Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

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

Cotswold Life magazine requested spooky local yarns for its online pages during October. I sent them a true story… Here’s The Museum in Black – don’t have nightmares!

Come and enjoy Hallowe’en family storytelling and adults’ Story Cabaret

during October

starting 12 Oct. 4pm with Sunday Afternoon Tea & ScaryTales at the Burrow Café, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire

Chloë at Hallowe'en

Chloë tells scarytales [photo by Ken Skehan]

…Would have a career! Here I am mixing up a potent cocktail of performance skills: from high drama to stand-up comedy with the odd moment of pure poetry. Making some people drift into dreamland, and some reach for the sick-bag.
(Hmm.. A new ad theme? – Chloe’s work kicks like a Moscow Mule, sparkles like vintage Veuve Cliquot, and is salty round the edges with a worm at the end!?!)

But because I’m a ‘storyteller’ – oh dear, it’s got that nasty childy mocking whine of stor-y-Jacka-Nor-y.  And I’m dead.  No English theatre, no trendy venue, no hip broadcaster wants to put  ‘ickle floaty-birdy-pretty-bunny kiddyfodder in their main schedule! Because that’s all they can imagine storytelling to be!

It is set in stone for entertainment agencies, venue bookers, broadcasters and the general public that ‘storytelling’ is for 5-year-olds. They cannot fathom the idea of Story Cabaret packed with gripping narrative designed to entertain adults.  I cannot meet someone for the first time and be introduced as a storyteller without them gushing Oh How Lovely, D’you Go Into Schools?

It makes me want to do to them what the Japanese storm god does to his sister’s pet pony…
Not nice. Lots of blood.

My latest Story Cabaret (aha! trying another name, see?) at National Trust property Hidcote Manor was sold out. The definitely grown-up and indeed sophisticated audience contained not one person who’d experienced performance storytelling before.  (I asked.)  They’d only come to the show because it was called ‘Tales of Lust & Chocolate’ and frankly anyone with a pulse would come to that.

Even the event organizer was startled by how spellbinding a story show can be. In one hour we experienced naughtiness, heartbreak, temptation and scary trickery. The audience laughed, blushed, grieved and shuddered – sometimes to the same story.

Good spoken-word stories are emotionally powerful and thought provoking. Traditional stories can seem simple; yet they deal with the whole smeary rainbow of human behaviour. New stories – eg urban myths, and the much-maligned-until-recently personal stories – highlight our age, our world, in all its absurdity and contradictions.

Now, do you still think this material is suitable only for 5-year-olds?