Zooming Towards Brighton … Slowly! Part 1

The road to Brighton (and beyond) has been a long one … and relatively slow, with lots of twists, turns, the odd blank road-sign and a surprisingly large amount of rain. For those who know nothing about our production of The Sagas of Noggin the Nog here is a bit of history; for those who do, a recap.

800px-Theatre_Royal_Brighton

The view that Noggin will have at Theatre Royal Brighton

 

 

In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long … Tony Gleave and Clive Holland sat and plotted. They talked of producing a piece of theatre that was genuinely for families, indeed, genuinely for the old and the young and everyone in between. Earlier in the day they had wandered along the beach in Margate and had become excited by the mention of Noggin the Nog. And now, with the odd bottle of beer and a salty snack, they talked long into the night.

Noggin the Nog enthrals the average British family

Noggin the Nog enthrals the average British family

A Noggin Note: The Sagas of Noggin the Nog was an iconic television series that began in the 1950s by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate (Bagpuss, The Clangers, Ivor the Engine, etc); it was shown on the BBC.

As the beer evaporated and the talk became more animated … they began to plot and plan. They met up with Peter Firmin and Dan Postgate (son of Oliver) and asked if they could have the rights to produce a play: yes … oh joy! They were fortunate to receive a small grant from Arts Council England and collected a coterie of creative people … designers, directors, puppeteers, musicians, actors and put them all in a room at the same time. This they called “The Research and Development Stage”. They spent almost two weeks getting nowhere … and a couple of days working out what they should have been doing in the days when they were getting nowhere.

John Wright wonders if jumping from a fifth storey window will improve matters.

John Wright wonders if jumping from a fifth storey window will improve matters.

By the end of “The Research and Development Stage” they had a good idea of how they were going to make the play. And so, some months later, with a two week run at The New Diorama, London, planned, and a short tour organised, “The Research and Development Stage” became “The Rehearsal stage”.

During “The Rehearsal Stage” puppets were designed and built, costumes created, music and songs written, video of the original films of Firmin and Postgate was created, a script developed and, eventually, a piece of theatre called “The Sagas of Noggin the Nog” was born. Oh, how happy they all were. A two week run at The New Diorama, was followed with a short tour of theatres large and arts centres small.

Dragon in Van

Groliffe the Ice Dragon gets the best seat in “The Nogbulance”

They bought an old ambulance to tour around the country like the travelling players of yore; it was very quickly renamed “The Nogbulance” (more of this later). They travelled north, south, east and west. They drank dreadful and outrageously expensive coffee, they had more curries than was wise, they slept in hard beds, soft beds, beds that were too small, beds that were as big as Wembley Stadium, they drank beer of every region and … they performed “The Play” to thousands of people young and old and everything in between. The tour was deemed, by all and sundry, a huge success. Venues loved it, audiences loved it, the media loved it, we loved it but … by the end of the tour and despite “The Play” being highly regarded, their bank account stood at forty-three pounds twenty-seven! “The Touring Stage” is terribly expensive and despite brilliant audience numbers (most venues sold out), they struggled to make it pay.

For those of you who are artists ... this is what money looks like

For those of you who are artists … this is what money looks like

All went quiet for a while. This they called “The Quiet Stage”. Tony Gleave and Clive Holland sat long into the night and ummed and aahed. They knew that the play was good. They knew that people wanted to see it. They knew that there must be a way to make it a viable proposition. They drank more beer. They ate more salty snacks. They went for a curry. They became quite depressed. They worked on other projects. Then … one day, Tony Gleave said to Clive Holland, “Why don’t we take it to the Edinburgh Festival?”

“Because it is terribly expensive and we only have forty-three pounds twenty-seven.”

“Yes … but we do have credit cards!”

Thus began the “We Have Found a Whole New Way to Lose Money Stage” otherwise known as the “Edinburgh Festival Stage Stage”.

They found a venue. They filled in the forms. They re-created the play to fit into a one hour slot. They had thousands of fliers and posters printed. They found somewhere to stay. They ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise money. They went to Edinburgh. The first two days were beautiful sunshine. They had been lulled into a false sense of security. The rest of the month it rained. It was windy. And it rained. And it was cold. And it rained. And their venue was a tent! A beautiful theatre tent. A tent with a wooden floor. A tent with wooden walls. A tent with a canvas roof!

The wooden walled, wooden floored, canvas roofed but beautiful theatre tent

The wooden walled, wooden floored, canvas roofed beautiful theatre tent

They had arrived to discover that one of their boxes of leaflets had … disappeared, that their digs were not as large or as plush as they had been led to believe. They were happy though because they were at the “Edinburgh Festival Stage Stage” … and then the rain came.

As we are almost as far from Brighton as we can be and yet still be in the UK, there will be another post to continue the story. The next part of this post shall be intelligently called “Zooming Towards Brighton … Slowly! Part 2” and will appear soon … do pop back!

 

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Post Edinburgh Debrief … number 1.

We’ve been debriefing …

Debriefing 1

… following our truly successful and incredibly tiring trip to the Edinburgh Festival we, the intrepid band of Nogs, have been debriefing to discover what we did, what we failed to do, whether we achieved what we wanted to achieve and, most importantly, where we go next!

For all those of you who helped us financially on our Kickstarter campaign, all those who came to see the show, those who sent messages of support, those who helped in various other ways, we have decided … we have enough possible/probable and improbable venues who want to book the show, that we’re touring next year! Huzzah! So thank you all!

Dragon in Van

Groliffe, the charming and slightly scary Ice Dragon will once again have to be coaxed into the van, as will the aged (well, three aged and one still young enough to be moist from the womb) performers, who, with aching limbs, loose skin and morals to match will moan and grumble about the price of service station coffee, the price of diesel, the price of … well, just about everything but … into the van they will get.

There is, of course, a huge amount of work to do before then. Putting together a tour is not an easy thing; for a start, everyone seems to want the same dates, and those who don’t, want dates next to another venue that is the other end of the country. We have to try and avoid the alphabetical tour: Monday Aberdeen, Tuesday Brighton, Wednesday Carlisle, Thursday Devizes … you get the picture. And then there are some venues that really, really, really want us but because they have a small seating capacity, they can’t afford us. We also have to make sure that the prime times, which with a family show, seem to be half term and weekends … that we are in the bigger venues where more people can get to see it; apart from anything else it makes financial sense for us.

Lighthouse Stage 1

Places like the Lighthouse Theatre, Poole, for instance has hundreds of seats, and when we were there last year, we filled quite a lot of them; this meant a good income for the theatre and for us too. It is so ridiculously expensive to tour these days. I don’t want to bore you but … five people on the road equals five wages, five sets of per deums, five hotel rooms … and then there’s the aforementioned diesel, the print runs of posters, flyers, programmes, and the insurance, the photographer, the venue booker, the PR, the … the … the … it goes on and on. So, in order to put together a tour, we have to be clever (not normally our strong suit), we have to be able to drive a hard bargain (again, we’re too nice), we have to be able to turn bookings down (really, really not easy when you’ve spent your whole life trying to get the ruddy things), we have to be grown-up and businesslike …

ThorNogson and Noggin

ThorNogson and Noggin

… do they appear to be grown-up businesslike to you?

Well, actually we are … though we do have a tendency to fall back to our default setting which is … “you can’t afford it? Never mind … we’ll see what we can do …” which usually ends up that we take a bit of a financial hit but the show is so important to us, that we want everyone who wants to see it, see it! And money is only money!

Money

For those of you who are artists; this is what money looks like.

So, watch this space over the coming months and we’ll keep you up to date with how the preliminary work (sounds exciting, doesn’t it) is coming along and as soon as we have definite dates and venues all booked in we’ll put that up too!

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh Diary Number … 4

Nogs in the Rain 1

There is a bit of a theme here as you can see … the theme is moisture … quite cold moisture coming from the sky! And quite a lot of it!

Yesterday (Sunday 10th August) there was a huge amount of it; it seeped down necks, into shoes and up careless sleeves. Just as we were about to do our get-in for todays show, which we have to do in about fifteen minutes, the heavens opened, the sky cracked and the thunder thundered. Loudly! We splashed through water with barrels and boxes, puppets and props. We paddled across the stage and slipped and skidded like swans on an ice covered lake as we tried to lift the main part of our set. There was a waterfall coming through the centre of the roof … just where we put one of our two projectors. A message was sent and received and within two minutes two of the Assembly team turned up with a ladder (we had the same problem a few days ago which I think I’ mentioned in the Edinburgh Diary a while ago). One of the team shinned up a ridiculously tall ladder and armed with bits of material and gaffer tape, staunched the flow. The space was mopped, the projectors set and turned on and in came the audience.

It is a funny thing when there is a bit of a panic: a Dunkirk spirit seems to enter all involved. The first two minutes of the performance were quite difficult because of the unbelievable noise coming from the roof of the tent. The tent has wooden sides, a wooden floor and a canvas roof with a little dome on the top which acts as a vent to let hot air escape … it also, apparently, lets in wind blown water. The canvas roof performs a little like a drum … with us and the audience sitting inside it. So the first few minutes of the play sounded as though three hundred Ginger Bakers were belting away at a snare-drum. We talked very loudly and added a few little jokes in about the noise, water, etc. The audience, which was a remarkably large audience for such a miserable day, hunkered down in their seats and decided to go with us and enjoy whatever happened next.

Nogbad Spies

Nogbad the Bad looks for where the next wave of rain will come from!

Monday … we had a day off. The first for a few weeks. I had intended to do all sorts of things … I did nothing but read a book, watch a black and white film or two, doze and eat. I was a tired bunny and the weather wasn’t that conducive to going out and having fun. It was the first time in weeks that I’ve managed to have a really lazy day. I did, after a couple of small glasses of beer at The Caley Sample Room, start to think about theatre, other projects, re-inventing one’s self, searching for new audiences, finding new ways of doing things, and on and on … this is, I think, one of the exciting things about coming to the Edinburgh Fringe. There are so many people up here doing great things that it makes you want to create new work, and little conversations here and odd visual stimuli there begin to get your creative juices flowing and, more importantly, make you question your own methods and ways of working. All kinds of new thoughts came rushing in … these are still going round and round my head today.

Tuesday 12th August … funnily it rained again today … and the wind blew but still we had a lovely and quite big audience, which for a wet Tuesday was very pleasing. Tony and I then went to a discussion about touring theatre for young people internationally at the Summerhall venue. It was interesting though I’m not sure I learned a great deal that was new … but it was great to meet other practitioners and talk about each others work over a glass or two. So thank you to all at Imaginate and the others on the discussion panel.

Tomorrow is another day … and another wet day I suspect, though it has been promised that the rain will be warmer tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh Diary Number 2

Queen G and Ignora

I thought I’d start with a picture of Queen Grunhilde the Lazy One and her trusty maid, Ignora, for no other reason than I quite like it … as indeed do lots of Edinburgh people now. We had a lovely performance today (Monday 4th August) with almost a full-house. The flyering is paying off perhaps. But … I’m rushing into things … I haven’t told you about Saturday yet … the trouble is there is so much happening up here, so many things going on all around us … I can’t remember a thing about Saturday. Oh, I went to see a show at Assembly Roxy … but I didn’t enjoy it so I won’t mention which one it was. It also rained on Saturday … and Sunday … and, indeed, today … but at least today the rain is quite warm … though it was lashed into our faces by a fairly strong wind. The sun has come out now and George Square Gardens are delightful in the sun.

IMG_0568

This is actually a photo of the gardens and the bar in slightly less than clement weather but imagine it with the sun shining and you’ll see what I mean. There are loads of people around enjoying the buzz. Unfortunately I am hobbling around with a slightly gammy ankle … just the general wear and tear of age sadly. So I’ve wandered into the Assembly Cafe, put my foot up and looking helpless towards people who I hope will wander over and see if I want a cup of tea … I won’t hold my breath.

Sunday Night I went to see Gavin Robertson doing his “Bond” show … which I can thoroughly recommend; clever, witty, technically brilliant and … a charming evening was had by all … do go and see it if you get the chance.

During the day yesterday I spent hours walking around Edinburgh handing out flyers … hundreds of them … and dodging the rain. Lorks a mussy it rained … spent lots of time under awnings with rain dripping down my neck and then leaping out in front of unsuspecting families and shoving a bit of papier-mâché into their hands. All were charming … except for the ones who weren’t! I bumped into Stewart Lee (Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle) with his family and tried to give him a flier (before I realised it was him) and he said “Oh, we saw that on Thursday, we really enjoyed it” … I chatted to the children who both decided that their favourite bit was the Dragon … so …

Batty Dragon Picture 1

… here he is … for those of you who haven’t seen the show yet … what are you waiting for.

I am now going to hobble over to the counter and buy myself a coffee as no-one else has offered.

Look out for Edinburgh Diary Number 3 … later in the week.

Kickstart-ering Our Way to Edinburgh!

You can help Noggin the Nog by clicking here!

 If you click on the link above it will take you to our Kickstarter Campaign page.

It’s always good to get the “ask” in early, I say. We have calculated that it is going to cost in excess of £16,000 to take Noggin up to the Edinburgh Festival. We have raised £12,000. We have a shortfall of £4,000. If you can help; anything from £1 to … well … £4,000 would be incredible. It will enable us to take Noggin to Edinburgh and beyond.

The Edinburgh Festival is the biggest shop-window in the world for performance. The Sagas of Noggin the Nog has to be there: we have to show our work to Promoters, the Press and New Audiences in order to spread the word!

The Ice Dragon Cometh

The Ice Dragon Cometh

Silly Vikings, Live Music, Puppets and Video Projections taken from the original 1959 film, The Sagas of Noggin the Nog is a feast for the eyes, ears … and occasionally the nose (sorry about that).

“Clever, witty and entrancing … unquestionably a hit”.

As we toured the show last year we were pleasantly surprised by the audience reaction. We knew the show was good but we were not expecting the sheer volume of “brilliants”, “amazings” and “wonderfuls” that we received from the audience and indeed the press.

“Utterly brilliant show – couldn’t praise it highly enough, so thank you very, very much!”

“That was brilliant. I wish all my friends could see it.”

We know that this “delightful, gentle and inventive show” has to be seen by more people. It is a play that crosses the generation boundary. We performed to 4 and 94 years olds. Children who had never heard of Noggin the Nog were spellbound and from e mails that we have received from many parents, their offspring are creating their own Noggin adventures at home and in school. We have also received lots of enquiries about the Noggin books and DVDs. If you look up and to the right you’ll see a link to The Dragon’s Friendly Society … click on that and you’ll find all kinds of goodies you can buy; including books and DVDs.

170px-Wfm_lewis_chessmen Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate created The Sagas of Noggin the Nog back in the late fifties. Peter, the        artist, saw the Lewis Chess Pieces at the British Museum and they became the inspiration for the stories.

The stories were told at a slower and less frenetic pace than most TV is now. Initially this worried us a little: what if the modern audience gets bored at the gentler style of storytelling?

“What a spellbinding and magical show we enjoyed at Ilfracombe today! A truly lovely experience!”

“Today we went to see Noggin the Nog at Lighthouse in Poole. It was absolutely brilliant and very funny… if the tour is coming to a theatre near you then you should see it!”

“Just as another chorus of “when will it start” is about to begin – BOOM! Two little spines stiffen and heads whiz around to face front, craning to see. A drummer steps from behind the deceptively simple, but effective and versatile, set. My two little boys are transfixed and remain so for the duration of the performance.”

We needn’t have worried. It seems that the style and the pace of the production is just right even for modern audiences who are used to seeing TV and Films that hurtle and rush and cut from one scene to another with increasing rapidity.

“In the Lands of the North where the black rocks stand guards against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires; and they tell a tale …”

So, if you are in Edinburgh for this years festival, do come and see us and say hello and if not … watch out for a new tour coming to a venue near you, next year.

The Sagas of Noggin the Nog Heads to Edinburgh … Part 1

We’re on our way to Edinburgh … by way of Theatre Royal Margate! 

In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale … and the tale they tell is of Noggin the Nog, strong and fair and brave as the men of the Northlands are. So begins the tales of Noggin the Nog.

Our tale is about a group of performers, musicians, directors, puppet makers, designers and a team of dedicated people who all want The Sagas of Noggin the Nog to go beyond the one successful tour of 2013. To this end we are starting again.

Monday 30th June 2014 …

After three or four days of putting together a project for Kickstarter (of which more later) and checking costumes, props, set and sending e mails by the score, Monday arrives! We have almost two weeks to re-write and re-rehearse the play. Why? Well, we are taking The Sagas of Noggin the Nog to Edinburgh and we have to shorten the show to fit in with the festival schedule; currently the play lasts seventy-five minutes and we have to cut it so that it fits into an hour slot. We also have to lose some of our equipment because there is nowhere to store it at the venue. We also want to rework the second half of the play which has a slightly different feel to the first half and we would like to make it more consistent. So, Monday … thanks to an association with the Theatre Royal Margate, we have a rehearsal space at The Winter Gardens … up lots of stairs, I might add … still it keeps us fit. And then on Friday 11th July 2014 we are previewing our new slimline version of the show at the Theatre Royal Margate (there is a link at the end of this post).

 

Caroline titivates the Hot Water Valley Ambassador, Ronf

Caroline titivates the Hot Water Valley Ambassador, Ronf

Why?

During the tour of “Noggin” last year we made an important discovery … this play is genuinely a piece of family theatre. Yes, it works for children, yes, it works for adults but it works particularly well for family audiences. Why is that important? I have noticed over many years of touring theatre that there are fewer and fewer family shows being produced. There are lots of “kids” or worse “kidz” shows and many shows for adults but few that attempt to entertain, intrigue and engage the whole family. In Britain we have the Pantomime but the majority of those have long since stopped trying to engage all of the audience. It is rare that as a family we sit in a large room filled with other families and share an event, an experience, and it is this shared experience that makes it special. We get home and talk about what we experienced collectively; something that happens less frequently in this “solo world”. We see parents sitting with their mobile phones or tablets whilst their children sit on their mobile phones or tablets and no matter how brilliant and engaging they are, they are not sharing an event. The Sagas of Noggin the Nog is an event, an experience to be shared. Last year at the Lighthouse, Poole whilst talking to the audience afterwards, we met four generations of one family who had watched the show together: there was something quite magical about that … four generations talking about a shared experience.

So?

So, we want to take the play to more venues, to be seen by more people. For this, we are taking the show to Edinburgh. The festival is the biggest showcase for performance in the world. If we are going to take The Sagas of Noggin the Nog to a wider audience, move it onto another level, we have to be there. There will be thousands of theatre professionals, venue bookers, producers and so on at the festival; we have to let them see our show, meet them, talk to them; we have to create an interest in the play in order for it to go further.

Sunday 6th July

As I sit here on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon I am aware of all of the thousands of things we have to achieve in the next few weeks. Most imminently is the next week of rehearsal and the preview at Theatre Royal Margate; we are doing two performances, one in the afternoon for schools (which is free) and one in the evening for the general public. Follow the link for more information.

We then have to prepare everything for the Edinburgh Festival. Not least of which is raising a little more money to make it viable. We have set up a Kickstarter project to this end … if you can help us by backing the show we would be most appreciative. Again, follow the link.

 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1884588791/the-sagas-of-noggin-the-nog-goes-to-edinburgh-and

http://www.assemblyfestival.com/event.php?id=153 

http://theatreroyalmargate.com/event/the-sagas-of-noggin-the-nog-edinburgh-preview/