Following my meetings in Blog Two, I take Matt and Phil up on the challenge to finish writing a smaller chunk of my show and take it to perform on a stage. Any stage. I book a slot at a couple of open mics and get writing. I take a six-minute work-in-progress to try out, just ‘finished’ and therefore completely unpolished, on an unknown crowd. At the packed event a light blinds me on stage so I find it harder than usual to read off the page, but I’m still reasonably happy with my performance, and now know which sections I need to work on (there were some tongue-twisters and some flat bits that glared in the spotlight).
I even get more laughs that I expected, which is always a bonus. I hate hate hate reading sections that you know are funny, or usually crack the room up and being met with silence. Those are the times when doubt creeps in. Why am I doing this? Perhaps I’m not cut out for it? Perhaps I’m just not any good at it? Can I even write? A raging battle between stay-home-and-hide-from-your-audience writer-me and wannabe-performer-me takes place in my head. They make a mess. It feels like I have a performance hangover. I say ‘I’m never doing it again. Going to get a real job. Stop all this creative malarky.’ But of course, you know that’s only true until someone asks me again. ‘Go on, just the one!’ and I groan, and make the you’re-twisting-my-arm gesture, and go ‘Oh okay!’ striding towards the mic knowing how good that after-show-rush tastes.
7 Day Drunk
This next bit is not an AA admission. The recent open mic try outs of my newer material prove I am onto something but it needs a fair bit of editing, some polishing, and a lot more rehearsing. I decide to enlist an expert and enrol on a rare one day performance workshop with Bryony Kimmings, writer of hit one woman show 7 Day Drunk, which I loved when I saw at Edinburgh Fringe in August. I was attracted to see her work, and The Paper Bird’s show Thirsty, when I was at the festival because the pieces that I perform also had a lot of their origins in dives and drinking – poems called ‘Pub Crawl Date’, ‘Barmaid’, and ‘One For The Road Won’t Hurt’. Bryony’s 7 Day Drunk got 4 stars in Edinburgh, and is getting 4 stars across the London press now too. It is currently at Soho Theatre then touring (go and see it!).
Unfortunately illness swiped me down and I was unable to attend the magical one day workshop in East London. I was gutted. I told Bryony this and she took pity and agreed to an interview to share her thoughts and tips instead and she encouraged me to visit her at a date on her tour. You can read the interview in full on my personal Wildlife blog. Here is a shorter extract:
Your fab show 7 Day Drunk was a 4 star hit at Edinburgh, and is currently touring. Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from the fact I was living with an alcoholic and they were a writer. I was also struggling with booze and creativity myself and I wanted to address the age old idea of the drunk artist and the romantic ethics of that. I also wanted to work with scientists. So we devised the experiment – it was as scientific as art can get. And we did it in a seven day controlled experiment and I made the material for the show that week then turned it into the show for Edinburgh. It was commissioned by Soho Theatre and The Junction and funded by ACE and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. The tour was also ACE funded.
How long did it take to put together and rehearse?
A good few weeks and meetings in planning. One week of being drunk. Three weeks in the studio after.
Did you get any help from anyone?
Yes from my mentor Stacy Makishi; mostly emotional support there. Nina Steiger from Soho Theatre and Kate Madden from Junction helped me with notes and ideas.
For your workshop you asked people to bring a packed lunch and water – not vodka cranberry as some might have expected. If alcohol isn’t the creative spark, how do you get those participating, and indeed yourself to begin to spark new ideas for a show and then run with them to make longer pieces?
I give myself time and I am nice to myself. A retreat is normally in order to kick start an idea. Sometimes things just hit me or make me need to make work about them… other things need to be dug out. I kind of just feel if something is a cabaret sketch, a song or a full length piece. It’s hard to quantify your own brain… so sorry to be mystical!
What tips and pointers do you have for novices like me who want to put together a show to take on the road?
Make something you really like. Be true to yourself about what you are trying to say and why people might be interested in that. Lots of people get websites, gigs and business cards before they really know what they have to say. Hone your craft first. Show ideas to people to see if what you think the work is doing is happening in your audience.
Thanks Bryony. So I shall start looking at getting away on a short retreat to get some words down, which may go hand-in-hand with a decision on whether to apply for research and development money for the next step from Arts Council Wales – an informative session at their Funding Surgery yesterday suggests this may be my best way forward rather than the Creative Wales award, and would suit my impatience better as applications go in next month. Their guidelines have also changed considerably, and will be announced on their website from April.
In the meantime I am still getting along to as much spoken word and theatre as I can. Recent highlights include John Peel’s Shed at Wales Millennium Centre, where I got to meet Molly Naylor who wrote the one woman show Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You, and is currently creating fun work with Byron Vincent for Bristol’s Mayfest. More on this in a later blog. Following on the drinking and performance theme, this weekend I am off to see spoken word rising star Kate Tempest’s play Wasted at Sherman Cymru. Kate crops up in a rather good podcast documentary by MissMollyHowles this week: ‘Bards and Beats: An Exploration of Rap and Poetry in the UK’. Recommended listening for anyone interested in the UK spoken word scene.