Thursday, May 31, 2007


Constance Brown In Vienna

After a finishing Warwick on a high opening in Vienna knocked us back hard. The truck arrived later than advertised, putting us on the back foot from the start. Then more agro with the dimmers prevented refresher rehearsals. A very poor blackout and lights bouncing of the cream coloured ceiling added to our woes. Being set up in a new space threw people off their stride back stage. A CD inexplicably skipped. Everything distracted from the performances which clunked their way to a conclusion.

I was bitterly disappointed and upset; unwilling to be mollified by Gerard’s reasonable observation that these should be regarded as preview performances and with a young show of this complexity glitches are bound to happen. Even a post show reception with free beer and a number of enthusiastic promoters enquiring about booking the show didn’t help much.

Yesterday a familiarly fearsome Teutonic effort from the resident tech crew built a black box around our seating bank. James M spent the day beating the lighting kit with a big stick and we all worked through tweaking and clarifying a host of small details in the show. The first performance felt much more as it should be and our newly introduced ‘curtain call’ even elicited a couple of “Bravo”. The second performance was equally solid. We’re back.

Today a few emails, a couple of meetings but essentially a day off, some much needed extra sleep and a trip to someone else’s show tonight.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Constance Brown at Warwick Arts Centre

Of course when things get really interesting Blogging has to go out of the window. The ramp-up to open The Cleansing Of Constance Brown was pretty intense even by our standards.

Rehearsal time was squeezed by the need to set-up and practice visual effects and to shop for key props and costumes. William from the Cork Festival arrived on Friday 18th and caught only caught half a run because we were running late. Karen and Ana put some serious hours in over the weekend on props and costumes. Craig and I worked late on Saturday pulling the set and seating bank apart.

On Monday two trips in the 7.5 tonne truck got everything to Warwick Arts Centre. The 6 door version of the set fitted into the studio perfectly with the audience sat in the scene dock looking through the dock doors and down the set, in essence watching from another room. Something in the lighting kit started malfunctioning, fixes were tried, replacements sought. A portion of set cracked Gerard heavily on the head. Andy reported in sick. Setting up took an age. Joseph from the London International Mime Festival had hoped to see a run but in the end just saw the set; a blow he took in commendably good heart. Jan took Andy to hospital and Gerard tagged along to have his head examined. We phoned Gareth Brierly as emergency cover.

By one in the morning, due to a combination of logistics and solidarity six of us were in hospital waiting for Andy to be diagnosed and discharged. Miles from home, exhausted, a friend and colleague out of action, a new show opening in less than 18 hours.

Tuesday we spend wrestling with the lighting kit and teaching Gareth Andy’s part. Andy is clearly not going to be right for this or the next few days. We open the show with two performances on the first night. Considering the terrible build up both go relatively smoothly.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday all bring two performances, notes and bits of re-rehearsal, we try to balance improving the show and preserving the performers. Gareth performs heroics zooming back and forth from London to keep things in order there whilst helping us out too. It’s heavy going for him and everyone. The show is intense. The performers have no real let up even when they’re off stage. With the running time varying between 75 and 80 minutes and the turnaround logistics vast there’s little time to relax between runs. Of course the hope is that this great effort is translated on stage into something special and the early signs are good.

Audience feedback trickles in and it’s highly encouraging. We mull it over things people like, things they are less keen on. We mull it over and measure this up against our own feelings. Some things may change when we have a firm grasp of what we currently have. The overriding sense we have is that the show is going down very well and the full-on approach is provoking full-on appreciation.

Saturday had that last-night-of-a-run tug of many family and friends given cursory attention in the bar whilst performers and crew try to de-rig and pack. It’s brilliant that so many people make the effort to come and see the shows, it’s always embarrassing not to be able to give them the attention they deserve afterwards.

A big truck is waiting at the back doors when the show comes down. As soon as everything is in an its roller shutter closed the engine was gunned and off it went, into the night, bound for Vienna.


Sunday, May 27, 2007


Stan's Cafe: Runners Up

A year or so ago Rob Elkington said "We should win an award, go out and find an award we can win". It's taken a while and we still haven't made it but just before The Cleansing Of Constance Brown opened were runners up to the Midland World Trade Forum Exporter Of The Year.

The awards evening was a Black Tie Do at Millennium Point. I ran from rehearsals to join Charlotte M and Ana just as the meal started. It was an unusual context for us, but fascinating. We were very pleased with our award, not least because it came with a bottle of champagne to pop on opening night.

Fair play to Hygan Products, they shift a lot of industrial sponge overseas, worthy winners.



Friday, May 11, 2007


The Monster Is Rising

The set is vast, a monster, beautifully made so heavy as hell; it looks fantastic. Massed ranks of lighting stands flank the stage. Miles of cable, dozens of lanterns and colour scrollers laid out on tarpaulin, James M, with his iPod plugged, spent all day fixing plugs and connectors; the legwork before the glory. Kit for effects arrives everyday, yesterday was speakers and amps for Nina’s surround sound world, today we await the world’s most expensive water resistant varnish to treat the set yet again, just in case. Karen has a huge scrolling shopping list, there are more props and costumes already on rails and tables than in all our previous shows combined. It should be the ENO. but it’s us.

On Monday the seating bank arrives, with the chairs following swiftly. Each day the list of things to do seems to grow rather than shorten. Masking for the front of the stage. Moulton to drape above the lights. A changing station. A video relay for the operators. Where do you get hold of a Holy Water shaker thing for £10 or less?

At times the show just seems like a vast exercise in logistics but I think beneath it all and rising is a really strong show. Each day there is a moment that rocks you back on your heals with its strength. We are stitching these moments together. Time is running out but we know where we’re going. It could be spectacular. I hope it’s packed out.


P.S. For what it's worth, I note this is the 100th entry on this blog (and still not publishing deal).

Tuesday, May 08, 2007



It might be over dramatic to describe The Black Maze as cursed, but it is certainly high maintenance. On Sunday Greame and Jack were due to drive it to Loughborough University for a gig, initially they thought the batteries were very flat, then they discovered that there weren't any batteries at all!

These trucks have two big batteries, too big to heft into an engine, instead they sit on a shelf, under the back end of the truck. They have a case that closes over them but a easy to access for the criminally minded and certainly not inexpensive. If you're drinking in a South Birmingham pub and someone offers you a deal on two vast batteries call the police.

Getting hold of replacement batteries of this scale on a Sunday is a time consuming and very expensive business. Ultimately too time consuming and too expensive. We had to cancel the gig, the first time we have ever canceled: an upsetting business.

Previous Maze grief:

Last minute staffing crisis involving extra flights to Theseloniki and Budapest.
Flat batteries delaying return home (but not effecting gig) Warwick and Edinburgh.
Replacement tires required whilst driving through France.
Being driven into in France.
Clipping a parked car and being held (briefly) by the Hungarian police, Budapest.
A girl wetting herself in the maze, Corsham.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Join The Arts Debate

Last week Nick, our advisory producer, was part of a team representing independent theatre companies who called in on Peter Hewitt, Arts Council England's boss and poked him with a stick. Their idea was that it's hard to sit on your hands whilst someone is poking you with a stick. Hand sitting isn't what you want the boss of Arts Council England to be doing when a big wedge of Arts Money is re-routed to property developers, no matter how Olympian they may be.

Anyway, Nick came away with the shocking news that Peter Hewitt had barely received any letters of complaint about the Grants4Arts cut (he mentioned a figure but it was too shockingly low to publish here). The point is, if we don't howl and complain and scream about the dire consequences of this action what's to stop them coming back for a few more percentage points when the price of bricks goes up? I felt ashamed of not contributing to the derisory pile of letters and it was in this context that the latest request arrived from Arts Council England for us to take part in the Arts Debate.

The Arts Debate is a public consultation exercise about Public Funding of the arts. It has been running since February and closes on 11th May. Time is running out to get our voices heard, so I got online and filled in the questionnaire. It turned out to be quite easy, I think I may have got full marks. The link here takes you to the debate site, do try and find time to tell the Arts Council what you think. To make things even easier I've answered Question 1 for your here. It's Stan's Cafe.



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