Friday, 21 March 2014

Beginning of a new path

Today, well yesterday was the start of a new path for Hard Graft theatre company.  For some time I have wanted to knock touring on the head, the endless cycle of writing, selling, travelling to theatres with no audience, sleeping in B&B's eating sandwiches from Gregs.  But it has taken a long time to realise the next path, but yesterday it became clear.

Here you go...

I am now a venue manager.  Well, that's not exactly the truth, I am managing a venue, but it's more, much more.  David Crowley (my trusted friend and director) and myself have agreed to take on an empty theatre space in Oldham, where, at the moment nothing (or little) has been produced.  We are starting from nothing and have ambitions to build a brand that can poke it's head above the parapet with no shame or embarrassment to deliver art to the people of Oldham and beyond.

Our job is to find funding, devise a programme and turn an empty, dark theatre into something Oldham can have pride in.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Blogger community I urge you to welcome and support


Over the next few months I will try and keep you up to date with our progress.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

News from the small planet

When you hear something terrible has happened I'll bet, like me you think about it for a couple of seconds then carry on with your life.  Earthquakes, wars, massacres, murders, famine are all disastrous, but unless its made personal we don't, or probably can't get to grips with it.

Yesterday I was listening to the marvellous Moth podcast and I came across a story that has stuck with me.  Todays blog is about a very big news story told by one particular participant and I urge you to pause from your busy life and have a listen to the real live story of Fukushima.

Listen Here

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Merry Christmas

MARCH 18TH 2014

Do you know what?  At the moment I'm in Christmas mode, whilst you all give it all up for lent (yeah right) I am thinking of Santa, elves and snow.  I have been thinking about reindeer and jiggling bells.

I am writing the Hard Graft Christmas story The Christmas Elves and the Shoemaker.  Each year I try and get it done earlier and earlier so that the Directors, designers and choreography can start to think about their input, so, next you watch a show think how long that process has taken and how many people have been thinking a long time about it.

The irony is that I buy my Christmas presents from the garage on Christmas eve.

I just hope that the supermarkets don't read this and think it's a good idea...

Merry Christmas

Monday, 17 March 2014

This is a Banksy in Nottingham.

Nottingham Arts Theatre if only you hadn't painted over this.

This is a Banksy, left on the side of the Nottingham Arts Theatre about 10 years ago.  The artist wasn't as famous back then and only a couple of people really knew of its significance.

The theatre is always struggling for money, if it had this today I wonder what they could have done with it?

Waiting for the story (wasting Time)

That's the problem with being a creative.  If you have no ideas you just have to sit back and wait for them to come and they will.  At the moment I have lots of deadlines way, way in the future and, like the default lazy git I am, I ignore them till the last minute.   Instead try and think of something better, more interesting to waste time on.

This morning I have been "researching" (I use this term broadly) WW1 and how Oldham was involved.  I have discovered lots of great things that happened to this town and its people and if I get the chance I may well write about it.  Or, I might flit on to a Brian Clough idea I had two weeks ago.

If you have any other stories you think I could waste half a day on please let me know.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Actor is slammed for burglar story

If you read yesterday's post this is what the Nottingham Evening Post thought about my stories.

THEATRE groups in Notts have criticised an actor from Carlton for making up a life story to gain publicity for one of his plays.
Mark Whiteley told media across the UK, including former BBC Radio Four programme Home Truths, that he was a reformed burglar.
Now, Mr Whiteley, 44, says he made it up so he could promote his play called Thick as Thieves which tells the story of two Nottingham burglars.
Howard Whitehurst, one of the directors of the Bonington Players in Arnold, said Mr Whiteley's actions reflected badly on the acting profession.
"I have no problem supporting people who are using their life experience. but if the whole thing is based on a lie, that's just deceitful and dishonest."
David Goatham, member of the Bonington Players, described Mr Whiteley's lies as "unethical" and "shocking".
A spokeswoman for the All Hallows Dramatic Society in Lady Bay said: "It's unfair to all the honest authors and playwrights out there.
But Mr Whiteley said: "I'm a story teller. That's what I do for a living. I'm not a liar."
A BBC spokesman said stories on Home Truths were checked much as possible.

Read more:

Monday, 10 March 2014

The truth isn’t out there.

Have you ever told a lie and regretted it?

Mark Whiteley as Burglar in Thick As Thieves

About 10 years ago I wrote a comedy show about 2 burglars that I was going to take to the Edinburgh fringe festival, if you've never visited Edinburgh festival you'll be amazed to know that there about 2,500 different shows performing in one city over three weeks.  As you can imagine getting noticed at such a monster event is very difficult, especially if its your first festival, your first play and you have no notable celebrities in it.

I thought long and hard about making a splash, to come up with a media coup that would ignite ticket sales, in the past you might remember Aaron Barchak a comedian who got through tight security at Windsor Castle to gate-crash Prince Williams 21st birthday dressed as Osama bin Laden.  His stunt thrust him onto the front pages of the British press and sold him many tickets.

My idea wasn't as daring, my idea was quite conventional, my idea was to tell the world that I was an ex burglar.  The headline for my press release was “Ex Burglar steals the show” - not brilliant, but interesting.  I sent off the emails to all the national and local press and waited.  And waited. And waited.  Nothing, not a jot, not even my local newspaper thought it was news worthy.  I was about to give up when I remembered Home Truths a BBC radio show that took stories from the public and told them, so I mailed Home Truths and within 2 hours they had rung me and booked me to talk to their legendary host John Peel.  Now, I must tell you that John Peel is no longer with us; he was and still is a national treasure, I myself was a massive fan and ideally, I wouldn’t want to lie to him, but we needed publicity.

Here’s a good game.  Write the words REFORMED BURGLAR in your internet search engine I know that if you live in the UK you’ll come up with my story at the top of your search, indeed you can still click and hear me telling my story.  And yes ladies and gentlemen it is just a story, just a made up story about a young kid dealing with low-level crime and coming through it with the love of a good woman.  I left the BBC studio pleased that this might be heard and we may create a bit of interest in our Edinburgh show. 

What came to pass was nothing more than astounding.  I got no newspaper interest, but I did get a call from a marketing executive for an insurance company who had heard my story and wanted to pay me to go on a publicity drive to help keep homes safe over the summer holidays.  He wanted me to go on the radio and give the burglars “inside’ story about keeping your home safe.  Now, I was and am a low paid actor, my life is feast or famine, so if a wealthy company comes along and asks me to play a part for them I have to say yes.

I studied home security advice from the police and put my own spin on it and turned up to do the first of 48 radio interviews over two days.  After the first day I was heard by T.V. producers who wanted me to go on their shows and demonstrate to their viewers how to not leave ladders against the bathroom window to keep safe.  By the end of day two I was a Burgling Celebrity in magazines, newspapers and web sites.

The aftermath was a little strange; I found that when there was anything about theft or burglary in the news, lazy journalists would search the internet for Reformed Burglars to get an opinion and my name would be top, over the last 10 years I have graced many TV and Radio shows with my ex burglar act and I’ll probably be doing it for years to come.  So, if you asked me if I’d ever lied and regretted I’d have to say, no, I’ve enjoyed almost every minute.

Friday, 7 March 2014

How one man, made 11 men, make a million people feel great.

I remember the first time I went to see Nottingham Forest. It was 1980, the year of the Iranian Embassy Siege, British Leyland launched its Morris Ital and we were the kings of Europe for the second time. As we got there, a small fat bloke, who I was later told was called Robbo, was signing programmes and pushing them through the wire to fans. You can tell football had quite literally passed me by, my dad never took me, to be honest my dad was absent for most of my life, my step dad didn't like football, so I went with Graeme Hurst from over the road and stood right behind the steel fences in what would become the Brian Clough stand.

I remember that everyone was singing, everyone was happy, everyone was really happy. I wish I had taken more time to soak it in, to try and remember it in detail, but truth is I didn't. I remember flashes like seeing Brian Clough stick up his thumb, the litter and toilets that stank so bad I had to pull my T-shirt over my nose, the pushing and the noise. But most of all I remember the size of it and thinking that I never knew so many people lived in Nottingham.

1980 was not a great year, the start of mass unemployment; strikes, fighting, Thatcher and he killed John Lennon. But it was the start of my relationship with Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough.

This September I will be coming back to Nottingham to tell the story of how one man, made 11 men, make a million people feel great. 

John Roberson 

Where were you? 
Where were you in the 1970's and 1980's?
What did that time mean to you?
Were you married, did you go together, did you take the kids?
Did your Dad take you on?
Did you go to Europe? Tell what it was like travelling away in those days?
What was the City like, the songs, the banter?
Could you stay up and watch Cloughie on telly?
Tell us what you remember and we'll take those stories add some music and bring back those glorious days.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Working for free.

What do you do if you're working in the arts as a performer and you have no work?  I have worked many times for no money, in fact one of the best periods in my career started with a job for no money.

I was asked to do a rehearsed reading for the Nottingham Playhouse I wanted to meet the writer so I said yes and gave away 2 days for nothing.  From that reading I was offered the lead part (my first lead role in my home town), from that part I was offered a new bigger agent, who worked really hard for me and helped me land many big TV and film roles.  From this free play reading came a feature film, adverts and other lucrative work so for me working for free played off.

I have an idea, but I have no funding.

Do I invite young actors and offer them no money?  Or do I not do the work till I have money to pay, which could be months away?

I want to pay everyone, but sometimes the pot is empty.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

How I write.

First of all, don't listen to anyone except yourself.  You know if your work is any good, you don't need others to compliment you (but it does help).

lesson 1 

Idea – the idea is the most important part of writing my stories.  To me they usually come out of the blue and very quickly.  I usually write a half page synopsis of every idea.  If the idea is any good it stays with me, I think about it night and day and let it grow in my head. 

Ideas I’ve never written are numerous.  Some ideas stay with you for years.  One of my plays, GRASS took 5 years, until I could get all the components to finish it.  Sometimes it’s because I can’t think of the end.  I think sometimes as I get better at writing I’ll be able to do the really mad ideas I have, I’m not good enough yet.

Ideas come from every where, friends, family, personal stories (Grass), internet, newspapers, photographs, flyers (walk this way). 

Lesson 2

Research - the world, the characters, the story.  I use the internet, the library and then I talk to people.  This time can take months, its writing but in your head mainly.  At night before I go to sleep I think about the problems in my story and I try to solve them. 

Who are the characters, where do the characters live, work, their age, etc?  The answers to these questions shape your story and the lives of the characters.  

I write a graph for my characters like this.  Every new play I start writing notes about the story.  The notebook and the graft is a great source of information if I’m stuck. 

I also write the story scene by scene where my hero is going - From Knife Edge  
          Brian turns up and sets up theatre  
          Brian gets annoyed by Alan, Brian invites Alan on stage.

I don’t always stick to this, but it helps. 

Lesson 3 

Write – Before I write I need to know the end so I know where I’m going.  Think of it like a journey, get everyone in the car and set off to your destination.  Along the way you might meet some interesting characters, your car might break down or there might be a massive diversion, but you always know where you’re headed. I think how it is best to start (usually slowly as an audience need time to settle) the middle part I make up as I go along; it’s the organic stage that I love.  If you’ve done your research the middle should come easier.   I like to get a first draft finished quite quickly no matter how bad it may be.   After I’ve written something I usually leave it alone for a week or two then I come back to edit. 

What is it about?  If a play were about love I would examine and explore the depths and widths of love.  Self love, young love, obsession, loathing, lost love,  

We write drama – what is drama?  It is conflict, things rubbing against each other.  One says yes, the other says no.  So my love story wouldn’t be boy meets girl they live happily ever after – that’s boring.  

Lesson 4

Edit – when I edit I start with first draft and rip it to bits.  Never be scared to take things out, if it doesn’t work cut it.
      Find out what the plays about?
      More in-depth Research, is the world and characters plausible?  I want an audience ideally to believe me and be carried away with the story and my characters.
      Smooth out the scenes, most of my first drafts are disjointed, I might repeat myself.
Re write.  I have never finished writing a play yet.  Even as the play is being performed I’ll still be thinking, tinkering.   

Lesson 5

Structure - You need tension and excitement as well as climaxes.  

and finally...

Rehearsed reading – if you’re planning to get the play on, try and get people to help you listen to it.  Plays are to be played by actors and actors are great at finding all the holes for you.  When a play is cast the actor will concentrate all the attention on their part, they will underline or highlight only their words or their actions, that’s what they’re (we’re trained to do).  If an actor comes up with something better steal it, the play will always have your name on it.  Knife Edge was read in front of an audience of actors, writers, producers and directors – it was very nerve wracking, but a good way to pick their brains. 

I have a CSE in English 

My story would be like Romeo and Juliet – two lovers who can’t be together because of their families.