Saturday, 16 July 2016

20.16 Blog #15: Roll me through the gates of Hell

A friend commented on my Facebook wall asking if I knew where to get tickets for Mischief Brew’s Leeds gig this August, and 5 hours later I was posting an R.I.P. to Erik Petersen, the lead singer, writer and essentially the brains, voice and heart of Mischief Brew, the best folk-punk band ever.

I don’t say that lightly, but after all the Andrew Jacksons have Jihaded and all the Mice have Ghosted and all the Ramshackles have been Glorious I’m afraid it was always the Brews, spiced with Mischief, which were left bubbling into my ears.

Mischief Brew was the folk-punk collective from Philadelphia, USA headed by Erik Petersen who wrote a huge number of songs across various EPs, albums, splits and collaborations.

I discovered Mischief Brew, along with the seedy world of folk-punk, around 2008 when I saw Al Baker perform with Suicide Bid in London.  Al covers Old Tyme Mem’ry on hisfirst album, and it’s easily on of my fav MB songs.  It encapsulates everything wonderful about Erick’s writing.  It’s has a lovely playfulness with the lyrics “We're lamenting about yesterdays sad ending about the water in your whiskey the brass passed off as gold” and Erick’s delivery is unashamedly punk with the snarl of “luxury boxes where your stored in what was country”.  It’s a messy, rattling song that exists on a shabby guitar, sung with a sore throat and a wild glint in the eye.

I never got to see Mischief Brew, and certainly never met Erik, but my rustic eulogy to this artist is his incredibly ability to be consistent.  I don’t just mean consistently a writer of quality, but don’t underestimate the fact he never wrote a bad song.  Some songs are surely better than others, I can’t deny that.

But I mean Erik is able to wave an entire world with recurring images, themes and ideas.  This isn’t the case if you’ve heard one song you’ve heard them all, because he writes on a number of topics.  Bang-Up Police Work is an ode to oppressive cops, Every Town Will Celebrate is about gentrification, Dirty Pennies homelessness, Punx Win about community, the Midnight Special the prison system and Watching Scotty Die the sad failures of the American healthcare system.

But within these songs are the same smells of squats and cigarettes.  The same sounds of railroads and barking dogs.  The same taste of strong coffee.  The same touch of wood, coppers and the feel of a campfire.

Like my blog earlier this year about the play-wright Harold Pinter, the art is world-building.  When you enter into a Mischief Brew album, it’s got the same recurring feel like being immersed in a tale. It’s about rambling and rebellion, grit and guts, dusk and the dark.  It’s very old-fashioned, or appears to be, swathed in the 1920-30s world of Woody Guthrie, but the post-70s grit of punk is very much the driving force.

But mainly, Erik’s writing was romantic.  For all its corners that stank of anti-authority bitterness, he played uplifting music that was celebratory as much as it was dangerous.  He wrote old-fashioned songs because those songs have stuck with us, not because they wallow in despair, but because they grab despair by the scruff and take it dancing with the goblins, witches, trolls, punks, gypsies, comrades and rebel children.

 When you offer pink or blue I'll take the blackest.
When you offer only two I'll offer three.
When you point me in a direction I'll run backwards.
And at the border of utopia I'll toast to anarchy. 

20.16 Blog #14: Pokemon Go? Pokemon No! (or, Anxiety, I Choose You!)

I have loved Pokémon since 1999 and I will until the day I Faint, die and become a Ghost type, haunting the streets of York and known as that Odd Scrawny Ghost reciting poetry and writing blogs in 20 minutes and 16 seconds.

So it’s been a real kick in the Voltorbs that my Nokia windows phone cannot accommodate the Game (or App) Pokémon Go which is sweeping the nation like a Speed Boosted Mega Blaziken.
Don’t know what that is?  Don’t worry about.  Go back to catching Caterpies, mate.

The real salt in my wrenched wound was when a random drunk bloke (seemingly) took the piss out of me, assuming I was playing the game and pointing at nothing in the middle of the road saying “Did you see that?”  Maybe there was another (complex) joke at hand I (apparently) missed.  If so, I should have laughed.  Instead I posted on social media:  “Some guy took the piss out of me cos he thought I was playing Pokemon Go.  For Fuck's sake I can't win.

But clearly I can win, cos I got 25 Likes out of that little sharp observation.  Yus.

I post on social media too much, and check it too much too.  I touch my phone too often, and berate the instinct in my windows for doing so.  It’s becoming something I want to challenge in myself.  I am going to start making a tally on my hand in pen for every time I move to stop my phone.

Not because I don’t want my hand to do this, and that I want to cut down each day like beating a habit, but because I move to check my phone whenever I am nervous, or more accurately, anxious.

Many a year back, I worked for an EdFringe venue, and on Day 1 where everyone gets to meet one another, we had to find the people we were living with by going around and chatting to the strangers.  I couldn’t do it.  I don’t know what I did instead in the presence of people, but I essentially took trips to the toilet and sat in a cubicle more than once. 

I found it impossible to just start a casual conversation with people who were all strangers anyway.  But, of course, it all seems like they’ve all become instant friends with all the ease of a hot bath (a luxury during EdFringe).

As it happened, the people I stayed with where absolutely charming people I got on with exceptionally well, eventually.

Now I’ve found whenever faced with this issue of feeling nervous around people with an inability to add to a conversation, I’ll check my phone.  It’s become a social norm, something that’s acceptable and means that it takes pressure of being a voice within the voices.

As much as my phone has sucked me into a world of clicks and likes and a plastic sense of relationships, it has given me the ability to stay within a conversation, a space, a ensemble, without having to constantly be making eye contact, adding words and being entirely present.  I can take part of me away, and release some of that intensity.

If you know what I’m talking about, then Hi.

I’ve always found too many people all in one place, when alcohol and merriment flow, I become very uncomfortable, quiet and unable to hold a conversation.  Not just that, unable to stay in the place.  I see people in the arts scene do this a lot, post-show drinks, where people have big ol’ chats and buy each other drinks and compliment each other’s faces off.  Audience and actors and directors and techies mix and it all becomes so intense…

Of course, it’s not intense.  It’s just a form of intensity for me.

So I often end up leaving, no matter how my phone allows me some respite.  I’ve never tried just drinking through it, I don’t have the patience or money for alcohol.  If you are one of the people who has the energy for such beloved friendship circles, beer garden revelry and unfazed bar-waiting strength then I salute you, I don’t know how you do it, but you do it.

I don’t want to diminish anyone’s fun, and I also don’t think I want allowances or support on this.  I just thought I’d write a blog about it.  To say what I feel about an Internet-connected phone being so very useful when criticism is constantly levelled against it when it comes to ‘reality’.  To say how, if you feel it hard to network, to celebrate, to be involved in very involving scenes, you’re not alone.

You may feel alone.  I feel alone.  Hey, forget Pokémon Go, this is Anxiety Go.  Catching bad vibes and levelling them up.  Taming them.  Training them.  Choosing when they Evolve, and who they beat.  Be The Very Best, because there may be 8 Gym Leaders, an Elite Four but there is only One Champion.  So I guess being that rad is gonna be lonely from time-to-time, right?

And also to say FUCK POKEMON GO and I’m looking forward to Pokémon Sun & Moon.  Like I did with X & Y, I shall not be looking at any pre-release information, leaks or sneak peeks.

Love & solidarity

Friday, 1 July 2016

20.16 Blog #13: Compromise & Confidence

Last night the Youth Theatre group I take at Harrogate Youth Theatre performed their dark piece inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe.  It wasn’t just the title, Poe-Faced, that was the comedic element to this piece.  In-between all the ghastly ravens and murder and the like, there were some nice funny moments, advanced physical theatre and creepy story-telling.

The group can be very funny, indeed they have a lot of dry wit and great understand of timing for their age range (12-14s).  But their great strength with the performance was understanding the world we inhabited.  Though we explored different scenes of interrogation, paranoia and madness around the texts of Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven, the group were able to see recurring images, themes and motifs in the form of an asylum-like setting, reference to medication, eyes and denial.  I think this was because in the rehearsal room we really swam into these depths of the story, playing with fear and fixation in warm-ups.

This was my first show as a director in a technical setting.  I have directed show-backs and PIAWs and projects many times, but with a paying audience with LIGHTS and SFX I felt very proud indeed that everything came together.

On reflection, it’s interesting that the key skills I realised I had learnt directing this group were compromise and confidence.

With compromise, there were certain moments if it was an older group, or we had an extra rehearsal, I would have tweaked.  For example, one scene a character acts like a Nurse in an asylum.  In the context of the scene, in the context of the ensemble performing, it would have made sense for this character to interact with other actors onstage and explore their environment rather than just the 2 she had worked with previously.  I would have encouraged more recurring images, the moon for example, highlighted the idea of a staring eye and prompted actors to try something new.  However, the fact the group have achieved this level of performance and achieved this level of skill has been hugely impressive.  I wonder if directors working with adults watch the last trickles of rehearsal and clock certain moments which they would tweak, but now the show is up and running, decide compromise is the most productive pulse.

Next skill:  Confidence to make the calls that need making.  No time for ums and ars and as much as we all need to collaborate, directors soon realise you give an inch, a mile might later be taken.  Because at this stage, people can start changing things or playing around too much and lose the consistency.  For example, the group are entirely in black as an ensemble, and yet if some were to wear a hoody, then it wouldn’t quite gel with the rest of the cast.  As much as it’s a small thing, to allow for a degree of difference opens a floodgate of costume liabilities.  Confident directors make a decision, even a slight one, with all the strictness of deciding the important-est factors.

It’s a shame that when one reaches a certain age, it becomes harder and harder to be a ‘director’ or, in my case, ‘direct something’.  Because the opportunities are scarce, the invitations and the offers are limited to people who are making a career out of it, and quite rightly.  If someone wanted to direct an adult production, they would look to the numerous directors eager for projects in York, and the city.  And my skills very much lie within directing young people, but I would still love to be the moulder and crafter for an adult company.  But I’m a YT practitioner theatre-maker, writer etc and the jack-of-all-trades don’t always master them all.

Sounds like I’m damning myself.  You gotta play, I’d love to direct it.  But to work on it with confidence and compromise would also be super.