Friday, September 30, 2011

Edinburgh Mini-reviews

In Edinburgh I had a notebook where I constantly wrote down things to remember. Here are a selection of my mini-reviews I wrote that week. I'm pretty sure these are in order of what we saw. I should also point out that I have typed verbatim what I wrote that week and so I make no promises about comprehensibility. 

“Answer Me This,” podcast book signing (free book fringe)
Lovely and wonderful and kind of charmingly brilliant. We sat way in the front row and first they asked if anyone didn't know who they were. Egged on by Kevin, I raised my hand. They then proceeded to spend most of the show explaining asides to me, “festivals, they're these things that happen in the summer...” They also explained The Blitz, and Bovril. It was funny, and I'm not gonna lie, not always unhelpful. They were excellent at calling back to earlier jokes and were a delight to watch REALLY close up. The panel finished with Ollie singing to me his musical version of 'The Wanderer' that he'd made up in college to help him pass his English lit degree. I blushed. It was awesome.

Super fun sweaty excellence. Lots of older Scots in swingy kilts and a lovely and adorable German scientist with charmingly mismatched dancing parents who were in Scotland to visit her. The caller made a bunch of mildly racist comments. Stretching outside afterwards led to a drunken mooning by a Scotsman. His friends bundled him into a cab and waved as they drove away. End result? Total endorphin high and beer and nachos. Oh! And Greek Dancing! With a surprise bridge move! That was fun. Kevin and I are musicians and therefore had mad rhythm skillz.

Interpretive Dances to My Diary (72% non-Fiction), devised show
These guys come from Neo Futurists stock and it definitely shows. Short, choppy, punchy bits put together for something that felt complete. The show was small, intimate, and clever. It worked best when they were relaxed and interacting with the audience rather than doing their 'actor voices'. A charming bit about first kisses and an EXCELLENT recurring bit where they pulled 'and' sentences out of a fishbowl. “and...slow mo dance break.” or “and...when I said I loved you for the first time, it was an accident, not a mistake.” They seemed like my kind of people, but maybe a little more...actorly. Multi-media, good use of sound clips, lovely text animation, chopped carrots, and bright red jump suits.

Music Box Impro, Improvised Musical
We sat in the 3rd row or so after waiting a while in the onsite bar and falling a little in love with the venue. (It felt like a slumber party in a lot of ways.) Music Box had us chat to the people sat next to us to come up with locations for the musical- result? Zombie Pompeii. (“I've never seen anyone cross their fingers for a suggestion before!”) Supremely silly, spotty singing, excellent calling of mistakes, (“I'm very stupid.”) goofy song about how a zombie can't smell z-o-m-b-i-e, and a plan for zombies to run and international coffee cartel (“using manage business!”). Dancing magma when Vesuvius blew up and a head zombie named...Boris? Wonderful lesbian busybodies. Good fun.

Soldier and Death- Relief Theatre, Puppetry
A Slavic tale of a soldier battling Death with magical items like cards that will never let you lose and a sack that will compel anything in to it. Small, wooden puppets and a young, thin cast. (Seriously, their belts were wrapping twice around some of them.) I kept wanting to call the production ernest, but that wasn't quite the right word. Kevin came up with “sincere” and that settled in just fine. It was a very sincere production. We chatted briefly afterwards and discovered that they're all students at Edinburgh Uni and this was their first time working with puppets. Charming more than excellent.

Sarah Millican- Thoroughly Modern Millican, stand up
Gosh she's cute. She's really really cute. She had a signer translating her show which was HILARIOUS- particularly when Sarah made her repeat things “I want to see what Katherine did for Tugging....” Mellifluous, mellow Geordie accent. An exercise bit where she wanted a video called “fat lass as a go” and its sequel, “fat lass tries again.” She talked about poo and called people 'flower.' Charming.

Dave Gorman's Powerpoint Presentation, stand up 
Brilliant. Totally awesome and fabulous. First hour long show that didn't DRAG anywhere. And so funny! And cute! And clever! 10:08 is a happy time. Graphs about punching above his weight. And an epic explanation of how many many people think he is jewish. He made me love the internet more than I already do. Dave Gorman + Social Networking FTW (Rick Stavios)

Lady Cariad's Characters, stand up 
Small, crowded, sweaty room that we snuck into after apologising to the Music Box folks for leaving them and not going to their show. They said it was okay since Lady Cariad was so good. And she was, I mean, fine. Cute characters and clearly enjoying herself. I enjoyed the parkour guy character the best, I think because he was the most clearly not her. Fun, but not the most amazing thing ever. Maybe suffering from the trouble that being immediately after Dave Gorman is? Lovely that we got squeezed in though.

Picture Book Perfect, Children's book panel, book festival
Viv! Yay Viv! I don't like book festivals, I want to be entertained, not told to buy more things. That being said, getting to know Viv has meant an incredible uptick in my interest in illustration. Especially in the process of making a book. Super cool. She and Levi were weirdly mismatched stylistically. Weirdly. Viv was simultaneously awkward and totally in control. She painted some emotional animals, a toddler bopped around with some purple headphones and an iPhone, Levi showed some gorgeous tempura paintings, and Kevin bought “There Are No Cats In This Book” after participating in the inaugural “reactions to Viv's books” video I made him make. She wanted to make a book personification of a cat. I think maybe she succeeded. Yay, concept books!

Give the Fig a Roll- Queen Mary Theatre Company
I hated this show, but apparently I didn't really get it- so here is someone else's review.

Couch Impro, sketch improvisation
Tired, a bit shaken from the Fig show and desperately hungry it was so excellent to be greeted, taken to the venue (which was warm and relatively quiet and filled with older, comfortable Brits drinking in a way that made you certain you'd be called 'pet' at some point) realising that I knew half the cast, having someone come up and say they'd seen me perform in London, well, I felt welcome and unclenched my muscles... Amazing that I went to the show based on the description in the guide. They were great- the best three headed expert I've seen, excellent calling of absurdity, a wonderful genre switching bit, and a lot of quick thinking. Using the audience's anonymous relationship problems as a starting point was a brilliant way to hang a short from show together. It totally worked. Then they asked it I was here with a a show. "" A woman named Silvia was my favourite.

Stream of Piffle, Taking the Piff, sketch show
Was that mimed rape joke really necessary?  I appreciated the big words and the Macbeth sketch was great, but having two women in your cast does not excuse you from misogyny.

Beowulf, musical retelling of said epic poem
I want to have made this. Barring that I am delighted to have seen it. We sat with one of the Ryans from "Interpretive dances of my diary" who recognised us in the queue. (The show was in a wooden music hall tent I played in at the Brighton Fringe when Latana sang Milhaud.) The acting was fabulous (Grendel and his mother were particularly riveting) they made extraordinary use of the space. SO well written and SO well sold. Wow. Just, wow. Beowulf was basically The Dude from Big Lebowski, the back up singers had PIPES, they did epic battles through thumb wrestling, I identified with Grendel's mother, the underwater fight with the buckets, the beer streaming down Grendel's shirt signifying his switch from narrator to monster, just wow, wow, wow. Kevin and I both want to work with them (horses and swords, horses and swords, horses and swords..and HORSES ed. This is a song I've had periodically stuck in my head since we saw the show) Oh! And the Old English Song at the end: I was annoyed with the academic character by that point, (glasses are awesome. Hmmph.) but then she sang the song (as the dragon) and Kevin is right, it was the sexiest thing ever. I was giddy at the end so while Kevin networked I made Grendel nervous and then hugged him. Not. Awkward. At. All.

Catie Wilkings: Chip off the odd block, stand up
A small audience in a small venue. She was charming and middling. Excellent concept of anti-semantic jokes. She said we had brilliant laughs. Meh.

Prepare to Be Tuned: Anyone For Tennis? Musical comedy duo
Not quite Flight of the Conchords but super cute songs- also, excellent random asides (the ghostly voice they just ignored, the penguin suit). Definitely worth YouTubing. God that was embarrassing when they were thrown by how loud our laughs were... (TIME PORTAL IN OUR LOUNGE ed. this is a song that has been periodically stuck in Kevin's head since we saw the show.)

Nina Conti, ventriloquist
Ventriloquism! Wonderful ventriloquism. Foul mouthed monkey, poetic owl, prank calling grandma, and a roving accent. Nina is very good at cracking up- thereby totally holding the illusion while at the same time using the puppets' voices to point out that it is all just her. Good improv with the audience and the wonderful dancer at the end! How great was he?? Also, the clearly adulterous couple in the front row (dude! don't announce it!)

Constance and Sinestra, musical
We checked the time more than once. The first time only halfway through the show. They clearly really liked Sweeney Todd and the space (site specific as it was) was good- but there were no characterisations, I couldn't sing you ANY snippets of any of the songs, they told everything and showed nothing, they killed a character in the least dramatic way possible, they didin't utilise the instruments and it was just so. damn. shouty. Stupid and boring. But the taxidermied mother had pipes.

Baby Wants Candy, improvised musical
This wasn't our last show, but we're pretending it was. A whole musical about the festival, on the last night of the festival, made by people who've been at the whole festival, for people who've been working the festival. It was so cozy and familial and full of in-jokes with fabulous singing, a weirdly evil plot, and  a pub full of Scotsmen all named Ewan. So much fun.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nov 10 at 2:35pm

Is when my flight leaves from Heathrow.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Baba Yaga- The Thank Yous.

I'm sitting in the cafe of the V&A in a room designed by James Gamble, right directly next to the William Morris room and listening to a pianist improvise while I eat salmon and a pair of beautifully dressed salads. (They taste good, they're not wearing fascinators or anything like that. Oh, English and your myriad meanings.) A man is rocking a newborn baby in his arms near the piano and shushing him to sleep. What I'm saying here is that life is beautiful.

Here's what else is beautiful: The number of people who popped up to help me get Baba Yaga made.

Months ago I decided I wanted to make a maze out of yarn. Because it would be fun. I considered finding out how annoyed Ella would be if I made it in our living room, but never got further than musing.

Then an email arrived asking for proposals from GSMD grads to use the Barbican Pit Theatre for week long research and development residencies for creative projects. A game, obviously was what I needed to suggest, but what? A thank you needs to go to Holly who pointed out that I could make my maze there, and then for nodding her head while I blathered on about the story that could go with it. “A comb. There are stories where a comb gets turned into a forest. And there's, like, a mirror? And that turns into a lake? But the maze- the maze could be a forest if we put leaves on it and stuff. Right? Validate me here. I need validation.”

I wrote my application to use the Pit Theatre at midnight in a lovely old house in Fountainbleu. Gwen's mother Clare smiled at me as she went upstairs to sleep, “You'll get it done.” She said, knowingly. And I did, just barely in time. Impishly and groggily I decided to call my new venture Casework. Because naming things after yourself is totally not lame at all. (Gwyn insists on calling it “Caseytronics” which I kind of feel is fair enough.)

Thrillingly and unexpectedly given that I had written the application on a whim- the Creative Learning department and the LAB project decided that I could use the theatre from September 5-9th.


That meant that this was real and I actually had to figure out how to do this and fulfil what I said I was going to in the application.

I did an appallingly poor job of getting my team together and, when I did finally contact them, I failed to give them enough information about what I was planning. Magically and mercifully Jonah trusted me on the basis of, “want to do a project with me? It's about Baba Yaga.” He kept texting me and pointing out that I should really tell him about this project he had agreed to do. Dave made a perfect drum line that exactly captured what I wanted for the witch almost instantly during our first, belated, meeting. Viv turned down work in order to keep her week clear. I can't thank them enough.

Planning the maze and the game would have been impossible without the whole Fire-Hazard Pints & Planning crew who inundated me with examples of cool structures, suggestions of game mechanics, and generous offers to take a day off of work to help me build the maze. I sat at our table in the Pembury Arms with two notebooks in front of me and at least three smart phones being passed around with pictures of things that might work for the maze. Without them I still would have tried to make the maze out of yarn, which would have been lame and wouldn't have led to the purchase of 4 kilometres of cling film.

Kevin showed up in the midst of all of this on a holiday to visit London, me, Ella, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Points to him for arranging his vacation so that he could help with Baba Yaga. Things moved more smoothly because of his presence and excitement. Also, when I decided at half eleven one night to start building a maze in the hallway, (Not the living room Ella! This was even more disruptive!) Kevin was the one who started wrapping around the lines we had tied creating a tunnel that ended up being the main design element of the maze.

Monday morning of this week I had somehow collected a team of four to start building the maze. The first thing we needed to do was place the scaffolding poles. It was at this point that I realized that I had very little clue about what I wanted this to look like. Adam, Jonah, Kevin and Viv were all very patient as I wandered more or less arbitrarily around the space shouting, “Here. And, um, here. Also there. Thank you!!” They were also patient when I managed to twist my ankle skipping excitedly down a step I hadn't realized was there. (This was, like, an hour into the whole process. Embarrassing.)

At lunch Jonah invited his dancer friend Georgie to come and meet me. Thank goodness for that because without her we really didn't have a working game mechanic and she dances so beautifully.
Pretty much the best firebird I could have asked for.

As soon as the scaffolding went up, we started twisting rope with our hands and tying it onto the poles. This was how we spent about two thirds of Monday before Keith, the stage hand, quietly left the room and came back with a power drill he'd attached a hook onto. I'm not sure how much rope he managed to make before we noticed and realized that, um, that would A) Work B) Work better, and C) Mean that we weren't blistering our hands. Building the maze continued much faster after that.

I don't think I can say enough about how helpful and gung-ho the staff at the Barbican were. Keith and Steve jumped right in and helped us build the maze. Steve in particular spent way more time than he was technically supposed to designing the lighting for the maze and just generally making himself invaluably useful.

We learned to stretch the rope so it wouldn't twist up- walking backwards to pull and pull and pull. We learned how to keep the cling film taut when wrapping or creating a tooth. We learned that dropping a roll from a high height is not a terrible idea as long as one end it attached to something because it is so sticky that it takes a while to roll off itself and sometimes you even have to help it along. We learned that there's no sense in trying to talk in a room filled with people unwrapping cling film because it is So. Loud. (And I learned to tie a square knot and a half hitch, but everyone else already knew how to do that.)

Day one ended and it felt like we had made a lot of progress. So off to the pub we went.

Day two brought a different group of people (thanks Nick!) and started off with teaching the newbies the tricks of the material. We built and built and built and somewhere in there Viv decided to make the fire bird costume. She showed up on day three with a bag of fabric and feathers and a sewing machine. We built and built and built realising that the high stuff needed to be finished before we wrapped any more lower panels because otherwise we couldn't place the ladders. Weirdly, the more we built the less finished it became. By the end of day three I was panicking that we'd never get the maze done. Also, we'd run out of cling film which resulted in all of us using the wireless network on various devices trying to find a shop in London that would courier us another 750 metres of cling film. Somehow we found one and an hour or so later a taxi pulled up with three more rolls.

You know. Just a day in the life.

People came for a day or an hour to help us build and test (thank you Patrick and Ruth and Holly). Jo was the first to try going through the maze with the characters and the music, but Elena helped too and said it was one of the most terrifying things she'd ever done. Excellent. It was then that we realized that even if nothing more happened, we had something that worked. We also realized that we were dreaming in cling film. I mean that literally, I kept seeing the organic twisty shapes we were making in my sleep.

At this point we're not even to the performance day. First we have to get through Thursday. At 5 (we we meant to be out by 6) the three of us who had been there the whole week (Viv, Jonah, and myself) started getting perfectionistic about the maze. I was going around with a pair of scissors taking the loose ends off of any and all knots I could reach. Viv kept wrapping more things and making sure pathways existed- noting which entrances let to the most direct and/or most convoluted passages. And Jonah got a bit compulsive about one of his tunnels. That night my father patiently dealt with me as I had a mini breakdown over skype; “so few people get to see it! And then it's all going to disappear!” I grieved, certain that this was a representative microcosm of my time in London.

At one in the morning the day of the performance Elena, Viv, Jonah and I were still passing emails back and forth writing and re-writing the game instructions which were now made up of rhyming stanzas. (Each message ended with, “okay, off to sleep now!” but then someone else would respond and we'd all start emailing again.) Also that evening we finally figured out what sort of a gem we had on our hands. All of us sent off as many messages as we could to as wide a network as each of us possessed: “Yes, this is during a working day, but it's AMAZING. Please, please come- not for us, but for you. Don't miss this.”

And so Friday took off. Viv showed up with beautiful instruction sheets she'd made that morning and sewed Georgie and I into our costumes. Elena volunteered to be the doorman, and then after the first round of players she and Adam decided that there needed to be an internet presence for the game- so they set up a tumblr account. Clare ferried people up and down the labyrinthine workings of the backstage of the Barbican. Steve brought in his camera and started taking quality photographs of the maze. Adam volunteered to make a video out of all of my time-lapse photographs. Jonah, Georgie, Dave, and Viv all cut their lunch short so we could film. Kevan and Emily both came back after they played and stuck around long enough to help us with the tear down. People were patient waiting for their turn. People tweeted and texted and emailed and our guest list grew DURING THE DAY. Jonah overheated and the paramedic wouldn't let us go on again for another forty minutes (“Just a plaster. Couldn't I just have a plaster?” Jonah said plaintively as the paramedic stuck a thermometer in his ear and took his blood pressure.) and still people waited their turn. My camera's memory filled up and other cameras appeared in my hands. Gwyn put all the digital files on to his computer. Elena set up a drop box for all the documents we'd created. The pile of positive feedback forms grew. People I hadn't seen in ages showed up and I glowed and felt so honoured and humbled by everything.

It was magic. The whole experience was magic. Still is magic.

God, I'm blessed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Edinburgh Bullet Points

1. Dear Uncle Andy,

Many years ago you went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and when you came back you brought exciting stories and an album of songs from an Australian performance art band that I can still sing most of due to the fact that I spent years listening to it too much. Because of you I have always wanted to go to the fringe.

Thanks for planting that desire, I had a freaking amazing time.

2. Kevin flew in from New York and then had two days to attempt to get over jet-lag and hang out with Ella before I put him on an overnight train up to Edinburgh. We arrived at 7:30 in the morning, climbed a giant, ridiculous hill, dropped off our bags and then got started. Because with something like the fringe it's better to jump right in rather than wade slowly.

3. 24 shows in 5 days (22 each). We saw 1 scripted musical, 2 improvised musicals, 2 sketch comedy troupes, 1 “wtf was that??” devised play, 2 improv groups, 2 panel talks, 1 ceilidh, 7 stand up comics, 1 neo-futurist alumni show, 1 ventriloquist, 2 comedy bands, 1 puppet show, and best of all? 1 Folk musical version of Beowulf. God, that was good. (We not at all secretly both want to work with these people.)

There were also 2 shows that we either forgot we'd bought tickets for or completely failed to accurately read the map for.

4. Kevin and I turn out to be excellent travel partners with an almost uncanny ability to get really hungry and lose it at the same time. This might sound like a bad thing but was actually and sincerely wonderful because it meant that we'd get quiet and withdrawn (due to low blood sugar) at the same time and then fix that (by eating) and perk up at the same time. The only real difference is that I need, like, a sandwich in the morning and Kevin needs a giant coffee or three.

5. Edinburgh is beautiful. Ridiculously rainy, but stunningly gorgeous. We kept catching our breath and sighing at how pretty it was. Bonus of all the rain? Numerous rainbows.

So, so, so pretty.

6. I kept running into people that I knew or had connections to. Walking into rooms or new venues or down a street and going, “Oh. Hi there.”

The city was filled with my people, both figuratively and literally.

7. The fringe is totally overwhelming. I had the catalogue sent to me beforehand and barely looked at it because it was so full of things. We arrived and I went through a period of panic because we were going to MISS things. Which, of course we were- we only had 5 days, things were already finished or finishing, there's only so many shows you can see in a day and only so many tickets you can afford. But the anxiety of missing something extraordinary took some getting used to.

8. Best Decision I Made: Joining Friends of the Fringe. It cost £25 and meant I got the catalogue sent to me. I figured I was happy to support the festival and too lazy to find a catalogue in London, so I went for it. This turned out to be an accidental stroke of brilliance: the 2-for-1 ticket deals meant that the membership paid for itself, but the real jewel was the ticket hut.

When buying tickets non-members have to stand in an epic queue that, because this is Edinburgh, is frequently soggy. Members, however, get to skip the queue and hang out in an adorable, dry little hut and take their own sweet time choosing what to see.

At first I kept apologising for hemming and hawing and taking so long at the desks, but they kept pointing out that there were few or no other people waiting so it was totally cool. Best £25 of the festival. Highly recommended. Five stars.

9. Flyering. We were there for the last five days of the festival, so a lot of people had festival fatigue. Not us, we were PERKY. Which endeared us greatly to the flyerers all over the city. There are SO many shows that lots of times the only way you hear about something or notice it is by being handed a flyer. Streets are covered in people trying desperately to get audience members for their shows. Kevin and I would go out of our way to get flyers and were always enthusiastic about taking them. We got profusely thanked for that a number of times...

10. The festival is so large and full of so many different things that any number of different festival experiences can be had. Want to get drunk and heckle a lot? There's a festival for you. Want to see a lot of dance? Only stand up comedy? An entire run of musicals? Things that make you cry? Political drama? Children's theatre? Want to make a study of different uses of puppetry? There's a festival for all of those.

After excellent and and appropriate-for-us shows Kevin and I would turn to each other and talk about how we had found our festival.

D'awww. I'm in love with the fringe.

Things I do with my time.

I've been collecting suitcases of games recently. 

That makes it sound like I am collecting ridiculous quantities of marbles or jacks or chess pieces or something like that. This is not at all what I mean. 

What I mean is that I have a suitcase full of The Fox Hunt (Hide & Seek), I have a suitcase full of Apocalypse Games (fire-hazard), and because at this point I've run out of wheely suitcases and a tank of helium is kind of hard to pack neatly in a bag: a pile of Baba Yaga (Casework).

Oh, and I totally forgot I also have a bag full of The East India Company Game (Capricious) which desperately needs a new title and is just in a tote bag so is easy to forget.

I spent yesterday working long into the night. (Must remember to never drink tea after 3pm. I can't handle my caffeine.) And while some of what I did was invite people to my events, get writing and emails done, sort out scheduling, have a meeting with some of my collaborators, etc. Another thing I did was cover my entire hallway in a cling film maze that blocked every single door to every single room (and the outside world) and inflate a single cow patterned helium balloon.

May every night be as eventful.