Stuart Price, Writer of Several Wireless Theatre Shows

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We just finished the mammoth task of recording six adaptations of the Grimm stories (A Very Grimm Christmas at The Roundhouse).  One thing that really struck me about the project was how it wouldn’t have worked without teamwork.  Sharing of tasks, clean and courteous communication and a lot of pleasant hard work.  I learned a lot personally in this very area.  As a tragic control freak I have always taken it upon myself to try and do absolutely everything involved in getting a show together – radio play,  theatre,  short film.  Allowing others to do their jobs unhindered is the only way to move on and grow as a director.  This project has fully demonstrated this to me.  The team of TK, Matt (sound) and Gareth (lighting) were phenomenal in their workload and unflappable at all times.

This made me think of the people I rely on an a writer and director and made me want to share with you who they are,  how they contribute and how important it is to me.  Firstly there is David Beck.  Many Wireless Theatre Company downloaders will recognise him as an actor – The Youth Of Old Age and 2010 Space Commander spring to mind as well doing an amazing job as George the Dog in The Piper And Musicians of Bremen. David does an incredible and totally thankless job behind the scenes for me.  He is always the first person to hear a potential idea for a script, and the first to read it and tell me what’s wrong with it.  I trust him completely to say what he thinks.  This is so valuable for any writer.  He’s also brilliant to have in a rehearsal situation as well, because at times when directing I may lose my way, or not be fully confident in a decision and it’s great to have someone to bounce off.  Plus, he knows so much about theatre and has a keen eye for directing himself, as demonstrated in his version of The Robber Bridegroom.

A close second would be Mariele Runacre Temple.  She wears many hats and it would be fair to say that our relationship over the years working on projects for Wireless has been constantly exciting, challenging and close to life threatening.  She consistently demonstrates a focus and passion for the pushing of the company and the art form of radio drama that can be quite terrifying.  It’s so easy to feed off this enthusiasm and it makes the experience tense and the stakes high because she won’t settle for mediocre which means I can’t.  Again the point of what I’m writing here is to drive home the idea of teamwork and what can be achieved with it.  I remember one night sneaking out of the roundhouse during a break to smoke and looking at the bricks that hold it together.  For every single brick laid in that building there was a passing of the brick from one rough workers hand to another’s, probably with a joke, laugh or enquiry about the builders coming weekend.  This brick was laid and checked, then another was began.  From hand to hand.  Smiles from the workers and a spirit of pending achievement as each circular layer was grown from the ground to create the facility, from architect to plumber, smiles and handshakes, cooperation, communication, respect, teamwork and massive achievement little by little.  Then I looked around and saw another building, and another, and another, and was nearly flattened by the overwhelming thought of just how much vital and beautiful friendship had to be invested in to the world to make it what it is and that is so easy to take for granted, and it’s a lesson I will take in to the next project I am privileged to be able to help create.

I hope you enjoy the shows.

(All six ‘A Very Grimm Christmas’ productions will be available to download from www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk, www.roundhouse.org.uk/radio and www.timeout.com from the 15th December. Tag your tweets with #nohappyendings)

My Experience, By Gareth Brown (WTC Live Lighting Designer)

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“I’m lighting a radio play”.

This is a line I’ve used a few times when being asked what I’ll be doing when I’m going to be  working with The Wireless Theatre Company.

“I’m lighting the live recording of a radio play in a theatre with a live audience”

..Is a lot closer to the truth, but it’s a bit of a mouthful and doesn’t get people questioning my sanity.

Last weekend was a little different.  It wasn’t in a theatre, it was in a circular brick room under the Camden Roundhouse with none of the facilities that a theatre comes with.  When we arrived there were no seats, no sound system, no lights, nowhere to hang lights and the only power being standard domestic 13A sockets.  On top of which, over the course of 3 days we didn’t do one play, we did six plays, with six different script writers, six different directors and about 45 actors.

All in all; a challenge way beyond anything we’ve attempted before.  As a company we’ve never done more than one play in a day, we’ve never worked in a venue that wasn’t already a theatre, we’ve never done back to back days of different shows and we’ve never collaborated with another producer (Roundhouse Radio).
I suppose, from my point of view it started a few months ago, when this was originally meant to be a Halloween project.  We got the actual dates early in September and it seemed like 3 months was plenty of time for such a huge undertaking.  Then suddenly it was six weeks later casting began and we didn’t have all the scripts or all the directors or even a sound team on board (I’d love to tell you how important lighting is for the shows, but when you’re talking about radio plays the sound team really are important).

Suddenly, about a month before the shows the sound team came on board (fortunately it was TK (Tshari King) and Matt (Blair) who between them have done sound for all of Wireless’ live shows for longer than I’ve been around), the shows had all been cast and the end of the scripts were coming in.  We didn’t have three months any longer, we only had three weeks.

I put together a lighting design, watched a few rehearsals and tried to make my design fit with 6 different plays, all with quite different styles.  On the third attempt I managed to meet with someone from the technical team at the Roundhouse and among other things discovered that after each show I’d have a few minutes to remove everything so that the Underground Cinema Club could show a film each night.  Time for a rethink, so the design was simplified as far as I possibly could and resubmitted.  I got cue lists to the directors with a few days to spare, and fortunately they trusted me to make those cue lists into something that worked.

Last Saturday we got into the venue at 9.30am with 10 hours until our first play went on stage.  The lights didn’t turn up for over an hour because the technician being provided by the Roundhouse was stuck somewhere on a train (not with the lights, but there wasn’t anyone else available at the time to get them from where they were locked up elsewhere in the venue)   So I spent an hour sorting out the chairs, kindly borrowed from the Underground Cinema Club, trying to find the one’s that creaked the least so the our recording wasn’t interrupted every time a member of the audience moved in their seat.

Eventually my lights turned up and with the assistance of two Roundhouse technicians my rig went up in double time, suddenly I was glad that I’d simplified to a mere 9 lights.  We started our first technical rehearsal late and I’d love to tell you how it went, but my memory is a total blur.  We were supposed to rehearse one play in the morning, break for lunch and then rehearse the 2nd play in the afternoon.  Somehow on that first day we didn’t get much of a break between rehearsals as we tried to make up time.  Around 6pm we got a break in which to grab dinner before the shows went on.

I’m not going to tell you about the shows, all six were incredible in different ways and in about a week you’ll be able to download them from the websites of Wireless Theatre, Roundhouse Radio and Timeout.  Then you’ll be able to make up your own mind.  The one thing I would say is that most of the stuff I’ve done with Wireless has been comedy so at the end of a hard day’s work the performance is quite light, but these were somewhat darker. Though there were a few laughs we also had murdered prostitutes, demons, incest, paedophilia, cannibalism and all manner of other evils.  A lot of this material was as dark as it comes, which is pretty draining at the end of a hard day.

The 2nd play finished and I removed my lights and the stands they were on.  We’d finished our first day and survived, I may have managed a pint or two to celebrate.

The next two days were similarly hard work, but I believe the shows we put on were worth it.  After three days we were all a lot more tired, a few of us myself included had  picked up a really unpleasant cold with a vicious sore throat, we had somehow managed to do 3 sold out shows each including two different plays back to back and I still can’t quite navigate the circular labyrinth that is the Roundhouse Studios.  Though after those 3 days I’m finished, the sound team who had more work than me to do in the venue are still working on the plays, editing the recordings to make them ready for download.

Every show I’ve done with Wireless has been challenging in some way (venues where you can’t see the stage, directors who arrive on the day with an entirely new set of cues or an entirely new edit of the script and a show with 20 minutes in the venue before performance), but this was tougher than anything.  When in a few years we’re talking about these shows I might end up like the stereotypical Vietnam veteran telling people “You don’t know, you weren’t there”.

Despite all that, I am so glad I did it, or at least I will be once I’ve caught up on my sleep.

Why I Love Casting, by Jack Bowman

On Wednesday, the gang started something enormously exciting: casting for Wireless Theatre’s next live project – A Very Grimm Christmas to be performed at the Roundhouse in early December. It’s a massive project – our biggest yet, and quite rightly so as we should Always Be Bigger And Better – which will see six shows recorded over three nights, one of which I have the honour of adapting and directing. As we speak, drafts are flying back and forth, notes are being sent from all sources, all opinions are gratefully received, and thus begins the process of casting. For me, it’s the most exciting part of any production.  So, come, faithful reader, let me tell you why…

I started out as an actor in 62BC or thereabouts, naturally attending many auditions for many different things; some jobs I got, others I didn’t.  Some auditons were great experiences and brilliant fun; others… not so. Yet I was always learning about the process and myself. Mental notes were (and are) always made – to this day I still take notes from good and bad auditions when I get a rare call-up.

Roll on several centuries and, as floppy drives began to die out, I found myself writing and, for the first time, involved in a casting process from ‘the other side’. We were looking for a young actress for FROZEN, which meant seeing a variety of experienced and inexperienced performers. Remembering how nervous I’d been in my first few years, I was determined to make it as relaxed as possible for them all. And we had a great day – literally everyone gave us a great audition, we had fun, saw so much potential and talent and still, to this day, Peter Davis never asked why someone walked in, pointed at him and stated, “he doesn’t have an eye-patch”.

And, I know that hearing you’ve not got the job is a hard thing, it’s worth remembering it’s just as hard for the casting team. The worst part of that day – the pain for the pleasure, as if it were – was sitting through that list, knowing we had ten brilliant options and only one could get the role. For the first time in our lives, there were nine calls to make, all saying “sorry”, despite the brilliance of everyone.

Rolling on into the era of touch-screen thingies and an Equity requirement to change my stage name, the Wireless Theatre Company has taken me into directing and producing, which means seeing more scripts than You Can Possibly Imagine and taking on several productions with the hope of Making This Audio Stuff Sound Good. The best part for me is still the casting – finding the actors with right stuff that will adhere to the golden rule:  Serve The Story. You read the script and think the vital questions – Who could play this? Would this actor do that? Are they free? Can we get them? And, so far, I’ve been enormously spoilt and flattered in that virtually, nearly everyone I’ve asked to be part of a company directed or produced by me for Wireless or beyond, whether auditioned, work-shopped or just asked out-right, has said “yes, I’d love to” – something of a blessed relief on the first Springheel serial, which will use 37 actors by the time it’s finished and released. Yes, we were that insane and, yes, we knew we were that insane at the time! Yet, there’s honestly nothing more satisfying when your instincts for choosing an actor work and things click into place – it’s a feeling only surpassed when an actor you know well surprises you with something so left-field.  It only serves to enrich your experience and knowledge of the people your work with.

However, the best of the best, the one thing I love above all – like the auditions we had yesterday, which serves the Wireless mission of new talent – is meeting new actors. Brand new people to see, read with and get to know. Mariele should be justly proud of the fact that Wireless has already used over 160 actors across 100 productions, always making sure that we never remain insular in anyway. Of course, we invite actors back, because so far they’ve all been sweet-hearts and we want to work with them again, yet we always strive, quite rightly, to bring new acting talent to the mix of each production. I adore the opportunity to put someone new in front of Mariele, watching them do their thing on the mic, and wait for her to lean in and say, “they’re really good you know.”

The first set of auditions this week for the Roundhouse were a joy – so many new faces, so many familiar friends doing their thing and surprising you, to see the confidence of old pros and the charm of nervous young actors recently graduated. Yet more than all this, to see so many people take the audition sides, take Stuart’s words and offer Wireless and the Roundhouse so many worlds of possibility – when someone reads those words and elevates them. It’s an alchemy where the speech is no longer just black ink on white paper; genuine magic occurs that turns the words into something living, breathing, beautiful, engaging and hypnotic. And with casting like this, you never know when it will happen. There is nothing that compares for me in the pre-production process than having a moment of witchcraft like that. And for that reason, I’d like to say to everyone who’s been, and everyone who’s coming, thank you. You keep the magic alive.

Tech and Casting, by George Maddocks

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Seven years ago I got a Blackberry 8700 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackBerry_Electron). Whilst my friends and colleagues competed over whose camera had the most megapixels and failed to send each other files over bluetooth I was giving myself arthritis firing out e-mails and obsessively following Google Reader through the EDGE network. I was, for a short but wonderful time, top geek at my work. I was on the cutting edge.

Now the nineteen year old apprentice at my theatre has a BB Bold, and the only person I know who doesn’t have a smartphone is my mother (and she wants a IPhone.)

Last year I was working at a drama school. On my lunch break I noticed a well-established (read: old) theatre director with five huge copies of the spotlight catalogue. He was going through each page taking down the reference numbers of performers he liked the look of. Another director, himself very ‘well-established’ hobbled in, ‘why you doing that?’ he asked incredulously ‘you can do it online, its much easier’.

What I’m driving at isn’t complicated, we carry devices that are as powerful as desk/laptop computers in our pockets and even the bed-blockers (I am a director) are starting to realize that the way forward in casting is online. Sometime in the last ten years yearsa actors online presence went from being a optional extra to the primary and most important representation of you for directors.

The burning question is exactly how to cope with this? The basics are simple, update your page often, sign up for multiple sites (CCP, Spotlight, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) be diligent in replies and, most importantly, have a separate Facebook profile for work.

Sadly for those of you who already do this, I watched eighty plus drama students get trained to do exactly the above last year at one drama school, and there are 20 NCDT accredited drama schools in the UK alone, simply put, the basics are now just that.

The good news is that the smart phones that elderly directors peer at through reading glasses at do more than text and pictures, video and music playback is now standard and unlike a few years ago it doesn’t require codecs or mulitple app downloads. The octogenarian director you want to work for just has to bash his shaking digit below your headshot and your media is played.

What media though? Phones now handle video with ease but thats a gift and a curse, industry standard ‘low budget’ film and television (think Eastenders) still costs hundred of thousands of pounds and our eyes are attuned to that level of expense and post production, advances in tech (Cannon 7D’s etc) keep bringing the cost down but, ultimately, unless your making a showreel from TV appearances you’ve done, a video showreel is almost always going to look cheap and cost the earth.

As a result audio is the best and most economical way in which you can represent yourself online, a studio recorded voicereel by a reputable company is not trying to be industry standard, it is industry standard. Its not without risk – there’s a lot of companies that will burn you for voicereels (don’t pay over £300 – no matter what) – but go with a good company and you’ll find yourself performing in the same environment as the very best in the industry, in these circumstances, the recording method becomes transparent, all that remains for a director to judge is your talent.

IPhones, Android Smartphones and Blackberries are the new battleground for online content producers and the new casting tool for directors. Voicereels allow a director to immediately hear you to a professional standard on the very devices they will very often be targeting and without their first impression of you being tarnished by cheap production values.

Theres a wealth of places online that you can get a voicereel done personally I would recommend the people with whom I have worked closely for years -   Voice Reels  - but I would say that.

Shop around, if you find a cheaper deal from a company with a better track record in radio drama please take it, but whatever you do, do make sure you get a professional voicereel recorded because it without it, it won’t be long before the shaky handed octogenarian bed-blocker squinting through his glasses at your profile will mutter ‘no media’ and double tap onto the next candidate.

Follow George on Twitter – @georgemaddocks

Stage Fright – The Next Stage, by Stefan Lubo

We are recording Stage Fright on 15th September at Quince Qtudios in London.AbiTitmuss and Alex Barclay return to play Geraldine and Peter.

 

The actor now playing Charles is Andrew McBean - who trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and has worked extensively in TV and theatre since.

The rest of the crew are Mariele Runacre-Temple – Founder of The WTC and a fine illustrator!

Lynn Howes – The playwright

Emma Taylor – The Director

And Jack Bowman who is assistant producing and helped Mariele adapt the script for radio.

I, Stefan will be taking photos of the rehearsal and the recording and enjoying seeing my theatrical baby reborn, this time for a worldwide audience. The pleasure of seeing something that was just a plot structure in my head many years ago, made manifest in a brilliant script by Lynn Howes and then become performed in the flesh and now the airwaves by a talented team of theatre professionals and actors is difficult to describe, but wholly wonderful.

The recording will take place @ Quince Studios, a very small but super studio in Marylebone, engineered by the fab Matt Walters who will lead us through the day. We’ll rehearse on Monday, working with Andrew in the role and ironing everything out. In the studio there isn’t a lot of time for notes as we have to move very fast. We have a tight recording schedule that we’ll need to stick to, usually allowing no more than 2 takes for each scene! They’ll have a microphone each and probably work in sequence.

Watch out for future posts, as editing progresses and we ultimately load it up on the WTC website for you to download as a podcast!

The Adventure of the Everlasting Detective, by Matthew Woodcock

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You have to be pretty special to last as long as Holmes. I can’t think of many pop culture icons from the nineteenth century that can still command healthy television ratings and huge cinema audiences. I can’t remember the last time I saw a big budget version of Max Carados, The Blind Detective, can you?

So what is the appeal? Why are Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson still loved by millions? Without a doubt, it is because they are the most interesting characters to come out of Victorian pulp fiction. The ones we forget about are the ones that were influenced by Holmes, and we forget about them for good reason. Carnaki, The Ghost Finder is an interesting idea: a supernatural Holmes who regales his narrator with his adventures, but you don’t learn anything about the character at the end of the story, you don’t care about him any more than you do at the start.

Holmes and Watson are different. When Peter Davis and I first sat down to add to the myriad of adventures featuring this pair, we first re-read the stories to see what we could learn about them. Holmes is obsessive and antisocial, but he has a streak of the performer about him. The times when he shows off his gifts to his clients, or to Watson, and the times when his client is less than impressed show his love of the dramatic. Take this example from ‘The Red Headed League’.

‘The fish which you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks, and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr.Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omneignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.

He cultivates his air of mystery, and revels in the times when he can outsmart those around him, even though he is happy to give the credit for his successes to others.

Watson is just as fascinating – he’s not the bumbling fool he is so often painted as. He’s got an eye for the ladies, he likes to gamble, but does he gamble too much? (Holmes keeps Watson’s chequebook locked in his drawer. Is there more to this than meets the eye?). He is the audience, and he re-acts just as we would with a difficult friend – with frustration, bemusement and affection. The two of them put together are a bit like an all male student flat share; they get up when they want to, they don’t tidy up, and they’re not too worried about not talking to each other for hours on end.

When you have two characters as good as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, it’s no wonder people are still writing about them. And Conan Doyle was a clever writer – read his Holmes stories and you’ll find them peppered with references to tales the world is not yet ready for – the Giant Rat of Sumatra, anyone? That’s just ammunition for writers who want to play with Conan Doyle’s world. When the Wireless Theatre Company approached us about doing a live Holmes radio show it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore the weird world of Holmes away from the traditional fog bound Victorian streets. The success of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern retelling shows that Holmes can work in just about any situation. It’s not just the streets of 21st Century London, either. Sherlock Holmes can find himself in pretty much any situation and still be recognisably himself, be it in the 22nd Century for an ITV cartoon series, fighting Dracula on BBC Radio in the 1970s or Jack the Ripper in adventures too numerous to mention, or as they do in Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back!-  fighting Nazis in the second world war.

In writing our show we were greatly influenced by Universal Films’ Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce series. Made between 1942 and 1946, Rathbone and Bruce faced Nazi spies at home and abroad. When the war ended, they stayed put in 1940s London, plonked there unchanged. And no one seemed bothered. The films were successful enough that to many, Basil Rathbone IS Sherlock Holmes, and Nigel Bruce’s bumbling, comedy Doctor Watson influenced many a performance until Edward Hardwicke rehabilitated the character for Granada in the ‘80s. It is Bruce’s Watson specifically that our Watson spoofs in Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back!, because every straight man needs a clown.

Rathbone and Bruce went on to play the characters in 220 new adventures for NBC and later the Mutual Broadcasting Corporation in the US. These were set back in the Nineteenth Century but bookended by some of the most hilariously contrived on-air sponsorship I’ve heard. Each week, Dr. Watson, assumably still alive and well and living in Southern California, would invite announcer Harry Bartell around to hear another of his adventures. But not before he had told the folks at home about the benefits of a good wine. And say, if you like good wine, why not make it a deep red, hearty Petri Bergundy?

Yes, why not think about that? For a good minute and a half. Then just as the adventure reaches a cliff-hanger, Mr. Bartell is back to tell us all about wine. It’s enough to put you off your drink.

So we’ve had a rich seam to mine. The world of Sherlock Holmes is so fascinating because these characters have lived on, and every generation has interpreted them in their own way. We hope our tribute to the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce era of Sherlock Holmes gives you a flavour of just one of them.  So, if you’re looking for a Sherlock Holmes, why not enjoy an adventure against the Nazis, with thrills, romance, sponsorship and more than enough gags.

Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back the radio play will be recorded live as part of the Camden Festival @ The Etcetera Theatre, Camden at 7.30pm on Tuesday 16th August only. Book tickets HERE.

New Noise, By Stephen Hill

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“We dance, to all the wrong songs, We enjoy, all the wrong moves, We need new noise”Refused, New Noise, 1997.

I think it’s important to admit your strengths and weaknesses as a human being, be aware of your limitations. I, by my own admission, don’t know anything about dance. That’s true. It would seem then that I would be the last person you’d expect to be able to write a blog (that’s this) about a dance show. After all, what do I know? This Thursday just gone I was dragged kicking and screaming against my will to Sadler’s Wells to watch HofeshShechter’s Political Mother. A dance show.Great. “He uses rock music in his shows.” Does he now? To say I was sceptical about the idea of a popular theatre practitioner using “rock” music would be an extreme understatement. Rock and roll, I mused, belongs in sweaty clubs and on muddy festival stages. It doesn’t belong in clinical, sterile theatres populated by chin stroking thespians. I was really, very, seriously wrong.

The first thing that struck me and made me realise this may be different to the usual theatre experience was the fact that the front rows had been removed and it now resembled a standing area, the same as you would see at The Forum or Astoria or any other music venue. Oh so familiar, but unnervingly different. Would they come down amongst us? Would we be expected to join in at some point? I stood in the corner and waited for the curtain. At 7.30 the show started. An empty stage, orchestral music, played live by musicians on a raised platform along the back. Rock music?Nowhere to be seen or heard. I’d been duped into attending, the carrot to give me some sort of vague interest in live dance had been a red herring. Then it stopped. A man walked out onto the empty space dressed as a Samurai and stabbed himself in the stomach with a sword. “Someone else hates ballet” I thought to myself. Blackout.Some sort of electrical fuzz. Then it happened. From a third raised platform at the very back of the performance space an explosion. Lights.Sound.Movement. Two drum kits. Three more on percussion.One Bass.Three guitars. Between fifteen and twenty (they never stopped moving long enough for me to count them all) dancers burst into the naked space, filling it with hyper-kinetic, jerking movements, seemingly random but telepathically in time. Like one entity rather than fifteen (twenty) individuals. It quite literally took my breath away. It was impossible to take in everything that was in front of me. It was an assault on the senses. I didn’t know what to think but I noticed I was smiling. Grinning actually.

As one who is uneducated in the medium of dance, I’m unable to give you a detailed and specific breakdown of the style or steps of the dance. What I can say is that I understood the story that was being played out in front of me, I could see artists who were able to articulate their entire emotional make up solely using their physicality and could not be failed to be impressed (and I doubt anyone could) by their ability and dedication to be able to perform such a gruelling piece of work. They are as much athletes as they are artists and some of the passages of musically unaccompanied pieces were dizzyingly transfixing. What I can relay to you with some degree of authority is the musical score. As we left a woman behind me remarked of how it reminded her of Radiohead. There was nothing of Radiohead in the show. Let me be gumby for a minute, it was HEAVY. I’d expected Bon Jovi and got Cult of Luna. What impressed me most was the lack of compromise or concession in the show, that appeared to be the case in the dance. It was definitely true of the music. It wasn’t the MTV ready rock you might have expected, it was thick, discordant, brutal noise. It wasn’t just loud, it pinned you down by the chest and restricted your breathing. It was born from frustration and seethed with danger. In the mix were the likes of alt rock titans The Melvins or Sonic Youth, Noise-core bands like Neurosis, Isis or Fantomas and genre defining acts such as Converge and System Of A Down. All of these bands are valid reference points without dominating the sound which was uniquely its own, adding a traditional eastern European flavour in certain sections.

At the centre of it all was Shechter himself. A British resident since arriving from Israel in 2002, his upbringing in that country has obviously affected his work as Political Mother features powerful imagery of the oppressed and dictatorial leaders. He himself vocally and physically representing a Hitler/Castro hybrid in the show. He is the man that wrote the music, choreographed the moves and designed the stage set and lighting. He thinks in cinema rather than in theatre, he taps his foot to a different rhythm to you and I. He is a visionary. A genius even. I’ve been won over.

As I left the theatre a group of teenage girls were exiting behind me. Every one of them expressed their displeasure at the show they had just seen. “Too loud!” “Not enough backflips” “Just shouting”. I can’t give the show any higher recommendation. Those young ladies are free to go and watch Ghost: The Musical. They are aware of their own limitations, as am I. HofeshShechter’s limitations, though, do not appear to be so obvious.

Live Audio Theatre ROCKS!

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Opera North, By George Maddocks

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/jul/03/lee-hall-opera-north?CMP=twt_fd

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jul/04/opera-beached-pulled-school-protests

I grew up in the East Riding so I suspect that I am less confused by the opera north situation than many of my friends in London. Less confused but no less disgusted I should point out.

Its easy living in the south surrounded by diversity of all kinds to forget that there are large swathes of the country that are not. In this environment lines such as “I am a queer” and “I prefer a lad to a lass” have an incendiary quality that we struggle to understand from a southern perspective. This is especially true when primary schoolchildren are exposed to them. For more people than you would imagine this is still the presentation of a minority lifestyle which gives it an undue credence and risks spoiling their children.

This bigotry makes me angry, I would imagine it does so for many people and it is important to be angry about this. There are no shades of gray in this argument (as currently presented) but the body at fault does not seem to me to be Opera North but the parents and school involved.

It is the policy of the government to support and promote equal rights for homosexuals. If you ask the state to educate your children you have to accept this. If you don’t like that then your options are to educate your kids privately, or live somewhere else. The state is under no obligation to tolerate your homophobia, this is a simple and crucial point and one that should have been made by the school.

This also is the same for those who teach, in your professional capacity you are also obliged to support and promote equal rights for homosexuals, in issues pertaining to equality you are beholden to the state not too the parents of the children. If you don’t like that then pick another career or go private.

Progress is slowly made in the East Riding and will be entirely retarded if the government allows a 100,000GBP of taxpayers money to be wasted because a school isn’t prepared to adopt an appropriate attitude towards homosexuals. A great deal of pressure should be placed on Ed Vaizey to ensure that the project continues with the lyrics pertaining to homosexuality intact. Otherwise it is hard to see how Mr Vaizey can honestly suggest he is complying with this:

http://www.culture.gov.uk/about_us/working_with_us/7266.aspx

UPDATE – Opera North have posted a response on their website (http://operanorth.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/opera-norths-focus-on-bridlington/), it doesn’t help their case and it might have been better for them to simply start backtracking on the decision. Their assertion that the school doesn’t start teaching PHSE till the age of nine and so the performance would be unsuitable for the youngsters casts homosexuality in the same minority/different lifestyle bracket as mentioned before. It is no defence, insulting, and will only inflame the situation.

The assertion that “a celebratory performance of the last two years” is an appropriate replacement for the opera ignores the reality that the opera was pulled because of homophobia on the part of East Riding council and (no doubt) some parents. If you are going to take 100.000GBP of taxpayers money to put on a community performance you have to support the cultural outcomes outlined in the linked document above, if you can’t or won’t you shouldn’t take the money.

Adventures Are Good For You, By Robert Valentine

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Springheel Jack

As the second episode of The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack finally comes to an mp3 player near you, it seems like a good time to wonder what on earth you could possibly get out of listening to it.  Does the world honestly need another old-school adventure serial with heroes, villains, monsters, mysteries, chase-scenes and cliffhangers?  Surely we’ve been through every permutation of that tired old formula by now, right?  So why the hell are those people at the Wireless Theatre Company making this stuff, and – more importantly – why the hell are we listening to it?  Well, might I suggest two possible reasons for this: number 1) Because The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack is fun.  It’s very, very fun.  And number 2) Because adventures are good for you.

I must interrupt myself right away and make clear that I’m not endorsing The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack as one of your recommended five a day.  It won’t stimulate hair-growth on that worrisome bald-spot and it doesn’t cure hemorrhoids.  But we need adventure stories.  We always have and we always will.  You may consider them to be ‘serious’ drama’s good-natured but mentally-impaired siblings, or think that they don’t matter beyond their entertainment value because they don’t reflect pressing social issues or address the problems you’re facing at home or at work, but they do.  And they do.  The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey don’t walk the same side of the street as Ibsen and Chekhov despite their antiquity; they roll with Superman and Star Wars, thank you very much, and its why they’re still with us.

The second episode of ‘The Springheel Saga’ is called THE CRYPT OF EVIL and it sees our hero – the dogged Victorian police constable Jonah Smith – escape death and follow clues in his obsessive search for the ghost/monster/devil that crashed into his life and shaped his destiny.  Along for the ride are his plucky sidekick, Toby, and a brave and rather well-armed young lady called Charlotte, and opposing him is a diabolical mastermind with his own plans for Springheel Jack.  It’s great stuff, full of intrigue and danger, and has Julian Glover in fine villainous form.  But what the hell does it have to do with anything?

Okay, now the science.  Whilst it’s unlikely that your week is going to involve much in the way of gunfire, speeding horse-drawn coaches, lurking henchmen and spooky MacGuffins, it’s reasonable to assume that it might include one or more situations involving work-related stress, financial concerns, familial strife, health issues, romantic interludes, the contemplation of risk versus reward when the traffic light turns amber, etc.  All the noise, clamour and hectic detail of real life.  The business of living, let’s say.  Naturally it’s good to forget about your problems, dilemmas and to-do lists from time to time and put your mind to something else, such as thirty minutes of exciting, funny and fast-paced audio drama, for example.  And in choosing what to listen to, you might pick The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack because you think adventure stories are ‘escapist’, that they have nothing at all to do with your life or how you choose to live it; that they’re comfortably unchallenging and inherently obscure.  Fair enough, maybe, since unlike Jonah Smith you’re not facing daunting opposition, experiencing fear or fighting demons any time this week, are you?  Or are you?

I’d suggest that when you listen to an escapist adventure story you’re not escaping at all; you’re rising to a vantage point that gives you a clearer perspective on the problems you think you’re not thinking about.  The trials of the archetypal hero in an overblown and exaggerated action-melodrama are the same problems and conflicts rattling around inside your head every day but stripped of their specific, local and often mundane detail, making them easier to examine, explore and – if you’re lucky – resolve.  True, you may find solace or gain insight about a specific issue from experiencing a drama or work of fiction that is specifically about that issue, but then again, you might not.  The values at stake in a tale of high-adventure tend towards the universal, and within them are encoded the universal truths that can be applied to all human experience.  Or, to put the case for adventure over specific-issue or ‘mature’ drama another way; if you want to get a better view of the world, fly to the moon and look back.

So, as the closing cliffhanger fast approaches, it’s the adventure story that I’ll always go to on a dark and stormy night.  A wise man once said that stories are equipment for living, and a good adventure is – for me anyway – something I couldn’t live without.

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