1 May 2015

4 Years of The Wardrobe Theatre

May 2015 marks 4 years that The Wardrobe Theatre has been open. That's 4 years since we gathered in a dusty, disused junk room above The White Bear pub and pulled a huge team together to refurbish and transform the space into a working arts venue. It's virtually impossible to fathom the journey we've been on during the past 4 years but it's been an exhilarating and exhausting ride as me and my fellow co-Directors, Jesse Meadows, Chris Collier and (until recently) Jesse Jones, have worked ourselves into the ground to provide a successful small, alternative theatre space for Bristol. We had a small party in The Wardrobe Theatre on 15th April to mark the anniversary with some of the people that have joined us on the journey and we coincided the celebration with the public announcement that we would be moving to create a new, larger arts space before the end of the year. It's been an incredible adventure with The Wardrobe Theatre these past 4 years, something that I am really close to and is more and more coming to define my life. I can only hope the next 4 years are as challenging, rewarding, frightening, fun and memorable as the last!

23 April 2015

'Fooling Fridays' with Holly Stoppit

Adam Blake is currently making a solo fooling show entitled 'Birth And Death And Here And Now' with director Adam Fuller and as part of his process, he was very keen to get a group of clown performers/improvisers together to learn fooling with the experienced clown and fool teacher, Holly Stoppit. So in March myself, Simon Panrucker, Katie Storer, Lucy Harrington, Gwendolyn Scott and Megan Vaughan-Thomas joined Adam, Adam and Holly for a week long workshop to crack this elusive performance style know as fooling! I had little idea of the true nature of fooling before this week but, with a wide knowledge of clowning and improv in general, I was very keen to get stuck into it. Now looking back I have found it to be the most rewarding, exhilarating, moving, unpredictable and hysterical way of working. Stepping out onstage exclusively solo and being engaging for an audience is a terrifying but incredibly empowering concept and it is given me so much confidence as a performer. Luckily, as part of the fooling process the team had arranged 4 performances at The Wardrobe Theatre in fortnightly intervals on the back of this workshop week so we could all put what we'd learnt into practice in front of an audience. 'Fooling Fridays' have exploded at the venue and have already proven to be a very popular regular night due to the captivating fooling performances on offer. During those performances there was a crowdsurf across the entire audience, naked horse-riding, enraged chair fucking, drownings, lickings, acrobatics and full eclipses. During this process we have also helped Adam and Adam in forming 'Birth And Death And Here And Now' with several performances and feedback sessions, culminating in an invited performance at Tobacco Factory Theatres' The Brewery last Sunday. I have found fooling to be an incredible performance form and something I hope to draw on greatly in the future.

18 April 2015

Help Build The New Wardrobe Theatre

This week Jesse Meadows, Chris Collier and I were able to announce some really exciting news that we as co-directors have been working on for several months: In December 2015 The Wardrobe Theatre will move from its current home at The White Bear pub, to Old Market where we will create a new space for theatre, comedy, food, drink, music and much more in collaboration with the team behind The Canteen and No1 Harbourside. This new space will be twice the capacity of our current venue and having full creative ownership of the space means we can programme shows 7 days a week, programme more daytime shows, more workshops, book in rehearsal space, provide a dressing room for performers and choc-ices for audiences! This also means we will be able to put on more drama, stand-up comedy, new writing, puppetry, comedy theatre, improvisation, work-in-progress, family shows, performance art, music, spoken word/poetry and cabaret than ever before. We are also motivated in being able to create job opportunities and breathing life and culture into a much neglected area of Bristol and a long unused building - rejuvenation through the arts has worked very effectively in Bristol in the past and could work again for Old Market. We are creating a new, bigger, brighter and bolder Wardrobe Theatre. However, the new building needs structural work to make it suitable for use, including interior walls to be constructed and removed, new plumbing and new electrics, and we require new lighting and sound equipment, new staging and new seating to adequately fit the space out as working theatre and that is why we have also launched Help Build The New Wardrobe Theatre, a £70,000 fundraising campaign to run for the next few months. Since the announcement, we've had an overwhelming positive response from the people of Bristol as they share their enthusiasm for the project, offer their help with the move and donate. We've had articles already published in The Post and Bristol 24/7 and had interviews with BCfm and Made In Bristol TV. This is the start of a very long road to opening a new space but I'm thrilled by the prospect of what's ahead!

“The Wardrobe Theatre has become an essential venue for emerging talent and new ideas. I think if they can move to a more fit-for-purpose venue then the whole theatre scene in the city will feel massive benefits.”
Ali Robertson, Director of Tobacco Factory Theatres

“It is hugely important that The Wardrobe Theatre secure their new venue. British theatre desperately needs independently-run, interesting, non-elitist spaces that take risks in their programming and are run by people with a real passion for what they’re doing.”
Callum Mitchell, Co-Director of Silly Boys

10 April 2015

Performing 'HUG' in Eastleigh and London

Over the past few weeks Verity Standen's HUG has been on tour around the UK and I joined the gang for some of the performances. Interestingly, at each city that the show visited a new choir was assembled from local singers. They were then taught the show and, along with a handful of Verity's HUG regulars, performed this choral sound-bath performance. I was only able to make a handful of the shows but had a wonderful time performing this totally unique show again at The Point, Eastleigh, in mid-march and at London's Southbank Centre at the beginning of April as part of the venue's Chorus Festival.

8 April 2015

'Ablutions' by Fellswoop Theatre Touring

Even though I'm no longer working on the show in any capacity, Ablutions by Fellswoop Theatre is still very close to my heart after months of producing, devising and then touring the show with the company back in 2013. We parted company after a mini-tour in the summer of that year but since, Ablutions has traveled to Edinburgh Fringe 2014 where is was a total smash, picking up innumerable amazing reviews and securing a hearty spring tour visiting Cardiff, Swansea, Bath, London, Exeter, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Luton, Willingborough, Salisbury and Manchester, which the Fellswoop gang have just completed. I'm not sure what the company has in mind for Ablutions now but it's fantastic to see a show I was so close to and still love doing so well!

27 March 2015

'Hospital Food' at Bristol Old Vic

After the initial 'home' performances at St Brendan's Sixth Form College in February, Hospital Food had its final outing at Bristol Old Vic earlier this week. The show, which I directed with 9 students from the college, opened the billing of a week of National Theatre Connections productions at Bristol Old Vic from schools, colleges and drama groups across the region. The performance was sold out and the cast thrived on being inside a professional venue. It was a real pleasure working with such a talented, dedicated and passionate group of students and who knows, this may not be the end of Hospital Food just quite yet as the best production of each script from the Connections Festival has the chance to transfer to National Theatre late in the year. Fingers crossed!

18 March 2015

'Time Busters: The 26 Hour 385 Seconds Improv Marathon'

As part of Bristol Improv Theatre Festival 2015, Closer Each Day collaborated with Bristol Improv Theatre to stage our most ambitious improvisation performance yet, a non-stop 26 hour and 385 minutes improv marathon (so precise because athletes run 26 miles and 385 yards). John Lomas, Andy Yeoh and I co-directed/produced the project that saw the coordination of over 50 actors, musicians, stage managers and illustrators (including members of Closer Each Day, The Bristol Improv Theatre, Degrees Of Error, Bristol University’s Bristol Improv Society, Watch This Space and Oxford Imps), hundreds of props and costume pieces, and a few hundred audience to produce 1566 minutes of improvised soap opera drama! The setting for the show was on the set of fictional archaeology TV show ‘Time Busters’ as a team of historians, producers, directors and local residents set up archaeological trenches in the fields of Somerset to see what clues and treasure history has left behind in the ground. The performance started at 8pm on Friday 13th March and ran (with only a 10 minute break every 2 hours) until 10pm on Saturday 14th March 2015! That Friday was also Red Nose Day so all the show's profits were donated to Comic Relief. Such was the scale of the show, it's hard to sum up but it was a brilliantly hysterical romp and an experience that will stay with me for a long time. Over the 26 hours, some of my favourite moments were the changing fortunes of Buster the dog, Victoria's secret, a delivery of 50 bacon rolls at 8am, the activism stories behind Storm Cloud's tattoos, bowling with a fragile skull, "chicks dig scars", the drug-fuelled low point of 5am, San Pellegrino, Jacob jazz singing about only eating food beginning with a certain letter each day, various community members going to Tim Price for media advice, the book club reading Gone Girl one word at a time, and at the very end of it all a sold out audience and cast bursting into a spontaneous, rousing rendition of Old Lang Syne! I was directing/facilitating from the mic for about 10 hours, skipped off for a 2 hour nap and was onstage for the other 14 as the Veterinarian, Dr Craig Virtue. Craig eventually married Gwen the bar maid, stole a baby and they ran off to Nottingham together. Here are some various photos of the show as well as some live illustrations by Laurie Stansfield done on the night. We also got a great review from Stage Talk Magazine which you can read in full here.

"The sometimes chaotic nature of the improvisation was grounded by the narrator who kept tabs on every love-triangle, every uncovered relic and every single character progression as the play hurtled on. And the sheer dedication of the improvisers to their individual characters made the story believable and gripping to watch. They barely faltered and were constantly inventing and entertaining. An impressive display of the actors sheer stamina and creativity. It was extremely entertaining to watch."

11 March 2015

Performing in 'The Bristol 24 Hour Plays' by The Wardrobe Ensemble

Last Friday I had a manic but amazing day with The Wardrobe Ensemble and friends as we challenged ourselves to write, rehearse and perform 3 brand new short plays in 24 hours. The entire group met the evening before to randomly assign teams and then each be given a stimulus word or phrase to get our minds racing. My team consisted of writer Tom Brennan, director Hari Ramakrishnan, actor Maeve Hannah, actor Bertrand Lesca and myself. Our stimulus was "Revolving Door". That evening we recorded some immediate responses together, brainstormed ideas and then Tom went away to write a brand new script. One of the key ideas that struck a cord with Tom was the idea that a revolving door is used to regulate the air inside a building, to control the inside environment and so by the morning he had produced a wonderful dark comedy entitled 'A View From The Desk' based on this idea. The drama followed a young man as he started his first day in a high-rise office block but he soon realises things aren't as they seem and that this business he's joined is more of a cult that sleep, eat, breed and live entirely in their office. The three actors and director met early Friday morning, we assigned roles and then rehearsed throughout the day until the performances at The Wardrobe Theatre that evening. I had a great time getting a rare chance to perform and had a blast as the new guy, getting appalled, tempted, abused and snogged by his strange new colleagues. The show seems to go down really well and was even voted by the audience their favourite of the 3 new short plays!

10 March 2015

Overall Second Place at Bristol Improv Theatre Festival's Throwdown

To round off the recent first weekend of shows at Bristol Improv Theatre Festival 2015, Bristol Improv Theatre organised a Throwdown in their venue where improvisers could compete head-to-head in officially judged comedy sketches with a chance to win some silverware. I decided to take part to represent Closer Each Day. Teams of two (that were selected at random) were called up by the judges to perform challenges and scenes set by the audience. Sketches were given a score and then each round the lowest scoring teams were eliminated. I was partnered with Stephen Clements of Degrees Of Error and together as 'Team Orange' we battled all the way to the final and won, with some memorable sketches including Pool Table Betrayal, The Dramatic Pause, French Horn and Michelangelo's Butter Statues. Our team had won the Throwdown but in a surprise twist, the individuals from the winning team were then made to battle head-to-head in a protagonist-off as each of us then performed a final story playing the main protagonist. These scenes where supported heavily with members from the other teams and then an overall winner was decided via cheer-o-meter from the audience. Having battled to the final, my solo scene (set in North Korea) was just pipped by Stephen's underwater tragedy/love story and he deservedly was cheered to overall first and became the winner of a fine Throwdown trophy. The Throwdown was hysterically good fun and I can't wait to get the opportunity to play again in similar circumstances in the future!

28 February 2015

First Performances of 'Hospital Food' at St Brendan's Sixth Form College

After rehearsing with the students of St Brendan's Sixth Form College for a few hours a week for 7 weeks as director, this week our National Theatre Connections Festival show Hospital Food was performed for the first time to good audiences at the college. Despite the very limited rehearsal time, especially with such a large cast who were rarely able to attend all at once, I am really pleased with the show we have managed to put together here and the fantastic performances of the students. Our attention now turn to March when the show will be on at Bristol Old Vic.

23 February 2015

Devising 'The Star Seekers' by The Wardrobe Ensemble and The Wardrobe Theatre

During February half term The Wardrobe Ensemble and The Wardrobe Theatre collaborated on a brand new family production set in space, The Star Seekers. The production was devised in the weeks leading up to the performances and, as well as designing the promo image, taking the production shots and assisting on lots of the marketing, I joined the creative team (Helena Middleton, Jesse Meadows, Jack Drewry and Ben Vardy) with my dramaturgical eye in the rehearsal room for several days. These days were fabulously entertaining as we improvised, devised and collaborated to explore space and put the show together. I was particularly thrilled that several of my ideas made the final show including a talking black hole! The final show was an absolute hit, mixing real science, great music, wonderful ideas and some semi-improvised set pieces in a terrifically fun hour which went down incredible well with a fantastic review, seas of smiling faces and lots of interest from other arts organisations. I don't think this is the last we've seen of The Star Seekers by a long shot.

"Children aged between three and seven with even a modicum of interest in the great unknown up above our heads will get pulled into the irresistible gravitational field of this beautifully wide-eyed, enthusiastic and good-humoured show. They’ll also take away the satisfaction of having helped to shape its journey across constellations of possibility."
Bristol 24/7

22 February 2015

'Detective O' performances at Bristol Old Vic

After its run at The Wardrobe Theatre last July, Corina Bona's fantastic one-woman puppetry family production, Detective O & The Cold Case Caper, (on which I worked as dramaturg) transferred to Bristol Old Vic's Studio for a week of shows during February half term. Puppetry director Marc Parrett, a heavily pregnant Corina and I rehearsed and reworked certain elements of the show in the lead up to these performances and the result was a really terrific near sold-out run. Due to other commitments I never actually got see the show with a live audience before the summer so it was a real pleasure to finally see all the work we had put in over months in the rehearsal room transferred to the stage and the delight it brought Bristol audiences.

8 February 2015

'Hug' by Verity Standen at ICIA Bath

Yesterday the ICIA Bath had an open day to help launch its new season and celebrated with a host of performance events. One of the shows on was Verity Standen's Hug so for the first time since Bristol Biennial festival last September, the Hug gang and I rehearsed for a couple of days and then performed this immersive a cappella choral sound bath at the ICIA 5 times to some very chuffed audiences. Hug is due to go on a mini-tour soon to Eastleigh, London and Falmouth and I hope to join the show on the road as much as possible.

6 February 2015

Shadow Puppetry with Corina Bona for 'King Pit' Video

I had a lot of fun a couple of weeks ago with Corina Bona and Charlie Smalley as we used shadow puppetry to create two videos to accompany the music from King Pit - The Musical by Stuart Brayson. The films were shown at Sage Gateshead on 3rd February as Stuart debuted the music.

28 January 2015

Dramaturg and Producer on 'Muppits Die Hard' by The Wardrobe Theatre

It was always going to be a hard job following the success of previous alternative Christmas shows at The Wardrobe Theatre like Se7en Dwarfs and Oedipuss In Boots but our 2014 offering grew to be a truly phenomenal success. Muppits Die Hard ran between 10th December and finally ended on 17th January after 23 performances (included 6 added due to demand) all of them totally sold out! The show was seen be nearly 1400 people in the end, a truly staggering figure considering Home Alonely, our first alternative Christmas show performed to nearer 200. Muppits Die Hard began life in July 2014 as a handful of like-minded theatre-makers gathered in The Wardrobe Theatre for some research and development. Over the next few months puppets were designed and made and then in November, boosted by some Arts Council England funding we got to work devising and rehearsing with our creative team - Chris Collier as director, performers Corina Bona, Andrew Kingston and Harry Humberstone and myself as dramaturg and producer. Ed Patrick (Kid Carpet) provided all the music for the show (though largely from outside the rehearsal room) and we were joined for a couple of days during the process by the fantastic Bristol-based director, Emma Williams as a valuable outside-eye. With such a wonderful team in place, making the show was a brilliantly hysterical, creative process though we often had panic-attacks that we'd left ourselves too little time! The principal idea of the show was to create a comic, festive ode to Die Hard (the cult 1988 action film starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman), told primarily with puppets and borrowing The Muppets' irreverent, self-referential anarchy style. It proved a winning formula. Audiences raved about the show and such was the demand for tickets, if we had a larger theatre I really feel we could have doubled the number of audience we had in. We were interviewed for Made In Bristol TV (below - we're from 6 minutes in) and had a handful of very positive reviews.

It’s Christmas Eve and high above the city of LA, exceptional terrorist Hans Gruber has seized control of a 35-story skyscraper and is holding everyone inside hostage. As this villainous German carries out his murderous plan of deceit, there’s one thing he didn’t count on - a mysterious party crasher, a fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench, a pain in the ass - the grizzled, street-wise, wise-cracking, New York cop John McClane who’s willing to battle against the odds single-handedly to rescue Miss Piggy and save Christmas.

“Immense action scenes, recurring gags and a bombardment of self-referential silliness makes Muppits Die Hard by far the best show you’ll see in Bristol this Christmas.”
Stage Talks ★★★★

“A zany alternative to the Christmas schmaltz, grab a drink and enjoy the action.”
Whats On Stage Stage Talks ★★★★

"As always, there is an unbelievable amount of creativity and attention to detail that makes the anti-pantomime such a heroic spectacle."
Simple Lampoon