Archive for the ‘Performance Art + Spoken Word’ Category

Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle near Cheltenham includes light art sculptures throughout the gardens, all round the castle and historic chapel. Selected nights to 30 December.

There are people in Devon and beyond who still think I was roistering drunk that night in the king’s pavilion.

I giggled and staggered, and flirted with men in fierce armour who were set on laying waste all around them in battle the next day. It was 20–something years ago: a Live Action Roleplay weekend; and I was entirely sober but spying for anyone who’d “pay” me.

In fact I was one of those annoying players who stayed in character all weekend, even in the toilet queue at horrible o’clock when everyone else was crawling out of their hangovers. If you’ve met me, this won’t be a surprise.

Flying and handling dragons

The full length, heavy leather cloak I had made all those years ago – after too near a brush with hypothermia one soggy Sunday – now serves as the techno magical DragonProof Cloak for my storytelling persona of Agent Green the planet’s only (living) Dragon Whisperer.

It also splendidly does its original job of keeping out the weather. Add an Indiana Jones-ish hat over a bright headscarf – roll over hijab, I need warm ears! – plus big gloves and hey presto! It’s obviously a dragon wrangler’s perfect kit for flying and handling her toasty charges.

Grandmother of Dragons

When guests emerge starry-eyed from the first three quarters of the trail around this year’s Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle, they’re quite ready to encounter a fantasy character.

On opening night yesterday, even groups of adults without children were enchanted by the deep bass roars, the glow and smoke issuing from the Dragon Dungeon. And by the Dragon Whisperer’s spiel about a rescue dragon inhabiting the cellars.

Beware of the Dragon says the sign. I’m not quite sure who my boss means, by the way, as he’s taken to calling me Grandmother of Dragons.

Romantic, magical Spectacle of Light

December notwithstanding, the Spectacle of Light is wonderfully free of festive clichés. Not a plastic Santa in sight. From the long vista across glowing reflections in water to the venerable castle itself, to shimmering patterns unrolling from a perfect little tree, this is art made of light. As magical as the shining energy tree of Avatar. As complex as Miss Haversham. As mischievous as Alice’s mirror world. And packed with extra emotional wallop from luscious music; a different mood for each ‘set’. It’s a glorious treat for children as well as the most romantic thing I’ve seen in decades. And if you’ve been feeling low these winter nights, I’d say Spectacle of Light will lift you.

Spectacle of Light runs on selected evenings with timed entries 5pm–7.30pm
Friday 8 – Sunday 10 December
Friday 15 – Saturday 23 December
Wednesday 27 – Saturday 30 December
Please note Dragon Whisperer is on missions elsewhere 18 and 30 December 

“Tickets For Tonight” are available only in person on the day after 4pm at Sudeley Castle Visitor Centre on site

Save 10% Book in advance here

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This evening on social media I saw an artist acquaintance giving up in despair: “…too demoralised by the drudgery of applying to committees for funding. I could not give a fuck about what adds value to communities, or promotes anyone’s wellbeing. All I need to do, all that satisfies me, all that keeps me alive, is beauty. I don’t make art to justify the existence of funding committees – I make it because I have to…”

I posted to her: If you stop then they have won. I understand a lot about why an artist (in any genre) can be made to feel like this… You at least have figured out how and where to do funding applications!

May I invite you to view this from a different angle? As creative people we are forced to work with many ‘brutal morons’ [her words]. They got that way because they didn’t have enough art of any kind in their young lives, they never learned empathy, never got stopped in their tracks by beauty – they had a set of grey, workaday values ground into them and they perceive creativity as some kind of cop-out, a soft option…

So part of our job is to educate the people we work with. I know, artists want to do what we’re good at – the art! – even so, I still think we do better in all ways by gently and warm heartedly leading our clients to better understanding of our work, and of others’.

Excessive behaviours

Historically, artists of all kinds contributed to the modern negative view. The 19thC rich kids getting off on laudanum and poetry, the precious flowers in their ivory towers… That wasn’t the whole truth but it’s the image that lingers. The 1960s wacky baccy brigades were fighting to experiment and evolve artforms but people remember the excessive behaviours and not the art. Creative people now are paying the price for all of that.

Creative people walk a cliff edge path: keeping the mind free enough to think beyond “normal”, and having to convince the money people that art is “worth it”.

I was involved years ago in a couple of completely useless arts projects that reached nobody, and taxpayers’ money was spent, and I felt deeply embarrassed (organisers failed to understand what their audiences would respond to, and completely failed to promote the events!) Because of multiple failures like this, and because of so-called austerity, arts funding has become almost impossible to achieve.

Make them feel

Worse, the general public either can’t afford or just won’t pay for art! If I as a non London nobody try to charge more than £3 a ticket, I face empty seats! But people will pay for what they see as “entertainment”, £40+ for West End shows with celebrities…

We have to deal with things as they are. We have to explain how creativity adds value to people’s lives. The raw fact that art is our reason for living doesn’t matter to the money people, or anybody else. We’re being challenged to make art that has an effect on people, and that’s good for our creative discipline.

In a world hurtling towards self destruction perhaps our last chance is in the arts. Creativity is the last way we can protest. Creativity is the last way we can grab humans and make them feel. I love what I do. I live for what I do. And  a little of what I do has a powerful effect, on people and in ways that I’ll never know. That’s why we must keep doing our art.

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This was the third successive year I entertained audiences at a cosy boutique hotel near Witney, in Oxfordshire. Think squashy armchairs and a splendid log fire.

Their Christmas tree looks like a gift from Norway* and is pleasingly decorated with more enthusiasm than elegance. Dogs are welcome: they sprawl like well groomed furry cushions close to their humans, a little anxious in strange surroundings, flinching occasionally at the sound of my voice.

On Christmas Eve I told ScaryTales to so many guests that extra chairs had to be brought, which always makes my inner diva punch the air in triumph. The dear listeners winced and gasped in all the right places, and nobody snored. (That happened on Boxing Day afternoon.)

Who do you please?

Unlike other gigs, at a hotel Christmas session you never know what kind of audience you’ll face. Oh, officially it’s families at afternoon tea time and adults after dinner. But it’s usually the case that any performance – five over three days – must please mostly adults while still being suitable for one or two children, or teenagers.

One set this Christmas had to be tempered for an eight-ish-year-old girl whose parents sensibly let me know before starting that she’s terrified of scary stories. She was tearful even coming in to sit down! Luckily I had my sparkly grey furred Winterbeast in my bag, so he was set beside the little girl with firm instructions to protect her through the storytelling.

I’d chosen a tale with plenty of magic and delight but also a major section of spooky forest and dodgy old ladies… I was hyper conscious of adding or modifying phrases to turn the scary down. A fascinating performance challenge. I like to think the girl began to understand what stories show so well: that frightening situations can be handled.

Competing with a tree…

Another challenge at this type of gig is the physical layout of the room. Any large room has a ‘sweet spot’ where your voice naturally bounces off the ceiling and down to the far end … but not with different ceiling heights created by a minstrel’s gallery. And a hotel lounge full of sofas, armchairs and coffee tables tends to lack a focal point where a speaker can visually command attention.

I struggled to compete with the giant twinkly tree. It was also difficult to position myself to talk towards the good ears of several senior guests with impaired hearing, or even to stand where they could see my face (a lot of people, deaf or not, lipread to some extent when listening to a live speaker). Inevitably there was the hearing aid that squealed. It’s also distracting when hotel staff, despite their manager’s instructions, start clearing the room for the evening cocktail party while you’re halfway through your set!

But stories told live are powerful. And an audience that wants to listen cannot be deterred. “Those stories made my Christmas,” confided one very frail older lady.

Out in the world, war and flood and earthquake and avoidable poverty and loneliness and preventable pollution continued without mercy. And death claimed yet more people whose talents we treasured. In the face of all that, for a few hours, in the comfortable house by the river in the garden, we flew on the magic of words.

* Every year the city of Oslo in Norway sends a huge Christmas tree to London, to stand in Trafalgar Square sparkling with lights, in thanks for help from Britain during World War 2.

NOTES:
♦  Mistletoe Storyteller costume by the amazing AJ at Dragons & Unicorns, based on a design idea by me
♦  Booking now for World Book Day / Book Week in schools: Thursday 2 March 2017. Please contact me soon to avoid disappointment! Year 3 to Sixth Form. Dragon Days as Agent Green the world’s only living Dragon Whisperer. Legends of Britain and beyond as Nightshade, Un-Wisewoman of the Woods.

www.midnightstorytellers.co.uk

The family show that brought me happy audiences all summer just bombed at a theatre festival. This morning I feel worthless and irrelevant.

I’m drinking coffee from my Never Give Up mug.

What can I learn?

  • I am amazing at going on stage and delivering the full experience to an audience of 2. They bothered to turn up. They get their money’s worth, in fact I work harder for them so that, in a big empty room, they feel relaxed and welcome. I believe it’s called being a professional.
  • The festival organiser possibly should have known that, despite last year’s feedback saying “not enough shows for families”, in fact this festival is popular for decidedly grown-up theatre including experimental pieces. But with my previous experience of the festival I should have known this too!
  • The other storytelling show in the festival – that sold out and needed extra chairs, oh my poor crushed heart – featured modern / personal stories, stand-up comedy and adult themes. This is what sells. Traditional storytelling [folktales etc] suits only a very limited number of venues and audiences. I need to devise and offer work with more awareness of this.
  • It’s time for me to grub out the crippling fear that took root in me when I was starting out in storytelling – a fear unleashed when influential storytellers publicly sneered at me, even shouted at me, for wanting to do ‘new’ material. More than ever, I must keep my confidence and continue to create new work. Yes, the magnificent heritage of traditional story must be kept alive through regular retelling. But 21st century themes and styles are also worth exploring in spoken word ‘telling. The person who roared at me “Nothing you’ll ever do can ever stand up in comparison with the traditional tales that have been tried and tested for hundreds of years!” was very, very frightening – but wrong. That is simply not true.
  • Of course nothing really new is possible … but I’m good at bringing old pieces into new settings, new twists, new life.
  • Who’s to say my show must be all storytelling? Why not include, say, one piece of dramatic reading? People love talking books. Actors do well giving theatrical readings. Reading a story aloud can be interestingly different from telling.
  • Many artists / performers make a big deal out of their personal battles with life. I won’t trade on personal misery – although I’ve struggled with depression since the 1970s. As an apparently white middle class ‘privileged’ person […hollow laughter…] I’ve felt it was out of the question for me to make personal sadness part of my performance territory. But perhaps I’ve missed a trick?
  • Audiences choose where to spend their money based on minimal information: usually just the image … and the title. Do not expect people to read any blurb. So I know I look like one of those overweight, chinless, greying arty-farties in ridiculous clothes. There’s no point in me trying to be edgy. And I’m not naturally sweary, I can’t go all Jimmy Carr. But being my age puts me in a great place to have seen the way the world works and to still have energy to rage against it. The London spoken word venue that told me last year to “Stick with storytelling in libraries, dear” might have missed out…

A friend reminds me Don’t make plans on the basis of what you should do, don’t make yourself fit into somebody’s else’s idea of acceptable – pretend there’s a fairy godmother and plan for what you really want to do! Ok: so that’s Chloë presenting a roller coaster ride of exquisite traditional tales, hair raising contemporary pieces, a piece read from the page to provide a contrasting tone and pace – alongside (a) gypsy jazz musician(s) connecting sections of the show with very different sounds and that gypsy energy of heart and blood… There! Easy! ‘Love, Death & the Invisible Woman’ … hmm… Booking now for autumn 2017. Thank you!

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Gloucester Guildhall 2pm daily until 27 August – Ticket £7
Dads-Play-Poster
This week is your last chance to catch the final performances in the debut run of The Secret Life of Dads by Jarek Adams at Gloucester Guildhall, 2pm every day until Saturday. It’s the perfect cast and a sparkling gem of a new play that brings something truly new to family theatre. Just because it’s for children doesn’t mean it has to be about children!
    So here are three no-longer-young blokes who love their kids but really need a break from fluffy bunny world! Over beer and daft blokey banter in the pub they talk themselves into resurrecting their old band The Cabbage Heads for a talent show.
    But it’s not so simple, as each man struggles to put the stresses of modern life into perspective – wage cuts, new baby worries, grumpy teen – and grab some time to live and be playful for his own sake. You can feel the warmth and strength of friendship; and the music also turns out very much better than you might expect! This is live performance, too: no cowardly backing tracks here.
    Officially suitable for age 4+, the audience I observed included several dads with children under 10, all watching keenly. Seating is café style, more relaxed for youngsters. What a great way to start conversations about family and why parents are sometimes so embarrassing.
    Written by Jarek Adams*
    Directed by Jilly Breeze
    Original music by George Moorey
    with Murray Andrews, Darren Lake and Craig Rogers
Tickets: £7  No online booking at Gloucester Guildhall! Be patient with 01452 503050
Where? Gloucester Guildhall is in the city centre pedestrian precinct next to BHS (for now!): 23 Eastgate Street, GL1 1NS. A brave urban tree shades the entrance!
Parking + public transport: Nearest parking is Gloucester Eastgate and lots of bus stops are a 2 minute shamble away, outside the Museum and Library.
    * Jarek Adams is an award winning playwright based in Gloucester. Her science and history have been seen by more than half a million school children. She now runs the Scriptorium, a group of emerging playwrights based in Gloucester Cathedral – where you should look out for Jarek’s new work Tapestry in May 2017.  www.jarekadams.com
   And finally… Apologies for rubbish layout of this article. WordPress is refusing to insert paragraph breaks. Bah! Millennium hand and shrimp!!
Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers

Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers

I’m an entertainer not an economist or political expert. I’ve stayed out of the UK Referendum rows on social networks. But I have been looking at history … hearing feeble reasoning everywhere … and I see sensible people, people I hold dear, spewing out hatred…

I believe 23 June 2016 could the most important vote I ever cast. With all the unwisdom of my 55 and three quarters years, and knowing it’ll cost me friendships, I still want to say:

A friend posted on Facebook. “If you wouldn’t vote to join the EU today, why vote to stay?” Oh, gor blimey – look at the tottering, overloaded juggernaut of the EU. Asphyxiating in its own bureaucracy. Paralysed by its own layers of crazy regulation.

But voting to leave isn’t the same as not joining in the first place. Things have changed since 1975.

  • 100 years ago, millions of lives were thrown away in meaningless European conflict. And just one lifetime ago, Europe crawled out of its own wreckage and vowed NEVER AGAIN.

For some weird reason, among all the desperate stories of World War 2, I always think of sailors dying in the North Atlantic convoys: burning alive; lungs filling with oil; crushed under tons of metal and sea… weeping, screaming, screaming down into the dark…

If you have anything like that in your heart, you will not risk European peace and prosperity.

Because the UK leaving the European Union will subtly and fatally weaken it. Not in your lifetime, oh yes you’ll be all right, Jack; but your grandchildren could face what Syria is enduring now. Will you risk that?

  • From the faint traces of fact that have ‘informed’ this debate, and watching the decisions of public figures whose humanity and (or!) common sense I respect, I see that nobody can predict the full consequences of a Brexit.

I don’t drive around corners in the dark if I’m not sure the road is there.

Gut feeling based on months of observing the arguments: there’s enough doubt about leaving to make me choose to stay with the devils I know. Oh, and to get serious about chivvying my Euro MP – no idea, since you ask! But I will, oh I will! – out of their comfy chair and into reforming action.

  • I no longer trust a UK government of any party to act in the best interests of the people.

Look at the NHS, schools, emergency services, public transport, defence – everything that makes life safe and liveable: Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s governments began the dismantling and Cameron’s crew have sped up the process. All hidden under “we’re giving you more choice”. Ssssptttt!!!

It’s the EU that protects pensions and working conditions. If you think your job is tough now, just wait until those European protections are stripped away.

  • It ain’t broke so don’t… Oh. Ahem. The European Union does appear to be at or near breaking point. It’s been described as “failing”. So this is no time to run away bleating about sovereignty! It’s time to get in there and be more bolshie and more influential. Or can’t British politicos and civil servants cut it any more?
  • If Britain leaves the EU, be prepared for a generation of racist, xenophobic madness to roar through our streets.

This insanity has guns and knives, and online social networks, and the infected ones are already crawling out of the dungheap. If Britain officially rejects ‘them furriners’ then gods help you if you have a dark tan, a funny accent, a foreign-looking name. And don’t dare speak up for those who do.

  • I have lived in France and visited Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and a couple of Greek islands. Time was, they all just laughed at the Little England mentality. After a Brexit, the leading countries of Europe will, out of sheer spite – and to prove their point – bring down the shutters on UK/continental trade.

Imports will become extortionate. Exports won’t happen. There will be no ‘new deals’ with the EU for 20 years.

Can we replace our European business by doing more with China, India, the USA? Possibly. At a price. Because they’ll have us at their mercy. Will we deal (more) with those regimes and others – Russia? Saudi Arabia? – that are vicious tyrants to their people? Oh, I could get very detailed and very poetical about your food and your services coming from places where people are slaves, where women are less than slaves… or people… But hey, it’s all right Jack, you “want your country back”.

  • In self interest I must note that there will shortly be No More Money for the arts in Britain. Whatever June 23rd’s decision, austerity Britain is set to drag on. And on. They can’t afford not to. The only funding for creativity will come mainly from European sources.

Yeah, yeah, you hate opera and highbrow crap. You’re a pie-’n-a-pint bloke, or bloke-ess, yeah, right? Working class means no posh rubbish, right? BOLLOCKS TO THAT! The arts are for everyone – from Game of Thrones to sharks in aspic – and the more you learn about humans through different kinds of art, the better you’ll handle the stupidity and cruelty you face in everyday life.

By the way, I work office hours plus evenings and weekends so I count myself working class. Just paid less. (And I can’t cope with operatic singing.)

Humans need the arts. Britain without the gentler moments, the wry reflections, the sharp questioning provided by ‘the arts’ will be drab, inarticulate and vicious. Going backwards. D’you want that, for the people you know who shine with creativity? For your next generation?

People who want to Brexit want to run away from how hard it is to be European.

That’s not British.

Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers

Ageing hippy or literary genius? Did I get this image right? D’you realise what I’m up against?!

Up comes another image of a ‘storyteller’ so wild eyed and scruffy they’d scare a tramp. Oh, give me strength…

No wonder storytelling is a minority artform shunned by venues, media and the general public. Anyone who gets up in front of an audience is judged in 5 seconds on appearance. If you’re promoting your work in the media or online, the quality of your work does not come into those first 5 seconds.

People are turned off – or drawn in – by what they see. And if you look like someone who forgot to take their meds then you’re NOT winning hearts and minds.

And no, it’s not a beauty pageant. But it is about being respectful to your audience : turn yourself out looking clean, tidy within your personal style, and competent. I daren’t even use the word ‘professional’ as I know it’s a taboo word to a lot of storytellers…

One job to do

All speakers, storytellers, poets and their ilk have one job to do: to engage their listeners so that the power, beauty, humour and humanity of the words can be transmitted. Unless you’re on radio YOU KILL YOUR WORK IF YOU LOOK APPALLING.

In the UK most storytellers are retired and/or hobbyists. This is because full time storytelling mostly doesn’t pay a living wage. But ladies and gentlemen you must make an effort! However pinched your pennies are, whatever bits of you are dropping off… There are so few of us that EVERYONE is an ambassador for our art.

Respect your audience

Just because you revel in the label of ‘amateur’ and are part of UK storytelling’s 30 year quest for obscurity – you have no excuse for looking shabby as a storyteller in front of punters. Even if you’re another one of those who devalue creativity by giving your work away free, your audience has made the effort to come to the event.

Respecting your audience includes being on time, not overrunning your allotted time on stage or on air – and knowing how to introduce your work. Please get over the giggling. Please stop saying you’ll get through your bit as quickly as possible because it’s probably not very good… I really do hear performers say this! Please take a professional attitude about delivering your work as asked, to the best of your ability. (You’ll enjoy the experience more, too.)

Now, some of you know that I take diva levels of care to present myself as well groomed. I can’t be beautiful but I can be interesting. I can avoid using those snapshots with the really contorted or silly facial expressions…

Remember that every image might be THE ONE picture that ‘represents’ storytelling to a potential new audience member.

So get a d*mn haircut! Wash and iron the shirt, I don’t care if it is from the charity shop, ditch that shapeless sack of wool you call a pullover – and clean your boots! WHY SHOULD PEOPLE LISTEN TO YOU IF YOU REFUSE TO RESPECT THEM?

Respect yourself

And being poorly turned out is also disrespectful to yourself. Which will affect your work. The wild eyed artist type in ‘disordered dress’, stinking of sweat, ciggies and booze does not make friends – or progress. This isn’t the 19th century romantic movement or even the 1970s rock scene. Bad behaviour isn’t cool. Competition for opportunity is fierce. If you’re hard to work with, unpleasant to have around – they won’t have you.

As for dull voices and ‘storyteller language’ … don’t get me started!

UK flag A newsletter alert from a nursery school was shared on Facebook: “Prevent duty: From the 1st July 2015, all schools and childcare providers must have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism…”

Comments were scathing.

“They’re literally assessing the children to check they’re demonstrating British values… *shudders*”

“I hope they’re also teaching [toddlers] how to root out and report illegal immigrants at nursery. Hmmm. Which side of the Iron Curtain were we on?”

We need to get past the clichés. Prevent strategy contains several worrying bits – but I see an opportunity to connect all British young people with a magnificent heritage of story (eg traditional folktales) and some rather important bits of history. Plus of course we can make clear what we’ve learned from national mistakes of colonialism and exploitation.

I sighed with boredom at school over the list of Factory Acts created in Victorian times. Only recently have I understood how important that legislature was: locking into law the protection of workers’ rights; saving childhood and guaranteeing children the right to education.

Now our rest days and right to withhold labour are being whittled away. There isn’t even a Workhouse for people to go and die in when cut off from essential benefits … But that’s another story.

A sense of belonging (or not) really does start among small children. People who feel part of a nation, and who feel they have a chance to contribute to and profit from that national community, are less likely to want to blow it up!

Hmm… What are ‘British values’?

Cleverly, even the Prime Minister who ringingly asserts their importance has shied away from defining British values in his public utterances. But of course there is Department of Education advice for grant maintained schools.

 My version includes a nice cup of tea; generosity and quiet kindness – sometimes, admittedly, only when things are dire; respect for privacy; and an irrepressibly wicked sense of humour!

My British values encourage everyone to be self directing individuals within their group of family, cultural and social circles: to think clearly, form their own opinions, build resilience to life’s downs and ups, treat people fairly, protect the vulnerable, know the difference between authority and bullying, and to have the knowledge and courage to speak truth to power. Or at least to lampoon the powerful – and those who try to control us – without mercy, until they get over themselves…

So here’s a cliché for you: as a pro storyteller working with British cultural stories, I’ll be putting Prevent front and centre of my approach to schools. So there.

A nice cup of tea

“My idea of heaven is a nice cup of tea”

• What are YOUR British Values? What mindset do we need to live together well in the 21st century?

Poster for 28 July 2015 Storytelling Dragon Tales at Sutton Coldfield LibraryA rare flying visit from the Dragon Whisperer brings a morning of fantasy and magical adventure to Sutton Coldfield Library (Birmingham, England) on Tuesday 28 July.

As part of the Record Breakers themed Summer Reading Challenge 2015, gorgeously costumed Agent Green the world’s only living Dragon Whisperer tells Dragon Tales from around the world to age 7+ at 11am. At 12.30, Agent Green breaks out the drawing pens to show age 9+ How To Draw Your Dragon – bring your favourite sketchbooks, pencils and colouring pens.

Both sessions are free thanks to sponsorship from Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust. The Library is at Lower Parade, B72 1XX. Tel 0121 464 2274.

Thrilling legends and folktales include a dragon in hiding and the dragon who was really a lost princess, ranging from Eastern Europe to Bamburgh Castle.

Agent Green, who is alleged to work for DCHQ, Dragon Conservation Headquarters, also reveals hot tips on dragon care and training, and talks about her mission to find and save the world’s last dragons. You’re welcome to ask everything you ever wanted to know about dragons – because the Dragon Whisperer has the answer!

Behind the bling is Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers, a storytelling entertainer and writer/illustrator from the Cotswolds. Celebrating 15 years as a spoken word artist, Chloë sets a new record this August as the first ever Dragon Whisperer in Residence at Sudeley Castle (Gloucestershire).

Chloë’s performances for children take her to primary schools, community events and festivals all over the UK. Her story cabaret shows for adults are acclaimed from Cheltenham Literature Festival to cruise ships on the Mediterranean. For her 15th anniversary celebrations Chloë has launched a new contemporary story cabaret show Scheherazade’s Shed which tours to Kidderminster Arts Festival 14 August and Windsor Fringe Festival 24 September. The Dragon Tales CD is available £5 from Chloë, while the fully written out and illustrated Dragon Tales are available as a Kindle ebook (£2.99).

  • The annual UK Summer Reading Challenge, an initiative from the Reading Agency and the Arts Council, encourages UK children aged 4-11 into libraries to read up to 6 books during the long summer holiday. The scheme is designed to maintain reading skills and confidence which can otherwise weaken during over that time.

Headshot image of ChloeRevered script consultant Michael Hauge, whose blockbuster credits range from Pirates of the Caribbean to Hancock, happily gives away trade secrets at www.storymastery.com .

A young wannabe wrote to Mr Hauge of his frustration at getting no response from Hollywood script agents. The submitted scripts, intended for mainstream USA audiences, featured Sikh characters and included roles for the writer, who’s also ‘an aspiring actor’. He asked if he must ‘write to sell instead of writing good quality screenplays with unique characters’. You can read Michael’s beautifully honest reply on the Q+A page of www.storymastery.com

Michael’s response might be tough for a frustrated writer / actor /director to read. That’s why it’s so valuable.

I believe that ‘commercial and ‘good quality’ are not mutually exclusive – in fact the creative challenge to balance those elements is a big part of the fun!

To me, creative process means communicating my ideas – in ways that will win audiences. Grab them, hold them, provoke them into thinking (that’s hard!), give them laughter and other reasons to go on living.

Emotional power

Obviously I’m white British, irretrievably middle class and now sagging into middle age. Yet somehow I’ve always been aware of long established respect for Sikhism in the UK. When I was aged six or seven I loved the serial in my weekly comic about a Sikh army officer. I was also a child who suffered horrible nightmares. Time and again I summoned up the image of that warrior in his turban and uniform as I prepared to face the wild landscapes of night; the thought of that character made me feel protected.

So let’s think Life of Pi. Think Slum Dog Millionaire. Those films involve cultures outside the experience of a large part of western cinema audiences, yet the stories have vivid characters about whom you really care, they have visual magnificence and narratives that corkscrew between magical romance and raw survival. Cultural settings are secondary to the films’ emotional power.

5 year plan

But that young Sikh writer-actor must also remember that British creative industries have gatekeepers who tend to revel in their power and who only deign to give the time of day to their chosen clique. Outsiders are almost never allowed in. I suspect the USA, land of opportunity, is no different when it comes to film and television.

I suggest that, given he knows what he’s capable of when he gets his break, the young man needs a 5 year campaign:
1) To build a good reputation in the right places as a Sikh actor. Be available in many countries, do the widest possible range of work to learn how different aspects of the industry create success (and to see how NOT to do many things!) Respected actors do get opportunities as writers + directors.
2) To offer scripts to specialists in making films that feature Sikh culture.  Initially he should not ask to act in his own films, until decision makers know and trust his writing and his acting. So where are the Sikh film makers, all around the world? Hollywood is not the only fruit.
3) To trust that all experience is useful as he works towards writing scripts that celebrate his Sikh culture and weave that material into a wider (western) context that will hook Hollywood decision makers’ attention. If he still wants that.
4) To network, study, work ordinary jobs to pay his bills and discover life; and keep writing. NOTHING IS WASTED even if it isn’t used this year … or next…

All about the money

I know all about failing to see beyond my own potential. “If only bookers/audiences would see how brilliant my performances and material are…”

And my work is constantly devalued, even when people enjoy it. “It’s just storytelling. It’s just for kids.” “We’re a charity.”

Just last week a conversation went bad because someone said “It’s not all about the money” to which I responded “But money is important. I have to pay the rent”. They couldn’t assume that I deliver my work fuelled by a lifetime of experience, 15 years of full time commitment and all the artistic integrity of which I’m capable. Instead they leapt to the easier assumption that I’m crassly commercial.

Right now I’m wriggling my material around to reach a new market. The world première of my first all-contemporary story cabaret Scheherazade’s Shed was hailed by the director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2015 as a “highlight of the festival”. I should have done this years ago!

Terrified

But when I started out in 1999, the senior practitioners of my (very small) creative industry terrified me into believing that only one kind of work was acceptable. They were the gatekeepers so I did what they said they wanted. And 15 years on I’ve realised that didn’t work either! Sometimes the doors aren’t just locked against you, they’re bricked up. Time to stop banging my poor bloody head against a brick wall.

But if I’d been more confident, I’d have found the way round much faster. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you always got. Creative work MUST be influenced by commercial demands, i.e. what audiences like. Otherwise your work is just amateur self indulgence.