You Can’t Stop The Beat Of Equality

Fascists painting swastikas in blood on the sides of buses during an anti-refugee march in Dover. Rich Oxford University alumni threatening to write Oriel College out of their wills if the college removes a statue of the racist Cecil Rhodes. Mega-corporations getting away with avoiding paying billions of pounds worth of tax during a time of austerity and increasing inequality. Sometimes, maybe always, it seems like the world is going to pot and that the bad guys really will win. And whilst I don’t think equality and justice are guarantors but are contracts in need of endless renewal, in the same way the social fabric is a patchwork in need of constant darning, I do know that despite all the hatred out there it is so much easier being nice. Plus, nice people get a better soundtrack.

Bigotry is hard work. As the Red Queen boasts to Alice that she can believe six impossible things before breakfast so too must bigots juggle all sorts of contradictions and paradoxes in order to justify their narrow-mindedness. For example, one of the fascists who marched in Dover yesterday has to believe that certain groups of people are inferior whilst demanding that they themselves, and the people they care about, are superior. It tends to be one rule for them and one rule for me (and my family). A fascist also has to believe that our economic problems can be blamed on migrants and refugees, meaning they get to scapegoat the vulnerable whilst not bothering to question the economic and political realities that keeps a constant stream of wealth and power flowing to the elite minority at the expense of the majority (a majority that they are part of!). On the other hand, it’s much easier for a nice person who realises that nothing makes anyone inherently better or worse than anyone else and so doesn’t need to expend lots of energy discriminating against certain groups. They can also google around the issues of inequality rather than just accept what the newspapers tell them. At the end of the day (and at the start of it) love is a much more sustainable energy source than hate.

And nice people get a much better soundtrack. Take You Can’t Stop The Beat that ends the ace musical Hairspray (big spoilers by the way, equality wins). All the characters, even the baddies, shake their booty to a song that relishes the striving for so many forms of equality – between people of different races, skin colours and body shapes. “You can try to stop the paradise we’re dreaming of,” they sing, and of course (as Taylor Swift also told us) haterz gonna hate, because that’s what haters do. But “you can’t stop today as it comes speeding down the track,” sings Queen Latifah, “Child, yesterday is history and it’s never coming back.” And she’s right, today is zooming straight at us like a highspeed train and we get to choose whether it’s a train that runs people over or if it’s some awesome party train to which all are invited (rehabilitated fascists included). Because when it comes down to it hate and love are choices, and as difficult as we might find it to choose the latter, there’s still time to learn (trust me, it’ll be fun). And so concludes my blog about being nice – perhaps just an excuse to post this awesome song which does what this blog does anyway but too a far catchier tune (Spanish subtitles included).

The Play: It’s Complete Anarchy

It’s show time for Universally Speaking! Opening night is tomorrow at the Bread & Roses Theatre, Clapham, and it runs each night until Saturday (7.30 – 9pm). The actors have learnt their lines, the final props have been bought (including a 6 pack of ready salted and three mini primroses) and the tickets are selling. I’ve been doing my bit as producer and I can safely say that the process has been utter chaos. Yup, complete anarchy of the best variety…here’s why.

Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842 – 1921), a famous activist, philosopher and geographer defined anarchism as “a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional…for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being” (and if you’re interested in etymology it’s roots stem from the Greek anarkhos, from an- ‘without’ + arkhos ‘chief, ruler’).

No boss, a lack of hierarchy and lots of good will: yup, that sums up the production process for Universally Speaking. Whilst we’ve taken on different roles: Simon Jay directing, me co-producing, the actors acting, technicians teching, the writers writing and so on, there hasn’t been a ‘top dog’ telling us all what to do. We’ve taken responsibility for our own roles and brought our expertise to the table. We’ve formed an “interwoven network” and worked together to bring a piece of theatre to life. Kropotkin likens anarchistic organisations to organic life, “harmony would result from an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between the multitudes of forces and influences”. And so the show has organically developed, often taking on quite a surprising life of its own (you’ll have to see for yourself).

Now, in an ideal anarchistic state (little ‘s’) there would be no money but sadly we haven’t managed to be that savvy. Instead, over 50 people donated to our indiegogo fundraising campaign and we raised £920. This is testimony to how great and generous people are. Kropotkin talks of mutual aid – “a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit” – and its a nice counterbalance to Darwin’s relentlessly selfish natural selection predicated on greed and constant competition (not that Darwin really described it like that). And the level of support we’ve had putting together the play has been heartblowing. Alongside the financial aid we’ve had people offer to promote the play and help with the lighting and sound. Meanwhile, the cast and director have given so much of their time just so they can make new theatre and the writers have waived their fees from their pieces.  However, because we don’t yet live in Anartopia of the £920 raised £100 will go to each actor and to the technician (the rest will cover marketing costs and props) as an exceptionally small thank you for their hard work. We’re splitting tickets sales 50/50 with the theatre and any profits we make will go to charity – the UNHCR and Mind, the mental health charity. As for The Bread & Roses, they’ve been great and it’s fantastic to have theatres so supportive of new writing.

Another important guiding principle of anarchy is love. And that’s why we’ve all been working so hard to ensure Universally Speaking is a great night out. We all love the arts and the different elements of theatre – acting, directing, producing, writing, teching, staging – and are under no illusions that we’ll be quitting our day jobs any time soon. As for the final piece of the jigsaw, it’s you – the culture hungry audience members who have already bought a load of tickets! It’s only £10 for an incredibly fun night (cheaper if you book online). So I do hope you’ll come along to enjoy this theatrical slice of anarchy and unlike in a competitive, hierarchical capitalist system this really can be a win-win for all. Prince Kropotkin might just be proud. See you there!

The Thing About Fat

So I’m producing Universally Speaking – a series of five monologues at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham from 13th – 17th October (next week!). One of the pieces is mine and they were originally going to be produced at the Ideas Tap Festival this year but then Ideas Tap went bust. D’oh. I got in touch with Simon Jay, who was asked to direct the pieces, and he agreed that the show must go on. And it is! The venue is booked, the actors are rehearsing, the tickets are selling and we’ve even got a mistress of ceremonies to guide the audience through the night’s entertainment. On top of that the proceeds will go to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Mind, the mental health charity.

As for my piece – it’s all about fat. A lone woman sits in her car outside Tescos and ponders her relationship with food – she loves it, she loves all kinds of it – crisps, cakes, chocolate, marmite, bread rolls, tomatoes, ham, pork pies – the lot. She even loves mixing food and sex (who wouldn’t?). Although she’s a bit worried about her health because the doctors tell her she’s an ‘over-eater’ and that she weighs too much. She’s also fed up of the looks she gets in the supermarket aisles and the things people say about her behind her back. So the piece is part ode to food, part angry rant, part call for help, and part many other things. But I won’t give anymore away!

One of the inspirations for the piece is my fascination with the tendency we have to hold individual’s responsible for their actions – we can be so quick to blame and vilify people for the things they do, without stopping to contextualise their behaviour. Context is so important in explaining why people do what they do but we often ignore it. An example of context would be the consumerist nature of our culture – it relies on ever-increasing rates of consumption (our economy has to keep growing in order to function) which means more people spending more money on more stuff. One profitable avenue is the snack food industry that has perfected the art of selling unhealthy yet exceptionally tasty stuff to people. There are actually scientists out there tasked with coming up with the perfect ratio of salt:sugar in a crisp as well as its level of crunch and the speed at which it dissolves in the mouth. There’s a reason that once you’ve popped a tube of Pringles you can’t stop – they’re designed to be addictive. So the thing about fat is that it’s not one thing – it takes many forms (in crisps and cakes, in the human body) and forms part of so many different networks be they cultural, biological, political, economic or historical. Fat has a very big context.

So, 13th – 17th October 7.30 – 9pm at the Bread & Roses Theatre – my piece, aptly titled Fat, is one of five monologues that explores the darker dimensions of the 21st century. We got through the noughties and now we’re in the 2010s (teens, teenies, tens?) and one thing’s for sure, the 21st century is an odd place to be – often quite scary, sometimes very funny but occasionally lipsmackingly tasty (get your tickets here).

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