That’s me then, on the left. The page title is self-explanatory but also, perhaps, a little grandiose. I always balk when I see actor’s pages with the addition of the director/producer/playwright/ tag, then explore further and discover that, actually, the person concerned calls stage-managing a production ‘directing’ (and don’t get me wrong, a good S.M. is worth their weight in gold!), which it ain’t! Neither is it producing a show and as for writing? Adding a couple of lines to your character’s part (or deleting them) isn’t ‘writing’. Yet this seems to allow said people licence to call themselves directors or producers.
This page, I hope, will put on show what I can do, what I have done and what I hope to achieve in the future…as well as generally laying to rest a few myths about theatre and being involved in that incredible medium, in whatever capacity. So, shall we deal with things in order then? Join me as an actor…
Max Brandt – The Actor.
…or performer, because that’s how it all started, standing in front of a five piece rock band singing my heart out! And that, coincidentally, was where my writing first saw the light of day, as lyrics for the band’s music. Still dabble in that every so often. But it was the standing up there, in front of an audience, that initially gave me the performing bug; and once you’ve caught it there is no known cure or inoculation that will eradicate it. The thing may well lie dormant for a while, but it’s always there, waiting.
For me, after the band eventually decided that we were never going to reach the heights and become the next Led Zeppelin (that gives you a clue to my vintage), the bug resurfaced in the form of the Inn Theatre Company and The Merchant of Venice, in which production I played Shylock (that’s a painting of me as Shylock from the production). It also reawakened a passion for Shakespeare that had also lain dormant. And now there was no stopping me: all things artistic came crashing back to the surface. Since then the acting has also encompassed directing (closet control freak) and producing (ditto) and kick-started my writing – both books and plays.
And so it went on, right up until the present day; Shakespeare every year, in the open-air, playing some of the most iconic parts the man ever wrote. How lucky am I? Never get tired of it. After all the above came Macduff, Touchstone and Sir Toby Belch, 2013 had a break from acting and directed King Lear (more of that later), then Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew (commedia dell’arte production) and in 2015 there was Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor – modern dress that one…well, 1950’s style if the truth be told!
I’ve also played in parts that I’ve written and directed and had parts in plays other than Shakespeare and my own, including ‘Ritual For Dolls’ (got a Best Actor nomination for that one!), and also amalgamated the acting and singing in a production of ‘Oliver’ – no prizes for guessing which part I played: Fagin. The NODA rep who saw that performance said (warning – trumpet blowing follows):
‘Max Brandt as Fagin was the epitome of a rascally, manipulative rogue; he created just the right balance between a criminal looking out for himself, and a man with deep affection for his flock of young pickpockets. His rendition of ‘Reviewing the Situation’ was masterly, and brought cheers from the audience. He was probably the best Fagin, amateur or professional, I have ever seen‘
And there’s the film work. I’ve just finished filming a black comedy/thriller for Paramour and Sunsetrider Productions called ‘Killing Lionel’ in which I play a elderly gynacologist who has a sideline in killing people, Heinrich Oldcorn. He was fun to play!
Who knows why we do this strange, self-indulgent thing called acting. Certainly not because it’s an easy way to earn a living…not many of us have Winnebagos on set, that’s for sure…maybe our dressing-up box wasn’t big enough when we were kids. Whatever the reason, I hear no good argument for me to stop doing what I do, in this respect, and people have been kind enough to tell me that I’m pretty good at what I do. And let’s face it, to try and start something new at my time of life…well, it’s not an option is it?
Or is it? Better read on to find out.
Max Brandt – The Director.
I think it is true of many actors, though certainly nowhere near all, that there will come a time when they think ‘I’ve got ideas for this or that, so why shouldn’t I give it a go?’ It’s a terrific notion, but the problem is, generally speaking, finding a company that will let you lose on their actors and productions. There are a huge number of people that have, without any formal training per se, gone on to have magnificent careers as actors and then directors; but getting started, getting a toe in the door, that’s the thing. How did I manage it? I became involved with a fabulous company and, by dint of being an actor and GDB (general dog’s body) for several years, eventually persuaded them to let me have a go.
Small diversion: being a GDB in a company is a brilliant way of learning. Whether it be putting up scenery, sweeping the stage, helping with costumes or any of the numerous jobs that make up the successful production of a show, it is the best way to learn. Any director worth their salt needs to know what other people actually do. Empathy and understanding: just two of the keys to being a good director.
I started off by directing a couple of one-act plays for some festivals and, as nobody told me to sod off, I took it as a sign that I might try something a little larger in scale. Being now part of the organising team that produces Dartmouth Shakespeare Week (and has done for fourteen years now) I pushed for us to try something a little more left-field. King Lear.
Honestly? I have always been fascinated by the play and really thought to have a crack at the lead. However, although people were willing to give it a shot, nobody actually wanted to take on the challenge of directing the thing. So, despite my ambition to play Lear, I volunteered to take on directing duties.
I believe it’s called a baptism of fire. But I’d certainly do it all again.
It wasn’t just about moving people about on the stage either. Editing, set, costumes, special effects, all the hardware that’s needs to be brought on-site, the director’s involved in all aspects of the production. and that’s another directorial skill: delegation. Still getting the hang of that one…
Here are a couple of shots from the finished play…
Open-air productions present their own, very unique, set of problems; in this instance the size of the stage on which the play(s) are presented. It’s great to have all that space, on so many levels (literally), but it is hard to fill, to get the cast moving in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, yet gives the audience plenty to watch, other than two or three people standing about nattering.
It is a truly wonderful feeling, to see the characters coming to life before your very eyes.
I’ve also had the privilege of co-directing two touring productions with my wife, Jane Windsor-Smith. In 2014/15 we took ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on the road and in 2016 we are taking ‘Twelfth Night’ all over Devon.
Which brings me rather nicely on to…
Max Brandt – The Producer.
And so we come to the ‘starting-something-new-at-my-time-of-life’ section. I confess to being extremely fortunate to have been able to change horses in mid-stream, as it were, particularly at a time when many others are considering winding down their chosen careers and contemplating a rosy retirement…or they already have put their feet up.
But we – that is my wife and I – decided we had spent most of our lives working for others and that now was the time to actually go out there and do something in a field that we both loved and had spent a huge amount of leisure time doing: theatre. And that is how and why Theatre Hub came into being. We are (or so we’ve been told) both accomplished actors and directors and have had a finger or three in more pies, in terms of putting a show on, than many others. Yet even so, producing a show from scratch, without the backing of an established company, is not the easiest thing in the world. But it’s happening. That’s another requirement for being in theatre: plain doggedness – some might say stubborness – and determination to see a project through to its culmination.
Yes, it’s early days in the greater scheme of things, but we are getting there. We have two productions in the pipe-line, one in rehearsal, the other in development, and they will be out there in 2016…no doubt. We’re touring again with a production of ‘Twelfth Night’ (always a popular offering) and also one of my plays, called ‘Dominion’…which we will get to when we talk about the playwright part of my persona.
But the pulling together of all the disparate threads, watching a production grow, take shape and coalesce, is the joy of being a producer. Despite the associated headaches, it really is very exciting and, ultimately, fulfilling. Add all that to directing said production and also writing it too…well, what can I say?
That’s the thing. If the chances aren’t out there, you have to try and make them for yourself. That’s a lesson I learned way back. As a band, we were always struggling to find venues that would take live music and actually pay for the privilege. In the end, we started our own ‘club’, invited other local bands to support, a little advertising (no internet then) and away we went. At its peak, our ‘Glee Club’ (we were young, what can I tell you?) was attracting audiences of two hundred-plus and were actually making money! Great entertainment reaps its own rewards…and great word-of-mouth is the finest approbation any creative endeavour can receive.
And moving swiftly on, with nary a backward glance…
Max Brandt – The Playwright.
I’ve been writing, in one form or another, for most of my life. You can find out about the book on other pages of this site and the songwriting is briefly mentioned above; this is all the about the plays.
This production was a real cutting-my-teeth thing. Three one-act plays, common theme (truth and lies), one out-and-out comedy (Clowns), one serious/comedy (Hacks) and one straight drama (Buying Back The Past). I directed ‘Clowns’, acted in ‘Buying Back The Past’ and sweated and fretted over all three. But they worked.
It is, no matter what field you operate in, always a privilege to be able to write for people and see them bring your characters to life, but it is even more of a buzz to be able to direct that process too (more of the control freak coming out!). It is an extremely difficult thing to do: write these people and then watch as others interpret the whole.
‘Echoes’ (originally called ‘Haven’t We Been Here Before’) was a real challenge: write it, direct it and act in it. For it’s length (about twenty minutes), it was a technically difficult piece to put together, being, as it was, a multi-media production that incorporated back-projection, lighting effects and live music. Up until I wrote ‘Dominion’, it was probably the most emotionally affective piece I’d written…although there is an argument that ‘Buying Back The Past’ fits well into that category too.
‘Dominion’ was written and developed over a period of three years, put into production and also re-developed with the actors, then tinkered with until it was ready to publish (should be happening at the end of 2015 – at last!) then put back into the rehearsal room with a truly talented new cast to get it ready for the 2016 tour…as previously mentioned. This, if any of the plays I’ve written can be called such, is my baby. I know it works: I’ve seen it, directed it, agonised over it and had people pay it hugely generous compliments. That’s where the frustration of producing the thing comes into it…but this is about the writing. And the story.
Always the story. Which is why it’s playwright and not write…it’s crafted and built from the ground up, like a ship or a wheel, with love and respect for the story and what happens to the people to whom you have given life.
Spielberg said recently that (and this isn’t a verbatim quote): ‘…people seem to have forgotten how write stories. Stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. All they have is a beginning that goes on, and on, and on.’
I saw a television production of ‘The Dresser’ recently and something one of the characters said in that struck a real chord with me: ‘They don’t write for audiences anymore, they write for critics.’
It’s a chicken-and-egg thing, I think. Do people write for critics because audiences are influenced by what they have to say or do the critics lambast/praise a play because it’s what they believe the audiences want? And don’t get me started on live theatre in theatres…I’m not even sure there is such a thing any more.
Which kind of makes what I want to achieve, with the production and writing, all that much more difficult to get off the ground. But in the end, it’s all about entertainment, whatever you perceive that to be. And it’s always about the story.
Always the story…