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 His joy of Somerset Maugham and W.B. Yeats has been replaced by Jonnie Walker and Arthur Guinness.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.
* Scousers are people speaking the very heavy dialect of Merseyside in North-West England, and are particularly associated with Liverpool. The Beatles were originally Scousers.
** Please note that the RStC reserves the right to replace the likeness of 'Rita' with that of another actress.
A guy who is down on his luck sees a well-dressed gentleman walking down the street. He stops the well-dressed gentleman and asks, “Hey buddy, can you spare some change?” To which the well-dressed gentleman replies, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be – William Shakespeare.” The down on his luck guy doesn’t miss a beat by replying, “Up yours a**hole – David Mamet.”
This was my first introduction to David Mamet.
It’s an old joke and one that quickly and simply portrays Mamet’s style in the use of language. Many of his plays and screenplays use what has been termed “Mametspeak” which is very basically a form of “street language” that uses a mixture of blunt, truthful straight-talk and a sprinkling of profanity. Mamet’s own words regarding his use of colorful dialogue, “The people who speak that way tell the truth. They don’t institutionalize thought.”
Mamet’s Reunion contains only a few words of profanity and a whole lot of straight-talk between two people who have not seen each other in 20 years. The “Mametspeak” is used to great effect to create an uncomfortable atmosphere between these two characters – delves deeper into their respective experiences displaying a vulnerability and an honesty from this very personal interaction. Each character has overcome obstacles to bring them to this moment - this reunion.
For all the (positive and negative) attention that Mamet’s use of language receives, he is also equally masterful at creating elements of unspoken moments allowing actors to accentuate mood, relationship and build tension. Reunion allows ample space for these extremely poignant moments. Riikka and I have been working hard together to understand and create these moments and allow them to breathe further life into the play and the two characters. We are excited to present this challenging play in the first two weeks of May.
I’ve been an Alan Bennett fan for many years, and I particularly like his prose style. His monologues give us the best of both worlds: written narrative brought to life. The only other Bennett play I have directed was Habeas Corpus, for the Finn-Brit Players in 1983. Glyn Banks was in the leading role, and Mark Shackleton put in a sterling performance as Canon Throbbing: need I say more?
For me as a director, a good dramatic text is one that doesn’t lose its fascination no matter how often you read, rehearse, hear or perform it. Some of Shakespeare’s plays, much of Pinter’s writing, Bennett and Mamet immediately come to mind, but there are many more. The writing is right, and is seldom improved by actors’ lapses or directors’ alternatives. It’s the story, the rhythm, the characterisation, the wording, the pausing, the idiosyncrasy.
For the actor this loyalty to the text is not just a matter of principle, it is also a practical necessity when other people (fellow actors, sound and lighting operators) are involved. Where does this leave the performer of a monologue? Stranded, some might say! Apart from the odd sound effect you are on your own. There are no fellow actors to pick up forgotten cues or give you surreptitious prompts. You have to know exactly where you are going. You need a good script and to be able to hold the attention of the audience, alone.
Maggie Smith played Susan in the original BBC TV production of Bed Among the Lentils. The director was Alan Bennett. Undeterred, Anna Rawlings and I are building our own interpretation, influenced somewhat by the Puoli-Q setting and the fact that it is a ‘live’ performance. The play hasn’t lost its fascination. It is a good text!
You know that moment when you meet somebody for the first time? Polite small talk, awkward silences, hesitant smiles. And when that person you meet for the first time is your father? This is the situation in which Carol finds herself. She sees her father for the first time, with grown-up eyes. What does he look like? Is it the father she remembers from her childhood? What is he like? How do you start to establish a relationship with him?
It certainly isn’t an easy task for Carol. In this play Carol is not a person of many words, but her silences are even more powerful. As she listens to Bernie unfold his life story, she is observing the man sitting in front of her. She is determined to get to know him and is trying to read between the lines. What is Bernie really saying with his stories? These stories and words evoke different emotions in her and as she listens to him, she comes to understand how his choices have also affected her life.
At the rehearsals I’ve also been trying to listen to Carol and read between her lines, so to say. As I’ve become more familiar with the play, I’ve been able to fine tune into Carol’s emotional settings. Her life seems straightforward and uncomplicated on the onset, but as the play progresses, she delves deeper into her childhood memories and how they have affected her life. She presents herself not so much with words, but with expressions and emotional nuances, and this is where the challenge comes from. And what she does say has certain poignancy to it. The words themselves are easy, but when you add emotion behind those words, it changes everything.
We all have baggage from the past, some more, some less. Nobody is perfect. We would like things to be perfect, but in life they rarely are. I can recognize that trait in Carol, and in myself. The secret is learning to accept ourselves for what we are and then we can be more forgiving to others too.
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!
Imagine you haven’t seen someone in 20 years. Your daughter. Your own flesh and blood. In those 20 years you have heard only small tidbits of news about this person. Your only memories of her are when she was a toddler, little dresses, pink ribbons holding her pigtails, holding your hand for security as you walked together at the zoo. The absolute trust she had in you at that time. The way her beautiful eyes looked at you when she was happy. How she reached for you for comfort when she had skinned her knee and you dried her tears. Gone. Those years cannot be gotten back. You were missing from her life. She has been brought up by her mother, a woman with whom you want nothing to do and another man has acted as her father through many important years. She has her own life. A life that you have had absolutely nothing to do with mainly because of the choices you made and your addiction. Anger. Remorse. Pain. The continuously growing guilt and regret of not being there for her. The baby girl who you remember as a cute 3 year old is now grown into a young woman.
By all accounts you are a complete stranger to her.
There is a knock on your door. You are now face to face with her. Carol. What do you say? Elated by this opportunity this is Bernie’s time to take a chance. To try and begin to repair the damage that he has inflicted. To bridge 20 years of absence. 20 years of regret. 20 years of loneliness.
These are some of the perspectives I am using to portray Bernie.
We lived nearer to Sheffield than to Leeds, but it’s in the same neck of the woods - although the locals would dispute that. We had a detached house on Rackford Road, with a parquet floor in the hall and a garden that was bigger than a tablecloth, more like a tennis court. Mum polished the floor and everything else on Thursday. Monday was washing day, and on Tuesday she went shopping. Dad did the washing up and Sunday breakfast, and he cobbled our shoes. He kept meticulous accounts of the household spending: ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’.
We were self-sufficient in the vegetable department. Dad even had a cucumber frame. Mum had a thing about leaving the gate open, letting the dogs in. She didn’t want cats in the yard either, although a closed gate won’t keep them out. Dad fought a constant battle with the moles, and secretly cuddled the cats.
We didn’t get many callers. Our house was at the end of the lane so folks didn’t just just pass by. I remember the milkman and his horse and cart, though, and Dad on standby with his shovel in case the horse dropped him some manure for the garden. Doris wouldn’t have liked the muck. I don’t think Mum did either, although she didn’t say as much.
Mum always baked the bread, in a coal-fired oven. Woe betide anyone who opened the back door in winter when the dough was rising. I used to come home from school on baking days, sit on a stool by the fire and wait for a warm, fresh roll and butter. ‘Don’t spoil your tea, Joan’, she’d say.
She made my frocks when I was little. I’ve still got the one she ran up for my ‘big white Teddy wiv a gween wibbon’. The one I remember best was the ‘sweet little Alice blue gown’ I wore when I was five and a bridesmaid at Uncle Les’s wedding. Mum did embroidery as well. I’ve still got some of her cushion covers.
I’ve been drawing on these and other memories in my search for Doris. There are millions of women like her, but Alan Bennett made her special. All Christian and I have to do is to bring her to life on the Puoli-Q stage!
My part of The Really Small Reminiscences is the monologue of Susan, or Bed Among the Lentils. I am very fond of Susan: on the outside, she is a drab little mouse of a vicar’s wife, who apparently does and has done little to take charge of her own life. Behind the “cut-out-for-God” surface, however, Susan has the knack of spotting and describing in a piercingly-sharp fashion the idiosyncrasies and downright ludicrousness of people – most unusually, herself included. And as we will discover as her story unfolds, her verbal rebellion grows into her daring to break away from various roles that have confined her, and becoming the subject rather than the object of her own life.
On the surface level, it might appear that I don’t share a great deal with Susan. However, my firm belief is that we all carry within us every human possibility, and so, to create a character, one needs to dig deep inside oneself to— where the given character’s qualities reside. A hard enough task, to be sure, but just between me and you, gentle Reader: I haven’t had to dig all that deep to discover my personal Susan. Now, it’s more of a case of bringing her out, shaping her, making her live and breathe – of becoming Mrs. Vicar. This is where the real work lies…
After seventeen years of stagework, this is my first experience of doing a monologue play. It is also my first time onstage with RStC, but not with the gang involved in the production. Most notably, my history with Joan (directing) goes back sixteen years, when she directed me in my second-ever production, in the role of a young lad in Edward Bond’s The Sea. Since those ancient days of yore, all of us involved in this production have worked together many times and in different combinations. The long-term friendships and mutual trust are really the prerequisites for taking on a huge challenge such as doing justice to Bennett’s wonderful, witty, wistful script. I’m loving getting my teeth into this.
All of the original music that we are using for our Greater Tuna run (at Tanssiteatteri Hurjaruuth 2 – 7.12.2014) is composed, performed and produced by my brother Shaun a professional musician (guitarist) back in the USA. The idea first hit me back in May of this year that perhaps Shaun could put together one or two tunes for the show. Budgeting concerns aside, I felt it would just add much more of a "down home family feeling" to the show. The entire production team was ecstatic when Shaun agreed! On a Sunday evening in late May Shaun and I spoke together and I gave him some idea of what type and style of music we were looking. I must mention that Shaun loves many styles of music but his real love in music is Jazz first and foremost. In our discussion he really picked up on the vibe of the show and the importance of the music. Within the next couple of days, we had a couple of samples ready to be heard. During one of our catchup calls Shaun confided in me that he believed he had tapped into his "inner Country music" soul. Well that's not hard to believe as our parents did introduce us to some Country (Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich, Dolly Parton among many others) at a very early age in our lives.
Shaun recruited another musician, Skye Sadowski-Malcolm, to provide fiddle on many songs and vocals on the lovely and soothing song Everything. Before we knew it, Shaun had provided eight songs including his own stirring version of the Old Rugged Cross – a soulful hymn written in 1912.
I just wish that there was a good way to package up this lovely music to share beyond our run. The music Shaun created has many dynamics – from heartfelt ballads to humorous jingles to knee slapping, toe tapping guitar picking tunes. Shaun's music contributes so much to the feeling that is at the heart of Greater Tuna. So y'all come on out and clap, knee slap or toe tap along with the music and enjoy the show!
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!