Sunday, 29 November 2009

If you need me, I'll be here

all the theatre I’ve seen…

I am back, and have much reporting to do. Oddly enough it’s been a pretty eventful 2 weeks from a theatre perspective. Since we last met I’ve seen “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Young Vic, “Faithless Bitches” at the Courtyard, “Roman Tragedies” at the Barbican (which, let me just say, was 6 hours. And yes, I stayed for the whole darned thing), and even “Letters to my Grandma” at Theatre Passe Muraille and Necessary Angel’s “Hamlet” at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Forest Fringe also did our first evening at Central, where we scratched our hub and I remounted “Music’s Been Ruined by Dating”, and Volcano and York University put on the double bill I wrote for, “Co-Ed”, directed by Ross Manson and Claire Calnan. So. All in all. A pretty darned eventful couple of weeks, for watching, making, and watching things I helped to make.

When these eventful periods of watching and making do come around, I always find myself quietly re-evaluating what is important to me in theatre. It's no surprise that innovation usually comes out on top. The idea that as an artform we’re making progress, that the work we make should constantly be challenging its own form, reinventing ways of presenting itself. But these past few weeks I think I've gone further in understanding why this is so vital. It's not just a natural human reaching for something sparkly and new - in fact, I think the reasons are deeper and far more exciting.

I did a quick teaching session at Queen’s a couple of days ago, and I came back to a definition of theatre that I invented on the spot for some central students, and that continues to get at me and seems to work. I told them that theatre to me is anything that asks an audience (of 1 or 1 million) to engage with what it is to be present, with what it is to be here now. The openness of this continues to make my head spin and makes me sort of giddy. According to this definition, my entire vacation to Greece could have been theatre. Falling in love could be theatre. But actually, they aren't. These alive moments come about organically, unpredictably, and they could end at any time. Unlike the feeling of watching great theatre, we never feel as though we're in good or competent hands, because the hands are often our own. It might be this lack of safety that means that in these lived moments we are present, but it's difficult to engage with or reflect on what that present means. We often worry that if we step back or take our eye off the ball for a moment (and the ball is usually called joy), the opponent will walk away and the game will unexpectedly end.

I bring up this definition because in what I’ve seen or helped to make in the last two weeks, the moments that were most effective were those that engaged with the present, reminding me that I am alive, and that seemed to be going for *that* over and above anything else. But past simply making me feel present, the truly transcendent experiences came when there was an exploration and delving into what being present even means. Even when these pieces feel as unpredictable as life itself (and the best often do), there is a kind of competence and design that gives us as humans the space to be both present and aware of and looking into that present-ness. (The Roman Tragedies did this best of all I would say. Time passed in a very surreal way over 6 hours, and the show worked beautifully with this outside time.) And I think what I've come to, is that the reason these moments are so often absolutely innovative, is that they are as dynamic as experience itself.

*Of course this is all a bit hilarious, considering that most of my work is about memory, nostalgia and the past – but of course, the past is always present. You just have to recognize it, offer it a drink, and tell it to put its feet up.*

Let’s keep working with this and see where it goes… But if you need me, I've decided I'll be here. I'll be looking at, reaching into, shifting about and engaging in here. It's hard work and you can't take a seat because it's always moving. But I think maybe it's worth it.

Friday, 13 November 2009

20,000 Roads

If anyone from Oia is reading...

Thank you.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Back in London: Who is this city and what has it learned?

Well, it’s been a good 60 hours or so that I’ve been back in this familiar-ish city, which, when you measure it up like that, does all kinds of strange things to my perception of time. 1 hour x 60 doesn’t seem so very much, yet 6 hours x 10 seems like a heck of a lot. Once during a play I got slightly bored and decided to calculate how many days I’d been alive, and I believe it was around the vicinity of just under 10,000. Which is strange, when you think if I’d been paid a dollar a day for my entire existence, I still wouldn’t be able to buy a house or even a particularly nice car. Not that I would turn my nose up at being given a dollar a day. Any takers?

Oh, right. Still avoiding the subject line of this blog post, aren’t I? With some half *ssed though elaborate tangential pseudo-math. Good for me and good for you for reading.

I spent the weekend at Arts Admin, first watching Chris Goode do his thang, his first time performing poetry since the Forest Fringe tapes in Edinburgh 2 years ago, and the next day meeting Jack Bond and Victor Spinnetti at a playreading of one of Jane Arden’s shows at the Artslab. The play, “Vagina Rex” dealt with feminism in a very hands-on way, though I think I’ll be more interested to watch Jane Arden and Jack Bond’s film collaborations through the BFI just as soon as I can get my hands on them. There was a lot of talk about whether or not there was a contemporary theatre of outrage - whether contemporary audiences could be radicalized the way that audiences were in the 1960s. I did take issue with the discussion's suggestion that theatre has lost its "can-do" attitude. I find nothing less helpful than the tendency, when discussing the 60s, to suggest it points to the sated attitudes of the youth of today. People still can-do, and are doing. We just live in a baby-booming society that idealizes the projects of its youth, occasionally ignoring the fact that rather than disregard these projects, our generation has been inspired by them, learned from their failures, and will (hopefully) make something happen. Wow. Bit of a rant. Sorry, what else were you expecting from the blog?

Quite a wonderful feeling came out of this reading, which was that they began discussing Jim Haynes, one of my heroes, the founder of ArtsLab and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and mentioned that they would be showing a video interview with him. I couldn’t wait to see what the man looked like – when suddenly, a familiar face came on the screen. It turned out that I had already met Jim in Paris 2 years ago. I had gone to his house for dinner, and he’d seen me do a monologue on the Golden Hour tour and gave me the warmest most congratulatory smile afterwards. He is such a down to earth man that I’d had no idea I was monologuing for the same Jim Haynes who played such a large role in inspiring me to found Forest Fringe, but there you have it. I’m glad this feeling had 2 years to ferment before coming to light. It’s a vintage I can keep.

On a different note, I am questioning whether I have to stop stewarding at Arts Admin, even though I love the building, the events and everyone who works there. I keep running in to professional contacts while I do it, and in our little industry nobody (including myself) seems to know quite how to handle the co-director of a venue having to break off conversation to clear up the rubbish in the room and to put away chairs. I’m in two minds about this – one part of me thinks just clear up all the better and let the world get used to it – if anything, it should demonstrate Forest Fringe’s down-to-earth, can-do attitude, of which I’m very proud. Another part of me gets nervous in these situations and is less bold. Demystifying the less glamorous aspects of theatre, stewarding, for example, does make me buzz with excitement a little. The real question has to be, am I being subversive or simply foolish? (Story of my life!)

So there’s me in London, avoiding my laundry, breakfast, and date with the Odyssey. I really am back.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Flowchart your life

That's what we did....

Friday, 23 October 2009


I like to hear people hum along to music. Especially when they think they’re on their own. And also when they get so lost that they can’t quite help it.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

It's late at the bookstore and two flies are wrestling

It never seems that there is an absolutely ideal time to post - but 3 am Greek time is as good of one as any. I'll admit to feeling a little bit of blog-writer's block lately. Life here in the bookstore is repetitive, it changes in barely noticeable increments, but there is something so ineffably relaxing and grounding about it. Nonetheless, there have been revelations (if only incremental) and it seems that the blog being what it is, I should share some of those here. And so, in the grand tradition of the blog, I will list my recent revelations in the order that I find them to be most impressive - impressive to who is a great question. Especially when I'm asking the great hulking mystery of the internet - though "Who are you trying to impress?" is a question I'd like to ask myself a lot more often anyway. See? See? Leave me in a Greek bookshop and I get all kinds of reflective.

But onto the tiny revelations of so far.

1. In our society we place far too much importance on individual achievements rather than collective ones.

Okay, so you probably saw this one coming with socialist-sounding talk about why Homer was probably written by several poets over time and why we should all definitely be okay with that and see it as some sort of grand structure, like a cathedral, that could only be built through the collective effort of many individuals and the knowledge, hindsight, whatever you'll call it of many generations. But I was also prompted to think about how much we undervalue work by a collective when I was reading Raymond Carver's "What we talk about when we talk about love." Some of you may have already heard the lore about this collection - that the stories were so heavily changed by his editor Alfred A Knopf, who basically created what many always identified as Carver's unique minimalist style, that you could say they were co-creators of whatever made those stories magic.
Now a lot of people, myself initially included, would be inclined to be annoyed at the fact that Knopf had so much to do with Carver's legacy - that Carver wasn't given more creative room to move. But, to sound like a psychologist or particularly tuned in teacher for a moment, can I ask why we are annoyed? Could it be because we are uncomfortably attached to the idea of a lone genius making work in his basement? At the end of the day, it may just be possible that Carver is great because there were two people involved in that greatness. And what the heck is wrong with that?

2. I am excited about theatre because it is live. I am excited abouttheatre because it is now. I am excited about theatre because you have to *literally* be in the right place at the right time. And even if this sounds obvious, I also need to be reminded of it in the moment, live, at the right place and the right time for it to really hit home.

There's just nothing else like it. More on this later, but for now my here and now inspiration is more preoccupied with the desire to sleep that the desire to explain itself. So for now, here's to incremental revelations, and explaining them to the blog incrementally.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Paper Cinema's Odyssey - Sneak preview shots

Here are some of the drawings Nic made in Greece. The boy looking out to shore is a preliminary sketch for Telemachus and the man on the shore with a beard is the first sketch of Odysseus on Calypso's island.

If I were in London I'd be watching this...

Those of you who know me will know that I have an equal love of new writing and site responsive work. When they come together effectively, it is bold, risky and rare. I spoke with the lovely Lucy about this piece while she was writing it, and it sounded like it was heading in that risky and rare (and exceptional) direction. I'm extremely annoyed that I'm not in London to see this - from what I've read about it, it sounds like Kirkwood and Clean Break have created something delicate and important.

Friday, 9 October 2009

A kitten is asleep on my lap as I type this...

Hi Bloggy friends,

Sorry not to be about for the last couple of days. I've come back to the bookshop, Atlantis, in Greece, where today I spent some time with Nick from Paper Cinema discussing the Odyssey and drinking too much white wine. A kitten is now asleep on my lap as I sit behind the til. It may sound idyllic, though last night this kitten thought that my legs beneath the covers were a toy to be pounced on with claws at regular intervals.

A few things have come up today while discussing beautiful stories with Mr. Beard.

1. a beautiful image to end something. Think Zorba the Greek or the end of the poem "Pomegranate" by DH Lawrence. Kundera does this too at the end of his novels.

2. In a story, every action should be followed by an action of greater quality and magnitude, culminating in an action after which the audience can not imagine anything else. Action has come up a lot lately in my life. Apparently Karma is all about action too - this is what I learned yesterday by looking it up in the excellent "A short introduction to everything."

3. There is a lot of creative room to move in the Odyssey and there always has been. The story itself is really the result of a collective effort of many poets over a long period of time- regardless of the capitalist belief that it had to have been created by an individual named Homer. It's a framework that many artists have moved in creatively for ages, and the more of their own spin they put on it, the better. (Don't worry, I haven't gone to Greece and become a communist.)

4. The kitten jumped from my lap once I started typing.

This is a beautiful place to work.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Shocked and awed

This is probably one of the most amazing things I've seen on the internet. Sometimes the very nature of youtube clips etc. annoys me, because they do seem to give everything a certain shared yet diminished cultural currency. I mean, imagine if you saw this kid live... He's some kind of virtuoso! I leave it to you - the boy works a strange kind of alchemy on that instrument.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Werner Herzog: Live in London, not eating his shoe

Hey bloggy friends,

I have come back from a lovely and accidental evening of successful Karaoke singing. Yes, oh yes, Kenny Rogers and the Muppets from 2 posts ago convinced me to take my passion to the stage, put on a cowboy hat, and tell the people they had to know when to hold 'em, etc, etc. Got off to a shaky start, but after that my North American accent ensured a good amount of Karaoke success, made all the better by my friend Bernard also donning a cowboy hat and backing me up on air guitar on stage. Quite wonderful all told. A grand bout of silliness inspired by - oddly enough, Werner Herzog, whom I saw speak at the Southbank Centre mere hours before.

I'd gone to see Mr. Herzog mostly because I'd been told that once, having lost a bet, Werner Herzog ate his shoe, and was filmed doing it by Errol Morris. This gave me an immediate respect for the man's integrity, his sense of the absurd, and of course, his digestive system, which must be made of steel or something to take a shoe on board. So even though I've only seen one of his films, I felt very comfortable paying full ticket price to see the man himself have a 2 1/2 hour chat at Royal Festival Hall.

But how - you may ask - did he inspire me to sing Kenny Rogers? Well, the wonderful thing about Herzog and chat is that he covers a myriad of topics. He definitely didn't stick to film - he talked about his favourite Dutch landscape painter, Fred Astaire and the simple magic of cinema in his dance numbers (a thought I'd had after stumbling upon one of Mr. Astaire's numbers last week), the jungle, Facebook, twitter, and - the end of everything. Thank you Werner Herzog.

When discussing the end of everything, which he very much thinks is coming, he quoted Martin Luther King who said, "If Everything ended tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today." He then went on to discuss the futile but enjoyable things he would continue to do in the face of the end of civilization. Well, the whole thing had me oddly inspired. You see, the particular Karaoke bar I go to usually only ever lets the regulars play (one drunken night I called the poor Karaoke dj a fascist), so I never bother requesting songs anymore. For some reason, after my 2nd drink of the day on a near empty stomach, this seemed oddly similar to Herzog's musings on the end of everything. What's the point in requesting a song when he'll never call me up anyway, I asked myself... but the answer was clear. It is worth requesting the song, even if the song never gets called. Plant that apple tree, take a gamble.

So I did - and for a while it seemed that I never would get called up. One of the regulars who had requested far after me was singing, and I thought, they've skipped over me. How about that? Of course it was always going to happen. But a few songs later, my time in front of that screen did come. And you know, even if it hadn't, it was worth putting some hope of singing into that little piece of paper. You should always request.

Wow. I actually managed to apply both Martin Luther King and Werner Herzog's profound sentiments about the end of everything, hope, humanity, civilization, to Karaoke at the Birdcage. Well, you gotta start somewhere, don't you?

Do me a favour and forget the last four paragraphs. Watch this instead. In the words of Werner Herzog, "Fred Astaire is as good as cinema gets." "Why?" the nice man asked him. Werner: "He just is."

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Like most things you see on the internet - but greater

The Hallway from The Hallway on Vimeo.

Dear Internet,

I'll be trying to see less of you soon. It's not that I don't like you. It's that I am suddenly aware that as a little human being with little human dreams, I don't stand much of a chance against all of the knowledge you can fit on more servers than stars in the sky. I'd rather just look at stars in the sky for a while, if that's alright. But I'll be back to check on you once in a while. Don't worry. It's not forever.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Know when to hold 'em

Working on a play about men and gambling for York University - but when I see something like this, I just think, why write plays at all. Every good story out there has been gotten at by the Muppets first - and better.


PS: Still digesting Burlington, Turnstile at the BAC. I was going for something very different from what I usually do in performance - dealing with heavy issues like the BNP and Nuclear war - and making a point through making people uncomfortable. It was a really interesting experience. I'll keep the blog updated if it ends up anywhere.

Friday, 25 September 2009

A performance creeps up on you...

I've got just under 3 hours before I'm ready for my closeup/ the show goes on. I'm in a weird state of complete calm, which will probably cease in about 2 hours. for the moment, the main feelings going through the ole brain and self are hunger, anticipation, a little bit of boredom/restlessness (what do I do with myself now? I've got 3 hours. I know, I'll blog) and of course there is that man chatting away in the back room of the brain office, talking about how nervous he is, wondering why everyone else is working away on their computer happily or checking their facebook for the umpteenth time when he's ABOUT TO PUT ON A SHOW PEOPLE! HOP TO IT! But of course, that guy will only get noticed in the last quarter of this anticipation time. That's when he'll unpick the lock in the room he's in at the moment, and in spite of all his freaking out, he'll be forced to help everybody else get on with it and put on the darned show. We'll see how it goes.

My nuclear war piece is on tonight and tomorrow night at 9pm at the Battersea Arts Centre. If you are not a stalker, I'd like to see you there. If you are a stalker... there are way cooler people out there. Seriously.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes

Oh my dear dear blog, it is at moments like the one I had earlier today that I wish I had a little camera or thought to take pictures during some of the hilarious and strange events that seem to envelop me. So for Rules and Regs I will be attempting to pull all the post apocalyptic stops, and my lovely tech at BAC had an idea of a way to really wow the audience - a smoke machine. He turned it on to let it heat up, and then we went downstairs to play with the lighting in the slightly fascist bunker in the basement. When what should happen, but Greg, the tech, is radio-ed that some of the smoke from the smoke machine is getting into one of the rehearsal rooms. It doesn't sound like the end of the world (end of the world, nuclear destruction, get it? Well you shouldn't because there ain't nothin to get there. It's late and my jokes are even worse than the usual!) so he kept on trying to light the space. When we do both head upstairs, a floor down from where we'd left the smoke machine, behind the glass double doors, we just see the thickest haze I've ever seen. We could barely get up the stairs - I couldn't see more than a few centimetres in front of me, and the smoke was all orange tint because of a gel on a light we'd been playing around with.

Is that all there is to a fire, I found myself asking? The answer, of course, being, no. Fires are like really scary, whereas a haywire smoke machine is at its worst irritating and at its best cool, actually a bit of both, but the building's fire alarm did get set off. (It took a disturbingly long time for that to happen, though, considering all the smoke we waded through...) And now of course, legal issues about the fire alarm and the smoke or not the smoke. But my gosh, it would be amazing to do a show where you just made an audience think they were walking through a burning building because there was so much smoke. Or hey, one of our rules for R and R is Think of England? How about some real deal dangerous London Fog. The biggest screw up of the day was far better than any special effect I'd ever be able to legally try out. Thanks to the sweet unexpected gifts that hazard can bring, and no thanks to Health and Safety, who will never let us do that with smoke again.

PS: Dress rehearsal tomorrow. Nervous/excited/I hope it works out! Also, excuse typos. It's late and I'm tigred.

PPS: My private unofficial name for my work from now on is "Max Fischer Productions." Parts of the set and looking quite seriously like the Heaven and Hell set at the end of Rushmore. But hey, in the words of Mr. Littlejeans: "Best play ever, man."

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Protect and Survive - The power of one just ain't enough...

Hi there bloggy friends!

So I haven't posted for the last two days, but today this ridiculous vision I had of tiling the floor of the bunker white and blue was actually (somehow, just when it had started to seem as foolhardy as it may actually be) realized by a team of totally awesome theatre friends and erstwhile volunteers from Forest Fringe. The entire experience was very reminiscent of the wonderful things that group of people helped us do in August, and it made me pretty darned nostalgic for that whole manic month. There is something unbeatably lovely about sitting in a room of people, everyone focussing on a task at hand, everyone pitching in to try and make some theatre happen. It may be in my top twenty things to do in life, and possibly even higher. Very high would be that heart warming feeling when the people in the room are all helping make a piece of theatre that I will be ultimately responsible for. Now that this honest effort, this kind of convivial spirit and collective ownership of a now beautiful space has been brought into the equation, the pressure to make this British Nuclear bunker something memorable and interesting is on. I guess I'll just have to bring it. (Am I referencing Bring it On, you ask? I don't know, you tell me. You're the one who spotted it. And what's worse, eh? eh?)

Friday, 18 September 2009

Protect and Survive - Part 1

Okay, so precisely because I never usually talk about my creative work here, and precisely because I worry that I am flagging somewhat in terms of creativity and motivation and drive, and precisely because I have also felt a lack in terms of interesting things to tell the ole blog-o about, I am going to do a series this week, fingers crossed, where I tell you about the piece that I’m making for Rules and Regs, as and when I’m making it.

You might have noticed a wee (adorable? Really? You think so? Thanks!) picture of me at the top of this post holding a backwards “Protect and Survive” booklet ponderously. Don’t worry. The booklet isn’t actually backwards. That’s just the fun and friendly mirror effect of photobooth on Morgan’s apple. I am holding this booklet because, believe it or not, this booklet would have been the actual Civil defense program for your average Joe in the likely case of nuclear disaster in the UK in the 80s. They also made some Protect and Survive videos, and I’ll post one here. I would find the animation in these videos highly adorable/hilarious, if it weren’t so awfully terrifying.

Our Rules for Rules and Regs are
1. Think of England
2. Don’t be yourself
3. Be Straight with us
4. Panic

So for some reason the combination of these rules and the kind of incredibly awkward spaces I was given at BAC (a tiny room at the top of the building, and a very scary room in the basement where I constantly hear footsteps when Nobody’s There!) just called to mind a Nuclear bunker, and the BNP’s odd idea of “ethnically British”, whatever that means. More on this as more comes up. But for now, here’s a promise that you’ll learn more as the week goes on, I will actually post something every day til performance, and I’ll play you out with a bit of Protect and Survive, everyone’s favourite guide to surviving Nuclear disaster…

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Who do I remind you of?

Lately I'm intrigued by that thing that seems to happen as you start growing up, when your heart and your head really do stop sharing a bedroom, when they start going to see movies on their own, developing separate lives, rarely acknowledging each other except to say "pass the salt" at the dining table. While your heart remains blisfully naive and adolescent, listening to the same old angsty Smiths records it always listened to, poring over old love letters, drawing moustaches on copies of YM, your head becomes a beacon of rationality, perhaps overly rational, and lists all of the foolhardy endeavours the heart once took it on, and the results of each. These records can not be broken or destroyed. Once the head has taken note, it's taken note forever.

Which is why it's so odd when the heart makes another one of its flash decisions, and the head politely knocks on that old bedroom door, just as the heart is putting on its hat and the last of its makeup, to diagnose the situation like some kind of killjoy doctor. "We've seen this before." It says. "Or do you not remember the summer of 2003?" But to the heart everything is new. Everything is a first. And there is always hope and the possibility for the impossible.

This brings me to today's obsession - people or situations that remind you of another person or another situation so overwhelmingly, you find yourself behaving as though in the past. I've had people do it to me before - there was a certain lady at university who I was mistaken for on numerous occasions. We even dated the same man, one after the other. Years later, a good friend of hers became a good friend of mine, and I found out that he thought we were so alike he just pretended I was her in conversation. I took that pretending very well, and after finding out that it wasn't me he was inwardly addressing, I wasn't remotely offended. In fact, I found the whole thing kind of comforting. I'm not sure why. I liked the idea that someone else had been there before.

Today I'm interested in connecting doppelgangers. Possibly separately interviewing people who friends say remind them of each other, or placing them in the same room to see what would happen. What makes them similar? Do they share something in their manner, in their faces, in their eyes, in their histories? And am I the only one who finds this a useful shorthand for social situations, rather than depressing or disturbing?

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Back to the Internet with you!

Hey friends,

So back from the 'burgh, and as always, it is both lovely and oddly sad to be back. The whole thing was an indisputable success - manic and inspiring in equal parts, and the being back feels a little bit like the week after Christmas. I've got all of these presents I didn't have before, both actual presents (a few amazing hand made cards and a beautiful poster of our programme given to both Andy and I by Ellie and Freya, not to mention the Fringe First!) and more ethereal presents - the shows I got to see over a period of 2 weeks. Just how many creative diamonds we nestled in the sand of Edinburgh is really something to be proud of.

I had a really interesting conversation at Devoted and Disgruntled over the festival with a lovely lady named Gill who is a barrister. She brought up the topic of Liveness, what defines it, what is it, what makes it important? I think one of the main reasons I love performance, and food, is that feeling of having a lived moment somewhere in your memory that you can return to again and again, and that always gives you a certain feeling. In both theatre and food it is often carefully prepared, recreated for person after person, so that an experience or memory that may seem to you unique is actually one that has been shared by an untold number of other people. You all fell in love with the performer when the music started to slow, you all felt like you were eating a cloud when you tasted Torro at Nobu. And then of course, a few of you didn't. A few of you felt the show was too sentimental. A few of you hated the texture of the food. There is something here that I'm having a hard time putting my finger on, especially since this matter of taste is equally true of prerecorded music or films.

But here's what I love about liveness - that wrapped up in that memory of a feeling, is the memory of frailty, the memory that at any moment something could have gone wrong - and yet, something beautiful, even with the possibility of accident or disruption, still happened. This is what makes live performance, especially when it's good, for me the most electric and exciting artform. Danger and frailty. There was a lot of that this festival, in the performances and in the venue - the danger of audiences not showing up, the danger of candles knocking over, the danger of a random angry man walking in and disrupting everything (which happened!) and the strength/frailty of a team of volunteers holding everything together with a smile and some effort.

It was a great festival. Too great to be articulate about. It was what it was in the moment. Struggling, and dangerous and ultimately successful. A constant worry and a constant celebration. Thanks to everyone who helped make that happen.

Next blog post will be funnier - I promise. It's just that I'm listening to the Goldberg Variations, and Mr. Gould has got me all reflective-like. Blame it on the piano player.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Monday, 3 August 2009

To all the Blaises of this world...

So let me get this straight. If I'm...

a) male

b) white

c) hot

d) have a trustfund/ went to a posh public school


e) write a blog that me and my friends posh friends read

...I too can have a feature written on me in the Times. Glad to see a newspaper writing about important issues and important people. What this world needs is more and more and more Blaise.

(I'm being sarcastic. I hope that came across...)

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Waltzing with my teenage self

On a late night internet ramble through youtube I stumbled upon something that struck me as oddly surreal - a record of my two separate (guilty?) teenage obsessions finding one happy home together somewhere on a stage in 2004. By then I was of course old enough to deny ever having loved them. Their music had become associated with the dreaded "Drammie" crowd at university. And drammies were uncool. I hung out with the film crowd - I wore ripped t-shirts and thought I should be listening to something far less mainstream, far edgier, maybe even punk rock. But those days are over. These days the things that come easily to me, the things that feel natural, the pleasant tunes I once loved are back and beckoning. It's a seachange. And accordingly, there are a few things that I should probably get around to admitting to myself once and for all:

1. The drammie battle has been lost or won, depending on how you look at it. (And I'm glad. My gawd how I'm glad.)

2. I felt absolute joy discovering and watching this clip. I was caught in a moment (it felt outside of time, unending and too short) of sheer undiscovered nostalgic bliss...

3. I will probably never be as punk rock as I'd like to be. Or punk rock at all. (And maybe I'm secretly glad about that too. My gawd how I'm glad. If I were punk rock I wouldn't be glad. I'd be moody!)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

I'm about to write about theatre. Wait for it...

Well well well bloggy friends, I have a bit of a new writing recommendation for y'all if you happen to be in London. Last night, after a chat with a notorious friend of mine about the arguably limited relevance of new writing in this country, I saw a new play, a classically well-made play, that absolutely knocked my socks off. I'm sure that more important people than me will also be raving about it in about 12 hours time(tonight is press night) but let me just take the opportunity to be one of the first to get in there. Jez Butterworth's new play Jerusalem at the Royal Court was so electric the walls were practically buzzing. Due in no small part to the amazing performance of the front man, Mark Rylance, in what goes down in my mind as being in the top 3 play performances I've seen in this country. His eyes were wild on fire, and everybody in the audience could feel the heat.

(Cheeeeesy, but true.)

If you need to see something big and daring and extremely entertaining to restore your faith in the well-made-play as a relevant artform, I thoroughly recommend this one. And as you nice readers know, for me to actually mention theatre is rare, so I means it.

In other news, Forest Fringe is just around the corner. Edinburgh, get ready to be schooled.

(I'm playing with aiming my blogging vernacular somewhere between a 2 year old and the optimum audience for Topgear. Not sure why - it could have something to do with not having eaten yet today.)

Monday, 6 July 2009

Interviews with my Friends - Part 1 - Al

Hey there bloggy friends!

Welcome to the first installment of a new thang on the blog - "Interviews with my friends." These people aren't, for the most part, famous, but they're famous to me. The people who make life a story worth telling. The first friend I'm interviewing is Al - because he happened to be on Skype when I finally got around to the idea. The interview took place last Sunday.

Interviews with my friends – Part 1. Al.

Debbie: Can I interview you?

Al: Sure.

Debbie: You have to try hard to think of good answers.

Al: On skype?

Debbie: Yeah, why not?

Al: Not in person??

Debbie: No, no, no. It's way easier this way. I can just copy and paste your response.

Al: So long as you correct the speeling mistakes.

Of course, Im a gareat spealler.

Al: I see what you did there.

Debbie: Okay, what is your favourite animal and why?

Al: The Monkey, because it reminds me of childhood. Perhaps my own childhood.

Debbie: What about your childhood? Were you really into monkeys as a child?

Al: No.

Debbie: Were you a monkey-like person?

Al: I just detect a lot of similarities retroactively between my behaviour and that of a monkey…

Was there some sort of sordid experience with a monkey that you'd rather not mention here...? Can you give me an example? Okay, Bananas, for example. Are you a fan?

Al: I would wear my underwear over my face at times and run around pretending I was a superhero. Also let me finish an answer before you type something new.

(still typing simultaneously.) And this is something you believe a monkey would do, if said monkey were asked to wear underwear? (looking up to read the screen.) Oh. I apologize.

Al: No problem.

Debbie: I am laughing pretty hard right now. It's hard to keep track. When you are done answering, type *

Al: It was actually a very sweet time in life, and those were very earnest antics. I craved anonymity, hence the underwear over the face.

But how does that relate to the monkey? Why do you associate anonymity with monkeys?

I don’t know, I just feel a monkey would embody the same temperament, and I do find their faces, especially eyes, quite forlorn. So that dichotomy of unabashed playfulness mixed with internal melancholy, ever present though implicit, is to me, characteristically a human condition. *

What motivates you?

Al: Life as a narrative. Sculpting it the way you would like to be read, seen at the last chapter, and still feeling it to be worthy, enjoyable, perhaps funny but a little beautiful as well. *

Debbie: If you could pick any 3 people to watch any 3 movies, which people and which movies would you pick, and where would you choose to screen them?

Al: Umm...

Debbie: You're all getting together somewhere, and the movies are your pick. The people can be dead, and chat will ensue.

Al: That makes it even harder.

You can change your mind later, if you need to.

Al: I’d like to watch "A Fistful of Dynamite" with Sevi, my sister.

Debbie: That's a nice answer. Has she already seen it?

Al: Yes, many times. It is a particularly a personal experience for me, though the movie itself doesn’t have much to do with what it invokes in me or Sevi. Both of us have seen it many times before, but not for the last 15 years or so.

It’s sort of like her watching you play video games I guess? It’s a brother sister bonding thing.

Al: Not really.

Debbie: Then why?

I think she likes the film that all to be honest, but she would appreciate the era in our lives of which that film was representative of. A backdrop of sorts to our antics.

(a moment later)

Al: That was supposed to be "i DONT think..she likes the film" and the second "of" is also redundant.

Debbie: Don't worry. I'm a grammatical psychic.

Al: Good. It s hard to type with one hand on the keypad , and another on my know willy nelson.

Debbie: It’s not that kind of interview. Are you still thinking of your other 2? You don't have to answer if the question is too esoteric. (Not even sure if esoteric is the right word there.)

Al: No, not the right word here, but I’d like to omit the rest if possible. I am tempted to pick a despot and choose a movie that could potentially change his approach to ruling the people , improving his susceptibility towards democracy, but "Singing in the Rain" rarely produces that effect on known Stalinists.

What do you think is your greatest weakness?

Al: Discipline. And spelling. My handwriting is also abominable and humiliates me often. *

Debbie: Okay, if you were a benevolent (?) dictator of the world for a day, what rules would you implement and how would you change things?

Al: For one day only?

One day, but your rules will stick.

I would introduce a stock-transference tax. I would allocate those revenues for development work, under the guidance of my friend Ramin whom I trust and who thinks similarly in that sector.

'Splain some for the more simple readers.

Al: Sure. That is, a small percentage of any transaction taking place in any market would be deducted as a tax to fund global projects. It has been kicking around as an idea for some time now, and I find it a very viable initiative for balancing out macro-scale capitalist machinery with a redistributing capacity.

Debbie: I agree. I just worry about who would decide what these "projects" are, and who would carry them out... though Ramin seems like a good man for the job.

Al: There is a manifesto somewhere on the web with that proposal that I can send off to you.

Debbie: Send me a link and we'll put it on the blog.

Al: Sure.

(Still waiting for that link, Al… Perhaps it doesn't exist?)

Debbie: Okay, second last question...You ready?

Al: Sure.

Debbie: If you were me interviewing you, what question would you ask yourself? And how would you answer it? (This requires a bit of schizophrenic reasoning, but it's good for you. Trust me.)

Al: What? If I were doing it to myself?

Debbie: Yes. What question should an interviewer ask you?

Al: For a job? What setting?

Debbie: Not for a job. In an interview. Like this one. Just interviewing you for who you are.

Al: I think we all have certain things that we hold to be closer to us than other aspects, information or traits. Those things will always inevitably find their way to the surface and make themselves pronounced no matter what the pretext is.

Debbie: So your answer is that you wouldn't ask yourself a question at all?

Al: No.

Debbie: Okay, last question-

Al: Hold on. I am saying that the answers that I would be likely to give could be reproduced for a great many questions. So the essence, which are the answers, are somewhere in them and can accommodate just about any type of questioning. I hope that makes slight sense.

Debbie: Yes. That does. So how are you?

Al: I am well, thank you . Slightly hung over and a bit nostalgic, but overall very happy and slightly proud. 

Debbie: Okay - last question now. Are you ready?


Debbie: This is a common question that I'm going to ask in all the interviews... (ahem) What do you think makes us friends?

Al: I enjoy your company and you seem to endure mine. Hope it can stay that way.

Debbie: I love enduring your company! It's one of my favourite activities!

Al: Glad to hear that ... Though I haven’t been mentioned in your FB profile, in the activities section you know, and that is the ultimate truth. Everything else is half-truth.

Debbie: I like to keep my activities private. You never know who is looking.

Sure. People like me would read those activities, and accidentally run into you while you were engaged in them. … “accidentally.”

I was also typing “accidentally” at the same time you typed it. You ate my punchline again. (Al has a tendency to say the punchline after I've just set up a joke.)


Oh, hey, maybe I should ask you for your favourite joke… That’s a nice way to end the interview.

Al: No.

Too much pressure?

Al: Yep. And to me humour is always situation based at any rate.

Debbie: You do have a way with humorous situations. That’s probably tied into your “Life as a Narrative” thing.

Al: More like… Life as a joke… Running without a punchline. Till you die and we all laugh.

Debbie: A very scary punchline.

Al: Hopefully.

Al was born in Iran and lived there until he was 17. He has since lived in Canada, Spain and the UK in that order. He is currently a jack of many unrelated trades living down the road from me in London. Though we haven’t always been friends, we’ve known each other for eight years. We were in the same frosh group in our first week at university, and this is a fact which I only recently realized. It makes me smile every time I think about it.

Friday, 12 June 2009

PROM 2009

Nothing like a bit of theatrical inspiration to get your day off to the right start.

Yesterday, in the midst of pretending to redraft my play whilst actually procrastinating and checking the F-book (Youtwitface! That joke comes courtesy of Conan O'Brien via my mom - good work, mom!) I got a nice text from a new friend from overseas.

It is terrible with a piece when you begin having trouble seeing the forest for the trees - that, combined with those mean little demons that sit around on couches in everyone's head, eating ice cream, watching old episodes of the Who's The Boss?, doing very little other than occasionally looking up to remind you that you aren't as good as you think you are, well of course, trying to ignore the insecurity demons who have made themselves oh - so - comfortable on the brain couch, combined with actually trying to be hard on myself and redraft a very long play with some gusto, meant that there could be nothing better than doing something completely... different.

That's where meeting the lovely Lee Ann Etzold came as such a refreshing breath of air in a day of working/not working. Lee has just moved to the UK from Philadelphia, where it sounds like she was doing just the kind of work that excites me. Namely - Prom. This is a show done with Teenagers about awkwardness, social clicks, the whole darned thing that culminates in Prom. It has started me thinking all sorts of exciting things about American culture and American High School + Theatre in general. But I can't go into it now, that could ruin everything. Eitherway, it's oddly nice after having spent/not spent a couple of frustrating days with a script, to think about the "other" kind of theatre that gets my toes curling up with joy. Next comes - trying to combine the two.

*In Canada we don't have a prom, we have a formal. And I... didn't go. My high school ex went to at least 3 formals with other ladies. Although we remain forever friendos, this is one issue on which I will also remain forever slightly bitter and slightly proud. I didn't go to my high school graduation either. How bad*ss was I? (But I did read out announcements over the P.A. Oh man. Almost forgot all about that one.)

Friday, 5 June 2009

I've been bad, haven't I?

Oh Bloggy friends!

I apologize, it's been so long since I've written anything proper that I've probably lost most/some of you - my four friends who read it may have gone down to two - including my mom. Well, well, well, stop watering a plant, the plant will unroot itself, and then walk somewhere else, on its roots, in a freaky/terrifying way.

Okay - here's the news -

1. Something terribly exciting is happening to Forest Fringe. I don't know how much I can say about it, except that it involves BAC, the Arches, and some drinking/fun. I'm into / at the moment. I bet you've noticed. Anyway, I had a meeting this week with the Davids and Jackie and LJ, and of course, Mr. Field, and ideas were being spun like we were old ladies at one of those spinning machines (a loom?) that sleeping beauty pricked her hand on. Oh dear, what a terrible simile. Eitherway, check our blog for more. It could be the best summer yet.

2. It was so sunny here for a while, and now it's not. I don't know if that really qualifies as news - even old news - but it occured to me as I looked down at my summer dress that looks vaguely incongruous as grey light pours through the window. Ah, Engerland. You and your weather certainly do keep me on my toes.

3. My partner in crime and crime fighting and I will be advice boothing at Shunt by London Bridge tonight - so if you are a scary stalker who has been hoping to catch me somewhere - now's your chance! Let's hope you checked the internet today.

4. Oh Dear. I read another nice blog today that informed me that Archie Andrews will officially be marrying Veronica. I don't buy it. Remember when Superman was dead? So do I. Eitherway, he ain't dead no more, and if Archie does get married, there will be a motel room with Betty's name on it in his very near future.

5. Shows to watch: Unlimited's "The Moon, The Moon", "Aunt Dan and Lemon" at the Royal Court, and if I think of something else I can recommend I certainly will. The main reason I'd recommend Aunt D and L is because when I went to see it 10 people walked out, even though I was thoroughly entertained. I love feeling cultured.

6. I'm writing a play about Gender for my dear Canadians! More to come on this...

Okay friends, will blog again soon with less of a list and more of a subject. I just didn't want any of you giving up on me.

PS: I google imaged "Comic Don't Give Up On Me" and crazily enough, Archie's Proposal covers came up. The Great and Mysterious Google strikes again!

Monday, 25 May 2009

All good theatre should be an experiment

Which means it may not work. If it doesn't - you're still on the road to discovering something.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Cookham House Courtyard. 4 pm, Today. It was sunny.

*A biscuit rolls on its side like a pin wheel.*

*A car drives up into the courtyard, and from a fifth story window a grey plastic package lands on the pavement with a bang. Look up and you’ll see an old woman at the window, her head covered in a black scarf, peaking ever so slightly from above. She looks on while her grandson runs out of the car and picks up the package below, bringing it back to the 1992 model grey Sadan. The door slams shut. Her son is behind the wheel, and before he drives off, they wave at each other subtly, if you weren’t looking closely you might say it was half heartedly, but this is a wave that has been wittled down with use, like the brass on their sitting room doorknob.*

*”Mom, I need a water bottle.”
Weighed down with groceries, exhaustion, and questions, not age. “I’ll get you a water bottle.”
“We can get any drinks!” Another one of the children yells, in the same enthusiastic but sharp voice they use for taunting weaker kids at school.
“No you can’t. You can only have water.”
And a few mumbles later, she’s at the door. I can barely hear the conversation anymore, but another question has been put forward. Her response is carried to me by the force of her worry, her exhaustion, and the shameless bare-all attitude of the air.
“I can’t remember saying I’d buy you a dvd. I said -------- when I get some money I’ll buy you a dvd. I didn’t say I’d buy you a dvd today. We got enough dvds.”
Last winter it snowed, and I built a fort by this bench. A wall that took me a careful, thought through hour, ignoring my laughing friends while the occasional snowball hit me. The next day a dog had peed on it and half of it was knocked down.*

*A child’s scribble gets thrown away. Only that wasn’t a scribble at all – it was a map, leading to majestic nowheres.*

*A baby cries and then stops. Starts again. Like his heart beats in desperate flutters that cry out and falter. Life keeps going, is the thing. That’s why children cry. They are trying to get a handle on the non-stop motor they’re newly caught in. If they stopped crying they might hear the sirens, the construction, the leaves rustling, caught in a rattle owned by the wind, and a single moment of music that fades abruptly, but was always there.*

Friday, 8 May 2009

Sneak Preview - Ganglion

My dear friends David Missio and Georgia have a quarterly graphic art anthology for popping graphic cherries - everybody who contributes is a first or second timer. I just got a contribution in on the wire, and I've got to say, the whole process of making something was really lovely. This issue's theme is City/Country. Have a gander, and if you like what you see, go out and get yourself a Ganglion somehow. They are beautiful and kindly things to own.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Pinter on War

Here's a little something by Harold Pinter you may not have seen before... His comments ring as true now as they did then.

Harold Pinter’s comments on his National Service Application to Register Conscientious Objectors. Received December 14th, 1948.

I consider that a world war at this time would be disastrous to mankind and would wreck civilization. It is useless speaking of policies or sentiments of defense against aggression, for all these words will mean nothing in a final and eternal extinction. Beside the atomic horror, the world’s food situation, already disintegrating considerably, would fall and lessen to a terrifying degree, and finally, as Sir John Boyd Orr has pointed out, result in world famine. Far-seeing statesmen like Sir John, however, remain unheeded, and the people are misled by valueless, uncomprehending and completely immature pronouncements which will but hasten the end. Even without war the food situation is extremely precarious, but in such an event, aided by the great expense and energy wasted on armaments and industry, and devastated by the atom bomb, a weakened and ruined world would come to a certain chaotic calamity. As these are plain material facts of the situation today, besides the fact that war can never be justified, I cannot conceive of my helping on this disaster.

My main objection, however, is a moral one. My great emotion regarding the armies of the world is a sadness. Man since the beginning of time has continuously allowed his animal nature to conquer him where it should have been mastered – in the respect of war. The history of mankind is marked by an eternal conflict between brainless, bestial savages fiercely grappling with each other, and men who comprehend and see the world’s truth and goodness. Certainly war in some ages can be understood as consistent with the temperament and humour of the time, but never justified, for killing is the one primal sin, and man’s life is sacred. After so many years of civilization we still contemplate casually disinterestedly wiping out millions of fellow humans for selfish, petty political reasons. Man’s moral sense has been left high and dry somewhere in the Industrial Revolution. In the past, because of the immediacy of life and death, there was a moral consciousness, but now, the mass of the world, including leading statesmen, having retarded in vision and realization of the true values, death is so wholesale that world’s moral recognition has almost disappeared and material gain is all. We live in an immoral civilization which we must realize, not surrender to.

To join an organization whose main purpose is mass murder, whose conception of true human values is absolutely nil, speeding on the utter degradation of a prematurely fatigued man, and whose result and indeed ambition is to destroy the world’s very, very precious life, is completely beyond my human understanding and moral conception. And finally, to take one human life is completely alien to my moral code.

The mind that contemplates warfare is stupid, debased and deformed by fear. As human beings we are bound to bring forth and foster that inherent wisdom and goodness which is endowed in us and replenish and illumine our fellows with this spiritual realization. Each person is compelled by this moral responsibility to hold sacred human life, to cast out fear and to fulfil this existence as a creation out of the immense order of things. The dismissal of these principles, the betrayal of all Jesus Christ, the great Mystics and Dostoyevsky have said, has led to the perversion and ignorance of man today. The position in our society for one who believes in his responsibility as a Man is simple. He shall with great sorrow and love defend the innocent with physical sacrifice and moral enlightenment. But on no account shall he be the arbiter of another “humans” existence by taking arms. Nor shall he tarnish his soul by joining such an evil, stupid, sorrowful organization as the army. With these beliefs, it is therefore quite impossible for me to even contemplate such an act.

Statement continued:

Having just received the findings of the local Tribunal I regret that through a misunderstanding there has been a distortion of some of my statements. The findings say that I declared I would never defend innocent people. This is an unhappy mistake. My opinion on this subject which I stated at the time, is that I would defend the innocent with my life without hesitation, but that to kill others, to attack as the best defence is something I cannot conjecture. It seems to me that to attempt to eliminate aggression by further aggression is merely to out-wrong the wrong-doer. And these means it is essential to stop.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Randomly obsessed with...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

And what of the Mix CD?

I may have made a terribly self centered discovery.

So my very cool flatmate made me a mix cd with the words "Play it Loud" written on it. If you are a long time reader of the blog, you know what a proponent I am of the dying art of mix cds. I turned the volume all the way up on my laptop, which probably wasn't as loud as the instructions demanded, and let that baby roar. I listened to it twice, highly enjoyable. The tracks I did know I liked, the tracks I didn't know were the kind of thing I liked, and from having heard the wide range of music that my flatmate plays in his room, it seemed like he'd made this mix with an eye on music that he specifically thought I would like. I was so happy about the whole thing that I felt inspired to make my own mix cd for one of my best friends in Canada.

Breaking all my rules, I ignored transitions, and just tried to put as many tracks that I liked on the same cd. The cd has been made, sent off in the mail, but the playlist remains on my itunes. Tantalizingly. Because while I listened to my flatmate's perfectly awesome mix twice, I've listened to my own - um - at least five times? What happens is, I'll start using the computer, think to myself that I'd like to listen to some music, and whereas the gift mix cd has to be found, then physically inserted into the driver, the playlist is already there. And I know I like all the music, I made it. This has put me in a strangely self reflexive audio world - especially since many of the tracks on this have been rediscovered through my "Music's Been Ruined by Dating" performance last week. (This is a show where, with an audience, I session music that was ruined for me by a relationship.)

You know, in a way I'd be perfectly happy with this fact - that everyone likes their own mixes best - except that I've started to worry that my friend in Canada will listen to my mix twice then go back to his own convenient playlists. It's so comfortable, so little work, but breaks all the golden rules of the mix! And it would all add up to living in a world where people are best off making mix cds for themselves. I already check my facebook page at least ten times more often than I check the news. Make me stop recycling my playlists! In a terrible hall of mirrors, I am actually listening to the mix right now, as I chastise myself for it on the blog. And while one part of my brain is trying to pay attention to what I'm writing, another part of my brain is thinking, "Bob Dylan is soooo good. I want to listen to this mix til the end of time."

Playlist for the tantalizing, once altruistic and now self absorbed mix cd:

1. Goldberg Variations - Glenn Gould
2. Georgia Stomp - Andrew and Jim Baxter
3. The Name was Johnny - Dmitri Martin
4. Couples - Dylan Moran
5. Get Away - Georgie Fame
6. Ballade de Melody Nelson - Serge Gainsbourg
7. Complainte pour Ste. Catherine - Kate and Anna McGarrigle
8. Horses - Tori Amos
9. Save Me from The City - The Very
10. Ballantines - Aimee Mann
11. Boum! - Charles Trenet
12. It Seems Like Old Times - Diane Keaton (Annie Hall)
13. Prelude 110 (Women of the world) - Jim O'rourke
14. Un homme et une femme - Theme
15. Astronaut - Amanda Palmer
16. Rehab - Amy Winehouse
17. Oh No - Andrew Bird
18. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Review (1975)
19. I'm on Fire - The Chromatics
20. Anything Goes - Cole Porter
21. Silver and Gold - Dolly Parton
22. Woods - Bon Iver

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Standing by

Over drinks last night an opportunity came up. The music playing in the pub was awful - so awful that the Counting Crows were a highlight - when somebody mentioned Ben Folds. Amidst the groans of my terribly worldly and well dressed drinking companions, I figuratively stepped forward and took a stand.

"I think Ben Folds is the Paul Simon of our generation."

This is the second time in young, relatively musically savvy company that I have had to defend the man - and there is something exhilirating about it. I love the moment of hesitation, the fleeting fear of reproach, the bravado with which I have to announce it, and the ensuing seconds of shock, silence, and then relief as my companions launch into their own guilty admissions...

"I love Blind Melon."

Oh Captain my Captain- I should probably start reading the news more so that I can take a stand about something that actually matters.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Anger... Rising...

Wow, my first ever bonfafide angry post. It's late here in Engerland, and I should probably be turning off the lights and getting ready to sleep, but I could just not let this one slide. Very recently an idiocracy-style Foxnews panel show called Red Eye ran a segment where the host commented on the Canadian military taking a year off by saying that they "didn't know they were even there" and that a country with "mounties instead of policemen" (the only time I've ever seen a mounty has been in Ottawa, where tourists are often seen posing with them) is not a smart country. I was nearly endeared to that particular panel members' idiocracy. (When I refer to Idiocracy, I am referring to the limited release Mike Judge movie where the future is a place where no one has an IQ over 80. I have recently been given cause to believe that certain Foxnewscasters have actually been transported here from that very future.) That particular panel member, I'm going to call him Sergeant Dumbody, also said that he was more worried about Mexicans taking a page out of Canada's book since they were so prone to siestas. "Siesta is actually a Mexican word" he commented. To which the host of the show, in an unmitigated moment of normality (which in the Foxnews Idiocracy actually looks like sheer and utter brilliance - almost as good as the time that other guy on the show looked at the screen, stopped picking his nose with his tie, and his eyes widened with fear and awe as he seemed to realize that those cameras lead out to a tv world somewhere) said, "I don't speak Mexican, I speak Spanish." To which Sergeant Dumbody pithily countered, "Well I speak American. Look it up." Ho ho ho ho ho. Sergeant Dumbody! I will look it up. You are such a wonderful jokester! Such a brilliant satirist! Your word is mightier than any military. All Hail to the word of Sergeant Dumbody!

Of course on a personal level, this dredged up memories of 2002, the worst year for Canadian/American relations, one year after George Bush Jr. forgot to thank Canada for redirecting air traffic, taking Americans into their homes, and driving Americans great distances on September 11th, and the year that 2 Canadians were killed in friendly fire in Afghanistan (the first Canadians to be killed in Afghanistan, I believe) and America was achingly slow to apologize. Not to mention the fact that 4% of all Canadian soldiers sent to Afghanistan die. That's 1 in 20, much higher than the ratio for American soldiers. Luckily, the political relationship between our countries is far better now. I'm not angry at America, I'm angry at Foxnews. And Foxnews is easy enough for Canadians (who also get the network) to take their anger out on.

The host of the show countered that the segment was satirical, and apologized if his comments were "misunderstood." What I love about "misunderstood" is that it suggests that he was somehow operating on a higher level - I could always chock it up to the fact that I don't speak American. In fact, if I did Understand, then what passes for satire in certain parts of Republican America really does just look like a few token xenophobics basically spewing unfunny hatred upon hearing that a historically peaceful ally (that has never been attacked) needs some time to recoup because they've spent the last few years fighting a couple of impossible wars for the very country that's making fun of them. I'm not an American, but if I were, I'd stuff the panel of Foxnews' Redeye back into the same locker that they tortured Nerdlinger with in what they no doubt remember as their funniest joke of all time. Let's hope that nobody hears them muffling for the next four years. Of course, maybe the host of the show was right. Maybe he was operating on some sort of meta level, not satirizing the Canadian military, but satirizing his network's attempts at doing anything. I still can't be sure, so I'll be brushing up on my American. I have a feeling... just an inkling feeling... that if the mysterious language does exist, in most circles it's agreed that in American the word Foxnews still carries its universal meaning of "Thundering *ssholes."

PS: This segment has undone all the good work on Canadian jokes by the nice people responsible for the Southpark movie.

PPS: See that picture of Luke Wilson at the top of this post? He's weeping for you, Red Eye.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

"Should I really be sharing this?" no. 1

Do you ever wish you could sprout wings and fly around? I do. Especially when it's sunny. I bet it'd hurt though. The sprouting part.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Fighting windmills at 25 Down

Call it turning 26. But suddenly, clutching my Young Persons Railcard that is only valid because I was cheeky and renewed it a week before my birthday, clasping at the knowledge that I will no longer get a good deal on theatre tickets, I am starting to feel sensitive about equating artistic breakthroughs with the young. Youth culture is so pervasive, our obsession with youth so complete, that we are barely even aware of it. Look, there are a few places where I can concede that the young rule the roost. In the looks department, for example. I mean, part of the pleasure of watching Channel 4's Skins (and I am just teetering on being young enough to say this without sounding creepy) is how young and beautiful all of the main characters are. Young people have nice skin, good smiles, white teeth, babyfat if any fat at all, it's lovely. That's fine. But. The arts. Why the obsession with emerging artists being young?

Ali told me a great story today over Vietnamese food. I was lamenting that my best play was probably written when I was 18, because it was instinctive, because it wasn't tainted by all the work and productions and drafts and script reading and writing classes I've subsequently participated in. Al countered me with a Borges short story. The story is about a man who tries to rewrite Cervantes' Don Quixote, word for word, without looking at the book. So the man first goes to great lengths to recreate medieval Spain. Then the man tries to go through some of what he assumed Cervantes went through at the time. He tries to live as Cervantes. And the man succeeds in rewriting the epic. The story is a review of this book, which is exactly like Don Quixote, it is Don Quixote, word for word, but the author went through a much more labored process to make it. The reviewer writes that this version, this second version, is far better. The man had to work for it, knowing exactly what he wanted, needing to go so far to achieve it, and what he did achieve is somehow weightier and has more depth.

In the UK, new writing programmes are in no way structured to nurture the people who want to rewrite Don Quixote. At the Soho Theatre, the cut off age for their writers programme is 24. At the Royal Court it's 25. At the Traverse the same probably also applies. What this suggests, which doesn't sting until you turn 26, is that if you haven't made it past needing a writers' group by the time you're my age, you should just give up completely. Truly. This is the message these programmes are putting out. They are not interested in nurturing older voices. It implies that old dogs can't learn new tricks. I think it's sad. Sadder still is that I've been so programmed by our youth culture that I kind of believe it - and I think all of the older writers out there still working on their debuts are worried that this may be true. As if it wasn't hard enough being a writer without theatres encouraging you to give up at 25.

One of the most beautiful books I've ever read was Henri Pierre Roche's novel Jules et Jim, which was later adapted by Francois Truffaut into a film. Roche was a journalist, a bit of a womanizer, and close friends with Picasso and Duchamps. Jules et Jim was his first novel and he wrote it in his 70s. We don't hear many stories like these, but then again, maybe we don't want to. The young are beautiful, with nice skin, good smiles, white teeth, and babyfat, if any fat at all. It's easy to think about those beautiful people starting out, making work, being stylishly bohemian and poor until, through that writing group at the Soho or the Court they're able to make it - just in time (thank goodness!) for their 25th birthday. There's something comforting about that image. Something attractive. But comforting and attractive as it may be, that attitude is probably keeping a lot of good artists from finding the courage to pick up a pen and make something beautiful. And frankly I could care less how good you look smoking a cigarette and eating cheese on toast in your grotty apartment. I care how good your work is. And good work can come from anywhere.

(The Title for this blog posting was stolen from my friend Richard Jordan's play 25 Down which is taking Australia by storm. Richard and I met on the Royal Court Young Writers Group. Back when I was 25.)

Springer for Senator!

Another gem from This American Life, you only really need to listen to Act 1 for the full impact.

In 1991, when I was 10 years old, I used to watch the Jerry Springer show on Channel 47 Cable 4 after school. It was a new show, and it was the first time I felt politically engaged. The show was heartfelt and dealt with important issues in a way that I could understand. What happened to the show the following year always made me wonder if this memory of a classy Springer was hallucinated. It wasn't. Put aside half an hour, then listen to this link and prepare to have your mind blown...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Etruscans a-plenty

It's nice when a poet manages to sneak up on you and remind you of something. I've always been fascinated by the Etruscans. There's something about a civilization with a lost language that excites me. It's so tantalizing. All that possible writing and poetry - Shakespeare himself might be dwarfed by Etruscan literature - and due to some cosmic mix up, we'll never know what mysteries their innumerable stone carvings contain. Riding the tube on my way to a job interview today, I was reminded of our mysterious friends by Mr. D H Lawrence - a writer who reminds me of a good many things on a consistent basis. In his poem "Cypresses", part of a larger cycle of poems about trees, he says everything I've ever wanted to say about Etruscans and more. Lawrence resisted redrafting his poetry. He preferred to let an emotion wash over him all in one go - and it results in some patchy work - but when his writing works, it soars. Here is the poem that I read on the tube. This poem transports you to a world then gently lets you know that world is lost. Like reading a travel guide for Atlantis.


Tuscan cypresses,
What is it?

Folded in like a dark thought
For which the language is lost,
Tuscan cypresses,
Is there a great secret?
Are our words no good?

The undeliverable secret,
Dead with a dead race and a dead speech, and yet
Darkly monumental in you,
Etruscan cypresses.

Ah, how I admire your fidelity,
Dark cypresses!

Is it the secret of the long-nose Etruscans?
The long-nosed, sensitive-footed, subtly-smiling Etruscans,
Who made so little noise outside the cypress groves?

Among the sinuous, flame-tall cypresses
That swayed their length of darkness all around
Etruscan-dusky, wavering men of old Etruria:
Naked except for fanciful long shoes,
Going with insidious half-smiling quietness
And some of Africa's impenetrable sang-froid
About a forgotten business.

What business, then?
Nay, tongues are dead, and words are hollow as hollow seed-pods,
Having shed their sound and finished all their echoing
Etruscan syllables,
That had the telling.

Yet more I see you darkly concentrate,
Tuscan cypresses,
On one old thought:
On one old slim imperishable thought, while you remain
Etruscan cypresses;
Dusky, slim marrow-thought of slender, flickering men of Etruria,
Whom Rome called vicious.

Vicious, dark cypresses:
Vicious, you supple, brooding, soft-swaying pillars of dark flame.
Monumental to a dead, dead race
Embowered in you!

Were they then vicious, the slender, tender-footed
Long-nosed men of Etruria?
Or was their way only evasive and different, dark, like cypress-trees in a wind?

They are dead with all their vices,
And all that is left
Is the shadowy monomania of some cypresses
And tombs.

The smile, the subtle Etruscan smile still lurking
Within the tombs,
Etruscan cypresses.
He laughs longest who laughs last;
Nay, Leonardo only bungled the pure Etruscan smile.

What would I not give
To bring back the rare and orchid-like
Evil-yclept Etruscan?

For as to the evil
We have only Roman word for it,
Which I, being a little wary of Roman virtue,
Don't hang much weight on.

For oh, I know, in the dust where we have buried
The silenced races and all their abominations,
We have buried so much of the delicate magic of life.

There in the deeps
That churn the frankincense and ooze the myrrh,
Cypress shadowy,
Such an aroma of lost human life!

They say the fit survive,
But I invoke the spirits of the lost.
Those that have not survived, the darkly lost,
To bring their meaning back into life again,
Which they have taken away
And wrapt inviolable in soft cypress-trees,
Etruscan cypresses.

Evil, what is evil?
There is only one evil, to deny life
As Rome denied Etruria
And mechanical America Montezuma still.