Tag Archives: theatre

Writer, Critic, Reviewer, Spy

23 Nov
Image by

Image by Justin Jensen, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

It started, as these things so often do, with an email.

“I’ve had an email from a solicitor about you…” chirped my editor.

The walls started closing in.

“Oh God no!” screamed a voice in my head, “You’re getting sued for real this time, head for the hills, go live in a cave, you’re absolutely fucked!” shrieked the voices of my deepest, darkest thoughts fears.

I looked at the email again, gazing at the words that my lovely editor had typed a few minutes before.

“..details below.” He added.

I replied and we gossiped for a while. Unsolicited emails from solicitors are rarely welcome, we agreed, and they are not to be trusted, we reasoned.

I scrolled down to read the original message.

My jaw clenched.

The email was from a solicitor who worked for a local firm. He couldn’t give me too much detail at this stage, he said, but he wanted to speak to me regarding a review I’d written some time before, and he specifically wanted to know more about the physical condition of an actor that had made some kind of injury claim against his client.

“Do you have a number which I could contact you on this afternoon or tomorrow afternoon in order to briefly discuss this matter?”

My jaw clenched again.

The actor and the name of the show hadn’t been supplied, but surely, my review of the show was enough? What had I said about this actor to make this solicitor take interest in me?

I’m used to people cutting and pasting bits of my review to be used on posters; I’ve had people email me asking me to justify my reviews. I’ve worked with editors who have eviscerated my words to make my reviews more positive, and sometimes, more negative.

These are all things that happen, these are things that I can handle, but a solicitor asking me questions about an unnamed actor for an anonymous client? That’s new. It puts me in an awkward position; not commentator, not critic, but informer; spy.

Feeling uncomfortable, I emailed the solicitor, asking for the name of the play. I briefly considered ignoring their request, but I knew that if I did, they would just keep emailing my editor, until they got an answer.

They replied quickly, giving me the name of the show and the actor. I remembered the show; it had been performed over 18 months before, but I had to think about the actor. I recognised their name, but had they been in that play?

I dug out and re-read my review. I’d written half a sentence about the actor, praising their brief appearance on the stage in what had been a minuscule role (they only appeared in the second act).

I contacted other critics, had this happened to them?

No, said one. Never, not in all my years of reviewing.

This sounds well dodgy, said another, avoid at all costs.

Why are they contacting you? Said a third critic.

That puts you in an awkward position, They concluded.

I’ve always said that I write for the reader, but who is the reader? I always assumed that they were a theatregoer, but what if there was something more sinister behind that? A critic, by nature, is an observer, so their loyalty is to their publication and its readers. If I do this, I can’t claim to be neutral.

I closed my eyes and I saw a snake in the grass. I watched the blades part as it slithered through an overgrown garden towards me. He was the snake. If I agreed to a phone call, he would coil himself around me and I would be his.

I opened my eyes and typed a quick response.

“Unfortunately, I cannot expand upon what I have said in my review, and as I have no knowledge of this actor beyond that, I cannot help you on this occasion.”

He replied within minutes:

“Should you decide that you remember the performance of [REDACTED] on this occasion, I would be looking to ask you some brief questions as to [THEIR] range of movement and your general impressions as to [THEIR] physical state during that performance. This should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes over the phone.”

He just needs 10 -15 minutes.

He wants me to spy on someone I don’t know. He wants me to be biased against this person.

I cannot and will not do that.

“Please feel free to contact me should you wish to discuss matters further, and I hope you have a nice day.”

I closed my eyes and watched the snake slither into the undergrowth.

I opened my eyes.

I closed my email.

I had a wonderful day.

 

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Every thought I had watching Waiting for Godot

23 Sep

 

Waiting for Godot image by Mike Steele

Waiting for Godot image by Mike Steele

 

Ooh, what a set. I’ll take some notes.

The woman next to me is a fidget.

Writing, writing, writing.

The woman next to me is far too interested in my notebook.

Curtain up, hurrah!

I’m going to call the woman next to me Valerie.

 

Oh no, it’s one of those mesh curtain things. I hope the whole show isn’t behind this.

Did I spell that right?

Ah, good.

Oh, Valerie, do stop your fidgeting.

Writing. Scrawl. I hope I can read this later.

Valerie, this is MY notebook. Please stop trying to lean into me to read it.

Valerie. Valerie. I need the arm to rest on, please just move slightly.

Valerie…Valerie…if you could just share the….Valerie…

Look, there’s Bill Paterson.

Ha, ha. My old flatmate said Bill Paterson’s Scottish accent was the worst she’d heard.

 

Oh, Brian, lovely Brian with the twinkly eyes.

My flatmate didn’t think he was Scottish.

Bill Paterson! Not Scottish!

I laughed.

Where’s the line about the bicycle wheels?

“You haven’t got a bicycle!” Brilliant.

 

Oh, that’s Endgame. I like Waiting for Godot better than Endgame, sorry, Samuel.

Well, I like Endgame, I saw the Theatre Workshop production of it.

 

You know, this is a really lovely set.

What happened to Theatre Workshop?

Oooh, it’s him fae that thing.

I know him, I know him. So many faces, so many plays, but I know him.

It’s whatshisname.

He looks like the guy that played Scrooge in the NTS’ A Christmas Carol.

 

That’s because he is the guy that played Scrooge in the NTS’ A Christmas Carol.

Great monologue, Scroogey!

Valerie, your lack of spatial awareness is tiring.

This is just sublime.

Oh no, bad cough.

Oh God no, I’m coughing through the lines and I can’t stop.

Stop coughing.

My eyes are watering, I can feel sweat on the back of my neck, I need to cough.

 

 

Cough. Cough. Cough.

Cough. Cough. Cough.

I seem to have made Valerie uncomfortable.

Good.

I’m dying, Valerie. I’m dying and I’m taking you with me.

End of first act.

Interval! INTERVAL.

Good.

I apologise for my coughing to the man on the other side of me.

I’m not apologising to Valerie.

Valerie can go swing on something.

After her ice cream.

The second act.

I have a large glass of water.

And a small glass of champagne.

Plastic glasses, one in each hand.

Valerie has taken the full arm rest.

The full thing.

On you go, Valerie, help yourself. I have champagne.

I see shoes. A pair of shoes centre stage.

They belong to Bill ‘Worst Scottish Accent Ever’ Paterson.

The funny thing is, my old flatmate wasn’t Scottish.

She was from Bradford.

No coughs yet.

Water. Champagne. Champagne. Water. Water. Water.

I’m trying to remember. When I read this play….when I read this play….

What happens next?

I remember now.

Him, yes. They return.

The hat.

The hat.

Oh my God, how could I forget about the hat scene?

The hat scene. The fucking hat…

Valerie. We are not going to be friends if you keep encroaching on my personal space.

Valerie.

VALERIE.

I’m going.

I’m going.

He’s going. He says he’s going.

I wish Valerie would go.

Waiting for Godot to appear.

Where is Godot?

Where is Godot?

The same place as Valerie’s manners.

God, I hope Godot has manners.

The small boy. The promise.

The curtain.

They bow.

The people behind me are shouting bravo.

If they throw roses at the stage I will lose my shit.

“BRAVO! BRAVO!”

No roses. Lights up.

“That was MARVELLOUS!”

A voice somewhere behind me.

“JUST MARVELLOUS!”

BRAVO. BRAVO. BRAVO.

The aisle stands, turns, shuffles. stops.

Oh for fuck’s sake Valerie, what is it?

Valerie. Why are you stopping Valerie? The whole theatre is behind us.

The aisle waits for Valerie.

I see a gap. Opportunity.

I run.

The stairs.

The bar.

The doors.

The cold night air.

It is over.

Yes, it is.

I never want it to end.

I know.

I know.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

The Greatest Theatre Story Never Told

17 Mar
Image by Andrea Minoia, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Andrea Minoia, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

It was late 2008. I had just come out of the theatre and I was late. I was meant to be at my Granny’s house for dinner and I was still late. By the time I got there, Granny was already plating up dinner; I forget what it was, probably meat of some description – beef olives, perhaps? – and vegetables. Tatties, green beans, maybe it was butter beans. It was possibly butter beans.

I was late because I had been at the King’s Theatre to see the Wednesday matinee of Equus, starring Alfie Allen. The theatre was on the other side of the city and rush hour traffic, combined with my own relaxed attitude to timekeeping had made me late. Granny didn’t mind though, she never minded.

My Granny’s house has a hatch between the kitchen and living room, and so, Granny was standing in the kitchen, pot in hand, plates staring up at her, waiting for the meat, tatties and possibly-butter beans and I was standing in the living room, leaning through the hatch.

“Sorry I was late, Granny, I was coming from Tollcross because I was at the theatre…” I began.

“Oh, the King’s Theatre!” She said, “Me and your Grandpa used to go there quite a lot.”

I nodded; I knew that my Grandpa had been a fan of the theatre. In fact, some of my scripts and books, including The Orestia, had come from his collection.

“What did you see?” Granny asked, as she spooned the mysterious meat and possibly-butter beans onto the empty plates.

“I went to see Equus with some friends from uni…” I began.

“Oh yes, Equus. Me and your Grandpa went to see that in the 70s at the King’s Theatre. It must have been the original tour.”

I smiled. I go to see a play at a specific theatre and it turns out that my grandparents saw the original tour of the play in the very same theatre,  30 years previously. What are the odds? I started wondering if maybe we’d sat in the same row, maybe even the same seats, when I heard my Granny say.

“There’s a lot of nudity in Equus isn’t there?”

“Um, yes -” Oh no, I thought, what is she getting at?

“I’ll never forget the nudity when we went to see Equus.” Continued Granny,. She was looking up at me now, her eyes shining with a kind of mischief, or maybe a touch of nostalgia. “I remember the lead actor – I can’t remember his name – he had the smallest penis I’ve ever seen.”

My jaw dropped. My Granny, my dear old Granny, my 87-year-old grandmother, the lovely, kind lady who made fudge and knitted and tutted loudly at the six o’clock news, was talking about cocks. Actual willies. OHGOD.

I felt my skin burning, I was so stunned I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak.  This was excruciating.

“I mean, it was like a baby’s penis!” She said, exploding with laughter at the memory of this tiny theatrical todger. I stared at the plate, looking at the possibly-butter beans, she went quiet. I felt my body relax and I started picking my jaw off the floor.

“It must have been very cold up there. Was this actor better endowed?*” she asked, with a wonderful wry smile that said, I may be 87, but I’m not as innocent as you may think, my dear.

She put the pot down, story over,dinner ready, granddaughter traumatised.

“I…I wouldn’t know, Granny.” I said, gazing at my feet. my feet were suddenly very interesting, look at them there, on the floor, being feet. Wow, feet are really awesome.

We ate our dinner in Granny’s warm house and chatted about the usual things: uni, work, home. After the meal, I stayed for a cup of tea and everything was as normal, the cheeky glint in her eyes was gone, but a beautiful spark remained. I never looked at her in the same way again, she was loving and caring and full of surprises.

My Granny died last month, aged 95. And because she is gone, her house is cold. The hatch where I watched her cook is empty and the kitchen where she baked is still. This story was a bit risqué for her eulogy, so I thought that the best way to honour her was to share this story online, where it and she, will live on forever.

*Yes, Alfie Allen was very impressive, I can tell you.

 

 

How To Get Reviewed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

5 Jun
2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe image by zoetnet, shared under a Creative Common Licence

2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe image by zoetnet, shared under a Creative Common Licence

Hold on to your hats, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is nigh! After months of anticipation, the long-awaited official launch of the Fringe takes place today in Scotland’s rather dreich capital city.

For years, the Fringe has been known as the place where some of the world’s most popular comedians, theatre companies, playwrights and directors were officially ‘discovered’, and because of this, thousands of people flock to the city every year, hoping to be the next big thing. They want to get those coveted critical bums on seats and nab a five-star review.

The Fringe, as we all know, is the world’s biggest arts and culture festival, so, how do you approach a critic and (hopefully) convince them to review your show?

A Note on Reviews

Before I discuss the finer points of Contacting a Reviewer 101, I have to explain the role of the critic, because I’ve found that some practitioners and PRs seem to be unsure about what it is that critics are supposed to do.

As we all know, critics write reviews, this is a given, but a review is like an omen; it can either be good or bad. A critic will not write a positive review just because they’ve been invited to a show; they will write a review based on their experience and it will (or should) be published in a timely fashion.

The critic is under no obligation to write either a good or a bad review, they are under obligation to write a truthful review that is helpful to the audience. The critic is loyal only to the reader; not to the venue, director, actor or playwright.

Therefore, if you want coverage that is uniformly positive and says exactly what you want it to say, then it’s better to buy an ad. If you want a reviewer’s professional opinion on your show, that you can then use in your publicity material, email the editor. Otherwise, contact the advertising department and pay for an advert.

Prepare Now

One of the more frustrating experiences for a Fringe critic is being contacted about a show that they would have really liked to review – after the Fringe has begun. This is because by then, their reviewing schedule has been confirmed and it’s highly unlikely that the critic will be able to fit the show into their itinerary.

You are much more likely to get a reviewer into your show if you contact them before the festival. I’ve been getting Fringe PRs since late April, but an editor friend of mine got her first one in February. So, if you’ve not started contacting the journalists you want to target yet, then do it as soon as possible, while the nation’s critics are thinking about their reviewing schedule.

Have Something to Say

When I worked in online PR, I often had to write press releases that weren’t newsworthy. I know, I hated it too. This was because we had clients that wanted a certain number of press releases written and submitted every month and so, I had to find something, if anything, to say about the client and their products that would (hopefully) appeal to journalists.

I did this by trying to find a newsworthy angle on the story or client. Sometimes it was because there was a breaking news story that had something to do with their industry, sometimes it was because something impressive had happened within the company, but whatever I chose to write about, it had to be newsworthy.

Journalists are always looking for newsworthy releases, we’re forever searching for a different angle to write about on the pressing issues of today. Not only do we need this news, we need to be the first to report it, so we want an exclusive. We want to get some exceptional information before our rivals and we have to be able to shout about it.

Everyone has a story; what makes your show, your company, your production stand out? Why should a critic review, or even preview your show before the Fringe as opposed to a rival piece in the same venue? Find your angle, find your voice, find your audience.

Press Release Etiquette

When it comes to press releases, everyone’s different. But, most critics I know agree on one thing; please don’t attach your PR as a PDF.

PDFs are great –  if you don’t want to copy and paste information from them or edit them in any way. So, if I’m trying to copy and paste your listings information to put it in my calendar or spreadsheet, the nature of a PDF means that I can’t do that.

However, attachments in general can trigger the wrath of a million fiery suns in even the most patient of critics. Some don’t download properly, they can contain viruses and some just aren’t compatible with the software on a journalist’s computer. So, instead of attaching anything, or adding a link to an external site in order to view your PR, copy and paste it into the body of your email; this saves time and effort later on.

If you are sending press releases for more than one show, then send one email per show, so that the email can be found quickly if needed. Also, it’s really helpful to put the name of the show, the venue and the dates in the subject of the email. If you do this, your PR will be a beacon of hope in a very overwhelmed journalist’s inbox. And please, don’t be the asshole that sends 22 attachments in one email.

Remember to check, double-check and triple check your listings information, such as dates, times and venue, a small hiccup here can have big consequences. You might find this Arts PR post that I wrote after the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe helpful.

Be Human

In our digital age, it’s become far too easy to forget that the critics are actually people. I know we can have this reputation of being utterly terrifying, humourless, otherworldly sods who are only happy when we’re feasting on the broken dreams of Fringe casualties, but underneath that, we are human.

One of the things about being Homo sapiens is that we respond to being spoken to like living, breathing entities. We don’t want a generic email that doesn’t start with a greeting, demands a review, or fires the same promotional message at us repeatedly. We want to be able to read about the people and the passion at the heart of the project.

You don’t have to write a critic a novel detailing why you’re inviting them to your show, but you can personalise your email. This takes time, but it makes your email stand out. And let me tell you, when all the emails you’ve received that day have been overly promotional, full of horrendous PR buzzwords and have been devoid of any human emotion, getting a brief email that simply begins with a greeting and your name makes you sit up and pay attention.

Twit to Woo?

Social media is marvellous, isn’t it? It allows you to find and contact almost anyone, which means it’s a great place to reach out to a critic or publication. However, while social networking sites like Twitter will help you find the right people to invite to your show, I could caution against using it as a pitching tool.

The reason for this is simple: anything you put on social media is in the public domain, which means that everybody can read it, unless you have a private account. However, when you’re contacting a journalist, especially if you have an exclusive about your show, the open nature of social media means that your news will no longer be an exclusive, because everyone will have read about it online first.

Too often, Twitter accounts fire out the same promotional tweet to journalists and not only does it ensure that your news gets lost in the ether, it also looks lazy, so if you can’t be bothered to reach out properly, why should the critic go to see your show?

Feel free to make first contact on social media; follow the journalist’s account, say a quick hello and ask the critic if you can send them a PR, but don’t take up too much of their time. Social media is often treated like a platform for broadcasting, but it’s really for being sociable and engaging. You can also chat to the critic, be friendly and focus on building a long-term professional relationship with them, not just a filthy and unremarkable #EdFringe quickie. The contacts you make this year will remember you next year.

During the Fringe it’s nice to have somewhere to escape, to vent, and that’s what I use my Twitter account (*cough* @trashtaylor *cough*) for. Remember that the critic will have had lots of messages from other people trying to get them to review them too, so take it easy, you are in their space, be nice, be polite and have fun. Also, don’t forget that you are representing your show on social media, so don’t say anything stupid.

 The Follow-Up

One part of the process that some people rely on too heavily is the follow-up. While it’s understandable that someone may be anxious that their PR hasn’t reached its recipients, please rest assured that it has been received and it has been read. You can always email again, but ask yourself, do you have anything else to add, such as a piece of news, or the addition of extra dates?

Sending the same PR again is unnecessary, because you’ll just be repeating yourself. Today, I got a second email about a Fringe production and then a tweet from the show’s producer within a very short length of time, both of which told me nothing new about the piece. Don’t be the annoying person who constantly emails and calls publications; it won’t make critics magically find space for your show in their already packed schedules.

Is there anything else you really want to know? Is this year your first Fringe? Why not comment below and tell me?

The 26 Best Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

18 May
Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Seeing/hearing the latest work from some of your favourite artists.

2. Discovering artists you might never have heard of through your work.

3. Meeting like-minded people, including fantastic writers and editors.

4. Creating lasting relationships with PR people, press officers and venues.

5. Being given the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best and most respected artists.

6. Having the freedom to research, write and pitch pieces daily.

7. Being able to combine your love of writing with your passion for the arts.

8. Receiving exclusive news of season launches, new ventures and coveted arts programmes before the general public.

9. Having the opportunity to experience new work.

10. Creating lasting memories of work you love (or hate).

11. Having people ask you for recommendations, because they respect your opinion.

12. Meeting talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

13. Having the chance to recognise talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

14. Seeing the world through the experiences and work of different artists and performers.

15. The pride of seeing your review quoted on a poster/DVD cover/social media/online

16. Writing about the arts, just for the love of writing about the arts.

17. The feeling of being completely absorbed in another, artificial world created by artists.

18. Being able to escape the pressures of everyday life for a few blissful hours in a cinema/theatre/venue.

19. Creating a lasting record of some of the best (and worst) work from some of the world’s best (and worst) artists.

20. Being able to champion the work that you truly love.

21. Dictating how you get to spend your time and what performances you review, because your time is precious.

22. The thrill of reading about a new project from a great artist and counting down the days until you can go to see it.

23. Planning your cultural calendar around some of the world’s best festivals, events, seasons and projects.

24. Free interval drinks (my favourite is orange juice, yes, really).

25. Press launches that serve coffee. Praise be to coffee.

26. Being thanked for writing a review/interview, or just being thanked for what you do.

The 25 Worst Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

12 May
Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Knowing that you could not exist without the arts, but the arts could exist without you on some level.

2. The realisation that you are only ever as good as our last piece, and that last article you wrote wasn’t so great.

3. Finding out what you will only ever be as good as another arts journalist’s last piece, and they really fucked up on that one.

4. The assumption that your words have killed dreams/careers/films/plays/bands stone dead.

5. The constant fear that your words have, in fact, ended the career of a promising director/actor/playwright/writer/musician.

6. The never-ending misunderstandings about what it is that you actually write about, because the umbrella term ‘the arts’ means different things to different people.

For example, if you were to mention that you’re an arts journalist in public, the chances are that somebody in the vicinity will demand your opinion on their latest painting or exhibition, which leads to an awkward conversation where you have to explain that you don’t actually review ‘visual art’, or whatever it is that they do, and that if they’d let you finish your bloody sentence then this awkward conversation would never have happened.

(Obviously, being polite, you will never say the last part of that sentence out loud, but you’ll be screaming it inside your head. Repeatedly. With lots of swear words.)

7. Knowing that you can’t always review the things that you want to, due to time, money and editorial pressure. This will sometimes lead to only the big films/plays/bands getting written about, which is neither right nor fair.

8. Downright cynicism. About everything. Ever.

9. Genuine hunger for the arts being replaced by genuine hunger for food, because you don’t have any money left after paying your bills, thanks to your meagre earnings.

10. The comments on our reviews/previews/articles. The horror. The horror.

11. Juggling your arts journalism work with another job. Sometimes two other jobs.

12. Exhaustion from having 2 or more jobs.

13. Frustration from having far too many jobs and not enough time to dedicate to arts journalism.

14. Knowing, that by not being able to spend enough time on your arts journalism work, that you are disappointing people, including yourself.

15. That nagging sensation that what you do isn’t actually journalism at all and is probably more like PR. An inkling that isn’t helped by this famous quote from George Orwell.

16. The realisation that you will never be able to write as well as George Orwell, and that he probably wouldn’t have liked you very much, anyway.

17. Finding out that a potential writing opportunity is unpaid, but will be great for your portfolio/exposure/experience, according to the editor, who gets paid to get people to work for free.

18. Knowing that your bank will not actually take payment in the form of exposure in lieu of actual cash, even though you assured them that said exposure could lead to paid work “…in the future”.

19. Seeing that other, inexperienced writers will take that unpaid work, thus enabling those companies that can and should pay their workers get away with not paying them.

20. Repeatedly and mysteriously dropping off press distribution lists, which means that you have to sign up to the same press distribution list every few months.

21. Missing exclusives and other important news because you are no longer on said press distribution list for some reason.

22. Being added to distribution lists that you most certainly didn’t sign up to, because someone got hold of your email address.

23. Receiving a badly written, poorly researched and completely unsuitable PR from a PR company, and knowing that the person that wrote it makes at least twice your yearly salary.

24. Your publication running out of budget.

25. Your publication running out of space, because they have to sell more ads now.

The Fallacy of Banning Children From Museums and Theatres

2 Apr
Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

It’s as we’ve feared; Other People’s Children are just terrible. Look at them, misbehaving in museums and being disruptive in theatres instead of silently appreciating the best of the UK’s culture like us uptight adults. We are in danger of being wiped out by a cuddly wave of prepubescent anarchy, there’s agony in the aisles, there’s cursing in the cinema and there’s panic in the stalls! Clearly, the only solution is to send them to theatre etiquette lessons! Let’s put age restrictions on all the museums and galleries! Then we’ll send them to bed without any dinner! That’ll teach the little uncultured sods.

Before the powers that be actually do decide to BAN ALL CHILDREN FROM EVERYTHING we need to lead by example and start by dealing with the adults that continually disrupt performances, screenings, exhibitions and annoy fellow patrons with shoddy, selfish behaviour, because the arts should be for all; not for just for a select and privileged few.

If children are merely small people with no sense of decorum, then surely adults are merely overstretched toddlers that can’t plead ignorance for their actions. They not only should know better, they do know better, yet, some of them continue to flout the rules. So then, if the problem also applies to adults, then why aren’t we calling for them to be given etiquette lessons, or muting rules that would see them banned from all cultural institutions? Because they have something that children don’t: money.

More cash means more spending, which means more investment and more profit, so museums, theatres, cinemas and other cultural attractions can stay open and accessible to all.

The thing about kids is that they are in actual fact, the world’s best critics. They’re brutally honest, easily bored and they’re not afraid of telling you so. We’ve all sat near an excitable child in a theatre or a cinema who excitedly chattered along to what they were watching, acting as an unofficial narrator to the piece, usually to their parents’ utter embarrassment and whispered pleas of “Will you be quiet?!”

This is what children do. They test boundaries so they want to know what they can get away with. If they discover that they can get away with doing something, then they’ll continue doing it until someone puts them right. Children don’t know that it’s not proper to climb a piece of modern art worth millions. They see something that looks like it can be climbed, and unless someone stops them they will attempt to climb it. The parent or guardian’s role is to teach their child about boundaries and how to behave properly in public, because funnily enough, kids aren’t born with any idea of boundaries or ‘proper behaviour’. This isn’t an easy task, but that’s because parenthood is hard.

No matter what happens, children will always be awful to someone, somewhere in some way. But banning children outright from all theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries and the like goes against every reason they were created. These cultural institutions should be accessible and open to all, not just to the elite.

The arts are the legacy that we can leave the next generation of enquiring minds and passionate creators. That includes the youngest people in our society and also the overstretched toddlers that act like them.

Seven Terrible Things People Have Asked Me About Arts Journalism

3 Feb
Image by cranky messiah, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by cranky messiah, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

“Ah, ha! You’re unemployed then?”

What I Said Then:

“No, I have a job, and I do this in my free time to build up my portfolio.”

What I Say Now:

“No, this is my job.”

“So, you go to a show and write about whether it’s good or not. Is that what you do?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, actually there’s a lot more to it than that..”

What I Say Now:

“Yes. Jealous, much?”

Yes, but, if you’re an arts critic, why don’t you review actual ART?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, I wasn’t trained to review visual art.”

What I Say Now:

“The phrase ‘The Arts’ is an umbrella term for many creative industries, however, I’m not particularly interested in visual art, so I don’t write about it.”

“How do you make any money?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, it is possible, and there is money to be made from arts criticism, I’m sure.”

What I Say Now:

“I have other jobs.”

“What are you really going to do with your life?”

What I Said Then:

“…..”

What I Say Now:

“Spend the rest of it avoiding you.”

“Are you going to move to London?”

What I Said Then:

“London? LONDON? London is big and scary! No way!”

What I Say Now:

“That is something I will have to consider in the future.”

“What will you do when your editor asks you to write a positive review of something, regardless of how you feel about it?”

What I Said Then:

“What are you talking about? That doesn’t happen.”

What I Say Now:

“I would refuse. That isn’t who I am.”

Trash’s 20 Arts Criticism Tenets

15 Jan
Image by GabeWW, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by HeyGabe, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Sit down and shut the fuck up.

2. Your phone is not important during a performance.

3. Separate your personal feelings about an artist from their work. Love the art, hate the artist.

4. Write for the reader.

5. Listen to criticism of your work, but brush off the abuse.

6. Stay humble, no one wants to work with an asshole.

7. Be passionate about your work.

8. Fact check, fact check, oh dear Lord, fact check.

9. The only thing that should restrict your review is the word count.

10. A good critic can work around any word count,.

11. Going to a performance with an open mind and no expectations can lead to great experiences.

12. Remember that a review is not a stagnant piece of prose; it is a fluid work, it adapts, evolves and grows as you do.

13. Resisting change is futile.

14. Refusing to travel to “the regions” to see “regional work” will be your downfall.

15. Pay attention to what you’re reviewing; an alarming amount of ‘critics’ don’t.

16. Don’t write about yourself; the reader wants to read about the show, not your memories.

17. However, if you have a very relevant story to share, then by all means, share it. Just make sure that it’s relevant to the piece.

18. If you attempt to write a review that spends more time discussing how attractive or unattractive you find the actors in the piece, then you shouldn’t be a journalist, let alone a reviewer.

19. Try to keep on top of your emails, because some people will only email you once.

20. Don’t draw attention to yourself while you’re working. It’s off-putting to performers and it makes you look like a tool.

My Failed New Year’s Resolutions

8 Jan

Image by elycefeliz, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I love New Year. I love the fireworks, the celebrations and the sense of optimism that comes with the dawning of each new calendar year.

But I absolutely suck at sticking to my New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried; for a while my only resolution was to not make a resolution, and I stuck to that for a while. I’m also lucky in that I don’t fall into the usual resolutions of stopping smoking or drinking, because I don’t smoke and I very rarely drink.

But when I look back at the resolutions I’ve neglected to achieve over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they failed, not because I didn’t try, but because they weren’t the right resolutions for me at the time.

Resolution One: Lose Some Weight, Fatty

I was quite skinny when I was younger. In fact, I was so skinny that I never realised just how skinny I was until I wasn’t that skinny any more. Your body, like your personality, changes over time, and while I’m not a size 8, I’m still a healthy weight for my size.

In fact, I’m happier now in my body than I ever was before, and while some bits could do with firming up, and I fantasise about having Linda Hamilton Terminator 2-esque biceps, it won’t happen overnight, and that’s ok. I’ll continue eating healthily and working at my physical day job, that’ll do for now.

Resolution Two: Stop Procrastinating…Tomorrow….No, Today

“Procrastination,” my mother once declared, “’tis the thief of time!” and she was right. I procrastinate too much, I live in my head too much, I think about doing something for too long when I should just do it. Case in point: I thought about blogging for four years before I actually did anything about it.

I know I’m not alone in procrastinating, which is reassuring, but whilst I have looked at other ways of working, such as the Pomodoro Technique and blocking access to Facebook and Twitter while working, my mind needs to wander.

While I may not be able to stop procrastinating altogether, I can deal with it in better ways; such as allowing myself breaks, getting into a better work at home routine and changing my attitude towards tasks that have to be done. As someone once said to me, “You have to stop thinking that you should do something, and instead start thinking that you need, want or wish to do something.” This advice has made a big difference to just about every aspect of my life.

Resolution Three: Go Back to University

Around this time last year, I blogged about my quest to get back into higher education after graduating nearly four years previously. This year marks five years since that fateful day when I put on a big, silly gown, got all nervous, shook Sir Tom Farmer’s hand and got my degree, and I’m still no closer to going back to university.

In fact, if anything, I’m a little more conflicted about the whole thing; it’s expensive, you’re not guaranteed a job, and there are lots of journalists that say that postgraduate degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the advice I’ve had about getting into the media has been pretty contradictory, and while some still insist that experience, not qualifications, matter, I’ve noticed that an alarming number of media job adverts begin with the terrifying statement: “You will have a journalism qualification.”

So, what next? In the next few months, I aim to find out more about funding and bursaries and see if there’s anything that I would be suitable for. I can also do a much less expensive, but very respected NCTJ Course in my own time, which would give me that elusive journalism qualification without the £6,000+ price tag.

Resolution Four: Learn to Drive

I’ve been meaning to learn to drive since I was 17. I’m now 28, and although I have a provisional driving license and I once owned a car with my former partner (it was a purple VW Golf MK3, affectionately referred to as Reggie, I loved that car) I’ve never had a driving lesson.

There are many reasons for this; procrastination, sheer laziness, expense and the fact that Edinburgh’s bus service is really very good, so, logically, when would I actually drive? Still, I need to learn to drive because it’s an important skill to have on my CV, it would allow me greater freedom to travel around the country and beyond, and at nearly 30, sitting behind the wheel of a parked car going “Vroom! Vroom!” Just doesn’t do it for me any more.

Resolution Five: Read More

I used to love reading. I’d read into the early hours of the morning and then read again the next day. My parents would buy me a small pile of books every Christmas, thinking they would last me until March and then despair when they realised that I’d read them all by New Year.

But then, I went to university, and I wasn’t allowed to read for fun. My degree, while a drama course, was more academic than practical, and we had to read at least three plays a week, combined with several dull critical theory texts. Have you ever read Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author? It makes an interesting point, but it’s turgid; it’s worse than Sunset Song and Highland River, both of which I had to read in High School, and both of which keep popping up on Scotland’s greatest books lists, much to my utter disgust.

And if you think about it, reading a play is a very different experience to watching a play. Just as reading a book because someone in authority says you must read it takes all the fun out of the experience.

So, I got bored with reading, and all these years later, I still struggle to finish a book, because I get distracted. I have got better; last year, I read the entire Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, and I’m halfway through Mark Kermode’s latest, and really very good tome, Hatchet Job. After that, I’m going to read all the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, so I’m getting there.

Resolution Six: Go to the Theatre/Cinema For Fun!

For years, going to the theatre and the cinema has been work for me – I’m there to review after all – and so, I go there in full critic mode, complete with notebook and eagerness to ‘read’ the work.

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of this mindset, and I have to re-learn how to enjoy going to the theatre or the cinema as a regular audience member, not some poor arts hack with a bashed notebook. The experience needs be an escape again for me, as it should be for everyone else, and I need to stop getting so annoyed by badly behaved audiences.

Resolution Seven: Stop Getting Annoyed by Badly Behaved Audiences

Hey, I’ll stop getting annoyed when they learn how to behave.

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