Thursday, 6 May 2010


The day of the Lumpenbal, our launch party in the 19th century European tradition, whereby at the end of the ball season - when all are broke and broken by hedonistic and sartorial extravagances past - the doors to the final ball are thrown open to tramps, vagabonds and spent socialites alike to revel in their collective downfall. (More details on our intentions and conventions can be found here).

The day is largely dedicated to continued set-building (above) for first episode "A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear" - once we've Zoomed, warmed up, and further explored Higginson's temporal cubist work-out (below). I'm careful to earmark a wedge of day for the preparation of the ballroom; however, this wedge becomes smaller and smaller as we apply ever fiercer concentration to cardboard manipulation in pursuit of the perfect screen log cabin.

At 3.45, Lockwood and I hold a meeting with Marie Louise Cookson, a semi-pro announcer, to put together a bit of a show for the "speeches" bit of the ball. The atmosphere is strained and Lockwood and I wonder whether Cookson is ill, or perhaps feeling the pressure ahead of her intended performance in front of up to 150 people. Lockwood and I throw up some suggestions as to how we might approach the public introduction to the UNIVERSAL EAR serial and our prehabilitation of same: I mainly concentrate on funny stuff, while Lockwood becomes somewhat stuck on the question of "what are we trying to achieve here?". To paraphrase our producer, Nathan Povey, if we spent all our time asking ourselves what we were trying to achieve, what would we ever achieve? (Don't try to answer that). Finally Cookson snaffles the best of my material and announces she must retire from the meeting to fashion her notes into some kind of script. Before she leaves, it is revealed that the reason for her spikiness today is that she has taken yesterday's failed audition rather personally - particularly criticising the medium of rejection (SMS text message) and the tone (frank). I look to Lockwood to back me up, but he is apparently searching for something valuable under the Snuggle Office sofa; Cookson leaves, hardly on better terms than she had arrived, and I fear our on-stage chemistry this evening may already be compromised.

The day segues so smoothly into the evening that I almost forget to slip into my ball gown. I have at the last minute asked production designer Strigner to continue working out back away from the festivities this evening, so we might guide guests through to show them the studio at work. Friends and strangers alike begin to teem into the cafe, and we receive - among other donations - a pair of crutches, a fine but immobile bicycle, and a set of Egyptian crockery. First AD Rowan makes a poignant and complex statement about the instability of matter, the ephemeral nature of propriety and the subjective quantification of man-made space by smashing one such hieroglyphed teacup on the floor and bursting into tears. (I will call to mind this impromtu performance a week later whilst watching Gordon Matta-Clark's Conical Intersect (1975) at Kate Taylor's FutureEverything film screening - but pound for pound, Rowan's piece is more affecting.)

Speeches next, and charmed equally by Cookson's delivery and Lockwood's bashfulness, I forget to mention many of the key points I was to illustrate during our address. Cookson's turn will indeed be remembered as a highlight of the evening; Lockwood, a some-time stage actor, can only hope his shy demeanour is overlooked by the masses. Is is past 9pm (the ball is only due to go on until 10) and Tuesday Betts has not yet shown up, so I completely forget that we (she) is meant to be crowning a belle and/or beau of the ball: thankfully no-one picks up on this and we are able to make way for our stand-in band Pyjama Party, whose own Mr Beats immediatly unleashes the song of wild elephants and such on the crowd, embellishing the PJ sound with a concrète underscore. Sugden, UNIVERSAL EAR's executive producer and our portraitist for the evening, continues to take one-minute 'screen tests' of our guests, as general photography is absolutely forbidden.

9.54 and a lost looking glamourpuss in fake fur coat, bob wig, cigarette holder and sherry bottle (Nexus is strictly dry) wanders down from the street, scanning the dazzled ball-goers for a familiar face. Next to our cast of beggars and chimney sweeps, the stranger is clearly in the wrong place... until she is revealed to be none other than Tuesday Betts, the female lead of our UNIVERSAL EAR remake and would-be Lumpenbal figurehead. A truly memorable entrance: in the minutes that remain (not too few, as Pyjama Party refuse to leave the stage), Betts allows Sugden to take her portrait, then helps us clear up before emabarking on the drive back to Blackpool. Legend.

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