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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Reckoning in a Little Room

It's been a fraught few days as I get down to the nitty-gritty of rehearsing Everyman.  Ironing out those little mistakes (the same mistakes I was making 18 months ago!) and generally feeling like I'm not getting anywhere.  I am, it just feels sooooo slow...
Tomorrow is the last chance to get it right before a double bill of performances to students on Friday morning.  And they've read the play (in theory) so have a far higher chance of noticing any cock-ups.  Tomorrow I will also make my final choices regarding props, costume and additional bits and bobs.
That said, for all my due diligence for Friday, I've actually been mostly rehearsing the show for a performance next week which is at someone's home.  These rehearsals I've been calling 'a reckoning in the little room' - i.e. I've been rehearsing as though no one can move.  It's been interesting.  The only real problem I've had is for this exercise I've been rehearsing in my study, which means I constantly fight the part of my brain that's going - "ooh, I haven't read that book in a while".  Stupid brain.
Anyway, here's the first teaser trailer for the show - I've got material for two more, if I can find a moment to edit them.  Enjoy.  It's short.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Let's talk about Ibsen

Let's talk about Ibsen. Nothing to do with my current work, just because.  (Okay, there is a slight link, but mostly because talking about one thing for weeks gets rather dull.)
I bought a DVD box set - the BBC Ibsen Collection - a little while ago and it's pretty damn good. It has all the major plays and a hell of a lot of the lesser known ones - and that's just the extras, which include eight (yes, eight) whole radio plays to boot. (Though one is about Ibsen, not by him.)  That's sixteen in all - not a bad line up.
But - and here's an irritating thing - only two of these plays are commercially available in the UK.  Brand and Ghosts are to be found elsewhere (I already have them - Patrick McGoohan as Brand is fabulous) - but the rest are only found in this box set which is only available in the US.  This means I have to dig out the multi-regional DVD player and skip the BBC America ads.
I started with the radio plays first, as I don't really have time to watch anything, but I do listen to audio books when I go to bed. I've listened to Emperor and Galilean (which I've only ever read) and Peer Gent (which I've seen and staged) and have been enjoying The Pillars of Society and Rosmersholm (which, again, I've only ever read).  The recordings are from very different periods in the BBC's history and are mostly well executed.
But I really want to write about Peer. Listening to it, I've remembered so much I'd forgotten about the play and I've been inspired to want to stage it again. This is no abstract itch, I know how I'd do it. The last time I staged it I made a bit... well, not quite a hash of it, but it could have been a lot better.  I didn't have a proper plan, only a few half ideas (some of which worked very well) but it was mostly a production I moved from A to B.  But now I can see it.  A way to stage this monster of a play - it's simple, contained and yet epic. It would have a small cast and a very small stage space, it would be bounded in a nutshell and yet played on a canvas of infinite space.
I am, obviously, mad.
The radio version in the box set is from 1943, featuring Ralph Richardson and a full orchestra playing the Grieg incidental music.  I feel sorry for the Grieg incidental score - I think it's really very good dramatically.  It tells the story and evokes the mood - it is a bit too grand but it is a play that is too grand, too big, too busy - too clever, perhaps.  It is a score destroyed by a thousand associations, with adverts and cheesy, lazy broadcast soundtracks - diminished to contextless muzak.  As guilt by association it is largely doomed to live in bitesized chunks from the Suite on Classic FM.
On this recording the music is both an asset and a liability.  An asset because, in context, it works rather well (though the absence of Morning as Peer awakens is a testament to the fact that, even in the forties, the chocolate box odour already hung heavy).  It's a liability because the sound mix is poor (basically non existent) and the music overwhelms the microphones leaving the listener with a jumbled wall of noise.  This is particularly poor for any sung sections (intelligible) or where dialogue and music coincide.  It's a shame, but not an overwhelming one because the music is used sparingly.
The atmosphere of the recording is that of a concert performance, which it presumably was.  The acoustic of the hall is echoey and not intimate enough for dialogue, so it feels very stagy.  This is added to by the delivery, which is very much of its time.  It is brilliant in so many respects - the cast, plucked from a stage version for this recording - know their lines intimately, which pour out of them like water - fast and flowing, a beauty to listen to.  But, there is no depth.  Even Ralph (or especially Ralph) doesn't get at the meat of the emotion - he sings the part, and sings it well, but I don't believe there's much going on under the surface.  But, I suspect, this is the context of the time speaking - is it fair to judge the conventions of the past?  In one respect it has a clarity not to be beaten, which many an emotive performer can lose.  Balance is the key.
There were two other interesting elements to the recording.  The stage directions were not just read - they were made into an incredibly effective chorus, spoken by two actors.  They were turned into an extension of the poetry of the play - shaped presumably by the producer.  It changed the performance from a recorded play, into an epic poem (which is arguably what it is - discuss), and gave it an unique flavour.
Secondly, the cuts were telling.  At first I thought, as it was over three hours long and performed over two nights when broadcast, that it was largely uncut - and so it seemed until the final act, which had wholesale purges.  All of my favourite scenes, the ones that drew me to the play, were gone.  The second conversation with the Mysterious Passenger, the meeting with Satan, just gone.  (Was the appearance of the devil as a priest too much for the BBC in the 1940's, or was it also cut from the production?  One to research.)  Whereas the previous Act, where Peer is on his travels, left very much as writ.
When I produced my version in the depths of the Noughties - I cut Act Four completely.  It is a problem, Act Four.  The play is very neat otherwise.  Young Peer and his adventures in the first half, Old Peer returns home in the second.  The adventures abroad are important to the play in many of the images and recurrent themes, but they don't quite pay their way, they are deeply unsatisfying.  So, it made sense to take the pain and cut it.  This wasn't a perfect solution and it left some problems, but I'd done something similar with Doctor Faustus a few years earlier and it worked then, so why not again?
Marlowe's Doctor Faustus has many similarities with Peer Gynt.  The eponymous leads both make bargains and effectively sell their soul, then they go on semi-comic and problematic adventures, ending with a reckoning for good or ill.  When I did a semi-staging of Faustus I cut the already short play right down to the essential bargain and the consequences - but that production never pretended to be anything other than a playabout with the material, it never pretended to be a straight production of the play.  By going only halfway with Peer Gynt, hacking a chunk out and leaving the rest largely as writ (I've since lost my directing version, so I can't be certain of that) I did more damage to the play than good, because I didn't restructure the source to massage the joins in the cut.
What appealed to me were the scenes in the Troll Hall, brilliantly realised satire and witty dialogue, and the final Act with the Button Moulder and his re-meeting of characters from earlier in the play.
Here followers of my blog may see the thread that runs through this post.  These plays, Peer and Faustus, are thematically and historically linked to Everyman.  They have the same narrative, they have the same focus on a central character who is trying to escape death, to make a delay from meeting Death, Satan or the Button Moulder - and, once the inevitable happens, fighting for the best deal to save them afterwards.  Everyman is saved by his Good Deeds, Faustus damned by his Wan-hope, Peer sort of saved because he left his soul with Solvieg before he tried to give it to the Trolls.  The latter is, of course, the most vomit inducing.  (As well as staging it straight, I'd quite like to rewrite it - create a completely new play based on modern themes.  I planned to do something of this with the last story in my Trolls trilogy, but it didn't come together.  Next time, perhaps?)
This is why I'm drawn to go back to Peer - I see a trilogy of productions with the same small cast.  A double bill of Everyman with a radically cut Faustus, and a new production of Peer Gynt.  Maybe next year.  Or, more likely, 2017.  I've got other fish to fry in 2016.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: X to Y

I stopped posting daily/semi-daily reports on Everyman because it was getting dull.  Basically, it's been a bit like this.
1. Did some admin.
2. Re-learnt some lines.
3. Put a couple of lines back in.
4. Took them out again.
5. Ran show.
Repeat.
So I stopped.  I also got sidetracked with other projects and by life, more of which on another day.

On Friday I'm performing the first of two tryouts to drama students, so this week is all about the runs.  Run the show, tidy up the edges and most of all, simplify.  The following weeks after I've a couple of private performances, one at someone's home and another for a play readers group and then it's TOUR!
And that's where I'm exhausting myself, because there's so much to get ready and none of it is about making the show happen.  It's all paperwork, it's all planning, it's all happening in a months time.  So, I'm excited and tired and stressed and lots of other ands.
But it's getting there.  Today was a good day, ran the play twice and felt confident.  We'll see how I feel tomorrow.

***

The Summoning of Everyman Tours March / April 2015
All shows will be Pay-What-You-Want and tickets can be reserved by phone or online.
Telephone: 07946 652 196
Email: contact@milkbottleproductions.co.uk
For emails or any phone messages please state your name, contact number, number of tickets and, most importantly, which date/venue you're booking for.
I'll be keeping this blog post updated and there's a page on the microsite and shortly on my website.
If your local venue is not represented it's not too late to be added to the tour.  I'll come to churches, village halls, small rooms or even your home for a private performance for friends and family - just contact me and we'll see what can be done.  Have toothbrush, will travel!

Offton & Willisham Village Hall                  -              Tuesday 24th March at 7.30pm
Chappel & Wakes Colne Village Hall         -              Wednesday 25th March at 7.30pm
Great Waldingfield Village Hall                   -              Thursday 26th March at 7.30pm
Boxford Village Hall                                   -              Tuesday 31st March at 7.30pm
Cavendish Memorial Hall                           -              Wednesday 1st April at 7.30pm
Hitcham Village Hall                                   -              Thursday 2nd April at 7.30pm
Maurice Rowson Hall, Gosfield                  -              Friday 3rd April at 7.30pm
Leavenheath Village Hall                            -              Sunday 5th April at 6pm
Hundon Village Hall                                   -              Monday 6th April at 7.30pm
Creeting St Mary Jubilee Hall                     -              Tuesday 7th April at 7.30pm
Assington Village Hall                                -              Thursday 9th April at 7.30pm
Brettenham Village Hall                             -              Tuesday 14th April at 7.30pm
Steeple Bumpstead Village Hall                 -              Wednesday 15th April at 7.30pm
St Mary’s Church, Chilton                         -              Sunday 19th April at 3pm
Boxted & Hartest Institute                         -              Monday 20th April at 7.30pm
Stisted Village Hall                                    -              Wednesday 22nd April at 7.30pm

All details correct at time of press – updates, corrections and directions to shows can be found online – or contact us direct.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: 9

First of (hopefully) many publicity shots
Today went wrong very early on.  Having realised I have a doctors appointment at the end of the week I had to have a blood test this morning - which meant a visit to the new Community Health Centre - so called because they built it where there is no community whatsoever.  This took out my morning, because getting to the middle of nowhere from another part of nowhere takes a while, plus the queue took an hour to get to me.  (This was an improvement from the last time I was there, and the chairs in the waiting area have been re-positioned in a more sensible fashion - i.e. facing the general direction of the number counter.  And the nurse was lovely.  The machine coffee was reassuringly undrinkable.)
I then didn't quite get my connection to my first flyering site, plus I realised I'd forgotten various parts of my flyering kit for the afternoon and so gave up on the day as a bad job.
On the plus side - and after this massive whinge (sorry) it's a BIG plus side - I then spent the rest of the day working on the play.  I'm now much, much happier with progress.  I was starting to get the impression that progress was on the slide.  I was behind on my schedule, I hadn't got up and moved the show much and, though I was only a little behind, I was getting really worried that I wasn't giving enough focus on the show - too much on the process of putting it on.
I also took some time to sit and think about the aesthetic of the play - of imagery and what to do with the opening.  I've gone through so many different openings for this production, it's getting silly, and I need something to work against the venues I'll be playing.  I need to create atmosphere in spaces where there often will not be one, to create a sense of anticipation from the very start.  This is tricky.  And I'm still working on it.
Another thought that I liked today was to do something more with my collection of good and bad deeds from the previous shows.  I've still got them all, and I think something, some work of art to add to the art of the play, could be created.  Sketches in progress.
Also, I want there to be a comprehensive logic to the symbolism of the play - for the few props to add to the understanding of the play.  I'm struggling in some parts - and I don't want to abandon the use of props halfway through, I prefer an all or nothing look.
But props are a discussion for another day.  Tomorrow I'll hopefully get a few more flyers out and continue working on the close of the play (another discussion for another day) before I act as question master for a quiz.  As you do.  And, at some point, I'll finish editing the video shoot from the other day.  And... and... and...
It's nice to be busy.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: 8

Over a week in and the printing arrives - Huzzah!  Which means I now have to distribute everything... booooo.  So, the next couple of weeks will involve my walking around a lot looking for places to take my flyers.  But it'll give me a chance to scout out some places I've never been to, take some lovely photos and pointless videos and maybe meet some new people.
Today has been mostly an admin day, getting press releases off and sorting advertising, but I have caught up with the last text work and even moved the text about a bit.  My basic plan is this - for the next seven days mix up general text work with specific blocking and movement work.  I'll then have ten days before the first performance - so it's a full run each day plus detailed work on a short section of the text.
And now, some video footage of boxes of printing...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: 6 & 7

It's been a sedate but busy old weekend and now most of my ducks are in a row.  I'm just sent off the first batch of press releases and tomorrow will do the local newsletters and start buying advertising.  The flyers will also arrive tomorrow and, once they're been stickered up, I'll be out and about again, letting the world know about Everyman.  If you're at the beginning of the tour it's getting really close now, if you're at the end, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about.  But I know, blink, and you'll miss it.
Beyond the admin I've doing the last purely text based work.  I planned to have gone over the whole text by tonight (Sunday) but I've got three pages to do tomorrow.  That's not quite true, I might have gone over it all by the time I crawl into bed (I have been rehearsing late) but that would technically be on Monday, so I've failed.  However, the words of the play are now, by and large, back in my head, with three or so weeks before my first performances for students at Essex University.  Next week I'm going to be moving about, playing with the physical score - but next week I also have competition for my time, as I've got a performance of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland on Saturday.  Life is really getting busy.
Yesterday was photo/video day - or evening rather, I needed the darkness.  Though that won't be the end of it - the photography will be a continuing process - I'm looking to create something for Everyman each week, as I try to perfect imagery for the show.  It's not easy, because I'm trapped in the same problem I always have for a one-man show.  All I've got to photograph is one man.  And there are only so many ways to do this.
More importantly, I want to document the show properly - as there are no photos or videos of this show at all - nothing since I started on it two years ago.  This needs to change, but I'm not sure, yet, how I'll do this.
Anyway, here's a little vlog of a retired costume from the show - the original, very creased, shirt of Bad Deeds.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: 3, 4 & 5

Leavenheath Village Hall - 5th April at 6pm
The last few days have been an interesting mix of the eventful, uneventful and the unproductive.  Wednesday went really badly on the rehearsal front.  No rehearsal happened.  None.  Not a line was said.  I failed.
On the plus side, I did get a wonderful view of the A134.  Here's what happened.
I was going to view a couple of venues, sort out paperwork and generally scout round the area - these two venues being reasonably close together.  As it also happened my father was meeting up with some friends at the village of the first venue in Assington - so I tagged along and thought I'd walk to the relatively close Leavenheath.  In preparation I printed off a map from Google and planned a route - there were apparently footpaths, but I wanted to see how the roads looked and the last thing I wanted to do was get lost.
Unfortunately, the map I printed off placed my starting point on the opposite side of the road to where it actually was - so I gamely walked up to the A134 and tried to figure out how I could have got it wrong.
Eventually I was on the right path and made it to Leavenheath Village Hall and had a look round - I forgot to take photos inside, but I did take a picture outside.
Here's a short video from my day out.
I then caught a bus to Colchester to do some shopping and by the time I got home I was right royally knackered and so little work was done.
The last two days have been better and I've caught up with my line learning and my admin.  The last cheques have been sent, the tour is now fully booked and now it's adverts and permissions and the duller admin to do.  I'm very aware that I need to crack on with a lot of tasks, as I'm still riding a lot of deadlines close to the wind - but I'm refusing to let myself be rushed artistically.  The show is coming together on schedule, even though I lost time on Wednesday.  Tomorrow I'll be looking at the second half of the script, getting the last few sections in ready for next weeks more physical work - but I'm also going to be doing some photos and videos for publicity as well.

I'll be performing Everyman at Leavenheath Village Hall on Sunday 5th April at 6pm
Tickets can be reserved by calling 07946 652 196 or emailing contact@milkbottleproductions.co.uk

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: 2

Today I focused on the second quarter of the play - where Everyman asks for someone to go with him on his journey to death.  There are three/four characters he encounters - Fellowship (his friends), Kindred & Cousin (his relations) who are two people in the original, but combined into one in this version, and finally his Goods (his worldly possessions).  These are all external elements of his life, people or things outside of his person, who he is deluded into thinking he can take with him.  These rejections prepare us for the second set of delusions in the second half of the play, where he hopes to go to the other side with all his faculties - his senses, strength, reasoning and beauty.  But that's future.  Today, just externals.
As external characters they are mostly straightforward - your friends and relations are real people and (though generalised) are not abstract.  They tend to talk to you - so the dialogue is natural, fast, flowing - even funny.  Your Goods don't tend to talk to you - but the character of wealth is straightforward, deliciously slimy and evil.  To relearn this lines - or at least reacquiant myself with them - is great fun.  I don't think I made as much progress with the retention of lines as I did yesterday, but some solid groundwork was done.
In fact, I was surprised how much of what I went over yesterday had stuck - I briefly ran over my lines as I went for a walk this afternoon - here is a pointless video of the opening speech.


Tomorrow I'm out and about all day, looking at venues and sorting out the last paperwork for the tour dates (see blog post below) so I'm going to focus my spare time into going over the line learning and text work of yesterday and today.  If I can be fully books down on the first half at the end of the week - confident and strong on words - then real work can happen next week.  Huzzah!

First Dates

And we're off - the first dates of the The Summoning of Everyman tour are in the bag. Now, if you're based in Suffolk/Essex, or have friends who do, now's the time to book your tickets, or share this with those who might.
All shows will be Pay-What-You-Want and tickets can be reserved by phone or online.
For emails or any phone messages please state your name, contact number, number of tickets and, most importantly, which date/venue you're booking for.
If your local venue is not represented it's not too late to be added to the tour.  I'll come to churches, village halls, small rooms or even your home for a private performance for friends and family - just contact me and we'll see what can be done.  Have toothbrush, will travel!
So, the first week of the tour is Offton & Willisham Village Hall, Chappel and Wakes Colne Village Hall and Great Waldingfield Village Hall.  More soon, as details come in.

Offton & Willisham Village Hall                  -              Tuesday 24th March at 7.30pm
Chappel & Wakes Colne Village Hall         -              Wednesday 25th March at 7.30pm
Great Waldingfield Village Hall                   -              Thursday 26th March at 7.30pm
Boxford Village Hall                                   -              Tuesday 31st March at 7.30pm
Cavendish Memorial Hall                           -              Wednesday 1st April at 7.30pm
Hitcham Village Hall                                   -              Thursday 2nd April at 7.30pm
Maurice Rowson Hall, Gosfield                  -              Friday 3rd April at 7.30pm
Leavenheath Village Hall                            -              Sunday 5th April at 6pm
Hundon Village Hall                                   -              Monday 6th April at 7.30pm
Creeting St Mary Jubilee Hall                     -              Tuesday 7th April at 7.30pm
Assington Village Hall                                -              Thursday 9th April at 7.30pm
Brettenham Village Hall                             -              Tuesday 14th April at 7.30pm
Steeple Bumpstead Village Hall                 -              Wednesday 15th April at 7.30pm
St Mary’s Church, Chilton                         -              Sunday 19th April at 3pm
Boxted & Hartest Institute                         -              Monday 20th April at 7.30pm
Stisted Village Hall                                    -              Wednesday 22nd April at 7.30pm

All details correct at time of press – updates, corrections and directions to shows can be found online – or contact us direct.

Venue list again - this time with addresses and post codes! 

Offton & Willisham Village Hall                   -              Tuesday 24th March at 7.30pm
Lower Coney Grove, Offton, IP8 4RA
(For information call 01473 658547. No reservation required)

Chappel & Wakes Colne Village Hall         -              Wednesday 25th March at 7.30pm
Colchester Road, Wakes Colne, Colchester, CO6 2BX

Great Waldingfield Village Hall                   -              Thursday 26th March at 7.30pm
Lavenham Road, CO10 0SA

Boxford Village Hall                                         -              Tuesday 31st March at 7.30pm
Stone Street Road, Boxford, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 5NP

Cavendish Memorial Hall                              -              Wednesday 1st April at 7.30pm
Melford Road, Cavendish, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 8AD

Hitcham Village Hall                                         -              Thursday 2nd April at 7.30pm
The Causeway, Hitcham, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP7 7NE

Maurice Rowson Hall, Gosfield                  -              Friday 3rd April at 7.30pm
Church Road, Gosfield, CO9 1TL

Leavenheath Village Hall                               -              Sunday 5th April at 6pm
Suffolk, CO6 4NW

Hundon Village Hall                                         -              Monday 6th April at 7.30pm
North Street, Hundon, Suffolk, CO10 8EE

Creeting St Mary Jubilee Hall                      -              Tuesday 7th April at 7.30pm

Assington Village Hall                                     -              Thursday 9th April at 7.30pm
The Street, Assington, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 5LW

Brettenham Village Hall                                 -              Tuesday 14th April at 7.30pm
30b The Street, Brettenham, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP7 7QP

Steeple Bumpstead Village Hall                 -              Wednesday 15th April at 7.30pm
Finchingfield Road, Steeple Bumpstead, Haverhill, Suffollk, CB9 7EA

St Mary’s Church, Chilton                             -              Sunday 19th April at 3pm
Chilton, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2ZB

Boxted & Hartest Institute                           -              Monday 20th April at 7.30pm
The Green, Hartest, Suffolk, IP29 4DH

Stisted Village Hall                                           -              Wednesday 22nd April at 7.30pm
Rectory Road, Stisted, Braintree, Essex, CM77 8AL

Monday, 2 February 2015

Everyman Daily Report: 1

Christ it's cold. It isn't really that cold, by my rehearsal space isn't great thermally, so I'm mostly not using it - I'm doing text work. So, progress report on Everyman. I know the first speech to buggery and the God speech in chunks, all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. The Death sequence has undergone a few minor changes and I remember from last time how difficult it can be to get right. This is the first section that requires real work on the physical text. I want to really pull the confrontation of Everyman by Death apart. And here I have a new toy to play with - or will when the weather warms up a bit and I got from text to movement. For the moment it's all in the words baby. But the words are mostly in my brain still, even after over a year has passed since the last performance.
The last bit I looked at today was the speech Everyman makes just after meeting Death - which is brilliant and terrifying. I'd quite like to sign the speech as I say it - hell, I'd love to be able to sign the whole play, but baby steps. So, I'm looking for a signer people - anyone know someone who can help? Internet, can you hear me?
Tomorrow, between the admin for the tour (so much to do!) and food and stuff, I'll be working on the first rejections of Everyman up to Good-Deeds. I'm hoping to have reviewed the whole text by the weekend, relearned most of it, and be ready to explore the physical realm next week.

First Rehearsals - Everyman Lives

Back in  the fray, rehearsing The Summoning of Everyman.  It was a sad day, as I put away my old script and printed off a new one. The old script had been with me since the first run two or is it three years ago, but is now so moth eaten, so covered in changes and scribbles that it must be archived off and put to retirement.
The King is dead, long live the King!
Let's not get too sentimental, it's a script and even this new version, tidy as it is, isn't as important as the performing of it. This week will mostly be about the words - relearning them, retooling them, getting to a stage where I can get on my feet and move.  The tour doesn't start for seven weeks, but the first one off private gigs start in less then four (dates still available for private performance, do get in touch) so it's going to be a bit of a marathon from now on. You can follow my progress on Twitter, I'll be posting regular updates.
And tomorrow I'll be posting a full tour schedule - so you can book your tickets and tell your friends.
It's all rather exciting!