Episodes 1 and 2 are below, scroll down or … clickety-click.
Theatre is a Funny Old Beast!
Old? of course, it has been around for centuries. It probably grew out of ritualistic ceremonies and then as we became more complex … it became more complex. There is some form of theatre in almost every society in the world but in the west ours probably goes back to the Greeks.
Funny? I use the word to imply peculiar rather than ha-ha … though it can, of course, be ha-ha. Peculiar, in the sense of particular (confused? Me too), in that it is an art-form that requires a space, empty or otherwise, a performer and an audience. A man performing to himself in front of the bathroom mirror does not theatre make; it only becomes theatre if he invites someone else into the bathroom to watch him perform (I apologise if I’ve just put an unpleasant image into your head). Usually theatre happens in a theatre (rather than a bathroom) though it can happen anywhere – a warehouse, a park, a beach, a school or in a tree-house. Theatres are quite good for theatre in that they have comfortable seats, lights, sound and … most importantly, a bar.
Beast? I use this word in the sense of – a large and untamed creature that requires a great deal of time, energy and effort to bring it under control so that an audience has a chance of surviving the event without being too badly maimed. We have to be aware, of course, that even when tamed, the beast can still kick and rear when least expected.
The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat is a particularly funny old beast! Funny, as above, it requires a space, performers and an audience (hopefully lots of audiences) and it is this “audience” part that I’m finding peculiarly funny. Years ago (bear with me here), I did a few pieces of left-wing agitprop theatre – it didn’t work. The performances were good, the script was good, the problem was the audience. As soon as anyone who was not left-wing, got a whiff of the political content of the play, from advertising and media reviews, for instance, they stayed away in their droves and so we ended up performing to the left-wingers … thereby preaching to the converted. So our idea of spreading the left-wing word didn’t work. It is the same with spreading the word of AWN Pugin. The play will, of course, attract the Pugin-ophiles, and those interested in history, architecture, design and those who have a general desire to remain rooted in the first half of the nineteenth century. I want a much wider audience. I don’t want to preach just to the converted … I want to convert people who have never heard of the man. To this end, we have tried to make the publicity a bit funky. I have attempted to inform people that the style of the play is not nineteenth century but is modern, different and … well, a bit funky but … and this is the big question, is that going to put off the Pugin-ophiles and is it enough to attract the “unconverted”? It is a funny one and no mistake.
Old? Yes, not only in the content (a historical figure) but also in the fact that I have been pushing it around my plate like a gristly bit of meat for quite a long time now. Pugin was born just over two hundred years ago, so the play is mainly set in the first half of the nineteenth century, there is nothing much I can do about that. Pugin though, was a genius and like all geniuses, he is still relevant for us today … he was also a human being and they haven’t changed much over the intervening two hundred years … they still have loves, hopes, fears and desires … so again, relevant to today. He was also an incredibly dynamic man who led a dramatic life: the stuff of theatre!
Beast? Oh, yes … this has been a beast, an enjoyable beast but a beast that has required constant tending and there is still a lot of taming and training to be done. I realised, as soon as I started to research into Pugin’s life and times, that I would need to use a very different methodology to make this play. Pugin was rough, magnetic, driven, emotional; in order to create something that was worthy of his life, I had to make a play that was all of those things. This is not a Victorian Parlour show … it is rough, fast moving, bizarre, jolly, desperate, full of passion, it erupts onto an unsuspecting audience and races to an inevitable conclusion. The clock is ticking from the moment we begin.
I don’t like labels. I don’t like pigeon-holes. I don’t like phrases that attempt to categorise. I particularly don’t like classifications of style; especially when it comes to theatre. I dislike the phrase “total theatre” and the like. But I know that some people do and because of this I have decided that The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat is “blunderbuss theatre”.
A Blunderbuss was a kind of gun with a flared muzzle, it could be loaded with almost any kind of ammunition and when fired sent this ammunition forward very quickly and over a wide area. Blunderbuss theatre is similar: it has a great deal of ammunition (information, emotion, drama, etc) it is fired over a wide area towards an unsuspecting audience and it travels very quickly.
The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat happens in an almost empty space, it takes place in front of the audience as well as behind, to the side and amongst, it has a judicious amount of modern technology, requires a thinking audience, has a number of different forms of storytelling and hurtles towards the last drop of the curtain (there are no curtains, but you know what I mean).
It is blunderbuss theatre … we fire the blunderbuss; some of the ammunition hits the audience square in the face, some of it may fly over their heads, some of it may catch in an extremity only to be discovered some time later, some of it may hit your friend and not you and is only discovered by both of you over a glass of pop in the bar later on.
I am now desperately trying to continue the analogy of a blunderbuss in order to mention the next item on the “funny old beast” of an agenda; so come with me, if you will. A “dragon” was a smaller version of a blunderbuss, it is where we get the word Dragoon from; it was more like a pistol, though it still packed a punch and, at close range, could spray an audience with a great deal of ammunition. In August I will be doing a talk and running a workshop at The Summer Squall, an arts festival in Ramsgate on the 24th, 25th and 26th August; the talk is about the process of putting on the play and the workshop explores some of the methodology used to create the play. So, I shall be firing a dragon at, I suspect, a smaller group of people … it will still contain a huge amount of ammunition, will still travel very fast and may possibly still maim and hopefully, intrigue. Hover over the link to zoom you to the Ramsgate Arts website for more information about the festival.
Home … this will take you home
Red Sky at Night … Shepherds Pie … this will take you to a pretty picture of the sky.
The Wide-Awake Hat … this will take you to a page of stuff.