24 August 2011

Total Sperlonga

There are two famous Sperlongas in Italy.

One is the Sperlonga pictured above; the small whitewashed seaside town outside of Rome, where Emperor Tiberius built his grotto, that is currently a destination for sun-seeking holiday-goers.

The other is this Sperlonga, first name Lorenzo. A pin-up artist contributing to Heavy Metal and Hustler magazine. He painted the image above. Here's a link to his gallery, and more stunning art of stunning Amazonians.

Anyway, when you search Google images for 'Sperlonga', you get images of white sand beaches beneath a marble-encrusted hill, and scantily clad women of gravity-defying proportions toting weapons.

To separate fact from Sci-Fi/Fantasy: I will soon be on a white sand beach with a bikini-clad beauty, because my wife and I are going on holiday.

The reality is that she probably won't be riding a unicorn or a polar bear. But who knows, maybe I'll buy her a sword and some leather arm straps before we board the train.


18 August 2011

Marbles Anger Management

The Edinburgh Fringe experience is known to be a supremely taxing endurance test. In just one short week in the pressure cooker both Dave and I had highlight-reel rants at the unsuspecting.

Dave Enraged
Dave is one of the mellowest guys I know. He's also a pretty straight-shooter, as when, at the Meet the Media event, he finished his explanation of our show with the plain-spoken inquiry "Did you even give a fuck about anything I just said?" The critic was apparently taken well aback by his honesty. She did not review our show.

Dave's willingness to swear at the unsuspecting really hit a high mid-week. During his 'Manual of Style' show Conor O'Toole goes through audience-donated flyers and criticizes their font choices. Rob and I were sitting in the front row, and when he asked for some flyers I duly offered him a stack.

After some cutting remarks about a few of the flyers, Conor plucked the Marbles flyer out and mocked the 'pre-stressed font', before making some disparaging commments about improv in general.

After the show, while Rob and I were thanking Conor, Dave (who designed our flyers) thundered down from the back row and launched into a brief - but loud and filthy - fuck-filled tirade, before storming off. The last we saw of him was two upraised fingers as he was yanked backwards through the doorway by his girlfriend. There was no lack of commitment on any level.

Rob and I could not stop laughing all the way down the stairs. It was, without question, one of my favorite performances of the festival, cleverly blurring the line between truth, art and anger. I'm still not sure how pissed off he was at the critique, though there's no question that it provided a great outlet to vent some frustrations.

Ryan Lashes Out
The very next day I ended up doing, as usual, Roman Around, followed immediately by Marbles. That afternoon Dave, Rob and I battled rap act Sanity Valve, before having a freestyle session with them. Both sessions were on the Royal Mile, and attracted quite a crowd. After that I felt 'done' performance-wise. However, I had agreed to be in the improv pub quiz Fingers on Buzzards that evening. My state of mind was 'fraught' to the point of 'almost completely undone'.

The show itself went fine, if not spectacularly, until, as we were walking towards the finish, we made a pitstop at an unscheduled finale.

In the middle of a straightforward and meaningless improv game I interrupted proceedings to shout and swear at the audience for their slipshod and vindictive scoring. I called them all out collectively and then team by team, before threatening to leave with the old comedy chestnut "fuck all a y'all! I'm fucking outta here!" The bit killed, though I suspect it may have been ever-so-slightly terrifying for those of a delicate disposition.

I was gently cajoled back and finished the show without further incident. It may well have been my finest performance of the festival, as I too managed to blur the line between truth, art, and anger.

Afterwards I chalked the moment up to subverting the format of an improv show (which I think was an informed and intelligent choice), coupled with the need for there to be some sort of climax in the hour. But equally as important was the need to let off some steam. Mission accomplished!

Rob Keeps Cool
Rob did not lose his shit at all during the festival. I think this can be attributed to his character-inspired catchphrase "Spare me," which he used frequently when he was tired of some bullshit or other. In retrospect there's no question that it helped him maintain a detached air of equanimity.


16 August 2011

My Edinburgh 2011 - wrapped up


I'm back from the Edinburgh Fringe. And again it felt like I wandered off the train at Waverley, got sucked into a heaving vortex of blurry eyes, comedy gold dust, and draft beer, before touching down on the same platform, an indetermined number of days later, feeling most confused and wearing damp socks.

Fortunately I took some notes while I was there, so can comment on some of the things that happened.

Numbers Game

Days in Edinburgh: 10
Days in which it rained: All of them
Shows performed in: 17
Shows watched: 20
Smoothies ingested: 7
Beers drank: Many
Rap battles fought: 3
Cabaret performances: 2
Trips up Arthur's Seat: 0

5 Highlight Shows:

1. Pajama Men: Inexplicable, highly physical absurdist comedy. Just go.
2. Shamblehouse: Former Penny Dread David Reed's haunting and hilarious solo show.
3. Lady Cariad's Characters: Consummately acted dark and twisted character comedy.
4. Horne Section: Big band, big tent, rotating guests, a spinning wheel, plenty of laughs.
5. Mirazozo: Not a show so much as a big inflatable tent with trippy colours seeping in. Ideal Edfringe downtime (if you can handle relaxing while kids are having fun nearby).

Routine homelife:
Though our grip loosened over time, we started the week with the best of intentions and activities. This included morning writing sessions, followed by porridge, and finishing with some character exercises before we set off flyering.

Evenings consisted of some homemade meals. Including an amazing vegetarian chili (with yams), bangers and mash with red onion jus, and chicken breast with tomato/pesto sauce, mashed potatoes and green beans. We also recorded some freestyles, a podcast, and Dave and Rob even made a sketch comedy video.

However, it wasn't long before we slid down from Lords of the Manor to Lords of the Flies. Nobody's glasses got smashed, and we didn't kill anyone in a ritual frenzy, but we did go to bed pretty late. And slaughter a pig.

Rhyming straight off the top

Our flyering tactic was simple: Rob on ukelele and me and Dave freestyling about people in the street. It worked pretty well. And with this chorus, of course it would:

Come and see a show from these three guys/
An hour of stuff, all improvised/
On Hanover Street, at the Jekyll & Hyde/
Step inside, blow your minds, at 1:45/

We also did two cabaret shows. One with our friends from Music Box at C soco. And the other at Electric Circus with Eleanor Conway. As we sometimes do, we finished each set with a rap battle. At the Music Box Cabaret Dave was William Shakespeare and I was the other famous Will, William Shatner. I was thoroughly trounced.

I got my own back the next outing. Dave was Gandhi, and I was Hitler. With some cutting remarks and off-colour threats I was clearly victorious. Unfortunately when Hitler wins, nobody cheers.


So far, Marbles has not been reviewed, but a decent review of Roman Around came out in Three Weeks yesterday. I think I know which show the reviewer saw, as I remember one show dragging quite a bit. If that wasn't the show that she saw, then there's a bigger problem.

I really would've liked to see what a reviewer would make of Marbles, but there will be time for that.

Our shows

We did 8 shows in the basement of a gothic pub, in what could generously be called 'a venue entirely and completely unsuited to the performance at hand'. Fortunately we managed to make it work, utilizing the high banisters, horseshoe-shaped bar, thrusting steps and bizarre shape of the audience to feed our scenes.

Highlights of our run included a battle of the bands where both Dave and I sung (a first!), Dave's story of being an English teacher in Japan, a touching scene about an ambivalent lover and his teenage sweetheart, and the modern artists Sharkface and Wolfbits.

Doing so many shows in such a short period of time helped us define and refine what we do. It also gives us some license to ease back on our shows in the fall, pursue some more personal projects, do some more rehearsing, and just generally take our time getting this project to the next level.

Little known fact: there is also a calm after the storm.

Marbles at the end of our last show


15 August 2011

London Riots & Aftermath


The recent riots have shattered the image that Britain is OK. Because it's clearly fucking not OK.

The good news is Brits like complaining about things, and tutting - and these riots have given them far better reasons to complain than 'inclement weather' or 'underperforming football team'.

The downside (other than the damage and fear and so forth) is the potential for these riots to wreak sustained and lasting damage on people, families, public services, and society. A potential that the government is wasting no time acting upon.

Rioters (and their families) are being kicked out of their homes, and/or pushed off benefits. Some wannabe participants are being jailed for four years for making stupid facebook comments. The anger and fervour has switched sides - from rioters to the riotees - and being transmuted into profound and lasting changes.

Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine talks about "using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks ... to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy." And sure enough that's what's happening. Plans to cut funding to social programmes or give greater powers to the police can now continue as either: necessary to prevent another outbreak, or punishment for the rioting that has already occurred.

Not that I disagree on punishments being meted out for unjustifiable lawless thievery (on whatever social level it occurs) - because I think people sticking taxpayers with massive bills because they themselves wanted to indulge their misplaced sense of entitlement is just plain wrong.

But greater alienation of those already most willing to disregard social norms seems like a pretty short-sighted and narrow-minded plan. Especially as many of those people are already disconnected from support networks and socialization channels. And while you're at it, stripping funding to groups and institutions that those people rely on is unlikely to help in the long term.

Now I don't support yobs or yobbishness, nor do I think 'benefit recipient' should be a viable life plan, and yet, I can't help but feel that, riots or no riots, the re-engineering of society is being done entirely the wrong way.