a story-telling odyssey

We’ve just returned from Morocco. What bliss. But also hard work with an 11 month old baby. We visited 8 cities over 15 days (including a tiny village in the desert and a Donkey Sanctuary in the foothills of the Atlas mountains) all in the search for Moroccan stories and story-tellers which are sadly an elusive (and dying) breed. We also met with the National Theatre in Rabat who are really interested in the project and potentially interested in co-producing (watch this space). It was a huge success both artistically and strategically and Noah had the time of his life – especially getting lost in the souks of Marrakech and Fez where he would have happily stayed for days.

Full of stories and tagine, and a little bit browner than when we left (in Noah’s case a lot browner) now all we have to do is create some sort of show from the experience. And quickly! On June 8th we’re showing a 10 minute scratch performance at the Battersea Arts Centre for their Scratch Festival so we’d better have something to show by then!

And MONKEY & CROCODILE opens next month. Plus we’re reviving our 2007 smash hit HIDDEN LIGHT for one night only at an academic symposium in York. And I’ve also got to fit in some days with the magicians developing their latest show – which is a full on narrative this time (Morgan & West’s A Grand Adventure). June is going to be busy…

post-show discussions

After a relatively quiet March things starting getting busy again in April. We held a Research & Development period for WELL – our aerial dance theatre piece exploring arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh culminating in a 45 minute showing to industry and critical friends. Mostly Noah was out of the rehearsal room until the post-show discussion when his babysitter had to run for a train. So yet again I spent another post-show discussion breastfeeding. It’s becoming a bit of a trend.

And then we held auditions for the third performer for Monkey & Crocodile – a trumpet playing Crocodile’s Mother. A bit niche. I have so many actors writing to me asking to be seen for Metta shows and I always feel a bit sorry for the straight actor types because unless you’re an opera singing, puppeteering stilt walker you’re unlikely to get a look in.

And now to pack for Morocco – we’re off for two weeks to research and develop a new show HALQA – with Lahcen Razzougui, star of our ARAB NIGHTS last year, which will explore the oral storytelling traditions of Morocco. I can’t wait, and neither can Noah I’m sure – it’s his first trip abroad and his first flight. Finger’s crossed he doesn’t scream the whole way there.

premièring an opera with a baby

January brought snow and a new opera about Locked In Syndrome. Flicker opened at Sadlers Wells Lilian Baylis Studio after a super short 3 day rehearsal (we had planned a semi-staged concert performance but as ever we made something much more finished). It was a huge success with audience and funders so finger’s crossed for the future – which we hope will be a UK tour in 2015. It was a frantic week though,  but much less of a drain than a full rehearsal process – although Noah at 8 months has just started feeling the pangs of separation anxiety so packing him off to several different baby-sitters throughout the week became increasingly stressful. Oh for the days when I could hand him over to all and sundry.

This week to compensate I’ve reverted to bringing him along to all my meetings and interviews – just like the old days when he was a tiny little thging. It’s worked surprisingly well so far – I breastfed through a job interview for a Young People’s Project at the Young Vic and much to my surprise got the job! And then I took him along to a meeting about directing a production of Medea for Actors of Dionysus. Somewhat inappropriate material to discuss in front of your son but he totally charmed Tamsin – the Artistic Director of AOD – who has her own 15 month old.

Then finally we caught up with the Wellcome Trust who have just awarded us another grant to develop a new circus/dance theatre piece about arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh – and again Noah was on good form although he did wander off at one point (he’s on the verge of walking unaided and can travel quite far with an ungainly sort of lame legged bum shuffle) but at least we’ve had no repeats of the infamous Arts Council meeting poo-mageddon incident!

touring with a baby

Turns out touring with a small baby is quite fun – though I’m sure less fun if you’re not also on tour with your husband. But Noah had a lovely time in Stratford – where he made an unplanned appearance in the post-show workshop and much to the horror of one of the cast I proceeded to breastfeed throughout – which amazingly, given the audience was comprised entirely of 17 and 18 year olds, didn’t raise a titter. If my brain were less sleep deprived I’d try and make a witty pun about titters and tits…please invent one yourselves. Thanks.

Manchester was also fun – Noah was recognised in the Royal Exchange green room before we were – his presence on Metta Theatre social media being such that someone from marketing came over and said – ‘I recognise that baby, is that Noah?’ Who knew babies could also be such useful marketing tools? I suppose putting him in a Metta branded babygro has helped…

Bury St Edmunds was freezing cold so we managed to fit in a very frosty but very beautiful walk around the Abbey ruins (with Noah wrapped up tightly in the sling of course). And then finally Exeter, where we managed to fit in a few site visits for playgrounds for the Monkey & Crocodile tour which will tour there in the summer. Then true to form, on the last night of Arab Nights Noah was out partying with us til the small hours, in the Bike Shed Theatre bar and of course flirting with all the women (especially the random hen party. Bit weird.)

And then Christmas and New Year.  A genuine rest from work. Mostly. Though of course with a baby one can’t just slob out in front of the telly any more. Alas.  But we did manage a few lie-ins.

And now – onwards with Flicker – which opens (and closes) on the 24th. Already half full which bodes well. And reaming and scheming of more shows  so watch this space.

late nights and arab nights

Turns out mounting a production at the Soho and juggling a six month old baby is quite hard work. Who knew? But the show is up (and selling out) and Noah is still alive (and currently asleep) – win win!

The somewhat ludicrous highlights of the last month then – crowd-sourcing our childcare through Facebook for the first week of Arab Nights rehearsals at ETT – every three hours another willing volunteer (although I think we may have exhausted our supply of free childcare now). Breastfeeding through an interview for the Metro and a recorded interview for Theatre Voice – if you listen carefully towards the end you can hear Noah snoring softly. A late night meeting with our Sound Designer which I spent pumping the milk from my breasts, much to his amusement. And then tech and production week where Noah got handed round more people than he’d probably ever met in his short life – hilariously the venue, ever mindful of health and safety – also made us fill out a risk assessment especially for him!

Every lunch break being filled with production meetings, marketing meetings and press interviews while simultaneously breastfeeding was quite a strain. As was the averaging 4 hours of sleep, and the great decision to build the set – consisting of 1001 shoeboxes – in our flat. But we got there in the end and I have never been more proud of a project and my team before.

Finally press night on Thursday where – decked out in his new Metta branded babygro – Noah flirted outrageously with Libby Purves from The Times – finger’s crossed that equates to a good review, watch this space…

juggling and short plays

It’s much maligned but I do rather love the short play form – true it doesn’t allow you the depth of a longer piece but I love how well and simply it can work as a form to capture the heart of an idea or character. And in this age of micro-blogging with Twitter and Facebook status updates it feels an apt form for those with limited attention spans.

Aside from our forth-coming collection of short plays – Arab Nights – which opens at Soho next month I also saw a production of 5 short plays by Will Eno – Oh The Humanity – (also at the Soho) the other week . A beautiful, tender quirky evening full of humour and pathos and exquisite acting. Gorgeous. And having written my own 20 minute play Box – which was given a few readings earlier this year I have since started a second short play Gift as a sort of companion piece and as of this very night – formed an idea for a third – so new it doesn’t even have a title yet…maybe Eggs (?) It’s about juggling. Maybe juggling eggs (literal and metaphorical). Who knows, I haven’t written it yet.  So hopefully before the year is out I shall have completed that small trilogy. As you can see I’m fond of mono-syllabic titles!

In the mean time still juggling the writing of Flicker – which has a few days of R&D coming up next week at ETT – and tour booking for next year – and motherhood – and of course prep for Arab Nights including my first interview with The Stage this afternoon – we covered everything from poo (naturally) to peace in the Middle East.

Also learning Arabic. It’s a busy time, but I think I am becoming pretty adept at juggling (hopefully).

as we liked it and the meetings train

So September rolled by in a blur of Shakespeare, nappies, meetings, meetings and more meetings. Though I’m not allowed to talk about nappies any more – official directive from the Arab Nights Marketing and PR team – no more tweeting about poo.

Rosalind and Celia dreaming of love (or cake)

Moving on then… As You Like It was a roaring success – the great citizens of Wirksworth deemed it even better than last years Midsummer Night’s Dream – (hooray) and I was really pleased with it. Also having played the space before meant we could really create a show that played in every nook and cranny of the garden. And we were even relaxed enough to take time out to have a cream tea, and wander the art trail that makes the festival so famous. Almost like some sort of holiday!!! Also celebrated our two year wedding anniversary with an anniversary breakfast in town, while various cast members looked after Noah back at the ranch. It was lovely…we did mostly talk about the set design for Arab Nights but we have since come to terms with our work-aholism, so that’s ok.

Back to London and it was full steam ahead with the meetings train. We’ve been accepted onto the Arts Council’s new Creative Industry Finance Initiative and had our first business mentoring session at the East London Small Business Centre. Noah joined us, of course, and yes we did have to have an emergency ‘tea’ break mid-meeting. Enough said. But that’s all very exciting and good to be thinking about all things Metta with a business hat as well as an artistic one.

Had a great meeting with Aurora Orchestra who are collaborating with us on our opera Flicker, and possibly some future projects involving circus and flooding an entire stage with water. Exciting, and a bit ridiculous (possible tag line for our lives at the moment). Flicker is going well though, and have just been interviewing the patients this last week – some of whose words will end up in the final libretto. It’s a long and intense process though, as for many of them it can take up to 30 minutes to type/communicate one sentence through their assistive communication aides. Also juggling the scheduling of those interviews with child-care can be tricky but am embracing ‘Noah Club’ on facebook where I palm him off on whoever replies first to my last minute plea for babysitting across various parts of London.

Then a flurry of meetings to move forward with the Monkey & Crocodile tour. The Egg in Bath, Polka and Barbican in London, Bikeshed in Exter and hopefully Oxford Playhouse are all looking like potential partners in circus-theatre crime so that’s go go go (for summer 2013, that is).

Houda and Natalie dreaming of stories (or cake?)

And of course Arab Nights preparation continues apace – had a wonderfully chaotic music workshop with Bushra and the cast, and starting the ball rolling with production meetings and press & marketing meetings (hence the poo directive). Also had a pre-production photo shoot with our two beautiful women Houda Echouafni and Natalie Dew.

And Noah had his second board meeting. He enjoyed it. He’s getting quite chatty in meetings now though (he’s now four months old – so not saying actual words…yet). I’m not sure how much longer the whole baby-in-meetings thing is going to work and aside from rehearsals my entire life is meetings so… I’m thinking about selling Noah on e-Bay and using the proceeds to fund the next Metta production. Or maybe ‘Noah Club’ on Facebook will become a lot more popular…