You may be aware that we at The Really Small Theatre Company are going to be staging Yazmina Reza’s The God of Carnage at the beginning of March (tickets on sale!). Hopefully you will also be aware that it will be performed with a short adaptation of one of the story sub-plots in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This thirty-or-so minute showlette is called Malvolio’s Downfall and, as the title suggests, follows the fateful journey of the Countess Olivia’s pompous and haughty steward, Malvolio, from obnoxious superiority to belittled humility. This is done with a great deal of humour and just a little bit of deception. If you are unfamiliar with the story, you will need to come and see it to fill the gaps!
We chose to do this show last year as our own tribute to 400 years of Shakespeare, and because The God of Carnage is a little shorter than the usual full productions. Unfortunately, illness in the original GoC cast meant that we were forced to postpone the show until early 2017. However, we are still in the 400th year since old Shakey’s departure into the great playhouse in the sky!
Joan Nordlund worked hard at adapting the original script down first to fifty minutes, then thirty minutes, and I agreed to take on the task of realising it on stage. My excitement at seeing a recording of a Globe Theatre production of Twelfth Night was my motivation. Never, ever have I seen a Shakespearean production staged and performed so clearly and humorously. I have acted in a production of Twelfth Night and barely recognised it as the same show, even though the script was unchanged.
My dearest wish and goal is to be able to bring some of that outstanding humour to our audience. Some of our cast haven’t performed Shakespeare before and are quite daunted by the prospect, even though we have a greatly shortened script. Anyone who has seen me recently performing Shakespeare knows how much I love to bring out the comedy (for the right reasons!). They may also know how important it is to me to ensure people know what I’m saying whilst maintaining the hugely important rhythm and accuracy of the writing. You cannot properly portray any scene if you don’t know what’s going on and literally what you are talking about. The comedy and the understanding are what I have been pushing initially with the cast.
I was lucky enough to see my first Finnish-language production in the summer called Linnan Juhlat. It was an hysterically funny comedy following various characters’ events on the day and evening of the President of Finland’s ball on Independence Day. Now, my Finnish is rubbish, as everyone will tell you. This comic performance, however, was so well done that it mattered not that I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue. The comedy and a basic grasp of the conversation threads allowed me to know exactly what was going on. This is precisely what I want to do for our audiences; enable them to follow and laugh without necessarily understanding all the dialogue. I hope I succeed when I see you there for Malvolio's Downfall and The God of Carnage.
So, it’s been a while since our last production blog post! In true 2016-style, fate conspired against us causing a delay to our planned October production. Thankfully this is only a postponement and will be staged in March. The combination of the production gap and a rehearsal gap allowed us to squeeze in a stage reading: April in Paris.
Anyone who saw John Godber’s Bouncers in Helsinki a few years ago will recognise his style immediately in April in Paris: taking everyday mundanities and characteristics of Northern England life and placing them into a humorous play. This time around he takes a normal, everyday, struggling couple from Hull and throws them unexpectedly into a European city. Neither of them have ventured abroad before...
I chose the play because the characters and their behaviour are immediately identifiable to most internationally-minded Brits. In slightly different ways, I’m sure they also are to internationally-minded Finns.
Also, in this current depressing time of increasing nationalism and fear of ‘foreigners’, it shows how exposure to environments and people outside your everyday life can broaden your mind and opinions.
Much as he did with Bouncers, Godber sets about portraying his story with minimal set and props. Focus is given to the characters, lighting, and sound to allow your imagination to be stimulated. This works to our advantage at Finnbrit, where our staging is limited by numerous factors. As the ability to adjust lighting is even more restricted, I have overcome this by the addition of projected images to help you recognise the scene locations.
I am very pleased to have both Riikka and Demian on board as Bet and Al. Riikka is an RStC regular but currently has limited availability due to the recent addition of her second child. Demian had decided to take a break from shows for a while to allow him to spend time with his young daughters. However, I was able to convince him to take this role thanks to the very short rehearsal period required for a stage reading. The rehearsals are made much easier when both actors have a decent amount of experience, as they do! Watching the initial read-through, I know I made the right choice.
Come and join us at Finnbrit on Saturday the 19th for a laugh-filled evening’s entertainment! Half of the 35 tickets have already been sold with a week to go. Although there is a chance that tickets will be available on the door, it will be much safer to book. I hear that we will have a wonderful café too, so make sure you take some cash with you!
Whenever an actor portrays a real person in a stage or film performance, it is very important to research that person outside the boundaries of a script. If a character really existed, there is a very good chance one or more of the audience will know about them and have certain expectations that you will give a reasonable representation. If there were photographs and recordings of the character, there are even more expectations. As a director, it is just as important to ‘know your man’ as the actor portraying him. You need to pull the real man out.
A few years ago I portrayed John Barrymore in another production and did some cursory research into the man. The play was much more light-hearted and didn’t require a great deal of detailed background knowledge. Barrymore is all about the man. It is billed as the man rehearsing for a comeback performance of Shakespeare’s version of Richard III, which he portrayed on Broadway to great acclaim earlier in his life. In actuality, this is really the back-story. Through Barrymore’s own on-stage banter, we learn a great deal about the man, his weaknesses, strengths, and downfalls.
My research revealed two families—the Barrymores and the Drews—bound to theatre and film for over a century. John Barrymore’s father was a theatre actor, his brother Lionel and sister Ethel were both equally famous film actors. Two of his children, Diana and John Drew, were film actors. His granddaughter is Drew Barrymore. The Drew line (his mother’s family) was equally prestigious.
The families had (and have) a penchant for marriage. Both lines show each member having married at least twice. Barrymore himself was married four times.
The Barrymore family also had a seemingly hereditary affliction with substance abuse. First John, then his children, then his granddaughter. His daughter Diana died prematurely from alcohol abuse. His son John Drew was a violent drunk and played a part in Drew’s substance abuse at a very young age.
However, in amongst all of this were the triumphs. John Barrymore acted in over sixty films, including several with Lionel and Ethel. He gave two much acclaimed Broadway performances as Richard III and Hamlet. His Hamlet won him praise as being the best portrayal of his generation. The same portrayal is also considered the second best of the 20th Century (after John Gielgud, no less).
His lifestyle eventually took its toll though. He collapsed whilst recording a radio show on the 19th May 1942 and died in hospital ten day later from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure, (complicated by pneumonia). His final words, characteristically, were, “Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”
Why not join us this Saturday (7th November) evening and experience a little of the Hollywood legend himself?
Anna mentioned the very quick turnaround involved with a stage reading. This has certainly been the case with Educating Rita. Under three weeks from selection and inception, through direction, to perception. I am very much surprised by how much the play has come alive, despite it being an advanced play reading. It’s pleasing to have the director use a word to describe an element of the performance, having to check the meaning of said word because you’re a dumbass, but then appreciating and agreeing that this is how it should be.
So, what about my character? Frank has spent a rather unfulfilled and disillusioned life as an English literature tutor in a university for a large portion of his life. He has lost his appetite for teaching and even his own enjoyment and encouragement for creating poetry – both in himself and in others. His joy of Somerset Maugham and W.B. Yeats has been replaced by Jonnie Walker and Arthur Guinness. They now navigate him along the delicate path through the frantic whirl of life.
Then Rita arrives. His life will never be quite the same again.
Unlike Anna, there isn’t actually a lot of Frank in me. That hasn’t meant that I couldn’t relate to him. Frank and Rita’s story is a familiar one in literature, and one I have rubbed shoulders with and enjoyed before. I know our audience will as well.
PS. The word was ‘avuncular’.
* Please note that the RStC reserves the right to replace the likeness of 'Frank' with that of a more handsome actor.
Director and Producer. You see these titles all the time with regards to theatre, films, and television. Some people know the difference. Others think they have a vague idea. Most don’t even notice. So what is the difference? I’ll borrow a few terms used by others.
A Producer makes the creative idea happen logistically.
A Director makes the creative idea happen creatively.
It's easy to think of it as a kitchen analogy: The Producer gets the idea for a kitchen, finds the kitchen, and stocks the kitchen with food and tools. The Producer makes sure all is legal in the kitchen, and that the function of the kitchen is as it should be.
The Director is the chef.
Everyone in the room is working towards the entree, but it's the Director who has chosen the exact ingredients and who puts it together in just such a way as to make it a masterpiece. Or a fallen soufflé. Whichever.
Wishing to step back from taking a ‘major commitment’ role for The Really Small Reminiscences I offered to produce the show. Although I had previous dealings with aspects of the producer’s role, this is the first time I’ve actually done it entirely for a major production. Although it’s not hugely difficult, I am grateful for my many years of knowledge and experience of theatre to call upon. I am also learning the importance of To Do Lists. If you don’t make a list, things easily get missed, overlooked or forgotten.
It is a very interesting experience having three separate plays, casts, and directors. In my capacity as producer, I am like the overseer. In this role, I don’t advise on how each play develops, but I bring them all together and in the darkness bind them. Err…well. We have our first combined rehearsals after Easter, and it will be my job to make sure these rehearsals run smoothly overall and that we are all on course for a combined show.
Unexpectedly (but happily), I offered to direct Joan in one of the three plays, A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, when the requirement arose. I vaguely remembered this monologue as part of the Talking Heads series on the BBC during the 80s. This is a thirty minute show with one actor. Had it been bigger, I would have declined directing. I have a very firm belief that director and producer roles should never be mixed. This is for reasons of commitment and workload. The director should be concentrating entirely on the artistry of the show, and not be distracted by logistics and incidentals. Combining the two can create huge stress and both roles can suffer. Directing one actor with a static stage set and basic lighting and sound is manageable with the producer-role. If I had to direct another three or more actors with set and scene changes and get the whole show on stage…O.M.G.
As with Greater Tuna I am really enjoying working with this bunch of people. The whole experience is quite hassle-free and everyone is eager to help and no-one is unduly awkward or attention-seeking. Long may it continue!
Over the last couple of months, you will no doubt have seen two 'ladies' promoting Greater Tuna. Whilst Pearl and Vera are an important part of the show, they are also only a fraction of it. As one of the directors, I have been increasing worried that our prospective audience may be forming an opinion that Tuna is a show about two men dressed as two women. This couldn't be further from the truth! Tuna is entirely about twenty very different characters in a small town in Texas. The 'two men dressed as' part is very true. The difference is that they are dressed as all twenty of those characters (men, women and children). With two very important weeks until show week, I wanted to write a blog post dedicated to giving y'all a little peek into what you can expect in the way of characters.
Last Saturday we arranged a small photo session after our rehearsal at 'The Loft' (our informal name for the Lutherinkatu premises of Nordlund Language Services). We wanted a number of characters in pairs, but also a special group shot of five. With all five of those characters played by Daniel and I, some composite photography was called for. The final result can be seen in the form of the Bumiller family. The initial idea was for all photos to be taken in front of a Texas flag. At the post-production stage, I realised this didn't work and had to think of something more creative. So, the photos weren't actually taken on location in Texas!
Things have been quite on the blog for a while. Summer brought various commitments to many of the production team and work on the show naturally slowed. However, come August, we all burst into life again.
Plans had already been made for Daniel and I to present something on the Night of the Arts in Helsinki (21st August). The problem we faced was that of copyright. We couldn't publicly present any part of the show without permission from the rights-holder and/or authors. This would inevitably require a royalty fee. The solution we came up with originated earlier from an idea Daniel had to have two of the characters sitting having coffee at one of the kiosks in Esplandin puisto. The two characters we agreed upon were Aunt Pearl and Vera Carp, two of the most amusing and, certainly, the most promotable. To overcome the copyright issues, we decided to concentrate on their visit to Helsinki to promote the show. This developed into an 'interview' of the characters, which would allow their personalities to shine. This combined with a number of subtle hints about storyline gave our audience a true taste of what's to come in the show in December.
I must not forgot to mention the team of helpers we had on the days we performed the interview. They were invaluable in distributing leaflets, answering questions about the show, as well as out introductions.
Of course, having no copyright issues, we were totally free to record the interview, and did so in video form. A special highlights video will arrive in the very near future. There is a very strong radio show thread in the actual show, and we thought it would be great fun to take the interview (in a much more structured form!) and present it as a radio interview. This we did last week and have subsequently published them in three parts on the Really Small Theatre Company's YouTube Channel. Included in this blog is the full, continuous version.
We have several other promotional events in the pipeline, some confirmed, some still to be arranged. In the meantime, enjoy Pearl and Vera's interview. Oh, and don't forget that tickets are on sale via our website and are selling steadily!
One of the most challenging factors of any stage production can be costuming. Unless you have an extensive theatrical wardrobe to call upon, or the production only requires everyday outfits, meeting the requirements of the script can be extremely difficult at times. If the story is set in a different country, time, etc., new levels of perseverance and ingenuity are called for. When the story has twenty different characters, you start asking yourself why in the hell you picked this play!
Budget is always an issue, so buying a single item for more than 20€ is completely out of the question. After begging and borrowing from as many sources as possible, you move onto trawling the various UFF branches (a Finnish charity-shop chain). After this you move onto smaller independent second-hand shops. If these fail, you need to hit the Internet. Ebay is my top favourites for choice and price. It also tends to be cheaper than the Finnish auction site, Huuto.net. I have so far found three 'expensive' or 'impossible' costume items for a fraction of the cost of buying retail. One such item was a fairly specific design pair of ladies white shoes in size 43! This pair of shoes came from China and were described by Daniel as, "OH MY GOD! Those are to DIE for!!!!!!!". Inevitably, the size 43 was according to dinky Chinese feet and the shoes will need a little persuasion by a cobbler, but still an achievement.
The next costuming nightmare is how to achieve the twenty-five costume-changes between two actors in very short periods of time (ridiculously short in some cases!). I'm not going to spoil the surprises by divulging the techniques, but let's just broadly say they will involve multi-layers, customisation, fierce organisation, and dressers (yes, plural).
So, what else has been going on this past month? Our new publicity team has met twice now and there are some really exciting events and plans in the pipeline. One such publicity event will be Tuna Out-and-About. There will be at least two early-evenings in August when Daniel and myself will be at large in different locations around Helsinki portraying characters from Greater Tuna. The first will be on the Night of the Arts, the evening of Thursday, 21st August. You will find two Tuna characters taking in the sights and discussing the locals in Esplanadi. In conjunction with this, we will be running a competition for people to find them and submit an original photo of them. Photos will be displayed in our website, Facebook and Google Plus. The photos will be judged by our publicity team and the winners of the best will get free tickets to the show! More details of this (including rules, etc.) will follow in time.
It's time for the first of many regular updates about the preparations and plans for Greater Tuna.
I am pleased to tell you that we have now had solid confirmation of permission to perform the show from the rights-holder in the US. There were some initial complications which slowed the process and had us all slightly concerned, but it all came through in the end. We suspect that there may have been a complication due to the show having never been performed in Finland. It's going to be a premiere, folks!
In addition to a premiere, we also have a special discounted ticket price in honour of Independence Day on the 6th December. Plus, all current and past Finnish presidents can have free admission for that performance!! We understand that Sauli Niinistö is seriously considering instead of the normal hand shaking. Wouldn't you?
Rehearsals are well under way now. Daniel, Joan and I met to discuss, agree and set the blocking down on set-plans for each scene. Blocking is a theatre term and means the positioning and movement of the actors. This paper blocking was followed by the physical blocking with Daniel and I mostly going where we planned. We were both very pleased that we managed to complete the full show blocking within a three hour rehearsal.
There are several recorded radio segments throughout the show and it is important that we have these at an early stage for timing purposes. For this reason, next week's rehearsal will be a recording session. This will be an initial recording and will probably be re-recorded later in the year. It is also very beneficial to us so that we can maintain the same voice styles, as these tend to 'wander' as time goes on.
If you attended The Finn-Brit Players' production of The Memory of Water, you will have no doubt seen our show flyer. This image design is probably the final one and will remain for all posters and the programme.
Our tickets will go on sale within the next week or two. We delayed releasing them as a courtesy to The Finn-Brit Players so there was no conflict with ticket sales for The Memory of Water.
Things in the pipeline include an exciting video teaser plan. I can't disclose much about it yet, but it will be funny and will introduce you to the feel of Tuna as well as some of the characters. Of course, this will be done in such a way so as not to infringe copyright, but let you properly see what the show is about.
That's it for now, but stay tuned. DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL!
About five months ago — actually at the after-show party of The Finn-Brit Players' production of I Hate Hamlet — my friend and fellow actor of many productions, Daniel McMullen, mooted a suggestion about he and I doing our own production together. At the time I was interested but quite hesitant. Apparently, this appeared quite negative to Daniel! After a little more thought, and the alcohol had subsided, I actually warmed to the idea and raised it again with Daniel.
The main reasons for wanting to 'go it alone' were all to do with flexibility. We had both been involved heavily in many productions with taxing rehearsal schedules essentially losing one day every weekend. Having a cast of two would mean rehearsals pretty much whenever and wherever we wanted. Instead of spending entire days in a rehearsal venue, we could rehearse at each other's home and still see our families, etc. It was also necessary to produce the show away from The Finn-Brit Players because their production rules won't allow directors to act in the same show, nor to pre-cast a show without auditions. So, if you think there is some sort of 'snob' factor involved, you are very mistaken. We have asked for the assistance and co-operation of The Players in staging the show. My main concerns in doing an independent production were cost-related, but we set this aside initially whilst we discussed ideas further. Over a lovely meal with both of our families, we threw a few ideas about and decided to start looking for two-man comedy plays. If anyone has ever tried this, they will know that it's not as easy as you may think!
At the same time as our play search, we approached Joan Nordlund, a long-standing and very experienced actor/director/producer with The Finn-Brit Players, and holding a wealth of experience from many other theatrical establishments. Initially we wanted Joan to be our producer, but she immediately offered the support and assistance of her own theatre company. This we gratefully accepted.
After a slightly frustrating search, we narrowed the field of potential plays to three: The Simple Process of Alchemy, The Mystery of Irma Vep, and Greater Tuna. Alchemy initially seemed very promising, but was disappointing by the third act and just tailed-off unfulfillingly at the end. Irma Vep is a cracker of a comedy/farce, but the necessary requirements of costume and set made it out of the question (at this time...).
On my first read of Greater Tuna, I was convinced. It was Daniel and my style of comedy coupled with an outrageous number of characters and quick costume changes. The story shows the audience an average day in Texas' third smallest town, Tuna. The characters are the epitome of small-town mentality all wrapped-up in the worst Texan small-mindedness and characteristics. Being from 'the Colonies', the play was already very well known to Daniel. He explained how popular it was, and still is, in the US, and also how it is George Bush's (Snr) favourite play. What better endorsement could there possibly be?
The next hurdle was the search for a theatre to perform in. We originally wanted to perform the show in October. However, in a city full of theatres, the task of finding one at a reasonable cost and size without ridiculous date restrictions proved a thoroughly annoying and frustrating process. Actually getting theatres to reply to emails appears akin to securing an appointment with the Pope! The replies were slightly more forthcoming when we changed tactics and emailed them in Finnish or Swedish (according to theatrical language preference). However, at the end of the day we were left with three possible weeks at the same theatre. Having promised not to conflict productions with our friends at The Finn-Brit Players, these weeks were reduced to two. When you read this blog post, you will know that we chose the first week in December. We are very pleased with the week and with the theatre, Tanssiteatteri Hurjaruuth in Kaapelitehdas (Cable Factory).
So, where are we now? We have been gathering costumes piece by piece. We have had numerous production meetings and read-throughs. Saga Blomster, a talented young comic artist, is creating some illustrations for us to use in show material. Our front-of-house and catering is already sorted. And we have an eager volunteer ready to be trained-up on lighting. Not bad seven months in advance!
Stay tuned and keep following the progress via this blog and Facebook updates!