Sunday, 15 July 2007

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Blogger

It's time for the traditional blogger's greeting: it's been a while. Sorry about that.

I'm in London rehearsing the Edinburgh shows and generally trying to make things happen blah blah blah and of course that leaves precious little time for those two givens of everyday life at home: blogging and running. The sharp-eyed among you will have read the title and spotted already what direction this post is going in.

Last week I ran in company for the first time in about ten years. When I was at sixth form I used to run with Jonny Biggs, who wasn't quite as quick as me and enabled me to feel good about myself. Last week I ran with William, the younger brother of Nick, the actor from Man Across the Way with whom I stayed the week. William's got a 33 minute 10k time under his belt and he's in pretty good shape right now. I had an operation a couple of months ago and I'm only just starting to get back into it after a layoff of close to two years. Never before has a run left me with stomach pains; I can now see how it's possible to incur vomiting through running.

So now I'm back to running alone. I'm afraid it's slightly higher up my list of priorities than blogging, but then, I'm in control of the whereabouts of my shoes in a way I'm not of wireless internet access provision. And every time I run now, I get more excited about the next show I want to make: a one-man adaptation of (you guessed, right?) The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, performed entirely on treadmill. 10k will be covered in the fifty(ish)-minute show.

If I learned anything from my run with William, it's that the unsung muscle of the long-distance runner is the one involved in breathing. (I've done enough voice training to remember its name, but it's better to remain silent and have people think you're stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.) The excellent Runners' World magazine frequently distinguishes between different effort levels by considering what sort of vocal effort you're capable of. Speaking full sentences? That's a fairly light run. Unable to get out more than a syllable? Maximum effort. Hitting the top note in Nessun Dorma? You're just not trying.

So one of the interesting things about making the show will be the attempt to taper the rhythms of the text to fit what I'm capable of as a performer - as a runner - by any given point in an (admittedly fairly gentle) 10k. And to do that as artlessly as possible, to explore the rhythms of speech dictated by a given level of fatigue without trying to disguise that I'm out of breath. It's going to have to be written on the trail. And I don't think I'll be able to perform it six times a week.

We had the movement director in on Man Across the Way rehearsals yesterday and in the course of knocking some ideas about there was a period where the cast were darting about the space at a preposterous level of energy, panting for breath. Genuine fatigue is interesting, along with nudity and juggling, as an example of something which suddenly reveals the performer instead of, or at least as well as, the character. The intelligent show, when dabbling in these dark arts (and that's the only Harry Potter reference you'll get from me today) will figure out a way of acknowledging this, sewing it into the fabric of the piece. Not quite sure how I'm going to do that, but that's just part of the fun I've got planned for the autumn.

Somewhat perverse, I know, to get carried away with this idea when I'm opening two completely separate shows next week, but that's the kind of guy I am. And the other two are coming along nicely, cheers. Can of Worms is now in need of previews; it's gone beyond the point (which always comes, and comes sooner with clown) where rehearsing without an audience is of any use at all. We're ready to sprint for the tape.

And Man Across the Way seems to be shaping up, too. Today we had the lighting designer, the excellent Ben Pacey, in the room trying to figure out solutions to some insoluble problems with a key section at the midpoint of the play, and producing his normal, unusually high, level of genius. Yesterday we had the movement director helping us come up with some suitably mad ideas for the same difficult section (it's a minute long and we've spent the last day and a half working on it). And the day before was one of those lovely days when you ask a series of difficult questions of scenes, to which your answer starts out as "I have no idea", and you wind up making discoveries that transform the competent and workmanlike into the really rather good. It was one of those days when I really felt like I was doing my job. We've still got a lot of miles to cover but we're clocking up the miles at the right pace and we haven't hit the wall yet. Race you to Edinburgh!


olly emanuel said...

okay, which sport for which artistic pursuit? i reckon long-distance running works for directors - the rhythms, the meanderings and the thinking time allowed. for the playwright i'm going to plum for tennis - fast paced, three acts, with lots of dialogue and silly costumes. and a bit of swim afters to let you cool down... so what's best for actors? lighting designers? techies? answers on a postcard...

Andrew Haydon said...

Writers and tennis? Don't be ridiculous. Anything with movement is right out. I'd say snooker for writers: mathematical ingenuity dressed up as a misspent youth.

olly emanuel said...

darts for critics? wild inaccuracy mixed with beer and lumberjack shirts.

Chris said...

Is pizza a sport yet?