Telling stories

 

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It’s been some time since I’ve written on my own website. Things have been so busy  promoting the show that I’ve had no time to stop and reflect on all that’s happened over the last year. And quite a bit has. Good and bad. As with many  things in life, this story started with a loss, albeit a small one, a tiny vocal chord that ceased to work for some time, but still, its significance to me was huge. How it turned my world upside down and knocked my confidence some of you will know now, having seen the show and how running offered me a respite and way of healing out of that silence.IMG_7094

I shared on stage, a period of time in my life, probably in  the most honest, exposing way I have ever shared anything to over 650 people over three weeks.  Crazy? certainly. Terrifying? Almost definitely  ( I spent the first week before going on stage getting so angry with myself for putting myself in such a scary position. I felt sick, stomach rumbling, heart racing – a bit like before the marathon ‘Why Loo?? Why? Who’s stupid decision was it to go on stage in cheap  Primark Lycra, with no make – up on and tell people about how you felt you were disappearing?’ I felt like I was hurtling dangerously towards something I could no longer control and whatever happened from this point on, there would be a ‘truth’ out there, a story shared in all its brutal glory. But of course acting is another muscle. Even if it’s been in the quieter regions of TV and film, its ready to burst, under the surface…..and then…. there descends a calm. A moment of sheer exhilaration. Of knowing you’re on stage again. You’re using your voice, hearing laughter, hearing the odd sniff. You’re doing what you’ve always loved doing. It’s just that you haven’t had the opportunity to do it enough.

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It’s so hard at times to feel that you’re achieving  your aims as a performer in this business, that you’re being  heard. There was  a huge element of risk attached to me sharing my story in such a public way. Who would want to hear it? Could they hear it? Would my voice last? Would it be considered self- indulgent…narcissistic?  What if no- one comes?

And in a true archetypal Hollywood style five days before I opened the show, just when you think the hero is about to save the day, there’s that damn second inciting incident in the story – line. My agent gives me the red card. Nice. It was coming. We both knew. Just that neither of had packed the suitcase and left…in fact I was still going up for jobs and getting them and paying commission but they thought they’d made it clear that things weren’t working out. Ah, I’ve been here before in relationships – I thought we were ‘on a break’ but to them it was over some time ago.Confusing. Yes.  Like a marriage? After twenty two years, yes. Disappointing? Very. There are times when you really need to be represented and this was one of them. But this is a ‘business’ after all. A contract. And do we really want to be aligned to someone who is no longer interested in us? Or hasn’t been for a long time. And like relationships, there will be others. Just a shame they couldn’t share such an important moment for me and some of the amazing responses. Third inciting incident, I get a cold straight after this and it’s doubtful if I’ll be well enough to do the first show. I drink gallons of lemon and honey …all seems lost,  I’m now metaphorically and physically getting everything ‘off my chest’ ….but thankfully, the story line lifts to its positive conclusion and I’m there, doing it, looking a bit pale, but sheer adrenaline gets me through and it goes well.

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Press night picture in the Stage. (The lemon and honey worked..and sheer fear)

 

 

 

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I have absolutely loved working on Can you hear me running? Rehearsals were exciting and knackering. The whole team worked so hard on it and it was far from being a ‘One woman show’. Jo Harper’s fantastic script, Dan’s beautiful music and score ( and tolerance of me behaving like a crazed woman with my bizarre repetitive back stage routines) , Steve G’s tender direction encouraging me all the time to just be honest and ‘tell the story’, Steve Kirkham’s amazing movement direction bringing so many unresolved physical parts of the play to life, Adrian’s Gee’s brilliant set, Eva Auster’s  clever projection complimented by Tom Turner’s lighting, Tamar Saphra’s help running through the play with me when Steve was unavailable and generating more ideas and of course Sophie Johnson, our amazing stage manager who held it all together as brilliant stage managers do when anything goes wrong, with whom you feel safe, and that no stone is unturned…a good one makes you feel like everything will be ok even if the roof caves in. I’m proud of myself with what I’ve achieved but I’m also very proud of everyone involved.IMG_6947

Left to right: Steve Grihault, Adrian Gee, Tom Turner, me, Dan Glover, Sophie Thompson,Tamar Saphra, Jo Harper, Eva Auster.

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 All Photos Graham Saville.

 

 

Can you hear me running? team.

 

I still can’t believe that the very defect that paused me from being on stage for a while  and left me feeling invisible has now led me back onto it making such noise and being so visible. That and of course putting on a pair of running shows one cold autumn morning. One of the best things about doing the show? I saw so many people I haven’t seen for ages. I joked with a few of them that we needed to catch up and then realized that we had by me telling the story on stage. Many were moved by the show, had no idea that my vocal issues had such a profound affect on me. There was a lot of shame attached to how I felt at the time as I didn’t feel justified in complaining about it. It was only a loss of voice – I wasn’t ill, but inside I felt like I was slowly evaporating. The running kept my feet on the ground. Somehow, this way ironically performing an intensive vocally challenging show, alone on stage seemed the right way to express it. Suddenly, its a story, hopefully that had a universal theme and not just another thing that happened to a forty something. We had time to develop it over two years and really think about how this would reach a wide audience. I felt very grateful to all who came. Very touched that people came to support. Thank you..and for the people who couldn’t but offered words of encouragement and shared posts.    The other great thing about being back on stage? You can be anywhere ( even if it is back in your own youth running up Moel famau) and be anyone ( even if  it’s your old self) because sometimes life gets ugly and you see some bloody awful things, and you really really want to be somewhere else and we all need to see something else don’t  we?  And pretend? An imagine?  By disappearing into the play I’ve made myself appear again. I just told a story, that’s all. One that I happened to be in. I hope I get to run it again because having had a rest in Wales…I’ve stoked a fire and loved making a bit of noise, SO glad I took the leap.  So glad I took a risk. So glad I made myself scared when I felt like running a mile! Till the next run………

https://canyouhearmerunning.wordpress.com/

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Little lights.

runSo having felt like I was swimming against the tide for some time and brushing myself down and starting all over again…and again and again, to my delight and surprise a little light has suddenly illuminated in the darkness.  We didn’t get the Arts council Grant first time round at the end of April but on second go after a fair few disappointed moans over coffee  we spoke to some people, put it straight back in again, our wounds licked, and hoped for  the best. And that is when we got we were hoping for. By waiting patiently and persisting.   It’s six years since I first noticed I had vocal problems, five since my right vocal chord was operated on, four since I did the London marathon and met Jo Harper,  my collaborator at a playwriting group led by  the amazing Jemma Kennedy.  Two years later  Jo and myself sat in a café catching up and  decided that, possibly, maybe, we could do something with this material and create a play based on these challenges of how a woman  loses her voice and tries  to find a way back to it.  Without the power in my voice I felt weak, useless, washed up and like I couldn’t recognise myself anymore. When you have spent so long relying on that tool not only as an expression of yourself but also your livelihood, it feels like you can no longer be yourself and  you have to re- invent a new version, one that doesn’t know what else its good at.  It was too upsetting and close to home for me to write myself and I may have played on the darkness and isolation of it all, it being one of the lowest times of my life, but by having Jo as the writer, it seemed we had found the ideal mix, I could share stories, she could bring them to life, without being too emotionally connected.  I had played with the idea around three years ago in Jemma’s class when she gave us  one of  her useful exercises where we had to write something that had happened to us, but merely the facts, without any flourishes. Jemma said that it was interesting as it’s a story of how one muscle fades and is broken but you look for another one to compensate. It went into my notebook and  there the seed was planted ready for a day when it was the right time. And this was it.We’re over the moon that we have finally got our Grants for Arts funding so that we can Research and develop our project Can you hear me running? 

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It’s taken time, diligence, regular meetings, calls, advice seeking and workshop attending, but armed  with the right resources, we can finally make a small start on an idea. Because, weirdly enough, that’s why I went into this industry, to be creative but it seems like a luxury these days and not a given that you have room to be an artist.

Today as part of our research, I returned for the first time in five years to the ENT hospital where I was operated on and where I felt like my life as an actor was over. I met up again with the amazing speech and language therapist,  Ruth Epstein who helped me with the at times, incredibly challenging journey. I felt nervous and excited about going back but as I looked around kings cross and all the new shops and changes that have taken place in six years I reflected on how much has changed to myself too, how I took up running, took up writing, found a local job with lovely people, did still work and slowly manage to speak with ease again having had  at my worst been reduced to a breathy whisper.  Above all that, I remembered how small the kids were when I was in my ‘Have to be  silent phase’, how they couldn’t read and so communication was impossible, me trying sign to them or draw pictures to communicate. Somehow though, they came through, as they have with other challenges.

Sometimes it takes a while to be heard, especially when you feel like you’ve been burrowing underground, muffled both physically and mentally for some time. Things happen in life, major changes take place, our sense of security and hope is questioned but bit by bit you try to tend to those parts of yourself that feel broken or lost, you keep seeking out the little lights in the dark windows, painting it, writing it, running past it.. for what is there without hope? There’s sometimes a way out of feeling trapped, even if you’re  standing in the same place you were years ago. You have no choice but to look at things differently. And that’s why I’ll call this new painting little lights.

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Swimming against the current.

 

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“Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows
nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement – and we will
make the goal.”
Robert Collier
Picture on left: carrot fishLBR 2015
There are times when  we all feel like we’re swimming against the tide or current. The impossible lies ahead. We swim forward and end up back where we started, a goldfish circling it’s glass bowl round and round, heads down,  trying to attack whatever is placed in our way with a dogged determination.  You make some progress only to find yourself back where you started.
I then remembered that I was an actor and life has always been like this, it’s not new, it’s just that maybe by the age of forty three which is the age I turned this month I thought I would have created a more ‘grown up’ lifestyle by now. Maybe had my own front door without having to navigate a corridor filled with  all sorts of anxiety before reaching mine.   There  is also the fact that the Tory government sneaked back in and we’re unluckily in a ‘housing crisis’ just as we’ve decided to err…grow up and make a big change. Also my best mate ( who I’m missing like mad in New York) tells me  mercury in my  ruling sign of Gemini is cheekily retrograde again…what hope do I have, even the planets are telling me to just watch it all unfold from the side lines. Now is a time to reflect they say…reflect? I want to get stuck in, get my hands dirty, I will work so hard on a new project if you just throw one at me. So what do you do? Sit tight keep working and ploughing on and ‘wait for something to happen?’  I suppose so. Because something will. It always does.  So what’s the point in fighting it? And my head is hurting from banging my head against the glass. And there’s always the veg art. That IS making life that little bit lighter.
  I wrote a very pretentious song when I was around 17 called ‘The fairground colours have faded’  ( life is hard hey when you’re seventeen)I It featured a Goldfish who had been won at Buckley fair( North Waleans know where this is).  but who knows deep down that he faces his nearing funeral ‘ The goldfish prepares for it’s dark dismal funeral, his coffin is waiting with others abused’…yeah I know, grim, bleak, choosing to see the tragedy and not to see the ‘Wagons of copper and gold’…yep, there really were ‘Wagons of copper and gold’ in there too and ‘The sky showing stains of mould’. Some of you Youth theatre folk may remember it from around 1989. I also ‘chose’ as my art project during this period to paint images of gravestones inspired by the phrase ‘thoughts from the past’. I wouldn’t be surprised if I also had my Walkman attached to me ear listening to the Smiths. You get the idea. I’m not sure if we sang it in the rock band Legend I was in but it would have been a strong contender. I couldn’t help but think of it when this little fella appeared on my chopping board the other day ( I have to stress these are at the end of the shift and take literally moments to make.) He was very quickly made into soup the next day, no wonder he looks miserable. Anyway, the song goes on about how ‘How time is passing slowly and I feel I’ve grown old’. Really? Ah the ignorance of youth, seventeen and already feeling old. Little do we know that life races so quickly and as we get older  we’re clutching onto time, grabbing as much of it as possible. I’m so glad that I’ve developed a sense of humour over the years and that’s a great gift of getting older as there’s far more to feel bleak about now, but I can recognize how much there is to feel grateful and happy about too and I’ve learnt to try my best to see the ray of light in the darkness, the little beacon of hope. As I’ve got older I’ve also learnt to laugh at myself too as life is funny in all its dark corners as well as Technicolor ones. And also that Vegetables can be funny…Look!
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French Potatoe man with onion beret 2015.
Which leads me onto those lighter shades and how I want to celebrate the community around me.  This year has proved a sad one in many ways so far. Its been tinged with loss only a breath away and I’ve seen and am seeing friends really struggling with situations that are challenging to say the least. But in the centre of this is a wonderful community who support and keep afloat people nearby.  And it seems more and more important these days to have that especially when so many people no longer live close to their extended families. We can all feel isolated at times and to know that there is someone nearby counts for more than anything. So important too to be there not just to wipe  the odd tear away ( be that from too many onions or genuine) but also those supporting other parts of your life. The amazing casting director Shakyra Dowling has managed to get me seen and  get jobs for the most fascinating projects over the last couple of years and has certainly kept the creative juices flowing in my acting career. I would have undoubtedly thrown in the towel without her belief in me. Running regularly with local friends has proved a saviour when I’ve felt anxious and haven’t slept ( due to housing problems) and to talk with them while running has helped us all feel stronger in times of crisis as well as the ones I don’t run with!  I’m lucky to work with amazing people at the step and even a massive problem that I had with this website last week has been quickly fixed by a friend nearby. We need to be there for each other in a community. It really does help those swimming against the tide to feel more buoyant.
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Oh and in other news, I’m pencilled for an advert, Time will tell movie have been busy in Cannes, I’ve entered one of my plays into the Bruntwood prize  and I’m painting….local views because I need to and can see the beauty and hope around me.
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New river….new painting. Onwards up stream!!

Time will tell and Sherlocked.

 

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So here is  Ijmuiden in Holland, the location for my recent job, the feature film Time will tell. It stars the hugely talented Louisa Connolly Burnham  as Kim and I play Joanne, her Mum,  with whom she has a tricky relationship with to say the least. It’s a  gripping story of Kim, a teenager,   who tries to unravel and understand her past, switching between different times not without major obstacles along the way.  I have to say it was one of the most pleasurable, creative shoots I’ve been on in long time. Tonnie Dingens, our director made it a very collaborative process where the actors felt valued and included on decision making.  Moving away from what I call my ‘washing powder mum’ roles ( though let it be said I am hugely grateful for the adverts and err…here’s to another years buy out, bleach anyone?), I finally got to play a mother that is not a stereotypical commercial  ‘nurturer’. She doesn’t wash up. We never see her ironing. There’s maybe one tiny folding scene but not a hoover in sight. She’s complex, exposes dark corners of her soul, shows the less attractive facets of her personality and the mother daughter relationship is complicated, changeable, not something you can pin down and categorize. It’s INTERESTING. I’ve made a damn good job of looking like I care about the cleanliness of my house on the telly, but I had more in common with this character in terms of my domesticity, not the other stuff she gets up to….but then, for that, you’ll have to wait for the film, duh duh DUUUH!! Time – will – tell!  I think the film will do really well with a wide universal appeal  and hope it gets the airing it deserves. Everyone cast and crew worked bloody hard, that’s for sure. You can follow it  @TWT_Movie, or here   https://www.facebook.com/TimeWillTellMovie?fref=ts @louisacburnham   ( Look at me getting all on it now with the self promotion etc – I have no shame.

 

It was also strange being away from the kids for ten days. I don’t think I’ve spent that long away from them since they were born and had to re- learn to be in my own space without demands being made. It wasn’t hard at first. Being bored in your own company is not a problem when you’ve had kids. You can kill hours wandering around an airport happier than you’ve been in ages . A delay? Oh never mind, I’ll just get another coffee. Longer delay? Never mind, I’ll go and have another look at the selection of Dutch gin in duty free ( I can recommend the orange blossom one) . Yes, it’s nice for a few days to hear your own heartbeat again and eat what the hell you like, watch what you want, and In Amsterdam on my day off, I savoured going to the Van Gogh museum again and just looking, staring, uninterrupted. But as I gazed at one of his late paintings the Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, this:van gogh


 

 I missed them like hell. I wanted them to see it, be inspired as I was when I first saw his paintings. I realised that the person I was who came here seventeen years ago is not the person I am now and I’m happy to be getting older and to have experienced all those things in between then and now. I’m happy with how life changes you, makes some things more important than others, how priorities shift and how I’m far less inward looking than I was then ( She says, writing a blog…look at me..look at me!). Anyway, needless to say, with them in mind, I clocked where the gift shop was having soaked up those bright colours again, and bought a stupid amount of memorabilia. A collection of chocolates wrapped in mini Van Gogh paintings , a few pencils…sunflower bookmarks, key rings, and lets not forget something for the big one too – the husband ( he’d be upset if he didn’t get something.)  He got  a print, that I secretly like, but pretended was for ‘us’ ( come on we’ve all done that haven’t we?)  I looked forward to handing over the goody bags from my adventure and imagined some soft focus reunion on the train platform. I actually had a delayed nine hour journey home thanks to great Western trains and we drank a lot of the Gin I’d bought when I eventually got to Devon, but the reunion was still special.   So  I’d  left the museum for the second time in my life, this time alone, but knowing that when I got on that plane home after  the shoot I would be returning to a place where I am very much loved, especially with a bag of chocolates…and Gin.

So with Easter fully taken up with the filming with a few days spare to clamber over the moors in Devon, my next adventure was to re visit that infamous ‘Pink Lady’ yes, Jennifer Wilson in the episode of Sherlock I did five years ago in ‘A study in pink’. I was invited to take part in the convention ‘Sherlocked’ at Excel.  I had no idea how such a small part could have such an impact and in all the years that I’ve been acting and the many roles I’ve played,  who knew that one little, dead pink lady would be in demand? I was very grateful for the work but felt nervous at what to expect, it being the first convention I’ve taken part in. What if I had to re – create my death and spend another two days admiring people’s shoes like I did with the filming? What if I felt I constantly needed to remind people that it was a bigger part that got cut? Or that my vocal surgery  months before had made my confidence plummet and this was the first job I’d decided to do after it those five years ago?   I needn’t have worried. It was one great big Sherlock love fest. I actually felt like a celebrity for 48 hours. This may never happen again. When would I ever be signing  pink suitcases again?  I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy the attention and  of being ‘visible’, appreciated, even ironically for being ‘dead’. I’ve had to put on such a tough exterior of late so it was actually very cathartic to be greeted with huge smiles and throw an equally big one back. It must get tiring if you’re promoting all the time and meeting lots of people and having to be on form, but for me, the average jobbing actor, and  as my children will tell you, I talk to everyone anyway ( sometimes to their embarrassment)  it was genuinely good fun.

It was overwhelming how many people came and I was humbled by the huge fan base it has. It’s no surprise, as even if I hadn’t taken part in the production, I am a huge fan myself and think it has been produced, written and directed with such intelligence, humour and inventiveness. But wow! There were SO many people there and I signed loads of autographs. Once I’d got over the indignity of signing a photo of my backside in a pink coat with pale legs, I had a great laugh. I loved it when people really went for it with the costumes and had this amazing photo taken with Coslocked.

And so Monday was back to normal. And back to thinking of the next acting job. And also back to the great team at the Step restaurant where I also work. Life is diverse at the moment, that’s for sure. I’ve just had some new photos that are on this website with the Brilliant Ric Bacon http://www.ricbacon.co.uk/ that will hopefully assist in whatever the next chapter is and then I must get back to writing. We find out about our Grants for Arts funding next week for our  show, ‘Can you hear me running’ so we’re crossing everything for that.

And I think its only fitting to leave you  with the pink lady. Here she is balanced on the most beautiful flowers I was given by the team organising sherlocked.

I guess there really are no small parts…well not if you’re in Sherlock. Thanks for having me.

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Home is not where the art is.

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I found the exit sign lying face down next to the plants outside, not inside our building as it should be, the double sided tape obviously not strong enough to hold it up. I’d tried and failed on many an occasion to stick it back up, just as I had tried to keep the communal hallway clean, but there it was, discarded, given up as if to say, ‘Fire shmier, you’ll be ok in our building, don’t you go worrying about a little picture of a green man running urgently towards a door, there’s no danger in THIS place’.
The irony was not wasted on me and it just about summed up the last couple of months experiences. You can’t always get yourself out of somewhere until a sign is right front of you telling you it’s time to move on. And then shit happens. Bad shit. Out of your control. A tipping point. Right on your doorstep. We don’t always see the signs until damage is done. And with that elephant fully exposed in the room, I’ve decided to move on to lighter subject matter. Because we have to move on, both mentally and physically and until I’ve put that fear to bed, it will haunt all other creative pursuits and ideas.

So, dangerous living environments aside, I had a dream, sadly not the Martin Luther king variety ( I can’t even get my kids off their kindles) just my banal over active imagination sort of one. I finally got to work with soon to be ex artistic director of Theatre Clwyd, Terry Hands! (Just to point out that I’ve auditioned for him around four times. The last one was around ten years ago and he said I was acting ‘better’ so I reckon I’m almost Bafta worthy by now AND I’ve since trained with the spring onion conservatoire a la Step restaurant.. so my tears are REALLY good.) It was all going so well. There I was, braced with script in hand, the auditorium in front of me. The very real moment I bring it all home to Wales, my Hermione speech? Why of course.Then… (Oh crap, I forgot I was in a dream) we’re in a quarry, somewhere with no audience and err…why is he taking the script off me?..oh we’re doing Jack and the beanstalk? O.k, I’ll run with that. Oh o.k, he wants to recite some of it. Yes please, show me how it should be done Terry. And then, he recited this:

‘Oh bean, this precious bean,
Thou growest bean’…

And on he went. It was pretty impressive, Jack and the beanstalk morphing into iambic pentameter, but I was in a panic. This was not the script I knew. Think, Loo, quick. ‘Erm…erm..I don’t err..actually know that version but how about, how about the three little pigs? Anyone? Anyone want to do that one? I er… know that one. Oh Pig, Oh pig, thou dearest pig…erm…erm…’

Another exit needed. Talk about actor’s anxiety dreams. Doesn’t take a genius to work that one out. Or maybe I’m looking too deeply into things and I’ve been snipping at too many green beans at work…they did seem to be breeding in the fridge.

Onto the real world and the good news is that I’m doing a low budget feature film soon. Its a cracking part playing Louisa Connolly – Burnham’s (Wolfblood, House of Anubis) Mum in working title ‘Time will tell’. I’m off to Holland at the end of March for eight days so it’s something to get my teeth into and should be fun along the way. Hopefully I won’t get there and find that things are totally different from what I signed up for, no fairy tale dreams or beans and giants and although home is definitely not where the heart or art is at the moment, I’ll find some respite in the work I love doing.

Oh and thank you amazing Caroline Baker Duly for sending Reiki across the miles. Your friends always reflect back to you your strengths and not your weaknesses.

When there is violence so close to you, other parts of you shut down, and you doubt your ordinary capabilities such is the hold of fear. There’s flowers still, at the edge of the street brown at the edges now, but the messages still clear behind the cellophane, ‘For the man you wanted to be.’ How do things come to this, for both parties. And that’s how I’ll leave this post, respectively and non judgementally. Sad for all parties. I don’t know what their story was, I only know ours, and we’ll move on as soon as we can. Look for a safe exit.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

― Frank Herbert, Dune

The redundant parsnip.

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Redundant
adjective
Not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous.
synonyms: unnecessary, not required, inessential, unessential, needless, unneeded, uncalled for, dispensable, disposable, expendable, unwanted, useless;

Well as 2014 drew to a close it was suddenly far from ‘beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ as the song goes. The part I played in the advert I filmed holding a tray full of parsnips didn’t make it to the final cut, one slice of a commercial montage too many, even in the giddy throws of Christmas consumerism. To say I was gutted is an understatement. See the dispensable parsnip above, and he was only an extra. This was not because I gave my best performance ever (though I did have a tiny inner objective in the scene to get a tray of parsnips from one place to another, ‘I’m a…a worker…a parsnip mover, my job is to…is to…make sure these parsnips are safe…however heavy’,) and not because it’s the most important thing to happen in the world, at all, but because it was money. As simple as that. Three weeks before Christmas and the earnings you thought you were getting are only a fraction of what you signed up for. The same day I also found out that I didn’t get two other jobs, one, a drama that I was very close to getting and that I really wanted.
I was, however lucky that last year had brought so many positive experiences, in other creative pursuits to cancel out the disappointments. And also, by some Karmic justice, fate decided to run a different advert I did last year to make for the loss. The problem with filming a commercial these days is that you really don’t ever know if you’ll be in it, but you place your trust in there and hope for the best. It creates sometimes a tense atmosphere on set though and you often see actors behaving like meerkat’s, ducking and diving and watching their backs in case things suddenly change and the parsnip holder is now the sprout slicer. Its all about keeping you on your toes, remember to drink lots of coffee. Never mix vegetables and film, that’s what I’ve learnt. Unless of course they help you cry, should you so need it. I really could have done with this lot around 1999 when I was trying to squeeze out tears for Holby city. I could have got an Oscar for my performance today.

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And so, moving on to 2015 on a less disappointed note, there seems a lot to look forward to, and when my cold has gone I will start writing/acting/running again (I’m doing a 10k in three weeks). Oh yes I will. I really will. I just need to…erm, finish those chocolates and take some more pictures of vegetables in my chopping job (I promise this was at the end of the shift)and er… must put the port and sherry back in the cupboard and the brandy butter is out of date tomorrow so that needs eating. Then, and only then will I re tackle the Grants for the arts application for our play Can you hear me running ( I’ve created a page for it on this website now) http://louise-breckon-richards.com/can-hear-running/ and get going with that. We were lucky enough to have two days work-shopping it just before Christmas with a director and pianist and we’re still very excited about the project.
If anything came out of 2014 it was forming some brilliant, significant collaborations. Jo Harper has beautifully brought a story to life that I never could have written completely on my own as it was way too close to the bone, and Ruth D’Silva and myself are having a whale of a time with our comedy writing. And my other plays created some promising responses.
And with that,I will leave you with this quote. I have no idea what it means, neither does my husband, but it seemed to fit with some sort of vague theme of this post.

Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.
William Blake
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/vegetable.html#YAtewDD0oFldJ6VI.99

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No vegetables were hurt in the writing and producing of this post. Any vegetables resembling any real carrots or parsnips or onions have not been affected by this process.

2b or not 2b, that is the pencil.

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Well, with suntan lines fully faded now from a balmy few days in Cornwall over the summer, and flimsy dresses about to go into hibernation in a suitcase under the bed, it was only a matter of time before I started going for ‘Christmas castings’.
These are always a bit strange because no one in the casting looks like they’re quite yet engaged, ready, or able to cope with winter, or Christmas for that matter. Actors rush in, sweating, in a whole array of thick wooley jumpers, red lipstick and any amount of sparkle that was rummaged for earlier that morning. No one has yet washed their jumpers from last year either (does anyone, ready for next year? ) or bought new ones yet and so we all sit, uncomfortably, pulling at musty bits of a loose diamante or a stray bit of thread.

And so Christmas Mum is born, ‘Bauble Mum’, ‘Turkey Mum’, ‘ Cranberry sauce Mum’, ‘Fairy at the top of a tree Mum’, ‘Sprout mum'(the unpopular one) etc etc. I’m exaggerating a little but you get the idea. Still, whatever Mum, if it puts the real Christmas dinner on the table, who am I to turn my nose up at pretending to sing the joyous festivities of the season?
I got one of them, but ironically not as a Mum, so hey, I’m branching out it seems. I probably can’t say much about it but I do get to carry some veg, which is what I do with my day job; art imitating life? or is it the other way round? Anyway, veg is involved…not in a weird way, oh, I’ll be quiet now. Great to get the work and I even got to get a brief cab trip through Liverpool near where my Nan lived as a child which was a bonus.

Grateful as I am for an ad though, I’ve been aware recently of being ‘pencilled’ for a lot of things. It sounds great and positive and like you’re in the top proportion of actors being considered, but it seems that however ‘special’ you thought you were or this mark on the paper was, there’s loads more of you, a long list of ‘pencils’ all initially feeling ‘special’. It got me feeling nostalgic for the old ‘heavy pencil’ days. Do they still exist? You imagined a group of marketing people all pressing really heavily on their pencil next to your name until they almost went through the page. You did a casting, got a recall, got a pencil, then got a heavy pencil and then, and only then was it between a few of you. ‘May the best man win’ you’d think staring across at another red haired, blue eyed actress, wearing identical clothes. This was in the days when I used to go up for young slips of things and I never used to get any. But now, it seems, no-one quite knows what it means to be pencilled. I reckon, a new system should be put in place where they say,’ O.K, you’re a 2H, so don’t get your hopes up, or you’re a 6b which is pretty promising, or even, ‘you’re a marker pen – not quite permanent (maybe a wipe board one), but still, you’ve moved onto ink which is a huge leap. God help you though if they give you a ‘rubber’, this is a, forget it, no chance, you’re almost off the page, but at least you can book that holiday that you haven’t dared book, just in case the pencil is a definite. So 2b or not 2b, that is very often the question, whether it be a H, HB or charcoal,

And so moving on from commercial land and onto my writing, some great news is that I got long listed for the Theatre 503 playwriting award for my play Fire blight! I was overjoyed. One of a hundred longlisted plays chosen out of 1600 which is great progress for me. I sadly didn’t make the shortlist but have been offered the opportunity to apply for their 503 five which is an amazing opportunity to be attached to the Theatre and spend a year surrounded by experts and industry mentors within new writing. I’ve sent the application and so crossing fingers for that.
I also sent my play Trace off in the hope of it being part of the Arcola’s PlayWROUGHT festival, another great opportunity to get your stuff heard. I imagine it must be pretty competitive to be chosen so would be really pleased to be part of that.

Can you hear me running, our one woman show has been sent out to a few places in the hope of more development. We’ve sent it to the Etcetera theatre, the Space, and to Wales Lab, all of which, if we were successful would help us take the play to the next level. We’ve looked at the Grants for the Arts application and both got a little overwhelmed with the application form but just need to get our heads down and go through it methodically.

I’m also back on track with me and Ruth D’Sliva writing out comedy show so its only a matter of time before we have to stop amusing ourselves and just err… perform it. Gulp. Its very very silly, but everyone needs that in their life I reckon.

So, Autumn so far has been a fair old juggle between day job, castings, motherhood, which has involved two emergency dashes into my eldest’s new secondary school ( Gammy toe and overnight in hospital being the first and a shaved off finger – nail from home Ec being the second. We never did see that apple crumble) Along with all the other here there and everywhere trips that two boys under the age of twelve need.

A vegetable theme seems to be emerging this Autumn too, as when I’m not actually, in real life working with veg, I’m pretending to work with veg, and then yesterday went for a drama where I’d have to run a place that sells veg. Strange, or do I just have the look of a farmer? Or do I actually as I’ve suspected for some time now, smell of onions for three days out of seven? The casting bracket moving again to a more…weathered look?

And so, as I wait to see if I’ll be appearing with more veg, and a few other jobs I’ve been up for this week, I’ll leave you with this quote by Spike Milligan.

“Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
I’ll draw a sketch of thee.
What kind of pencil shall I use?
2B or not 2B?”

Very envious of Maxine Peake getting to play the great Dane, Hamlet. How amazing would that be…or just to get stuck into some more Shakespeare? Till the next time…..

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Felt the fear and it was loud and clear.

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So, with a heart beating out of my chest with nerves, and that all too familiar feeling of ‘Why oh why do I put myself through this, I could leave, right now, and stop being stupidly sadistic and just, well, stop putting myself in situations I’m scared of’, I performed fifteen minutes of Jo Harper and myself’s piece, ‘Can you hear me running?’ at Tamasha Theatre’s scratch night.
Most actors I know feel that adrenalin rise and that nervous stomach flutter as the half is called, but when you have not stepped on a stage in eight years, and the last time you sang in public your voice sort of ‘broke’ (not great timing in an audition) and then you found yourself over four years having investigations and surgery and very long silent periods of your life, then obviously the stakes were pretty high on this occasion. What would come out of my mouth? A squeak? A growl? Nothing? Who knew. But the time had come to take the risk.
I waited on a chair at the side and looked up to see Steve and my friends waiting in expectation. Some of them had never seen me properly perform. For most of the time since the boys were born, I’ve done mostly tv and commercial work, so this was a side I’d not presented before to a few of them.
The music rose, ‘Dog days’ by Florence and the machine, I stood, walked to a chair centre stage, took a deep breath and spoke. And…all is present…loud and clear.
The reaction was great and for those fifteen minutes the live performer was back, enjoying the rapport, the fun, the energy and lets face it as my husband said the fact that I just like to ‘show off’. Jo and myself were really pleased and felt we could take so much from the experience to move forward with the piece. Our next plan is to look at some funding so that we can develop the rest of it and hopefully get it to full production in the next year. One of the most strange and heart warming parts of the evening, apart of course from brilliant friends who’d turned up to support, was that there was a guy there who had been through exactly the same experience as me, the hospital visits, the speech therapy, the surgery, the recovery, the same consultants that I had brought to life on stage and is now working as a voice teacher. This was his story too, minus the marathon so I’d love to meet him again and see how he could help us with the play.
In other news, I had my meeting at the Royal Court which was fantastic. They’re not taking my play ‘Trace’ further although really liked it, and this was an opportunity for us to create a relationship and talk about my writing which felt like a huge honour. I left with some really useful ideas and just felt an added confidence in my work that I’d not felt before. I also left a play behind which I hope they like.
So having finally finished my tax return, which got the biggest prize this year for finding anything else in the world to do, (I think I actually cleaned the top of one of the kitchen cupboards at one point – or should I erm being doing that anyway? ), I can now look forward next week to a bit of a break, my chopping job on hold too for the time being.
July always makes me a little reflective and although, I’d fully intended not to make this blog too personal, it feels like creative pursuits can’t help but be fuelled by whatever is happening in your non computer life. So, my eldest starts secondary school this year, which is an ending to one era and beginning of another for us all as I have only one school pick up to do, and by some symbolic, cinematic, coming of age novelistic ( is that a word?) way, the last of the gerbils passed away this morning too. They found themselves being well travelled little rodents, having been with us to Malvern, Oxford, Wales, Devon, even Yorkshire I think. We drew the line at camping. Sometimes they served to me as yet another thing to feel guilty about if we hadn’t changed the bedding enough, or given them enough toys but they were cared for, fond of them as we were and it was sad to see Butternuts lifeless body this morning. Her heart was beating so fast yesterday and now just a little shell remains. The box is ready for the boys to perform the burial in the garden later on, next to where ‘squeak’ fellow roadie rodent is buried and once they’ve said goodbye, life, inevitably moves on in childhood to the next thing. I hope my eldest enjoys this summer before he has to put on a blazer, looking like he’s off to work and copes well as things are lost in life. Teenage years can be hard, I remember -(just about, not telling him I was drinking cider and black at fourteen) so hope the hormones don’t upset him too much. Which ties up with my ending very neatly in this post. I lost someone hugely influential in my life last September and watched that beating heart, up close, slow down and his colour fade until there was silence. I’d like to thing that he waited for me to get there so that I could sing to him one last time, ‘How great thou art’ his favourite and also ‘The sound of music’. He tried to sing along, thin and raspy as his voice was, the beat still there, that internal tapping that I have. So when my heart was beating madly on stage for the Tamasha night, I was nervous, but not afraid. It’s like when I’m running, that beating chest is a great reminder that you’re here, your heart’s pumping and while you have a chance then sing it loud and clear. And as Maria, Julie Andrews, herself having ironically suffered from vocal problems not too long ago sang before life started taking things away:

‘I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I’ll sing once more

Read more: The Sound Of Music – The Sound Of Music (maria) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

And on that note, that’s me over and out for the summer.

Can you hear me running?

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So tomorrow evening, Friday the 20th at 7.30pm with the help of the writer Jo Harper, we will be trying out a short bit from my new one woman show ‘Can you hear me running’ at Tamasha Theatre’s scratch night. I’m excited and nervous in equal measure, but ready to explore the possibilities of whether it works in front of a live audience. I’m doing it with script in hand as it’s early stages in the hope that next time, we can show even more off script. The beauty of this evening is that it really is to try out new work and gives artists that room to discover and gain feedback.
I’m off to meet our director now and do a quick four hour rehearsal before the tech tomorrow afternoon.
Its’ interesting to re visit a time in my life where I felt a struggle but also great exhilaration that I could overcome adversity and I hope it reaches an audience and resonates. Jo has done an amazing job with the script and has written something I was too close to fully write myself. I love collaboration and have found this whole experience so far, creative and cathartic. So come and see me play ‘myself’, or rather a ‘version’ of myself. Here’s the link, be great to have support.

http://www.tamasha.org.uk/scratch-nights/

Will report back. I may even sing!

One woman in her time plays many parts.

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So here we are in May! I’m not sure what happened to my March and April posts, they just didn’t happen. I’d like to say it was because I was…over in LA or busy rehearsing a new play….or up to my ears in meetings, but sadly not. I did a few commercials which are airing now, one for a bank and one for another cleaning product ( I’ve just got that face) which are always welcome to receive when things get tight, and did a corporate job in Stockholm so all good and appreciated, and my veg chopping job continues a few days a week.
What I can deduce from this activity is that the air I’m giving off right now is that you would trust me in a bank, albeit with what looks like a constipated smile, I care ALOT about having a clean carpet (alright alright…no giggles from friends) and can also negotiate a group of rowdy men in suits, high on chocolate, who haven’t learnt how to not interrupt and finally I have found the ultimate way to slice butternut squash WITHOUT slicing your nail off ( It only took a few weeks to grow back but it was touch and go in a few castings where you hold up your hands).

Good news is that I’m fully back in the swing of my writing class led the Amazing playwright Jemma Kennedy. I’d missed the weekly class and all that it supports in my writing so was relieved to be back. I had to take care in my over excitement not to bounce around like a demented puppy and spew verbal diarrhoea at everyone oversharing information (which I’m prone to do). Fortunately, I’d resisted too much coffee so held back. Just as a plug, Jemma’s play ‘The summer Book’ is about to open at the Unicorn Theatre soon, so get yourselves down there. It looks great and I’m booked already. We looked at my play ‘Fireblight’ in week two of class and it was a great help to hear what I call the ‘grubby’ play out loud. Grubby because it’s a little bleak and I feel I need to wash my hands after reading it. I’ve got some great ideas to work on from the feedback, so now I just need to stop being so lazy and get on with the second draft. I’m finding anything other than that to do, but I WON’T go as far as ironing, I draw the line there!

And so, one of the most exciting bits of progress is that Jo Harper, who is writing my one woman show ‘Can you hear me running’. based on me running the marathon after my vocal surgery has finished a first draft of the play. We had a reading over at mine and it’s in great shape. It’s a subject I could never written about myself as it’s all too close to the bone, but she has managed to get right under the skin of the emotional journey I went on through quite a dark period of my life whilst still making it funny and entertaining. We’ve been sending it off to a couple of scratch nights where we could try out a small section of it and get some feedback, so hopefully, before the summer, we should be able to show something. I have to say it terrifies the living daylights out of me, as it’s such a personal piece but I reckon that it’s time to engage with the whole ‘Feel the fear’ malarkey and all that (gulp). And I’ve sat beside friends last year facing up to far more scary things than that…so, keeping the momentum going.

What the piece also made me think about a lot is how many roles women play out in their lives. As the piece develops it’s about not just about my experience, but about any woman juggling her world whilst staying true to herself. Someone came up to me in the playground the other day having seen my ad and said ‘Oh, so you work for that bank?’. I said ‘Err…no..I’m an actress’. ‘Oh’ she said. ‘But how did you get on it?’. ‘Because I’m an actress and I was playing a part’. ‘Oh, wow…wow’ she said, well done’. and walked off looking flummoxed. I smiled to myself. I’ve become an underground actress. I’m just a mum at school and so it was completely out of context for someone to see me on the screen. I guess I should be flattered or worried I’m not doing more? At least I’m believable as the other day I got the old ‘how do we know you’re telling the truth if you’re an actress..hey…hey? (YAWN). Acting is actually the one place you have to learn to be truthful when you’ve pretended to be so many other things to finance your career. To ‘Lie’ in real life would be pretty useless in social situations. However it did get me thinking about all the other less convincing roles I’ve played out in the last twenty years to support my acting career, so I guess there’s a time and a place for it to be useful. Here’s the list, not in order: Watch repairer (I had three suits worn in rotation over three week periods), customer services in jewellers, paint your own pots café, art shop, café, receptionist, millions of temp jobs..can’t even remember what I was doing things, role play, children’s entertainer, children’s workshop leader, poster and leaflet distributor, marketing assisitant, pasty shop, Madame de Pompedou ( National gallery)…the list goes on. Does it make me a jack of all trades and master on none though?

And so, one woman in her lifetime plays many parts, with their entrances and exits( sorry, now I’ve got my tag line I’m in a roll…cheesy I know) and some prove more believable than others. Being a mum is up there with one of the most truthful ones to date, there’s no getting away from yourself there and fuels an honesty and depth of tenacity I never knew, one You can’t and would never want to exit from. My episode of Foyles War came on the other day from years ago. ‘Look boys..mummy being a WAF officer’…’oh yeah they said, (polite pause as they watch me on the tele look earnestly at a bomber in danger of crashing)… can we put Harry Potter back on?’. ‘Yeah…yeah, lets’ put Harry Potter back on’ I said. The programme is, after all, something in the past, from years ago, even before they were a tiny idea in the bright sky, nothing to do with them, someone with big 1940’s hair they sort of recognise. To them, I’m Mum, and I’m glad to cherish that role, whilst still keen to make sure my little voice of creativity is heard.

Ooh and I’m sorry to the next temp who was left with a mess to clear up at a pharmaceutical company job in Ealing in 2002. I pressed a lot of buttons and things disappeared! I’m sure, however like me, you were soon moving on to the next role!