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Crying in the Theatre

17 Sep
Image by JoeyBLS Photography, Shared Under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by JoeyBLS Photography, Shared Under a Creative Commons Licence

I was inspired to write this post after reading A Girl In the Dark’s wonderful piece, Crying On the Tube.

As Edinburgh doesn’t have a subway, and because I’ve never cried on the bus, I decided to write about the two times that I’ve cried, and I mean, the two times that I’ve really cried, in the theatre.

I’ve experienced a lot of different reactions to theatrical performances over the last few years, from giggling myself silly at the antics of Late Night Gimp Fight, to being incandescent with rage at Ontroerend Goed’s Audience. Good theatre should evoke a reaction from the audience, and even I am not immune to its power.

The first time a production turned me into a snotty, sobbing, heaving wreck was when I reviewed Jo Clifford’s Every Onea piece about death and grief that was based on the loss of Clifford’s beloved wife, Susie. The play looks at the death of the main character – a wife and mother – and examines at the impact of the bereavement from all sides, including that of the deceased.

As you might expect, it’s a highly emotional play, not just because of the subject matter, but also because the play was based on a true story, which made it more powerful. I saw the play six months after a good friend of mine had died suddenly, needlessly and far too young. In normal circumstances, six months is a long time, but when you’re grieving you’re on a different schedule to everyone else; you’re constantly trying to catch up in a race that you will never win.

As we neared the end of the first act, I could hear a few sniffles around me, as theatregoers doted about the auditorium cried. I remember that I had tears in my eyes then, too. By the end of the second act, it sounded like every single person in the auditorium was sobbing into their programme, including me. I cried, my then-partner cried, and the air in the building was heavy with sadness. The production created a mass outpouring of public grief, and we sobbed together as a collective. We cried and let go of some of the pain that we’d all been carrying.

It was cathartic. It was beautiful. It was liberating.

The second time was later that same year and occurred a few months after I had split up with my long-term partner. It was October, and I was trying to watch a production of Carrie’s War, and forget about the recent breakup. It’s quite a light-hearted play, but it has an underlying sense of guilt that resonated with me. I was sitting in the stalls and I was aware that the chair next to me, the chair my now ex-partner would have normally sat in, with his hand on my knee, was empty. In fact, the chair next to that chair was also empty, and so was the chair next to that one. In a theatre where everyone else was packed in like sardines, I nearly had half the row to myself.

These days I would be quite happy about having half a row to myself, but on that day I was unbearably alone in a venue where I had never attended without my ex-partner before. That night, as I sat isolated in the auditorium, the realisation that they weren’t there, that they were never going to be there hit me like a fist. I had failed because I walked away from the life we had built together. I had failed because I couldn’t fix our problems. I had failed because I was a failure.

I started crying over all that I’d lost in the past year; one of my oldest friends, my partner, my home and everything that I’d worked hard to create. I cried throughout the first act of the play, but managed to pull myself together for the interval, where I sat as still as possible and tried to look like someone who hadn’t been crying for an hour. Because if you sit still enough, I reasoned, no one can see you and if they can’t see you, they can’t ask why you’re crying.

As the second act began, and grateful for the darkness, I continued leaking hot, stinging tears sporadically like an old, cracked sponge. When the show finished, I left the theatre and I cried all the way home, taking the back streets so I could to avoid anyone and everyone on the walk to my cold flat that was now home. But that flat could never be home for me, because it was full of boxes that I couldn’t bring myself to unpack.

In fact, a lot of those boxes remained unpacked, because I moved from that flat to another one, and then on to the place I now call home. The place where I began to empty those boxes and grieve.

It was cathartic. It was beautiful. It was liberating.

Next time I cry in the theatre, I won’t be hiding it, I’ll just remember to pack some tissues in my bag. If you’ve ever been inconsolable because of a piece of theatre, let me know, I’d love to hear your story.

Adventures in Editing Or How Editing Taught Me to Be A Better Journalist

13 Sep
Editor Image by dave pike, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by dave pike, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Recently, I marked the end of an era. Earlier this month I stepped down from my role as The Public Reviews’ Scotland Editor, and passed the responsibility onto my successor, the more-than-qualified and very talented, Lauren Humphreys of Glasgow Theatre Blog.

I began my role at The Public Reviews straight after my three-year tenure as The Journal‘s Theatre Editor, and after four years of commissioning, editing, publishing and generally looking after other people, I decided that it was time to look after me.

So, in May this year, I told my boss, Editor John, that this Fringe would be my last as Scotland editor. There are many reasons for this, but the main reason was that I longed to have more time to write. I’ll miss the perks of getting editor’s choice on shows that I really, really want to review and I’ll miss ranting about the innumerable bad PRs that littered my inbox like discarded shopping trolleys on wasteland but, I need to write, and I want to be a better writer.

However, my time as an editor hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned so much, not just about my own writing, but  also managing people, and dealing with truly terrible PR pitches. Working as an editor for the last four years has taught me so much about journalism, communication and other issues.

So, here are my top 5 lessons that I believe that everyone who aspires to be in the media should learn.

Read Your Emails

I proofread and sense check my emails to ensure that what I’ve said is clear and easy to understand. However, there are those that don’t do this, and their emails usually consist of unclear demands, spelling and grammatical errors and bizarre sentences.

After they hit send I have to try to translate the bloody mess they deposited in my inbox, which I don’t enjoy, and I usually email them back and enquire about what it is that they want. Use punctuation, have a clear message and tell me what you want, I don’t have the time to second guess anything.

I don’t know if there was something in the water in Edinburgh in August, but I encountered a few writers who weren’t reading my emails properly. At the beginning of the Fringe I sent out a link to a spreadsheet for writers to fill in with their ticket requests, which was designed to stop any double bookings and make the whole process as open and transparent as possible to everyone involved.

One writer started trying to book tickets for shows that we’d already reviewed. When I emailed them and asked them to look at the spreadsheet more carefully, they emailed back asking, “What spreadsheet?”

Another writer got confused with the spreadsheet, and thought I was allocating shows to specific people and that they’d missed out. If they’d read my email properly, they would have known that this wasn’t the case. Another writer double booked a show because they didn’t pay attention to the spreadsheet, which clearly stated another writer had booked a ticket to that performance.

If you want to get on the good side of your editor, it’s a good idea to read every single email you get from them at least once. If you’re not sure about what they’re asking, email them back and ask them to clarify.

Respect Boundaries

From weddings, to illness, to engagements and the old trope, computer problems, there are many things that conspire to stop a writer filing their copy on time.

I’ve heard nearly every excuse in the book, and while I understand that writers have lives and they might get engaged/married/be too busy planning their wedding to file copy by deadline, I have the venue breathing down my neck, so all I care about is the review.

I know that sounds heartless, but editors have a job to do, and a publication’s reputation to uphold, so their investment is in the article. I’m friendly with my writers and count some of them as friends, but I’ve found that it’s odd how easily people will open up to you when you’re in a position of authority. It’s good that they feel they can be honest with you, but sometimes, when you’ve only had a handful of emails from someone, and suddenly they’re telling you about how they split with their partner/lost their job/their dog died and that’s why they’ve not been answering emails, it’s just a little too much.

Just say you’ve had some personal problems, your editor doesn’t need to know any more unless it’s something that they can help with or if it’s something that will affect your ability to write for the publication in the long term.

Enthusiasm Means Very Little

Enthusiasm is great, enthusiasm and drive is what got me to where I am today. However, in my experience, when I have encountered a writer who has been overly enthusiastic about writing reviews for me, alarm bells have gone off in my head immediately. Because that kind of energy never lasts, and it usually hides something else.

The first enthused writer turned out to be a prolific, or to use the nickname given to the late Sir David Frost, a “bubonic plagiarist” who couldn’t write an original piece of work if her life depended on it. She was also studying journalism, because wonders never cease.

The second super-anxious writer had my back up from the very beginning; he sent me a link to his portfolio, but had not made it accessible online, so he then animatedly cornered me at a press night, telling me how much he wanted to review for me. However, without my knowledge or consent, he was also submitting the reviews he sent to me to another site, which meant that we couldn’t publish them without permission from that publication, or we would be accused of plagiarism.

When this was explained to the writer, he said: “Well, I knew it was a grey area…” It’s not a grey area, it’s very clear, so never assume that you know something: if you’re unsure, ask the editor.

Another seemingly passionate writer was so excited to be reviewing during the Fringe that she claimed that she nearly fainted with excitement when she passed one of the Fringe venues before the festival started. Her emails told me how delighted she was to be working at the Fringe, until suddenly, after reviewing 5 shows, she emailed to say that she couldn’t review as something had come up.

A few weeks later a theatre company contacted us to say that this writer had booked to see their show (not to review it, but as a paying member of the public) and had asked for a refund. Unfortunately, during this email conversation, they mentioned that they were a reviewer, which made the company defensive, as it sounded as if the writer was trying to use their reviewing status to get their money back.

I don’t think they were trying to do this, and it could be that because of their lack of experience in the industry that they naively thought this it would ok, but they reacted very defensively to my emails asking them about it. They refused to explain anything and they told me I’d handled the situation very badly and demanded to be taken off our reviewing team.

After this, I kept the enthusiastic ones at arm’s length. It’s usually the safest thing to do for me. Be keen, just not overly keen, because it doesn’t last.

Assume Nothing

I know that I’m repeating a point I made earlier in the post, but if I could give new writers one piece of advice, then it would be this: never assume, always ask for clarification.

If you’re booking your tickets, and you’ve not heard back from the venue, don’t assume that the tickets are there, phone the venue press office and ask. This will save you time and energy later on.

If you’re not sure about something an editor has asked you to do, email them back and ask again. I would say that most of the problems that I have had to deal with as an editor have stemmed from people not being clear and doing what they think is right, not what is right. Remember, your editor was new at this once too, email, call, text, tweet, just get in touch with them and ask.

If you have not heard from your editor, email them again and reconnect. Inboxes fill up quickly, so you need to keep pushing yourself to the top of the pile. Don’t assume that an editor has asked you to do something, or wants you to do something. Email and ask.

The Editor Is Not Always Right

Despite appearances, editors are only human, they aren’t infallible, and they make mistakes. However, unlike writers, editors have a lot more responsibility on their shoulders, and have to consider a number of issues.

The editor’s word is final, so arguing with them is not always a good idea, but if you feel that they’ve made an error, you have the right to reply. I was once a little heavy-handed when editing a review, and the writer sent me a very strong email, arguing that they refused to be “censored” and other words informing me that they were really very cross about what I’d done.

We eventually came to an agreement, and they were happy, but I stand by my initial thoughts that a synopsis should never be two paragraphs long, ever.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t argue with the editor when you’re applying for work, because the editor knows the publication they work for better than you, and gets emails from people like you everyday. Persistence is a great trait to have, but don’t take it too far, and remember to be thankful for any feedback that you get, because in this industry, you won’t get very much.

Dear John Bellany

28 Aug
John Bellany Image by Robert Perry

John Bellany, Image by Robert Perry

Dear John,

We never met, but when I read of your death earlier this evening, I knew I had to write this letter.

I’m not an artist; I gave up on drawing after a classmate made fun of my clown drawing in primary school. “Amy,” she spat, with real venom, “Your clown has six fingers on one hand and eleven on the other.” It wasn’t good enough, she said, clowns had five fingers on each hand, she explained. So, I’m going to honour you the only way I know how to, and that is to write about how your words have affected my life.

You received an honorary degree at my graduation in 2009. You were the second person to receive a degree, the first being Jonathan Mills, the Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, but his speech was, dare I say, very, very boring.

I was starting to drift off with my degree certificate sat smugly on my lap when you stood up and slowly moved to the front of the stage. You fumbled with the papers you’d written your speech on, you seemed nervous. “Oh dear” I thought, “It looks like we’re in for another dull speech.” And I prepared myself for a long morning.

You began by thanking the university and launching into a speech about looking out from the stage to all the young graduates assembled. But then, you paused, and uttered the now immortal words, “Well, if I’m honest, I’ve forgotten my glasses, so all I can see is darkness.”

The audience laughed; we cheered, we giggled, I think there was even a round of applause. You had won us over with your confession. You were honest, you were on our side. You cast aside your speech, and launched into what can only be described as something truly extraordinary. To call it a pep talk would be insulting; you were preparing us for battle.

As you gazed into the darkness of the theatre, trying to make out the faces of the hundreds of graduates gazing back at you in awe, you said that we were going to come up against barriers once we graduated. We were, you assured us, going to experience having “…many doors slammed in our faces”. But, we were not to be disheartened, you said, instead, we were to pound on the doors that would be slammed in our faces. We were to pound on them repeatedly, until our knuckles bled. I remember you held your hands up, and squeezed them into tight fists as you punched the air, your eyes screwed tight, pounding on all the doors that had ever been slammed in your face.

I can remember imagining a nondescript pine door being slammed shut as you smashed the figurative doors that had stood in your way for years. It’s the same pine door that I see now when I get yet another job rejection. It’s the same pine door that closes when an editor tells me I don’t have enough experience. It’s the same pine door that rattles in its frame as it slams closed when a promising internship turns out to be another dead-end.

But whenever that nondescript pine door has smacked me in the face as it closed – and it’s been closed to me so often, and it will be closed to me again – I’ve heard your words. And suddenly I can see you again in my mind’s eye, on that stage, slamming your fists into your own imaginary door over and over again.

So I started knocking; I would ask that editor for feedback. I would pound my fists against the door; I would look for new opportunities and ways to build up my portfolio. I would start to smash the panels of that door, one by one and then I would pick myself up and try again.

I’ve never been in a fight, but my knuckles have been split open and bloodied many, many times. You taught me that when you go out into the big bad world, you’re not always fighting other people; more often than not, you’re fighting with yourself. Battling self-doubt and a lack of drive is hard, but that’s why they call it work. More than anything, persistence is key.

I’m sorry that we never got the chance to meet, if we had I would have thanked you for your wise words, and I would have told you how much they meant to me on the day I graduated, and how much more they mean to me now, just four years later.

Thank you, John. Thank you for speaking to a sea of excited and unsullied graduates that day. Thank you for showing us that you’d been there, that you knew the struggles that we would face and for giving us all the advice that we will never forget:

“Always do your own thing. Don’t follow trends. Be your own person.”

Thank you, so, so much.

Yours sincerely,

Amy Taylor

Class of 2009

PR Post Mortem: The Best of EdFringe – Part Two

22 Aug
Image by Manic Street Preacher, shared under a Creative Commons License

Image by Manic Street Preacher, shared under a Creative Commons License

As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe draws to a weary close, I’ve been busy not just reviewing, but also compiling the very best (read, worst, definitely the worst) of the EdFringe PRs that I’ve received over the last few weeks.

So, without further ado, here is PR Post Mortem: Best of EdFringe Part Two:

What’s My Name?

Hi guys! [Um, hello. That’s uh, that’s not my name.]

Just a little message letting you know our brand-new comedy, [Show Name] is currently in a run [In a run? Where’s it going? What charity is it running for?] at the Fringe until 24th August. We’d love it if you could come along and review us! [Exclamation Mark]

Seems a strange time to email, but I’ve only been switched on to your publication [And what publication is that?] and I really liked having a peruse through your site. [Say my publication’s name. Say MY name.]

Hope to see you there, if you can make it! [Why did you put an exclamation mark here?] Don’t hesitate to get in touch via phone or email.

Peas & lurve, [WHAT]

PR Numpty

Journalists Live in Scotland, Too

Hi Amy,

I just wanted to get in touch to see whether you still have reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe this week? [Well, I live here, so yes, I do.]

I just wanted to make a couple of recommendations for review [I have a feeling these recommendations will be biased] if any of your team would be available, these are [Show Name and Show Name]

I’ve attached press releases for more info [Oh Goody] on these as well as a list of all the shows I am looking after in case the others should be of interest also.

Thanks and best wishes,

PR Numpty

Review Our Amazing Something

Hi Amy, [Hello!]

We are working on this amazing online piece which is taking place on Monday [Great, what is this piece?] throughout the day and I wondered if there is any way of putting a link to it on your site at all? [You want me to link to a project I know nothing about?] Or if one of your reviewers would be interested in spending the day with it? [Spending the day with it? What is it?]

[Website Link]

Hope all’s fine and dandy. [Well no, it’s not because this email tells me sweet Fanny Adams about your ‘amazing online piece’.]

Px [A kiss? Oh no, wait a minute, I remember this guy – it’s 22 attachments guy!]

Well, If You Say Please…

Pleasereview these shows … [Pleaseuse spaces]

Thank you! [Wait, that’s it?!]

Mx [Another kiss? Why I outta…]

[The show details were below the text of the email. No, thank you.]

Not An EdFringe PR, But…

Hi – I thought your readers may be interested…please let me know! [You know nothing about my readers]

As the Carnival approaches this week on August 25, I thought you might like to use this great interactive infographic [Oh no, not another infographic] from [Promotional Business Gift Website, yes, that’s right, a PROMOTIONAL BUSINESS GIFT WEBSITE]

Since its inception in 1966, the Notting Hill Carnival, held in August annually, has grown into the largest street festival in Europe. Did you know that a record 1.5 million people attended in 2012 and it brought nearly £100 million to the London/UK economy? [No, and I don’t care]

· History of the event: Was originally a ‘Caribbean Carnival’ aimed a smoothing over race relations following the Notting Hill race riots the previous year. [A ‘Caribbean Carnival’, eh?]

· Entertainment/Celebrity Elements: High-profile artists such as Eddie Grant, Wyclef Jean, Courtney Pine, Jamiroquai and Burning Spear have participated [Yes, I know what the Notting Hill Carnival is, thanks]

· Top Trends in Food: Caribbean street food is one of the highlights of Notting Hill Carnival dating back to its roots. Turkish, Chinese and Indian are also popular. [Am I eating the food? Will I get to eat the food? No? Well then, I don’t care]

· View the graphic: To learn more…[Nope. Nope. Nope.]

If you plan to use the infographic we would love to know and ask that you please attribute a link to [Promotional Business Gift Website, who clearly want a link more than anything else]

Thanks,

PR Numpty

What They Did Right

  • Two of the PRs used my name
  • That seems to be it

What They Did Wrong

  • Exclamation marks – why?
  • Not knowing that me and most of my writers are based in Edinburgh
  • Not using my name
  • Not using the publication’s name
  • Unclear/undefined projects
  • Kisses – we are NOT friends
  • Lack of spaces
  • Begging me to review shows
  • 22 attachment guy getting in touch again
  • INFOGRAPHIC

So, You Got a Bad Review…

17 Aug
Image by pressthebigredbutton, used under a Creative Commons License

Image by pressthebigredbutton, used under a Creative Commons License

“I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”

– Dorothy Parker

The human animal is a fallible beast; we are hypocritical, egotistical, emotional and vulnerable. We don’t like being criticised, and when we are, we get defensive.

If you got a bad review, or a review that you’re not entirely happy with at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, or if you got a bad review anywhere else; I’m sorry you got a bad review. I’m sorry you’re angry, and I’m sorry you’re disappointed.

So, what do you do when faced with a bad review of your work? Here are some ideas that will help you feel better and perhaps even work a bad review to your advantage – without pissing off the writer/publication.

Get Someone Else to Read the Review

One of the first pieces of advice that I’m going to give you is after you’ve read a negative review of your show or your performance, then ask someone close to you to read it.

Getting another person’s perspective on the review can allow you to look at the article in a different light; it could make that sentence that you felt was pretty damning seem reasonable, it could point out if you’ve actually misread something.

Sometimes even just talking to people about your bad review can be helpful, and also cathartic, so speak to someone you trust and get their perspective on the review, it could really help make you feel better.

Contact the Publication

You have every right to contact a publication and ask for a mistake to be corrected. Minor errors, such as spelling mistakes, factual errors, etc, can be easily corrected, and most publications and editors will be more than happy to correct them when they are pointed out.

Case in point; I reviewed a production of Wondrous Flitting, a Lyceum Fringe production, in August 2010. In my admittedly negative review, I said that the show was a co-production between the Royal Lyceum Theatre and the Traverse Theatre, because while it was a Lyceum production, it was staged at the Traverse.

A day after it was published, one of the Lyceum’s press officers sent me a very polite email, informing me that Wondrous Flitting was not a co-production, it had been created solely by the Lyceum, and was only staged at the Traverse. As soon as I was informed of my error, I corrected it, and apologised to the Lyceum, who very graciously accepted my apology, and didn’t even mention the fact that the review was a negative one.

I had made a simple error, they informed me politely, and I was happy to change it, because errors like that are not only embarrassing for the company, but embarrassing for the journalist too.

When to Ask For More

There are instances when a company may be within their rights to ask for the publication to review the show again, either by sending the original reviewer, or a different writer.

For example, last year, I was contacted by an editor that I know well, he asked me if I would be able to review a show that another critic had reviewed a few days previously.

This critic had arrived 15 minutes late to a show, and for reasons known only to them, be it deadlines, or the wrath of the editor (who is actually a very nice man) they decided to write a review of the show despite missing so much of the piece.

The first 15 minutes of this show, or indeed, any show, is very important; it introduces the characters, and explains the way the show is structured. The critic missed this, and wrote a very negative review, which the performer was understandably not happy about. They complained about the review, and the editor decided to send a reviewer that they could trust, which in this case was me.

When Not to Contact

If you have legitimate reasons for contacting a publication to complain about a review, such as the errors listed above, and you ask politely, then any good editor will go out of their way to help you and to attempt to make the situation better for both you and them.

However, not liking a review isn’t grounds for asking for another reviewer to be sent to the production. You have every right to have a grumble about a bad review, and you always have the right to reply, but ask yourself whether complaining about a review is the right thing to do.

For example, if a critic mentions that a piece feels under-rehearsed, or that the scene changes are awkward, or a line was forgotten, or there were technical issues, and these things did happen, then that’s something you have to accept.

Here is a list of legitimate complaints that I, and other critics I know have received from productions about reviews we’ve written, they range from the reasonable to the odd, and some are pretty eye-opening.

  • The actor that complained about a review because the director had died while the play was in rehearsals, and stated that the review would upset the director’s widow.
  • The director that complained that the reviewer had said an actor was wearing white gloves, when they were wearing black gloves. They threatened legal action because of this.
  • The PR that complained one year after the review had been published, claiming that the reviewer had “obviously come in during a preview” and they would never have allowed the reviewer to come in so early. The reviewer had booked a press ticket which had been confirmed by that same PR.
  • The actor who complained that a negative review named her, and a handful of other actors in a production that they were no longer involved in. It turned out that the company hadn’t updated their publicity materials since the cast change.

The L Word

In a perfect world, the threat of libel would be used sparingly, because everyone would get along and nothing nasty or incorrect would be written about anyone, anywhere, ever.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, and libel exists to protect people from having vicious lies spread about them in print or online. The threat of libel should always be a last resort if neither party can come to a satisfactory conclusion. Yet, there are more and more stories of companies threatening journalists with libel over reviews. It happened to me last year, it happened to a critic I know this year – on Twitter, no less – and it’s a deeply worrying trend.

The only advice I can give on the subject of libel is this; if you react defensively and threaten legal action against a publication, then you will get a defensive reaction in turn. They will seek legal advice, they will be advised not to engage with you, and all communications will cease.  Is this what you want? Probably not, especially if you’re only complaining about a misspelling, or the writer saying an actor wore a pair of white gloves instead of black gloves.  Libel should never be used in this way.

Does It Really Matter?

If you get one bad review, then you have to ask yourself; does this review really matter to me in the long run?

Should you pay attention to a bad review? Will one bad review haunt you forever? Will it follow you around various countries and festivals for the rest of your days? No, but your reaction to it just might, so look at the bigger picture, you got a reviewer in, you got a review published, you can either choose to ignore it, or add it to your flyers and posters ironically.

How you react to a bad review is up to you, just remember, the reviewer is critiquing your show, not you personally.

The sordid tale of how I was censored by Straight Pride UK

12 Aug

Shoddy PR work, right there.

Oliver Hotham

Straight-Pride

A few weeks ago, when thinking of interesting things I could write for this blog, I remembered a weird organisation that gathered some attention on the internet a month or two ago.

The organisation is called Straight Pride UK. It’s a strange group which believes that the tide of Gay rights has gone too far, and that now heterosexuals have become the oppressed minority. Essentially their philosophy  is spun from the same reactionary cloth as “Men’s Rights activists”  –  the notion that, having essentially run Western society for most its existence, progressive demands that Christian white straight males share some of their total grasp on power is somehow a removal of their rights.

Anyway, I wrote to Straight Pride asking that they answer some questions. Stipulating that I was “a freelance journalist”, I sent them some questions, about what they do and what they believe.

About a week later…

View original post 951 more words

Shit EdFringe Critics Never Say

8 Aug
Image by Camilla Hoel, used under a Creative Commons License

Image by Camilla Hoel, used under a Creative Commons License

1. That company sent me 5 different versions of the same PR! How helpful.

2. I will absolutely be at your show.

3. I just love the sound of the phone ringing. Constantly ringing.

4. Look at all the lie-ins I get to have this week!

5. Deadlines don’t matter at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

6. Excuse me, please, I’m in a rush to get to my venue and you are in the way. Thank you so much!

7. I’ve had enough coffee for today.

8. Oh, I had such a good night’s sleep last night. I feel so well-rested.

9. Of course you can have my number.

10. I have so much free time on my hands!

11. No coffee for me, thanks.

12. Nothing cheers me up more than an email with 22 attachments.

13. I don’t mind you playing with your phone during the performance at all.

14. Are you on Google+?

15. You can never have too many flyers.

16. I’m not hungry.

17. Everything is going to plan.

18. Someone’s written a comment below my review. I love my fans!

19. I’m glad that person keeps calling me asking for a review, it really keep me on my toes.

20. I haven’t been rushing around this year at all.

21. Look at all this money I’m getting paid!

Shit EdFringe Critics Say

6 Aug
Image by jontintinjordan used under a Creative Commons License

Image by jontintinjordan used under a Creative Commons License

 

1. Why did I decide to review six shows today?

2. Why did I book a show that starts before 10am?

3. Let’s meet for coffee.

4. (During a press night) I will try to see your show.

5. Where is the press office?

6. Have my tickets been confirmed yet?

7. I have a show in five minutes.

8. I’ve not had any coffee today.

9. Hello, my name is [name] and I’ve got some tickets to collect for [show name].

10. (To a flyerer) No, thank you.

11. (To a really good flyerer) I will do my best to see your show.

12. (To another critic) Seen anything good?

13. Are you on Twitter?

14. Can I have a large latte, please?

15. I’m starving, I didn’t eat breakfast/lunch/dinner. (Sometimes all three)

16. Hello, can you tell me where [venue name] is, please?

17. What day is it?

18. I’m so tired.

19. I have no money.

20. Let’s go to the bar.

21. MORE COFFEE, PLEASE.

Trash Interviews Mike White

30 Jul
Mike White, photo credit Larry Whithers

Mike White, photo credit Larry Whithers

Following the furore over the recent revelation that the horror journalist, Lianne Spiderbaby, had plagiarised the vast majority of her work, with evidence of plagiarism uncovered in her college thesis and upcoming book, I reached out to Mike White of Impossible Funky, who broke the original story for an interview.

He agreed, and here is the interview republished in full, which covers Mike’s perspective on being a whistleblower (again), plagiarism, author image and publishing work online.

 

You broke the news that Lianne Spiderbaby was a “serial plagiariser” but you have been careful to stress that your post was the result of an anonymous tip-off. Can you take me back to when you received that email? What was it about the story that interested you?

The email sent out on the Wednesday prior to the story breaking was not sent to me. I’m still not 100% sure of who put together that initial email which was subsequently forwarded to me on Friday July 12, 2013. That email may have been put together by John Timmerson (based on Tim Lucas’s post on the Video Watchdog blog).

Though I’m not really big on using the phone, I took a call on that Friday. This was my source of the whole story. This person told me about the email and even suggested the title, “Who Girlfriend Think You’re Fooling?” To be honest, I had only ever heard of Lianne Spiderbaby once before, via a podcast from Rue Morgue and didn’t get the positioning of “girlfriend” with “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” until after I received the forwarded email from my source and, after doing some research, saw that Lianne has been Quentin Tarantino’s girlfriend. Now things suddenly made a lot more sense; not just the title but also why this story should come to me. I don’t have much of a reputation (thus not being included on the initial email, I suppose) except for that of being a muckraker when it comes to Quentin Tarantino and his “influences”.

Initially, it was the idea of such blatant plagiarism that interested me. The addition of a Tarantino connection to the story made it too juicy to resist. It was like dangling a piece of raw meat before a (reservoir) dog.

I heard that (and correct me if I’m wrong) that the same email that you received was also sent to the various publications that Spiderbaby wrote for, yet you were the one to break the story. Why do you think that the other publications stayed silent on this issue initially?

I can not confirm the recipients of the email except via inference (again, going back to Tim Lucas’s post). Likewise, I can only speculate as to why Mr. Lucas or any other editor at any publication Lianne wrote for might have remained silent. I would imagine that there was a good deal of denial and betrayal involved in those initial reactions. Likewise, there needed to be a way to regroup and minimize the damage to the reputation of those publications. No one likes to be made a fool of and that’s precisely what Ms. Spiderbaby had been doing — not just to her readers but to her employers and friends as well. The pause in reaction may have come from a combination of shock at the implications along with a need to regroup and handle the situation.

Why did I go ahead and publish? Because I had no skin in the game. I’ve never met Ms. Spiderbaby nor have I published her. Additionally, I had no reputation to tarnish.

Did you ever have any doubt in your mind about running the story?

Of course! Hearing the initial description of a movie reviewer who may have lifted some of her work seemed like a little “gotcha” that might have made a good footnote. It wasn’t until I started confirming the contents of the emails I was forwarded (my source had also done some research), that I realized the extent of the plagiarism and knew someone had to do something about it. In the days that followed, dozens of other instances came to light, going all the way back to her college papers. I’m glad I overcame my initial doubt.

You’ve previously highlighted the similarities between Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Ring Lam’s City On Fire (1987) in articles and in your short film, Who Do You Think You’re Fooling? (1994) and the follow-up, You’re Still Not Fooling Anyone (1997). Why do you think these similarities, and the similarities in his other work are often overlooked or passed off as ‘homage’.

I think it’s easier ignore them and go on saying that the emperor is fully dressed. Certainly, Tarantino has toned down his outright lifts of plot points, dialogue, and shot composition; getting better at the art of collage (as homage) over the years. I also don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I also think that having the Weinstein’s behind him has also had a hand in shaping the media’s reporting. From the start of his career, Tarantino garnered a reputation of being able to revitalize careers and boost sales of “has been” actors. I think that a lot of people have reconsidered speaking out against him for fear that they might be on the “short list” of people he might name drop or push only to fall by the wayside again. Again, that sounds a little conspiratorial but let’s not forget that Tarantino and the Weinstein’s had a reputation for making (and more on the Weinstein side, breaking) people, careers and films a success.

Why do you think that when a scandal like this is uncovered that some people will attempt to defend and diminish the actions of the plagiariser and smear the integrity of the whistleblower?

Once you’ve believed the story it easier to go on believing it. Hearing someone tell you a different story can make you very mad. It’s easier to lash out. What makes me laugh about the situation is that Lianne publicly admitted her plagiarism (albeit in a fairly cowardly way — a single tweet before disappearing). So, it’s not like anyone can really deny that she stole what she wrote. It’s where people go from there that’s amusing. Some revel in her downfall, some accuse her detractors as being jealous, others chide people into “moving on” and putting the incident behind us all.

One defence  or even, criticism of Spiderbaby’s plagiarism is her age; it’s either used to defend her actions, “Oh, she’s only young” etc or it’s used to highlight a supposed trend or casual attitude towards plagiarism in younger people. As a young person, I find this quite patronizing, but do you feel plagiarism is more endemic in the younger generation, or is it simply getting easier to find examples of plagiarized work thanks to the internet?

Unless things have changed greatly with school systems, it’s still being taught that plagiarism is wrong. Footnotes have not gone out of style. Even Wikipedia are sticklers for sources.

I don’t get the ageism thing though “in my day” it was all about going to the library and going through the mouldering books, maybe jotting down quotes on a 3X5 card, writing the source on the back. Perhaps copying and pasting is too tempting for people in the modern age but even within the confines of HTML there are several tags created just for quoting and citing the work of others. It should be just as easy to give credit where it’s due than it is to copy big blocks of text and claim them as your own. I certainly hope that’s not what the cool kids are doing these days.

You raised a really interesting point about Spiderbaby on your blog recently. You said: “Is there more value in the “image” of the author than the actual output?” Do you think journalism now has more interest in the Spiderbaby image, or indeed, brand?

The jury is still out for me. I find it fascinating that one person can get paid or notoriety built on the work of others. It seems that Lianne found a really good way to market herself and, for that reason, I think that the Lianne Spiderbaby “brand” managed to succeed where others — the people that actually wrote the words — didn’t. Now, to be fair, Lianne was stealing from everywhere. From reviewers on Amazon to film scholars. Maybe Lianne is just an environmentalist, choosing to recycle film writing rather than pollute the world with more.

But, yes, I can definitely see some value in the “brand” of one person over that of another. I know journalists who have either been turned down for jobs or removed so that Lianne could take their place. She had status. She had a degree (based on bogus work it seems). She had a reputation. After a while, people are going to want Lianne Spiderbaby™ rather than Joe Schmoe the guy who has been blogging and writing for years (and who knows his ass from a hole in the ground).

As well as breaking this story, you revealed that the introduction to Spiderbaby’s much-hyped book, the as yet unpublished Grindhouse Girls: Cinema’s Hardest Working Women had also been plagiarised from various sources. Did you expect to find there would be plagiarism in the book too? Do you think the book will be published in its current form?

To be fair, I believe that it’s more like a her book proposal than the actual final intro. That first chapter is way too short. So, I think that things may get cleaned up and I would hope against hope that her publisher would do a better job of footnoting than Lianne did.

Learning Lianne’s track record over the last few weeks, I fully expected to find plagiarism there when I cracked open the document. She didn’t disappoint. However, the majority of the writing is her talking about her background. This isn’t plagiarized as much as it seems fabricated. Her discussion of the “glory days” of Times Square seems like a romanticized version sold to her by people who had never been there.

I’m not sure how far Lianne’s gotten with her manuscript. The bulk of it is interviews, I think she should be okay if she could actually rewrite the intros without lifting anything from them. Perhaps St. Martin’s Press would consider hiring a ghostwriter for her. But, that would be too sad, wouldn’t it? A so-called “writer” needing a ghost writer?

Were you surprised by the horror journalism industry’s reaction to the story?

Reaction or lack of reaction, I suppose. So far I’ve only read two responses — though one was changed a few times. Both of these reactions seem to be coming from either a deeply personal place or someplace where they feel they need to cover their tracks. The immediate “it’s time to move on” felt premature and slightly suspicious.

After the initial story broke, some very big mainstream publications picked up the story; why do you think there’s been relative silence from the media and Spiderbaby since then?

I don’t know if I was deluded or not but I thought that the whole “Spiderbaby scandal” went beyond the scope of just “genre journalism” but maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe the story has been squashed. It just seems off that as quickly as the story went “big” it died down again. It could have just been timing. Too many people too jazzed for Comic Con or wringing their hands about other news stories.

Horror journalism has been rocked by a similar plagiarism scandal before, [The Dark Side scandal] how do you think the industry can safeguard against this happening again and build trust amongst readers and writers again?

There are fact-checkers in our industry (or should be). Perhaps a content-checker would also be a viable position. However, as a publisher myself (of Cashiers du Cinemart), I rely on working with people of integrity. I don’t know if I’m just walking a primrose path or if I’ve been incredibly lucky or if I’m just a good judge of character but I know my micropublication doesn’t compare to larger organizations where not everyone can be vetted by years of friendship and correspondence. I’m still curious to hear how the other publications that put out Lianne’s work will respond. If they don’t at least address the issue — even to brush it off — it says to me that there’s a larger problem.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers about publishing their work online? Is plagiarism a sad by-product of the internet, or something we should feel confident about reporting?

I think all plagiarists should be reported and shamed. There’s not much else that can be done, alas. Throwing a copyright notice on your work or even going the Creative Commons route really means diddly in the overall scheme of things. If people want to rip off your work, they’ll rip it off. Just be vigilant. And, moreover, be distinctive. It was Lianne’s lack of an author’s “voice” or, rather, the use of someone else’s, that got her in trouble. If an aspiring writer doesn’t know what I mean by “voice” then they should do some research and think about how they want to be represented in the internet or how they can make themselves stand apart.

Seven Tips for the First-Time EdFringe Critic

25 Jul
EdFringe 2010

EdFringe Photo by DaveMcKFlit, used under a Creative Commons Licence

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is nearly upon us! Posters are already appearing all over the city, venues are creaking into life, and performers from far and wide are descending on Auld Reekie at an almost unnerving speed.

I often read guides to the Fringe that were written for and by performers, audience members and marketing types. However, I feel that it would be remiss not to not give first-time EdFringe Critics, and critics who aren’t familiar with the city, a bit of guidance for their Festival debut, since it can be a very busy, very strange, but very fun time.

So, without any further introduction, here is my guide on how to survive the Fringe as a new critic.

1. Paper and Pen Are Your Friend

Yes, before we had computers, we had pen and paper, and things were a lot simpler if you ask me.

Anyway, always take a notebook and pen with you wherever you go – if your iPad/laptop/smartphone freezes or runs out of battery, they will be useful. A notebook will allow you to make inconspicuous notes in the auditorium – have you ever seen someone making notes on a phone or an iPad during a performance? I have, and not only is it extremely rude, it’s also pretty idiotic. Don’t be that person.

2. D.K.Y = Don’t Kill Yourself

I’m not saying the Fringe will drive you to suicide, all I’m saying is, don’t book too many shows on one day. Remember, the downside to seeing several shows in one day is that you will have to write a review for each of them. When it gets to 5am, and you still have reviews to write, but you can’t for the life of you remember what that piece you saw at 2pm was about, then you’re in trouble.

Know your limits, don’t burnout.

3. Be Nice

During the Fringe you will meet lots of different people; but it’s a very busy period, and so these people will be stressed, just like you. As a journalist, you are viewed as a representative of your publication, so, it’s a good idea to be nice.

Be nice to other journalists. Be nice to bar staff. Be nice to venue staff. Be nice to press staff. If you’re rude to people, you will get a bad reputation and people will not want to work with you. I worked for years in retail, and as anyone who has worked in retail will tell you, it’s really not very nice to be shouted at.

So, if something goes wrong, if a ticket isn’t where it should be, or phone calls are not being answered, be polite, but firm. People are more likely to help a critic that says “I really need to see this show, is there any way that you can fit me into this performance?” rather than the “What do you mean my ticket isn’t there? DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”

You are a critic, you are not a god.

4. The Royal Mile

Unless you want to move at a pace that would make the average snail blush, and get weighed down by an insane amount of flyers, avoid The Royal Mile.

It’s a lovely street, and if you must visit it, go early in the morning, for after around 10am, it fills with performers, more performers, flyerers and by passers who have no sense of space, time or an idea of what walking in a straight line entails.

5. Princes Street

Ok, so this isn’t probably the most important piece of information I can give you about the Fringe, but there is a big street in Edinburgh City Centre, it’s full of shops, it’s very famous, and it’s called Princes Street.

I’ll say it again, Princes Street. It’s masculine, there is no extra ‘s’. However, far too many people call it “Princess Street”, this is incorrect. If you ask for directions to “Princess Street” I am not going to give you any, because no such street exists in the city. Please, call it Princes Street.

6. Give Yourself Extra Travelling Time

During any other Month in Edinburgh, getting from somewhere like the Grassmarket to North Bridge takes around 5-10 minutes, depending on your route.

However, during August, this will take double that, because of the sheer amount of people trying to do the same thing. In fact, I once missed getting to a show at the Underbelly in the Grassmarket – by a minute, no exaggeration – because it had taken me so long to get from The Spaces @ Surgeons’ Hall to the Underbelly (a trip that takes literally no time at all) because of all the people in my way.

The staff were really very apologetic; they’d just closed the doors, and they led onto the stage, so I really would be interrupting the performance, and so, with a heavy heart, I had to phone my editor, and let them know that I couldn’t see the show. They were surprisingly ok about it, but it was embarrassing for me, it was unprofessional, and as the show went on to get great reviews, I missed out on a really strong show.

7. Sit Near the Door

I’ve been reviewing the Fringe since 2009 and if you can take away one piece of advice from me, please, sit near the door when you’re at a Fringe show.

Why? This means you can slip out of the show quicker – be that when it finishes, or earlier. There is no shame in leaving a bad Fringe show early, just do it quietly and without drawing any attention to yourself.

There have been more than a few occasions when, during a particularly bad show, I have lamented my choice of seat, as leaving the venue would involve having to cross the stage, and do some kind of walk of shame out the door. I don’t have the balls to do that yet. I have sat through a lot of bad theatre.

I have only ever walked out of one Fringe show, and that was because it was running over by half an hour and showed no signs of stopping. It was also the worst show I’d ever seen in 5 years of reviewing, so that had something to do with it.

Have I missed anything out? Is there anything else you would like to know? Get in touch and let me know!

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