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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thanks a Heap

As we creep towards opening night I've started thinking about how this project came into being.  Storyteller will, by the time it finishes in its current form on Sunday 8th January 2012, have been in existence for almost exactly a year.  The roots for the show - to push myself to work specifically on a number of storytelling projects this year - had been rattling around my head for nearly a year.  I'd been trying to decide what to do next and the title Robert Crighton: Storyteller can be found in my notebooks (along with other, far sillier plays, titles and thoughts) as I think I've discussed in this blog before.  But the plan didn't come about until just after Christmas 2010, and it came about because of a chance encounter with a DVD.
It had been a very stressful Christmas, the bad weather had completely knocked the box office for the Sherlock Holmes show I was doing at the time for six.  I spent Christmas itself with the family in a foul temper and was generally at something of a low ebb.  I was going to have to cancel a four week run of a show in May and pull out of acting in a production of The Seagull; I had few funds and no idea what I was going to do after New Year.  Then, the day after Boxing Day I think, I returned to London, staying alone at my brothers partners flat (they were still holidaying with the family).  After the show, which I think was cancelled as I must have left fairly early, I decided to spend some of the vouchers I'd got for Christmas.  I bought some music and a few DVDs.  One was a documentary about Imogen Heap.
I'd encountered Imogen Heap online once before, on the BBC website during Glastonbury, and had been intrigued.  I'd also seen the DVD in shops and had been tempted to have a look, and then, that day, I bought it.  I went back to the flat and watched one of the more frivolous DVDs - I wasn't in the mood for anything difficult like a documentary.  But by 12pm I was still wide awake and so made some toast, a hot coffee and sat down to watch Everything In-Between.
Now, you must remember I loath people who rhapsodise about how 'inspiring' people are.  "They're so inspiring!" they say, to which I inwardly either vomit or punch them in the face.  (Externally, being a coward, I just stare in a supercilious Campionesq way.)  However, this was exactly what I needed at that moment.  It was, actually, genuinely, practically inspiring.  Whereas before watching it I was depressed, caught in a bubble of little hope and really not sure what I was going to do; afterwards I was writing notes, pacing around, positively not going to bed.  The vague idea I'd had about Trolls on the Underground now had an outlet, a plan.
The DVD is about the creation of the album Ellipse but it's also largely concerned about the reconstruction of a life that leads to the creation of the album.  Imogen moves into and renovates her old family home, builds a studio there, learns to drive and writes an award-winning album.  It's a mixture of standard documentary footage and online content she posted as she made the album.  Whilst watching someone write an album inspired me artistically, the process by which she interacted with the world inspired me practically.  Using blogs, vlogs and social networking as a direct line to people who might want to see the work.  It's not a new idea of course - there are plenty of people who already do that - but to see it demonstrated, to see how it can drive you towards your deadline was just the tonic I needed.
And the inspiration was stronger because Imogen (though working through a team) is a solo artist and though concerned with music, this chimed better with my work than any theatre company doing the same would have done.  I work mostly by myself, working on a text / rehearsal into the night and the final work (if a selection of stories) is not unlike an album (it would have been even more so, if I'd had time to record the final work as an audio book this year).
There are areas where this is less successful.  I don't have an established fan base or work in a medium that promotes the level of loyalty as music.  It is also harder to blog about a narrative because if you tell everyone the story then there's little incentive for people to come and watch it.  Playing a song is different, people love to repeat the song they like.
So, the journey (god, did I just write journey, kill me now) began.  The final week of the Sherlock Holmes run was quite good, so I wasn't too out of pocket (though I still had to drop those other shows). I booked Barons Court for November 29th onwards, spent January planning, began blogging in February and have spent the year creating Storyteller, in-between directing the odd play and other side projects.  But this year wouldn't have been the same without the Heap.  So thank you Imogen Heap and the director of the documentary Justine Pearsall, this year would have been very different without you.

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