“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore
We have been very quiet since the start of the year. Exhausted by our Christmas show and then Hamlet: Rotten States, we took some time to recalibrate. And then the Covid-19 crisis happened.
A lot has taken place. A lot of personal change has occurred. Our world is markedly different. Not to mention our industry has been brought to its knees.
As a touring theatre company with the bulk of our work taking place each year over the summer months, and a large portion of it at outdoor events, this crisis has taken away our most productive period of work. This represents not only a huge loss for us as a company, but a significant loss of income and opportunity for the wide pool of artists and creatives we engage throughout the summer who look to us for opportunities. It similarly represents a loss of engagement with audience members – we connect with thousands across the country through our outdoor shows and interactive projects at festivals. And to top it all off, we were just starting to solidify our workshops and begin rolling them out.
With all this in mind, it goes without saying that Arts Council England’s Emergency Fund could not have arrived at a better time. We feel incredibly lucky and grateful – not to mention extremely humbled – to have been awarded the funding. It marks an important moment in our activity, one that we embrace with open arms.
We do not write this to boast. We are painfully aware of all those brilliant and fantastic companies and artists who are now in a position of financial ruin. It is a bittersweet moment.
This cash injection is a real lifeline for us, and we do not take it for granted. Below is a summation of our activities that will be taking place over the next 6 months.
What are we doing with the emergency funding?
The funding is being directed into various facets of the company. We are a small organisation – Nigel and Jake as co-Artistic Directors make up the sum and core of the company, and we are supported by our wide pool of creatives who we call upon from project to project. It has been a slow and steady journey since our inception in 2011, and various personal life events have occasionally derailed our intentions, but we have never lost touch with our ethos and our collaboration.
One of the main uses of the fund is to invest in organisational development. This is crucial. It includes strategic planning of our aims and vision, enhancing our business plan, refurbishing our website and social media output, and undergoing specific training that will allow us to run the company more efficiently.
Another portion of the fund is being used to develop and deliver the education arm of the company with our core facilitators. These will establish and further explore the 6FootStories practice into key workshops we have identified as being central to our activity including Shakespeare, Interactive Theatre, and Devising. There will also be exploration and establishing of workshops in Voice in Shakespeare, and Vocal Care at Festivals/Outdoor settings, drawing on personal research and practice conducted by Jake through his life as a voice practitioner, integrating this work into the company in a more centralised way. We will be going into more depth with each of these workshops in detail in a blog post coming soon.
And then of course, there are our public facing projects…
Unless you’ve been in lockdown in a remote part of the world with no internet connection, you almost certainly know that festivals have been cancelled this summer, but they, and we, are adapting to this new Covid world. Digital spaces and platforms have become rife, and we are entering the fray.
Potato Puppet Playground is going online! We will be making and releasing a fantastic “How to make a Potato Puppet” video soon and partnering up with some of our festival partners to deliver a virtual version of our Potato Puppet-led storytelling extravaganza for families. Details of these virtual events will be released soon on our social media channels, so keep your eyes peeled (potato pun absolutely intended)!
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, we are currently beavering away at moving our revue of new work – Shattered Fragments – online. We will be commissioning artists to create pieces that will be shared in a live-streamed event hosted by key venue partners.
And finally, we will be presenting The Decameron Revisited. Inspired by Boccaccio’s 100 tales told in quarantine, this project is shaping up to be an ambitious digital project to find 100 tales from our time. We will be working with venue partners and community organisations to virtually “tour” to 10 localities, to provide storytelling workshops with participants from those locales, and to collect videos of 100 stories from across the nation, all archived on a new mini-site that we will soon be creating. We are incredibly excited about this project and cannot wait to see what we unearth.
In the coming weeks more detailed blog posts will be published outlining specific timelines and delivery dates of these projects, and of course there will be lots more activity on our social media platforms. We have already in the last few weeks done a lot of preparatory work, laying the foundations for what is to come. We wonder if, for us, this forced lockdown has indeed been a blessing in disguise…
In closing, lockdown itself has been an unusual event, and has thrown up a series of quite difficult conversations from all sections of life as we know it. At the time of writing, lockdown measures are starting to be relaxed and parts of the BC (Before Covid) world are perhaps waking up, though we are all asking ourselves if it is too early, and indeed if we even want those parts to wake up. Ever heard the apocryphal Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”? Well, we certainly do, don’t we? Who knows how this crisis will develop. We hope to see our audiences soon, but for now we take our work online. So join us. Let us journey through these extraordinary times together. And let’s keep our stories alive.
Originally posted by Jake on his website jakehassam.com.
You may or may not know that this month I have been performing at The Hope Theatre in Islington in 6FootStories’ reworking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which we have called HAMLET: ROTTEN STATES.
As the three-week run enters its final show, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the whole creative process, as a reminder to myself of where I was at emotionally on 1st February 2020, before putting the project to bed for a while, and moving on to pastures new, until such a time when we take it out of the cupboard and reveal it once more to the world.
A difficult second album..?
The first thing to say is that this show always felt like a difficult second album. In 2016 we (Nigel Munson and I, along with the inimitable Will Bridges, pictured below) presented Macbeth: A Tale of Sound & Fury at The Hope Theatre, Islington, after spending the better part of a year mulling over the possibility of how 6FootStories might tackle a Shakespeare play. Macbeth felt like the obvious choice as we had already been working with a couple of characters that were not too far away from the witches, and thus began cooking up ideas for how the whole thing would be framed. I always felt that it was important not to be just another Macbeth. And so we discovered that we could tell Macbeth’s story from the witches’ point of view, and beyond that we would go to the next stage by never actually meeting Macbeth within our show. To that end, we moved the opening scene of the play: “When shall we three meet again…” to the very end of our show, thus sending the witches off on their mission to wreck Macbeth’s life. It fitted, it worked and we went on to tour the show around the country. Reviewers and audiences alike were excited by it, and it got us wondering if we might have hit upon a winning formula?
But where does one go from there? The witches don’t feature in any other of Shakespeare’s plays. The question that concerned me was: is it too much of a leap to have them wreck other lives within Shakespeare’s canon? Perhaps, perhaps not. What I was sure of was that our witches couldn’t remain as disjointed from reality as they were in Macbeth, full of sound and fury, raging against the world. Maybe some of that could remain, but they needed to evolve, as we individually have evolved since we first did Macbeth: A Tale of Sound & Fury.
But first, what would the next play be? As a company we have always been fascinated by the extraordinary, and Macbeth was full of that. Shakespeare doesn’t shy away from the extraordinary. Look at The Tempest. Look at A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But as comedies, I wondered how effective our framing and twisting of the text would be, as we found that we could unlock a great deal of humour out of Macbeth’s tragedy. For me it needed to be something ambitious, something equally tragic with that extraordinary and supernatural edge.
Thus we turned to Hamlet. But where are the witches in Hamlet, I hear you ask? Well, for us it made sense that the players Hamlet welcomes to Elsinore to deliver his play The Mousetrap might be in the same league as the witches. They are not supernatural and extraordinary in the same way as the witches, I grant you, yet they do hold the power to transform and to influence. After all, it is not until the play within the play is performed that the action of Hamlet starts to develop towards its bitter ending. In other words, the players represented for us a pivotal turning point within the original play, and because of that it seemed worth investigating in order to see how we could shape the tale.
At this point I must mention that we had a bit of a personnel change within the project. Due to Nigel being in Manchester throughout the entirety of December working on a Christmas show, and his and Marissa’s baby being due in February, it was absolutely right that he step aside for this project. It was ambitious and a little bit naive on both our parts to think that we could go ahead as normal. We had already cast the superb Amy Fleming for the role of our third player, and when the decision was made for Nigel to step aside it made complete sense that his replacement should be Will Bridges, who offered so much expertise and work in creating Macbeth: A Tale of Sound & Fury with us. Not having Nigel in the room was going to be a challenge, absolutely, as he brings such an energy and theatricality and analysis to the text, but in lieu of him being there, I knew that Will and Amy would more than make up for his absence.
The Days of Cutting
Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play. It is also quite exceptional in that there are three different early texts – two Quartos and the Folio – which offer quite stark variations. When we first worked on Macbeth we each read the play from a different print – I favoured the Arden, Nigel the Penguin and I can’t remember what Will had. This in itself caused heated discussion, as there were variations of words and lines that one or other of us favoured, but this was particularly useful and in the end such an invigorating process because it forced us to justify our individual analyses of the text, and to bring an avid scrutiny to our work.
When it came to working on Hamlet, however, it felt to me that we could fall down a very deep rabbit hole indeed. Not only would we be dealing with the fact that the three of us would almost certainly be reading from a different print (I, again, favoured the Arden) but also we would have to make decisions based on which of the early texts had been favoured by those editors. What to do?
Well, very simply, time was the enemy, and thus we just had to get on with it. We only had four days available to us before Christmas to cut the text and to flesh out as much as possible the world we would be inhabiting before we got into the rehearsal room in the new year. We began by reading the play, by talking through the concept as it stood following mine and Nigel’s initial conversations, and then we started to piece it all together, starting with the bare bones of the story, and ending with the nuances of our individual player characters.
As I sit and reflect on that process, the above sentence makes it all seem very simple. In some ways it was, actually, because the three of us were very attuned to one another, and in moments where a certain section of the play felt particularly tricky and problematic for someone, someone else was there to work at untangling meaning and offer up a solution for how it fitted into the concept. As I reflect further, I actually realise just how complex that process was, because the job wasn’t simply to cut the text, it was also to simultaneously build a framework almost from scratch – I say almost because we had Macbeth: A Tale of Sound and Fury to work from. Two jobs in one. In four days. With Shakespeare’s longest play. Gosh.
We arrived into the New Year with this looming task ahead of us: eight full rehearsal days to get the show up and running, and then a tech rehearsal and a dress. No easy feat. And yet the time pressure spurred us on to make it happen.
The biggest challenge was being in the rehearsal room on our own. Personally I felt that I was playing catch-up with myself. I’m not just an actor in this space, I’m director, I’m stage manager, I’m dramaturg, I’m sound designer etc etc etc. We wanted to challenge ourselves by operating the lights and sound ourselves, for example. When one wears all of those hats simultaneously inevitably certain aspects of those responsibilities get sidelined or forgotten about. Just like spinning several plates, eventually one or two of them will fall. And that was how I felt about my acting – particularly learning the lines. Throughout those 8 days it was imperative that the structure of the show was developed, that its flow through the story was maintained and that our concept could flourish, not to mention getting to grips with all the technical business.
We were very pleased when Nigel joined us in the rehearsal room to be our outside eye. This was invaluable as we were able to tighten up certain aspects of the show that at that moment weren’t quite working. It felt challenging at the time to suddenly invite someone else into the space, but without it we would not have the show we have ended up with.
As with any piece of theatre, a show doesn’t become a finished product once the rehearsals are over and done with. Hamlet: Rotten States in particular is a show that has continued to grow and develop with each new audience that has seen it. Even now, as I sit here hours before we put on the final show of the run, I know that tonight’s show will be unlike the 14 others that have preceded it. No 2 shows have been the same; Will, Amy and I have constantly been discovering nuances and surprises – yes, some of those have originated from mistakes, but that’s the beauty of theatre, and we celebrate that within our framing of Hamlet taking place within the players’ rehearsal room.
I am sad to say goodbye to this show. But I am excited to see where it takes us all next.
After the success of our latest Shakespeare reworking, HAMLET: ROTTEN STATES, and the previous success of MACBETH: A TALE OF SOUND & FURY, we have decided to share some of our practices in a brand new workshop. With MACBETH and HAMLET, we have established a fairly successful formula for approaching and reworking Shakespeare texts, making them exciting, vibrant and original pieces of theatre whilst respecting the language and the beauty of the verse.
We want to share our approach to Shakespeare in a workshop that will explore:
We think this workshop will be hugely enjoyable and useful whether you're a fresh-faced acting student or a seasoned thespian. It is primarily aimed at:
We welcome participants from all backgrounds and all levels of training. If you have any access requirements please let us know. The workshop will involve a lot of movement, so please come in comfortable clothes.
Date: Saturday 1st February 2020
Time: 10am - 4pm
Location: Brixton, London
Price: £35, concessions £25
The workshop will be run by 6FootStories' co-artistic directors, Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson.
To book your place, please email with a short introduction to yourself to email@example.com.
We are taking work to a delectable array of festivals, fun days and fresh venues this summer, and we thought you'd like to know where you can see us, and when! We've got a whole range of different work going out over the next few months, from interactive family shows to brand new science-fi entertainment. We hope to see you in the sun somewhere!
Check back here as we will be adding additional dates very soon...
26-28 May - POTATO PUPPET PLAYGROUND/SWAP SHOP GAME SHOW at... GERONIMO FESTIVAL, Arley Hall, Cheshire
29 May, 11am - POTATO PUPPET PLAYGROUND at... EAST DULWICH TAVERN CHILDREN'S ARTS FESTIVAL, East Dulwich, London
31 May, 7:30pm - NIGEL'S BIG BINGO BALLS UP at... FARR'S SCHOOL OF DANCING, Dalston, London
26-28 June - POTATO PUPPET PLAYGROUND at... 3 FOOT PEOPLE FESTIVAL, Hylands Park, Chelmsford
30 June - THE GYPSY LODGE at... FLING FESTIVAL, Hylands Park, Chelmsford
30 June/1 July - POTATO PUPPET PLAYGROUND/SWAP SHOP GAME SHOW at... GERONIMO FESTIVAL, Knebworth House
2 July, 7:30pm - MACBETH: A TALE OF SOUND & FURY at... THE QUARRY THEATRE, Bedford
7 July - POTATO PUPPET PLAYGROUND at... GUILDFORD FRINGE FESTIVAL, Guildford
14 July - POTATO PUPPET PLAYGROUND at... BIG DAY OUT, Maidstone
19-22 July - THE INTERGALACTIC CIRCUS OF TRUTHS at... LARMER TREE FESTIVAL, Wiltshire
2-5 August - THE GYPSY LODGE and THE SWAP SHOP GAME SHOW at... CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL, Cambridge
3-5 August - A MENU OF DELIGHTS at... VALLEY FEST, Somerset
16-19 August - THE INTERGALACTIC CIRCUS OF TRUTHS at... GREEN MAN, Brecon Beacons
6FootStories are looking to expand our pool of performers and creatives for a busy summer of festival bookings and various events. We are still taking bookings for the summer, but we’ll be touring to places like Geronimo, Big Day Out, Valley Fest, Larmer Tree, Boomtown and Green Man.
We are keen to meet new performers interested in outdoor arts, interactive theatre and storytelling. Our work, like much festival performance, crosses genres and forms - in the same weekend a performer may be a game show compère, storyteller, puppet maker and fortune teller. Our performers need to be flexible and willing to get stuck in and immerse themselves in our peculiar worlds. We are often camping at events, so you should also consider this before getting in touch! Do you like eating fried eggs in a field? Then you might just be perfect for us!
We are holding workshop days in London on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th April. At this workshop participants will be trained up in some of our key work:
We will also be exploring some new ideas for some aquatic themed entertainment, and for our existential alien game show the Intergalactic Circus of Truths. It will be a fun and lively workshop full of improvisation, potatoes and playful interactive madness.
We would love to hear from:
If you think you would be interested in joining us this summer for an adventure then please email firstname.lastname@example.org with an introduction to you and your work, a CV, and any links that might be worth looking at. Special consideration will be given to applicants that include potato-based wordplay.
You can see plenty about what we do on this website. The Festivals & Events page will be particularly useful. We look forward to hearing from you!
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