White Sands, Cemetery Club and other shares

Easter has just passed by and I seem to have reached critical mass with a number of little bits of news about what is happening in my world. So here is one of those occasional news round-up type posts of mine.

I’ve been pretty busy down at Bolton Little Theatre in the last few months. We had an extremely successful screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with plenty of the audience in costume and some wild behaviour in the aisles! I must admit I was pretty nervous how this night was going to play, so it was a big relief to hear our guests leaving in high spirits and some lovely feedback on the night. We’ll be showing Dirty Dancing on Saturday evening 9th June 2018. Visit the BLT website for tickets and more details.

But my main job in the last few months has been as sound designer and operator for various productions on both of our stages. Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn was a particular challenge, requiring party sounds every time the kitchen door was opened, and that door gets used an awful lot. Another tricky part was that each act opened with a Seventies Christmas pop song, which faded from normal to mimicking the tinny sound coming from an onset radio. But I pulled that off and this brilliant play about materialism and self-delusion was brilliantly acted by an excellent cast. I thought it was one of our best productions in a while. Although The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall, which I was only tangentially involved with, was every bit as good in every department.

Currently I am rehearsing The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell, a witty comedy about love in New York’s senior citizen community. the sound requirements for this are relatively modest, probably the most challenging of which is a whistling kettle and getting the volume of it right. But its still quite a time commitment and will take up most of this and next week’s evenings. I’ve also put together a promotional trailer, which you can watch below:

Overlapping with that production is Agnes of God by John Pielmeier, an intense interrogation drama set in a New York convent. I’ve already recorded some voiceovers for it and will shortly be assembling the choral musical cues with the director. Earlier last year I recorded the three woman cast at a readthrough, and so was able to create a particularly effective trailer, my favourite in a while:

With all this tech work, and editing a monthly BLT newsletter, there has been a knock on effect on my writing but I’m becoming more productive now with a couple of projects. One I can’t discuss yet but hopefully might turn into my biggest theatrical script yet. The other is a short video about my love for Michael Mann’s 1983 horror movie The Keep. I am currently writing the script. This will be the second in a new series Westlake Films is producing. The first episode, in which Carl Bowler rhapsodies about Scott Pilgrim vs The World, has just been released online. Carl does an excellent job in praising what makes the cult comic strip adaptation tick and how it links with his own life. You can find it on Westlake Films’ Youtube channel. Or indeed, right here!

My fellow writer Rik Hoskin has had several exciting projects published lately. His marvellous six-part SF comic Red Rising: Sons of Ares has been collected into a handsome graphic novel. Based on the hit YA series Red Rising by Pierce Brown, the comic tells of the origins of resistance leader Fitchner Au Barca. Born as a Gold, one of the ruling class of a brutal future human solar empire, the misfit Fitchner soon recognises the cruelty of the system. To protect his secret wife and son, who come from the lowest caste, Fitchner’s fight against the Empire leads to tragedy and the seeds of a rebellion. The artwork is engrossing and Rik’s storytelling skills are well in evidence.

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Speaking of graphic novels, the sequel to the New York Times bestseller White Sands, which was also written by Brandon Sanderson and Rik Hoskin, is out now. White Sands Volume Two continues the adventures of a young magician on an alien world where sand can be magically wielded to create and destroy. It is adapted from an unpublished manuscript of Sanderson’s and is a part of his Cosmere universe. Both this and Red Rising: Sons of Ares are published by Dynamite Comics.

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Outlanders may have concluded but Rik is now involved with a new series of action novels – SEAL Team Six, alongside Max KentIt depicts the all action secret missions of a group of Navy SEALS – the proverbial best of the best of the best. Executive Order sees them dispatched to track down a ruthless ISIS group which has got its hands on US drone technology. I’m currently reading it and it’s great entertainment.

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Finally you can learn more about Rik by reading this recent interview, carried out by fellow comic and magazine writer John Freeman for his blog downthetubes.org. Click here for 10 Questions

 

Cannot get enough of Aladdin

That plucky young lad from Ancient China seems to keep crossing my path at the moment.

For a start I’ve just been making a video trailer for Bolton Little Theatre’s production of Aladdin in December. This one is based on a script by Alan P Frayne, who has previously provided scripts for BLT’s Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.

Once again I was in the Forge studio theatre, improvising with the cast, but this time the emphasis was on laughs rather than menace. I had expected to be filming the cast in their civvies, but the wardrobe mistress was marvellously able to dress everyone who turned up in appropriate panto gear. We worked pretty fast, keeping the camera in one place this time and moving the actors in and out of the frame. I did not have much time to work on a polished script or too many takes because the cast were due to hold a full readthrough that evening. Then it was time to put the footage into the ever reliable Cyberlink Power Director to add some effects and a Chinese overlay downloaded for free from the company’s website. Hope folk like the result. It will be going live on Facebook next week.

For more details and to book tickets please visit Bolton Little Theatre’s Aladdin page

Meanwhile I am delighted to announce that there are two productions of my own Aladdin, co-written with Adrian Barradell, coming this Christmas.

November – St Anselm’s College, Wirral, UK
December – 2nd Comber Drama Group, County Down, UK

More details when I get them. If you would like to know more about my take on the famous tale, please visit my page at Lazy Bee Scripts

 

 

 

Dead Guilty

As Bolton Little Theatre’s new season hoves into view, so does my side job of making promotional trailers for the plays in the 2017/18 run. Sometimes an idea for the trailer comes to me easily and other times it is a real struggle to think of a 30 sequence that will sum up the story and make it appetising. It’s a bit similar to writing in fact.

With Dead Guilty, the psychological thriller by Richard Harris which opens our season in September, the idea took a while to land, then I thought about a close-up on Julia’s face. She is the main protagonist and it is a story in which she is confined and oppressed. I thought she could give a speech to camera taken from the script. With the help of director Peter Scofield and actress Kim Amston, I developed this idea into a series of mid-length and extreme close-ups of the whole cast, delivering selected lines of dialogue. It took about two hours to film, using the Forge studio theatre. A lot of that time was taken with finding interesting angles to film Kim in Julia’s wheelchair, followed by several takes of each line. The result has been well received and hopefully will sell a lot of tickets. If you are intrigued then please visit Bolton Little Theatre’s website

Now I am turning my mind towards the second play Rabbit Hole. I have vague idea, again using actors rather than a slide show. Below is the trailer for the whole season, which is a good example of the latter style. Thanks for reading.

Downtime out now, Wyrd Sisters soon

When I started off directing Wyrd Sisters I’d hope to keep a production diary up on this blog. Predictably this ambition was quickly eaten up by the time and energy involved in actually realising the play. So you’ll have to look forward to a retrospective article instead. However I can report that we are at an exciting phase where the books are down, the movements are being fine tuned and the set is almost in place bar the painting, thanks to the marvellous efforts of Jeff Lunt and his team.. Not to mention a whole wardrobe of costumes which have largely been designed and made from scratch by Francis Clemmitt and her team. I’ve also been out banging the drum and trying to get people interested in coming. Marketing a play is a job in itself. We’re having some publicity photos taken tomorrow which hopefully will excite the local media. I went on Bolton FM radio a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be popping up again on their frequency on Monday during the drivetime show in the evening. I’ve also made a short video promo for promoting the show on social media.

It’s going to be a show that’s different from pretty much anything Bolton Little Theatre have put on in a while. The cast are getting better with each rehearsal and its great to work with them. Best of all is Terry Pratchett and Stephen Brigg’s script, which is funny and wise. You can find out more and book tickets at http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk/terry-pratchetts-wyrd-sisters/

That’s Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters 7.30pm 6 – 11 March 2017, Bolton Little Theatre!

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I’ve also learnt that Obverse Books have just published Downtime – The Lost Years of Doctor Who. I am amongst the forty people interviewed by author Dylan Rees about the remarkable collection of independent productions, both video and audio, that appeared in the Nineties and early Noughties attempting to fill the Doctor Who shaped hole which the BBC had created.

Of course my part relates to my work with Bill Baggs and BBV. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet but as someone who was very involved in that particular pond, not just as a writer but as a fan, I’m look forward to reading it. Within its 400 pages Dylan Rees promises many facts and stories that have never been printed before. The book is available for £9.99 as an e-book and £19.99 as a large format paperback. You can learn more by visiting http://obversebooks.co.uk/product/downtime/

Thanks for reading. Hope to be in touch again soon.

Wyrd Sisters Diary #1 – Setting out on the road to Lancre

I’m not trying to claim any snob value here but I discovered Terry Pratchett’s Discworld almost right at the beginning. Back in 1985 I read an interview with Terry Pratchett, promoting the paperback release of the first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic, thought it sounded funny and bought it soon after. Possibly as a birthday present for my sister Gail now I come to think about it. Turned out we both enjoyed this send up of fantasy novels and it set us, and eventually my whole family, on an enjoyable journey with Terry’s funny, ingenious books for many years.

Wyrd Sisters is the first proper Discworld Witches book, introducing us to the eccentric coven of the formidable, good but scary Granny Weatherwax, the cheerful, earthy, experienced Nanny Ogg, and the naïve, enthusiastic Magrat. As well as Witches, it has a ghost, a demon, lots of dim-witted guards, and a troupe of theatricals who stage a farcical play within the play.

It is in part a parody of Shakespeare, the Scottish Play in particular, but it is also a comedy about power, be it brute force, common sense or the subtler magic of storytelling. In fact I’m pretty sure it was Gail who bought me the script books of Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards! for my own birthday several years later. I had no idea they existed until then. By then I had become involved with amateur dramatics, and I loved Stephen Briggs’ adaptations and the idea of realising them on stage. So in time I persuaded my then current group of Mawdesley Amateur Dramatics to stage Wyrd Sisters. The photo at the top of the page is from that production.

Like many groups, a majority of MADS were women, so it was an advantage to have a play with four really good female roles, not to mention a fair amount of characters who could be played by either gender. That 2007 production was my first experience of directing theatre. It helped that we were already a group of friends, so that made it less intimidating that it could have been. We played it on a smallish village hall stage, with much less in the way of facilities at the time than Bolton Little Theatre has. For example the sound system consisted of my laptop computer and a guitar amp at the rear of the hall. I should add that the current hall has had something of an upgrade since. However the show was a success, and I think the local audience enjoyed the fact that we were trying something a bit different from the traditional amateur dramatic fare.

Now ten years later I am about to direct a new production in a fully equipped theatre with a specially designed set and a cast that is an interesting mix of experienced Bolton regulars and newer faces, some for whom this will be one of their first plays. I have Glenn Robinson, Francis Clemmitt, Jeff Lunt and Joylon Coombs providing invaluable advice and help. I have been doing my homework and pouring over the script, plotting out movements, assembling the music and sound effects. As I write this, the first rehearsal looms this Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping I’ll remember how to do this. It’s not just the Witches who are embarking on an adventure.

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For more information and to book tickets, please visit our theatre website

Looking back at Frame 312

Lately my life has been dominated by rehearsing and appearing in Frame 312 at Bolton Little Theatre, which ran from 11-18 October 2016. I played Mr Graham, an editor at LIFE magazine at the fateful time when John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It proved to be a very challenging rehearsal for everyone, including the director Peter Scofield, but the result was a production that had a fantastic reaction from the audience.

Want the reasons I had wanted to be cast in this play it was a serious drama and I was keen to play a straighter character after my last three stage roles had been buffoons of one kind or another. This turned out to be a bit of problem because my usual comic instincts when it came to delivering lines had to be suppressed. Also I could not hide behind bluster and hesitation when remembering my lines. Learning the script was surprisingly hard this time. After learning Bob Acres at a run when I was emergency cast in The Rivals, I had gone into this play fairly confidently, however my confidence was soon shot as week after week my mind went blank in one place or another. I’ll admit that moving naturally on stage has also been one of my weaker areas. I’m a much more confident voice actor. There’s a real art to moving in a way that complements the lines and keeps the action visual, without looking too contrived. It is something I would love to workshop in the future. For example the director was keen for me to walk to the door and lean casually on the frame whilst talking to Young Lynette, but I never seemed to be able to reach the door and recline in anything like a relaxed way and ultimately I dropped it for merely moving about halfway to the door before turning. Another problem was that almost every acting choice I made was over-ruled by the director and I was unable to convince Peter that my take was better, which I made me annoyed with myself.

I had some pretty dark moments this last two months went I felt that I wouldn’t act again after this play. Suddenly it seemed to have become much harder and I was only playing a fairly straightforward character, who doesn’t have that much of a journey compared to the lead. Mr Graham was a good newsman, intelligent, cynical and caring about others, if somewhat condescending. Initially I thought he would be quite buttoned down but rightly I was told to increase the amount of emotion in my performance since it would be too de-energised for a whole play. I also learnt a handy shortcut when playing with an American accent, change t’s to d’s and pronounce “new” as “noo”.

Now I was not the only actor who struggled with the lines on this play, I think the whole cast seemed to have a bit of malaise for the first eight weeks. I discovered that my co-star in most of our scenes was far less experienced than I thought, and she was having an especially hard time. I wish I had known earlier on because I think I would have taken more of a lead and made sure we were in the right place at the right time for our entrances, perhaps done extra line-learning too. As it was, the part of Young Lynette was recast just a fortnight before the show began. Kimberly Armston did an amazing job stepping up to take on the complex  role of Young Lynette in such a short time and our scenes together became so much easier. Finally my own line remembering clicked in, even though I never managed 100% on any night, but then that’s usual for me. Kimberly Riley-Shipperbottom also did sterling work taken on the extra role of Maria, Old Lynette’s materialistic daughter-in-law.

I described Frame 312 as a play about the JFK assassination to friends and family but really it is as much about the corrosive effect of conspiracy and paranoia, both on one woman and on society as a whole. There’s a wider theme about the emptiness of the American Dream. Both Lynette and her son Toby are pursuing that image of a big house with 2.4 children, with nothing but the best. Lynette has long since realised that such status symbols do not bring happiness, whilst Toby is in denial. Meanwhile, whilst we see the drama of the conspiracy unfold in 1963/64 and the evidence mount up, in the end Keith Redfen’s play concludes that in the end conclusive proof does not matter. The most of the world knows that Lee Harvey Oswald did not work alone, that elements in the government covered up the successful murder of a president, but it keep turning anyway. Nothing will change now.

I am very glad that the production finally took off in the those last two weeks, with extra rehearsals and a lot of work from everyone. Jeff Lunt and Joylon Coombs did a marvellous job with the two time zoned set and the atmospheric lighting was perfect. The whole cast really came together and supported each other. We’ve had some lovely feedback from the audience. At the opening night, most of the evening performances were half-sold but almost every night we played to nearly full houses, indicating good word of mouth. I have not got any more acting lined up for the time being and I’m actually quite glad, because of the hard work this one turned out to be.

For now I shall be working behind the scenes and I am currently planning the stage movements for Wyrd Sisters, my next directing assignment. I’m write a separate piece about my preparations soon. Then there is the box office and marketing at BLT, plus some long overdue writing projects.

In meantime Bolton Little Theatre’s next production is Witness for the Prosecution. You can find out more about it on the website. Here’s the video teaser I created for it. Thanks for reading and more news soon.

If I Were You

A new season of plays is opening next week at Bolton Little Theatre, kicking off with Alan Ayckbourn’s gender swapping comedy If I Were You. I’ve put together a video trailer for it, the first of a new season of movie-style teasers, rather than the behind the scenes style I’ve used in the past. My aim is for none of them to be much longer than 30 seconds. So far it seems to have gone down very well, with plenty of hits on Facebook and Youtube. Hope you like it too.

Here’s the text I’ve written for the website: “A hilarious comedy about swapping bodies, living someone else’s life, and learning something unexpected.

“The Rodales seem like an ordinary family, but beneath the surface things are beginning to crack. Jill and Mal have lost the spark in their marriage, their son Sam resents his father and their daughter Chrissie has recently become a mum and is dealing with marriage issues of her own. And while they all share advice on how others should live their lives, nobody is really taking it on board – until Mal and Jill see things from a dramatically different perspective, that is.

“Waking up one morning and finding they have switched personas, Mal in Jill’s body and Jill in Mal’s, they must continue life “as normal” as their other half. Jill faces the challenges of working with their laddish son-in-law, Dean, as the Store Manager of a homewares shop, while Mal has suddenly becomes a housewife, learning more about his children – and finding out the secrets they already know about him!

“Will seeing things from the other side make matters even worse, or is this just what they need in order to save their family?”

Tickets are £10 and you can book them at the box office or online.

Book now