Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

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This was the third successive year I entertained audiences at a cosy boutique hotel near Witney, in Oxfordshire. Think squashy armchairs and a splendid log fire.

Their Christmas tree looks like a gift from Norway* and is pleasingly decorated with more enthusiasm than elegance. Dogs are welcome: they sprawl like well groomed furry cushions close to their humans, a little anxious in strange surroundings, flinching occasionally at the sound of my voice.

On Christmas Eve I told ScaryTales to so many guests that extra chairs had to be brought, which always makes my inner diva punch the air in triumph. The dear listeners winced and gasped in all the right places, and nobody snored. (That happened on Boxing Day afternoon.)

Who do you please?

Unlike other gigs, at a hotel Christmas session you never know what kind of audience you’ll face. Oh, officially it’s families at afternoon tea time and adults after dinner. But it’s usually the case that any performance – five over three days – must please mostly adults while still being suitable for one or two children, or teenagers.

One set this Christmas had to be tempered for an eight-ish-year-old girl whose parents sensibly let me know before starting that she’s terrified of scary stories. She was tearful even coming in to sit down! Luckily I had my sparkly grey furred Winterbeast in my bag, so he was set beside the little girl with firm instructions to protect her through the storytelling.

I’d chosen a tale with plenty of magic and delight but also a major section of spooky forest and dodgy old ladies… I was hyper conscious of adding or modifying phrases to turn the scary down. A fascinating performance challenge. I like to think the girl began to understand what stories show so well: that frightening situations can be handled.

Competing with a tree…

Another challenge at this type of gig is the physical layout of the room. Any large room has a ‘sweet spot’ where your voice naturally bounces off the ceiling and down to the far end … but not with different ceiling heights created by a minstrel’s gallery. And a hotel lounge full of sofas, armchairs and coffee tables tends to lack a focal point where a speaker can visually command attention.

I struggled to compete with the giant twinkly tree. It was also difficult to position myself to talk towards the good ears of several senior guests with impaired hearing, or even to stand where they could see my face (a lot of people, deaf or not, lipread to some extent when listening to a live speaker). Inevitably there was the hearing aid that squealed. It’s also distracting when hotel staff, despite their manager’s instructions, start clearing the room for the evening cocktail party while you’re halfway through your set!

But stories told live are powerful. And an audience that wants to listen cannot be deterred. “Those stories made my Christmas,” confided one very frail older lady.

Out in the world, war and flood and earthquake and avoidable poverty and loneliness and preventable pollution continued without mercy. And death claimed yet more people whose talents we treasured. In the face of all that, for a few hours, in the comfortable house by the river in the garden, we flew on the magic of words.

* Every year the city of Oslo in Norway sends a huge Christmas tree to London, to stand in Trafalgar Square sparkling with lights, in thanks for help from Britain during World War 2.

NOTES:
♦  Mistletoe Storyteller costume by the amazing AJ at Dragons & Unicorns, based on a design idea by me
♦  Booking now for World Book Day / Book Week in schools: Thursday 2 March 2017. Please contact me soon to avoid disappointment! Year 3 to Sixth Form. Dragon Days as Agent Green the world’s only living Dragon Whisperer. Legends of Britain and beyond as Nightshade, Un-Wisewoman of the Woods.

www.midnightstorytellers.co.uk

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The family show that brought me happy audiences all summer just bombed at a theatre festival. This morning I feel worthless and irrelevant.

I’m drinking coffee from my Never Give Up mug.

What can I learn?

  • I am amazing at going on stage and delivering the full experience to an audience of 2. They bothered to turn up. They get their money’s worth, in fact I work harder for them so that, in a big empty room, they feel relaxed and welcome. I believe it’s called being a professional.
  • The festival organiser possibly should have known that, despite last year’s feedback saying “not enough shows for families”, in fact this festival is popular for decidedly grown-up theatre including experimental pieces. But with my previous experience of the festival I should have known this too!
  • The other storytelling show in the festival – that sold out and needed extra chairs, oh my poor crushed heart – featured modern / personal stories, stand-up comedy and adult themes. This is what sells. Traditional storytelling [folktales etc] suits only a very limited number of venues and audiences. I need to devise and offer work with more awareness of this.
  • It’s time for me to grub out the crippling fear that took root in me when I was starting out in storytelling – a fear unleashed when influential storytellers publicly sneered at me, even shouted at me, for wanting to do ‘new’ material. More than ever, I must keep my confidence and continue to create new work. Yes, the magnificent heritage of traditional story must be kept alive through regular retelling. But 21st century themes and styles are also worth exploring in spoken word ‘telling. The person who roared at me “Nothing you’ll ever do can ever stand up in comparison with the traditional tales that have been tried and tested for hundreds of years!” was very, very frightening – but wrong. That is simply not true.
  • Of course nothing really new is possible … but I’m good at bringing old pieces into new settings, new twists, new life.
  • Who’s to say my show must be all storytelling? Why not include, say, one piece of dramatic reading? People love talking books. Actors do well giving theatrical readings. Reading a story aloud can be interestingly different from telling.
  • Many artists / performers make a big deal out of their personal battles with life. I won’t trade on personal misery – although I’ve struggled with depression since the 1970s. As an apparently white middle class ‘privileged’ person […hollow laughter…] I’ve felt it was out of the question for me to make personal sadness part of my performance territory. But perhaps I’ve missed a trick?
  • Audiences choose where to spend their money based on minimal information: usually just the image … and the title. Do not expect people to read any blurb. So I know I look like one of those overweight, chinless, greying arty-farties in ridiculous clothes. There’s no point in me trying to be edgy. And I’m not naturally sweary, I can’t go all Jimmy Carr. But being my age puts me in a great place to have seen the way the world works and to still have energy to rage against it. The London spoken word venue that told me last year to “Stick with storytelling in libraries, dear” might have missed out…

A friend reminds me Don’t make plans on the basis of what you should do, don’t make yourself fit into somebody’s else’s idea of acceptable – pretend there’s a fairy godmother and plan for what you really want to do! Ok: so that’s Chloë presenting a roller coaster ride of exquisite traditional tales, hair raising contemporary pieces, a piece read from the page to provide a contrasting tone and pace – alongside (a) gypsy jazz musician(s) connecting sections of the show with very different sounds and that gypsy energy of heart and blood… There! Easy! ‘Love, Death & the Invisible Woman’ … hmm… Booking now for autumn 2017. Thank you!

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