Friday, 23 December 2011

It Was

“It was a year that answered some questions, but asked so many more.” New Years resolutions had to start somewhow, and Alice wanted hers to start “bombastically.”

“Bombastic” was a word she’d recently had on a vocab list. Now it cropped up everywhere. In her history exam, in conversation with her sister, who rolled her eyes with flair, even with her mother, who accepted the compliment about her roast chicken by raising her eyebrows and saying, “Bombastic is all fine and well, but is it Good, Alice?”
Alice took another bite, smiled and nodded. Her mother knew the chicken was good. It was the rock star of the dinner table for goodness sakes.

Maybe it had been slightly inappropriate for chicken, but Bombastic was a word that she was hoping to apply to 2012, so the resolutions would have to be bombastic, the paper (pink) equally so, the pen (which lit up) topped it all off, and now for the plans. Her godmother recently said something that worried her at St. Stephen's Day lunch. “Man plans and God laughs.” Her parents nodded knowingly as did the rest of the adults, and they continued chatting like a sigh, but two chairs from the head of the table, on the left hand side, Alice’s mind was being quietly blown. She hadn’t heard that before. “Man plans and God…” Wait – he doesn’t congratulate man? He doesn’t smile beatifically from on high at the gentle hopes and wishes of his favourite creation? He – I mean –surely he doesn’t chuckle! Doesn’t he tell regular jokes? With friends? Or listen to our jokes? Surely there are better things to laugh at than…

But the moment passed over parsnips, and nobody noticed Alice’s 16 year old shell of churning emotions to be at all out of keeping with your average 16 year old at a St. Stephen's Day lunch. She’d tried to get over it as well, and felt that she and God would just have to have a good sit down and talk about all this later and sort it out then, with a bit of privacy between them.

Of course, when she usually talked to God, in the warm murky quiet of eyes closed late at night, he was very accomodating. He’d bless who she asked to be blessed, and he’d listen with a gentle smile of I-know-better-patience (she couldn’t see it of course, but she was sure of it) while she complained about whoever had been annoying her that week, and asked for the strength and bravery to go on dealing with them, and to be kind to them, kind as Jesus, kinder than ever – God always listened, and took note of it. She was sure of it. Picturing him mocking her – of course, maybe it wasn’t the kind of laugh that dismisses you, maybe it was more of a gentle, loving chuckle. Like when she told her parents that she’d die if she didn’t get to go to the American girl Karen Kugelmass’s fourth of July party on a boat instead of her great aunt's birthday, which fell on the same night. Their chuckle was frustrating, of course, but didn’t seem to be mocking her. It was a kind of extension of the smile that God gave when she complained. “I understand that you have feelings but I know better” it said. God’s giggles must have just been an audible version of that.

But here she was, and that patient smile bore down on her like the sunshine in Spain, the kind that makes you sweat. The writer’s block of resolutions. Perhaps God reads these out to the angels at Christmas parties, if he has them, perhaps he puts them in fortune cookies for his friends, and everyone reads and chuckles. Chuckles kindly, that kind and violent chuckle.

“Alice!” Her mother called down to her. New Years dinner. Following closely on its heels, she would go to Chloe Alexandre’s big house for a New Years party, where Chloe would toast all the friends, and cry, and Alice would cry, looking around at the ten or so people who she loved like family. Years later, she would run into Chloe at Oife’s mother’s funeral, and Chloe would look rich, but cheap, hurtling face forward into a life where she and Alice would have nothing in common. She’d frown at Alice too, in her second hand clothing with her smug smile. Both felt as though they’d never known the other, both thought the other was dressed inappropriately for the occasion, and they both decided that they didn’t much care if they ever saw each other again. In fact, to avoid the awkwardness of a second time measuring up each other’s hair and outfits, they sincerely hoped this would be the only meeting.

After Chloe finished the toast where she would cry, Alice's second best friend, Lisa Anderson, would hug her, and later that night would also cry in the bathroom, because her boyfriend Mike was ignoring her, and together they would sing “I will survive” at the top of their lungs until Mike, with the arsenal of the four other boys at the party, would stand outside of the bathroom door and begin knocking and joking. Lisa would brush the tears from her eyes and go out there and ignore then kiss Mike. Later, much later, Alice would be hurt, though she’d never admit it to anyone, that she hadn’t been invited to Lisa’s wedding, even though she had never met the groom.

With a final glance in the mirror, smoothing down the hair she’d spent over an hour straigthening and readjusting the eyeliner she’d applied according that girl’s instructions on youtube, Alice glanced at the page. “New Years Resolutions” was underlined neatly at the top, and “It was a year that answered some questions but asked so many more” followed soon after. What did God think? Could he see her now? Did he mind?

Picking up a pen - she scrawled it quickly - “Kiss Ryan Johnson.” The pen lit up. With a flourish. There. She’d written it down. Laugh it up, big guy. She folded the paper once and left the room. She traced her hand along the banister that she knew like a limb. She thought they were watching her. She was standing down the angels and their fortune cookies, the Christmas Parties and the sighs and the patience. She had presented all of the secret spirits who could read her thoughts and all that she wrote with something she wanted. With her secret want. As she walked into the kitchen, she’d thought she would feel bombastic, whatever that meant. Instead she felt like a beggar at God’s door, with a pen instead of a pale.

Friday, 4 November 2011

talking to a star

by Michael Burkard

but how could you move
again if you wasn't sure
it was time

well it wasn't time but
i had to trust something

what did you trust

a star -- do i tell you
about the star

tell me

well one night i was talking to a star
and just when i ended
another star fell

so you're moving
because a star fell

a few minutes later
another star fell

so two stars fall
so what
it's august

it was august

it was august
and two stars fell
-- not because you was

not because

so why are you moving

because a star fell
and a few minutes later
another star bit
the sky and fell

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Hoarding Your Past Self

Coming up to my final performance of "Like You Were Before" in the UK until 2015 (I can't believe I just wrote that down. I guess now I've committed to it) on Friday, I have been thinking about our past selves. All the baggage, layers upon layers of ourselves that we deal with (and in my case, memorise then perform.)

It seems like several areas of my life have been contributing to this thinking. Yesterday, feeling unexpectedly ill when I was meant to be tutoring and then rehearsing, I decided to rest for a couple of hours in bed and watch my first episode of the American reality television show "Hoarders."

It's a border-line dangerous premise for a show - taking a psychological problem and trying to solve it (at least on the surface) in two days time by hiring a crack team of personal organisers along with the very short term help of a psychologist. Not least because the people featured on the show are often from poorer parts of the United States and can rarely afford to keep seeking the professional help that will keep their hoarding at bay in the long term. The episode I saw supported this thinking by rote - of the two hoarders, the one with more disposable income was able to make a dent in her long term problem through continuing to seek help, whereas the more willing of the two but less affluent went from a sparkling home at the end of the episode to a paragraph that said that she had not continued to get professional help and that her hoarding was back and worse than ever.

Also. Watching "personal organisers" grapple with somebody who has a psychological condition. I mean oh my gawd. Really? Is that really what television is? And yet I was thoroughly entertained by the program and (she says guiltily) may well watch it again in the future.

(Oh gee. Oh man.)

And then this morning, with the initial goal of making a sketch to start my day, I came upon an old sketch book of mine filled with mostly terrible snippets of writing. I had the impulse to tear them out and start the sketch book fresh, but then... I couldn't. They were layers, small photographs of me - cloying, clichéd, and doing my best. This past made me pause - I lost all impulse to make something new and instead began reading.

So weirdly - Here's something I just found in that old sketchbook. This may be one of my very very few attempts at verse, and possibly with good reason:

There's a place in a town that's not far away
A place riddled with saucers, old socks and decay.
The place looks like many I'm sure you may know,
Circled daily by a family of musical crows.
Nestled deep in the valley, overlooked by a hill,
A few city landmarks, the brewery and mill.
Where would we be, in what kind of plight,
Without the dear presence of the town's garbage site?

It's filled with old treasures and once loved beer bottles.,
Food gone to waste, old airplane models
And things you forgot about, your future in tow,
Or things you remember and decide to let go.
Object upon object, feeling sad and dejected.
Seagull upon seagull, hungry and infected.
It's a sad lonely world for an old piece of junk.
Enough to put belongings in a bit of a funk.
Unless of course you consider one little spectre -
That man we call Joey, the garbage collector.

Joey sees garbage as more than just rubbish.
He's read torn up letters good enough to publish.
On a day things are slow he'll comb through the piles,
He'll trudge through a smell that spreads miles and miles,
And sometimes find something of value or worth
And sometimes just relish in the sweet stench of mirth.
His wife doesn't like it, she calls him a "hoarder"
But Joey just calls himself "King of the Sorters."

He's sorted through old papers, laundry and bills,
He's taken home boxes, and church bells and tills.
His wife, who's named Nancy, gets cross as a skunk.
She shrills, "What will we do with all of this Junk?"
But Joey just chuckles and smiles like a martyr.
Her tone may be sharp, but his wits are sharper

Sunday, 28 August 2011

And so it was...

Well here we go. On July 28th I set myself the challenge of writing in my blog every day for the next month. It is now August 28th and, excepting a couple of slip-ups, by and large I met the challenge. It's nice to mostly keep a promise you made yourself. Even a small promise. It makes you wonder what else you can do.

Yesterday was the last day of our artistic programme for Edinburgh 2011. Today at 4pm there was a townhall-style meeting to help plan for Forest's future. Some really constructive ideas were thrown around - including an idea of mine that Harry Giles came up with a catchy name for - Forest Champions. Based off of the marathon model, a group of 50 people or more agree to do their best to raise £1000 for Forest by writing to 100 of their friends and families, explaining what Forest Café is, how unique it is and how important and unlikely it is in the Edinburgh arts ecology, and then asking them to give £10 each. If 50 people can harness this generosity and care from the people who love them most, care could buy the building.

Yesterday I had some bad news which I hadn't heard about yet because of the all consuming nature of working in Edinburgh during the festival. Jack Layton, Canada's major hope for a political leader on the left, died of cancer. I don't think of politicians as being able to die of a disease and this loss in particular shook me to my core. It may have been exhaustion, it may have been the wine, but when someone told me about it at Forest's closing party last night and I stared at them in disbelief, I started to cry.

Perhaps I know that we're stood at the centre of a shift or a struggle because suddenly simplistic binaries - "good guys" and "bad guys" seems like a real thing. Those who fight on the side of freedom of expression, kindness, generosity and equality, versus those who prioritise greed, money, fear, and exclusivity. Relatively recently I would have scoffed at how reductionist this thinking is, but now there's just no other way of discussing it. There are those who are caring and there are those who are selfish, and we all have the capacity to be both and are constantly being asked to choose between the two. It's a tremendous pressure. But to my mind Jack Layton was one of the good guys. Forest Café are the good guys. The building is huge and beautiful and overpriced and unsellable. It is in the centre of the city. Price Waterhouse Cooper have decided it should be empty for the unforeseeable future rather than occupied by a rent-paying community arts space. Those who see this emptiness as a fact of life rather than a perversion of a deeply flawed and unsustainable system are stuck in so deep with the bad guys that they can't see the Forest for the timber.

It's been a long and transformative month. I've had barely any time off and felt privileged when I've managed to sleep over 6 hours. I've worked in the knowledge that I personally won't be coming back to Bristo Hall next year, regardless of what happens, because of commitments I've made in Canada for next summer. I've given myself over to every moment in this knowledge and it's never occurred to me that this should lessen my desire to fight. Forest Fringe and Forest Café have shown me the beauty of collective ownership - of being part of something, and of it belonging to you entirely, but not exclusively. The hard work starts now. And I'm up for it. Because it's not just a building any more. It's a principle. It's one of those rare moments when you know the good guys from the bad guys. This is when you fight until you can't. And this is where we find our metal.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Forest Café...

Is not over, it's fighting. Money isn't the only kind of influence, and together we will rally to save this space.

In other news, I finished the HInterland today and it was unbelievably wonderful. I don't want to tell you what happened during the last canto for fear of making you jealous, but let's just say, it paid back the time and effort I put in. And considering how much time and effor that is, it is no small achievement.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Live Art Speed Date

This evening I partook in the revelry that is a large scale Live Art Speed Date - meaning - several artists imparting 4 minute long one-on-one experiences on drinking audience members. Much like an actual speed date, but with art.

My piece consisted of me and a stranger typing to each other in person in the middle of a busy room. It created a nice quiet space for the two of us, because of the human obsession with reading, writing and computer screens, which it turns out can kind of drown out anything else. Below is one of my favourite and most unexpected chats of the night. The audience member's responses are in bold. I saved the conversation as...

The Eternally Youthful Man

Why hello. Do you come here often?

I wish I did.

And why's that?

I grew up here, It was during the war, We didn't have much, but we were happy.

Which war is that?

The first world war of course.

Are you a ghost? A typing ghost?

No, but since….. since it happened, I've never grown older.

Ah I see. How did you not grow older?

There was something in the canister. We didn't want to touch it, but she told me to, and I couldn't resist. everyone else died instantly. I was the only survivor.

Who was she?

I don't know exactly. She only came out at night. We saw glimpses of her sometimes, flitting throughout the shadows.

Wow. What did she look like?

Very young. But something different. She obviously came from another time.\\

Are you tired of being young?

It is a curse. But of course, normally it is a debt, which must be repaid with old age. Hell is an eternity of anything.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Also, I wrote this in the café earlier today while waiting for my nachos...

I want you to know something.

I want you to know that I just had a free massage that made me remember my muscles again while listening to an artist whisper in my ear through headphones about islands and the sea.

I want you to know that I am the first person to order the brand new addition to the menu – Greek Salad Nachos – and that when I ordered them Alex, the volunteer who invented the dish, cheered.

I want you to know that three nearly identical toddlers have just been rolled in nestling nearly identical strollers, all blonde hair and wide eyed, and when they entered the café they looked at everything and it was new.

I want you to know that I keep running into friendly people who distract me from what I’m trying to tell you. What am I trying to tell you?

I think I’m trying to tell you that the room I sit in, catching eyes, admiring kilts, distracted by loud music, clammering plates, hand painted murals,

I want you to know that I don’t dare to imagine this room empty.

I want you to know that I hate the idea of the cleaners, who would laugh derisively as they paint white over a mural and gather and toss the bits that mattered to us because they don’t matter to them.

I want you to know that I despise the men in suits, figures and sums dancing through their minds as they examine what comes to a place that has been loved.

I want you to know that this is a space that has known generosity – that has known work and effort and reward and kindness, and that the first time I saw a performance in Bristo Hall, the walls sang.

I want you to know that this a place where we have all lived. Its foundations are now infused with a generosity of spirit that echoes its rooms like a bell.

I want you to know that this building knows kindness. And this kindness has made it strong, has furnished it with armour. It will fight you. It is a sullen teenager with piercings through its nose and pink tipped hair. It is a quiet student taking posters off the wall and putting new ones up. It is a bearded man in a kilt playing the ukulele with a long feather reaching up from his tam, reaching up to the sky. It is a child, it is an older man, it is a group of friends discussing theatre over a pot of tea for five. It is a man named Kenny taking out the recycling at 5 in the morning. It is a woman re-stocking beer in a long skirt with tatoos up her arm. It is a poet smiling when the crowd responds as though he is a rock star. It is a rock star. And it won’t let itself be bought. It won’t let itself be painted over. It will rail against your plans and figures. It will kick back and it will fight and it will howl and yell and trhow things and then you will know the arrogance and blindness of trying to buy life.

You are facing down an army of human kindness and devotion. This fighting spirit will shine like a diamond in the city – the glint, the sparkle of a place that is loved and loves.

I am a hero legend

It's 5:36am. Birds are chirping. I usually associate this time of the day with being asleep or catching a plane.

The Saturday Poem

Yesterday there was no chance of writing a post, not because of a lack of energy (although I was tired, I still tried to sit down with the computer at the end of the day), but because my computer had run out of power and I lost my adaptor. So I am sorry, but please know that I meant to post and had a good many things to post about. I'm going to do my best to recreate what that post might have been here.

Yesterday I saw a poet named John Glenday as part of the Golden Hour who read a beautiful poem about birds called "Be Swift." When I told him I had a friend who I thought would really love the poem because he loves birds, John really kindly gave me the poem he'd been reading from and made an inscription for my friend. Sadly, in all the madness of last night's change overs, the poem has been temporarily misplaced, but luckily not before I copied it out so that I can email it to the recipient.

In the meantime, because I didn't get his permission to publish the poem here, I thought it would be nice to include a poem of his that was recently published on the Guardian. It's Friday and the poem is called The Saturday Poem, but the Edinburgh Festival is often one step ahead of itself anyway, so it seems appropriate.

Tonight is the Daniel Kitson benefit. I will post at the end of the night/ at about 5 in the morning, and when I write that post, I will know that I am a hero legend who really does do their best to post every day. (Extenuating adaptor type circumstances exempt.)

The Saturday Poem
by John Glenday

(the can opener was invented

forty-eight years after the tin can)

When you asked me for a love poem,

(another love poem) my thoughts

were immediately drawn to the early days

of the food canning industry –

all those strangely familiar trade-names from childhood:

Del Monte, Green Giant, Fray Bentos, Heinz.

I thought of Franklin and his poisoned men

drifting quietly northwest by north

towards the scooped shale of their graves

and I thought of the first tin of cling peaches

glowing on a dusty pantry shelf

like yet-to-be-discovered radium –

the very first tin of cling peaches

in the world, and for half a century

my fingers reaching out to it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What does a producer do?

Today I was on a Producer's Panel hosted by Fuel and Ideastap. The three other producers on the panel were all really inspiring women whose producing I admire, so I felt very privileged to be speaking with them about a subject I often find so complicated until I'm doing it. Below is the text for my provocation. It was a funny question to have to answer, but to be honest, right on the money. I often ask it myself.

I set this panel’s question as my facebook question and here were some answers I got. No producers responded to my status.

What does a producer do?
- I think they make stuff
- They make it all happen!
- They bring it.
- Steal money from old ladies?
- They always break your heart in the end.
- Allow an artist not to be a producer

Back in December 2006 I had a meeting with the now artistic director of a theatre in the UK. I told them that I had been invited to curate a series of events at the Forest Café in August of 2007, that I was considering taking it on as my Practical Dissertation for the Master’s I was doing, but that I was terrified by the idea of producing. I had no idea what I was doing. They looked at me for a moment, leaned forward, and said, “Debbie, let me let you in on a secret. Nobody knows what they’re doing. 90% of Producing is Blagging it.”

To do list – August 23rd, 2011
- Speak on a panel for Fuel – try to answer the question “What does a producer do?”
- Speak on a panel for Central about “Making the case for Innovation.” Try to make the case.
- Pay STK Airport Invoice
- Deposit donations
- Update Budget and check on running totals
- Check-in on Total Theatre bookings for Tania’s piece.
- Move chairs.
- Pick up rubbish and keep lounge/office tidy
- Upload videos for “Save the Forest Campaign” and post them on youtube
- Proof read “Save the Forest” press release and send back to Ryan Van Winkle
- Count chairs and consider seating configuration for Daniel Kitson benefit
- Respond to emails
- Help Lucy with her installations
- Chase Gary about invoicing me.
- Check on Ira and Andy.
- Check on myself.

I became a producer because I wanted to see an alternative to the way that work was presented at the Edinburgh Festival, and I was given an opportunity to help create that alternative. Aside from this Artistic Director’s early advice, nobody told me how. My only perspective was the perspective of an artist. And this is where my advice comes from. Dare to imagine the best possible context and circumstances in which to present your work. Imagine the person who would facilitate this project. What traits would they have? Would they be warm and supportive, hardlined and organized, flexible but structured? Once you’ve answered these questions, go out and try to create that context, try to be that person. Here’s a guarantee - you will fuck up a bit. You won’t always succeed. You will probably put more things than you can complete on daily to-do lists. Focus on those individual tasks deliberately, one thing at a time. And then just keep going until somebody notices what you're up to. Do this for long enough and eventually you will be asked to be on a producer’s panel. And you’ll know what a producer does. Just about.

Monday, 22 August 2011

A thousand years of Awesome

Here's a tip for you - Today I saw Beowulf- A thousand years of baggage today at Assembly Halls and it was really really good. As Freya, a Forest Fringe veteran put it, "You'd have to lack a bit of a soul not to enjoy that show." There was a moment where I looked around the room and saw face after face of nearly awe-struck grinning. But I should also be clear and say that the show is not mindless entertainment - it has a very cerebral angle if you're looking for it - and a lot of singing and furious rock. It's like watching a university seminar turned into a hard rock concept album. It's just the greatest. See it before it leaves the UK.

Today was my day off and I'm still really really tired. I think it's because I furiously tried to pack in as many day off activities today as possible - I made my own lunch, I did laundry, I watched two episodes of South Park, I went to see a play, I met up for coffee with a friend, I went vintage shopping with another friend, I lost my phone, I had a cheese and tomato toasty, I saw a film, and now I'm just as tired as I have been after a full day of producing and helping run the venue. This was a fast paced day off. Time for bed now. I'm on two back to back panels tomorrow - so if you're planning on attending either the Fuel "What does a producer do?" or the Central "Making the case for Innovation" panels I will see you there. In other news, tomorrow will also be my first chance to see Sharon Smith's show and Action Hero's show. See you tomorrow, Edinburgh!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

En Français, s'il-vous-plaît

So today was Edgelands - the alternative conference model set up by Andy and Hannah Nicklin - and I must say it was by far the most inspired and motivated I think I've felt by a conference-type-model. (Which to be fair, isn't difficult, considering I usually hate conferences.) But this event was, genuinely intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and forced me to take positions or at the very least question positions on some of the central tenets of producing and making theatre. It just heightened my awareness or something. Always a good thing.

Andy asked me to do a little five minute performance to help open the day. I'm very glad I did, but I'll admit that having to come up with a new piece (even a short one) in the midst of co-directing Forest Fringe was beginning to seem like a nigh-on impossible task. The idea, when it did come, which was late, was gently drawn out by Harun and then articulated by Laura McD, the Fierce co-directors, and this experience really made me understand why they're such good producers. Thank frickin' goodness. Also special thanks to Pat Ashe for agreeing with Laura that the idea was a good one, to Tania El Khoury for extensive/creative proof reading, and to my computer for running out of battery before I could finish working on the inferior idea I'd been in the middle of typing up earlier yesterday.

So below for your perusal is the text for the little performance I gave at Edgelands today. This text was delivered as a simple speech en français with English surtitles projected on screen. I'm including it below in French only - because I'm a precocious bastard like that - but also because I'd like you to check out Google Translate if you can't speak French and you're interested in what it says, just to give you a distance from the text that could maybe approximate experience the performance itself. If by any chance you were there and you want a precise copy of the subtitles, you can reach me through the Forest Fringe website and I will send them along.

Amusez vous bien!

Bonjour. Et Bienvenue

Je suis là pour vous racontez une histoire étrange.

Il y a deux jours, je suis allée voire un écrivain et comédien Américain, un démocrat, un intellectuel, un type bien admiré parmis notre entourage.

Il se moquait des immigrants qui ne pouvaient pas prononcer les noms des produits à Tesco.

Il est vraiment très drôle.

Mais je n’ai pas trouver cette blague amusante.

Et pour la premiere fois j’ai compris pourquoi les artists sont parfois accusés d’être élitistes, et ne comprennent pas les masses.

J’ai décidé de vous raccontez cette histoire en français.

J’ai laissé cette partie vide parce que je peux.

Peut être quelques uns de vous parlent le français. D’autres peuvent un peu me comprendre.

Si vous parlez français, vous avez alors déjà deviner que je ne suis pas française. Je suis Canadienne. Mais je ne suis pas canadienne francophone.

Je parle couramment le français comme résultat de ma bonne éducation et parce que mes parents ont bien payé pour des petits excursions culturels pendant que j'ai agrandis.

Je comprends si vous pensez que je suis un peu chiante.

J’ai vecu à Paris.

Je suis aussi une type qui ajoutent parfois des petits mots en français en parlant anglais.

Je ne fais pas ça par exprés. Et je comprends que c’est très, très chiant.

D’ailleurs, je voulais que vous me trouvez insupportable pendant ces cinq minutes.

Parce que je parle une langue que vous ne comprennez pas. Cette langue n’est pas ma langue maternelle. C’est le résultat d'un combinaison de privilege et d’effort.

Ou bien peut être vous comprennez cette langue, mais vous me trouvez un peu trop fière, même prétentieuse.

Parce que c’est comme ça que beaucoup de gens perçoivent l’art.

Et si vous parlez une langue qu’ils ne comprennent pas, il faut au moins que vous soyez au courant des conséquences.

Parle Bien

Parle avec du précision

Ne vous moquez pas d'eux.

Ne les insultent pas.

Et garder l'espérance que si vous parlez assez longtemps, ils finiront en vous comprendre.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Edgelands tomorrow

So for now check out this video of Amanda Palmer singing "Ampersand" at Forest in the amazing fundraising gig she threw for us two nights ago... This is one of my favourite songs of hers. Such a kind thing to do and a wonderful moment. We've got Daniel Kitson being similarly kind and wonderful next Thursday. I'm very excited.

Friday, 19 August 2011

David Sedaris

So today I had the privilege of going to see David Sedaris at the EICC, on break from the Forest Fringe malarky. I've obviously heard him several times on "This American Life" and it always sounded like he had great control and ease in front of a crowd from the recordings, so it was very exciting to see him in person.

It was a strange experience - I wasn't disappointed - it was probably what I was expecting. He read stories, he bantered wittily with the audience, he very kindly opened the floor to questions at the end of the gig. But I have to admit that something about it did rub me the wrong way. Now I am the last liberal to accuse other liberals of elitism, but Sedaris, despite his intelligence and wit, did seem to give off an air or privilege in his stories and descriptions that made me a little ill at ease.

From his chat, he seemed to be a real citizen of the world. He flies constantly. He lives in London now and has had stints of living in Paris and Tokyo. So along with New York, I guess he's got all the major cities covered. He told us he'd just moved to a house in West Sussex with his partner where he has become the resident bin man because of litter thrown along the side of the highway. I remember once hearing about Jerry Seinfeld making a joke when he was trying to get back into standup where he said, "Being rich isn't the greatest. My life is still hard. But it's probably a lot easier than your lives, so at least I've got that."

If you live this kind of high flying existence, I think a little bit of perspective on how high flying it is becomes necessary or else the audience begins to quietly resent you. But what really got me was that he made a couple of jokes about service people who worked at jobs in London where they had to explain non-sensical product names but couldn't speak English very well. "Why did you hire the one person who couldn't pronounce the word Yoghurt at a Yoghurt stand? Was there really no one else to take this job?" And it was with that joke that I couldn't help but wonder how well he understands the political situation in the UK. Anti-immigration is so rampant in this country and a lack of consideration or patience for people earnestly trying to learn the language is so endemic, I just can't imagine he would knowingly poke fun at them if he were aware of its danger. This is some of the scariest and most dominant rhetoric going around the country at the moment.

When asked if people often came back to him to complain when he wrote his trademark arch portraits of them in magazines he said, "I don't really target readers." What I'd never realised about David Sedaris from listening to him on the radio but took from seeing him live, is that his style is unbelievably vitriolic, focussing on the tiny irritations of being human and having to deal with other humans. At points he would bring this across with an inspiring degree of accuracy, and just like a well written episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" I would laugh at both of our character flaws. But nestled among the gems were moments that seemed to lack perspective or self awareness. I'm all for a comedian offending absolutely everyone, as long as they know they're being offensive - but there were times during the Sedaris show where I felt that he was quite out of touch with how sickeningly glamorous descriptions of his life sounded, and with how many readers are also Eastern European grocery clerks. In a country so poor that people riot for a pair of jeans, it was irritating to hear Sedaris muse about whether he preferred Tokyo to Paris.

And yet, asked if I enjoyed the gig, I'd say I did, very much, thank you. Asked if I'm glad that I saw it, I'd say that I genuinely am. I just don't want to feel guilty about liking it, dagnamit! I don't want to think that an American democrat writer could actually be guilty of what republicans tell us they are guilty of. That they could be out of touch with the people. I mean, am I seriously talking about "The Folks?" The mythical "folks?" And yet I thought about them. And worried about them. And didn't think they deserved to be mocked for not being able to pronounce the word "Yoghurt."

But. If we're being reasonable here. I'm not going to speak for "The Folks." I'm going to speak for myself. When Sedaris hit on a universal, which was often, the show was a delight. When he mentioned his ex-pat jaunts coupled with criticism of people who don't speak English, I felt alienated by his sense of humour and his observations. In all fairness, he did couch these comments somewhat, mentioning that the fact that he is fluent in this country's language is simply an accident of birth, and telling a sweet anecdote about his very strict former french tutor. But maybe it's just that I've found a line where my sense of humour loses priority. Maybe it's just that I think that making any immigrant joke in the UK today that is not unbelievably self aware is nearly equivalent to a white comedian making a racist joke without being self aware in the 1960s. It's lazy and it's dangerous and there are real and violent opinions and movements that would relish hearing a woman mocked for mispronouncing "Yoghurt." The ideological machinery is heavy. Operate with caution, care and a lot of perspective.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver: So what time will ye be gittin up fer work, then?

Me: Around ten AM.

Taxi Driver: You'll get a solid six hours, then.

Me: (Something unintelligible and I hope chatty and kind.)

Taxi Driver: I'll be fast asleep when yer gittin out of yer bed.

Me: Have a good night.

Taxi Driver: Aye. Enjoy yer festival.

Me: Yeah, see you... (about to say "later" but then realised how ridiculous that sounded.) Have a good night.

Taxi Driver: You too.

I get out of the taxi and walk to the wrong door. I know the taxi driver has seen me do this. I walk to the right door. I also waited a good forty seconds before realising that I needed to give him an address when I first got into the taxi. Forest Fringe is definitely underway.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

My DJ Debut

Let's start with the grand narrative of the night, shall we? And this may move us on to the moment where I was wearing a fascinator that Laura McD said reminded her of fireworks, hunched over my computer, while a drunken man got down on one knee and proposed that I play "Everywhere" by Fleetwood Mac. Let's rewind to about 11:30pm and give this wonderful night a bit of context, shall we?

Andy and I had been brainstorming a fun night for our first party of the festival, and after throwing around a few ideas that were either too taxing or not quite awesome enough, we decided to throw a "Paper Disco" - a party where people would make paper cranes and other kinds of origami from old unwanted flyers and then dance around a bit. Why we thought origami and dancing were complimentary activities, nobody knows, but making art out of publicity does seem to contain a certain degree of subversiveness that is key to the ethos of Forest Fringe. And this, if anything, was a good reason to make a disco out of paper.

So the tables were set up, the flyers had been sourced, the lights were down, the dicso light was up. And yet - barely anyone was there. A few hitches had come up - the woman who was meant to teach us to make paper cranes is in a show about paper cranes herself and seemed to give up on her drunken and needlessly slow pupils relatively quickly. She's probably just a little tired of paper cranes. The paper plane flying contest that Andy had started with the best of intentions and through a sudden burst of energy flittered away like the first flight of the aerodynamically unsound paper airplane I constructed, before I remembered that the boys back in school had taught me how. And no doubt because he had been in the building since 9am, Andy was playing relatively ambientnmusic, so that punters seemed to be coming in, looking confusedly at our terrible flyer origami attempts (picture row after row of poorly folded boats with ""Four Stars" printed on them.) and then swiftly leaving. Myself, Harun and Tania decided that what the party needed was a little bit of upbeat music, and I was put in touch of making that happen.

I approached the dj booth tentatively - at first with a request - but it was immediately obvious that my co-director was in need of a break after his 16 hour day before he could bring himself to play the best of the 80s. So heart in mouth, I suggested that I take over the DJ responsibilities - and this is when my evening really began.

I played Fan Favourites at first, trying to hype up the mood of the Folding. My first song was "Everybody's Going to Be Happy" by the Kinks - which I played again later on, and I brought in some Paul Simon and even a bit of Elton John and Elvis Presley to keep it upbeat. There was one couple quietly sitting/dancing in the corner, and a couple of Spanish men who would occasionally saunter over to the computer to try and chat or to see what I was playing and why. I noticed some stragglers come in and phone friends, but they looked at the empty dance floor and quickly left. For one beautiful moment I played swing and our technical director and bartender danced to Duke Ellington and some other joyful number, but things were still relatively slow.

Then suddenly, it seemed to pick up all at once. It began with the sitting/dancing couple who were on their way out coming over to present me with a beautiful fascinator fashioned entirely out of flyers that they had decided the DJ should wear. I am convinced that this paper fascinator contained magical DJ-ing powers now possibly lost forever to mankind. I began wearing it and the very simple rule of playing whatever made me want to dance was wonderfully clear. Then Harun came over and complimented me on my set, buying me a glass of wine and watching me make my song selections - and the first group of youngsters arrived and staked a claim on the dance floor. Harun and I became both anxious and excited about the possibility of this group of whippersnappers. They were ready to dance and for that readiness, I owed them my best.

I started with some tracks off of Nuggets and Lux'n'Ivy's favourite, mixed in with a couple of wild cards, and they started dancing. It was a wonderful responsibility once this group of young excited people started dancing - I had to test their moods, try and decide what they would respond to best, and move the set from Psychedelic pop to Rockabilly to Swing to Doris Day to Bruce Springsteen to a little bit of Mo-town. They just kept dancing. What was wonderful was the moment when I got a request and the young man who asked found that I didn't have the song he wanted - when I said that I was thinking of playing the "Electric Prunes" he said they were brilliant and went back to the dancefloor to continue his merry boogie. I am nearly certain that he didn't actually know who the Electric Prunes are - they are a one hit wonder from the late 60s featured on Nuggets - but I'd earned his musical trust, and that was enough for me.

The crowd steadily doubled, then tripled, until eventually there was no question about it - there was paper on the floor and lots of people dancing. We were officially at a paper disco. By the time we'd heard the Pixies and the legendary Fleetwood Mac proposal had been agreed to, the dancing had built its momentum, and the crowd were happily rolling down and uphill with us from there. Andy came back invigorated after a dance and took the DJ-ing home beautifully for the last half hour of the night - a moment of wonder and madness. I got to jump around a lot to an MGMT song that I not-so-secretly like. Everyone who had been there since 11:30pm felt like characters in a movie from the 1980s. The straightforward success of a party that no -one comes to turning into a party that nobody wants to leave. And I must admit that I felt as though I'd helped to build it by dancing with that crowd, by trying to follow their mood and dictate and coax them into new things. (At one point I had everybody dancing to a song by a now defunct band from Halifax, Canada who were never signed. This was a very good moment for me.)

So there you are - it's now 4:06 in the morning and I'm still posting to say, thank you to the dancers. This was my first set, and together we saved the paper disco. The paper Beejees would be so proud.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Let's take a moment for the used bookstore

A lot happened today. Lucy Ellinson made a beautiful piece about the cuts called "Keidan" where audience members each lit a candle and read out a story of something that is in danger because of the cuts, blowing out the candle in remembrance, then relighting all the candles at the end of the piece, which went beautifully with Tim Etchells' installation being relit. ("START A REVOLUTION") Each day in Edinburgh feels like a week and it's becoming difficult to remember six hours ago as though they were six hours ago. I suppose six hours ago I was watching a comedy show called "Jigsaw" that made me laugh several times. But I don't want to write about that tonight. Tonight I want to write about used bookstores.

I had five hours off from the venue today, between 5pm and 11pm, (hence the Jigsaw), most of which I spent in a lovely restaurant finally spending some proper time with the Tolstoy book I'm reading, "What is Art." My experience with Tolstoy has always been that he demands more focus and concentration than your average writer but also rewards you for that concentration. In fact, in the section of the book where he describes and summarises every remotely significant work about aesthetics up until that point, he actually asks the reader "not to become bored." It's a delight and also not really a surprise that Tolstoy is so self aware.

So after finally being able to give over some of that concentration and to glean some of that reward, I finally figured out how to pay the bill at the restaurant. (You had to go up to the counter! They didn't just like me so much that they never wanted me to leave.) Heading back out into the festival and streets I passed a used bookstore, much like any other bookstore, and on impulse decided to go in for a minute, even though I didn't have much money.

The moment I walked in I was overcome, as though walking into a dream or a memory. The smell you could make a fortune off of if you bottled it - and thank goodness you can't. The fiction section in that used bookstore. A simple ache. The joy of realising you've found something that makes you remember you're alive, and happy about it.

It's worth remembering how special these little things are. Nestled along busy roads next to supermarket chains and music equipment stores, quietly defiant. As long as they exist, we haven't lost. Love live the used bookstore. Calm, delicate and worth recognising and fighting for.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Day 1

Today I have:

- Performed in the show "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" at Remarkable Arts. A very amazing play and a very intense and interesting experience as a performer. Really happy to have taken part. I would strongly recommend seeing this show.

- Helped Tania El Khoury set up her wonderful show "Maybe if you choreograph me you will feel better" for men only, and because she needed to check sound levels, I was one of the lucky women who also go to see it. It's a very strong piece. Men should book quickly - there are only four performances a day so capacity is very limited.

- Saw Gary McNair and Dan Canham's pieces in the space. Both really beautiful and absolutely different experiences. Gary's show "Crunch" had me shredding my money by the end - helping me get over my attachment to money - but even the experience of shredding had been calculated by me in a financial mindset. I decided to shred £5 because I thought of myself as "buying" the experience of shredding money - a once in a lifetime experience that seemed cheap at the price. My thinking about money super ceded the act of rebelling against it - or somehow embedded itself in the experience of protest. A very interest moment.

Dan Canham's piece had me a little vaklempt, as Linda Richmond would say. Watching him dance a lament to closed down arts space in Limerick in the beautiful Bristo Hall, my relationship with that space flashed before my eyes, and suddenly it seemed like something I never wanted to let go of. I really hope they don't sell this building. And if they do I really hope that Bristo Hall continues to accommodate a generous and forward thinking theatre during the festival. Something about that space sings when people perform in it. As it turns out, I'm really pretty attached to it.

All in all a great first day. I'm excited about tomorrow and just about ready for bed.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Memories of Seinfeld

Earlier today I spouted what little scientific knowledge I mistakenly believe I have as a result of half remembered snippets of Radiolab. I was explaining that memories become stronger the more often we revisit them because every time they come up we strengthen the neural pathways that lead to them. (I think.) I likened them to working diligently on a few key friendships rather than trying to have All the friends.

Not two hours before that I had been reminiscing with one of the flatmates in the flat where I’m staying about the wonder of Seinfeld – the best and strongest episodes – and this burst of nostalgia lead me to revisit the show by watching four episodes from the seventh season.

These two seemingly unrelated events collided beautifully. I skipped ahead on the disc and decided to watch the famous “Soup Nazi” episode first. This was an episode that had been syndicated in Canada, firmly lodging itself into my cultural memory, with frequent associative reminders through “No Soup For You” having become a permanent part of the North American lexicon. The show was living up to its reputation. But then later, when evening fell and I was determined to do nothing too strenuous before the festival erupts tomorrow, I sat down and decided to tackle Season 7 in order – starting with the first three episodes.

Only one of these episodes, “The Engagement”, made it into syndication in Canada – and of course my predominant memories of Seinfeld stem from the episodes I’ve seen as a child, teenager and adult. “The Engagement” is a decent episode but not particularly strong – and certainly nowhere near “The Soup Nazi.” But moving onto the subsequent episodes, which I have probably not seen since I was a kid in the early nineties, was like reliving a series’ life – and realizing that not all of it was worth remembering. How much sweeter to just skip to the episodes that were familiar because they were series highlights then to relive every moment of the series. (Although I also began to appreciate the subtle genius of just how little happened in the episodes nestled between major series events. The conflicts were all petty and forgettable, and since the show always prided itself on being about "nothing" this was probably very deliberate and a hard won creative choice.)

Recently I wondered what would happen if, when we die, we have to rewatch our entire lives, like a film, without being able to change or influence anything. The decisions we made are set and the film would replay itself in real time. There is an aspect of this vision that is hellish, of course, freedom of choice is integral to most people’s happiness. But I think a second strange phenomenon would start to emerge. Like rewatching a series – I think I would find myself looking forward to certain events, to certain episodes in my life, the series' highlights – and both dreading and anticipating wrong turns or more dramatic events, drawn to conflict as any audience member would be. But instead we have memory – and human experience either makes it into syndication or not.

I wonder how I’ll feel about this reflection on passively watching life events after I perform in the Volcano and Wolfgang Hoffmann co-production White Rabbit Red Rabbit at Remarkable Arts Saint George West tomorrow, a show for a performer who has never read the script before. (Tomorrow, that will be me.)

But for today I’ve had one day off from Forest Fringe before the big push starting tomorrow, and I’m finding profundity in sitcoms. Welcome to Season 5 Sweeps.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Philip Glass and the Kung Fu Chicken

Hey Blog.

We have now tried to write two separate very long entries for you today - I don't mean the royal "We" - I mean my temporary flatmate over the festival Calum wrote a guest blog, which failed to publish because of internet troubles, and then I wrote a very long blog post, which also failed to publish, even though I was sure I'd saved it in Word before shutting down the computer.

And so this is what you get - I am posting - technically, but only to say that it is now quarter to two and I've stayed up a bit too late trying to post just to say that Philip Glass at the Playhouse tonight was tremendous, something that anybody on the internet could tell you anyway.

So that's it for this evening. Better luck with the internet tomorrow.


Friday, 12 August 2011

From Monday

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Promise of Fun

I guess this is becoming a comedy-centric first week for me, because the second show of the festival that I've managed to see was also comedy - which is not usually a medium I pay particular attention to at the Edinburgh Festival - but this show combined with the joy of seeing Thom's show last night have really opened my eyes to how playful and innovative comedy can be. It's really not a million miles away from experimental theatre - it just promises fun, whereas ET doesn't. (It doesn't always deliver, of course, but it makes the promise, and that's what matters.) This fun-promise is probably the big reason that comedy does better than any other art form in Edinburgh. And last night and tonight the promises were kept!

The show I enjoyed so thoroughly was Claudia O'Doherty's show "What is Soil Erosion" at Teviot Gilded Balloon. I'd seen this show the year before, and based on that experience I quite deliberately brought along a member of the experimental theatre company Tinned Fingers to see it with me, because, as I told her, if the Tinned Fingers were to make comedy, I think it would look something like Claudia's show. I couldn't even gage if my friend was enjoying it or not because I was too busy hogging all the laughter for myself. I laughed an embarrassing amount. At one point I started laughing uncontrollably about the silliness of the concept of the show. She wasn't even making a particular joke at that point - I just started laughing at the absurdity of the idea of the show - which is something that probably only ever also happens to me while watching "Kids in the Hall." And Conor, one of the Scottish friends in the flat whose couch I sleep on every festival, has made it clear that I should point out that she was also wearing a great outfit.

Speaking of Fun promises - kept or not - one of the unexpected effects of this writing-a-blog post-every-late-night-of-the-festival-thing is that often I type it in the kitchen and often, just as I'm about to try and get profound about whatever silly thing I'm typing, the flatmates come home and distracting but enjoyable things happen. Tonight is a sing along of a series of soft rock songs (Boston's "More Than A Feeling") and the reveal of a crossword puzzle on the table with only one word written in - "Prostate."

So with that I'll leave you for this evening.

And I'll play you out with this... Sing along!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Matters of the day

Today was a good one. Here were the activities I enjoyed in no particular order:

1. Installing the latest version of "Something Very Quiet is About To Happen" in Newington Library in Edinburgh. The staff are brilliant and were really refreshingly excited about having an installation hidden in among the books. It was a great way to spend the morning, and did not take nearly as long as I was expecting to set up.

2. Seeing Thom Tuck's show "Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD" about Straight to DVD Disney sequels. I was moved and charmed and entertained. I really really liked this show. I'd recommend it, but I don't know if everyone would like it as much as I did. But if you're someone I would like, then I think you'd probably like this show.

3. Completing the running order with Ross Manson over mint and chilli tea (surprisingly amazing!) for the project I'm working on with Volcano later this year. I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to Handel today, and I really started to get it.

4. Our amazing associate producer Ira arriving and being both relaxed and on it. It was also very exciting to finally see a Forest Fringe face and start to work as a team after a couple of days on my own.

5. Walking across the meadows in the rain with a very handsome umbrella. I think it might have been the first time in a long time that I have enjoyed rain.

Edinburgh is starting to charm me. Forest Fringe starts Monday.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Asking for answers

Only last week Andy and I finally finished putting together the copy for our programme/zine. We decided to put together a section called “Enough with the Theatre” where we detailed 20 things to do in Edinburgh that had nothing to do with seeing a show. Andy wrote the last suggestion on the list – “Start a Revolution.”

Either that day, or the day before, or the day after, I wrote an entry on this blog called “A Frog Swimming in Water” where I suggested that our liberties are stripped from us one ignored outcry at a time – until the water is hot enough that it’s time to stop swimming.

Two days after writing that post, a riot broke out in Tottenham. When I first heard about it the reason seemed unclear – it was something to do with a shooting, and some friends had heard the man who was shot had been connected with a gang. I later found out it was the shooting of 29 year old Marc Duggan, a father of three, who allegedly had connections with the “Star Gang” but according to the findings of the recent Independent Police Complaints Commission did not fire at the police who shot him on Thursday night.

The riot began as a peaceful protest, asking for answers from the police, and turned violent after an officer pushed a young woman. Since then rioting has spread throughout London, all the way to Birmingham and Manchester. The police presence in London has been stepped up from 6,000 to 16,000.

The day after the first riot, I arrived in Edinburgh. I sit in our newly painted office/greenroom and I try to make sense of what is happening four hours south, where I live.

In the past year I have met more people who are angry, genuinely angry than I can ever remember meeting. The first time I remember realising how profound, widespread and justified this indignation had become was at the start of the G20 weekend, before the media coverage of police violence, when my historically conservative father wrote me an email about Toronto that read as though he was a dyed-in-the wool left wing activist. Only later did I realise that his feelings of mistrust towards the police and politicans were not extreme at all. They were the simple and and very understandable reaction of someone who was there.

This anger has been brewing – but most people I know have sought to vent it in cerebral ways – talking, letter writing, blogging – with varying effectiveness. Now in the face of violence and looting, this anger is frighteningly pure, and unlike the more tempered approaches mentioned, it’s hard to know where pure violence and anger is coming from and how to deal with it. It certainly elicits a response, and much more attention than our “peaceful” protests (and I write “peaceful” because the police presence has been known to compromise the peace of a protest). I’m sure that in some cases these cerebral tactics have touched upon the abstract philsophical notion of rioting – in discussion it may have seemed necessary, heroic, even romantic - but now that the violence has really broken out this pure action is too furious to articulate itself, to deliver a message or a clear path to resolution.

I have heard the rioters called chavs – and I have heard about needless violence, crime, theft, murder. It is terrifying, worrying stuff. What has not been mentioned is that outbursts of violence, anger, even crime, do not happen in a vacuum. A man was shot by the police, a young female peaceful protester was pushed by the police. It all kicked off, but nobody would say that this was the beginning. After we retreat from the violence, I hope that elected officials see this as more than random outbursts of violence by a group of inexplicable deviants. I hope they ask themselves some questions. What is this violence indicative of? What are the other straws that lie upon that camel’s overburdened back? How long has this anger been brewing and where did it come from?

16,000 police may be a short term tactic, but they are not a long term solution. The question is urgent. The anger isn't going anywhere.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Big Empty Room

24 hours later, the room I was working on with Kirsty Harris and her very nice and efficient mum, is finally nearly complete. Being the only Forest Fringer who is currently in Edinburgh, there was something calm and relaxing about sitting in that room after Kirsty and her mum had called it a night, aware that it will be peopled very soon - possibly ruined if the keys are given out to the wrong people throwing a party - (Oh my gosh I hope not) - but for now it seemed to be this airy space with big windows and paintings of crows flying up the wall. The whole thing made me feel so relaxed that I sat down at the desk, started working, and submitted a grant application I'd been sure I wouldn't get around to writing with twenty minutes to spare. But then. I got a bit lonely. I started thinking - this place is so nice, I should show it to somebody. And so I invited a friend to see it. And after finding Forest, then climbing the stairs that still smell of recycling only to find me in a big empty room all alone filled with fairy lights, listening to music and huddled over my computer, he called me the word we all dread hearing after having spent over a half hour in the company of no one - He called me Creepy. What a jerkface.

My friend doesn't work at the Forest. Because if he did he wouldn't bat an eyelid at the joy of a room with practically nothing in it. Spending all day clearing stuff out of a room that has been used and misused and unused by an epic stream of people over the last eight years, repainting, hoovering, and then savouring that moment before anybody else gets to come in. I know I'm not the first person to have had that experience at Forest, probably in that very same room, but what is so sad is that with the upcoming sale of the building, I may be the last. The Action Room has been an office, an action room, a storage space, a cabaret bar, and now it's a green room. But what will it be next? Probably empty. And that's pretty sad.

But back to me defending myself against being creepy in a big empty room - In a building brimming with ideas and legacies and stuff - just like, a lot of stuff- and in a venue that is soon to be filled with activity, with people on the way and acts on the way and more stuff on the way - so much stuff - what is more wonderful than that moment of enjoying the big empty room? There's a sense of achievement and a sense of anticipation all in one. A feeling and enjoyment that I can only relate distinctly to Forest Fringe.

Or maybe I really was just being creepy.

Things I've done since getting here -

1. Watched a good poetry gig at Forest Café that I think was called Faceplant? It featured a deaf lady who signed poetry - really interesting to watch - and the amazing Ryan Van Winkle in a trio called "The Naughty Boys", a bit Laurie Anderson, he sat crosslegged on the stage like a worn out rockstar at the end of a gig. Two other poets I enjoyed were a lovely Edinburgh based lady, whose name I didn't catch, who read out Chris Thorpe's 1 minute manifesto from last year. Really good. And a blind lady who read a very beautiful poem about the moon. This is a very vague description of the event, I realise, but Forest Café events always put me into a kind of haze where poetry can reach me but names can't.

(Addendum: I have since found out that Edinburgh-based lady whose poetry I enjoyed is named Rachel McCrum. Always good to namecheck talented people when you can...)

2. Moved chairs, painted a board, and watched Kirsty Harris, BAC's resident homemaker, create a flock of birds on the wall of a room that every other year has been filled with random stuff. There's something wonderful about the fact that even in our last few weeks in this building, the potential of these rooms continue to reveal themselves to us, like pulling the cover off something that shines. I also helped her very lovely mum fix the Forest Café vacuum cleaner.

3. Had 5 cups of tea in the space of 2 hours with my friend Calum - an activity which I'm told makes me a "Tea Jenny." (I was looking for a word for a tea addict, and very pleased that in Scotland there is one.) Right before this I also met a dog in his flat named Bonnie who stole my heart with her naturally grey eyebrows (from years of being a good dog) and wise/skilfully sympathetic/avid eyes.

4. Walked across the meadows.

5. Politely declined a flyer.

I'm about to eat my first plate of Forest Café food of the festival. It's starting.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Friday, 5 August 2011

Time Travel

Time Travelling through music today to simpler days and simpler songs. I was at a wedding today where I met my friend's very lovely German boyfriend, and he and I were talking about the importance of maintaining some connection to home. He told me that his parents live in the countryside just outside of Hamburg, and that they have kept his old room in tact. When I asked him what was on the walls of that room, he told me about a painting he'd done when he was a teenager - one of only two paintings he'd ever done. "Do you like it?" I'd asked.
He paused. And he conceded. "Yes, I really do."

"Do you like it?" is the only question I could have asked - because the question "Is it good" would have been impossible to answer. There is a painting I did when I was 20 years old hanging in my parents' guest room in Toronto - I couldn't tell you if it's good or bad - it's familiar, and comforting, and looks like a time in my life. Do I like it? Yes I do.

I feel like this same logic is the logic that has us love our family without being able to objectively discuss them as people, it is the logic of familiarity - and it is for this reason that the quality of music I use to time travel is not relevant. What is relevant is whether or not I like it. How far back I want to go. Sometimes I just want to put on the past like a nice warm blanket.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A frog swimming in water

I once heard that if the temperature of water is turned up very very gradually, then a frog swimming in the water will continue to swim until they boil themselves to death. Creatures adapt, and if a situation gradually worsens over time, they become used to how bad things are getting, making it difficult to know when the time has come to get out of the water.

Mercedes Renee Haefer, an activist with the organisation Anonymous who dared to hack into paypal as a protest (not to steal money, mind you, but to post a comment on their refusal to allow paypal users to continue donating to Wikileaks) has been sentenced to 15 years in prison. I recently read about human traffickers who ran a brothel being sentenced to two years. Convicted rapists are routinely sentenced to seven. Sentencing a young educated journalist and activist for daring to protest online against a corporation (she did not steal anything or cause physical harm to anyone) shows just how far our right to protest and the public belief in the importance of protest has fallen in the post 9/11 era. One civil liberty is taken at a time, and we adapt to a society where a corporation's unquestionable image of security is prioritised over a young woman's future. This kind of gradual undermining of human rights under the cloak of the law has happened before, and it never ends well.

It's time to get out of the water while there's still time, or at least go out splashing.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Why I might one day run for mayor of Toronto

Today was a day spent mostly inside working, so I'll admit for tonight's post I was hard pressed to think of anything to write about. Until. I remembered a moment. Sat in my room, taking a break from the office, sewing something together furiously, and stewing for the second time this week, with the conclusion that even though I don't really want to, I guess I should run for mayor of Toronto.

You might ask yourself how I came to this conclusion. If you live in Toronto, I think you are probably also planning on running. That's the problem with the left - how do we unite ourselves?

Toronto currently has an absolute embarrassment as its mayor - Rob Ford. About 24 hours ago, this man inferred that a very intelligent and talented young woman, (a woman whom I happen to know because we went to university together), who is currently working as a children's author and had waited 19 hours to give her deposition defending the importance of public libraries in front of him, was a bitch. Let's pretend I don't know the woman in question. Let's even pretend that the word "bitch" is not unbelievably problematic as an insult only ever levelled at women, and often levelled at women to knock them down when they are on an equal playing field with men. Let's pretend it's a term that could be thrown at Rob Ford himself. I still don't understand why a mayor would insult a children's author for defending public libraries. What about that is bitchy? Past the fact that he is forced to listen to an opinion that he doesn't share and probably doesn't care about. Great idea to get into democratic politics then, guy. Seems like the perfect job for you.

The first time I'd considered running for mayor was earlier this week when his brother, Doug Ford, had claimed that Margaret Atwood was a nobody. Here was the platform I thought of running on - I'm tired of intelligent people on the left apologising for their knowledge, terrified that they may be called elitists. My platform would be one of absolute intellectual elitism - but an elitism that anyone could join in on, through affordable education and prioritising knowledge - putting libraries at the top of the list.

Healthy voters are constantly publicly denouncing unhealthy members of their electorate - making it increasingly difficult to smoke indoors and denouncing obesity and poor diets as a drain on the health system. If those people who prioritise a healthy lifestyle can publicly denounce the unhealthy, why can't I publicly denounce the unthinking, the ignorant, those who are literate but boast that they have never read a book?

Intellectual health is not a priority and is not applauded in the democratic system. In fact, it's not even expected of the politicians themselves - many who lose the sympathy of the voters if they seem too smart, or, a term that has been bandied about a lot, too academic. If I ran for mayor I would unabashedly surround myself with a team of educated, intelligent people, and I would appeal to the educated, intelligent electorate - because in Canada, there are a lot of them out there. And under my administration that number would only increase. Just as the Canadian system holds central the belief that nobody should be denied healthcare regardless of their income bracket, I would hold central the belief that all citizens should be granted equal access to knowledge and an education. I thought we already lived in a system that upheld that principle but apparently not...

I wouldn't align myself with any party in particular because party policies seem to be one of the major factors that contribute to the current disparate state of the left in Canada. As any thinking person could ascertain, I don't agree with every policy in any one party - so why align myself with an organisation I disagree with?

Just as the possibly awesome possibly crazy Jimmy McMillan ran for mayor of New York on a platform of "The Rent is Too Damn High", I would run on a platform of "I'm tired of Idiots" and I wouldn't dumb down my language or pander to any of the mythical "folks" out there. And a major tenet of my policy would be that the mayor and the mayoral staff not be paid any more than your average teacher, ever, because teachers are as important if not more important than politicians, and if you got into politics for personal financial capital, then you're in the wrong business.

The thing is, I don't even know if I would be a particularly good politician or mayor. It's taking me days to organise my room. But for the first time I'm actually certain that I'd be better than the guy they've got now. So I'd be willing. Toronto, if you want me, I'd do it. Just to get you out of this mess and remind ourselves that it's not a crime to prioritise knowledge and education. It's a right.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Sing it like you feel it

From severely restricted view seats, tonight I saw the much discussed London Road at the National Theatre. For those who haven't heard much about it - it's a musical created out of verbatim interviews and news reports about the lives and experience of the neighbours of Steve Wright, a serial killer convicted in Ipswich in 2006.

The piece was very clever, and in parts extremely moving, using the melodies of people's voices to musical compositions. Although it felt innovative, as I watched it I realised that many elements weren't new at all. First off, it wasn't the first verbatim musical I've ever seen. In 2006 I saw a cabaret musical at the Soho theatre called "I am Nobody's Lunch" by a New York based company. That particular musical consisted of songs made out of cold calls about terrorism that the company had recorded with Americans whose names they'd randomly chosen out of a phone book. In terms of creating compositions from the melody of speech, in the last few years I've been exposed to quite a few incredible artists that use real voices in conversation as fodder for music. John Moran has been analysing the musicality of speech for at least five years, and Charles Spearin made an excellent album called "The Happiness Project", which set music to his neighbours' voices in conversation, back in 2009. Greg McLaren is presently getting ready to take his solo show "Doris Day Can F*ck Off" to Edinburgh, and his show also covers this formal territory with his signature eclecticism. So it was strange to feel that it was formally inventive, because the form itself was not new for me. I think what made it feel fresh and unique was not just its form - it was a combination of its timeliness (in light of the recent phone hacking scandal a piece that criticised the media circus felt particularly relevant) and how thoroughly its form complimented content. In some cases form was content, which story-telling so rarely pulls off meaningfully.

The chorus of gossip, news reports, yelling, lamenting, the context that modern tragedies (especially when they involve anything that the news-reading-public might find of interest - see Serial Killer) and past that (especially evident from our restricted view seats) the experience of watching an audience watch this, watching them laugh at particularly off colour verbatim comments or jokes, watching them be moved to tears in some cases, seemed to add another pane of glass to the many windows of spectacle through which we were processing the reality of these murders. I feel like I'll need another couple of days to consider how ethical the whole thing was, and whether or not that's important.

Earlier today I was telling a friend about Ontroend Goed, the Belgian company whose work is often so interesting because it is unethical. Do ethics and theatre belong together? When writing fiction it seems to be standard to ignore the "angel of the house" as Virginia Woolf put it, the little voice of conscience that moralises our writing. And yet when working with real people's stories the angel must remain alive and well. How does one make daring work from reality without exploiting the subjects, or at least admitting the possibility of exploitation as a necessary sacrifice to the quality of the piece? Should the quality of a piece of art (a very subjective thing anyway) be prioritised over the well-being of its participants? Is that necessary to make something good? And how important is it that something is good, ultimately? More important than the human beings involved? Maybe? Does making something appallingly bad out of people's lived experiences in an attempt to remain ethical actually do the participants more of a disservice?

Big questions, I think, and perhaps with another day to think about it I'll decide that London Road was not exploitative at all. But it was definitely good. And I spent a lot of time wondering whether I should be enjoying it or not. A very complicated experience at the theatre - one that had me riveted as an artist and unsettled as a human being. And, more unsettling still, aware of that distinction.

A cheap cry

(A note about my second every day blogging slip-up: The thing about me and promises is even once I've broken them, I keep trying to fulfill them, if that makes any sense. The attempt is as important as its success...)

This weekend, while waiting outside the cinema to see Bridesmaids for a second time, a friend and I got into an interesting discussion about how successful a film or piece of theatre is if it succeeds in making you cry. I've always thought that regardless of how poorly conceived something is as a whole, if it's hit upon a moment that is truthful enough that I'm moved to tears, there is some kind of skill or achievement there, even if only in that scene or moment.

The conversation arose out of a story I told about seeing Wit at Canstage when I was 17, saying, "There literally was not a dry eye in the house."

My friend countered - "The same was true when I went to see The Passion of the Christ, and that movie is terrible. Torture a person, in this case a religious figure, for two hours and you're going to provoke some kind of cheap emotional reaction from the audience. There's nothing skilful about that."

I became adamant - I barely ever cry in films, when reading books, or when watching theatre, but then again, I haven't seen The Passion of the Christ and I certainly don't plan to. We both began to wonder - is there such a thing as "cheap cry", the counterpart to a cheap laugh. He thinks yes - although I'm still hard pressed to think of any. (Maybe I'm just a steely souled woman and nothing can move me to tears!) I understand that many products of pop culture are emotionally manipulative, and I think that knowledge has armoured me against being touched by something, unless it is masterfully manipulative. It's funny that "emotionally manipulative" has become synonymous with bad - perhaps it's just that nobody likes the lack of agency associated with the word "manipulative" - it seems sneaky somehow, as though you've been duped. But a ficitional narrative is a dupe - and regardless of how profound it is, on some level it is trying to manipulate the audience into sharing certain ideologies, hitting upon certain emotions, having them follow an emotional journey that they had nothing to do with plotting - and make them as invested as though every decision had been their own. This is not easy work, and mis-steps are constant. In a way I wonder if we only use the words "emotionally manipulative" when the manipulation has failed - when we can see the strings. Otherwise it was "truthful", "touching", "profound."

It was funny to be having the conversation about the "cheap cry" on our way to a very well reviewed and successful Hollywood Film, because I possibly have the most respect for popcorn entertainment that is able to hide its own inherent clichés and somehow make its genre seem fresh instead of stale, while keeping the genre comforting and light.

Two hours later we all sat side by side watching the film, and somewhere near the end I found myself welling up. I'll be honest. I tried to hide it from my friend. I was worried that it proved his point. But upon further reflection, I think that my reaction showed the film's heart, which is part of why it's been so critically and commercially successful. Yes it was a Judd Appatow film. No what I was crying about was not particularly profound. But still. A fictional story about bridesmaids made me feel something, darn it, and I think that's pretty impressive. My tears don't come cheap.

(Unless you throw something at me.)

Sunday, 31 July 2011


My partner in crime and crime fighting and I spent the weekend in Oxford with my friend Ali. As old friends reuniting for the first time in too long, indulgences were key - perhaps the sweetest of these was a night of watching Gainsbourg followed by a late night/early morning of covering and recording Serge Gainsbourg songs. (See the last post's cover of La Javanaise.)

Below is a second (I think both funnier and better) cover of La Javanaise, and a version of L'Anamour - a word in french which I have yet to find an English translation for. I'll keep you posted if I do. For the moment I'm enjoying its mystery.

Immersing myself in Serge Gainsbourg songs outside of London with some of my favourite people was probably the perfect way to spend the weekend between last week's bus tours and next week's Edinburgh preparations.

For the curious - recordings below. L'Anamour was recorded well after 5am. It kind of sounds how my weekend felt, naive, pleasant and a little bit melancholy. (With possibly slightly too much reverb?) In any case, it makes me smile.

L'anamour by Lilliput and the Bear

La Javanaise (sha la la) by Lilliput and the Bear

Saturday, 30 July 2011

La Javanaise

I feel similar to the first time I tried being a vegetarian then forgot and ate a piece of chicken two days in.

On the third day I have had a slip-up in my every day posting challenge. However. It does not mean that the challenge is not worthwhile (in fact more worthwhile since I've proved my fallibility so early on) and doesn't deserve to be pursued, despite my slip up.

And so, to apologise to those challenge Gods for my early transgression, Liliput and I have decided I should sing you a song. He is on guitar.

Lilliput and the Bear- La Javanaise by Lilliput

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Zero Hour Bus Tours - Greg McLaren and Abigail Conway

Wow. I can't believe I'm actually doing this. But I figure when you set yourself a challenge - say the challenge of writing a daily blog entry late at night during the busiest month of your year - the first few days are the hardest, and most important, time to come through. So here we are. Day two of my monthly blog writing challenge, and day four (the final day) of the Zero Hour Bus Tours. I finally have my post-midnight hours back to sleep and watch episodes of cancelled American sitcoms.

Tonight was the first time I had experienced Greg and Abi's pieces. Because of the bizarre nature of a late night bus tour complete with the dedication of late night volunteer performers dress runs were sparse. But it seemed fitting that on the final night of the tours I was able to actually get on the buses, and all told it was an important, bewildering and pretty exciting experience.

In total contrast to Abigail's piece, a quiet and meditative longing for sunlight, a melancholy top deck bus ride for tourists, Greg's piece made us complicit in what other passengers must have thought was a flash mob - which gave me, as one of the privileged few wearing headphones, a thrill, while I made contact with the other audience members wearing their gas masks. And mobile phones held by the young and slightly drunk Chelsea kids on their ways home filmed and photographed every minute. But past their future youtube plans, none of the passengers interfered, and of course as Greg had all of the audience members holding tupperwares full of toast and wearing latex gloves, we were part of the spectacle they stared at silently, entirely bemused. What was so nice about this reaction was that it seemed to reinforce Greg's conceit - that London is a cold place full of a remote distance from humanity which is clearest on the tube. But of course when we watched these quiet teens exit then from the window saw them burst out laughing and start pointing as soon as they'd left, you realised that past being utterly weirded out, maybe they just hadn't wanted to spoil it. Gawd I would have loved to have been one of the people who stumbled onto that bus with no sense of what was happening or why.

I really wanted to type "It's been a wild ride" and then rolled my eyes at myself. Which is no small feat. But goodnight bus tours. See you round the bend.

(See I quite like that one.)