My questions for Manchester Art Gallery

All right, Manchester Art Gallery, seems like you want a discussion after all. I’ll give you a chance.

For anyone unfamiliar with my current bugbear, so far this year I’ve been mostly complaining about Manchester Art Gallery and their stupid stunt to remove a beloved by the people of Manchester, in order to – so they claim – start a conversation. I am amongst the large majority of respondents who opposed to it. I wrote at length about my issues here; I won’t go over this again, but the TLDR version is that, at best, the Gallery staff showed no interest in any views different to their own, and, at worst, this was testing the water to see how far they could go with culture policing. But that’s old news now. What riled me more was their behaviour after they made (were forced into?) the decision to restore the painting. After thanking everyone for Contributing To The Debate™, they spent a month behaving like nothing had happened, then proceeded to do a series of interviews and articles that pretty much dismissed all the opposition as online abuse. Most suspiciously, they promised release information shortly about a panel debate that would invite speakers with a range of views. Three months later, with not a peep from the gallery about this, suspicion grew they decided asking other people for their opinions was a mistake and they hoped they could drop the debate quietly without anyone noticing.

But wait. On the 17th May, Manchester Art Gallery had their debate after all. The kept their promise. Well, some of it. Releasing information about the debate three months after it was originally announcing isn’t exactly a time-frame I’d call “shortly”. As for the wide range of views – not a chance. The panel was Alistair Hudson, the director of the gallery, and Clare Gannaway, the curator who championed the removal. They wanted to include a third panellist, Ellen Mara De Wachter, who wrote a, shall I say, “interesting” takes on this stunt, rebranding what most of use consider to be cultural authoritarism as “curatorial activism“, but she had to cancel. Regardless, this is a far cry from their original commitment to invite “inviting speakers with a broad spectrum of opinions”, and it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence that they believe in open debate.

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10 ways the Brighton Fringe has changed

Upstairs at the Three and Ten logo
Remember this?

One of the early hits on my blog were my guides I wrote for the Brighton, Buxton and Edinburgh Fringes.  Brighton was the original inspiration – as someone who’d previously been used to Edinburgh, Brighton was a very different environment to get used to. I was supposed to do updated versions every year, but, true to form, I was too disorganised to keep that up and the latest version of “How to make the most of the Brighton Fringe” was written in 2014.

I was thinking of doing an update, but it then occurred to me the more interesting thing is the record of what it used to be like. A lot has changed since then. Looking through the things I listed back then, it’s remarkable how much is different now. So, for a new angle, and because Buzzfeed has decreed that articles are now only permitted if they’re done in lists, here’s my observations on everything that’s changed.

1: It’s bigger

In 2007, there were 323 shows. (For comparison, that’s slightly under twice the present-day size of Buxton Fringe, a tiny fringe by today’s standards.) Now, it’s more like 1,000. Not that you need stats to tell you this – it’s an obvious difference to anyone who remembers back that far. But stats are immune from selective memory, and that confirms just what the extent of the change is.

I could end the list here. Pretty much everything else is a consequence of this unprecedented expansion. Some changes were easy to predict, some not so easy. But almost everything that is different about Brighton Fringe now can be traced back to this growth.

2: It opens with a firework display

The opening ceremony is a recent addition, coming to Brighton Fringe in 2016. In priciple, this makes little difference to the fringe itself – the plays, comedy and so on won’t be any better or worse because of some fireworks. But it was a huge statement of status that Brighton Fringe can now afford to do this, and a landmark to its expansion. Continue reading

What next for Buxton Fringe and Pauper’s Pit? (2016 update)

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Back in 2013, when it was announced it would be the final year that Underground Venues would operate out of Pauper’s Pit and the Barrel Room in the Old Hall Hotel, I wrote this article on what might happen next. As you may have noticed, nothing happened, and the in-joke that every year was Underground Venues’ last year ran on and on. However, the mood this year is that this time the developers really mean it and they want to convert the entire basement into a hot tub or something equally fancy. So unless everyone wants to set their plays in hot tubs, we need to look at where else they can go.

Joking aside, this is something that Buxton Fringe ought to be worried about. In recent years, applications to Underground Venues have gone up and up and up, but the numbers to Buxton Fringe overall have remained steady. So it looks like there are a lot of unsuccessful applicants who are opting for not come to Buxton at all. For one reason or another, it’s Underground Venues that everyone seems to love. It might be because of the community and spirit that’s been built up, or it could be that this is the only space with a proper lighting and sound system (apart from the intensely-contested Arts Centre). The apocalyptic scenario is that the loss of Underground Venues spells the loss of everyone who performs there. If that was to happen, this would decimate the theatre and comedy programmes at Buxton – the Buxton Fringe would still have a strong visual arts and music section to fall back on, but it would still be a huge loss. Continue reading

Counting the common mistakes

Infographic for script submission (click on link for details)

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this interesting article. Yes, whilst every man and his dog has their own pet theory about what makes a good script and bad script, one scriptreader has actually gone through the trouble of totting up from 300 unsolicited scripts which problems were occurring, and how often. The results make some very interesting reading, and whilst this will inevitably be swayed by the reader’s own preferences, it’s a far more reliable technique than claims that go “In my experience bad scripts make mistake X.”

This is about screen plays rather than stage plays, so this needs to be treated with a little caution. In particular, it’s unwise to dwell too much on a hero/villain format in a stage play. But, on the whole, I broadly agree with what’s listed here. Also there were some interesting stats, such as male writers outnumbering female writers over 10:1, and the big disparity between male and female leads. That is a serious problem throughout theatre, film and television, and I will return to this another day.

However, you might be thinking that by praising one reader for some openness about what’s being accepted and rejected, that’s an implicit criticism of everyone else who doesn’t. And I’ll admit you’re sort-of right. But rather than criticise, it better to set an example. So, here goes. Based on my own list of 10 common beginners’ mistakes in playwriting, let us bring forth this list: Continue reading