I know what you're thinking ... I'm going to tell you that it is important that you book tickets to our shows so that you don't miss out because they are always so popular...
Well, while I will happily admit that this does happen, and that we love it when it does, that isn't what is on my mind as I write this blog.
It is more the case that it is important to book tickets to make sure that you don't miss out because we don't perform the show.
Now, we are not in the habit of cancelling shows. In fact, some of our shows are designed to be intimate and sometimes smaller audiences work in the show's favour. But it happens to every smaller-scale professional company from time to time.
Larger companies on a UK tour with many thousands of pounds behind them don't have quite the same worries. But for those of us (and many of our professional colleagues are in the same position) who have to self-promote, find innovative ways of ticketing and funding, and travel in the cheapest ways possible to make shows viable, advance bookings are essential.
I have heard numerous stories of companies who have had to cancel shows because it would have cost money to go ahead for the size of the audience, only to find out afterwards that lots of people are commenting on their social media expressing disappointment because they were going to come on the night.
Smaller companies cannot, unfortunately, always take a gamble on walk-ups.
So, if you like the kinds of things that we do, please help us (and many of our colleagues) by not only following and sharing our blogs, social media and other communications, but also by booking tickets in advance if you want to see a show that we are putting on.
We have been fortunate thus far that the vast majority of our shows have gone ahead. But as we find ourselves being asked to travel increasingly larger distances to perform by our audiences, we are very mindful of this issue.
Today we are delighted to welcome our author David Wake to the blog. As June is National Audiobook Month, we have been showcasing each of our authors and their fantastic audiobooks. David very kindly agreed to share with us the inspiration behind The Other Christmas Carol (which you can download here)
So, David... where did the idea for The Other Christmas Carol come from?
It's been a cold June. It reminds me of when I was going slowly insane.
I used to do technical stage management and had a gig running the Christmas Show at the Tamworth Snowdome. I'd collect the cast in the dark and drive them through the cold, dark, snow-covered early morning to arrive at the wonderfully warmed reception, then we'd go into the refrigerated snowdome itself. After tramping through the snow covered inside, we came to our 'green room', which was thankfully heated. And then, like another Russian doll, inside that was a fridge to keep our milk cold. The heat being pumped back and forth was an environmental nightmare.
We did 475 shows in 27 days. Hearing 'Frostie the Snowman' made me twitch. Father Christmas was wonderful, but incredibly blue in his anecdotes off-stage. I spent the time huddled around a heater (in the snowdome) trying to keep warm and watching it all on a small TV set ready to raise the lights, hit the music cue (not 'Frostie' again!) or rush out to head off some disaster or other. But mostly it was just sitting there being cold.
I had to do something to keep sane, so I took my laptop in to write. But I couldn't. I needed to be ready for the lighting and sound cues, and it was just too cold to type.
Instead, I spent ages staring at a single screen, gradually working out an anti-Christmas story, slowly changing the bullet points during the non button pressing sections of the show.
When it was all over, I thought I'd see if I could type up the story within the twelve days of Christmas. It turned out that this was no challenge at all. I didn't need the whole dozen, the words just flowed out of me.
And it's not that anti-Christmas, either. More a dig at the commercialism.
This was the screenplay. Much later, I re-wrote it as a novella. And later still, Tracey Norman of Circle of Spears narrated it to make the quite wonderful audiobook. Go and have a listen, because it's a story that's not just for Christmas, but also for this cold, cold June.
That's a great peek behind the curtain, David - thank you so much for sharing it with us. And thanks also for your kind words - nothing makes our day more than an author who likes what we have done with their words!
It occurs to me that the story of how Circle of Spears began as a company is not something that we've talked about much in a public forum so here for the first time I shall present an abridged version of how we all ended up making audiobooks and theatre together.
Back in 2015 I met Tracey and subsequently Mark as we actory types often do through a show Tracey and I were part of. Shortly after, Tracey invited me to take part in a freelance audio project she and Mark were working on. The project itself was fun enough to do but the person behind it was less than stellar. Having enjoyed collaborating on someone else's project though we were keen to do one of our own. We all had our own home recording set ups, we all had a background in theatre and the performing arts, pooling our resources seemed like the obvious thing to do.
People sometimes ask us where the name Circle of Spears came from. There are two answers to this, both equally true. The first is that the image of a group of individuals coming together to create something greater than the sum of their parts is something that has always been very intrinsic to our ethos as a company. So long as there are enough spears to form a circle (two or more) we had a group of creatives whose skill sets and enthusiasm constantly fed back into the whole group. Initially there were five members of Circle of Spears and we've had as many as eight working on a project at one time but the number of individuals doesn't matter, what they create together that they couldn't create alone is the thing that matters. The second answer is at the time we founded the company I was running a Dungeons and Dragons game featuring everyone who was in the company at that time and the group of adventurers they were playing as in that game were also called The Circle of Spears. The real life parallels of comradeship, shared goals and values was not something lost on any of us.
In the four years, numerous productions and now over twenty audiobooks that have followed we've had our ups and downs, people have come and gone, but our goals and what keeps us coming back to the company remains the same. We all want to make a living bringing stories to life and doing things together it would be impossible to do alone.
We were delighted this week to be able to confirm a new performance date for our "Victorian Evening of M.R. James" Ghost Stories show. Next month we will be heading up the motorway to Somerset, where it will be our pleasure to provide some late night campfire entertainment for the resident campers at this year's Nudefest Festival.
Nudefest is the biggest event in the naturist calendar in the UK, so it is an honour for us to be joining the slate of excellent entertainment being put on during the week long festival.
This will be an interesting performance for us. Firstly, they say that if you suffer from nerves, then you should imagine your audience naked, but this is the first time where we will not need to imagine at all. And secondly, this will be an (almost) outdoor performance which is another first for this show. We will be in a marquee, with a real campfire just outside. We hope that the darkening night and the flickering flames will add an extra element of suspense and atmosphere to the evening.
If you're interested in learning more about the Festival, please visit https://www.nudefest.co.uk/
We all had a great time last night at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, where we once again shared our "Victorian Evening of M.R. James" show with an appreciative audience. This is our third year of telling ghost stories live, the way that they were meant to be told, and it has been interesting working with a new format of all the stories coming from one author. Of course, it helps if that author is very popular in the genre!
While were we there, we took the opportunity of taking a new publicity shot for the show, which Tracey subsequently converted to give it a more Victorian feel. Here is what we came out with.
Pictured are, from left to right, Cousin Alice (Tracey), Cousin Henry (Mark) and his school friend Archie (Sam). Not pictured is Cousin Edith on the piano!
We were delighted to receive this five star review recently for this show, from an audience member who is a big M.R. James fan and who drove from Birmingham to Cornwall to see us perform.
"I would definitely recommend this to anyone. Great atmosphere and a great reading of the stories. Shall be looking forward to the next time. 10/10"
Thank you for taking the time to leave a review for us. We're glad it was worth the drive!
One thing I particularly like as a writer is when people show interest in the inspiration behind my writing. I enjoy sharing the anecdotes or fun facts that have worked their way into my stories. So it was with great interest that, as part of the background work for our current audio project, Adrian Tchaikovsky's Tales of the Apt: Spoils of War, that I turned to the notes Adrian has kindly shared with us.
These are not just any notes. These are the notes he had written when working up the world of the Apt as an RPG (role-playing game). And what a treat they are to read! After a few short minutes, I was completely lost in the richness of his descriptions, seeing in my mind's eye the world of the characters whose stories I've read in the book.
I had intended to write notes for myself as I went along, but I became so immersed that note-writing was forgotten. There is so much detail. Everything is covered - food, terrain, history, science, magic. They have been inspirational not just for my own writing (eg: I really need to make better notes when world-building!), but also on how to better portray the characters Adrian has created. Reading the stories is one thing, but having the author's personal notes backing them up is quite another. We're very lucky to have access to them and we are really looking forward to being able to share the audio version of Tales of the Apt: Spoils of War with you later this year.
(posted by Tracey)
Our live retellings of Ghost Stories in a Victorian themed entertainment has been one of our most popular live events, and is now into its third year. Every year we create a new show, meaning that if you have been before and enjoyed it, you will always have the chance to come again another year!
The first two years of performances were done in character as deceased Victorian librarians who were summoned back to provide ghostly entertainment. This year we have changed the theme a little (we are not dead any more) but we are still very much Victorian. Our setting is a drawing room post dinner with our guests (you, the audience) and the show is performed to a full atmospheric soundscape in the background of ticking clock, crackling fire, piano music and more.
People have told us many times that they would enjoy the opportunity to have an audio copy of the Ghost Stories show, but until now we have been developing other projects and had put it on the "in the future" list.
Today, at one of our legendary company meetings (tea and crisp-fest) we decided that, with the announcement of the London premiere of this year's MR James themed Ghost Stories show (see the event on our Facebook page here) we would produce an audio version to coincide).
Rather than concentrating on any one show, we are going to look at all of the version of the show from the last three years and choose what we consider to be the best tales to record, either as multi-voice readings or individually. There will be some prose, some poetry and some that falls somewhere between the two, along with a full soundscape.
We are estimating that this will be a two-CD volume (which will also be available as a download as usual) and so will run for around 2 hours. We will all be putting forward what we consider to be the best tales. If you have seen a show in the past, please do contact us with your favourite and we will consider it for inclusion.
Have you been to a show? Would you like to listen to Ghost Stories if you aren't able to see it live. Do please drop us a comment below. We would love to hear from you.
Exciting news here at Circle of Spears. As you may know if you've been following our Facebook or our Twitter A good portion of our back catalogue is now available on Audible. This is a relatively new development as previously Audible have only been able to offer third party producers like us the chance to host titles on their site if they were in the US. Not anymore! Preliminary sales have been very good and while the return on them is less than if you were to buy them on this site it's still more than worth it be able to offer it to our customers on such a convenient and well known platform.
All of our future releases including the upcoming The Sign in the Moonlight by David Tallerman will be able to made available there subject to the author's consent. All of us here at Circle of Spears have narrated books for authors on Audible before, just search for us. Here though we are taking the role of producers rather than just voice artist. Audible has a large number of self published and independent author's books on their sight due to running a sister website called ACX. ACX, or the Audiobook Creation Exchange allows authors or smaller audiobook producers to place their titles and either have people audition to narrate them or upload the already finished projects to their website. In the case of our titles of course, we do the latter. It's fantastic service and opens up the possibility of getting an audiobook made to people who otherwise might not be able to afford to have it made, something which is very much in keeping with our company philosophy.
This does not mean we aren't still going to be producing physical audio CDs and selling them here and at the sales events we go to. There are what you might term some website exclusive titles which you will only get here or perhaps if you are lucky enough to meet us in person at an event somewhere. Details for those events will be posted here and all across our social media platforms.
Just on a personal note I'd like to say a big thank you to all those people who responded to my last blog entry about being a dyslexic who reads audiobooks. Keep your eyes open for more updates soon and sign up to our newsletter there will be a new one out soon you won't want to miss.
Seems a bit weird doesn't it? But it's true. I am a dyslexic person. (Also dyspraxic but that only comes into play when I'm on stage or screen trying not to bump into the furniture while remembering my lines.) John Hurt famously once said "If you want to utterly ruin a young actor tell him he has a good voice", He'd know I guess. It does seem to be the case though that I have a voice a fair few people enjoy listening to and as such I've gravitated towards voice overs and narration as part of my acting career.
It is something of an irony perhaps that someone with the difficulties Dyslexia brings would be trying to compete in a job that requires impeccable reading and characterisation skills. So much of acting in any form is affected by the ability to pick something up cold and make it live in some way.
Dyslexia can manifest itself in many different ways both subtle and gross. For some people the words seem to jump around on the page, for others non-phonetic spelling is difficult, yet others have problems with sequences of words or letters. I'm not an expert on anything except my own experience and for me the difficulty mainly comes with large blocks of text. I find it hard to keep my place on the page, sometimes my brain will read what it thinks is there rather than what is actually there. Tracey will be able to testify to the number of times I've transposed "a" and "the" in a sentence, or accidentally left out a word, or added one in which isn't there. For me it's like looking at one of those trick drawings that look to some people like a duck and some people like a rabbit. Sometimes I can't see the duck for the rabbit even though it is only ever one or the other. I sometimes have trouble distinguishing spaces and punctuation between the words which is like trying to read a very long hashtag with no capitalisation.
Something like this:
itwasthebestoftimesitwastheworstoftimesitwastheageofwisdomitwastheageoffoolishnessitwastheepochof beliefitwastheepochofincredulityitwastheseasonoflightitwastheseasonofdarknessitwasthespringofhopeit wasthewinterofdespairwehadeverythingbeforeuswehadnothingbeforeuswewereallgoingdirecttoheavenwe wereallgoingdirecttheotherwayinshorttheperiodwassofarlikethepresentperiodthatsomeofitsnoisiest authoritiesinsistedonitsbeingreceivedforgoodorforevilinthesuperlativedegreeofcomparisononly
That was the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities as my brain may perceive it on a bad day. No capital letters, no punctuation, no way of knowing where one word ends and the next begins.
So how do I deal with it? Well there is no easy solution. Practising reading aloud regularly helps. When recording I often highlight a single line or sentence to make it stand out from the rest of the page. Editing is 80% of an audio performance, if I do my job right the listener should never be able to tell that I didn't read everything in the book through perfectly on the first time. The truth is that even the best world class audiobook narrators stumble, stutter and miss things occasionally and every audiobook you've ever heard is a Frankenstein's monster of different takes, cuts, half sentences, inserted pauses, all sorts. Mine are no different and that brings me neatly to the fantastic team/support group I have around me in Circle of Spears.
When I record a chapter of an audiobook. I "First pass" edit it, taking out all the mistakes, pauses, clicks, pops or other extraneous stuff that doesn't need to be there. It is then QCed (Quality Controlled), by Tracey usually, who then sends me back the corrections in a spreadsheet. These often include the lines I have read incorrectly, any times I've missed the meaning of a sentence or put the emphasis on the wrong part of the sentence from what the punctuation would dictate and any other errors. In an ideal situation at this point I would then rerecord all the mistakes and that would be an end to it but often this can take more than one pass in order to get all of them corrected, especially if I am working in isolation as I often am. I have attempted to return the favour for my fellow members of Circle of Spears in the past but after multiple failed attempts it was agreed to focus my efforts elsewhere.
It is disheartening sometimes to feel like the way your brain works renders you inadequate for certain jobs. But difficult though it is not to sometimes, that's the wrong way to think about it. Everyone is different, we all learn in different ways and we all excel at different things. I am in a very fortunate position to be working with a team who understand fully what the difficulties I face are and with whom I have devised a system to overcome them for the most part. If you are reading this then it is quite likely that either Mark or Tracey have proofread it for me before I've hit the post button (it was me - Mark!). It's similar with a lot of the emails or official correspondence I send.
I can absolutely understand why someone with these sorts for difficulties would think twice before exposing themselves to an environment where they would have to compete with other people who don't have them but there are in fact plenty of dyslexic actors out there, damn talented ones too. Google them. One of the reasons I wanted to get into audiobooks was that I am a voracious consumer of them myself. Storytelling in one form or another is sort of our business as actors and while I may never rise to the heights of Stephen Fry or Simon Callow, Scott Brick, Roy Dotrice, Jonathan Davis or so many others I am glad I had the courage and the support enough to do it.
Are you dyslexic, or do you know someone who is? (I bet you do) Leave a comment. I'd be really interested to know if there are others in a similar situation to me.
Yesterday, dodging twix showers and personal schedules we managed to shoot some promo images for our new play Outside of the Box, shortly to be going into rehearsal.
The play is another original piece. (Saves all that faffing about with rights and royalties) This time though it's a contemporary comedy. Outside of the Box follows Xandra, Yates and Zebb, three characters who think they have the measure of each other but over the course of the play have their preconceptions challenged and in some cases shattered. Hopefully to hilarious effect. It's a madcap comedy which flirts with farce and pokes fun at sensationalism, stereotyping and cynicism.
That's all I can really say at this moment without venturing into spoiler country but stay tuned here and perhaps sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with how the play is coming along.