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Up The Nerd Punks 2 at EdFringe 16.15-17.15 @ Opium

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

England poem references

If anyone's seen Up The Nerd Punks 2, I have a poem which references several struggles in English history.  Here they are if you wanted to read more:

Wat Tyler and the Peasent's Revolt 1381:  Uprising against higher taxes due to the Hundred Years war and an end to unpaid serfdom

The Diggers 1649:  Amidst the Civil War, they demanded anyone could work the land for the good of everyone.

The Luddites 1811-16:  Used direct action to oppose machines taking their jobs in cotton and wool mills.

Peterloo 1819:  Protest of 60-80,000 people protesting high corn prices, land laws and demanding more rights and the vote.  Were charged by soldiers and 15 were killed, 700 injured

The Match Girls 1888:  Went on strike for better working conditions in match factories

Suffragettes 1897 onwards:  Women and men fighting for votes for women.  Used tactics including arson, vandalism, occupation, intimidation, disrupting meetings  Were often arrested and forcefed

Conscientious Objectors:  Anti-war and anti-militarism has always been part of British culture.  If you were bullied or pressured into joining the army or being conscripted, but refused to kill, you would be shot for 'cowardice'.

Miner's Strike 1984-85:  Miner's defended their livelihoods and the working class across the UK.

Monday, 15 August 2016

20.16 Blog #17: Here & Heritage

Last week I worked on a Play In A Week project for the Laurence Batley Theatre and Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield.

The Heritage Quay is an archive of Huddersfield’s local and international history, and it’s a fantastic snapshot of the character of Hudd, something this little York lad has grown to appreciate over the years.

The young people I’ve worked with through the LBT have been feisty, inventive and full of character, and this project was no exception.  Using items from the archive, as well as local historian Cyril Pearce popping in for a chat, and the group’s own knowledge, we devised a show around the Conscientious Objectors of the 1st World War, mainly from the perspective of the people of Huddersfield.

This involved first a lot of unpacking ‘socialism’, ‘conscription’, ‘liberalism’ and the women’s movement.  I even managed to slide some anarchism in there.  This was just sly of a slog, and we kept it fun and open rather than narrow and intense.  But it had to form the bedrock of the show, like the archive it had to reflect the real stories of the city.  We couldn’t be afraid of these words, terms and historical accuracy.

But it was important to make sure the group knew we were telling the story of these people, their lives, opinions, beliefs, families, friends, work and hopes.  As much as international socialism was a cornerstone, was what more important was making the audience care about these people living 100 years ago.

The group did marvellously well at balancing both, and I didn’t try and force my opinion on them.  Hopefully there was room for debate.  Certainly the show told the COs tale, but the issue was explored from a number of angles.

I think we are told continually that the COs were mainly religious men, but the Huddersfield story is one of working class solidarity as well.  The politics cannot be ignored.  Nor the fact it split the women’s movement, and though some proved themselves good citizens, others opposed a male government’s profit-hungry war.

As much as we need to encourage young people to tell their relevant current stories, it’s also important to remember the place they come from, the world that’s trying to be covered up, forgotten about, rejected and remade.  100 years ago socialism and anti-militarism were not dirty words, they were part and parcel of modern life for the working class of Huddersfield, and a history that should not only be presented and explored, but celebrated and learnt from.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

20.16 Blog #16: Deer Shed & DissFest

A few weeks ago, myself and Chris Singleton spent the weekend stood in a field shouting poetry at each other.

Around us was a festival, Deer Shed to be precise, a swarm of 10,000 people 45% of the under 16.  Amidst the chaos of workshops and music we performed poems by request.  On the spot improvisations.  Based on audience’s suggestions.  Anything for an easy life, right?

When I’ve done this before in cafes, pubs and libraries there’s always more resistance and uncertainty, but in the middle of a wacky festival we are just one more attraction the kids get excited by, and that’s a testament to the intense madcapness of Deer Shed.

Some of my favourite requests were the ones me and Chris tag-teamed, telling a story between ourselves and often the people who had suggested the poem. Though me and Chris aren’t necessarily from a rap background, we tried to take part in rap battles.  Child-friendly of course.  Monsters vs. Robots, Shrek vs. Nemo, meat-eaters vs. vegetarians.   Not poems I’d ever claim to be worthy of Don’t Flop videos, but fun in the moment nevertheless.

You can watch one of our battles here:  https://www.facebook.com/DeerShed/videos/10153585201676619/

It was also fun collaborating with Chris, who is a lovely poet from Leeds running Verbal Remedies and running into a few lovely folks, like Kate Fox and the Holy Moly & The Crackers ensemble.

Deer Shed is a great fun festival, designed for families, so maybe not one of my favourite as a participant (seriously, no ska-punk stage?) but definitely my favourite to visit as a performer and poet.
Here’s a poem what I wrote for the Festival inspired by the suggestions of passing peoples:

At Deer Shed Festival I ate the best
The tastiest
Most monstrous Hot Dog ever
At Deer Shed Festival I watched the Card Ninja
Boomeranging cards with calculating power.
I spent a good hour cart-wheeling by the Helter Skelter
Filled up the comedy tent with roaring laughter
Then some crowd-surfing like a winged monster.
I strummed a metallic 3 stringed guitar
Elementary!  I went to see Sherlock Improv
Grumbling bears, stories to hear, a raggle taggle of cracker folk.
Zombies!  All around me!  That’s realistic blood!
I stayed up partying as late as I possibly could.
The Blacksmith clattered in metal-melting heat
I opened my Northern gob to speak (and eat)
And I don’t know who won, the Monsters or Machines
But if this Festival was a film
It would be an action-filled classic.

Similarly, this weekend I was at DissFest writing poems for people visiting the very sublime Fairchild’s Tea Room.  This time more relaxed, you could almost say tamer, as I penned some poems for people supping delicious fruity teas in the mega civilised and friendly atmosphere.  Here’s one of the poems I wrote about the English weather:

As you know, as summers go
The English one is to-and-fro
Enjoy the parks, the fields, the beach
The trees cast shadows in the heat
It’s shades and spades and t-shirt weather
Carry an umbrella?  Ha!  Never!
We’ll get toasted, burnt red
Feel the rays upon my head
But, what’s this?  In a flash
The dusty dirt is a muddy splash
The rain comes in buckets and buckets
No!  We cry:  SKY STOPPIT
The rivers rise, the wind it cries
Cats and dogs storms and spray
It ruins our sunny day
So now we know, us soggy fools
Never break the golden rule
Always carry a cagoule.

DissFest, run by Unity Twenty Three, is like the LittleFests I've worked on in Yorkshire, a way to get people to engage with arts in their town by putting it into unusual spaces, or making it as accessible as possible.  Lovely friendly, and important, work by the team.

And another I wrote for a women about the Ukraine, her home country

Last night we heard the mountains cracking
Like skin from burning sunshine
We saw the rocks peel away
And the countryside cower into itself
In the morning we walked from the river
And, like pulsing veins over stinging skin,
We passed forests deep like black tea
Then the old sky mixed colours of blues and greys
And the rain washed down like a heavy tea
Poured with gentle care
And we smiled, and we washed away the night
And carried on walking

Saturday, 16 July 2016

20.16 Blog #15: Roll me through the gates of Hell

A friend commented on my Facebook wall asking if I knew where to get tickets for Mischief Brew’s Leeds gig this August, and 5 hours later I was posting an R.I.P. to Erik Petersen, the lead singer, writer and essentially the brains, voice and heart of Mischief Brew, the best folk-punk band ever.

I don’t say that lightly, but after all the Andrew Jacksons have Jihaded and all the Mice have Ghosted and all the Ramshackles have been Glorious I’m afraid it was always the Brews, spiced with Mischief, which were left bubbling into my ears.

Mischief Brew was the folk-punk collective from Philadelphia, USA headed by Erik Petersen who wrote a huge number of songs across various EPs, albums, splits and collaborations.

I discovered Mischief Brew, along with the seedy world of folk-punk, around 2008 when I saw Al Baker perform with Suicide Bid in London.  Al covers Old Tyme Mem’ry on hisfirst album, and it’s easily on of my fav MB songs.  It encapsulates everything wonderful about Erick’s writing.  It’s has a lovely playfulness with the lyrics “We're lamenting about yesterdays sad ending about the water in your whiskey the brass passed off as gold” and Erick’s delivery is unashamedly punk with the snarl of “luxury boxes where your stored in what was country”.  It’s a messy, rattling song that exists on a shabby guitar, sung with a sore throat and a wild glint in the eye.

I never got to see Mischief Brew, and certainly never met Erik, but my rustic eulogy to this artist is his incredibly ability to be consistent.  I don’t just mean consistently a writer of quality, but don’t underestimate the fact he never wrote a bad song.  Some songs are surely better than others, I can’t deny that.

But I mean Erik is able to wave an entire world with recurring images, themes and ideas.  This isn’t the case if you’ve heard one song you’ve heard them all, because he writes on a number of topics.  Bang-Up Police Work is an ode to oppressive cops, Every Town Will Celebrate is about gentrification, Dirty Pennies homelessness, Punx Win about community, the Midnight Special the prison system and Watching Scotty Die the sad failures of the American healthcare system.

But within these songs are the same smells of squats and cigarettes.  The same sounds of railroads and barking dogs.  The same taste of strong coffee.  The same touch of wood, coppers and the feel of a campfire.

Like my blog earlier this year about the play-wright Harold Pinter, the art is world-building.  When you enter into a Mischief Brew album, it’s got the same recurring feel like being immersed in a tale. It’s about rambling and rebellion, grit and guts, dusk and the dark.  It’s very old-fashioned, or appears to be, swathed in the 1920-30s world of Woody Guthrie, but the post-70s grit of punk is very much the driving force.

But mainly, Erik’s writing was romantic.  For all its corners that stank of anti-authority bitterness, he played uplifting music that was celebratory as much as it was dangerous.  He wrote old-fashioned songs because those songs have stuck with us, not because they wallow in despair, but because they grab despair by the scruff and take it dancing with the goblins, witches, trolls, punks, gypsies, comrades and rebel children.

 When you offer pink or blue I'll take the blackest.
When you offer only two I'll offer three.
When you point me in a direction I'll run backwards.
And at the border of utopia I'll toast to anarchy. 

20.16 Blog #14: Pokemon Go? Pokemon No! (or, Anxiety, I Choose You!)

I have loved Pokémon since 1999 and I will until the day I Faint, die and become a Ghost type, haunting the streets of York and known as that Odd Scrawny Ghost reciting poetry and writing blogs in 20 minutes and 16 seconds.

So it’s been a real kick in the Voltorbs that my Nokia windows phone cannot accommodate the Game (or App) Pokémon Go which is sweeping the nation like a Speed Boosted Mega Blaziken.
Don’t know what that is?  Don’t worry about.  Go back to catching Caterpies, mate.

The real salt in my wrenched wound was when a random drunk bloke (seemingly) took the piss out of me, assuming I was playing the game and pointing at nothing in the middle of the road saying “Did you see that?”  Maybe there was another (complex) joke at hand I (apparently) missed.  If so, I should have laughed.  Instead I posted on social media:  “Some guy took the piss out of me cos he thought I was playing Pokemon Go.  For Fuck's sake I can't win.

But clearly I can win, cos I got 25 Likes out of that little sharp observation.  Yus.

I post on social media too much, and check it too much too.  I touch my phone too often, and berate the instinct in my windows for doing so.  It’s becoming something I want to challenge in myself.  I am going to start making a tally on my hand in pen for every time I move to stop my phone.

Not because I don’t want my hand to do this, and that I want to cut down each day like beating a habit, but because I move to check my phone whenever I am nervous, or more accurately, anxious.

Many a year back, I worked for an EdFringe venue, and on Day 1 where everyone gets to meet one another, we had to find the people we were living with by going around and chatting to the strangers.  I couldn’t do it.  I don’t know what I did instead in the presence of people, but I essentially took trips to the toilet and sat in a cubicle more than once. 

I found it impossible to just start a casual conversation with people who were all strangers anyway.  But, of course, it all seems like they’ve all become instant friends with all the ease of a hot bath (a luxury during EdFringe).

As it happened, the people I stayed with where absolutely charming people I got on with exceptionally well, eventually.

Now I’ve found whenever faced with this issue of feeling nervous around people with an inability to add to a conversation, I’ll check my phone.  It’s become a social norm, something that’s acceptable and means that it takes pressure of being a voice within the voices.

As much as my phone has sucked me into a world of clicks and likes and a plastic sense of relationships, it has given me the ability to stay within a conversation, a space, a ensemble, without having to constantly be making eye contact, adding words and being entirely present.  I can take part of me away, and release some of that intensity.

If you know what I’m talking about, then Hi.

I’ve always found too many people all in one place, when alcohol and merriment flow, I become very uncomfortable, quiet and unable to hold a conversation.  Not just that, unable to stay in the place.  I see people in the arts scene do this a lot, post-show drinks, where people have big ol’ chats and buy each other drinks and compliment each other’s faces off.  Audience and actors and directors and techies mix and it all becomes so intense…

Of course, it’s not intense.  It’s just a form of intensity for me.

So I often end up leaving, no matter how my phone allows me some respite.  I’ve never tried just drinking through it, I don’t have the patience or money for alcohol.  If you are one of the people who has the energy for such beloved friendship circles, beer garden revelry and unfazed bar-waiting strength then I salute you, I don’t know how you do it, but you do it.

I don’t want to diminish anyone’s fun, and I also don’t think I want allowances or support on this.  I just thought I’d write a blog about it.  To say what I feel about an Internet-connected phone being so very useful when criticism is constantly levelled against it when it comes to ‘reality’.  To say how, if you feel it hard to network, to celebrate, to be involved in very involving scenes, you’re not alone.

You may feel alone.  I feel alone.  Hey, forget Pokémon Go, this is Anxiety Go.  Catching bad vibes and levelling them up.  Taming them.  Training them.  Choosing when they Evolve, and who they beat.  Be The Very Best, because there may be 8 Gym Leaders, an Elite Four but there is only One Champion.  So I guess being that rad is gonna be lonely from time-to-time, right?

And also to say FUCK POKEMON GO and I’m looking forward to Pokémon Sun & Moon.  Like I did with X & Y, I shall not be looking at any pre-release information, leaks or sneak peeks.

Love & solidarity

Friday, 1 July 2016

20.16 Blog #13: Compromise & Confidence

Last night the Youth Theatre group I take at Harrogate Youth Theatre performed their dark piece inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe.  It wasn’t just the title, Poe-Faced, that was the comedic element to this piece.  In-between all the ghastly ravens and murder and the like, there were some nice funny moments, advanced physical theatre and creepy story-telling.

The group can be very funny, indeed they have a lot of dry wit and great understand of timing for their age range (12-14s).  But their great strength with the performance was understanding the world we inhabited.  Though we explored different scenes of interrogation, paranoia and madness around the texts of Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven, the group were able to see recurring images, themes and motifs in the form of an asylum-like setting, reference to medication, eyes and denial.  I think this was because in the rehearsal room we really swam into these depths of the story, playing with fear and fixation in warm-ups.

This was my first show as a director in a technical setting.  I have directed show-backs and PIAWs and projects many times, but with a paying audience with LIGHTS and SFX I felt very proud indeed that everything came together.

On reflection, it’s interesting that the key skills I realised I had learnt directing this group were compromise and confidence.

With compromise, there were certain moments if it was an older group, or we had an extra rehearsal, I would have tweaked.  For example, one scene a character acts like a Nurse in an asylum.  In the context of the scene, in the context of the ensemble performing, it would have made sense for this character to interact with other actors onstage and explore their environment rather than just the 2 she had worked with previously.  I would have encouraged more recurring images, the moon for example, highlighted the idea of a staring eye and prompted actors to try something new.  However, the fact the group have achieved this level of performance and achieved this level of skill has been hugely impressive.  I wonder if directors working with adults watch the last trickles of rehearsal and clock certain moments which they would tweak, but now the show is up and running, decide compromise is the most productive pulse.

Next skill:  Confidence to make the calls that need making.  No time for ums and ars and as much as we all need to collaborate, directors soon realise you give an inch, a mile might later be taken.  Because at this stage, people can start changing things or playing around too much and lose the consistency.  For example, the group are entirely in black as an ensemble, and yet if some were to wear a hoody, then it wouldn’t quite gel with the rest of the cast.  As much as it’s a small thing, to allow for a degree of difference opens a floodgate of costume liabilities.  Confident directors make a decision, even a slight one, with all the strictness of deciding the important-est factors.

It’s a shame that when one reaches a certain age, it becomes harder and harder to be a ‘director’ or, in my case, ‘direct something’.  Because the opportunities are scarce, the invitations and the offers are limited to people who are making a career out of it, and quite rightly.  If someone wanted to direct an adult production, they would look to the numerous directors eager for projects in York, and the city.  And my skills very much lie within directing young people, but I would still love to be the moulder and crafter for an adult company.  But I’m a YT practitioner theatre-maker, writer etc and the jack-of-all-trades don’t always master them all.

Sounds like I’m damning myself.  You gotta play, I’d love to direct it.  But to work on it with confidence and compromise would also be super.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

20.16 Blog #12: Me, You & the EU (Strangled with Quaintness)

That’s my lamppost

That’s my sewer drain

That’s my overflowing bin

That’s my closed pub

That’s my duck

That’s my Scarborough Bridge

That’s my ‘VirginRail Do Not Trespass’ sign

That’s my homeless person

That’s my PoundLand

That’s my PoundShop

Because this is my country now.  We’ve won it back.  Previously, if ever I wanted to leave my house a sweaty Brussels bureaucrat would tell me I needed to A.  Fill in a load of forms B.  Not grow any apples and C. Let an immigrant occupy my home while it was gone.

But all this land is finally English again.  The clanking of armoured knights is a soothing melody amongst the chorus of Shakespearean quills scribbling sonnets.  The tooting of Mr Toad’s car driven by the Fab Four is met with the hazzah of Oliver Twist before he noshes on a giant cake.  Aunt Bessie and Rudyard Kipling get snogging.

We have been sold a premise of yesteryear, disguised as a hand-me-down present wrapped in a comfortable blanket.  But really it’s plastic and false.  Your Great Grandmother would be appalled by it’s shabbiness, it’s damp falseness.

For years the creeping seething undercurrent of Nostalgia has infected both the working class and the middle class.  The working class have been treated to a barrage of propaganda from The Sun and The Daily Mail, a non-stop orchestra of violent threats, lies and bullshittery against anything remotely foreign, and constantly blaming anything that might challenge the white hetcis power structure:  Political correctness, health & safety, fairness and equality in the workplace, multiculturalism, diversity, anti-war, pro-education.  We have become Pavlov’s Dog, drooling and dribbling a frothy anger at the mention of these words.  Like Sun = Hot, Water = Wet and Grass = Green anything remotely Foreign/Europe = Bad.  Question this?  Get shot and stabbed in broad daylight.

The middle classes gave enjoyed their vintage fetes and fairs.  Whilst The Mumford & Sons have proliferated a rustic trilby-wearing folksiness, the Great British Bake Off sent people back into their kitchens.  The sheer scale of Keep Calm And Carry On imagery was more a bombardment than a suggestion.  For God’s sake, they remade Dad’s Army, which was twee even in the 1970s.

We are strangling the world with Quaintness.

And, of course, it is only after the fact we are up-in-arms.  Take a look at this Guardian article.

Artists from Rufus Norris, Lucy Prebble and organisations like the Royal Opera House speaking passionately about the result and how we should remain in the EU.

Fair play to this ensemble of significant British figures for speaking their minds, but by the Seven Above…WHY ARE YOU SAYING THIS NOW?

I’m not having a specific attack against Northern Broadsides, but as an example their artistic director Barrie Rutter makes a passionate and spot-on analysis of the situation.  But Northern Broadsides didn’t Tweet or Facebook about the vote once this past week. The London International Festival of Theatre don’t have anything on their Blog.  Royal Opera House make a statement in the article, but none before the 23rd.

Rutter ends his piece with “Then we start the fightback” but here’s what Durham folk-punkers ONSIND have to say:

I'm so worn out from offering ultimately hollow messages of "keep fighting" every time something like this happens, which is all too frequent. The fact is, for as long as I can remember, we haven't fought. I haven't fought. And things have gone from bad to worse.”

Why is it we constantly need to be beaten back to try and fight back.  Why do we need to be knocked by 2 places to try and step forwards?  Why it is we can only rise when already beaten into the gutter?

Too little too late?

I’m guilty I didn’t do enough.  I don’t do enough.  But I have a very cynical taste in the back of my mouth when fellow artists are stirred to make ART in response.  I suppose I’ll give it a go, I’ll write some poems, I’ll perform them, I’ll moan online.  I’ll try I suppose, but I’m cynical whether we’re “fighting.”

But at least our main export is still actors for Game Of Thrones.