Thursday, 22 January 2015

‘Tuesdays at Tescos’, HOME and the Re:Play Festival

Victoria Baths, and Ancoats, and now Number One First Street… The soft launch of HOME is bringing us ever-closer to HOME itself and it’s a genuinely exciting feeling. From the makeshift theatre foyer on the second floor of this smart office building, serenaded by a live guitar player, and with a lovely craft beer in hand, you can look out (through snowflakes in my case) and see the new building emerging over the way.

On Tuesday, fittingly, I saw ‘Tuesdays at Tescos’ inside the pleasant temporary performance space. You might have seen me Facebooking about how good it was. The final performance is tonight, and you should treat yourself. You can even get half-price ticket deals on the HOME website.

The play is a one-hour monologue spoken by Pauline, a trans woman renegotiating her relationship with her ageing father now that she has been able to reveal her true self, or, ‘Me. As I am. Now.’, as she says, softly and repeatedly like a mantra.

I came away feeling very moved by Scott Kentell’s performance. He brought a gentle sincerity to a very good script. His performance was assured and insightful (I can’t imagine Simon Callow’s was a better, and I’m a fan).

The director Sue Womersely and performer Scott Kentall are interviewed here:

‘Tuesdays…’ is part of the 2015 Re:Play Festival, an annual selection of theatre that gives audiences a second chance to see the best work from the previous twelve months.

On Friday night I’ll be looking back at a year of comedy with the Re:Play Breakthrough Comedian of the Year competition. I need all the inspiration I can get for my own foray into stand up this year, of course…

Thursday, Friday and Saturday gives you another chance to catch Jenny May Morgan’s portrayal of a questionably-talented author of women’s erotica pushing her latest work, complete with mucky novel extracts… An Evening of Filth and Despair promises to reach into dark and delicious Julia Davis comedy territory.

On Saturday night, Chris Hoyle’s play Two Spirits dramatises the story of the three Sioux Warriors who came to Salford in the late nineteenth-century as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West touring show. This coming together of disparate cultures was researched heavily by the playwright during time spent in Dakota and a documentary about his time there will screen after the play. Theatre and film for one ticket, not to be missed.

Re:Play is not only a great chance to see quality new work so cheaply but it will also whet your appetite for the big HOME-coming too…

Check the full line up HERE.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Queer Contact, Queer Media, Queer February!

In February I am honoured to be speaking at a panel event which is part of a larger media event which is part of the one of the most exciting festivals happening in Manchester this year. It’s Queer Contact, and the line-up is so good it makes you wish it was actually Pride and that there was a parade at the start.

From the 5th to the 15th a plethora of queer arts comes to Contact and beyond with a program of music, theatre, performance, comedy and more.

National treasure David McAlmont launches proceedings with a live performance on the 5th, alongside the talented Mr Guy Davies, which, from experience, I can promise will be intimate, fun and very touching.

Justin Vivian Bond is another sensational name on the bill and is in town for not one but two performances, including a collaboration with our very own David Hoyle. Bond is a trans icon of cabaret and is here to share Valentine’s weekend with us, using both original songs and familiar cover versions to interrogate and celebrate love. Expect to be stimulated and moved. On top of that there is a related JVB event with a screening of Shortbus and a Q&A to follow.

The Queer Media Festival is a highlight for me. Almost thirty media professionals (and me!) will gather to talk about storytelling, their work, their identities and career paths. There will be films screened, performances, a news broadcast, and a gathering of like-minded but diverse creative individuals under one roof. The event is promising to be a great opportunity for students, for peer-learning and networking, for idea generating, for meeting and greeting, and for exposure to new ways of thinking. Speakers include V-Squared aka Vinny and Luke (YouTube stars), John Bird Media (blogger), Tim Macavoy (Director at InterTech Diversity Forum), Anna McNay (arts editor, DIVA), Paul Brand (Northern Political Correspondent, ITV) and Addie Orfila (producer, Hollyoaks). Tickets here.

Queer Contact has comedy covered with a six-comic line-up for the Comedy Playground, while word nerds will thrill at the selection of poets, novelists and playwrights sharing their practices at Paul Burston’s Polari on the 10th. Kate O’Donnell explores trans identity with humour and music, while site specific drama takes a police raid on a Victorian drag ball as its thrilling subject. The Vogue Ball at Gorilla sees competing Houses dance to victory, or defeat, while Mother’s Ruin host one of their far-from-usual cabaret spectaculars. The closing party, Love Art, is in the hands of the creators of Cha Cha Boudoir so couldn’t be in better hands.

Explore the full line-up for yourself right here and treat yourself to something new and challenging. There will be queer bohemia aplenty at Contact, but all across the city February is turning into a high point in the cultural calendar – Seeing Queerly has a terrific line up, while the first Manchester-based LGBT History Festival provides the context for how far LGBT people have come. February is a chance to learn and connect, network and create, and be touched by art and performance. Please be a part of it. The rest of 2015 has a lot to live up to…

Thursday, 15 January 2015

This video is quintessential Manhattanchester

'Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies
The past is your present, the future is mine...'

A girl racing home from her job in a pizza parlour to get ready for a night at the Funhouse in New York City, Barny Sumner and Gillian Gilbert turning up to the club in shorts, that quotation above... this 1983 video couldn't be more Manhattanchester if it tried... 

'Confusion' - New Order (1983)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Projects

You can probably tell from my output that my pursuits are pretty varied – this blog, that blog, Off The Hook, Drunk At Vogue, The Queer Forum, writing, and the rest of my freelance work which I love and which pays the rent. The number of things I have on the go at any one time is a bit dizzying, and there are a few reasons for that: I’m interested in lots of things. Too many things really. I’m trying to find out what I’m good at and I want to be good at everything. I don’t want to miss out on anything. 

When I turned 30 I’d been working in an office for eight years, in a profession I enjoyed but which I knew by that point didn’t entirely suit me. I applied for lots of jobs in London that I didn’t get, and I started to panic a bit. I decided if I was going to stay in my job then I needed something outside of it to keep me going, so I set myself little tasks, the first of which was to start a blog, this blog, which I started in April 2008. I had no readers of course, and not always much of an idea what to write about but I immediately felt better about things. Later that year I was invited to play my first DJ gig, and so that became the second thing on my informal list of 'things to try'.

As time went on I added things to the list in order to push myself, to stay inspired, to find my limits and to fight complacency and boredom. I’ve done some big things that were never on the list, like becoming a freelancer, which brings ambitions and aims all of its own. After six months of freelancing I felt great, even if money was difficult in my tricky start-up year. Soon after that I reached my half-life anniversary in Manchester and took the opportunity to take stock.  

I’ve been freelancing for a year now and it’s been a challenge and an adventure, but the list of ‘things to try’ still exists, needling me to get on with it. That’s what I’m going to do. I have formalised the list as ‘The Projects’, and as with my New Year’s Resolutions, if I go public with something I feel twice as motivated to get it done. 

Here are all eleven of ‘The Projects’ as they currently stand, with little summaries for the ones I have achieved. I am genuinely holding myself to these and I am not adding anything new until this lot is done, or at least attempted. Something amazing might come out of this, or nothing at all, but the feeling of having tried is really the best feeling.

1.     Start a blog
Blogs were everywhere in 2008 but were becoming a bit passé so I didn’t think I would stick with this thing for long, but seven years later, here we are. I’ve met some of Manchester’s finest people through writing this blog, people who I would otherwise have no reason or nerve to talk to. I’ve had 270,000 page visits to date, messages from around the world, a few hundred quid made, free tickets for wonderful events when I couldn’t afford them myself, but mainly a bit of dialogue with the world, which is what I have always wanted.

2.     Be a DJ
Being a DJ was somebody else’s idea for me to begin with but once I start something I have to see it through, and DJing proved to be the perfect activity for someone like me, who likes a party but is also shy. I love it. DJ culture I can do without and I’m not really a part of that. It’s a bit macho and competitive for me. People will always use music to be cool, no matter what age they are. I think people are sometimes surprised that I’m a DJ because of how uncool I am and I’m glad! I wanted to be good at it though and I’ve really tried. I’ve been profiled in the Manchester Evening News and Attitude, I’ve played at Festival No. 6, Manchester International Festival, HomoElectric, GAZE Film Festival, Northern Quarter Festival, Homotopia, Vogue Fabrics, Islington Mill, Clique, Bollox and more. I’ve never played a recorded set in my life and I never would. Club promotion itself I can do without, and if it wasn’t for the chore of that I would be DJing much more often. I’ve had so many special moments DJing that I think only other DJs would understand. Even if I stopped tomorrow, those would be the moments that made me feel like I really did it.

3.     Start a clubnight
The first Off The Hook at Kitsch was one of my favourite ever nights out in Manchester, and the only Off The Hook that I didn’t DJ at. I was a resident from the second party onwards and I took over the night when the original promoters had shelved it. I gave it a re-brand and a new venue and a year later it won the City Life award for ‘Best Gay Night’. If I’d been kind to myself I could’ve ticked this one off the list then and there but I wanted my very own baby. Enter Drunk At Vogue. I’d daydreamed about the night for a couple of years, had even pitched it somewhere and had it knocked back, and then shelved it. It eventually came to life as the collaboration you see today. I have learned a lot from collaborating, that it’s very hard to do, but that it has loads of benefits, that your baby will never ever turn out like you think, but that you’ll love it anyway. Drunk At Vogue started in November 2011. Then we had our first birthday, then a few months later we threw the launch party for the Manchester International Festival. I am very glad I didn’t tick number 2 off the list too soon.

4.     Get a Masters
I wasn’t done studying, I wanted to read more books, I wanted to finish writing a novel, a proper one this time, with supervision and a deadline, and I wanted to do something subversive and uncool with the money I was making from DJing. So I did an MA. It had been on my list way before these set of circumstances arrived, and to be honest I thought that I would go and study Shakespeare at Masters Level. I had ducked out of that very option when I was 21, despite getting my place at Manchester and my funding from the Academy. Instead I went to the Writing School at MMU when I was in my thirties and wrote a novel about Shakespearean culture. I got a Distinction for it. I had my graduation party with my family and friends in the baking sunshine on Albert Square at the MIF Pavilion. I was so happy. I learned a lot. I met great people and read some magnificent books. The course is good, go and do it. Number 4, you are done.

5.     Get paid to write
A hundred years ago I filed some album reviews for The Big Issue the week before they laid off most of their Northern freelancers and disappeared off down south. The cheque I got for that work (£36 if I recall) was the most satisfying money I‘d ever earned. I got the bug but my timing was terrible and it took me a long while to get back here. Being paid to write, in an era where anyone with a keyboard is a writer, is validation, for better or worse. Writing is a profession that people not only invite you to do for free, but often expect it, in some cases demand it. I have had dozens of people over the years discover my blog and approach me to write for them. Often when I enquire about a fee they become unpleasant. Often I am told that I will be paid in 'exposure' for my blog. ‘But you found me,’ I always say to them. ‘I am exposed.’ I never write for those people. If somebody gives you a fee it is professional, respectful, honest, and yes, it's validation, and it’s a validation that comes tenfold when it is the thing you love doing most. Don’t take your writers for granted, and writers: try not to work for free.

6.     Write a novel
This is the one... I have written a very short and very bad novella about a temp who wins the Lottery and goes on an insane odyssey with the girl who lives downstairs. I have written a longer and slightly better novel about five gay men whose lives intersect in a weird post-modern way around the lonely vacuous world of Canal Street and a desolate Manchester city centre. I have written a longer and much better novel about digging up Shakespeare’s bones and the effect it has on a world obsessed with him. Trying to write a novel is one of the great sorrows and frustrations of my life. I can’t explain why I even like it. Every other activity in the world disrupts and distracts from fiction. So many good ideas and great lines vanish into the ether if you aren’t able to give them your full attention. Being a novelist is time-consuming and tiring and wonderful. It deserves my full attention. My novel needs a damn good third draft and my intention is to give it my all and let my other ambitions slide by the wayside until this is done. I want it published. This Project should be entitled, ‘Publish a novel’. This is the point at which a jack of all trades has to try and be the master of one. Of all the things on The Projects list, if I don’t see this novel through I will die disappointed in myself. Do you hear me?

7.     Try stand-up comedy
This is where it gets scary. And this is as far as I’ve got with the list. Kind of five-and-a-half down, five-and-a-half to go I suppose. None of these are pipe dreams though. I have already signed up to workshop some stand-up material this coming Saturday. I have never done anything like this before. I think I am a bit funny, and I have done lots of public speaking, but the two have rarely crossed paths. But I love stand up and I am going to try it for myself. I’m terrified. What am I doing? Stay tuned.

And here is the rest of the list. So no biggies, huh…?

8.     Write and stage a play

9.     Curate an exhibition

10.   Be an artist

11.   Find some work outside Manchester

 See you on the other side...

Monday, 12 January 2015

Motionary Art-Oids in Manchester (or, Video Art in the City)

There’s a ton of great video art showing in Manchester right now. Tomorrow night (Tuesday 13th) at Cornerhouse, there’s an hour-long screening of a compendium of film work by Margaret Salmon, including both early material and new works in progress. Salmon’s subject matter is the everyday, her medium is realism and her forte is detail. Catch a Q&A with the artist after the screening.

'A Tiger's Skin' by Chris Paul Daniels

Over at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, you can watch some excellent video art by Chris Paul Daniels and Sun Xun. Daniels’ main piece is ‘A Tiger’s Skin’, an engaging layered video triptych consisting of the artist’s documentary response to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1972 film, ‘Chung Kuo, Cina’ which was commissioned then banned by Mao. Daniels also has three shorter pieces showing, including one with a snippet of not-to-be-missed Chinese disco music. In the rear gallery, a selection of Sun Xun’s animations combine unnerving but beautiful imagery with myth, legend and philosophy. ‘What happened in the year of the dragon’ is a UK first showing and is genuinely brilliant. There’s also a defiantly weird and captivating 3D film showing in the dark room, and more besides. It’s a major solo collection hot on the heels of Sun Xun’s Asia Triennial collection.

Lastly, video art makes a great showing at Castlefield Gallery’s ‘30 years of the Future’ exhibition. For this anniversary collection the gallery have invited friends and past artists to nominate the work of an artist who shows great promise. The video work on show includes powerful advertising satire from Thomas Yeomans, queer agit-pop from Evan Ifekoya, and lots lots more over the two floor space. The whole collection is great, in fact, but the video work packs a powerful, funny and sad punch, depending where you start. Treat your eyes. Do not miss.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Queer Narratives

Lord knows I love Larry Kramer but I was underwhelmed by the 2014 adaptation of The Normal Heart, Kramer’s drama about the formation of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first body to attempt to tackle the mysterious illness we now know as the AIDS pandemic. The play was originally staged in 1985. Kramer then wrote a screen version for direction by Ryan Murphy last year, in which there was somehow less of a sense that the world didn’t care about a disease killing New York’s ‘undesirables’, than that the disease itself was actually only happening to a dozen people in a telephone crisis centre. The world felt oddly remote, and not for the right reasons. In 1969, Kramer’s sexy screenplay update of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love won him an Oscar nomination, but time didn’t seem to be working in his favour for a twenty-first century Normal Heart. There was something of the clunky and anachronistic exposition we are all supposed to accept in this post-Downton Abbey world, but I was oddly unmoved by it, plus I straight up did not rate Jim Parsons. Having said that, Julia Roberts gave a great turn as the Virginia Woolf-like scientist providing a lone voice of reason and restraint as the virus gathered pace; Mark Ruffalo I could happily watch sanding door frames with the sound off; and Joe Mantello’s manic diatribe as the body count hopelessly increased, was, I think, award-winning stuff. But the road was full of rocks to get you there.

If you want a lesson in narrative grace, watch Transparent. In fact if you want a lesson in most of the important skills of contemporary drama, Transparent has them – script, pace, casting, story, you name it. And it doesn’t make things easy on itself. Turning-point scenes happen off-screen, there are numerous flashbacks, temporal dislocation, narrative uncertainty. But it’s all water tight, and so consistently and persistently emotionally fraught that it’s best to sit back and not speak for a while after each episode. It’s also the most genuinely queer thing I’ve seen in ages. The fluidity of gender and sexual identity is practically torrential in Transparent. It’s a story that’s as much about navigating human desire across all manner of boundaries/binaries as it is about a trans woman – the blindingly talented Jeffrey Tambor as Maura – coming out to her family of adult children. It’s listed on IMDb under ‘Comedy’ but I can’t think what for – other than as some kind of categorical titillation to prevent a straighter audience being deterred. Regardless, it does have plenty of funny moments, effortlessly and circumstantially funny that is, and therefore real comedy, the comedy of life rolling on with pitfalls and errors. What I like most about it though is that it has is no discernible interest in ‘normalising’ trans or queer experience – doing so would cost the story the uniqueness that convinces you that you have never seen anything like this before.