Friday, 19 October 2012

Those little perforations

Today I'm trying to blog on the train from my Android phone and I'm aware that it could be an interesting experience. I'm flying to Dalston (late as usual) to spend a day at the office of my actors co op. One thing I'm finding out already is that my digits are too big for the task in hand. When I got this phone the salesman told me that the keypad would expand to fit the size of my thumbs and that just hasn't happened. He was joking of course but I took him seriously  To my mind there is nothing that technology can't do. Why not have a keypad that reads how big your thumbs are and adjusts the screen accordingly? Maybe NASA should get onto it. They don't seem to have much else to do these days. To make things more challenging I don't have a seat on the train so I'm trying to write standing up. I have to clutch the smartphone with both hands so I can't hold onto the handrail. It feels a bit like an exercise in surfing. We're on a new line but the train still jolts and grumbles, and grudgingly refuses to run smoothly. It's OK because I know that the train will mysteriously empty at Canada Water. Don't ask me why but that always happens. "Why Canada Water?" I often wonder, "Is it really true that the whole of South East London works at Decathlon?" I'm now going into a tunnel and my phone is beeping at me with a very haughty tone. It's telling me that the battery is low and I can't save my work. As a writing challenge this one is certainly different. We've just pulled out of Canada Water station and right on cue, I get my seat.

My trips to the office are infrequent, but twice a month I get the privilege of travelling at rush hour. The peak of the rush has gone and there is a melancholy in the air. I can't quite put my finger on it. Is it tiredness, boredom, depression or just quiet contemplation? Maybe it's all of the above. I like to think that the majority of Londoners on this train are indeed in a state of quiet contemplation but I doubt it. I just hope that some of them are. We've just emerged from the tunnel so it's time to save my work before the smartphone dies. I'm now noticing that most people in the carriage, like me, are welded to their smartphones. I now wonder if, like me too, they are blogging about what's going on. They might be writing about me. Lets not go there.

I'm back on the train. It's five thirty and my battery is now fully charged. I managed to get out of the office early which is a blessing. It was a quiet day today. The only highlight being getting to open a wage slip. It's not only the fact that someone is getting some money, it's also that I love tearing along perforations  There is something really satisfying about the perfect tear of the perforated edge. I thought it was just me but my friend in the office agrees. Perforated edges just scream out 'tear me!' like bubble wrap screams out 'pop me' and the nuclear red button screams out 'push me and destroy the world'. It's a fact of life.

My thumbs are not getting any smaller so I'm going to finish now and go and find some bubble wrap. Think I'll  leave the nuclear red button alone though.

When he's not trying to multitask on public transport Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They are opening a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools at clf Art Cafe, Peckham on December 4th.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. His latest radio script is called Instant Karma. It follows the fortunes of Susanna Lewis Parr, a meditation healer with anger issues. For more info go to 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

I'm not so metro sexual after all

Well what a shock result on the Great British Bake final. John won... who would have thought it... least of all him it seems because, like Ryan, John always seems genuinely surprised when the judges heap praise upon him. But the first class law graduate with a passion for patisserie came through in the end. Yes in an explosion of metrodsexuality we witnessed the first ever all male final in this titanic clash of the cake cremators. Even though it was the equivalent of a cookery stag party emotions ran high. Brenden had a weepy moment, John looked set to explode with the tension, but James just grinned through it all, employing his usual tactic of winging it. I have to say that myself and a number of other Bake Off fans had tipped James to win, but his five United Kingdom cakes were just one busking project too many and John took the prize. Again the producers had completely failed to see the event of an all male final as large bunches of flowers were handed out, but hey, it's the 21st century and real men can now show their feminine side. I do however find it disappointing that GBBO doesn't have a trophy. I'd like to see the winner presented with a giant metal doughnut, a sort of homage to Henry Moore, but I digress. The point is why am I such a fan of The Bake Off? My near obsession was highlighted this week when Grisel arranged tickets for some great concerts at the South Bank. Normally I'd be quite happy to go, but the Sunday one clashed with the Strictly Come Dancing Results show (another obsession, expect a blog), and the Tuesday one, heaven forbid, clashed with the Bake Off Final. I went along grudgingly or course, but employed a very strict social media blackout after the concert so that we wouldn't find out the result before watching it on Iplayer the minute we got home. Grisel thought I was joking, but to my shame I was deadly serious so this has got me asking why am I so engrossed in these programs?

I've always considred myself to be very metorsexual like John and the heros of GBBO, I mean I'm into the arts, I've got lots of women friends and I'm not very interested in sport. As a child a remember being taken to see Notts County play as I was supposed to be supporting them. I was not very impressed with the match so I switched my allegiance to Leeds United because they were winning everything. When Leeds had a slump I changed to Liverpool. To make sure I was always backing a winner I decided to simultaneously support Leeds, Liverpool, both Notts teams (where I was living at the time) and occasionally Everton. When it was pointed out to me by a soccer fan that this was not the done thing, and I must choose one team and blindly follow them no matter how shit they became I completely lost interest in the whole thing, and remain disinterested in over paid haircuts kicking a ball to this very day. I'd always assumed that I love Bake Off and Strictly because of my metrosexuality,  but recently I've had a shock revelation, They are just my new adopted sports. It's just another expression of testosterone. I know this because I often hear myself talking about these programs to people who have no interest, and actively seek out those who do. I've started saying things like, "Brendon is a great all rounder, but he's lost form recently, if he bakes the best cake in the final, he'll win." my god, these are sporting platitudes, move over Gary Lineker. In fact I've just found out that I can actually spell Gary Lineker correctly without the help of google. Oh well it seems I'm a real man afterall.

And so my latest sporting hero is John Whaite, winner of The Great British Bake Off. I love his passion. He could be a big shot lawyer, but he just wants to bake and , in my eyes, that makes him something of a bohemian. After every bake he did, he would look at the camera, and with a huge sigh solemnly declare, "Well, what's done, is done". What a catch phrase, it's baking philosophy. .. nice one John.



John with another amazing creation, "What's done is done",
and done very well I think.
When he's not being distracted by reality TV Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They are opening a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools at clf Art Cafe, Peckham on December 4th.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. His latest radio script is called Instant Karma. It follows the fortunes of Susanna Lewis Parr, a meditation healer with anger issues. For more info go to www.howhow.co.uk

Monday, 15 October 2012

On the subject of subtle plugs

A momentous event happened yesterday. Grisel and I actually had some time off at the same time, and we had what can only be described as a wonderful afternoon together. It was a beautiful autumnal day so we walked through St James Park and fed the ducks. Well I say fed the ducks the seagulls insisted on muscling in. I never knew they could be so aggressive.  At one point they actually managed to dive and catch the bread in the air and this actually impressed us. We then decided to throw the bread up to get them to do it again... bad move. A flock of shrieking seagulls now hovered around us and this gave me a definite 'Hitchcock's The Birds' moment. Even this, however, was fun. After that it was on to an art exhibition, another walk in the amazing late afternoon light by our beloved Thames, and then a fantastic music concert at The South Bank. All in all, perfect, and we both felt a deep sense of contentment... and this is the problem now. With all this joy and contentment, what the hell do I write about in my blog today?

I'll come clean, this blog really isn't about the trials and tribulations of running a fledgeling theatre company as the title suggests. It's more about looking at my own personal neurosis in, hopefully, a humourous way, and I can now feel another one kicking in... right on cue. What if  my life is now so good I'll never have anything to write about again? Of course that's not true, I've got plenty to write about, in fact too much, and some of my projects are suffering from neglect. There you go, the bubble's burst. Back down to earth with a bump. There is something scary about writing, even in this humble blog. It's intensely personal, I mean, the writer is the raw material for his/her product. I wonder if the manufacturers of soap powder identify so personally with what they are selling... I doubt it... maybe they do. Maybe the CEO of Unilever has a deep desire to cleanse his tortured soul by selling Daz.  I don't know, but I do know that the things that are closest to me, are the most difficult and scary to write, and it's those projects I put off until  two days before the deadline. Of course I'm still eagerly awaiting my next writers pay check so I guess the problem for me is to keep churning it out until someone gives me money for it. I spoke to a professional article writer a few months back who actually does make a good living. She too spoke about the stress of meeting deadlines but it seemed that, for her, it was actually worst. I felt a bit sad because the joy seemed to have gone out of it all. I think this is a shame although, having said that, if any TV/radio/stage producers out there want to help take some of the joy out of my writing please feel free to get in touch. Oh dear, is this blog turning into a pit of a plug?

Speaking of things that are scary and exciting at the same time, our cabaret club The Royal National Theatre of Fools is coming along great. (Just continuing the theme of subtle plugs there.) We have a great line up for the opening night on December the 4th so please all come along if you can. I think I'll try and get an equally bad link to a plug in all of my blogs from now on. Could be a great running gag.

Anyway our perfect day yesterday ended in a wonderfully middle aged way with watching the Strictly Come Dancing results show on the ipad whilst snuggling up in bed. I'm a big fan of that too so expect an article about sequins and celebs in the future This blog is nothing if not varied.

When he's not stressing over his own self imposed writing deadlines Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They are opening a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools at clf Art Cafe, Peckham on December 4th.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. His latest radio script is called Instant Karma. It follows the fortunes of Susanna Lewis Parr, a meditation healer with anger issues. For more info go to www.howhow.co.uk

Friday, 12 October 2012

Trigger's broom, and other concepts in writing

I've been tinkering with a script today. I'm entering it into a competition so this is the last ditch attempt to polish this jewel. You may think that writing consists of hanging around all day waiting for moments of pure genius to strike followed by frenzied activity as the script that will change the history of dramatic literature is hastily written. Of course I'm attempting (and I use the word attempting very advisedly) to write a comedy script as well, so it maybe all of the above with the added bonus of me chuckling away at my hilarious jokes as well. Well that's what I thought... until I actually started to seriously write.

The reality is indeed far from the truth, and so I return to one of my favourite themes, putting inspiration into action. First off I very rarely make myself laugh when I write a script. I mean I know what I'm going to say for a start. I know there's a good chance that the writing is good if it surprises me, but those moments seem rare as well. Writing is, on the whole, mundane but I'm willing to go through that because I love the results. One of my favourite quotes on the subject of writing comes from American satirist Peter De Vries, he once said, "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork." This pithy quote seems to sum the whole process up. For me writing is not a case of inspired genius, but more one of endless rewrites, lots of fretting and constant tinkering. I enjoy the tinkering and editing bit. In fact it's at this time that I can come up with a lot of really good stuff. To get to that stage however, I have to do the hard work of making draft after draft. It's a strange thing, just writing whatever comes into your head. In fact this is what I try to do for this blog, although the section I'm writing at the moment is an insert. (Wow! this is turning into a blog within a blog, how surreal.) Usually I'll put it to one side for a while so I can truly see what is good about it, and what needs changing, but quite often I'm thinking that what I'm writing is rubbish as I actually write it. But you just keep going, wading through treacle until you get to the good stuff again.


The script I'm working on has had so many rewrites that I've lost count of the exact number, but from it's humble beginnings three years or so ago I think its double figures. A scene from Only Fools and Horses springs to mind here. Road sweeper Trigger has a party to celebrate the fact that he's used the same broom on his job for twenty years... and it's only had seven new handles and twelve new heads. Obviously it's not the same broom that he started with, but in a way it is. (there, that's a bit Zen, isn't it?) I feel that about this script. The central character has been the only really constant factor in it. The situation and the characters that circle around her have all completely changed from the early drafts. I'm about to submit it to the BBC writers room and they have a rule that you cannot submit the same script twice. Unlike Trigger's broom I'm hoping that they'll see it as a different one. It's funny but I wrote a short cabaret piece earlier this year called The Conductor and I found it very quick and painless to put down on paper. I've realised, however, that the uncomfortable early drafts were done, on the hoof as it were, in front of a live audience. That was instant feedback for sure.


I'm dying to get back to the script as I'm thinking of making what will be the last major change. I may change the profession of one of the major antagonists from holistic life coach to bikram yoga teacher. Trigger would be proud of me and I hope that, like his broom, the script, although much changed will still do it's job. So I finish today. I confess I'm tempted to just run today's blog through the spell checker and then just give it to you raw and unedited, but I know I won't. Now comes the fun bit.


When he's not sweating over scripts Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They are opening a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools at clf Art Cafe, Peckham on December 4th.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. His script is called Instant Karma and, from the outset all those years ago, has followed the fortunes of Susanna Lewis Parr, a meditation healer with anger issues. For more info go to www.howhow.co.uk


Here are a few resources if you want to write a film, TV or radio script:

http://www.euroscript.co.uk
http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom
http://www.ideastap.com

Thursday, 11 October 2012

It's exhausting avoiding work

I'm in a right tizz as my dear old mum would say. It's thursday and here's my Wednesday blog. Most of yesterday was spent hurtling down a motorway in the company of radio four and when I got home, quite frankly I was too knackered. I'd driven up to Wales to help my mum move house. She had asked me to lend a hand but when I got there I could see there wasn't a lot for me to do. Apart from the removals men, two friends of mum had dropped in. Cynthia buzzed around the kitchen unpacking while Malcolm made sure all the appliances worked and the removals people were doing all of the heavy lifting. As for me, I just swanned around looking busy in a sort of self appointed head managerial role when actually I was doing sod all. I'm good at that. Making a great display of looking like I'm doing stuff, when I'm not. Yes, I've always been great at being actively lazy. When I watch daytime TV I call it research, and I sometimes think that my headstone should read, "Here rests Mike Raffone, no change there then."

It all started with my school boy attempts to avoid PE classes. I must have been a bit of a geek. Most skivers in our school avoided history, I avoided football. This arrangement worked well for me until the head of the PE department became my form tutor. No only did this put an end to me sneaking out of PE to loiter in the library with The Telegraph cryptic crossword (what a sad upbringing, I didn't even attempt The Times), but to make matters worse he decided to make sure that I attended PE classes by putting me in his class. This was very unfortunate because he took the top class which made me look even worst. Forced out onto the soccer field in such a demeaning way I quickly developed a smoke screen that made me look like I was playing the stupid game, when, in fact, I wasn't. This brilliant ruse consisted of running to the opposite end of the pitch to where the ball was, but at the same time madly gesticulating and shouting "to me, to me". Of course if it looked like the ball was going to come near to me I would dart off in another direction repeating the phrase as I went.

This all worked very well until the arrival of Nigel Williams, or Nidge as he was affectionately known. Now Nigel was a sort of North Wales version of the College football hero. He was academically quite thick, but naturally charming and popular with all the girls. There was even talk that he had lost his virginity, the local country park being cited as the venue for this momentous event. He was also brilliant at football, and was rumoured to be trying out professionally for Wrexham FC. One day I ended up on his side, and as usual was doing my usual avoidance trick. I managed to run and place myself half a pitch's length from the ball so I was safe... or so I thought. "Nidge, to me!" I shouted, and he obliged with a perfect pass that landed right at my feet. What the hell was I to do? There was only one thing for it, I had to just get rid of it. I closed my eyes and whacked the ball as hard as I could. I opened my eyes to see the ball curve towards the goal, beat the goalie and slam into the back of the net. I tell you, Nidge scored many memorable goals, but none were talked about as much as that one.

I've just noticed that there is a bulb of garlic next to grisel's workstation. Very strange. What's all that about? Maybe it's there to stop vampires looking over her shoulder when she's working. More likely it's there to stop me looking over her shoulder when she's working. She hates that. Who knows? Is this fascination I have just another way to avoid work?... Probably.


When he actually gets round to doing something Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They are opening a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools at clf Art Cafe, Peckham on December 4th.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. For more info Go to www.howhow.co.uk

Monday, 8 October 2012

Diary of a weekend

Imagine this. You are in a disused doctor's surgery, in an uninhabited ghost estate in South London. A local community art group has taken in over and there is a pop up bar and paintings everywhere. You suddenly hear what sounds like an electric guitar tuning up, you walk into a room the size of a small living room and there's a band there. They start to play... and wow! they're really good. This was the end to my Saturday at The Heygate Estate at an event organised by The Hotel Elephant Gallery. As twenty or more of us, of all ages, crammed into the tiny room to hear the Ohio band 'Stash' I felt privileged to be witnessing it all. "Yes indeed! South East London is the right place for our artistic endeavors." I mused.


Ohio band Stash at The Hotel Elephant Gallery.
(Rubbish photo, you had to be there.)

On the subject of artistic endeavours I'd like, at this point, to strike a more serious note. I've just been reading over Friday's blog and I have a sneaking feeling that it came over a bit negative which was not the intention at all. The fact of the matter is that I've got more wonderful and talented friends than I have space to give spots for, but it's nice to be able to offer something.  I also confess that I do actually admire performers who can ask upfront for what they want as long as it doesn't border on stalking. It's not a natural habit of mine, and sometimes I wish it was. Some of the advances I've had would not be out of place in a sitcom. Here's an example:

MIKE: Yeah, I'm starting a cabaret night.
YOUNG MAGICIAN: Can I do a spot?
MIKE: Well.. err... you see It's really not a magic night. It's a night of modern clown...
YOUNG MAGICIAN: I'm a modern clown.
MIKE: and also eccentric and off the wall acts.
YOUNG MAGICIAN: I can do eccentric off the wall, I'm an act.

And so on, and so forth, but like I said, I've done a lot worse in my time. I have to say that I like this guy and admire his persistence... but still... I hope that I don't give in... just yet.

Anyway back to the weekend. The Hotel Elephant gig came in the middle of quite an eventful couple of days. Best described by the following potted diary.

SATURDAY OCTOBER 6TH (The day of doom!)

7:30am: Got up early - Always kills me that one - I'm an actor for god's sake.
8:30am: Went to draw in Covent Garden - didn't get a show - went home with tail firmly between legs.
1:00pm: Had a nice lunch with Grisel - thought that the day was looking up - was very wrong
3:40pm: Tried a show at Covent Garden's smaller covered pitch - complete disaster - came home with a small amount of loose change and a huge desire to pack it all in and join a monastery in Nepal.
6:30pm: Eagerly watched Strictly Come Dancing - vaguely irritated by Darcey Bussell - agreed with Jenny Eclair on Twitter that Brucey's jokes are a bit shit.
9:00pm: Day ends well with the unexpected delight of the above mentioned gig at The Hotel Elephant Gallery.

SUNDAY OCTOBER 7TH 2012 (Redemption is here!)

7:30am: Got up early - doesn't feel any better the second time around - moved very slowly around the kitchen.
8:30am: Went to draw in Covent Garden - lady luck smiled on me - got a show on the big space.
3:00pm: Performed one of the best shows I've done this year on The Piazza - the crowd even loved my middle aged attempts at bad acrobatics - totally forgot The Nepalese monastery idea and decided that star of stage and screen is the way forward.
9:00pm: Grisel and I met a theatre producing friend of mine - get some great advice on the marketing of our club - went home with heads spinning (hers with ideas, mine with alcohol).

I often use the phrase 'it's all go' as a sort of ironic/sarcastic comment on the fact that nothing really ever happens in my life, but I actually think, at the moment it is just that. I can tell you it's really hard work this theatre/cabaret promoting lark.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They are opening a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools at clf Art Cafe, Peckham on December 4th.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric, and who knows, it may feature a young magician in the future. For more info Go to www.howhow.co.uk


More info about Hotel Elephant Gallery can be found at http://hotelelephantgallery.blogspot.co.uk/

Friday, 5 October 2012

Just one little word... no

Oh god, what's happening to me? I'm about to get all gushy. My life's a theatrical producing whirl and I feel like the boy with the best toys. I've got the best fiance in the world (not suggesting she's a toy by the way), who happens to be my business partner so business meetings are easy to arrange, and she's just brilliant, and together we've cooked up a mad idea for a cabaret club that everyone seems to love, and to top it all I've been ringing around all of my seriously talented performing friends and asking them if they would make this crazy idea work for a pittance, and to my joyous amazement they have all said yes, and although I'm tired, wired on coffee and couldn't sleep last night I'm on cloud nine. I told you it was gushy, that last sentence went on forever. It's OK, that effusive outpouring of positive emotions is over...... and rest.

In fact, this is the reason that I've not been blogging over the last few days but on Facebook I promised one today so as the sun sets on this rainy Friday I'm determined to deliver. You see Grisel and I have been busy securing a venue, and organising acts for a momentous event. Yes, it's the opening of our club. Yesterday we had a meeting with arts promoter Mickey Smith. He's a DJ, natural born clown (I'm sure he wouldn't mind me calling him that), friend to the stars of Jazz, and an all round top man. He seemed to love our idea and got very enthusiastic. What I love about Mickey is that in many ways he's a businessman, but with lots of heart. I imagine entrepreneurs to be hard and steely like Duncan Ballantine but Mickey is just.. well... warm and cuddly really. He's one of a group of people who saved an old factory in peckham called The Bussey Building and, in the space of a few years he's turned it into a vibrant, new and cutting edge arts venue with three spaces that are filled 5 nights a week. Southwark Council apparently had plans to level it and turn it into yet another Shopping Mall, something that the area can do without. Smarmy, sharp suited twenty somethings don't need yet another place in Peckham where they can persuade you to change your gas supplier, believe me.

Opening this club is also a strange turn around of events for me as well. I used to be the one desperately hunting for work, now I'm suddenly the hunted. This is a new state of affairs for me and I'm conscious that sometimes I'm getting the same needy bullshit thrown at me that I used to dish out to others. Is this Karma I wonder? I guess so. But it's not a bad thing as it does make me see it from both sides. It does, however, highlight another little quirk of my personality... my profound difficulty with the word 'no'. I've been involved in some very dubious artistic enterprises in the past just because... well... I was asked. To this end I've actually (and I'm serious here) asked Grisel to practice with me a series of hopefully truthful, but definitely polite ways of gently saying the word 'No'. I have to do this. I know that if I'm asked I may crumple and actually say yes to the whole world and consequently bankrupt the whole company. You see I have lots and lots of talented friends. By the way, if you were thinking of trying to exploit this weakness in my armour forget it. Thanks to Grisel I've now got all the answers. Maybe this is a plea to those I love. Please please bear with us, we're only small. Anyway, all of this is all exciting and maybe we can find a performing home for some of the great clowns, eccentric comics and character actors that I know and love. So our new performing home is The Bussey Building and Mickey has nurtured his part of of this local landmark with love that, I have to say, is infectious.  I hope we can inject this love into our little club as well.

The Royal National Theatre of Fools opens on Tuesday 4th December and will be on every first Tuesday of the month thereafter at The CLF Art Cafe (AKA the bussey building) in Peckham. We'd love to see you there.

For more details of the venue go to: www.clfartcafe.org


Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Video killed the music hall star (thankfully, not quite)

Grisel and I met someone who worked in the last days of the music hall on Friday. Not something that that happens to me everyday. Barry Grantham is certainly an old pro and can regale you with stories of working with some of the showbiz greats like Tommy Cooper, Max Wall, Sid Field to name but a few. A meeting had been brokered through a friend to discuss our cabaret night and it was a strange one to say to say the least. Now I'm a great lover of this sort of very old school variety, so I had a very casual idea of this meeting in mind. I thought that we would maybe catch up, swap stories and then maybe talk a little about business. How wrong I was. Guided by my friend the meeting, however, got straight down to business, and this caught me off guard completley. It seemed to do the same for Barry. It was an amicable and fun meeting, if not a little uncomfortable. At one point I decided that enough business had been discussed and we should just relax a little, "Right that's business done, now another beer." I exclaimed. I had meant it to be a cue for us to relax, but because I was the one who needed to relax as much as anyone it came out all wrong. Grisel told me later that it sounded like an order to get the next round in. I do remember that Barry looked slightly startled and immediately reached for his wallet, only to be saved by the rest of the party. Hardly the way to treat a seasoned veteran who had worked on the Great British Music Hall stage.And then there was the venue. We had arranged to meet at a club called The Concert Artists Association, or the CAA, of which Barry is a member . The CAA is a private members club for actors and variety artists in Covent Garden. In The Jester Bar the walls were adorned with photos of showbiz greats from a time gone by. Roy Hudd, June Whitefied, Cardue Robinson and Bill Pertwee jostled for position on the wall of fame. It's almost a museum, and that goes for most of the clientele as well. There was one table of thirty somethings, but everyone else would not be out of place in a home counties bowls club. I wondered if the CAA was single headedly keeping the blue blazer industry alive. It made me think of that famous Groucho Marx saying, "I wouldn't join a club that would have me as a member". Although with membership and bar prices from another era as well I could be tempted. I can't help liking it though, after all I love these old stars, and if it's a choice between this independently run club of enthusiasts, or another Starbucks I know which I'd choose.This strange meeting also made me think about what we are trying to achieve with The Royal National Theatre of Fools. Are we onto something? We have had such positive feedback and I love the idea, but becoming a museum piece is something I want to avoid. I had the great good fortune to perform in a Cabaret night at Edinburgh's Summerhall this year. Summerhall is a one of the more experimental venues on The Fringe and is aiming for year round status. This is cutting edge performance so I was so happy when I went down a storm. I was on the same bill as a very young band that I like a lot. Their lead singer was raving about my act and I was conscious that I was old enough to be his Dad. Maybe cabaret is skipping a generation and spirit of the performers who are on the walls of the CAA is coming back into fashion. I, for one, hope so because apart from a love of these artistes the CAA and I share something else. The alternative comedy boom of the early eighties largely passed us by, and when I turn on the TV and see Jimmy Carr I think that maybe this is not such a bad thing. As early as my teens I used to admire the craft and skill of the likes of Les Dawson and Morecambe and Wise, but was too young to get the radical qualities of the early days of the comedy store, and it's something that's stayed with me. Of course I was later to find out that the alternative comics also admired these artists but were too punk to admit it at the time. The passing of the years has also made me admire some great things that have came out of the creative melting pot of the early eighties alternative scene. I think exciting times are ahead.Eventually I relaxed and it was great to hear some of Barry's Stories. He told of us the burlesque artist who boasted that she moved onstage in an era when if you were nude that was banned. Turned out she stood stock still as she was pushed on a bicycle from one end of the stage to another. I'm sure that Barry was impressed by my own encyclopaedic knowledge of the period... but probably not. (I wasn't even born then, he was there!) I told him, in the politest way possible about my dislike of traditional circus clowns with painted faces and he thought for moment and said, "it's what's underneath the make up that counts". Wise words indeed. He sent us a lovely email the next day saying that he hoped we could work together in the future so it looks like I got away with the drinks blunder. Roll on the end of November when we plan to open.

More info about The Concer Artistes Association can be found at: http://www.thecaa.org


Visit Barry's website at: http://www.worldofcommedia.co.uk


Be inspired by what Summerhall are up to at: http://www.summerhall.co.uk


Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The recycling of intellectual ideas

I'm aware that yesterday's blog may have only had any real meaning if you do indeed watch GBBO, (That's the hash tag on twitter for The Great British Bake Off... see... I'm down with the kids), so I'll try and give today's a more general appeal. It's a bit like when Grisel and I watched the one man Star Wars trilogy at The Fringe this year. The actor was racing through all three films at break neck speed and was coming up with some inventive ideas, but the trouble was you had to actually know the films. We both had seen the first film years back and managed to chuckle our way through the early part of the show. However when he moved on to the other two films we were aware that we were suddenly watching, not a comedy parody, but a piece of performance art. It was incomprehensible. I have to say that yesterday, for the most part, was spend at my computer remaking the soundtrack for my street theatre show so I reckon I've got a challenge to make that of general interest to anyone, but I'll give it a go.

I wanted to just change a couple of tracks, but, as so often happens with me, a small job turned into a day's work as fun distractions presented themselves yet again. Yesterday's heroic act of displacement came in the form of some CDs I found at the bottom of the filing cabinet (so I DID file something away in that filing cabinet after all). The CDS had literally hundreds edited music tracks that I've used in past shows. This immediately allowed me to go down memory lane and indulge in a bit of comedy nostalgia. I first started tinkering around with sound files about fifteen years ago after managing to get hold of a quite expensive a piece of sound editing software for free. This software didn't come bundled onto a new computer, or taped to the front cover of a computer magazine, oh no... It came via a friend who cracks the registration codes of software and then offers them, not for profit I have to say, to his friends. I confess to being ambivalent about using illegally copied or downloaded stuff, after all I make a living from creative work as well, but this was great software so of course I took it. At the time this particular software was owned by a small independent company and so useful was it, that I vowed to actually buy the software properly one day to help out them out. Of course I never did and on the day that the company was bought up by Adobe I confess I had a pang of guilt. Since then I've got a number of upgrades from my friend, but of course because the software is now owned by the mighty Adobe I've abandoned my aspiration to pay up. Yeah, stick it to the corporations!.. no actually it's just too easy to use it for free. But moral dilemmas aside, back to the story. I remember having great fun when I first got this software and my street show at the time suddenly became full of sound gags and weird bits of music spliced together. There was even an incomprehensible section were, for no reason, the music speeded up. Why? because I could do it on my computer, that's why. As I listened to these old bits of weird rubbish I started to chuckle. Not only that I started to remember the routines that I did to them and started to chuckle even more. "God I was creative back then." I thought, and hopefully I sill am. A lot of them were discarded as ideas that just didn't work for some reason, but I could see that they could work in the show I'm doing at the moment so I sneaked a few of them the soundtrack for the present show. Perhaps this was one distraction that was worth it. We'll see. So my big advice to any creatives out there is don't throw anything away. Ideas can be recycled as well.

I'm going to be remaking some props for the same show this afternoon. Prop making is something that I really find tedious so hopefully I'll find an old store of props form the eighties behind the sofa and another rich vein of distraction can be opened up. Meanwhile it's lunchtime so that means only one thing... Facebook.


CLICK HERE


For an example of the creative work I was doing in the late nineties. Honestly, you had to be there.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

On your marks, get set, BAKE!

We're gutted in our household. Ryan has gone out of The Great British Bake Off. As the announcement was made last night we both fell into deep shock, and there was a dawning realization that Tuesday nights will never be the same. You may think I'm being sarcastic, but honestly... I'm not. For any of those who are not familiar with this unlikely hit TV series that has made baking trendier than a bearded cardigan wearer from Hoxton, The Great British Bake Off is Masterchef for the amateur dough maker. Ryan was the hapless photographer who made great flavour combinations but failed every time in the technical challenges. He's been on the edge of extinction before, but has always managed to cling on. This week, sadly, his luck finally ran out. It all started so well. When the judges praised his lardy cakes he nearly cried, but then it all fell apart. His doughnuts sagged, his celebration cake... well... didn't and suddenly and he was history. We'll miss him, in fact it's not too strong to say, we are mourning him.  You see Ryan has this vulnerable cuddly quality that makes you want to take him home, along with his signature key lime pie. (He was star baker that week, deservedly so). Grisel has a strong urge to mother him, and I confess, so do I. He's a kind of clown. I'm not saying he's stupid, because clearly he isn't. He just has that naive, innocent quality that's impossible not to like. He was often praised on the show and his slightly startled expression made him look like he couldn't quite believe it. He's the true star of the show, and now he's gone.

So here's my confession for today. I love The Great British Bake Off and watch it religiously. So what is it about a baking program that makes it such compulsive TV? How have they managed to inject drama into something being put in the oven for an hour and then... well left there? and how in the hell did I get so addicted to it? It's a strange idea for a program. The producers seem to be falling over themselves to sex up the whole concept. It's cut like an episode from 24 hours in A&E and I think they've nicked the music. We see someone scream, "My strudel's got a hemorrhage!" and then there's long and lingering shots of the contestants tying up their aprons and psyching themselves up for the challenge. Is baking in The Olympics? Have I missed something? Even the title suggests a conflict of gladiatorial proportions. There's 'The Rumble in the Jungle', 'The Thriller in Manila' and now 'THE BAKE OFF!!!!' Bruce Willis has to star in the film or I, for one, am not interested. Maybe in this blockbuster a crazed suicide bomber climbs inside one of the proofing ovens and Bruce, now a disillusionment pastry chef with a broken marriage, has to save the world. It's just a thought, but I'm aware I'm going off the plot again. Even though 'The Bake Off' is falling over itself to be hip it's set in a marquee, decked out in Union Jack bunting in the middle of a field. I think it's this weird contradiction that I love so much. It's like Cool Britannia meets Mrs Beaton. There's that and the fact that I can't help roaring with laughter every time a tray of meringues is dropped on the floor, and sniggering everytime the word masterbaker is used. ( I know... I'm twelve.). Fact is, it's made me interested in baking and for that I'm glad, after all who doesn't like eating the stuff.


Ryan in another sticky moment on The Great British Bake Off
So it's farewell Ryan. With tears in our eyes we wave you goodbye. We'll never forget your key lime pie. Keep baking mate... keep the faith.


The Great British Bake Off can be viewed in all it's glory on BBC2, Tuesdays at 8pm. Next week it's the quarter finals and it's biscuits. Sadly Ryan can only now be seen on BBC Iplayer and on his website www.bakology.com




Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A place for everything, just not today please

I'm sitting here in front of a very tidy desk. There's lots of space to put things, lots of space for things to pile up on top of one another, lots of space to loose things in a mess of papers... and, believe me, I'll manage all of the above.This is another quirk that get from me dear old dad... serious untidiness. Here is a photo of my desk space a few days ago.



You will notice that I've chosen to dump my papers in a random and cluttered fashion on top a perfectly usable filing cabinet. I inherited from my father both the filing cabinet, and the complete inability to put things in it. It's screaming out at me "use me, use me!" but I prefer not to. I find tidying up a stressful thing and I'll put it off for ever (as you can see), and I wonder why this is? There are a number of things that I fear I'll find when I tidy. For example there are things that I can't throw away for sentimental reasons but can't think of how I can store them. I'll prevaricate over them for ages knowing that If I file them I'll never see them again, but also knowing that I just can't let go. They'll end up in my bulging 'Miscellaneous' file, a file bigger than any others by miles. Then there's the things that I know that I should keep but can't find a home for. The Miscellaneous file beckons yet again. Worst still are the things like old batteries that I don't know how to throw away. I want to just throw them in the bin, you know, get rid of them right away, but then I'll suffer from eco guilt, and that's one of the worst kinds of guilt for the educated classes. Even worst then that is knowing that deep down, buried at the bottom of the pile I'm going to find stuff that I should have dealt with ages ago but haven't. Some new age types say that tidying up gives you space in your mind. I'd like to agree with that but fear that if your filing system reflects the state of your mind then I'm in deep trouble. For example in this latest tidy up I found a bill in Euros from when I briefly lived in France over 6 years ago. I haven't a clue what it's for, but I know it's very official. I'm thinking that maybe this is what's causing the Eurozone crisis... bad filing. The bill is for 94 euros, 86 cents, and at today's reckoning that's about £75. I'm thinking that maybe I should work out what it's for and pay it, but then maybe I should just leave it. If the euro collapses I may end up paying just 75p. After all The Tresor Publique de Francais has waited over six years for this money, what's a couple more years between friends. Don't worry, it's now in the Miscellaneous file so It'll never see the light of day again.

But none of this is my worst fear. My worst fear is finding stuff to do with my tax. I hate being reminded of my tax. I've got so much stuff to do at the moment that I ought to write 'to do' lists but I can't bring myself to do it. This is because I know that 'Do your tax' will be at the top of it. To explain, here's another picture.



This is my accounts. Two plastic bags and an envelope. I don't think I need to say anything more really. It used to be three plastic bags but I managed to rationalize it a bit. I have to point out at this stage, I'm not in charge of the accounts for howhow productions. Anyway there is light at the tunnel. Here is a picture of my office at the moment.



This is the new filing system... for now!

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Monday, 24 September 2012

A not so spontaneous moment

Refreshed from a weekend off I blog again. I'm wondering if it's wise to attempt attaching a photo to this blog today. Friday's was a bit of a fiasco to say the least. The upside down and blurry picture of Pret A Manger on The Strand was not the photo I had intended to take, in fact a photo of Pret A Manger was not on my list of interesting shots at all. I took a number of photos on my smartphone but couldn't get them to come out anything but blurred. Maybe Samsung smartphones only are only set up to take decent pictures when you are skydiving. That's what their ads seem to say anyway. I then tried to upload it onto the post via the handy Android blogger app, but for some reason known only to itself it decided to upload the picture upside down. Yes I can hear all of you smug iphone/ipad users out there saying, 'doesn't happen to us', but I don't care. To Windows and Android I will stay loyal. Anyway the idea was be to show my readers where I write some of my blogs when I'm not at home. The place where I have to drag the huge Sherman tank of a laptop that is called The Gericom to. On, the subject of laptops, you know how Mac users always go on about how their precious ibooks go on for years without any problems and PCs always break down. Well I say to them The Gericom is almost ten years old and it's still going strong. Mind you I did wipe the hard drive and install only Word, online backgammon and Google Chrome so it doesn't exactly have to work hard. My God, am I channelling my dad again?

But back to the point of the picture. It was not my first choice of photo for Friday's post. I actually wanted to take a photo of Peter. Peter is one of the cheery (and I say this without a hint of sarcasm) staff at the aforementioned Pret. The staff there seem to be quite happy and the drudgery of serving hasn't seemed to have got them down... yet. This is quite a feat as they have the most surly and humorless duty manager I think I've ever seen. He's an imposing man who would not look out of place as a hammer thrower for Belarus. Anyway, Peter served me my Late and chocolate croissant with a particular flare, performing a great flourish with his tray as he placed the cup and plate on it. My immediate thought was to take a photo of him, smiling by his coffee machine to place on this blog but sadly I didn't. I sat down and though no more about it until I'd finished writing. It was then that I decided to do something that really breaks one of the cardinal rules of life. I tried to fabricate a spontaneous moment. I decided I would take the photo of Peter, but he was no were to be seen. After a quick check that I had not aroused the interest of the duty manager I asked the staff if Peter was still around. I explained that I wanted to take his photo for this blog and told them that they should check out his flashy tray moves, "I think he wants to work over the road at The Savoy" I quipped. They just stared back at me blankly. I was amazed that non of them got how hilarious and wacky the situation was. They were however politely helpful and told me that he was working in the kitchen. One of them phoned down stairs and I was told that he was on his way up, so I waited... and waited... and waited. Occasionally I was told that Peter was just coming, but he never came. Eventually a kind soul rang the kitchen again and this time I was told he'd meet me there. I came to the kitchen door and Peter popped his head round the door. He was not however the dashing servant type that I remembered. He was now sporting one of those strange elasticated plastic hats that food preparers wear and a rather worried look on his face. I explained about the photo and he seemed less than keen, and I was about to find out why. I looked around and saw to my horror that the duty manager was standing next to me. Not wanting to get poor Peter the sack I explained the whole thing. There was a moments silence, and then to my surprise the manager broke out in a huge grin, "sure" he said as he left chuckling to himself. I was amazed. He, of all people, got just how side sidesplittingly funny all of this was. Peter, however, was not seeing the funny side at all. "Just give me five minutes to finish what I'm doing" he barked, and ducked back into the kitchen. I waited... and waited... and waited, but he didn't emerge. After what seemed like on eon standing alone in the corridor next to the gents toilets and the door to the kitchen I suddenly had a thought, "maybe he thinks I'm stalking him." then I had another thought, "maybe I am stalking him!" and it's at this point that I left.

Oh well, no photo of Peter today so you'll just have to make do with a photo of The Gericom instead.

The Gericom, sold exclusively at Lidl. This particular model
is a bit of a museum piece, dating back to around 2004.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Friday, 21 September 2012

KISS (keep it silly stupid!)

Pret A Manger, The Strand, where I sometimes write this blog
(It's not usually blurry or upside down,  Honest!)
Following on from yesterday's theme I've just got down to writing this after indulging in another pet distraction of mine. Writing silly things on my facebook page. My idea to develop a boylesque act called Shriveled Walnut went down particularily well. I got lots of feedback and I think that collectively my Facebook buddies and I have nailed it.  The new act that, I confess I posted as a joke, may actually happen and will consist largely of sparkles, feathers, sequins, the proverbial referee's whistle (MATRON!), a velcro fig leaf and, of course, copious amounts of bumfluff (sorry, I can't avoid that one). I am actually the middle of trying to write a new ten minute cabaret act and I'm thinking that perhaps I should make these outrageous suggestions more often. Maybe it would make the whole devising material thing a lot easier.

This is not the first time I've made joke artistic proposals on Facebook only for people to take them seriously. A few years back I commented that I was delighted as I had just secured the rights to produce Prisoner of Cell Block H on Ice. I got a flood of comments asking when the opening night was. I'm thinking now that I should just concentrate on stupid ideas and forget about the so called 'brilliantly funny' ideas that I fret so much about. Because that's about it really. It's true when they say comedy is a serious business, in fact from my fantasy Academy of Comedy the graduates would be sent out into the world with a copy of The Writers and Artistes Yearbook, a form to join The Writers Guild and the details of at least three therapists. Let's face facts writing (especially comedy) not easy. I actually started this blog as a sort of easy way to flex my creative muscle and warm myself up for a morning's writing. It was an exercise in actually finishing something and hitting the publish button come what may. I never really thought anyone would read it but now I'm getting a few comments that people are actually reading it and liking it. Now I feel the pressure. There is a real danger that it will take over and I have a play and a cabaret show to write. If I'm honest I'd say that the whole writing silly things on facebook thing started because all the facebook posts I was reading seemed... well... samey really. My reaction was to solemnly vow never to post mundane status updates about how I was picking the kids up from school, or doing the washing up. I preferring to post things like, "Mike is amazed, he's just found a hole in the space/time continueum at the back of his airing cupboard." To my amazement my Facebook friends couldn't get enough of this stuff, I was on a roll and it was at this point that I felt the pressure and stopped. It was all a bit arrogant really, I mean, lets face it at this very moment I'm writing, and believe me that can be as mundane as doing the washing up.

There is a serious point here I suppose. Writing something that is supposed to be funny can sometimes be hell. There is a real trick in preserving the fun of it. Of course there will always be a serious head scratching side to it as well. After the writer has created the monster he/she must make it likable.

Oh by the way you may be wondering about the picture. Grisel thought it would be a great idea to include photos in my blog. This is my first attempt at uploading a photo taken on my smartphone via the blogger app. Room for improvement I think.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Warning! advanced users only

I have a day off from Covent Garden today as I have to wait in the delivery of my new bank card and I have to show them photo ID to pick it up. It's only humble debit card and not a lofty credit card but the level of security is so high you'd think the crown jewels were being delivered, . Quite frankly I'm glad to have this enforced admin day even though I am, effectively, a prisoner in my own home. (The delivery window is 9am to 5pm so I'm expecting it at 4:59.) My Covent Garden experience yesterday almost ended in disaster on what was a terrible day. My whole show seemed to be funded entirely by just one family who were on holiday from The Emirates. Such was the lack of response from a few casual onlookers that I cut the show short and they were one of only a handful of people who came forward. So generous was their contribution that it made up about 90% of the hat! Is this what arts patronage feels like? Again the extremes of street busking were in evidence.

I had planned to write this first thing in the morning but today I've indulged in one of my favourite pastimes... getting distracted. Instead of writing I started by updating  a list of our companies log in information for the various websites that we regularly use. Not a big job in itself but it did require me to log into these sites to check if I had the right passwords. This is where the problem really began because you see, I seem to have a bit of an addiction to websites that you log into especially if they offer DIY solutions to such technical things as website building and bulk email management. Strange but true. Subscribing to a website and then gaining exclusive access via a password all seems very grown up to me and I can waste literally hours on these sites. This time is typically spent trawling through the help files so I can find out exactly what the site can do... all of it... not just the bits that I need. This of course leads to the inevitable googling of any jargon that I come across and the search for online tutorials to explain it all. I love learning to do all of this cool online stuff, but I sometimes worry that I border on the obsessive. I've been working on the howhow website recently and one day a noticed that we could have our own favicon. "What the hell is a favicon?" I thought. To me it didn't sound like anything to do with web design, more like something to do with birth control and it's been niggling me ever since. Well today was the day that I decided to find out so after two hours of bouncing between our website builders help files and photoshop howhow.co.uk became the proud owner of a favicon. In case you don't know, a favicon is a tiny icon that appears on a website just by the page heading. It's totally useless really, but that's not the point. I worked out how to add one, and it did it all on my own.

Perhaps a worst manifestation of this very male autistic trait that that I love to tinker with settings, and if it says "warning, advanced users only" well that's just a red rag to a bull. I recently had trouble with one of my email addresses. Of course my first instinct was to contact my email provider, but I firmly rejected that one because I saw a great opportunity for some serious mucking about in both the email provider and the domain registrar's advance users area. One and a half months later I admitted defeat and actually asked for help. This must be the modern day digital version of 'refusing to look at the instructions when programming the VCR recorder' and I'm a bit ashamed that the whole thing went on for so long. There was however a happy ending to all of this. I had, in fact, been tinkering with the wrong advanced settings, so now I had the opportunity to do it all again with the right advanced settings and with the blessing of Malcolm from Dreamhost technical support. By the way my email now works again, oh and don't forget... we have a favicon.

Of course I'll take great delight in passing on my new found wisdom to Grisel as I watch her eyes slowly glaze over. Yes, she definitely puts up with a lot.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The joy of theoretical giving

Well not a lot happened yesterday which I suspect will be reflected in the brevity of this post. I didn't get a show in Covent Garden, and that always means I have to do two things: 1) be philosophical about it all; and 2) go home and do some admin. I spent most of the day looking into how we are going to fund one of our pet projects,The Royal National Theatre of Fools. We are working non stop at this around other work and we are burning the midnight oil some nights in a frantic effort to actually get this thing off the ground. Our targets are venue by the beginning of next month, fund raise in Octorber and open mid November. I say this not to impress you, or indeed interest you necessarily it's just that if a publicly state it, I have to try and do it. But I digress (as usual).

I was perusing some crowd funding websites, where people with big ideas and no capitol (I like think that's us) ask for funding in return for rewards. I must say it was heartening to see at all of the other guys out there who are in our position, and I got the sense that wee are not alone. I was looking at a funding campaign set up by Crooked Pieces Theatre Company who wanted to stage a new Sarah Kane play. They had only reached 50% of their target with days to go. Surely it was disaster for them. I navigated away and looked at another page, and when I returned a few minutes later I was amazed at what I saw. They had reached their target with one sizable donation. This had happened RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY VERY EYES. In fact I got so excited about this that I imagined that this money was flooding into our bank account. I don't know whether or not this is a spectacular exercise in visualizing my wealth (I'm sure there are a few gurus in California who are recommending that one), or just unrealistic optimism but I confess it was fun.

Like I said before crowd funding is all about giving away stuff in return for donations So I decided to make a list of what we could give away. I discovered that giving can be a lot of fun, especially if it's all theoretical. In that case the sky's the limit, so on my own, at my computer I managed to give away virtually all of the company plus some pretty cool things that we don't actually have. Yes it was a bit of a laugh, but thank God for the intervention of Grisel later on in the day. I imagine that you're getting the idea that Grisel is the more practicle one in the business partnership and it was one of our smarter moves to give her ultimate control over money. That certainly should not be left to me. To be cavalier with ideas is one thing, but I've learned the hard way that to be at all reckless about spending money is quite another. I still have the emotional scars and some of the debts to prove it. Our discussion on the subject was fruitful and we ended up with a series of rewards that were generous enough to reflect the value of what we were giving away, but not so generous as to double the amount of money we would have to raise, just to pay for them. It pains me to say it, but again all credit goes to my finance.

Although this is all very well on paper, that's all it is at the moment and I confess to being a little scared of the whole process. What if we don't get anything? Oh well I suppose we have to try. I've always been a little uncomfortable about asking for money and I'm secretly jealous of those folk who have enough confidence to be very up front about this. I remind myself that I've been performing street theatre since the late eighties, so I've based a whole career on asking for donations. How hard can it be? I'm determined to find out. Our fund raising campaign is not quite up and running yet so I don't want to give away too much, but just to say that our gifts range from a thank you party at a West End venue (Yes, I've called in a big favour from a friend for that one!) for everyone who funds up to a years free entry to the club and a signed original artwork of the inaugural poster if you are feeling very generous. So watch this space and get involved. The least you'll get is a party. My God, I think I just asked for money. Perhaps this will work out after all.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Meet the family

I'm exhausted today after a very long day at the office yesterday that dragged on until seven thirty. Yes, you heard it right... the office. I'm in an actors cooperative agency, and, on the whole, it is very cooperative. I still however manage to find the experience slightly stressful. I want to do my job and get the other actors as much work as possible but I'm aware that I'm really not a genius in an office. It's also a bit strange for me because I have rejoined them after about an eight year absence. I'm now seen as something of an experienced member which I'm not, and much has changed in the agency. I'm constantly asked for sage advice and have to admit that I really haven't a clue. Of course in my mind I'm a cigar chewing big shot agent, but in reality I type at around two words a minute and can never find the stapler.

I can't lie, I find office work a chore To get through the day I drink copious amounts of strong coffee which makes matters worst. I may perk up temporarily but it plays havoc with my over active prostate. Oh did I tell you that I have an over active prostate. It's part of a number of minor health problems that have cropped up in the last few years. There's the weird skin rash that needs industrial strength prescription dandruff shampoo to get rid of. Then there's the back pain, the shoulder pain and not to mention the knee twinges. And let's not forget the weird mold on my big toe, the teeth falling out, the rheumatism, oh and the occasional hemorrhoids. I accept this, it's all part of my age, in fact I like to think of all of these niggling ailments as family. I still think I'm pretty fit and when I was young I was told that my skinny physique was ideal for marathon running. These days I think I could have a good shot at running 22 miles as long as there were a few portaloos along the way.

Anyway it always goes mad in the office in the afternoon and my attempts to schmooze casting agents whilst, at the same time, tracking missing invoices are made more stressful by frequent trips to the lavatory. It all strated about ten years ago when I was working at The Stephen Joseph Theatre. Alan Ayckbourn asked me if I had any ideas for a one man show. I had a vague idea of a sort of pompus Classical music conductor who's orchestra quit so he had to do a concert alone. Not taking the request seriously I scribbled the idea down, using my worst handwriting on the back of a shopping list and handed it to Mr Ayckbourn's PA. I was shocked when I got the go ahead the next day. To this day I don't know whether or not they wanted The Conductor or my shopping list but let's assume it was indeed the former. I wrote a rough draft, booked some rehearsal space and set to it. I'd never done anything like this in my life before, and as I sat alone in a windowless room, staring at the walls with no idea of what to do next frequent trips to the toilet seemed like a sensible creative process. Maybe, at that point in my life I actually trained my bladder to be the feeble wimp that it is today.

A few months back I was getting up and going about four times a night and when it started to keep Grisel awake as well as myself I decided that something had to be done. My doctor advised that this problem was normal, and he told me, "No alcohol after eight in the evening". I was worried that the actor in me immediately thought, "Oh that's OK, I can drink in the afternoon instead", but luckily this hasn't been the case. Why? Well there is one more ailment I can add to the list, hangovers from hell. Yes anything more than two glasses, turns me into the living dead for some days after. I confess that still I can't resist the temptation to party occasionally. In fact the last time was Saturday and I think I' still recovering. Oh well there's always more coffee, that doesn't give you a three day hangover. I'm drinking a particularly good fair trade Kenyan blend at the moment. Oh s**t, excuse me... must go to to the toilet.

Oh by the way I'm still looking for acting work if anyone needs anyone, but don't bother me, talk to my agent, www.vagabondsmanagement.com

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his latest one man show without the aid of a toilet. It's called Clowns, Coulrophobia and MeGo to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Dying with dignity

I'm sitting in Pret A Manger on The Strand writing this before I attempt a lunchtime show on the cobbles of Covent Garden. I'm looking over at a man using a band new macbook air. He doesn't look like your typical Mac user and I'm heartened by this. Oh no, hang on a minute, there's that inevitable air of smugness as he eyes my newly refurbished 10 year old concrete slab of a computer made by German Industry Computers. I wonder if the company are aware that they were buying into the British Sun readers stereotype with the anacronym GERICOM, but I digress. It's not that I'm jeaulous, well actually I am. I'm jealous not because I could never afford a Mac in a million years, but it's mainly because he won't have to incur osteopath bills that I will just by carrying the thing around. Oh god, now there's an iphone user next to me. I'm proudly placing my Samsung on the table as if we're playing some bizarre game of smartphone poker. I'll see your iphone 4 and raise you a Galaxy Android. Yes, I long for my light and sleek Windows workbook. As someone in the arts and entertainment I know I'm supposed to have a Macbook but I confess that I've never bought into the whole Mac are the best thing since the wheel thing. There is no logic to this extreme position, it's just that I'm bloody minded and so stick to PCs and Android phones, even though it means hours spent doing software installations  followed by even more hours trying get rid of it all when the machine slows down to a snails pace. No, I've always done it this way, so that's how it's going to be. I've inherited this from my dad as well as the clunky old laptop.

An informal business meeting has just broken up on my other side. I always find it strange when I see such things in coffee bars, I mean, it's such a public place, isn't it all a bit too casual for such important decisions? I'm always tempted to barge in and say, "Can I join in. I turned up at the right place on time didn't I?", but I don't. Grisel and I have a habit of bursting into spontaneous production meetings for howhow in our Kitchen, or when lying in bed so I guess there's no difference really. We had one such impromptu meeting last night at the dinner table, which, on refection, was a bit inappropriate because we did have guests. To be honest it was more me than Grisel, in fact she was trying to steer the conversation away from our business, but I was having non of it. I hadn't had the opportunity to hold court like this for a while so I took the opportunity with relish. She puts up with a lot.

Truth is I needed a drink. I was getting quite a head of steam yesterday afternoon putting all sorts of fun buttons and widgets on my website but had to tear myself away to go to do an evening show in Covent Garden. It was so bad that I didn't even finish the show and the five bemused non English speaking onlookers didn't seem to care on way or the other. I was annoyed more than anything that I'd wasted my time coming in in the first place, but I managed to die with dignity. It reminded me of just how hard busking can be. It can bring out the best and the worst in a performer. It's a game of extremes, and it shapes our psyche to a certain degree. It either humbles you, or makes you think the world owes you something. As I witnessed the act before me, who had every juggling prop in the business, two tall unicycles and an arsenal of funny lines, go through half a dozen audiences in the space of half an hour I knew that I was on a hiding to nothing. One of the performers did manage to complain that they didn't get any folding money in the hat. As I looked out over the piazza, the solitude broken only by three groups of bored teenagers on day trips I wondered what sort of contract he'd signed. Me, I was just going to ask for donations. Yes, it's tough. Eddie Izzard once famously said that stand up was easy in comparison to hitting the cobble stones with a bag of props. It's certainly easier to write this. Oh, I say, two community policemen have just stormed into the cafe to make an arrest, how exciting. Oh no... hang on... they're just chatting to friends. Oh well The Piazza awaits.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancé Grisel Tarifa. They hope to open a new performance club The Royal National Theatre of Fools in Peckham in the winter.  It will be dedicated to the clown, the absurd and the eccentric. Mike is also busy writing his one man show, Clowns, Coulrophobia and Me for the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Go to www.howhow.co.uk for more info.