Two years on from our residency at Nexus Art Café, during which we reproduced three episodes of the lost adventure serial UNIVERSAL EAR, we return to the same little back room to do it all again for a fourth episode – Banned Insubstance. After four days of painting, gluing and bending the set and props together, today is to be the first day of shooting, in theory, if we can fight through the mess.
The first figure to join me on set this morning is Jennifer Jordan – sometime UNIVERSAL EAR guest star, and guest runner/sticker-onner/soundie for Banned Insubstance. She takes me by surprise as I am staring, apparently into space, but in fact at our mobile foliage unit, a mass of cardboard leaves attached to a wheely clothes rail, which has fallen apart overnight. The idea behind the mobile foliage unit – or MFU – is that with limited studio space, rather than film the script’s walking contest with a pan or wide shot of the actors in motion, we will have the actors walk on the spot and repeatedly wheel the background past them to create the impression of progress. We will we see if this works tomorrow, when we film the big finale race scene with guest star Garth Williams. Meantime, no-one wants to touch the MFU, its emotional temperament being such that even looking at it the wrong way can cause an avalanche of carefully glued leaves.
Lockwood checks in, then “On The” Mike Cacioppo, but we feel obliged to wait for Nexus boss (and thus our Executive Producer) Jenny O. to appear, given that she knows where all the junk we need to shift should go and it would be rude to sing the company anthem without her. Waiting, the conversation turns to ‘hair’, and our emotional connections with same prove an unexpected ice-breaking exercise. Among the four of us:
One has cut all their hair off partially on the advice of a bodiless ‘presence’;
One has grown a moustache out of boredom and worn it around town for a single day to see how it felt before shaving it off again;
A third has accidentally deoderized their pits with TCP having arrived at a stranger’s party stinking of BO;
And the final one has re-stickered all the creams and potions in their bathroom having grown sick of the brand labels.
This is the core of our dream team for the week.
Jenny O. arrives and refuses to join in the company anthem. But she will fight a few fights on our behalf as the day progresses and her loyalty to the organisation is not in question.
The remainder of the morning is spent wrestling with the MFU and finishing off 22nd century Olympia’s grass (paper) race track. In the afternoon, for the sake of morale, we decide we should definitely film something, so we begin to rebuild Stampy’s – a corner of the postal service’s members-only club, from where our hero Harley Byrne introduces each episode. Part of this intro is to be made up of re-used shots from previous intros, so it is imperative we make it look the same as when we last shot here two years ago. The bike in the background of the shot has since been stolen though, so we decide to take its absence as an acceptable continuity error. However, on surveying the café out front for the comfy chair Byrne previously spoke from, they seem to have grown so as to be impossible to squeeze through the studio doors. Spotting a smaller model of the comfy chair hidden beneath a customer, we decide to wait out her departure. Time is money, but on a £200 shoot we’re only talking small change here.
With a little further difficulty – mainly getting various bits of set to stay where they should – we’re ready to roll, and all that stands in our way is our indulgence of lead actor Lockwood’s new technique, as learned from Brian Astbury. It involves repeating his lines again and again whilst engaged in ‘right brain’ activities – controlled breathing, press ups against the wall, beating the crap out of the Nexus teddy bear – so as to free his subconscious to respond spontaneously to the script’s action. In fact, it makes him a bit cocky so I attempt to puncture his performance with various distractions, such as air traffic controlling Mike’s boom pole into Lockwood’s face. At one point I am paralysed by overwhelming déjà vu, until someone points out that we did in fact do exactly the same as this on the set we’ve replicated two years ago (sans boom pole). The idea is this time we can use all the lessons we learnt last time and achieve a more desirable state of imperfection: having achieved this, we’ll leave our Nexus methodology behind and start from scratch elsewhere for the next episode.