Our show is in the Tron tonight and I found myself here last night watching ‘Can’t Forget About You’, with some incredible Northern Irish characters, and in particular Northern Irish women. It made me think about how many of the best storytellers in my life are these women who have raised me and inadvertently taught me how to tell a good tale. Mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, co-workers. A whole lot of incredible, talented women who kick adversity in the teeth and keep on going. I know I’ll hear more of their stories as time goes on, and I’m very much looking forward to that.
We’ve been working hard in and out of rehearsals for the last month, gathering stories, and sharing our experiences with each other. One of the hardest things has been deciding which stories to tell in the show as there are just too many for them all to be there. The exciting thing about the archive is that the ones that don’t end up in the show will soon be appearing online right here! Keep your eyes peeled next week as we start to post up tales and anecdotes from family stories of working in bars to strange travel incidents.
Another thing that the cast have been having fun with is the idea that even when you tell the same storu over and over again, it’s a little different every time depending on the audience, surroundings, and circumstance, so no two of our shows will be exactly the same! – Shilpa
Hello aaaand welcome to this first cast blog post from me, Billy. Nice of you join; pull up a chair, grab a drink-no no that one’s mine…there! So we had our first rehearsal last week, there was wall charts, my two fellows cast members, director, and myself (in what I can only describe as a fugue state of exhaustion) and you know it was still great fun! When I first got told about this show and the idea behind it (which I shouldn’t attempt to articulate here as my director is better at that stuff), i.e. modern tale telling with an emphasis on pubs; what excited me most was how idiosyncratic yet also universal these stories could be. We’ve all had nights out that, for good or ill, resulted in a story we tell for years. It was so exciting to finally get down to brass taxes and talk about our stories and our ideas of what stories are. From the folk tales to the mythic to the anecdotal, they’re all already looking to be an influential part of our project.
Also, in other “Strange” news we had our delightful launch night a few days ago at the Flying Duck (the illustrious home to our previous work-in-progress show) which is also something I will definitely get shouted at should I omit. If it’s any indication of the quality of the show or even general tone then I am really psyched. From acapella singing, to guitar, to readings it was a great night and my greatest pleasure was seeing how even at this stage each cast member’s style is slowly differentiating and taking form. We each told very different stories, from very grounded tales of embarrassment/minor burns, to local European fables, to overly tense rambling (Hi!) and the atmosphere created was really special. Definitely one I feel we’ll be striving to recreate/motivate ourselves with the memory of.
Another part of the process has been our research. As I’m sure you’ll find elsewhere on this site we’ve been asking people to share their tales and anecdotes wth us, as well as sending out a questionnaire asking people about their experiences working in bars and the kinds of “unwritten rules” they’ve encountered. These are proving an endlessly valuable resource in terms of inspiration as well as practice. It’s a gift to be able to sift and parse through all the little idiosyncratic details that give both these stories and even hundred year old folk tales their verisimilitude. Each of them is a window to all these small observations which, as an actor, (aaaaand dry heave!) are going to be so useful informing aspects of both each tales construction and their performance. So thank you for those and keep them coming! In return I promise not to use “as an actor” in another blog post ever again.
Speaking of things I am definitely going to do again; the final part of the process to mention so far would be the other form of research we’ve all been doing for the show so far: drinking in bars whilst scribbling into notepads. I mean, I’ve not asked the others if they’re doing it too but I can only assume! Cue nervous laughter. What I should say is that a small part is also actual research and reading and pouring over existing texts for scraps we can use for our more current take. I’m not sure what it is but I find being in a pub whilst doing all this reading/note taking to be so useful because I think it’s that atmosphere we’re all trying to keep in mind. Because small observations do leap out at you all the time, from how conversations look i.e. who is telling them and how, to what level of awareness we afford our fellow patrons when in an establishment. Again there is an awareness at the universality of this public experience, and make no mistake it is a very old tradition we’re partaking in when we do sit around and socialise with drink. One of the few non-essential things I can imagine being as old as drinking in human habit is the act of story-telling and that link just fascinates me. Or maybe I’m just trying to validate all of the drinking, who can say? So with that bombshell of a progress report from us I shall leave you. And if you’re about Glasgow and you see a pale gloomy fella sipping a drink whilst scribbling into a notepad like some kind of thespian loon: do come and say hello. I’ll definitely want to hear your story. – William Watt
I started thinking about this project almost a year ago. I’ve always been a lover of stories, fairytales and folklore, and for me folklore is not a thing of the past. It’s very much alive and well in the jokes, urban legends, and stories about everyday life that we tell each other. I began to think about the travelling story tellers of yore, the people who where often keepers of local knowledge and history as well as stories, with a fascinating insight into the day to day lives of a community. They also brought stories from the outside world, bringing far flung places to life in a small dark corner of a room, or in front of a big fire.
For me the pub is one place where it’s obvious that storytelling and folklore are still with us. Listen to your average conversation at the pub and it’s full of gossip, rumour, shame stories, adventure stories, tragic, and funny stories. This got me thinking, ‘who are our travelling storytellers of today?’ and then I thought about bar staff and all the things they overhear, and all the things that people tell them, perhaps taking comfort from a stranger or with tongues loosened by alcohol, and with that I knew what I wanted to make my show about!
This summer I’m hugely excited to finally be making A Stranger Walks into a Bar. It’s a celebration of the sheer enjoyment of telling and listening to stories. I hope you’ll join us on our travels, as a listener or a sharer of your own stories, and hopefully both. -Shilpa T-Hyland (director)
Actor Jacqueline Thain has been away in Prague this last month at the theatre festival there, oooh! She’s also been talking to lots of people about the show:
‘I finally have some time to myself to sit and write so hopefully will get more done! I thought collecting resources and stories whilst travelling would be easy. Meeting like minded fellows from all over the world who would have tales from their hone countries and from their lives. I was wrong. The thing is you end up creating new memories, having new adventures. No one is particularly willing to talk about the past. Or indeed, their home life. It is bliss. However, unproductive. I tell people about the project – they deem it cool and are willing to help out. Just not right there and then. Understandable. Time for Plan B. The idea of picking people’s brains still relishing!‘