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Silence is Violence

22 Nov

One of the things I do with my time is to work with prisoners on performing Shakespeare. In the project I direct, this leads up to the prisoners at Southern Queensland Correctional Centre performing a Shakespeare play for audiences of other inmates, families, staff and invited guests from the community. At the moment I’m travelling in the United States and Italy, exploring and working with a few similar projects. I spent a month in Michigan working with Shakespeare Behind Bars on both an adult men’s and a juveniles’ (mixed) project led by Curt Tofteland (his TEDx talk is here). After that, I took part in the first Shakespeare in Prisons Conference at the University of Notre Dame. For the last handful of days I’ve been in Kentucky with the original Shakespeare Behind Bars project that Tofteland founded, now run by Matt Wallace.

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As a result of this, I have made valuable connections with many other Prison Shakespeare practitioners, as this can be fairly isolated work. The QSE project is the only Prison Shakespeare project in Australia, and one of only two in the southern hemisphere (the other being by the Independent Theatre Movement of South Africa). I’ve been steeped in the practice and philosophies of this kind of work (and pretty much nothing else except beer and bourbon) for the last five weeks.

I’m not going to write about the details of the process night about the benefits and challenges. You can read all about that in the final chapter of Teaching Shakespeare Beyond the Centre. Instead I want to explore here why arts work of any kind is important for marginalised populations. This is basically the written version of a short talk I gave at Women in Transition‘s open mike poetry night,  ‘Silence is Violence‘ held at the Rudyard Kipling bar in Louisville on November 21, 2013.

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“Tough on Crime” works, just like the Sun goes around the Earth

22 Oct

Whenever I hear the phrase “name and shame” these days I get furious. Seriously punch-the-person-in-the-mouth furious. I have never punched anyone, yet, but the current Premier and Attorney General of Queensland are testing the limits of my pacifism. I guess that proves my point that getting tough on crime just produces more crime. Before you talk this kind of shit, spend some time studying the psychology of shame and/or the causes of crime.

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The logic behind boot camps for young offenders, naming and shaming kids as young as ten, and the whole ‘tough on crime’ movement is about as sound as the logic that says the sun goes around the earth. It’s a populist argument based on superficial and simplistic reasoning rather than careful and detailed observation. Such claims are invariably made by people who have never picked up a single research paper on what causes crime, particularly violent crime, and what sorts of measures have been shown to be effective. I don’t propose to go into that research here, it’s very easy to get a hold of (ask Uncle Google) if you’re interested. The sad thing is that most people, and especially the current Queensland government, don’t want to know – they want to promulgate simplistic and inaccurate ideas. What I want to do in this post is actually talk about some first-hand experiences of the changes the new government has made, and connect a few hitherto unconnected dots. But I will make the following quick summary of what the research tells us:

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Midshizzle – in rehearsal

18 Aug

This follows on from my last post – Midshizzle – the faerie connection.

Photos in this post were also all taken in rehearsal by Benjamin Prindable.

Our rehearsal process, as usual, began with a very close examination of the text through breath, body, and relationship called dropping in. Developed in the 1970s by Tina Packer, Kristin Linklater, and John Barton, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble uses this technique to connect the actor viscerally, emotionally, and intellectually to the word, in relationship with their scene partners. The boundary between actor and character is set aside, and the actor is asked to observe how they respond to the words in the presence of the other actor(s).

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Immediately many things fell into place. Because the human world is suffering, as Titania describes, Athenian society is harsh. This is no classical democracy, but rather a rough order forged through warfare. Like Macbeth’s Scotland, leadership passes not necessarily by blood, but to the warlord most capable of forging a sort of peace. We got the whiff of a society in decline – many of the formerly great building falling to ruin, as the land is less able than before to support great city-states. This is no classical Athens – Lysander tells us that a mere seven leagues (less than forty kilometres) outside the city walls, Athenian law no longer holds sway. The play begins with Theseus taking Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, as a war bride – “I wooed thee with my sword.” That is not to say that a real affection, admiration and love does not grow. But the play begins with the defeat of the Amazons by the Athenians. It does not tell us why they were at war, but it fits with the idea of changes in the natural environment forcing people to move to different areas, resulting in battles over land. The Athenian warlord Theseus has either conquered Amazon lands or fended off an Amazon incursion.

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Midshizzle – the faerie connection

15 Aug

This follows on from my last post – Midshizzle – initial explorations

Photos in this post were also all taken in rehearsal by Benjamin Prindable.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the answers to my disquiet about Midsummer Night’s Dream were in the text all along. Titania makes it very clear to us how the state of the fairy world impacts the human:

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,


As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea

Contagious fogs; which falling in the land


Have every pelting river made so proud


That they have overborne their continents:


The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,

The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn

Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;


The fold stands empty in the drowned field,


And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;


The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud,


And the quaint mazes in the wanton green

For lack of tread are undistinguishable:


The human mortals want their winter here;


No night is now with hymn or carol blest:

Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,

Pale in her anger, washes all the air,


That rheumatic diseases do abound:


And thorough this distemperature we see


The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts


Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,


And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown


An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds


Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,

The childing autumn, angry winter, change


Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,


By their increase, now knows not which is which:

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Midshizzle – initial explorations

13 Aug

(The photos in this post were all taken in rehearsal by Benjamin Prindable.)

All of a sudden, after a valiant start, it’s been months since I last blogged. Last week I realised that the point where I stopped posting coincided exactly with when I started directing the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble‘s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It seems that particular project needed the bulk of my creative attention for a while, especially as I have also been working the Ensemble’s 2013 Shakespeare Prison Project which will produce The Comedy of Errors in South Queensland Correctional Centre in September.

So I thought I should do the thing with the two birds and the stone, and blog about the process of directing Midsummer, and perhaps in a separate post about the Prison Project too. One thing at a time.

Our exploration of Midsummer, or Midshizzle as we affectionately know it, began with the Ensemble plying me with beer and convincing me to direct the play. They made some good points, we had an ideal cast within the ranks of the Ensemble – the production features all of the core members of the ensemble and most of this year’s apprentices, with the addition of beloved local actor Louise Brehmer in her third QSE production. Each actor has made their roles very much their own.

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An ‘Industry’ by Any Other Name (would still smell).

17 Mar

The current word of choice among those making theatre, for the theatre workplace, is definitely industry. It has become the default – so widely accepted that young students and not-so-young practitioners just refer to it as ‘the industry,’ dropping any reference to theatre, acting or even performance. In this post, I want to ask what unspoken assumptions go with that word, industry, and what the alternatives might imply.

I’ll admit it up front, I’ve never been a fan of the term industry since the Queensland University of Technology dropped the term art(s) in exchange for Creative Industries. Ultimately, you can of course call it what you want, but I think it’s prudent to be aware that what you call it affects how you perceive it, and how others perceive it, and legitimises a particular view of how theatre does and ought to work.

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Shakespeare invented English

2 Mar

Well, obviously not, but it’s no more outrageous than the claims made, some in books by reputable publishers, that Shakespeare invented some thousands of words. Shakespeare may have invented some words, maybe even a few hundred, or he may have invented no words at all. The truth is we’ll never know. So what’s the source of these claims? Essentially it’s a confusion between written and spoken language, the assumption of the primacy of the written word, failing to understand that Shakespeare’s texts are now heavily edited, and a lack of understanding of how language changes and is documented.

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