t understand how I was still there after he’d huffed at me, and maybe if he went round again I’d get the hint. Eventually he huffed himself down just far enough away on my left, keeping in my eyeline, and started rolling up. It was then that I noticed all the burnt out roaches scattered around me and I realised that after the huffing comes the puffing.

Nic showed up bang on time. “Shall I come up?” he asked, seeing the height and hoping for the answer no. “I’ll come down. I think this guy is probably hoping to be left alone.” I say, and look at ripped dude rolling. No acknowledgement, no contact, nothing. But in his head, so loudly “just go just go just go just go.”

We were all young once.

Then we walked. And we languished. We caught the sun. And we talked. There’s a lot of contact between the two of us and we played silly games and enjoyed the heat and the weather. I’m sure I’ve caught the sun crazily. It is just astonishing right now in London. Whatever else is happening, thank God for this weather, even if it does mean that the parks are crazyass busy.

Despite calibration troubles, we have found a very positive equilibrium now, and I’m going to miss the company when he gets back his place in Hampstead. Other people make the world better. Connection and togetherness is so important. It’s interesting and revealing to consider how hard I found it initially to walk alongside another human being after weeks of this isolation. We will find it hard to get back together. All of us. Worth being ready for that so those of us who have been alone can start to derail our negative tendencies and double up on patience in time for otherpeople time.

Meanwhile Nic is watching an old Cher concert. Fuck me she’s good. “Follow this you bitches” she announces before coming in on an automated elephant. And that’s me sorted for the evening.

Wandering and bonding

We are such ridiculous animals. For the last few months Nic and I have been two male male menmen managing isolation in our own masculine manner. Suddenly Nic had to move into mine and last night two cocks squared up against each other (not like that though).

This morning he walked into the kitchen and refused coffee. We both had a head on.

“I’m going off all sugar caffeine and alcohol,” his words told me, and I humoured them despite his eyes and my wisdom. I poured all the coffee into one mug, shaking my head affectionately.

Today was the perfect London day. Mild wind blowing through warm sunlight giving us movement and breath. Everybody was out, and we were not backwards in coming forwards. We had some bonding to do after the carcrash of yesterday evening.

We walked. We walked and walked. I showed London my legs for the first time this year and it was ready for that. We found points of contact via landmarks and tales of poets and visionaries of times gone by.

It was needed time. We both made our legs tired but by God we covered ground, psychically and physically. Parks and factories and wharfs and warehouses, insecurities and fears and habits and false positives, boats and streets and statues, life.

This is a point of contact between the two of us, bachelors born in the same year, both maybe a little too used to the simplicity of living unlucky in love : we are both esoteric geeks. We have formed patterns now but who doesn’t?

I remember a friend of my mother saying of men with certainty “Once they get past 40 you can’t break their habits.”At the time I thought it sounded like nonsense. Now I know it to be. But I also see how anybody with such a simplistic view couldn’t “break” what they considered to be my “habits”.

Today, as we walked and talked and found and thought, we also indulged bad habits. We stopped and bought some chilled beer. We gradually got gently sozzled in the sunshine.

By the end of the day the ghosts of yesternight were laid.

Here we all are in our boxes. Other people have always been a leap of feeling. It takes compassion and patience to exist in society without constant frustration. This is why we love the Buddhas – the bodhisattvas – the many versions of the Dalai Lama – the Popes. “How can that human remain so calm and wise in the face of our flagrant technicolour idiocy?”

This society has fronted convenience and sold us false stories of perfection to the extent that people in a relationship get home from work and bitch about their colleagues only to spend the next day going to work and bitching about their partners. My industry has a lot to answer for in terms of stories of false hope and impossible or unhealthy love. 

None of us can go to work right now though. We just stay home. But we need to take this opportunity to rejig unhelpful patterns and unrealistic expectations.

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We found a lovely graveyard. We found loads of history. And then we found six king scallops and a load of honey, teriyaki, chili and garlic.

“Hey Al!” – this is LIVE : Nic shouting from where I’ve put him – in the bath – so I can blog uninterrupted.

“Hey Al – if we’re going to drink that red tonight, we should probably get it breathing.”

He bought a Lussac St Emilion from 2015.

He’s probably right.

Boys will be boys. I’m not going to remind him of his morning promise. I knew the shape of it when he made it.

I’m off to get it breathing… Glug