02 September 2014

Frock stars

Following my recent act of derring-do, saving an Ossie Clark frock from being half-inched from the Gallery of Costume, I was back at Platt Hall recently for the launch of the latest show, Something Blue,  an exhibition of wedding dresses. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by it, but it's a great look at one hundred years of marriage wear, with some fabulous real-life stories about the couples who tied the knot. I've written a piece about it for Creative Tourist, which you can read here. It has some lovely quotes from a chap I met at the launch, who told me all about getting hitched in 1949. It also tells you more about Manchester City Galleries director Maria Balshaw's Vivienne Westwood number (below).


12 August 2014

Small ones are more juicy

I've been published again by The Manchester Review, this time with a write-up of The Best British Short Stories 2014 anthology, edited by Nick Royle and just out on Salt Publishing. I was given the first copy out of the box while on a recent visit to Salty Towers in Cromer! You can read the review here.


16 July 2014

It's the fictionbomb

Last night, after the inaugural meeting of the Quarantine theatre company's Assembly, where we discussed audience reaction and feedback to the recent debut of the show Summer (which will pop up again in other locations, you'll be pleased to know - see my previous post for a review), I made a pitstop at Cornerhouse and had great trouble finding a parking space for Hettie. How delightful! I've never seen the bike stands so full, all of them tripled up (I have a feeling that Boyhood might be quite popular).


It reminded me of Micro Commission: Flyer Fiction, a guerrilla writing project that I devised, developed and nearly died of heat exhaustion doing, and I suddenly realised that I worked on that exactly a year ago this gone weekend, so I thought I'd do a little blog post about it here. At the time, Flyer Fiction: The Cornerhouse Project was documented on my Site Specific Stories website, where I also published the pieces of micro fiction produced during the project and flytipped (sorry, fictionbombed) on the bikes locked up outside.

Here's a bit from that site about the process (my posts about the project start on 9 July 2013, so do scroll down to older posts), and below is one of last year's photos, featuring a couple of people who were coming to visit me:
Over the next four days, I will spend three hours per day in the Cornerhouse cafe, watching the bike stands out of the window, scribbling down my observations in an obsessive Oulipian manner, and hopefully producing at least one short-short story per sitting stint with which to fictionbomb the steeds. I may even squeeze in a light beverage or two. It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it. I'll be there at different times in order to capture different moods and activities, and the whole writing in situ part of the project will add up to 12 hours, covering 11 in the morning to 11 at night. The 12 is significant for a future piece I'm plotting to work on and which will also involve a system, if it comes off. We shall see.

Hmm, looks like I set myself some homework there, which the dog consequently ate. Maybe I'll get back to it at some point…

24 June 2014

Seasons greetings

First instruction: Look at us while we look at you.
Second instruction: Imagine that you know what other people are thinking.
Third instruction: Lose yourself in the chaos.
Fourth instruction: Decide where you stand.
Fifth instruction: Try to make sense of it all.

These instructions come up one by one on a dot matrix display above the "stage" (which is essentially just the shop floor of a modern warehouse and feels like an indoor basketball court; vast and complete with the noise of squeaky trainers), typed in by Lisa and Sonia (the third instruction with the addition of: "Can we join in?"), and interpreted first by us then by the performers.


This is Quarantine theatre company's production Summer, the first of four parts of a larger, three-year-long project about the human life cycle and our relationship with change. Autumn looks at the older generation, Winter deals with death, while Spring, I'm told, is about birth. Summer encompasses all age groups, from the tiniest tots upwards, and, despite the voluminous setting and extensive cast, does have an inclusive and intimate feel to it - with a very personal introduction to some of the actors (all amateur), quizzed via a PA system by a lady at the top of the raked seating behind me. It also feels cyclical, taking the audience on a very circular journey, and ending in the same way it starts, with a vocal unpacking of thoughts and feelings from the players (different ones for each performance). In between, most of the narrative is told silently, through actions such as posing, as if for wedding photographs, in delineated groupings (for example, all the men, all the women, all the children, then different sub-sets of these - the Venn diagrams of social and familial categories, if you like), and a physical unpacking of life from holiday suitcases - not just T-shirts, beach towels and shower scrubs of all colours, but also violins, Anthony Horowitz thrillers, family portraits, even a glitter ball.

Dance and movement is important for telling the Summer story - at one point, most of the cast stands still and responds to instruction number two while some others start running around; at another point, we watch everyone partying together while each individual also does their own thing. There are streamers, balloons, feathers, confetti… there is Mister Blue Sky by ELO, Take It Easy by The Eagles, a song by Led Zeppelin, Feel The Need In Me. There's a lot of joy in the show, but there's also a fair amount of sorrow; one part involving the use of microphones to amplify the actors' voices feels slightly one-way and a bit too emotional, especially when we've almost got used to a lack of dialogue. Having said that, all that on-stage fun would be a bit frivolous without some depth. I also suppose it's easier to invest personally in the show because we know that these are real people telling real stories, not just actors reciting a script. A vibrant production with clever direction: I look forward to the changing of the seasons.

Summer took place in Salford in June 2014. Autumn takes place in Newcastle in September 2015. Winter takes place in Cardiff in December 2015. Spring takes place in Manchester in May 2016.

06 June 2014

Key performance indicators

Last Wednesday was Bad Language and afterwards "BL veterans" Fat Roland and Dave Hartley both wrote on their blogs about how on that particular evening they underwent some kind of performance epiphany, together but separately, if you know what I mean. Weird thing is, just around the same time I also had a "performance moment", but for once I wasn't with my fellow Flashtag members. In fact, I wasn't even in the Rainy City; I was over in the City of Light, Paris. Some background. The Flashtag writing collective was created nearly four years ago, when we performed our micro fiction for the first time at the 2010 Manchester Blog Awards (as they were called in the olden days) then, a month laterat the inaugural Bad Language. So how odd for three out of the five of us to have a significant breakthrough just at the same moment, right now. 


So, what happened? Well, Dave learnt a 300-word piece off by heart, having been influenced in some part by Flashtag's recent Short Short Story Slam (the next is 8 July, btw - get it in your diaries!), when the winner Simon Sylvester committed not one but three stories to memory: "He was able to liberate his hands and eyes from the ubiquitous paper and put them to good use elsewhere: in gesture, audience eye-contact, and character embodiment." Meanwhile, Fats dealt with a heckler in a cool, calm, collected and, by all accounts, comedy way. He posted: "What struck me about that moment was I could multi-task my little brain gremlins to enable me to plan mid-performance. I'd not done that before. I felt like a stand-up." 


And me? I didn't just have one performance moment, I had two - last Thursday, so a little over a week ago, and then Monday just gone. I'd already arranged to read at the weekly Paris Lit Up night in hipster Belleville, which was absolutely rammed but very welcoming (pix above; see the PLU blog of the night here), and  after my turn, audience members and fellow performers alike encouraged me to try out SpokenWord Paris the night before I came home. This was equally popular (how do they manage it every week?), just as friendly and in a great space with low wooden benches set out amphitheatre style (play spot the Clare in the audience below). The big change for me was that neither venues had PAs - so, as well as having no mic to hide behind, it seemed to make me use more exaggerated gestures and facial expressions (see photographic evidence), and made me speak more slowly as I had to really project my words, which meant I could take my time and look around the room a lot more than usual. This all added to the drama and humour, and got the audience to concentrate and connect, which gave me the confidence to go for it good and proper