Friday, October 14, 2011

on the road

Been awhile since the Museum's been open for business and honestly thought about burning the old place down for the insurance money.

Glad I didn't, since this is the perfect place to gather around and hear the tale of our fateful trip...

Occasional Cabaret (Peter Clerke and Catherine Gillard) and Clancy Productions (John Clancy and Nancy Walsh) collaborated to create a new cabaret piece Apocalypse! in September, 2011. Original music and musical direction was provided by Tim Brinkhurst, sets and costumes were created by Ali Maclaurin, the show was lit by Kevin MacCallum and production was managed by Camilla O’Neill.

On opening night, October 5, 2011, Joyce McMillan of the Scotsman wrote:

What's exciting about this fierce and ragged show is the way in which it tries to shake up theatrical form… timely, disturbing, and so well worked out in the best of Clancy's writing - that the show is impossible to resist, and it slices down to the hidden reality of the way we live now, in a way that makes the rest of our theatrical world seem pallid, and a little short of the courage it takes to face a terrible truth.

The following is a day-to-day account of the tour.

October 10, 2011

Five weeks ago we walked down the road and started our first rehearsal for Apocalypse. Five days ago we opened in Glasgow to a rowdy reception and three major critics watched and dutifully reported what they saw. No one hated it and the heavy in the crowd loved it, so we live to perform another day. The tour proper starts tomorrow with a date in Stirling, followed by a show in Berwickshire, three nights at the Traverse here in Edinburgh and then on to Aberdeen and points north.

The reviews, as always, set the tone for this next stage. Almost every artist you talk to claims to never read them and every single serious artist I know not only reads them but hunts them down compulsively the moment the curtain is down opening night and then memorizes every word, glowing and damning both. It’s an unjust and unavoidable part of the job. Sentences are handed down by the unelected judges and there is no court of appeals and the death penalty is not only still on the books, but frequently and capriciously rendered.

Our notices range from respectful to very good, so there is none of the doubt and quiet ill will that can poison a company after a few bad reviews.

Two hour rehearsal back in our original room, put two lines right at the top, welcoming the audience in, changes the whole opening, gives the performers a launching pad, working through Nancy’s two monologues, making them broader and more comic. How do you get people laughing about starving kids in Africa? Challenge of the whole show.

October 11

Up late after being up late. This afternoon we drive out to Stirling with three tickets sold. Tim picks us up in a rental and we drive out of Edinburgh around 2:00, past the estates, low stone houses, a beautiful area that we are told is the bad part of town. A part of Edinburgh the Festival crowd never sees. And then we are immediately in the countryside, green farmland stretching away from the road on both sides and the enormous low clouds hugging the hills on the horizon.

A short hours drive, passing the castle of Stirling, site of a great battle and used in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, a movie all Scots scoff at reflexively. About 900 years ago, September 11, 1297, Wallace led his troops across Stirling Bridge, defeating the forces of Edward I. Now you can take an audio tour and get your picture taken with a guy dressed up as a 14th century Scottish warrior.

The venue, the MacRobert, is on the campus of the University of Stirling, renowned for its high rate of suicide among the student population. We pull in, find the theater and find Camilla who’s been here since this morning, setting up.

Our stage sits incongruously in what looks like a small indoor mall. They’ve set us up in the foyer of the main theater with a working bar/cafe stage right and the ladies room stage left. It feels like the kind of place where you’d stand and sing Christmas carols while armies of shoppers trudge by, ignoring you. And in the unintended hilarity of regional touring I see that we’re following a children’s show called How the Koala Learnt to Hug. The MacRobert is covering all of its bases today. Good news is we’ve practically doubled our sales since this morning. Current total ticket sales stands at five.

The actors warm up in the space but it’s hard to run any of the bits because we’re essentially in a public place and little knots of children keep running through, chasing each other and screeching. I realize how profane most of the show is and we all begin to gear up for a rough night.

And then, ten minutes before show time, the magic and mystery of word-of-mouth kicks in and an audience arrives. Couples, groups of students, even a family with their teen-aged son, all buying tickets for the show. We scramble to set up more chairs, even have to add two additional tables and we play a raucous, spirited cabaret to our best house yet, laughing and engaged throughout. There are probably only 35 people there but they feel like 300 and the applause afterwards is long and loud. Pete and I silently shake hands and I thank all the theater gods for blessing us in Stirling tonight.


Dykstra said...

Well, Playwirghts, Producers, Directors et al HAVE to read reviews. They are potential tools and as playwright I have learned to read them and not let them bother me if I have to continue a run after bad ones. But Actors? A lot of actors don't read reviews (even when they know they're good) until after the run. And that's cool, too. Isn't it. It doesn't mean they're NOT Artists worth their salt.

ThatAnn said...

Wasn't "How the Koala Learnt to Hug" the original working title for your show?

New Joe Henry CD, new John Clancy show. Thank you, Life.

John said...

Point taken, Brian. I haven't been onstage in awhile and don't know if I'd read every review if I were. Probably would, but don't honestly know.

And Ann, the original title was Why the Koala Went to Hell, but hugging was involved.

Inappropriate koala hugging.

Thatann said...

You have inspired me to write a haiku in honor of The Grand Blog Rebirth And The Words Of John Clancy:

I've been hugged by the/ Apocalypse Koala/ Hell smells like menthol.

John said...

I was in a band in college called Apocalyptic Koala.

We sucked but the T-shirts were pretty cool.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.