Over a year on from my last performance in Bristol, this week I bring my one man show, The Tiger and the Moustache, back to The Brewery Studio at Tobacco Factory Theatres. Whilst technically part of my ‘Tiger Tour 2014’, I am at least back home; there will be no long car journeys this week, no stop overs in friendly (but formal) B&Bs and certainly no more late nights coffees in motorway services, so time at least for a little reflection.
When I decided last year to tour my show, I had no idea of how I was going to organise it or of the way these thing were done, no idea of what I was getting into. Never having organised a tour, I spoke to other people who had taken their own work on the road and all the advice was the same: “you need to get a producer”, “you need to get a tour-booker”. However, aside from the fact that I didn’t know any independent producers, I kind of wanted to ‘have a go’. What, after all, was the worst that could happen?
Well three weeks into organising the tour, I was getting a sense of what the worst was: no bookings, and barely any conversations with the right people, the programmers. All of this despite emailing well over a hundred venues across the length and breadth of the UK and numerous phone calls. I spoke to lots of people, generally either in Box Offices or at Reception but generally getting hold of the programmers proved very tricky. I had an irrational sense that all the programmers were getting messages that “that guy with a show about a Bengali Tiger” was on the phone again and were making sure that they were out or busy on another line, busy booking shows with well known performers and respected producers.
It is easy, now that the tour draws to its conclusion, to forget that there was a time when I seriously doubted that it would ever get off the ground. But then Damien called…
“Hello, this is Damien Cruden, Artistic Director of York Theatre Royal, can I speak to Saikat Ahamed?”
I had emailed York as part of my first wave of venues (I contacted the venues in batches so that I could keep track of what I was doing). However I had yet to badger them with endless calls championing my show to all the wrong people! What was Damien doing calling me?
“I received your information about The Tiger and the Moustache and we’d like to have the show”.
It took all of my nerves to keep my voice calm as I rifled through my papers, trying to find a semblance of order, an air of professionalism. Well, the conversation was generally fine. I found it easy to talk about the show. ‘Tiger’ had been resting in my brain for over a year as a piece of work, as an idea it had been with me for much longer. Then the conversation turned to money.
“What sort of deal are you looking at?”
Well the truth was, I wasn’t. I was so preoccupied with trying to get the show seen, I hadn’t considered what the ‘deal’ might be. I guess money would be nice, certainly useful for the mortgage and food. I was very honest with Damien, took his advice and came to an arrangement. Had I been cannier, I possibly could have got a larger fee. However, it didn’t matter. What that conversation and the subsequent booking gave me was the belief that this might just work, that there were people out there reading my emails, getting my messages and willing to take a chance on an unknown actor with an unknown show. And it was exhilarating. I’ve always said that that feeling when you get on stage and your heart rate calms and you feel the audience focusing all their attention was unique. There’s nothing like it. Well getting a booking for my self-produced one man show was a pretty close second.
After Damien called, the bookings started to come. They didn’t fly in, I still had to drag some of them in kicking and screaming but I had a renewed vigour that stood me in good stead and by the end of last year (as I was getting ready to disappear on tour to the USA and South East Asia with Bristol Old Vic’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), I had a tour.
When I returned from travels with Shakespeare at the beginning of May, I was just four weeks away from the start of my own tour. Despite having said to all the venues that I would be away for four months, and despite having tried to get everything sorted before I left, there was still quite a bit of work that I did whilst away. Emailing publicity blurbs, technical information, all on the hoof from Hong Kong, South Korea and across America. So despite Tiger being a UK tour, certainly in its preparation it had an international element.
Four weeks to get the show up to scratch. I only needed a set, some music, an idea about lighting and costume. And I needed to learn the damn thing. Four weeks would be fine, wouldn’t it? One of the joys of producing your own work is the connections you make with other people, the conversations you have. Emma who designed the set came up with more brilliant ideas in two minutes than I could concoct in a year, Benji and Will who made the music and sound seemed to just play at their respective music stations and let brilliance just pour out, and when I met Kelly for the first time and saw the floor cloth she had painted for the show, I wanted to cry with joy. This industry is filled with wonderful, generous and talented people who always seem to amaze.
So the tour began in Guildford at The Mill Studio, part of the Yvonne Arnaud. When I pulled up outside and saw my poster, I got an unexpected thrill. Maybe this was just the precursor to the nerves yet to come. During the tech for the show, something happened that became a feature of the tour. When I gave Conor, the technician at the venue, my script, he scrutinised it with a quizzical look.
“Mind if I mark it?”
He proceeded to mark the script (in pencil) with notes, crossing out some lines, underlining others until at last the script looked less like a play and more like a technical manual. It was great. I felt like I was literally soaking up information as we went along. Then as we talked lights, I learnt about fade-ins, fade-outs, snaps, all the things that I never considered as an actor. This element of learning on the job only continued during the tour until at last, technicians around the UK were telling me that I really knew my stuff. I just thought, “if you’d only met me a few weeks ago…”
I was pretty sure that loneliness would not be an issue for me touring a solo show around the UK. I’ve always enjoyed my own company and indeed the long car journeys were an opportunity to both enjoy some long-forgotten jazz and to listen to the music of the show again and again and again. However, despite the anticipation each new venue and the excitement of each tech (it really was), I did have a slight pang when that was over and I had a couple of hours to kill in the dressing room, alone. Dressing rooms for me are normally the place of camaraderie, a place where one discusses the show with fellow actors and then proceed to tease each other mercilessly over ‘artistic choices’. However sitting alone and staring at the endless mirrors was something I struggled to get used to.
There were lows during the tour, to be sure. When I arrived at one venue and saw no publicity (no fliers anywhere and only one ripped poster inside) my heart sank. I had a moment of wondering if I was actually in the right place. Unfortunately I was. There was another venue where I hadn’t sold many tickets. This in itself would have been enough, however the deflated feelings were compounded by the fact that the venue was packed with people, parents and families, all come to see their children in a show in the main house, ‘Best of British’. The sound of the inane warbling through the corridors was depressing and I wanted to storm into the main house and kidnap a small portion of the audience and show them ‘something different’. As it turned out, my show that evening was joyous. And of course there was the time when, in my effort to reach out to an Asian audience for the show, I was told over the phone in no uncertain terms that “all this acting nonsense was something my members are not interested in”. Thankfully that elderly gentleman was not typical.
I remember, early on in the tour sitting in a motorway services at about 2 in the morning having a strong coffee to see me through on the final stretch home. Even though there were a handful of people at the services, a family with toddlers dressed in animal onesies and a group of men on their way back from a job involving plaster (it caked their shoes), I felt as if it was only me there. And that was fine, it was wonderful. In the seemingly never ending roller-coaster of touring your own show, travelling, teching, performing, packing up, publicity, dealing with venues, radio stations and newspapers, it’s nice to sit, to just sit and take it all in, a moment of calm.
Although this is a solo show, completely self-produced and largely self-promoted, my overwhelming feeling of the tour is one of connection. I’ve interacted with so many people along the way, so many technicians, so many marketing departments. I’ve met audience members across the country, new people in my life who thought they would take a punt on my show and old friends who I’ve not seen, in some cases, for twenty years. There are times when one gets lonely, but generally one is not alone. If nothing else, the sheer fact that it is just you up there performing means that you have to connect, you have to reach out and really cross the darkness. And that’s kind of why we do it, isn’t it?
The Tiger and the Moustache plays The Brewery Theatre, Tobacco Factory Theatres Thursday 24 July – Saturday 26 July at 8.15pm.
For booking information click here