Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Edge Hill

I reckon I spent much of yesterday enduring a terribly rainy car journey down the M6 from Edge Hill University where I was delivering a lecture to the students about my experiences working on Beyond The Fence. It’s still a little bizarre talking about that particular project, although Clare Chandler, who brought me up to do the same thing last year, commented on how much more comfortable I’d seemed this time. I certainly feel like I’ve finally accepted how damaging the experience was and gained an understanding about why things went the way they did, which implies I’m moving on! It was interesting to talk about how de-humanising the project had been and whether this particular aspect was caused or exasperated by the computers we were working with. I certainly think that people felt they could be a great deal crueller to us about our work than ever they would have been had there been no mention of artificial intelligence. It’s understandable. I think, deep down, people are genuinely terrified at the thought of computers taking over the world and walked into Beyond the Fence without a clear understanding of the actual processes we’d used and quite how much human beings need to cherry pick and curate “computer creativity” for anything meaningful to come out. It was almost tragic that most of the critics came out with a sense that the actors and director had somehow saved the day by breathing vitality and meaning into the facile nonsense which had come out of computers. The bottom line is that they saw a West End show which had been written, in a highly unorthodox manner, in five months, by an incredibly stressed married couple who were being pursued relentlessly by television cameras and bullied by lawyers and execs. Under normal circumstances a show wouldn’t have been ready even for workshopping by this stage. One of the greatest sadnesses in my life is that I think, given a proper amount of time, a good number of re-writes (and the ability to take out all the rubbish generated by computer systems which were plainly not yet good enough) Beyond the Fence could have been a very wonderful and successful show.

I do love being at Edge Hill University. Claire and the team have created such a wonderful learning environment up there. The students don’t know how lucky they are to have a tutor with such great knowledge of musical theatre and such a keen ear to the ground when it comes to what’s going on within the industry.

The news is full of this Oxfam scandal. It strikes me that we’re in a very odd place when it comes to the reporting of news. In this particular instance no one seems to be able to report what has actually happened. We’re apparently meant to feel entirely outraged that someone or some people who work or worked for a charity might have employed prostitutes whilst working in Haiti and that this information wasn’t dealt with very well by a woman called Penny who has now resigned. I’m sure it’s far more complicated than that, and that this is just the tip of the iceberg in yet another desperately worrying crisis which will cut to the heart of every charity which has ever been formed, but as we’re not actually being told the full story, it’s very hard to feel any form of emotion. And yet, at the same time, we’re being told that Oxfam might have its funding withdrawn so we’re all assuming that something terrible has happened and have gone into moral panic mode claiming Oxfam is the new Jimmy Savile. I wish we’d all just stop panicking, take a deep breath and allow those in power to work out what’s going on without being influenced by yet another media-whipped-up witch hunt.

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