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.

The Father Turk

Let’s Talk Turkey

As usual, my attempts to make this a weekly blog continues to fail spectacularly. Since I ranted last, I have been practicing hypnotherapy, tarot readings, teaching and performing on the streets of Istanbul and right now, I’m part of the magical, mystical menagerie currently roosting in the railway arches of Shoreditch’s Village Underground known as The Imaginarium.
I shall try to post a few blogs over the next couple of days, so watch out.
I’ll start in Turkey.
Istanbul is always a great place to visit, however, this was the first time I have visited where I felt a palpable sense of tension. Turkey is in a strange and delicate place right now. Friends I talked to, told me that the government was systematically rounding up those who had demonstrated earlier in the year. Including arresting members of the army- Turkey’s traditional safety catch against anti-secularism. Those I talked to, were pessimistic about the future of the country. The undercurrent seems to be dissatisfaction bordering on outright dissent for the current ruling party’s actions. But there is fear, friends of friends suddenly arrested, charged and languishing in jail. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t go this way. Turkey’s path has been as twisty-turny as most nations including controversy, darkness and mishap but part of what makes Istanbul so unique for me, is the way it neatly straddles East and West, a cultural ragout and the way Ataturk blazed a path of reform. Turks are proud of their independence and the progressive ideals sown by their leader.
In fact, I was in Istanbul to celebrate Ataturk and his story at a drama festival, so it seemed poignant and entirely appropriate to look into his influence on modern Turkey. You may not know it, but there is a great story regarding the father Turk during the Gallipoli campaign. During one of the pitched battles, a shell exploded near Ataturk. He made a point of being in the thick of it and his men adored him for it. This shell sent a piece of shrapnel into his chest, knocking him off his feet. One of his men ran over and saw that the shrapnel had gone through his chest, Ataturk however, was alive but shaken. He was saved by a pocket watch in his jacket pocket! The watch was given to a friend of his after the war and was unfortunately stolen, so that today, it’s whereabouts are unknown. Whether or not the story is embellished, it makes for a fantastic story and you can’t but help imagine what a different Turkey sans Ataturk would have looked like today.
On this visit I was staying on the Asian side in Kadikoy, enjoying great views from my top floor breakfast lounge across the Bosphorous, minarets of Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque glinting in the distance. I love the Turks, they have to be one of the most friendly and interactive races on the planet. I have many, many anecdotes that I normally dine out on with regards to their famed amiable nature and hospitality however, I’ll give you this new one: I like to go out and walk around a city. I like to orientate and I like to meet folk. On my second night in Istanbul I went to a few of the local bars, some of them less salubrious than others, in fact one or two wouldn’t look out of place as an interior for a Sergio Leone movie. It’s hard initially, to tell their character because the norm in Istanbul seems to be dark windows and small entrances designed to pull you in via your curiosity and the obligatory rictus grin doorman. So I opted on a bar and in I went. Immediately upon entrance I was clapped on the back and told to sit down. I ordered an Efes and within two sips was joined by a lady. It became apparent that she was ‘working’ so I made clear that my companion for the evening was the pilsner and I decided to change the dynamic by getting out my ESP cards. The transformation was instantaneous, the barman, the doorman, the lady and two of her friends gathered around. Pretty soon the pock-marked and scarred proprietor sauntered over and oversaw what we were doing with his shark-dead eyes. I know about seven phrases in Turkish- none of them applicable to what we were doing and the level of English in the room was lower than a Balham speakeasy at five am. So I let the cards do the talking. The reception to what occurred was lovely; a mix of consternation, rapid chatter, a slice of wonder and narrowed eyes/furrowed brows and jabbed fingers indicating that I should do it again. So I let them take over and we had a great fifteen minutes of scratching heads and pondering via carefully measured moustache strokes. I was interested to see if mentalism, that is normally so dependent on language could still affect, still make a profound impression on someone significantly outside of my culture and linguistic framing. Afterwards there was much cheering, a couple of nervous glances and I was invited over to share a brew with the Turkish version of Spinal Tap by means of a devil’s horns salutation. A dynamic duo, one in head-to-toe black leather with studded accessories and the other wearing a classic 70′s East German secret service combo of box jacket, sleeveless mustard cardy and jaunty-collared shirt. Leatherman performed complicated air guitar solos for me whilst Trabant, his keyboardist friend insisted I listen to Richard Clayderman tracks on his iPhone and communicated his great passion for Clannad. They took me on a tour of a few more bars and although we could only communicate by grunts and gestures, we had a great time hanging out. They were entirely generous with their time, humour, drinks and banter. I’m not sure, as the details are a bit sketchy, but I may be the newest member of the band.
Sifting the void.

Mental Notes

So last weekend I attended a meeting of the shadowy, clandestine group known as Psycrets (The British Society of Mystery Entertainers) and their bi-annual series of lectures Tabula Mentis.
I don’t propose to tell you much about the meeting but suffice to say it was an illuminating and gratifying day spent in the market town of Hitchin.
Quite a few folk ask me the question ‘what exactly is a mystery performer?’
There isn’t an easy answer to that question as the jury is out amongst mentalists and performers of mystery. The term is a broad brush stroke that covers many individuals, some who indulge a passion for psychology, others who look to prestidigitation and the art of conjuring, others still, practice more esoteric arts or are full-timer readers of the Tarot or other oracles and some folk are psychics.
A lot of us combine it all.
We are an inclusive bunch, respectful of each others views and skill-sets. The common thread then, is a love of mystery and the possibilities inherent in presenting mystery in an entertaining format.
Throughout the day I was struck by how much I like these people. I enjoy the camaraderie, the Craic and the minute attention to detail given to words, gestures, signs, symbols, ideas and stationery. The palpable excitement when someone receives, exchanges or gives knowledge.
I am also always slightly relieved that most of these insanely clever people I meet are practicing mystery performance instead of turning their abilities to crime and politics.
There is something beautiful about mystery, the absurdness of our existence, the fleeting scrabble for understanding that constitutes our lives and those profoundly affecting moments where you pause and let the wonder of your reality permeate your consciousness.

What details can I tell you about the meeting?
Nothing.
You’ll have to live with the mystery.

A ship atop a building.

The Big Durian

Singapore was amazing. I went there to deliver some drama training and lead a student ensemble. I count myself fortunate that I get to do this. I got to work with middle schoolers, high school students studying theatre at diploma level and also teachers. Whilst working with ISTA, I visited the gardens on the bay, which were superbly crafted bio-domes containing plants from different climatic zones across the globe. The riot of colour and range of smells were delightful and the architecture made me feel like an extra in The Minority Report or a live-action remake of The Jetsons.
Singapore is a roaring city-state. It makes itself known and wants the visitor to know that it is not by chance that Singapore has come to be, it is the product of industry, hard work and vision. In fact, Singapore is all about vision. Singaporeans work hard, they pay and play hard also. I have a few friends who are Singaporean or work in Singapore and I am always constantly amazed by the stories they tell. 100% tax on a car, schools corralled by square feet per student, the populace re-housed by the government on a whim or order to make way for a new, brighter development and of course, the fines!
It is possible to be fined for any kind of infraction in Singapore. I watched an entertaining piece of theatre by the students of Lasalle College of Performing Arts based loosely around the life of Singapore’s most famous playwright Pao Kun integrated alongside the story of Peer Gynt. The thrust of the performance was the playwright’s struggle but also to demonstrate the range of skills of the student actors incorporating moments of physical theatre, voice work and borrowed moments of eastern theatrical traditions. A mezcla of styles and practices but nevertheless a very enjoyable one. A good deal of the comedy came from a character, an ‘Uncle’ slapping fines on the hero for a series of wrongful doings including spitting, poor parking, littering, jaywalking and disrespecting ancient cultural property!
To be fair, most of the laws make perfect sense or are at least common sense and you’ll get fined if you lack common sense. For example, littering. You know you shouldn’t do it, so don’t. However, there are a few strange or at least draconian laws such as 500 dollars for eating and drinking on the subway or a nippy little 130 dollar fine for dropping off someone in your car at or near a bus stop. I narrowly avoided transgressing the law when I took a soft drink into the MRT, luckily, a poster pointedly reminded me of the risk I took, so I took the way of brain freeze instead and drained my cup before carefully depositing it in the proper receptacle.
They had just entertained the formula one race in town too, so I got to see remnants of the infrastructure being dismantled ( no doubt to a specific time frame to avoid being fined) as I walked to Clarkes Quay to watch the daily spectacular light and sound show from across the bay.
Singapore certainly doesn’t do things by halves.
I really like Singapore, it has a duality, it’s yin and yang, though don’t even think about taking a Durian anywhere by public transport.
I’m wondering what the penalty would be for jaywalking in possession of a ripe durian…
A ship atop a building.

A ship atop a building.

Needles and pins

Yesterday was an incredible day for me. So much so, that I am still fairly fizzing with energy. As part of my ongoing commitment to training, learning and growing as a performer, I attended an event organised by headhacking (www.headhacking.com) training a group of fellow mystery performers in the art of sideshow skills. We were a small number, huddled around a strange and compelling collection of gin traps, staple guns, mousetraps, nails and nail beds, buckets of broken glass and syringes on a bright but breezy Derbyshire morning.

Sideshow has always fascinated me, and I remember many years ago watching the Enigma and Jim Rose as well as performers in Covent Garden and being stunned, delighted, shocked and surprised about what these people could do. Our tutor for the day is a seasoned performer Tristan Stothard and I have to compliment him on an excellent series of workshops building in complexity and challenge to the final pinnacle of the ‘Human Pincushion’ act. Basically, piercing yourself with needles which is something I never thought I would do as up until yesterday I had a phobic reaction to needles, syringes and anything pointy and medical-looking. I still have a healthy respect for said items but already I feel different about them. We weren’t exactly achieving the state that I’ve seen in Asia with penitents at Thaipusam, but it was a profound step for me, to get to know myself a little better and understand that there is so much more to us than we think.
In one of the morning breaks, I even broke a chopstick between my palms in an ‘iron palm’ moment! I shall try the neck next!

The video above shows a few highlights, and I don’t really want to talk about specifics other than to say that having laid on a bed of nails, on broken glass with someone standing on my head, washing with glass and stapling my arm, I am excited as I have ever been and already am looking at integrating elements of my new learnings into a new show.

Sideshow: a staple of mentalism!

An Evening of Mystery

Being in the mystery business means that I have a fair few mysterious friends. Amongst these there are two gents from Tamworth: Christopher Gould and Anthony Black. They’ve been running a monthly evening of mystery entertainment in a local bar in Tamworth and I decided to go along to the last one.
It’s about an hour and fifteen from where I live, so I popped in the car and shot up the motorway arriving a little into the first act. Hypno guru and all-around chi devil Anthony Jacquin was in attendance along with another name in mentalism Fraser Parker, whom I knew of but had not previously met. There was already a lot of table hopping in effect and the audience were fairly buzzing by the time I arrived.

Christopher and Anthony have a penchant for the more magikal and bizarre and this was apparent throughout the evening. They had also invited more friends and what friends too! None other than Gothic dark knight and silverware nemesis Dee Christopher and the irrepressible life force known as Peter Turner. The venue itself was a small one, which made for intimate presentations and good audience rapport and it was a testament to the skill of the performers that although this was a pub and people were involved in the business of drinking, they duly sat up and paid attention during the action. I’ll talk a little about the performances in no particular order.
Pete delivered some incredible revelatory material, hard-hitting, no-nonsense mind reading with poignant and personal stories. A delight to watch. He is the human equivalent of magnesium, fizzing, bright and with a little bit of danger making you want not to get too close! Dee opted to frazzle the assorted public with metal bending-some of which took place in the hands of volunteers- and a routine with cards redolent of a Vulcan mind meld. Dee was the dark to Peter’s light and a nice counterpoint in delivery and energy. Christopher bestrode the stage like the evil half child of Mick Fleetwood and Mephistopheles complete with silver ram’s head cane and hoodoo swank. Christopher tried out an esoteric experiment in determinism which yielded some very interesting results. The whole evening was enjoyed by the local crowd, some of which, it was apparent had come to a previous evening. Finally Snr. Black hit the stage with a homage to the bearded lady! I told you they like bizarre, right? Well, Antonella, in a rare moment of theatrical grace gave birth to a child on stage, the union of an imagined (or was it?) night of passion with an unfortunate in the audience. The father was asked to name the child, only to find that Antonella had correctly predicted the father’s choice!

A great evening loaded with wit, wonder and broken waters- and the best thing? It’s all happening again next month and it’s completely free.
Seriously, if you live anywhere near Tamworth, you owe it to yourself to get along.
The next event is I believe, on the first of August at The Wherever Bar.

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Indescribable… Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It………The Blog.

A formless mass that accrues as it goes and terrorises the masses – sounds about right.

Welcome to my blog. I hope this will be a stream of communication and not merely a series of nattering, yattering comments from me. I’m sure they’ll be in effect but I also hope to have a dialogue and to create a space where people can talk with me about subjects we find mutually interesting. A good friend of mine asked me why I hadn’t blogged before- he stated that he was shocked that I hadn’t already created a veritable mountain of digital prose and I answered that to do this kind of caper I imagine you have to be dedicated to it. I didn’t have the time.

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