Published: Revolting Women @ Bad Reputation

I have promised myself I will NOT BLOG until this chapter plan is finished, but I did just want to share my  – belated – glee at being published with the fabulous feminist website Bad Reputation. I was unable to make their anniversary party in Camden on Oct 7 (having, on Oct 6, hosted a certain amount of wassail myself) but am delighted to call myself a contributor, even on the strength of one article.

I wrote on French LGBT activist Genevieve Pastre for their Revolting Women series (available under this tag).

To read the article, click here, but in any case, I hope you enjoy this picture of the first big French gay rights protest, which might usefully be subtitled “dear god, French gays are so much cooler/more stylish and generally better than the rest of us”. There’s an intensity of leather and cheekbone to which one can only aspire.

Before I head back to Cymbeline and my dead Shakespearean girlfriends, however,  here are three BadRep posts for your consideration:

Happy FRIDAY.

Arts Council Cuts: the Midlands and beyond

I’ve followed the Arts Council England cuts today with deep sadness and anger. Our society – not the Big Society, but the place(s) we really live – is under threat, and in this time of economic attack from our coalition overlords, the arts’ position is especially contested. There are lots of issues here, most of which I don’t feel qualified to speak on, but I did want to discuss the following.

The myth of the press officer class

Quentin Letts scoffed at the sufferings of what he calls the “press officer class”, i.e. those in arts admin (some of which could, perhaps, be more accurately known as arts bureaucracy). I have no animus against arts administrators whatsoever, and I hope that as few administrative roles as possible are lost. But what I hate most about Letts’s argument is the way it elides all the other people who work in the arts. At least if you’re an administrator or other office-based professional, you have transferrable skills! God knows there are few enough administrative and management posts available at the moment, and it’s appalling when people have to take skills and wage cuts, but for many people in theatre, that kind of transition just won’t be possible. If you’ve spent twenty years as a followspot operator, how many other roles can you step into? Stage carpenters are stage carpenters. A career in automation (formerly known as “flying”) doesn’t allow you to move between different kinds of organisation in the same way as a background in development or HR. These technicians are also incredibly skilled professionals. What will happen to them?

Creatives, technicians, and artisans don’t have the same prominence or vocality in the anti-cuts movement as doctors and teachers, and for good reason. But there’s a new body of workers who’ll be badly affected by these cuts, and Letts’s argument ignores them completely.

Audiences and young people: a manifesto

I am lucky: I’ve seen a lot of theatre because my parents were willing and able to make theatregoing a priority throughout my life. I also had inspired, discriminating and proactive teachers. A few weeks ago, the RSC (who have themselves taken a 15% hit) opened a Facebook discussion on why it was so important for young people to see theatre. I’d like to say that theatre is important because not only because it enriches our cultural lives, our imaginations and our intellects along with the rest of the arts, but also because it builds tribes, encourages acceptance, and creates communities with dignity. When a young person becomes involved with theatre, in any capacity, it changes how they see themselves, and how they see the world. Theatre prioritises the development of physical, mental and emotional stamina, of confidence, of self-worth and the capacity to take risks. Theatre offers to chance to step into a different kind of life, where people are valued in new ways, and where personal and professional relationships are based on immediacy, intimacy and trust. Unlike almost everything else in popular entertainment, theatre demands that people come together in the same room and listen to each other. Theatre demands that audience and performers treat each other with respect and generosity. When you make theatre, you have the unbelievable privilege of making your thoughts come alive around you, of creating a private world that then becomes gloriously, unbelievably public. Around the world, wherever there have been struggles for freedom, dignity and equality, theatre has been there somewhere. The defining figure in British culture, for better or worse, is not a statesman, a musician, a sportsman or a surgeon, but a playwright. On personal level, theatre has, again and again, created and changed the course of my life. When you take theatre – performance, stagecraft, design, text, activism – away from young people, you are denying them the chance to be the best they can be.

The Midlands

A ROUGH GUIDE TO THE CUTS: if you have “Birmingham” in your title, get stuffed. Foursight Birmingham: 100% funding lost. Birmingham Repertory: 11% cut. Birmingham Royal Ballet: 15% cut. City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: 11% cut. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group: 11% cut. Big Brum: 11% cut. Also in and around Birmingham; the Ikon Gallery and the Midlands Art Centre will each lose 11% of their funding, while Ixia (visual arts) loses 15.2%. Another big loser in the West Midlands is Multistory, which loses over 43% of its funding. Recent work by Multistory involved developing original work by primary school children in Coventry. Simultaneously, the Coventry Belgrade is losing 14.9% of its funding, meaning that pretty soon the only thing in Coventry will have to offer is IKEA. Oh, and the West Midlands disability arts user-led organisation DASH loses 38% of its funding. Of course. Nationally, two other major, brilliant companies with investment in disability arts are DV8 (whom I was privileged to see as a sixth-former) and Zinc. DV8’s losing 11.7%, Zinc’s losing 100%. Yes, you did just read that – the Arts Council are cutting all funding for the largest disabled-led arts organisation in England. That must be the most disgusting thing I’ve read all day.

In the East Midlands, the Theatre Writing Partnership loses 100% of its funding. God forbid that Leicestershire, for example, should produce another playwright like Joe Orton or Sarah Kane. Leicester Theatre Trust are losing 11% of their funding, as are the Nottingham Playhouse. Two East Midlands companies who made unsuccessful applications for funding are the participatory community theatre company Hanby & Barrett, and Metro Boulot Dodo.

Warwick Arts Centre, responsible for all the experimental theatre I saw before uni, loses 11%. The Royal Shakespeare Company loses 15%. I love the RSC beyond all reason and am partisan to the point of incoherence in its favour, so I find this… painful. I have faith that they can take it, nevertheless.

Whichever way you look at it, the Midlands has suffered horribly today: we’ll feel the repercussions for years. It’s not just the arts, of course – I heard today (from my mother, who taught me feminism and liberalism and exactly why you never ever vote Tory – I only wish everyone else’s mothers had done the same) about some of the other services being axed in the West Midlands. Dudley Council closes Meals on Wheels next week, meaning that 120 Stourbridge pensioners will no longer receive a cooked meal each day (total saving: £32,000). The voluntary organisation Birmingham Tribunal, which provides a free welfare benefits legal advice for the city, is also shutting soon. But it’s another, depressing, regressive nail in the UK’s coffin, helping to push our society and its citizens further into unemployment and suffering. Forget the cultural value if you can, or even if it doesn’t matter to you: so many jobs and families will be threatened by these cuts. Even if you think the arts are elitist (although how anyone could think Clean Break, the theatre company working with women in prisons, is elitist… they’re taking an 11% cut), recognise that this is yet another sector in which workers are being threatened.

What next?

I have no answers. I urge everyone who can to focus on supporting their local arts organisations and services, and to keep voicing their displeasure. I offer my deepest sympathies to all the organisations mentioned in this post, and indeed to all who’ve been adversely affected by the decisions today. If anyone reading this is affiliated with an organisation attempting an appeal or looking for fundraising in the light of the Arts Council’s choices, please comment: I’d be delighted to add your links to this post.

Call To Register: Oxford English Graduate Conference “The Famed and The Forgotten”

Registration is now open for The Famed and The Forgotten, taking place on 10th June in Oxford University’s English Faculty.

45 student speakers from Oxford and around the UK will be delivering papers on the concepts of ‘famed’ and ‘forgotten’, interrogated in the broadest possible terms across genres and periods encompassing Old English to the literature of the present day.

A panel discussion on “The Future of Reading” featuring representatives from Oxford University Press, SHM Productions consultancy and the Oxford English Faculty will take place, and we will hear a keynote address from Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively.

The £15 attendance fee covers lunch, snacks and all conference materials. Please register via our website – http://graduate-conference.english.ox.ac.uk/ – or with an email to claire [dot] waters [at] ell [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk.

Then, confirm your place by sending a cheque or postal order for £15 made out to the University of Oxford to Claire Waters, St Catherine’s College, Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UJ.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

[REVIEW] CUPPERS 2010

Last week, I was lucky enough to be a judge for OUDS Cuppers 2010, the first-years’ college drama festival. This involved gazing into the tiny, uplifted faces of fresh thespy youth and then brutally marking them out of 10 in a variety of categories including acting, design and marketing. As in 2007 (the last time I judged), the process was accompanied by a lot of moaning, whinging, averted eyes and tears, chiefly from the panel. Onstage, the Freshers were relatively restrained, stopping at fellatio and the odd anal rape. As in 2007, I actually really enjoyed the process – especially running the feedback sessions for competing teams –  and hope that OTR sends me back again next year.

I haven’t seen the final awards list, but my Oxford names-to-watch would be Matthew Brooks and Frankie Goodwin as directors; and Rhiannon Kelly, Charlotte Lennon, Emily Norris and Claire Taylor as performers (hey, guys? If you’re reading, be awesome, it’ll make me seem clairvoyant).

Anyway, for posterity’s sake, my reviews:

Wednesday 17th November

2.30 p.m. The Wizard of Argoz, St. Peters College

“Warmly appreciated by a large College audience, which, after all, is one purpose of Cuppers” Sophie Duncan ★★

3:00 p.m. Phaedra’s Love, Wadham College

If Michael Brooks develops this version of Phaedra’s Love into a more nuanced but no less intense production, he’ll be the director to watch.” Sophie Duncan ★★★

3:30 p.m. Comic Potential, Jesus College

“I rather lost my heart to this engaging cast” Sophie Duncan ★★★★

4:30 p.m. The Choice, Corpus Christi

“His unexpected intensity made Choice, for a moment, a completely different play.” Sophie Duncan ★★★

5:05 p.m., Love of the Nightingale, Somerville College

“Claire Taylor as Procne gave the performance of the day.” Sophie Duncan ★★★★

ARTICLE: Nushu @ Dimsum

NUSHU: A secret code of the sisterhood

I’m really excited to be writing for Dimsum, the British Chinese community website. The idea for this article came about during last-but-one weekend’s visit to London, and I’m impressed by how quick the turnaround’s been. I’d love to work for these guys again in the near future – I’m enjoying articles by their columnist, Suzie Wong, and this thought-provoking piece on theatrical yellowface by Anna Chen (especially as it eviscerates a playwright I’ve previously enjoyed).

Click below to read the rest of my article. Turning pure research into features writing was fun & an important learning curve. Now, off to order that MLA handbook – it’s time to start reformatting some more/other work for journal submission…

The story of Nüshu is uniquely fascinating in the history of the Chinese language: yet, for many, the word still means nothing. Now, as a once-secret script becomes a tourism moneyspinner, it’s time for everyone to learn about Nüshu – the two thousand characters that make up the world’s only single-sex writing system.  This secret code has survived for seventeen hundred years, inspiring songs, poetry and journals of the most personal kind. And it was created by women denied the chance to read or write. (read more)…

Ruth Padel: Who is Olivia Cole?

Olivia Cole amongst the Facebook poets, standing, red dress.
Olivia Cole amongst the 'Facebook poets', standing, red dress.

Padel’s claims she did nothing to ‘smear’ Walcott are looking even shakier – Olivia Cole, the journalist to whom she chose to raise ‘student concerns’ is in fact a gossip diarist for the Evening Standard.

Interestingly, however, she is an Oxford graduate, and an award-winning fellow-poet, listed in April 2009 as one of the Times’s ten rising stars of poetry (were they photographed in the Oxford Union?). Olivia Cole, 28, read English (Padel read English and Classics at LMH) at Christ Church, got a first in Mods (and, one assumes in Finals), and won the Gibbs Prize for a thesis on Sylvia Plath. Cole quotes Plath on page 4 of her 13 May 2009 article for the Spectator, which covered Walcott’s ‘dignified halt’ to the campaign. No mention there of the email which she had received from Padel on 9 April.

Much of her poetry is online, including “Julia“, “A to Z“, and “Gossip Column“. See what you think.

Leaked: the email Ruth Padel used to tell journalist about Walcott’s past

Poor woman does not take a good photo. (c) Press Association.
Poor woman does not take a good photo. (c) Press Association.

Here is the text of the email Ruth Padel (who resigned as Oxford’s Professor of Poetry yesterday) sent to Olivia Cole, ensuring the press knew about the past of her then-rival, Derek Walcott.

“Hi Olivia,

“ON the CHair, there is still no other nomination except (so extraordinarily) Derek W and me. But thye close on 29th April so another or others may well turnup…

“THere is aupposed to be a book called The Lecherous Professor, which has 6 pages on Derek Walcott’s two cases of sexual harassment, which might provide interestigfn copy on what Oxford wants from its professors.. ALl best, Ruth.”

Published by the Torygraph among other papers, Padel’s (incredibly badly-spelt) email – which she denied sending – doesn’t mention the ‘student concerns’ she claimed prompted her to tip off the press (as opposed, one assumes, to the University itself).

At a press conference today, Padel spoke of her ‘relief’ at quitting, and called the emails she sent ‘naive and silly’. However, she still denies having done anything wrong. Unsurprisingly, she has ruled out the possibility of standing for reelection – can you imagine if she tried to run again?!

Meanwhile in Oxford, students finishing English Finals at the Exam Schools (where the election was held earlier this month) were filmed emerging from their exams by media cameras; University staff supervising the event said the footage would be used as part of the coverage of Padel’s resignation.

REVIEW: Much Ado About Nothing, RABID PRODUCTIONS, O’REILLY THEATRE, 12-16 May 2009

(c) Adrian Krajewski
(c) Adrian Krajewski

[review originally published here]
Inspired by avant-garde group The Factory, the ‘rules’ of the Bright-Dukes-Maltby Much Ado are myriad, and their theatrical game enjoyable. There’s promenade, props supplied by the audience, and ‘tasks’ imposed by a bowler-hatted Sam Bright. Conceived and led by Lindsay Dukes as Beatrice, the O’Reilly’s latest experiment deserves much praise.

The cast is strong. The comedians particularly shine, with Joe Eyre’s Borachio, John-Mark Philo’s Dogberry, and Joe McAloon’s Verges thriving on the chaos throughout. I found myself laughing aloud: a rare treat at press previews. Of the lovers, Dukes’s Beatrice has great energy and comic skill; unfortunately, she rather gallops through Beatrice’s psychology. Both the revelation of her reciprocated love for Benedick and her rage against Claudio are taken much too fast. We must remember that speed isn’t passion. However, the originality and talent of Dukes’s performance emerge whenever she slows down.

Conversely, James Corrigan’s Benedick begins weakly but improves; their love scene is the play’s subtlest, mature and melancholic. Isabel Drury is the production’s greatest surprise, creating in Hero an honesty and emotional intensity that indicate Drury’s right to larger and more rewarding roles.

The company could benefit from a firmer hand with the storytelling. Enraptured by the creative process, there are moments when the verse is garbled, the play’s essence reduced to a convenient coathanger for the antics of an improv troupe. Intensive vocal work would help, as would lighter shoes so that one actor’s lines aren’t drowned by the feet of fourteen others.

This ambitious production marries ideas from the best in professional theatre practice with the freshness and idealism on which student theatre thrives. Liberated from the commercial demands of professional theatre, we students can afford experimentation even in a recession. Above all, our theatre allows us to create spaces in which to do what students do best: imagine, endeavour, and learn.

The highlights of my Much Ado were Dukes’s hiding in a hatstand, Philo’s singing from a shopping trolley, and the incredible acrobatics of Eyre. Yours will be different. With all its variations, this Much Ado will be a first rate show, every night of the week.

Four Stars.

This review (minus hyperlinks) appeared in the Stage section of the Cherwell newspaper on 5 May 2009. Read it on the Cherwell website here.

g. b. shaw: the pillars of society are cracking and the ruin of the State at hand!

Lived to be approx. five hundred and four.
Lived to be approx five and hundred and four, good for him.

No author who has ever known the exultation of sending the Press into an hysterical tumult of protest, of moral panic, of involuntary and frantic confession of sin, of a horror of conscience in which the power of distinguishing between the work of art on the stage and the real life of the spectator is confused and overwhelmed, will ever care for the stereotyped compliments which every successful farce or melodrama elicits from the newspapers. Give me that critic who rushed from my play to declare furiously that Sir George Crofts ought to be kicked. What a triumph for the actor, thus to reduce a jaded London journalist to the condition of the simple sailor in the Wapping gallery, who shouts execrations at Iago and warnings to Othello not to believe him! But dearer still than such simplicity is that sense of the sudden earthquake shock to the foundations of morality which sends a pallid crowd of critics into the street shrieking that the pillars of society are cracking and the ruin of the State at hand.

George Bernard Shaw, ‘The Author’s Apology’, preface to 1902 edition of Mrs Warren’s Profession (1894), repr. in Works (London: Constable & Co., 1930, vol. 7, Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant 1, pp. 152-3.

This term is so much more fun than last. I love journalism.

(M’boy’s sister auditions for drama school today. So very excited.)

Complicit Press Night becomes a ‘Guest Night’

starring Richard Dreyfuss and David Suchet
COMPLICIT: starring Richard Dreyfuss and David Suchet

The first night of Kevin Spacey’s Complicit has apparently been postponed by nine days.

Well, that’s not completely true: performances will be going ahead completely as scheduled, but Monday’s show – the one I’m seeing – will now be a ‘Guest Night’ instead of a Press Night (…can I still write it up for the OR?). The BBC article, above, suggests it’s problems with Richard Dreyfuss not knowing his lines/struggling to recall them. The Old Vic website shows no official word about the change, except for the word ‘Revised’ that now heads Complicit‘s performance schedule, available here (pdf). Sensibly, the theatre’s silence extends to the rumours about Dreyfuss – which I hope aren’t true; I feel terribly sorry for the whole company. Obviously, though, there are problems and they know what problems they have won’t be fixed by Monday, or that’d be Press Night – sounds as though we could be in for an interesting evening.