Category Archives: Comment

Chris’s hierarchy of appealing to authority

Okay, in a very rare break for this blog, I’m going to write about someone that’s not theatre-related at all, or even arts-related. This is something that frequently crops up in arguments about the the arts, but no more or less than anywhere else. But with an general election coming and the inevitable rise in poorly-researched claims to back up your favourite party, it’s about time I said something about this. I’m even going to be completely serious here are refrain from snarky asides that I usually make.

The practice I’m referring to is appealing to authority. This is where people attempt to back up their claims by citing the research of some sort of expert who is meant to back up the position. Now, in theory, this should be a good way of proving a point, showing someone else who knows what they’re doing and has done the research. But, in practice, this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and instead is used as a tactic to mislead people into believing their claim is proven when it isn’t. If you are doing it yourself, chances are you don’t realise you’re doing it because you are hearing what you want to hear and not thinking about whether this really supports you are strongly as I think it does.

So, as an attempt to help people appealing to authority to come up with decent arguments, and to enable the rest of us to spot the hogwash, I have taken inspiration from the legendary Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement. Using this model, I am pleased to introduce Chris’s Hierarchy of Appealing to Authority.

Diagram reproduces headings and sub-headings below.
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No easy answer to #OscarsSoWhite

Promo image for Moonlight

COMMENT: It’ll take more than a Best Picture award to solve the racial disparity in Hollywood. The root problem is the broken culture of A-lister casting.

I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I’ve been wanting to comment on the news from the Oscars. My main interest is, of course, the fiasco over reading out the wrong winning film, because I work in a job where I have to think over everything that could go wrong, and, quite frankly, PWC’s fuck-up is unforgivable. But on the expectation that most of my audience aren’t risk management nerds, the other news was Moonlight, the proper winner. After the big #OscarsSoWhite row last year, this was seen my many as a breakthrough where a low-budget film with an all-black cast did so well.

I am hopeless at keeping up with films, so I haven’t seen Moonlight  (or La La Land, or any of the other numerous films I’ve resolved I absolutely must see), but I’ll take the word of everyone who says how great it was. A lot of people are talking about how this will change attitudes to race and casting in Hollywood. Without being able to earwig on what film producers and casting directors say about race, it’s hard to say whether there are attitudes that need changing and whether films like Moonlight can change this, but that’s a red herring. As I see it, the root problem isn’t attitudes. It’s money. Money, and the broken system of casting lead roles that comes with it. Continue reading

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The problem with political theatre

Frame 1:

How differing views are treated on the internet – but is the same happening in theatre? (From Chainsaw Suit.)

COMMENT: It’s fine to do political theatre aimed at changing people’s minds. But you’re failing in your objective if the only people listening are people who already agree.

Disclaimer: This is not a catch-all attack on every piece of political theatre ever made. If you make political theatre and you’re cross that I’ve said something that you don’t do, please append #notallpoliticaltheatre on to the disagreeable statement.

Last week I did my annual trip to the Vault Festival. My roundup of that will be coming soon, but whilst I was away I missed a rather high-profile event at Northern Stage about how to respond to Donald Trump. (This wasn’t specifically an arts-focused event, but Northern Stage went far beyond a role of host and made a big thing of it.) It was followed on Tuesday with Live Theatre’s seminar on writing political theatre as part of its Live Lab Elevator festival (which, again, I couldn’t get to because of clashes). This wasn’t specifically about him, but I am picking up an obvious pattern ever since that day of November of wanting to use their arts to fight the new Mr. President.

Just to be clear, I think Donald Trump is a complete fucking nutjob just as much as anyone. But as I read through the blogs and social media talking about these events, I have one consistent observation, and a lot of you reading this are not going to like this. Quite simply: I don’t understand what these people expect to achieve. This is not a new problem to anti-Trump plays, but stretches back long before then. No shortage of people intent on using theatre to deliver a message against Trump or the Tories or corporate greed or misogyny or anti-immigrant sentiment or environmental destruction – but in terms of winning other people over to this position, I see little evidence they’ve thought that through. Continue reading

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Why E4’s Stage School is all your fault

A thumbscrew, the rack, an iron maiden, Stage School

A thumbscrew, the rack, an iron maiden, Stage School. Which is the odd one out? (Answer: None. It was a trick question. They are all forms of torture.)

Stage School has got the acting community up in arms. But if you’re one of these people who watches so-called “structured reality” TV shows, you are partly responsible for this travesty.

Ho hum, barely finished the Edinburgh Fringe and what do I find? There’s a new “reality” TV series on E4 called Stage School. You might have noticed my use of quotation marks around a certain word; I will be expanding on this shortly. Anyway, I haven’t seen this as such, but it’s been impossible to not hear about this following an uproar throughout the theatre world. It’s been slammed as fake, misrepresenting and blatantly scripted, and there’s already a petition to have the programme canned.

Now, the easiest thing to do would be for add another blog post on to the pile of pieces castigating the show. However, I have sufficient integrity to not pan a programme I haven’t seen, and since I would rather stick my knob in a blender than watch another reality TV programme, that’s not going to happen. I’ll instead point you to this blogger’s comment which seem to be representative of all the scorn I’ve come across on-line and off-line. I’ve tried reading supportive pieces just to get some balance, but weighing things up, it really does look like a pile of unmitigated shite. In the unlikely event someone from the acting community would like to defend the programme’s accuracy, I will give you a fair hearing, but in the meantime I am writing this on the assumption that Stage School is as fucking awful as I think it is.

But here’s the depressing bit. Whilst most of the acting world have been horrified that such a misleading show could be made, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Ever since Big Brother hit our screens back in 2000, we have normalised a culture where outright bullshit on television is accepted. It’s happened in stages, and I have to say that we the television-viewing public bear a large share of responsibility for this travesty.

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How to cope with being offended – a handy guide

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver. Completely unrelated to this questionnaire. Especially Q10.

One of things that makes the Edinburgh Fringe so successful, especially the comedy, is the convention that anything goes. Television comedy often shies away from more cutting edge stuff, fearful of all the complaints they’ll get. At the fringe, you get the chance to see something bolder. However, one side-effect of this anything-goes mentality is that you might take exception to something somebody says. This happens on television too, but it’s more likely to happen in the fringe environment. Which begs the question – how can you possibly cope with someone offending you this way?

Painful though it is for some people to contemplate, the Fringe organisers are dominated by people who cannot, or will not, instruct people to not say anything that might upset someone’s delicate sensibilities. But fear not. Inspired by this wonderful flowchart by the legendary John Robertson of The Dark Room fame (and adapted with his kind permission), this extended list of questions should cover any situation that may arise in any kind of comedy, be it stand-up, sitcom, satire or any other form you can imagine.

(And, okay, this list doesn’t cover every situation and shouldn’t be taken 100% literally, but you get the idea. I suspect the people who’d benefit the most from this list are the people who are most likely to miss the point, but I can try.)

No prizes for spotting the references to real events. I may well add to this list as future incidents arise, but this will do for now. Are you ready, here we go …

(UPDATE: I’ve expanded the list in light of recent events. I suspect I may be doing this quite a lot.)

Q1: Are you offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q2.

Q2: Do you know why you’re offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q3. Continue reading

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Another open challenge for Live Theatre (and Northern Stage too)

If Live Theatre and Northern Stage are serious about supporting artists who go to the Edinburgh Fringe off their own backs, there’s a little thing they could do which would mean a lot to them.

Last year I wrote an article around the opening of Alphabetti Theatre with a radical proposal that Live could follow in their footsteps and make theatre more accessible by using their undercroft as some sort of open access space. Looking back now, it’s interesting to see how things have developed. To some extent, this is a less important issue than it was because Northern Stage are now doing something similar by encouraging groups to use their Stage 3. Also, Alphabetti is saturated with bookings six months ahead, which shows just how much suppressed demand is out there. I’m increasingly coming to the opinion we can only balance supply and demand with a second Alphabetti-style theatre in Newcastle.

But forget about that for now. I want to make a completely different proposal for how Live Theatre can do more to support small-scale artists, and this one includes Northern Stage too. Unlike my last proposal, this is a trivially easy thing to do, it will cost nothing, but it will mean a hell of lot to some artists out there. Let me explain …

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Murder most trivial

COMMENT: We slam plays and films that trivialise rape. So why are we so blasé about plays and films that trivialise murder?

Last year, one low point of the festival fringe season was a play that, according to the one-star review, trivialised rape. I’m not going to name it because I don’t like kicking small productions any more than I have to, but anyone who heard about it will know which one I’m referring to. Now, I’m not one of these moral authoritarians who thinks that anyone who tells a rape joke must be publicly castigated as an irredeemable misogynist; it’s not unusual to put humour into the darkest of subjects. I think a good test to apply is to ask yourself whether the joke was the rape is bad, or that rape is funny. However, it sounds from the review like this play was firmly in the latter camp. I can’t make a fair impartial judgement without seeing the play myself, but if it’s anything like the review described it, I would have given it a one-star review too.

But when we pan a play for objectionable content, we should at least ask ourselves if we’re being consistent with our moral standards. In the case of a play that trivialises rape, it’s only fair to ask whether we apply the same standard for other equally abhorrent crimes. There’s really only one crime that gets the same public revulsion as rape, and that’s murder. And here’s where we hit a problem. We collectively make little or no effort to speak out against the trivialisation of murder on stage or screen – and in some cases, it is actively encouraged. Continue reading

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