Prose. Interviews Writer, Director, Performer, and Occultist John Harrigan
John Harrigan is a founder of FoolishPeople and is one of the earliest pioneers of immersive theatre.
We met him in Hitchin to talk about writing, acting and his unusual method of getting feedback from audiences.
Prose asks what the catalyst was for him writing, acting in and producing such great art.
“When I left school I went into computers, but really didn’t enjoy it. I was always into all things artistic, so decided to go back to college to study music. The problem was that I wasn’t very musical. However, part of the course was drama, which was something that I loved. The kind of drama we were doing wasn’t my kind of thing though, it was musical theatre. They had a writing and devising lecturer called Les Tucker, and it was through him that I got to write some of my own stuff; my own plays. People responded to them. I think a gift I have always had, has been that I’m very imaginative, I tend to come up with a lot of ideas. So I started doing my own work and decided to go to drama school.”
“I found drama school restrictive insofar as it was all about the acting; you could only be one thing. You could be an actor OR a writer, and at this stage I wanted to be all things. As is often the case with creative people, I had no money and came from a working class background. I started FoolishPeople when I was still at art school on a scholarship. I couldn’t realistically run with it financially, and so became a social worker in residential settings working for a number of different charities that were engaged with helping people.”
“After 10 or 11 years of that, I no longer felt I was effectively assisting those people as I should, yet I did when I was doing my art. So I went back to it full time. I started with a locally with a project called ‘Singularity’ and on the back of that I relaunched FoolishPeople. I’ve never looked back since. I had been so eager to go back to it after the break, and I could never return to ‘normality’ now. That’s what fuels me.”
Prose asks what his creative process is when he’s writing a piece.
“With each new project I learnt my working practise. Not many people realise this, but a big part of our work is based on text. I’ll spend ages thinking about and writing a script, and then I’ll hand it over to the members of FP. It all starts with the written word. Then there’s a long rehearsal process and then the public get to see it, whether as a film or immersive theatre.”
“Through doing it again and again over twenty five years, we've learnt what works best. I think most creatives get knocked back a few times and sometimes feel like they can’t continue anymore, but I believe that’s part of the process. I’ve made some stupid mistakes. The mistakes probably equal the successes. All of my mistakes are the things that have made me the artist I am today and the end result so much better. Unless people have been doing it long enough, they don’t realise that.”
What was it like to deliver Strange Factories, the horror film that has polarised audiences so hugely?
Find out later today, and take advantage of a special EXCLUSIVE offer from Harrigan just for Prosers, by visiting blog.theprose.com. Look for a link in the comments (below) this afternoon.
The Sure Fast Story
One hill dig on Nothing Grave
An eye for eye whom no one gave
A tooth for tooth, oh simple hand
Good graces fun it's truth to plan
The gambler holds tight a hollow game
"Stands I alone, who dared to gain"
World of splattered wooden dollars
Their sullied fortunes built of cowards
A lightning game of pick-up-sticks
Sure fast chance to make it rich
To kill it clean of pomp and worry
The Lightning Man, The Sure Fast Story
In another year we can be friends
Behind the times of original sin
In a hut on an edge
Of a 40 foot ledge
Stands a woman who never could fend for herself
Can she fly to maybe run away from self-worth?
She spread her wings and leaned in
To hear the canyon winds sing
Then dropped and hit the ground
They lay where they're found
However much we cry
For the lost desert sky
Turn away, walk away
Twas a sure fast way to die
six feet under the stars
I lie on my makeshift bed of gasoline flowers
as I allowed myself to
b u r n
staring dazedly at my corrupted sky
and wistfully wishing for
a glimpse of your
g h o s t
but all I could feel when I reached out
my arms was the unfathomable darkness,
reflecting yesterday with its cold
t o u c h
and I had this twisted
feeling that I wasn't
a l o n e
because I could hear a protracted melody
playing in the distance, murmuring my name
as if the song was titled in my
m e m o r y
I hummed along as I stood up, clicked the soles of
my faded chucks three times
for good luck and
j u m p e d
from the old bridge, crashing headfirst into
the murky water, my body sinking hastily
because of the heavy chains attached
around my feet
daylight began to ripple inside my chest
and illuminated the bullet holes within my lungs,
indicating another lackluster disaster;
another inconsequential moment
where I constantly felt sick just by
b r e a t h i n g
the air was asphyxiated with the stench of rotting dreams
that the vigilante sun just murdered as I buried
the arid corpses of valentine lullabies
deep within my throat
I closed my eyes, praying for heaven to
drown me with its tears but all I could taste
was hell upon my lips
as I sink further,
six feet under
after it eats me
we share the same ribs,
take the same breaths
together in time.
i am so intertwined
with my heartache
that i don't know
what's its and
Breaking in on dice
I think that I took the little studio unit on Third at Garcia shortly after I got my first middle-level job at the Union Plaza. I’d been dealing for six months when I got the Plaza. I was right on schedule, not that I could deal at all. My game was dice and that’s the hardest game, complex and fast.
It took me another ten months of working at the UP before my game really started to come together.
This particular game offered ten times odds on a quarter flat. And a quarter would move, in front or behind. That’s twenty-five cents; twenty-five pennies. There was no other game like that in Nevada and there are no more games of that sort anywhere, anywhere on the planet. So—I worked hard and pumped a lot of checks and I got good. I had the makings of a strong game when I lost the Plaza.
Anyway, I’m living in this tiny studio for eighty bucks a week. This place was considerably smaller than my current living room. I had a little two burner stove and a half fridge, the bed was in the “kitchen” and there was a little sitting area; the “living room”, and the bathroom had a shower stall, but it was okay because I like little places. It was good enough.
Tokes at the Plaza ran about 45 bucks a shift, and I got a free meal on each shift because these joints always do feed the workers, and sometimes the food is good like The Barbary had food from Michaels, a four-star Chinese restaurant. I kept maybe a little bit of snack food in my fridge. I forgot what the minimum wage was in Nevada in 1988; well I just looked it up, $3.35. So tokes are 225.00 + $134.00, no State income tax, minus federal tax, add it up and I don’t know. Not much money. But I could live. I even kept a car on the road and I insured it too, a 1976 Mercury Marques.
This car was bigger than my whole apartment.
I also had enough money left over to buy a quarter of pot from my boxman which I was really happy about. I wouldn’t smoke up before my game, although I did once when another boxman invited me out onto the fire escape on the second level of the hotel where the dealers lounge was. “If I smoke I’ll lump out!” “So what?!” He was my boxman for that particular shift. I’d even bought a lid off of him.
I respected the guy. He was a big tough guy. He looked tough in a polished sort of way. He told me one time, “Don’t ever hit anybody in the dice pit.” He broke a boxman’s jaw in Reno and he couldn’t work on a floor anywhere for seven years. He made a living as a limo driver and probably running low-level scams, like low weight dealing and steering men to women who sell their bodies.
We toke up and then I get down there and the floorman is giving me the fish eye. He knows I’m stoned. I have cotton mouth and I’m on the stick making dice calls. Anyway, I didn’t lump out too bad.
The people there really liked me. That’s no lie. People generally do. I’m a small, tough-looking guy, but my vulnerability and sincerity comes through. This is what I’ve been told.
I started out on day shift at the Union Plaza, but I was so brutal that they moved me onto graveyard until my game picked up. After about two months, I was moved back onto days and they took me off the extra board, which meant that I would be eligible for benefits after ten months. I never made it, but that is another story. I already told that story.
I found this place that rented furniture and rented an old TV for 20 bucks a week, an old box. I got it somewhere on Main Street I think. My place didn’t have cable, but I could pick up a few channels. On my days off I liked to smoke a joint, lie in bed and watch The Streets of San Francisco. This was a tough life that I was living, but I was enjoying it. It seemed colorful to me.
It depends on what your priorities are I suppose. The standard trappings of success didn’t appeal to me, not really, not enough that I would struggle through four years of college to get to it. Life’s too short. I didn’t expect to get this far as it is.
The tough boxman, who was a basically nice guy, I think he had connections, underworld connections, but I don’t know for sure. It’s hard to get back on the floor with a felony card. Any beefs or even a court-ordered rehab shows up on your gaming card. Your prints are attached to that card.
I gave about five sets of prints in Vegas over the course of my time there because I was going through FBI special investigations for my massage licenses. One time I asked the Reno jawbreaker he said something about layoff money, “What’s that?” “Oh, you’ll find out all about that stuff.”
I was so insecure about my game that it made me feel good to hear that, I was going to go through the whole subculture, although I never did get a table job. They are rare in Vegas now. I had shift for shift jobs, dice separate, the worst of all possibilities. My regular pot connection, nicknamed Bogey, the guy I got my pot off of, one time I was moaning about how it was taking me a long time to improve my game, “The ones that take longer end up being better.” “You think so?” “I know so...” And I never forgot his kindness.
The Hotel just north of the Plaza was called the Park Hotel. I just spent twenty minutes trying to find the genealogy of The Park which should be the rubble underneath the Main Street Station which also rose and fell a couple of times. I’m certain it was called the Park Hotel and Casino. Leave a comment if I’m wrong.
One night I ended up hanging out in there with a blackjack dealer and a dice dealer, both ladies. The dice dealer, she was a good dealer, a strong dealer. In my journey through the Vegas casinos, I did not encounter too many female dice dealers. They were not really welcomed in a dice pit. They had to have a pretty tight game or they would be ragged on unmercifully, but, on the other hand getting hazed was just part of the business.
I later worked with this lady, the dice dealer, at the Barbary Coast. They asked me about her, and I told them she could deal. I mean we both came from the Plaza except that I got fired and she didn’t. Well, we were hanging out at the Park for some reason, and I told the blackjack dealer that I had some speed at home. I lived four blocks away. She came over and I gave her a bump and then she left.
Christopher Columbus day is a big deal in the States and particularly for Hispanic people, I suppose since it was a Spaniard that invented America. My little crib is on the north side of the building. I’m working a day shift and they are playing the Mariachi music and drinking, getting drunk, and I go outside to get my smokes out of my car and I go out there without a shirt on, a clear statement of machismo, and a provocation to their dinosaur brains. Then I’m telling them can they please keep it down as I have to work tomorrow, and there are three of them out there in the back yard and this is a small house. It was mixed zoning I guess. My building was just a small one story two-sided unit with maybe seven units on each side.
I tell them I am going to call the police and that was a mistake on any number of levels. So one of the more drunken vatos jumps the fence, “You call policia?!” I’m looking at him and he lands a shot on the left side of my face. I’m debating whether to punch back and I picture the other two jumping the fence and I cuss the guy and go back into my apartment.
The police show up about a half an hour later, and it’s a man and a lady. They talk to me and they talk to them and the one lady cop takes the lead and says that they say I started it and if I want to lay charges I will have to come down to the station and it’s their word against mine and that they are very busy and they don’t have time for this. I feel my heart congeal with hatred but they go away and the guy that hit me throws a bottle through my window, busting the window and I cower in my bedroom and it settles down and that’s it. The next day I went over to the lady of the house and I apologized for calling the cops, but she says she doesn’t blame me.
Not long after I got another apartment, bigger and better, on the south side for the same money. My fortunes continued to improve and I even bought my own TV and a better car, a Toyota. Towards the end, I was working at Caesars and saving money. That was the last place I lived my first time around in Vegas.
Las Vegas police are not to be messed with. They are dangerous and corrupt, reputedly.
They have been known to murder people that they don’t like, like the black floorman who worked at one of the better casinos, I think he worked at the Nugget. They busted down his motel room door unannounced and choked him out and killed him. He was in there with a prostitute. He was sleeping and they busted right in. His name was Charles Bush.
There was a big stink about that. LA police are the same from my limited personal experience and from what I’ve read and heard. I was accosted by two cops in West LA one time and they were aggressively abrasive. “Is that your car?!” It was a1971, two-door, blue, Dodge Polara with a big dent in the right rear quarter panel. “Why? You want to buy it?” “Why are you here?” I was going to my second massage school in Santa Monica and a classmate asked me to do an exchange. He lived there in West Hollywood. Cop, “Are you gay?” “No.” “Is he?” “I think so.” This is what I mean. But we did the exchange and he didn’t do anything wrong, so...
I’m kind of all over the map with this piece, just like my life maybe. They had a big, big scandal involving the Ramparts division when I was still living in LA. 70 officers were implicated in some form of misconduct. Only twenty-four were actually found to have committed any wrongdoing, with 12 given suspensions of various length and 7 forced to resign or retire vs. getting fired, and five were fired outright. 106 prior criminal convictions were overturned and the city paid out 125 million dollars in settlements.
And even on occasion, asshole.
He'd been called all of the above. He was used to it, but he was happy in his own skin. And every now and then, someone else's skin too.
Jim Colton smiled to himself as he thought of all these things and got out of his car on a warm April morning. He grabbed his briefcase and locked his car. He checked the handle of the drivers side door and strolled across the car park to the main door of the building.
He was definitely himself this morning. And being the empath that he was, that was a good thing.
Walking past outer reception he received a few perfunctory good mornings, which he politely returned. A couple of people smiled at him on his way through to the security check area, where he displayed his credentials, and was ushered through. A few turns of the corridor beyond and a short elevator ride later and he was inside the Behavioural Science unit, and standing at his desk.
There were roughly twenty VICAP files there, fresh that morning. Colton had been with Behavioural Science in the FBI for fifteen years, and although he knew full well how many of these types of criminal were out there, it always astounded him how many fresh files he found on his desk every day. Never mind. He'd work them all, it was what he did. He knew these people. Maybe too well.
No one really talked to him here. They didn't really like being told what they were going to do before they did it.
He sat, and cast his eye over his colleagues. He knew them all of course, more deeply than he might have liked. He was an empath. He couldn't help it.
It made him a loner, but he didn't mind. He'd been even more alone since his wife Jane had left seven years ago. Yes he'd become successful in his field, and their life was very comfortable. But he'd bring these people home to dinner, in his head. And the ensuing conversations became too much. Too frightening. She'd called an ambulance, and as it pulled away with her husband and many violent criminals inside it, she'd picked up the phone and dialled a number. A man had come to pick her up.
The next day she was gone, and the day after that the house was empty. Colton found out a month later when he'd been given a clean bill of health. Jane didn't come back. Jim threw himself into his work, and that year his sight, his blessing and a curse, had captured four of the FBI's ten Most Wanted.
In Behavioural Science, he was a superstar. To the FBI, their most prized asset. As for Colton, he'd have just had his wife back. But it wasn't going to happen.
It was going to be one of those days. He could tell. To think like a killer to catch one. It was what Jim Colton did. To get inside another persons mind, to pre-empt their thoughts, their behaviour. He never trained. It was what he was best at.
Three VICAP files were open on his desk. He stared at them a while longer, then suddenly snapped them shut, placed them back on the pile marked 'in' and rose from his chair.
'Hey Jim, everything ok?' Someone had noticed him snap the files shut and had asked the question. He thought about ignoring the woman, and was about to, but he checked himself, and replied politely, 'Yes. Thank you. I'm fine.'
'Ok, as long as you are.'
She turned and walked the few steps to her own desk, which to Coltons surprise was directly behind his. Why hadn't I noticed her before, he thought to himself. He normally saw everything.
Jim Colton slowly crossed the floor until he reached the window. He leant on the sill and took in the view of the city. It always thrilled him, the concrete jungle, the maze of streets and alleyways. He'd lived here all his life, and he knew the city well. Many a time he'd lost himself walking those alleys and streets, but never got physically lost. He always knew his way.
Turning around to face the room, the rising morning sun lit him from behind and cast his shadow long. It stopped at the nice lady who'd asked after him, and was now at her desk.
She kind of looked like her. Similar build and height, similar hair colour and style, the smile...
No, she did look like her. She was her. Wasn't she?
Yes, Jim Colton thought. This one will do nicely. Only one question remained.
Who would he be today?
Another tortured soul,
like Marilyn Monroe,
who died around the same time,
I was ever born.
I'm still afraid to read her poems out loud,
for fear of falling under
some strange spell,
that will make whatever I try to write
look like suicide on paper.
Oh Puppetmaster, Pull My Stings
I was quiet. I was loud. I was innocent. I was a slut. I was whatever they wanted for the night. In the backseat of a car, I'd suck them off. In a pay-by-the-hour motel I'd let them fuck me, use my body, pull my hair. I'd let them call me whatever they wanted: brother, dad, fucking dirty whore. Or let 'em hit me, bruising pale flesh. Hell I'd let them do a line off my ass if that's what got the pig's off. Whatever they wanted; shorts around my ankles, shirt hiked up, hair tousled, sweating, disgusting. It made me feel filthy. Made me a whore. Whatever they wanted for a fifty when their sixty cramped minutes of playing God were over. I was nothing, I know. It's just sometimes its nice to pretend otherwise. So I pretend to like it. I smile and open my mouth wider, spread my legs farther. I grin when presented with handcuffs, lick my lips at a paddle. When things were out of my control at least I could forget they were in fact my fault. It was easier to give up power then have it when you were to scared to utilize it.
I’ve been absent.
I was semi-recently a Friday Feature, and I feel terrible about not being active even before that, though part of me feels like it doesn't matter either way. I may post my writings to inspire others, but it's their choice, not mine, to read what I write. Whether I wrote it today or four months ago.
I have some things on my mind, so this is my way of saying sorry for not being around, and telling those who care to know, that I'll be posting a bit more; if only to share some thoughts and see how they resonate with other readers and writers.
|| another_proser ||
“Why Prose.?” -Angela Doll Carlson
When I began to write poetry I thought the process consisted of throwing words on a page. I thought to simply say exactly what I thought and meant, with line breaks and punctuation placed here and there, or, perhaps not at all, was a poem. Poems were mud pies. How hard can it be?
I like mud pies and I wrote them for a very long time. But mud pies could not feed me or anyone else. I would write them and admire them there on the page all while washing my hands, drying them on soft towels and getting back to the business of daily living. Those mud pies were not memorable except for occasional smudges I’d find on the floor or in between my fingers. The makings of the mud pies were what remained. And if I showed them to people, I was met with a pat on the head or words of mild encouragement.
“It’s a very nice mud pie,” they might say.
When I began to study poetry and wander into writing deeper and longer works I found myself less likely to use mud alone. I studied the great poets, some I knew already like Poe and Dickinson, others were unknown to me at that time, Cummings, Bukowski and Plath. I veered into the ancient with Rumi; I skated shakily into the modern with Nikki Giovanni and Mary Oliver. I found my heart expand with each new discovery. I worked those mud pies well, graduating to flour, to pastry, to rolling pin, to oven.
Instead of showing simply muddy hands and inedible pie plates I offered now scent and taste- blueberry, lemon, key lime. Meat pies were within reach adding texture and form.
Poetry is more than words on a page. It is depth and reaching, aching and mercy. Poetry says all the things you mean to say and more. It tells, it shows, it succeeds and it fails. As poets, we allow for that. We rely on that. We hope for that.
I began to write prose as a form as an adult, when my kids were finally in school. I began to use my poetic leanings and knead the words into longer thoughts, sentences stretched out like braids of dough. I would thread them one through the other in story. For me, writing non-fiction short form personal essay was the path of poetry into prose. And for me, the path yields the stuff that fills the banquet table I mean to set. I want it to be beautiful and rich, satisfying and intriguing.
Writing provides an insight into myself that I need. I want to read the words on the page and find in them some new discovery, some new depth I did not recognize before. I resonate with the words of author Joan Didion when she states, “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Writing poetry started that process for me, writing longer form intensifies that process and brings it more toward completion.
Spending time on the mobile or web platform of Prose gives me an opportunity to experiment and get immediate feedback, something that most of us as writers do not have the chance to receive. We are often so isolated in our writing. Who can understand that desire to make mud pies? Who can stand to wait long enough for us to move into pastry and meat? It’s a long process and it takes nurturing and care, waiting for the dough to rise, the heat to bake, the air to cool. Prose allows us to share our work in progress and to share in that process along with fellow writers. It is a sort of online writer’s group, a community of support and encouragement no matter where one falls on the pie-making spectrum.
Why Prose? Because we are makers and the world is hungry.
- Angela Doll Carlson, A.K.A. @mrsmetaphor