30 November 2009

Sitcom Weekend

Seeing a BBC radio sitcom performed live is being behind the scenes. Not literally of course, literally, you're in plush red audience seats at BBC Broadcasting House, with mics suspended above your heads, watching actors read from scripts on the stage in front of you. But it has that feeling of being part of something special. Because you are. You are the live studio audience. You are part of the show.

The crackling excitement I felt upon entering the BBC Holding Pen seemed to be shared by the other audience members, or at least I successfully projected my enthusiasm onto them. Once inside the theatre and when the show got rolling, I threw my head back and laughed towards the suspended mics to show my support for the comedy quips. And also because it was funny. Sneakiepeeks made me laugh. And I was far from the only one.

The show I was at, Sneakiepeeks, is about a surveillance team. They are Beagle Team. They work for a shadowy organization. They are - if not incompetent - decidedly low-achieving and accident-prone. And funny. It was especially useful because I had spent the day before sharpening my sitcom skills...

On Saturday I was at the Sitcom Mission workshop. I recently wrote a 15 minute sitcom script to be staged as part of the Sitcom Trials. The finals are taking place now. I did not make even the first cut. But the workshop process and all of the feedback on my rejected sitcom trial script will help me in my Sitcom Mission. The script is already not bad (if I do say so myself), and armed with the feedback from Saturday, it will just get better.

While there with my fellow aspiring sitcom writers, I met an aspiring sitcom writer fellow named Adam. He had written a very funny radio script and, seeing how Chiara had expressed an interest in not coming to the BBC Broadcasting House to watch a live recording af a new BBC Radio 4 comedy, I had asked the workshop group if anyone was keen to come along with me. Adam came. He's a good guy.

It's always nice to meet like-minded folks. Even if they happen to be Man United fans.

So I workshopped my script, got to attend a live taping of a very funny radio sitcom at BBC Broadcasting House, and made a friend.

Yeah, pretty good weekend.

Listen for my chortles on BBC Radio 4 soon.


27 November 2009

A very Dylan Christmas


And I'm not talking about Dylan Thomas's 'A Child's Christmas in Wales'. Although that is also a worthwhile Dylan-Christmas intiative.

I'm referring to Bob Dylan polkaing the Christmas classic "Must be Santa." Click through and check out how your Christmas party should be.

As if having Santa at his Christmas party wasn't Christmassy enough, all proceeds from sales of his Christmas album 'Christmas in the Heart' support Feeding America. While that might seem like a funny thing to do for a nation full of fat people, it's also a nation full of poor and starving people. Rolling Stone quoted Dylan's
official Website: “It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone — 12 million of those children — often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from.”

And what better way to ring in the holiday season than Christmas tunes Bob Dylan style, and then helping out those less fortunate? It's a rhetorical question. There's no better way.

Get in the spirit.

As an important sidenote, the Bob Dylan Research Project, an important independent intercontinental grassroots research initiative now has its own facebook group. Show your support.


25 November 2009

Patrick Boylan: an (Un)Retiring American in Rome

Patrick Boylan is a great professor. I know this because he inspired Chiara to develop her English skills, and she speaks it really well. I often tell people my Italian wife speaks English "better than me." I'm approximately half joking.

He was an English Professor at Roma Tre, the university Chiara went to. His approach was Intercultural communication. That is probably not what you think it is. It's more complex, revolutionary and effective than what you think.

Actually, I'm never exactly sure exactly what it is, or how it works myself, but it definitely is effective. His students are some of the very few Italians I've met who really understand what it means to be an English speaker. No offense to other Italians, many of whom who have a fine grasp of the language, but English is often taught in Italy by people who seem singularly unqualified to do anything of the sort. This is from personal experience.

As a native English speaker Patrick is of course at an advantage. As a highly respected practitioner of intercultural communication he's double good. His passion and commitment underscored the whole undertaking. Triple-threat. Unfortunately, he was forced into early retirement.

I met Patrick soon after my arrival in Rome. Chiara took me to meet him - her favourite teacher, a trusted advisor and confidante, and an influential role model. I'm glad she did, because he's awesome. I liked him immediately. Also, through him I got involved with the U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice group there. Including some very exciting freeway blogging.

And that's why he was forced out: besides being a passionate and inspiring teacher, Patrick is an outspoken advocate for justice and equality. He is vocally against arrogant pigheadedness, governmental malfeasance and ignorance.

His tendency to speak frankly about injustice to his students, and use it to stimulate critical thinking, was a constant irritant to the university establishment. They also didn't appreciate his tireless efforts to reform the way languages are taught in Italian universities.

He taught his students to question what they were told and think for themselves. For a country with a Prime Minister as ridiculously corrupt as Silvio Berlusconi (corruption trial currently pending), who through his position as Prime Minister and his own media empire has free access to about 90% of terrestrial television audiences in the country, media literacy is low on the priority list. Just below political awareness.

A bunch of former students and supporters held an event to honour him yesterday, which I think was a classy thing to do. Chiara really badly wanted to be there. But she'll get a chance soon.

It's too bad that more students won't get a chance to have him as a professor, but the upside is that he'll have more time to devote to his many many other projects.

In theory, maybe now that he's retired he'll be less busy, but somehow I doubt it. You can't keep a good man down.


23 November 2009

Is this 'The Age of Stupid'?

Last night I went to SOAS with Chiara to see 'The Age of Stupid'. A sharp drama-documentary-animation hybrid. Clever, well-edited, poignant, with a powerful message that manages to be heavy and alarmist without being too overwrought. In short, the perfect sermon for the choir.

Click through for more, including the trailer for the film.

It's a damn shame the movie will fail to attract the naysayers, because it's really well done. But then, the critical and box-office success of an Inconvenient Truth hasn't really had a lasting impact on people has it?

But exposing hypocrisy and driving home an urgent message never fails to drive away naysaying hypocrites. But, for a film with such an obvious agenda, it managed to be fairly even-handed in its' treatment of its subjects. And the conceit (A man in a post-apocalyptic future reviews evidence and stories of a time (the present) when we were aware of climate danger, but failed to act on this knowledge), is stretched to the breaking point, but it never breaks.

Other cool elements: It was crowd-funded, so groups and indivduals contributed pieces of the funding and got shares of the film.

They developed an Indie Screenings model to distribute the film.

They have a nice website

London Mayor Boris Johnson recently saved the director Franny Johnson from a group of miscreant teenage bitch thugs who were armed with a metal bar.

Franny Johnson is the founder of the 10:10 campaign. An online campaign to get people and organizations to cut their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. Sign up.

Age of Stupid: Trailers: The Age of Stupid Trailer Feb 2009 - SD from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

The bottom line is: this film presents a compelling, and entertaining case for people to wake up and start changing habits and attitudes before it's too late. If it, and all the other ongoing efforts don't work, the title is all too appropriate.


22 November 2009

Blueberry Pancakes, where you been all my life?

When I was a kid, I never really liked pancakes. The worst part was that pancakes seemed to be prepared almost exclusively for special mornings. Which meant those special occasions were always tarnished by (ugh) pancakes. And other breakfast options were in short supply.

I didn't hate them. They didn't make me gag. But I did have to just grimace and choke them down. This seemed to happen most often at sleepovers, when a friend's mom would wake us up with the offer of fresh pancakes. My friend would be excited, and I would force a smile.

Blueberry pancakes. Chiara reading Sunday paper in the background.

This morning a long-dormant switch flipped. We had fresh blueberry pancakes. Homemade by Chiara. She even made homemade syrup. I know. Homemade syrup.

And we split up the Sunday Times. Munched away happily, in companionable silence. As a bonus, my oft-non-functioning milk frother worked, so I had a fresh cappucino. Chiara had mint tea.

We listened to the Blur live CD that came as a plastic-wrapped supplement with the pile of inserts, magazines, catalogues and opinion. Pretty good album. Great morning.

My only regret is that I didn't see the value of pancakes until now. But now I get it.

I've got a lot of wasted past pancakes to make up for.


19 November 2009

The Thousands- street art bonanza

Went to Vandalog RJ's Art opening last night at the Village Underground. It was awesome. Delicious Punk IPA, a Dave Symonds cameo and a MZA birthday kick-off meet-up. Best art show since the last one I went to.

And the art - the wide-open back alley arched redbrick warehouse was jammed with street art awesomeness. Just about every big name I know - Banksy, Swoon, Shep Fairey, Faile, Elbow Toe, Os Gemeos, Herakut, and a few others that were super striking up-close and well-lit: Adam Neate's piece, text artist Jenny Holzer's Inflammatory Essays, a Burning Candy mural on the wall outside... It was all delicious. Nice review here.

But with all the great art, and all the great friends it was easy to lose sight of the real highlight. The conversation with an Art Collector.

A middle-aged woman, a serious collector. No nonsense. Confident at a hip gallery opening, despite her appearance as someone who I'd expect to be behind in line at the supermarket. I thought motherly and out-of-place. She quickly turned my snap judgment back on me: it was I who was the outsider. She was fiercely passionate and well in the know.

She is an Art Collector. We were not. Nor artist, agent or otherwise engaged on the inside. But she was pleasant enough. Patient, even. She hadn't seen us around before. We were hovering around a piece by one of the Burning Candy collective, a guy she knew as Mo. I do not know Mo. We talked about the piece: spraypainted on faux-brick, framed on a gallery wall. She told me she was a collector, I asked her "of who?"

To my outsider mind, that's a logical next question, the one begging to be asked. To an insider, that is poor form. Do not discuss your own collection (I guess). She demurred. Strike One.

Chiara, Dave and I exchanged glances. We needed to step up our conversational game. This was no longer idle chat. This was Art Talk.

I tried again. "Your house must be awesome!" I offered, charming in my guilelessness, I thought wrongly. Strike Two.

The conversation carried on. Street art. Street art in the gallery. Transitory nature vs. preservation. Blowing up vs. keep it real. It shifted to some galleries and agents. I struggled to keep up, but we got through it.

Despite my gauche belief that an art collector might want to talk about her art collection we got along fine. And she taught me something. I've got homework to do. It's not enough to just know what I like. I've got some more knowing to do. It's called research.

And there's plenty of galleries and spots in East London. And according to Art Collector, this city will be packed with artists come December. Tis the season to keep my eyes peeled, my ears to the street, and my bike meanderings wide-ranging.

UPDATE: RJ has put up a summary on Vandalog. Bonus points if you find me, Chiara and Dave in the photo.


17 November 2009

Quicksand Danger Gone?


What's scarier than an amorphous burbling mass that thrives on panic? Probably nothing.

Not even scorpion ninjas.

No doubt about it: quicksand is terrifying. And it loves your panic.

When you're sinking in quicksand the worst thing you can do is freak out. Or struggle. You'll just get stuck in deeper. A battle with quicksand is man vs. nature, but also man vs. himself, and his tendency to panic.

It is a dramatic foe. At least it was - from 1920 until the late 1980s, that is.

Gilligan's Island, MacGyver, Red Sonja, Dukes of Hazzard, Tarzan, Indiana Jones, the Fall Guy... all were forced to grapple with the hidden menace of quicksand. These battles imprinted themselves on my young mind. I learned to fear and respect the quicksand.

It was lurking in jungles and deserts, heaping danger upon protagonists from beneath. The last thing you needed when pursuing a treasure, or escaping sinister bad guys was to have the very ground beneath your feet give way, and eat you alive.

How could you not panic? The lesson quicksand taught was mastery of self and emotions, and fear of the very ground you walked on. Two very important lessons for an impressionable kid.

But those lessons are obsolete, I guess. Quicksand has disappeared. It's all slowsand now.

Despite a brief re-appearance in Xena Warrior Princess, quicksand has been tamed. It is no longer something heroic adventurers, kidnapped-scientists' daughters, or even bad guys have to deal with.

Even the encyclopedic quicksand website hasn't been updated since 2003.

But I'm not buying it. The fact that comics, movies and adventurers everywhere are ignoring the danger is leading me to be more careful than ever. You should do the same.

Keep your head up. And grab a vine if you fall in - just do it calmly.


10 November 2009

Book shopping with a bibliophile

And not just any bibliophile either. Teacher, poet, bigtime Habs fan and long-time friend Darren Bifford.

We spent a day out and about in London, our book shopping paced with pint sipping. He bought some poetry books. As poets do. I bought a standout selection of electic erudition.

CTRL.ALT.SHIFT. Unmasks Corruption. The Lazarides Gallery caught my eye as we walked up Greek Street. An awesome exhibition of comic arts dedicated to sticking it to the Man. "An entertaining informative and accesible introduction to one of the greatest impediments to development and justice worldwide - corruption." Joe Sacco

London: A Short History. A.N. Wilson I'm working my way up to a longer history.
But frankly, I've got a lot of reading on the go already. Give it to me straight, and give it to me quick.

The Pitch: The essential guide to selling stories. Eileen Quinn and Judy Counihan. When I've got stories, I'll need to sell them. This was described as a 'demystifying canter through the pitch process'. There is no better type of canter.

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge. John O'Farrell. This book is thick. Not flyswatter thick, more like ratcrushing thick. But from the subtitle to the introduction, it's clear that though this is a long history, it's far from dry. Rather, it's peppered with topical references and jokes. That's how you get people like me to pay attention.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. David Foster Wallace. A lunchtime pub conversation about DFW led to my admission I'd never read any of his work. Darren suggested we quest to find this particular collection of essays. It wasn't hard. But it was important. besides being a mission accomplished, Darren said it would inform my craft.

The next day I was working on some corporate writing stuff for a cell phone provider and coined the tagline 'Infinite Texts'. It was for a phone company ad for an unlimited text messaging option. You can be sure that was directly pulled from the title of his massive novel Infinite Jest. I know right? Awesome. That's what we call an auspicious beginning to my freelance corporate writing carer, and my relationship with DFW. If you prefer, we could call it a 'demystifying canter'.


08 November 2009

Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy


The first thing you see is a giant cave mouth just inside the doors, welcoming you into the space. Without a way inside (it is forbidden to touch any piece of the exhibit) the gallery goer must walk around its bulky steel frame. Anish Kapoor revels in creating engaging objects, yet is unwilling to relinquish his privileged position in order to explore what is the most interesting aspect of his work – the responses it provokes. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted to touch the polished leviathan.

The show, a survey of the Turner Prize winner's career, consists of several large-scale installations that play with form, colour, and space. It is packed with accessible art – young, old, friends and strangers were all sharing opinions and reflections on the works. It was downright noisy in there. Especially every twenty minutes, when a cannon fires twenty pound cylinders of red wax into a corner of the hall. This piece, Shooting into the Corner, is the highlight of the exhibition – any artwork that can ensnare me in a build up so dramatic, with a release so satisfying, gets my approval. Judging by the delight on the faces of the other spectators, I'm not alone. Another popular piece was the multiple cement mounds haphazardly arranged in one gallery. They looked like tangles of yarn or massive poop-coils. Despite the ponderous title (Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked), it was much loved by the kids.

However, the gallery does its best to push back against the accessibility. The didactic material, handed out to visitors with every ticket, is more self-parody than informational. Kapoor's own pseudo-revelatory pontifications are quoted extensively; of Pigment Works he says, 'Pigment is stuff and yet is seems to have no physical substance. It is both present and not present.' It's like he just smoked pot for the first time. RA seems to be trying to match his artsiness. In describing the big red wax train that inches through the five galleries at the rear of the exhibit, smearing and pooling wax as it goes, the material says, 'Svayambh might be said to have the status of a manifesto in Kapoor's oeuvre'. Maybe so, but more importantly, it looks like a massive lump of cranberry jelly. And it moves!

By splattering the gallery walls with red wax and installing a giant cave mouth at the entrance, Kapoor has challenged the relationship of his work to the gallery space. The logical progression would be for him to challenge the relationship between his art and spectator - when using materials such as cement and shipyard steel at least. Those piles of cement were crapped out by a 3D printer, so who's to say they would be any less 'art' if people touched them? The show is great fun, but Kapoor's ego prevents it from reaching its full potential.


04 November 2009

Just having a coffee


Having a big ol' mug of joe is one of my favorite things. Having it in this mug would just take that morning ritual one step closer to perfect.