Monday, 29 February 2016

On the Vile Arts Radio Show Tonight: Ruxy Cantir

The Vile Arts is back on Subcity Radio and, thank God, he has guests. Drew Taylor is a familiar voice, so we'll get to him later. But check this out...

or listen here...

Actually, by my standards, this is a pretty great show... sure, I manage to mess up the music cues and do my usual boast about how I know Red Bastard. But both Drew and Ruxy are great guests, and cover for my rudeness, bad research and general silliness. 

Ruxy Cantir is a theatre artist born and

raised in Moldova (Eastern Europe). This provided her with a grotesque sense of humour, boney elbows, and a desire to celebrate the odd and the unusual. 

She creates original physical theatre in ensemble and by herself, and believes in the full physical gesture as the epitome of human expression. She is inspired by transformation, highly physical comedy, and embarrassing stories. She strives to create imaginative intensity-filled original work that explores the bizarre manifestations of our fears and desires. Most of her work falls somewhere between styles like Clown, Vaudeville, Physical Comedy, and Movement theatre.
Ruxy received her B.A. in Theatre Arts at Furman University (South Carolina, USA) and her M.F.A. in Ensemble Based Physical Theatre at Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre (California) where she came into her own as an “actor-creator,” a mover, and a community arts project lover. She also trained at LAMDA in their Summer Intensive and Physical Theatre Workshops, and David Diamond's Theatre for LivingWorkshop.

Ruxy moved to Glasgow, Scotland in November 2015.

Lorna Over Lanarkshire...

I know it is a secret code, but the Law of Critic Club begins with 'don't discuss the play until you have written your review'. This is especially useful when leaving a production, because I never know whether the director's partner is standing beside me as I announce 'that was a big load of shit.'

Having said that, I can't wait to discuss plays with Lorna Irvine. If you haven't been reading her reviews, get wise. It's not just that we've been working together for years now, or that I can pretend to be her boss on The List. Lorna's perspective is fresh, witty and she frequently points out themes that I miss. There are at least half a dozen theatre companies who need to go round her house with flowers and chocolates to thank her for her insights.

It's not just the quality and frequency of her writing that makes her important. Lorna's ability to recognise the gender subtexts in theatre is superb. I am always banging on about diversity of voices, and Lorna combines a distinctive identity with the kind of attitude that some people call objective. It's not objective - no such thing, thanks - but it is generous and clear. 

She has been working over at Tempo House for the past month or so, and her work-rate is astonishing. There are supposed to be some other collaborators on the site (naming no names), but she is giving the site an identity and purpose. Okay, she is my friend and all, but she's starting to scare me into working harder. 

She also came up with the headline...

Kaned Again

Sarah died for your sins.

Enter Sarah and Gareth. They are shackled together. Naked, they recall the Rider Waite Tarot card of The Devil.

Sarah: Do you trust me? 

Gareth: Yes. But why? 

Sarah: You trust me because I write so well. You trust me because you recognise the things I describe. 

Gareth: I don’t recognise this place. 

Sarah: It’s a university. 

Gareth: It looks like a concentration camp. 

Sarah: What’s the difference?

Black out. Loud electronic music. Lights up, The Red Room. Grace is having sex with her brother, while a retarded boy, in a dress, swings from the ceiling on a pair of tights. 

Black out. Loud electronic music. Lights up. Sarah and Gareth again.

Gareth: An hour and a half’s a bit long for this. 

Sarah: Too weak to take it? 

Gareth: It’s a good idea to read out the stage directions rather to act them. It saves the actors having to actually mutilate themselves. 

Sarah: Why do you insist on considering Cleansed as a play? My pain transcends theatre. I am on the point of transforming the script into something like your beloved Live Art. 

Gareth: You were consciously copying other authors. Edward Bond. Beckett. You even used Shakespeare to defend your stage directions. Just because you were clinically depressed didn’t mean that you weren’t literary. 

Sarah: So how many stars are you going to give me?

Black out. Loud electronic music. Lights up, The White Room. Tinker and a gay male couple.

Tinker: I’m a doctor. I’m not a doctor. I hate women. 

Gay Male Couple: We understand that sado-masochism is not a matter of whips and chains, but the deeper torments of the mind. One of us ends up dead, the other loses hands, feet and tongue. 

Tinker: We are all symbols of internal and external expression. I might be God.

Black out. Sarah and Gareth.

Gareth: Do you remember when we met at The Scala cinema, In King’s Cross? 

Sarah: They were showing Pasolini’s Salo. I was the only woman in the audience. 

Gareth: And I was the only man not wearing a mackintosh and furtively touching himself. 

Sarah: You were a boy. 

Gareth: You could have stayed the next morning. 

Sarah: How would it have been different? 

Gareth: You might still be here. 

Sarah: Because I needed you? And I’d be writing adaptations of classics for the NTS. 


Sarah: Would you have died for me? 

Gareth: I would have said that I would. 

Sarah: From the man who lasted nine seconds when he was waterboarded.

Black out. Lights up. The chocolate room. The retarded boy is eating an entire box of chocolates to a loud, swirling soundtrack.


Black out. Lights up. Gareth and Sarah.

Gareth: Is it true that Tinker was named after a critic from The Daily Mail? 

Sarah: These days, I’d write a witty acoustic song about it and put it on YouTube. 

Gareth: We don’t do sincerity in the twenty-first century. 

Sarah: That’s why you don’t have any good script-writers. 

Gareth: You know, they were just boys. You needed an older lover, et c. 

Sarah: I needed God. And He’s dead. 

Gareth: This is your worst play. 

Sarah: And so my most honest. 

Gareth: It needs to be under-played.

Black out. Lights up. The Yellow room. Sounds of amputation, and screams. Grace is naked, with tits and a cock.

Grace: (sings) All you love is need. All you love is need. Need, need: need is all you love.

Black out. Lights up. Gareth and Sarah.

Sarah: It’s not as bad as my version of Hippolytus

Gareth: You hadn’t bothered to read the original. 

Sarah: So what? I just fancied having a Greek hero wanking into a sock. You’d prefer a reverential version? 

Gareth: I love everything you wrote, Sarah. 

Sarah: Does that mean you are going to rape me?

Black out. Pause. Lights up. The stage is scattered with Tinker’s mad eyes, melted chocolate, piss, flames, feet, hands, half a tongue, blood which smells of tomato puree, the dead bodies of the cast. Gareth and Sarah again.

Gareth: They really went for it. 

Sarah: I hate actors. 

Gareth: Why else would you have written Cleansed

Sarah: I do to actors what God did to me. 

Gareth: Force them through a script that they can’t hope to escape? 

Sarah: If God existed, that is what He did. But God is dead. 

Gareth: You killed yourself because you had such a strong identification with God? 

Sarah: I killed myself because... have you looked out the window lately? 

Gareth: You killed yourself because you picked up a copy of Hello! Magazine in the STD waiting room? 

Sarah: I saw what was coming. God is dead, and Jordan is sitting in His throne. If God is Love, then Love is dead. In the gap, there is need. Society weeds out the capable. Society destroys God.

Gareth: Sarah? It’s Easter.

Coming to Buzzcut 2016: Robert Hardaker

/ R I S E /

The artist attempts to create a nest for himself from detritus. The artist wears a garment wrong and gathers dead objects around himself, pushing them inside inside the garment till it is full to bursting. 

He then wriggles, pulls at the garment and pushes out the detritus, creating a continuous birthing cycle while rebuilding and reshaping his nest. The wriggling causes the dead matter to rub against the inside of his legs, making them raw.

/ R I S E / was initially developed at IPA Bristol 2015 and performed in various guises.
Can you tell me a little bit about the work that you are bringing to Buzzcut?

/ R I S E / is a improvised durational action which explores a relationship that occurs, in my mind, between death and femininity. I will be continuously birthing dead plant matter and will eat a chicken. Other actions may occur in the moment. 

Do you see your work within any tradition - and are there any artists (performance and beyond) whom you regard as a peer or an influence?

Performance work that happens in the moment. Too many to name.

Buzzcut is concerned with the idea of 'community'. Does community have a special meaning for you, and what relationship do you feel your work has within wider communities?

Friends. I’m happy to be performing alongside so many people I respect and whose work I have experienced elsewhere.

What are you hoping that the audience will experience?

A body involved in an action that stays true to its intention. This work is what it is and probably won’t ask much of the audience other than to spend as much or as little time as they wish with the work. I may engage them directly, I may not. 

Robert Hardaker is a contemporary performance maker and live artist, based in Leicester, England. Hardaker’s practice aims to recollect a supposed co-existing consciousness and memory aided by the curation of a space and the highlighting of the senses. 

Through bodily action he forms his own likeness, memories and emotions around himself; the audience is a malleable entity who can choose to become part of this dialogue. They are not forced into experiencing a set of emotions, yet are guided by the artist into singular, fleeting moments of involvement. The body becomes a vessel for intimacy and reaction, works are impossible but necessary tasks, full of supposed contradictions.

What is Theatre for, eh?

An idea that comes up again and again - especially when I interview Andy Arnold - is that theatre has a special place for the discussion of public concerns. Whether this existed in the earliest days of staged performance, I can't say (if it did, the Athenians of the fifth century had a few issues with patricide and mother-fucking). Of course, I think Diderot started it off. 

His writing on theatre - especially when he tries to explain why his plays are quite good, actually - emphasises the important of reflecting the worries of society. He invented a new genre, known as the drame, to make this point.

Even Kenneth 'Whiplash' Tynan, patron saint of critics and swearing on TV, argued with Ionesco that theatre is always political (the example he gave of how far political decisions impinge on life was, inevitably, in the purchase of cigarettes). He was not keen on what Arnold calls 'existential theatre', which privileged existential angst over more specific anguishes. 

While I am uncomfortable with my responses to The Citizens' recent Endgame, I believe that my complaint against its familiarity reflects my assumption that theatre ought to challenge the audience. Beckett is obviously a master playwright, and Endgame's vision of a post-apocalyptic world straddles the divide between abstraction and more specific paranoia (a hostile universe and a nuclear winter respectively). Although Dominic Hill did a solid job, getting great performances and playing out the script with clarity, I thought that Beckett's nightmare is too familiar, and draws heavily on 1950s' fears. 

The Beckett estates' conservatism on matters of interpretation - manifested in Hill's production - leaves Endgame as a period piece, lacking the immediacy of Hill's direction of, say, Crime and Punishment. It allows the audience off the hook, to read the event as performance rather than a critique. That is, it's easy to eulogise the actors, enjoy the words and revel in the dystopian rather than embrace the challenge of a play that reflects contemporary alienation.

Back with Andy Arnold, who recently directed Beckett's Happy Days: his choice of Mike Barlett's Cock was a far more bracing confrontation with the audience. Given its frank discussion of sexual identity, it did respond to modern dilemmas. Its basic premise - a man torn between male and female lovers - reveals a society more comfortable with observing same-sex relationships, but also going beyond a simple message of positivity. 

Despite sharing a certain bleakness with Beckett, it conforms to Diderot's ideal of the bourgeois comic tragedy. There were laughs, but the protagonist ended up alone on stage, the darkness slowly encroaching.

Cock was more uncomfortable than Endgame. It is set in a familiar domesticity which becomes more sinister than Beckett's blasted planet both because it fails to recognise wider catastrophes (the characters do reflect on their self-absorption) and it is more difficult to 'other' the characters' experience. Most people haven't existed in a post-apocalypse twilight. They have had dinner parties and worried about their ambitions and desires.

However, my reading of both plays is predicated on the assumption that 'theatre ought to challenge'. It's a variation on Diderot's claim: contemporary social relevance does not need to be provocative. One function of the critic might be to recommend productions - hence the star rating. My reviews are aimed at audiences who are, at least, in sympathy with my assumption. Endgame and Cock were well worth the time and money, although Gareth Nichol's Blackbird at The Citizens ticked the box harder.

Whether the purpose of theatre is to annoy the hell out of the audience is not necessary proven... the production of Cleansed, which is apparently ever so shocking, has bought back some public debate about the acceptability of on-stage violence. And sometimes, as Vanishing Point are currently showing in The Destroyed Room, breaking the format can be a powerful way of shoving the shit right in the audience's mush.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Rant Number 457

The first time that I noticed a hegemony was as a youngster stomping about the British Museum. Hell, I was much more sophisticated in those days. I'd spend days making notes and working out the semiotics of The Elgin Marble, and I didn't even know what semiotics meant.

I realised, even as a neophyte classicist, that there was a strict division. If it was European, it went in the Museum. If it was African, it went in ethnography. African art didn't have history. It had an aesthetic that was primitive, even if it had been made last week, and its main importance was its influence on Picasso, or what it could tell us about a society. Its aesthetic value was subsumed to an anthropological use. 

And I feel it again when I read about lap-dancing. Rachela Colosi's Dirty Dancing is a great read - but would anyone do an ethnographic investigation into The Royal Shakespeare Company? This kind of academic text, which purports to challenge the 'othering' of strippers, actually reinforces the stigmatisation. 

For example, there's chat about how the life of a lap-dancing impacts on their ability to maintain relationships. Without a control group for comparison, the conclusions are stark: the partners of the dancers tend to feel threatened and put pressure on them to quit. But what about women who work in Asda? Without knowing how other jobs impact on the workers' relationships, the analysis of the lap-dancer is meaningless, if not othering. 

I wandering into the study of lap-dancing because I wanted to challenge the idea of dramaturgy as only related to 'respected' performance. There's so little written that engages with it as art, I ended up reading sociology and anthropology. It is good stuff, and mentions Goffman (who talks about the dramaturgy of everyday life and all), but it is a long way from the respectful tones afforded to even the most tedious theatre production.

And I wince every time 'sex work' is mentioned. Sure, there is a continuum, but I am not interested in stripping as 'sex work'. I'm interested in it as dance.

I'm just tired of the hegemony, the hidden assumption that there is some kind of hierarchy to human experience. Everything is accessible through every kind of analysis, but the kind of analysis given to a subject tells a great deal about the social status it has.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

More on BP

Here's what BP or not BP say about BP's sponsorship of the arts.

What’s wrong with BP sponsoring the arts?

BP sponsors the arts in order to generate good publicity, which it so desperately needs. Being seen as a partner to our national cultural institutions helps BP present itself as a caring, generous member of the community, whilst continuing to destroy the environment and contribute to human rights abuses around the world. We call this ‘artwash’. And it works. 38% of people who were exposed to BP’s Olympic sponsorship believe that BP is doing better at working towards a cleaner planet.

The arts and cultural institutions that accept sponsorship from BP are effectively legitimising BP’s actions, by giving them positive publicity.

Oil sponsorship taints the reputation of the arts and cultural institutions that accept it. Art should not be exploited by big oil corporations.

In return, the arts institutions only receive a tiny percentage of their annual income from BP. BP sponsorship provides less than 1% of the annual income of the British Museum, Tate, and the Royal Opera House, and just 2.9% of the income of the National Portrait Gallery. (Statistics for Scottish cultural institutions coming soon!) BP needs these institutions far more than they need BP.

Inevitably, I don't agree entirely with their position. Although I would not argue with the thrust of their arguments, I don't regard art as being the innocent party: there is a conscious decision by the institutions to accept the money, and art has always been the propaganda wing of the dominant cultural establishment. Artists have associated themselves with political causes to look like they have an important social function, but take the cash when a big boy offers it.

However, BP are making a good, value-for-money investment. They give a little to high profile events, and get publicity and respect. This isn't the Borgias paying for an entire church. It's a grab of public spaces for cheap advertising.

Besides, they aren't exactly championing the emerging artists when they slap the cash around Tate. 

BP or Not BP

Hopefully, around about now, there has been a disturbance in Edinburgh. BP or not BP mounted an art-activism event at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery to challenge the sponsorship of the BP Portrait Award. I hope it was peaceful, and fun, and drew attentions to the problems caused by the support of the arts by big oil firms.

Since I am always banging on about the inherent contradiction between 'political theatre' and the bourgeois under-pinning of performance theory, and I have a great fondness for the writing of Carl Lavery, who connects absurdist theatre with a far more immediate environmental consciousness (Beckett is transformed from being existential angst to a more deliberate commentary on the devastation caused by nuclear power), art-activism ought to be right on my watch. 

While I am sitting in bed thinking about buying a new computer - doubtless made in a sweat-shop somewhere - some people are capable of acting on their beliefs. 

According to the BP or not BP website, the oil company do two things: act in complicity with various human rights violations and environmental damage, and give tiny amounts of cash (relatively speaking) to the arts, so they look good.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

A Process

Here's a chart I did, with all the long words that I know. It represents an attempt to consider how I might go about discussing 'dramaturgy' and 'sequential art'.

The problem that I have: do I start with the top or the bottom?

I believe that the 'ontology' of an object defines what it is, and this 'isness' determines both the aesthetic and the epistemology of the object. These can be interpreted through a semiotic analysis.

The ontology of theatre is probably impossible to determine: it is speculative. I think it is a bit like what Plato means when he talks about the 'world of pure forms' - the basic and idealised form of an object or an idea. It can't be seen, or really explained... only theories can exist about it.

Having said that, it is this ontology of an object that goes on to determine the way that it interacts with the world. In order to do this, it has an aesthetic - taste, sort of, or a way of expressing itself - and an epistemology (a theory of knowledge). 

These then manifest as signs. That's the bit that is available to interpretation. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Theatre as Voyeurism again

Although I am not completely convinced by site-specific performance - it is supposed to offer a new way for audiences to relate to a performance, but I've not seen many audience members behave as if they were anything other than passive receivers of theatrical experience - William McEvoy argues that 'the visible and the linguistic operate in dialectical tension with one another'. 

I think they do that in any situation where words and images go together, but okay. In his contribution to Theatre as Voyeurism, he postulates that the audience member is made 'voyeur, writer and critic'. 

Again, no different to any other form of theatre, or comic book, if I want to keep that analogy going. 

His entire introduction seems to be claiming a special status for site-specific theatre where none exists. The spectator observes outwardly and inwardly? The desire for meaning is exposed? Subjectivity is evoked... hold on...

That might have something. Continue, please, Mr McEvoy.

Pathologies in Audiences...

I made a little chart to show the 14 possible voyeuristic reasons that someone might go to the theatre. This comes from Rodosthenous' introduction to Theatre as Voyeurism

I divided the categories into groups - the voyeurism encouraged by the production, voyeurism encouraged by the audience and voyeurism that is not about literal naked bodies. 

Turns out this won't help my research, but I did find out what my pathology is...

I suppose that 'accidental voyeurism' could fit in with the 'audience aims for nudity' gang. 

What is he watching?

George Rodosthenous' introduction to this collection on essays on 'staring at the forbidden' offers a list of 14 voyeurisms that might be in play during a theatrical performance. While some of them are marginal - seriously, 'pathological voyeurism' (having a wank while watching a show) is not something that I have encountered more than once - the range covers both sexual scopophiliae and more high-brow intentions. 

This list was developed from Clay Calvert's Voyeur Nation (2004). I was hoping it might open up ideas about why I go to the theatre.

Sunday's Dramaturgy: My name is Eva O'Connor

Sunday's Child presents 
My Name is Saoirse

by Traverse 50 writer 
Eva O'Connor 

Directed by Hildegard Ryan
Written and performed by Eva O’Connor

Rural Ireland, 1987. Saoirse lives in a peach coloured bungalow with her Da and big brother Brendan. Her best friend is Siobhán, who has a glorious fountain of ginger hair, a whisper like a foghorn and an arse so big it distracts all the men at mass. 

Saoirse prefers running through fields to chasing after boys, but her best friend has other ideas. After a night out drinking with the lads, Saoirse discovers her pregnancy and is forced to set out on journey that will take her miles away from her home and the carefree adolescence she once knew.

My Name is Saoirse is an award-winning one woman show, set in 1980's rural Ireland, by Traverse 50 writer, Eva O’Connor.  The piece is a tender and moving coming of age story that follows Saoirse, an ordinary, extraordinary 15 year old growing up in conservative Catholic Ireland. 

Abortion remains illegal in Ireland to this day, forcing thousands of Irish women and girls with crisis pregnancies to travel to England every year. Although a prevalent part of Irish life, abortion is still a taboo subject rarely discussed - making Saoirse's story, sadly, as relevant as ever. Inspired by the writer and performer's personal experience, O’Connor's lyrical script explores the reality of life in Ireland for women both then and now.    

Argus Angel Award, Brighton Fringe 2015
First Fortnight Award, Dublin Fringe 2014
NSDF Commendation for Best New Writing, Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Best Performer, Dublin Fringe 2014
Best Writing Dublin Fringe, 2014
Stuart Parker Trust Award Longlist, 2015 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I had an abortion myself. As an Irish woman, I was struck by how much shame and stigma that is associated with it. I was lucky, I was in Scotland at the time, and I received really good care during the procedure. I was actually treated by two Irish nurses and an Irish doctor. Irish women, helping Irish women. Abroad.  No such help exists at home.

I wanted to write a piece inspired by my experience, but removed enough that it wasn't autobiographical. My Name is Saoirse is set in the 80's, and although I did grow up in rural Ireland, my childhood was very different to hers thankfully.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The play is written and performed by myself, and directed by Hildegard Ryan who runs Sunday's Child theatre company with me. We live together in London, so we didn't have to go too far to gather the team.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I initially wanted to be a dancer, then became more interested in physical theatre.   I started to write my own stuff when I did'nt get cast in any of the student theatre stuff  at Uni. I went on to do a masters in Rose Bruford in Theatre Ensemble which focussed a lot on devising, which I loved, as I'm quite a physical performer. 

Ultimately though I'm a real believer in the power of a strong script as a starting point for making a show.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance? 
I write the script as a short story usually,  leave it, come back to it, and eventually develop a full length script  Hildegard, who runs Sunday's Child with me is a brilliant dramaturg, so we work together to make the script as solid as possible, and then I hand it over to her to dream up the directorial vision.

What do you hope that the audience will experience? 
With My Name is Saoirse I hope people experience compassion. And laugh a lot. Irish people tend to use humour to deal with what ever difficulties life presents. I think My Name is Saoirse reflects that. It's quite a serious subject matter, but it's very comedic.

Do you see your work within any particular
I don't really see myself  in any particular tradition. In Ireland the theatre tradition tends to be script focussed, which I suppose has had an influence on our company. My Name is Saoirse was inspired by the story telling tradition, but then again most theatre is!

Shaking up Dramaturgy: James Beagon from Aulos talks Caesar

A brand new twist on Shakespeare’s classic sees the play recast in the grimy underworld beneath the charade of the modern football celebrity. Triumph and glory may be eternal, but individuals are not. Personal codes of honour are all that are left in a world of ultras, hooligans and futile violence.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The inspiration for this football-based version of Julius Caesar came primarily from a desire to try to bring it to audiences who might not normally engage with Shakespeare. The ongoing FIFA corruption crisis means that our take on the show is about as current as you can get, and thus the topics we deal with are right at the forefront of public consciousness.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Aulos Productions has produced several shows in the past few years and thus several team members carried on over from our most recent Fringe show, Women of the Mourning Fields. Our new team members, both cast and crew, came from a mixture of an open auditions process and responses to our online adverts aimed at the amateur and student theatre community in Edinburgh.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I have always been interested in creating my own media from an early age, primarily through creative writing. I became interested in theatre performance specifically when I came to Edinburgh for
university and found myself getting heavily involved with the Edinburgh University Theatre Company based on a chance decision in Fresher's Week. 

Since graduating, I've decided that I want to continue making performance theatre as a career and thus I've maintained those old links whilst starting to head off in my own direction to make the best theatre that appeals to me.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
My most recent productions have been written as well as directed by myself, so this project has actually been a change for me. 

Mostly, it called for a change in my process of abridging the text to suit the message I wanted to get across rather than simply writing it from scratch. That said, many things about my directing process remain the same. For instance, I'm particularly fond of long-form characterisation exercises, which I have used effectively for previous productions and they continue to work well for Julius Caesar.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will enjoy the experience of something
watching something that feels both classic and contemporary. For those new to Shakespeare, I hope it encourages them to continue to engage with more Shakespeare productions in the future of various different styles. 

For those who have seen many productions of Shakespeare and Julius Caesar before, I hope to challenge any preconceptions they might have about the text or Shakespearean performance in general with a new and unconventional setting.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We are employing the use of filmed video alongside live performance, not only in the form of newsreels within the universe of Julius Caesar but with our in-universe stylised adverts that we've made to help highlight the overlap between the modern celebrity and the world of football. Hopefully this approach will help the audience engage more fully with the world we're creating, particularly if football is not something they are inherently familiar with.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
For Aulos Productions as a whole, there has been a certain amount of inspiration from the work of the ancient Greek playwrights (Aeschlyus, Sophocles, Euripides), mainly in regards to combining the role of director and writer. But doing Julius Caesar has been much more a case of simply putting my directing experience from past productions to the most practical use. Whilst it is Shakespeare, the production still follows the same rules as any other. It's always great to experiment and try out new techniques, but I don't think it's helpful to limit yourself to one particular 'tradition' without flexibility.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

No Friends

My family watches television. I don't. This ensures a mutual incomprehension between us. 

To be clear, I watch certain programmes, but through the medium of the internet or pre-recorded DVDs. I'm trying to get through the adaptation of Constantine on Amazon Prime at the moment. But I do not have a television, and regard, perhaps fancifully, my viewing as more self-controlled, more selective.

Whatever, Friends seems to have been on in the background for
days and days. Constant repeats of episodes, in diverse sequences, sometimes themed, sometime chronological.

And I've decided that it is propaganda. Of course I have.

Friends has one plot: the one where an outsider attempts to join the group, but is eventually repelled. 

Unflattening: Against the Hegemony of Text

One of the most important strands in Unflattening is Sousanis' concern with the routines of education. From the first image, he imagines education - and by implication, society itself - trapped by the past, following paths that have been well-worn by previous scholars and, consequently, limiting the possibilities of research and perception.

Perhaps Sousanis' main worry is the assumption that 'the word' is more important than the image. In Judeo-Christian culture, the primacy of the word could be traced back to John's Gospel, which associates Christ (the manifestation of God in the physical universe) with the logos.

The privilege afforded to words manifests across anglophone culture: Christian fundamentalism stresses the literal truth of The Bible (an obsession reflected or originating in the status of The Koran in Islam), the primacy of the script in theatre (thank you, Shakespeare), the oaths sworn in the legal system, Plato's collected works (despite Plato's ambiguity about the written word).

Sousanis recognises this hidden assumption, and counters that words can be enriched by images - not as illustration, but as a competing and complimentary presence. He draws an analogy with the way that academic training, through an emphasis on appeals to authority (footnotes, accepted boundaries of discourse), reduces education to a rote process.

Unflattening itself is an example of how words can be challenged. The placement of words within a comic book text, and their relationship to images, attacks their simple semiotic reading. Rather than 'a word' being defined within its own system (by other words), it shifts into a conversation with the image and the overall design. 

It also contains a powerful expression of how words define experience without drawing attention to themselves. In the chapter Strings Attached, a happy puppet suddenly realises how their actions are determined by invisible guides... but far from being discouraged by this revelation, the puppet realises that awareness of the strings suggests a new way to play.

Unflattening: General Review/Introduction

Unflattening is an unapologetic polemic for the value of 'sequential art' as both an educational and academic medium. Written by Nick Sousanis as a PhD thesis, it explores how comics challenge the 'flatness' of current educational practice. Slipping between meditations on the nature of existence, the conformity enforced by traditional approaches to learning, the aesthetics of comics and wider reflections on the relationship between form and content, Unflattening claims a place for this 'low art' that challenges the hegemony of academic writing.

Across ten chapters - each of which offer a self-contained analysis of a particular aspect of his argument, Sousanis works steadily towards his conclusion: words and images can combine to create a more immersive text, and provide new perspectives. But, appropriately, the chapters leap between subjects, variously decrying the limitations of academic routines (Flatness and Strings Attached), the philosophical thought experiment presented in Flatland and celebrating the potential of comics to encourage new perspectives (Awakening). 

While there is little to surprise the regular reader of comics - for example, his discussion of fractals is familiar from Godel, Escher, Bach - he articulates both the aesthetic potential of comics and their epistemology with a wit and clarity.

Despite being an academic text, with an impressive density of information - Sousanis never loses a lightness of touch. The striking images of the first chapter, which echo the mechanical complexity and horror of Escher's trick pictures, establish his vision of an education caught in its own ruts, and the final chapter illustrates the exciting of thinking between mathematics and mysticism.

Unflattening is a step forward for the comic book: simultaneously playful and intelligent, it combines an argument for the medium and challenges established thinking on the nature of perception. There's a clear lineage for the material - Robert Anton Wilson followed a more psychedelic version of the arguments, and Abbot's Flatland is explicitly referenced - but, balanced between the creative and the academic, Sousanis' achievement is to question the relationship between these apparently disparate categories.

Netting Dramaturgy: Morna Young

A co-production between Allie Butler/Morna Young and Woodend Barn

Written by Morna Young
Directed by Allie Butler

NETTING is a story of fishing widows trying to live their lives after a tragedy. A story about real women – strong but flawed – the play explores how grief changes their relationships.

Keep busy, eh? Hope we’ll get a body, mebbe. The widden spoon. A knock on the door wi a wooden spoon.

A father and his two sons are lost at sea.
Three women adapt to their lives as widows. Kitty can’t stop knitting. Alison needs looking after. Sylvia wants to forget.
Then, one day, a knock on the door. A body has been found. One body, three women. Who does it belong to?

Set in the north of Scotland, NETTING is a story of finding closure after unimaginable loss.

Written in Doric and set in a small fishing village in the North East, playwright, actor and musician Morna Young took inspiration from the many “strong” women in her family. She said: “As a born and bred fishing quine from Burghead, I grew up surrounded by amazing women, many of whom have experienced their own tragedies and, although a fictional story, I took inspiration from their great spirit, dark humour and wonderful personalities”. She added: “There’s a really special quality in many North East women – the ability to say something that makes you want to laugh and cry – and I wanted to capture that honesty. It's important to me to present  ‘real women’ with ‘strong’ characteristics.”

What was the inspiration for this
About five years ago, I wrote a play called Lost at Sea (in pre-production with Eden Court for a 2017 tour) as a personal tribute to communities that have lost men and boats at sea. It’s a big story spanning forty years of the fishing industry and featuring a cast of ten actors. Later, I decided that I wasn’t quite finished with exploring the fishing. There was another story, a female led narrative, that I wanted to consider. So, I made the decision to write a sister play and, there, the idea for Netting was born.

Initially, I developed Netting through my New Playwright’s Award (Playwright’s Studio, Scotland) and it featured in the Spring 2015 season of a Play, a Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor, Glasgow and The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen. This tour – a co-production between myself / director Allie Butler and Woodend Barn, Banchory – allows us to take the show to the rural / coastal areas that inspired the work. 

Netting is a restricted story. The drama is set entirely in one, controlled space and focuses on the female characters and their inter-personal relationships. I wanted to isolate them from the industry that had dominated their lives. I wanted to understand the effect of a body being recovered from sea. 

I knew the story I wanted to tell and, almost immediately, I heard the character’s voices. There they were – Kitty, Sylvia and Alison - demanding for their voices to be heard. 

The story is set three months after a fatal fishing accident. One day, there is a knock on the door informing the women that a body has been found. As the women wait for the body to be identified, we see their back-story, their changing relationships and shifting dynamics under pressure. 

Essentially, it’s a story of finding closure after unimaginable loss. It’s about what happens when the phone stops ringing and the sympathy cards stop piling up and life, somehow, goes on. 

Although a fictional story, Netting is inspired by the many strong female voices that I grew up surrounded by. There are Kitty’s, Sylvia’s and Alison’s all around the Scottish coastline. It was important to me that this show toured to the areas most affected and dominated by the fishing industry. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Initially, I was mentored by playwright Clare Duffy during the New Playwright’s Award. With a Play, a Pie and a Pint (PPP), I knew I wanted to work with a female director and, around that time, a mutual friend introduced me to Allie Butler. Allie and I connected through our work as feminist makers and I’m really pleased that this has led to us forming a continued work partnership. 

Heather Fulton (Creative Scotland Hub Producer for Woodend Barn, Banchory) saw the PPP show which instigated initial conversations about forming a creative partnership because of our mutual interest in rural touring. Pauline Morgan remains on board as Sound Artist / Composer and, joining the team, is designer Alice Wilson, production manager Jools Walls and lighting designer Laura Hawkins. 

We’re really delighted that this female led show is being created by an all female team. 

In terms of casting, I knew from the moment that I wrote Kitty’s name that this was a part for the amazing Carol Ann Crawford who had been involved in the initial reading of Lost at Sea back in 2013. I was truly delighted that she was available for the PPP production and even more delighted that she could re-join the cast for this coastal tour. She is a wonderful actress and it’s joyful to watch her become Kitty – armed with her knitting. 

Also returning to the cast is the wonderful Sarah McCardie as Sylvia and, this time, I’m joining the company in the role of Alison. I’d never considered being in the show before so it was a bit of a curveball when the suggestion was made – after a bit of stalling, I finally agreed to take off my ‘retired’ performers hat and, now, I’m genuinely really excited. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
That’s an interesting question. Does performing in the back garden as a kid count? Being from a small fishing village in the north east of Scotland, there was very little arts provision when I was growing up. Once a year, we would go see the pantomime in Eden Court and maybe an occasional touring musical too.

I was pretty fortunate that I was selected in school to play the violin and received lessons through the Moray Council. That was really my first step into the arts and I continued to play instruments throughout my childhood. 

Then I joined a local theatre group, St Giles. We’d put on a musical once a year and it was always a brilliant experience. Later, I studied drama at High School and I remember reading Rona Munro’s play “Bold Girls” which was on the syllabus. I loved it. It’s a play for four women and, for the first time, it made me curious about other types of theatre and I wanted to read and watch more. 

Despite all of this, I never really thought that theatre could be a viable career option and, so, I found myself studying journalism. It was only in my third year of this course that I turned my attention back to drama and applied for drama school which led to training at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. 

After working as an actor-musician for several years, I finally wrote Lost at Sea – inspired by the loss of my own father when I was a child. I moved back to my home village and spent months researching, interviewing and, eventually, writing the play. 

In 2013, I produced a rehearsed reading of this in Lossiemouth alongside Stellar Quines , Out of the Darkness Theatre Company and The Moray Council. The decision to write Lost at Sea is the entire reason for where I am now. 

Over the past few years, my interests have developed and changed as my experience has grown. In addition to playwriting, I have begun to make my own work with a particular focus upon multi-disciplinary work, collaboration and female led narratives. 

Marginalised voices also play a central role within my work and I am passionate about audience development and touring work rurally. 

My interest in making performance has definitely been a gradual journey rather than one key moment and it’s been really interesting for me to see the changing influences within my work as experience grows. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
This completely depends on the project. 

As a playwright, I tend to veer towards academia and research. My initial training as a journalist and subsequent acting career has given me a strong desire to explore verbatim text and docudrama, using investigative research to deliver a creative output.  I tend to begin with a rough idea or theme and this influences all of my reading / viewing over a certain time period. 

At some stage, I usually write about ten pages of dialogue to hear the characters voices then step back and begin the plot planning, structuring etc. I tend to think slowly but write quickly. It never fails to amaze me how long a creative process can take – for example, Lost at Sea has been five years in the making and Netting was initially conceived in 2013. I continue to be interested in gender roles and a theme of community plays a central role within my work. I’m also hoping to develop my first musical this year. 

My theatre making tends to come from an interest in collaborative work methods. Too often, I find that productions are dominated by individual company roles and the dreaded phrase “that’s not my job”. 

Moreover, it often seems like the creative conversations haven’t had a chance to fully develop and to merge as one overall artistic vision. The design, the direction, the music – often, they exist as singular entities on a stage rather than one immersive performance. Many of my current projects have begun with a desire to explore the boundaries of collaborative working. HEROINES (a study of strong female characters with AJ Taudevin, Belle Jones and Catrin Evans) has provided an opportunity to explore joint working methods and co-writing techniques. Similarly, my project FOLK (development commences later this year supported by The Tron) brings together a group of actor-musician-writers with a view to co-writing, co-performing and co-composing a music driven performance. 

This core team of performers will directly influence the entire production including the design, presentation, marketing etc. Another project in development – a sound / text collaboration with Sound Artist Kate Carr – allows a focused opportunity to add my interest in verbatim text to the mix and I’m looking forward to exploring presentation forms. 

Essentially, I’m really interested in the idea of creating immersive performance that pushes the boundaries of ‘traditional’ roles within a company structure. All of these projects also embrace multi-role artistry. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Audience development is key to my work and I actively continue to try to engage with under-represented audiences whilst providing a platform for marginalised voices. I write primarily in my native dialect, Doric, and continue to be fascinated by the natural lyricism within this. 

Being from a rural community, and having experienced first hand the lack of arts provision, fuels my interest to tour work and to connect with rural audiences. Social media provides an instant platform for this but I’m also interested in exploring connection through outreach and education work.

Most of my work uses universal themes – love, loss, identity - to explore specialist subjects which I think allows audiences to connect emotionally to the material. 

Netting, for example, explores three complex female characters and how their relationships shift under pressure. Even though the background is specialist – the fishing industry – the characters’ grief and reliant relationships are universally recognisable.  

I’ve always said that I don’t need an audience to like the characters I write but I want them to identify with them – their strengths, weaknesses and fallibility. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I fully believe in the value of local campaigning as the best way of engaging with non-traditional theatre audiences. 

Whilst planning this tour of Netting, we tried to plot a journey across coastal and island communities where we believe the show will resonate most. I’m really delighted that we’ve also connected with the Scottish Fisheries Museum and will present a performance there - next to a full sized Zulu boat which is pretty extraordinary.  Another highlight is performing on the HMS Frigate Unicorn, located in Dundee. 

I was also really keen to build a comprehensive Outreach and Education strand into this tour and I shall be leading playwriting / theatre making workshops along the way to engage with rural communities who don’t always have access to arts provisions. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Scots language, feminist, working class, identity, cross-discipline… no matter what direction my work moves in, I find myself returning to these same ideas. Ultimately, I’m a curious person and I think this is reflected in my work; I never write or create with an answer but, rather, with questions that interest, disturb and provoke. It’s important for me that my work transitions alongside my development. 

NETTING was first presented as part of a A Play, A Pie and A Pint at Òran Mór (Glasgow) and The Lemon Tree (Aberdeen) in February 2015. This Scotland wide tour opens on Friday 11 March at Woodend Barn (Banchory) and is a co-production between playwright Morna Young/director Allie Butler and Woodend Barn.

NETTING boasts a stellar cast including CAROL ANN CRAWFORD returning as KITTY alongside SARAH MCCARDIE in the new role of SYLVIA with MORNA YOUNG joining the cast to play the role of ALISON. 


Fri 11 Mar | Woodend Barn (Banchory) | 7.30pm | £12/£10 | 01330 825431 |

Sat 12 Mar | Mortlach Memorial Hall (Dufftown) | 7.30pm | £9/£7/£6 | 

Sun 13 Mar | New Pitsglio Village Hall | 7.30pm | £9/£6 |

Tue 15 Mar | Tullynessie & Forbes Hall (Alford) | 7.30pm | £10/£8 | 

Wed 16 Mar | Royal British Legion Hall (Buckie) | 7.30pm | £9/£8/£6 | 

Fri 18 Mar | Blairgowrie Town Hall | 8pm | £10/£8 | Blairgowrie Information Centre

Sat 19 Mar | Eden Court (Inverness) | 8pm | £12/£10 | 01463 234234 | 

Mon 21 Mar | HMS Frigate Unicorn (Dundee) | 7.30pm | £10/£8 | 

Tue 22 Mar | Scottish Fisheries Museum (Anstruther) | £10/£8 | 01333 310628 |