Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Money Angst

Money has been the issue in the office for a little while. Charlotte has been worried that we haven’t got enough now and I’m worried that we won’t have enough in the future.

Charlotte’s concern has been cash-flow. Terrifyingly we now burn through over ten grand in salaries and National Insurance at the end of each month. When we’ve been busy fees for associate artists rack up significantly on top of this. We try and play fair by everyone and pay bang on time, so if fees are slow coming in, as they often are, and our quarterly Arts Council cheque is delayed, as it occasionally is, things start to get tight. This month things have been made tighter still by seven grand spent on airfairs for gigs coming up in the Autumn. Charlotte has been tracking the bank account’s nosedive on line, an air-traffic controller fixated by her screen, making urgent calls trying to arrange in-flight refuelling or at least foam on the tarmac. For the first time in the company’s history we arranged an overdraft facility just in case.

My concern is long term. The meeting with the Big Bond Boss (it turns out there are three and I’ve now met two (one whilst wearing long trousers, one whilst wearing short)) was good. The space started off eye-wateringly expensive, but we have had a further conversation and are now negotiating in the region of breathtaking expense. I’m trying to calculate what we can sensibly commit to and how much we could earn by subletting. This space think feels so critical and yet it's also almost intractable. At night voices in my head mutter about the importance of 'the entrepreneurial gamble' whilst scrolling behind my eyelids is the memorial list of companies crushed by weighty overheads.

This afternoon Charlotte announced she’s navigated us through the cash-flow crisis, which is another triumph for her, but I’m still making phone calls and thumping at calculators with no triumph in sight.


Saturday, June 17, 2006


Big Boss At The Eco-Fair

A few days ago the phone rang in the office. Someone from The Bond was asking if we were interested in looking at a space they have bought and are hoping to rent. Our history goes back with The Bond. There used to be an artist run gallery there and they commissioned It’s Your Film back in 1998. The show was made and opened there, so it's a special place for us. More recently we have been using their Gatehouse Room as the base in our City Adventure days. In and amongst all this Sarah and I booked the same room as one of the venues in our rather over-involved wedding celebrations.

On Friday Graeme and I (being the only two people in the office) zoomed down to Floodgate Street and gave this new place a once over. It is great and could be fantastic, which probably means we can’t afford it. Now on Thursday I’m booked in to meet the big Bond boss to see what the score is and if there’s a deal to be done for worthy types.

Today Helen Kelly and I roll up to Harborn Primary School with some kit from Home Of The Wriggler. They’re having an Eco-Fair and it seemed like a fun idea to take the peddle power kettle and record player down there. We’ve not been up and running long when a gentleman comes over and starts chatting, asking questions and drops into conversation that he’s heard our name at The Bond. On the way home Helen confirms he was the big Bond boss.

So now come Thursday I can go easy on the ‘we work in Birmingham with kids’ bit, has he will have gathered that already, and go heavy on the International Touring Sensation line because, in my shorts, with my red neck, homemade bike power kit and Eve’s rusk all over my shoulder, he won’t have gathered this.


Thursday, June 15, 2006


Rice To Newcastle

Of All The People In All The World: 15 – 24 in Trinity Gardens is sensational. Built from 33 tons of rice this is the first big version seen in the UK and the last such version before the show hits London, hopefully some time next year.

The newly built open office space with its steel floor, low white ceiling, big windows and even lighting sets off the white paper and creamy gold rice beautifully. The team have structured the space sensitively with carefully chosen combinations of large and small, long and scattered piles. They have also put together great combinations of statistics, lots of brilliant new stuff and plenty of local interest. They have been well supported by the NewcastleGateshead Initiative who booked us, so Signalnet 5 sounds brilliant in this space, clearly defined and subtle.

This gig has been good to take this opportunity to induct Andy and Jack into the ways of the rice; gearing up for busy times ahead. A bit of extra muscle is also always handy.

Compensation for not having the pleasure of working on the show is the pleasure of being able to visit it. Seven hours on a train is a small price to pay for an hour in its and their company.



Lab Fever

On 30st May Sarah, Eve and I took a trip up north with some Home of the Wriggler kit. Early on 31st I pushed on alone to York and Creative Encounters a seminar at the National Science Learning Centre. I’d been invited to do a small performance presentation about Performance and Science so I showed them a bit of Pedal Power lighting, explained the optics in It’s Your Film, bigged up The Black Maze, speculated about whether or not there was any science in the Fruit and Veg City or School Rulers kids projects. Finally I hit them with an introduction to Of All The People In All The World.

The real joy was sharing the bill with Professor John Holman the dapper and precise director of the centre. He gave a series of five show stopping demonstrations, with melting ice, burning methane, wriggling organisms, vaporising liquid nitrogen and bobbing coke cans. I was hooked. I want to go back to school and get back in the physics lab. I want to spend more time with the open and animated teachers and scientists and artists who were gathered at the seminar. I call to mind the film Rushmore and want to collaborate with Professor Holman on a school play.

Coming back to earth; in the afternoon, watching participants play with science toys, I had idea for a very simple piece of Performance Art Physics which a fortnight later still seems like a great one. I need to get on the phone to our friends at Forestdale school and see if I can book Birmingham Rep’s main stage for an afternoon.



City Adventurers

Last Friday, in glorious sun, we ran a City Adventure for staff of the Woodbridge School in Nottingham. Two Friday’s earlier it was a similar deal for staff of St.Albans in Birmingham. These training days, originally commissioned by the visionaries at Creative Partnerships Birmingham in 2002, are always a tantalising mixture of stress and fun.

Like so much of our work, it seems success is won by focusing inordinate amounts of labour and attention on a very simple idea. So for each pair embarking on the adventure 32 envelopes have to be stuffed, labelled and intricately sealed inside one-another like complex Russian Dolls. With 76 adventurers in the last fortnight we have made up over 1200 envelopes.

The orienteering part of the day takes two and a half hours during which a minimum of 15 challenges have to be arranged to be undertaken by a variable number of variously distracted people at indeterminate times with varying degrees of skill and imagination. It is only at lunchtime, when the most complex bit of the day is over, that we meet everyone for the first time.

Both sets of staff were in high spirits, possibly because they were off the leash for a day – possibly because Schools Out fever is brewing. They came back with great tales and discoveries, photographs, drawings and writings. No one got lost, no one got arrested, no one eloped. They all seemed to have fun. We live to fight another day.

Next up: in September the staff of Castle Vale School are let loose in central Birmingham and staff from two schools gang up on Stoke.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Detective Work

Since Stuttgart I’ve been distracted by other duties and Craig has been doing the principle research for Of All The People In All The World, abetted by Jake. Now, with consecutive gigs in Newcastle and Cork, I’m back on the case. I had forgotten how much I enjoy this sleuthing.

Much of the time it’s leg-work, trawling the Irish census, government sites, chambers of commerce. You call in on old contacts, grasses, those in the know; you seek tip offs. You follow up leads – expand on hazy knowledge, confront prejudice and cliché – they’re into horse racing aren’t they. Occasionally straight up questioning is useful, Cork’s a town for Murphy’s not Guinness how many people work in the brewery? Just ask – Murphy’s is a front for the operation, they’re part of the Heineken mob now, their people were helpful (440 employees nationally). The less context you give for your questions the better the result. Maersk threatened to sue when we asked what crew numbers were on some of their ships, too much context.

Then, of course, amid all the standard procedural work there is still room for the detective to have their moment of inspiration, the lateral leap that connects two known or knowable facts, the leap that brings a story together, that makes everything make sense and look the way it didn’t look before.

All cases remain open, lots of threads dangle unexplained and many crucial facts remain tantalisingly out of reach – how many dancers were on stage in the original Eurovision version of Riverdance? You could go on for ever. When things are getting a bit much I wish this research were my full time job – I’d be in my element.


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