Dancing in the Street

Street theatre is one of the oldest forms of theatre and yet we don’t seem to see much of it these days unless there’s a special occasion or festival, but this it seems is down to councils having decided to cash in the on what was a success of street theatre by enforcing a permit policy for outdoor public performances and these permits are not always cheap for individuals, so hence why you only see them at festivals and special occasions.

When you think about street theatre the first place that may come to mind is probably Covent Garden in London which is the most common place to enjoy it these days. But street theatre as a whole reflects that of ancient world. Back then it was about mocking a serious character through comedy and from this format came the idea of Harlequin was born, a comic who had a dark side deliberately seeking to make fun of others. Today though, its more about an individual just clowning about and getting audience participation.

There are many different types of street theatre from carnival to flash mobs mostly for entertainment purposes. But back in medieval it was all an important part of the teaching communities about issues surrounding social morals and health education as well as religious teaching as the reformation took hold.

Using the streets for entertaining a crowd even today gives a very unique feel and atmosphere to a setting that a traditional theatre or town hall gives, but at the same time, it is a not a lesser version of theatre that that of conventional building known as theatre.

Busking is also something that comes to mind when someone mentions street theatre. It’s one of the oldest forms of street theatre, dating back to well before medieval times, it was the most common workplace for musicians before there was recordings. Busking has been a tradition for travellers and gypsies music, dancing and fortune telling. Today we still carry some of the traditions with the seasonal carol singing and Morris Men dancing in some parts of England.

Carnivals at best are a celebration of community, bringing everyone together in what is sometimes a very competitive event for those who part take in creating floats costumes. For most these are big colourful and loud events like in Brazil. Then at the other end of the spectrum there are the night carnivals, like in the South West of the UK made famous through the Guy Fawkes events of the 1600s and just to think that now there are people who spend the whole year planning and making the floats and costumes for these events.

The latest crazy for street theatre are flash mobs, essentially this isn’t the first time the term has been used. Interestingly it was first used in the 19th century to describe a subculture in Australia of females. The variation of ‘Mob Crowd’ was then used in 1973 to describe what happens in riots as people would just appear from nowhere and intensify the situation.

But flash mobs today in the 21st century has become one of the most respected forms of street theatre as they continually come up with new and exciting ways to excite an unsuspecting crowd. But even this is under threat from councils and governments as they insist that permits are applied for, which completely defeat the point of a flash mob.

Do entertainers really need a permit to do their job when the price the entertainer charges is the price of some a smile?

Weight Check

Can you imagine walking into an interview and being asked to strip down to your underwear then being weighed and measured by the interviewer only to find that if you are just a little over weight or a millimetre too wide then you can’t have the job.

To be fair if any other industry did, there would be a lot of court cases, firstly for discrimination, that’s if sexual harassment doesn’t make the grades first. So why is it OK for the arts to get away with it? I once heard it said that unless there are specific guides in the script that a person has to look or weigh, then expecting an individual to be any other way a part from them self “you are looking for a model and not an actor.”

Not only is the director looking for a model, but at the same time they are ‘body-shaming’ an individual who is stood in that room who has worked so hard on their performance. It will not only lead to lowering self-esteem but it will do nothing to benefit mental health of individuals.

It is completely unacceptable for any individual to lose weight or change their appearance in some way unless it is for health or lifestyle reasons which the advice should only come from health experts but not for a career, leisure, relationships or anything else. And when body shaming comes from the arts it makes it all far worse, as they are the ones who are supposed to stamp it out with their creativity to help society become a better place.

The arts are supposed to be encouraging, empowering and confidence building industry, but there seems to be a lot of negativity recently, what with bullying and now body shaming.

There is no reason why actors shouldn’t be able for feedback on why they didn’t get the part and if the feedback comes in the form of weight or size then the question needs to be asked ‘why?’ and find out if it has to do with the character you auditioned for, ask for evidences in of this in the script, and most of all if your experience is bad make sure you tell others. By creating a bad reputation through word of mouth is the best way to stamp out this kind of behaviour.

Actors and actresses already experience pressure of body shaming on social media and on the world stage in general so they shouldn’t be forced to endure it more through auditions and other industry standards put in place by directors and producers.

But we have to remember that this is not just an arts industry issue its society wide and it can have devastating effects, including social anxiety, stress and even obesity and other eating disorders. So when it comes to an audition we need to be more sensitive because whether the body shaming is intentional or not it does happens and the person on the receiving end will be affected in some way or other if the producer says, ‘You need to lose weight for this part’ or something to that effect as they take the measurements and weight of the individual.

It is really important that as the term ‘diversity’ is addressed within the arts that we don’t forget that this is not just about race, religion or colour of skin, the fundamentals behind the diversity, whatever the show maybe, is to show the very real world we live in.

There are very few shows either established and new that have written the way a person looks or weighs as the main theme. The only exemption being those musicals that are dedicated to specific people or celebrities.

Review: Why Is The Sky Blue?

Getting an audience to stand up and do the floss was a fantastic way to start a performance that covered a taboo topic, pornography. Why Is The Sky Blue? was created by theatre makers Abbey Wright, Shireen Mula and Matt Regan out of their interviews that they conducted about love and the effects of pornography on thousands of 6 to 22 year olds from across the UK.

This refreshingly open and honest performance presented at the Southwark Playhouse by young people the same age as those interviewed is a unique chance to hear young people talk about some of the biggest taboo topics in society today pornography, sex, masturbation and sexual orientation.

Through songs, conversations and encouraging audience participation they beautifully explored the issues that every parent dreads. But this performance showed just how important it is to talk and that it’s all just part of the ‘norm’ of growing up in the 21st century. It also demonstrates just how much power technology has through personal devices.

I think it will help open the way for these important topics to be discussed more openly at home, school and the wider community. It clearly showed that young people as young as 6 years of age have more knowledge about these things then any parent would ever dream or want them to know and thats just because of modern technologies.

A very simply format but very well executed. Why Is The Sky Blue? ran at the Southwark Playhouse from the Thursday 26th April 2018 until Saturday 19th May 2018.

Click here for more information on the producers – The Tackroom Theatre

Non-Disclosure Agreements

I am sure you have all heard of the #metoo and #timesup campaigns (see post on 3 March 2018) which aim to stamp out abuse and harassment within the workplace by giving people the voice to speak up. So the removal or updating of the ‘Non-disclosure’ is an important step to deal with the issues.

For those of you who don’t know a ‘Non-disclosure’ is where two parties sign an agreement of complete confidentiality so that no information is shared outside of an organisation without permission of the organisation. But this can often lead to organisations being protected from legal action where cases of bullying or harassment or even unfair dismissal are present in the workplace.

Used correctly they can benefit both parties non-disclosures are good and actually just form the common sense part of the contact. So I mean by this it being used correctly is that complete confidentiality on the operation of an organisation is fine, but there should always be riders or a clause in all such agreements that give permission that total confidentiality is breached or broken by controlled measures and protocol where information is shared on a need to know bases for example bullying or harassment, they should never be used to cover up these serious issues to make an organisation look good.

When I business or organisation is run well, where employees are genuinely happy, wanting to be make the business successful not just by turning up every day doing their bit then go home, but also feeling empowered to contribute. But this can only happen if staff feel safe and know that if something goes wrong where their welfare is compromised they can have it dealt with promptly and in a dignified manner.

So the clause is there to stop things can getting out of hand as people do still talk to friends and family because it’s human nature and if that happens, especially when then things are not going to well, personally if you tell me something that raising concerns of your safety or the safety or others then I will trigger a set procedure to ensure that relevant persons or authorities are informed to ensure individual safety on any level is maintained. This doesn’t mean that I will go and share the information with everyone I meet in the street or have the conversation in the pub during a drunken night out.

If businesses and organisations allow these conversations inside the business than while there maybe a report to say you have problem with bullying or harassment, it will also show that you are actively doing something about it. So this means that if a conversation raises concern for example that someone may commit suicide or the information given indicates there is a level of abuse or bullying somewhere in the organisation then as an organisation you need to have the conversations with people who can do things to help.

Keeping important information quiet that affects staff welfare is not something that should ever be done. This is the point I raised in February in my post Shyness and the Arts, regardless of what the relationship is to the person you know is be harassed or bully or sexually assaulted it is all of our jobs to speak up and a full ‘Non-disclosure’ agreement should not stand in the way of that.

So quite rightly The Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for the banning of these Confidential agreements that used with the aim cover up issues in the workplace. Personally, as you can see I don’t understand why anyone would want to cover these issues up. Surely only a bad manager would want to do this because if they don’t deal with it and allow these things to get out of hand they are only creating a work environment that nobody would want to work in as the confidential agreement won’t stop people from complaining to their friends and family during catch up time.

Reporting issues of harassment and bullying in the workplace should never jeopardise a person’s health, welfare or job in anyway. According to a recent survey by the EHRC of more than a thousand people the levels of harassment and bullying in the workplace is very much underestimated, and while the non-disclosure agreements stand in their current format then this will continue to be the case. We need to stand together against bullying and harassment in the workplace, in any place by joining the #timesup campaign.

Living Near a Theatre

Its well known that one of the best businesses to be in is housing, and if you’re a civil engineer or builder than business could be really booming as there is a real shortage of housing in the UK currently with local councils having to find land that to be stocked for future houses.

But why, when developers want to build residential houses, do they choose to build near an entertainment venue? Moreover how do they sell the homes without telling them that there will be noise from the venue? Though as a side note I wonder if failing to tell potential customers that they could possibly be disturbed by the entertainment venue they are new home comes under the consumer act of fit for purpose goods.

But then why worry when most people view new homes during the day when the venues are closed, so why would the question about excessive noise at time of sale? When asked after sale about it the developer no doubt plays dumb, saying they weren’t aware or they never experienced the problem.

This is what would have happened to London’s Cambridge Theatre that now has restrictions meaning they cannot have any get in or get outs on a Sunday. This is a common restriction when new a residential estate is built nearby. Some a lucky to just get a curfew, but sometimes theatres are forced to make their buildings sound proof at their own cost.

Here in the 21st Century if you want to build a new entertainment venue anywhere you have to consider sound protection. So why is it, when a developer plans to build 25 flats in close vicinity to an arts venue that’s been around year before, shouldn’t sound proofing of the flats be considered or even made compulsory by the planning committee?

So recently there have been plans announced to build a hotel near the Adelphi Theatre in London and the Corn Exchange in Oxfordshire has the potential of housing being built close by. Once new people move in the complaints will start about noise, which will then put the venues under threat of restrictions or worse, closure.

While it is good to hear the government are currently going through a consultation period to guard theatres against these restrictions and extra expenses when the income is becomes less.  These protections would include ensuring that developers fully sound proof their new buildings to accommodate their neighbours.

It all just seems to be another dig at the entertainment business, another way of making things harder. While the industry struggles at times to finance works the amount of money it pours into the UK economy goes unnoticed and unsung. So it just seems the current situation where developers and planning committees are ganging up on theatres and venues in a culture that has become about self or as Burger King make us believe that we can ‘have our way’. The developers and the planning committees show no consideration for what is already there as an important part not just the national but world heritage.

Currently there is a consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework that every council has to use when considering planning application plans. It is no surprise to hear that the Theatre Trust advices that the planning applications around the Adelphi and Corn Exchange should be rejected. Mayor of London is in favour of the legislation change, saying that the city would become dormant if these plans are left to go ahead as they are and MP John Speller, who has previously proposed a bill on this matter to parliament suggests that the current applications should be postpones pending the outcome of the consultation. Either way is it the best way forward as we do need to protect our theatres of having unfair operating restrictions which could result in us losing our heritage and once these venues close it can be very hard to have them reopened.