Sending Another Script Off

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Spent the last couple of days reediting and polishing off an old script. Normally, this is a major sign of NOT BEING ABLE TO LEAVE THE DAMN THING ALONE (and who’s to say that it isn’t this time, too?) but at least time there’s a purpose to it: I had a deadline to meet. The BBC Writer’s Room has an occasional (actually twice a year) submissions open window – one for drama, one for comedy, and I decided to send something in. This time round, it’s the Drama window. I’ve only just remembered in the writing of this that I had already submitted something to the Comedy window last year, which utterly failed to get anywhere. This time, I’d spent a while doing some tightening up of the Mary Shelley script that I’d written last year (interesting, since the script has actually been produced at least once already in front of an actual audience), and the original intention was to change it slightly from a stage script to a radio script, which would’ve brought a certain set of challenges as, although all the characters are somewhat verbose (bloody poets, to coin a phrase), the play itself is reasonably visual, and plays with the chemistry (or otherwise) between the characters. I think, on some muted level, I was going to change the play from stage to radio before I submitted it to the BBC Writers Room because I probably felt – if they accepted it, it was more likely to be produced as a radio play rather than a TV film (particularly as the narrative is continuous and in one room, as opposed to several scenes all over the place). But then I told myself to get over myself: even if this submission were to be accepted (and that’s cheerfully unlikely, even if it’s any good, just down to the sheer volume of applicants), it’s reasonable to assume that successful scripts will serve only as ‘calling cards’, and never actually get produced, in lieu of whatever else the writer can cope with. This reminds me of one of my only clear memories of school (I remember bizarrely little of school, which suggests that it was an absolutely horrifying time, and I’ve repressed it all): a teacher saying that people aren’t actually scared of failure, as much as they’re afraid of success. You know the sort of thing: you’re good at a thing, people see that you’re good at the thing, they say well done for being good at the thing, and then they say the terrifying: ‘what else have you got?’. I remember at the age of eleven, or however old I was, that this was a genuinely new concept for me: the pressure of success. The weight of expectation.

And even so, I was surprised by how I felt when I hit the ‘submit’ button to send my script to BBC towers. Particularly as  I’d already done it with a different script last year (although, as I’ve mentioned, I managed to forget doing that). This time around, however, I felt oddly anxious. I have genuinely no idea if that’s because my subconscious thinks the script is awful (‘THEY’LL HATE IT’), or conversely, if it knows it to be pretty good (‘THEY’LL ASK FOR MORE AND THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT DAMMIT’). It’s sent off now, however, and it’s out there, free of my interference and meddling re-editing. It is (as all you established writers out there know already) a good habit to get into: find deadlines, competitions, festivals – reasons to finish the work, and get it out there.

And now on to the next one.

Smile Love, It Might Never Happen

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So there’s this advert at the moment for a chewing gum where a cute boy sees a cute girl on public transport. This seems to be a bit of a recurring theme, since there was also an advert in 1991 where two blonde kids were delayed by a combine harvester (yes, seriously) and shared a stick of spearmint gum, all to the soundtrack of Alright Now by Paul Rogers. Here’s what the advert looked like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02FlYl3sLWs. It’s all very burnished nineties, and as such has a standard rock anthem in the background, lots of beach-bleached hair, and is a prime example of that decade’s minor obsession with Let’s-Put-A-Hick-On-A-Porch-Into-Every-Advert.

This being 2017, even the adverts get remakes, and as usual, the new version isn’t nearly as great as the original. For a start, this one looks like it’s set in South London rather than the deep South, and the commentary – dreaming about knights in shining armour seems a bit retrograde. But the basic premise: make sure your breath doesn’t smell just in case you bump into a really hot guy on the bus is basically sound, considering it’s a chewing gum advert. There is a fundamental problem with the advert, however, which might be invisible to the casual viewer. Or maybe not. See what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf4TwInnsSk.

It’s not just me, is it? It’s an almost completely empty bus, and the dude sits down RIGHT NEXT TO HER. In an empty bus. What the hell is he doing? I mean, I’m aware that they’ve directed the advert to make it totally clear that the woman is genuinely attracted to the guy, which softens it slightly, but still. The point of the advert, clear even without dialogue, is that they don’t know one another. And even if she is instantly attracted to him: he’s still the sort of guy who interprets a smile from a cute woman as an invitation to sit right next to her in an otherwise empty bus.

I’m acutely aware that I might be coming across as slightly sensitive (snowflakes and all), but I don’t think so. It’s an invisible culture that leads to commercials like this, largely created by middle-aged white men, and I can’t believe that anyone who has had to deal with some random dude sitting next to them could have come up with this advert, and certainly nobody who’s ever been told to ‘smile, love, it might never happen.’ It’s certainly the sort of culture that allows a guy to interpret a sixteen year old’s friendly smiling service at a coffee bar as flirting, and apparently not understand  that your behaviour is so disturbing that a police officer is required to stop you at the door the next day.  When we’re still in a world where dudes on twitter can with equal ferocity tell you YOU LOST GET OVER IT with the same passion they can scream THE WIMMIN DESTROYED GHOSTBUSTERS, we clearly have a long way to go.

Obviously this advert is very far from the most offensive we’ve had to endure. But the fact that this is our baseline of mundanity means that we’re still not paying enough attention.

Twelfth Night

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Scene from 'Twelfth Night' ('Malvolio and the Countess') exhibited 1840 by Daniel Maclise 1806-1870

Today is Twelfth Night, which apparently is the exact day that you’re meant take the decorations down (although I believe I’m yet to find anyone who’s managed to adhere to that curiously dictatorial tradition). It’s also the name of a play by William Shakespeare – also called ‘What You Will’, and if you’re only vaguely familiar with the works of Shakespeare, you just need to know that this is the one where a girl dresses up as a boy. And there’s a shipwreck. And a long lost brother. Plus, there’s an argument / swordfight in the middle of the town.

No, not that play; the other one.

No, the other one.

No, the other other one.

There you go.

Anyway. When it comes to youth theatre and schools, Twelfth Night doesn’t get much of a mention, which as far as I’m concerned, is missing several boxes of tricks. Since we can already accepted that Shakespeare – particularly when it comes to kids – generally works better watched as a performance, or actually acted in , as opposed to having to read the scripts, which – to a significant number of teenagers, is going to be in a irrelevant and archaic language. Many kids – and then consequently, the adults they become – find Shakespeare boring and irrelevant.

This is why, I imagine, many youth productions or the school curriculum decide to put some glitter on the chore, and sell the kids one of the ‘exciting’ Shakespeares. Problem is, they often make a really fundamental mistake on what is going to be a relevant or interesting Shakespeare to young people today. Listen, the kids know that we’re trying to get them to eat their vegetables, they won’t care/listen if we claim we’ve sexed it up with bits of streaky bacon: the main meal is still cabbage.

One of the most popular choices is to try and make Shakespeare interesting  is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, mainly because it’s got a magical world of fairies in it, and partially because there’s a fair amount of knockabout comedy with a couple of cute couples. Problem is, it’s a deceptively complex plot which many adult casts get badly wrong – there is many a production that manages to make all the interludes with Bottom’s company of actors pretty tedious, which is a neat trick. The problem is that it’s easy to think that, because MND has all the fairies, silly actors, and fighting lovers lost in a forest in it, that there’s no need to do anything else. But fairies, silly actors, and fighting lovers lost in a forest are not things that happen in the day to day life of a teenager.

Another choice is Macbeth, which in theory isn’t a bad idea at all: it’s one of Will’s tightest scripts (it’s certainly his shortest), it feels the most cinematic, it’s got a ghost in it, and some good fights, along with a murder or two. And most importantly (and this is the gateway drug) it’s got three fun witches in it. But again, there’s not much there that’s relevant to kids today. The royal linage of a Scottish king isn’t something that many children care about.  

The other choice is Romeo And Juliet, which does have the advantage of being about kids being in love with someone that the parents don’t approve of. But Doing Exactly What Your Parents Tell you is something that started going out of fashion ever since James Dean whined about being torn about. And anyway, Romeo And Juliet is usually foisted on the kids by way of a hot young Leonardo DiCaprio. For kids who snapchat their relationship status in between

Which leaves us with Twelfth Night, which after everything else I’ve been talking about, may not sound like a good choice to bolster my argument since it mainly involves dukes and ladies, and men with titles over their names, all of which are not exactly going to feature in the average thirteen year olds life. But what it is about is this: getting drunk, being noisy, dressing up in stupid clothes, fancying someone who’s probably never going to fancy them back, and above all, an immature kid who keeps on listening to music when rejected by a loved one like a kid who’s just discovered his dad’s vinyl collection of Smiths albums. Which, to my mind, is very relevant to the life of most teenagers. The action is very snappy, as well, switching rapidly through a variety of quick-paced scenes that are confusing for the characters, but won’t lose the audience. Plus, there’s a subplot (which admittedly doesn’t always get interpreted this way in many productions) where the zany, silly gang of kids bully someone and take it too far. The fact that Malvolio is evidently something of a humourless prig doesn’t excuse the behaviour of Belch, Aguecheek and the rest: he doesn’t deserve the card he has been dealt. He, like many of the characters is very lonely, and so makes the wrong choices, which again is something that people are prone to do when they’re young. Being a teenager, Tori Amos tells us, is the loneliest place on earth, and for all its bawdiness, noise, and rude jokes, Twelfth Night is exactly that. Give it a chance above Romeo And Juliet and the horrifically overdone Midsummer Nights Dream. It might bring you good luck.

Keeping Stationary

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I had a work meeting last night, which overran slightly, as such meetings are wont to do. I wasn’t too worried, however, because I had temporarily forgotten about the trains. Until about this time last year, I was a regular commuter on the coastal route on the trains. I generally didn’t suffer too badly with the service, even though it was obviously bad: often overpacked with customers, almost never blessed with functioning toilets, often late, and occasionally cancelled altogether.

There are people reading this who can hardly dare imagine that the service was once that good.

I had occasion to change jobs around this time last year, which means that around this time last year, I no longer had to take the train every day. Also what happened around this time year was that the train service switched from merely bad to quite breathtakingly awful. There are a myriad of reasons for this, and you can choose which side you support another time, but it’s enough to say that I managed – via sheer dumb luck as well as anything else – to avoid the real misery of travelling by train in 2016. It simply didn’t affect me, even though I was reading enough news reports (and friend’s tweets) to understand that things had got really quite terrible.

So when my train home last night was delayed by an hour and a half, while it was annoying, I was reasonably nonchalant about it: after all, it wasn’t the sort of thing that had happened to me EVERY GODDAMN DAY. And anyway, it’s rare that I have an hour of enforced relaxation, so it would probably end up being quite healthy for me. Alright, yes, the first thing that occurred to me was that I should find a seat in a pub and catch up on edits on the current script, but that’s about as relaxed as I get, so I consider that a win.

There was a pub directly opposite the train station, which I stepped into, and then out again in about three minutes. There was a nice relaxed snug bit to the pub, but that section was closed. The open section was the bit with about five pool tables, three one armed bandits, one very loud jukebox, and at least ten people who certainly would have had to carry their proof of age with them at all times in order to continue drinking there. It wasn’t for me.

I knew that the next train station, the main train station for this town, was only a couple of minutes walk away, and that that train station also had a pub directly opposite it, so I thought I may as well give that one a go (I did have over a hour to fill, after all). Before too long, I got to the second pub. It’s a proper old style Opposite-A-Train-Station pub: huge, clearly doubled as a hotel back in the day, lots of gleaming brass and polished wood. It’s a genuinely beautiful pub. And it was pretty much empty.

I ordered my drink, and the landlord got the price wrong about three times, almost as if he wasn’t used to serving drinks all that often. Turns out, that may actually be the case: with a grim ghost of a smile, he asked ‘Waiting for a train then, are you?’ I admitted that I was, and he nodded with the air of a man for whom a single customer waiting for a single (delayed) train buying a single drink was going to dramatically improve his sales tonight. Which, bluntly, well may have been true.

The main problem for this pub was that it was directly next to the train station, which is a very bad location. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but think about it: train stations are generally on edges of towns or cities. Even if it feels like they’re slap dead in the centre of town, they’re not really: all the businesses, shops, cafes and pubs are normally – for the sake of argument – in front of the station, and then everything else – houses, smaller shops, etc – are tucked away behind. And there is very often a pub sitting next to the station, but since you generally only go to the station to go somewhere else, the pub is a place that you are literally passing on your way somewhere else. It’s not often that you’ll stop for a drink at the station pub unless you’re waiting for a delayed train (see also: buying anything from WHSmiths), and if you’re on your way out of the station – in other words, if you’ve just arrived – you kind of want to get your journey done, finished. And even if you do intend to go for a drink, that usually does mean getting as far away from the station as possible.

Over in Brighton, there’s a pub next to the station that has just closed down its upstairs theatre space and replaced it with a cocktail bar, mainly because the landlord apparently doesn’t understand this fundamental truth, universally acknowledged: those in want of a good cocktail will either travel a fair bit or not at all for it. Which is a clumsy way of saying that if you stick your cocktail bar next to the train station, almost nobody is going to come along to it: if they’re going to make the effort to go all the way to the train station (on the edge of town, remember), and they’re in a cocktaily kinda mood, they might well just jump on a train to London (as long as it’s not delayed, of course), and if they’re arriving in town, they want to actually visit the town, not stay at the pub that signifies as the city walls.

This has happened before: I remember a vegan café in Brighton a couple of years back that held regular comedy and spoken word nights. It wasn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, but it was literally just off the beaten track: it didn’t get a lot of passing trade – you either knew about it because it was about the only café in Brighton that was entirely vegan (yes, I’m as surprised as you are), or if you’d made the trip to see one of the performers. And of course what happened was that audience members – occasionally ones that lived only a few minutes away – would declare that they’d never heard of this place. But then they’d become regular customers. One hand washes the other, etc. 

A new owner came in, and decided what the place really needed to be was a champagne bar. Despite the fact that nobody walked past this place without already knowing what it was. The vegan café was shut down, the comedy nights and spoken word events ceased. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for cocktail bars and champagne bars in Brighton, obviously there is (West Street needs a bit of a sprucing up, for instance). But you can probably see where this story ends: the champagne bar lasted less than six months (possibly a hell of a lot less). It’s perplexing watching it happen from the outside, when one is avowedly not a business person, watching a business make a fundamentally poor decision, thinking, ‘well, even I know what’s not gonna work ..’

Anyway, I got my train. And I managed to relax for a hour. I mean, I wrote this blog entry, but apart from that …

Tree Graveyard

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Managed to get rid of the Christmas tree, which, rather than being slightly late is actually slightly early. You’re meant to take down the decorations on Twelfth Night, which this time round is on Thursday. According to tradition, you are not meant to remove any decorations even a day late (or a day early), otherwise you’ll be cursed with bad luck. But, look, if 2017 turns out to be as bad (or even worse) than 2016, then don’t blame me. Or at least, if you’re going to blame me, make sure that you blame everybody else who’s already dumped their tree as well.

In Brighton, there are several Christmas tree graveyards. It’s where the local citizens go to dump the tree, and in the week or so after Christmas, the little patch of ground has a pile of conifers that gets steadily bigger and higher. I’ve always meant to do some kind of half-assed photography project about it: taking a picture of the empty patch of ground on or just before December 25th, then another photograph on December 26th (there’s always at least one person who is ultra-keen to get rid of their tree as soon as possible. You can just imagine a grimly determined scene as a dad drags a tree out of the house in Boxing Day’s early hazy light, pine needles and upset children utterly failing to cling on).

The way that you’re able to identify the Christmas Tree Graveyards (hereafter known as the CTGs) – before anyone dumps the first tree, anyway – is that someone, presumably from the council, sets up a smallish square of heavy duty fencing, the kind they sometimes use at red carpet events to keep the civilians safely away from the film stars, or otherwise to kettle overly excited protesters. After a few years, though, everybody pretty much knows where to dump their trees. That is, of course, unless they’re trying the other three options which are a)leave it in the gutter directly outside the house, b)accidentally drop in in the skip that’s conveniently turned up in a neighbour’s driveway, or c)simply leave it in the back garden until late July in an effort to win the street’s game of Who Can Dump Their Tree Latest.

What I noticed this year, however, as I threw my tree on the increasingly tottery pile of other trees (checking beforehand to ensure there wasn’t an Edward Woodward in a police uniform) was that there was no heavy duty gating this time round. Or if there was, it had already been completely obscured by the sheer volume of trees. But that had never happened before. (which is not to say that it could never happen – if a tree falls onto a big pile of other trees, does it make a sound? The answer, by the way, is yes, but not so much of a noise that you really notice). It occurred to me that perhaps this year the council hadn’t actually put out the markers for the CTG. Perhaps there had been one of these budget cuts at local level that we’re repeatedly told about, and maybe there just isn’t enough money to be able to clear out an entire city’s Christmas trees. After all, this is the city that, when faced with the possibility of increased police, refuse collection, and hospital staff for the princely sum of something like an extra £2 on the annual council tax, well, they voted that bugger down.

But anyway, there weren’t actually any markers to tell people where to dump their trees. So I did think for a brief moment that perhaps we weren’t meant to dump our trees there anymore (shortly before I dumped my tree with everybody elses), and perhaps there had been some upset, harassed council official fruitlessly attempting to stop everybody, while everybody ignores them, saying ‘well this is where I’ve always dumped my tree and I don’t care if the rules have changed I’m not going to alter my behaviour for anyone and anyway you’re a bit of a jobsworth aren’t you?’

Which is about as elegant a metaphor for 2016 as I’m likely to come up with. 

Mailshot: Cast Iron Theatre January 2017

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This is the mailshot I just sent out to people on the CAST IRON THEATRE and IRONCLAD IMPROV mailing lists:

OK, we have a couple of things coming up, which we’ll try to spend very little time telling you about: Firstly, the IRONCLAD IMPROV drop-in classes return to the DukeBox Theatre on Sunday the 15th of January at 7pm. As ever, beginners are welcomed along with seasoned regulars, and we’ll be exploring all manner of shortform and longform improvisation exercises and games every Sunday. We look forward to seeing you there! (we will also be returning to the Printers Playhouse in Eastbourne on Tuesday nights at 7.30, but check out facebook for confirmation regarding the actual Tuesday we’ll be back). Here’s the facebook page for the Brighton classes: https://www.facebook.com/events/1715385535443776/

On Friday 20th January, CAST IRON THEATRE and IRONCLAD IMPROV will be having their New Year’s Party at Presuming Eds coffee house on London Road, Brighton at 8pm. There will be a cheap bar, lots of munchies, a mini-cinema, and beautiful people. It’s a chance to catch up with fellow actors/writers/improvisers/directors/producers/painfully awkward people in a gorgeous environment, and it would be delightful to see loads of you there. Plus, if you want to get mercenary about it, particularly with the Brighton Fringe coming up: if you want to network with potential new creative partners, we’re hoping this will be an ideal opportunity to mingle and meet new people. If it goes well, we’ll do it again! For our interest, if you already know that you probably will be coming, let us know either in response to this email, or via facebook. By the way, here’s the facebook invite: https://www.facebook.com/events/528558790667109/

Our second evening of Cast Iron Shorts – an evening of short stories, read live at the Sweet Venues DukeBox, will be performed on Friday 24th February. Therefore, we are seeking submission: stories between 1,500 words and 2,000 words on the theme of YELLOW. The deadline for submissions is Friday 10th February, and can be emailed as a word document (not PDF) to cast_iron@outlook.com. There are more details on the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1476305909076437/

And finally (for now), we’re pleased to announce that CAST IRON 9 will be part of the 2017 HOVE GROWN FESTIVAL. As ever, we are seeking scripts for ten minute plays on a huge variety of subjects. The deadline for scripts is Monday 23rd of January, and you can check out the website for guidelines. Alternatively, here’s the facebook page for the Submissions Call: https://www.facebook.com/events/1611104319197203/ We look forward to receiving your scripts. Plus, if you’d like to be involved as an actor or a writer, let us know by responding to this email or chatting to us on facebook.

Happy New Year (again)

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Actually not feeling too bad this morning. This is largely down to the fact that it is not actually morning, and has not been so for three and a half hours. Despite my best intentions, the Christmas tree is still up and flickering (that was put up LAST YEAR), and is a gentle reminder that I’m not going into work today. Although, I have already been working, since I’ve solved some plotting points on a play I’ve been working on.

It’s only (‘only’?) a ten minute play, but it was one of those ideas where the ‘high-concept’ hook of the thing was arguably more seductive than the meat-and-potatoes of the actual story, and so it was taking me a while to put together Motive A to lock into Result B. It’s still got some way to go yet (the physical act of writing the rest of it, for instance), but it’s good that so far in 2017, I haven’t got writer’s block (that won’t kick into place until at least 7pm tomorrow).

New Year’s Eve itself was a lovely thing, full of lovely people and I know that I wasn’t as awkward as I usually am at parties, because there was a full eleven seconds where I’d agreed to sing Wuthering Heights (new vocal version) at karaoke. Luckily for me (and indeed, anybody in the vicinity with ears), midnight got in the way, and most people were more concerned with singing Auld Lang Syne than with me singing early Kate Bush. A lucky escape for everybody there.

So, here we are – in a new year. It’s already horrifically busy with various projects, and as ever, these projects aren’t even the full time job: they’re stuffed into what we laughingly call ‘spare time’. (right now, I can hear the voices of various Christmas Sprits Past admonishing me: ‘yes, Andrew, but you choose to live like this, don’t you’, to which I say: SHUSH NOW). I’m directing a play for the Brighton Fringe (of which more details another time), curating the next batch of short plays for Cast Iron Theatre (it’s called CAST IRON 9, but in reality, it’s CAST IRON TWELVE, or FIFTEEN. It’s just that we occasionally have special ‘one-off’ nights that are named, rather than numbered), and we’re beginning to clear the decks for something in August which is in equal measures exciting and terrifying. (again, more details on that later on in the year).

So, I’m going to go away and do some of that.