a good play needs no epilogue

or, a bum reduced to the status of a trained actor

Part One: Yes, And?

January. But not just any January. It’s 2018. On Jan 9th President Trump cancels a program allowing 200,000 San Salvadoreans temporary status to live in the US, the same day mudslides sweep away 100 houses in Montecito, California, killing at least 20, on land stripped bare by recent fires. On Jan 15th protests against the government in Tunisia marked the seventh anniversary of what’s popularly called the Arab Spring, but what some dared to call the World Revolution of 2011.

Yes, Winter 2018 was not, globally speaking, promising. In Britain, the long-running tragicomedy Brexit was into its third year, and no one talked about anything that seemed to matter. By this point, your humble author had just ended a seven-day fast with an improv jam, a spoken word performance and some Space Raiders, followed by a light salad. It remains, to this day, one of my favourite meals.

2017 had shown signs of life in the stand-up and open mic scenes in Birmingham, while a cluster-bomb of improvisational comedy had exploded in the city. Improvisational comedy can trace roots to early modern theatre and music. When American comic Dudley Riggs developed a form of improvised theatre incorporating audience suggestions, one critic labelled it ‘word jazz’. Around the same time, improvisational exercises for actors known as ‘Theatre Games’ were developed. Similar games remain a core element in improv, both in workshops and performances. In the late 1950s, The Second City, a Chicago-based improv group which still exists formed; alumni include John Belushi and Stephen Colbert.

Back in 2017 there were two improv comedy groups active in Moseley alone: Box of Frogs, which describes itself as “Birmingham’s Premiere Impro group”, and Fat Penguin Improv, both running weekly workshops in Moseley. Fat Penguin also added a regular performance at the Patrick Kavanagh pub, and anyone was welcome to join in at the end of the show.

I elected to join in all of that, and wrote a piece for Moseley B13 magazine commenting on this emerging scene. For research I interviewed Kate Knight, and you can hear the interview here, or see the original post for a transcript:

A sense of positive fun is summed up in the improv rule “Yes And”, which states that whatever someone says, one should respond positively rather than contradicting. Kate thinks one of the reasons improv is growing popular is not only the sheer entertainment value, but that the ‘principles that underpin improv can be really effective in life’.

I relished the chance to perform, and make people laugh. I found the experience great for my boosting my emotional intelligence.

My dips into improv had been satisfying, involving, and educational, yet terrifying. In public performance, I got one laugh. One. With the word ‘osprey’. My poetry had gone down well though, so I was hyped that year to do something more. I was on the lookout for something creative. Something bigger.

I’m not a fan of Facebook, or any third-party social web platform for that matter. I think it’s better for individuals to have autonomy online, and we have the technology to empower that. But I was on Facebook and this popped up:

Birmingham Opera Company is seeking volunteers (16+) for the actors and dancers’ groups of the newly commissioned ‘WAKE’.
It will have its world premiere in March 2018. It plays to the strengths of volunteer participants as well as professional singers – a unique mix of local performers and opera professionals that create a world-class work together.Be part of something amazing and join us on Wed 17 Jan in Digbeth for The Taster Actors/Dancers workshop led by Associate Choreographer Johnny Autin, accompanied by singer and musician. No experience necessary – All training provided – 2 rehearsal sessions/week
Travel expenses reimbursed

Now this caught my eye. I’d signed up to participate in the Birmingham International Dance Festival two years previously, but an unfortunate sequence of events put me in a sufficiently bad mood to make me decline the opportunity. Here though was a project with an admirable-sounding mode of operation: opera with the heart of the city.

Open rehearsals, no experience necessary? I fancy that, I thought. Was I ready? Was I ever.

It was my birthday yesterday, here in virtual lockdown in the UK.

It was weird, but by no means the weirdest birthday I’ve had. I think the weirdest is still the one where I woke up in a rhododendron bush in Staffordshire one birthday morning, with no home and £2 in my pocket. I ended the evening playing the congas in a club in Moss Side.

That was unexpected.

For this birthday, someone sent me this video, which I appreciated, and thought worth sharing too:

The recent ages of me.

44: istr really enjoying being 44, I felt it rather suited me as an age. Tripled my income.

45: a very good year, one of my favourites. Some setbacks but achieved rather a lot. Finally came out of my shell, despite the best efforts of certain parties to prevent it.

46: complete fucking nightmare from start to finish. However, on reflection, I also achieved a great deal of which I am proud.

I’m not sure how I feel about imminently turning 47. On the one foot, I intend to kick 47 in the shins. One the other, I think it’s quite an interesting number and I’m rather looking forward to it.

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