Monday, 17 December 2012


 I am, in many senses of the word, a very lucky person. At the moment, I exist in a semi-constant state of wonder at the brilliant things that the day to day contains and the brilliant people that I get to spend these days with.

As I type, Luke has just got out of bed; Ed is lying reading What Dreams May Come; Veronica is training to be a teacher; The Boy James is being performed in America; Louis & Brian are putting the finihing touches to a Beulah and Some Small Love Story Tour; A Christmas Carol is getting brilliant reviews and audiences at The Lamb & Lion Inn; I am planning a bunch of great stuff with York Theatre Royal; I'm going for a beer with Joe Hufton later and Tom Bellerby is still tweaking and working on the show. I spent the mornign sending emails and the afternoon writing down ideas. My parents have installed Christmas in their house and this year my sister and her fiance are around for the festive season too. Jim is back next week and we will get to play lots of music.

A packed pub room at #LittleFest
These are little details, and I know they are very personal to me. But they all add up a wonderful bit of life time. I finished reading The Perks Of Being A Wallflower yesterday. In it, Charlie talks about looking at old photos of his parents. He says that the way they look and the way they talk about those memories makes you feel like they were the glory days, and that you will never be as happy as those memories. He realises though, later, that these are our glory days and we must make sure that our children know they are as happy as we were in their glory days. I like the idea of glory days. These feel like glory days.

I never remember writing plays really - or at least the good ones. They just kind of happen with lots of other peoples input. I never feel like they belong to me. I don't really feel like my glory days belong to me, rather I owe them to everyone who makes everything quite as wonderful as it is. I owe the last 12 months or so to a lot of wonderful wonderful people. Far too many to mention by name, but in the last 12 or so months the following things have happened by no fault of mine:

Holy Moly & The Crackers
The Little Festival Of Everything opened it's door in Coxwold for the first time.
William, The Fastest Train To Anywhere, The Boy James and HOT went to Australia.
The Mystery Plays performed to over 30,000 people with over 2,000 people involved.
We made Beulah which got loads of great reviews, loads of great feedback and performed to some of the best people.
The Little Festival Of Everything opened its doors for the second time in Coxwold and then in South Hill Park and Edinburgh.
In Edinburgh we performed a lot, drank a lot, sang a long, met and played with lots of brilliant brilliant people and had ball.
Made good friends with Holy Moly & The Crackers and toured If The River Was Whiskey.
Louis & Brian decided to tour Beulah & Some Small Love Story - so we started planning that.
We mounted and remounted A Christmas Carol.
We played lots of gigs, sang lots of songs, danced lots of dances, met lots of brilliant people and drank most of the booze.
I got engaged.

I have realised, as I often do, that people are the best thing. People make up our glory days.

I am working on/dreaming about a new show called Babylon. I think it's a good idea, but that doesn't mean it is. It's a story about Kings and Queens and the beautiful lands of our homes after they have been torn to pieces. It's about what we love and treasure. It's about what we hold near and dear and what we should keep safe in the world. It's part post-folk-apocalyptic and it's part about the beginning of a utopia. It's a big story, but hopefully can be simply told.

The thing is, I want to tell it with as many people as possible.

After spending time running festivals and events and what not, I have met and played with so many brilliant musicians, storytellers, artists etc and each one of them makes me feel like I want to do what they do. So I think we should try and do it together, instead of being exclusive about how we make work.

So, I'd like to make Babylon as a big story. I want to structure the telling of it like a band structures their line up.

The Buffalo Skinner
A band might be a four piece band: Guitar, bass, drums and keys. But you will see that band play a gig with 8 of them; they'll add violin, accordion and horns. Then you might just see two of them, unplugged doing an acoustic set in a cafe. I want to do that with Babylon. I want to involve all the brilliant people I know in the telling of a big and, I think, exciting and important story. And, logically, if all the people I have met this year, and the people who I have spent more time with over the years, are quite as brilliant as I think they are, then they must know even more brilliant people. I want to spread a story, a song, an idea across lots of people and lots of places.

I don't know how to do that, but I'd quite like to find out.

I want us to share some glory days with some more dancing, singing, playing, drinking, storytelling and having a ball. People are brilliant - they deserve to give and receive brilliant things. I'd like to make things together. I want to find theatres, pubs, halls, front rooms, back rooms, parks, streets, cabaret bars and anywhere else where we can start to tell our story. I want to find bands, storytellers, musicians, illustrators, directors, dancers, performers, actors, singers, puppeteers and whoever else who can help me start telling the story.

I need to find the best way to start starting.

Maybe, over the year, I'll take photos of it all so I've captured the glory days.

A pretty picture of a butterfly
Maybe I'll talk to Joe in the pub tonight about Babylon. Maybe it can start there.

Ideas - give me a shout:

To all involved in my last year - I am remarkably grateful.

To all those involved in the next - I can't bloody wait.


Monday, 23 July 2012

People Who Need People

Last night we started the technical rehearsals for The York Mystery Plays 2012. This is a massive project, with 2 casts of 250 community members each and the custom built 1400 seater auditorium. There are also innumerable community volunteers involved with costume making, prop making, front of house, stage managing, crew, photography - you name, people are there and willing to make it happen.

Today I quickly caught Jethro to give him a key to a shed to get some props out as he is in a van heading up to Edinburgh to start our Belt Up Theatre build. This will be out 5th year at the fringe making bespoke environments for people to come and enjoy our stories in.

Also today, Luke and my Dad are in Edinburgh, also in a van, preparing the space for LittleFest, a festival which will bring together some of the most exciting artists at the fringe to play together under one roof and without the usual competition that is so rife at the fringe.

Today I got an email about dates for If The River Was Whiskey, a gig and a show by the brilliant Holy Moly & The Crackers which we will rural tour across Autumn & Spring.

Last month we did two Little Festivals Of Everything, one in Coxwold and in Berkshire, which gathered a whole bunch of incredible people from near and far to come and try out some work and spend some time with artists and with audience.

Also today I will do some more work on our little Beulah tour after the fringe in Autumn. We'll head to pubs and village halls. 

We all use the phrase, 'Oh I'd love to...' followed by a list of things we'd dream of doing. Mine includes running a pub; running some sort of arts farm in the countryside with performance, development and workshop space as well as a cafe; run an arts centre; write stories for people.

It's perhaps a little slow of me to realise, but last night stood on our custom built stage with a backdrop of the ruined wall of St Mary's Abbey, I realised exactly what the York Mystery Plays is about: it is purely, simply and wonderfully about people. It's about bringing people together to create something spectacular which we could never create without each other. All too often in theatre we get wrapped up in ourselves, in making things precise and correct, and we fill in all the holes so that noone can access it anymore. But the Mystery Plays is the opposite of that, it is made from the very bricks and mortar of the city. The city is inside the plays. And it will never be a soullessly precise piece of theatre, because it has to much soul, too much love and care and, frankly, too many people to to be able to quash the soul out of it. 

Stood looking at the stage, when the angels first come on and when the garden of eden comes on and when the whole company first arrive, it is incredible. It is incredible because it is truly and utterly alive - not in the same way that a tightly knit and well drilled Chekhov is made to feel alive - it is alive because it is full of the life of real and superb people. It is such a wonderful difference. 

And then, after realising this, I realised what links all the above together - it's about people. People are fantastic and fascinating and surprising and breathtaking. 

Belt Up's shows can be electric. They are never the same twice. This is because we let people bodily in to the story - they can sit in it, play in it and become a part of that world. Our bar nights are about people being together. Simple but very good fun.

The Flanagan Collective is a pleasure to run because it is about talking with people, taking shows to people or letting people bring shows to us. It's not a machine, it's a real conversation.

The Little Festival Of Everything is magical because it brings people together, it levels the playing field and it lets people relax, chat, laugh and experiment; all with people they wouldn't otherwise have spent that time with.

I would like to run a pub because that's where a lot of people go. A pub is a place made purely for people, you can't fill in all the holes yourself, the people are the final and most important part of the piece.

A whole arts farm could let people in at every possible door. To stay, to visit, to make, to play, to drink, to eat, to help, to enjoy. 

All these things work because we let people in, and we actually let them in. This is why, for me, a fourth walled piece of theatre behind a proscenium arch is difficult, because there is nowhere for people to get in to it - they just stand outside and watch - you can't touch, talk, move around in that place, you are separate in every way. The piece is finished without you, they've done it on their own.

What I have learnt so far through The Mystery Plays is how phenomenal people are, in their glory and simplicity of being just that: people. The York Mystery Plays are filled with, built by and loved by people. There is a passion that sits inside all of it that is worthy of more than just reviews and theatrical praise, it is what the society should be made of: people working together to make something very special, something which they own, their own piece of magic which takes it's rightful place in history - theatrical, cultural and, most importantly, personal history. 

I hope that in our own ways, Belt Up, FlanCol & LittleFest will at least let people in to something special which they give to and can take from. I hope over the last 5 years people have enjoyed getting inside Belt Up shows and creating some spectacular moments - our favourite moments and memories. I hope the shows we carrying taking to people with FlanCol keep being an open conversation and we keep talking to people for as long afterwards as we do at the minute, because we like talking to people. I hope LittleFest keeps allowing such diverse people to come together and to spend time, as well as test ideas, but more importantly to eat and drink and talk and meet new people.

If ever I get a pub or a farm, I'll let you know. 

There are hundreds of things I could say in praise of Belt Up, FlanCol, LittleFest and The Mystery Plays - and all things that I could take no credit for. But it all comes down to people, to things that we could never do on our own, about people giving a little bit of themselves to something. People giving a little bit of themselves to some art, imagination, a story; and idea which because of them, becomes something remarkably beautiful and full of soul. That is very special indeed.

When I grow up, oh, I'd love to do that. And I'm very proud to be a part of it now.

[The Mystery Plays run from 2-17 August. / @YorkMystery2012]

[Belt Up Theatre runs from 2-17 August. / @BeltUpTheatre]

[#LittleFest runs from 2-27 August. / @FlanCol]

Monday, 13 February 2012

Cowboys in Australia

I often complain a bit – talk about how there should be more opportunity, more support for young artists and companies. I often think that it should made a lot easier for us to access the levels of infrastructure that we could really benefit from. And I do believe all of this – of course I do – and I will generally do all I can to help people to make things happen, because often making things happen can be hard and not a lot is often done to make it easier.

However, there are benefits to being young and not wrapped up in infrastructure or three year plans, even though most of the time that’s what I’d quite like. I was in a conversation with a friend of mine the other day, Mr Liam Evans Ford who runs Sprite and Factory Theatre companies. I described myself as a bit of a cowboy, not because I ride horses and herd cattle, but because I am still at that stage where you can kind of do stuff just because you want to. Sometimes it doesn’t have to make massive financial or career development sense, sometimes it’s okay to do it just because it’s fun.

In the early hours of Friday morning I will drive Veronica Hare to Manchester airport. She is flying out to Australia to perform at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. She is performing William for The Flanagan Collective. Joe Hufton is going too, to perform The Fastest Train To Anywhere also with FlanCol. Jethro Compton, Dominic Allen and Serena Manteghi are going out for Belt Up Theatre, produced by Jethro, to perform Outland by Dom and The Boy James by me. Damsel Sophie is already there, she left last week, to perform her new cabaret, HOT in Melbourne and then Adelaide. Sam Krylonksy, who is normally ASM at York Theatre Royal is going out too, she’s working as a Stage Manager out there.

Between all that, I have three shows that I’ve written and one which I’ve directed. Two shows with The Flanagan Collective, two shows with Belt Up Theatre and one with Damsel Sophie. What’s perfect is that regardless, the whole thing will probably be very fun. Why? Because we get to go to Autraslia and pretend that it’s work. Yes, of course, it is work and we will all work hard – but it is work in Australia. For people our age that it pretty cool. It’s quite cool to say ‘Sorry, I can’t do that day, I’ll be working in Australia.’

I’m only going out for two weeks to catch up with everything. But even that sounds cool, heading off to Oz just to ‘catch up with everything.’

So a bunch of us who are normally to be found in cheap pubs will be lauding it in the height of Australian summer. We will make shows and perform them, we will meet new people – people who we would never meet in London, York or Edinburgh – and we will have new conversations about new things. We’ll meet new artists and watch new shows. We’ll probably come back with lots of new ideas and we will probably have conversations which start ‘When I spent some time working in Australia…’ and you will have permission to slap us.

So even though a lot of the time some of us get sick of working from our bedrooms and pretending they are actually an office, as much as some of us moan about rehearsing in living rooms and making costumes out of our old clothes, despite the fact that all of us don’t have a three year plan or a neatly written list of touring contacts – we do get to go and play in Australia for a little bit. It feels like a treat.

If you read this and you are at the Adelaide Fringe then drop us a line…we’ll be the white, pasty British kids, giddy on Australian sunshine.