Over the weekend, Nigel took a trip to Devoted & Disgruntled 12 down in Bristol with some of our friends from Haringey Shed, and here are his thoughts...
Wow. What a weekend. As I sit here reflecting on all the talking, debating, tea-drinking, talking, idea-popping, provoking, sharing, asking, talking, expanding, despairing, and loving that went on, I feel quite overwhelmed. Of course I feel inspired and energised and positive, ready to attack this year with renewed vigour, but I also feel small, utterly inexperienced and naïve, a toddler staring up at all these adult types having all these important conversations about things they know lots about, and all I want to do is play with my toy car. But I think all that is a good thing. It's good to be surrounded by people with all kinds of deep and varied experiences, who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, who have considered how they feel about theatre for longer than I have. It makes me ask myself, what do I want to be in our fractured little theatre world? What do I want to stand for? What change do I want to make? What do I really care about? I have left D&D feeling that these questions really are important. It's not enough to just want to make fun theatre. Sometimes it is, because we need to be present more than anything, and I think having fun is the best way to do that. But to really have meaning, to really amount to something, I think I need to start answering these questions. Or start trying to answer them. And D&D is an amazing way to help in this journey. Anyway, back to what actually went down...
For those of you that don't know, Devoted & Disgruntled is the big theatre event of the year, run by Improbable. All these arty theatre types from all over come to gather and talk about anything and everything. It's a conference, but not as you know it. It's all run using an idea called Open Space Technology. Basically, it is completely democratic, and there is no agenda. Or rather, there is, but that is decided by the people in the room, on that day. If you want to talk about something, you write down a title and stick it on the timetable, e.g. "Emma Rice got sacked from the Globe - so what?" Then when all the titles are up, you have a little looky at the timetable, and go to whatever takes your fancy. It's all happening in one big hall, and the "Law of Two Feet" or "Law of Mobility" means that if you're not feeling the talk that your in, then you can use your two feet/two wheels/flying carpet to go somewhere else. It's all very relaxed and free-flowing and organic, which makes for some absolutely fantastic conversations.
I went to some brilliant chats over the weekend, and co-hosted a couple, but the big highlight for me has to be a session entitled "How do we better support people with mental health needs when they're touring/working away from home?" This talk was so relevant to the work we're doing at 6FootStories, especially with The Burgundy Boy, but I think the things we covered are important for any tour, anywhere, whenever. Touring is tough, especially if you're touring a solo show or a two-hander, and this session made it very clear that we don't have to just accept that it's tough and get on with it, but we can actually take some pretty significant steps to make the whole process healthier, for us doing the shows, and for our audiences. Things came up that I'd never heard of - Mental Health First Aid Training for instance, which seems like such a brilliant idea, and I think all the 6FootStories core team should go on a course. I met the lovely Rachel from Art With Heart, and the support they have built in for their show Declaration sounds incredible. All in all, a hugely useful, important and inspiring session. That talk alone would have made the whole weekend worth it.
Other interesting sessions included "The Great Outdoors", where I was introduced to a concept called Landscape Theatre, which sounds very intriguing, and "Inclusion - what's all the fuss about?", which I co-hosted with my Haringey Shed colleagues. This was a really lively and provocative discussion. I'm not sure if we solved anything, but we flagged a lot of stuff up, and heard some really interesting thoughts and experiences from the wonderful people at Taking Flight, an organisation I shall be keeping a very close eye on in the future...
I shan't drone on for any longer, as I think I've made it pretty clear that I had a great time, but I shall simply end with a mighty endorsement for Devoted & Disgruntled. If you make theatre, and want to make your work (and the world you work in) better, then there's no better place to start the conversation. I shall see you at the next one...
The Burgundy Boy is a popular folk character originating in North Germany, and has spread
through much of northern Europe. In Finland they have an annual Burgundy Brunch celebrating
the legendary figure, during which all food consumed has to be of a burgundy hue. In older
celebrations it would have been a simple feast of wine, red cabbage and grapes, but in recent
years revellers have taken to using food dye in order to broaden the culinary selection.
What we know of the Burgundy Boy is derived from a collection of ballads, folk songs, oral
legends, nursery rhymes and one or two large historical accounts from Bavarian chronicles of the late 16th century. He usually appears as a boy of about 7 years old wearing a kind of monk’s
habit, the colour of which is of course a deep red. He is said to cry tears of blood but never
speaks in any of the legends save for one peculiar French account that asserts it was his voice
that Joan of Arc heard, and not God’s. The most widely-known myth is recounted below:
In a small town in Germany some time ago, the residents started to encounter various
problems. The local mill burnt down, and the people there had no work. Even more people had
no bread. Many were poor and hungry. They went to church and prayed, but nothing changed.
They knocked on every business in town, but could find no work. They knocked on every rich
man’s house in town, but could find no bread. Their numbers grew, and so did their poverty.
Soon, what had been a prosperous and happy town was reduced to misery. The poor and rich
were miserable alike. The poor were miserable because they had nothing to eat, and the rich were miserable because every time they ate they felt guilty, and every time they walked in the park, or by the river, or near the castle, they felt the pain and hunger of the poor, but were too proud to help, and too afraid to look them in the eye.
And so it went on, the rich folk of the town hiding away, getting smaller in number as the work
ran out in other places, while those with nothing grew. Their clothes became worn and their
stench became unbearable. Their suffering was clear to all, but no one helped. It looked as
though the town would waste away, be consumed by despair and desolation, until a small boy
wearing a deep red monk’s habit was seen. Then things started to change.
It isn’t known who saw the boy first, but soon word had spread that a boy priest had arrived
in the town and was there to offer them salvation. The rich folk put together a fine offering of
bread, fruit and vegetables, and the poor folk contributed what they could, which was very little. Many wondered why it had been so difficult for the rich to offer them a crumb, but so easy to gather a feast for the boy priest, but they put their grumblings to one side, because they too saw hope in this mysterious burgundy boy.
The feast was laid out in the church and the town waited for the boy to come. They waited, and
waited, and the bread became stale and the apples turned brown, but still they waited. The boy
did not come. The most outspoken members of the community questioned his very existence,
and decided the food should not go to waste. But alas, the fruit was already full of maggots and
the bread had turned mouldy. Slowly the poor and rich made their way home, disheartened and
disappointed. Their salvation had deserted them.
The air in the town turned cold and grey, and the hearts of many frosted over. Sadness and
emptiness filled the streets, and many decided the end was near. For the most melancholy folk in the town, no ointment, no prayer, no word of hope was good enough. And then he came again.
A poor drunk man who had once been a miller was seen walking over the town bridge late at
night, but the next morning was found drowned in the river. The magistrate declared his death
an accident, and a reminder of the value of temperance in these dark times, but several witnesses swore they had seen the boy in red push the miller off the bridge.
A few days later an old preacher who had grown bitter and gloomy in these dark days was found
with his brains blown out and a pistol in his hand. A local tramp testified that he saw the
preacher shooting pigeons and that a small boy had bent the barrel of the gun towards the
preacher’s head. Several destitute women were tragically cut to pieces down on the railway track, and more than a few passers-by claimed to have seen a boy in red in command of the
locomotive. A poor young doctor whose patients could no longer afford to visit him was
discovered in his bath with his throat cut. His wife through her screams could be heard wailing
about a little monk who had jumped out of the window.
More and more tragedies struck, all involving the most pained and sorrowful members of the
community. Every time the Burgundy Boy was implicated, but of course there was little
evidence. Parents told their children not to cry, otherwise the Burgundy Boy would visit them,
and the less sensitive folk in town mumbled that perhaps this small monk was putting the poor
people out of their misery.
In this time the population of the town decreased rapidly, and mass funerals had to be arranged
at very little expense. The town was still poor and could ill afford a full service for each of the
deceased. Over time, however, the prospects of the town began to turn. With a reduced
population there were less mouths to feed. Poverty was felt less acutely, and soon there were
enough jobs to go around. With the saddest people in the town wiped out by the wrath of the
Burgundy Boy, those that were left had hope in their hearts and secretly thanked the Burgundy
Boy for giving the town a second chance. In time people began to share their gratitude for
his mercy openly – a shrine was built in his name, paid for, of course, by the same rich folk that
had gathered the feast of bread and fruit so many years before. These rich folk were thankful
that this Burgundy Boy had cleared the streets of crying mothers and drunk fathers, and restored order and prosperity to the town. Time went on, and the men and women of the town soon forgot that they had ever been burdened with such misery.
The last time the Burgundy Boy was seen was at the bedside of an elderly widow who had been
ill with consumption for weeks at the local hospital. The nurses differed in their description of the event. One nurse said the Burgundy Boy had waited at the widow’s side throughout her last night, holding her hand and finally giving her the most tender of kisses on the forehead before she passed. Another nurse swore there had been a pillow between his kiss and her head, but all agreed that she was at peace now and that the Boy had been a comfort to her in her last hours.
The town grew and grew in size and happiness, and was eventually renamed Hamburg, in
honour of the Burgundy Boy, and to this day you can still hear parents warning their children
never to be sad, always to be happy, lest the Burgundy Boy return and continue his work…
We've been letting the Diver loose in Islington in his wetsuit and flippers - we really want to get to know the local area while we're here. So if you live in Islington keep your eyes peeled, because you might just see a dead man walk...
After taking Soften the Grey around the country or the last two years, we've finally arrived at our first ever full London run, at The Hope Theatre in Islington. This is a truly big moment for us.
We have been so used to packing our sheets, wetsuit and onesie up in a suitcase and trundling on to the next town, waiting to see what delights our next venue/converted hall will hold. Will there be any blue gels? Will it have a working lighting rig at all? Is there such thing as a "night out" in Buxton?
Don't get us wrong - we have loved every minute of life on the road with Soften the Grey. We've been to wonderful places like BikeShed in Exeter and the Ventnor Fringe, places that we'll remember forever. But now we have the luxury of taking over The Hope Theatre for three whole weeks, and transforming their little black box into our very own Citizens Advice Bureau for the deceased.
We're not going overboard - we're keeping the set and lighting as minimal as they've ever been, but we now have a freedom with the staging and space that we've not had throughout the show's history. Rather excitingly, we've decided to do the show in traverse - something we've never done before (and neither have The Hope for that matter). The performance corridor that playing in traverse creates is perfect for the bureaucratic world of Soften the Grey, and it's also quite odd, and will instantly lift the audience away to somewhere slightly surreal, a never place... We couldn't be more thrilled.
There will be more updates to come, but with the show only a few days away, there's lots to be getting on with to make sure we're ready for this historic moment in 6FootStories history. There are programmes to be printed, press to chase, tins of grey paint to be bought, lines to be learnt - no, hang on, I'm pretty sure we know them by now...
Anyway, look out for our new trailer, and there's also some exclusive interview footage coming. We can't wait to see you all at the Hope this month. Until we do, remember - there's an afterlife for everyone...
SOFTEN THE GREY runs from 13th - 31st January 2015 at The Hope Theatre, Islington.
Tickets are £14/12 and can be booked at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/thehopetheatre
death(having lost)put on his universe
and yawned:it looks like rain
– E.E. Cummings
Death is the only certainty that we have in life. There are other certainties, I’m sure, such as growing, breathing, blinking. Yes, of course. But death is something that will happen, whether we want it or not. As far as I’m aware, no one has discovered the cure for mortality. Yet.
That being said, it stands to reason that we should, at least to some degree, set aside some time to think about it. We don’t know what happens next. Heaven or Hell. Nirvana. Summerland. Nothing. In the words of Toyah Wilcox: “It’th a mythtery!” (She had a lisp, remember). Death and what happens to us afterwards has provided humanity with a plethora of theories and ideas. Whole religions were born as a way to give death and the afterlife a narrative. Entire cultures were built around it – the Ancient Egyptians, for example, spent their lives honouring the dead by building the pyramids: tombs for their pharaohs still living and in power.
The mystery of the afterlife – of every afterlife ever conceived in a human brain or brains – is fascinating.
So fascinating that of course we had to write a play about it.
It’s fair to say that over the course of time, Nigel and I have developed the way we write together and the way that we formulate our ideas. In the beginning, we couldn’t write a play longer than 15 minutes, and they all ended with a blackout. Dramatic, sure, but tedious after a while. No, that’s unfair. Soften the Grey – an hour-long, you’ll be pleased to know! – ends with a blackout. (Sorry – should have said spoiler alert. It doesn’t really ruin anything if you haven’t seen it. And if you haven’t seen it – why not?!) Blackouts are fun, and effective, and I suppose, if we were being deeply psychological for a moment, reflect a very simple idea of death – that of the difference between light and dark, being active and alive one moment, inert and deceased the next.
We have written many pieces of work that centre around the theme of death. The Number of the Beast, Soften the Grey and Immortality combine what we are calling the Death Trilogy. They explore reincarnation, the afterlife and immortality (obviously) respectively, and though they sound like rather heavy topics, we do keep it light-hearted and fun. We are here to tell stories, to entertain, after all. But there is a deeper, underlying conversation that goes on, one that, I hope, in certain moments of the plays, the audience participates in. In their heads of course. And afterwards at the bar. To have that conversation out loud with the person in the seat next to them while the play is still happening would be downright rude.
It may seem morbid to have such a fascination and interest in death. Well, the subject of death. In the quiet moments throughout the day I often find myself thinking about what happens when one dies – we decompose, obviously, but what happens to the mind? This body will pass. This life will end. But does the mind go on? The mind – with its capacity for imagination and for learning and for understanding – surely goes on somehow? Otherwise, what is the point of this shambling existence, with the tsunami of human history looming ominously over us? Is it all really for nothing? Einmal ist keinmal? I don’t have the answers, nor does anyone. Moreover, I’m not interested in an answer. The journey is far more important – and enlightening – than the destination.
Someone, somewhere, said, “Only in studying silence can we truly understand music.” I don’t actually know if anyone did say that. It feels like something someone would say, doesn’t it? I mention it because, essentially, in writing plays about death, what we’re actually doing is writing about life and all its wonders. “Doesn’t writing about death get depressing?” someone once asked me. “No,” I responded. “I don’t look on death as a negative thing – the realization of my own mortality and its inevitable end is a blessing, not a curse.” By which I meant that the focus on life and the time that there is left is all the more powerful and profound.
This fascination offers endless possibilities. The work of 6FootStories is rooted in the mysterious, the wonderful, the uncanny. What better source of inspiration than a subject that has no definitive answers? A subject that delves deep into the hearts of all religions, of all lifestyles, of all cultures. Everything is possible.
– Jake Hassam, September 2014
Well, with just under two weeks to go until we kick off the 2014 season of Soften the Grey down at the Bike Shed in Exeter, we thought it fitting to have a look at some of the fun we had touring the show last year.
Back in August we were at the gorgeous Ventnor Fringe Festival on our favourite island, the Isle of Wight. As part of the publicity for the show we did this great little interview for a local podcast, and performed an excerpt of the show.
Have a listen here:
Works well as a radio play doesn't it? Hmm... that's an idea...
Right, well that's all for now, but there shall be more posts from the Vault soon! In the meantime, why don't you grab your tickets for the Bike Shed? Book here:
Goodbye for now 6Footers, speak soon!
6FootStories and The Oxy Morons have joined forces for this spectacular night of variety entertainment, all to raise money for our trip to Edinburgh this summer. All the fun of the fringe will be captured in a single evening, as a whole host of acts preview their material with you before heading up to Edinburgh this summer.
Nigel's Edinburgh Extravaganza is happening at Bar des Arts in Guildford, on Thursday 29th May. Tickets are just £5 and can be booked by calling the bar on 01483 453227. Alternatively you can contact us, and we will reserve some tickets for you. Click here to go to the Facebook event.
The first in a series of posts taking a look at some of the exciting things going on outside the 6FootStories world.
On Saturday 29th March I attended a workshop at the wonderful Artsadmin HQ at Toynbee Studios. I arrived with an open mind, as I usually do for these sorts of things, but I had few expectations. Little did I know that I was about to start a tragic journey that would end with me becoming an alcoholic, father to two unwanted daughters, and - oh horror! - Belgian.
Let us begin at the beginning, for it is a very good place to start. I had seen a post for an upcoming workshop on “larping” at Artsadmin and was intrigued. I had never heard of larping before, and I’m always keen to discover new ideas and artforms, and so I signed myself up for it straightaway. I mentioned larping to a friend and his eyes lit up.
“Oh yes,” he said, “That’s where you get to dress up as knights and monsters and act out Dungeons and Dragons!”
Ah. It appeared I had made a grave error. But no! LARP, or Live Action Roleplay is a wide and varied form of participatory entertainment, not limited to acting out fantasy games, as our esteemed host Adam James elucidated to us when we arrived at the studio.
LARP, or larping, does have its origins in the table-top role-playing games of yesteryear. But it also has its roots in psycho-drama, long-form improvisation, therapy, and military simulations, and so today it is a complex and fascinating pastime, with a great many variants. Players meet, adopt characters, and then play out scenes in fictional worlds, or games. The play is facilitated by a gamesmaster, who helps manipulate the action towards its conclusion.
In the UK, LARP leans more towards the fantasy element. You can be part of a large-scale zombie apocalypse, complete with Nerf guns, or perhaps you’d like to enact a Game of Thrones-style battle in the woods. In Scandinavia, larping has taken a more avant-garde turn, with the emphasis less on dressing up in silly costumes and pretending to kill each other, and more on experimentation with the human experience. Adam James has spent the last year travelling the world and experiencing larping in all its forms, and it was this "arthaus" Nordic larping that he had brought with him to Toynbee studios, along with some of his Scandinavian friends.
So, back to the workshop. After Adam had explained the rudiments of LARP to the group, he took us through a quick character devising session. This was just to give us a taste of how quickly one can choose a setting and develop characters and relationships for it. Our setting was a Hollywood diner, and within a few minutes I had become the nouvea-riche Italian owner of the establishment, Arturo, and a vivid world had been created out of thin air. We could have spent all day working on characters and relationships, and the exercises and games Adam used could be applied to pretty much any theatrical endeavour, and I shall definitely be stealing, ahem, borrowing some of this work in the future.
After lunch the real games began. We were split in half – one group would play “The White Death”, an abstract LARP about a group of travellers who set out for the mountains to create a new society, and the other half would play “Sarabande”, a LARP set in a café in Montmartre in the 1890s – this was to be my story.
Over the next few months preparations will be in full swing for our revival of The Church of the Sturdy Virgin, the brilliant interactive funeral show first presented by the Dank Parish. We're going to be developing lots of new material for this version of the show. New rituals, new characters, new uses for our sacred festival church. We're going to be bringing a whole host of new people and ideas on board for what promises to be the biggest and strangest funeral show yet. And we will let you updated every step of the way.
In the meantime, we thought we'd dip into the archives, to give you a taste of what's to come. Allow us to set the scene. It is September, 2012. We are at the end of a long and jam packed summer, a summer that began with our presentation of The Number of the Beast, and ends here, at Bestival, our third and last funeral festival of the summer. Ah, Bestival. Situated on the glorious Isle of Wight, the massive Bestival is our favourite festival yet. The weather is wonderful. There is no mud. Stevie Wonder is playing. The Church itself has been fine-tuned and we have all found a perfect place within it.
Nigel is outside the church, tidying our graveyard, when a young lady approaches him. She is a reporter, she reveals, and wonders if she can ask a few questions about the work we do at the Parish. Nigel answers her questions as best he can; he is drunk from the sun and the large bag of perry he's been swigging from since he awoke. He manages to maintain some sense of dignity, and the reporter even attends our next funeral. The result is this lovely, if bemused, write-up on yoppul.co.uk.
Bestival was a strange and fantastically entertaining festival to be a part of. We gave impromptu funerals to small children, buried most of the saps that went next door to get married, and we had an absolute ball watching Chas & Dave. Let's hope this summer holds even more joy and excitement in store.
Things are heating up in the 6FootStories camp. After a quiet couple of months of hibernating and incubating, we are extremely pleased to announce that we will be taking Soften the Grey to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer! In what will be an extremely busy period for us, we will be performing for ONE WEEK ONLY at the Space @ Surgeons' Hall, from Monday 18th - Saturday 23rd August.
Last summer's festival tour of the show was a joyous experience, but we came away feeling that we needed to be in Edinburgh to give the play the lift-off it deserves. It's also been far too long since any of us visited the gorgeous city. Jake was last there in 2011 with our friends All The Pigs, and Nigel hasn't been up since 2009!
We'll be posting more news when we have it, as well as updates on other proects like Boomtown Fair and our autumn tour. But for now, let's enjoy the sun and begin the countdown to Edinburgh!