“Follow that taxi!” – My experience as a teacher in New York

A teacher’s diary: The school trip to New York.

Stats: 16 students (16-18 years old), 2 staff

Sunday night

  • Pack: more clothes than necessary, first aid kit, 3x chargers, school phone, personal phone
  • Hand luggage: two sets of headphones (a student will forget theirs), first aid kit, iPad, a book, dollars
  • Pack ‘The Bible’:  a folder containing all passengers’ plane tickets, hotel reservations, tourist attraction entry passes, theatre tickets, ATOL certificates, emergency numbers, student allergy information etc
  • Take iPad screenshots of walking routes from hotel to every destination on our itinerary, in case of no Wifi
  • Save all important numbers in my school phone

Monday morning

9am: Get to Heathrow Terminal 3 an hour and a half before the children. Find Virgin Atlantic member of staff, immediately change my seat from a seat which is inbetween two students, to a window seat three rows away from the nearest student. Smile. Get coffee

10.30am: Meet all students and my colleague, and pretend to be a lot more angry than I actually am when a few arrive late, in the hope that this will prevent further lateness.

2pm: Board flight. Lend my colleague my spare headphones. Watch Frozen. Start to watch Blackfish but am all film-ed out. Students watch films and play card games (online, via the in-flight entertainment). I stare out of the window for the rest of the flight, marvelling at the miracle of flight.

 

Tinker Bell, a Boeing 747-400, took us across the pond


The rest of the times are New York time



5pm: Land at JFK! Tweet that we’ve landed safely. Party is split into ESTA/US National queues. The ESTA queue is 20mins faster than the US National queue. Go figure. The American who allows me into the country uses the phrase ‘Do me a courtesy’ when asking for my fingerprints, which I love and comment on. I say we don’t say that in the UK. He says ‘Do me a courtesy’ in a London accent. We laugh.

6pm: I phone the number of the coach company taking us from JFK to our hotel, the Hotel Walcott. It arrives minutes after I tell the dispatch that we’ve landed.

7.30pm:  Arrive at the hotel. Tip the coach driver. Approach the front desk of the hotel – ‘You must be the teacher with the students from London’. We are given our room keys and I give the students half an hour to dump their bags, freshen up and meet in the lobby. I collect their passports and put them in the hotel safe, and ask the concierge if there is anywhere to eat locally that can accommodate 18 people. ‘No problem Sir, I know just the place around the corner. I’ll let them know to expect you’.

8.15pm: Eat at Bella Napoli on the corner of  East 31st and Madison. Proper New York Italian diner whose proprietor Carlo sorts us out with pizza pies and sodas.

10pm: Back to the hotel. Ground rules established. Bed time, meet in the foyer at 8.20am.

Tuesday

7am: I wake up early and go for a walk to get my bearings. Get coffee and a bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts. For the fifteenth time in a week I check to make sure I know who is allergic to what, and where their epipens are. Get back to the hotel to meet the students.

8.20am: Meet the students for the start of the first day! We walk from the Hotel Walcott to our Broadway Stage Combat Workshop on the corner of W36th and 8th. En route, 16 different students want to stop at 16 different places for coffee. We stop for coffee at a place I hope will satisfy most, and get to the workshops early – students are given a two-block radius to go off and explore, meeting back here in 20 mins.

10am: Broadway Stage Combat Workshop. A truly fantastic workshop led by Jayson and Eric, who make the students laugh and work hard, resulting in a mini stage combat routine which they learn and perform to each other. I phone Bubba Gump NYC to make sure our reservation for later is confirmed.

11am: We are surprised by the arrival of Nikki Renée Daniels, the lead female in Book of Mormon, who talks to us about what it’s like to work on Broadway. We are seeing Mormon later, so this is a lovely touch.

 

Nikki Renée Daniels

 

11.30am The Q&A ends and we walk to Times Square.

12pm We arrive at Times Square. I give the students a two-block radius and an hour to grab lunch. My colleague and I go for a burger. We meet back at the designated meeting point, and do the sixth headcount of the day.  Two students are missing. After 5 minutes I’m irritated, after 10 I’m angry, after 15 I’m worried, and after 20 I’m really worried and starting to get the Bible out for their mobile numbers. No need – they turn up. I bollock them, and we walk to Top of the Rock.

 

Times Square

 

1.30pm Top of the Rock – 69th floor views of Manhattan. Very humbling to see the Freedom Tower in place of the Twin Towers. The Statue of Liberty looks tiny. Is Hyde Park bigger or smaller than Central Park? Were there people standing where I’m standing when the planes hit? There must have been. Top of the Rock was much more humbling and sentimental than I had bargained for. I chat with my students about how crazy it is that they have no living memory of 9/11. They were two years old when it happened, and for them is a Thing In History. I try to explain to them now the world literally changed overnight, and fail. I check my school phone for the fifteenth time today – no contact from parents. Good. Lots of selfies.

 

Top of the Rock

 

2.30pm: The Bat Phone rings. It’s a relative of a student on the trip. They’re in New York, can they meet up? I have had advance warning of this and have the transfer of in loco parentis in writing so it’s fine. I ask them to make sure the student gets to Bubba Gump in time for our meal later.
The rest of us have the option of free time (in groups of three) or can come to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with me. Most come to MoMA. Art isn’t really my thing so I see some Picasso, Van Gogh and a big red square and then go for a coffee with my colleague to argue about how a big red square isn’t art.

 

MoMA

 

5pm Bubba Gump restaurant! Shrimp. Fun. I have a martini.

5.30pm I hand out an ice pack from my first aid kid to a student who hurt his hand in stage combat earlier

7pm The Book of Mormon. One of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. An over-zealous box office clerk almost refuses to let us have our tickets because I don’t know the last four digits of the credit card used to book the tickets (a travel company booked the tickets). The martini I had earlier has gone to my head and I am the only person in the theatre who gives a standing ovation. I dance during the curtain call. My students are mortified.



1o.30pm We get back to the hotel. The students go to bed, knowing that they have to be in reception at 8.20am the next morning, unless they want to go for a walk and breakfast with me at 7am. My colleague and I investigate a cocktail bar opposite the hotel. I stare at the Bat Phone for the whole night, hoping that it doesn’t go off. It doesn’t.

12am I get back to my hotel room. The toilet has overflowed and there is sewage on the floor. There are no spare rooms so I wait whilst it is cleaned.

Wednesday

6am I wake up, review the day ahead and have a shower in my clean bathroom. I haven’t slept a wink because of the smell of smoke in my hotel room, SewageGate and general New York Noise.

7am Seven students are waiting for me in the lobby for our breakfast walk. We go to Tasty’s on E31st and have bacon pancakes. The bacon is weird.

8.20am The whole group reunites in the lobby and we walk to our second Broadway Workshop: Stage Make-up. We stop for breakfast on the way at TickTock Diner. Those of us who have already eaten just have coffee.

 

Stage make-up cut

10am We meet Brian Strumwasser, a Broadway make-up professional who talks to the students about his incredible CV, shares Broadway gossip and does practical demonstrations with the students. I tweet, check my emails for emergencies and check our ferry reservation.

11.30am We thank Brian and walk West to 83rd Pier. We cross about 20 streets, I do a silent headcount at each. The students eventually acquiesce to the obeyance of Walk/Don’t Walk signs.

12pm Students have an hour for lunch – two-block radius. I make sure my sick bags are at the top of my luggage.

1pm We board for the Circle Line Ferry Cruise. It’s a beautiful day and the cruise is lovely. We smile when we pass under the Brooklyn Bridge, the bridge of A View from the Bridge, which the students have been studying. The Statue of Liberty is smaller than I thought. It is a relaxing hour and a half for me because I know the students can’t go anywhere – apart from overboard, which is unlikely.

Views from the cruise

2.30pm We walk to Times Square, establish a meeting point, then students have free time until 5pm. Myself and a student don’t fancy shopping, which most people go for, so we go for a coffee and put the world to rights.

5pm Planet Hollywood. I stupidly order a salad and blame my decision on a student.

6.30pm A bit more free time

8pm We take our seats to watch AL PACINO in a new Mamet play, China Doll. It’s a fantastic performance by Al but the play itself divides opinion.

11pm Back at the hotel I offer students two options: meet me at 7am to see if we can squeeze in Central Park, which is not officially on the itinerary, or meet in the lobby at 10am.

7am I am met by six students who have taken up my offer of Central Park. This turns out to be the highlight of the trip for me: coffee, students I get along with, and a stroll in autumnal Central Park at sunrise. We go on the swings. We get a cab there and back, but we can’t all fit in one. I say ‘follow that taxi!’, referring to the taxi ahead containing the other students, and the taxi driver says ‘no’.


Central Park

10am After a two-hour jaunt in the park, we return to the hotel lobby and meet the others. We pack our bags and check out, leave our bags at the hotel, and head to the UN. Headcounts etc.

11.30am A brief tour of the United Nations Headquarters after clearing security. We get to go inside the General Assembly room. Our guide is admirable in that she can speak five languages including English, but is nevertheless unintelligible because of the strength of her accent.

 

The UN General Assembly room

12.30pm The students have two options: come with me for lunch at Grand Central Station, or go shopping with my colleague at Macy’s. The majority goes shopping; four come with me

 

Grand Central Station

1pm: We sit down and order food at a tapas restaurant. I’ve been emailing my childhood friend, Luke, since the beginning of the trip and he arrives for a beer. I am delighted to introduce him to my students. Luke takes us to AADA, the American Academy of Dramatic Art, and introduces us to his friends there.

We go to a bar and realise it’s the first time we’ve seen each other since the funeral of a friend, Joe, whom we lost last year. We cry and hug and reminisce. He shows me a tattoo of Joe’s initials, as well as a tattoo of the words ‘Cilla Black’. That’s Luke.


4pm Get back at the hotel to meet the others. Everyone loves Luke. We load the coach with bags, I get the passports out of the safe, and we head to JFK.

At this point my life turns into a movie.

6.30pm We arrive at JFK with three hours to spare. After unloading the bags, I watch the coach drive off with my hand luggage. It contains all our passports, the ‘Bible’, and my school phone with all the emergency contact numbers.

I manage to find the coach company’s phone number from Google, half an hour later. It’s now 7pm and the students are wondering why we haven’t checked in yet. After fiddling with dialling codes for a another 10 minutes, I eventually get through to the coach company. They refuse to send the coach driver back to the airport – we’ll have to meet him at the depot.

Which is based in New Jersey.

I run into the street and hail a taxi. ‘1500 Jefferson Street, New Jersey. Drive as fast as you can. This is an emergency’

Google maps says its 1h30 each way. It’s 2 hours until check in closes. The taxi hurtles towards Manhattan and comes to a grinding halt in the centre of it. I am in constant contact with the coach company and my colleague back at the airport who is investigating hotel rooms and new flights, should we miss ours. It’s not good news. $155 per person for a new flight.

As I sit in the back of a taxi, powerless and at the mercy of Manhattan traffic, I start to panic. What if we miss the flight? What will the parents say? What if the children have flights tomorrow for a family holiday? How are we going to pay for hotel rooms for 18 people?

Eventually, the traffic clears and we get through the Lincoln tunnel. I ask my colleague what the bottom-line latest check-in time is. She says 9.15pm is the absolute latest Virgin can do, and that’s only because, luckily, the flight has been delayed until 10pm. It’s 8.30pm and I’m in New Jersey. We get to the coach depot, I run to reception, grab my bag with the passports and return to the taxi. ‘Go go go!’. I’ve always wanted to say that.

The driver floors it, there is genuine wheelspin and I check my watch. It’s 8.33pm and we have 42 minutes to complete a journey which Google Maps reckons will take 1h07. Through Manhattan gridlock.

My heart sinks. I want to vomit. My colleague calls. ‘Where are you?’ I’m the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life, in the back of a taxi with 18 passports in my hand, an hour away from the airport with 40 minutes to get there. I’m not going to make it.

Suddenly the traffic starts moving. All the lights are green. My driver seems to be enjoying his mission and is weaving in and out of traffic. We get to the freeway and he puts his foot down again – ‘You’ll pay my fines right brother?’ he asks, and I will.

9.10pm  Unbelievably, we get to JFK. I throw way too many dollars at the driver, thank him profusely and run. I run like I’ve never run before. I get to the check in desk at 9.13; two minutes to spare. What seems to be the whole airport gives me a round of applause – apparently the Virgin staff have been transfixed and entertained by my text updates over the past two hours – the most stressful of my life. We get escorted through security, and my relief is numbing. I’ve been from JFK to New Jersey to JFK in 2 hours and 11 minutes, and aged 10 years in the process.

We arrive at Heathrow, but at arrivals there’s a tap on my shoulder.

‘I’m really sorry sir. I’ve left my passport on the plane’.

My colleague deals with it. She’s the best. I have a taxi waiting for me (40 mins to home) but I elect to get the Piccadilly line from Terminal 3 to Oakwood (2 hours then a bus to home) because it will ‘give me more sleeping time’. Yep, that’s the logic of a tired man.

Disclaimer: I haven’t included all the times I took headcounts, gave speeches about The Plan For the Next Few Hours, fielded questions like ‘What are we doing next’ and ‘Can we go out on our own tonight’ from students, or liaised with my colleague (who was amazing from start to finish) for advice, all of which things happened very frequently. 

New York, New York

I’m going to New York! I’ve never been to America before. I am so excited.

It’s a school trip: I’m taking my sixth form Drama students. We are going to take part in two workshops led by Broadway professionals: Stage Combat and Stage Make-up (injuries, scars, boils, the fun stuff), we’re going to see two Broadway shows (more on that later), we’re going to the Top of the Rock, we’re having a tour of the UN Headquarters, and we’re doing some other touristy stuff like having dinner at Bubba Gump’s in Times Square and doing the Circle Line Cruise. 

How do you plan a school trip?

‘Shall we take a trip to New York, or Japan or something?’ I said to my Head of Department last September, almost under my breath, whilst writing an email.

‘Yes’, she said. 

Organisation for this trip actually began last October. I approached five or six different travel companies to get the best price, and then negotiated hard on that price for weeks via email. You get a price-per-student, and there’s the balance of making it affordable for parents versus making the trip fun and full of activities, which costs money. I’m usually far too British to ask for any money off anything, so it was quite exhilarating to play the ‘You want my business, I can easily go somewhere else, reduce the price please’ card. We are taking 20 students – the company stands to make a fair whack out of this trip, so they were happy to make some concessions that benefited Us.

Once I’d obtained a quotation I was happy with, I had to present the trip as a concept to the Deputy Head for approval. Everything in the trip had to be factored into the budget: travel to the airport, money for the occasional hot dog, wifi in the hotel ($9.95 a night! I’m advising the students to forego it and wait until we get to a Starbucks with free a wifi, but it’s important that I’m connected 24/7 in case of parental contact etc), ESTA travel permits, 20 students grabbing a sandwich at Heathrow, tipping money for every New Yorker we encounter, etc. I made lots of mistakes and it was another month before I presented him with a budget that was thorough enough. 

So, trip approved. Next step: passengers! I announced the trip at 9am one day in assembly, asking students to get their parents to email me to register their interest. By lunchtime I had 24 respondents for 20 places. Argh! Four people were to be disappointed. Here’s the thing: for every 10 students, the travel company gives one free staff place. Which is good, because the school won’t pay for staff to go, and the staff certainly won’t pay to take care of 20 children during their holiday. If 30 students go, there are 3 staff places. But we had 24; too few for an extra free staff place, and too many for two staff to legally take care of. Staff/Student ratio, and all that.

I told the 20 students who had emailed first that their place was secure, pending a deposit, and that the other four were on standby (this story has a happy ending; some students dropped out so everyone who wanted to go is going to get to go). 

Then came the fun bit: the itinerary. Charlotte, my contact at the travel company, was absolutely amazing and made everything so easy. Every so often I’d get an email: Which shows do we want to see? Where do we want to eat? Is anyone allergic to anything? Top of the Rock or Empire State? Virgin or British Airways? Statue of Liberty or a James Corden recording? These were lovely emails to receive.

There have been some hiccups along the way – expired passports,  date clashes, choosing which member of staff to accompany me (!), and parent enquiries like Why Not Just Go To London, Can My Son Meet His Friend In Washington For Two Of The Days (No), Do They Have To Do All The Activities On The Itinerary (…Yes), Can Parents Come (No), and other bizarre questions like that. But mostly it’s been really pleasant. 

So, those Broadway shows. Well the first one we’re going to see is Book of Mormon. I’ve seen it in London and it certainly deserves all of the awards its received, in my opinion. It’s acerbic and brave and clever and hilarious, and I think my students will love it – not least because it has swearing in it.

And the second show? Well, I still can’t believe I get to type this sentence. The second show we’re going to see is China Doll – a new play by David Mamet, starring Al Pacino.

We depart on the 19th October. We’re flying in a Virgin Atlantic 747-400, which excites a Plane Geek like me almost more than the trip itself. We’re staying in Chelsea, and hopefully we’ll have time for some museums and Central Park and some shopping whilst we’re there. Stay tuned!

Coming up: How do you manage behaviour on a school trip to America? Should you give students free time in a foreign country? What time is an appropriate curfew?

Dear Diary…

Today a colleague mentioned a fantastic idea which I stole immediately.

I have a brand new form of 24 eleven year-olds in Year 7, and today is their first full day of school. In their form period this morning, they wrote a letter to themselves which was immediately sealed in an envelope. I didn’t read it, nor did their friends: it’s a completely private, personal letter. I collected them in and have put them all sealed in the school safe, to be opened on their last day of school in a few years.

Before they wrote their letter, I gave them some guidance on what they might write about. Do they miss primary school already? Are all the big boys scaring them? Is the school huge? Is it weird having a different teacher for each subject? How heavy are their bags now? Do they like their new friends? Who are their friends? What do they want to be when they’re older? What do they think about things that are in the news at the moment? How important is money? Faith?

I think most people remember their first day of school. It was such an exciting, scary time. I will be fascinated to see their reaction when they open the letter and read it again in a few years. How things may will have changed!

You’re Gonna Reap Just What You Sow

I didn’t keep my promise of blogging whilst at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

It was brilliant and exhausting. I’ve performed at the Fringe before, for the entire month; three shows a day. That’s 90 shows in 30 days, as well as all the paraphernalia – costumes, sets, flyering, and drinking – and it wasn’t as exhausting as just one week at the Fringe was this year. And I wasn’t even performing. Am I getting old? Well, yes, got older two weeks ago. But my tiredness this year didn’t stem from age; it stemmed from youth. Specifically my Sixth Form. Don’t get me wrong, they were quite perfect: they did absolutely everything I would expect seventeen and eighteen-year-olds to do at the Fringe (and actually showed remarkable restraint); were only a few minutes late to their curfews, and managed to get some bums on seats for our show, the run of which went well, and the performances of which got better and better as the week went by. Our accommodation was great (student halls right in the centre), I ate well (Under The Stairs is a must) and I even had some gin.

What was exhausting was, even whilst basking in my students’ good behaviour, I was ‘on call’ 24/7. Call me sentimental, but I did worry every time a student was unaccounted for, even if it was only for a few minutes and all their friends could vouch for their whereabouts. I worried that people had forgotten their passports, even though they told me that they all were in their bags (they were), I worried that the restaurant we’d booked for 24 people had forgotten our booking (they hadn’t), and I worried that the students wouldn’t enjoy Showstopper: The Improvised Musical, a favourite of mine which I’d been telling them all was amazing. They loved it.

My picks of the Fringe were Captain Morgan (so much so that we have asked them to come into school to do a workshop), Max and Ivan and Showstopper.

As I sat in an Addison Lee from Luton to London after a seamless flight back, knackered as anything, I thought myself lucky to have such great students. They saw shows which divided them, argued passionately to fight their corner, flyered without flyers, performed their show, and then saw more shows. Having a student rush up to you, their eyes wide and alive, saying ‘You HAVE to go and see this show! It is LIFE CHANGING!!!’ really never gets old.

It was in Edinburgh I discovered my love for Tom Jones. I mean, I think he’s alright – good voice and all – but there is one specific Tom Jones moment which became the catchphrase for the trip, and which I must have sung at least 20-30 times a day, whenever the urge befell me, which was often.

It’s the bit where he goes ‘You’re going to RREEEEAAAAAAAAAP just what you sow’ in that Perfect Day thing all the celebrities did. It’s just amazing. Click here to be taken STRAIGHT TO THAT BIT, bypassing all the other crooners.

 

I also got to see my hero Stewart Lee and he signed my book.

  

Also I lost a bet with a student and had to wear a shawl and brooch like an old lady for four days. I wasn’t allowed to take it off at any point.

Edinburgh 2015 in numbers:

 

First day back at school tomorrow! That means new stationery, new diaries, and a fresh start. All things I LOVE.

What do Jeremy Clarkson and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini have in common?

This is a relatively boring post about GCSEs. For something slightly more engaging, scroll down to Edinburgh.

Q: What do Jeremy Clarkson, Cheryl off X Factor, Sir/Lord Alan Sugar, Robbie Williams and Richard Branson have in common?

A: They all didn’t do very well at school.

There are two issues here, though.

One: define ‘very well’. I vividly remember walking into my department office a few years ago to see a boy in floods of tears because he’d got a D at GCSE Drama – tears of joy. He had worked his socks off for that grade, he had an extremely difficult personal life, and, on results day, he was overwhelmed with pride that he hadn’t failed. He’d got his GCSE. Other students will be gutted that they got an A instead of an A*. It’s all relative.

Two: What else do they have in common? They all have talent (sorry, Matthew Syed) which lies outside the realm of academia, and they were all in the right place at the right time and had certain friends and opportunities until voi la: they’re multimillionaires. Clearly this doesn’t happen to everyone who doesn’t ‘do well’ at school.

I think that’s really nice of Clarkson. He has 5.5m followers, a percentage of whom will have seen their results on results day, felt awful, read his tweet, and, for a moment or two, felt better. I think some other celebrities have tweeted similarly. It’s nice. It’s using Twitter well, in my opinion. Bruce Springsteen has a go, too:

‘We busted outta class, had to get away from those fools/We learned more from a three-minute record, babe, than we ever learned in school’ – No Surrender, Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA, 1984

But I think even our friends in St Tropez and the USA will admit that GCSEs and A-Levels do matter. I won’t get into the ins-and-outs of whether you need them if you’re going to leave school at 16 anyway, or go to drama school, or whether you’re ever going to use sin cos tan in day-to-day life outside of pub quizzes. I’m just going to suggest that GCSEs are proof of many things, including but not limited to:

  • your ability to work to deadlines
  • your ability to retain information
  • your ability to organise your thoughts on paper
  • an education

If you have a job which demands none of the above, let me know if there are any vacancies!

What I find more interesting than the results themselves, though, is what happens next. What happens to the student who gets, by his or her standards, bad GCSE grades? Are they chucked out of the school, or are they sat down and given help to improve? Do they retake the year? Do they have change their A-Level options (and therefore, potentially, their future career)? Does the school blame the teachers? Do the parents blame the teachers? Or does everybody blame the child? What happens to the head of department whose department’s marks were the ‘worst’ in the school? What happens to the kid who gets twelve A*s? Are there sufficient resources to ‘stretch and challenge’ those students?

Depending on which school you go to/teach in/send your child to, the answers to those questions will be wildly different.

The only thing I can guarantee, in as much as I can guarantee the sun will rise tomorrow, is that every single year we will be subjected to the same twelve-hour loop of inane, tedious, unhelpful stats on the news.

 
Edinburgh

I am off to the Edinburgh Fringe for the eleventh year in a row! But THIS TIME…. I’M TAKING MY STUDENTS.

That’s right – I’m taking twenty 17/18 year olds to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the week. What could possibly go wrong?

We have booked them a venue (C Main, Chambers Street) and some accommodation (boys and girls have their own flats), and asked them to devise their own show, and get bums on seats for it.

I hope it is a richly rewarding experience for them. The idea is that, whilst they are all good performers, they aren’t necessarily so well acquainted with the unseen side of theatre productions: budgets, the sourcing of costume and props, designing the poster, building the set, getting the set to Edinburgh, liaising with the venue, performing to an audience of two (rather than a full house of parents), etc etc. I hope that this is going to be a really, really fun week for them – and an eye-opening one. In my first Fringe performance, there were two punters on the front row. Both of them stood up and left the theatre during my opening monologue.

They’ll be supervised, and there will be curfews and rules, but this trip differs slightly to other school trips in that there will be points at which they are trusted to go off on their own (in groups of three), see a show or two, and come back to a designated meeting point on time – sober.

There are some shows that we have pre-booked to see based on teacher/student recommendations, but part of the fun of the Fringe is just taking a punt on a show based on word of mouth, whether you like its title or whether the person handing you its flyer was pleasant.

(The education one receives when taking a show to the Fringe, incidentally, is one that no GCSE can teach).

I will be blogging about those shows during the week, along with some posts about some of the challenges my students will face along the way: getting there, the 3am technical rehearsal, and, of course, the dreaded flyering on the Royal Mile.

In Defence of Theatre: My Response To Elizabeth Day

‘I don’t much like theatre. You’re not really allowed to say that, are you?’ – Elizabeth Day, writing in the Observer, in what appears to be a review of Educating Rita.

Well, yes, you can say it, Elizabeth. Like you can say ‘I don’t much like music’, ‘I don’t much like literature’, or ‘I don’t much like comedy’.

…saying you don’t like theatre is a bit like saying you don’t like fish. No one believes you, so they simply start listing different types. Smoked salmon? No. Tuna? No. Fish fingers? No, mate. Still fish.

Yeah, you’re right, Elizabeth. Still fish. All the same, those bloody fish. Why can’t us theatre-haters just be left alone to say we don’t like theatre without people simply listing different types of theatre, just to make sure we haven’t made some huge sweeping generalisation? I know for a fact that hot fish fingers taste exactly the same as cold smoked salmon.

And don’t get me started on vegetables. Is that a potato on my plate, or a carrot? Is that an aubergine or a pea? Most of the time I have no idea, because as far as I’m concerned it’s a vegetable. All vegetables are the same, right, Elizabeth? They all taste the same, they all take the same preparation time, they all cost the same, they all look the same. Bloody vegetables.

I don’t much like cars, either. All cars. Don’t start talking to me about the differences between Rolls-Royce and Ford Fiestas because at the end of the say they’re still cars, mate. Someone once told me that saloon cars were more spacious than hatchbacks and I told them that I don’t like cars, full stop. Just like I don’t like fish. Any fish. Or theatre. Any theatre.

The tickets are expensive. The seats are uncomfortable. The audiences are pretentious and pleased with themselves, laughing loudly to show they get obscure jokes and cultural references.

West End theatre is expensive. I imagine theatre at Fringe venues costs exactly the same. In fact, I reckon ALL theatre costs exactly the same. Including the free shows, and the pay-what-you-can shows. And they all have the same seats. Even the promenade performances. And they all have the same demographic. Doesn’t matter whether the theatre is in Stratford London or Stratford-upon-Avon. I imagine. I dunno, I haven’t checked.

[Plays] do not reflect how people actually speak because dialogue in most modern plays is generally produced to show how clever the writer is or how gifted the actor delivering it is.

Especially all that verbatim theatre knocking around. And physical theatre. And Shakespeare.

For a much more accurate reflection of natural dialect and speaking patterns, I’d much rather go and see a film like The Terminator, The Avengers, Mad Max: Fury Road, or Frozen.

Plays are long. Unnecessarily, self-indulgently long. You’ll have to miss dinner to see one

I know, right? I was looking forward to my fish and veg.

Claiming that you prefer the cinema to the theatre is a bit like this. You’re viewed with a sort of patronising suspicion, as if you can’t be expected to understand the myriad subtleties of the dramatic art. But there’s nothing wrong with a Yates’s wine bar. At least you can buy a bag of crisps there for under £1 and you don’t have to queue for the lavatory.

But at least you can buy a bag of crisps there for under £1.

I concede that theatre, at its best, can be a fantastic thing.

Hmm.

Elizabeth Day’s full article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/28/thanks-bringing-theatre-life-lenny-henry

A much less sarcastic response to her article than mine can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2015/jul/02/think-theatre-is-overrated-maybe-youre-just-watching-the-wrong-shows