Tuesday 4 November 2008

Excuses, excuses

Let's dispense with the traditional apologies. It's been a while. Again. Postcards has been busy elsewhere. The problem with having a blog over a year old, though, is that posts from the same week the previous year suddenly start looking like a standing rebuke to this year's inaction. I was amused to notice that on 30th October 2007 I posted a brief note entitled My blog, my blog, why hath I forsaken you? which opened with the line “The observant among you might have noticed that I haven’t exactly been prolific this month”. Plus ça change. Except that October 2007 saw 13 posts here compared with, oh, none this year. Pretty good they were too, some of them. And then on Tuesday 6th November, I wrote a post called Productivity Tuesday as if to really stick the boot in to my future self. That post headed up two reviews posted that day which in turn followed a long review of the film Lagerfeld Confidential from the day before and my long article Commission me not for my complexion attacking some rubbish by Bidisha the day before that (4th November 2007, as it happens).

Actually, I haven't been all that inert. Since my last post here I've written a bunch of blogs for the Guardian:

Lip-synching: the new kitchen sink
“Over the past couple of years, lip-synching and the use of the recorded voice has become the new kitchen sink... this new use of recorded voice, radio mic, lip-synching and audience uncertainty goes straight to the heart of post-futurist anxieties about authenticity, an increasingly media-centric world, fractured societies and dislocation. It is the perfect metaphor for our times.”

When it comes to staging, we play it way too safe
“Mainstream Anglo-American theatre tradition remains so absolutely married to the idea of literal-minded mimesis that there is virtually no hint that anything but the text can invent meaning on stage beyond dumb representation.”

Hamlet is the touchstone for our troubled times
“...audiences don't want to go to the theatre to run away from their problems, but to stare down the heartache, the thousand natural shocks and the sea of troubles. ”

With friends like the ICA, live art doesn't need enemies
“No matter how complex [Live Art] is, descriptions and analysis are far more effective when designed to communicate rather than to dazzle and obfuscate...”

Fringe theatre is too conventional
“The fringe now often seems to be less forward-looking in terms of staging and material than the Lyttleton or the Gielgud. Its receiving houses are all too often home to productions by directors seeking to showcase their mainstream talents and its producing houses play it safe with solid revivals of tried and tested classics.”

I’ve also been to two European festivals – Divadelná Nitra'08 in Slovakia and Sirenos in Vilnius, Lithuania – both of which included watching about seven performances each. I also saw The Girlfriend Experience for the FT; 1,800 Acres, Bacchaeful, A Disappearing Number, Lola, Follow and Measure for Measure for Time Out and Cradle Me and How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found for CultureWars, as well as managing to get along to the first three evenings of Paines Plough’s Later series at the Trafalgar studios. At the same time, I've been editing the texts produced across a number of the FIT Mobile Labs by my colleagues, the fruits of which should soon be online.

That all of this flurry of recent activity has taken place away from Postcards... has got me thinking. I remember back in early/mid December 2007 in my end of year round-up arguing that:

“An unforeseen consequence of the theatrical comment blogsophere is that it has done an alarmingly good job of identifying all the key issues in contemporary theatre; itemising them; discussing them; and leaving them fully annotated and in a neat handy-to-view package so that anyone with the slightest interest in theatre now has an invaluable guide. The net effect of this is that, unless we are going to start recycling issues just to fill space, we’re going to need something new to discuss pretty soon.”

Of course, shortly after that we got the Art's Council's cuts which reawakened British bloggers in an instant, but as I've noted elsewhere a lot of blogs did seem to fall off the perch this year. Looking through Chris Wilkinson's Noises Off blog-round-up series at the Guardian it is striking how rarely he ever gets to chase a thread of argument between British bloggers nowadays. Even posts at the Guardian now tend to function more as discreet provocations or featurettes rather than part of ongoing conversations. Yes, some of Lyn's recent posts – particularly those on The ICA Live Art dept closure and Ontroerend Goed's Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen – have thrown up some excellent discussions in their comment threads, but I haven't seen them picked up and discussed in other blogs much - perhaps I'm reading the wrong places these days – but given that the Guardian shuts down comments on any given blog after about a week, these discussions are necessarily short-lived. Similarly, my experience with recent blogs is that I've tended to get into interesting email or Facebook discussions about what I've written, but rarely do the articles themselves seem to relate to a wider blogosphere as they might have done a year ago.

This is partly due to the “difficult second album” syndrome that I outlined last Christmas. The first year or so of blogging is pretty easy, you can say everything you've ever thought, or at least thought recently, and it might even come across as original and fresh. Once you've been going a while, though it starts to get harder not to repeat yourself. Looking back through what I've written in the past year, I notice a couple of topics which recur more times than I'd have liked. While my previous concern with the failures of political theatre in Britain has faded into the background – how long, by the way, before the next “Where are all the right-wing plays?” article? - it has been replaced by my new concern with Britain's lack of European integration.

For all that, I do still have a fearsome backlog of reviews and articles I'd like to write for Postcards... There are three European festivals' worth of shows along with the issues some of these raised, and hopefully at some point soon, I'll find time to write about some of them.

In the mean time, on Thursday I've been invited to take part in the Arts Council's theatre funding assessment studying the impact of the additional £25 million invested in theatre from 2003 onwards.

I've been asked to consider the following questions:

Looking at the last five years -
- what have been the major developments and changes in theatre? Have they improved or worsened the situation?
- in what ways have relationships between theatre organisations and locally based companies/artists, and theatre organisations and their local communities, changed?
- has there been more engagement with diversity and if so, what effect has this had on theatre and on audiences?
- in what ways have audiences and their expectations changed?
- what effect have economic and political changes or any other external interventions had on theatre?
- what has been the impact of the Arts Council's Grants for the arts scheme, since it was introduced in 2003?

Anyone with any thoughts or or opinions they'd like to see represented, do give me a shout or leave a comment below.

Anyway, it's nice to be back, however fleetingly. I just hope my reader is still checking Postcards... regularly enough to notice there's a post.

P.S. As ever, it looks like I spoke too soon regarding the imminent collapse of the Blogosphere. Only last month Performance Monkey seems to have been born (David Jays in the sidebar here), and looks like it's well worth a read.

P.P.S. Picture at the top of post from Sebastian Nübling's astonishing production of Simon Stephens's Pornographie. No especial reason, other than that I loved it and the way it looks - more on the production can be found in my Guardian blog When it comes to staging, we play it way too safe which is trailed above.