Sunday, 25 November 2007

Monty Hall Problem? What Monty Hall Problem?

(originally posted on myspace here)

 Hello again. I haven't been here in ages. Obviously I lack motivation. There is a cure for this though. I will come to it.

I haven't really been writing for Laurence and Gus either which is bad, there's going to be a read-through on Monday... It's just every time I've sat down to write since receiving the commission I've always seemed to end up returning - like Grendel - to a tired squall of my own making on Chris Goode's blog "Thompson's Bank Of Communicable Desire" (all hinted at in my last post - blimey - two weeks back!... It's been going on that long. Well it's over now, and actually it has a happy ending. If you're interested to know more, cut and paste this little honey:
I come in about half-way down and then never shut up. Actually I might try a summing up in my next post. No, come back.)
Anyway, yes, so as I was saying to the producer over a risotto, I am obviously phenomenally unmotivated.

What does Derren Brown suggest? Well now I know because I've finally got round to reading his book (not to motivate myself, no, that was not the idea, no... nor to find out if he uses stooges. He states unequivocally in the book that he doesn't though. I'm a little disappointed by that. I think it's fine if he does. I didn't want to know.) Anyway he suggests "Playing with Pictures". Visualizing the writing of this blog, according to Derren Brown, means that I should picture it from a FIRST-PERSON perspective (ie not looking on at myself writing this, my first clear mistake) and big like IMAX (like the one in Hertfordshire where Miss Meikle and I saw Beowulf - "MONSTAH!" - after driving through the first snow I've seen this winter. Actually, yeah, good thing I didn't stay in London that evening and get some writing done, I'd have missed the snow) I should "make the colours rich and intense", turn up the brightness, bring it in closer, in my face. And finally I should "add sizzle". Thus:

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And it works!

Later on Derren writes about the "Monty Hall Problem", and it's the following episode played out today at lunch (and slightly reminiscent of my conduct in the Thompson's squall) that I am actually here to record:
Me - Jess, do you know about "the Monty Hall Problem"?
Jess (with whom I work, and who is American) - I know about Monty Hall. No.
Me - There's three closed doors, and behind one is car and behind the other two there are goats, and you have to choose a door. Then I open a door behind which I know to be a goat. Okay? Now I ask you if you want to stick with your choice, or change and pick the remaining closed door. What do you do?
Jess - I stick.
Jess - No it's not.
Me - YES! YES! Okay, say there were a HUNDRED doors instead, and you picked one, and then I opened up NINETY-EIGHT doors and they all had goats and there was just now the two doors left again. Yours and mine. Think of the probability. Would you still stick with your first choice?
Jess - Yes.
Me - But that's wrong.
Jess - No it's not.
Me - Wh... why not?
Jess - Because you never asked me how I feel about goats.

Excelsior, Jess! I'll write about Shunt next time. Catch up then.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

(Floor) filler

(originally posted on myspace here)

I think I'm allowed to do this. What follows is some of a response from me to a response posted by Chris Goode in response to responses posted to his response to a Guardian interview with the new head of the Royal Court that name-checked Shunt thus:

"With the formally inventive companies like Punchdrunk or Shunt, I'm always impressed by the exploration of theatrical language. But the challenge is to ally that to rich content. To get those two things working together, you need a writer."

You can maybe guess what followed. Anger, some interesting marking out of artistic territory, and also some depressing and unnecessary marking out of artistic territory - none of the latter, I have to say, from Chris who, I think partly inspired by Sesame Street, appears on paper hearteningly keen on accepting and coordinating the differences between things.

For example: In his response to which this is a response Chris suddenly becomes sidetracked by the idea of "a building that you drop in to pretty much anytime, at least from mid-morning till midnight, and what you're able to do is sit with a rolling theatre event. You can just watch, or you can intervene; you can stay for five minutes or five hours. Like going to a gallery, or the pub, or a church."

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So I responded...
RE: your sidetrack, and churchgoing. The nearest thing to what you seem to be writing about here (and I do indeed pop into a church for the same reason I pop into a gallery, I was thinking about that recently, historically etc.) is the Shunt Lounge, which you don't like, and I'm interested why not. (There was stuff about this between you and Tassos [Stevens] a while back but I found it just very wordy and unclear what either of you were actually ever saying). Is it the public? You see, sometimes there is dancing, but even that relates a bit to what you and Ian are discussing... [The Ian here is Ian Shuttleworth... Shunt's first and greatest critical supporter (sorry that's another Ian, no Ian Shuttleworth hates Shunt) here found sensibly championing the "collective context" of a personal theatrical experience; in other words I suppose, yes your experience is personal, but part of that experience is that you're in a crowd. Even when, as in some promenade work, you choose to leave it.] A lot in fact [You might have to read over that again] Someone please try and untangle dancing's private/communal threads while we're here - and when I saw Bobby Francois [Shunt's first big big show] at the Drome, now I think of it, the audience did at one point start dancing. Just an aside really, not evidence of a project's merit.
And do you know about Nijinsky Karaoke, because your sidetrack has suddenly made that exercise seem very worthwhile?
[Here I post a link to the video up on my homepage. Then I pick up on something Chris says about a work being a testimony, and therefore public, but also necessarily to be presented by the testimonee, which I don't agree with, at ugly length:]
"This is who we are." I couldn't care less. Art need not be self-expression, simply expression... I've read it over again, no you're definitely wrong. And what happened to "the people coming out of my mouth" you discovered doing Hippo World? Any play text that is any good will REQUIRE the performer to implicate him or herself. That's an actor's job. You see this is what aggravated me so much when you kept talking about "asking these people to walk through fire" when working on Speed Death [his last show, a play]. Chris, YOU WERE WORKING WITH PROFESSIONAL FIRE WALKERS. That's their job! They WANT to walk through fire! ...

And I go on and on like that, but end I hope friendlily. Chris's is a great blog. Very funny (for example). Do give it a look:

I've been at Shunt a lot lately, doing work with David on "contains violence". I won't write about it here, I haven't the time. That will come next. Along with some thoughts on "the public" that week. It might just be worth adding though, while cannibalising my own opini-spew, something I found panning through the notebooks for Laurence and Gus which, while a year old now, still rings true:

I am in the business of making people pay attention, and learning how to make people pay attention and keep their attention - NOT because what I have to say is important, but because paying attention is important - and stories are a very good way of keeping people's attention, and so is music - and nor is comedy, which is why the writing of sketches comes so unnaturally to me, and why sketches packed with punchlines are so full of "Hey" & "And Just think..."

Laurence likes stories though. And Gus likes music. So, good. There was also this:

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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Brief (catching the light)

(originally posted on myspace here)

... And when I stumbled home from the party there on the kitchen table was a commission for 12 minutes of material for Laurence and Gus: Hearts and Minds - my first commission! - recording in December. So yes an excellent birthday, but I should probably not be blogging now but focusing instead on that brief: the eternal verities, hopes and fears, an intimate history of humanity, heartfelt knobgags (nobgags? the spelling of "nob", that was also brought up at the brief).

The Dungeon's nice and quiet now. (Perhaps too quiet: our senior actor emerged from his office with a shirt and forehead covered in pink dye just in time for a visit from York, which it turns out is what happens if you squeeze too hard on a stress reliever). I took five year's worth of notebooks onto the floor and, trying to catch the light in Whitechapel, panned for one-liners.

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Meanwhile Shunt had got its hand on the Blackpool illuminations. I spoke to a designer called Phillip who had accrued more than a thousand pieces before being let go. A designer - Blackpool had finally decided - was surplus to requirements, and Phillip spoke darkly of the flashing mess left in his wake as a giant fibreglass tulip very conspicuously bloomed above the bar.

Monday, 5 November 2007


(originally posted on myspace here)

An excellent party and I didn't even have to throw it.

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Ruffians, toffs and catty slags hanging by the gibbet at the Prospect of Whitby, watching the fireworks going off in Blackheath, sporting sparklers and gins, cakes and tails, stage blood and corsets. And Ms. Meikle makes it over with a big bag of watercolours, colouring sheets, pudding mix and "FOUR INTERNATIONAL GAMES" taped to a board for 99p. All for me! And let me here record that she whppped my ass at Chinese Checkers, and immortalize the butterflies coloured in by the stragglers at 4am washing their brushes in pink champagne, irrespective of insignia.

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Saturday, 3 November 2007

Where to Put the Present (with thanks)

(originally posted on myspace here)

 I had my birthday lie-in today, one day early. I was woken up by fireworks in the street so I knew that it must have already turned dark. On one side of the warm bed was my phone telling me it was half-past six in the evening, on the other lay three unread copies of 2000AD and at the foot, blocking my view of the shirts hung drying for a week now - currently from the venetian blinds - stood a large, white gift from my sister and her boyfriend.

Susy and David had warned me that it would be very big, and that it came in two parts currently standing in their corridor, wrapped, and that I might have nowhere to put it, so I went over to their place in Hampstead a couple of nights ago to take it home with me in a people carrier. It was a lovely evening. David was making his television debut in "History of the World Backwards" so we all sat and watched that and I showed them some of my scars from work and spilt the Chinese on the carpet. He was playing a George Harrison tribute act who crash-lands in the Amazon inadvertently inspiring the indigenous peoples' pudding bowl haircuts. (He's in the Bootleg Beatles in real life. Only he's Paul. I didn't know he could do George as well. I'm told he also does an excellent Syd.) On the way home the driver asked me if I'd ever been in prison, and then told me about a fight he'd witnessed the night before where someone had had his ear chewed off in the street. The driver told me, because I asked him, that he worked twelve hours a day six days a week and actually lived in Luton with his family. I think he was Indian. Seeing a man get his ear bitten off had clearly got him thinking about prison. He made about four hundred pounds a week.

Outside my house we unloaded the present, and I saw that on the former-pub-now-boarded-up-hole-in-the-ground on the corner Morgan from next-door had drawn a big picture of Leonardo da Vinci. He had lobster-claws instead of hands and the words "THE WORLD NEEDS A PAINT BRUSH AND A HUG!" coming out of him. It took two trips to get the present upstairs. I set it up in my room as an interim measure and then went online. I'd warned Susy and David that I would probably have to keep it in the attic until I had more space but it was too late now. What they'd given me was a large, white drawing table. A cast-iron cartoonist's drawing table and four pilot pens and a pad of A2. I had set it up as a sort of easel because of space. It looked really good. And hunched over my laptop I began to think about Heather, who when given a pair of boxing gloves for her birthday had decided she might as well learn how to box... I got up and stretched my legs... Outside of painting my face I hadn't held a brush in ages...

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Of course it was a drawing table, not actually an easel, so there was nothing to stop the paper occasionally slipping off, or the paint, but I had a lot of fun that night. I was up until six. As I have been every night since.

Hence the lie-in.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

shit and shithead (and the GURUN observation deck)

(originally posted on myspace here)

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Halloween. A three-day leave from the Dungeon starts today and I can tell it's gotten colder while I was inside because my shirts still aren't dry and it was British Summer Time when I hung them out five days ago. I've not that many work-related scars to show for the half-term push: a slight wonkiness from where I cracked my nose on Bedlam, a black toe from where I dropped the cleaver, some blood in my hair that turned out to be real from where I failed to clear the chain hang on no, okay maybe I have been showing signs of tiredness... A corporate event on Monday evening saw us warming up in Torture with an exercise that required us to evoke through collaborative improvisation a given landscape which the poor schnook who'd just been sent out would then have to guess ("Chess Championship", "The Final Frontier" etc. It's not that easy to evoke Uhura actually if you don't have a chair, very easy to topple). When the final landscape we were given turned out to be "Inside Simon's Head" everyone just started screaming. So yes I must have been showing signs of tiredness. Oh and he guessed it. Meanwhile next door in Shunt, Luke was stuffing my rubber double into a minicab to take to a party.

With my looted corpse the toast of Stoke Newington and the contents of my head a warm-up exercise I went to relax in Gordon's Wine Bar with some churlishly unloaded cheese, a deck of cards, a bottle of red and Ms. Meikle who was down from Potters' Bar, herself fast becoming the toast of the cat-neutering circuit. She taught me Shithead. It was very relaxing...

I'll explain those in a minute, but no I've been fine fine. Just busy. Simultaneously occupied and vacant. None of your business. Been looking forward to a few days off and a chance to kick back and enjoy some perspective.

... So it was very profitable to find myself at 11 o'clock this morning summoned to the twenty-ninth floor of Centre Point and staring out of a sound-proof window at Hyde Park, Wembley Stadium and this evening's weather rolling in over Chiswick. Here was perspective alright.
"Our clients have decided to write their own copy I'm afraid, and it's, um... incredibly repetitive. But what we want is, you know, warm and friendly... " In my booth there was a pint mug of about thirty pencils to the right of the microphone. The engineer, seeing that this was clearly too many as we came in, left me with three for some reason. On the other side of the glass before me was a plate of perfectly arranged biscuits no-one dared touch, an equally untouched dish of fuck-me fruit and two warm and friendly men unwittingly slinging my financial ass out of the fire. And beyond the sound-proof glass to my left: the bigger picture... SHIN! GURUN!

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An hour later and twenty-nine storeys down I happily bumped into David from Shunt outside a coffee shop in Portland Place taking a quick break from his day-job in anaesthetics, writing in a notebook. It's the first time I've seen him in a suit. I told him about the medical modelling. The last time I bumped into him making notes outside a CoffeeSomethingNationBucks he'd told me about the theatrical commission he'd just got from the Lyric Hammersmith which would let him try out the forty-odd remote headphones he'd already bought in bulk: The audience would stand outside on the balcony, watch an actor or actors in the building opposite, and through the cans be able to hear the inside of their heads (not screaming, I'm assuming, other stuff). Today he asked me if I wanted to be in it, and was I free to help him try something out at the Lounge next week. It wasn't even midday yet...

But man it's got late now. I'm meant to be resting. Instead the area beyond my peripheral vision has just switched from black to white.
I'll leave you then with some Manga sound effects from Eiji Otsuka and Housi Yamazaki's excellent "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service" which I bought because of the cover. All the speech balloons have been translated into English of course, so you have to keep switching between following the action from right to left and following the dialogue from left to right, while the sound effects - the Kapowees, the Screeches etc. - have been left as pictograms and then translated in a big glossary at the back (ie the front). And here, in no particular order, are some examples, verbatim:

baby crying

sound of a refrigerator door popping open

sound of propane stove

body slowly climbing in

sound of flapping mouths

splash of pebble hitting water

spirit being pulled into the bullet

last bit of the spirit being pulled in

sky rumbling

air crackling then loud lightning

sound of music being overheard on someone's headphones

sound of silence

sound of world spinning

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sound of a bolt falling through glasses at terminal velocity into eye socket

Happy Halloweeeen!