Graffiti Tunnel crowd

There I was thinking I’d get in early with the van and get set up so I could watch some theatre. No chance.

The entrance to Leake Street has 23 cars including some supercars parked in it for a photoshoot. How the hell did they all fit?

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Then there’s taggers all the way down to where I need to get the van, squirting away in their obligatory Banksy hoodies. In my parking spot, some guy has just started spraying. “We’ll need to be here from six with a big van. Is that going to be a problem?” I ask the guy. He cogitates. “Yeah, mmmm should be near that time I’m finished maybe.” That means no.

It’s just gone three. It was the same yesterday. Once again I wish we could just pallet wrap the van and leave it in situ. I’m going to be sitting in it all day watching people in gas masks stamp their identity on damp walls, gradually rolling the van forwards if and when it becomes possible. Strongarming the situation will almost certainly result in someone squirting paint on the side when I’m not paying attention. Once I’m satisfied I’ve left it safely somewhere, I’ll have to run home to get the mugs for the second time this week. I’m not going to be able to see Melissa’s play, Holly’s play, Casey’s play. It’s disappointing. I’ve been involved in this festival a week now and I haven’t witnessed anybody’s work. Some of my friends finish today.

This graffiti tunnel is a place where they make art that’s even more ephemeral and pointless than a lot of the stuff we make. I had no idea the turnaround would be so extremely quick on graffiti here. The whole tunnel changes utterly on a daily basis. People spend all day making an elaborate tag and the next morning it’s covered up and repainted by someone else and so it goes on and on and on. The artists all seem quite fun, in a rough-geek way. They always mime spraying my van as I drive it past, and look to me to see if I’m laughing or scowling. Here, in this sanctioned and regulated official subversion area, these lads who work as telemarketers and clerks and bank tellers put on a hoodie and enjoy it when people mistake them for threatening people. Admittedly some of them have dropped through the bottom. Today there’s a guy sprawled on the floor of the tunnel. He’s had acid I think, and it’s not sitting well with him. He has skittles scattered around his feet that he’s long past being capable of juggling, plus plenty of beer cans and rage. He hates everybody. It’s important we know it. Occasionally one of the guys in hoodies takes off their gas mask and tries to ground him. But he’s too high right now. He’s into vitriol. I get a good load directed at my back, and rarely for a situation like that, I choose not to look him in the eye and talk him down. I don’t want to raise his awareness of me as an individual in case he fixates on my van and starts rolling in during shows to tell everyone how much he hates them. I imagine he’ll be asleep by 7 though, or off wandering again.

Cats and audience

Well then. The Pantechnicon opens tomorrow. Bring your name. If you are a supplicant, bring a laurel branch. If you’re afraid of snakes to the extent that you’ll fly off the handle, don’t be a supplicant. If you’re afraid of me so much that you’ll fly off the handle come anyway. I can handle it. First few days are just going to be scratching the material we’ve got and making sense of what flies and what doesn’t within the frame of what we are making.

Mel and I collaborate so well together despite the fact that we can fight like cats. It’s an odd pairing but it works. We both generate sheds worth of raw idea soup. But then we look at all the ideas we have and add more. Occasionally we pick one up and refine it but then as often as not we abandon it for a shiny new one and forget it ever existed. But today we have been forging order from chaos. Now we can bring paying people into the mix and notice how things work outside of our very different slightly bonkers minds. I suspect it’s going to be lovely.

I just picked up a robust and beautiful set of stairs up from New Cross, so now we have an entrance that the audience can use. I have to go home and write some material now, just to thicken the idea soup and make sure the flavours all blend together nicely. But right now I’m sitting in a pub with a Heineken 0, getting this blog down.

I have no house keys. I didn’t think this through. My friend Emma arrived today with her cat in a bag, five minutes after I was supposed to leave for work. Her house is being fumigated. She works at The Lister Hospital which is right round the corner. We locked her cat in my room and went to work. I gave her my keys. It’s now past ten in the evening and she’s walking here having only just finished.

I gave the other set of keys to my nephew Campbell. He’s brilliant. He’s partly responsible for a Shelley poem having made its way into the idea soup. He also is extremely good at switching all the lights off, which is a mixed blessing. I have no idea what I’m going to get home to. Two cats in a pitch black flat with nothing but a locked door between them…

We didn’t have time in the morning to introduce them and supervise it. If Pickle goes for boy, her claws are like razors right now. If Boy goes for Pickle, he is twice her size, although lacking in testicles. They might end up the best of friends… Or they might have been yowling through the door at each other all day and spraying on everything they could possibly spray on. They might have trashed the place running around in crazy circles in the dark.

But this sort of thing is just speculation. Likely everything will be fine. But it’s the nature of what we have had to do all day in the van. “What if an audience member is terrified of snakes and smashes everything trying to get away?”

I’ll let you know when I get home about the cats. I reckon everything will be fine. And if it is then maybe I can let myself off the hook worrying about the show, because it’s the same thought pattern.

Here I am in a fabric shop with snow outside. We got some shiny material, and some Chinese ink. But cripes it’s cold.

(The cats didn’t kill each other. Yet.)

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LAST TWO YEARS

Digging Cars. I just read that a year after it happened. Proof that time is a healer. It’s funny now. I almost died of a heart attack.

Toscars Selection.

Black Octopus

This dark time of year can get into our hearts. Even if we are up with the light, as I have been, the cold squeezes our bodies and stealthily tires us out. Our muscles are constantly tensed against it. Also we make ourselves smaller to keep ourselves warmer. Our breath shrinks into us and we shrink with it. In this hemisphere we should be cocooned into little warm hideyholes for the whole season, waiting for nature to come back and shake us awake. We shouldn’t fannying around with a freezing cold van on the weekend. But, moan about it all I want, it’s fun. If it wasn’t so bloody damn damn bloody cold I’d be having a whale of a time. As is, just remembering to breathe fully is a full time job.

I’ve had the Black Octopus for the last few days. The weird many legged clever squashy sense that … everything is just slightly off kilter. Dread, and a bit of sadness. It’s hard to shake it once it gets its tentacles into your ventricles. I keep on just stopping, sighing deeply and moving on without really knowing why I’m sad. But that’s the nature of the octopus. It just comes and perches on your head. For its own reasons. Sometimes I find myself thinking of exchanges that took place decades ago forgotten by all involved except for me, pulled out of my ear by one of those sucking appendages. Other times today I’ve gone back on the groove of missed opportunities. What might have been. Then I remember my walk in the autumn and how all of that stuff fell into sharp relief. What does any of that matter? I’ve wrestled that leggy twat long enough that it won’t get its beak into me this time. But it wasted some of my time today camouflaging itself.

I went to try and work in the van, realised I’d left the cable runner at Gatsby last night in an almost heroically deliberate unconscious act of self-sabotage. Well done that octopus. No power would’ve meant another freezing day. No. Not three in a row.

But rather than stagnate, a change of plan: Mel went to the warehouse to get the cable, I took the van for a wash. We couldn’t stick things on it and expect them to hold as it was. The whole thing was grimed in crap. I wasn’t washing it myself in this weather. I paid someone even more damn money, and then spent some on a hot coffee and sat there reading my book while they worked. Perfect opportunity to get something done that needed doing. You couldn’t touch it without grease.

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Now I’m at Mel’s. I put myself to bed early because there are covers and it’s warm. We’ve been clarifying ideas and running scenarios. It’s a simple thing we’re making really, and it’s important to remember why we’re making it. Despite a million complicated forms we had to fill in, in the end we are just making a pleasant moment for people. It’s not even acting. It’s just responding. It’s just a thing. I’m just getting chased by my own darkness a little bit. I think I can feel the suckers popping off now though. I’ll make polpetto nero of the bastard like they do in Astorga. Omnomnom.

LAST TWO YEARS

Women’s March vs Trump in Los Angeles

Old School and VR

Running Cables

Today was the last day building outside the warehouse in Borough. The problem with using Gatsby is that we are beholden to them in terms of arrival time. I have to be there at 8am to fend off the trafficbastards, but they don’t really have to be there until 4 and they hold the keys to the inner space. And they weren’t coming in. No money is changing hands, you see. We’re there on sufferance. It’s a favour, and we can’t expect them to change their patterns for us, much as we wished we could today.

I had to reschedule my friend the carpenter when it became clear nobody was going to let us in. Now I’m worried we won’t get stairs made in time for people to get into the van which will mean fun with stepladders. Hopefully it’ll work out. But oh dear God it was a cold morning, until with the artifice of desperation we found a way to get a wire to a plug socket. We ran a cable through a hole in a window cage, then into the building through a gap in the window where the long dead ventilator should be, then through a working loo, up four flights of stairs in a working office building, and boom! Into the socket that the cleaner uses for their Hoover. Just as well I know the code to the outer door and that the loo was unlocked today. I got power to the van just in time for my friend Suzanne to arrive clutching an oil heater to lend us. Bliss. Finally.

The good news is, it takes very little time to heat up. Two hours later we are in a warm van, but complet exhausted from cold, attempting to string sentences together while instead getting fractious because we are both just shattered by shivering. But nobody tripped on the wire and died. That’s a win. And Holly came and got some photos taken of us in weird masks and stuff. So now we have images. And then finally, 8 hours into the day, Gatsby opened their space. We disconsolately shuffled in, returned some stuff, painted a couple of chalk boards, and stopped trying to pretend to be real humans because it was far too much effort. Mel left. I sat in the van and waited for the congestion charge to end, and then drove off too, causing controlled carnage in the back of the van. Barely caring.

The last thing in the world I felt like after that rancid day of ice and disappointment was an ecstatic dance class. I drove the van home full of emotions, mostly sad and weird and unvalued and low and heavy. I shuffled up into my flat, grabbed my tracksuit bottoms, and walked back out before my brain could stop me. I got on the tube, went to Camden, and danced like a maniac for 2 hours despite really really not wanting to do anything of the sort.

It sort of helped, sort of didn’t. I still feel sad but I don’t feel so tense anymore, or so cold. It’s a good workout and I was in excellent company. I think it’ll set me up better for the weekend, which will involve more cold vans but self determined now instead of in somebody else’s space. I’ll probably have to run cable down three floors through a window, but at least I’m expecting that going in.

And when I got home Brian had run me a bath. I’m in it now restoring heat to my bone marrow.

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LAST TWO YEARS

Trump is inaugurated and it rains in California

I get annoyed about Health and Safety but Melissa buys pizza

 

Finding Neverland

I’m off to Neverland. It’s in The Forge at Vault Festival. It’s the show that I didn’t cut my arms off helping to build. I’m really looking forward to it. The writer, the designer the composer the Brian and the Al Barclay, plus about loads of other people – we all read the script out loud in an abandoned open plan office board room in Liverpool Street two months ago. Now a bunch of people are going to cram into an underground tunnel and – hopefully – we are all going to be transported to Neverland. Maybe even literally. I’m putting my play hat firmly on. No worky. This is for funz. I’m told that, in this week of previews, the most helpful thing I can do is be a willing audience member while the cast recalibrate in the unfamiliar space. If someone says “come over here” and I’m not sure it means me, I will behave as if I’m sure it does mean me and show willing. I’m planning on having a brilliant time, even if that fucking rubberchip catches fire and the mezzanine collapses.

I’m writing this now because I have an inkling my coherence will have suffered a blow by the time I’m close to bed. Brian sorted 4 tickets because of my hapless few days of learning new tools as a “helper” at the get-in: “A glue gun?! Wow! That’s amazing. How does it work?”.

Robin, Avril the VR director I met the other day, a friend of hers who I’m hoping won’t be stiff as a plank, and yours truly. All going to Neverland. Brian’s proviso was “yeah I can sort tickets, but you have to get the drinks.” Thankfully Imperial College paid me 100 quid. I was expecting a bit more, but it looks like I’ll have to wait another month for that. Buggers.


All done. What a kind strange night. Some lovely people did some lovely things. I had a beautiful journey through the show. It hatched some old wounds around loss and identity. I found myself mourning the death of my mother. Shortly thereafter Hook made me write a childhood memory and then destroy it. The memory involved mum. I got to thinking about where I am now versus where I was/where I’d like to be. I miss her, that vast force that called itself my mother. With her ungodly early departure, it’s hard to have perspective. The show is about lost mothers, and it’s made by people I adore. I loved it but I cried a lot. Because it’s human, and honestly delivered. Also it’s a piece of work that is connected to the joyful sunny summers we spent in Yorkshire, making Shakespeare with Sprite. God they were happy times. And this is a happy piece of “yes”motivated work. It will only deepen with time. Neverland. At Vault Festival. If you’ve got a face, use it to watch that show. But only so long as the face is attached to a heart… Look for beauty and you’ll find it there. That’s an order.

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

Every new beginning comes with some other beginning’s end

Yesterday I was all buoyed up by the thought of new beginnings. But we forget that wrapped up in new beginnings there are endings. This morning I had to go to my old agent. I thought about dressing up smart but decided it would be better if I was a bit scruff, so I came in my work clothes for the set building. She was pleased to see me – big smile – introducing me to all her new staff members, asking if I wanted coffee. I remembered as I sat down how fond I was of her. Then I immediately broke up with her and saw her face harden as she agreed. She’s brilliant, particularly for musical theatre, but it hadn’t been working for either of us. 1 year. 1 meeting. 1 recall. 0 jobs. Still, when you make an end like that you snip off the head of dreams. You kill potential.

Then I had to make an even harder cut. They say the first cut is the deepest but baby I’m not sure. My beautiful old friend who held my hand when I was ten and who has held it again hard this year, ran alongside me, and shown nothing but patience support and love – She’s my manager. In America many actors have an agent AND a manager, but my new agent comes with a team and therefore to keep hold of Iona for work in this country would be a conflict of interest as far as the new move is concerned. And I’m thoroughly excited about this move. I’m bad at breakups though. I have to remind myself of how this all started.

Unbeknownst to me, catalysed by excellent professional friends who seek nothing but the best for me, wheels were turning in the background. The first I heard about it was about three weeks ago when I was forwarded an email chain. I was in Euston Station, underground. I had been recommended, researched, and pronounced “interesting” by this established agent – all without my knowledge. Turns out she’d spoken to my old friend (and one time teacher) who described me as “a young Michael Hordern”. I passed that one to Tristan who immediately slapped his forehead and said “Fuck, yes, why didn’t I think of that?” I’ll take it. He did complicated intelligent people with clarity and truth, and he was a legend.

Then she randomly contacted a director friend of mine who I have a great deal of time for and who’s making waves in the industry. She also spoke well of me – (with the (entirely accurate) proviso that I say “yes” to stuff I probably shouldn’t.) This agent did her research, and the people she spoke to were all lovely. So, in Euston Station, on the Northern Line platform, I got the email chain. It came as a complete shock. Yet a lightning-bolt validation of all the years I’ve spent working hard, being kind, nurturing professional friendships, growing. I was floored. I collapsed into a bench and wept with complicated bitter joy. The trains came and went. I was there for a while. I’ve been clinging to the underside of the slippythrough net for years. Someone just threw me a rope. Fuck I’m blessed by my friendships…

Despite all this poncy emotional actor shit, as soon as I was done with saying farewell to my lovely ex-agent I went to a dusty underground lair and shovelled hideous zombie rubberchip for hours.

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Then, sweating muck, I built a tunnel with a carpenter, did a load of stuff with ladders, deconstructed and reconstructed a bar, hit some stuff with hammers, sweated, laughed, sweated more and learnt how to use a circular saw. Now I’m home, feeling conflicted, and running myself a bath to wash away the badness. As Lucy observed, I say “yes” too much. That’s primarily because I hate saying “no.” “No” kills potential. But “yes” kills time.


Year One Day 3 – How to cross town for cheap