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!
We are very excited to be bringing Shattered Fragments, our flagship new writing show, to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre's Mill Studio in Guildford for the first time this weekend. Expect black magic and ghostly goings on as 6FootStories' co-artistic directors Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson invite you into the world of their imagination.
This time around we decided to cast the net a little wider, and we decided to accept submissions from new writers. The response we got was extraordinary, and so we are very proud to present brand new pieces from Chris MacDonald and Jarek Adams, as well as a thrilling collaboration with Arthur McBain and Owen Jenkins' Perch Theatre Company. We're working with a fantastic group of actors this time around, from long time collaborators to brand new additions to the company, which makes us very excited indeed.
Shattered Fragments will be performed on Friday 15th & Saturday 16th Nov at the Mill Studio, Guildford. Book tickets now online at www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk or call 01483 440000.
The little island seemed to float on the dark lake-waters. Trees grew on it, and a little hill rose in the middle of it. It was a mysterious island, lonely and beautiful.
All the children stood and gazed at it, loving it and longing to go to it. It looked so secret – almost magic.
“Well,” said Jack at last. “What do you think? Shall we run away, and live on the secret island?”
“Yes!” whispered all the children.
- Enid Blyton, The Secret Island
I have to admit that I was a little reluctant at first at the prospect of taking Soften the Grey to Ventnor. I’d never been there before and had no idea how it would be received.
Upon arriving it was apparent to us that we were in an environment where we belonged - free to exercise our acting muscles and share our art with the town. The weather was good as well, which was a bonus.
I think the fresh sea air helps the flow of creativity, and along with the vitalizing rays of the sun, we were provided with the tools to make real magic happen – easily and comfortably, in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.
That’s the insufferable pretention out of the way with.
On the whole, not one thing we saw at the festival “got our goat,” as they say. (Do people say that?) Both Nigel and I left
every production with much to talk about. Good theatre sparks discussion. Bad theatre sparks silence. Perhaps.
Notable mentions are curiouser theatre’s down the rabbit hole - an immersive experience into the murky world of mental health told through the use of poetic text and physical movement. Also of note was Angels in the River by Bonchurch Theatre Company –a charming and intriguing story of one woman’s isolation and loneliness. Both of these pieces had echoes of the 6FootStories ethos – ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances –which is why we liked them so much, but they also revealed something fundamental about the human condition, which is a good thing to be reminded of.
As well as theatre, there was live music, comedy and art on offer. On the first night we enjoyed the hugely entertaining Knees Up – a musical variety act that took us on a journey through the space-time continuum with much nonsense and silliness, not to mention a jolly good sing-along. I can’t remember a time I’ve laughed so hard.
Oh yes I can. It was on the last night, when we saw Ventnorville at the Yurt in the Woods. Nigel ended up getting on the stage during a piece of performance poetry where he had to blow cigarette smoke into the performer’s face in order to create the right “ambience”. The fact the cigarette clearly didn’t taste very nice made his facial expression particularly amusing. Such japes and joviality.
I have to say that I would happily go back to Ventnor. To perform, to watch, to soak up the sun and sea and sand. And fish and chips. And cocktails.
So many wonderful cocktails…
6FootStories started life in 2011, towards the end of artistic directors Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson’s time at the Oxford School of Drama. They knew they both wanted to work with each other; they also knew they were both very tall. And so the idea for a theatre company exclusively for actors over six feet tall was born…
That idea lasted for about a week. What remained was Jake and Nigel’s shared enthusiasm for the surreal, for creating strange exciting worlds that operate outside the normal rules of reality, and that throw ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances. They began writing in earnest in their final term at Oxford, and presented their first short at a charity arts event (Grove End Road) in July 2011. In November 2011 they put on the first Shattered Fragments, a collection of short pieces that they were keen to expand into larger plays, at the Tristan Bates Theatre. In December 2011 Jake and Nigel wrote and performed two further shorts, including a specially commissioned piece for a Freedom From Torture charity event.
After collating the feedback from the first Shattered Fragments, it was clear there was a firm favourite with the audience – The Number of the Beast. And so Jake and Nigel spent the first half of 2012 expanding their initial short into their first full-length play. The Number of the Beast is a comedy about two friends and their attempts to resurrect their dead housemate. It’s a show full of dark humour, and it was presented at the Tristan Bates Theatre in June 2012.
The boys then took a break to work on other projects, including, amongst other things, collaborating with the Dank Parish for a summer of immersive theatre at festivals. In 2013 they started work on developing another favourite from Shattered Fragments, Soften the Grey.
Soften the Grey is a play about the afterlife, and it’s a story that Jake and Nigel have been working on since 6FootStories began. They spent several months at the beginning of the year writing and rewriting several drafts of the play. They wanted to create a show that could be performed by just the two of them, and that could fit into a suitcase. But they also wanted to tell their biggest story yet, a story that could cover all the big ideas, love, regret, life, death and, of course, the afterlife. It was a long process, but eventually they completed it and both Jake and Nigel agree that it’s the proudest they’ve ever been of anything. They toured it to a variety of fringe festivals over the summer, and plan to take it back on tour next year.
Whilst they were busy working on Soften the Grey, a third pair of feet joined the team, thus making 6FootStories well and truly complete. Jake and Nigel had been looking for a producer to work with them for some time, and Daniel James, a man with a talent for all manner of things, as well as a long-time collaborator of Nigel’s, took on the role. Daniel set to work booking their summer tour, and together we found time to put on a second Shattered Fragments, this time above The Horse in Lambeth. Once again we presented six brand new short pieces written and directed by Jake and Nigel, with a view to expanding them in the future. No doubt we’ll be seeing the fruits of this process sometime next year.
So that just about sums up the 6FootStories story so far. We’ll be posting a blog going into more detail about our recent tour of Soften the Grey, and we’ve got lots of exciting news to come. Stay tuned for all this and more!
Hello and welcome to the 6FootStories blog.
Over the coming days, weeks and months this blog will be filled with news, pictures and reviews of our past work, as well as the odd hint of what's to come. After a busy summer of Soften the Grey and Shattered Fragments we have much to report, and many exciting ideas for the coming months. So, stay tuned for all of that. We will start, though, with a little history of the company...