Making the Grades

Recently there has been a report published where the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman has claimed that ‘Arts courses promote unrealistic prospects for young people’.

When I first read this, like many people I was up in arms but when as you look deeper into the claim, based on how hard the industry is to get into maybe there is some truth to it.

Sure the subject give inter transferable life skills like confidence, social skills and tools for exploring ideas which can all be used regardless of what industry you end up in, but what about if youngsters want to get into the arts industry? Are the education standards high enough?

The more I think about this and read more articles online about the subject being removed from Bacc the more I begin the question how anyone could take the arts so seriously when the early education standards are so low.

On top of that, it has recently been claimed that artists are turning down work in the regionals in the hope of making their big break in to the West End.

But here’s the reality of it all. Education is something that is needed to put us on the first rug of any industry that we wish to pursue. But education must be fit for purpose, it must keep up with the standards that are required for its industry. It should be able to give you further opportunities to better your game and put you in competition with others.

But most of the education outside of the classroom experience can only be found in the taking of opportunities. We all desire to be worth a lot more than we actually are, but the only way we can reach that worth is by practising by taking every opportunity that is presented.

With all this done there is still something far more important to be done, as we know everything happens in circles and to complete the art industry’s circle like any other industry the lessons learn must be shared, not just with peers but with the next generation.

So the education of the arts may not be up to scratch, but whose fault is that? How can the standards be raised, but above all who us responsible for ensure the next generation get to the top?

National Novel Writing Month

The month of November is known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in writing novels to take the plunge and see if they can write fifty thousand (50,000) words (the length of a stardard novel) in 30 days.

Now any writer will tell you that the hardest part of writing, it writing. As a blog writer and someone who trying to right their first novel I can vouch for this. So let’s just be clear on a few things when writing a novel in a month. This is not about you writing a polished novel ready for sale to the world in 30 days. This is about encouraging as many people to write as possible, old and young. However if you are someone who would like a manuscript to be published, and you have been saying for too long ‘I’m going to write a book’ then this is the perfect opportunity to get your first draft of that story down on paper. The thirty day challenge should give you the motivation to get it done as you can record your word count on the NaNoWriMo website (see below) and measure your own success against others.

NaNoWriMo is a really great way helps with work ethics as you have a word target each day of about 1,667 and then the deadline to finish by the end of the month and with prizes up for grabs there’s an incentive (as if you don’t need any more of one along side wanting to be published). Can you hit your target by the end of the month and still have a manuscript that makes some sort of sense?

Whether a story is classed as a novel is determined by the word count. For works under 7500 words this is a short story, between 7500 and 17499 is a Novelette, works that are between 17500 and 39999 are classified as Novella’s and a Novel is 40000 upwards. So the target for NaNoWriMo pushes writers to achieve above the minimum word count for a novel, there are writers who set their word count to over 100,000; but the choice is your own.

National Novel Writing Month is not only a great way to bring out the writer in you, but it is also a great opportunity to spent time writing with other people. The writer’s career can be very isolated at times when you are sat at the computer all day wrapped in the world of characters and the wolrd you have created.

Writing a story of any length needs some level of planning and those who participate in NaNoWriMo usually take the month of October to prepare. This way writing becomes a lot easier and getting the 50000 words is like a breeze (they wish).

But preparing for this month long challenge involves things like getting a title, an outline of the plot, character profiles, a chapter and scene break down and anything else which could be classed as essential to the writing. If you are writing fantasy then maybe a map of the world you plan to create, and any rules or laws that that readers would need to know about.

There are many variations of the event with camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year, which is a chance to camp with other writers as you complete the writing marathon. These all happen in April and in June.

So if you are planning to take part this year’s NaNoWriMo then let us know, we would love to know what you are writing and how you get on.

Buskers go Contactless

So you’re out shopping or meeting someone for lunch and walk past busker on the corner of a street, and you are blown away by their performance and not only are you compelled to stop and listen, but you want to give them some money to show your admiration. So at the end of their performance you open your wallet and….  embarrassingly you only have a large paper money which feels wrong to ask for change or you have such a low amount of coins that you feel really undercut the value of the performance, or worse still you have no cash at all.

For most of us this would be the point we would creep away in the same way you appeared to listen to the performance. But what if I told you that there’s a chance that busker could take plastic payments? As in the same way you’re about to pay for your shopping or lunch.

But with the down turn in the economy and the advancing in technology people seem to carry less and less cash. I know that if I opened my wallet on a random walk round town I would either find coppers (1p and 2p) or ten and twenty pound notes, it would be very unusual to find pound coins or change of a reasonable size to offer up.

With the growth in contactless and electronic payments people carry less and less and cash on person. This has been recognised by one company who are developing the contactless technology so buskers can use it out on the streets.

Not that long ago I wrote a post about street theatre and how it seems to be have a withered over recent times, now with this new technology buskers could soon have an easier way of collecting money from bystanders. So the whole concept of busking my just be saved from extinction.

To Adapt or Not to Adapt

‘Adaptations’ of current or new works is like a Tribute Band, it is a good way to keep the work the alive and reach a wider audience but it is a terrible waste of someone’s talent. But unlike the tribute bands adaptations can just be ways for the creator to cash in on their work.

But really, do we need something to be adapted from book onto the stage and film? (It’s a question, not a statement). Is this not just conforming to Burger Kings slogan of ‘Have it your way’? In an age where we are supposed to be encouraging children to read and campaigning to keep local libraries and theatres open, is this really helping the cause? Surely it would be time better use of creative time to make something new rather than keep copying what the consumer already knows.

I understand that creators want their work to be seen by the biggest audience possible, but surely by creating something just for theatre or writing a book that is authentically good, then reviews and conversations it brings would  bring an audience in, if people want to view the work then they need to get out and purchase the book or buy the tickets. It seems that we are just making it easier and easier to access the hard work that our creators by making their projects cheaper so that people can just pick them up at the price which can so often make the creative industry a cheap charity, which it should never become.

I am not talking about this because of the adaptation concept is new, the whole idea came from the ancient Greeks when they would act out stories from manuscripts to encourage understanding in time before reading and writing was compulsory. It’s the sear amount of works being adapted today, it seems to be more popular to adapt than risking new works, especially when the adapting is often work that has only just hit the market, I often ask myself would some works stand the test of time? Will it still be that popular in 100 years from now or would most people have forgotten about it?

Some of the oldest works that still inspire us today like Shakespeare, his work has been adapted into every form of the arts over the years and sometimes it’s to help interpretation where the language was very different 400 years ago in England. But people seem to continue to find new things within it and that is what I wonder about some of the newer works that are adapted today, its only then that you know you have work that is it truly special.

Another example of the best form of adaptations used to inspire is that of PT Barnum, known as the Greatest Showman that America ever produced. There are films that portray his life, but there are also stage and screen productions which take snippets of this work or just one aspect of what he stood for. The latest production on screen The Greatest Showman centred on inspiring and encouraged people to chase their dreams regardless of their backgrounds, those who wouldn’t normally get the chance to enjoy society.

Remember that adaptation can be hard when bringing a book to life on stage or screen, because writers are given so much freedom in creating the world, so getting an exact replication of someone’s (or even readers) imagination is hard to recreate on stage, if bits are missed out or not quite up to expectation then disappoint for the overall work can come and that then can puts a down on the creator’s future hard work. This is not to say that there are some amazing adaptations but like the work inspiring the desire to adapt, the end result needs to be pretty spectacular too.

Bridging the Gap

The term ‘generation gap’ is usually used in reference to the change in attitude and understanding towards something normally brought about by miscommunication. We have this is theatre often, but that is not what this post is about. But I am going to use the term for a different context in which I refer to gap where work becomes easy and difficult to find in our industry.

The Arts continues to suffer with limitations on jobs, even with campaigns on diversity there still seems to be two age groups that suffer more, the ‘early years’ or beginners and youngsters of the industry and the older actor and this can often lean heavily towards females.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece on this blog about diversity, and I think as new work emerges we will see productions giving a better representation of both ethical and age range in our society. But it’s hard and as there is a lot of sigma and ‘old school’ legacy to be turned around and questions to be answered. Then there’s the question of ‘What is an acceptable ratio of age group and BAME to have on stage before a production is condemned not diverse enough? Without this measure there will always be issues of diversity.

But the bigger question is this, do we have enough experienced actors in the underrepresented areas of society to be on stage?

It is always natural for those just beginning, especially young people, to find it hard to get work but at the same time have expectations to achieve high. Whilst it is important that the standard is kept high, training is often expensive and unfordable to many that talent that remains in shadows of our society and so often miss out. Should it not be offered to all not just those with money or those who have parents that are famous enough to know the right people and sometimes these people don’t receive formal training and get jobs simply because of who they know, is this right?

Retirement from the arts is a rare thing. So the number of older actors out there are plentiful. If you look at some of the UK’s best loved actors who are no longer with us, most of them came from harsh backgrounds but they all worked hard and kept going for as long as they could. But today there seems to be less work for older actors, especially females, they seem to end up having to take a back seat from acting and become directors as a way of staying in the industry and that is not always a comfortable or easy role for many.

So it seems that unless you are associated to someone famous you’re not qualified enough, the same is true if you’re young and starting out, and if you’re over a certain age you are over qualified. So unless you are between 25 and 50 then work is not easy. Though this is not to say that actors don’t get work that come from harsh backgrounds or who are outside of this age group, there are plenty of actors that are doing so well, working so hard. But if it was so good the diversity campaigns wouldn’t have job.

Somehow we need to expand the gap to include all ages and all sexes, after all that is what this industry is surely about.