We’ve Never Had It So Good/Bad, By Stephen Hill

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I wasn’t sure what to write this blog about. First of all I was going to do something about being a stand up, now I can’t (cheers Mike). So I was a bit stumped, until I had two seperate conversations with two totally unrelated people about the same subject on Sunday. The first one was complaining about the lack of decent programmes on television, said he never watches telly anymore, bemoaned the fact that there are a million more channels but he can never find anything worth watching and basically implied that, as far as he was concerned, the box in the corner was just there for decoration. Later on another of my mates called me and started chatting about the new Sky Atlantic channel that he recently subscribed to. He raved about Treme and Inland Empire, which he described as “The best television show ever”. He told me how lucky he felt he was to be able to experience first hand big budget motion picture quality on the small screen and how in years to come “people will look back at now and talk about it as the golden age of television”.

That’s two pretty polar opposite opinions, obviously. It got me thinking, out of the two, who’s right. In my opinion they kind of both are.

Now before I start on why let me just be crystal clear, there has always been good stuff and bad stuff for us to watch or listen to or to go and see. I’m well aware of that. I just think that never before has there been such a chasm between good and bad. The good is great, the bad is terrible. Obviously on TV the US has been churning out some of the most gripping shows you’ll ever likely to see for a good ten years now. From The Sopranos, The West Wing and The Wire to the a for mentioned Inland Empire via Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Curb Your Enthusiasm. All from the country that brought me Dallas, Saved By The Bell, Hanging With Mr. Cooper and Baywatch in my youth, I think we can safely say the quality is on a upward curve. It’s not just the states either, in the last few years the British have not only continued to create top quality period drama such as Cranford and Downton Abbey but we’ve began to compete in terms of contempary shows like The Thick Of It, Life On Mars, Any Human Heart and This Is England ’86. All over the world, from Wallanderto Summer Heights High, there are excellent shows being made. Well done everyone. Isn’t telly good! Well, not quite. Three words should make you realise this. Take. Me. Out.

It might seem a bit cruel of me to pick on Take Me Out when I had the likes of Snog/Marry/Avoid, The Only Way Is Essex, Total Wipeoutor anything involving Katie Price to single out as the the main contributor to the downfall of television. The truth is, it’s the one I’m most familiar with. I actually watch it. Quite a lot actually. I watch it the same way as you watch conjoined twins trying to sit opposite each other at a booth in pizza hut. Full of guilt but with your mouth wide open and eyes popping out of your head. Here’s the premise – 30 morons judge one desperate moron until the lone moron get to judge the morons that don’t think he’s that much of a moron until only two remain and are whisked away to a tropical Island where they fall off a water ski, have dinner and awkward conversation, slag each other off on camera behind each others backs and are sent packing back to obscurity. Hosted by Paddy McGuiness.Off the Greggs adverts. Moron.

As I said, bit harsh of me to single that one show out. It could be one of thousands. But the fact is if Aliens came down to earth and wanted to know about human culture and you played them an episode of Inland Empire followed by an episode of Take Me Out they not only wouldn’t believe it was the same medium, they would struggle to believe they were both made by the same species. It doesn’t just seem to be on television either, Inception was as good a summer blockbuster as any you could mention. When it left tbe cinema it seemed to be replaced by an endless succesion of Katherine Heigel rom -coms (She’s a scatty dress maker…Who finds love! She’s a party animal who inherits a baby…Who finds love! She’s a paraglegic croquet teacher with tourettes…Who finds love!). The record industry is eating itself whole and spewing out the same humourless, souless, pop acts. It’s even infiltrated rock music, check out Liam Gallaghers new band Beady Eye for the worst example of the tired, regressive, cliche driven, phoned in nonsense that has become a staple of mainstream rock and roll. Labels put it out as they can’t run the risk of losing money trying something new. Meanwhile bands are forming and promoting themselves on Myspace to create a loyal and comitted fan base from day one in scenes that would usually be nothing more than a local concern. Meaning bands that would usually be tossed aside by labels are flourishing at grass roots level (Djent being the current hipster buzz word [which is why I'm mentioning it]. Hearing Periphery’s youthful, swaggering and original sound up against Beady Eye’s dopey, 60′s obsessed, shoulder shrugging is a breath of fresh air). For every War Horse there is a We Will Rock You (Ben Elton bullying stage school brats into spinning Freddy Mercury’s grave). For every Stewart Lee, my favourite stand up ever, there is a Jeff Dunham, a racist hiding his racism behind puppets. Chalk and cheese the lot of them.

Now you can say a few things here “Your just jealous of their success!” Not true, don’t like Osama Bin Laden either and it’s not just because I’m jealous that he built a better den than me. “Well people like Jeff Duham and We Will Rock You and Katherine Hiegel films (I’m yet to meet anyone who likes Beady Eye) they must be good if people like them!” People liked Hitler enough to vote for him, I’m sure history will prove me right. “That’s just your opinion!” Yeah it is. It’s also my fucking column, you want your say sit in front of a computer for two hours like me and have it. Shall we continue?…Good.

What I can’t quite grasp is why? Why have the good and the bad shot off in opposite directions like two particularly strong magnets?  Is it a reflection of our society? The haves certainly seem less attainable than ever to the have nots. Yeah, maybe. But personally I think it just comes down to more… more stuff. More TV, bands, films, plays, poets, stand ups, actors, dancers, jugglers and celebrities than ever before. Not as many plumbers as there used to be. Maybe a few of us should do that? We won’t, of course. Meaning that the good will have to continue to work all the harder to create something to stand out against the tsunami of entertainment contantly hurtling towards us.And the bad… Well the bad will carry on, to quote Stewart Lee, spoonfeeding us their warm diarrhoea. Which do you want then? Good or crap? Art Vs. Commerce? The incredible against the insufferable? It’s all there you know, more than ever. All you have to do is choose. SINGLE MAN REVEAL YOURSELF!!!

“You must be brave..?”….”Nah, just want to be loved”, By Mike Garnell

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It’s often been said that you should write about what you know. I, however, don’t really know what it is I know – so I thought, instead I’d write about what I do. But then I started to doubt whether I knew enough about what it is I do do (he he, Oh grow up Mike!) and wasn’t sure if I should write anything at all. Really, a blog is autobiographical and why on earth would anyone be interested in reading about my exploits? Surely I’m not arrogant enough to think folks should waste minutes of their lives reading about me?

Well, it’s this initial insecurity and absolute arrogance that forms a perfect base to be a stand up comedian.

There truly can’t be many feelings to rival the intense satisfaction, joy and fulfillment from making a room packed full of strangers laugh at the thoughts that YOU have come up with. The sound of a cacophony of applause aimed at you can fill you with warmth for many days. However, all the laughs, all the rounds of applause, all the plaudits that can come your way tend to boil down do what really warms a comedians cockles: People LIKE you. Of course this is delving deep into some parts of my psyche hidden from daylight for many years but what else could drive someone to put themselves through those early gigs of Monday nights, rain, empty rooms, sweaty palms, words stuck in the back of the throat, lips unable to move as 7 or 8 people (if you’re hitting the dizzy heights) stare straight through you. The shear panic that accompanies the disinterested compere’s war cries of fake clapping and whooping, beckoning you to those baying for blood. Bloody hell this is starting to sound like Gladiator. If Gladiator was set in a grot shop and Russell Crowes character played by a whinging Hobbit. The point is it’s a bit shit to begin with.

But once you find that common ground with an audience, once you beat their stubborn, frowning, miserable faces into submission (going Gladiator again, sorry). Once that git at that front who yawned at your first punch line, shakes your hand at the end, you kinda know its all been worth it. You’ve gained a kind of acceptance. The opinion of others should be meaningless. As long as you believe unwaveringly in what you are doing, whatever it may be - if it’s a path you want to tread, then bugger, tits and bollocks to other people. However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to Stand Up. A Stand Up without laughter is like a fisherman with no rod, or a Baywatch extra with real boobs. It is the laughs, the fishing rod, or the fake boobs that become essential to what you do… Erm, I may have lost my thread on that last bit, hopefully you haven’t noticed.

If you don’t want people to laugh with (not at) you, if you don’t care if they liked your act or not, then you may as well shout at a mirror for 20 minutes.  Or perform in front of Mother reciting cheeky limericks in your front room (you do that for your Mum’s right? Anyone?). Anyway the point is, it gets better.

And this is where the arrogance helps. If you think it’s going to go badly, if you think the crowd doesn’t want to listen to you, if you think they hate you, then, yeah they will. Believe that you are great, that you are funny, even if you doubt it and don’t believe it, never let the audience know. Through no-one’s fault but my own I myself have been swallowed by crowds in a haze of downtrodden pessimism, hangovers and underprepared material. Walking to the stage with a swagger/strut/stride and looking like you’ve done it hundreds of times, letting your carefully crafted, fine-tuned words hit those delicate little ears in range, all those small yet well thought out facial expressions pushing the point are crucial in getting the audience eating out your lap (that sounds right).It’s almost a battle. It’s you versus them. The crowd behind a wall of scorn versus the awkward, solo figure with a microphone for a weapon. Jokes versus heckles. Sober professionalism versus drunken stags. I’m ashamed to say that to create this façade of invincibility I’ve even used entrance music; favorite’s being Oasis’ Rock n Roll Star or Hulk Hogan’s Theme tune. I’ll say it for you: Tosser.

All this preparation and some nobhead spills his pint at the first punchline, everyone whoops and cheers in unison, you become a forgotten figure and skull off back to the shelter of the night bus, ready to go again the next night to repeat the whole ridiculous charade over and over again. And for want of a more articulate and well thought out sentence, I bloody love it!

Working Actor PART II, By Oliver Ford

So…18th – 20th March

Had my audition on Friday morning in Covent Garden.  Lugged my guitar over there in the pouring rain…the nerves mounting up.  I’ve learnt the piece and understand it and really like it but something really, really scares me about Shakespeare.  I almost feel as though it’s just tocomplicated for my tiny, south London brain.  Even when I understand perfectly clear what the words mean and actually find the dialogue moving and/or funny my brain tells me that I do not understand it at all and that I am saying it all wrong.  Stupid brain!

Get to the audish an hour early and am asked if I would like to go in early by a very nice woman.  I go in to the room and there is six of the friendliest, most comforting faces I’ve ever seen in an audition.  Can I play my song they ask?  Sure!  It’s one I’ve written and I duly plonk it out in front of them.  They give me a great round of applause which makes me feel like a million bucks.  I do the reading and it’s all very nice.  They offer great direction and even laugh occasionally.  I finish up, shake them all by the hand and then run out into the rain happy.  Now, I probably won’t get this but it has been very worthwhile and has rid me some of my fears about the Bard, so much so that I go straight to Waterstones and buy Bill Bryson’s book about him.  As I am walking back to my gaff I notice Kevin Spacey will be playing Richard III at the Old Vic in the summer and that The Globe is doing Hamlet this year.  I’ve decided I want to see them both.  Maybe it’s time to see what all the fuss is about…!

The rest of the weekend was working at Duck Tours.  Quite a nice weekend.  The weather was lovely so that helps as the punters were all in good spirits, there are far harder ways to earn a few bob than showing tourists round London.  I should know I have worked in pubs, cafe’s, restaurants, call centres, bars, Harrods, fruit stalls and the London Dungeon whilst ‘resting’ and none of them have been as nice as my current job.

Now…a new week.  The agent may ring of course with an audition that may change my life forever.  They may even ring with another Shakespeare audition…I won’t be scared this time. Before I sign off I would like to plug a forthcoming Wireless Theatre piece.  It’s called ‘Dave and Bert’s Big Break’ and is written and directed by my good self.  So when it comes on the site please, PLEASE listen to it!!! Tell your friends, romans, countrymen (Julius Ceaser by Shakespeare!) and let me know what you think.

I’m now going to enclose a song I recorded this week which is also the one I sang in the audition for ‘Comedy of Errors’.  So long suckers!

Come On, Get Along By Oliver Ford

A Working Actor, by Oliver Ford

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So a blog…about an out of work actor.  Ok, here goes.  Got up.  Checked the phone.  Nothing there so went back to bed.  Got up at 3 checked the phone and nothing there so watched Deal or no Deal.  Still nothing there at 5.30 so went to pub came back at half 11 pissed and went to bed. x that by 45 years and you have the life of a jobbing actor.

JOKES!  That is the concept of what a lot of people think the life of a jobbing actor is but actually whether you are employed or not, being an actor is an incredibly varied experience.  You meet loads and loads of cool people - if you fancy your chances as a turn, this industry really throws up some of life’s greats (and to be fair some of the biggest wankers but you can’t have everything, and anyway meeting an utter twat makes you a) feel better about yourself and b) is good because as an actor you can STUDY them and work out why they are such a cretin!) and though it can be stomach charmingly uncertain, you never know what you may be doing next and that is all rather exciting.

Today I woke up at 9.  Went for a 45 minute jog and then came back to attempt to learn two whopping great big scenes from ‘A Comedy of Errors’ which I have an audition for on Friday.  Now, I know nothing about this play except that it is a Shakespeare ‘comedy’.  Reading it hasn’t worked, I still didn’t understand it so I watched the BBC version on YouTube from 1983.  The sets look like they were made by kids in a play-school and there is some really dreadful acting in it, but what amazes me is that the part I am up for is played by Roger Daltrey!!!!  The sex god from The Who!  Doing a turn at old Shakers!!!  Mental.  I finish the film and actually it has helped.  Now back to the learning.

Learning lines is essential if you want to do some performing.  There is no way out of it.  They have to be learnt but it is hard!  Nothing sticks and that is happening today.  I realise as well that I have a stand-up gig later and have very little material so should cobble some stuff for that.  I tried stand-up about 4 years ago and though it is utterly terrifying I like it enough to have a go when asked.  It is another string to the bow and really it boils down to the fact that once you’ve tried stand up then nothing is scary EVER again.  So I spend the next 2 hours lying on my bed thinking about little funny things, pace up and down performing them to the bedroom wall and just generally become less inclined to learn the lines of a play written between 1592 and 1594.  Also, with this audition I have to play a song on my guitar, so that’ll need practising.  I pick the guitar up and practise a song that I have known how to play for two years for about an hour and a half…anything to not learn those lines.

So by 5 that there is no point anymore.  The gig is looming and I have to hike it over to Streatham for it so the lines will have to be learnt tomorrow.  The audition is Friday so it will be fine.  I’ll spend all day doing it.  Oh no, hang on , I can’t.  I’m at work all day.  I have a job!  Of course I do!  I need something to pay for all that Stella Artois. I’ve got five back to back tours tomorrow on London Duck Tours my employers at the moment.  London’s ‘Amazing Amphibious Adventure’!  Using the skills I have as an actor and stand up I can make my tour quirky, informative and fun.  On paper.  After two years at it sometimes that is impossible as was proved on Sunday when a woman (that looked a bit like Nanny from Count Duckula) came in to the office to complain that the tour guide she just had was a right ‘moody bastard’.  I was bored, it was tour 5.  I couldn’t look happy.  I’m not THAT good an actor.  However, generally, I’m lucky with my day job.  It pays well and the most important factor is that it is flexible, allowing me to dart off to auditions willynilly…none of this is going to get those lines learnt though…

I go to my gig and it is really nice.  Audience large and friendly, some great acts on and also some really dire ones!  But that is part of the course.  It over runs so I’m still there at 11.  I have a pint with the comics after so now its 12 and a night bus back so get in at 12.40.  To late for any lines.  I’ll do it tomorrow.  After my 5 tours.

‘Get Pissed and Have Some Fun’ By Oliver Ford

Some Writing by Peter Davis

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Right. So I was asked if I wanted to write a blog for the Wireless Theatre Company. I did, so I said yes. And here we are.

Hi. My name is Peter Davis. I am a writer/director/performer and have been involved with The Wireless Theatre Company in a few productions. I thought I’d write a little bit about writing. As I’m a writer, and writing is what I do, I thought that writing was a good thing to write about. In fact, you can’t see this but I’m actually writing right now. Well … I was but then I stopped to think about whether that last line was funny or not. Then I wrote that. Then went back and put the “was” in italics so it scanned better.

Anyway …

When Mariele first started the company I said to her, “Right. I’m going to write you a radio play.”And I started writing one. That eventually took me two years to finish!

It was a sci-fi comedy called “Galaxicabs”, set onboard an inter-stellar taxi. I started it, then it just got stuck. I had an opening I was happy with, and had a detailed idea for the rest of the story, but just couldn’t seem to get it on paper. Or screen. Every time I opened up Word and looked at the script it felt like I was wading through treacle. I’d procrastinate, panic, then quickly quit Word and watch Star Wars instead. Eventually (and I cannot for the life of me remember how or why) I just snapped, and finished the whole thing in about four or five hours one evening. I looked back on it, and was pleased.

All my plays for Wireless have been comedies. My two favourite genres are comedy and horror, so these are naturally the ones I am drawn to as a writer, and the Wireless Theatre Company has been a wonderful platform for my comedy output. My answer to the question, “Why are you telling this story?” is, “To make people laugh.” People will always need cheering up, and I know how comedies always make me feel better, so I want to share that with as many people as I can. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely altruistic – I do want to eventually make lots of money for doing this – but that’s not my starting point. I want to cheer people up. That should be my job title – “Cheer Creator”. I just want to make people happy. And for them to tell me I’m amazing.

The hardest thing for a writer is deciding why he wants to tell a specific story. You’re going to put all this effort into a story, a structure, characters and dialogue, so you need to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you’re telling a piece of drama, what is it about that particular story that makes you want to share it with other people? And how are you going to do that in an entertaining way that they will care about? Sometimes the answer to “Why?” is, “To make a lot of money.” These are the scripts that ultimately fail. They try too hard to please the potential audience and end up being empty. If you don’t care about your story, nobody else will.

Well there we are – is 550 words long enough for a blog? Oh, it’s 560 now. Oh no, hang on …

I’m going now. In fact I have recently started writing “Galaxicabs – Part 2”, so I suppose I’d better get back to that really. If it’s anything like the last one it should be on the website by Summer 2013!

Recording Weekend, TheOffies and Some Inspirational Foley! (By Mariele)

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We had a great recording session this weekend. Our session started on Sunday at 9.30am (Sunday!!!) for the recording of Act II and III of Wild Elusive Butterfly by John Park. It’s a fabulously deep and complex play and we worked really hard to get it all done in the allocated five hour session (we over run only by half an hour, impressive huh?) Under the guide of director George Maddox, the technical skills of Carlos Ziccarelli, and with a huge cast waiting patiently and professionally in the green room, we finally completed our mammoth and maticulous recording schedule – of course the only decent thing to do after that was to head to the pub!

Immediately from there I had to run to catch the wonderful Off West End Awards (Offies) which took place at Wilton’s Music Hall – which is such a charming, slightly derelict but totally full of character venue and perfect for a theatre awards ceremony. The informal ceremony was hosted by the fabulous Simon Callow who was dress gloriously head to toe in plum! It was wonderful to see all those people getting recognised for all the hard work that is put in to live theatre and our dear friend Sofie Mason – the genuis behind offwestend.com put on a marvellous show. WTC were even interviewed for offwestend.com’s video! I wonder if we’ll make it. I am pretty sure I spoke at a million miles and hour and probably could only be understood by dogs. All in all a very exciting and tiring weekend.

We didn’t record any sound effects at all in the studio this weekend, we’ll leave all that to Malcolm Thorp our newest super-talented editor. It seems these days that can be done more and more. Is it a shame that we no longer need a proper foley artist in the studio with us? Our editors always manage to get the very best SFX for our productiosn.  We certaintly like to use live Foley in our Wireless Theatre LIVE recordings – it’s part of the show. We do quite basic stuff really – but take a look at this video of the ART OF FOLEY by Michael Coleman, Gary Hecker and Coleman Films – it’s incredible. We can’t stop watching it. Being a Foley artist is a real skill and we’ve still got a lot to learn from this guy. Have a look and check out a real pro!

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