“There are far more decent people in Liverpool than the few who rioted”

This actually got me choked up. When all we see on the news is fire and brimstone, it’s easy to forget about the decent people in the world. There’s a lot of social media bashing that goes on from time to time (it’s a waste of time, it’s stupid, it turns kids into zombies, etc), but here we see it used for the ultimate good. Thanks, BBC News, for running this story!

England riots: Twitter and Facebook users plan clean-up

Hundreds of people turned out at Clapham Junction to tidy up

A massive clean-up operation is getting under way in areas affected by the riots across England.

Twitter and Facebook users are harnessing the power of social networking to co-ordinate operations.

In London, Croydon, Hackney and Enfield councils have already sent teams out to begin the clean-up.

The Association of British Insurers said the total cost of repairing the damage in the capital alone could run into tens of millions of pounds.

An account on Twitter called @riotcleanup has so far attracted more than 70,000 followers and is helping people to co-ordinate efforts in the English capital.

Artist Dan Thompson, 37, was behind the initial Twitter campaign, but since then has watched it take on a life of its own with local clean-up projects organised around the country.

“The footage last night of high streets and independent shops burning was terrifying to watch and I wanted to find a way to help that was quick, simple and practical,” said Mr Thompson, from Worthing, who runs the Empty Shops Network.

The campaign began with just 10 people, said Mr Thompson, but has ballooned to see thousands up and down the country head out, broom in hand.

He said seeing hundreds of people in Clapham waving brooms in the air was a symbol of what Londoners and the British stand for, “It’s phenomenal,” he said.

He added that when Boris Johnson visited the area this afternoon there were cries of “Boris where’s your broom?” before the London Mayor got stuck in to help volunteers.

A separate website dedicated to the clean-up has also been created. “This is not about the riots. This is about the clean up – Londoners who care, coming together to engender a sense of community,” it states.

Others around the country are using the hashtag #riotscleanup to arrange to meet up and help clear areas around their homes.

‘Strangely emotional’

Twitter is awash with heart-warming stories about people gathering to clean up riot-hit areas.

“Nicole”, who is volunteering, tweeted: “Police at Clapham Junction just got spontaneous applause as they came through the crowd!”

The BBC’s Vanessa Barford, also at Clapham Junction, said there were cheers as firefighters left the scene of a party shop set alight on Monday night.

“About 50 people who have been waiting to help with the clear up operation waved brooms in the air in celebration,” she said.

BBC journalist Michael Hirst said about 300 to 400 people had gathered at Clapham Junction station.

“Sunshine, high spirits, lots of joking and a community vibe,” he said of the atmosphere.

“Andy” from London told the BBC: “On the train out of Waterloo I can see loads of people with brushes, gloves and dustpans heading to join the cleanup: London at its best.”

Others, including many celebrities, heaped praise on volunteers who are trying to reverse the damage caused over the past three nights.

Comedian Dave Gorman tweeted: “Went to bed depressed by the news. Now feeling strangely emotional as I read about @riotcleanup. Amazing.”

Chef Jamie Oliver tweeted: “Sadly my restaurant in Birmingham got smashed up windows, all gone whole area closed, can’t open, staff and customers all safe!! Thankfully. God bless the communities getting together to sort this out #riotcleanup – people who care about their country!!

And Stephen Fry tweeted: “I do hope that if I was inLondon now I’d be as good & brave & kind as all those who are agreeing to meet & help clean up.”

‘Cleaner than usual’

Lewisham resident Claire Parkinson assembled a team of 20 people following disturbances in the area.

Ms Parkinson said the initiative was as much about showing support for businesses as about clearing up the damage.

“We want to see if they need any help – even if it is just getting them a cup of tea.

“We also want to show that we are not all bad – a lot of people are going to feel down after these events.”

She added that Lewisham was “cleaner than usual” following the council’s own operation.

In Ealing, where shops and restaurants were damaged, the clean-up operation is in full swing.

Reverend Sally Hitchiner said the area was “totally ransacked” on Monday night.

“A number of people in my church have taken a day off to come down here,” she said.

“There’s so many people wanting to help clear up that people are being been sent away because the clean-up is happening so quickly.”

In Croydon, people were being signed up to help out with the clean-up efforts at East Croydon railway station.

Croydon Council has drafted in extra resources to help clean up areas, make businesses secure and help the community rebuild.

The council said it had already rehoused people whose homes were destroyed by fire or sealed off by the emergency services.

A spokeswoman for Hackney Council in north London said it had sent teams out “as soon as it was safe”.

She added that the clean-up was “more or less finished”.

In Enfield, roads closed after the riots reopened and Chris Bond, the council’s cabinet member for the environment, praised street workers for their work enabling the town to reopen for business.

“This shows we will not let these criminals beat us,” he said. “We will not surrender our streets to these mindless morons.”

‘Not in my city’

Further afield bartender Charles Jupiter set up the Liverpool Clean Up group on Facebook.

About 100 people turned out to help the 21-year-old clean up the Toxteth area, which was targeted in the early hours.

“I thought, ‘Not in my city’,” Mr Jupiter said.

“People were posting, ‘I’m embarrassed to be English, I’m embarrassed to be from London or Liverpool’.”

And he warned would-be rioters: “I hope it doesn’t happen again tonight, but if it does, we will be out here again.

“There are far many more decent people in Liverpool than those few who rioted.”


Reflections on an Opening Weekend

Before I totally collapse and commence my much-needed day off, I need a little decompression. What I need more than anything, really, is a bubble bath and a massage and a nap (see my friend Sheelagh’s blog post re: bubble baths for a full listing of all their benefits. Search sheelbeel and you should find her). Unfortunately for me, I have neither a boyfriend nor a lot of cash sitting around, so the massage probably won’t happen. The bubble bath would be in progress at this moment if not for the sad fact that I, alas, have no bubbles. And the nap I might as well put off until bedtime at this point. So I have decided that my decompression will take place in the form of a written reflection on the ups and downs of the opening weekend of Can You Believe? So here’s what I learned during opening weekend:

The thing about a play is…

…it’s rarely (if ever) at its best on opening night.

I’m talking about opening night as the first time a show has an audience. Now, in most professional/semi-professional spheres, shows have preview performances. We sell these to the public as a sort of  “VIP sneak-peek” or “cheap tickets for seeing it early,” but really previews are entirely for the actors’ and technicians’ collective benefit. Previews give us the chance to test out the show in front of an audience before the official Opening Night. Without previews, opening night is Opening Night, which creates some problems. See, a show develops in rehearsal under the watchful eyes of a director and a stage manager and occasionally a guest or two and as it continues to grow, it reaches a point at which it needs an audience in order to reach its fullest potential. The very first audience it meets, however, intimidates the tender, young play. This first audience is confusing because it laughs at things that were never funny in rehearsal and misses all the jokes that were. This audience also strikes terror into the hearts of the artists, thus causing fear of rejection and harsh criticism run rampant on opening night and create butterflies in the tummies of the actors. The butterflies result in generalized nervousness which results in less focused performances. Now, someone has to be the in the first audience, otherwise there would never be a second or third or fourth audience. Hence, the preview. It’s a sort of test drive for the play; changes to just about anything from tech to text can be made based on the responses of a preview audience.

The thing about Fringe is…

…there are no previews.

There are no previews and most companies are working on a pretty tight rehearsal schedule. Sure, there are those shows that have been touring to Fringes worldwide for the past 5 years and are therefore as close to perfect as a show can possibly be because anything that failed the almighty audience test has been changed or thrown out. It’s fun to be that show, but it’s a long road to get there, and even those guys started off just like the rest of us: going in to opening night wishing for at least another week of rehearsal. But alas, try as we might, we won’t get another week of rehearsal, we’ll get an audience. To be fair, an audience can be just as beneficial as a week of rehearsal if its collective reactions are gauged and utilized appropriately. But this leaves the troubling situation of opening night patrons paying an opening night price for what is, truly, a preview performance.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s Fringe! Everyone knows that Fringe is different from other kinds of theatre, and Fringe audiences tend to be more forgiving than normal audiences, especially on opening night!”

You’re right, at least partially. Fringe is a different way of doing theatre–and that’s what a lot of people love about it. But the difference between being slotted as one of the Good, the Bad or the Ugly might very well be the difference between opening and closing night performances in a no-preview situation! Can You Believe?, for example, had a very receptive and responsive and positive opening night audience, which was great. But the best performance so far was tonight’s performance, the third performance. As a result, tonight fell more like a proper Opening Night than our opening night did. Does that make sense?

The thing about actors is…

…they are so great.

I love my actors. I’ve considered myself very lucky throughout the process of working on this show, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work they’ve done and how far they’ve come since our first read-through. That being said…

…the thing about actors is…

…almost all of them have day jobs.

This is actually a good thing. See, the day jobs pays the bills so that the actor can act and do theatre that is appealing and interesting and fun rather than theatre that pays well. In my experience, the two are almost always mutually exclusive! The problem with day jobs and actors, however, is that there’s not a grand database of actors and rehearsals that the bosses log in to when they’re scheduling shifts (although that would be nice!). Thus, when the director (that’s me!) has made the stupid decision to schedule the final rehearsal for five days before opening night and attempts to remedy that error in judgement with a last-minute throw-together rehearsal… it’s almost impossible to schedule because everyone’s work schedules are different. Again, this is not something that’s bad. I would never suggest that someone shouldn’t have/get a job! It’s just a lesson I learned: schedule too much rather than too little. It’s easier for someone to pick up an extra shift than it is for that same person to make an existing shift disappear, especially on short notice.

Also, always back up your tech. And have a plan B for everything.

There are, of course, gazillions of things that I learned this weekend, both about my work and about myself, but those three are the ones sticking out in my mind at the moment. I’m sure there will be a post similar to this one after closing detailing a bunch of other things I learned from the whole Fringe process, but for now…it’s bed time. At last!


Fringe Attack!!!

WARNING: This post is aimed mostly at those who have not experienced / know little-to-nothing about the Toronto Fringe and Fringe festivals in general. So, Julian Munds, you probably should read no further on pain of boredom. You have been warned.


I sustained some minor war wounds from my encounter with the official Toronto Fringe opening today, which involved well over 100 people dashing madly at an 80-foot wall designated for poster display. The rules? No covering someone else’s poster and no more than 8 posters all in the same spot. Nothing in the rules prohibited violent use of poster to inflict paper cuts!!!!

Despite my flesh wound complaints, the spirit of Fringe was in full force at the Fringe HQ behind Honest Ed’s today. I spotted more than one company wearing bikinis made out of their show’s postcards (as CYB cast member Laura said, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?!’ ), several exotic headpieces with feathers and neon colours and so on, and one very conspicuous version of Stephen Harper! I discovered at least half a dozen shows to add to my “must see” list and even found a few to add to my “avoid at all costs” list. If anyone cares which are which, I can send you my super-secret lists 🙂 And no, my standards for gauging good Fringe do not adhere to those of Mr. Bruce DeMara, despite my recent Facebook post. (Although I still think that the word ‘dramaturgy’ is overused and incorrectly used all-too-often in Fringe theatre).

I’d like, however, to ask the same question as Mr. DeMara, but in its positive form: how does one spot good Fringe? The free Fringe program’s advice is to 1) start at Fringe HQ behind Honest Ed’s to catch the buzz there, 2) ask the volunteer ushers at shows, and 3) take a chance on something that’s been poorly reviewed.

Not that I in any way object to beer tents, but Fringe HQ is not necessarily where I’d start my hunt for good Fringe shows. It’s definitely a fun spot to catch up with artists and audiences and check out what’s being talked up (or down!) on any given day. There’s also cheap food/beer and free entertainment. But in terms of separating the wheat from the chaff, I’d trust the volunteers over the ether at the beer tent.

The volunteers are an awesome source because they see so many shows. For every show a volunteer ushers, he gets to see another show for free. There are also designated Volunteer Appreciation Nights for most shows in the festival, and so the volunteers can, if they want to, see an awful lot of theatre for free…the good, the bad, and the ugly! Nothing wrong with pulling out the ol’ Fringe program and asking the usher at your current show which of the shows you’ve highlighted as potentials are actually worth it.

The last bit of advice from Fringe is a double-edged sword. Let’s be honest, people: it’s Fringe! Shows are selected via lottery and a great many shows are underrehearsed, miscast, misdirected, unedited, or otherwise unprepared for an audience. Don’t get me wrong–some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen has been Fringe. But so has some of the worst. I recall on particular production of The Jew of Malta in Edinburgh… I shudder at the memory. But I also saw my favorite production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Edinburgh. The lesson is: you never know at the Fringe. You just never know. Even if the critics loved it, it might not be your cup of tea. The shows the critics smash are often audience favorites, and vice-versa. There’s also the issue of self promotion…some people are just better at it than others. I’ve seen awful, awful shows that had beautiful posters and intriguing descriptions and amazing shows that seemed totally boring based on their advertising. Remember the trailer for Stardust? It was vomitous. (Yes, that’s a real word. I think.) And yet the film was incredible. I challenge you, therefore, to see at least one show at the Fringe whose advertisements make the show seem totally unappealing or snore-worthy. We can’t all be good at everything, after all.


And now, the mandatory shameless advertisement for the Fringe show that I’m involved with: Can You Believe? starts Friday at 5:15pm at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (walking distance from Fringe HQ!). See you at the Fringe!