Graffiti Tunnel crowd

There I was thinking I’d get in early with the van and get set up so I could watch some theatre. No chance.

The entrance to Leake Street has 23 cars including some supercars parked in it for a photoshoot. How the hell did they all fit?

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Then there’s taggers all the way down to where I need to get the van, squirting away in their obligatory Banksy hoodies. In my parking spot, some guy has just started spraying. “We’ll need to be here from six with a big van. Is that going to be a problem?” I ask the guy. He cogitates. “Yeah, mmmm should be near that time I’m finished maybe.” That means no.

It’s just gone three. It was the same yesterday. Once again I wish we could just pallet wrap the van and leave it in situ. I’m going to be sitting in it all day watching people in gas masks stamp their identity on damp walls, gradually rolling the van forwards if and when it becomes possible. Strongarming the situation will almost certainly result in someone squirting paint on the side when I’m not paying attention. Once I’m satisfied I’ve left it safely somewhere, I’ll have to run home to get the mugs for the second time this week. I’m not going to be able to see Melissa’s play, Holly’s play, Casey’s play. It’s disappointing. I’ve been involved in this festival a week now and I haven’t witnessed anybody’s work. Some of my friends finish today.

This graffiti tunnel is a place where they make art that’s even more ephemeral and pointless than a lot of the stuff we make. I had no idea the turnaround would be so extremely quick on graffiti here. The whole tunnel changes utterly on a daily basis. People spend all day making an elaborate tag and the next morning it’s covered up and repainted by someone else and so it goes on and on and on. The artists all seem quite fun, in a rough-geek way. They always mime spraying my van as I drive it past, and look to me to see if I’m laughing or scowling. Here, in this sanctioned and regulated official subversion area, these lads who work as telemarketers and clerks and bank tellers put on a hoodie and enjoy it when people mistake them for threatening people. Admittedly some of them have dropped through the bottom. Today there’s a guy sprawled on the floor of the tunnel. He’s had acid I think, and it’s not sitting well with him. He has skittles scattered around his feet that he’s long past being capable of juggling, plus plenty of beer cans and rage. He hates everybody. It’s important we know it. Occasionally one of the guys in hoodies takes off their gas mask and tries to ground him. But he’s too high right now. He’s into vitriol. I get a good load directed at my back, and rarely for a situation like that, I choose not to look him in the eye and talk him down. I don’t want to raise his awareness of me as an individual in case he fixates on my van and starts rolling in during shows to tell everyone how much he hates them. I imagine he’ll be asleep by 7 though, or off wandering again.

Cats and audience

Well then. The Pantechnicon opens tomorrow. Bring your name. If you are a supplicant, bring a laurel branch. If you’re afraid of snakes to the extent that you’ll fly off the handle, don’t be a supplicant. If you’re afraid of me so much that you’ll fly off the handle come anyway. I can handle it. First few days are just going to be scratching the material we’ve got and making sense of what flies and what doesn’t within the frame of what we are making.

Mel and I collaborate so well together despite the fact that we can fight like cats. It’s an odd pairing but it works. We both generate sheds worth of raw idea soup. But then we look at all the ideas we have and add more. Occasionally we pick one up and refine it but then as often as not we abandon it for a shiny new one and forget it ever existed. But today we have been forging order from chaos. Now we can bring paying people into the mix and notice how things work outside of our very different slightly bonkers minds. I suspect it’s going to be lovely.

I just picked up a robust and beautiful set of stairs up from New Cross, so now we have an entrance that the audience can use. I have to go home and write some material now, just to thicken the idea soup and make sure the flavours all blend together nicely. But right now I’m sitting in a pub with a Heineken 0, getting this blog down.

I have no house keys. I didn’t think this through. My friend Emma arrived today with her cat in a bag, five minutes after I was supposed to leave for work. Her house is being fumigated. She works at The Lister Hospital which is right round the corner. We locked her cat in my room and went to work. I gave her my keys. It’s now past ten in the evening and she’s walking here having only just finished.

I gave the other set of keys to my nephew Campbell. He’s brilliant. He’s partly responsible for a Shelley poem having made its way into the idea soup. He also is extremely good at switching all the lights off, which is a mixed blessing. I have no idea what I’m going to get home to. Two cats in a pitch black flat with nothing but a locked door between them…

We didn’t have time in the morning to introduce them and supervise it. If Pickle goes for boy, her claws are like razors right now. If Boy goes for Pickle, he is twice her size, although lacking in testicles. They might end up the best of friends… Or they might have been yowling through the door at each other all day and spraying on everything they could possibly spray on. They might have trashed the place running around in crazy circles in the dark.

But this sort of thing is just speculation. Likely everything will be fine. But it’s the nature of what we have had to do all day in the van. “What if an audience member is terrified of snakes and smashes everything trying to get away?”

I’ll let you know when I get home about the cats. I reckon everything will be fine. And if it is then maybe I can let myself off the hook worrying about the show, because it’s the same thought pattern.

Here I am in a fabric shop with snow outside. We got some shiny material, and some Chinese ink. But cripes it’s cold.

(The cats didn’t kill each other. Yet.)

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LAST TWO YEARS

Digging Cars. I just read that a year after it happened. Proof that time is a healer. It’s funny now. I almost died of a heart attack.

Toscars Selection.

Calm night at home

Now it’s time for me to start splitting my head. This’ll be good practice for me. Anyone that knows me well will recognise that I struggle to focus on multiple things simultaneously. Now I’m going to have to.

I’m rehearsing daytimes for a thing in February – one night only, bunch of A-Listers. All very hushhush all of a sudden. It’s not a huge part but it’s well loved and it gets the gags. American accent, but I’m not certain if I’m going to be under NDA right now so I’m being deliberately cagey until I know more. Once I make sure I can, I’ll talk about it. But I’ll have to spend time learning it, working it and developing a character. And then in the evening, fun with logistics, followed by (is it theatre?) our thing in a van – (if I can get the van on site without everything going everywhere.) I like our thing in a van but it’s still a great big unknown to me. And Vault just told me that one of my favourite people that write about theatre is booking in the first few days to come play. Which means squeaky bum time. Suddenly I wish we had a budget, or lots of time. Although this person doesn’t usually mind. She’s as close as we get to an ally on that side of the paper. She likes people working with their heart, on a shoestring. So we should be okay in our odd little Pantechnicon type thing.

It’s good having my nephew staying. I’ve been bouncing ideas off him, thinking forensically about what interests me for this piece and then seeing if it washes with him. He agrees with me that we are starved of ritual in this culture and he’s barely 20. I’ve roped him into helping out on Wednesday as another pair of hands will be intensely valuable and he’s game for it. He also plays guitar and is young and creative. I suspect we will find good use for him, as we can for any number of friends who fancy showing up. We even have a death robe with a big hood. Shy people could just sit in the van silently and occasionally point at people. Or buy a ticket yayyy!!!

I’ll likely keep a tally and let you know when/if the expenses have all been paid for, just as I’m curious and why not.

I’m getting an early bed, for an early rise. Me and Pickle are hanging out in my room – she’s using me as a hot water bottle. Brian and Melissa are dying in the room next door after doing a class with one of those names like “Body Wombat”. Part of me wishes I’d gone too, most of me is relieved I still have use of my arms. Campbell has it right. He’s reading “The Mask of Anarchy” on the sofa.

It’s peaceful, positive and creative here in the flat tonight. Just how I like it before an early start. I just read The Mask of Anarchy as bedtime reading. Now I’m off to dreamland, hopefully to dream some more ideas for the show. Sleep well, pilgrims.

“Rise like Lions after slumber,

In unvanquishable number –

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many – they are few.”

Also, I found this book today… Using that in the show somehow…

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LAST TWO YEARS

Interviews

Grey River and Stream of Consciousness

 

Black Octopus

This dark time of year can get into our hearts. Even if we are up with the light, as I have been, the cold squeezes our bodies and stealthily tires us out. Our muscles are constantly tensed against it. Also we make ourselves smaller to keep ourselves warmer. Our breath shrinks into us and we shrink with it. In this hemisphere we should be cocooned into little warm hideyholes for the whole season, waiting for nature to come back and shake us awake. We shouldn’t fannying around with a freezing cold van on the weekend. But, moan about it all I want, it’s fun. If it wasn’t so bloody damn damn bloody cold I’d be having a whale of a time. As is, just remembering to breathe fully is a full time job.

I’ve had the Black Octopus for the last few days. The weird many legged clever squashy sense that … everything is just slightly off kilter. Dread, and a bit of sadness. It’s hard to shake it once it gets its tentacles into your ventricles. I keep on just stopping, sighing deeply and moving on without really knowing why I’m sad. But that’s the nature of the octopus. It just comes and perches on your head. For its own reasons. Sometimes I find myself thinking of exchanges that took place decades ago forgotten by all involved except for me, pulled out of my ear by one of those sucking appendages. Other times today I’ve gone back on the groove of missed opportunities. What might have been. Then I remember my walk in the autumn and how all of that stuff fell into sharp relief. What does any of that matter? I’ve wrestled that leggy twat long enough that it won’t get its beak into me this time. But it wasted some of my time today camouflaging itself.

I went to try and work in the van, realised I’d left the cable runner at Gatsby last night in an almost heroically deliberate unconscious act of self-sabotage. Well done that octopus. No power would’ve meant another freezing day. No. Not three in a row.

But rather than stagnate, a change of plan: Mel went to the warehouse to get the cable, I took the van for a wash. We couldn’t stick things on it and expect them to hold as it was. The whole thing was grimed in crap. I wasn’t washing it myself in this weather. I paid someone even more damn money, and then spent some on a hot coffee and sat there reading my book while they worked. Perfect opportunity to get something done that needed doing. You couldn’t touch it without grease.

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Now I’m at Mel’s. I put myself to bed early because there are covers and it’s warm. We’ve been clarifying ideas and running scenarios. It’s a simple thing we’re making really, and it’s important to remember why we’re making it. Despite a million complicated forms we had to fill in, in the end we are just making a pleasant moment for people. It’s not even acting. It’s just responding. It’s just a thing. I’m just getting chased by my own darkness a little bit. I think I can feel the suckers popping off now though. I’ll make polpetto nero of the bastard like they do in Astorga. Omnomnom.

LAST TWO YEARS

Women’s March vs Trump in Los Angeles

Old School and VR

Running Cables

Today was the last day building outside the warehouse in Borough. The problem with using Gatsby is that we are beholden to them in terms of arrival time. I have to be there at 8am to fend off the trafficbastards, but they don’t really have to be there until 4 and they hold the keys to the inner space. And they weren’t coming in. No money is changing hands, you see. We’re there on sufferance. It’s a favour, and we can’t expect them to change their patterns for us, much as we wished we could today.

I had to reschedule my friend the carpenter when it became clear nobody was going to let us in. Now I’m worried we won’t get stairs made in time for people to get into the van which will mean fun with stepladders. Hopefully it’ll work out. But oh dear God it was a cold morning, until with the artifice of desperation we found a way to get a wire to a plug socket. We ran a cable through a hole in a window cage, then into the building through a gap in the window where the long dead ventilator should be, then through a working loo, up four flights of stairs in a working office building, and boom! Into the socket that the cleaner uses for their Hoover. Just as well I know the code to the outer door and that the loo was unlocked today. I got power to the van just in time for my friend Suzanne to arrive clutching an oil heater to lend us. Bliss. Finally.

The good news is, it takes very little time to heat up. Two hours later we are in a warm van, but complet exhausted from cold, attempting to string sentences together while instead getting fractious because we are both just shattered by shivering. But nobody tripped on the wire and died. That’s a win. And Holly came and got some photos taken of us in weird masks and stuff. So now we have images. And then finally, 8 hours into the day, Gatsby opened their space. We disconsolately shuffled in, returned some stuff, painted a couple of chalk boards, and stopped trying to pretend to be real humans because it was far too much effort. Mel left. I sat in the van and waited for the congestion charge to end, and then drove off too, causing controlled carnage in the back of the van. Barely caring.

The last thing in the world I felt like after that rancid day of ice and disappointment was an ecstatic dance class. I drove the van home full of emotions, mostly sad and weird and unvalued and low and heavy. I shuffled up into my flat, grabbed my tracksuit bottoms, and walked back out before my brain could stop me. I got on the tube, went to Camden, and danced like a maniac for 2 hours despite really really not wanting to do anything of the sort.

It sort of helped, sort of didn’t. I still feel sad but I don’t feel so tense anymore, or so cold. It’s a good workout and I was in excellent company. I think it’ll set me up better for the weekend, which will involve more cold vans but self determined now instead of in somebody else’s space. I’ll probably have to run cable down three floors through a window, but at least I’m expecting that going in.

And when I got home Brian had run me a bath. I’m in it now restoring heat to my bone marrow.

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LAST TWO YEARS

Trump is inaugurated and it rains in California

I get annoyed about Health and Safety but Melissa buys pizza

 

Building into the fantabulous Pantechnicon!

Up to Harrow in the morning to unload the van. Then straight back into town and to Gatsby in order to start building the van show. Empty at last.

If I park outside Gatsby I can run a cable into the van and get some light to work by. That’s not possible at home where I live on the top floor. And the daylight goes so early. But it’s £11.50 daily for congestion charge.

This work reminds me of the Christmas Carol get in, but with fewer tools. Today I’ve been attaching fabric to the wooden frame in the van. That’s the prime advantage of borrowing a van that’s already been used for a show. There’s a wooden frame. Golfo made it. It’s a Godsend. We can tack material to the van interior and we can change the atmosphere. We’re hoping that we can get some reasonable lighting in there too but I’m no expert on that. I’m either going to have to wing it or get some help. And help might be wise because I’d forgotten some important potential concerns.

I just looked over last year’s blog, to discover that I was building into the same festival last year as well. Admittedly it was a much bigger space and for a much bigger audience. Nevertheless I’m remembering what an absolute donut all the health and safety was for the get-in. There’s a guy whose job it is to be as obstructive as he can be. “You can’t close the willow tunnel at the top, it’ll make people claustrophobic.” “You have to drill into the floor to support this supported banister more in case seven people simultaneously fall onto it.” I have no doubt he’ll be all over everything in our van. I’d forgotten about him until just now. Biscuit! Still, we’ll do what we can. We’ll probably end up having to ditch the van and do the show on a picnic blanket that’s been drilled two miles into the ground for stability and is weighted down as a further precaution, is hypo-allergenic with an expensive certificate to prove it, and is sprayed every five minutes with flameproofing by a qualified fireman who has slept more than 7 hours the night before.

In a break today I fell into a conversation with an old friend who runs a theatre space. “We’ve had to spend all our spare time filling in pointless forms and signing on the dotted line. The one thing we haven’t had time to do is work on the show. It’s more important to work out how likely it is for someone to bang their head on a scale of one to ten and write it down. It’s crazy.” “Yeah. Why can’t we just make theatre. Until somebody dies…”

But It means that the admin brains are the ones getting most of the work finished, especially as they are likely to be able to successfully comprehend grant applications, which form another arcane and terrible language understood by few, mastered by fewer. I’m curious to learn. Mel, my creative partner, has done the bulk of the work after I keep looking at the first question on some of these egregious forms and just hearing white noise. But this is at least a start for me. Maybe in a year I’ll think them less egregious. Maybe in two years I’ll do them without thought.

It’ll be worth it when it’s made. Joy will abound. Fun for all! I’m looking forward to getting stuck in now… Tickets might go on sale tomorrow. Imagine! A whole week before we open! Aaargh. Biscuit.

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LAST TWO YEARS

January 2017 – Arriving in Venice LA, still wondering how I got there.

January 2018 – Where I was building in a show for the Vaults Festival!

Odd jobs, health and safety and pizza.

Today has been about odd jobs again. A whole load of people busily making things. I love to work this side of theatre from time to time. You realise it’s a lot of work. It helps you be a bit less of a tit when you’re the one the lights are focused on as you have a better sense of the work that’s been put in before you swagger in there with your clean clothes and immediately start moaning about the shape of the door handle.

I hold my hand up, I’m not the most experienced at set building. I have multiple stage management friends who’ve known me as an actor and would blow their coffee out of their noses if they knew someone let me operate a circular saw at length today to cut some blocks of wood and make a tunnel of willow fronds. And yet here I am with both of my arms still attached, and the tunnel hasn’t collapsed or burnt down.

A lot of the jobs today were about Health and Safety. There’s a lovely guy in a really good suede jacket – I think he’s called Tim. He has to come around and take photographs of everything and make recommendations. There were some very stable stairs that we erected yesterday, and this morning Phil and I had to put some brackets on either side of them to make certain they didn’t move. They wouldn’t have moved. Now they really really won’t move and it’s visible. It was a good hour of work for a formality. A lot of the time I think that the purpose of Health and Safety is to make jobs. And to an extent I’m okay with that as I’m being paid by the hour. But to an extent I’m not, because Brian has to pay me. It’s a vast obstructive waste of time for the most part, Health and Safety. But from time to time somebody doesn’t die. The problem with accidents not happening is that nobody records the fact they didn’t happen. We know bloody well when they DO happen, though, even if the audience miss it. “Oh yeah, so we stabbed him in the back hard with a real letter knife instead of the retractable one. But he was Julius Caesar. He didn’t have anything more to say. We carried him off stage and got him into the Ambulance. The audience never suspected a thing.”

A performer fell 70 foot to her death 4 years ago when a safety rope slipped its harness. It doesn’t happen often, that kind of thing. But it only needs to happen once. Perhaps Tim has earnt that suede jacket.

I started looking up deaths on stage. I was curious to know how many of my brothers and sisters have had things dropped on them etc. Mercifully few. A couple of massive fires brought on by pyrotechnics going wrong, magic tricks going south… But the bulk of it seems to be heart attacks, aneurysm and strokes. So as long as you chill the fuck out and stay half fit you’ll hopefully be okay. Which reminds me. Fitness. I’m writing this after my third can of beer, and Melissa just arrived with this…

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Year One – Headshots and Mirrors