R&D Week 1 – A Sort Of Diary
This Tape is a day later than it usually is, because I’ve been in the midst of the R&D for my new show, which I first mentioned last week. As it turns out (and this is a terrible indictment of what my usual working week looks like), having to go to an actual place to do actual work every day for 7 days in a row means that I haven’t had much time to write up any long-form thoughts or in-depth ideas the process has opened up for me. However, I like the idea of using this newsletter as a place to document the process of making this show. Miranda has been helping me document the R&D with photos and videos, and at some point I hope to edit them into some sort of short reel showing what we made and how, but for now, I thought I’d share with you all a little day-by-day diary of the first half of the project, and I hope it might be of interest to those of you who are curious about the creative processes people follow!
Day 1 – Spent today with Ben Target, Alex Hardy and Miranda Holms mostly just talking about what the show currently was, and what I wanted it to end up being, and identifying ways of closing the gap. Removed a lot of jargon, over-explanation, and complication from the show’s concept, trying to identify a simple, clear, human centre-point around which a lot of absurdity can turn. Took all the stories, jokes, ideas that formed the “ingredients” of the show at earlier work-in-progresses and reorganised them to find the right sequence for them in order to tell the desired story, and thought about how that reordering affects the status of the central character. Conceived the idea of letting the structure of the show imitate the structure of a magic trick.
Day 2 – Spent today with Ben talking about themes, relationships, central ideas. Closed in on the words “control,” “embarrassment” and “presence.” Explored the relationship between the “character” of Joz onstage, and the “character” of Ben, his “assistant,” and how this relationship articulates the story of the show. Conceived the mission statement of making a show that expresses a point and an idea, but never tells or explains that point or idea to the audience, but buries it within itself. Found this Salvador Dali image as a moodboard component to aim for tonally – the artist is trying to make his art while chaos erupts around him, so that the chaos erupting around him becomes the art he is making.
Day 3 – Spent this morning talking to Drew Altschul, psychologist and behaviourist. Talked about the psychology of groups, synchronised EEG waves in study groups, the psychology of embarrassment, and the BITE method of brainwashing and control in cults (Behaviour, Information, Thought, Emotion). Spent this afternoon talking to Ben Mallaby about his PhD research into comedy audiences. Discussed ways to give audiences agency and space in which to explore play and spontaneity rather than having them accept passive or pre-determined roles. Conceived the idea of staging an event that combines his research with mine and specifically explores methods for orchestrating audience control within a live comedy environment.
Day 4 – Spent today with movement director Grace Gibson, looking at how to physically express the emotional and conceptual journey of the show. Used David Copperfield as a physical model for the central character of the show, choreographed the opening and established three “rules” for the character’s movement – No Inactive Arm; Breathing Into Movements; Planted Stance. Choreographed another section of the show by thinking about embarrassment and how to physicalise it, and layer it.
Day 5 – Spent today with Grace, Ben Target and Miranda. Shared the physical discoveries Grace and I made on Day 4, and looked at how those 3 Rules of Movement can help to choreograph other complicated setpieces in the show. Thought about use of space, and ownership of space. Examined the structure of the show, and established that it follows Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorian laws of time, rather than occupying linear time. Decided therefore at which points we see the character’s “truth” and at which points we see him lie. Recorded a rough stagger-through of the entire show’s structure, then discussed. Realised the show, as now conceived, answers a question I asked myself in 2014 but failed to answer at the time – “Can I make a show that looks like a smashed mirror?”
Day 6 – Spent today with Alex and Ben discussing outcomes of the stagger-through. Reworked the climax of the show to make it more concentrated on one idea, and worked out how to seed that idea throughout the show. Read through the full script of the show and explored sections to reword and simplify, moments that require less explanation. Decided the show needs to tell plot, structure and concept, but show emotion, theme and meaning. Rehearsed mine and Ben’s interactions to find more play within them and to clarify their function in the story.
Today Ben and Roisin & Chiara are coming over to record voiceover dialogue for the show’s audio sequences, so that’ll be Day 7! I’ll update on the second half of the R&D next week. I hope a few of you found this interesting!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The shortlist for the British Comedy Guide Awards is out! There’s loads of cool shows nominated, give some nice things your votes!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I’m not at all embarrassed to say it was this video of a horse farting. I’m also not embarrassed to say that this was actually research.
Book Of The Week – I’m reading To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s one of those books I probably should’ve read about 20 years ago, but didn’t because there was a stage version at the Salisbury Playhouse that I saw a bunch of times because I worked there so I thought “I know what happens in that.” But it’s a great book! Long overdue. Atticus is an absolute dude.
Album Of The Week – Meat Loaf just died, and spookily, at the exact moment he died I was watching Bat Out Of Hell, the Meat Loaf musical, at the New Wimbledon Theatre. I spent this week listening to his 1986 album Blind Before I Stop to prep, because it’s one of only 3 Meat Loaf albums I’d not listened to yet. It’s not his best, but in tribute to the big guy, who meant a great deal to me, I’m going to make this unremarkable album my Album Of The Week. Rest In Peace, Marvin.
Film Of The Week – Not seen any. Too much Succession to get through.
That’s all for this week! As ever, feel free to let me know what you think of this week’s Tape, and if you wanted to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d be hugely grateful! Take care of yourselves, and see you next week,
PS Here’s a great pic by Miranda of me learning how to levitate: