Winsum loosum

I feel a bit stumped for what to write today. A job I thought was in the bag has, it seems, almost certainly been pulled out from under me by the studio. It’s left me feeling a bit deflated. I’m used to frustration, but as often as not that frustration stems from not getting considered in the first place. I have auditioned for only two roles in feature films in 15 years. I booked them both. This job ain’t quite a feature but it’s good. The director and producer flew over to see me and are both on board with me. But the studio have suddenly thrown a spanner in the works in favour of someone with more bankable recent credits. Now it’s suddenly in the balance and I don’t like it. It’s not definitely lost but it feels like it might be. It’s a new kind of frustration. But these roles are always slow to confirm. The first two went months from meeting to job. This has already been a month or so. Ironically the reason I want to keep it is the reason I might lose it. I need some recent bankable credits. I need three lines on a BBC something on the CV so people sitting in the world of theory in an office somewhere in America can say “oh yeah I’ve heard of the BBC. They’re good. We want that guy.” But for that I need the meeting. And so we’re back to square 1.

Also my pride’s up. I wanna keep my statistics good. If I’d only had two high level meetings a year since I started, and I’d only managed to book 10% of them I’d still have booked more high level jobs than 100% of two. But…

But in the end, blah blah blah…

I’m doing what I love. Loads of people have been calling me this week. My diary is full and varied and blocked out. My friends are brilliant. I’m loved. “What we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it.”

Someone somewhere who looks a bit like me might get a call soon and be thrilled. If it’s not me, I wish them joy of it. If it’s me then it’ll quickly just be compartmentalised in my imagination, along with everything else, as “oh but that’s just something that I did once.” I’ve tried to fix on the present for so long to avoid the past that I forgot about the future. Recently I’ve started trying to care about the future a little. So it’s frustrating when my efforts get thwarted. But it’s the human condition. It’s why we are so achingly angrily alive, every one of us. The Native Americans had a blessing “May all of your dreams be fulfilled but one.” We need to keep striving for something or we atrophy. So sure. I wanted that. But so did the other guy. If my journey wants to go elsewhere then I have to have peace about that and keep plugging.

It’s shitting rain in London and I’m on a three day hangover. That probably doesn’t help my mood. I’ve been guarding this door for a living tonight: 

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Swipe writing

“What, you write your blog on your PHONE?” someone asked me the other day. I do. Virtually every day. At first I hated it, but now I’m surprised I ever wrote on any other medium. I reckon I can write as quickly on my phone with one finger now than I can with two hands on a keyboard.

Ages ago, a man on the tube lost his balance and put his whole weight on my IPad in my bag, so I sent the catastrophically dented ruin off to the insurance guys that come free with my bank account. It was so buggered I thought I was quids in for a replacement. But that isn’t going to happen with bank account insurance…

I got it sent back just before I went to LA. No new iPad. Somehow they had straightened it, and hammered out the dent… But they’d done a bad job of it of course, and then put a pane of weak glass on top. Gradually the screen cracked with normal use until it began to speak madness to itselfb through a fucked touchscreen and four months after repair it was unusable. I tried another claim. They wanted a specific date of the accident. I said it was a bad repair. It was outside the official three month window for bad repairs being sent back. I had to make a new claim. You only get so many claims. Etc etc. The long and short of it is I now have a very expensive brick in my bedroom, and I write my blog on my phone. One day I’ll take the thing to iSmash and sell my firstborn for a bit of gorilla glass. Right now I’ve got better places to haemorrhage money.

I frequently have people stand near me and say “how the hell are you writing?” I’m using the swipe function of Google Keyboard. It is simultaneously brilliant and fucking unbelievably annoying. Some words it refuses to suggest no matter how many times you swipe them, and others are absurdly popular. A year ago the name “Wyeth” got added to the user dictionary of an old phone and every time I tried to write”when” it chose “Wyeth” and didn’t give “when” as an option. I don’t even know anyone with that name. God it was annoying. I only fixed it when I changed phones.

It works by running your finger consecutively through the letters in the words. You don’t have to be particularly precise most of the time. I’ve got my word per minute count very high now. I find the flowing movement allows it to run as my thoughts flow. I prefer the flexible loops to the definite stamp of a keyboard. But there are occasional arguments that slow the process down. For instance I will now demonstrate with absolute confidence that it won’t get the word “swipe” at normal speed first time. I will keep writing until it comes up, and if it happens first time I’ll style it out: sir door site swipe. 4th time. Which is annoying. But it’s only an issue occasionally, for words like swipe that are in relatively common configurations. You start to learn that if you want it to write those words, you have to slow down and hit each letter individually. The original app that brought this way of typing to me in the early noughties was called “Swype” but they vanished. Either they fucked up the patent or they sold the tech to Google Keyboard

Did I just write a tech blog? Well then. I think a beer to celebrate…

PS I just looked up Swype and it still exists. It costs .78p. I wonder if the reason I don’t have it anymore is because there’s a ticket price… I’m tempted to try it out. This one on Google… It can be annoying when it doesn’t suggest anything and just thinks it has the right word when it doesn’t.

Photo? Ummmm

I still haven’t got that habit. Clip art. It’s too late at night.wp-image-808136738

 

 

The Amazing Devil redux

I’m sitting on the floor of The Islington, rancid with hangover, sweating old rum through my eyes. It’s hotter than I’m dressed for. In front of me six musicians are making a beautiful song and I’m the only person watching. It’s a soundcheck but they’re enjoying it as much as they’ll enjoy playing the gig. It’s The Amazing Devil. I’ll be on the door because they’re good friends and it saves me buying a ticket. But God I’m hot.

Fronted by Maddy and Joey, it’s an alternative folk punk rock outfit, and they’re brilliant. Their sound soars with violin and bleeds with cello. Maddy’s healing voice wings out above it all, Joey’s gutsy voice cuts in, darkens it and finishes the sound with crunch. They complement each other beautifully, and being actors they bring narrative and charisma to their set. Their lyrics are strange, bright, mystic and emotive. “Give me back my heart you wingless thing.” is the one that always strikes me. For me it talks about my old depressions. A ”wingless thing” is a good image for that bastard black dog. I haven’t felt it on my back for years, but I think it’s definitely wingless and definitely had my heart.

The first time I saw them play, Maddy got an audience member to pour a bucket of water over her head at the top of the set. She performed barefoot, dripping, mascara running. It was electrifying, but not literally despite water and cables and sound equipment. Although that interaction might be why she stopped doing it. Back then, after their ownership of what they were doing, their passion was really striking.

I love people who work with real passion and fire – (and water). Of course I do. And they have it in spades. Ok, I always enjoy things made by my friends, but I think it might be because I’m lucky enough to have friends who are good at making things.

Spending time with Maddy before she plays it’s apparent that she’s nervous. She looks great and I can tell from the soundcheck that she’s in form. But those nerves… they never quite go. The two of us must have improvised The Odyssey 100 times over three years, in utterly uncontrollable and unpredictable circumstances. And yet that frisson was still there the last show we did. It fuels the work. It’s why we love working live. And Maddy doesn’t do things by halves.


And she didn’t. None of them did. By the end of the first song, Maddy’s makeup was all over her face because she’d cried as she sang. Joey had bust a guitar string whilst smashing the shit out of it. Their sound, as evidenced in the soundcheck, was bang on in. So complete. I want to see these guys playing festivals and not just because they’re my friends. Well partly.  But they’re utterly composite, powerful and honest musicians and they’re doing it for love over ego. I won’t put my name to something I don’t believe in. Program them. Lots of people need to have the things they can do with sound happen to them.

I like photographs of people getting ready for performance. There’s such a distance between the preparation and the delivery. I snuck this one of Maddy doing the makeup she ended up weeping out. I’m thrilled the gig came over so well. Damn I love having talented friends.

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And I’m older

It’s a beautiful warm Indian summer Sunday. It’s also my birthday. Imagine if I was some sort of narcissistic personality. Imagine if I felt called to do a job that involves standing in front of loads of strangers, being watched. Imagine if I wrote statements about myself EVERY DAY and then made them available online for everyone to read about me. Imagine if I woke up every morning and lovingly oiled my muscles with castrol gtx while singing Barry White to a mirror. If I was that sort of person I’d write: “It’s always lovely on my birthday. That’s the rules.”

But it IS. Is always nice on my birthday. That’s the rules. Mostly those rules haven’t been broken over the years.  Pass the engine oil.

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Today I’ve had a brilliant random cross section of my life come in and hang out in the park. I love putting people together. I respect my friends greatly, and I love it when they mix together, and more so when they get together. Right now two of my close friends are starting something. It’s brilliant to witness because they’re both people that live with every fibre of their being. 

Birthdays are a delightful thing. A chance to work out who matters. Also to remember who we are to others. Which differs from who we think we are.

We learn a lot about the people we are spending time with. Right now Lyndon and Jack abd I are still standing, and I’ve had to take myself away from fun for a bit. Lyndon was my constant companion in LA. Jack is my business partner. Both of them understand the need I have to write this daily. They’ve let me exit onto my phone to write my blog. I love that I’ve now cultivated friends who are willing to let me vanish from time to time to make this happen. Part of my respect for Lyndon is based in the way he lets me write my blog, irrespective of the circumstances. This blog is important to be now. Even though I’m sometimes very very drunk and rambling. Morning!

“We need to create cold,” says Lyndon. “Can we do it with sound!” asks Jack. We are brainstormingb Christmas Carol. We have creative freedom, to a large extent, and a format we know that works. It’s our show now. “What would you want it to smell like, when it’s Christmas?” “Cinnamon.” I love these idea sessions.

I also love how this discussion forms the dregs of my birthday party. I kept it very small, and ended up feeling very very loved. Yesterday’s blog wasn’t great in terms of insight. Today is similar. I’m sitting talking about how to use smell in theatre and God it’s exciting because I love that show.

But I am sitting with close friends, writing. I’ve tried going into a dark room to write something, but to be honest this evening it’s never going to be anything other than a workmanlike blog. So yeah, I’m going back to thinking about Scrooge and Marley. Thanks for reading. Have a brilliant week. Turns out we didn’t get destroyed by a rogue planet. Hooray!

Birthday

Sometimes close friends of mine express confusion about my actual age. This is down to a number of factors. My father habitually concealed his age. My reasons are different. I don’t want notional decade numbers to shift me out of the mix for parts that I could very efficiently play. I can play a wide range of ages. Partly because I’ve kept a youthful heart. Partly because I can grow a beard that adds minimum five years. Today is my birthday. I’m 64,156,643 years old. It’s my birthday in that I’m writing this after midnight. I should be in bed. I can’t afford an uber, and even mentioning their name right now makes for some big debates that I don’t have headspace for. I’m splashing out on a night bus instead.

The occasion of my birthday makes me remember my old friends the dinosaurs. It’s so uncomfortable how the millennials make them out to be great big terrifying man-eating lizards. I can guarantee you that none of them ever ate a human in their life. Not even Rex. He had a heart of gold, did Rex, despite those tiny hands. “Yeah, they’re tiny,” he would say to detractors. “But my penis is 20 foot long.” Then he’d show people. “Any world leader that lets their own tiny hands worry them – it’ll be because at heart they’re worried their penis is miniscule.”

Then there was Stego. In the end she was just too spiky for our relationship to last. I love spiky lovers usually. I’m drawn to the sharp edges. But not when I nearly lose a leg. Enough is enough. Plus I was jealous of her tail, if I’m honest.

As you might be able to glean, I’m hanging out with lots of people who are marginally younger than I am. I was working the immersive Gatsby as front of house/security/deal-with-the-drunk-people-guy. My first night in that role, but working with friends. Afterwards we all sang improvised songs to guitar, played cards, chatted, and laughed. Here some of them are, looking drunk. Imagine how I look:

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Now I’m making words on a nightbus that might as well be a daybus. It’s 5.25am. I put an incomplete filler blog to post at this time so I expect I’ll have to paste over it. Tomorrow is my birthday proper. Who knows what madness I’ll manage. It’ll be nothing to what Tracey Ratops was capable of back when Rex and I were homies. She and I would have it LARGE. I’d wake up in those days with my mouth full of raw Plesiosaur fins wondering how I even got into that cave in the first place.

Tomorrow i’m thinking a late pub lunch in Chelsea. 3pm. I’m not 64,156,142 any more so I need to sleep. Time to rein it back. It’s almost six and I haven’t slept yet. When you get close to 65 million you need to start thinking about longevity and taking care. I’ll learn in time. Another million years or so.

I haven’t thought my birthday through at all. Phone me if you’re free and fancy Altime. I want to see you. I’m just crap at organising. No Icthyosaurs. Last time one bit off my tail. And absolutely no bloody Velociraptors. Seriously guys. Even Rex hated those fuckwits. God rest his soul.

FanSHEN

I just went and playtested a piece of immersive theatre that’s being developed by FanSHEN in collaboration with neuroscientists at King’s College London. It’s only the second time it has run but it was a very memorable experience for 12 audients.

Over the years FanSHEN have been a very positive and nurturing force in my development as an artist. It is a collective, headed up by Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe. I met Dan first, when I was just out of drama school. There were auditions for a season of Lorca plays at The Arcola. I was working at The Rosemary Branch, playing Oscar Wilde in a new piece of writing about his death – “The Oscar Wilde Rule”. I love Lorca – as a previous blog makes clear – so I thought it worth my time to go to the Arcola before my call and see if there were any unfilled audition slots. There weren’t, but Dan was the man with the clipboard. Rather than treating me like a pariah, he gave me the time of day, which makes a change. This was some 15 years ago. Unknown actors are often right at the bottom of the pecking order with a foot in the face to make sure they stay there. He bucked the trend, took me seriously, tried me out in a couple of staged readings, after which I was invited to some workshops. It was there that I met and began to collaborate with Rachel too, whose approach I also found extremely positive and generative. Over time Rachel and Dan started to collaborate with a group of other artists when they were building things. I was part of that community. It was always joyful.

We toured the UK developing and then sharing a totally sustainable bike generated piece of street theatre about the peak oil running out. It was told through the prism of Joseph Campbell’s blueprint for the hero’s journey. Also dancing vegetables, mad brigadiers, dogs making difficult decisions, a cross dressing loanshark who just wanted to be loved, people firing cannons at rivers to stop them flooding, boomshacka-stuff, the sustaintist, and a bird getting blatted in the head with a frying pan – which somehow never failed to make us laugh as makers, but fell on utter silence in the first playtest so was consigned to oblivion immediately thereafter. Never to blat again.

Another summer we did a formal piece of theatre in a formal theatre space, consciously implementing Mike Alfred’s “Different Every Night.” Rachel and Dan gave the actors different provocations every night. I witnessed how most of the actors mistook the provocations for notes and got the hump about it, and I understood that there’s a distance for some actors between what they say in auditions “yeah, I’m cool with that. Mike Umfred’s is my hero. I love all the things he says. How much? Where do I sign?,” and what happens in reality “I can’t fucking believe it, they’ve given us notes AGAIN just before a show. No Al, don’t go on about that Mike Alfred’s shit, this is unacceptable. It’s the last week of the run.”

They’re my friends, Dan and Rachel. We know each other now and know each other’s ways. I love and respect their work and their ethics – my tendencies towards taking vegetarianism seriously as a thing I might embrace… that started squarely with them.

They still surprise and amaze me, FanSHEN. This is a remarkable piece they’ve developed, The Justice Syndicate. The frame is an ambiguous trial by jury situation, allowing you to contemplate your own unconscious bias and witness that of others in a respectful environment. I came out feeling emotionally wrung out and knowing a lot more about myself. It’s a really deeply thought provoking piece, especially considering its not even finished yet – this was just a playtest. It works beautifully playing only with 12, (or did in our configuration.) As always when friends of mine make something good and challenging I feel inordinately proud to know them. I’m glad I took the chance all those years ago to try my hand for the Lorca at The Arcola. Subsequent experiences burnt my fingers almost to the bone. But they’ve grown back now. Over the years I’ve found some remarkable collaborators making interesting weird stuff. I’m proud of that, and I need to remember that when I can’t pay the credit card bills.

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Poison into medicine

A day of total rest seems to have helped. I’m still feeling like shit but considerably better than yesterday. It’s likely we have a venue for Christmas Carol this year again, which has been something of a sticking point. In celebration of this probable breakthrough, I got out of the house for the evening. I went – (rock and fucking roll baby) – to a religious meeting in Chelsea.

I have a real problem with dogma when it comes to ideas that serve us. There are lots of ideas that serve lots of different people. I am coming close to nailing down the specifics of the ideas that serve me. Just this morning I courteously told a Jehovah’s Witness to stop ringing my doorbell as I detest some of the aspects of their faith, particularly their take on submission of women. I didn’t give her my reasons, though as I wasn’t going to try to persuade her she’s wrong. Nobody is wrong, nobody is right – unless there is some sort of gargantuan coincidence in play. Puts me in mind of South Park, the announcement at the entrance to hell, pub quiz style: “I’m afraid it was the Mormons. The Mormons was the correct answer.”

If we find something that serves us, then that’s right for us as long as it does no harm surely? Because what is a faith structure but a blueprint for our happiness and our ability to facilitate the happiness of others? I’ve read the religious texts of many world religions. They all offer beauty, fable, challenge and outdated values, but with differing levels of personal autonomy. Most of them are very old. Age lends credibility to ideas. A new religion needs a serious cult of personality to gain traction. And also it has to fill a need. Most religions were invented to answer the unanswerable questions. What’s the meaning of life? What happens when we die? A new religion has to come at the right time and fight harder for its place in the market. Atheism is the big success religion recently. A dry, joyless, colourless faith rooted in self righteousness and dogma. I’m being deliberately arch calling it a religion, but it’s the same thing: “Our idea is the right idea and all the other ideas are wrong. Read our book.” It’s hubris. Arrogance before the gods. Even if there are no gods. Arguments with atheists always carry smugness.

But here, in London where ideas are free and atheism is the prevalent religion, we can have these discussions. Londoners are still attacking and being attacked because of these clashing ideas though. Meanwhile in Myanmar there’s a genocide of Muslims by Buddhists. All around the world, Muslims are being killed by Christians for killing Christians for killing Muslims etc etc. Nobody knows where any of this started really. It’s in the mists of time. And with no start it can logically have no end because who admits culpability?

It’s a bugger to contemplate. I just witnessed the peaceful version of a blazing dogma row at a comfortable middle class meeting near my home. A woman spoke beautifully and eloquently about fighting demons in her daily life, but she rooted some of her discoveries and understandings in other faith practises. At one point someone snorted, with audible contempt, and darkly named the ancient faith that one of her practises arose from. Most people were visibly uncomfortable, fixing eyes.

She was talking about her family in Mexico after the earthquake. This was really recent. She’d had a panic attack this very morning and had got herself out of the house to attend the meeting. She was talking about coping strategies she had found to deal with an almost untenable situation. Who the hell are we to disapprove of her because she’s cherry picking religious tenets when she needs to? Her family and home town were in a massive fucking earthquake. I attempted to salvage the situation by suggesting she was talking about “turning poison into medicine,” which is party line talk for the particular practice this meeting was about, and fitted her subject matter. I got called a natural diplomat afterwards simply because I was the only person not spitting teeth about her bringing up two other old world religions. I’m no diplomat. I don’t like conflict and have a usefully retentious brain. “My grandfather was a diplomat,” I responded, which is loosely true and means I’ll be better placed to break up any future unnecessary squabbles when they arise. But I didn’t succeed in breaking this one up. Pride got involved. It was all a bit strident and unnecessary.

People were being overly precious about dogma, and not being sensitive to the fact that she had had a terrible few days and needed to get something off her chest. They told her she was “wrong”. What nonsense. She was being insensitive, choosing the wrong place and time to talk about her alternative faith structures. She didn’t need dressing down.

This is the thing though. Religions are wonderful ideas. But people get really fighty about the contents of their brain. We all experience everything differently. Colour, sex, walking, breathing, thinking. Everything is different for a different person in ways that we can barely comprehend. If we start trying to impose our reality on someone else we are closing down our own possibilities and essentially engaging in an act of aggression. This blog, then, by my own reasoning, is an act of aggression. To an extent, but I’m not telling you that the things you believe in are wrong. You might be the one lucky right person. I’m just working out what I think. I wish there was a way we could all make peace with the idea that “right” thing is the thing that gives the greatest happiness to yourself and others. What else can it be? That will change person to person. Most religions have peace at their heart. The war bit comes from our own shit. We use detail of doctrine in isolation to justify our worldview. Then we entrench, find allies, and throw shit at the people who don’t purport to believe exactly the same thing we do. It’s poison.

I love the idea of turning poison into medicine. It’s why I’ve written this blog. I saw a bit of poison. I’ve explained why in a broader sense and hopefully kicked off some thinking in myself by writing words. How can such lovely ideas cause so much destruction?

The scabs fell off yesterday for the frog poison I put into my bloodstream. That stuff could kill you. It made me very sick for a short while and then gave me clarity and made me feel well. It was poison as medicine.

This is written mostly to eviscerate the lump in my throat I had after seeing ego and damage – poisons – getting in the way of a meeting about ideas. Humans just shouldn’t talk comparative religion. Like I just have for 1000 words. But I’ve been trying to find a way of using it as medicine. And splurging words is part of that process, it seems.

I’ll keep going to those meetings. I’ll just wear my diplomatic coat next time. Well, not mine … my grandfather’s.

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Let’s all try and let go of our shit… NMHRK.