Doing R&D on a show

I’ve been feeling a bit down for the last few weeks – there’s the obvious reason for that, but also, because I’ve not done anything I count as ‘creative’ for a while now. I was feeling a bit, well, pointless. I’m also approaching my birthday, a time which consistently puts me in a foul mood, as I comb facebook to compare my lack of achievement to other people and regret not taking a show to Edinburgh (at least I had a year off from that).

I had a chat with a good friend from University earlier in the week – one of those mates who you mightn’t see for five years, but when you chat you remember within seconds exactly why you like them so much. We’ve not spoken for years and so did the potted version of what we’ve both been up to in the time that has passed.

After my go, I mentioned it’d been a few years since I did anything creative properly – “What the fuck have you beendoing? You should have written 15 things by now!” he told me in no uncertain terms. I mentally flinched, he’s right, but rarely does it resonate as hard.

It was a kick up the arse, one that I suspect I’ve probably needed for a while.

I’ve written a storytelling thing over the last 9 months which I’ve been sitting on and not really progressing. So I took the initiative and on my day off today went into work, went into one of our empty rooms and spent 4 hours working on the show. I’m incredibly lucky, I appreciate, to be able to do this.

So how was it?

Honestly, hard. I thought the show I’d written was ready to go and it’d be like slipping into a comfy well-worn coat. Instead it needs work (its been a while, I’d forgotten the self-doubt/loathing stage of making things) – the very act of saying something out loud intrinsically changes how your writing works – I started cutting, reworking, discovering how my voice works with the words I’d written and, where it felt uncomfortable, editing brutally. I’ve got a much clearer idea of how aesthetically and directorially it fits together now – how the space will interact with audiences.

The real challenge though was being totally alone while doing it. The last shows I directed had actors or, as I like to call them, real people (I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing actors including Simon Hedger, Susie Freeman, Paul Stonehouse and Paul Osbourne – pics below) – this is just me, making a storytelling show solo – unlike the 15 min stand up storytelling I did where the editing happens in front of a live audience for the first 10 shows – this (an hour long show), is in front of bare walls. I have a strong feeling that it’s probably good, that there’s moments that may really sing, but because I interacts with audiences and try to play with them so much I really felt alone and quiet today as I paced around an empty room, reading aloud, like some sort of manic madman.

It’s weird, when I did the storytelling stuff as stand-up (before the musical comedy that I now regard as “a mistake”), part of the joy was feeling how audience reacted to the quiet moments not the laughs, feeling those moments when a pin could drop – my vocal range was wider then, my intonation better (I’m horrifically out of practice as my sore throat would attest), but also my phrasing found the nuance of the sentences more readily – today felt one-dimensional in my performance, every word syllable feeling like I was feeling for it.

I find making things scary, and I have chronic self hate with it frequently, but if I don’t push myself ‘creatively’ then I suspect I’m just going to be unhappy – and sure, it’s a mix of/inspired by the work of Daniel Kitson, Dave Gorman, John Osbourne and the brilliantly amazing Will Adamsdale (his is my favourite ever show), but, when I was doing a bit, for the first time in a long time it also had a new voice in there – mine.

I saw the amazing Lemm Sissay a few years back do a talk. He talked about how people who describe themselves as creatives do not have a monopoly over creativity. I’m not sure I listened enough at the time. It’s easy to be intimidated by people who define themselves as creative, the reality is, however, that we all are.

There’s two technicians I know who would never describe themselves as creative, but when I’ve seen them work on things I’ve thought, fucking hell, I want them designing my shows – unassuming and modest they would never describe themselves as creatives or designers (I suspect), nor may they ever step to do that normally (they should) – maybe we all need a good friend to kick us up the arse every now and then.

Finally, I’ve popped the show below. It was the final version. It’s not anymore, it’s riddled with stuff I’m changing. Don’t feel obliged to read it, if you don’t then if I make the show then come see it, and if you do and like it, then bully me some more.

Night xx

P.S. Covid has been a massive bellend for everyone in the arts. If anyone reading this is massively struggling then please get in touch.

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