Cast Iron X is done. What’s next?

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Me, performing a new monologue – Pick Up – for Cast Iron X. This was a late replacement for another play, and in no way indicative of my desire to play all the parts, all evening.

It was a lovely weekend, what with latest instalment of Cast Iron Theatre and a series of new plays. One of them was Killer Ladybugs, of which you can read more about here, by one of the authors. There were a couple of ‘rapid response’ plays, and a piece from me – Dick Joke – discussing what is and isn’t acceptable in comedy. Sam Chittenden wrote The Two Of Us, exploring understandings and misunderstandings, and One Touch by Steven Lancefield was a creepy little tale that may – or may not – have had a disturbing twist. As ever, it was a pleasure to work with a brilliant bunch of people, some of whom were acting or writing for the very first time. Amongst other things, this is what Cast Iron Theatre is all about.

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Yes, the play is called Dick Joke, but get your mind out of the gutter. He’s checking his nails.

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One of the great things about the ‘rapid response’ plays is that the actors don’t even have to hide it when they don’t know what their next line is.

 

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This might look like a political cartoon about how we’re treating the NHS, but it’s actually a shot from One Touch.

 

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Killer Ladybugs sees Esme Bird make her debut at Cast Iron Theatre.

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As many times as we tell the actors that they can’t drink before the bows, some just won’t listen.

 

NB: all the photos of Cast Iron X were taken by Peter Williams

Also at Cast Iron X, we were pleased to take collections (of tins, packets, and toiletries, as well as biscuits and nice things) for Brighton Food Bank. Thanks to all those audience members who brought something in, and we’re glad to continue the collections for the rest of our shows in 2017.

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Let’s take a moment to tell you what’s coming up next month. Cacophony, our award nominated Edinburgh fringe show, returns to the DukeBox for one night only. A few of you have told us how much you’re keen to catch this show since you missed it the first time around, or you simply want to see it again. This, then, is your chance!

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Yes, we’ve pushed this photo at you quite a few times this year. We’re not sorry.

Additionally, we have our third annual Cast Iron Selection Box, in which a gang of brave performers picks up a Christmas themed play, unwraps it in front of the audience – and performs it, with no prep, no rehearsal, no safety net! If you want to write one of the plays that get performed, you still have a week or so to send them to us. They should be around five to eight minutes long (no longer), have a seasonal flavour, and be for two actors. Make them age and gender blind, so it doesn’t matter who gets to play what part. Send your submissions to cast_iron@outlook.com – and we’ll see you on the night of the 18th to see how our actors cope!

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‘”Bernie,” I said, “Bernie, you can’t make it a ‘Christmas’ picture just by sticking some tinsel and fairy lights on it”, but did he listen?’

And finally (but actually first in the month) there’s the Christmas edition of the Cast Iron Theatre Podcast: Live! on December 5th. There will be mince pies (probably), Christmas jumpers (almost certainly), and board games (absolutely). This month, our guests are Jenny Rowe of the Maydays, and Paul Stapleton, creator of Brighton based board games BN1 and ZOMBN1. We’ve been getting great audience feedback for our previous live shows, and we look forward to having you join the party!

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Yes, this will be our Christmas card from now on. Why do you ask?

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Monday 20th November 2017

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So, we have a busy week here at Cast Iron Theatre. Well, more so than usual. First up on the 21st (Tuesday), we have our next live edition of the Cast Iron Theatre Podcast. We have studio recordings of this quite regularly, where we talk to creatives working, living, or just gigging for one night only in Brighton, but each month, we also have a live show recorded in front of a happy audience (I can’t make any guarantee that the entire audience will be totally happy; I just don’t have the data on that). This month, our guests are stand up Aidan Goatley, and theatre maker Paul Macauley.

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None of these people are Aidan Goatley or Paul Macauley. We just don’t have the budget to take photographs from the future.

It’s a sharp, happy hour for just £5, at the DukeBox Theatre – situated at the back of the Southern Belle pub at the bottom of Waterloo Street. Tickets are available here.

At the end of the week (Friday and Saturday), we present Cast Iron X, which is the next in our series of short plays. These have been sell out shows from our first production just about four years ago, and we continue to be very proud of the new work that we’ve been able to give a platform to. As well as the plays that have been rehearsed over the last few weeks, there’s also a chance for you to get a piece of work performed on the DukeBox stage this weekend: if you write a ‘rapid response’ play – perhaps inspired by current news events – of about 4/5 minutes, a two-hander (age blind and gender blind), and email it to cast_iron@outlook.com, then it might (might) be performed on stage that night! (deadline is 5pm on the afternoon of each performance: you won’t receive notification if you are not successful, but we will email you back if your piece has been selected). There’s space for two rapid response plays on each night. Tickets for Cast Iron X itself can be booked here.

Oh, while I’ve got you here, I’d like to give  a shout out to our friends at PopHeart Productions, who are having a busy week themselves – also at the DukeBox. On Wednesday and Thursday, they present their latest piece – Shop Play, asking the question: is retail where dreams go to die? Exploring the highs and lows of the high street, booking for Shop Play can be done via this link.

Obviously, don’t feel compelled to come along to EVERY SINGLE THING, but just remember that so many small theatre companies are making so little money. I mean, obviously that’s not your problem, we’ve chosen this way of life for ourselves, there’s probably no way that we can persuade you to support the arts more than you already are

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In closing, let’s draw your attention to the regular podcast, which you can download and subscribe to via iTunes, or SoundCloud, if apples ain’t your thing. There’s now 33 different interviews there, and we’re looking forward to the next 33 …

Don’t Tell Me How It Ends

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The above title is the punchline to a gag that you’re probably familiar with: it’s the response that one is supposed to give when someone says that they’re going to see a film like Titanic, say, or a movie about the life of Christ: the joke being that ‘everyone’ knows how those stories turn out.

A similar thing might be expected to accompany this month’s release of a new version of Murder On The Orient Express. It’s an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most audacious murder mysteries, and I’m so mindful of any kind of spoilers that I’m genuinely wincing slightly at writing the phrase ‘most audacious murder mysteries’, because I honestly think that gives too much away about the ending.

There has been some muttering and moaning online about this new version of Murder On The Orient Express, largely centred around the fact that it exists at all. There have been a fair few versions already, all of them fun and fizzy, exactly the kind of fare that wouldn’t look too out of place on your TV schedule during the Christmas break. A lot of fans (church of Suchet, it seems) took particular umbrage at the fairly ridiculous moustache that Kenneth Brannagh sports as Poirot, but that only served to shine a light on the possibility that those fans haven’t actually read the original books (the moustache itself is reasonably accurate as according to the description by Christie).

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Then again, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this is my favourite version of Miss Marple. Yes, even above Saint Joan Hickson. Yeah, I’ve lost you now, haven’t I?

People, however, have been pleasingly coy about the ending – in other words, revealing who the murderer is. It would appear that Agatha Christie adaptations are the last place where one can expect to be left alone, spoiler-wise. This doesn’t happen elsewhere: plot twists are given away as soon as possible by various sites, sometimes with a huge SPOILER WARNING screaming from the top, but more often: not so much. But this is an odd imbalance: the main criticism (apart from the aforementioned moustache) of this new version of Murder On The Orient Express centres, after all, is the fact that ‘everybody’ already knows the ending.

I have, as you may have already guessed, little to zero tolerance for this argument. After all, it’s not like at the age of seven, you’re ushered into a room and told what the endings of lots of classic books and movies are. It doesn’t matter if a story is ten years old (or twenty, or thirty) – there will always be a new generation of kids – and grown-ups, for that matter – who have never even heard of the thing that ‘everybody’ else has heard of.

So I have an equally low tolerance of spoilers. There are some really weird defences of spoilers that I’ve never really been able to get my head round, although they’re largely to do with if a property has been around for long enough, then it’s fair game – if the movie, or Netflix series, has been out for a couple of years, then it’s your fault apparently for not having seen it already. Does that same logic apply, I wonder, for a film made in 1963 when you were lazy enough not to be born until 2009?

I was born in 1973, which means I’m the right age for TV to be filling its schedules with decades old filler on late night at the weekends. Just before the advent of video. BBC2 and Channel 4 were the best for this kind of thing, although ITV had a strand called Murder Mystery Suspense (not really exciting enough or even curated enough to really be called a ‘strand’, it was just a bit of cute marketing to fob viewers off with whatever substandard US TV movie they had cluttering up the place). If you were thirteen or fourteen (really the best age to be discovering movies that you’d never heard of before), then these late night schedules were a goldmine: it’s where I first saw the old Universal monster movies, and got totally bewildered by Walkabout (a movie possibly immeasurably improved by – as I did – coming to it five minutes after the start and knowing absolutely nothing whatsoever about it).

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Murder Mystery Suspense didn’t really seem to have any consistency in the programming. It was an Audrey Hepburn / Sidney Sheldon TV movie one week, and something called SNOW BEAST! the next.

But with the late night Ch4 / BBC 2 schedules, you got something genuinely special. There was the Universal movies, sure, but there were also all the classic movies that had clearly been the major films of the last twenty years or so. And if you were 11 or 12, there was a fair chance that you’d never heard of them before. It’s very weird, in retrospect, discovering such screen icons as Gregory Peck and William Holden in the movies that they may well have regarded as their ‘well-no-one-else-will-hire-me-these-days-and-I-have-to-put-the-grandkids-through-college’ movies (That’s The Omen and Damien: Omen II respectively).

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With those two Omen films, that’s the third oblique Audrey Hepburn reference in this blog entry. I’m not sure why.

I guess its the memory of those late night movies in 80s that contribute to my low tolerance of spoilers. Obviously we consume content in a different way now, but it doesn’t really matter if stories are binged on, or if we take our time on them: at some point, they will become ‘old’ stories – ‘everyone else’ will have watched (or read) them. There are few things as magical as coming to a story blind, of being taken surprise by a plot point or twist. I was at a late night screening on the opening weekend of From Dusk Til Dawn, and somehow I hadn’t discovered the plot reveal that occurs midway through that film (even though it was heavily implied on the poster).  I still remember the visceral delight the audience had when the film turned on a dime and became something else.

One of my pet hates, for instance, is anytime the films Planet Of The Apes or Pyscho are re-released on DVD. Invariably, the artwork will depict those films most iconic moments. Which is understandable, if a little dumb: part of the reason those moments are so iconic to original audiences is because they’re so surprising, so shocking. Why would you want to steal that joy – to, indeed, spoil it – for anyone?

I’d argue that if possible, one should never discuss the plot of a film with someone who hasn’t yet, but wants to, see it. I read once in the Guardian an argument that claimed you couldn’t very well discuss the plot of a production of Othello without discussing the protagonists’ skin. To which I thought – well, why can’t you? For those that already know the story: why are you wasting your word count chatting about things they already know – get on with chatting about that particular production – and for those who don’t know the story: is Othello’s skin colour really the only thing you can think of to chat about?

But I’m serious: there’s no need to chat about the plot of a movie denouement with someone who hasn’t seen it yet. And yes, that includes Titanic. I’m willing to bet that there’s a reasonably intelligent eleven year old out there who has somehow never heard of Titanic  – the ship or the film. After all, how many conversations have you had about Titanic in the last ten years? Stick that eleven year old in front of the TV without telling them the plot. For the first hour or so: a clunky, but glossy looking Kate and Leo romance drama that makes some sweeping points about class. So far, so 90s, and then BOOOMMMM it becomes something totally different.

I’d apply this test to films for which it seems self-evidently redundant. Take, for instance, Transformers. I know, the clue is in the title. But again: a kid – maybe eight years old. Knows nothing about the plot. Because it’s doing that odd mid-eighties Spielberg thing of holding back on the special effects for the first act (like everyone hasn’t already checked them out online), the opening half hour is just some shy kid trying to get with hot girl by buying a car. As far as your naïve eight year old, is basically a unfunny version of Herbie starring some girl that Dad is at pains to say isn’t really is type actually, and then the silly car TURNS INTO A MOTHERFUCKING ROBOT!!!! 

Let’s face it, Transformers is quite some way from being a decent film. But if that’s the way you experienced if for the first time, it would blow your eight year old MIND. It would be for you, your Citizen Kane: the finest film ever made.

So, yes: I see no reason to ever give away the ends of movies. Not even for humorous purposes.

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Friday 27 October 2017

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No, I haven’t binge-watched season 2 of Stranger Things yet. I likely won’t have a chance to see any of it until after Halloween, which somewhat defeats the whole point of having the release date when it is. My diary is pretty stacked up until then, despite the fact that my actual, physical diary has been lost.

I get through about two diaries a year, because invariably I leave the first one behind when I’m distracted by something else. On one occasion, I left a diary behind when moving a theatre set for a touring company. That was an unique situation, because in that case I knew immediately my mistake, and texted the director to explain that I’d left my diary – complete with appointments, rehearsal schedules, etc  – in his car. ‘NO YOU DIDN’T’, came the (rather swift) reply. I try not to be too combative in my everyday life (well, I try), so I responded – after a reasonable amount of time had elapsed – to ask him if he could check. After a while, he said he would. Then after a longer while, he said he had: no luck.

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Remember if you ever find a diary: you can’t trust anything if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.

I was perplexed, because it didn’t seem possible that there was anywhere else that I could have left my diary. I didn’t want to be all arrogant and prissy about it, but I think I attempted one more ‘could you have another check?’ plea before giving up. I was told – quite firmly – that I was mistaken, and there was no diary to be found.

I think you’ve probably already worked out where this story is going. The director bumped into me a while later in the coffee shop that we both seem to use as our office occasionally, and told me – ha ha – an amusing story: he had found my diary – it was under a coat, or something. Did I still want it back?

I declined: this chapter of the story was a little over two years later. I suspected that most of the deadlines in the diary had passed.

Anyway, I can’t blame a refusing-to-listen director on the loss of my 2017 diary: I have no memory of what I did with it. More worryingly, there’s literally not a single second (seriously, not even a second) where I could have left it somewhere. I wrote in it, got up, walked five feet, and –

and that’s it. I must have blacked out, thrown my diary into the sea, and come to again. It’s genuinely bizarre.

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It never occurred to me before that Reginald Perrin could be written by Mark E Smith.

Luckily, I kind of know what I’m doing over the next few days. This being Halloween, the Brighton Ghostwalk Of The Lanes has extra events on this Saturday and Halloween (Tuesday) itself – a walk at 6pm and the regular walk at 7.30pm. On Saturday, I’m doing the 7.30 one, but on Halloween – and on Monday night – I’m doing two Ghost Walks on the i360, which will be called ‘Fright Flights’, which will certainly be a unique way to see the city and tell some spooky tales.

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I spend a lot of my evenings having the walk the streets for money. Not only are my parents disappointed, but I have to pay Sting copyright.

But I’m nowhere near the lanes on Sunday evening. As part of the Brighton Horrorfest, Cast Iron Theatre are performing their first ‘scratch night’ of a work in progress – 1 Woman Alien: a parody solo version of the 1979 Sigourney Weaver film. Playing Ripley is Heather Rose Andrews, who was a guest on the latest episode of the Cast Iron Theatre Podcast along with Laura Mugridge and Judey Bignell.

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Heather considering the intelligence of doing AvP as a one woman show.

So, it’s pretty busy here. And I haven’t even finished the edits on a thing I’m not allowed to tell you about yet.

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This was 7pm last night when we were still in Brighton, and still awake. Today: we’re in Edinburgh, and asleep. The terror remains, though.

Here we are, then. Arrived in Edinburgh. Feeling – so far – remarkably refreshed. I say ‘remarkable’ because we travelled up by megabus (other services that cost slightly less than three Starbucks coffees are available, no doubt).
As is the case every year, there was a group of kids (apologies, these days, anybody below the age of thirty is a ‘kid’) who chose to sit nearby and talk VERY LOUDLY until about 2am about their show that they’re doing in the fringe – you never to need to worry about deducing wether or not you’re sharing the coach with other fringe performers: they will soon let you know. That’s annoying enough, but it becomes positively skin-clenching when they spend a full ten minutes forgetting the name of the – as they call it – ‘main fairy’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I’m selling the journey as much more painful than it actually was – and since we were able to doze – even actually sleep – during the journey, and arrive in Edinburgh relatively refreshed at around 7am, just in time for some decent coffee and the first of today’s thirty-plus cloudbursts.

It’s not even midday, and we’re already unpacked and showered (we’re normally in B&B or hostels, so this is unheard of), and so we’re about to strike out to town and take advantage of the fact that we have a day to ourselves before the insanity starts (again, in a day of Firsts, we’ve normally arrived when the fringe is already well under way and all our friends are deep in madness – another thing I’ve never spotted before is the ‘poster posts’ without posters)

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Give it three days, and there’ll be a ballet dancer in a green bikini from Oxford on top of this.

I don’t think I’ve ever walked down the Royal Mile with the relative possibility of not having someone proffer a flyer into my hand. This year, truly, is a year of Fringe Firsts. Not so for most people on my social media feeds, who – either as stand up, improvisers or producers, have been doing this thing for ten, twenty, sometimes even thirty years.

Let’s see how this goes …

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Not long now. We leave for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on Monday night, and we haven’t even packed. What we have done, however, is send our set up ahead of us. That feels particularly odd. I mean, a lot of the oddness is the fact that we’re actually doing a show up there (that hasn’t really calcified itself into reality as yet), but since we’re (the company of three) going to be going up to Scotland on the late night ticket via Megabus (you know, like proper starving artists), it feels strange that our set – such as it is – is going to get a slightly less cramped journey than we expect to have.

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The bus we have is probably *not* going to look like this. But I would like us to take a moment to acknowledge which studio made this    tits-n-laffs 70s comedy.

As I write this, the rain is pleasantly pattering down outside the window, almost as if it’s prepping a thousand Southern actors and stand-ups for the variances of the Edinburgh weather. It is  – as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before – the very first time that I’ve been up to the fringe as a production (as it were), so it will be interesting to note just how this goes – not just in terms of success, etc, but basic sanity. I’ve always been very aware, if only on an academic level, of just how lucky we are to be living in a city – Brighton – that hosts the third largest fringe festival in the world. Each May, we don’t have to fork out a fortune to bring a show (and a cast) down to the South, and find accommodation for the duration. Now, we’re getting our hands down and dirty with everyone else.

 

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We’re hearing rumours of various posters already turning up around Edinburgh. We’d ask you to send us pics of this one, but it’s still at the printers. 

I’m going to be doing some reviewing while I’m at the fringe (and sombrely pondering just how long one can create their own work while reviewing others – I’m not exactly Tynan), and will post the links to the reviews on this blog, as well as updates on the Cast Iron Theatre Podcast – already past it’s 21st episode.

 

 

Thursday 27 July 2017

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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.