Category Archives: Theatre

Little Johnny Howard

I did a theatre workshop over the weekend run by a writer/director friend of mine. It was exploring Brexit and the current political divide, amongst other things and we had to bring in a speech made by a politician, which we viewed as marking a turning point in politics and towards right-wing conservatism in particular. I immediately thought of the Tampa crisis and John Howard’s insistent that we would decide who came into our country and the circumstances in which they arrive. So, I brought an interview John Howard did with Mike Munro from that time. I found it on this archive that is kept of select Australian prime minister’s press releases, speeches, interviews etc. You can find it here. We had to create something new from what we had brought and I was quite pleased with my effort. The disturbing thing about it is how similar the rhetoric is from the current European refugee crisis, even though this was 15 years ago. People at the workshop were really shocked it was so old.

So, here it is:

This is a very difficult situation for everybody.

We are a humane people.

We are a generous people.

We are reaching a breaking point.

We are not obliged to accept.

We appear to be losing control.

We have an absolute right.

We have decide to take a stand.

We assert the absolute right to control our borders.

We cannot surrender our right as a sovereign country, our right to control our borders.

No country can ever give that up.

We cannot have a situation where people can come to this country when they choose.

We can’t continue sending a signal to the rest of the world that this is a nation of easy destination.

The should be returned to Indonesia.

All we’re asking is that there not be any queue jumpers.

There are a lot of people waiting in the queue.

They should go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

They’re not in imminent fear or concern about the situation.

They try and intimidate us with our own decency.

Four of the illnesses were not as represented.

Three were very mild.

One was feigned.

We will provide medical assistance, we will provide water, we’ll provide food, I mean, we are a very generous people but you’ve got to balance that against not having that generosity played upon.

little johnny howard

Little Johnny Howard found here

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Filed under Politics, Theatre, Uncategorized

Reading Deprivation

To fill up my spare hours and to save me from going crazy with the organisation of yet another country move (this is the 4th country move I’ve done in 6 years. Or the 6th city move in 6 years. I think I might need help), I am currently working my way through a book called ‘The Artist’s Way.’ It’s a book that’s meant to help ‘blocked creatives’ (I really, really, really have to work hard at not sneering at that phrase) get past whatever is getting in the way of them making work. There’s all sorts of activities that you do, but the most important are the ‘morning pages’ and the weekly artist’s date. The morning pages are three full pages of writing that you do in the morning time – you get out whatever crap is in your head, or stressing you out and write it down and try to work through it. It’s like a free-form, flow of consciousness diary, I guess. The artist’s date is just doing something every week that is just for you, whatever takes your fancy. So far, I have had an excursion to a falling-down 19th century sanatorium, bought silly stamps at the craft stall, painted ceramics and… this week’s has not yet happened.

I bought the book in Bandon, Ireland (5 moves ago) and started it then, but never made any headway. I think I read the first chapter. This time, I’m being really diligent. It helps that I’m not employed, I guess. Every Wednesday, I read my chapter and then I copy the weekly activities into a little exercise book that I decorated. And when I do my activity, I get a little owl stamp that says ‘Sehr Schön’ on it. I figured it would appeal to the obsessive compulsive child that I am, deep down in my heart. So far, it’s worked very well.

Anyway. The big activity for this week is called ‘Reading Deprivation’. When I first read the phrase, I thought it meant it was going to address the fact that I had been depriving myself of reading and we were going to fix it and I was going to read all the things.

read-all-the-things

ALL THE THINGS! Found here

Of course, it’s the opposite. You’re supposed to deprive yourself of reading all the things. In fact, you are banned, BANNED, from reading anything. ANYTHING.

As I read (ha!) through what I was supposed to do, a genuine feeling of dread crept up on me. How exactly was I supposed to do this? How was I supposed to get all the things done that I needed to get done without reading? The first thing I do every morning (and this is… sad, I grant you) is reach for my computer and check email and check Facebook. I’d like to blame the habit on being in a different country from my family and many friends, but, let’s be honest here. I’d probably do it if I’d never left Australia too.

I had lots of questions about the reading deprivation. Was I allowed to read signs? Recipes? Information on the back of drug packets? Every time I needed to look something up, did I need to get Alex to read it on my behalf and then tell me the salient points? What if he read it wrong? Could I read things that I, myself, had written? Or was I only allowed to write texts and emails and send them into the world with whatever predictive text had decided I wanted to say? Is everyone who ever sent an amusingly suggestive text with a strange predictive text word substitution all doing this reading deprivation activity?? The book did not answer these, or really any, of my questions. In fact, the book is quite vague on most of the details. The author tells us that she’s often called crazy for this particular exercise, there’s always someone who says they can’t do what she’s told them to do. And then they all end up doing it. But, but, but… HOW do they end up doing it? Not everyone is unemployed! How do teachers get away with not reading things for an entire work? Are you allowed to read things if you’re being paid to read them? Where does the ‘no reading’ ban end? What happens if I briefly glance over the toiletries in the shower and my brain accidentally comprehends the word ‘shampoo’? Did I read it? Is the exercise over then? Do I have to start again? Should I just walk through the world with my eyes closed for a week?

I’m beginning to think she left it deliberately vague so that you can make your own mind up about what really is essential reading and what you can do without. That’s my decision, anyway. So, I’ve come up with a few of my own rules. For example, the book was originally written in 1992 and the version I have was re-printed in 2002. So, well before communications were radically altered through social media and text message. So, in the end, I decided that I was allowed to continue reading basic communication texts – things that might have been, back in the day, a phone call – because otherwise life would get really difficult. I’ve also allowed myself to read things online for basic information. For example, Alex and I want to go kayaking tomorrow. I had to research where the kayak rental was. That involved reading websites and I decided that was ok.

You may have also noticed that I’m still updating Facebook. Well, I’m allowed to write. So, I figure, posting on Facebook is ok and responding to people commenting on my post is ok, but scrolling mindlessly through my News Feed is a definite no-no.

Even with these, fairly generous, rules in place, the no reading thing has been difficult and frustrating. It’s also been eye-opening. The amount of hours I spend on the computer just waiting for something to distract me, not even entertain me, just distract me, is kind of terrifying. I’ve gotten into a habit of having the computer open at all times, so that whenever I’m reading or watching something and there’s a reference I don’t get, or there’s a song that I recognise but can’t remember why, I immediately get on the computer to look it up. Sure, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But, stopping doing it as made me realise how easily distracted I actually am. Sitting down and really focusing on something and committing to not being distracted is actually hard work. That’s why I love reading on the UBahn, or going to the cinema – it’s easier to not be distracted from a movie or a book when I’m not at home, with easy access to the internet. Somewhere down the line, I turned into those dogs from Up and didn’t even notice and also willingly participated in the transformation.

squirrel

Squirrel found here

It’s made me think about lots of things. And not all of them are anti-internet. Like, how did I get information before the internet? I was still a kid, so a lot of the time I just asked my Dad and he knew. I looked up things in our massive Oxford English Dictionary, which was fine for words and things, but not so much for people. I looked things up in my Dad’s old high school Encyclopaedia, but as it was from the 60s, most of the time I did it for laughs and to see people still referring to Russia as the U.S.S.R. There was a reference section of our high school library, where some librarian had carefully cut out newspaper or magazine articles and arranged them alphabetically by subject in horizontal files: Peron, Eva; Peron, Juan. I wonder what happened to all those files. That I now have access to the answer to almost any question I could possibly have is pretty amazing. That I mostly use it to find out what others films a familiar looking actor was in is possibly a waste. That I look up the information and then immediately forget it is probably unsurprising. That not being able to look up the answer to every random question that goes through my brain over the past few days hasn’t resulted in my brain exploding or the end of the world is also telling.

I’ve also discovered I have SO MUCH free time. I know I am currently unemployed, which certainly helps the free time. But, seriously. I can’t think of enough things to do during the day. I’ve actually written myself a list called, ‘Things I Like Doing’ so that if I get bored, I don’t panic and decide there is nothing else to do ever, ever, I’ll be bored forever. I’ve been saying a lot over the past few months that I ‘don’t know what I like anymore’. But part of it was that I just wasn’t bothering to think of things that I liked anymore. I’d come home from work tired and instead of going to the effort of thinking of something I might like to do, I would immediately open the computer and ‘zone out’ for an hour. Hour and a half. Two hours. It was boring. It was frustrating. It was numbing. But as long as things kept changing online there was at least distraction. There was at least something to do. I didn’t have to think too hard and come up with something I might actually like to spend my time doing.

My anxiety levels have also been through the roof over the past two years. I mean, I know, I’ve always been an anxious person. But, there’s been a steady increase over the last little while. And I think part of it has been this underlying feeling that I should always be ‘doing something.’ And, again, online, it is actually possible to always be doing ‘something’. It may or may not be worthwhile ‘something’, but it is, at least, a ‘something’. It might be watching a cat push a dog into a pool (that would be awesome, though, wouldn’t it?) or it might be an 8 page profile of Angela Merkel. But there’s always ‘something’ to do. I find myself going, ‘I’ll just read this and then I’m finished.’ ‘I’ll just watch this and then I’m finished.’ But it never ends, there’s always more clicks, there’s always more suggestions. What exactly did the cat video add to my life? It gave me a cheap laugh, I suppose and we do sometimes need cheap laughs. But if it ends in an hour long cycle of cheap laughs, it’s probably gone on too long. In the last two days, I have, twice, made myself a cup of tea, opened the doors of my balcony and stared at the sky for a good 45 minutes to an hour. I used to love doing things like that. But, I just kind of forgot about it. Because it seemed boring. Because it wasn’t ‘something’. Because it wasn’t as quickly diverting as jumping online.

The whole point of the ‘reading deprivation’ exercise is to stop filling yourself up with things that other people have written or created and start making space to write your own things. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think it would work that quickly. But, seriously. When you’ve suddenly got an entire empty afternoon stretching out in front of you and no ability to spend it staring at other people’s lives on Facebook, or even, getting out a new novel and devouring it hour after hour – why not write something? It doesn’t even have to be a good something. It just has to be a something. Because, no matter how relaxing it is to stare at the clouds for an hour, eventually you’re going to get bored. You’re going to get lonely. You’re going to start feeling some things and you’re going to want to deal with those things.

I do hate people who get all ‘holier than thou’, especially when it comes to the internet and mobile phones (ah, the irony of a video, telling you to look up from your mobile, packaged as clickbait), but the last few days have been a goddamn revelation. I knew I spent too much time online and I knew I hated it. But suddenly banning myself from being unproductively online has made me realise just how much time I spend there, how much I don’t enjoy it and all the things I could possibly be doing if I wasn’t on the goddamn internet. I’m not saying I want to go back to the days when I wasn’t able to find out what ‘AIDS’ was by looking in my dad’s 1960s schoolboy encyclopaedia. But, I’m also saying that I want to make sure that the things I do online are done with purpose, have an end point and are an asset to my broader life, instead of an endless cycle of sponsored clicks.

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Filed under Introspection, learning, Random, Theatre, Unemployment

What Do You Want?

One of the awkward parts of heading home over Christmas was the amount of times I had to answer the question, ‘So, are you still acting?’ Because I gave up so many months ago (though, really, if no-ones asking you to audition for anything and you’re not getting paid any actual money, is there anything you’re actually ‘giving up’, really?) and then wrote several blog posts about it and then put those blog posts on Facebook, I kind of assumed everyone would have gotten the message. I mean, obviously my family and friends have all subscribed to my blog and eagerly await each new post, which they then read in minute detail, taking notes so that they can later discuss me and my life choices at some kind of ‘Jenny blog’ reading group they have, right?

RIGHT?

Apparently that is not the case (do they not LOVE me???) Nothing like heading home to have to come face-to-face with a whole bunch of stuff you happily ignore in your fake, not-quite-adult, day-to-day Berlin life.

‘No, I’m not acting anymore.’

‘No, I’m not writing either.’

‘No, no theatre, none at all, absolutely no interest, but, anyways, HOW ARE YOU?’ (Mental note: must get better at effective conversation subject changes)

The next question then is, ‘Well, what are you going to do now?’

To which the response is, ‘I don’t know.’

And, then, inevitably, ‘Well, what do you WANT to do?’

To which the response still is, ‘I. DO. NOT. KNOW.’

Idon'tKnow

DON’T KNOW, DON’T KNOW, DON’T KNOW

This is a troubling answer to a lot of people. Who doesn’t know what they want?

(Side note: I often don’t know what I want, but usually it’s 8pm, I haven’t eaten since lunch and someone is attempting to figure out what restaurant to go to. At which point, my response is to cry until someone finds the largest possible plate of the nearest available food and gives it to me)

See, I knew what I wanted. For many years I knew what I wanted and that was to work in theatre and I didn’t know how that was going to happen, but that’s what I wanted and I was going to make it work. Somehow. Many people told me that was not what I wanted, or I that I shouldn’t want that, or that was a stupid thing to want, or a bad thing to want or blah blah blah and it turns out those many people were right. Kudos to them, I hope you all feel very proud of yourselves and wow, wouldn’t life have been swell if I’d listened to you all. No, really, I’m not bitter at you, I’m bitter at me.

ANYWAY, the main point is that after having given up on that one thing that I actually wanted, I literally am left with nothing else.

That’s rather melodramatic. Of course there are plenty of things that I could do, and, furthermore, have considered doing, but exactly how does one choose between them? When there is no strong feeling guiding you in any direction? My main criteria at the moment is, ‘must not choose wrong thing again,’ which I’m sure you can imagine is fairly crippling. I do have one other main criteria which is, ‘cannot work shitty, casual, low-paid, soulless work anymore’, which is also kind of ephemeral and all-encompassing and, in it’s own way limiting.

Despite my ridiculous amounts of fancy schooling, I am trained in nothing useful and nothing necessary.

And, to have people still asking me the same shitty question that got me into this mess (‘But, what do you WANT to do?’) is just the icing on the cake.

 

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Filed under Berlin, Employment, Introspection, Theatre, Unemployment

The Theatre Detox

In the past 8 months, I have seen a total of 3 plays. 2 of which I only went to because friends invited me (and I wanted to see the friend, not the play). 1 of which could be more accurately described as a work-in-progress physical-theatre piece, but, hey, ‘play’, is easier.

At the end of the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I was so physically, mentally and emotionally wrung out by ‘The Theatre’ (big, booming English dramatic voice), that I vowed to give up on it entirely. It was a gut reaction and it shocked me in it’s intensity and also in it’s feeling of truth. People didn’t really take me seriously. I had been saying I wanted to be an actor since I was 12 years old. I had been doing amateur theatre since I was 8. My involvement in theatre seemed to be the defining aspect of my personality. But, I said it vehemently over and over, to anyone who would listen, at any time of the day: ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’ On the night after opening, I told my brother, who had, of course, agreed to perform in my show, unpaid, and give up 6 weeks of his time rehearsing and performing. I think I was wearing a towel. I could have made that up. The main point is, it was awkward.

I hated the theatre with all the passion and vindictiveness of a scorned lover. I felt physically gouged by the utter indifference I had managed to elicit from ‘The Industry’ (sarcastic, drawling American voice). I ranted about the artificiality and superficiality of ‘The Business’ and about the trumped up charlatans who ran it or succeeded in it. I lectured about an industry obsessed with youth and beauty and gimmicks and the ‘next-big-thing’; an industry that wanted shock and awe and cheap outrage at the expense of things that were beautiful or delicate or intelligent. I stored up examples of an industry that was irrelevant and so far up it’s own arse it couldn’t see how little it mattered to the rest of humanity. An industry that thought it was dissecting philosophy and religion, but was actually peddling cheap entertainment, that was no longer all that cheap and certainly not that entertaining (hey, I have Netflix now). I rolled my eyes at artists who moaned on social media about not get a living wage. I fumed at my computer and did my best conservative voter imitation and demanded that these freeloaders get a real job and then see what the hell it was like. With a few notable exceptions for some truly decent friends, I hated on absolutely anyone and everyone that had a modicum of success in the ‘Theatre Industry’ over the past 8 months. And that includes your 12 year old niece who just played Dorothy in her primary school’s abridged version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, where Toto is played by one of the kids from the Infants School wearing a headband with two floppy socks for dog ears.

All in all, it felt safer to avoid theatre for a little while. I didn’t want to become part of a news story which included phrases like ‘unprovoked angry ranting at a mostly elderly matinee audience’, ‘escorted outside’ and ‘public disorder charge’. Besides, I had been hurt by theatre’s complete indifference to me. It felt good to prove to myself exactly how insignificant I was. It felt good to hurt myself more, the way it sometimes feels good to push a bruise and feel that old ache renew itself. I gave up, and nobody cared. Nobody even noticed. I was absolutely nothing.

Being nothing was harder than I expected. Giving up on the defining aspect of your personality (see above paragraph) turns out not to be that easy. What does one do with one’s time now that one doesn’t not need to read the latest script or see the latest director’s latest masterpiece for the good of your theatrical education? What does one think about if it’s not the crafting of your current production? What does one hope for if it’s not for the success of your next project? What does one dream about if it’s not eventually getting a fully-funded tour to actual audiences in actual venues of some kind of project that you’re somehow part of?

Old devils kept tempting me. Friends would tell me I should set something up, put on a show, apply for a thing. Being in Berlin was both a blessing and a curse. No-one in ‘The Industry’ knew me in Berlin and I didn’t know them, so it was easy to avoid everything. I went into hibernation. But, at the same time, theatre was how I made friends. Everywhere I went in the world, it was theatre where I felt most comfortable. Sitting in my lovely Berlin apartment feeling lonely I would want to do a thing with a person. But I wouldn’t know what that thing could be, if it wasn’t theatre, and I didn’t know who that person was, if it wasn’t a theatre person.

Visiting a friend in West Berlin a little while ago, I glimpsed the beautiful art deco facade of the Schaubühne Theatre, all lit up, and I felt (along side of the heavy helping of sour grapes), an older, warmer glow of excitement and anticipation. I went to the theatre’s website to see if they had plays with English subtitles. They did. I found a show about women and history, that was in German and English, not on for a couple of months. I thought I could probably calm myself down sufficiently over the course of a couple of months to see a play.

A. and I sent to see that play last week. I wish I could tell you it was a complete turn around and I’m once again a theatre convert (and OF COURSE artists should have living wages!) but, no, it’s more complicated than that. It was, in so many ways, the worst things about contemporary theatre. A hasty, cobbled together script with nothing to say; gimmicky direction hamstrung by it’s obsession with the latest theatre fad (live filming of the action on stage! Watch theatre through a screen – you’ll feel so much more comfortable!); and set and costume that completely upstaged the actors (the lead actress really did have a very nice hat on). I left the theatre shaking with rage and ranted the whole way home. Don’t feel sorry for A. – he seemed to enjoy it (the ranting, that is, not the play. Lucky for him, his opinion aligned with mine, though perhaps less vehemently).

I am left with two tentative conclusions from this so-called ‘Theatre Detox’ and it’s subsequent breaking:

1) I think I am over the blackest part of my rage at theatre ‘in general’ and am ready to save the worst of my vengeance for specific examples of heinous theatre crimes. That’s not to say I forgive theatre. No, I still find the majority of productions on offer these days boring, derivative and full of themselves. But, I seem to be able to hope again, that somewhere out there, is a production that is genuinely great and wonderful.

2) The living I earn will never be related to theatre. But, in all honesty, I don’t know if I can give it up entirely. I don’t want to do am-dram, and a person of my age doesn’t have the energy for fringe unless they’re getting at least some kind of funding, so I don’t know exactly what I am left with. Something small. The opposite of ambitious. But, I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what the point of it is. I don’t know why I have this compulsion. I don’t like it. It feels self-obsessed and self-absorbed and attention-seeking. And, yet, I don’t seem to be able to kick the habit.

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Filed under Berlin, Edinburgh, Theatre

6 Reasons Not to do Something You Love (for a Career)

It’s a truism of this generation that the way to choose your career is to work out the ‘thing you love’ and then do it. Seems simple enough. And if you follow this advice, all manner of riches should be poured down upon you: fulfilment, happiness, health, career success, nice friends, a good-looking partner, great skin, perfect teeth and to top it all off, actual money. At least, that’s what I learnt from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. Or was it ‘Eat Pray Love’? I don’t remember. One of those.

The problem is that whilst it’s a very seductive idea, it’s a pretty shitty way of running your life, picking your career and managing a wider community. Unfortunately, however, the idea is pervasive. It forms the backbone of every B-grade Hollywood film. Your parents said it to you throughout school (though, they might occasionally backtrack when you’d announce you wanted to be a crocodile trainer).

I’ve spent that last 18 years of my life repeating that I had to go into theatre, because I loved it more than anything and therefore I’d never be happy if I didn’t do exactly that. I thought loving something was as much as was needed. I was encouraged in this by anyone whoever spoke about the acting industry – it’s so hard, you have to make sure you LOVE it more than ANYTHING, otherwise there’s no point in going into it. So I loved it harder.

But I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t work that way. And that ‘loving’ something may actually be a hugely detrimental thing to feel towards something you want to be successful at. Here are my reasons.

1) Remember when you first fall in love with someone and everything they do is wonderful and even their farts smell of roses? You don’t want to have that kind of attitude towards something you do as a job. To be truly successful at work, you should be able to think critically and objectively about what you’re doing. It requires you to look at your industry, your company, your colleagues, your own work and think, ‘well, is this the best that can be done? Is there something missing? Are we doing something stupid that we should fix?’ It’s hard to do that when you think everything smells like roses. If Florence Nightingale was so in love with nursing that she hadn’t been able to look up and say, ‘hey, how come all these infections are spreading amongst my patients,’ we’d all have been a little bit worse off.

2) Falling in love involves spending a lot of time with the adored object. Like, A LOT, of time. Like, sometimes you don’t even really come up for air. Like, sometimes you turn around and it’s 9 months later and you call your friends and they’re all like, ‘Dude. We thought you were dead.’ I  mean, that might not be the best kind of relationship, but, still, you have to admit it sometimes happens. The problem with doing this with your career is that you begin to lose all perspective. Related to the first point – you can no longer think critically about your adored career because you have nothing to compare it to. It seems like the most important thing in the world, because it’s the ONLY thing in the world.

3) Love is selfish. Not in a, ‘this-person-is-all mine-i’ll-kill-you-if-you-even-look-at-them’ totally psycho-jealous kind of way, but in a ‘I’m-love-this-person-and-more-than-that-I-love-how-good-they-make-me-feel’ kind of way. Yes, you love them for who they are, but you also love them for how they make you feel. Which is a perfectly fine way of choosing a career as an individual. It becomes a disaster, however, when every single middle-class kid decides they want to play the cello and only play the cello and be paid a living wage for playing the cello and why shouldn’t they play the cello, after all, they love it. Now, I have no problem with middle-class kids that want to play the cello (hey, it’s a beautiful instrument, and I saw ‘Hilary & Jackie’, it looked like a really glamorous life until Jackie got multiple sclerosis), but my point is, someone should really also learn how to, I don’t know, cure multiple sclerosis as well as everyone becoming cello players. I’m not saying there’s not a place for cello players. I’m just saying there’s as many things wrong with the society that is all artists as there is with the society that is all doctors. The other problem is that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone whose told me their passion is collecting rubbish. So, ‘do what you love’ leaves some massive holes in society that some unlucky person has to fill for whatever reason. It doesn’t really seem fair that they can’t also ‘do what they love’.

4) Sometimes you fall in love with someone that doesn’t treat you very well. They take advantage of your love for them. They insist you have to go out at midnight to buy cookies for them from the convenience store even though they’re not diabetic or disabled and they live in a really bad neighbourhood. And then, when you call them in tears one night because your best friend’s boyfriend has decided he hates you and wants your best friend never to see you again, instead of offering to come over immediately, your partner kind of yawns and says, ‘Oi, that’s dreadful but I’ve got a really early start tomorrow so I should probably get off the phone….’ A career that you love unconditionally is like that. You’ll do unthinkable things. Like, work for free even though you don’t know how you’re going to pay the rent next month. Like, putting up with a boss who emotionally abuses you because the job will ‘look good on your CV.’ Like, being the coffee person because maybe sometime soon the people you’re getting coffee for will let you actually do something related to the career of your choice. You’ll even start thinking it makes sense to pay money to be involved in ‘opportunities’ for ‘potential’ work that ‘may become available’ ‘somewhere’ down the line.

5) Sometimes we fall in love with people that are not quite right for us. Maybe we’re sick of being single. Maybe we couldn’t find anybody else. Maybe we went through a tough break-up and it seems easier to be in love with this ok person for a while instead of going out there and having our heart broken all over again. The point is that they aren’t quite the match we think they are. But we try desperately to make it work. Maybe you’re vegan and all she eats is steak. Maybe you work for Shell Oil and he’s an environmental campaigner for Greenpeace. I’m not saying you can’t make it work (or that Hollywood couldn’t do a damn fine job of making a quirky rom-com out of your attempts), but I am saying it might be more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes we fall in love with careers or industries that don’t match our talents or our personalities. But because we ‘love’ them, or because we know of no other way of choosing a career, we stay in them longer than is advisable. Sure, maybe you’ll be able to make it work eventually, maybe you’ll develop that killer shark instinct you need to be the cutthroat criminal lawyer you always dreamed of since watching Law & Order all those years ago. But, would it really be worth it? Maybe you’d be better used and happier somewhere else, doing something else.

6) People fall out of love. This is true. Divorce statistics don’t lie. I know we all want to believe in the happily ever after (I know I want to believe in the happily ever after), but chances are it won’t come your way. If you’re lucky, your ‘lifetime’ partner will die before you fall out of love with them and then you can spend the rest of your life mourning their great loss (I’m looking at you, Queen Victoria) and thinking you missed out on some kind of grey-haired, sepia-coloured, pigeon-feeding, end-of-life romance. Otherwise, there’s a large chance that the person you swore eternal devotion to is going to, at some point, loose their pretty shininess. You change, they change. You find yourself living in an apartment made up of a quarter of things you used to love from your old shared house and a quarter of the things you used to hate, plus a cat or two that you’re never sure you actually adopted but you seem to feed now, awkwardly flicking through Tinder and trying to encourage a sense of flirtatiousness and footloose fancy-free-ness. Breaking up with the career you thought you loved (or wanted to love) is just as devastating. You find yourself at an unimaginable age, starting at the beginning, looking at university guidebooks whilst shuddering with confusion and distaste at all the young people you might need to interact with who remind you on a daily basis just how much of a head start they have over you. Sure there’s nothing wrong with starting again. And, even if you choose a career for other reasons that you ‘love’ it, you may find yourself shifting gears at some point down the line. However, changing jobs is so much harder if you’ve invested all that emotional energy, that love, into the career to begin with. It’s like your personality has been ripped out. You don’t know who you are anymore.

Aristotle said: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” It might be longer and more complex than ‘do what you love,’ but it’s all the more useful for it. It considers the world, not just yourself. It considers what you can offer, rather than just what you’d like to do all day (I mean, I’d like to drink red wine whilst playing ‘Spell Tower’ on my phone, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of my time and I’d probably be pretty bummed at myself on my death bed if all I’d achieved in life was a score above 10,000 on Spell Tower).

I’m sure I haven’t convinced the majority of you. And I’m sure plenty of people (plenty) will continue to go out there and choose careers based on ‘what they love’ and only on what they love (hey, you can’t fight City Hall. Or after-school specials). And some of you might find that works out ok for you. But the rest of you might find yourself dissatisfied, unhappy, unfulfilled and not really sure why. The problem is the nature of the game, the starting premise. When it comes to work, at least, love is definitely not all you need.

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Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

They say that ‘three’ is a magic number. A lucky number. Well, if that is so, I expect piles of leprechaun gold to be showered down upon me, rainbow unicorns to start flying out of my arse. My Edinburgh Fringe show, you see, has now been graced with five 3-star reviews. It has had so much mediocre fairy dust showered down upon it that I can only reasonably expect miracles to start occurring in each performance. The blind can see. The lame can walk. A wooden puppet turns into a real boy.
I apologise in advance for this massively self-pitying post, when there are many more dreadful things happening in the world. Gaza. Isis. Robin Williams. But, hey, what can I say. I’m a selfish c**t.
I am going on swings and roundabouts with the reviews. The first one devastated me and resulted in me sobbing for several hours before and after my second show. The second one I expected and so didn’t faze me, not really. It was actually quite nice. So nice, in fact, that several people have asked, ‘exactly why didn’t they give you 4 stars?’ The third was so completely inconsistent in it’s praise/condemnation that it’s barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that I’d secretly hoped it would be 4 and so it destroyed me anew. The final two I checked the star rating of and then didn’t bother to read. I don’t really need any more half-hearted praise.
Everyone says 3-star reviews are a recommendation. But they’re not. Not really. Certainly not up at Edinburgh Fringe, where EVERYONE has a 4 star or 5 star review plastered to their flyers. As a reviewer, when I’m giving 3 stars, it’s usually a bit like saying, ‘yeah, it’s a fine show. If you have any interest in [insert topic of show], you’ll probably enjoy it.’ Or, ‘if you’ve got nothing else to do that night, it’s probably worth paying some money for.’ It’s like one big ‘meh’. And after 5 of them you start thinking, yeah, pretty much all of my audience is watching me and going, ‘meh’.
It’s been happening for years, really. My Year 7 English teacher (the evil Mrs. Clack) had a similar reaction to the first piece of creative writing I ever gave her. She gave me the grade equivalent of 3 stars and wrote, ‘not creative enough’ at the bottom. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised what shit feedback that is and in no way useful for letting me know what she ACTUALLY wanted me to be doing or teaching me to become ‘more’ creative (whatever the hell that means). But, she was at least expressing a general feeling that I should perhaps have taken more seriously at the time. If only I had taken her feedback more fully on board and worked harder at maths and science, or some other kind of subject. If only I had realised then that ‘creativity’ was not the career path for me. If only she had spelled it out more clearly. If only I’d inspired enough strong feeling in her for her to forbid me to ever do anything creative ever again, then, maybe I would have gotten the message. Instead of just, ‘meh.’
I have, by and large, received very little support from people who might have been able to help me develop over the years. Like Mrs. Clack they saw so little potential in me that they dismissed me without even bothering to let me know why. This is the case from arts funding bodies, from development programs, from theatres, from artists a bit further along the path than me. I’ve had to try and make up most of this on my own. I recognise that some of this is due to my own lack of confidence, my inability to ask for support or assistance from people that I admire. But the majority is being rejected for most every opportunity that I apply for (unless it’s something I have to pay for – those are things people are MORE THAN HAPPY for me to be involved in).
The disturbing thing from my perspective is the frequency with which I get 3-star reviews. If you added up all the reviews I have gotten over my lifetime, it evens out at pretty much 3 1/4 stars out of 5. That’s not a ringing endorsement for someone who is trying to make a career out of this. I mean, 3-star reviews are fine, as long as someone, somewhere, thinks that what you are doing is fantastic, game-changing, speaking their language, speaking to their experience or whatever. I don’t really get that reaction. I’m kind of ‘meh’.
There are plenty of artists out there who think that reviews are not important. That would be easier to believe if I was making lots of money and having big audiences. It would be easier to believe if I was being supported by some kind of funding body. But, frankly, I’m not so arrogant to think that if I’m getting shitty reviews, it’s the reviewers fault. I don’t think audiences falling asleep or leaving the show is because they are crap human beings, or not smart enough, or not good enough, or not paying attention enough. It is my fault. I’m not doing my ‘job’. Certainly there have been difficulties with this show – the venue, for one, great, big, huge reason. I do recognise that I haven’t had as much time to work into it as some of the others that I’ve put on. However, the larger, bigger point remains, that if, after how many years of trying, I am still, by and large, inspiring a reaction of, ‘meh’, it must be time to reconsider the path that I’m on.
So, in summary, I am not enjoying this Edinburgh Fringe. When I wrote on the first day that I thought audiences would ruin everything, I didn’t really expect it to be so accurate. I mean, I know it’s not really their fault, but showing it to everyone has made me feel very differently about it and me than I did a few weeks ago. It might, eventually, be a good thing. It’ll be the final nail in the coffin of my so-called ‘career in the arts’.
Unfortunately though, my bro, Chris, says that I’m not allowed to give up theatre before the 24th. Which isn’t that far away, I know. But I am secretly (ok, not so secretly) thinking of deliberately spraining/breaking my ankle so that I don’t have to do any more shows. I know it is only 10 more shows, I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s like being a child again and being told you only have to eat 10 more Brussel Sprouts before you can have dessert. Or, just 10 more pages of homework before going outside. Or, just 10 more hours before you can open your Christmas presents. Or, only 10 more days before the school holidays.
It feels like FOREVER.

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Disillusion

One of the things I’m supposed to be doing whilst I’m in Berlin is to write my Edinburgh Fringe script. I meant to do this over Christmas, then I meant to do it in January, then I meant to do it in February and eventually I decided I would put it off until May, when I wouldn’t be working and I’d have loads of free time to write it.

But now that I’m here I still don’t want to write it and I’m using every excuse that I can think of to not do it.

I’ve kind of put myself in a bind as I’ve already registered for the fringe (which is a lot of money), got a venue etc. I certainly can still pull out and I can just go up there and review (which sounds delightful now that I say it out loud), but there’s this self-destructive part of me that still wants to go up there and perform.

I think there are a lot of things that are playing into my reluctance to write this show. I mean, there is always a certain amount of struggle at the start of a script and it can take me months (or years) to find the right entry-point into a particular piece of writing. That said, I’m not particularly dedicated at looking for those entry-points – I try a variety of things for a few days or a week or so and if it doesn’t work I give up. If I then happen to get interested in the subject again I may try again in a few months time. I think one of the main reasons I’m not a more successful artist is that I don’t work hard enough. But, anyway, that is not the point.

The problem with this particular script is that apart from struggling with all the usual, ‘but where is it set? What’s actually happening? At what point does the story start? What’s the tone? But this writing is shit’ etc. questions & criticisms is that I don’t think I actually care anymore.

It’s a feeling that’s been sneaking up on me over the past couple of months, maybe years, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly gained in strength since January this year. I don’t actually care about theatre anymore, about being involved in it professionally. I’m sick of trying so hard and getting so little back. I’m sick of the constant disappointments and the constant feeling that I’m not good enough. I’m sick of not having any money and supporting myself in dead-end jobs that I hate. This is the ‘industry’ that everyone warned me about when I wanted to go into acting but, at the time, I thought I loved it enough to get through anything. Turns out that’s not true. Or, at least, when it feels like I’m getting nowhere, that each project or achievement is separate, that I’m not actually building anything, no career or reputation or future; when it feels like I will never, ever get out of this scrambling around on the bottom-rung of the industry I think, ‘well, sod this for a game of soldiers.’ Or something with harsher language.

Don’t feel too sorry for me, I feel happier at the moment than I have in a long, long time. But in terms of my so-called ‘career’, I have never been less interested and more disillusioned. I hate all the fetishising of ‘creatives’ and ‘creativity’ that happens in our middle-class Western society, I hate people that tell me that if I just follow my dream or what I love everything will turn out fine and I’ll figure out what I want to do, as if by magic. I’ve become like the grumpy Dad in a B-grade ‘Follow Your Dreams’ type Hollywood film, admonishing his daughter, ‘But acting’s not a real job! You have to accept facts some time Dorothy. Part of being a grown-up is accepting that to have a good life there are certain things you will have to do that you may not like.’

And all of this is seeping into my attempts to write. On top of all the usual fears of will it be good enough, will it make sense, there’s in an overarching, bigger feeling which is just sighing and rolling it’s eyes and sneering, ‘Yeah, but you know, who even cares? You’re well past it by this point anyway. If your ‘career’ was going anywhere, it would have started going there by now.’ I sit in front of my computer thinking, ‘Ok, so what is this story about, why should people care about it?’ And my brain comes back with, ‘Dunno. I don’t even care about it.’

I am so sick of all of it. I don’t think I like writing. I don’t think I like acting. I don’t even think I like the theatre that much, either, having seen it from the inside. It’s become a compulsion for me, like the alcoholic who finds himself in the pub when he was meant to be buying milk or the gambler who is parking at the casino when she had been heading home. I went and signed myself up to the Edinburgh Fringe without genuinely thinking about whether or not I wanted to do all the things that come with it, like writing a play and then performing it. Turns out I don’t. I don’t want to do any of those things.

 

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