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Monday, 22 December 2014

The Christmas Schedule - Free Audio

This Christmas I'll be presenting a short burst of audio storytelling and drama - each audio burst will be published online sometime after midday (GMT) as per the schedule below.  All pieces will be on my audioboom feed - or on the homepage of my microsite which can be found here.

Christmas Eve: The Ballad of Gentleman Jim
A coda to Lost Tribe of the Trolls - this is the story of the rise and fall of Gentleman Jim, a mysterious character whose origins didn't quite make it into the text.

Christmas Day*:  Fantasy Terrorist Variation 5: A Little Learning
[*Delayed - due to editing problems - i.e. lot's a background noise I can't get rid of... sorry.]
A one-off short drama from my series of pieces exploring the fall out of the war on terror, which I started nearly ten years ago.  This is the story of a young girl kidnapped because she was receiving an education - lest we forget on Christmas Day those trapped in the wars, ideological and physical, that are occurring across the globe.

Boxing Day:  The Paper Moon Trolls - Part 1: No Introduction

27th December:  The Paper Moon Trolls - Part 2: An Unofficial Official Meeting with an Unofficial Official.

28th December:  The Paper Moon Trolls - Part 3:  In the Asylum

29th December:  The Paper Moon Trolls - Part 4:  A Conversation of Memes

30th December:  The Paper Moon Trolls - Part 5:  Peter Git in Conference

31st December:  The Paper Moon Trolls - Part 6:  The Death of Peter Git

And then in the evening of the 31st December I'll be performing my End of the Road Show at the Quay Theatre from 10pm till Midnight - to celebrate the end of my artist residency of 2014 and announce my plans for next year in some level of fullness.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Moomin Magic

I'm taking a short break from writing to write this. A busmans holiday of sorts.  The Paper Moon Trolls is finally pulling itself into shape, so a brief digression is allowed.
I mentioned the Moomins last blog post and I feel it's important to share a little about them.  I rediscovered them recently, having only vaguely had them on my radar when younger.  But I always liked them and I read them in a very specific way.  Normally I plough through a book.  I don't hang around, I'm a fast reader.  But I don't and daren't do this with the Moomin books.  This is partly because they aren't very long and there aren't many, but it's mostly that I like to nibble at them, like chocolate, a bit at a time.  The books do something very particular to my brain - it's difficult to describe.  A sort of numbed, peaceful, melancholic drift - which only a few other things manage to do.  It's like a magic spell and I read them, often just a chapter at a time, to keep that spell alive because I fear that if I read them again too soon, I will lose that magic feeling.  I suspect that this is the kind of spell that a magician like Tove Jansson would only allow to be weaved once - leaving us only with the melancholy.
Sadly, I'm running out of Moomin to read.  I'm currently re-reading Moominland Midwinter and I there aren't many left.  I think I'll be able to string them out for another couple of years - and then we'll see if the magic spell is lost.
Right, back to work, otherwise the Groke might come and sit on me.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Two Days of Writing

I've two days of writing.  Two days of solid writing.  I'm trying to keep my schedule clear, but it hasn't been easy - people have been very kind trying to keep my commitment to the Panto I directed this year light, but there's always something that drags you back to the theatre and I need to finish, I need to complete the work in hand.  It stops the brain from working, from doing the next job - even though the Panto doesn't really need my input anymore.
I took a day off from Pantoland the other day - or half a day off - and went to see a screening of The Crucible by Arthur Miller, as recorded at the Old Vic.  I've never liked Miller.  No, that isn't fair - I can't warm to him.  I don't see it is possible to write the sentence 'I love Arthur Miller' as I can write 'I love Shakespeare' or 'I love the Moomins'.  I can admire, I can respect - definitely respect - but love... not so much.
I lit a production of All My Sons the other year and I couldn't get excited by the play.  It functioned, it had power but... Even his truly great play Death of a Salesman (and it is a brilliant piece of work) is difficult to love, only admire.  The Crucible I've always given short shrift to, partly because we studied it at school (usually a killer) and partly because I've never seen a fully fledged production, only handmedown drama student work or film or audio versions which damaged the structure or the language.
In the documentary series Changing Stages Arthur Miller was interviewed and spoke about reading Shakespeare and marvelling at the construction, the density of language - copying it out to feel the weight of the verse or prose.  You can see this in The Crucible.  The language has a density, a layering which is above natural speech and yet feels real.  I had never appreciated this before and the production brought this clearly to the surface.
I mention all this because, as I tend to do when watching screened plays, I drifted.  I started thinking of my own writing, of the next projects and started writing in my head dialogue for a short piece.  It has been in my mind for a while, but the recent attacks on children in Pakistan made this piece urgent in my mind.  It was time to write and I sketched out the dialogue as I watched and wrote it down on the bus home.  It will be a short Fantasy Terrorist Variation and I will record it on Tuesday and release it on Christmas Day.
Of course, I should be finishing The Trolls Trilogy - I am finishing The Trolls Trilogy.  But this piece needs to come first - because it insisted, and who am I to argue with my brain.  I plan, over the next two days, to finish this short and the last work on Trolls ready to record on Tuesday.  I will then release these last stories each day.  The new FTV on Christmas Day, the new Trolls from Boxing Day through to New Year.
On New Year's Eve I'm performing a secret version of my Trolls stories which I plan to record and put out online next year and maybe I'll even release so of my End of the Road Show.  But we shall see.
Merry Christmas.  More soon.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Let There Be Light

Funny thing happened the other day.  I was in town, doing Panto stuff, having a blood test, drinking coffee.  The usual.  And I get home to a message.  Which I didn't believe was true.  I was being asked to turn on the Christmas lights in my town.  I assumed this was a joke.  But no, there was the number, there was the message and after a little phoning/emailing back and forth, yes, I was booked to blow the hooter that cued the activation of the magic light strings.
I've just got home from this little task.  It was slightly delayed by an accident with Father Christmas' sleigh (worry not children, Santa was fine) but due to the late arrival of the bouncy castle there was no PA system in place (don't ask) and I had to bellow my little speech to the crowd.  And then Father Christmas counted down from 10 and I blew my hooter and (thankfully) the lights all came on and Christmas was saved for another year.
But that wasn't the exciting part of the evening.  I then went to B&Q in search of a dustbin lid, which I need for the Panto I'm directing.  But I didn't need a bin, just the lid.  Which was lucky, because they didn't have any bins, only lids.  But there was no price for the lid, just for the bins.  So I asked really nicely for a good deal and they sold me the lid on its own for a rock bottom price and I went to get some chips.
So, thank you the lovely staff of B&Q (Sudbury) - you've saved Christmas.

[If you have any feelings of confusion about the content of this blog post or have suffered any emotional distress at its contents, please find a towel and wrap it round your head.  It won't help, but at least you won't have to read these words any longer. Ed.]

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Why Are Panto Posters So Terrible?

It's that time of year where you see in the press, on Twitter, all around town and city centres, millions of truly terrible Panto posters.  And I ask myself, how did this come about?
I mean, if it were any other product we would run a fucking mile from them.  We wouldn't countenance spending money on something which is sold in such a shoddy manner.  And yet, we do.
The Panto poster template is simple.
Step 1: photograph members of the cast six months in advance in front of a blank background in a dodgy hired costume/the stock costume you have set aside every year.  Depending on the Panto these cast members will either be: minor celebrities/nameless models who look cute.
Step 2:  Photoshop said photos to death, adding a colourful (see eye blindingly painful) background and AS MANY SPARKLY EFFECTS as your computer will allow.
Step 3:  Chose a swirly, unreadable font and make it even more unreadable by covering it in AS MANY SPARKLY EFFECTS as your computer will allow.
Step 4:  Cry.

And it's not that I'm against glittery posters, or happy smiling pretty plastic people.  It's that it never ends - it's the laziness of it all - it's that it's the same poster EVERY YEAR, reproduced across dozens of different Pantos across the WHOLE COUNTRY.
Now, it isn't just that Pantos are often produced centrally by a few big companies - who favour a template and a straightforward marketing package, this is understandable - it's that everyone does it.  Even theatres with long histories of making Pantomime and who have a little more time to think of a slightly more original marketing strategy.
So why do it?  Because it works.  So why bother changing it?
It is assumed that children like glitter, so everything must be glittery.  And they're probably right.

But there is, I suspect, another reason.  Pantos tend to sell themselves.  People just book to see Pantos, like animals migrating to spawn at the same spot every mating season.  They don't know why, it's just expected.  So long as you do a basic job of putting out posters, doing some press, getting the right star name - then there isn't a great creative job that's needed to sell it.  Do the same thing every year, with the odd twist, because it's not going to swing sales more than a few percent.  And that includes the poster.

But... but... but... is that an excuse?  Is that really enough of an excuse for filling public space with acres and acres of migraine inducing imagery that doesn't just offend the eye, but actively burns the retina?  Come on, people of Britain, we can do better!  We can create something less plastic, more human, more alive then these never ending walls of glittery laziness.
We just probably won't.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Not Writing

I'm not writing at the moment, I'm directing a Pantomime.  That isn't to say I can't write or that I'm blocked, I'm directing a Pantomime.  I'm more a coiled spring, waiting till I'm no longer (altogether now) directing a Pantomime.
Which should be in about a week.  Then I will leap into action.  Well I'll have to, I'll only have a couple of weeks to finish off the final part of my Trolls Trilogy and finish my end of the year show.  These jobs will be mostly editing or tidying.  I've got SOOOOO much material for Trolls, just little idea how to structure it.  I've decided it will be released in daily episodes over a week and I suspect it will be more fragmented as a story, rather than a clear forward seeking narrative.  We shall see.
But then, then there are the new plays and the old plays which haven't been scheduled for performance and so sit on my computer, lonely.  There's a new piece I've sketched out in my mind called Happathy.  Which is a happy story about the end of the world - it's fairly short though.  And a sketchy one-to-one piece called Just Say Yes which I could probably throw together in an afternoon, if I were so inclined.  Then there are the two long format plays I've been toying with for years and probably blogged about previously, so I won't go on about them.
Then there's the play with no story.  No logic.  There's a play in my head and it's just a scream.  That's all I can see, a scream.  Lots of screaming.  Or, at least, it ends with a scream - because there's no where else to go.  I think.  I just don't know yet.
But I can't see any work happening on that till after the Pantomime and mundane thoughts about blocking and sound effects and schedules are banished from my brain.
Not that I dislike Pantomime - I really enjoy directing Pantomime, but it does tend to get in the way of my other work and it is, essentially, a commercial product.  I've had some success with commercial theatre - one of my happier productions was directing a production of House Guest by Francis Durbridge.  It's a bloody awful play, frankly, trapped in the 1950's (despite being set in the 1980's) and full of unhelpful repetitions of character names, to the point where you can't remember anyone's name because every sentence seems to contain a name and you end up with snow blindness.  And I chose to do it, rather than Uncle Vanya.
So I cut it.  I hacked it.  A play that was in danger of running two to two and a half hours was culled down to ninety minutes.  If I could have got away with it, I would have cut more and run it without an interval.  (This was, it should be added, quite against the license, but no one checked!)  It contained three deaths, each of which were staged with care.  It had stacks of tension and atmosphere.  My only complaint with the production (apart from the odd lighting and set issue) was the ending.  The ending of House Guest is terrible.  I wish I'd gone a bit further and, rather than just cut down, I'd actively changed the ending.  A final shoot out with the villain blasted through the french windows, sugar glass flying, would have been fab.  But I didn't.  Hey-ho.
Ironically, as a piece of commerce it was a total failure - in that, it didn't actually sell any tickets.  But as a fun, thrilling, suspenseful piece of balls - it was great.
So, as I say, I like the odd bit of commercial directing work - but it does stop me from writing much.  But I can wait.  I can wait.