Christmas?

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Today has been all about that festive time of year. How the hell? I’m reading loads of scripts about Turkey and Mince Pies and Vegetarian Christmas dinners. I went to Primark hoping to pick up a disgraceful jumper to help fool the people I’m meeting that I’m ten years older than I am and entirely ordinary. They didn’t have any yet. My industry is ahead of Primark. They’re still doing back to school there. It’s loads of Harry Potter merchandise. I didn’t buy a Griffindor dressing gown. I definitely didn’t. Nope. Not me. No way.

I am going to have to squeeze on my £4 festive blood red jumper hand stitched by weeping children in Bangladesh, and smile in a wholesome manner as I mime carving a mime turkey with a mime carving knife on a mime table. Sometimes I wonder if the person who gets the job takes one look at the REAL props and panics. “But… but I got the job for my awesome mime skillz!! I can’t hold concrete things!”

Nonetheless I’ll be smiling under my moustache. Because all you need is one Christmas ad and you can do interesting fringe theatre for the rest of the year, or keep free for those last minute telly jobs and a shot at gaining some momentum. Maybe they’ll take one look at me and think “Just the unassuming 50 year old we were looking for. Bury him in money.” If so the drinks are on me.

My business partner and I are back in business with Brian. He’s making it happen again. The utter legend. We’ve got a new space for our Christmas Carol, with a new set of questions. It’s going to be amazing fun essentially reimagining that show which has been an integral part of my Christmas for the last four years. You’ll be hearing a lot about that in a couple of months, as it’s definitely going ahead – even if I have to pull out because Spielberg begs me, someone will Scrooge it. I want it to be me. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a joy and a surefire way of kicking yourself into Christmas gear. It’ll be most of December and it’ll sell out so mark your diaries! If there’s a discount code I’ll list it here nearer the time.

But God, not for a few months. It all feels too early. I’m only just coming to terms with the possibility summer might be drawing to a close soon. Fuck Christmas. Why do I have to think about that crap now. What is Christmas but a time for paying bills without money? A time for finding yourself a year older but not an hour richer? A time for balancing your books and finding every item in them through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? Merry Christmas? If I could work my will, every idiot that goes about with “Merry Christmas” on their lips should be boiled in their own pudding, and baked with a stake of holly through their heart. Humbug.

I hate being cold. I’m already starting to think about building towards LA again in January, with more notice so more time to put things in place. Especially if I can get this Christmas ad. But this evening I’m off into the woods and I don’t know if there’ll be reception so I’m getting this scheduled early. Then I can just relax.

wp-image-1968483279


Just came out of the meeting and the director liked me for it specifically because of the moustache. Plus he gave me a real actual knife. “Thanks for giving me a real knife,” I tell him at the end. “Yeah I bought it this morning. We tried it without a knife but it just didn’t work.” No shit, Sherlock.

The wave is still rushing. Christmas might be happy. This thing might be attached to my face for longer than I anticipated. I might have to get some photos of it. I’m good with putting up with all the Borat/Dali crap if it puts turkey on the table.

Aftermath

I’m not very good at post audition breakdowns. We’ve already established that. Last week I auditioned for an Iranian hotel manager. I phoned my manager with the usual “they hated me” reaction. Today I recalled in front of the director, who is well known and had flown over from LA. I’m in with a good shot at it. And I genuinely thought it was screwed at the first meeting. Uncharacteristically I had two wildly different meetings today, and I didn’t feel shit after either of them. I’m putting that down to the firm resolution I made on this crazy weekend to be positive towards myself as well as everything else.

I woke up and drove to Baker Street to be positive to someone else though, because I still do that too. I helped them move house. Humping boxes, stuffing the car chock full, lugging bedframes and Hoovers and bags. It seemed like a good first use of my cleansed state. People who move a lot have managed to streamline their stuff so well, though. I found myself envying her for being able to fit her life into a few car loads. I would need a fleet of juggernauts. As quickly as I throw stuff away I accumulate more. It’s pathological. I’m not a proper hoarder, thank God. I’ve seen what that looks like. But I find it hard to let go of stuff. I need Marie Kondo to come into my home and shout at me for a week.

After that it was change into tailcoat and leer at the camera, and then off to Westbourne Park to change into a suit and be creepy in a real-world environment in front of another camera. Something has to land before long. A lot of these meetings have been crap shoots, for commercials etc, but I’ve landed them before, and I’ll do it again. Even my agent got me through a door tomorrow, for a Christmas commercial in the part of “unassuming man in his fifties.” I think I know what that man looks like, and it ain’t me. But glad to be rolling the dice, and maybe they’ll dig the ‘tache, which I have to keep for the possibility of the hotel manager – it’s the most legit job of them all. Commercials pay beautifully, but are not valued terrifically highly. A bit of narrative helps so much. And I’d love it for my showreel.

I also pitched for some voice work through a friend of mine who’s making games in Canada. He’s doing brilliantly and hopefully before the year is out I’ll get to visit him. The game work will be a great use of my new home studio. It could work out very well.

So essentially I’ve been zooming around like I’ve got a rocket up my ass and I feel unfettered by past experience or future unknowns. I am laying this squarely at the feet of the kambo, and am going to keep surfing this wave of positivity for as long as I can. Good to have a strong reset button, even if it does involve huge amounts of puke.

Around all of these meetings, I also had brilliant news from multiple friends. I think I might have inadvertently gone through one of those portals into a reality where stuff goes well for me and for the people I love. I’m planning on staying here as long as I can.

I didn’t think to take any photos again. Here is the kambo-tache combo. “Unassuming man in his fifties…” Ha!

wp-image-624426871

Frog

I’ve been detoxifying recently. Doing some work on myself. Trying to make myself feel good. Making sure I’ve got the energy to keep swinging until the job lands. I’m doing it by drinking lots of water, consuming carefully, poisoning myself, exercising more, eating plenty of fruit and vomiting copiously into a bucket.

When I was in the Amazon some years ago my guide pointed at a small green tree frog. “Sacred frog,” he told me. At the time I internally called bullshit. Trying to persuade the idiot tourist that there are sacred frogs – pull the other one, it detaches.

Turns out it was a phyllomedusa bicolour. Turns out it was, essentially, a sacred frog.

wp-image-1074426847

Some of the phyllomedusinae have a convenient means of stopping themselves from drying out when they’re up a tree. They secrete a sticky waxy substance onto themselves from glands in their legs. This substance has the added advantage of being poisonous, so they can just hang out on the branches knowing that thousands of years of natural selection has weeded out all predators.

Somebody in the mists of prehistory decided to experiment with their poison and somehow established that the one from  P.bicolour has healing properties if used correctly. How the hell they did that is anybody’s guess. Time, trial and error and lots of deaths. They call it “kambo”.

For thousands of years kambo has been used to make warriors faster. Analysis has shown it’s full of bioactive peptides – amino acid chains that bind to human tissue. Their effects range from releasing tension, decreasing blood pressure, temporarily making the blood-brain barrier more permeable, stimulating the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland and much more besides. The ancient practitioners wouldn’t have known that in so many words but they observed the effect and passed it down orally. They just realised that if the frog was a little bit bothered it would secrete the stuff, and they managed to find a use for it. It hugely detoxifies and is known to be extremely effective in breaking addictions. So far, so positive. What’s the catch?

This morning I sat cross legged with a completely empty stomach, watching people go one by one to the practitioner. I was a bit nervous. When it was close to my turn, I opened a two litre bottle of water and drank almost all of it. Having a stomach full of water makes things less uncomfortable. The practitioner had a bit of bark with some glistening wax stuck to it, and an incense stick. When it came to my turn, he burnt a circular hole in my upper arm. Then he applied a single dot of the secretion. Some people – regulars – had as many as 7. I started with one. To assess my tolerance. (They put it in a burn in order that it goes directly into your lymphatic system. As a result it takes hold extremely quickly.) About a minute after application, “How are you feeling, Alex” was answered with “Extremely dizzy and a bit hot.” Everything was swimming. My face and lips had swollen up. Then he added two more burns and drops and suddenly I’m on my side and I don’t know how I got there and he is asking “Do you know where you are, Alex?” “Yes. I went somewhere else for a bit.” (Apparently I’d passed out for six seconds.) Nobody else had passed out. Dammit. My pride is up for a second. “Sit back up.” he says, and I do, attempting to pretend that I hadn’t collapsed in the first place which is comical. I look at the 3 blobs clinging to my upper arm. My face is hot. I’m not really capable of coherent thought. I feel beyond terrible. There’s no room for pride here. There is, however, a bucket between my legs. Hallelujah.

I begin to liquid shout into the bucket. There is nothing else I can do. The next half hour is mostly spent garking out fantastic amounts of horrible crap, refilling my belly when I’m dry-retching, and then bodysnatchering it all back out into the bucket with more horrible stuff attached. The bucket is brimming with foul toxic water by the time I’m capable of moving away from it. And suddenly I’m feeling strong.

Unlike some other natural Amazonian medicines, kambo is legal as it has no psychotropic properties, so nobody could argue that people do it for fun. If you did it for shits and giggles you’d get one of the two and it wouldn’t be the giggles. I’ve seen it described as an “ordeal medicine.” I’d agree with that. It’s not pleasant. But on balance I think it’s worth it. I’d be surprised if I didn’t go back some time, once the memory has loosened. Although I won’t look forward to it. So yeah. That was my day. I just had a big vegetable stew so it seems things are back to normal…


Addendum

Anyone that thinks this is for them I’ve got permission from the practitioner to link to his website here.

Dreams

As a child I had night terrors. My parents were worried sick. I’d wake up screaming most nights. My dreams were long and involved and red and rythmic. I was told by ponderous grown ups looming over me trying to help that I had to “do something” about my “overactive imagination”. Nothing worked. At night I would be lost, surrounded by vast cages where voracious buzzing flickering giant things were hungrily sending tendrils my way. Huge upright toothed slugs would trap me and start to absorb me into their bodies for digestion. Sleep was not a pleasant place to be. Even happy dreams would turn on me. “Oh what a lovely park. What pretty birds as they sing in the trees. What? No! They’re pecking my eyes out! THEY’RE PECKING MY EYES OUT!”

My grandmother solved it with a story. She bought me a huge fluffy lion. It was bigger than me. “If you’re having a bad dream, all you have to do is look for the lion. He’ll come into your dream and whatever it is he’ll fight it and win.” The next night I had night terrors the same as ever. “Did you look for the lion?” she asked the next day. I hadn’t. “How can I when I’m in the dream?” “You have to remember as you’re falling asleep. The lion is always there but if you don’t look for him he can’t come.”

Over time it started to work. The lion would appear, like a Patronus, and it would fight whatever dark shifting horrors I had invented for myself. The nightmares eased and eventually stopped all together as I began to realise the full extent of what my grandmother had given me. So many years later, with time and practice, I dream lucidly. Thanks to Dandy Lion. Dandy himself rarely shows up these days, but I always have a hand on the tiller and if there is horror I shatter the world into light. My dreams still are strange bright arbitrary journeys, but my expectations are positive and the journeys are fun. I can’t go to bed and set out to dream about Michelle Pfeiffer, but if Michelle Pfeiffer turns into a million mosquitoes and starts trying to envelop me then I can switch on the wind tunnel that we were in all the time and they’ll all get blown into a giant frog that was always there too. That’ll teach you, mosquito Michelle!

People love to tell you their dreams, and yet dreams are usually highly personal. Other people’s dreams rarely have much for us, outside of interpretable symbols. We’ve all politely waited for someone to finish telling us their dream. But how extraordinary that everybody spends time every night telling themselves these mad stories over which they have no real control. Some are stories that are so outlandish to the mind of the dreamer that they want to share them to make sense of them. Some are stories that teach the dreamer about themselves. Some are stories that vanish immediately on waking, ephemeral beautiful dreams that are written on the wind.

I’ve often wondered about the connection between my lucidity in dream and my vocation. I’ve been an active part of my own nightly stories for so long I feel called to be an active part of more universal stories with other people. I love the way theatre binds the audience and actors into a single breathing organism. Good theatre is a dream that everyone can talk about afterwards. Bad theatre is a nightmare that everyone can break down into component parts and forensically disempower.

I’m off into a different kind of dream space tonight, so I’m cheating by getting this written in the morning as I won’t manage at the usual time. I have high expectations of today, of tonight. I think I’ll walk in a park for a bit beforehand and see a form of nature. Hopefully the pigeons won’t go for my eyes.

I’ll see you on the other side. Or more likely on the other side of the other side. Which is here. I’ll see you here. Or there. Wherever I end up. Maybe I’ll find the lion.

wp-image-1437237152

Cousin-outlaw

My cousin-outlaw Charlotte once said that my flat is the only London flat she can think of where the door is constantly revolving. People are always staying over for a few nights. I wish I had a spare room. Or six. There’d be constant delight. They bring what they bring, the motley crowd of people who stay here. Some bring music, some bring food, some bring money, some just bring their company. The latest guest has left for Paris but I still don’t get to sleep in my bed because now I have that same cousin-outlaw staying, with her daughter, and Alfie the dog. All three of them slept in my room last night, to the discombobulation of Pickle, who spent most of the morning hiding behind things and glaring at Alfie, and most of the previous night trying to burrow through me as I slept on the sofa.

Cousin outlaw? Well she married my cousin while I was in a painfully awkward teenage phase. Georgia was born, but now they’re divorced. So we’ve settled on cousin outlaw as a descriptor. I stay with her when I’m in Manchester, and she’s always welcome here. She’s the only family I’ve got in my industry. It’s good to have someone to share the struggle with that’s related to me, however loosely. 

She’s a playwright, and her first play went global and was a terrifically changing piece of writing in the mid eighties. When I was that awkward teenager I didn’t get it at all. It was about women and the North. I was living in London and at an all boys school. The first time we met, I opened with: “I read your play. It didn’t do anything for me.” Twat. It’s a miracle we’re still friends, let alone that we get on so well. But I’ve been on a journey. I look back on that boy and don’t really remember how I was him. I still have his diaries though, and it seems I was thinking similarly. I was just riddled with insecurity and a social misfit. I’m still a social misfit, but I’m cool with that as I have loads of social misfit friends and we hang out and it’s normal.

Anyway, since that big play she’s written a load of gorgeous lavish poetic epic plays and far too few of them have been produced. Before long one of them will fly. But for now she’s just writing, living, consuming, loving and pushing forwards. She’s great, and a hugely positive part of my world.

We went to see Road tonight at The Royal Court. Jim Cartwright’s masterpiece. It first played that stage 3 years before Charlotte’s debut there in the 80’s. It’s the second show I’ve been to in two nights where the actors have been in a fishtank. I was happy to get the chance to see it finally, having been aware of it for ages. I’ve seen sections of it being beaten to death in small studios by hopeful young people trying to get a place at drama school. I’ve seen cut versions of scenes at showcases. I’ve never seen the whole show by a consistent company. It’s another very thought provoking piece, and a hymn to resilience in desperate circumstances.

I barely knew the eighties but it felt very much like an eighties I could believe. Despite my saying about Yerma that I was glad of the modernisation, I was equally glad to see Road in context. Clearly I just find something to like and then justify the reasons I like it later. On that basis I probably should never review theatre. I’d be like The Stage in the early 2000’s, where virtually every review was “yay theatre I love theatre it’s great 5 stars!!!”

It’s coming up to 2am, they’re asleep in my room. Time for me to turn in, so the cat can try to burrow into me again as I sleep. Here she is simultaneously hiding from and glaring at the hound.

wp-image-1174676863

Yerma

I love Lorca. A beautiful poetic agitator, writing for women at a time when that rarely happened, poking holes in lazy assumptions, questioning things. My grandfather was of his generation in Spain and got the hell out before the firing squads. Lorca wasn’t so lucky, and was shot. By idiots. At 38. His plays remain. (And the idiots are coming back.)

I went to a cinema to watch some theatre. No way I’d have got a ticket to the theatre it was playing, but watching it live on screen was good enough. I saw Simon Stone’s brilliant modernisation of Lorca’s great Yerma. Bringing this tale of a life ripped apart by longing into a modern frame. God it’s good. No wonder it got all those awards. Billie Piper is a powerhouse of an actress, and gives so much in the title role. Afterwards we were wondering how she puts herself back together every night.

It’s an epic play about a woman trying to conceive. Grand domestic theatre. Right now so many of my friends are reaching a time where they are either struggling to make a baby, resolutely denouncing the very idea of a baby, playing the host body for a baby, or sleep deprived and wondering why they went to all that effort to have the fucking baby.

My best friend is heavy with child. My ex just had her second. Loads of my friends are in the early stages of a new life twining round their own. There’s nothing like that proximity to make you aware of your own choices. I’m thinking and talking a lot about babies right now.

I doubt I’ll end up with a kitchen knife in my belly if I don’t have kids. (It’s a modernisation, oh Lorca enthusiast.) I like other people’s kids – as they say, you can give them back. But my own? You’ve seen how I exist. I can barely book something a week in advance. My brother asked me to babysit on Monday, and I was so uncertain about whether I could or not he retracted the offer mid conversation and said he’d send them to a sleepover with one of their friends.

I don’t have the biological imperative, but I still hear the ticking of a clock. I was basically still a kid when dad died, and he was very sick for a long time. I didn’t know him in the way you know people when all that growing up bollocks is out of the way. If I’m going to make a person I’d like to have a sense of how they turn out before I pop off. Coupled with the fact that it’s valuable for them to have parental role models. I guess I want to be there for any notional children I might end up with, because I lost my parents before I was 30 and the older I get the more I understand the things I never got to talk about with them.

So, yeah. Simon Stone’s Yerma has sent me off into a happy sort of melancholia as I stand at a bus stop and feel the cold air of winter blowing in. Lorca’s original is important, and probably contributed to the fascists shooting him, since he was picking at institutions like patriarchy and Catholicism. This adaptation resonates hard with me now – (she’s even a blogger). It’s done with compassion skill and humour. And theatre exists as a trigger for thought. Even on a cinema screen. Catch it if you can. I’m glad I did at last.

It was weird watching the curtain call in a cinema. Nobody clapped. In America, they clapped at the end of Get Out…

Reading out loud

Two years ago I was in San Antonio when I got a call from an old friend, Adrian Czajkowski.

Adrian and I are old friends from university. He’s a big man, bulky and about six foot four with a beard and long hair. He loved role playing games, and would often vanish on the weekends to hit people with foam swords while rolling dice in the woods. He was a prolific writer, churning out books and poems and plays, printing them on that old bicoloured printing paper with the holes in the sides, disbursing the documents to all and sundry. He’d sit in the pub stroking his beard and writing poems. Some of the poems were good. His degree was in psychology. He got a job in a law firm, got married to an opera singer, had a kid, didn’t stop writing. After fifteen years he found a publisher, and suddenly he started to crop up in the staff picks at Waterstones.

He got ten books published in a series – high fantasy, meticulously crafted. The Shadows of the Apt. What if humans had evolved from insects and could still do insecty things? Wasp people, mantis people, spider people, beetle people. The sword fights stand out – all that time hitting people in the woods near Reading gave him fantastic blow by blow understanding of the business of chopping people up. The books are a sort of steampunkish insecty swords and guns and magic fest.

Then he started writing sci fi, and he’s bloody good at it. Last year his debut sci fi novel Children of Time won The Arthur C Clarke award. All that hard work paid off. It’s a brilliant book. Hyperevolved spiders. Here’s his website. He changed the spelling of his name to Tchaikovsky match the Russian composer, just because it’s more familiar, and despite him hating it when we were at Uni.

So I was on tour in Texas when he rang me up to tell me he was having one of his short stories read on a podcast called Starshipsofa. He said he wanted me to read it. I’d never done something like that before, but I was game to learn. Problem was I was in Texas working hard. I rented a booth at the local university for 30 minutes one lunch break, read it once uninterrupted, rehashing mistakes and got an audio file that was so big I couldn’t open it on my iPad to edit. Curses! With the deadline looming, I ended up having to sit on the hotel room loo re-reading the whole thing into my iPad mic and editing on the fly with Twisted Wave. The result was harsh, but the story was harsh so it sort of worked. It went down well even if I wasn’t thrilled with it. That was the beginning of my journey towards trying to make sense of home recording. It’s a technical business and requires equipment which I haven’t had. Thankfully it involves a lot of improvisation, which is something I do have. The second short story I read was in digs in York, with paper thin walls and a noisy street at Christmas on the other side of them. I ended up having to record it lying on my stomach with all my bedding on top of me while people kept shouting in the street. The third one I read was “The Merger” by Sunil Patel, in a noisy corridor in my block, sitting in a corner surrounded by pillows. It took hours and I had to keep rerecording because of planes, but I was getting better at editing. You learn by doing. The fourth was much the same, but my neighbour was weirded out by it and kept noisily coming to listen from the other side of the door, and peep through the peep hole. I rushed it. Then in the edit my iPad was crashing constantly and I lost patience and submitted it even though I wasn’t happy. Despite that, they’ve asked me back. The fools.

There’s no way I’m going to record to iPad if I’m at home. It’s time to step it up. I called up my old roomie from Dubrovnik, Chris. He makes it work for himself, so I slavishly bought his recommendations. They arrived today. I’ve hacked together a temporary studio in my corridor and dammit it already sounds pretty good. I’ll road test by doing one more reading for Starshipsofa, and then gradually improve and tweak the soundproofing as I go.

wp-image-1323000070

My technical know-how is still sorely lacking. But I’m doing a Voiceover Kickstart course online, which is helping me compound what I do know, and get better at what I don’t. I’d recommend the free six week course to anyone who is thinking of adding this string to the bow. If things go according to plan, and I work hard in my spare time, I reckon I can tick this over to the extent I don’t have to punish myself with stuff like Ascot again. And if I go on tour, there’s always the iPad. *shiver*