Tag Archives: Opinion

De Facto De-Funding at Creative Scotland?

From Joyce McMillan’s blog:

“Creative Scotland have instead decided to withdraw their entire middle range of funding, known as flexible funding, which offered basic income security on a two or three year cycle to small- and medium- scale arts organisations with a strong creative record. The result is to throw some 49 Scottish arts organisations from a condition of modest security, into a condition of complete insecurity, in which they have to bargain from project to project for their continuing right to exist.”

It was when I read the names of some of the 49 companies now in jeopardy that I felt my mental jaw drop: Vanishing Point Theatre Company, Grid-Iron, and the CCA in Glasgow (their equivilent of New York City’s MoMA) were included on the list. For the record, Vanishing Point’s Lost Ones, which I reviewed seven years ago during the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has stuck with me like few other productions over the years.

Why I’m Opening My Big Mouth

I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, for four years, from 2003-2007. During that time, I attended Queen Margaret University College’s MFA program in Dramatic Writing; at the time, the theater department was run by Maggie Kinloch – who has since moved to RSAMD.

I dove headfirst into the arts scene. Edinburgh was where I started reviewing for The British Theatre Guide. It’s where my plays PLAYING IT COOL, STUCK UP A TREE, and MOUSEWINGS had their world premiers. I made numerous short films there, applied for and received funding for arts projects from my university, organized script development workshops and was an active member in the Traverse Theater’s Young Writer’s Group (I was lucky enough to have two plays workshopped as part of the program), plus traveled to INTERPLAY – EUROPE as one of their delegates. I’ve stayed in touch with many of you since leaving Edinburgh, and this this fall, my one-act play MILLENNIAL EX will be featured in a collection of short plays from around the world on the subject of marriage equality at a festival in Glasgow.

So I have something of an interest in what goes on within the Scottish theater scene, but rarely have the time to indulge that interest, and so was not aware of the current funding debate taking place until this morning. @MarkFisher was kind enough to point me towards information on the current debate, and that’s why I missed this morning’s sunshine and will now be spending the remainder of the afternoon inside as rain thunders down in Manhattan.

Theater Funding in Scotland vs. America – Where the Money Comes From

There are some things about arts funding in the UK, and in Scotland, which may be unfamiliar to some of my American readers. The main one, I think is:

In the UK, public funding bodies exist, geared toward distributing funding for (and thereby encouraging the development of) artistic forms of expression within a specific mission statement. They have the mission and responsibility to enrich citizens’ cultural lives and develop resources that showcase and develop both the country’s heritage and its future.

(My feeling is that in America, there is not a similar or analogous organization that answers to and is responsible for the funding of such a wide range of theaters and types of theatrical projects as is Creative Scotland. But that’s another discussion, and one I’m happy to have in the comments.)

These funding bodies and their missions, and the ways in which these obligations to fund are interpreted and fulfilled, are a point of contention between organization and practitioner. (Pardon the stealth edit as I try to make my point clearer.)

What the What?

Okay. Let’s say you have a theatre company in Scotland and want to apply for funding for this really fantastic idea you have. You go to Creative Scotland and fill out an application form. You pick the kind of funding that fits your project.

In the past, Creative Scotland had a category which funded on a project-only basis. Technically, these were grants that a theater company would receive, once per cycle (clarification stealth edit). They weren’t meant as funding that would keep the company running year round, but practically…

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice & Men…

…that doesn’t seem to be what happened. A number of companies, including, I would assume, those McMillan names in the above excerpt, have received grants from Creative Scotland to a degree where their project-to-project funding is sustaining their organization and where the loss of that funding puts those companies in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, it seems from the reading I’ve done this morning that Creative Scotland’s response is: we’re not defunding you, we’re just cancelling this form of funding. You shouldn’t have been depending on these funds in the first place.

Pardon the analogy, but to me that reads a bit like a drug dealer saying, “Well, it’s not withdrawal, because you weren’t supposed to get addicted to heroin in the first place.”

I’ll be interested to see how this situation develops.

For those who are interested, some additional reading
http://stramasharts.wordpress.com 
http://annebonnar.wordpress.com 
http://joycemcmillan.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/three-deadly-sins-of-creative-scotlands-bad-funding-review-column-25-5-12/

 

An Exercise in Editing, or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed

From the back cover of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. The following quotes, from other writers in what one might call “related genres,” are meant to draw attention to the positive features of Collins’ work.

Go ahead. Read ’em.

Note that each of these quotes, from luminaries and sources including Stephen King (Entertainment Weekly), Stephanie Meyer (OMG she’s OBSESSED), and John Greer (The New York Times Book Review), talks about the plotting and structure of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Not a single one of the back cover comments brings up the question of the quality of the book’s prose. 

There are many reasons this might be the case: the marketing team may have learned that putting quotes about suspenseful page-turners sell more copies and left out things like “Collins’ prose challenges some of the greats of our era with its artistry and subtle evocation of the stresses that authoritarian governments manufacture to maintain control of their populations.” They could have left out, “Her words added an emotional depth and clarity to this packed, well-paced story.” They could have left out lots of things. I haven’t looked up the full reviews.

My personal feeling is that they cherry-picked quotes about pacing because THE HUNGER GAMES suffers from a case of seriously bad writing.

Which brings us to this blog entry. Collins is an author who presumably worked with an editor to get her words to this pointI presume they both considered it publishable. (And charge-for-able). Editors do a lot of different things when it comes to getting manuscripts ready for publication. One of those things is language. And I think both Collins and her editor fell down hard on that front.

My background with THE HUNGER GAMES:

I read chapters 1-4 on my Kindle when @tyyche gifted me a copy. I was at the tail end of two weeks of intensive editing work on Hot Mess, and while I could certainly see why Collins’ story was an entertaining one, the actual quality of the writing made it impossible for me to continue. I said at the time, and continue to maintain, that my guess is the book translates better to the screen than most adaptations. If I ever see the film, I’ll make sure to let you all know.

Anyways, fast forward to the end of May. My roommate’s copy is lying on the kitchen counter and it’s Memorial Day Weekend and after walking past the book a few times, I think, well, maybe I should pick that up and just breeze through it, so at least when people start defending it on Twitter I can come back with a more informed opinion than the one I have now, which is based on reading four chapters of the thing on a Kindle.

There was no way in hell I was going to start reading the book from the beginning again. I backtracked about a paragraph into chapter 4, then continued with chapter five, which was badly written but at least kept moving, then headed into chapter six. It wasn’t until the last page of chapter six that I became aware of a string of paragraphs I probably would have let go through without too much rewriting: page 85 in my edition, from the point where the Avox girl is picking up Katniss’ unitard (UNITARD!) to the end of the chapter. This was the first time that the spare, simple voice beneath Collins’ prose really came out to me, and one of the first times (only 85 pages in!) where I felt like Collins had really hit her stride.

Then it was into chapter seven, and that wasn’t any bloody fun at all.

By this time, half of Twitter had figured out that I was actually reading the book I’d been complaining about for months, and I started getting snarky comments from my co-writer, Eric, particularly because I’d given him such a hard time back when he did the reviews of the first book for The Masquerade Crew. One thing led to another and when I started talking about how what I actually want to do is a top-to-toe rewrite on the entire thing, and I half wanted to do red marks all over a page from the book and show people what my editing process was like, Eric challenged me to do precisely that.

So everything after the break is his fault.
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Seven Roles for the Self-Publisher

Have been giving some thought to the way a self-publishing writer has to handle the different roles required of them when they make their own work, and had written some notes for this blog post on my white board wall a month or so ago. The white board wall is too crowded, now, which meant it was time to write this entry.

So. If you want to self-publish a book,  your role will change from one phase of writing to the next.

Through the experience of  publishing Hot Mess, I tried to track the different roles I played. Several people asked me about the process of putting the book together, so this blog is my first effort at gathering those thoughts.

So here are the seven roles I’m thinking I’ve identified. I’m assuming the cover design is generally farmed out no matter what, so that’s why I haven’t included it here.

1. Project manager. It’s one thing to sit at your computer and write, or post a blog entry or piece of fiction on the internet. But if you want to self-publish a good product (thereby establishing that people should pay attention to, and for, your work), then the ability to project manage – set schedules and deadlines, balance priorities, multitask, and interact effectively with others – is critical to putting out a professional-quality product.

2. Author. If I have to explain this one, self-publishing is not the field for you.

3. Editor. This one, maybe not so much – editing can be hired out, after all. I guess the point here is more that your book should have an editor and should have been edited. Speaking with a friend earlier today, she mentioned her two biggest complaints about reading self-published material: 1) that there were mistakes in the manuscript she was reading – some quite bad ones, and 2) that often as not the author really did need an editor’s guidance on a story’s arc. It was interesting to hear from her, as a reader, just how deeply this affected her decisions to read certain books over others.

4. Proofreader. Once the story is ready to be published, you need to proofread it. Multiple times. And then ask someone else to proofread it for you. You may have to, at some point, return this favor. Lots of self-publishing seems, to me, to work like that.

5/6/7. Press agent/Marketer/Copywriter. I’m putting these three in the same line, even though they’re different roles, because they’re very tightly connected. You need to be able to write copy that will make people buy your book: its Amazon profile is going to be your biggest marketing tool (we’ve sold more copies of Hot Mess via Amazon than we have any other retailers, on multiple orders of magnitude). Get keywords into your book descriptions. Know the tags you’re going to use. Plan your books far enough in advance that you can start making contacts in communities – whether they be message boards, informational resources, or other communities –  that care about your manuscript’s topic and your message, and then build on those relationships to spread the word both before and after your book’s release. Note that, in my opinion at least, PR and Marketing are two slightly different things – one, to me, is more the act of keeping up a conversation about your product, while the other is the process of actively selling. (Maybe two sides of the same coin. Thoughts?)

 

 

THEATER REVIEW: “The Beautiful Laugh” at La Mama

Clowning is a respected art with a long history, distinct from other forms of theater. My understanding of clowning comes out of familiarity with more classical European traditions, such as Marcel Marceau and the Commedia Del Arte style captured so excellently in The Corn Exchange’s production of Dublin by Lamplight, or the Harlequin story as viewed through the memory of a production I saw at Tivoli, in Cophenhagen, when I was about seven years old. In these forms, it’s often the precision of physical movement that distinguishes the skilled from the unskilled performer.

The style of clowning used in That Beautiful Laugh is different. It is a physical kind of comedy, related – particularly in the case of performer Carlton Ward – to circus acts and Coney Island contortionists, but it is also a comedy of noises and expression.

At the top of the show, a narrator (Alan Tudyk of Firefly, Dollhouse, Suburgatory and more) explains that there are multiple kinds of laughs, and lists some – as we wind through the cyclical routines presented by Flan (Tudyk), Ian (Ward) and Darla Waffles Something (Julia Ogilvie), the audience is no doubt meant to experience some of these different kinds of laughs. Whether or not the ultimate laugh – that beautiful laugh – is attained is, I suspect, largely in the hands of the audience on any given night.

THEATER REVIEW: The Deepest Play Ever @ the New Ohio Theatre


Boo Killebrew, Chinasa Ogbuagu, TJ Witham & Jordan Barbour. Photo by Colin D. Young.

“I’m going to The Deepest Play Ever,” I told my friends on Wednesday, “and yes, that’s the actual title.” Which wasn’t exactly accurate. The full title of the production is “The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos, The Post-Post-Apocalyptical Allegory of Mother LaMadre And Her Son Golden Calf OR: Zombies Will EAT Your Brain! AN EPIC TRAGIDRAMEDY.”

But I make a practice of shortening anything longer than a Fiona Apple album title, so.

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Theater Review: “Eternal Equinox” by Joyce Sachs, 59E59

Playing through March 31st, Eternal Equinox compares politics in relationships both creative and sexual. Vanessa Bell (Hollis McCarthy) and Duncan Grant (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), two painters from the Bloomsbury groupr, spend the bulk of this full-length play trying to understand and negotiate their relationships with one another – particularly when others become involved.
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THEATER REVIEW: Outside People at the Vineyard Theatre

Down-and-out Brooklynite Malcolm (Matt Dellapina) heads to Beijing on the invitation of his college buddy Da Wei (also known as David, and played by Nelson Lee). There, he meets English tutor Xiao Mei (Li Jun Li), falls in love with her, and ultimately falls prey to the cynicism that comes hand in hand with believing everybody else wants a piece of your country. Ultimately, Malcolm leaves a burdgeoning romance thanks to a lack of faith in his lover’s motives.

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