The publishers Bloomsbury have a series of tabs at the top of their website to steer visitors towards the category of book they are searching for: Fiction, Non-fiction, Academic, Children’s and Harry Potter. What an unbelievable cash cow that young wizard must be for everyone involved!
We’ve just received the first royalty cheque from our very own cash gerbil Devising Theatre With Stan’s Cafe. It may not have been a big cheque, but it was a good feeling to know the book is out there being bought and (hopefully) read.
Given that we are currently being undercut by our own publishers and assuming that for such books sales tail off rather than snowball, we have perhaps had the best of things financially; nevertheless we will continue to reap practical benefits as those eager students who regularly email us asking ‘how do you get your ideas?’ or ‘how do you devise your shows?’ can now be pointed to the book rather than having to be written more bespoke answers and pointed towards our magical Harry Potter Helpful Things tab.
One privilege I have is that people often invite me to art stuff and occasionally I able to attend. Yesterday at DanceXchange a duo called Timber and Battery shared a work they have in progress called This. Avid followers of this blog will know that I have reservations about the ‘WiP’ concept but this was fun and very much resembled a finished performance.
This is currently a 30-40 minutes long structured improvisation in which two performers explore the fabric and function of two fold-away tables. A time-lapse video (posted above) gives you some sense of what happens but also completely misrepresents the piece.
As audience members we are free to explore, to watch from a distance or come close and inspect how the mass produced objects have gained individuality through use. The performers help us study each table’s detail, the rivets, the hinges, the caps, coated metal and polymer. We have demonstrated to us each table’s geometry, it balance points, movements, squeaks and judders. We watch with concern as the material limits of each table are tested in ways the designers and manufacturers can never have imagined them being tested.
This stripped-down, performance style with its limited vocabulary of isolated words “this”, “that”, “here” is direct and engaging, bringing to mind the playful work of one of my performance heroes Gary Stevens. With the occasional lull I enjoyed This very much.
Afterwards there was a bit of a chat with the artist for which four of us audience stayed to contribute our observations. If This comes near you I’d urge you to see it and tell me what you think.
As much as we’d love to think of our shows exclusively as works of art they are also inescapably products. These products need to be sold, to sell them they must be described and describing them can be difficult, especially when the shows have yet to be made.
We recently faced this challenge describing our new show THE CAPITAL. Tickets have just gone on sale for premiere performances at The REP in October so back in March and early April we were focused on describing the show for prospective audiences using just 150 words and an image.
With an unmade show this process of description becomes a part of its making. Our responses to different drafts of text and image teach us what we want do and don’t want this embryonic show to become.
In the first of a three part series about ‘marketing as making’ Simon Ford gives us a generous insight into the steps and missteps, cul-de-sacs and leaps of inspiration that took him from Graeme Braidwood’s photo of Amy to an image that we are happy describes an aspect of THE CAPITAL as we wish it to be. To read his ‘entertaining and informative essay’, follow this link.
You can see what The REP made of our text and image by following this link to their website.
After an early morning interview with presenter Alex Lester on the WM Breakfast Show, I appeared on Caroline Martin’s lunchtime show (BBC Radio WM, 3/4/2018) talking to her about the mysterious unsolved murder of Fred Jeffs and my community project with the Birmingham Rep Furnace programme.
The broadcast is available for ‘Listen Again’ until 29th April 2018. (Restrictions apply for International listeners)
What is it about an unsolved crime that holds its grip on us? Perhaps it’s a need to complete the story? Wherever I have been in the last month – whether talking to local history societies, visiting retirement homes or holding sessions in the libraries of Bleakhouse, Thimblemill or Quinborne, I am meeting people who find themselves entranced by the story of Fred Jeffs and the Sweetshop murder. Connections to the story itself are never far away… I have met and interviewed people who visited the shop, remember the CID house-to-house investigations or who remember the rumours that persisted in the wake of the murder. There are varying opinions as to where he was killed, what happened to Fred’s devoted poodle ‘Perro’, and who committed the attack, murder and disposal of the body.
Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, and it was on Maundy Thursday 1957 that Frederick Walter Jeffs met his fateful end. A team from BBC Midlands Today visited key locations and featured the project.
Here BBCmtd reporter Sarah Bishop (née Falkland) interviews Elizabeth Rose (Fred’s niece and my aunt) outside No.12 Stanley Road. Liz shared her memories of visiting the sweetshop as a young girl.
Current shop owner Andrew Bowen then talked about taking on the shop and discovering the dark history of the building.
Then the cameras relocated to the spinney off Park Lane, Handsworth – described by the press at the time as “a lovers’ Lane”. It was in this location that the grim discovery of Fred’s half-buried body was made on the afternoon of Good Friday.
Back at Smethwick Library, archivist Ian Gray helped uncover some local press coverage from the time. In the Oldbury ‘Weekly News’, the Jeffs investigation is competing for space with pictures of that week’s visit of the Queen to Warley / Smethwick. Meanwhile, in the wonderfully titled ‘Smethwick Telephone’, the local reporter gains a real scoop by interviewing the boy who discovered the body while ‘birds-nesting’ with his pals. The ‘Telephone’ names him as 15-year old Cyril Blakemore, of King St., Smethwick, sets up a photo of him pointing at the shallow grave, and then tells us that Cyril spent the evening at a local cinema. “I wasn’t in the least bit upset” he tells the reporter.
Since January I’ve been interning at Fierce as an assistant producer, but now my here comes to an end. *pause for sounds of sorrow* Looking back at my time here; I’ve found that my experience has been eye-opening to the background life of running a festival. Even though I was taught so much at university about the business side of being an artist; it’s not until you’re actually doing it all the time that you realise how much work goes into it.
When I joined Fierce they were just coming back from not only Christmas but the 2017 festival at the end of the year. The festival had been a lot of work but the performance wasn’t over – it was time to work on the aftermath of the festival. SOCIAL NETWORKING! Even though the festival was over; there was still a need to hype up the festival as much as possible. This included all things social media. I was left in control of advertising on all social platforms about everything Fierce and anything related. It wasn’t until I took on this task that I understood how essential social media was in a career such as this.
This was just the icing on the cake though.
A lot of my time at Fierce has been spent gathering, organising and presenting all things documentation. I’ve had to collate all images and videos of artist’s performances at the festival together before arranging for them to be presented in some fashion. This task included getting permission from all artists for their documents to be used.
Over the following weeks, I was tasked with various research tasks for numerous funding opportunities; collating information together for already accepted applications and analysing audience information of the previous festival. All of this allowed me to fully appreciate the effort and commitment that each and every person put into the festival to make it such a success.
Part of my job was to create an upcoming page for the website from scratch. This took a lot of investigating into how to edit the website and scouring our archive for all of the appropriate information that was needed. Having created a website previously I went into this task with confidence; as even though Fierce used a different system to what I had previously used, the two were very similar. It didn’t take me long to understand the system and a page was created that gelled with the rest of the website ready to be published. Every task I have had as an assistant producer at Fierce has taught me something new about the way this role works – for which I am grateful. I have enjoyed every task and meeting I have been to in a variety of ways. It has allowed me to further develop and hone skills that I already had; whilst learning, even more, to take on into the future. Thanks to everyone in the team – stay FIERCE!
Global Festival of Action took place earlier this week in the modestly titled World Conference Centre, which is a beautiful facility built in Bonn as home of the West German parliament just before reunification moved parliament to Berlin. Last year this was the Global Festival of Ideas but now is deemed time for action.
Delegates gathered from around the world and the opening plenary session reinforced a message that this was to be a festival not a conference. Alongside official welcomes from representatives of the German Government, City of Bonn and United Nations we were led in a bout of meditation and a somewhat self-conscious few minutes clapping along with a beatboxer whilst ‘making some noise’ for Y? (a very friendly and enthusiastic rapper from NYC). There were numerous exhortations to blitz Social Media with ‘our message’ and to encourage us Yusuf Omar, a very high energy young man from Hashtag Our Stories demonstrated how it only takes 60 seconds to shoot, edit and post a video on a phone in order to our ‘message out’ there. It was dazzling display achieved on a phone considerably more powerful than mine.
The ‘message’ referred to throughout is the urgency of addressing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The festival made an immediate impact as I arrived not knowing what the goals are and now I do – though, unlike most delegates, I am as yet unable to refer to them by number alone.
1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
9: Build resilient infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.
10: Reduced inequality within and among countries.
11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.
In foyers spaces stands showcased initiatives, approaches and new technologies. I plugged myself into both a 360º VR movie experience and then a full on walk through VR experience which captured the interior of a large block in Berlin that had been occupied and re-decorated by artists shortly before its demolition. It was breathtaking.
In familiar conference style there were plenty of Breakout Sessions to choose from and with Action as the aim many had a practical dimension. I attended the two which looked most like the session I was due to contribute to on Thursday morning – my idea was to pick up some tips of what to do and what to avoid, how many people to expect and how engaged they were likely to be.
At first my plan appeared to have backfired as the incredibly bright and positive photojournalist Ulla Lohmann’s session started by encouraging us to find a unique story that would ideally give us access to unique photographs. Her example was travelling to Papua New Guinea, learning Pidgin becoming adopted by a remote tribe and strike up a deep and trusting relationship with an elderly chief who as determined that he wants to revive an old tradition of being mummified and placed in a niche high above the tribe’s village in order to protect them post death. As a result Ulla was able to photograph a couple of practice embalming carried out on two pigs, before capturing the real thing once the chief died.
Ulla spoke about the ethical dimensions of sharing this story with the world via National Geographic and later gave us insight into how her very positive personality and honest approach allows her to gain access to take the photographs she’s after. As an encore and demonstration on how to construct and pitch a photo story she shared with us shots of her and a team of scientists abseiling into an active volcano. You should check her website out, she is a remarkable woman.
Somewhat rattled I then attended a session that promised to use Design Thinking to develop innovative project ideas in an Open Situation Room environment. Here a women who works for the Swiss Government shared with us a challenge she has been set by her boss to ‘support movements’ in an effort to advance the SDGs. The rapid fire approach of 5 minutes to discuss this, 5 minutes to agree that, 5 minutes to explore the other was frustrating and the dynamics of my group didn’t help. I took this as a warning to be heeded in running my session the next day.
I ducked out of the SDG awards ceremony on Wednesday evening, choosing instead to catch up on some Stan’s Cafe work and go for a run along the Rhine – a beautiful route.
Theater Bonn had invited me to provide the ‘interactive’ element of their session. For 25 minutes participants were shown photos and film clips while Nicola Bramkamp, Artistic Director of Theater Bonn and Andrea Tietz, producer of Save the World explained their belief in art’s power to effect social change. Then Nick Nuttall, Head of Communications and Outreach for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change backed up that opinion, explaining how politicians are empowered to make important decisions by the mood of public opinion, which in turn is shifted by a range of factors, including art projects.
Finally I had a room full of SDG activists to get interactive with. I’d decided to keep things really simple and walk them through one of my approaches to ‘having good ideas’, with their concerns as the subject of their creative thinking. So, having grouped everyone according to the SDG they were most passionate about, I encouraged participants to list challenges they face communicating the urgency of their chosen SDG to the public. Having done this I encouraged them to think of the artistic form that would most elegantly solve this problem; in other words look for the form that most elegantly matches up with the content of what they are trying to communicate. The groups then pitched their favourite idea in a single sentence. And that was 40 minutes.
I’d tried to leave the maximum time for discussion and debate. Some of the ideas that emerged I would happily have pursued and people seemed to enjoy themselves. Presumably the people who got little out of the session zoomed off without saying anything and those who got a lot out of it lingered to explain why and say thank you.
Job done, time to find the U-Bahn station to the Hauptbahnhof to Klön to Brussels Midi to London St. Pancras, walk to Euston train New Street, my bicycle and home by 11 thanks to the hour gained when crossing the channel.