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Photo: Gil Sans
These folks started a theater with no money and filled a gap in neighbors’ lives. “If you build it, they will come.”

A recent article at Arts Professional shows that money isn’t the only tool for getting things done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Anthony Briggs writes about what happened after he agreed to join Peter Tate in implementing a dream of creating truly relevant theater in London.

“When Peter asked me to join him as Co-Artistic Director of The Playground Theatre in May last year, I had been looking for a new challenge. [The] Playground’s previous life as a developmental space intrigued me, and Peter and I shared a vision of bold, imaginative and highly theatrical new work, developed with the local community in Latimer Road.

“Within a few weeks of us joining forces, the fire swept through the nearby Grenfell Tower. The events of that night had a huge impact on our vision for the theatre and our role in the local community. It was immediately apparent that what was needed was a place where people could share stories and grieve, and also hope and aspire for a better future for our area.

“North Kensington is a postcode of extremes with huge wealth sitting next to appalling poverty. It also includes probably the broadest ethnic mix of people in the UK. Finding a way to appeal to all our residents would be a challenge.

“When we first walked around the space there were only wall lights, so the first thing was to raise the money to kit the venue out and turn it into something fully functioning. … At the same time as raising funds and getting the theatre up and running, we faced the challenge of raising awareness and attracting an audience. …

“Doing anything for the first time can be an anxious experience, so we do all we can to make people feel welcome. We regularly post on local social media boards and leaflet along Portobello Road. Slowly the word is getting out.

“Everyone has an opinion about what we should be doing and that can be tiring. But to be a community theatre you have to be part of that community and that means engaging in constant conversation, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. We are dedicated to reflecting the diversity of our community through the diversity of our programming. …

“We have established good relationships with a nearby secondary school, Kensington Aldridge Academy, which is on a temporary site while its main building is being repaired following the Grenfell Fire. … Another partner is Grief Encounter, a child bereavement charity that has been active in our area following the fire.”

Read more here about how this new group is making theater that is relevant to people’s lives and thereby filling a gap.

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Photo: Lucy Young/Evening Standard
Jonathan Privett, co-owner of Word On The Water inside the barge.

I love stories about unusual libraries and unusual bookstores. Here’s one from the New York Times about a bookselling endeavor powered by the famed eccentricity of Englishmen.

Rod Nordland writes, “The two men who run London’s only floating bookstore, Word on the Water, are living proof that there really is something you can do in life with an English lit degree, other than teach English literature.

“The store — a 50-foot-long canalboat stuffed to its bulkheads and overflowing onto the towpath with books — has a permanent berth on the Regent’s Canal, around the corner from the British Library. This comes after years of its owners staying one step ahead of eviction from the canals, by relocating fortnightly.

“It is doing so well that Paddy Screech, 51, an Oxford-educated Cornishman with a close-trimmed beard and a soft-spoken manner, and Jonathan Privett, 52, a gaptoothed Yorkshireman who has trouble staying still for long (except with a book), finally took their dream vacations this year. …

“The men got the idea for the store from a book, of course — ‘Children of Ol’ Man River,’ in which Billy Bryant recounts how his British immigrant family arrived on the Mississippi River, homeless, living on a floating board, which they built into a theater, and then into the showboat craze of the late 1800s.

“When they met, Mr. Privett was living on a canalboat, part of a subculture of boat dwellers who berth on London’s canals for free — as long as they keep moving periodically. Mr. Screech had been working with homeless people and drug addicts, while caring for an alcoholic mother at home. ‘Overnight, she stopped drinking and turned into a little old lady who only drank tea,’ he said. …

“Mr. Privett had the book-business experience. Before settling on his canalboat, he had at times been a homeless squatter who supported himself selling used books from street stalls.

“A French friend, Stephane Chaudat, provided a boat big enough to be a store, a 1920s-era Dutch barge; he remains their partner.

“Mr. Privett had a stock of used books. Mr. Screech borrowed 2,000 pounds from his then-sober mother as capital, and their business was born in early 2010. …

“Things went downstream fast. Forced by the berthing laws to move every fortnight, they often found themselves on parts of the nine-mile-long Regent’s Canal with industrial buildings and no customers. …

“Mr. Screech said. ‘For years, it just felt like it was going to sink.’

“Then it did. A friend used the sea toilet on the book barge and left an inlet open, and the boat sank to the bottom; even their prized copy of ‘Ol’ Man River’ was lost. Shortly later, the boat Mr. Privett lived on sunk as well, and he lost all of his family photographs.

“ ‘[We] were just sitting there on the towpath, crying,’ Mr. Screech said. …

“As the canal trust peppered them with legal notices, fines and threats to have the boat barge lifted out of the water and broken up, their supporters got busy, too. One rallying cry of a Twitter post, from the science-fiction author Cory Doctorow, was retweeted a million times, Mr. Screech said.”

Read the whole saga here.

As small blurbs filling out New Yorker magazine columns were once titled, “There’ll always be an England.”

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To me it’s tragic that languages are disappearing and, with them, unique cultures.

Small, determined efforts can bring attention to the problem, as I noted this morning when the filmmaker behind Marie’s Dictionary retweeted this from North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain Elementary School (@pilotMtnElem).

Third grade students are learning about Marie’s Dictionary and endangered languages. @goproject #scsed #pmespirates @UNESCO

Excellent. Third graders are sure to spread the word.

Recently, I came across an article on another threatened language, Hawaii Sign Language.

“In 2013, at a conference on endangered languages, a retired teacher named Linda Lambrecht announced the extraordinary discovery of a previously unknown language. Lambrecht – who is Chinese-Hawaiian, 71 years old, warm but no-nonsense – called it Hawaii Sign Language, or HSL.

“In front of a room full of linguists, she demonstrated that its core vocabulary – words such as ‘mother,’ ‘pig’ and ‘small’ – was distinct from that of other sign languages. …

“The last-minute arrival of recognition and support for HSL was a powerful, almost surreal vindication for Lambrecht, whose first language is HSL. For decades, it was stigmatised or ignored; now the language has acquired an agreed-upon name, an official ‘language code’ from the International Organization for Standardization, the attention of linguists around the world, and a three-year grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. …

“An initial estimate of up to 280 surviving HSL signers was soon revised down to 40, then down to just 10 or so old-timers still likely to be competent in HSL. ASL had made deep inroads even among these signers, but there was evidence, especially from Lambrecht’s signs, that HSL was distinct, and lay close enough to the surface to be recovered. Spoken languages such as Basque, Welsh, and Hawaiian have come back from the brink of extinction – could HSL be the first sign language to do it?”

The article is from the Guardian by way of the blog Arts Journal. Read it here.

Photo: Eugene Tanner Photography, LLC
Linda Lambrecht, left, teaches Hawaii Sign Language.

 

 

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Sometimes I get blog ideas from Facebook, which is one reason I can’t see myself pulling out despite all the irrelevant, unwanted clutter there.

Former colleague Scott G. recently posted a curious item on Facebook about turning pineapple waste into leather — real leather, not “fruit leather.” It’s much better for the environment than animal-based leathers and more appealing to sustainability-conscious consumers than petroleum-based ones.

Adele Peters at FastCoexist says that Carmen Hijosa got the idea for a new, sustainable industry on a visit to the Philippines years ago. But first she needed a PhD.

“When leather expert Carmen Hijosa visited the Philippines to consult with the leather industry there, she discovered two big problems: The leather was poor quality, and producing it was bad both for the local environment and the people involved.

“But as she traveled around the country, she had an epiphany. The Philippines grows a lot of pineapples — and ends up with a lot of wasted pineapple leaves. The leaves, she realized, had certain features that might make it possible to turn them into a plant-based leather alternative. …

“She also looked at other local plants, such as banana fibers and sisal. But only pineapple fibers were strong and flexible enough to handle the manufacturing process she had in mind.

“Hijosa left her work in the traditional leather industry and spent the next seven years at the Royal College of Art in London, developing the material into a patented product while she earned a PhD. Now running a startup — at age 63 — she’s ramping up manufacturing of her pineapple-based leather, called Piñatex. …

“Her startup, Ananas Anam, has built its production from 500 meters to 2,000 meters, and [by August], she expects the next batch to be around 8,000 meters. But as the company’s capacity grows, demand is already outpacing supply. Companies like Puma and Camper have made prototypes with the material, and others are already using it.”

What an impressive woman! More here.

Photo: FastCoexist
Because pineapple leaves would normally be wasted, turning them into leather, is an extra source of income for farmers.

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Pigeons are often associated with pollution underfoot, but in London, pigeons are being harnessed in the fight against another kind of pollution.

Melissa Breyer reports at TreeHugger that the ubiquitous birds are being “outfitted with light-as-a-feather backpacks that collect air pollution data and tweet back live info in an effort to track air quality.

“Putting pigeons to work was the brainstorm of Pierre Duquesnoy, creative director at the global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi. He entered the curious concept into the #PoweredByTweets competition which was launched last year in conjunction with the London Design Festival.

“Currently there are 120 stations monitoring air pollution in London but they are in fixed locations. ‘That means there are blind spots,’ Duquesnoy tells the Evening Standard. ‘The stations are really accurate but only for the immediate vicinity, so scientists don’t have a clear idea of what is happening elsewhere.’ …

“Pigeon Patrol was one of six winning entries that was built and exhibited – and now, the patrol is actually patrolling. [They will] measure levels of nitrogen dioxide and ozone, the main gases behind harmful urban air pollution …

“For the project Duquesnoy worked with Plume Labs, a tech firm that helps citizens track their exposure to air pollution.” More here.

Video: Newsy

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Time for a new post on street art. Have you been following the Banksy-in-New-York saga? He was living in the city for a while last year, creating a new piece of street art every day. People ran around to find it, some New Yorkers even trying to charge admission. An HBO movie was made about it.

Banksy is always interesting, but today I want to tell you what street artist Stik has been up to.

The Londonist website says, “Street artist Stik has just finished creating the tallest piece of street art in the world — a 38.2 metre high mural on a condemned council tower block in Acton [a district in the west of London].

” ‘Big Mother’ depicts a mother and child looking forlornly from their council block at the luxury apartment complexes being built around them. The mural is visible from not only the Piccadilly Line, but also on some London flight paths.

“Stik, who was once homeless, said: ‘Affordable housing in Britain is under threat; this piece is to remind the world that all people need homes.’ ”

And I guess in this season a homeless mother and child is especially resonant.

Thank you to @ecpulford for retweeting the story from Bernadetta Keefe (@nxtstop1).

Stik’s website is here. His minimalist, wistful beings remind me a bit of Finnish artist Tove Jansson’s children’s books about the Moomin family.

First picture below, cover of paperback Finn Family Moomintroll

Second picture: Joyce/Division
The 38.2 metre mural has been painted on a tower block which is due for demolition in 2016. Image © Stik

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Erik, this one’s for you. I saw a book on 100-year-olds in your kitchen, and I know you and your company aim to enable us all to be centenarians.

Sally Williams writes in the Guardian, “Three score and 10 may be the span of a man, but no one has broken the news to David Bailey who, at 76, still behaves like someone turning one score and eight.

“Last month he walked into a studio in London (not his: too many stairs) to photograph some of Britain’s oldest people. The youngest was just 100; the oldest 107. Dressed in a baggy polo shirt and a pair of old combat trousers, small but physically imposing, Bailey flirted, flattered, insulted his subjects in order to get the picture he wanted.

“ ‘We’ve been married for 62 years,’ Shirley Arkush told Bailey of her husband David, one of the centenarians waiting to be photographed. ‘Same as me,’ he replied, ‘but not to the same wife.’ And he gave a combative, high-pitched laugh. (Bailey’s marriage to his first wife, Rosemary Bramble, lasted three years, and his second, to Catherine Deneuve, two; he was married to Marie Helvin for 10 years, before marrying Catherine Dyer in 1986.) …

“He worked at an incredible pace – nine portraits in four hours, and on subjects with a collective age of 917 years. ‘I’ve always wanted to photograph old people,’ he said at one point, after pinning one centenarian in forensic close-up (he had requested no makeup, only ‘a tidy-up’ for the women).

“Not everyone was happy. Joe Britton, 103, Chelsea Pensioner and horseracing enthusiast, said he knew Bailey and had been looking forward to seeing him again. But, ‘That’s not David Bailey,’ he said with disappointment after the shoot – his David Bailey is the horse trainer.” More pictures, more story here.

Photograph: David Bailey/Guardian
Violet Butler: ‘I’m no paragon. I used to smoke and drink, but not to excess.’

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