Tuesday, April 01, 2014

I'm A Fool For April

This time twenty-nine years ago my first memory was made. I was nearly three, and I looked at my newborn sister through the wire mesh of the hospital cart she'd been placed in. She was small, pink and be-blanketed, and I distinctly remember wondering why they'd put my tiny new sister in a shopping trolley.

Today it's sunny, and she is far away, in London. Possibly later things will get out of control and she will find herself back in a shopping trolley, careening around the streets of Hackney embroiled in some kind of wild birthday jape. I choose to believe she might.

So, today it's sunny, and it's my sister's birthday, and I have had some good news. The sort of news that prompted me to jump up and down pump my fist in the manner of someone considerably sportier than I. The sort of news that's such a surprise and relief that I was left a bit shaky and giddy and hot.

(I don't know if I can tell you yet, but I'll tell you later. Over a pint, maybe. Fancy it?)

***********

I'm back in Manchester now, having been in Leeds off and on for some weeks working on It Burns It All Clean for West Yorkshire Playhouse's Transform Festival. Selina Thompson was the lead artist, with Sara and I working on it with her, developing our characters and pieces of performance. It is somewhere between an immersive theatre piece and an installation, and was out of the theatre in a secret location. Every show Sara and I would go and meet the audience at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, before snaking them through the streets of Leeds to start the show. It was a new experience for me having to hold a character throughout an immersive show, where the audience are part of the game. Some people are nervous, quietly obedient and a bit frightened, while others play up and get a bit naughty. Not totally unlike teaching, really. Particularly the part where you have to hold your face in a stern expression whilst actually finding the naughtiness pretty funny.

So far I have seen one review, which described me as "a woman so deranged she makes Pam from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ look sane". I suppose it's talking about my character, not me, but I might still get in on a t-shirt, or tattoo it on part of my body at the very least.

Transform was lovely, buzzy and exciting. We didn't get a chance to see any other work as we were doing up to four shows a day, but there were loads of people about. It felt a bit like Edinburgh, but with fewer cobbles and wearily angry Scots.

On Saturday night we also did two Eggs Collective sets at the late night show in the Playhouse. Lydia came up from London and Roxy came over from Manchester, so Sara and I finished our fourth show of It Burns It All Clean at about 10.30pm and dashed over to the Playhouse to get ready. Within the hour we were sitting on the bar, changed out of our futuristic power suits and into our Ladies Night gear, all stacked shoes, birds nest hair and spiderleg lashes. I belted out the Thong Song as I usually do, then an hour later we did another set, dancing with the crowd and hanging off people, instigating a massive love-in. "I bloody love you" I slurred into the face of slightly nervous-looking stranger. "I love you too" he replied. "I mean, you're terrifying, but I do love you."

Sara and I arrived back in Manchester yesterday afternoon, broken but happy.



************

It's sunny, and we've got the window open. People are sitting outside Kim by the Sea, the bar downstairs, drinking in the beer and the sunshine. We just heard the a big group clink glasses joyously, all cheering and there was even the odd "woo". Then a woman sighed happily "and on a Tuesday, too!".

***********

I'm starting to think about my new solo show, Dirty Old River. The first performance is on 24th May at The Lowry, then I'm performing it again on 25th July at Rich Mix in London as part of a triple bill.

It's going to be about loneliness, belonging and connection. It'll be a series of songs and stories, with me singing and telling stories and playing my cello. I'll use a loop pedal, but other than that it'll be low tech, quite intimate. More of a gig than a theatre show. Confessional, cabaret, I'm calling it. Hopefully it'll be quite funny and sad and weird and good. Just the usual aspirations, really.

I've been working on different ways of singing and playing cello, other than my usual old trick of doing some basic cello chords and singing over the top of them. I want to play around with it, so that sometimes voice accompanies cello, and sometimes they do a proper duet. It feels like it makes a lot of sense to go down this road, and I can't wait.

***********

Perhaps this is the summer starting. Maybe it's just April, and my sister's birthday, and it's summer. Every so often I remember my good news and have to shut my eyes for a moment, trying not to wonder whether it's the cruellest April Fool ever.

But the sun is out, the world is warm and all is good. And on a Tuesday, too!

How are you?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

In Which I Refence Both YouTube And Snapchat Because I Am Hip

I've felt a bit stuck recently, when it comes to writing this blog. Oh God, I really know, it doesn't matter to anyone else, but it does kind of matter to me. Nearly ten years of pouring my hopes, hangovers and heartbreaks into this drab little corner of the internet and now I get all tangled as soon as I try and say anything. Suddenly everything sounds too self-promoting (probably) or not self-promoting enough (ridiculous) or something. Entitled, maybe. Or privileged. Or just plain old wank.

So, in a bid to rediscover something possibly lost, I'm copying that bastion of blogging eloquence, Belgian Waffle, and do some Down/Up lists - stuff that is bad, then stuff that is good. Ah, the age-old writing technique of listing some stuff and hoping for the best. Shakespeare probably definitely did something similar.

DOWN

- Being freelance is still weirdly terrifying. I definitely knew I would miss my beloved teaching job after I left it at Christmas, but I don't think I anticipated the peculiar vertigo that wakes me in the early morning vacuum, whispering mean things in my ears. Things about stupidity and risk and You Are Definitely Not A Proper Grown Up. Even when it's all alright, when I am working, the vertigo is still there. Going into school every week for three years, knowing colleagues well enough to have jokes and know their stories and families, knowing every single kid in school by name, having a place I usually sat in the staff room, all that was an anchor (it was lovely). It was fairly straightforward. A bell rang and I started. A bell rang and I went home. Now it feels all more muddy and complicated. Trying to juggle loads of projects at the same time, worrying about cash flow, trying to think about things simultaneously in the moment and in the future. Assuming the risk for everything: emotional and financial. It's scary. I hope it will just get easier as I get used to it, and I won't end up a husk of a human, wandering up to strangers in public places and screaming 'APPRAISE ME" into their baffled faces.

- The lamp post outside our new flat looks worryingly wobbly.

- Patronizing patronizers keep being patronizing about this "no make up selfie" thing. I keep seeing Facebook posts from various people being all, like, "ladies, yeah, what's the big deal about make up. Listen, you're beautiful as you are. Here's a pat on the head, now grow some self-esteem" and all manner of other stuff that also definitely isn't the point. If everyone who does the no make up selfie thing donates some money then, surely, it's a good thing? Isn't it? I don't get why people who it doesn't affect are cross about it.

- Seriously. That lamp post looks really, really wobbly. I'm no town planner*, but are they meant to do that?
*Or whoever is in charge of lamp posts.

- I'm awaiting decisions on two big Arts Council applications, one for my new solo show Dirty Old River and one for Eggs Collective's new show. It is a nail-biting state of affairs.

- We haven't decorated our new flat. Ben has gone off on tour today with Anthropoetry and I have been working away, so all we have so far are small squares of paint and good intentions smattering the walls. I live in hope that one day I will turn majestically into the sort of person who can do things like decorating, tiling, and arts/crafts. And baking! I would like to do some baking. But instead I am the sort of person that doesn't do any of those things, feels woefully inadequate, so goes off writes self-pityingly blog posts about it. Go team me.

UP

- There's a group of small children lined up outside the garden centre opposite. They are waiting in pairs, variously jumping up and down, swinging each others hands, dancing and being generally exceptionally giddy. They have their little fluorescent vests on and are poking excitedly at some daffodils. It is a Thursday lunchtime and they are on a school trip to the garden centre. Everything is A-OK. (They probably haven't noticed the ominous sway of the lamp post.)

- I think maybe I know why the vertigo is being mean to me in the night. Freelancing is hard, and I'm definitely a bit shy and scared of getting it wrong. In some ways I probably make the worst/most neurotic freelancer in the world. I hate using my phone unless it's to take selfies on Snapchat so that I can draw amusing glasses on my face or turn myself into a lion. I very much don't like not knowing what I am doing. I am, I have sadly realized, not cool enough to Go With The Flow about things. And this makes stuff a bit hard at the moment, when it's all a bit ricketty and new and uncertain. Maybe the fear is inevitable. It will probably get better.

And the actual work is really wonderful. I loved spending six weeks making Prelude to a Number. Being in new places and learning stuff. We were really pleased with the show, even though it possibly isn't quite there yet. And that's fine, because we'll work on it more and it will improve. (I wrote about it here, if you want to read about how that all went.) Now I'm working in Leeds on a piece called It Burns It All Clean for Transform Festival at West Yorkshire Playhouse. The lead artist is Selina Thompson, with Sara and I collaborating, but it's definitely Selina's piece. We're working in whatever way she needs us to. So it's nice, because we get to be part of the creative process without so much of the pressure, and learn about how someone else makes work.

And, at the risk of sounding like I'm attempting some kind of inspirational youtube video, I think that with every project I do I'm becoming a more confident writer and performer. I think the bit I love the most is when you're all in a room and the ideas are swinging around and everyone's buzzy and getting it. It feels a bit magical.

- The new flat is lovely. The one we had before was a one bedroom mezzanine, so it was kind of just one space for living, working, cooking and sleeping. If you wanted to strop off somewhere you had to go and sit in the bathroom and stare furiously at tiles. But this flat has two bedrooms, both of which are separate to the downstairs living space. This means stropping off can be done in the proper fashion! (There are probably other benefits as well.)

- It occurs to me that maybe lamp posts are meant to sway in the wind, like those buildings that are designed to withstand earthquakes by wobbling (bit of architectural engineering there for you, you're welcome). Maybe they're designed to be flexible, and it is in fact that flexibility that makes them ultimately more stable? Probably not, it's probably going to crash through my window and crush me while I am blogging about it. Oh well. I just thought it might make a good life lesson.

- The children have now been allowed into the garden centre and are tearing around like little streaks of yellow highlighter pen, occasionally stopping suddenly to stare intently at some greenery before launching off again, bumping wildly into one another and shrieking with joy.

- Spring waits around the corner. Up here in the northern hemisphere we're all nearly out of the dark. There is blossom on the trees and people have tentatively ditched their scarves. Yesterday I had a day off, so I met Aisling at lunchtime. We sat in the sun, sipping at our small glasses of cold white wine, pretending earnestly that it was summer. And, for the briefest of half hours, before the wind checked its calendar and picked up smartly, it worked.


P.S. THIS IS THE SORT OF THING I DO FOR FUN


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hangovers. CURED!

I can pinpoint the exact moment that Saturday night's mascara began to slide down its cheeks.

We'd been carousing for a few hours, celebrating the performance of Ben's show and Ro's imminent slip down to London. (It seems we are leaking Mancunians up here. Watch out South, the North is coming to flatten both your caps and your vowels.)

Ben, Dan and I (aka Geddes Loom) had been rehearsing all day, were extremely glad at the end of it to take a breath and a beer and head to meet our friends and see the show. We knew we had a busy day the next day, but could not be deterred in our party spirit. Moving to another bar after the theatre we all sat round a big table, talking, laughing and taking increasingly indulgent selfies with flattering filters.

At midnight my watch beeped, as it is inexplicably wont to do. I raised my head from my trough of white wine, vaguely surprised. A dour, tweedy part of my brain glanced up from its improving book and muttered something about early starts, but the larger part of my brain, sporting a garish Hawaiian shirt and a cap with beer cans attached to it, elbowed it hard.

An indeterminate amount of time later I was talking earnestly to someone about something important when Rachel and Dan appeared in the periphery of the table, bearing one large tray and two wicked grins.

"Shots!" they called, joyously.

"Hurray!" replied everyone, wonkily.

This, I should think, was where it all drifted. This, not the twelve drinks beforehand, was the reason for taxis slept in, chips cried over, love declared and QI squinted at.

The following day Dan, Ben and I reconvened to continue our rehearsals for that evening's inaugural Pen:Chant, which we were not only organizing but also hosting and performing at.

When Dan arrived we exchanged looks and he shook his head, slowly so as not to disturb the angry bats that had taken up residence therein.

"OK?" I said, squintily.

He took a deep breath as an answer, and we all made some more coffee.

But think of it! I kept reminding myself. We get to see Fi tonight! Fi who was our roommate in Edinburgh and who is excellent. And all we have to do is go to Three Minute Theatre, put on a show with two excellent acts and hang out with a tiny dog called Mandy. This, surely, is the best hangover cure in the world?

I tell you what, it really was.

There was no part of it that I felt stressed or unsure about. Unlike loads (most) of the things I've done this year I didn't even slightly wish that I would get a tiny bit hit by a car on the way so I would have an excuse not to go. It's a lovely place run by lovely people. Mandy the tiny dog is tiny. Tiny! Gina and John run the venue and they are lovely and generous.

Hannah in the Wars (Hannah, Fi and Rosie) were really epic and cool. Three fierce, serious, funny, talented women being great all in a row. (Also Rosie lent me her cello. I am very grateful to her for that, partly because her cello is nicer than mine.) Here they are:


Our other guest act was Jon Bennett, and he was brilliantly funny, as well as managing to be a little bit poignant as well. He did a shorter version of his show, Pretending Things Are A Cock, and we felt very pleased with ourselves for snagging such a good comedian for our first show. Ben and Dan had hung out with him when they swanned (swun?) off to Australia to do the Perth and Adelaide Fringe earlier this year. At first I was a tiny bit intimidated by him as he seemed a bit cool, but then, after talking to him, I realized he was normal and a bit weird, just like everyone else. Here he is:


We had four people on the open mic section (two women, two men) who were lovely, funny and thought-provoking. Our audience was made up of nice people who were attentive and clapped in the right places. They even didn't seem to actively mind when I made this joke:

Q: How do you make a duck into a soul singer?
A: Put it in the microphone until it's Bill Withers*

*This joke doesn't work written down because of the apostrophe. This is a grammar joke!

To be fair I was introducing Fi onto the stage to sing "Grandma's Hands" with Ben on beatbox and me on backing vocals. But I suppose to be fairer it is a terrible joke**.

**No it isn't. It's a great joke.

So we have discovered a great hangover cure! Put on a night, make terrible jokes, sing some songs. Play with a tiny dog called Mandy.

Here we all are together (I am holding Mandy):


(Next Pen:Chant is on Monday 9th December at Three Minute Theatre)

Monday, November 04, 2013

All Just A Game We're Doing

A few years ago I was locking my bike up on a dark, rain-grisled street in Manchester. The bike stand was the last one in a long row, and I was hurrying up, keen to get out of the wintery night. Suddenly I heard methodical dinging of bicycle bells and looked up to see a man, forty-ish and roundish with a dark coat and tattoos on his hands, walking along the row of locked up bikes and carefully ringing each bell in turn.

I paused and watched him. When he got to me stopped. "Um" he began, sheepishly. "Can I do yours as well? It's sort of... a game I'm doing."

I stood back. "Yeah, of course."

Ding. "Ta, love."

Ding. Ding. Ding. (fades)

***************

That story doesn't really relate to anything, I just couldn't work out how to start the first blog post I have done since I was in the midst of wrestling with the Edinburgh Fringe. Because obviously you've all been lying face down in darkened rooms weeping into your laptops, torn up by pain and loss, wondering why I have cruelly abandoned you.

We returned from Edinburgh and I did the annual wondering why I felt so bleak for two weeks, before coming out the other side of it and getting REMEMBER YOU ALWAYS FEEL HORRIBLE AFTER EDINBURGH tattooed on the insides of my eyelids. It makes sense to feel a bit weird after an entire month of not only performing alone for an hour a day, often with reviewers taking copious scritchy notes IN THE FRONT ROW, but also having to trudge about and sell the bloody thing as well. Towards the end of the month my flatmate Fi came to provide some much-needed solidarity and get rid of my millions and billions of remaining flyers. She was also exhausted, though, neither of us fit for much more than drinking lovely things and reminiscing about the good old days at the beginning of the festival when we were still young and able to construct sentences. "Do you want... shows?" I whispered, tearily proffering a flyer to a person. "Um... nice font, picture of a girl?" tried Fi.

The show itself went pretty well, with some good reviews and some circumspect ones. I began throughout the fringe to realize that really, I prefer the informality of a gig, I like to chat with people from the stage. The performances I saw that I related most to were the ones that had a smack of cabaret, and the best bits in my own show were the chatty, informal feeling ones. There was, in my show, a fair bit of the other kind of performance too, the fourth wall kind. It was a tough thing to realize halfway through that I didn't think it quite worked, but still have to get up and perform it for another seventeen days straight.

My favourite moment in Edinburgh was at the Tron Church. It is a glorious, weird and wonderful place at the end of the Royal Mile. A church with a stage, tables and a bar. Cavernous and stained-glassed, with acoustics that make your ears stand on end. We did a few Geddes Loom gigs there, but I had wangled a solo gig. Just me, my cello and my loop pedal. David, the guy who was running the Tron this year, was unsure about letting me have the slot at first, I had to argue and smile and flatter my way in when I signed up to it (he was happy to let me sign us up as a band, less happy to sign myself solo) (weird).

I had a forty-five minute slot and probably about thirty-five minutes of material. But these things always start late, I thought, and they won't mind me getting off a bit early, it's a pretty relaxed gig.

About a hundred and fifty people were there, more by the end. Silent and listening, smiling when I chattered a bit at them between songs. Flatmate Aaron was there, drinking, smiling and occasionally offering a gentle heckle. I did about half an hour, then announced my last song. The church was full. Packed with people whose eyes were shining in the nicest way. David came over. Can you do a few more?

So that was the point that I improvised a song with my loop pedal, getting rhyme suggestions from the audience and making up a song about... I forget. At one point we mentioned the public toilets just outside the church, though. I remember that.

I sold all my CDs. I signed autographs and was offered drinks. It was weird and special. Aaron and I immediately went to a nearby Spendy Wine Bar to drink Spendy Wine and eat cheese off wooden boards.

That was kind of amazing.

Also amazing: we found somewhere with Prosecco on tap. We did not stay there long, it was far too dangerous and, contrary to popular belief, being an ARTISTE does not pay as well as say, being an investment banker made of gold.

******************

I have other news! (No, not pregnant, engaged, booked in for a nose job etc.)

Geddes Loom, my band/company with Ben and Dan, have been selected for the Routes North project. Ta DA!

This means rehearsal space, two performances in each of the three venues (The Lowry, ARC in Stockton and Theatre in the Mill in Bradford) and general love and support (the 'love' bit isn't in the contract) from all the venues. We are also being funded by the Arts Council, which is excellent and will keep wine on the table for a bit longer.

We begin rehearsals at the end of this year, continue next year until the shows in mid-February.

You can read more about it here (if you like).

It does mean me leaving my lovely teaching job at Christmas. I've been there for nearly three years and I will miss the staff and kids. It's been ages since I have been in one place long enough for people to properly get my name right and notice when I have done something to my hair. (Also we had an Ofsted inspection recently and got 'outstanding'.) (I am aware that I'm beginning to sound like a smug family round robin letter sent out at Christmas alongside a photo of everyone in a Florida sunset wearing linen. Sorry.)

So I will be truly freelance once more. Which is obviously totally terrifying in some ways, but it's a good time to do it. Eggs Collective have got loads of 2014 plans as well. Lowri is still in Brazil and Lydia's lyd-ing it up in London, but we don't stop planning, booking things in and peering at each other on Skype dreaming of white wine hugs.

Oh, and I'm secretly hoping to go and do a stint in NYC at some point. Not a massive stint, I mean a few weeks, but there are some exciting people and things going on and I want to get on planes and do things.

I am booking a schools and colleges tour of Bright Lights, as I performed it in a nearby school to year 11 pupils, followed by a day of workshops then a performance by them for the year 9 pupils as part of year 9 PSHE to talk about failure, ambition and resilience. It worked well, and I reckon it's the best way forward with that show. I am proud of it, but when I imagine my future solo work it looks like that gig in Edinburgh, talking to people and hoping their eyes shine.

************************

Once, in London, I had stayed up all night recording a song for a competition deadline at 10am the following morning. You had to hand in a CD to BBC building on the Aldwych. I had recorded all the vocals, then stuck the microphone out of my bedroom window to record the buses rumbling up and down Brixton High Street. At 8.45am I finished and, dizzy with relief and sleep deprivation I sprinted out of the front door. Clutching my precious CD I hailed a taxi. Just as I was about to get in a man stopped me and asked me if I knew how to get to The Strand. He sounded foreign and looked a bit panicked. Well, I answered, as it happens, that's very near where I'm going anyway! So get in. I was going to pay for it anyway.

He got in and we screeched off. At 9.30am I stumbled in to the reception and thrust my CD in the pile.

The man was waiting for me when I got out. Want to go for breakfast?

Yeah, OK.

We went, and I remember thinking in a detached way that this was like the start of a romcom. I meet a man and win a competition to kick start my career, all on the same day!

We had found a café, had croissants, coffee and a nice chat, shook hands and left. Oh yeah, I thought, we were just two people having a moment. Like life, not a romcom.

(Oh, and I never heard back from the competition.)

***********************

Geddes Loom have started a music/comedy/spoken word night! The first one is next Sunday at Three Minute Theatre, and will be excellent. If you are in Manchester or nearby you must come along.





Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Edinburgh 2013 - Halfway Through Week Two

I am sitting in a lovely bar in which I was once dumped. Back then I was crying so hard I could only see the fuzzy outline of the coffee cup and the wilting froth within. They didn't charge me for my drink, and I'm still grateful for that touch of humanity.

Nearly ten years have passed since that moment, and here I am tapping away like the Apple Mac twat I have become in the intervening decade. I have walked up here after my performance today, to do a bit of tapping and thinking. I thought it would be nice to come back here, to re-live that moment and think about how far I've come since I came up to Edinburgh in my early, mid and then late twenties. Last year I was performing an excerpt on the Free Fringe, and six years ago I was flyering for cash during the days and spending my nights at the Jazz Bar waiting until four in the morning for the chance to sing a single song (read about it here, if you like). Now I wake up and gather my self and my stuff, hoist my heavy rucksack onto my back and trek out into the day. Flyers fanned, I take the first deep breath of many and approach the "punter".

This hurdle successfully negotiated, I chat away with everyone I meet. "Oh yeah!" I realize. "I like talking to people! This is OK."

People react in different ways. Some are happy to take the flyer but feel that eye contact is too much of a commitment. Some smile indulgently, as though I'm an errant but well-intentioned puppy. Others refuse, which I don't mind, especially when they are nice about it. Sometimes they stop and look intently at the flyer, which I take as a cue to begin talking about the show until I notice an expression of fear and bafflement begin to creep across their features and realize they aren't understanding a word I'm saying.

Some people are morons about it, taking the opportunity to enjoy the brief flash of power they feel as the potential consumer of something I'm trying to sell.

"I can't come to the show because I'm going home now" said one such delight. "But sell it to me anyway!"

In automatic sell-mode, I began, much to his amusement. I trailed off and he laughed imperiously.

"Well, good luck with that!" he sneered, and wandered off.

I approached two elderly gentleman.

"Can I give you a flyer?"

"Yes!" one replied "But only if I can take your picture. Pretty girl like you!"

So I dutifully smiled with my flyers as he fumbled with his ancient camera, pressing wrong buttons and eventually thanking me and tottering off.

I spent a long time talking to two Irish women about the festival and the nature of fame and sexism in the media.

"So" one of them leaned in. "What happened when you tried to make it in the music industry?"

"Ah ha! You'll have to come to the show and find out!"

She slapped me gently on the hand. "Oh, you!"

At the end of our chat they promised to come to the show, and one of them hugged me.

"Well done. You're doing so well. We are so proud of you."

Everyday I go into the dressing room about twenty minutes before the show before me finishes. I have begun to take their cues for my getting ready process. When I hear a little shriek I know it is time for me to turn my computer on, and in the first moments of the music that whispers the end of the play my stomach does a flip. Perhaps for the rest of my life, when I hear those notes, I will have a Pavlovian response and nerves will scratch at the door. I hope so.

Bright Lights is going very well. I have had another review, which was very nice! I won't bore you with them here (FOUR STARS) but if you want you can read them here and here. I think the hour that I am actually performing is the simplest bit, because by now I know exactly how that goes. Everything else is a weird mix of adrenaline, sweat and trudging.

In other news: my EP CDs have been dispatched so I will be selling them at my music gigs, the first of which is tomorrow. My lovely flatmate Fi and I have been having wine-fuelled jam sessions in our kitchen, with her on guitar and vocals and me on cello and backing vocals. I am hoping that Fi will be able to come with me to some of my solo gigs and we can perform together. We've been trying to think of a name for our band. So far we have come up with Fi-lé, but are unsure of it due to the inevitable fish associations.

(Side note: Fi's Mum has been known to read this blog, so if you are reading this, Fi's Mum: Hello! Thanks for reading! Your daughter is great!)

I have eeked out this coffee for as long as is reasonable. Due to not having been dumped in the last ten minutes (as far as I am aware) I will almost certainly have to pay for this one.

I am still knackered and can't remember what a vitamin looks like. The spot on my chin is still clinging on (although Ben says it brings out my eyes) and I am covered in inexplicable bruises. But I love it (not the spot). I adore my flatmates so much it's unseemly, and am making new friends everyday. Later on I am going to a seance! I hope it's like Charmed (bagsy being Alyssa Milano). Then later I am going to see Luisa Omelan's epic What Would Beyoncé Do?, which I have seen one and a bit times (I performed just before and after her, with Eggs Collective at Latitude).

I like sitting here, the scene of ancient heartbreak. No longer heartbroken. Maybe the tinest bit bodybroken, but I reckon I can just about deal with that.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Edinburgh 2013: Week One

It’s nine o’clock on Saturday night and three of my housemates have just decided to have a nap. (In other, totally unrelated, news: the Edinburgh Tattoo with its fireworks that resound across Edinburgh every Saturday night, hearty as haggis, has just begun in earnest.)

This evening I have dragged myself away from the promise of pleasures abound to have a rest. I am weary. My skin has begun to protest against the diet of wine, cobbles and wretched anxiety in the form of a painful chin-based spot.

It was raining hard last Monday afternoon as we pulled up to C Nova, our venue in Edinburgh. Director Montse was already there, cowering under an umbrella. Ben, Dan and I clambered from the van and onto the Scottish sheened cobbles and, after checking in and not quite drinking a cup of coffee, we hefted my set into the studio theatre space to begin the technical rehearsal.

I had been brittle with nerves about the tech. Bright Lights is set around a reception desk with a telephone that acts as a loop pedal to record and play back my voice. All swishily simple, really, and something I can set up easily in my house with my stuff, but I had no idea how to plug it all into an unknown venue. I had never met Ash, the freelance technician I had employed for the run. I had no idea what anything would be like.

As soon as Ash bounded in he began sorting things out. Talking to the venue technicians, joking with Montse, plugging things, testing things and gaffa taping other things. Montse guided us all through the tech, sorting out all the lights and sound, I just stood in the whirlwind and mentally crossed something out on my Things To Be Terrified About In Edinburgh checklist.

We finished at about ten, and Montse and I headed back to our flat. Ben and Dan had already arrived, and had carted all of our stuff – cases, instruments, boxes of cables, set – up the seven flights of stairs. Lifts, apparently, are not the done thing in fancy Edinburgh townhouses.

Simply put: this flat is a palace. Last year we all nearly had to stay in a place that was reminiscent of the place where dogs go to defecate and die. This year we played the Fringe housing game and won gold. (Maybe silver, actually. For it to be gold standard it might have to have a lift.)

The large wooden coffee table in the living room was covered with an array of cheese, wine and small artisan biscuits, around which was an even better array of housemates. There was Ben and Dan, (whom I love and adore and respect and admire as humans and men). Then Tomás, who is performing a show called Tomás Ford’s Electric Midnight Cabaret, and Aaron, his manager. They are from Perth and are both the sort of people who make you laugh so loudly that you worry they think you’re a bit needy. Then there’s Fi, from Wanaka in New Zealand. Fi is funny, gutsy and cool, plays a mean guitar and is a whiz on the whisky. Alex, our final housemate, hadn’t arrived yet, so we all proceeded to bag the best rooms and spent a large amount of time laughing wildly and pointing out the castle to one another. “Look” someone would exclaim at least once every five minutes “at the castle! It’s right there!”. A collective, smug sigh would ensue, before someone else would point joyously in the other direction. “And there’s the SEA!”.

Between then and now all has been brilliantly, weirdly heady. I had the worst dress rehearsal ever, followed by two preview shows (one of which was awful and the other alright). Yesterday I felt like I finally, tentatively began to relax. “Oh, yeah!” my brain mumbled. “I think I might like this.” I have spent such a long time planning and worrying about it, and had somehow forgotten all about the good bit.

I have been wondering recently whether I might be better off just performing my songs. I feel comfortable on stage when I am just being myself, singing songs I’ve written and chatting away to the audience in between. I have played those songs so many times, even the new ones. I know the format of gigs so well that I am rarely fazed by them any more. But this is my first solo show. It is barely out of the packaging: shiny and not worn in. But quietly yesterday I began to feel like I knew it, and today I suddenly breathed and felt comfortable, to my enormous, unending relief.

Today and yesterday I have had good, biggish audiences. Yesterday I performed some songs and cello at C Nova, and tomorrow I am doing a spot on Pick of the Fringe at the Pleasance. I am going to begin doing my proper music slots next week. And I have had a review! Which is very nice and lovely, and was from the preview that nearly sent me under, so I feel heartened. Montse went home today, but she set me up and held my hand, giving me notes and support and being generally on my team in a massive way.

Now I can hear my housemates stirring and I want to go and hang out with them and laugh too loudly at their jokes. We haven’t quite been doing the all-out Fringe party, although there has been some carousing, drinking and seeing shows at midnight (we all went to Tomás’s show, which is insane and hilarious). Now we have been here for nearly a week and it’s starting to not feel weird and scary, it’s starting to feel like that thing that I do everyday. What luck! I can do this every day. I would prefer to do it without a spot on my face, but you can’t win them all.

I think maybe it’s all going to be fine.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Edinburgh Eve 2013

Tomorrow morning we go to the Edinburgh Fringe. Two days of technical and dress rehearsals before starting the run of Bright Lights on Wednesday. This time next week I will be five shows in. It feels unreal, and I am pinging nauseatingly between heady excitement and abject fear. The weather is obliging me with a bit of heartfelt pathetic fallacy, hurtling between searing sunshine and intense downpours.

I have been meticulously labelling all my stuff, scrawling my telephone number over everything. It's weird, doing a show alone. The buck stops with me. Something's lost? My fault. Words forgotten? My fault. Accidentally chewed off own arm out of sheer terror? Definitely my fault.

Now I sit, surrounded by small bits of tape, doing the annual writing and losing of lists. I keep suddenly worrying that I have forgotten all my lines and having to announce them to the empty flat. Ben and Dan are downstairs in the theatre space rehearsing for their two shows, every so often one of them appears to make some tea or a terrible pun.

Bright Lights is a show based on this blog, in an indirect kind of way. All those years of being a terrible temp, squirreled away behind a reception desk writing earnest blog posts about my CAREER and how I just wanted to SING, they have all gone into this show. It's a show about risk and taking chances. It's a show about failure.

Have you seen my trailer yet? I have been smearing it obsessively across social media sites so you're probably bored of it. However, we all have to be relentless self-marketers, as smug arts websites do not tire of reminding us, so here it is again:



This last month has been Egg-shaped. We trotted off to Latitude, DUCKIE and the Southbank, writing and rehearsing furiously in between. It was all fueled by a heady mix of in-jokes and too many bottles of white wine. Lowri was back from Brazil, Lydia hadn't yet moved to London, Roxy hadn't started her new job, Sara was being her usual excellent self and I was in a highly-strung pre-Edinburgh state. It was brilliant. Now we have a small hiatus before a massively exciting Top Secret Event on December 20th (you are invited, so pencil it in). It was delicious to have a run of excitement with those crazy Eggs Collective lads before we all change gears for a while.

DUCKIE

We performed at DUCKIE on the Friday and Saturday nights, stalking about from 9pm until 3am sporting glittery green dresses, beehive wigs and haughty expressions. We had flirted, snubbed and generally click-clacked our way into a really good time. We were the Ginas with that Queen of Cabaret, Amy Lamé. (Look here to get a feel for the night, including the glitter canons at the end of our performance.)

On the Sunday afternoon at about 3pm we were skulking about on the baked backstreets of Camden.

“What was your favourite bit, then?”

I turned to Lydia, who was walking behind me and gazing dreamily into the sunshine like someone who has just realized her major crush on the world is reciprocated. She had clearly been considering the question for a while.

“All of it” I said. “What was yours?”

She sighed.

“Well. There was this moment, after we had taken off our heels and put on our trainers. We flung ourselves onto the dance floor to scrape up the remains of the night. I joined in with some people who were singing along to ‘Build Me Up, Buttercup’ in a circle with their arms around each other. Then more people joined in. Then more. People were breaking the circle to get in and be part of it. It was top.”

We continued walking.

“Yeah” I said. “They were that kind of nights. I’ve got two best bits. The first is when we stormed the Drakes photo shoot and had a stand-off. It was like West Side Story but with more sexual tension. The second is being on stage staring fiercely at eight hundred cheering people, and feeling like joy might just whisk me away.”

We loved Sally, the woman who made and fitted our wigs. She had sharp, fizzy blue eyes and a sharp, fizzy wit, dispensing wry advice and jokes through a mouth full of kirby grips as she squinted at and straightened our beehives.

The Figs in Wigs leapt on the bar every hour for a stony-faced dance routine, and they served the drinks the rest of the time. After we had performed, at about two thirty in the morning, we all put on our trainers and went back down to the club. I was leaning on the bar chatting to a Fig, when Get Lucky came on. It felt like the joy coursed up through my Converse and made me leap and laugh and dance until I thought my legs would fall off.

Two nights of magic. Well over a thousand people. Roxy said her favourite part of the night was watching the four of us warm up. After the madness of getting down to London and getting into costume, swearing at fake eyelashes as they stick to everything but our eyelids, make up, line-runs and prop panics, the warm up is just the four of us, focused on each other. Roxy loves that bit, probably because it means nobody's escaped for a cigarette/glass of wine/wee.

DUCKIE is always a glorious night. This time, though, in Camden Town Hall, both nights were epic and joyous. Two nights to end all nights, or begin all nights. Two nights of feeling like you’re on the brink of the universe.

FILTH at Southbank


I want to get a T-shirt made that reads 'I Sang The Thong Song At The Southbank". Or maybe "I Threw Up In The Purcell Rooms".

I asked Sara what her favourite bit was.

"Sometimes you're in a little still moment, and you catch yourself. I was sitting on a piano stool backstage, dressed from head to toe in Primark, waiting to take a mouthful of fake sick and go on. I could see the back of Dickie Beau's head as he watched another act on the little fuzzy TV screen. You and Scottee were joking about something on another sofa. And I just thought: this is amazing."

(I included that one because it involves me having a joke with someone really cool. But you knew that.)

Roxy's favourite bit was rushing into the kitchen of a Fashionable Restaurant and demanding some free chips. "It's for a show!" she sang, and stared at them for a long time. Eventually a nice chef was disconcerted enough to give her some chips ("I hope the head chef doesn't find out about this") in a small china ramekin. Thanking them, Roxy darted off back down the Southbank, where she begged a "really nice and clean-looking" woman for her recently-emptied aluminium takeaway tray. Abandoning the ramekin, she came back with our essential prop.

Sara re-arranged the chips in the tray and then tentatively sniffed at her hands.

"Oh" she said, disconsolately. "Now my fingers smell like someone else's tuna."

After our performance we all changed into our gold sequin dresses and danced happily into the crowd, who were all lurching excellently like teenagers. Bags had been stacked in piles on the floor as people freed their hands to point at each other and do actions to lyrics.

My sister, Sophie, surveyed us all, thoughtfully. "Ah HA! I've rumbled you!" she said, triumphantly. "This Eggs Collective Ladies' Night thing isn't an act at all. It's just your actual personalities!"

The next morning we woke up deep in the wilds of Bermondsey, in our friend Amy's flat. Lowri and I were top-and-tailing on a mattress, and Lydia and Roxy had shared the bed.

Sara pointed at the blue sky from her tangled sleeping bag on the sofa.

"Look! This is LIFE!"

We then all went to the Mango Landin' in Brixton, where we sat in the sun, and dreamily drank Sangria until our faces melted.

LATITUDE

I asked Ben (not 'my' Ben) what his Latitude highlight was and he considered carefully.

"The thing about Latitude is" he said, after a moment's silence. "They really know how to light a tree."

By the time I got there at about 11pm on Friday night everyone was in full festival mode. The two Bens came to meet me from my shuttle bus, where I said goodbye to my new best friends in the whole world (whose names I cannot now remember) and was ushered to our camping arena.

"What" said not-my-Ben, sweeping his arm lavishly around the array of vodka, red wine, white wine, cider, beer, rum, rosé wine and gin, "would you like to drink?"

"Um, can I have all of it?" I said, in the enfeebled voice of a woman who has been on public transport for eight hours in the baking heat (after a full day at work).

"Yes!" he declared, and began concocting me a veritable George's Marvellous Medicine in a small, plastic bottle.

We went off and found everyone else, and the fun began (for me. It had begun for them at about 3pm the previous day.)

At 10 o'clock the following morning we were in the rehearsal tent, eating bacon sandwiches like they might save our lives.

Lydia, whose To Pack list for the festival had been:

1. Wolf leotard
2. Party shorts
3. 'Rock On!' jacket
4. Tent (optional)

was smoking endless rollies. "This is my favourite bit" she said, thoughtfully. "Wait, why does it say 'soya' on my coffee cup? I can't drink out of this, what if someone sees?"

My favourite bits were crawling in the dusty mud at the end of our first performance, rolling onto people's laps. It's always the best bit because, even if the rest of the set hasn't gone brilliantly, when you tell someone sincerely that you love them they will say it back to you, and it really feels like they mean it. Dusty-kneed and sticky-faced, we clambered over Latitude. I hugged one woman and she said "I read your blog!", which was amazing.

Hi, woman!

Our sets at Latitude were peculiar, because we had written material for people in full party mode, and it was four in the afternoon. We did our very best, lunging and leaping in our gold sparkles, but in retrospect I think we all agreed that we are late night ladies, really.

(A man stole my phone charger from our dressing room, as well. I am still glowering darkly about that.)

The amazing thing about Latitude was spending time with brilliant people. We lazed and dazed, swilling glorious things in the sunshine and regressing to childhood by doing running races around tents and buying small Spiderman badges for everyone. Ben (my-Ben) and I slept in a tent with two others, sizzling like sausages in the early morning heat. I loved seeing everyone crawling malodorously from their tents, blinking like newborn (and slightly hungover) kittens. The sad part was that Lowri had already gone back to Brazil, so we were one level of brilliance down.

On Saturday night we all danced until we fell over and got dust in our eyes.

"I love you!" I said to everyone. I stand by it. I bloody love that lot.

On Sunday night my brain switched to anxiety mode. A neon sign in my mind hummed and buzzed, blinking on and off in an ominously demanding manner. Edinburgh. EDINBURGH.

I went to bed before everyone else, feeling sucked down into nerves and apprehension.

I waved everyone off on Monday as they got in the minibus back to Manchester and I set off for London to work with my director Montse. She is coming up to Edinburgh with me for the first few days, so I am not totally alone. (Ben and Dan are up there, too, but they have two of their own shows to grapple with.)

Now I sit, surrounded by boxes, bits of tape and pieces of paper saying:

Vitamins
Microphone
Shoes

and I am feeling the nerves seep in. Tomorrow morning we leave to join a million other performers who are baring their souls for a month.

It is terrifying and brilliant.

I am dreading it and I cannot wait.