Jul 11, 2008

Bye bye

For a variety of reasons Arcades is going to take a little holiday for a few months.

It may be back come the Autumn, though possibly in a slightly different form.

In the meantime if you're interested, I'll be blogging regularly at the blog for Forest Fringe, the venue I've been programming for Edinburgh.

Thanks everybody.

Jul 2, 2008

Forest Fringe Profiles: Action Hero

[The first of the company profiles I mentioned about three seconds ago for the Forest Fringe Blog on the wonderful Action Hero from Bristol]

Action Hero

I first saw Gemma and James from Action Hero at I Am Still Your Worst Nightmare, a weekend-long live art spectacular at the Arnolfini in Bristol. The whole event was great in its openness; with a completely uncurated collection of work things swung from the brilliant to the kind of awfulness that takes you to a very sad place inside. Action Hero (along with Ed Rapley and Emma Bennett from These Horses) were probably the best thing about the whole weekend.

For their short piece they did a recreation of Evel Knievel's 1969 Caesar's Palace jump that left him in a coma for over three weeks. It was a simple and beautiful idea, playing lovingly with the difference in scale between the theirs and the original jump while retaining some really tangible trace of the original's sense of euphoria and fear. Here we all were staring at a guy on pedalling towards a ramp on a little red bicycle and yet, there was real pause, a real breath held, an authentic moment of danger. The really beautiful thing about the piece however was its loving attention to detail; it wasn't just a good idea. It was done so thoughtfully, borrowing text from a number of sources to create something that already at this early stage was already subtly questioning and undermining the collective excitement that it so effortlessly generated.

Anyway, it was a beautiful piece and I was super excited when we agreed to have them come do the next stage of development at Forest Fringe. In the meantime I also got the chance to see a version of possibly their most popular show A Western, which has toured across the country. It's a wonderful little show; a show that demonstrates that the act of playing (because they are always playing at being in a Western, covering themselves in Ketchup, riding on another little bike) can be as meaningful as doing anything for real. What struck me this time however was that both pieces were slightly in love with and slightly nervous of this kind of deeply Midwestern American mythology that seemed so familiar to me.

I grew up listening to my parents record collection, getting lost in the world of a collection of denim-wearing, guitar twanging lovesick bearded men roaming dusty open roads in big American cars and staring out at an ocean I'd never even seen. The Eagles and the Allman Brothers (and everything from Steven Spielgberg to Perry Mason Investigates) were the nearest I came to a cultural heritage. Despite my resolutely, awkward, humdrum Britishness there's part of me that feels in some weird way American. But a kind of imagined, mythic American.

And this is another reason I love the Action Hero - that they seem too to have this strange pull. They wear their Englishness on their sleeves and yet there's a longing for freeway pancake houses and lonely towns called things like Splitwater Falls and the faded yellow colour of any American TV show from the 70s. It's strange and its sad and its familiar and I think they tap into something really meaningful for a whole generation of suburban English kids who's parents were big fans of Christopher Cross or who spent their childhood watching movies like and Capricorn One and Earthquake, a beautiful, bizarre film that coincidentally features its own desperate daredevil hero.

Forests, critics, arts centres, fights and hide and seek

Another breathless burst of thoughts in between other things - sorry if that's become the norm in this town (which seems to have taken on the shape of some Western outpost with one guy left sitting on his porch watching bemusedly as I hustle occasionally across the only street in town from the Saloon to the workhouse) but alas turns out the summer is a busy time of year.

And Summer it definitely now is with Wimbledon bringing out the quaintly middle-class hat wearer in all of us and the Edinburgh Festival drawing mighty close. As you may know I'm co-running a venue this year called Forest Fringe with my delightful Canadian friend Debbie Pearson (and it was Canada Day yesterday so up the cannucks once more).

We've pretty much managed to haul the programme over the finish line now and the whole thing is up on the venue's beautiful new website. We also have a blog which I thought it worth me starting to try and write a bit for so with that in mind I've decided to revive the idea of the company profiles I did for Aurora Nova last year to give people a better idea of who some of the people that will be performing at Forest are. So hopefully I'll start writing those over the course of the next couple of weeks and they'll start appearing here.

For the purpose of trying to focus more on this (and on Exposures in Dublin in September) I've also (rather terrifyingly) finished working for BAC and am now 100% freelance (or 100% unemployed if you wanted to look at things more bleakly). It's been a completely lovely (and relatively life-changing) year working for them and I'm sure I'll probably continue to do things with them so BAC-relate will continue to be kept to a minimum round here for fear of appearing biased.

There's also another article by me up at the Guardian where I'm rather scathing about a night I went to a little while ago at the Southwark playhouse. At the time I was left completely incensed by the entire experience but now (about a week later when the post finally bobbed to the surface at the Guardian) I'm feeling a lot more torn. Is it really necessary to be so vicious about something, especially if it's not a review? Probably not is the answer and its just childish petulance on my part to write such things and the comments have pretty much born this out.

But then other the other hand I did receive an email from a writer saying that he agreed with me and that it was about time that someone blew the whistle on their particular brand of superficial and relatively smug political engagement.

Since I've been writing this quite a few people have said to me that they think its brave/foolhardly/downright stupid and childish and self important (delete as appropriate) to write so much publicly about theatre when at the same time trying to make it. And there is a part of me that every time one of these articles goes up does sink a little thinking that possibly that's another several column inches down in the grave I'm so tirelessly digging for myself. But at a time when people won't stop going on about the importance of peer review, surely we should be able to take a bit of criticism from each other? Of course I guess the difficulty comes in the arena of the internet where those personal criticisms swim dangerously close to what feels like solid statement-of-fact reviewing, especially on the Guardian Blog.

I've seen bloody and fascinating arguments that have flown back and forth between people such as Chris Goode, Simon Kane, David Eldridge, Tassos Stevens and myself and I think that bruised and bemused though we may have been by them we're all probably better for it. But for the most part those conversations have remained in areas that are decidedly more personal than the Guardian Theatre Blog and perhaps that's where I overstepped the mark this time.

Either way, this whole episode combined with Helen Smith's description of me as passionate-to-the-point-of-appearing-angry has left me thinking that perhaps I should try and adopt a somewhat mellower tone from now on. We'll see how that works out.

In the meantime please do go have a read of this utterly lovely review of Checkpoint, the game I created for the Hide + Seek Festival at the South Bank centre. It was a glorious day and I hope there are many more like it soon.

Jun 24, 2008

Some things that will happen.

Well things have been somewhat horrifyingly busy round here recently but here's a quick heads up on a few things going on soon.

First off I'm hugely excited about Infinite Lives at the North Wall in Oxford on July 10. It's written by Chris Goode and features the Jon Spooner and is (apparently) a charmingly filthy/beautiful story about quitting a job to write gay sci-fi. Lovely.

Before that you should definitely head down to SHUNT on Friday for The Last Dance, a beautiful installation by Abigail Conway involving dozens of people dancing to their favourite songs in the long, dark corridor by the entrance. Mass participation and end-of-the-night school disco classics - what's not to love? My five choices, by the by, were:

Nothing Matters When We're Dancing - Magnetic Fields
Everything I do (I do it for you) - Bryan Adams
Massive Nights - The Hold Steady
Naked as we Came - Iron and Wine
Freefalling - Tom Petty

Don't ask me why.

And on the subject of mass participation events I was pleased to discover that Anthony Gormley's plan to have someone standing on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square 24 hours a day for 100 days has been accepted in the latest round proposals. Apparently the incumbents (who will each stand for an hour) will be chosen randomly by Internet lottery. And frankly I think its lovely - the juxtaposition of something so delicate and uncontrollable and ridiculous with the icon symbols of power and History around it will be truly fascinating.

And also if you happen to be around on Saturday there's a couple of outdoor events that I'm involved in as part of the Hide and Seek Festival on the South Bank. First off I'm running a game called Checkpoint (which I've already scribbled a bit about) at 1pm and although its all filled up feel free to come down and have a look at what's going on. And then why not get an ice cream have a gentle stroll and then come back for MPT at 6pm, a marvellous vague event involving freezing, moving and a number of other tantalising activities (if you're intrigued you should email start@mpt01.com).

Beyond that you should all have already gone to see ...Sisters at the Gate and if not, then by god, go now. More on that when I have some time, which, alas, is not right now...

In the meantime all I can offer you is this from the delightfully sunny Cut Copy - who's album In Ghost Colours is a glorious burst of buoyant synthesised goodness that I can't recommend highly enough:

Jun 18, 2008

The Last Walk of Carlow Man: Audio Tracks

Here are the audio tracks for The Last Walk of Carlow Man, a show I created for the Carlow Arts festival in Southern Ireland:
Here I slept while over me time rumbled on
John Tyndall's Blue Sky
I don't need no cryogenics
We're going to write this town like a book
As I explained in the earlier post, each audience member would have all four of these tracks on an MP3 player, which would then (unbeknown to them) be electronically shuffled to produce an entirely different order for each person.

They would then all walk together through the streets of the town, possibly catching glimpses of the figure they were listening to, traces of him left across the city. As they went they would make their own connections between what they were hearing and what they were seeing, writing their own relationship between the two, constructing their own history.

At the end of the show the audience gathered at a hill in the centre of the town, where there was a small wrapped present that they opened to reveal a tiny figure made of mud in a glass jar and a note that said:

So this is it. This is me. This is all that's left of me.

Carefully show this jar to everyone, then shake it up and scatter the remains back into the ground. Back into Carlow.

And that is the End.

Jun 15, 2008

Harrison Ford's Face and the Remembrance of Things Past

I went to see the new Indiana Jones recently. I don't want to get much into reviewing it but as a product it had everything required of it – one-liners, dubious treasure-chasing side-kicks, ravishing locations, spear shaking natives, ludicrously evil freedom-hating foreigners… all held together by Spielberg’s loving and playful understanding of American mythology, genre filmmaking and his own cinematic legacy.

The opening scene (and indeed the whole first half of the movie) have such a knowing assuredness to them you can’t help but be carried along, from the self-deprecatingly silly reference to the first movie in the cross fade from the Paramount logo to a gofer mound through to the perfectly judged introduction of cinema’s favourite archaeologist himself. And then suddenly with a confident jolt in perspective we're skipping lightly past a panorama of 50s America; from area 51, the Manhattan Project, the house of un-American activities and the paranoia-laden infancy of the Cold War in the shadow of WWII. While Spielberg is scrawling Sunday Afternoon adventure cartoons on the landscape of 20st century America he is literally and figuratively in his element. He is his generation’s greatest moviemaker; playfulness without showiness, cleverness without smugness, entertainment without condescension.

Where all this goes to when they get on a plane to South America I don’t know. Perhaps there was a mix up at the airport as it seems by the time they arrived all they had with them were the brainlessly bombastic CGI stunts of The Mummy movies and a beardy John Hurt pretending to be possessed.

All of which is fundamentally beside the point. The whole thing was fine, efficient, great even in places. But something about it left me feeling decidedly, well, sad.

Up to this point it’s probably noticeable that I’ve been talking exclusively about Movies rather than films. For me the two are not the same thing. A movie is a very specific kind of film. The product of a Hollywood system forged in the burgeoning USA of the early 20th century. The Movie is a curiously self-referential thing; isolationist, parasitical, reliant on limited set of genres and conventions (the Western, the War Movie, the Period Movie, The Biopic, the Rom-Com, the Blockbuster), its lifeblood is borrowing, appropriation, referencing, playing with itself, as such its as much about structures and themes as it is about characterisation or the telling of a good story. The movie is about escapism, but not in the sense of disappearing into the world of the movie, it’s about disappearing into the world of Movies. It’s no surprise that the studios themselves became tourist attractions, theme parks; they are the promised land, the thrilling heart of this self-quoting, meta-filmic dreamworld.

The best movie moments are always for me those that revel in this. Like Singing in the Rain, a movie made in order to use the best of MGM’s back catalogue and set within the movie world, where characters float across the studio from set to set. Like the end of Back to the Future II, located within the end of the original film, the stars frantically rushing around earlier versions of themselves. Like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven or David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, simultaneously driven by and undermining the conventions of the Western and the Detective movie respectively.

And like the movies they inhabit movie stars are not just actors (some of the best are not really actors at all) they are Stars. Their presence transcends their performance in any particular movie. When you see them on screen the character they play is always knowingly transparent, the Star showing through, their face and their voice imbued with the accumulated memory of every movie you’ve previously seen them in. It’s pretty much a cliché these days to point out that in a Cary Grant film the character is always Cary Grant, the creation of a mysterious man called Archie from Bristol. Similarly the reason Henry Fonda is so devastating as the bad guy in Once Upon a Time in the West is because when you seem him massacring an innocent family, its not just an attractive blue-eyed psychopath that’s killing those children, its Abraham Lincoln , it’s Wyatt Earp, it’s frigging Henry Fonda.

But I think it goes even further than this. I grew up with The Movies. I used to sit with my mum and dad nearly every Sunday evening, watching a movie. Movies are a series of interruptions that punctuate my everyday existence, that mark it. They are both something to remember and a way of remembering. Unlike Prufrock I have undoubtedly measured out my life in Tom Hanks films.

Take Jurassic Park for example, I remember the cinema in Cambridge, I remember it was Elizabeth Dale’s birthday party, I remember the fake coloured footprints that covered the floor and walls of the restaurant we ate in before hand. I remember the front cover of the video we bought later. I remember the first time I went to Universal Studios, being filled with wonder by a giant animatronic triceratops and hearing that familiar soundtrack pumping out of speakers hidden deep in the giant green ferns. Because of the omnipresence of the Movies, because it always sought to exist beyond the limits of any two hours of screen time, that particular film has come to have a presence in my life, to exist as a series of memories and feelings and places; it has come to be a part of my childhood.

And so when I see the Stars of that film, reappearing essentially as themselves in some new movie, I am always carried back to Jurassic Park and to the childhood I associate with it. Like Proust’s little Madeline dipped in tea, the tired lines on Sam Neil’s permanently weary face will always remind me of Elizabeth Dale’s Birthday party, of my front room when I was seven, of the smell of the humid Florida air. I could never dislike a Sam Neill movie however bad it is because they will always have Sam Neill in and Sam Neill makes me think of happy things; and that, fundamentally is the logic of the Star system.

Anyway, back to Harrison Ford. By this logic it should surely be a nice thing to experience the familiar rush of memory on hearing the opening bars of Indiana Jones. Like Jurassic Park it holds many similarly fond childhood memories.

And besides this is a film that consciously wallows in nostalgia. Not merely the nostalgia for the earlier films in the series, but the nostalgia on which those films were founded, for a kind of Sunday Afternoon adventure serial and a wholesome boys action comic that had long since disappeared. Even nostalgia for a kind of filmmaking that was already dying out, and nostalgia for an America before Vietnam and Watergate and everything that has followed. This movie wants you to think fondly of earlier times.

And yet, there was something about this coming back together of all the old elements, the music, the settings, the costume, the stars (and it was in fact the presence of Karen Allen that really got to me), that only made it crushingly apparent that regardless of the circumstances that past could not be recaptured, that time was forever lost.

Although for Proust a single taste can bring the past flooding back, if the entire scene (the table, the house, his aging mother) had been reconfigured, it only would have led to an overwhelming sadness. Only in the fleetingness of these memories can they be sustained, once they are recreated they are destroyed. And looking into the aging faces of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, was for me like the idea of my parents forever trying to recreate the same joyous holidays we once had, going to the same places, wearing the same clothes, doing the same things. It is futile and hopeless and just plain sad.

So rather than that give me a glimpse of Indiana Jones’ smile glimpsed some terrible new Harrison Ford film, or a few bars of John William’s score misheard in some other piece of music, that for me is the best way to remember Indiana Jones.

The Last Walk of Carlow Man

[n.b. This is, I’ve just realised, an alarmingly long post, the product of sitting in a bed in a rented apartment in a small town in Ireland while it rains outside. Kind of like Jack Nicholson in The Shining but without the charm, or the imaginary friends (yet). For those who’s time is clearly more precious than mine, this basically a meandering think through a show I recently created for the Carlow Arts Festival called The Last Walk of Carlow Man, a show that mainly consisted of an audio track that I'll upload later, if you like that kind of thing.]

As the constitution of a proper place, scientific writing ceaselessly reduces time, that fugitive element, to the normality of an observable and readable system. In this way, surprises are averted. Proper maintenance of the place eliminates these criminal tricks.

But they return, not only surreptitiously and silently in this scientific activity itself and not only in daily practises which, though they no longer have a discourse, are nonetheless extant, but also in rambling wily everyday stories.
(Michel de Certeau, The Practise of Everyday Life)
We’re going to write this town like a bookTo tell our own story
To make our own history
By god
Cos we’ve had enough of theirs.
(Carlow Man)

When I lived in Edinburgh I used to work as a costumed guide at a place called The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a living museum style tourist attraction based in the original 16th century streets of Edinburgh that now lie buried beneath the royal mile. A catacomb of narrow alleyways and tenement houses once open to the air, once overcrowded slums throbbing with life, now only a ruined memory, a ghost of a city hidden like a dirty secret beneath the gift shops and restaurants of Edinburgh’s ‘Historic Old Town’.

From the beginning the creators of Mary King’s Close attempted to distance themselves from the numerous grubbier, lower budget ghost tours that cluttered up the city. They were slicker, flashier, and actually had a proper historic site, rather than a series of dark spaces lit relatively atmospherically. Fundamentally though, they distances themselves through recourse to the science of History. Unlike the urban myths and gruesome details being touted proudly by various swarthy guides in the back alleyways of the Old Town, Mary King’s Close claimed that it only dealt in fact. They had Historians, researchers, archaeologists who had studied this space and produced case histories of the lives these people led. The management were notoriously rigorous in enforcing this historical accuracy. We had to stick to the facts.

Each guide was assigned one of four characters to play, all real people; a wealthy merchant, a lady, a maid, and, for scruff like me, a plague cleaner called Walter King.

Yet once we were down in this bizarre world of waxworks, flickering candlelight and a soundtrack of half-heard voices echoing through decaying streets, something else went on. In between the facts a little theatrical universe developed. Guides, characters, interacted with each other as they passed in the hallways, invented histories, relationships, stories; the maid who’s been leading you on for years, the merchant in his fine outfit who always gives you a good kicking, your cousin who you helped escape from the clutches of the law. In these informal, improvised little moments a world was created, out of all this History stories formed; ineluctably fiction and memory seeped in. And unsurprisingly this was undoubtedly the audience’s favourite part, these brief chunks of interaction, the little chat as you meet on a corridor, the tiny scene as a character appears in a doorway and disappears off into another corner of the site, suddenly turning these old ruins into something alive, something real.

History on its own, is not to be trusted. It is science’s attempt to pillage everyday experience an place it in the hands of experts. Dressed up in footnotes and date and facts and citations, it claims for itself a position of objectivity through verifiability. History claims to look at the evidence and says what it sees, to be a window onto the past.

Yet history (like all sciences according to De Certeau) is innately flawed. History isolates chunks of the past (moments or characters or phases), removes them from the vast, uncontrollable, indescribable continuum of time and places them in historian’s laboratory, where they can be detailed, and dissected and explained. Yet the instant these particular points are amputated they stop being what they are and become something else. They become merely facets of a historical theory, rewritten in the artificial language of the scientist. And the historian, the expert, uses these nuggets of newly isolated and identified historical fact to tell his (and it is usually his) own truth.

As an example look at history’s use of dates. Dates which appear the most transparent and factual part of the historian’s language. And yet the isolation of a date, pulled from infinite eddy of things happening around it and attached to a single event, is as political as you can imagine. The ultimate example of this is of course September 11th, a date appropriated as the name of an event, silencing other events around it, silencing even other events backwards through time, (September 11th 1973, for example); through the process of isolating this single event in time, it tells a very specific story about foreign aggression and America’s right to defend itself.

Time is reduced to a series of points through which a line can be drawn, telling a very particular, narrow story with all the dictatorial force of scientific fact. The true victors don’t need to do anything as crass as rewrite history, the merely need to hand it over to historians, to science. They will fish moments from the reservoir of time and memory, carve them up, season them with footnotes and primary sources, and serve them back the people as something that no longer belongs to them, something they must swallow because its good for them. As Walter Benjamin said:
The only writer of history with the gift of setting alight the sparks of hope in the past, is the one who is convinced of this: that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.
Which brings us (eventually) to The Last Walk of Carlow Man, a show commissioned from me by Eigse, an arts festival in the small Irish town of Carlow, about an hours drive south of Dublin. At the point at which I was asked to do a show I had no idea what to do, something as terrifying as it is exciting.

Instinctively I felt I wanted to create something that was site-specific in the original meaning of the term; a show that was authentically a product of that specific location, of that specific town. And in order to do this as a one-time History student at University, my first thought is to rush to the history books (and, well, Wikipedia).

I read about wars, revolutions, uprisings, massacres, great figures of science and literature, all of which had drifted through this town, leaving little in their wake today but a scattering of plaques and one wall of a ruined Norman castle. And that was essentially the problem – all this history didn’t reflect the town today. It had been dislocated from the town, translated into the language of science, estranged from Carlow.

And so without me ever really meaning it to be, the show became an attempt to counteract that. It became an anti-history, what Walter Benjamin might call a tiger’s leap into the past, tearing up history as written. It was an attempt at least to rewrite the history of Carlow as a ‘rambling wily, everyday story’. Like the stories we invented at Mary King’s Close, I wanted to allow the fictional, the personal, the anecdotal, the rhetorical flourishes, the myths, the lies, the jokes to permeate the science of history; to turn it back into something belonging to everyday life.

The way this happened was through the creation of a character who saw history the way we see our own past, as half-remembered things that actually happened to us. I invented a bog man. Preserved in the peat. Someone 5000 years old, who had listened to time rumbling on above him, who knew everything with the force of memory; as scraps, fragments, bits and pieces all jumbled together. And I wrote for him a series of rambling stories that he would tell as he wondered through the modern day streets of the city, the audience listening on headphones and catches glimpses of him as they went; a pair of muddy handprints on a shop window, a figure disappearing glimpsed in the distance on the far bank of a river, a pair of muddy shoes abandoned by a park bench.

Right from the get-go I didn’t want there to be any specific linear relationship between what the audience was hearing and what they were seeing. I didn’t want him to be commenting specifically on what he was seeing, as is essentially the purpose of a historical audio guide. I wanted the audience to be given the freedom to make their own connections. I wanted them to forge their own history, through the relationship between the rambling stories they were listening to and the landscape they were walking through. And then halfway through the process, around the time I started writing some ridiculous article for the Guardian about how brilliant the shuffle function on an ipod is, I suddenly stumbled upon a way to make this sense of personal ownership even more foregrounded. The rambling monologue would be divided into a series of sections, all of which could be fitted together in any order, so that by simply turning on the shuffle function on the MP3 player each audience member would have a totally unique experience of the show, their own story, that they could fit to the world around them. These half true half fictional stories of the past would be entirely detached from historical fact, given to the audience to write back over the town as they saw it; to create their own map of the town and of the past.

So that was the idea, and if you’ve managed to make it this far you’re hopefully wondering how it worked out. Well, it’s Saturday [n.b. at least it was when I wrote this] and I have one night left, after a week in my own head I’m dreaming of getting back to London. I need the grime and the irritatingly knowing irony of someone who’s able to wear horrid plastic sunglasses indoors and know they get can get away with it because they’re so damn pretty. I need its thrilling messiness and the careless conversation of people I care about. I need cinemas and book shops and theatres, not necessarily to go to them but just to be reassured that they’re there. Suffice to say, I’m about ready to go home.

In terms of the show I think probably in the haste of having to put together the little installations hidden along the route in just a few days I relied too heavily on the kind of lazy whimsy that has been site-specific theatre’s stock-in-trade since time began; mysterious figures moving slowly and enigmatically in the distance, birthday candles and red balloons and party hats and little notes pinned in incongruous places. As far the text however, I was generally pretty pleased. It’s been a while since I’ve actually tried to write something quite so self-contained and complete and, well, playlike and I think it went ok. Chris, who performed it, was able to get something that felt relatively authentic out of my lame attempts at some kind of Irishness and with only that audio track and my mix tape of possible musical ideas, Stephen Dobbie created a beautiful, perfectly judged musical score that, as so often, turned the whole thing into something a little magical.

I’ve uploaded the four tracks and I'll put them up here later, so please do go and have a listen and if (for any reason) you might want a transcript let me know and I’m happy to send you one over.

So generally I’m happy. A good week, which, Irish border control notwithstanding, should leave me with a whole bunch of MP3 players to continue to experiment with. So, as always, watch this space.

Jun 6, 2008

"They haven't put a plaque up yet, but they will do"

[From The Last Walk of Carlow Man, at Eigse next week, if anyone happens to find themselves in Southern Ireland. I'll explain more about the ideas behind it once the whole thing is done - but for now take a read of this and this and this]

Look around you
Here it was
On this spot
Here it happened
Right here
Here’s where it went down
Here’s where we they did the deed
Here’s where the west was won
Oh yes
This is it
Or was it over there?
No it was here
This is definitely the place
Down here’s where they hid the body
And here’s where he told her he loved her
Here’s where they said goodbye
Here’s where it first began
That’s where it finally ended
Here’s where they built that fucking awful statue
Here’s where they built that fort that burnt down
Here’s where there was a lake
And the town they named after a lake
Here’s where he found out
Here’s where they chained him up
Here’s where they strung him up and 20, 000 watched them
Here’s where they ran to
Here it is
Here’s where the war started
Over there’s where the peace was signed
In that corner the saviour was born
Down that street the massacre happened
In that alleyway he was conceived on a dark night but they were just kids and they didn’t know any better
That street there ran with blood for two days
Ran with blood
Rivers of it
And Here’s where the fire started
Here’s where the soldiers hid
Here’s where the prisoners hid
Here’s where the children hid
Here’s where there be monsters
Here’s where I dropped my hat
Here’s where they stole my hat
Here’s where I spilt my drink
Over there’s where I realised I’d left something at home and would have to go back and get it even though I didn’t have time
Here’s where I killed him
Here’s where I saved her
Here is definitely where it happened
This is definitely the place

They haven’t put a plaque up yet
But they will do
They will do

Jun 5, 2008

T - 61 Days and counting

So today the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Programme was released. In a break with tradition, this year the powers that be (probably directed by their brand new lord and master) have done without the usual attractive-woman-doing-something-stupid-and-grinning-stupidly cover shot, replaced instead with a few piercingly mediocre computer generated images on a sea green background you could positively drown in.

The largest of these images is interestingly a camera surrounded by stars. What could the designers be trying to tell us? Is this the first inclings of the Fringe's inevitable moment of anagnorisis? A realisation that it has bartered away any sense of integrity in its fame-thirsty scramble for bigger sponsors, bigger stars and higher prices, fostering a fetid atmosphere of hype and self-promotion that values the disposable and the gimmicky over the difficult and delicate, the flash and the glib and the loud over the small and the thoughtful and the quiet? Is this the moment at which the Fringe catches a glimpse of itself in the mirrored face of one its Scotsman sponsored awards and sees in a moment of excruitating sadness (like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, like Ricky Gervais in the Christmas special of Extras) what it has truly become?

Probably not:

There are 2,088 shows this year, only slightly higher than last year's 2,050

I also want to just quickly comment on this from the New Director Jon Morgan:
Because it's not programmed and not curated, performers can say what they like. It's democratic and so you get a much better reflection of what's going on in the world and what issues are preoccupying performers. So in that sense, it's a litmus test of what's happening in the world.
There's little that's truly democratic about the fringe.

The fringe is the kind of democracy that you buy into. It's creative freedom available only to those who can afford their place in a venue, a hostel, the venue programme and the fringe programme along with trifling little things like props, costumes, publicity and, well, actors. And while it may avoid what Morgan seems to be suggesting are the dangerous whims of artistic directors or programmers, it doesn't replace them with a Utopia of creative freedom but with the laws of the market; if you can buy your place you're in. And its a rare kind of performer or artist who can ride the crest of this particular late capitalist wave.

It's actually a very narrow band of voices that you'll find at the festival (even narrower following the departure of Aurora Nova). And you can almost guarantee that large percentage of the most exciting will be funded through either by a regional producing house or by the Arts Council or an international equivalent; as important a form of selection as any directorial curation.

And this is all before you take into account that the Edinburgh model is certainly conducive to only a very limited spectrum of theatrical forms and styles. That being crammed into a small sweaty black box space, having to perform for at least a week consistently to get a spot, that being on at 3 in the afternoon and being watched by an audience who are cramming you in between Paul Merton's Impro All Stars and Appalling Acts of Genocide: The Musical, that all of this might inhibit a whole panoply of voices in Morgan's Democracy from wanting to ride this particular train.

And certainly what I've seen in programming for the Forest are the extraordinary number of companies who would never dream of going to Edinburgh, especially those that have been once and been burnt badly.

What the presence of an artistic director allows you to do is to select and support work from a far broader spectrum of potential companies and artists than that dictated by Edinburgh's big fat bottom line. It allows you to give companies the space and circumstances they need to have their voices heard. It's fighting against the survival of the fittest, against he who shouts the loudest wins; because who says that the fittest or the loudest have the most to say?

Curation gives a leg up, and a platform and a microphone to those that need it. And that may not be the kind of morally bankrupt libertarian notion of democracy that we all seem inured to, but I think in the arts at least that's a good thing.

And at their launch the fringe did manage to find two young (you guessed it) women to clad stupidly and make do stupid things, so not much has really changed after all.