VR and old schools

I went back to my old school today to see an old friend who used to teach me. It’s term time at the moment. I walked up the hill and past lots of awkward pasty looking young men standing very upright to balance those bloody expensive straw boaters we all had to wear. People used to steal mine all the time, and various arsehole teachers would punish you so severely for not having one that my poor parents would’ve taken out hat-insurance if such a thing existed. With my full forward open positive optimism I never expected it to get nicked again and again, and then it did. I still haven’t really learnt that some people are just dicks. I partly think they were doing it on purpose.

The word “school” conjures a very different image in my mind than it does for most people. There were 750 boys there when I arrived (and rather strangely one girl, Jessica). The school is on top of a Hill overlooking the panorama of the urban sprawl. The view is stunning. The architecture is ancient and beautiful. In the Christmas Carol script, Marley takes Scrooge back to school. He opens the magic with “The school was a mansion of dull red brick, with a little weathercock mounted on the cupola.” It’s a bastardisation of the Dickens. But it might as well be a description of my old school building. What a lucky bugger I was. Scrooge was always there in my imagination, reading Ali Baba in what they called the fourth form room. I hated the place and so did Scrooge. I was driven past it today on the way home and snatched a photo.

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Martin wanted to talk to me about Macbeth. I think he also wanted to introduce me to his friend because she’s in my industry. She was the Jessica equivalent a few years after I left the place. Strange to be the only girl at a place like that, I imagine. She seems to have come out of it reasonably intact.

She’s making VR, which is a fascinating if strange medium. With the goggles on, your brain starts to believe it’s happening to you. People have died of fright. Who knows, it might end up responsible for the end of procreation when everyone starts living virtually like the fucking matrix. I’m curious about it. You can do a lot with it and it feels like a medium I’d prefer to generate than to consume. And people like her are starting to push the form, which is always when I get excited.

The three of us sat in a cafe and geeked out about theatre, Shakespeare, audience response, technology and storytelling. I thought I was going to talk with Martin one on one about approaching Macbeth as a performance text. But that was derailed. The conversation went all over the place. At one point talking about sex robots in Barcelona, then a moment later Roman Catholicism, then ethics. “If someone slashes your bionic arm, is that GBH or property damage?” Martin fed us remarkable amounts of pizza, which we didn’t do well at eating, and wrote down all sorts of things we said. I have no idea what, if anything, we said that might be useful for his purposes. Still it’s always a delight to hang out with him, and his friend was excellent company and an interesting artist. Plus it’s the first time for a bit I haven’t felt rushed so I felt my shoulders drop. I’ve sat down so little recently that I discovered two long screws from Monday in my back pocket. I left them on the table prompting Martin to take the “he’s a couple of screws loose” shot. There’s some truth in that.


Year One – The calm before the storm

Odd jobs, health and safety and pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

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Year One – Headshots and Mirrors