Should

Day 31. I’ve been here a month. And it’s Valentine’s Day. That day when everyone examines their life choices. I’m in a music video for a friend of mine, shot on my cellphone in my bedroom here. It’s a mishmash of her friends lip syncing her, and it’s called “I should be loved”. I thought I’d share it with you.

 
She was at little person school with me before I got expelled. I don’t have many people in my life from that long ago, and it feels like I’ve changed immeasurably. I’d safely say she’s my oldest friend, and with friends that old there’s sometimes a peculiar edge. “You’re not behaving like you should behave.” We forget that everyone is changing around us at the same time as we are changing. I first knew her when we were both in the choir. So obviously that’s what she “should” be doing. Singing. Therefore I am happy when she is singing because it satisfies my sense of what she “should.” be doing. And she is singing about “should.” “I should be loved”. Really? Why? I recently said to my therapist (oh so LA) “Bullshit, nobody deserves ANYTHING.” She said “I think people do. I think you do.” So maybe it’s my worldview that’s squiffy here. And yes, here’s a lovely song, and I’m glad to be involved. I just need to get over my instinctive distaste for the slew of ideas that come attached to the word “should”. She’s great. She more or less singlehandedly painted and plastered my whole flat the other day, unasked, just because she wanted to do something lovely. And she let me put my gentle humour into the video. You should click the link. You should enjoy the track. And then you should donate. Should.

Today I worked a bit and then I really wanted to go and meditate in the sunshine, so I went to Pan Pacific Park. It’s the best park I’ve found so far. I asked advice from a random stranger. “Do you know where a good park is?” “Park?” “Somewhere I can go and look at nature?” “Well, there’s Pan Pacific.” “What’s there?” “Well, there’s a football field… and a play area…” “hmm anything else?” “There’s grass..?” “Ok…yep. Grass. Grass and…?” “uh … … … … trees?” SOLD
I can confirm to you that it was indeed a park with both grass and trees, as there ‘should’ be. I sat on the grass near the trees and meditated for a while. Before starting I’d sent my gps coordinates to Lyndon, who found me and took this picture.


Shortly thereafter, we found a memorial to the holocaust with 1.2 million little holes to write notes in, corresponding to the 1.2 million children killed. It was closing and a security guard moved us on almost immediately which is for the best as I just had time to feel that shock of empathy and horror, without bringing my energy right down. That is something that ‘should’ never have happened, and we ‘should’ do everything in our collective powers to ensure it never does again. I have no qualms about using that word in that context. Much like the “Al is the opposite of LA” thing, it’s just another part of my web of unexamined ideas.

 

So have a listen, enjoy, and you should all have wonderful days.

Guildhall

Day 30. I’m thinking about my old college. It’s remarkable how that one weekend recall audition in the last millennium set the course for the friendships I have now. I went to Guildhall, which is a vast college training musicians, opera singers, stage managers, and a few actors… It usually features on those meaningless lists that tell you which drama schools are the best. I didn’t know that at the time. I just scattergunned and that was the one I liked most. I often flashback to myself in the final meeting of the auditions process answering the question “Why do you want to go to Guildhall” with “I don’t particularly. No more than any of the other places. I mean the prospectus is shit. But I like you guys now I’ve met you.” As ever too honest for my own good. But they got me. And it really is an excellent training. I had no idea how lucky I was.

They accept and hone diverse actors that have sensitivity, heart and kindness. People that are generous and community minded. But outside of that, from all walks of life. And they’ll move mountains to pay for you if you get accepted and you can’t, which really broadens the cultural identity, and is the main reason why I was so lucky to be there. I was one of the rare poshies. Nowadays with funding like it is, insitiutions like that are more and more important.


I had no idea how central to my nexus of friendships that place would become. My best friend trained there at the same time as me, in a different year. I lived for years in the early days with one of the guys from my year and we did our best to nurture one another through challenging times. Nurture is a huge value in the training there. It’s a genuinely wonderful school, and considering it takes so few actors – (there were 23 in my year out of thousands) – it takes lovely ones. Myself excepted. I’m a dick.

 

Originally from LA, one of the surviving actors from around the same time as me was introduced to me a week ago. She’s great, energetic, full of life and heart as I’d expect from that place. And she instantly plopped me into her community. And invited me to a screening party.

 

A screening party. This is essentially loads of friends coming to celebrate the fact that she was on the tellybox. She was in a delightful show called Scorpions. It’s about two brainy people who are spies in the Cold War era which is now. She played a chess player from a country that is not Russia but people want to defect to the USA from there because it’s better in the USA. But they are likely to get chased by guns and cars and shouting people. This show ain’t Mike Leigh. But it’s lovely.

 

What was even more lovely is that there were forty people there. The barman from Soho House was there. “Ahhh yeah I just work at Soho House so I see her pretty often. I thought I’d come.” It was a load of people coming to support one of their friends doing a turn. Almost like it was a one night only show. Everyone cheered when she came on screen. It was described to me in the frame of “We all like to see when someone we like does well.” And of course she delivered a fab performance, speaking authoritatively in a pretend language from some place called Scoparushachek or somesuch, and working sparely and truthfully.

 

When I get back to town and hit the industry as hard as I intend to now I’ve shed the dead skin, I would love to invite any of the few of you who persist in reading these daily updates to celebrate my first part as a professor who turns out to be an alien in Doctor Who or whatever in this way. Better than watching it at home and getting a bunch of texts.

Mice and men and dogs

Day 29. The last sentence of yesterday’s blog was a statement of intent. “Zzzz” I am going home to sleep now. That was the plan. I’d had my ramen with suspicious egg. I was good to go bye bye. 

It all goes wrong with a single text. “I’m in town where are you?”. The brother of a dear friend. Here for six weeks. And since it’s his first night, and a Saturday, and just after a wrap, I text him my location and he is in an uber immediately. So much for “zzzz”. I shake myself awake and knuckle in for a long one. We end up in a dive bar. Bar R. The woman that drives us there in an uber gives Lyndon her number. She almost joins us in the bar. It’s one of those nights. I don’t know many people in this town so when someone comes up almost immediately and says “I know you” it comes as a surprise. But he does know me. We met at No Vacancy last week. It’s definitely one of those nights. This town feels more and more Iike London the longer I’m in it. We form a group of four boys and talk and live and laugh and it’s joyful. Not as much dancing as there might be. But we might as well be in Camden on a Saturday with less fighting. When it feels like time to go, we walk a long way home through the predawn fog. Oh yes, there’s fog here at the moment. There’s never normally fog. It’s not smog either, it’s definitely fog. An uber driver the other day on a long trip had everyone talking about normal LA weather the other day. I know enough now to understand that this is NOT normal. The driver concluded that I’d brought it with me from London. Certainly faced with the familiar temperature and visuals, we forget we are in LA earning us cries of “assholes, use the crosswalk!” We also remember we are in LA because we’re talking about all the things that brought us here. But it’s really good to hang out with him. We put the world to rights. It’s late by the time I get home, but my eyes are shining.

 

As is often the case, my eyes are shining a little less brightly in the morning. Yoga today is all about endurance and sweat. Despite the state I’m in, I stay in headstand longer than I’ve ever done without a wobble, and come down neatly, before almost immediately bursting out crying silently for the whole of the next posture. I leave feeling blasted and elated. Then I torment the dogs by coming home with a rotisserie chicken for Sunday lunch. Roger the chihuahua gets over his reticence around me in order to try and put himself in the way of dropped chicken bits.

 

I’ve recently discovered that Roger is the star of his own short film, shot by my housemate Mark and his girlfriend. I thought I’d share it with you guys as I like it and it has no budget. What’s more it’ll show you what a brilliant hound Rocko is. And it’ll do instead of the usual arbitrary rushed Ipad photo…

Mark’s a dude. It’s great that I managed to land so well in this lovely room, with a creative and good hearted man and three wonderful dogs. 

Post Script: Roger waited until my back was turned and immediately shat on my floor. Must’ve been something I said.

“Pences” shoot day

Day 28. We are making a film with no budget. The first day of filming is suddenly the only day of filming as the DoP has got the hump about driving all the way from his home to the set. Which means we are trying to cram three days of shoot into one. Since none of us are experienced at editing we are taking advantage of the fact that the film we’re parodying is based on a play, and we are shooting pretty long scenes. It’s ambitious, chaotic and lot of fun. But God alone knows if the end result is going to hang together. A highlight was my final shot of the day, getting one take in a garage surrounded by disco lights as a proselytising baptist preacher.
The joyful thing was how everyone pulled together and kept great humour through a very crowded day. We all operated boom, lights, reflectors and everything else. We were right by LAX, it was pouring in the morning. One of us picked up her thirteen year old son from school, and he stayed perfectly happily playing games on iPad and occasionally operating the camera. I am just hoping that the director has the web of it in his head. I’m lost as to what is in the can and what is not. But I’ll find out, as I’m going to be involved in the edit, which will essentially be two chimpanzees with a pile of film and a pair of rusty garden shears. Final Cut is a life skill, no? Certainly if I want to be making more stuff. 


I think it’s always useful to jump over the table from time to time, but it seems on this project we’re on springs and so’s the table. My biggest learn was seeing the extent to which the words I wrote deepened in the hands of good actors. I’ve really started to get the writing bug, partly because of having to hack together that screenplay and partly down to the stricture of doing this every day.

 

Because it’s been my whole day I’ll talk about the team. We had Scott, a slight and hyperactive jack of many trades, who made most of the props, had sourced a lavish wardrobe for all of us, and had a director’s eye. On Tuesday nights he moonlights as a woman playing cabaret in a burger joint. I’m looking forward to seeing his work. David and Alan are brothers behind the camera, both very grounded, solid, laconic, American. Everyone has to appear on camera at least once and they were the least enthusiastic. Alan even less so than David. Then we had Joan, who is an immigration lawyer, and wanted to get stuck in. She is having a busy time at work with all the raids. She is the only woman in team, which is just the way it fell out, but thankfully the film we’re parodying was written in the ’80s so only has one adult female character. There is another woman, but we never see her, and she only exists for the effect she has on the male protagonist. Ugh. Playing the son is Antonio, a skilled and positive comedian, great big dreads, providing the location and much of the laughter. Then Robert, just a gorgeous man, he grew up on a farm, looks amazing and has no concerns whatsoever with being painted orange and snorting cheetos. A motley crew. These things can go two ways. It went the right way.

 

Exhausted after the shoot I had no intention of cooking for myself so I got the guys to drop me in Koreatown, which is near my house. I have now placed myself in the cheapest ramen joint I could find. They’re playing inexplicable videos of happy women dressed as cats on the big screen, with the music cranked up and everyone shouting in Korean. I’m still in my electric blue three piece suit but nobody is batting an eyelid. The ramen I have cooling beside me was six bucks and it’s a scaldingly hot pot noodle with onion, sriracha and an raw egg cracked into it immediately before serving. I’m going to shove it in my face and then walk home and collapse. But only once I’m certain the egg is cooked.

(Edit: Lest we forget. BUNNY BUNNY BUNNY BUNNY. Right now the Exit sign looks more appealing. Zzzz)

Shakespeareman

Day 27.
SONNET 27
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

But then begins a journey in my head, 

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide) 

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee, 

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide, 

Looking on darkness which the blind do see: 

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight 

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night, 

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

   Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,

   For thee, and for myself, no quiet find. 

 

A couple of years ago I pretended to be a blind accordion busker in a park near Embankment. Every so often I would find a group of people walking through the park with carnations in their hand. Or they’d find me. I would stop them. “Stop! Benedetta, is that you? Is that your scent?” Then I’d have to roll with the group, which might involve establishing false claimants were not Benedetta by touching their faces. Eventually one way or another, I’d establish Benedetta wasn’t there. Then through the prism of being tired/sad/lonely as appropriate based on their engagement I’d segue into the sonnet above. At the end I’d fall asleep on a bench dedicated to “Benedetta, who loved life.” Ahh. People would express sadness or not and then move on and when they were out of sight I’d reset for the next group. They were on a sonnet walk, celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday, which has been a consistent institution of Shakespeare’s Globe since it opened. It’s happening again this year directed by Federay Holmes, and will certainly be a bloody marvellous thing to which you should all go if you’re not in it.

 

I’ve worked enough with Shakespeare’s language that people who barely know my work describe me as a Shakespearean. I detest being labelled and hounded into a box so I try to avoid doing that to myself. But hell, yes, I do a lot of Shakespeare. I’ve toured American with his words. I’ve been in prisons with them. I’ve played Oberon on an island outside Amsterdam. I’ve played Claudius in “King’s Landing” – (Fort Louvreniac) in Dubrovnik. Many many more. Over many years, so many parts in so many plays. I am frequently called on to do after dinner Shakespeare or called back to play diverse parts in beautifully worked shows in gorgeous places. Fortunately my association with The Factory through this time has kept me rooted into rigour, work ethic, simplicity and truth. Through that work I’ve seen the true meaning of openness and simplicity. It’s riveting.

 

So it was only a matter of time before someone threw me in the way of another Shakespeare geek. This evening I met Martin who is writing the definitive book on playing Shakespeare. I realise through him that there aren’t many of them extant, and I also know through my outreach work that a lot of people, including actors, think of his words as being difficult. They’re a gift, his words, they’re just made to be spoken aloud and not studied. Thankfully we agree on the basics. He’s not a nightmare academic. This book will likely be a helpful book. I think I might have found another friend out here. So that was my evening. And the sonnet at the top, the first line certainly, expresses my state of mind. I’m on set all day tomorrow so I have to get up early to put my best eyes in, replace my cheeks, screw on my best arms, put in my actoring brain, attach the binoculars legs. Actoringerising takes time.

  

No photos. Here’s the pianist in the bar where I met Martin. I still don’t remember to take photos. And I mostly worked today.

Old Masters

Day 26. By the time J Paul Getty was 26 he’d made a million bucks out of oil in Tulsa, and that was just the beginning. An Anglophile, he had gone to University at Oxford and then worked a hefty inheritance enough that at one time he was called “The richest man in the world”. How a man spends his money when wealthy is a good indication of the sort of man they would be if they weren’t. Some people like to spend on self aggrandisement, golden elevators, bling, vast phallic monuments to their own narcissism. Getty loved the ancient world, specifically the architecture of the Romans. He spent on beauty. On art. Particularly old art – pre nineteenth century for the most part. This makes for a really deep, really historically interesting, really valuable collection. Ancient art doesn’t depreciate. He was no fool. I cannot even contemplate the value of this. I wish I could afford the cheapest piece. And when he died he left it for the people. He once said “There’s no glory in being remembered as old moneybags.” So, seeking legacy, he gave an endowment and his collection to form a free museum in Los Angeles. As the tour guide says, almost with wonder “He gave us … considerably more than we were expecting.” It’s the richest gallery in the world. Funded by the richest trust in the world. And it’s gorgeous.

 
The property sits on a hillside overlooking the whole of Los Angeles. Because the city is mostly flat, any hill is commanding, and this hill is well placed. There’s a computer operated tram that takes you up the side. It’s like being back on the DLR. The site was carefully chosen and laboriously dug over years and the design is wonderful. Italian stone with glass panelling in beautiful lines. Parts of it make me think of Escher. There is a great deal that is unnecessary but beautiful. I love unnecessary beauty. The layout and the view are deliberately reminiscent of a giant Tuscan villa. And it’s flawlessly kept. The museum doesn’t want for anything. They don’t have to compromise and sacrifice maintenance of the grounds for maintenance of the collection. They have enough money to make both beautiful and keep it beautiful. And enough to keep it free for the public. Even the cafes are pretty affordable considering museum cafe prices. This is the other side of the oil industry, of money. This is wealth used well. This is legacy.


I often shiver at the thought of lost masters in bank vaults or in underground private collections. It’s great to see so many  on display here. Turners, Rembrandts, Titians, a Van Gogh – so many of the greats – all housed in this beautiful place. A journey through art history. And thought beautiful old furniture. And through illuminated manuscripts. There’s an exhibition on alchemy, and I wish I had been to it the day before I went to the escape room rather than the day after. There are so many beautiful books of ancient knowledge. How much more civilised to have a Romanesque villa filled with the wonders of the ancient world than to have a load of huge towers full of gold with your name on. The dude had a pet lioness. A bison. Loads of dogs. A bear. I thought only Byron had a bear! Nope. Getty seems like he was a thoroughly brilliant human being. I’d have been mates with him.

 

I find myself dreaming about having a collection like this in a property like this. I’d have a load of rooms as well for artists to come and live in so they could be surrounded by lovely things and have the headspace to make something glorious. There’d be a working theatre and a working art studio and equipment to make films. All I’d need is a bunch of oil fields and a time machine. Actually all I’d need is a time machine. Get me that time machine.

I’ll be back at this place for sure. It’s serene, and there is so much to see. It’s welcoming. And after my strange feelings to do with the oil industry confronted with those pumps the other day, I’m happy to see so many glorious things assembled in such a lovely place because of it. Getty died in England – the old world for him. His legacy is sparkling, beautiful and important, and it feels like he understood the art he owned, rather than just collecting it for the sake of it. If only all rich men in the public eye these days had such desire to preserve and protect the old world, to welcome beauty, to encourage creativity, and to bring and nurture sensitivity.

And there’s a Moore in the garden… Not Getty’s. A donation from the Starks, apparently…

Immersive interactive gameywamey stuff

Day 25. Over the years, I’ve been involved in a ridiculously diverse range of projects. I expect most actors can say that. I can say it double. I’m thinking about one aspect of the tapestry of weirdness tonight. 

When I had just left Guildhall I made friends with a man called Tassos. At the time he was coming up with all sorts of harebrained schemes, making theatre in different contexts, asking “How do we give the audience some sort of agency.” For me this was an interesting and important question, given that theatre is a live experience. I love that it can change and breathe. But I was sure that there were ways to engage the audience more deeply than just as watchers. To get people to shape an experience together. I threw myself in with him and a motley crew. A playful secret agency. We all had code names, I gave myself the codename “mother” because my mother had died so recently. I wasn’t to know I’d have that code name for a decade. But code names appealed to me as I also liked the idea of removing actor’s ego from performance. If no one knows who you are you’re less inclined to show off. We made all sorts of things, on the streets of London, in theatres for one night, in arches and bars and community centres. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. We learnt, we adjusted, people we knew had similar thoughts, things grew out of the madness. Some of it touched on the work of old greats like Joan Littlewood. Some lost it’s heart. Some sank without trace. Some got very big: Everybody knows Punchdrunk

 
After many years of making this stuff, it started to be given names. Experiential theatre. Immersive. Interactive. At first we had felt like pariahs. But suddenly there was an acceptance of this way of working and then an integration of it. And with an integration, inevitably, an assimilation and a loss of teeth. I’ve been to shows in the last few years that call themselves immersive because the space is dressed as a kitchen and you sit in it, that’s it. I’ve been to stuff called interactive where an actor has thrust something into my hand at the start and then it’s never been referred to for the rest of the staged performance. I’ve been to stuff called Site Specific where the same room has been used as two different notional rooms. I have no problem with any of this. But at some point this stuff started to get money attached to it, and become aspirational. I remember an internal shift where suddenly I was doing launches for branded whisky or I was at expensive parties doing treasure hunts. We were still making strange stuff in stranger places but in London we started to see regular players, people who wanted to have a two week email trail before leaving the house for something odd to happen in a public space. Technology made things more interesting but also more fallible. We experimented with it, but we did it broke so we couldn’t provide infallible tech. Sometimes the tech worked. Sometimes not. Sometimes what we did was great, sometimes what we did was woeful. But I will never stop wanting to experiment and to make things that respond to the people who are there. And to risk. Risk, genuine risk, is what makes a live experience live. There is wonderful telly, unbelievable film. Theatre is happening in the room with you RIGHT NOW. My most recent show, A Christmas Carol, always ended with audience members swapping numbers. At the climax of the show, I would run out into the crowded Christmas street at Leicester Place in a Victorian nightie, dancing and cartwheeling as they watched. There was never a night when I didn’t run out there with my heart in my mouth, worried I’d be stabbed. Some nights were scary. But at the heart of my craft is the desire to connect people through it. An audience is a load of strangers sitting next to each other. Get them fighting for a space at a window , then swapping numbers saying “I can’t believe he actually did that,” and long as it serves the story it’s perfect. Everybody who loves A Christmas Carol knows the moment when Scrooge runs into the street in his nightie.

 
I’m thinking about all of this because I just went to a “Room Escape“. They’re big business in LA. There were six of us, and it was a great big puzzle in a room. It opens with a disappointingly loose storyline. An alchemist with no name is doing something bad, we have to stop him. It turns out it’s the philosopher’s stone. Why do we have to stop him? Surely better to nick it? One actor facilitator is in there with you playing a half thought through alchemist’s assistant come grim reaper person, moving in slow motion and giving silent clues occasionally. He is great even if he has no logical context for his behaviour. But this isn’t a show, it’s a pure game. A puzzle game. Loads of puzzles. Loads of geeky people trying to solve the puzzles. The time flew by and we didn’t find the philosopher’s stone. It was pleasant though, to see everyone start talking through a shared problem. I ended up working on my own at the start as a big group were all busy dominating one half of the puzzle and neglecting the other half. One girl came over and joined me and we solved it together and then got halfway through the next one before time ran out. And the big group hadn’t solved anything yet. But me and Josslyn? We were highfiving each other, laughing, joking, completely unreserved. And it’s why room escapes are so popular. If I was on a first date with the right person it would be great. With the wrong person it would be atrocious. But shared problem solving for fun? It feeds the same hunger as yesterday’s pub quiz.


I left it thinking of ways in which the experience could have been improved, and the logic could have been shored up. It took me a while before I even noticed I was doing it. If I take nothing else from this trip and the fact that I can’t lose myself in my multiple day jobs, it’s that I am still a maker. I started making something out here within a week of landing, immediately on changing my context. I suspect I’ll be doing a lot more of that back in town, in lots of different mediums. And I look forward to collaborating with lots of you. I’m glad I made this trip. Learning a lot already about myself.