The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Performance montage

Monday, May 14, 2007

Life's a bitch

I can still feel the blood pounding in the back of my head. My hands have been balled up into fists for so long I’m finding it difficult to type and I have a series of crescent shaped marks in the soft flesh of my palm left by my own fingernails. My eyes are bloodshot, my jaw is cramping and my teeth have been ground down to powder.

I wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

This morning I had the ‘pleasure’ of sharing my commute to work with three young actors from Birmingham’s esteemed School of Acting. These charming individuals spent the entire 20 minute bus ride complaining loudly in identical, theatrical automaton voices about every single other person on their acting course. No stone was left unturned in their seemingly eternal quest to root out every glitch, every weakness, every wrong inflection and mispronunciation in their colleagues’ performances.

“Did you see Rachel’s attempt at Juliet in her showcase? You know some people just can’t cope with classical texts, I don’t know what they were thinking giving it to her. It’s such a gift of a role and she does nothing with it.”

This kind of talk went on for the duration of my time on the bus. Discussed clearly and unashamedly for everyone to hear. Each of their friends were considered in turn before being summarily dismissed; picked apart and dissected using the blunt tools of a theatrical vocabulary cannibalised from A-level Theatre Studies set texts and applied with all the finesse of Neanderthal man learning to cross-stitch. What utterly contemptible morons. Not once did they turn the dim spotlight of their 2-watt critical facilities on themselves. In fact, as far as they were concerned, and by some astronomical coincidence, we, the humble bus-riding travellers of Birmingham, were luckily enough to be sharing our morning commute with the only three perfect exponents of theatrical technique that the BSA had ever seen. Even within the group a vile game of one-upmanship was being played out, with passing allusions to their own genius dropped in among the general vitriol, poison and unthinking crap they were spouting. All topped off with the pathetic caveat ‘Of course I love the girl but…’ as if this would make the whole insidious conversation any more palatable.

I hate this aspect of theatre. I hate the bitchiness, the insecurity, the need to beat down others to make yourself feel talented. What’s the point? Surely theatre is a collaborative art form which benefits immeasurably from a tight, supportive company intent on making each other look good? It’s moments like this that make me thank God that I didn’t follow my youthful dreams and fight tooth and nail to act professionally. Those idiots on the bus haven’t even finished their training and they’re already well schooled in the cowardly art of two-facedness. Do drama schools now teach Bitching as a module alongside Stage Combat and Lecoq?

And I have to say it makes me doubly grateful for how lucky I’ve been with amateur companies like the Crescent. The one-upmanship is still undoubtedly there but its tempered by an atmosphere of encouragement, support and a general ineffable joy in being able to practise the art of theatre. Perhaps as acting becomes a job that joy fades and all that is left are the harsh comments and bruised egos.

Of course there’s a twist in the tail and it’s one that I’m aware means I lose the moral high ground forever. Because by another astronomical coincidence I’d seen that trio of actors before. At a series of showcases at the Crescent Theatre of all places.

And they were shit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The first rule of fightclub ...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A long, long night at the theatre

Ah, the technical rehearsal, that phenomenon known throughout the theatrical world as an experience akin to pulling your own teeth out with a rusty set of salad tongs while being mauled by a rabid yet surprisingly amorous grizzly bear. I’ve been to many a tech in my lifetime, both professional and amateur, in capacities that range from centre stage luvvie to the guy that makes sure there’s enough weak tea in the prop whiskey bottle. Without exception it’s the same story- the cast, who’ve had the play to themselves for the entire rehearsal period, resent the appearance of a black-clad army who have suddenly emerged from the shadows and started telling them what to do; while the crew seem to be of the opinion that the show would run much more smoothly without the unnecessary addition of all those morons in fancy dress. Consequently, the whole process moves at a snail’s pace, tempers rise to heights far above the fly gallery and the whole thing descends into a furore of hissy fits and dark words muttered into boom mics.

But I have a secret. A guilty pleasure I only admit to myself in private moments of introspection.

I love technical rehearsals.

I love the camaraderie that develops among the actors as we’re made to wait 45 minutes in the wings with no explanation or apology as far above our heads a single par can is refocussed stage right to limited aesthetic effect. I love sniggering into my headphones when a member of the chorus gets the dance wrong and head-butts a piece of the set. I adore the little games we invent to amuse ourselves, the stupid jokes that are only funny because it’s 2am and if we weren’t laughing we’d be seriously considering ending it all by throwing ourselves into the orchestra pit.

People group together in the face of adversity. It’s a fact of life. So even though we all know in a week’s time that we’ll be a cohesive company, even though come Saturday we’ll doubtless be sharing the plaudits of a job well done as a unified whole; this evening, for one night only, it’s us vs. them. It’s childish, it’s silly, it’s cathartic and it’s brilliant.

I’m as happy as a pig in muck at techs, I love every minute of them. They’re frustrating and time consuming and utterly inefficient but when you suffer through something together it brings you closer and if you’re luckily, when you reach the end of the whole ridiculous process, when you’ve forged your friendships in the fires of hell and even gained a grudging respect for the enemy, what you’ve got at that moment is the best reward of all.

You’ve got yourself a show.

The Threepenny Opera

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Why I do what I do

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Check your life support systems, strap on your rocket boots and prepare for the most gleefully exuberant theatrical experience of your Earth-bound lives. Join Captain Tempest and the crew of the starship ‘Albatross’ as they encounter DEVASTATING meteor storms, battle EVIL scientists and REVERSE THE POLARITY of the neutron flow to a truly alarming degree.

SEE a robot man play hot rock ‘n’ roll on a space guitar!
HEAR the roar of a planet-sized beastie with more teeth than brain cells!
SMELL the unmistakable tang of plasma beams and peppermint bubble gum!
FEEL the unrequited love of a lowly cook for an intergalactic cheerleader!
TASTE the excitement as life goes crazy for a group of star cadets trapped in a tin can, billions of miles from home!

With influences ranging from early 60’s Sci-fi Americana to Shakespeare, classic rock ‘n’ roll to Star Wars, this musical extravaganza is a life-affirming trip into the unknown delivered at warp speed by a cast of talented young actors and musicians from all over the country. Using diverse theatrical and cinematic techniques including puppetry, projection, model work and computer animation, they will bring this incredible production to life in just ONE WEEK. That’s right, an entire show conceived, rehearsed and performed in the time it takes most companies to decide on a colour scheme.

GASP! FAINT! SCREAM! Faith, hope & gaffertape are back with their most ambitious and explosive show EVER.

In space, no one can hear you ROCK OUT!

4th - 5th August 2007 @ 7.30pm, Abington Avenue URC, Northampton

Saturday, May 05, 2007

In these stones, horizons sing

Let me put this bluntly. There’s no way to sugar coat it, I’m a geek. A card carrying, statistic spouting, pedant spluttering member of the cultural elite. In fact I’m not just one kind of geek, I’m legion. I’m a computer geek and a theatre geek and a movie buff geek and a comics geek but more than anything else, oh so very much more, I’m a Doctor Who geek. Yes, from 1989 onwards I’ve been in the thrall of the timelord and I can’t think of a programme that’s had a more positive effect on my life. While other young boys had heroes who kicked balls into far off nets or slaughtered hundreds of enemy soldiers with a belt-fed machine gun, my hero defeated evil with little more than a bag of jelly babies and an off the wall sense of humour.

This may sound silly but I can actually remember making the decision to be more like the Doctor, to clown around and let people underestimate me, to attack any new situation with a mixture of childish enthusiasm and deep thought. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that the man I am today owes a lot to the values instilled in me then. I still abhor violence, I still love traveling and meeting people, I even sometimes still walk with my hands clasped behind my back (although admittedly this did look very odd when I was 9 years old, I kept overbalancing and falling on my head).

Anyway, all of this is preamble to the fact that today saw myself and the Bannerman rocketing down the M5 toward Cardiff, the current home of the Dr Who production team. The sun was blazing, the windows were open and the conversation was lively and interesting. It was the perfect Bank Holiday weekend activity, a spontaneous road trip to a new city on a sparkling spring day.

Cardiff Bay is a truly amazing place, a real patchwork of architectural styles and eras, all crowding around the oval of the bay itself. Some of the buildings are simply beautiful, all cool grays and burnished bronze in the afternoon sun. I couldn’t quite escape the feeling I’d walked onto a set, what with so many of them having featured in the good Doctor’s adventures over the past two years. In an act of almost breathtaking geekiness, I even got my picture taken where the TARDIS was last seen landing.

There I am, all pleased with myself. What a content little wally I am.

Ha, but what a day. I’ve even written about it verbatim on the blog. And I almost never do that. It’s just that today I’ve seen Cybermen and Daleks, jumped over benches and laughed a lot about nothing in particular. It was such a liberating, surprising day and I didn’t even know it was going to happen.

I’ve stood where one of my heroes has stood and it made me smile.