I/Mmature student 7. Bowie and Brecht.

So far today has been a lovely day, which is a relief as it’s the one I was most nervous about as we’re looking at movement, voice and getting down to techniques that I know nothing about. But the groups have been lovely and I find my self now getting quite excited about Bertolt Brecht…now you know where this is going.

So yes my main connection to Brecht is via David Bowie who studied him and was a fan. It wasn’t’ until we sat down as a group and I started to find out more about him from the other students who have studied him that I began to realise how much Brecht has influenced what Bowie did. From isolation, alienation and the “othering” of people it’s all through his stuff.

I maybe chose a bit of a fluffy example of this in the song Space Oddity when mentioning this as I was challenged by a classmate who brought up Marx and other political notions to say that wasn’t quite it. But I argue back it’s definitely in there. If I was to name Bowies most Brechtian LP I’d go for Lodger or Scary Monsters. which in themselves both sound like titles he may have given to his plays.

Anyhoo I’m now paired up with said challenger and we’ve to investigate Vsevolod Meyerhold who neither of us know for a dwell period. Cool

I/Mmature Student. 6. Great actors (and bitchin’)

Great acting is awesome. Great actors are also equally awesome. I was making some jokes about the craft the other day and would just like to clear up that I hold great acting with the same level of reverence as I hold the music of Bowie or the comedy of Hicks. I cracked a joke about Tom Cruise the other day and yet one of the finest pieces of screen acting I’ve ever witnessed is in Mission Impossible 3 where he has to first bargain, then beg for the life of his wife and ends the scene (later in the film) with silent utter devastation. All of this being played off the equally formidable, magnificent and tragic Philip Seymour Hoffman Here it is below…

 

How good is that? Now go watch the rest.

I had an acting lecture today. It was awesome. The lecturer was awesome. We were even entertained to an excellent piece of story telling within the lecture that was informative, engaging and at times hilarious. As I said. Actors are awesome. People that lecture in acting are awesome too. Is this all sounding just a bit too positive for my regular style of blog? Ah well maybe I’ve another point to make.

A more typical start to such a blog from me might go…The Actor…I am a tool. But I didn’t do that because this is a less humour based blog.

As a comedian I often encounter a common response from people. They often think whatever I am engaging in, from a chat about the weather to a discussion on Europe that it I come to it from a point of cynicism and scorn. This in itself shows a lack of understanding of what comedy does. Yes comedians can bring that to the table. But we also bring waves of empathy, joy, surrealism, tension and celebration. That’s right. We do spend as much time celebrating the foibles of humanity as we do laughing at them. Awesome.

Last week I had a meet with the second and third year drama and script students and it was put to me that we should try to engage and socialise with those studying more performance based pathways as they sometimes worry the “writers area wee bit up themselves.” I was informed there’s a karaoke night where all groups let their hair down. I in turn wrote a humour based blog about this. See here…

https://johnscottcomedy.com/2016/09/18/immature-student-3/

Now you could read this as, “Could you possibly go make a tit of yourself so the actors can feel better about themselves.” As if I comedian would be so cynical. You can also read it as., “We all have a great time together at that perfect social leveller karaoke.”

It’s hugely important to me to be accepted by performance pathways as I hope to participate in at as well. Hey we work in a trade founded in insecurity. Awesome.

In todays lecture we were shown an excellent clip of Marlon Brando being interviewed quite aggressively by Dick Cavett.  This isn’t unusual of Cavett he often had a confrontational style. He puts to Brando the question, “Why do you down grade acting as a profession.” And I think Brando deals with it beautifully. You see, as things unfold it’s actually Dick Cavett who is trying to bring grandeur, mystery and greatness to the art form while Brando tries (and succeeds) to demystify it and generally get across the point that acting is for all and not just for those with some kind of mystical elite powers.

The discussion starts around 5.40 in  clip number 3 and ends in clip 4…

 

How awesome is Brando.

Also today as groups we engaged in a brief exercise in displaying 6 emotions of acting. My groups was awe. What? Did you think I was repeating that word endlessly without reason? Hey, I write. We love our tricks. So as a group we were to arrive at an expression of awe by committee. Here’s what unfolded.

ME.              Is awe wide eyed?

ACTRESS.  Right so what are we going for here? Realism or Panto.

ME.             Is there perhaps a slackening of the face?

ACTRESS. So you want us to look bored.

So as you can see I was dismissed by the lass fairly abruptly. We’re back to those insecurities again aren’t we? Here’s the first image that came up on Googling awe…

awe

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

So in this situation I think we had a wee bit of a reversal of “The writers are a bit up themselves.” Panic not. I can accept such things. As I say we’re an art form founded on insecurity. Buuuut…I will issue a warning. I wont accept such dismissiveness as things unfold. Confront, challenge, debate but don’t dismiss. Maybe I’ll develop a three strikes and you’re out system. Or two verbal warnings then a written. Or perhaps I’ll word it in the styleeee of da great bard,

“Yo! Should I unclasp this tongue, from which spits acid so potent it doth sear beyond bone and skin to thy very soul . Your word and clatter shall be scattered. Like a gasp within a hurricane…Bitches.” 

All we’re saying is…a bit manners please.

I/Mmature Student 3. More Macbeth. More fellow writers.

Did you know that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth as his response to the Gunpowder plot? I did actually know this myself but it had gone to the recess of my mind until I started reading it  again the other day. The version I’m reading is the Arden publication that comes with helpful notes for those, like me, not well verses in The Bard.  Shakespeare was obviously loyal to the Royal Court and with good reason if James 1st had detected any obvious sedition in his work he would have chopped his head off. Which you have to admit is probably a bit worse than a one star review. For a more modern example of a similar situation see Mel and Sue’s loyalty to the Court of the BBC when choosing not to flee to  Channel 4 with The Bake Off. Trust me I’ve met some BBC producers and if they thought they could get away with the odd beheading the gates to their studios would now currently be decorated with the heads of the former hosts of Top Gear. On a personal note I could not give but one fuck as to what Channel people want to watch people bake on. I’m of the school of thought that reality TV is just another nail in the coffin of  quality TV Drama. Although I have often thought we could improve The Jeremy Kyle show by getting rid of the lie detector test and just make the opposing factions fight some crocodiles.

So last week I got to meet the rest of Northumbria’s second and third year writers. Some of them knew me already due to trips to the local comedy club. The seem a lovely bunch. I was asked in a group bonding session what I looked forward to most in the coming years and replied collaborating with others. Stand up is a lonely job and having worked in a sketch show and produced my own panel show I’m fully aware of the good results you can get in a gang. The more experienced students offered good advice about joining the writing and drama society as this way we can get time to know the actors better and form some bonds. Apparently at times the actors can worry the writers think ourselves a wee bit above them. How silly, we don’t think ourselves better than them at times. We know we’re better than them all the time. This reminded me of the opening credits of the meta superhero movie Dead Pool. When the credits got to the point “Written By.” It quite knowingly said, “The real heroes of this story.” (I’ll add a knowing wink here as I am partially joking. 😉 Actually I’m fully joking. I’ve admired “The Shit” actors can do for decades. They have abilities way beyond my own. Just look at how long Tom Cruise has managed to convince us he’s straight.

I’m off to see two plays next week. This is more plays than I’ve seen this year and I’m quite excited to be immersing myself in a strand of the arts I’m not familiar with. I’ll report more on that once having seen them.

So I think that’s me for the day. It’s sunny so I’m off out for a walk. On return I’ve a list of stuff needs doing, so we’ll get onto that. Have a nice Sunday all.

 

 

I/Mmature Student. 2. Fellow writers. Macbeth.

Ok now that I’m getting the first insights into what the workload is going to be like at Northumbria Uni with my studies of Drama and Script I’m beginning to realise this blog may be a place where I come for a wee break to relax and recharge. I’ve no problem with said work load…but yep we’re going to be busy.

Much to my delight I finally met my fellow writers today.  A great eclectic bunch from India, Latvia, Gateshead and other such exotic places. There are 6 of us but if you include Richard Stockwell our course tutor there will be 7 of us in the room at any given time. That’s a good number, both lucky and magnificent. Obviously Richard is the Yul Brynner leader type. One of my classmates Holly is a Bowie fanatic (there is no other type of Bowie fan) so she’s obviously dead smart/cool/old fashioned. I imagine over the next three years the pair of us will manage to put the other five off The Great Dame David for the rest of their days.

I’m absolutely delighted with the tiny size of our group. Compared to the more common class sizes we can have a lot more feedback and attention provided to our developing skills.

For our first classes we’ve to read The Coen brothers introduction to Fargo. I know, how cool is that. This is my homework! Plus we’ve to read/reread Macbeth. I’m not massively versed in Shakespeare but that is the one play of his I’m pretty familiar with. I’ve got a copy of it in the house somewhere  along with the notes. However as a bit of a cheat I’ve also just downloaded the latest film version staring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and err…me. Honest I was a member of the English army that invade Scotland. I would be gobsmacked if I can pick myself out as I wore a hood over my head for the days shoot. Possibly a good thing as my many friends in the SNP might find my role that day a wee bit hard to stomach. The shoot that day was pretty rough as we spent most of our time up a massive hill or in a bog in Northumbria at the start of February in sideways rain. Most of us spent most of the day slipping and falling on our arses. At one point I was heard to say in my broad Scots accent, “Ahm no sure if this invasion of Scotland is such a good idea. I think someone’s going to get seriously injured here.” Whether this adlib has made the final cut remains to be seen. I’m not so sure improvising is encouraged when doing the Great Bard.

https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/

macbeth-1
Is this a dagger I see before me… I’d imagine so mate. We’re in Glasgow.

 

 

I/Mature Student. 1. Northumbria Uni. 1st impressions.

It’s enrolment week at Northumbria university. As I’m starting a degree in Drama and Script writing I’ve been advised to start a blog or keep a diary of my thoughts and experiences. It’s nice when you’re ahead of the curve.  So far I’ve only been picking up my student ID and been to a chat on the Library.

For a Uni that used to be a polytechnic Northumbria sits high on academic leagues.  The Library stands among the equal top 8 in the UK and yes that’s alongside the Oxbridge toffs. Having lived in Newcastle for 13 years this doesn’t surprise me. As a city with limited resources the Geordies are adept at looking after their own. They’ve thrown much effort into their newest centre for academic excellence and it’s nice to see so many working class kids being able to throw up two fingers to the supposedly more established Newcastle University which is just across the road. Did one of them produce the touchscreen  phone or I-Pad? No that was someone from my Uni, ta very much.

 

 

Working class Pt. 2 The Arts.

There’s been much written in recent times about it being harder for working class artists to break through in their field. From problems with a lack of much needed money to gain access to education, to a general feeling that many of the fields are now being dominated by the privileged. I.e. those with money (or their parents money) to spare.

It’s not new the prejudices against the working classes in the arts. Over centuries it has been debated that Shakespeare didn’t write his own work because he was of too lowly a standing. To me the idea it was written by someone of nobility is ridiculous. Why would a noble in all their comforts have to strive to produce the best they could? They can just fall back on being…err…noble.

I think it’s certainly worth noting that just recently we lost two working class giants of their craft in David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Bowie himself left school with little qualification but did attend one of the many now eradicated 60s art schools. Rickman received sponsorship and a scholarship to get him started. All great supportive avenues for us ordinary folks to gain access to arts, now all gone.

On a personal level as a comedian I’ve certainly seen a hell of a lot of class bias in my own industry. Sometimes it’s prominent critics who hear a northern or working class voice and immediately dismiss whatever is being said as “club comedy” A now derisory term invented by a London based, self anointed comedy policeman. It’s a weird term as much comedy comes from and is created in clubs. Sure I understand that comedy designed to please those on a night out isn’t perhaps best suited to a festival going punter. But if that comedy does turn out to actually rock a festival crowd with laughter then surely it’s of some merit somewhere along the line? According to many critics absolutely not. And who is it we find most adept at this type of comedy? That’s right, working class comics. Because it was a working class crowd the comedy was created in front of. Yeah…but what are the working classes doing at an arts festival? This seems to be the notion behind such thinking.

In an attempt to not be judged as just a “club comic” I personally now write social and political comedy or satire as it can be known. How many working class voices have you heard over decades on telly or radio tackling that stuff? No, it would seem some forms of comedy are only to be uttered by those folks in the middle. What would a working class person know about the real issues? I was actually told once by the head of BBC comedy North, and I quote, “Look there’s a lot of good stuff here but you’ve got a wall of Oxbridge school tie to get over before anybody will look at it.” Do we hear a lot of working class voices on BBC Radio 4? Well I suppose sometimes we do, but usually they’re not being spoken by working class artists.  All this does beg the question what would someone from Oxbridge know about the vulnerability of life at the bottom. Or as we would call it, “the real issues.”

It used to be different.  The working classes were celebrated on TV and radio in the 70s and 80s. But for every Boys From the Black Stuff there’s now a Shameless. For every Alf Garnet there’s now Mrs Brown. We’ve been moved sideways in our portrayals from pathos to panto and nobody seems to have noticed it happening.

But it’s not all a negative picture we have here. My dad and many others were always ready to offer the advice for anybody wanting to study the arts, “You need a trade to fall back on.” Bizarrely as I head off to do a degree in Drama and Script this year I do have a trade to fall back on…the performing arts.

The problem with such thinking is those with something to fall back on will invariably fall back on it. If those coming from a more comfortable background can always opt out and go home, then home is where they will go. Working class kids can’t just up tools and go home. That’s actually their greatest asset. Once they enter the arts with nothing to fall back on…they are home.

Once you do find that home I would pay little attention to those outside performance or writing or music or busking who try to justify their existence by intellectualising the game. Art doesn’t come from the brain, it’s from the heart. That’s exactly what your audience will pay for. It’s an expression of joy and awe. Speak up, stand up…shout at the teacher.

 

A very, very short play.

I’ve been delighted to be accepted to do a script writing degree at University. As part of my application I had to write a two minute piece of script around the title “Where were you last night?” This is what I came up with.

WHERE WERE YOU LAST NIGHT?

We see an elderly woman Jean sat alone. In the background we hear the noise of a front door opening.

 

JEAN: Is that you Robert?

BRIAN. No Jean it’s me Brian.

JEAN. Brian? Should you not be at your work son?

We hear Brian talking loudly from another room.

BRIAN. Not today. Today’s the day I take you to the pensioners dance.

JEAN. You’re talking me to the dance? But you should be at your work. It’s your father’s job to take me to the dance.

BRIAN. You’ll see him at the dance. He said yesterday he’d get you there. Do you not remember?

JEAN. No son. You know I forget things. I’m just at that age. I’ve not seen your father all day. He’s probably down the bookies. He can spend hours in there deciding on a two pound flutter. I’ll give him what for when I see him at the dance.

BRIAN. I’m sure you will. Would you like a quick cuppa before we head.

JEAN. I’ll come through and make it.

BRIAN. No you sit where you are. I’ll bring it through.

JEAN. Have you seen your father today?

BRIAN Aye I’ve seen him. Just give me a minute and I’ll explain.

JEAN (To herself) Imagine leaving your son to take his mother to a pensioners dance. What an affront. I never know where that bugger is from one day to the next. Bookies and the pub, that’s all that matters to him. I’m not even sure if he came home last night. And at his age…

Brian an elderly man enters carrying a tea tray.

BRIAN. Here you are pet.

JEAN. Who are you?

BRIAN. It’s me pet, your husband Brian.

JEAN. But…but…Brain’s my son. Robert’s my husband.

BRIAN. No pet. It’s the other way around. You get that mixed a bit at the moment. Don’t worry about it; it’s just part of the condition. Things start to come back to you when you see my face. But when I leave the room…I’m sorry I should have come in right away.

JEAN. (Touching Brian’s face and looking directly into his eyes. Beginning to realise. Becoming tearful) Oh…Oh no…Oh I remember now. This is terrible. What must you think of me? What must you think when I don’t even know my own husband. What’s to become of us Brian? This is going to get worse. I’ve got early onset dementia but I’m not stupid. I know where this ends.

BRIAN (Kneeling before her) I’ll be here my love. I’ll always be right here.

JEAN. And who’s going to look after you when I no longer know who you are. This is as bad for you as anybody. How will you cope with that?

BRIAN. I’ll cope just fine pet. That’s just what life has set out for us. Even when you’re confused I’ll know that you’re there.

JEAN. I know…I know. But where were you last night?

BRIAN. I was here pet. I’m always here. Right, do you fancy getting down to the dance. Condition or not we can still cut up the floor better than the rest.

JEAN. Yes. I would enjoy that. (Laughs gently)You’re right. We’ll always be great dancers. One day I’ll be thinking I’m the belle of the ball. So many great dancers will be getting me up on the floor…but all the time it will be you.