Monday, 31 October 2011

Time for NaNoWriMo...

So. King Lear is over. Several months of pure joy (if you don't count the occasional moment of terror on stage, which I don't, because that's really part of the joy) have finally finished. And, predictably, I'm feeling a little bit sad and confused and like I need something new to fill the gap. 

Luckily, today is Hallowe'en. 

No, I'm not talking about trick-or-treating. (Never really been convinced anyway, as it seems to me to be basically encouraging kids to beg aggressively for sweets.) What I mean is: tomorrow is the 1st of November. 

Remember, remember the first of November? 

That's right. NaNoWriMo. 

Now, I've never done National Novel Writing Month before. This is mainly because I've always been in the middle of a novel when November rolled round, and also because my novels were Serious Writing that Couldn't Be Rushed. Happily this year neither of those statements applies... well, I do already have 5000 words of my novel, but that's tiny, isn't it? It would be a shame to pass up the chance of doing NaNoWriMo when it's not really cheating. I definitely need at least 50,000 more words for the book, so... OK, so I'm not convincing anyone here. It will be cheating. You're not supposed to have any words already written. But I don't mind. I fully intend to enter into the spirit of the thing as strongly as if I were doing it properly. And my slash novel is the perfect vehicle, as it doesn't really matter if it ends up as a load of balls.  

So I'm feeling kind of excited. And a little bit scared, because even if I do write for a living I could fail spectacularly at this. But that's the fun of it, I guess. 

I will try to keep you posted. Although if I'm writing 1,667 words a day, including weekends, this blog may falter from time to time... Wish me luck. 

Oh, and if you're interested in King Lear, here is a short video of me painted gold and doing the Merlin speech from Act 3. I haven't watched it, as I always feel a bit ambivalent about watching myself, but - well, enjoy. (I am less blurry in real life. I hope.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Another play, another love affair...

Or not. Exactly.

I mentioned back in the summer, when I'd just finished doing What the Butler Saw (click here for a photo, I am the one who is not naked) how I always thought of plays - i.e. the process of being in one, from audition to last night - as being like love affairs. It's something I've been thinking about again recently, what with King Lear and all... and also, I guess, because I'm thinking about love affairs generally for my germinating slash novel. (I.e. the novel is germinating. I haven't just invented a new genre.)

I realise this might sound a little bit weird, or perverse, even though* I should point out that, for the record, I am not talking about actual love affairs with actual people. But bear with me, OK?

It may seem a little strange to think about an abstract process in terms of sex. One of the fairly universal assumptions about sexuality is that it has to have a direct object - whether that's a person or an animal or a high-heeled shoe... But, you know, I'm not convinced. I had a discussion with someone a while ago about how "appropriate" it was to exploit one's sexuality in the workplace, and she suggested that whenever anyone did anything that they loved, and did it wholeheartedly and well, that their sexuality was automatically engaged: that in a sense it was meaningless to try to demarcate the "appropriate" spheres for sexuality because it was there in everything. This isn't, I hasten to add, about fancying anything that moves. It's more the idea that what drives us is not clearly divisible into sexual and non-sexual, or even romantic and non-romantic. Desire is desire, whether it's for sex or an elegant solution to a problem or a really good bacon sandwich. The object is actually an indirect object - pretty much (OK, this is probably a bit contentious, but hey) incidental. What you want to achieve varies - but the feeling that motivates you is... the same.

And the process of being in a play has the same shape as a burgeoning love affair. You hear about the play and you're interested, you have that moment of connection (the audition), you walk out feeling hopeful but helpless - it's down to them whether they want to see you again - and then you get cast and you feel triumphant and attractive... And then in rehearsals you have fun, you laugh a lot, you have moments of wondering whether this is the best thing ever or if it's all a horrible mistake... you get a whole new group of ready-made friends with whom you have something in common... and all the time you're moving towards the Great Climax of the first night. And then you Do It. Again and again. Until suddenly it's over. Leaving you, at least in my case, invariably a little bit broken-hearted.

But it isn't just the specific emotions that make the simile work for me. Because, let's face it, I've been in plays where the rehearsal process has been painful, the other actors boring or irritating, the director tiresome - where, in short, I haven't enjoyed it much - and somehow, even in those cases, the metaphor still rings true. No, it's more to do with the way it makes you think about the future. Does that make sense? It's because of the balance of enjoyment and anticipation, certainty and uncertainty, pleasure and fear... And maybe it's something much more universal, something about all narratives, whether they're ones we live through or ones we read or watch or write. I think what I'm driving at is the way momentum and experience meet and interact, our relationship with the present vs. the future... (This is getting wanky, but bear with me.) When you're acting you have to be absolutely in the moment, focused on what's happening now, and there's a kind of happiness that comes from that, especially when you're doing something you love. But at the same time, rehearsals are only there because you're going to perform. That's the whole point. They only reach their full meaning retrospectively - when you get to the performance. If, when you rehearsed, you didn't believe that one day you'd perform, you wouldn't enjoy it - even if nothing about the actual experience was different. And it's the same for all narratives. You're driven by the desire to know what happens next - not right now, maybe, but soon. You have to enjoy the process of reading, but it only reaches its fulfilment when it finishes. That's why a brilliant book with a bad ending can be so frustrating. It's like great sex that breaks off when your partner goes to answer the door and doesn't come back.**

OK, so I didn't mean for this to get quite so Barthesian. To be honest I was really only thinking about how sad I'll be when King Lear is over. I'm not absolutely sure where this splurge of quasi-narrative theory came from... but it's probably better that way. (Possibly something to do with the fact that I'm delaying the moment when I have to do some real work.)

I am going to sign off now. Mainly because I just realised I could sum this post up in three sentences: "I like being in King Lear." And, "Last night we went to the pub after rehearsal. I had a very nice time."

* Or, possibly, especially because...
** I imagine. This has never happened to me.***
*** No, it really hasn't.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Stranger Things and Other Things

Last week, as you might remember if you follow this blog, I had the UK premiere of my first full-length film, Stranger Things, at the Raindance Film Festival. Which was amazing and bizarre in equal measure. Try seeing your own face, very close up, on a big screen when you're only sitting in the second row... I'd imagined it was going to be like watching the DVD only bigger (logical enough, when you think about it) but actually the whole experience was different and weird. Mainly good but also... odd. It hadn't occurred to me to be nervous beforehand, but so many people asked me if I was that by the time I went into the cinema I was feeling very jumpy indeed. And of course watching that first scene with the zombies didn't relax me much...

The really nice thing, though, was that I found myself forgetting that it was me onscreen, and just letting the film tell me its story. Sometimes I think that story-telling is really the thing I love best about acting (or possibly about everything) - and in film you don't get to do it yourself, you're only providing the raw material for someone else to do it. So seeing it all put together and looking beautiful is a lovely eureka moment. Oh I see, I said to myself. I understand now...

On a less thoughtful note, I hope and pray that I am better-looking in real life. Several of my friends assured me I was. But then, they're my friends... Maybe I should ask an enemy.

Anyway - so that was Friday. Then on Saturday, just as I was going to bed (a little bit addled from my father's birthday dinner)* I had a phone call from Ron, one of the directors, saying we'd won Best UK Film! I had to check on the Internet the next morning in case I'd dreamt it... Very exciting. And it also won an award for Best Direction at a different festival the day after. Honestly, Ron and Eleanor (the other director) are so successful it would be unbearable if they weren't so nice.

So I radiated glory and triumph for about two hours yesterday morning before I had to go to rehearsal for King Lear. And had a splendid time forgetting my five lines and being restfully dead. I'm loving rehearsals at the moment.

Oh, and did I mention I sent Mazecheat to my editor? So it's Liberty Hall chez moi at the moment, as I'm not exactly sure what to work on. Slash novel? Historical novel? More blog?

Time for writeordie, I think.

* I had scallops with pancetta and chillies, calf's liver with fig sauce, semi-freddo and coffee. Since you ask.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

OK, so three princesses walk into a bar...

(c) Di Byers, 2011
Did I mention that I was (am, am going to be) in King Lear? Well, I expect I did, but here anyway to prove it is a photo of me with some of the other actors. I'm the one in the white dress, looking stern in an I'm-taking-myself-terribly-seriously kind of way... Yes, Cordelia, how did you guess?

I am also playing the Fool, which is fun too. I get to make lots of rather dirty jokes, not to mention do a brilliant impression of a horse eating buttered hay. (Confused at first, then dubious, then won over by the idea and thoroughly over-excited, since you ask. All in an unmistakeably equine fashion. It'll be worth seeing the play just for that... Promise.)

So today I was going to blog about the Internet and the fact that it's a Good Thing, after all... but I started and then realised it was going to take longer than I'd planned to write it. So I thought, nah, put that on hold, something with a picture would be better. And since pretty much all my time is taken up with rehearsals at the moment, King Lear sprang to mind.

This photo was posed, I hasten to add. For the local paper. Which hopefully will go some way to explaining why it looks so... odd. And why Lear's court has mysteriously been transformed to a cave. (Possibly a mystic cave.)

Never trust a man in a fur jerkin, that's my motto.