Monday, 18 June 2018

After William Burroughs

Not only am I the best critic in Scotland (subjective opinion), I also work with the most important critic in Scotland, Lorna Irvine (her consistent perspective marks her out from the pack), and I am one of the kindest (although Thom Dibdin might be the kindest, and he has a brilliant beard). In that spirit of kindness, and wanting loads of hits on my blog, I am going to give...


Sometimes I am asked if I have any words of advice for young performers.

Well, here are a few simple admonitions for young and old, performer and PR.

Never interfere in a critic and artist fight.

Beware of critics who say they don't want status. The hell they don't.

What they mean is that they want more status; much more, these are the most egotistical critics what can be got.

If you're doing business with a theatre editor, get it in writing; their word isn't worth shit, not with the editorial policy telling him how to fuck you on the deal.

If, after having been exposed to someone's presence, you feel as if you've lost a quart of plasma, avoid that presence. You need it like you need pernicious anemia.

We don't like to hear the word "press officer" around here; we're trying to improve our public image. Building a kindly, avuncular, benevolent image; "interdependence" is the keyword -- "enlightened interdependence".

Life in all its rich variety, take a little, leave a little. However, by the inexorable logistics of the marketing process they always take more than they leave -- and why, indeed, should they take any?

Avoid fuck-ups. Fools, I call them. You all know the type -- no matter how good it sounds, everything they have anything to do with turns into a disaster. 

Trouble for themselves and everyone connected with them.
A fool is bad news, and it rubs off -- don't let it rub off on you.

Do not proffer sympathy to the artist who has had a negative review; it is a bottomless pit. Tell them firmly, "I am not paid to listen to this drivel -- you are a terminal fool!" Otherwise, they make you as self-obsessed as they are.

Above all, avoid confirmed Fringe veterans. They are a special malignant strain of fool.

I imagine that you expected a little more than a William Burroughs rip off. So did I, but after I decided to cut and paste his advice, and adapted it for the Fringe, I was laughing too much to give my advice. And you know what they say about advice: give it to someone, because you are never going to use it. 

I promise next, time, I'll deal in a few specifics.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Cameryn Moore @ Sweet Grassmarket. Fringe 2018

Terrible Sex Tips
 at the 2018 Fringe. It runs at 21:10 every night of the Fringe (except the 14th), also at Sweet Venues in Grassmarket.

World premiere at 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

From unexpected undies to staying out late in Cowgate, professional smut-monger Cameryn Moore has a weird, wonderful sex story for every occasion. Slut-shaming. Capitalism. Substandard dildos… it’s all on the table in Cameryn’s new sex-ed storytelling show, "Terrible Sex Tips: Live & Uncut," making its world premiere this August at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In "Terrible Sex Tips," the American phone sex operator-turned-playwright sets her comedic talent loose on cultural norms and awful advice columns, drilling down to their crappy core to illuminate why we need to set those expectations on fire and start from scratch. "Terrible Sex Tips" is brazen yet biting sex ed for any adult who wonders what’s beyond scratchy lingerie and “Tickle His Pickle” (yes, that’s a real book title).

“As often as I might say ‘cock’ or ‘cunt’ in my work, none of these stories are meant to shock,” says Cameryn. “I just want to get people to talk about what they really, really want, and for that I need to talk about the hard and/or wet stuff. Real, rowdy, and a little ridiculous is the best way to go.” 

Would you identify your show as 'gay' or 'queer'? What makes you define the show with this label?

Terrible Sex Tips is queer, because I'm queer and some of the stories included are about my same-sex experience. So there's some hot girl-on-girl action in it (jk, it's not very hot, terrible sex tips, remember?), but there's also a lot of shenanigans with cisgender dudes as well. 

The amount of time that different kinds of sex and kink get play in this show is pretty representative of how much play they have or have had in my life. Which is definitely queer.

What differences do you see between the labels 'gay' and 'queer'?

Gay is pretty much for men only, in my book, unless I'm being ironic and talking in a deliberately simplistic way. Queer is more accessible to people of all genders, and it is inclusive of different experiences of bisexuality and pansexuality. 

It's also got a bit of a political edge, which I like. I came out in the U.S. right around the time that Queer Nation emerged; that was a very formative time for me.

Why do you think I am asking this question, particularly of your show?

Looking at the show write-up and the way that I deliberately reference women's magazines and their terrible sex advice, it would be easy to assume that I am straight. Looking at my picture, people often assume that I'm a lesbian. 

I talk about my past and present relationships with men quite openly, but I also frequently reference the 11 years I lived with a woman. Bisexual invisibility and erasure is a real thing; people frequently jump to conclusions and they are frequently wrong.

Cameryn tells her smut around the world at comedy shows and her own world-infamous Smut Slams (dirty storytelling open mics), which have sold out comedy clubs and performance palaces from Vancouver to Berlin to Wellington, NZ. She is also the creator of five critically acclaimed solo shows and one-woman plays, including the award-winning Phone Whore, slut (r)evolution, and nerdfucker

Thoughts on the Big Fire

The internet is the place where serious events - like an iconic Glaswegian building burning down for the second time in the same decade - are subsumed to individuals' desire to variously virtue signal, reveal their ability to identify conspiracies or make it all about them. So here's my take on the fire that has destroyed the Macintosh Building that is round the corner from my house.

Note: I breathed in fumes from the flames and nearly got hit by a massive ember, so my opinion is totally valid.

1. Please don't rebuild it again. Rather, clear up the mess and leave it as a ruin. The amount of money it would cost to rebuild - and I hope that the insurance premiums would cover this - could be better deployed on other projects supporting the students and the art school. Sure, the Mac brings in the tourists, but leaving it as a ruin could do that, especially if it was treated as a site of historic interest. People go to ruined castles all the time, and they aren't so conveniently situated next to a shopping centre.

2. Please don't rebuild it again. I appreciate that the skills needed to restore the building to its former appearance are important to maintain, and I don't want the craftsmen and artists who would get work to lose out. But maybe they could be employed to embellish existing art spaces, or the new ones they could build with the insurance money. Little bits of Macintosh style scattered around the city. I hear that some of the interior work had not been put into the building before the fire, which would mean it is safe. Put it somewhere interesting. A nice wood panel or two would go well in the many contemporary buildings that have a surgical atmosphere. It could even become a tourist trail: find the Macintosh details.

3. Please don't rebuild it again. Contrary to popular opinion, the art school is not a building (cf. a church is its congregation). It was a beautiful building, and any new build on the site would be ugly by comparison (cf. the rebuild of the art school building on the other side of the street). But a complete remake of the Macintosh building would be an imitation, a copy that has more in common with a Disney palace than a slice of heritage (itself a commodified word). Use the insurance money to further the facilities for the students of the art school: do they have enough studios? 

4. Please don't rebuild it again. But don't put student flats in its place. Frankly, Glasgow has a reputation for things burning down. Not getting into the conspiracies about why so much of the architectural heritage of the city has ended up a hollow shell, but that lovely Greek Thompson church on the other side of Sauchiehall Street met Mr Flames not so long ago. There are plenty of spaces - old tenements and that - which could be converted. Use them, and leave the site of the Mac as a ruin. 

5. Please don't rebuild it again. This is a terrible thing to have happened, but I reject the sentimentality about objects - the most important thing is that no-one was injured in the fire, and the bravery of the fire-fighters who are still hanging about my street and keeping an eye on the aftermath (and a big up to the Salvation Army for giving them cups of tea and that from their emergency van). Glasgow has had a rubbish attitude towards its built environment for years - a big motorway through the city-centre, anyone - so the Macintosh has become an icon as one of the last great buildings left. Rebuilding it isn't a way of avoiding hard questions about how we treat the cities that house us, employ us and, sadly, oppress us with a plethora of potato-stamp quality new flats and offices. 

6. Other opinions are available. I understand that this might seem harsh and untimely. I know there is an attachment to the Mac. If it is rebuilt, I won't be sulking: hopefully, I'll be living here when it gets restored to its glory, and get to walk past it on my way to the office. 

7. Other opinions are available. Rebuilding the Mac would show how indefatigable Glasgow is. It could stimulate tourism, represent a pride in the city and a respect for its heritage. Of course.

La JohnJoseph @ Summerhall. Fringe 2018

Would you identify your show as 'gay' or 'queer'? What makes you define the show with this label?

Deffo queer, I always want to flag that up to the audience. I feel that gay theatre very often has a tone between teen drama ("Why doesn't that cute guy call me?) and drawing room melodrama ("Josh, I think we should try an open relationship).  

It's like when women who experienced the sixties say that the sexual revolution was a one way street, that the pill simply allowed and men to fuck whomever they want with no real responsibility. Gay theatre sort of does that doesn't it? Provides the excuse for you to put your baseball cap on backwards, cruise your cast mates, break up with your boyfriend, and dedicate the summer to taking selfies of you and yr new squeeze hungover  at Starbucks, before the whole thing explodes in a fireball of bad drugs and Kat Von D highlighter, like the season finale of A.N.T.M.

What differences do you see between the labels 'gay' and 'queer'?

I see gay as, "I am a person of gender A who is primarily attracted to people also of gender A, in contradiction to the social and cultural norm that I should be attracted to a person of gender B, and this has been my major dislocation from society. 

I demand reparation for that dislocation and concurrently celebrate it when I say I am gay."  How can I, as a person who has no concrete gender, who does not comply with the sex I was assigned at birth (and so can't date/fuck/love people of the "opposite" gender) be gay? Gay needs opposition, it needs binary gender to function. 

Queer isn't seeking fixity, queer is questioning, queer is saying, "Okay so
credit: Attila Kenyeres
you're a trans male drag queen who is pregnant with a baby you are carrying for your two gay best friends - do you want to go to the movies?" You don't actually have to be gay to be queer, that's the kooky thing. 

The problem is of course, eventually queer will reach a point of stasis, and marketability and then we'll all have to go off further into identity politics and fashion more new language, once the Halifax has started offering Queer Mortgages. 

Why do you think I am asking this question, particularly of your show?

Because of my immense sexual charisma surely? 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

My Fanzine

The Vile Fanzine

This year, the Vile Arts will be producing some fanzines, with financial help from artists who will be featured. This page explains the idea behind the fanzine, and gives a rough idea of what it might look like.

Why am I doing this?

In the past, I have done a 'dramaturgy database' - free to be included, and all a company had to do was answer a series of email questions. It was a great success, allowing artists to speak on their own terms about their show, and giving me a really good idea about which shows were well-considered and vibrant productions, and those made by lazy chancers. I also found out that some PRs are really lazy and don't reply to theatre editors, despite claiming to represent clients.

I've stopped that now, because it was too much work for no pay, didn't get used enough on social media by the artists (a few did, but it was obvious in the number of hits who didn't), and I don't need it for my research anymore.

But I am keen to develop my publishing skills this year. So, the fanzine is a solution. I am giving artists a chance to support criticism, and possibly have a lovely souvenir of their time at the 'venal pit of depravity'. There are a few other reasons, but I'll get back to them.

What will it look like?

Ideally, each issue - I shall do up to four, depending on support - will be 24 pages long. The cover will be colour- and have a lovely illustration on it. The inside pages will be in black and white, to keep costs down.

It will be the size of a comic book.

Ideally, each issue will contain four articles of five pages about four companies. That gives me a spare page for a editor's note (by me or one of my critic pals), and sundry acknowledgements. 

The articles will be a similar format to the old dramaturgy database: email interview, press release... and no critical comment from me. It has the same intention as the DD - to let artists speak in their own voice. There will be pictures, too, and probably some of my comic book detournements.

This fanzine will be paid for by contributions from the featured artists. The payment is not for inclusion, but the cost of printing: they will receive a number of copies, proportionate to the amount that they pay. 

The cost to artists will be in multiples of £130. For each £130, the artist will get 90 copies of the fanzine, which they can distribute in any way they chose. They can sell it at their shows for a couple of quid or so, maybe £2.50. They can give them away in the street instead of flyers. And yes, they will be supporting themselves and the other featured artists. That is what I like: artists helping each other.

There are possible ways of doing this at lower rates: a couple of shorter articles, say 2 pages, for a lower financial contribution and less copies received (perhaps 45 copies for £65). But the important thing is that the payment is for printing and production costs: the fanzine is being made for the companies to distribute. Overall, I want to be able to do reasonable sized runs - it gets very expensive making runs of less 100 copies. 

The cash will go towards paying me a fee, paying other writers I ask to contribute and printing. I hope to give a contribution to Troy Deeney's Foundation, if it is still going, or another charity, but that will be small. I'd encourage artists who sell their copies to give the Foundation any profits, but only if they recoup their costs first. 

It is about co-operation!

I am not taking adverts, because they are better placed in The List. I won't be quoting other critics in the articles, either. But I like the idea that artists can make an effort to support a bit of critical experimentation, and get a nice thing to have as a kind of programme for their show, and can actually, by distributing the fanzine, show solidarity with other artists, whom they have probably never even met but with whom they will share the pain of the Fringe experience.

The Cost

I am worried about that - it might seem a bit steep. And I am not even doing much distribution myself (I might do a bit with the copies that I have myself, but it is not a skill I want to develop. It's the project managing and the design I am all about). But that's why I don't mind people deciding to sell them. That way, they can recoup their expenditure. But each £130 pays towards a print run of at least 400 copies. That means 400 issues featuring a four page (comic book sized) article about the show, and I reckon they are pretty rare in the Fringe. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is Aces

I bought a copy of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF for my niece (happy birthday, Bronte!). But I had to read it first: it is a comic, isn't it?

By the third page, I was worried. Moon Girl is at school, in a science class. The teacher announces to the class, 'the theory of evolution'. The class responds 'the theory of evolution'. I was worried.

I don't want my niece to be misinformed, I thought. Do I need to add a note, explaining that while natural selection is a theory, evolution isn't. This is a common misunderstanding. Evolution is, as far as science has them, a fact. Natural selection is a theory about how evolution operates. I know it is a tough call to explain the difference to a seven year old, and that's without getting into the difference between 'hypothesis' and 'theory'.

I keep reading. On the next page, Moon Girl comes to my rescue.

'Evolution is not a theory... it's been a consensus for generations of biologists. It's reproducible in protein engineering.'

OMG. Moon Girl is smarter than most of the atheists I know who think that 'science' disapproves God, because evolution. 

I read on, delighted. Moon Girl is so smart, she is frustrated by the limitations of school. But rather than act out, she is honest. Of course, her family are worried. But she holds her faith in science. She is noble, intelligent and alienated. Then a dinosaur turns up in the playground. 

The second issue begins with a quotation from Marie Curie (and a dinosaur wrecking havoc in a city). Marie Curie's description of the scientist is beautiful, and it's reclaim science from the patriarchy time, of course. No wonder the MRAs are throwing a shit-fit about this comic. It's providing young women with a role model and mashing up scientific history with the tropes of the superhero. This is exactly the comic I want my niece to read. 

Also, there is a gang of ape-men chasing about the pop. They remind me of MRAs, but that is just me being cheeky.

Okay, but what is going on with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur? He's smashing stuff up, rampaging (I guess that's realism. I mean, how else is a dinosaur going to act in a city?). Moon Girl is trying to control him. That's a straight up 'instinct versus reason' pairing. It's an allegory, of the untamed passions being tamed by the thoughtful mind. I don't want to harp on about the gender split here - it's not clear whether DD defines as male, but I am getting the impression of a stereotypical masculine force and MG as the calming female influence. 

There might be a problem in that kind of split, but I am not expecting BFF to address gender fluidity. Frankly, if the reader is smart enough to see the allegory (and that reader is me), I can give pause to recognise the context. If MG is giving an intelligent account of science and providing my niece with a role-model, I'll save the lecture on the chromosomes until she is older. 

Meanwhile, the Hulk turns up and punches Devil Dinosaur. MG is like, 'macho crap' and tries to intervene. DD gets captured, MG has to pretend to be normal and I start crying. It's so sad. DD ends up in a cage (MG's cage is her school and home), but Moon Girl is going to rescue DD. 

Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Last Weekend of Take Me Somewhere

There comes a time in every critic's life...

Too pompous, start again...

In the past week, I have found myself in a difficult critical position twice. It's a feeling that I am not the ideal person to review the show that I am in the process of watching. Earlier in the Take Me Somewhere programme this had happened at Apollon Musagete. I am usually smart enough to realise this before I book myself into the show, but half-way through Apollon I decided that, despite my experience and championing of feminist performance art that involves purposeful nudity, it would be better to have a woman reviewing it this time. Luckily, Lorna Irvine was in the audience and I handed the work to her. I trust her (she is the most important critic in Scotland) and she turned in the intelligent and thoughtful critique to be found on The List.

Get to the point, Vile. Maybe elaborate on what makes Lorna so important? Nah, tell us all about how you were in 'a difficult critical position'. Give us a laugh, for once.

At Friday's Tramway showing of Last Yearz Interesting Negro's of i ride in colour and soft focus... I had that feeling: that I was not the critic for the job. Sure, considerations of gender and race came into it, but the real kick was that this was dance, and I am now mostly a theatre critic. I can have a good crack at more mainstream stuff (I grew up with ballet, know my major contemporary choreographies), but solo dances? I am a bit out of the loop.

This happened again on Saturday, at Mykki Blanco's gig at SWG3. Similar problem: I am queer enough to engage with Blanco's drag tactics, and I do know a bit about hip-hop (although my reference points are all a bit 1990s, as will be revealed). But this was a gig, and if I start putting gigs and dance in my theatre section at The List, I'll get a deserved spanking off my fellow editors. 

This isn't a question of my aesthetic response to either show. I was well into Blanco (as will be seen). And it is not about whether a white geezer can review work from people of colour. I am willing to defend my position on that, although I am aware other opinions are available. There's a whole bunch of questions here...

But we are not doing those now. I think they deserve a bit more space and you want to get on with it, Vile.

Both shows are beyond my remit for The List. Usually, I'd just accept it, moan about not being able to get the money, then chips and home. But, as far as I know, I was the only critic at the shows. 

Both shows had been programmed at Take Me Somewhere for a reason. They represented the curation's belief in the works as part of a greater whole. Sure, I missed a few other shows, have partially reviewed festivals in the past (budget and time and inclination). But given my belief in the greater representation of people in colour in theatre (and TMS is a 'performance festival), I felt like I had a duty to bear witness to their existence, regardless of my feeling about the shows' respective aesthetics.

Okay, Lorna Irvine was at Blanco and I bet she has done a great review over on Tempo House. There might have been music critics in (I don't know them by name or face). But, actually, I wouldn't mind chatting about that gig, not least to compare Blanco to Tricky (whom I love to distraction) and explore the relationship of theatricality to hip-hop. I might get over to Tempo House myself and do a mash-up comic with Irvine.

But here's the thing: if I exclude these shows, especially i ride in colour, I am ignoring the two works programmed by TMS which were made by people of colour. That makes it look as if TMS is a mostly white affair, which does not represent the intentions of the festival. I believe that theatre has a serious problem with representation of people of colour. I am not getting into that now, either. 


So, briefly, since I am not the person best positioned to review it, i ride is a deeply personal reflection on identity, that sometimes falls into an opaque movement vocabulary and wanders between dance, spoken narrative and playful audience interaction (I got to sit on stage and wear an animal mask), with a sparkling musical soundtrack and a variously bleak and reflective commentary on contemporary issues of self-fulfillment, the role and function of the artist, the difficulties of communication and the joy of dancing. It has a loose dramaturgical structure, moments of pleasure, an intriguingly shadowy lighting score and, I'll mention it again, a great soundtrack. At times, it slips into an ideolect that makes it hard to understand, but places political pressures within a personal context. Like much contemporary dance, it demands close attention.

Look, I am not perfect. This is a struggle with myself, an indulgent meditation on how criticism works. I want to talk about inclusivity. I want to just let people know that this happened. I am in process. Whatever that is going to mean.