Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Forest Fringe

"Why am I even doing this?" I ask.

"Because you want to learn how to produce, right?"

"No, I never want to produce. That's the last thing I want to do."

"Well then why ARE you doing this?"

I pause. I think. "I guess because it's the festival, and I guess because I want to give other people like me a chance to show their work."

"Well I think that's a very good reason. Now where's the hoover?"

There you go - as quickly as it was born, fleeting, beautiful, Brenda Patrakous from LA called it "a little miracle" - the festival is over, I'm back in London, and I have this vague feeling that I just spent two of the most difficult and amazing weeks of my life. I just went through the folly of artistic directing a venue over the Fringe.

Hm. I'm doing my dissertation on this venue, so where to start without exhausting the material (but there would be no way to exhaust it, there's just so darned much of it) is difficult. I guess I could go through the beginning.

So I get to Forest- and I don't know how many of you have ever visited Forest but it is in equal parts amazing and infuriating - a volunteer-run art collective and organic cafe in Edinburgh - it's a charity and a co-operative, and the kind of place where things are fun and disastrous. Now coming from my very London attitude - things have to make sense, they have to be in order, they have to happen smoothly, trust no one, etc, etc, into an office in the basement where ten people are crowded around R. Kelly's "Trapped in The Closet" - which apparently takes precedence over printing that needs done for the venue - well, that was difficult. But - how do I put this - after a few days of railing against Forest and what it is, and what it represents, I realized how, if you're positive about it, what it is and what it represents is also incredibly beautiful. Which is one reason that all of the developers walking in and out of the venue and admiring the space upstairs was unnerving. I asked one man thinking of buying it to turn it into an arts complex if they would keep the Forest downstairs. "Oh yes." He said. "We'll have a cafe. But something more upscale."

(Anyone who has not been to Edinburgh it's easy enough to say that there are enough upscale cafes in the place. In fact, you can barely sneeze for an upscale cafe. Forest is an organic cafe, which is ecclectic to say the least, but welcoming, well intentioned, and with loads of potentialin all directions. When it is good it is very very good, and when it is bad, well, it's understandable really.)

The first few days were a lot of cleaning. A visual art collective from Brixton called "What they can do They Did" had just been using the hall for a week and made one of those glorious artistic messes of it - perfect for them, a disaster for us. After spending all day designing a sign for outside, a woman comes by and tells me that the wood is hers, I'll just have to start over again. Looking down at the carpet heroic partner in crime and I realize that it has never, ever, been hoovered, and it's just, well, the dirtiest most beautiful space. It needs a cleaning and badly. So after two days of frustrated attempts to find cleaning material, paints, etc, with no help from outside vollunteers, the space looks, well, presentable.

Then came the actual running of it. James, the technical director, and I decided that love Forest as we did, we were not going to run our theatre like the cafe. Yes, it was volunteer run (this was penance for the companies who used the space - promoting each other's shows) but roles were very precisely laid out - Becky was our amazing volunteer director, James did tech, and I did programming. Which was not always that clearly defined. Occasionally, for example, "volunteer director" had to mean "volunteer" if someone hadn't showed up or wasn't pulling their weight. (And there were a few of those, as there always will be.) Sometimes Tech meant, ahem, reminding me that we didn't have any act on for the 8:30 slot on a Saturday night (Yikes!) and sometimes Artistic Director, well, most of the time Artistic Director meant doing the recycling and picking up garbage. Okay, but that's why it was fun! The first week was idyllic, the second exhausting, and now, well, it's over.

We ended up working with about 25 companies from all over the world: America, Ireland, England, Canada, Scotland, Germany, Australia - with some nights that were unexpectedly awesome, and others that were unexpectedly slow. One night Sketchatron, the popular Sketch Comedy troupe pulled out - but last minute I met Brenda Petrakous from LA who was part of the five star story telling show PoeJazzi, and she came along upstairs with her partner and together they did the most amazing story telling show. Not a dry eye in the house. Though equally, one night I programmed some acts so perplexing I'm not sure if they were incredible or awful. All I can say is they truly challenged my sense of irony.

Anyway, I'll probably just be blogging about the fringe for about a month now that it's over- there was no time to reflect on it as it was happening- it all just went by too quickly, there was too much recycling to be done, too much garbage to be picked up, and too much theatre to see. But I think that it's really strengthened my opinion that the most worthwhile endeavours are often the most difficult. Like so many beautiful things I guess, there were so many ups and downs, but now that's it's over I can't feel anything but gratitude.

So to anyone who was around and helping out - and especially to James, Rebecca, Ryan and the madness of Forest - well, thank you so much. I never thought I would like producing, turns out I do. I really do.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

What to Show and What to Tell

Last year, I attended a brilliant workshop with Douglas Maxwell and Grid Iron at the Traverse, where Maxwell imparted some excellent advice to us hopeful practitioners. "What's the perfect amount of times to tell an audience something? Almost Once."
I've stuck quite rigidly to that - also keeping in mind my friend and semi-hero Ross Manson's advice about assuming your audience is smarter than they are. No audience likes to be condescended to. Though in this, my most recent project, a piece I'm divising with actor Kevin Millington (brilliant guy and wonderful to work with, just graduated from LAMDA so I've got him while he's still cheap) I've realized that there's a fine balance that must be struck between ambiguity and clarity. What our first draft of the piece I wrote had in ambiguity, it definitely lacked in Clarity - and in fact, last night, after showing the piece to a friend who enjoyed it but totally misunderstood it - Kevin and I decided to sit down and work on a draft of the show that would feed the premise to the audience. Making the real question of the performance not the "What?" of "What the heck is going on?" but the "How?" As in, "I know what's going on- but How the heck is it going to happen?"

It's been kind of an important development for me as a writer, especially in so far as liberating the work from being too vague. Paul Sirrett gave us equally good advice in a course I took with him just last month - "When you refer to something - refer to it very specifically. it really pays off."

Of course, there is some work that is incredibly ambiguous and still utterly brilliant. Daniel MacIvor's play "Never Swim Alone" was the reason I went into theatre professionally in the first place. My mother had been a patron of the Canadian Stage Company, so I'd seen more kitchen sink productions than you can comfortably shake a tree at growing up - all of which had felt a bit contrived, and none of which had particularly appealled to me. I just didn't want to be Arthur Miller. (for however brilliant he can be in his best moments.) But when I saw MacIvor's piece I realized that theatre can be confusing, a play can be a puzzle that only ends when the last piece has been placed. And only then can you comfortably say what the play was about.

Of course, story is an element like any other - And sure, if your story is not handed to the audience from the outset, perhaps your style should be, or your character may remain very strong, or your visuals could be excellent. Hasn't David Lynch made his career with beautiful, mysterious and frightening ambiguity. Holding something back - maintaining an air of mystery - it's a very powerful tool in theatre and in life. But you have to hand the final piece of that puzzle to the audience, if you don't be sure the puzzle looks beautiful enough without it that they will feel satisfied by the incomplete.

Anyway - come see our show. It's a work in progress, of course, so on the 24th, 25th and 26th at 3pm if you're in Edinburgh tell us how to tread the fine balance more finely. I'll try not to tell you more than almost once, if I can help it.

There's Something Happening Here

Okay - let's call it a fact - run a free access venue over the Edinburgh Fringe for two weeks of the festival, and you just shouldn't ask what the venue has seen. Though who would have thunk it, when a friend of mine in Edinburgh texted me to say "I have a great anecdote to tell you" that what the venue had seen was so very X-Rated.

My friend, who shall remain unnamed, had been pressured into crashing a party at the venue (which shall remain unnamed, but of course by scrolling a few pages through my blog you will be able to unearth the truth. I am operating on the premise, that you, my dear reader, are slightly too lazy to undertake such a task. If not too lazy, then you will become too enraptured by the eclectic variety of posts, and tire very soon of your explorative journey through cyberspace) which I am running this Fringe.

To be fair - our venue opens in just over a week's time - and it being the Festival, will be packed with unrelated activity by a strange group of artists until then. I have no control of it now. I have no control of it now - sorry, I'm just going to repeat that one more time until I believe it- so my friend, let's call him Tom, decides to sneak up to the studio space to show off it's derelicte qualities - when low and behold, what should he see in an adjoining balcony, but a couple, snuck off in the corner where we'll probably set up one of our lighting boards, quietly humping.

Watching quiet humping must be an odd experience, especially with friends you've only recently become acquainted with at 3 in the morning, and especially in a venue where you are set to perform later on in the festival. And I suppose, to the sneaky humpers' credit (who are still, in reality, unnamed, thank goodness. It would be very hard to identify an Ass for my friend from a distance. Even if a police line up were to take place.) it was very late at night and the space is still in it's building or messy phase. But still - I can't quite describe the curious mix of amusement, disgust and anxiety that such an anecdote gives me.

Though I suppose if I were to get seriously wanky about it (excuse the pun) and point to the sexual performance anxiety of the naked bum in question, the voyeuristic pleasure/disturb of the Friend in question, and his sneaky cohorts, well, a kind of avant garde theatre has already baptized our experimental, ramshackle space. Right? Right?

No, scratch that, it's just a bare bum, it's just some startled trespassers and it's just what will soon be the free access venue for the last two weeks of the Fringe. Don't venture our way unless you're willing to be shocked.

But please, no more romantic trists in the balcony. There are bedrooms and parks all over Edinburgh for that kind of thing.

Friday, 27 July 2007

One Man. One Tee Shirt. One more reason to Love.

I stumbled upon him while Google Imaging "Take Flight" for the musical I reviewed last year, and felt the need to show it off. He's so earnest. The picture on his tee shirt is either Ghandi or George W Bush. Either way this man is Amazing.

Musicals and Drinking are the Same

Last night was really one of those moments that separates the close from the far - the friends from the acquaintances - the caring from the ambivalent.

I've got an extra ticket to a musical I'm reviewing and my plus one bails on me. The show starts in an hour and a half. What am I going to do?

My brain starts racing through people who:

a) like theatre

b) usually accept my invitations to do random things


c) either live close by to me, or live close by to Southwark, where the show will be.

Number by number I search through my phone, at each turn picturing my evening anew. "Okay, if I see it with her we can focus on the irony." Too bad, she'll be at an art opening. "Well he's a musician, so maybe he'll like the score." Nope, he can't get home in time. "Well this guy writes scripts and is usually up for doing anything that's free!" He's far out of the city, having promised his uncle to walk his dog. (seriously!)

Until it becomes apparent that I am going to see this musical.... Alone.

Don't get me wrong - I see theatre alone. The Pain and the Itch alone at the Royal Court was a solo and wonderful mission.

But a musical - I remember the first bad movie I went to see alone was How Stella Got her Groove Back. (I treated my seventeen year old self.) And the film made me cry six times. Whoopi has cancer? That's tragic. Look at how he's holding her? I think there's something in my eye. Other cinema goers may have stared, but I knew that Stella truly had gotten her groove back.

Anyway, as far as Musicals and bad movies are concerned, if you really have to do it alone, you're better off in the comfort of your own home with a bad cold.

(Into the Woods on video? Sondheim is better than Sudafed.)

Out of the house and in good health however, this is a communal activity. Best enjoyed in moderation and with someone you trust to walk you home. Otherwise you'll start singing a terrible song in your head about how funny London is when nobody can come to the theatre.

(The Reprise goes: "London - there's something funny about London. London!" And sounds vaguely like "Loathing, Unadulterated Loathing" from Wicked. In fact... it sounds excactly like "Loathing." Fiddlesticks... Another hit bites the dust.)

Friday, 13 July 2007

Melanie, tout court

I guess I’m tired, she says. I guess I’m tired of the way that every time I think I’m onto something, you know, like really, really onto something, he’ll just come in and ruin it.

Who will come in and ruin it? I ask.

Sneaky Martin. she says. My nemesis, she says.

I was especially impressed by his description- anyone who carries a description around with them, like a note in their pants pocket, is obviously a person of value. I thought up possible descriptions for myself. Lazy Melanie, Unmotivated Melanie, Angry Melanie, Tired Melanie.

Who’s Sneaky Martin? I asked.

He used to be just plain Martin. She replied. That was before,

Before what?

Before he became a jerk.

I paused. I looked down at the dress I was supposed to be pricing. It had billowing sleeves- a nice pattern, but was slightly too old fashioned. There was a bit of the wench about it.

How much do you think for this? I asked.

Cut off the sleeves and you could maybe charge 30.

I looked at it again. Cut off the sleeves? That would be like straightening its teeth.

Do you think I have to cut the sleeves off?

Puffed sleeves? I wouldn’t pay anything more than 15 for puffed sleeves. You’d look like a walking anachronism.

I looked at the dress again- A is for Anachronistic- folded it up and put it in my bag. Sneaky Martin. Previously just-plain-old-Martin.

Did he ruin that window display, I asked.

Which one?

The one out front. There used to be birds in the window and now it’s gnomes.

No, I changed that all on my own.

Oh, right.

You think I ruined it?

No, sorry. I don’t know why I said that. Just being controversial, I guess.

Don’t try too hard. You and sneaky Martin. You two would be two peas in a pod.

I smile. Sneaky Martin. Lazy Melanie.

But when I actually met him, he wore an unexpected hat.

There he is- she said.


Over there- ordering a drink.

We were at Maude’s, the local haunt round the corner.

That one, with the glasses?

No, she said. Idiot. The one with the wicker hat. That’s sneaky Martin all right.

Sneaky Martin laughed at something the waitress said. He was uncomfortably handsome.

Do you still want to meet him?


God, you’re slow. My nemesis- brainiac. Sneaky Martin.

I took a sip of my drink. Swallowed. Felt nervous. I guess, I said.

Hey Martin! She called. He started to come over. Now whatever you do, she said, don’t call him Sneaky Martin to his face. He won’t like it.

Fine. I said.

Ladies! He said.

Hello. She said.

Hello, I said.

And who’s this? He said.

It’s Melanie. She said.

Lazy Melanie- Frightened Melanie, Terrified Melanie, Happy Melanie.

Well Hello! He smiled. My name is Martin. Handsome Martin. Devastating Martin. Gorgeous Martin. Scary Martin.

Hello Sneaky Martin! Her angry look came almost immediately.

Sneaky? What?

No, I just meant.

She didn’t mean anything.

I like that, though. I like that a lot.

I blushed.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? Has a certain ring to it?

Yeah, yeah, like an email address- I laughed.

She sulked.

Sneaky Martin- that’s cool. I think I’ll have that embroidered on my jacket.

I think you should. I said.

She continued sulking until he put his hand on her knee.

Disappointed Melanie. Tired Melanie. Lonely Melanie. Stupid Melanie.

The thing about a Nemesis, she was saying, is that if you have one you have to be very sure that they are your equal in every way.

Right. I say.

They can’t just be anyone. Like someone you don’t like. Then they’re just a jerk. And a jerk is very different from a nemesis.

Got you.

But a Nemesis- a Nemesis is the way that you would be if all of your skills- all of your abilities- I mean everything great that makes you up, were just reversed and suddenly became evil.

Mm hm.

And then- only then- can you really call someone your nemesis.


What did you do with that dress, anyway?

I bought it.

You bought it?


Can I see you wear it?

I put it on.

It looks stupid.

I know.


I know.

You should cut the sleeves.

I know.

Do you want me to do it now?

No. No thank you.

Are you actually going to wear that?



To meet my nemesis.

God you’re weird sometimes.

You look lovely he says. Thankyou I say. I wish I could take you for dinners like these every day he says. I know I say. Isn’t it too bad, how we have to sneak around, I say. She’s so awful, he says. I can’t believe she’s your boss. I know, I say. You’re so much better than her, he says. I know, I say. You should be the boss, he says. I know, I say. If you were the boss you’d be my nemesis, he says. I’d be everything you are but different, he says. Every last bit of you, like cut out shapes of a different colour, he says. And it would look just right in the right light, he says, and if you looked at us very carefully, we’d look the same, he’d say. Because colour doesn’t matter much, doesn’t matter much at all he says. I know, I say. You’re so right, I say. We’re so similar I say. And he leans forward and whispers- Sneaky Melanie, Dreaming Melanie, Plotting Melanie, Anachronistic Melanie. I know you and I love you, he says. I’ll buy a wicker hat, I say. I’ll drink a gin and tonic, he says. And then he puts his hand on his knee and I know this is right, he says. I know this is righter, I say. And our puffy sleeves touch.

It was a few weeks later when I finally asked. She was sorting ribbons in the back.

What do you think of this one? She said.

It looks okay, I said.

Would you wear it in your hair, she said?

No, probably not. I say.

Then it probably won’t sell. She says. You’ll wear anything.

How about sneaky Martin? I say.

What? She says.

You know, sneaky sneaky-

Yeah, I heard you, she says. Why’d you ask that just now, she says?

Because- I don’t know why?

Why were you thinking of him? She says. What reminded you, she says.

Ribbons, I guess. I say.

You’re so weird. She says.

So what about Sneaky Martin? I say.

He’s gone. She says.

Gone? I say.

Yeah, done. She says. He moved back to America, she says.

He was American? I say.

Of course, she says. From New York, she says. Idiot, she says.

Where in New York? I say-

God, I don’t know. Brooklyn, maybe. Or park slope. Somewhere like that.

He’s lucky, I say.

Rent’s very high there.

That’s not what I mean. I say.

Is he still your nemesis? I say.

He left. She says.

So he can’t be your nemesis if he leaves? I say.

No. She says. Definitely not, she says.

Did you love him? I say.

He was sneaky. She says.

Will you miss him? I say.

I guess. She says.

I’m sorry? I say.

Stop you’re worrying. She says. Finish the ribbons. She says.

These ones? I say.

Yeah. She says.

And then can we go for a drink? I say.

Sure, why not. She says.

And then can we change the window display? I say.

Probably not. She says.

And then can we?

Stop being lazy. She says.

And I think, Lazy Melanie, Tired Melanie, Reaching Melanie, The Nemesis Melanie.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The Ryan Van Winkle Chronicles

This is Ryan Van Winkle.

One dark and stormy night, Ryan Van Winkle said he would never read my blog.



And so I threatened to write an entire blog entry all about him.

The whole



To see if his vanity could possibly keep him away from Googling it just to see-

to see-

If I'd dared go through with it.

Which I am. Right now.

Ryan says some pretty funny things. In fact, on the right day with Ryan, you could close your eyes and pretend you were actually having a conversation with Dimitri Martin. His homespun wisdom makes a kind of eternal sense. To the comment
"I don't really like New York."

Ryan replies: I have never had a blowjob in New York.

Which is a valid point. Especially as Ryan is from Connecticut.

Later, while discussing an artist's squat he and some friends had to live in for a few months he said,

"Those were some of the greatest months of my life...." and triumphantly raising his fist he says, "There Were Blowjobs!"

I'm making Ryan sound all wrong here. Or possibly all right. Well not alright, but correct is what I meant to say.

I mean, most of all, Ryan is a good poet, an interesting person, and if he's reading this now, vain enough that he just lost the bet.

I hope you run into him one of these days. He'll rub you the wrong way at first- a sandpaper coat with a cotton lining.

A coat that I hear is really into blowjobs. Fair enough.

No One Belongs Here More Than Me

It must have been about two months ago. One of the four friends who read this thing (hello!) and I found ourselves in a heated debate about Little Miss Sunshine and Miranda July.

Him: That whole, look at me, I'm Miranda July, I'm so quirky- at least Little Miss Sunshine was humorous-

Her: Little Miss Sunshine was a typically written three act structure that pretended to be indie because it had the right soundtrack and caricatures of characters

(His eyes roll. Did she really just say "three act structure?")

Him: I'm not saying it's a movie that's going to change your life- I'm saying it's a fun movie. It wasn't great, but it was certainly okay.

Her: It was dreadful! It was totally pretentious!

Him: Oh and Me and her and everyone who sucks was so much better? Miranda July is all about the LA superficially whimsical image-

Her: At least her movie was different- and the perfect example, the two children-

Him: Yeah, so?

Her: I think the best way to judge a director is on how well the children are acting.

Him: The little girl in Little Miss Sunshine gave a very realistic performance, I thought.

Her: She was over acting up a storm! She was incredibly obnoxious! Whereas the boy in Me You and Everyone We Know-

Him: Was totally unrealistic. The girl in Little Miss Sunshine was over acting because children over act. She was obnoxious because children are obnoxious. So often what adults think is a good child performance, like that Buddha child in July's movie, is only a child acting the way we wish children were. But they're not- they're attention seeking, irritating, flawed human beings.

And suddenly my blood boiled. Because he'd made a very good point. Dang. But as far as the rest of the argument went, I still felt right. And suddenly I even felt personally defensive for Miranda July.

Her: Look, just because you don't like LA doesn't mean that you have to hate a good artist who comes from a bad place. Wes Anderson lives in LA as well.

Him: You know I'm right- why don't you just stop arguing? You know I'm right.

Her: You're not right, you're just not listening.

Him: (smiles, satisfied.)

But of course, I am presenting my side of the argument alone. But it left this inkling in me- was Miranda July no more than a wolf in Sheep's clothing? An insubstantial LA caricature?

No One Belongs Here More Than You is a collection of short stories just recently added to my and my partner's bookshelf. On the front cover is a woman, face down on a pillow, her hair in a perfect middle part down the back. A friend who's opinion is usually quite respectable was so passionately opposed to her, that I had started to question whether I should own this book to read it- or simply to make him angry when he came over and saw it on my bookshelf. But after my partner read a few stories, he said it was right up my alley.

I've had this inkling about July for a while- not that I loved Me You and Everyone We Know. I certainly thought it was enjoyable, and a very promising start for her career, and even pretty good, but it didn't blow me out of the water. (I suppose much the same way that my nemesis/friend felt about Little Miss Sunshine) but her stories seem to say what the film couldn't possibly. Miranda July is a rising star- yes- but most importantly she may be one of the first famous female misfits in a while.

Okay, Misfit, Odd Duck, you've heard me use all of these addages before- referring to John Guare specifically, who is less well known and therefore a cooler person to point out to my blog readers. And there are other famous misfits- Woody Allen and Wes Anderson for example- A famous misfit is more than just strange- they are so completely themselves that they'll never get away from it, no matter what and who they write or how hard they try. There is as much Miranda July in an old woman who is in love with Prince William as there is Woody Allen in a doctor who is in love with a sheep. It's as though art were a glass of water, and these artists add a few drops of themselves to anything they write- it spreads out in the glass, faintly colouring the liquid- just ever so slightly there.

Right- well I'm a bit obsessed with people like these. They are often/always my favourite writers and film makers (F Scott, Murakami and Salinger no doubt apply) because when I watch their films, or read their novels, I feel as though they have completely and totally accepted who they are - and they can't get away from it. More than accepted who they are, they can't escape who they are- I once wrote about Steve Martin on this blog- I said I'd missed his wicked ways from his youth- and worse, I feel now as though Martin has become some strange approximation, imitation of himself in later years. You see, I'll be bold here, and say that I think that this "accepting who you are" thing- no doubt tied in with a writer's voice- is psychological as well as artistic. ? I wonder if it's the path to success- not trying to be someone else. As Daniel MacIvor once said to me in an interview, "You don't have to be everything to be enough."

There's a lot of truth in what she does- I don't know, maybe it's not all great, but it's all her. And it's nice to read someone just being themselves. Writing starts with the writer, after all.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

I like mixed cds.

When I was younger I went through a terrible phase of regifiting mixed tapes on birthdays and calling them "mystery tapes." I seem to remember this was mostly because I was amused by the idea of a mystery anything- be it tape or otherwise, but oh, that joke was surely not funny enough to be bought at the price of ever lasting nostalgia. Some of those mixed tapes would be dated now- to be sure- I doubt I'd be as impressed by a Greenday song or Bob Marley's redemption song now as I was then- but I do miss the year that I gave Tim Butters "spaced out" for Christmas (featuring the vocal wanderings of one Mr. William Shatner and Mr. Leonard Nimoy long before that sort of thing was the university craze) and nearly every second song on a mix he gave me was sung by one of the intergalactic rock stars.

(Someone just returned High Fidelity at the video store where I sneakily type this rumination- that must be the Gods blessing the celebration of Mixed Cds.)

But to bring it all back home- away from high school nostalgia, and into the present, where a mixed tape is only ever made by those so hip they own reel to reels (nothing wrong with that mind you, but it is a bit of a production- if someone goes to all of the trouble of making you a tape- finding a tape- sitting with a tape- they want you think they are really cool. And they probably also want to date you.) Although so many a hardcore tape follower will complain about the accessibility, the convenience of a mixed cd- it is that very accessibility and convenience that make them very acceptable as commodities to be exchanged between friends, without any suspicious subtext. And heck, I still listen to them from start to finish. Only once have I skipped a song- when embarassingly All Saints came on in the video store (sorry Andy, I couldn't take that trip down memory lane with you- the rest of the cd was excellent, however). Other than that, I appreciate transitions, I know that they are far easier to create if you've got itunes- and even if there aren't the same amount of blood sweat and tears as in a tape- there is some thought- and it's the thought that counts.

So while I listen to a country version of some mainstream pop song that I can't remember the name of, and look forward to the next few tracks of goodness- I just want to thank technology for making an easy way for us to share music, and to somehow feel responsible for great songs simply because we thought to put them on a cd. It's nice when thoughtful can be different from romantic. Though if my lovely mcbride is reading this- I wouldn't refuse a colourfully patterned mixed cd. As long as it came with a kiss.

*I had a fever and was supposed to be working at the video store while I wrote this. Being sick at work is kind of fun- it's like living out the dream of being drunk at work, worry free.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Procrasination- one of those sneaky things ending in "-ation"

In my kitchen, checking my email again, trying to ween myself off of facebook by going on myspace, trying to ween myself off of myspace by checking my email, trying to ween myself off of email by- no, Not trying to ween myself off of email at all. But expecting nugget after nugget of friends' well wishing wisdom to flood forth from my computer screen, too manana to write back. My email account starts to seem like a pick and mix of best friend samples- and me, takin and takin without any givin'. This is worse than procrastination- it's just plain selfish.

But wait- it gets worse- my flatmate James comes into the room bearing a container of jelly bellies. "My sister was just in America" he says as my eyes lit up. He good naturedly puts them on the kitchen table, signalling that they are for the flat to share- but to the detriment of the many, when he leaves I start eating them by the handful- potent and unpleasant flavour combinations filling my mouth. Grape coffee? Truly, if that were a good idea Starbucks would have patented it ages ago.

But no no no, I'm not here to tell you about light fixtures or anything else. I am here, in this blogging room, to diversify the way that I procrastinate. And rather than continue putting my relationship with my flatmates at perril by reading my own blog and eating jelly beans (what, I ask you what, could be more self indulgent?) I thought I'd continue this internet conversation and say something.

I- .... hm. I- ... crap. (I'm at a loss for words. Gawd, this is even more self indulgent.)

Okay, okay, I've got it- I recently read a very good book! Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, an excellent example of Murakami's Magic Realism- he skilfully creates a world in which the most fantastical things can happen, but where characters are well drawn enough that the fantastical things come as a total shock- as though they were happening in reality and not in some fictional sci fi universe. Think Charlie Kaufmann but way better and in a novel. He is, well, he's really great. You should all buy the book now.

Oh man, now I have a stomach ache. I wasn't kidding about those jelly bellies. What a bad idea. What a bad idea. What a-

Sorry. This blog will self destruct in ten seconds.

10, 9. 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, ....

Nothing happened? I guess now you're disappointed in more ways than....1! (zAZOOM!)
Still nothing happened? oh. Ok.
Fine. Truth is, I am supposed to be writing three script reports and a theatre review. But I meant all that about the Murakami. When I finished that book I felt the sadness of a best friend moving away. Something so comforting finished. Like a perfectly perfect day.

PS: The next post will be better. Really. Maybe tomorrow- or Wednesday? I could do Thursday, possibly... well, just, some time in the future. You'll see. My next post will be so wonderful that it will jump off of the computer screen, emerge as a wise old man, and tell you a tale that will break your heart. It will be the best blog posting that ever there was. transcendent. splendent. Mendent. Word-creating. Next time. - just you wait. Just you....

(You read a post titled Procrastination. What were you expecting? Mozart?)

Thursday, 14 June 2007

My battle against VICE Magazine....

Okay, so anyone reading this who knows me well enough to hear me speak about hair-brained schemes, (that's right, Hair-Brained Schemes) will know that for months and months now my partner and I have been planning a magazine. Now planning is a loose term. It means something more like occasionally telling people about it and being pleased when they say, "Wow, that sounds cool." (Which is exactly what I expect you to say to yourself at your computer screen. Right..... Now! Or wait, no more like after you read the idea. Sorry, it's been a while since I've posted. I'm a little overly excitable.)

So here's the magazine that we will eventually publish- as part of our Advice Booth project, and our general London lives. It will be called NICE magazine- for all of the happening people out there who feel like VICE is a thing of the past. For all of those glass half full kind of optimistic smile-at-people-on-the-street-without-seeming-creepy people who still enjoy a good vintage dress or buying an ironic record on Vinyl. Yes, that's right, you don't have to be a jerk to be hip anymore. In fact... Jerks are no longer cool. Truly, it's a revolutionary concept. And if it takes off expect to see too-cool-for-school types all in black dressed on every street corner straining to give you a smile while they point out their new frameless oversized glasses. They may even stop to pet your dog- or start baking brownies. It will be absolute nice mayhem. Like a carnival that is far more ironic and far more contrived. but hey- if it means free brownies, then all the power to them. Some hip people can bake too.

The Magazine would have such features as "Nice people and their dogs." Or "Scrapbooking for friends and family." And would come with a free mix cd! (or tape. I suppose tapes are hipper.) And we will chronicle such popular activities as Kitten Wars! Or reveal the truth with a celebrity gossip, merely recounting instances where we've heard good things. "Joanna Newsom helps old lady." "Daniel Kitson smiles at passerby." "Nicholas Cage-" Actually, scratch that. We probably won't write anything about the Cage. Unless he gets a really cute dog. Or becomes a cat and appears on kitten wars.

What I'm saying here is that NICE Magazine is going to explain the way of the future- which I would like to say is bright, although Orange Adverts seem to have copywrighted that sentiment. But mobile phone companies aside, we will be a magazine for nerds, geeks, and people with big smiles. It just seems like such a lovely idea... and in London, being nice is subversive.

But I'm still not onto the real nitty gritty of this post... Apologies, as I said before, it's been a long time, I'm excitable! The nitty gritty is that in preparation for this NICE issue, a letter that I wrote was actually published in our nemesis- VICE. As with most nemeses, VICE and I haven't always disliked each other. This is a spurned love. I was once, being Canadian (like the Montreal-born creators) hugely proud of the magazine. It is usually full of interesting Canadian imagery, it is Free AND Glossy, (who'd of thunk it?) and sometimes very funny and sometimes cutting edge. However, VICE and I lost touch. And it seems that while I was off doing whatever the heck I was doing, they went on a reality tv Staff Swapping show where they were paired up with NUTS magazine. I haven't read NUTS lately, though I suspect it's showing cutting edge photospreads, but VICE has just gone down the tubes.

(I am speculating about that stuff about the reality tv show. But the fact that we could, for a second, feasibly think it is true, I mean- that says something, doesn't it? Either you're gullible, or I'm right, or both.)

VICE recently stopped doing their Themed Issues. Most likely because their Iraq issue turned out to be so controversial. Though I read that issue, and I found it informative and well researched- I really applauded their trying to reach such their apolitical readership with some hard hitting facts. But perhaps the backlash preaching to the existential choir incurred was not as simple as a three part Nirvana harmony. I am guessing the magazine felt as though reality was a little too risky- and their next issue was called "the Fetish Issue."

Now for those of you lucky enough never to have read the Fetish Issue, I will describe it- The "Fashion" shoot was a woman practically naked in a Tokyo motel room tied up in duct tape. The "Cyber Sex" story was all pictures of men asking women to undress for them, and they complied. There were no fetishizations of the male format- that's right, not a one. Alienating both their gay and heterosexual female readership. I knew something was wrong when I was turning the pages and wondering, "What differentiates this from a hustler magazine? Really?" So of course, being at work, I decided to write them a letter of complaint. I didn't expect it to get published- I just really thought they should know that I found their latest issue extremely offensive and ... uh... stupid. But Amazingly enough, they did go ahead and publish it, and giving a response that was cowardly and absurd in equal parts.

Here is the link:

The letter is the third one down, under "Fetish."

So after reading this ridiculous response, part of me was so disappointed I just felt like not saying anything. But that very night, after a few drinks, at 3 in the morning, a female friend of mine insisted we compose the following and send it along:

Dear Friend,

Did you seriously just try to win an argument by calling me a lesbian? Seriously? Cos BTW I'm not fourteen years old and you're not a quarter back. When you're through with stuffing Nerdlinger in his locker and slapping each others' oiled tanned bottoms with towels in the shower room why not call me for a wee chat. Susan Faludi, Andrea Dworkin, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Gertrude Stein and I are all busy kissing and complimenting each other's intellects. But I'm sure we could take a time out to explain the erotic possibilities of the male bottom to your FHM-callibrated minds. Kisses!

double Dxx

Now blog-readers (four friends) I am tempted to post this on the comments wall of their webpage. I have, of course, already sent it to the letters section. I am certain that they won't publish my comeback, so perhaps the comment page is the best place for it. But I do encourage all of you to read their response, and don't hold back on telling them what's what. Seriously- it's time for everyone who isn't an immature heterosexual male to take back the VICE. Or eff it, just forget about them altogether and read our magazine. Of course it doesn't exist yet- but the possibilities are endless....

Lots of lurve,


PS: I just tried to download the cover to their Fetish issue, and they've renamed it the Noxious Fumes Issue and totally changed the cover- as though it never happened. Way to back track yet not apologizeor take responsibility... People like this should not be allowed to run anything. Magazine or otherwise.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

The Brick Lane Sun is Shining, and our absentee blogger returns....

Okay I'm going to post...

What's that?

Yeah, you heard me right, I'm going to post.

But you haven't posted in like, a month.


So.... shouldn't you find someting to post about, before you go about, um, you know, breaking the silence?

No. I think I should just break it. It's better to just break it and not over analyze it too much.

But what if people read it and they're you know, expecting something.

What are they going to expect?

I don't know, news, what you've been up to, a long meandering essay, that sort of thing.

I just feel like posting. Can't I just post for the sake of posting? Why does everything have to be so effing meaningful all the time?

Well, you could tell them about, I don't know, your trip to Canada, for example?

Okay, so I went to Canada. Nobody cares that I went to Canada.

How about you tell them about the play you have on tomorrow?

It's only ten minutes.

It's in a Festival!

A RADA festival. So what. Big deal.

I liked the script.

You like everything. That's your job.

It's better than being down on yourself about everything. And just posting in a blog for the "sake of posting" whatever the heck THAT's supposed to mean. I mean, do you think anyone actually reads this?

Four of my friends read it.

Not anymore they don't, since you never post, and when you do post it's just to point out how long it's been since you last posted. I mean, you know what I call that, I call that...

Don't say it...

Self Indulgent!

You had to say it.

But it is. It's just about the most self indulgent blog posting you could do.

Blogs are supposed to be self indulgent.

No, blogs are supposed to inform.

Why don't you just shut up with all your goody two shoes Blog theories. Why can't you just let the internet be what it is... a meaningless diatribe of...

Dont say it...

Of nonsense. Of the kind of thoughtful meanderings that I self publish. You know, a radio dj late at night, whispering song requests to a great hulking nothing, nowhere, nobody.

You do realize that someone is reading this.


Well, whoever is in front of the computer screen. You should probably apologize to them for calling them, what was it, a "great, hulking, nothing, nowhere, nobody?" How do you think that makes them feel?


Why would that make them feel happy?

Because no matter who they are, they are certainly more than a nothing, nowhere or nobody. Everyone's somebody, and now they know it for sure.

I'm tired of your circular logic. I'm going to take a nap.

Fine, take your nap, and inform the world about interesting "news" and continue trying to maintain a "relevant" blog, and just go on and on about how GREAT this whole internet thing can be. Meanwhile, I'll be over here, on the computer screen, checking Facebook for the fourtieth time. When you come back, I expect you'll have written a novel.

I will have.

Well good. good for you.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

I Advise You to Rock it Out...

Welcome to the Brick Lane Advice Booth. The most appropriate London conception since one gaslit evening Charles Dicken's parents decided they liked the cut of the other person's jib. Every Sunday, from about 2pm onwards, my partner and I lug a table, four chairs, a lollipop jar and an old typewriter down to the Brick Lane Market, and for the low low price of a pound, we offer to listen to your problems.

We've had a lot of problems. I mean, yes, we personally, like everyone, have had them, but what I'm referring to is solving other people's problems, which is exactly what we're aiming to do. There are a few questions we get asked all the time. The first is, "what exactly is this?" (Which is a question our myspace friend Sebastian recently posted on the comment board.) Some people think it's political art, some people think it's performance art (especially when they hear about my penchant for the theatrical) some people think we're begging (jerks) and some people just get it. It is exactly what it claims to be- two perfect strangers who, for one (refundable) pound are willing to listen to your problems and let you know what we think you should do about them. I guess it is art, and it is political, but only in the sense that in these rotten times just about everything could be called art or political. What it really is is a service that we hope to provide to a lonely city. In a place where friends are about as easy to grow and shed as hairs, sometimes you need someone who is willing to empathize for half an hour or so.

And it's not a counsellor, or a psychiatrist, making it slightly less formal and much less expensive.

Which brings me to the second question we're most often asked: "What qualifications do you have to be doing this?" I should probably point out firstly that this question is ridiculous when there is a poorly drawn sign above our head that says in Pencil Crayons "Advice One Pound." To have someone take your lollipop, sit themselves down, give you one whole pound, and then ask to see your psychiatry degree shows just how far the currency of a university education has plummeted. We used to get defensive and explain that my partner has a postgrad in English and I am working on a postgrad in Theatre. But now we just smile broadly and reply loudly, "We're not qualified. We're just willing to listen." Which seems to satisfy every one from Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z. Why the heck would we need a degree anyway? Do your friends have degrees in psychology? Does your mother? (Don't answer that. It doesn't matter if they do.) What they definitely have is an ability to listen. And what we have that they don't have is the objective distance of a stranger.

I'll expand: A very attractive woman came up to our booth and explained that a guy she liked wasn't calling her. What should she do and how long should she wait? (We get this type of question at least once a week, and it is always asked by exceptionally attractive, funny and interesting women. I had no idea how wide spread evolution's terrible joke of wanting someone because they seem unavailable really was until I started doing this booth.) It was incredibly satisfying to be able to say, "I think he doesn't appreciate you, and to be honest I think he never will. You should just get over it and move on with your life. I think you're his 'just in case' girl, and you deserve to be more than that." Now, if I'd said this to a friend they probably would have slapped me, but she smiled gratefully and said, "I had a feeling that might be it. Thank you." Of course there is always the danger that she was just generally a bit of a pessimist about him for no reason, but if a guy hasn't texted you back in two weeks, generally it does mean you should forget about him.

So sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, which we realize. We often comment that when someone asks you for advice they always hint to you what kind of answer they would like, it's more often their reason for wanting that answer that you should delve into. "My friend is really mad at me, but that doesn't make me a bad person, does it?" for example, usually means that the person asking actually does feel guilty and probably should apologize to their friend. They are looking for reassurance. Whereas some people are just looking for that extra step, that outside push to get them to move on with their lives, or behave a little bit more courageously.

I don't always feel like the advice is perfect. Sometimes I struggle with what to tell someone, I worry that they will take us too seriously. (Loads of people have asked us if we are fortune tellers, which we most certainly are not.) But I suppose I always try to listen, my partner does too, and what we really get out of it at the end of the day is a nice way of remembering that we're all in this together. (whatever it is.)

Although what we do most definitely is not theatre, I will for a moment compare the two. A friend of mine recently commented that people go to see plays to empathize with the characters. Empathy is the most important barometer of success. Upon reflection I realized that empathy in theatre is a two way street- as a playwright or actor or director or theatre-maker, so much of what we do is about asking the audience to empathize. Rainer Werner Fassbinder said in an interview about film making, "I work because somehow when I work I feel less alone." People go to see plays and enjoy them for this same reason- to be broken for a brief moment out of the solitude of existence. Like the advice booth, if you share your experiences, we'll share ours, and even though we're strangers, and things are scary, and this is London, we're all so very alike. So that's what it comes down to, for me- a moment where, with the comfort of a marketable exchange (a pound) we can all remember that we're here. Which is the best we can ever do, to be fair.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The time is now... so get creating!

Forest Fringe: Freedom at the Fringe

Why we’re Different
During the year the Forest is an arts space which is volunteer run, self funding, not-for-profit, and always free access. This August, for the first time ever, Forest Fringe will open in Bristo Hall, a converted performance and workshop space above the cafe, holding free readings, workshops, performances and scratch opportunities throughout the Festival. Use of this space is free. Ticket prices are also free. Forest Fringe aims to provide high quality emerging artists with an opportunity to workshop theatre or performance art risk free. We also aim to expose and engage Fringe-goers with exciting new work at various stages of development from around the world.

How we Work
Forest Fringe will be volunteer based, like the organic Forest café. After they are approved, companies are free to use the space provided that they commit some of their own time to helping the venue run smoothly. This could mean building other companies’ sets, running lighting boards, some publicity, or running a workshop.
Performances will mostly be workshop based, but we are open to suggestions. Here are some of our ideas:

Rehearsed Readings: Emerging Writers are particularly encouraged to submit work for one-off rehearsed readings in the venue. Forest Fringe hopes to stage as many new play readings with writers present as possible.

Company Works-in-Progress: Companies do not need to commit to a full two or three week run. Young companies performing shows elsewhere are encouraged to use the space for publicly scratching new material.

Practical Workshops: One way for companies to volunteer time to running the venue is by volunteering to run a free workshop in the venue. Puppetry, writing, improvisation, directing- whatever your skill, if you can teach, we’d like you to share it.

The Forest is fully flexible regarding the length of a run, though dates will be confirmed by the venue for the 15th of June, 2007.

Although Forest Fringe has chosen not to be part of the Fringe Program, the busy Forest Café located between the Royal Mile and Bristo Square will provide a constant source for audience members. Performances and workshops must be free of charge, though companies can “pass the hat” at their discretion.
What We Are Not
Forest Fringe is for emerging artists to have a free space to expose their work. We will not be in the Fringe diary, we will not have a number above our building, and we expect performers to be kind, flexible, and on the edge of their art.

If you’d like to do something Completely Different
Let us know! Since this is the first year that the Forest is running a free access venue we are open to suggestions. If you have an excellent idea for a performance, a reading, an exhibit, or any other use of the space, then apply anyway.

To Apply
Email theatre@theforest.org.uk with your company name and idea. If you are a writer send in the script or idea for the play you would like to stage as a reading. We will send you details from there. Applications should be received by the 30th of May, 2007.

Friday, 13 April 2007


I'll confess. Two days ago, I searched an online dream dictionary. I'd been having a recurring dream about my house and room being on fire. As I have a particularly strange subconscious that actually delivers messages to conscious me, someone in the dream said, "You should probably look up fire, and find out what it means." And according to ancient symbolism and the internet- it meant a time of transition- a need to be re-inspired.

Well, like any fortune cookie, this fit my life by rote. I nodded at the computer screen and wondered where to go for the missing inspiration. I am visiting my hometown for a week very soon, but that trip is based around comfort and friends, not writing. Fact was, I was in need of something of a creative overhaul.

And then there was Paul Celan.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Yesterday, for those of you with the patience to read it, I sat down and struggled through a piece of prose that I posted on my blog. At the end of the piece I wrote about the curious silence that telling a story had given me. A stillness. Which was the thesis for nearly every paper I wrote at university- the inadequacy of language- poetry's ability to touch at something beyond its words. But to renew this kind of knowledge I need to hear the same thing said over and over again in different and interesting ways. Which is why Paul Celan's speech The Meridian came as something of a revelation for me with regards to theatre. In fact, I think it has temporarily changed my approach.

The essay is beautiful- at times harrowing,but pays off quietly when it challenges you. Celan begins with the obvious inadequacy of language in art. He quotes Georg Buchner, whose characer Lenz says,

As I was walking in the valley yesterday, I saw two girls sitting on a rock. One was putting up her hair, and the other helped. The golden hair hanging down, and a pale, serious face, so very young, and the black dress, and the other girl so careful and attentive. Even the finest, most intimate paintings of the old German masters can hardly give you an idea of the scene. Sometimes one would like to be a Medusa's head to turn such a group to stone and gather the people around it

This reminded me of the Joanna Newsom lyric from Mild Eyed Mender:

"And the signified butthead with the signifiers,

and we all fall down slack jawed to marvel at words,

when across the sky shoot the impossible birds

in a steady illiterate movement homewards."

Okay, I'm getting at something, but maybe I'm trying too hard to explain it. And Celan gets at something too, something impossibly important for a writer. Nature contains these moments of perfect stillness. It effortlessly creates a painting you'll never put to canvas, a drama that would be cheapened on stage, moments so beautiful they break your heart happen every day. If as humans we were able to do it as easily as nature does, well, we'd all be so overwhelmed we'd barely move. This is part of what love is about, isn't it? Looking at someone else and seeing that still perfection. That wordless truth, to borrow from Newsom, a kind of illiterate impossibility. Infinite and contained.

Celan explains it beautifully:

"Poetry is perhaps this: an Atemwende, a turning of our breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way - the way of art - for the sake of just such a turn? And since the strange, the abyss and Medusa's head, the abyss and automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction - it is perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange? It is perhaps here, in this one brief moment, that Medusa's head shrivels and the automatons run down? Perhaps, along with the I, estranged and freed here, in this manner, some other thing is also set free?"

A silence. An impossible explanation. A wordless stillness. The moment between exhaling and inhaling. We've all felt it- it's that quiet kind of resolution, resolution isn't the word, of course it isn't- but the great relief of a pause that is produced by worthy art.

I think my creative block had come formost from writing withtheaim of success, rather than from the aim of achieving this stillness, even for myself, as the writer. This turn of breath. I won't go so far as to say that without it you have created a craft rather than an art... but I will go so far as to say that I suspect this may be the secret. If you want anyone else to feel the turn, the stillness, you must feel it first. It will not come as a result of a formula, it will not happen because your best laid plans in a script begin to intertwine beautifully (though that is a different and equally breathless joy) it will not be forced because you are tired of writing. It will settle upon you like a layer of dust. It will ground you. And you will know to stop. Celan: "Enlarge art? No. On the contrary, take art with you into your innermost narrowness. And set yourself free."

I am interested in beginning to write with this feeling of stillness at heart. A friend of mine often quotes Ezra Pound when he said, "All poetry aspires to the quality of music." Celan, on the contrary says, " It is true, the poem, the poem today shows - and this has only indirectly to do with the difficulties of vocabulary, the faster flow of syntax or a more awakened sense of ellipsis, none of which should underrate - the poem clearly shows a strong tendency towards silence."

If theatre were more like poetry- if theatre were to accept that it is more closely related to poetry than it remembers- and even, in spite of its best efforts, is moving in the same circles- I am not suggesting iambic pentameter or dedicating all theatre to Shakespeare, not in the least! But aiming toward that same quality of stillness that poetry has always unashamedly aspired to. That's a play I'd like to see. Or write. (or write.)

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Just what kind of a gal I am...

Hello all,

I compiled a list of new writing companies in the UK for www.playsonthenet.com, so until they edit and post it, I'll post it myself for any other new playwriting Junkies out there. In exchange for using my super helpful list, you must promise to at least try to read the prose I posted earlier today. So I barter for readers, so what?

New Writing Companies- UK


Paines Plough- http://www.painesplough.com/
Paines Plough is an award-winning nationally and internationally renowned touring theatre company, specialising exclusively in the commissioning and development of contemporary playwrights and the production of their work on stage.

Bush Theatre- http://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/
With around 40,000 people enjoying productions each year, The Bush has produced hundreds of ground-breaking premieres since its inception 34 years ago. The theatre produces up to eight productions of new plays a year, many of them Bush commissions, and hosts guest productions by leading companies and artists from all over the world.

Soho Theatre- http://www.sohotheatre.com/
Soho discovers and nurtures new writers from the broadest backgrounds. They do this through a wide range of Writers' Centre activities, aimed at developing writers to work in theatre as well as film, TV and radio; and through education work, aimed at encouraging people to write for performance and to connect with theatre as an art form.

Hampstead Theatre- http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/
Hampstead Theatre is a company fast approaching its fiftieth, with a particular mission: to find, develop, and produce new plays to the highest possible standards. Their work remains rooted in London’s community but is both national and international in its scope and ambition. Occasionally, Hampstead will do a revival of an old play but only when there is an artistic and financial imperative to do so.

Red Room- http://www.theredroom.org.uk/
The Red Room exists to free the imagination against the status quo. They aim to create work that is original, daring, provocative and inspiring, for audiences who question the changing world. The work is meant to impact on wider society, so they actively develop artists and audiences from the widest variety of social and cultural backgrounds. They also involve ourselves in debates and activism around culture and politics. The Red Room believes that theatre should be a genuinely public art form.

Gate Theatre- http://www.gatetheatre.co.uk/
The Gate is London's only theatre dedicated to producing international work. The Gate encourages emerging artists to push boundaries- as writers, directors and set designers.

Arcola Theatre- http://www.arcolatheatre.com/
Located in the centre of Hackney, Arcola has a young writer’s group and a focus on new work, but does not accept unsolicited scripts.

Royal Court Theatre- http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/
The Royal Court Theatre is Britain's leading national company dedicated to new work by innovative writers from the UK and around the world. The theatre's pivotal role in promoting new voices is undisputed - the New York Times recently described it as 'the most important theatre in Europe'.

National Theatre- www.nationaltheatre.org
In three theatres on the South Bank in London, the National presents an eclectic mix of new plays and classics, with seven or eight productions in repertory at any one time. It aims constantly to re-energise the great traditions of the British stage and to expand the horizons of audiences and artists alike. It aspires to reflect in its repertoire the diversity of British culture. The National also runs an extensive education program for new writers, and a Studio space to explore new work.

Fringe London

White Bear- http://www.remotegoat.co.uk/
The White Bear is one of London's oldest fringe venues. It specialises in new writing and is well-eastbalished breeding ground for new writers - Joe Penhall, Kwami Kwei Armah and Torben Betts all started their careers at The White Bear.

Camden People’s Theatre- http://www.cptheatre.co.uk/
CPT produces, promotes and supports professional theatre from innovative emerging companies. Placing special emphasis on movement, gesture, and visual impact, recognising that these are integral in making theatre accessible on a cross-cultural basis, CPT prioritises work which has been developed through collaboration. CPT is also invested in connecting with its community of South Camden/ West Euston.

Grey Light Productions is a young professional theatre company set up to produce and promote new writing.

Tabard Theatre- http://www.tabardtheatre.co.uk/
The Tabard Theatre opened in Chiswick in 1985 and built a strong reputation for new writing, something which continues to this day. However, the theatre now hosts all kinds of live entertainment from experimental work to Shakespeare and enjoys the support of a loyal local audience and, thanks to its location, visitors from all over London.

Finborough Theatre- http://www.finboroughtheatre.itgo.com/
Founded in 1980, the multi-award-winning Finborough Theatre presents new British writing, UK premieres of overseas drama, particularly from the United States, Ireland, Canada and Australia, music theatre and an idiosyncratic selection of unjustly neglected work from the last 150 years. Finborough Theatre hosts the Pearson Playwriting Residency prize every year, awarded to an emerging playwright.


Warehouse Theatre Croydon- http://www.warehousetheatre.co.uk/
Through their International Playwriting Festival the theatre has discovered and launched the career of a host of successful writers and it has also had much success in transferring plays to the West End and other London theatres, and touring both nationally and internationally.

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse- http://www.everymanplayhouse.com/
Liverpool Everyman has a busy Literary Department, working to nurture the next generation of Liverpool playwrights. A wide-ranging Community Department takes the theatre’s work to all corners of the city and surrounding areas, and works in partnership with schools, colleges, youth and community groups to open up the theatres to all. Liverpool Everyman is the city’s major employer of theatre artists, artisans and skilled support staff.

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester- http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/
Once a year The Royal Exchange Theatre hosts the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition, the most prestigious playwriting competition in the UK- awarding 20,000 pounds and a production to an unproduced play. The Royal Exchange has presented over sixty premieres since it opened in 1976, and recently opened a ninety seat studio dedicated to new writing.


Drama Association of Wales (Cymdeithas Ddrama Cymru)- www.amdram.co.uk
A registered charity since 1934, the association offers a wide range of services to Community Drama.

Clwyd Theatr Cymru- http://www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk/
Home of a highly acclaimed producing company, which also presents much of its work on tour throughout Wales and the rest of the UK. The company produces mainly in English, but also in Welsh. There is a fully integrated Theatre for Young People department which uses the same performers, technicians and creative staff to achieve the same high production values as the mainstream product. The theatre also hosts a variety of touring drama, dance, music and a community Festival in the Summer. There are around 900 public performances per year.


Traverse Theatre- http://www.traverse.co.uk/
The Traverse has an unrivalled reputation for producing contemporary theatre of the highest quality, invention and energy, commissioning and supporting writers from Scotland and around the world and facilitating numerous script development workshops, rehearsed readings and public writing workshops. The Traverse aims to produce several major new theatre productions plus a Scottish touring production each year. It is unique in Scotland in its exclusive dedication to new writing, providing the infrastructure, professional support and expertise to ensure the development of a sustainable and relevant theatre culture for Scotland and the UK.

Arches Glasgow- www.thearches.co.uk/theatre.html
The Arches Theatre Company run two annual festivals of new work each year: the Arches Theatre Festival in April features plays by the two winners of our Arches Award for Stage Directors run in conjunction with NTS, the Tron and Traverse Theatre, which offers commissions to the most exceptional young directors and playwrights working in Scotland. Arches LIVE! a September festival, offers a supportive environment allowing young companies a platform for creative experimentation and risk-taking. Nurturing emergent talent is at the core of the Arches philosophy, and they’ve recently developed a programme of Scratch Nights inspired by London’s BAC, which will further encourage artistic collaborations and generate new work.

Tron Theatre- http://www.tron.co.uk/
The Tron focuses on both new writing and dynamic productions of classic texts, making full use of available Scottish talent.

Edinburgh Fringe Venues

Assembly Rooms- http://www.assemblyrooms.com/

Aurora Nova- http://www.auroranova.org/

UnderBelly- http://www.underbelly.co.uk/

C-Venues- http://www.cvenues.com/

Official Edinburgh Fringe website: http://www.edfringe.com/

Edinburgh Fringe New Writing Opportunity

New Work at the Forest- http://www.theforest.org/
For the first time in 2007, Arts Venue the Forest will host readings, workshops and scratch performances for emerging writers and companies over the Edinburgh International Fringe. Rental of venue for performances is free. Visit the Forest website for more information on how to apply.

About Ilse Dobler

They say the best way is to be working at a desk. And not listening to music. In a room with no distractions. I could wash down the drawers I brought in from outside. Neutral Milk Hotel certainly are wonderful. Jesus Christ or swimming by a lake. Sunlight streaming in through windows. Things you need a melody to uncliche.

David, Carolyn and I stood squinting at each other in the sun. We could hear that sound, the one almost like a cricket you only hear on a very hot day. High pitched, it never suits semi suburban cities like Kingston. The kind of sound that’s reproduced for movies about Vietnam or the desert. Concrete everywhere, outside a shopping mall somewhere near the highway. The dry cleaners where we asked told us we were an hour early for the bus.
Indoor shopping centres are the easiest places to lose interest in when you’re trying to have an adventure. Oh yes, the Adventure. Perhaps that’s where I start.

Or stop. What is this? Of course it's only as I am getting into things that I don’t feel like writing any more. Prose prose prose. Who needs it? Who even reads it any more? I don’t. Kurt Vonnegut died today. One of the last true torch bearers. Without him who publishes all that’s getting written? Who reads all that’s getting published? Maybe I’ll put this on my blog so the five friends I have who are occasionally curious about me will read it. Hi ho. (sure, make a sly reference. As though that’s not both painfully obvious and a little too obscure. Back patting references. Good work, you read. So happy for you. Now write, you pathetic, useless…) Hi ho.

Carolyn and I were officially spending one of the most

Hyperbolize, why not?

Carolyn and I were officially spending one of the most boring summers of my life together. Having stayed in our university town of Kingston slightly too long after semester ended, it was becoming apparent that there was nothing to do.

In retrospect, that “nothing to do” feeling was glorious and simple. Unemployed, but twenty. The comfort of another two years of legitimate study to pat myself on the back with. I actually felt excited to find a job.

We devised a plan to combat the ennui. Ennui? Ennui. Rooted in Adventure… It started when we were so bored we took an inflatable bunny rabbit her mother had given her for Easter and shot pictures of it all over Kingston. After that wore out, we took a ferry to Wolfe Island- a small residential island across the bay. We shot photos of the rabbit everywhere- most notably with an old couple.

You're summarizing. Stop summarizing. It’s boring to you, but at least try and make it exciting to the reader. That’s what this prose thing is supposed to be about.

We’d been walking on the island so long I had blisters. We considered sustenance sustenance? from the family owned pizza parlour a local video store clerk recommended to us. She said everyone ate there. When we got there "everyone" meant an old guy named Joe, who probably spent most of his day both annoying the waitress and keeping her sane. As vegetarians a defrost pizza was the best on offer.

This reads too much like memoirs. Yes it happened, but I don’t want that to be obvious. everyone will know how terrible I am at making up stories. Okay, third-person-present-tense starts now. Ah, the grammatical ruse…

Deborah and Carolyn look over at each other. Even the inflatable bunny rabbit seems disappointed. Silently, they decide to find somewhere more worthy of an adventure, bidding their goodbyes to Joe and the lonely waitress.
Only steps away is a restaurant, off the beaten path, looking down on the harbour. The sign above the wooden door reads “The Sportsman Café”. If variety is the spice of life, Wolfe Island’s restaurant selection tastes of luke warm porridge.

Sitting down with menus, the décor of the restaurant is their main topic of conversation. Canadiana of the least Canadian genre hangs wall to wall. A mounted Moose head over the mantle piece, a rustic fire turned up full blast, and fishing rods with old tackle line the walls. This is a slice of the country the girls are unfamiliar with in their country of birth. The stereotype. They spy a poster hanging among the bric a brac. Santorini. Dotted among the bludgeonly Canadian stuff are beautiful pictures of Greek Islands, reminding them of how they’d rather be somewhere else. They exchange a look, wishing their adventures were slightly more adventurous. A heavily accented old woman asks for their order.

Ack I am so bored of this already. During that last paragraph I thought about why I shouldn’t write prose at least four times. Every sentence is peppered with hatred and doubt. Canada, Canadiana, @:@:~, it’s all so :@:@::@y typical. Who cares? I don’t care about writing about Canada. I’m bored of this story already. Surely writing a story should be automatic, as easy to write as it is to hate trying to write it.

I’m in that restaurant, right, and Carolyn is there, holding the bunny. The lady walks up. She’s Greek. She’s says, “What do you guys want from our ultra Canadian menu?” (Which looked awful) and we say, “Where are you from?”
Then out comes her husband from the back, turns out they’re both Greek as salad, so that’s what we order, salad, and that’s what she brings us, a beautiful big Greek salad like I hadn’t tasted in months. Delicious. We ask her to hold the bunny and pose- but she is laughing so hard as soon as she looks at it that the picture is her, holding the bunny at arms length, laughing. The only really clear image I have of that whole day. This old Greek lady, holding the bunny, laughing.

We’d decided that we liked adventures- wanted more of them. We were so effing bored with nothing to do that we planned to devise crazy things to shake Kingston up a bit. That was when our flatmate Kat told us about the Casino bus that she’d been taking to Ottawa for free.

Apparently, you paid ten dollars, and a bus came to pick you up and drove you to a casino two hours away in Ottawa. (The Boring Nation’s Capital.) On arrival you were given fifteen dollars in chips you could cash in immediately. This meant that by taking the bus you actually stood to profit five dollars. And it went back to Kingston at the end of the day for free.

That’s why we were in the parking lot: Dave, Carolyn and I. We’d showed up early for the bus. When it finally did come loads of older people had already arrived. They were hard steely gamblers. Their slots machine strategies and bus buddies were pre-sorted.

Our manners meant that the elderly got on first. They were very old and we were very young. When the very last of them was finally been helped up the stairs, we bounded through the doors to find that the bus was practically full. We couldn't sit together. We all found a single next to the casino regulars who for some reason or another didn’t have a bus buddy.

Mine was an old woman with a heavy German accent. Small and cute, the way some women get. She dyed her hair a strange copper blonde. Through the window, she waved goodbye at her smiling husband. She told me she’d been married to him for fifty years. My boyfriend at the time was a bit of a douche bag. I couldn’t really picture myself with him for another fifty, let alone two. Which is exactly what happened, when two years down the line he called me and said it wasn’t working. I cried. He said his mum needed help with the dishes at three in the morning. I could hear her in the background bailing him out. He hung up. I didn’t hear from him again for months. Truly a bit of a douche bag. (If you read this, Adam, I don't necessarily mean it. But putting it any other way deteriorates the narrative. Plus, douche bag is a funny word.)

But there’s this old lady, waving goodbye, the bus takes off, and she unwraps some sandwiches. She starts eating and offers me one. I said yes because I never turn down a tasty sandwich. Unwrapped it, peanut butter and jelly, the sandwich of Gods. I’m chew chew chewing it the way one does with a really good sandwich, when I decide in my adventurous mood that I must have a conversation with this woman. Not merely a conversation - but a really effing good conversation, to tell Dave and Carolyn about it when we get off the bus. I look back at them, and they are both already engaged in what look like really good conversations. Carolyn catches my eyes and winks at me. Fucknuts. I must win.

I ask the most obvious questions first:

Where are you from?


How long have you lived here?

Sixty years.

Do you have any children?

A daughter in Scarborough. She has a budgie named Chico. (The old lady laughs, delighted.)

That’s cool. I’m from Toronto. My grandmother and mum are Hungarian.

She’s not really interested.

So I’d already run out of interesting topics of conversation. The only other option was to talk about what everyone had been talking about lately. Spring of 2003, Bush had just declared war on Iraq:
What do you think of this war coming up?

Terrible terrible, she said.

And I thought, of course you think it’s terrible, you’re a cool old lady and you just gave me half your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you rock.

Yes, yes, she says, War, why always war? People want peace, not war.

Peace, you’re right, I said. What a cool old lady.

They compare Sadam Hussein to Hitler, you can’t compare him to Hitler, she says.

Right on, I think.

Hitler was a kind man. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

Yeah, because… Wait, what?

Yes, Hitler was a good man. He did good things for Germany.

What about the holocaust?

Pffff. (She makes a strange noise with her mouth.)

All of the Jewish people? You know, who died?

We did not know this went on. It was not so bad as that, my father’s tailor was Jewish. He did business with him years.

Right… I say, wondering if there was Nazi syonide in my peanut butter and Jew-hating sandwich.

They bomb Germany too, at end of war. Canadians bombed us. The streets were covered in yellow powder. Women and children dying in the streets.

Oh. I said. Not knowing what else to say. Maybe that was true, but my grandmother’s father was a Hungarian Jew. My grandmother had to hide all throughout the war in a convent. She lost her father and his entire family! Yellow powder, sounds awful. But War is awful. The losing side is awful- and, well, the Germans started it.

Germany was very poor, she went on.

(The old lady didn’t have anyone to sit next to her on the bus to the casino because she’d talk your ear off about why Hitler was a good man. Hi ho.) yes.

The bus stopped. A too peppy someone handed us a fifteen pound vouchers for chips. And I had a story.
I told Dave and Carolyn. They laughed at the nazi bus buddy all day. We didn't gamble.

In the evening, when the bus arrived to take us back to Kingston, I desperately wanted to avoid her, but she found me in the parking lot. She made it clear that I was her bus buddy and that this was an all day commitment.

I sat down angrily on the bus beside her. She took out another two sandwiches. She offered me one, “No, I’m okay” I started to say, until she shoved it into my hand. The bus took off. I started eating the forced sandwich. She talked away.
Turned out this old German woman was quite a chatter box. She went on and on about her daughter’s budgie chico, how she missed her daughter, the business they set up in Canada. To be honest I was too busy respecting my family to listen. Until she mentioned her stroke.

Stroke? I asked.

Yes, she said, two years ago. She She let me feel where they had inserted the disk. She was so delicate and fragile as she lead my hand up to feel right under her hairline. At once, I was sad and sorry for the whole business of this lonely German woman, her stroke, her daughter she never sees, her lonely opinions on the big lonely bus.

The sun set was shining through the window. Everything was that particular red colour, that beautiful end of day colour. The woman glowed. And I knew that I was having my revelation- the one that any character at the end of a short story is meant to have- and to be honest I don’t remember what the revelation was about any more. I just remember it was dark when we reached Kingston. I’d been buzzing and silent in the last bits of light, looking out the window or slyly at her for most of the journey.

When it finally did stop I knew I wanted to write about her. I wasn’t sure how, or when or if I ever actually would.

What’s your name? I asked.

Ilse Dobler, she said. We shook hands.

Four years later, the sun makes a window pane pattern on my early morning wall and bed. I sit and struggle with myself, again. I wonder if she’s still alive. I wonder where she is now. I still wonder if it’s right to write about her, as plainly as I just did. A story I’ve wanted to tell. A strange and quiet kind of silence I get after telling it. A stopping that comes easy, like words on a page or chewing a sandwich. Humbled by how large life is, by my own shoddy efforts to help a reader remember. Oh, it's useless-

Monday, 9 April 2007

John Guare: A kindred spirit, another odd duck in the pond

Have you ever read a writer and thought, "Get out of my head!" Then realized the scribe in question was writing thirty years before you were even a zygote?

(Vice Magazine's conversational dos and don'ts: DON'T ask a question in conversation simply because you want to be asked the same thing. Sorry about that. Though this is only a conversation with my blog. So I'll continue...)

Well I have! It was one of those books that burns a hole on your shelf. You keep meaning to force yourself to pick it up, but you nearly get to liking the look of it. You stop thinking of it as a book at all, but as more of a prop. The idea that the spine and pages could represent anything past their aesthetic qualities is baffling. I find the best way to deal with a Reader's Block like this one is to take the book somewhere you'll be desperate for reading material: On vacation, to the bathroom, to a particularly slow shift at work, the tube, you get my meaning...

And eventually you might just be compelled to delve deeper into this mysterious pagey object.

Let's take me and a copy of John Guare's "Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and Other Plays", which I had no real reason to not read for the two weeks it spent accumulating late fees from RADA's library. But sure enough, one week ago, while working the interminably long 10 hour shift at my hip video shop, I decided to spend some lonely hours reading the thing aloud. And what do you know, bit by bit the truth emerges- John Guare is a long lost soul mate. We're separated by the tragedy of decades and history, but here is one more Odd Duck for the pond. In fact, in his play, "The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year" a character says as much himself:

She: I like him very much. He's really an odd person - an odd duck. But he does tell me awfully funny stories. (to him, slyly) Hey, tell me a funny story?

He: They're not funny stories! They're true!

She: (To us.) True! Listen to this one, please. We're in the Zoo near the polar bear cage. Now I have never seen a polar bear. (Excited.) Hey, look at the polar bear! (SHE reaches to touch it through the bars.)

He: (Violently pulling her back.) Don't do that!!!

She: I never saw a polar bear, for God's sake. It won't kill me.

He: Won't kill you! Listen, ten years ago, my sister Lucy was a top debutante-

She: (Impressed.) Really?

He: And after her coming-out party at the Hotel Plaza back there, Lucy and her two escorts broke into this part of the Zoo and Lucy stuck her arm into this cage-this very cage- just as you did now before I stopped you. And this polar bear- (HE follows the polar bear with an accusing finger, shakes it three times.) No, I don't think it was this polar bear- this one doesn't look familiar- (SHE comes to him.) But the polar bear- the one ten years ago- bit my sister Lucy's arm right off at the breast! (HE turns away, covering his face.)


He: And we heard her screams clear all over the Plaza and the doctors came and (petulant) we all had to leave the coming-out party. I was very young - well, eighteen -

She: What did they do?

He: My parents shrieked, "Do something do something," and the doctors and all the ambulances which came (pantomimes dramatically) pulled Lucy's arm out of the polar bear's mouth and quickly sewed it back on. Modern surgery can do things like that.

She: (Truly horrified.) What happened? - Omigod!!!!

He: The arm grew back - thank God- but Lucy never went to another coming-out party again.

She: Boy, I can see why not.

He: Because enormous amounts of - she developed all over her body - enormous amounts of white polar bear hair and for her comfort we had to ship her to Alaska in a cage.

She: (Suspicious.) You're putting me on.

He: (Disparaging her disbelief.) You're from Ohio. You come from a nice little family. You don't understand the weirdness, the grief that people can spring from -

She: You're the oddest duck I've ever met.

He: (Horrified.) Ducks! You stay away from ducks. I can tell you a story about my aunt -
Alright, alright, it's not just the fact that he uses the term "odd duck" and that I use the term "odd duck"- though sometimes a similarity in vocabulary is all you need to fall in love with a writer. It's the fact that so many of his fixations seem to mirror my own.
Here's a fact you may not have wanted to know- my partner and I share a joke about two librarians who, after years of checking in books next to each other, have hands that casually brush then end up making out on the overdues stack. I guess it's just that nerdy lust thing- which being nerdy I can't help but relate to. Well John Guare has gone one better- and in another short play, A Day for Surprises, writes a whole monologue where a bookworm describes his love for the resident librarian:
I quickly undressed her and then myself and- while she arranged our things with the neatness that was her trademark and the bane of the overdue fine room, I arranged on the floor of the Neglected Masterpieces Section, a bed - a couch made of photostats of Elizabethan Love Lyrics. She said I've never loved anybody so I want this to be good. I said, oh, I had never loved anybody before either. So I took a copy of Love Without Fear and she took a Modern Manual on How to Do It, and we wrapped - like Christmas packages for people you love - wrapped our bodies, our phosphorescent, glowing, about-to-become-human bodies around each other. And began reading.
Wha-wha-what could be sexier or nerdier or sadder or cuter or both more and less real? Look at his bow tie... who is this man? "Get out of my bedroom!" (Which is what I would say, if a stranger, even in a cute tie, snuck into my bedroom. Because trespassing is creepy.)
So there you have it, John Guare, writer of Six Degrees of Separation just keeps getting better. If you fancy yourself an odd duck, you should check him out. Who knows what freaky stuff he's up to at your local library.