Thursday, 30 July 2015

Take To The Streets

Here is a speech I gave last night for ArtsBarge's inaugural PechaKucha night. 

Take to the streets
Take to your homes
Take to your schools
Take to your gardens
Take to your pubs
Take to the library, to the village green and to the town square
Take to the cafes
Take to your offices, your farms, your work places
Take to your social spaces
Take to your castles and priories
Take to your churches and places of worship
Take to your bedrooms
Take to your shops
Take to your superstores

And fill them.
Fill them all. 

Fill them with singing
With talking
With debating
With playing
With music
With laughter
With words
With challenges
Fill them with stories
And drawings
And imaginings and wonderings. 

Wonder aloud. 
Do not wait to be asked.
Do not wonder when you will be asked. 

Talk about it. 
Dance about it. 
Colour about it.
Write about it.
Play about it and pass it to someone else. 

Keep your hands open and see what they might pass back. 

Do not wait for permission. 
Do not wait for an invitation. 

Take to your streets and fill them with art. 
With stories. 
With imagination and wonder and don’t spend the time wondering ‘what if?’
Get up and do. 
Take to a space. Any space. And give. 
And stand in that space waiting to receive. 

Do not wait for someone in a suit to tell you you can, because you can just start doing. 
Sing on the bus and see who sings with you. Start a bus choir. 

Because art doesn’t belong to anyone. Art is not created at the behest and the say so of doctrines or policy or litigation or committees - arts belongs to us. To people. 

And it is people who populate the streets
Who sit in the pubs
Who meet at the library 
And who you see every day at work. 

And all of those people -
All of us -
Live in the here and the now, in these places and in these times. 

And - in these places and in these times - all of us might find it hard. 
But, in the words of Neil Gaimen, ‘Make great art.’

My history is, perhaps, hazy. 
But I don’t think Bertolt Brecht waited for the go ahead.
I doubt Ibsen wrote in response to a local council brief. 
Nina Simone didn’t graduate from a television show. 
They are people, in the midst of other people, who took to the streets - or their pens or their stages or their pianos. 
And they made a noise. 

Here is a proposition. 
We open our spaces and we make art. 
We meet in our pubs and we make art. 
We gather in our streets and we make art. 
We meet after school and we make art. 
In the coffee breaks at the office, we make art. 
On the platforms of the train stations we make art. 
We invite our friends and our families in to our gardens and we make art. 

And - sure - in the theatres and the galleries and the music halls and the publishing houses we make art too and that is for us and because of us because the world is populated by people. And, yes, people have invented councils and applications and funding strategies. But councils and applications and funding strategies did not create art. That sits in our hands. 

That sits in our hands and heads and hearts and bodies. We have those. 

Art is powerful. 
People are powerful. 
And neither should be diminished by the parameters we have created for ourselves. If we put up the fence, then we can take down the fence, dig under it or just walk around it. 

Care fiercely. 
Do not wait for the world to do the caring for you. 
Open your arms - open your spaces - and make things happen. Invite people in. Give them a paint brush or a bit of script or a ukulele or a melody to sing back to you. 

Do not demonstrate your value to the suit that sits on the council. Create something valuable with your neighbours, your friends and your family. One of them, eventually, will be the suit that sits on the council. 

No great artist has created their work because someone asked them to, because someone gave them permission to. They took to the streets and they created, proudly and passionately. No one gave them permission to be an artist. But they gathered and they talked and they shared - in public, in private, in secret - and that art resonated far beyond their scribblings and sketches. It resonated through people. So we should gather and talk and share - in public. 

I can stand and happily talk about the transformative, unifying, social, provocative power of art. But that’s not half as much fun as showing people. 

So let’s cook together, create together, play together, sing together. Let’s take to the streets not because of the bureaucracy and bullshit - but because they are our streets. They are trodden day to day by people, by us. 

So in your gardens, your schools, your pubs, your cafes, your shops, your taxis, your libraries, your churches and mosques and gurdwaras, in your offices and your fields, in your foyers and toilets, in your bedrooms and windows, in your tents and your cars and your hotel rooms, in your roadways and petrol stations

in your streets

Invite people to make great art. Do not wait for someone to invite you. 

Stuff Of Myth And Legend

The pier in Ardfern. It's important. You'll know why if / when  you see the show. 

We spent a week here. 

Ardfern is a real place, but it feels like stepping in to a story - in to a mythical world at the end of a road. It's down a single track road with this pier on the other end. The locals described it a bit like an island - a place where they party till the early hours and barricade the road with fire to stop people coming down. It's a great place. 

After being in Ardfern for four days we had performed at the village cabaret, been to a barbecue up a big hill, been dancing at the pub, ate some very tasty food and been for tea at a plant nursery. We felt like locals. 

To be welcomed in to a community so openly, so wholeheartedly is amazing. 

This is Jim, with the tasty food. 
We also did a tiny sharing of FABLE. FABLE is our new show, it opens on the 5th August at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival. FABLE is inspired by Ardfern, the village, and a specific man in that village called Blair. We met Blair once - late at night in the village pub back in November. He recited some poetry and told filthy jokes. We all drank a lot of whiskey. We didn't mean to meet him. He was just there. 

Since then - a wet and windy night in November 2014 - FABLE has come in to focus. It's a show about belonging, about freedom, about being able to be how and who you want to be. 

When we did our tiny sharing to 8 people in Ardfern, it was different though. It was a show about Ardfern and it was a show about their friend, Blair. Suddenly, the idea of doing a show called FABLE made so much more sense. A real man has sewn a kernel of an idea in our minds and imaginations - to us he's become sort of mythical. He isn't in Ardfern now, he's in the Arctic living with Bears. So he's turned in to a different Blair from the one the folks in Ardfern know. To us he's a symbol, a figure of adventure and independence. To the folks in Ardfern he is a friend they miss, a character they love and someone who makes up the fabric of their community. 

At the end of the sharing one person was crying. 'I just miss Blair' she said. 

Tomorrow we do a sharing in Comarty, a beautiful town on the East Coast of Scotland. A town that know nothing about Ardfern and nothing about Blair. To them, and to the vast majority of the folks who watch the show in Edinburgh, FABLE is a play. 

The Galley Of Lorne Inn - the village pub
But it's not just a play. It is a fable. It's a tale woven from a small amount of truth and turned in to a myth. We couldn't have imagined the show without having landed in Ardfern and met Blair. That's an extraordinary feeling - to arrive in a community who have inspired you to make something. And who, in their day to day lives, continue to be such a glorious, inspiring community living in a glorious inspiring place. 

Fore about the show head to / @FlanCol

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

1,175 Miles

We're just packing up the car to head off to Scotland. Veronica is trying to fit 7 weeks of life in to a bag.

Yesterday we got back Latitude after previewing Fable in The Faraway Forest. It was a tough gig against sound bleed, but great to see the show on it's feet in front of people. It's exciting.

Now, we head to Edinburgh to pick up Jim. Then on to Ardfern - the village that inspired the show. Then to Cromarty, where 30 people have already booked tickets to an unadvertised scratch of the show. Then back to Edinburgh to open at Summerhall.

York to Latitude to York to Edinburgh to Ardfern to Cromarty to Edinburgh. We will have rehearsed the show between living rooms, gardens, bonfires, old fish stores, pubs, woods and halls - and across 1,175 miles. It's a good journey.

Latitude is such a wonderful festival full of such wonderful people. It's a pleasure to begin a show there.

Fittingly - after watching Kneehigh,Laura  Marling, Noël Gallagher, Blind Summit, Stuart Bowden, Years & Years, Alt J and a bunch of other lovely stuff - we finished our festival watching Phil and Dave, who play together as Gobbledigook, on a bandstand in the woods. Check them out, they're ace.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Bonfires & People

Our base is an old watermill in the countryside in North Yorkshire. We haven't been here that long but, so far, the companies of Sherlock, Romeo & Juliet and now Fable have stayed with us. 

Fable, though, is the first show that we've really made here. We've made it inside and outside. By the fire. In the garden. In the studio. 

This coming weekend we preview Fable at Latitude, in The Faraway Forest. So, just to help us along the way, we decided we'd do a very small sharing last night around the fire pit. A bunch of very friendly people came and gave their ears and eyes and thoughts on what we were making. It was wonderfully useful. 

We've started trying to share our work a lot, at various stages. Years ago, I think we would have all felt far more comfortable staying cooped up in a rehearsal room until everything was 'finished'. Now, though, it seems so much more sensible, reasonable and helpful to keep putting stuff in front of people. None of us know what is going to work, feel right, hit the moment without an audience there. And leaving that experiment until opening night is a little terrifying. 

So last night, as the sun set in the garden, folks watched and then sat round the fire and chatted - they're great. They're an important part of the process for us, now. 

So another few days in rehearsal before we head to Latitude. 

I wrote a blog a good few years ago about a good-kind-of-terrified you feel when making a new show. I like that feeling. It feels like you're making and understanding simultaneously. I feel that kind of terrified about Fable

But - more importantly - here's who I'm getting terrified with...

Has worked with us on Beulah, BABYLON, Treasure Island and Romeo & Juliet. He's a musician and a performer. He can drink most people under the table and is one of the loveliest folks you could care to meet. He is also the composer and sound designer for Tortoise In A Nutshell

Is a magician, musician and performer. He is currently directing a version of Alice In Wonderland around the beautiful market town of Easingwold. But he's taking a little time out of that to come down to Latitude with us. 

Was last up in Edinburgh in 2012, running our LittleFest season and performing in Some Small Love Story. She's also taken The William Stories over to Adelaide Festival and helped to run some of our knees ups and shindigs over the years. She was in the original cast for Belt Up Theatre's The Boy James back in 2011.

Is a wonderful friend and brilliant director. He has directed Some Small Love Story and BABYLON with us before. At the moment, he is associate on Les Enfant Terribles Alice Underground in Waterloo. Before that, Joe was director on Back To The Future and Miller's Crossing with Secret Cinema. 

Is an actor and writer. He's one of the four chaps that runs Belt Up Theatre and he has just finished two years at Bristol Old Vic theatre school. He is popping to Latitude with us before he starts rehearsals at Bristol Old Vic in August. He tells very good stories. 

Has taken more shows to the Fringe than most people you will every meet. He is our producer and also half of Hartshorn - Hook Productions. He makes a mean home brew, too. 

So that's our bunch of folks who, between Latitude and Edinburgh, are making and creating and performing Fable. They're a great bunch. If you see them, the show, or any of us then do say Hi and do let us know what you think.

Now, I'm going to check the weather forecast for the weekend...

Monday, 6 July 2015

Fable - A Road To A Pier

This is a picture of Veronica and Jim. 
There is Serena and Dan in the background.
Coming out of Jim's head are - I think - Phil's hands. 
Ed will be somewhere in there too and I (Alex) am probably just off to the right. 
There's Gavin who'll be just off the photo playing the piano, and a chap called Tom playing the bass. We're all singing Elbow's 'One Day Like This'.
The photo has a good story - ask one of us about it if you see us. 
This is our image for Fable. It's a real photo - as in, we didn't set it up for the show. It's one of the happiest moments. 

Fable is our new show. We're making it at the moment. And it's about this other photo - the one of the pier. 
This pier is in a village called Ardfern on the far west coast of Scotland. When you turn on to the road to Ardfern, if you kept driving, you'd drive straight off this pier and in to the sea. 

Fable is about a lot of things. And it's just that - it's a fable, a story, a mix of the real and the unreal; of the true and the embellished and the straight-up imagined. But it exists because of some very special circumstances. Here's why -

I went to school with Jim Harbourne. We played in a lot of bands together when we were kids.
Back in the early Belt Up Theatre days, we met The River People which was co-run by Edward Wren.
We asked Edward Wren and Jim Harbourne to come and make Beulah with us - they'd never met before. They're now the best of chums.
Because we loved making Beulah so much, Ed, Jim and I made our next show together too - BABYLON - along with Serena and Conrad. I knew Serena from University and all theatre work since, I knew Conrad from his band Holy Moly & The Crackers. 
And one of my best friends Joe Hufton was directing it. 
BABYLON was booked to tour the Highlands and Islands of Scotland last November. 
Earlier that year, Serena had joined me at York Theatre Royal to do some work. Damian, the Artistic Director at YTR auditioned her for The Railway Children in King's Cross. She got the part. Amazing.
Rehearsals clashed with the BABYLON tour. Hardly any of the script is written down, none of the music is. Impossible to find a new Serena. 
So we decide to tour Beulah instead. 

So, one wet and windy November night Conrad, Jim, Ed and I roll in to Ardfern. And in to their wonderful, warm, colourful, charming, friendly, glowing community just before the end of the pier. 

And when we go to the pub afterwards, to sample the whisky, we meet a man - who is either propping up the bar or the bar is propping up him - called Blair. Blair is a tree surgeon and a poet. Blair drinks with us until the early hours. Blair wants to move to the Arctic.

Fable is about Blair. And Fable is about the end of that pier. 

We're currently rehearsing in our HQ - a converted watermill in North Yorkshire - before head off to premier the show in a forest at Latitude Festival

We then head up to Ardfern for a week and Cromarty for a week to rehearse the show between the wonderful landscape and wonderful people of the Highlands.  

And finally we land here - at the brilliant Summerhall for the Edinburgh Festival. 

We haven't made a new show for the Fringe since Beulah, and it's a fun story as to how Beulah has led us all here. 

That photo at the top - it's full of brilliant people. And there are few better feelings in the world that making new work with people you well and truly love the socks off. 

It's sure funny where the old roads and the new winds take us.


PS - The picture of cows is on our way back from the pier. Ed very confidently shoo'ed them out the way whilst wearing a bowler hat and a waistcoat.