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Saturday, 1 July 2017

And the dog watched the show all the way through

So, the debut showing of WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Barbara Brownskirt. happened at The Marlborough Theatre as part of Brighton Fringe and the second night SOLD OUT. It wasn't just my family and friends that came but half, yes half of the audience was unknown to me meaning all the work tweeting, flyering and word-of-mouthing paid off.
SOLD OUT makes it sound great doesn't it? It sounds as if Barbara could be on her way to bright lights and big fat pay cheques? 
Forget that. I don't like all the spin that goes on, as the problem with spin is that it's meant to make people feel dizzy and disorientated and unaware of the truth behind the glean.

For any novice writing a solo performance piece, I would recommend Brighton Fringe as a good place to put your first show on. 
The audience are at first a little wary
Worth doing is the Fringe City. A week before my show I went down to Brighton and performed at the free outdoor event in the centre to advertise the show in a 10 minute segment. Think Edinburgh's Royal Mile but in miniature form. It was a challenge - how to stop passers by, dressed in a cagoule with only the poetry. Music works really well, as does getting the audience to participate (Barbara had a tambourine and maracas that she made a volunteer shake). There were other adverse conditions too; the acrobat act before me gave up before even trying as he thought there was not enough of a crowd (there's a bigger stage outside the church up the same stretch). I like a challenge and so I thought to myself, 
I'm going to make this work.
Though one pop sock refused to be as high as the other and it was baking hot with sweat dripping down the inside of my anorak, I decided to announce a count down to attract passers by. The Fringe volunteers shook my musical instruments and a small crowd formed to listen. I began with the Judi Dench poem and carried on with Faberge Eggs, A Bus Stop of One's Own, Same Sex Marriage. The crowd grew, fell and then grew until I had a devoted group. They got it - in a minute or two they'd understood who Barbara was. They got that her failure was part of their own disappointment and rage, but best of all, they were all laughing.

On stage at The Marlborough
A few blogs back I promised to tell you the truth about putting on this show so here goes: the week before the show opened I had only sold six tickets for the Thursday night. Friday was already sold out, but an audience of six people was not good. So, after Fringe City was over, me and my GF decided we'd flyer gay Brighton. Heading towards The Marlborough we talked to the people inside, they were playing pool, eating late lunches. But this brought up an issue: I cannot interact as Barbara. She does not like the public, although she thinks the public need to hear her poetry, she is not a great talker and if you want someone to come see your show, there's a certain amount of explanation you need to do to get their interest whetted. I decided to just be quiet while my partner did all the talking. As we toured the gay bars, some more messy than others, this approach seemed to work out well; they looked at the flyer, my partner explained the show, then they saw Barbara was stalking them a little from afar. All this paid off, people bought tickets and I performed to a good sized audience on the first night.

Polari with Paul Burston flying
Gerry Potter, a well known Scouse poet I met last year in Nottingham on the Polari Tour, once had a famous alter ego poet named Chloe Poems. Something he said keeps reverberating around my brain. He said, after watching my act, "Barbara will take you to places you never thought possible." I'm beginning to realise this as something good happened after the show. The artistic director from The Kings Head Theatre came on the Friday night and loved it. When we met last week, he said he'd brought his little dog and she was in the audience in his bag. She usually sleeps throughout the performances, he said, but this time she listened to every single one of the poems! I loved this, being practically booked up by a dog. Now the show will be on at The Kings Head on 12th August. It'll also be in Birmingham as part of SHOUT festival on 16 November, but first it's on at world renowned Vauxhall Tavern on 21st July. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Barbara Brownskirt. now has places to go. I'm going to keep working on it until I get it to where I want to be. I've got a great director lined up for this autumn and I think, as I gaze into my crystal ball, I can see a little more clearly: 
The future is brown, and the future is Barbara.
And, the future is more fiction writing.

Tickets here:

Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 7pm, 21 July Who Do You Think You Are? Barbara Brownskirt.
Duckie, Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 10pm, 5 August Barbara does Duckie
Kings Head Theatre, 5pm, 12 August Queer Festival '17
The Old Stock Joint Theatre, 16 November SHOUT Festival

Monday, 22 May 2017

The need for a show to get naked

Most people would not get naked in public, this much I know, in fact your mother would definitely advise against it, but if there's one thing I've learnt about the process of making the show, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Barbara Brownskirt it's that, metaphorically speaking, you must bare all in order to let the work develop. 
Last week I presented the final work in progress showing to a small chosen audience. I'm not brave enough to just throw open the doors to the general public, so after the shop closed we turned The Bookseller Crow bookshop into a pop up theatre space and I donned my hood and hid in the back office while the group arrived.

Rows of books were thrown aside to make room
for Barbara Brownskirt

Here's a run down on what I think worked:
1. Firstly, I chose to invite people that I knew and trusted and who have shown interest in my work. (Ask and they will come. People are flattered that you want their opinion and most creatives understand the need for a supportive environment.)
2. Ask people who work within areas that you need help with i.e. I invited a retired drama teacher and also a working actor as they would have different ideas and expertise to performance artists.
3. Provide lots of drinks and onions ring crisps as payment. It'll make a convivial atmosphere. Remember to ask someone to help serve drinks so that you don't suddenly have to switch from hostess to performer.
4. Remember, performing to a room of people without proper stage lighting will be more nerve wracking than standing on a stage - if you can do this, then really you can do anything.
Choose an excellent and highly addictive
selection of crisps
5. Provide feedback forms that guide the audience toward the kind of feedback you want. I.e pose them direct questions like:
         What did you most like?
         What did you feel needs work?
         Any other thoughts?
6. Take the best suggestions and put them in the show. 
7. Rewrite the bits that need doing while the buzz is still buzzy.
8. Rehearse!

So the show is at Brighton Fringe next week 1 & 2 June, 7.30pm at The Marlborough. 
Brighton Fringe Tickets here:
Do come! 
Oh, and there's a London debut, 7.30pm, 21 July at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern
Tickets here:

Tweet Barbara Brownskirt on @bbrownskirt

Monday, 24 April 2017

An afternoon with an Outside Eye - work in progress

So, it's April 4th 2017 and it's eight weeks until my show debuts at the Brighton Fringe.
We've rewritten the script ten times and the slide show has been photographed and ordered with sound added onto a software programme called Keynote. On this sunny morning in Loughborough Junction, me and my Co-Producer are full of anticipation. We are stood under the arches trying to access the keys in a safe-box outside a hired rehearsal space. It's time for our outside eye, the world renowned performer Ursula Martinez, to cast her experienced and critical eye over the show.
We unlock the rehearsal space to a musty room with a mezzanine and a piano. Then we make coffee and set up. We run through the show and although I know there are parts that aren't totally working, I'm hoping Ursula will know how to approach unravelling these bits and still love it somewhat.

Ursula arrives, we have a quick chat then begin.
Basically, the following happens:
The projector flashes strange colours throughout the show.
I can't hear any laughter during the 'funny' parts.
As I perform I feel exposed, uncomfortable, rocked sometimes by sudden insecurities.
When parts of the script clearly aren't working I feel like I'm verging on having an out of body experience.
But, I do get to the end of the script and, when we turn off the projector I sit in the audience area and Ursula does not seem overly worried.

Ursula begins feedback by asking how I felt during the performance? I say, for some of the show I felt 'in it' and some of the show I felt 'out of it'.
The 'in' bits, Ursula says, will match the 'in' bits that she probably felt, and those are to be trusted as they are true. The 'out' bits are the wrong notes, the things/ideas that are not working.
I knew that she knew that I knew there were more 'outs' than 'ins'.
She tells us what she likes about the show and then she helps us to start pulling apart the show's ideas and, what she suggests as, the many differing voices and languages in it. Why is Barbara in some of the slides and not others? Why are we using found images, or taking pictures of shoes and mushrooms? Who do the slides belong to and who is taking the slides?
We settle on the idea that there are too many slides (I realise that we had got swept away with the slide show.)

The Brighton Poster
Then Ursula says the show does not deliver on its title:
'Who Do You Think You Are? Barbara Brownskirt.'
She asks, how much of my story do I, as Karen McLeod, personally share with Barbara Brownskirt? Then we talk about how maybe I have been confusing my writer's voice with Barbara's voice in the script. My authorial voice is dominating when Barbara's way of seeing the word is much more simple.
We talk about Barbara's voice, and I comment that I don't know why I need an alter ego but I do. But this isn't the time for self-examination, but, maybe it is. (I calm myself by telling myself this is not the time for an existential crisis.)

Ursula says, MORE POETRY! Isn't it a poetry theatre slide show after all? 

We decide I have to break down the show's ideas into Barbara's voice. Create more build up to ideas when talking about such things as Croydon or Chromosomes. Nature V nurture. We assume the audience know Barbara, but they don't. Questions arise like: How does Barbara make her money? How does she pay her rent? 

Then we do a quick voice workshop to try to differentiate between Barbara's poetry voice and Barbara's speaking voice. They should sound different. The show should have different tonal
qualities. If you set up a rule you can break it, only to come back to it. Spoon feed the audience, draw it all back, make it simpler, make it more Barbara.
Barbara's show is about her making a project about Penge and transport and relationships and Judi Dench. This is her territory; this is the answer to the question WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Is it a question of Barbara asking WHO AM I? and the show answers that. What does the blurb on the back of the flyer say? Deliver on that.
Last thing to remember is that although Barbara is a fictitious character, her world needs to feel totally real.

Later, after Ursula leaves, I feel over-whelmed with how much more work we have to do. My Co-Producer tells me that she wished I could have heard Ursula laughing at certain points, but what with my anorak hood up and how far away Ursula was sat, I couldn't hear. I discuss with my Co-Producer about how I tell the creative writing students in my workshops that all writing is rewriting. How they should listen for the flat notes and listen for the notes that hit the mark. In the beginning there will be more wrong notes than right. The audience need hooks, so they can hang on to the story that you are telling.

I realise I am a student and always will be, even though I'm performing at a professional level.
I have to remember to walk my talk. I have to remember that it will all come together and that all writing and performing IS A PROCESS in order so you can get to the stuff that seems as if it's as easy as breathing.

Tickets for 'Who Do You Think You Are? Barbara Brownskirt.' ON SALE NOW!
Brighton Fringe, 1 & 2 June:
London debut, 21 July, Royal Vauxhall Tavern:

Monday, 6 March 2017

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Barbara Brownskirt - the one womb-man show

Last week I learnt that preparing to put on a show is about everything apart from the rehearsal of it, which is jarring for me since I'm used to being just the performer!

Mainly we've been working on the slides, the artwork, communicating with the venue and Brighton Fringe, feasting on gherkins and cheese, getting together a marketing plan, but, the highlight has to be the photo shoot with my mother.

Mummy Brownskirt pretending to be
not all there for the shoot
My mum is playing (in Barbara's slide show presentation) Barbara's mother AKA Julia Mummy Brownskirt. The story goes that when Barbara visits Julia (Mummy) in the Thespian Retirement Village her mother pretends to suffer from Alzheimer's so she doesn't have to converse with Barbara. It's one of the darkest parts of Barbara's her-story and yet she is totally unaware of what her mother is doing. Both my grandmothers suffered from the condition so seeing if my mum would agree to imitate a look of Dementia was a bit chancy. 
Mummy Julia does keep fit
with Jane Fonda watching on
Still dark humour runs through our family and mum responded by just saying, 
'OK sure, how should I do the face?' 
'Just look vacant,' I say. 
'Ooh, I can do that easily,' she joked. 

As soon as Barbara leaves, Mummy Julia goes back to her usual self, doing keep fit, shaking cocktails...

Paula Varjack and money boxes
Putting on a show takes money, time and passion. I don't know whether I've just opened my eyes more fully but there seems to be a massive amount of exciting performance work on in London at the moment. One of the highlights was Paula Varjack and her amazing passion-inspiring piece at Battersea Arts Centre, SHOW ME THE MONEY. It's about how do artists keep dreaming and yet make work with such small budgets? Especially when writing an arts council grant application can take twenty-one days in itself. 
It's real, it's funny and it's touring now, go see

Oh yes, lest I forget the major thing that happened last week: TICKETS HAVE GONE ON SALE NOW for my show at Brighton Fringe! 
I think I've sold about two so far (probably my mum) so if you're free on 1st or 2nd June please come:

This is what they are saying about it: 
'Who Do You Think You Are? Barbara Brownskirt' is a darkly funny, pathos-fuelled show inspired by the TV show of similar name by writer and performance artist Karen McLeod.
Shrouded in iconic anorak, knees bulging from pop socks, Barbara Brownskirt is the unsuccessful lesbian Poet-in-Residence at the 197 bus stop, Penge. We meet her, unlucky-in-love, as she tries to find out who she is and why? Share the highs and lows as she explores the past through absurd poetry and film. 
Themes of false identities and aloneness thread through this show. Fans of Rik Mayall and Tim Key will love it.

Next blog will chart how I'm going to approach learning the hour long monologue using actor techniques. EEK!

Monday, 23 January 2017

Rehearsal Spaces and Lateral Thinking

I promised I was going to share an online diary about making a solo poetry/theatre show so here it is:

Last week I was walking up Saint Martin's Lane. I was on the way to Soho Theatre to see Marisa Carnesky's show about menstruation when I noticed a sign advertising 'Room for Hire'.
Marisa Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding
Women show was passionate and powerful.
It cost £55 for four hours and could be used for anything from meditation to life modelling. I started pondering whether this was expensive when a woman popped her head out the front door. We started discussing how I needed a rehearsal space when she encouraged me to step inside the building. She was quite insistent that I go in then and there and my knee-jerk reaction was to say I didn't have time, in case she was from a cult. She explained that the only caveat for me to view the space was I had to stay for a minimum of three minutes and sit in complete silence. She further explained that a silence-in-the-city session was going on and it was this that convinced me that maybe I did have time to go in and see this room.

Screenshot of The Rabbits,
Inland Empire series of films by
David Lynch
Sometimes I embrace life when it makes a suggestion of David Lynch. So, in I went to find a long oval shaped room with five strangers sat motionless, eyes closed. Immediately upon entering the sound of silence, I sat and closed my eyes in relief. Then when I opened them there was one man with his head resting sideways on a rucksack, another with his shoes off, twiddling his socked toes. The only woman was dressed in a timeless old lady outfit; old woollen coat, buttoned up collared blouse, navy shopping bag, nothing to pinpoint which decade she was in. She was wringing her hands silently, almost, but not quite in tears. A balding pink fat man with his bare white tummy sagging from under his t-shirt was sleeping, happily, with his head dropped towards his knees.
I became unsure how many minutes I had been there, but guessing it was at least five I left the room to find digestive biscuits on a saucer. Tea cups were turned upside down side by side arranged for a meeting. From the leaflets I realised I was in a Quaker meeting house and as I left the same woman who'd brought me in reappeared in the doorway. She said, thank you so much for sitting in. I thanked her back, genuinely pleased I had stopped for a spacious moment. I rejoined London and was planted in it, rather than skirting through the street in a headless rush. I had a smile on my face. I hadn't found a rehearsal space, but I'd connected with strangers. This long winded approach to discovery is how I approach most things. I wish I had a quicker process, but often I find what I'm looking for when I've stopped searching so hard.

The rehearsal space question still wasn't being properly addressed so, I decided to ask people on Twitter and Facebook. Stella Duffy did not dissapoint when she came back with an immediate suggestion of Arch 468 I've now hired the rehearsal space for my first work-in-progress rehearsal in April as, not only is it very affordable, but it has black out facilities and is conveniently situated in Loughborough Junction. I like to keep to South London if I can and have re-remembered that it's important to ask for help, rather than going it alone.

Last Monday I went to Camden People's Theatre to attend a 'marketing your show' talk. You really
Camden People's Theatre near Euston
could do a full-time MA on this subject but we had only an hour and a half. In this we covered how to put together a marketing campaign. The most important thing is that you have a PLAN and a time frame, something quantifiable that you can measure your project against. It's not just a question of whether you're making good or bad work, it's much more useful to apply lateral thinking. What are you trying to do and who is it for? What is the aim? Do you have a message? Is the message that there isn't a message? What is your mission (statement)? What's happening in the world that makes your show so important? Remember your aim at each step of the way. Keep going back to your mission (statement).

Ask yourself 10 questions
Another good thing to try to understand your practice is interview yourself (in the bath works for me). Barbara Taylor Bradford said on Woman's Hour last week that she had started four novels but not completed any of them and put them all in a drawer. This was all before she wrote 'A Woman of Substance'. One day she decided to take out her yellow pad and pen and as a practicing journalist decided a good thing would be to interview herself. She asked, "What do you want to write about? What kind of novel? Where is she going to be set?"

I came away thinking about what kind of world is it that I am producing this new show in right now. What is it about human identity, selfhood and failure that I think is so important to talk about in a supposedly post-truth world?
Is it enough just to create laughter? Am I asking to admit my connectivity?

Put yourself on your own map
 When the script's finished I'll send answers on a  postcard to myself, or rather, maybe a series of  letters. I bought this set at the British Library as  an early birthday present to myself.
 Maps: a writing kit with 50 stickers.
 Penge is even on the map on one of the sheets  of writing paper of London in 1887.
 Thanks for reading.
Up next on the blog: The script writing  process and Scratch Showings

Monday, 2 January 2017

Time for the Solo Show - The wind of change blows up 2016's Brownskirt

GMT in Greenwich,
the birth place of time
So, last year is over and next year has already become this year. 2017 as a number is much sharper looking than the more curvaceous but ultimately bitter-tasting 2016. Not that I think too much can be attributed to a man-made concept such as a year. I think, even though we believe time runs forward, ahead of us like an arrow or a garden path, it is probably more like circles built on circles. That's why we use phrases like 'comes round quickly' and 'it'll be upon us before we know it'. We move forwards, we move back, we've had the time of our lives, time moves soooo slowly, we twist quickly through it and find ourselves blank from it. It sits in a clock and the clock is round, and the clock is the moon and the earth and all that is spinning. Spinning plates. We know something about those, don't we? I have often wondered how we are supposed to remain upright what with all this motion. 

Cindy Sherman pondering on success
Last year was about trying, failing, and trying again until I succeeded. My skin is getting thicker. Like when last year we pitched a TV idea to the BBC comedy department and they came back almost immediately and said it wasn't right for them. I shrugged it off without a sting. My producer friend said, 'It's not over. Loads gets rejected all the time. We'll just come up with something else.' 
'That's the ticket,' I thought.

The book mentioned
Last month Penelope Lively described how she thought the short story form had left her for good. For twenty years she hadn't had one urge to write short stories and then, she had a series of ideas, bolting into her mind, coming to her in her eighty-first year of life. It reminded me of when I read Elizabeth Gilbert's book on creativity called 'Big Magic' and how she thinks artistic ideas are forces that can arrive at you at any moment but if you're not open to them or grab hold of them they'll bob on until finding someone else who will make with
them. I like this, as if we're all live aerials.

Visiting Edinburgh Festival as a punter last summer taught me that so much art is a conversation with the audience. That people are learning on the job. They are seeing what works whilst working on it. And I'm all for taking off the pressure of being perfect first time round whenever I can. 

New pop socks for a new year
Finally I want to let you know that this blog is changing direction. This year it'll work more like an open journal. Late last year I was awarded an Arts Council Grant to write my alter ego Barbara Brownskirt's first solo stage show, 'WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Barbara Brownskirt.' I caught hold of the idea about a year ago and have been nursing it ever since.
So from now on I shall be describing getting the solo show together, warts and all via this platform.
I want to chart the highs and the lows, not just because I said I would to the Arts Council, but because sometimes I'll arrive
somewhere without knowing how I got there. So, stick with me. It's going to get interesting. Also hopefully this charting will be a source of inspiration or motivation for any of you considering putting together a new project in this new clean sheet of a year. We're all in it together, after all.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Polari Tour is about to begin

This week marks the start of the Arts Council Funded Polari National Tour. I'm really excited that not only am I going to perform alongside all the brilliant authors at the events taking place in the evenings, but shall be running the writing workshops in the afternoons. I've been facilitating my own brand of motivational workshops at The Bookseller Crow bookshop where I'm writer-in-residence for the last three years, so I think I'm fairly well versed in the ups and downs of them, but you never can know what life is going to throw at you. I have my usual concerns about what writing exercises shall I introduce, will people bring their work printed out ready to read and what the quality will be like - but aside from this, will anyone turn up? This is where you, my loyal blog readers, can help.

If you have interest in any of the workshops that will run in the places listed below, or know people who would please get in contact with the venue to book a ticket or find out how to. The workshops will start with an exercise or two and then the writers get to read out the work they've brought along. I'll be giving feedback and pointers on what can be tweaked or thought about to take the work forward. The best writer earns a place at the evening gig to read aloud their work alongside published LGBT authors and will also get a big gust of applause and encouragement from me and Paul B.

I'm leading the writing workshops at each location listed below with Paul Burston, the founder of Polari. Recently named as one of the world's top LGBT events by ArtInfo, Polari offers the very best in new, established and up-and-coming LGBT literary talent so it's a brilliant thing to get involved with. It was described the The New York Times as 'London's most theatrical talent' but Sarah Waters describes it best as, 'always fun, always thought-provoking - a guaranteed good night out.' And what can top that?!

So here are the dates:

8 September Cardiff, Chapter Arts Centre
22 September Bishop Stortford Library: (contact library for workshop)
28 September Hastings, The Printworks
14 October Brighton, The Marlborough Theatre:
21 October Nottingham Writer's
4 November, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
11 November, Write Idea Festival Ideas Store, Tower Hamlets (free workshop)
15 November, Hove Library, (free workshop)
18 November, Grand Theatre, Blackpool
19 November, MAC Birmingham:
21 November, Fruit Space Hull
23 November, Newcastle City Library (free workshop)

Please tell your mates and tell them to tell their writing mates or anyone who has the burning desire to put pen to paper and get their voice and ideas out there.
Oh and also Barbara Brownskirt will be performing at some if not all the Polari evening events.
See you there or somewhere close by soon!