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The original text of a letter sent by me to my local newspaper, published by them in edited form.



Dear Sir,

 

Although entirely predictable, the councilís heartbreaking decision to cut the funding for The Public is almost enough to make a grown man cry (I know it has me, our companyís based there but letís not get into that one). And as for the way they went about it, their idea of local democracy seems to be a series of worm-like clandestine meetings broken only by deaf-eared megaphone statements to the press.

 

Iím sure many of your readers will be sick of hearing about this subject but as someone who has a great deal to lose, both professionally and personally, may I beg their indulgence to put the case as it appears to me.

 

The Publicís troubled beginnings and bad press (which are absolutely typical of big projects including Sandwell Council House) have been held against it by Council Leader Cooper and until extremely recently were used to convey an entirely false impression of the place to anyone unfamiliar with it.

 

To listen to Cooper, at least until he began to change his story, youíd think The Public was nothing but a cavernous arty folly with the wind whistling through. As anyone whoís been there recently will tell you, on a typical school holiday afternoon the place is buzzing with life and relaxed activity.

 

Itís become an increasingly popular hangout and a meeting point where local artists gather to discuss collaborative projects. Itís where young mothers get a break and where business people work on laptops over cups of coffee. Adults of all ages wander all over it and small children are everywhere - sliding across the floor, running up the long winding ramp or playing in the crazy forest of metal trees.


Anywhere you look people are interacting with the environment, the exhibits or each other, whether itís a white retired couple watching the work of a young Asian film-maker or a black hairdresser telling a friendly security guard about her zumba class before going to see a play.

 

In other words, The Public was beginning to do exactly what it said on the tin.


The Public can't be to everyone's taste but it doesn't have to be. It's for the people who use it or can be encouraged to use it. If no one round here cares about it why has Cooper been flooded with material from local people practically begging him to keep it open?

 

As Cooper knows perfectly well, The Public is on the up. Now that the project has got off the ground and turned itself around its future is bright - or it would have been, if Cooper and co werenít the sort of council they are.


The councilís reason for abolishing The Public has nothing to do with it being unsuccessful. Itís because it doesnít make enough money for the council. If the council puts big money in, the council expects to get big money out, or at the very least a fixed minimum return. The Public is being executed for the crime of generating value for the user rather than council revenue. Itís as simple and brutal as that. The council is treating The Public as a money investment instead of a community resource.

 

Would it have been difficult for the council to find the money for The Public? Maybe it would. Would it have been absolutely impossible? I very much doubt it. Where thereís a political will thereís nearly always an economic way. Cooperís fond of talking about the need to protect frontline services but does anyone really believe itís a straightforward case of either/or? That the bins wonít get emptied unless The Publicís stitched up like a kipper?

 

Why should taxpayersí money be spent on The Public? The short answer is because thereís no other way to fund it unless some great mysterious benefactor suddenly appears. I wish we had one now, because the council has welched on the deal. In my own view the council had a duty of care towards The Public. It was its moral obligation to explore every way possible of keeping it in the public domain. Thereís no evidence the council did any such thing and I think it highly unlikely. What was it Cooper said a while back? ĎI am simply not prepared to spend another penny on the dratted thing.í


The dratted thing in question was a mind-bending palace of the people designed by a world-class architect, constructed with painstaking attention to inner and outer detail, and made available to every inhabitant of a deprived borough. There are some who seem to think such a concept ludicrous, others who think it merely unaffordable, but one thingís for sure Ė the highly unusual set of circumstances that led to its creation will never be repeated in our lifetimes. We had it for a while, weíll have it for a while longer, and when it's gone weíll never have anything like it again. 

                                                                                                                      

It's been a while hasn't it? Even by my blogging standards. I'm currently creating a new website for Big Script which will eventually replace the old one.  The group performed at Artsfest again this year and I'm planning to put some images from that show up on our new site as well as on my own.

Meanwhile here's an audio extract from the Black Country Blues show in January, my co-write with Suzan Spence. Thanks again to Nikole Reygan, Corinne Jarrett, Rory Nolan and Luke Mason, for filling the roles at such short, short notice.

 

 

 

After a period of uncertainty, Suzan and I have been awarded some Arts Council money for our play Black Country Blues, which we're still in the process of co-writing.

We're both hoping to be able to stage a full-blown production of the play at some point. In the meantime we're using the money to fund a script-in-hand preview which will be free to the public.

There'll be an open rehearsal on the 26th January and an hour long performance on the 27th January, both at a venue in the centre of West Bromwich.

We've started a blog with more details on the piece. Here's the link:

http://blackcountryblues.wordpress.com

 

 

ArtsFest went pretty well for us and the rain kept off just long enough. A few minutes after the end of our show it poured down and emptied the courtyard.  Most of our audience had drifted away by then, however, and it was the people who'd turned up afterwards who got wet. There should be some images from the show up on he site quite soon.

It looks as if Suzan and I will be given a free venue by Sandwell Council but not much else. We've also been offered a small amount of money, enough to pay an actor for one and half day's work. As we need four actors for two days work and preferably also a director, this could present a problem as we're both currently broke. The council's pencilled in the show for early next year to give us time to try and raise what we need.

   

 

Big Script's been given a half hour spot at this year's ArtsFest. As Rachel's moved on it fell to me to choose and edit the material this year. I'll probably photograph or video the performance as well - anything to avoid actually taking part.

This year we had to devise a show based on the venue we were allocated so it's all been a bit last minute.  The venue is interesting (the courtyard of the last remaining back to back houses in Birmingham) but it's also in the open air, so let's hope the weather doesn't do anything too British.

Suzan and I are still waiting to find out if we have a venue, and possibly funding, for Black Country Blues. 

Have been discussing things with Suzan. The outline of a viable play is gradually emerging.

Rather than tout it around we've decided to try and stage it ourselves. Our plan is to put on a script-in-hand version of the play, or part of the play, later this year, as a precursor to a full-blown production next year.

What we're hoping is we'll be able to do a trial run at a local venue (a converted shop unit) in October or November. At the moment it's not clear whether the venue will be available to us but we'll do our best to get hold of it.

 

I spoke to Suzan Spence recently about the possibility of us writing a play together. We've decided to see what we can come up with. After a couple of meetings we know who our characters are but we still haven't worked out quite what to do with them yet. I have high hopes for this project though. I think we'll end up with a strong and interesting play, by whatever convoluted means.  

I think it's probably time I wrote another play. I've kept my hand in with short dramas, the most recent being The Science of Prophesy for Blossom Theatre, but it's now two and a half years since Zak in the Box. This time though instead of writing the script on my own I feel I'd like it to be a joint effort. 

Hopefully I'll have more to say about this soon though I'm aware my blogging habits are almost as intermittent as my playwrighting habits.

Last Saturday I was in Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham. I'd been invited to preview part of an audio trail devised by Charlotte Goodwin and Kate Chapman. This will be up and running on May the first, to coincide with the reopening of the midlands arts centre (the mac), which has been closed for about two years.

I think some of the listening material may be factual but on this stretch of the trail the audio was more of an imaginative experiment. The idea was that people would be walking from one bridge to another listening to ambient music with lyrical fragments. Whenever they reached a bridge they'd be told some kind of story, either in the form of a drama or a poem or some hybrid form.

The driving forces behind this project are very much Charlie and Kate. Myself and other writers were asked to submit material for them to select and shape.  My main contributions were a poem for one of the bridges and a suggestion that all the bridge pieces, including mine, be cut to about five minutes. Apparently the editing has now been done and everything's on schedule.

The name of my bit's Dark Matter Park although it's not me doing the reading. I don't know who the reader is but I think they read it pretty well.

 

   

Raymond Mason died recently, a Birmingham born artist based in Paris. Mason had an international reputation for creating public sculptures. He often worked on a monumental scale, but always in a unique and idiosyncratic style. Not everyone appreciated what he did but personally I found it fascinating. The first play I ever wrote used a statue of his as the central image of the play. I don't know whether he was aware of the play or would have liked it but that's not the important point. The point is the statue captured my imagination.

The piece in question was called Forward and stood in Birmingham's Centenary Square for twelve years. Like most of his works it was a sort of tableaux of tightly packed figures difficult to adequately describe. The figures were depicted as moving forward in time as well as space, with the ones at the front in contemporary clothes and the ones at the back in the clothes of the industrial revolution. Most of them were generic ordinary people but famous historical and allegorical figures were also part of the mix, as was a man driving a car, a range of tools and artefacts, and factories belching sculpted smoke.

The sculpted smoke became unintentionally ironic when someone set the statue on fire. Some of Mason's statues were bronze but Forward belonged to a group cast in fibreglass. Its destruction was swift and almost total. From what I've read it broke Mason's heart. I think he may also have partly blamed the local council for allowing such a thing to happen. However, if the idea of arson hadn't occurred to Mason it may never have occurred to anyone on the council either. After all, who sets fire to a statue? The problem with adult logic is that it doesn't apply to a teenage schoolboy whose idea of fun is to turn a cigarette lighter in to a flame-thrower and point it at the nearest large object.

Typically, some greeted the news with spiteful glee. Others said the big lesson was not to make public art out of flammable material. Maybe that's true. On the other hand I don't think any of Mason's other fibreglass statues have met with the same fate. There's a comparable piece in Montreal which is presumably just as flammable - unless it's now been coated with a transparent layer of something fire-resistant.

I think Mason was just unlucky with Forward. He took an artistic decision to use fibreglass because fibreglass, painted in muted colours, would create the effect he wanted for that particular piece. Essentially he was just doing what any artist does. His choice of materials may have increased the risk but it's a risk to create public art in the first place.

Every city in the world contains disaffected teenagers and destructive adults. Whatever it's made of, if somebody really wants to destroy a piece of public art they'll find a way to do so. A public artist has to work from the assumption that most people are law-abiding citizens most of the time. If they're more inclined to think about the ones who aren't they're probably better suited to making work for galleries or private collectors.

Mason I'm sure was mainly focussed on getting the work the way he wanted it. When a work was finished he probably believed a combination of common decency and general indifference would tend to keep it out of harm's way. Theoretically he may have been prepared for harm but he may not have been prepared to see one of his major works reduced to an amorphous black lump. The fact it happened in the place he came from probably made it worse.

It's a shame what happened to Forward was a source of pain to Mason in later life. It's a sad thing to have happened at all but especially so near the end of his career. Nevertheless his career was a long and successful one. I think he could be difficult and reactionary but in some ways I see him as part of the great tradition of English visionaries living abroad. I tend to have a soft spot for those. And I still miss that statue.

 

It seemed like a long January to me, especially the first part. A trudge and drudge through a snowbound UK. Writing-wise it started well though, relatively speaking. Finally won one of Leaf''s competitions, instead of just being commended (or coming nowhere). They sent me a cheque for a nano-poem, a tiny little thing called Open Day. I wasn't expecting this at all. Getting paid for poetry isn't a thing that happens to me often. The last time was when I had a poem picked up by Contrary Magazine.

 

Some members of Big Script, taking a break from rehearsing the Christmas show.

Doreen (centre, seated) has now left the group, leaving fifteen of us in total.

The Big Script Christmas show is looming. Rehearsals start on Thursday.

I've designed the flyer and I may film the event. I think that may be the extent of my contribution this year. I feel gulity about this, as I know there are people in the group who'd like me to perform in the show.

Several members of Big Script are trained actors. Others have a background in amateur dramatics. It's not that big a deal for them to be on stage but for me it is. Basically, it's a nightmare for me be in the spotlight. In order to be there I have to get myself in to a place which is very unlike my normal state of mind. 

Sometimes I just can't do it. The amount of psychological preparation required is ridiculous, and out of all proportion to the psychological rewards, which for me are minimal.  My temperament seems all wrong for acting even though I'm supposedly good at it.  

In my case this applies to quite few things, I think. You're supposed to enjoy what you're good at but it doesn't seem to work that way for me. I don't even like watching stuff I've written, performed by other people. In fact in many ways I hate live theatre, which is possibly why I seem to have stopped writing plays as well.

I'm working myself in to a state of gloom so I think I'll curtail this entry. And no, I didn't win the Leaf book cover competion, as predicted.

 

 

 

 

 

Today's the deadline for Leaf's book cover design competition. Don't think I've got a cat in hell's chance of winning but here's one of my three entries:

Strangely enough, I did go to the show. Someone from the media office got back to me on Friday and gave me the okay to film in the gallery. I went in to Birmingham on Saturday afternoon and took my video camera.

ArtsFest was a bigger deal than I thought it would be. The city centre was crammed with people attending ArtsFest events. The Museum and Art Gallery was busier than I'd ever seen it, with stuff happening all over the building.

I was sort of expecting people to be coming and going, stopping to watch and listen to things for a few minutes. Although there were still people passing through the galleries, most people in the room were actually attending the events and seemed intent on staying from start to finish.

When I got to Gallery 21 several rows of chairs had been put out on one side so it was set up like a conventional theatre space. Again this was something I hadn't quite anticipated. I don't think Rachel had either but she seemed to take it in her stride. The public began to arrive just before the show was due to start.

There weren't enough chairs and people were standing and sitting on the floor. Another suprise, although I'm sure this had more to do with it being ArtsFest and being free, than it had to do with it being us.

Rachel said a few words about Big Script and her new company, Blossom Theatre. Then it was over to the actors. The performance went well, unlike my attempts to film it. I'd hopelessly overestimated the amount of available memory and after about five minutes of filming got the 'memory full' message. So much for my permission getting and best laid plans.

As it happened, when I looked at it later the video material wasn't really good enough to use, not because of the visuals but because the sound quality wasn't there. If I'd videoed the whole show it would probaby all have been useless, so not being able to didn't matter that much, in the end. 

So basically there's no video record of that show. All I've got are the few pictures I was able to take in camera mode, with the last little bit of memory. I've put these on the Big Script page on my website. If nothing else, they do give some sense of the venue, which is probably the most expensive stage set any of us will ever write for or perform on.

  

 

 

 

 

Big Script's started meeting again.

Our last meeting was partly a rehearsal for ArtsFest. The venue is Gallery 21 and the slot's four thirty to five o clock on Saturday.

The performance is being directed by Rachel and the pieces have all been chosen by her. Most of the pieces are mini-dramas, with one of my poems being read at the end.

I haven't yet decided whether to go or not. If I go I'd rather film it than just watch it but you need permission to film in the gallery. I've been on the phone today trying to get this and am not very hopeful about the outcome.

If the gallery doesn't give me permission to film the show, I'll probably give it a miss, but like most things it will all depend how I feel on the day. 

 

 

I see Ronnie Biggs is back in the news. He's now dying and has been released from prison on medical grounds, after all the usual arguments.  

I've no opinion on Biggs but I used to know someone who grew up near where he lived in South America. Her father helped run some kind of Catholic mission for street kids.  

For a while her father had been behaving strangely and out of character. One night he turned up at the house with Biggs. He was trying to get Biggs to buy her sister.  It wasn't even a sick joke, he was completely serious. 

What Biggs made of the offer I don't know, but she saw blood red and went for her father with a  kitchen knife. She was holding it to his throat when she saw the look of fear in his eyes, and helpless insanity.

Whether Biggs was ordered to leave or left of his own accord, I don't know either, but I think that was the end of the Biggs connection.  Shortly afterwards her father disappeared.  

Eventually the police caught up with him somewhere. He'd been travelling the world spending vast amounts of money he didn't have. He'd got heavily in to drugs and prostitutes.

In the end all charges against him were dropped. His psychiatric evaluation said he had an particularly extreme form of manic depression. It had caused his personality to flip to its opposite. He'd even become a Satanist, worshipping the devil instead of God.  

His debts were so massive they all had to be written off. He was returned to the care of his family, a broken man with a burnt out mind. 

He never improved, just got slowly worse. What was left of his mental circuitry gradually disintegrated. If he was put on the sofa he spent the entire day there staring in to space. 

  

I recently, or not so recently, joined a website called Writers, Prizefighters and Caffeine Inspired All-Nighters. It's a social networking site for writers with an emphasis on posting material and getting critical feedback. Every now and again I post the odd piece or add the odd comment.

The quality of the material is wildly uneven and so's the quality of the feedback, and some people abuse the site by pushing products that have nothing to do with writing, but it appeals to me anyway. 

I like the way the site's been designed by the husband and wife team who run it, the thought and care that's on display, and the personal touch in things like the hand drawn banner. Their love for what they're doing and for each other comes out in the way the site's been put together. 

 

 

 

Big Script met last night, our last meeting before the summer break. 

We won't officially meet again until September when we'll start preparing for our next project. This will be ArtsFest, a city wide event that takes place in Birmingham every year.  

One of our members, Rachel Sambrooks, suggested Big Script should apply to participate this year, something we've never done before. We recently heard the organizers have given us a half hour slot in the Museum and Art Gallery. We'll probably fill it with several bite-sized pieces of drama and possibly some short bursts of poetry.

Whatever we decide to do the performance will take place as the public are walking through the gallery. Some people will stop and watch it, but probably only for a few minutes so the thing will have to be designed with that in mind. 

The piece will be performed by a mixture of Big Scripters (excluding me) and actors we know. I've already submitted my material and probably won't have much more to do with procedings.The job of deciding what goes in and what gets left out has been given to Rachel, who'll also be directing rehearsals.

   

 

  

 

 

 

Had a dream last night. The police turned up at my flat. It was a delapidated, cavernous kind of flat, not a flat I've ever lived in, though it was a bit like one I once looked at. They arrived in force and told me I'd been on a killing spree. They didn't say how many people I'd killed or how I'd killed them but they said I'd done it yesterday or the day before.

I didn't disbelieve them, I just couldn't understand it. I had no memory of doing any of the things they were talking about.

Then I started to vaguely remember something, getting messages on my computer telling me to kill people. The police looked at my computer and found what could be messages but they all had a strange alphabet and weird symbols. I said they were messages from outer space, I could read them because I could crack alien code. 

The next thing I knew I was back at home. I seemed to have given the police the slip but I was expecting them to catch up with me again at any moment.

I was quickly but calmly explaining to my mother what had happened. Saying the police were after me because I'd killed some people while under the control of aliens, although the alien part could be a delusion of my sick mind. Either way I'd become a danger to the public and should be locked up.

That was about it. The dream ended with me feeling bad about all the people and anyone who was related to them or knew them. And for upsetting my mother by perpetrating this, even if I had diminshed responsibility.

I'm not sure where this came from. My dreams don't usually involve mass murder. Maybe it came from thinking about the American campus shootings before going to sleep, and the recent school shooting in Germany.

In other respects it was a fairly typical dream. It had most of the usual themes and obsessions. At the centre is always some hounded version of me, dogged by some intense feeling of guilt. Usually in dreams I have this feeling for no particular reason, or for ludicrous reasons, but here it had attached itself to something tangible, a major crime.

 

 

 

Just been reading Ada and more Nano-Fiction, a book of hundred word stories by assorted writers. I have a piece in this book. My contribution's a thing called 'Rat Boy'. 

I like Leaf Books, I think they do a good job. The content of their books are the result of the competitions they run. Even though I've never been an overall winner things by me are included in several of their anthologies. They were the first people to ever put anything by me in print.

Their current competition is to find a cover design for their next book. I might have a go at that. See if I can come up with something striking.  

 

Re the summer show we took over five hundred pounds on the door, which is more than I thought we'd get, but the real cost of putting on the show was also higher than my estimate so we're still going to end up several hundred pounds down even when get our deposit back.

The general consensus seems to be these shows are worth doing despite the losses, but next time we need to do everything possible to reduce the overall cost to the group. Various suggestions were made, but nobody really knows how we can bring down our costs. The actors and director have to be paid something vaguely reasonable and whatever venue we hire has to be hired at the going rate.

Basically, in order to do the summer show for less, we either have to direct and perform it ourselves, which nobody wants to do, or stage it in a venue like a church hall, which nobody wants to do either.

Given that, there's no obvious alternative to our current practice, which is what it's always been, building up our own finances in the year so we can shoulder whatever losses are incurred when it's showtime.

Unless we get some funding, which we've given up on, or make some influential friends, which we're working on.

 

Big Script finally put on its summer show last week. About fifteen short plays were performed script-in-hand over two evenings. 

The actors were brought in from outside the group to do the show, so none of us had to appear on stage as we sometimes do at Christmas. Finding the actors was left to the director we hired so it was the same formula as on previous summer shows. The only difference this year was the venue, and the fact that we had a projected backdrop courtesy of David, who was helping out as a favour and did a very good job for us in less than ideal conditions.  

In fact, as usual, everyone who got involved did a pretty good a job, paid or not. From the point of view of the people who come to see them I think our shows are pretty successful. The problem from our point of view is the number of people who come. It's always too small.  

Financially putting on these shows has never made any sense. The main reason we do them is because it gives everyone in the group the chance to work on the same project once in a while. But it would be nice to at least break even occasionally.

I think this year it cost over eight hundred pounds to put on the show. I can't see us getting back more than four hundred, if that.

Anyway, we'll have the post-mortem on Thursday, when the group next meets.

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