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Weekend Links, 14/12/14: “Worlds which appear”

“What online theatre blogs mean to an acne riddled theatre maker.” by Josh Coates.

“If you’re at the stage where you are still counted as an emerging artist it is fairly exciting to get your first review. It’s also that chance to see if people have ‘got it’. Your parents and friends will laugh at the funny bits and cry at the personal bits but there is always that sense they’re doing it because it’s your hobby. Like the way your mum used to watch you play footie at Moss Bank Park in Bolton now comes to see your shows in the rough parts of Salford. It’s brilliant they can come but they’re not going to write a blog for you, writing objectively about the thing you spent months crying,bleeding pissing out of your system. That’s one reviewers come in handy. They’ll pick apart your baby like a sick cannibal. They may say something you never even imagined about your show. They may just chew away at it’s ribs.

Yeah at times the reviews can be “yeah, the show wasn’t the show I wanted to see. He didn’t do any characters.” or “Josh is a tall man and he speaks in a northern accent.” But sometimes there is the odd one from someone you never knew existed before the review came out. Someone with a shit url like www.iliketheatreLOL.com but they hit the nail on the head. It may be a negative write up or a glowing review but when reading it it validates all the worry you had In the back of your head that as an emerging artist you struggled to answer. When you’ve not got a huge institution behind you, you’ve had to put a deposit down on the venue and you’re on stage by yourself for an hour, it’s nice to have someone to make the effort to truly critique what you’ve done. It makes it feel like what you doing is worth it’s while. It’s not just a hobby to pass over the time between graduating and getting a real human job. It’s your job.

Tim Walker would never come to see any of my shows. I don’t want him to either. The Telegraph of The Times will probably never review my show. I’m fine with that. I don’t like star ratings and I’ll never perform on a west end stage so I don’t need them to sell tickets. I like playing rooms above pubs and other odd little places. I want people to come in and see my show to have discussions with each other over a pint after. If they carry that on and write a blog about it then excellent and I’ll be incredibly thankful. Even if the review is just “Josh scratched his bollocks an extraordinarily amount during his performance “ It’s still something I think is valid.

Online theatre criticism is the conversation after the show. It’s uncensored and it’s exciting. It’s not there to sell the show it’s reviewing. It’s there to be that dialogue between audience and performer.”

“Pay-what-you-decide theatre: a risk that’s worth taking” by Lyn Gardner.

“Hannah Nicklin ran a free performance night above a pub in Leicester for some time; Forest Fringe has always operated on a pass-a-bucket-around basis. Sometimes, different models can lead to different relationships between performers, audiences and venues that are built on something other than a monetary exchange for a commodity.

What’s also different about what’s happening at ARC is the fact that it’s taking place over such a sustained period and over such a substantial part of the programme (comedy is exempt from the offer), which in itself allows the possibility of really examining how far it is that price is a barrier to attendance and how much it is other issues.

One of the interesting things around research on the A Night Less Ordinary scheme, which offered theatre tickets to young people was the fact was when price was no longer a barrier, then other barriers – uncertainties about how to behave, what to wear, even approaching the box office – were indirectly reduced too. The whole idea of going to the theatre became less of a risk.

What will happen at ARC between January and June is that audiences will be able to book a ticket in advance if they want, but there will be no obligation to pay anything in advance. Instead you pay at the end, and only you, not the venue, will decide how much it’s worth. If you don’t want to pay anything, that’s fine – you’ll be able to slip away into the night and nobody will know. The sense of obligation is entirely removed.

Turpin suggests that while it will, she hopes, encourage those to come to the theatre who might not otherwise be able to afford such a night out, the initiative is less about simply removing the financial barrier than removing the financial risk, which are two quite different things. After all, if people know that they want to see something, they will often find the money. It’s when they are uncertain about a show that they are less willing to take a risk, and what ARC is doing should help encourage that risk-taking.”

“Janet Suzman says black people aren’t interested in theatre. How ridiculous” by Bonnie Greer.

“I hope that Suzman recants what she has said, and takes time out to do what most theatre-makers do when a production is failing to find an audience: check your repertoire. Maybe what you’re offering is simply not what the people want.

Theatre does not have one simple definition, of course. People of African and Asian descent have been making it for thousands of years, in open spaces, in temples and on the road.

My direct ancestors – African American slaves and freedmen and women – made theatre in the European tradition, from early on. For example, the African Grove Theatre, founded by William Henry Brown and James Hewlett, travelled throughout the Caribbean, performing Shakespeare to enslaved people working the tobacco plantations and the murderous sugar cane fields.

The first play written by an African American – The Drama of A Stowaway –was presented by them, in 1823. It was a success, playing to black and white audiences alike, but mostly black. My instinct is that the play spoke to something the audience knew, in the language they knew, and allowed them to find a human space within their tragic experience.

The African Grove’s base in New York City was subject to police raids, harassment and white opposition. The company moved to the Lower East Side, within the black community, but harassment forced them to close.

I find this story particularly moving because it reflects what happens to the work of Asian, black, Chinese and First Nations theatre in the west. It is the first to be cut when times are hard; the first to not appear in the canon; the first not to be reviewed when space is limited. In some ways it is boring to recount these travails over and over, but they don’t go away. They are always there.”

“In Battalions: an update” by Fin Kennedy.

“The third and final idea was more labour intensive, but built on the useful steer that In Battalions’ power is as a ‘factory’ generating hardcore statistics on the effects of very recent cuts, which we are all arguing about but which no-one is actually studying. Why not try to raise some money for another report? This would mostly be to pay Helen (and perhaps a small team of assistants) a decent fee to continue the research. Helen has been hugely generous in working pro bono up to now, but she is finishing her PhD soon and will be in need of an income. Moreover, these issues are not going away. More cuts are undoubtedly coming. Other, bigger campaigns such as What Next? are better placed to lobby ideologically to try to prevent or mitigate those cuts. But In Battalions’ most useful role is to chart their effects, impartially, dispassionately and using standardised research methods which it is difficult to dismiss. We can continue to be the ammunition factory of the British theatre industry.

We spent a while debating how best to go about raising the money for this. Between us, the people in the room had links to Equity, the Writers’ Guild and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We also discussed crowdfunding, which we may yet do. However, Helen made the important point that for further research to be taken seriously, the funding needs to also be seen as impartial (which may rule out Equity and the Guild). Discussions continue around this and I’ll post an update as and when – and if anyone has a brainwave about appropriate funding sources, do get in touch. Helen is in the process of costing up what would be a realistic figure, but as a rough guide we all felt in the region of £20,000 was what we were aiming for. Ambitious but by no means impossible.

Finally we spent a while discussing what the focus of a new tranche of research ought to be. Several felt that a simple re-run of the original research would suffice – charting the latest effects of the cuts two years on, though probably taking in a larger number of theatre companies, who would probably take part given the increased profile we now enjoy since undertaking the first report.

However, others felt that a new angle to the research might be more beneficial, partly for publicity purposes (journalists would be most interested in a new research question) and partly to deepen and complement the previous research. We may undertake a brief consultation with the sector on this, to see if there is an angle which would be most useful (if you have a suggestion, let us know) but one question which seemed to interest all of us was around the effects of the cuts on access and diversity: ‘Whose voices are being heard – whose stories are being told?’ While new plays and playwrights are undoubtedly endangered, they probably aren’t about to disappear altogether just yet. However what will happen long before then is that those plays and playwrights become drawn from a narrower and narrower pool of people – those who can afford to take part in an art form which is increasingly becoming economically unviable. This has huge implications for the worlds which appear on our stages.”

“Not Okay” by Alison Atkin.

“Because it’s obvious to almost everyone who has looked at this advert, that this is a skilled job. A job that you must apply for, with a CV and covering letter answering two questions, which would demonstrate a certain level of pre-existing knowledge of digital resources in a heritage environment. A job for that only pays £101.01/ week. That’s £5252.52/ year.

A year, after which, there is no indication of whether there may be a permanent job within the Museum Trust if you have done well within this ‘apprenticeship’. I’d say likely not, since the job description says this is a ‘temporary’ post. 12 months, just enough time to produce those high quality digital resources and be out the door.

The heritage industry has a problem. Job adverts like this one, which are clearly for a job, but pay at the rate of something that is not a job, well they are a HUGE part of this problem. However, I don’t want you to think that York Museum Trust is alone in this, because they’re not. There are countless organisations and institutions out there that are relying on volunteers and under-paid ‘apprentices’ to complete skilled work.

And people will continue to apply for them – school leavers, unemployed graduates, redundant museum professionals – because they’re desperate to be a part of the heritage industry. They think, if they just get more experience then they’ll be able to get a job. Except they won’t, because there aren’t any jobs, only apprenticeships and volunteer positions.”

“The Photo” by Andie Berryman.

“Four hours earlier an email came through, it said it couldn’t process payment for a book I’d ordered (ironically the first book I’ve been published in) I was confused, looked at my bank statement:

-489.00 x city council rent

What?! So I got on the phone to the rent team, it turns out they thought I was working for a company who I went for a job interview with a year ago, a company that operates on zero contract hours, a company that has not offered me any work. The man on the phone told me I’d been ‘unlucky’ that it would be sorted out but not (nor a refund) until January. Useful, given its two weeks to Christmas. I rang the bank to try and freeze overdraft charges on my account, they can’t until I demand a refund and they ‘may’ do that out of a gesture of ‘goodwill’ explained the person on minimum wage that works there, (they aren’t paid to give a fuck, so don’t get mad at them).

Three weeks ago I kissed a dying man’s bald head and listened while my friend say she was relived that she got cancer, because that meant the endless drudgery and pressure of looking for work (she’s well qualified but older) was paused for a month. That’s what the system does to us little people, makes us glad for adversity in the blur of everyday menial fog.”

Site Spotlight: Arbitrary Constant

“Arbitrary Constant is the personal blog of Rich Watts. It also has brilliant contributions from Phil Copestake and Stef W, far better than those of Rich himself.

The site originally started at Arbitrary Constant in 2003 and migrated to WordPress some time in 2011.

The site details an evolution of thinking over time on a variety of topics (which is only right, really), so it’s important to recognise that the views here are entirely personal and may or may not be what each of us currently thinks about things.”

- Arbitrary Constant

Weeknotes, 07/12/14

This week has been a blur; my laptop had a hissy fit and I somehow wrecked my hand but good stuff happened too! I’ve been stressed about banalities recently + it seems that some of those hurdles have been crossed for the moment. Never realise how heavy these additional bits feel until they’ve passed, like I finally have the mental space to catch up with the rest of my life now.

Classes break up at the end of next week, and exams have been moved from January to February which is excellent news for all involved.

Someone lovely via Twitter came & bought my impractical chair, which has massively helped out with cashflow & cleared a bit of space. I started looking at fully accessible places to live but there seem to be hardly any locally; the couple available on ~normal sites all cost at least four times my current rent. Nightmare. Here I have a hassle-free landlord, sweet quiet housemates, nice neighbours, a legit tenancy agreement and hot food & corner shops within relatively easy distance, everything stable & predictable. All the local parties are running campaigns on private sector rentals so I know I’m relatively lucky to have somewhere inhabitable full stop.

ATOS did their assessment on Wednesday and I’m cautiously optimistic despite all previous experience & having thought that last time. Don’t want to speak too soon. It only lasted 35m and wasn’t as thorough as I expected, but then I’m not being paid £33-£35k to conduct it. I was given a comments/complaints leaflet automatically. It still pisses me off when people are surprised that I’m working, studying, doing things. If I don’t I’m lazy, if I’m trying I still am too.

I made it to the last writing session of the year! People picked initial performance spaces the week I missed, so I explored that as well as the speaker & writing tasks. I’m leaning towards (the back of) the stalls so that there is level access. There is now a break for five weeks, with nine weeks to submit a first draft of final pieces. I have no real idea of what I’m writing but that’s always the case until it starts to take shape. I left work on last year’s piece until the spring & it came together quickly.

There are OU free weeks on the default study calendar, but I’ll need to be spending the time I’m not at work getting on schedule again. There are assignments due in January, March and May, plus a final exam in June. It’s felt like I’m not missing much because I’ve had to work so fragmentedly but it’s not true.

Weekend Links, 07/12/14: “Social infrastructure”

“Library as Infrastructure” by Shannon Mattern.

“It can be instructive for our libraries’ publics — and critical for our libraries’ leaders — to assess those structuring structures. In this age of e-books, smartphones, firewalls, proprietary media platforms and digital rights management; of atrophying mega-bookstores and resurgent independent bookshops and a metastasizing Amazon; of Google Books and Google Search and Google Glass; of economic disparity and the continuing privatization of public space and services — which is simultaneously an age of democratized media production and vibrant DIY and activist cultures — libraries play a critical role as mediators, at the hub of all the hubbub. Thus we need to understand how our libraries function as, and as part of, infrastructural ecologies — as sites where spatial, technological, intellectual and social infrastructures shape and inform one another. And we must consider how those infrastructures can embody the epistemological, political, economic and cultural values that we want to define our communities.

Public libraries are often seen as “opportunity institutions,” opening doors to, and for, the disenfranchised. People turn to libraries to access the internet, take a GED class, get help with a resumé or job search, and seek referrals to other community resources. A recent report by the Center for an Urban Future highlighted the benefits to immigrants, seniors, individuals searching for work, public school students and aspiring entrepreneurs: “No other institution, public or private, does a better job of reaching people who have been left behind in today’s economy, have failed to reach their potential in the city’s public school system or who simply need help navigating an increasingly complex world.”

The new Department of Outreach Services at the Brooklyn Public Library, for instance, partners with other organizations to bring library resources to seniors, school children and prison populations. The Queens Public Library employs case managers who help patrons identify public benefits for which they’re eligible. “These are all things that someone could dub as social services,” said Queens Library president Thomas Galante, “but they’re not. … A public library today has information to improve people’s lives. We are an enabler; we are a connector.”

“Toward a Stronger Social Infrastructure: A Conversation with Eric Klinenberg”.

“In addition to cities, disaster seems to loom large in your work. Why do you find disasters to be revealing about contemporary society?

A disaster for a social scientist is akin to a particle accelerator for a physicist; they speed up and make visible conditions that are always present but don’t fundamentally alter the relationship between the different elements. My argument in Heat Wave is that the event helped show that certain poor, abandoned neighborhoods also have an impoverished social infrastructure that makes residents vulnerable all the time. The heat wave demonstrated that fact through the dramatic scene of hundreds of dead bodies at the morgue. When these deaths occurred, the media did not report on them as a revealer of sociological problems. There was skepticism that the deaths were related to the heat; the event was dismissed — no City Council hearings, little national attention — before it ever got analyzed.

My next book, Fighting for Air, is about what’s happened to local media in the age of the Internet and consolidated ownership. During my research, I came across this incredible story of a small town in North Dakota called Minot where a train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed, causing a spill that formed a toxic plume that started to float over the town.

That night, the emergency alert system that was supposed to signal a broadcast warning for everyone in the town didn’t work. So residents relied on the designated emergency broadcaster — one of the local radio stations — for information about what was happening and how to stay safe. It turned out that all of the local commercial radio stations were owned by the same company, Clear Channel, and no one was working in the studio. All of the stations were on autopilot playing pre-recorded content, so the designated emergency broadcaster had no way to get the news out. So if you were living in Minot, North Dakota, that night, with a life-threatening, toxic cloud floating over your house, and you turned on your radio, you would hear golden oldies or classic rock rather than a warning about what you needed to do to stay safe. This was an example of a small disaster revealing something larger in the media ecosystem — where a small number of large companies control much of the broadcast world — not in just one town but across the country.”

“Politics, Psychotherapy and Boarding School” by Nick Duffell.

“For a quarter of a century I have been pioneering a psychological understanding of how children in boarding school have to survive institutionalised life without parents and how this affects them later on as adults. But even with two books on the subject and lots of media coverage I still meet an extraordinary wall of resistance – it still feels like an uphill battle. I still have to re-invent the wheel each time I put the case. Why should this be?

The boarding habit is so normalised in Britain that we are not aware how extraordinary it is to foreigners. We are like fish that don’t notice the water they swim in. In education we have institutionalised it as something called the ‘Independent System’ and have allowed it to become favourably polarised with state provision. Blinded by terms like ‘parental choice’, we can’t see the trap: what parent who had the money would not “want the best” for their children?

Normalisation is a very powerful defence mechanism often overlooked by our profession. It operates on a systemic and therefore social, rather than individual, level. Psychotherapy can get bogged down in the myth of individualism, running from the political to hide in the private, morbidly afraid of generalisations, systemic perspectives, national characteristics. Such attitudes affect how we see our clients and their issues, and in a class-ridden society like Britain are irresponsible, I think.

In 2011 I was required to remove overt political references by the BJP, Therapy Today, and even the newsletter of Boarding Concern. But this year, the zeitgeist seems to be shifting, Therapy Today kindly invited me to write what I wanted about how boarding produces Wounded Leaders, yet in the following edition several letters from outraged therapists were published.”

“Why Does George Osborne’s Ex-Dominatrix Friend Keep Getting Arrested?” by Simon Childs.

“Last Monday, Natalie Rowe, a former dominatrix who claims to have taken cocaine with a young George Osborne – a claim that he has always totally denied – was arrested shortly after tweeting an unseen picture of George Osborne, in her words, “off his trolley” in her flat.

Her arrest for “abusive behaviour” was seemingly unconnected to the tweet, but it happened shortly after. Rowe, who used to be known as “Miss Whiplash”, had her flat raided for drugs last year shortly before the release of her book Chief Whip – Memoirs of a Dominatrix, in which she details how George Osborne once had a fight over her at a prostitute ‘n’ blow party after she licked another man’s ear. While that sort of alleged behaviour sounds like exactly the kind of thing a braying ex-Bullingdon Club member might enjoy getting up to, it’s hardly becoming of a would-be Chancellor. Could it be a coincidence that Rowe has been hassled by the cops so close to her releasing information that could embarrass Osborne?

“I just find it really odd that when I do something, slightly, a bit hot under the collar for Osborne, the police seem to knock on my door at the right time,” Rowe told me over the phone. “To my mind, it’s not a coincidence,” she said.”

ABV #45: “By right or by force”

“Everyone Watches, Nobody Sees: How Black Women Disrupt Surveillance Theory” by Sydette Harry.

“Surveillance is based on a presumption of entitlement to access, by right or by force. More importantly, it hinges on the belief that those surveilled will not be able to reject surveillance — either due to the consequences of resisting, or the stealth of the observance. They either won’t say no, or they can’t.

Discussions of stolen celebrity selfies often miss the “by force” aspect of the breeches, instead focusing on salacious details. Surveillance is part of the information age, but it has always been part of abusive dynamics. As opting into surveillance becomes increasingly mandatory to participate in societies and platforms, surveillance has been woven into the fabric of our lives in ways we can not readily reject.

Being watched is not just an activity of Big Brother-style surveillance, but also fannish adulation and social enmeshment. As Black women have been historically denied the ability to consent to surveillance, modern discussion of watching and observing black women needs better historical context. When I’nasah Crockett points out how black women online have constantly been portrayed as “raving amazons,” one of the unspoken through lines is how easily media, even on the left, believes dissecting black women, tracking their online habits, consuming illegally obtained images of them, and demanding education is a “right”. Black women cannot say no, and do not need to be in any way respected or fully informed about how they will be studied or used. Media collects the data of black activity and media production as a weapon, without black participation. The lack of black participation can be unintentional or intentional, but usually ends in gross appropriation, clumsy “admiration”, willful erasure or a troublesome combo of all three. Combined with historical blindness, racist condescension and content desperation, the modern surveillance of black women too often results in the same historical abuse and erasure of black women.”

“Freedom Next Time” by John Pilger.

“By the same rule of thumb, a crime is only a crime if the perpetrators are ‘them’, not ‘us’. In his epic acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, Harold Pinter referred to ‘a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed’. He asked why ‘the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought’ of Stalinist Russia were well known in the West while American imperial crimes were merely ‘superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged’.

He was referring to a great silence, unbroken by the incessant din of the media age. Across the world, the extinction and suffering of countless human beings could be attributed to rampant America. ‘But you wouldn’t know it,’ said Pinter. ‘It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it never happened. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.’

To its shame, though unsurprisingly, the BBC ignored Pinter’s warning. All that drawing-room flatulence about the arts, all that preening for the cameras at Booker prize-givings, yet the national broadcaster could not make room for Britain’s greatest living dramatist, so honoured, to tell the truth. For the BBC, it never happened.

Soon afterwards, bereft of irony, the newsreader Fiona Bruce introduced, as news, a Christmas propaganda film about George W. Bush’s dogs. The film showed how kind the President and his family were. That happened. Now imagine Bruce reading this: ‘Here is delayed news, just in. From 1945 to 2005, the United States attempted to overthrow fifty governments, many of them democracies, and to crush thirty popular movements fighting tyrannical regimes. In the process, twenty-five countries were bombed, causing the loss of several million lives and the despair of millions more.’”

Simone Browne on “Dark Sousveillance: Surveillance, Race and Resistance”.