Follow by Email

Friday, 27 May 2011

Final Week of Playing...

I’ve got a little over a week to play around with the text of The Natural History of Trolls – a little under two weeks of space work.  I’m about to decide how large a space I’m going to work with – probably about 6 foot square.  That is a nice size for one man to bustle in and will fit in most fringe theatre spaces.  It can always be enlarged but that will be the minimum size. 
The physicality of the text has been brought to my attention this last weekend.  For the first time in years I did the full Teaching Gods set – Fantasy Terrorist League, TG and the Alternative Seagull.  FTL is a static piece.  I am rooted to the spot, totally immobile from the waist down.  It focuses the mind and the viewer on the minutiae of performing.  Tiny details, movements, gestures are made huge by the static nature of the blocking.  TG is completely different.  Though a thoroughly controlled piece, blocked to within a gesture of its life, it is expansive, vast, performed for the joy of the audience.  Laughter is encouraged, connection employed – it’s a sit back and watch the fireworks kind of piece. 
And that is the template for The Natural History of Trolls.  I want the piece to be fun, for the fun to be infectious – I want it to be a joy for me to entertain you.  This will contrast well with the prologue and interlude stories (performed by the new members of the company, see below) which are more FTL in nature.  Contained, unmoving from the waist down, focusing in upon the face, the gestures, the shoulders up acting - a much harder task to pull off.
Hence the online audition approach for the show in July.  We were supposed to close the auditions this weekend and we had some lovely auditionees.  (I must say I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t get any spoof / obscene video submissions – but we can’t have it all).  Sadly however we just didn’t get enough auditionees – some of my notices in the actorly press didn’t go to the right places apparently, so a lot of people didn’t know.  So, we’re trying again over the next couple of weeks – want to give it a go?  Details in the Auditions blog - or just send me an email on
In fact, since I wrote the above in draft mode this second round of auditions has been much more successful in bringing in applications.  The first set was steady,  but quiet.  This time I'm drowning in CV's - and that tends to make me uncomfortable.  Let me not really explain why in anecdote form.
Once Upon A Time I was living with random people in a slightly grubby house in Southgate.  The random people decided to go out and rent a couple of videos (that dates things) for the evening.  They went out to buy something light and fun.  They returned with Cannibal Holocaust and Audition.  Not a pair of movies to watch while eating dinner - especially over a cheese board.  And in Audition, the audition panel don't come out of the film well.  I'd like to keep my feet.
But seriously, what I hate about auditioning is the photos.  I hate photos.  They make you judge people.  Even when you request not to get any you still do, and then my brain starts judging people, even when I tell it not to.  Photos never really look like the people who come through the door, they don't tell you anything useful that cannot be gleaned from the CV and they don't walk, talk or take direction.  Photos often lie.  Hate them. 
Especially as, with storytelling, it doesn't matter what you look like, you just need to be a brilliant performer.  So that's what I'm looking for - really brilliant people.  Everything else is propaganda.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Brain goo

I'm a great believer in multi-tasking - not in the external world - in the mind.  I've got four or five projects on the boil at the moment, bubbling away in my brain.  I will have to set aside time for each - specific time to make them happen - but they all live happily enough up there.  I trust that my brain (my brain and my gut - which is part of the brain) will sort out how these projects will look.  I have two more Storyteller shows scheduled for October and November this year - but I'm not doing much on them bar nudging myself occasionally to think about them.  They're shaping up well.  Haven't written a word yet, but they're coming on well.  As is the fourth draft of Trolls, the edit of the second Mystery play and the production design for a show in the summer.  I know that when I come to schedule my sitting down to work these projects out in the real world the hard work is already done.  I just need to copy the brain goo up.  It will change in the process, naturally.  It's a bit messy up their, not wholey focused, but ready enough to start.
That's why I know that in a months time I'm going to write a play.  Not a story / monologue / one person thing, an honest to god play with people talking to each other.  I started it a while ago, left it, and now my brain is saying "WRITE ME SOON!  Not now - but soon - about a month - and heaven help you if you don't - for it you don't the play WILL DIE!"  Plays do that.  They die.  I've one or two assorted foetus's lying in drawers at home.  There's nothing to be done up with them, bar chopping out any vital organs (good lines / jokes etc) that can be reused elsewhere.  And that is enough of that simile - getting a bit morbid.
This is as close as I get to talking about the artistic muse.  If forced I can sit down and write a play anytime - but it is deeply inefficient and unsatisfactory.  There is a good chance you will come out with rubbish.  However, give me notice, give me time to figure out what the play will be like and when I sit down to write it it will be much easier, better and successful.
Except when it isn't.  Sometimes plays just die anyway, sodding things.  It all starts so well, you get so far and... oh... where did you go?  Another one gone.  NEXT!
Must dash now to run Teaching Gods again ready for the one off on Sunday.  Why do I spend so much time and energy for one night stands?  Insert punchline here.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Rehearsal Phase

I've been a little distracted from Trolls these last few weeks - partly because I'm directing / rehearsing a few too many other projects and partly because I was deliberately stepping back a bit (see last blog).
But now the rewrites and changes are all chiming fairly well.  Whereas before I was dragging myself through rehearsals/writes with some depression, feeling that though the story functioned it didn't work, now it is full of potential.  What has changed to unleash the potential?  Well, to be frank... orange penguins.  By picking up an aside and running with it the story now has room to grow in the rehearsal room.  I have a text I can perform, rather than a text I can say.  I can now try and decide the best way to physicalise a giant orange penguin named Bernard - and the reactions of the people around him.  Though the story is serious, in many ways, there is now an element of fun - of play.  I have cast off the gloom.

Before I write about how I'm working on this story at the moment I will make everyone a promise.  This year, 2011, will be the final year of using amusing animals for comic effect.  I've done it in Teaching Gods, The Alternative Seagull, Trolls and soon in a story I'm planning for Christmas.  It is fun but I have to confess - I am now running out of comic animals.  So I'm going all out for this story and for Christmas, but 2012 onwards I will only do it if circumstances force me to - or if it's really really funny.

Back to Trolls.  Now is the time to add layers to the story.  The story is cast, the plot is clear, the characters set in stone.  Now is the time to make them more - more interesting, more vibrant, more orange.  This I am doing in two ways. 
1.  Firstly (always) in the words.  The text isn't packed with much colour, much detail, much life.  Now I remove cliche, look for different ways to express things, make up words, arrange juxtapositions and remove all workmanlike dullness and clunky phrasing.  This I will mostly do standing up whilst saying said words - then going... "ah... oh... urm... no..." then leaning against a wall/table/someones back to write a scribbled phrase as an alternative. 
2.  As I stand about doing the above I am physicalising the text - hunting for what doesn't need to be said.  The shape of the penguin, the drunken swagger of the central character, the horror of the lost child.  It will be now that I will look at props, set and sound - though these tend to fall away across the rehearsals and only one or two elements will get used.
So, now I have some time to myself again, that is what I'm doing.

The other day I was singing.  Singing for joy round the house, singing loud and hard and happy for the Teaching Gods CDs had arrived and had WORKED.  It's the first time we've done CDs for Milk Bottle and we were very behind schedule so I took a gamble and ordered a batch rather than one test copy.  If it hadn't worked I would have been very stuffed. 
It'll be on sale at our Teaching Gods one offs this month and the next - but for those around the world you can get them online at from May 23rd. [You could then - you can't now - now you can listen on spotify or download from amazon or itunes! Rob 2014]
The next one will be out later in the year - July touch wood. [That so didn't happen. Rob 2014]

Enough for now - I'm choosing music for the Teaching Gods show in London at the moment and having trouble deciding between two tracks. 

Think for me Bagpuss - think!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Hue and Colour...

What colour is a play?  It's alright, I'm not going to go off on one about colour in a weird arty way.  But the mood of a play, the nature of a play does have an effect... at least on the colour of the cover of the book of the script.
Let me back track a little.
I've just cut a character from The Natural History of Trolls.  The demise of Al has been coming some time - I just haven't got around to doing it.  Partly because I wasn't quite sure how.  I've not made many changes to the text for a month now, letting the show settle down a bit before shaking it up in the air again.  We're holding auditions, the first show is in July and so there is little time left for the shaking of bits into the air. 
But I knew I needed to cut this character and I just didn't know how.  The way to the cut came about randomly - there was a mention of something on the radio and BAM!  A complete reshuffle of motivations occured in my head.  The events of the story remain the same, the reasons for them all do a little dance and a character becomes unimportant enough to go.  Depressingly the thing that made it all click in place was in reference to the royal wedding - so I have to thank Will and Kate for that one. 
But why do I mention colour I hear you cry?  Well, prior to the rewrite the show was not a little gloomy.  A little too gloomy.  There wasn't enough joy.  So when I came to design the book cover it looked like this.

This is how the show looked to me at the time - cold and clogged with gloom.

It is, I'm sure you'll agree, the product of a diseased mind. 

The cover could have still been used even after the rewrite (it does still depict an element of the story - albeit abstractly) if it wasn't that it doesn't feel like the show as it now stands.  The show is much more positive - it has a different feel and, most importantly, a different colour. 


Orange: the colour of this very pleasant Easter we've had in Britain, the colour of my days of working outside in the sun, the colour of... well, I'm sure the new book cover (below - rough) will tell you that. 

The show is now much happier - though happiness must battle through patches of cloud cover and occasional showers.

But there is so much more to write about, beyond book covers.

The posters and flyers for the first Storyteller show of the year arrived - I know it's silly to get excited about such things, but it always gives one a happy feeling.  And the online auditions have produced some very interesting results.  Lots of people applying, lots of good auditions whizzing into my inbox.  There's still a few weeks to go so do apply.  Full details in the last blog. 

We're also a few weeks away from the launch of our first audio book - featuring the stories Bink! and Teaching Gods.  I spent the day uploading them and sending out the order (whilst painting the odd orange Penguin) and now cross my fingers they will arrive before the launch show - Teaching Gods: The Ultimate Selection on Sunday 22nd May at the Barons Court Theatre at 7pm. 
I'd be a bit miffed if it got to show night and they hadn't arrived.

I'll try and post again this week, as I haven't been as regular with the postings as I'd like.  More soon.