It sounded good on the phone. My partner from the days of Lumiere & Son, Hilary Westlake, asked me if I fancied writing a speech for an event to be held in Bexhill-on-Sea on August Bank Holiday, 2005. The De La Warr Pavilion, a 1930s Modernist architectural gem on the seafront of that town, had been refurbished and an enterprising producer had approached Hilary and some other artists and performers with a view to commissioning them to devise an entertaining opening ceremony.
My job would entail writing one single speech, to be used by an actor impersonating a VIP who had been invited to open the building. The VIP would prove to be so incompetent that the building itself would be affronted and attempt to silence him by flashing its lights, rumbling its plumbing and finally erupting with gouts of water and clouds of steam. Live music would be provided by French performance group Les Grooms while the building would be animated by Avanti Display. One of the perks of the job would involve a trip to France for a week’s discussion and rehearsal.
I started thinking about just what sort of incompetence the VIP might demonstrate. I concluded that he hadn’t done his homework and had arrived under the impression that the Pavilion was of the sort used by cricketers in the course of a match. This would cause him to digress dramatically from an appropriately themed opening speech.
I spent several hours on the first few paragraphs then sent them to Hilary to get some feedback before proceeding any further. I also wrote to the producer, requesting a portion of the money up front, as per standard practice. A day later I learned that the funding for the entire project had fallen through.
It felt a bit like a film experience – the one where you write outlines and treatments and sample scenes for no money and nothing whatsoever happens. It had never happened to me on a live performance project. And I had half a speech that would never get used. I’m mounting it on the site because I quite like parts of it and it would only go off otherwise.