Home, home is nice, isn’t it? I’ve just got back from Manchester, and previous to that, London, for a week and a half of various theatre and performance-related jaunts. D&D, obviously, and then a full week of Flying Solo work at Contact in Manchester. Here’s a really quick summary (for my sake as well as yours… probably more mine, to be honest) on what I learnt from the experience.
Ernie Silva masterclass
A day of learning to perform yourself. It starts with the word; writing exercises, using ‘colour’ words – words that spin you off in one sense or another. Look up Whoopi Live on Broadway. Humiliate yourself in front of people you trust, and never be afraid to look stupid doing a character on stage again. There are 3 people in every solo show – the character you, the narrator you, and the playing-someone-else you. Comedy is a good source for solo work, an easy way to bring people with you. 9 keystones of good comedy: Tags – building on and on and on a joke. Word pictures – comedic tools to describe people/things, mother in law jokes classic example of this (!). Specificty: you’re never just driving a car, you’re driving a BMW/Skoda/Mini/Beetle. Buttons – a kind of ‘moral of story’ conclusion to end a scene/section – Richard Pryor particularly good at this. Lists – the third thing in a list is the incongruous one. Matches – matching tones of voice in answering, etc. Call backs – Eddie Izzard good at this, referencing things from earlier. Reference jokes: common experience/pop knowledge jokes. Rhythm jokes: Something you expect to complete/develop just carries on and on and on…
Daniel Bye masterclass
A day of learning to play with and listen to your audience. Exercises in reading an audience, talking about truth and lies, what it means to make a story out of your life/experiences. Exercises that asked us to listen carefully, exercises that asked ‘what is actually interesting to watch’.
Plus knee tag.
Fergus Evans masterclass
A day of thinking about your work in space. Incredibly well structured; describe in 20 words (exactly) what your show is about, 10 words what you want from the week, 5 words what you want from the day. Exploring space, re-seeing the possibilities of it. I noticed that I am drawn to things that look like they could have been made by one person – like a stage weight – thinking about the person whose hands made it, and also things I feel like I would enjoy taking apart, seeing how they work. Some fun writing excercises – generating phrases such as “lime link the air, sleeping in the caravan the night carbon monoxide killed all the cats” (that’s a thing that actually happened to me). “Attention changes a space” and juxtaposition can change how you shape text. “Be aware of your gestures, conscious decisions about them help you perform yourself”, “Tell your story to other people and ask them to tell it back to you” – learn what is interesting, steal what is better. Surround yourself with people to talk about your solo work to.
Sabrina Mahfouz masterclass.
A day learning how to talk about your work. Of discovering what our particular pieces of work were about – ask yourself why now? Who are you to tell this story? What is it about? Why is it needed? How will you do it? What does it look like?
Bryony Kimmings masterclass.
A day of learning how to not defeat yourself. Tools to beat procrastination, exercises that ask you to tell yourself what you’re an expert at, ways of setting small tasks, of breaking down the big thing of ‘making a show’ into manageable chunks; writing down all of the things a title makes you think of, isolating how best to make an audience understand that; text, act, or participation? “what do the audience get from this?” – what question do you want to ask them, and how best can you ask it? Surround yourself with people to talk about your solo work to. Write out all of the crap, use every moment of the day to jot down things that will make concentrated moments more productive; set writing tasks while you wait for the bus. Steal texts from; lists, TV show scripts, self help books, famous sayings, streams of consciousness, poems, songs/raps, conversations you overhear, distant memories, made up stories, things that your mum/friend would say to you, religious texts, things on the internet, made up facts, letters.
Then Day 6 came. We all did our pitches. The brilliant Sophie Willen was selected to develop her piece further, and we all got very exhaustedly, happily drunk.
Thanks of the massive kind to Contact Theatre for the amazing opportunity, love to all of the facilitators, masterclass leaders, performers, Baba, people who came to the pitch (loads of them!), Steve and Aniko who put me up for a whole week in North Manchester, and of course the brilliant, brilliant other Flying Solo shortlisted artists.
Here’s the text of my pitch (up until ‘this is a story about’ I am getting dressed into, and then out of, my typical protest gear.):
RECORDING: I- I’ve always tried to see both sides of the story, and at any protests there is a line where you have to say right, “that’s what people are allowed to do, and they’re allowed to do XY and Z,” be it withdraw their labour, be it peacefully picket, and try and dissuade other people from going to work, in support of their cause, and there’s always an argument whether that cause is justified or not. But for a police officer if you going to deal with people impartially, then you have to say that’s not an issue. And that’s one of the things that the police officers, is that they’re not allowed to take active part in politics. Doesn’t stop them having views, obviously, it doesn’t you know, stop it from obviously colouring the way they’ve dealt with things. But I wish that the line that, allow people to do what they could do within the law, but if the law was broken you then have to deal with that. That doesn’t always mean arresting, or prison, sometimes that is words of advice, sometimes it is saying to simply “right, there’s the line, you’ve crossed it, step back” or “this is the line, don’t cross it”.
I’m told that when I was a baby I had really bad colic. Proper screaming all night nightmareish first child stuff. I’m told that the only way I used to sleep, was flat on my dad’s chest.
One of the earliest memories of my dad, maybe the first I can remember, is of him carrying my brother in his arms, just after he broke his leg sledging down the Big Hill. My brother had considered sticking his leg out to catch on a passing lamppost the best way to stop. I remember my brother, shaking, high up in his arms.
My Father is 56 going on 57, he was born in Maidstone in 1955 to a single parent and had two sisters and one brother. He doesn’t mention that these, I think, were by another father. My dad never knew who his dad was. He doesn’t mention that either. He was brought up on a council estate, attended secondary modern, and after his hopes of being a fireman were dashed by the closing of the fire cadets, with nothing to do at age 16, he joined the other thing with ‘cadets’ in its name: the police. At 19 he was able to join fully. He retired from the police after 31 years in 2005.
I am recently turned 27. I was born in Maidstone in 1984 to Linda and Roger Nicklin. My mum worked with social services and my dad had been in the police ‘regulars’ for 10 years. They met at Open University, both had been married before, and my dad’s first words to my mum were ‘oh, I thought you were a man’ (she had very short hair). I moved away from Maidstone at the age of one and a half and grew up in a farmhouse in Lincolnshire as it was converted. I attended a local comprehensive and aside from various years out working in admin, data entry, kitchens and bars, I have studied to PhD level. My parents divorced in 2001. Over the past 2 years I have been on approximately 11 protests.
The show I’m pitching to you is called A Conversation with my Father
It is a story about:
Right and wrong
And all the grey areas between these things
it will look a lot like me, standing here, talking to you, now. It will be based on a conversation I have recorded between me and my dad, about his experiences of policing protest, and my experiences of being a protester.
It will use recordings; of my dad’s voice, footage I’ve taken at protests, but also images of both of us at different stages in our lives; my dad at my age now, me at the age I was when he policed his first riot, the Volvo my dad bought with the overtime he earned policing the miners strikes, and just maybe a rather brilliant picture of me dressed as superted.
I will stand here, and ask you to listen to me and my dad. I want to tell you what it feels like to face a line of riot police. Ask you to listen to him speak about what it feels like to be that line. To tell you how proud my dad is of me for standing up for things. How thankful I am for the courage he gave me. I want to ask you to think about the stories the media tell about ‘them’ and ‘us’
My name is Hannah Nicklin, and the show I’m pitching to you is called A Conversation with my Father
It is a story about:
About the power of stories.
About finding better ones to tell ourselves about the world.
It’s also about me and my dad.