Rent at The Old Rep, Birmingham

Last night, I went along to the press night of Rent, at The Old Rep in Birmingham, as Brum Hour‘s plus one.

Rent at The Old Rep

Rent is a modern retelling of Puccini’s opera La Bohème, and tells the story of a group of struggling artists in 90s New York, battling addiction, gentrification and the shadow of AIDS. This production for The Old Rep has been developed entirely in Birmingham, with a young cast of actors from around the Midlands.

I’ll be honest, Rent is one of my favourite musicals, and I know the movie starring the Broadway cast pretty much backwards, so I was careful not to go in with high expectations. I needn’t have worried.

Built in 1913, The Old Rep is not a large theatre, and with a show the scale of Rent, clever staging is essential. The set design was simple, but worked fantastically to give the idea of multiple apartments and walkways. All constructed on different levels with a network of staircases, the cast were able to create the feel of lots of different spaces with very minimal set.

Rent at The Old Rep

The cast were all wonderful singers, shown off beautifully in the gorgeous harmonies of numbers like Seasons Of Love, and Will I?

For Rent to work, you need a strong actor in the part of Mark, as we see so much of the plot through his eyes (or camera lens…). In this production, Mark is played by Joe Ashman. Capable hands indeed! Ashman’s singing and acting were impressive, and he played Mark with sensitivity, humour and not a hint of an Anthony Rapp impression. Not an easy feat…

I was also impressed with Jessica Singer’s Mimi (not least due to the incredible professionalism she showed when her microphone was clearly coming detached during her solo! Poor girl. She handled it like a champ though, hooked it back into place and carried on). She had Mimi’s mix of seductiveness and vulnerability down pat. Ashleigh Aston as Maureen had one of the biggest voices I’ve ever heard live. Seriously impressive pipes. I would have liked to see her push the acting up a notch to match that big voice, but she was still good. I just feel that we wait so long to see Maureen after hearing all the characters talk about her, that she ought to be a real show stopper when she does arrive on stage! I did love her take on Maureen’s protest song, Over The Moon, though. It was gloriously bonkers and that voice…wow.

Rent at The Old Rep

The real stand out for me though was Collins, played by Rhys Owen. Now, I admit, Collins is a not a character I’ve ever identified as a favourite in Rent (I switch between Maureen and Angel…), but this man stole the show. He came into his own in the second half, delivering an incredibly emotionally charged performance of I’ll Cover You (Reprise). Owen has an absolutely stunning voice and his acting in this number was stunning. A well deserved standing ovation swiftly followed; the first time I have ever seen that mid performance instead of during the curtain call!

Unfortunately, there were a lot of issues with props, costume and tech for the first night, but the cast battled through like true professionals, whether they were losing their shoes, falling through benches or finding their mic had completely cut out. I really felt for Sophie Poulton in particular, playing Joanne. She was clearly a very talented actress and singer, but her microphone was barely functioning, meaning a lot of her performance was lost. The band were also too loud, I think, especially considering the mic difficulties. When you have such a vocally talented cast, it’s a shame to drown them out! Hopefully these little hiccups will be ironed out for the rest of the run.

I think it’s wonderful to have a production like this created in Birmingham, and with a cast largely drawn from the Midlands. Let’s celebrate our homegrown talent! Over all, this was an excellent production and well worth a watch.

Rent is at The Old Rep until Saturday 30th July, with limited tickets still available. Be quick to book! You can book here.

Cosplay 101: Wigs

Cosplay 101

Wigs. A cosplayer’s best friend and worst enemy. Personally, I’ll find all kinds of workarounds to avoid using one, as I find them awkward to work with and hot to wear. Sometimes there’s no avoiding it though. I’ve always used one for Poison Ivy, and have plenty of plans that will require a wig too.

I’m no expert on wig styling, but here’s some basic tips on wigs for cosplay to get you started.

Buying a wig

Good quality is essential. A cheap wig can instantly spoil a good costume, and a mediocre costume can be elevated by a good wig. Shop around and buy the best you can afford. Better quality means a better look, easier styling and a longer life. Descriptions of fibers as as “silky“, “monofilament” or “Japanese/Asian fiber” generally indicate good quality, but always read the description and any reviews carefully. If in doubt, ask. Most of my wigs have been bought on eBay, and I go by seller reviews, spend a little more and listen to reviews from friends.

Wearing a wig

Buy a wig cap. It looks better and is a hell of a lot easier to get the wig on. You can use a neutral flesh tone (which is what I have, so I can use one cap across all my wigs) or one in a colour to match the wig. You can buy wig caps very cheaply on Amazon, or you can even make your own from an old pair of tights.

Get your hair out of the way. Obviously the longer your hair, the trickier this is. For my long hair, I scrape the lot back into a tight ponytail, and pin the ends of the ponytail flat against the top of my head. Get it as flat as possible to minimise weird bumps in the wig. Wetting or gelling your hair can help keep things under control. I also find hair that hasn’t been washed that day is also a lot easier to cram into a cap. Pincurls and braids are also a great way to keep your hair flat and out of the way. Put the wig cap on from the back of your head. Pull it right down over your forehead then slide it back to your hairline. This catches any loose hairs sticking out. I like to tuck a couple of pins in to keep the cap still. You can tidy up stray hairs with gel or hairspray.

Getting the wig itself on depends on how styled it is or how heavy it is. Rest the front band of the wig in the middle of the forehead and pull the wig back over the rest of the head. I have never put a wig on right first try and always spend a bit of time wriggling it about to get it to look right.

For extra stability, you can pin the wig in place. Practice really is the key here!

Cosplay

Photo by Gonzography

Styling a wig

I try and buy wigs as ready styled as possible, and then just pin the fringe out of my eyes or whatever needs doing. If you want to style it yourself, go carefully. Treat the wig gently. There are loads of tutorials on Cosplay Tutorials, covering everything from cutting a fringe in to building a wig around a wire frame.

Detangling and washing a wig

Treat your wig with care and it’ll last longer. Try not to drag it about too much when you wear it. Ideally, when not being worn, wigs should be kept on a wig form to help them keep their shape. I don’t do this, as I don’t have room for a lot of heads about the place. Instead, I just carefully put the wig back into the original packaging and store them that way. I do get a few tangles, but it seems to be a pretty reasonable solution. Combing it through gently after wear before you store it is also a good idea.

If you have got your wig into a tangle though, don’t fret! You can save it. Get yourself a wig brush, or any brush with plastic or metal teeth, that are quite stiff. You’ll need some wig detangler, or spray in conditioner. I’ve had good success by mixing ordinary fabric conditioner with water in a spray bottle. Work in small sections, spraying the wig with detangler and gently combing it through. Try not to pull too much on the wig’s fibres.

If you’ve really killed it, a good soak in the fabric conditioner and water mix can help a lot (I’ve done this, with one cap of fabric conditioner in a sink full of luke warm water). Soak it well, and gently work through the worst knots with your fingers. Then go for the usual detangling method. Put your wig back on the wig form (or in my case…a bed post) to dry back into shape.

Friday Round Up

Links, loves and Instagrams from the last week.

Friday Round Up

Wonder Woman – Wonder Woman tests are happening! I am beyond excited to finish this costume, even if I have nowhere to wear it until October. I’ll just wear it around the house until then.

Photoshoot  – I had a shoot with a couple of local photographers last weekend. They were testing light set-ups and I played guinea pig in exchange for pictures. I decided to go geeky for it, and should have some photos to share with you soon!

Brumderland – The last of the seven deadly sins with Brumderland and Bitters n Twisted. This time was Sloth at The Victoria. We tried some whiskey based cocktails, and some of the new menu. The food was nice – I especially enjoyed the Korean Chicken Wings, the nduja and peach pizza (nice change from pineapple!) and the Halloumi and Sweet Potato Burger. The cocktails were very tasty too, especially the Hazelnut Old Fashioned. The new cocktail menu has been developed by two of the bar staff, which is awesome. It would have been nice to hear a little more about that process, but an enjoyable evening all round.

This week’s links:
Geeky Brummie’s latest show.
Snapchat is working on image recognition.
Signs Pokemon Go has taken over your life.
Gambit gets a filming date.
Mark Hamill performs Joker voice live.
Nerdist’s highlights from SDCC.

Currently reading: Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy. Still. Still interesting.

Currently watching: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I am hooked. Rachel Bloom is so awesome.

On repeat:

 

Cosplay 101: Travelling In Cosplay

Cosplay 101

Travelling in cosplay can be an interesting experience. I usually travel in cosplay, but there are things to be considered.

Where can I change when I get there?

If you’re planning to change when you arrive at the convention, check that there is actually somewhere to do so first. If you’re planning on changing in the loos, be aware that whatever you change into you need to be able to cram into a bathroom stall. If you need help getting into parts of your costume, this is worth considering too. I usually choose to get ready at home, because there’s more room, proper mirrors and it’s easy to get help if I need it.

Are my props or costume going to cause alarm?

If you’re going to use public transport, it’s worth thinking about what reaction your costume might cause in the general public. Anything too realistically military or police force looking is likely to causes issues. It causes people to get nervous, and can get you into trouble. Cover up badges, or add on the last bits of costume when arrive.

With props, make sure weapons are put away and not visible. You know it’s fake, Joe Public might not. It’s not worth getting arrested…

Will I be safe if I travel like this? 

I covered large props in a previous cosplay 101, but again, make sure any delicate props will be safe to transport.

Are you going to be travelling alone, or late at night? Will your costume generate unwanted attention, either from idiots who think a costume is a reason to hassle you, or if you’re wearing something sexy or skimpy, a reason to hit on you. I always take a coat or long jacket to wear over small costumes to I’m safe to travel without being bothered. Be safe out there!

Travelling in cosplay can be a lot of fun, but keep your wits about you and make sure you arrive safely.

Friday Round Up

Links, loves and Instagrams from the last week.

Friday Round Up

MinMin  – Last week a gang of us from work went for lunch at MinMin Noodle Bar. Like all the best finds in Birmingham, MinMin is a bit of a hidden gem. Tucked away behind a carpark, it looks like a cheap cafe, but the food…wowzers. For less than a tenner, I got a beer, fried rice, and I ate so much salt and pepper squid I didn’t need dinner. Go here. Eat everything.

Wimbledon – I don’t care about the real Wimbledon, but we had our own Wimbledon at work in the form of a table tennis tournament. There were Scones and Pimms, and silliness. My mate wore a Rafael Nadal mask, and insisted it was Nick Cave.

Urban Coffee – My internet went down at home last week, so I was a blogger cliche and worked from a trendy cafe over brunch on Sunday. To be an extra cliche I ate avocado, poached eggs and smoked salmon on sourdough toast. It was delicious. I may be a cliche, but I’m a happy one.

Pigeons – One of the odder event gimmicks I’ve seen recently; these pigeons were walking about at the Colmore Food Festival. Beautiful costumes, if a bit strange.

Wonder Woman – The boots for my Wonder Woman cosplay arrived and I am totally delighted with them. I think they’re going to be pretty comfortable too, as they’re flat. Cosplay awesomeness. Cannot wait for the rest to be finished now.

Forward Birmingham – Half of Birmingham seems to be a building site these days. I oddly love the contrasts this creates sometimes, like the demolition site around the old Central Library.

This week’s links:
Geeky Brummie.
The Mask cosplayers dancing at Montreal Comic Con.
Gambit finally gets a filming date.
The Spice Girls, 20 years after Wannabe.
British politics or Game of Thrones?
Anya from Buffy is a hero.

Currently reading: Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy. Interesting stuff…

Currently watching: Jane The Virgin. Only a couple of episodes in, but it’s fun so far.

On repeat:

Cosplay 101: Do I Need a Facebook Page?

Cosplay 101

Much like blogging, at some point cosplay hits a point where you start asking yourself questions about marketing. Should you be doing it at all, or does that just make you a bit vain?

For cosplayers, the most popular online presence seems to be a Facebook page. You can (of course) find those of us with blogs, active Instagram or Twitter accounts, or a carefully planned YouTube channel, but in my experience, Facebook seems to be the place where the cosplays fans are. So do you really need a cosplay page?

It’s a sensible question, with no real yes or no answer. It depends what you want out of your cosplay, I think.

Are you just going to the occasional convention and are quite happy just dressing up with your mates? Then…you probably don’t need a cosplay page.

Most cosplayers though, if nothing else, like to be able to find the photos they’ve had taken during a convention. A page can be a good way to do that as it gives somewhere for people to reach you without you having to give out your personal account details.

If you’re hoping to go somewhere with your cosplay though, such as selling prints or being invited to guest at conventions or judge cosplay competitions, then you definitely need a social media presence. It’s not all vanity, I promise, just good sense. People need somewhere to find you, and you can keep building your presence and audience even between events. I’ve made great contacts through Facebook, and honestly would not be getting the invites I do (occasionally) without it.

If you can use Facebook, you can manage a page. The options and setup and very simple and you can invest as much or as little as you like into it. Go on…I dare you.

Friday Round Up – Double Edition

Links, loves and the last (two) weeks in Instagram.

Friday Round Up

Carnival  – Last week, work put on their summer party. We had a carnival themed party at the Rainbow Rooftop Terrace in Digbeth. Now, I used to work in Digbeth, and pride myself on knowing a lot of the hidden corners. I know the Rainbow, but I had no idea they had such an amazing space hidden way behind the railway arches. There was face painting, giant burgers and live Caribbean drummers. It was an absolutely incredible night. We danced, we drank, we laughed til our sides hurt.

Gambit – I’ve been reading Gambit’s solo run, in it’s collected form, this week, and I’m really enjoying it. I do know all the stories in here, but it’s been a while since I read them. I love the classic 90s Gambit look, and the art in this is so good. The way Gambit is drawn in this makes me think a lot of Nightwing and how he is drawn in his solo books and in Grayson. The style is not just athletic, but acrobatic. To my eye, the look is almost dancer like, twisted into elegant shapes as he fights. Quite unusual for male comic book characters, I think. Coincidence with the popularity of these two characters with female readers? Maybe…

Ikon – On Wednesday, I went along to the Ikon Gallery to check out the launch of the new exhibitions. Four artists are currently displaying work, all themed on journeys. It was a nice evening, with some interesting work, including one that involves being slid out of a window, 50ft in the air…

This week’s links:
Geeky Brummie’s Geek of Thrones.
Making money from blogging.
Employment boom for the creative industries.

Currently watching – I watched all of Archer season 7 over two days – little disappointed by this season, won’t lie.

On repeat:

Adulting: Mondays

Mondays. Nobody likes Monday. But unfortunately, they are a thing that must be endured, and let’s face it, if you can start Monday well, you’ve got the week off to a good start.

I’d love to say I’m going to suggest improving Monday by running away to live on the beach, but unfortunately, we don’t all have that option. Instead, I’ve been testing out small ways to make Monday more bearable.

Start on Sunday

It sounds obvious, but how often do you let the Monday blues start on Sunday night? If you sit awake til all hours, stropping about going back to work, you’re not exactly likely to enjoy it when you get there. I’ve got into the habit of changing the sheets on a Sunday night, making into getting a bed a real joy. I try to get into bed early, with a book, snuggled up in crisp, clean sheets. It feels luxe, and you get lots of sleep ready to face the week.

Little treats

We’re more likely to treat ourselves on a Friday, I think. How often do you justify buying a treat because it’s Friday? We’re already happy because it’s Friday; if you ask me Monday is where the extra help is needed. Buy a posh coffee on the way to work. Pack yourself something extra tasty for lunch to look forward to. Make Monday the day you’re allowed to order a takeaway. Whatever works to make Monday something to look forward to.

Make plans

On a similar note, make some nice plans when you can. Meet a friend for lunch. Have date night in front of your favourite film. Don’t save the fun stuff for the weekend.

Still got Monday blues?

Nobody loves Mondays, but if your normal Monday blues turn into real stress or anxiety for the end of the weekend, think about why. If going back to work is truly making you miserable, perhaps it’s time to polish up the CV and take a look around for a job that won’t make Mondays seem like hell.

Aberystwyth, Mon Amour

Aberystwyth

Aberystywth, mon amour…title shamelessly stolen from the Malcolm Pryce book, the first of his series of detective novels set in Aberystwyth. I was a student in  Aber, and can honestly say I adore the place. I’ve been feeling particularly homesick for Aber (or FFaber, as we took to calling it) this week. Summer always makes me nostalgic for Aber. The town is at it’s best in extremes of weather. I loved the drama of crashing waves and roaring winds in the winter, but Aberystwyth in the sun is beautiful. The sea glitters, the castle and Old College stand out against blue skies, and the sunsets can’t be matched by anywhere else. Perhaps too, I’m feeling reminiscent, while my not-sister is visiting universities herself, choosing where to study.

I discovered a friend of mine at Brum Radio is also an Aberystwyth University alumni.  We talked about the strange bubble that the Aber experience is, almost totally cut off from the outside world. In  a town excited by the arrival of an escalator, you have to make your own fun. We laughed at the intensity of the place, and the student habit of  writing what we believed was deep, introspective poetry, and was probably just terrible. I did write a lot while I was studying there. It’s the most prolific I’ve ever been.

Aberystwyth, Mon Amour

I learnt all sorts of things in Aberystwyth. How to spell Aberystwyth, for one thing, and how to correctly pronounce Machynlleth (never did learn to spell it without googling first though). I learnt how best to escape seagulls the size of Jack Russells, that the best way to ensure good luck is kicking the bar, and that there is no such thing as six degrees of separation in Aber (it’s probably two, at most!).

Considering I was studying Creative Writing, you’d expect my creative side to be flourishing, and of course it was. What I hadn’t expected was how it would change and grow, in ways that are still a part of my creative process now.

It was during my time at Aber that I developed a burgeoning interest in fashion, and when this blog started. I’ve been writing here for so long now, and often forget those first posts were written in my small bedroom in my first year, listening to the waves.

The lecturers and professors I had have had a lasting impact on me too. At the open day, I met Tiffany Atkinson (now a professor of Creative Writing at East Anglia, possibly the most respected courses in the country, making me extra glad I had the chance to be taught by her).  Creative Writing seemed like an unusual choice of course at that point – I was used to slightly baffled encouragement from teachers who acknowledged that I wrote ‘nice stories’, but had little advice to offer. Tiffany listened to me talk, and told me, with incredible excitement, about her great joy in watching the young writers she was teaching blossom. She didn’t try to tell me why I should come to Aberystwyth. Instead, she made me feel like she wanted to teach me. It was a new sensation, feeling like my work was exciting and ought to be developed, and that there was guidance out there. When I was taught by Tiffany in my second year, I was enthralled. She was wonderful.

There were others too. Richard Marggraf Turley, who taught some of my Literature modules, remains a stand out. His passion for Keats was completely contagious, and I’m a big fan of Keats’ work still. My obsession with romantic poets, and ability to produce facts about Keats, Byron and Shelley at the drop of a hat is largely the fault of Richard…I will be forever grateful for the gift of such wonderful, haunting poems, and for teaching me to understand and appreciate them. Matthew Francis, too, changed the way I think about what I read. Before Matthew, a teacher had never invited us to critique their own work, but Matthew did, frequently joining a group of us who  met up to write and workshop Science-Fiction and Fantasy work we were creating for our dissertations. That group was so in love with the same genre I was, and showed me that even the quirky should be appreciated and shouted about.

Aberystwyth Seafront

I realise I’ve already reached 700 words, and still have so much to say about this town, the university and it’s lecturers. When anybody questions how such a small, often bleak, place can have such a hold on me, this is why.

I’m yet to write about the lecturer who had the biggest impact of all. In my second year, I signed up for a module called Transpositions, which was writing taking inspiration from existing work. It was taught by an american poet, named Kelly Grovier. Out of curiosity, I bought his first poetry collection, A Lens in The Palm. It was beautiful. Perfect. Later, Kelly told me he found it incredibly embarrassing knowing that someone he knew in real life had read his poems. Kelly, I owe you an apology, because I bought the two collections you published after I graduated as well and adored those too.

Kelly taught me a new way of using imagery. Small things would work their way into my poems as crystal clear images, which was a way I’d never written before. He encouraged us to create interesting combinations of words, and put line breaks in weird places to create more interesting images or sounds. As someone who enjoys playing with language, this was a revelation, and remains the way I write poetry. Second drafts are always looking for the most interesting word to break a line one.

There was one class, where we were supposed to write a piece using lines from another poem, where I was the only one who turned up. I’d written a piece about modern romance, using lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee. Kelly spent the hour helping me workshop the piece, creating those strange images I loved so much in his own work. He named my poem Dry Ice, after his favourite image in it. In 2013, Dry Ice was published in a Forward Poetry collection. I often wonder if I should have got in touch to thank him.

 

I’m sure everybody thinks that their own university experience is the best one, that their university and department were special. I feel like the English department in Aberystwyth University, and Aberystwyth itself, really were special though. The impact both had on me is immeasurable. It would be easy to regret the missed grades that prevented me from going to the University of East Anglia, but in all honesty, I think I was always meant to go to Aberystwyth. So many of the defining parts of my personality and my writing voice were created there. Aberystwyth…mon amour…

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats – Ode on a Grecian Urn.