Posts tagged ‘dan rebellato’

28 July, 2011


I’ve been experimenting with Storify, one of several startups catering to journalists who want to construct stories in a modern, relevant way. (Storyful, which I may try soon, is another.)

The basic concept is that you pull public-domain content from a variety of social streams – Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and others – and arrange it all into a coherent, chronological, columnar narrative. The intended outcome is to allow individuals to make some sense out of the barrages of citizen journalism that issue from newsworthy events. The journalist, then, if that title retains any relevance, is a filter, ordering chaos to make it digestible for anyone who has the yen to understand, but not the time or knowledge to filter for themselves.

Contrary to the claims on Storify’s site, Storified streams can’t yet be embedded into WordPress blog posts. If and when that functionality becomes available, I’ll make use of it. In the meantime, I’ll just link you out to the stories in their native habitat, on Storify’s website.

My first foray was to chronicle The Fall of the News of the World, since it was all the internet was talking about at the time, and I knew I’d have plenty of content to draw on.

Then I tried applying Storify to arts coverage and reviewing, by livetweeting my reaction to Five Truths at the Victoria and Albert Museum and saving the tweets for posterity as a Storify stream.

Let me know what you think (about Storify/storyful in general, or my stories in particular). I’ll post more as I continue experimenting.

27 November, 2009

Belt Up, Tim Crouch and breach of contract

Written for The Collective Review, 27 November 2009

At this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, Belt Up premiered a new piece of experimental theatre called Leasspell. It involved the company and audience standing together for half an hour, all blindfolded and telling one another love stories. While Belt Up themselves readily admit that Leasspell was not the most successful of experiments, it did raise certain issues that the company explored further this week in a discussion event charmingly titled ‘Chatting Shit: Immersive Theatre and the Actor/Audience Contract’.

I was particularly interested when the discussion – held in a remote attic of the BAC and, thanks to short notice and a start time that fell during office hours, attended mostly by BAC staff – turned to the work of Tim Crouch, having seen the self-proclaimed “darling of the universities” in conversation with playwright and lecturer Dan Rebellato only the previous day, at Royal Holloway University.

In The Author, which I felt pretty favourably about when I reviewed it for the London Theatre Blog, Crouch and his three co-performers repeatedly encourage the audience to contribute. We’re asked, again and again, “Is this okay?’ or “Do you want me to stop?” or “You say something”. At one point, a performer is uncomfortably hot-seated, in character as a survivor of sexual abuse; the sequence ends with the appeal, “Would anyone else like to ask Karen any questions?”

But when members of the audience respond to this encouragement they are ignored. If someone says yes, they would like Crouch to stop, he continues regardless. If someone fires a question at Karen she remains resolutely mute, and after a pause the play continues. And in conversation with Professor Rebellato, Crouch insisted that there is no space in the play for audience participation, claimed not to understand why anyone would continue Karen’s interrogation, and likened the audience’s desire to contribute to a prima donna actor demanding space to improvise in Shakespeare or Beckett.

The consensus amongst the Chatting Shit attendees was that by inviting the audience to speak, the cast of The Author implicitly alter the actor/audience contract that exists in ‘traditional’ or ’straight’ theatre, whereby the actors act and the audience passively observe. Belt Up create similar implicit contracts when the cast of The Tartuffe mingle and chat with the audience in the bar pre-show, or when they adorn the audience with hats and neckerchiefs at the beginning of The Park Keeper. Symbolically loaded actions such as these inform the audience that the show’s boundaries are not in the usual place, and that the environment they’re entering is more permissive.

So are Crouch and his co-performers in breach of contract when they refuse to respond to audience contributions that they have explicitly invited? Similar questions have been asked of Ontroerend Goed, in whose Festival Fringe smash Internal punters confide personal secrets to performers in intimate one-on-one encounters, then sit helpless as their confidants pass on the information in group discussions.

The difference, as far as the Chatting Shit participants could discern, is one of dramatic intent. It was felt that Ontroerend Goed’s dramatic intent is clear: Internal is an interrogation of emotional openness and vulnerability and, most importantly, you get out what you put in; your humiliation extends only so far as you willingly bared your soul in the one-on-one.

The dramatic intent behind The Author, on the other hands, seems to be to get a habitually passive audience to speak up against onstage events that they find morally offensive, but in actual fact, Crouch seethes behind his smile when members of the audience question Karen, feeling that they are perpetrating an act of abuse. But it’s the contract that he, as both a playwright and a performer, implicitly creates between himself and the audience – the permissive environment woven by the words he wrote – that permits this act of abuse to occur. So really, he should be seething at himself.

19 October, 2008


Trafalgar Studios, 15 – 24 October 2008

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

Making new writing accessible is Paines Plough’s business. Later is a new writing ’salon’ in which playwrights curate playwrights to showcase work in progress, previews, experiments and rehearsed readings. At only £5 per ticket it’s affordable to practically everyone, and starting at 10 p.m. it’s accessible even to those seizing opportunities for overtime.

Tonight it’s the turn of Mile End playwright Dan Rebellato to curate, and the result is a rehearsed reading of Fear and Misery in the Third Term, a new piece written especially for the evening by Rebellato, Paines Plough writer in residence Duncan Macmillan and three others. Inspired by Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, the play examines today’s Labour government through a series of short scenes.

Less Epic Theatre and more Simon Stephens, the scenes portray their tenuously linked characters’ experiences of the credit crunch and evaporating Arts Council funding as symptoms of a more pervasive British malaise, embodied in a teenager on a high ledge, leaving messages on his unfaithful girlfriend’s voicemail. There are some excellent moments of black humour: a couple gets bogged down with explanations of global economics in the process of telling their son why they can’t go to Disneyworld; and two investment bankers, livid at being painted as villainous orchestrators of the credit crisis, attempt to outdo each other, Four Yorkshiremen style, with tales of their painful, neglected childhoods.

But it’s only the boy on the ledge who, from his commanding vantage point, can see the big picture: the erosion of fundamental human kindness and decency. It’s something that underlies the comparatively petty complaints of the other characters; which forces the government (as the boy points out) to place adverts on public transport reminding people how to behave; and which leads the boy, originally only on his ledge for some peace, to actually consider jumping, at the behest of unfeeling onlookers interested only in a big spectacle.

Of course, Fear and Misery in the Third Term has now had its airing and may well never be seen again; the point of providing all this detail is only to indicate the level of quality you can expect at Later. What exactly you might experience on other occasions is something you can only discover by going.

Curated by Dan Rebellato

Cast includes Richard Atwill, Kirsty Bushell, Frances Grey, Jonathan McGuinness, Pippa Nixon, Fred Ridgeway, David Sibley, Rosie Thomson and Danny Lee Wynter