Things That Go Bump…

Halloween approaches and now that the clocks have gone back and it’s dark much earlier in the evening, there’s plenty to do in London if you want to celebrate all things spooky and supernatural.

Pumpkin-Carving-Ideas-for-Halloween

THEATRE

Woman in Black is a fantastic ghost story and the theatre version is, in my opinion, much better and much scarier than the film. I’ve seen it three times now and still let out a scream of fear even when I know what’s coming. Check out tickets here.

Ghost Stories at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square has the tantalising description of mixing “the best of theatre with the buzz of a thrill-ride, delivering a truly terrifying theatrical experience”. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s back by popular demand and there are extra tickets available for Halloween with a top price ticket offer from Official London Theatre. Check it out here.

There’s also Phantom of the Opera,  Urinetown and Wicked if you like your musicals to have a darker “edge” to them.

FILM

Jeremy Dyson (part of the League of Gentleman team) is living up to his name as master of the macabre. Not only did he write and direct Ghost Stories (see above) but he is screening four of his fave horror flicks at the Curzon Soho. Rumours are, that along with the showing of the films and encouraging audience members to arrive in costume, he’s likely to be reading some horror stories from his new book as well as playing some voodoo-themed songs with his band.

Time Out has a round-up of where to go to catch the best in horror – old classics as well as modern releases. Click here for more details.

Similarly, View London has a list of Halloween events taking place in cinemas and other venues across London. Click here for more info.

Haunted London Ghostly London

GHOST WALKS AND OTHER HAUNTED TOURS

I’ve spotted some special offers on tickets for some ghostly meanderings…

Great British Tours are doing a London Ghost Walk that’s less than half the normal price. I found this deal through Amazon Local – click here if you want to check it out.

On the same site there is an offer for a Jack the Ripper Tour as well. Click on this link to view the offer.

Official London Theatre is also doing a special offer if you book their Haunted Theatreland tour, although according to their website, there doesn’t seem to be any tours available on Halloween. However, if you’re interested in theatre and in the history of the West End, there are plenty of theatres dating back a hundred years or more that are said to be haunted, with Drury Lane Theatre being perhaps the most famous with reported sightings of a grey, shadowy figure at the back of auditoriums and down quiet corridors (although that could just be Cameron Macintosh checking up on his productions!)

If you’d like to know more about paranormal activity or scary locations in the capital, then have a look at the sites below:

http://www.londonparanormal.com/theatres

http://www.haunted-london.com

http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/haunted-places-in-london

Greenwich Tunnel Cemetery

Still not enough to satisfy you hard-core gore fans out there? Well, feast your eyeballs on some weird and wonderful exhibits at the Hunterian Museum and The Old Operating Theatre in the roof space of a baroque church near London Bridge. The old operating table still has the original saw marks made from operations in the pre-anaesthetic days. Ouch!

CEMETERIES

For a genuinely creepy experience, have a wander round the decaying Victorian tombs of Highgate Cemetary, especially as the light begins to fade….whooooaaa

Highgate Cemetery

SCARY ATTRACTIONS

There’s many a “resting” actor who’s worked at the London Dungeons and the London Bridge Experience, both of which are huge tourist attractions and very popular with visitors. There’s also immersive, interactive fun (if you can call it that) at the Clink Museum, built on the site of London’s oldest prison where visitors can handle olde worlde torture devices and learn all about prison life back then.

Clink Museum

If you prefer your Halloween scares to be a little more romantic, then there’s always the choice of a horse-drawn carriage ride through Richmond Park at night. Set against the clip-clopping of hooves and a backdrop of trees silhouetted by the moonlight you can hear tales of Highwaymen, ghosts and a Victorian murder whilst sipping Sloe Gin. That would be my top Halloween choice! Check ticket prices and availability here.

All Hail All Hallow’s Eve!

The Importance of Play

I missed my weekly posting last week because I was in Valencia for 4 days. It was lovely and not just because it was sunny and Valencia is a very pretty, walkable city, serving lots of lovely food and wine. (Ok, enough of trying to make you jealous).

It was mainly because we didn’t plan what we were going to do but just went with whatever we felt like on the day. If we wanted to sit on the beach all day, we did. And if we wanted to spend the entire day walking the city, stopping only for food and drink as the fancy took us, then we did that too. That was part of the joy of the holiday and why holidays, in general, are so appealing. Apart from the adventure of seeing new sights, a holiday takes us away from the grind of our day-to-day lives.

I recently listened to an interesting piece on the radio about the importance of unstructured time in our busy schedules with the emphasis being on the importance of play.

Leading scientific organisations have been stressing how important this is for children’s development and various studies have concluded that free and unstructured play leads to greater imagination,  creativity and problem-solving and is crucial for healthy social, emotional and cognitive development.

Most of us seem to lead busy lives juggling work, various tasks and responsibilities and I know I’m certainly guilty of scheduling lots of things into my day, making sure that every hour is maximised and trying to be productive.

While it makes sense that we allow children the freedom to engage in creative play for themselves without the structure of school, sports practise or music lessons filling their time, I think as adults and as creative beings, it is also essential that we give ourselves some unstructured play time.

The irony is, that for this to happen, I usually have to safeguard any free time by booking in an artist date or some time to myself which then feels like I’m structuring the time in some way. But I think that’s ok. As long as I don’t decide in advance what to do and just see what I feel like doing on the day.

Why is it so hard to do nothing? To just “be”??

So I urge you actors, artists and creative people to join me in finding a portion of time this week where you can indulge in some unstructured play. Be a kid again. Take a walk in the park and kick piles of leaves. Collect conkers. Just sit and look out the window and allow your imagination to roam.

It may just be the holiday that your creative soul needs…

Valencia

 

Market Research

A few Sundays ago, on a bright and sunny Autumn day, my partner and I took the DLR to Shadwell to have a mooch round Wapping Market.

Wapping Market - Stalls

Launched at the end of June this year (and the latest project of Toby Allen who is chief organiser of Brockley Market), I was enticed by descriptions of buttermilk fried chicken, gloriously sticky jams and tables of cured meat and cheese. But I admit that the biggest draw for me was the prospect of handmade doughnuts from the Crosstown Doughnut stand.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

The market was smaller than I expected. I had envisaged a lot more stalls heaving with trendy Londoners armed with hessian tote bags and even though it’s open from 10am-2pm every Sunday, when we arrived at 10.40am there was only about two other people and their dog. And us.

You’d think that beating the crowds would be a bonus when it came to getting served but I stood for 10 mins (no exaggeration) waiting to order and pay for 2 bacon butties while the bearded young chaps frying the bacon chatted about their Saturday night. I would have given up after about 5 mins but the bacon smelt pretty darn good so I waited another 5 (they could SEE I was waiting!) before walking off in a bit of a strop to get coffee.

At the coffee stand I was second in the queue but somehow managed to get sidelined so that the two newly arrived people behind me got served before me (most irksome). This was not a good start. Spotting the slight flare to my nostrils (like a horse about to kick off) my partner quickly steered me towards the Crosstown Doughnut stand and oh joy of joys! One mouthful of their Creme Brulee doughnut (a sticky caramel outside with a fresh vanilla creme centre) and all was well with the world! Resentments towards any perceived slights were forgotten.

Happy again

Happy again

We walked around Shadwell Basin watching the various kayakers and canoists having a morning row (as in “paddle in the water”, not an argument) until a suitable time when it was justifiable to try a fried chicken burger with Korean hot sauce from Spit and Roast. That too, with a side of their coleslaw, was incredibly tasty.

Wapping - Shadwell Basin

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If you fancy checking out this Sunday market, my suggestion would be to head there around 11.30ish for a coffee (and if you want a doughnut, buy it sooner rather than later as they quickly sell out), have a look at all the stalls selling fresh produce then have lunch (there are stalls catering for vegetarians as well).

This market is quite small so if the docklands area is a bit of a schlep for you, you could make a whole day of it and head over to Columbia Road Flower Market in the afternoon.

Columbia Road Flower Market  Wapping Market

TOP TIP #1: By going late afternoon to Columbia Road Market, flowers and plants start getting reduced so that market traders don’t have to lug all their plants and flowers back to base. You can pick up some real bargains by timing it right.

So, despite a disappointing start, I ended up enjoying a meander round Wapping Market. The experience made me want to test out a few more of the foodie markets happening in the capital. So here’s brief outline of what’s taking place and when.

  • Brockley Market – the more established, big sister market to Wapping. Held Saturdays 10am-2pm. Click here for details.
  • Partridges Food Market – every Saturday in the Duke of York Square in Chelsea from 10am -4pm. There are now around 70 stalls filled with fresh farm produce, artisan bread, cake vendors, international specialities and health foods. See here for details.
  • Broadway Market – stalls in this Hackney Market open from 9am-5pm and there are over 100 selling a range of food and baked produce with also some vintage clothes and accessories in the mix. Check it out here.
  • Walthamstow Market – there’s a daily market which stretches the length of Walthamstow High Street and also a farmer’s market every Sunday between 10am-2pm. Particular highlights of the farmer’s market includes stalls by SeaFayre fish from Kent, free-range pigs from Giggly Pig in Romford, Quarry Farm ethical veal, and Brambletye Farm biodynamic eggs and fruit.
  • Real Food Markets – there’s one every weekend at the Real Food Market behind the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank and also one in Kings Cross. Check out dates, times and the kind of stalls there are, here.
  • Islington, Blackheath (near the station) and Peckham (near the library) are well served each weekend with a farmer’s market. Have a delicious coffee whilst you browse the stalls of cheese, bread, meat, cakes and jams. The Blackheath one often has a plant stall as well selling indoor and outdoor plants and flowers. Find your nearest London Farmer’s Market here.
  • Borough Market – this has undergone some renovation and expansion of late with a new roofed area – very handy on those rainy London days. This is probably the mother of all food markets and is very popular with tourists and locals alike. The stalls are pretty permanent throughout the week but weekends are especially packed. It can be quite pricey but you’ll get some great food and some unusual stalls can be found here – ones specialising in liquorice or Turkish delight for example.

TOP TIP #2: You might be stuck for a cash machine near some of these outdoor food markets so take cash. Bear in mind you’re likely to spend more than you think. Organic local produce, artisan breads and home-made jams will be much more expensive than your supermarket prices but you’ll know the food is of a good quality and is usually grown and reared to high, ethical standards. Without the impact of air miles, buying local British food is much kinder to the environment. Paying these farmers properly for high quality produce is definitely worth supporting if you can afford it and going to a market is a lovely thing to do of a weekend. Cut down on the plastic bags and pack a few of those hessian tote bags too.

Cakes Galore

I tried very hard not to watch the Great British Bake-Off this year. I’d watched all the previous seasons and had begun to think that people would soon tire of the same-old formula – Mel and Sue’s innuendo-laden jokes, Mary Berry’s kindly (but sometimes disapproving) stare, Paul Hollywood’s ice-blue eyes and exacting judgement. Besides, surely there’s only a limited amount of doughy-pastry-spongy things you can bake!

Well obviously, I was very wrong. This season’s move from BBC2 to BBC1 has brought in even more viewers and the GBBO season 5 is even more popular than before, so who was I kidding to even consider resisting such sweet temptation? Like millions of other viewers, I’ll be tuning in this Wednesday to see who will be crowned the Bake-Off champion of 2014 (although my money’s on Richard with Luis coming in a close second).

So in honour of this well-loved British baking programme coming to a close, I asked a few friends to nominate their favourite place in London to go for some gorgeous home-made cakes or delicious baked goodies.

These were the results (in no particular order).

1) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers – a cafe/florists by Hither Green Station which serves great bread, hot drinks and an array of lovely cakes, flapjacks and brownies. Highlights include ingredients you wouldn’t think would work together such as beetroot and chocolate cake or a courgette cake with cream cheese frosting. Let me assure you, they do.

 

shopfront of YDBMF YDBMF

Other highlights – fresh flowers near the entrance. The only downside? If you’re allergic to fresh flowers!

http://www.youdontbringmeflowers.co.uk/

2) Bea’s of Bloomsbury – I visited the Bloomsbury one with a friend recently but they have other branches as well (check out the website here). It’s popular, especially at the weekend, so worth booking a few weeks in advance, especially if you want afternoon tea. My friend and I hadn’t booked and only had 35 mins before the table was fully reserved but it was time enough to sample one of their scones with jam and cream. Delicious.

Beas of Bloomsbury

3) Maison Bertaux – still a firm favourite; one of the oldest and best patisseries in London. Put on some red lipstick and head to the tiny cafe upstairs for some French sophistication to go with your cafe-au-lait.

http://www.maisonbertaux.com/

 

Maison Bertaux

4) Lizzy’s on the Green – a recommendation from an actor-friend who lives near Newington Green where this little cafe is situated. The trip advisor reviews mention the great coffee but she’s an amazing baker as well. Check out her facebook page here. A great place to have a cuppa and a cake whilst watching the kids play in the park.

5) Bake-A-Boo – a little hideaway in West Hampstead serving a variety of hand-baked seasonal cakes, cupcakes and treats galore. What’s not to love?

http://www.bake-a-boo.com/

I tried to narrow it down to 5 (and also tried to avoid chains) although there are so many great cake places, cafes and bakeries in London. Some of my favourites include the Nordic Bakery (there are a few branches now dotted around London) where the cafes smell of cinnamon buns and other treats and the cafe at the Royal Academy did the most amazing peanut butter cookie which I shall have to seek out again at some point in the future.

What’s your favourite place for some baked goodies?

October Reminders

A short post this week to remind you cinephiles out there that London goes all film-tastic this month during the 12-day BFI London Film Festival.

From 8th Oct there will be various screenings, galas, competitions, debates and masterclasses, with an event-packed programme which you can check out here.

The festival ends on 19th Oct and that same day marks the last day (and your last chance) to see Dennis Hopper’s “Lost Album” photography exhibition at the Royal Academy.

I took an Artist Date this afternoon and went to see the exhibition, spending just under an hour pouring over the black and white shots of 60’s America. Hopper documented rallies, marches, hippy love-ins, bikers and their lifestyle, as well as American streets, graffiti’d walls and everyday details like washing hung out on a line.

He had a great eye for composition and some of his shots look like graphic artworks. It’s not a big exhibition but it reflects an important period in history with artists like Andy Warhol and a new breed of Hollywood stars like Brando and Paul Newman. There was Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the lunar landings and the assassination of President Kennedy all of which Hopper recorded in his photos. Check out details of the exhibition here while there’s still time.

There’s also time to indulge in some leafy, Autumnal walks before the weather turns, although today felt more like a summer’s day and I regretted wearing lots of layers as I sweated my way to the Royal Academy. Enjoy the good weather while you can.

For more October highlights, Time Out have a calendar of events. See here for details.

Autumn leaves

 

 

Secrets and McFly’s

You’ve probably heard of Secret Cinema. Their recent immersive cinema event screening of Back to The Future was, despite a couple of false starts, a resounding success and managed to catapult BTTF back into the top 10 films at the Box Office.

Part of their success is their use of actors to play various roles – inmates and prison guards for Shawshank Redemption, prom kids, jocks and nerds and a Marty McFly impersonator for BTTF. These actors may perform key scenes from the film or are simply there to interact with the audience. If nothing else, these immersive, interactive events are at least providing more work for actors.

There has been quite a lot of press coverage about the Secret Cinema organisation so it’s nowhere near as secret as it used to be (if you’d like to find out more then click here). But what might still be fairly secret, is that there is also a Secret Theatre.

Founded by the Lyric Hammersmith last year, they’ve brought together an ensemble made up of actors, directors, writers and designers. This 20-strong group have worked together over the course of a year to come up with a season of performances and events taking place in October, including a short run of Woyzeck and A Streetcar Named Desire (not to be confused with the current production starring Gillian Anderson at the Young Vic). There’s also a new play by Mark Ravenhill with the intriguing title, Show 6.

What’s more, if you book a ticket to see any of their Secret Theatre shows, you can attend one of their master classes (on directing, writing, impro etc,) for free! I imagine places will be limited so get in there early if you want to attend. To go to the website, click here.

It got me thinking about all the other secrets that London is…erm…well, secretly harbouring. Quite a lot it would seem! There are underground restaurants, secret shops, walks, various events that are spread by word-of-mouth with an air of mystery surrounding them. There’s even secret storytelling events run through londondreamtime.com

Then, as I walked past my bookshelf earlier, I spotted, nestled amongst the paperbacks, a guidebook called Secret London – An Unusual Guide. So here are a few city secrets that I’m going to share with you…

  • Discover artwork and murals by legendary French film maker, artist and designer Jean Cocteau in a circular Catholic church at 5 Leicester Place called Notre Dame De France. Cocteau murals

 

  • Go underground to visit Henry VIII’s wine cellar which is accessible through the Ministry of Defence headquarters overlooking Whitehall. Viewing is free but by appointment only (tel: 0870 607 4455) and security is tight. As you’re led down murky corridors towards the centre of this subterranean cellar, you’ll see Tudor vaulting, brickwork and pillars exactly as they were 400 years ago.

Henry VIII cellar

 

  • Pay a visit to Dr Johnson’s house (17 Gough Square). It’s one of the few remaining Georgian houses left in London with its panelled rooms and collection of artwork and furniture from that period. During the Open House weekend it’s usually open for free but otherwise, entry tickets to the house are about £4.50, with concessions and cheaper family tickets available.

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  • Dr Johnson is famous for that quote about being tired of London being tired of life. Here it is in full:

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”.

(He wasn’t even a Londoner – he was originally from the Midlands. For further info, click here).

  • Be wowed by the opulence of The Arab Hall at Leighton House. A visitor in 1899 said of this residence -

“The entrance hall is clad in brilliant peacock blue tiles, while a real stuffed peacock guards the grand staircase. The Arab Hall is decorated with rare Islamic tiles, inlaid mosaics and Arabic inscriptions with a black marble fountain at its centrepiece”.

Arab Hall

This “Aladdin’s Cave” still holds chamber music recitals organised by Kensington and Chelsea Music Society and there’s a small fee of about £3 for admission to have a good ol’ nosey round! Plan your visit here.

If you’re interested in finding more about Secret London – An Unusual Guide (by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash) it’s published by Jonglez and is available at most good bookshops or online.

So, fellow Londoners and vistors to the city, don’t just stick to the well-known tourist sights. Take an amble off the beaten track and go exploring. Delve into subterranean Tudor cellars and crypts, explore those tucked-away houses, hidden libraries and back-street monuments and statues. You never know what hidden gems and secrets you’ll uncover!

 

Open Yer Doors, London

Tomorrow hails the start of the Open House weekend in London.

Every year, the city opens its doors to iconic buildings, architectural gems and institutions within the financial and political sector. There are eco houses and schools, new designs with all the latest gadgets and beautiful modern extensions on Victorian buildings. In the long list of places to visit this weekend (for free), there’s Benjamin Franklin’s House, Hogarth’s House, cathedrals, museums, bath-houses and Grade II listed Quaker meeting houses. There’s even a windmill in Brixton!

Basically, Open House weekend gives Londoners and visitors alike a chance to satisfy their inner nosey-ness. I for one, look forward to having a good old look round buildings that are usually off-limits for one reason or another.

So if you’ve ever fancied a tour round City Hall, 10 Downing Street or wanted to take a peak at the Government Art Collection, Open House weekend allows you that opportunity.

In previous years, certain buildings have been chocca with people and with visitors queuing to get in. Some of the more popular premises will require you to pre-book or enter a ballot (if they’re oversubscribed), so if you’re too late this year, remember to plan your visit much earlier next year.

There’s a guidebook you can get through the Open House site. Click here for further details with advice on planning your trip around London through maps and apps. If you want the full list of buildings that are taking part in the Open House weekend (they’re in alphabetical order which makes it easier), then click here.

Of particular note to those in the acting fraternity, I’ve spotted that the Arcola Theatre is on that list (with their fab bar/cafe), as is The Bush, (with their newly designed contemporary theatre space – see below), The Charles Cryer Studio Theatre, The Chickenshed Theatre and Clean Break (an award-winning theatre company and charity working with women affected by the criminal justice system whose resident building is a former factory which has been redesigned to be as non-institutional as possible).

Bush Theatre

Bush Theatre

Also on the list – Hackney Empire, The Half Moon Theatre, the Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni (an Art Deco listed building containing a classic cinema, multimedia library and bistro – see below).

Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni

Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni

Continuing through the alphabet of buildings catering to those with an artistic bent, there’s the Jerwood Space, LAMDA drama school, Lewisham Arthouse/Deptford Library, the MTV studios, the National Centre for Circus Arts (housed in the former Shoreditch Electricity Generating Station), the wonderfully named Oily Cart Theatre Treehouse, Oto Project Space (an experimental music venue), the Park Theatre, the new Rambert head office, Richmond Theatre, RADA, Sands Film Studios & Rotherhithe Picture Research Library, the Siobhan Davies Studios, Sir Richard Burton’s Mausoleum, South London Theatre, Stratford Circus, Stratford Picturehouse, Sugarhouse Studios, The Broadway Theatre in Barking, Bromley Churchill Theatre, The Cinema Museum, The Floating Cinema, The Odeon Beckenham, The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Unicorn Theatre, Wilton’s Music Hall, and The Writer’s Shed.

Phew!

So much to see. Only a weekend to do it in. Happy exploring!

The Writer's Shed

The Writer’s Shed

Auditions – 5 bits of advice

It’s September and the leaves on the cherry tree at the bottom of the garden have started to brown and drop lazily. Kids are back at school for the new term and the beginning of a new school year and castings and auditions are, at long last, starting to pick up.

I still get nervous auditioning even if it’s just for an advert where all I have to do is stand, say my name and show my hands and profile to the camera (not dissimilar to prison mugshots)!

Some auditions are much more enjoyable than others but even if it has gone well, I still walk away from auditions thinking that I could have done sooo much better.

If I was to offer any advice about auditions, the following would be my top 5 tips:

1) Don’t turn up late. It doesn’t matter if all the trains/buses/tubes/traffic conspired against you that day because it will still reflect badly on you. Be prepared to take 2-3 trains earlier or set off with plenty of time to spare in order for you to get there early. That way, you’re not going to arrive stressed and out-of-breath. And if they want you to read a scene, you’ve got time to sit and prepare.

2) Preparation is key. Nerves inevitably play a part so to keep you confident and showing the best of yourself, prepare well what they ask you to do; whether that’s a song, speech or a reading. At the same time, be prepared to let go of all your prep work if a director wants to play around with a scene or direct you away from any acting choices you’ve made. They want to know whether you’re open to their suggestions so listen carefully to what they’re asking you to do and go with it.

3) If you do have to read a scene, try and be as familiar with the text as possible. It’s great if an actor can look up from the page when saying a line. The director/casting director can see your eyes and your emotional range much more if your face isn’t buried behind a page. Read the play in its entirety if you can get a copy of it. That way, if a director asks you what you thought of the play, you can give them an opinion and it looks as if you’re interested in the work. Think about what you’d say if they ask you what you thought of the play or part you’re up for. It’s amazing how that simple question can sometimes catch you out and you start blathering on like an idiot. (Or maybe that’s just me?!) A friend of mine attends auditions with a bound copy of the play complete with highlighted text and notes pencilled in the margin. Immediately a director gets a sense that this person really wants the job and has done some preparation and has thought about the role.

4) Go in with the view that, for however long the audition lasts, you are going to be working with a director on a role. In that brief bit of time, the part is yours, so look on it as a chance to do some acting work with a director. It will help keep your mind on the work and hopefully make you less nervous. Even if you don’t go on to play the part in the full production, for those 10 mins or so, that part is yours, so hold that thought in your mind and enjoy the chance to act.

5) Always have, from memory, a monologue you know well and can perform if they suddenly ask you to. Even if you were just there to read, it could be that, after reading well, the director is undecided as to whether you’d be more suitable or another actor. He/She might want to see what more you can do to help them decide and they’re more likely to give it to the person who can show them a good monologue than the actor who goes blank and can’t recall any speeches to mind.

RECOMMENDED READING – There are professional directors, casting directors and other industry bods who audition actors all the time and have come up with some useful books which will give you an insight into the casting process and any do’s and don’t’s. I’ve found the following to be incredibly useful:

Audition – Michael Shurtleff (particularly worth a read for anecdotes about Barbara Streisand who probably broke every rule to do with auditions but got away with it because she was so freakin’ talented!)

Secrets From the Casting Couch – Nancy Bishop

The Director’s Craft – Katie Mitchell

Does anyone else have some good recommendations?

 

A River Runs Through It

Every September there’s a Thames Festival in London, usually over the course of a weekend or two which hosts various events in celebration of this river which winds and snakes through the capital.

This year, they’re going bigger and better with a month-long celebration called Totally Thames which starts today until the end of the month. The programme of events this year is spectacular and far too numerous to go into detail – there are riverside walks and historical documentaries, lots of family festivities and things for kids to do (art and storytelling about ships and rivers of the world); there’s live music and free cinema, sports challenges, boat-rides and quizzes, not to mention a 5-day festival down at Greenwich where you’ll see an array of tall sailing ships passing through. Most events are free but some, like the fire garden tribute to Battersea power station (before it closes for refurbishment) are free but tickets are required. Intrigued by the notion of a fire garden? Me too! Check it out here.

Of particular note to you thesps out there is the free film festival down at The Scoop at More London (click here for films showing), various historical walks if you’re doing some character research and want to get a sense of London dockyards during the blitz or the areas that Dickens wrote about and a historical walk/talk with Brian Cookson called Bishops, Brothels and the Bard which will take you on a walk around The Globe area and talk about Shakespeare’s links with Southwark Cathedral (tickets for that one are £7 – click here for further details).

There’s also live art at Endersby Wharf which will include animation and performance under the umbrella title of Over Time (click here) and screenings, talks and workshops at the Floating Cinema (which got a mention in a previous post and will be in residency at St Katharine Docks). Click here for details.

Totally-Thames

Why this big fuss over a river? That’s what I was thinking, so here are some facts about the Thames you may/may not know:

  • The Thames is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest (after the River Severn) in the UK.
  • The Thames is made up of both freshwater and seawater. It’s said to start at Thames Head in Gloucestershire and flows through the Thames Estuary, out to the North Sea.
  • The Romans established a settlement on the river around 50AD and called it Londinium. Later it became a major ship building and trade area for the Saxons, Normans and Tudors so London was a port long before it became the capital of England. By 1576, London was the world’s foremost trading port.
  • Trade flourished on London’s docks. The river, its by-ways and canals were an important method of transporting goods. The growth of road transport, and the decline of the Empire in the years following 1914, reduced the economic prominence of the river.
  • During World War II, the protection of certain Thames-side facilities, particularly docks and water treatment plants, was crucial to the munitions and water supply of the country. For that reason, it was heavily targeted by German bombs from 1939-1941 and the destruction changed the landscape and architectural profile of London entirely.
  • Alongside the entire river runs the Thames Path – a national route for walkers and cyclists.
  • In the early 1980’s, the Thames Barrier was built to protect London’s low-lying areas from flooding.
  • The Thames itself provides two-thirds of London’s drinking water.

So. It’s pretty important then. Seems worthy of a celebration in my opinion.

Hoorah for the Thames….hip hip!!

river thames birds eye view

 

The KT Fellowship

Kate Bush

Last night Kate Bush began her run of 22 performances of Before The Dawn at the Eventim Apollo venue in Hammersmith.

The high ceilings of this old cinema (which has been recently refurbished in an Art Deco style) leant itself perfectly to a show that had spectacular visuals in the form of set, lighting and projection to match the epic, lyrical quality of her songs but it also created more of an intimate ambience than some of the bigger venues (like the O2) would have allowed for a performer that wanted to connect with her audience.

Friends of mine have been superfans since their teens. I came to love her songs in my late 20’s but one of the things that I’ve always loved about her as an artist is her ability to draw on so many influences – from literature, poetry and the art world to historical figures like Joan of Arc through to everyday items like a washing machine – and to use those influences (plus different genres of music) in her song-writing to great effect.

Without wanting to detract from the hard work involved in the song-writing process, she appears to be an artist so connected with her creative muse that creativity seems to pour out of her. She’s followed her own path, produced her own unique work and doesn’t feel the need to self-publicise in any way. In fact, shunning the limelight or any form of celebrity has only added to her appeal in many people’s eyes. The mystery surrounding her private life has allowed her body of work to speak for itself and lent it even more potency.

There was something she wrote in the programme notes which caught my eye and reminded me yet again of the power of synchronicity.

“One thing I hadn’t accounted for was that “it”, the project itself, had a very strong opinion about how “it” wanted to be…I was soon to discover this”.

She then goes on to describe just a few of the coincidences which led to the show being what it is; from the dates they wanted to perform matching exactly the availability of the venue after its refurbishment, to attracting, one by one, through bizarre coincidences and chance meetings, the various members who would make up the the collaborative team.

“These coincidences have continued long and hard throughout the preparations for this show and I soon began to just take them as a sign that it was the right decision every time they appeared”.

She began by taking a risk, a risk she didn’t need to make since she’s already a successful, wealthy songwriter with a legion of loyal fans. But she took a risk and made a commitment to a project that would undertake a lot of work and see her back on stage, in the limelight, after an absence of 35 years. She admits to being daunted by the prospect, terrified at times, but she continued the journey and began to trust that the project, which felt like it was taking on a life of its own, was going in the “right” direction.

We all have doubts about our abilities, about whether an artistic project will be any good or whether we’ll be humiliated in public. But if we begin, take a first step and then trust that things will happen as they’re supposed to then the creative universe seems to find ways of helping our endeavours. The outcome may be nothing from what we’d first imagined. We may have visualised a very different outcome from the one that has materialised through the journey but that’s the the story, the picture, the song, that wanted to emerge.

Sometimes I feel that to start an artistic project is to begin a collaboration with a greater creative force than us and that we must do what we can to allow this force to speak through us. Authors describe their characters speaking “through” them; Peter Brook used the term “empty vessel” to describe the actor, waiting to be filled by a character.

Yet again, the wonderful Kate Bush has inspired me – to go on my own journey, to be surprised with where a project takes me. To take an artistic risk. To just begin.