Oam at Govanhill Baths
Calder St, Glasgow
November 27th, 7pm
FREE, plus refreshments!
Ah’m fair awa tae be lenchin ma new pamphlet, “Oam”, fae Stewed Rhubarb Press, at Govanhill Baths on November 27th — n hit’d be grand gin ye’d come.
The pamphlet wis wrote as pairt o a residency wi Govanhill Baths Art and Regeneration Team (GBart), the art weeng o Govanhill Baths Community Trust. The Baths is a yinst n futur sweemin puil (n steamie n slipper baths n Turkish baths n mair), closed by Glesgae Ceety Cooncil in 2001, occupeed n fendit by a strang community campaign, n nou reappent as a community centre, suin tae be a sweemin complex agin.
Ah’ve been resident at the Baths for the past five months, jynin in wi n organisin community events, interviewin volunteers, doin a bit of imaginary sweemin, gettin tae ken Govanhill, n aw in aw havin a grand time wi an amazin place n amazin fowk. This wee beuk o poems in Scots is the ootcome o that time, n Ah’d luve tae shair hit wi ye.
Thare’ll be refreshments, by which Ah mean fuid n bevvy.
See ye thare!
This is the auto-surveillance report of the first day of research for the performance project I Want To Blow Up The Palace Of Holyroodhouse (for art)
On 9th October 2013, between 1500 and 1800 hours, Harry Giles did use the following Google search terms
- How to make a bomb
- How to make a bomb out of fertiliser
- How to make a bomb out of bleach
- Is making a bomb illegal?
- “possession of records of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”
- Terrorism Act
- UK Explosives Law
- Where can I buy explosives?
- Exploding with high pressure water
- Exploding with high pressure air
and access the following websites:
His research was retweeted or otherwise condoned by the following people publicly on Twitter:
and also approved of by:
- 15 people on his private Facebook timeline (names withheld and stored in private records)
- 4 known individuals at the Forest Café research location and 2 unknown individuals (names withheld and stored in private records)
His research questions were:
- What types of SAFE & LEGAL SMALL EXPLOSIVES are there?
- Do I need to MAKE a bomb or can one be PURCHASED?
- If MAKE, where can I acquire MATERIALS?
- If PURCHASE, from where?
- Will I need any LICENSES, PERMITS or PERMISSIONS?
His conclusions were:
The internet has literally hundreds of recipes for making bombs. Popular ingredients include fertiliser, matches, bleach, batteries, soap, baking soda and sparklers. Recipes can be found on websites ranging from ask.com and answers.wikia.com to dubious caches of paramilitary websites. Most of these recipes are simple, poorly spelled and coarsely detailed. Using any of them would involve much experimentation, which would clearly risk life and limb. It might also be illegal.
In the UK, it is illegal to access and possess information which could be used to commit acts of terrorism, unless you can prove that you have it for purposes other than terrorism. It is illegal to make any statements which encourage or glorify terrorism, and also to recklessly make any statements which might indirectly encourage or glorify terrorism. With this in mind, I would like to publicly and clearly state the following:
- All the information I am accessing is to be used only for blowing up a small scale model of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in a safe and legal manner.
- I neither condone nor encourage the actual blowing up of actual public buildings, and will not be sharing my research with anyone who does in an encouraging way.
- Any websites I link to here or on Twitter are for information or humour purposes only, should not be used for acts of terrorism, and can be found by a very basic Google search anyway.
I am quite disappointed by having to make these statements, as I had hoped to inhabit the problematic and risky space of whether or not I actually approved of blowing up palaces for much longer. However, over the course of my research it became apparent that I’m on thin enough ice as it is and this whole project will be taking place in edgy and difficult territory even with the above statements made and regularly repeated.
I also determined that it is illegal to own explosives with the intent to endanger life or property (presumably other people’s), and that the acquisition and storage of all explosives is carefully monitored and delineated by a number of legal Acts. In order to use almost any explosive capable of blowing up a model palace, I would have to apply to the police for an explosives license.
Research questions for future periods will therefore include whether I could blow up the palace with any of the explosives exempt from a license, how difficult the license application would be, where I could buy said explosives from, and whether I could blow up the palace with high pressure water or air instead.
I Want to Blow Up the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a performance project about:
- Rage and its uses
- Free speech and its limits
- Art and its effectiveness
- Surveillance and the state
The performance consists of the three phases: (1) the active period of research involved in figuring out how to build a scale model of Holyroodhouse and then legally blow it up, which will take place in public, preferably in arts venues; (2) the actual blowing up of the model Palace; (3) a performance lecture about how and why I did it and what happened. If you have access to space in an arts venue and would like me to research bomb-making in your space, please get in touch.
Please note, I will be recording all documentary evidence of this project, up to an including my private thoughts on the matter, in an auto-surveillance dossier in order to spare the public purse. Please note that all comments and mentions of this post will thus be monitored for monitoring purposes.
original image by Nigel Swales, poorly remixed by me, shared with some rights reserved
“Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. I tell myself I should keep writing, though I’m not sure that’s right” — Derrick Jensen
I Want to Blow Up the Palace of Holyroodhouse (for art)
Phase 1: Public Performance Research
Forest Café, 141 Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh
Wednesday 9th October, 3-7pm
I want to blow up the Palace of Holyroodhouse. I am a republican, and I believe in the equitable distribution of resources for life including land and housing, and I believe in the destruction of the kyriarchy through radical militant action. For all of these reasons, whenever I walk past the Palace of Holyroodhouse I involuntarily become indescribably furious and start fantasising about blowing it up. However, I am frankly terrified of the consequences this would have on my life, and think it probably wouldn’t be worth it. Therefore, I’ve decided that I will instead, in a symbolic action, blow up a scale model of the Palace in the name of art.
I Would Like to Blow Up the Palace... is a performance about rage, politics, the limitations of art and activism, and discovering what the state can do to you. The performance consists of the three phases: (1) the active period of research involved in figuring out how to build a scale model of Holyroodhouse and then legally blow it up, which will take place in public, preferably in arts venues; (2) the actual blowing up of the model Palace; (3) a performance lecture about how and why I did it and what happened.
Because I already have a police file on me (one arrest without charge, details recorded at three subsequent protests, subject to Forward Intelligence Team surveillance many times), I am quite worried about the possible repercussions of stating publicly that I want to blow up the Palace of Holyroodhouse (for art), even if it’s just the model, and also about what will happen when I bring together the materials required to do the thoroughly-researched legal explosion. I will therefore be publicly declaring in advance each period of active research, including all explosives-related internet searches, and conducting all such work in public should anyone decide to investigate. It remains to be seen whether this will work. (Obviously, this is perhaps less about paranoia and more a way to perform the limitations of art and create a discussion about legality, surveillance, symbolic action and effective protest. But still.)
I’m inaugurating Phase 1 this week at the Forest Café, Edinburgh. From 3-7pm I will be present with a laptop and a pile of flipchart paper. I will be researching how, practically and legally, to make a small explosive, build a model palace, put them together, and then detonate it somewhere in public. All interactions and monitoring efforts are welcome. I hope you’ll see me there, even if I don’t see you.
If you have access to space in an arts venue and would like me to research bomb-making in your space, please get in touch.
This post is the first public statement about the project following two emails and a handful of conversations. I will be recording all documentary evidence, up to an including my private thoughts on the matter, in an auto-surveillance dossier in order to spare the public purse. Please note that all comments and mentions of this post will thus be monitored for monitoring purposes.
Govanhill Baths, Calder St, Glasgow
Saturday 5th October
entry by pay what you can donation
DIVE INTO A POOL OF WORDS for GLASGOES POETIC!
We’re bringing Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead, and a torrent of poetry, music and laughs, to Glasgow’s extraordinary Govanhill Baths.
On Saturday 5th October, as part of Glasgoes Poetic and that week’s water-themed National Poetry Day celebrations, we’re welcoming one and all to our beautiful once and future swimming baths on Calder Street, Govanhill. (7pm; entry by pay-what-you-can-donation.)
LIZ LOCHHEAD, poet and playwright, is Scotland’s National Poet. Hailing from Motherwell and living in Glasgow, her plays — including “Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off” — and poems — including her selected poems, A Choosing, published in 2011 — have won her huge popularity in Scotland as well as international renown.
RAB WILSON was born in New Cumnock in 1960. After an engineering apprenticeship with the National Coal Board he left the pits following the miner’s strike of 1984-5 to become a psychiatric nurse. He’s known for his owersettin in Scots of The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, and his latest collection, Life Sentence, was published in 2009.
VIV GEE is a poet and comedian, and a lecturer in stand up comedy (wow!) at Strathclyde. She has MCd for T in the Park and Glasgow’s New Year, supported Mark Thomas and Henry Rollins, and was a finalist in Channel 4′s So You Think You’re Funny.
HARRY GILES is a poet and performance-maker from Orkney. He’s currently based in Edinburgh, where he helps run the spoken word events series Inky Fingers. His debut pamphlet Visa Wedding was published by Stewed Rhubarb (2012); he is the former BBC Scotland slam champion (2009); and he’s currently Govanhill Baths Artist-in-Residence.
Stay tuned for news of more acts, including our special musical guests!
Entry is by donation and booking is not required.
This essay is about my own chronic social anxiety (discussed in concrete and difficult detail), about some of the complexities involved in talking about disability, and how mental health relates to accessibility. For me, it’s one of the scariest things I’ve put on the internet. Like everything political I put up here, it’s written from my own limited perspective. I’d very much value the thoughts and perspectives of others on the piece, especially if you think there’s things I’m well off about; I’m particularly interested in thoughts from folk involved in disability activism and radical mental health. Anyhow, here goes:
Not Going to the Party
Anxiety, Access and the Arts
When you apply for a job, grant, commission or anything else under the dubious and horror-inducing header of Opportunities, you should be filling in some kind of Equal Opportunities or Diversity Monitoring form, and that form should be asking you whether or not you have a disability. Actually, if it’s a really good monitoring form, it’ll ask whether you “consider yourself to have a disability” or whether you “identify as disabled”, which are simultaneously more complex and more simple questions than “Are you disabled?” The specificity of Creative Scotland’s “Do you have any of the following conditions which have lasted, or are expected to last, at least 12 months?” is a particular gem of hiding a hugely complicated discourse behind an apparently clear question. All of which is to say: every time I fill one of these out, I hover my cursor over the checkbox, wishing there was an option for “I don’t know, maybe, I mean yes, of course, but it’s complicated, what do you mean?”
I have severe and chronic social anxiety. I’ve written about some of the ways this manifests before, but, if you know me, it’s still quite possible that you might not know this about me. It’s easy to miss. It’s not a very visible condition – partly because when it’s bad it means I have to hide from people, and partly because it’s a condition which can disable (ah…) the parts of the self needed to talk about the condition. The way you might most commonly hear or see it is when you ask me to a party or some social event and I respond clumsily and awkwardly – “Uh, maybe, I mean thanks, I’d really like to, but I may not be able to, er…” – and, if you push me, I might say “Well I actually find parties really hard.” Then you might look at me strangely – or, in a way that heartens me when I see it but at the same time makes me sad, you might say, “Oh… yeah… me too.”
If you’re not a “me too”, here’s what it feels like. If I’m in a social situation, it’s something like trying to walk through a tight darkened corridor lined with broken glass. That might sound melodramatic, but it’s important to me to get across the physical pain and horror entailed by social situations for me – this isn’t introversion, isn’t a preference or personality thing, but incapacitating (ah…) suffering: so, darkness and broken glass. If I have people I really trust there, or if it’s a small gathering, or if it’s quite quiet, or if I have a clear social role (like host, or cook, or performer), there’s more light and more safe places to stand. The busier and noisier it is, the more strangers there are and the stranger they are to me, the less defined my social role, and the more at stake or risk my social capital (more on this in a bit), the darker and tighter the corridor, the sharper the glass. The broken glass is an unending stream of painful thoughts like “All these people hate me” and “I’m hopeless and ridiculous” and “I just failed and will always fail” and “Run away before you make a bigger fool of yourself” and “RUN AWAY NOW” and worse, all sharp and cutting in the way they arrive. I guess most of the people reading this have thoughts like that sometimes. Try and imagine having them constantly, all the time, without relief, and you’ll get close. Sometimes this leads to migraines, sometimes to panic attacks, sometimes to me just behaving really, really weirdly.
I’ve developed many strategies to manage my social anxiety, because I like people and I like being able to spend time with them without my hands shaking so hard I drop my pint. Alcohol is one coping strategy – though whether a pint or two eases or intensifies my anxiety is a bit of a lottery. Identifying a nearby safe space that I can withdraw to when needed – a calm room, a person to check in with quietly, a toilet break – is really crucial. Giving myself a fixed role to play within the party is a frequent one, though it has its limits, and it’s hard to relax with that. Many of these management strategies are as much for you, the “normal” person, as they are for me: they hide my anxiety from you, which makes it easier for you to relate to me and protects me from being hurt, even as it exhausts me. The best coping strategy I’ve ever found is performing itself: getting on stage and performing for people is a glorious feeling for me; it allows me to be in huge, noisy rooms without panicking; and often the buzz from performing well can carry over for several hours, enough for me to socialise free from anxiety for a while. The only downside is that when you’re known as a performer, your social anxiety becomes even more invisible. I’m continually astonished by the dense way people will say: “How can you be chronically socially anxious when you spend so much time on stages?” For me, the times I’m in performance are among the best times in my daily life, and that’s a huge part of why I’m an artist.
So, do I have a disability? Do I consider myself to have a disability? Do I identify as disabled? Do I have a mental health condition which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months? Yes. No. Maybe. It depends.
The DSM-V, American psychiatry’s diagonistic manual, widely used elsewhere, calls what I have Social Anxiety Disorder. I pretty much fit the bill for how it’s described. Sometimes I call it that. Usually I just call it “social anxiety”, and that’s how I’ve talked about it with counsellors. I haven’t exactly self-diagnosed, and nor have I sought a diagnosis through standard NHS routes. I may yet do that – it might provide access to more understanding, and also to more assistance for my conditions, but it also means engaging with traumatic bureaucratic intrusion into my life. In any case, what I have severely reduces my ability to function in a “normal” way, causes severe pain and suffering, and has persisted chronically: these are all reasons I could be said to have a disability or identify as disabled.
But there’s more to it. For one thing, I pass. For the most part, people don’t know I have this condition unless I let them know. Like being a queer man not currently in a relationship with another man, I get given social passing privilege, or can take it. This matters. I don’t suffer the deleterious effects of being always seen as other, always seen as disabled, my mind and body aren’t seen as available to your intrusion in the way others’ might be, and so if I were to identify as disabled it would mean a different thing. There’s a community, a language and a discourse that I am tentative about appropriating. Moreover, while my condition is severe and chronic, it’s also for the most part manageable, and it does wax and wane, and that matters too: it is not permanently there. And more still, the stigma and lack of social understanding around mental health and wellbeing issues is such that it’s a major and difficult step for me to make to identify publicly in that way (a step you may be able to tell I’m deliberately forcing myself to make with posts like this). All of which is to say that disability is socially situated and complexly experienced, and is rarely a yes/no answer.
Through all of that, what really matters to me is whether my condition inhibits my ability to participate in my life. Disability is not, in the end, I think, mainly a question of whether you have such-and-such a condition or such-and-such a diagnosis, but a question of how the world excludes you – how the structures of society exclude you from experiences or resources or opportunities because of who you are. For an artist, chronic and severe social anxiety is a major access issue.
Social functions are a big part of life as an artist: “succeeding” as an artist, which is to say having any kind of “career” as an artist, which is to say not just reaching bigger and wider audiences but also being able to perform the labour functions of art in such a way that your social system will give you the resources you need to live, requires being able to socialise. You find your audiences through amassing social capital: growing interest in your name and your work, being able to persuade people to come to your gig, your launch, your action. You find your employers, commissioners, producers and programmers through being able to meet people, talk about your work, persuade people to take an interest in your work. You find your community and collaborators by being able to be friendly, interesting and kind. These are all forms of socialisation and social access, and they are true for lots of social roles and careers, but they’re really true for artists. They are also all boosted by being able to go to parties, and by being able to experience social situations as anything other than intolerably painful more often than not.
OK, look: I’m more likely to go to my friends’ gigs than anyone else’s gigs. Many of the artists I’m interested in are also my friends, and sometimes the friend part comes first. In the forms of art where the performance of the self is relevant – live art and performance art, for example – then being friends with the artist can make the work richer and more interesting to you. This stuff is not accusing artists and producers of being nepotistic or favouritist (though some of them may be that too); it’s a description of how the normative values and processes of society reinforce given structures of power. It is not blaming artists for being interested in their friends; it’s just admitting that that happens. It’s saying that if you’re more able to socialise, more able to make friends, more able to go to parties – places where you can make friends, interest people in you, form stronger social bonds, talk about huge ideas over free-flowing food and wine, whatever – then you have greater access to being a successful artist.
Accessibility is a many-faceted issue, and there are deep and complex questions to ask about it – about what arts venues and events can and should do to support access for artists and audiences; about how that is different for, for example, a regular wheel-chair user, a deaf audience member, an artist with manic depression; about whether inclusion is even the right discourse to be using anyway, whether there’s something inherently flawed and power-ridden about the idea of one group being “included” by another; about a hundred other things besides. So I’m aware that I’m launching this particular access question into a sea of other questions, and while I think that producers, organisers and venue managers have a duty to properly consider them all, I also sympathise with those genuinely trying to understand. So in what follows, I’ll try and make some concrete suggestions.
I don’t want you to stop having parties! I don’t even want you to stop inviting me to parties! (Please keep inviting me to parties.) I definitely don’t want people to stop having art parties, which are beautiful. Other things I’m not asking for include: rewarding or congratulating me for overcoming my anxiety (because it’s not something to be overcome: it’s something I live with and that’s a fact that you need to live with); and asking me every five minutes at parties whether or not I’m OK (I’m definitely not now!) But there are a couple of things I want to draw out.
It’s not just me: different people have hugely different capacities and limiting factors when it comes to parties and all the other kinds of socialisation. Across neurodiversity, depression, OCD, autism spectrum conditions and a host of other forms of being can change how you can and want to socialise. Many of these are much more severe and more “disabling” than mine, though that doesn’t – and it’s a struggle with myself to assert my ability to say this – reduce how severe my condition feels to me. In a totally different but equally relevant way, ability to access the art world’s social capital can also be reduced by having kids, debt, or a tiring job at 7am. Or by having drug and alcohol dependency issues. Or by a thousand other things. People are extraordinarily diverse and often strange, in both visible and invisible ways. So, if you believe in widening access to the arts, and you believe in welcoming diversity into your community, then please remember that that applies to how you socialise too. Mindfulness of neurodiversity: that’s the main thing I’m asking for.
When you’re organising events and festivals, do you provide multiple ways to socialise? Are you sensitive to how space and organisation create different social spaces and different access issues? When you host an art party, is there a quiet room or a safe space? (Correct answer: the whole thing should be a safe space). When you set up a networking event, how might the kinds of networking you provide exclude some people, and who could you ask to help? How much do you rely on the social connections you’ve made when programming a festivals? Could you draw a map tracing your relationship with each artist and how it formed? Are there any blank spaces on that map? When you see someone acting or seeming awkward at a party, what do you do? Do you act embarrassed and shut them out? Do you equate their awkwardness with some moral failing? Do you avoid inviting them next time? Or do you find ways to relate to them as another human being?
Those last questions are about recognising that our society privileges particular kinds of mind, particular ways of being, and particular social abilities. Being a good party-goer is a social norm. It is hard not to be part of that norm; it is hard to celebrate the extraordinary things that not being part of that norm can give you when your exclusion is hurting; and it is painful and traumatic to be ignored, laughed at, judged for being weird or otherwise abused for not being part of that norm. Resist reinforcing that norm whenever you can. I want you to invite me to parties, but when I say I can’t come, think about what your response might mean to me. You can ask me about ways of responding, if you’d like. More often than not, I’d like that.
There’re a lot of reasons I’m writing this, asking these questions, and making these suggestions. It’s happening now because it’s just been peak Edinburgh festivals season, which is like the world having a party on my doorstep, and thus a constant source of horror. It’s also because Forest Fringe just held an excellent gathering around some questions of access. A big part of the why is that I think they might be helpful for the many other people I know facing similar or connected issues in their lives: a bit of solidarity is a wonderful thing. Another big part is that I think that the more neurotypical artists and producers who read this might gain some genuine understanding from it and start thinking of other ways to do things. But beneath and behind those reasons, this is also about being honest about myself, thinking through who I am and how I relate to my work and the world. For me, maybe the most important outcome of writing this is that the next time I’m facing one of those forms, I might just tick “Yes”.
Thanks to Laura Dean, Katy Ewing, Darcy Leigh, Jenny Lindsay Barbara Melville, Annabel Turpin, and Molly Uzzell for comments on and support for the first draft of this piece.
I live in Edinburgh, and every year as August is approaching I tell people, nah, I’m not really planning to do anything much in the festivals, not really, just a little something. And every year I end up with a diary full of strange and beautiful performances and things I’m delighted to be part of and so much to do that when September comes I want to be out of mobile phone and WiFi range for at least a week. This year, I’m curating a live art programme, performing in Forest Fringe, and doing poetry gigs in between:
What We Owe @ Forest Fringe, Out of the Blue
What We Owe
20 – 22 August, 11am-1pm & 4pm-5.20pm
23 August, 11am-1pm only
Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 30-38 Dalmeny St
Trapped in a maze of final demands from which you may never escape? Pestered by obligations to friends, family and the television? Cowering under the weight of your debts? What We Owe is the highly unqualified debt counselling service FOR YOU.
We’ll lead you through the journey of what you owe – not just financially, but also emotionally, socially, ecologically, and more. Together we’ll create an absurd (but often effective) Personal Debt Audit, covering everything from the meals you ought to cook your parents to the trees you need to plant, then begin the journey up your personal mountain of debt with a Debt Action Plan. In just 20 minutes, we promise to leave you lighter and happier – or at least with a colour-coded spreadsheet.
Vanquish your debt monsters! Burn your student loan statements! Ignore your friends! In an economy driven by huge financial debts, What We Owe is a tragicomic look at what we mean by debt, and how we might struggle to even begin to cope with it.
Peep Anatomy @ George Square Gardens
ANATOMY is tickled pink, purple, blue, and every other rainbow colour to announce the line-up for our Edinburgh Fringe début, in collaboration with the extraordinary PEEP venue from Natural Shocks.
PEEP is a brave new space — a small box of wonders with a full programme of theatre, dance, cabaret, sound installation and live art. The audience are seated in private booths peeping on the unfolding show – but the artists can’t see them. It’s a peepshow, but definitely “not for the raincoat brigade” (The Guardian).
Through Keyholes of Flesh is an intimate and unique series of live art installations created bespoke for the PEEP venue. The strange, the wonderful, the grotesque and the eerie mundane. £2 a look – for as little or as long as you want.
Full programme at anatomynight.wordpress.com.
Poetry All Over the Place
Saturday 10th August, 7.30pm, Banshee Labyrinth
Worst poet wins! We don’t mean bad: we mean hilariously terrible, laugh-out-loud embarrassing, entertainingly cringe-worthy poetry so bad it transcends quality, becoming genius. Featuring top names from Fringe spoken word: with poets this good, being this bad, it’ll be awesome. Hosted by Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson.
BBC Edinburgh Fringe Slam
Wednesay 14th August, 8pm, Potterow
For the third year in a row, we’ve invited 24 of the best performance poets in the UK, 12 women and 12 men, to compete for our Poetry Slam title. We have UK National Champions, Scottish National Champions, two former BBC Slam Champions and the Scottish Makar. Hosted by former Scottish Slam Champion, Young Dawkins, the 2013 Slam takes place over five nights – four heats followed by a Grand Final.
Class Act is a theatre gameshow about class war. It was developed for the Ovalhouse in May 2012, was rebooted for Sprint and Buzzcut in March 2013, and is now ready and hungry and looking for venues for a tour in Spring 2014. This is a wee trailer and progress report from the 2013 edition; you can find blogs from 2012 here.
How Audiences Dealt with Class War
Class Act is a rigged gameshow. The audience is divided into three classes and each is given a different seat and a different starting number of sweets. Players can win sweets by playing in games throughout the show, and every round they have to spend sweets in rent to stay in their seats. The gameshow is designed so that the poorest members of the audience are very likely to run out of sweets halfway through, and those comfy seats the upper classes are sitting in start looking very appealing. Different audiences have totally different ways of coping with this:
- One particularly firey working class roleplayer led a raid on the stockpile of sweets sitting on the stage, which was the in-game equivalent of knocking off Fort Worth, really. He proceeded to distribute these to the other workers, Robin Hood style, all the while refusing to pay any rent at all.
- Rent strikes were a fairly common occurrence. The upper classes usually weren’t bothered — they didn’t need the extra income so much in my very slanted game — but the middle classes frequently got very resentful, as they often kept paying their sweetie mortgages while everyone else was on strike.
- It turned out to be quite hard to get the in game police to do anything to put down crime, unless they were given a lot of extra sweets by the upper classes…
- Once, two sweet-strapped workers decided to squat the more comfortable upper class seats. They were sent numerous threatening letters, until one member of the upper classes decided to pay them in sweets to work as security guards, looking after the other empty chairs and making sure no one else squatted them.
- One landlord set up the Landlord’s Charitable Trust, which began issuing loans to friendly but broke renters in order to keep the property market alive and the entire class system from collapsing.
The Four Star Officially Affable Review: “And stereotypes (as reinforced by ad men and marketing campaigns) were shot down in gales of laughter in Class Act (****) as the affable Harry Giles provided sweets and serious food for thought by playing games about capitalism and the class system with us. Not every performance reached these heights, but overall there was a lot to enjoy and ponder.” (Mary Brennan, The Herald)
The A Sharp Critique of Modern Mythmaking Review: “And in Albion Street, on Saturday, I saw three contrasting shows, beginning with Harry Giles’s Class Act, a 90-minute “game show” which – like the work of several other young Scottish performance artists – occupies the territory between game show, lecture and political polemic, dividing the audience into three classes, handing out sweeties, quizzing us on what we know about class, and then allowing the economic system to do its worst, in promoting inequality and exploitation.” (Joyce Mcmillan, The Scotsman)
The Yes But Is It Art? Review: “There is an obvious and huge amount of research in this work, which is interesting and educational, yet I find myself questioning the definition of this piece. A teacher once told me that art is the friction between form and feeling. Whilst art is often informed by very technical and in-depth research, it is when a small leap is made into abstraction that it tends to create the biggest impact. Harry uses a powerpoint presentation to guide us through his musings and games, encouraging us to fully understand his findings, and taking Class Act as an educational piece, I was fully engaged. I enjoyed myself and was interested in the subject, but there is something about being spoon-fed information and facts rather than being presented with a space in which I might develop my own thoughts on a subject that seems more informative than artistic.” (Tara Boland, Total Theatre)
How Audiences Dealt With Exploited Labour
One of the gameshow’s games, designed with pal James Pollard, is a simulation of Marxist economics using lego and paper money. There’s a factory, a boss, and a bunch of underpaid workers. The audience is encouraged to invest in the factory, and so everyone is ganging up trying to make the workers build little lego widgets as fast as possible for as little money as possible. This led to some brilliant conflicts:
- The most common response was, encouragingly, full strike. Workers had rarely saved up enough money to strike for more than a single round, so success was dependent on a mix of charitable donation, shareholder pressure, and successful haggling. Quite often the outcome of the game was determined by the relative diplomatic skill of the lead union negotiator and the factory boss.
- Clever bosses worked out quickly that the most productive workers (those with the most practice of making tiny lego widgets) could be divided from the rest by offering them higher wages. This frequently broke strikes and prevented successful union organising. Another pre-emptive tactic was paying piecework rates, which kept each worker focussed on their own productivity, destroying workplace solidarity.
- Some workers discovered that the go-slow protest tactic was more effective than the strike: they got paid, but the boss kept losing money. This was very satisfying.
- More satisfying still was the one occasion where a legally-minded worker successfully had the factory shut down for breaching health and safety regulations. (Sharp edges on the lego, or something.) It very nearly succeeded in closing down the whole operation, but the boss managed to bribe the police to reopen the place just in time.
- Sadly, the best result of the initial London run never transpired this time round: a full co-operative takeover, where the workers occupy the factory and run it for the collective good. I’m leaving this here as a challenge to future audiences.
Something I Learned About Marketing
I began a highly unscientific study, whereby I told half the potential audience members I pitched the show to that I was “doing a gameshow about class”, and the other half that I was “doing a gameshow about class war”. The latter were 50% more likely to say “Oh… really…”, and the former were 50% more likely to come to the show. I don’t know what this means, and I don’t know if it will change how I pitch the show.
What Audiences Pledged To Do
At the end of the show, the audience is asked if they’d like to pledge to take actions in a class war. The results were:
- 38 people pledged to hold a reading group about class
- 23 people pledged to go on the next workers’ rights protest they could
- 12 people pledged to join the Industrial Workers of the World
I have, as yet, no evidence that any of these pledges have been fulfilled, and thus can confidently declare them as the overall economic impact of the show. And I did join the IWW in the course of making it.
The Total Theatre review above quite rightly points out that these choices are a bit restrictive. Future versions will definitely have a write in slot! I look forward to seeing what folks come up with.
What Happens Next
Attendees and reviewers persist in telling me that this would work well in schools. If any teachers are happy to let me try and get their classes to declare class war, please get in touch.
The show is definitely finished now, after quite a long development period. I love it, and it’s hungry. So! In all seriousness, I’m currently getting in touch with venues around the country to put a spring tour together, with associated workshops wherever they’ll fit. I’d definitely love to hear from you.