Sunday, August 13, 2006

Deep joy

I ought to be packing but one of my laces got caught in Google and now it's past midnight and I'm still out wandering the interwebulatory heath in all this rain and hurricano and I promise I'll get down soon but can we please, please just pause to honour the presenters of the math-promoting 4xDVD set The Joy Of Thinking.

Their names are Michael Starbird and Edward B. Burger. I found this out over an hour ago and every time I think of it I quite literally experience joy.

I hope at the beginning of each video they do a little vaudeville song with ukuleles that begins: "Oh, Mr Starbird..." "...Yes, Mr Burger?" etc.

I wonder what the B. stands for in Professor Burger's name. If it's actually Beef, I'm going to devote the rest of my life to good works. You can hold me to it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why I have not directed any of my shows

Quotes of the fortnight:

"I danced because I fell in love with my sweat."
-- Bill T. Jones (quoted in Joyce Morgenroth's excellent Speaking of Dance)

"There's no such thing as problems. There's only work."
-- grizzled old businessman yawping into his mobile phone on the 0927 to Liverpool St on Thursday
I must apologize to my most avid readers that things have been so quiet here at Thompson's these last couple of weeks. I've been immersed in making the new piece, Longwave, first in Newbury (as guests of New Greenham Arts and the Corn Exchange, who commissioned the show; Newbury is not, let's say, all action all the time, but we did win six quid on the quiz machine in the pub by the canal), and this week at a regular rehearsal studio in Farringdon.

Boy, it's been a hard slog. I'm really struggling with this piece. No reflection on Tom and Jamie, who are among the most brilliant performers I've ever seen, let alone worked with. But right from the start we set ourselves some steep challenges and I've barely felt ahead of the game for more than an occasional hour at a time. Just two characters, confined to a shed in the middle of nowhere with next to no communication with the outside world; no dialogue (in fact no spoken words at all apart from the voices on their radio); and much of the material dependent on their interactions with their shed and with the tools of their trade as research scientists. Of course neither the shed nor the apparatus is real yet. The upshot of all this is that we seem to have been stuck in a loop where every possibility is dependent on some other factor we can't yet know about. Now that we have a designer on board (the splendid Janet Bird, with whom I think we're going to work very happily), the visual life of the work will really grow, but naturally the downside is we have to start making decisions according to real-world pressures such as budget and sightlines and the fact that the piece has to be able to tour viably to a number of different venues some of which are half the size (of performing area) of others. This is always an uncomfortable phase and it's absurd to whine about it. But whining is part of the routine as well, I suppose, as we start letting go of the show in our heads and all the amazing stuff that happened in it...

I'm not sure now if Tom and Jamie had worked together substantially before we made Escapology in 2004. That piece was a very different monster: a cast of six, a ragged semi-improvised aesthetic, lots of (fully exploited) room for dicking around. The two of them, playing the Montgolfier Brothers, seemed to fall naturally into a sort of classical comedy relationship: Tom the suave but exasperated older brother and Jamie the buffoonish and ingenuous younger sibling. In real life, Tom is I think marginally younger and neither of them has a monopoly on buffoonery -- or exasperation (though they express it differently). They were very keen to work together again, and I was more than eager to reunite them, but I also wanted to see if there was something different to be found in their relationship, some way of upsetting their natural fallback rhythms. Partly this was because I wanted Longwave to be able to be more confidently serious and melancholy, and more tightly controlled. Now I'm beginning to wonder if this was a mistake. They're doing beautiful, delicate, cogent work: but the pressing confinements of the show combined with this somewhat self-denying approach means I'm not sure they're having much fun (and I'm not sure I am either). Which ends up serving to emphasize the differences between our personalities. My guess is that Tom and Jamie would be totally opposite Myers-Briggs types, and I float around somewhere between them; my relationships with each of them separately are also totally different, and perhaps some of the problem at the moment is that I'm not so much floating as being buffetted. When I showed them the Bill T. Jones quote above, Jamie gave it a broad approving grin; Tom thought it was (sweet but) risible. I'd have thought it would help you to love it sincerely as a sentiment if you'd seen BTJ's work, but Tom has and Jamie hasn't. So I dunno really.

I'm just home from our last rehearsal day in this current stretch after two and a half weeks of fairly constant (if not super-intense no-sleep-till-Brooklyn) work, and I'll be glad to have a few days away to just think. Right now, my guess is that the eventual success of this piece, when it opens next month, may now depend on how brave we are when we next meet in jettisoning everything that doesn't work and picking up with a lot of blank sheets. If working on this doesn't become more fun, I don't think it's ever going to fully arrive as a piece. I guess that's partly because I'm in such an emotionally haphazard state at the moment that I don't think I'm reliably calibrated for working with melancholy, which is an incredibly fine balance at the best of times. Crumbs. I don't know. It'll work itself out. Print is being circulated and tickets are being advertised, and Chad our company manager is out in the world looking for a tuning fork in B flat, so I guess there's a show on the way, and even at my most witless and confused there's nothing I can do to prevent it arriving. Which is a sort of comforting notion.

Ten a.m. tomorrow I'll be on the train to Edinburgh. It'll be my tenth year going up, but my first ever as a mere punter. I'm looking forward to it so much. I only have till Thursday so I'm going to be cramming everything in, I've already booked for a bunch of shows and I'm looking forward to seeing old friends. I'm going to try and post a daily report here, though I can well imagine it might not work out quite like that. It's weird to be at the end of my creative rope and with such a keen appetite for seeing some theatre, but that's how I feel. And I want to catch a movie at the Cameo, and walk out along the river to the Gallery of Modern Art, and get an Oreo shake (or six) at Black Medicine; funny how occasional pleasures slowly, over the years, become rhythms and finally rituals, and how much consolation is accrued in those simple absorbed commitments.

And it'll be so nice not to have a bloody show getting in the way of it all.