Building into the fantabulous Pantechnicon!

Up to Harrow in the morning to unload the van. Then straight back into town and to Gatsby in order to start building the van show. Empty at last.

If I park outside Gatsby I can run a cable into the van and get some light to work by. That’s not possible at home where I live on the top floor. And the daylight goes so early. But it’s £11.50 daily for congestion charge.

This work reminds me of the Christmas Carol get in, but with fewer tools. Today I’ve been attaching fabric to the wooden frame in the van. That’s the prime advantage of borrowing a van that’s already been used for a show. There’s a wooden frame. Golfo made it. It’s a Godsend. We can tack material to the van interior and we can change the atmosphere. We’re hoping that we can get some reasonable lighting in there too but I’m no expert on that. I’m either going to have to wing it or get some help. And help might be wise because I’d forgotten some important potential concerns.

I just looked over last year’s blog, to discover that I was building into the same festival last year as well. Admittedly it was a much bigger space and for a much bigger audience. Nevertheless I’m remembering what an absolute donut all the health and safety was for the get-in. There’s a guy whose job it is to be as obstructive as he can be. “You can’t close the willow tunnel at the top, it’ll make people claustrophobic.” “You have to drill into the floor to support this supported banister more in case seven people simultaneously fall onto it.” I have no doubt he’ll be all over everything in our van. I’d forgotten about him until just now. Biscuit! Still, we’ll do what we can. We’ll probably end up having to ditch the van and do the show on a picnic blanket that’s been drilled two miles into the ground for stability and is weighted down as a further precaution, is hypo-allergenic with an expensive certificate to prove it, and is sprayed every five minutes with flameproofing by a qualified fireman who has slept more than 7 hours the night before.

In a break today I fell into a conversation with an old friend who runs a theatre space. “We’ve had to spend all our spare time filling in pointless forms and signing on the dotted line. The one thing we haven’t had time to do is work on the show. It’s more important to work out how likely it is for someone to bang their head on a scale of one to ten and write it down. It’s crazy.” “Yeah. Why can’t we just make theatre. Until somebody dies…”

But It means that the admin brains are the ones getting most of the work finished, especially as they are likely to be able to successfully comprehend grant applications, which form another arcane and terrible language understood by few, mastered by fewer. I’m curious to learn. Mel, my creative partner, has done the bulk of the work after I keep looking at the first question on some of these egregious forms and just hearing white noise. But this is at least a start for me. Maybe in a year I’ll think them less egregious. Maybe in two years I’ll do them without thought.

It’ll be worth it when it’s made. Joy will abound. Fun for all! I’m looking forward to getting stuck in now… Tickets might go on sale tomorrow. Imagine! A whole week before we open! Aaargh. Biscuit.




January 2017 – Arriving in Venice LA, still wondering how I got there.

January 2018 – Where I was building in a show for the Vaults Festival!

Disaster Party

This evening, in a library in Canada Water, I made a tough decision in a feather boa and long blue opera gloves having just finished singing “My Way”. There was a young dancer who I thought of in the light of a protégé. I wanted her future to be safe…

This is the second time this month that I’ve dressed as a woman, and the second time this month that the woman has been a singer. It hasn’t been my choice on either occasion. Strange coincidence, or past life rearing up to bite me? The first time was in Milan, where I was a murderous French opera singer. This time I was a little less glamorous – I was Carl, a computer programmer who moonlights as a female musical entertainer, and usually passes. My set, I discover, involves singing Tina Turner, but my character is terrified that people will catch on that I’m lip syncing.

It’s a show called Disaster Party. You have a headset, a character and a costume. These are allocated to you when you get there. There were, I think 14 of us. Some were actors, some directors, some critics and some members of the public. We had booked the show through The Albany, Deptford. After I booked they asked me what I wanted to eat, from a chip shop menu. I ordered cod and chips. Free dinner! Or free theatre! Certainly for a tenner it’s one or the other. Although I guess it’s the audience that does the acting so on one level it’s me working for free.

Everyone has a different track playing through their headset. It gives instructions, and you have conversations where you hear your side of them and then say them out loud to someone else, who does the same back. It puts you in a strange headspace, half listening to the voices in your head and half trying to communicate with someone else’s words. It’s like a holiday inside someone else. I’m not sure I’d choose to go on holiday inside my character, but that’s where I was put.

There’s a willingness involved in all this. If an audience member really won’t participate then it could be troublesome. I remember one guy at Carol three years ago with folded arms. “Oh don’t talk to me, don’t involve me, I’m a critic I’m just here to observe.” He eventually got brought in but he was uncomfortable being shifted from his identity as the guy that just watches. Carol ain’t a show to be observed. Nor is this. But it was heartening to see people who were clearly shy of public speaking delivering these often provocative and bizarre scenes and sometimes getting lost in them. Many people were playing the opposite gender to the one they present daily. I was playing an excellent female impersonator in just a boa, earrings and gloves. All of this just added to the fun. It was like a kid’s party, where we all play dress up and then play a silly game. Although the game doesn’t stay silly. The game gets grown up. Which just adds to it.

FanSHEN keep making challenging and thoughtful shows for small audiences – shows that leave you thinking. It was fascinating to see this form working and to be part of it. Making a show that’s dependent on technology and willingness is a bold move, and tonight it went off with style.

Plus when I arrived, they offered me a free glass of wine. After all, it’s a Disaster Party. Here’s my library-wine. I’ll leave it up to you to guess if I drank it or not.