I've just had some good funding news. Tiny Heroes, the new show which I'm developing with the Bike Shed in Exeter and Beaford Arts in north Devon, has got a grant from the Arts Council. There's a person in an office somewhere in Manchester to whom I'm very grateful.
This completes the trio of shows that will be my core activity for the next year or two. Between them they represent two years' work so it's pretty exciting to imagine a time when they're all in repertoire together. Going Viral is now on the road after the Edinburgh run in August. It's in Lincoln on Thursday and will be touring for most of the next year at least. Error 404, the show for young audiences I made at Polka Theatre earlier this year, re-rehearses next month and will tour in shorter bursts over the same period. And we're making the first version of Tiny Heroes in February in Devon, then polishing it up in July before offering it for touring from autumn next year. It will primarily - although not exclusively - go to places that either don't have a theatre, or just don't get much theatre.
The show is a sort of development of the Story Hunt model. On that show we met a series of people, both in curated meetings and by setting up an elaborate tent in the marketplace, in order to gather stories of things that are no longer there. In each town we then created a seventy-minute walking tour of the town in which I told some of these stories in the present tense. In each town it was an entirely new show.
Story Hunt was mostly targeted at towns that are reputed (often by themselves) to be a bit shit. There wasn't necessarily a theatre there, or any significant record of engagement in the arts. We had to keep costs low. So we ended up researching, writing, rehearsing, learning and performing it from beginning to end in as little as a fortnight. Then the show was done - none of the seven Story Hunts lived on in the repertoire. It was exhausting, and it was unsustainable.
Tiny Heroes is a slightly more sensible model. The show is a search for heroism, and for whether there is such a thing. In each place we do it we'll spend a day, or a few days, or a week, looking for heroes. Each performance will feature a mix of new and old material. It'll be a bit like a gig with tonight's set list taped to the mic. And some material from each place will stay in the mix. It'll be a different show every time, but we won't have to create a whole new show every time. It'll be a mini-repertoire all of its own.
I've become fascinated by repertoire lately, as in six months time I'm going to have at least four shows in my head - Going Viral, Error 404, We're Stuck (which I'm working on in the spring as a performer, for Sarah Punshon and China Plate) and that rolling roster of Tiny Heroes. There are also a couple of one-offs and at least one mooted revival. I'll occasionally perform three different shows in the same week. This is a brilliant stupid idea.
I don't know how to do this yet. I'm constantly astonished by Chris Thorpe, who seems to have about five or six different shows in his head at any one time. Alex Kelly must come close. But I don't know how to do it yet. I don't know how to keep them all in my head.
Fortunately, shows don't live in your head. They live in your body. When you've done a show enough times your mouth knows the words better than you do. You can be surprised by your own thoughts the way they surprise you when they first come. You run the lines on the journey to the theatre and they won't come. Not without reference to the space. The words only exist in the room with the audience.
I occasionally worry that I'll walk onto the stage and accidentally start the wrong show. This is my version of that about-to-play-Hamlet-haven't-rehearsed-the-play stress dream, especially since the first word of pretty much all my shows is "hello". But when awake I'm sure this won't ever happen, because I'm only ever in the right space for any one of them at a time.
As I write, at home we're just getting out the projector screen to watch some telly in our new house. It hasn't been up anywhere since the last time I did The Price of Everything, almost exactly a year ago. That performance was itself about four months after the previous one, and yet I instinctively want to start pouring milk. Maybe I should bring that show back into the repertoire too. Or maybe there's enough to be going on with.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will