If any of you Ireland-based folks are heading to the All Together Now festival this weekend, I will be hosting an incredible Brownbread Mixtape show on the Sunday with some of the finest spoken word artists in the world (Jasmine Gardosi and Erin Fornoff), as well as performing some classic radio-style comedy skecthes with our resident troupe The Brownbread Players. There will be plenty of singalongs, silly stories and a rousing rendition of My Blood is Boiling for Ireland too. It would be great to see some warm, friendly faces at the show. Pop by and say hello, and stick around for some of the other LEGENDS onstage at the event throughout the weekend!
Over the years I recorded my father, Tony Ryan, reading a host of different poems and written passages of mine. I still have hours of footage that I intend to create a longform piece with, but here was a quick assembly of one such recording I made, using some timelapse footage I shot from the roof of Google Dublin, set to a soundtrack I recorded on my laptop. The result is an atmospheric, moody, and ultimately cool little short film. The central subject matter is the figure of the Urban Future Cowboy, which is a leitmotif I have used in several other works and will dedicate a longer post to in the future. Let me know what you think of this little teaser.
At our monthly Brownbread Mixtape show, I would regularly write radio style sketches for our resident sketch troupe. This was a very early one that i am still very proud of, where I reimagined and documented an actual series of comments from a real YouTube video as an actual interactive conversation. Enjoy knobhats!
In 2011, myself, Colm Keegan and Stephen James Smith had an idea. Let’s write something together. We were all involved in the Dublin spoken word and independent arts scene, with each of us running our own nights The Glór Sessions (Stephen), Nighthawks (Colm) and The Brownbread Mixtape (me). We had become friends, and all had huge admiration for one another’s poetry (as well as being fans of the nights that we respectively ran), so, in retrospect it feels like there was an inevitability that we would join forces in some way. This is my version of the journey we took to create that collaborative piece of writing, that would end up becoming our award-nominated spoken word play Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About.
We chatted at length about possible ways to work together on a show of some kind, and I remember those early conversations were just us considering something simpler like a spoken word event, with each of us performing our poems. Essentially a gig by us, for us. Gradually that evolved into a more sophisticated idea of creating a collaborative piece with intertwining poetic monologues, but we still weren’t even clear what that meant.
So, we started to sketch out some initial ideas about what we wanted to tackle in our writing together. We knew that we wanted there to be some kind of link between them, but equally being able to retain our own voices and identities in the piece. So we met for a cup of tea in the Irish Film Institute and hastily sketched out a map of ideas and thoughts on a piece of paper around themes and paths to follow, as well as pondering the structure of the piece. Gradually it started to take shape and we loosely decided that we would write about the big milestones in our life, and how they had shaped us, in three interlinking poems each.
At some point soon afterwards, I think Stephen suggested we take a leap of faith and submit an application to the legendary Dublin Fringe Festival, in the hope that they would take an interest in our idea. While it seems strange to think it now, but the idea of a narrative-driven long-form spoken word poetry show was a relatively rare theatrical phenomenon on Irish stages at the time, so we felt we were proposing something fresh and interesting to the Fringe audience. And the Fringe festival happily agreed. The initial meeting between us and Roise Goan, Director of the Fringe Festival, was a great meeting of creative minds, and she would become one of our biggest supporters for this show well beyond the Fringe festival.
With the imminent deadline of the Fringe festival a few months away, and our own broad outline in place, we each went our separate ways and started writing different long-form poems about big moments in our respective lives. Then, on a weekly basis, we would convene at one of our homes to read out what we had written. It was a moment to air ideas and challenge each other. I remember those moments very well and very fondly (except for the times Colm’s insanely big dog would accost me), where we really pushed each other to rewrite and rework ideas. So often, one of us would read out an unflinching poem that would cause the others to pause for breath, and realise there was a need to dig even deeper and go even further. Those were huge learning periods for me as a writer, and as a critical reader of someone else’s work. All of us striving to make something excellent together.
Over time the poetic monologues began to form into the script as we now know it, with a relatively solid three part structure to each of our respective pieces. It became clear that much of what we were talking about was the idea of being a man. And fathers were a central spine to all of our stories, both our own fathers, as well as myself & Colm’s experiences as fathers too. The title for the show, which seems almost frivolous for a play that went to such deep and emotional territory, was something I said on a whim in that first meeting over a cup of tea in the IFI. But now it almost felt like a perfect disarming title for what was ultimately very lyrical explorations of tough topics like death, love, masculinity, loss, happiness, home, new beginnings…
With the poetic monologues coming together well, we still felt the piece was slightly incomplete, and knew there needed to be a shared piece of writing that bookended the piece. We were struggling to find the right tone and words, so we headed off for one final writing session in my old family home in Waterford. After a meal and a few cans we hit upon the idea of a series of declarative statements about what it means to be a man (that ultimately became the intro and outro to the show). “A man is proud of putting up a shelf“, “A man is two bad mistakes away from having nothing“. And I have very distinct memories of us being fascinated by a pastel drawing my father had done (fittingly of three figures) that hung above the mantelpiece, which almost certainly inspired my line from that section “A ghost in the family home”.
So, at this stage, we had a final script of sorts and we had secured the upstairs of The International Bar for our venue. It was time to embark on the rehearsals. I think we still naively believed we would be able to direct ourselves, and still saw this as something more like a series of poems to be delivered on a mic, versus it being an actual theatrical production so to speak. I recall us having the entire script laid out on the floor in chunks and reshuffling the sections to make them work more effectively in tandem with one another. We definitely had a few different variations until we settled on the final version, which made complete sense and clicked for us all once we performed it aloud. Nevertheless, despite figuring out the structure, it was clear we needed a directorial independent voice to help us bring it to life for the stage. Enter the mighty Sarah Brennan. Sarah was an established actor and director of many years standing, with a rich family history in the Irish acting world. So, we were absolutely delighted to have her on board, and it seemed fitting to have a singular female vision for this text that was written by three men.
It turned out to be one of the best things to happen to the show. Sarah helped us steer clear of maudlin moments and coaxed terrific performances out of all three of us, with both Stephen and Colm never having formally acted onstage prior to this. And my experience was not too extensive in fairness, limited mostly to the Brownbread Mixtape sketches, and, as a kid, a Tom Stoppard show for the theatre company Red Kettle (bizarrely, directed by Sarah’s uncle Paul Brennan!).
My friend and longtime collaborator in The Brownbread Players sketch troupe, Eva Bartley, also jumped on board to help us put together our set. The play was littered with references to photographs and images, so we gathered up several photos of our families and snaps of ourselves from our youth. Eva then deftly wove them together into these simple hanging mobiles of images, that ended up becoming integral to the show.
I still recall the nerves of opening night, not knowing if we would fill the 70 seats upstairs in the International Bar, or if the audience would respond to our deeply personal and lyrical stories. We needn’t have worried, it was sold out (and remained sold out for the remainder of the run) with incredibly moving standing ovations almost every night. Our initial eagerness to get offstage during those ovations, gave way to the fact that this was a unique thing for us all, and we learned to enjoy those moments that the audience gave us. And the critics responded too, with a stunning 4 star review in the Irish Times, which bowled us over.
The show went on to receive a Fringe Award nomination for the Little Gem category, where the winner would receive a monetary prize to restage the show for a week in the legendary Bewley’s Cafe Theatre. It was such a huge buzz to get nominated for our show, and we even dared to dream for a moment, but in the end we didn’t take home the prize. But it didn’t matter, because we had achieved something really special already.
And then all of a sudden the show was done, but there were still loads of people asking us if we would be staging it again, as they hadn’t been able to catch it in the original sold out run. So, we started to explore if that was a possibility and how one would go about doing that. Remember, none of us really knew anything about the world of theatre in Ireland. We reached out to Roise Goan, Director of the Fringe Festival, for advice. As serendipity would have it, she was just about to get in touch with us about a cool new venture Fringe was doing with the legendary Project Arts Centre called Turnaround.
The idea behind Turnaround was to showcase 5 shows from all previous Fringe Festivals that they believed were deserving of another look, and were worthy of being staged on a professional stage. We were one of those shows! We were bowled over by the request and were happy to dive in headlong into the process. And so in April of 2012, with tremendous support teams, we ran the show for three more sold out nights in the Cube theatre space in the Project. It was a really special experience, and far from being over, Turnaround led us to the next part of the Three Men Talking adventure.
On the back of both successful runs of the show, we were lucky enough to partner up with the brilliant producer Jen Coppinger, who helped us take the show on the road to even more audiences. What followed was almost a year of Irish shows around the country (sometimes with a post-show Q&A), including an emotional return to Garter Lane Theatre in my home town of Waterford. I had worked in that very theatre with both my father and mother, and many of the audience were writers, actors and friends who knew them (and me), so it was a unique moment I’ll treasure.
The tour of the show even took us abroad to wonderful rooms (and more sold out shows) at the Centre Culturel d’Irlandais in Paris, the London Irish Centre in London, and the Arnolfini Centre in Bristol (where we had the first sparks of an idea for LINGO festival – but more on that at a later date). We even printed a limited edition run of the script to sell as merch on tour, and that sold out too!
Audiences responded deeply and strongly to it everywhere we went, with each of our specific stories often ringing a bell very pointedly with people. Because of the confessional nature of our stories, audience members were often keen afterwards to share their own tale of losing a loved one with me, or indeed their stories of family that echoed those of Colm or Stephen. The show really meant something to people and that was deeply gratifying.
I seem to recall we did one “last ever final never-performing-it-again” show a couple of times, but after a poetic journey of almost three years, the show had reached a natural conclusion. Our lives had changed quite a lot since the original writing of it, with relationships altered, new children in our lives, and much more besides – so it was time to move on to new creative projects.
It was an incredible journey all told (I didn’t even cover everything here, including an American theatre company asking to stage it Stateside), and it is not too much of an exaggeration to say it was one of the great artistic experiences of my life. But more significantly I formed two great friendships with Stephen and Colm, and we are all still good friends to this day. That is the most remarkable thing of all really. In a strange way, even through we were acquaintances before it started, we really didn’t know each other that well until we embarked upon the writing of the show. But we were honest and vulnerable, and in sharing those stories of our lives, we created a piece of art that brought us together for a period of time. And as a result we got the chance to share a slice of our lives together travelling & performing with the show.
We’ve talked about doing another show together. We even went so far as to do a writing session together, but nothing major came from that. Maybe we weren’t ready yet. Maybe in a few years when the show is ten years old, we could do a sequel… Three Men Still Talking.
So much of the creative process is about crafting a good story that resonates and reverberates with your audience. The art of storytelling is something we have been raised with since we were kids – almost every one of us had someone who read to us at night before we went to sleep – and when it is done well, there is nothing quite as spellbinding. And that sits deep within us.
The quote above is from Ira Glass, host of the highly regarded podcast and National Public Radio show This American Life, which chronicles stories large and small from all walks of life. Of the many radio shows and podcasts out there, This American Life is perhaps among the greatest at weaving a tale that draws you in. Ira’s quote really sticks with me, because the simplicity of what he is saying is also absolutely true.
And I think it applies not just to writing, but can equally be applied to other creative forms where the narrative is placed at the heart of it, and draws the audience in, and takes them on that train.
The quote actually comes from a longer extended interview with Ira Glass ,where he goes deeper on the art of good storytelling, and I strongly recommend listening to it below. It’s full of nuggets on storytelling and the creative process.
Nicolas Cage has been making increasingly erratic and poor movie choices for some time now. Back in the 90s, for the now defunct artlick.com project, myself and my friend Dave had this mad idea of creating marketing materials & collateral for a buddy road-trip movie, where Cage would star as himself opposite a bottle of ketchup. We wanted it to be just odd enough to seem almost a plausible choice Cage would make. We really got into it and the final mugshot movie poster Dave created up above is an absolute gem – a proper work of art that belongs on a wall – and I would dearly love to see this movie. Presenting Mr Splash…
The idea began I think over lunch one day when we spilled some ketchup on the table and Dave took a photo of it with our trusty digital camera. Somewhere between that moment and our mild obsession with quirkmeister Nicolas Cage as an actor, grew this idea, which was quite simply one of the most fun creative things we ever brought to life. It spawned such a world for us as we explored it, including a whole backstory and history, as well as a visual identity that we gave a lot of thought to.
We were very interested in getting the right look and feel for this sort of creative project, so it became important to us to test different variations of ideas and styles for the fake film we were constructing. We landed eventually on the teaser poster above, but we did toy with the slightly more cartoonish noir one below for a while, but eventually discarded it.
With the visuals starting to take shape, we spent ages (probably far too long) cooking up names for the cast and crew of the movie. I have very vivid recollections of being very precise and specific about this absurd list of contributors, but that level of detail ultimately helped us bring the creative world it lived in to life. There was a particualr moment of giddiness about deciding the score was written by someone called simply “Barkley”, which somehow was a nod to the legendary composer Vangelis. Which then led to us deciding that Vangelis was actually going to make his debut as an actor in the movie! (alongside a rather eclectic international cast, which you can see in the mugshot poster at the very top of this post)
As part of this extensive world building, we then decided to present the archival materials and content from the film on artlick.com as an exclusive peek into the library of self-proclaimed film historian and auteur (and crushing bore) Raymind Runn, a personal friend of the film’s director. Below is the elaborate, self-indulgent, and deliberately poorly written introduction we used to present Mr. Splash on the website.
There are other fragments that I can unfortunately no longer find, including a memo from the movie producers outlining a series of changes they required in order to complete the financing of the movie to completion – with ludicrous requests like demanding that it be 17% more funny; adding a scene where someone eats sushi, because people love sushi; giving Nicolas Cage or the bottle of ketchup a catchphrase.
Like so many of the things we created for artlick, we really went deep into the details, and went super specific to our own sense of humour, in the hope that others would follow. And if they didnt, that was ok, because we had an absolute blast piecing it together. Which feels like a good rule of thumb in general for most creative endeavours. It will find an audience. Even if it doesn’t, enjoy it. You might end up with something as funny and simultaneously cool as this poster!
The Internet is a curious and marvellous playground of ideas and oddities. Here are 7 of the strangest “musical” YouTube phenomena currently racking up the views right now. Warning, these will worm their way into that part of your brain that refuses to let go of things. I prescribe a lovely strong dose of Wilco to remedy any ill effects. But for now, click and enjoy…
Interior Crocodile Alligator
Our resident Brownbread Mixtape sketch troupe The Brownbread Players performed a sketch entitled “An Actual Conversation on YouTube” which chronicled a series of real comments and volleys of abuse about this YouTube clip. The sketch got a great response and we even began communicating with some of the commenters mentioned in the clip. We asked them all to send us a clip that summed up YouTube for them and we were sent the remarkable Interior Crocodile Alligator. Our life has basically been complete ever since. So, thank you YouTube commenter “wHeNiPoOpSuMmItDiEs”. You sir, are destined to go to heaven in a Chevrolet Movie Theater…
117 million people have watched this dude, Tay Zonday, sing his original song “Chocolate Rain”. Yes, 117 MILLION! Nothing more than a dude singing a song in front of a mic, pausing to take a breath occasionally (which he describes in his textual running commentary), a few cutaways of a piano being played. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it. Utterly baffling but a true internet phenomenon. I hope he is loaded now and bathes in big tubs of chocolate rain every night.
Friday – Rebecca Black
Unless you have been living under a digital rock for the past few years, you will have heard about the runaway success of this irritatingly catchy and preposterously bad song, Friday, as “performed” (auto-tuned) by 13 year old Rebecca Black. Perhaps more embarrassingly, the song was actually written by a pair of grown men, not the tuneless kid herself. Yet, in the space of approximately three weeks it picked up almost 70 million views on YouTube (now a whopping 120 million). So, clearly they are doing something right, or we are all doing something very wrong. It has also, in true internet fashion, spawned several parodies, reinterpretations and remixes; the best of which is undoubtedly this genius Bob Dylan version. Then, of course, Bob Dylan wrote every popular song ever recorded for the past 35 years. Every single one.
This dude, Edward Khil, wanders around with a permagrin singing “trololololololo”. The natural result is that millions of people click and share it. Don’t try to understand why. As Clooney said in O Brother Where Art Thou: “It’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart”.
2001 A Space Odyssey : School orchestra performance
A student orchestra called Portsmouth Sinfonia comprised of non-musicians (no shit!) got together to perform Thus Spake Zarathustra, the atmospheric, portentous opening to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001. Their version is not quite as good as the original. In fact, it is better, but for more comedic reasons. At least the drummer got it right.
Badger Badger Badger
Badger, badger, badger, badger, badger…. An absolutely bizarre (and ultimately irritating) video featuring a series of animated badgers doing a mini-workout followed by images of a snake and a toadstool. It really cannot be described or fully understood without seeing it. Over 8 million people were prepared to sit through it. It spawned the infinitely superior Christmas Badgers video which features a guest appearance by JC himself and some presents. Hallelujah!
Dude singing Carmina Burana and smoking in the shower.
Spotted this the other night as I was flicking through one of my dad’s final sketchbooks. To me this sketch is a haiku that folds a whole universe into it. This was the last time he drew me and it is a great snapshot of a fond moment. Drawn on a sweltering humid day in the apartment I was subletting in Brooklyn. The air conditioner was broken, so we cracked open some ice cold Red Stripe beers we picked up at the Jamaican corner store. He sketched with charcoals while I played Bob Dylan songs badly. His hand starting to tremor already, but his eye still keen, and the lines still quite certain. By the next summer when he came to visit me, he was unable to draw any more due to his illness and he filled his days going to the Met and the MoMA to marvel at the masters instead. Happy times.