It is voyeurism, plain and simple

John Doyle, writer for the esteemed Globe and Mail, and often someone I can agree with, has truly missed the mark on this one. His recent article for the Globe which argues that the purpose of such shows as "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" is to "kick open the shutters of closed societies and closed minds" could not be further from accurate. Certainly, I can agree that popular culture at its best will do just this; it will push the edges of what society deem acceptable from a perspective of fashion, music, pop art. The very best pop culture is where the lines of art and pop merge and blur - the Sex Pistols, rave culture, David Bowie, etc. The difference, however, is that these have something to say, a commentary on the state of the world as it is now compared with how it ought to be.

To state that a show like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" is doing something like this is, for me, a stretch. What it is, simply, is voyeurism. There are people who live differently from our own experience, and there has always been an interest in how "the other half" live. Jean Genet made a career of this instinct for voyeurism, writing plays which exposed our own human base desire to see and be seen, to control our image. This interest, however, does not appeal to our intellect (or heck, even an anthropological interest). Rather, it appeals to our most base desire to see people at their worst. Watching a family who so clearly will say and do anything if the TV cameras are watching is not condemned by critics for touching close to home, a harbinger of the death of the middle class, as Doyle argues. It is condemned for the same reason most reality television is condemned by thinking people; it encourages the lowest common denominator, pushing humanity not toward our best, but our worst.

The example Doyle gives of Roseanne Barr is a misguided one; Barr did challenge bourgeois ideas about the working class, but did so in a way that demonstrated the humanity, intelligence, and integrity of the working class. She pushed her audiences to look past stereotypes. The family in Honey Boo Boo take her cause back 20 years, portraying the working class exactly as bourgeois stereotypes would want them to be; rednecked yokels, overweight, feeding their child cheetos at every turn, swimming in mud holes.

I have been giving a lot of thought to these reality shows, in particular ones which focus on children, making them "stars" - this is a singularly distressing development in popular culture, and one we must be wary of encouraging. Think of the hundreds of children featured on these shows, or exposed to watching them. . . what will happen to their ability to value integrity and hard work? We already see a generation of entitlement graduating from our high schools, kids who have never been failed despite poor attendance and effort. Now these kids are going to universities or into the workforce, without any preparation for the challenges of life, and into one of the most challenging job markets in recent history. A recipe for the downfall of our ability to continue as a society, if you ask me . . .


Reading Sophie Nield's piece in the Guardian Theatre Blog ( got me thinking about discussions surrounding our work on Jean Genet. Our group, having created what we felt was an hour of work that subverted expectation and challenged the audience to take Genet seriously as a writer who still has something to tell us, proposed not having a curtain call. Our tutor, Andrew Visnevski, responded favourably to the piece we created, and challenged us further; not having a curtain call has become the expectation when one sees edgy, challenging theatre. So the audience, coming to see an MA response to Jean Genet would most certainly expect no curtain call. . . so our hour's worth of subversion would be undermined by this choice. Instead, he suggested that we come out behind the audience, and applaud them along with the empty stage; in a way, this honouring the ghost of Genet whom we had conjured in the previous 10 weeks and who had inspired our work.

So this is how we proceeded. Certainly the effect was startling to the audience; we waited for them to begin applauding, then appeared behind them, also applauding. It took a moment for each person to catch on, the increase in volume from 14 extra sets of hands clapping, the distinct lack of bodies on stage receiving the thanks.

In a way, this choice did what Nield and many comments on the blog have suggested; it forced a truthful appreciation of the work separate from the appreciation of the individuals creating the work. It is certainly something to consider.

Perhaps I am odd

Still mentally reeling from the aftermath of 10 weeks intensely studying Jean Genet's work. I think it is the mark of a truly great writer that the further you get from the work, the more it seems to pop up in you, resonating across various areas of your life. One thing that is really interesting to me is the fascination many of my colleagues have had with Genet's own disregard for his writing, particularly his plays. He himself refers to them as "clumsy attempts", which many have voiced is frustrating, or difficult to encounter.

Perhaps I am odd. Somehow, in the midst of a world of people with limited talent taking themselves entirely too seriously, and even those with immense talent forcing a specific understanding of their work on others (The Beckett Police, anyone??) I find it refreshing to come across a writer who has had such immense influence, and yet disregards his own work in this way. It is important to note that he doesn't call out his work or tear it down, he simply acknowledges, with what I would argue is some modesty, that all we ever do is try. We never know all of the answers in our own work, or in how others will interpret it, and I find it rather inspiring that a man of such greatness can allow his work to be viewed with such simplicity. Certainly a lesson everyone can take from Genet, whether you like his work or not.

I want to go to France

I have been reading quite heavily about French politics and art, particularly in the time between the wars, and after world war 2. This is solidifying my desire to visit France. I have wanted to go since I was a small child, but the desire waned slightly in my older years, after visiting amazing German cities such as Berlin, and falling in love with London. Maybe it is time for another new love.

Some 20th century French poems that are speaking to me in reference to Genet's work:

French surrealist Robert Desnos (1900-1945) - I've dreamed such dreams of you

I've dreamed such dreams of you that you're losing
your reality.
Do I still have time to reach your vital body, to kiss
into life that voice I love so much?
I've dreamed such dreams of you that my arms,
across my chest, might not yield to your body's shape.
Faced with the real presence of what's haunted and
guided me all these days and years, doubtless I'd become
a shadow.
Fine balance of feelings!
I've dreamed such dreams of you that the time for
waking must have come and gone. I'm asleep on my feet,
exposed to every image of life and love, and you, the only
thing which counts forme now, any lips, any forehead
will be easier for me to touch than your forehead, your
I've dreamed such dreams of you, I've walked so
much, talked so much, lain so much with your shadow,
that perhaps now all I can be is a ghost among ghosts, a
hundred times more shadow than the moving shadow
cast and lightly cast again across your life measured by
the sun.

Swiss-born French poet Philippe Jaccottet (1925-) - Serenity

The shadow within the light
like light blue smoke

Belgian-born poet Jean Daive (1941-) I rise from the depths

I rise from the depths of my resemblance
at the very edge of enigma

evening after evening
I have vanished I vanish

blinded resemblance
falls back into cold's fabric

All taken from:
Sorrell, Martin. Modern French Poetry. London: Forest Books, 1992. P. 63, 105, 227.

Review - The Maids by Jean Genet @ RADA

It almost feels unfair for me to review this, given my intense investigation of Genet these days, but alas, here it is.

We begin with a very traditional setup of Genet's world; a closet with dresses suggesting a time, but of no specific time. Tasteful furniture that would not be out of place today but suggests a certain antiquity. Maids in traditional uniform. And the game begins. The problem, for me, was that the game at once gave the impression that the players did not know where it was at, and at the same time were acutely aware that the game was on. The magic of Genet's play comes in its ability to trick the audience (and the players!) into conviction about the way the world must be, so that when the balloon pops and the game is interrupted there is a moment of utter confusion as to what has just taken place.

The production, as a whole, came across as safe. The Maids should have a seedy underbelly which slowly creeps out from beneath the text as a dangerous and risky game; this came across as a safe role play, for which everyone knew the end, and no real danger was present. I believe that some of this safety was the result of the translation. This was a version by Martin Crimp, which is undeniably English in its translation. With this came a minimalization of the dirt that Genet gives us in the language; we lost the beautifully grotesque image of "drowning in the depths of your stink, in the mists of your swamps" - the visceral quality of the langauge was lost, a factor I hypothesize contributed to the sense of safety in the production. Hearing phrases such as "arouse" in place of "seduce" dialed back the overt and dangerous sexuality in the text.

The performances were adequate, but I would argue unmatched. The sense of similarity between the three characters was lost, replaced by an individuality which detracts from Genet's power.


I am starting to find such wonderful overlap in the themes we are discussing across all classes, and in what I'm looking at for my dissertation. It might just be Genet seeping into my very existence, but I am acutely aware of layers and what people want you to see versus what you do see, both in themselves, in their work, what they present to the world. Where is that core of truth? Do we want to know?

I have also been reading Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard, an examination of the roots of tragedy in sacrifice, in violence and ritual, and how sexuality is linked to all of these. This is linking with Genet in many many places, and leading me to exciting thoughts for my installation project for the end of term. What is our ritual that is shared, since we as a people no longer share religion? How do we practice this ritual?

Beginning to think about our end of term presentations in response to Genet as well, and what themes we would like to look at. I'm reading up on Paris and politics in Genet's time for inspiration, and also some poetry from his contemporaries. Visually I am inspired by Picasso, Cocteau, and De Francia. Still searching, watching, apsorbing everything I can.

Encountered a ballet, Poppy, by Graeme Murphy with Sydney Dance Company, premiered in 1978. This is inspired by the work and lives of Cocteau and Genet. Warning - beautiful. But also, contains some nudity (I need to be a responsible adult sometimes at least).


Read an amazing article by Anne Bogart today, which was very timely for some of my recent hurdles. We are struggling through mountains of written and devised work in our RADA classes right now; devising a LABAN based piece from The Lady In the Moon, an Elizabethan court play, and more recently devising a response to Genet's Our Lady Of The Flowers for Scene Study.

As we work through these tasks, all in differing groups, the same things seem to recur. We end up spending a lot of time sitting, talking about what something can look like, and this can go on for hours if we were to let it. But if we just get up and DO something, even if we don't know what that is, the results are far more fruitful. We need to get out of our heads, because as we do our bodies take over, and the results are breathtaking.


A video of Lindsay Kemp's Flowers, inspired by Jean Genet's Notre Dame Des Fleurs, which I am reading right now.

Words can't even begin to describe what this does. Kemp manages to embody the extreme beauty and grotesqueness of Genet's words, the perfect balance of the two.

She dies beautifully.


I have a terrible habit of selling myself short - either by not stepping forward when I know I am best for a task, or by letting myself settle for something less that my best work. Usually this happens when I worry I am being overwhelmed, or that I am being overwhelming....most commonly a twisted combination of the two. I did just that at the end of last term, and am now feeling the effects of it. At the time, I told myself it was good enough. But is good enough okay? Not for me it isn't. I am more than a little disasppointed in myself for this, as I feel I poured a lot of energy and thought into something without really thinking through the focus and the goal of it. I have, however, learned from it. It will not be happening again.

Anyway...enough self-musing. My scene from The Balcony went up today, with decent success. My 3 actors did a great job of bringing to life the layers I was hoping to see, with the short rehearsal time. The feedback was positive, that my choices made sense, and I was able to bring out something interesting about the parallels and rivalry between Carmen and Irma. So that is good. I didn't really get a chance to talk about what inspired me, all of the research I had done in Prisoner of Love, and the Gene Plunka "Rites of Passage of Jean Genet", not to mention the DeFrancia painting that inspired a lot of the connections in the movement. I did get to bring up the ideas I latched to from Genet's "Pour Jouer Le Balcon" which was good.

I have a mountain of films to watch, and a novel to read, and a book...and 2 scenes to write. Goodness me. Blogging might be slow for a couple days.


I am directing for our Scene Study class on Tuesday, and have worked with 3 actors to prepare a scene from the balcony. I really wanted to bring out the changeable nature of each character's "self" in the scene, and selected a scene that gave some very juicy opportunities for this. Genet's plays always centre around a game of some kind, of taking on roles of dominance or submission in varying manifestations, and The Balcony is no different; the premise of the play is a house of illusions, where men can go have their fantasies played out. The scene I selected was not one showing us the fantasies, but instead one that might on the surface appear normal; Irma, Carmen, and Arthur, all of whom work at The Grand Balcony, are in a room discussing the workings of the business. But this scene too has its games and roles played; it is a power game, a struggle to assert leadership, ownership. We worked on the layers of roles going on - where is the character "real", where do they want others to think they are being "real", where are they taking on a role for someone else's benefit.

The other aspect I wanted to highlight came from Genet's notes to directors of the balcony - that there should be a rivalry between Irma and Carmen, that it should be questionable who really runs the brothel. Using some physical theatre techniques, I have the two actresses taking on one another's gestures and positioning, giving the implication that either of them could really be in charge. The illusion, the reflection, going back and forth as if they are mirrors facing one another; no matter how deep you get, it always seems to go deeper.

Our LABAN work fed into this as well; my group are working on physicalizing the qualities of the planets Mercury and Mars. Mars is a bit more straightforward - war, power, strength, etc. Mercury on the other hand seems to have a changeability about it; the idea of quicksilver has really struck us as an integral part of understanding Mercury. We've developed a staging of a piece of The Lady In The Moon that I think helps communicate this changeability and the impact it has on those around us.

Where is the Truth?

Spent more time on Genet this weekend and early this week, performing in another scene from The Blacks for classmates, and analyzing scenes put together from The Blacks and The Balcony. The layers present in Genet's work are fascinating - every time you think you have gotten through to a new plateau, it cracks to reveal something further underneath, begging to be uncovered. In his plays, it seems there is a constant layering of lies; the characters are bottomless pits of identities, each new one to serve the purpose of their current situation. For directors this poses the challenge of helping your actors understanding what each identity is, where the shifts are, so that from the audience these cracks can be seen. The nuance between each must be subtle yet noticeable. Andrew suggested that perhaps some of Genet's "Truth" lies not in his plays, but perhaps in his novels. Or maybe it doesn't - in Prisoner of Love, which seems to sit in a middle-ground between fiction and documentary, just as the reader begins to feel they know his position on a subject, he'll pull that mat out from underneath you. No comfort, nothing is reliable, constantly undermining expectation. I wonder if this is his truth...the truth of the unreliability of the world, of expectation, of categorization.

Elsewhere, reading Edward Braun's "The Director And the Stage" as supplemental, given that I'm not in Sue's directing group for approaches. What I found really interesting was the sense of overlap this book gave; it is really easy to think that Stanislavsky did his thing, then Meyerhold, then Brecht, etc...but in fact there were little pockets of development happening everywhere, simultaneously, with achievements cropping up all over the place. What is also interesting is the afterword, the reminder that although they appear monumental now, at the time the events, the riots, the scandals, were relatively uneventful for the community as a whole, and it wasn't until viewed from the distance of the future that we can see the sigificance and assign value.

Some passages I found particularly useful....

On Jarry and the Surrealists (P58) - "Perceiving the universe and society as irrational and contradictory, they felt impelled to create works that were correspondingly irrational and contradictory in their forms, that stood the accepted conventions of theatre on their heads - and to achieve this they sought to exercise the closest possible control over the play in production, lest the theatre be tempted to impose its habitual symmetry on their calcuated disorder."

On Stanislavsky (P76) - "He seldon considers the peroduction as a total synthesis with a unified objective. What is more, he takes little account of the psychology of the audience, assuming that if the individual performancecs are truthful the spectator will necessarily respond to their truthfulness through a process of empathy"

On Meyerhold (P126) - "It was precisely because the spectator was shown so little that he saw so much, superimposing his own imagined or remembered experiences on the events enacted before him. In this way the dialogue and characters assumed a significance and a profundity which overcame their intrinsic banality."

On Artaud (P188) - "Artaud based his entire approach to the production [of The Cenci] on the principle of engulfing the audience with a massive accumulation of effects, so that its response would be sensual and involuntary rather than detached and intellectual."

On Grotowski and the production of Apocalypsis (P197) - "But when the lights came on and the room was discovered empty, it did not necessarily mean that he had gone - or even that he had been. The room had simply been returned to the state it was in when the first pectator entered. So what had been witnessed? A group of ordinary people, in everyday clothes. Roles were assigned, amidst mirth, and assumed, rejected, fought against. But each role, once assumed, posessed that person who was trapped within it, drained by the excesses with which he fulfilled or denied it."


Apparently didn't blog at all for the latter half of last week. It included continuations in Playwriting and Laban approaches classes, which have been great.

Also did some initial rehearsals and voiceover recordings for this week's scene study, another scene from Genet's The Blacks. In this, we learned that apparently I can do a Nigerian accent. Still can't do German, though!

Outside all this, I've been reading Genet's book 'Prisoner of Love' which was (I believe) his last publication. It reflects on his encounters with Palestinian rebels and the oh-so-confusing politics of Northern Africa in the 1970s (Heck, even now). What I am really finding fascinating is his ability to draw historical parralels to the French Revolution, The Black Panthers, The Nazi regime, and yet nothing seems put on. The beautifully poetic lens he applies to the people and space of the conflict is wonderful; at once it makes you feel completely aligned with the individuals, and yet completely separated from them. Some enjoyable moments for me...

"The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them. . . all the images of wars have been created after the battles themselves thanks to looting or the energy of artists, and left standing thanks to oversight on the part of rain or rebellion. But what survives is the evidence, rarely accurate but always stirring, vouchsafed to the future by the victors." - (p7-8)

"Everything happens in the dark. At the point of death, however insubstantial those words and however unimportant the event itself, the condemned man still wants to determine for himself the meaning of his life, lived in a darkness he tried not to lighten but to make more black." (p54)

"What was to become of you after the storms of fire and steel? What were you to do? Burn, shriek, turn into a brand, blacken, turn to ashes, let yourself be slowly covered first with dust and then with earth, seeds, moss, leaving behind nothing but your jawbone and teeth, and finally becoming a little funeral mound with flowers growing on it and nothing inside." (p102)

"When someone leaned out of the window of a departing train it used to be the custom, apparently, for his friends to run alongside waving their handkerchiefs. But the custom has probably died out, just as the piece of cloth has been replaced by a neat square of paper. You used to know the train would take good care of the traveller, and you expected him to send you a postcard. If someone set out on a journey on foot, his friends would wait until he or even his shadow disappeared. But even in his absence he was still with them, and if they heard he'd died or was in danger or trouble, they felt for him." (p240)

"When a man invents an image that he wants to propagate, that he may even want to substitute for himself, he starts by experimenting, making mistakes, sketching out freaks and other non-viable monsters that he has to tear up unless they disintegrate of their own accord. But the operative image is the one that's left after the person dies or withdraws from the world, as in the case of Socrates, Christ, Saladin, Saint-Just and so on. They succeeded in projecting an image around themselves and into the future. It doesn't matter whether or not the image corresponds to what they were really like: they managed to wrest a powerful image from that reality." (p302)

Photo: Portrait of Jean Genet by Anthony Weir


While last term the focus with Tom was on really clearly presenting the text (as in the words), our focus with Andrew this term is more on the ideas, the themes, the sense that comes out of the play, and how to get that on its feet. Working with Genet, particularly in an English rational theatre tradition, there are certain problems when presented with a text that is so clearly visceral. The words are important, but just as important are the physical acts, the representation.

Today our scene presentations were interesting; with selected scenes from The Blacks and The Balcony, what emerged was a very clear sense of the difficulty of this work. One thing that stood out regardless of directorial choices was the ability to clearly understand the spoken words. There were scenes in which I felt that the director had paid too much attention to staging and emotions, and not enough to simply understanding the text, and understanding the modulations genet provides in his script. This is something that I want to try to balance when I approach directing a scene.

I am really interested in how to do this now; the idea of presenting an aboriginal "the blacks" in Canada really fascinates me. There would obviously need to be some adjustments to appropriate the text, but the ideas, the fear and violence the blacks feel in the play seems a strong parallel to what I have seen in Canada. Something to continue to consider.


Friday's movement class was great. We spent time re-visiting some LABAN concepts, and then began to look at the play we will be using as inspiration for our end of term creation. It is an Elizabethan court play about, not the Pandora with the box, a different one who Nature creates and pisses off the 7 planets (of the time). The play is hilarious, and I can't wait to create something out of this.

On the subject of movement, I was sitting on the DLR Saturday afternoon, and caught myself watching a pop can rolling about, back and forth, completely aimlesslly, for around 10 mins. The train would stop, it would roll one direction, then it would begin again and roll another. Never in straight lines, always random, and changing direction if it hit the chairs or someone's foot.

Spent some time at the Tate Britain Saturday as well, and came across this fabulous paintin (pictured below) by Peter DeFrancia called "Bombing of Sakiet". It made me think of Genet's The Balcony almost immediately. It is sort of what I imagine the world outside the brothel to look like.

Anyway. . . happy sunday!

Back to it...

Our first day back in the Spring term. Yes, I know it is only just winter, but apparently here in the UK Winter is simply that brief period in December when there are christmas lights on every available surface. Where January in my estimation typically includes horrific winds, large wool coats, and hibernating indoors, January here is around +10, humid, and, apparently, called Spring. Alas, I digress. . .

To speak metaphorically, last term felt like I was walking on one of those sheets they stretch across a pool; uneasy, but familiar territory, with a burst of energy to get through to the end. This term, in its beginning, already feels like a tornado, whirling about with so much information and so many ideas....begging to be put to good use and calmed down. We spent our first class on Genet discussing the man, our first impressions of his plays, and some general themes that come out of them. We also spent considerable time watching and then discussing a BBC interview with the man from the early 1980s, not long before his death in 1986. What we saw in this footage was an artist at his twilight; still glimmering with incisive intelligence and a gripping personality, but struggling against the interviewer, desperately to ensure he is not defined. I believe it was Camus who articulated the existentialist tenet most clearly, when he said of objectivity that "to define me, means I am dead". Watching Genet twist the questions, avoid responding to the directness of the interviewer on certain subjects, and approach the subject of his life with such a coy and playful nature was at once fascinating and confounding.

Genet is Clever

It is often said that male writers can't write for women, or can't write for women well. There are many reasons why this sort of statement is false, but rather than go on a tirade about gender, intelligence, and truths of the human condition, I will simply present a section of text by the brilliant Jean Genet in The Screens. This is right at the beginning of Scene 12.
KADIDJA: Without women what would you be? A spot of sperm on your father's pants that three flies would have drunk up.

THE DIGNITARY: Go away Kadidja. This isn't the day.

KADIDJA: It is! They accuse us and threaten us, and you want us to be prudent. And docile. And humble. And submissive. And ladylike. And honey-tongued. And sweet as pie. And silk veil. And fine cigarette. And nice kiss and soft-spoken. And gentle dust on their red pumps!

THE DIGNITARY: Kadidja, it's a matter of general security. Go away.

If this exchange doesn't clearly illustrate the long fought battle for escape from patriarchal power, i don't know what does.

and also...his beautiful and raw description of art functioning for society in scene 17 brings to mind volumes of conversation.
THE ACADEMICIAN: What will they build on? I observed them carefully throughout my stay. Their only memories are of poverty and humiliation . . . Yes, what will they do? Can an art be born for the purpose of enshrining so many facts which they themsleves would like to forget? And if there's no art, there's no culture. Are they therefore doomed to decay? And there they go nailing the cage . . .

What is fabulous about this is that it is used ironically; the Academician, and his colonialist compadres The Banker, Sir Harold, Mrs Blanensee, are all looking down upon the native Algerians from their position of power. And yet Genet's argument throughout the play, that this dirty mess is precisely what the matter of art must be, rings through.