Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Anita versus Shouty Guys Part One

This is Anita Sarkeesian. Over the past year or so, her YouTube channel, Feminist Frequency has presented a series of short programmes called Tropes Versus Women. Although it revisits an already recognised set of tropes - Women in Refrigerators, for example, has been explored in detail - the specific emphasis on gaming and Sarkeesian's consistent format offers a useful cataloging of both historical and contemporary examples. It increasingly examines the use of anti-feminist tropes within gaming.

Tropes versus Women is not an academic analysis of trope usage. It is clearly, if gently, polemical. While Sarkeesian does not dwell on her overall vision - she'll occasionally mention her resistance to companies that are only about the selling, or slap down neo-liberalism - she removes various examples from their immediate context and places them in a wider, social situation. Her condemnation of the sexualisation of otherwise dynamic female characters draws a sharp contrast with the representation of male characters, and suggests that they reflect a, perhaps unconscious, patriarchal bias. 

Tropes versus Women, however, has become a controversial series. While some of the critiques aimed at the programme are justified (for example, her crowd-funding success has not produced a body of work that reflects her income (yet)), there is a more worrying trend towards personal abuse directed at her. Many commentators (Thunderf00t, Sargon of Akkad) claim that their responses are  reasonable, but the subsequent comments on their videos are frequently violent and aggressive.

Perhaps Sarkeesian's notoriety and popularity are the result of gaming's insecurity about its social and aesthetic status. Her examples of sexualised characters are difficult to ignore, and follow from the critique of comic books and films. Her idea that gaming - with most other artistic forms - is dominated by unquestioned patriarchal norms is not too outrageous. Even the defence of these characters is often that 'they appeal to the demographic'. 

Sarkeesian is interesting because she has attracted so much attention. There are plenty of feminist commentators - Laci Green for example - who attract equal hatred, but other feminist YouTubers who cover similar aesthetic areas, like The Nostalgia Chick, get less grief. Her recent political appeals to the UN, to challenge anti-social on-line behaviour, place her in a category of influence beyond most vloggers. 

Robbie Thompson, Jack Wrigley and Sarah Milne

This May, at Cryptic Nights in the CCA, Robbie Thompson, Jack Wrigley and Sarah Milne will be showing their new work Inducer. Mixing their individual practices together, they aim to “create immersive experiences that engage the audience on a number of levels” to create a multi-sensory event. Artist Robbie Thompson spoke to me about the development of Inducer:

How does Inducer develop from your previous work and in what ways does it depart from it?

Inducer follows on from the work Jack, Sarah and I made for the ICA. We’re expanding our kinetic orchestra to include a range of new instrumentation – cello, violins, tape loops, pin barrel organ, etc. and reworking older ideas such as Jack’s ‘Glass Armonium’. Sarah is using her textile and costume work in a more sculptural way to create figurative elements within the piece.

Inducer is inspired by the psychological phenomenon of folie a deux, or shared delusion, how does Inducer convey this eerie partnership?

We’re interested in the way that altered states can be induced by sound and visual stimulus and the way that this has been explored and exploited throughout history. From cave paintings, mantras and shadow play that are believed to be used by early human cultures to create mythologies to pseudo-scientific machines designed to invoke hallucinogenic states there is a rich tradition of people experimenting with ways to delude and heighten the senses. The ‘Glass Armonica’ – glass playing instrument – that Jack has built is closely related to this tradition. 

In its Victorian heyday the high frequencies and harmonics created by the Armonium had a mesmeric effect that would captivate the audience and was considered dangerous, due to reports of famous players going mad. Though this was later attributed to lead poisoning from the glasses used, the sonic qualities of the Armonium created an enduring perception of its maddening effect! Folie a deux is a psychological phenomenon that provides a fitting metaphor for conveying hypnotic and surrealistic imagery and describing the relationship between the audience and the artwork.

And, finally, what are your plans for the future, and will we be seeing you again at Cryptic Nights?

We’ll be busy this summer with 85A finishing off our self-produced film Chernozem (written by Judd Brucke) - it’s an industrial horror-fantasy that follows the story of a chain-gang escapee with a factory for a head! It will premiere at a specially constructed cinema at the Glue Factory in autumn.

Thu 5 – Sat 7 May, 8pm
CCA, 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Oh Dear, who cares?

1. I don't hate nations. I dislike governments, and disdain policies by certain specific countries. I do make an exception, however, for ISIL. Since they do not represent a country in the same way as, say, the government of the United Kingdom, and every single activity in which they engage seems to be driven by hatred, I'm comfortable stating that ISIL represent the worst extremes of political identity. 

It's a bit like if Combat 18 were running whatever bits of the UK they could hold through continued violence.

2. For better or worse, social media has become the primary way that I experience the news. On my Facebook feed, I have friends who share socialist bile, links to foreign news and loads of click bait articles. Despite my own political position being on the left (for the most part), I find the postings of my fellow leftists to be increasingly frustrating.

Perhaps my eclectic mixture of Christianity, Japanese Buddhism, Marxist dialectics, Platonism, anarchism and queer positive influences has encouraged an attitude of love, not hate. I'm not keen on the Conservative Party in the UK, but even Boris deserves to be heard, and freedom of speech is only freedom if extended to those with whom I disagree.

3. Social media allows every individual to curate their own experience of the world, and the news agencies. The idea that 'we are all the media' now is misleading - we have the capacity to both express our opinions and disseminate information, but this may simply be an enlargement of our ability to hold conversations rather than a paradigm shift in the way we communicate.

Nevertheless, social media has changed the way that I experience media. For example, I did not read a single racist post on my feed after the Paris Attacks. Yet I did read that racism was on the increase. 

4. Social media acts as a form of confirmation bias. 

5. Social media encourages short form responses.

6. To counter both problems, I advocate the teaching of the mechanism of confirmation bias, and how to counter it, to all young people.

7. I also like to watch long films about sociology.

Diderot and the Lapdancer: Chapter One.

In good weather, it was his habit to arrive at the club around five o'clock in the evening. I’d see him there, sitting with his back facing the bar, always alone, wrapt in thought. He was discussing with himself – and anyone who caught his attention – politics, love, art, philosophy.

I’m indulging my mind, he says, in whatever it fancies, letting it follow the first thought, daft or wise that it comes across...

Like the regulars, who follow the dancer with a carefree look, a welcoming face and a lively eye, then leaving her for another? His thoughts are his whores, obviously. Although the term preferred now is sex workers (a reminder that his revolutionary mind did not quite extend to the liberation of women...)

And do those  thought ever follow to actually having a dance while you are here? 

I was accosted by one of the most extraordinary characters that this country possesses – and God knows we are not short of them! She’s a mixture of the noble and the base, intelligence and madness. 

It’s very charming of you to describe me so, Mr...?

Diderot. I am the irresistible Diderot.

I’ve seen you here often, Diderot. But don’t you ever have a dance?

I don’t care for oddities like you. Once a year is enough for me. 

Ah, Mister Philosopher! What are you doing among this group of scoundrels, then? Are you wasting time pushing the wood around?

I enjoy watching the dancers work the room, when I have nothing better to do.

An observational philosopher, are we? Not a bold anthropologist who mixes with the culture he would understand? 

As long as things are in our understanding only, they are just opinions: it’s only by observing external objects, and linking them to our understanding, that we can know whether they be true or false.

You say that, yet you know that there is a multitude of phenomena that happen beyond the limitations of your understanding... for example, what happens behind the black curtain, Mr Diderot?

It is easier and quicker to consult my own mind than investigate it in the world. 

I think perhaps you’ll be astonished if you had a dance?

Then my work as a philosopher would be to dissipate that astonishment.

Then let me remind you that you are in the club, and here a certain set of rules abide. ‘Take the dress of the country you are going to...’ 

And in reply, let me remind you that your dance is merely the end of a process whereby the most solemn desires, a noble and innocent pleasure, has been converted into a source of depravity and evil. To be clear, in a better society, where no laws bound the natural passions, where women are not trapped in matrimony, where social status can be no barrier to shared delights, this corrupted merchantile exchange, this commodification of the very body itself, would be an unnecessary transaction.

The philosopher speaks again of ideals, some utopia of authentic experience. I can see the conflict in your eyes, the gestures, the way you writhe upon the seat: the natural man, with natural curiosity and honest passions, longs to know what is behind the curtain. Yet the other man, the artificial moral man, strives to chain this natural inquisitiveness with rules and codes. You want...

We both want... you want my money... you are made ill by the  tyranny of man, who has made you into property.

In want, a man has no remorse. In sickness, a woman has no shame... now, do you want to discover how shameless I can be?

And so he agrees, knowing that pleasure and pain are the only foundations for action, and that those educated men who lock themselves away from life for the benefit of study are not driven by their desire for women but thinking, only thinking (and that was never his desire).

Le Neveu de Rameau (3, 4) pg 190 (ID)

De L’Interpretation de la Nature (VII, VI, X) pg 62-3 (ID)

Supplement au Voyage de Bougainville pg 317, 315 (ID)

Refutation D’Helvetius pg 295 (ID)

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Three Pärts Bach


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Pärt Fratres
Bach Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041
Bach Chorale: Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein (from Art of Fugue, BWV 1080)
Gubaidulina Meditation über der Bach Chorale: Vor deinen Thron tret ich hier mit
Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043
Pärt Collage über Bach – Toccata
Bach Contrapunctus XIX (from Art of Fugue, BWV 1080)
Pärt Summa
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

The meditative, cyclic, cascading notes of Bach hold a subtle power. As musicians begin to play by the soft light of candles, as well as other specially-created lighting touches designed to add to the mesmeric effect, they will fill and transform the space. Add to this slices of spiritual calm, in the form of Arvo Pärt’s cinematic violins, as well as the surprise of Sofia Gubaidulina’s eerie homage to the Baroque master, and the overall effect is one of meditation, reflection and immersion.

With his specialist knowledge and passion for period instrument performance, we are thrilled to welcome Matthew Truscott as guest director and solo violinist in two Bach concerti. Matthew regularly leads the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and the Magdalena Consort; his engagements as concertmaster include the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and English National Opera.

GUEST DIRECTOR: Matthew Truscott

Mon 7 Dec    Dundee
Tue 8 Dec     Edinburgh
Wed 9 Dec    Glasgow
Thu 10 Dec    Aberdeen
Fri 11 Dec      Inverness
Sat 12 Dec     Perth

A Dramaturgical C ----: Gary Kitching @ Ovalhouse

Me & Mr C is about the ventriloquist dummy inside your head who sees all you see, knows all you know, hears all you hear and sometimes, if you are very unlucky, tells you what he thinks of it all. Gary Kitching is an improviser, actor and comedian and Me and Mr C is his funny and disturbing rendering of what it is like to have a voice in your head. Mr C sits inside your head and watches.  

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Gary Kitching: I always wanted to do a solo show and expected the best playwright in the world to be inspired by me as a performer and write me one, but they didn't. So I thought I better make my own.

I'd been doing loads of improvisation and comedy and word got to Northern Stage that I had a show and they asked if I would like to perform in their scratch night. I agreed even though I had no idea what I was going to do. I had a month to prepare and did nothing until the week before. Then I quickly realised I had no idea how to write a show. So I decided to improvise it.
The basic idea I had was that there would be a man (me) and his dummy (Mr C) and he would be lonely and there would be stand up. I then had a few impro games to play and that was it, so the show developed on stage in front of an audience. 

The show is about depression, I had some therapy and one of the things I had to do was name the negative voice in my head. It's name was Mr C**t. So that's what I have in my mind when I start the show. Mr C represents that negative voice in my head.

How did you go about the collaboration for the show?

After I had developed the show in front of an audience , after maybe 5 or 6 performances I was invited to do the show as part of Greyscale's Theatre Brothel at Northern Stage. Through that I met Selma Dimitrijevic and Lorne Campbell. I knew the show needed direction before it went to Edinburgh so I asked if they would be interested which thankfully they were, but unfortunately the funding I had applied for was turned down so we only had a very limited amount of time to work on it. 

After Edinburgh in 2012 I decided I had gone as far as I could with it and forgot about it and decided to make another show, the problem was I still felt slightly frustrated with it as I felt it hadn't reached its full potential. Fast forward to the end of 2014 and Selma and I had worked on my other show Dead To Me

She asked me what I wanted to do and I talked about Me and Mr C; within an hour Selma had put together a touring pack and it was back on. 

Selma had also recently seen a show directed by Alex Swift called Fat Man. I'd worked with Alex on a couple of R&D's and we got on really well, I felt with Selma as producer and Dramaturg and Alex as Director the show could become what I felt it had never achieved.

What made you decide to work with Ovalhouse?

I knew it was a place that supported interesting and experimental work. I also wanted to bring it to London. I'm really grateful to everybody there as they have made me feel really appreciated and welcome. I feel we have a good show at a good venue. Happy days.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

This process was unique to the type of show I wanted to create. I have no idea if I will create another improvised one man show, it's unlikely. The other show I created started with a conventional process of script writing and a couple of scratch performances. The next show might have a totally different approach. Who knows?

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the audience will realise they are experiencing something
unique to them and that night. I hope they will laugh, a lot. I hope they will be moved. 

I hope they will think about the work afterwards. Or if none of that happens I hope they feel like that haven't wasted their money and that at least they've had a good night out.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I suppose the tradition of improvisational theatre is there in this show. As for others I'm not sure. I hope people find my work funny, dark, interesting challenging and entertaining. I'm not sure what tradition of theatre that is. 

I'll go for the tradition of "Good Theatre". I'd like to hope/think it occasionally falls into that tradition.

Are there any other questions that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?

I don't know. I'm not that good at analysing my work so I rely on much cleverer people to do that for me. Essentially Selma and Alex in this case. They both have an understanding of theatre that seems like magic to me.

Gary Kitching is an improviser, actor and comedian and Me and Mr. C is his funny and disturbing rendering of what it is like to have a voice in your head that explains to you with authority, purpose and well referenced arguments, that you are a worthless piece of shit. An experience some of you may be able to sympathise with.

Director: Alex Swift
Lighting Design: Katharine Williams
Writer/Performer: Gary Kitching
Producer & Dramaturg: Selma Dimitrijevic

Monday, 23 November 2015

Mad Cyril Tells It like He Sees It (Diderot and the Lap-dancer, interlude 3)

I have a bit of bother with this whole ‘suspension of disbelief’ malarkey.  I know Coleridge came up with it, and he wasn’t adverse to a bit of puff. Suggests his relationship to reality was probably tangential. But I’ve seen a few plays, like that Forced Entertainment one when I was right off my chump, and I didn’t feel the need to scream that there was a real gorilla on the stage. It was that sexy bird in a monkey suit. I knew that.

Mind you, I still reckon that Bloody Mess was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling the dramatic illusion old Diderot bangs on about. The way that they had these characters
doing their own thing, ignoring each other pretty much, just trying to tell their own story – and the way that this overlapped so that each personal story reflected on the others – this series of unconnected episodes that somehow connected to each other. 

Yeah, that’s the closest I’ve seen to real life on stage. Plus no-one knew whether they were a tragedy or a comedy: couple of clowns trying to split up, only they couldn’t; a sexy lady talking dirty in that gorilla clobber; two dirty long-hairs pretending they were romantic heroes.

That time Forced Entertainment was good – unlike their follow-up, which tried the same trick only explaining history and failed – that was text-book dramatic illusion. See, they kept piling it on, scene after scene. The sort who wanted to pass away, the geezer doing his impersonations of various bombs, the clown trying to tell a story about the universe… the end of the Universe, as it happens, which suggests that they might have had a bit of a destructive theme going on. 

The emotions got higher and higher, until the whole thing was a bloody mess. Just what it says on the tin – and there was no way reason was able to cope with the amount of information they were chucking at the audience. The constant interruptions, the bickering, bloke getting his nads out at one point… it was so much that reason was proper overwhelmed. And so, yeah, I might never have forgotten that it was a play – they were quick to chat straight at the audience – but I was right in and about it.

Diderot was never much cop at fiction: his novel gets distracted by big ideas and
wanders off to explore them. One thing, which Lessing sampled in his Hamburger Cook-Book, was this thing, where a bloke is told about this intrigue – which is really a play – then gets taken to the theatre to see it. The punch-line is, even though the bloke’s been told the intrigue is all real, as soon as he sees the play, in a theatre (natch), he’s like: oh right, it’s a play.

Now I mention this because Diderot is explaining why plays can never have suspension of disbelief. In his time, they had the knobs sitting on the stage and all, so you got these gawkers right up in the action. Diderot did mention that he wanted the impediments to realism out of the way, but this problem – of explaining the dramatic illusion through reason (it’s supposed to be a thing of emotional overload, so quite why he thinks he’ll manage that is another point) – is made a lot more difficult when the play as a play is being made clear by all the stage business and the way that the actors speak their words.

Suspension of disbelief? Skin us up another one, Coleridge, eh?

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Ali Bawbag and the Four Dramaturgies: Gary McNair talks panto

Christmas Panto
Ali Bawbag and the Four Tealeafs
Mon, 30 November, 2015 — Wed, 23 December, 2015
By Dave Anderson and Gary McNair

Featuring Dave Anderson, George Drennan, Frances Thorburn and Anita Vettesse

Ali is a very poor man, with a brother who is wealthy. He also has a wife who looks, let’s face it, like a man. One day, Ali is in the woods – don’t ask – when he sees a (budget) band of robbers. 

The leader says a magic password and a boulder rolls away from a rock face. Ali discovers, after they’ve gone, a cave full of riches, and his life is never the same again. A strange tale unfolds, involving Ali’s greedy brother, his aspirational wife, the band of robbers, and more besides.

Drennan and trumpet
Òran Mór’s annual Christmas Panto for grown-up children has become a not to miss Festive Season comedy treat. Join us this December for Dave Anderson and Gary McNair’s irreverent take on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Boo, cheer and sing-along, Oh, yes you will!

How did you get involved in this PPP panto business?
Gary McNair: I’ve got a good relationship with the guys at PPP. I had my very first commission their with Crunch and I’ve gone on to write and direct several other pieces for them. I’m also a part of the group the DM collective, founded by David MacLennan,  we create political satire shows there every year or so. 

It was through this that I first got to work with the wonderful Dave Anderson, we’ve really got a lot out of working together on those shows and from there, he invited me in to collaborate with him on the writing process for the summer Panto which was a real honour and a great laugh so, thankfully, he’s asked me back along.  

Will you be performing in it? After all you’re known as a monologist who performs his own scripts.

Oh no I won’t! 

I know that I’m perhaps more known to people as someone who performs my own scripts, but I tend to only do that once a year and so I save performing for the projects that I feel are right for me to do or the stories that I feel that only I could tell. But for the rest of the year, I create shows for other people to perform, which I enjoy just as much as performing. I really love the art of writing. 

I love getting to craft a story and watching other people bring it to life. Also, I can’t sing for toffee so I wouldn’t unleash that agony on a paying public. 

Were you a panto fan growing up?
Not massively. But that’s only because I never really went to any. Our school didn’t do any panto trips as far as I remember so it never really got into my blood in the way that it has for other people. It was only in later years, and, actually it was through watching the panto’s at Oran Mor, that I realised that it’s such a brilliant medium for satire and social commentary which is right up my street. 

Show seems more aimed at adults is that a statement about panto’s potential as a more mature entertainment?
I guess it is a little more adult, yes. But not in a Jim Davidson way. Far from it. I think that, yes, panto has the potential to be mature entertainment, but I think that’s always the case. When you go and see the best ones like Johnny McKnight’s or Brian James’, for example, they’re working on multiple levels; the kids love it because it works for them but the adults are hooked in as well on big laughs that are perhaps going over the kids heads, kind of like the Simpsons in that manner.

Panto’s always have so many themes relevant to everyone; hardship suffered by the poor, greed versus good, the toppling of evil empires, I think if the show was particularly mature in anyway, I guess it would be that with the knowledge that it is a venue that has a more mature audience as well, we’re freed up a little more to push these themes more to the direct political reference to what’s going on the world and so we’re able ramp up the satire a little. It’s also very very silly. 

That’s the joy of writing it with Dave, his comic timing is exceptional and he has real integrity in his work too because he cares a great deal about the world. And it helps that we can have a bloody good swear into the bargain. 

Is the show set in Glasgow? Will there be familiar characters to those of us that hang around the west end?
It’s set in panto land, of course. But it is peculiar how similar panto land can be to Glasgow at times.
Gary in his previous Xmas show...

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Critique the Critic

It's inevitable that a critic who has read a few chapters of Nietzsche will defend his patent lack of consistency by rejecting systematic opinions as a tyranny or something. However, some of the contradictions inherent in Vile's approach are becoming too evident.

How to play
Vile's contradictions have been divided into three categories.

Anti-essentialist essentialism
On the one hand, as a post-modernism, GKV rejects the idea that any thing has an essential identity. 'Existential proceeds essence,' he slurs, wearing that beret he got on a day trip to Calais. However, he also believes in ontology - that is, things have a way of being, and it is this being that defines its form, expression and even quality.

Can you spot any articles where this unresolved dialectic is obvious? 

Freedom of Speech Feminist
Vile is in sympathy with strands of the feminist agenda - he calls himself a feminist and thinks Tropes versus Women is generally a good watch. But he also champions freedom of speech, to the extent of refusing 'no platforming' and secretly reading MRA blog posts. He says he does it for the laughs, or maybe to appreciate both sides of the conversation. 

Identify the articles where Vile's privilege comes through, or he polices other people's language, or perhaps that time he defended Jim Davidson.

Sell Out Anarchist
This ought to be fun. He waves the old red and black flag about, but likes to say he uses a dialectical process that does relate to Marxist strategies. Then he'll justify some activity on purely capitalist grounds.

Sniff out his political naivety for big prizes (not money).

THEN dramaturgy: Laura Lindow @ Ovalhouse


then LEAP by Laura Lindow

The clock ticks, the years pass, and 39 year old Ottilie Dundee finally goes home to unearth some long-buried truths. There she meets the largest obstacle of all, and true to form, this old friend never forgot.

Wed 25 Nov – Sat 28 Nov, 7:30pm
£12.00 (£7.00)
BOOK /  BOX OFFICE: 020 7582 7680

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Credit: Alex Brennar
Laura LindowThis is the first of my work that I have performed. I wanted to explore the impact of sharing my own actual words with actual people in a shared space. The impact on the room. On the tone and quality of the communication.

I was also interested in developing a landscape which felt quite personal (although Ottilie’s story is not my own). I call it a shonky
love song to family life. And that is what it feels like. A slightly misshapen tribute to the foundations upon which we build. The hurt that we build around. That we ALL build around.

How did you go about the gathering a team for the show?
I was lucky to work with a fantastic team of makers, both in the development and in the realization of this stage of the work. All felt very organic. And such a joyful opportunity to grow in understanding of different practitioners’ styles and interests. This process has had many champions.

What made you decide to work with Ovalhouse?
I heard so many wonderful things about Ovalhouse. Their ethos of supporting work in its developmental stages very much chimed with where this project is at. Additionally they made me feel so completely welcome throughout the time I have been with them. It’s also worth saying that I also have huge admiration for some of the artists with whom they collaborate regularly.

I'm aware that this may answer the previous question, but contact with audiences, both in the rural settings where we toured, but also around Lambeth, felt like a key collaboration, absorbing reactions, questions, concerns. It meant that we could make informed decisions in response. That Ovalhouse views this as an important element of progressing work that is engaged and engaging felt like a shared value.

I'm aware that this may answer the previous question, but contact with audiences, both in the rural settings where we toured, but also around Lambeth, felt like a key collaboration, absorbing reactions, questions, concerns. It meant that we could make informed decisions in response. That Ovalhouse views this as an important
element of progressing work that is engaged and engaging felt like a shared value.

Was your process typical of the way you make a performance?
I'm not sure that I have identified a typical process in my work. What is always present is a feeling of exploration. And play. I always start with play at the very heart, whether this is through words or action. This piece was commissioned as an attempt to create work which could play in both studio theatres and in less formal rural venues. 

I think this is reflected in the voice of the piece. It’s not just ‘can we move the set with 2 people’, it’s the heart and soul of what you hear and see. The temperature of our room if you will.

What do you hope the audience will experience?
Landscapes. Emotional and physical landscapes. I equip everyone with a travel sweet as a welcome present and/or to bribe them to come with me. I want them to travel in their mind’s eye.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I suppose the piece falls within the storytelling tradition. Although I'm looking for a word/phrase which communicates something that sounds a little less… chair-based.  Think Horlicks with a Malt whiskey trim. Story-jazzle? Leave it with me!

Are there any other questions that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy to you in your work?
Erm… I wonder about my sense of your definition of ‘dramaturgy’. I wonder if I'm going to answer this question adequately. In fact.. do you know… I wonder that a lot when it comes to discussing work! Is that common do you think? The fear of revealing one’s idiocy? 

I can tell you where I have stumbled! I can tell you where the analysis of the term autobiographical has led me to steer away from narrative directions as though they were wrapped in electric fencing! 

I can tell you about the beautiful truths that have revealed themselves through arming the piece with fiction. And how physical interventions have unleashed words from the page with ambition and roar. But the meaning of dramaturgy… let me think on.

The clock ticks, the years pass, and 39 year old Ottilie Dundee finally goes home to unearth some long-buried truths. There she meets the largest obstacle of all, and true to form this old friend never forgot.

Join writer/performer Laura Lindow as she
takes us on a fantastical journey into the bizarre world of Ottilie Dundee, part-time disappointment, unintentional heroine. 

This is a world where the smallest sound becomes a symphony. Where what you thought was trash becomes true-life treasure. Watch as this buttoned up heroine gets ready to cut loose…. and then LEAP!

Including originally composed sound and music, this is a shadowy tale with a contemporary sting.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Diderot's Manifesto (from Entretiens...)

That thing

You see that thing? No, not that big thing, I mean the little one that I'm supposed to care about? The one that is trending... maybe it is important, maybe it is an issue.

The one that I imagine that the world needs to read my thoughts about? 

You know, that thing.

Yeah, well, it's not a thing at all. It's just another thing that is getting traction, probably because it suits some big company's agenda. It's, like, a marketing virus.

Let's not mistake that thing for an authentic grass-roots interest. It's
the thing that they (and who are they? are they a whole other thing?) want us (and us? aren't we them?) to worry about while the big thing, and maybe even the really big thing, slips past.

They are pretending that this thing is a thing. And the big thing is being talked about - but maybe the thing is taking up your attention. 

Maybe it is your thing, and you think the big thing is about your thing as well.

 But I have my things too, and sure, maybe they are not the big or the biggest thing. And I want to get on with my thing, without worrying about their thing.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Upon reflection, shoving the consciousness of Diderot inside a robot wasn't the best of all possible decisions. Apart from its habit of accosting priests and rabbis and asking which religion they reckon is second best, Diderot had a few problems with being a disembodied intellect plugged into a CP-30 lookalike.

'How am I supposed to commune with nature?' he grumbled. 'I don't think that Goethe would have written Faust if he'd had metal hands and a slightly camp posture. Part of being a philosopher is to actively engage with human life - it's the philosopher who tells the judge what justice is, you know. I can't do that if I am bumbling about with a Dusty Bin cos-player.

'Bep-doop - beeeeep,' added Voltaire. 

'That is not the point,' I told him. 'We built you because, frankly, we've got a few questions about your theories on theatre. Specifically, some of the things you said in Enretiens sur le Fils Naturel.'

Turning to R2-D2, Diderot exclaimed: 'O you who still possess all the fire of genius! You would write this new genre for us, the bourgeois and domestic tragedy!' Then he turned his head quizzically. 'Will this do?'

'No,' I growled. 'I want to know what that jibber-jabber about the artist was all about. You have Dorval, the main character in that Bastard play, describe the artist in romantic terms, mincing about the countryside and being wild and sensitive. It's a pretty early - about 1757 - depiction of a romantic artist, a depiction that started getting popular around 50 years later.'

'It reflects the rise of the bourgeois, and the need to compartmentalise the artist. That is to say, a new dramatic form is needed... for the entrepreneur, the rising classes excluded by aristocratic rule.'

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Shit-faced Dramaturgy: Rev Lewis Ironside @ Edinburgh's Christmas

Shit-faced Shakespeare ®

Shit-faced Shakespeare is the deeply highbrow fusion of an entirely serious Shakespeare play with an entirely shit-faced cast member.

Side-splitting, raucous and completely interactive, the show has been running since 2010 and has already entertained over 30,000 eager theatre goers across the UK. Having successfully completed multiple sell-out runs of the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals.

With a genuinely drunken professional actor selected at random every night, no two shows are ever the same and audiences can even dictate when the actor gets to drink more to prevent unwanted sobriety.

Shit-Faced Shakespeare seeks to introduce a new generation of theatre-goers to the works of the Bard by reviving the raucous, interactive and vibrant nature of Elizabethan theatre with a very modern twist - reminding them as we go to always enjoy Shakespeare responsibly.

Where did the inspiration for SFS begin? 

Rev Lewis Ironside: I graduated from East 15 Acting School in 2003 and rather than go into acting, as I'd trained to do, I immediately started a theatre company with a former class mate, Cpt. Chris Snelson. We did what all new theatre companies do and got suitably drunk in order to develop our first 'smash hit' show. 

The following morning we had a single A4 sheet of semi-coherent show titles and ideas, one of which was 'Shit-faced Shakespeare'. We immediately realised this was a bloody stupid concept, scrapped it forever and proceeded to work on a series of varyingly successful productions for several years. 

Flash forward to 2010 and we found ourselves running a 160 capacity theatre tent at the Secret Garden Party music festival. Our job was to curate about 35+ hours of theatre over 4 days and we wanted a headliner for Friday and Saturday night’s running under our own company name. Shit-faced Shakespeare came back to mind and we decided to finally give it a go.
The first show was 15 minutes long and resulted in our actress being driven across site in an ambulance and spending the night under medical supervision. The next day she was released back to us only slightly the worse for ware and word had spread around the festival that we'd killed a person on stage.

We were keen to scrap the concept there and then but the cast themselves (including our previous night's 'victim') begged for another chance to perform the show. The second show ran the full hour and was brilliant... the only slight problem was the near 350+ people who turned up to see a person possibly die. On that occasion the fire brigade turned up as we were way over our max capacity for safety regulations.

We now perform across the UK and USA throughout the year. Things have changed a lot since the early days but the core of the show remains broadly the same. A one hour Shakespeare play, one single drunken cast member and everyone else sober, sharp and trying to improvise their way out of the problems on stage.

If you're looking for the actual inspiration for what it's became then I suppose I'd trace it to the Edinburgh fringe festival 2007 and a production of Bouncy Castle Shakespeare I saw there. It was simply most of Macbeth performed on a bouncy castle. I went to see it in the first week of that year's fringe and it was life changingly brilliant, car-crash theatre. The cast had clearly never rehearsed with an actual bouncy castle, they had full wooden chairs and tables on the thing, they attempted sword fights with actual stage swords, goblets contained actual liquid and all of them were plainly not in the kind of physical shape that bouncing actively for nearly 2 hours requires.

The performance was a beautiful disaster and overran by at least 30 minutes. I raved about this to pretty much everyone who would let me in Edinburgh that year and was hugely disappointed when I went back in the last week to discover they had 'fixed' all the problems. The show ran to time, the costumes were reduced and much lighter than before, the furniture was all either inflatable or plastic, the cast were much fitter and able to breath easily throughout and the sword fights were performed with inflatable weapons.

Rather than enjoy the impossible chaos they had inadvertently

created, they had 'solved' all the problems instead. I think that's when I realised properly what Shit-faced Shakespeare could be and should always strive to be. I love watching actors sweat and struggle and there's much more pleasure for me in seeing somebody attempt the impossible than achieve the achievable. In highfalutin terms we call this style ‘theatre of the confounded’ within the company where nobody can overhear us be serious. Another great Shakespeare show I've since seen, that seems to work along the same principal, would be King Lear with Sheep.

How do you approach picking the texts to use?
There are actually a lot of limitations on the scripts that we can begin to work with. Generally I'm looking for comedies with 2, or fewer, geographical locations, a small-ish group of core characters, an even balance of genders and some genuinely funny (or unique) set pieces within them. Lastly we're looking for plays which would suit the Shit-faced treatment by having something meaty and controversial at the core for modern actors to discuss, rail against or disagree with during the play, i.e. outdated gender politics, classicism or anti-Semitism.

Shit-faced Shakespeare is a short, fringe length, show with just under an hour for the actual play to fit within. We use a small cast of actors (5 to 6) and we generally try to strike a balance of about 1/2 female and male performers. We're also looking for plays where it would be funny for at least 4 of the characters to appear drunk and still keep the play rolling. A very simple core plot for the audience to follow is also required as the complex stuff tends to suffer when a drunk is added to the mix. It's all quite restrictive actually.

We began with A Midsummer Night's Dream and that's a really simple 5 hander with the lovers sections taken in isolation while Puck occasionally interjects - with his lines an amalgam of Puck's and Oberon's - to keep the action going. We've also got an audience interaction section where our Bottom is picked from the audience (so to speak). We always look for fun ways to integrate the audience in every show and our willing participants have been strumpets (Much Ado), dogs (Two Gentlemen of Verona) and suitors (Merchant of Venice).

Some plays have taken a lot more rewriting than others with characters subject to gender flipping, being smooshed together and even new sections being written for them altogether. Ideally the audience should never really be able to tell when we've done this as the 'core' of each play's story remains the same. 

A great example of this is our current production of Merchant of Venice. Here we're written three of the female characters and one of the male parts into one single role, changed the key relationship between 2 of the main characters and even written some new dialogue for Shylock himself. All of this is justified to us, as it helps to tell the actual core story of the play which I believe is the love story between Portia and Bassanio. 
We've tried to leave that core story utterly untouched and audiences seem to be either happy with the changes or unaware of them.

Chiefly though we're looking for great stories with lots of fun action on stage. Shakespeare consistently provides this and we've got a long list of plays we're still waiting to give the Shit-faced treatment to.

And the rehearsal process: is it directed with an all sober cast?
Completely sober. We rehearse long and hard and the weird thing is we're always incredibly proud of the style and content of the sober production that lurks underneath the show. That's all part of the game really. If an inebriated actor is deeply frustrated that their favourite scene always gets cut or they have a favourite monologue that is always being trampled on then their drunk shows give them a chance to actually attempt those bits. They never manage of course but it's fun to watch committed thesps try to get the play out sometimes.

We also know that every night the play has to stand on its own merits with our audiences for long stretches. In some productions the drunk will often not be on stage for around 1/3 of the time. Accordingly we need to make sure that the rest of the show entertains our audience sufficiently and they are often a wee tad rowdy and lubricated themselves.

We do try and do some improv work during rehearsals to get new cast members used to improvising in Shakespearian dialogue and working their way back into the play. All of that is secondary to rehearsing the actual straight play however. If the actor has been drilled correctly into the character they will often just improvise screeds of dialogue drunkenly as the character actually would. We love that as a style.

Naturally we all like a social drink and a good bit of that happens after each rehearsal ends.

What plays have responded best to the treatment?
My personal favourites are Much Ado About Nothing (currently running in Boston) and Merchant of Venice which will be running in London over Christmas. Our audience’s favourite might be A Midsummer Night’s Dream however and its our original and the best known of the 6 shows we currently perform. Midsummer's really has it all with huge drama, randy faeries and the 'love potion' theme running throughout which works wonderfully with the drunken element thrown on-top. 

The idea of the love potion making the male characters behave abhorrently is such a brilliant juxtaposition to the alcohol they may also have drunk. It's a great combo. Midsummer's will be running in Edinburgh over December and in London's west end from April.

We're actively plotting the next play and believe we've got a couple of really good options for 2016 and beyond.

How chaotic have the performances become?
In the 6 years we've been performing there is not a lot that hasn't

happened. We've had partial nudity, full frontal nudity, audience nudity, audience fondling, attempted dancing, bad singing, £280 worth of Dominos pizza drunkenly ordered unbeknownst to us during the show, outings of all kinds (relationship, sexuality, medical, profoundly personal etc.), simulated acts of a sexual nature, actual acts of a slightly sexual nature, group acts of a very sexual nature simulated by the entire front row against their will, acrobatics, matchmaking, feminist diatribes, philosophical treatise, pokemon battles, rap battles, selfies, self help advice sessions, self flagellation, power drill usage, fire extinguisher discharge, parental phone calls, competitive sausage roll eating, racial protests and a sword fight conducted with an audience members prosthetic arm... occasionally some actual Shakespeare occurs.

All that said, we have a compère for the shows and they generally keep a lid on any behaviour which is considered too wild or anything dangerous. It's a bit like a clown and a ring master, you want to almost let the drunk away with the naughty thing but stop them just after they start.

We've not had an injury, complaint or regrettable incident with any member of the cast or audience since we began performing the show professionally 4 years ago.

Do you have plans for any other steaming adaptations of other writers?
Yes. In this year we launched our brand new show Shit-faced Showtime which is our musical theatre take on the Shit-faced idea. They were lucky enough to play to sell out audiences in Edinburgh this August and are now working on their new show for 2016 which will be an adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance. It would be fair to say then that the 2nd author(s) we're tackling are Gilbert and Sullivan.

For the other show we'll probably stick to Shakespeare for now. I'm personally a huge fan of other period writers from Johnson to Behn to Sheridan, but Shakespeare is such a cultural touchstone that he's perfect for our cause. There's a lot of casual "Bardolatry" - with apologies to Shaw - in British culture and Shakespeare has probably suffered for this, on balance. Most of the audiences at Shakespearian comedies are drawn from a pretty narrow social band and seem to be there to 'appreciate' the work rather than actually ‘enjoy’ it. 

To me Shakespeare was common entertainment and if aspects of that have been lost to history then we owe it to the author to try and re-claim some of the humour that audiences would have genuinely been able to extract from the original productions. I'm not suggesting that our shows adhere to Shakespeare's intended brand of humour necessarily but if people actually enjoy our work then they might be tempted to seek out the originals if they're new to them.

If there's another author as well known, as misrepresented and as culturally lionised as Shakespeare then we'd gladly give them the treatment... Ben Elton maybe?

Is improvisation part of your process, either in making or in performance?
It's the main element of the performance.

We don't think people would stay to watch a drunk on stage for more than about 10 minutes by themselves. Our audiences come to see a drunk but we hope that they stay to watch the team of very skilled, very funny improvisers try to create a coherent Shakespeare play around whatever chaos our drinker it adding to the world. 

We work pretty hard behind the scenes on that aspect of the show and it's what we're most proud of. 

I reckon about 70% of the laughs we get in our very best shows are generated by the sober cast and not the drinking member.

We do try to insert some improv work into rehearsals but it's pretty impossible to replicate the same conditions of a real drunk full of alcohol and adrenaline mucking about with a live audience. We record and review all the shows with the full cast to watch, discuss and learn from previous shows. Comedy is a serious business and we work pretty hard at it... when we’re not drinking.

Does 'dramaturgy' mean anything to you? If so - what?
Wow, that's a hell of a question. Yes I'd say. To me it's probably got both the historical definition of writer-director and the modern, looser, definition of general theatre maker / lead deviser.

My roles within Shit-faced are pretty wide ranging as I (re)write the scripts, direct, produce, design, act, drink, choreograph the fights, plot the lighting, build the set, curate the website, edit the audio, compère, design the posters, tweet the tweets and pretty much everything else in-between (my producers will readily describe my megalomania to anyone who cares to listen). I wouldn't call myself a dramaturg though. I'd usually just list myself as the director of the show and the chairchap of the company in any published stuff and privately I'd think of my own job as being a theatre maker.

I did train as an actor (3 yr BA thankee kindly) but pretty much figured out that I was on the wrong course half way through my second year. East 15 had just started a Contemporary Theatre BA when I joined and that course always seemed to chime better with my sensibilities as it was primarily led from a perspective of creating theatre in its entirety. I suppose they were making a generation of what I would think of as modern dramaturges.

I've seen the term creep up more and more with other companies and recently heard of a friend's company, who specialise in devised works (Familia De La Noche), getting a specialist dramaturge in to help them complete a project. Perhaps the definition would be devising-director in that instance. I've also become aware of low level 'star name' dramaturg's working in the fringe scene. I've probably seen around half a dozen posters this year, usually for one-handers, where the performer is billed alongside the dramaturg.

Historically I think it's interesting and especially with the classical

bleeding of responsibilities between actors, writers and the role we now think of as director. I heard somewhere, years ago, about the idea of the ‘first actor’ in Elizabethan theatre and the concept really stuck with me. I've since tried to find any actual historical evidence on the damn thing but it's pretty much non-existent so it may have been misremembered by myself or even totally made up!

The concept of a 'first actor' as described to me is pretty plausible though and it runs that basically a writer such as Shakespeare would also have taken the role of ad-hoc director for many of his works. There's good circumstantial evidence for this with other writers of his era, Johnson in particular looks to have had much more of a personal hand in the way his plays were performed especially the child company stuff. 

There's a great bit at the start of one of Johnson’s plays where the stage-keeper and the prompt/author have an argument which shares a lot about the manner the actors may have been sort-of directed (Bartholmew Fayre I think?). 
Shakespeare himself hints at it with the 'direction' given to the mechanicals by Quince in Midsummers. Marlow and Nashe appear to have inhabited one end of the spectrum as pure writers, uninterested in performance and direction but Shakespeare and Johnson could possibly be said to inhabit the role of a prototype dramaturg... then again maybe I'm pushing it there.

I've just always liked the idea of there not being a single director per-se but a lead voice / first actor to cut past the arguments. Certainly if there were formalised actors-managers and actor-writers who themselves would take lead parts in their own plays (Shakespeare as Prospero etc.) then why not assume that these lead company members were 'directing' the junior players in how the part should be spoken as well... Seems both likely and natural.

I think the concept of the modern dramaturg (again, only as I understand it) is probably a double edged sword. I would not describe myself as a professional actor or writer and only just barely as a professional director. 

To have a self proclaimed specialist in writing, devising and directing rolled into one both weakens the crucial specialism in each field and cuts the budget for fringe theatre down by up to 2 people. I'd be really interested to see if it becomes the next fad for drama schools looking to offer novel MAs and BAs in the coming years.