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beat Blue Monday with a better January

If you don’t mind Pantomime, then Christmas for Technicians is great. You’d be pretty much spoilt for choice on the shows to work on (albeit they’re pretty much the same!) and more than often, you can work near your home making it fairly easy getting home for Christmas. That’s what I did for the Panto season and it worked great for me. But as it drew nearer to the end of the run, I found finding work to line up was difficult, either for me, or my colleagues. And so, I find myself in yet another January lull.

This lull has an overall effect on Freelancers, such as myself. If you’re in-house then great, because you have a month of PAT Testing just about every object in the whole of the building! (Because we all know how fun a big, long PAT Test is…) But as the Theatre scene dies down considerably in the months after the traditional Christmas boom-time, you get pretty much stuck twiddling your thumbs! As I run my own company, we’ve had plenty to do for planning the new year. But we’ve now got a pile up of events from the end of March rather than now. I mean, no complaints, but spreading things out would be a bonus!

So I find myself asking and mulling over why January is so quiet. Generally, there isn’t one reason that over arcs them all. Okay, industries all over are quiet, but as ever, Arts has to push continually and this includes creating and producing shows right?

Perhaps the money thing plays too much of a major factor. But it’s so true that the Arts never has any money, so again, pushing to create as so happens the rest of the year. Money then, playing the major part, I feel is an opportunity experimentation and reflection. For example, there should be more Scratch type events, like those at the BAC, charging little money for audiences to find some new stuff. It’s the same with technicians. There should be more opportunity to facilitate these ‘experiments’ within the theatre environment thus requiring technical support. Perhaps bands can try out new material in small low ticket price gigs, or bits and pieces of plays can be staged with some tricky technical content? Or perhaps very little technical content, but at the least for operators to push faders up and down, at the very least?!

This isn’t so much a plea or a cry out for jobs to be created and filled, but a flag-up of how January can be made far more productive. A busy, testing, experimenting, freer first month can help set the foundations and preparations for the rest of the calendar year. New contacts can be made, new artists can be found by audiences and, who knows, even new Genres found by artists?!

Bar all that, hopefully January can be a bit better so I don’t have to spend next year’s Blue Monday struggling so bad in bashing out posts like this!


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go on, take a risk once in a while

take risks, unlike these folk

After reading one of Lyn Gardner’s recent blogs, I was pleased to see how she got incredibly enthused and impassioned by what theatre should be doing and whole heartedly I couldn’t agree more. I am most drawn to her point about risk – “When I’m in the theatre, I want to feel as if some kind of risk is taking place” she says. This takes me back to my days at university when I often discovered the value of this tool and device when creating theatre across a number of forms.

Whenever I went to see a piece I was often asking myself, ‘what did they risk there?’ If it was nothing, then I found that it was pretty pointless – Gardner finishes her blog with a Tim Etchells quote: “I ask of each performance: will I carry this event with me tomorrow? Will it haunt me? Will it change you, will it change me, will it change things? If not, it was a waste of time.” How true.

Speaking more specifically about some of the in-house productions at St. Mary’s University College, some of which I was involved in; these are the ones that still stick in my memory. In the second year, a dance piece called Belonging, a 12-month project culminating in a movement/performance art piece entitled The Healing Room and also my final piece Inside Cover. I can remember how they pushed limits and boundaries both technically and in content and how this thrilled me, moved me and stayed with me.

Sadly, what many practitioners often don’t come to realise is that theatre is the place to take a risk. It’s where the opportunity is created and where the potential and real world can be ‘played’ with finding limits and boundaries. So I find myself asking, why aren’t more theatre makers doing this? Directly, I feel it is somewhat because of the ‘why’, as in they aren’t discovering why to take a risk and I’m not saying take a risk for risk sake. Perhaps taking a leaf out of Atonin Artaud’s book, quite literally, in the Theatre and its Double and injecting some ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ – and why so? Well, summed up brilliantly here –

The Theatre of Cruelty has been created in order to restore to the theatre a passionate and convulsive conception of life, and it is in this sense of violent rigour and extreme condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty on which it is based must be understood. This cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary but not systematically so, can thus be identified with a kind of severe moral purity which is not afraid to pay life the price it must be paid.

– Antonin Artaud, The Theatre of Cruelty, in The Theory of the Modern Stage (ed. Eric Bentley), Penguin, 1968, p.66

What I love about theatre especially, is that you can use it to play in the face of adversity. I believe that only in theatre, you can toy with an idea so much, to tempt it and push it to see just how far it goes. So, as we face such adverse weather, it doesn’t put a stop to the performance, yet we must, as always, take a risk and push against it.

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can you imagine that imagine this has closed? i can

And so it’s casualty number… I’ve lost count. Can you just imagine that “A rare entity in the West End, Imagine This is an entirely new musical, neither based on a book, film or back catalogue of music nor transferred from Broadway,” (Society of London Theatre) will be closing barely a month after it officially opened? Of course not – all the signs point to its timely death.

The making of this show was very, very brave indeed. Firstly, to take a show with no proof of success on any other platform – it’s not even relatively unheard of; nobody had any idea what it was at all! From the off, they were up against it and only a truly unique and expertly executed marketing and advertising campaign was going to drive 960 bums onto their seat, night after night. Merely the show’s first challenge was hard enough, and when it opened, it became a whole lot tougher.

The critics gave ‘mixed’ reviews. The truth is that in these challenging, credit crunching, dark and gloomy times, a subject matter such as the Holocaust would have to carry an unbelievably amazing show around it. Nobody really wants to go and see a show that was constantly being defended by its director and producers as having inappropriate subject matter. Although there were said to be some great performances individually it and looked spectacular – it “received four nominations for the Whatsonstage Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, where it is featured in the Best Actress In A Musical, Best Supporting Actor In A Musical, Best New Musical and Best Set Design categories.” (Society of London Theatre), the content of the musical never pulled through, and thus it heads towards its inevitable sleepy time.

In the recent aftermath, the producer, Beth Trachtenberg, has taken a swipe at the media: “Fundamentally I do not think the critics should be making a moral judgement over the subject matter.” But as Matt Wolf, in his Guardian blog, has quite rightly pointed out, it’s kind of their jobs – “But isn’t one of the very aims of criticism to assess work not just aesthetically but morally?” As many a debate has continued about the role of theatre critics in today’s ever advancing web 2.0 world.

Yet again, I see all the fuss about reviews being far too much valued, when in truth, the power of the people is the actual and honest assessment of any modern production. The producers had such aplomb about the show, – “I’ve witnessed the public’s response to the show that is directly opposed to a narrow-minded critical belief that musicals are limited in their emotional impact” (The Stage) – however, it does appear that the emotion is only arousing the public so deep – and any decent theatre maker knows well enough that this only a touch on what constitutes a successful show.

I should point out that I feel it is hugely encouraging and extremely self-respecting that the production company – Beth Trachtenberg, Shuki Levy, Anita Mann and Icw Productions, have taken on such a courageous production and have been fully behind it. It was a mammoth task in trying to stir success in the New London Theatre (which I think has become the backend of West End theatres with its extremely dated 70s architecture – no show has been truly successful since Cats was there for 21 years) especially without any previous tested ground. A ‘rare entity’ is a bit of an understatement to be fair.

But another example has been set of how not to head to the West End with a huge production. It was hardly an experiment, because I could have commended it more for this, and so the forgotten past it will now become – very much the extreme opposite of what the show was actually all about. Let’s just hope that the big time producers out there can pinch themselves once again and it isn’t another victim of its own peril.

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did the brickbats in cyberspace mean anything?

As you saw the other day, I blogged, among others, about the importance of a conference taking place on Monday evening. When I first heard about it I was overjoyed that, finally, something formal and serious was taking place to discuss the issues of how blogging is changing the theatre landscape.

Although actually I couldn’t attend, I was able to stream it over the internet and catch word and thus be in touch with my peers about all the relevant debates that cropped up over the short period. It was encouraging to see institutions so highly regarded such as The Telegraph, The Guardian, Complicite and other bloggers were casting their view, in public, on what is and can hugely affect so many theatre makers’ lives. The white doves were finally being released – hurrah! Finally being released into just a bigger room?

Since the inaugural event, I have seen very little coverage of the goings on of that evening. For the past two days, other known theatre bloggers @LondonTheatre @Dramagirl @MattBoothman and I have been Twittering away over who said what, why and where and how this is all a vast step in the right direction. But as far as I’m aware, that’s about it.

Searching both the Guardian and Telegraph site, I could find no information about ‘Brickbats in Cyberspace‘ and by certainly no means a blog. It’s only been talked about and covered by a couple of us and in this way it leaves me feeling so disappointed. Perhaps what was discussed and what came out of it, is in fact so far behind the rest of the web 2.0 world that it won’t make any press at all. Perhaps the academics who were present can take their research away and file it into a thesis that no will really ever read.

I found everything that was discussed fascinating over the short time and took a great deal from it. Although a lot was stating the obvious – more voices is better for all, for example – it was still good to hear it in public, at a formal evening, from respected contributors in their fields and in front of spectators who do this stuff everyday too. It was a real sharing and passing on of ideas and information, but yet again, this information lacks the true freedom that new media and, in particular, the internet has been striving to achieve.

If the Brickbats of these institutions are prepared to debate their views on such vital subjects then great – but won’t they please stick their necks on the line a little bit and voice it in a wider sense of the world?

It has dawned on me how much harder we, as theatre bloggers, have to work in order to make ourselves known to the theatre world. Our understanding and engagement of critical theatre is plausible, identifiable and both constructive and supportive because no matter what we say, it is for the everyday good of theatre and helping it to stay alive. It is a cliché to use ‘no press is bad press’ but it still rides here in the sense that our coverage is adding every little bit – we just want everyone else to come and indulge in the coverage of theatre and the arts too and that includes great conferences such as that on Monday night.

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looking into the future – some points of interest

Having a good old fashioned browse of the t’internet and also after receiving some items in my Google Reader I thought I couldn’t specifically blog about them all, so I decided to compile a list for all you theatrephiles to take a look at for yourselves. Click the links to take you there:-

  • A TV channel specifically about theatre – Theatreland.tv – Particularly interesting for the future of Theatre and the Internet and providing good quality content rather than a load of YouTube videos.
  • Boris Johnson has pledged further support for the arts and culture industry. Notably the funding running in tandem with the 2012 Olympic games.
  • The Creator’s of South Park and Avenue Q composer have teamed up to write a musical titled “Mormon Musical“. Although it won’t be over here for a while, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
  • The Credit Crunch has possibly been the most used word of 2008. Obviously affecting everyone but how will affect theatre and the arts? In a lot of ways of course, but here are some solutions.

There’s a few things to look out for in the coming months. Let me know your thoughts on any of them and how they will/have affected you. Enjoy!

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out of the summer of hibernation… i’m back

uh hullo

Uh hullo.” Matthews clambers up onto his chair shielding his eyes from the blinding light casting out of the computer screen.

“This is going to be hard work” he thought. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve done any blogging. It could be a bit of a brain and finger strain. But no! It doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of patience and perseverance I can be well and truly back in the blogosphere.”

Yes that’s right, I’m back. After a long time in Edinburgh and taking up a job as a touring stage manager for the past few months, I’m now back on home soil. With another year of wisdom (I had my birthday two weeks ago) I’m ready, once again, to cast my thoughts and opinions about the theatre world at large.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments in anything I write. Please do also add me on Twitter – @sandym0, another place where I will endeavour to bridge the ever elusive gap between cyberspace and theatre.

But enough babbling on for now, there’s an important event taking place tonight, which I simply must catch to have any hope of forming my ideas back on Until Further Notice.

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bums on seats or a bit bummed out?

Yes I know it’s been a week, but what a week it’s been. Tough, grinding, fun, long, tiring, sweating and smelling, lifting and shifting, building, scaffing, painting, sticking and eating (of course you have to eat during all this!) are just a handful of some of the verbs and adjectives that could describe the last days.

The mass of staff arrived yesterday to lift spirits and blaze through what still had to be worked on. There is still a vast amount to be done but what has been achieved is both amazing and overwhelming at the same time. Things have certainly fallen into place nicely and now it’s time to move onto the next stage of the Edinburgh festival – the company arrivals.

From tomorrow, the long and laborious, but extremely essential work takes place with setting up the productions in each of the venues. These next few days are a crucial and pivotal point during the festival duration and for many people are the potential make and break of their time here. There will be tears and tantrums all over the shop with ego clashes a-plenty but then what would the arts festival be without them?

This is, of course, a very false picture that I’m painting of how the work will go because, in fact, it will be more first class teamwork to put the finishing touches to these shows and make them all look, sound and feel amazing. I will very much be involved in this process and will be knee deep in much deliberation of sorting the shows out and this is where the next phase of my quest will begin. I’ll be finding out why exactly the companies invest their long and hard earned cash to come to the place where the average audience attendance is just three.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the official organisers for the fringe festival, give their opinion on why performers should come to the festival:-

You will not only face competition for an audience from around 1,800 different Fringe shows but also from the Edinburgh International, Film, Book and Jazz Festivals, plus the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. So although many people travel to what is generically known as the ‘Edinburgh Festival’ there are many things to distract them from buying a ticket for your show. In addition, the costs of hiring a venue, travel, accommodation, publicity material, etc mount up quickly.

However, financial gain isn’t the number one reason to come to Edinburgh. Most performers come to the Fringe as an asset for their future careers. The Fringe is well-known for springboarding people’s careers, providing numerous opportunities for networking, and ‘fast-track’ learning some tricks of the trade from other performers from all across the globe.

As obvious as this may seem, it is the latter paragraph that is so blindingly true and something that runs across the fringe platform no matter where you are in the world. This is what makes the arts so good because it is consistently like this. However, this doesn’t satisfy my appetite enough and so I want to see the rabbit hole go further and receive a much wider perspective on why Edinburgh exists as it does today.

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