Posts Tagged ‘Cheltenham Poetry Festival’

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.

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Cheltenham Poetry Festival logoIt was a delight, dare I say even moving, to hear the poetry choices of Cheltenham’s election candidates last night at Cheltenham Poetry Festivals world first Poetry Election.

The town’s current MP is Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat. He won the Poetry Election with a pair of poems that included Shelley’s Ozymandias (‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone…’) which stopped being a cliché when Martin explained the poem’s original, harshly political context: the Peterloo massacre, repressive Corn Laws and vicious poverty.

The event in the echo-ey vastness of Frances Close Chapel on University of Gloucestershire campus was very sensibly free, so nearly 100 people including the be-chained Mayor of Cheltenham and plenty of arty types packed the front pews to hear readings and a short debate. For an informal arts event in Gloucestershire, that’s an almost miraculously good house.
Other things were revealed. Only the Green candidate Adam Van Coevorden knew how to use a microphone. Labour candidate Paul Gilbert had thought about how the arts enhance education. UKIP newbie Christina Simmons didn’t seem to have an arts policy at all and put austerity far ahead of support for the arts. Martin Horwood vaunted the array of Cheltenham Festivals, quite reasonably on the basis of his involvement in helping to win funding for them. Everybody on the platform got stuck in to their poems with gusto, even indie candidate Richard Lupson-Darnell who confessed to loathing poetry at school.
Call it creativity…
But none of the candidates showed any real understanding of the arts world. Cheltenham’s wonderful Playhouse Theatre – that welcomes professional, semi pro and amateur performance in a way that some of the town’s posh publicly funded venues dismally fail to do – never got a mention.
Beyond the official Festivals, and a yearning for the long lost Axiom centre, the candidates clearly had no concept of working in the arts. If you call it creativity, by the way, the elitist overtone goes away.
Nobody spoke about how creativity – received or participated in – supports mental health, potentially saving the NHS fortunes as depression attains epidemic proportions in the UK. Nobody spoke about how millions of creative people in the UK today – dedicated, intelligent people who train to a high standard and who commit their finances, heart and soul to their work – are unable to make a living.
The thing that makes your heart sing
Nobody spoke about how ‘working in the arts’ carries such a stigma now that it’s almost better to be outed as a banker.
Nobody spoke about how most creative people must, for the whole of their adult lives, consign their talent to a mere hobby to be fitted around zero hours contracts, inadequate wages and exhaustion. If you have any spark of creativity in the UK today, but you’re outside the elite cliques of arts stars and large scale commercialism (film, musical theatre, video games) then all you can expect is sneering discouragement.
Your ability, the thing that makes your heart sing and gives you a reason for living – will be dismissed with a cry of “Get a proper job!”
Cultural desert
After 15 years working full time as a spoken word performer, and observing a wide range of theatre and music from the inside, I’ve concluded that Gloucestershire is a cultural desert where nobody wants to go to anything except the pub, and if they drag themselves to a show they certainly don’t want to pay more than the price of a pint.
Oh, all right, there’s a thin cadre of intellectuals who rather joylessly patronise opera, literature, smart exhibitions and the snob end of culture. Often nowhere near Gloucestershire, let alone Cheltenham or oh my goodness rough old Gloucester.
I could be wrong. It could be that 15 years battling the dead weight of indifference has skewed my view.
Last night’s Poetry Election showed that even politicians can be moved by – and can reach other people through – a thoughtful choice of poem.
But the cold truth in Cheltenham as in most of Britain is that the general public has no interest in what creative people can do. They don’t know, don’t care, don’t go. I’m good at only one thing: telling stories. I have to face every day knowing that very nearly nobody wants what I do best.
Story Cabaret entertainer, spoken word artist Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers

Chloë: new contemporary Story Cabaret

Notes

•  The Jordans Cheltenham Poetry Festival runs 20 April – 3 May 2015: from the world’s gloomiest poet (who will have you in stitches) to duck infested canal poetry, plus bands, hip hop and poetry for children.

•  Scheherazade’s Shed – the world première of my new contemporary story show for adults is Monday 27 April 9pm at Cheltenham Playhouse, ticket £7 or concession price £4. Please pre book from the Playhouse 01242 522 852

Cheltenham’s parliamentary candidates, in alphabetical order, are: