Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reflection on Inquiry Proposal

After the first online session for Module Two, I started thinking a little more about clarifying my lines of inquiry. Paula spoke about formulating it as a question; "What do I Want To Find Out?" And starting from there. It helped clarify a couple of things for me and I have been reflecting on this over the last couple of days. In conversation with my professional network and a couple of new sources I have recently made contact with I have set out a more concrete path rather than a rather abstract concept and I have begun to develop ideas on how to *actually* research them!

I decided recently that I would like to look at the impact that new theatre and new writing has on both audience engagement and the wider theatrical landscape. I 'want to find out' *why* new writing and new theatre is so popular, why so many people are taking risks going to see new work, and whether the ideas posed in challenging new work actually have an impact on the audiences who view it. When I talk about New Theatre, I'm referring to newly written or newly produced works, as well as modern adaptations of classic texts (such as the adaptation of Othello I saw last month), and new concepts in theatre like Immersive Theatre (such as those produced by Punchdrunk)

I framed the working title as: "The Impact of New Theatre on Audience Engagement and the Wider Theatrical Landscape"

The sub-questions I have for this are:

* Why does New Theatre continue to be popular?
    In the early '90s the government supplied huge subsidies to theatres to produce work by new writers. My theory for this is that the country was experiencing a huge economic boom: with increased spending comes confidence; increased confidence leads to increased national pride and therefore the drive to create a national 'voice' through theatre. (This is similar to the first Dramaturg, Gotthold Lessing, who was hired by the very first National Theatre of Germany in the 1700's!) However, we have now come out of one of the longest recessions in living history and theatres are no longer receiving the support they once did (For example, the Finborough Theatre, one of the UK's foremost new-works theatres, is completely unsubsidised), so why is risky, controversial, new work still so popular?
  I will research this in conversation with audience members, to find out why they decided to come to see *this* particular production: what was it that made them want to see this play. I believe that for the most part they will have some sort of affinity with the subject of the plot which made them interested to see it depicted on stage.
  I will also research the history of government funding for arts establishments to see whether there is a solid historical link between funding and new productions: I initially believe that this will be so, as I believe that theatres will have been more willing to take risks in these environments. However what I want to know is why new writing continues to be popular despite cuts in funding. I will do this through interviews with playwrights and theatrical producers, who hold responsibility for the programming of theatre seasons.

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* What does New Writing do for audience engagement?
   I had an interesting discussion over the last week, where it was suggested that new playwrights were often writing more for their own conceit: I used the example of a play being produced in London in the forthcoming Spring 2015 season that exposes the 'realities' of the poultry trade. The playwright is obviously hoping to incite some sort of change by creating a story around the brutality of the cheap meat industry, but will it actually have that effect? How many of the audience will actually think twice or change their shopping habits after witnessing the play? This is just one example I could think of off the top of my head, and shows what I mean by 'audience engagement with the play'.
   I will also look at elements of advertising and social media, showing the ways in which audiences engage with productions both before and after the experience (tweeting about being at the theatre, for example, or a facebook post regarding the show)
   I intend to do this through the same post-show interview questions mentioned above. I intend to find out whether the play has made the audience members think differently about an aspect of their lives, or whether the production has had an impact on them beyond the stage. I will also collate this with interviews with playwrights to determine whether the messages received by an audience are those that were initially intended when writing the play.
   I suspect that audiences will initially have many reactions to a particularly provocative piece of theatre, and that work intended to incite a change may resonate beyond the world of the play. However I doubt that many audience members will make active changes to their routine simply because of it! Many historical theatre theorists have talked about the power of theatre to incite social change, however how effective is it in our modern world? Is it just entertainment and are we too saturated with shocking images every day for a play to have much impact?

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* How is New Theatre changing the landscape of UK Theatre?
   With so many new works being written and produced, how is it changing the wider landscape of theatre? How many new works (those written in the last ten years or so) go on to be large-scale successes and why? How many UK plays transfer abroad or to Broadway? What effect is new work having on the established West End hierarchy of mega-musicals or American transfers? (Les Mis, Beautiful, Wicked, etc) For example, King Charles III has been one of the big success stories of the last year, however will it continue to be successful (a source suggested it would be a 'classic' in another twenty years) or will the fact that the plot is so current, make it seem dated in another decade?
  I intend to research this through conversations with long-term theatre practitioners of all disciplines (actors, directors, dramaturgs and producers) to find out what impact the popularity of new writing has had on the landscape of theatre: whether they feel there is less of a place for the classics, that people *want* to see more new work and have less patience for texts they may only remember from school, or whether they feel it is a phase that will pass; whether any new work has the power to become a classic or if it is too rooted in a specific time and place without the ability to cross over generations.

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So that's where I'm up to at the moment. I'm feeling quite calm now that I actually have a plan of what I want to research and how to go about it as previously I just had loads of ideas and no set methodology of what to do or how to go about it!

As always, thoughts and ideas very welcome!!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

OPINION: What Is "Professional"?

A while ago I posted a blog that I had originally written on my performer page, then this morning I was reading Paula's blog which mentioned that one of the discussions in the current Module One campus session had revolved around what it means to be a 'professional', which reminded me of another post I originally wrote in 2012 (I realised I was quite ranty and opinionated back then! I've mellowed in the last couple of years I think!)

So once again, I thought I'd share my previous, cabaret-related thoughts with you! Please note, when I re-read this, I had a lot of new thoughts so the sections in italics are my additions or current thinking processes rather than part of the original.

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What Is 'Professional'? (Originally Posted July 2012)

Almost every Burlesque performer has, somewhere in their blurb the line 'I am a professional burlesque dancer' or similar.

This irks me on many levels. Firstly, and most quickly, I don't believe you should call yourself a dancer if you can't dance. Walking around in time to music shedding a pretty costume is all well and good: it is performance, it can be artistic, it may be entertaining, but it is not dancing. Or is it? Who is to say what makes a 'dance performance'?

Secondly: what is 'professional' in this context? The OED defines the term variously as “Engaged in a profession as a means of livelihood”, or “Characteristic of or befitting a profession” And this is the issue. Generally, if something is your main form of income, that is your profession.

However, what if a performer is of a very high standard, working in good quality shows, yet they have a day job, and burlesque is merely a hobby they enjoy, which provides a little extra pocket money on the side? Do they have the right to call themselves a professional burlesque performer as they conduct and present themselves in a professional manner? Conversely, and less occasionally encountered, take the example of a sub-standard performer who works a couple of nights in lower quality shows yet has no other source of income: do they have the right to call themselves a professional as they do not have another job and therefore relies on the money they may earn from performing?

Attitude also plays a huge role in determining professionalism (take the second definition from the OED): a performer can be paid well for a show, yet behave shockingly backstage, or turn in a sub-par performance. This would be talked about as “behaving unprofessionally” however they have been paid well. On the other hand, a lower paid, or unpaid, performer may arrive early, behave impeccably and present a stand-out act: this would have been “professional conduct” so who can judge who was the professional or the amateur?

On a slight tangent: Amateur does NOT mean 'bad'!. Amateur Dramatics companies do not advertise themselves as professional performances despite the fact that many are of an extremely high standard. However this is something to discuss at another time.

It is a tricky subject and one that is much discussed on various forums. I, personally, trained in performance: my qualification was called 'Professional Musical Theatre' and I gained a Distinction. Does this qualification alone entitle me to call myself a professional performer when I spent my first year out of college working in a bar and schlepping to and from auditions several times a week? There are no qualifications or standardizations in Burlesque. When I first started I was advised not to use the word 'professional' in my blurb until I had either been working for five years, reached a certain level of exposure or could command a certain fee for a show. This is all very confusing to newcomers, and I honestly think that the first time they are paid for a performance they are able, through definition (being paid for their work) able to call themselves a professional. If there was a certain level of attainment, in the way that a medical qualification denotes a professional doctor, then that would be clearer: or a ballerina joining the English National Ballet company could then call themselves a professional ballet dancer. It's so tricky in such a fluid industry!

The blurring of definition is possibly what has led to the confusion. Performers state that they are 'professional' as they expect, usually quite rightly, to be paid for their performances, but it carries with it expectations of a certain standard: both in performance level and personal conduct. As mentioned a moment ago, however, there is no standardization. Attempts were made several years ago to correct this and introduce a teaching or grading syllabus, but it proved very difficult both to create a system and convince the established teachers or grading companies to take it seriously. And this is part of the problem: untrained performers are going on to teach performance to other non-performers, creating a community where the top performers rarely refer to themselves as professional (maybe because it doesn't need to be said) and those who have completed a six-week 'how to take your stockings off' course are throwing the word around willy-nilly!

It's not for me to say who can or can't call themselves a professional burlesque dancer – people can call themselves whatever they wish, but I do believe there should be more awareness of what the term actually means and the responsibility you create for yourself when you use it. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

REVIEW: Tree - Old Vic Theatre

Tree (Old Vic Theatre)
I deliberately didn't read anything about 'Tree' before I went to see it: advertised as a 'relatively' new show, I wanted to be surprised and watch with an open mind.

The programme is vague, folding out into a poster for the production and simply re-iterating the information on the Old Vic's website; that it is a play for two people, written  by the comic Daniel Kitson, and is set next to a tree in early autumn.

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Set in the round, the stage is dominated by the titular prop; a stunning tree that stretches into the lighting rigs of the theatre. The plot concerns two un-named men, played by Tim Key, and Kitson himself. Key has arrived at the foot of the tree for a meeting with a woman he hasn't seen for ten years; he is flustered and excited, full of apprehension at the meeting that he believes he is running late for. It turns out the clocks have changed and he is, in fact, very early. 

His quiet wait is interrupted by the presence of a man who has lived in the branches of the tree, so he says, for nine years (pooping in plastic bags, reading books sent up by his neighbours and watching subtitled movies through an old lady's window.) What follows is an exchange of life stories, mundane and unbelievable; a series of questions that are asked explicitly or simply implied, and tales that branch out (pardon the pun) into others.

The script is lightning fast, full of witty exchanges and touching insights. My only quibble would be that it may be almost *too* quick with some of the jokes lost in laughter and the pace having to slow to allow it. The actors were not wearing microphones, which added to both the intimacy and the situation (shouting up to or down from a tree) but it did mean that some of the lines after a wave of laughter went unheard, and there was a lot of laughter from the sold-out audience.

Kitson is remarkably comfortable on stage, despite spending the entire 90 minutes tied to a tree, jumping about on the branches and peering through the foliage, in contrast with Key, whose character never seems to be quite comfortable on the ground, struggling with whether to stand or sit, or how to lay out the picnic. As their relative stories unfurl, I was unsure as to what was true and what was fantasy; a seemingly normal situation is not what it appears to be, and something absurd has logical reasoning.

There was a dip in energy towards the end but the final triple-whammy of revelations, comic and tragic, brought it back up and I was left questioning which stories I believed, what I wanted to believe, and the true nature of the characters lives and intentions. 

It was a beautifully written, poignant and funny play, dealing with questions of commitment (committing to a cause, a person, a date...) and the stories we choose to tell to the world or keep to ourselves.

Originally Published at

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

REVIEW: Theatre & Audience - Helen Freshwater

Theatre & Audience (Helen Freshwater: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

"What does theatre do for - and to - those who witness, watch and participate in it?"

This was the blurb on the back of the book, which immediately grabbed my attention as it is one of the elements of my inquiry!

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The questions raised in this book are extremely interesting, investigating the roots of theatre, audience interaction and the effects of different types of theatre on audiences.

Subjects touched on include the perception of the audience from the point of view of a playwright, director or actor: the difficulties inherent in classifying a group response rather than an individual one; the role of critics and many more.

"...'modes of attention' are subject to change over time as developments in technology provide us with new forms of perception." (BANES & LEPECKI, P.4)

This quote stood out to me as it may provide one of the explanations for the rise in popularity of New Theatre; as audiences have been previously exposed to wider thinking through the internet, social media and international news coverage, as well as the violence and extreme behaviour displayed in popular films and even television shows, their tastes and preferences for live performance, too, will have developed.

I made lots of notes!

One thing I did find particularly pertinent to my line of inquiry was that there has been very little research into the effects of theatre on an audience. There are studies and essays on audience effects from film, television and other media, and theatre studies looking at demographics (as with my previous literature review), yet with theatre, the actual effects seem to have been left to the critics, who, as the book states, may have very different reactions for a variety of reasons to the majority of the audience. The case that springs to mind immediately is the opening night of Les Miserables, as this musical was panned by the critics yet is one of the longest running, highest grossing and most popular musicals worldwide.

After reading this I have had a lot of new ideas to consider, and it has consolidated my intention to look at the reactions of the audience in response to New Theatre: it is something that is apparently under-researched and yet would be of use to companies and theatres when programming new works to be able to more accurately predict an audience response.

References (cited within text reviewed)
Banes, Sally & Lepecki, Andre: The Senses in Performance, Routledge, 2006

Friday, 6 February 2015

Inquiry Proposal

After weeks of thought and reflection, I have come up with a proposed title for my enquiry project!

"The Impact of New Theatre on Audience Engagement and the Wider Theatrical Landscape"

I looked back at my blog and considered Emma Corboz's comment about making the title more specific: the problem I was having was condensing the different routes into one focused enquiry title, and I think I've cracked it!

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I intend to look at the popularity of New Writing for Theatres, and establish why it is so popular, when placed in contention against more established productions: the ways in which theatres engage with their audiences (both through marketing and through the production) and the audiences reactions to new writing, how they interpret and understand the work, and, if this is different to the original intentions of the writer or director, whether the individuals interpretation of a new work (or re-working of an established piece) really matters. Finally I shall look at the impact of new writing and new productions on the wider scale of theatre as a whole to determine whether this phase is indicative of changing audience tastes, and how new theatre impacts on the industry and society.

In the past I have looked at audience trends (here and here) and viewing habits, which has begun to help me understand the current tastes of theatre-goers and I will develop this with more specificity towards my enquiry, looking at audiences of New Theatre in particular.

What do you think? I'd appreciate any feedback or advice on this!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Theatre Thoughts: Demographics

State Of Play: Theatre UK (Live Analytics/Ticketmaster)

*All quotes from the PDF document unless otherwise stated

This was a PDF document I found during my online research. It is interesting and useful for my enquiry as the report looks at theatre attendance in detail and from a variety of perspectives.

"This isn't a simple demographic study - we're looking not just at who attends the theatre, but at why they attend, where they go, and how they came to be there..." (YOVICH, 2013)

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The report has compiled data regarding aspects of attending the theatre, and has found that the biggest barrier to attendance is the cost - this is something that I have assumed in the past, and it is nice to see it backed up by data!

Findings include:

  • * 76% of the UK population has been to at least one theatre show in the three years of the report (2010-13)
  • * 87% of 16-19 year olds have attended the theatre in the three years of the report: the highest percentage of the age ranges surveyed

Interestingly the report accounted for attendance in relation to household income and educational background: unsurprisingly the higher the household income, the greater the likelihood of theatre attendance. Those with GCSE's as the highest qualification were more likely to prefer Comedy as a genre, and those with BA or MA were most likely to prefer Drama.

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For my enquiry, the findings that theatre was a social occasion ("...(38%) of attendees going in groups of three and a further 36% in groups of four or more...) and that the highest proportion of attendees had found out about the production through word of mouth (friends or family), is particularly interesting. If theatre is a social outing, does one member of the group make the decision, or is one member more likely to influence viewing habits than others?

Also interesting was that, despite 'one in four' attendees Tweeting about the performance before or after the event, 'one in five' writing reviews on social media, and 'two in five' believing that reviews are more likely than standard advertising in making the decision to attend a show, only 1% of those surveyed used Facebook to find out about productions, and none of those surveyed used blogs or Twitter.

The report also looked at the future of theatre, finding that, among younger theatre-goers, Immersive Theatre and alternative viewing opportunities (cinemas/live-streaming) were increasingly popular, however even those who enjoyed these types of performance were more likely to prefer traditional audience viewing and theatre experiences.

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Usefully, the document ends with a summary of the report and the state of UK theatre, concluding that, despite barriers to access, the industry is thriving. I think it is reassuring to see that the younger age groups are the most likely to attend the theatre, as it ensures the longevity of the industry, and may encourage other forms of arts, such as ballet and opera (as these were cited as being the lowest attended art forms in the theatre genre) to expand their reach into these interested groups.

There was also a statement of the methodology and ethical procedures used during the report, which was handy for me to look at as reference for compiling my own!

This was a very interesting document and will provide a useful starting point and reference throughout my inquiry.


Yovich, Mark: 'State of Play: Theatre UK', Live Analytics/Ticketmaster, 2013

Theatrical Superstitions

While I've been reading a lot about theatre, I came across quite a bit about superstitions, so I thought I'd take a break from serious research and share some of my favourites with you!

Break A Leg
Lots of theories on why we say this, when we mean 'Good Luck' and where the saying comes from:
  • In Shakespeare's time, 'break' meant 'bend', so to ask someone to 'Bend the Leg' meant to take lots of bows at the end of a performance.
  • If an actor is wished luck, they may become cocky. Wishing them misfortune is thought to make them subconsciously work harder.
  • In the past, and in several cultures these days, audiences would stamp their feet if they enjoyed a show: if they stamped hard enough they would potentially break their own leg or the leg of the chair they were sat on.
  • It comes from understudies genuinely wishing misfortune on the lead actors so they would get a chance to play the role.
  • It comes from as far back as the Greeks or the Vikings: their gods were mischievous and wishing someone luck would cause the gods to play tricks on them. By wishing them bad luck the gods were thought to provide the opposite.
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The Curse of MacBeth
Or 'The Scottish Play'! Again, lots of suggestions for this one:
  • MacBeth is a crowd pleaser and failing theatre companies would stage it as a way to pull in the punters. By putting this show on it may imply the theatre is in trouble.
  • When Shakespeare wrote the play, a coven of witches cursed it as revenge for including a number of accurate spells in the script!
  • Several unfortunate incidents have occurred including one Lady MacBeth walking off the edge of a high stage apron during the sleepwalking scene, and Laurence Olivier was nearly hit by a falling stage-weight!
  • There was a riot after one performance that left many people dead and injured, and folklore has it that Lincoln was reading the script the night before his assassination.
  • It may not be 'cursed' but it is unlucky, as much of the action is set at night so the stage is often dark and there are lots of action and fight scenes.
  • If an actor utters the name in a theatre, he must apologise, leave the room, turn around three times, spit, curse and then knock to be allowed back in.
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Knitting In The Wings
I hadn't heard of this superstition before! Several of these read more like a Health & Safety manual more than an actual superstition, but it is considered unlucky to knit in the wings in case the needles snag a costume, or worse, impale an actor making a swift exit from the stage!

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Emptying A Make-Up Box
I'm not sure what the provenance of this is, but it is considered bad luck for an actor to clean their make-up box, as it is supposed you will then never need to use it again (i.e. never get booked again!)

Wearing New Make-Up On Opening Night
Actually, this one is quite logical. An actor may not know how new products will fare under the hot stage lights, and they may cause the new make-up to run or melt.

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Loose Threads
If you find a loose thread on your costume, another actor must snap (never cut, it means the run will be cut short!) the thread off, and wrap it around their forefinger. The amount of loops indicates how long the run of the show will be.

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Back in the 'old-days' the workers in the flies of the theatre, who were responsible for dropping scenery and set changes were often off-duty or retired sailors (presumably because they're good at tying knots and have a head for heights!) When on ships they would communicate through whistles, so whistling in a theatre may have brought a piece of scenery crashing down on you!

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Peacock Feathers
This is a well-known superstition: peacock feathers are considered to be unlucky in lots of situations. (I posted a picture of my bookshelf on instagram and had a comment that because I had a peacock feather on my bookshelf I wouldn't have any success in learning! Eek!) This may be due to the shape of the pattern in the 'eye' being linked to the 'evil eye' and bringing misfortune on those who stood in its gaze

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There are lots of colours that are supposed to be unlucky in the theatre:
  • Purple: mostly in Italian Opera, purple is associated with funerals in Italy and is considered to bring bad luck to a production.
  • Blue: the dyes used to make blue cloth were the most expensive in the past, so wearing blue was a sign that the company was doing well, perhaps overspending, and, similar to 'Break a Leg', would bring monetary difficulties in the future.
  • Green: in the days of 'limelight' wearing green would render an actor practically invisible, and is now considered to be bad luck.
  • Yellow: wearing yellow will apparently cause an actor to forget their lines, although I can't find any explanation of why this would be so.
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Speaking The Last Line Of The Play
An old superstition says that a cast should never speak the last line of the play in rehearsals as it means that in performance the play will never get through a performance. It also supposed to relate to the idea that the play is not 'finished' until there is an audience there.

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Candles On Stage
Another 'Health & Safety' one here, but it's specifically considered unlucky to have three candles on stage as part of the set: superstition says that the actor standing nearest to the shortest candle will die!

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Saying A Theatre Is Closed
It is considered to be an ill omen to say a theatre is 'closed' as it means it will never again reopen! When a theatre closes for the night, it is said to be 'Dark' rather than 'Closed'.

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The Ghost Light
When a theatre is 'dark' there is always a light left on the stage: this is called The Ghost Light. The obvious reason is to guide any late leavers around the theatre so they don't bump into props, scenery or chairs, but superstition dictates that the light must be left on for the theatre ghosts: if the theatre is completely dark they will wreak havoc and destroy the set, or, alternatively, it is to allow the ghosts to stage their own productions during the night...

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This is another superstition that crops up everywhere as well. Most theatres would have kept a cat or two to get rid of mice and rats that could nibble through costumes and scenery, however it is bad luck if a cat runs across the stage during a performance, probably in tandem with the superstition that having a cat cross your path will bring bad luck. However, being greeted at the stage door by the theatre cat is good luck, and the cat rubbing against you or sitting on your knee with bring excellent luck and good reviews.

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Flowers Before A Performance
I think this is similar, again, to 'Break A Leg' – presenting flowers prior to a show, when the actor has not done anything to earn them, will bring bad luck to the production. Real flowers after the show is fine, though.

Real Flowers
There is a budgetary concern to this superstition as real flowers will wilt and need to be replaced often, fake flowers will keep the costs down! The circus, as well, has this superstition as a wilting flower means the performance will wilt. In a personal story I was once in a show with a dancer who used fake rose petals as part of her act (an act she had been performing for years); one night she used some petals from a real bunch of roses that had begun to drop, and the act went disastrously wrong: she slipped and fell, her costumes became tangled, the CD skipped... all because of the real flowers?

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Real Mirrors And Real Jewellery
Again the logic of this dictates that real, reflective materials will play havoc with the lighting design! Mirrors are said to reflect the soul, and an actor, playing a character, would see the soul of the character – not good if you're playing a bad guy!

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Peeping From Behind The Curtain
This is said to jinx the performance, and is poor etiquette in any case! The jinx is probably because by peeping, you may see family, friends, an enemy or worse, a theatre critic, in the audience which would make an actor nervous and jinx the show.

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Other superstitions that I can't find a reason or explanation for are:

  • Applying make-up with a rabbits foot (rabbits feet are a good luck omen in several cultures, but I don't understand how or why anyone would decide to put their make-up on with one! You'd get some odd looks in the dressing room, that's for sure!)
  • Exiting the dressing room on the left foot first (lots of sources confirm this as a superstition, but none know why!)
  • Never rehearse on a Sunday (maybe something to do with religious beliefs of Sunday being a day of rest?)
What superstitions do you use on a daily basis? I don't like walking under ladders, I 'touch wood' when speaking about good things in the future, and I never wish someone luck in the theatre! Which ones had you heard of, and which ones do you do?!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Pausing For Thought

I feel like I've had so many ideas whizzing around my head recently - it's exciting as I go through phases of being really inspired and productive, then I hit a proverbial brick wall and come to a halt for a while.

In these productive times I work really quickly, I have ideas that grow and develop and I can speed through tasks like a demon, then something happens in my brain and it's like all my creativity disappears.

Maybe I ought to temper myself slightly, and try and spread out the work more, but I am afraid that if I don't get my ideas down during these times, or if I don't do the work I am inspired to do, then the non-productive phase will come anyway and I'll be stuck back at square one!

How my brain feels right now
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It's nice to be inspired and busy, and I am excited about the direction my research and enquiry proposal are taking. It's also opening up opportunities as I may be collaborating with practitioners in the near future, based on my research area and several of the blogs I have written on here.

During my non-productive times I sometimes try and force creativity by reading plays, watching musicals and ballets, reading through students or practitioners blogs, and occasionally this will spark something that leads me to get my energy and focus back. Other times, I accept that I'm a bit stuck, leave the problem for a while, write in my journal and look at other things that make me happy (like Disney films or trashy magazines!)

Does anyone else feel like this? Like they're either on full throttle or at a dead stop? How do you deal with it?

Task 5c: Professional Ethics

Three main areas where ethics are considered: personal, professional and organizational.

Personal                                            Professional                                      Organizational
Family                                              Evolved from the norms                   Ethos
Religion                                            of practice within a                           Organizational Culture
Conscience                                       profession                                       “How we do things”
                                                                                                                     Code Of Conduct

Ethics is frequently not a case of black and white – where an action is either right or wrong. Often it is rather a grey area...

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At whose door do ethical principles lie – personal, professional, organizational, societal? Where do the limits for responsibility lie? Are there any overlaps? Where are there tensions? How would these be resolved?

If we take Figure 1. from the reader as a starting point, it would appear that ethical principles lie with the individual, as personal accountability and actions have a 'ripple effect' that cause repercussions throughout the other levels of a culture.

However, personal ethics vary widely from individual to individual, based on culture, religion, upbringing, morals, etc. So how far can a persons individual code of ethics be judged to be right or wrong within the wider context of an organization or society?

For example, the government runs a 'healthy eating' campaign, designed to encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices. However, surely this is an individuals choice? But what if an individual eats so much they make themselves ill (as is reported on an almost daily basis in the tabloid newspapers) and then expects the NHS to treat them? Could the NHS refuse to treat a patient who has 'brought it on themselves'? Surely not! There are those who would (and do) argue for this – that smokers should not be treated for lung cancer, for example. A basic breakdown would indicate that the choice to eat healthily is a personal one and should therefore not be dictated by a government stratagem, therefore is it the government's responsibility to tell us what to eat or not, when people making better lifestyle choices would save the NHS billions of pounds a year?

In my opinion, ethical issues are difficult to apply when one persons idea of ethical practice will differ from another's.

I recently came across a situation with a professional associate who works in the fundraising department of a theatre. They described to me an aspect of their job which involves investigating the visitors to the theatre, and identifying which of those are 'regular theatre-goers'; they then have to find out each persons background in order to determine whether they are wealthy and worth courting as a patron of the theatre or if they would be willing to donate money to a project. My associate told me that they had managed to identify one such client by accessing their daughters Facebook page, and realised the client was particularly wealthy. They said they had an ethical issue with this sort of work, and described it as being akin to stalking. However without this money the theatre could not produce the work it does and would not have the reputation it has, so this work is 'for the greater good'.

Ethics has its roots in moral philosophy and is concerned about the right or the good way to carry out actions... ethos means 'character' (READER 5, PG.7)

This is interesting as a person can be said to be 'acting out of character.' Character witnesses are often called upon in court cases to vouch that someone stealing bread, for example, was acting out of character and was therefore under duress or in an extreme circumstance to have acted in such a way. It is an ethical consideration, therefore, to determine whether the bread was stolen in order to feed a starving family: it was wrong to steal the bread but is it not worse to let the family starve?

"Aristotle... considered virtues to be mid-points between two extremes." (READER 5, PG.8)

Thomas Hobbes (1651) believed that we should adhere to a set of moral rules: “morality is a set of rules for mutual benefit.”
As mentioned previously, ones morality will differ depending on background, upbringing, religion, etc. For example, Jewish people believe it is immoral to 'eat flesh with milk' – so a cheeseburger is out! However to a person of another (or no) religion this is fine. On wider issues, I think most people would accept that it is immoral to kill another, however how does this apply in the army in a situation of war? Or in self-defence were it may be 'kill or be killed'?

Immanuel Kant (1779) believed that morality was absolute and based this on reason above religion. He believed that you should help people no matter what, above and beyond your own personal desires. Lying is always wrong, no matter what the circumstances or outcome.

JS Mill (1861) believed in moral obligation: to choose that which produced the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. The means justifying the end: the moral dilemma of the train tracks – Mill would believe that switching the tracks would be the morally correct thing to do.

Hobbes                                Kant                                    Mill
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Mill and Bentham advocated consequentialism: i.e. 'right' is the route of the greatest good for the greatest number
Kant proposed deontology or, the only good thing is a good will (which is similar to the Ancient Greek philosophy of Plato and Artistotle who created Virtue Ethics stating that moral behaviour and character is more important than action.

“Whatever in any city is regarded as just and admirable is just and admirable in that city for as long as it is thought to be so.” 'Theatetus' Artistotle

Notions of what is 'good' change: being gay used to be illegal, not very long ago. Now, gay marriage has been legalised and there are laws in place to prosecute persecutors of homosexual individuals or couples. It has become morally and legally 'right'.

I came across this interesting philosophical riddle recently, and I considered it in the light of the different moral philosophies. It is fascinating how an individuals sense of right and wrong can change in different circumstances!

Devlin (1959) believed private behaviour should be regulated in order for the greater good of society. Hart (1963) argued the laws purpose is to prevent certain harmful acts and that there can be no common morality.

Ethics are caught between law and religion

The Greeks believed that carrying out professions in a 'good' way was central to a civilised society. Certain roles demanded certain attributes. If the Greeks view of ethics resided mainly in the ideal that behaviour and character were the determining factors of ethical reasoning, then the view of a king being authoritative, a judge being just, etc, justified their actions as long as they acted in a way coherent with their role.

"Ethics is... a matter which governs our actions and guides the decisions we make" (READER 5, PG.15)

Professions have rules and norms, and codes of practice have been developed to uphold these standards. There are often professional bodies that oversee these areas of practice to ensure codes of practice and ethical standards are being adhered to. Often, however, personal codes of ethics can be in conflict with professional, and with the employers expectations: for example, it is against the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses to have transfusions of blood. If an injured persons life could be saved by this procedure is it the doctors moral obligation to do it, regardless of the ethical and moral views of the patient? Should the doctor let the patient die?

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Moral issues such as these raise 'normative' questions, i.e “Is it right to...” rather than 'factual' questions.

Metaethics: analysis to discern what moral terms generally are understood to mean.
Theoretical Normative Ethics: Making moral judgements and developing theories
  • Moral Axiology: theories of good and evil
  • Virtue Ethics: theories of moral excellence in character
  • Theory of moral obligation: what kind of actions are permissible
Applied Ethics: Finding acceptable resolutions of moral problems

Descriptive Ethics                                                 Normative Ethics
Objective Description                                           Norms or principles that people ought to use
Does not examine or question                               Questions of duty: what one ought to do
States what the case is                                          Whether an action is morally right or wrong

Ethical Arguments: move logically from the premise to the conclusion
                                acknowledge objectivity and subjectivity “offers absolute principles”
                                “moral relativism” there are no universal norms
                                Consider context

Adhere to good ethical practice when carrying out research (objectivity) The Reader lists the following points, in order to determine whether the enquiry is ethically sound, and suggests a personalised ethics checklist to factor in specific points of our personal enquiry:
  • What is the motivating factor behind the enquiry?
  • Does the enquirer want to bring about social (professional) good?
  • Who stands to benefit from the research?
  • Who are your participants? (role, experience, age?)
  • How have you chosen these participants?
  • Why were the participants chosen (relate to enquiry question)
  • How will you contact them?
  • How will you make sure your participants can leave the inquiry if they choose?
  • Do the participants have your contact details?
  • Are you storing the participants data safely?

Personalised Ethics Checklist
  • Develop questions and proposals that are ethical and legal
  • Conduct research in accordance with legal requirements and agreed protocol
  • Ensure honest and respectful treatment of research participants by informing them of the purpose of the study
  • Ensure that data collected is accurate, relevant and valid
  • Ensure that data is securely stored and archived, and attention is paid to confidentiality
  • Manage resources (time, finances) efficiently
  • Report and log any problems, failiures or suspected misconduct in an accurate manner
  • Provide feedback of the results to the participants should they request it
  • To compile accurate and truthful reports

Ethical issues of research include balance of power between researcher and the subject, trust, care of the subject and the authority of the researcher: how can ethical issues be balanced when carrying out research? Especially if that research involves personal questions?

It is ethically correct to present the findings of the research accurately, and not be biased by personal prejudice or opinion, even if the research findings contradict the initial assumption.

After reading the fictitious case study in the Reader, I have become more aware of the use of language. I believe I am already aware of the need for anonymity and the correct terminology when referring to subjects, however it has allowed me to think through the correct use of descriptive terms, not use leading terms or references that may allow a reader to identify the subject.

Incorrect terminology could offend or upset a participant: in the study in the reader it refers to 'normal' people, to make a distinction between two groups of participants. This would be offensive to those in that particular group and it is an awareness of this that I will take forward into my enquiry.

Instead of referring specifically to groups of people, the study shown would have been better referring to 'other groups' rather than singling out particular sections of society, as these are sweeping generalisations. There are also references to 'his' rather than 'their' as making reference to a sex when it is not necessary could show the researchers bias in this area.

Given the parameters of the research I am intending to carry out I will need to comply with the data protection act, and make sure each of my participants has the level of anonymity they require. I do not intend to use names, ages, sex or class of individual participants when conducting my research and I will take steps to ensure that these details are kept safely.

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This Task has been fascinating for me so far: the conflict of ethics (personal, professional, societal) is immersing and interesting. 

I have begun to think about the ways in which I approach situations, and the ethical guidance behind my actions. It is interesting to note that Ethics and Theatre were both developed by the Greeks and Theatre has been considered as moral or immoral throughout the ages. The philosophers of the past often used theatre as examples of morality and ethics, and ethical questions are played out in the great Greek tragedies.

Considering ethical practice when carrying out research is important: I am debating whether the use of sex, age range and social background would have an impact on my research, and whether the good ethical practice to disregard these would reflect in my study. This is something I shall think further about and discuss with my professional network and Special Interest Group.

Something else that I have also considered throughout this task is the importance of correct accreditation. A friend online has recently been talking about plagiarism, and raising the issue of accrediting another's work. The Reader makes the point that in a university context plagiarism is punishable by expulsion, and it is important that people are given the correct credit for their work. It is unethical and illegal and it is something I aim to be very astute about. Looking back at my early blogs on here, I didn't always accredit pictures that I found online, believing (as I suppose many people do) that if it's found through a Google Search then it is in the public domain and free to use. However I began making a concerted effort to credit any images found with the source of the original image, even if this is only a website online, linked through Google.

I believe that online I do practice good ethics, and this made me think about a blog I posted early in Module One, discussing the 'Magna Carta for the Online Age' - how far can ethics impinge upon personal freedoms? Could the ethical standpoint of 'do no harm' impact upon freedom of speech, when language and terminologies can be interpreted as offensive? I will keep referring back to my personalised checklist to ensure that I am practising good ethics throughout my study and blog about this further in the future.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Theatre Thoughts: Ethics

The Ethics of Professional Theatre

This is a link to the website of a theatre, outlining the code of conduct for professionals working in the theatre. As I searched further, I found that these came from a 1945 'Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers'

Socrates is considered to be the father of modern ethical philosophy
Painting: The Death of Socrates by Jaques Louis-David
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Although the code of ethics linked to above is aimed mostly at actors, its author (Kathleen Freeman) stated that it applied equally to all who worked in theatre.  The code includes:

* The Show Must Go On! I will never miss a performance
* I will respect my audience, regardless of size or station
* I shall remember that my aim is to create illusion, therefore I will not destroy that illusion by appearing in costume and make-up offstage or outside the theatre
* I shall accept the directors advice in the spirit in which it is given for they see the production as a whole and my role as a part thereof
* I shall respect the play and the playwright, remembering that "a work of art is not a work of art until it is finished"
* I shall inspire the public to respect me and my craft through gracious acceptance of both praise and constructive criticism
Taken from 'Theatre Workers Code of Ethics' Freeman, 1945

Alongside this research, I have several books discussing the ethics of theatre practitioners, all of which have reworded versions of the Code of Ethics above. It seems there there are unspoken rules and practices which govern everyone who works in a theatrical setting, without them being made explicitly clear. It's interesting that we all seem to abide by the same rules in these scenarios: maybe it is that everyone working on a production is part of a team, creating something bigger than themselves, and these deep-rooted practices are simply part of the ethos and make-up of theatre practitioners?

The Art of Active Dramaturgy: Lenora Inez Brown

In 'The Art of Active Dramaturgy', Inez-Brown provides details of the steps a dramaturg should use when reading a new play script. These include reflecting on various aspects of the writing, but as she talks in detail about the steps, she covers aspects that relate to ethical practice, such as dispersing with preconceived notions or prejudices about the plays structure, plot or characters, and approaching with an open mind. She also talks about respecting the playwrights and their intentions, and not forcing their own methods onto a new play.

Another document I found detailed a research project and the ethical issues surrounding different aspects of performance, development, theatre in education and the idea of 'consent' in staging a production. This is a really interesting discussion and I will read it separately and comment further in the future.

I have also recently read a book called 'Theatre and Ethics' by Nicholas Ridout, which is concerned with the morality of theatre, talking about ethics in the context of the portrayal of right and wrong on stage, with reference to the ancient Greek plays and the medieval morality plays: "[exploring] theatre as a practice through which we experiment with ethical action." (RIDOUT, 2009) While incredibly interesting, the stance of a production to present a notion of ethics is a different discussion to professional ethics (i.e. a code of conduct) in the workplace.

'Theatre and Ethics' 

There is not a charter as such in the practice of theatre, and each individual establishment will have their own code of practice that those working there must adhere to: these include aspects of dress, behaviour, cleanliness and manners. However, there is a deeper code of practice that theatre practitioners adhere to. For example, the 'Code...' I discussed above has "I will not miss a show" as the first point. The article I linked to talks about the way that performers will push themselves through injury or illness to adhere to this, yet any official document would surely state that a performer is not required to work through an injury, due to health and safety concerns. This is where the line between personal and professional ethics, and personal and professional concerns become blurred.

Nicholas Ridoult: Theatre & Ethics, Palgrave MacMillen, 2009

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