Promoting Ladies in Lavender – and myself

One of the aims of this blog is to be a one stop shop for my work. It’s been busy lately, both with completing the first year of my Digital Technology Solutions Apprenticeship and supporting the last three productions of the Bolton Little Theatre season. But this does give me creative outlets: two new videos and my first self-created webpage in a long time.

Ladies in Lavender, based on the popular film written by Charles Dance and starring Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench. Adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna. I decided to go for a simple slideshow style trailer due to having limited time. Finding a good young male violinist photo was surprisingly hard. I shall also be designing the sound and operating the sound desk for that week 11th to 18th May.
Spring and Port Wine, the classic Northern comedy drama by Bill Naughton, which became a beloved Sixties Bolton movie starring James Mason and Susan George. Again a simple slideshow format, using vintage newspaper photos, a location from the film, and music from Youtube’s stock library. The music was originally intended to be “Times They Are A-Changin'” but that is not allowable due to copyright. I’m compiling the sounds for this final play of the season, but happily I am getting help on the sound desk.

Please visit Bolton Little Theatre’s website for more information about our excellent productions. You can also see more of my trailers for local am dram groups by browsing my Youtube channel.

Back in the late Nineties’ I was keen to join in the internet revolution and make my own webpage. I self-taught myself HTML and created a small website to promote my Fine Line Doctor Who audios, uploaded to the personal webspace I received as part of my NTL subscription. It was great fun but once my audio production days faded, my skills faded. One of my favourite parts of my current degree has been Web Development, and its been good to learn HTML, CSS and Javascript in an organised way, as well as updating my conception of how today’s web works.

As part of this I had to create a personal profile page as an assignment and you can take a look at it. The webspace comes courtesy of the degree course, but it is owned by me, rather than the university, and might well host a more interesting creative site in the coming months. Watch this space.

Gareth addressing classroom

The Dresser

Life is slightly stressed at the moment. In addition to my Digital Technology and Solutions Apprenticeship (above is a picture of myself speaking as part of National Apprenticeships Week) I am fulfilling my commitments to Bolton Little Theatre and assembling the sound cues for the last three plays of the season, most crucially The Dresser, which will be presented 8th -13th April. I’ve just made a trailer to promote what promises a marvelous play, and I decided to use the opportunity to learn about Adobe Premiere. I’ve been aware of this software for years and seen others using it. It’s used on all Westlake Film shorts. It is something of an industry standard at the lower end of video production. Manchester Metropolitan University now installs it as standard on their PC’s and my work computer has recently been upgraded.

My first impressions are pretty good. Compared to Cyberlink Power Director, my usual choice of video editor, the interface can be a bit intimidating and confusing with so many windows opening, but there is a logic to it. It didn’t crash and there is an impressive set of tools. The audio clean up tools were particularly helpful on this project, because I had recorded the actors in far from studio quality surroundings, although the reverb from the auditorium did add to the atmosphere for this play about a theatre company. I might add more thoughts about using it in time. For now, I hope you like my first Adobe Premiere promo clip.

The story: World War Two is grinding on and England perseveres. Last of his kind, actor/manager ‘Sir’ and his wife ‘Her Ladyship’ continue touring Shakespeare in the provinces with a company depleted by conscription. Sir is plainly unwell, discharging himself from hospital and Her Ladyship believes he should cancel his upcoming performance of ‘King Lear’. However Norman, his loyal, outspoken dresser disagrees and is determined that the show will go on.
You can find out more and book tickets from http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk

Two other quick bits of news. James Axler’s Deathlands is back from the nuclear wilderness with a new series of audiobooks, edited and written by Rik Hoskin. Rik has written several of the original range, as well as masterminding the later years of its spin-off Outlanders.
Deathlands is a post-apocalyptic USA adventure series following a band of warriors searching for a home, but only finding mutant horrors, extreme environments and violent communities, as well as more bizarre SF threats.
The first book in the relaunched series is Glory’s Stockpile and you can listen to an excerpt at https://soundcloud.com/graphicaudio/deathlands-134-glorys-stockpile

Finally, the second episode of the Talking Pictures podcast is out and you can hear me and my thoughts on the Laurel and Hardy short Tit for Tat within it, amongst many other talented contributors. There is also an excellent interview with the head of Talking Pictures –
Sarah Cronin-Stanley. Listen to it at Spotify, ACast, iTunes or from Adam Roche’s own blog: https://www.attaboyclarence.com/the-talking-pictures-tv-podcast

Table with PC and mixing desk

Pantomimes, stories from two World Wars, and an Apprenticeship

Plenty going on at the moment, which has left me trying to find the organising equivalent of Hermione Grainger’s magical Time Turner gadget to fit it all in.

Most pressing at the moment has been compiling and operating the sound effects for Bolton Little Theatre’s production of the WW1 play “Private Peaceful” Running 10th – 17th November 2018. It’s the story of Tommo Peaceful, a British Army private facing the firing squad for mutiny. As he waits for the dawn, he looks back to his childhood in the Sussex countryside and his hellish experiences in France. As sound design I have created a trailer as well.

It’s always interesting to find the effects and then edit them to fit the director’s intentions. Not all my sounds are authentic to the period but they fit the model of what the audience will expect to hear on a battlefield. When I was first learning audio drama production, I soon appreciated that there are certain conventions about sound, such as arriving lifts which ping ,that are vital shorthand in telling a story. However whilst its good to keep my audio skills fresh and to help create a theatrical play, I do intend to pull back from this kind of role for a while after Private Peaceful has finished.

Why? Because there is plenty going on elsewhere. For a start I have begun a part-time degree called BSc(Hon) Digital & Technology Solutions Apprenticeship at Manchester Metropolitan University. I do believe that decisions and people can connect in unexpected but beneficial ways. So although there is not an obvious crossover between fiction writing and programming / web development /  business information systems, part of me thinks what has started as an opportunity to update and increase my technical knowledge, might help my creativity nous too.

Six Million Voices logo

Recently I was approached by my old friend Nigel Anderson, director of Angel Snow amongst others, too take part in a new exciting project. Six Million Voices is a short film inspired by the classic book about the Holocaust – The Diary of Anne Frank and is being made in cooperation with the Anne Frank Foundation. It is built around the album of music and narration produced by Chris Williams. You can listen to some of her music via her Soundcloud page.

I have been asked to play Anne’s father and the founder of the organisation, Otto Frank, which is a great honour and I am looking forward to working with Nigel and Chris soon. I’ll be able to tell you more about this film and my role in a future update. In the meantime for more information about Anne Frank and the work of the charity set up in her name, visit their website.

The sound of sleigh bells is in the air and I am delighted to announce that four theatre troupes have chosen to put on productions of the pantomimes I have written/co-written. Knowing how much work goes into any panto production, it is always very gratifying when people choose my work. I hope they all have a great time and if I get hold of any posters I’ll share them here. So coming soon for Christmas:

  • Aladdin, Spotlight Performing Arts, Middlesbrough, UK
  • Aladdin, All Saints’ N20 PCC, London
  • Rumplestiltskin, Fairlight Pantomime Group, Fairlight, UK
  • Treasure Island, Whitefriars College, Northcote, Australia

Thanks for reading.

 

Nell Gwynn poster
Video

Nell Gwynn, appearing at Bolton Little Theatre this September

My favourite theatre is opening its new season with Jessica Swale’s accessible, funny and intelligent play about the infamous 17th century royal mistress. In this take, she is a woman not only of her time, but also ahead of it. She was England’s first well known stage actress, thanks to Francophile King Charles II’s abolishing the stricture that women were not allowed to tread the boards. The author enjoys drawing parallels between 1660 Drury Lane and the West End of today, ruefully pointing out that some problems like good roles for women and the dangers of celebrity have been with us for centuries.

I’m involved with the realising the soundscape and I’ll be one of the sound operators during the week of the show. I had been offered a part but sadly did not have the spare time to take the director up on it. Last Sunday I attended the rehearsal and filmed some of it to create a promotional video, which I’ve just uploaded to social media. Starting off with 40 minutes or so or material, I gradually pared it down to a few clips which were full of movement and expression. The music has been specially recorded for this production and will be heard on the night. I’m pretty pleased with the way this one has turned out, and I hope you like it too.

Nell Gwynn runs 17th to 22nd September 2018 at Bolton Little Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, please visit http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk

poster artwork

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.

redrisingsoa-01-cov-a-cypress

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.

19676706

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.

37660292

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

 

Aladdin poster

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

 

 

 

Young woman in wheelchair

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.

Stage designer on stage set for Weird Sisters

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!

Downtimefrontcover-602x720

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.

Three witches with cauldron

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.

wyrd-sisters-bolton-little-theatre

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.