About Michael Mears

actor, playwright, long-distance walker; oh and half Italian, acapella singer, and seeker after top quality Victoria sponge

Choosing the right moment to hand out flyers – experiences from the Edinburgh Fringe 2022

And so, Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022 has come to an end.  I’m back home in my London flat, nursing a heavy head cold which broke hours after our final performance last Saturday.  Talk about good timing!

Our 5 metre by 3 metre performance space at the Hilton Hotel…

The name of our theatre space in Edinburgh was the Argyll Theatre, a rather grand sounding name for a small 50 seat venue, converted from a conference room on the first floor of the Hilton Hotel.  Doing a play about Hiroshima in the Hilton Hotel struck us as a little odd.  But perhaps some rich Americans would pop in and take a look at the play and rethink their attitudes to nuclear weapons?

We were performing at 10.45am each morning, a little earlier than I might have preferred, and a bit of a shock to the system, but it worked in our favour.  Our audience demographic was a little older and those people were up and about in Edinburgh and in the mood for some mid-morning serious drama.  We were also blessed with a fab technical team, and three excellent operators of the sound and lighting cues for our shows, Isaac, Adam and Emma.  They all want to come on the world tour with us – should such a thing ever happen!

Emiko and I had just one day off but we got into the rhythm of doing our demanding work in the morning then recovering, chilling and heading off to see other shows in the afternoon and early evening.  I was in bed by 10pm pretty much each night, then up again at 6.15am in order to wake up my body and brain in time for the play…

Emiko Ishii and myself

The word of mouth about the play was excellent and my having chosen a small 50 seat venue, it did mean that it was often quite full and in the final week often sold out…

The responses from audiences were heart-warming.  They seemed so engaged with the material, moved by it, challenged by it, wanting to talk to us as soon as we’d finished the play.  We tried to do this while striking our set and clearing our props as the next play in the space was due in ten minutes later!  A fast turnaround – that’s the Fringe for you.

One man, Larry, told me that he’d found the play very healing, helping him to resolve issues within his family – where his father had always believed the atom bomb was necessary to end the war, whereas Larry had passionately disagreed. 

Another man told me that his father had been a ‘back-room boy’ on the Manhattan Project – there were many of those – and that his father had in fact been at the very first atom bomb test on July 16th 1945 – which we reference in the play.  I was lost for words when he told me this. 

Then after the final performance, a Japanese family came up to me, saying that their son, who was there with them, was one of the singers in the recordings we use in the play of Japanese children!  The boy attends the Japanese School in London – where I had made a contact earlier this year with a teacher, who very generously organised a number of students to sing and record children’s songs in Japanese and English to be used at key points in the play – songs which are terribly affecting.  It was the family’s first visit to Edinburgh and we were the first play they went to.  What’s more, they told me that the boy’s grandfather was a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, and that at the age of 94 he was still alive and active, now living in Tokyo.  The boy’s father told me that the grandfather never cursed or blamed the Americans for what had happened.

I found it very humbling to hear these testimonies.

Edinburgh in August is like a huge mad carnival of street theatre and performers, stilt-walkers, fire-eaters, vast crowds, alongside the constant dishing out of flyers for shows left, right and centre, and on this occasion, in the last two weeks of the Festival, overflowing bins due to the strikes in Scotland.  It did turn this beautiful city into something of an eyesore…I hope the Japanese family weren’t too shocked by this.

Flyering – hmm, I felt that I was really getting a bit too old to be doing this but I gritted my teeth and had some very good conversations with people, a number of whom did then come and see the play, which was gratifying. 

The most outrageous example of flyering that I was subjected to myself – seconds after we had finished our performance one day, and the applause had only just stopped, a lady stepped forward and accosted me saying that ‘Our show has just the same set as yours!  We too have a blackboard!  Exactly the same!  Here’s a flyer!  Will you come and see it?’ she said, with a bright smile.  ‘It’s about suicide.’

‘Erm, would you mind waiting till we come out front in about ten minutes and you can tell me about it then – right now we have to clear our set away…’

‘Just like our set, exactly the same as ours!’ she went off muttering to herself.

There is an appropriate time and place to flyer – but that was not it.

By the time I got out into the foyer, she had gone though…

After the final performance last Saturday, Emiko and I celebrated with tea and cake in Clarinda’s traditional Tearooms.  I was delighted to learn that she loved tearooms as much as I do! 

In conclusion, we had a ‘good fringe’ – a very good Fringe, all things considered.  Still not remotely a profit-making venture, but I didn’t lose as much as anticipated. 

We received some very good reviews, five stars and four stars, won a Carol Tambor Incentive Award, were short-listed for the Sit-Up Awards – for plays that strive to have a social impact on their audiences.  And THE MISTAKE was long-listed for the BBC Writers’ Room ‘Popcorn Awards’ for New Writing at the Fringe.  (Can’t recall when I last saw anyone eating popcorn in a theatre…)

Finally, and most fun perhaps, Fringe stalwart Mervyn Stutter, who for 29 years now has had his show Pick of The Fringe running each day throughout the Festival, gave us a Spirit of the Fringe Award – still presented in a clip-frame as it has been these last 29 years.  Mervyn felt that if anyone exemplified the ‘spirit of the Fringe’ then I did – what with doing all the writing, admin, venue-hiring, laundry-supervising, etc etc, you name it!  

But many thanks again are due to all those who have supported this venture through crowd-funding etc.  I felt that it was an investment worth making to bring this important material to life and to get THE MISTAKE up and running ready for a tour next year hopefully.

A tour of the UK – and yes, who knows, maybe a world tour?  One can but dream…

The Spirit of the Fringe Award – in its clip-frame!

Heading north to Edinburgh…

Feedback from one of our preview audience members last week in London (July 28th)

H.M. at Portfolio Publishing…The Mistake left me absolutely lost for words, so I am incredibly grateful that you found the words to express the impact of the Hiroshima bombing and its reverberations in the decades since that atrocity. With only two actors and minimal props, I was transported across time and space, across countries and continents, with deep insights into the mindsets and actions of a large group of distinct and believable characters. I learned a huge amount, felt a massive emotional punch, and applaud both the theatrical achievement and the key role The Mistake must play in campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons and an end to the arms trade madness. Thank you.”

So yes, tomorrow, Tuesday 2nd August, we head to Edinburgh and the Fringe Festival for a three week run of the play – a play which we believe is important and highly relevant given the current state of affairs in the world…

Our first performance is on Friday August 5th… if you know of anyone who lives in Edinburgh or nearby or who is visiting, please send them in our direction – thank you!

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/mistake

Another passionate campaigner for peace has left us

I was truly saddened to hear of the passing of the great and inspirational Bruce Kent, aged 92, active campaigner for peace and against the madness of nuclear weapons. https://www.theguardian.com/…/jun/09/bruce-kent-obituary

On a personal level, I first met Bruce six years ago when he kindly agreed to introduce an event I’d setup in memory of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. He was very encouraging to me and came to see the subsequent play that came out of that event, THIS EVIL THING, at least three or four times. After one of those performances he insisted on helping me with the get-out! Despite my protestations he started lugging my wooden crates to the van, saying ‘You’ve worked hard enough already this evening.’ He was 88 at the time. When I last saw him a month ago, at a tribute event for Bertrand Russell’s 150th birthday, he said he was keenly looking forward to seeing my new play about Hiroshima, THE MISTAKE – adding wryly, ‘I’ve made too many of my own in my time.’ My sympathies to his family and heartfelt thanks for all he did. You will be greatly missed, Bruce, but trust us – we will endeavour to carry on your work in your absence. RIP.

WHAT TO DO?

What to do…with my anger at events in the world?  What to do with my sorrow and sadness?  What to do with my frustration at politicians? What to do with the fury I feel towards the arms manufacturers who will be rubbing their hands in glee (though trying to remember not to do so in public)?  What to do with the voice inside me that wants to shout at the instigators of conflicts, this conflict and all conflicts in the world right now: ‘Have you forgotten the climate crisis?  Or do you simply not care?’

Our thoughts are with those, particularly the innocent, caught up in this and all conflicts.  There are many small things we can or could do.  Donations, financial or otherwise.  Prayers, vigils, protests.  Providing refuge.  And much more.  But for myself, the main thing I have decided, and this decision was taken weeks ago, before any actual invasion of Ukraine seemed likely, is to take my play THE MISTAKE – about Hiroshima and the first atomic bomb – to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year.  This is a risk for all kinds of reasons, but if not now, then when?  The subject matter has always seemed of the utmost importance.  But how could I know that in these grim times it would seem even more urgent and relevant?

So this will be my modest contribution to peace, justice and understanding in the world.  Next year I plan to take the play round the country more widely and get it into schools. 

Photo by SIMON RICHARDSON Image design by JERRY WILLIAMS

There are two of us performing in the play.  I will portray numerous people involved in events preceding the dropping of the bomb – in particular, one of the scientists involved, Leo Szilard, who did all he could to stop the bomb being deployed and subsequently worked for peace and disarmament.  And an English-speaking female Japanese performer will portray a young woman who survives the blast and then goes in search of her parents in the devastated city. Some verbatim testimonies are used in the play.    

If you know of anyone going to the Festival this August or have any friends or family there or nearby we would greatly welcome their support.  The play runs from Aug 5-27 (not 14th) at Venue 36, the Space on North Bridge, Edinburgh, at 10.45 in the morning.  There will also be performances in London at some point which I will let you know about.  Should anyone wish to contribute something, however small, to our crowd-funding for this non-profit making venture, it would be most gratefully received – but with so many other demands on people’s pockets, I don’t expect it.                                         

The play’s title refers to the inscription on the memorial to the victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima Peace Park.  ‘Rest in peace, for the mistake will not be repeated.’   We have to do whatever we can, in whatever way we can, to ensure that the mistake will indeed NOT be repeated.   

Four Weddings and a Showreel

It’s been a little while since I updated my acting showreel – but having appeared in The Crown and BBC’s Ghosts in the last year or so, I felt it was time to add these clips – and generally give the showreel a ‘spring clean’. This was managed thanks to the excellent work of Sarah Agha at ‘Killer Showreels’, who I can highly recommend to any performers looking to create or update a showreel. ( info@killershowreels.com )

I asked Sarah whether I should still have the clip from Four Weddings and a Funeral in the reel, as it was from a time when I was looking just a little younger than I do now? (The same goes for Hugh Grant! ) But she felt it was worth keeping in as it was such an iconic film. If you have three minutes to spare (well, three minutes and eleven seconds), do take a look.

‘…or not to be’

My new three minute film – shot on my i-phone during the 2nd lockdown in November 2020 – including footage of an empty central London…

Taking his cue from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, an actor wrestles with the new realities of COVID and the closure of all theatres for the foreseeable future.  Is there any point in carrying on at all?  But actors have worn masks (comic and tragic) since plays were first performed in ancient Greece; and on a journey through a deserted capital city, the actor sees something that encourages a fragile optimism.

Please enjoy this three-minute diversion and feel free to share far and wide! And consider making a donation, however small, for performers and creative workers suffering hardship at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/equity-benevolentfund

Was I a priest in a past life?

I’ve been working as a professional actor for over 40 years now – just writing
that sentence fills me with a certain sense of awe and wonder as well as an
undertow of where have all the years gone?
‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have
their entrances and their exits, and one man in his time plays many parts.’

Thus says Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Looking back now, I’ve played a goodly number of parts: various lawyers,
doctors, politicians – not forgetting a trio of different undertakers (because of
my tall lugubrious looks?) – oh and once I even played an exorcist!
But it sometimes seems to me that the majority of the parts this ‘one man in his
time’ has been called upon to play, have been members of the clergy. The one with the highest status was probably the Inquisitor in Shaw’s SAINT JOAN.

I’ve yet to be asked to play the Pope however. Any Pope. Though last year I did play an Italian priest sent by the Pope (to investigate alleged miracles occurring in Rwanda).
Usually it’s been a humble vicar or reverend that I’ve been asked to don a dog-collar for. And most of these parts have been played onstage.

But about thirty years ago I was called upon to play my first on-screen priest.
An Italian one, and a young one (well, I was young then) – in a charming film
about the Italian community in London called QUEEN OF HEARTS. One of
my scenes involved me presiding at a baptism, which was filmed in St. Peter’s
Church in Clerkenwell, and one of the priests there was on hand to ‘give me
advice’.
He was a short, stout, keen-eyed Italian man, who gave me tips on how to hold
the baby. He watched me closely and after I had successfully finished shooting
the scene, he came up to me and said, ‘You should be a priest.’
I laughed and thanked him.
‘No, I’m serious,’ he went on. ‘You should become a priest.’
‘Well,’ I responded, ‘There are similarities between acting and the priesthood,
I suppose. You know, standing in front of a crowd of people, addressing
them from a pulpit or ‘stage’. Needing to have a decent voice, being able to
project…there are similarities…’ I tapered off as I noticed him waiting for me to finish. ‘I am serious. You should become a priest.’
‘But I love acting and I’m only in the early years of my career…’
‘Think about what I say,’ were his final words as he ambled off back to his
office.
Two years later I was walking from my then home in Streatham to Tooting Bec
tube station. As I approached a bus-stop near the tube I saw him – he was
unmistakable.
‘Father! It’s me! Do you remember? The actor you gave advice to for the film
a couple of years ago.’
He looked at me keenly. ‘Oh yes, I remember you well.’
‘What are you doing here in south London?’ I asked.
‘Visiting Catholic prisoners at Wandsworth Prison.’
‘Ah yes.’
He then scrutinised me for a moment before saying, ‘So, are you a priest yet?’

I didn’t succumb to his ‘hard-sell’ then or at any other time, but in a sense I did
fulfil his almost-command to ‘become a priest’ – by portraying so many of them
on stage and screen through the subsequent years.
My latest incarnation, a German Jesuit priest, an atomic-bomb survivor in
Hiroshima, is one that I have worked on during lockdown – it’s an extraordinary
story and he comes across as a very special priest, not that he would ever have
described himself as such.

This performance, THE PRIEST’S TALE, was
filmed and livestreamed on August 6th but is still available to view on Vimeo at
https://vimeo.com/438259377 or by going to http://www.sandsfilms.co.uk and
clicking on theatre events. (There’s also a wonderful Japanese violinist, Chihiro Ono, who provides musical interludes.)

But why? Why all these priests? A chap I met and talked to about this a few
years back, and who claimed to be psychic, said it was obvious.
‘You must have been a priest in a past life.’
Of course! That’s the answer I should have given to the priest advising me on
the film.
‘You should become a priest.’ ‘No need, I’ve already done that – in a previous life.’

Four perspectives on war and nuclear weapons…

I was told by someone in the know the other day that if I wanted to record THE PRIEST’s TALE for BBC Radio next year that it would sort of be out of date – as the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings is this year. Hmm. So nuclear weapons won’t exist in 2021? First I’ve heard of it…
Here are the four dramatic online perspectives on war and nuclear weapons, put together this year with Jatinder Verma, You-Ri Yamanaka, Chihiro Ono, Rosamunde Hutt, Leo Ashizawa and Olivier Stockman (of Sands Films) :
THE PRIEST’S TALE https://vimeo.com/438259377
THE MISTAKE film-collage https://youtu.be/QURQZ6WUU_g (screenshot below)Screenshot THE MISTAKE - 6AUG20-FINAL RVSD2 - HD 1080p_Moment THIS EVIL THING https://michaelmears.org/this-evil-thing
THE DOCTOR’S TALE https://vimeo.com/438273483

August 6th 2020

From 8.15 am in the morning of the Thursday August 6th, exactly 75 years since the first atomic bomb was dropped,
you can see our 15 minute collage of extracts and images from my postponed theatre play THE MISTAKE, on Youtube: at that time and anytime thereafter…
at the new link (posted 3/8/20): https://youtu.be/QURQZ6WUU_g

Then that evening…

THE PRIEST’S TALE is an adaptation by myself of one of the survivor’s accounts from John Hersey’s classic book HIROSHIMA.
Father Wilhelm was a German Jesuit priest living in Hiroshima at the time of the first atomic bombing.

At 7.30pm on August 6th, I will perform this story live,
from the stage of Sands Films Studios Theatre, Rotherhithe, London…
with live violin accompaniment by Chihiro Ono. (Duration approx. 55 mins.)
Directorial supervision by Rosamunde Hutt.
This event is co-hosted by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre.

Go to Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/114935906390

or https://www.facebook.com/events/934559037019595/

Hope you might be able to join us…