Year Without Summer

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writing-a-book

 

Right, latest script finally done – as much as it can be – and sent off for rehearsals. It’s one off the oddest, most unnatural rewrites I’ve ever had to do, and it remains to be seen how much of it has been successful. Plus, I’ve just worked out that there’s a terrifyingly small and vanishing amount of time before the show goes up, so my blood pressure has taken a spike or two.

But before all that (or, at least, at pretty much the same time as all that), is Year Without Summer, the Brighton Fringe play about Mary Shelley. As I may have mentioned before, 2016 marks exactly 200 years since Mary Shelley came up with the idea for Frankenstein, which – depending on who you speak to – is largely considered to be pretty much the basis for modern science fiction. There was certainly something in the (Geneva) water. What I found fascinating about the events of May and June 1816, and what doesn’t seem to be discussed all that much in other plays and films, is the presence of Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley’s half sister. A month or so earlier (a matter of weeks, really) she had managed to bag Lord Byron as a bedfellow, which was a more remarkable feat than you might have thought. Yes, Byron was a rake, but he was already beginning to tire of having to be the boy pursued by all of the women (and a fair amount of the men) of England. Yet, Claire managed to win him over. Not for long, of course, which is why she pulled her trump card – Mary and Percy Shelley, both of whom Byron greatly admired. And so all of them ended up in the same place at the same time (if I remember my dates, Byron and Shelley met for the very first time exactly 200 years prior to our first night, on the 30th May 1816). So it’s at least possible that if circumstances had been any different, if Claire had not successfully beckoned Byron out to Geneva, then he will not have been in place to demand ghost stories – and Mary, possibly,. may not have been inspired to write Frankenstein. All because Claire yearned for her poet. This, in part, forms the bedrock of our narrative. As I say, we open on the 30th of May, and we run until the end of the Brighton Fringe (5th June) at Sweet Venues Brighton.

Once May comes to an end, improv workshops kick back up again at the DukeBox, with a series of drop-in classes under the umbrella title Generously Selfish (or maybe it’s Selfishfully Generous; I haven’t decided yet). Those will be every Sunday, and are still priced at just £5 each.

frankensteins-monster

Thursday 28th January 2016

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So, where are we? This week, I managed to (finally) assign scenes and speeches to performers in Not Just The Companion – the evening that Cast Iron Theatre is presenting for International Woman’s Day at the DukeBox Theatre – and that’s quite enough words in bold font for one paragraph, thank you very much. If I haven’t explained before, the idea behind Not Just The Companion is reasonably simple – there will be a group of performers, all female, delivering scenes that are traditionally, iconically, male. While we don’t intend to get too political about it, and simply deliver an evening of drama and comedy that is entertaining, the night is, by the very nature of its existence, a political statement: without getting too deeply side-tracked by the figures (in this blog entry, at least) it remains true that men are far better represented on stage and screen than women. It may be too combative (while somewhat true) that all the best parts go to the boys, while generally the women have to play wives and girlfriends. That’s not happening 100% of the time, but it happens often enough for it to be a real problem. It happens often enough that characters like Rey (Star Wars) and Furiosa (Mad Max) become noteworthy purely because they exist – the very fact that they are front and centre of a movie is somehow worthy of mention. In 2016, that’s depressing.

Not Just The Companion isn’t anywhere near a redressing of that balance, but it’s at least a smudge on the ledger – a response. A reminder that ‘male’ does not have to be the default casting, the default character. So much so that you can take a part written for a male – sometimes specifically for a male – and have it performed by a woman, changing nothing more than gender pronouns (and on occasion, not even that much). We’re very excited about what the evening will bring. At the bottom of this blog entry is a link for the facebook page for Not Just The Companion.

Staying with Cast Iron, I’ve been putting a lot of work this week into casting Cast Iron 7. In truth, it’s not actually the seventh show we’ve put on, but we haven’t numbered our Halloween and Christmas specials, as well as any of the other one-off shows we’ve curated. This Cast Iron will be part of Hove Grown, a new writing festival which will be in its first year for 2016. Many people will be delivering their own shows, workshops and plays in the festival, which is brilliant, beautiful and bountiful .. and means that a lot of the supremely talented people I had intended to cast in Cast Iron 7 simply aren’t available. It has meant that I’ve had to switch a few things and scripts around, and some plays are going to get shunted to the next Cast Iron (which, in all honesty, probably will be called Cast Iron 8), but it has meant that the casting process this time round has taken a little longer than I’d expected. Frankly however, it’s a nice problem to have.

Finally, Iron Clad Improv is having a real burst of energy at the moment – still really welcoming to nervous newcomers, but also genuinely challenging. We’re talking a lot this month about leaving your ego at the door, dropping the jokes, and increasing the generosity for your fellow performers. Each Sunday between 7 and 9 is a revelation, and I consider myself lucky to share a learning environment with such hungry students*

*hungry for knowledge, not for food. That would be upsetting.

 

I Can See Clearly Now

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My contact lenses finally turned up this week, almost exactly three weeks late. They come through the post, and are monthly disposoables. Annoyingly for someone like me, they get sent in batches of three months at a time, which normally means that at about week eight, I’ve either lost a pair, accidentally ripped a lens while taking it out, or fallen asleep with them in. Usually all three. That was certainly the (lens) case this time round.

I normally wear glasses day-to-day, so it’s not actually that much of a problem, except that I was in a play for two weeks that was set in a time when plastic, black-rimmed glasses were almost certainly not a common sight. Anyone that saw you with such a modern affectation would have attempted to have had you burned as a witch. Now, whilst it’s true that the play was all about witch hunting, I’m not sure the director would have been willing to go with me on such an abstract reading of the text.

Which presented me with a bit of a problem. Without my glasses (or lenses), I’m pretty much blind. Look up, now. You see that bit of writing that’s in front of you? There. No, there. Well, alright, behind you. Work with me on this. That bit of writing. Yeah, well, without my glasses, I couldn’t read it. I’m not absolutely convinced that I would be able to even see that there was writing there in the first place.

It was frustrating. I was convinced that my acting (whatever that is) was being eroded by at least 60%, simply because I couldn’t really see anyone. And most of acting is reacting, right? I couldn’t see what (or, occasionally, who) I was meant to be reacting to. It was a promenade performance as well, which meant that every night I had to address a character on their arrival, despite being completely clueless as to where exactly they were arriving from. Luckily, I’m apparently not one of those people who, upon removing their glasses, has to do a comedy squint for the next two hours. Allegedly, when im not wearing my glasses, I don’t look at all like a man who has lost his glasses. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Perhaps people are just being kind. Or, even more likely, perhaps people are just saying that to me, safe in the knowledge that I will then take off my glasses, trusting them. They can then spend any downtime pointing and jeering at me, confident that it will never rebound on them, because I will never be able to see their cruel and derisive mockery. See, that’s the trouble with nice people being nice. Can’t trust them.

It was a pity, because lots of the rehearsal had gone so well. I’m not claiming that I was doing any particularly great acting during the rehearsal process (and indeed, this is not the blog entry when I get into detail about quite how much I was doubting myself), but there were a couple of times when I was able to relax and feel the sense of the scene, the emotion. There’s been a lot said about how you should just relax and let the character come to you. I think that’s far easier said than done, because you either don’t trust the advice and build a character that, while convincing enough, is still fairly fake. Or you relax too much, don’t put the effort in, and become passive, which isn’t interesting to anyone. Obviously I’m over-generalising massively here, but you see the point. But there’s a lot to be said for how much you can discover from your character simply by how the other characters (or, more precisely, the other actors) demonstrate their perception of you.

This is pretty much how it was in rehearsal. I’d be floundering around, not really knowing what I was doing, then catch the eye of another character, reacting to me. And if I was open enough, responsive enough, their expression would give me everything I needed. On more than one occasion, whatever they were doing would completely blindside me, and I’d find myself overcome, not entirely sure how I was going to end up at the end of a scene. For an actor in week eight of rehearsal, that’s nothing short of glorious.

This was all down to the person opposite me. So when, in production week of all weeks, I couldn’t see a damn thing, it was actually quite worrying. There were at least a couple of scenes when I was having to throw brooding glances at someone about twenty feet away. Someone who due to my near-blindness, I didn’t know for a fact wasn’t actually thirty feet away. And three yards to the left. Basically, I had to trust my fellow actors were looking after me, and not pointing in derision at my pathetic blindness. Which I’m almost entirely confident didn’t happen.

Monday 2nd June 2014

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Gearing up for the next lot of short form improv sessions, which start again this Sunday (the 8th), now that we’ve had our break during the Brighton Fringe. We’re doing something ever so slightly different with this block of sessions. When you’ve been doing improv for a while (and it doesn’t have to be a particularly long while, not really), it’s somewhat easy to fall into certain ‘traps’ – maybe you’re often going for the gag, or taking over scenes, so that everyone else on stage has to follow your lead, whether they like it or not. Or maybe it’s the exact opposite – perhaps your mind goes completely blank, and you can’t think of anyway to progress the scene, and so you prefer to let someone else do all the hard work. At some point, all of us have been guilty of that to some degree.

These next four workshops – over the majority of June – take this into account, with a series of drop-ins that we’re calling ‘Iron Clad Surgery’. The idea is that each separate session will take into account one of these challenges, and tailor the exercises accordingly, to help performers begin to sharpen the tools in their toolbox. Perhaps the best thing about this is that most of (if not all) the exercises and games we’ll be using this month are still the ones that will be familiar to those who have been popping into improv over the last year or so anyway: so it’s not like that the unsure or inexperienced are going to be thrown a curve ball. The drop in sessions are as open to beginners as always, it’s just that the content of each workshop is going to be more heavily weighted toward whatever particular challenge we’re tackling that week. Anyway, for further details, you can have a look at http://andthisisandrewallen.weebly.com/ironclad-improv.html .

There, you’ll also see details of our upcoming long form course, which starts at the end of June.

Tonight, a few of us rocked up to the DukeBox Theatre in Hove to take a few photographs of a regular improv session (not that there’s any such thing). It seems we might get an article in the local Argus at the end of the week, so it was thought a good idea to get some photos done, on the off-chance that they might end up accompanying the article. I’m not all that fond of having my photo taken, so it was a bit of an effort not to be openly grimacing in each one. This, by the way, might seem a little difficult to swallow, since – as the person who runs Iron Clad Improv – I made a concerted effort to make sure I was in each and every photograph, and more to attempt to look like I knew what I was talking about. We’ll see how successful I was if any when any of the photos get published on Friday.

In real terms, I didn’t get all that much writing done today. In fact, it was close to zero. I managed to think of a single rhyme for a song that appears in Act 2 (however improbable, I am still considering sticking songs in this thing), and scrawl a few notes in the margin for Act 1, but other than that, I’ve produced nothing today. I’m OK with that – first day back at work after a writing holiday away, after all – but I can’t afford to let this happen too many more times. It is always so easy – so seductive, even – to allow a day to go past without any writing whatsoever, and to tell yourself that that’sOK, because you’ll always catch up tomorrow.

You never will.