Lioness had its very first rehearsal today - attended by myself, Manchester's Andy Pilkington, Rotherham's Alex Wilson, and Professor Brian Morrell on piano.
It was a tough, long rehearsal, but very productive, and I now have a better idea of the work we have ahead of us before our preview on 28th April. We are essentially working with the first half of the script, including 6 songs. It's only half an hour of theatre, but we still have our work cut out for us to get it ready in time, and "ready for a preview" certainly doesn't mean it'll be perfect.
Our "cursed" fourth role has now been taken on by fabulous actress called Katy - let's hope it's third time lucky - and if that doesn't work out, I do believe our director Liz will simply have to accept the signs from the universe that she is meant to act in this thing.
Next weekend we begin in earnest, with a 3-day stint at the Royal Exchange, and before then I'll be working on the backing tracks, sprucing things up and making good use of my subscription to East West's "Composer Cloud". It's ridiculous that I haven't done so before now. I have access to the finest software instruments that money can buy, so it's time to actually start using them!
Once April is over we can concentrate on our summer performances, which include Manchester Central Library, Cross Street Chapel and The Kings Arms (as part of GM Fringe), a commissioned performance at DN Festival, and King's Head Theatre in Islington.
A friend happened to mention to me today that my former colleagues of the inflated fish variety are planning to tour "Boris - the Musical" again, which I wrote the music for. Since they've announced this to the world without seeking permission to use my intellectual property, I can only assume it will now be rewritten with music of the same quality as "Trump". I wish them the very best of luck with that. I would also encourage their composer to look up the word "melody" in any good dictionary, the clueless fuck.
On a totally unrelated note, I've been off work for some time ill, but hope to return soon. It has been a difficult time, but all growth is painful. The lessons of the last 18 months have been:
Quite aside from all that, I also need to work on time management. It's been tough ever since I started my current job, and I need to accept that my Crohn's leaves me with limited energy levels. As they say, there are only so many "spoons" to go around, and if I don't bear that in mind, my emotional resilience soon falters too.
A daft short play, written for challenge 4 of Theatre Deli's "28 Plays Later"!
By Holl Morrell. An adaptation of “The Honest Woodcutter”.
Lass - Honest. Has broad Yorkshire accent. Gay.
Fairy - Magnificent. Also gay.
Bitch - Cleavage. Long false nails. Bitchy.
A Yorkshire lass is ambling along next to the river, on her phone.
VOICEMAIL: You’ve reached the Vodafone voicemail service. Please leave your name and number after the tone. [Beep]
LASS: Ay up mate, it’s on’y me, just lettin’ yer know me phone’s broke, so this is me number till I can get a new un. ‘A’nt got no dosh at t’ moment like...
The lass trips over a tree root and her phone falls into the river.
LASS: Bloody ‘ell! Can’t look after owt can I? What a stupid chuffin’...
A magnificent shining fairy rises out of the river.
LASS: F*** me!
The fairy looks at the lass admiringly and raises her eyebrows.
FAIRY: Maybe later... Did you just drop something?
LASS: Aye, me phone! It’ll be soppin’ wet now though, won’t it.
FAIRY: No gorgeous, I’m a magic fairy, aren’t I? It’s dry as a bone. Is this your phone?
The fairy show the lass a Samsung phone.
LASS: Oh no! I mean thanks and everythin’ but that’s defo not my phone. It’s quite nice that. Someone else’ll be tearin’ their ‘air out looking for it.
FAIRY: Oh - well I think I found another one. Hang on.
The fairy slides down into the water, then returns with another phone.
FAIRY: Here you are! This must be your phone.
LASS: That’s the latest iPhone! With a rose gold cover!
FAIRY: Very fancy.
FAIRY: Is it yours?
LASS: No love, that’s not mine either. Mine’s just a crappy old Nokia that I got from Tesco cos me old phone broke.
FAIRY: Are you sure this isn’t yours? I don’t think there are any others down there.
LASS: Yeah mate. Don’t be worrying about it, I need ter get a proper one anyway. Be reet.
FAIRY: You’re so honest. I won’t lie; it’s rather attractive...Here. Have the Samsung AND the iPhone. As a reward for your honesty.
LASS: Mate..I don’t know what ter say! Yer a top fairy you.
The fairy hands over the phones.
FAIRY: Can I have your number?
LASS: Well I don’t know it yet, yer daft sod. Why don’t yer meet me at Nando’s on Friday at seven?
FAIRY: It’s a date.
The fairy blows the lass a kiss and disappears back into the river.
The lass goes on her way, extremely pleased with herself. She uses one of the new phones to dial a number.
BITCH: Ay up lass!
LASS: Ay up bitch! Did yer get me voicemail?
BITCH: Not yet.
LASS: Well, dunt bother. Av got a brand new iPhone!
BITCH: How did you manage that?
LASS: Well I dropped it in’ river, but this fairy rose up out o’ water like, and she gave me this new one instead o’ crappy one I dropped in!
BITCH: Have you been at the wacky backy again?
LASS: No mate, straight up, I swear that’s wot ‘appened!
The bitch wanders down by the river, talking to herself.
BITCH: That lass had better not be having me on.
She chucks her phone into the river, then puts her hands up to her face like in the scream painting.
BITCH: Oh no! Woe is me, for I have lost my phone!
The magnificent fairy rises from the river.
BITCH: [Genuine astonishment] F*** me!
FAIRY: Well I’ve already got a date on Friday, see how that goes first.
As she speaks, the bitch bats her eyelashes and does her best to look alluring.
BITCH: Fairy, I’m so sad. I dropped my phone in the river.
FAIRY: Oh yes, I did find a phone. Is this it?
The fairy shows the bitch a dry Samsung phone.
BITCH: Er. No, it was an iPhone.
The fairy goes back down into the river and comes back with an iPhone.
FAIRY: This one?
BITCH: Yes, that’s mine!
The fairy turns glowing red.
FAIRY: Bitch, please... I think you know that’s not your phone. THIS is your phone!
The fairy hands the bitch her own dripping wet phone back.
BITCH: Well that’s just shit! What sort of a fairy are you?
FAIRY: The sort that appreciates honesty!
5 days into February, and I've chosen to disqualify myself from Theatre Deli's "28 Plays Later" (who on Earth can keep up with those deadlines? These must be people without jobs, lives, or theatre companies), but I'm still ploughing on through the tasks, albeit at a more leisurely rate than those still in the running.
My first and only on-time play was on the "Brave little soldier" theme. As a generally peaceful sort, I instantly hated this prompt. So I chose to use the phrase in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with any sort of soldier. Instead, my protagonist orders a cocktail called "Brave Little Soldier" and lets himself in for an experience he'll remember for the rest of his life (not necessarily in a good way).
The second prompt was to be inspired by something outside. Starting with trams and the daily commute to work, my mind wandered to the co-working spaces used by self-employed people. I imagined what it would be like if remote working became more commonplace, and these co-working spaces were used routinely by people in ordinary employment too. The play moved on to themes of different communities banding together to co-work, and the effect this self-segregation could have on society in the wake of Trump and Brexit. This piece, I feel, has possibilities for further development, and indeed, I'm adapting it for a possible scratch night coming up soon.
My third play was meant to be surreal. Well, I tried! This one had huge elements of truth in it, with my character basically being a self-insert (we've all done it, right?). She communicates with various elements in nature, because she has learnt not to trust humans any more. Falling through the sky and landing on the bottom of the ocean, she is surrounded by the voices of her friends as they betray her, over and over. Stones pile up around her and keep out the sunlight as she chokes on the thick oozing mud of betrayal. Finally she breaks free, paddling towards the shore on a rubber dinghy, trusting only herself and the elements to guide her to a better future.
I haven't tackled the fourth yet, which is meant to be an adaptation of...something. I'm considering doing a modern version of a fairy tale (I quite like the idea of weaving several together, actually). For now, though, I need to concentrate on the material for the scratch night, and Lioness things - also a couple of job applications over in - dun dun DUR - West Yorkshire. Is it far enough away? Well it's a start, Bob, and I'll take it if I can get it.
A great deal has happened since my last blog post. Indeed, a great deal happened between the lines of my last blog post, but one has to stay professional and make the best of things.
I said in my very first post about Blowfish that my future involvement was not certain, because deep down I knew even then it was not likely to continue forever. I wanted it to continue, but it simply wasn't sustainable unless certain important things changed, and change they did not.
It has been frankly devastating to come to terms with the loss of a project and social circle that filled my every waking moment for well over a year. I worked extremely hard to get that company off the ground - disregarding my own health and sanity to do it - and I hope it continues in the upward trajectory that I helped to set for it. I also hope that, as I assess my own mistakes and try to improve for the future, core members of Blowfish will also do the same.
Since leaving, I have had some very dark times but I've also set some hopeful plans in motion for the future. Teaming up with another former member of Blowfish, the inimitable Liz "Gove" Kearney, we have formed our own theatre company called Lioness. Since September, we've come up with a theatre show that blends historical and scientific fact with humour and song. It focuses on the life of Charles Goodyear, an inventor who changed the world but lost sight of the ones he loved the most. We now have a full-length draft of the script and ten songs, which we recently showcased parts of at Brewery & Tap in Doncaster.
Now we're ready to recruit more actors, and to start applying for festivals. We've also been offered some performance opportunities as a result of the showcase, which went down very well and resulted in feedback which was both positive and useful.
As well as founding Lioness Theatre, I've also been dipping my toes in other projects. After joining the Open Exchange network run by the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, I was approached by two groups wanting a composer and sound designer for an opportunity taking place there in February. One of the groups was shortlisted for the opportunity, but sadly didn't get through. Still, both projects look set to continue anyway, and I've also been offered a further opportunity for the week that I would have been in Manchester, had the group been successful.
This new opportunity is a scratch night for new writers, taking place in Bradford. Since they want a particular theme, I need to write something for them very quickly, so I'm not sure if I can manage this challenge or not, but I'll certainly try.
I'm also taking part in Theatre Deli's "28 Plays Later" challenge, which prompts writers to write a new short play each day for 28 consecutive days in February. The chances of my getting through the first few days (let alone the whole month) are miniscule, but I'm just seeing it as a bit of fun and a prompt to practise my writing skills.
In other news, I've been asked to work as a sound designer for a project as part of this year's SheFest in Sheffield, which runs in March. It'll be a quick turnaround, so I hope I can rise to the challenge!
I was also pleased to be asked to help curate an event for Right Up Our Street in Doncaster, but sadly it would have clashed with plans for Lioness, so I had to turn this down. I did offer a list of contacts and some advice though, which I hope will be useful.
Doing all this alongside my other work at the University of Sheffield is becoming increasingly difficult, and I'm beginning to learn that I need to say no to some projects. There are also other problems at the University. Because there are Blowfish associations there, it is not fun to work in constant fear of who I might bump into. I'm currently considering whether it's healthy for me to continue my work there. It would be an awful shame to give up an excellent job, doing something I love, surrounded by a great team in a beautiful city. But I cannot shake the trauma of the summer's events. As much as it pains me, I think I might need to cut ties with Sheffield and accept that I will never, ever understand what motivates certain people to act as they do.
I realise that, for readers out of the loop, I'm not being very specific here, but it was never my intention to hurt Blowfish and it still isn't. I'm grateful for the opportunities I was given, and I'm ultimately glad to have left, but I just wish it had ended differently.
Here's the diary I kept during Blowfish Theatre's trip to Edinburgh Fringe. With all the worst bits hastily glossed over and possibly a day missing somewhere. Enjoy!
So here we are in Edinburgh, after an eight-hour drive from Yorkshire. On the way we stopped off at a delightful establishment called Llama Karma Kafe, for coffee and bemusement. The latter being provided by chewing llamas and odd decor.
For our playwright Laurence, this was his first foray into the land of the Scots. I'm personally an old hand at Scotland-visiting, but I've been neither to Edinburgh nor Edinburgh Fringe before. And for Smith, our valiant drummer and chauffeur, this is his first Ed Fringe performance. So, firsts all round in the Boris Yaris, which was packed so tight that any opening of the boot necessitated an extra person standing by to catch what fell out.
On arrival in Queensferry, some 35 minutes drive from central Edinburgh, we promptly got lost. Our Airbnb accommodation may have been hard to find, but it was well worth the effort. The flat is lovely and the surroundings utterly stunning. Five of us are currently staying in this one-bedroom flat, a situation which is awkward and fun in equal measures. The decor is...interesting. As actress Liz pointed out (and I now can't get out of my head), it's strongly reminiscent of the TV series Hannibal with its stag theme.
After unpacking, Liz cooked a fantastic meal of fajitas and Eton mess. Wine bottles were uncorked and a rather pleasant evening ensued. I believe some of us got more sleep than others :) Today's plan involves taking in a play by our actress Polly's other theatre company, Ditto theatre, followed by Free Fringe meetings and figuring out how to cut our 75-minute musical down to an hour.
After the show, we headed to ‘Fringewich’ for the best damn veggie burrito in existence. Why did it never occur to me before that scrambled eggs can go in a tortilla? We were seated by the window, which turned out to be an excellent place for attracting the attention of passers-by with our flyers and David's antics. I suspect another trip to Fringewich is in our future.
While some of the group headed to MD Dom’s show The Local (or at least, that's where they thought they were heading), I went to our venue, Bourbon, for a meeting. It was reassuring to see the space, which is cosy but workable. Met some interesting folks there and picked up tidbits of info.
The venue meeting was followed by a practice run at Polly's flat. We have some awesome footage of this. Stupidly, I didn’t bring my music folder, so I’ll have to figure out the changes separately.
A calorie-laden meal of pizza and chips followed, and then we headed to the PBH Fringe meeting, where we met up with Kyle and Shelby for the first time. The meeting was useful for getting the feel of the ethos of Free Fringe. It's just people like us, performers who orchestrated a backlash against the massive expense of performing at the Fringe. I wish we had something like it in Sheffield to run alongside Tramlines.
After the meeting we had a group outing to scope out one of our rival shows. What can I say about that experience? Let's just say our confidence in our own show is reaffirmed.
Can’t believe how much we managed to fit into that one day. The next hurdle will be to get our first show out of the way.
Very, very tired today, and we’re about to begin Day Four’s performance, so I'll keep this short.
Yesterday we did some serious flyering, with David dressed up in full Boris regalia, complete with wig. “A musical about me!” he screeched, over and over. I think we have footage.
The performance itself went well; the energy among the cast and band was high. I made a few mistakes myself, but I think overall we still have a great account of ourselves and the audience absolutely loved it. It was full beyond capacity, which was a fantastic start to the run. In terms of income, it wasn’t hugely generous for the amount of people that came, but if we replicate that amount each night, we’ll break even. That's the most we can hope for really at Edinburgh Fringe, and personally I’ll just be glad if we don’t make a loss.
Laurence also made the announcement last night that we’ve been offered some support as a company from a regional theatre, so this buoyed up the mood considerably.
The day of our second show. As it was a Sunday, we took the car and nabbed a free space in Edinburgh centre. But before that, we headed to Greensides to catch our MD’s other show, The Local. It was my second time seeing the show, which was all about pub closures. Dom was gracious enough to give us a code to get in for free. It was even better the second time around - same great tunes, but with a slicker performance.
After that the team headed off to do some flyering, but I was badly run down by that point. With nowhere else to turn, I headed off to the car for a little time on my own and a short nap. It perked me up enough to get through the show. Our performance had less mistakes but perhaps a little less energy too. It went down well though, with a full and appreciative audience. Unfortunately, while their appreciation showed on their faces, it did not in most cases stretch to their pockets.
Afterwards, some of us stayed to see a burlesque show, and then went for chips and a beer on the pier. It was a lovely way to wind down - it's so beautiful out there. This has been and will continue to be a challenging experience, but nevertheless there are moments of stillness and joy to be found.
My ‘day five’ was a day off, so I'll mostly tell you about everyone else’s day.
Kyle had a lovely breakfast with his girlfriend Shelby and her nan, and then enjoyed a performance of The Local along with David. It was David's first time seeing The Local and he came away very impressed with Dom and Kate’s writing and composing skills.
This was followed by a flyering session, during which David was interviewed by Capital FM. Craig was approached by a staff member of the National Museum and Library of Scotland, who archived one of our flyers for each.
Laurence (in his own words) attempted to foist himself onto a series of strangers, armed only with tattered flyers and charm. His expectations were not met, but he remains hopeful.
As for me, I had two trips to the pier, one late at night (lovely with all the lights) and another very early in the morning. I did some rock-clambering, which was not the greatest idea I’ve ever had. I slipped on a seaweedy rock and fell on my arse. Fortunately my arse is still soft enough to take the hit, but my left hand is now injured.
Audience numbers weren't quite as high as before, but still very healthy. It was a good solid performance, marred slightly for me by the malfunctioning of my keyboard pedal. Upon our return to Queensferry, we continued our late-night tradition of “pier beers” and horrendously unhealthy takeaway food. Back at the flat, Kyle settled in for his first night staying with us, and David proudly showed off his willy. It was an odd night.
So we lost a Blowfish member today. It was unfortunate, but not totally unexpected.
As we don’t have anywhere to rehearse properly between shows, this was difficult to get around. It meant many unrehearsed changes, which obviously didn’t go smoothly. The mistakes had a bit of a domino effect on the actors too, so overall it was not our best show.
We got through it though, and the audience still enjoyed themselves. Some of them even came out singing our praises.
Before that, we spent the day flyering, being shouted at by drag queens, and (for me) trying my best to learn a new instrument, knowing I’d be performing it onstage that night.
One good thing has come from this: I’m no longer a bag of nerves when I go on stage. If you mess up enough times, you eventually realise that it's going to happen sometimes and all you can do is carry on and learn from it.
We’re running low on flyers now, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time flyering today. We went to Dom's venue (Greensides Infirmary) to help carry gear across to our venue. Having got there a little early, I lolled outside in the sunshine on a fabulously comfy green deck chair, which I gave serious thought to stealing. It would have made a lovely addition to our little Queensferry patio.
It's been an emotional day for me and this keeps creeping up on me at inconvenient moments. This is partly due to the events of the last few days and weeks, and partly just sheer exhaustion.
After Dom's show, the band headed to parking bay 5 for an open-air rehearsal, just off the mile and auspiciously located next to a sewer. As well as bemusing several onlookers, we managed to tighten up the set a little ahead of the show.
The performance went much better than last night, though it was by no means perfect. It was also a strangely unresponsive audience, though they did give generously. Afterwards, Laurence went to have dinner with some family members, Liz chilled on the sofa with a glass of wine, and the rest of “6B” (Kyle, David, and I) went for pier beers - or in my case, wine and Quorn eggs.
The rain is back. It's our last show tonight, and our last chance to recoup our expenses. With hardly any flyers left, I went in search of “wee blue books” - the catalogue of all PBH Free Fringe events - to give out instead. They’re supposed to be in stock at every Free Fringe venue, but we’ve had trouble getting hold of them. I eventually tracked down a box and headed to the mile to hand them out. I was stationed at St Giles’ cathedral looking after everyone's bags, so I couldn’t move much, which is difficult when flyering. The other team members were more successful though. Laurence ran into the chap from Cambridge Footlights who plays Trump in “Trump’d”, one of our rival shows.
Having got down to the last two of our flyers, which were now very soggy from the rain, I wished that we had ordered 5,000 for the week, plus bigger posters for the venue and a couple of A2s for the sandwich board we stupidly left behind. But you live and learn.
At about half four we had a short break, and I got a cappuccino and an enormous chocolate croissant from a Portuguese coffee shop. After that, Kyle, Laurence and I went to the Underbelly to see a show called Starship Osiris. It was a very diverting sci-fi farce, which lifted the mood considerably before our last show of the run.
The performance was reasonably good, similar in quality to last night's, with good audience numbers. Takings were again pretty good.
We had intended to celebrate at a karaoke event in the pub across the road, but we were turned away. I think it's because we're English. So we headed to another pub, where a band was just finishing up. Somehow we got chatting to a friendly bloke whose partner didn't seem to like us very much. One of my favourite moments - “Shouldn't you be having some sort of after-show party?” - “Yeah mate, you're at it!”
Okay, so I lied in the title. There isn't anything "beyond" Edinburgh Fringe at all. So sue me.
Frankly, it was all rather astonishing.
Having never done anything of the sort, I was approached by Laurence Peacock, a playwright friend of mine. "You write songs, don't you?" Thusly I was inducted into the whirlwind that became "Boris - the Musical", under the glamorous title of "composer".
Soon after that conversation, in an innocuous little pub near Hallam University, I met our new director Kyle Williams. At this point, we had no songs, no actors, and no budget. We basically had the three of us, half a script, and a dodgy wig. But a flurry of activity ensued. Realising the magnitude of my (then) combined role of composer and musical director, I was feeling a little panicky. Luckily, help arrived in the form of an email from a local musician named Dominic Lo, offering his services as a vocal coach. Looking over his CV, I spied an opportunity. "Let's get him in," I said. "He can be the musical director."
So three became four, and Dominic was everything I'd hoped for and more. Now that we had our crack team assembled, it was time to recruit some actors.
Until this point everything had run so smoothly. Of course, there were bound to be bumps in the road. The audition process was the first one. While around 25 actors had expressed an interest in auditioning, far fewer actually turned up. Luckily, we found our Boris straightaway - the excellent David Burchhardt, a young drama student. Some of the other actors took a little longer to find. But before long, we had four terrific actors on board.
For the house band, we had nearly everyone we needed - myself and Dominic on keyboards, and Laurence on guitar. All we needed was a drummer, and I happened to know a good one - Craig "I hit things" Smith, cracker of truly awful jokes.
For me, this all started at a time of great personal struggle and uncertainty, so having my good friend Craig around was a comfort. In time, the whole of the Boris team became like a little family. Together we worked like demons, we made mistakes, we learned from them, and somehow along the way we created a great little piece of theatre in just a couple of months. It's captured the imaginations of so many people locally, and now we're set to branch out to other areas this year with our tour, starting in Manchester. I can't wait to see where "Boris" takes us next.
The experience of composing and helping to produce "Boris" has certainly expanded my horizons. After studying music at university I had intended to move to London to pursue a career in session singing. That didn't happen, because my other half was offered a job he couldn't refuse here in the North. Lacking another plan, I essentially gave up on music. Although I was still writing and recording songs, I saw that as a labour of love and not something I could hope to make a living from. But working with Laurence has shown me that creating your own opportunities and taking risks can sometimes pay off. I don't think I've ever met anyone with such determination and quiet passion for his work. Hopefully I can learn from his example.
The future of Blowfish Theatre depends on a lot of factors, and the extent to which I'll be involved in future productions remains to be seen - after all, our musical director is an excellent composer too. It's very much the intentional Hollie Morrell way, to simply be grateful for the opportunities that have been given and to have no expectations for the future. But I do have expectations of myself - that I'll learn, grow, and be bolder in my career hopes as a result of this experience.