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2009 Fadjr Festival Iran - Like the Good Old Days

Apparently when The Rite of Spring premiered, people fainted, a woman gave birth on the spot, and the audience were so outraged that they rampaged through the theatre, ran out of doors and inadvertently started both the modern world and the first World War.  When was the last time that happened as a result of programming in the Olivier, I ask myself?

Nope. The modern western world being what it is, the most we can hope for is a mild tiff in the box office line-up:"the queue starts here, I believe" uttered through stiff lips.

I had a taste of what it might have been like in the good old days when I visited the Fadjr Festival in Iran last week.  Let me just take that sentence again.  "I had a....visited the Fadjr Festival in Iran last week."  Yep.  That is correct.  Just as the British Council was engaged in a big kerfufle, gathering its skirts and leaving Iran with accusations flying in both directions, a group of about 10 of us, without any access to the newspapers or any sense of what was actually going on, were in Tehran eating sweets and trying to survive Peter Shaffer's Amadeus in Farsi.  Actually, I was stuck in there with one other colleague, having been directed thither whilst trying vainly to get into another, apparently rather good, show.  Everyone else was smart, and decamped early.

So yes, at the Fadjr what was good was very very good, and what was bad was awful

However, whatever it was, good or bad, the audience were hungry for it.  Which is how I ended up getting the last available seat in an Iranian adaptation of the Bonnie and Clyde story, updated with boredom and guns and sex in hotel rooms - the latter no mean feat in a country where the censors don't allow men and women to actually touch on stage.  And the audience knew it.  There were hundreds of people outside the doors who couldn't get in.  And they yelled and pounded on the door throughout act one, making sure we who were inside knew how they felt.  And we sat in the sweltering heat, wrapped in headscarves, sharing warm bottled water, watching the gradually warping door as much as the on-stage action, thinking "so this is what it used to be like in the good old days."


Bumping Into Walls in Second Life

"Just make her a little more skinny.  No, a little more. Yup. Nope, I'd like the hair a bit longer.  Thicker.  Yup.  Good."  Thus go the temptations of the first avatar.  All today I've been feeling guilty, wandering around Belfast telling myself I'll make an alternative identity based on those photographs of the aged Dorris Lessing in last week's papers.  Round.  Old. Wrinkled.  Wise.  But maybe with pigtails....

What am I talking about? Second Life, of course!  Somebody told me recently that nobody really gets to grips with new technology once they pass the age of 27, and being slighlty older than that, I've been determined ever since to prove them wrong.  So yesterday I figured out how to get onto Second Life, the virtual world where one builds an avatar of one's self and walks around.  It's amazing!  You walk around!  Wow!  I walked around!  Yes - hard to believe, but I did.  Neat, huh?

Ok, now can I make a confession? 

1)my walking was pretty poor.  I spent alot of time bumping repeatedly into walls, once I fell off a path into the sea, and once I bumped into - no I did actually BUMP (bang, crash, accidentally thump) a creative writing teacher from the USA who was unable to get out of the way because he was trying to figure out how to change his shirt. Embarassing.

2) it was totally compelling.  I walked around - for hours.  No really.  Real earth hours.  Terrifying.

Apparently people pay REAL money to buy virtual stuff for their virtual selves in this virtual world.  Lots and lots of money, thousands and thousands of US dollars.  Hard to believe, but after experiencing the thrill of all that walking yesterday I begin to have a tiny inkling as to why.  Not that I ever would. Real Life is too good!

Doris and I are just going to nip in for a quick stumble. 


Defending the Fun - Keep Our Arts Alive

Keep%20our%20arts%20logo%20hi-Res.jpgIt's Not All Rain & Potatoes has just finished its first run - 10 performances in 4 venues, and after the press night on Wednesday of the first week, mostly sold out.  What a relief.  We were focused, commercially-minded and tough, and we broke even.  We had to go at it without much funding, given the current climate, where Northern Ireland government funding for the Arts has been cut.  Now the Arts are threatened with more cuts. Here's a description of what working in this climate feels like. Want to know more about Arts funding in Northern Ireland?  Follow the link on the right to the "Keep Our Arts Alive" homepage.

Getting It's Not All Rain & Potatoes Up and Running


We started with brainstorming sessions with 6 to 8 people in May and June of 2007, then jottings over the summer in between trips to Canada and Hong Kong.

Set up the interactive show blog about that time to.  Learned how to build a website and did it.  That was fun. Over 1200 people checked in from around the globe.

811677-1184676-thumbnail.jpgNailed down the sponsor. Booked the tour.  A venue drops out at the last minute.  Find somewhere else.  Three funding applications, 5 budgets, 6 cash-flows during the course of the summer.  First funding application turned down - the company is too new, what with Government cuts they can't fund any new companies.  As individuals we have 60 years experience between us? To bad, try again next year.  Second application successful, thank the lord: 50% matching funds from Arts & Business save the day yet again.  They give us £3k.  Will give the sponsor free business training in return, have the skills to do that. Third funding application turned down - they only want to support projects that go forward on or after the 14th of November.  "But our show's press night and official launch IS the evening of the 14th of November!".  "Really? Oh.  Well it'll probably take a few days for us to get our admin sorted so we probably had better say no". Right. Tighten the belts.  Will do admin myself for free, will defer my and others writers' fee, will my cut director's fee.

Donkey%20w%20Wayfarers2.jpgBack to writing the script. Get the posters and flyers done.  Ooops flyers come back missing the colour yellow, which means that the rainbow suddenly looks like an orange white and green Irish flag - won't wash in the protestant communities - am determined no one must feel excluded. Send them back, and argue with everyone about who will pay.  Negotiate new flyers. Back to writing the script. Take photographs for the PR campain. Find man to film the show.  Continue writing the script. Run auditions, cast. Continue writing.  Sign off all the venue contracts.

The songs start to come in.  They are VERY fun.

Distribution is supposed to go ahead.  Get quote, can't afford it.  David Hull steps in to help.  Kiss his feet.  Rehearsal starts. First week is mostly script reading and work in our living rooms, as we can't afford rehearsal space, not much actual rehearsal gets done.  We should be further along by now. Week two get into southbank for rehearsals - joy! PR campain cranks up, rewrites at night after rehearsal, review the budgets, rehearsal, PR stuff during the lunch breaks. Third week of rehearsal - we couldn't afford a stage manager till now, but when he arrives, it's bliss.  He'll design lights too.  Had to cut costume and set designer.  Will do own designs.  The 886692-920238-thumbnail.jpgwonderful Stuart Marshall steps in on a reduced fee and gives us 4 to 5 days of his time. Takes my designs and gets things gussied up and sorted.  Cute props start to arrive, and chairs with shamrocks and grass on them. I go out on Thursday after rehearsal and buy costumes for boys.  Nuala gets hers same night. We rewrite the script after we get home.

Anthony does the sound cues at home for free in the spare bedroom, telephoning himself in order to record what sounds like a busy office. More fun. Paint boys converse boots green.

Negotiate with insurers.  Not happy with quotes, beat them down. Find a friendly man at Marsh UK who helps. Can't tech at the Opera House, the weekend before the show, as we can't afford their weekend & overtime rates.  Negotiate with Flowerfield to tech there. Invite local young people's drama group to attend.  Promise to do them a free workshop. Everyone drives to the North Coast.  Two cast members have the flu.  Open Monday in Belfast, 1st preview after only 8 hours to rig, focus, and tech both light and sound on first performance ever.  Member of the press gets into the show two days before the official press night - someone in the host venue said "yes". Want to die.  This is not fun. Show is NOT ready.  Couldn't afford enough prep - press night is WEDNESDAY for God's sake.

Tuesday, second preview is sublime. From Wednesday, the show is solid.  It has found its feet.  We give everyone a donkey badge and start to relax a little.  We still rewrite every morning, and rehearse in the afternoons - it's new comedy, we need 886692-920239-thumbnail.jpgthe audience before we know what's fun and what isn't. By Friday start to relax.  Get the flu.  Must teach during the run.  Need the money. Am broke.  Can't pay self yet as cash flow is tight.  Have to perform before we start really getting paid.  God bless the Opera House advance, and a backer who steps forward with an extra £2k just when the crunch comes.

Get very ill. Miss some of the second week of shows.  Make it to the later ones.  Arranging filming of the show. Start to get money in, pay everyone's invoices.  Final night, filmed for posterity.  Not the best audience but performance strong and everyone on a high.  All head to the pub after the get out.  Anthony Toner who wrote the music, is gigging at a local bar.  Dancing, drinking, solve the problems of the world until 5 am.  Make enormouse pancake breakfast for everyone who's still alive on Sunday morning.  Feel curiously bereft.  Will shortly pay self.  Will make £1500 for producing, writing and directing It's Not All Rain & Potatoes, May-Dec 2007. Am determined to sell the show to international Irish market, will look into adapting for TV or Radio. Creative Industries. Can you have them without development support for the Arts?

Support "" .  Persuade the government of Northern Ireland not to cut funds to Arts and artists in Northern Ireland.



It's the Little Things

What else my friends ask? What is Hong Kong really like?  What have you noticed Andrea!?! This is a hard call.  I grew up in Asia, so much of what is see around me feels so familiar that I don't really notice that it might seem "different" for other people, but there are little things.  Those sun brollies for instance.  It's a very common sight in the outlying districts to see elderly gentlemen cycling, with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding a pink, silver or purple umbrella aloft on a brilliantly sunny day.

HK%20shop.JPGWhat else? The beauty and sophistication of most of the people I see around me.  They're tiny.  They're mostly perfect.  I think I've seen only one truly hefty girl so far in the entire city of Hong Kong - and boy do they eat!  The entire population of Hong Kong appears to be gifted with the most extraordinary metabolisms.  But, to be fair, they eat little and often, and it's mostly delicious but healthy food.  There is local concern about the advent of processed snacks, so I hope they resist. 

The T-shirts.  They're ubiquitous, riotous and interesting.  The other day I passed a solemn gentleman of advanced years whose T-shirt had just one word printed on it: "Drone".  The mind boggled.  Bertie Wooster, I wondered?

The general air of safety.  This is probably the safest large city I've ever been in.  The lack of public drunkenness.  What a relief.  The fact that everyone lives in apartments, and where the apartments stop, the slopes of the mountains begin.  I've hardly seen any houses.  For such a large city there's hardly any sprawl.  Just skyscrapers, water, and mountains.


Teaching Drama in Hong Kong

Tin Shui Wai
I'm in Hong Kong.  I've been here since Sunday afternoon.  It's now Thursday.  It's the height of the summer so it's pretty hot but this is hardly news.  Every morning I get up at about 8, eat breakfast, walk out of the hotel and catch the bus on the Jordan road.  Quite quickly I've realised that the Hong Kong grannies and grandpas are right.  If you put up an umbrella to ward off the sun, it makes things a whole lot more enjoyable.  Even waiting for the bus.  Fortunately, after living in Ireland the concept of putting something up to ward off whatever is beating down from the heavens is a concept I'm familiar with.  I stand, wearing what feels like far too little clothing for a city - usually just a t-shirt and cropped trousers - with my brolly and little bag, waiting for the - ahhhhhhhh air-conditioned - bus to take me to Tin Shui Wai, about 45 minutes away.

In Tin Shui Wai, I meet my two colleagues from Chung Ying Theatre and we try to pour our three combined wisdoms into 25 or so drama students in preparation for a showcase for theatre-in-education supporters.  The students range from the irrepressible Samson, aged about 6, who barely reaches my waist, to a group of lovely 15 and 16 year old girls called Ruby, Delta and Chloe, who help out with everything.  There's also the wonderful Harry, who only needs to be shown anything once, and just happens to have a perfect boy's soprano but can get down into tenor if he needs to, at 9, he's already star material.  I'm supposedly the visiting director, but I have to work pretty hard to make myself heard - the Cantonese are a voluble lot, and the kids are happy to talk at the top of their lungs every minute.  Unless, of course, I sit them all down and ask them a direct question.  Then they all clam up.  Speak up in a class?  No way!  So I sneak the questions in.  Would you prefer A or B?  I can't choose between this, this or this, what do you want? My colleagues tell me that all class sizes a pretty much 40+, so teachers and kids get used to discipline and control as a means of survival.  Self-discipline is a different matter, that takes longer to learn everywhere in the world.  There are the children who are inventive, attentive, talented and funny and then, on the other hand, there are the ones with - well we talked for a while and eventually worked out that we meant "attention deficit syndrome", it's just called something different in Chinese.  But truly, it's pretty much the same as teaching anywhere else in the world, a little slower because of the need for translation, but surprisingly similar.   They still sneak up to you at quiet times when their friends aren't listening and say: "miss, miss, can you help?  I'm not sure what to do with my hands in this bit."  

So were there any differences? What leapt out at me?  Well, when we called a break, they all rushed to their bags, as all children do, and pulled out their snacks.  Every single child was drinking water.  Not a sugared drink to be seen.  It was impressive, and you could feel the difference in their behaviour.  They were MORE attentive after their drink, not less. I'd say it is worth while banning pop from children's rehearsal anywhere in the world, in the future.