Kirsty Mealing – Director

MealingWhat’s better than having a 14/48 script to direct? Having 2 14/48 scripts to direct. This is what happened to Kirsty Mealing on the first day as writer Matt Beames submitted 2 scripts.

Just before the first performance on Friday night we caught up with Mealing to see what it’s like to have a choice of two scripts. But first we find out how things have gone.

“It’s gone really well…” Then as an aside she says, “it’s scary.” This is a stark opposite to Hannah Torrance who felt directing was easier. Mealing is a veteran actor at 14/48 but for this festival she was a virgin director. It turns out her biggest concern was about the technical aspects. “I’m so used to being on the acting side where you don’t have to think much about it.” She has gone from standing in the light to deciding where the lights shine.

But what about having to choose between 2 scripts. Probably the first time a 14/48 director has done this. “Tonight’s play is about three women who have woken up after a heavy night. The other one was post-apocalyptic and medieveal feel to it. I think this is because Beamsey writes so well in that language. He’s very poetic.” It turns out this other script was the easier one because it would have been very minimal. So why would Mealing choose a more difficult script?

“A challenge but also it’s something we’ve not seen Beamsey to do as much. And I think he was particularly eager to show the full range of what he can do. I know he can do it and I kind of want it for me because either way it’s going to be cool and a nice challenge. But also I think it’s good for the audience to see a different side to Beamsey.”

This charitable nature sums up 14/48 and the people who take part. You can’t help but well up a little when you hear such things.

The First Performance

It is close to showtime cast and crew are scattered around the Y. The design team, dressed all in black like set building ninjas congregate backstage. The band and tech team are in place. The actors either wait backstage or upstairs in the Y’s glorious balcony.

Amongst them you can feel the energy. They sit in their groups. Many are running lines. Making last minute checks all is well. Some sit alone. Eyes closed like meditating monks. Their lips mouthing silent words.

The house lights plummet and we are off.

Blogging means I am an audience member. I’m not emotionally invested in a particular script. I can sit back and watch the plays.

It is a wonderful night of theatre. Even though the design team said they had a “lot of offices” the plays are diverse. As they race through actors disappear and reappear in the balcony. Silent high fives and thumbs up are given.

There are also some dipped heads and humourless and painful smiles. Mistakes have been made. Some actors have fluffed lines.

The important thing is, as an audience member, I didn’t know.

It shows the commitment of these performers. 24 hours previously these plays did not exist. The scripts only reached their hands 11 hours ago. Even so, they want it to be perfect and now they sit there beating themselves up. The point has to be made again… As an audience member, I didn’t know mistakes had happened. And if anything, you’d expect mistakes. This is a monumental task to take on for all concerned. Mistakes will happen because we’re human and not robots. It was a great show which everyone produced in less than 24 hours. Let’s say this… Well done. Seriously… Well done. Fucking well done. You deserve each and every bit of praise coming to you. All of you.

A theme is drawn for the following night. The theme is, “In the mood”. The writers disappear while cast and crew prepare for another performance.

Seeing the difference between the 8pm and 10.30pm performance proves you should come to both. The performers are more relaxed. The comedy ramps up a level and new lines are thrown in. They get hugh laughs and you also see the performers struggling to hold it together. It’s like challenges have been set to make people corpse.

And emotion cranks up a level as well. No, it’s alright. I’ve just got something in my eye.

Then it is half past midnight and the show is over. Everyone is low on sleep but high on adrenalin.

We have to do it all again tomorrow.

I can’t wait.

Dave Pitt
​6th May 2017. 07:54

Hannah Torrance – Director

Torrance.pngSome days you are pigeon. Some days you are a statue. What day is it when you have to direct Neil Reading in a fat suit?

Natalie Beech’s script called for a man of much girth but the Cup of Androgyny brought forth nought but the sleight of waist. None of this has phased Hannah Torrance in the slightest. “It’s quite a chilled first day.” She explained how they read through with everyone trying the different characters. Only once did it feel right. “Because it’s such a wordy play we’ve just been line running and line running.”

Watching her direct shows the deft touch she has. She’s happy to let things go and give gentle nudges on the steering wheel to bring things back towards her vision. Usually she is writing for 14/48 and finds the directing much more relaxed. But surely directing is dealing with everyone’s problems.

“I don’t feel like that. I go to the design team and say ‘I’d like this’ and they go either yes or no and you accept it. Then you do the same with the tech team. And then you tell the actors what to do and sometimes they come up and go, ‘Or… what about this?’ And you go yes that’s chuffing beautiful let’s run with that. So it feels like I’ve done not a lot.”

But Torrance can pretend it’s all been plain sailing. We need to know about the true horrors of 14/48. Neil Reading in a fat suit.

“He’s enjoying it a bit too much. I’ve sent Sue (Reading’s partner) a picture and said ‘I think you need to come mentally prepared to see your future’.” When Reading does get past puberty and acheives this new level of midrift girth he will be a happy man.

“I’m can’t decide what’s more disturbing,” says Torrance. “If it’s when he’s absentmindedly rubbing his belly or if it’s when I walk back into the room and he starts rubbing his moobs.”

Dave Pitt
5th May 2017. 16:25.

They Even Make East 17 Bearable

BandSitting atop a riser at the side of the stage is the 14/48 band. 6 individuals surrounded by instruments, notebooks and cables. Stuart Reid walks in and asks about the tunes. The band nod and notes are sung. Chords are struck. It’s haphazard while they find the notes then it drops into place. Did this band really come together last night? They seem completely at ease with each other and tight as the skin on Dave’s drum.

It’s not just music. There are also sound effects. They discuss ideas as Will Horspool tats on a electronic gizmo. Dials are twisted and sound effects appear. In Will’s hands the box moves from being a telephone, to an alarm and to a button in a lift. Like the tightness of this thrown together group, the only explanation is witchcraft.

And then, sound effects decided, they burst into song. The vocal harmonies bounce around the room.

They sound beautiful.

East 17 never sounded so good. So good in fact, I don’t feel the need to leave immediately and vomit in a bucket.

It takes a special kind of talent to stop such a natural reaction to an East 17 song.

Dave Pitt.
5th May 2017. 13:15

More Rehearsals

2nd Rehearsal.pngThrough another maze of corridors in the Y is The Percy Barratt room. Inside, chairs are assembled to represent a life raft. Georgia Penney, Perdita Lawton and Samantha Hobson sit inside this makeshift dinghy. Alex Turner (Not that one) stands to the side. They run through the script. It’s apparent they are lines from the script but also improvised ideas. All done with the blessing of writer, Michael Southan.

Already the actors are able to knock through sections without looking at the lines. There is an occasional glance at lines and the odd fumble. But this is 8 hours from show time. They’ll be fine.

After the run through they talk about ideas for opening and closing songs. It’s amazing to watch as these ideas pop up and get added to. The room fills with laughter.

It is wonderful to see creatives set free. It might be a tight schedule but it seems to open people up as opposed to close them down.

Director Stuart Reid, issues some final instructions about what to work on and then disappears to talk to the band.

I follow. The band… Of course… Let’s see the Band.

Dave Pitt.
5th May 2017. 12:20

A Relaxed Design Team

Design Team (Designius Tu Povet) is a lifeform made of many species living co-operatively. They exist to create sets and props for 14/48.

The natural enemy of Designius Tu Povet is Davud Pittus. A writer who deliberately sets plays in strange locations in the hope of forcing Designius Tu Povet into crying salt water tears of despair.

Sadly, Davus Pittus hasn’t written scripts this year and instead is writing these words which are in your face now. This is the only explanation for why the design team are sitting on wing back chairs looking relaxed.

“The directors have asked for a lot of simple and achieveable stuff,” said Pove while giving herself a back rub. “We’ve got a lot of offices and chairs.”

When “A Righteous Quest” was drawn as a theme it must have sent a shiver down their spine. “We’re going to need shields… swords…”

Dora pipes up, “So many people went for office. How did they go from quest to office?”

Daisy offers a theory. The writers have all gone, “anti-cliche”. This makes sense. Writing classes will often say, “Your first idea is what everyone will do. Your second idea is what the smart kids will do. The third idea is what you’ll do.”

So it appears the writers have all gone, “no woodlands, swords or shields” but mostly ended up in “offices”. Maybe the writers are a Gestalt Entity, communicating on some ethereal plain even they are unaware of.

Whatever happened, we have a relaxed design team. Designius Tu Povet sit around, relaxed. Davus Pittus skulks away. The lumbering mass passes writer Michael Southan. “We need a writers’ meeting tonight. That (pointing to a relaxed design team) cannot happen again.”

Dave Pitt (Angry)
5th May 2017. 11:58

Rehearsals #1

Rehearsal.pngThe rehearsals for day one have started. Two groups (Play 5 and Play 7) have been assigned the sports hall. This is a journey into the bowels of the Y through a maze of corridors. You can’t help screaming, “HELLO CLEVELAND.”

The two groups sit in circles in the sports hall, their worlds separated by a net. They essentially do table reads of the script. Shaun Hartman, somehow still awake, sits in on his script. He is asked questions and find energy from somewhere to answer them.

Suddenly one side of the sports hall bursts into life. Hannah Torrance has got her actors on their feet. As she collects chairs her actors start doing can can kicks. Part of me hopes the kicks are in the script. Another part hopes they’re just doing it for shits and giggles.

In the other half the actors burst into a rendition of Love Shack and I can’t help but smile.

Then as quickly as the energy rose, it drops again. Highlighters draw across scripts. Small discussions break out. Then people rise. Drop again. A constant ebb and flow of high energy and concentration. As each second ticks over, you feel the performances come together. Like a child has dumped Lego bricks in a huge pile in front of the television. But now is assembling them into a model of a DNA Sequence.

In Torrance’s group two actors burst into an East 17 song. It is time to leave them.

Goodbye Cleveland.

Dave Pitt
5th May 2017. 11:18

Shaun Hartman – Writer

ShaunIt is just before 9am on Friday morning and Shaun Hartman doesn’t look like a writer who hasn’t slept in over 26 hours. This is the first time Shaun has written for 14/48. His script was submitted just over an hour before the deadline.

The debut word pile is about a band given an opportunity to sell out or stick to their principals.

“I’d written it as a comedy but with a somewhat cynic and nihilistic rant at the end. But then I was very conscious of the fact mine was play number 7 and I wanted to end it on an upbeat note.”

This is a fine balancing act writers have to tread. Not just considering what they want to say in a piece but also where their piece lies in the running order of the night. The first play is like a MC in a comedy club. They come out to set the scene and warm the audience up. A first play which hits the marks can help the others fly higher. The beats in the last play ring out as the audience head home.

Shaun’s play requires a song to play at the end. He says he hasn’t specified what this song would be. “But if it was up to me it would be Love Shack but that’s because it’s my answer to everything.”

We agree Love Shack is easily one of the top three songs ever written.

Last night, after the drawing of the theme, many of the company hit the pub. Sitting in the group were Shaun and fellow writer Matt Beames. Other writers had disappeared but these two hung out in a drinking establishment, notepad in hand. With such a tight deadline why would a writer go to the pub to hang out?

“I had some ideas in the Y when the theme first came out when I was around people. I got a lot of ideas from mingling with people.” He explained further, “If I’ve got absolutely nothing and I go into a hotel room by myself then I don’t trust myself to come up with anything.”

So the pub was an oasis of inspiration. Or was it?

“I was in this weird position where I ccouldn’t quite enjoy myself but I couldn’t sit down and write. I probably should have left a little earlier.”

To anyone who has written, particularly for 14/48, this is a common thread. If you find inspiration you cling to it for dear life. It takes you a while to realise if the inspiration has morphed into a weight on your shoulders and is holding you back.

It is to be expected Shaun will collapse from lack of sleep at any moment but he remains chatty and upbeat. This energy probably comes from the nervousness of what will follow.

“The adrenalin is still going because I don’t know who my director or cast are.” Come 10am he will probably crumple into a heap where he is standing.

So is Shaun happy with the script?

“I’m definitely not unhappy with it because whatever happens it’s my first script for 14/48, I handed it in on time and it’s done so fuck it.” Director Hannah Torrence is nearby and she spins around. “That is genuinely the only criteria for the script. Come 9 o’clock it’s one of our problems.”

There is a chorus of approval. Shaun’s script was chosen by fellow Wolfpacker Fran Richards. They have discussed the script and we await the actors draw. Shaun sits back in his chair, his arm propping up his head. He might not make 10am.

Dave Pitt
5th May 2017. 09:45

The First Company Meeting

There was speculation this would be a dry festival. The speculation was wrong. A group of Wolverhampton layabouts descended on Leicester for 14/48. They all arrived by 2pm. This left the group with a few hours to kill which were killed in a pub. At 19:26 as we wait for the company meeting to start a group of us are already succumbing to alcohol poisoning. But it’s all good. Nothing to worry about.

Inside the Y the groups gather. Veterans, those who have done the festival before hug and share tales of what they’ve been doing. Virgins, taking part in their first festival, follow a veteran they know like a puppy or sit nervous. Wondering what they’ve let themselves in for. But another veteran will quickly be upon them. Reassuring words will be passed on. This is 14/48. Mutual love and support in abundance.

Bob Christer leads the faithful and the new followers into the fold. We have a light show, a powerpoint presentation and a beer keg. A theme is picked.

As a writer on 14/48 I’ve experienced the nervousness which is the drawing of the theme. On this night I sit back. I only have to walk the General’s dog miles away from the front line. Next to me is Jess Green… writer… front line soldier. She looks pensive. As if she’s about to go on a white knuckle ride for the first time. A look I recognise. The look of a writer waiting for the theme. Hoping and praying for something with scope, life and inspiration.

Bob shouts the theme…

A righteous quest.

In what seems like seconds the groups are split. Writers stand in front of the stage. They talk about journeys.

Does anyone have any ideas?

There are nods around the group. “Yes,” one says, “But we’re not telling you.”

That is understandable. Ideas at this stage are not for sharing. They are for mulling over. Things have to be worked out. Considered.

On stage are the actors. They stand in a circle and a veteran advises them on what they should bring next day. No one is sure what the writers will deliver and in the air seems to hang implications and ideas.

The design team sit around a  table. They talk about some of the things they have access to. No one says what they think the writers or directors will deliver but they second guess while being vague.

The directors sit around another table. A veteran speaks. “Pick one or two things which you make big. Make the rest subtle.” It’s good advice. Tomorrow they pick a script and have to start putting together a show.

Slowly the writers disperse to their houses and hotel rooms. No doubt cups of coffee will be drunk while stress lines grow on the forehead.

Everyone else mingles. We’re 23 hours away from show time. At 9am tomorrow morning we see what the writers have produced.

The energy in the room sparkles. The tapped keg is hit. 7 writers write. A whole lot of people prepare and bask in the love of their fellow creatives.

14/48. There is nothing like it.

“Excuse me, the men in the giant balloon are annoying me.”

On Tuesday night I sat in the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton and watched a grown man dress as a 1920’s bather, lube himself up and then climb inside a green balloon.

Just take a second to let the previous sentence sink in.

This “performance” was done under the auspices of art and theatre.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday night I will be sharing a hotel room with said balloon inhabiter as we are both taking part in the Leicester festival.

So far I have seen the distended rubber dweller Alex Turner (Not that one) do anti-comedy, develop a theatre piece which results in the audience helping to create the best action film ever and saw him climb into a huge green balloon. He is probably as close to Vivian Stanshall as I’ll ever get. All of these things have been utterly brilliant and resulted in much giggle juice falling from my seeing baubles rendering them next to useless.

Alex Turner (Not that one) is also tea-total, an amazing actor and sports a physique even Johnny McClean would have to say was impressive. Quite what he’s doing sharing a hotel room with is unfathomable but also the plot to a semi-successful BBC4 sitcom. I will be played by Johnny Vegas and Alex Turner (Not that one) played by Michael Fassbender in a green balloon. Critics would draw parallels to his performance in Frank. This says all you need to know about critics.

Alex Turner (Not that one) has been encouraged to bring the balloon along to 14/48. I have thought about the minimum amount of alcohol I would have to consume before thinking it would be a good idea for me to get inside the balloon. It’s a shockingly low amount. Only a couple of extra beers or a shot of gin would convince me it was a good idea to get in the balloon with Alex Turner (Not that one). I mentioned this to writer and walking facial topiary model Matt Beames who is staying in the same hotel. He reckons there will be a commotion outside his room. He will look outside and see a huge green balloon bouncing down the corridor with two grown men laughing inside. Even if this doesn’t happen Beamsey owes it to 14/48 folklore to say it did.

And this is a crucial point of 14/48. It’s not just about the stories which make up the 14 world premier plays delivered in 48 hours. It’s also about the stories of the participants and what they get up to. It’s about the morning breakfasts in chain pubs. It’s about racing across town to source swimming hats. It’s about climbing security fences to escape halls of residence at 6.30am on Sunday morning because you got locked in.

Sometimes what happens off stage is weirder than what happens on stage. So when a traveller in a local complains about a huge green balloon upsetting their sleep it might be an idea to check if it’s 14/48 weekend.

Dave Pitt
4th May 2017. 8:16