Sunday 27 February 2011

Dickens About - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

Brand new from the Socks, they begin to think about Dickens 200th anniversary in 2012.

Diary with added stinkbomb

Diary Feb 11

It's a while since I've used my blog simply as a diary, so allow me the indulgence of doing that to look back at the last week. And in a week where hundreds have died in earthquakes in New Zealand, hundreds more in revolution and turmoil in the middle east, and millions more suffering in genuine hardship the world over, this will sound like almighty whingeing of the most feeble kind, but this has been one of those weeks. Hardly a bad week but one for which the word "meh" could describe the feelings quite well ("meh", by the way, is a term Hev struggles to use in any way other than plain hilarious, her pronunciation of it sounding like a full grown sheep. One of those things that can be guaranteed to make us both laugh. Little things.)

So, first "blow" (and we will see that these blows are more at the puff of wind end of the scale than the swinging fist end) came from Doctor Who.

I've been delighted in recent months to have some new comic strip art to do, and one of the most fun jobs was for Doctor Who Adventures. The editor, who I met after a Socks gig, started commissioning "where's Wally" style spreads from me. The nature of these is that the more you draw, the better they get, and the last one I did was a Dalek spread so satisfying that they splashed it on the front cover and I've had a couple of emails asking me if it would be made available as a poster. A job that was very much going from strength to strength. They even asked me to pitch for a weekly strip back in December. Then I hear nothing for a few weeks, so I get back in touch to see if they'd like the next job drawing, only to learn that my editor has left, and so has the art editor I was dealing with, and the new team aren't doing the sort of spreads I was doing. (This happened to me when I was working on Doctor Who Magazine in 1989-91, I'm starting to get used to it).

The other artwork that's come across my desk in recent months has been doing a strip called Galaxy Wanderers for a football magazine. I loved designing the characters, relished putting great detail into the full colour pages, and after the first few episodes started writing the scripts as well. They gave me the front cover of issue 1, and another one a few weeks later. This was starting to get on a roll and, as is the nature with these things, was getting better strip by strip. It was about to get its first reader feedback. Which is when I was told they were dropping the strip and replacing it with a series of quarter page cartoon, written by the staff, featuring caricatures of footballers. This shows up a small weakness in my work. Though I am a genius live caricaturist, much sought after for weddings and parties, and can capture anyone's likeness in literally a minute, I can only do that from real life. Working from photos I struggle because, from a photo, you can't tell what a person looks like (try it yourself, look at 3 photos of the same person taken at different times. Does it look like 3 different people to you?). Added to which I have absolutely no knowledge of or interest in football so could not tell whether I'd got these likenesses right or not. In every instance I had to redraw the hairstyles on the players because the photo reference I'd been sent had, well, the wrong hair. And, in short, I wasn't happy with the results and, compared to the enjoyable Galaxy Wanderers, this was a blow. Whether they continue asking for more quarter pages of caricatures that don't look like people I've never heard of, we shall see.

Then, because January was quiet, I took on a small advertising job, designing a character and a series of strips to advertise insurance for a small local client. Fun and straightforward I thought, forgetting what I tell the kids every week in my Comic Art Masterclasses about advertising jobs. I deliver the job, having designed Armourdillo, a funny animal as asked for, in funny accident-related strips, in lovely colour art of which I was quite proud. And, as I always tell the kids, it's at this stage that the client will realise what they wanted in the first place and you'll have to do the whole thing over again. Having suggested funny animals in the mould of Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner (hence Armourdillo) he suggests they'd prefer a British domestic animal, possibly a cute dog. Not so much a blow as a wind up, that one.

I then learn from a fellow comic that the rival show to the Sitcom Trials, the Sitcom Mission, had teamed up with TV company Hat Trick. Following the story online I saw that they'd got official sponsorship from Hat Trick, prize money for their winner, and the kudos that comes with such a high profile partnership. This is the sort of deal that, when I was running the Trials, I was constantly trying to get and never managed. I came close a number of times, and of course we had the ITV series and other high profile successes, but reached a ceiling which is why I dropped the show in favour of the Socks. Prompted by the Mission's news, I gave a lot of thought last week to reviving the Trials, and have raked up the irons in the fire that might make this happen. Just last night I hit upon another genius twist that makes the Trials format perfect for radio and TV now as never before. Now all I have to do is get lots of meetings and sell it. So, some good has come from what was, basically, jealousy.

My Comic Art Masterclasses in schools are a good way of restoring the confidence. I know what I'm doing and the kids love it. So it was a blow to find that the first school of this week, written in my diary since October, wasn't confirmed thanks to a change of staff since then and, I discovered at the 11th hour, wasn't happening. If I don't work I don't get paid, and the only person to blame for having a date pencilled in and not set in stone is me. Mixed metaphors, also my fault.

Now Socks gigs, those are a sure way of reminding me what I do best. Recently I've been killing them in my support slots, and slaughtering them in headline slots, and coming up are full theatre audience who've paid just to see the Socks. However, before the tour dates start this week, came two smaller gigs, one corporate and one last minute favour. The corporate on Saturday was in front of the employees of a computer company in a wine bar and went pretty well despite the fact that a few people clearly wanted to carry on with the conversations they'd been in the middle of, a few more were desperately waiting for the pudding cpurse that we were holding up, a good few listened politely and laughed even when they didn't quite understand the gags, and a goodly few had so many gags go over their heads I could almost hear the whooshing sound. The the favour was a last minute filling-in support gig in a local venue in front of an audience who were not, I would suggest, used to going to see live comedy and were expecting a bloke in a bowtie being a bit 'blue' about his Mother In Law. The Socks have never been met with quite such baffled silence and, though we still won them round with certain banker routines like the Michael Jackson bit and Sweary Poppins, it was a struggle and didn't make me feel like a 5 star award winning act by any means.

Wednesday in Dartmouth promised to be a busy day, but full of the things I do well, two Comic Art Masterclasses followed by a Socks show. Both classes were sold out and the morning's class went beautifully, the kids producing a comic that they took away, and I drew all their faces, textbook. The afternoon class started off looking pretty good too. Until the stinkbomb. There were three boys there, of that difficult age, who didn't want to be there. I should have sensed more trouble ahead when, during the name The Comic part of the session where each kid writes down a name for the group comic and they vote for the best, I find, amid the suggestions from the 7, 8, 9 year olds (the youngest kid today was 6, younger than I usually allow, but very bright) the titles "Huge Tits" and "Great Big Massive Huge Tits". These 3 boys were not joiners-in, they sat sullenly with their hands in their pockets, apart from the one who texted throughout, and I learned subsequently they had been treated to the classes by their Nan, who was having to suffer their presence at half term. Then they let off the stinkbomb. And, though I kept a cool head and didn't blow my top, and moved tables and opened doors, and called for staff to get things cleared up (the windows, through a stroke of architecural genius, were the kind that don't open), I wish I'd dealt with it better. I wish I had been able to be sure, for example, that they were to blame. But in a classroom situation, with 25 kids in a theatre of an arts centre, none of whom know each other, sat on mixed tables, aged 7 to 14, when you're in the middle of an intense workshop, these things are hard to pin down. So, while I'm agonising over all this and trying to appear completely in control, they let off a second stinkbomb. The room now stinks, and remains stinky for the rest of the day, and just as I'm about to have the kids sent out, being 99% sure who is to blame, the most bored one on the phone says "my Nan says we can go", so they go. All in all, a good way to make me go from comic professional genius sharing his wisdom to feeling like an untrained supply teacher in one foul smelling move.

Added to which, the Socks gig that night took place in the same stinky room. The floor was cleaned between workshop and show. It now smelled of washed skunk. (Who designs a building with windows that don't open? Archi-bloody-tects! Someone should stinkbomb every architects office, so they don't make that mistake again.) But the Socks show went well, so that was okay. Nice crowd Dartmouth, love you (and almost all of your kids).

And the week has ended by being turned around nicely. Last night's gig in Stafford was a sellout with a fabulous audience who called for an encore (after a 90 minute show by the way) and who came up to talk after the show, full of praise and invites to the bar (which I had to decline with my 2 hour drive still ahead, but many thanks folks) and boosts to the ego. So, after all that, all's well with the world, and the director of the venue wants us back next year, perfect result.

So, if only tonight's gig were actually happening (it's been in my diary since December, I have an email saying the gig was confirmed, then in the listings we suddenly aren't there, oh you know how it goes) we'd be starting the next busy week on a fine footing. Whatever, I can use an early night anyway, what with having to be in East Sussex (3 hours away) for 8.30 tomorrow morning. Onwards and upwards...

Thursday 24 February 2011

Rastamouse - Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre

Brand new from the Socks, they start thinking of ideas for that new kids TV show.

Cross Channel Socks live - Scottish Falsetto Socks

Here's a treat you won't have seen online before, from the Socks Edinburgh 09 and touring 10 stage show, the Cross Channel Interference sketch. I only just realised we stopped performing this quite a while ago. Here it is performed at the Fringe in 2009.

Thursday 17 February 2011

World's Biggest Comic

Here's a hit from the pit. Because we're thinking of wheeling it out for its first public exhibition in a few years, I've found the video clips of The World's Biggest Comic's TV appearances. This was the charity fundraising project I devised for the Comics 99 festival in 1999, and I must confess all these years later it looks pretty damn impressive. Has anyone done anything this good since? I haven't heard about it. Three clips, click to play:

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Socks for the Hugo Awards

How flattering is this? The Bay Area Science Fiction Association has drawn up its list of recommendations for the Hugo Awards, Science Fiction's most prestigious accolade, and the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre have made the list.

Read it and comment here.

Here's that list in full. Good company, eh?

Those are the initials of the club members making recommendations.

Being Human: "Episode 2.6: AJF
Being Human: "Episodes 2.7 & 2.8" (two-parter): AJF
Community: "Epidemiology": CJG
Doctor Who at the Proms (Concert): AJF, DC
Doctor Who: "A Christmas Carol": AJF, CAD, CJG, CMO, EL, JOH, KR, MYS, SN
Doctor Who: "Vincent & The Doctor": ATT, BJH, CMO, JOH, KP, KR, LDH, MYS
F*ck Me, Ray Bradbury: BJH, DSM, JOH, SN
Flash Forward: "Future Shock": DSM
Flash Forward: "Garden of Forking Paths": DSM
Fringe: "Over There" parts 1/2: DSM, MMY, RM
Ghost Whisperer: "On Thin Ice" 4/2/10: AJF
Medium: "Allison Rolen Got Married" 3/12/10: AJF
Medium: "An Everlasting Love" 1/8/10: AJF
Medium: "The Match Game" 10/1/10: AJF
Medium: "The People in Your Neighborhood" 11/19/10: AJF
Scottish Falsetto Sock Theatre: "Doctor Who End of Time" parts 1-3: BJH, CJG, JEM, KP, KPR, MAS, MYS
Smallville: "Absolute Justice": MMY
South Park: "Insheeption": DC, DWG
Supernatural: "Swan Song": MMY
The Lost Thing: CMM

And here's the recommended film itself (part 1 of 3):

Sitcom Trials thoughts 011

Sitcom Trials update & thoughts Feb 2011

As you'll have seen, the Sitcom Trials took 2010 off, after the success of the 2009 10th Anniversary season. In the meantime the Sitcom Mission has gone from strength to strength, which is very good news.

There is a likelihood the Sitcom Trials may make a return in 2011, and there are two reasons. The first is that there are parties to whom I'm talking who are interested in producing the show (the part of the process which I have neither the time nor the inclination to take on myself).

The second reason for reviving the Sitcom Trials is that I feel there remains a need for it in the comedy market. Writers want it, comedians and actors want it, the broadcasting business needs it, and - though there is good cause for placing them fourth in the list - the public want it.

(The good cause for putting "the public want it" at the foot of the list being that, in my experience, the public quite often don't want it. Don't get me wrong, the Sitcom Trials and Sitcom Mission have delivered very big audiences on a regular basis, especially at the Edinburgh Fringe and in both shows' recent London runs, but the show is often a hard sell because, unlike a recognisable comedian or act, it is an uphill struggle to build brand loyalty and make the public familiar with the concept. Also the showcase nature of the Trials and Mission shows can result in content which is, to put it kindly, variable. Hence the Trials' catchphrase "you're never more than 10 minutes away from something you might prefer".)

The Sitcom Mission, especially with its new £5000 cash prize incentive and ever-growing industry connections, is offering the writers and actors a great opportunity, and will be delivering what's wanted by the industry and the audience. But it is looking at their show that I realise why the Trials is also needed.

Firstly competition can only be a good thing. Not just within the show, but between the two shows. Everyone wants to be the most popular, the most successful and the most respected, it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Then there is the greater chance for involvement. The Sitcom Mission gets an awful lot of scripts and can only draw up a shortlist of 32. They may then be showcasing on stage as few as eight of those scripts. And it was the live performance of sitcoms that was the starting point for the Trials back in 1999. In our last season, 2009, we performed 20 brand new scripts at the rate of 5 a night.

Click above to play video of the Sitcom Trials final.

Then there are the differences between the shows' formats, either of which will find favour with different contributors:

- SCRIPTS. The Sitcom Mission asks for complete 15 minute scripts, and asks for 3 different episodes from the finalist writers, whereas The Sitcom Trials asks for a 10 minute script ending in a cliffhnager moment, then a 3 minute payoff scene which the audience are shown only if it wins their vote.

- VOTING. The Sitcom Mission is voted on entirely by an industry panel, not a public vote, whereas the Sitcom Trials historically relied entirely on the audience's vote (in the stage show 99-06 and the TV series), moving to a mixture of audience vote and judging panel from the 07-09 stage shows. The public, though, have always had a vote in the live Sitcom Trials show.

- PERFORMANCE. The Sitcom Trials has always welcomed writer-performers. Dating from our earliest hits with Miranda Hart's sitcom in the 2000-02 London, Edinburgh and touring show, through to December 09's winners Steve MacNeil & Sam Pampilon, we have long found that comedy actors who can write and perform their own scripts can take leaps and bounds over scripts that then have to be cast and interpreted, although the latter often work marvellously. (TV seems to take a similar opinion, if sitcoms like Not Going Out, Spaced, The Office, 30 Rock, Phoenix Nights, Bottom, I'm Alan Partidge, League of Gentlemen, Gary Tank Commander or indeed Miranda are anything to go by). Whereas The Sitcom Mission invites scripts only, not writer-performers.

- OTHER DETAILS. I have a fondness for The Pitch Fest, another bit of audience participation in which the audience come up with ideas for sitcoms which are read out during the show, the funniest winning a prize at the end. And inevitably there will be differences in promotion and presentation between the Trials and the Mission that will please different audiences.

So I have high hopes that the Sitcom Trials will be returning for a 2011 season, stay tuned for more news when I have it.

Kev F Sutherland
The Sitcom Trials

PS: There are 20 opportunities and competitions for budding writers, all of whose deadlines are coming up. Don't say you weren't warned.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Socks on ITV tonight @LeicsComFest

The Scottish Falsetto Socks made a fine showing on ITV Central tonight in their coverage of the Leicester Comedy Festival. Rejoice:

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre play Leicester Comedy Festival Feb 9-11 and Adelaide Fringe Feb-Mar 2012. Spread the word.

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