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.