Another long gap since my last update, but I’ve been very busy. From the beginning of the year I have concentrated on two projects. With my play Millionaires Anonymous opening in July, I knew I would have to switch focus onto that around April time, so I dedicated the first three months of the year to really knuckling down and getting a full draft of my novel completed. And I did! If anyone has heard of Parkinson’s Law, then it definitely applied here.
Basically, Parkinson’s Law states that any task will expand to fill the time it is given for completion. So, if I told myself ‘You’ve got a year to finish the novel.’ I would take a year. If I gave myself three months, which I did… it would take three months. Which it did. Great. I learned the term while reading a book called ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferriss, which I can’t recommend enough. I’m a sucker for self-improvement, and always like to balance reading non-fiction in the day, with fiction at night (to help my mind switch off), but Tim really makes a lot of sense in this book. I’ve started listening to his podcast too. Very interesting and worth a listen.
But I’m veering off a little here. The novel. I finished it. Okay, okay, I know, it’s not finished finished. Just finished. As in, someone could pick it up and read it from start to finish with only minimal grammatical errors (or so I think). Is it ready to hand over to people? Not on your life. But that’s my next deadline, which I’ve set for 31st July. Now, I originally planned to shelf the novel for a few months before going back to it, but I didn’t, though I gave it a couple of weeks at least. This was the time I was gearing into theatre mode. And so started THE PLAY.
So… I had a stage manager already lined up, a good friend, Sonia, who stage-managed my only other foray into theatre directing back in 2012 (Glengarry Glen Ross, just before I started this blog in fact) She knew about the project a while ago, but as it took so long to get the theatre booked I had to contact her and remind her. So I sent her the script and we got together and went over the broad strokes of the play and what would be required. First things first, and that was auditions. Half of the characters in the play had already been temporarily cast as I had actually written parts for them; friends and people I’d met through the past few years doing the local theatre circuit. Great actors too, which of course helps. So I only needed to fill 3 roles and advertised them primarily using http://www.castingcallpro.com.
We got a good response for one of the roles; the character a woman between 30-40 years old. The other two characters were much older, in their fifties, and the response wasn’t so good. I think the main issue is the older people get, the more responsibility they have, and being an unpaid part, older actors are harder to find. Still, we had enough to run an audition, which we did a week later and lo and behold the play was fully cast that night.
I’d always been a bit scared of auditions. These strangers turn up, waiting for me, the “director”, to tell them what to do and what to say. And with it being my own words too, and the fact that I’d hadn’t heard a single person read any of it out loud to me, it was quite terrifying. But the talent that showed up astounded me. I mean, I wish I could have cast them all.
With the play cast it was time for the read through, which we did it round at my flat. It was the first time I’d heard the play read out loud in its entirety, and I kept thinking it was going to sound awful, trite, and not funny. But it was great! And my confidence was suddenly restored hearing these people putting life into the words I’d written over a year earlier.
I’d originally cast myself to play one of the parts. I thought ‘hey, it’s my play, I’ve written it, I’m directing it, I’m paying for it… so why can’t I have a part too?’. After all, acting is the fun bit. But once the read through was done and I slept that night, I just started to feel that I wouldn’t be able to get a proper perspective on the play as a whole if I was acting in it. So I made the decision to fire myself, and looking back it was a very important and correct decision to make.
Who would fill my part in a short space of time? Well, the person popped into my head the second I had the thought. I knew him from Twelfth Night; he played Feste the Clown opposite my Malvolio. A superb actor. I contacted him, he said yes, and the rest is history. I couldn’t see anyone else playing the part now. Or anyone else playing any of the parts for that matter.
Rehearsals were scheduled for every Wednesday and Sunday evening, and we had a couple of venues to use… from a dance studio we paid £10 a night for, to a few pubs in the city that had free function rooms to offer. One thing I remembered about Glengarry Glen Ross was that I got very annoyed with not having a definite rehearsal space. This time I didn’t want that to happen, but unfortunately it did. Only up to about half way when our stage manager sorted us out with a permanent and FREE rehearsal space. It needed to be free. I asked around at various places about hiring them for a few hours, twice a week, and most of the cost ranged from between £30 and £90. Multiply that with 20 rehearsals and it’d cost more than the entire production put together.
Once we were in the swing of rehearsals, I dedicated my morning time before work to editing/polishing my novel. I felt that the time was ‘extra time’, so it wouldn’t hinder my focus to the play for the rest of the day. So for the next stage of the book I went through and split each chapter into its own document. One reason for that is Google Docs is VERY slow when editing a 120,000 word novel. The second reason is I could concentrate on chapter individually, and get a better understanding of its reason for being, if it was any good, what was wrong with it if anything etc. It just made the whole book more manageable. So I now have 60 separate files (yes, 60 chapters!), and as of writing this blog I’m currently editing chapter 21. I’m confident I’ll hit my targeted finish on July 31st.
So now here we are, just less than two weeks until Millionaires Anonymous opens at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. Ticket sales have been okay so far, having sold 119. But there’s still 300 to go. If we can sell 250, we’ll break even, but to be honest I’m not worried about losing money, I’m worried about empty seats. Having been in Noises Off last year, I realised how an audience can really affect the performance. For three days we had half-full audiences, and they giggled and snickered through the show. Was it just not funny? Hard to tell. On the final night it was sold out, 120 people in the audience, and they were in hysterics through the whole thing. I hadn’t experienced anything like it, and I think it was one the main impetus for me to write my own comedy play.
Selling out would be great, and we’re really pushing the marketing, having had leaflets and posters printed and handed out/stuck up anywhere we can think of. Myself and one of the cast, Dave, were on Vintage Radio (http://www.vintageradio.org.uk) a few weeks back, and last week two more cast members were on Wirral Radio (http://www.wirralradio.co.uk) talking about the play, and next week myself and Neil, who plays Mark in the play, will be recording an interview for BBC Radio Merseyside. We’ve tweeted. Set up a Facebook group with (as of today) 110 people. I’ve spread the word in my work, where at least 20-30 people have now bought tickets. The marketing will continue right up until the 7:30pm on Thursday, and even then we’ll continue to push for the Friday and Saturday shows, if there are tickets left. The marketing itself is almost a full-time job, and ticket sales were slow last week but I’ve been assured that they’ll pick up and gather speed (hopefully exponentially) leading up to the shows.
I’m going to try to blog a bit more from now no too, adding smaller but more detailed articles instead of these monster catch-up ones, because I’m undoubtedly forgetting a lot of things. In a couple of weeks I’ll be able to talk more about the reaction to Millionaires Anonymous, and then it’s back to the book full-time (well, as much full-time as I can working full-time elsewhere), and then kick starting my next project which I hope to be a web-series filmed at the end of the year.
Millionaires Anonymous is on at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool Thursday 2nd – Saturday 4th July 2015, 7:30pm.
Tickets are £10 (£8 concessions) and can be purchased online here: http://www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk