Thursday, 14 November 2013

Carting a cart.

This is our new cart, it was bought from Manchester Library theatre where it was used for Mother Courage.  It's 3m x 1m x 2m  and it is beautiful, however it is causing me sleepless nights in its transportation.  I have to move it from the Library theatre 10 miles to the Oldham Library where it will be used as marketing in their foyer.  from there it goes 4 miles to Uppermill our rehearsal space, then back to the Library for the first part of the performance and then back to Uppermill for the last three performances.  4 journeys in total at £100 per journey.  I'm spending more on this than it warrants.

I suppose in the old days the actors would load up the cart with the props and pull it to the next venue.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Keep your Spirits up

Have you ever seen a ghost?  The next time you’re with friends or family ask them if they have ever had anything a little mysterious or weird happen to them in their life.  Ask if they have ever caught a glimpse of something in the corner of their eye and when they turn to look there is nothing there.

Twelve months ago amateur ghost hunter and professional storyteller Mark Whiteley started work collecting ghost stories in and around Oldham, he delved into books, local libraries and fished through back catalogues of the Oldham Chronicle to build up a 90 minute ghost adventure around the town.

“When I first started I had a few stories” Mark explained “ The ghost caught on video in the Butterflies nightclub or the gruesome tale of Mary Berry our own serial killer, but the best stories always come from my audiences”.  The walk breaks for an interval in the bar Jackson’s Pit (there’s a old man’s spirit in the back room) and that’s where the audience have a chance to tell their tales.  Past shocking stories include

§  The Ghost in the gents’ toilets in York.
§  Ted the Oldham council caretaker who stole all the keys.
§  The spirit of a dog who lived in a wardrobe in the spare bedroom.

At the beginning I always ask who believes in ghosts and maybe a couple of hands will dare volunteer, but by the end they will all admit to seeing those shadows in the corner of their eyes and one or two will disclose that they too have a ghost in the house.

Halloween Ghost walks for both kids and the brave, 12 walks over 2 nights and 40 scary stories of ghosts and ghouls.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

who to work for.

Who do you please?

Your audience?  The punters?

Your Director to ensure you get another job after this one?


So having answered that I ask myself for whom should I write stories for?  If you are happy with your work, someone somewhere will probably enjoy it and will get some kind of insight.

This is a short blog, a bite from the Englishman, if you can make things happen get in touch as my strength grows and my ambitions broaden.

In the end all we have is the past, so we must work hard for the future to write that past.

The V's have it!

When, at 27 I went to London to become an Actor I was full of passion for my art.  I learnt under Dr Adrian James at Arts Educational about being an artist, not just a puppet on the telly.  We worked for 12 hours a day and talked about Chekov, Shakespeare and Brecht.  We wore masks, bought costumes from charity shops and created characters from animals.  Back then I wanted to change the world, to explore to make art for everyone.

So, 20 years later what has happened to the young man with Nottingham accent?  I will tell you, he conformed.  He sold out and got fat off television adverts and bit parts in pointless TV dramas.  He spent all his time and energy trying to get jobs, writing letters when he could have written art.

Don't get me wrong, I do think I have done a bit to open other's eyes to the vast world of creativity, but I should be doing more.

The point - all you young artists reading this listen up, because before you know life will take over your art and you will be feeling and looking like me.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The older the wiser.

When I was 16 I thought I knew everything, the world was easy.  Then when I was 18, I thought I knew nothing when I was 16, but I knew everything then, and that my friends is how age and knowledge is.

I'm 46 now (I think, I never remember how old I am) and I'd like to think that I know quite a bit, I'd like to think enough mistakes have passed by to give me a proper schooling in life, I'd like to think I was bullet proof, but I'm not.  And the reason I'm not is that something inside me doesn't do what he knows is sure fire, something stops me from clumping all the lessons and knowledge I've learnt into my theatre and creating a hit and that something is my incurable need to do the next new thing.  I could easily live off the successful shows I have written and produced but I want to do something, new and something new and something new.

And do you know what, I am glad.

This week I had the idea to do a show in my house to an audience of two.  Financially it is a ridiculous idea, but imagine being in an audience of two, in a house and leaving with something you would never have experienced in your life.

That my friends is me, that is how I roll and I hope that one day, you (the theatre going audience) might catch on - I hope so.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Writing a new play.

This is how writing is with me.

I have an idea, a eureka moment and from that idea comes lots of ideas for a story.  I think writing is all about stories, not about grammer or spelling the story is king.  When we hear a story over the garden fence or in the pub, it's a nerd that corrects the story tellers grammer, if the story is good the audience will listen, no matter what.

So, I then chew the idea over, if it doesn't have an ending it isn't an idea.  The end is the most important thing for me.  I want the audience to leave fulfilled and not just "I woke up and it was a dream".   A story is like a map or a journey on a map, it needs a start and a finish, it's no good starting out with your map and not know where you are going.

I think about the idea for a long time, different paths the characters could go down, scenes, drama.

I write in notebooks, clean new notebooks and I make drawings and doodles with different coloured pens.

And then, when I've thought it through I start to write.  When I write new ideas come, different paths, better narrative and by instinct I know which to follow and which to leave.

When I have finished the first write through I save it as draft one and go back to the beginning and start again.

I am never really satisfied, never.

Monday, 17 June 2013

What to do next.

When you get to the end of the show, what next?

So you have packed away the set, costumes and for a while the show, what next?  After all the back slapping and bottles and parties all I'm left with is a shop to empty and a tiredness you wouldn't believe.  I work on projects all the way from their conception to the funding, to sweeping up at the end.  I am responsible for licences, contracts, negotiations, I write reports and even write the script.

When the lights go down and the party is over and everyone walks away I sit down and think about what has been achieved,  how we have made the world (or our tiny part of it) better.  I always think of better ways we could have handled things, attracted people, connected, but those ideas will be passed to the next event and the next, and the next.

so what next?

As a innovator (am I allowed to say that) I am trying to think up the next big idea, I usually do, but being the first in anything is not usually successful, it's the companies that follow that make a impact, but without the likes of Hard Graft and companies like us where would the national theatre be or the Royal Court?

The great thing about being Hard Graft Theatre Co ltd. is that you get to say out loud all those brilliant ideas that others only dream about and one day, you never know, I might actually become successful.

If you want to be part of the next adventure join me now  HERE

Friday, 7 June 2013

Did you just kill our high street?

Before the curtain drops on Oldham’s Theatre in a shop can I take this opportunity to thank the people of Oldham who supported us, we have had a ball.  Before I go though I feel I have a responsibility to tell the communities of Oldham something you don’t know about your town centre.  We all read about the binge drinking yobs of Oldham, how they bought shame on the town nationally, the Telegraph said, “Oldham is England's binge-drinking capital”. 

Well, I have worked in the Town Centre for three weeks Tuesday – Sunday from 6pm till 10pm in our little theatre by the Tommyfield Market, When the show finishes I walk back to my car on Yorkshire Street or I visit The friendly Boltmakers Rest on Rock St, or the fine Ashton Arms and I pass no one.  

Hard Graft also run a successful ghost walk all around the town on a Thursday night, we stop half way in the Jackson’s Pit and in 90 minutes walking the street telling ghostly tales we will see a handful of very sober people going about their business.

Contrary to what people think about Oldham I can tell you that it is lifeless, it is not a no go bleak picture of hard binge drinking, it is the far bleaker truth that no one goes there.

Oldham Town 7pm on a Thursday night.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Guess how many stabbings I have seen in Oldham town centre whilst I've been performing every night here for three weeks?

Or how many drug deals?

Or prostitutes?

Or children being sold into slavery?

How many times I've been threatened by a mad bloke with a Stanley knife?

I'll tell you,

0, that's zero, nil, none.

So, contrary to the media who paint a bleak picture of hard binge drinking in Oldham, the reality is far from that.  After 6pm apart from the odd fellow taking his dog for a walk there is nothing to see in OL1.

So, to those people who think that Oldham is a no go area after 4.30pm - think on, although last night I was talking to a 7 year old lad and his mum about children's theatre.


What I have learnt is that rants like these have no influence on anything, ever - I'll shut up.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Do the working classes deserve theatre?

Every evening we ask our audiences to comment on our shows
As an actor and a writer I think I have a social conscience and believe that the arts are an important part of civilised communities.  I want people from all walks of life to experience the joy that I get from some theatre, I want society en masse to watch great stories told by Actors, live and local.

But as a producer I don’t give a jot for the working classes, simply because they don’t give a toss about my work and me.

For twenty years I have championed working class theatre performing stories in “found “ venues within some the poorest communities in the UK.  I have given away workshops to schools or community centres to encourage them to take part in theatre.  I have given hundreds of pounds of tickets to the less fortunate in society, only to have empty stalls because they never turn up.  I have sold tickets for “pay what you can” nights and still no take up, so my question is, why should I waste my time?  Why should we waste money sending in the clowns to inner city council estates when all they want is Coronation Street and Britain’s Got Talent?

On Saturday night a young man came into our theatre in a shop in Oldham, he sat at the back and laughed.  At the end of our comedy we invited the whole audience to the local pub The Boltmakers Rest on Rock Street Oldham to come and join us for Karaoke, and the young man joined us.  Over a pint he told me he had never seen a play before, he had never been to Panto or had a theatre in Education Company visit his school.  He told me how much he’d enjoyed the show and that he now wanted to see more.

I left that pub not only with a new friend but a renewed enthusiasm to share my art with as many and varied people as possible.  This man reminded me how lucky I was during the 1980’s to have access to great theatre on my doorstep and to have inspirational teachers telling me that if I wanted to, I could work in the arts.   But most of all this man reminded me that, there for the grace of the Gods and good fortune I too could still be on a council estate in Nottingham.

So, this December Hard Graft Theatre Company will produce their annual Christmas show for the young people of the North West and as ever we shall give away hundreds of free tickets to organisations,  community groups and charities to help promote the art of theatre and storytelling, thanks to a young man in a pub singing karaoke.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Waiting for the review

Ask any artist about reviews and they will probably tell you that they are not to bothered what is said about them, if you asked me I'd come up with similar rubbish like that as well, but underneath my thick skin is an insecure, nervous bloke wanting to be liked (I am an actor).

On Wednesday we had the Stage Newspaper and the Oldham Chronicle watching our production of I Love Oldham, both very important and both influential in different ways.  The Chronicle is the local paper, the voice of Oldham for an age and a well respected source of news and views for the good people of Oldham.  Their reviewer is a powerful figure in the theatre world within the borough, pointing a way through for audiences to experience the best of the arts.

The Stage is the nations theatre newspaper, read by professionals and  picked up by funding bodies like Arts Council England.  A nod from them and we might get some interest from other venues around the country looking for the next "bums on seats" production.

So, for the last two days, this puppet has been dangling on his string waiting for the masters.

I have got 2 seats sold for tonights show (24th May).  If the reviewers like me I guarantee this time next week we will be sold out.

Every night we ask the audience to leave contact details and comment on the show, he's an example.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Call Me.

The thing is about site specific theatre is that you never know what's around the corner.  When I was performing Thick As Thieves once in a Nottingham shop a policeman walked in having had reports that two burglars with axes had been spotted breaking in.  The surprise on his face as he walked into the middle of a performance with 60 people in the audience was classic.  

So last night, we're into the final (touching) act of I Love Oldham last night when a drunk irishman (this is not a racial stereotype , its a fact that adds to comedy/horror of the story) who staggers into the shop mid performance and is trying to buy our old phone prop in the shop window. "I've been fekking trying to buy the frekking phone all day" he slurs. to which Rayyah McCaul as Joyce tells him to pop round in the morning and "we'll put it to one side".  At least someone believes our characters are real.

Really enjoyable night and thankfully the phone has started ringing with bookings.  As the film said, "build it and they will come."

The shop window of I Love Oldham with the old Telephone that everyone wants to buy.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Countdown to Oldham first

4 days to go till we open our doors to the public for the first time.  All day yesterday the cast and crew were busy making this unique event a brilliant experience for locals with great performances and a utterly brilliant set to look at.  I don't want to show too much as it wil spoil the surprise for the audience but here is a sneak preview of the shop window.

Celia, our designer has been busy trailing the web and other charities to find the hidden gems from our past and from the response of local shoppers we have hit the nail on the head.

come and see the shop and the show from 21st May 2013 12 Albion Street Oldham

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

7 days to go.

It is always very exciting when you get the keys to a new property that you know you are going to be involved with for a while and our new shop on Albion Street Oldham is no exception.  As you can see we have already started the massive job of dressing the front of the shop, this is quite important as it's a really bit part of

Friday, 10 May 2013

Stories are the most important things in the world.

Every month I do a walk around Oldham visiting sites that historically have had reports of ghosts, we call it the Oldham Ghost walk.  Most nights we average 5 or 6 people (I will never be a millionaire) and what I find really interesting is that by the time we are at the half way point a couple of the group will start telling me their stories.  These stories sometimes about Ghosts, but mainly about their town and what was there in their past, the names of shops, about getting drunk and sleeping in the grave yard.

People love stories, they love to listen and they love to share.   Maybe the Ghost walk should evolve into the Thursday night story club, where you bring an open, relaxed attitude and we share in the brilliance of stories.  Tell us where you met and fell in love, or where your Uncle Ted worked before he went off to war, tell us why a street is called Gas Street or who used to clean the Church clock twice a year.

People love stories, people love other people's stories told by the people.

A Ghost, caught on CCTV in the Butterflies Nightclub in Oldham in the 1990's and a cracking yarn.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Local shops for local people

Went into Prime Mark today to see if they would let us use any old shelving for the set of the show.  Talk about corporate bureaucrats, I had to write a headed letter so the manager could forward it to head office where it would surly get passed around for a month before they told me no.  So, I went down the lane to Zutti and spoke to Maggie the owner of this independent clothes shop who without a heart beat said "Yes".  Moral of this story is, when ever you need the help of business in the arts ask the local businesses as they have the power to help.

Shops are like theatres, in the front are flash stock, shelving, lighting and glamour, behind all the gloss are the bare bones, the kettle and if you're lucky a toilet.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Putting the Mark into Market

We've just collected the contents of our pretend charity shop from Dr. Kershaw's Hospice in Royton Oldham.  They have been kind enough to save the "weirder" things left as donations, stuffed 8 foot bear, a bag of dentures, nipple hooks.  Dr. Kershaw's has two giant storage units where all the donations are kept before being sorted into useful or not and moved into their shops.

I know from past experience that lots of donations are not good enough for re sale and are scrapped, I also know that some people don't even wash their donations and many charity shop workers have told me they have opened bags of soiled clothes.

The thing that I have found most interesting today is the shop and the town centre.  We couldn't park anywhere near our unit and had to borrow a trolley from the florist to get us anywhere close.  the traffic wardens were not the least bit interested in our plight and told me to shift.  Tough times for the retail industry.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Press release


OLDHAM’s Hard Graft Theatre Company has come up with a novel way to give one of Oldham’s empty shops a new use. 

Company founder Mark Whiteley has hired a town centre unit for three weeks with plans to stage his latest production in it! 

Audiences will be able to watch their hit comedy “I Love Oldham” in the shop unit on Albion Street.   “I Love Oldham” is set, appropriately, in an Oldham charity shop. 

Mark wrote it after gathering tales from over 50 charity shops about the sort of goods donated for sale. 

“There were some really funny stories - but the story that stuck was that of a hand gun, a ski mask and a stack of cash - which is where our story begins.”

The tiny “theatre” will only be able to hold 35 people a time. 

AS well as putting on the play, Mark has stocked the shop with items from the local charity Dr Kershaw’s Hospice, audience members will be able to make a purchase at the end of every show.

An earlier version of the show was a big hit at the Edinburgh fringe festival, and is by no means unusual for Hard Graft, which has appeared in people’s sitting rooms before now. 

The show runs from May 21-June 9. All tickets online at 

or call 0161 652 6026 

or 07956-913 666.

I Love Oldham 21 May – 9th June 2013
A Hard Graft Theatre Production
Written by Mark Whiteley
Directed by Keith Hukin
Designed by Celia Perkins

Cast :
Mark Whiteley (Burt Priory)
Rayyah McCaul (Joyce Priory)
David Crowley (Bungo, Mac Man, PC Ted Fletcher)

Friday, 3 May 2013

Design Interior - The Empty shop has a new purpose

This is the interior of 6 Albion Street Oldham, or it will be in the next few weeks.  Theatre Designer Celia Perkins has measured the unit and mapped out where everyone and everything should fit.   The small white squares are individual chairs, and as room is an issue we can only fit 35 people per show.

If you have never seen a piece of theatre in a found space, this is how the company (or our company) manage the space.

If you want to see the process of building a show in a shop keep your eye on the blog or join our news letter here

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Oldham Theatre in a Shop.

In three weeks we will be turning an empty retail unit (a shop) into Oldham's first theatre in a shop.  For the last few weeks I have been working hard to get everyone and everything in place to make this as exciting as possible for the North West.

On board so far is brilliant Oldham designer Celia Perkins.  Celia is the Oldham Panto designer and she has been busy getting our magical shop made over in time for the grand opening on the 21st May.

Owl Marketing are supplying the PR know how letting all the Oldhamers know about our event.

Dr. Kershaw's Hospice shops are supplying the contents of our shop.  They have a giant storage unit where all your donations go.

I will be trying to keep up with the project via Blogger so keep your eye on the ball and join us.