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29th Apr, 2017

Dear internet,

I thought you should know that Doctor Who is good again. Tonight the Thames was actually a dragon, rich racists got punched, Bill Potts was perfect.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/429495.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

little achievements post

  • Dragged myself out of vicious post-show-low
    Yes, after 7 years clean I fell back into student drama this term. It's a long story, and for better or worse it's done now. But for a little Weill I was in the Threepenny Opera, and got to sing and shout about how shitty capitalism is with a group of earnest teenagers. Not such a bad way to spend a term, actually.

  • Started brainstorming alternative dissertation projects
    Another long story: my mentor died last month, I have to give a presentation on Wednesday, and I've been avoiding it because grief and did I mention I had a show to do?

  • Booked my first driving lesson in 14 years
    I had to stop learning before because Massive Anxiety, but now future career options are starting to depend on learning.. not to mention the fact that I'm a drummer and a powerlifter and neither hobby is really amenable to public transportation!

  • Planned & booked a combination conference-and-weekend-away
    Because £20 for a full-day conference on the self & reflective practice in clinical psychology is a) a steal and b) exactly what I need. And following it up with a chance to bimble around Bristol for a couple of days is exactly what I want, and that's important too.
  • Asked for help with a difficult letter I've been putting off writing for months
    I know I've not been the greatest at posting to the Mx Chronicles recently, but I found a bank which will record my title as 'Mx' and my gender as non-binary! Which rather gives a lie to my previous bank's claims that I had to be recorded as 'Ms' and 'F' because fraud or HMRC requirements or something.

  • Did not leave the house all day
    For the first time in 2017. I had a bath and then got straight back into pyjamas. Blissful.


Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/89231.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

23rd Jan, 2017

I do love the liminal space of travel.

Even earlier this morning, crammed on a rush-hour Victoria Line train, headphones too-loud and eyes pressed shut as I'm squeezed into a corner; still felt good and lucky, a chance to be inside my own head with no expectation that I'll be being Productive.

I assume the lucky feeling would fade very quickly if I ever had a significant regular rush-hour commute; but for now, when most of my life is within a twenty-minute cycle of my front door, the rest of my life is made special by travel. The times that I take a seven-hour round-trip for a four-hour rehearsal; the times I wake up in London and have to be at work in Oxford; my experiences in those places are made more special, my memories of them more intense, by having the processing and encoding time of solo travel.

(I mean even the long journey home was not enough to allow me to make sense of Lazarus, but then, some things are outside of the power of the Oxford Tube.)

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/88943.html. comment count unavailablecomments.
I'm on holiday! I think this is pretty much the first time in my life that I've just gone away for a week and stayed in one place, without a play to put on or an itinerary for travel. I'm in the Canary Islands with a couple of friends, trying to get some winter sun in my face in the darkest week of the year. It's pretty great.

Day 1: drove up the coast to Playa El Duque, a ridiculously luxe fake beach (they shipped it in from the Sahara to make it yellow enough for tourists who don't like the black volcanic sand??). Spent about six hours topless on a sun lounger, reading Terry Pratchett, eating ice cream, getting a massage (!), went in the sea a bit. (Fake coast is creepy as it has no ecosystem - so no danger from sea life either). Laura went foraging for lunch so I didn't even have to get up for food. This day completely lacked peril: 1/10.

Day 2: got up early to watch the sun rise over the red mountain. Found my way to a bit of coast, hidden round the corner by a closed beach bar, which had volcanic rocks with little rock pools in all the way down to the sea. Despite it being the early morning and having nobody in line of sight or shout, I decided to climb down to the sea on the steep, slippery rocks in plastic shoes. Spent the rest of the morning on a lovely volcanic beach and went in the sea some more; the clouds rolled in for the afternoon so I watched a lot of a Brazilian Hunger Games ish TV show called "The 3%". Promising start undercut by an uneventful afternoon: 4/10.

Day 3: coach trip up the volcano, Teide. After an incredibly early start (our isolated little village was the first stop on a never-ending stream of hotel pickups around the built-up coastal tourist sprawl) we started to climb, and climb. By the village of Vilaflor (at 4,600 feet) where we stopped for second breakfast at 10am I was definitely feeling the effects of the sudden altitude shift; dizziness and weakness. The feeling was something like a cross between the early stages of a panic attack, and being pleasantly drunk. By the time I got out of the coach in the caldera (7,700 feet) any exertion was making my heart pound painfully, and I felt frankly euphoric. So of course I decided to ditch my travelling companion and climb up a rocky outcrop (stopping every few steps to calm my sympathetic nervous system), well above the safety rails, to get a phenomenal view that I was almost too dizzy to appreciate. (The caldera is something like 45km across, and so wonderfully alien that it's been used by NASA to train peopole for moon landings.) Probably the single most foolish thing I did all holiday: 8/10.

Day 4: got up early to go climb the red mountain at sunrise. Was a bit surprised by the lack of redness; everything seemed the same generic grey-brown dust as the surrounding country. It was absolutely lovely; a smaller, older volcano jutting out from the south of the island, with views to the north all the way up to Teide, and views to the south of the uninterrupted Atlantic ocean. I went out past the handrail to the very south edge, and found a small shrine overlooking the sea. A memorial to a man, who looked so young in his photograph.

I watched a ridge of darker cloud slowly move in from the East, enjoying the shadow it cast over the land and sea, looking forward to some light summer rain; instead I was caught in a hailstorm just as I began my descent. As the rain fell the mountain became red; the brown dust dissolved or washed away, and the open scree-covered slope with a steep drop at either side became.. a challenge for my plastic shoes. But I made it down without falling over even once. And now I'm off to a watersports beach to maybe try body-boarding, if the sun comes back at all... so far, 6/10.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/88278.html. comment count unavailablecomments.
I'm breathing a bit more easily now that I've realised that maybe - just maybe - I do not have to make an either-or choice between "stay forever in the job I love, becoming slowly less effective at it without realising" and "immediately commit long-term to a lifestyle that I have no idea if I can possibly maintain".

There are many, many in-between choices, the most appealing one of which right now is realising that, once my MSc is over, I'll have 1-2 days/week that I can commit - voluntarily, if necessary - to getting experience working with People Who Aren't Over-Educated Adolescents*.

My college job is actually incredibly flexible - I've worked it alongside THREE days a week elsewhere at some points, and I just meet with students at evenings and weekends when necessary. Given the general shape of my year, I could start taking on additional (voluntary) work as early as March. Time to start keeping my eyes open for opportunities, then...

*Don't get me wrong, I love my over-educated adolescents; but I've become so used to psychoeducation with them as my audience and I need to get more flexible.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/86501.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

on other barriers to creativity

I'm glad to have got the (flocked) self-flagellation out of the way! Thanks to everyone who called that bullshit right out: my head's been stuck in that loop for a month. (Most of the time, I know that the game is unwinnable, and that I will fuck up, and that what matters is how I deal with it when I realise that's happened - in fact, didn't Lashings have a song about exactly that...)

It's been particularly powerful to have people I know I've hurt in the past tell me that I should create art regardless; because of course, that's the advice I'd give the performers of those shows that hurt me, alongside "maybe think about how you could reduce the negative impact of your show on the people you're trying to liberate?"

So, why else have I not been creating?

In part, it's the problem of having nowhere to perform - Lashings usually had to put on our own shows, build a space from the ground up; we wanted to be safe for people who'd avoid mainstream comedy and cabaret because of the prevalence of hate-humour & kyriarchal bullshit or the possibility of unwarned triggers.

I keep thinking that a YouTube channel could be the way forward: so much more accessible than putting on physical shows. But I know so little about film-making - all my skills are about engaging live audiences. And I'm an MC at heart - getting the audience going and introducing someone else with the actual skills. MCing made me feel like my love & enthusiasm for the people who performed in Lashings was contagious.

Ah, there's my answer - I'm not creating any more because I'm no longer part of a community of people with shared creative drives. And I'm not a student in a houseshare, I can't just stay up til 3am brainstorming with like-minded queers and reprobates.

But I've tried levelling up to "adult creativity", which I've seen modelled by friends writing novels - scheduling the time, making myself do it when I have the time rather than waiting for an inspirational flash - and I come up with lectures with jokes in, not cabaret-comedy. (Then again, "Adventures in Menstruating" made that genre absolutely *shine*, so perhaps I should not be so quick to dismiss the lecture format.)

There's always something lurking at the bottom of my to-do list that means I never feel "free" to spend time on creativity. Even when my life is pointedly part-time, supposedly leaving me space to pursue my own projects - it doesn't happen. So maybe it's a red herring, to worry that if I Commit To A Career I'll lose space in my life for creativity - I've barely been managing that anyway.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/85865.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

EdFest Reviews, Sunday

Dreams with Advert Breaks

This was picked almost at random from the free fringe guide, entirely because I wanted to spend some time aimlessly wandering and looking for serendipity, rather than Having A Planned Itinerary.

It was a straight white dude doing standup, so yes, I knew the risk I was taking; but it was utterly charming! A deadpan, deconstructed hour of character comedy, with something of the Stewart Lee but much much geekier: "it's ok if you don't laugh at this bit, I'm just trying to whittle my audiences down to people who appreciate the weird niche humour, so that next year I can do a show entirely about dinosaurs and space". The punchline to the anecdote about meeting Where's Wally on his gap year ("I guess he was trying to find himself") amused me much more than anyone else in the room, so maybe I get to be in next year's audience?


Don't Wake the Damp

Another random pick, I happened to find a flyer on the floor on the Royal Mile that caught my eye! This was comedy as well, but couldn't have been more different than the guy I picked before -- this was high octane, high-narrative sci-fi comedy, like 6th Doctor story Paradise Towers crossed with Galaxy Quest. With brilliant special effects entirely in the appropriate medium for 80s neon Brit sci-fi - model shots, rubber monsters, an AI sidekick called B.O.O.B.S. (if I have any criticism to make of this joyful piece of work, it's that they didn't always effectively undercut the misogyny they were mocking).

There was also a hint of Douglas Adams in the mix, as we met the Council Housing Office, and discovered that when we're talking about low-quality social housing with "rising damp", that's meant in the same way as "Cthulhu rises".


Gender Neutral Concubine Pirate

After a slightly rocky start - I wasn't 100% sure if this performer actually ID'd as non-binary, or was mocking the whole concept, when the opening monologue was "I identify as a gender-neutral concubine pirate" - this became one of my highlights of the fringe. Hugely high energy burlesque-y circus-y cabaret, the surrealism (performer appears to eat an entire bunch of grapes in one mouthful, then pee wine) undercut by brief emotional asides about coming out to family as a queer British person of south Asian origin. Mawaan Rizwan - one to watch.


Mister Meredith's Variety Bunker

Another random pick, this turned out to be a piano-led singalong show. Surprisingly powerful and liberating to just.. belt for an hour! The venue was set out with cabaret tables, and I was attending alone, so I got to talk to another random stranger, which was a rare and charming experience, who kept commenting on how amazing my voice was and how I was obviously a *performer* which she could never be. I did drop into Welfare Advisor mode a bit - "what makes you say that?" - but mostly kept it social.


The Fainting Couch

This just happened to be on in the same venue right after the singalong: one of Edinburgh's ever-proliferating cabaret variety shows with a combination of local burlesque talent and people doing short skits to promote their shows. It was a charming enough way to spend a little time, but lacked the political bite that I like in my cabaret. I left when it turned out that the headliners were magicians, because, ehhh.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/84428.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

EdFest Reviews, Saturday

Techies the Musical

Charming silly show, that utterly split the room into "thesps" and "non-thesps" - as the show started with a chaotic whole-cast scene of trying to get the stage cleared (but the actors are warming up! but this prop just needs moving/fixing! etc!) half the room was waiting patiently for the show to start, and half the room (the half, I assume, who'd ever been involved in a theatrical get-in) were falling off their seats at the accuracy of the actors' warm-up games, at the casual rudeness in all directions, at the exasperation and the incoherence of the whole thing.

Plot was nothing to write home about - power-hungry director wants to make the Most Techincally Advanced Show Ever and doesn't care what health-and-safety rules she breaks to get there.

"You want to set the entire musical UNDERWATER??"
"Yes."
"But how are the cast going to SING???"
"Uhh, microphones?"

But for a fiver a piece - on the cheap side for paid shows, bloody hell this was not a cheap holiday - I'm very glad I snapped up some last-night tickets before they sold out.


Axis of Awesome

I'd pretty much just seen "4 chords" and "Elephant in the Room", and decided to book on the strength of those. If you've not seen Elephant in the Room, I'll give you a moment:



(If you can't / don't want to click that link, I'm afraid I couldn't find a transcript anywhere, but to summarise: one member of the band transitioned, and they've deflected all the shitty questions and assumptions into a song about how one of the other band members is now bald. "Lee, now that you're bald, do you like men now?" "No, because congenital alopecia has nothing to do with sexual orientation!" "Lee, now that you're bald, are you going to cut your dick off?" "None of your fucking business!" It is a work of fuck-you brilliance.)

So the thing that I take away from this is that it is possible to fill the Gilded Balloon Ballroom, every night, and pepper a silly comedy music show with nuanced comments about transmisogyny, about fucking-up and learning-from-it, without even slightly alienating a core audience of geekbros. Shame about the racism.


Gender Spanner

This is why I've been putting off finishing my review posts. I still don't know what to say about this. I can't tell if I hated it because it was on at midnight and I wanted to be in bed - or if I hated it because I was jealous, because I wanted to have created it - or if I hated it because it was deeply transmisogynistic - or if I hated it because there's only one body type that can do genderfuck striptease and it sure as shit isn't my body type. Probably, a little bit of all of those things.

I wanted to have made this - it was, fundamentally, a series of burlesque skits on the broad them of "feminism and gender identity", much of it very trad burlesque with a slightly radical-political twist. In so many ways it was everything that I had in mind in 2008 when I pounced on Annalytica: "hey, I've got a NYE gig for my filthy feminist songs, want to help me out?". This was alternate-universe Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, and it hit me right in my sadness that those dreams were derailed.

It was horribly transmisogynistic - appropriating transfeminine experiences only when it wanted to talk about how hard it is to be trans, and doing it in a way that was simultaneously deeply stereotyping and hugely evocative of violence in an almost gratuitously triggering way. Sexualising and gloryfying transmasculinity (talking lustfully about "silicone dicks") while desxualising and delegitimising transfeminity (talking patronisingly about "plasticine tits"). Lashings may have had our fair share of fuckups (particularly around racism) but surely we never did anything this hateful.

I could never do this - and so, we come to the climax of the piece, the genderfuck striptease. I'm.. so angry at it, even as I really enjoyed it. To see someone flicking back and forth between high-femme tassle-twirling body language, and super-macho pec-twitching body-language, was brilliant and liberating. The fact that I could never do either with my 36JJs feels like a side issue, but how could it not be central in my response? The ability to tell non-binary stories got tied right into the ability to use a naked body to perform "masculinity" and "femininity" in equal "convincingness" - for all the simplistic "sex-is-body, gender-is-mind" narrative that the show put forward, it all seemed to come back to the ambiguous body in the end.

And that just leaves me wanting to scream into the void, "fuck you fuck you fuck you".

Well what do you know? I think I finally found my dysphoria. Thanks, Gender Spanner, for causing me sufficient distress that I feel almost entitled to my transness.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/84171.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

EdFest Reviews, Friday

Change

This was a dubious "showcase" piece from a dubious school called "acting coach scotland". Mostly, it was forgettable group scenes with the vaguely linking theme of "women's suffrage", but one performer shone in a monologue about a trip to a "mother and toddler group" which touched on the co-option of working class women by activists. (Although, I wonder what actual working class feminists would make of the patronising "Forrest Gump" elements..)

Assassins

Sondheim I'd never seen before! There's only a finite number of times in one's life that one gets to see new Sondheim, and I'm glad that I spent one of those times with this company. This show is structured around everyone who ever assassinated a US president, with a few failed assassinations thrown in for good measure. An incredibly powerful and focused ensemble, I was particularly impressed by the fantasist Giteau and the witheringly intense Wilkes Booth. Whether it was the performances or the script, I don't know, but I was left with the nagging feeling that this show doesn't quite find women's inner lives as interesting or compelling as men's inner lives - but then again, so much of the show's theme of American-Dream-freedom-and-power-through-assassination is about masculinities, perhaps that's understandable.

Adventures in Menstruating

I don't know when "sex education cabaret" became it's own genre (maybe we get to take a little of the credit for that?) but I'm so glad it did. I'm also impressed by the effortlessness with which Chella Quint took us through an hour of menstruation-related material without once using "women" as shorthand for "people who menstruate". This was gentle, kind, and charming, and also we got to play Twister.

Company

Oh, poor Lincoln Company. They'd obviously choreographed their production for one of C's many small, minimalist, black-box theatres... the drafty church hall they ended up in was terrible for them, acoustically, dramatically, and just terrible for my back (I'd appreciate some warning if I'm going to be sitting on a rickety pew for 90 minutes!).

So while I appreciated their queered version of Company - a Sondheim musical I've never quite "got" before, always finding it borderline-misogynist - I worry that much of the audience didn't. Certainly, towards the end of the month, a lot of the cast looked exhausted - or at least were struggling to fill the cavernous space they'd been forced to perform in. It's hard for me to comment on the show musically, because the acoustics were so muddy that even if the performers had been excellent, I'm not sure I'd have noticed.

Things that WORKED:

  • Bobby becoming Bobbi changes the tone of the endless question, "why aren't you married yet?".

  • They recast one of Bobbi's partners as a man, for some gloriously effortless bi representation.

  • Half of Bobbi's friends being queer totally normalised queerness and left no space for tedious "what if Bobby is Secretly Gay And Therefore Incapable of Loving Connections" interpretations

  • I actually cried in "Being Alive" - normally I'm left a little cold, even Neil Patrick Harris couldn't quite make me feel it, but from Bobbi, I actually felt like I understood it.


I can't help but feel that, if this and Assassins had swapped venues, both would have done much better.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/83820.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

EdFest Reviews, Thursday

Children and Animals

Yeah, that link says nothing about what this show is, and that's really all we knew - it's by the same people as Callisto, in the slot right after, and featuring three of the same actors.

So no, I wasn't expecting to see a show that actually talked about and represented kink in a clear, joyful, complex-positive light. Not at lunchtime on a Thursday. Not in a show that had no actual sexual contact - I don't think there's even a kiss in it. Just an hour of energy, fear, roleplay, humour (so much humour, and kindness, even when people are being mean). The main characters were played by Cal and Tammy from Callisto (yes, my two favourites) and they are both just such phenomenal performers - maybe I could watch them read a phone book, I don't know. Looking forward to seeing Callisto again today!

A Luxury Cruise through the Horrifying Vacuum of Space

Another pair of performers I could watch doing pretty much anything, Sian & Zoe are alt comedians who did a lot with very little - minimalist props, a petite audience, a strange venue (I mean, it was a standard EdFringe room-conversion, but for some reason the windows were filled with mattresses wrapped in binbags and it was hotter than the surface of the sun. Despite these challenges, they brought joy and energy and the kind of surreal imagination and lateral thinking that reminds me of the Hitchikers Guide text adventure. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes sublime, always hilarious.

Mort, adapted by Tim Foster.

"So", I bounded up to these people as they flyered on the Royal Mile, "who's Tim Foster?"

A few words into their explanation, I cut them off: "so he's not Stephen Briggs, then? Good."

It was marvellous to see a Pratchett play with internally-coherent plot and good pacing. This was charming, had a Light-Entertainmenty feel, though I'm sticking to my interpretation that their Igneous Cutwell was not cross-casting, but was just a witch who'd realised she'd make more money if she set herself up as a wizard. And seeing fresh audiences laugh at jokes that have soothed me for twenty years - that will never get old.

Reefer Madness

This blew me out of my seat. I don't think this cast had a single weak link, I mean any one of them could have carried an entire musical; the intensity of all them working together, every performance a show-stealer, the tight band and the brilliant writing and the joyful chaotic choreography all pulled together perfectly to create the smoothest amateur musical I have ever seen. This would not have disappointed me on a West End stage (although then we'd probably lose the minimalist set and I'd probably not be able to sit in the front row and feel the actors' breath on my face). I liked this better than the film - and the film had Alan Cumming as the narrator. If I didn't already have evening tickets for the rest of my time here, I would DEFINITELY be seeing this again.

Trying to be fair-handed, can I think of any criticisms.. I wasn't always sure that the addition of throwaway pop culture references worked. They were funny - "you'll make Fred Astaire look like Boris Johnson!" but they did break the period immersion, and this is ultimately such a 1930s period piece that a sudden reference to Snapchat, while funny, felt to me like a reminder that this was an amateur show.

But that was the ONLY reminder. Reefer Madness is a whip-smart commentary on how White America reacts to things it doesn't understand; it's smart and sexy and fun and this production will stay with me for a long time.

Originally posted at http://sebastienne.dreamwidth.org/83663.html. comment count unavailablecomments.

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