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Glass Half Empty – top up needed

Cornish Proper Job in Perm Russia – when my glass was full with creative joy

This week I have returned from an amazing trip to Russia leading a Musical Theatre writing laboratory with Eamonn O’Dywer in Perm funded by the British Council. I have arrived in a shitstorm of virus news, found that a planned paid project in August at the Festival will not now happen, and realised that something I had been building up to for 3 years will again probably not happen.  I began the week tired and excited ready to return to the UK and make stuff happen. I end the week with a virtually blank diary, a cancelled holiday to Spain, and a feeling of relative sadness. 

And then I had a coaching session with someone using me as test-hours for her course. Her magic of listening and questioning has given me a list of things to do, and a sense that my glass is half-full again (just).

50 minutes is all it took, and as a coach myself I should be one of the most difficult people to coach, because I know the questions and can see them coming. But I don’t know the answers until I really drop into myself and ask myself what am I going to do next?  and what is it like to do nothing? 

So I’m not going to share predictions on coronavirus or the state of the freelance, hourly paid, gig economy, or the many festivals and things we love. I am going to start from a point of three questions to myself:

  1. How long can I survive based on the money in my bank? I am very lucky I can survive for 2 months using every saving.
  2. So how do I best use those two months to make sure I am going to remain useful ? And here again I am lucky. I am a life coach and offer training and support for creatives in different fields, much of which I can do by skype.
  3. And how do I use the time I suddenly have on my hands to look at one or two longer dreams of what I could/should be doing with my life ?   And here I am thinking the next 4 years before I get some sort of pension, whilst (gods willing) I have the energy and health to be useful and earn a living.

Those weren’t the questions my coach asked me. They are the questions I am now taking forward as I plan my unexpectedly blank and potentially lonely next few weeks. I am well at the moment, but the theatres are shutting around me, there is a sense of concern about gathering with mates, and the conferences and events I am meant to be at in the next few weeks will also probably be cancelled.  So I could sit in my room with Facebook and Netflix and rot. I have enough soup and loo rolls – but that’s not particularly positive.

And so, let’s get coaching and offering online surgeries and services. I am going to make offers on all the usual platforms for a Pay What You Can or maybe Pay When You Can service, and for some people that will be free sessions because they are in far greater fear/hardship than I am.  By skyping with people and reading people’s scripts and giving online sessions on producing or musical theatre writing/development, I will keep my energy level up and be useful.

So here’s my first draft advert:

Coaching/Surgery for the “worried well”, the “cash poor” and the “poorly/isolated”

I’m available by skype/zoom over the next few weeks, rather than face to face surgeries, for any creatives who need to check in on small steps they can take, to ensure survival (if not to thriving) in the next few months.  Coaching is said to be for the “worried well”. In this case I add “cash poor” and “poorly/isolated” too.  Our life/work balance and our short/mid term plans are being disrupted, and we have to find our own way through.  Sessions will be Pay What You Can, or pay when/if you can. www.chrisgrady.org for more info, chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org  to book an hour.

Let me know if I can help. Let’s find innovative ways to keep ourselves going through the potentially dark times ahead, and be ready when the one thing everyone needs is Entertainment – a chance to get in a big room together and sing, dance, enjoy music, or watch a damn fine play.  Until then – shout if I can help from my virtual world in Blackness with my view of the Firth of Forth and the idyllic Lobster Pot pub just over the road.   Don’t let me spend too long with a glass half empty – as a metaphore or propping up the bar.

Nudging people, chocolate cake and the gentle art of marketing

I create events and support projects which give people a helping hand as they navigate a forest of ideas, or the foothills of a mountain. I aim to offer a bit of nourishment and some time to help them look at the map, and prepare the path.  But sometimes it takes a bit of nudging to help them realise there are no catches, there is just ‘chocolate cake’

I love this analogy (and we do glutton free and 100% healthy imaginary versions of the same cake). It was described to me by my charity fundraising daughter – in her terms she is not begging for money, she is offering chocolate cake – and you know you like it and will want to pay something towards her charity and that warm fuzzy feeling, or the t-shirt, or the place at the table which your cash, support, legacy can make possible.  I’m doing some workshops for a networking organisation of musicians and storytellers across Scotland and have spent a lot of time talking about the gift they have to offer, the chocolate cake they carry with them, when they are trying to find the courage and best way to negotiate.

And sometimes free events (like this one), and the Producers’ Pool (£5 incl croissant), and CGO Surgeries (pay what you can), take a lot of energy in marketing to get traction.  It is one of the problems of being freelance and not part of a National Theatre team or recognised body. Wow have I tried over the years to offer my chocolate cake on the platers of these august institutions, but maybe my lifelong fringe is just too long. Maybe they just can’t understand how inexpensive the offers are, and how needed they are.

So, dear reader, I rely on your help to spread the word and the fickle word of twitter and facebook. In the end it works but it sometime feels like pushing uphill.  But I know the chocolate cake CGO offers is very good for you.

Here are a few quick dates in case anything in the display cabinet teases your fancy:

Tue 25th – London – Producers’ Pool on post Brexit international collaboration (*)

Wed 26th – Glasgow – TRACS member free event on negotiating (contact TRACS)

March

Mon 2nd-Mon 9th – Perm/Russia – Musical Theatre writing Workshops (1 place available)

Thur 19th – London – ITC Conference debate incl the role of the producer (via ITC)

Tue 24th – London – Producers’ Pool on union/representation for producers (*)

Wed 25th – London – CGO Surgeries / pay what you can consultations (**)

April

Fri 10th – Leicester – NSDF Producer career pathways  (via Nat Student Drama Fest)

Wed 15th – Edinburgh – CGO Surgeries / pay what you can consultations (**)

Sat 25th & Sun 26th – Edinburgh – Revelation workshops (check my website under COT)

Tue 28th – London – Producers’ Pool, host/venue tba

Wed 29th – Inverness TRACS member free event on negotiating (contact TRACS)

May

Wed 13th – Edinburgh – Art of Being Heard Masterclass (email me for details)

And

Throughout these months I continue to offer skype coaching sessions to creatives and small businesses in the UK and internationally.

A marketing/brand expert would rightly say I have too many different products in my cool cabinet, but that’s been my way all my life.  The person who needs a quick surgery on their production plans is a very different person from the business leader who needs presentation skills, or the young person passionate about theatre who has just realised there is a career called “producer”.

I share this list in case any reader wants, or knows someone who might want, anything on the menu  (*) 450 PP members will have the link to book for this event, any producer who wants to attend and doesn’t have the ticketsignite link, just email me. (**) for a face to face surgery, or to arrange a skype surgery on another date, email me chris [at] chrisgrady [dot] org. TRACS www.tracscotland.org, ITC www.itc-arts.org, NSDF www.nsdf.org.uk

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Mary Oliver, poet 

“I have more trees to climb” Ben Moor 

Have a great weekend

Now to prepare for my CGO Surgeries in Edinburgh today

Prepare to be Surprised

I’ve been going to the theatre for 50 years I guess, and I still get a thrill from the feeling of being in a space a few moments before the show starts, as the lights fade, as the collective connected energy & expectation grows around the theatre, at the moment just before I hope to be enchanted, delighted, moved, amazed, upset, cheering or laughing. I try not to read reviews. I try to arrive as un-critical and open-for-anything as possible. I am, in the words of Harrison Owen the inventor of Open Space Technology, “Prepared to Be Surprised”.

Last night I was taken along to a piece about which I knew nothing, in a space I’d never been in Edinburgh, later than my normal bedtime, to see a show by the daughter of a friend of ours.  It started in the dark, with a single hanging body. The presence of the performer willed us into a sense of quiet stillness.  We, the Netflix, quick flick, audience of the future, were willed by silence not to turn away, not to turn off, not to check our phones.  It is too easy with the TV or film-on-demand to make instant judgements and not take our time. In theatre we are always invited to stay, to focus, to join in a longer journey with the creative team. We are invited to trust in the process.  I am glad I arrived. I am so glad I was in an open receptive mind and heart. And I am so glad I saw this dad’s daughters’ show. This is what I wrote quickly on Facebook:

“Rarely have I witnessed anything quite so assured, complete, powerful, sensual, naked, raw, beautiful and deep. If this had been a piece which had been in the repertoire of one of the great aerialists for 30 years I would not have been surprised. But it is a relatively new artist Zinnia Oberski daughter of proud dad Iddo Oberski who gave us this stunning piece. I can’t wait to see it again when it is picked up for its next life. Thank you Kath Burlinson for suggesting we popped in to see a show by the daughter of a mate.  Just to alert you to this talent/show Gabrielle Martin Struan Leslie Aislinn Mulligan Valerie Hager , my high flying friends.”  https://zintrapeze.wordpress.com/

Now I am on the train reviewing applications from Russian composers and lyricists who have applied to join Eamonn O’Dwyer and I for a week of Musical Theatre Workshops on writing and collaboration in Perm. Every time I open an application or listen to a mp3 file I hope to be delighted – and in many cases I am.  I can’t wait to be in Perm at the end of the Month for this special Year of Music British Council opportunity. It looks, from the applicants, as though we will be working in Russian, Spanish, English and French and the universal language of Music.  Thank goodness we have an Interpreter.

And this weekend, in case there is anyone I know who is not already planning to be there, we have the annual celebration of surprise – Devoted and Disgruntled, a conference at the Battersea Arts Centre where anything that is important to you can be raised and will be addressed by you and others.  I hope to see many D&D regulars and many many people who are settling down in the Opening Circle at 11am on Saturday for the very first time.  If you are out of the Country you can follow everything, and even call virtual sessions. I know I will be talking about creativity in Scotland, teaching creative producing, and probably clothing optional theatre praxis…and a host of other things.

So now, train willing, I will rush headlong to Mountview to meet the Creative Producers who make up the 2019/20 cohort – we will explore International Collaboration,  Team building, Group dynamics, organisations, and (because I’ve been asked to focus on this) Royalty Pools – my favourite complex subject.  Now where is James Seabright’s excellent book on Producing…ahh fortunately in my rucksack. Turn to page 55.   Oh that’s surprising.

Congnitive Congruity now

I’m 61. My parents are dead. I have no brothers and sisters who knew me as a child.  Noone really shared my childhood who is currently a close friend.  It is not until 10-12 years old that I have photographs or memorabilia which show my life, or facebook friends who can share conversation about incidents and dreaded/wonderful teachers in our childhood.  But if I begin to decay, wouldn’t I like to be able to go back further and enjoy memories of my early years.

A while ago I went to a Memory Clinic in Glasgow which specialises in research. They build a body of willing subjects who are either confirmed in early stage dementia, showing some signs of cognitive impairment, or fit and well but interested. Both my mother and grandmother had dementia and fortunately I sit in the fit category at the moment.   I woke this morning with an idea which I thought I’d share.

When my mother was officially gathered in to the health system I created a memory book which she could use, and the nurses could refer to. It was slight. I didn’t really know my mother and didn’t really know anyone who had reference material or stories to tell me.

So I’ve set myself a little task, gently, over the next few years. I wondered whether others might like to join me – especially if, like me, you are an only child with little family memorabilia.  I’m going to use facebook and google and other simple tools to try and track a few people who may have pictures or memories from that time.

For example my Primary School still exists – St Dunstans in Cheam. I was there 1963/64ish to 1967 when I was moved to my first boarding school.  Did they take a photo each year? Is there a picture of the main hall from that time with its high stand on which sat a black and white TV showing BBC Schools programmes to us in the mornings?  I guess Miss Rundle and other teachers of the time are quietly retired or beyond reach.   I was at school with someone called Tim who lived on my road. Also David Smith with whom I used to go in the holidays to visit museums and attractions in London.  They are my age. Maybe they are still around.

And then Dorset House near Pulborough was my safe space from 67-69 where I found my love of theatre. Is there a picture of the company making Toad of Toad Hall or Emil and the Detectives. Was there a programme sheet for parents. I know my grandmother was transfixed by the realistic movement of the train carriage Emil sat in. I was the one behind the set wobbling the carriage in time to the BBC sound effect. An early immersive experience.  My mate Chris Harris was an important part of my growing up there, and Chris Harrison who I later used to meet commuting to London in mid-70s.  Whatever happened to them, along with the lad who’s parents ran the Holiday Camp at Middleton on Sea where I went on a couple of day trip adventures.

These are my memories this morning. What more might be triggered if I saw pictures, read school reports, saw images of shows or events, and even had the full names of those people who I knew really well when I was 5 to 10 years old.   After this my memories are easier to find. I still have friends who went with me into Christ’s Hospital in 1969. I started keeping a bit of a diary and an envelope of programmes and cuttings. I was starting my theatre life and my exploring more widely in terms of career. I was 10 and growing up fast.

Let’s see what I can find. It may never be needed for me. I may fall off the perch fully cogent. But maybe I will in the meantime find some people around the globe who shared some of my early experiences in Cheam (Surrey now London) and Bury (Sussex).

Better do some work to keep this 61 yr old earning a living, but maybe at the weekend I will do some exploring.  My Memory Project.

The Sea, The Work, & D&D

Three things set me up for the year: a) taking a week overlooking the churning ocean in Cornwall where any moment I can’t face emails, I can don my coat and go and walk the coastal paths with Kath. b) knowing that Devoted and Disgruntled is just around the corner (8th/9th Feb) when I will be surrounded by new creativity, new creatives, old friends, and old challenges. And c) when I get asked to do a workshop by a theatre dedicated to helping the next generation of creatives see a path forward.

My thanks to Steph Connell for coming up with the title and inviting me to the Tron Theatre to spend two hours exploring tools which we can all use for 2020, and then offering five 1-2-1 CGO Surgeries to creative practitioners where we get down deep into discussing a project or a challenge.

2020 is already shaping up to be a rollercoaster year.  Working with Soha Kahn on creative workshops for young male and female Saudi artists, planning an 8 day workshop on Musical Theatre writing in Perm Moscow, launching with Kath the Art of Being Heard presentation and authentic presence workshops which she ran so brilliantly when we were in East Anglia, working hard with colleagues at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland to launch the MA Creative Producing which I brought to them as an idea, and which is now recruiting for its first cohort in September, working with the Trad Music Forum on workshops around Scotland exploring the business of being a performer, preparing for Edinburgh International Festivals’ Cross Currents programme, and working with the University of West of Scotland on another MA which should start in Jan 2020.   For more information on any or all of these, do get in touch.

But running throughout my year will continue my work on creative business coaching and CGO Surgeries.  Each month I will spend a day in London and a day in Edinburgh offering 1-2-1 surgeries. I will continue to run the Producers’ Pool monthly in London, and I will be opening up for some more longer term Coaching clients.

In each of these practices I ask a lot of questions, offer some wonderful tools that I use and have been taught, and draw on the knowledge that each person already has for possible paths, challenges, aspirations which they may have.  This week I have had time, overlooking Mounts Bay, to check in my CGO Coaching Toolkit and add a few more practices which I haven’t used for a while. I look forward to sharing them with clients.

If you would like a life/business coach, wherever you are in the world, and you have something to do with the creative arts, then do check out whether I might be the person to contact   I’m loving working with a London based screenwriter, a New York based actress/poet, a San Francisco based singer/songwriter, and a London based actor and cabaret performer.  A lovely mix. Come join me if you think I can help.

And so as the sun sets over Mounts Bay, the Tron workshop leaflet goes out on Facebook, and I think about what I am devoted to, and disgruntled with for D&D, I wish you a happy New Year.

Chris

Here’s to 2020

Santa Claus carrying load of words in his head….

It is traditional to write a round-up of a year at Christmas time and maybe include it in a Christmas card to nearest and dearest. Well this year my round-up is more a look forward. My year has been about getting things in place to make 2020 a fun filled and fun-filled year. And the Christmas cards have remained unbought, with donations instead going to the RNLI and Refugee Community Kitchen. These are two charities I hope I will never have to call on for help, but two which are close to my heart.

So allow me to share some excitement.

Today the Royal Conservatoire for Scotland formally launched the MA in Creative Producing which I have been working towards for nearly two years.

Many discussions with key players in the School, papers suggesting ideas and proposing budgets, and finally a raft of meetings to shape the ideas into validatable (if that’s a word) detail to put before the academic and planning experts. I am most grateful to the amazing Helen McVey who has been my guide and challenger, and the person who has gathered so many thoughts into the right documentation.  I never had that luxury when I created the course for Mountview, and this has made the early stages a delight to explore.  Now we will see who wants what we have to offer in Glasgow.

I am humbled by the fact that so many ex-students of mine, and people who know me well through the early stages of their careers, are cheering the creation of the course and spreading the word.   The next steps are a) write the detail and get that through the validation process, b) recruit wonderful people to be in the first cohort  c) apply for the job to run the course which I have conceived for the Conservatoire.  [I hope some young whipper-snapper doesn’t come along and get the job, but that is the risk I take]. And then make it a great success, because Scotland deserves this new Creative Producing pathway.

And now to Kath Burlinson who is just completing her “year off” or “retreat year”. Anyone who has been part of her world over the last 12 months will be exhausted looking at what she achieved for herself, for the Authentic Artist community, for her mentors Paul Oertel and Nancy Spanier, and for the Grady Burlinson Wilcox household. But hey ho. Let’s call it a quieter year.   But now she is off at a pace I don’t think I’ve seen before.  New Authentic Artist retreats, major projects for RADA Enterprises, 2 courses with Paul Oertel already announced, her own show Invisible Lines chosen to be part of the February 2020 Audacious Women Festival, grant applications in for a longer run of this production, awards in place for early development of a new Scottish-Pakistani piece and a new piece by Mairi Campbell.  Oh and a birthday festival to get together. 

She and I have put in place what we call Sacred Grady Burlinson Days to ensure we have time to be still and be together. The diary is plotted with full daily detail through to June 2020 and sketched out with big projects through to November 2020.  We are blessed to have this demand for our creative activity in our lives. We just have to remember to breathe.

And talking of Breathe…Kath and I are re-awakening a programme we first developed for the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds which brings core understandings that an actor might have around preparation for, and presence on, stage. Kath uses the core of Breathe Body and Voice to help each individual become the most authentic presenter, manager, teacher, speaker, board member that they can be.  The Art of Being Heard works with business leaders and managers. For 2020 we are starting with two Masterclasses (23rd Jan and 18th Feb) in association with the Edinburgh Training Centre.    We will be delighted to share this work with HR Managers, marketing teams, individuals who may feel their Board or Senior Management need a bit of help. In the past we have found that if one person attends, they take back the learning and enthusiasm for the work. With one company we went on to work with over 70 Senior Managers overall.   The course is one, or possibly two, days. The masterclass is 3hrs in the evening.  Do have a look and spread the word.  Thank you

Some of you may know that I used to work with Musical Theatre, and then had a lovely retirement party from Musical Theatre Network and other organisations in 2009. Since then I have coached individuals through my CGO Surgeries and cheered new work and new developments as funding bodies and major players at last get the need for r&d into Musical Theatre across the UK.  I’ve continued to be a reviewer for the Musical Theatre Awards which I started in 2008, and which is wonderfully led by Fiona Orr.  But 2020 may be a year when I come back into the fray in a couple of ways.

Firstly it is a pleasure to be one of the assessors for the Royal and Derngate Theatre in Northampton’s massive collaborative project on new Musical Theatre development. A big programme involving Wendy and Andy Barnes’ Perfect Pitch, MMD and MTN with their BEAM festival, Scottish Opera, Improbable, and the development power centre which is China Plate.  Fascinating to sit around the table with all these NPOs and see them working together to make the world a different place.  

Then in March the “artist who thrives on breaking the mould (The Stage)” Conor Mitchell and I go to Perm in Russia to work with 12 lyricists and composers on the development of new Russian Musical Theatre. We are taking my old “Month of Sundays” programme and re-invigorating it across 8 days, working bi-lingually through interpreters. I can’t wait to go back to the City which has so many amazing artistic institutions at the foot of the Ural Mountains. Enormous thanks to the British Council for their support. It will be Conor’s first visit, and our first time re-thinking the course after 12 years. We stooped because it was felt that it wasn’t needed any more in the UK.  London is blessed with Book Music Lyrics now as a much longer more formal programme for writers.

And finally, I am working with two Academic colleagues at the University of the West of Scotland on a brand new Musical Theatre training MA which, if approved, will offer practical collaborative opportunities to anyone aspiring to dedicate their professional life to the artform. It is for writers, composers, directors, technical and production specialists, producers and musical directors (not actors).  It will, subject to validation, start in January 2021 and have a key sharing opportunity at the annual Edinburgh Festival when the world of Musical Theatre lands in the Capital to sniff out new talent. This course feels completely unlike anything else on offer in the world. I feel sure we will get International interest. The campus has great facilities alongside the beautiful Gaiety Theatre.  A creative retreat MA within a stone’s throw of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  I look forward to being able to announce this.

So rather than look back, rather than send out cards, rather than send a retrospective letter, I hope this blog will look forward with a sense of purpose.

Whatever you are doing at Christmas may you be in harmony, and if you are supporting those who need your care, love, cooking skills, chauffeur talents, or just attention/attendance – remember to care for yourselves too. I can’t wait to see the delight of the adults as my grand-daughter opens her presents. For her, at 9 months, another day of exploration. For us – her first Christmas.

Exploring Visibility

This last week I visited 6 shows in 5 days across 3 countries which explored the world of visibility. The first at the Lyceum in Edinburgh gave me the chance to see Barbershop Chronicles which I had missed in all its earlier acclaimed iterations. This energised company are on tour and I think heading to Broadway – they helped make a traditional theatre audience aware of the stories of Ghanaian heritage flowing from the barbershops of West Africa to the vibrant community of Peckham. It was great to see a younger audience and to hear the whoops of joyful recognition as some of the more stereotypical characters in family life were depicted on stage. 

The next night we were at the Traverse Theatre to see Still No Idea by Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence which offers us the chance to try to understand the side-lining of disabled actors and disabled characters in storytelling.  Unless the story is about disability it appears that their lives are invisible or unrepresented.  The final challenge to us was to go home, read a play, listen to a radio drama, read a book and just imagine that the lead character is disabled. Is it so difficult for that person to be blind, in a wheelchair, D/deaf or living with a more hidden disability? Families with disabled members exist and go about their normal family lives with little of their dialogue being about disability. But when an actor is cast to be a non-disabled character with a standard storyline in a soap, experience shows that writers fail to deliver them a character journey and they become, once again, invisible on the screen.  Lisa and Rachael have created a powerful, deeply funny, challenging and welcome show with Lee Simpson.  It will make me think differently – and that’s the power of good theatre.

Next night I was in London to catch up with the Maiden Speech Theatre Festival founded by Lexi Clare to showcase the writing, directing, and performing talent of fellow graduates of Mountview. 50 creatives, 17 new shows plus 11 events/scratch nights at the Actors Centre now till 16th November.  In its 3rd year it is a fabulous showcase of work which “offers fresh perspectives on identity, gender and sexuality through a myriad of stories and styles”. I was there to see the first sharing of a piece by Hannah Cound and Amy Le Rossignol entitled Asper-Girl exploring with music, spoons and sketch comedy the normal world of someone with autism. I am so pleased to have been there because this felt like the perfect place for the early sharing of a new work seeking to make more visible the world that Hannah and many others live with. I hope to see the work again very soon at a Festival near me. 

After seeing one work I bumped into the Associate Producer of the festival, Kayla Feldman, and was really pleased to be able to stay for her piece “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” performed by Anna North with Lexi Clare.  Here they explored the terrifying thought world of someone with Pure O a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Kayla’s writing is powerful, deeply painful to witness and she was blessed by Anna’s intense physicality in bringing to our attention this condition.  The company wanted me to stay for the final show of the night and the post show discussion Brains on Stage, but this piece was too powerful and went too deep for me to take another show in the night.  I am sure this will move forward into a full production run and be an important work to shine a light on Pure O.

Four plays giving me insights into different worlds – and that’s the power of theatre. And next Kath and I went to Shook by Samuel Bailey at Southwark Playhouse, a stunning debut piece selected by Papatango and finely directed by co-founder George Turvey. All I wanted by the end of the play was for the law to change and young men (and women) in care and young offenders institutions to be allowed the tenderness of a hug, the support of a caring system, and ways whereby humanity can enter the grey world of anger and boredom, boredom and violence in which they live. Stunning nuanced performances from Josef Davies, Josh Finan and Ivan Oyik as three young men in care and a heartbreaking reflection from the outside world with Andrea Hall as their visiting teacher helping them understand how to look after for their own children when they are released. This is a play which should be seen by every decision maker & politician who can make a difference. It is powerful and necessary theatre. ,   

And finally last week Kath and I went quickly to Belfast to see Conor Mitchell’s new opera Abomination which uses as its total libretto the public declarations and interview answers by DUP politician Iris Robinson on the subject of the abomination which is the homosexual or lesbian. Mitchell shines a very very bright light on the rhetoric and fundamental biblical beliefs (in my view deep distortions) perpetuated by individuals in power. Rebecca Caine, the musical theatre and opera supremo and long time collaborator with Conor plays the central role being interviewed by the wonderful actor Tony Flynn as Stephen Nolan.  The 13 piece orchestra is conducted by Tom Brady and it, together with the chorus of voices as the DUP members, provide a brilliantly overpowering and emotional driver for this piece.  In the making for a year this work could not have been better placed to hit the zeitgeist and form a central production in conjunction with the Outburst Queer Arts Festival.

The Lyric Belfast was packed to the gunnels with a wonderfully diverse audience – regular theatregoers, new opera lovers, supporters of political theatre, queer theatregoers, and a smattering of national and international arts practitioners there to see how Conor’s work and his whole growing canon and creativity can be brought to a wider global attention. It is hard to think back to just 14 years ago when Conor and Kath first wrote a piece for young people and then went on to collaborate with the young Gary McCann and Heather Young on the premier of Goblin Market.  Everyone knew of Conor’s exceptional talent as a composer even then. Now his Belfast Ensemble is being (too slowly but steadily) recognised with financial and creative support to allow him to shine bright.    This opera offers me, a not too politically aware English man, a visceral musical mainline into the awful struggles which have led to some changes in the law in the last few weeks. 

So 6 pieces of necessary theatre exploring untold stories, the West African life in London, the challenges of invisibility for some actors & disabled stories, autism, Pure O, young offenders in need of one hell of a hug, and the abomination of some political thought for present day understanding of what it is to be human and loving and equal in society.  I wish I had had time to see the final piece offered to us in Belfast – Singalong Calamity Jane – which might have been a perfect release for some pretty emotional and deep pieces. Sadly we had to head back to Edinburgh and prepare for a working week.

Reflecting on my work after the week – So much of my surgery work is with emerging and re-fashioned creative makers who are exploring new ideas and ways to make themselves, their work, and special issues more visible. It is a privilege to work with them to see who is the next person they could/should talk to who can help the steps they need to take or the amplification they need for their stories. In the midst of this theatre and opera fest I spent time with a series of surgeries. We covered HipHop, Cyprus, refugees, gender identity, grief, the civil rights movement and the life of a junior doctor in the NHS. Plus the bringing to life of an iconic pop character for a West End show.  In each case, I hope, I will be around to see the ideas and creative playing come together with the necessary investment and funding to bring these shows to the stage and make them visible to a hungry public.

Theatre is about making visible the stories which can change lives, enrich society, and make a difference. It is also about giving joy and helping people remember that they are allowed to wallow in storytelling be that through the Broadway Musical or through Pantomimes which are, as I write, slowly taking shape across the UK.  Oh yes they are.

Breaking The Code and changing the world

My daughter and I have just taken a quick trip to Salisbury Playhouse to see their new production of Hugh Whitemore’s play on the life, work and death of Alan Turing “Breaking The Code”. Originally starring Derek Jacobi when I saw it in 1986 before he later repeated the role in a television version in 1996.  Benedict Cummerbach later played the legendary mathematician and code breaker in a rather more Hollywood reading in The Imitation Game. Last night’s packed first preview rightly clapped to the rafters Edward Bennett’s portrayal of this gentle, considered, world changing, number loving, homosexual as he is caught up first in world events in World War 2 and then in illegal honesty in the early 50s.

The production was directed by Christian Durham and designed by James Button with Chris Davey and Michael Scott creating powerful supporting lighting and sound designs. It was a really classy conception supported by a fine cast of highly experienced players. It is a wonderfully crafted play which avoids preaching or digging too hard. In just telling us the story it becomes even more extraordinary that such amazing things came from this man’s brain and teamwork, and that such pain could be perpetrated in the name of the law.  If you don’t know the story, don’t research, just go and allow it to unfold.

The theatre was immensely welcoming. It was great to see the cast unwinding after their first preview and know that, with the two tweek rehearsal sessions, some good sleep for everyone, and one more Preview they will be ready for a fully standing ovation on Tuesday.

So pleased to see the play again. So pleased to see it with my daughter through her Stonewall perspective on how much has changed for homosexuals in England (to stay with the period word) but how so much has still to be done by those who fight for equality with the LGBTQ+ community.   It is fitting that Alan Turing will grace the £50 banknote from 2021, but don’t wait till then to see Edward Bennett’s performance because this run finishes on 26th October.  I do hope some other theatres and managements see it and decide to give it a longer life.

Congratulations to the whole company and to Gareth Machin and Sebastian Warrack for programming this play as part of a fascinating a rich Autumn season.

Tri-tastic weekend

I had a real, albeit solo, weekend this weekend – a chance to think about me and to spend time understanding how the experiences of others resonates or differs from my own life and my own path.  And I finished it off lying in the warm and wonderful Turkish warm room at the Arlington Baths, just dreaming a bit. 

I began with Saturday at the annual Bi-Tastic Conference held in Scotland which brings together third sector groups and individuals who identify or work with LGBTQI and particularly Bi folk.  I went last year and was pleased to be back as I begin to see familiar faces and hear deeper stories.  Discussions around being bi-enough resonated a lot and gave me opportunities to think about being hidden, staying quiet, and also the need for people who can to open up the discussion. I wear my bicolour band happily and whilst most people have no idea what it is, it does allow some conversations with people who want to talk about their experiences.  Travelling internationally the band is anonymous enough not to be too confronting, and I make a point of hiding my hand behind my back when photographed with any students or younger delegates from countries where sexuality is officially hidden.

After finishing off (I hope) my annual 18/19 accounts paperwork and getting it off, I then had some time on Sunday to begin dipping into the new podcast by my old school friend Nicholas McInerny entitled Rainbow Dads. He has brought together 6 people who are all dads, and who all came out much later in life to their families. Nicholas is famous, of course, for his award-winning series How to Have a Perfect Marriage

I have written the following short reflection on his site “I’ve just taken an hour to listen to Nicholas McInerny‘s powerful first Episode of Rainbow Dads. Here he talks with a number of men who grew up in the 60-80s about hiding their true identity. One describes it as burying their real body in a coffin underground, others about locking rooms in their human house. This is disturbing and fascinating. I hope that it could be useful to parents of any teenage children now, boys or girls, mothers or fathers, especially any where the child is at boarding school or may not be talking about themselves and their authentic truth. I hope Anna and your colleagues at Stonewall will find it useful. I was at school with Nicholas, but on a different journey. Lots to talk to him about. I look forward to taking time to listen to each episode. Congrats to you, your five colleagues and to Richard Shannon for producing this. I told some of the delegates at BiTastic! 2019 yesterday and am connecting in Bi and Beyond Edinburgh and Stonewall Scotland too”

I feel the 1hr programme has massive amounts of useful reflections for any parent to listen to – not necessarily an LGBT parent, or someone wondering about their own teenager’s path, but just a parent who wants to do their best to help ensure that fewer and fewer people end up telling these kind of stories of loneliness and isolation when they are older and dads themselves.  I will settle down to another one tonight I hope. 

As I finished my listen, the sounds of flights of Geese burst overhead and I thought how lucky we are to live in this part of Scotland with its welcoming pub across the road (which I spent far too long in last night with friends)

With Nicholas and his guests thoughtfully still in my mind,  I hopped in the car to the Sunday night sauna/swim gathering for naturist folk in Glasgow. The Arlington Baths are beautiful and the team there are most welcoming. My first time. I got 20 lengths in and then tested out the sauna and steam rooms before ending up in the room shown in the picture, just unwinding and thanking my lucky stars that I now live the idyllic spot I do with all that Glasgow and Edinburgh has to offer on my doorstep.

Now back to work for the week from home and into London, and then another treat – popping down to Salisbury to see the opening performance of Breaking The Code directed by Christian Durham. And then, at last, welcoming back my workshopped-ful wife back from 5 weeks in France. Can’t wait.