Tuesday, 23 December 2014

REVIEW: 'Cinderella' and 'Aladdin'

I haven't seen a panto since I was a young teenager, but 'tis the season, and all that so I've actually seen two in the past two days! Two very different productions, but both with their own charm and appeal.

Cinderella (Such Stuff Productions: Avondale Theatre at Italia Conti)

Such Stuff Productions: Cinderella

The premise of fledgling company 'Such Stuff Productions' is lovely; the acting graduates from prestigious Italia Conti realised that, despite pantomimes being a huge annual employer of actors, they were not taught this technique directly throughout their training. So a group of talented graduates created their own company and are now in their fourth year (I think) of producing small scale pantomimes.

The writing team of Joe Morrow and Emma Hook have created a wonderfully witty script, full of original songs. The writing was pitched at the perfect level; intelligent enough to keep the adults entertained while containing enough jokes and traditional pantomime business for the children, and especially in the songs, showed an intelligence and wit rarely seen in panto. Yes there were some slightly cringe-worthy saccharine moments but that is the nature of pantomime; if the characters are caricatures, then they have to play to those stock types.

Having said that, I actually very much enjoyed the performance of Joey Ellis as Prince Charming. A character than can often be one dimensional and unsympathetic became truly charming in a completely naturalistic, unique way.

Obviously the Ugly Sisters (played here by Jack Heath and Simon Naylor) stole the show - the 'kebab' scene had my boyfriend and I crying with laughter - but they had strong competition from the Fairy Godmother, Fairy Nuff (Lauren Roberts) and her two inept assistants Clare Voyant (Nina Toussaint-White) and Si Kick (Rosie Hancock), who delivered a couple of my favourite lines of the show.

Other stand out performances included Queenie (Sonnie Beckett) and Dan Deeny (Jack Gogarty) who brought a wonderful 'Blackadder' quality to their hysterically inappropriate relationship.

The performance carried through into the programmes, with comedy biographies for each of the performers that had me a little confused until I realised they weren't supposed to be taken seriously! At first I just thought someone had failed to proof-read!

The programme biographies

Playing in the Avondale Theatre gave the actors opportunity to interact with the audience in a way that wouldn't be possible in a traditional space; Such Stuff is a young, new company and they can only develop and expand beyond these smaller performance areas; I'm excited to see where they will go in the future - this production of 'Cinderella', in a larger, more mainstream theatre, with better advertising and more budget for production, would have been a smash hit this Christmas. As it was, I'm glad I got to see them right at the start so I can say "I saw them when..."

The Avondale Theatre at Italia Conti

Aladdin (Paul Holman Associates Present: Watersmeet Theatre)

The second panto of the season was a bigger budget, traditional production of Aladdin. The cast included a couple of celebrities, as is the tradition of modern-day pantomimes, alongside a supporting cast plucked from local dance schools to ensure a ready supply of audience members willing to watch the show more than once.

The production began with the two policemen, PC Ping (Mathew Waters) and PC Pong (Joe Morrow) greeting the audience, meandering through the seats and interacting with the children. Their high energy was infectious and I felt like the pace was built up to suddenly drop with the appearance of Abanazar (Nigel Pivaro): his delivery attempted to be menacing but just came off as a little bit bored; and I don't want to sound like a pedant but why was he not wearing any make-up? Maybe he was wearing a little stage make up but nothing to enhance the character.

The dance numbers, featuring dancers from a local school, were high energy and fun, and received excellent applause from the audience. My eyes were constantly drawn to the one dancer who didn't seem to really know what she was doing; maybe she was a last minute replacement and hadn't had time to learn the choreography, but when the other dancers on stage were sharp and precise, this one really stood out.

In 'Aladdin', it's very obviously the Dame Widow Twankey (Robert Forknall) who steals the show; with each costume more ridiculous than the last, a sarcastic, drawling delivery alongside huge amounts of energy, he really does deserve his status as one of the best Dames in the country. The front-of-curtain business between Scene Four and Five in Act Two left myself and my boyfriend gasping for breath with tears streaming down our cheeks.

The two policemen had some lovely moments of physical comedy (I don't know how they're not both in hospital with multiple injuries at this stage of the run!), keeping the children entertained with slapstick falls and confusions, and providing the adults with enough word-play and one-liners to hold attention to characters who often simply play pratfalls. And speaking of energy, Wishee Washee (Ian Jones) had a seemingly endless supply, reminding me a little of comedian Lee Evans as he capered around the stage.

My favourite moments of the production, however, were Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride (imaginative lighting, strong singing from Aladdin (Luke Roberts) and an actual, flying magic carpet!), the closing of Act One with lovely harmonies from the Slave Of The Ring (Christina Laurie - it's a shame she didn't get to sing more), Aladdin and The Genie Of The Lamp (Sean Hinds), and the unexpected beauty of the Emperor Of China (Gary Davies), breaking into 'Nessun Dorma' during the wedding scene, which moved me to tears.

The Watersmeet Theatre, Rickmansworth

A very traditional, fun, family pantomime; Aladdin is running until the end of the month and is worth a watch: the racial stereotypes are a little outdated in this day and age, and I'm not sure why we seemed to jump between India (costuming of Aladdin, the Slave and the Genie), China and Egypt, but the main cast have a wonderful symbiosis creating standout moments of comedy that kept us chuckling all the way home.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Reading and Writing

I have been quiet on here for a while for a variety of reasons: as mentioned in my last post I have had problems with my internet and wasn't able to get online for a while.

I have been working a lot on my Critical Reflection for Module One and haven't had anything really to post about on here! I have been commenting on others blogs though, and trying to keep up with what everyone is saying and doing - it's been nice!

More new books: I'm going to need a new bookshelf soon!

I've also been reading a lot of books: I ordered a couple of Theatre Theory books after Paula suggested I looks into theatrical theorists and they're very interesting! I prefer to have 'real' books when I'm using them for learning or research as I like to make notes, fold down pages and have the feel of the weight of the book in my hands. I adore my Kindle and wouldn't be without it but I use it for reading novels and things like that. There's just something about a real book that engages me differently - I wonder what it is?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Radio Silence

And I'm back! Apologies for the radio silence!

Our Virgin Media has been down for over a week, so I've had very limited access to the internet - beyond what I can receive on my phone (emails, Facebook and Twitter), I've not been able to get onto Google Plus or Blogger, or any of the other platforms I use on a day to day basis.

The media blackout originally extended to the television as well, and weirdly the thing I missed most was the BBC news! I often find myself, on my days off, pottering around the house with the news on in the background. Maybe it's a sign of getting older? Fortunately we found an old freeview box that gave us grainy access to a couple of channels so I could watch the breakfast news in the mornings!

Something that struck me, though, was just how reliant on connectivity we are now. I was able to use my phone but, working in an industry that relies so much on Social Media, I was worried about missing messages or notifications.

How did we network effectively before Social Media? This is something I've thought about in the past. I once asked a fellow cabaret performer "What was the Cabaret industry like before Facebook?" And he replied "Non-existent." While this is an exaggeration for comic effect, it is true that online connectivity has had a huge role to play in the resurgence and popularity of this genre.

I wonder if it is the same across performance industries?

So, since getting back into the land of the world-wide-web, I have read everyone's blogs, replied to some comments and got myself up to speed on what's going on.

Winning at Christmas!

In 'real-life' I've read a lot of books, put the decorations up and done my Christmas shopping. It's amazing how productive I can be without the distraction of Facebook! What has everyone else been up to?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

OPINION: What Makes A Good Performer?

While working on a couple of the tasks, specifically the Networking and Web 2.0 sections, I started thinking about a couple of pieces I wrote on my performer blog. 

It seems to me that in the Cabaret industry, more so than in other areas of the performing arts, image and presentation is almost more important than quality of performance. I know several performers who are, in my opinion, not especially good on stage, yet to look at their social media they appear to be the most in demand, busy, important performers in the circuit.

I thought I would repost the blog here, as it may be of interest.

An old Blog! Image Source: pixgood.com

What Makes A Good Performer? (Originally Posted June 2012)
This is something I have been considering a lot recently. With the Burlesque Festival season in full swing, many of the top performers are doing the rounds and appearing in festival shows the world over. More so this year than any other, it seems to be many the same performers featuring at the festivals, which implies that they are head and shoulders above the rest of them.

There are also endless discussions on social networking sites: “Who is the best performer in the UK?” “Who is your favourite performer?” etc. where the same names appear time and time again. Again, this shows that certain performers are considered to be much, much better than most.

So, what makes a good performer? What makes someone memorable, recommendable and marketable? There are hundreds of performers in the UK, and many hundreds more abroad, so what does it take to stand out from the crowd and be considered 'one of the best'?

Some of the below are superficial, some are not: these are my opinions on what I believe makes someone both a good performer and what makes others think they are. I would also like to state that I have been on both sides (good costumes, not so good: part of a clique, not part of a clique, etc). I am not referencing any particular performers at any stage, these are mostly sweeping observations and statements meant to apply broadly rather than specifically.

I genuinely believe that this is one of the main factors in determining whether someone is perceived as a good performer: image is everything. For better or for worse, the audience and promoters will react more positively towards a dancer wearing a Swarovski crystal covered silk gown, than a dancer wearing unembellished Primark underwear, regardless of whether the girl in the gown is actually a better performer.

A fabulous costume implies to others that you are committed to your art: that you have invested time, money and effort into your act. A poor costume implies that you don't care about your routine, despite whether your efforts have been concentrated towards your dance, acting or clowning ability.
Obviously image is important, and many of the best performers have realised this and invested a lot of time and money into their costumes, meaning that up and coming performers often believe that a beautiful outfit is the way to success.

Victoria's Secret Catwalk Model: image from The Telegraph

I heard a wonderful quote a couple of weeks ago: as burlesque becomes more commercial, there is a lean towards a commercially perceived ideal of female beauty.

I tend to agree with this: burlesque is seen as a celebration of the female form in all its wonderful diversity, and there are many world class dancers who do not necessarily fit what the media considers to be an 'ideal' body type. However it's hard to disagree that most of the top performers also have amazing figures.

There is an obvious reason for this – if you are taking your clothes off in front of an audience, you want your body to look its best, so performers will exercise, diet and work hard at perfecting their figure. The more a dancer works, the more they will want to look good, meaning that the top performers will invest a lot of time and effort into their appearance, which perpetuates an idea that if you have a wonderful figure, you will also be a wonderful performer.

This is one of my particular favourite things with performers: those who give good face!
Some performers are wonderful dancers; some have perfect figures; some have incredible costumes. However if they don't look as though they are enjoying themselves, they are boring. Simple.

Facial expressions do a lot to enhance a performance: whether it's a growling sex-face, half-closed sex-kitten eyes, a coy rosebud mouth, a wide-open faux-shocked expression, or many combinations of these. It is proven that whenever an act is on stage, regardless of what the act is, most audience members will spend most of their time looking at the performers face – this is why TV broadcasts of variety acts usually employ close-up camera shots. The audience will watch your whole body but they will look at your face.

Conversely, many performers have realised the power of giving good face and have rehearsed certain facial expressions in the same way they will rehearse their dance moves. I actually don't like this: it shows and feels forced and stagnant, and many times I actually believe it affects the true potential of a routine.

The performers who are cited among the best know the power of the face and their facial expressions and have fun with them.

Giving good Face! Image Source: memekid.com

Who You Know
As with any walk of life, I honestly think this is one of the main parameters in predicting success. It's “Who you know, rather than What you know.”

The burlesque scene is often criticised for being cliquey. I actually don't think this is really a bad thing: if you are a promoter running a show, you may have an overarching theme in mind for the style of show you are putting on, in which case there may only be a handful of performers who will fit your vision. At the same time, if you have a group of performers you work with regularly, who are all good performers, who all get along well and turn in a consistently high standard of work, then of course you will book them rather than taking a chance on someone you don't know. It is a sensible way of ensuring your show meets your standards.

If you are a performer who is 'in' with one of these groups, you are guaranteed a level of exposure you wouldn't get if you were merely doing the rounds. Especially if that show is particularly well received, reviewed or respected. A regular performer with one of the best shows will naturally be viewed as one of the best performers, regardless of whether you actually are one of the best, or whether you merely happen to be friends with the promoter.

One of the great things about burlesque is that it is open to all: anyone with a modicum of talent, or merely the craving to be on stage and be the centre of attention for a time can have a go, and some of these will rise to become incredible performers. There is no elitism with cabaret; no system of training as with drama schools, no exams and levels as with ballet; anyone with drive and determination can have a go.

However; most of the top performers have had some sort of training, whether before beginning burlesque or after starting when they realise that only by learning stage-craft can they progress. This might be learning basic performance skills such as dance or clowning, or specific talents geared towards one particular act. The best performers know that only by training can they hope to become the best, and keep improving.

Keep Training! Image Source alx.biz

In one way or another, a lot of performers who are considered to be among the best, are masters of promotion. Some people just seem to have the knack for self-promotion on social networking sites or just generally.

Publicity seems to equal talent in many minds: there are performers in every art form who are described as 'coming out of no where' or being 'an overnight success'. On the whole this is generally not true, with these overnight successes usually working away for years before achieving a seemingly meteoric rise.

I often refer to burlesque as being the hardest sales job in the world. We are essentially selling a product to a consumer: the consumer being a show promoter and the product being ourselves. Good sales people can 'sell ice to the Eskimos' so if a performer is naturally good at this, they can make people believe that they are one of the best, whether they are or not, and whether they even realise they are doing it!

After a combination of all of the above, a performer will be imbued with a sense of self-belief; believing the hype that they are a good performer. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy and will show on stage – all of the best performers own the stage: they know they audience can't take their eyes off them, and will turn in the best performance they can.

The top performers are often described as having that 'X-Factor' – that indefinable, indescribable aura on stage, where you simply can't look away. A friend put it succinctly when describing one act: 'they could take a shit on the stage and you'd still go wild for them'

This is truly the hallmark of what makes the best performers: the inherent belief that they are meant to be on that stage and you are meant to love them.


Although I wrote this originally a couple of years ago, I think it still holds true. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Theatre Thoughts: Research Planning

It's that time again! Another outpouring of the nonsense I've been thinking about!

Vomiting Words... Image Credit: zeeoutlandishone

I recently wrote a blog about trends among theatre goers - then a friend on Twitter posted a link, and a fellow course student posted another. These are the links:

The Stage - Originally Posted by Pip Spalton
Government Website - originally posted by a professional colleague on Twitter

These two articles, to me, are linked. On the one hand we have Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary, apparently warning against studying the arts, claiming they do not offer viable career choices*, and on the other hand the government she works for is showing that the arts is worth over £71billion to the UK economy.

The argument Morgan is posing is that there needs to be more students studying STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and that there is a deficit in these areas due to students choosing to take Arts and Humanities in the supposedly mistaken belief that there are more career options available to them with degrees.

"...the idea that choosing arts and humanities subjects can keep pupils' career choices open "couldn't be further from the truth"..." The Stage: quote - Nicky Morgan: Education Secretary

The government article appears initially to be suggesting the opposite: that arts and humanities subjects have huge potential for future careers. Comments appearing regularly are along the lines that tourists do not come to the UK for the pioneering scientific research, they come for the theatres, museums and art galleries.

"...these incredible statistics are confirmation that the Creative Industries consistently punch well above their weight, outperforming all the other main industry sectors and are a powerhouse within the UK economy." Maria Miller: Secretary Of State For Culture, Media And Sport

However, without engineers and mathematicians, the arts industries would struggle! There have to be people involved in any creative enterprise who can build sets and props, work the lighting and sound, balance the books, etc. There are crossovers in most industries and a subject studied in high school may or may not have any bearing on a lifelong career.

Every child has proficiencies in different areas and if children in school are forced to take subjects they don't enjoy, could this dent their belief in their abilities for the rest of their lives, or could it help expand their confidence as they work towards achieving in a new area? 

Personally I think that fifteen (the age at which children generally choose their GCSE subjects) is too young to decide. Nicky Morgan states that "These figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged fifteen which will hold them back for the rest of their lives." (The Stage: quote - Nicky Morgan) However who can possibly tell at that age what will help or hinder them in the future? I chose subjects I enjoyed, and by the time A-Levels came around I had an idea of a path I would like to follow. Had I been forced to take exams in things like Maths or Physics, I know I wouldn't have enjoyed it and done badly, which surely would hold me back more than getting good grades in so-called 'Soft Subjects' like Drama.

*apparently the article misrepresents her exact words at the conference in question, however without access to the conference I am merely quoting from the article as published in The Stage.

Creative Industries: Image Source - blogs.susu.org

* What do performers do when they have finished performing? What's next for a dancer, a singer or an actor after performing?
Throughout my training and performing career there seems to be a trend that male performers go on to become directors or producers, and female performers become teachers. I have never wanted to be a teacher (I don't have the patience with children!) yet it seems that I'm constantly being asked if I am a teacher, training to become one, or want to teach in the future.

Which leads me on to my next question...
Image Source: nicolesiccarelli.com

* Why is it that there are so many female dancers and actresses, but comparatively few prolific female choreographers or directors? (note, I say 'comparatively' - I am aware that there are incredible women working in all areas of theatre, but just that the imbalance in production roles is definitely biased towards the guys!)
There are so many diverse roles in the creative and arts industries, and it seems odd to me that, compared with the men, there are relatively few female members of production who rise to prominence or mainstream recognition.

Originally Published at http://bit.ly/1OKBcX9

Networking Advice?

This is a bit of an odd blog; it's more of an extended Facebook status as I'm actually seeking some advice!

Previously in my blogs I've mentioned how I am intended to change to focus of my professional engagement: I've been thinking about "What's Next?" after performing and I am focusing on Creative Direction and Dramaturgy as a future career.

Some of the books I have been reading!

I have been attempting to make connections in this industry: at this stage I am seeking experience and advice more than anything else as I have very little idea what the role of a Dramaturg entails - although I am reading lots of books, blogs from practising Dramaturgs and further expanding my skills and knowledge to incorporate aspects of this chosen career path.

I would love to assist a practitioner, for a couple of days each week, on days off from my current job, purely in exchange for the experience and invaluable first-hand knowledge of the industry.

Unfortunately I'm not having much luck in actually connecting with anyone! I have posted on an industry group on Facebook (but the last post on that page was from June or July so I was never really holding out much hope!), emailed a network of professionals based in London and made several connections on LinkedIn with those who have listed Dramaturg as a current profession.

But I've had nothing back - I'm apprehensive about messaging people directly on LinkedIn as I'm not sure whether it would be seen as a bit presumptuous? I've also read that emailing people directly can be seen as rude.

Can anyone offer me any advice? How to go about making connections in an area of the industry I have no prior experience of? What is the best way to approach a practitioner unsolicited?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

REVIEW: The Card Shark

On Friday evening my long-suffering boyfriend and I went on a very rare date night - we had found out about an unusual show taking place in the Courthouse Hotel.

The Courthouse Hotel has a long history; John Lennon and Mick Jagger were both held here, and the original cells now form the lobby bar! There were also some fabulous seashell seats that I wanted to take home with me.

The exterior of the Courthouse Hotel: Image Source - thecardsharkshow.com

The show itself was held in a small cinema style room (I believe they have intimate movie nights there regularly, showing classic films such as 'Breakfast At Tiffanys') with deep, comfortable seats and dim lighting. The stage was set with a couple of chairs, a table and a screen at the back.

We began by watching a short film clip showing nineteen-twenties style gangsters searching for a Card Mechanic (a very advanced card shark) before the magician himself, Steve Truglia, entered. As he sat at the table, the overhead camera relayed through to the screen giving the entire audience an aerial view of his sleight of hand trickery as he went through a series of clever card tricks.

The performance was slick and assured, and throughout the evening Truglia chatted to the audience in a conversational tone. He was obviously very passionate about his art and spoke of his research into card trickery and gambling cons; starting with early card sharks we moved from medieval sorcerers to Cowboys, Prohibition Gangsters, Vegas mobsters, Magicians and modern-day gamblers, Through demonstrations of card tricks and gambling cheats, video clips and projected images we were treated to the combined history of card magicians and card sharks with some very interesting stories thrown in - I especially enjoyed the story of the gambler who invented a machine to hide cards up his sleeve! There were also opportunities for audience participation, demonstrations of NLP and Body Language reading (something that interests my boyfriend and I a lot!) and, of course, magic tricks, all in the context of gamblers and con artists throughout the years.

Waiting for the show to begin

The audience were a tricky bunch; I'm not sure what a lot of them were expecting but I felt they were thrown by the tone of the evening, expecting maybe more a of a 'sit down and watch' show rather than the 'friends round a dinner table' conversational style of performance, and I feel a little like Truglia struggled to keep them all focused throughout the show (the group behind us were chatting away constantly, very annoying!), however I personally enjoyed this less formal presentation of magic and sleight of hand and was extremely interested by many of the links, parallels and stories we were told between the world of the close up magician and the world of the card shark. It felt a little like a cross between an unusual university lecture by a slightly nutty professor and a poker night at an eccentric friend's house!

I do love magic; working with the incredible Simon Drake has opened my eyes to a lot of the magic world but I am constantly amazed by the dedication and commitment of close-up magicians. My boyfriend and I talked about the show all the way home, each of us having a different favourite part, but both of us finding interesting topics for conversation. Highly recommended for a very different evening experience.

Friday, 14 November 2014

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show at The Royal Albert Hall

Last night I was lucky enough to go to watch the screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the gorgeous Royal Albert Hall. It was like going to the cinema in the most elaborate screening room on earth!

Pre-show at The Royal Albert Hall - the red wig was my attempt at dressing up

First, a bit of background: I loved the film when I was a child. I think I was about six or seven when I first saw it, which says a lot about my childhood, but I adored it: people with lots of make-up, sparkly costumes, singing and dancing and a swimming pool at the end, what's not to love? I wanted to grow up and be Columbia with her glitter-covered tap shoes and top hat!
As I grew older I began to understand more about the context of the film and fell out with it entirely: everything from the dinner party scene onwards just freaked me out. Now I'm (allegedly) an adult, I can hold these two conflicting ideas in my head and enjoy the film for what it is.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a cult following: in America screenings attract queues of fancy-dressed patrons, and there are actions or cat calls at certain cues in the film: during the song "There's a Light", audience members traditionally hold up lighters, although in this modern world (and in a Grade II Listed building!) phone cameras were substituted! Actors appear on stage throughout the screening, acting or dancing along with the film, and set pieces are played out for the audiences amusement.

So I was actually a little bit disappointed with the event last night: the bar was suspiciously devoid of people in character dress (the whole evening I saw three or four Frank-N-Furter's, five Magentas and a handful of Columbia's), although there was one gentleman at the front in a fully green and blue sequinned jacket with 'lips' picked out in red and LED lights sewn through, which was rather spectacular!

The lights dimmed and a voice-of-god welcomed us to the screening and the venue, reminding us that while we are wished a good evening to please be aware that the Albert Hall is a listed building and to take due care and attention during the proceedings! We were warmed up by Patricia Quinn who played Magenta in the film, which I have to say bemused me a little bit: a rambling story about Prince Charles, something to do with a Birthday card, a greeting to someone in one of the boxes, then getting the audience to chant the famous line "Don't Dream It, Be It." And the film started.

Patricia Quinn on stage

And that's all it was: the film. No actors or dancers, no interaction. I wasn't sure what to expect but having seen events at the Royal Albert Hall previously such as The Lord Of The Rings screening, accompanied by a full orchestra, I definitely expected more than just the film. The audience provided some entertainment by pitching in at the right times:

BRAD: Hi, I'm Brad Majors
BRAD: And this is my fiancee, Janet Weiss
(every single time the names were said in full!)

...and dancing and singing along the The Time Warp, obviously. It was a fun night, the film is great (Tim Curry is completely iconic as the sexual, uninhibited, deranged Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and I still want to be Columbia) but I definitely thought, given the cult following, that it would have been more raucous, or, yes, that there would have been something going on on the very large stage in front of the screen as well.

Audience involvement - There's A Light Over At The Frankenstein Place

Watching the film in this way made me wonder why it is such a cult classic: it's actually a very depressing film in the end.

"And crawling on the planet's face, some insects called the Human Race. Lost in time, lost in space and meaning." - the last line of the film!

The songs and quotes have become part of popular culture; we all remember doing the Time Warp dance at the school disco or at family weddings, which is actually rather disturbing when you think about the film it comes from!

Discussing this with my friend afterwards, she suggested a lot of it had to do with the time it was released: it's an American film, she said, and in America every girl was a Janet and every boy was a Brad. That's why they're stereotypes of the archetypal all-American kids, all sweet and innocent. The Rocky Horror Picture Show gave a voice to the 'freaks' and suddenly they had the power over the wholesome kids-next-door. The film shows Brad and Janet irreparably changed and corrupted after their exposure to sexuality and alternative lifestyles and for young people who had been told that these lifestyles or desires were morally reprehensible, it must have been unimaginably liberating to see this played out and celebrated on screen.

It's a cult film that draws on many cult cliche's, the Frankenstein monster, creating life; Aliens, there's a King Kong tribute section, there are lasers and spaceships and spooky houses. It celebrates the B-Movie and adds kink and catchy songs into a heady mix. The film's message: Don't Dream It, Be It, is a mantra for pursuing your passion, whether that's a career, love, or creating a monster man in your personal laboratory. It allows people to come together to sing, dance and exist in a state of union and celebrate being maybe not completely normal.

On the other hand, she said, maybe it's just that people like getting dressed up in fishnet tights for a night.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Task 3d: Critical Questions and Issues That Emerge

Do some very specific ideas emerge about your networking and sources? Does your engagement to date seem appropriate? Limited? Focused? Planned? Unplanned?

Thinking about networking has been interesting as it appears it is something we all do without realising it, similar to the realisation I had regarding Reflection during the previous Task.

My current network is comprised of a group of colleagues who have become friends as well. I believe my engagement with this personal network to date has been appropriate and focussed as we all have similar goals that we are working towards individually that we can support each other with as a group. This network has grown organically: from working individually as freelancers and 'running into each other' at various events and venues we became friends, and through mutual interests and goals developed a professional relationship to our mutual benefits.

However, I am in the process of changing my career focus and do not have a professional network in the area I am hoping to move into. I don't even have a link into that arena! However I am currently working on finding sources in the industry and expanding my professional network into this area. I am such an early stage of engaging this network that I wouldn't even consider my engagement 'limited'!

I have made steps by researching practitioners who may have profiles on LinkedIn or Twitter and I have found a group on Facebook that I have joined, however the engagement on that group is quite poor (the last post was from July!) so I am not yet sure how successful these methods will prove to be!

Developing knowledge on my (hopefully) future professional practice!

Are your ideas, position or concerns shared by others within and/or beyond your professional area of work?

This is interesting as I engage my professional network on a personal level as well. We discuss many issues, both personal and professional and we tend to share the same viewpoints on most topics. When we do have differing opinions, the fact that we are friends as well as colleagues means we feel comfortable expressing our differences and we are able to either reach a conclusion or simply 'agree to disagree' !

Despite maybe not openly acknowledging our ethical considerations, we do not share these ideas or positions on social media: we are all aware that our personal opinions may not be shared by those in the wider community.

I have used blogs for several years as part of my portfolio of performer presentation and I occasionally used to post blogs reflecting on aspects of my professional experience. When sharing these blogs on Facebook or Twitter it was always interesting to me to see how many people on the social networks agreed with me through private message, yet did not show their support on the public areas of the site. I wonder whether this is because people fear that supporting something that seems to be against the general consensus will affect them negatively and prefer to agree with the masses rather than put forward a conflicting opinion?

I am considering replicating some of these blog posts on this blog as well, as I feel they may be appropriate regarding some of the critical questions I am considering so far, and may reflect my ongoing consideration of different elements of my professional practice - what do you think?

I'm not sure where my network would be without Facebook Chat! We have several message threads, relating to different areas of our professional practice, including one simply for gossip! Ethical practice has definitely been preserved thanks to this application!

Does sharing ideas and communicating with others shift your thinking, planning or practice?

Absolutely! In a previous blog I mentioned how discussions with my network led to the development of questions that I may use later on in the course.

On a professional level, we plan shows, productions and courses of action through discussion; compromising and developing ideas for the best outcome. My practice (i.e. several acts) has been developed through this method of discussion and sharing ideas and I feel that the support offered by having such a close knit community of practice is an invaluable resource for me and my professional development.

Does critical reflection help you decide what really matters and the actions to take?

Having completed the module on Reflection I have become quite good at keeping a diary. I sometimes miss a day or two, but whenever I have something important to record or consider I write in my journal. I have noticed that reflection on action is becoming an important tool for me as I consider my change of career focus and is helping me to develop a course of thinking and action.

My diary has become a constant companion: I do not use it as a notebook but have it on me at all times to jot down thoughts, feelings or plans as I go along. 

To what extent do concepts and theories assist you in thinking about your professional networking in different ways? And do these different ways of thinking have some purpose for you?

Crisp and Turner's theory of Affiliation was useful to me in realising why we form bonds: 'a network of support that will help us when we are in need' (Crisp and Turner 2007, p. 266), which links into Lave and Wenger's theory of Communities of Practice. Personally I found these two theories the most useful when considering my personal professional networks and the ways in which I engage with them.

As previously mentioned, my personal professional network is also comprised of my close friends, which is why I associate with these two theories closely and I found that they helped to explain my level of engagement with my current personal network.

However as I move forward in my career and professional practice, I feel that the theory of Communities of Practice will become more important as I will look at ways to affiliate with a new community.

Are you left thinking differently prior to this part of the module? And if so, how?

I don't necessarily believe I have been left thinking 'differently' as such, but I have been thinking more intensely about my engagement and development of both my professional network and my professional practice.

The theories put forward in the Reader and additional materials I found extremely interesting; especially Axelrod's Game Theory, which led to several discussions amongst my network regarding different theories of mutual cooperation.

At the beginning of this Task I was unsure whether I would gain much benefit from the theories (to be honest I didn't actually even understand them when I first read them!) However as I worked through the tasks and re-read the course materials in context, this, combined with puzzling things through in my journal, helped me to make a lot more sense of, and look more critically at the ways both myself and others utilize their professional networks.

I have found that I am looking critically at more areas of both my professional and personal practice. I have been reading more, and more deeply into areas of professional practice that I previously overlooked, such as blogs, newspaper articles and books. I am hoping to be able to expand my practice to include more areas that I hope will assist me as I work towards a career transition and have made steps towards this by expanding the focus of this blog from a dedicated course blog to include areas of interest to myself that will hopefully also be of use to others!

Theatre Thoughts: Audience Demographics

I recently came across this infographic on Time Out's 'Now-Here-This' Column:

Image Source: J.Cheshire, O.Umberti, The Information Capital, Particular Books

The image shows theatre attendance amongst Londoners and compares them in the tab on the left to trends in other major cities around the world. It was accompanied by this quote:

"In 2012 Londoners watched nearly twice as many theatre performances as music gigs, and for every 100,000 of us we watched just 35 dance shows."

Each year there are an estimated 1,472 dance performances in London alone (dance-uk.org/resources/dance-facts): this figure includes one off events as well as touring productions and resident shows at places such as Sadler's Wells and The Royal Opera House.

So why are Londoners watching so few of them? 

According to research from TicketMaster, the worlds largest ticketing agency, there are a few statistics that might explain this trend. (N.B. The link is a really interesting article - definitely worth a read!)
  • Demographics: 16-19 year olds are more likely to attend the theatre than any other age group
  • Ticket prices: cost is the main barrier to entry for both attendees and non-attendees

How do audiences find out about a show?

Word of mouth - 28%

I have taken a couple of examples from the article: if word of mouth is the main method of people choosing to go and see a show, the relatively poor attendance figures of Dance shows causes a vicious cycle: fewer people to recommend the performance means less people likely to visit and so on.

Dance performances may also be seen as less accessible to those who may not have experienced dance before. Again, this is a self-perpetuating cycle - the less people go to watch dance performances, the less people may in the future!

The age range of those considered likely to book theatre tickets is interesting. I feel that dance shows, along with opera and operetta, are considered slightly elitist and therefore are aimed at an older demographic than those that the TicketMaster research suggests are the most likely to visit. Perhaps productions need to rethink their marketing and presentation strategies to attempt to appeal to a younger audience.

This is often attempted with productions by the English National Ballet aiming their work at children, and events at The London Coliseum intended to attract a younger audience, but it's obvious there is still some way to go!

Coppelia for Kids?: Image Source - atgtickets

However, theatre itself is experiencing a resurgence in London, possibly due to the proliferation of deals, cut price ticket offers and growing tourism in the wake of the recession.

"According to the Society of London Theatre, 2012 was a record year for Theatreland with 13,992,773 visits..." (BBC News - also an extremely interesting article!)

Personally I believe that shows deliberately aimed at this 16-19 aged audience are responsible for this upsurge: 'The Book Of Mormon' is one of the most successful productions of recent history: with writers known for popular comedy films and cartoons, a mocking tone and catchy songs, this seems to be the way to hook a captive audience!

'The Book Of Mormon' marketing strategy was also aimed at a younger audience. Tube posters carried Tweets and Hashtags, making the show seem more like a collaborative event as opposed to a removed performance.

"Social media is hugely popular among theatre audiences. Nearly a quarter (24%) tweet about the performance they are about to see or have already see. Among 16 to 19-year olds this rises to nearly half (47%). Meanwhile, around one in five theatregoers are using social media to write reviews about what they have seen. However, only around 3% are currently getting their information about theatre through social media – this could indicate that theatres are not using social media to its full extent to market shows." - TicketMaster Report (thestage.co.uk)

This strategy seems to have paid off as tickets sold out for months in advance of opening, despite initially receiving mixed reviews from critics.

Book Of Mormon poster with Tweets - Image Source: brandideasguy.com

Personally I love going to see dance shows, however given the choice between a dance production or a musical, I would probably choose the musical. The statistics in the initial infographic seem to back this up but I couldn't tell you why! 

Why do you think this is so?

Originally Published at http://bit.ly/1P3gFsB

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Task 3c: Sources Of Information

I've been thinking about this task for a while, identifying where I get most of my industry relevant information from. Most of it is from the internet and I found it almost impossible to identify which websites I went to the most often as I usually just follow links from social media! I rarely even notice which website the link is taking me to, which is quite a scary thought really, how flippant we are about which websites we look at.
I was also attempting to be selective about the term 'information' - there are a couple of websites I use regularly, almost daily, that are simply for fun (websites such as Buzzfeed, or OMD, which, while they carry lots of information, I use them mostly for entertainment purposes!) I limited the term to sources of information that inform, advise or progress my professional practice, and sources I use to aid my personal and professional development.

1) Facebook
By far this is the social media network I use the most often. As mentioned in my blog on Web 2.0 I feel that it is because of the ease of use, the simple layouts, the fact I can chat with my friends at the same time and the speed with which information can be shared.

I usually follow links if they seem interesting, entertaining or relevant to my personal interests. These could be to news articles, blogs, image sharing sites, etc.

I am friends with lots of performers, from the Cabaret industry, those who work as actors and dancers, and those who have moved on from performing into other areas of the arts so there are always interesting articles being shared and linked to. Some of these focus on issues surrounding the performing arts, such as body image, pay scales, audition techniques, etc, but friends also post audition or casting links, write about topics such as feminism or the lack of work for certain people in a particular area of the industry.

Depending on who has posted what, I may or may not comment on a particular post: if I am on Facebook as my performing persona I may not comment for fear of having an opinion taken in the wrong way (It is *so* difficult on Social Media to gauge a persons tone, and therefore their intention. A friend posted a quote on someone else's status once, meant as a joke, and the person in question didn't get the joke at all leading to a massive argument!) I rarely comment on cabaret-related articles as myself, as I want to keep the two persona's completely separate: as previously mentioned, there is still some stigma surrounding burlesque and I don't want the career I have now to impact negatively on a career I may have in the future.

Photographer Credit: Artedinamika, Milan
There is still a stigma surrounding burlesque and cabaret performance, and on Social Media I keep my two persona's separate - my 'character' acts in ways I would not do.

2) Twitter
I follow lots of industry specific websites on Twitter, such as The Ballet Bag, BackStage and The Stage. They regularly post interesting articles or links relating to the industry at large and I have found some wonderful blogs and posts through following links these users share. I don't tend to use Twitter as much as Facebook, however: I think this is down to the overflow of information streaming constantly through this network, it can be difficult to isolate or identify relevant posts. I also find that because a lot of the accounts I follow through Twitter are 'performing arts' related, I rarely come across Cabaret specific articles.

Websites such as The Stage allow me to see what developments are occurring in the industry at large but don't have the focussed attention of articles on websites such as This Is Cabaret, or 21st Century Burlesque, which are users I follow through my performer accounts. However, trends in the wider performing community can impact on all areas so it is useful to keep abreast of issues arising, and keeping up to date on significant events will enable me to inform my future professional practice.

"Informal Learning is a significant aspect of our learning experience. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways - through communities of practice [and] personal networks..." 

Image Source: rackafracka.com

3) Books
I read a lot. At any given time I will have a couple of books on the go: at the moment I am reading a fiction, a biography, a reference book and an industry specific publication. I get a lot of my information on most subjects from books and couldn't live without my Kindle in my handbag at all times!

However, I realised that I am extremely reliant on the internet even for books! I was recently looking for a book relating to my career path, so searched online for titles relating to my practice, then read reviews, looked at customer feedback ratings, and searched for a good price or free shipping! Without the internet I would have bought the first book I came across in a shop, probably paid a lot more than I did and might not have found the information I sought in that particular book.

When I'm reading fiction I read relatively quickly and I make links as I go along. I couldn't tell you the exact words of the sentence I just read but I could tell you the jist of it! When reading reference books or material relating to my professional practice I read much slower. I often re-read paragraphs or sentences, or go back a page if I haven't made sense of a section by the time I've reached the end. I occasionally make notes in the margin (in pencil of course!) or underline sections. On my Kindle I make use of the highlighter and bookmark tools to refer back to at a later time.

A couple of the books I am reading at the moment to inform my future professional practice!

4) My Personal Professional Network
So much of my information comes from the people I work and associate with. We talk and gossip about work, have discussions about the state of the industry or where it's heading, and argue out act development between ourselves.

Getting other peoples perspectives in a face-to-face way, as opposed to over the internet is an incredibly useful tool for professional development! I don't think the Skype Dance Class is ever really going to overtake time spent with the teacher in the studio, and similarly there's nothing better than a chat with friends while having a cup of tea to help clear things up.

While I was talking with friends a couple of weeks ago I was able to focus my thoughts towards my professional enquiry and sought their opinions on different questions I was considering. The ensuing conversation lasted several hours and I had to send my partner to the shop to buy me a notepad and pen before all the conversation had flown out of my head! (I now keep those on me at all times, just in case!)

"Network Theory [is] a branch of mathematics that has attracted extraordinary interest in recent years. The more people study it, the more relevant it seems as an organising principal to explain how the world really works. Networks crop up everywhere. People network socially. The internet is a network. Transport links form networks. Ecosystems form networks. Computers depend on them. What is really exciting people is how lessons learned in one discipline, such as biology, are feeding into others, such as economics."

My trusty notepads! I always carry at least one wherever I go!

5) News Outlets
I watch the news every morning as I am getting ready for work, and I read the newspaper on the train as I commute. These are my main sources of information on the wider world outside of Social Media. Occasionally there will be subjects discussed on the BBC news that relate either to my industry or my professional practice: in a recent blog I mentioned how Michael Palin had been talking about his journals, as I was working on the journal writing task!

Newspapers are currently running stories about our reliance on technology and the infiltration of portable technology into our lives: as it is approaching Christmas several companies are producing items of 'wearable tech', gadgets that can be worn as watches and link to social media or email accounts (I can't think of anything worse than having a constant Facebook notification beep going off on my wrist, but then, five years ago, I couldn't imagine having Facebook on my phone, so who knows?!)

My daily breakfast companions - BBC Breakfast News Presenters: Image Source - BBC.co.uk

So these are my five most important sources of information. For reflection and evaluation, my Personal Professional Network is definitely the most useful, and because the network consists of my group of friends and professional peers it is also the most valuable. Because of our disparate connections outside of the immediate group we are able to support, inform and promote each other as well as ourselves. We are able to discuss ideas and share information informally and privately, and having other practitioners to develop ideas with is an invaluable resource.

In terms of access to information, Facebook and Twitter are my most useful tools: I rely on Twitter more than on the news websites for breaking stories (recently a major train station in London was closed at rush hour, the news outlets simply stated this fact, Twitter was able to inform me that there had been a bomb scare caused by a passenger on one of the trains: this was tweeted by another passenger who had observed the incident prior to being evacuated, and then re-tweeted many hundreds of times before the news outlets had picked up on the story!) Because of the 'real time' nature of these networks I find they are more reliable than other media for the swift updating and gathering of information.
I do sometimes feel I am too reliant on Social Media - the ease of access is simply too alluring and the simplicity of sharing links and therefore knowledge and information is unparalleled. The value of Facebook to my professional practice is the volume of practitioners, at all stages of their careers, who I can link to at any given time for information, research, advice and resources.

However I still do rely on print media and the television news for information on a wider scale, and issues that are affecting the world. Because of the in-depth nature of the coverage and the (usually) non-biased reporting nature I still depend on the news channels and newspapers to provide extra background information: after the incident mentioned above, the news channels and newspapers ran stories about it, collating information from a range of sources including eye-witness accounts, on-site reporters and social media to provide more analysis than a Facebook status or Twitter update could.
I stopped using resources such as The Stage when I became more involved in the Cabaret industry as I didn't feel the publication reflected my interests or professional practice. I used to read Time Out Magazine which ran a Cabaret column, but due to budget constraints this column was cut early in 2014. I think this is the limitation of print media: high costs of production with low cost sales and dwindling audience numbers means that there may come a time when printed newspapers and magazines disappear altogether!

And books - I love books! Especially for investigating my professional practise as I feel I can almost interact with a book (as mentioned I often scribble notes or underline relevant sections) in a way that I can't do even with my Kindle (although I love that too!) I have a whole bookshelf filled with publications that inform my professional practice, biographies of famous performers, reference books for the arts, those that allow me to develop my thinking and therefore my career... etc.
As I mentioned earlier, I do believe there will come a time when books in print become obsolete, and I hope I won't be around to see it!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Task 3b: Theories Relating to Networking

Networking is an essential part of a successful career. If a person has the means and the ability to network it can aid their professional development and career progression.

We each use a variety of tools, both internet based and in real life, to network. But are we working to the best of our ability?

What is a professional network?
  • a 'work related community held together by either close working affiliation or a more distant but common work interests or needs.' (1)
Networking [is] creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question 'How can I help' and not with 'What can I get'?” (2)

A process that fosters the exchange of information and ideas among individuals or groups that share a common interest. Networking may fall into one of two categories - social or business. In the latter category, one of the implicit objectives is to form professional relationships that may boost one's future business and employment prospects.” (3)

Image Source: meetville.com (4)

Engaging effectively with your professional network may impact positively upon your success... 

Example: a few years ago a couple of performers in the cabaret industry took umbrage at a judge in a certain television talent show using the word 'cabaret' repeatedly to describe an act that they felt was weak or cliched. The two industry performers indirectly worked for this talent show as critics on a YouTube channel run by a national magazine, so they were naturally upset about their work being referred to in a derogatory manner. Using their professional network and connections they created a YouTube response to the situation which, due to the power of personal connections and social networks, went viral, was responded to by the judge themselves, appeared in national newspapers and garnered a public apology from the television show! It just goes to show the power of networking, both personal, professional and through social media!

"Cabariot: Too Cabaret, A Message For Gary Barlow" (2012)

So, how do we create, build and engage our current or intended professional networks?

Axelrod (1984) argues for patterns that exist for cooperation within a network. The “Prisoner's Dilemma” was a game he developed to identify the patterns of behaviour: “to my surprise the winner was the simplest of all the programs submitted, TIT FOR TAT” (5) This strategy was simply to copy the actions of another players last move, or, as the Course Reader suggests: cooperate fully until maximum benefit produced then defect.

The conditions for cooperation were defined by Axelrod as:
I have perceived Axelrod's “Tit For Tat” at work in my personal professional networks: I used to use a website designed primarily for models and photographers to display their work and seek new collaborations. The homepage of the website was designed with a 'ticker' feed to display users messages to the community and a common message was 'Likes for Likes' (i.e. if I liked a photographers image, they would in turn like one of mine, thus pushing the image higher in the chain of priority for the search tool therefore making it more visible to the wider community). On Twitter there was a 'Follow Back' trend, i.e. If I followed a user who had tagged their tweets with this message, they would reciprocate and follow me too, widening the network of connections across the platform.

However Richard Dawkins argues that cooperation, or altruism, is not a natural behaviour, that it is learned. He argues in his book 'The Selfish Gene' that because we learn that cooperation brings mutual rewards, altruism cannot be considered to be entirely altruistic. (7)  This discussion has been going on for an extremely long time! Is there any such thing as a truly selfless act?

[T]here must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant.... (8)

Image Source: meetville.com

Personally I believe that cooperation is a necessity for a successful professional network. Whether the members of our network are 'friends' or people with whom we have purely a working relationship, cooperation must exist between the members of a network in order to facilitate its existence. Without cooperation the network would be unable to achieve its stated goals or aims.

Cooperation, to me, means working effectively towards the mutually agreed conclusion of a project, or for the further promotion of the network. When I googled 'How to Cooperate' there were hundreds of websites raising different points, each designed to lead people towards to point of cooperation. This indicates to me that people may often find it difficult to cooperate!

The main points brought up from each source, however, were essentially the same. The root of effective cooperation lies in:
  • Each team member having the same goal / Finding common ground
  • Utilising different skills / accepting differences and limitations
  • Effective Communication!
  • Active Listening – engage with the speaker and make notes for further investigation
  • Argue points with facts, not opinion / Don't make issues personal
These are all fairly obvious, yet it seems that when working or networking, we may need reminding of them! I think Effective Communication and Active Listening are the two points I will be taking on board when networking in the future as I tend to let my mind wander at times, and often don't make myself heard when I probably should.

This concept argues that we actively and intuitively seek out networking opportunities in our day-to-day lives, whether professional or personal.

'A successful career requires effective professional networking...' (9)

'It is up to each practitioner to see how to grow their professional networks sideways (to others at an equivalent level) as well as upwards into the established hierarchy.' (10)

'...our tendency to seek out others and form close relationships is an inherited trait that helps us to survive and reproduce by providing us with a network of support that will help us when we are in need.' (11)


To me, this suggests that we innately network, whether we necessarily realise we are doing so or not. There are several events held across London with a specific lean towards a certain group of professionals: I occasionally receive invites to a Dancer's Only event held at a club in Leicester Square, and there are often late night events at venues in Soho aimed at those working in West End Theatres. These are occasions for networking, thinly disguised as social gatherings.

Backstage at shows the members of the cast will affiliate with each other simply due to proximity. This may then lead to a friend request on Facebook, a follow on Twitter, a recommendation on LinkedIn, and the practitioner's professional network has grown through affiliation.

This theory has led me to conclude that most situations could also be taken advantage of as networking occasions. I recently went to watch a friend perform at a venue I had never been to. I was speaking with my friend and the organiser, casually after the event which led to her asking for my business card. I have now opened up a new contact with the potential for future work without any prior intention to do so!

I have been lax about carrying promotional materials in the past, but after clarifying this theory I now take a handful of my business cards with me wherever I go! I am also considering designing a couple of business cards for 'myself' as I intend to work on opening up my professional networks to the industry I wish to work in in the future and I don't think my performer business cards would be particularly appropriate in this scenario!

A brilliant business card design! Image Source: allgraphicdesign.com

Social Constructionism
This theory argues for the individualistic point of view towards perceptions of a professional network and the values or engagement each individual places upon it.

What constructionism claims is that meanings are constructed by human beings as they engage with the world they are interpreting. Before there were consciousnesses on earth capable of interpreting the world, the world held no meaning at all.” (13)

I would argue that the Constructivism theory is similar to the Learning Theories proposed by Fleming, Honey & Mumford, Kolb, et. al, as discussed in a previous blog. The meanings ascribed to any specific stimulus is uniquely individual to the one perceiving it:

We need to remind ourselves... that it is human beings who have construed [a tree] as a tree, given it the name and attributed to it the associations we make with trees... 'Tree' is likely to bear quite different connotations in a logging town, an artists' settlement and a treeless slum.” (14)

...learning is always grounded in prior experience and any attempt to foster new learning must take into account that experience.” (15)

Personally my close professional network is also comprised of a group of my good friends: therefore I place a high value on both the personal and professional worth of this network. The worth of this network to an outsider would be higher or lower depending on the individuals perception of the members status within the wider industry.

However, as the individual changes over time, so too will their interpretation of the value placed on their current professional network: if a professional network is no longer necessary to the progression of the practitioner, then it is no longer useful: the Tit For Tat cooperation model in action!

When I was first starting out in Cabaret I placed a high importance on certain shows or events that I felt would positively contribute to my position in the industry. As I progressed to bigger events, the smaller, local networks were no longer of value professionally. I would like to think that I continue to value these connections personally even though, professionally, they may no longer be of direct use to my intended career. I maintain these networks through social media and make an attempt to interact with those involved as I still have a removed interest in their actions and interactions.

I don't know whether I like the theory of Social Constructionism, although I have to admit I can see the point it is trying to make. While I understand that this is obviously how we network, moving through the ranks, so to speak, I don't like what it says about us as people really: consciously placing a lesser or higher importance on a network or an individual based on their value to us at any given time. I think I dislike the almost mercenary perspective it places on networking and, to me, argues against the theory of cooperation mentioned previously.

However, at the same time, I know that this is, as I said, the way we network and social groups become more or less important to us at different stages of our lives and our careers. The value we place on a network today may increase or decrease tomorrow, and similarly, the value we place on our current professional network is specific to us: another person may place higher or lower value on our network than we do ourselves.

Communities of Practice
Communities of Practice was defined by Lave and Wenger (1991) as 'situated learning' – social, informal, often connected with specific social groups, self organising rather than hierarchical: therefore based in a 'community' as opposed to a traditional learning model. (16)

communities of practice are apparent in many professional and other social contexts or 'situations' are that we are all engaged in a number of communities of practice, whose characters and the nature of our engagement my vary considerably and change over time. Our sustained engagement within our communities of practice produce learning...[and places] emphasis on participation over acquisition of specific bodies of knowledge.” (17)

I believe that this links back to a previous blog regarding reflection in the arts: interaction fosters learning and therefore consolidates a professional network. children who are exposed to the arts engage more effectively over time.

A community of practice is a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice. A community of practice is an intrinsic condition for the existence of knowledge, not least because it provides the interprettive support necessary for making sense of its heritage...” (18)

Nowhere is this concept seen more clearly than in Social Media and Web 2.0 – it is a collaborative process of engagement to spread and consume information. Communities of practice also exist on specific websites: fashion bloggers will comment and inform other fashion bloggers, musicians will post videos on YouTube inviting critique (and criticism) from other musicians, etc.

My personal community of practice is based upon those individuals who I work with the most often: they are invited (formally and informally) to comment and advise upon aspects of my personal professional practice, and each member of the community reciprocates in kind. We learn through connecting with one another. I also learn from my wider community of practice, based on my Facebook page: for example - if a performer posts a picture of a costume I particularly admire I might use it as inspiration on a mood board when planning my own costume.

The Cabaret community of practice is comprised of a wide variety of practitioners who, while they may appear to have opposing views, all have the same goal: the continuation and growth of the industry. This is as I stated in my previous blog: that a professional network should be comprised of those who have different areas of expertise, similar areas of interest and the same goal. I am not suggesting that the cabaret community is a perfect network, though. There are too many egos at play to possibly consider it a perfect community, however for the most part, the participants in the community are mutually supportive and supporting, and the industry is founded on this cooperation.

I like the term 'Communities Of Practice' as it implies disparate entities working, if not together, than for the same outcome, which, to me, is the main working style of the cabaret industry!


There are as many theories and opinions on networking and how to be successful as there are ways to network! This task has helped me look at the ways in which I engage my current professional networks and investigate deeper into the methods by which I make use of the communities with which I am involved.

I believe that many of the proposed theories of networking are innate behaviours: Darwin, however, posed the famous theory of evolution; 'The Survival Of The Fittest', so from an evolutionary, hereditary perspective, the idea of altruism simply does not fit, whereas cooperation for mutual gain does. I feel that this purely selfish interpretation does not take into account networks that are built on a foundation of friendship, but it does provide a starting point for investigation into why we are drawn to network and affiliate with others. A network of individuals working towards a single goal is naturally stronger than one person working alone, so maybe that is Darwinian in its way!

"Simply, a 'professional network' is really a group of friends who like each other and are willing to help each other out when times get tough professionally." (19)

The methods discussed in the Course Reader provided me with points for consideration while working through this task, and I am sure I will be utilising some of these theories, and focussing on some of the points raised, as I begin to build a new professional network for my intended future career.

  6. AXELROD, 1984
  8. HOBBES, 1651 P.120