2016 – The Year of Dreams

2016 is a big year for our family.

Firstly, my darling sister is getting married at the end of January. I know that people get married all of the time – I mean, I’m married, so I did it once –  but this is different because this is MY SISTER. My  baby sister, who despite having her own baby and house and dog, is still my baby sister. And she’s going to get married, and become someone’s* Mrs.

(*OK, so that someone is Garethy, and I’ve known him for nearly ten years, but she’s MY sister.)

Anyway, so that’s happening. And that’s ridiculously big, and I can’t wait and I’m definitely, definitely going to cry. I’m crying a bit now, already.

And then, of course, there’s #Dream2016

I’m sorry about the hashtag in the middle of the blog. I know that’s not really cricket, but you see there’s this woman called Mar, who is like a social media guru, working on this project, and she’s embedded it into me that I must hashtag #Dream2016 at all times. I even do it in texts to my own husband.

#Dream2016, for those who are not regular readers, is a project run by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Yes, the real one.

They are touring Shakespeare’s magnificent play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to commemorate 400 years since the big man died. And, because it’s apparently not hard enough to produce a Shakespeare play on a global level, they have decided to mix a cast of professionals and amateurs. Oh, and tour it.

The pros will play the royals and the fairies, and the amateurs will play “the rude mechanicals.” So in each region of the UK, a different amateur company will play the parts of Bottom and the Mechanicals with the 18-strong professional cast. In summer, we all get to go to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford, and perform there too.

ba-rsc-0054.jpg

Lots of people auditioned, and my theatre company (The Lovelace Theatre Group) were successful. So I’m Bottom. Which is a statement that makes my 6 year old crack up into tears of hysteria every time I say it.

And this week, the start of January 2016, we started proper rehearsals for Dream.

We got the script, we’ve met the pros, and we have a call sheet of rehearsals that is fuller-time than my full-time job, and we are off on this journey of magic, discovery, theatre and wishes-come-true.

Because, even though it was a year ago that we first auditioned, and even though we have known that we were cast since last June, each and every day I still have to pinch myself because I still cannot readily believe it.

This is huge. Playing the part of Bottom for the RSC is a ridiculously big concept. It’s so big, that I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s not even a dream come true, because the very notion of playing this part for the RSC would never have entered my head as a dream – because even dreams have to have some grounding in reality. And this #Dream2016 project is so far beyond any possible hope that I could ever have had, that the words to describe it have not yet been invented. If only there was a playwright or a bard or someone who could help me out here…

So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. (When I say “a lot” I do mean all the time. I barely can even put together a plate of spaghetti without breaking into a verse of the Ousel Cock) and when I’m flitting between Incredulity and Hysteria, I occasionally pass through Reasoned Assessment, and I realise that actually I AM going to have to put some hours in, and do some research, and rehearse, and practice and get ready for this extraordinary experience the best way I can, to be in the best shape I can be for the performances. I owe it to the RSC, to Lovelace, to everyone who invested in me ever, to my family, and to me. I cannot waste this challenge and chance.

So I’ve been thinking. What, here, is my inspiration? What has shaped me and moulded me to become who I am on the stage?

My love of theatre, like most am drammers, began when I was very young. Progressing from school plays to being a part of a local semi-pro theatre company, and moving onto a bit of TV extra work. When I did my A Levels, one of them was Theatre Studies, and I did really rather well, so I decided to go ahead and do it as a degree. My degree was a bit strange as due to weird financial issues I did two years in Nottingham and a final year in Norwich at the UEA, and my degree ended up being a mixture of Performing Arts, Theatre Studies and English Literature.

I worked at a local theatre company for a little while in the Box Office, and then, as I always say when I look back here, life got in the way. My career path took a weird turn, and for a few years I owned a catering company, and then worked in security and finally as an Information/Intelligence Officer for the police.

Which seems a bit weird even to me. But as I reflect, I believe that this was a good thing for my drama/performance journey, because I missed it terribly. I felt so stifled, creatively. I felt that my talents and passion were underused and stagnant, and that I needed to do something – anything – to provide myself with a creative outlet. So whilst I was doing these very strange security/crime management roles, I founded a theatre company of my own. We were called the Felley Players, and we were nomads with no money, no venue, no resources, no crew and no backing. But we made theatre – and we made it against all the odds. We created a merry band of likeminded individuals (my mother and sister being founder members with me) and we put on some extraordinary productions. We wrote, we managed, we produced, we tech-opped, we marketed, we sold, we directed, we choreographed… there was not a role that we didn’t take on – I even got my working at heights PASMA Scaffold certificate so I could install a lighting rig in the rafters of a local church. We sold out almost every show we ever produced, and we made a lot of money that we kept ploughing back in to ourselves, and over 12 years we grew to being fairly prestigious locally, with an ever-changing, but supremely talented bunch of performers. It was proper local theatre: hands-on, grass roots, loading hand-painted props into the backs of borrowed transit vans, earthy, magnificent, tear-inducing, back-breaking, glorious theatre. And it absolutely taught me everything I know and love about this world.

Because my love of theatre is all-encompassing. I really love directing – that’s where my heart is. And my style is exuberant, off-the-wall, chaotic, bouncy energy, which gets the job done. But I’m also fairly well-versed in the technical field – I’m a seasoned sound and lighting rigger/operator, and I’ve also done many a stint backstage. I like being SM, as I like knowing what’s going on, but I’m also pretty happy painting backdrops, or making eyeballs out of polystyrene foam balls, or superglueing mini rolls to MDF-Framed houses.

It really is the “smell of the grease paint” and the “roar of the crowd” because there is nothing like that backstage world for drama (with a capital AND a lower-case “D”) for a buzz, for adrenaline and for that feeling as you are just about to open the curtains and unleash your work onto an actual crowd of people who have chosen to be there.

TR Stage

The Theatre Royal Stage, Nottingham.

Whilst I was doing the weird day job and the Felley Players, I was also a member of Lovelace Theatre, and got the experience there of working with a group who had a stage and a bar and a box office and a wardrobe department, and who put on high-quality, slick and visually stunning pieces of drama to the local community. Lovelace have always been held in high regard locally, because of their commitment to excellence and their fabulous management of producing great, great shows. The two amateur experiences I had were completely different, but both have contributed immeasurably to my experience and love of the arts.

In 2007 I got the job of my dreams, working in a secondary school as the Creative Arts Manager. Essentially my role is to plan, oversee and run the extra-curricular arts programme (which means all school shows, concerts, exhibitions, performances), to mentor the Year 10, 11, 12 and 13 Drama students with all of their exam performances, and to teach drama to local Primary School students who will one day join my school. I also got to teach the GCSE Music Tech class last year, and managed an external Art Gallery in our local town, which the school owned. I have gone from having no creative arts elements in my life, to having a profusion of them. And I couldn’t be happier!

So this is what has shaped me, and what has influence me and what has led me to this point. This overwhelming love of the theatre, that I had to install in my life in whatever form I could, and which has set me up for a lifetime of continuing with it.

And now, I turn once more to acting. After having been a producer, SM, director and writer for a number of years, being given the huge honour of playing Bottom in AMND is genuinely the part I have always wanted to play. I was Hermia when I did Dream at school when I was 16, but I had a hankering for the comedy part even back then. So I look around for inspiration, and I know that I will do my bit in terms of researching what a weaver did (weave, presumably), and what the commonalities where between 16th century weaving and 20th century post-war weaving. I will study the role of women in the 1940s, and I will gleefully enjoy the text  that Mr S has bequeathed. I will look at famous Bottoms throughout history (steady) and try to envisage Bottom as a woman – as a strong and powerful and steadfast, energetic, gleeful slightly bossy over the top woman.

But mostly, I am recapturing the joy of what I have always felt. I am imagining the smell of the greasepaint, and the buzz of backstage. I can already hear the rustle of sweet wrappers in the audience, and see the the children dressed in fairy wings. I can hear the music, and I can feel the electricity. So if I can get my feisty female Bottom, the hard-handed handy woman with HER sense of glee at performing, to play that through MY sense of utter joy at performing, then I might start to get something going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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General Sexism and Bashing Heads Against Walls

 

I’ve been a bit quiet of late, and that’s primarily because I’m engaging with a bit of online debate on various forums; most of which is to do with the casual sexism that is so rife in everything we see, hear and do in the United Kingdom.

I thought I’d write myself a pocket guide to dealing with misogyny, and hope that it allows me to let off enough steam that I can stop engaging quite so much, because it’s frankly tiring and repetitive, and it makes me despair for what I am dealing with.

I would like to start by saying that I NEVER seek to to “make other people agree with me.” That is not my intent. Rather, I comment and debate on various threads, in order to engage and discuss issues that matter. I am happy to hear other sides, and am happy to put my viewpoint across. Too often, however, it descends into name calling and personal insults, and it is at that juncture, that I realise that the point is all but lost.

These are all examples of recent “debates” I have fallen into the trap of getting involved in.

1) On the Morrisons Facebook page, a reader posted a photograph of the toy aisle, in which boys and girls toys were separated and advertised with a gender divide. Not news, of course, and pretty much prevalent across most high street stores. A debate ensued. I made the point that I felt the gender divide – where girls’ toys are all sparkles, tiaras, dolls, prams, make up, shopping trolleys, kitchen items and pink lego, and boys’ toys are all dinosaurs, construction, vehicles, monsters, aliens, gunge and guns – was unnecessary. I (politely) advised that I felt it was unhelpful to segregate and market certain toys at different genders, because children will basically play with anything, and rightly so. I said that I didn’t like the message that it sends to children – “these are your toys, and those toys belong to the other gender” because it embeds the notion of the gender divide at an early age, and I gave an example where, at my son’s nursery, a boy had a doll and pram removed from him, whereupon it was given to a girl, and he was taken to the cars section.

A couple of people agreed with me, but for the most point, the vitriol and hatred I received made me wonder if I had inadvertenly posted that I was planning to kill, cook and eat some babies. I was told to “grow the f*ck up”, “stop projecting [my] own inadequacies”, “shut up and grow a pair”, “leave kids alone to be kids” and was also advised that I was a “rampant lentil-weaving feminist”, an idiot because it’s “adults what buy toys , not kids, you tw*t” and that there are “much better things to be worrying about”, and one kind soul made my point for me, stating that her daughter “loved to dress as a builder, and likes other boys’ toys. What’s wrong with that?”

Precisely!

Because although many of them failed to see it, we were actually ALL saying that children should and could play with anything and everything that came my way. Which was exactly my point in saying that gender marketing was unnecessary.

2) I commented on a thread by a local radio station, which asked if Page 3 was “cheeky fun, or pornography”. Most replies ran along the “cheeky fun” line, and I responded with a short statement saying that Page 3 IS pornography and unnecessary and helped to embed the notion in our society that women are there to look at, and not be listened to, because Page 3 is in a newspaper, which I feel is inappropriate. I followed it up with a quick “I’m not debating about the existence of porn, I am merely stating that it should be removed from a newspaper which markets itself at the family demographic”

I was attacked left, right and centre. I was told by one respondent that he had “fought for King and Country for 18 years, and he did that to protect the right of women to do whatever line of work they wanted”. My response that we actually have a Queen and haven’t had a King since 1952 didn’t go down too well, and neither did my question “what about my right to not see porn in a newspaper?”

I was told that I was jealous (I’m not), campaigning to remove something which is our country’s heritage (it’s not), and that I was a “do-gooder with too much time on my hands”

I was also told, by several people, that if I don’t like it, then I shouldn’t buy it – which clearly misses the point, because it is the existence of Page 3 which I object to, and which continues to objectify women in our society. I provided links to the No More Page 3 campaign, and to the #EverdaySexism project, and also links proving a correlation between Page 3 and some instances of sexual violence. I was called a “sad woman” a “f*cking idiot” and a “silly b*tch”

3) I saw a lovely photograph of a steam train, posted by my friend. It had a description on, advertising the fact that “even women” work on trains, and that a woman named Steph was the new fireman on the train. These were not my friend’s words, but I commented on the page, and mentioned that I felt it was a shame that it had to be pointed out that “even women” can work in this industry. I also asked, politely, why she was referred to as a fireman? I was met with a wave of misogyny that really shocked me.

I was told that the job description was part of the heritage of our country, and no “lady” has a right to change it – and the “ladies” who worked there didn’t want to, so why was I getting het up about it? I was told that women can do the job as well as men, and they were merely pointing that out (erm…thanks) and that men who work in hospitals as “ward sisters” don’t get all militant and “foot-stampy” about the job title, because men don’t react like women.

I replied to this by saying that I felt it unnecessary to include a gender description in any job title, and I would support anyone – male or female – who opposed it. I also commented that men in general tend not to react to sexism, because it isn’t directed against men in the same way it is, and always has been, against women.

Another poster told me that it’s “just language” and I shouldn’t get annoyed with language. I replied that I wasn’t annoyed, but that there is still a gender pay-gap and employment opportunity disparity in this country, and opinions like the one published were all part of that problem. I was then challenged because none of them believed in the slightest that there is a gender pay divide because “in all my years of working in public and private sector, I have never known women get less money than men”

Within two minutes, I posted 5 links to support these facts, which I found on google, published by The Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, the BBC and the Guardian. I then found a piece on the pay divide in professional sport and posted that. I mentioned that in graduate professions particularly, and including politics, science, engineering and business, the pay gap is very real.

The response to this? “When you’re in a hole – stop digging.”

My favourite bit, though, was the man who told me that there were lots of “feminine ladies” who worked alongside him on the trains. How lovely for everyone concerned.

These are but three examples. There are dozens more.

I find it interesting that the people who argue with me, tell me that I’m wrong, even when I explain to them why I feel the way I do, but they cannot tell me why they think the way that they do.
■The people who want to keep gender divide marketing just tell me I’m being silly and they’ll buy whatever they like – fine. So let’s get rid of it, if there’s no reason to have it
■The people who want to keep Page 3 tell me that it “doesn’t do any harm”, and say that it’s their right to look at it. – fine. Look at it from the top shelf
■The people that feel that gender-descriptive job roles are OK and that there’s no issue just told me I was wrong when I explained I felt there was. One of them did tell me that the job-description was part of the heritage of the industry, which is a historical indusrty, and something that they wanted to preserve. I disagree, but at least he had a coherent reason. However, when I presented them with facts to back up my opinion, I was just told I was incorrect because men don’t complain – fine. That’s their business. This is mine, and I feel like righting wrongs.

Very often I am flogging a dead horse, but I still think that my opinion has value, because I back it up with reason and fact. That doesn’t mean that I expect the world to agree with me, change their minds, or tell me I’m right. I just expect people to understand what I am saying, and accept my responses when I answer their challenges. I also welcome debate from people who hold other opinions to me – but I rarely get it. Because most people deny that it’s an issue, ignore the facts that I give them, or completely misunderstand my point of view.

However, if one side of a debate can only fall back on insults, aggression and refusal to acknowledge that there is even a debate to be had, then they are part of the problem that they don’t believe in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20223264

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/nov/22/gender-pay-gap-falls-full-time-workers

http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/equal-pay/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-business/9915125/Gender-pay-gap-Female-graduates-dont-value-themselves-as-much-as-men.html

http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/research/articles-and-reports/equity-issues/pay-inequity

No More Page Three

One weekday morning, a little lad,
Who wanted to be just like his Dad,
Sat down for breakfast, toast on plate
His Dad he tried to emulate.
So he reached out and picked up The Sun,
Transition to adulthood begun.
He turned the paper, page one…page two..
And then page three. Well, wow! Who knew?
“No need for sneaking on the internet,
No scouring mags for a hot brunette,
No need to hide stuff under the bed
Because this is right out there instead
And as it’s printed in daily news
That MUST mean it’s safe for views.
It’s right there, getting daily hits
So that means it’s FINE to ogle tits,
And if Mum should wander near
I’ll pretend I’m looking at the news stories here,
Because as a handy little motif
They’ve also printed “news in briefs”
So if I should be caught ogling these birds
I can pretend I’m reading their insightful words.
Of course, I doubt the words are theirs
What do lasses know of world affairs?
If all the paper cares about
Is what they look like with titties out,
Then why should I believe that they
Ever have anything of interest to say?
No, because this is in daily print
It’s fine to leer at this bint,
Other men can’t think too much
Of these chicks – they’re there to touch.
If porn was dirty or a private affair,
Then it wouldn’t be printed so boldly there.
No, this must mean that it’s alright
I’m so lucky. Tits in daily sight.”
And so the little lad grew older
And with the ladies grew ever bolder.
Page 3 featured in his daily life,
Even when he “took a wife”
She didn’t much like the tits on show
But it was in a newspaper, so
She didn’t feel she could complain
He’d moan about her nagging again.
So each and every weekday morn
She accepted with her breakfast, porn.
And so did her kids, who didn’t think
That tits and news have no link.
Until one day, after years of thinking
Support for Page 3 seemed to be shrinking.
A group of people who’d had enough
Of being labelled as tits and chuff,
Worked on a campaign to stop the boobs
From appearing in the daily news.
They still championed femininity
But advocated it in privacy,
Nothing to do with porn being banned
Just about Page 3, they made their stand.
It’s all about objectification
Which is embedded within our progressive nation,
It’s all about how women are viewed
And how leering and perving is downright rude,
It’s baby steps towards a state of equality
And not seeing sexism as merely frivolity,
It won’t change the world overnight
But a step in a direction overdue, and right.
So boobs aren’t news – find your pictures elsewhere
And women aren’t commodities at which you should stare.
We are all equal unless it’s otherwise proved,
No More Page Three – take the boobs out of news!

Threading. It’s the future.

photo

Well, everybody – big news on the Bectora front – I had my eyebrows threaded this week for the first time in a while.

If you don’t know what eyebrow threading is, let me bring you up to speed…

Threading is an alternative to plucking, where a length of cotton is doubled over and sort-of twisted, and then you pay another person to use this cotton to grab a whole bunch of hairs from your eyelid, and yank them out at break-neck speed.

Truth is that it’s quick and effective. It hurts less than waxing, and takes much less time than tweezing, but good lord, we do some things to ourselves in the name of vanity.

I’ve had mine threaded about half a dozen times, and each time, my eyelid and the surrounding areas are a little sore and a little tender for about 12 hours afterwards, and my eyes water like I’ve been peeling onions while watching Blood Brothers – but here’s the thing:

I kinda like the pain.

It gets addictive. It’s over in moments, and when it’s finished, your whole face changes. The little specks of blood that persist are merely testament to your commitment to the art, and because you have been sitting in a salon chair under some treatment lights, you almost feel that you’ve been pampered and earned it.

So, I wholeheartedly recommend threading. I almost look forward to the hairs growing back, so I can have another go, and I have a rather sadistic desire to watch someone with really bushy brows go through it.

But I draw the line at upper lip and chinny-chin-chin.

 

I’m not an idiot!

My Life in Sleep-Walks

The other morning, I woke my three-year old son up, to get him dressed and to take him to nursery. Stumbling and bleary-eyed, he made his way from his bed to the bedroom door, and protested by saying: “I don’t really want the day, Mummy. I want to keep night a bit longer.”

I get that, totally.

There has been countless scientific and social research done on how much sleep an avergae adult needs, and physiological, gender, age and medical factors aside, it is generally acknowledged that a “good night’s sleep” which leaves you refreshed and ready for the day ahead, is optimally achieved at around 8 hours.

I have never really managed 8 hours, I don’t think.

When I was a teenager I had insomnia. Proper insomnia – not just a “grrr” feeling of struggling to sleep, but an actual condition whereby some nights I just didn’t sleep at all, other nights I drifted off but woke up anywhere between 6 and 10 times, and other nights where I went to sleep, but then woke at 2am raring to go, but practically dead by 7am. All of this was compounded by the fact that since childhood, I have also been a sufferer of sleep talking and sleep walking.

I say I was a sufferer – probably more true to say that my parents and sister suffered from my sleep walking. My friends who stayed overnight in our teens were sufferers of my condition, and a couple of former boyfriends and now my husband are sufferers too. Because, quite frankly, I’m used to not sleeping very well now. I get by on around 4 hours a night. And if I happen to sleep walk and talk during that time, it’s not me who’s disturbed.
Although, that depends on what your definition of “disturbed” is.

I have literally dozens and dozens of examples of my ridiculous nocturnal behaviour:

There was the time that I “sold” hotdogs outside my bedroom door for a couple of hours. My Dad came onto the landing to see me meticulously placing pencil cases on the floor and accepting invisible money, before retreating into my bedroom and then coming out and doing the same thing again.

There was a time that I was sharing a bed with my (then) 6-year old sister, when I heroically “rescued” her from a giant gorilla called Diana, who (in my sleep-deprived world) was sitting in the corner of our bedroom getting ready to pick our bed up and swing it out of the window. My sister was, understandably, far more freaked out by me telling Diana to stop it, than she was by the imaginary gorilla herself.

There was the time at University when my boyfriend had come to stay, where I (for some reason) got up in the night believing that I had thrown his return train ticket into the wheelie bin. It wasn’t until I was outside our double-locked front door (having come down from the upstairs flat) and onto the street, dressed in pink pyjamas and giant rabbit slippers with floppy ears, that I remembered we didn’t have a wheelie bin, so consequently went next door to look through theirs. The neighbour, that I was too embarrassed to face for the next 7 months, and who caught me in mid-rummage must have got quite a surprise at my rapidly running away self, fleeing up a concrete flight of steps, falling over grazing my knees and ripping my pyjamas. But not as much of a surprise as my boyfriend got when I returned to the bedroom covered in blood – or, indeed, myself in the morning when I realised that it hadn’t, in fact, been part of a dream, and that my boyfriend’s train ticket was in his wallet where he had put it the day before.

Because that’s the thing. Sleepwalkers – we kind of know what we’re doing, but we don’t really believe it so we just carry on. I generally remember in the morning what I’ve done – sometimes when reminded by my sleepy husband, and sometimes when it just comes to me, and I remember talking garbage or rummaging in cupboards for no good reason.

The thing is, it’s still happening. And I hate looking up reasons on the internet, because they usually tell me that I must be stressed, or hysterical, or anxious, or over-worked or depressed. Or have fever, asthma or sleep apnoea. And,genuinely, none of these are the case. Nor am I talking hallucinogenic drugs or drinking lots. I don’t even eat cheese after 6pm. The only other alternative I can see, is that I am prone to bouts of psychosis. Either that, or it’s to do with my chaotic sleep pattern, which isn’t really chaotic, just short.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve been doing this since I was an infant, and I’ve never grown out of it. It looks like I probably never will, so my long-suffering husband and my night-time-keeping son are stuck with this for the foreseeable.

The latest one was the most disturbing one yet, for several reasons – see what you think; My husband was at work, when a colleague answered a phone. She chatted to the person on the end of the phone for a few seconds, and then handed the phone to my husband. My husband took the call. It was me. I asked him if he knew anything about where my bag was. He said he didn’t. I said “No problem, I’m sure I’ll find it later.”

It all seems fairly normal, until you realise that it was 5am and I didn’t wake up until 06:30.

Still, at least it gives us something to talk about at dinner parties.