This week, Monday 11th February 2013

A Week Into Silence

Bookin
Our beautiful cat, Merly

Wow, a very different week last week from the week before. I guess that’s normal, but I do find that many weeks feel much the same. That endless revolution of weeks into months and into years is a trend that worries me sometimes, but then I get sucked back into the routine and forget that I was worrying about it. It’s just like trying to remember to make an optician’s appointment: I forget it almost as soon as I’ve remembered it. Tsk. Anyhoo… this week was full of improv fun! Much more about that below, but it definitely shifted the balance from being exhausted because of work stupid to being trashed by the evenings. Victory!

This week’s scribbles

Tuesday My Grandfather’s House Part 1

A return to the wonder of nonsense adverbs in a continuing homage to H.P. Lovecraft (see My Grandfather’s Watch).

Wednesday Lego Creations: A Mini City

A few pretty pictures of a miniature Lego city (well, a couple of streets anyway).

Thursday Alex Trepan: A Cyborg Calls part 2

An unwelcome guest disturbs Alex’ sleep.

Friday Book Review: Spacepaw by Gordon R. Dickson

A short review of an old science fiction novel.

Updates on my thrilling life

Writing

Hmm, this whole up early / late to bed thing isn’t terribly helpful… Never mind, I have squeezed editing time in, and now that I’ve started the new Alex Trepan serial (even if it’s only for a few weeks) I shall be forced to attend to it! I’m vaguely pretending to myself that I’ll have a bit more time in the mornings but that’s clearly a lie. Maybe I’ll start with the automatic writing again (well, it’s close enough as I’m barely conscious before I get to work).

Last week I also challenged myself to write a 1500 mock-essay on a subject of someone else’s choosing. It was good fun, and I managed to keep to my university habit of 1ooo words an hour. That is of course aided by writing utter nonsense. I don’t find I can hit that sort of speed for other writing, which is a shame. The given essay question (In an animal election, with only two candidates – would Evil vote for a misogynistic duck-billed platypus or a homophobic octopus?) was surprisingly inspiring. It certainly filled my only free evening last week. Oops.

Last week’s scribbles

A Cyborg CallsTuesday Fairground Misadventure A short sci-fi-ish story that emerged in an early morning mind fit.

Wednesday Pulp Pirate 15 Another edition of the marvellous Flash Cast with a Franklyn de Gashe tale by yours truly.

Wednesday An Essay of Little Merit 1500 words on a nonsense subject – the politics of bigoted beasts.

Thursday Alex Trepan: A Cyborg Calls Alex and Galaxy Team are back! I think this is going to be a three-parter. No promises.

Friday  Film Review: Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (and Jason and the Argonauts) A short review of the new documentary on the legendary film-maker and his most legendary film.

Lego

Nothing! Sadness salts my soul!

Improv Comedy

Busy busy busy. Last week we had two shows, a jam and a rehearsal, so like I said – that was the week. Tuesday was our last chance to iron out any especially bad habits and make sure the five of us in the Fisticuffs team were ready to try out Unspeakable Acts on a real (albeit tiny) stage. It was a fun practice. I know, I know, how can you rehearse for improv? It’s a question people ask a lot. Obviously you can’t plan what you’re going to say, and you can’t even plan what you’d like to do. Especially in a show like Unspeakable Acts – it feels even more unpredictable than other forms of improv I’ve done.

What you can do is build trust, which is only achieved by playing together and learning that you can rely upon yourself and your playmates to advance the story, provide interesting offers and support each other. If I’m playing with people I trust I feel great. We can also practice doing things and making extreme choices that we perhaps wouldn’t if we weren’t in a safe space. There are ways of starting scenes, scene formats that anyone would recognise from plays they’ve seen – monologues, split scenes, group scenes, committees, songs and interludes. You can make a conscious effort to look for the opportunities that a scene presents – most of those opportunities are given to you by your colleagues on stage, and you have to know them enough to step out and do something crazy, knowing they’ll back you up. It’s a tricky balance between doing and planning. Personally I find detail is my saviour – by tossing in a few extra words, some (apparently) unnecessary justification or description I later have a reference that I can return to and make something of.

I know two of our newest players had been feeling the tension and were getting a little nervous about the show on Wednesday. I don’t generally find that I get nervous about improv shows any more. I get excited about them instead. I find that is much better. Several years ago I used to get exceptionally tense, and would feel that in my stomach for days before a show, plus it would make me sleep badly and overall would almost be so bad it undermined my enjoyment of the performance. Not good. I finally got over that – although something new, or having to be somewhere different do give me horrid tension pangs.

That’s why I believe in pre-show preparation. I generally have producer type responsibility for our shows – that means having the bells, the mics, the pens, bits of paper, clipboard… whatever we need ready and available. That’s a good routine in itself for me, a list of stuff, the preparation of which clears out all the excess junk in my head – I know we have all the physical crap we need for the show, so I can focus on myself and the others. Getting to the venue ahead of time, sorting out any tech or logistics that need to be done calm my fluttering nerves leaving me ready to be ready.

All that paid off well this week – Unspeakable Acts on Wednesday was Martin’s baby so I had zero prep to do other than figure out the lights when we got there. It was an enormously satisfying show. We were at our mini venue, The City Gallery, which has a tiny stage with one exit so it’s extremely confining but intimate. An odd combination. Martin, Lloydie, Ben, Parky and I did our stuff. We did three scenes, the first based on a very odd one act play called Riders to The Sea by John Millington-Synge. We got maybe a page into the script before abandoning it and sliding merrily into improvised weirdness. It became a tale about religion vs. science, Irish fishermen and mermaids, a boy who spun everything and priests in crisis. It ended with my fisherman character becoming a French merman and getting married. Beautiful.

It was a bit messy and very strange, but we got fully on track with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator screenplay. That worked out… differently to the film. Ben got a double role as Commodus and Maximus – both of whom were impersonating each other (which lead to the dramatic climax where he fought himself), with Lloydie as the hair-brushing Lucilla, Martin in most-loved character of the show, the quavering Tribuus and Parky and I were a pair of German barbarians (“Gutentag!” “Hallo!”) running away from, and towards the Romans. It was very good fun. For the third part of the show, the audience selected Basic Instinct as the inspiring screenplay. That became a very pleasing cop drama (the screenplay is littered with ridiculous descriptions of characters)  with much mockery of cop racism and ended with a song. Lovely. We shared the fun of Unspeakable Acts with those who attended the jam on Thursday and much fun was had by all!

On Friday we returned to a favourite venue – Create Theatre in Mansfield. It is wonderful to play in a proper, dedicated theatre space and we all found that the extra room (we have no space at City Gallery and often little more at The Glee Club) allowed us to expand into much more theatrical scenes and characters than usual. I played a ballerina in a scene with Marilyn, which would have been impossible elsewhere. Parky and Lloydie did some amazing stuff in the second half, which was the longform portion of the show. I really enjoyed what Cat, Marilyn and I did as well, but the boys was tight. The first half was shortform and open scenes and I think it was some of the sharpest work we’ve done for a while. I felt very comfortable and chatty as compere and truly relished the space to bounce around in. I can’t wait to get back there again, and break more furniture in scenes.

Media Intake

Books

I’ve been forced to dig back into my book cupboard… I’d excavated the first two volumes of Peter F Hamilton‘s Void Trilogy so that I could remind myself of what had gone on before delving into the third. Unfortunately I found myself lost within twenty pages of The Dreaming Void and have had to go back to the previous two books! It’s proving worthwhile though – a character we meet in the Dreaming Void turns up right at the start of Pandora’s Star. So I should be up to speed in, oh, 4000 pages or so!

Films

I have an increasingly good feeling about cinema this year; last year was a bit patchy. This weekend we’ve celebrated being slightly less improv-busy by hitting the cinema. Hitchcock was great (in my head I keep calling it Hancock, which is not such a great film) – Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren do a wonderful job as Mr and Mrs Hitchcock, and I love the guy they have playing Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy). The story’s tight focus is on the relationship between Alfred and Alma during the making of Psycho. Loved it – watch it. Then we saw Warm Bodies with a bunch of mates – it’s a very effective 12A zombie film which balances the scariness of zombies (my god, the unending fear!) with a very funny and engaging romantic relationship that develops between one of the living dead and the real living not-dead. Frequently laugh out loud with plenty of tension. Hurray! I’ve also finally watched The Plan. It’s a spin-off film from Battlestar Galactica (the new series which I think is the best sci-fi series ever made). Although about three quarters of it seems to be re-cut footage from the series the remaining quarter tells the story from the Cylons point of view, explaining many events and adding even further depth to the show. It’s rather TV movie in style, but I very much enjoyed it. I may have to re-watch BSG (again) now.

Events and Excitement

Improv shows

Thursday 14/02/13      Gorilla Burger: Improv Comedy Chaos The City Gallery, Nottingham

Friday 22/02/13           MissImp in Action: Improvised Comedy Show – The Glee Club, Nottingham.

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