So I’m starting my MA in less than 2 weeks now, and I’ve set up a new academic blog to accompany my studies. The first post is about Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients. You might like it if you come here mainly for theatre reviews. You won’t like it if you come here for swearing and references to The Wire.
Don’t worry. This isn’t the end for us.
I’m not going to lie to you. It’s been a weird one. I’ve made no secret of the fact that going to live in my parents’ spare room for the summer wasn’t ideal. I love my folks very much. They’re open-minded liberal people and I get on with them both. Nevertheless, making that move, however temporary, is always going to be a backwards step. And it was a backwards step not only psychologically, because I’m pretty sure it’s still 1982 in Sandbach. Of course, if I had any money to spend this could have been a wonderful summer, with Edinburgh and holidays and outdoor theatre and drinking, but it reality it was fraught with anxiety. I’m pretty sure the entire Career Development Loan system is also still operating in 1982 because there’s no way that a loan application takes five and a half weeks to be approved in The Information Age.
So, I was kicking back with the cats, making my zine, watching The Wire and then trying not to watch The Wire so that my box set would last two months. I was fucking about on twitter until I realised I was entering a dangerous place with my level of inactivity, and the only things I could think to say revolved around my parents’ gardening habits. I put my iPhone down and read some books and took some stuff to Oxfam and did the hoovering. But mainly I just tried not to think about my Career Development Loan application and how all my plans were relying on it. About how I actually had no Plan B. I am very lucky in that I have been bestowed with an optimistic outlook on life. I assume things will be okay until they’re not, then I do something about them. I applied for a part-time job in Brighton and got it. I found somewhere to live near uni and made arrangements to move. I bought a chest of drawers on Ebay, painted it red and imagined its new position in my new room in my new house in Brighton. I went throught Brighton University’s online enrolment system and confirmed my place. I spent some more time trying not to think about what would happen if my loan application was declined.
I pretty much went COMPLETELY FUCKING BONKERS with all the not-knowing.
Then, thankfully, I found out it was all going to be okay. I’d held my nerve and they’d approved me. I was going to be able to progress my career. I was going to be able to leave Sandbach. I was going to be able to sign off the dole. I’m moving my stuff to Brighton this weekend, then taking permanent residence mid-week, once I’ve returned Mum’s car to her.
Now I’m back on twitter and talking to my internet besties again. I’ve ordered the textbooks on my reading list and actually started reading one of them. I remain an optimistic person with a positive outlook on life. In another few weeks I’ll be a student of Aesthetics and Cultural Theory with a part-time ushering job in one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the UK. I’ll be living by the sea. I’ll have already started to forget this summer.
Before I do though, let me put this on record, just once. THAT WAS SOME SCARY FUCKING SHIT AND IT VERY NEARLY CONSUMED ME AND I’M ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES WITH LOVING PARENTS IN A SAFE TOWN WHO CAN AFFORD TO FEED ONE EXTRA MOUTH.
Following on nicely from my last misery post, I would like to talk about Grayson Perry.
So, first night back with my folks after, ummm, SIX YEARS, and I asked if it would be okay to watch the Grayson Perry documentary at 10; the one about art and class. Mum was all like “yeah sure as long as it’s cool for me to watch Eastenders then Holby then that thing about lawyers first” and then Dad came in and said “so, I might listen to a thing on the radio later if anyone fancies it”, at which point Mum and I barked our telly schedule at him and he remembered he was, once again, outnumbered.
I like Grayson Perry. And culture and taste and class and judgement is my absolute favourite thing ever. As it was starting I could feel my AESTHETICS BONER swelling in my pants and I started to garble stuff about Pierre Bourdieu at Mum in between my shallow breaths. And then I was just a bit disappointed by it. As a three-parter, he’s only covered ‘working-class’ taste so far, although it felt a lot more like a series of observations about identity than any real exploration. But then, what can you do with an hour of telly time?
At the end though, after I’d posted a few tweets basically saying “yawn football fake eyelashes blah”, there was a gallery opening that all the show’s participants attended. Grayson Perry had designed a tapestry which was inspired by them all; their ornament collections and nights out and working mens’ clubs. And everyone was just falling to pieces with happiness and emotion. I thought the tapestry was gorgeous, and infinitely meaningful, but these people saw themselves in it. The club singer just kept saying how moved he was by how Perry had portrayed him, and the girls in the little going-out dresses were reminded of all the fucking sweet times they’d had. And there was a mum whose kids had gone to university and he’d recreated their graduation photographs. That’s the bit that gave me a pang, if only because I’m going to be that girl in a few weeks. And I remembered that the reason I’m doing this, living back with my folks for the summer, is because I’m going to go and do an MA in Aesthetics and I’m going to articulate the feeling that those people in that tapestry experienced when they saw it for the first time. That connection and understanding that makes you want to cry a little bit. I felt it when I saw the Manic Street Preachers fan art in Jeremy Deller’s retrospective, and in the folk songs from the Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart by the National Theatre of Scotland, and in that final act of Love Love Love by Mike Barlett. It’s that “you’ve made this beautiful thing just for me” feeling. If it means I can go on to understand it better and explain it better and help people make connections with all the fucking beautiful things, then that’s more than worth a few months in your parents’ spare room.
Sandbach is hardly fucking Syria. Oh WOE IS ME, I’ve been woken up by the bastard HORSES trotting too loudly down the street AGAIN.
Art is so often explained in a high-handed way; even today, for all the power of the web, many of the world’s greatest masterpieces are ringfenced by experts, as if it were not possible to express anything simple and emotional and human about them.
Jonathan Jones in The Guardian last month.
(Yep. Dissertation still not over.)
In no particular order…
1- Met Darryl from The Archers!!!!1!!!!!!!11!!!!!!!
He’s called Dan and he temps in the box office we were using when he’s in-between acting jobs. He signed a card with his face on and everyone on twitter said he had lovely handwriting. HE CALLED ME LOVELY. I said that if we weren’t renting I’d DEFINITELY get him over to Leicester to fit new taps for us.
2- Stage managed 65 dachshunds
A couple of days into placement, one of the Artistic Directors noticed my exceptional organisational flair and no-nonsense authoritarian persona and asked me to work inside the Dachshund UN structure, managing the loading in and out of dogs and owners. Dachshund UN is a live installation by a guy called Bennett Miller, where dachshunds recreate a meeting of the UN’s Commission of Human Rights. I totally fucked up at the start because I went for a wee and when I came back all the dogs had scattered, but once the first lot were in it went like a dream. And I even managed to tell the owners to “try wiggling your fingers up the crack in the front” if their dogs got restless without falling to pieces. It was fucking sweet.
3- Loaded and unloaded 30 blindfolded people onto 2 minibuses without losing anyone
I don’t think I’m allowed to say any more than that. Pretty sure it was written into my contract that I would be killed if I disclosed any info about Secret Show, but a Tumblr about the event went up a couple of days ago.
4- Won a bronze medal for making a film about a chicken taking a shit
I was actually a stand-in during the final podium moment in Talking Birds’ film-making competition, but was personally congratulated by several Hull university students who thought that it really was my doing. Apparently, it was the close-up on the chicken’s contracting sphincter that made the work what it was.
5- Was pushed along underneath Spaghetti Junction on the BLUEST day
This I did purely as an audience member, with no responsibilities. I even got lost trying to find it, so got the full joe public experience. Track was designed by Graeme Miller, and it was really simple, but such an otherworldly experience. You lie down on a small wooden bed thing and someone pushes you along while the traffic buzzes about overhead. I can’t really describe how calming it was. Just a totally zen experience. Fucking beautiful.
6- Accidentally put my fire-proof curse on Eloise Fornieles
Eloise is a performance artist who had an installation running all week at the festival. All week long she collected messages of fear and hope and posted them into a box on a mound of chalk. Then, on Saturday night, it was set alight to reveal the sculpture inside. Except that the box just acted like a little stove and you could only see the flames by looking through the hole in the back. I told Matthew the Production Manager that the one time I went to Burning Man the man didn’t fall when it was set alight and the crew had to pull it down for safety the next morning. He reassured me I wasn’t to blame and Eloise’s box had just got a bit wet in the rain, but I’m not convinced.
7- Acted as Project Lead on Time Has Fallen Asleep In The Afternoon Sunshine by Mette Edvardsen
This was a brilliant project to look after. Mette was inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where books are outlawed and an underground movement of people (‘living books’) commit stories to memory to preserve them. There were eight living books taking part in Fierce, five of them from Birmingham. I think I was given the project because no-one else wanted to look after something that kicked off at 10am nearly every single day, but it meant that I got to bond with a whole group of people throughout the festival. We were like a little family by the end, conspiring to see how far we could push the library staff before they came over to tell us off for eating in a no-eating zone. Mette bought all the books a copy of Fahrenheit 451 and I got one too. Had a little tear in my eye like a proper pussy.
8- Made a pope costume covered in hardcore gay porn
This was for the Shabba Dabba Da party on Friday. Gay porn is pretty hilarious. All their faces are totally serious, as if the poses they’re being asked to strike aren’t the funniest thing ever. (I could never work in porn. I’d get sacked for laughing all the time.) I mostly chose the group shots for my costume. Poor Ben who I was staying with had to come home to see the magazine remnants all over his dining room table. He coped remarkably well.
9- Sourced discontinued typewriter ribbon like it wasn’t even a thing
I spent days stressing about how I’d managed to find old manual typewriters for a Ron Athey performance but they had no ribbons, then I found the number of this AMAZING TYPEWRITER RIBBON PROBLEM SOLVER HERO MAN and got him to FedEx the right ones to me. I felt like a fucking genius. Then a day or two after that the show’s producer told me that carbon paper is just as good, but whatever. I FOUND THE RIGHT RIBBONS INNIT
10- Became an archery champion
This was another show I went to as an actual normal audience member, after I’d finished in the library for the day. Cupid, by Subject to Change. It was just the kind of show I love; a series of different tasks to complete in order to discover the story slowly. Really lovely, gentle interaction. It started off with us all painting a design onto a plaster-of-paris heart, and then by the end of it we’d hung our hearts like a constellation of stars and got a chance to shoot one with a bow and arrow. Turns out I’m a fucking natural and scored a heart on my first try. (I didn’t tell them it wasn’t the one I was aiming for.) It was Eloise Fornieles’ heart that I pierced and I’m now working on a Saatchi-like media campaign for her so that I can flog it for BAJILLIONS in 30 years. Pension = SORTED.
I had a day off today, basically just lying in bed and watching a whole season of Eastbound and Down. The heating’s borked, but Emily has creme eggs in her cupboard and says I can “just keeping eating them till they’re gone”. What a fool. Tomorrow I make my return to the uni library. I bet it’s missed me.
It’s the post I wrote back in April when the Arts Council announced their new NPO organisations and the company I work for wasn’t included. At the time I was energised by all the bad news, and simultaneously really pissed off with uni. Every assessment felt like pointless crap and I just wanted to be out of Leicester and living an adult life again.
My uni course is sold on its practicalities; the field trip to Amsterdam, the festival of lectures, the industry placements. It’s a fantastic course for those who want to gain hands-on experience and make real contacts in the arts. I came to it in 2009 frustrated as hell that I couldn’t get a job with more responsibility than my existing theatre admin post. This degree was going to be a step towards a glittering career in producing.
Then it turns out I popped this enormous boner for the theory stuff. The essays that had my coursemates wailing WTF IS THE ACTUAL POINT and how they’re not spending three and a half grand a year to learn what MATTHEW FUCKING ARNOLD THINKS were the ones that had me reading all hours because it’s all just so massively, amazingly, incredibly FASCINATING. With hindsight, I think that part of the reason why I hated second year so much was because it was all so industry-based. To me, perhaps because I’d worked for a few years already and was doing a part-time arts job, it all felt like being forced to study common sense. And wtf, exactly, is the actual point in that?
Before the second year, I’d been all set to save up my uni scholarship money to do a post-grad course and pursue a career as an academic. I loved the theatre, and I loved the experimental arts scene and wanted to find my place within it, but learning was what got my heart racing. I could do real-life research into the way people react physically to artistic works! Like, strap them into a chair and measure their breathing and shit! ACTUALLY AMAZING.
Then last year I completely frittered away the couple of grand I’d saved on train fares, theatre tickets, and drink. Hooray for idiocy! I was adamant that I wanted to be in London. London London London. It’s where theatre lives, innit? There are very many good universities in London, and very many interesting postgrad courses, but none of them made me want to do yet another year (one of the last in my 20s) with no fucking money.
Now, entering my final few months in Leicester, I’m writing this dope as fuck essay about Theodor Adorno for my music module, my dissertation’s starting to flesh itself out with some Kant, and last term’s essay on museums was about how Michel Foucault understood the creation of truth. THE CREATION OF TRUTH. If you don’t get a bit sex-dizzy just from that phrase ALONE then you should basically stop reading my blog because I don’t want your type round here.
(Foucault holding a pair of over-sized imaginary testicles.)
Every time I’ve picked up a book over the Christmas holiday I’ve ended up thinking about an MA course that I found and dismissed over a year ago. Cultural and Critical Theory (Aesthetics pathway) at the University of Brighton. Brighton’s waaaaaaaay cool. Turns out I’ve walked past the Faculty of Arts building a fair few times when I’ve visited in the past. But it’s not London, so it got crossed off the list. Except it’s the right fucking course. It’s the perfect fucking course. I applied for it two days ago. Yesterday I did some sums, and I reckon I can pull it off financially too. And I spent a lot of time on Google Street View. ALL THE CAMERA ANGLES ARE SUNNY.
I’m so excited I can barely sleep. :D
(Just have to get accepted now. And tell my parents. Soz Mum and Dad if you’re reading his before I come to visit in a couple of weeks. Also, I’ll probs be needing that money from Grandpa now.)
What is happening, in short, is a revolution in the way young people access information. They don’t want to depend on a figure similar to a divinity who tells them what is important. They want a point of view on facts, not just what happened, but why it happened. They want news stories to speak to them directly, something that relates to their lives. They want to be able to use that information in a broader community, they want to discuss, ask questions and meet other people who hold the same or opposite views of the world.Rupert Murdoch said this in a speech in 2005. I literally just stumbled across it when doing dissertation research.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter you’ll know that I was woken up by a text from my boss to say we were not successful in our bid to be one of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio Organisations. The company had been regularly funded by ACE since 2008, and now has a year to get its finances in order before they whip it all away again. I’m not going to talk about that here though. It’s not really my place to. I’m also not going to give a big rundown of the ‘winners and losers’ in today’s announcements, because you can see all that information on The Guardian site, including their FRANKLY WONDERFUL liveblog, which has been as indispensable as Twitter today.
I’m going to be all gooey and talk personal stuff, because I FUCKING LOVE THE THEATRE THAT COMES OUT OF THIS COUNTRY and I’m still naive enough to want to contribute to it with the rest of my life. As you know, I came back to uni for an Arts Management degree in 2009 after doing admin for LiveNation Theatres in Manchester. Last year I completely fell in love with learning about stuff again, and my good marks told me that a career in academia wouldn’t be out of the question. I got all exciteable about my new life path and started collecting postgrad prospectuses and dreaming about the open fire I’d have in my Oxbridge office. I planned a big old-fashioned ‘thinky’ dissertation about the psychological effects of immersive theatre and imagined myself pointing at PowerPoint slides. I helped a couple of other students with some stuff and got all emotional at the thought of teaching people who want to be taught.
I’m not going to pretend, just for effect, that today’s funding news is solely responsible for my changing ideas about my future, because a whole load of stuff has happened recently that’s made me re-evaluate my priorities in life, but we’ve heard from some amazing, inspirational people today. I read Pilot Theatre’s Marcus Romer call for collaboration and mutual support within the industry before I’d had my breakfast. I read tweets and blogs from Unlimited and Fierce and Birmingham MAC who shared their good news, as well as announcements from Third Angel and Greenroom who have lost funding. I was hugely chuffed to hear that Slung Low, Coney and DreamThinkSpeak have been added to the portfolio for the first time (not to mention amazed that Slung Low weren’t already an RFO). I started to think about the apparent shift towards organisations who are pushing the envelope, creating new forms and challenging preconceptions of what theatre is. If I became an academic, these are the people I would study, dissect, write about and swear about in the pub. (Whatever happens in the future, there will undoubtedly be swearing to be done in pubs.) But today has confirmed something in my mind, and that is that I don’t just want to think about these organisations, I want to be a part of them. I want to graduate next summer, just as this new funding scheme begins in earnest, and I want to help talented people push great big fat fucking envelopes.