Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Castle of Dreams & Nightmares

After months of planning, preparations and sundry site visits, the interactive performance with enchanted garden installations which were our Halloween Tours for English Heritage at Old Wardour Castle are over. Done and dusted - and after all the stress and last-minute hassles, the gruelling nature of setting up and performing when it was around 3 degrees C on Saturday and colder in the night! and wet on Sunday, and all the rest, on Monday we woke to the rest of the packing. To talk of anti-climax would be understatement. Tuesday and (despite being tired and strangely averse to getting cold) finally the exhilaration came. Thrilled to the core, it washed over me at last. Strange as it may seem, beforehand (with everything to arrange, sort, co-ordinate and generally worry about) was not a helpful time for excitement. During it, as I kept walking across the courtyard lit up with shadowy creatures,
or went up the main staircase and to the upper hall with its lighting and shadow-tableau, it's prisoners at the grilles, or through the Grotto covered in unicorns/nightmares and goblin-faces, or across the lawn with its beautiful gobos and lit by the near-full moon, I had moments where I knew it was an amazing thing to be doing, a wondrous thing to have been commissioned to create...but of course, I had no time, or very little, to stop and admire. Hence the startling lack of good images of key vistas and moments, (or indeed the performances themselves). I was aware that Narcissus the Nightmare (most beautiful of the company's unicorns, and the one that's most wearable) on his stand at the topmost alcove of the Grotto's dry waterfall, with an organza cascade falling below him to level after level and lit by our finest colour-changing outdoor spotlight, and all around the glory of the structure of Joseph and Josiah Lane of Tisbury's magnificent rockwork Grotto of 1792, the viridian dappling of the gobo light on the lawn stretching away before the scene...was both astounding and (in my view at least) returning the Grotto folly and C18th garden to something of its original purpose. But still, I could not give myself to elation until (conversely) it was all over, and fully accomplished. On Tuesday it came - the realization fully that it was one of the projects that I had most wished to do, that we had been given a large enough canvas to test ourselves and had shown what we could do. The kind of exhilaration and thrill that rarely accompany a task. It was the kind of thing one is in this line of work for. Those moments that somehow vindicate one's artistic vision. 'The Castle of Dreams & Nightmares' comprised them both! The gods of Old Wardour Castle were with us that night, it seemed. Huge thanks to our amazing team, Mandy Rodgers (fabric master!) and Lewis Reford (tech supremo!), Andi Branston for turning up on Sunday to help take all the stuff back to Devon despite everything he'd just had to cope with, and all the English Heritage team who made us feel so welcome - Sally, Greg and company, and to Charlie for booking us. And lastly...Old Wardour itself. To quote the script - 'The only hexagonal castle in the country, Ladies and Gentlemen - and that is NO coincidence!'

Monday, 22 October 2012

Halloween Tours at Old Wardour Castle

Haven't meant to neglect the blog, but we have been so busy putting together preparations for the Halloween Tours at Old Wardour Castle for English Heritage! There's a lot of variation in this job, and this project is no exception! For four (!) tours a night for two nights (the weekend before Halloween) at four different sites throughout the Castle and Gardens, Widsith & Deor Storytelling Theatre will be presenting 'The Castle of Dreams & Nightmares'! Which will be an interactive performance tour with arty dream and nightmare themed installations, enchanted garden lighting, sound, special effects, sculptures (some life size), figures and masks, with storytelling and poetry woven into the plot, in magnificent historic surroundings. Old Wardour is one of the most atmospheric ruins in the country, and is Britain's only hexagonal castle. It is Mediaeval, but surrounded by a delightful C18th landscape including one of the finest Grottoes still extant, and a charming Banqueting House. It also overlooks a lake and is backed by glorious woodland.
   It has been months in preparation, and (despite all the writing of scripts, rehearsing, site visits, making maps of entrances, exits, passages and alcoves, making things/creatures/figures, buying and fitting of lighting of all kinds, spotlights, floodlights, fairylights, single small spots, lanterns, oil lamps, torches...! delivering stuff there, carting it all the over the site, making props lists etc.) of course there are always last minute issues. We thought that two of the core Collective members were definitely coming - but the sister of one has just passed away, sadly, and the funeral is the day before. We thought that another associate might have been coming, but conversely, his partner is about to deliver a baby. We had of course planned the whole thing so that (if we were to have no other cast or help at all) we could just about manage everything ourselves, at a push. However, we definitely have two members of the Collective coming, which is great, although again, one of them is without her vehicle! Which complicates camping and transport co-ordination.
   On the good side, we have been given permission to use the Banqueting House as our 'green room'! And when we have gone to try out the lights and visuals there, it has all looked rather amazing. So, while on the one hand one should only be excited, one is actually stressed, and will be relieved most of all, once it's all over, it is well to remember that elation (especially when something takes a lot of preparation and hard work) often comes afterward. If you manage to enjoy yourself while there, that will be a bonus! There has been so much 'lugging' and journeying involved in all this! But we have had moments of inspiration when putting the finishing touches to the Shadow Lord (all 6ft of him!) or putting together Dr. Cecelia Davenport's (one of our characters) study or Julius de Winter's (our other main character) props, or the moments when one of the figures' lights will come on that should take people's breath away, that has all made it quite an experience already. We have really had a chance to stretch ourselves with the special effects in a location that is finally a big enough canvas to encompass something of the full range of our ideas, and that has been (if stressful as things must have a work-like-clockwork element) rather wonderful in a way. We have got a lot out of the project already (despite swearing and lifting heavy and unwieldy things, packing and unpacking a lunatic number of times a crazy amount of stuff) due to those eureka! moments. Those times when you think 'that's perfect there!' or 'that will really work' or 'that fits exactly' whether a visual, a light, an effect or something included in the 'plot'.
    When we went around Kensington Palace earlier in the year and thought 'these visuals, these interactive performers! This is SO what we would have done ourselves!' I loved it completely, my only wish was that some promoter would give us that kind of huge canvas and a budget to see what we would do with it. Well here it is - a Medieval Castle with an C18th Grotto and many ways this is what the ongoing project that is Widsith & Deor productions has been lying in wait for... It's a very strange feeling. I am too cynical, or rather, too much of an experienced weather&event foot-soldier, hence too hard-bitten if you like, from all the mud-spattered, break-even, "wtf" events which we have done to feel exhilarated. But if this comes off, as I hope and think it might, then... Watch this space!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Beautiful Days - onward and upward

After a hectic summer including Dorchester Play Day right after the Beautiful Days, we are gearing up for a Halloween event at Old Wardour Castle in Wiltshire - a lot of work! The festival was good, despite the worst lot of rain we'd seen there. It just dried up enough to get off site without tractors on the Monday! The workshops went down a storm, we were packed to the rafters as usual. I was especially pleased to hold my all-ability workshop host corner, where the very unconfident or small can make headdresses or mobiles and the older or more ambitious can make dreamcatchers, whilst those in between can design themselves some wings! And of course with Deor's leather workshop running alongside, we can kit people out completely! Wings, headdress, leather wristbands, a dreamcatcher round your neck (depending on size), leather head band, you name it, the possibilities are endless! I was stupidly delighted when a participant (parent, child or teenager) made an especially good mobile, as they are my own design. It was great to catch up with Andi and Mandy of the Collective, and really good to work with Lewis at last who stepped in to the breach at the first Beautiful Days commission, when we were doubled booked and had to go to the Sunrise OffGrid instead. We also ended up doing an hour and a half of storytelling each day as one storyteller had had to drop out! So it was just us and Kulchalee to hold the fort each day! Lastly we were put on in the Majical Youth big top, but as well as being a mudbath, the sound system gave up (I don't know whose it was) as did the back up, so we were left yelling across an empty acoustic - exhausting for the voice, so all in all we worked hard. But being with the Collective who are always such good fun, and a bottle of Pimms (thanks to the ever-wonderful Deor!) got me through!

   Then on the Wednesday afterward, we were lucky enough to have Mandy with us to help out at Dorset Play Day - rammed as usual, and Carol the organizer complimented me on being 'so patient'! As she came in while I was showing three different participants of varying skill how to make dreamcatchers, while cutting fabric for a much smaller headdress-maker. It was very kind of her - although what I was going for was super-efficient and keeping-one's-head rather than patient! No one was being unreasonable, just all-at-the-same-time! Mandy was great to have with us and was amazing at folding up the huge and unwieldy tipi pvc flooring into a square! I was much impressed. And we all had supper at the Imperial, a beautiful pub with a Brunel conservatory near Exeter St. David's railway station. And then we would have been off to another festival...but as they hadn't paid us from last year! 'A Sussex Peepshow' the diary of travelling Punch & Judy performer, Walter Wilkinson in the 1930's sums up the life of the travelling player perfectly...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Science Day

Following on from the previous post; We did Science Day in North Devon in June as usual, but this time at Bideford College instead of the lovely lawn at Tapeley Park. But it did mean protection from the weather! And it was good to see that the smaller tipi which Deor devised himself could be put up in an indoor environment with high enough ceilings to great effect. It was a busy day, folks loved the storytelling and masks. We sold nothing at all, but then it was the wrong kind of crowd as different people seemed to come to those who come to Tapeley Park, despite the event always being under the auspices of the school. It was sad too as the charming Yolande who has kindly booked the Collective year after year for workshops in writing and colours of the rainbow, writing and soundscapes, junk carnivals and Science Day itself in schools and at the Park in N.Devon many times, (and indeed bought, read and liked 'Porlock the Warlock'!) is leaving Bideford College for Jersey. She will be sorely missed, and I and the whole Collective would like to thank her for all her support and her belief in the Collective and in Widsith & Deor.

A Busy (and Sideways) Summer

It seems incredible not to have updated this blog for so long, but so much gets in the way (and to be honest, Facebook doesn't help). However, since the last post about being a guest poet, there has been the SOS Global Challenge (July) or the 'Things you can never learn; Don't whatever you do accept an invitation to perform at an event which you can see no possible reason for anyone to come to. If you can't, the public won't either!' And why can you not learn it? Because of those times when enough confirmations haven't yet come through, so you're worrying about say practice pitching your marquee or whatever...Well don't. Something else will turn up, and you'll wish you hadn't! As I say, some lessons almost can't be learnt. You think it's something you wouldn't dream of doing again and then...

   But this whole summer has been one of communication failure. At first we (Widsith & Deor Storytelling Theatre) thought our first main festival (after the Exeter Respect) would be the Imploding Inevitable Festival (in Cumbria) and then (having booked us ages before), they cancelled the booking saying that they hadn't had enough ticket sales to cover performer's fees, and so were pretty much only having music and comedy and reducing the festival! So first of all, we thought we were going to Cumbria, then it seemed that we weren't...Next the Nova Festival got back to us asking for more details, as they had only just seen our e-mail as it was stuck in their spam filter! So we packed off the details, but of course (as we hadn't been given a mobile number or similar) it happened again, and so they got the details too late! The same kind of thing happened with the Boomtown Fair (again, we had the availability check), and of course we didn't do Glastonbury or the Big Chill as both weren't running due to the Olympics! And then, just when we were thinking everything had fallen through...Kendal Calling got back to us - where was our risk assessment form? What? we asked? We'd been booked, but this time it was us who hadn't got the e-mail...! So off to Cumbria it was, after all...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Taking the Mic - Great to be a Guest

It's no longer May, but then I've had a lot of things getting in the way of regular blog post paste ups! But here it is, a little later than planned.
   It was great to be asked to be the guest performer at the Phoenix's monthly spoken word, music, comedy and variety extravaganza, 'Taking the Mic', by charming poet hosts the Festival Slam Winning Tim King, and Poetry Columnist for the Express & Echo, Morwenna Griffiths. I chose (as it seems to be going down really well with people) an extract from a sequence which I'm currently working on called 'The History of This House in 50 Objects', which charts the people who live in / drop in and out of / return to / interact with a place that is or becomes part artistic community, part eco-gypsy camp, and part inadvertent foster home to a whole range of folks. It deals with moments and happenings and glimpses of the past through the objects which they've left behind, intentionally or otherwise. The sequence seems to really interest people - after presenting a piece or pieces from it, I always get people coming up and thanking me or asking me if it's real, or saying they'd they'd like to see one of the objects etc.. It's a strange project to be working on, and in a way I'm definitely not 'writer material' and have the soul of a visual artist or performer - despite words being at the core of all I do - because I have (habitually) not wanted to write about people (!) thinking it rude and intrusive, especially without asking first. And, while not meaning to be 'precious' about it, have hated it when fellow writers have written me into plays or poems (always - from my own perspective at least - so ill drawn as if seen through a distorting mirror, or merely reflecting a point they wished to make that wasn't to do with the supposed 'original character'). And in '50 Objects' I face that problem. Of course none of this will be the way the protagonists see themselves - how could it be? Is it moral? Can it be right? (And why is it different to people writing a cliched / distorted image of the author?)
   Well, I've thought long and hard, and come up with the following. Firstly, the people who have written things referring to others are often just friends, and mostly not close friends either. The people in '50 Objects' by contrast all lived together, sometimes cheek by jowl, they were - in the pre-C20th meaning of the word 'family' - a household, the people of the household, which is a distinctly different relationship with different ties and duties. Secondly, once you have suffered at someone's hands or on their behalf, I think it gives you more latitude over your shared past together. Thirdly, many won't remember and over half never read books, most never read poetry. So the chances of them coming across it to be offended are quite low. And those that do or might or who would mind? Those are the ones (I believe) who have least right to, being the ones who made it necessary to write as 'therapy' in the first place. A forfeited right, if you like, like a prisoner imprisoned for a crime and having no television perhaps. And then the names have been changed to protect people. And finally it has been 'fictionalised' to save the parallels being too obvious. In a way, also - the things left behind ultimately belong to whoever claims them. And the stories attach themselves to the things. I don't leave things about or with others for just those kinds of reasons. But if you have left all this stuff, then the duty of care for the material remains of the past passes out of your hands and into another's. And I am not claiming 'to truly know' all these people. Only describing their actions, their words, and sometimes their actions toward me. Is that right? I can only say that - after all that has happened, it feels justified, and in parts even just. I have been told that while depressing (!) in parts, that the portraits which it paints of the inmates are rounded, and that I always mention the positive sides / redeeming features etc. in each one. The things that explain their darker actions. And that is what I intend. No one is without virtue or good sides here, and I am not pretending to be without flaws either. The narrator in the text is an observer not a hanging judge. I have also been told not to have such scruples, and that that's 'just what writers do'. But I (who for preference have always written of colours, forms, landscape, structure, ideas, philosophy, politics, gardens etc., and then dialogues but between people I know well with their permission) hope that always when I do write of human relationships (and not just in a diary or journal or a fantasy/sci fi novel!) that it will be as ethical as I can make it.
   On a less serious, or rather less soul-searching note! people have also called it (quite a few times now) 'inspirational', which is very kind. I am guessing this is to do with the Spinoza-ist style tiny 'democracy' in action from time to time, or the 'I am my brother's keeper' elements; also the 'let's all live together and make art' moments. (Even now I must write in an abstract way when writing about it, for all that it deals with emotions as some writers have dealt with every sordid detail in film noir novels). Anyway, people respond to it, and I keep writing more of it, so something feels right. 'The History of This House in Objects' is the history of a shared house, the house itself, the people who come and go, the things they leave or give, the tales that belong to the things. I guess it was writing about the objects themselves first that gave me the key, and the rest of it came pouring out once the floodgate was opened.

   It was a good night, performing an extract from it at Taking the Mic as a guest. Many performers seemed to be on top form, so it was a really buzzy evening. The Stand Up Philosopher (rather appropriately) did a 'Best of All Possible Worlds' set by Leibniz! Which went with the theme of - what is this I have been given? How do I make the best of it? Jackie Juno and Jon Freeman's sets especially also seemed to go with the confessionals-as-art side of the theme, with some very moving and emotive work, so all in all in a strangely fitting combination/setting for '50 Objects'. Big thanks to all the other performers on the night, and huge thanks to Morwenna Griffiths and Tim King for asking me!


Monday, 16 April 2012

The Showreal Showcase Show

Phew! What a night it was, and more epic than I had thought to put it together! Deor aka the Stand Up Philosopher and I thought a couple of months ago - wouldn't it be great if there was a showcase event where folks could do sections of shows that they haven't enough footage of yet (in this age of the showreel-for-everything) that they're trying to sell to promoters who (understandably enough) say 'have you got any video of it?' to. And that maybe if we asked a friendly venue like the lovely Bike Shed Theatre if they had a free evening for it, we could solve the problem for ourselves and a bunch of other artists with the same issues! And so the Showreal Showcase Show was born. We printed flyers and posters, put them in places round town like the Phoenix Arts Centre, and posted it up on Facebook and associated pages, and waited...e-mails started coming in - folks were interested, and signing up! Excitement mixed with anxiety characterises the charting of a new venture, and I wondered what made it different form organizing events which we've previously put together? Well, firstly it was a number of other people, half of whom we didn't know. Which made it different from the hassles of putting on our own shows or something like the CCANW fundraiser, or the Glastonbury Poetry&Words Tent, where one was asking folks one knew. Secondly, there was printing the programmes at the last minute. This has often been near the end of the process, but again, not with the added responsibility of getting it right for other artists. Doing the promotion? We never enjoy that (I know it's wrong! but we never have - both naturally shy! Daft for performers but surprisingly common), and we had to do the lot - because of the dates there was no in-the-brochure back up, just us, and our two radio shows and Facebook etc. and Spoken/Written. Or was it writing intros for everyone? And so trying hard to get it right, while at the same time doing all the usual - the sound and lighting in an indoor theatre venue, positioning our own lighting (and new fog machine), changing into costume and character, carting the machines and costumes and props and books and sign and all the rest in and then out again, psyching up for our own performance, remembering it, the very different 'energy' of performing (when it's all masks, cloaks and coat tails/top hats) to compering or doing tech stuff...And so having to combine the lot. May be that was it. But it was hard work and it was stressful - and explained to us why no one was already doing it! Although something of the same was being done previously in the wonderfully experimental acoustic open mike settings of the Exeter Catweazle Club, followed by Duckaroo, both hosted by the wonderful Kimwei Westbury and The Jon Freeman.
    The logic was to film everyone and give give all performers a free DVD of their slot. And be (to begin with at least) free for the audience. We got there, and David Lockwood one of the co-Directors of the Bike Shed Theatre was extremely kind and helpful in showing us how to operate things/where things were, like how to use the lighting controls etc. We unpacked the van, folks started to arrive, all the performers turned up, some audience and supporters too, and (if flustered by worry and lack of time in the days running up to it and last-minute printer hassles/paper jams), we began!

We kicked off with a dance troupe called Stillmoving Dance, doing 1950's style number, which was a lovely lively and engaging way to start the show! Followed by Tim King, co-host of Taking the Mic and slam winner of the Exeter Poetry Festival Slam, who did a sketch of a performance lecture on physics show which he's working on - wonderfully experimental and just the sort of unique act we were hoping the Showcase would attract! Engaging, informative, interactive, it had all the hallmarks and promise of a great-looking show to come. Next up was storyteller Sara Hurley of Blazing Tales - she told a section from her show about the River Dart and Dartmoor called 'River' - professional and polished folktales interwoven with beautifully poetic observations/descriptions of the moor and flow, woven together in a hypnotic tapestry. One minute she was a quirky character in the tale, the next she was inviting us to sit with her by a limpid pool, and feel the drop drop drop of the river on our skin...wonderful! A real treat. Then came popular performer Jeff Sleeman with a collection of comic poems, many hilarious, and all on themes of modern life, ending with a humourous song. Then after an interval (time to get changed etc.)
we did our sector from the Carnival of Monsters - the Djinn Baltazare called forth from his box to tell a tale of his dealings with Sinbad the Sailor! I thought the huge bodymask with light up eyes looked splendid in the swirling smoke and coloured lights, and I think Il Vappo (my character the Ringmaster from Old Venice) is one of my favourite characters in our (Widsith and Deor Storytelling Theatre's) entire repertoire. People seemed to like it, and called it 'amazing'. And then we finished the evening with a spell-binding and show-stopping set from Kimwei, gifted percussive guitarist who stands beautifully poised on the contemporary classical/rock-pop divide, always either doing very deep pop music (with sort of folk backdrops) or accessible, danceable and delicious new 'classical' pieces. Last night was no exception and she wowed us all with a Latin mass she's been working on for the last four years, her voice (naturally more alto) hitting angelic soprano. A storm of applause ended an evening that had gone incredibly well for a first time show! And one where we didn't know what might happen next! We were so grateful to all the acts for being so brilliant and exactly the kind of thing we'd hoped for - experimental, variety of artform, things which folks had been working on for a long time, or were still wanting feedback on, or had performed as a full show a few times, but never got enough chances to do that favourite show (a familiar one for us too!).

   Huge thanks to Stillmoving Dance, Tim King, Sara Hurley, Kimwei Westbury, Jeff Sleeman and of course to David Lockwood and the Bike Shed Theatre for having us! And lastly to our lovely supportive audience. We hope to be doing another in the Autumn, or perhaps before (but in another venue as the Bike Shed are booked till season's end) and are thinking of making it a once-every-two-months event. Stay tuned!  

Monday, 5 March 2012

Just back from Cardiff

Just back from Cardiff and performing as a guest act at the Dickensian Twist Slam as hosted by the unstoppable Mab Jones with her boundless energy and charm, at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, to celebrate the 200th centenary of Dickens and also World Book Day. We were there as Widsith and Deor's Monster Theatre! I.e. storytelling theatre but with a cast of 90% Monsters (bodymasks), presenting our new adaptation of Charles Dicken's Christmas story 'The Chimes'.
   It was good weather for travelling, despite a quick hail storm before Bristol! And then over the Severn and Wye Rivers, with what felt like driving over the Sea, the bridge was so vast, and then at last into South Wales. It had been far too long! and was good to be back (I used to go to South Wales a lot at one stage, although knew Swansea rather than Cardiff). Surprisingly, (having spent a lot of time formerly also in North Wales, and knowing West Wales a little and the Marches pretty well) I had never yet been to Cardiff but always meant to go, so this was the perfect opportunity. The weather cleared up, we found the Arts Centre and parked down a quiet road, and then it was off to have a quick look round before the evening show. Cardiff had a Castle which looked a complete mixture of styles! A wonderfully eccentric timeline through architectural fashions, and the city centre seemed full of interesting arcades, packed with  small independent shops. We passed open air market stalls, one of which had the kind of stall I run myself, except that it sold chocolates: The signs modest, to-the-point and ever-knocked-over by the shy proprietor, who had toasting tongs to pick the chocolates up, which weren't ideal for the task. The goods themselves were large and square and evidently about taste and not fancy swirls or wrappers. The brown paper bags to put them in were also, purely functional - the emphasis was definitely on the goods themselves! And they were indeed, some of the finest chocolates I have ever had - amaretto and coffee were the chosen flavours, in plain chocolate, and they were freshly picked off the chocolate tree. Divine. No sales pitch, no fripperies, just some of the best-tasting chocolates a gourmet could wish for. The Bute Park looked lovely, we passed a view of the expansive waters leading to Cardiff Bay, and when at last it was time for a drink, we discovered that Wetherspoons had taken over a beautiful theatre building, The Prince of Wales. It had split levels with a modern but sympathetic and stylish spiral staircase, balconies and boxes with huge red velvet curtains fringed with gold in alcoves, a balcony above tiered with theatre seating, a bar where the stage had once been (it looked like), curtain still above where the  proscenium arch must have been, a theatrical frieze, some striking - plasterwork? decoration over the proscenium arch as well, stained glass windows in unexpected places, an airy roof of exposed timbers over the upstairs bar, and altogether was (as well as a very busy pub) a magical space! And then (after a brief supper) it was back to the pleasant, airy, Chapter Arts Centre to unload the cargo of Monsters and meet Mab Jones, who had so kindly liked our Monster Theatre videos. There was a brief open mike, and then the slam proper, with people interpreting the C19th inspired element in a whole variety of different ways. To listing as many titles of Dickens' novels in a poem as possible (though I could've sworn he left out Bleak House!) to tacking the author's character, to lauding the age in which he lived in wry rhyme, to an almost dancer-like recitation/performance of a C19th poet (Browning), and many other takes, some more or less loosely having a nod to the theme. It was a very tough set of decisions for the randomly picked five judges, as at least five contenders were equally good, they just had very differing styles, so in a sense, it felt wrong to pick one above the others. But the most slam-friendly professional did just win, as something about the confidence that lots of bookings and experience brings tipped him upward in the judge's eyes, understandably, and he did have the most stage presence. Moreover draws can be so messy! And absolutely impossible between so many. But was still a pity to see folks who'd done so well in the first round get knocked out, and the five turn into just three, but the more slams I see, the more I just feel this is the nature of the beast. It's very rare that I've thought 'yes it should be x' and then it was, at the end. So I couldn't help but feel for all the finalists, but then it says much for the quality of the performances elicited by the slam! And of Mab Jones ability to attract such talent. She kept the pace moving with great aplomb - no mean feat with so many contestants, an open mike, AND two guest acts! Our own adaptation of 'The Chimes' seemed to go down very well, with myself as Toby, and Deor doing amazing quick-changes as all three aristocrats AND the goblin of the bells, all with bodymasks, three of them huge, and two with light up eyes. There was a heap of generous applause and I and Deor got lots of kind compliments, Deor about the masks (people just love them), and myself about the storytelling. 'I've never seen two person storytelling done in that way - it's great!' was a comment from one of the poets that left me glowing. 'Brilliant! That was spot on!' said one woman from the audience - I wish I'd said more in reply than just a sheepish 'Hey thank you!' but you always think of something more to the purpose long afterward! The evening finished with a Vaudeville act dressed as Queen Victoria with lots of showmanship, and then it was time for the show to end, and 'so to bed' as Pepys used to say!
   Huge thanks to the wonderful Mab Jones for having us!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Bristol Acoustic Night

At last I got to Bristol Acoustic Night! The much-acclaimed, long running, and positively legendary acoustic evening at the Halo Cafe Bar in Stokes Croft, Bristol. I feature it regularly in Spoken/Written, have heard so much about it, always meant to go, but things kept cropping up, until at last, this half term, with a day and a half free, and one of those being a requisite Monday, at last I was free to go! Stokes Croft itself is an interesting area - so covered in graffiti that I wondered if it was a partial legacy of the graffiti festival which I'd heard about? There were a couple of images signed Banksy, and some very colourful pieces, some pretty clever at angles to trick the eye or reflecting the street, and one near a large crossing that looked as if was probably wonderful from a distance/the other side of the road, but the 'bigger picture' was, quite literally, not available close-up. It either looked (the whole area) terrifically arty or like a vision of street gang apocalypse! However, the trendy bars and stylish boutiques and shabby chic charity shops gave the lie to the latter and underlined the former. We found an especially comfortable cafe bar called The Social, with red leather sofas, fairylights, exposed brickwork, solid wooden tables and fantastic coffee, with free biscotti - some of the best I'd had, full of orange and lemon flavours.
   Then it was time to head on down to Bristol Acoustic Night, and the Halo was a smart restaurant/cafe/bar, with quite a large lounge at the back, where the Night was held. It had tables and chairs, and sofas as well, a well defined stage area with black backdrop and logo poster, professional PA and its own sound technician, reliable mikes, ambient lighting, and generally I could see at once why it was so well known. A great venue of good size and ideally equipped. Introductions and compering were done by Andi Langford Woods and Julian Ramsey Wade, with great aplomb and flair. The latter punctuating the proceedings with some heartfelt performance poetry including a very fine love poem at the end. Andi was charming and he and Hazel Hammond the tattoo poet ended the evening with a comic duo dialogue poem story. Acts were of a very high quality, but I must just single out Luke Blake and Guilia, the latter an excellent guitarist and the former with a really lovely voice, Hokkers a very talented singer/songwriter with a great vocal range, and Pink Sniper, whom I was rather surprised not to have come across before as he was a deadly political performance poet. Great performance, had presence, and the work was fantastic - blow after blow of sophisticated and punchy analysis of pop culture problems and attacks on mainstream notions with unremitting accuracy and thoughtfulness all wrapped with quirk, truth and terrific delivery (from memory of course). Just my cup of tea. And I agreed with him too!
   The Stand Up Philosopher gave a brilliant set - Foucault's History of Sexuality Vol. 1 condensed into under ten minutes, and it went down extremely well - he had some lovely comments, not least from a guy who said 'That was brilliant - I don't know much about Foucault, you must tell me in the interval.' And when I came back from the bar in said interval, they were indeed deep in conversation! Also Luke Blake (doing a PhD in - performing arts? and philosophy) said it was the 'most perfect expression' of the combination he'd seen. It was superb and the video is up on the 'Withywheel' YouTube Channel (the channel for all artists from the Cartwheels Collective).
   I did a sequence from a poetry performance called 'The Maze of Love' and it seemed to go down well too. All in all, a great night with some truly fine talents, and some I'd really like to see again! Well done everyone, and big thanks to Andi and Julian for having us!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

That Time of Year Again...

Well after the Christmas and New Year break, it's that time of year again...Yep, time to go hell for leather on all the venues and event promoters whom you started bothering last September. A handful in September, as it was still the high from the last season. Then a few in October. More in November, and you always mean to do as many in December...but even if you don't flag, mysteriously offices shut earlier, folks are on leave, or simply it's more answerphone than staffed phones... And now it's time to hot up the pace, ringing all those whom you've e-mailed and who haven't yet replied, reminding those who've sounded interested, trying to get hold of those who've mentioned bookings in order to elicit firm dates (not least because of those who are asking when you're free - of course you as yet have no idea!). E-mailing again all those who've lost your details when they were away or off sick, and phoning new places to ask whom to contact. Filling in online forms for various festivals, and generally gearing up be a stalker - well, that's how it feels. My intentions are honourable - I just want some work, but now I know what days x works, when y has been on holiday for how long, and when they've been off sick, that z takes long lunches, that v never gets into the office before 10, that u always leaves early, and that o is only ever available on a Thursday... If I had been employed to check up on these folks about the amount of time they are actually in their offices, I'd have had a fat cheque or two by now! Sorry, I couldn't help being silly for a moment there, but it IS demoralizing trying to get hold of very busy people to get an answer to your question, and that being one of importance to you. It does one good to see the funny side from time to time.
   I was just wondering how many times I'd already rung x and y, when my co-performer Deor reminded me just how many times it took me to eventually get through to a certain big festival curator last season. Because it's only when you've caught their fancy or captured their imagination, whipped up their interest, that they give you their mobile number, and start calling you back. THEN communication becomes smoother and easier, simpler. But - you have to get to that point first. When you're booked and performing, everything feels right, and afterwards, with the festival programme or venue brochure tucked safely under your arm, you forget all about the huge amount of admin. - and I don't mind admin.! - but I mean the soul-destroying chipping away at the rock face, and the feeling of dogged warding off of despair that it induces - you forget about all that stuff that you had to do in order to make it happen. And it feels as if it was always going to be, that you would get these gigs.
   It wasn't of course. If it hadn't been for all that hard graft, it would never have got arranged. Promoters are busy. Festival organizers have to deal with dozens of acts, sometimes hundreds, depending on the size of their marquee, field or area. You have to convince these folks that they ought to remember you, that you will be great, and remind them of that.
    I only remember the curator ringing me back and everything going from there, negotiating the fee and parking permits. 'No' said Deor - 'Twenty phonecalls it took to get to that stage.' 'Twenty?' I gasped. But when he said it, I DID recollect - yes, unless you're at one of those gigs who just book you time and time again, that's the sort of effort we're talking about. The thing to keep telling yourself? 'Something WILL happen. I MUST just keep on'. And remember - it was like this last time, and the time before that... Call it the 'January Blues'.