Tuesday, 19 April 2016

1st big walk and a trip to the Stationer's...

Last week I completed my first big walk of the Bard-Walk training programme. Basically after 6 weeks of getting used to walking for 2 hours at a stretch I had to now increase to 4 hours.

So this took me from Woking to the ruined Woking Palace, Then I followed the River Wey all the way to Guildford, and then on to Shalford. In all 13.5 miles in 4 hours and 20 mins. Not bad! 4 of 9 days ways on the Bard-Walk will be of that length.

The first section was actually the hardest to navigate as access to Woking Palace is incredibly difficult! The ruin of the once popular royal palace is in the middle of nowhere and un-signposted.


The manor was made popular by Margaret Beaufort in the late 1400s and later enlarged by her son Henry VII and then his son Henry VIII. The latter was particularly fond of it as it sat in fabulous park land great for hunting. I didn't see any deer myself on Sunday but I did meet a heron who landed very majestically nearby. After Henry, the palace fell into decline and is now looked after by Friends of Woking Palace

Sunday's walk was also my first  'off-road' as 'twere...and so I had my trusty ordnance survey map in hand and faithfully trudged 'over hill, over dale', feeling like the First Fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The ground wasn't too boggy though I did have a couple of obstacles to navigate...

The National Trust Wey Navigtion is a beautiful walk and incredibly quiet - there will be a number of these stretches on the Bard-Walk - the solitude really does make you feel timeless.

...and such inspirational landscapes helped my learning of John of Gaunt's 'scepter'd isle' speech from Richard II. On 23 April H+GSC have been invited to provide the entertainment at Guildford's County Club annual St George's Day Dinner, and though part of the evening will be delivering a talk on Shakespeare and GSC, we'll be interspersing it with a few speeches, hence my needing to learn this one.

So often we talk of Shakespeare being timeless, and that he was, as Ben Jonson said in his eulogy, 'not of an age but for all time'. Part of Will's continuing popularity is that you can use his words for almost any occasion...learning Gaunt's speech I was surprised it hadn't been used by the 'leave Europe campaign'!! It talks of England being 'bound in by inky blots and rotten parchment bonds' - all those rules and regulations they talk about coming from Brussels sprang to mind! (I should say that I am not making a political statement here in anyway!). Great speech, and fabulous to speak it out loud to the local wildlife.

Actually speaking Will's words out loud is so freeing and enabling - I remember my teacher at A-level taking us out onto the playing fields to decry Hamlet's soliloquies - a wonderful experience, and showed us how you have to engage the whole body to speak these wonderful words.

Also last week GSC had a team in the City of London doing a corporate role-play for one of our loyal sponsors Charles Russell Speechlys. Absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare, but the venue we were in was Stationer's Hall, just under the shadow of St Paul's. Stationer's Hall is where all literary documents were once registered prior to publication, and this is where Will's plays and poems would have been registered...and indeed they had facsimiles of some of the the entries in the registers on display. This one is of the First Folio in 1623

The hall in which the conference took place was rather splendid and fittingly we were watched over by the man himself...

Incidentally, I walked (obviously!) back to Waterloo from Stationer's Hall and on the way passed through Playhouse Yard - the only reference to the site of the former Blackfriars Playhouse, purchased by Shakespeare's King's Men in 1608.

The next two weeks are a little bonkers at GSC HQ (Eagle Radio Awards, Will's Will at Hatchlands, Holy Trinity Wine Tasting charity event, Sonnet Walk Weekend, St George's Dinner, Toast of Surrey Awards, Cymbeline...and all the day to day stuff of course!), so my next update may be a little time in coming...thanks for reading everyone, and for your continued support.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Can you learn German without ever speaking it?

...or learn how to play tennis without ever picking up a racket? Or maybe our next generation of scientists don't have to complete actual experiments in class in order to understand how materials work?....

Certainly this would seem to be the case if we are to follow the latest changes by examination boards OCR and AQA on GCSE Drama, whereby students do not have to visit the theatre in order to study the subject.

Of course my suggestions above are absolutely rubbish, and I am sure if you were to put the above argument to them, they would say that you are being ridiculous...but then so is their ludicrous assertion that drama students don't HAVE to see live theatre in order to study it.


Ask any one in our industry why they do the job do and 99% of them will say it is because they were inspired by a live performance they saw - quite possibly during their teenage years when one is forming one's views of the world and where one sits in it.

I know that all the live theatre performances I saw impacted on me - in fact the first was the Sooty Show, and though I cried all the way through it and my parents had to take me out because I was disturbed by the number of people in one place, and seeing what I had grown used to on TV was suddenly real, I was affected by the experience. Now though that might suggest a negative first experience, it actually bears out the collective nature of live theatre - what I probably wasn't able to understand was how all 400 people were there for one collective experience.

Years later I went to the RSC (just down the road from home) to The Taming of the Shrew and found it one of the driest and longest experiences of life up to that point...but then two years later I went again to see the same play and the experience could not have been more different - I was on the edge of my seat, laughing my head off and engaged with every moment on stage. I was intrigued as to how the same words and story could be so different and require such a different emotional and cerebral reaction from me. Only live theatre can do this.

The variety of theatre I was taken to see whilst at school was huge - we went locally in Worcester (when it had a rep company) as well as to Manchester, London, Stratford, Tewkesbury, Bromsgove, Ludlow, Kidderminster - some very small theatres with only studio spaces - but the range of theatre I was exposed to was amazing, and informed my understanding of it, of me and the world around me.

...and going to the theatre is what inspired me to be part of this industry - I remember thinking what power those on stage had over us watching - they effected us - made me think differently, made me laugh and cry - and I thought, I want to be able to do that - it was so empowering...and it's not just what happens on stage - I remember how magical the theatre buildings were - the history of the place; like churches, theatres have seen so many lives and stories played out - again, a collective experience which is not the same as a sanitised cinema.

Part of learning about theatre and drama is therefore the act of theatre-going - which is a commitment. At home we can pause tv or a film, make a cup of tea, if we get bored we can turn it off - the same happens in the cinema - people chat and move about. Theatre-going demands a commitment, an agreement that you enter into with the performers, stage management teams and your fellow audience members to make the experience happen. Already we in the theatre business have to deal mobile phones, photographs and talking, how much harder is it going to be when young people have not learnt 'how' to watch theatre if they have never been?

I have only seen one cinema-screened theatre performance, and I have to say, that although I was impressed by the quality of the filming, I was left cold by the experience of it. I do appreciate that live screenings can allow people to see performances that they might not be able to see because they sell out or because they live in a remote part of the country, or indeed to see a London show if you live in Dundee is going to cost a fortunate in associated spending, BUT they should not replace the live experience...and that is what this new legislation promotes. The previous examination guidelines said that students had to see 'at least one' live performance - one!!! Surely during 24 months of a course it is possible to arrange to see one live performance?

Drama has battled for years to be taken seriously as a subject at school and just when it is, this new ruling is in danger of undermining it. It certainly doesn't help when the Education Secretary says things like "Arts subjects limit career choices" - argh!!!!!

As Rachel Tackley from ETT says in the first article above, theatre companies are constantly bending over backwards to encourage young people into theatres and to see theatre. In our own experience at GSC, we are committed to nurturing the audiences of tomorrow, but in order to provide cheaper tickets to attract them, budgets are effected and great consideration has to be made about how many tickets you can make available - especially hard when those companies (like GSC) are not subsidised or commerical.

The impact that this decision has for Drama GCSE will not just have a longer term impact on the child - that you don't need to go to the theatre (just like you don't need to read the book, just watch the film) - but also from a funding and investment point of view. One of the reasons funding is made available to theatre companies, or businesses want to invest in the work they do, is to engage more with young people. If the message is that these young people don't have to go then surely this finance will be deemed unnecessary.

Of course there are extenuating circumstances where young people cannot get to live theatre, and indeed I know from experience that teachers find it hard to organise trips to the theatre because there are nowadays so much paperwork and red tape about organising such a trip, but what is worrying is that this is a small step, which if left unchecked as modern technology advances, could be detrimental to the future of our industry and people's view of it.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox now...yesterday's walk was very nice thank you very much and I even made some new friends on the way!!

One bit of fabulous news this week was the discovery of another First Folio in a library on the Isle of Bute. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35973094

With only 230 copies in existence (it is assumed), and this being the second in 2 years to be rediscovered, it is really exciting to think what else might be discovered. 

Writing my lecture for 20 April on Will's will, it is clear that we actually know a lot about Shakespeare from legal and business documents, but of course it is his personal feelings and thoughts that we know so little about. There are no letters or journals we know of and he rarely appears in the papers of others, which cannot help but lead us to the conclusion that William was an intensely private man - and though we must not see this lack of personal information from a 21st Century point of view where we keep diaries, write blogs (!), tweet and make public all our thoughts - it would certainly suggest (until more evidence is found) that he did indeed keep his cards close to his chest...which perhaps is not such a strange thing after all. 

"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement...
This above all: to thine ownself be true"

Polonius to his son Laertes (Hamlet)

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The inspirational (and a little bit mad) Mr Izzard

I have just watched Eddie Izzard's incredible achievement of 27 marathons in 27 days...suffice to say I am speechless as to how the human body AND mind can survive such endurance.

As a non-athelete, to complete such a huge challenge is really inspiring. The pain and mental exhaustion needed to finish those 27 days was staggering...but I guess a profound belief in your cause, yourself and the will power of a rhino is what it takes.

Now obviously I'm not undertaking anything as huge as what Eddie Izzard has just done - my adventure equates to just over 5 and half marathons in 9 days - but I was struck by the psychological impact his challenge had on him. Not necessarily the knowing you were only half way or had only completed an hour, but rather the way your body and brain literally have minds of their own - they work together to help each other out. So when the body has had enough of something it tells the brain this, and the brain kind of gives the body the 'ok' signal to stop...however, the human bit of us that takes over tries to override the brain, to tell it to keep going...crumbs I'm starting to sound like one of those science presenters on Radio 4!

I guess though that is something which usually in our everyday lives we don't need to worry about -it is only when we put ourselves under pressure do we realise that our bodies do that, and as such it can't actually be trained for. For me I'm not hitting those barriers at them moment, and the feet are holding up very well, but one of the most excruciating moments was at the end of one of Eddie's marathons where his calves were in so much pain that they felt like they were on fire, and even water couldn't cool them down. That is extreme endurance.

My longest days are 25 and 24 miles on days 6 and 8, so I'll never be doing an entire marathon in one day. At the moment my training days are just one 2hr walk per week (plus two 30 mins walks). Currently these are proving very easy and enjoyable. In 3 weeks time my training programme steps up a gear and I have to do back to back 4 hour walks - and I envisage that is when I will start to feel the real impact of my challenge, both mentally and physically.

Though I'm rather glad that I won't be encountering lions in the Cotswolds and needing a ranger with a rifle to walk alongside me, as Eddie did!! Perhaps just the odd badger with a headache...

This week's training walk was a cold one. I hadn't done one so early before and though it was 1 April, the temperature was only 3C.

But as you can see, what a beautifully crisp and clear morning it was. However, knowing the sun was out and that usually by the time I reach the 75 minute mark I am well warmed up (and heading for a day in the office) I elected to wear a little less clothing (no gloves either)...let's just I walked a little faster.

I am really enjoying getting to know the A320 - its quiet bits (there are some!), its woods and streams...there is actually a surprisingly large amount of countryside between Guildford and Woking, which is a very pleasant surprise. I am also enjoying 'Shakespeare's Restless World' on the iPlayer - first broadcast in 2012, these are 15 minute episodes considering Shakespeare's world in the context of specific objects.

Today's stats:
distance 11.23 km (6.9 miles)
time 1 hr 45mins
steps 13,499 (don't know why they tell you this!)

A huge thank you to everyone who has sponsored my walk so far - we'll release an update of the total raised so far very shortly. It really is inspiring that so many people believe in GSC and want to support us. THANK YOU.

The final word today I will leave to the man who inspired Eddie Izzard, Nelson Mandela; a quote which now hangs on the wall in the GSC office:

"It always seems impossible until it's done"