In my day….

I’ve been feeling old lately.

Well, to be honest I’ve been physically feeling like an old croc for about the last 2 years but this is more specific than that.

This is about theatre. We’re doing a surprise show for the kids at school and I am more than happy to be running the lights and sound.  Despite the fact that I have officially retired from all things theatre and hated lights and sound with a passion during training.

You see, it’s all changed now…back in the time of dinosaurs I trained at LAMDA and got my diploma in Stage Management and Technical Theatre.  What I’ve realised is that 98.5% of the technical theatre that I learnt now belongs in a museum…literally!

When I was at college we did lighting, sound, costume, stage management etc etc.  The basics of props and costume haven’t really changed much over the years.  Obviously there’s been some advancements but props are still mostly made in the same way and costumes are still sewn by machine for instance.

I was a DSM for most of my career and that is the little gnome who sits at the side of the stage, tucked in a corner, telling lights, sound, flys etc when to do their magic.  My cue board was covered in buttons and lights and they’re still the same nowadays – with a few extra buttons and lights for good measure.

But over the last week or so I’ve realised that lights and sound have moved on since I trained.

When I did my sound training (which was enough to put me off it for life!) we used reel to reel machines.  This involved that tricky process of cutting actual tape with an actual razor blade and re-attaching it where you needed it with other actual tape.  I think it was called ‘splicing’.  I called it ‘life’s too short for this shit’.  It was like something the devil thought up to keep you occupied while he allocated you your special level of hell!  If you got it wrong you ended up surrounded by brown curls of tape with fingers that looked like Kevin Spacey in ‘Se7en’.  Actually that’s pretty much how it looked if you got it right too.

It was shit.  I hated it.  I’ve moved on.  Mostly.

Lighting involved ladders and my personal favourite – the tallescope.  I’m not a fan of heights, or falling, or any of that shenanigans and it was an integral part of lighting in those days.  Your rigging day consisted of flying in the bars, putting the lights on and plugging them in, flying them out again and then doing ‘rock/paper’scissors’ to find out who was going up the tallescope.

A tallescope is a big, big vertical ladder with a tiny platform on top.  On wheels.  Pushed around by theatre crew who are probably still half drunk from the pub the night before.  And your head is 2 inches from lots of very hot stage lights with pointy edges.  Imagine one of those cherry pickers you see around for the guys to fix street lights.  Without the stability and health and safety aspects.

No matter how many times anyone told me ‘you’ll be fine once you’re up there’ it never got any easier.  The whole thing shook when they moved it, shook when I climbed up and shook when my legs would wobble uncontrollably.  So all the time, in other words.

And lightning technicians had their own language.  They spoke in numbers and were obsessed with gels.  Gels are the small squares of c-thru material that you slotted into frames at the front of the lights to make them pretty colours.  We used to steal them to put over our lights at home when we had a party.  They had different numbers for their colours and the best technicians would just know that 125 was light green and 123 was dark green**

But now it’s like something out of Star Trek!!

The sound all runs through a computer and you can click and drag as much as you like – no razor blades required!  And if you get it wrong you can go back and do it again.  Easy fricking peasy!

And lighting technicians can now programme whole shows without even putting down their beer/crisps/FHM magazine (true fact).  You can scroll through about 50 different shades of green with the push of a button and if you want the lights to pivot/spin/turn/wiggle/or do the floss then they can and will.  And you can spot the old-school lighting guys because they mutter gel numbers under their breath like some kind of incantation!

So I am Technical Theatre Queen of Buttons.  I can quite happily reach out and tap the space bar on a computer or the ‘Go’ button on the lighting board.  As long as I don’t get over-excited and press it twice by accident I can look like I know what I’m doing.

It’s taken me over 10 years but I got there in the end.  Go me!

 

**Dear LX Technician Geeks, please, don’t tell me those numbers are wrong!  I just plucked them out of thin air.  Although if they’re correct then it was intentional.  OK?

 

 

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No wonder there’s wandering Scotsmen.

I’m going back to Scotland in less than 2 weeks.

Not to stay for ever!  It’s December FFS and this is Scotland we’re talking about…it’s cold and wet and dark.  We’re going back for 10 days so that we can do Christmas with all the grandparents, catch up with some people, show off our tans and then smugly skip onto a plane back to the sunshine of SA.

We left Scotland in the first place because I was fed-up with spending the ‘summer’ holidays wearing a balaclava and organising rainy day activities.  But after 6 years away I find that when I’m not in Scotland I miss it.  I find myself watching programmes on TV set in Scotland just to indulge in some Ex Pat Porn moments.  They all seem to be crime dramas – which probably says a lot about us Scots!  Anyway, I find myself saying things like:

‘Aaah look at all that lovely sunshine’…

‘Oh I miss a nice drizzle of rain’…

‘Look at all that gorgeous green scenery’…

‘Scottish people are so friendly’…

Then I go back to Scotland and I get a wee dose of reality.  Yes, Scotland is all those things but also it’s not.  Of course the sun comes out sometimes but very rarely for long and the few days it does so with any great heat we all go bonkers, strip off and get 3rd degree sun burn!  Sometimes a bit of drizzle can be nice.  Two long weeks of continuous drizzle however is not nice – it is soul destroying.  The reason why the countryside is so green?  See previous mention of  drizzle/sunshine ratio.  And Scottish people are just like anyone else in the world – some are friendly, some are annoying, but most of them will look at you like you’re an escaped serial killer holding an axe if you smile at them randomly on the street and say ‘hello’.

Wherever we go in the world we run into people who are Scottish or have Scottish relatives.  Our taxi driver in Malta had a Scottish granny for instance.  There have been generations of Scottish people who have thrown their thermal underwear on the fire and yelled ‘fuck this, am fer the off’.  For centuries we’ve been leaving Scotland by the boatload, setting up somewhere warm and spreading the Tartan Gene far and wide across the globe.

(you’re welcome btw)

Being disillusioned with Scotland is our birthright.  We are taught to whinge and complain about it from an early age.  We go on about how dark it is in the winter (which is all the fricking time!)…we go on about how cold it is (in Aberdeen my Dad couldn’t find his car under all the snow sometimes)…we go on about how wet it is (welly boots are provided free on the NHS*)…etc etc.

*that’s a lie, but it should be the truth!

But don’t you dare say anything bad about our beloved homeland or there’ll be trouble!  We can moan about that fact that in winter the toilet seat freezes your bum off (it does, believe me!) and the water from the taps comes out in ice cubes but if you even dare suggest it’s a bit chilly then we’ll get tore into you in 5 seconds flat!!

It’s a love/hate thing.  We all moan about the midgies and the Glasgow drunks and the  shitty weather because that’s as natural to us as breathing.  But we will all boast until our last breath about our lochs and mountains and fresh, tasty food.

(Except for haggis.  Less said about haggis the better.  And deep-fried Mars bars.)

Since it’s in my blood I’ll just pack my thermals and get ready to have a good old festive moan about how dark/cold/windy it is there and not let on that I’m secretly having the time of my life.

Ah Scotland – can’t live there – but somehow can’t live without it either.

 

 

 

Performance anxiety…

(no, not that kind!  Honestly, the smut you people think of…)

So I found myself in a new and unnerving situation yesterday…

(seriously, stop it!)

I ended up all sweaty and out of breath…

(ok, I did that one deliberately…teehee!)

I was teaching people a dance I’d choreographed and that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d type.

I am not a dancer.  I know left from right 99% of the time except for when I am called upon to demonstrate said knowledge to music.

I am the person up the back in Zumba class who’s always a few beats behind everyone else and ends up getting smacked in the face/smacking someone in the face by accident.

You know those huge inflatable man-shaped-balloon-things they have at car showrooms that wave about in the wind?  That’s me, dancing.

But we’re doing a little show at school and needed a dance routine so I took it on because apparently I’ve never met me before…!!!

I drew on the ancient art of ‘Just Dance’ which I have been ‘doing’ for years now.  When I say ‘doing’ I mean I have been kicking the coffee table, tripping over the carpet and rupturing my internal organs.  All in the name of The Dance.

In my mind when I am doing any kind of The Dance I am graceful, I flow, I am in control of my body.

What I learnt yesterday when I got up to teach people The Dance – consisting of a whole 4 moves on a repeat loop – is the following:

When I dance I look like an orangutan being chased by a bulldozer…

If I haven’t run through those vital 4 moves within the last 2.5 mins I have no hope of remembering what order they go in…

When teaching or showing someone my moves the music always magically runs faster or slower than when I do it on my own at home..

I can dance The Dance as smooth as silk over and over for hours at home but when other people are around I still look like I’m just playing hop scotch after drinking a litre of vodka…

When teaching people The Dance it helps to know left from right and be able to count.  Apparently I can do neither in time with music…

Just because I say ‘ok, let’s go for it’ doesn’t mean I am in any way ready for you to start the music track…

See orangutan reference…

I could go on and on but you get the idea.  We got there in the end, but it was a confusing experience for everyone, least of all me!

My dear husband told me that the reason I was wheezing and sweating after a whole 6 mins of doing The Dance was because I am an asthmatic operating at altitude.

I’m getting that on a t-shirt.

I believe it has more to do with my liking for ice cream and sitting on my arse writing silly sentences about orangutans all day.

Now I have to find his phone and smash it before he shares the footage he took of me ‘performing’ The Dance…

 

 

 

Random Musings from a NaNoWriMo winner…

What was that noise?

Why have I finished before 30th November?

Is my computer number dyslexic?

Does my novel make any sense?

Why is there still nothing interesting happening outside?

Why does the weather go all shitty now that I have time to sit in the garden?

Can I start a new project now?

Do my chapters make any sense?

Can my new project be a (very) short story?

Do I have any good ideas left?

Why can I still not spell cozy/cosy/cosey….!!

Do my sentences make any sense?

Why did I eat all those biscuits?

Where the fuck did all my mechanical pencils go?

Is it too pretentious to make laminated copies of my winner certificateand use them as placemats?

How many short story competitions can I enter?

How come my brain is hitting me with ideas for edits and won’t let me veg out on the sofa watching TV?!

Should I let anyone ever read my novel or just throw it on the boma?

If I wrote just over 50,000 words in 20 days why has it taken me all morning to write this blog?

Do I need the toilet?

What was that noise?

(final word count of 50,521 submitted to NaNoWriMo on 20th November – cue smug face and smell of brain frying)

 

Weird, weirder, weirdest…

My new chosen profession is weird.

When I first left school I was a Vet nurse and that was pretty strange.  I left when chipping frozen dead dogs out of the freezer became a normal day.

I was also a Stage Manager and if you’re in any doubt as to whether that was weirder then please go and have a look at some of my previous blogs for clarification.

But now I’m a writer and that’s probably the weirdest so far.

I am allowed to call myself a writer because Stephen King said I could so you can take it up with him if you’ve got a problem with that*.  Also I’ve written half a dozen plays and am 35,000 words plus into a 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo so if I’m not allowed to call myself a writer now then I’ll just go back to being a normal run-of-the-mill masochist.

Writing is a weird thing no matter how you look at it.  I sit here on my own and type words.  I arrange them so that they make some kind of sense or at least give you a rough idea of what I want to say.  You can’t see me.  I can’t see you.  I think we’re both probably better off that way!

As you read my words you might nod and smile.  If I’m lucky I can make you laugh.  If I’m not lucky or it’s just one of those days then you might find yourself skip reading quickly and looking forward to getting back to emptying the cat’s litter tray.

But…my dear readers…if the stars are aligned and the magic is turned up to 11 then I might just be able to take you on a journey with me.  We’ll go to places and meet people.  Maybe have fun and frolics or maybe get scared out of our tiny minds.   Even though it’s a place that starts in my imagination you would see it in your own way and it would be different for everyone.

Told you writing is weird!

For instance, when you’re a writer you live in constant fear of what people will think of your search history of strangeness.  Lately mine goes something like this:

James Corden – lyrics to ‘Someone to Love’ – symptoms of dehydration – Spongebob Squarepants – melancholy – death at sea – hallucinations – Tom Hanks…

…along with the usual mix of Facebook, email and Bored Panda to avoid doing any actual writing.

Also you’ll find that there’s a good two and a half hours worth of ‘Shake it Off’ and ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ on You Tube, which I’m blaming on the fact that we’re performing a pantomime I wrote and I’m working out the choreography.

(Actually that’s a stretch.  When I say choreography I mean something that often looks like an epileptic playing Just Dance in a revolving door…but it’s a work in progress so don’t judge.  And don’t tell my sister-in-law.  She is a professional dancer/choreographer and would be within her rights to point out that I really shouldn’t use that word to describe what I’m doing).

But writing is a funny old thing.  I get to decide when characters live or die, what they do for a living, how old they are, what they look and sound like.  And if they don’t pull their weight then I can smite them with the delete key like some vengeful god of old!

It’s worth it though just for that moment when it all comes together.  When you write a line or a scene or a chapter and it works.  It rocks.  You’ve created something special and you can’t wipe the smug grin off your face.  You want to tell someone and have them appreciate just how good you are at this stuff.

But of course there’s no-one to share it with because you’re a writer so you’re sitting all alone like a little hunched goblin.  Your nearest and dearest remember all too well how you hissed at them last time they interrupted you in ‘the muse’.

So what do you do?  Well, you blog it instead.

This also works if it’s a day when you’ve been writing like one of those fabled typewriter monkeys who is blindfolded and using a typewriter with no keys.  Days when you need any excuse to do something else before you break down and sob like a little girl.

Blogging is handy like that.

Writing is weird like that.

Gotta love it!

*Please don’t.  The poor man is a busy writer and has his hands full with his own particular brand of weirdness.  Let him be.

Random Musings from a Procrastinating Writer.

What was that noise?

Is there something interesting going on outside?

Should I go and see what’s going on outside?

Why is nothing interesting going on outside?

Do I need to go to the toilet?

Where’s my charger?

If I try for a 20 min power nap will it turn into a 3 hour semi-coma?

Do we need milk?

My ceiling is awesome.

What time is it?

Can I stop yet?

Does my writing suck like King Kong’s lollipop?

Why would anyone think being a writer is fun?

How do you spell cosey/cosy/cozy…?

Is there another word I could use that will sound more like an adult wrote this?

Is there a place nearby I can hire some monkeys and typewriters?

Why is it every time I go to buy milk I get chocolate too?

This screen is very white.

I should press save.

Will I be the next Ernest Hemingway?

I can wiggle my thumbs really fast.

The stairs up to my desk are getting steeper.

I googled Ernest Hemingway and I’d rather be Terry Pratchett.

Why can’t I stop buying stationery?

How many mechanical pencils is too many?

My clock has a funny -sounding tick.

If I buy one more mechanical pencil will I be able to write like J K Rowling?

Is DEATH real?

What was that noise?

 

 

 

 

Publish and be damned…

Ok, so it’s October 31st.  Apart from the fact that it’s a Wednesday and we’re planning to eat microwave meals while watching ‘From Dusk til Dawn’ with the lights off to avoid those pesky trick or treat-ers – it’s also the last day of sanity for a while.  Well, what passes for sanity in my world.

Tomorrow is Nov 1st and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  The month when I wonder why in the name of all that’s holy I thought it was a good idea to commit to writing a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days.

It begs the question really – in this day and age what is a writer?  I just looked it up in my steam-driven paper dictionary and apparently it’s a ‘person who writes’ so there you have it.  In the old days the only person who could really put this in the ‘Job Title’ box was someone who had an actual 3D paper book published – or you were seen as just being a pretentious twat.

Nowadays we can all be published.  Hell, I’m looking at a big blue button right now that says ‘Publish…’ on it and I fully intend to push it.  Millions of people do and have done for years.

So are we all writers?  We’re not all novelists (‘writer of novels’) I guess, but then again we can all get our books out there and self-publish so who’s to say?

I know that I enjoy writing.  I know I have written plays that are full of punctuation, whole sentences and can make people laugh.  I know that one of my plays has been performed for non-paying audiences over the last few years.  I also know that every now and then I get A Good Idea.  But if I don’t write them down quick enough they become What The Fuck Was That Again.

But 50,000 words?!  That’s what I call A Lot.  It’s a Serious Undertaking.  With a side order of Almost Could Be Mistaken For Adulting.

All the great books start with an idea and a blank page/screen.  Nothing to lose, right?

And just to make me feel better and inspire any other budding NaNoWriMo’s out there, here’s some pearls of wisdom from the Proper Writers.

‘Books are a uniquely portable magic’ – Stephen King

‘Writing is the painting of the voice’ – Voltaire

‘You can’t edit a blank page’ – Jodi Picoult

‘A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one’ Baltasar Gracian

‘There are 3 rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately no-one knows what they are’ – W. Somerset Maugham

‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit’ – Richard Bach

‘Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself’ – Terry Pratchett

And I’ll give the final word to Sarah Painter and Stephen King whose books on writing have helped inspire me and who tell it like it is…

‘You are allowed, you are worthy, you are a writer’ – Sarah Painter.

and as Mr King says – ‘do you really need permission and a hall-pass to go there? Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one?  God, I hope not’

He also refers to writing as ‘shovelling shit from a sitting position’ so off I go – this shit won’t shovel itself you know….!

P.S research and mood board ready to go…

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P.P.S…I don’t need reassurance or a piece of paper, but just in case…

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