And a happy new year to you all…..an odd year so far, but things are quietly bubbling away. I’m not not busy, with my stage productions of Rigoletto and Bronte keeping my mind busy, if not keeping the bank manager happy. Both projects are stripped back and at their most basics, and both have challenges – Rigoletto is about the logistics of bring the cast together. I have no shortage of ideas about the production. and the Bronte challenge is make a complex, often harrowing play satisfying and ‘entertaining’. and imaginative. I’ve certainly seen two amazing productions this year, that define the word imaginative. I took a friend to the Royal exchange, to see The Producers. Traditionally that is a spectacular piece with set upon set and a cast of thousands. The space of the Royal exchange does not allow that but it does allow a leggy showgirl or boy’s foot to be kicked inches from your face, and to see every sequin and every feather. The necessary physical limits imposed by that space often force them to be more creative, and boy did they rise to that challenge. Yes we got a clever stage filling revolving swastika, but not as expected. many surprise after surprise. My friend was giddy, which of course made me giddy. he is at the top of his performing career, and this new space thrilled him. and yesterday I went with just the right friend to Company in London, and boy did we appreciate the new approach to an old favourite, and it is an old favourite. The much discussed gender changes didn’t really occur to me when watching as it all seemed so right, but it was the big budget, big imagination production that thrilled me…moving from a gorgeously lit empty space and Bobbie standing there in a dazzling red dress, to the most beautifully watery lit stage filling series of neon lit rooms, with choreographic staging that echoed my favourite animated film, Tango – all changing seamlessly in an instant.Witty direction, and so sophisticated. this was classy, intelligent theatre, and an approach I know I am capable of, but first you need people to turn up to rehearsal. Enough said. You also need people to pay you for work done – that’s been the other big battle of the year, and it has taken so much effort, and I’m still owed so much. Red tape – for feck’s sake!
Our Christmas was rather glorious, especially for being slightly ahead of Christmas, due to choreographing the movements of our truly gorgeous new addition to the family, my great niece, Esme. We all agreed being calm and sated whilst everyone else was running round crazily was the way to do it.
I have spent most of my energies chasing up monies owing, and getting nowhere, and universities and councils are now shut for a lengthy period. Gee thanks. Some have even lost track of my fees. So annoying and so crippling.
As a family we watched Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, which pleased us all. The third film, Black Panther, left us cold. Oh yes, it’s an important film, but I’m afraid CG is killing too many films, and too many magic clothes and magic elements do not make satisfying plot elements. I was bored witless by seeing another CG figure flung about. I’m afraid I yearn for the good old practical stunts and sets. if you take away the natural physics of a performance, it’s simply not involving or as impressive, despite the technological wizardry
Here’s a short film by Christopher Hoare, for which I did the voice. I ather like it, and irony is not lost on me. I like the economy of the film
Had a very lazy sunday after Cuba and the Swans, and fought off the usual depression after the swans. But I was, and wait for it, straight into a short film for the sale waterside. A two minute one take with a few rough and ready in camera effects, and shooting all that footage in three and a half days was pressured, but I loved being in a studio again, with a small team. I shall look forward to the results, but that was a fun few days.
Otherwise it has been endlessly chasing up fees from Universities that all seem to have an unspoken game of how long can we leave it before we pay anyone – if they have not submerged in a sea of paperwork before that. Something is wrong when it takes so long to pay.
Yep I saw the Swans, and I also had a freebie for Nutcracker with Birmingham royal ballet. In the course of the afternoon I sat with ballet legends past, present and future, and all of them lovely. It is a great production, the best I think, certainly very lavish, though some of drosselmeyer’s close up magic is wasted, and I’m not sure the Prince’s plot makes much sense, and poor Clara gets a raw deal in the second Act, and what happens to fritz who was so in love with Clara…he gets dumped pretty quickly.
I also caught The Female of the species at the Garrick which was very entertaining, and I’ve been enjoying many of the awards screeners. Bohemian Rhapsody was good if slightly sanitised and missing Flash Gordon and Barcelona. I caught mary Poppins and it was everything it should be, and a thrilling if confusing cameo at 1.05. The film takes the same elements and give them a twist but much the same ideas, and great for that too. Widows was so tense but I feared for the welfare of the dog. Looking forward to Stan and Ollie tonight. So pleased about these screeners, as they may be my last as I can’t afford the membership fees of the Academy at the moment. Not until some universities decide to pay my fees. ah the pitfalls of being freelance.
A crazy couple of weeks. Auditions for the next two shows I am doing, Bronte and Rigoletto, left us with incredibly hard decisions to make. ghastly decisions really, But we will be on our way soon.
teaching in Nottingham for one day, and if I did no other good, I made the staff suddenly appreciate the lovely Victorian building they worked in – all decorated with sculpts of famous artists. None of them had ever looked up.
And so to Cuba, and a long journey but we arrived in the dark, so I saw very little of the city, and I was scared for the lean horses pulling traps and carts….I hope drivers are cautious. But five days at the film school in the middle of nowhere, though a very pretty nowhere. A lovely dining area under a thatched roof and with a great view. The students, well no they weren’t students, let’s call them animators, were all lovely and thirsty for anything we could give them. Some of their work was amazing – very visual if a little dry in the animation area. But what enthusiasm they had for all our sessions, and there were a lot of sessions. Many animals following us around all day, and exotic birds. exotic foods too – too healthy food and my body struggled to keep up with the rice and gorgeous fresh food. The five days raced by, and whilst we saw little of Cuba, what memories of lovely people and lively discussions. I’d peaked by the time the journey home came. I was barely awake when I reached home, but I had tickets for Matthew bourne’s swan Lake. This could not be missed, however tired I was. And there I was front row – hours earlier i’d been in Cuba. And the swans were even more dazzling in a tighter, slightly redesigned production. It is still a chuffing, erotic, imaginative, dark masterpiece.
heck, where were we? It’s certainly been a tumultuous few weeks, and I’ll just dangle a few highlights. Many great things have happened, but I’ve been kept down to earth by having to sign on and go to a four hour workshop at the job centre about making one’s CV look impressive. I’ve learnt from experience that CV’s are seldom read past the first line. This was a depressing experience and the one girl there burst into tears at one point. However, I’ve been at several events at the sale waterside, including a rather splendid talk by Vivien Halas talking about her parents and Animal Farm. I saw Blackadder Goes forth at the Garrick which was rather impressive and looked superb in a stage filling trench set. some of the staging perhaps was a little clumsy but then that is inevitable with scripts that rely on the tv film grammar. But we were back on the set for our Lest we Forget concert. How this was pulled together I do not know…..the dress rehearsal was a little chaotic, but then you are standing alone on stage and you have to get your bit right. Fortunately I did, and I was buzzing somewhat. We raised a fair amount of money for the British Legion.
I went to revisit my friends The crooners, but could not give away a spare ticket. Great show but I am not sure about the Parr hall or warrington.
I’ve been racing round getting some t-shirts done for the Manchester Animation festival and mighty fine they are too. But before the festival I was on BBC breakfast on Tuesday and that was exciting. A great car picked me up and the studio I’d like to pretend was calm and organised. It was not. I was quickly thrown and then half way through chatting they stopped me in full flow – and presented me with a MAF fellowship. Well I was surprised and very flattered. I’ve not watched the playback but I hope it was OK. after this I did more filming and then a radio piece. back down to earth with a committee meeting at the Garrick in the evening. and yes before the festival we had the rTS awards, in which RAA RAA won best pre-school programme and Twirlies won best Craft – amazing to think what that was up against. But the best was Johnny Vegas going into a ten minute monologue about why he loved Twirlies so effing much.
And the festival was great fun. I did a panel about what makes a good animator, then we did our 40 years of BP which was great fun. I managed I hope to be sincere and outrageous and insightful. we showed some early stuff but not enough. the 80 minutes raced by. A good full house. Then there was the screening, and by that time I had had some cider and was was too flirty with everyone. The next night we had the awards, and got through it – just. A few hiccups. I did not stay long afterwards as I was up early yesterday to go to Sheffield for a good lecture. Then back home and I collapsed exhausted.
And next week is pretty much the same, topped with a week in cuba,
And I hope your week was good too.
November 1st 2018
Yep, sat on a haunted ghost train, steaming out of bury into some very dark countryside, I watched several of the points I have been making in all my talks, in action. Firstly, that a mask does not conceal but reveal, or release certainly. Being only loosely hidden by a mask and people certainly behaved as they would never in public. I for one. I had a skull mask, with no eyes and just lurked rather closely to people, totally scaring them. I’d never have done that normally. And it was so easy. Secondly, a static, artificial face is no barrier to expressions. You really don’t need over literal facial expressions to get something across. A tilt of the head, or a good piece of timing are just as effective. Yep, the joy of artifice, and the device to allow the reality to come out. That’s been my talks for a good year or two – and here it was in action.
October 26th 2018
The last two weeks have indeed been crazy and rather surreal, and whilst I have had great fun and met some inspirational people, I’d be quite happy not to see an airport for a while, especially the obnoxious images of Julia Roberts advertising some pink smell. But two Thursdays ago I left for Poland, via Brussels, then to Warsaw then car to Lodz. Three nights there then home for 36 hours then off to Venice for two nights, then home for 36 hours again, and then overnight to Paris. Along with that travelling and six talks, was a panel in Manchester, and a longs days teaching session at Edge hill, and I squeezed in two plays. It’s almost like working, except without the pay. Also I saw many animated films, both exceptional, and some rather gaudy and brash, and I watched my own films way too many times – but actually they still work and get an amazing response. I’ve had some breathtakingly kind comments about how the films have touched people, and how insightful were my talks, but I confess, after these two weeks I doubt I am actually nearer to getting work. it has happened, what I have most feared, and that is that I have become an old codger going round endlessly talking about days and techniques and films that no longer matter Talking rather than doing. An observer rather than a participant. and that’s mighty tough. But heck talking to interesting and interested students in venice is not hard. I did at least have a day to myself there and did what I enjoy – wandering. I did not even see the Eifel tower in Paris, though I rather loved the venue, a theatre dedicated to puppets. There are jobs around at universities, but do I want to lock myself away there for two years – actually I doubt I would get any jobs as whilst I teach around the world, I do not have any qualifications and such boxes must be ticked.
The two plays were A view from the Bridge at the Garrick, and it was certainly the best production I have seen there for a long long long time. Excellent, and tense. And the other was another production of our Playhouse Creatures. A few rather too similar ideas, but with more costumes. It looked good but i’m not sure they tapped into the theatricality or the depth of the play itself.
October 15th 2018
Just back from a great few days in sunny, clean Lodz, in Poland. a long journey there and back, but a lovely city and a great festival. I missed the first part which was a few days of pitching. It’s ages since I have actually pitched a film…not sure how I would get on these days, but I did three talks. One a retrospective, one a chat and screening about Twirlywoos (with polish voices), and the final one about what is animation, art, and other such larger questions. I chatted away for two hours, and still had much more to say. The audience of professionals seemed to enjoy it, and I think I made sense. But there was more to say. I had a great time chatting to lots of fellow animators, and it’s satisfying but frustrating to have the work so appreciated when the prospect of getting work is so bleak. even more frustrating for people to say ‘why don’t I do a feature film!’. I finally got to watch Isle of Dogs, and it is epic and remarkable and astonishing – cold and precise but astonishing. so beautiful. I did see some other good films – an equally epic labour of love, Laika. But this whole festival lark is odd, as it is hard work in terms of preparation, and being on show, and talking so much, and it does feel like a job, but sadly this is not our real life or our paying job. That is much bleaker. A quick unpack, and the pack again as it is venice tomorrow.
I just watched this brilliant movie from the 60’s last night. Burt Lancaster swimming through a series of pools in America, beign a catalyst for the people he meets to expose cracks in their relationships, whilst we piece together fragments of his own tragic life. He is a device through which we learn what the film maker wants to talk about – this is the theme of most of my talks at the moment. A glorious film, that is heartbreaking and surreal and unapologetically allegorical. A very brave film and a raw performance from Lancaster in nothing more than a pair of shorts. Watching it I thought it would actually make a rather good stage piece, enjoying the artifice of the story but being very moving.