I’m absolutely delighted to be able to tell you that my play, Conscientious, will be touring the UK this autumn under our brand new company Pillbox Theatre. This is such thrilling news to be able to share. It’s my first professionally produced play and it feels like such a significant milestone. I’m very excited.
The play will be visiting Leeds, Oxford, Hull, Exeter, Bradford and South Hill Park in Berkshire. That’s just for starters and we’re hoping to announce new venues later.
The play, which deals with issues surrounding workplace bullying and First World War Conscientious Objectors, is performed by Rachel Ashwanden. We’ve worked so hard on the play and we’re both really pleased it’ll reach lots of regional theatres up and down the country. Alex Chisholm is directing (something I am extremely excited about - she’s done such great work previously and having her onboard is just wonderful). Milan Govedarica is our producer and he’s been working incredibly hard to pull everything together.
You can visit the wordpress website here and below I’ve listed the venues and ticketing details. If you live in these areas, please come along and support us! Tickets are on sale for most places now and we’d love to see you there.
Thanks to everyone who’s been involved so far in Conscientious and, in particular, Amy Letman and the West Yorkshire Playhouse for giving us a Summer Sublets residency which got the project off the ground and essentially has made it a real thing.
See you all at one of these venues in the autumn:
1-2 October – Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/125107/workshop_theatre//
6-7 October – Oxford Playhouse
11 October – Hull Truck
13 October - The Bike Shed
13-14 November – South Hill Park Arts Centre
6 December – Theatre in the Mill, Bradford
I wanted to add my twopen’th about the reported UKIP “sweep to victory" and the savage Facebook backlash we’ve seen in response. This morning, I saw someone use all capital letters to exhibit their distaste. CAPITAL LETTERS.
In fairness, it’s easy-peasy to flock to Facebook and Twitter to admonish the perceived fools of democracy. Indeed, earlier, I posted a video of NOFX’s The Idiots are Taking Over with the headline “Good morning, Britain” (fnar, fnar, “What a wit!” you must be saying whilst crying with laughter). The point is, anyone who follows me or whatever it’s now called on FB is likely to like what I write enough to not unsubscribe from my witterings. Meaning that, broadly, we probably enjoy similar attitudes and political ideologies. I know I’ve de-friended several people for veering away from my safely-left leaning world-view. So, it’s an attempt at back-slapping. Of course it is.
This is a serious issue. The fact that right-wing parties have “done well” across the board in Europe is extremely alarming. And, in particular, UKIP’s success is enormously irritating for anyone who’s ever listened to word anyone from that party has said at any point. But, the shock-face emoticon that the media is chucking all over its front pages is equally irritating. It seems to me that UK newspapers treat right-wing parties and figures like a pan of boiling milk. You want to get it good and hot but there’s that tipping point. Sometimes you manage to save it in time and there’s a satisfaction to seeing the foam recede back into the saucepan. Other times, it overflows and makes a right bloody mess.
What this says to me, this whole damn milky mess, is that we need to demand more. Anyone who pompously and deliberately misunderstands the phrase “protest vote” is, for my money, their own worst enemy. I don’t think a protest vote, for most people, is necessarily a conscious way of saying “Ha! Take THAT Labour and Conservative and the other one!” I think it’s a desperate attempt to tip the scales. I simply mean that it’s clear that people have become so disillusioned with Labour and the Tories that they’re looking elsewhere. Sadly, the options are depressingly limited. The fact that around 64% of people didn’t vote must be indicative of this.
On a slight tangent, I think these non-votes should be taken more seriously. Consciously not voting in elections, whilst is not ideal, should be considered a political act in itself. Perhaps adding a box which says “No confidence in any parties” would inspire more people to more eloquently declare their position. I’d like to see that on a bar graph on the news.
Of course, some people will have actively and thoughtfully voted for UKIP. All I can say in response is that I savagely disagree with your point of view and your politics. All I’ve seen and heard from those quarters is what I consider to be ugly, hypocritical and archaic; a scary future awaits us if that trajectory of success continues (which, if I’m entirely honest, I don’t think it will).
We missed the opportunity for an alternative voting system. That’s a genuine shame. But now we’re stuck with the system we have and the parties “we” have voted for. Does that mean we have to sit and sulk and throw web-shit and the social media wall to see if some of it sticks? Yes and no. Yes, we’ll keep doing that because it allows us to pin our colours to the mast, despite the fact that most of the choir we’re preaching to are singing the same righteous hymn as us.
But I think we must do more. We must be more engaged. We must vote for the parties we want to vote for, not just the lesser of three (now four?) evils. We must research and learn about the parties available to us. We must tell the leaders that we disagree with what they are doing. We must, of course, continue posting Stewart Lee clips and watching and sharing videos of Nigel Farage doing dreadfully in interviews and telling our circles that we hate elitism and prejudice of all and any kind. But, we must also take a more active part in politics. And if we can’t be arsed because The Voice is on, then ok. But it seems to me that a country that can’t be arsed will get the government which reflects this apathy.
Whilst snide Twitter epithets are incredibly therapeutic, I’m put in mind of a conversation that I had with someone I very much respect and admire. In the early days of using Twitter, I said to him “It feels as if it’s quite a left-leaning medium”. He scoffed at this and laughed at my idealism saying, about its inherent selectability “You’re just feeling the elephant’s trunk”. He was right, of course. And while blindfold elephant-trunk feely is a fun game, sometimes we have to look beyond and do something about the things we’re unhappy with.
I realise the irony in posting this, by the way. I’ll now sit and wait for the redundant, self-affirming Likes to come rolling in.
The Spanish for clapperboard is claqueta. I love it. onomatopoeia across borders.
Well. A lot has happened since my last post. I mentioned, earlier in the month, that part of the reason I’m in Madrid on the Arts Across Borders placement involves a personal project. Mine, I decided, would be a screenplay based, in some way, on being a stranger in a foreign place; i.e. me in Spain.
Last Wednesday I met Judith Viloria (pictured), an actor based here in the city. Before meeting her, I’d been playing around with an idea I had and had started pencilling down a framework for.
The idea was a for bilingual short film (or cortometraje en Español). The premise would be that the main character would speak limited English and use this ability to outline a framework of a story using simple sentences, like those one might learn early in a language course. As the film progressed, though, the idea would be that the story would be fleshed our using Spanish.
Judith has been an amazing to work with - even this early into the process. She has agreed to be involved in the project and, more excitingly, will be ad-libbing dialogue based on the narrative framework I provide, including translations of key lines which I outline in pre-shoot meetings.
I’ve managed to finish a first draft of a script and we actually begin filming some of the scenes tomorrow. It’s all happened incredibly swiftly - but I’ve been working really hard on the concept and the idea.
As someone whose Spanish is improving but still very limited, part of what I’m interested in capturing is the non-linguistic communication that film provides. We can see that a character is passionate /upset/angry/delighted in their body language. And with languages which share many roots of words there are crossovers and familiarities which, again, will allow us to tune into the content without being fluent.
I’m curious to see how much of the narrative is clear to a non-Spanish speaking audience. How much is lost or gained because of a “language barrier”. In fact, seeing the lack of linguistic clarity as a positive and a fact which necessitates other means by which to tell a story.
The only lines which will be subtitled in English when Judith is speaking in Spanish will be those lines which have already been spoken, earlier, in English. So, they’ll provide a little more context but no more linguistic content. To be clear, then, although Judith’s English is outstanding, I’ll be directing her mainly as she speaks in a language that I am far (far) from being fluent in.
My experience in Spain, so far, has been so wonderful. My inability to communicate clearly, eloquently, intelligently in another language is both frustrating and fascinating. It’s part of the impetus for the script.
I’m really thrilled to have the space and time to work on this project. The title of the film is Sueño con una tarde de verano (I Dream of a Summer Night)*. I look forward to reporting on its progress.
Thanks so much to Sean, Katie, Nicky and Jennifer from the programme who’ve all offered to help to make the film. It’s very much appreciated - I can’t wait to work with you all! Thanks, too, to Belen and Carmen at Una Mas Una who have been amazing and supportive and keep going above and beyond to help us all!
* The actual translation is “I dream of a summer evening” but, linguistically, it doesn’t make sense to say sueño con una noche de verano in Spanish because ‘noche/night’, unlike in English, would not be used interchangeably with evening.
At the end of our Arts Across Borders placement, many of the participants will be showcasing some of our work. Huge thanks and credit to musician Catherine Wallace (also on the placement) for organising and establishing a fantastic contact at lightning speed, we’ll be holding the event at Espacio Oculto in Usera, Madrid.
Yesterday we met with Carmen (pictured) who works at and runs the space. She has been extremely helpful from the word go and is helping us to put together what we hope will be a great evening of entertainment and art.
It’s such a brilliant, exciting place with so much potential. It’s great to see a space where artists can bring their work and ideas to the wider public. Regardless of the financial cuts and troubles, Madrid is clearly a city which hungers for art in all its forms. There’s a great appreciate, respect and sense of nurturing when artists are concerned.
The event (as yet untitled) will include musicians (Catherine among them), visuals and film. There will also be workshops in the run-up to the week (ncluding a life drawing class and a miniature model-making session). My film short Closet will be showcased on the night, too. It will, in effect, be its international premiere which is really quite exciting.
More details as they come …
One of the great joys of being in a new city is discovery. Often, it’s a real pleasure to just get lost and allow yourself to meander and wander until you find a familiar landmark or tempting-looking bar. But, I love the stories that cities have to offer. So, the free tour offered by New Europe was a perfect way to get to know Madrid and also learn a few tales and legends along the way.
After a hearty, early lunch (paella followed by fried fish followed by a brownie with a free beer, all for €12. Crikey) we headed to the Plaza de Mayor where we met Eduardo, our impossibly energetic and brilliantly passionate tour guide.
As well as showing us some of the major sights of the centre of the city, Eduardo told us many stories about the history of key landmarks. I don’t want to spoil the tour for anyone so I’ll only include one aspect of one story: possibly my favourite little tale involved the statue in the centre of the square…
As a political message to the monarchy in the early stages of Franco’s dictatorship, the statue of King Philip III was pulled down. However, when the structure hit the ground it broke open to reveal hundreds of bird carcasses and skeletons. When it was originally built, the mouth of the horse was left uncovered and the body of the statue, hollow. This allowed the birds to fly inside but many could not find their way our and became entombed in the belly of the horse.
This meant that there was a deathly smell pervading the air of the square and the source was only discovered after the statue collapsed and broke open to reveal the macabre mess.
One element of my placement here in Madrid is a personal project. I’ve opted to write a screenplay for a short film. It’s little tales like this; small tidbits of local knowledge which are getting the brain cogs oiled and moving. I’m very excited to start sketching down ideas for what will eventually (I hope) be a piece of film inspired by my time in this increasingly intriguing place.
Incidentally, I’d highly recommend the walking tour to anyone and, if you do decided to do it, I hope that you get Eduardo who was as cheerful as he was informative. The tour itself is free but the guides are freelance and you’re encouraged to make a donation/give a tip at the end. I think you’ll be happy to, too.
Later in the evening, after a stroll through Malasaña, a few of the group went on a cable car (teleférico) up towards Lago. It was a pretty cool journey up and Madrid was lit by the gorgeous sunset. Annoyingly, though, the viewing platform was closed when we arrived. It’s slightly confusing and difficult to keep up with the Easter opening and closing times. But, this will level out next week.
It was really nice to spend the day as a tourist in my temporary new home. The next step will be to make my own discoveries.
The past couple of days have been an intense baptism of just some of the museums and art spaces in Madrid. It’s been fascinating to see a little of the world of Spanish arts and culture. On Tuesday, Laura from The Spanish Culture Network gave us an in-depth talk which touched on the bureaucracy, cuts and difficulties the sector has faced over the past few years. Here in Spain, changes in government usually mean changes in policy where arts and culture are concerned. It’s quite familiar and echoes what we’ve seen in the UK (only perhaps more extreme and confusing, certainly to an outsider).
Despite this, though, the arts scene appears to be bustling; an explosive diversity of forms which you only need to turn your head one way or the other to notice in Madrid. There are festivals galore, even in the ten weeks that we’re spending here. It feels a little like being at an ongoing Fringe festival.
One thing which stuck in my mind was how difficult it is to be a freelancer. There are multiple hoops to jump through and, it seems, endless forms to complete. Rather than go over it all in this post, I’ll include a link to a short film called 036. It’s a brilliant little picture which nicely captures the seemingly Orwellian farce of trying to go it alone as a freelancer.
Here’s the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXWZ3uAEKsw
We’ve been spoiled with free tickets and guided tours of both Tabacalera, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. A highlight was seeing an enormous showcase of Dali originals (I’m quite a fan) and, of course, Picasso’s Guernica in all of its massive glory. One of the most curious aspects was the constant crowd which was gathered in front of the painting. It seemed to be an unmoving, constant mass of people. I wondered how much was reputation and how much appreciation of the artwork itself.
We’ve also already found a favourite eatery, too. At Museo de Jamon (literally translated, Museum of Ham), you can get a generous sandwich (bocadillo) and a good-sized glass of beer for just €1.70. It’s like a butcher’s shop with a bar and it seems to always be full of hungry and thirsty Madridians (I’m not convinced that’s the correct term). You barely have to walk a few yards to spot places which offer cheap (but quality) food and drink. It’s just brilliant. And a little dangerous to waistline and wallet.
Yesterday involved a squid sandwich, an acrobatics circus and more cheap tapas and tankards of Spanish beer. Today, mostly, involves sitting down and a battle with a headache. Totally worth it.
Why don’t you come over here? We’ve got a city to love.
It’s almost impossible to get a feel of a new city in the first few hours. Luckily, my Arts Across Borders placement brings me to Madrid for ten weeks. I’ll be working with a cool gent called Victor Berlin at the Archivo PLAT film archive. I’d advise you to have a look at some of the cinema on the website. You have to sift through to find the movies with English subtitles but some of them are real beauties.
My partner Anna and I are living with Paula, a performance artist from London/Washington/Berlin (and other places she’s forgotten). Our apartment is great. Nice and large but still with a cosy edge. The immediate area is charming and, we’re told, a pretty great place to live. Everyone on our Wave is great. They all have a different set of skills and areas of specialism. It’s going to be fantastic to see their personal projects blossom as the weeks go on.
Yesterday, we got to know Belen, Irene and Carmen from host organisation Una Mas Una. After taking us through lots of the city basics and necessary hangouts and tapas goldmines, we took a walk to the Matedero. This incredible architectural archipelago in the south of the city used to be a slaughterhouse until the mid-80s. In fact, the shells of the buildings remain practically untouched and the interiors only conservatively upgraded.
It’s a place for arts and artists. There’s not really a more simple (or better) way to put it. A hub of creative activity and output. It’s a place I hope to spend more time in and learn more about as the weeks go along.
We had tapas and beer for lunch. It was 11 euros. I had these breaded mushroom things which were incredible. Then some steak. On a Monday lunchtime. I think I’m going to fall for Madrid early in the relationship.
I’ve just come out of a fascinating meeting…
You might remember that in summer I blogged a few times about the progress of a piece of writing I was working on as part of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Summer Sublets residency. Well, in autumn this year, that play (Conscientious), will be touring regionally in the UK. I’m absolutely thrilled.
The production is the story of Rebekah who, after a traumatising experiencing being bullied in her first ever job, turns to the journals of her grandfather, a First World War conscientious objector, for guidance and a way out of her new dead-end lifestyle. It’s a monologue which will performed by Rachel Ashwanden, directed by Alex Chisholm and produced by Milan Govedarica.
Today I met with Cyril Pearce, a retired senior lecturer, an author and, as I’ve discovered, an astonishing source of insight and information on the subject of Conscientious Objectors. It’s important to me, and everyone involved with the play, the our CO has not just a credible but a believable and engaging story. We want his plight to be a real one and his political choices to chime with those of real objectors during the war.
Rebekah’s story and the choices she makes in the play are tied inextricably to her great-grandfather’s beliefs and stance. Being able to speak to Cyril and hear real stories is absolutely invaluable. Not only this, but to discuss the philosophy of pacifism with someone who is an expert (and a passionate one) on this complicated and layered part of history has been a thrilling aspect of the research and re-drafting process.
I’m so grateful to Cyril for his time and assistance. He has helped us to transform our CO from words on a page into a fully-formed and (I hope) intriguing character.
Below is the trailer for Conscientious. Look out for it this autumn and come along to one of the dates! Thanks to Jon Foxley-Evans (film editor) and Adam Jareh (sound design) for their work on the trailer.
Last night, during a pretty heady conversation with my friend Nick about tattoos of people’s faces, my phone signal disappeared. As a preternatural worrier, I though it was just me. That I’d been struck off EE’s books for chatting too much nonsense to busy people and sending inane texts and WhatsApp messages to friends who don’t exist in the freelance bubble I now occupy (I work very hard … just not always when you do).
When I arrived home, flustered and to the warm embrace of my WiFi, I took to Twitter. Thank the digital lord, it wasn’t just me. People in their dozens from the Leeds area were berating EE for the apparent signal outage. Oh, the sweet comfort of sharing misfortune with others (OURdenfreude?)
My signal was down from 7pm-ish til after 3am (I woke in the night and glanced at my phone to see what time it was). This morning, all was fixed and I’ve been cracking on as usual. For me, it was hardly the most necessary of time periods to make or take phone calls. So, practically speaking, no biggie.
But something unsettled me about this whole C21st circumstance. Yesterday, as well as the temporary/relative digital blackout, I also learned that during my 10 week arts placement in Madrid (which is coming up in April) I won’t have WiFi in my apartment. Nor will I have 3 or 4G on my phone, lest a mortgage for the costs of which I wish to out-taketh. So, it may be tricky to communicate in all of the ways I usually would. It caused several hours of stress and a little anxiety and much bi-lingual Googling of sim card deals (I’m uni-lingual) en España.
On Twitter, EE responded quite merrily with images of Gremlins and Dawson from Dawson’s Creek crying his eyes out. Initially, I was impressed with this and had a wee chuckle about their bon viveur attitude to a mini catastrophe. But some of the responses from people (talking about ill mothers in hospital, being on call from work, having a partner about to go into/in labour) made me reconsider.
This is an obvious thing to say: I think we need our phones. We need 3G and 4G and as 5G approaches at (presumably) breakneck speed, we’ll need that, too. I communicate, more than ever and more than I ever assumed I would, via things like Facebook chat, WhatsApp and Twitter. I’m not particularly proud nor ashamed of this, but there it is. And, another thing, it makes me feel good to send a daft message to a good friend. Or a photo. Or a video of me waiting for some chicken to defrost (true story).
And, crucially, I’m running a small business. I need people to be able to get hold of me by whatever means they deem to be least inconvenient for them. Who cares if my network is down? They need a photographer lickety-split! It’s fair enough, too; modern life is nothing if not fast. Who among us has not set aside a lunch hour to call the bank only to find the lines down and to take it as a viciously-personal affront to us and a callous lack of consideration for our diminishing “free” time?
Five years ago, I could have happily gone on a two week holiday and not even consider checking my emails or Facebook. But now, with the ubiquitous red 1/2/8/49/107 flag telling us someone urgently needs us to see their online correspondence (let’s not underestimate the power of the colour red in this context, nor the draw of that particularly needy icon) I actually think I’d struggle. Also, I have a growing compulsion to share what I’m doing. Not in a tedious or obnoxious way (I hope … right guys?) but just, I don’t know, put up a photo or two. Or make a (much repeated, I’m sure) comment about where I find myself in the world. Sentimental crap, mostly, or attempts at being humourous. But it’s what we do nowadays. Right guys?
My thought is: should we have something in place as a backup? Some mechanisms by which to cope? The next time my network goes down and I do, indeed, need to be contactable for an important, even vital, reason - what can I do to make sure this is possible? Carrier pigeon?
I think we’ve come too far to simply say “We should stop being so reliant on our smartphones and the internet”. I agree with that sentiment. But in order not to be cut out of the majority of the social circles that I enjoy being a part of, it’s not really on the cards. But, equally, things mess up. Systems fail, networks crash, people make enormous mistakes. What precautions are available to us if communication now, now, NOW is a vital part of our lives?
I think it’s fair to refer to Trinity as Leeds’ hottest new food hangout. But that is selling it short because, to be honest, there’s little competition. The atmosphere of the place is great; at once shambolic and street-foodish and neon-funky. It’s somewhere you want to be. Somewhere fun to meet with friends. And with some many scrummy options available, why wouldn’t you make this a permanent part of your Leeds adventures?
As well as the permanent fixtures, the space allows for temporary retailers to ply their tasty wares around the edges. On Monday this week it was all change; out with the old and in with the new. And there are some exceptionally exciting choices to be made, I can tell you!
Fish& is a place I’m already sold on. A regular on the streets of Leeds and at many events, the time-honoured fish and chips favourite is given a mild kick in the pants to bring it up to speed. The food is simple, familiar and difficult to top. That’s two fish and chip places in one space. It’ll be interesting to see how that head-to-head plays out.
Original Fry Up Material was a tempting option. Fry ups and burgers. What more is there to (a very unhealthy) life? The nosh is made in front of you on a BBQ-style grill and the chaps were in high spirits, despite how busy they clearly were. I’ll be heading back here, for sure. I’m particularly enticed by the Sweetsmoke burger which includes whiskey cured bacon. Ok. You got me. Let’s dance.
Next up, you’ve got the lovely folks at Crepe Lucette. Aside from the good old Nutella fest and the sugar and lemon classic, these fryne folks (that was supposed to be a pun on “fine” and “fry”. Didn’t work) are serving up specials with ingredients such as hot smoked salmon and beef bourguignon. Holy moly.
Donostia Social Club, in their cool blue van, dish up some amazing-looking tapas. There’s the option to sit at the “bar”, too, and pretend you’re chowing down in the Basque country. Meats, cheeses, chilled gazpacho and hot pintxos. What more could one hungry belly want?
After much pacing and much drooling, we decided to go for Dogtown Hotdog Co. Let me explain why: A Giant Bock (“mahoosive pork bockwurst”), add-on beef and bone marrow chilli and a side of Tater Tots*. That’s why. And my word was it delicious.
I’ve actually become suspicious of places who specialise in one item of fast food (burgers, hotdogs etc). In my experience, this simply allows them to churn out plate after plate of what should be high-quality, perfected food but is disappointing, neglected, over-cooked and under cared for. Not so with Dogtown. Our order was our order. The staff were polite, attentive and - best of all - excited about our choices. The food was unbelievably tasty, too.
I love the atmosphere at Trinity Kitchen. And the variety of food not only speaks but sings to me. If I had a complaint it would be the pricing. It’s not as if the meals are extortionate. They’re really, really not. And if you’re making a night of it, they’re actually very reasonable. But, if I’m nipping to Trinity (or through, even) to pick something up, I’m unlikely to stop at the Kitchen to eat because I may only have £3 rattling around my pocket.
I’m very hopeful, though, of deals and specials. This place is tremendously exciting for foodies and shoppers alike. Get yourself down to Trinity Kitchen as a Christmas treat. Yum. YUM!
*Do you remember Oven Crunchies? Ok. Tater Tots are Oven Crunchies. Massive revelation and a filling-in of some American culture knowledge gaps.