Firstly, apologies for the lateness of this blog. November started off fabulously, carried on spectacularly, but then ended with a lousy bout of flu. My intention has always been to write at least one a month, so hopefully I’ll be able to catch up.
Now, to the matter at hand. November. Always an exciting month for me as my birthday happens to fall just short of the end of it. Truth be told, I didn’t feel a tremendous amount of excitement for said birthday this year. Maybe it’s one of the pitfalls of passing the 30 year mark, but I’m choosing to believe it was simply because I had so much on last month that my own birthday had to take a back seat.
Yes, last month was a whirlwind of creative activity for me. Writing, acting and even directing. I’m calling it the ‘alternative triple threat’, because the traditional definition does not apply to me. I have yet to come across the singing coach that has the patience to tackle my voice and sheer state of tone deafness. Plus, being as tall as I am, keeping my balance when walking is hard enough let alone while trying to dance.
November began with the Sodbury Player’s fringe event, ‘One Night Stand’, an evening of comedy sketches performed at Old Sodbury Hall. This was a marvelous event and a great deal of fun for all involved. When it was first proposed, I immediately submitted some comedy sketches that I had written myself for consideration. Discussions for established sketches were already well underway, but I have to admit, the chance to premiere my own attempts at comedic writing was too tempting to resist.
As I’ve said before, handing your own creative work over to someone else can be scary. It can be ten times as scary when that work is intended to be humorous. What makes one person laugh so hard they’re physically sick may only make another person chuckle. Worst of all for a writer is having a joke or a line fall flat on its face entirely. However, I submitted my sketch anyway. A short, two page deal involving two people. A classic ‘shopkeeper and customer’ set up. The focus of the sketch? The fact that the customer’s pumpkin was not a cucumber.
I was extremely glad to enlist Lin Bowden and Nicky Shipton, two wonderful actresses within Sodbury Players, to take on this sketch. Their wealth of performing experience brought the sketch to life, along with some directorial input from Rob Creer, Sodbury Player’s chairperson. We rehearsed the relatively short sketch a few times, I provided basic props (chief of which being the pumpkin) and we were ready to go.
Rather absurdly, when the time came on the night for the sketch, I was in the makeshift backstage area of Old Sodbury Hall, also known as the kitchen. It hadn’t quite dawned on me that the rest of the cast were out behind the audience, watching the show. I was out of sight, running over my lines of another sketch while also preparing to host the Improv section of the show (more on that later). Only myself and Mr. Grant McCotter were in the kitchen. Luckily I could hear precisely how our pumpkin sketch was going. A few titters here and there on some lines, but the final kicker at the end delivered mighty guffaws from the audience. As Grant will attest, I was punching the air in celebration backstage. I remain immensely grateful to Lin and Nicky for their hard work and brilliant delivery of my sketch.
That’s the writing aspect of the alternative triple threat covered, but let us go off on the promised tangent regarding Improv. The role of hosting the improv games in the second act was pretty much dumped in my lap a few hours before the show was due to start. Making things up as I go along has never been my strong point. I knew I wouldn’t be expected to perform in any of the games, but acting as a host requires making observational banter and jokes. How our wonderful compere for the entire evening, Mr. James Murden (who gave my sketch a lovely introduction) does it is beyond me. I managed to work out an opening joke, something about the points system for the games being akin to Donald Trump’s presidency, then hoped that everything would flow from there. Turns out, it did!
It seems that hosting is a performance all in itself. You’re playing yourself, only bigger, more direct. As someone who has chiefly relied on script and rehearsals in the past, it was quite refreshing to discover that I could make a go of hosting even to a small degree. Perhaps that can be added to the alternative triple threat, making it an alternative 3.5 threat? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
So, as November progressed after a hilarious night of comedy, I began another first for me. Directing. The third prong in the alternative triple threat. I am currently directing the Sodbury Player’s entry for the Bristol One Act Drama Festival next February. With the support of our amazing group I am slowly discovering what it takes to steer a cast. It certainly isn’t about throwing your weight around, trying to make out you know everything. The message I’m getting loud and clear is that a good director works with their actors, discussing the characters and situations with them. A good director is willing to try new things, taking on board the suggestions of the actors. There are times, of course, when the director has to make a decision or two, but only when it benefits the production as a whole. I have a fantastic cast and rehearsals are going very well indeed!
Let us now return, in a roundabout way, to the second prong of the alternative triple threat. Acting. Taking on a character myself and interacting with others is always a great joy. In my opinion acting is very much like sex, the more people that are involved, the more fun it is.
Thanks to Rob Creer and Melody Lewis, I had two opportunities to take on two comedic roles very close to my heart. The first being Private Pike from ‘Dad’s Army’, a show I’ve loved ever since I was six. The second, Officer Crabtree from ‘Allo Allo’.
I was asked many months ago if I’d consider playing these two roles at a pair of 1940’s themed events. After a few rehearsals at the pub and a costume fitting, I was as ready to join this brilliant group as I’d ever be. I’ve been watching ‘Dad’s Army’ for years, yet still found that taking on a character I thought I knew so well wasn’t going to be easy.
“Make the voice higher, David …more whiny.”
However, I am certainly an actor that can take direction. I felt more at home playing Pike than I did Crabtree, mainly because Pike was allowed to be more expressive. Lines such as “Good moaning” and “I was pissing the coffee” have to be delivered completely dead-pan or they lose their impact. Both of these events were tremendous fun, and it is my sincere hope that we’ll be booked to do more in the future!
All of these events, both singular an ongoing, came together to make November a truly special month for me. Never before have I been able to combine so many things that I love doing, nor indeed do so with such a talented group. I have learnt and continue to learn a great deal about writing, acting and directing. That’s what life is all about, really. Being willing to accept that there is always more for you to learn.
To expand and to grow. That is what makes it all worthwhile.