Sunday, November 23, 2008


Acts of Faith

I’m on the train home after, Trials of Faith, the Coventry University show. Tonight was its night. I’m fairly tired but mostly just emotionally drained. I worked with 34 people devising a show and in the 10 days spent together we barely exchanged a non-show related word. Although I couldn’t do late nights in the rehearsal room I was strongly committed to the show and did a good deal of homework on it. Then it gets its single performance, so it gets cut down before it has a chance to grow, much less mature. Due to various circumstances no one I know well sees it, so there is no calibrated feedback. For lecturers these shows are so inextricably linked with the student’s education and assessment they are rarely discussed with me a works of art. Suddenly it’s over and instead of enjoying a few social moments with the cast I’m hustling to complete my role. The ensemble I have come to cherish as a team has to be divided by marks. It all suddenly seems heartless and cold. It’s a lonely journey home on a Friday night through the revelry.

Marking creative work – particularly large group devised work – is always a headache. How do you compare a strong performer against a great ideas merchant? How do you value strong positive energy against coasting talent? Is a great stage moment worth more than solid backstage grafting? How is a technically sound but uninspiring actor measured against a flawed performer who is somehow compelling on stage? This is before you get into trying to recall whose idea was whose, who was cast by who.

Fortunately there are mark schemes to help you objectively and to crosscheck against gut-instincts. Ultimately these marking sessions always seem to resolve themselves moderately satisfactorily. There is a consistent inner-logic which means every decision could be defended if it had to be – though fortunately I’m usually long gone when the marks go out!

Looking back on my own experience participating in such a project as an undergraduate the marking all now makes sense. I understand now why we were put through the agony of peer assessment. I also now understand that there was no one extra thing that I could have done to convert a 69 into a 70 and a First. I now know doesn’t work like that.

There was originally talk of Acts of Faith being presented to the public in Coventry in the summer term. It would be great if that were to happen. It would be great to return to and polish the material. It would be great to work with that great bunch of people again.


Thursday, November 20, 2008


Her Father's Daughter

Everything is in danger of getting a bit blurred. I spent all day at Coventry University saying “you go there, wait for this, then do/say that” to the Third Year Theatre Students as we try and hammer our piece, Trial of Faith, into some kind of shape for tomorrow evening’s performance (7pm in Ellen Terry Building’s Theatre, should anyone fancies coming). Then I charge back home to pick Eve up from Nursery. We get back to the house and immediately Eve starts directing me: “you go there, wait for me to say this, then you come here and say that”. Confusingly, I’m required to act the role of a parent watching my children (Eve’s dolls) perform in a play which she, playing the role of ‘the teacher’, is directing. Fortunately, whilst an extremely limited actor, I can keep up with the layers of fiction involved in this scenario. My fear is that Eve is currently only three and a half and already exploring sophisticated play-within-play scenarios, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep up with the levels of self-reflexive play-within-play-within-play-within-play madness she’ll be have pushed onto by the time she’s doing GCSE Drama. Hopefully she'll just be doing all the sciences with pure, applied and further maths.



Friday, November 07, 2008



Having just got on top of everything yesterday was the first opportunity to divert from the well trodden Hotel – Venue – Arts Cafe – Hotel path.

In glorious sunshine a team of us took the 131 bus from Piata Romana to the Village Museum which, set in Herastrau Park, is home to dozens of buildings lifted from all regions of the country. They have been rebuilt with care and dressed with furniture and extraordinarily beautiful fabrics. Initially it felt like walking around a film set or, with the doors and windows all being so low and small, a large scale model village. Yet, once up close when peering through the windows or admiring the ingenuity of construction of beautiful craftsmanship it became an evocative and quite wonderful experience.

In stark contrast to the Village Museum, today took the brief and rather cursory official ‘tour’ of the People’s Palace. Given that this is the world’s second largest building and has over 1,000 rooms 15 lei and half an hour shows you just a couple of stair cases a couple of – admittedly very large – corridors and a conference room. However it was worth seeing. This peek inside allows to you extrapolate as to what the rest must be like. It is a highly controversial building; being the ambition of a dictator, built extraordinarily quickly, at extraordinary expense, through considerable sacrifice on the part of very many people. As conceptually the place is repugnant and externally it is both ugly and intimidating I was fully expecting to feel hostile to it when inside. Instead, I came away feeling that to write this building off is to undervalue the efforts of those who made it and the sacrifice of those who made it possible. It will take a feeling to get my feeling lined up about this one.

More straightforward was the national art gallery, which has an amazing collection of Romanian Religious art made all the more powerful for the fact that, with the exception of the invigilators, seed to have the entire place to myself. I loved the icons but the items that consistently stunned me were tapestries like this one. Except, like theatre, they only really work when you're there with them. Trust me, 'live' they're incredible pieces, threads conncting you back in time to extraordinary artists.

The real treat has been the hours of walking on my own through the parks and streets of Bucharest. The leaves turning colour, an enormous concrete slide, the paint peeling tower block, the sunken football ground, the lakes and embassies, wooden scaffolding, lazing stray dogs, workmen cooking sausages with a blow torch, keeling women touching the hem of the priest’s robes, dug up streets and wooden plank walkways, everywhere women sweeping leaves, shaking the old man’s hand, a drained lido, the trampoline attendant in his box, the deco UN building, decayed grandeur and endless sculptures of gaunt men with beards.


Thursday, November 06, 2008


Taking Over

Jon carried off Gerard’s role admirably last night as the third of the replacement performers out here in Bucharest. Recasting the show has been an instructive process. Just listening in has taught me more about how things work back stage – I put these trousers on over these trousers so in the quick change that’s coming up all I have to do is take off these. You set this prop here so it’s ready for that. Make sure when you these off that you place them there so you can grab them easily later on. I have also become privy to more of the performers inner logics – when I look here I imagine I’m seeing that; you’ve just come from doing this so you feel like that; at this point such and such has happened which is why she responds like this. There have also been revealed some of the content of conversations that take place on stage between characters but are never heard by the audience. Telling other people what we do has caused us again to recall why we do it.

Both Gerard and Bernadette have found it a curious and at times emotional experience, handing over their roles and seeing others perform them. Inevitably the initial performances feel like copies of the original. Moves and gestures are altered more by vagaries of memory, biomechanics and the different presence bought by these new performers than active artistic interpretation. Yet extremely quickly, as spare processing power can be diverted from “what do I do now” to “how shall I do this”, fresh versions emerge. The once definitive performances of the devising cast enter a dialogue with alternative performances. It is a fascinating and often surprising thing to watch evolve – a reward for those crazy enough to watch the same show dozens of times in succession.

It turns out that Bucharest, despite presenting some challenges, is a great place to be performing these two shows. The country’s dramatic recent history provides both powerful content and an eager and engaged audience for Of All The People In All The World. Our sense is that Constance Brown is seen as more radical here than it is at home and responses in each direction thus feel heightened. However, what makes this almost the perfect city in which to perform this show is that when you leave the venue late at night and walk along the streets, there in the gutter, between the neon of the currency exchanges, casinos and sex shops on one side and streaking car headlights on the other, ignored by bustling pedestrians and screaming traffic alike, dozens of stooped figures, mostly women, in green work-wear, continually sweep leaves, litter and city dust from the streets. I look at each on of these and the flower sellers and prostitues and elderly beggers and think of Constance Brown in all her guises including those which never reached the show.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Romania Invaded

Fifteen people flew out to Bucharest from Birmingham and London an Saturday as part of a mini Stan’s Cafe invasion and things have been pretty relentless since then. At 11 that night we unloaded the lorry from the terrifying Balcescu Boulevard (straight road, miles long, three lanes each way, the standard challenge: can you clock a ton between traffic lights?) into the Sala Dalles.

On Sunday the get in started at 9. Downstairs Constance Brown is built n the old Warwick Arts Centre style, with the set in one room butted up against a wide door way and the seating bank built in the adjoining room. Upstairs a separate team is installing Of All The People In All The World on a wide balcony looking down on the seating bank structure.

Whichever way you cut it Constance Brown is a big get-in and the show’s to large to allow re-rehearsal at home. As a result the pressure is on to set everything up with enough time to spare to bring everyone back up to speed. Adding to the excitement is the fact that this was Billy’s first time on the show as Stage Manager, Hugh’s first time in sole charge of the lights. Ray was being rehearsed into the role devised by Andy but which is rapidly becoming ‘special guest star’ slot.

By the time we were ejected from the building at 9 that evening we had most things set up and had worked through all but the last couple of scenes.

At 9 the next morning tec type folk started to polish off the last of the build and tweak jobs. The performers arrived at 11, finished off the previous day’s worth through. Worked over a few scenes again. Run a dress rehearsal. Reset. Tweaked further things and performed the show. Somewhere around the reset, tweaking further things stage Of All The People In All The World opened to a decent media turn out and VIPs. Interviews required and a smart shirt.

At some point on Monday, whilst Gerard was out with Billy sorting costume issues Jon McGuiness got his first taste of doing the things that Gerard does. Meanwhile, never less than two yards from Bernadette studying her every move has been Alex Alderton.

Another split 9 and 11 call sets up a day working through the show with Jon and Alex as Gerard and Bernadette. After a decent break Alex is thrown in at the deep end and performs the show that night with Bernadette backstage aiding and abetting.

This morning the OATP team did the first two of their three workshops, which they dealt with admirably (the Romanian kids had a fantastic grasp of English). Now I’m in danger of being late for a 4pm call for a dress run preparing Jon to go on tonight. He’s got no choice as Gerard has already left the country to look after his ailing mother. We wish him and her well.



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