Phil’s Top Five

We invited some of our cast to contribute to the Help Yourself blog. This week it’s the turn of Philip Todd. Phil is returning to Edinburgh in 2015 to perform the part of Tony, and we thought we’d ge this to share some wisdom on how he likes to spend his month in Edinburgh when it’s not 6.30-7.30pm! Here are his top five tips for making the most of your Fringe experience…

PhilipTodd_headshotI’m delighted to be appearing in Help Yourself as part of the Edinburgh Fringe for a second year running. This fun and provocative piece combines a crazy childlike style with real-life stories to offer a playful but powerful look at the issue of worldwide social injustice.

This year I wanted to make the very most of my time at the Fringe. So I made a wee list of things to do. Here’s my top five:

1. Give your best when performing

As obvious as it might sound, your own show has to take priority. And whether you’re performing to an audience of five or fifty, I believe it’s the performer’s job to always give their best. You never know who might be watching, and what impact it may have. For a particular member of the audience this could be an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives (hopefully for the right reasons!). Or perhaps this is your opportunity to invite that agent or casting director along and nurture some career-defining relationships?

Additionally, unless you’re a solo performer, you owe it to your fellow cast members to give your best every time. The more you invest the more they will, and the more you will challenge and sharpen each other. Something magical happens when a cast really clicks and works well together on stage. And hey, we all love a bit of magic!

2. Soak up the atmosphere

The Fringe is that special time when you feel weird walking down the Royal Mile in normal clothes. So why not revel in it! Go watch some street performers, go chat to some tourists, go buy a hotdog, go stand in a queue…

If you’re involved in a show then you’re part of something bigger. Something worth experiencing. And of course that means you should also…

3. Go see other shows

Chances are if you’re performing in a piece of theatre you like theatre. And if so the good news is there’s a wealth of fascinating shows right on your doorstep for a whole month! The good, the bad and the ugly. But whatever the quality of the shows you see I can guarantee there will be something to learn from every one. Maybe something you can apply to your own show or performance, or food for thought for next year’s endeavour…?

And if you choose well you may even enjoy yourself as well!

4. Flyer

Yes, I said it. I think all performers should do even just a little bit of flyering. Not just because it might get a few more tickets sold, but because it forces you to consider what it is about your show that makes it worth seeing. What’s the point? Why should anyone pick your show above anything else? Work that out, then go chat to people about it. Their responses may be very revealing.

And ideally don’t just shove flyers into people’s hands (or pockets) willy nilly. Apart from potentially frustrating people, it is also a waste of an opportunity (and a good flyer). Far better is the personal touch where you take time to first show respect for the person and their time, second ascertain if they’re free when your show starts, and lastly discover if they’re actually interested in your show specifically. You might even get as far as exchanging names! And I’m far more inclined to go see a new friend performing than some random guy who shoved a flyer in my face.

5. Rest

Speaking as an introvert I know after being around people a lot I need time by myself to recharge. And sleep is also useful! This comes back to my first point. You can’t give your very best if you’ve not had enough sleep and recovery time. Performing is draining, and while the adrenaline might keep you going for the first few shows, by the time you hit that third, fourth or fifth it’s going to be a lot harder to get the energy up. So plan some recreation and relaxation into your days.

And don’t forget amid all the festival frenzy to take a step back and consider where you are. You’re doing it! You’re performing in the Fringe! So make the most of it.

Philip Todd

Phil is appearing in Help Yourself from 17-29th August 2015. Tickets can be booked here: http://just-festival.org/events-at-just-festival-2015/2015/4/7/help-yourself-i-foolproof-theatre-i-theatre

Advertisements

Pros and Cons

With the arrival of the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe programme, you may have noticed that we are resurrecting last year’s successful show, Help Yourself. However, we’ve been making some script changes, and we decided it would be interesting to hear from our three performers, about how they’re finding the challenge of revisiting the same work differently. This week, it’s Cameron’s turn. Cameron plays Martin, the feckless dreamer of a brother as well as a whole host of characters in the anarchic production. This year, he even gets to play a character called Cameron.

Here’s what he had to say about the pros and cons of revisiting the same piece a year on…

Cameron
This summer I am delighted to be returning to Edinburgh to play Martin in Foolproof’s 2015 Edinburgh Fringe outing, Help Yourself. Once again Foolproof is partnering with the International Justice Mission and Tearfund. Returning to a show and a part which you have already played is like putting on a much loved, but long-since worn winter coat, though ironically, Edinburgh in the summer is always shorts and t-shirt weather! Martin a character which I created, nurtured in the rehearsal room and sweated over on stage. Coming back to him is like meeting up with an old friend, and catching up exactly where you left off – you have a history together, and it feels like no time has passed at all since your last adventure.

Thankfully, our first rehearsal back was a gentle way to reacquaint myself with the part – and I was amazed to discover that the majority of the lines and movements within the space were still in my head, and so in our rehearsals, everything seemed to fall very nicely back into place.

There are several wonderful challenges which also come with revisiting a show like ‘Help Yourself’.

1, You get to correct and iron out the bits which you didn’t get right last time, or the bits that you feel in your gut didn’t go as well as they could have done. – We are privileged to be able to clarify the storytelling moments, which didn’t land quite as we had expected or hoped that they would, sharpen up the jokes, and rethink through our performances.

2, You get to push yourself as a actor, to find new and more exciting ways to deliver your lines, you get to fight for new and stronger acting choices. – It’s very, very easy to think, “oh last year I walked to this point and did this movement on this line” and that be it – that’s a cop out, and make for lazy acting. The challenge when coming back is to rediscover and refresh the choices you make. Perhaps this summer, with a year’s more ‘life experience’, there will be some parts of Martin, Tony and Marianne’s story of stewardship which are more pertinent to us as performers? Or perhaps, the parables or human stories which we share have even more significance when told against the backdrop of the global stage in 2015.

However, most importantly, it’s a chance for us as performers to continue share the vision of Foolproof, and of the organisations we’re partnering with. Perhaps now, more than ever before, there is a need to speak out against the injustices which so very easily pass-by are tech-savvy, media saturated world.

Book your tickets now!!!

Help Yourself runs from 17-29 August 2015 at Central Venues (venue 295a). You can book tickets through the Fringe box office or via the Just Festival.

The Pruning Process

CutsIn my last post where I talked about the joy and terror of the devising process I forgot to mention another crucial, yet painful, stage of the process – the art of discarding what’s not working. This art requires self-discipline, an ability to view your work objectively and a strong determination to make it better!

Anyone who has ever tried to create something will understand the pain of this. It’s the moment when you put that extra chocolate button on the cake you’re decorating and realise that in doing so you’ve spoiled it. Or the temptation to add some detail to a painting that’s not quite perfect only to find it’s overdone.

In order to create something beautiful, you have to know when enough is enough. Given that Help Yourself is set in a garden, I think a metaphor from Japanese flower arranging might help explain this a bit better. No, really. Stick with me. This is interesting…

The Japanese art of Ikebana uses very precisely defined rules to create a floral arrangement of three stems. The minimal style of arrangement means that unusual, less obvious, parts of the plant are highlighted. The beauty of what is normally ignored is allowed to flourish but only because the stem has been stripped of anything extra or not in keeping with the artistic aim. The process of editing and discarding produces something different from the obvious.

How on earth does this relate to playwriting? Well, the devising process throws up all sorts of interesting and entertaining ideas. As performers we become very attached to lines that have made us laugh or physical movements that have revealed something new about our characters. The danger is that keeping some of these lines or moves can at best detract from the story and at worst become self-indulgent. We hit this problem with a piece of dialogue in an early version of Help Yourself.

The character of Tony, played by Philip Todd, is a straight-laced accountant whose family never takes the time to ask him about his job. Tony works for a development charity and in Marianne, played by Kirsty Geddes, he has finally met someone who wants to know more about what he does. He begins to tell her about a trip to Zambia that opened his eyes to injustice. The dialogue then segues into a raucous game of Help Yourself played out to the audience. It’s important that Tony’s lines set the tone for how his trip has changed his perspective on life.

In rehearsal we stumbled upon the idea that going to Zambia was probably the most adventurous thing that Tony had ever done, and played with some funny lines in which he revealed that he’d never been to Africa before unless he counted a fortnight’s package holiday to Tunisia. A package holiday to Tunisia is ripe for comic exploration of the sort naive “Brits abroad” trip that Tony might have taken. We wrote some lines for him that revealed he’d never left the resort, mostly because it was an all-inclusive holiday and he didn’t want to pay extra for anything. Every time Phil spoke the lines we laughed. We were all rather attached to the joke. However, when we came to run the scene and move into the game, we realised that this section was distracting for the audience and blocked the story. Rather than gaining a better picture of Tony, the audience might be confused and lose the sense of what he was saying. In fact, horror of horrors, they might not even find the lines funny and there’s nothing worse than watching a piece of theatre where the cast is clearly having a better time than the audience. And so we decided that Tony’s trip to Tunisia, all-inclusive though it was, had to go. To be cut, pruned, thrown away.

It’s painful, but we think it makes the story better. To find out if you agree, you’ll have to book a ticket to the show. And it gladdens my heart that you know that Tony once had two glorious weeks of sunshine on the Med with as many sangrias as he could drink.

The Blank Page

ImageThe devising process is a strange mixture of the joy of unlimited possibility and the sheer terror of the blank page. In previous years the Foolproof Fringe show has been written by me (the company’s Creative Director) with at least the bare bones of a script in place before other cast members and creative team are drafted in. This year, we decided to embark on something more interesting. What would it look like to involve the cast in creating the piece of theatre? That’s where the joy of endless possibility comes in. For the actor, the devising process offers the opportunity to have input into character development and plot, and most performers revel in the chance to be creative through improvisation and fun.

For this show we knew from early in the year that we wanted to write something that challenged our perceptions of injustice and poverty. We’d been in touch with IJM UK and Tearfund Scotland about doing something “arty” that highlighted their work, and it seemed that the issues of land-grabbing and self help groups were interesting to grapple with. We’d considered work such as Joan Littlewood’s ‘Oh, What  lovely War’ (currently being revived at Startford East in London and by Lyceum Youth in Edinburgh this summer) which managed to convey serious fact and hard-hitting truth through play and fun. We’d read some books, looked at some websites and allowed our creative juices to be influenced by our surroundings at places as varied as a community garden in Edinburgh. the slums of Pune in India and the Chelsea Flower Show.

All this homework is useful, but it’s no substitute for getting into the rehearsal room and trying some stuff out. And that’s when the sheer terror lurks under the surface…what if we don’t have a story? What if it doesn’t work? What if we can’t find an ending? What if we can’t find a beginning? And it’s also when the real fun begins…

 

Welcome!

You’ve found the website for Help Yourself, a Fringe show by Foolproof Creative Arts. We are currently devising and discussing plans for the show – and we hope to keep you up to date through this blog and our various social media platforms (facebook, twitter & instagram). We will be posting photos from devising sessions, and ideas that we’ve had, any big breakthroughs and finally what the show will be covering over the next few months. We are very excited about this year’s show!

We are currently working on this website, so do check back soon to see what’s new.