Buzzard: Wake

Dressing Room

This is the last in a series of four posts from Timothy X Atack documenting the production process for Buzzard which premiered at the Bristol Old Vic on September 23rd and was the first show to be produced as part of the Theatre Bristol / BOV Commissions call 09/10.

Here’s a thing. You know what the collective noun for buzzards is? A wake. Yep. That’s right. A wake of buzzards. Appropriate, don’t you think?

Beats the crap out of owls, at any rate. A “parliament”? Oooh, get you. Laa dee dah. Yeeeaahh, let’s get together and form a “parliament”! Typical bloody owls. Admittedly, ravens and crows have got pretty awesome-sounding congregational nouns (”unkindness” and “murder”, respectively, it’s like an episode of Prime Suspect up in that gaff) but “wake” is the coolest, no? A wake of Buzzards. Trumps it for me. Who else comes close? A bevy of quail? A tidings of magpies? Come on. Useless. And what about rooks? A “building”? A BUILDING? A “building of rooks?” Fuck off, that’s just silly.

Enough of this avian gainsaying.

So. Now that Buzzard has finished its first run, and the snarling beaky head is temporarily at rest, hung up on a claw-like coat peg somewhere deep in the recesses of Bristol Old Vic, the questions remain: what just happened? Was it any good? Where next? What have I learned? What have I, alternatively, not? And if not, why not? All this and more shall be mulled over unsatisfactorily in the following post.

A few observational snippets first:

  1. Number of people who have said “You know, that costume isn’t what I’d call a buzzard, it’s more like a vulture”: 5 million.
  2. This production’s preferred song for vocal warm-up, appearing, as usual, from out of nowhere: You Still Believe In Me by The Beach Boys.
  3. Stars out of 5 granted Buzzard by The Guardian in their lovely review: 3. Not bad for a rookie solo show. (Remarkably, I agree with almmmmmooooost everything that the Grauniad’s reviewer wrote, and even intend to act upon a cooooouuuple of the points she raises. Proper truth. So, you see, criticism works. Thanks, Elisabeth!)
  4. What the Buzzard costume smelled of, after a couple of performances: death. Again — I guess it’s sort of appropriate for a scavenging animal to be wafting around the amine tang of decomposing flesh, but seriously… it got to the point where I was worrying for the comfort of those in the front rows of the audience… so on the recommendation of Jill, my ever-professional costume maker, I nipped down to the Co-op and picked up some Febreze, applying it liberally to the bird before and after each show. Result? Lo and behold, the Buzzard now smelled of Febreze! Febreze, and death.
  5. Amount of latte drunk: a bucketload.
  6. Amount of time I ended up talking about the show to ‘outsiders’ during its making, even when I wasn’t sure myself of the final form it would take? A bucketload.

Lighting Plan

At risk of sounding like a preening cosseted numpty, this last point was the one that proved most emotionally draining in the run-up to the show. Not the learning of lines or the aching of joints. Not the long days and last-minute changes, no, it was the talking to people about what I was doing, as I was doing it, and NEVER QUITE GETTING IT RIGHT. I couldn’t develop a party line, finding myself immensely dull whenever summarising the themes and concerns of the work, and began to seriously consider ‘doing a Tom Waits’; spinning mistruths and outright lies about anything and everything, just to make it more palatable.

It’s not as if I haven’t been here before. When my band Angel Tech released material on a major label about ten years ago, it was attached to print, radio, and yakking about our music to anyone who would care to listen. The most horrific outcomes came in the form of interviews that were printed verbatim: no edits whatsoever, just an entire newspaper page of YOU, rambling about your latest opus in syntax that – if one was inclined towards kindness – might charitably be described as “jazz-like.”

I remember thinking back then (after one article in the Bristol Evening Post made me sound like the artistic equivalent of a tax return) “Never again. Next time I’m going to think about what to say. Next time I’ll sound engaging.”

So, did I? Did I heck as like. At least journalists aren’t in the habit of reproducing interviews down to the last phoneme. I imagine the most common noise I make would be something along the lines of “yeeeuuurrm.”


However. Overall I feel elated by the small victories from this first round of the show. People liked the dancing (so did I) people very much enjoyed the central idea (I still do) people often thought it might be a teensy bit too long (I don’t doubt it) and people thought it occasionally might benefit from the odd garrulous sentence being pruned off here and there (I’m utterly convinced of it.) But the laughter flowed, and the show seems to be going in the right direction. Next, we’re hoping to re-work and tour it.

A million thanks to all who emailed their comments, or attacked me in friendly fashion once I was out of the feathers. I’m glad so many people enjoyed the experience, and my guess is you haven’t seen the last of that pissed-off scowl.