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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.

11 plays published with the help of 32 actors and directors

Stagescripts 11@11

Well we made it. From an initial open submission of plays in November 2018, each of which had been previously professionally produced but not published; through the eyes of 25 professional readers; down to a longlist; onward to a list of 11 works by 11 writers; these gathered into a published script compilation entitled 11@11; and last night 22 actors and 11 directors brought the works to life in celebration.

We had bumps along the way and a couple of big setbacks. Firstly the trade press and major message amplifiers completely ignored us. No paper or blogger or trade writer felt this good news story was worthy of note. So we were on our own with just Facebook and Twitter and our mates to help.  [Honourable exception, the lovely folk at Brockley Jack shared it with some of their alum writers, and the Writers’ Guild gave mention in their newsletter].  Next time, if there is a next time, let’s hope I can do a better job of persuading the arts media that Stagescripts are doing something necessary.

And then the Arts Council turned a funding application down which would have allowed us to work with Theatre503 and engage (pay) actors to bring all the plays to life in a weekend of staged readings.  Thank goodness Steven Levy and Charing Cross Theatre stepped in to offer their Players Bar to us for free, and we had enormous goodwill from a team of directors and actors who volunteered their services for free to be part of a rollercoaster night of sharing.   Next time, if there is a next time, I hope the energy generated last night can help to tip us into the “yes” pile for ACE support.

Yesterday there was a moment when I was standing in the middle of a room with 8 directors rehearsing 8 different plays simultaneously in huddled intensity. By 6pm all 11 companies of actors were ready and the audience was gathered, we were missing just one actor who arrived for their 4pm rehearsal at 7pm (but hey the amazing director and cast had already prepared to double cast his role with an understudy from another company if needed, but our original actor was rehearsed during a 15 minute interval and delivered his role powerfully…the show must go on)

Our directors got me out of a couple of pickles of my own making – sending the actors one script and the director another, and casting one person to play a role which didn’t exist in the extract, and not casting one that did. Again by the magic of collective problem solving the audience won’t have noticed a thing.

When I used to produce the Vivian Ellis Prize at the Palladium or Drury Lane we had 8 companies of actors, 8 directors, 8 MDs, a week of rehearsal and a budget to pay them. We even had a casting director helping.  Last night was done by a wing and a prayer and a favour or thirty. Agents were great as we sought the more specific casting types – “now where can I find a 19yr old Albanian actor in London who is free on Tuesday?” or a 50yr old black French actor and a 40yr old Mandarin speaking Chinese actor.  The wonderful Billboard agency went one step further, asking for the whole casting breakdown and then doing me a full proposal of actors – not surprisingly 4 of the 22 actors came from Billboard and shone on the night in each of their roles.  Only one agent emailed me curtly “our clients do not work for free”.  Whilst I completely respect an actor telling me, or telling their agent, that this voluntary gig is not for them, I am saddened the actor I wanted to read a script and consider a role probably never saw the enquiry. They may also not have been available on a wet Tues in sept, but at least they’d have seen the play and might have been interested to talk to the writer and director.  In the end we had 3 possible 19yr old Albanian actors. I cast one of them and then invited the others to the show so they could meet the directors and the author, and just do the networking thing. 

On the night I acted as MC and eloquently introduced one play with completely the wrong setting needing the actors to tell me they were doing a different scene, and often offering mangled misreadings of many people’s names. My apologies…its why I work behind the scenes and always got people like the late great Sheridan Morley or Benny Green to read my script as host.  But we came through the evening with a great sense of joy and achievement.

Why did we do it and did it work ?  We believed that there were plays out there which deserved attention from professional, fringe and festival producers and directors.  David Waters wanted to extend the catalogue and have more reason to talk with the professional sector. We knew there are professional directors who crave to find exciting plays to champion, and even better if those plays already have a known track record and are by writers with experience and an abiding passion to tell important stories.  We realised that the “single use plastic…playwright” challenge written about by Paul Miller of the Orange Tree Theatre in the Evening Standard was a perfect complementary rallying cry. And we wanted to find ways to amplify the message and awareness of Stagescripts as an independent publisher overshadowed at times by the global brands and the script/programme publishers.

I think we have created a foundation of energy and goodwill with which to try to seek Arts Council funding and Media/influencer coverage for our work.  I have learned that, however mad and seat of the pants it was last night, the process is welcomed and does bring writers and directors together in a process of re-alighting work.  I was also delighted that the chance process delivered a very diverse spectrum of authorship, topics and meaty roles. That had been an aspiration but we did no adjustment to get to the 11 works – the cream rose to the surface.

And I loved those conversations happening around the room as the directors worked with their casts and authors – what is it like to be black and bisexual today in London, what was the union position for immigrant workers, especially the female workforce. Who was the prisoner in the cells, and what do you do when you are bored and drunk and bored and drunk and an expat living in Spain.  The actor’s task is to make each character sympathetic to the audience, and to get across in a 5 minute extract the essence of their world.  My goodness they delivered last night.

The plays launched were Thank you by Catrin Evans, Hungry Ghosts by Tim Luscombe, The Golden Fucking Years by Adrian McLoughlin, That Was All by Francis Grin, We Are The Lions Mr Manager by Neil Gore, Better Together by David Weir, Battieman Blues by Oscar Watson, Under A Foreign Sky by Paula B Stanic, The Shadow of the Mountain by Felicity Huxley-Miners, Almost Forever But by Robert Farquhar and Citizen George by Brian Weaving. You can download and explore more on the Stagescripts site here

Thank you to everyone. Next time, if there is a next time, we will need a bigger space for the audience and we should/could have some extra discussion with the authors on stage to enrich the night.  Will we do it again…let me breathe again before opening the portal into the “Grantium” Arts Council website which is not my favourite task.  Oh well, maybe since I’m on the train and the wifi is not working, I could re-visit the budget again.

Old Chris’s Schooldays – Part 2 – the lost boys

I have been worrying for the last week about something, and then yet another one of those circular letters arrived. Personally addressed to me and probably hundreds of other ex-pupils of my school it reminded us that “it made me what I am today”, “it gave me everything” and then “we are launching the Bright Futures campaign…to raise £1.5m”.  This at a time when insurers and the school are haggling over compensation to 10-20 people who were abused at the time of their schooling when in the school’s care.

All the focus seems to have been, quite rightly, on the ex-staff who are alive and have been brought to trial by the testimony of the abused. 6 staff have been found guilty.  In my last blog I wondered whether there were other staff still out there, still working with young people who needed to be extracted from the environment where they could continue to abuse.

But my worry today, and I promise to move to more joyful blogs about playwrighting and great shows soon, is wondering about those graduates of the school who were abused whilst they were children but the ex-staff member is now dead. No justice can be brought in a trial, and their names (I suspect) are not in the school’s radar when thinking of compensation and support.

On the radio this morning I heard a military commander talking about their experiences of war, or more particularly the fact that no-one could understand what it was like if you have not been in a battle. He talked of it being indescribable. He then talked about the need for groups where those who have been through it can talk and hear from a point of shared experience.  It struck me that there may be many many now grown-up “boys” and “girls” who have experiences that they cannot and have not shared with the world, and who need the same kind of help as those who are deemed the 10-20 victims of the 6 from Christ’s Hospital who are now in prison.

So I add a third question which I feel I need to ask “What is being done to encourage those who have been abused by those who have now died and never came to trial to seek help, and how can CH financially and practically help these people to live their lives?”   It is a big question. Even the 6 we know about moved around schools. It is a big task to look back at all the deceased staff who have gone through one school – but it is not difficult. The school has a wonderful Blue Book which annually lists every staff member, and most people who die are easily found through tributes on Google.   Someone needs to map the rumours “we all knew about x” and map them against death records, and then see where else they taught.  

I will be delighted if someone in authority reading this blog says “we are doing it” “we have a compensation scheme” “we are contacting every graduated boy and girl that we have records for”   And, if I were in the school’s shoes, I would refocus to this work and stop sending me and hundreds like me stuff about “Bright Futures” when first they need to clear up the dark past.  

I am sorry if this is hard reading. I couldn’t understand when a close artistic friend talked about going to retreats for boarding school survivors. I admired that he was bringing this pain out. But I was a happy chappie having had a great time at school.  As I have said before the rug has been pulled from under my feet. I suggest anyone holding a dark past looks at organisations like https://www.boardingschoolsurvivors.co.uk/ and then finds a way to challenge their school, and find fellow sufferers.   I have not been in battle. I cannot understand. I may be making no sense to those who have been battle scarred. Please tell me if this is an unhelpful blog. I can take it down immediately.

Old Chris’s Schooldays

Jennings and Derbyshire – the 1960s bible

I find my old schooldays a bit difficult to understand. 50 years ago this week I moved from my first boarding school near Arundel in Sussex to my new boarding home for another 7 years. I was just 11 years old.  I was an old hand at being away from home, dormitories, dining hall, being inspired by teachers, and avoiding sport.

Until 3 years ago I always described Christ’s Hospital as being the making of me, the happiest of years, a wonderful experience, with almost all my peers having enjoyed the boarding experience. And then the rug was pulled from under my feet as teacher after teacher was accused and found guilty of sexual abuse. I found school friends who had held their own attacks secret for 40+ years.  I watched, and watch, the unfolding story.

This week I had the opportunity to share some of my concerns and to meet with some of those who were survivors/victims of my time at the school. The school has been working with the police to help in the process, and I have been helping one of the victims as he brings questions to the school from many of the other survivors.

It wasn’t like this in Jennings and Derbyshire, or even Hogwarts.  I continue with my colleagues to explore the connections between abusers at our school and those who have been tried and convicted in other schools. I can’t help but believe there are many more connections than may seem obvious, but I’m only using google to see what seems to be hiding in plain site.

Why am I vexed by all this. I was not abused. I had a great time at my school. I learned my trade in theatre producing. I made connections which gave me a first job, and wonderful inspirations for years to come.  But others were abused, and they have buried their pain for so many years.  Of course it is different now with statutory checks on employees, safeguarding codes, safeguarding officers in schools, guidance for pupils. It is a different world.

I have two questions which I keep asking:  “Is there anyone that the school (or we) are aware of who could potentially, still, be in a position to abuse young people?”  and the follow on “What can you (the school), or we, do now to ensure that to the best of your/our abilities they are stopped / put out of harms way”.  I have no proof but enough sense that the answer to question 1 is YES and to question 2 is not / must not be NOTHING.

So for now I offer to my school my determination to keep working on google searching and talking to friends and colleagues in a way which could encourage people to come forward who might be able to do something, say something, or help.

My saddest sense of my old school is to learn that some of the early abuses in my day were reported, at the time, to members of staff. There was a world of silence and disbelief at that time.  For some at the school it was common knowledge at the time and talked about. I suspect there are staff and employees of the school still alive who knew at the time and said nothing. They must be questioning their consciences about staying silent and still staying silent.

I am told it is not possible or right for the school to approach retired staff and their families to encourage them to come forward with any information they may have. I am told that is impractical because the database is not there, and “disproportionate”.  But if there is a chance that there is an adult out there who is still in a position of influence over underage boys and girls who might have been an abuser or groomer in the past, then I hope against hope that one or their adult colleagues, ex-workmates, partners or friends will come forward and stop another young person from being abused.

Who could forgive themselves if, in 10 or 20 years time, another round of historic sex abuse cases come forward revealing another group of young people who were aged 11 to 16 in 2019 and are now damaged and hiding their memories of time at school this year.

I am sure my colleagues and I are the least popular Miss Marples talked about in the Board Room and staff management rooms of my old school.  But I think we are needed at the moment.  In writing this first I typed “I cannot bring myself, at the moment, to say the name of the school which has as its charge to “never forget the great benefits you have received”. Sadly they pale when compared to the pain inflicted over 50 years to some of my friends.” A commentator has suggested that I should name Christ’s Hospital in order that younger students from more recent times can know that we are trying to make a difference.

Post script – I have become more aware in the last few days of the pain which has been felt in the last few years as the revelations have come out from staff who taught me and whom I hold in great regard. The pain to them realising they have lived in a lie just as much as we have, and the pain on their family is also great. Those abusers have caused so much pain.