Rest

Normally the show would still be on. I’m in bed dressed as Bugs Bunny and I’m not expecting to be visited by any spirits. I’ve been trying to sort out marketing for the next venture, but it’s slow going. I said to my business partner who has been taking the bulk of the hits “I’m sorry, I’m really not very good at thinking fully about multiple things at once.” Her response: “It’s because you have a … a Y chromosome.” Charming.

Today I got my costume fixed (I hope) and we cleaned up and sorted things out. One more full week in Sheffield and then York. We had a telephone interview with the lovely Charles Hutchinson who has been writing about my work for years. He already knows what he’s going to write, so it was more just a formality, but it still felt important to represent the show properly. Last time he tried to make out like there was a rivalry between myself and John who was playing Marley. There wasn’t. He just wanted a hook. He’s a good fellow but he’s an old salt and set in his ways. He’ll write what he was going to write anyway and hopefully it’ll be pleasant. No reason for it not to be. But you never can tell with writers, the writer says artlessly.

Jack and I had time to go to the Christmas market in York, and we waded through the overpriced beers and sausages to a tent that was definitely the artists bar at Latitude Festival repurposed as a viking mead hall. We immediately wanted to find out if it’s sleeping in March or if we can use it as a venue to make stories. There are so many things I want to make now that they are practically exploding out of me. I’m gonna break down the things that I use to block me. Like software…

Despite framing myself as being shit at all of this eventotron guff, practice makes perfect and if I’m going to be driving my own projects in the real world going forward then I need to be better at the things that happen under the table. I’m clever at the solving and I’m totally unruffled by pressure but I’ll need to get sharper at the stuff I instinctively downgrade to “guff” or “bullshit” as unfortunately it’s bullshit and guff that sells tickets. My mission of the year this coming year is to make peace with and gain control over “guff”. I’m going to learn its true name. I’m going to get control of it and make it work in my favour. I will become the guffomancer. The bullshaper. The wankmancer. My bullshit brings all the boys to the yard.

Meanwhile it’s an early bed and tomorrow to York to work out what the fuck if anything we can do in this sacred space in Mansion House. It’s just been refurbished. We’d be lucky to do anything really. If they let us have a little bit of haze I’ll be happy. We will find out tomorrow.

Oh! And I successfully persuaded Amazon to take the cockawful ads off my shiny new Kindle without me having to pay. They were brilliant about it, but to be frank I’d have abandoned the whole new Kindle experiment if they hadn’t been. Still it felt like a victory. I went in a mission and accomplished it… Here’s Jack and I enjoying York…

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Sunday

I remember now. Last year I wrote the Christmas Carol blogs before the show, in the daytime. I realised that if I left it too late they would descend into circular shambolic witterings and blurry pictures as the post show party and decompression kicked in and I lost my ability to form coherent sentences.

Today I’m attempting to corral myself into doing some work towards marketing this thing we are building at Vault Festival, but I find it hard to think outside of Carol as a show that takes full focus. Once again I’m relieved we have such clean and sharp digs, and that we aren’t living on top of other people. I can stagger around the kitchen in my pajamas, eloquently swear out loud to myself, and lie on the sofa half dressed writing emails and blogs and marketing guff.

At some point Jack and I will wander across Sunday Sheffield, and click back into gear for the last show of the week. Only one today. Yesterday was two and then we got wasted. Jack was wingmanning like nobody’s business and it’s been a heavy two nights. We are now both stumbling around the flat saying things like “No alcohol tonight, yeah. Straight back home, right.” We shall see. The best laid plans of mice and men. Although I do have it in my power, at the end of the show, to just not invite the audience for a party. Which is tempting considering we’re exhausted, it’s our day off tomorrow, and the bar spend goes directly to the venue here.


We managed it. It’s not even ten and we are home, having tidied the flat and eaten properly. I’m playing Fleetwood Mac and Jack and I are both winding down, reading, making plans for tomorrow. I went ahead and bought that Kindle. I felt slightly guilty about it, as nothing beats a good book, but when you’re living out of a pack it allows a much greater level of choice. I got a waterproof one so I can drop it in the bath. Jack recommended an author and I’m going to get lost in  nicely written mindless fantasy.

Sunday night audience tonight and we felt it. After the craziness of Saturday, where I ended up swapping tops with a 24 year old, dancing behind the bar and doing headstands on the dance floor, I was relieved to have a smaller quieter crowd.  About six teenagers who thankfully got stuck in, and lots of polite people. Very little alcohol being consumed generally. We love it when people get off their faces in this show and the last couple of shows Jack and I have essentially been conducting a bacchanal. So it was jarring to remember that sometimes we have to generate that energy without it being amplified and fed back to us.

Tomorrow is technically a day off but I’ll be washing sheets and sorting marketing and getting costumes stitched up and doing radio interviews and tidying. But if I want to I can go to the Sheffield Christmas market and have a glass of mulled wine. For reasons that will be obvious to any constant reader, I have never touched alcohol before a show, but maybe I’ll blow a fiver on something worth 50p tomorrow. And like it.

We’ve already washed and hung our costumes up in our nondescript IKEA flat. 20181209_233023Always working! 🙂

Satdee

Sheffield on a Saturday night is a sight to be seen. I thought we’d have a lovely contained night in our little parlour. But i hadn’t considered the nature of the Sheffield audience. There is a huge amount of party in this town. We closed our space at a modest 11pm, but we immediately got swept up in madness. Now we are in Kelham Island. Audience members from Sheffield have decided to show us their Saturday night. It’s a good Saturday night, guys. Sheffield rocks.

Right now I’m custodian of a pile of coats while everyone else goes to smoke something that probably isn’t tobacco. That’s fine. I can’t process that stuff so I’ve barely touched it for decades. It’s a good opportunity to get this written down. Even if it’s probably coming across as deeply antisocial. But that’s just a nothing. It was a glorious show tonight so Jack and I are local celebrities in our bubble. But Sheffield is a little less used to alternative people than London…

I’m wearing an audience member’s sequin top as I write this though. She is brilliant fun, and instigated the idea of swapping with me somewhat forcefully. Scrooge had expressed a desire to wear it during the show. He got his wish with a different head on. I walked into a late night Sheffield bar in a remarkable sequin top and was immediately asked by the bar staff to parade down the bar as if it were a catwalk. I did so with gusto and ended up unexpectedly getting a couple of free drinks. Being alternative is still interesting in Sheffield it seems. It’s easier to be so here. In London, “alternative” comprises a grey suit and hatred. It’s worth bearing that in mind as i frolic with my sequins in old steel central. Before Tata.

Boy did I frolic tonight. The “dissipated artist” lobby get their money’s worth, the poor loves. We had a lovely night. I feel fully welcomed into Sheffield now. We went out in Kelham Island, and found all sorts of brilliant places to go. We were taken there by three audience members who were very taken with the idea of showing us a good night. They had been joyfully trying to make Scrooge uncomfortable in the show. One bloke in the audience referred to them afterwards, saying “The people to my right – they clearly never go to the theatre. But they understood it completely.” That bloke was an amdrammer. He had an idea about how audiences should behave. Bless. He had a good night despite that ancient expectation of obedience. And so did the “naughty” people like me.

Thanks to 8 years with so many different possible audiences, Tom Bellerby has got the balance right it seems, and employed the right team to make this show glorious and unbreakable. Thank God. He has made a frame for us to have a proper Christmas show. This is half a decade of joy for me now. What a fine bit of life. This show has brought about my friendship with Brian – (in a time where I said to my my best friend I needed more male friends.). It’s deepened my partnership with Jack so much. And it has glorious effects in the real world. I could never have imagined I’d be in a spangly top surrounded by glorious blurry humans…

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But yes. A fab night with the blurs…

Breast Cancer UK Christmas Party

Huge great big audience full of women. Jack and I were hopelessly outnumbered on stage, although Sam behind the scenes and all the bar staff were women. It was one of the funnest groups we have ever played to. They were here for the Breast Cancer Uk Christmas Party. Behind the decision to bring them here was a bloody glorious woman with an ammonite necklace who had seen Neverland last year and persuaded people it would be a good choice to see another show by the same company. Lots of audience were very shy and didn’t want to be put on the spot, but we’re used to that. We don’t single people out unless they’re obviously up for it, or if they’re disruptive or late. This lot were not disruptive, they were just gobby in the best possible way. The only way you can be disruptive is if you deliberately break world, as happened occasionally last year: “Excuse me, actors, I’m cold. Can you get someone to get a heater.” Out loud in a very quiet moment as if that were possible and we were the right people to ask. That person can eternally go fuck themselves. Nobody would be so self regarding up here. (Scrooge just told her to go back to hell, and then a producer who was there told her more or less the same.)

We get some great heckles though. Scrooge was told at one point to smash the patriarchy. He also asked in a game of Yes/No whether he was a man, and was told that gender is about presentation and they couldn’t be clear about what he felt internally. When he pressed the issue he discovered he definitely presented as a man and grew excited by a whole world of new ideas.

This lot were being deliberately and brilliantly screwy with Dickensian assumptions. Some of them were giving me so much shit by the end it was hilarious. Scrooge is protectionist and old fashioned, clinging onto safety and afraid of “other”. It’s much nicer when people try to educate him, as it helps him in his cognitive leaps later on. We both had a great fun night tonight, as did the whole audience.

It turns out that we have been very well recommended in The Guardian, which I had no idea about. It was in an alternative What’s On section.

All of our notices have been fab since we kicked off too, so we’ll start packing out now. The woman that flinched when I repeated the Now Then journalist telling me that “Christmastime is about getting shitfaced,” – she wrote one of the most beautifully considered reviews of this show I’ve ever come across, for The Mature Times, and she spelt both of our names right. And the Now Then journalist loved it too despite Scrooge singling her out as the alcoholic…

Afterwards tonight’s crowd showed me screenshots of the Guardian recommendation that had brought them all there. Great that we deliberately party with the audience after the show. We got twenty women to bundle in for a silly video so we could send it to the shows producers, and then I got some of them to do a selfie with Jack and I for this blog.

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Doing this show in the North feels like a homecoming. Two shows tomorrow. Lots of people. We are gonna be knackered by the end of it. Bedtime now.

Books

My dreams in this flat are crazy. Jack blames the sheets. Both of us wake up sweating in the night even though we have both switched off our heaters. The cotton sheets soak us to the bone. My Primark Bugs Bunny onesie is all very well, but it’s made out of polydeathylene so if I’m going to wear it I have to open the door to the balcony which breaks the seal and wakes me with kids shouting by my ear. We are next to the university. The bulk of my sleep is on the edge of proper rest, with buzzing and ticking. My mind goes to strange places as I fitfully slumber. This morning I was clinging to the feet of a fire belching gargantuan Godzilla type horror as I jolted warmly into wakefulness. I have vague lucidity in dream, so I had compromised on clinging to its feet when the dream was trying to smush me. I remember finding great beauty watching the city burn on purpose. It’s often me versus my dream, but I can always magic safety.

Our imaginations are so powerful. We can create worlds in our sleep that are more detailed and complex than the worlds we allow ourselves to create in the day. Our dreams don’t care for logic. They are about ideas, image, colour and shape. They break the rules. And so we should when we are awake. My work feeds into this at the moment. Scrooge, surrounded by the names of people that owe him money, like a fat spider at the heart of a web of debt. Of course he wouldn’t have the names written up visibly on a big chalkboard all around his parlour. But how lovely and weird that he does. And people buy into the dream. When they realise I’ll make up a story for any of them, they start to ask again and again. “What about Chalvington Belk?” And it’s fun to talk about current affairs through the prism of these names.

Our imagination has edges based on the things we have consumed. As a child I voraciously read. At 10 I was in Earthsea. At 11 I’d finished Tolkein down to The Lays of Beleriand. If JK Rowling had been around I’d have bitten her hand off, the absolute legend that she is for fat books that kids read. She’s Ursula le Guin for a wider audience, even if nothing will ever beat Earthsea for me. But I was consuming hard and fast and it made my dreams insane. I was burning through Narnia at 8. My parents couldn’t keep up and were spending so much money on books. I don’t remember not being able to read. I do remember getting slightly passive aggressive with my teachers when they wanted me to read “Ted goes to the beach” out loud.

Reading was a huge part of my downtime. I’ve covered a wide pantechnicon. But I’m not reading like I used to.

I remember when my mum stopped reading books I started worrying. I started buying her books I loved. I even bought her The Fountainhead… (She loved the doctrine of the individual, and creativity. She subscribed to The Daily Mail. Ayn Rand is a great example of right wing libertarianism in story.)

I haven’t bought that Kindle yet, but I can’t wake up in the morning and start with these constant articles about Trump or Brexit, even reduced into video form now. These affairs are nothing in the context of history, of the world, of the dreamlike capabilities of our endless imaginations. I’m going back to words. I have to. We learn more from history than we do from now. Now is flow, as we all try to adapt, affect and comprehend. We can learn from people with similar concerns but different contexts. I will buy a kindle tomorrow. I’ll probably start with Earthsea again, but you beautiful regular readers – throw me your favourite books.

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And yeah. Perhaps Jack and his Kindle is my inspiration. Just perhaps I’ll allow that he’s affected my thinking. Maybe… Harrumph.

Early home

We got home early tonight. This IKEA flat has constant chatter. The living room is bright and artificially hot, and there’s a fridge that moans and grumbles so loudly that I hear it in my bedroom. I’ve just pulled it away from the wall as it had been pushed right against it. Perhaps that’ll quieten it down a little from now on.

Now I’m on the sofa, overlooking this balcony view of night time Sheffield.

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Our audience tonight was boutique and adorable. There was one Scottish man there who is 100% the nicest man I’ve ever met. He was holding a beautiful conversation with my character about the nature of love and happiness, and the things that are important in life. I was genuinely moved by the intelligence and simplicity with which he tried to bring Ebenezer out of his protectionism. And he utterly treated me like a fragile real person. These conversations are part of why this is a job that I always love to return to. As people explain these things to Scrooge you feel them reconfirming it for themselves. Scrooge understands through them that it’s never too late to shift out of habitual pain patterns. They understand the same for themselves through Scrooge. It’s a two way mirror.

Jack and I have remembered the detail of our working shorthand once again. It’s become so deep, the ability we have to eloquently communicate with each other in great detail using just a flash of an eye. We can have detailed silent conversations. “The book’s over there,” “Someone’s had the bloody stool – don’t get thrown we’ll solve it live!” “I forgot to open the wardrobe – find a reason to do it as I can’t now the focus is on me!” If I was writing this in a respected newspaper someone would send me in to Luvvies in Private Eye for trying to claim I’m psychic. But there is a symbiosis that has developed over time into a deep partnership, and it’s terrific fun when it’s running to feel that connection and ride the wave of it.

But now we are finally properly open, the question of downtime comes into play. I didn’t bring much up with me. I took my Camino rucksack with a few changes of clothes, 3 different tarot packs, a shiny shell and my iPad. No books. I’m sorely tempted to buy a Kindle while I’m up here. Now we are open there’s time to read and explore. Sheffield is an ace town, but it’s also good to curl up with a book and I think a Kindle might be a solution for my itinerant lifestyle. Someone just paid 50 into my bank and I think it might be blog related. I can gamble that into a portable library. Now we are open and pressed we can take our foot off the accelerator a bit, and there are many books still to read. We will still have to do some serious reworking if we sell out to fit in everybody. But the first full house isn’t until this weekend. And I’m finally beginning to feel like I have space in my head again.

Press night

It’s press night tonight, and a full house. I’m feeling weightless and rested after a day off. I’m sending minimum one email every day to industry people based in the North. Today I invited the casting director of Emmerdale! Can’t do any harm and it’s exactly the sort of thing I haven’t done for years. Most of these emails will get lost in the bundle of “make me famous” types, but one email might convert to a meeting, to employment, to delights. Tomorrow I’ll write to The Crucible – (the main theatre in Sheffield). Probably for them it’s more likely they’ll cast in London. Still, you have to put energy out into the world or it doesn’t come back to you and I’m not fucking around anymore. And it’s “press night”. So here goes.


So. I have no idea what the South Yorkshire Knitting Times made of our show. Or the Sheffield Rocking Horse Post.

The press are a pernicious lot with theatre. The night we did tonight was called “press night”, and the show we did was a lovely show where lots of people got free food and booze. The hope is that those people will go on to write pleasant things and consequently fill the house with humans. We still get paid regardless. Their bullshit affects whether or not we get to come back next yeat.

It’s an annoying dynamic, seeking validation when you already know the show works – and in this instance it just … does.

Why have a night where we blow smoke up people’s arses in the hope they will reciprocate? Nothing. They haven’t sold it enough. That’s the issue. I lose nothing but fun if you don’t show up as audience. I want fun to be a thing . A reviewer tonight told Scrooge that Christmas was about “getting shitfaced.” I fed that back to the crowd, as is my job, and noticed one of the other potential nightmare reviewers flinching. I think it was the head of Sheffield Hedgehog Carer’s Newscast. I’ll doubtless find out tomorrow. I’ll never work with hedgehogs again.

I really wanted to make it Christmassy for the audience, but it was hard to keep positive when you’re with an audience who all self-identify as reviewers. Everyone was skipping over the surface. Connection was very hard.

I love writing, and I love theatre. I’m extremely good at both disciplines, in an uncomplicated fashion. Jack and I smashed it tonight. But I honestly don’t think I’ve ever played a more artificial audience. Tonight is the first night I have EVER witnessed Marley’s first “Merry Christmas” being met with absolute silence. (He very quickly changed that of course and got them all involved.)

“Impress me.”

I honestly hope that the good people of Sheffield Flatulence Monthly enjoyed our show. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening. You get a show and a meal, and the price point is literally half of what the same show was in London. There’s no way in hell it would still exist, bearing in mind the logistical nightmares, if it was anything other than an important and delightful show.

I have a few political names on the vast debt board. Everyone wanted a piece of them. It’s important to be able to bring in politics, but we had Rees Mogg, Bojo the Clown and Nigel Garage in one night. I didn’t want to get political on press night so I just dissociated them into vague versions of themselves. I was trying to keep it clear of rant despite an extremely political list. Then the third pick was Nigel Garage. I probably should’ve asked for a fourth, because it was literally just a conspiracy of writers seeing how I’d cope. But I smelt copout so he became an unfortunate orphan boy, instead of a dark divisional fringe politician. I told a story and tried to make him a goodie with an unfortunate name, and then I got them all to encourage me to free him. I am curious to know where writey people went headwise in their subjective attempts to rationalise their experience. I strongly suspect that they all had a corking time, but we do have to deal with the Sheffield Small Glass Object Appreciation Newsletter. Whatever they thought is largely irrelevant anyway from my perspective, as I know for certain after half a decade that the press release won’t have my name on it. I just wish I had enough profile that could sell tickets for my own past…

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