The Incidental Performance

In more standard theatre venues what you do before entering a scene is wait. In the wings or the dressing room typically. Maybe the corridor you’ve strolled through to get to the wings. You wait with your fellow cast members and try to keep quiet.

When it comes to outdoor theatre, you end up in some odd places waiting. These can range from car parks to antique chests, behind trees to dirty great holes in the ground. Sometimes with your colleagues, often not. The only company you can have for a while are your own thoughts or maybe an animal or two. In the dark on your own, if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow try not to be alarmed.

What happens when you inevitably meet a member of the public? That person who isn’t part of the show but who’s day and environment you’ve just made a little bit odd?

These encounters are usually brief and to the point;

“What’s all this about then?”

You learn to distill the entire plot. You become adept at directing people to websites to try and sell that last remaining ticket.

Not all encounters are like that. Some will stay back and just watch you. You’re bordering on an installation. Carrying out a mundane task for you becomes a fascination. What is a man dressed like that doing with a bunch of sticks with fairly lights on? Occasionally I feel a bit like this:

Who knows what those who have a nice distance shot are thinking? Others will want a photograph, so a quick pose and off they go.

A man was in the middle of a phone call once whilst I was waiting. Within his conversation he said to whomever was on the other end – “There’s a bloke in trainers and wings just… standing.” No enquiry as to why I was standing there. He moved on a minute before 40 people dressed in red ran up a big hill. He would have had a lovely view, and his quizzical look would have been partially answered. Oh well! I often wonder what the other person said.

Then we move onto the more involved micro-interactions. I once gave a couple of gentlemen a mini-lecture on George Merryweather whilst being George Merryweather. One of them furiously jotted down notes. All this whilst stood on a lovely little bridge in Watchet, from which I was dangling an enamel cup attached to string over a steam and within that cup was a liquorice slug. That didn’t interest them in the slightest.

A couple of women stopped me once to say how much they loved my odd socks. I was arresting poets at the time, so asked if they saw any would they help me? They laughed and cheerily pronounced they would aid and abet their crime! Good day madams!

During my last tour, I have a task where I ask my group to gather sticks. A small moment in the grand scheme. After the show I’m wrestling with a barrier to the let a car out of the venue. I’m still in costume. A young woman darts across the road towards me, who I recognise from the show that evening. Reaching me she hands me a stick. I give the appropriate character response “That’s a nice stick”. Away she goes without saying a word. The performance was resurrected one last time a few hours after it ended.

Does all this mean anything? Well I like to think I’m doing my bit for Kayfabe! Also it reinforces that particularly once in costume, any number of things can happen. Even though we’re still trying to control as much as possible, this type of performance is open to the elements. As we know the elements will shape whatever it comes in contact with. I wasn’t trained for that as I was taught in the very controlled environment of rehearsal rooms and theaters. We briefly puncture each others realities – that person going for a stroll and me waiting for the show.

A very select audience get a bespoke interaction. Unplanned, very rarely unwelcome and can be great fun.

Paper Thin – Reality reshaped

First post in a while, lax I know, but it’s been busy in the good way! Finishing off the tour of The Hunting of the Snark, workshops, as well as filming, animating and a whole lot of editing.

Which leads me to the following link;

http://www.devon-cornwall-film.co.uk/2018/10/12/reality-reshaped-alexander-warn-on-his-film-paper-thin/

A short piece regarding my film – a micro commission for Exeter Phoenix’s Two Short Nights film festival.

Enjoy!

Alex

The Hunting of the Snark

‘Tis the season for new outdoor theatre. I type this as it’s snowing outside, which for a Plymothian is an odd sensation. It’s also one of the few conditions I have yet to perform in. That is why we stick to spring and autumn. Which leads me nicely onto Burn the Curtain’s new show for 2018:

The Hunting of the Snark

Tickets available here for:

HALDON FOREST April 5th, 6th, 7th

SUTTON MANOR COMMUNITY WOODLAND April 19th, 20th, 21st

HAMSTERLY FOREST  May 3rd, 4th 5th

Join the Butcher, the Banker, the Broker, the Barrister and the Bonnetmaker as they hunt for the ever elusive Snark. Take an unforgettable journey through the forest in Burn the Curtain’s new adaptation of this classic poem by Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland).

Come prepared for adventure and with your much needed help, we will make a fresh attempt to find the Snark. Please wear appropriate clothing and footwear, and don’t forget your torch…

There are some extra dates for later in the year and a little added something that will be with in the next month. For further details, tickets visit http://burnthecurtain.co.uk/ or https://forestry.gov.uk/snarkhunter

 

Zero Mostel

It’s my birthday today but that isn’t important. I’ve always been more interested about the historical events that have taken place on my birthday. The first part of Tom Baker’s last ever Dr Who story – Logopolis. Number 1 in the charts was “Shaddupa Your Face” by the Joe Dolce Music Theatre. Also I share my birthday with two people I admire greatly – Barry McGuigan and one of the most singular (and very possibly dangerous) actors of all time – Zero Mostel.

Today would have marked his 100th birthday. His most famous role is as Max Bialystock in The Producers. However there are other films you should certainly check out. Panic in the Streets one of his earliest films in which he is a gangster infected with pneumonic plague being pursued through New Orleans! Running with fellow infected mobster Jack Palance, being chased Richard Widmark – all directed by Elia Kazan.

Also his second pairing with Gene Wilder in a film version of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros . It is a peculiar film (attempting to film anything by Ionesco is akin to trying to film Alan Moore) and Mostel also didn’t require make-up for his transformation into a rhino. He made great use of his physical presence and high energy.

Zero was also blacklisted during the McCarthy era which is one reason why his filmography is nowhere near as long as you’d imagine it could. I can’t do him justice in a blog. The best thing to do is go and watch him. A genuine force of nature. The closest I’ve seen in writing to summing him up was by Stella Adler. She wrote in The Art of Acting (talking about her use of animal exercises in training actors):

“As an animal, you must know who you are but not how you’ll react. Being an animal teaches you about spontaneity. If you’re scared, do something. If you’re hungry, do something. Always be specific, never general, and do everything to the maximum. That’s why it’s dangerous to be on stage with an animal –  they always do things to the maximum.

The same was true of Zero Mostel. That’s why I used to warn my students to never get on a stage with an animal, a child or Zero Mostel.” 

High praise indeed!

The Long Distance Actor

A blog post that originally appeared on the Burn the Curtain website:

Rewind 20 years. I’m 13, sat in a sparsely populated class because it’s sports day and I’m a ‘reserve’ for my team. There is a knock at the door. It’s another student.

“Excuse me sir can we talk to Alex please?” Permission granted.

“Alex we need you to run the 1,500m will you do it?”

In minutes I’m changed and on the starting line. Ready, set, go! Three and three-quarter laps of the less then smooth grass running track.

What was I running for? Team points.

What was I running from? Maths (I would have done anything to get out of maths.)

The last 100 metres – sprint hard. Legs burn, breathing is heavy, don’t neglect arms. I cross the finishing line… fifth. No team points. Just the knowledge that I had played my small part in sports day eventually. My dreams of being a professional sportsmen were already over by then. But a lesson called Drama seemed to fill that void…

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The Company of Wolves is another departure for us. We have split audiences up before but not in this fashion. Taking runners and walkers down different paths to different experiences alongside shared ones. All in the failing light of the day. We’re rather enjoying our new venture into the night “muhahahahaha.”

Promenade theatre always coughs up a unique challenge. You see I’ve had a few mad dashes to get to other scenes, all actors do. However I can safely say I hadn’t been required to run 2k to get to my next scene before. For that reason alone pre-rehearsal training was essential. The last time I ran this regularly was my school days. No audience wants to struggle to hear a wheezing actor! Also promenade, like running, can at times give you a strong sense of isolation. Which is rather handy when playing someone like The Huntsman.

Who is he? He is an amalgam of various forms of huntsmen that appear in Angela Carter’s stories. Part detective, part survivalist and thanks to a cool costume provided by Ruth Webb – part bird of prey. The Huntsman exists on the periphery, spending a lot of time off the path. Which is only advisable for the experienced hunter.

Now 20 years later let’s ask these two questions again;

What am I running for? The story.

What am I running from? I can’t possible say. I’ve already revealed far too much…

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Talking to yourself

One man show? Sounds good no? Control of your own material, how you see and play the character, what amount of tech (if any) you’ll use plus so much more. You are in complete control then you start rehearsing…

Besides one friend sitting in for half-hour, no one else has laid eyes on it. This Saturday evening a room full of people will see the 20 mins I have been working on. You start to question whether working on your own is:

  • 1) advisable
  • 2) lunacy
  • 3) the norm

You book a space for three hours and off you go. Did that feel right? Felt okay, maybe it needs refining. Why didn’t that work? I haven’t got the right way of presenting it. These are just some of the conversations in your own head whilst you’re rehearsing. Add on top of that the realisation that you have been talking to yourself for three hours, and conflict can happen. Have I done the right thing?

This weekend, whilst developing another show, I met another performing working on a one hander. I asked how often she worked on her own. She said for the majority too – sometimes in a shared space where you could ask others to briefly look over excerpts. Maybe I haven’t been as dumb as I thought…

Of course there is no uniform approach and you’ll always need eyes on the piece during the development process. Some of the doubts expressed above probably are due to fear. This isn’t the first solo show I’ve done. The other was at university however, a much safer place to try such an experiment. The parallels were again most of it was on my own – lecturers only ever saw it three times before it hit the stage – one was my dress rehearsal!

What I have learnt? If you are wanting to go it alone like I have –  get someone in mid-way through. That way if you’re up the wrong path, they can drag you back in time. If you’re not, then they can help pick up those pieces you have missed. Get a hold of a video camera and film yourself – don’t rely on it completely though. It is a useful one step removed. I tried a mirror but it’s still too ‘real time’ for me. Trust your darn instincts – that’s something I’ll always say regardless in a cast or solo. Also keep moving – don’t sit and think too much. Try it happy, sad, angry, or slow, mid, quick. Work backwards, out of sequence you never know!

Who knows what an audience will make of it. Saturday will be it’s first airing in a work in progress evening at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, called BETA 5. Now all that is left is get that tension and turn it your advantage.