Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sorry, I still don’t give a toss about Banksy  Aug 24 2015

When famous hip-hop artists gather together a group of their pals to release a collaboration album, people tend to see it for what it is: a lazy attempt to test the customer’s intelligence to see if anyone knows the difference between art and commercialized tosh.

And so on to Banksy’s latest offering, Dismaland. Banksy has gathered together a few Brit art brand names in Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer to offer his “take” on a theme park.

As we’re left to digest yet another bombastic, overblown piece of Brit art, it’s worth asking: who is this all for? With Dismaland, Banksy presents us with a visceral, raw and minimalistic take on a theme park, but ultimately nothing we haven’t seen before from him. It’s trademark Banksy: reheated socialism, ‘challenging’ juxtapositions, obligatory out of context references to Gaza. It’s the artistic equivalent of a Che Guevara poster hanging in a student dorm.

Banksy just doesn’t do changing things up. His work is constantly looking in the rearview mirror, oozing concern for the same distant marginalized groups as ever while overlooking how compromised he is. Speak up for homeless migrants in the Med or faceless peasants in Gaza while striking a licensing deal with Topman. It’s all incredibly calculated to make people feel good about themselves while lining Banksy’s pockets.

And there’s the orgiastic, bilious self-promotion. The anti-promotional campaign. The story ‘leaked’ to the local newspapers. The website with the ‘ironic’ upside down shopping cart that repeatedly crashed when people tried to book. As with most anti-marketing campaigns, it was all incredibly coordinated if you know where to look for it. It’s almost no surprise to see a new Banksy released with little-or-no warning because that is what Banksy does.

It’s just all a little too studious. If Banksy were setting himself up as an entrepreneurial artist, an empire builder, Brit Art’s answer to Jay-Z, it would be easy to admire him for that. He would at least be owning the fact that Banksy is a brand for hire. Banksy is an incredibly effective commercial operator with a strong back catalog.

Instead, he’s setting himself up as Kanye. He’s trying to be the change-maker, bringing awareness. But real change-makers don’t drop in occasionally with a half-formed thought, they are incessant in pushing for change. It all comes over as a bit half-arsed. It undoubtedly garners attention, but judged by the standards of an actual campaigner for change has a limited impact.

In two weeks, Dismaland will move on, leaving an unloved seaside resort arguably in a worse state than when he arrived. He’ll be another couple of hundred thousand dollars richer, and nothing will have changed. Genuine artistic integrity we can all applaud, but this seems to be yet another attempt to enrich brand Banksy on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Oh, and make sure you visit the gift shop on the way out.

Acting School  Aug 23 2015

Those of you that know me reasonably well will know that I’m doing more formal training to be an actor at the moment. It’s always been a life goal of mine, and I’ve seen it very much as a now or never kind of thing.

I’ve got my career going; I’ve got the money to go out and learn properly. I also don’t want to be looking back in twenty years thinking “I wish I’d done something about that acting thing.”

A couple of reflections on my acting training so far:

Acting is hard

I did wake up a couple of years ago thinking that I could act. Then I tried reading a script and came over wooden as hell. There’s a weird skill in pretending to be someone else, as though no one else is watching, without consciously pretending to be someone else.

Developing empathy for someone you’ve never seen, met, or spoken to is incredibly tough, and needs a lot of script reading. But if you do too much, the words tend to lose all meaning, and it’s worse than if you did none at all.

Acting school is harder than it looks

Even harder than pretending someone else is watching someone pretend to be someone else and be coached on it.

Everyone has different strengths, and it’s so easy to see the weaknesses in everyone else’s technique without thinking about what you would bring to the role yourself.

When I see people who are uncomfortable with stand-up or improv try to do stand up, or people who are uncomfortable with character roles try to do intense scenes, you notice the flaws.

Talking about acting is not the same as acting

One thing that’s always struck me about self-styled ‘coaches’ in any profession is how few of them are memorable in any way.

Think of the zillions of people advising on how to do ‘online marketing’ etc. How many of them do you look to for advice, vs. how many are just repeating what other people (their employer) tell them?

Acting gets harder the more you do

I see some people who just look over trained. There are people who I see who have been acting a couple of years whose performances look like they’re trying to act.

I wonder if a thing that comes with coaching is that something switches on in you saying “Okay, I’m acting now.” I want to stay feeling like it’s quite natural and automatic.

It does rub off on other areas of your life

I can say that I’ve become a lot more aware of how I hold my body, how I’m breathing, and how I’m presenting myself since I started doing acting training properly.

There’s a magnetism to it that I’m really enjoying at the moment.

Polari, the lost language of British gay men  Aug 23 2015

It’s amazing how far we have come. Polari was a language spoken by gay men in England, so they could speak together in public without worrying about being arrested. Lesbians, female impersonators, theatre people, prostitutes and sea-queens also spoke it. Chris Bryant’s Polari magazine nods to the language in its title.

Polari was typically spoken in private gay drinking establishments, the theatre, and the British merchant navy. However, it was not limited to London, and was heard in many other UK cities. Because it was a secret language, it could also be used in public spaces, such as on the Tube.

The language offered a form of protection and secrecy – outsiders wouldn’t be able to know what you were talking about, and it allowed gay people to conceal their sexuality. It made it possible for people to construct a form of reality based on their own values, and to give names to things that mainstream culture just hadn’t recognised.

It’s not surprising, then, that the language has fallen into disuse. Today’s gay drinking establishments increasingly resemble straight drinking establishments, the need for people to conceal their sexuality makes ‘Discreet Only’ on Grindr seem like the exception rather than the norm, and the final taboo for mainstream culture has been broken with the legalisation of gay marriage.

Current attitudes toward Polari vary more than you would expect. Some people think that the language is silly and outdated, while others see it as an important part of gay heritage. I sit somewhere in the middle: there’s no doubt that gay culture is changing and becoming more mainstream, but it’s unclear that this is a bad thing. Cutting ourselves off from the outside world only marginalizes us.

This short film, by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston features a conversation conducted entirely in Polari:

Update: @brokenbottleboy has pointed out that Polari wasn’t just an English thing, and he’s right. It’s a British thing, and I’ve amended the title accordingly.

Empathy and the Decision to Postpone ‘Homegrown’  Aug 21 2015

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This post originally appeared on Huffington Post

 

“I feel we need to start a conversation.”

That was the guiding thought behind my decision to start a Change.org petition to reinstate Homegrown, a National Youth Theatre production that was due to be staged in London this month. The play would have explored the motivations of people, particularly young people, who abscond to join Islamic State.

The decision by the NYT to postpone the play has unleashed a firestorm of debate within the artistic community about censorship. But this is about more than the arts – it’s about the kind of Britain that we want to be.

As I thought about the decision to postpone the play, I thought about all the young actors and actresses who will be denied the opportunity to test themselves against the more challenging material.

I thought about what the arts would look like in the future, if it was not allowed to provoke, to challenge, to question.

In acting (and I’m an actor myself), we’re often encouraged to view single events through a wider lens. Acting is often about stepping inside the shoes of another.

And what has hit me from the responses to the petition is how many people, in signing their support for this play, want to do just that. They want to step inside the shoes of the schoolgirls.

They want to understand what would drive someone to want to join Islamic State. Not out of any desire to punish an ideology or people, or to provoke conflict – they simply wish to understand.

They want to know what causes people to reject British values – the values we take for granted – so comprehensively that they would go and join a murderous cult opposed to British values.

The sentiment resonates with people: how on earth did it come to this?

It’s true: in an ideal world, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The people of the East End of London have stood together to reject violent extremism before, and will do so again.

But today, we’re faced with a situation where every half term schoolgirls, and in some cases entire families are travelling to Syria and joining Islamic State.

The news story may have moved on, but it’s a far bigger story than the number of people queued up in Calais risking their lives to get to Britain.

That we have failed so comprehensively to allow the people involved to feel like Britain is a home for them should be a source of deep shame for everyone involved. It asks awkward questions of us as a people.

There’s a popular fallacy that if you leave beliefs such as this unexplored; if you brush them under the carpet, they will somehow disappear. That the underlying issues will resolve themselves if the unsayable is left unsaid.

But we know this isn’t true. We know that bullying and intimidation and resentment are all allowed to fester when good people stand by and abdicate their responsibilities.

As a country, we are grown up enough to have this conversation. We can handle, and face down, the cold hard slap in the face that violent extremism presents.

We’re brave enough to understand the causes, as well as the consequences of extremism. We’re ready to have that debate around every street, every dinner table, and every theatre lobby.

We need plays like Homegrown, and we need writers and directors as brave as Nadia Latif and Omar El-Khairy to write and produce them.

The moment we stop having these conversations, we lose our ability to empathise, and that’s not just bad for the acting community, it’s bad for British society as a whole.

What You Love Vs What You Do  Aug 13 2015

What you love and what you do doesn’t have to be the same thing.

Sometimes it’s possible to be really good at something, be paid well for it, but not love it.

It’s possible for that thing that you’re really good at to not be how you want to be remembered.

It doesn’t mean that you hate it – it’s just not what you love doing, and not what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Most businesspeople are not prepared to accept this as a possibility: it’s apparently not enough to give your life, your soul, your best years to the man, you’ll damn well love doing it too.

Even if what you happen to be paid to do is put numbers into a spreadsheet, send email spam, or make coffee.

It’s bullshit. It’s a squalid existence and in 15 years they’ll regret those years of writing “passionate about [work thing]” in their Twitter bio and living someone else’s life.

All of that time feigning being “passionate about [work thing]” could have been productively spent being actually passionate about something else.

An alternative – take the capitalist system at face value, get paid an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and use that to fund what you really love doing.

You don’t have to love or be passionate about work. Both of those are constructs designed to make you give more of yourself than the employer is entitled to take.

Do what you do, do it well, and use it to fund something you really enjoy. The rest is fluff designed to keep you in your box.

 

I live in Bethnal Green. Homegrown needs to go ahead.  Aug 05 2015

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The National Youth Theatre has recently been forced to cancel a play exploring the motives behind radicalised young people exploring Islamic State less than two weeks before it was due to open.

Homegrown, a National Youth Theatre production, was originally going to run at a school in Bethnal Green but was moved after pressure from Tower Hamlets Council. Yesterday, NYT confirmed that the play would not run at all.

I live in Bethnal Green and study drama. I don’t know what causes teenagers to be radicalised and join Islamic State. But I do think it’s important that we have a conversation about it.

Young people being radicalised is one of the most important issues we face in Britain today. It pricks our conscience and challenges the sense that the Britain we think we know – one of democracy, the rule of law, and tolerance – works well for everyone living here.

As a resident of Bethnal Green, I’m keenly aware that there are people who, perhaps sleeping in bedrooms yards away from me, do not share a desire to stay in this country. And that pains me.

The arts exist to challenge and open up a dialogue about sensitive subjects. They’re there to bring sensitive, taboo topics out into the open and provide a forum for discussion. They force us to question our deeply-held assumptions and beliefs.

They ask us to set aside prejudice, what we’ve read in the media and think for ourselves. And make no mistake – that is the level at which the debate about radicalisation needs to be.

It’s especially important that young actors are given space to tackle challenging, sensitive material too.

But really, this comes down to two P’s, principle and precedent:

Principle: the battle against radicalization isn’t going to be fought in Whitehall, by imams, by the commentariat or by self-appointed community leaders. It needs to happen on a household-by-household basis; around our dinner tables, in our living rooms, and yes – in our theatres too!

Precedent: the closing of Homegrown is part of a wider, national trend for censorship of the arts. A show by Israeli company Incubator Theatre was cancelled at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the face of escalating protests in August 2014. The Barbican’s performance art installation Exhibit B also closed under similar circumstances in October.

It’s vital that we continue our proud British artistic tradition of no subject being considered taboo continues, and I call upon UCL Academy in North London to reinstate Homegrown.

I’ve started a petition on Change.org which you can sign here.

The Michael Johnson Case Shows Racism Is Still Rife In The #LGBT community  Jul 29 2015

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Michael L. Johnson, a black former college wrestler, was sentenced to thirty years this week for knowingly infecting a partner with HIV.

The prosecutors argued that he’d committed a crime by not telling his partners he had HIV.

You know why this case depresses me? It shows just how far we have to go in addressing racism in the LGBT community.

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Here are some facts about this case. Racism on Grindr exists, and very little is done to stamp it out. You see dozens of profiles saying “Not into blacks or Asians.”

You just do, and Grindr doesn’t appear to care enough to stamp it out.

Secondly, Johnson’s accused, according to Steven Thrasher’s BuzzFeed investigation, wanted to have sex with him because he was “well-endowed,” “huge” and “only his third black guy.”

He clearly wanted some BBC.

Third, the partner had sex with him another time even after he thought he may have already contracted HIV from him.

Only when the partner found out that he definitely did have HIV did he turn to the criminal justice system. It’s very much the partner saying “Fuck you, I’m feeling hurt, I’m feeling resentful, I’m going to put you in prison.” And it worked.

So the partner wanted him for his BBC but was very quick to play the “violent black criminal” card when it suited.

And the media laps up that narrative. Check out this quote from the Daily Mail:

During the hearing, a victim spoke up and said, ‘He will infect people for his sick purposes.’

The accompanying photos are all Johnson in wife-beaters looking muscular too. The ‘King Kong’ implication is obvious.

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But there’s not a shred of truth to it. There’s no evidence that this was a deliberate action. Or that the Johnson seduced them in any way – his partner wanted to be with a black guy, and had sex with him twice.

In fact, there’s no evidence that this was anything other than poor judgment. Newsflash – drunken bareback is not uncommon in the gay community.

I ask myself though, would a white dude have landed in jail for similar poor judgment?

Think on that the next time you say your racist profile on a dating app is just ‘expressing a preference.’

Inside Out: So Good, I Hope Pixar Never Make A Sequel  Jul 26 2015

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At its very best, film has the power to transcend human experience and tell truths about ourselves that we couldn’t have imagined. In life, we experience emotion second- or third- hand; the defining quality of emotions are their ability to evade capture or analysis.

Inside Out is an elegant and fantastical film that takes us to places where Pixar films rarely go, inviting us to draw our conclusion. The film is set in the mind of 11-year-old Riley Andersen and San Francisco, where Riley’s father has moved from the Northern Midwest.

From the outset, Riley struggles to adjust, and her five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Disgust – try to make sense of the upheaval. If it sounds like an ambitious concept for a kids’ film, it is. Every experience Riley has launches an orb (it’s not exactly clear where from) corresponding to the relevant emotion into Riley’s brain.

The first emotion that Riley has, as a newborn baby gazing into her parent’s eyes, is a joyful one, and it’s clear that Joy sees herself as the ringleader.

The film meditates on youth, on childhood, and on depression, arriving at a conclusion that anyone who has ever suffered from sadness will know: that sadness has an important role in processing change.

Not that this is apparent at first: “This is sadness, I’m not sure what she does,” emotes Joy early on. For many of the young audience of the film struggling with similar changes, the film will seem eerily prescient. For older people, it will invite reflection on their younger years.

As the move is happening, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) starts to make her presence felt more, touching some of Riley’s existing memories, ensuring that they become tinged with Sadness. Joy objects and both of them, after a scrap, end up banished to Riley’s long-term memory, leaving Anger, Disgust and Fear to run the show.

It’s all so brilliantly constructed – nothing defines an 11-year-old girl more than anger, fear and disgust. The joy of childhood does tend to be banished, and Sadness does tend to be pushed away.

And yet, the ingenious construction belies the fact that it is, underneath, a fairly standard Pixar movie-by-numbers. For all the joy that Joy and Sadness’ masterfully conceived romp through Riley’s subconscious gives us, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that we
are being lead on rails towards a conclusion.

It’s all there: the house move, the annoying friend who saves the day, the man left behind, the child who looks slightly like E.T.. It’s a sense that you’ve been told this story before a few times, with rearranged building blocks. Some have pointed to Up and Monster’s Inc as companion pieces, but I’m not sure that’s it.

Inside Out is such a powerful allegory on depression and sadness, it would be a shame to see it now retold, rehashed and reheated into Inside Out 2 and 3. You sense that Pixar have ambitions to tell Riley’s story at different stages of her life, but that may end up diminishing the power of the original.

Like childhood, Pixar would do well to leave the film behind.