Nice things to do

Years ago I remember going to watch The Seagull in Dalston, at The Dalston Boys Club, by The Factory. It was a group of friends making it, and they were making it with rigour. Alex Hassell, whose company it was, had been the other one recalled on my Guildhall first round audition day some years before. We were friends, and there were plenty of friends in the company even then. They made something thought provoking and brave that evening. It’s stuck with me ever since, as a benchmark of unrepeatable and disciplined audience responsive theatre. It keyed in with the things I think are important. I loved it and decided I had to get stuck in.

Last week I was at Vault with a load of them, including the Konstantin from that evening. They’d been to Pantechnicon and thankfully loved it. We were having a drink afterwards and Alex mentioned that the company was back to doing guerrilla Sunday shows. The next one is at Dalston Boys Club. It happens I’m free. So I’m going to play in Macbeth. Probably Banquo. Probably Lady Macduff (with that evening’s Trigorin as my son). If you’re an old friend of the company or mine, or you’re free on Sunday in Dalston and fancy an unusual possibly beautiful night then come by and we can have a pint afterwards. Here’s a still from an earlier show. I think there are a few £10 tickets left…

44544442_10156450005057626_8101129101391167488_oThese guys have been up and running a bit so I’m going to have to work to get up to speed again. But lovely to have a show and a fellowship to slot into like that. It’s what the company does best – keeps you connected to your community, to your craft and to a live audience.

Tomorrow I’ll be having an afternoon with another old theatre friend. James and I did Our Country’s Good up in Kingston something over ten years ago. Then we did The Office Party with the same company. James has settled into proper jobs and high earning, kids and love, while I’m still living the dream. I suspect lunch will end up being on him…

Next week I’ll be off to Hampstead to see another dear friend doing what she does in the studio downstairs, and also to Guildford to catch Jack in Measure for Measure. Plus there’s always Vault going on. It’s a good month for threate. Yesterday I went with a friend to see a crazy show about Guinea Pigs by someone who will likely turn out to be friends with most of my friends on Facebook. I kept running into friends and collaborators from over the years doing such a wide variety of shows.

My world has started to brim over with talent. People finding their groove and dancing wild. It’s lovely to see how we have all shifted, and then to have the chance this weekend and at Vault to reconnect with the carnage of early career and early Factory, see some old faces, and some new, and find all the same abstract passion.

The inside of my head is full at the moment. I’ve got more projects and possible irons in the fire than I’m used to. It’s why I might seem a little distracted. Some time things might settle into a more predictable form, but for now every day brings new random. I’m writing, making, and trying to stay in touch but sorry if I’ve fallen off the radar personally. A day down yesterday has helped me kick into gear again, and I’m starting to fill up my diary for the next few months. Collar me by phone and hold me to a diary date if I’ve vanished on you. It’s not personal!! 🙂 X

Just another night in Feb

Valentine’s Day. Oh the joy. I was going to get some more pitches in for the summer, but figured that everyone would be bunking off early to change into their gladrags ahead of steak and prosecco for £100 a head in a crowded shouty room. “Fack you moaning abart? Facking candle onna table, innit. Facking romantic, vat is.”

I’m off to Vault to see a one woman show about guinea pigs. And sickness. It was a tenner, so I just bought it immediately. There are two of us going, but typically it sold out before she could get one too. I’m going to give mine to her and then hope that my pass will get me in. It probably won’t, but worth a try. The Vault pass allows free entry into shows that aren’t sold out. Also a small drinks discount. Very cool now that Pantechnicon is finished, especially considering the Festival goes on for weeks yet. Although it’s not something to use willy nilly, this capacity to not pay for people’s art. I’m not sure how many people came into Pantechnicon with a pass, but a fairy dies for every one of them. But then two fairies are born for everyone that paid for a ticket and could’ve used a pass. So by buying a ticket and then using a pass, I’ll be making a net profit of one fairy for the artist. I’ll find out before long how many fairies died for our little show in a van.

Right now I’m in The Young Vic, shorn down to my little pink cheeks. Even the furry lip squid is finally gone. With my Mediterranean heritage it’ll all be back in a week. But for now, in exchange for daily expense and bother, I look young again. Fresh faced. Like a baby, but with better smelling poo and a worse smelling head. I’ve been putting words into my brain today, and playing too many mobile-phone-crack-game distractions. My early night went to shit last night after the rude email managed to keep me up until 5, on and off. That peculiar form of insomnia where you feel tired right up until you switch the light off, and then the elephants parade in front of your closed eyes until you dance with them and they insist you switch the lights on again and consume crap fiction. I read a whole Sláine anthology, and not even the stuff that was illustrated by Simon Bisley. The painstaking black and white mystic scratches of Glenn Fabry. Beautiful examples of British comic book art, mindless enough in plotting to induce sleep in the busy mind on a normal night. My subscription to the 2000AD collection has helped my sleep immeasurably. It got me through dry January. But even with gin it took a long time before I finally succumbed to gentle mad Celtic warping dreams.

I’ve got a glass of primitivo. I’m waiting for her to show, although I’m not entirely sure she will. We made this plan before either of us realised it was Valentine’s Day. Cheers.

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And relax

Finally a day down. A chance to potter around my local area in the sunshine, to do some shopping and to catch up on my emails. Also, with perfect timing, a self tape has landed for an appropriate role, and unusually it isn’t due in a huge rush, and it hasn’t landed in the middle of a busy patch. I should be able to learn the lines and find the right person to read it and the right set-up to do it well enough. It’s just a self tape, so me sending a recording of myself to the creative team. It’ll probably lead to a meeting. Unlikely to a straight offer unless they know my work. But I get what they’re after and I’ll enjoy filming it. I’ve done my basic online research and like the look of the director. And the script comes off the page very well, avoiding many of the common traps that scripts in this genre fall into. It’s surprising, modern and smart. Must be why they’ve chosen me…

God I needed a day down without having to stress about stuff after IKEA defeated me yesterday. The leasehold people in my block chose my relax day to send a rude email which I received just before starting to write this blog. It still put a lump in my stomach, but I reckon I’ll be able to sleep anyway. In the end it’s just noise.

I sat in a coffee shop and read the script of the movie. Then I went to the supermarket and got a few days worth of food, including loads of Waitrose Rösti – so cheap, so good. Then I went to The Chelsea Potter for a cheeky lunchtime six pound pint and to send a ton of emails and call a few people. Then home to chill out with the cat before bed at 9pm. It’s closer to ten now, as I found that stupid email and wrote an annoyed reply that thankfully I didn’t send. That can go tomorrow morning after a sleep. And for the next few days I can learn lines for the self tape and enjoy this unseasonable weather.

I didn’t even notice that I spent the whole day in just a jacket and waistcoat and never missed wearing my coat. The world is dying, but at least the weather is nice.

Brian and Mel are next door having dinner. It’s rare for me to go to sleep before them but today that’s on the cards. Tickety-boo. A big mug of sleepy tea.

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And I’ve got the means to make a great breakfast tomorrow.

I also got a script through from back in The Isle of Man. It’s a guy out there with some equipment who wants to fly me over and shoot something he’s written. He’ll put me up in a hotel, he says, although I’m tempted to just ask for per diems if I go. I haven’t spent time with  the script yet as today was for the other one. But glad to have a few irons in the fire immediately Vault has ended. Interesting year ahead, I’m thinking now…

 

Ikea panic

I went to Ikea, but I was so tired that I shouldn’t have. I ended up buying nothing but food and wasting ages.

Today was looking pretty chilled. I had a reasonably easy morning. A little bit of managing a dear friend who brought the work to me and is an atrocious back seat driver. I know this already but he still surprises me with it. “You need to inflate the tyres,” he says to me. “Oh shit, really?” I respond thinking those kids at Vault have taken the time to let them down after I got everything torqued up beautifully for a heavy load. I feel bad about not noticing. “Yeah mate, don’t you know that?” and I realise he’s talking generally, about vans with heavy loads, not specifically. Bless. I let it slide. If he could drive every vehicle on every road at all times he’d do it – and solve the overpopulation problem at the same time…

The morning was just watching the van while people brought stuff in to load it. That and directing the load. Taking care of the interior carpet and the interior timber frame. Nice and relaxed with occasional lifting.

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Then a bit of a drive across town with a full van and Ollie, who I’ve just met. Ollie and I are both relaxed and happy. I’m imagining a great big ground floor scene dock to unload into. He’s imagining just a few lengths of timber in the van. We are taking it to his studio. Both of our imaginations are lulling us into a false sense of security. His studio is down a long narrow corridor, through a door and up a flight of stairs with a corner in it. There’s a shitload of mdf flooring that weighs a ton and is basically useless. There’s some random bits of chipboard with nails and screws sticking into your face. There’s a few big chunks of plasterboard. And there’s the timber. We got it all up there pretty efficiently but both of us felt the job by the end of it. And both of us were wryly aware that it might all come back out to go somewhere else almost immediately – Ollie doesn’t want it in his studio.

In retrospect I was too tired to go to Ikea. But I drive through rush hour and get there before six only to discover that there’s a height restriction on the car park and the van’s too tall.

I eventually find a weird lot near a garage that’s already full of vans, but has space. “Is it ok to park here,” I ask the guy to my right. “No English,” he responds. There’s another guy to my left. “Hey, mate, I’m thinking of going to Ikea but I’m not sure what this area is for. Am I okay to leave the van here?” He looks at me and shrugs with a studied lack of expression. “I’ll likely only be about half an hour…” I realise he doesn’t understand me either but doesn’t trust himself with “No English.” He throws out his cigarette and winds up the window shrugging as his eyes slip off me. There are loads of vans here though. People are sleeping in them.

I take a punt, and I walk across the roundabout to Ikea. Just as I walk in I get a text from the guy who I’ve borrowed the van from. “How’s the van?” He’s in Adelaide, but he’s still sensed that I’ve left the van in some weird van city surrounded by people who literally speak 0 English and won’t try. I haven’t told him about the tagging yet although he’s likely been told by mutual friends who read this. I tell him officially, and he’s understanding. He is more concerned with the interior, which is fine apart from the drapes being moved around a bit. But now I’m worried about leaving it where it is.

I’m in the maze of furniture, taking photographs of things, when I start to feel really panicky and weird. I guess last week and weekend, with rehearsal in the day and shows in the evening, with being whacked in the back of the head by that drunk kid in the tunnel who was trying to knock my costume hat off, with the van getting tagged, with managing audience and with money and with driving and with not knowing what’s next… I think I just hit a wall. So I bought nothing in Ikea but meatballs and a Daim Cake to help ground me. And then I went and sat in the van until I could drive home. And now I’m in the bath.

Getting Out

I remember one time I came off stage after the last scene of a touring show to find the backstage area already stripped down and ready to go in the van. “We thought we’d get a headstart while you guys did the last act.” I have an early childhood memory of watching the company of an outdoor show loading the van in a pool of floodlighting and thinking it romantic. Since then I’ve hauled steeldeck, huge flats and timber. I’ve packed up lights and endless cables and I’ve broken down trusses without earplugs leading to two years of tinnitus. I’ve obsessed over van packs. I’ve fitted impossible quantities of furniture into Luton vans and hauled it back and forth over the Pennines. I’ve helped load an old Post Office van with ridiculous knick knacks every night. I’ve gone around London in a transit collecting delicate sets to transport up to Edinburgh for people I’ve never met before and shows I’ve never seen. The van … it sometimes feels like a company member in a touring show.

Someone puts diesel in the petrol engine, or takes a chunk out of the side or gets stuck on a tree or hits a badger or gets five tickets on one drive and everyone knows and talks about it. I was in a show where they missed the ferry to Ireland. They had to cancel a performance. Financial disaster. I’ve done others where I had to preside over the van pack, imposing a strict and fine order to the contents, to do with weight and delicacy and movement when driving. You start to care about the van on tour. It’s the whole show apart from the bodies.

One of the first big vans I drove was up to Edinburgh. I winged it getting out of the parking space in the Sixt van lot, and took a chunk out of the pristine transit to the left of me. Thankfully I’d paid the extra insurance but still an expensive mistake. Idiot. You learn by doing though.

I remember in the Tower of London, saying “Watch out for that low bollard at the back of you. You won’t be able to see it from the cab.” “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING,” replied the other driving ASM at the wheel, before immediately reversing hard into the unseen bollard and really making a nasty dent in the thing. As it hit I felt awful, almost as if I’d seen a friend take a nasty cut. My eyes were drawn to the scar for the rest of the tour…

I’ve come to care about this big old Maxity. We split the interior space for Pantechnicon and I forgot it was as big as it is in there. But today was “get-out” day. Usually that involves loading the van. But it was all in the van already. So it was about tearing down all the stuff we built in the cold about a month ago, and then unloading it. Pulling out staples and unsticking carpets. Packing random knick-knacks into bags. Working out what was borrowed from who and where it all needs to go and why. I need it empty for tomorrow. I’ve got a whole day of hauling ahead of me. The best part of a week to build, and just a few hours tearing it down. I haven’t got the figures yet but I’m thinking we didn’t lose much. Maybe a small recovery, even. It depends how many people actually paid for a ticket… We will see. Not that we did it for the money. We did it for the festival season. But we need to get those pitches out there.

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Madame M and The Marquis

Late August 2018. Mel and Al, driving up to Shambala festival to work. “The deadline for Vault Festival applications is tomorrow. Shall we try something?”

At the time the jag was driving beautifully. As we coasted through the English countryside we composed a crazy pitch. We stopped at a Sainsbury’s to buy festival supplies and hijacked the WiFi to send it. It was an unusual pitch. A vehicle outside the front, an intimate show, storytelling and tarot, as much about the watcher as the watched. To both of our surprise, the pitch was accepted.

Both of us work with tarot. We had already learnt, through collaboration with the remarkable artist Alice Instone, that people in this city crave an intimate moment. We wanted to make something that reflected that, but that was as much about the listener as it was about the speaker – to combine a theatrical experience with something more personal.

For the last three weeks the result of that, The Fantabulous Pantechnicon, has been outside the front of the Vault. The Marquis (who looks very much like me) is lost in time, lost in space, thoroughly excited about everything but jagging through dimensions and eras uncontrollably, gambling and consuming compulsively as he goes. He has an oracle in his van, (Who looks like Mel, properly using Alice’s remarkable Tarot in a very different soundscape and atmosphere but the same van, with a live snake.) He might have picked her up from Delphi. She is Pythonic for certain. She has her reasons for being there. The Marquis has no idea how lucky he is. He’s just selling snakeoil and ticking over. She is there as another timefree being because she’s realised he’s damaging the timestream with his haphazard consumption and self importance. She’s an immortal, he’s an accidental time traveler. He doesn’t understand that his adherence to old models and redundant power structures and ways of being is dragging the world to destruction by fire – despite having been extremely close to Shelley, the delightful romantic, who he helped burn at Fiareggio with Trelawney while Byron sat in his carriage. He can’t remember much of his old life. He gambled it. He has gambled memories and concepts. He’s lost his name. He’s lost the memory of how he lost it too. It likely had something to do with his romantic liason with beautiful Juan who turned out to be Death. That’s part of the whole problem, even if he doesn’t attach significance to it. Death and the Marquis were lovers, for a moment, in New Orleans. Death gifted him the uncontrollable immunity from time that spins him through eras randomly.

None of this is particularly relevant to your show as an audience member. It’s part of the absurd but beautiful background work that we do in theatre to give our characters weight. As far as you know I’m just a guy in a hat plus what I decide to tell you. You meet an excitable and confused but extremely well spoken man who knows he is important but doesn’t know why, and has recently consumed huge amounts of psychedelics. How mad the experience then becomes is to do with you and the dynamic in the van. The Marquis tells stories, gives gifts, destroys regrets, improvises rituals, shares poems and gives advice dependent on what is needed. It’s a very complete half an hour now. But we owe Vault Festival for that. You can’t rehearse audience responsive work without a paying audience. I needed to experiment with different story and ritual before I got the shape locked. The biggest thing I had was that I wanted the character to be less important than the ritual, but for both to be present. I never thought it would be possible to achieve genuine ritual with a character frame but I wanted to try. The Marquis frame works for me in terms of being truthful. He’s taken from me anyway, a version of me. 01-21-2019-114915-2672I have a genuine Spanish Aristocracy. By channeling it, I got the chance to make this very strange, beautiful and layered show. We needed the first week to make it. But now it’s done and honed we can move it forward to festivals and so forth (although not with the same van probably – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

Shit Tags

A calm weekend. Yesterday I reminded myself why I shouldn’t always wait until the day is over before writing about it. I was tired and a bit drunk and I let the guy who derailed a show derail a blog. Silly Al.

At the end of the weekend I’m walking off the cliff again. It’s been a good run of work but next week the diary is annoyingly blank. There’s plenty of stuff I have to do in realworldland though, so it can be a time of admin. I can sort the car perhaps. Get my shit together, think about what I want to make next, sort the flat out, pay homage to my merciful cat mistress.

Today though is just for chilling out on the sofa with Brian, gearing up for an evening in the van where I can have the headspace to roll with weird energy if any of it manifests. There was a lot of unusual energy flying around yesterday but I guess that’s a Friday night in London. People kept banging the van. We had some taggers that got really mardy with us for parking up where they wanted to spray. I’m glad they didn’t spray the front of the van as they were angry enough to, but they hadn’t started yet. (*and it turns out I was wrong. I hadn’t noticed as it was small). They … wanted to be angry. I suppose it’s a potential identity choice if you’re drawn to be a tagger. “Fuck the system etc.” This is an official government sanctioned graffiti area… You’re not being properly subversive if you don’t tag the van… Ugh.

We had a nightmare setting up yesterday, as some guy had parked his BMW in the tunnel blocking us, and then vanished. He was eventually found and he spikily reversed, bristling with aggression. People get angry after being pushed into boxes all week. It could’ve been a lot worse, but it was pretty weird anyway and I really don’t want another night like it, despite it ending beautifully with friends.

So I’m going to get in early today so I have my calm. The rushed beginning caused me to lose touch with my usual ability to derail negativity and defuse rage. I suspect there’ll be nothing bad compared to yesterday. (*Ha)

Time passes, and now I’m in early and feeling sad. Somebody tagged the front of the van last night, and had a good go at taking the numberplate off. Not cool. It’ll take time and a bit of money to undo. “It’s a shit tag as well,” says one of the regulars. And it is. Which kinda makes it worse. Friday night in London. If I propose a van show here again it’ll be with a van that belongs to me, and I’ll encourage people to tag it so it doesn’t burn me when someone does that shit. It works for the show I guess. I can bring it in to the world. But it feels a bit like someone just casually took a shit in my bedroom. And I don’t mean Pickle.

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Time passes.

I was upset about that. A little smiley face and an idiot signature. This evening they went to town.

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We were inside the van running the show. It’s right outside the front door of the festival. Surely someone could keep an eye, you’d think. But there were some ragey kids in the tunnel. It wasn’t specific rage. It was general. But the van is visible, the middle class is evident in the audience, and I’m wearing a top hat. One of them whacked it off HARD and then tried to pick a fight with me when I asked him why. They were causing problems for the ushers too. Frustrating. It’s been a lovely two weeks. But the crazies are out now. I blame the weather.

It’s warmer this weekend than it has been for the last two. If you’d usually stay at home playing FIFA and cranking you might be inclined to hit the streets, nick some paint, and use a bit of it to fuck with a stranger’s van before getting busy with solvents so you can shit your pants in a railway siding while trying to tag and urinate simultaneously. They could choose their battles.

Mel said “Taggers and theatre people have loads in common. We all are marginalised geeks who find a way to take our power. We all make things that we know are ephemeral.”

True dat. Rage is fine. But don’t direct it at people who are angry too.