Another year has almost passed and with it another vial of my youth is lost to the ravages of time, my hairline has moved back 3mm (I measured) and my ability to walk up steps without getting out of breath or feeling sick has diminished. I always think it’s quite interesting that people make a big deal of New Year’s resolutions while steadfastly avoiding addressing the year that has just passed. It feels like there is something missing when someone proclaims that they’re “giving up heroin”, I mean why, there could be a litany of reasons ranging from “I took too much” to “I really hate anything associated with feminism, including misspellings”. So with that in mind I thought I’d give a brief(ish) review of my year – partly because it’ll help inform my resolutions and partly because it’s the kind of self-involved, self-obsessed writing that really suits the medium of the blog.
It’s been just over two years since I started doing comedy and this year I reached a fork in the road. While I enjoy gigging and feel comfortable that I’m unlikely to be horrendously shit I found myself unsure on the direction I wanted my comedy to take. My standard standup was leaving me a little cold inside, compereing feeling ever less rewarding, storytelling was getting a bit stale and music was a bit hit and miss. I felt like I hit a bit of a wall.
The musical comedy was something I’d always wanted to try and it was fun to try it at Pros & Coms, playing a new song every few weeks and record new ideas. I performed it a few times, once at Hot Water and again in Warrington. Both went okay but it felt a bit false, as if someone had taken a bedroom hobby and brought it out to show family and they’d smiled politely. I think it’s something to do occasionally but not a main avenue to my life…
Meanwhile compereing had become a bit stale, I think because it was, the majority of the time at Pros & Coms, where I didn’t feel I a) had to stretch myself, b) prepare or c) that there were any consequences to me being shit. That’s not to say I was shit (I had one of my best gigs at P&Cs), it’s just I didn’t feel I was learning or getting better – it’s the equivalent of a test batsman only playing on his home pitch, you know how it plays, going to Australia on a hard dusty surface will improve you no end… The storytelling was feeling like a one-hit wonder, invited to play but then never invited back unless in a reminiscent sort of way (and then everyone knows how it works). This all colluded together and at the end of August it changed, I was visibly shaky as a comedian. I’ve always had a habit of over running and this was getting worse. Tom Sullivan said it felt like I was a bit lost, and that’s genuinely what it felt like, that and a bit stressy. A chat with Bren Riley was amazing in helping me see the wood from the trees, the next gig after that chat it felt like a weight was lifted and I enjoyed myself again.
Comedy has always been a hobby for me and I’ve increasingly wondered if I’ve merely reached the limit of where the hobby comedian can go and how seriously I want to take this. I was offered paid gigs but the lack of driving killed them off (i’ll come back to that later) and the storytelling material I am most proud of doesn’t suit competitions or gong shows so avenues felt a bit closed off.
Then something strange happened, I performed at a storytelling night. Run by Paul Smith it changed my perception of what I wanted to do, suddenly i found an art form where I could perform the kind of work that I relate to a bit more that has a more depth than my standard comedy fare. It was relaxing and, after doing it for a charity gig where I could start to push it deeply rewarding. I’ve had an idea of writing an hour long show, but not comedy, or theatre, but storytelling, with music, projection and the odd joke thrown in as a consequence… Confidence is such a big deal in performance and I over analyse everything, that needs to stop, to try something, develop, learn. The famous quote, “Try, fail, try again, fail better” springs to mind. That’s not to say when I get a car (see next para) I won’t try more stand-up, I think I know what I want and don’t want to perform in my act, and I suspect the prospect of not having to spend 4 hours travelling to and home from a gig on public transport will be much more motivating.
2014 was the year where I learnt to drive (at last). I’d always avoided driving like the plague. When I was younger it was due to the cost, and the fact I liked to drink, when I was in my mid-20s it was due to the fact I lived in a city where owning a car was a hindrance and I liked to drink, and in my late 20s it was simply that I liked a drink. But it changed – firstly not driving and trying to do lots of gigs is incredibly hard, secondly Louise lived a distance away and public transport was tricky and finally I was feeling a little trapped – wanting to visit far off places (Rhyl) and friends. So I got my provisional (not too terrifying) and had lessons from a brilliant (and forgiving) instructor called John. I’ve now passed (just), and will get a car in the new year and will visit far off places (Rhyl) and friends. I didn’t feel a burst of excitement having passed though – I think just blessed relief.
I directed a show this year, Gaffer at Unity Theatre with Simon Hedger. Probably the best show I’ve directed. It was strange doing another one-person show, but the pride I got from it came from bringing in a professional show for 2 weeks for £6k. A shoestring production but one that didn’t feel cheap I think. It was lovely being back in a rehearsal room with a great actor trying and experimenting. I think my directorial style is becoming increasingly pragmatic, avoiding sweeping visions and anything that could be construed as arty wank – aiming to get to the point a concisely as possible. I’ve also become increasingly fond of making pace the key to shows, I think long drawn out moments might be in my past unless definitely necessary. I think it could be summarized, “Get in fast, get out fast, don’t dick around in the middle, make sure the audience a) enjoy it and b) get it.” I’ve been looking at a couple of plays, one by Neil LaBute and another couple by Edward Albee, but I’m not sure where the next directing opportunity will come from. We’ll see. Gaffer was great but I did it at the same time as my regular job pretty much and it wiped me out a bit trying the balance the two..
My sister’s wedding was in September and it was one of the most happy occasions of my life – it’s really hard to describe the perfect wedding but it was terrific, relaxed, funny, friendly and as close to I’ve been to the perfect wedding. It really highlighted how organised Susie and Jamie are, organizing so much and making it all seem effortless. Hearing my dad’s speech which was tender, loving and funny. My sister’s speech brought tears to eyes (and more rhyming couplets). Also there is real merit being on the top table.
What else? Well me and Lou finally moved in together. It is a pain in the arse trying to find a new house – the number of horrendous, overpriced flats that are out there is somewhat horrifying. I’ve always lived in house shares since I left home and I had an anxiousness about moving. Firstly sorting bills gets me incredibly stressed. I think because the last time I dealt with bills (all my other houses have been all inclusive) was around 10 years ago – then it was a faf, ringing up British Gas for an hour on a pay-as-you-go mobile with limited battery to be informed that they couldn’t find a) my account, b) my house or c) confirm mine or their existence, usually explained by an irate geordie with an attitude problem that would make Hitler weep. Things have changed a bit, there seems to be good customer service now – apart from sorting council tax in Liverpool which seems to be the hardest thing in the world to achieve. (also, living with Lou is great…)
I’m now 30 and, much like when I was 20, I wonder where my life and career is heading. I’ve spend 10 years in marketing and think I need to move on from it at some point. However going freelance scares the crap out of me, and, I do enjoy it from time to time. My problem with arts marketing stems from a problem with how the arts work in the subsidised sector – largely we programme and then search/hope for an audience rather than the other way round where most successful businesses start. There is also a belief in art over audiences – that art without audiences is still as important, if not more important, than art that’s more popular. I also seem to still see artists who don’t have “audience enjoyment” at all on their radar and I find it immensely frustrating. I guess it’s a healthy difference in opinion about what art is for…
I also find this artistic/commercial balance in my life – occupying both world’s as a renaissance man but not comfortably fitting into either. I find it hilarious when I’m treated as a non-artistic type because of my job title in meetings – as if being good at marketing is an instant repellent to artistic opinion. The reality of funding/investment in the arts is that there is a quantitative metric that has to be fulfilled that is increasingly equal to the artistic. ROI, number of audience, balanced finances matter more than they ever have in the subsidized era. I find it fascinating and terrifying the changes that are currently going on. Most of all though I see it as an opportunity for the arts to rise above their traditional places – they must be social gathering places, homes away from home, places of restbite and relaxation as well as education and information. They must be all this while competing against cinema, pubs, the PS4, netflix, football, Sky and more on a tiny proportion of the budget.
That’s the end of my review I guess, I’ll pop up resolutions in a week or so and you can see if this has had any impact.
Best, Sam x