Friday, 30 June 2017

20.17 Blog #20: We Are Unstoppable / Everything Is Possible

Everything Is Possible has been York’s 2017 Big Community Show, a now traditional feat where the people of York come together under the banner of York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre to produce a large-scale production.  It’s hugely impressive, not just for the size of the project, but the dedication poured into every costume, prop, scene and line.

Everything Is Possible is the story of the Suffragette movement, and although from a York perspective, it’s not afraid to draw stories from Leeds and London to explore the militant side of the movement.  The show is very funny, very important and always makes me very weepy.  Massive respect to the creatives, cast and crew.

Stories are important, and of course theatre is the industry of stories.  Whilst the fight for the vote was a centralised idea around the movement, it was not just about being allowed to tick a box. The vote represented validation within the political spectrum, to be able to engage with politics.  The show admirably talks about the sheer poverty of women in Britain at the turn of the century, the sheer lack of both worker’s and human rights and the fight for them, not just the base desire to tick boxes in a polling booth.

I have been given the very privileged position to programme a series of ‘buskers’ for the opening protest outside the Minster before the show begins, which takes the form of a modern day Women’s March akin to those that boldly defied Trump and the patriarchy across the globe earlier this year.  I'm really grateful for this opportunity to be part of it, and I know the poets and musicians who have given their time and resources to perform have been super excited by a wing of this mighty production.

As someone known for ‘protesty stuff’ I can’t deny there are problematic elements to staging a protest, taking the perfromative elements of a movement and making them into the show’s prologue.  Though the cast are chanting slogans, and holding banners, and talking to the audience about social issues, the piece is non-partisan in order to be accessible to the public, and also appease the varying degrees of politics within the cast. 

All stories have an agenda.  The make sure children don’t stray off the path and talk to wolf-like strangers, or go knocking on Gingerbread Houses, or it’s OK to kill giants.  Or one day your Prince will come (ugh!).  However even, for example, the Sisters Uncut chant of “back up back up we want freedom freedom / Sexist racist cuts we don’t need ‘em need ‘em” suggests an anti-austerity agenda, at odds with the Tory voters of the cast and public.  And for the inclusive community aspect of the production, a compromise is required.

With this in mind, it’s been amazing to see some ‘realness’ in the form of buskers I have asked to perform who, without being overly partisan, are able to talk about social issues which the ‘script’ of the play would not necessarily allow, and possibly get the charity of YTR into hot water.  The buskers, as outsiders, have a level of rebelliousness that adds an extra spice to the production.

I think this show has reminded me of the privilege as a freelance artist to navigate politics.  Both on my personal page, and the Say Owt page, we promoted the Labour Party because their Arts policies (among many) were more beneficial to us and our audiences.

It is fine for me as an individual artist to upset Conservative voters and criticise their Austerity agenda, as well as other social issues because my agenda is solely my own.  A production like Everything Is Possible as a massive amount of staff, volunteers and associates with all manner of ideas and politics and must acknowledge

But in actuality, this is the background to all movements.  As the show presents, some Suffragettes were all for violence and militancy, willing to break the laws.  Others still happy to respectably petition.  One thing that the show didn’t quite touch upon (though I do appreciate it can’t cover every single aspect of the massive movement within a 90 minute running time!) was the resistance to the First World War from the Suffragette movement, and how it split into ant-war activists and pacifists (generally from a Socialist and Quaker perspective) and the women prepared to fly the patriotic flag.

But I am proud that the buskers I programmed, and myself as a busker too, were able to add into the mix these other ideas, opinions, poems and songs.  Some women smashed windows, some women sold papers, some made tea at meetings.  Some people chain themselves to fracking drills, some people film it for legal purposes, and some people make the tea too.

Systems aren’t made of bricks they’re made of people, and the same goes for a movement.  A movement needs diversity, as much as there’s the respectable Parliamentary approach to change that some politicians present, we also need the spikier side to protest. As I talked about in a blog from a while ago, keep agitating, keep debating, use your platform as a host, performer, theatre-maker, musician, poet, comedian, manager, audience member, space-owner etc to talk about anger and hope and love and rage.  And solidarity.

Deeds Not Words
Unfuck the world

If you want to know more about militant women’s fights across the world:

Sisters Uncut:  “Sisters Uncut is a feminist direct action group taking action to defend domestic violence services.

The Nanas:  Anti-Fracking Grannies out to cause trouble for the big energy companies!

Tonic Theatre:  Working towards achieving gender equality in theatre (I wrote about their work here)

War On Women:  hardcore punk band dedicated to making Safe Spaces on the Warped Tour

The Norwich Radical:  Articles on women in music scenes, from patronising attitudes to periods

Petrol Girls:  Feminist hardcore band calling out sexism at festivals (and the world)

YPJ:  Kurdish women fighting ISIS in the Middle East

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Emma Goldman (Or ‘5 Books Of Anarcha-Feminism’)


There have always been (and will always be) little boys and little girls who question the workings of the world, raging against the sweet ration and battle against the injustice of bedtime. 
In 1869 a girl was born into the Russian Empire’s poverty.  Despite the threat of pogroms, school books burnt, brutality and beatings, Emma still spoke back.

Arriving in New York, Emma discovered the mechanisation of modern life in the American system, where the wage slavery of the day isn’t a parent’s helping hand, it’s a master’s balled fist.

Emma became an Anarchist, realising all men and women are property in the eyes of the capitalist state, patriotism assumes the world is divided by iron gates, religion trains slaves and marriage makes slaves.
Emma’s sentences were dipped deep in gasoline.  Hearing her speak of revolution was a revelation, if your ears were a nation your ear drum would be banging the beat for freedom.

She cooked her speeches and writing with the insight of Emerson, Ibsen and Wilde, and when she spoke it was with the celebration of being alive.  Emma spoke out.

Now, Emma was no proto-hippie, she was a celebrity of anarchy, the papers named her Red Emma: the most dangerous woman in America.  She was arrested for her part in an assassination attempt and argued the need for propaganda of the deed.  It is capitalism which forces men and women to be violent against authority’s lies, but terror must never be institutionalised.

Emma, speaking for free love, sex worker rights, better birth control and homosexual liberty at the turn of the century.  “Man can conquer nations, but his armies cannot conquer love” she wrote because love is a hope that topples the king from his throne.

Emma travelled to Soviet Russia and was disillusioned with the Bolshevik state responsible for the annihilation of the most fundamental values, human and revolutionary.  Others argued the end justifies the means, but in her eyes terror must never be insitutionalised.  

“If I cannot dance to it, it’s not my revolution” Her famous quote came from being told her frivolous dancing will only hurt the Cause.  If anyone tells you this, don’t pause, just keep dancing or singing or riding the fairground rides.

Every tiny act of expression in life forms a join-the-dots worldwide constellation of rebellion, linked like the arms that lock tight outside NATO summits.

So why remember Red Emma?  Like a Punk Rock Pussy Riot Party, let’s look beyond equal pay to a day when price tag society no longer makes us property, there is no binding packaging to love and no hierarchies to label us. The only competitive culture I want, is a dancing competition.

What else are we fighting for, if not the freedom to dance until the sun is dawning without the fear of landlord’s calling or the harsh grasp of work the next morning?

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

20.17 Blog #19: The Wonderful World of Dissocia

I went to see the National Theatre of Scotland’s tour of The Wonderful World of Dissocia at York Theatre Royal in 2007.  I remember for three clear-as-day reasons:  1. It was the year I went to University, and the period of a handful of years I saw numerous plays that would inform how I looked at, and loved, theatre.  2.  I have the ticket in the play script I bought (signed by Antony Neilson, the author) and 3. I was 18 and we got drunk.

You see, we’d all gone to see the play as a Youth Theatre trip.  We were all the top-tier of the group, some of us had gone off to University, YT was a great place to catch up, do something silly in-between doing silly things at BBQs and festivals and parties.  For some reason, YTR had a drinks offer which, if memory serves (though unlikely it does) pints were £1.  We loved the show, so we went back and saw it again for one of the gang’s birthday.  With £1 pints.  But we left at the intervanl.  I’ll explain.

The Wonderful World of Dissocia is a parody of Alice In Wonderland, with a spot of Wizard of Oz thrown in.  The kind of thing that people like Neil Gaiman riff on all the time.  Lisa goes into a magical world to try and retrieve her lost hour, and in the process meets all manner of strange characters whose existence plays-on-words.  The Oathtaker becomes the Oat-Cake-Eater, The Scapegoat, whose job is to take the blame, the residents of the Lost Lost Property who have lost their sense of humour, temper and inhibitions.  The story revolves around the evil Black Dog trying to destroy/rule Dissocia, and the resolution being Lisa turns out to be the source of life in Dissocia.  However, Neilson’s Dissocia is a twisted Wonderland, the text peppered with swearing, a slab of nudity as well as a sexual assault.  It has a childish quality, like a naughty child was re-writing Peter Pan by replacing the word ‘Pirate’ with the word ‘Knob’ and the show was genuinely hilarious, as well as unsettlingly dark in places.  So we went to see if twice, because we laughed so much.

But the second half is hard to watch.  Roughly 20 minutes, it sees the entire world transformed into a Hospital ward, and numerous Nurses and Doctors come and treat Lisa.  But the energy is flat.  The scene bitingly realistic, tender and the complete opposite of the nutty 1st half.  It’s because the world of Dissocia is inside Lisa’ head, roughly reflective of a hallucinogenic adventure in the countryside, seeing a goat, an airport, a hot dog van but filtering it into a manic world.  The Black Dog King is both the black dog of depression, and her boyfriend, Vince, who makes her feel guilty of her lapses into another world in her head.

The show stayed with me, because of the context of seeing the show with good mates and the laughs.  But also because the play is brave enough to bore the audience in the second half, a comment on mental health services.  Two extremes, two different experiences, two worlds all within one stage.  In the Foreword to the text, Neilson talks about “the greatest oppositional forces facing normal people come from within…”

Finally, Neilson says “We must be magical or suffer the consequences”.  He wants spectacle, and the ability to make an audience laugh is a powerful, and addictive, tool.  I guess that’s stayed with me, not only I want my events and work to be the good night out full of entertaining fun energy, but also that within there are opposites:  seriousness, politics, drama, tension, silence and commentary.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Blog 20.17 #18: Why I'll NEVER Vote for Corbyn (but I will)

Clickbait title, obvs.  I love Jezza.  But I now feel like we need to make the debate about the many, the ‘us’, not just for this Election but the future of a supportive society.

If you checked out my other Blog, you’ll know I have a shaky history with the Labour Party.

But I’m still buzzing from Thursday night.

If you caught me sometime in the last week, on a gloomy day I’d had said even if May increases her majority by a tiny amount, she’s lost.  Because she called this whole faff to prove she was right, and anything but a landslide looks like failure.  On a gloomier day, I’d have said we’re looking at a Tory Landslide.

At the start of the campaigning I said I wasn’t going to put a Vote Labour sign in the window (only anti-Tory sentiments).  On Friday, I joined the Labour Party, one of 150,000 bringing the number up to 800,000, the biggest political membership in Europe.

Highlights from this election have been an emotional rollercoaster.  Corbyn’s speech in York in May was inspiring, a roaring and fiery man far from the wet lettuce the media portrayed him as.  We grabbed the cut-out Dalek that lives in our house (left by housemates long gone), slapped a printed-off image of May’s face upon its head and presented #DalekMay to the world.  Dozens of people stopped to get photos with her.

Next stop was Halifax, a town on the knife-edge of Tory/Labour marginals.  Outside the launch of the Manifesto we, and a plucky small band of protestors, chanted alongside Dalek May.  If anything, just to irritate them inside.  Against the gigantic brickwork of a converted old mill building, we seemed very small at this stage in the campaign trial.  David and Goliath-eque some might say.  That could bode well.

We tracked the Real May to York University, and in the drizzling rain, with a tune 2nd in the pop charts being our soundtrack, we popped away whilst inside May refused to debate, and white men refused to not kill millions.

But, for all, this, hopes felt low.  Even as we sat down to watch the results slide onto infographics on the BBC, we worried even the stronghold of York Central could go Blue.

As it stands, it was a cracking night.  Backed by booze, good jokes, good friends and result-after-result where Labour grabbed Tory seats and baddies like Rudd seated over 300 seats.  It felt, for the first time since those early demos against fees in 2010, like I was part of something.  It felt like finally winning, something the left hasn’t had for a long, long time.

But this:  This was the highlight.  I love my friends:

So I joined Labour the next day, because I want to keep that momentum.  But also because I watched an excellent video from Akala, but disagreed with a few points.  Akala said he wasn’t voting for the Labour Party, he was voting for Corbyn.  He wasn’t alone, but Corbyn has always placed faith in the Party, not the personalities.  He wants to create a movement, not a cult of personality.  I’ve met really committed activists, trade unionists and agitators these last few weeks canvassing, the real heart of the party. 

The Blairities might still be around, eating their humble pies, but that’s why I’ve joined to pressure them to keep the socialist ideals in the manifesto, and keep them in line.  And finally, Akala said he didn’t even know the name of the person standing in his constituency, but Rachael Maskell in York Central has been tirelessly fighting for the NHS and refugee rights.  More women and disabled people people from ethnic minority groups have become MPs than ever before.  Even a MP of Palestinian decent was elected (admittedly for the Liberal Democrats).

If Anarchism has taught me anything, it’s to kill your idols, or at the last not put them on pedestals.  I love Jezza, but he’s far from perfect.  He’s also not young, and although we have plenty more years out of him yet, we need to look at the Party being a social movement dictated by the working class, by women, by minorities for the benefit of all society.  So I’m joined to shift away from the central aspect of Jezza and onto the Party as an 800,000-strong group with 40% of the country voting for it.

But I’ll still sing VOTE FOR JEREMY CORBYN to the tune of Seven Nation Army.  Obvs.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Shy Tory Factor

The Shy Tories peeked their heads out of the Polling Booth.
In the echoy community centre, like blue meerkats, they checked no one was watching.
That afternoon they kicked a homeless man, but they didn't make eye contact whilst they did so.
The Shy Tories marched into the school, and stole the children's meals.
Peas and carrots cascaded across the floor, as the children clutched their spectre-thin stomachs.
But the Shy Tories had needed take a deep breath beforehand, to steady their nerves.
The Shy Tories jeered at a woman in a wheelchair, quoting invented facts.
But it was a woman they already knew, because the Shy Tories found it difficult to meet new people.
The Shy Tories ended their evening by Privatising the NHS.
Shy Tories find it uncomfortable to leave the house, so sold it off from the security of their own mansions.
"Are you coming out to be Strong & Stable?" guffawed the Proper Tories, who strode along the streets with great big steel scissors used for cutting up the public sector.
"No" the Shy Tories muttered before having a little cry, for their scissors were very small.
The Shy Tories peeked their heads out of the Polling Booth
And condemned both the old and the youth.

20.16 Blog #17: "In this household, you vote Labour"

I grew up in a Labour household.  Voting Labout was part of the scenery, the day-to-day life, you vote Labour.  There was no conflict, debate or uncertainty.  You vote Labour.

I was 9 when Tony Blair’s Labour landslide unseated a generation of Tory rule, and I can vaguely remember it, a whiff of positivity in the house, but nothing more than a ‘good thing’ has occurred.  I genuinely think 9 year-olds are much more clued-up in 2017.

In 2001 I remember there was a little bit of a buzz around school, I think I proudly declared we were Labour just because that’s what we were in our house.  I couldn’t vote in 2005, and again I feel like the whole election washed me by.

My relationship to the New Labour government had transformed from the whiff of positivity into a casual breeze.  History would prove that the Iraq War was a mistake and the public were lied to, but under Blair and Brown’s following years in power the moreorless satisfactory funding to the welfare state meant things were stable.

I didn’t really follow my first General Election (May is a busy time for 3rd year students), and I think that’s because of the general fine-ness of New Labour.  I know that’s from a position of privilege, that it didn’t negatively harm me, and indeed arguably the Tuition Fees helped me (though free education would have helped me more).  I hovered over voting Lib Dems, like many of my generation, but heard at the last minute they might go into Coalition with the Conservatives.  The who?  The Conservatives.  “You don’t vote for the Conservatives” had been the mantra.

Instantly I joined movements against the Coalition, and this period of my life felt like the most active, and reactive.  Every few months the Coalition would come up with a new sickening austerity measure, such as the Bedroom Tax or ATOS tests, and we’d pile down to London, or outside York Council Chambers, or over to Manchester or Leeds or I’d try and write a wobbly poem.  It felt a bit of a whirlwind, constantly whipping up anger, opposition and energy to combat the latest attacks. It felt politics was entirely dictated by the Coalition, the Labour Party kept quiet.  On demos, I chanted “When I say Tories / You say Scum, When I say Labour / You say traitors” at their general passive under-the-breath agreement with Tory austerity.  “Build a bonfire, but the Tories on the top, put the Lib Dems in with Labour and we’ll burn the bloody lot.”  There’s a photo I cut out of a newspaper of Cameron, Milliband and Clegg all smiling, in suits, together like mates. They look identical, the policies seemed the same too.

In 2015, I couldn’t vote for Labour.  I felt their policies “better our cuts than their cuts”.  In hindsight, this again a privileged position that I wasn’t being directly attacked by Tory austerity, so it was all too easy to shrug, vote Green, and see the Lib Dems get decimated and Cameron become the new norm.  I was almost sad that Cameron resigned.  I hate May, but Cameron had been the one I railed against for 6 years.  I wanted him kicked out.

So this year is the first time I have engaged with the Labour Party as a canvasser, probably like many people.  I’ve seen Corbyn speak in York, and followed his speeches, interviews and debates.  I went through a period of being highly grumpy with him and his lack of opposition, to being highly inspired.  The manifesto is what people have been demanding for years in the fact of Tories arguing for 'no alternative'.  he's a powerful speaker, a principled man and though his party is still full of Blairites and less-than-perfect MPs and ideas, it smells better than the Tory cesspit.

Over the last 7 years I’ve been drawn towards Anarchism and the deconstruction of the Westminster hierarchy.  I know the Labour manifesto is far from perfect, Corbyn himself still, highly problematic and essentially we’re voting for bigger cages and longer chains in a capitalist system.  But the Tories want to see the working class die.  They want to see disabled people die.  Refugees die.  Abused women die.  The homeless die.  They actively want that.  Why else would their policies exist?  They are a poisonous fog, and the electorate are getting lost within their toxic rhetoric.  Sorry Tories, you're the Bad Guys.

So I don't think my relationship with Labour has been tribal. It's changed from the nice, normal breezy air to a pungent bitter uninvited chill.  Now do I see it as a wind of change?  Certainly the new Manifesto is refreshing, everything I’d like to see to end Austerity and try and rebuild a country that believes in its population, wants to support and educate, rather than condemn and punish.

I’m sure, even if Corbyn becomes the Prime Minister on June 9th, I’ll still be agitating against the state.  Just this time, it’ll be a state run by a chap who makes his own jam, so I guess there’s more room for fun chants.




Sunday, 4 June 2017

But I couldn't vote for Labour because...

I went to the hospital because I was feeling ill
Then I broke my spine picking up the gigantic bill
I guess that’s what happens when the NHS is privatised
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t wear a tie
I went to the theatre, but there was nothing on
I’d go to the museum, but there isn’t one
I’ll just stay home, watch re-runs instead
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn is a Socialist Communist Marxist Red
I went to the job centre, I went to the housing market
The only work was making sure the people get deported
I’m starting to learn we should have looked after one another
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn collects drainhole covers
I went to the school to collect my child
Instead of inspired he just looked tired
Constant cuts and exams don't give him the skills he needs to know
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because of what Jeremy Corbyn said 30 years ago
The papers said we’d go back to the 1970s
But more punk and ska quite appeals to me
80% of the media is owned by 5 billionaires and the BBC are a highly paid Tory-team
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t Sing God Save The Queen
I went to the food bank because I was feeling peckish
But the person there said, sorry, just checking…
Are you really starving because we have some Nurses going hungry?
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn is a bit scruffy
I went into the Nuclear Bunker, and don’t you just love it
When everyone’s just dying to get the Red Button and push it?
And kill millions in a British Nuclear Apocalypse when the bombs are released?
But I couldn’t vote for Labour because Jeremy Corbyn wanted peace
I went to the Generic Dystopian Future in order to write this poem
I wanted to scaremonger but I’m not really sure where this is going
I guess, as Britain felt the stranglehold of 5 more years of austerity
I probably shouldn’t have voted for Theresa May because she’s a heartless Tory.