Tag Archives: audience

Villains and Heroes

batman-robin

Good morning, you marvellous creature.  How’s your Friday going?  

Our society is obsessed with the concepts of heroism and villainy.  Specifically in terms of celebrity culture, we like to be told who to admire and who to abhor.  I have a massive problem with celebrity culture in general, because I think that it’s pointless at best and incredibly offensive at worst to speculate on the lives of people we’ll never know.  It makes far more sense to look closer to home to find things that we can aspire to or avoid, and to surround ourselves with people who make our heroes list.  Here are a few examples of the goodies and baddies we are most likely to come across in life:

Villains

  • The git who doesn’t give up their seat for a pregnant woman on public transport.  How is that even a thing that happens?  It’s ludicrous.
  • The person who doesn’t care who they hurt.  I’ve known a guy to cheat on one of my closest friends with one of my other closest friends, and the audacity of that still makes me livid, even years later.  Seriously, don’t poo where you eat.  Or where you socialise, I guess.  In fact, pooing anywhere other than the traditionally designated facilities is just not cool.
  • The person who never says please or thank you.  That drives me up the flipping wall.  Someone bring me a stepladder, please; my rage is preventing me from getting back down to the floor.
  • The person who just doesn’t give a flying fig about you.  Why do we put up with people who never listen to what we say, ask us questions about ourselves or show any concern for our welfare?  This covers a whole spectrum of asshats from story-toppers to emotionally abusive partners.  People who only want you around as an audience do not deserve you.  You are not just a spectator.
  • The moron who likes to shit-stir.  Why would anyone get a kick out of inventing harmful computer viruses, upsetting their friends or creating vicious rumours?  I don’t understand.  Incidental Schadenfreude is one thing, but intentionally creating distress for absolutely no reason is just evil.  Villainous, you might say.

Heroes

  • Single parents.  Those guys are hands down the bravest, most hard-working and incredible people we will ever meet.  Whenever I get depressed about my responsibilities and worries I think about how much my single parent friends have to deal with, and feel a bit ashamed of myself.
  • People who fight their fears.  Like lots of people, my way of dealing with stuff that I’m afraid of is to simply run away from it and refuse to fix the issue.  When I climbed Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh I went with a friend who, as far as I knew, simply loved climbing and always had.  However, I found out that he only took up climbing to confront his fear of heights, which is pretty incredible to me.  People who can challenge themselves like that are definitely to be respected.
  • People who always care.  One of my friends is the loveliest, gentlest and most compassionate person I know.  She also has absolutely no luck when it comes to health and family problems, but that never stops her from caring about what’s going on with me.  Isn’t it amazing to have someone in your life who doesn’t let their problems prevent them from loving you?
  • People who pursue their passion.  A lot of my friends are creative types, and I am bowled over every day by how hard they work and how much they sacrifice in order to achieve their dreams.
  • People who can get over a heartbreak.  If you’ve ever had your heart broken and have recovered from it, you are an undisputed hero.  Go get yourself a cape.

Have a brilliant weekend.

Two Towers, No Hobbits

Titus-Andronicus-Globe-6211-630x310

Good morning, lovely reader!  Got any nice plans for your weekend?  I know for a fact that there are barbecues happening in London over the next couple of days.  Loving that weather-based optimism.

When I was writing this post I nearly called it “Real British Theatre”, but I disregarded that title for two reasons: firstly, it smacks somewhat of Nigel sodding Farage (and I have many faults, but voting for UKIP is definitely not one of them), and secondly it reminded me a little too forcefully of a university module I think I did, which was called something similar and was about theatre in the nineteenth century.  Maybe.  I think.  I don’t know, it was a very long time ago, and I wasn’t paying attention…

Yesterday I went to the Globe with one of my best buddies to see the play which, time-travel allowing, I’m pretty sure is Shakespeare’s homage to Tarantino: Titus Andronicus.  It was bloody, disturbing and impossible to stop watching.  It also had my absolute favourite characteristic of theatre: dark comedy.  It was funny at odd moments, it lightened the more blood-stained and grotesque scenes with a bit of whimsy, but most worryingly of of all, the actual subject matter and the characters’ situations made us laugh.  They also made us wince in disgust, groan in surprised nausea and sharply peg it out of the way when the actors were running around in the audience.

The actors had two metal towers on wheels to propel themselves around the groundling pit, and they used them spectacularly.  It still amazes me that something so un-British – barging through crowds of people, for heaven’s sake, and actually shouting at them to move, how very rude, I shall write to The Times – is such an integral part of the audience’s experience at the Globe.  The Globe is a beacon of British history and culture, and it attracts people from all over the – well, the globe, I suppose.  Ahem.

The un-British barging in a very British theatre is important, because it makes the story so immediate for the spectators (which is, after all, why they went to the Globe in the first place).  It made us feel genuinely at risk from the seething anger, the all-too-real swords and the fake blood being sprayed everywhere.  It was amazing.

The best things about this country are way beyond what politicians have to say about immigration or the Europe issue.  The best things about this country are the things that people gave us hundreds of years ago, and that we still enjoy today.  This country is about Winston Churchill’s determination, Charles Darwin’s curiosity and William Shakespeare’s imagination.

This country is about standing in the middle of an open air theatre and feeling things that audiences have felt about the same story for four hundred and twenty years.  That’s called a communal experience by the way, Mr. Farage, and the whole flipping point of it is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.

Have an amazing Saturday.  (Not you, UKIP.)

Actors are Awesome

kenneth_branagh_1552564c

Good morning, you fabulous human being!  I hope that you’ve started your weekend with a decent lie-in.  As you can tell from the time that this post was published, I did not have a lie-in myself.  This is not a problem, partly because I really like mornings (sunshine!  Coffee!  Optimism!  More coffee!!) but mainly because I’ve got an early rehearsal.  My actors are a lovely bunch with a pretty good understanding of my eccentricities, but it would be a bit awkward if they turned up and found their director still in her pyjamas.

We are rehearsing for a show on Wednesday called Date Night, which is a series of three short pieces about relationships and how bad Generation Y is at them.  (Apparently my generation is called that, but I don’t know why.  Pun not intended.)  Anyway, since I wrote all three pieces it would be a bit weird of me to start talking about them, so I’ll talk about the actors instead.  They’re brilliant.

Actors in general are a fascinating bunch of people, and wider society thinks that it’s got the whole lot of them pegged.  Wider society is missing out.  Actors have lots of things in common: passion for performance, a desire to create empathetic experiences with an audience, a clear speaking voice and the ability to memorise enormous chunks of dialogue.  But each actor is unique in the same way that human beings are, and they are blimming fascinating.

No matter how obvious I think a script is or how clearly I’ve imagined a character, there is always an actor out there who can turn my ideas on their head.  It’s actually the main reason that I enjoy writing so much: our minds are full of strange, complicated thought processes – to quote the great Bill Bailey “my mind is unravelling like a tapestry with some angry kittens!” – but we only get one mind each.  I am limited by my capacity to be be just one person, so whatever I write will be likewise limited.  I can imagine situations and write characters, but it is the actors who take the scripts and make them work.  The dialogue needs their unravelling tapestry minds as well as mine.

What do you think of when you read the word “actor”, by the way?  Do you picture Kenneth Branagh, or maybe Laurence Olivier?  Does the word remind you of tortured artistry or living on a pittance?  Maybe even the idea of being a bit pretentious?  You may well be right to think of those things.  But among my social and professional sphere are a whole load of actors who have made me laugh until I’ve cried, actors who have given me chills, who have made me fall in love with their characters or made me want to run a mile.  These are people whom I have grown up with, seen first thing in the morning, spent all day in a pub with and played Monopoly with: the people I know best in the world, in fact.  But they have all managed to astonish me at some point by becoming somebody else when they’re on stage.  It’s weird (and wonderful).

You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s a sensation that I don’t think I will ever become accustomed to.  I hope that I don’t.  Actors, like all people, have got the constant power to surprise you…BOO!  Ok I’m sure you were expecting that…but hey, I’m not an actor.

Have the most unapologetically awesome Saturday.

Autobiography is Irrelevant

il_340x270.343311107

Hello, lovely reader!  How’s everything going with you?  Did you get that essay/presentation/murder trial sorted out in the end?  Oh good, glad to hear it.

Last night I went to the Etcetera Theatre in Camden to see a play called Leaves of Glass.  While it was hardly light-hearted mid-week viewing, it was a very powerful and incredibly well-written play.  The story featured disturbingly empathetic ideas of dishonesty within families in order to keep the peace, and papering over bad memories in order to enjoy the present.  It was so riveting that I didn’t notice almost two hours slip by without an interval (and an audience always notices stuff like that).  I love it when you see a play, or film, or read a book that completely takes over your head space for a few days.  Even if it’s because it’s disturbed your inner well-being a bit, it’s good to really digest stuff like that.  It means it was good.

One of the first comments I heard when I left the theatre was a woman walking in front of us who turned to someone and said “God, d’you think it was autobiographical?”  Strap yourselves in, kids, I’m going in for a rant:

1) If it were autobiographical, would that make any difference to the quality of the play?  Would you enjoy a well-written, energetically performed and cleverly directed play any less because you found out that these things did or didn’t happen in real life?  Theatre is ABOUT life: the whole point of theatre is to show us something that could actually happen.  That’s why we have political plays.

2) It’s really none of your business.  If the playwright has been through any of the things that the characters have then s/he should not have to go into detail about it to gratify your morbid curiosity.  Also, you just watched a whole bloody play about it; how much more detail do you really want?  Wise up, as my friend Carly would say.

(I’m not really cross, by the way.  I know I sound it, but I’ve actually got a very nice day planned, so I’m pretty chipper.  Sorry for ranting.)

I love it when people see elements of themselves in my plays, because it means that I’ve managed to write characters who are sympathetic (and more importantly, empathetic).  But that’s about having a good experience as an audience member and relating to the piece, not trying to look behind the curtain and undermine the story.

Playwrights get very annoyed when people try to detect people they know (or themselves) in their work, because it implies that we don’t have the imagination to come up with our own characters.  Sure, we take inspiration from our real lives and the people in it, but we’re not writing Made in Chelsea here.  Give us a break.   If you switch your brain off to stop worrying about whether your friend’s play is about you or someone you know, you’ll probably enjoy it more.

By the way, I know that in my blogs and articles I talk directly about my friends and family all the time.  I’ve named Carly in this one, for example.  Oh look at that, I did it again.  (Hi Carly!)  But this is real life, not a story I made up.  I don’t have to use my imagination to tell you about annoying my vegetarian friend on an Underground train.  (Sorry – read this blog if that reference baffled you.)

Have an amazing day.  Go to that slightly posh place near the office for lunch; you deserve a mid-week treat.

The Hard Logic

hard-man3

Good morning, dear reader!  It’s a bit chilly today, so I hope you’ve got your scarf, gloves, etc.

Last  night some friends and I went to the Finborough Theatre to see a play called The Hard Man.  The producer is a friend of ours whose work we wanted to support, but actually it was well-worth seeing in its own right.  The story is based on the life of Jimmy Boyle, a notorious gang leader who was convicted for murder in Glasgow in 1967.  I’m not sure if this is what we were supposed to get out of it, but for me it came out as somewhere in the middle of Trainspotting, Brighton Rock and The Shawshank Redemption.  I won’t go into too much narrative detail after that baffling three-way comparison, but the performances were brilliant and the production as a whole was very compelling.

The crux of the play’s message was that people are the product of their environments.  This wasn’t so much an attempt to absolve the characters of responsibility, but an indication that there is always logic at play rather than a conscious decision to become “evil”.  If you were born into a hard life in Glasgow, you responded in kind.  If you didn’t have a father, you did what you needed to to bring money in.  If someone hit you, you hit back.  There was inevitability at play rather than a tragic downfall of the imperfect hero: in the writing and the performances, there was no tangible plea for the audience to understand or sympathise, it was just: “Here we are.  This is what we started with, so this is what we had to do.”  It was logic, not bad luck.

That may just be my opinion, and I hope that my producer friend will forgive me if I’ve interpreted the play all wrong, but it definitely struck a chord with me.  Perhaps there is an inevitability and logic to our lives, sometimes so small that we don’t even notice it.  For example, everyone in my family went to university, so I did too.  I wanted to go, but it never even occurred to me to do anything else, when of course there are hundreds of other options to take.  I loved my university, and I don’t regret my decision in any way, but it’s just a curious thought: did I apply to university on autopilot because of my environment?  What might I have done differently if no one in my family were university-educated?

The things that we believe, think, say and do are all a factor of who we are now, and who we are now is the result of years and weeks and minuscule moments that have shaped our lives.  I don’t know how many moments in your life you can point to and say “That split second changed my life”, but in a way it doesn’t matter, because they all did.  The question is what to do about it now that you are here.

In the arts sector in particular, people have found that the years, weeks and moments have led them to a place where there is no money and no certainty.  It’s all very well to say either (or both) of the following two things:

1) “We didn’t get into this business for the certainty of it; art is all about the precarious and unknown!”

2) “It’s not fair.  Why shouldn’t we be able to make theatre?  It was just dumb luck that our generation started out in the middle of a recession.”

But saying these things is not going to get your play produced or your your novel published.  Saying those words is just repeating what we all know already, so don’t waste your time.  We are where we are, and there’s nothing we can do to go back in time and stop the recession, so we will just have to use it.  I’m not saying that making theatre is going to pull this country out of its financial canyon (although you never know), but the fact is that people who want to paint, write, act, direct, dance and every other artistic discipline under the sun have to take what the world gives them and use it to make their work better.  You can’t fix it, so use it.

The recession is not going to go away just because we don’t like it, and arts funding is not going to magically increase just because we want it to.  Those might be nice side effects of our work in the future, but for now we should be looking at the world around us, accepting what we cannot change and using it to our advantage.  On a very basic, impetuous level, we should take every opportunity to defy the asshats who lost our money by becoming stronger, better and more active artists.  Think about the logic: if the country’s wealth hadn’t been so skew-whiff in the sixties, John McGrath would never have formed 7:84 Theatre Company.

I think what I’m trying to say is that we should be ruthless and realistic when it comes to facing the odds.  Even if they are stacked so highly against us that they’re starting to wobble a bit, we should always, always be looking at situations as opportunities to become better artists.

I got on my soapbox a bit there, didn’t I?  I’ll clamber down now and make us some coffee.  D’you take sugar?