Wednesday 24 February 2016

Trying Something New

I'm typing this blogpost in a Holiday Inn Express, somewhere between St Andrews and Edinburgh. I'm on a tour of a play wot I wrote called The God Particle, a romantic comedy about science and religion.

I've also directed this production.

And I'm producing it.

And here I am, touring with the show doing the lighting and the sound.

Why on earth would I be doing something like that?

You might think I'd have better things to do than slotting parcans onto a lighting bar in an Episcopal church in Scotland. But you'd be wrong.

There are two reasons why you'd be wrong. The first is that I have a variety of scripts  and ideas in development and there's nothing I can do with them at the moment. This is mainly because comedy execs, controllers and commissioners have been playing yet another game of musical chairs, and while they do that, we comedy writers have to patiently wait for the music to stop, and for the execs to sit down and get comfortable. Then we have a precious eighteen month window to get a show commissioned, or moved onto the next stage, before the music starts again. Given how subjective, taste-driven and tribal comedy is, the constant moving of execs is incredibly disruptive. So I'm using this enforced hiatus to do something. And it's something quite important: Do Something.

And this is Something.

The God Particle is a play I wrote a few years ago, and it's done two small tours and a run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. But this is a new production, with a new cast (Anna Newcome and Joshua Leese. See pic below) I've never directed before. So I thought I'd try my hand at directing. I don't want to be a director, but it's been a really interesting experience, helping me to appreciate how directors see things. I assumed the writer in me would want to constantly change the script to make it work better, but almost every time, the cast and I have found a way of making the script work. We've only tinkered with a couple of lines here and there, which has surprised me.

It's also been wonderful to rehearse something more than twice. That's how much time you get to rehearse in radio comedy. Half a day for two episodes. In single-camera TV, you don't even get that. You just get a read-through, when you're more worried about the integrity of the script than anything else. You're not really looking at performance - or at least not the nuances. For this production, we've had two weeks of rehearsal, and then we get to tweak and tinker as we do the play each night. It's great fun.

I've learned that lighting
is more complicated now.
There's this thing called DMX?
And then there's the lighting, which is not something I've ever done before. There is no doubt in my mind that this play is never going to win any lighting awards. It's not that sort of play anyway. And our options are often limited given the lights we can afford and the 'unforgiving' venues we're playing: normally churches built hundreds of years ago with enormous pillars and immovable pews. You need an act of parliament to move anything. So finding a different solution to each space every night has been fun, challenging and interesting.

And then there's the schlepp of packing it away, putting it on the van and getting back on the road, which I'm sure does me some good. And talking to the audience afterwards. And trying to sell them a copy of the script or an audio CD.
The Open Road

There is also the fact that I'm close proximity with with a cast of two, who are fifteen years younger than me and who have different perspectives on the world. There's lots of talking and swapping of anecdotes in the van and in downtime. Plus our hosts have often been from very different backgrounds and countries: Scots, Episcopalians, a Latvian-born American, academics. And I've now seen Dundee and St Andrews for the first time.

In short, it's all stuff to write about and perspectives to weave into the characters of the next sitcom. More points of references and more anecdotes. In a way, I'm almost grateful for the latest infuriating spin of the Comedy Controller Carousel.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to drive a van to Cumbria and tonight I stay in beautiful town of Keswick.

By the way, the play can be seen at these venues.

Rev Dr Gilbert Romans (Joshua Leese) & Dr Bex Kenworthy (Anna Newcome)

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