Last show of the week

The hardest part is over. Now a day of rest beckons. Then four more days of overlap and that’s the end of the commute of doom.

Two shows today. You should’ve seen us before the matinee. Oh I don’t much like matinées. Who does apart from families with children and old folks? We were all at low ebb energywise beforehand, slouching around the dressing room together in our pants, occasionally swearing. It was a classic example of actors before matinee. Casual undressing. Creative ways of expressing exhaustion. Making even the fact that we are knackered into a joke. And then it started raining, just before we got Front of House Clearance.

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Cut to shortly before my first entrance and we are all standing outside the door to the auditorium. A large part of my professional life has involved waiting at doors. It’s the sort of thing they should do workshops about at drama schools. How to stand at the door so you can hear your cue and not be seen. Where to stand so when they page the thing they don’t hit you in the face. When I die if I get a statistic about time spent standing at doors, mine will be an unusual spike.

It smells amazing in the venue. There are 700 Nepalese people having a conference and they are cooking Nepalese food. We all hope there’ll be leftovers. (There are no leftovers).

Chris has been wondering if he can Skype his part from the pub. I was thinking of just writing a laminated instruction manual for my audience and going to sleep next to it. “Now read this bit out loud.” All of us are at low ebb. We hug each other almost by reflex. There’s a lot of love in this company. But we don’t want to do this matinée. Kids kids kids. You gotta work hard in immersive theatre with kids. If you lose them you lose the scene.

But Maddy’s dad is in. Annabelle’s boyfriend is in with his parents. We can’t phone it today. We wouldn’t anyway. “King Alonso of Naples” says Giles, and very deliberately, with a wink to my colleagues slouching by the door, I burst round the corner and spam even more energy then usual, almost as if I wasn’t pretty much completely spent. That’s the truth of this acting game. Going from slouch to king in half a second.

And then I’m on the job, and so are we all, and the nature of time changes. We go from moment to moment, connecting with so many different humans, rolling and playing with their strange behaviours. Playing with adults like children, playing with children like adults. Rolling on the text with the text, moment to moment, as sharp as possible. Making the immersive bits truthful and satisfying for audience and actors alike. I had hilarious interactions with people today, but it’s making sure that the scene is honoured around the chaos.

My energy was low, but it was enough. I like to give everything I’ve got when I’ve got it but the cupboard was pretty much bare. My voice is ragged. It grounds my king though having just the bass, as he’s connected to the earth by necessity. He growls and he barks. He can’t shriek. I have to do the final scene rooted. But I’m not going to talk at all tomorrow if I can help it. I need to give it time to recover. Steam, not too much beer, and total vocal rest.

“How was your show today,” I ask Annabelle. Her head is on my shoulder as I write. Her response comes out of her tiredness.

It was the show. It’s a great show. Far from deadly. Living theatre. And even though we were all exhausted, we kicked this week in the dick.

I’ve learnt that I’m capable of more than I thought I was. And I’ve got some amazing new friends. It’s the most incredible company. Massive hearts. Infinite kindness. It’s almost impossible. I’m sad we’ve only got 4 shows left.

Lucky escape from loneliness

Pickle is off with a friend, as neither Brian nor I can be at home for her this weekend. Going to sleep at home without her curling up by my side last night was strange and revealing about how much she has been a quiet spirit of company – how much I’ve relied on that little wayward furry plaster to puffalumpf onto the bed, walk over my leg, find the space by my chest, go “murrp” once and curl up against my warmth.

I’ve been going from job to job recently, and even my interactions with friends have been largely work related. “Can you feed the cat?” “How is the show I cast you in going?” I’ve been single for over a decade, so I’m used to being alone but it feels my chemistry is changing a little bit in that regard. I have these two hours on the train every day. I can decompress into a book or a computer game, and I do, but I rarely have those simple conversations that start with “How was your day?” Or those quiet times where you just exist with someone.

I’m starting to hear Shakespeare’s constant insistence that we shouldn’t be on our own.

I’m surrounded by people I like. Both of the companies I’m working in are lovely places to be. But this morning I was crying into my coffee. The main reason is obvious: I’m knackered. I’m absolutely completely and utterly exhausted. My head is full of words. My body is full of work, and even though I like the work it’s all consuming. I usually get tired when I’m in just one show and I live near it. It’s fun but Sunday can’t come quickly enough.

This blog really is starting to resemble public therapy. Gotta write the thing every day and right now you get it in one of the very few periods of stoppage time so I’m using it to decompress.


And time passes, the show goes, and I’m sleeping in Oxford tonight, so I have a powerful decompress with the Tempest glories involving lots of crisps.

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Eventually I sneak into Ginny’s place.

She hears me. She pops out onto the stairs. She wants to talk. Glory be! So do I! Oh hell so do I. With her nurse’s instinct, she has emerged at exactly the right time. Tara used to do the same sometimes. Nurses are just extraordinary humans, undervalued.

God I’ve been lucky with where I’ve landed in Oxford. She’s a huge force for good, Ginny. We snatched conversation over port (from my agent) and rosé (from her fridge).

Her three kids and her husband were sleeping upstairs, so we quietly sat with each other and talked about our lives – two friends who met each other in the early eighties, back together now. How remarkably beautiful that we still align in our priorities. How insanely kind of her instinct too that despite her impossibly busy existence she chose to get out of bed and envelop her post show post pub ancient lonely friend in a form of delighted human welcoming. She’s one of the best kind of hearts there can be by my understanding. One that has been brought up to know what it is to be selfish, but has rejected it. A rarity in my childhood peer group. And a headspace that can be dismissed easily by the deadhearts who put constructed systems before anything.

The loneliness with which i awoke has been expertly consumed and transformed by the whole Tempest company – this crazy hotchpotch of mad fools. It has then been buried by my dear old friend coming forward with her bed hair to just be human with me for a bit on a Friday night. Glory be.

Rush

A week today is the end of the bonkers commutefest. I won’t know what to do with myself. I’ll have huge long evenings not filled with shouting in a tree and dozing on a train. I’ll be able to clean my room, sort my shit out, get everything together in time for flying out to the USA for endless months. I’ll be able to stay until the end of rehearsal, and then do social things with the lovely people in the cast. My tired voice will relax a little. My tired brain will stop trying to sabotage my ease. All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

It’s that time where we have to start dropping the book in rehearsal now, and stand exposed in the unsure learnings.

Learning Shakespearean prose is considerably harder than learning the verse for me. I’m having to shove Toby into my head with a plunger, and the more I shove it in the more shit comes out of my mouth. It’s one thing to’ve learnt the thoughts, but when you haven’t got the iambic frame to hang them on, you find yourself in the spur of the moment saying crap like “The youth hath in him all the intelligent cleverness that clever people have usually got, it’s why the count duke count duke lady duke the count fuck it’s why the count uses him so much um well um he’ll see this letter is so excellently ignorant and know it comes from a clodpole.” Which isn’t quite Shakespeare even if it gives the right reaction cue for Fabian.

So much to do. Time to do it. But so much to do. It’s terrifying and brilliant all wrapped up into one. We don’t even have a full company yet. Aargh.

Today I didn’t want to leave the run-through until we had got to the bit we started the day working on. As a result I stayed too long in the room and sprinted to Brixton Station. It was only when I got to Brixton that I realised I’d left my phone in rehearsal. We run The Tempest through a WhatsApp group. I need my phone. I sprinted back to rehearsal – “we tried to chase you but you’d gone”. I got it, sprinted back to Brixton, elbowed my way onto the smooth running tube. I flolloped onto the right train about 2 minutes before departure, caked in panic sweat overlayed with heat sweat, but still clutching a triumphant ginger kombucha and satay chicken that I had garbled an order for in Leon with no time left. I’ll have the energy I need for the show. Saturday is looming and despite two shows it’ll be restful. Sunday will be line sharpening and lunch with The Tempest.

I’m still on the train. I’ll be on stage in forty minutes. This is madness, I tells ya. Madness!

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At least my costume is easy to put on. I reckon I’ll get ten minutes of sitting still. You can do a lot with that.

Seeking Stillness

I keep telling you I have a lot on, but I’ve got no kids. One of my friends with a 3 year old helped with some of her wisdom, acquired much harder than this. “This is your yoga – find the stillness.”

All of us are capable of more than we think we are. Jen has two kids and she’s commuting from Bristol to be in a hot room with us and cover for Olivia/Maria this week, book in hand.

Running around like this is having more of an effect on my mental health than on my physical health, weirdly, but only when I’ve got time to think. But I’ll always find time to think.

I’m probably getting accidentally fit. Summer Shakespeare jobs often do that – build fitness as a side effect of making the work. There’s a lot of running around in hot places. Shared warm-ups. Even the act of speaking the verse is more physical and muscular than you might imagine. Patsy Rodenberg, our old voice teacher, would often come back to this. “You’ve got to be fit to be an actor.” If I’d understood that at secondary school I’d probably not have been such a deliberate outsider, ducking out of teamsport when possible to go fuck around on my own, forgetting that it is in those games that the spirit of togetherness is forged. There’s that apocryphal quote that “*insert conflict* was won on the playing fields of Eton”. It might have been won a lot more effectively if it hadn’t been, of course. But whoever seeded that quoteshape had probably played on those fields, and thus have understood from the inside how playing together in safety either at a fee paying school or in the park or anywhere you can find a space without someone yelling – it brings people closer together in adversity.

It’s part of why we always start Twelfth Night rehearsals with a game of Foursquare. Brings us together. Gets us ready for the day. Also it’s fun. And we all hug at the end. Bloody snowflake actors. It’s lovely.

It’s been hard again today, making Twelfth Night in a hot room, but hard in a good way. We have had two consecutive days looking at long tough scenes. As Patsy says, even the comedies are physically hard. Tomorrow we’ll look at some more tricky stuff and it’ll be lovely but hard again.

My brain gets in the way on a normal day and when I’m tired I overthink stuff even more. The thing to remember in that circumstance is that everybody else is tired and hot and thinking about their own shit too. Someone asked me “Do you find you work alone a lot,” and my brain immediately went to “oh God I’m not listening well enough I’m being too vocal and shutting down ensemble work I’m a bad human FML.”

No. I’m just worrying so much that the double job is affecting my work in the rehearsal room that I’m looking for validation of my negative expectation. Or am I? *slap* Stop thinking Batman!

The stillness my friend is talking about will come when I see those wandering concerns for what they are, float them away, and just knuckle down and make nice work well without the internal noise. If I can truly learn that watery wisdom from this process then that alone will make it worth the difficulty. If I can learn that AND have shitloads of fun with glorious people making wonderful work, all the better. I meditate pretty much every morning for fuck’s sake. This should be child’s play. NMHRK

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Wrong train

The train should’ve left by now. It’s filling up still but it’s ten minutes late. This is because it’s actually the wrong train. Yep. Nice one Al.

Sometimes, to mix it up, Great Western swaps the platform for the 17.22 to Hereford. Keeps us on our toes. Today was one of those fun swap days. Bugger. I’m sitting on the 17.33 to somewhere not including Oxford. Thankfully it still goes to Reading where I can change. In fact, by sheer chance, I won’t be much later than usual – so long as people don’t start running around on the tracks again.

I finally had a good sleep last night, staying over in Oxford, so I’m back in the room for Twelfth Night in terms of energy. Good thing too as we did Act V which is tough with so few people and even tougher with the company not fully formed. I’m enjoying Belch and banging my head against Antonio, perhaps because I don’t think he should be funny. Maybe if I just sack that blockage and go full pirate it’ll be a problem solved. It just won’t be quite to my instinctive taste. Often it’s the problems that turn into your favourite part of the playing though. We’ll work it out.

It’s still pretty stressful, this commute. In the state I’m in, I’m exceptionally glad of the no motorbike thing. I’d probably be mangled up already, which would make it harder to play Belch (but facilitate the decision for Antonio as I’d already have a pegleg.)


Now I’m sitting at Reading. Still got my neck cushion on but haven’t been able to snooze owing to my train mistake. I’ll be a wee bit later than I usually am but I worked some contingency time into the plan just for this sort of eventuality, and my costume goes on quickly and easily with no make-up involved. They won’t have to delay the show.

It’s good to know that I’m capable of this sort of double up madness, but in future I’d definitely prefer all the jobs to be in the same town if possible, not to be demanding. Now I’ve worked out how to portion my energy the only losses are teambuilding, company fun and spare time. I won’t get to ever go for a drink with the Twelfth Night company after rehearsals until Tempest is finished. I won’t get to do fun lunches in the daytime with Tempest. I’ll be sad when Tempest is finished though. It’s great craic…


Well I made it in time for the show. I have suspected for some time now that my guardian angel is run ragged looking after me, but she came up trumps when even the wrong train was going in the right direction. “Welcome to the GWR non stop train to Swansea.” That might have led to delays as a man with his shirt wrapped round his head pulled the emergency alarm and pranced out the window howling “I’m the king! My subjects need me! Those hope boats don’t float alone!”

Now I’m back at the train station waiting for the train home. I would be very curious to see the results of this Fitbit… I’m run ragged, but every room I stop in is a beautiful place to be.

We got cake from an audience member…

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Medicating

All the actors in The Tempest are wearing a Fitbit. We are being monitored for science. They’re curious about the stress levels of performers. But we wear them constantly. And my general stress levels are higher than usual right now.

I’m worried I’m not helping their results as it’s all so full on. This morning I woke up in Oxford after 4 hours sleep, panicked I’d miss my train but made it, warmed up (thankfully yoga not cardio today), and played foursquare. I started feeling lightheaded in foursquare. I could still mechanically play the game, but my ability to understand who had won the point vanished entirely. I just played until I was told I was out. I found a headspace where I could do the thing in front of me excellently but if you’d asked me to do something I haven’t prepared myself for I’d have stood blinking and confused for a few moments before calibrating it. I doubt I’ll ever be so tired again in this process. I have taken myself back to Ginny’s comparatively sober and before midnight. I’ll need a shower in the morning and then a train to London for a nice late 10am start. I’ll get a good six hours sleep. That’ll be plenty. It has to be.

My Oxford bed is full of glitter from Wilderness, and I have no idea where my contact lens solution is. I’ve got the pots with yesterday’s stuff in them but I’m a bit more cautious about eye infections after the carnage I had a few years ago. I no longer want to be using the same solution for three days, or clawing my lenses into my face in a field after three days of dancing having used alcohol sanitiser on my hands and then crying through the backlash. I quite like my eyes, and they’re useful for seeing things. Maybe I should take more care of them. And my body in general.

I had to answer loads of questions about my health for the study. I didn’t like it. I don’t do enough exercise. I hate most classes, although I can deal with a yoga studio as long as it’s not one of those arrogant dancers who try to guilt people into hurting themselves. But regular attendance at a yoga studio requires a monthly intake much higher than my usual “good for me” budget. Arguably I could divert funds from the catastrophically overfunded “bad for me” budget into “good for me.”

I was talking with Madeleine today and noticed a double standard. She said “I know you’ve had a history with depression – which anti-depressants have you had?” Having never had them, I was about to say: “It’s ridiculous to medicate for these things,” and then I thought about the fact that I was sitting there with my beer taking the edge off after a particularly lively show – loads of school groups from London having it large. I have used various things as various crutches in various circumstances. Mostly they don’t work for me, as they just replace a thought-pattern with a craving. I suspect it’d be the same with the things doctors prescribe you.

Change is the biggest healer of bad headspace for me. Change and variety and movement. Connection with my body. In times like this, I haven’t got time to indulge my propensity for self loathing. I’ve got too much to do, but my body is engaged with doing the stuff I’m working on. So my head hasn’t wandered off on my own. We are in touch, head and body, because we have to be right now.

It’s nice to see how well I can run on empty, frankly. I walk around with a neck cushion so I can shut down quickly when possible. I almost missed my stop at Oxford Circus because of being in dreamtime. But I’m in two safe workspaces. Surrounded by good hearts. This is my industry. I love it. It’s why I’m still running.

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Brief Wilderness

This field has been an important place for me for almost ten years now. Wilderness Festival. Where the weight has dropped off every year. I use it as my safety valve. I come here so my shoulders can loosen. I always have a wristband that says “Performer” but I always camp in the public camping. That way I can wake up in the morning and almost immediately jump into a cold lake and wash off the heatsweat. But also, in exchange for some work, I can easily refill my water, or grab a cool beer round the back.

Ken and Ginny drove me from their place this morning. I arrived about noon. It’s Sunday and the festival is running to the finish line. Everybody is already spent. Lots of people are already leaving. I walked into the park and immediately felt emotional though. Something ran through my heart on a fundamental level. I’ve processed a lot of my stuff here. I’ve depressurised fundamentally every August for almost a decade. I’ve secured deep friendships. I’ve also worked some very strange and often very beautiful jobs. Every year different. This year I was a bookie, taking bets on a silly horse race, having to do a bit of noise over the mic, making shit up as I went along. The usual … not as broad as some years, not as subtle as others.

It came through someone I’ve made friends with because of this festival. She dreams up silly fun things and then makes them happen. We trust each other. As it happens I can’t really enjoy my free ticket this year, but I’m thrilled to come and play on my day off anyway so I don’t break my streak. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to come although if I’m filming or something I’ll gladly take that instead! I might pitch for something that’s mine next year, although it’s always a risk as I rarely know what I’m doing more than two months in advance. If I’d had a successful pitch this year it would’ve been a disaster now I’m working two jobs.

Right now it’s just gone 5pm. I have no clue how I’m getting home but I’ve finished my “work”. To my right a sousaphone and accordion are jamming with a marching drum. We are in the backstage area so they’re just … playing for the joy of it. Charlie is here, who’s been the glue for a few years in the performers lock up area. “It’s been a good one this year,” she tells me, but she’s clearly exhausted now. We hug, as we have done annually. I’m glad to be here, with these people, in this field.

I’ve got my tarot cards, but I probably shouldn’t get spangled and stay overnight doing late night readings for queues of wide eyed humans, tempting though it is. Rehearsal and show tomorrow, and I’m already experimenting with the boundaries of my energy. I will, however, go with Mel to the sparkling wine bus and celebrate being here with my extended Wilderness Festival family. And then I’ll work out how the hell I can get somewhere to sleep, hopefully this time without wading through nettles in my shorts like a fuckwit.


Going home has proven difficult. I tried to hitch a lift into Oxford from the exit. Lots of people drove past and then one driver threw a bowl out the window. It was a sound bowl. A guy immediately picked it up and wandered off with it. Five minutes later the guy came back. “I’m looking for a bowl”. “Someone took it.” But opportunity knocks. “Can I jump in with you? I need to go somewhere where my phone works.”

He was going close to Oxford but I think he thought I’d picked up the bowl. The car was a tense place to be. It was an awkward drive and I’ve finally been dropped at the top of the Banbury road, about an hour and a half walk from Ginny’s. I couldn’t make conversation with him despite trying. Probably I’d come in on an argument between him and his passenger. She said nary a word. He did awkward jokes like telling me he was a porn film maker. Still I was glad of the lift.

Now I’m walking down Banbury Road. I lived here for a year once. It’s not yet 1am. I’ve done well getting out of the festival. I’d just have been better off if I’d thought about how I was going to do it, rather than just trusting to fate.

Maybe a taxi will pass by… (One did!!)

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