Sunday, 27 August 2017

20.17 Blog #28: Pay-30p-if-you-decide

Doing PBH Free Fringe gives you thick skin. People can pay-what-they-decide, I've had, like many chums on the FF will have had, people walk past and not give me a penny for 60 minutes. As someone who struggles to value their art (and their very existence) this can seem like a sadistic pastime. One chap gave me 30p, I almost prefer the non-payers as at least they refuse to engage with the choice of a value.

So far I've averaged £2 per person. But this is the very core of DIY: Disseminating power to individuals rather than enforcing a structure. The choice, and power, lies with the individual audience member.

It's hard to not impose a narrative on your audiences. It's easier to assume their bored than unable to pay.

It's easier to assume you've given them a shit time than they misunderstand the value of your work.

It's easier to assume they have judged your work as poor quality than the simple fact by 21.50 they have run our of money.

And yet, standing with a bucket post-show is a tool and we still need to gauge, as well as engage, our audiences. So, like Jorah Mormont (for a fruitlessly unnecessary amount of time) I must grow thick skin, see people value me and not afford very much.

Analyse, dissect and, yes, assume to better my craft, and rationally therefore my value, as the two are linked in the cold hard context of show + bucket + monetary value + lack of eye contact.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

20.17 Blog #27: Our Mutual Friend and Our Mutual World-Building

My favourite author, Franz Kafka, had a great affinity for the work of Charles Dickins.  You can see in his work the attempt to employ Dickins’ style:  Larger-than-life characters, exploring the workings of a city through a protagonist and ‘world-building’.  Especially in books like The Castle and America.
I made the comparison because in 2016 I adapted Kafka's The Castle for Hull Truck Youth Theatre, and this week had the great privilege of seeing their version of Dickins’ Our Mutual Friend by Bryony Lavery.  I used the term ‘world-building’, a phrase which probably needs unpacking by more literary scholarly people elsewhere, but in the context of theatre, Kafka and Dickins are excellent tools to ‘build worlds’.  In Youth Theatre, it’s practically essential you build the world around the characters.

In a Youth Theatre show, you often have a vast array of young people.  The Dumb Waiter or Abigail’s Party or Art certainly exist within a world, but it’s a small world of a handful of actors in a single room.  But Youth Theatre can boast much larger casts, and can use this to their advantage to build societies, scenes, locations and, essentially, a whole world.  The river dwellings, the dust mounds, the High Society toffs, the pubs and the water itself all become locations full of movement and character.  There’s never a dull moment, and the world constantly whirls from place to place with effective pace.  There’s a core cast of characters who present the inhabitants of this world with vigour, all scrabbling and searching for better lives in this grey Victorian land.  Meanwhile the chorus of Mutual Friends shape the world around them: building, exploring and expanding.  It is testament to director Tom Bellerby’s experience with this group, able to mould them into a flawless tight, whirling ensemble.

The end result is an effective telling of what could be a complex story.  It never gets too bogged down in each individual moment, but finds the overarching themes.  Plots, subplots and sub-sub-plots are all marvellously packaged by a tight ensemble.  I could smell the filthy river, the pampered Houses, the stale taxidermy shop.  This is a great success on the part of the creative team as well, the eerie and ever-moving crooked wooden set providing a suitable platform for the cast, not to mention the chilling, ever-present musical score.  Lavery's script is fast-paced, but takes time to tell a few good character-driven joeks before rattling off into another part of London.

In The Castle, I tried to conjure a cold, desolate village of inhospitable pubs, quiet secretive streets and the brooding presence of the Castle itself.  The ensemble of Hull Truck built this world marvellously, but allowed room for perversely flamboyant characters.  It is here that Youth Theatre can really achieve what a ‘professional’ cast of adults cannot. 

I also saw another Youth Theatre show last month.  In The Blue Road by Laura Lomas, recent commission for Derby Theatre, Dundee Rep and the Royal & Derngate, the cast portray a post-apocalyptic world.  Tensions are high, danger lurks and food is scarce.  But what helps define the dystopian world is the backing chorus, their poetic musing on the past, on the present, on hoe, opens up this world beyond the handful of teenagers discussing their options to a larger tale about human struggle.

As someone who visits, and runs, a number of nights where performances are tied to a single mic and a single performer, it is a pleasure to see shows which take me beyond into a huge, sprawling world and navigate the characters within.

Monday, 14 August 2017

20.17 Blog #26: How To Learn Your Poems (ish)

Ah, Edinburgh Fringe.  So close, yet so far.  6 days until my show opens, and here I am.  Furiously learning new poems.  Nothing ever changes, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I have probably annoyed my housemates (and neighbours) in jabbering around the front room, paper strewn around like litter, trying to get those words off the page, onto my head and onto my tongue.

Nevertheless I thought I’d take a break from pouring over poems to just give some quick thoughts on Learning Poems.

Normally my advice for people learning poems is, unfortunately you just learn them.

But here’s some handy tips in that process.

1.  Stand up.  Wander around.  Move your feet.  For me, it gets the blood moving, gets a little bit of a beat.  You find the highs and lows of the poem, where the energy hits certain beats.  I’m a fidgety person, and I like to use that habit in learning by getting moving.

2.  Break down the poem into sections.  This helps if you have verses, or a repeated line.  Find the checkpoints, where you need to get to, where you’ve come from.

3.  Keep having a go at it without the page.  Don’t glue yourself to it.  If you’re getting it wrong, check rather than constantly stare at the infuriating page.

4.  Intense bursts.  Go over and over it, but then take a good breather. Let it sink in, let it cement.  Go make some food, read a book/magazine.  Have a dance.  Write a blogpost.

5.  Don’t panic.  If all else fails, turn the page into a prop.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

20.17 Blog #25: EdFringe Predictions

The reviews and Fringe Firsts are coming in thick and fast, with the first wave of shows finishing as we head towards the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Except not for me, as work calls to me in other sphere (rent needs payin’, patches need purchasin’).
But, as you’re well aware, I am psychic.  So here’s a list of show which I haven’t actually seen (yet) but can predict their going to be high quality and well worth giving your attention:

Above The Mealy-mouthed Sea:  Unholy Mess, 2-3pm, Underbelly

Instructions For Border Crossing:  ARC & Dan Bye, 4.40-5.55, Northern Stage @ Summerhall

Cosmic Scallies:  Graeae, 6.30-7.50, Northern Stage @ Summerhall

Confabulation:  Eamonn Fleming and LittleMighty, 1.40-2.40, Pleasance Courtyard

A Machine They’re Secretly Building:  Proto-Type, 2.40-3.40, Summerhall

JOAN:  Milk Presents, 7.20-8.20, Underbelly

There’s also a TONNE of amazing work with the PBH Free Fringe, too many to list.  So instead, grab a Blue Book and just indulge!  As long as you drop some money in the bucket at the end.

I’m up with NERD PUNKS 3-D 20-27th August at the Banshee Labyrinth.  9.50-10.50 with a special guest each night.

Henry Raby (Nerd Punk Poet) returns for a cataclysmic, world-shattering, word-splattering apocalypse.  Where we’re going, we don’t need bros.  Zombie hordes, arcane prophecies, robot uprisings, doppelgangers, plummeting comets, planet-hopping, dimensional rifts and time travel.  Time to save humanity, all in stunning 3-D.