Tag Archives: film

Engaging is the Challenge

Happy Bank Holiday Monday to you, my dear reader.  I hope that this extra day of freedom is affording you suitable levels of confusion about setting your alarm and all the poorly thought out DIY tasks you could possibly have hoped for.

“Tonight is the night when six become one”, as the famous Spice Girls song definitely does not go.  Tonight myself, my favourite Australian (the powerhouse producer and artistic director of RedBellyBlack) and the cast of A Year From Now will be hosting a fantastic fundraiser at our favourite haunt, The Boogaloo in North London.  We are raising money to pay for our venue, where in the first week of July we will be performing a verbatim, physical theatre piece about humans’ relationships with time.  Here are the miscreants/creative geniuses involved:

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From left to right: Me, Jorge Franco IV, Clementine Sparrow Mills, Jessica Warshaw, Christopher Montague and Kate Goodfellow.  Kate’s the Australian.

“Oh, Vicki, come on now.  You’re not seriously trying to market an event less than six hours before kick off, are you?”  I hear you ask exasperatedly.  “Sorry, but yes,” I reply firmly, handing you a cup of tea and a nice piece of fudge.

The thing about fundraisers is that they obviously exist to raise money for a cause, but they also give people an opportunity to come together and show their support.  In twenty years’ time, those loons with the extreme facial expressions in the photo above will be running the artistic industry (fingers crossed), and we are starting as we mean to go on: hosting events that are fun, inclusive and emphatic about how important the arts are.

The whole point of A Year From Now is to give people the chance to talk about their lives.  How often do we get to hear a ninety-four year-old talk about their hopes for the future?  When do you get the chance to ask someone with brain damage how time affects their sense of self?  That’s what theatre is for.  You can dress it up (quite literally) in shiny costumes and put a pretty light on it, but at the end of the day we are all in this industry because we want to talk about things that matter.  To that end, we’ve put an evening aside to show a film, have some fun and hopefully get some funds.

The arts are easy to ignore if you don’t engage with them very often.  Facebook event invitations are easy to ignore if you get too many.  Marketing is easy to ignore if you pride yourself on being immune to “that kind of thing”, but since when are the best things in life easy?  Apathy is easy.  Engaging is the challenge.

So please, engage with us.  You don’t have to come to the fundraiser tonight (although you’ll be missing out on a fantastic movie night with free popcorn and playdough competitions), but get involved.  Look at RedBellyBlack’s website.  Ask me about the people we interviewed for the show.  Ask your creative friends about their projects.  Talk to the people who invite you to Facebook events and find out what the damn things are all about.  Ignorance may be bliss, but you don’t know what you’ll be missing out on, and you never lose anything by asking a question.

Whatever you’re up to, have a glorious day.

10 Lessons Not to Learn from Twilight

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Hello, dear reader.  How’s the world been treating you recently?

We all have guilty pleasures, don’t we?  We watch television shows that we know will not enlighten us, and we listen to music that makes us feel uncool (anyone for a 90s pop binge?).  Among the most worrying of these little weaknesses is my generation’s tendency to watch unrealistic and emotionally demanding romantic films.  Sure, a decent rom-com can be uplifting and life-affirming, but most of these movies are designed to make us believe that if you don’t look like Katherine Heigl then no man will ever be able to look past your character flaws.  Even worse, they make us think that you can be as much of a prat as you like AS LONG as you are physically stunning.

The worst (and most dreadfully acted) of these culprits is the Twilight series.  I freely admit to owning the books and having watched the films, but I’m not proud of that.  In many ways, the series is the definitive guilty pleasure.  You might think that it’s a harmlessly gormless tale of supernatural pretty people, but it’s actually pretty offensive and worrying in the “lessons” that it tries to teach us.  Here are the most disturbing ones:

1) You can be UNBELIEVABLY annoying as a person, breathing in weird places, mumbling and not finishing sentences and boys will find you fascinating.

2) If a guy is pushing you away it is definitely because he loves you TOO much, and/or is trying to save your life.

3) You should always date the most dangerous guy you can find.  If no bloodsucking immortals are available, the nearest mythological beast will do.

4) Get married as soon as possible, without considering a career, travel or further education.  Why bother with anything self-fulfilling when a pretty boy wants you?

5) It is totally ok to string someone along as long as you don’t enjoy hurting them.

6) Everyone you know secretly fancies you.  You literally cannot step out of the front door without heartsick men swooning at your feet.

7) Your boyfriend’s family (and basically everyone else you know) should be regularly required to risk their lives for you, and fight other scary monsters just to save your skin.

8) Never, ever smile. You’ll get wrinkles and your boyfriend will be baffled by your sudden lack of brooding sulkiness.

9) The world revolves around you.

10) Vampires and shit like that are definitely real.

There is nothing wrong with having guilty pleasures as long as we know how to distance ourselves from them.  There is nothing wrong with watching/reading stupid stories like Twilight as long as we ignore pretty much everything they have to say, and pay attention instead to people who say awesome things, like Dave Grohl:

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Have a glorious day, lovely reader.  Maybe get yourself a fancy sandwich for lunch.

You Are Not Sandra Dee (Thank Goodness)

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Good morning and welcome to a brand new week!  How the devil are you?

First and foremost, I would like to apologise for the gaps inbetween my blog posts recently.  My work schedule has prevented me from writing every day, for which I can only apologise and offer you a compensatory biscuit.  That being said, I have decided that from now on I will only be posting on weekdays, mainly so that you can go about your weekend unpestered by my ramblings.  Sound good?  Marvellous.

Today’s blog post is about the sneaking suspicion most girls have about themselves, which is (brace yourselves, ladies) that we don’t actually want to be the heroine of a story.  Oh, sure, we want the romance and the struggle and the ultimate happy ending, but we want to be allowed to get there on our terms.  We want to know that we can succeed without the necessary caveat of being beautiful, or the genetic good luck to have incredibly long, climbable hair.  The women we most admire and aspire to are the funny best friends and the sarcastic sidekicks – the characters who get the best lines and the best results.

Female characters who have an amusing foible or a deplorable flaw are, in film, literature and television, much more empathetic to modern women than their swooning, seductive counterparts.  The heroines of stories are willed by the reader or viewer to get the prescribed happy ending, because that’s what we are programmed to expect: give us a pretty girl in a pickle and we are desperate for her to find her bliss.  But show us a character who is less impeachably perfect and more honestly human, and that’s who we want to be.  We want to be the girl on the sideline who manages to win just by being herself.

Wouldn’t you rather be a Rizzo than a Sandy?  Nessa wins over Stacey, outright.  And deep down, don’t you think it would be fun to be more of a Karen than a Grace?  Why do you think movie writers keep inventing ‘kooky friend’ characters, anyway?  Because they know that those are the women we actually relate to.

These female characters are not perfect, but they are perfectly believable, which is definitely more important.  They might be bitchy, crazy or even prone to singing at high school for no reason, but there are worse things they could do.  (Geddit?)  These women are actually doing us all a favour by reminding us that you don’t have to be blonde, adorable or star-crossed in order to get what you want – you can (and should) just be yourself.

And why wouldn’t you be yourself, while we’re at it?  You’re brilliant!

Have a miraculous Monday.

Autobiography is Irrelevant

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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.

What is it About Adaptations?

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Hello, reader!  Got any exciting plans for your weekend?

Last night I went to see Headlong’s production of 1984 at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.  The performances were excellent, the design was incredibly inventive and the concept was inspired.  I won’t say anymore in case you’re planning to see it for yourself, and I really think that you should go if you get the chance.

It’s difficult to make an excellent adaptation of a novel like 1984 for two reasons: firstly, the concept of the novel itself is pretty complex, and pinning down the issues of mind control, sanity, truth and fiction are hard to do off the page.  Secondly, the novel is a well-loved and respected work that many people feel strongly about.  If Headlong had got it wrong, they would have been unpersoned by the critics.

An adaptation of any beloved work of fiction runs the same risk.  The Harry Potter films came under massive fire (just from my social circle) for being completely unfaithful to the books, and reducing cleverly constructed plot lines to unsteady, baffling narrative turns.  There were also many debates about the casting: Emma Watson was too posh (and WAY too fond of acting with her eyebrows), Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t likeable enough, and Dobby was an atrocity.

People are already up in arms about the potential casting of Harry Styles in a movie adaptation of Wicked, but I wonder how many of them know that the musical stage production is already an adaptation of a novel.  The novel is completely different in tone to the musical, and when I read it for the first time I wondered who on earth would read this dark, disturbing story and think “Well, that’s got singing and dancing written all over it.”  Don’t get me wrong: I saw the musical a few years ago and loved it, but in my head it isn’t an adaptation of the novel in the traditional sense.  It’s just too different.

And this is the interesting thing: what is it about adaptations that provokes such strong reactions in us?  When we read a book we get a unique picture in our minds of the characters, the settings and the story, which have been guided by the author but not prescribed.  When we see an adaptation of a novel on screen or stage,the directors have had to try and compile every reader’s mental picture into a universal picture that cannot possibly match up to everyone’s expectations.

Is it better to take a well-known story and try to match it exactly to its original medium, like William Goldman managed with his adaptation of the The Princess Bride?  (Although he had a significant advantage, given that he was adapting his own novel.)  Or is it best to recognise that one medium cannot possibly imitate another – which is why they all exist, in fact – and that an adaptation has to be a kind of translation of a piece in order to make it work?  Wicked in its original essence would not make a good musical; it’s too depressing (but brilliant, by the way).  It needed to be translated into the kind of story that works in the West End with big sets and even bigger smiles, and it is a good show.  It’s just not a faithful adaptation.

I think that part of the issue is the cashmere-wearing, cigar-smoking, bling-adorned elephant in the room: we can all see that making successful novels and plays into films is about making money, not about making the piece accessible to more people.  It’s the reason that The Hobbit is being strangled to death by a painfully laboured and ridiculously patch-worked adaptation into three epically long films.  Shame on you, Peter Jackson.  Shame on you.

In general, I do approve of adaptations.  I like seeing other people’s ideas of a well-known story shown in new ways, and I enjoy the possibilities of a translation from medium to medium.  I just wish that the motive was always the exploration of worlds, not the expansion of wallets.

Have the most awesome of Fridays.