Leg breaking

So I suppose it could be said that Tristan and I are “resting.” In the sense that we’re actors and we are not working, even though the job we just finished wasn’t acting work. I hate the whole “resting” language. It’s like the widely known superstitions. I find them hard to honour. “Break a leg”, “Macbeth” whistling etc. They’ve become common knowledge, property of everyone. I’ve rarely met an actor that really cares if you say Macbeth. I’ll honor it with any stranger older than me though. I’m working on “The Scottish Play” with The Factory, and if you’re in it, you’ve got to be able to say it, so I can say Macbeth as much as I like until we’re done. Which might be years if Hamlet is anything to go by. And honestly, I won’t send you out of the room and make you turn three times, spit and ask to come back if you say “Macbeth”. However I’ve met many dedicated amateurs and volunteer stewards and keenly passionate supporters of our industry that care enormously. So I honor it as best I can lest I upset someone.

I will certainly rarely say “good luck” to an actor before they go on, but conversely I will never say “break a leg”. My habit is to say “smash it,” which can devolve into “smashy smashy” or “smashy smashface,” or endless variations on the theme of smashing. I thought I had evolved that as a solution at Guildhall, but I hear it from many sources and I question that it is mine. Convergent evolution? Who cares? These things just spontaneously evolve.

I don’t say “break a leg” because I don’t feel, as an actor, that I have ownership of “break a leg.” It’s a known phrase. People who want to appear knowledgeable tell me “oh, you don’t say good luck do you? Ha ha! You say break a leg.” I respond “ah well I don’t personally, sir, but yes, some people do. I prefer to say I hope you smash it.”

Often people ask me the origins of the break a leg. Nobody knows. I have a working theory.

It is 1717. You’re playing the lead at Drury Lane. As is often the case, you share a dressing room with your understudy, Sam. Sam is your friend. You’ve been on the job a long time. You’re fit and healthy. You go on every night, and it’s a sell out. Five stars across the board. It’s running and running, packed every night for months and months. It’s the making of you. You can’t take a night off, the public want you. Sam knows that. Sam’s happy with the way the cookie crumbles. You see each other daily. You know the details of each other’s personal life. You go drinking together, you hang out. You and Sam are friends. But Sam’s job is to show up and sit in the dressing room night after night. And Sam knows they can smash it.

If there’s an incident mid show, like in 1989 with Day-Lewis having a breakdown in the ghost scene of Hamlet at The National, the understudy (Jeremy Northam in that case) finishes the audience’s show and cements their name in the process. You both know and understand this

So it’s showtime and you’re in costume, and you head on, ready to smash the hell out of it. They’re calling beginners. “Here we go again,” you mutter, ready, and you head to the door. “Break a leg,” says Sam, smiling.

Sam’s comment catches you unaware. You laugh. If you were to literally break a leg, Sam your understudy would play that part. Sam saying “break a leg” under those circumstances is reasonably witty and apposite.

This snarky understudy story works better for me than theories I’ve heard about “breaking” the curtain legs, especially considering the German version is “Hals und beinbruch” Break your neck and your leg. There’s something about the laconic, provocative way that actors interact with one another that makes my theory make sense. We all know we are interchangeable, unless we have serious ego problems. We relate accordingly.

However it all came about, more people who aren’t actors care about it than people who are. The emoji movie for instance. It will affect how people use emojis. Just a few days ago I referenced Withnail and I, which is a remarkable film about actors that has touched the public imagination. There is much that is accurate, and much that is fanciful. But the story has affected the frame people have for the reality.

Having finished that event I’m glad to have some downtime. I’m”resting” from the event despite my distaste. I’m spent.

Rather than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, Tristan and I have been driving around Wales actively hoping it won’t. At about 6pm both of us visibly relax because our agent hasn’t called to tell us we need to be at Spotlight for 11 the next morning to meet for a beer advert with 700 people who look just like us. We would drop everything and go back for that opportunity should it arrive. But for now we can continue our meandering peregrination through Prydain. Before long we’ll get back to the stone walls of London. But for now it’s trees, grass, wind and cheap pubs.

I’m in Carmarthen now, an old Roman settlement with the remains of the most westerly amphitheatre of the empire just casually hanging out near the city centre. That was entertainment, back then. As a vocational performer it’s a curious thought that a large portion of one of the greatest civilisations in the world preferred watching terrified naked people being torn apart by hungry bears than the old Homeric bards. I like to make “live experience” work, but I’d like to do it without having my spleen hooked out by some starving tormented brute beast. Let’s get on it. I’m going to bed. Too late. Night. No photo today… X

 

Thinking the world

I woke up in North Wales this morning and listened to Anil Seth talking about how the brain hallucinates reality. https://www.ted.com/talks/anil_seth_how_your_brain_hallucinates_your_conscious_reality/up-next

I’m on my phone as usual so can’t link it normally. It’s a strong talk, delivered with assurance. It chimes with a lot of the work I’ve been doing with myself recently regarding patterns in my life, manifestations and boundaries. I’ve been thinking about the power of our own self-perception. How we can think the world better or worse for ourselves. I feel there’s a lot to be considered in that.

Having grown up with vast privilege, and living in a lovely flat that I didn’t earn, I’ve been consciously and unconsciously running masochism on myself for years which I’m trying to derail. I’ve had so much without deserving. I see other people from similar privilege thoughtlessly making value judgements about people who have not. I hate that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that as a result I’ve been unconsciously doing what I can to make things hard for myself. I’ve been self-sabotaging on a monumental scale for upwards of a decade, since my mum died. This habit has culminated in a week of working in constant pain on something I don’t care about miles away from home. My best friend sat down with me and passionately asked me not to do it before I even broke my rib, and I still went ahead with it. And then I had a horrible time. Plus I repeatedly forgot to bring painkillers to my long shifts, got into a power struggle with my manager which ended badly, and generally did everything I possibly could to make things even harder for myself. Looking at it forensically, it’s obvious I was on a mission to make things unpleasant for myself. I even had work that I turned down in London, and clashed with my agent about being away. Coming off the job, I messaged a confidante to tell her I’d done it again, I’d put myself through something I didn’t want to for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Her response was “That’s what you do.” No. It’s not, any more. Now it’s what I used to do.

As I said previously, if the head is sick the body follows. My unpleasant manager – he was insecure and he made the whole place nastier for everyone working there. If insecure people are at the top, insecurity is the benchmark. If cruel people are at the top, cruelty is the benchmark. Same with kind people. And the kind people have to start fighting. We have to fight using the nerves of the insecure and the entitlement of the cruel, but keeping the compassion that we get for free.

So this is a message to myself and all the people who think of themselves as kind out there: Get into the struggle! You have the tools. You deserve as much as the people you think of as entitled. You can prove yourself as much as the people you think of as insecure. Get in and stick in and use compassion. Get yourself to the head, so the body is kinder. Fight your kind corner. Fight hard and honest. Stand up and be counted. Lead. And keep your kindness while leading.

So that’s where I’ve been at today. Driving through Wales, this magical ancient kingdom, thinking about our identity towards ourself, about the potentialv we have to change who we think we are, about the need for a rise of kindness. Look at the leadership examples in plain sight. Over here, it’s someone panicky and insecure ducking questions and arbitrating. Over there, it’s someone cruel and entitled smashing things and normalising ignorance. Things are getting way too unkind. Kindness can lead, and has changed the world before countless times. But the people at the top get to dictate how things are done and their opinions are going to be determined by their proclivities. So let’s get to the top and be fucking lovely people. That’s how we stop this shit.

As I was having all these thoughts I drove out of a small Welsh village in a 40 mile an hour zone. Glancing in my rear view mirror I distinctly recall seeing a traffic cop with a speedgun point at the back of my car and then look at the top of his gun. “Fuck,” I said to Tristan. “I think that guy just got me.” (Obviously I wasn’t driving over the speed limit, I never break the law. I just don’t like being recorded. etc. This blog is a work of fiction.) Tristan said “It’s a scarecrow, you idiot.” I knew it wasn’t. I had seen him. He was male, and slightly overweight. And he definitely moved as I watched him, to look at his reading. I had only perceived him for a second but I had definitely seen all of that. For certain.

We turned round and I drove back round the corner into that village punctiliously observing the speed limit. This is what I saw:

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The brain hallucinates reality. I saw him move. I had an idea of what he looked like. Be kind, play to win on your own terms, and don’t let your own proclivities sabotage your chances of happiness.

Wales

Today I ate lunch on The Great Orme, facing out towards The Isle of Man, 57 miles to Douglas. If I had a speedboat…

The Great Orme. There’s definitely a dragon buried here. It’s a huge hill on a promontory. If you were a Viking you’d use it for navigation, and there were plenty of Vikings running around this area. Orme as a word looks like worm. Worm, for dragon, was in common usage. It fell out of common usage some time after Beowulf, and got clawed back into the language along with so many other archaisms by JRR Tolkein. But clearly the hill contains one of the great Welsh dragons, in deep slumber. Back in the day, one of the great Wyrms crept into a cave here, tired of slaughter, and laid her iceberg sized head down for a long sleep. When she rolls, the earth shakes. One day she will rise from her slumber and send her fire to the pathetic monkeys that have stripped her land and filled the air with poison and the sea with plastic. But for now she sleeps. And we ate our lunch on her.

Picnic from ASDA. Mackerel and French bread and camembert and tomatoes and salami. Cheap as chips and tastier. We sat and looked at the sea mist where The Isle of Man was hiding. As Tristan opened a can of gin, someone said “That’s a very civilised picnic.” Well, we have just been doing fine dining. And it was only a couple of quid.

Unfortunately, with the dragon sleeping below, the seagulls are channeling her boldness. We had an attendant seagull, frogging around and yarking at us. It got a whole half of mackerel and shoved it down in one. Then it was eyeing up our leftover salami.

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Thank God we are larger than birds. They are inevitable, like time. They’d have our eyes as soon as blink if they weren’t base level aware how easily we could break their necks. It knew where all our food was. At one point, with this particular gull, I lured it so close with a piece of salami that I could’ve broken its neck with ease. I gently touched the back of its head and it dropped low and yarked. It didn’t stop it from coming back.

In the evening we met Liam at Theatre Clwyd. I’ve never been before. It is an amazing theatre. A producing house surrounded by sheep and views with one of only 21 full sized paint rooms in the world, a 570 seater main auditorium and a gorgeous extremely customisable studio space. The things that you could make in this big theatre above a little Welsh village so close to Liverpool – it boggles the mind. As Liam said “You can see why we moved house for this job.” He’s Executive Producer here, and as part of our tour told me the extent of his plans and ambitions for the building. It’s already wonderful. He wants to make it more so. I’m sitting with him now, with 2 other lads. Four old friends who still make theatre, talking about life. It’s good to have a few days down. It’s good to see old friends. It doesn’t feel like summer if I don’t see Liam, having worked so many consecutive years for him at Sprite. I’m going to get back to the conversation. Stefan is talking about comparative genocide. How lucky we are to have the luxury for these conversations while other people are caught up in this shit.

Puddleducking

It is done and I am free. Time to stop this crap now. No more. No more. No more. I ran myself into the ground again for something that doesn’t fill me with passion. My habit to always commit myself and to work as hard as possible caused me a great deal of actual physical pain with this rib. I’m an idiot.

Today has been a glorious day. I got up late and escaped from Pontins (god it’s horrible there. All those squat concrete “chalets” louring by the seaside.) I dropped off the team at the station, and then went back for Tristan and we found the best breakfast possible at Remedy in Southport. Tristan had Gin for breakfast. I had one too. Perhaps that was foolish, but at the time I was feeling great, with my morning solpadeine bubbling away inside me. That done, Tristan and I embarked on a seaside funday. We played the penny pushers and the shooty game. We even ventured into a casino and came out with roughly the same amount we went in with, which is essentially a win. We walked down to the end of Southport pier and contemplated the sand flats. Then, following the advice of an old friend of my dad’s, we went for tea on Lords Lane. Afternoon tea.

A lot better than the one we had to rush out to the buffet stands. An Edwardian tea room with ticking clocks and wood paneling. “Mrs Blennerhasset, we want cake, and fine wine.” Cash or cheque only and everything comes out in sterling silver. We felt a little like Withnail and I although there might be a problem determining which of us is Withnail. Either one of us might end up reciting Hamlet to the wolves in the park. Either one of us might get that changing job.

Then we drove into Liverpool and caught The Cavern Club.

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Here we are with Cilla. A guy was refreshing old songs with a good level of call and response, a strong voice and an excellent understanding of how to get his crowd to sing bits of his familiar songs. Considering he was early evening Monday, I respected his competence even if he couldn’t use his own material for whatever reason. It made me think of my old mate John Holt Roberts who busks in York. John was my Marley for my first year on Christmas Carol. His work is electric. He plays with his whole body, and he attacks his guitar. He would be awesome in that venue. But he’s Yorkshire through and through. 

Now I’m in North Wales and the drive almost killed me. Ugh. Massive pain half of the journey, before I stopped and got some experimental cocodamol. Then I realised that I shouldn’t drive on cocodamol. I was driving through a painless fog but with zero reaction speed, for 20 minutes. It was terrifying. But I made it.

Now Tristan and I are staying together with an old mate in Wales. If one or the other of us gets an audition we’ll rush back. But if not we will puddleduck and hang out with old friends. A lovely way to spend a quiet week.

Sunset to dawn

Up with with the dawn but for a different reason. I’m looking after my boy. Darren and I are still sharing a home. I can’t be asleep when he’s up. He has to be on the shuttle at 6 still. He needs support as he wakes. So I set my alarm, and went and jumped on him. I’ve just packed him out the door, and sent him on his way to that difficult room. Now I’ll write this and sleep another half an hour.

When the head is sick, the body follows. My experience in that room compared to a bigger room at Ascot – there’s no comparison. Ascot was hard but enervating. That room is just hard, and cruel. It comes down to the thing I blogged about some months ago. Libertarian vs Authoritarian. I lead in a libertarian manner. I don’t respect authoritarian leaders. And vice versa. You don’t have to switch off your personality to be capable of motivating people. You don’t have to make spot value judgements. These jobs are so short term. It’s foolish in the extreme to get our ego wrapped up in them, particularly at the cost of the happiness of those around us. Yes of course we have to be firm from time to time. But there are many people – and I’m one of them so I know – who do not respond well to being treated like they’re idiots.

I ended up Kitchen Managing a restaurant with plenty of different options. I had been told that the head chef was a difficult bugger, but as far as I was concerned he was Florence Nightingale. My day became all about lemon tarts and Caesar Salads. I got to know Esther, who was working her first ever job. She’s a medical student, and is studying in Russia. She wants to be a GP. I got to know the chefs. I got to know all the runners. There was fellowship, laughter even actual jokes. The head was healthy, the body followed. It’s like another world in there, a kinder world. And kitchen managing came back to me as if it was yesterday. The area manager remembered me from The Trophy Room a few years ago and made a point of saying how thrilled they were to see me back.

The day ended at a reasonable time and we all went to the beach and sat on a dune in time for the sunset. It was beautiful. By the time the guys from my old room had made it to join us, the sun was down. They got to sit with us in darkness and Emily lost her shoes.

Then eventually we went back to Pontins only to run into our tricky manager, winding down in the bar. We had a decent conversation. He asked to shake me by the hand at the end. I like the person buried inside him, but I have no respect for his front so I ended up shaking him by the arm like bad amateur actors do when saying “ah-HA”. I needed to keep my integrity. I’m really glad I held my ground in that regard. He is still in that room, causing damage with his attitude. I’m not going to support that by letting him off.

That’s why I woke up to help Darren get up and out. It’s not a happy place he’s going to, and so it’s only fair his roommate helps him rise and sends him out with positivity. I hope it’s a superb day in there for them. Much as I’d love to be there for my staff, I’m glad to be out. I even have time to hang out on the beach in the evening before the sun sets! Luxury.

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Throwing things away

IMAG1272.jpgThese events are remarkable logistic exercises. It’s a miracle they don’t all burn down. But then at the end of them there’s so much stuff that has nowhere to go. A bunch of guys with forklifts are going to dismantle all the huge restaurants and pack them into a massive truck to take them off to another event. There’ll be nothing left but a field. Everything has to be packed away and so much stuff is chucked because it has nowhere to go. They chuck piles and piles of stuff. Massive tubs of mayo and ketchup and olives and capers and anchovies. Cheese and beans and langoustines, and spirit measures and beer foam knives and great big plastic branded coolers. Bottles and bottles of top quality open red and white wine with amazing provenance. Butter and coffee beans and cling film and programmes and pies and  crisps and smoked salmon and cakes and muffins and milk and sugar. It can’t go to the next event, it can’t be sold to guests. It has to go. We can’t eat it, as the company has to be strict in order to stop things going down a slippery slope. There are things within reason that you can do. I’ll get a hot drink order for my chefs before service starts if I’m kitchen managing. The chefs are usually hungover. If you time the caffeine right, they might get the food out quick. You can usually get hold of bottled water to stop staff collapsing. And sometimes people can bend the rules a little bit. Kitchen etiquette is no eating in the kitchen whatsoever. That makes sense. For instance Turk (Jamie) was fantastically hungover today and probably very hungry while constantly making and handling food. It’d be problematic if he just scarfed the steak off someone’s plate and they had to do another.

All this chucking things out… It’s wearing. You find yourself mourning at the side of the bin as you chuck something you really want to shove in your mouth. But there’s only one of those things and everyone else wants one as well. We had hundreds of lovely branded Stella glasses in different sizes. Word was to recycle them just because there was nowhere to put them. But we had been told that if people wanted to take a few, they could. After my staff were sorted, I regretfully detailed them to “Ostentatiously dispose of the glasses.” As a result, some of them ended up in the back of a St John’s Ambulance – “to be distributed around the Ambulance guys.” I couldn’t approve of that officially but off the record I’m glad they weren’t wasted. Here’s Tim trashing things surrounded by the beginnings of the monumental clear down.

 

So many restaurants across site. So much stuff to be thrown out. It’s been a strange event for me, but it’s over and now I can throw all that shit away with the olives and the langoustine. I’m looking forward to getting back into the world.

Vocations

The dawn is lovely and early at this time of year. I suddenly appreciate the way they fiddle with the days over here in winter and give us all those hours of darkness in the evening. Not that I’m working farmer’s hours – it’s summer. But I’m up pretty darn early most of the time.

My instinct that I shouldn’t have come up here has been compounded, this sharp morning, by the fact that my manager, who I took the time to acquit in advance, has moved me out of his area. It’s an odd business, but I’m sure the fact that I’ve not enjoyed working under him has been part of it. He found out I was an actor this morning and dropped it into conversation on the floor as if he’d discovered that I train kids for the mafia. Perhaps he found my blog. I wouldn’t describe what I’m doing as being discreet here, and the onus of the daily write up is problematic when I’m in gainful employment for people who are, let’s be honest, deeply concerned about public image and portrayal. This is a pretty closed loop, or at least I think of it as such. But people do get hold of it outside of my little pile of friends. I should be aware of that, but then how will it affect the thing that I’ve almost pointedly made my USP here – that I’m honest about the rough as well as the smooth.? Who knows. It’s an important concern for me. Years ago I wrote a blog about a tour I was on where it was brilliantly chaotic. It was in a similar tone to the one I take here when I romp through various catastrophies for your reading pleasure. I’m very happy to be bald about things that are difficult, unpleasant or strange. But it almost got me into trouble when the producer found it. We are friends again now, thankfully, but the blog almost caused problems. My first year at Sprite, Liam the producer was warned that I might put something negative online. He spoke to me about it, and it went straight through me. I think of this as a little thing read by a few pleasant people and I never seek to be negative as it’s not my way. But perhaps it reaches further and does more damage than I think. Hospitality is a dangerous business for someone who speaks his mind. And it’s not my business. I know that more and more clearly as each day passes.

On the same day it appears my photo has found its way into The Stage as an illustration on an article about immersive theatre. So there’s fate reminding me what I should and shouldn’t be doing. It was taken a couple of years ago near the Bank of England. The convergence of these two events rings loudly to me, being “moved” and that photo coming out. When I say “moved” it’s because the decision was made late in the evening and thankfully the people around me are fond enough of me to appreciate I’m in Southport now, that I came here to make money, and that it’s a reasonably arbitrary decision. They’re pretty sure they’ll find something for me elsewhere on site, which is a kindness.

But this is it for hospitality. There’s the universe showing me eating in a black suit as an actor as part of a game. That’s got to be closer to whoever I seek to be than watching other people eat, in the same black suit, while they enjoy a very different sort of game.

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I struggled to write this, because these kind of things make one feel compromised. I’m a mixture of upset, annoyed and resigned, and I’m heading in now to see what’s what. But yeah. I should be acting. That’s a very clear message from the universe.