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 …

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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.

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.

 

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.

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 …

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 …