Thursday 27 July 2017

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Cacophony A3 Poster

You may think we’ve been sharing this poster a lot. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

On Saturday, we had our preview of our one woman show, CacophonyIt’s the first time that Cast Iron Theatre has brought a show up to the Edinburgh Fringe, so – perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also the first time we’ve done an Edinburgh preview. It went really very well, so we’re somewhat giddy with excitement and anticipation. We also asked for feedback – which we received – and we’ll have another rehearsal before the week is out to see how well (and how appropriately) it fits in with what we already have – if at all.

I’m in the middle of edits on a short story that I’ve written, which will be published in a book later on in the year. It’s the first time that I’ve been published in a book, and so also the first time that I’ve had an editor (this blog entry seems to be about firsts, apparently). I found the list of edits and rewrite suggestions .. well, maybe not ‘exciting’, exactly, but it felt quite invigorating, permission to really get stuck in with the story and have another swing at it. Yeah, yeah: as I said, it’s my first story with an editor – I’m confident the ‘excitement’ will wear off pretty quickly.

Last night, I told another story. I had been invited along to a spoken word event at the Artista Studio in Hove, and I had said ‘yes’ slightly before I realised that I didn’t really have a story to tell. I mean, I have plenty of stories – some of them are even finished, believe it or not – but most of them are written to be read. That statement, I realise, may require a small amount of unpacking. I write for a few different mediums: stage, page (as in prose – short stories or novellas), stand-up, and on rare occasions screen and radio. And I guess I should include blog entries in there too – that counts, and certainly it counts for the point I’m trying to make. Even within the confines of stage, there are many differences: a musical is different from a biographical piece – and not just because of the inclusion of songs, there’s something about the pacing, and the size of the performances, that make the actions on stage (and therefore the words on the page) a completely different proposition. Even a sketch and a short funny play are two different beasts (and if you disagree, then we have fundamentally different ideas about what constitutes either of those things – although I’d concede that a lot of my favourite sketch writers are more interested in character than gag, which confuses the argument somewhat).

My point being that although I have a fair amount of short stories in my toolbox, they’ve really been written to be read in silence, just the reader and the page, and no interferences or interruptions. Sure, they can be read aloud, but it’s different. So I realised with only a day or so to go that I didn’t really have a story that I wanted to take along: which for a storytelling night, isn’t exactly great. I began to think about something that had been mildly annoying me of late (if you ever think you never have an idea for a story, just think about what’s pissing you off at the moment – stories, when you strip them back, are often simply about opinion plus response), and I began to staple various bits together in my head as a narrative.

Couldn’t think of an ending, however. My mind is quite busy at the moment with about ten and twenty things to do with Edinburgh, and plus there are a few things to get sorted before we leave to get on the megabus (oh yes, no expense spared). So I couldn’t really focus on the ending. The ending had to be good. The ending had to earned.

(The line ‘The Ending Had To Be Earned’ deserves an entire blog entry in itself. It’s come up a lot in the improv classes recently, where endings have come out of nowhere, just because the actors have felt the need to get the hell of stage as soon as possible. At least in improv the performers – sort of – have an excuse [not really] in that the story hasn’t been planed. It’s much more difficult to ‘seed’ in plot points that will become important later. But that (not entirely convincing) excuse becomes positively porous when you attempt to use it defend the close of a story that you’ve actually written and therefore – presumably – have done at least a couple of drafts over. So: Earn Your Endings. A blog for another time.) 

So, no – I couldn’t focus. And when it came down to it: I still didn’t have an ending. It’s been some long time since I’ve appeared on stage by myself performing (I’m not including presenting or compering, which is again different). And I was – well, I was nervous. Quite a bit nervous, actually. It’s good to remind yourself that you can be vulnerable on stage, and that you don’t have all the answers. Doesn’t mean that it’s always gonna be fun when it’s happening, though.

Finally, I had a flash of inspiration. And when I was on stage, I told the audience that they had a choice: either they could go for the incomplete story, which meant that I would have to come up with an ending right in front of them, making it up on the spot (which would either be absolutely fine, or we’d witness a Hindenburg style moment), or they could choose the story that I’d actually had published in January, and so we knew that at least two editors and their peers would agree was basically coherent.

I gave them that choice.

Guess which one they went for. Go on, guess.

 

Sunday 2nd July 2017

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So, we’re all caught up on the final episode of the current series of Doctor Who – which is what’s important, right? And while I probably do have some things to say about the most recent season, and by extension, all of the Moffat era (most specifically about the characters of Bill Potts and Missy) – either here or over on a Cultbox article, we have a lot of other stuff to get through first.

Most importantly, I’m co-creating and directing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s called Cacophony – and you can book tickets here (and you’d better believe I’ll be sharing that link at least a couple of times in the next few weeks). The sharp-eyed amongst you might spot that our first date – Thursday 3rd August – is actually the day before the ‘first’ day proper of the Edinburgh Fringe, so if you’re up in town around that time, that may be a real good date to pop by and say hi.

Cacophony is a solo show, and the solo performer is the wonderful Heather Rose Andrews, who has, as well as performing in a number of Cast Iron Theatre short plays over the past year or so, has been a marvellous member of the Brighton based ensemble, The Fannytasticals. We’re very excited and proud to be working with her on this show (AND SOMETHING ELSE LATER YES THAT’S YOUR FIRST HINT ABOUT OCTOBER), and we’re deep into rehearsals creating something truly special and memorable.

Right. We’re four paragraphs in. That’s enough isn’t it? (looks around. Looks up. Looks left. Looks right). OK. Look, you can jump ahead to the next paragraph if you wish. This paragraph is mainly going to be asking for money. Because, you see, it’s not easy getting a show to Edinburgh. In fact, it’s reasonably often a loss-maker (THEN WHY DO IT, is an obvious question, and one that does deserve an answer – and we’ll give you that in another blog entry). But we believe in the show, we believe in Heather, we believe in Sweet Venues (our hosts for Edinburgh), and just as important, we believe in ourselves. We’ve got a pretty nifty show here that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. So in that modern way, we’re looking to crowdfund our production. This covers such unavoidable costs as accommodation, travel and set, even as we seek to keep all those costs down to as low as possible. I know that this blog gets read by people who know me, but also by people who have never met me (and are unlikely to do so). I’m speaking to you both. (Both groups, I mean. Not both people. I’m not suggesting that there are only two people who read this blog. Although, now you mention it ..) We’ve set up an indiegogo account to try and raise funds for the show. We launched it on Friday, and it’s already raised £77. Now, that may not seem much to you (indeed, it’s merely a tantalising 3% of our desired total), but it means the world to us. And if we can raise 3% of what we need in essentially three days .. that means this is ridiculously, hilariously, within our reach. So, what we’re asking, (c’mon, you’ve stuck with all of the rest of this paragraph, you knew this is where we were heading) is if you are able to spare us £5, or $5, then please consider doing so. Even if you can’t, if you can share the link on the social media platforms of your choice, then that’s going to help us out a hell of a lot. Anyway, here’s the link, so you can decide for yourself what the show is.

Last bit of news, and again it’s Doctor Who related. Back in 1968, there was a Patrick Troughton adventure called The Web Of Fear. It featured robotic monsters called The Yeti, and introduced Lethbridge-Stewart, later to appear with almost every Doctor of the classic series as The Brigadier. It also featured Anne Travers (who gets one of my favourite rejoinders in the series when she gives her response to the ‘what’s a nice girl like you ..’ style chat up line).

Anyway, CandyJar Books recently had a open window for submissions for an upcoming short story collection, to which I offered up an idea about a very slow alien invasion (in fact, actually titled The Slow Invasion). Well, I’m pleased and overwhelmed to be able to tell you that mine is one of the stories that has been accepted, and will be published later in the year. There’ll be more details as we go along, but in the meantime, here’s what we know so far ..

Speak soon,

A

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.

Thursday 25th August 2016

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Have recently finished writing a ten minute play for the next round of CAST IRON. It’s an odd little thing, one that I wasn’t too sure what I was saying with it until at least halfway through writing it. Possibly I still don’t. Largely this is because the play has been dictated more by location than narrative; at least to begin with.

Of course, it’s reasonably often that stage plays have their narrative shaped by a single location. It’s a naïve playwright (or one confident of a large budget) that will have the location switch every few minutes, as if it’s cinema. Obviously a smart director will not panic too much about scene one being set at the edge of a volcano, and the next scene being in an airport departure lounge – hopefully good dialogue will hold the audiences hands through such willing suspensions of disbelief. When scene three is set in an airplane cockpit, a swimming pool, or even somewhere as apparently banal and simple as a driver’s car seat, the location can be something of an irritant.

Having said all that, I’m currently fascinated by the possibilities of such restriction on location. Not exactly a ‘locked room mystery’ so beloved of the likes of Agatha Christie, but in the same ballpark (ooh! Ballpark! Another location!). Partially this is because I can see the next series of Inside No 9 coming over the horizon. Created and written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, Inside No 9 is a series that – for me at least – revels in unpicking a conceptual problem, and seeing how a story works. Despite the reputation to casual viewers, the series is much less interested in so called ‘twist endings’ (although a great many of the episodes have literally that), as much as it’s fascinated by unknotting a technical, or narrative conceit. So there are stories told in (mostly) silence, stories told in strictly edited segments of time, and stories told purely through the screens of (unmoving) CCTV cameras. So it’s clear that Shearmsith and Pemberton enjoy setting up storytelling challenges for themselves, and it’s always interesting to see what path they wander down: with or without breadcrumbs.

And while a fixed location isn’t always exactly the challenge they’ve set themselves, it’s something that comes up in their DNA a lot, and I became intrigued as a writer to see what would happen if you set up the location before even considering the content, or the narrative. Partially, this was inspired by a throwaway comment in an interview that may not even have been accurate (in fact, I’m pretty sure I saw it denied subsequently): that if a third series was commissioned, there was a possibility that there would be a spin-off, online only series (perhaps called Inside No 9a) of ten minute plays that could be entered by aspiring writers and filmmakers. And since, as I’ve alluded to already, one of the things I’ve admired most about Inside No 9 was the refusal to tell stories in an ‘easy’ or complacent way, I began to think about restrictive spaces, and throwing together people that wouldn’t usually share that same space.

As it turned out, Inside No 9a never happened (although series three of the parent programme was commissioned, and returns to the BBC in October), and I didn’t write the short films. However, when I began writing my next short play for the next Cast Iron night (that semi-regular evening of short plays we produce at the DukeBox Theatre) the same preoccupations surfaced.  Obviously, it’s slightly different, since – again – it’s more logical to keep a stage play in the same place, particularly if your play is only ten minutes. So I wrote a play entirely set in a karaoke booth, pushing the people into the location before I thought too much about why they were there. And while the play that I ended up writing ended up being more interested in the characters than the restrictions of location (which is probably a good thing), I’m grateful that the brilliance of Inside No 9 inspired me to write something new, even if it is entirely unrelated.

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Well, I say entirely unrelated: once I’d emailed the script off to the director and writers, I started writing an article previewing the upcoming series of Inside No 9. Which is when I discovered that they have already written an episode set in a Karaoke booth. No doubt their one will be scarier than mine. In the plus column, the other three ‘restrictive’ locations I have in mind aren’t included in the episode list. I’d better get writing …  

A Week Before The End Of Summer

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Well, this is it: the final furlong of our Brighton Fringe show – or at least, the rehearsals. The first night of Year Without Summer is a week away: Monday 30th May, to be exact. Everything is clicking into place satisfactorily, and all that remains is the actual audience. Have spent the last few days distributing posters and fliers in local coffee shops and the like. There are, of course, roughly three thousand other posters and fliers all jostling for attention. I’ve always been cheerfully convinced that posters – for a show, for a gig, whatever – are reasonably doomed to failure, but I’m equally convinced that as doomed failures go, it’s about the best you can go for. I reckon one ticket sale on the back of around 400 fliers is about as good a return as you can hope for. It is of course pretty difficult to get any sort of audience in for a show, particularly if there’s hundreds of other shows also opening at the same time, and particularly if there are no famous ‘names’ attached to your project: either as performers, writers, directors, or even the actual name of the piece.

We’ve got some things going for us: the play deals with (amongst other things) Mary Shelley coming up with the idea for Frankenstein, which should pique the interest of at least a few people – especially as we premiere the play roughly 200 years after it actually happened (give or take a month, but who’s counting?). I imagine we might be able to wave sweetly at some potential audience members with the promise of Lord George Byron being – well, like Byron. I’ve been a little bit cheeky about the timelines of events (at least two events, or the suggestions of them, didn’t actually happen until significantly after the ‘year without a summer’, but I’m hoping most scholars will grant me a pass on narrative freedoms).

Somehow, I’ve managed to catch a few things in the Brighton Fringe (equally, I’ve missed a spectacular amount). Blackbird, at the Rialto is an impressive and tense two hander, depicting a reunion (if that word doesn’t suggest too cheerful a scenario) directed by Sam Chittenden. It’s best that you know little or nothing going in, which I appreciate is something of a gamble at the fringe, but rest assured it’s a bet worth taking.

Also impressive is Am I Fuckable (no, don’t type that title into search engines), which depicts very human and humorous (as well as moving) responses to modern dating in the era of tindr. It’s on at the Globe (no not that one) and has two performances left, scattered across the fringe. I understand that both performances are officially sold out, but it really is worth rocking up just before the start time just in case of no-shows.

Plus, there’s Un-Titled (also at the Rialto), whose tagline – ‘A play about art, told by art’, pretty much does what it says on the tin: an artist in her 80th year, is visited by the pieces of art in her studio, including a depiction of her earlier self (portrait). As well as being witty and moving, it’s also directed by Judey Bignell, who is Mary Shelley in Year Without Summer, which sort of brings this entry full circle. I’m not sure how Judey found the time to direct one show and be in another. I haven’t dared ask her, either: she may hit me.

Tickets for all those shows can be booked via the Brighton Fringe website, but obviously I’m going to draw lots of attention to the link for my show (it’s called Year Without Summer, did I mention?) and you can avoid booking fees but clicking on this link here image

Year Without Summer

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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.

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Piratanical!

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The Brighton Fringe is really kicking into gear, and I finally got round to comparing diaries, and confirmed what I had already suspected – that I’m going to end up missing at least thirty of the shows and productions that I really wanted to see over May. It’s been this way over the last five years or so – I’ve always been involved in some major production over these few months, either as director or writer, and so I’ve always ended up missing the main bulk of the fringe. So, each year I’ve promised myself that I’ll take spring off, so that I actually see some bloody stuff. Obviously, this never happens: I always find myself doing something. Sometimes, it isn’t even my fault (sometimes).

My major thing at the moment is a rewrite for Piratanical! which absolutely, under no circumstances, can surrender to any procrastination whatsoever (why do you think I’m writing this blog post?), which will be performed at the BOAT – the Brighton Open Air Theatre – in July this year, as part of the very first Starboard Festival, for local youth groups, youth theatres, and schools. It’s a mostly original piece (I’d written a half hour version almost ten years ago), and the fun thing has been altering the roles to specifically fit the young actors that I’m currently working with. Although ideally, Piratanical! has a shelf-life long after my interference.

And of course, we have Year Without Summer, which opens at the end of the month, st Sweet Waterfront in Brighton. More than half the cast have openings for other Brighton Fringe shows this week, so obviously, the vibe is one of joyfully heightened hysteria. Maybe it’s time to load up on the laudanum. BOAT