Been some time, eh!

So yeah,

It’s been a while. In my defence, I have none. Life has just been hectic, varied, at times difficult and just in the way. So here is an update.
I believe the last time I blogged, it was the summer of 2014!
So what have I been about?
Well, most of 2015 was spent on The Devil Without and getting it out to theatres. I was lucky enough to make some great contacts in Brighton who believed in the show and as a consequence, TDW played quite a few places. I was also asked to lecture at a meeting of mystery workers, which in turn led to other lectures at the annual meeting of bizarre magicians ‘Doomsday’ and London’s prestigious Magic Circle.
I started writing another show and I got together with a group of stand-up/ magician friends and we decided to take our cabaret magic sets to Edinburgh. Alongside this, I managed to get a job playing a historical character from Shakespeare’s life in his very own house in Stratford and some peachy immersive work including working at the Boomtown Festival which was all kinds of immense. I also won a commission to bring a unique puppetry workshop into a stroke ward of th Royal Stoke in Stoke on Trent, which was quite possibly one of the most humbling experiences I have had. Drama teaching-wise I kept my hand in and travelled to Belgium, Poland, Thailand, and I will be off to Prague and New Delhi in the near future as well as a possible tour of the show to Singapore and the surrounding countries.
Edinburgh was a great success and we played to full houses on all but two nights, the material from th Fringe is being re-worked into a full show which I hope to debut either at Brighton or perhaps the Dave festival in Leicester. Next week, I start a new theatre project in association with the Singing Hypnotist Christopher Green and the British Library, which has me all fired up.
I have a thing in the works, which I can’t really talk about, as I don’t want to Jinx it and it may not happen, but if it does, will be amazing.
I guess you’ll get to hear about that either way in the next few weeks, months or years. Ace blogger, I am not!

The Royal Road

Royal Mile Bingo

Feeling hassled, harangued and herded on that glorious promenade of theatrical dreams known as The Royal Mile.

Fear not! Look busy, avoid eye contact and side-step the flyer-giving desperadoes of dramatic doings.
Simply arm yourself with these crib sheets of classic fringe tropes and see who can get their card filled first!

Card One

  • Flyer giver using nudity/ semi nudity to promote show or hand out flyers
  • Shakespearean in full Elizabethan dress using the words ‘verily’, ‘thou’ or ‘prithee’
  • Student drama production expressing themselves through an ‘impromptu’ tableaux
  • Jazz hands in any form
  • Busker with witty line demeaning Americans
  • Flyer-fatigued actor rolling a ciggie with a broken soul and a thousand yard stare

Card Two

  • Rock n roll bagpipes
  • Long line of bemused tourists following a ghost tour guy in ankle-length leather coat
  • Fake blood (bonus point if alongside semi-nudity)
  • Theatre group on the march with banners shouting provocative slogan
  • Drawing focus by lying on the floor, for that is art
  • Living statue with half their costume off, on a smoking break with can of Irn Bru or Tennent’s Super

Get crossing ‘em off!

Ian may be seen on the Royal Mile alongside his fellow fringers
or at 10.35pm every night until the 25th at venue 145 C Nova in his quite frankly amazing and original riff on Faust, John Dee and Hellblazer:
The Devil Without

Good Tech/ Bad Dress

There is a tradition in theatre that if you have a poor dress rehearsal, as a consequence you will have an outstanding first night. There are so many variables at play in this production and it is of such an interactive nature that I really didn’t know how certain things would play to an audience. Yes, I tested, yes, I hypothesised, however, you never quite know what you’ll get. The dress rehearsal then was horror for the wrong reasons. In truth, we were all knackered still from the tech but there was a whole series of errors, fluffs and props not doing exactly what they should. I was furious with myself. As soon as we’d done our get-out I disappeared off and had a good hard examination of what had just occurred and how I was going to fix it. The play was stalling, it was too rammed  and needed to be lean. The Fringe is a demanding beast. You get what you pay for. We had paid for an hour slot and we couldn’t run over. If you do, the venue fines you. People plan their evenings here around more than one production, it is unfair to run over.

After I had played through the dress rehearsal in my head, I decided to edit a whole bunch of the story out. I didn’t want to, but really, I needed to pick up the pace and raise the tension. There is only so much you will get into an hour after all.  In any other theatre environment, you have a situation whereby the venue would rather have a longer show, preferably with an interval to allow them add-on sales from drinks and merchandise. Not so with Edinburgh. It is a maelstrom. C Venues (our venue) alone has over 200 shows on a tightly packed and frenetic schedule.  The Fringe remains a proving ground, a place where ideas are revised, added-to, bent out of shape and re-born. I re-engineered several effects and orientated the play back to interactive and immersive. That’s what we had pitched as, that’s what we needed to do. I got up early the next morning and edited, chopped, installed and created. I was terrified to be doing this on the day of the first performance but really had little choice. As a theatre-maker I have been lucky to work across the world with ISTA (the International Schools Theatre Association- check ‘em out www.ista.co.uk) as an ensemble leader and artistic director. ISTA specialises in bringing young theatre students , teachers and industry professionals together at festivals all over the world. In 4 days they create a half hour production that is shown on the final day. It’s always laced with panic, stress and long hours but above all it fosters ensemble and getting on with the job of making theatre. I think those experiences as a teacher and director allowed me to calm the heck down and push on.

True to tradition, the first night went well. Maybe not the best, all things considered, but it was there; intact and moving at pace and rhythm that was needed to raise the tension and inculcate the belief in the given circumstances.

The next few days built, sculpted and refined. By Saturday we had a show (and as a serial editor, still very much subject to review and critique) and I am pleased to tell you that we are now on three Four Star reviews from critics including  Fringe specialist’s Broadway Baby and also The Stage & Television Today, the national trade paper of show business. The Stage made some excellent points and suggested The Devil Without should tour! This made me very happy.

Fringe with Benefits

devilFabrySo I am back at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I apologise if you read this blog. As ever I had best intentions but life gets in the way. I actually have no idea whether anyone actually reads it! So feel free to leave a comment as it would be nice to know that this isn’t just therapy.

I’m going to talk about the first week of The Fringe Festival. As you may know, we have brought our brand-spanking new and shiny one-man show ‘The Devil Without’ to Edinburgh. The ‘we’ comprises of myself, Frank (foh, money, production), Mark (stage crew) and Matt (tech operator). It is only a little over a week ago that I hoofed it down to Brighton to tech-head supreme Jake Purches of Vivid Audio to test and pick up the Helmholtz Resonator. A mighty infrasonic speaker that we have nicknamed ‘Hellboy’. Jake has created a monster of marvel and I really couldn’t be happier with Hellboy.

So, Frank, Mark and I made the pilgrimage up the A1 breaking our journey at the wonderful Holy Island before over-nighting in Alnwick.

Alnwick (pronounced ‘Annick’) is a friendly place and despite incredulous quizzes as to why we weren’t staying in Newcastle we managed to have a great evening, including meeting a local who described me as a confidence trickster before I gave him a reading which sent him running away shouting ‘He’s Reel Man! He’s the REEL Deal!’

The next morning we rolled into Edinburgh to the mighty Leith to overnight. We were staying with a group of comedians but the house wasn’t available till the next day, so we hired an apartment for a night and planned the forthcoming tech rehearsal. We also got to meet our Edinburgh techy Matt.

The tech was a classic all-nighter we were scheduled to start at 3am. Most of it was spent ok’ing props and technical elements with the venue staff and getting Matt used to Hellboy. The first time we tried Hellboy in the space was electrifying. On a descending range from 40hz to 8hz the sound hit the different resonate frequencies of the room. The whole theatre literally shook. It was immense. Different materials vibrated as we passed through their frequency giving the impression of something travelling around the room. For me, this was  a particularly profound moment as it was the culmination of a idea that started a long way back. The Martin Atomic strobe we were using too had an amazing flash and although we couldn’t achieve blackout in the space due to health and safety reasons (and hence, no phosphenes), it was adding greatly to what we expected to be a great atmosphere. We rolled out at 7am. I parked the car outside of the city (Central Edinburgh is the caviar of parking!) and made my way back to our flat totally blasted.

An obstacle is an event, not a destination.

The last few weeks have been tough. I launched my Kickstarter campaign and it failed to make anywhere near the amount needed to fund my new Edinburgh show.
That was hard, quite a few good friends backed the project but it just didn’t get the traction I was hoping for. This presented a major problem about Edinburgh as then I had to see what I could do to still realise the project.
I consulted with my best friend and now producer Frank who is helping to bankroll the initial amount to get a venue and get registered. This means it on!
‘The Devil Without’ will make It to Edinburgh and will be at C Venues Nova which is a prime site just off the Royal Mile. Having played the fringe last year, I have a better handle on pitfalls and challenges and I’m hoping that we will at least balance the books but I wouldn’t be doing this unless I absolutely believed in the project and that it would appeal to an audience.
Artistically, this project is a labour of love and I’ve already put huge amounts of time and energy into getting it together but now comes the hardest part, the ‘business’ end of show business.
I’m going to relaunch the project in the next week for a second time on Kickstarter or maybe on Indiegogo- a different platform that gives you an option to keep whatever you raise rather than hit an all or nothing target.
I’m going to adjust the rewards and add a few different ones and hope that will incentivise folk to get involved.
In other news, I managed to swing a gig performing in a comic shop during a signing of Jonathan Ross and Ian Churchill’s comic ‘Revenge’. I got to meet the boys afterwards and had a pint and a chat. Ian was an absolute legend, really lovely to talk to and Mr. Ross worked the crowds like a true professional. It was great to watch him switch on the charm and make people feel special. The security guy was someone I knew too, a ninjutsu teacher, stuntman and close protection specialist. It was good to see Mark again. He’s an interesting chap with the scariest thousand yard stare that belies his amiable nature- though I wouldn’t mess with him.

Right now, I’m sitting in a beautiful house in Kensington Square dressed as a representation of professor Calculus. There’s a party being thrown for a lady’s 50th and I have been employed as a character to wander around the house. So I shall be performing analysis of graphology, bending the tableware and using a pendulum to divine people’s thoughts and feelings.
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This Friday the action moves to Banbury, to the pub Castle House where I and fellow mystery men Ben Cardall and Phil Knoxville will be dishing out the divination, meddling with minds and making happy with people’s psyche.
Do come along if you’re in the area.

Captain of the Lost Weekender

A disturbance in the Force

A disturbance in the Force

Full-on Friday

Festival started proper. As we walked towards the main arena we could hear the jolly strains of the cantina music from Star Wars and a amiable Chewbacca greeted folk next to the universe’s tallest Jawa.
There are lot of serious fans here, the sheer level of detail on some of the costumes beggars belief and you an see the love and craft that have been applied to the costume. Stand-out costumes for me were the Judges, a Motion Capture Jar Jar Binks, a hugely impressive ensemble from Total Recall and a Warhammer 40k Marine. The Galactic Knights were out in full force and in detailed finery, a bunch of Hobbit characters and a mother of dragons/ Khaleesi who made me do a double take.

Glenn rocked up about two pm along with Alan Mitchell. It’s always a bit weird meeting your idols however Glenn was instantly welcoming, warm and friendly. Glenn sat down and instantly got to work whilst across the tables Simon Bisley and Will Simpson were busy working. Alan Mitchell has to be one of the most interesting and thoughtful people I’ve met in a wee while. We had a good chat about the state of things including martial arts in movies with particular focus on Judge Dredd and The Raid.
It was fantastic to see the painting for The Devil Without in full glory behind Glenn whilst he chatted and drew commissions for fans. It really is a striking image.
Whilst hanging out in the ‘strip club’ I met with the boss of Area51, Matt Page.

Area51 are an amazing unit of performers, designers and bespoke festival and events planners. Throughout the day eight feet robots, fauns, leather-clad warriors and other-worldly creatures promenaded through the spaces. Matt kindly offered me a slot with the Imaginarium and Caravan of Lost Souls’ evening performance which gave me a chance to perform a scifi specific routine I have been working on that uses Doctor Who as a premise.
The crowd were lubricated, loud, communicative and up for as much fun as they could get. A perfect audience.

Petey The-Tall bagged this shot.

Petey The-Tall bagged this shot.

I started off with some blindfold work and moved into the time travel routine pausing briefly only to ask the audience to aid me in making the Tardis sound.

In the routine, I get something wrong but as I can time travel, I go forward to the end of the show taking note of what I got wrong and then go back in time to leave myself a note!
The note contains a word that a volunteer is thinking on.
The lady’s face was pure shock when I told her the word. I always love these moments of incredulity from participants whilst their brain re-boots! She was excellent and it was great to run it out to a crowd who ‘really’ understood the concept of time travel.
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Backstage whilst giving the appearance of untrammelled chaos was in reality, a finely choreographed movement piece by the unflappable stage manager Ming. I always love being backstage at events, behind the glamour, seeing the nuts and bolts of theatre, the last-minute checks, alterations and hurried ciggie’s before assuming the character and striding into the stage.

After my performance I got to go through the pass door and watch the inestimable Professor Elemental whip the crowd up with his relentless chap-hop anthems. I particularly enjoyed his riposte at the news that Michael Gove listened to his music and the partisan crowd agreed with his response too. The highlight of his set was when he came amongst the crowd and freestyled on objects the audience held aloft- including a shattered sleeping child, proudly hefted high in a Spider-Man costume.

After the show, I repaired to the bar for a few drinks and a catch-up with Frankie to go over the performance. I always like to pick apart the performance whilst it’s still fresh in my mind and to sift over what worked and what did not. When the adrenalin started to fade so did I so I turned in at a respectable 2am.

Big Saturday

A breakfast bap from the Spar and a cup of coffee from Starbucks set me right for the second full day of SFW5. I was determined to get some film in the can and also to get some publicity for the new show. Yesterday, I was meant to have a three minute stage slot to plug the Kickstarter however timings had gone over and it didn’t happen (such is the way of things) so I approached the good folk of Area 51 running the Caravan of Lost Souls and asked if I could do a set, again, they were receptive and I was scheduled in to do ten minutes of the second show of the day. As this was much more straight-up street performance I went off to do a little planning. I love street work, it’s very honest and you know if you’re getting it wrong because people just move on.
During my time in Edinburgh last year, I saw it happen countless times, where a performer had built up a crowd and then another came on and promptly lost them and also vice versa. The cabaret artists of Area51 are all extremely good at what they do, they worked the crowd easily with an affable charm and a gentle threat from master of ceremonies Luke. The range of work in their show is diverse enough to keep folk rooted to the spot and it’s tight, there is no dead time between acts. What I admire also is the real sense of ensemble, during any act, the other company members will be working the crowd, pulling the public in and entering into subtle by-play with them but-importantly- doing it without drawing focus from the act on stage, an incredibly hard thing to achieve. Even harder when there is a scene-stealing Dalek behind you monologuing about being unable to get served in the bar.

I managed to get along earlier in the day to the chat with Pat Mills hosted by Alan Mitchell. Informative and engaging, Mills is a man who paints his colours firmly on the wall. It was great to hear him sound off on why comics were flailing in the UK, the appeal and untapped area of Girl’s comics and the role of women in comics. Highlights included hearing anecdotal evidence of his time at ‘Spanker’ including the exploits of Captain Cainer and Corporal Punishment administering sound thrashings to the axis forces and also the storyline of a girl’s comic character who pogo-ed across Nazi occupied Europe with the plans for an invasion inside her pogo stick. Marvellous! Made me want to read it! Mills’ take on what constitutes a real hero made for interesting subject matter and I left feeling I felt a little wiser.

My performance went well and I got to road-test an idea based around the blast shield moment on the Millenium Falcon where Luke gets his first lightsabre lesson. It worked well and inspired a few ideas to maximise the comedy. The smaller of the two main areas was a nice space for walkabout and I worked the crowds indoors listening to the panels of hanging out in their Cosplay factions. It made me laugh a lot when I witnessed a bunch of Sith harassing some Jedi. One of the Jedi inadvertently got separated from his herd and the Sith were on him, manhandling him and shoving him about a bit until the other Jedi saw what was going on and came over to claim him. Another cosplayer so involved in her retreat from a Xemomorph crashed into an innocent bystander and simply righted herself and scarpered off! It reminded me of the good old days of Larp’ing and Labyrinth so very long ago.

Whilst performing in a walkabout I strayed into the merchandise area (highly dangerous) and met the absolutely lovely and super-friendly Sandira Reddy & Afshin Salehzah of Canvas Warriors.
http://canvaswarriors.com/

They had THE most coolest painted converse with every kind of genre, series and style you could imagine. In fact, if they didn’t have it, they could do it. Ooh! Bespoke trainers! They will be mine! They also did a fine trade in fantasy and scifi jewellery and accoutrements. I was smitten and bought several bits to give to my family.
We talked comics, art, Djinn and energy and we did some metal bending and I hope to see them again at another event.
By the evening the Cosplay parade was in full force and winners celebrated enthusiastically. In fact, everyone celebrated enthusiastically. The evening show knocked the energy even higher. I met YA Science fiction author Bryony Pearce who I had met on the Friday (so long ago!) looking for the main stages. I’d seen her on a panel and she was sparking with energy after having been on panels all day and running around catching stuff when she wasn’t. Bryony is one of those people you know you’re going to instantly like and she proved to be excellent company, fascinating, whip-smart and with a great sense of humour. I introduced her to Alan and they proceeded to talk in earnest about time travel theories so after a while we went backstage to find Glenn holding court and a bunch of the usual suspects drinking dancing and grinning like loons. We had no intention of beating them and every intention of joining. In a rare moment of time travel theories being validated it all of a sudden became 3.30am and although the venue closed we took the executive decision to carry on back at our chalet. After a litre of brandy and Baileys and large quantities of mirth and drunken dialogue I retired to my cot at a little past 08.00 ish- it gets a bit vague. I left Frankie and the Fabry singing after joining in for a final rousing rendition of ‘Avenues and Alleyways’. They kept going for another hour or so and lulled by their mellifluous vocal stylings I found sleep.
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Happy to be here!

Happy to be here!

My intention, and yes, I know, intention is the mother of those morose twins expectation and disappointment, is to blog over the next three days my adventures and exploits at this year’s Sci-fi Weekender an annual event being held at a campsite just a Herculean javelin throw from Portmeirion. A mere 14 miles from where Patrick McGoohan famously created a job for Jim cazaviel.
I feel reality gently separating from me like Gwyneth Paltrow from her treasured Coldplay EP’s.
Like a swan lifting majestically from an oil slick
, like the shining symphony of a plastic bag of discarded staples being blown about the pendant world.
Like another Carlsberg export.

I’m here to perform, promote and network and I have to say that first impressions are good ones. I am home. There are a lot of people who look to me like wonderful people to talk to and hang out with. The staff are lovely and look happy to be here too. There are many ironic t-shirts in evidence and a pre-disposition towards leather apparel.
Glenn Fabry and Alan Mitchell are en-route, I expect they are embroiled in shenanigans worthy of Hunter. S. Thompson and his attorney.

My attorney is Frank, best bud and tech guy for my shows. He knows the ropes and is along to film footage of the festival and to step up should I get some stage time.
We’ve been given a holiday chalet flat and some rather fetching stage passes.
Tonight is the ‘pre-amble’ to the festival proper and there are a few events culminating in a party to ‘soft launch’ -as they would say in Malaysia-the event.
I look forward to singing the theme tune to firefly later karaoke styley.

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The Devil is in the Details

The last few weeks have been interesting. Creatively, I’ve been hammering away on my new show, work-wise, I have had a few gigs and continue to look to generating more work in performance, teaching and hypnotherapy.
I had a great time over the Christmas period working with some of the nicest and most creative people I’ve been around for a while whilst working inside The Imaginarium, which was a theatrical immersive piece staged by Petersham Playhouse and Village Underground. The venue was dressed beautifully and the performers were a real mixed array of amazing cabaret artists. The work was based on the The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the public were treated to Butoh performances, intimate games of chance, a bordello complete with ladies of the night and Toulouse Latrec, a strongman regaining the audience with shows of strength, dark, twisted clowns, aerial artists, a mime, some duellists, burlesque, the strangest argument I have seen to date and my friends The Headhackers. All in all a feast for the senses and a fantastic work to be involved in.

Right now, I am scratching my head and piecing together the backbone of a Kickstarter campaign. The idea is to hopefully bring my newest idea into being.
What is it?
Funny you should ask!
You may need a bit of background: I’ve been a geek long, long before it was ever remotely chic or at least OK to be so. I spent my youth supping tea in a garage playing war games, role playing and hanging out with about five other friends (all teenagers, all male) debating movies, staging epic campaigns for illusory heroes and reading comics. The role playing thing graduated into acting, the hanging out changed as we grew older, went our separate ways and discovered the chops to hang around girls but the comics never really went away. Comics like the X-Men, Judge Dredd/ 2000AD, Daredevil, Captain Britain and Batman proved to be the gateway drug to titles like Hellblazer, Sandman, The Books of Magic, The Invisibles, Marshall Law, Luther Arkwright and The Preacher.
Always been a big fan of Hellblazer though, always loved Constantine. I reckon it’s something to do with Constantine’s laconic, lop-sided, chain-smoking delivery of some of the best lines ever written, drawn by some of the finest artists working in the comic medium coupled with the magic thing that has always had me coming back for more.
So I hit upon an idea.
I have been a bit ‘Constantine’ for the majority of my adult life. What I mean by that is that I’ve been travelling across the planet, picking up skills and getting into and out of scrapes by manipulating the circumstances, being lucky or found charming or on more than one occasion, running away.
In performance when things have gone awry, I’ve winged it, trusted to luck/the universe/the powers/improvised*. (*delete as appropriate to your particular flavour of belief) and has been doing exactly what mentalist comedian or ‘comedium’ Peter Antoniou voiced as his mantra by thinking ‘What Would Constantine Do?’
And I thought, hang on! There’s a show there somewhere!
So I came up with a conceit based around JC, I pitched it to Alan Moore and asked his permission to use the character as he created it. He replied that he didn’t mind at all and didn’t like to look back on work over thirty years in his past. I had his grace but he said he doubted DC Comics would let me do it, as they owned the character. I then wrote to Neil Gaiman, pitching the idea and asking for his help with who to pitch at DC. He wrote back writing of the recent change around at DC, so he didn’t know who to suggest but hoped I got permission. I also wrote to the current guys working on Constantine as part of the New 52, but they were in the same boat. I tweeted Dan Didio (CEO at DC) who retweeted my tweet! But it went no further. So I sent it in to rights and permissions and it got knocked back in a day or so. A solid, fat, unequivocal NO.

That got me thinking.

Maybe a homage to Constantine wasn’t the thing. Surely, the comic and character had influenced my ideas and my approach to magick, but rather than playing Constantine, I started to think about the archetype. Those of you who may have read Neil Gaiman’s wonderful, wonderful Books of Magic will know all about the Trenchcoat Brigade and where Constantine ends up at the end of the universe. I looked back at tarot, I looked at John Dee, Gerald Gardner, Aleister Crowley, Newton, Ashmole and the fictitious sorcerers Prospero and Faust. And it struck me that the theme that kept recurring was one of seeking knowledge, pushing boundaries and in many cases persecution or misfortune.
There is a popular plot in stage magic called the ‘magician in trouble’ ploy. It is an old ruse, the audience believe that the Mage is failing, that the demonstration has gone wrong (as so it appears to have done) and then at the last, our valiant thaumaturge redeems himself. But in the world of ‘real magick’ the magician in trouble seems to really be in trouble. It was at this point I turned to Faust or ‘Doctor Faustus’ the play by Christopher Marlowe based on the story of a man who sells his soul to the Devil for twenty four years of everything he wants: knowledge of arcane arts, women, the power to turn invisible, to fly, to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting, in fact, almost anything he desires. He gets what he wants until the contract comes to an end- and so does he- dragged down to Hell by the agents of Lucifer into eternal damnation.

But what if he wasn’t?
What if the knowledge he’d gained was enough to stay a few steps ahead of his infernal pursuers? What if he was still around?
And so ‘What Would Constantine do?’ Became ‘The Devil Without’, a re-imagining of the Faust story.

So here’s what I hope to do: (and hang on to your hats, because its very ambitious)
The conceit is simple, Faust is on the run, he has summoned you (the audience) as you dream, to gather about him a psychic shield. He has holed-up in a secret location riding out a ‘manifest night’ a time when demons can walk the earth. Somewhere outside the sealed room, the servants of Hell search for him. He just has to see out the hour and then he is safe until the next manifest night.

One bare hour to live!

But the Devil Without finds him and it wants to get in.

And if it gets in, some of you won’t be waking up tomorrow.

Next up: who’s involved and what’s happening next.

Brooklyn Burger

The Big Apple

I’ve always had a soft spot for New York. I am sure it comes from watching multiple episodes of Taxi, Differn’t Strokes and Cagney and Lacey as a burgeoning adolescent. So you might imagine how excited I was to be in New York a couple of weeks ago. One of the many joys of NYC is simply walking around manhattan and ticking elements off of your mental checklist. There’s always a corner that you’ll turn and bosh! There is a view that you’ve seen many times in a movie. Chrysler building, check! Empire State, check! Steam issuing forth from a drain in the road, check! Cop with donut, double check! Stretched limo, fire truck, tinfoil hat wearing hobo, Times Square, mad lady on subway, well dressed elderly woman with ridiculous yappy dog standing under awning talking to a doorman with a peaked cap…checkity, check, check! And my particular fave: grouchy deli sandwich maker annoyed that you stood for five minutes in the line and you still don’t know what you want!
I was working on 8th avenue delivering drama workshops but also had an ulterior motive/ mission which was that I had manged to finagle a slot on manhattan’s prestigious Monday Night Magic. A mighty magical institution that is New York’s longest running thaumaturgical theatre experience.
So how did it go?
Well, I learnt a whole lot, that much is certain.
1) As my friend Sherri Sutton has oft told folk ‘don’t make fun of Jesus’
2) know your Americanisms, know your crib from your bassinet, your hourglass from your timer.
3) Get on with it! That is to say, you got twenty minutes, that’s all you got!
The staff at the venue were absolute diamonds, Ryan and the tech crew were effortlessly organised and lovely. I got to meet a fair few Magi as well including Bobby Torkova, who astonished me and made me feel that wonderment that I hardly ever feel about magic anymore. He was a gentleman and a consummate professional and just a joy to watch. I only wish I had had time to see him perform some mentalism because the gentleman exudes quiet charm and confidence. Also on the bill were Peter’s Samelson and Kougasian the former, the headline act and the  latter, the  MC for the evening.
I should also at this point say a grand and fulsome thank you to the producers of the show and in particular Michael Chaut who so kindly allowed me to take the stage.
A little bit about what I did.
Well, I tried, for better or worse, to do something different from perhaps what the audience are used to. I have a show that is two hours long end-to-end (with an interval!) and I’m used to establishing a connection, some rapport, with my audience. My mentor Ed, has always preached the importance of being likeable and he’s right as usual. In fact, I was lucky to get some excellent albeit brief feedback from the great Ken Weber, author of ‘Maximum Entertainment’ and I immediately went back over the book upon my return to the UK and he makes the point too, but more on KW later.
My problem therefore lay in a twenty two minute set. On reflection, I should have done an Osterlind and got straight down to it. Less preamble, less chat. I’m a natural talker and I like to chat on stage, it’s part of me and part of my show however, this wasn’t my show, it was a slot on a magical variety bill.
I decided upon a multiple mind read whereby I read ten people’s minds. When I get it wrong (and I do get it wrong, and that’s part of me too!) I like to give myself an incentive not to get it wrong again by a painful reminder, which translates as either a staple from a Staple gun in my arm or sometimes a mouse trap on the tongue. This horrified some of the audience (important point) and it would seem that American audiences are a little more squeamish than their European counterparts. During my time in Edinburgh, I performed a variant of this routine and an eleven year old girl volunteered to come on stage and pull the trigger on the staple gun! No qualms whatsoever, however, the audience at MNM were unsure about what I was about. One criticism I received was that it didn’t work because I hadn’t contextualised it enough. Fair comment. I shall work on that.

I then followed with a hypnotic segment which went really well. I hypnotised a complete stranger and whilst in trance was able to ascertain a word thought of by another audience member. I was very happy with the hypnotic subject and the way the mind-to-mind link played out.

Ken Weber as I mentioned before, gave me some solid gold comments whilst giving me a lift back to midtown. Anyone who performs seriously can benefit from reading his book and I have certainly percolated on his advice.
After watching the other acts, I noted importantly, that success was evident and threaded throughout the evening, magical success. This is perhaps a reason why I wasn’t such a good fit for the evening with my election of material.
I quite like to fail. It doesn’t bother me unduly, other than the staples, that I don’t always get things right. I don’t believe I could do what I do and get it all right. I present mysteries and part and parcel of that is allowing the mystery to run it’s course. For me, it is what keeps my performances vital. That is not to say that there isn’t a plan or indeed a structure, as anyone who has seen ‘Your Place or Mind’ will understand, however, I factor into my shows spaces where for want of a better expression ‘stuff can happen’. And stuff has happened. Participants going off on little unplanned journeys of discovery. Folks divining things they couldn’t possibly know without my help or any suggestion, dumb luck or providence striking clearly like a bell- I love it.
I realise that last sentence may be a bit loose or suggestive of what magicians like to call woo-woo. I suppose it is, but it is also a desire to make the live event, exactly that; a live event. No two shows are the same. There will be familiar materials, there will be process and scaffold but the building should come out different, even if only slightly, every time. My background is very much in theatre. It’s where I grew up. I don’t care for acting ‘tricks’ to make a performance seem fresh because it hardly ever does it for an audience (even if the performer feels so). An act of theatre is an act of communion between the performer and the audience. Whether It is tacit or overt communication, we are ‘en rapport’ or should be. For the same reason I love the word ‘script’ but hate the word ‘patter’, because patter suggests something you trot out (even if it has been meticulously crafted), that it is an adjunct to whatever you are attempting, as opposed to a script, which whilst carefully assembled allows you to riff off it, to throw yourself into the darkness knowing eventually you’ll hit a net. I suppose a criticism that might be honestly levelled at this approach is one of ‘who cares about what you want’ but what I want is connection with the audience, they are the focus and I want them to share something which is temporal, a one-time deal, mine and theirs only. So I don’t like performances delivered so fluidly that they lack connection. I don’t like disjointed or by-rote performance either. It’s a thin line. One of the joys over the Fringe Festival for me, was to talk to Frankie (my technical manager) after the show and go over what had happened that particular evening. It was always different and lovely to talk to participants afterwards too, to hear their version of what had transpired.
If you’re still with me, then I guess the point I am making is that the next time I play a twenty minute slot, it will be a different me. The next show I’m going to create will be theatre where magic happens and not the reverse. And lastly, I loved every crazy second of it. It was wonderful fun and I got to meet some of the heavyweights in my world like Tony Razzano and Nick Belleas, who, by the way, you should avoid going with to Irish bars when you have to catch a flight in a few hours!

New York's Finest Mid-town mayhem with Mr. Belleas.

New York’s Finest
Mid-town mayhem with Mr. Belleas.

Killing the Mystery?

Participant amazingly accurate with psychometry exercise

Participant amazingly accurate with psychometry exercise

A little over a week ago, I made the pilgrimage to Tamworth to join in at the monthly ‘Evening of Mystery’ curated by Mssrs. Anthony Black and Christopher Gould. This evening that takes place at a small bar in Tamworth has been host to some exciting, unusual and high quality acts, so I thought it was time to lower the bar!
Seriously, though, what makes this evening almost unique in the UK, is that it is night dedicated to magic in all it’s forms. This particular evening of mystery featured mentalism, comedy/ bizarre magic and even some classic stage illusion and do you know what? The audience loved it.
I realise that there are a few other nights like this one, I know that Morgan and West run an evening in Oxford, however, it is an uphill struggle despite the favour it garners with an audience.
Why then? If there is an appetite, has this corner of variety not been exploited? Well, it has- in a way- by the same folk who exploit musicians at local gigs. Venues. Not all venues and those who run them follow this model, I myself, worked for years for the Mean Fiddler organisation in Harlesden and Clapham and have worked small independent and brewery-tied pubs and in the majority of those venues musicians and performers got paid. Sometimes it wasn’t a lot and sometimes it was payment in kind, a rider, some food and the promise of some filthy Luca if the word spread and the night became popular. But there is a sub-set of publicans, promoters and event organisers who like to get their artists for free and to this I take exception. I’m not talking about the ‘you rub my back’ scenarios, nor charity, because these models offer different rewards. I talk on the fairly common development where a owner or promoter of a venue operates what musicians call a ‘pay to play’ system. The received wisdom here is that you should be thankful for the exposure, that it is free publicity and a stepping stone to other, greater opportunities.
Tosh.
But the carrot of opportunity is a sweet and alluring vegetable, it sways above our heads wafting beta-carotene goodness and we admire its healthy glow.
I stopped doing these gigs as an actor years ago, because they almost never led on to anything. I turned down an ‘opportunity’ a while back to perform for free even though ‘who knew where this might go, we’re looking ahead’. Chris and Anthony work hard and get nothing in return, they rely on the goodwill of their peers and we support them because a) we stick together b) we recognise the importance of keeping profile on the mystery arts and c) there’s a curry house in Tamworth that needs our patronage. Yes, it’s a good place to try out new untested material, yes, it’s good to perform something to keep you metaphorically on your toes, and yes, we enjoy it. Fundamentally, it’s a fantastic night. However, wouldn’t it be nicer if the venue stepped up and ran a tab/ provided food for performers who have travelled in some cases many miles to be there?

One of the curious conundrums of modern living that I have found to be true across the globe is that if you get something for nothing, you simply don’t value it however, giving it a value results in people drawing an alternative conclusion. I directed a play once and didn’t charge for entrance and guess what, half-full houses and folk reserving tickets and not bothering to turn up. The following year, I directed another play but this time charged significantly for tickets -above what would be deemed as reasonable- and hey presto! With some solid advertising, we sold out.
So, if the venue doesn’t care, doesn’t really promote the event, doesn’t talk it up, tweet, push or share it out, is it any wonder that the audience becomes indifferent or occasional?

There was a guy in the audience last week, who was incredible, he was stunned at every turn, he was a vocal chap who voiced expletives, wows! and incredulous ‘what!’s.
I saw him after the bar had closed and he was talking animatedly to his partner and this was an hour after the last performer. He was stating how he’d be back for the next one. He was great. A walking advert for a great evening and I thought to myself, ‘I bet he’d pay a fiver to come and see the next show’ and I reckon he would, and he’d bring some friends.
Anthony and Chris have got something special happening in Tamworth, It’s the first Thursday of the month. I suggest you see this why you can, it’s a ‘happening’ and it deserves your support and attention. If you do go, step up to the bar and make some noise about how much fun it is and how can this survive. Because it won’t you know, unless people start to value it.

“Life without industry is guilt; industry without art is brutality.”

–John Rushkin

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