I did a comedy pilot last year with the old gang from Zeus’ Pamphlet. Call Girls is written by Andrea Thompson Burke and I played the lead role or Marcus – a miserable middle manager with IBS. Twas much fun and was filmed on location in Bridgend, Wales. Here is a wee trailer for it which has just been released. Not sure what’s happening next, but I do believe it’s being pitched in some form. Watch this space!
A few years ago, back in halcyon days between 2009 and 2012 I was in a lovely little sketch group call Zeus’ Pamphlet and after a few years on the comedy circuit in London and after rather tasty debut at 2011 Edinburgh Festival we bagged a comedy pilot and then went our separate ways. New creative paths we’re formed; I went on a ‘comedy sabbatical’ and decided to write plays and do triathlons, Frank became a stand-up and the rest of the gang went on to become a new comedy group called Don’t Shoot The Mermaid.
Since 2012 these comedy sirens have been building up a rather sexy web channel with a whole load of new material. In July I was invited to star in a new and improved version of one of our old favourite sketches written by Emma Rasmussen and directed by Simon J Riley.
It’s pretty racy in parts, so only click if you’re a proper grown up!
At the beginning of May and straight after my physical endurance week in Spain, I returned to London and it was time to start my two-week Clowning Masterclass with the renowned physical theatre troupe Spymonkey. A physical and emotional roller-coaster journey to discover my “inner-clown”. Now, I know that sounds INCREDIBLY wanky, but don’t be alarmed my feet stayed on the ground and my head was no were near my bottom…apart from when I fell over.
As an actor in my 10th year of being in the business, I felt I needed to give myself a little shake up as my tools have gotten a little rusty of late. It’s so easy, as a performer, to get stuck into bad habits and I wanted to be challenged. And what better way but to bear yourself and become an idiot in a clown workshop.
Now I’m not talking about a red-nose and silly shoes. This clowning was more about tuning back into your gut instinct when on-stage, finding the complicity with your fellow performers and reading audience. No character, no lines just a costume of your choosing and your own idiot self. As an actor this was strangely terrifying because I usually spend so much of my time hiding behind a character or a voice.
A class of twenty, we were holed up in Highgate at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, a beautiful space in the eves of an old church and everyday we were guided masterfully by Spymonkey’s Aitor Basauri, on a diet of games, impro’ and general physical madness to tune into our clown and to help us find the complicity between each other and the audience whilst letting go of ‘trying to be funny’. A lot of this required us to FLOP in front of our peers. We constantly tried out ideas from costume to routines to see what worked and what didn’t. That was tough. As a performer you want to get the laughs, you want approval but this didn’t happen overnight, it was long process that tested a lot of us to the limit. I know I kept thinking, “Am I just shit?” as I constantly flopped in front of my fellow clowns. And to be honest, I was shit. But that’s what you do, you keep being shit until you are let go of your actory ‘look at me’ ego and find your glorious idiot self. Aitor put it succinctly:
“The performer who dares to stand before a crowd, unafraid to make mistakes and find pleasure in being wonderfully silly will reap fruitful rewards. In Spymonkey we strongly believe that it is in this moment that the seed for the best performances can begin.”
There were tears and tantrums but equally some of the most spontaneously hilarious moments I’ve ever had with a group of strangers. By the end of the two weeks I felt like I’d undergone some kind of a mental change as a performer. There was always a cautious side of me that wouldn’t dare so much on stage. But after this I felt unblocked, reinvigorated, inspired and lighter in myself…Now I know that sounds like an advert for colon cleansing, but that’s almost what it was! – a clown colonic for the jaded insides of my performer self. If you’re a comedian, actor or just someone who wants to dare to find the glorious moments of your own ridiculousness – then DO this workshop. It will make you a better (and maybe funnier) person all round.
Last month was pretty bonkers and now I’m finally finding to time to sit down and type some twaddle about my galavanting across the Globe: One man, no mission, just some lego hair and an ability to pull a funny face for money…
It began with a trip to chilly Gdansk, in Poland to film a quick commercial for the very Polish Zyweic beer. Me and the very British cast endured -5 temperatures on a night shoot pretending to be having a ‘summer’ party. Remarkably enough we don’t look that cold considering. Might have been the hip flask we smuggled on set* Have a look:
*disclaimer – that’s a joke. Don’t want to get told off by Polish Acting Union, or my mum.
Not much else to report on Gdansk. Other than it was bombed so much in the WWII that most of the old town was destroyed, so most of the buildings are new with ye oldesky prefabs on the front. Felt a little like a movie set or a model town.
Once Gdansk was G’done, I was off to Spain to train for this season’s triathlons. Now I haven’t mentioned this before, but was very aware of sounding like a bit of a tool banging on about lycra all the time. In-between jobs I like to do triathlons. For the uneducated that is basically a swim, bike and run race, in that order. I got into to it about three years ago when my flat mate set up a club in Hackney, East London and I always fancied having a go. My cycling and running was always pretty good, but I couldn’t swim very well so I thought this might fix it. And to my surprise it did. Cut to three years down the line and I have a bit of addiction to this multi-sport discipline. I’m trying to kid myself it’s about the fitness, but the truth is LFTC is just a good craic and a great antidote to the fickle world of acting and showbiz types. It’s a good leveller.
We go away every year to do a training-camp and this year we hedged our bets on Andalucia, Spain at a tri-specific sports hostel. Our days started at 7am with a 2k swim in the on-site lake, consisting of various drills that are specific to triathlon: sighting, drafting, race starts and general getting used to swimming in open water. After that we saddle up, apply weird cream to our nether regions and don more tight-fitting clothing and head out for a 90-120K bike ride.
Andalucia has some serious hills and I don’t think I’ve encountered the pain of a 14k hill climb before, but I now have some serious respect for those chaps doing their lycra-ery thing in the Giro D’Italia at the moment. Also, I never realised how much you need to EAT when you do a holiday like this. I never really stopped. Two breakfasts (one before swimming, one after) then eating cereal bars whilst riding, plus coffee and cake stop-offs. Light lunches and then enormous carb-fuelled dinners. And what goes in must come out. I think our 29-strong combined eating must have put a strain on the neglected Spanish sewer system. Let’s hope it didn’t end up in the lake…
We finished the play and survived intact! What an crazy couple of weeks that was. Now we’re on the case of having a re-jig and getting it put on later in spring. We had some lovely audiences and quite a large chunk of industry bods came to watch too. Which wasn’t scary at all, no no, not in slightest. *rocks back and forth* In the meantime the director Marianne Oldham is getting ready to take to the stage again for the Arcola Theatre’s Sons Without Fathers and David Ricardo Pearce is getting ready to be Oberon in The Midsummer Night’s Dream. What a talented team!
So, onto my projects new…
Currently under construction is a play I’ve been working on for about a year. This piece is for 7-12 year olds (and you adults too) and we are are trying our best to create “a folk-music fairy tale”. It’s been tough trying to find the time to rehearse/write as we both need to work to bring in the money, but things are finally moving forward! The ‘we’ is me and Simon Spencer-Hyde. My good friend and wonderful comic actor who I trained with back at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Here he is:
We’re looking to start full scale rehearsals this next month with a scratch version ready for April. The key thing is now to find a really, really nice director, producer and some money. Money, that’s the problem – there isn’t any at the moment. Theatres are being shut down and thanks to our delightful coalition government, the Arts (as is usual) is at the bottom of the list. I’m not gonna get on my soapbox, but a multi-billion pound spend on a nuclear submarine….. REALLY? Another problem with money, or the lack thereof is that theatre/performance becomes an elitist thing and people with only money or access to money can create work. There’s not a lot of support for people with none, who want to create. The Edinburgh Festival has definitely been affected by this. Stewart Lee’s article here is a worthy read.
Anyway, RANT OVER… hopefully I can raise some funds off the back of my commercials (like a ‘low-art’ for ‘high-art’ karmic pay off) and also through a bit of good old fashioned hounding. Any offers – drop me a line! Nica Burns, You listening?
In other news – I’ve just signed up with Kate Moon Management for voice-overs. What good news! I’ve already been plodding away in my new home-studio and getting all excited by my new toys.
I’m writing this from my bed at 4.13am. Why so early, you ask? Well, it’s nerves. BIG pre-show nerves to be honest and they’re keeping me awake. So this is an attempt to quash them by spilling my thoughts and hopefully I’ll bore myself (but not you, dear reader) to sleep. I need to be fresh tomorrow as it’s the opening night, and for the last hour I’ve been staring into the darkness of my room with about 120 pages of dialogue, director’s notes and general cues spinning around my lucid state. Bloody plays!
Don’t get me wrong – I love the theatre. It’s where I started and since I was 11 years old I’ve been on stage pretty much every year without fail. It’s home to me. Entertaining is what I thrive on. But sometimes I do wonder though, if I prefer the rehearsal period more than the actual performance. It’s such an odd state to live in, being an actor. We are pretty much in a state of constant worry: we worry why we’re not working, then when we get an audition we worry about doing the audition, then when your agent says “You got the job!” you’re relieved only for a split-second, before being plunged back into THE WORRY as you ask yourself “Fuck, can I do the job?” This cycle is broken ONLY as you rehearse: you read, play, get to know your cast, drink copious amounts of tea and explore the beautiful craft. Then, it’s opening night and The Worry Returns (like a terrible movie sequel) – keeping you awake at night (like now) and making your hair-line recede along with your nails as you chew them in a nervous frenzy. This cycle continues throughout the run of the show: you worry about audience numbers, making them laugh (if it’s a comedy) making them cry (tragedy…or a comedy), the bloody reviews (don’t ever read them) and then it’s closing night and you are back to square one, as the very next day you are unemployed – cue, THE WORRY.
Ok, so there is a bit of dramatic licence there. So apologies, nobody likes a whinge-bag, but I am just in a bit of tizz as this last month has been like no other rehearsal period….
The play is called My Romantic History, written by D.C. Jackson:- a wonderful post-modern 3-hander comedy that has awards attached all over itself like a duded-up dandy. It’s a gift of play for an actor, so when I got the call to play the lead, I jumped straight in. The only problem was we are doing it as a two-night run off our own backs, with a mind to hopefully be able to get a transfer at another theatre later in the year. Think of it as a demo-tape for producers. It’s total Fringe Theatre. That means no money and very little rehearsal time. So when you work you have to totally focus on the job. There’s no time to be self-indulgent (anecdote-filled tea breaks? don’t be daft!) like most rehearsal periods. It’s rehearsing by-the-seat-of-your-pants. So that rehearsal ‘worry hiatus’ that I mentioned before does not exist – it is a head down, learn your lines and bite your nails to stumps in about 2 weeks process. Yes folks, 2 weeks!
But PHEW, we are in a good place. Yesterday was the last rehearsal and tomorrow/today (as it’s actually the A.M now) we will tech and dress the show ready for our FULL-HOUSE. Can’t believe it, but we sold out. What wonders! Hopefully my little rant here has somewhat given my nails a bit of growing time and I can finally get some sleep. Just so you know the play is directed by the wonderful Marianne Oldham and produced by David Ricardo Pearce.
Right folks, I’m off to Los Angeles to do some more face pulling and meet some people for future adventures. When I return I’m going to plant some trees as I think my Carbon Footprint must be ridiculous after this year’s jet-set lifestyle. In the meantime I’ve just updated my showreel for my visit to Tinsel Town:
I’ve got my voice-over home studio FINALLY set up. This has been a little project I’ve been working towards for the last few years so I can work from home a bit more, saving studio time and costs to the client. Would like to put a shout out to renowned VO artist John De Bono, who helped me cobble this lot together.
And for all the tech geeks out there, here is my set up: Apple MacPro, Audacity, Garage Band, Class A condenser mic, iso booth, various software plugins. Also, tech geeks, don’t sneer at my room – I’m in the process of soundproofing!
That’s a play on words, that title. Do you get it? DO YOU? If you do then you are in my club. Welcome. Come on in….
So yes, I was in the Dolomites a few weeks ago filming some stuff for the Russians, which I can’t talk about. I could tell you, but then I’d have to nobble you with a cosh and send you to Gulag. Only joking, I wouldn’t nobble you. Maybe a nibble, if you were lucky. Didn’t they close the Gulag anyway? I hope so.
There I was up in the mountains at 7am, watching the sun rise and was absolutely spell bound by the utter majesty of these mountains.
It’s not often that I run out of things to say, but this view quite rightly put me and the rest of the crew in rendered silence. My palms got a bit sweaty with vertigo too, but the main feeling that took me over was just insignificance. I don’t mean that in a depressing, ‘what’s-the-point?’ way. I mean that my woes and worries suddenly became insignificant in the grand scheme of it all. I was humbled and that also led to inspiration. That’s the power of these things, I was shaken out of my city absurdity bubble and there was clarity…
I have been in a creative slump for some months and stuck on page 20 of my play; I’ve also stuck trying as a performer and wondering if there was any point continuing this pursuit. I was bogged down with worries and felt numb. But these mountains just fixed me, and I came back with London with a clear head and a renewed creative energy.
He’s gone off his rocker, you’re saying. I hear you, brothers and sisters, but just go to the mountains and dare not to be inspired. I double dare you.
It wasn’t all divine inspiration, my friends. There were also some comedy moments to be had at 3000ft. Firstly, in the most remotest part of the mountain, I managed to step in a poo that look disturbingly HUMAN and I also noticed was that we were surrounded by these ad boards across the ski resort. What DOES this say about the Italian ‘target audience?’
Earlier this year I was out in Madrid filming the new campaign for Zalando, an online clothing company. It was your average dull shoot with clothes being fired in my face courtesy of an air cannon buried into the ground whilst being mobbed by 40 beautiful women. See? DULL!
Once again, I did my own stunts ( I’m like Tom Cruise or something, but without the Scientology and shortness) and there is no CGI in this, it’s all real….as is my beard.
Here’s the making of: