Surprise Surprise!! Special Interview with Camden Fringe Co-Creator Michelle Flower!!!

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        Hello Readers! I haven’t posted in a while because I am unfortunately no longer in London! (so sad). BUT. I was super lucky to still be able to conduct an interview via email with the crazy busy and crazy talented Michelle Flower, the Co-Creator of the Camden Fringe Festival!! Below are some of the questions that I posed to Michelle and her responses. Hope you enjoy!!

A-Can you describe your background in the entertainment business?

MF – I’ve always been interested in live performances. I was always in drama clubs and plays at school. When I was 16 I went to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time as an audience members and absolutely loved it and decided I’d like to make things like this happen! I went to Edinburgh every summer for about 16 years doing different jobs, which gave me a few different perspectives on how things worked. My friend Zena Barrie and I set up our own production company to produce comedy shows in Edinburgh and we also managed to get ourselves an established pub theatre – the Etcetera in Camden – to run the rest of the year.

A-What made you want to start the Camden Fringe?

MF – Zena and I set up the Camden Fringe in 2006. At the time we were running the Etcetera Theatre in Camden alongside producing comedy shows for the Edinburgh Fringe, so come August we’d leave our homes, the Etcetera would pretty much grind to a halt (at the time a lot of Fringe theatres went dark in August) and go to Scotland to pay a lot of money for flats and venues there. Eventually we realised that it was completely illogical to do this! We had homes and a venue in London, and there were still plenty of performers and potential audience members around to make something really interesting happen.

A-What was the process like starting your own Fringe festival? (Ex: getting responses/interest, getting spaces, etc.)

MF – We took it very slowly! Year 1 was very much an experiment and only involved about 26 productions that all took place at the Etcetera. As we organised it all through the venue, which was already well known, it wasn’t too hard to recruit people and sell the idea. We had a horrible time in Edinburgh that year and the new festival seemed to go down well so we decided to focus on that in the future.

A-How has the Camden Fringe progressed through the years?

MF – Again, we took it quite slowly for the first few years adding just one new venue each year in 2007, 2008 and 2009. We didn’t want to over-extend ourselves and I think it was important that we established ourselves slowly before recruiting more venues and more performers. Since 2010 we’ve had quite a few more venues, and the line-up of spaces does change slightly each year. This summer for our 8th Fringe we had 17 different spaces used by over 180 different productions.
Another thing that had to change was the way the festival was programmed – originally we programmed all the venues ourselves, but in 2011 we decided to let the venues pick their own shows and allow performers to find their own performances spaces to use as well, which opened things out a lot.

A- What would you like to see happen to the Camden Fringe in the next couple of years?

MF – It’s a bit too early to be thinking too deeply about he future, but we are hoping to expand a little and make the 9th Fringe our biggest yet. We will be trying to push the boundaries in 2014! But I think it’s important that we don’t become too unwieldy; I think part of the charm of the Camden Fringe is that we get to know who is involved in each show and are still able to respond to all the emails and enquiries ourselves. (Although every year my brain gets a bit older and the festival gets a bit bigger, so I find it harder to remember every show’s production company and venue!)

A- What’s next for you?

MF – A little bit of a break, fostering some cats and then we’ll start plotting and scheming for the next Fringe.

A- What is some advice you have for actors/writers who want to be involved in the Camden Fringe?  

MF – We’ll be open for applications from performers from the 1st of January until the 31st of March, so it’s never too early to get thinking about putting a show on. We’ll be announcing the programme and putting tickets on sale on the 1st of June, which is less than 9 months away! We try to give lots of advice to our companies on promoting and publicising the show (which can take up a lot of time and energy), but what we aren’t really able to assist with is the creative process – so it’s good to get started early. Set yourself some deadlines and get dates booked for previews so you have something to aim towards.

** If anyone wants to keep up to date with what’s happening then they can follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Our website is http://www.camdenfringe.com

Many thanks to Michelle Flower, not only for her interview but her efforts in creating such an amazing Theatre Festival that I personally enjoyed very much! As I am back in the States, this is most likely my last post for a while. Thank you to everyone who helped make this blog a success and thank you to all you readers!! I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the city of London and the amazingly creative and unique theatre it is a home to. 

xoxo 

A

Matilda the Musical !!!

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            I guess the secret is out: I am a huge Roald Dahl fan! So because of this fact, I absolutely had to see yet another one of Dahl’s classics set to musical, “Matilda.” I have to say, I really worked hard to get to see this one readers! I waited 2 days for a total of about 2 hours to get special “18-25 yr olds” tickets (they only release 16 per show, per day and it’s first come, first serve). Buuut… It was totally worth it! The show was so much fun!

            When I initially walked in to the Cambridge Theatre, I thought (to put it bluntly) it looked a bit shabby. And compared to the many other theatres I have been inside of, it was. But all my trepidations disappeared as I sat down in my seat and looked onstage. The set was, in a word, “spectacular.” It looked like a 3-D scrabble board with multicolored letters hanging from the ceiling spelling out “MATILDA.” The set literally “set the stage” for what was to come (see what I did there) because as soon as the actors and actresses leapt (and they did LEAP) onto stage, I was bombarded by an unheard of amount of color, lights, glitter, and many other shiny things!

            Now, I don’t usually pay much attention to choreography in a show. Probably because I’m not a dancer. But, I have to say, whoever the choreographer is for this show, he or she must have a never-ending supply of energy. The entire cast did not stop moving for 95% of the show! And not like caaasual movement, more like a “flipping” kind of movement (they even had a trampoline on-stage at one point!). At some points, the choreography was a little distracting. Especially when the chorus was trying to sing in unison. The words got really jumbled and if there’s one thing I absolutely hate, it’s when I can’t hear the words to a song. But, even I have to admit, that at some points, the choreography, while it may have overpowered the lyrics to a couple numbers, it certainly created spectacular moments. For example, at one point in the beginning, a large kind of wall popped up in the center of the stage. This wall was kind of like a jungle-gym (anyone having a flashback to elementary school yet?) with squares of all different sizes creating this distorted-looking ladder. Well, as if singing around the jungle-gym wasn’t good enough, the actors actually started scaling the wall, while other actors started putting in square boxes with letters painted on them into the spaces for the squares. And if that wasn’t enough, all of this was timed and choreographed perfectly to go with spelling the alphabet and two of the acrobatically-inclined actors were climbing and reacting to the boxes while simultaneously belting their hearts out. It makes me exhausted just trying to explain it! But it was oh so impressive!

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            This show certainly had a lot to live up to. For me, it had to live up to one scene in particular from “Matilda” the feature film. And that, of course, was the chocolate cake scene. For those out there that have no idea what I’m talking about, go right now to your Netflix accounts, in the children section and watch “Matilda.” This scene will change your life, and if you are inclined to overindulge on chocolate, it might even cure your cravings. That being said, this scene was done really, really well, and the chubby kid at the center of the scene was absolutely hilarious.

            Another, very important piece of the “Matilda” story that this show delivered on was Agatha Trunchbull herself. One of the most notorious children’s book villains (synonymous with Ms. Hannigan from “Annie” and the Child Catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”), the “Trunch” was an absolute delight to watch. A very talented and self-confident man played Agatha and did a great job prancing around stage (with surprisingly toned legs I might add) putting fear into the hearts of the children both in and watching the show (I’ll admit at one point she/he gave me goose-bumps). And who is Agatha Trunchbull without her most famous weapon: “the Chokey” (dun dun… DUN!!).  Well, the entire audience got to experience the terrible chokey, as… no. I don’t think I’ll tell you that. You’ll just have to go and experience it yourself.

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            This was a great last show to see in London. Colors and lights galore, with amazingly talented kids and adults dancing and singing (although about what, I still am not completely sure), and best of all, an added touch of magic. To be honest, that’s really all I’m looking for in a show. Just a little magic.

And really, is that too much to ask?

xoxo

~A

Interview with Writer/Director/Producer/Agent LENNIE VARVARIDES

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       Hello Everyone! Hope you’re all having a great day! I recently sat down with a very good friend of mine, London-based writer/producer/director/agent Lennie Varvarides and finally got to ask her all the questions I’ve been dying to since we met! As a woman who wears so many hats in the entertainment business, Lennie’s insights have been invaluable to me. From the time I came abroad last January, I was placed as an intern at Lennie’s casting agency, MSFT Management and ever since, I have really gotten to see (and to some extent be involved in) so many sides of the industry. Not only does Lennie run a successful casting agency, she also runs a production company and is the creator of a dyslexia-awareness/celebration festival under her company DYSPLA annually. So, obviously, there was loads for us to chat about! Enjoy!

A-Can you describe your background in the entertainment business? (Ex: schooling, experiences, etc.)

I was always into theatre as a kid (wanted to create stories, and always playing pretend when I was a kid). Then I went to art college where I focused on performance art/ alternative theatre making, using film and other elements to create stories. After that I travelled to America and became involved with the Collective Unconscious (a Mecca for people doing alternative types of work). I became a member and got to use the space at a discount. So, I started putting on plays in Manhattan under the company ALOST Creative. After a while, one of the actresses I was working with suggested I should study theatre more. So I went back to London to do an MA in writing at Central School of Speech and Drama and graduated in 2006. And after that, I thought, “I just want to keep doing this,” so I set up Misfit Productions and we were putting on shows every year and started doing the DYSPLA Festival. And then in 2009 I decided that I wanted to set up a talent agency. I was getting more interested in the business side of everything, and setting up the agency gave me access to understanding the industry so I saw it both it’s creative side and as the business side. You have to treat “show business” as a business, so I thought that was important.

A-What made you want to start your own business?

I learned what it takes to run a business through my work with ALOST (marketing websites, and promoting). It was really good way to learn how to build a theatre company. It started off as purely a hobby I never thought it was what I was going to do. When I was doing my masters, we had a project where we needed to set up a platform to present your masters. So Misfit was that platform. When I graduated, it wasn’t an official business but I still carried on with it and the first thing we did was a festival called, “The Right Side of the Brain.” And then the following year, I put on Dys-the-Lexie in 2007, and by 2009 I had set up MSFT as a legal entity and from that point on, everything really changed.

A-How did you go about starting your first business?

In England, it’s easy to set up a business. You just need a business bank account and you register with Company’s house. So MSFT was set up towards the end of 2009, and the first 5 months was all about finding my feet and working out what it is that I do that was different. And in the beginning it was more events like “Speech Motion” where we’d screen films up until about 2011. And then we also had the program, “Dyssing Monadys” which was all about dyslexic storymakers. And 2010, we set up a program called “Sunday Surgery.” And as the agency grew, we dropped most of the events except for Sunday Surgery, because there weren’t resources and personnel to run those events. And I was mostly interested in making money and using my time to push my clients. The agency was doing well, and that was more exciting than the events.

A-What are some important things you have learned while running your own businesses?

How to treat people. And when to let people go. The most important thing is trust and loyalty and doing what you say you’re going to do. And as soon as you notice people not doing this, it’s learning when to drop them or say no (whether it’s a client, or production company). Finding your own moral compass while trying to do business with other people has been the most valuable thing I’ve learned. Everything else, you can learn by reading, but no one ever teaches you how to treat people and what to expect. I’m old-fashioned in the sense that I believe that all you have is your word. And that needs to be respected, and you need to be respected as well.

A-   What is some advice you’d like to share with all the actors, producers, and business owners out there?

To the Actors: You’ve got to have a good attitude, have a lot of respect for yourself and the people you work with. And always do what you say you’re going to do. If you say you’re getting headshots, get the headshots. If an agent says keep in contact, its vital that you actually do that. People in the business are evaluating your talent but also your integrity, time management, and business etiquette. And if you don’t have those things, that can make or break you, even if you do have talent.

To Producers: If you don’t have a big budget, but you still want to get good people, try to build good relationships with agencies, because they’re more likely to do you a favor and get you those actors. Don’t leave the casting to the last minute. Even if you don’t have the money, and agent should still be willing and sit down and have a conversation with you.

To Writers: Write more parts for women! We need more female writers! If writers feel that that’s too difficult, look into groups like Sunday Surgery, where people are happy to help read aloud your work and help you work on it. It’s important to share your work with other people before sending it off somewhere, because writers can learn a lot from actors.

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 A- Now some fun questions. What is your favorite…?

Movie: The Godfather I recently watched that. I know it’s a bit old and I’m a bit late, but yeah, I loved that. And I love the Rockys.

Play Punchdrunk’s Production called “Sleep No More” Punchdrunk is the most exciting theatre company I know. Another similar company is called “ThinkDreamSpeak.” They had a production on in march at Somerset house.

Actress/Actor:

I love Meryl Streep. I think when she acts; you feel that she’s another person. You never look at her and feel like, “yeah that’s Meryl Streep.” And I think that’s a priceless talent to be able to do that.

A-Which occupation do you like the best (writer, agent, producer, director), and why?

I like being a producer because you can get things done your way. But I do also like being an agent and see how I’ve helped to change people’s lives. Nothing dramatic, but just taking someone on once they’ve graduated and then building their confidence and watching them grow as a performer. To be able to say that you’ve helped someone feels good.

A-What are your plans for the future?

The next project is the DYSPLA Festival in November (ITS 6TH YEAR). The plan for DYSPLA is it keeps growing and we get to the point where were building the professional profile of the great dyslexic artists. But as far as the next step for MSFT is we build on our reputation for being loyal and supportive and proactive. And we are able to do more for our clients whilst still being able to keep the client list small because I think it’s important to still be a small agency. Cause having a small agency means that everyone is getting a better service.

It was so great to finally conduct this interview! Thank you so much to Lennie Varvarides, for all you have taught me! Best of luck in the future and hope to see you in London soon!

If you want to check out MSFT Management and Productions and/or DYSPLA, check out the links below:

http://www.msftmanagement.com/

http://www.dysthelexi.com

My time here is winding down, but I still have a couple more posts in me!

Talk to ya soon!

~A

*photos from promojobspro.com, plus.google.com, and sohoshorts.wordpress.com

Sweet Bird of Youth (starring Kim Cattrall!)

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Surprise! On a whim, I decided to book this show, and boy am I glad I did! This show is what theatre is supposed to be: dramatic, but not too dramatic, silly, but done in a classic style, and great attention to detail. Yep, “Sweet Bird of Youth” was a real treat. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the title, “Sweet Bird” was written by Tennessee Williams (who also wrote Streetcar named Desire, which every kid who ever went to High School should have read) and is about an “over-the-hill” Hollywood star (played by Kim Cattrall) who runs away from the “disastrous” premiere of what is supposed to be her comeback film, straight into the arms of vodka, and a southern wannabe actor/gigolo Chance Wayne. Although Cattrall obviously gets recognition because she is in fact a Hollywood star, Wayne’s character is the focus of the play.

Poor Chance Wayne is a struggling actor who only seeks fortune so he can win the hand in marriage of his childhood love, “Heavenly” (yes, that’s really her name. I know…) by proving to her father that he can provide for her. However, the play has a dark undertone to it (naturally, we are talking about Tennessee Williams). Chance has visited his hometown, St. Cloud, a couple times throughout his time being a city gigolo, and the last time he visited, he unknowingly gave Heavenly a “disease” that has led to dire consequences (I won’t spoil all of it) and ultimately a LOT of bad blood between Heavenly’s family and Chance. The story is VERY good and I think it translated onto the stage beautifully.

Kim Catrall was very interesting to watch. She definitely had fun being a washed up movie star, playing an “over the top” character (super dramatic). She also had this weird deep voice that she used which made her seem a lot older than the 50-something she was supposed to be. I asked my neighbors sitting next to me during intermission what they thought of her and they agreed that she seemed to be playing the role a lot older than we were expecting. Of course she could also have seemed older in contrast to the youthful exuberance of Chance Wayne, who had a very high pitched (not weirdly so, but nevertheless high-ish) voice that made him seem younger than his pronounced 29 years of age. Catrall also had a horrible red wig on (probably also to make her look older, but it made her look like a granny with a dye-job to me) which, oddly enough, was not on any of the posters for the show (where she is seen with curly blonde hair). Interesting… But I digress.

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The set was worrisome to me at first, but ended up being somewhat ingenious. There was a huge room in the middle of the stage, that was, for most of the scenes, blocked off with pillars (think “Gone With the Wind” style architecture) and drapes that suggested Old South finery. In the first half of the play, the characters used the space around the room, and used the pillars and drapes as if they were looking out the window of a hotel room. But in the second half of the show was where it got interesting. The drapes opened up to reveal a room and the entire stage looked like the set up of a country club, with an outdoor patio and bar. So cool. My explanation doesn’t really do it justice, so you should probably just go see it.

Also, the detail with everything was very well done. Sets were moved by people in maids and butlers costumes, so that it looked like the moving of sets was almost part of the maids and butlers duties at the plantation/hotel. Also, there is a scene where a political rally is taking place that sticks out particularly in my mind. It is a very serious rally to do with racial violence in the south, and the speaker is speaking out supporting the segregation and maltreatment of black people. This rally is technically off-stage, but there were old-fashioned black and white televisions on-stage that “showed” the rally, and the eerie outdoor lighting on stage and great blocking of the white people on stage vs. the black people on stage, made the whole scene very ominous and frightening. I loved it. There is also a fight scene at the end where a protester goes from on-stage, to off-stage (to the audience he is walking into the room where the rally is taking place) and then is thrown out of the rally, back on stage and a nicely choreographed fight scene ensues.

All in all, I was thoroughly intrigued for the entirety of the show. It was visually beautiful and the cast was very talented. The eerie effect almost reminded me of seeing “The Woman in Black” on stage, but was definitely more subtle. Highly recommend seeing and/or reading this play. In this case, spontaneity definitely paid off for me.

See ya tomorrow readers!

~A

An interview with Camden Fringe Comedian: Danny Steele

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A- Can you explain a little bit more about your background in acting and comedy?

I was a radio presenter for a few years and used comedy sketches in my radio shows; this then grew into a stand up routine, which I performed for a few years until I stopped in 2011. After this I moved into acting and retrained at Giles Foreman in Soho as well as intensive classes at the actors guild

A- Can you explain how you came to put together this show for the “Camden Fringe?”

Ex: How you picked your material, The process for putting the show together and getting it submitted into the festival, etc.

Honestly? I got drunk and put my name down. They asked me “What’s the title of your show?” So I came up with that. I then had to build a show around my past experiences. It was easy to pick a venue though…

A- How do you feel about the finished product?

I thought it’s ok, bit shabby around the edges but then it’s not meant to be a polished show

A- What’s next for you in the future?

More acting, I’d like to do stuff in LA, and I know I can do stand up but probably these will be my last shows for a while

Questions about stand-up:

A-What was it like for you when you first started doing stand-up comedy?

It was at an infamous comedy club in Greenwich, South London, it was Sunday evening… Everyone was drunk and I lasted about 40 seconds before getting booed off…somehow that made me want to come back to it…

A-What do you do when no one laughs?

It’s not a problem as you factor in moments of people not laughing… Even that can be turned into a joke – the mistake I used to make was thinking that every 10 seconds or so there has to be a laugh. Sometimes it’s the way you tell a story rather then the story itself that is funny. It doesn’t matter.

A- What’s your craziest experience either with acting or stand-up?

Coming on stage and then halfway through, a streaker (naked man) ran onto stage and started shouting at people.

Hey readers! Now, I have a friend at home who is currently trying her hand at stand-up comedy, and I thought, what a perfect opportunity for her to be able to ask Danny some questions! So, that being said, below you will find an extended interview with her questions and Danny’s responses.

How do you take a story that is funny, and then fine-tune it into a stand-up set?

Most stories can be turned or exaggerated slightly to find the funny moments. The key is to know when to stop tuning – think of moments you’ve had in your life, and then think about possible funny outcomes or experiences within them.

Confidence is key in stand-up, how do you find confidence in your new material/ how do you fake this confidence?

I usually play a vulnerable character anyway on stage so inversely I find confidence in this. You do have to go ‘outside’ of yourself a bit but tap into strong character elements you naturally have (like in acting)

How much of what you say is real vs. made up stories?

Hahahaha. My lips are sealed!

Thank you to Danny Steele for his time!

Talk soon readers!

~A

* photo taken from http://www.coremgmt.co.uk/Danny-Steele.php

Camden Part III “Other People’s Weird is Our Normal”

“Other People’s Weird is Our Normal.” I have to say, with a title like that, I was very intrigued as to what I was getting myself into. And thus began my third and final tryst with the film festival that is the “Camden Fringe.”

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            Although originally I thought I was walking into a play (I’ll admit it was recommended to me by a friend and I didn’t exactly do my homework) I quickly realized I had walked into a comedy show. My very first comedy show I might add. And, it had a wide variety of skits to offer! The first comic was Danny Steele, who had sets to do with topics such as Star Wars and Disneyland. Steele also made a comment about a recent interview he did with a reporter from Boston, MA, who, I am ashamed to say, apparently thought he was reporting on the “Camden FRIDGE.” Hopefully this blog will redeem Bostonians in the eyes of Mr. Steele. Steele’s set was filled with lots of different, and seemingly random themes, from getting rid of a girlfriend with excessive amounts of cheese, to a young Steele accidentally confusing tampons with air fresheners and putting them around the house in order to “tidy up,” to birds (as Steele states, “if birds were ticklish, they’d be absolutely fucked”—no idea why?).

The second comedian was Dan Raw, a gent from Northern Ireland with the accent to prove it. Now Dan’s set was pretty different from Steele’s in the fact that his was based on sex, violence, and more sex. There were northern Ireland car bomb jokes, and other jokes that always seemed to end with Raw pulling a cucumber out of his outfit (he also managed to hide a shampoo bottle in there, impressive). His finale was a XXX rated poem that he proceeded to recite to a poor volunteer in the front row, ironically named Rosalind (Shakespeare anyone??). While I’m not 100% sure what he actually said in the poem (I just got bits and pieces due to the accent), he seemed very excited to recite it, his eyes getting bigger and bigger and his voice getting louder and louder until the end.

A very interesting first-time experience for me. Especially since humor is said to be different in England than it is in the States. I found a lot of bits funny, but I think a few references definitely went over my head. One thing I will say, is that my fellow audience members absolutely adored the two comedians, so even when I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I found myself laughing in spite of myself.

Congrats to Danny Steele and Dan Raw for teaching this American a thing or two about stand-up on the other side of the Pond!

xo

~A

Interview With Rachel Creeger

 

As promised! Below is my interview with writer/director/producer of “An Insomniac’s Guide to Ambulances,” RACHEL CREEGER. Enjoy!

A- Can you explain your background in the entertainment business a little bit?

I’ve been involved in performing arts since I was a child, in school and community productions, singing in bands and choirs, and generally showing off! I left my “day job” to work full time in the arts about 5 years ago when Time2Shine was born, I realized that it had stopped being a hobby and had somehow stealthily and sneakily become a career…

 

A- When did you first start writing?

I have always been a writer, writing stories, poetry and songs. It was something that felt very natural to me. My aunt is a music journalist and singer/songwriter (Vivien Goldman) and she was always encouraging me to do something more with it.

 

A- What was your first play/piece that was performed? Was it good/bad? What did you learn?

The first time one of my songs was performed in public by a group I was involved in, I was quite overwhelmed and knew it was something that I would come back to again and again. My own productions have been performed in the public domain since March 2010, the first being “Esther! The Musical” at Artsdepot and the second, which was a commission running almost simultaneously with that one, was “Gil and Chen’s Metsuyan Adventure” at the Intimate Theatre. “Esther! The Musical” started off about 10 years earlier as a 30-minute piece of performance poetry which was commissioned by a school I was working in as an informal educator. Over the years I kept playing with it, adding songs and characters until it became a full length musical. It was performed by a cast of teenagers at Artsdepot in support of a charity called GIFT. Prior to that I had been working with other community and semi-professional theatre companies for about 3 years in my spare time, so I was able to learn a lot about producing shows. I also acted as a lyricist for them and eventually joined with 6 peers to develop the vocal harmony group (show choir) Kol Sheva.

 

A- Why do you write?

I write whenever I have a story to tell. It becomes an obsession. When it comes to my theatre pieces I spend a huge amount of time developing the characters and writing about them, their backgrounds, likes, dislikes, looks, accents, before I even begin to think about the dialogue. This means that once I start constructing the script, the characters have their own voices and almost speak for themselves. My family all joke that there are times when they speak to me and they can just see that a whole other conversation is going on in my head between fictional people! With music, I work in a similar way. The melody has to spend time germinating in my head before it emerges ready for lyrics.

 

A- Can you explain your previous experiences (if any) with the Camden Fringe Festival? What does the Camden Fringe mean to you?

My play “Staffroom” was in the Camden Fringe last summer, at the Tristan Bates theatre in the West End. I love the fact that London is developing a fringe festival, we have a world-class theatre scene and it has struck me in the past that it is quite bizarre how everyone decamps to Edinburgh when there is so much opportunity on the doorstep. Edinburgh has become a huge and competitive machine, and although it is still somewhere I would like to experience taking one of my pieces, I am aware that the expense can be enormous. I have friends who have sold out their shows but yet still come back in debt from paying for the accommodation, travel, theatre hire, marketing etc. “Staffroom” last year gave me a wonderful experience of the Camden Fringe, I found it to be a great group of diverse performers, writers and directors, and the festival organizers themselves (Zena and Michelle) were amazingly supportive. The play was voted “Most Audience Recommended” in the Fringe, which was fantastic.

 

A- What prompted you to write this play?

This piece was borne out of many late night Facebook chats about Aryeh Meyer’s and my past experiences, his as a paramedic and mine working with vulnerable families. Aryeh’s blog “InsomniacMedic” was the starting point for this immersive piece, which blends fiction and fact from our working lives.

 

A- How did you collaborate on this play with Aryeh Meyers?

As Aryeh lives abroad, he and I spent hours on Skype and Facebook discussing the play initially and then I wrote it based on those conversations. We each chose about 10 stories from our past experiences that we felt had strong pulls for us, and then I worked through them to find a selection that would support the journey of the fictional character of Leo that I had created. He made sure that any medical elements were accurate and that he felt I was true to the experience of paramedics. We even skyped him for a couple of rehearsals! He also arranged for me to meet some of his colleagues, including Alex Milliner who then spent a day with us in rehearsals. In another context I had met one of the Operations Managers for the London Ambulance Service who was also an immense help, allowing me to spend time in their depot and showing me around the different vehicles.

 

A-Did you perform other roles as well (ex: directing, marketing..) ?

I have performed all of the roles except the acting!

 

A- Can you explain some of the choices you made in the set up of the show?

 

1) The three different sets

An area I find very interesting in my work is examining the way that people interact in specific spaces. For example, we act differently with our families in our homes to the way in which we behave with our colleagues in the staffroom. To get to know someone properly, you need to see them in a variety of contexts. I felt that as Leo was a complex character it would help the audience to understand him better if they saw how he interacted with his peers in the mess room, with his partner at home and then when he was out in the public domain.

 

2) The actors talking over each other’s monologues

As this piece is immersive much of the performance is designed for the experience it provides above and beyond the dialogue. The purpose of that scene is to convey the sense that when people hear a story that echoes with their own story, they can’t help but to remember their experiences as reflected in that tale. In the scene that you have mentioned, the story of Jude “the broken soldier” throws up painful memories for both Leo and Richard as they treat him, because they have all been on similar emotional journeys. They move to different places in the room and each share their internal monologues whilst really their bodies have remained crouched next to Jude, as he tells his own story.

 

This technique is also used when the 999 dispatchers come into the audience to ask for descriptions of the noises you can hear, it’s to make the audience really listen to the sound and the effect that it would have on you if you were a neighbor or bystander.

 

3) Audience interaction at the “group therapy” session

My work always contains audience interaction; I love the breaching of the “fourth wall”. Leo has been described as an “everyman” character and one way of helping the audience to experience this is for them to participate in his life in a real and immediate way. The cast will tell you that we did the same improv at all of the auditions, we would see 5 candidates for 10 minutes each and then all of them would be brought back into the audition room to participate in a sleep clinic! I also trained as a therapist and thought it would be interesting to see how the character of Leo would respond to a psychologist who supported a very different kind of medical approach to his own.

 

4)  Interlude music/ voiceover

The music is all themed around sleep and dreams. As we have very complex scene and costume changes (with 5 of the 6 actors playing numerous roles) we needed to do something to landscape the spaces between scenes. They have each been chosen because of their tone or lyrics which help to set the stage for the following scene, including the music played as the audience enters (Dream On by Aerosmith) and leaves (Golden Slumbers by the Beatles)

 

5) Flashlight usage

I chose to have the audience members come on stage and light the scene using flashlights because this is a dream sequence depicting a car crash. I wanted to convey a sense of the chaos, drama and uncertainty in such a situation, and to give the audience the choice of what they wanted to see. The lights moving and flickering give a sense of both the dream and also the reality of a crash, and also help the actors to feel the anxiety and lack of control that they would genuinely experience. Both Aryeh and I have been involved in serious car accidents and we wanted to make this a powerful and empowering moment as those incidents have helped to shape us.

 

A- How do you feel about the finished product? What did you learn from this experience?

I am really proud with what we have achieved. This is the very first outing for this piece and I think it will grow and develop. The main thing for me is that Aryeh is happy with it! As he had to relinquish control and also give up his anonymity as the writer of InsomniacMedic.com it would have been awful if he hadn’t liked the final result!

 

A- If you could give one piece of advice for writers who want to get their work produced, what would it be?

One thing that I find immensely useful is having my writing work-shopped before I move on to a final draft. I participate in an event called Sunday Surgery, which is a workshop for writers, actors and directors run by MSFT. They will allocate a director and cast a section of your piece so that you can see how it works and how an audience responds – not your friends and family who will say nice things, but people who are also theatre professionals and will be honest. This is invaluable.

 

A- Anything else you would like to say about “Insomniac’s?”

We were the only production in the festival to have a signed performance with a British Sign Language interpreter. This has been a long-held ambition of mine, which was further fuelled when I discovered that the parents of one of my cast members are deaf. It was an amazing experience to watch her convey such a complicated presentation to the hearing impaired members of the audience, I was really proud that we managed to offer that.

 

A- What is next in your future?

I have had a children’s production commissioned which I begin working on in October. I am heavily involved in the DYSPLA festival in November (which I love!) and I am also working on a new play for next year about a group of women at a speed dating night – this is an exciting project as it will be a one-act play in real time! Just for fun, I am also working on a musical with a songwriting partner, based on the biblical story of Ruth – we sit down every so often whenever we have some time, it will probably take us years to finish but it’s a labor of love!

 

Thank you so much to Rachel for her amazing stories and wise words!

 

If you’d like to learn more about this show and the Camden Fringe, check out the links below!!

 

More info:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/AnInsomniacsGuideToAmbulances/

 

Booking:

www.camdenfringe.org

 Till next time readers!

~A