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5 Things You May Not Know About The Luddites

Luddites. Be honest. What comes to mind when you read that word? Backwards, parochial sillies from the Days of Yore who smashed up machinery because they couldn’t handle the inevitable march of progress? Or maybe you think of the modern application of the term, the sort of faux-lo-fi hippies who complain “Gosh, GPS means no-one reads maps any more” (Google Maps is a map, Phillip, it’s in the name), or “I don’t have a TV, too many screens are bad for you” (What’s that, Phillip, a laptop? On which you are watching Netflix? YOU, SIR, HAVE A TV). Well stand back, internet, for I’ve been making a live show about the Luddite Rebellion, and am here to take a sledgehammer of research to the knitting machinery of your preconceptions.

1) They liked, and used, technology.

The Luddites were predominately workers in the textile industry, specifically stocking makers who made goods on a device called a stocking frame. This machine was invented in the mid-1600s and was the same kind of machine as the ones they were destroying over the course of the Luddite Rebellion (around 1811-1817). So what the hell was all this punk-ass smashing of shit about? Well, as Eric Hobsbawm writes, the destruction of machinery actually happened a long time after, and before, the Luddite Rebellion:

“the Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire Luddites were using attacks upon machinery, whether new or old, as a means of coercing their employers into granting them concessions with regard to wages and other matters. This sort of wrecking was a traditional and established part of industrial conflict in the period of the domestic and manufacturing system, and the early stages of factory and mine. It was directed not only against machines, but also against raw material. finished goods and even the private property of employers, depending on what sort of damage these were most sensitive to.”

The Luddites were specifically targeting the assets of major industrialists, whatever they were. More Eric:

“The Lancashire machine-wreckers…distinguished clearly between spinning-jennies of twenty-four spindles or less, which they spared, and larger ones, suitable only for use in factories, which they destroyed.”

Their objection wasn’t to machines, but their use for mass production of shoddy goods, with the help of cheap labour, with the surplus value being hived off to a tiny business elite. Good thing that doesn’t happen any more, EH FOLKS?

2) They had a pretty great sense of humour (and branding)

The Luddites had a major advantage in that their leader, referred to as “General Ludd” or “King Ludd” was a fictional character, and thus he could never be captured or killed by the establishment. This didn’t stop numerous government agents and officials being completely convinced he was real, and investing phenomenal effort and energy in seeking his capture. The Luddites would stoke this paranoia as much as possible, writing letters to the authorities signed “Ned Ludd’s Office, Sherwood Forest”. The local militiamen, of which 12,000 were deployed at the peak of the rebellion, started having full-on hallucinations of his appearance. According to one account “a militiaman reported spotting the dreaded general with ‘a pike in his hand, like a serjeant’s halbert,’ and a face that was a ghostly unnatural white.” The Luddites also knew how to get the right image for the Instagram of the 1810s (which was… just looking at things), wearing black handkerchiefs over their faces like your favourite screamo-rappers and giant, matching sledgehammers named “Great Enoch” after the blacksmith who made them.

3) They liked to drag it up every once in a while

One raid in Stockport was led by two men in women’s clothing claiming to be “Ned Ludd’s Wives”. Nobody really knows why or what it meant. I just love sharing this fact.

4) Their cause was backed by Lord Byron

The bisexual, drug addled, bear-owning legend himself took part in a debate in the House of Lords over a bill to regulate the stocking trade so that shoddy goods wouldn’t flood the market place. Although he condemned the violence of the Luddites, he went on to a sweeping and impassioned condemnation of the economic and political conditions in the North of England that had caused it, claiming it to be worse than any territory under the Ottoman Empire that he’d recently visited. As he later described it: “I spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence, abused everything and everybody, put the Lord Chancellor very much out of humour, and if I may believe what I hear, have not lost any character in the experiment”. Just another day at the office for the B-man.

5) Their rebellion got quite close to civil war.

As the first restrictions on gun ownership and usage didn’t enter the British law books until the following decade, everyone and their mums were packing heat in the 1810s. The Luddites weren’t afraid to use them either: raids where merchants refused to give up their machines often broke out into gun fights. Over time, as soldiers flooded into the North, what started as (an admittedly extreme form of) collective workplace bargaining through direct action took on more and more of the shape of open revolt.  Discontent hit a high-water mark in the first half of 1812, when the prime minister was assassinated, two pitched battles happened near mills in Lancashire, and riots in big cities became almost weekly occurrences. The ensuing government crackdown was as reasonable as you’d expect from Lord Liverpool, the super chill guy who once said “France is our natural enemy ; she is more so as a republic than as a monarchy”. As well as making the breaking of stocking frames a capital offence (better not accidentally knock something over at work guys), Liverpool’s government passed the Six Acts, which removed the right to bail for people under arrest, outlawed public meetings of more than 50 people, banned anti-government writings and heavily taxed newspapers. The Six Acts were not fully repealed until 2008. So in a very real way, we still live in a world the Luddites created. Fortunately, though, we’ve resolved all the issues about automation, capitalism and state power combining to create poverty and chaos, so THAT’S ALL FINE.

Jack’s aforementioned live show opens at Exeter Phoenix on the 26th & 27th of September and the Civic, Barnsley on the 29th  of September. He will not be breaking any theatre lighting or sound equipment. Not deliberately, at least.

 

 

 

 

Job Opportunity: Technical Stage Manager, Jeremiah

Critically acclaimed spoken word artist and theatre maker Jack Dean is looking for an experienced technical stage manager to support his new production ‘Jeremiah’, which will premiere at Exeter Phoenix in Autumn 2018.

 

ABOUT JACK DEAN

Jack Dean is an Exeter-based writer, performer and theatre maker who has carried his love of weird and wonderful arrangements of words to many places, from the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Latitude Festival and the South Bank Centre. Previous productions include ‘Grandad and the Machine’, ‘Horace and the Yeti’, and ‘Nuketown’ which is currently touring across the UK.

‘Artists like rap storyteller Jack Dean make us excited about what they might do next’ // GUARDIAN

‘Incredibly innovative… Writer Jack Dean enthrals his audienc’ // REVIEWS HUB

‘Impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills…  undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him’ // EXEUNT

ABOUT JEREMIAH

Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Featuring a live band of three musicians and an original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much misunderstood Luddite rebellion – a movement that spanned the whole North of England, had more British soldiers fighting it than Napoleon, and made the destruction of machinery a capital offence. The story will be told through the lens of the life of Brandreth, the instigator of the Luddites’ final gambit, the Pentrich Rising, and the last man to be beheaded in the history of Britain, weaving alongside it the parallel tale of William J. Oliver, the government spy that betrayed him.

Jeremiah has already undergone a period of research and development supported by Unlimited, who support ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.

For more information please visit https://www.jackdean.co.uk/shows/current-shows/jeremiah/

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR

We are looking for a stage manager with experience of touring to oversee all technical aspects of the production including lighting, sound and projection. Therefore, the role would suit someone with a wide range of technical skills. Some operation may be required.

ESSENTIAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Experience of production relights and programming lighting desks.
  • Proven ability to program and operate Qlab 3/4
  • Rigging Lighting and Sound equipment experience
  • Ability to interpret ground plans and technical specifications and adapt production parameters accordingly to ensure a high standard of technical presentation.
  • Experience of self-cueing performances.
  • Previous experience of studio scale touring.
  • Experience of liaising with venues in regard of technical requirements and F.O.H procedures.

 

DESIRABLE SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Experience of working with musicians and live music
  • Experience of working with projections
  • Full driving licence

TIMEFRAME

09 July:  Deadline for applications

17 July:  Interviews in Exeter

Monday – Friday weeks of 10th & 17th Sept: Rehearsals at the Barn, Exeter

23rd September: Pre-rig & setup day at Exeter Phoenix

25th September: Technical Rehearsal at Exeter Phoenix

26th September: Technical Rehearsal and 1st performance at Exeter Phoenix

27th September: 2nd Performance at Exeter Phoenix

28th September: Travel day

29th September: Performance at Barnsley Civic

 

FEE £1680 (16 days at company rate of £105 per day), plus travel and accommodation.

HOW TO APPLY:

Please send an application to jackdean1989@gmail.com, consisting of the following:

  • C.V. detailing relevant experience
  • A covering letter that outlines how you fulfil the skills and how you would approach the project.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to a face to face interview on 17 July. Please note that you must be able to attend this interview to qualify.

Job Opportunity: Lighting Designer, Jeremiah

Critically acclaimed spoken word artist and theatre maker Jack Dean is looking for an experienced lighting designer to support his new production ‘Jeremiah’, which will premiere at Exeter Phoenix in Autumn 2018.

ABOUT JACK DEAN

Jack Dean is an Exeter-based writer, performer and theatre maker who has carried his love of weird and wonderful arrangements of words to many places, from the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Latitude Festival and the South Bank Centre. Previous productions include ‘Grandad and the Machine’, ‘Horace and the Yeti’, and ‘Nuketown’ which is currently touring across the UK.

‘Artists like rap storyteller Jack Dean make us excited about what they might do next’ // GUARDIAN

‘Incredibly innovative… Writer Jack Dean enthrals his audienc’ // REVIEWS HUB

‘Impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills…  undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him’ // EXEUNT

ABOUT JEREMIAH

Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Featuring a live band of three musicians and an original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much misunderstood Luddite rebellion – a movement that spanned the whole North of England, had more British soldiers fighting it than Napoleon, and made the destruction of machinery a capital offence. The story will be told through the lens of the life of Brandreth, the instigator of the Luddites’ final gambit, the Pentrich Rising, and the last man to be beheaded in the history of Britain, weaving alongside it the parallel tale of William J. Oliver, the government spy that betrayed him.

Jeremiah has already undergone a period of research and development supported by Unlimited, who support ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.

For more information please visit https://www.jackdean.co.uk/shows/current-shows/jeremiah/

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR

We are looking for a Lighting Designer with experience of creating tourable and artistically ambitious designs. Experience of designing for studio scale touring productions is a must. Please note that we are also recruiting for a Creative Captioning / AV Specialist (job desc here) and would welcome combined applications for both roles from the same candidate.

 

TIMEFRAME

09 July:  Deadline for applications

18 July:  Interviews in Exeter

23 July:  Start of work

27th August: Delivery of design.

Monday – Friday weeks of 27th August, 3rd, 10th & 17th Sept: Rehearsals at the Barn, Exeter (Designer should be available for tweaks to design during this period)

23rd September: Pre-rig & setup day at Exeter Phoenix

25th September: Technical Rehearsal at Exeter Phoenix

26th September: Technical Rehearsal and 1st performance at Exeter Phoenix

27th September: 2nd Performance at Exeter Phoenix

 

FEE £1500 flat fee (or £4000 if combined with AV role), plus travel and accommodation.

HOW TO APPLY:

Please send an application to jackdean1989@gmail.com, consisting of the following:

  • C.V. detailing relevant experience
  • Examples of work such as video, photos or an online portfolio.

Job Opportunity: AV & Creative Captioning Designer, Jeremiah

Critically acclaimed spoken word artist and theatre maker Jack Dean is looking for an AV specialise with experience of creative captioning to support his new production ‘Jeremiah’, which will premiere at Exeter Phoenix in Autumn 2018.

 

ABOUT JACK DEAN

Jack Dean is an Exeter-based writer, performer and theatre maker who has carried his love of weird and wonderful arrangements of words to many places, from the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Latitude Festival and the South Bank Centre. Previous productions include ‘Grandad and the Machine’, ‘Horace and the Yeti’, and ‘Nuketown’ which is currently touring across the UK.

‘Artists like rap storyteller Jack Dean make us excited about what they might do next’ // GUARDIAN

‘Incredibly innovative… Writer Jack Dean enthrals his audienc’ // REVIEWS HUB

‘Impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills…  undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him’ // EXEUNT

ABOUT JEREMIAH

Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Featuring a live band of three musicians and an original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much misunderstood Luddite rebellion – a movement that spanned the whole North of England, had more British soldiers fighting it than Napoleon, and made the destruction of machinery a capital offence. The story will be told through the lens of the life of Brandreth, the instigator of the Luddites’ final gambit, the Pentrich Rising, and the last man to be beheaded in the history of Britain, weaving alongside it the parallel tale of William J. Oliver, the government spy that betrayed him.

Jeremiah has already undergone a period of research and development supported by Unlimited, who support ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.

For more information please visit https://www.jackdean.co.uk/shows/current-shows/jeremiah/

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR

We are looking for a AV Specialist with experience of creative captioning. Experience of designing for studio scale touring productions is a must. Please note that we are also recruiting for a Lighting Designer (job desc here) and would welcome combined applications for both roles from the same candidate.

 

TIMEFRAME

09 July:  Deadline for applications

18 July:  Interviews in Exeter

23 July: Start of work

27th August: Delivery of design.

Monday – Friday weeks of 27th August, 3rd, 10th & 17th Sept: Rehearsals at the Barn, Exeter (Designer should be available for tweaks to design during this period)

23rd September: Pre-rig & setup day at Exeter Phoenix

25th September: Technical Rehearsal at Exeter Phoenix

26th September: Technical Rehearsal and 1st performance at Exeter Phoenix

27th September: 2nd Performance at Exeter Phoenix

 

FEE £2500 flat fee (or £4000 if combined with Lighting Designer role), plus travel and accommodation.

HOW TO APPLY:

Please send an application to jackdean1989@gmail.com, consisting of the following:

  • C.V. detailing relevant experience
  • Examples of work such as video, photos or an online portfolio.

Job Opportunity: Cellist, Jeremiah

Critically acclaimed spoken word artist and theatre maker Jack Dean is looking for a cellist to perform in his new production ‘Jeremiah’, which will premiere at Exeter Phoenix in Autumn 2018.

 

ABOUT JACK DEAN

Jack Dean is an Exeter-based writer, performer and theatre maker who has carried his love of weird and wonderful arrangements of words to many places, from the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Latitude Festival and the South Bank Centre. Previous productions include ‘Grandad and the Machine’, ‘Horace and the Yeti’, and ‘Nuketown’ which is currently touring across the UK.

‘Artists like rap storyteller Jack Dean make us excited about what they might do next’ // GUARDIAN

‘Incredibly innovative… Writer Jack Dean enthrals his audienc’ // REVIEWS HUB

‘Impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills…  undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him’ // EXEUNT

ABOUT JEREMIAH

Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Featuring a live band of three musicians and an original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much misunderstood Luddite rebellion – a movement that spanned the whole North of England, had more British soldiers fighting it than Napoleon, and made the destruction of machinery a capital offence. The story will be told through the lens of the life of Brandreth, the instigator of the Luddites’ final gambit, the Pentrich Rising, and the last man to be beheaded in the history of Britain, weaving alongside it the parallel tale of William J. Oliver, the government spy that betrayed him.

Jeremiah has already undergone a period of research and development supported by Unlimited, who support ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.

For more information please visit https://www.jackdean.co.uk/shows/current-shows/jeremiah/

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR

 

ESSENTIAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Strong track record of live performance
  • Experience of working in a band or ensemble to create music collaboratively.
  • Able to transport their instrument/s to and from the rehearsal and performance venues.
  • Basic sight-reading ability 

DESIRABLE SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Proficient with other instruments
  • Some singing experience
  • Experience of working with MainStage 3 or other live looping equipment

 

TIMEFRAME

09 July:  Deadline for applications

16 July:  Auditions at the Barn, Exeter

Monday – Friday weeks of 27th August, 3rd, 10th & 17th Sept: Rehearsals at the Barn, Exeter

25th September: Technical Rehearsal at Exeter Phoenix

26th September: Technical Rehearsal and 1st performance at Exeter Phoenix

27th September: 2nd Performance at Exeter Phoenix

28th September: Travel day

29th September: Performance at Barnsley Civic

 

FEE £2625 (based on 25 days at £105 per day), plus travel and accommodation.

HOW TO APPLY:

Please send an application to jackdean1989@gmail.com, consisting of the following:

  • C.V. detailing relevant experience
  • Examples of work such as video or audio recordings.

Live auditions will be held at The Barn in Exeter. You must be able to attend the audition in order for your application to be considered.

Job Opportunity: Keyboard Player, Jeremiah

Critically acclaimed spoken word artist and theatre maker Jack Dean is looking for a keyboard player to perform in his new production ‘Jeremiah’, which will premiere at Exeter Phoenix in Autumn 2018.

 

ABOUT JACK DEAN

Jack Dean is an Exeter-based writer, performer and theatre maker who has carried his love of weird and wonderful arrangements of words to many places, from the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Latitude Festival and the South Bank Centre. Previous productions include ‘Grandad and the Machine’, ‘Horace and the Yeti’, and ‘Nuketown’ which is currently touring across the UK.

‘Artists like rap storyteller Jack Dean make us excited about what they might do next’ // GUARDIAN

‘Incredibly innovative… Writer Jack Dean enthrals his audienc’ // REVIEWS HUB

‘Impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills…  undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him’ // EXEUNT

ABOUT JEREMIAH

Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Featuring a live band of three musicians and an original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much misunderstood Luddite rebellion – a movement that spanned the whole North of England, had more British soldiers fighting it than Napoleon, and made the destruction of machinery a capital offence. The story will be told through the lens of the life of Brandreth, the instigator of the Luddites’ final gambit, the Pentrich Rising, and the last man to be beheaded in the history of Britain, weaving alongside it the parallel tale of William J. Oliver, the government spy that betrayed him.

Jeremiah has already undergone a period of research and development supported by Unlimited, who support ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.

For more information please visit https://www.jackdean.co.uk/shows/current-shows/jeremiah/

WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR

 

ESSENTIAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Strong track record of live performance
  • Experience of working in a band or ensemble to create music collaboratively.
  • Able to transport their instrument/s to and from the rehearsal and performance venues.
  • Basic sight-reading ability 

DESIRABLE SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Proficient with other instruments
  • Some singing experience
  • Experience of working with MainStage 3 or other live looping equipment

 

TIMEFRAME

09 July:  Deadline for applications

16 July:  Auditions at the Barn, Exeter

Monday – Friday weeks of 27th August, 3rd, 10th & 17th Sept: Rehearsals at the Barn, Exeter

25th September: Technical Rehearsal at Exeter Phoenix

26th September: Technical Rehearsal and 1st performance at Exeter Phoenix

27th September: 2nd Performance at Exeter Phoenix

28th September: Travel day

29th September: Performance at Barnsley Civic

 

FEE £2625 (based on 25 days at £105 per day), plus travel and accommodation.

HOW TO APPLY:

 

Please send an application to jackdean1989@gmail.com, consisting of the following:

  • C.V. detailing relevant experience
  • Examples of work such as video or audio recordings.

Live auditions will be held at The Barn in Exeter. You must be able to attend the audition in order for your application to be considered.

Job Opportunity: Director, Jeremiah

Critically acclaimed spoken word artist and theatre maker Jack Dean is looking for an experienced theatre director to support his new production ‘Jeremiah’, which will premiere at Exeter Phoenix in Autumn 2018.

ABOUT JACK DEAN

Jack Dean is an Exeter-based writer, performer and theatre maker who has carried his love of weird and wonderful arrangements of words to many places, from the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Latitude Festival and the South Bank Centre. Previous productions include ‘Grandad and the Machine’, ‘Horace and the Yeti’, and ‘Nuketown’ which is currently touring across the UK.

‘Artists like rap storyteller Jack Dean make us excited about what they might do next’ // GUARDIAN

‘Incredibly innovative… Writer Jack Dean enthrals his audienc’ // REVIEWS HUB

‘Impressive poetic, musical and narrative skills…  undoubtedly a performer with an exciting career ahead of him’ // EXEUNT

 

ABOUT JEREMIAH

Jeremiah is a loud, rambunctious new show with live music by rap storyteller Jack Dean. Featuring a live band of three musicians and an original score, it will tell the incredible true story of the much misunderstood Luddite rebellion – a movement that spanned the whole North of England, had more British soldiers fighting it than Napoleon, and made the destruction of machinery a capital offence. The story will be told through the lens of the life of Brandreth, the instigator of the Luddites’ final gambit, the Pentrich Rising, and the last man to be beheaded in the history of Britain, weaving alongside it the parallel tale of William J. Oliver, the government spy that betrayed him.

Jeremiah has already undergone a period of research and development supported by Unlimited, who support ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.

For more information please visit https://www.jackdean.co.uk/shows/current-shows/jeremiah/

 

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR

We are looking for an experienced theatre director to help refine the material created during the research and development phase and lead the rehearsal process in the run up to the show’s premiere, facilitating lead artist Jack Dean to achieve his artistic vision.

 

ESSENTIAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Experience of creating high quality studio scale theatre
  • An artist-centred and faciliatory approach to directing work
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • A calm demeanour the ability to create a supportive work environment
  • Strong time-management skills
  • Good problem-solving abilities.

 

DESIRABLE SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES

  • Experience of working with musicians
  • Experience of directing spoken word or hip hop theatre

 

TIMEFRAME

25 June:  Deadline for applications

2 July:  Interviews

16 July: Attending musician auditions

Monday – Friday weeks of 27th August, 3rd, 10th & 17th Sept: Rehearsals at the Barn, Exeter –

25th September: Technical Rehearsal at Exeter Phoenix

26th September: Technical Rehearsal and 1st performance at Exeter Phoenix

27th September: 2nd Performance at Exeter Phoenix 

FEE

£2940 (5 days prep, 21 days rehearsals and 2 days noting performances at company rate of £105 per day), plus travel and accommodation.

HOW TO APPLY:

Please send an application to jackdean1989@gmail.com , consisting of the following:

  • C.V. detailing relevant experience
  • Examples of relevant work (links, images, film etc.)
  • A covering letter that outlines how you fulfil the skills and how you would approach the project.

 

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to a face to face interview on 2 July. Please note that you must be able to attend this interview to qualify.

Here’s What You Could’ve Won #3: An Airship Fleet

[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]

Guys. Bear with me.

In 1930, the last British airship to be made in the 20th century, the R101, set off into the skies over Cardington, Bedfordshire. It really was the Titanic of the Air: a bevy of high-profile guests were on board, including the Air Minister Lord Thompson. There was a full dining car painted with a faux marble effect, a kitchen, and a promenade section with huge glass panes. It was 200 metres long, an unsinkable ship, designed to set a new passenger line between England, Egypt and India.

Unfortunately, the R101 met a similarly Titanic-esque fate, crashing in an unexpected storm over France, killing 48 of the 54 people on board.  The British government almost immediately abandoned its airship programme, followed shortly after by nations the world over.

Now. Am I saying we should send government ministers out to die in flimsy death-balloons? No. Not in this blog anyway. Like I said, hear me out.

80 years on from the end of the era of the airship, new ones are emerging. Companies are attracted to the same virtues that once drew governments to lighter-than-air travel: the ability for vertical take-off and landing to obviate the need for landing strips, their potential for greater energy efficiency, and their increasing possibility for greater speeds. Two years ago, the Airlander 10 became the first airship to be inflated at Cardington for more than three quarters of a century, with a top speed of 100mph and the ability to carry thirteen tons of cargo. That ship was made with an old airship model the US had got bored of and sold them for cheap, and backed by Kickstarter, its most high-profile donor being Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. Imagine what could be achieved with investment from more than just legendary metal singers and the kind of people who will spend $50,000 backing potato salad.

The Airlander 10 cost £25 million. Assuming some efficiencies from mass production are counterbalanced by the costs of R&D and some bigger ships,  our £205 billion gets us a fleet of 8,200 ships. At home, you could hop on one from your local station at any city in the country, and tear through sky with electric engines on a beeline to your destination, soaring above our decrepit rail network, and our choked-up roads, held in serene suspension over the moors and beaches. Abroad, China’s terrifying New Silk Road project would be met by a smaller, quirkier English version, with driverless ships taking raw materials, machinery or even whole buildings and dropping them into parts of the developing world hampered by poor road access. Even if safety wasn’t greatly improved you’d still be more likely to die in a car accident. And they’re so pretty. Wouldn’t it be worth the risk?

The Imperial Airship programme behind the R101, for all its flawed thinking and the ethical vortex of the Empire behind it, signified a people that believed in a future. A future that we would be a major part, perhaps the leaders of. That attitude seems vastly absent from people across the political spectrum. We used to think we were inches away from colonizing mars, flying cars and 1-hour work days. Now there are only competing images of decline and dystopia. This blog miniseries has been me trying to recapture some of that 20th century optimism. And maybe giant balloons is a weird way to start. And no, it’s probably not the best use of £205 billion of public money. But its still better than nuclear bloody submarines. And, to me at least, its an interesting comparison of like for like. Of course if that money appeared today it should go on housing, healthcare and education. But if it were ringfenced for quixotic, unwieldy future tech, wouldn’t a Skytanic or two be so much more fun? Or, as the man Bruce Bruce himself put it: “I told my wife, I’m about to put £100k into a big bag of helium. It may go up in smoke. She said, people have to dream, and unless you can dream something it’s never going to happen.”.

 

On Theatre, Socialism and Projectile Vomiting (Meet The Humans #5, feat. Christina Poulton)

 [Part of Meet The Humans, a series of blogs investigating how artists and programmers in the theatre industry can talk to each other without anyone screaming or crying. Supported by Unlimited. Christina’s views are her own, and not necessarily those of Strike A Light]

1

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that every-one does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system. Yet the fact that we have got to face is that Socialism is not establishing itself. Instead of going forward, the cause of Socialism is visibly going back.”

– George Orwell, The Road To Wigan Pier.

 

2

 

Back in February, the night before the last date of a tour of community venues in North Kirklees, I fell violently ill. I vomited nine times in the night, first food, then bile, then blood. I couldn’t even keep water down. I called 111, crawled into an overnight care centre at 5am, was given anti-emmetics and sent on to A&E. When I got there, I was told the wait time was approximately seven hours. My performance was in seven hours. So I had a choice: use the last 1% of my phone’s battery life to call up the venue and team to cancel, or go back to my digs, try and bag a quick nap and head out for the getin. I chose the latter. I’d like to say that chief among my motivations were lofty concerns, like high professional standards that condemn cancellation on principle, a will not to let the creative team down, a concern for the audiences that were banking on me to provide them with art and entertainment. In reality, my main concern was that cancellation would make the programmers of the tour not want to book me again. And this was a REALLY good gig.

Given its sudden onset, I was convinced that I had food poisoning, and thus wasn’t infectious. I was wrong. Both of the other artists on the tour later told me they caught whatever gastrointestinal bug I had the next day. Given the 100% infection rate among my team, how many of the 50 or so audience members gathered caught it? How many days of productivity were lost, how many others infected, how many more hours added to A&E wait times? What if I’d popped during the show? What if the fatigue made me crash my car on the way back to my digs? You’d think I’d be the only person in my peer group of theatre makers with a did-a-show-between-bouts-of-projectile-vomiting story. But I’m not. By any logical appraisal, both me and this unnamed peer should’ve called to cancel. Why didn’t we?

 

3

 

The world is in crisis. The postwar liberal-capitalist orthodoxy, for all its staying power, is falling slowly apart, and there is no clear contender for its replacement. Inequality is soaring with the sea levels. The ever-present threat of nuclear apocalypse stalks us as brittle, toxic apes head up the global superpowers. At home, the NHS flails and suffocates with underfunding, millions of children live in poverty, the streets of London are flooded with stabbings. In my own hometown, and on the culture front, a venue that was the heart of the indie theatre world for seven years has closed for ever. We are on a raft floating through space. Who gives a flying fuck if some small-scale theatre makers don’t feel they’re getting their emails answered enough?

4

 

Last week I was heading through the Gloucester docks at night to catch the last train home. I’d just been talking with Christina Poulton from Strike A Light (info on them is in this document. Info on everyone in this blog series is in it in fact. I probably should’ve packed it in the day I found out about it. But here I am.). I was walking past the towering warehouses that 150 years ago took in corn from the banks of the Danube, timber from the Baltic, and shipped out good old English salt to ports around the world. Now it’s mostly chain restaurants. I was feeling sad. Christina had taken an hour out of an incredibly hectic festival schedule to talk with me, and our conversation was illuminating, and then they comped me for an excellent show, but I still felt melancholic. With these blogs I’ve tried to stimulate a debate with the programmers I’ve talked to, along the lines of “small-scale touring is fucked, what are we going to do about it?”. Given that I kind of sprung this argument on the unsuspecting interviewees, their responses were admirably thoughtful, and largely in agreement that there was a problem. As someone who spends about half her week when she’s not with Strike A Light working as an independent producer, Christina backs up my diagnosis: “runs are getting shorter and shorter, which means the opportunity to engage audiences in unusual work is being reduced…you might be one of only two or three small-scale shows an arts centre books in an entire season”. But her suggestions for treatment are where we enter an interesting disagreement.

“We live in an extremely corporate world, and the arts industry in the UK is largely sheltered from that”. She argues that, if anything, people in this industry don’t think enough in business terms. There is an unavoidable element of salesmanship in pitching a show, and if artists aren’t clear and targeted, giving the venues some sense of how they can sell their show to the public, the level of response they get is likely to suffer. “If I set up a florist tomorrow and no-one bought my flowers, I would close the shop and be sad, but I wouldn’t be out saying ‘you SHOULD be buying my flowers’”. When the above document full of venue info came out, Christina’s inbox was flooded with emails asking her to book shows. Clearly many artists had trawled the document for email addresses, copied them out and fired off speculative tour packs, without doing any research on what Strike A Light was about or whether their show would fit with their programme. She replied to each of them, even though this led to her staying late in the office several nights. The word “entitled” came up, not for the first time in my conversations with venues. Artists expect venues to fit their world around them, rather than the public they are supposed to be serving. And then she says something that, through no fault of her own, hits me right in the neuroses – “I don’t know how many genuinely artistically brilliant artists there are out there that don’t get programmed.” There’s so much I wanted to discuss about this statement with her. But she needed to help with front of house. And then, understandably, as it was near the end of the festival, to go home and sleep.

 

5

 

Dinner table conversation at my parents’ house last week:

 

MUM: So you’re rehearsing the new show for four weeks?

 

ME: Yep, and working with maybe eight other people.

 

MUM: And you’re only doing three performances?

 

ME: Yeah. Maybe four.

 

MUM: That seems bit of a waste.

 

ME: It is. There might be more next year, but who knows?

 

MUM: Your job is a mystery to me, Jack.

 

ME: Yeah, me too.

 

6

 

I’m white. I’m male. I’m middle class. I’m highly educated. I have a disability and some sporadic mental health issues, but neither impair my day-to-day functioning in any major way. I’ve been lucky enough to be a theatre maker full time for four years now. I have close to every possible conceivable advantage that could be handed to someone. Am I just bitching? Do I just have inadequate product and/or sales technique? Do I just suck? Has no-one had the confidence to tell me that yet? Am I doing that thing that socialists always get accused of, pinning their personal inadequacies on an imagined social problem? A sort of “I can’t get laid because of the Patriarchy” whiny passive-aggression? Should I quit? Maybe it’s not just when I have nasty viruses that me doing shows is a net loss to society. Maybe I’m projectile vomiting my self-indulgence on every stage I’m on, taking up funding, space and audience attention that could be better directed somewhere else.

 

7

 

When I get on the train at Gloucester station, there’s an email from Christina. Instead of eating or sleeping like she should be, she’s sent a long email full of ideas on how to improve the theatre touring world. She’s clearly a lovely person. Everyone I’ve met making this blog is a lovely person. That’s why talking about this shitty system is so hard.

 

8

 

Here’s what I believe:

 

– Every time someone comes to see a piece of theatre, it is an exercise in trust. It might be their first theatre show altogether, or their first time seeing something devised, their first time in a studio. If it isn’t, they may yet still be in a place where they can get put off these things for life. They may have invested a proportionally large amount of their income in the ticket, travelled a long way, navigated difficult parking or public transit. Theatre is a live medium, so on some level they have invested in the show without really knowing what it is going to be like.

 

– Venues (I include producing organisations in this) are the guardians of this trust. For better or worse, they are the ones in our system who have the resources and skills to reach out to audiences, and when they do, it has to be with something that they find trustworthy.

 

– As it stands, with some small exceptions, there is no organised system for theatre programming that is open to all. Instead there is an informal, network-based market, with no standardised rules. The problem is, artists are generally crap salesmen. Or, at least, quality of salesmanship and networking ability has no guaranteed correlation to quality of art. It also creates an inherent incumbency bias that is potentially disastrous for diversity: if white, middle class people book someone they know, chances are it’s going to be another middle class white person. Venues are completely within their rights to not programme something they haven’t themselves seen live. But the only place they gather in any significant numbers to do this is in the nightmarish overcrowded artistic Hades that is the Edinburgh Fringe, where access to this market might cost you £10,000 a pop. Artists unwilling to do that are likely to barrage venues with waffly tour packs, grainy videos, invites to shows miles away from them and earnestly irritating follow-ups (“just checking you got this?”). Venues rarely have the spare capacity to filter through this stuff, or to go and see things outside of the Fringe. This means either working overtime like Christina does or just ignoring it. In the face of enough of the latter you’d think artists would change tack. But artists are desperate. Getting or not getting a gig can swing a tour plan, which can swing a funding application, which can decide whether or not they are employed for several months. We don’t even cancel when we’re walking chunder-vesuviuses for fear of losing a future gig. We’re not going to stop sending unsolicited emails. The ensuing breakdown in communication leads to confusion, hostility, and cyclically, to worse communication.

 

– Venues don’t owe artists anything. Not gigs, not money, not even necessarily a reply to an email. To assume otherwise is entitlement.

 

– Artists don’t owe venues anything. Not unpaid time, not putting their own health second, not even to personally care about the venue and its mission. To assume otherwise is a different kind of entitlement.

 

– We both owe everything to the public. The people that fund us, directly or indirectly. The people who we all do it for. The people whose trust is placed in us. The Arts Council’s moniker is Great Art For Everyone. I actually think that’s a wonderful goal. It’s also, I’d say, a socialist one. We can’t accomplish that goal if we don’t fairly, democratically and transparently decide on what Great Art is, and we can’t make it For Everyone if we waste our energies on this flimsy, nepotistic pseudo-marketplace of theatre shows.

 

9

 

Here are some possible solutions that me and Christina came up with (although not necessarily agreed on), in descending order of how actually useful I think they would be.

 

a)  The Arts Council pay the best artists salaries to make art. It commissions the best producing organisations to make sure their work (shows, workshops, whatever) gets in front of the right audience in the right way at the right time. We work together to give the public what they want and deserve, and no-one has to harass anyone. And we can all take sick days when our holes are exploding without fear of penury.

 

b) A new set of annual theatre festivals, one in each Arts Council region, that are open to apply to anyone. A jury of the public goes through applications, whittling them down to maybe 100 per festival on set published criteria, with equal opps monitoring. The artists are paid and given accommodation. A new organisation manages the festival, promotes it to the public and handles the technical and production. A venue delegation comes by for two weeks of it, and shows are scheduled in such a way that they can see everything. The festival goes to different cities each year, like the Olympics without the White Elephant stadiums. I reckon this’d cost the Arts Council about £5m a year to do nationwide, or less than one new foyer (Credit due to Simon Day, who kind of came up with this idea in his blog).  But even if it was completely unfunded and just free to enter it would be vastly cheaper than the current Fringe.

 

c)  Venues adopt a job-interview-like process for each season they programme, advertising exactly what they want, holding showcase-interviews and picking the most appropriate candidates, again with equal opps monitoring. They could club together to make this more efficient. Artists asking for a gig outside this process would be like in the 90s when you went around shops in town dropping off copies of your cv speculatively – nobody would do it anymore.

 

d) Venues use, and perhaps share, a “programming@” email address with an out-of-office that explains how and when they programme, giving whatever response time is realistic for them (even if its three months, at least then its clear). If artists send the wrong info, or don’t wait long enough, or try and get programmed by chumming it up with a specific staff member instead, they are hit with sticks.

 

Whether you agree with any of these, we have to have this debate. That involves getting away from the pervasive myth of the arts that we all agree on everything. It means being honest and open and willing to change, whatever side of the divide you’re on. And when we reach consensus, we need to take action, not just complain about how bad it is. We are on a raft sailing through space. None of it ultimately matters. But this is our industry, our patch of the raft and we know we can do better. We are the creative ones, the ones who understand the transformative power of art, if we can’t fix this problem, who the hell is going to fix anything?

 

As an artist, I’m going to keep making the best stuff I can, and try and not let the desperation push me into doing more harm than good. Together, we can win, even if socialism doesn’t. Yet.

 

[Addendum: the Arts Council is currently holding an online public consultation on what it should do from 2020-30. If you agree with the above, or have your own ideas, why not go here and tell them about it?]