Monday, 27 May 2013

Bob A Job Week, Steve?

After watching The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – and reading various supporting materials – I am surprised that the problems of Mike Daisey’s conflation of characters has been used to undermine the broad thrust of his argument. He has admitted that he fictionalised the meetings he had with workers at the factory that provides Apple with its consumer electronics but even if the vision he presents of the working conditions in these factories is half-true, the technology of the western world is responsible for plunging Chinese workers into a terrible situation.

Having seen Daisey perform in Glasgow, I feel that his dishonesty (he presented his monologue as journalism rather than theatre on the radio) is more part of his artistry than a desire to deceive. It is as if he regards the message as more important than the literal truth – a sensibility shared by liberal Christians and anyone who recognises the scientific theories are models rather than accurate descriptions of reality. Unfortunately, he blundered into a medium where honesty is vital.

Counter arguments insist that the life of these workers are not as bleak as painted. There’s also the problem that any attempt to resist the factory, say via a boycott, will exclude the activist from buying anything electrical. Daisey uses Apple as an example, not the most blatant offender – the same factory makes PCs and blenders, toasters, everything electrical.

However, the importance of Agony is in the response of the audience. Either listening passively to Daisey’s adventures and shrugging them off, or concentrating on the artistry of the monologue is limiting. Daisey, when he delivers monologues himself, is all about the activism. He is in that unhappy position of being an activist who spends more time talking about problems that evolving solutions, but if his words are not heeded by an audience – even by critiquing his honesty – he is not to blame. He did something.

It is the complexity of the problem he describes and the lack of easy solutions that explains the apparent political apathy of the majority. The competing versions of the reality of life in the Big Nasty Factory (or Playtime Fun House, as its supporters would have it) make any action not just trivial but possibly wrong. If I decide to boycott Apple, and this then has an impact, I am undermining the workers’ wages. If I don’t, I might be giving my assent to oppression.

Daisey’s use of Apple as an exemplar was cunning: perhaps more than any other company, they have maintained a market presence through brand identity. Their products are pretty solid, too: compared to my almost new PC laptop, the quality of the ancient MacBook I am writing this article is amazing. The ease of use, the durability of the casing: it’s a dream. I just hope thousands of tiny figures haven’t been crippled on the line that made it.

There are probably economic questions about the advisability of the prosperous west relying on manufacture from China, a rising nation which is likely to hold the balance of power in the near future: dependency on a potentially hostile country is not smart geo-politics. But since I don’t understand wealth or economics, I have to place this in my large box of things about which I cannot speak.

In the end, this helplessness in the face of what could be the most blatant oppression of the human spirit, and individual humans, is a refined, justified apathy. The photo-meme of the liberal hippy, who smokes and moans about multi-national corporations is part of an entire industry dedicated to castigating anyone who thinks outside of the dominant paradigm. I spend hours laughing at these memes, but their primary purpose seems to be enforcing an attitude that contradictions destroy any worth in even moral positions.

Instead, I fall back on the standard position of the over-educated yet intellectually timid. I write about it and pretend that passing on the information in yet another format is the equivalent of active resistance. And I add various caveats that encourage other people to do the investigations that I ought to have done.

The Slash My Father Swore

The decision to play The Sash as a period drama, despite it recounting a relatively recent period of history, isn’t necessarily a confession that the script has lost its relevance. In the period after the Good Friday Agreement, the vivid descriptions of terrorist attacks and the sporadic racist references are more likely to connect to the current War on Terror and Islamophobia than the battle for a united Ireland, yet the core prejudices on display – sectarianism from protestant and Roman Catholic - are still, sadly, part of Glaswegian life.

Most strikingly, the obnoxious behaviour comes from both sides of the divide. The aging Orangeman is given the most melodramatic, and comic, bigotry, but his Catholic neighbour gets in a fair few digs. Even today, there is something outrageous about hearing this kind of language on stage and the message – that the conflict in Ireland was originally not about religion but freedom – is supported by both sides insistence on a loyalty to a parents’ values.

Perhaps the differences between 1973, when the play was written and set, and 2013 are in the aspirations of the younger characters. There is a rejection of older values, with a protestant son wanting to discuss the historical truth behind the myth of Good King Billy and the pregnant Catholic daughter rejecting the certainties of her faith’s moral teachings for a socialist alternative. And the rare reference to the Soviet ideal of Russia is jarring. The aftermath of the USSR might not have revealed the propaganda of the USA as accurate, but it undermined that nation as a shining example of universal brotherhood.

Yet the conflict between the generations, and the final failure to find an honorable solution, lends The Sash its relevance. Its vision of the Orange Order as a fading presence might have been premature, but the arguments between son and father have an almost archetypal ferocity. Snippets of information about William of Orange’s allegiances and conduct contextualise his hagiography by the Order into a brutal history, and the details of bombing in Ireland locate the action in a period when paramilitary activity was intense: yet the intergenerational throw downs could come from any year in the past fifty.

Because the conflicts described in The Sash `are still present in Glasgow, it doesn’t quite slip into a complete period drama: the issues are more immediate than those in the political plays from south of the border written in the same period. It carefully charts the way that political upheaval impacts on personal life. A relationship collapses, a father tumbles out of a window, a Catholic aunt berates her niece for being pregnant outside of wedlock and the vitality of Irish Republicanism and Orange Pride are gradually ossified.

The question of whether The Sash would make much sense outside of Scotland is pertinent: when intellectuals talk about Scottish identity, they conveniently ignore the sectarian divide even though it is one of the most distinctive qualities that distinguish English and Scottish cultures. There are enclaves in England, such as Manchester, that have a similar relationship to the past. However, the mutual loathing of Billy and Tim is rarely so noticeable in the south.

Rapture are being difficult by restaging this classic. It would be far easier to put The Sash in the same category as The Bigot and The Pavilion pantomime, relics of a by-gone age. Unfortunately, the numbers in the audience attest to its popularity, and the nihilistic vision of culture – nobody wins the argument, and only the final song, which insists that once men were “neither orange men nor green” is a tattered flag of hope – is a bracing counterblast to the optimistic predictions of the contemporary politician. Respecting the way that the play itself is awkward, being neither clearly political nor personal, historical nor contemporary, this production, Michael Emans lets the story tell itself, not even flinching at the unappetising attitudes it displays towards religion, women and the idealism of the young. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Gary McNair and Trevor Griffiths

It’s unsurprising that Gary McNair’s Donald Robertson is not a Comedian lacks the particular edge of Punch or Trevor Griffith’s Comedians. McNair’s liberal credentials were evident in his Count Me In – a gentle plea for a more representative democracy – and his on-stage persona has always juggled amiability and satirical intention. While it might seem a move away from the more explicitly political bent of his earlier work (Crunch had a poke at economics), it fits precisely into his personal, idiosyncratic style. He might be concerned with the wider world, but McNair is cautious to avoid vapid generalisations.

A few months ago, there was much pondering, specifically in The Guardian, about the state of contemporary political theatre. Michael Billington showed his age by bemoaning the lack of “working class drama,” remembering some Golden Age when every other playwright was getting realistic. Lyn Gardner noted that there were young writers – especially in Scotland – who were ready to take on the Big Ideas, including McNair.

There is a sharp contrast, however, between the political vitality of the 1970s, when Griffiths wrote
Comedians and the twenty-first century’s crop of activist authors. Although Griffiths was never as blunt as I’ve described him in the past – he consistently undermined the pomposity of the Marxist revolutionaries and gave their opponents some of the best arguments – there is no question that he saw social change as being a product of left wing dialectics. Donald Robertson does engage with the possibility of change, although there is no necessary link to the dreams of the SWP.

Indeed, the change that Donald Robertson imagines is well within the existing, brutal confines of capitalism. The hero, a young boy at the bottom of the school hierarchy, uses vicious humour to win a place in the feral pack of youths of roam Glasgow. His successful routine, which necessitates him attacking his mentor, doesn’t bring him opportunities beyond a place in a gang. There’s even a subtle suggestion (in his misuse of “Castle Greyskull” as a place of villainy) that he has rejected his intelligence for popularity.

McNair’s genius is to have recognised how contemporary comedy is not the force for liberation that Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks might have claimed. In Comedians, the tension is between old fashioned, musical hall style comics and the modern, more aggressive acts: Griffiths opposes them and questions the difference between humour at the expense of the weak and comedy that tells “truth to power.” Donald Robertson may have a brief moment when he does the latter – specifically, telling a teacher who has betrayed him that he is a bit of a cunt. But it’s clear that the comedy he adopts is merely another form of bullying.

McNair’s genial monologue does hide a pessimistic vision of both comedy and society. Like Comedians, the central relationship is between a student and teacher and the climax is a performance: both students ultimately resist their teacher, and the audience is not given a clear moral finale. Yet where Comedians ends in an unresolved conversation between the two, Donald Robertson describes the final parting of ways: McNair remains on the bus, while Donald runs free with his pack, lobbing bricks at it.

Comedy in both works has a social function, but Griffiths’ belief in the possibility of grand change (the “revolution” that so many 1970s’ authors could at least imagine) is replaced by McNair’s characters’ compromises within an existing hierarchy. Throughout Comedians, the comedians debate whether success is worth selling out: for Donald, success is a matter of not being at the bottom of the pile.

The limited horizons of McNair’s protagonists are palpable in the scale of their ambitions, and the cultural reference points they share. In Comedians, a final issue becomes the teacher’s visit to Belsen: a variation on the old “no poetry after Auschwitz,” the importance of comedy is questioned in a world where such atrocities can happen. For Griffiths, the correct response to the location of the mass extermination of a religious group is crucial (and it isn’t the erection that the teacher gets). McNair uses the correct knowledge of He-Man’s sanctuary as a symbol of how Donald has sold out his mentor.

The pessimism of Donald Robertson isn’t so much in the inevitable failure of comedy to change anything – Griffiths questions that potential – but in the way it maintains the status quo. McNair’s world is circumscribed – a bus, a school – geographically, morally and socially. His best hope is that the victim of Donald’s routine “deserved it” and Donald’s best bet is to become part of the tyrannical gang, not defeat them. The irony that Donald betrays him is never revealed to McNair, and he becomes the perfect victim: his smart suit and coiffure suggest he is part of a middle-class that Donald could not join anyway, and he receives no consequences from his metaphorical beating. The compassion that led him to help Donald does little to alleviate the divisions that have cursed the student: there is no reconciliation, or even acknowledgement of the huge social gap between man and boy.

In the past, McNair’s gentle person has hidden the edge of serious complaints (Crunch hit at the faith in money) or matched some pleasantly liberal investigations (Count Me In). Donald Robertson is a more cunning performance – certain of the jokes have fridge brilliance, and the perspectives of McNair and Donald are switched in the finale, deconstructing McNair’s confidence and Donald’s apparent innocence. Even his asides, revealing the structures and tricks of comedy, are deconstructed when the truth of persona, story and details are called into question in the final moments. The darkness in which Donald Robertson exists is wrapped in charm and apparent hesitancy and its meaning is a slow reveal, unfurling over hours after the echo of the last laugh has finally faded. 

Eric and Vile - an old public disagreement...

GKV: I missed the acrobats. I just thought that the lights had gone on for a break, and that Amanda Palmer was just the intermission music.

EK: Hehhe... that was Dizzy Godiva & Wicked McElders - they were quite funny! Mixing comedy with actual acrobatics- mainly lifts - seemed to work for them. The audience was certainly entertained. As it was a mixed-sex couple, it would seem traditional for the man to do all the lifts, but they demonstrated that you don't need to be a man to lift another person.

OY! Come back! Burlesque dancing with Nick Cave as accompanying music ought not to distract you, Vile!

Wow, red undergarments! I am quite intrigued now...And the layers keep coming off, to reveal gold-sequin undergarments. Very sophisticated, Vile.

GKV: Is this where we have a big massive argument about the aesthetics of burlesque? Actually, can you tell me more about Godiva and McElders. By a mixed sex couple do you mean a man and a woman? And who was doing the lifting?

EK: Sure, change the subject... But I think you're right; this is not the place or time to have that argument.

And yes, mixed sex couple was meant to indicate a man and a woman, because otherwise it felt too wordy. There goes that idea. Anyhow, she lifted him twice - he pretended not to be able to lift her at all, in this 'who is stronger' competition.

This sounds a lot like the BRB track for Subcity, doesn't it?

GKV: Yes. So acrobatics - good or bad?

EK: They were good! Really funny, and engaging. They weren't even on the stage, so their act had the immediacy of street performing in it, without the part where everyone fucks off to avoid paying.

Now what?

A woman screaming, ominous music, shadows moving about... what's going on?!

From here, it looks like one of the aliens from the Arches' basement has escaped. Yet I can't see...

Vile? Vile!

GKV: It's Calum MacAskill. I've been waiting to see this routine for  a while. He's acting out a dark ice demon fantasy, all puppetry, projection and physical potency.

I do worry about these live blogs. I hope we aren't trivialising the performances. Or not giving them enough attention. Or being too busy playing the critical clowns to drop back  into some serious moments of hardcore review action...

Mimosa, Parising is Paris at the Judson Church

Since both post-modern dance and the voguing ball scene are marked by considerable self-indulgence, it is unsurprising that (Mi)imosa – Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church, which takes its cues from these movements, frequently gets lost in rambling interludes. These passages threaten to undermine the conceptual brilliance of Tarjai Harrell’s fusion of high art and queer subversion, only to be rescued by the virtuosity of the four strong cast.

Harell’s genius is to imagine a past in which the Judson Church, home to various, dynamic choreographers in the 1960s, was invaded by the downtown ballroom scene, where queer culture flourished and social dance was a vigorous means of cultural expression. Alongside the highly formalised “task based” movements of the post-modern choreographers from Judson, there is lip-synching and catwalk posing, drag and kitsch operatic numbers. The collision of styles is bracing, postulating a choreography that links the showing out of the nightclub and the high art of contemporary dance. And beneath the performance, the urgent questioning of queer culture, its deconstruction of masculine and feminine stereotypes and the gap between the real and the fake.

Arika, who programmed (M)imosa as part of Episode 5, their look at queer identity, have moved away from their roots in music to curate weekends that challenge notions of freedom. In Episode 5, sexual identity gets called, and queer culture (including gay, bisexual, trans and drag) is presented as an alternative to the monolithic sexualities and gender identities that artistic director Barry Esson suggests are inculturated by the dominant hegemony (also known as late capitalism, social normativity, the state and patriarchy).

(M)imosa undeniably strikes at easy delineates of gender and sexuality: the four performers flicker between male, female, gay and straight appeal. But in stark contrast to Esson’s radical distrust of stable ideas of fake and real, the performers restate authenticity through their mockery of stereotypes and intriguing gender recombinations. Towards the end, Harell himself tells an anecdote to reveal the five occasions when the fake must be put aside (interestingly, three of them are sacraments, the fourth is for matters of health and the final one is shopping). (M)imosa might take delight in confusion and faking it, but the possibility of parody depends on the verifiable existence of the object to parody.

Given the cabaret format of the performance, and the many moments of brilliance (including an excerpt from a ballet, the final Prince impersonation, a funky introduction that is the most obvious integration of vogue and contemporary choreography and the sudden shift into a terrifying dark light disco session), much of the show is pure entertainment, sweetening the implied message of freedom to adapt gender to desire by revealing how much fun it can be.

The various caricatures of masculinity and femininity that drag deconstructs – the macho, the romantic artist, the camp gay male – are themselves melting in the mainstream thanks to the fire of feminism and gay liberation: the moments of predictability (a version of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights routine, as seen in Peter McMaster’s entry to the Behaviour festival and in Boris and Sergei’s Vaudevillian Adventure this year and the on-stage temper tantrums that are a polite reflection of Ann Liv Young’s predictable melt-downs) are reminders that queer culture isn’t so alien: the similarities between (M)imosa and Victoria’s White Star Hotel, which came to Tramway over eight years ago suggest that the contested issues aren’t entirely marginalised. And there’s the recycling of recent pop culture into new meanings, a process that Simon Reynolds describes in Retromania and is pretty much the main strategy of pop, mainstream, alternative and underground.
Far from establishing a distinctive space where identity can be up for grabs, this version of the queer is recognisable as a manifestation of the same cultural practice that has Beyonce referencing vogue in her Sasha Fierce persona, or the questioning of authenticity as seen on Channel 4’s Faking It series. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and it is part of that dominant hegemony’s talent to integrate the underground into its own agenda.

As Esson said in his introductory speech, the queer space is an alternative to discursive analysis – instead of arguing about gender identity, it dances around the subject, valuing fun and physicality over cerebral blather like this review. Harell and his co-creators (Cecilia Bengoles, Francois Chaignaud and Marlene Monteiro Freitas) groove and educate, even if they could have done with a good dramaturge to cut out the longeurs between the routines. They might not quite offer a genuine freedom, or abolish the tyranny of normative sexuality but they do promise a good time for the mind and the emotions.

Extract from the Biography of Mr Criticulous....

"There's a reason why the avant-garde plays get collected in a special book, and don't just become familiar in the schedules, or get made into television series or films," Criticulous began to explain in yet another of his sporadic manifestos. Unfortunately, he failed to provide a coherent argument and was perhaps merely clearing his throat before he began the 1992 tour: Criticulous Sells Out.

Sadly, Criticulous' idea of mainstream subversion was to dress up as David Bowie and perform a karaoke version of The Laughing Gnome at full volume, surrounded by a set made up of broken lego. The only interview he gave during this tour - to a bemused music critic who had thought he was at a tribute gig - hints that the chemical enthusiasms that had undermined his 1970s were back in full effect.

The absolute failure of the tour - after being bottled in Stoke, he cancelled the rest of the gigs, and retreated to his studio - was matched only by the incoherence of his explanations in the interview. At first, he came across as heavily refreshed, slurring his words and was distracted by the patterns on the writer's note-pad. By the end, he was howling, as if in pain, and his concluding words were sadly prescient.

"Success destroys far more than failure. In the next decade, we'll see a sudden shift towards political support for the arts. Then, when the right gets back into power, it will be like now, only worse. The artist will have forgotten how to protest."

Friday, 24 May 2013

More Politics, Or Something (Emerging Artists, too)

Kenneth Davidson didn't so much give me the number of the beast in response to my last blog, he gave me its post code. I am always worried when I try to get political, because I know that I have friends who are far more knowledgeable than I am.

In the meantime, I did check out the speech made by Maria Miller. Ever since Rob Drummond did a version of  the Blondie number and dedicated it to the arts minister, I've been trying to get my head around the problem. I mean, she's a Tory, right? Did anyone expect her to say anything that didn't involve their catch-phrase of austerity?

The British political theatre of the 1970s, at least in the English, scripted variations, expressed a determinedly socialist intention and an almost anarchic cynicism about the antics of socialist politicians. The Labour Party is pictured as hopelessly compromised, the smaller parties as dismal cults of personality. Before the advent of punk, which fired into the raw, inarticulate alienation of the working classes, theatre was possibly the most dynamic public forum for the discussion of counter-cultural ideology. While the hippies of the 1960s settled into drug psychoses and addiction, or mellowed out over Pink Floyd’s jams, playwrights were seething.

If there is a revival of the political urge amongst young playwrights today, it is tempered by the spirit of the 1980s (Thatcher’s declaration that there is no such thing as society might be more historically prescient than her war against trade unionism, what with the reformation of ideas like “friendship” and “privacy” thanks to the Internet) and the 1990s, when Tony Blair deliberately courted the arts and, mainly in the now derided Cool Brittania phase, made them courtiers to the state. Rather than taking swipes at the figures who engage with existing political systems, there is a focus on the lives of the victims of the systems. At its best, contemporary political theatre is compassionate rather than angry.

Anger is a difficult emotion to express. It is deliberately repulsive: much of the reason for the original resistance to punk was perhaps its naked aggression. Whether The Sex Pistols were mining the incoherent anguish of personal alienation, or The Clash were making rudimentary attempts to join the political dots, punk married a conservative sound – the rough edges of noise that would later flourish in the wave of 1980s bands who regarded feedback as an instrument were more a function of musical ineptitude – with an immediate rage. If early rock’n’roll took the joyous and nervous blossoming of adolescent sexuality, punk grounded itself in the teenage temper tantrum.  
Rob Drummond is possibly marking himself out as the angriest of the new generation of Scottish theatre-makers. Both Quiz Show and Riot of Spring have scenes of disgust: the quiet meditation on child abuse that concludes the former and the karaoke tribute to Maria Miller in the latter. They swerve into the lack of focus that is often the hallmark of rage – the closing monologue of Quiz Show fails to consider why celebrities can get away with paedophilia, merely condemning it (a statement impossible to reject), and the irritation directed at the culture minister is trivial, especially in the context of a play that brings up the major disturbances that rocked London (before the Olympics restored a measure of national pride).

In both cases, however, Drummond is exploring something different from the compassion studies of his contemporaries Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair. In Rantin, Hurley offers a kaleidoscope of modern Scottish lives, only briefly tearing into the tyranny of late capitalism and containing this monologue within a broader narrative that is more interested in presenting the richness of individual’s lives. McNair’s thrilling Donald Robertson, meanwhile, is a close-up on how comedy can save a young man’s social status while destroying his moral integrity.

Drummond is harking back to the 1970s of the punks rather than the playwrights: he is doing anger as a counterblast. If it works better within The Riot, that is because the overall structure – episodic, sketchy and consciously aping a DIY production – hold the moment more carefully. The speech at the end of Quiz Show, while a more precise moral position, is disappointingly vague in a play that has a well-managed formal shape. The difference is between the script, which allows for deeper discussion, and the DIY devised show that taps into immediate energy.

The kind of detailed political analysis that can make the 1970s’ authors dated has not resurfaced in the contemporary political writers. It’s noticeable that much of the strongest political theatre has addressed matters of national identity – Alan Bissett’s Turbo Folk or Greig’s Dunsinane.

There’s a precision in these works’ understanding of the relationship between Scotland and the UK that has not been matched in the early responses to the London riots. Hurley, in collaboration with AJ Taudevin, offered Chalk Farm, a look at the experience of a rioter and their mother, an approach mirrored in Riot of Spring.  In both cases, the story was descriptive and the underlying assumptions about the reasons behind the riot were more struts for the plot and characters than the complex deconstruction Dunsinane applies to Anglo-Scottish relations.

In two senses, this isn’t important. Drummond and Hurley, and Taudevin, are all emerging artists – hardly at the first stage of their career, but not in the pomp of their glory. There’s time for them to do the analysis, probably when they become middle-aged. And it isn’t just the job of the artist to complete the discussion: the audience can get involved too. Both Chalk Farm and Riot, and Rantin et cetera provide a provocation.

Indeed, the compassion Hurley and Taudevin display in Chalk Farm sets a tone for the discussion, as well as giving a few details for the post-show arguments. Even the incompleteness has a virtue: it prevents the drama from becoming a rhetorical announcement of a definitive position. As Leonard Cohen points out, when he wasn’t boasting about sexual conquests or being a Baldy Buddhist, it’s the crack in everything that lets the light come in. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Sugar is Bad For You

The Worst thing about getting old, apart from hair-loss, is the content of the flyers that get handed to me on a Friday night out in Glasgow. A few years ago, I used to get bits of cardboard telling me about the latest clubbing experience. Now I get offered half-price admission to lap-dancing clubs. On the positive side, I guess I must pass as a wealthy businessman.

It's not that I have any moral objections to lap-dancing. Being a typical liberal who pretends that he is an anarchist, I'd like to support The Guardian's praise for Iceland, but the presence of Julie Bindel makes me suspicious of the rigour that went into the research. But before I get into a post-feminist minefield, I do have something that sends me into the sort of apocalyptic rage that The Daily Mail would envy.

There's this website, right, and it is all about "the first and only, patent pending online dating website where singles can buy and sell first dates." And they have a sister website which "sought to redefine what it means to be a sugar daddy by redefining the modern “sugar daddy” as a mentor, sponsor or benefactor who is always respectful, generous, and seeking to empower others."

They send me regular press releases. When I noticed that a major Scottish newspaper had used a press release as the basis of an article, I spent three weeks foaming at the mouth and swearing never to call myself a journalist ever again. 

It's not just that they add to the ongoing problem of the news agenda being defined by multinational companies. It's that they present a lifestyle - in which a young woman has an older, wealthier partner simply because he can splash the cash - which represents the ultimate commodification of intimate relationships. 

Am I fulminating about an organisation that legitimises prostitution? I hope not: I am not accusing the "sugar babies" of being any such thing. The whole idea just fills me with despair, as it is based on the assumption that cold, hard loot (These men spend about £1,877 per month on their Sugar Babies) can replace intimacy as the foundation of an emotional connection.

This press release has a list of cities that have the most sugar daddies per head of population, according to the sign up sheets for the website. I am pretty sure that I don't know anyone who has signed up - most of my male friends don't earn the amount of money you'd need to count as a potential sugar daddy. 

The cities on this list ought to be ashamed... it's like an index of alienation. There's no surprise that Glasgow is high up - the casual misogyny that fuels the dear green place is well documented. Bit shocked by Bristol and Edinburgh: I thought they had more class. 

The more I read the list, the worse it gets. They have a slot that gives the percentage of the Sugar Daddies who are married. Am I just getting heteronormative here? Aren't you suppose to be faithful if you are married? 

I need to stop right here. I am really very angry. Tell you what - here's a bit of the press release. If you think that I am just being uptight, write a blog explaining how this isn't mind-blowingly depressing. 

(It's that there is a website that is making money off of this that really gets me mad. I probably don't care about the relationships in themselves - liberal anarchist whatever guy that I am.)

Top 10 Sugar Daddy Cities in the UK - # Sugar Daddies per 1000 Adult Men Rank and City# of SDs per 1000 Adult MenAverage AgeAverage IncomeAverage Amount of Monthly Assistance Given to Sugar Babies% Married Out of Overall Membership
1. Bristol5.6543£ 199,641£ 2,43719
2. Manchester4.6840£ 194,991£ 2,24726
3. Oxford4.6439£ 240,557£ 2,58521
4. London3.9639£ 309,894£ 3,76625
5. Glasgow3.5240£ 202,521£ 2,91124
6. Belfast2.7440£ 150,207£ 1,42319
7. Edinburgh2.5839£ 201,927£ 1,87725
8. Leeds2.0639£ 185,817£ 2,40424
9. Brighton2.0044£ 190,742£ 2,08923
10. Nottingham1.9440£ 176,447£ 1,58417

According to the study the average Sugar Daddy in the United Kingdom is 40 years old and earns approximately £ 222,817 annually. He spends approximately £ 3,030 monthly on his sugar habit, which is 16 percent of his annual income. Since 2007, the number of married Sugar Daddies has dropped from 46 percent to 23% percent, a sign that the sugar lifestyle is becoming more widely accepted amongst single men.

“The term ‘Sugar Daddy’ is simply not a moniker reserved for the ‘one percent’. Rather, it is a lifestyle embodied by single men who have a genuine, vested interest in adding value to their partners’ lives,” says Brandon Wade, Founder & CEO of A WEBSITE I AM NOT GOING TO LINK “Last year, the number of single men joining our website doubled, reducing the number of married men who engage in this lifestyle.”

When the website first launched in 2007, the average Sugar Daddy was 44 years old and had a net worth of 5.4 million euros and 4.6 million pounds. The website attributes the steady decline in average net worth to the increase of men under the age of 35 years old entering the Sugar Daddy dating pool.

“Not only is the face of the modern Sugar Daddy changing, but his needs are as well,” says Wade. “Men who gain their wealth at a young age understand that time can’t be wasted chasing fruitless leads. Arrangements on our website are catered to ensure that both parties are satisfied.”

Verity Bargate Award

I am in a state of suspension. The silence between each blog is filled with research. I am trying to understand something about the economic foundations of theatre. I have sixteen tabs open. Fifteen of them have some form of financial theory on them. The other one is a page full of that Drunk Baby Meme.

The relentless energy of my ignorance is pushing me onwards. I rolled onto a page about the 2013 Verity Bargate Award. It's a national competition for new and emerging writers. There's a cash prize. 

I don't know how I feel about competitions for playwrights. Although the organisers are quick to stress that they do more than just pick one play - "the majority of the last shortlist have seen further development or professional productions," the idea of pitting scripts against each other feels gladiatorial. 

Then again, something like this might encourage new writers. Steve Marmion, Artistic Director of Soho Theatre, who are behind the competition, says “We want to hear a story we've never heard before, from a voice we weren't expecting."

And theatre needs new voices like death needs time and a junkie needs junkie. Marmion continues to explain what he seeks, in words that evoke a passionate future for the script. "Something that is brave with what it is trying to say, and how it is trying to say it.  Something that pushes our limits emotionally, morally and theatrically. Something that is the shout from the crowd that we have to listen to. It might just be the challenge that makes you start writing for the first time. "

I am going to go back to the solitude of my pondering, and assess whether this award is a further manifestation of the underlying capitalist structure of society (if it is, I hope the award doesn't go to a play about the socialist utopia, because I can only take so much irony). On the other hand, I don't know if I have decided that I hate capitalist per se, or just have a problem with the rather unpleasant version that is currently throwing down with democracy.

In the meantime, I might have blog readers who could use the information. If anyone does win this prize after having read about it here, I expect a name check in the programme notes at the premiere.

 Submissions are open from 1 – 30 June 2013.

No Answers and Some Lies

As I flutter around a broader analysis of Scotland’s performance landscape, I am starting to realise that some of the questions I need to ask are economic. The plethora of works in progress, or the alliance of various productions within a festival format, are perhaps the result of the specific economic conditions of 2013. My complaints that they don't represent a full range of possible performance presentations, or that they are a form of aesthetic cowardice, are undermined by the likelihood that they are the result of financial constraints.

Aside from my prejudice against Marxism, it has a fairly coherent attitude towards art. All art is created from the economic base. Art made in a capitalist society will embody capitalist values. Both Maria Miller's speech on the importance of art that has a financial return and Rob Drummond's sarcastic response in The Riot of Spring share a common foundation. Perhaps that's what David Cameron meant when he said "we are all Thatcherites, now." 

Applying this hypothesis is to go beyond the simple idea that the level of funding dictates the nature of the performance. It suggests that any message contained within the work will be part of the broader message of the society that has created and observed it. 

In other words, be as leftist as you like, chump. You are still on message. 

Unfortunately, I don't like to discuss the money. That's mainly because I don't really understand how wealth is created. I have a vague idea that it is something to do with the equation involving human activity and natural resources. I do have a good conspiracy theory, instead.

Let's assume that there is a consciousness behind the monstrous display of global capitalism. I'll call it Leviathan, and make it very clear that it is not the Elders of Zion, the Freemasons or the Rotary Club. It's a philosophical postulate that has no ontological basis, also known as a metaphor.

This consciousness has some kind of purpose: survival, I guess. And part of its survival is to make people work hard for its benefit. It has its benevolent moods, but every so often, it needs to remind the people who is the boss.

So it decides that it is time for s credit crunch. There needs to be too little money to do around. It pretends that there is scarcity. Being a Leviathan, it controls the media, and tells that to put out the message that cash is tight.

Then it cuts arts funding, convincing the artists that the credit crunch is real. 

At this point, the artists start to get interested in poverty, and DIY, and leftist politics. They make work that expresses their anger at the state, at the stock market, at the arts minister who has such a dry vision of creative value.

Being artists, they witness more than suggest solutions. A piece like Chalk Farm doesn't have an answer to the problems of alienation, but it does represent a certain experience. And this experience is made more real by being in fiction.

(If you let the Leviathan metaphor pass, that last sentence will have to wait...)

So, while the art appears to be against the dominant ideology, it actually reinforces its power to dictate the agenda. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

We Are Poets, Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?

WE ARE POETSInky Fingers are first up in this week's trawl of the inbox. We Are Poets is a film about six Leeds teenagers as they prepare for the world’s most prestigious poetry slam – Brave New Voices, and Inky Fingers are putting it on next week

At the end of the evening, they are having one of their usual open mic sessions. Since the film has been called a moving insight into freedom of expression, the North of England and the slam poetry scene, it's expected that the open mic might have a touch more heat...

While I can't agree with Screen International's comment that the film "should be mandatory viewing" (critics really seem to be mistaking themselves for the school dinner lady these days, telling everyone to eat up their greens), it has won a few awards so far:

Winner Youth Jury Award, Sheffield Doc Fest 2011
Winner Best Documentary Award, Darklight Festival Dublin 2011
Winner Goethe Film Prize, Berlin Zebra Film Festival 2012
Winner Audience Award, Univerciné Film Festival 2012
Official selection, Guadalajara International Film Festival 2012
Official selection, Bradford International Film Festival 2012
Official selection, New Zealand Doc Edge Film Festival 2012
Gala Presentation, Leeds Young People’s Film Festival 2012
Official selection, Sottodiciotto Film Festival 2012
The screening will be followed by a wildcard Open Mic, running 9.30pm – 11.30pm! Come along, add your name to the hat before or after the film, take your chances for 5 mins on the Inky Fingers stage!

Why Do You Stand There in the Rain? is my second find. Peter Arnott is one of Scotland's finest writers - the recently revived White Rose  is a storming critique of gender and collectivist politcs - and this show was commissioned for the 2012 Fringe. And although the company, Pepperdine University, are from the USA, they have made it back to the UK.

Apparently, their campus is in Malibu. They must be serious about the play of they are coming here from there.

Fair enough: Arnott takes up the story of the  Bonus Army March of 1932 on Washington DC: a kind of prototype occupy movement, in so far as it represented a spontaneous uprising of the dispossessed. The press release explains:

20,000 ragged and desperate First World War veterans and their families from all over the U.S. set up ‘Hoovervilles’ around the nation’s capital, to lobby Congress for the early release of a promised compensation package for services in the First World War. Congress voted no and Hoover called upon MacArthur and Patton to drive the veterans out of the capital. Armed with bullets and tear gas, 1,000 infantry and cavalrymen pushed the veterans out of Washington DC burning everything they owned.

I am inclined positively towards political theatre that looks to the past. First of all, it's a reminder that the state has been messing about with its citizens for quite a while - and Arnott is especially skilled at capturing the way that the Big Issue impacts on the personal. It has the added bonus of not being an attempt at explaining recent events before the dust has really settled: no co-opting of last week's news for this week's cause. 

And it has got tunes from Woody Guthrie, Bessie Smith and Leadbelly. 


Friday, 31 May Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Saturday, 1 June Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Monday, 3 June Òran Mór, Glasgow
Tuesday, 4 June Òran Mór, Glasgow
Thursday, 6 June Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
Saturday, 8 June Aros, Portree, Skye
Sunday, 9 June SEALL at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye
Monday, 10 June Lochan at Dornie Hall, Dornie
Tuesday, 11 June Eden Court, Inverness
Friday, 14 June Mull Theatre, Tobermory

Hmmm... The Real Criticulous?

Rock'n'roll's Alan Partridge
This afternoon, it’s time for a big shout out to Peter Paphides. He put up a really helpful guide to the new Daft Punk Album. Concluding with some marketing advice for record labels, it’s an object lesson in how not to write a critical response and I hope that the young critics of Glasgow are reading it, laughing and wondering why owning Sting albums is something to mention in public, let alone boast about.

Having spent a great deal of time pondering the role of the critic, and being painfully pompous in my attempts to describe possible functions, Paphides cuts to the chase. The job of the critic is, obviously, to tell people why they are not listening to music properly. He reminds me of Mr Didcot, my school music teacher, shouting at the class of twelve year olds for not showing real respect to Mozart.

Upset by the negative reaction to Daft Punk’s latest opus, which will doubtless take its place alongside Figaro in the twenty-fifth century, Paphides gets annoyed with the haters. He constructs his response in the form of a numbered list. It’s hilarious, especially when he bangs on about owning Sting albums. This apparently makes him an authority. 

Funnily enough, he starts off well enough,  pointing out that just because the album is not what was necessarily expected, that doesn't make it bad. But he quickly leaps into the worst critical persona: the arrogant know-it-all who understands the precise detail of an audience's listening experience. 

Apparently, paying for product makes the consumer appreciate it in more detail (possibly true, but I don't know if there is any evidence, and Paphides provides none). The listeners have nothing in their record collection that sounds like a particular track (no sophisticated meditation on originality or influence here, just a bold accusation). And Columbia's marketing department hadn't done enough research on how to disseminate the release. 

I mean, I like Live Art, and it is far more disliked than Daft Punk. There's a whole episode of excellent sit-com Spaced devoted to mocking it. Yet I have managed to avoid writing a list of ways to enjoy it properly...

(Actually, I did just that once. A prize to any reader who can find it.)

I'm done. Paphides has a bit of form on this - another article he wrote was about the Coldplay wristband he had glowing in the dark. Here's thanks to Limmy for starting the twitter row that made Paphides' article come to my attention - although a bit less time on the internet and more on writing sketches that don't trade on your wide-eyed innocence for the next series would be nice, Limmy. 

And for a little balance, Paphides' book, Lost in Music, is still worth a read. That's a passionate and personal account of how music shaped his life. 

Oh sorry, that was Giles Smith. It's just the quote from the song on Paphides' blog confused me....  

Marcus Roche Interview 2012

A little over a year ago, Marcus Roche was a guest on my radio show... chatting about a production as part of Mayfesto, an adaptation of To A God Unknown, John Steinbeck's novel of faith and the wide open spaces of America. A year later, and he is back at the Tron, director of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. He had a big hit during the Fringe with that, and I am still trying to untangle the questions it posed.

However, I just discovered this old interview that I had done with him, and it reminds me of three things.

1. Roche was utterly charming and enthusiastic about the power of theatre to make changes.
2. Being on the Radio Hour is a first step to sudden success, except for me.
3. Mayfesto has been consistently political in all of its editions.

And over to Roche...

What made Mayfesto a good platform for this particular piece ?

Mayfesto at the Tron has had a focus on personal politics. In To a God Unknown the main character is finding out about his own relationship with the land and his faith. Showing a piece of such personal journey of discovery to a Mayfesto audience seems really appropriate.

 Are there any other pieces in the festivals that you either think compares to A God, or that you are especially keen to see (and why?)

I think To A God Unknown is a universal story about people trying to make sense of their surroundings and in that it might share with Minute After Midday and No Time for Art 0 + 1. I've recently been in contact with two other Egyptian directors I’ve really been struck by how profoundly the revolution has altered the way they see the world. There is a lot of confronting the truth in this programme, which is very exciting.

I also am really keen to see some of the other work that is being developed like Chalk Farm and Scenes Unseen and I’m really interested in seeing what Springtime turns out to be. I am always enthused by the diversity of the rehearsed readings that are showcasing work in various stages.

 What is your role at the tron at the moment?

I'm working as a producer on placement in the Tron to help bring together a Glasgow-wide theatre festival for the next year.

How do you think that this edition of mayfesto has evolved from earlier years?

I feel this Mayfesto has put a focus on international work coming here while showcasing what Glasgow has to say about the world. These are two key themes that we are hoping to develop for next year’s festival.