An open letter to OkCupid.

First, some background.

Those that know me are probably aware that I am and have been single for a while now. So, in an attempt to be proactive about at least trying to change that, I decided to give this online dating nonsense a go. I’d already signed up to Tinder and Bumble and the like a while back, but now I was welcoming OkCupid onto my phone’s home screen as well. To be honest, I hadn’t been massively taken with it, but it seemed relatively harmless until I received this email a couple of days ago:

Hi [my username],

I’m on the marketing team at OkCupid and we’re looking for photos of members to feature in OkCupid advertising and promotions. We think you’d be a great person to represent the OkCupid community, so I’m reaching out to see if you’d be interested in being featured in promos such as television commercials, online or mobile banner and other ads and/or on our website, mobile website, tablets, apps or partner websites.

If you’re interested in this opportunity and agree to the terms of the release below, please reply to this email with at least one attached photo of just yourself that you’ve used in your OkCupid profile. Photos should be of high-quality resolution, and the ones that have the best chance of making it into an ad show you looking directly at the camera, but still have that natural feel.

If we end up selecting your photo, we’ll upgrade your account with a free month of A-List!

Here’s the release below:

Fine, not really my thing. But fine, whatever. I read on:

By responding to this email with attached photo(s), I hereby promise:
The photo(s) attached are of my image and no one else’s, and my agreement to allow OkCupid to use my image in the Campaign does not in any way conflict with any existing agreement or other commitment on my part. I will not make any agreement or commitment that would conflict with this Release.

  1. I give OkCupid the unlimited right and permission to use the attached image(s), my OkCupid profile (including pictures) my age, gender and general geographic location (collectively, my “Persona”) in the Media, edited or altered as OkCupid decides, without any additional compensation to me. “Media” means TV, video, print, online, and any other media, whether now known or later invented.
  2. I further agree that I shall have no right of approval over the use of my Persona in the Campaign and no claim (including, without limitation, claims based upon invasion of privacy, defamation, or right of publicity) arising out of any use, alteration, blurring, faulty reproduction, or fictionalization of my profile, image, picture, likeness and/or voice.
  3. I understand that I cannot revoke this Release after I respond to this email. If I am selected to be featured in a Campaign, and I later decide that I do not want my Persona to be used, OkCupid can continue to use my Persona.
  4. I understand OkCupid is only promising to consider using me in a Campaign, not promising to include me in any Campaign.
  5. I am not an employee of OkCupid.

Thanks for thinking about it! And thanks for being part of the OkCupid community.

[Redacted]
Sr Editor, OkCupid

Now, wait a god damn second. People have signed contracts in blood less terrifying than that.

I’m not a lawyer, so can’t speak for whether something like this is truly binding or not, but it would appear they could literally take my photo, photoshop a hate symbol onto my forehead, stick it on a billboard and I’d have *no grounds* to claim against it. Not that OkCupid is particularly likely to do that, but that’s not really the point.

Clearly, I was never going to agree to that. But the fact is, there are people out there who would, and people out there who would without really understanding what they were getting into – that they are giving away their control over their persona basically for ever for *literally nothing in return*. Why can’t OkCupid just use and pay for models? Are they skint? Do they want to be able to say these are “real users” (even if the profiles are edited or fictionalised). Or maybe, no model would sign that release because it’s almost Faustian in its evilness. If this is what they think of their users’ intelligence and how little they care about their privacy, when one considers the sheer amount of personal information OkCupid (more so than most dating sites, with the ‘match questions’ it asks) holds about people, then that’s pretty bloody scary.

Anyway, this whole thing’s pissed me right off, so I’ve penned them a letter, which I attach below. I know that deleting my account and sending them some strong words doesn’t even begin to make a difference. But hopefully, me sharing this will raise a tiny bit of awareness.

Also, damn it feels good.

Dear OkCupid,

Look guys, it’s about the email.

You know?

The competition one?

You know, the “We really like your pics” one?

The one asking me to sign my “Persona” over to you to do whatever you wanted with for all eternity for no personal gain of my own?

Yeah, that one.

Yeah, so I wasn’t going to go for it anyway (not really my scene). But then I read the small print and to be honest it really kinda put me off you as a company. I just got the “comically evil” sort of vibe off it, you know? You see, you have all this chummy marketing gumpf (which you might have noticed I have artfully co-opted for this message), but this really kind of showed that, through the artifice of it all , you’re pretty much as exploitative as the next guy. In fact, you’re probably worse than Facebook, and that’s saying something (ever read the Facebook T&Cs? Sheesh….).

Gotta tell you lads, that really ruffled my feathers and I don’t really feel like this is going to work between us any more. I am sorry to leave you like this, but I have got to say this time, it *is* you, not me.

I would say please don’t contact me again but I’d quite like to hear what you have to say for yourselves.

Now, I know you’re 100% not reading this, so I’ve sent this to you via a few different channels – I look forward to hearing your response.

Lots of love,

Tim

xxxxx

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Uni Essay: Reflection on ‘A Tim By Any Other Name’ (now ‘2000 Tims’)

This is one of a series of old essays that I wrote as part of my BA at The University of York, which I am now posting here for posterity:

Reflective essay: Independent Project (Playwriting) – A Tim by Any Other Name

In order to reflect effectively on my process and the choices I made in writing A Tim by Any Other Name, it is first necessary to set out some identifiers for success, which will comprise the framework for reflection. These identifiers consist of my aims for the play; the things I wanted it to be and to achieve.

At the outset of the project, I intended to create a play that was:

1) ‘Didactic’ – specifically, aiming to teach the audience something about themselves without compromising on dramatic quality;

2) ‘Dynamic’ – I wanted the play to be engaging to the senses, and seem contemporary;

3) ‘Interactive’ – I was aware that the audience may have trouble connecting to a play ostensibly about a name that they would not all share, and would have to actively have to invite them to share in the narrative;

4) ‘Translatable to text’ – due to the project being marked on the script, it had to be accessible on the page, so the reader can fully understand what the audience would be experiencing;

5) ‘Personal’ – I wanted the performer to appear like they were opening themselves up to the audience, in the hope that they would open themselves up for reflection in return.

In this essay, I’m going to explore the founding of some of the key challenges in the play, and how I looked to other pieces of performance, for potential ways to overcome these.

For A Tim by Any Other Name, I decided to use the performance-lecture genre, because it seemed like the obvious choice for a one-man, research-based show. Much like Are You Dave Gorman? (Are You Dave Gorman? 2007), I was expecting to be presenting facts about, and recounting the story of, how I met loads of people who share my name. However, as the writing process continued, I realised that the actual stories of the people I was meeting were far more interesting, but I was finding it increasingly difficult to form into any coherent narrative that was also engaging. As Max Stafford-Clark states “The hard thing is to turn it into dialogue, to make the transition between somebody talking to the audience and drama.” (Hammond and Steward, 2008. p51). The particular problem I was having was that I was finding it difficult to cut the text of the interviews I had done down and fit them together in a way that provided enough pace. If the performer had been cutting between characters on stage at the speed that was required it would have seemed too manic, and probably would have been quite hard to follow. As such, I opted to include multimedia elements, in keeping with the medium that the original interview took – skype calls became video clips, phone calls became audio clips, and emails become text simply read aloud by the performer. Also, this distinction between mediums makes it far easier for narratives in the play to overlap, and reduces the strain on the performer to have to play 22 characters live on stage.

Similarly, my choice to have the performer playing the parts of all the interviewees on video allowed me to further comment on the themes of identity. Speaking about Joan Jonas, Berghaus states:

“The objectifying lens of the video camera transformed her personal or individual self into something of more universal significance. The hybrid genre of video performance allowed her to stand outside herself, to objectify her being and present her female identity with all its physical, psychological and social ramifications” (Berghaus 2005, p209)

In my play, the video media has much the same effect. Although the performer is not playing themselves in these sections, it allows them to reflect on themselves objectively, which, in a play that asks many questions about identity, is a useful tool to have.  

In order to get the audience to reflect on these questions in relation to themselves, I needed to find a way to get them to take part in the piece. However, a key challenge with this is that, due to the audience playing such a large role, there are elements of the show that will not be exactly the same every time it is performed – the audiences may not have exactly the same response each night to any given section. As such, it would be inappropriate to write a text without an eye for how it might have to be altered for different audiences. As a result, authorship of this text becomes both procedural and literal. Murray describes procedural authorship thusly:

“Procedural authorship means writing the rules by which the texts appear as well as writing the text themselves. It means writing the rules for the interactor’s involvement, that is, the conditions under which things will happen in response to the participant’s actions.” (in White, 2013. p31)

One particular section of A Tim by Any Other Name where this is apparent is in the numerology section, in which I have had to specify what the performer would do – “TIM chooses a member of the audience, and asks them what their full name is. He then selects some people to help remember numbers, and one person to add up” (p27), but without specifying exact words to use as these are more likely to not fit the exact situation, than be useful to the performer. Similarly, at this stage, the opportunity to go off-book gives the performer a chance to ad-lib their way to building a rapport with the audience, so that they’re more receptive, and hopefully more vocal when they’re asked if the reading fits their idea of their personality. This does, however, pose a challenge in terms of formatting the playscript, as I have to ensure that the instructions for when ad-libbing should occur, or when the text might need to be changed for any other reason, are present, but in a way that doesn’t rely on the use of long stage directions. Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing (Macmillan 2015) uses footnotes to this end, suggesting alternatives for performances in other countries, or based on audience reactions. As such, I have also used footnotes, particularly in the aforementioned numerology section, where the performer needs to read out a different relatively long section of text depending on his or the audience’s resulting destiny number. To include these in stage directions would unacceptably break up the flow of the text, as it would take at least two pages to fit in the text for all 11 readings. A footnote directing to an appendix that links to where more readings can be found, if necessary is a much more efficient solution.

Another way that I have had to procedurally author the play is through the use of frames. Frame analysis, pioneered by Goffman, is a way of understanding how people see social situations, breaking it into ‘frames’, with each one having a set of expectations and behaviours. (White 2013, p32-33) In A Tim by Any Other Name, I have manipulated the frames within the play, and the way that they are signified in order to control audience engagement and interaction – to show them when they are supposed to listen, when they’re supposed to get involved, and so on. The frames in A Tim by Any Other Name could be described as such:

Firstly, the ‘Pre-theatrical frame’. This is when the audience are waiting outside the theatre – they are able to talk to each other and there is nothing they are supposed to be watching. Secondly, the ‘Outer theatrical Frame’. In this frame, the theatre space is established, and the audience know they should take their seats, expecting the lights to go down before the cast enter the stage, taking them into the ‘Narrative Frame’, where they silently watch the unfolding of the characters or story on stage. In A Tim by Any Other Name, this ‘Narrative frame’ comprises of the verbatim sections of the play, where characters are talking, but not to, or actively engaging, the audience. The sections where the performer is talking to the audience are either in the ‘Presentational frame’ – where the performer speaks directly to the audience, and they listen but do not interact, or the ‘Involvement frame’, where the audience does interact with the performer.

The question then becomes how to move between frames, and in particular, how it can be done in a way which is dramaturgically interesting or useful. In his work, Daniel Bye tends to either tell the audience he’s moving between frames – “What’s going to happen now, is I’m going to go over there and put on a jumper while you watch.” (Bye 2015), or in the case of Going Viral, simply moves to another area of the stage, changes his register and allows the audience to work it out by context (Going Viral, 2015). In A Tim by Any Other Name, I have utilised a similar technique: “Let’s try something. So, if I bring the lights up on you guys…” (p9) However, this gives the performer an assumed certain level of control over the performance. Since they are already performing everything on stage, as well as operating the technical elements, I decided to find a way for the show to ‘fight back’. I felt this to be appropriate in a play that explores the idea of how control over one’s personality and destiny a person actually has. As such, the use of the skype calls and emails as interrupting forces, dragging the play back into the ‘Narrative frame’, helps to not only increase the pace, keeping the play dynamic and engaging, but dramaturgically also serve the purpose of implying that the level of control that the performer has over the narrative, much like life itself is only superficial.

This shifting between frames, however, also poses its own challenges, especially considering that this play is to be assessed as a script rather than a performance. Because of the very different feel of each frame, and equally, the very different format of each – the narrative frame is mainly multimedia – I felt that the standard play format (Carless 2004) was not quite appropriate, as it did not seem to reflect the essence or experience of seeing the show live. As such, I looked to other one-man shows, and pieces of performance-lecture for inspiration.

2071, by Duncan Macmillan (Rapley and Macmillan, 2015) uses a page for each ‘event’, to help the performer and reader identify a journey. If a page has only one sentence on it, it suggests to the performer that thought should be given breathing space, and gives it more weight for a reader. It is essentially a text that understands that a non-traditional play requires a non-traditional format in order to have the same, or similar impact to a reader as it does an audience. Unfortunately, this particular approach is not applicable to A Tim by Any Other Name, as, despite also being a one-man show, it has multiple characters, where 2071 just has the one.  Fleabag (Waller-Bridge, 2013), which is also a one-performer show, where other characters are presented via multimedia is formatted like a normal play, however, understanding the frame structure within it is not as integral to the reception of the play as it is in mine. As such, I opted to use a relatively standard format, but implementing a system of indents of increasing sizes; one for when the performer is playing themselves, one for when the performer is playing someone else on stage, and one for when a character is represented via multimedia. This not only makes the play easier to follow for the reader and performer, helping them to easily and visually identify what form each section takes, but it also enables the reader to get a sense of the pace of the play. It achieves this by not breaking up the text with a stage direction like ‘(via skype interview)’ on the majority of lines – instead moving explanation of this to the Dramatis Personae page, and this has the happy side effect of also conserving the word count. Similarly, as in Confirmation (Thorpe, 2014) I have underlined lines performed by the audience in order to make them really stand out from the rest of the text, as they are the only things not read by the performer.

Writing the play with frame analysis in mind also enables me to play with the audience’s expectations a bit, and potentially allow the play to have a more lasting effect on the audience than a traditional play might. Felix Barrett of Punchdrunk says:

“I’m also fascinated by the idea of the point at which shows start – is it when you’re trying to find the building, which we’ve deliberately made quite difficult to locate – and when does the show finish; is it as soon as you walk back into the bar, when you get back home, is it two weeks later? I’m fascinated by that murky hinterland that is the space between the show and real life and how we can theatricalise that.” (Machon 2013, p164)

A Tim by Any Other Name, likewise aims to play with this idea of when the show actually starts. Audience expectation in the ‘Pre-theatrical’ frame is already being subverted, with the ‘Involvement frame’ blurring into it through the use of the audience wearing badges that say “Hello, my name is Tim”, and is then subverted again as the audience are directly addressed by the performer – which should indicate that a ‘Presentational frame’ has been created, yet they are told the show has not started yet. In the scratch performance of the play, I immediately followed the show with a discussion with the audience, and have opted to include that in the script as a suggestion for further productions. The discussion provides a place for the audience members to reflect, but also further blurs these lines between frames – are they still within a theatrical frame? They are engaging with a performer that suggests that they are in the ‘Involvement frame’, and yet – arguably – the space they are in is no longer a theatrical setting, with the lines between performer and audience member having become all but invisible. My goal is that this makes the play almost blur into the rest of their real-life experiences, the audience will interpret as an organic, rather than entirely created experience, which I hope makes it firstly stand out in their memories amongst the rest of their theatrical experiences, and secondly, makes everything the performer says seem more truthful and authentic.

Returning to the original aims of the project in order to make a judgement on the extent to which I have been successful, let us first consider the question of didacticism.  Fried believes that “art’s goal should be, not to talk us into acceptance, but to overwhelm us with its apparently natural authority.” (Kester 2014, p57), but I personally disagree since “The best lecture-performances always seem to originate from artists who believe that teaching itself is a central component of their artwork.” (Milder 2011, p13). In A Tim by Any Other Name, I have attempted to create a piece that helps the audience to better understand themselves through actively making them reflect on other people’s experiences.

 

“The relevant question [is] how the precise construction of the form serves to hold and disseminate the message, meaning, and direct impact of a work of this nature’s true substance: progressive thought.” (Milder 2011, pp26-27).

In the text of the play, I believe I have used the form, including framing devices, elements of multimedia and audience interaction in ways that dramaturgically aid these questions of identity and narcissism. It does this in a way that is also dynamic, and as honest as possible to the source material. The play might not follow a traditional narrative style, but thanks to the authority afforded to the performer in the lecture-theatre genre, and the fact it tells true stories, this should not be a hindrance to audience engagement. As Soans states:

“They may be unsettled by the unusual way the play is constructed, but they will be compensated for the lack of convention by the assumption that what they are looking at and listening to is revelatory and truthful” (Hammond and Steward 2008, p19)

However, the main area in which I believe the play requires more work in future development. Although I have used a character based on myself – and the performer – as the main guide through the narrative, the play in its current form does not really allow too much time to get to know them as personally, or in as much depth as the other Tim characters. If I were to develop this play further, I would consider adding more anecdotes from my own life to remedy this.

 

Works Referenced:

Are You Dave Gorman? (2007). [DVD] London: BBC

Berghaus, G. (2005). Avant-Garde Performance. Basingstoke: Macmillan

Bye, D. (2015). The Price of Everything. [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_S2LzEYAEo. [Accessed: 25 April 2016].

Carless, M. (2004). Standard Stage Format. [Online]. 2004. BBC. Available at: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts/stage.pdf. [Accessed: 15 May 2016].

Going Viral by Bye, D. (2015, August 15). [Play]. Northern Stage @ Summerhall. Performers: Daniel Bye. Director: Dick Bonham.

Hammond, W. & Steward, D. (Eds.) (2008). Verbatim Verbatim. London: Oberon

Kester, G. (2014). Conversation Pieces. London: University of California Press

Machon, J. (2013). Immersive Theatres. Basingstoke: Macmillan

Macmillan, D. (2015). Every Brilliant Thing. London: Oberon

Milder, P. (2011). Teaching as Art: The Contemporary Lecture-Performance. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, 33(1), 13-27.

Rapley, C. & Macmillan, D. (2015). 2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren. London: John Murray.

Thorpe, C. (2014). Confirmation. London: Oberon

Waller-Bridge, P. (2013). Fleabag. London: Nick Hern

White, G. (2013). Audience Participation in Theatre. Basingstoke: Macmillan

 

Extended bibliography:

Crouch, T. (2005). An Oak Tree. London: Oberon

Crouch, T. (2003). My Arm. London: Faber and Faber

Eno, W. (2004). Thom Pain (Based on Nothing). London: Oberon

Hare, D. (1998). Via Dolorosa & When Shall We Live? London: Faber and Faber

Kelly, S. (2015). How to Keep an Alien. London: Bloomsbury

Kilch, R. & Scheer, E. (2012). Multimedia Performance. Basingstoke: Macmillan

Ladner, D. (2013). The lecture performance: contexts of lecturing and performing. Ph.D. Aberystwyth University.

Melling, H. (2014). Peddling. London: Bloomsbury

Pelham, B., Mirenberg, M., and Jones, J. (2002). Why Susie sells seashells by the seashore: Implicit egotism and major life decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(4), 469-487.

Rapley, C. & Macmillan, D. (2015). 2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren. London: John Murray.

The New School, (2014). Days of Arts and Ideas: Thinking Out Loud | Performance by Marc Wolf. [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3oiosxAtxE. [Accessed: 29 April 2016].

Walsh, E. (2001). Misterman. London: Nick Hern

Wright, D. (2004). I Am My Own Wife. New York: Faber and Faber

Uni Essay: Reflection on my role as Co-Director

This is one of a series of old essays that I wrote as part of my BA at The University of York, which I am now posting here for posterity. This is a candid, reflective essay on the ‘Making Tracks’ project that I co-directed.

What have I learned through the process of my work on Making Tracks about the particular challenges of working as a co-director in the context of a sited documentary performance?’

“People who don’t work in the theatre sometimes imagine that the director is incredibly powerful, and driven by a crazed appetite for power” (Unwin 2004, p3)

Finding an adequate definition for the role of director is a surprisingly difficult task. The popular depiction of the director is one of a person with the ultimate authority within the creation of a show, and while this is often not the case, it is sometimes not too far removed from the truth, with a number of successful directors who appear to believe that they in charge of the process. For example, Pete Brooks claims to be “the primary artist” (Giannachi and Luckhurst 1999, p3) in the theatre making process.

In our production, however, we found this definition to be inadequate for us The complications that we had in our process were twofold:

Firstly, we had 2 directors co-directing, a fact which already complicates the concept of one director as ‘God’; how can 2 people share ‘ultimate authority’ if they disagree?

Secondly, due to the nature of a verbatim piece requiring  the text to be developed for the show, and our resulting concept not utilising a traditional linear, narrative structure, we needed to devise material in order to be able to stage it. In order to create an environment in which devising could occur, our group decided from the start of the project that we wanted to use a collaborative, ensemble process. This decision further hampered the ability of the directors to wield ultimate power, as there is a clear tension between the idea of a director as a dictator, yet simultaneously working collaboratively. Perhaps then, a different definition is required – Kenneth Rae refers to the definition of a director being “a collaborator – the first among equals” (Shepherd 2013, p19), and yet, this definition is still too vague to be truly useful, without specifying any particular responsibilities.

In this reflection, I will explore the way in which working on this project has caused me to re-evaluate my idea of the power and responsibilities of director when in an ensemble, and how the nature of  a sited performance can also effect this.

One of the main issues that we found in our process was our ability to work to a schedule, and yet maintain the collaborative devising process. One can quickly create blocking and content when it is simply the director dictating how and where to perform each bit, but for more ensemble-led theatre, it is necessary to experiment in rehearsals, and let things be created organically. Frequently, a schedule that imposes what is going to be worked on that rehearsal can slightly halt freedom and creativity – as Pascal sates: “I don’t plan what I’m going to do during rehearsals” (in Giannachi and Luckhurst 1999, p116). Unfortunately, this approach also naturally requires far more rehearsal time – “Really good things don’t happen fast.” (Warner in Giannachi and Luckhurst 1999, p138) – a luxury that we did not have, with this being a four week process.

Working in the National Railway Museum imposed a further time constraint on the production, as it meant that we had limited opportunities for tech runs either in the site, or indeed for access to the tech itself, as it had to be transferred to the site several days before our performance. This meant that our production had to have had its dress rehearsals and technical rehearsals earlier than we had anticipated. It’s worth noting that this is a particular issue that Declan Donnellan has found in the professional industry: “for example, when we work at the National Theatre, the design has to be submitted before rehearsals and there is no possibility of modification. We both find this constricting.” (in Giannachi and Luckhurst 1999, p21) The crux of this issue came when our lighting designer had a meeting with me around a week and a half before our performance to explain that she required the completed blocking of the play so that she could program the lights and our DSM could work out the necessary cues in time for our tech run. Considering the length of our rehearsal process – and the fact that one week had spent on research and ensemble building whilst the first draft of the script was being written – we had not had much time to devise. While the whole script had been going through numerous re-writes throughout the devising process, one scene in particular was being re-written after reflection that its previous iteration was proving confusing in its portrayal of gender politics, and was thus detrimental to our political aim. The effect of this was that my co-director and I were unable to provide the lighting designer with blocking for that scene, which meant that she was going to be unable to do her job for it. Much like Donnellan, we found ourselves agreeing to the technical requirements having to be decided prior to the content of the scene, and that our work on the scene would have to work around, and in some ways stem from the existing lighting states. The lighting design for that scene that was eventually decided on was necessarily very simple, to allow the greatest flexibility for us to work with.

Interestingly, we found that working from the constraints of the pre-designed lighting actually helped us  to decide the direction to take the scene. Taking inspiration from the simple lighting, we – alongside our production dramaturg and head writer – decided to drastically simplify the concept of the scene from having numerous characters, to just three and even going so far as to remove the male half of the actors from the stage, and having the remaining three just sitting and telling the audience their individual stories. Embracing a simple, minimalist concept for this scene in this way not only enabled us to cut the sections and characters that had been confusing our political message, but created a scene that stood out from the play as a whole. We decided (and were later seemingly proved correct by observing the expressions and feedback of audiences during this performance) that this would have would the effect of keeping people’s attention, but only as long as we ensured the scene was not too long so as to become static, so we took great care to keep this scene short.

Much as we found that our slower, devising-centric approach to generating the content caused this problem as a result of being combined with the time restraint imposed by the site. In hindsight, I would not change the way we approached this, as ultimately we would not have been able to come up with the scene we did without the time we spent exploring it – even if we did throw out a large amount of the work that time was spent on. Similarly, I have learnt that when directing site-specific theatre, one has to be able to whole-heartedly embrace the constraints of the site whether these manifest themselves physically or as a part of the process of creating the play, as these can often give you ideas that you would not previously have come up with. In our case, the time constraint pushed us to take a direction with this scene that we would not have thought to before.

A second main issue that we found in our process was one of having too many people in directorial, or ‘director-esque’ roles without having established clear divisions between them.

In our production team, not only did we have to deal with splitting the role between two co-directors, but we also had a movement director and a production dramaturg, taking on responsibilities that are often considered coming under the purview of ‘director’, a role that already “isn’t so clearly defined and, as a result, you’re sometimes left wondering exactly what you’re there for.” (Unwin 2004, p14).

One particular moment where this problem manifested itself was early on in the rehearsal process when a disagreement between myself, my co-director, and our movement director occurred in rehearsal as to what approach we should take to attempting to devise a movement-heavy section that we were working on at that time. As we had not established clear divisions between the roles, we found ourselves unable to resolve this conflict easily, as we had not set one of us to step forward to make the decision. This caused a significant disruption the rehearsal process as it wasted time – which was already at a premium – and made an atmosphere that was not conducive to feeling free to be creative. To solve this, in the short term, we opted to move onto another section that we did all agree on in order to keep the rehearsal productive, while we prepared for a long term solution through meeting up to sit down and clarify our roles in relation to each other before the next rehearsal to ensure that it did not happen again. The role definitions we decided on are as follows:

Co-Director 1: Works with the actors devising material, and generally doing the ‘hands-on’ running of the rehearsal.

Co-Director 2: Works as a primary ‘outside eye’, looking at the bigger picture of how the material being made fits into the shape and political of the play as a whole, in collaboration with the production dramaturg. Also conducts meetings with the production team that fall during a rehearsal.

Movement Director: In the devising process, are ’invited in’ by the directors to choreograph / aid in the devising of sections or work on particular movement and physicality issues that arise. As the content is cemented, and runs of the whole play begin, they give notes specifically about movement and physicality.

Additionally, we gave the Movement Director the added responsibility of running the warmups, after consulting the National Theatre’s movement direction youtube playlist, and coming across an interview with Joseph Alford stating that “The most important job, I find, for a movement director, is the creation of an ensemble […] In its most basic terms, I think you build the ensemble through the warmup” (National Theatre 2014). This was useful as it enabled our movement director to better fulfil their role, as they gained a knowledge of the physical limits of each performer, which was helpful to take into account when creating choreography.

When it came to the two co-director roles, this split was in an attempt to emulate the relationship that Castledine outlines – “We challenged, empowered and questioned – but never threatened – each other in creating” (in Giannachi and Luckhurst 1999, p11). This difference in roles meant we could never threaten each other’s authority because we had different jobs to do at any one time. However, as we had both come into the production wanting to do both these aspects of the job, we felt it was unfair to force one or the other of us to take one side on permanently. As such, we allowed ourselves to swap who was doing which particular role, which we found did not pose an issue as long as we ensured that we were never both doing the same one. Splitting the role in this way provided us with clear lines of authority, in a way which preserved the ability to devise collaboratively, ensuring that rehearsals stayed productive, and also that time in rehearsal can be used for multiple things at once, to ensure maximum productivity.

 

Bibliography

Giannachi, G. and Luckhurst, M. (1999). On directing. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Innes, C. and Shevtsova, M. (2013). The Cambridge introduction to Theatre directing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

National Theatre, (2014). What is a movement director?. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY-gWqj-FIk [Accessed 20 May 2015].

Shepherd, S. (2013). Direction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Unwin, S. (2004). So you want to be a theatre director?. London: Nick Hern Books.

Uni Essay: Reflection on my role as LIghting Designer

This is one of a series of old essays that I wrote as part of my BA at The University of York, which I am now posting here for posterity: 

How did I respond to the specific demand of working on The Suitors in my role of Lighting Designer?

 

“The fundamental lighting of a production is outlined by the playwright’s manuscript. The indications of place and time of day, demanding specific details such as lamp-light, sunlight, moonlight etc […] are unconsciously or consciously dictated by the playwright.” (McCandless 1963, p17)

In The Suitors, these indications are not explicit; they are not written as stage directions, and must instead be inferred from the dialogue of the play. The text itself tells us that Act 1 is set at “three A.M” (Racine 2001, p17) and for a Lighting Designer a night-time section such as this already poses the challenge of portraying the dark lighting conditions of the early morning, but still ensuring the audience can see and engage with the action on stage. Similarly, since The Suitors is based on The Wasps by Aristophanes (Racine 2001, p8), it is clearly influenced by Aristotle’s Unities of Theatre, with the Unity of Time indicating to us that the events of The Suitors probably take place within 24 hours. From this, we can tell that the lighting has to come full circle, showing night through dawn into day, then through evening back to night again – and for the lighting designer this means that the rig has to versatile enough to show multiple times of day. Our production also added the additional challenges of doing this in a thrust stage layout, and being second in a double bill with a play that also has an exterior night-time scene.

When it came to the night scene in Act 1, I wanted to do something bold, so – since Porter suggests that “the lighting designer has actively participated in design ideation and development work” (Porter 2015, p197) – I decided to experiment with the cast, in workshop, playing with how different lighting levels changed the way the scene was played. Trying the scene in complete blackout, with the actors only having small flashlights to light them, I found that the action seemed to take on a new lease of life, creating a sense of intrigue and fun. Tanizaki notes in In Praise of Shadows how the absence of light in Ancient Japanese temples helps to create atmosphere and complements the artwork that lies within them: “we can hardly discern the outlines of the work […] The lack of clarity, far from disturbing us, seems rather to suit the painting perfectly. […] the painting here is nothing more than another delicate surface upon which the faint, frail light can play” (Tanizaki 1977, p19-20)

I reflected this idea in my design as first programmed during our plotting session – using only a tiny hint of light to add a bit of texture to the false proscenium, and give vague outlines to the actors.  To me, this gave the set design a sort of tactility, immersing me by creating textures that could almost be felt without touching, yet after the first technical rehearsal, the director and tutors fed back to me that they felt this scene was too dark, and that they were losing the performances of the actors as a result. While I had felt that the darkness seemed to have transformed the actors’ performances for the positive, Pavis, backs up the view of the tutors and the director, and argues that extremes of lighting can have a serious detrimental effect on the relationship between actors and audience:

“Every aspect of the actor is sometimes affected by light: his energy is either heightened or muted. An actor’s relationship with the spectators is transparent, particularly with the lights on full, or disrupted if he is blinded by a shaft of light or reduced to a voice in the shadowy gloom.” (in Palmer 2013, p71)

This feedback reminds me of the fact that when I pitched for the role of Lighting Designer I stated that lighting’s main aim was to make all the work done by the rest of the creatives accessible to the audience – i.e. visible, a view backed up by Brewster & Shafer:

“Visibility is the most basic and perhaps the most important function of stage light. […] The ability to see facial expressions and the movement of lips and mouth aids in the ability to hear and understand what is being said onstage. If the audience cannot see the actor, their ability to hear the actor will also be diminished […], their attention and interest in the performance will also be lessened.” (Brewster & Shafer 2011, ch9)

Vermeulen, on the other hand – comparing the requirements of architectural lighting design to theatre – disagrees that visibility is as important as Pavis, Brewster and Shafer would say:

“In the theatre we do not have to adhere to codes or obey rules about lux levels and uniformity, or stick to conventions about best practice. All we have to do is convey an atmosphere, something that helps the narrative of the story.” (Vermeulen 2011, p52)

Nonetheless, I opted to explore other ways of presenting this night scene without making the stage quite as dark, and found an alternative through watching the dress rehearsal of the first show of the double bill. George Dandin used bright blue light to signify midnight, harkening to both the coldness of night time, and the persistent idea that blue light – frequently used backstage in the theatre, is often understood to represent light that is supposed to be ignored: “By using light that is blue in colour, the audience has come to understand that this light is being provided for them to see and that the actors are going to pretend that they don’t see.” (Briggs 2003, p245)

However, a traditional ‘blue light’ night-time wash is often seen as simply flat and boring. Adolphe Appia suggests this tradition of “a night scene [calling] for blue light less bright than day light but, just the same permitting the audience ‘to see’ everything.” (in Palmer 2013, p90) is due to the audience’s self-destructive “desire ‘to see’ as much as possible, to have the best possible view, to miss no facial expression, none of the smallest gestures […] Accordingly, the result is […] that nothing is seen at all.” (in Palmer 2013, p90). He goes on to explain his distain for this type of general wash lighting: “An object lit from three or four directions throws no shadow and, from a theatrical viewpoint, does not exist.” (in Palmer 2013, p90)

Even so, the thrust seating layout of the theatre posed a significant challenge to doing anything else, as Reid notes:

“In thrust staging, atmosphere by light and shade is difficult to achieve […] Because front light for one section of the audience will be backlight for a second section and side light for a third, it is better to keep a fairly uniform intensity balance from all parts of the lighting compass.” (Reid 2001, p160)

This would appear to push me towards merely compromising on the lighting levels, bringing up a cold wash from zero percent, until it hit a level that both the director was happy with and using that for the scene.

Unfortunately, this solution, however effective in George Dandin, was not suitable for the challenge of The Suitors’ First Act, as the scenes are clearly intended to serve different roles and have different atmospheres as a result. The night scenes in George Dandin come in the second half of the play, by which point the audience is already invested in the characters and the plot, whereas it is at the start of The Suitors, and therefore needs to draw the audience in, and avoid ruining the surprise of the set having changed over in the interval between the two plays. As the play reveals information gradually, the lighting also needed to control the revelation of the design accordingly. Likewise, it was also necessary to show a difference in approach between the two plays – the night scenes in both George Dandin and The Suitors both contained similar jokes and there was a strong chance that any repetition in style would negatively affect The Suitors more, being second in the billing, potentially looking lazy or just being less interesting for the audience.

Similarly, starting in complete darkness offered me further to develop the lighting in later scenes. As Reid points out “Atmosphere is often the result of contrast between the extremes of light and no light” (Reid 2001, p160), and starting with no light allowed a greater contrast with Act 2 and 3 having much brighter lighting states, and created a sense that the atmosphere of the play was shifting as the story developed – starting with mystery, moving to a friendly open lighting in Act 2, and finally to confusion for the Third Act.

Clearly, a compromise must be found – and this manifested itself through actually adding more light to the actors. Pilbrow states “If the eye has one light source on which to focus, the remainder of the stage will appear darker by contrast.” (Pilbrow 1997, p111), and as such, by adding more light on the actors so they could be seen easily, and just a faint cold wash on the stage floor and set, the illusion of night was created. This lighting was not as realistic as my initial design, but the fact we had a cyclorama as a backdrop, and the actors were using a heightened performance added to this non-naturalistic aesthetic. This meant the audience could suspend their disbelief, and accept that although the actors were bright in reality, as they were in dark surroundings, it was the dead of night.

Vermeulen also speaks of the benefits of lighting the actors, but not the scenery:

“I stripped it completely from all its embellishments […] and just placed a single lantern in his hand with a small flickering light like a candle and then a small uplight to put some light on his body and face, which was hidden by a large hat. Taking away all the extra lighting around him […] reinforced the effect of anticipation on the part of the audience. […] the audience was glad after four long minutes of holding their breath, enrapt as they were by the powerful art of darkness…“ (Vermeulen 2011, p52)

Achieving this, however, provided its own challenges. I used the birdie footlights that I was already using for this scene, but as key light rather than as fill light as they were previously being used, and this meant that the light could be kept from spilling on to the stage floor. However, increasing the brightness provided issues with positioning –  – the steep rake of the seating meant that the birdies’ initial positioning around the stage left and right sides of the thrust was now dazzling the audience. To counter this, I re-positioned them at the front of the stage, where they would not hit the audience, taking care to avoid spill onto the cyclorama.

Additionally, to avoid characters being under-lit for sections of the audience, as Reid noted earlier, I increased the backlight intensity in the cold wash, which used LED lights rather than traditional incandescent bulbs, and due to the shorter throw length, the lights fell off before they reached the stage floor. This meant that I could ensure the floor – which took up most of the image the audience were seeing due to the height of the rake in the seating – remained very dark, but the actors were lit.

This new design also had the effect of creating a two-tone wash, warm from the birdies at the front, and cold from the other lights. Reid recognises that “Atmosphere becomes a matter of colour balance between cold and warm.” Reid 160, and this was reflected by this new choice of design – the contrast between relatively small amount of warm light visible compared to the amount of cold, actually made the whole stage picture look bluer and colder than it did without the warm added.

As a result of these changes, a design had been created that served the director’s need for the actors to be seen clearly, the actors’ need to not be subjected to disruptive extremes of lighting, the set designers’ needs to compliment and vary the appearance of the set scene-to-scene, and my need to re-create the atmosphere I wanted that had so transformed the scene during the workshop session.

Fischer-Lichte notes “Light is one of the most important media for creating a particular atmosphere. In order to perform this function, it will usually be necessary to go back to cultural codes other than that of the theatre” (in Palmer 2013, p73). Returning to Tanizaki, and a focus on architectural lighting, we see that:

“the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows […] Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament. Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows.” (Tanizaki 1977, p18)

If this concept is applied to theatre, it potentially tells us Eastern audiences are more able to connect with things on a purely visceral level which they can do with atmosphere alone, while Western audiences require a more cerebral connection – as Appia states they need ‘to see’ everything.  This possibly explains, at least in part, why the director and the tutors had an issue with the darkness impacting on the visibility of the actors. Perhaps, then, if the show had been playing in Japan, my initial design would have been acceptable, but since it was not, a different approach was required.

Ultimately, I have learnt to trust that the actors can make atmosphere – it does not have to solely come from the lighting, and potentially having been necessarily a little removed from the rehearsal process it is easy to forget that. Additionally, I have learnt that “It is the fate of the lighting designer to devise the necessary compromise” (Reid 1995, p104) and this can only be achieved through understanding of the needs of director, actors and audience. It also requires the lighting designer to think on their feet, and not see the lighting design or rig as fixed, even (and perhaps especially) after the first technical rehearsal. It may be necessary to move or add lights in response to issues arising from the tech in order to find this compromise, because otherwise you risk merely conceding to the desires of a director who just wants it brighter, and losing the sense and mood the initial design provided.

 

Works Cited

Brewster, K. and Shafer, M. (2013). Fundamentals of Theatrical Design: A Guide to the Basics of Scenic, Costume, and Lighting Design. 1st edn. [Online]. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. Available at: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=-vOeAgAAQBAJ&rdid=book-vOeAgAAQBAJ&rdot=1&source=gbs_vpt_read&pcampaignid=books_booksearch_viewport. [Accessed: 11 April 2016].

Briggs, J. (2003). Encyclopedia of stage lighting. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

McCandless, S. (1963). A method of lighting the stage. New York: Theatre Arts Books.

Palmer, S. (2013). Light. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pilbrow, R. (1997). Stage lighting design. New York: By Design Press.

Porter, L. (2015). Unmasking Theatre Design: A Designer’s Guide to Finding Inspiration and Cultivating Creativity. Oxford: Focal Press

Racine, J. (2001) The Suitors. Translated by Wilbur, R. New York: Dramatists Play Service.

Reid, F. (1995). Lighting the stage. Oxford: Focal Press.

Reid, F. (2001). The stage lighting handbook. 6th edn. London: A & C Black.

Tanizaki, J. (1977). In praise of shadows. New Haven, Conn.: Leete’s Island Books

Vermeulen, K. (2013). The Dark Art: Darkness Is More Important Now Than Ever. Professional Lighting Design Magazine, [Online]. (79), 52-53. Available at: http://www.thedarkart.org/PLD%2089_E_Dark%20Art_web.pdf. [Accessed: 7 April 2016].

 

Additional bibliography

Collins, J. and Nisbet, A. (2010). Theatre and performance design. London: Routledge.

Fraser, N. (1999). Stage lighting design. Marlborough, Wiltshire [U.K.]: Crowood Press.

Molière, Bolt, R., and Murphy, G. (1998). The Hypochondriac, George Dandin & Scapin. London: Oberon.

Moran, N. (2007). Performance lighting design. London: A & C Black Publishers.

Mort, S. (2011). Stage lighting. London: Methuen Drama.

Oddey, A. and White, C. (2006). The potentials of spaces. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.

Uni Essay: Reflection on my role as Set Designer

This is one of a series of old essays that I wrote as part of my BA at The University of York, which I am now posting here for posterity: 

What have I learned through the process of my work on The Wheel about the role of Set Designer? A reflection on mine, and my co-designer’s, efficacy in this role.

  

In order to answer this question, and reflect fully on how successful we were in our role, it is first necessary to define the role, in particular within the context of this specific production. Robert Edmond Jones specifies the responsibilities of the set designer as “to search for all sorts of new and direct and unhackneyed ways whereby [the set designer] may establish the sense of place”. (Jones, 2004. p102) This idea of being ‘new and direct and unhackneyed’ demonstrates the need for the design process to facilitate creative thought.

In this essay, I will highlight two/three key moments where we either failed to work within the structure of a sound creative process, or our ability to work within that process was weakened as a result of our choices. First, however, we must establish what a ‘sound creative process’ consists of in theory, before analysing our work on The Wheel to see how it failed to adhere to it.

The cornerstone of new, creative work the use of a tool called ‘Lateral Thinking’. Coined by Edward De Bono, Lateral Thinking is a type of thought process where seemingly unconnected ideas can be brought together, as opposed to ‘Vertical Thinking’, often referred to as ‘logic’, where ideas progress in a singular direction, becoming more complex or developed. De Bono explains it thusly:

 

“Logic is the tool that is used to dig holes deeper and bigger, to make them altogether better holes. But if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of improvement is going to put it in the right place.” (De Bono, 2014. p30)

 

In effect, this means that a total reliance on vertical, logical, thinking is therefore at odds with an attempt to work creatively, since “new ideas depend on lateral thinking” (De Bono, 2014. p18) as vertical thinking is concerned with developing existing pathways in the brain, as opposed to lateral thinking’s creation of new ones. (De Bono, 2014. p18-19) Clearly, then, any creative process needs to use both lateral and vertical thinking in order to generate new, but tenable, ideas:

 

“Instead of proceeding step by step in the usual vertical manner, you take up a new and quite arbitrary position. You then work backwards and try to construct a logical path between this new position and the starting point. Should a path prove possible, it must eventually be tested with the full rigours of logic. If the path is sound, you are then in a useful position which may never have been reached by ordinary vertical thinking.” (De Bono, 2014. p17)

How does one then generate a process that facilitates the correct usage of both of these types of thinking? Ultimately, this seems to come down doing enough preparation, including wide enough research that one has plenty of material in one’s head for new links to be made:

 

“Gather widely. […] The wider your search, the better your chance of having unique and excellent images to work with.” (Porter, 2015. p124)

 

It is not enough, however, to rely on research and the lateral thinking that results from this to empower one to create good design – one needs to think vertically to filter and shape these into viable solutions. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the creative process as consisting of five phases: Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Evaluation, Elaboration. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996. pp79-80) Lynne Porter describes her process specifically for theatre design in much the way, albeit with slightly different terminology: Comprehend the problem, Gather inspiration, Invent solutions, Develop the work, Present the solution. (Porter, 2015. pp66-67) She also explains how this process helps to refine design ideas:

“[Good] Design ideas + [Good] Design Solutions

-> Sort, Test, Experiment

-> [Better] Design Ideas + [Better] Design Solutions

-> Sort, Test, Experiment

-> [Best] Design Solution”

                                       (Porter, 2015. p163)

In the ‘sort, test, experiment’ phases, she suggests re-approaching past ideas and past research, as past material may spark a useful piece of lateral thinking that creates a new, and perhaps even better idea, or modification to an existing idea that would not be conceived of otherwise. Similarly, Csikszentmihalyi also highlights this need to re-visit past points in the design process:

“the creative process is less linear than recursive. How many iterations it goes through, how many loops are involved, how many insights are needed, depends on the depth and breadth of the issues dealt with.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996. pp80-81)

Having established some of the fundamentals of a good design process, let us consider the first moment during our work on The Wheel where these ideas were not adhered to.

At the end of our third week on the project, we had our initial workshop with Jan Brown, in which it was suggested that it would be of use to us to explore ideas that were opposite to what we expected from a play ostensibly about war and its effects. Our ideas up to that point had centered around visual themes like mud and bombed-out buildings, the first images that came to our minds – probably as a result of exposure to images like this in the media and history textbooks. This idea of ‘looking for the opposite’ was attractive to us, as it promised to expose deeper truths through providing a contrast between what was visible on stage and what was happening on stage, this contrast acting to make the audience more deeply consider what the play was saying. Thought we decided to embark on a course of research exploring aspects of war that were clean and new, or at least well-kept, in opposition to this imagery of ruined buildings.

Although this process did indeed lead us on to the concept of war memorials, which ended up being a significant influence in our final design, ultimately, we were limiting ourselves by narrowing our main phase of research and development, as prior to this, due to the director wanting initial set designs in two days after we had been assigned the role. As a result, the research we were doing was not ‘gathering widely’ as it should have been, and while the prospect of looking for the opposite is a useful lateral step, ‘the opposite’ is inherently narrowing.

Additionally, evident in our initial meeting before pitching where we attempted to come up with complete set ideas and the director’s request for us to have some designs to her so early on in the process, we had too much of a focus on finding a finished design. This meant that we neither gave ourselves the time nor the motivation to think in terms of more abstract ideas that could be developed laterally, but instead trying to form every new idea into a design straight away, and rejecting it if it did not work immediately.

Similarly, incorrect usage of my sketchbook and notebook also caused a disruption to our process at this point, as they helped to render it more linear than recursive.

 “Often design inspiration arrives at unexpected times—remember the bed, bath and bus? Get in the habit of recording everything. That way, flipping through your sketchbook and scrolling through your folder will undoubtedly inspire new ideas, just when you start to despair. It will also help hold you accountable to the entire process.” (Porter, 2015. p97)

Although at the time, I was convinced I had been attempting to make good use of …, in hindsight, By the end of the process, my sketchbook contained a grand total of one sketch – and my notebook, which although containing much more material, had been used mainly in a presentational capacity, as a place to scribble or draw ideas in order to explain them to other people, rather than as a record to myself. My logs were also similarly under-used, giving a rough breakdown of the events of the week, rather than a detailed record of the ideas I had had.

What this all amounted to in this particular moment of the process, where we were actively looking for a new direction, was that I had voided all my past work as I had no way to return to it in a raw, usable form – all the ideas I had had up to that point were only available in mainly-finished designs. ‘Gathering widely’ means researching your own thoughts by cataloguing them, as much as it means, for example, making a mood board on Pinterest. Essentially, our failure to do adequate ground-work – i.e. complete the ‘preparation’ and ‘incubation’ phases meant that our resulting design was not necessarily the [best], or most informed piece of work it could have been.

Similarly, our process was also flawed in the later stages – in particular the ‘Evaluation/Develop’ phase, and this manifested itself in our key concept for the design – ‘war is a corrupting force’ not reading to an audience. In our design, the angular, unnatural, concrete hexagons coming out of the floor were supposed to represent the invasion of war on the light, , innocent, natural world – represented by the flowing dust-sheets suspended from the ceiling. Ultimately, though, upon our own reflection after the show, and encountering feedback fro the audiences and assessors, the meaning of these concrete structures did not come across.

Returning to De Bono’s statement that any idea generated “must eventually be tested with the full rigours of logic” (De Bono, 2014. p17) we see that in this instance a path had proven possible – we had a design concept which linked to the metaphor we had, but we had not tested or developed it enough through vertical thinking to check that it really made sense, and truly embodied it in the best possible way. Instead, this idea of war as a corrupting force had almost become a buzzword for our process, something Roznowski and Domer warn against:

“when the buzzwords start flying (e.g. “Think outside the box”) force them to define it. […] By avoiding generalizations, you will be forced to find new definitions for each production and for yourself.” (Roznowski & Domer, 2009. p8)

Although this warning is in reference to other people using buzzwords, I have come to realise that this also applies to ourselves – we have to be careful of ourselves, as it is easy to assume that because one is saying it, one is naturally considering it fully in every decision one makes – but that is not necessarily true. In this case, if the core of the play for us to us was ‘war is a corrupting force’, every design choice we made should have backed that up, and that would have led to a more coherent design.

One such decision which we failed to adequately test against our key metaphor was our choice of flooring. Due to budgetary and practical constraints – such as the show being quite physical in nature, and the actors having bare feet, we elected to use black dancemat as the flooring. As a result, we did not even consider other potential floor coverings until our first get-in of the set when we looked at the way the plainness of the black dancefloor jarred with  cream-coloured sheets overhead and the grey hexagons and both expressed a wish that the floor could have been entirely made of dust sheet material as well. This solution would have helped balance the composition of the set, as well as make the hexagons appear like more of an imposition into the world, making our message clearer. While Roznowski and Domer assert that this is a natural occurrence in most design processes – “Usually we look at each other other and say “Yeah, that would have been great! Next show.” (Roznowski & Domer, 2009. p57) – the question remains if we hadn’t limited our choices in such a way – or at least better analysed how the choice of a dancefloor reflected the idea of ‘war corrupting’, would we have stumbled on this idea while we still had a chance to change it, or find a way to make it work within the budget? Instead, the floor – which took up a large amount of visual real estate, both appeared to jar with the other design choices, and did nothing to further our message.

In hindsight, there were other ways we could have ensured that this key theme came across enough, but these were hindered by a lack of communication with our director. For example, as we finalised the design, we had an idea that the many moments of violence in the play could be performed on the hexagons, since they provided a natural focal point, and this would also help reinforce the idea that they were supposed to represent war. Yet this did not happen, as it was promptly forgotten about – both by the director, as we were not in rehearsal enough to provide reminders and guide usage of the set, and by us as I had, as previously mentioned, failed to utilise by notebook or logs properly, and had not recorded it. As a result, the actual content of the show did not help reflect our theme. While, this may not seem like the purview of the set designer, Roznowski and Domer states that “As designer, your job is to enhance the production’s focus and guide the actors and audience to the visceral experience you want to provide.” (Roznowski & Domer, 2009. p25), and this oversight therefore represents a failure in our role.

Roznowski and Domer also suggest a number of reflective questions to judge how well one has worked in the role of designer:

 

“Did I distance myself from my collaborators through ill-chosen vocabulary?

Did I analyze the script specific to the production?

Did I research our production fully?

Did I address the director’s/designer’s needs during revisions?

Did I effectively communicate my ideas to others?

Did I remain collaborative during rehearsals?”

                                                                        (Roznowski & Domer, 2009. p75)

 

In this essay, I have demonstrated how our issues in research, communication and collaboration during The Wheel affected the quality of our creative process, and consequently, our finished design. As a result of this, however, I now feel much more equipped to be more effective in this role in the future. Having made these mistakes, I would now aim to make a much more concerted effort to do enough groundwork and give myself the opportunity for more inspiration. Likewise, I am far more aware of the need for focus and structured testing of ideas to check that they do indeed make sense and read to an audience, and if they do not, giving myself the time, opportunity and tools to fix that problem.

Works Referenced:

De Bono, E. (2014) Lateral Thinking: An Introduction. [Online] Vermilion. Available from https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/lateral-thinking/id785370898?mt=11. [Accessed 27 December 2015]

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: HarperCollins.

Jones, R.E. (2004) The Dramatic Imagination. Oxon: Routledge.

Porter, L. (2015) Unmasking Theatre Design: A Designer’s Guide to Finding Inspiration and Cultivating Creativity. Oxon: Focal Press.

Roznowski, R. and Domer, K. (2009) Collaboration in Theatre: A Practical Guide for Designers and Directors. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Additional Bibliography:

Bayes, H. (2015) Tom Scutt: ‘Design isn’t about drawing, but talking’. The Stage. [Online] 13 July 2015. Available from https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/interviews/2015/tom-scutt-design-isnt-drawing-talking [Accessed 23 December 2015]

Collins, J. and Nisbet, A. (2010) Theatre and Performance Design: A Reader in Scenography. Oxon: Routledge.

Harris, Z. (2011) The Wheel. London: Faber and Faber

Oddey, A. and White, C. (Eds.) (2006) The Potentials of Spaces: The Theory and Practice of Scenography and Performance. Bristol: Intellect.

University Essay: Ethics of Fabulation in Documentary Theatre

This is one of a series of old essays that I wrote as part of my BA at The University of York, which I am now posting here for posterity: 

Telling The Truth: Ethics of Fabulation in Documentary Theatre

“She says, “You…will lie to them.”

And I say, “Yes, Cathy. I’m going to lie to lots of people.””  (Daisey, 2012)

‘Fabulation’ is a word of relatively uncommon usage in everyday English, and I therefore feel compelled to outline my reasons for its use in this essay. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines ‘ to fabulate’ as to “relate invented stories”, as opposed to ‘ to fabricate’, which it describes as to “invent (something) in order to deceive” – the important distinction here being the aspect of intended deceit. In order to avoid the assumption of ulterior motive for any potential untruths in a theatrical context, I will thus be avoiding the word ‘fabrication’, and have instead opted to use the somewhat rarer word ‘fabulation’.
In order to explore untruth in Documentary Theatre, we must also first establish that there are significant differences in opinion to what necessarily constitutes ‘truth’ in Theatre at all:

“I would say that it depends on what is meant by being truthful: literal truth or truth in spirit?” – Robin Soans (cited in Hammond and Steward, 2008, p41)

In this essay, I will explore the vast differences in approaches to the presentation of, and opinions on the concept of ‘truth’ in contemporary theatre through the lens of two of the most influential Documentary plays in recent years: The Laramie Project and The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in order to demonstrate that fabulation is occasionally acceptable in Documentary Theatre.

I. Defining ‘Documentary Theatre’

‘Documentary Theatre’ is a notoriously difficult term to define, at least in part due to its practitioners displaying an exceedingly diverse range of approaches to it. Many might consider it to be an overarching term, encapsulating more specific terms such as ‘Verbatim Theatre’ as a sub-genre.
In Verbatim: Staging Memory and Community, Caroline Wake makes the distinction between Documentary and Verbatim, setting them both as sub-genres next to each other on the spectrum of ‘Reality Theatre’. In this definition, ‘Verbatim Theatre’ is comprised of material gained from interviews, whereas ‘Documentary Theatre’ uses a variety of sources. This definition appears to be backed up by Peter Weiss’ often-cited “Fourteen Propositions for a Documentary Theatre”:

“The documentary theatre is a theatre of factual reports. Minutes of proceedings, files, letters, statistical tables, stock-exchange communiqués, presentations of balance sheets of banks and industrial undertakings, official commentaries, speeches, interviews, statements by well-known personalities, press, radio, photo, or film reporting of events and all the other media bear witness to the present and form the basis of the production..“ (Favorini, 1995, p139)

In reality, I would argue that this distinction does not preclude a definition of Documentary Theatre as an umbrella term which includes Verbatim – if interviews are a possible source for Documentary, and Verbatim is theatre comprised of interviews, then Verbatim is better defined as just a tool to be used the creation of Documentary Theatre, rather than a genre in itself. Therefore, in this paper, I will be using these definitions of ‘Documentary Theatre’ being theatre created from real-life sources, and ‘Verbatim’ being a tool used to present interviews, which are, in turn, a type of source.

 
II. “Truth”: The Laramie Project

“Just deal with what is true. You know what is true. You need to do your best to say it correct.” (Kaufman, M. et al, 2014, p63)

The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theatre Company was first performed at the Ricketson Theatre, Denver, 26th February 2000 and shows the effect on, and opinions of the community in Laramie, Wyoming, after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man.
The play itself could be described as a collage of material from interviews of the townsfolk, personal recounting from the actors’ experiences and court transcripts collected and collated over a period of 2 years. This source material was edited into series of intercut monologues and presented without invention, in what Variety describes as “The unfailing eloquence of plain-spoken words” (Young, 2000))
However, one major issue with the use of verbatim as a tool in Documentary Theatre, is that there is no guarantee that what is being said be the interviewees is in fact ‘the truth’. Holding each individual source to account for what they claim is therefore of utmost importance, and Tectonic Theatre Company are no strangers to this concept
Their earlier play, Gross Indecency holds the source material to account by ‘citing’ everything, and therefore absolves the theatre-makers from blame for the words of an individual they present on stage. This is achieved by continually presenting the exact material a section is developed from to the audience – for example, by holding a book that dialogue s taken from up so the audience can see it, and stating “from this book”.
As Rich Brown explains, this juxtaposition of sources creates debate and encourages the audience to construct their own truth from the evidence being presented to them, rather than prescribing one:

“The actors invite the spectators to construct Wilde’s story by presenting them with carefully selected yet conflicting accounts.” (Brown, 2005)

Similarly, a variety of sources are used, placing material that corroborates, or refutes next to each other, encouraging debate and calling integrity of each one into question, and whilst Gross Indecency cited the books each section was taken from, The Laramie Project includes a narrator character that names and identifies the other characters that appear on stage. This slight adaptation of the ‘citation’ technique provides the makers of The Laramie Project with the ability to absolve themselves of blame for the things said onstage, and any untruths therein, instead passing it straight on to the real people that originally said them, much like in Gross Indecency. Unlike Gross Indecency, however, where those that the blame it attributed to are dead, in The Laramie Project they are not, and any misrepresentation of them through editing could lead to a defamation lawsuit.
In WHAT’S UP, DOC? The Ethics of Fact and Fabulation in Documentary Performance: A Forum, Emily Mann uses the example of her own play to show the effect that the ordering of scenes can have on the audience’s interpretation of what they see and hear:

“When the white supremacist David Duke spoke to me for my Greensboro play [Greensboro: A Requiem] … he approved how I took our two-hour conversation and put it down to a five-minute speech… . And yet I put him in a position in the play where he was really shown off to be the lunatic that he is. But it was his approved speech. A lot of what you do when you work in this form is the order in which you place things.” (cited in Soloski, 2013)

In order to mitigate the potential harm from misrepresentation in this way, The Laramie Project uses another technique that Gross Indecency does not. It includes the actors themselves as characters in the play and uses these to actively debate their role as theatre makers to be as truthful as possible, as can be perhaps most clearly seen in the moment ‘Two Queers and A Catholic Priest‘:

”I will trust you people that if you write a play of this, that you (pause) say it right, say it correct. I think you have a responsibility to do that.” (Kaufman, M. et al., 2014, p64)

This inclusion of these actor-characters and the theme of them debating their duty as theatre makers effectively lays bare the making of the play, holding the cutting, re-ordering and structural choices open to criticism, and showing their own fallibility. In effect, it demonstrates to the audience, that the play may, intentionally or not, make a certain character appear a certain way because of when their words appear in the text, and what other characters their words are juxtaposed with. This highlights for the audience the inherent subjectivity in the play – despite the apparent balance from the wide range of sources – and that The Laramie Project is therefore merely an approximation of the truth.
However, that is not to say that these techniques were necessarily completely effective, or indeed are above criticism. Specifically, the use of actors as characters has garnered disapproval as it has been seen as somewhat narcissistic – describing it as a form of “Personality Journalism” (Brown and Wake, 2010, p28), and the actors as “self-aggrandizing” , (Brown and Wake, 2010, p26) Similarly, the use of this technique has been seen to cause issues in subsequent productions of The Laramie Project. For example, in the 2001 Company B production in Sydney, the show was criticised for it making the audience ‘Aware [they] are watching actors play actors’. (Brown and Wake, 2010, p30)

Perhaps, then, using actors as characters becomes less effective when these characters are not played by the same actors they are developed from. Potentially, we must then draw a distinction between ‘Laramie the project’ – a production borne out of the research and performance of actors working journalistically within a community, and ‘Laramie the play’ – a text that is nothing more than a transcript of that production. This distinction appears to be backed up by the criticism of Company B’s production as being “‘weakened’ by the fact its ‘development ha[d] already been concluded’” (Brown and Wake, 2010, p30). Additionally, it could be argued that by adding another degree of separation through having a new cast playing the actors, one adds another layer of subjectivity to the performance, and thus, without calling attention to this, cannot be said to be fully disclosing its level of truthfulness.

 
III. “Fabulation”: The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

 
The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was first performed 19th July 2010, at the Woolley Mammoth Theatre, Washington D.C and comprises of monologuist Mike Daisey recounting his experiences on his trip to a Foxconn – a supplier to Apple – factory in Shenzhen, China. The play, in which Daisey describes the appalling working conditions of the factory workers, and doubles as an emotive story and a call to arms, encouraging the audiences to pressure Apple to use its sway in the industry to make improvements.

Response to the play was initially good, but after performing an extract from the play on NPR’s journalistic podcast This American Life in 2012, doubt began to be cast on some of the things that Daisey claims in the play to have personally witnessed. As a result, This American Life issued a special ‘retraction’ episode where, in interviews with Daisey and his interpreter on the trip to Shenzhen, it was discovered that significant portions of the play had been embellished, or imported from other people’s experiences or news stories into his own narrative, and had not, in fact, actually happened to Daisey, as he claimed.
In accordance with Peter Weiss’ definition, The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs could be argued to be Documentary Theatre, as it uses a number of sources, and therefore, whilst not necessarily portraying a ‘literal truth’, does use evidence to provide a truth of sorts. Indeed, Daisey harkens to this himself in his initial defence of the piece:

“I stand by my work… . It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.” (cited in Soloski, 2013)

A number of pieces of ‘Documentary Theatre’, could be seen to fabulate in a similar way – Gregory Burke’s Black Watch, for example, invents dialogue in flashback scenes, and yet has not drawn the same level of criticism. We must therefore ask what it is about The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that makes it different, and why the fabulation within it is somehow ‘worse’, or more worthy of criticism.
It was not until the broadcast in This American Life that the criticism of the play’s fabulated sections really began to take hold, which seems to imply that the grievance is more to do with its inclusion in a journalistic program; he was “posing as a journalist when in fact he was a storyteller, and then continuing to sustain this fiction after he was offstage.” (Steen, 2014)
However, the criticism did not stop at the This American Life episode, instead the play itself – in a theatrical context – was also being subjected to the same reproval, saying that it was misleading audiences into the belief that was what being said was literally true. Shannon Steen explains that “for many people who are not theatre enthusiasts, Agony is indissociable from the TAL episode that featured it” (Steen, 2014) which, when we consider that much of the criticism came from technology journalists who had seen the play in the wake of the This American Life podcast, and the death of the titular character in 2011, goes some of the way to clarify why audiences and journalists rejected the piece wholesale.
This, however, can only be considered part of the explanation, as many claim that they believed the play to be being literally truthful, even prior to the segments NPR feature. Ira Glass, the presenter of This American Life demonstrates this as he explains to Daisey in the ’Retraction’ follow-up episode:

“I think you’re kidding yourself in the way that normal people who go to see a person talk – people take it as a literal truth. I thought that the story was literally true seeing it in the theater. Brian, who’s seen other shows of yours, thought all of them were true. I saw your nuclear show, I thought that was completely true. I thought it was true because you were on stage saying ‘this happened to me.’ I took you at your word. “ (NPR, 2012)

Clearly, then, there is an issue to be explored with Daisey’s use of the theatrical form itself.
Lisa Kron argues that the issue with The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is its reliance on the medium of a monologue, with Mike Daisey taking on the role of a story-teller:

“When a piece conflates stories about the world with theatrical representations of the world, problems arise. We have an implicit understanding of the rules of engagement when listening to a storyteller (or a reporter). But the metaphorizing glow of a theater stage lifts the speaker slightly above that set of rules. “ (Soloski 2013)

Ron seems to say that the sole use of the medium of story-telling is not in itself ‘theatrical’ enough to place the words being said in a metaphorical context and thus absolve them of the requirement to be literally true. However, it could be argued in response that there are plenty of occasions that story-telling is actually congruent with fabulation, such as in the retelling of fairy tales. I would therefore attest that to blame audiences thinking that the play is literally true in its entirety to the use of story-telling as a medium is simplifying the problem somewhat.
An additional factor in the confusion could be the way that it was labelled at the theatre in its initial run. Rather than being branded as ‘Documentary Theatre’, the play was instead referred to as ‘Non-Fiction Theatre’. Whilst there at first may not seem to be too much of difference between these two terms, one must consider that the phrase ‘non-fiction’ actively implies an avoidance of invention. Therefore, one could see the distinction between these terms as being that ‘Documentary Theatre’ is theatre that tells a real story, but does not by definition preclude anything fictionalised, whereas ’Non-fiction Theatre’ implies that it contains absolutely no fiction whatsoever. In essence, the use of this label amounted to the play claiming an one-hundred percent adherence to literal truth and veracity. As Hammond and Steward note:

“The claim to veracity on the part of the theatre maker, however hazy or implicit, changes everything. Immediately, we approach the play not just as a play but also as an accurate source of information. We trust and expect that we are not being lied to. When this claim is made, theatre and journalism overlap and like a journalist, the dramatist must abide by some sort of ethical code if their work is to be taken seriously. “(Hammond and Steward, 2008, p10)

Ultimately, despite maintaining the credibility of his work, Daisey issued this apology:
““And I would like to apologize to my colleagues in the theater, especially those who work in nonfiction and documentary fields… . If I have made your path more difficult, or the truth of your work harder for audiences to discern, I am sorry.” “ (Soloski, 2013)
However, this was not for want of critics who maintained that he was correct in his actions. Taylor Mac argues that the audience’s expectations of truth is not as literal as others assume, instead he says of some of the claims Mike Daisey makes in the play:

“That’s awesome if he made that up […] I feel that there is a contract that you have with your audience, and the contract actually is not what everyone is assuming it is, about ethics and truth, but actually that you will do whatever you can, whatever your power is, to make their experience feel valid, and to inspire them to then dream the conversation forward and the culture forward.” (Feldman, 2015)

Likewise, another contemporary posits that Daisey was not even wrong in taking the play outside the theatrical medium – “What makes you feel like you’re having an impact on the world more than it moving beyond the theater?” (Feldman, 2015)
Daisy claims that his intention in fabulating was to create interest and an emotional connection with his audience in order to spur them on to action. Ira Glass, from This American Life maintains that:

“Right but you’re saying that the only way you can get through emotionally to people is to mess around with the facts, but that isn’t so. “ (NPR, 2012)

However, regardless of whether it could have been done another way, it is certainly true that The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs has had a significant impact on the world outside the theatre. Since the play’s first performance, and as a result of the interest in working conditions it provoked, Apple has submitted itself to audits from the Fair Labor Association, and generally committed to a more open stance on its Supplier Responsibility Policies. This is a move which will have no-doubt improved working conditions for many labourers in factories such as the one in Shenzhen, and it could therefore be argued that this result was worth the lesser evil of misleading the public – in this case, the greater of the two evils would be failing to make a real difference. As Joshua Toploski puts it: “What I’m saying is that sad songs have a way of sticking with us long after we’ve heard them — and Daisey found a way to tell the sad, human part of this story. To make it catchy enough to stick, even if it was a lie.” (Topolski, 2015)
Nevertheless, Daisey eventually made significant changes to the piece, including the removal of some of the most controversial fabulated material, for its tour in 2012. These changes also made a point of highlighting his position as an unreliable narrator:
“”I am a noted fabulist,“ Daisey said. ”Perhaps none of this is true. Wouldn’t that be comforting?“ ”You don’t have to believe me. You never did.”” (Pegoraro, 2012)

Additionally, Daisey published the original draft of his play on his blog, royalty-free, to encourage as many productions as possible, and it has gone on to be an incredible popular play for fringe theatre companies. Interestingly, these productions have not been subject to the same criticism as the original – which appears.

“if you saw some college student in a college town, saying, “I went to China and I met this person,” wouldn’t you know that it was a play? In a way that you don’t when Mike Daisey himself is delivering it? And is that a factor in this conversation?” (Feldman, 2015)”

Much like The Laramie Project, these second-hand performances provide a degree of separation from the words being said. In this case, however, unlike in The Laramie Project, it actually highlights the theatricality of the piece, and the fabulation is no longer taken as gospel, making it much less controversial in terms of the ethics of telling the truth.
Fabulation in Documentary Theatre is undoubtedly an ethical minefield, through which, one must carefully avoid to mislead your audience into belief that what they are seeing can claim total veracity. In this way, ensuring ethical fabulation and slight mistruth in Documentary Theatre relies on an honesty about the fallibility of the theatre makers presenting it – such as in The Laramie Project, where choice of order and sections to include could be said to not be telling the entire truth, and thus Tectonic Theatre Company chose to include themselves and their process on stage to be a target for criticism. It can also be seen in the revised version of The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs with Mike Daisey highlighting his own position as an unreliable narrator, again bringing the play itself, and not just the things being discussed in it, into debate.
Perhaps the best way to sum up, is to leave the final word to Oskar Eutis, artistic director of The Public Theatre at Astor Place. Speaking at the ‘Feldman, 2015’ forum, convened during the media frenzy surrounding the Mike Daisey scandal, he issued this statement of apology for failing to adequately label the show:

“Every performance creates a contract, implied or explicit, between the stage and the audience. That contract directs how the audience should view the performance, what the rules of engagement are. It covers everything from the physical relationship between actors and audience to the border between fiction and fact contained in the performance. Our job as a theater is to create that contract anew with every performance, and then to fulfill it. We did not do that with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. We would not have called it nonfiction had we known that incidents described in the piece were fabricated. We didn’t know, and the result was that our audience was misled. The piece had a powerful, positive impact on the world, and we are proud of that. But that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of honoring our contract with our audience. As artists, we know that truths do not always hinge on facts. However, when we present pieces whose power depends on their claim to authenticity, we must hold ourselves to a different and higher standard of accuracy. We must ascertain, to the best of our ability, that the facts presented in the piece are, in fact, facts. We will do so in the future.” (in Feldman, 2015)

References:

Apple, (2015). Fair Labor Association Begins Inspections of Foxconn. [online] Apple.com. Available at: https://www.apple.com/uk/pr/library/2012/02/13Fair-Labor-Association-Begins-Inspections-of-Foxconn.html [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

Brown, P. and Wake, C. (2010). Verbatim. Strawberry Hills, N.S.W.: Currency Press.

Brown, R. (2005). Moises Kaufman: The Copulation of Form and Content. Theatre Topics, 15(1), pp.51-67.

Daisey, M. (2015). The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: http://mikedaisey.com/Mike_Daisey_TATESJ_transcript_1.0.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

Favorini, A. (1995). Voicings. Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco Press.

Feldman, A. (2015). Feldman, 2015 – The Mike Daisey Panel: Transcript. [online] Timeout.com. Available at: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/theater/ truth-in-theater-the-mike-daisey-panel [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

Hammond, W. and Steward, D. (2008). Verbatim, verbatim. London: Oberon.

Kaufman, M., et al. (2014). The Laramie project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. New York: Vintage Books.

NPR, (2012). ‘Retraction’ Transcript. [online] This American Life. Available at: http://podcast.thisamericanlife.org/special/TAL_460_Retraction_Transcript.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

Pegoraro, R. (2012). How Mike Daisey retooled The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. [online] Ars Technica. Available at: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/08/how-mike-daisey-retooled-the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-steve-jobs/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

Soloski, A. (2013). What’s Up, Doc?: The Ethics of Fact and Fabulation in Documentary Performance: A Forum. Theater, 43(1), pp.9-39.

Steen, S. (2014). Neoliberal Scandals: Foxconn, Mike Daisey, and the Turn Toward Nonfiction Drama. Theatre Journal, 66(1), pp.1-18.

Topolski, J. (2015). Why Mike Daisey had to lie to tell the truth about Apple. [online] Washington Post. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/why-mike-daisey-had-to-lie-to-tell-the-truth-about-apple/2012/03/21/gIQA8VofSS_story.html [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

Young, A. (2000). The Laramie Project. [online] Variety. Available at: http://variety.com/2000/legit/reviews/the-laramie-project-1200461329/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2015].

a rage poem about this whole referendum bullshit.

On a Friday morning in June, we wake up to the news
that the last remaining outpost of the Empire,
that once gobbled up half the world,
has finally eaten itself.

Riding its tsunami of nationalistic fervour,
Britain tears itself limb from limb.
Ireland, Scotland and Wales defy their geography
and float away to leave England
alone at last.

Little England.

Britannia boasts with pride to the waves it used to rule,
Shouting orders across the sea, but the sea isn’t listening.
No one’s listening any more.
Why should they, when we’ve shut the door
on Europe in its time of need?

I thought that the country we fought for
and died for
in two World Wars
did so to stop hatred and division between our neighbours?

But hatred has come home to roost,
planted itself,
germinated,
and taken root,
in a “People’s Revolt” highjacked by the political elite
to place the blame for problems in our nation
across the sea, not at their own feet.

And now even people who grew up in this country
are being told in the street
to go home
when they’ve lived here all their fucking lives.
Just like the immigrants on whom our NHS thrives.
They’ve worked
paid taxes
done everything right.
But all the man who shouts at them can see
is that they’re not like him.

Not white.

What happened to us?
The country I used to know looked outwards, not in.
We’re not all racists, of course we’re not.
But we have let the racists win.

Our parents and grandparents drank from Europe’s cup,
built the bridges to the rest of the world
then promptly burnt them when we grew up.
They opened our eyes
to people of all creeds,
colours
and cultures,
but didn’t themselves look
in case – God forbid – they might learn something
that might challenge them.

What’s the point in nationalism when have Facebook?
Facetime?
Skype?
What really divides us?
Not our locations.
Not our nations.

In times these its easy to abandon hope.
Give up.
But we can’t.
We have work to do,
no time for feeling solemn.
We’ve got to let the fascists know.
We still have #MoreInCommon