Donating Services to Charity

Posted on 17 December 2014 | No responses

A number of years ago I was on an organising committee for an industry conference. Every year this conference has a charity event on the last night. I was asked if I could get some of my comedian friends on board. Many of the people in this industry are quite well-off. I knew that this event had in the past collected thousands of dollars for their charity. So, I asked what the budget was for entertainment.

They said they expected the performers to work for free, it was for charity after all. I asked them if they were paying for the food preparation. They said, yes. I asked them if they were paying for the servers. They said, yes. I asked them if they were paying for cleaners, they said yes. How much money do you think these workers make for their time? Do you expect them to work for free because this is a charity? How much do you think the performers make in a year? Often they make less than these other workers, and yet you are asking them to work for free.

I was told these performers should then be grateful for the opportunity to be seen by the members of this conference. It would boost their career. I said I own my business, I know what it is like starting out. You don’t boost a person’s career by not paying them. You are taking away from what precious time they have to support themselves and practice their art. If you can afford to pay, you pay. Otherwise, this is exploitation.

But it’s for charity, they repeated. I said, that makes your expectation no less exploitative. They don’t owe it to you to perform. You are not a registered charity, you just happen to have a charity dinner. You are not doing them any favours, but if they agree, they are doing you a tremendous favour and it needs to be respected.

I was then told, they must not be very talented if they can’t afford to give their time. My response: How many great artists have died in poverty? How many of them needlessly died in poverty? The charity dinner went forward without any performers.

The vast majority of the public has no idea what it is like to work as an artist of any stripe. Most of them don’t want to know. And most artists won’t say, because if they do, they know they will be judged due to false expectations. Hollywood beefs up the rags to riches story because people like to imagine they could become a wealthy mega-star. Just work hard and it’s yours, goes the myth. Such a tiny hand full of people manage this and their contributions will be largely forgotten compared to more significant artists. Then of course there’s the mean-spirited and punitive expectation, you enjoy your work so you should accept poor living and working standards.

Right now the arts are in crisis. A report in Britain revealed that they have lost a whole class of professional writers and are concerned about what this bodes for the future. Because hardly anyone is getting paid, everyone is being judged as a hobbyist regardless of skill and talent. This needs to change. Arts are not an optional extra. They are a significant part of individual and social well-being. They are about creating social cohesion, greater understanding of the human state, and a better future.

Everyone needs to be involved in making the world a better place, but this isn’t going to happen when you are helping some by taking away from others. I would encourage artists to continue helping with charity, just be careful under what circumstances you are donating your skills. Charities and those running charitable soirees, if you are serious about your intent, then I expect you to hold your events with the utmost integrity and sensitivity. Think about what you are asking your artists to do and how respectful those requests really are.

Peace and kindness,


Artists Need To Eat

Posted on 15 December 2014 | No responses

Art is not an optional extra when it comes to individual well-being and the well-being of a society. As such artists must have some way to make a living. As creative people they will experiment with how this is done. As people who are sensitive and deeply care, they may feel it is important to be transparent about their experiments, so other artists don’t have to recreate the wheel. This is legitimate and important.

Perhaps the stickiest problem when comparing art and business is that the definition of “success” becomes muddied when you opt for a career in music. On the one hand, you’re told you haven’t “made it” until you’re a megastar – making a living at your art isn’t enough – and, on the other hand, musicians aren’t supposed to be concerned with profits if they’re “real” artists – Didn’t you get into this job just for the love of it?

Art is a BusinessAmanda Palmer
The Guardian

Peace and kindness,


Let Go of Winning

Posted on 14 December 2014 | No responses

So long as we have a competitive society we will not overcome inequality: sexism, racism, ageism, ableism are all inherent to a system where somebody has to come out on top.

If you are in a room which is predominantly purple people and you are green, you already know that purple culture is going to dominate. If your position in the room determines whether or not you will have enough to feed yourself, you are going to want to find a room where green people are dominant. A recent online game and thought experiment The Parable of the Polygons demonstrates this, but doesn’t look at the problem broadly enough.

In a world of competition some are going to be winners and some are going to be losers. That’s what competition means. You have people justifying this by saying it’s “rational” and it’s “how nature works”. Nature in part does work through competition, but it also works through cooperation and other methods of survival. Everything is tried. Madagascar has its peculiar diversity of lemurs because instead of competing, these creatures diversified to take over unfilled niches where competition was unnecessary.

We all know when we go to a job interview we have to find some way to distinguish ourselves, so that we are more likely to get a position. When competition is fierce employers may not express prejudice, but will choose what is safest for their own survival.

When I look for work people of a right-wing persuasion will decline my application because of my age and gender. I had a friend trying to get me a position at a university teaching storytelling for computer game design. His boss was uninterested because, “What would an older woman understand about this subject.”

When I apply for a position where employers of left-wing persuasion are in control, I’m a US migrant, I regularly get told they want to hire an “Australian”. This happens so frequently, I started bringing my passport to show that I’m an Australian citizen. This just made people mad. I have regularly been put in the position where I take the brunt of people’s anger and frustration with US governmental policy. I’m one person. I cannot help where I was born. I left that country because I didn’t like the policy either.

This is all about putting people into convenient boxes. Once they are in the box most people like to think they know something about that person, because they know the box. Oh! You’re Japanese? You must like sushi and anime. You’re gay? I know a place where you could buy pretty dresses. On the surface this seems harmless, but we are all individuals and most of us are self-determining. You can be Japanese and not like anime. You can be Australian and not like beer. But if you are in a situtation where people keep putting you in that box, it becomes grinding. Worse, not only are you not being treated as an individual, you are also being divested of your humanity and as such dismissed quickly as part of the competition game.

Most of the time no one is trying to be bad. They just want to get by, but as things stand they find themselves pushing, pulling, manipulating, even lying to ensure their security. Most of the changes that are being made to relieve the pressure from this system are palliative. We offer an old age pension, because people of a certain age can no longer handle the stress of competing and we want them out in order to allow others to compete for their positions. This in no way lessens the overall fear of losing, or the suffering that comes when a person does lose.

The future lays in giving up competition as a way of life. The future lays in non-profit cooperatives, universal basic income, and a greater capacity to simply share goods and services as in Star Trek NOT Uber. People are terrified of letting go of what little competitive advantage they feel they have for fear of losing what little security they have. But in a cooperative paradigm there would be nothing to lose, it would just be a matter of loosening your grip and relaxing. Give up having to win and you have an economy of peace.

Peace and kindenss,


How to Do Action Comedy—Jackie Chan

Posted on 7 December 2014 | No responses

I am very fond of Jackie Chan. I studied dance for years until I could have auditioned for a place with ballet companies. Jackie is both funny and exceptionally skilled at movement.

Peace and kindness,


2014 Melbourne Monologue Soiree

Posted on 7 December 2014 | No responses

I was awarded a spot in the Melbourne Writers’ Theatre Monologue Soiree! The pieces run from deeply moving to uproariously funny. Should be a fun night. Please come along!

Peace and kindness,



Pomplamoose and Making a Living as an Artist

Posted on 7 December 2014 | No responses

Pomplamoose are heroes of mine. They are creative, smart, and deeply caring. They are doing all they can to make a living from their music with integrity. Recently they chose to be transparent about how they spent their crowdfunded dollars in order to go on tour. The response was unwarrantedly vitriolic.

This article does an excellent job of breaking down the situation and pointing out the ongoing flaws in people’s outlook concerning the arts.

The reality is that we’ve reduced American culture to a system of arbitrary donations and pats on the head. That isn’t sustainable. Corporate and trust funded music will survive, but will its message represent the diversity of our culture? No. And resentment is building – a resentment that is quite clear with the level of anger generated by just one mid-level band publishing just one article about the difficulty of surviving in the music business.

This resentment is something we have to take a long hard look at. We might think it comes from the idea that a tiny percentage of artists can get famous and filthy rich, or that others – despite financial struggles – have interesting and exciting lives where they perform and create while we’re stuck in a 9-5. But really, this resentment comes from the fact that when we devalue the arts, we devalue our own creative impulse.

~Sarah Manning, “The Pomplamoose Problem: Artists Can’t Survive as Saints and Martyrs

Peace and kindness,


Night Terrace and the Future of Recorded Comedy

Posted on 4 December 2014 | No responses

State of the Arts, State of the Future

The arts generally are in transition right now. The Internet provides a platform whereby anyone can deliver any media to anyone else anywhere in the world. However, you have to find ways for people to find you and ways to encourage people to pay you.

Ted Nelson, the father of hypertext, conceived of a means whereby micro-charges could be attached to paragraphs of text, segments of music, sections of photos, or a clip of film online. Everyone could charge, everyone would get paid who chose to attach prices to their work. People wailed that you couldn’t do that. The Internet must be this vast repository of free stuff. Of course big corporations were never going to let that happen. This is why we have all the copyright battles we are now facing when attempting to create new works. This is why our exchanges are so lopsided: artists receiving little to no money for their work, while big companies are able to charge and re-charge people for the use of every skerrick of material they can claim as their own. So an egalitarian form of monetary exchange was knocked out of the arena at a crucial juncture.

Night Terrace is an admirable experiment in the online delivery and commercialisation of high quality Australian content. We need these sorts of experiments. The ABC and SBS are being gutted by the current federal government. Magazines and newspapers are slowly dying. Free to air commercial television is becoming solely of interest to an aging population. Radio is facing similar challenges from online content. Advertisers and marketing departments after twenty years continue to be unimaginative, unenlightened, and miserly when it comes to getting visibility by showing support for content of real interest or value. They are in the process of killing the geese who lay golden eggs.

The Night Terrace Journey

Night Terrace is an audio Web series developed by the people of Splendid Chaps Productions. Superficially it is an hommage of the Dr Who genre, but within a few moments into the story clearly it shows an even greater relationship to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

When I was first at university I lived in shared accomodation with a shared TV lounge. To enjoy the sorts of shows I liked I ended up listening to a lot of radio theatre during something of a golden era of the medium. I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when it was first on air, as well as the BBC production of The Lord of the Rings, Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe, and the early shows of A Prairie Home Companion. Night Terrace shows just as much care and vivid storytelling as any of these productions.

To make Night Terrace happen Splendid Chaps, consisting of Petra Elliott, David Ashton, Ben McKenzie, John Richards, and Lee Zachariah, turned to crowdfunding. Given the pedigree of each of these people, their existing following, likeable subject matter, a stellar cast, and persistent marketing, they were able to use this financing method to back their production. Crowdfunding is not the answer to all funding needs, but it is certainly more democratic than current systems of granting or investment.

Their current challenge is to find a wider audience than their backers. This will require continued marketing. When I have had books published the publishers always expected me to go out on speaking tours to promote them for the next year. Publishers can spend anywhere from 4-20% of their budget on marketing. It’s worth hiring a skilled and up-to-date publicist with good connections into mainstream media to give you more visibility and more word of mouth. Sadly, a number of these are still lost in the past and may not give you bang per buck.

What really needs to happen is for numerous Australian online media creators to come together under larger collective banners and thereby pool marketing efforts and production resources. If these collectives are well curated, you will then have an overall product that will gain ongoing attention from an international audience. This is what Funny or Die and College Humor are all about. Not that they are always successful, but the possibility is stronger. I keep hoping this is what Channel 31 will turn into.

Night Terrace is worthy of a lot of attention. I would like to see it picked up by ABC radio.

About Night Terrace

Satire is much easier than hommage. With satire you are deconstructing a work, finding its weaknesses and absurdities. Often this is done by taking characters or situations a few further steps toward plausible but illogical conclusions. The Noddy/Mr Big Ears controversy, whereby these two children’s characters were made suspect of crypto-homoeroticism because they shared a bed, was ripe for satire. The assumptions made by some people were ridiculous. Tearing something down is always simpler than building something up.

Night Terrace had the unenviable task of attempting to create a work of love without falling into fan fiction. To do so requires mounting a few hurdles. The toughest is the desire to write as if you are your fictional hero. We all love to project ourselves onto favourite characters. However, in doing so we often strip a character of its humanity, in order to present a super image of ourselves without all the fallibilities and vulnerabilities. Flaws are significant for making a character believable and likeable. Flaws also drive the plot and create suspense. When we start playing with a super-self, the audience can easily see the hand of the puppeteer manipulating character and events.

The set up for Night Terrace is that Anastasia Black, beautifully performed by Jackie Woodburn of Neighbours fame, is a former adventurer who is hoping to retire. Unfortunately for her, her new home happens to travel through time and space. The writers work hard and succeed in making the archetype of “The Doctor” fresh with this character. I could have done without the fan nod of “This planet is protected”, but overall she is an original and engaging presence. I enjoyed being able to metaphorically hear eyes rolling in Woodburn’s grumpy delivery.

Not everyone gets that with audio productions you have to create a crisp soundscape that sets the scenes and helps to drive the plot. You can’t do a close-up of a window partially open, but you can include the sound of the wind and the rattle clunk of the window being roughly shut. The sound effects for Night Terrace were impressive. They did not call attention to themselves, but they added to the vivid expression of events.

Audio plays work best when actor-comedians do the performing. Comedy requires a sort of expressiveness that isn’t always present in drama. For audio vocal expressiveness is especially key. One or two actors in Night Terrace were indistinguishable from one another, but I’m not certain how you could avoid that with the sheer scope of this project. On the other hand Francis Greenslade in the second episode of the series was a real audio gem! His voice was colourful and nuanced. I so wanted him to be a regular character. I sincerely hope he is hired to voice more animation, he is perfect!

Night Terrace is a superb piece of work and deserves to go far. My biggest critique would be that they need to be careful about sacrificing plot for jokes upon occasion. But at least you get a laugh! And Night Terrace is consistently funny throughout. I would strongly suggest people buy this as a Christmas gift for friends and family. I can assure you that a good time will be had by all.

You can find Night Terrace here:

Peace and kindness,


What Harry Potter Teaches Us

Posted on 20 November 2014 | No responses

This is from a speech I gave for Halloween 2012. The site it was on has been taken down, so I thought I would reprint it here.

The Harry Potter series was launched the 30th of June 1997. It’s the story of an orphan who is introduced into a magical world of witches and wizards. In this world he was apparently born with a mission: to stop the evil of Lord Voldemort who seeks to be all powerful and immortal.

For five years I was a literary judge for a children’s and young adult book award. I read hundreds of fantasy books. The Harry Potter books were undoubtedly a step beyond the vast majority of books submitted for recognition.

Author JK Rowling indulges not only in the usual wish-fulfillment story with a dash of adventure, but explores human nature. In particular she examines the use and abuse of power from youthful bullying to parenting, teaching, bureaucracies, and magical manipulation; and the true measure of human character.

JK Rowling is no stranger to struggle. She was an unemployed single mother, just a whisker away from living on the streets, when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. She also worked previously at Amnesty International and has some chilling stories about the sort of inhumanity people around the world must cope with.

Her books do not go for cheap cliché values. They are rich in real world wisdom.

So what do the Harry Potter books teach us? Many things really and I will touch on a few of the lessons.

The value of friendship.

This is a standard trope in children’s books. Most of their plots only work when a team of children pool their skills and determination to win the day. We too frequently forget as adults that friendship continues to be of value throughout our lives.

Harry has two close friends: Ron and Hermione. Hermione is thoughtful and bookish. Ron is something of a doofus, but in the end his heart is always in the right place. Harry needs the support of Hermione’s clear thinking and the sense of normalcy and acceptance he finds from Ron and Ron’s family. Together they keep Harry grounded.

“Harry—you’re a great wizard, you know.”
“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let him go.
“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things—friendship and bravery…”

—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry also has a ring of close school mates such as Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Cedric Diggory, and Ginny Weasley.

At one point Dumbledore, the headmaster of the magic school of Hogwarts, tells his students this:

“Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In the world today we are facing some very big evils, only we don’t have a single face upon which to focus our hatred. Instead we must thoughtfully seek compassionate answers. We have allowed ourselves to accept a lifestyle that is damaging our planet and creating a greater divide between the rich and poor. We must look inside ourselves to change this.

And yet the answer is the same for us as it was for Harry and his classmates. We must not allow ourselves to become fearful and isolated. We must not allow ourselves to be divided by class, gender, age, ethnicity, or marketing group. Our current culture makes an idol of independence and competition. In this way we are left without the skills to combine efforts and change the world for the better. Well the way to fix that is in forming more and better friendships and thereby form caring communities.

Respect for all living things.

This is largely portrayed by the half-giant gameskeeper at Hogwarts, Rubeus Hagrid. It is noted in the text that “Hagrid had an unfortunate liking for large and monstrous creatures” but it goes further than that. In his Care for Magical Creatures class Hagrid introduces the students to smaller creatures such as Nifflers, Blast-ended Skrewts, Flobberworms, Bowtruckles, and Kneazles.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione on more than one occasion protect and rescue abused magical animals such as the dragon kept at the Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

Another ethical concern is the way house-elves are treated. They are self-aware humanoid creatures that are being used as slaves. Some house-elves claim they live to serve, but quite clearly not all of them do. Hermione recognises this unfairness within the magical culture. She alone does what she can to release these beings, while others including some of our heroes, are indifferent. The house-elf Dobby consciously sacrificing his own life for Harry’s finally begins to change some attitudes.

We should all ask ourselves who and what do we overlook at our convenience and other’s grief? Who and what should we be showing more care?

Shared responsibility

Much children’s and young adult fiction uses the trope of “the chosen one”. A people are being threatened by a malevolent being and only one special boy, whose coming is foretold, has the power to defeat this threat. The original Star Wars movie used this trope. After its success the concept of “The Hero’s Journey” was popularised.

Chosen-one stories are a form of wish-fulfillment. Usually the boy appears to be of no significance. He is often bullied. Then one day he discovers, either on his own or with the help of a mentor, that he is special and has access to super-normal powers. Many of us would like to believe we are special.

Of course not everyone identifies themselves with the chosen-one, but they still believe that the world moves on the backs of great leaders. They will claim that the formidable problems we are facing will only be changed when another Martin Luther King Jr or the like rises up. Where oh where are our next avatars of justice?

The Harry Potter books appear to be another in a long line of chosen-one stories, but immediately begin to subvert the trope.

First, Harry is repeatedly shown that he can’t face Lord Voldemort on his own. He needs the help of his friends and community.

Next, Harry has to come to grips with the fact that Lord Voldemort is not solely his problem. Lord Voldemort is of concern to the entire magical community and as such is everyone’s responsibility. When lives are at stake, you can’t just wait around. You can’t pin all your hopes on a single individual. What happens if that person fails or worse, dies?

Then, Harry is made aware that Lord Voldemort is not the whole problem. He is a powerful nexus to a much wider problem that is supporting his success. People’s fears and skewed values make them party to a thousand acts of every day cruelty: cruelty that is enacted in their bureaucracy, their media, their schools, and their justice system.

Finally, Harry discovers that the prophecy of a chosen-one did not necessarily apply to him. Another child equally fulfilled the prophecy. Lord Voldemort simply chose Harry as his most likely nemesis.

The Harry Potter books teach us that we are all equally responsible for the creation of a better future.

Ethical fortitude

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we are introduced to the character of Cedric Diggory. Cedric belongs to a rival house to that of Harry Potter. They are on opposing sporting teams and end up competing with one another in an international wizarding competition.

At various points Cedric and Harry are both put into positions whereby they can take unfair advantage of one another, but don’t. Fair-play and respect are seen as higher values than simply winning. It is because of this they are put in a position to face Lord Voldemort together and are able to defeat him, but at the sad loss of Cedric.

Dumbledore says in memory of Cedric:

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

That is the clearest example of ethical fortitude in the Harry Potter books. But JK Rowling does not keep things so clear. She creates many characters who fail in their judgements. Dumbledore himself played with thoughts of absolute power and was partially responsible for the accidental death of his sister when he was a young man. His regrets drove him on to become a kind, accepting person, and a protector of the vulnerable.

People are not usually born with ethical fortitude. They often find it as experience forges their characters and they see the logic in compassionate action. This is why forgiveness and mercy must have their place in our lives and our culture.

Judging people by their choices and actions

In the era of pulp fiction and B movies whole peoples were portrayed as evil and therefore expendable. Most notably at the time were stories about the “yellow peril” or Asian peoples, which you might find in Doc Savage, The Shadow, Buck Rogers and the like. With the advent of ethnic civil rights in the US, editors began to reject stories that portrayed obvious xenophobia. However, to this day we are still inundated with stories of metaphorical xenophobia. These are found largely in our youth media such as scifi and fantasy books, movies, comics, and computer games.

The audience is presented with an alien or fantastic race that are intelligent, self aware, and completely evil. Therefore it is considered acceptable to commit genocide.

However, the moment a race of beings is both intelligent and self-aware, their members are capable of independent thought and individual decisions. It would be injust to judge them as if they were a single being. The responsibility for the crimes of one can not fairly be extended to others.

As reasoning beings not all of their actions can possibly be evil, since they must have sufficient empathy and cooperation to manage the lengthy process of raising intelligent off-spring.

In the Harry Potter world even though the school residence of Slytherin is where more than one destructive wizard arose, not all Slytherins are evil. Regulus Black, Andromeda Tonks, Horace Slughorn are Slytherins who fought against Lord Voldemort. The houses of Griffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw have all had their share of wizarding heroes, but have also produced baneful magic users such as Peter Pettigrew and Quirinus Quirrell.

Many characters in the Harry Potter series are not what you might expect one way or the other. JK Rowling has not created a world with easy distinctions. You are challenged to understand characters, to discover the truth behind who they are, and rely on the ultimate quality of their actions to speak of the quality of their hearts. These are skills we should all develop when measuring our relationships in the real world.

As Dumbledore observes: “You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” Furthermore he says: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.”

We can all use a laugh now and again

After Harry wins the international wizarding competition he decides to give the attached winnings to Ron’s brothers Fred and George who are planning on opening a magical joke shop.

“Listen, if you [Fred and George] don’t take it [the gold], I’m throwing it down the drain. I don’t want it and I don’t need it. But I could do with a few laughs. We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

All of the Harry Potter books include a twist of humour, even The Deathly Hallows. One of my favourite lines is Ron exclaiming, “What in the name of Merlin’s most baggy Y Fronts was that about?”

Humour in the Harry Potter world and in our own world is good for two things:

1) It gives us permission to be human, to live with awkwardness and to make mistakes. So long as we can laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of life we are less afraid of learning, growing, and getting on with things.

2) Humour is a fount of resilience. Yes, things can get difficult, but so long as we can still laugh, we can still engage with life. This is why the clown doctors and nurses are such a successful movement. If you can keep patients laughing, they find the strength to improve their quality of life.

In the final book of the Potter series Harry, Ron, and Hermione are hiding in the wilderness and their friends in the resistance have gone underground. To keep the wizarding world informed, a group of wizards including Ron’s brothers Fred and George, broadcast the pirate radio program Potterwatch. This show includes humorous banter. It cuts Lord Voldemort to size and dispels fearful rumours. People are made robust through insightful levity.

That’s powerful stuff.


Love is a word abused by popular culture. Certain people want access to its power without taking on its responsibility. However, just because it has been misrepresented does not mean we should shy away from speaking and acting out of love.

In the first chapter of the first book of the Harry Potter series Harry is described as “The Boy Who Lived”. He lived because when his mother and father were attacked by Lord Voldemort, his mother sacrificed her life to ensure Harry survived. Everyday parents are giving all they can to ensure the well-being and survival of their children. This is a love worth naming and honouring.

Throughout the book Harry has friends rescue him from death over and over again. These people cared about Harry personally. They were aware of his ups and downs and weaknesses, and stood by him in any case. We all need friends who will celebrate our achievements, tell us when we need to pull our socks up, and be there when we need comfort. This is a love worth naming and honouring.

Albus Dumbledore was a headmaster known to extend his hand in kindness to people who needed a chance to grow. He could see the potential for good and would nurture it and give it every chance to flourish in the lives of his teachers and students. We all want mentors and teachers like this in our own lives and lives of our children. This is a love worth naming and honouring.

Then there is the love of simple human goodwill. During one broadcast of Potterwatch we hear this conversation:

River: “And what would you say, Royal, to those listeners who reply that in these dangerous times, it should be ‘wizards first’?”
Royal: “I’d say that it’s one short step from ‘wizards first’ to ‘pure-bloods first’, and then to ‘Death Eaters’. We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This too is a love worth naming and honouring.

What does Harry Potter teach us? The books demonstrate the value in reaching for a nobility of spirit that comes from sympathy, bravery, kindness, and love and that we find these qualities within ourselves when we form bonds of friendship. Go forth and be great witches and wizards. Accio love!

Peace and kindness,

2012 October 28

Creating Characters on Stage

Posted on 10 November 2014 | No responses

A famous dictum of fine art is: your process is your own. How you get at creating works that are uniquely and authentically your own is your personal choice, your personal responsibility, and nobody else’s business. All means are valid, though perhaps not all means are recommended or ethical. These are things we need to think about.

If you create your work by swimming in green jelly then playing the nose flute, that may be considered eccentric, but if the results are engaging then worrying about simple oddity is moot. On the other hand if you cause harm to a person, such as by using a toxic paint on a photographic subject’s body, then you need to stop and take a closer look at your tools and your motives.

When performing as a comedian or an actor you can choose to embody a character by observing the behaviour and traits of others and bringing these observations into your performance, you can search within yourself to find the places where you are this character, or you can take on cultural stereotypes and represent a shared worldview to your audience.

In comedy and improvisational theatre we frequently rely on stereotypes. Mario and Luigi are barely human in Super Mario Brothers. They are stereotypical working class Italians with a cheerful can-do attitude. The characters are endearing, but they aren’t going to tell us very much about Italians, the working class, or ourselves. This does not mean as creations they lack value. Life is rough, anything that brings a little genuine joy is important. However, stereotypes at their worst are damaging to whole segments of our populations.

What is of concern is when the vast majority of media, especially that which purports to be representing reality, is trading largely on stereotypes. Stereotypes are then mistakenly seen as “archetypes” or “The Truth”.

I would strongly suggest performers spend time learning how to create a character where you go beyond cultural symbols and draw instead from personal understanding. If nothing else, when you go back to using a stereotypical character, you can bring it to life with greater detail, pathos, and humanity.

The way to start is by letting go of your culture’s judgements of both yourself and others. You cannot see a person’s humanity if you cannot go beyond seeing them as an expectation. If you expect to see lazy poor people, then you will see lazy poor people. If you have no expectations, then you may see some poor people who are lazy, but you may see many more who are frozen in despair or desperately diligent. It will be a complex picture.

I know far too many actors who only want to play an idealised version of themselves. Those who want to play villains often bring more interest to their performance, but they may still be looking for an idealised self, because villains seem to have more freedom and more power. All of us every day attempt to wear a self we feel will be effective and will help to make us likeable to ourselves and others. All that we are, all that we can be, much of it remains just beneath the surface unexpressed.

As a child I learned to hide any good grades I received. When other children found out about a paper of mine receving an “A”, they would tear it from my hands, rip it up, push me to the ground, pull my hair, and call me names. I knew children who could do as well or better than myself in various subjects, but who carefully avoided standing out.

Dysfunctional families are notorious for putting on happy smiles when what lies beneath is turmoil and pain. The reality is that a family member revealing themselves could become subject to dangerous repercussions. In order to survive physically and emotionally members will present as hyper-normal and hyper-cheerful. “Nothing wrong here, look the other way.”

No one wants to be hurt. No one wants to be ostracised. We all want people in our lives who respect, care for, and validate us. Our culture tells us only certain sorts of people live the good life. So many of us act as characters in our own lives hoping to achieve it.

If you want to be a performer or creator of any note, you have to let go of that one character, at least for the space of a show. You have to recognise the validity of anger, fear, and love, whether or not you approve of how these things are expressed by your character. You have to find strength in vulnerability. You need to trust your audience and reveal yourself. You also have to have faith that goodness can be found in a wide diversity of people. Many folk put on a show of toughness and darkness in order to protect a fragile side.

Whether or not you can find it in yourself to believe you are a particular character, by respecting that character—you will find its humanity, express that humanity more truthfully, and give your audience something of real value. You will be respected as an actor and remembered, not superficially admired for a resemblance to a cardboard hero (or villain) and soon forgotten.

When I teach creative writing courses, I tell my students they need to see their characters as a basket full of puppies. One puppy may be a little slow, another may willfully widdle on things, still another may be over-eager to play ball. They are all different, and some of them are even naughty, but you love every one of them. Each one is special and each has a right to their existence. We can be so unforgiving of ourselves and others that it is hard to see people in this fashion, but it is an artistic necessity. The greatest artists hold at least a seed of compassion for all humanity in their hearts.

Peace and kindness,


The Myth of the Greedy Artist

Posted on 9 November 2014 | No responses

Our society only exists because we have pro-social emotions that bring us together. The arts help us to exercise those emotions, so that we become better members of our families and societies.

The arts help to give us resilience and stimulate our thinking. The arts can be a form of play that help us to build skills useful in other areas, such as peacefully arguing a case. The arts develop our ability to think creatively, innovate, and build a better future. I have a PhD. You get PhDs from doing original research. I know plenty of people who couldn’t manage that degree, because they were incable of imagining beyond the known.

The arts are not an optional extra nor are they a poor cousin to science. We would have no civilisation capable of supporting scientifc research if it weren’t for the arts. The arts need to be freely supported without always the requirement for commercialisation.

The below is an excellent article about Taylor Swift’s decision not to make her music available via Spotify.

“The bottom line is that artists’ rights are workers’ rights. You are not being progressive or radical by denying artists the right to control their own work. You are not helping the underprivileged by making it impossible for anyone who isn’t already rich and privileged to take up artistic careers.”

—Lincoln Michel, Taylor Swift and the Myth of the Mean Greedy Artist

Peace and kindness,


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