Friday, 31 August 2012

On Tinkering and Hoarding

Right! inject caffeine, write blog. I confess I've not got much time today. Did the draw at Covent Garden. As arguments flared up as to what time we should do the draw, and a homeless ex street artist tried to persuade us all that he has public liability insurance one street performing friend of mine said, "Welcome back to the ward", and he was right. I then rushed home to write this, and will have to rush back to do my show at lunchtime. It's all go.

The whole morning has made me think that I have to try and get my Dad's old laptop going, because no matter what Samsung, or Apple would have you believe it's impossible to  be a creative writer and run an office on the go with just a smartphone. Especially if it's a year and a half old one that finds it impossible to lock onto the 3G network, and takes what seems like 5 lifetimes to check Yahoo mail. I inherited this laptop from my dad when he died a year and a half ago. Unfortunately I didn't inherit the power chord, but I'm sure that he is looking down on me and willing me on to try and find a technical solution, for I am the son of an engineer. If I'm to follow in his footsteps it has to be the most cost effective solution that involves only using stuff from Maplins or, and any old bits of wiring that can be found in the garden shed and soldered together. My Dad was something of an amateur inventor and perhaps his greatest moment was when he proudly showed me his wonderful Heath Robinsonesque solution to digitising his old cine film. It consisted of taking the guts out of one of his old projectors, (he collected them, much to my mum's consternation) putting them back so the projector ran backwards at half of the speed. He then wired a mouse to it and stuck it to a wooden board, along with a huge lens and a camcorder (both stuck to the board as well). He enthusiastically told me that the camcorder would now capture the cine film frame by frame as it was projected from the projector, and special software (from a free disk from a computer magazine) would reconstitute the film. Most people would just go to Dixons and buy something to do this, but not my Dad.

As for my mum, one and I half years on from loosing him she has decided to sell up the family home, and had the hurculean challenge to sell all of my dad's possessions. Amongst the accumulation of a lifetime (that included an original BBC computer from the seventies that had been put back perfectly in it's box and stored in the loft, yes, he threw nothing away) I found something that made me look at myself and my career in a different way. My Dad kept a scrapbook with press cuttings, ticket stubs, programs, photos, and other paraphernalia of all of the professional shows that I'd been in. The thing is that I didn't know about this, and amazingly, neither did my mother. I used to think that I really didn't have a career, but he obviously thought differently. I confess that that I never felt close to dad when he was alive. It's not that I didn't love him, it's just that we didn't really share much. He was the life and soul of the party, but was also very private in many ways. I miss him thought, and realize just how much I'm like him. I too tinker all the time with street shows, bits of writing and cabaret routines that I've hoarded over many years. I do however feel like I need to keep his spirit alive in a deeper sense, so it's off to Maplins to buy a soldering iron.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancĂ© 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. Go to for more info.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Now for our rookie year

Well I've nothing much to report today, largely due to the fact that I didn't get out much yesterday, apart from the obligatory Wednesday trip to my counsellor. It's been over a year now, and I now look forward to my weekly talks with Joe. Gone are the days when I would spend half of our session dragging myself up Tooley street, legs like lumps of lead, with fear and trepidation in my heart. What demon will I discover today? I used to think. These days I can say with some pride that, with the help of Joe, I've got some of the more self destructive parts of my personality firmly on the ropes. But I still keep going, after all, you never know when they'll come back (cue dramatic chords).  This blog, in fact, is part of the process. It's attempt to overcome procrastination and a crippling sense of perfectionism that stops me completing anything at all.

Joe is a dude that goes off to do snowboarding as well as meditation and I've grown fond of him. (The obligatory phase of rejecting and resenting one's healer seems to be firmly behind us). There is one striking feature of Joe for me. He's many years my junior, in fact most people I meet in my working life are. I was sitting in one of the great talks at this years Edinburgh Fringe about touring and producing theatre work, and a quick scan around the room revealed that I was definitely the oldest person there. Depressingly enough that was also true of the panel of experts that stood before me as well. I did spot the back of one head covered in grey hair. Maybe I was not alone. I wanted to introduce myself and had fantasies of starting a sort of middle aged newbies support group, but after the session he seemed just to steel away like a thief in the night. He probably had child care issues to deal with. Fair enough.

No I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any young talent giving it a go, but you would expect to see a few more forty somethings doing new things. Well more than two anyway. It seems that our status in life is firmly governed by our age. You are either young and emerging, or old and experienced. There seems to be little room for old and emerging, even though, in reality this means old, emerging AND experienced. I've just started to work the London cabaret scene again, after a break of many years, and I get a palpable feeling of being massively prejudged. It feels like if you are my age (I'm 48, not ashamed to admit it) and unknown then you are assumed to be an untalented amateur until you prove otherwise.

Of course I can't blame this all on ageism. People of my age have the wisdom of experience and you would think that it would make us leap ahead of the competition. Newton's laws however seem to kick in and the equal and opposite reactions of emotional and intellectual baggage take over. I guess my work with Joe these days is not to stop me weeping uncontrollably whilst doing the washing up, or not getting out of bed until four in the afternoon (thankfully, those days are over), but to lessen the constricting force of my baggage so I can actually get on with stuff. And it seems to be working. I spend all of yesterday setting up this blog, and also writing and designing the monthly newsletter the our nine (now ten!) fans of The Royal National Theatre of Fools. I confess that I got quite obsessed with that one, even though it's timed to go out next Monday. Grisel gently and lovingly covered my eyes at midnight and suggested that I might like to stop work and come to bed. I hope that I'm not developing an addiction to work. I've thankfully never had that neurosis before.

Mike Raffone is the co founder of the production company howhow along with his fiancĂ© 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. Go to!national-theatre-fools/cozg to subscribe to the monthly newsletter that Mike toiled so hard to create

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Well that was our reckie year

I’ve just checked the howhow productions opt in mailing list for our new club, The Royal National Theatre of Fools, and I see that we have 9 people interested in knowing more about us on a regular basis. You cannot imagine how exciting this is, I mean nine people are interested in little old me. It may not seem like much to you, and I’m sure that Barack Obama has a few more, but for me it’s a milestone. Nine people have never been interested in my work. Well that’s what it always felt like anyway. Maybe a year of counselling is paying off and at last I can say to my self that, yes, I’m worth the interest of nine people, and hopefully more.
The fantastic news of this initial interest in my work is the icing on the cake at what was a great Edinburgh Fringe. Admittedly I didn’t put on an inside show, which could be why my stay was so enjoyable. Newspaper articles about how audiences were down this year, and how established performers were getting houses of 6 people were certainly not lost on me, but I face the future with a little fear and a lot of optimism.
This year was the first year for a long time that I’ve really engaged in the whole Edinburgh Fringe process and it certainly seemed to prove the old adage that you get back what you put in. I was constantly bumping into old friends and colleagues, who seemed to be doing great stuff. Not only that, it always seemed to happen in the same place, the walkway by The Pleasance Dome. I even made a detour a couple of times to see who I would meet this time, but of course sod’s law kicked in and I met no one. Grisel and I met with venue managers, became quite adept at pitching our ideas, soaked up the atmosphere, lapped up information and advice that was heaped upon us and generally had a wonderful time. We also found some new talent that we decided we just had to have our very own pop up royal national theatre, even though we haven’t started it yet. The most surreal and fun of these ‘meetings’ was with legendary alternative comedians, The Greatest Show On Legs. I enthusiastically pitched our ideas, blabbering like an over excited teenager. Nothing conclusive was arranged as we don’t even have a venue yet but it was a nice chat, interrupted by a pissed Arthur Smith, looking for a lost rucksack. Happy days.
We also managed to see over forty shows. Not bad eh? Now I know that journalists at The Fringe boast seeing hundreds of shows, but they get in for free. Of the forty-three we did see. (by the way, that statistic comes courtesy of Grisel and her addiction to The Fringe ipad app) these are my top ten. Look out for them.
Theatre Temion use puppetry and physical theatre to look at the issue of bi polarism. The most moving piece of theatre I’ve seen for years.
They are the greatest show on legs. The perfect antidote to Jimmy Carr.
ROB AUTON, THE YELLOW SHOW (Comedy/Spoken word)
A star of the future.
Absurdism at it’s finest. Defies description, you’ll just have to go and see them.
MAN 1 BANK 0 (Theatre)
Heartwarming tale of an ordinary joker sticking it to the banks.
Aiden Goatley explores his relationship with his dad in hilarious stand up and beautiful film silliness.

Stunning design, great acting and multiple plot lines as Curious Directive explore social relationships, antiquities and ants.