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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What’s wrong with the Susan Boyle fairytale

Picture of Susan Boyle

COMMENT: Susan Boyle has Asperger’s Syndrome, and she has nothing to be ashamed of. What is shameful is the hypocritical way ITV treats anyone else who’s a bit different – I should know, I have first-hand experience.

This is a theatre blog. Occasionally, it digresses into other arts, but one thing I have zero interest in is the produce of programmes such as The X Factor. So when the news breaks that Britain’s Got Talent superstar Susan Boyle has Asperger’s Syndrome, that would normally not even register on my theatre blog radar. But on this occasion, I have to break this habit and say what I think, as I am in a unique position to comment on a discrepancy.

The Susan Boyle story, so we’re meant to believe, is about a woman who once lived in an impoverished area of Glasgow. She was bullied at school for being stupid and ugly and odd, and had nothing going for her. But she had a hidden talent, this amazing singing voice, and one day, she got her big break on ITV show Britain’s Got Talent, melting the heart of Mr. Nasty himself, Simon Cowell. And from then on, it’s an uplifting rags to riches fairytale. And now that we know she has Asperger’s syndrome, it’s now also an heart-warming story of how she overcame this disability. It’s an inspiration to millions, and, as ITV are only too keen to imply, she couldn’t have done it without them.

At face value, all of this is true. Everything said in tonight’s documentary I agree with. Except that this is only half the story. And this is where my personal interest comes in. And in order to explain why I have an interest in this, I am going to have to say a couple of things about myself that I’ve kept quiet about so far. Not because I want to hush up my past, but simply because I didn’t consider either thing relevant as either a play writer or a theatre blogger. Until now. Now it’s time to get two skeletons out of the closet. Continue reading