In last week’s Tape I briefly mentioned a new collaborative project/night from myself, Miranda and Ben, called Dinner Time! (you can book tickets here!) so I thought this week I’d say a bit more about it.
In August I was lucky enough to be offered a monthly residency by VAULT Creative Arts (the organisation behind VAULT Festival, among other things) at their new venue, the Glitch on Lower Marsh. VAULT Festival has been a really lovely festival to launch new work at in previous years, and I’ve always really valued the creative opportunities offered by residencies, so I jumped at the chance. The problem was, I had absolutely no idea what to use the residency for. Over the course of making Blink this year, I had become aware of a growing sense that this would probably be the last live project I made for a while. That show represented a huge step forward creatively and theatrically, and required a huge outlay in order for me to pull it off, both financially and in terms of emotion and focus and energy. I knew that it was the pinnacle of what I was able to achieve in a live environment at this point in time, and that I didn’t just want to get back on the treadmill and start making another live show. I needed to take some time to think about what sort of challenges I wanted to set myself in that environment, and what sort of work I wanted to make for it, rather than re-entering it out of habit. In the meantime, things had started to go well in the world of development for radio/TV etc, and I wanted to do more screen acting, so prior to the offer of a residency I had pretty much made up my mind that after Blink I would explore other avenues for a bit and take a break from live work.
The answer, then, to the question “What would I use a live residency for if I’m not that keen to make live work at the moment?” lay in the conversations I was having in the dressing room with Miranda and Ben every day. One of the things we’d been talking about was the idea that, having made a solo show that benefited hugely from the spirit of theatrical collaboration, I could move more in that direction and make a truly collaborative show. Although Blink was made by a democratic creative team, and I was keen to shine as much light on that process as I could, it was still ultimately conceived, developed and marketed as an elaborate solo show. But I liked the idea of one day making something more like Adam Riches’ Coach Coach shows – something that rewarded its collaborative partners with more active roles in the show itself, and where the creative burdens and rewards were genuinely shared democratically between a team. Something more like a play, I suppose, but one with multiple writers. Miranda and Ben and I started throwing ideas around for loose collaborative sketches or group ideas that could perhaps one day feed into something like that. I suppose we were playing around with the idea of making something a little like Tarot, where performers previously established in their own disciplines come together to make a new creative endeavour. But at the same time, Ben was developing ideas for a solo show he’s been working on this year; Miranda and Ben had ideas for a short documentary they wanted to make about the creative process that they were keen to develop further; Miranda had her own storytelling ideas she wanted to try out in front of an audience; I had concepts of my own I wanted to explore with a view towards making more scripted work or audio projects, or short films of my own. We were spoilt for choice in terms of potential directions we could move in, but had no sense of how to start moving in any of them.
What we needed was something that encouraged us to focus more on process than on outcome – to not worry exactly what we would end up making, but just to start making. The final piece of the puzzle was this newsletter – over the last year-and-a-half the community of amazing minds it seems to have brought together has come to mean such a lot to me. I’ve really loved the creative conversations that have emerged from your replies to this – once a week I waffle on about where I’m at creatively and what I’m up to, then I get to read through your amazing responses, and those responses often open up interesting new avenues in my own work because of the associations and ideas they spark. Could I use the residency to build a live equivalent of that process, where Miranda and Ben and I would try out stuff – sketches, monologues, scraps of scripted stuff, weird performance art experiments, whatever – then we listen to what the audience made of them, and hear what they think we should do with them, and perhaps even get them back up on their feet and try them again responding to the audience’s creative prompts and guidance? Suddenly, this felt like an exciting format for a live night, and a good use of a residency. A night that we went into with no agenda – would we be making a new collaborative live show as a three-person sketch act? Or three solo shows? Or gathering ideas to transform into a podcast? Or a film? Who knows? – but that instead opened up process to us, as I tried to do with this newsletter all year, and gave us the opportunity to share work with other engaged and interested people and hear what they made of it.
For it to work, of course, we’ll need to game-ify the audience’s role a bit, otherwise it’ll be too easy for it to descend into too many people throwing ideas back and forth with no clear way to fashion that into a genuinely enjoyable and interesting experience. We’ll need to fashion clear, simple rules for how the audience can engage with the work and share their thoughts, and how we then respond to those thoughts in a way that is constructive and not confusing. The risk with making something that’s a celebration of process over outcome is that you could use that mindset to defend making something very self-indulgent that has forgotten how to be entertaining for the audience that chooses to come and support it. Those conversations are still ongoing, so I won’t say anything about them yet for fear of spoiling what the first show will be. Quite what the residency will turn into is all yet to be settled on right now – will it become a night with guest acts? Or a night that specifically showcases us as, essentially, a three-person sketch act? Or will it be something more amorphous than that, where the three of us just use it month by month as a place to explore whatever it is we want to explore that month, in whatever way is most useful? It remains to be seen, but I’m genuinely excited to have created a space where those sorts of questions don’t infringe on the night, because those questions are the night. The response to it so far from the comedy community has been really amazing, as it seems like people have really responded to the idea of making something that prioritises collaboration and play and process and audience engagement over anything else. So let’s see what it turns into! You can buy tickets to the first Dinner Time here.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, one of the most unique and original and brilliant homegrown shows of the last 10 years, finally made the leap to a full-blown TV show last week, and it’s lost none of its imagination or its sense of danger. I love it, everyone involved in making it is a stone cold legend.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – There’s a very stupid show on Channel 4 called Make Me Prime Minister in which Alastair Campbell and Sayeeda Warsi front a sort of pseudo-Apprentice to find “an alternative Prime Minister” (quite how either of them can keep a straight face while talking to the candidates, as though that’s actually a real position they’re going to offer them at the end of the series, I’m not sure). There’s a great moment where a candidate who has been cast in the role of Prime Minister for the week is tricked into dancing round a maypole by the press, then wanders away from the journalists in the middle of an interview to go and paint a picture with a kid. It really got me.
Book Of The Week – I’m reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, because my friend Isabelle found out on my birthday that I’ve not really read any Gaiman so gave me this. It’s very ghoulish and Gothic and fun so far.
Album Of The Week – Music For Animals by Nils Frahm. Frahm, who has built a career out of glacial, epic ambient music that goes nowhere, just released this 3-hour album. Contrary to my expectations, I have now given it about 5 listens. I can’t get enough of it. Just put it on in the background and go about your day, your day will take on the most incredible textures.
Film Of The Week – Not seen any films, mea culpa, mea culpa. Might go see Don’t Worry Darling, though, is that any good? It looks great but then I heard about mixed reviews. Anybody seen it? I’m gonna go see it, but keen to hear what people thought!
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you’ve enjoyed this week’s newsletter and you’d like to share it with a friend, or encourage people to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, and see you all next time,
PS The Frieze Sculpture Fair is back in Regent’s Park, so that’s been fun to browse around. I enjoyed this rock you can look through.