Wednesday 16 February 2011


A couple of weeks ago I was approached by Catherine Edwards, who we've worked with a couple of times before at the Birmingham Rep and Script, about a project exploring the possibilities of theatre/performance/story-telling and social networking (in general) and Twitter (in particular).

Catherine had set the project up partly in response to the RSC/Mudlark's Such Tweet Sorrow project and the discussion it provoked.  I had dipped in to Such Tweet Sorrow, but my thinking about it had been provoked mainly by Hannah Nicklin's blog post about it (which you can read here). Catherine was asking me to come on board in an advisor/director figure, and I was pleased to hear that Hannah was advising on the project, too.

We would be working with three writer performers, Danielle Henry, Eve Steele and Jarrod Cooke, to explore performance writing/presence on Twitter and other social media platforms. I wasn't sure that 'director' was a helpful job description in the context of the project, but was happy to join in as facilitator/collaborating artist, using Twitter as I do, in my role at Third Angel. I had been really struck, recently by Dan Rebellato's groundbreaking use of Twitter during the Raoul Moat story, and very interested in Daniel Bye's discussion of this area on his blog. (It is exciting to learn that Dan and Dan will be collaborating on a Twitter project for Pilot Theatre, too).

So we gathered in Manchester last week to begin exploring the possibilities opened up to writer/performers by social networking, for the telling of stories. You can read more about the background to the project and the start of the process on Catherine's blog here.

The brief for the project is a two week online exploration of character/persona, narrative and interaction on social networking sites, leading up to a live reading/presentation in response to that exploration at the DAT Fest in Stoke. We had no specific formal outcome set for us, which is very exciting, as it allows the writer/performers to really explore their personal responses and interests.

I don't want to say much more, really, as we're now just at the start of the online exploration. But our questions are around the development of character, how much characters can interact with other people online, how narrative can emerge from the day-to-day use of social networking, and where we can place characters on the spectrum between real and fictional.

So if you would like to join us on our explorations, then please follow some or all of:

You don't have to be on Twitter to see what they're saying - just click on any of the above links to see what they have been tweeting recently, and follow links to their other online platforms. But signing up to Twitter is also easy - just click on one of the names and follow the Sign Up link. And if you're already on Twitter, well, you already know what to do.


UPDATE (20 Feb 2011): Hannah has posted a really interesting blog entry about her thoughts on the start of the Twitterbug process on her site, here.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Performance Education

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to be at a Valedictory Lecture at Leeds Met University by Professor Noel Witts.  Noel has been instrumental in setting up the Performing Arts provision, which is led by Teresa Brayshaw, at Leeds Met - but that's only the most recent in a very long list of achievements. To explain Professor Witt's importance to the world of contemporary performance education would take a much longer blogpost - or in fact, a book.

I first met Noel when we were both on the selection panel for the New Works Festival in Leicester in the late 1990s. What impressed me then, and still does, is that despite (or, in fact, because of) his extensive experience, what he's most interested in is what you think - what you've seen recently, what you thought of it, what you're making, why you're making it. It was entirely typical that in his own Valedictory Lecture, he gave about half of his floor time over to showcasing performance by his colleagues and students at Leeds Met - from first year undergraduate to Principal Lecturer.

I am lucky enough to benefit from Noel's experience at both Third Angel, where he is on our Board, and at Leeds Met where I am an Associate (very part time) Senior Lecturer. Noel's lecture was in part a riposte to Simon Jenkins' attack on Universities in The Guardian last year, and in preparation for the lecture he asked some of us to share a few thoughts on the importance of Performing Arts being present in Higher Education.

I was flattered that he included my brief response (alongside that of Oliver Bray and Teresa Brayshaw) verbatim. And as this week I also started making a new piece with second year Art Event Performance students at Leeds Met, it feels appropriate to post them here.
It's important that the performing arts are in Higher Education, the way we deliver them [at Leeds Met] anyway, because the provision is better than being professional. At least better than starting out on your own. In a three year BA degree you get to make, what, 18 shows/projects, with over 30 different collaborators, and taught/directed/led/mentored by 10, 12 different practitioners and artists.

You wouldn't get that environment if you just became a self employed artist 'straight from school'. In fact, you wouldn't get such an environment until much later in your career, if you were lucky. So the environment we provide is actually better than the profession in some ways - better than vocational.

And an educational institution, particularly a University, should reflect the society it is part of, and, surely, try to be better than it. And where does a society do much of its thinking, discussing, dreaming? How does it try to understand itself? Through its culture. So a University should be home to those voices.
There is, of course, a much bigger discussion to be had about this, but for now, I just wanted to mark Noel's Valedictory lecture - and say: Thank you, Professor.