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.

Dates galore – Company of Wolves and Allen Jeffery

It has been a while and now is the time to add some new dates for upcoming performances.

Burn the Curtain continue taking The Company of Wolves on the road this spring. Three venues are lined up and the details are as follows:

Cwmcarn Forest, Caerphilly, South Wales, NP11 7FA

April 7th, 8th and 9th 2016

Tickets: www.blackwoodminersinstitute.com

Durlston Country Park, Swanage, Dorset, BH19 2JL

April 21st, 22nd and 23rd 2016

Tickets: www.durlston.co.uk or call 01929 424443

Delamere Forest, near Frodsham, Cheshire, CW8 2JD

May 5th, 6th, and 7th 2016

Tickets: www.boxoffice.forestry.gov.uk 03000 680 400

Also my first solo show makes a return this time as part of the second Plymouth Fringe:

The Life and Times of Allen Jeffery

The Nowhere Inn

May 31st, 3pm (more details to follow)

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.

Performing in French.

Following a week away in France to perform Don Quixote by Bicycle, we took the decision early on to perform in French. The brief was clear – start with only the pertinent information. Now that is more then applicable in English with participatory theatre. Our job(s) is to make sure the audience is aware of what has to happen, why, and what they need to do to help. So I took too reducing my lines into informative and instructive. My dialogue in English is neither flowery, nor heavy. Sancho Panza shouldn’t ever really be giving speeches!

The process of reducing it down to merely one sentence a go meant the translation could be simpler. I speak no French – at all. So then we work on stresses, pronunciation just to make it legible to the French ear. Granted it is a worry, as we rely on the conversation with an audience. We need response, to reaffirm our clarity as well as engaging with the story. Breakthrough moments came during rehearsals where passers by would watch and respond. It all appeared understandable to them, which was good.

One of the main points I have taken away from it, are the jokes. Reduced to mere two or three word replies, they got the same laughs. Perhaps my lines in English, at those points, don’t need to be so wordy. They still achieve the same result, but sometimes with unnecessary words.

Although we only got to perform the one show, there have been new approaches learnt. I am not advocating a complete reduction – characters like Don Quixote positively thrive off words. But for the sake of a joke or instruction, sometimes simple, clean and precise works best.

Don Quixote by Bicycle

Don Quixote finally set off on it’s adventure last Friday. Sadly the weather for the first show decided to rain non-stop. Soggy actors and audience persevered though! Cyclists are hardy people and this goes along with outdoor theatre/performance of any kind. You keep going, as long as it’s safe to. The audience hopefully appreciate it, as we appreciate them sticking with us! They were troopers, the youngest on a bike being a girl of around 4 or 5. She kept going and the company have nothing but the upmost respect for her!

Sunday provided gorgeous weather and as a result a sold-out and energised audience. It’s incredible how their interaction can affect how you see/play your character. That afternoon it firmly clicked into place and helped upped my performance as well as try a few new things out.

All in all a good start, and another weekend to go in Exeter. Tickets are selling well so take the chance and join in the adventure on your bicycle.

Don Quixote by Bicycle

Don Quixote by Bicycle has been officially launched! Burn the Curtain have details on their website for this summers new show http://burnthecurtain.wordpress.com/the-adventures-of-don-quixote/

We participated in Sky Ride in Plymouth on 13th May. Whilst myself and my colleage Richard Pulman cycled around the Hoe and the city in character on our bikes, workshops ran where children and adults could decorate their bikes to add some sparkle in the sun.

Yours truly will be playing Sancho Panza, which again requires myself to be kitted out in a fake belly. This I usually double up with a beard for reasons I’ve never fully understood…

Here I am in The Herald: http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/PICTURES-Thousands-cycle-Plymouth-Sky-Ride/story-16077631-detail/story.html

The costume was designed and made by Meier Williams. Dapple the Donkey was designed and made by Ruth Webb and the energetic chaps from Bike Space Plymouth helped get the bike into an actor proof condition!