Friday, 31 December 2010

A Review Of 2010

So much has happened this year, and I know looking back I won't remember all the highlights, the highs or the lows. But somehow it only feels right to make some half-arsed attempt of it as the final hours of 2010 draw to a close to detail them in a blog, seeing as I haven't written a new one in so long.

So what was the best moment of 2010? I don't even need to think about this question twice, as it was undoubtedly meeting Liam Mower on the few occasions I had the chance to do so. He is my biggest inspiration without a doubt, and he has opened my mind to a lot of new things, most notably dance on a performance level, and a whole world of things on a personal level. Its amazing even having met him a few times, I am still nervous every time I see him... I definitely need to be more confident in 2011! He is however lovely and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for the inspiration he has provided and for being an all round great guy.

Educationally I have done a lot as I further my own training in performing arts. One of my pledges for 2010 was to push myself harder, and I have done that for sure. The highlight for me has been a greater in depth study of improvisation under the tuition of a superb teacher named Mark Phoenix. So many people claim they can improvise. In essence we all think we can do it, but are you really improvising? Mark taught me that true improvisation comes from within, an emotional depth which takes a lot of practice to find and develop. Its not about creating a scene in your head, or even a character at that. Its about allowing a scene to naturally unfold. There is a little phrase he has often used to help us - "Invent nothing, deny nothing" and if you can do that, then you are truly improvising. My 12 weeks with Mark have certainly enriched my skills and I am very much eager to return to his teachings in the new year!

Theatrically theres been a few big events this year. First and foremost my favorite Billy - Fox Jackson-Keen leaving the show after a record breaking stay at the Victoria Palace Theatre. I often say how much Liam inspires me, however Fox deserves a lot of praise and credit too. His performances were always very special and I know without Fox, I wouldn't be where I am today. This was very closely followed by the 5th anniversary performance, which featured a special performance from the bulk of the 20+ Billy's who have graced the stage over the history of the show, including Fox and Liam, which was nice, as was the brief return of Connor Doyle (another inspirational guy) to the show in April of this year as Michael.

Away from Billy Elliot, another big moment was seeing Les Miserables at the Barbican, as it returned to its original London home for a limited run to celebrate the shows 25th birthday. I love Les Miserables, so to have a special show like this, it means so much more, and with Jon Robyns in the cast (though sadly not as Marius), it was always going to be up there in my memories for the year. Finally back in October an all time favorite - Avenue Q saw its time in the West End come to a close after a phenomenal four and a half years of laughter spread across three prestigious theatres. Yes all of which I have visited - though not in the last year I will admit!

I think the most moving moment of the year however comes from learning of another Liam. Liam O'Brien who you can read about in a blog from August of this year. Liam's life was tragically cut short, as another innocent victim to the UK's surge in knife crime. Since then I have got to know some of Liam's family, most notably his Mum Sharon and his cousin Jack. They are both wonderful people, who I am honoured to be able to call friends. Liam's memory lives on, and I write this on the eve of his 16th birthday, so tomorrow take a moment to think about Liam and his family.

So there we have it - a brief run down of the year - heres to 2011!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Whats In A Name?

I have written close to 80 blogs now, and I have generally always opted to stay away from sensitive issues such as race and politics. The problem being, they are so subjective that any article written will always cause divides. I have done that enough times in my write ups about drama... this could be a whole new level! I do however think the time has come where I have to put pen to paper over an issue that has been bugging me somewhat today. (I am quite aware in typing this article, I have not even picked up a pen or a sheet of paper)

Yesterday during the two minute silence a group of extremists decided to shout abuse and burn a poppy in a protest against Britain and their deployment of troops in the east. Yes... the same country that educates their children for free, gives them free health service among other things... but apparently we are a bad country in their eyes. Whats more, we live in a country where we have the freedom of speech, which should be a good thing. But is it? Actions like these are not wanted, needed or beneficial to anyone. If anything their actions are only digging themselves deeper holes, which will inevitably cave in on them sooner or later.

Why is this? These extremists just so happened to be Muslim. The unfortunate thing is that very word - "Muslim" has been given a negative stigma by the media. When people hear this word they associate themes such as terrorism and violence with the religion. These views are simply not true, however the media's profile of the belief is starting to paint a completely different picture. I have never studied the Koran, and never intend to. This isn't out of disrespect, I am not religious, its as simple as that. Its the same reason I have no interest in the bible. I do however know that the Koran (just like any other holly book) does not teach hate or violence, thus meaning the very actions of these individuals neither represent their religion or its people.

As a white British citizen, some may argue why should I care? I care because innocent, hard working, kind and caring Muslims are now being tarred with the same brush, all because a small minority of extremists and the British media are giving them a bad name. This is horrible. Why should the innocent be put through this? I feel so sorry for those who have had to suffer because of the negative connotations which have arisen from these small upsurges and the media's coverage of them. Surely the media need to take some responsibility for the racial divides and hatred that are becoming increasingly common in society today. Though we all know this won't happen - the papers are too ignorant to acknowledge that they are damaging innocent lives.

So am I defending the actions of these extremists? No I am not!!! In my eyes they should be treated like the scum they are. They should be punished severely and be humiliated before being kicked out of the country they claim to hate so much. They should have every penny they have had out of the government taken back. This is not because they are Muslim, they should be punished for what they have done, not only to the memories of fallen heroes, but also to the innocent people of their very own religion. I am sure many genuine Muslims would agree that this needs to be done - so as they do not suffer at the hands of the scum that tar their names any longer.

On the same note the individuals who caused criminal damage in the student marches should have all grants and funding removed. It is ludicrous to be petitioning against increases in fees when the actions that some (not all) opted to partake in will cost the tax payer to put right. So if tax payers money is being spent on repairs caused from the protests, where will the funds come from? That's right... education... money doesn't go on trees. It has to be subsidised from another source.

Some students really have demonstrated that they lack an educated front and just like the extremists above are digging deeper and deeper holes to fall down. So now the media have branded students mindless thugs.... yes our friends the media are at it again! So many will now suffer over a march that has set the wrong image of what students believe. I personally feel funding must not be cut else the class system will open up once more. The rich will be able to afford education and the poor won't. Lets just say I am not rich....

So please everybody stop looking at the names and groups, look to the people and the individual and find the real answers. Not everything you read in the papers is accurate!

Really what is this country coming to?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Back In The Dole Q!

Four and a half years, three different West End homes, and an 18 month stay of execution, but Avenue Q's London residency has finally come to an end at the Wyndhams Theatre, which ironically stands feet away from the Noel Coward where it started out life all those years ago.

I will be honest I think since the departure of Daniel Boys and Julie Atherton (the second time around) the cast has lacked the strength it once had. Daniel had done a fantastic job following on from the phenomenal Jon Robyns, But Paul Spicer for me lacked the charisma that both Jon and Daniel had bought to the lead role. Equally Cassidy Jansen in the role of Kate and Lucy seemed not to live up to the likes of Becky Lock and Julie Atherton who had been so vibrant in the role before hand. I will state at this point that these are just my views, others have said that this is the best cast to date... we will just have to agree to disagree on that one.

It would be wrong to tar the current cast with the same brush. Tom Parsons spent many a show hiding in the shadows as one of the male understudies. In fact the first time I saw the show Tom was covering the role of Trekkie/ Nicky in the absence of Mark Goldthorpe. For reasons unknown to man or beast and indeed monsters alike, Mark Goldthorpe left the show with minimal notice which left the door for Tom Parsons to take up the role on a permanent basis. He has most definitely outshone Mark and would give Simon Lipkin who originated the role in London a run for his money also.

But cast aside, who would have thought that Avenue Q had what it would take to survive in the West End for so long. In essence bringing a show to the West End is like throwing yourself into choppy waters without a life jacket. In many cases you simply drown, few shows last long enough to make an impact. Quite what Avenue Q did to survive for so long we will never know. Maybe it was simply down to the marketing and ticket prices which under cut competitors. It could be that the use of puppets bought musicals into a new dimension. Though for me the reason is much more simple... it is a feel good hilarious show that you just want to see time and time again.

The biggest issue that Avenue Q faced was that it had to fight off competition from more conventional and traditional productions such as Les Miserables and Billy Elliot, which quite obviously has more appeal to your average theatre goer than a comedy musical with puppets. Though it was this very point which I loved about the show. This was not a show for your average theatre goer - it opened the door to new people, sceptics of theatre and those who just thought that theatre wasn't their thing. In essence the show drew people in who would never go and see a show like Les Mis, and why? It boils down to the fact that theatre still has an out dated class system attached to it. It is not thought as a working class past time, people still think of the theatre as posh and snobby. Shows like Avenue Q demonstrate that this really isn't the case and allowed a new market to access the arts. You know what? I think London owes Avenue Q a lot more than people think...

So final night - how to wrap up all that time in London? It needed to be special... How about a sing along version of the Internet Is For Porn - featuring Simon Lipkin (original Trekkie/ Nicky) and Jon Robyns (Original Princeton/ Rod)? Sounds great doesn't it? As a fan of the show and speaking on behalf of all the others - it was a nice way to wrap the show up and take it home with a bang. So from a personal perspective it is sad to see the show leave the West End, but for those who missed it first time found it is on tour in 2011 - and yes... I will be going to at least one show!

G x

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Beyond The Barricade

For the more theatrical readers among you, it will have occurred to you that this weekend was the 25th anniversary of the iconic musical - Les Miserables. By all standards that is one hell of a run for the show, which first started out at the Barbican theatre all those years ago. Some said that it would never even score a transfer to the West End. Though even the more optimistic followers of the show surly wouldn't have thought it would have lasted this long and manage to sweep across the globe like it has over the years.

he Barbican these days is known mostly for its dance productions, however that didn't stop Cameron Mackintosh negotiating a return for Les Miserables back to its original home. Over the last month it has made 22 special appearances at the Barbican - selling out almost every night. I was lucky enough to be at one of them earlier this week.

I must admit I love Les Mis, but I did have my reservations. Cameron Mackintosh had openly admitted in a radio interview that the 25th Anniversary edition of the show would feature some sizable differences to the original production playing at Queens Theatre in London. Furthermore I wasn't convinced that Gareth Gates would make a good Marius. Though as always I went to the show with an open mind. Though I will admit it is really difficult sitting there trying not to draw a comparison to the format of the show I had seen twice before.

The first notable change was that the set had been vastly modernised, which though had its advantages, I wasn't so sure about it. Something didn't feel right about having certain parts of the scenery projected onto the back wall. (Such as the sewer scenes) In a show that is so dated this just felt a bit too modern. Though in honesty this was only a minor gripe on the grand scheme of things.

Gareth Gates cast in the role of Marius was phenomenal. I had my reservations as I said, but they had proven unfounded. I think whenever I see a washed up pop star on a bill at a theatrical performance, it just feels like they have been added due to their name not their ability. Gareth Gates had however managed to adapt to the vocal demands of such a role, which is challenging throughout. He was convincing in his acting also which was a relief - and I really hope this encounter with musicals will be one of many. Sure beats a career in pop music!

Earl Carpenter in the role of Jarvet was the unsung hero of the show, never before have I seen such a passionate performance from an actor. Grasping every emotion with two hands and, encapsulating the audience with the power used in delivering these feelings is an art form in itself. Vocally his performance was second to none. In fact as a bold statement I feel Earl had the edge over John Owen-Jones, in the role of Jean Valjean. Don't get me wrong, he was too fantastic and delivered "Bring Him Home" perfectly, which you need one hell of a range to sing, and he managed that faultlessly! I just felt John's personification in the earlier scenes wasn't quite right. Though his second act performance was enough to win me over! It was also a pleasant surprise to see Jon Robyns again who played Marius in the West End version a while ago and before that starred in Avenue Q. He also happens to be one of my favorite actors!

I guess the only disappointment for me was the Thernadier scenes. I felt that whilst Ashley Artus is a talented actor, he just seemed to posh for the role. Strangely vocally he reminded me of Rik Mayall from The Young Ones. For the records I never used to watch the Young Ones, my dad did, I just remember it for some reason! Anyhow... that's going off at a tangent somewhat. I personally felt that he lacked the sleaze that you would normally associate with the role, he lacked that peasantish (yes that is a new word) charm which former actors have bought to the role. It wasn't terrible by any means, just could have been much better. There were some additions and twists to the scene that enhanced the comical value of the role, which was a pleasant touch in such a serious show.

So overall? What a show!!! When you see Les Miserables for yourself you will appreciate why it has lasted for 25 years. Some people argue that Susan Boyle's success with "I Dreamed A Dream" is the reason this show has been so successful of late. All I can say to this is, where was Susan Boyle for the 23 years before she came to fame? A show like this doesn't need some old trout from Scotland to be successful. It has managed all by itself, and its down to the powerful storyline, superb acting and phenomenal songs. At this rate it will be around for another twenty five years to come.

Happy Birthday Les Mis!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

From Delight To Disaster

There are a lot of changes going on in the West End at the moment. Lots of shows are closing, and others are opening for very limited seasons. I guess its a turbulent time out there. Maybe the economic climate has finally caught up with the arts, after it had seemed that they had faired quite well throughout the recession. Knowing that this was the case I took the opportunity to see two shows in their final week at the beginning of this month.

The first of these shows was Tap Dogs which has just completed its season at the Novello Theatre. I appreciate that I am very much bias towards dance, and with tap being a favorite of mine it was inevitable that I would love this show. No surprises there then. I will admit I had my doubts as to whether a 90 minute show without an interval, with solely tap dance routines may become a bit boring, but somehow it didn't. I really connected with the show, even in the absence of Adam Garcia in the lead role. I wish I knew what it was that draws me in to tap dancing so much. Maybe it is the energy that flows from the performance? It could be the rhythm that draws me in... I really don't know, I just really like it.

The cast of Tap Dogs kept the routines energetic, skillful and at times witty. The audience often left in awe at the ability being showcased before their very eyes. The interesting thing about tap dancing now days is, it generally isn't seen in its classical and contemporary forms anymore. Rather routines have become more street wise, which is nice. It has opened this format of dancing to a whole new generation who may have overlooked it otherwise. In essence it is giving it credibility rather than allowing it to be seen as old fashion, like ballet is often seen these days. (Though I beg to differ on this point). Shows like Tap Dogs are the reason for this. Taking tap dancing and bringing it into a more urban environment in a manner that allows people to relate and connect to it.

In all it was a fantastic night. I think I enjoyed it much more than my friend Reem who too loves dance but failed to find the connection that I did. With regard to everything else that is on in the West End at the moment, Tap Dogs is definitely different, however the exorbitantly high prices which London theatres command, are the main reason behind dwindling door numbers at more specialised shows like this. I can't help but think if ticket prices were lowered it would draw in new people who maybe wouldn't have seen the show otherwise. None the less a fantastic show which I am pleased to have had the opportunity to see.

Later that week I went to see Hair, which was finishing its run at the Gielgud theatre. I will be honest I had heard mixed feedback about the show, and I wasn't completely sure that it was my thing, but as I have said before I am very open minded and I am open to seeing all sorts of shows. Generally speaking I have liked everything that I have taken the time to see, except maybe with the exception of Chicago. I never did take to that one even though Jerry Springer formed part of the cast. But back t Hair.... it was pretty poor if I am frank.

The show itself by all means should be credited for the fact that it deviates away from the production style of conventional musicals, by utilising the entire theatre - not just the stage, and by involving the audience throughout instead of just performing to them. There is also an element of improvisation throughout which is interesting. Hair's diversity within its performance dates back much further than this however. Back when it opened 30 or more years ago, it too was going against the grain rather than conforming with the standards of the time. The original producers took advantage of the recently loosened censorship regulations which had previously governed theatrical performances. This needless to say caused quite a stir.

It was the first show to include full frontal nudity during a performance back in those days, a feature that the show has kept in its revival. Though this fact alone aggravates me somewhat. Its not the first time I have seen someone naked on stage, I doubt it will be the last either, however it was the most pointless use of nudity ever. During a song at the end of the first act (don't ask me what the song was called - I was bored senseless by this stage) the entire cast strip stark bollock naked and just stand there. There was no meaning to it at all, nor any power conveyed in the actions. I can't help but think that in its original format this was mealy used as a giant middle finger to Lord Chamberlain who had fought to keep censorship in the theatres. I am not against the use of nudity at all - for the records. Used effectively it can portray weakness, vulnerability or even be used to emphasise the sexual side of a relationship. But in Hair it was just pointless.... much like the show in general. Are you starting to pick up my feelings for the show yet?

Just in case you are still mysteriously under the illusion that i loved the show, lets take this review a little deeper, shall we? The storyline was erratic and hard to follow. The standard of acting was dubious in my opinion. At times, particularly in the improvised pieces within the show (mostly during the audience participation moments) I felt the actors fell out of character too much which is a real weakness in my eyes. It was noticeable to me as a drama student, so surely the actors must have been aware of their own failings too?

If I am honest, the best part of the afternoon was the ice cream I had during the interval. Chocolate flavour... and an orange and passion fruit J20... strange mix I agree, but rather nice. I recommend it next time you are at a shite show! It makes the 2nd act much more bearable. On this tangent - I have a thought, why can you never get Ben and Jerry's ice cream at the theatre?

The ending of the show too came as a relief, not simply because it was over - but the fact that the audience were invited onto the stage to sing along with the final song. A unique and frankly genius touch to finish a show on. It certainly removes the barrier between "them and us". I stuck to my guns however, there was no way I could be a hypocrite and join them on stage. Not after cursing them in my mind for the last two hours! Though I will admit the opportunity did cross my mind, purely to say that I have performed on a West End stage. Come on... you have to admit that line does sound good, though with my decision to stay seated, the dream of the stage is still right out there! This in turn means even more blogs... sorry about that!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Journey Continues

A couple of days ago I told you all about the shit week that lead up to my return to college. Despite all that happened I remained in good spirits, and though in a considerable amount of pain I decided to push ahead with my courses as planned. I guess what happened has made me defiant and along with it came a much stronger will to succeed. Had I have changed my outlooks on life and ambitions, or even just sat inside feeling sorry for myself, it would have felt like I was handing the attacker victory on a plate. There was no way that was happening. I would be there for the first day of term and that was that!

Right near the beginning of my many blogs (this is the 73rd whooooop), I had a blog called "The Journey Begins". I guess in essence this latest blog is a development of that early piece of writing which too, in turn has seen myself and my drama work develop also. I have achieved a lot since then, but really its all been working towards this. So maybe this is where my journey really begins or maybe this is just where the speed of my journey picks up. Either way - this is where things get serious, this is where drama has ceased being a hobby and is now shaping my life and who I am.

This term I am studying 5 key areas. These take the form of 3 long courses which last the full term, and 2 short courses. The theory behind this year is that I brush up on more specialised skills which in turn will give me the competitive edge when auditioning for more intensive courses next summer. It is a costly way to approach learning, but it will give me that edge, and that's worth the financial hardships - I say this, though I will admit every time I see the invoice for £1500 I cringe, more so when I realise I still have another £1000 worth of courses to book! Oh, did I mention that those costs don't include travel or books - which in two weeks alone have already set me back a further £150! Wow, I really need a sponsor!!!

The first of the three longer courses is improvisation. I know what you are thinking... improvisation is easy. But I would have to disagree with you there. I accept that pretending is easy, but improvising is not, and why? It has to be done in a way which is believable but most importantly it has to be spontaneous. People often don't realise what improvisation really is. I have been in groups before on more than one occasion where the course leader will say "spend 10 minutes working out a piece of improvisation to perform". This is not improvisation. It has been devised and has lost its spontaneous edge in doing so. All be it, the piece has been devised with little time and may be partially improvised, however in that time planning the work, the actors will have established some given truths for the scene. In improvisation you have to look within yourself or within your fellow actor to find the given truths, you act on impulse, and live for that moment in time... and that in essence is quite a skill.

The next full length course would be one that removed me from my comfort zone. In order to establish yourself within performing arts you need to be able to act, sing and dance. I have little experience in singing and dancing - in fact bar one course last summer I have avoided it like the plague. At this point I would like to say that I really don't understand this saying anymore. We say that we avoid things like the plague... but in itself this statement is a lie... the plague no longer exists, sanitation and medical advances have seen to this. So why on earth do we still use this figure of speech?

Anyhow, back on topic... I decided that I would take up a beginners dance class to improve my general performance skills. My reason for chosing this course does go a little deeper that it first appears to on the surface, just a look back at my blogs would indicate this. When I went to see the Rambert shows back in the summer I realised what a beautiful art form dance can be. Whilst the dancers there have trained for years, and are leagues ahead of anything I will ever achieve in my lifetime, it none the less inspired me. The biggest of these inspirations being Liam Mower who I have talked about before, who not only inspires me in performance but in life generally. The inspiration he has provided me makes the prospect of learning dance far less daunting than I would have found it otherwise, and you know what? After 2 lessons I am really enjoying it. The course touches on the basics of jazz, ballet and contemporary dance. I will tell you how I progress in the coming weeks!

The third area of study is one that is important to every actor - "Stanislavski's System". It can be argued that this is the backbone of acting in modern theatre today, though some would disagree I am sure. Either way like it or hate it, Stanislavski forms the basis around which most drama schools teach. The problem is broader drama courses barley touch on it, despite its huge importance to acting as a whole. In all courses which I have been a part of, I have spent no more than one evening per course studying his methods. For someone aspiring to move onwards and upwards this is not enough. I am hoping this specialised course will give me the edge and a greater understanding when it comes to this important area of study.

As for the short courses, well... I will tell you about those another day. The college itself it is based in the heart of theatre land - Covent Garden. Its so nice, and the rehearsal spaces are good too. I think something just feels right about studying drama in London. People had mixed feelings about me cutting my work hours in favour of this... well here I am and I am loving it, and there is no way I am looking back. Its official, I have made it on to the second rung of my drama ladder!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Fresh Start That Turned Sour!

September was to be a step further up my ladder to achieving my dream to perform on the big stage. In essence although it was mealy a continuation of what I have achieved over the last couple of years, it felt like a new start. Going part time at work in order to study further within performing arts was definitely a big change for me. I guess the only thing I can liken it to is riding a bike - eventually the training wheels have to come off and you have to take that risk of riding without them. That is the stage that I am at right now.

Talking of bikes I still remember 3 of the best bike crashes I had as a kid. The first, I almost ended up in a pond at a park... i forgot to turn a corner. The 2nd i ploughed at speed into a brick wall... again I forgot to turn the corner... and the third was where remarkably I remembered to turn a corner - and ploughed into a couple of old age pensioners. I think the moral to this story is that I should stick to acting rather than riding a bike. I get the impression I have gone off at a tangent again, haven't I?

In my mind September was gonna be something really special, so it goes without saying I wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible. The only issue with this is, that we live in the real world, so it was inevitable that my hopes would be dashed at the first hurdle. I am no pessimist, I am sure you have established this by now. But I am a realist and I know that optimism is never long lived in the real world.... well not without encountering some bad times on the way. I also know it takes strength to overcome the bad times in order to keep dreams on track.

The first stumbling block came when someone whom I had been building what I thought was a stable, solid and trusting relationship betrayed that at the click of a finger. I wont lie it was hurtful, especially when I ensured that I treated that individual with the care and friendship that I felt he deserved. I could dwell on this for hours. I could analyse it and say "what went wrong?", but you know what? I refuse to let myself get beaten down by this now.

Why am I not mourning this loss you may ask... What I saw was his true colours. It goes to show that people who seem nice, kind and caring on the surface can in fact (though i concede not in all cases) be good for nothing human beings who's mere existence becomes so self-absorbed, and spiteful that they lose all sense of value both in themselves and others. I won't lie - despite all this I don't hate that person, but I do realise that those months of friendship were very much one way and based on a lie... well on his part anyway. Do I have any regrets? No not really, I acted as a good friend to him and that's what matters to me. I know that may sound silly, but if I have been a good friend to him theres nothing more I could have done. Theres only one person at a loss here and its not me.

So as you can see I bounced back from this pretty quickly. This all happening on the Tuesday before I was due to start my college courses. I was pretty proud of myself that for once I didn't dwell on a matter like this, I wanted a clear mind for the following week. I will admit, usually I would be aannoyed for weeks about something like this. Sure I felt a loss and I still do to an extent, but my focus was onwards and upwards.

So Friday comes around, the weekend before my return to education! It was also the day which saw me resume organising gigs for local bands. This would allow me to pursue my other interest of local music as well as earn some extra money which would help plug the financial gap left by cutting my work hours in favour of college. I've never treated the gigs as a serious business, but now was a new start and if I was to make this work then I had to make ends meet.

So the gig... Its at a place I had worked at many times before with bands I mostly knew. The location was a small town near Staines in Middlesex. We only use a church hall there, its ideal for small gigs and cheaper than hiring a "real venue". So its ideal for what we do. I was very much comfortable in the surroundings there. Having done a years worth of shows there before I knew that the area was pretty safe and we also shared a good raport with the local police. So the last thing I expected was to be attacked.

Yes that right! The week had gone from bad to worse. I was attacked at the door of the show by some random pikey. I am not sure of exactly what happened I have been left with no memory of the entire evening, along with a couple of nasty wounds and a ton of swelling to the right hand side of my face. The problem with head injuries is that most of the pain cant be seen - headaches etc. It ended with me finishing the gig (not that i remember this), then spending the night in A&E. I am very lucky to work with some amazing people on the gigs who supported me on the evening and since. These are true friends... ones that care about me. So there you have it - not everyone is out to hurt people!

So I guess even before starting back at college I have learned a lot... not about drama, rather about the human race. There are some really nasty people out there, but equally there are some people who really care and value me for who I am. It is because of these people that I continued with my gig this week, just a week after the attack. Sure I was apprehensive... not that I would ever admit this to my friends before the show. I am pleased to say there was no incidents to report this week! As for college - well I will tell you about that another day!

G x

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A Tribute To Liam O'Brian (1995 - 2008)

I often talk about people who inspire me. Though not all inspirations come from the stage, some of the most amazing people are hidden in the shadows, and you don't even have to meet them to be moved by their presence or story. So please read this blog and take a little time to think things over and absorb the story. It certainly moved me.

Tomorrow - Monday 2nd August 2010, marks the 2nd anniversary of the death of Liam O'Brian, whos life was stolen from him at just 13 years of age. I never did meet Liam or even know of him 2 years ago. I in fact stumbled across his tribute page whilst looking for a friend on Facebook. Reading the tributes to Liam really moved me. I am not ashamed to say I probably cried a bit too. His short life was filled with so much happiness, not only which he brought upon himself but also to others. The memories people had of him were amazing to read, it really tears your heart in two, to know that such a fantastic person had their life cut short in such a horrible way. Liam himself sounded such a wonderful guy, full of energy... you know, the sort of person who could give anyone a lift if they were feeling down. I didn't feel I could just close the window, of that page and walk away having been so deeply touched by his story and the love and friendship shown by those around him so left a message of my own which lead to me receiving a lovely reply back from Liam's mum.

Liam was a victim of the shocking and sadly growing wave of knife crime this country has seen in the last few years. The exact circumstances surrounding what happened are not clear and never will be. What saddens me however is that somebody felt the need to take the life of a fun loving, innocent boy for no reason at all. What justification is there anywhere in this? Its not big, it doesn't make someone look good and if there was a conflict, such violent actions solve nothing at all. It just shows up some people for what they are - sick and twisted cowards. Though even these people have families, they too are human and that means they feel pain, be it emotional or physical. So why do they feel the need to inflict this upon others? It is just horrific.

What I have seen as a result of Liam's death, is the strength that his family have shown. They are united, strong loving people. I have become friends with Liam's mum Sharron and Liam's cousin Jack, both who are extraordinary people who I admire so much. The courage they show every day to keep going, and to keep those around them going strong is amazing. Further more their efforts to keep Liam's memory alive is fantastic. Had it not have been for these efforts I would never have made two new friends or heard all about Liam.

The thing is I can't just sit here and accept what has happened. We need to make a change remember Liam was just 13 years old, with a whole life ahead of him. Too many people have lost their life in this way - and we can't just let this keep happening time and time again. I know we will never live in a perfect world, but I don't think it is unreasonable to dream of better times, and I am sure that with a little unity we can make this happen. Ok, I appreciate the world will never be perfect, in fact far from it... but lots of small positive changes all add up.

I know a fair few people read this blog, though I will never know quite how many people it reaches and just who read it. But I ask everyone who does to take a moment to think, and if you can make a change for the better that's all I ask of you. Maybe there is nothing to change in yourself, but we all have the ability to influence others. Maybe if you just tell people about this blog - to open their eyes to the world we live in i(Just like reading about Liam changed my views) it could help. I don't have all the answers, what I do know is we have to, as individuals do what we can to change things. We can't have children like Liam losing their life in this way, SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!!! If we can all work together to make the world a better place... even if its just a small change we have done Liam's memory the justice it deserves.

Remember - I am not asking to to do this for me... I want you all to do it for Liam.

I deliberately didn't go into too much depth about Liam on a personality level as this video (linked below) made by his sister Lily beautifully sums up Liam's life. Please watch it. Its a fitting tribute for a wonderful person.

Feel free to leave comments or whatever on this blog. You don't have to be a member to leave a comment.

Rest in peace Liam xxx

Thursday, 29 July 2010

An Inspector Calls: Act For A Cause

People will know that whilst I can be a fiery character at times, I have a huge heart... that sounds so big headed but it is true... well most of the time anyway. So today's blog gives you a little insight into one of my little projects called "Act For A Cause" which is affiliated to the drama society of which I am part - The Black Fox Theatre Society.

I thought up the principal of "Act For A Cause" a long time before I had any idea what I was going to do performance wise. The concept is that acting should be able to benefit others, not only through entertainment value, but also as a platform to raise awareness and funds for needed causes. When you think about it, there is a huge opportunity to convey a message to an audience be it through the play itself, the production's programme or a short announcement at the end of a show. The audience is right in front of you and attentive, you don't need to work for their attention... you already have it... its the perfect opportunity to get people involved with your cause.

I gave the concept some thought, and I really felt that it needed a personal touch to it. I have the feeling that when you support a large charity, though you know they do good work, you are not really sure how your money is being spent. This in turn means there is no true satisfaction that you personally have made a difference. There is also a huge lack of emotional attachment to larger charities, which for me is an issue. If you are promoting a cause, or raising funds... you need passion, because it is that passion which will encourage others to support what you are doing and give you the drive to push for the best possible results.

With these considerations in mind I decided that "Act For A Cause" would be very personal and very direct. The cause would be an individual, somebody with a story to tell, someone you can relate to. I wanted people to know that their support will directly benefit one individual, and I wanted people to know how the money raised would be spent and to know first hand how much it would mean to that individual. What is beautiful about this is that the story then continues, its not the end the minute you donate some money, you walk away knowing that in fact you have allowed a brand new chapter in that individuals life to begin. Whats more because there is a personal feel to the cause - you know exactly what the next chapter has in store.

The issue is that there are thousands of worthy causes out there, people with a story, brave and courageous people who have been through more than their fair share of bad luck. I had to therefore set myself some criteria for this project. I decided that I wanted a sick child to benefit in some way or another. There is so much we take for granted when we are kids, even as adults. Its not until you realise how hard some kids have it, and how much they have missed out on that you realise how lucky so many of us are. I set our researching some cases, and in the end my shortlist amounted to about 100 different children.

It was horrible reading through the stories, realising the individual torments, and daily battles that these youngsters have to endure. it was harder still for me having to strike causes from my shortlist. The only thing which comforted me was that none of the people involved knew that I was shortlisting them. I felt it best that way. Finally I got myself down to a handful of cases, and it was at this point that I knew exactly who I wanted to support. I kept going back to his story, a young lad called Ben Smith.

Ben is eleven years old and has been bravely fighting leukemia and its side effects, which has left him very poorly. What touched me most about Ben was his spirit. Just reading about everything he s doing with his life, his feet must never touch the ground. That is not to say that the other kids stories lacked spirit, but Ben's was right out there. He is learning the drums and dance among other things and not letting his illness consume his life. Though this fight obviously brings huge challenges not only for Ben but also his family, who are just as extraordinary. Not only are they a close loving family, they work tirelessly to raise awareness and money for leukemia charities as well as keeping Ben's followers up to date with his news and progress.

Ben's spirit really moved me, I am not ashamed to admit there was a tear or two whilst reading about his fight. The fact that Ben is so very poorly, yet such a fighter with such an infectious smile made him my favorite. He is special... I knew that from the moment I first read about him. So it is fair to say that a special kid deserves the very best "Act For A Cause" had to offer.

But this cause isn't all about Ben. His family have been forced to live on one income, with Ben's dad being his full time carer. So on top of this struggle, Ben and his family can't always enjoy the luxuries some of us take for granted. Yet their passion not only for Ben but other sick children through their fund raising but also their unity as a family through all of these tough times makes them very very special people.

I therefore set out to find out what Ben's dream is. Dreams can come true, and f they deserved to come true for anyone its Ben and his family. It transpires he has always wanted to go too Disney Land in Florida. So that is our aim, to somehow get him and his family there! It will be a blast for Ben and his sisters that's for sure!

We know this will be a huge task, but I am determined to make our first "Act For A Cause" a success. We will be doing this by donating whatever we can from out ticket sales at the production as well as raising funds on the door etc. There will be a feature on Ben in the programme also. As with many not for profit organisations, we ourselves rely on sponsorship and donations. I liked the fact that people donating to our drama society know that in part their donation is not only helping the actors involved that it also plays a part in making Ben's dream come true. It makes you feel better when you know that the money you donate isn't helping just one good cause, it in fact helps two. Its like a buy one get one free offer at Tesco... only much better!

I really wanted our drama society to be different, with better morals and ethics than most of the bigoted drama groups around. I hope this is one of many ideas that make us unique. Just got to hope we raise enough funds now to stage the show on the scale which we are hoping to! Not only for the shows case but also for Ben!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Sunday Morning - Must Mean Church!!!

Well its a Sunday morning so all the good girls and boys are at church. I however am not a good boy it would seem, still in bed with my laptop at my side. However this blog is about as close as I am ever going to get to going to church on a Sunday morning, as I bring you my views on the West End musical "Sister Act".

With Sister Act closing at the end of October, it only made sense that I should see it before it departs from the London Palladium. Furthermore it was a show that neither myself or friend Louis had seen before. Having seen most of the shows in the West End it was definitely time for something fresh and new. The show had come with some high recommendations, though with it closing after just about a year maybe a little longer (i think), I was concerned that this in part reflected a poor audience response to the show. So I guess I went in with an open mind and no specific expectations which is sometimes a good thing. After all it was my high expectations of Wicked the musical which left me disappointed when it failed to reach the benchmark I had set.

I will at this point confess I have not even seen the film Sister Act, though I knew the rough plot. The show opens at a seedy night club where Patina Miller who stars in the lead role of Deloris Van Cartier is performing a cabaret routine on her birthday. It is after her set when looking for her boyfriend that she witnesses him commit a horrific murder which forces her on the run. Well I say horrific murder because it sounds good - truthfully it was more of a low key, cheesily acted murder. After reporting the crime to the police officer (who happens to be a geek who had a thing for Deloris in their school days) she is stowed away in a convent, among a group or disciplined nuns with an inability to sing. Needless to say Patina Miller's character saves the day, by teaching the nuns to sing in a completely new genre which changes all of their lives and saves the church they are associated with.

The show is meant to be cheesy - the fight scenes, the storyline - it is premium extra mature cheddar cheese at its finest. But that's what a show like this is meant to be, its a feel good musical that is there to give you a lift when you need it. With catchy sing along tunes Such as "Fabulous Baby" it is inevitable that you are going to leave singing the songs all the way home. Or in my case go away attempting to sing all the way home... trust me, you really don't want to hear me sing! No really... I am awful, I make even the worst singers on Britain's Got Talent look good!

I have to be honest whilst Patina Miller was on top form, I didn't think much of Simon Webbe in the role of "Shank" - the bad guy. I don't know what it is about West End productions that see the need to get washed up pop stars into their shows. Most of the time these pop stars don't have formal vocal training (lets be honest you don't need in to lip sync on stage!). The challenges of singing every night is often too much and the vocal strain becomes evident. Further more they are just what I said - wash ups. They are no longer stars... so why not look to the drama schools for some budding fresh new talent? With Sheila Hancock and Patina Miller among the cast, its not as though the production needs another "big" name!

So acting wise - there is nothing to be astounded by, but then again I don't think this show was ever meant to be taken seriously. I do however think the directors and creators of the show have mis-judged their target audience. In my opinion the show was written with the intent to be a family show, however the structure and storyline is a little confusing at times, leaving the younger audience at a loss. I may be wrong - but I feel this may be a partial reason for the shows demise in the West End. It would have been better targeted to a teen and young adult audience in my mind. Further more (and this is a criticism of many shows), there is not enough done to draw people in from outside of London. Posters at railway stations are not enough!!! You need to proactively reach out to your target audience and reel them in... I simply think that Sister Act has not done this at all. Though I think next month the door numbers will see a lift as "Whoppi Goldberg" from the original 1992 film will join the cast for a short run as Mother Superior.

In all - a fun show. Its a shame that it is closing, but in turn that will make way for a new show. I believe that will be "The Wizard of Oz" in the new year. I would recommend people see it before it closes at the end of October, as it is a feel good show. You walk away happy, relaxed and whilst you may not plan to see it a second time around, you wont have regretted your decision to go see it in the first place.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Miners Strike Reaches Potters Bar

My latest theatrical outing drew me to Potters Bar, a rather non descript little town somewhere north of London. At this point I must emphasise, my geography is rubbish - the UK is pretty much split into three zones. Firstly you have "the south" where I live, then there's "London", finally anywhere beyond London just becomes "the north". I should stress, I wouldn't advise using my geographical teachings in an exam... you won't get very far. Anyhow, I found myself in "the north" to see my very good friend Louis Gaudencio in the Top Hat Stage & Screen School's rendition of Billy Elliot, which formed part of the 5th Birthday Billy Youth Theatre initiative. Having been to one other Billy Youth Theatre production in Woking a month or so ago, I knew that I would both be expecting a lot and drawing a lot of comparisons to both that show and the West End performance.

I think what is interesting in seeing two different amateur performances of the same show is that you get to see just how important and influential the direction becomes. I think the directors role is often forgotten about in reviews when the writers lavish praise upon the actors or alternatively blast them for a shoddy performance. The fact remains that the director is at the helm and is ultimately responsible for whatever goes on. So that is where I am going to start my review today.

I will be brutally honest - I disagreed with more than I agreed with in terms of the direction. For starters what was with cutting "He Could Be A Star"? The song represents a pinnacle turning point in the show where Billy's family come around to the idea of him becoming a dancer. It also stands for the unity and spirit within the community in that era. Ultimately, aside from Billy wanting to become a dancer this is one of the main themes of the musical which is brought to life in the original London show. The song "Once We Were Kings" had also been scrubbed from the performance. Again it highlighted the miners spirit as well as their plight and suffering at the time. I feel these two parts were hugely missed, and in effect altered the sentiments and meaning of the show. I would however like to say on the music front, the band in the capable hands of musical director Grant Martn were fabulous!

But what about the acting? Well with all youth productions you come across a mixed bag of young actors, but I love crediting those who really deserve it, and tonight I am going to start with Sarah Phasey. I must say I felt she was really strong, with a fantastic voice. Her harmonising with Joshua Smyth (the second act Billy) in the reprise of the Letter was perfect, and captured the emotion of the song so well. Throughout I felt Sarah delivered a performance that could be likened to the West End "dead mum", both in her voice and mannerisms. Whilst it is only a small role, it is a hugely significant one - and a role I feel Sarah delivered superbly throughout. The same praise can be lavished upon Louis Gaudencio who rose to the occasion in the role of Tony, the older brother of Billy. His characterisation of the part seems to be derived from that of Craig Gallivan who currently stars in the same role in the West End. Louis was confident throughout, and too delivered a memorable performance. Another huge talent waiting for a big break.

A strange directing decision was to cast two boys in the role of Billy, one for each act of the show. With the size of the role, I could see the benefits of this (as there would be less pressure on each boy to learn their part). Equally however it makes you want to compare them with one another which inevitably I am about to do. The first act Billy - Harry Sharer seemed to lack a little confidence, which is understandable as I would imagine this is the biggest show he has done to date. I do however feel he has all the potential stowed away which will develop in due course, he is young, I would imagine no older than 11 or 12, so give him a year or two and I think he will be rather good indeed.

Harry bowed out during "angry dance" making way for a fantastic tap dancer who I'd love to credit by name, however he isn't listed in the programme. I have to admit this was one of the highlights of the show for me... simply amazing raw talent, boy could this kid dance! The second act made way for Joshua Smyth who I must say is an extremely talented actor in the making, delivering his lines with expression and emotion throughout he took ownership of the stage which is essential when in a lead role. A confident performance tied in with a fantastic ability to sing ensured that the second act really stood out even if it was lacking two of my favorite songs from the show. Joshua has a natural ability to perform, that is something which can never be taught, and it is that ability which I feel will see him progress a long way within performing arts should he wish to take that route in life.

Now on to the role of Michael... anyone who knows me will know just how picky I am when it comes to this part in the show. Just read everything I have to say on a current West End Michael "Jake Pratt" and you will see exactly what I mean. Sam Higgs therefore had a lot on his plate if he was to impress me. Thankfully he had what it needed, an uncompromisable level of energy, a great sense of movement and of course that cheeky Michael charm which radiates into the audience drawing out the laughter. Sam made "Expressing Yourself" look like a breeze in the park, though a moment that really pleased me was when Michael declares he will miss Billy if he goes off to ballet school. In the West End version of the show, this moment is completely lost when Michael delivers the line too quickly. Sam however took a moment to capture the mood, a short silence then "well I'd miss you".... sheer acting beauty that, bringing such feeling into a line put the icing on the cake for an all round superb performance from Sam.

I will confess now that I wasn't keen on the performance of Callum Crawford as Billy's Dad. Whilst he was confident, his articulation was so fast at times I struggled to take in exactly what he was saying, but further more he seemed to lack expression and emotion in his voice. I think this aside he deserves a little credit. Callum was part of another Top Hat cast for the show and stood in for this performance at the last minute when the casted dad was forced to pull out of the show for personal reasons. Maybe the nerves in unfamiliar surroundings among a cast he barley knew got to him? I don't know, I just expected more from a lead role especially seeing as he too is an older performer.

I also felt the Mrs Wilkinson lacked the attitude she needed, at times I guess she just seemed too nice and lacked authority. Though I should emphasise the role played by Emily Miles was again confident and well learned, just seemed to lack that spark it needed. I am sure there is natural ability there which in another role would allow her to shine (see what i did there... shine... Mrs Wilkinson's song... yeah terrible pun, I'm sorry) But seriously, I feel Emily has potential, just maybe this role wasn't quite right for her. I would also have loved to of seen more prominence from the ensemble roles also, and maybe more emphasis put onto their parts, most notably the policemen in the song solidarity.

So my views overall - I felt disappointed by the direction of the show. Tied in with the opening of this review, I feel the minimalism was too much at times, a basic set would have made a huge difference. The show could have done with a few more rehearsals I felt, especially seeing as the demands on such a young cast were so great. I think that would have helped confidence issues, and the few slip ups which various members encountered. Though in all I felt the cast did pull together well, and there were some exceptional performances.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Everything In Birmingham Is Just So

I find myself in the heart of Birmingham, and whats more I have been in the city for a few hours already, and get this... I've not been mugged or stabbed... I know!!! I am just as surprised as you are!!! No... truthfully people round here have been lovely, including the two police officers who helped me after my iPhone decided to try and kill me! (Its true... but I shouldn't wander too much off topic... you know what I am like!)

So why the hell am I in Birmingham? Well, since getting back into performing and mingling among theatrical circles, I have met a lot of new people and made new friends. One of these is James Hinton, who forms part of the "The Young Rep", a Birmingham based youth theatre group, who are staging their musical rendition of "Just So". The musical is based on the immortal short stories of Rudyard Kipling in the words of the programme. I guess he got bored of writing stories, which was probably a good thing as Mr Kipling makes the most fantastic cakes these days instead.

I am always keen to support my friends when they perform, us small time actors have to stick together... or something like that! Not long ago I traveled to Liverpool to see a friend in a fabulous version of "Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi", and next week I am seeing another friend perform in Potters Bar (wherever the hell that is... no really! Someone tell me... I haven't got a clue). So for the very same reason I am here in Birmingham. From my perspective it is also nice to see smaller shows as that is what I hope to be involved with in the near future, so it helps to give me ideas on how we can stage our smaller projects.

My concern with all young casts is that unlike a professional performance you will always get actors of mixed abilities. When you are sat in your seat just before the show starts you can only hope that the director has cast the right people in the right roles, especially in musicals as the singing and choreographed movement is much more defined and disciplined than in a play. Its something that leaves me nervous every time. My experiences have been mixed until now, so it was time to see what Birmingham had to offer.

Well what can I say? A stand out performance came from Glen Jordan who played the elephant child, which was one of the three lead roles in the show. Just like football, in acting you have to be just as good off the ball as you do on the ball. Ok strange analogy I know, but the principal is the same. Even when the spotlight is not directly on you, you have to remember that the audience is still aware that you're there and can see everything that you do. This is where Glen shone, every reaction, every movement was mastered to perfection. It didn't matter if he was hiding behind a tree, he let his body language portray his characters emotions at that specific moment in time. Its something that many actors forget - but Glen really impressed me here.

So that was Glen when the spotlight wasn't directly shining down on him, so what happens when he is at the forefront of the action? He is a blinding actor who is passionate about performing, who owns the stage when he is up there. As for his singing it was note perfect, and again the best in the entire company. It is rare to find someone who can blow you away on all levels, but Glen is an example that these performers do really exist. I really cannot emphasise how good this guy is.... put him on a West End stage, and you wouldn't be able to tell him apart from the pros, that's how good he really is. Glen will have a future in theatre... I just know it!

Kristal Watkins and Emily Owen were also fantastic within their roles as the two female leads. Both clearly have a passion for singing, and have taken on their roles with a great deal of confidence. They both had solo pieces which they delivered well most notably a song about the kolokolo bird who couldn't fly sung by Emily which was superb.

As for the supports on the whole I feel they too delivered their parts well. Not that I doubt my friends, but James really blew me away with his singing and characterisation of the Leopard. I never realised he was such a good singer until now, I'm still in shock! You learn something new about your friends every day I suppose! I don't want to be too critical of his partner playing the Jaguar but I feel James was far better, the pairing in my eyes was questionable, as James' counterpart seemed uncomfortable on stage. There was a real mixed ability among the supports some better than others, but as I said in the opening this was expected.

I think the story was very well written, and very family friendly, and it all flowed rather well in fact. However there was a role of a Kangaroo (who interestingly was played by the same girl who was a talking cooking stove which I thought was played very well indeed) in the second half of the show. I have to say it was well acted... very hyper and bouncy... frankly superb. I just struggled to appreciate how it fitted into the script (seeing as its based in Africa). Ths was explained in part but at this point I felt the script just went off at a random tangent. Though as I said very well acted, but I felt let down by the girl playing the dingo who the kangaroo partnered. Now I am not here to slag off actors, but I have always said I will speak my mind and be truthful in reviews. I just felt the dingo I felt had no passion, it was almost like the girl playing the role didn't want to be there, which really let the side down. Its a good job it was only a small role I suppose! The girl playing the Rhino however was fabulous with a great voice and her entrance from the back of the theatre was impressive, she really took hold of her opportunity in the spotlight and dominated.

The set was fairly minimalistic but effective, the music was well written. The ensemble pieces worked really well and were fantastically harmonised, which I feel was an issue in some of the duets and smaller group numbers where it didn't work as well. I feel a lot of work must have gone into this show as ts come off really well overall. Sound wise there were issues throughout, which left me wanting to deck the sound man. I always get annoyed when the technical team let down the performers... maybe that's just the actor in me having a rant?

Overall I was pleased with the outcome. I am proud of my friend for being part of the show and for performing so well (even though he disputes this.... but we all know Gareth knows best). But most of all I am pleased to have stumbled across yet another fantastically talented performer - Glen Jordon. Look out for his name in the west end programmes in the coming few years... he will be there I assure you!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Save The Last Dance For Me (Rambert Blog Series Finale)

Ok this will be short and in a few seconds you will find out why.... no really this finale to my series of Rambert blogs will probably disappoint as much as the final episode of Lost when that came to an end earlier this year. So please don't get your hopes up... in fact why are you still reading?

I felt that I needed to round up the Rambert series of blogs. Its not good to leave a story at a loose end after all. I left off after my first visit to Rambert, I went to two more shows after this. The first at Saddlers Wells later that week and another back at the school itself the week after. Whilst all were similar, there were some subtle differences between the shows, but what they all had in common was the fact they all left me amazed and in awe of the talent I was witnessing before my very eyes.

I think it shows that we all need a reality check. We look to television shows like X Factor and Britain's Got Talent to find what are supposed to be the most talented acts in the country. But are we right to do this? I appreciate there is much ability on these shows, but are they really the best in the country? I think not. When you see a show like the three that I witnessed you realise that talent goes beyond "ability". It calls on passion, energy and self belief, and each of those attributes can be found in every performer at every Rambert show. So you want real talent? Switch off the TV and see a show like I did. You will not regret it.

So where is this blog leading? I could talk about the latter two Rambert shows in depth. I could highlight the differences between the three shows. I could attempt an in depth analysis of the performances. (But lets face it I am no expert so that would be a journalism suicide) I could also talk about each of my chats with Liam. I could point out why i feel so inspired. You know what? I could do a lot of things... but I am not going to.

The point is there are a lot of things I could say. But when you go through an experience that means such a tremendous amount to you, sometimes its nicer to keep it closer to the heart rather than blurb it all across the internet. I love sharing things with anyone who wants to read my blogs and I made a rule that I would be as open as possible, but you know this is going to be an exception to the rule, and lets face it we can all bend the ruses sometimes!

All I will say in conclusion, is that I now appreciate dance more than ever before, and I have learned so much in my short time at these three shows. As for Liam, I thought the world of him before these shows, I now think even more of him on every single level, I have some great memories not only from the shows but also in getting to chat with him afterwards. Oh, and yes I will be back at Rambert next time they have a show thats for sure!

Oh in other news - 2 days ago marked my blog's first birthday... where are the cards and presents people???

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Chance Encounter At Rambert

At the interval of the show I had read about the struggle Rambert are having in raising funds for student bursaries. I can relate - it is so very hard to raise funds for the arts, my theatre group too are struggling to raise the urgently needed funds for our forthcoming production of An Inspector Calls. The show tonight had only cost me £6 entry, which by any standards is a bargain. Yet seeing all the hard work that had gone into making it happen, I felt almost guilty that I had paid so little to see such divine art. I have to be honest I am very morally bound as a person, and whilst at times it might not seem that way, I know from experience that if I feel bad about something, I need to address that issue immediately otherwise it gets at me for a long time after that.

It was this which spurred me into turning around and heading back into the building. I'd grasped £30 from my wallet. Bar a few coppers it was pretty much all I had. I looked around for a donations box... there wasn't one. I couldn't just walk away, I had to find some way of getting the cash to the school. After all I wanted to give a little something back having had such an amazing evening.

I pondered over my options for a moment, when I saw someone who was clearly affiliated with the school who I assumed was one of the teachers. I approached him cautiously (as anyone will tell you, in certain circumstances I am very nervous and find it hard to talk to people) and asked whether there was such a box. He said there wasn't, which at least meant I wasn't being blind when I couldn't see one minutes earlier. I explained my predicament, at which he offered to ensure the money got to the right place. I was very trusting in handing the notes over... after all this could be anyone, I didn't know him... yet I trusted him.

Sometimes you get a gut feeling which just makes you trust someone, and that feeling was right as it transpired that I was talking to the principal of Rambert. We had a nice little chat, though I must confess I was still very nervous. Ross McKim isn't what you would envision the principal of a high profile dance school to be like, or at least he didn't seem that way to me. He was very down to earth, laid back and seemed to enjoy a fantastic rapport with his students. What a lovely guy he was.

As I left the building for the second time that evening, I felt somewhat lifted. I knew I had done my bit and looking back, the evening was amazing. I was still in awe at the immense ability I had witnessed throughout. Furthermore I had seen my biggest inspiration, Liam Mower perform. Could the night get any better? I mean c'mon I was already on a natural high from everything that had happened thus far... I already felt things were perfect.

I slowly pondered towards the huge gates at the entrance of the school, no doubt muttering a song or a tune... like I am prone to doing. As I looked up, among a few of what I assume are his friends was Liam. What to do? Nerves once again set in. This was becoming a familiar feeling. However at that split second I remembered back to the last time I had spoke to him. He was lovely. Then another split second later it did cross my mind whether in different circumstances things would be the same. I was genuinely scared of making conversation at this point, as I slowly strolled in his general direction.

"Hey Liam, great show" I uttered.... or something to that effect anyhow. The next couple of seconds seemed like an eternity as he gave me a look which said "I know you from somewhere but I can't remember where". I reminded him of our last chat and he seemed pleasantly surprised to see me, maybe he didn't think I would keep to my word of showing up, or maybe he was just pleased to have had support at the show. I really don't know. We proceeded to chat for a minute or so, mostly about the evening. He genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say, which was so nice. It was a lovely chat!

What happened next is so typical of me in normal circumstances... problem is these were far from normal circumstances!!! Whenever I leave a friend I always hug them. It is just so "Gareth like" to do that. Just ask any of my drama buddies! Yet when I am around people who have inspired me I normally remain very much composed. But out of the blue I turned to Liam and gave him a hug goodbye. This was such a spontaneous moment, but it was fantastic as Liam hugged back. I have to say on record he is a fantastic hugger... but for me it was something special to share a moment like that. A hug with any of my friends is a really great moment, but a hug with Liam is on a whole new level.

As I walked home I couldn't help but wish the next 40 odd hours away, as yet gain I would be at a Rambert performance, only this time at Saddlers Wells. More about that next time!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Lets Get Ready To Rambert

So following on from yesterday...

As the lights dimmed I felt a strange sense of security which I hadn't felt all evening. I guess all of a sudden I was no longer feeling like a rouge, rather part of a unified audience gathered for the very same purpose. No longer was I an outsider, I felt like I was starting to blend in. My lack of technical knowledge didn't matter anymore either, and the fact that I knew nobody around me had now become irrelevant. I could just sit back and enjoy the show. I must admit, I still didn't know what to expect, but I was still very excited to be seeing something like this.

With the lights dimmed a pattering of bare feet rumbled across the floor as about ten dancers took their places for the opening routine called "First Steps", which was one of Liam's two pieces. I really liked this dance it was smooth, elegant and extremely diverse. I appreciate that it wasn't the most technical but it had a real warmth to it. In my mind there is always more warmth in group numbers, as you start to appreciate relationships and interaction between the dancers. It also brings to light the intensive discipline required when performing, as timing and placement is everything. That of course is without taking into account the difficulty of the movement and flexibility that is required of the dancer which must put a lot of physical strain on the body.

Already I felt so much more relaxed, I had already sunken into a state of sheer awe at the ability of the dancers I had seen, and we were only a matter of minutes into the performance. I was loving it, I felt invigorated, inspired and refreshed, and with the evening still young I had a feeling that by the end, I would be speechless.

Whilst I was very much in support of Liam, I couldn't help but notice as the evening progressed that there was nobody at fault. To date I have never been to a show where I could say that every performer was perfect. I think this is where my lack of technical knowledge is fantastic. I take everything I see at face value, which means I am not looking to analyse the work, rather just enjoy it, which is a really nice feeling.

Something I did note however... a stand out performance came from a third year student by the name of Ashley Orwin. He just looked so happy to be performing, and his smile completely infectious. He really came to life in "Diversion Of Angels" which was the final piece of the night however was on form all evening and just seemed to be having so much fun. It's so nice to see a performance like that and it makes such a huge difference to the audience to watch someone like that.

Anyhow... I talked of Ashley's smile. Seems irrelevant doesn't it? But I assure you, its not irrelevant at all. Never before had i noticed the importance of facial expressions and body language in dance. After all dance isn't just a series of choreographed movements. It is filled with so much emotion, and furthermore each routine tells a story. This requires more than the movements, body language alone can create imagery to set the mood of the piece being performed in an instant.

A piece which captured a much deeper and darker side of emotional spectrum was "Brahman", which incidentally was Liam's 2nd piece of the evening. It happens to be one of my favorite routines of the performance too. It was packed with short sharp movements and ever changing relationships among the dancers. With such depth and mystery to it, I couldn't help but be drawn in. At times it reminded me of the fight sequences in the awesomely choreographed "West Side Story", though I really don't know why. Maybe it was down to the way in which the dancers interacted with one another or possibly the heightened senses brought by the darkness and mystery within the routine. Either way it was fantastic and really demonstrated the pressures placed upon the body during dance and the strength required to perform to that standard.

Its impossible to single out the best dance or the best dancer of the evening but I guess I really should try. Of course Liam is and will remain my favorite purely for the positive influence he has played on my life both inside and outside of performing. He was absolutely superb an exceeded all expectations I had of him. You can see the energy, passion and hard work which he and indeed everyone has put into the show to make it happen. I was left breathless by it all. If I had to name two dancers who really did shine in addition to Liam it would be Josh Ben-Tovim and Ashley Orwin. So look out for those names someday because they will make it far... I am sure of that.

Anyhow, as the show drew to an end, I slowly made my way out to the main gates into the quiet and secluded side road in which Rambert is situated. But something didn't feel right. I checked my pockets... wallet, keys, phones... I wasn't missing anything, but I somehow just couldn't walk away. Why? Well that will all become apparent next time....

G x

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Rouge At Rambert

Anyone who knows me well will appreciate just how much I love performing arts, and as I have said many times before, I rely on the inspiration certain individuals bring to me. There aren't too many people who have the ability to change the way I set about things, but those who do manage to inspire me become very special to me.

One of these people is Liam Mower. What is it about Liam that inspires me so much? Yeah I know what you are thinking... Billy Elliot. That's where you would be wrong. He in fact single handed changed my outlook on dance as a performing medium. That's quite a result! But he inspires me in the way he leads his life also. Liam has never let anything stand in his way when it's come to living his dream to dance. Now at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, he has once again left his life behind in Hull putting everything he had on the line to follow his dreams. That is determination and I really admire that so much! He has openly said that whilst he enjoyed acting he wants to fulfil his aspirations in dance whilst at his prime. In short he is living his life to the max in the way he wants to live it. So that's what I really like about Liam among other things of course!

With a more diverse outlook on performing arts I was really keen to see a show that was all about dance and nothing else. After all it's not quite the same to appreciate dance when it's part of a different show such as a musical. When briefly chatting to Liam at the end of March he made me aware of the Rambert end if term shows. I at that point announced I would go see him perform.

I am sure Liam wouldn't have remembered that conversation, but I did, and was determined to be true to my word. I was also very excited about the prospect of such a show and knowing the standard of training the students at Rambert receive, I was sure it would be an amazing evening.

Furthermore in terms of my own acting... I guess I feel like I have been running on empty these last couple of weeks. I needed refueling (and unlike cars you can't just take me to a petrol station). This needed something special, or rather someone special who could rejuvenate my energy levels and motivation to perform. So there was now even more reason to get along to the show! As with a bit of luck it would give me the lift I was looking for, and if it was anything like the last time I saw Liam perform I knew it would do just that.

I arrived in good time and for a moment stood outside of the main gates to the school. For some reason I was nervous, I felt like a bit of a rouge... Out of place as after all whilst I love watching dance routines I am no expert! As i listened to people talk I became increasingly aware that I was the newbie, baffled by the dance terminology that was being thrown around. I also always imagined shows like this to be for people far posher than me... And let's face it... I'm not very posh. I was truly concerned that I wouldn't fit in and for a brief moment wondered if I should just turn and run.

A few deep breaths later I proceeded onto the lobby then took my aisle seat in the second row of the impressive studio facility at the heart of the school. I was strangely nervous, but excited to know Liam would be one of the first dancers to perform in a routine called "First Steps". But how would the show fair? Would I enjoy it? Would Liam still remain one of my biggest inspirations when the night came to a close? All will be revealed next time!

G x

Sunday, 27 June 2010

An Inspector Calls: Music Music Music

In the days when I was assistant director to Ollie, way before Chris came along I decided that I wanted to add things to the play which would make the production very much our own. I think the problem when you are doing a very well known play is that it can become stale and predictable ever so easily. Both myself and Ollie had already planned a couple of twists to An Inspector Calls to keep it fresh, but in my mind this wasn't enough.

In all my time in going to the theatre I had often noted how music was used in order to create an atmosphere and to heighten our senses to that particular moment on stage. Drawing reference to Avenue Q, "Theres a Fine, Fine Line", stylistically it is different to the majority of the songs, but is used to capture Kate Monster's heartbreak in the show. Its an effective moment in the musical and I wanted to have that same effectiveness in An Inspector Calls. I also knew that unlike many small productions we too would need music. Well its not so much small productions don't need music, rather they tend to overlook the benefits of using it. The only problem was who would do it? If you use other peoples music which has already been published, you risk having to pay royalties. Further more it would not be truly unique to our show. We needed something written for us.... easier said than done surely?

There was only one person with such a passion for both music and theatre who I felt could deliver this. His name - Tom Haggerty. Funny enough it was these very blogs that kindled a friendship between myself and Tom. Like me he very much enjoyed Billy Elliot The Musical, and somehow whilst browsing the Internet (one would imagine only for naughty sites he shouldn't be looking at) he landed on one of my blogs. Tom proceeded to read them, then contacted me. Since that day we have talked regularly and built a fairly solid friendship which is awesome. It was also a moment where I realised that these blogs reach far more people than I ever thought would ever read them which was quite a nice feeling.

Anyhow, back to Tom. I knew he would have some ideas, but I also knew it would be a big ask of him. When I approached him about this opportunity I was expecting a thanks, but no thanks kind of reply. After all he is 16 maybe 17 (I am rubbish at remembering ages) and studying for exams, which he has since completed. Tom instead grasped the opportunity with both hands... well not literally, I spoke to him online, so it would be hard to grasp it with two hands... unless he grabbed hold of his laptop at that exact moment in time or something to that effect... I'm drifting off topic aren't I?

With Ollie at the helm I asked him to contact Tom so as they could work together to make music which would fit Ollie's direction and visions for the play. Though as you will have read yesterday, Ollie was in fact useless. This meant that 3 or 4 weeks down the line from agreeing to do the music Tom still had no idea what was required of him. I therefore took it upon myself as my first big decision as covering director to get the music sorted. I believe it was a Friday evening when I sent Tom a list of what I needed from him or maybe a Saturday... it was the weekend anyhow. I have to be honest with exams in mid flow I didn't expect anything to be done before July.

The following day a facebook notification popped up "Tom Haggerty has written something on your wall". Tom surely wanted clarification on something I had asked of him. No not at all! In fact he had the first draft of a piece of music for the play. That's what you call service. It really captured the feeling I was looking for, and for what Tom described as a very rough draft piece of music I was very impressed, so much so I have lined him up for our society's future projects also. There is still more to come which I am very excited about.

Having Tom on board has allowed us to bring extra dimension to the play. We always wanted to make this as professional as possible and this touch will really help, so if you do decide to come see the show, listen out to the music... thats all the work of Tom Haggerty.

With the music in place we needed to get to work on the read through's, which no doubt I will tell you all about another day.

G x