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Tag Archive | "reality TV"

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Filskit Blog: Jesus Christ! Big Brother is STILL watching you.

Posted on 26 September 2012 by Filskit Theatre

Is it just us or is anyone else getting fed up to the back teeth with reality TV? The gaudy production values, the expensive telephone voting lines, Louis Walsh and well, the sheer repetition of it all? For years now we’ve watched countless numbers of desperate hopefuls line up across the land in a bid to just be known. To paraphrase Eminem ‘you’ve only got one shot… opportunity comes once in a lifetime’ etc. Well, that might apply if you’re in a rough 8 Mile neighbourhood fearing for your safety – but back in Blighty there’s always another application form to fill in next year.

But don’t let us fool you into thinking we haven’t in some way or other been seduced by the murky realms of reality TV. One of our Filskit ladies made it through several rounds of ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria’ before not making the cut – she’s still too traumatised to talk about that particular time. More recently, a close friend auditioned for the coveted role of Jesus in this year’s Jesus Christ Superstar before realising he wasn’t what the production team had in mind. But if Lyn Gardner’s review  from The Guardian is anything to go by, he had a lucky escape!

This is the somewhat sticky area where highly commercialised television shows blend with stage productions – doesn’t it make a mockery of the audition and training process? Of course auditions are gruelling, but televising it to the nation with voting lines turns it into a glorified popularity contest. They want a face that fits, a personality that works on camera, tears and someone who’ll capture the hearts of the audience at home. But surely acting for TV and acting for stage are two rather different ball games?

We at Filskit don’t profess to be able act for camera, in the same way that a film star might not cut the mustard treading the boards. But sadly, this type of television format is an attempt at bringing theatre to the masses. So far, as a result of this format, we’ve had revivals of The Sound of Music, Joseph and The Wizard of Oz. Is it positive enough to say that our telly addiction is driving people to the theatres? Or is this yet another example of how the ‘fast-track fame’ culture is still rife in today’s society?

For a decade we endured Davina McCall hyperventilating with excitement on the increasingly barmy Big Brother. How did that happen? And more importantly, why is it still being commissioned? Perhaps we are just voyeuristic creatures with far too much time on our hands! Isn’t that clear from all the magazines and trashy newspapers (we’re sternly eyeballing you Daily Mail Online) who are essentially responding – and continuously feeding – current demand?

It’s as if there’s a crippling belief that we are entitled to our 15 minutes of fame and if we’re not achieving that we are essentially nobodies. This can be the only explanation for the desperation seen on these TV shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. This surely can’t be a healthy message for children who witness the fame machine in motion year after year. They see the glamour, rewards and adoration of the victors and it looks obtainable. They don’t see the heartbreak and the mental strain once the cameras stop rolling; such is the contrived nature of these shows. Dangerous territory indeed.

But the cracks are beginning to show. The formatting, the editing and the cruel ridiculing in front of the nation are all becoming tired and predictable. We know to expect the sob stories and the rousing music – we know if they film scenes at people’s houses/schools/with adorable children, they will be going through to the next round. Anyone else tired of having their emotions so regimentally manufactured in the name of entertainment? So perhaps we need to get over his notion of flash in the pan fame.

Surely the reality is that not everyone is destined to be a star. As much as we all would love to be recognised in our field of speciality, it doesn’t mean that you need to have this confirmed by ‘Lord Almighty’ Simon Cowell or (a real Lord) Andrew Lloyd Webber, in front of the cameras. These shows may offer a fast track to success but sometimes you just have to put the work in. In the meantime, we’ll just have to see what pearls of wisdom Tulisa from N-Dubz has to offer more emotionally strained wannabes. We might just read a good book instead.

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre are an all-female ensemble with a passion for micro-projection. The company, Sarah Gee, Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, have been making work together since 2008. As graduates of the European Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford they were brought together by their shared love of projection and cake.

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Book review: The God of Soho by Chris Hannan

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Laura Turner

Commissioned for Shakespeare Globe’s 2011 summer season, The God of Soho is a dark, debauched frolic through playwright Chris Hannah’s disturbing vision of heaven and the earthly underworld.

Down below and up above, there’s been a worrying attitude of “anything goes” and things are far from being in the order they should be. Opening with a meeting of the gods, as evocative of Greek mythology as of the quirks of modern life, this is a corrupt fairytale, rife with hairy gods, dog gods and a goddess of love, sex and beauty with a missing mojo. Clem, the goddess in question, is banished to earth by daddy Big God to learn the error of her desperate ways, head over heels in lust and love with a fellow god. As she descends into the yard to mingle with the groundlings, the action is kicked off and we descend with her into the mire of the manic, muddled, muddy mess that is modern Soho.

As with any play, it is the characters who are the life blood of the text. They jump out of the page with their bizarre idiosyncracies, from Baz, the coke-sniffing rock musician, to his girlfriend Natty, a wannabe star straight out of any reality TV show. Crowded with sex shops, whip-cracking prostitutes and a thief with a penchant for fetish items, this is a tale of amorality that evokes the bawdy Mistress Quickly’s whorehouse from Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure or Pericles’s brothel. Writing with the specific demands and delights of the Globe stage in mind, Hannan must surely have had these forerunners in his head, and cleverly engages with the Shakespearean and Jacobean taste for the lewd and profligate whilst creating a text that feels overwhelmingly immediate in its concerns, themes and characters. This is a  play as much concerned with contemporary celebrity culture as the ancient mythology of the heavens.

Unusually too, this is a script that uses its sparse stage directions to great effect to enhance the storytelling and add further symbolic levels to an already richly layered play. Clem’s mattress, adorned with a smudged pink heart, visualises the loss of her sex symbol status: now she has fallen in love herself, she can no longer inspire such emotion in others. Simiarly, when we first meet Natty, she is described as trying to burn off a tattoo and sitting on the back of a customised sofa inscribed with the names “Baz” and “Natty”. Throughout the play, images are established and then questioned, subverted and destroyed – especially those associated with love, sex and money. If Natty is a loose, life-loving, carefree woman happy to decorate her body, she is also one who regrets the decisions she has made and tries to erase the past in light of her in-built concern for public appearances. Pulled in two directions by the surprisingly redemptive Baz on one side and her shallow and spiteful homeless sister Teresa on the other, Natty’s journey is the major conflict in this subtle state-of-the-nation play, running alongside the more ethereal journey of Clem’s redemption.

Hannan adeptly manages to humanise his godly figures; for all their chatter about divinity, they are as base and helpless as the mortals below. Their insecurities, pomposity and desperation are achingly familiar beneath the comedy that covers the surface of Hannan’s dialogue like a veil. As for the humans, they in turn have ideas far above their station but all of them are brought down to earth with a bump sooner or later.

The grotesquery and colourful language that pervades will not be to everyone’s taste, but this dirty and downtrodden bit of London does resonate. The real problem is that none of the characters are particularly likeable. It is a hard ask to sympathise with Natty’s delusion and self-obsession, and although Clem does have a crisis of conscience of sorts, she just doesn’t fight hard enough at any point to make us feel excited, impassioned or alive. Coupled with Hannan’s frequent deviations into a poeticism that is almost incomprehensible, this is a fierce and larger-than-life look at all that is supposedly “wrong” with society. There is little joy to be found in the hellish hovel of Soho, but it will certainly make you wince and squirm until you find yourself questioning, as Clem does, exactly what is “worth more than sex” these days.

The God of Soho is published by Nick Hern Books and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website (RRP £9.99, ISBN 9781848421684).

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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The Wicked Stage: The reality TV cast-a-thon returns

Posted on 05 February 2012 by Sarah Green

Last October I wrote a blog about celebrity casting, including a quote where composer Andrew Lloyd Webber declared: “I think the reality shows are at saturation point and probably what proves that is what has happened to X Factor in America.”  Now, just four months later, it seems he has partially reneged on this. Whilst he is not casting another West End production, he is using reality TV to cast an arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar.

There have been rumours to this effect all over Twitter for the past few months, and since the news officially broke social networking has been awash with condemnation, with many of the jokes relating to the idea of the loser being sent home via a crucifixion. However, there has been one voice in the newspapers and on websites that has been louder than others and probably has more right than most to be angry. Tim Rice, who wrote the lyrics for Jesus Christ Superstar, is not impressed that his old colleague is going to cast the show in this manner. It is no secret they have not been as close as when they first started working together, and I’m guessing the fact Lloyd Webber has ignored Rice’s wishes is not improving their relationship.

Rice stated in an interview that he finds the whole TV show idea “tacky” and “relentlessly downmarket”, but he is a fan of the arena tour concept. He also points out: “They can’t cast the show without my approval. I have the right to veto casting so if Andrew casts it on TV and I didn’t like the person, I could say so.” There was a large part of me that was thrilled after reading the interview because it is nice to hear a lyricist putting their foot down. Historically they are often the unsung and quiet heroes of a musical theatre writing duo, however Rice proves that when angered they can be a force to be reckoned with.

But Rice isn’t just causing controversy for the fun of it; he has good reasoning. There is the obvious argument that there are plenty of trained performers in and out of work in the West End who could play that role but may miss out again because they are not as exciting as the pull of a big name. But the main reason I have issues with casting this way is because you run the risk of an untrained singer winning the part. Anyone who knows the show and songs such as ‘Gethsemane’ will understand how hard they are to sing – the use of falsetto could easily damage the voice without good technique. The show is billed as a rock-opera, however the world has moved on vocally and modern day rock singers don’t tend to sing in the same way as the 1970s performers with that Bee Gees-style falsetto.

Rice also makes a point about the type of show Webber is casting through TV: “Those shows are relentlessly downmarket, which is fine if the show is a lightweight bit of fluff.” Whilst this does sound like Rice is having a go at his own show, Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, in contrast Jesus Christ Superstar is still a fairly controversial show due to its plot about the last days of Jesus and his relationship with Judas and Mary Magdalene. Back in the 1970s people stood outside the Broadway theatre protesting, and the KGB persecuted performers who put on an unofficial production in 1971, so as Rice points out it is “ill-advised” to have people voting for who can be Jesus.

The point Rice makes is valid: the TV talent show isn’t the powerhouse it once was, proved by the controversy surrounding The X Factor both here and in America. Nowadays things are often a step ahead on social media networks, which are introducing new ways of casting into the fray. Currently there is a talent search under way headed by the unknown tweeter @westendproducer, who is searching for a Twitter leading lady and leading man via his ‘Westendproducer Star Search’. The winner doesn’t get cast in a show but does get the title. The downside to this is that it is another talent search, with the contenders facing a public vote and the risk of horrible comments, but the upsides win out – whoever is behind the profile is very connected both as a person but also on Twitter, meaning a lot of performers, producers and directors can see the videos people are placing on YouTube. On Friday of last week @westendproducer even tweeted that an agent had been in contact regarding the videos, so who knows where it could lead for someone.

The issue of using different mediums to cast a production is hard to judge. I agree with Tim Rice that a TV show isn’t needed for the arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. Especially judging by the climate on Broadway, which is having a religious celebration with revivals of Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and original show Book of Mormon and newcomer Sister Act –  surely this could trigger a religious resurgence in the West End too? So, then, if TV has reached saturation point, could mediums such as Twitter be the future?

Image by H. Michael Karshis.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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The Wicked Stage: Are operas better than musicals?

Posted on 25 September 2011 by Sarah Green

Last month I read The Guardian’s supplement on ‘How To Enjoy Opera’ [note: the online version has a slightly different, shorter opening paragraph than the print version] containing a rather typical debate about which is best: musicals or opera. In one corner is the novelist Jay Rayner (pro-musicals) and in the other is journalist Tom Service championing opera. In the opening paragraph, Service tries to persuade Rayner that both art forms can be “the perfect amalgam of text, music and drama”. He is there to provide balance, but I can’t help feeling that he is a little biased towards opera singers when he says they are better than “the vibrato-laden mediocrity of the pseudo-singers who prop up much of the West End and nearly every TV show”.

I was outraged for many reasons, one being that Service places us musical theatre singers (I for one have spent 15 years singing) on the same level as TV shows such as X Factor. Most musical theatre performers have trained from a young age to get their voices in top shape, not to mention the dancing and acting skills that are required. With all this training, musical theatre singers are on a much higher level than some of the performers on reality TV shows.

On a more technical note, regarding Service’s claim that musical theatre singers are “vibrato-laden”, vibrato is necessary on some level, otherwise a wall of sound is thrown at the audience. By adding vibrato (creating ‘colour’ by shaking the voice – Whitney Houston is a good exponent of this, just listen to her singing “and I” from ‘I Will Always Love You’) the sound is given ‘flavour’ or ‘colour’, which were key terms used during my training. In some singing lessons at university it got so technical that we would be told how many times to vibrato on a particular note and how long to hold it for, illustrating the importance of the technique. Granted, some singers have a dodgy vibrato that grinds on the ears, but opera singers use it just as much – if not more – so being “vibrato-laden” is in fact a null point.

Really, the whole topic is a null point; you can never get a satisfactory answer over which is the better art form as they do essentially the same thing but with a different sound. It’s like choosing which is best out of early 90s hip hop and modern hip hop songs; they are fundamentally the same but on different time scales. Similarly, opera gave birth to operetta, which in turn spawned musical theatre.

I easily get defensive about the opinion that musicals are the bastard of theatre, so perhaps the following definition of ‘opera’ will help confirm my point: “Opera is a drama set to music. To be sung with instrumental accompaniment by singers usually in costume. Recitative or spoken dialogue may separate the numbers but the essence of opera is that the music is integral and is not incidental.” – Oxford Music Dictionary.

This definition also holds true for musicals, meaning that they are not so different in terms of structure and aim. They differ mainly in the audience perception; opera is seen as the dominion of the upper class and musicals are for the audience of lesser means and simpler pleasures. The Co-Director of Les Miserables, John Caird, said much the same in a recent Radio 4 documentary that reunited original cast and crew to reflect on the past 26 years: “There was then and there still is a great snobbery about musical theatre. Posh people go to opera and the not so posh to musicals.” Yet most through-sung musicals, such as Les Miserables, also use the opera technique of recitative (where the music is made to sound like speech, linking the main songs) so perhaps they are more similar than people think.

Before I become as biased as Service, I do want to point out that I trained in classical singing before studying musical theatre, so I know the pleasure of singing an opera aria and don’t want to knock the genre. I concede that many musicals do feature reality TV stars, but this angers a lot of formally-trained performers as they miss out on jobs. Ultimately, the question of whether opera or musical theatre is best can never be answered – my only wish is for musicals to be accepted as an equal in terms of artistic merit and importance as opera.

Image by nick_blick

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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