2010: Move ‘em out
I’ve loved Curtis Eller since I heard his lament for old-school Hollywood, “Buster Keaton,” at the sadly missed Seymour’s Family Club, way back in the day. So it’s tip-top-notch to be supporting the mustachioed one come mid-March. I might even try to dredge up a new song of my own. An album by The Heath Robinson is hopefully not too far off; I’ve certainly got the songs, but I’ve also got a madman’s dream of recording particular tunes on particular pianos that “suit them”… which, in some cases, requires travelling to stupid places like Bishop Middleham in County Durham. Or being really nice to bearded troubadour Stanton Delaplane and asking to make use of his beautiful Knight upright piano for an afternoon. Am I boring you by talking about pianos? Really? Oh, right. I hate you. Go away.
Speaking of El Orchestro Dos Hombres Beardo, here’s me assisting Stanton with some serious “Old Men In Pub Singing” action at St George’s in Bristol, mid-January:
You can see I’m barely using the mic. That’s because St George’s has an acoustic you could practically ride out of the room and down the hill on. I’ve never played there before, but once up on stage I understood in seconds why musi-people drone on and on about the gorgeous reflections and tones you get in the place. Am I boring you, talking about acoustics? Yeah? Yeah, well. Shut up. Shut up, wake up and SMELL THE RESONANCE.
So, if we’re not going to talk about lovely pianos, or acoustics, what ARE we going to discuss, you and I? I dunno. What do you like? Do you like sitting in the dark and looking at things? You DO? Oh, marvellous. So do I. We have so much in common.
Well, at the almost-not-January-any-more end of January, I watched a whole batch of things in the dark, all part of Ferment at Bristol Old Vic. Ferment is a platform where artists both new and established can bung stuff (ideas, musings, half-formed, embryonic, random tugs at the bell-pull of inspiration, what have you) in front of audiences and effectively go “Whaddyathink? Worth a shot?” A great thing to see at BOV, and a fortnight well spent — lots of inspiring images and funny moments. I had two pieces in the programme, the first being a re-run of And the line goes dead, first shown at BAC last May. It went down very well, and taught me some very positive lessons about a work I had suspected might have been a lost cause — or at the very least, something that needed re-routing towards another medium.
One of the great things about Ferment was that so many audience members contributed to proceedings, via feedback forms that were handed out after the shows. Some fellow playwrights expressed reservations about this process, worrying that the — sometimes contradictory — flow of comments might risk trampling individual authorial voices. But I reckon receiving criticism well is as much of an art as giving it; filtering the results, reading between the lines of what people like and don’t like… it’s all part of the fun for me. If you were in the audience for either of my shows and filled in these forms, thank you (even if you told me I sucked rancid dog’s cock big time.)
There’s a story about Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil, when it was running the gauntlet of test audiences pre-release: it was shown to randomly selected groups who were all asked to fill out generic response forms — scoring particular aspects of the movie, adding any individual comments they might have. Brazil is set in a grey, bureaucratic dystopia where everyone’s a slave to box-ticking and red tape, and a particular epiphany for the protagonist Sam Lowry involves him proclaiming, ecstatically, that there shall be “NO MORE PAPERWORK, NOW OR EVER AGAIN!” A lot of the forms received at the test screenings remained uncompleted, and simply had NO MORE PAPERWORK scrawled in the comments box. Now I’d imagine (as did Gilliam) that these viewers completely bought into the heart and soul of his film; the studio execs however, refused to make that connection, and preferred to assume that these particular viewers had hated the film so much that they didn’t want to bother giving feedback. Go (as our American cousins like to say) figure.
The second show at Ferment from out of my wrong-brained skullscape was a rehearsed reading of my play Janet Gaynor — or the first 20 pages of it, at any rate. Given that the first 5 pages contain no dialogue whatsoever, director Simon Godwin and his wonderful cast of actors had their work cut out to get it working and up before an audience in what amounted to a day’s rehearsal. But again, hooray, it played well, and it was a joy to be working with such consummate professionals. Although I was present for most of the rehearsal process I tried to take a back seat, observing more than participating: I wanted to see what happened when my writing was picked apart and interpreted by people who were, mostly, strangers to what I’ve done in the past… which was bit of a luxury to say the least, but helped me no end in identifying weak points and suggesting areas for further development. And I’m very happy with the fact that Janet Gaynor, with its dialogue, images and scenarios drawn heavily from my background in devised work, is beginning to suggest the shape of an intriguing hybrid; somewhere between live art and the more script-led, theatrical arena.
And speaking of live art: here’s a collection of notable live artists, re-enacting a vague sort of last supper in the early hours of Thursday, 28th January, at Renato’s in Bristol. It’s my fault. The sight of so many fine biblical beards, and what with the whole contingent drinking red wine and all, it all proved too much to resist. Sorry…
(Left to right: Alex Bradley, Tanuja Amarasuriya, Steve Robins, Harminder Singh Judge, Shi Ker, Pete Barrett. One of them WILL betray you.)
(Curtis Eller poster by Alex Bertram-Powell.)
(Stanton Delaplane at St George’s photo by Doug Bott.)
(And the line goes dead production still by Tanuja Amarasuriya.)