Cuba and Swans

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.

17th November 2018

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.

Halloween ghost train

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.

The last two weeks

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.

Animarkt, Lodz

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.

the Swimmer

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.

talks

I’m in the slightly odd position of not being able to rub two pennies together but I am off on my travels giving talks at various festivals and universities…if you are around at any of these places, please say hallo
Lodz, Poland – 11th – 14th October
Venice university C’ara Fosca (?) 16th – 18th October
A marionette theatre in Paris – 21st October
Edge hill University 23rd October

then I think I am doing something in China at the end of October and then Cuba last week of November. details to follow.

Early Doors

In this very challenging year my cultural trips have had to depend on the kindness of others (Karma, I hope that’s you), and thus earlier this week I found myself at the stage production of the TV sitcom Early doors. I only discovered the TV series by accident and loved it, but it never really screamed that it needed a stage version, but still the idea of seeing most of the original cast was enough to peak my interest. Ha, it was chuffing brilliant. A gloriously clever and detailed set – a complete pub and living quarters on stage. but gag after gag hit home, with so much laughter that the cast struggled at times. We were competing with some significant football matches and the cast cleverly found ways to keep themselves and the audience up to date – so much so that one actor totally forgot where we was in the scene- of course the audience roared its’ approval. It is a game, a play after all – all my talks this year have been about the awareness of the artifice. and this is all part of that. So all in all, this was an unexpectedly enjoyable, and moving evening, finishing with a very clever song that gave everyone a moment. This production is moving on to an arena tour which must be odd, as presumably they will have big screens, and hey we are back to watching it on TV.
Back to reality now – how ghastly, It really is.

Technology

The most frustrating day ever. I was expecting to be heading off on a big trip to the other side of the world, and was apprehensive and excited at the same time, but sudden silence seems to have squashed that one. I do like to know what’s happening, and with this I don’t. still I went to the bank to see if I could extend my overdraft, and after pleas to try to talk to a manager of sorts, all I got was an assistant tapping away on a computer asking such impossible questions as ‘what are you earning next year?’. The computer still said no. basically no human interaction or consideration was actually involved. Likewise I was filling in the form for Universal credit, and again there were boxes that I could not fill in or were not relevant. I was screaming at the computer that ‘my life is not like that’ no-one’s life is black and white, and there’s no chance to explain things. So frustrating. I looked at a job application at the local council and again was defeated by the jargon. I’ve wasted so much time on these forms today, all being a feat in themselves, but really it would be so much easier to actually talk to someone who could help in real terms. I felt sorry for the cluster of ladies in the bank who really all they do is point you to the computer. Heavens, the computer oes let us achieve many things, when we want to, but it’s made life colder. Sometimes a face and a voice that is able to reason would be so useful. All a bit humiliating, this out of work and no prospects and no money thing

The Comedy about a bank Robbery

Mischief Theatre company have certainly won me round, especially with their live shows that are now heading all round the world. It’s taken me a while to see this production, and I could only do it thanks to the generosity of my Playhouse Creatures cast. in a way it was almost too funny and too clever, as I didn’t find myself laughing out loud, mainly as I didn’t want to miss anything. such clever routines (ah, the magic number three in full force here), and stunning physical gags. An extended sequence with a folding out bed was joyous, as was the sudden change of perspective of the office. Split second timing and sheer bonkers gags. the play in the middle of this mayhem is surprisingly complex and thought through. All in all, an utter joy. I suspect it will be a long time before amateurs will get their hands on these shows. So much could go wrong. Full marks to an igneous set and great singing too. Gorgeous to look at. Just go.