Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I immersed myself in Marconi, Melba and microphones’
As a writer and comedian, sometimes I get to pen columns like this one (thank you, Reform, for giving a stand-up a home, especially when all the gigs went quiet – I’m sure that for a few months in 2020, this column was my entire job). But some days I write other, longer things.
I’ve written a play. Well I say ‘play’; it’s a one-man play, and that man is me. I’m finding it tricky to convince myself that this is an actual ‘play’ then, rather than a stand-up routine with slightly fewer jokes. So how do you make yourself write this play when your brain just tells you to wing it, ad lib around a theme? You book in some venues.
So throughout 2022, in among the stand-up shows and writing work (thank you, Reform etc), I’m touring this ‘play’ to arts centres, theatres, churches and even a museum. The First Broadcast is the true story of Britain’s first radio pioneers, who helped create the idea of broadcasting. One became the BBC’s first announcer, the other the BBC’s first Chief Engineer. I play both, because I’m too cheap to hire another actor. (Besides, that would mean actually writing that full script, which I’m trying to avoid.)
During the first lockdown, when nearly all of my work vanished (thank you, Reform etc), I needed a hobby. So I immersed myself in broadcasting history, reading fifty or so books on this era of Marconi, Melba and microphones made out of cigar boxes. The result is a podcast (The British Broadcasting Century) and this play. It was this, sourdough and jigsaws.
But now the tour begins, there’s a new challenge: luring audiences out again. Some comedy venues have been full – those with a loyal crowd or star names (share a line-up with Tim Vine or Romesh Ranganathan, it’s amazing how audiences come out of hibernation).
In the middle of the market though, it can be tricky. I bumped into an old pal I used to see at my local comedy night, a pub gig. He looked sheepish, like I’d caught him out. It turned out the only live entertainment he’d seen over the last decade was at London’s O2: Michael McIntyre one year, John Bishop the next, Michael McIntyre again the third… He felt a little embarrassed that he’d ignored lower down the entertainment ladder, instead enjoying the view from the top rung, smitten by glossy posters in the Sunday supplements. His live entertainment budget was the same, whether he spent ten pounds a month at his local comedy club or had one annual £120 trip for two to see arena shows.
I wonder if churches have found it similar post-lockdown. Bigger churches like Holy Trinity Brompton in London could smoothly transition to online, with professional YouTube livestreams a constant. Post-lockdown, old and new members could come to their buildings. Some smaller churches may not have had such online resources though, despite best efforts. I wonder if it’s meant a slower return.
Whether live entertainment or places of worship, we all feel the lure of bigger planets, and we may gravitate to their orbit.
This is all to say then:
a) Don’t forget the smaller buildings, the home churches, the fringe arts centres, the ones without glossy ads or a big online presence.
b) Come and see my play.
c) Thank you, Reform etc.
We like big venues, though on second thoughts maybe we just like ventilation more nowadays. Well, smaller venues can open a window too, you know.
Details of Paul’s tour of The First Broadcast are at paulkerensa.com/tour.
Details of your local church are available from your local church
This article was published in the March 2022 edition of Reform