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Greater Manchester Fringe ’15

I love theatre and try to get to as much as possible – especially work that could be classified as “fringe” and that which is in the Greater Manchester area. Last year, I saw a whopping 47 different shows (5 short of target, dammit…)

This year has started a little slower, but with the GM Fringe in full swing, this gives me an opportunity to add to my tally. The Summer of Stuff is having a short break, so below are my daily recommendations for The Greater Manchester Fringe. I’d love to get to as many of these as I can and hopefully there’s something on here you didn’t know about and like the look of.
(Please note: I’m not a reviewer or critic. I’m also horribly biased. I’ll try and make it clear why I’m recommending each show)
8th July - Snatched from Home
WHY RECOMMENDING?: Because Andy Marsden is in it and he’s great!
9th July - The Messiah
WHY? Because I’ve not seen theatre in the Ruby Lounge before and it’s a cool space. The tag line is “King of the Gusset”
10th July - Mr Smith
WHY? The company behind it – Rising Moon – is a MTA winner, so it should be good.
11th July - Knock Knock
WHY? It’s new writing and I like the poster. It stars Amy Forrest who is great and the writer won an award at Buxton for her last show.
Knock Knock

Knock Knock

WHY? I fancied including some standup on here, and the team at The Skinny are top.
13th July - Under Manc Wood
WHY? New writing albeit adapted from Dylan Thomas. It sounds pretty and oddly wet.
WHY? It’s Lass Productions. And the reviews are great.
15th July - The Gambit
WHY? Because it stars Ben Thomas and he was brilliant in “Harvey” at The Lass amongst many other things.
The Gambit

The Gambit

WHY? I think I’ve seen them before… The reviews look brilliant.
17th July - Murder by Numbers
WHY? IT LOOKS AWESOME. It’s a Interactive Murder Mystery.
18th July - A Dream Play
WHY? Because it ALSO has Andy Marsden in, he’s in everything.
19th July - Safe Mode
WHY? It’s the follow on from Android last year which was really clever. Rebecca “Del” Derrick returns which is great to see and Nathan Boo Morris has joined the cast (his performance in The C Project last year was one of the best things I saw all year)
Photo by Alec Vanderboom

Photo by Alec Vanderboom

20th July - The Mercury Complex
WHY? A girl who wants to be Freddie Mercury. It sounds nice and at £3 and 30mins has to be most “low risk” gamble to take on a show.
21st July - Mouth
WHY? The boy Marsden again, he is a part of the MBH family after all. The posters look intriguing too.
Mouth

Mouth

22nd July - Phone Whore
WHY? I wrote a play with the phrase “bollock yoghurt”. It only feels right to recommend a play called Phone Whore.
WHY? Because it’s Shaun of the Dead Live.
WHY? Bit pricey, but I like good food, Fools and Horses and puns.
WHY? Fancy a bit of a sing song for the weekend
WHY? Directed by MTA Nominated Colin Connor
27th July - Bump
WHY? It looks fun from what I’ve seen of the rehearsal shots
WHY? Same reasons as Fools and Courses
29th July - Mancunian Rhapsody
WHY? It looks like a fun show
30th July - Jakubiak
WHY? Curious. Not sure what it’s about but something about is interesting and the reviews for the company look good
31st July - Women Who Wank
WHY? Always happy to buy a show based on a title… Plus we’ve saved you problems if you try and search for the show.
What have we missed???
Mick Cooper – MBH
PS: If you’re interested, last year’s shows – in alphabetical order – were….39 Steps, A Winter’s Tale, Afterglow, All The Bens, Android, Anonymity, Before Juliet, Box, Braving Faces, Colder Than Here, Contact Compacts, Desh, Design4Living, Generation of Z, Headspace, Hidden, In Camera, In My Bed, JB Shorts 11, JB Shorts 12, Knightmare Live!, Knightmare Live – Level 2!, Last Christmas, Life’s Witness, Living with Mr Happy, My Boy Jack, New Live Theatre Showcase, Oh Boy! The Quantum Leap Show, One Hand Clapping, Pass, Porno Chic, Rage, Rehearsal Space, Rock of Ages, Someone who’ll watch over me, Ssssh! The Improvised Movie, Stuff, Terra Haute, The C Project, The Last 5 Years, The Lives and Loves of Vera Dymond, The Tongue Twister, The Way Men Breathe, Three Women, To The Dam, War Stories and Time of My Life!!
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STUFF247

“Mick Cooper’s play could yet prove to be the 24:7 production this year that goes out into the world to proclaim very loudly what a unique and fantastic event 24:7 is, despite the woefully-misguided, terrifyingly unhelpful attitude of the Arts Council, who’ve just, scandalously, snubbed them again” – Manchester Theatre Awards.

If this is what happens, I’ll be very, very happy. We owe 24:7 a LOT.
24:7
The 24:7 Festival – which celebrated its 10th Birthday last year – is THE new writing festival in Manchester. Originally formed by David Slack, it’s developed to a theatrical mastodon which has a brilliant record for finding and developing work.
With STUFF@247 done, I thought it would be good to write out our own experience with the Festival. I’m going to write this very much as if you’ve never heard of 24:7, so if you have bear with me.
Entry & Judging Process
I’m not going to go into the full history of the Festival itself – mainly because they do a much better job of explaining it than I could. If you want to find out more about them though, click HERE for a link to their ‘about us’ page on the website.
After originally failing with 24:7 in 2013 (see previous blog), I re-entered STUFF into the 2014 festival with renewed hope. One of the many things that is great about 24:7 is that they actively encourage the development of the scripts throughout the process.
After the 1st or 2nd round of selection, I was given the opportunity to meet with an established writer to iron out some of the issues with the script before developing further. At the early stage, I had a meeting with Ian Winterton – a local writer whose plays I’d seen previously. I remember really liking Ian’s play “Baby Jesus Freak” (I actually auditioned for the 2nd version of it – unsuccessfully) as well as liking his play “Sherica” which had performed well at 24:7 previously and went on to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Early in my meeting with Ian, he said “I could give some advice that would improve the play in its current form and it would be easy to do. Or I can make a suggestion which would be a lot harder work for you, but would make an even better show.”
“Go on?” I said…
“Turn scene 1 into the full play. Keep them locked in the room.”
That a moment of utter clarity. The original version of STUFF was far more chaotic and covered 9 months of Jess & Toby’s lives. Boiling it all down to just one hour in real time would involve massive changes, and I only had a few weeks to re-do it. I was hoping for some basic structural advice, maybe some spelling mistakes. Not ‘write a new play’.
But dammit, he was right.
So I tore the play up and started again. Out went my “pin the tail on the baby” party game sequence which I really liked. Out went Jess presenting Toby with a “Who Da-Daddy?” T-Shirt. And in came a new play. But there was still work to do.
Skip forward another judging session and I received a call from the boss himself – Mr David Slack – to say that STUFF had been selected for 24:7! I was delighted. He then explained that 24:7 would be providing a dramturg to work with me (and all the other writers) on developing the script even further. I was already happy with the advice Ian Winterton had given me, so was open to more ideas. That’s when I found out that I would have Martin Jameson working as the Dramaturg on STUFF, and again – I was delighted.
Martin – an experienced TV/Radio writer (look him up) - had just co-writing the previous year’s “hit” for 24:7. Written with writer/actor Rob Ward, the play in question “Away from Home” had picked up numerous awards and praise. I’d seen it myself and had loved it. In fact, I actually loved it so much that the opening of STUFF (where 2 characters run on stage half dressed following coitus) was a direct homage to the opening of “Away from Home” (I don’t think I ever told Martin that…)
"Away from Home" - Jameson & Ward

“Away from Home” – Jameson & Ward

Martin – like Ian – was great to work with and offered loads of advice which formed various parts of the script. I highly recommend Martin as a dramaturg to any writer, but be prepared to have a thick skin. Brutal explanations that “the ending is shit – write something else” were repeated until I got what we have today. I’m also not allowed to write the word ‘just’ in anymore. But it was totally worth it.
(Martin also thinks I work for Doritos. Long story)
So, with a now completed script – assisted by 2 writers whose work I enjoy – we went on…
Casting
Choosing a director was easy. Gregg Scott had directed the first incarnation of STUFF and I was delighted to have him back. A Manchester Drama Grad, and ex-member of the Workers Theatre Company at The Lowry, Gregg is also a good friend and was exactly who we needed.
Casting however was hard. We were one of very few 24:7 shows to hold open castings and ended up doing 3 days of auditions to get the perfect team. We quickly realised that we needed actors who could compliment each other. Toby had to be the same age as Jess. Jess and Xav had to look like a couple. Toby and Xav needed an abrasive, yet friendly, chemistry.
By pure co-incidence, we ended up casting one actor on each day. First, was Danny Ryder as Toby. On the second day was Karl Greenwood returning as Xav and finally Eve Burley as Jess. Each decision was genuinely hard and we could have cast 2-3 versions. But I’m convinced we got it right. They were brilliant (see reviews)
STUFF PROMO
Marketing
24:7 and a company named Holden & Sons also provide support. This was an area I was – to be honest – far more questionable about. I thought MBH were producing great posters and advertising and was convinced we could do it again. However, what I hadn’t realised was that each show would form a part of a wider campaign, so having the ads done centrally not only allowed this to happen, but also gave invaluable advice to anyone producing a show.
I enjoyed the collaborative nature of the marketing side – Holden & Sons were instantly passionate about the show and were really open to ideas.
It meant that – with 24:7′s backing – the marketing was on a different level to what I’d experienced previously.  We were everywhere!
For me personally, the highlight of the 24:7 Marketing Campaign was the press night at The Comedy Store one hot June evening. Every show presented a trailer and then we did “networking” until the early hours of the morning.
Team STUFF247 performing their own "Oscar Selfie"!

Team STUFF247 performing their own “Oscar Selfie”!

Show Week
24:7 ran from July 18-25th. It was an incredible week with events organised and lots and lots of quality drama. It was so rewarding to see the previous weeks and months of work pay off in the form of some fantastic audiences and sell-out shows.
Sold Out Crowd for STUFF247

Sold Out Crowd for STUFF247

I have no idea if this was the case in previous years, but the nicest thing about the show week was that all the various teams got along well and were genuinely supportive of each other (and continue to be).

As the week went on, we started to pick up some really kind reviews and went into the final night pleased with everything we’d done. 24:7 organised an “awards evening” which were voted by the audience. Whilst it was a bit disappointing that neither Danny or Karl won “Best Actor”, it was great to see ex-MBH Alum John Weaver pick up the award for his performance in “Afterglow” by Julie Burrow.

We might not have won the individual awards that night, but we did win “Audience Favourite Show”! I missed the reaction as I had my back to him, but I was later told Gregg’s jaw hit the floor when it was announced.

And like that, it was over…

So, what next?

Well… you’ll see :)

 

 

 

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The Story of My Beating Heart So Far…

My name is Mick Cooper and I like telling stories.

In addition to that, I am a writer, an actor and I am the founder of My Beating Heart Theatre Company. I like the word “Founder” as opposed to “Artistic Director” or “Owner”… For those unaware, MBH will be producing the premier of the play “Stuff” at Manchester’s 24:7 Theatre Festival this July.

As MBH steps into a very exciting few weeks and months ahead, we will be encouraged to write a blog throughout 24:7; our thoughts, our observations and our experiences. For those who are just stumbling across us for the first time, I thought it might be useful to do a few introductory blogs so you can find out a bit more about us and who we are. There’s going to be loads about 24:7 and the production of “Stuff” in future blogs, but this blog is very much the story of how we got here to begin with.

For the last 2-3 years, I have been involved in the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene, not as a Writer, but as an Actor. I’ve been involved with a number of companies including Organised Chaos, Calavera Café Productions, Bridgewater Theatre Company and – most excitingly for me – Malengin Theatre Company who I got the fantastic opportunity to go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival with in 2011 as a part of the show [del] and which was revived the following year at Manchester’s 3MT

(Edinburgh Fringe was an incredible experience which will be shared in a future blog. But if you’ve never done it as an actor, director, writer, producer, stage/technical manager, or ever as an audience member, then go. It’s just brilliant. Although my Bank Statement and Liver may disagree).

[del] Poster - Malengin Productions

[del] Poster – Malengin Productions

Coming back from Edinburgh, I was eager to continue with new writing. I’d already dabbled in it before having done a few sessions at the Contact Theatre with Scriptworks (after meeting them at a 24:7 event) and had written a monologue called “Bloodaholic” about a gay, alcoholic vampire. The positive feedback from Scriptworks meant that I continued working on the piece and also had it performed at a New Writers evening at The Stockport Garrick Theatre (on a side note, Stockport Garrick Theatre is a wonderful amateur theatre. Please check them out. The work they put on is brilliant).

So, the homosexual, drunken vampire’s tale went well and I started writing a longer play. Initially called “Standing the Background”, this would go on to be called “Waste Not/Want Not” before being entitled today as “Stuff”. “Standing in the Background” – the play’s first incarnation – is very different to the play you’ll all be seeing in July, but remains the story of the same 3 central characters.

In late 2012 / early 2013, I entered SITB (Standing in the Background) into both last year’s 24:7 Festival (it was not selected) and New Live Theatre’s Manchester Showcase (where it was selected). A short section from SITB was then performed last April. The audience voted and it didn’t win (although we did have some lovely feedback).

Standing in the Background Promo - New Live Theatre

Standing in the Background Promo – New Live Theatre

In hindsight, whilst I was gutted I didn’t win, there was a silver lining at the end of it. I do my best work after things have gone wrong, and I couldn’t guarantee that I would have worked as hard as I have done in the year or so since had SITB been declared victorious that April.

Also, the various teams at the Showcase would go onto to all play a key role in the future of MBH. “VIP” which won the showcase was written by Tom Ingham (who went on to be ‘Percy’ in our debut play late that year – more on that later). “Counting the Days” was directed by Chloe Lang who directed our debut show and “Scarlett Fever” was written by Emily Chriscoli who would go on to write “A Walk in the Park” which got five star reviews and was directed by “Stuff’s” director, Gregg Scott. It wasn’t until typing this that I realised how important that Showcase would turn out to be…

So – we didn’t win The Manchester Showcase – but I did get invited by 24:7 to attend a 2 day writing seminar last summer to work on the play. This was lead by Martin Thomasson who was great and I left eager to re-submit the play again this year with a variety of changes. But that was a whole 6 months away, there was more fun to be had first.

I’d received an email from the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival saying that they had been in touch with 24:7 about producing “script in hand” performances of rejected 24:7 scripts for the GM Fringe through the Actor’s Lab school.

These shows would be produced last summer at The Lass o Gowrie (so pleased I was able to get work on there before the Greene King nonsense happened. I loved The Lass). The original idea was that they would consider SITB as one of their performances. However, one night, I emailed Actors Lab to say that I had a further 2 scripts for them to consider if they were interested? I forgot all about doing this, until I got an email from The Actors Lab to say that all was going ahead – they said that they liked my work and that 2 scripts of mine had been selected for their 4 performances. I assumed that SITB would be one of them (it was the script that they originally saw after all…) but it turned out that they wanted to use the other 2 instead: “Deadline Day” (a low brow farce set in a chairmans office on the last hour of transfer deadline day) and another play – “Troll (Keyboard Warrior)“.

Credit to PointWellMade

Credit to PointWellMade

I loved Troll as a play (still do) and after the GM Fringe started looking into turning into a full production. With no idea where to start, I contacted Mike Heath who runs Studio Salford about getting a slot at one of the new writing nights at The Kings Arms. We produced the first 20 mins of Troll last summer featuring Paul Irwin, New Live Theatre’s Paul Kenny, Rebecca Derrick and myself (in to date my only MBH performance) as the four central characters.

Early Troll Rehearsal; Rebecca Derrick, Paul Irwin & Paul Kenny

Early Troll Rehearsal; Rebecca Derrick, Paul Irwin & Paul Kenny

Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with how this performance went. Rebecca (Del) and the 2 Paul’s were great but I felt I gave a really lazy acting performance. This has affected the way I now produce MBH shows – get a Director I trust, open audition a cast to get the best possible team and stand back and let it happen. I’ll do the grunt work – the organising, the marketing, the finances. But it’s good to have other creative minds given free reign on my writing. It just makes better work.

(NB: This is not a comment on all productions, just my own. There are some brilliant writer/actor shows – see “Away From Home” from last years 24:7 as an example. But it’s just the way that I like to work personally)

So, post Studio Salford, I wanted to get a full run on by the autumn of 2013. Times were a-changing at The Kings Arms with the arrival of James Baker who has done great work there. But we got a slot and got to work. Troll opened last September at The Kings Arms with a wonderful cast of Hannah Ellis, Tom Ingham, Andrew Marsden and John Weaver as well as being directed by Chloe Lang. Chloe & Tom I knew already, Andy and Hannah were cast at open auditions and John was a last-minute find who Chloe had worked with previously. Further details on Troll can be found HERE but the week it was on was so much fun and couldn’t have been a better ‘birth’ for MBH.

Post-Troll, I started looking at what to do next. I briefly re-visited “Bloodaholic” which was performed at 3MT as a part of their Halloween night by Stevie Helps before taking on a new challenge.

braving-faces

I’d written a play called “Braving Faces“. It was a dark (very dark) 2 hander. I liked the play, but had concerns over how commercially viable it was. I initially spoke about having it performed at The Lass and it looked like this would happen, but the aforementioned Greene King sale scuppered these plans. However, the Kings Arms announced their first ever “Play for Free” festival – nothing up front, just split the gate. And “Braving Faces” was born.

I brought on Petey Easterbook who’d directed [del] by Malengin at the Edinburgh Fringe (as well as co-wrote it) to be BF’s Director and we set about casting.

The casting for both Troll & BF was done downstairs at The Retro Bar in Manchester. This is a good little boozer and has loads of potential for theatre. There’s some odd sight-lines, but the people there are great and I’d recommend any theatre companies to check them out.

Casting Braving Faces was a truly unique experience: we needed an older man, and a woman in her 20s. Both casting were interesting. Anyone who has cast on the fringe scene knows how hard it is to find great older male actors (they never apply!) but through a LOT of networking we saw some great actors before offering to Leo Atkin who had been recommended to us (Leo was in also last year’s 24:7)

Chloe (Louise Wilson) & Richie (Leo Atkin)

Chloe (Louise Wilson) & Richie (Leo Atkin)

Pete and I went into the auditions with a very clear idea of what “Chloe” would look like and saw many actresses who were exactly what we thought we wanted. But when we met the brilliant Louise Wilson, she was the exact opposite of what we thought we wanted, but she made us realise just how wrong we were. Lou came in to the audition with superb levels of charisma and – this was the key point for Chloe – managed to be both innocent and absolutely terrifying in the same sentence. Leo, Lou and Pete did an incredible job with BF – turning the whole show around in 4 weeks. All the reviews – even the ones who didn’t like the show – praised a wonderfully talented cast and director.

Braving Faces – more details on the show can be found here – finished a run in January which saw the show upgraded to a bigger venue as well as have an extra 2 nights extended on the run.

lifes-witness

MBH also hosted another show “Life’s Witness” which made just finished a workshop at The Lowry. I know the team behind Life’s Witness are still working on the piece, so we look forward to checking it out in any future incarnations of the show. This pretty much brings us up to date.

Most things since Braving Faces have been about getting ready for 24:7 and going through the process of changing “SITB” to “Stuff”. More on that in the next blog. But for now, Welcome to the show!

Mick Cooper – Founder of MBH

MBHC-blk

SHOW NUMBER 3 IS ANNOUNCED!

 

MBH SHOW # 3 IS ANNOUNCED!

The MBH Family is delighted to announce that following the success of our first two shows, Troll (Keyboard Warrior) and Braving Faces, as well as hosting the development of Life’s Witness, the team behind MyBeatingHeart are officially launching show #3.

And it’s the biggest show yet!

This July, we are bringing you the comedy/drama “Stuff”. Part of an earlier version of the script was performed last year in the “New Live Theatre Showcase” under the title “Standing in the Background” and we’re delighted to be bringing you the revised and completed show.

But that’s not all.

WE’RE DOING IT AT THE 24:7 THEATRE FESTIVAL!!!!!!

More details to come over the next few weeks and months including auditions, casting, tickets and dates.

But for now, we’ll just say this. Get ready. We’re going to have a fun Summer!