How do we save the arts?

I love the arts.

A swift jab from Cupid’s arrow in my youth and it’s been my strongest love affair. Nothing beats the few seconds when the lights go down in the theatre, the communal laughs and cries, the cathartic sorting out of our collective human shit.

The cinema silent and still after a film. Nobody daring to move. We watch the credits together, strangers held by the heavy force of what we’d just seen.

Hour long debates with my Dad on the latest drama, documentary or series and screaming ‘yeah but wasn’t the writing unreal, Dad?!’

It’s my church, my collective, faith.

I’m in love with the arts and no matter how many times I try to escape them in search of an easier life, I’ll always come back, tail between my legs, begging for one last chance.

You’ll understand why it breaks my heart to see the state it’s in. It’s 2016 and it’s still rich white men at the top. You can claim otherwise but it’s everywhere. From the runners and assistants right up to the development teams, channel controllers, big name actors, producers and directors.

It’s white.

It’s rich.

It’s male.

And yeah, whatever, history, way things were blah blah blah.

It really needs to change.

A few things are changing. There are people who’ve worked hard for this for years.

But on the large scale a BAME play here, an all Asian play there, a decently funded ‘poverty porn’ play annually. Is that really representation? Granted it gives underrepresented creatives more work and I’m all up for that but how can we truly change this sector with more rules and  further separation. It has to go deeper than box ticking.

We need a revolution from the bottom up. I don’t need people on £100k+ at the top of huge companies and corporations telling me what my country looks like and when we’re allowed to show proper representation. I know what it looks like, I live in it.

I long to see a typical ‘bums on seats’ play at a regional theatre with black, white, asian, mixed race, disabled actors all putting on the show and nobody even batting an eyelid. There’d be no major PR around it or a jovial slap on the back of the theatre for ticking the E&D box. It should just be the normal, shouldn’t it? Same with TV and film.

Whether you’re black, white, asian, mixed heritage, male, female, rich, poor, gay, straight, lesbian, disabled, disadvantaged, disheartened or dissatisfied we’re all drinking from the same waterhole and trying to make it last.

Are we simply going to wait for someone to give us the opportunity to represent ourselves?Do you want to box yourself into a bracket and hope that it’s the one in favour this year or do you want to break the system? Do you want to be a pawn or a bishop?

I’m sick to the back teeth of researching successful people in the arts and finding the Oxbridge connection. As Caitlin Moran says, surely all the clever, talented and driven people didn’t all come out of the same school?

The one difference I notice between privately educated and publicly educated individuals is entitlement. I feel damn lucky if I get paid to act or write whereas others believe it is their right and often it gets them further. Self fulfilling prophecy or what?

Let’s teach our comprehensive kids entitlement and see what happens eh? Sounds ridiculous? Well Cameron needs lessons in the price of milk and how to glottalise his t’s so maybe we should get entitlement on the curriculum.

Funding cuts and a general lack of money are making it impossible to ask companies to take risks. Risks haemorrhage money if they don’t pay off and nobody can afford a failure.

I went back and listened to Neil Gaiman’s #MakeGoodArt speech yesterday and it reminded me that at the heart of it all it’s the art that counts.

So what do we do?

Firstly, we all strap on our biggest, most badass warrior face and claw in for the long fight. We need to talk, discuss, shout and cry. We need to get together and figure out how we can make changes to encourage diversity and equal representation that isn’t tokenism.

Secondly, I think we all need to put our money where our mouth is.

Nothing is going to get better if we don’t go back to basics. We need to get into schools and youth clubs and tell children that they are talented, welcomed and needed in this industry.

We need to make sure that the comp school kids know they’re just as ‘entitled’ to art as the privately schooled kids and by the time they grow up you won’t need an Uncle Horatio in development at the Beeb to get ‘in’.

We need to tell them that it’s the art they should be most concerned with. Become obsessed, become brutal with your work and become your own best friend. We need to tell that failure is okay. ***

We need to become mentors and counsellors and by God if you’ve got to a pretty comfortable position in your career then you really need to help us with this.

Lastly, I urge us all to remember why we fell in love with it in the first place and cultivate that in others. Don’t bow down to the business because the business needs you. We are bigger than they give us credit for and we can win.

We can’t be scared of the revolution. We can’t worry our opinions might lose us work. We have to be the ones to kick this off and make it stick

Life and careers are way too short to simply do what you’re told.

*** (If anybody wants to act on this idea I’d love to get into schools and start this, contact me)

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What do you want?

Less than a year ago I was having a tough time. On the universal scale of ‘tough times’ I didn’t feel it was valid compared to the times others experience.

and it was this superb attitude of ‘how dare I feel shit when children have terminal illnesses’ that perpetuated the shame of having said tough time.

Vicious cycle of thoughts, shame, loneliness, hopelessness, cry, cry, cry, beat self up for being so vulnerable.

Repeat.

You get it. I know you do.

Whether it takes medication, exercise, therapy, running away from the problem, running into the problem or any other variable; at some point you have to ask yourself one question:

‘What do I want…?’

Stay with me. This isn’t a bold claim from a self help book, my horoscope or something I heard on Girls.

I was chatting with a friend on the phone. He possesses the dark humour and sarcastic pessimism to tolerate one of my rants. He let me vent for as long as I needed and then said quite.

‘Yeah but Charl, what do you actually want?’

Not one for stumped silences I brushed it off but found myself thinking about that question for the next week. Any time something arose that had the potential to incite a bad thought spiral or a tear session I was reminded of it.

What do I want?

I hadn’t thought about what I wanted since I was 18. I knew I wanted to go to drama school and become a better actor. I knew I wanted a school with a helluva lot of contact hours because structure is my secret lover. I wanted to push myself and see what I was made of.

Four years later I’d achieved that. I was out of the other side and was taking my first steps on the treadmill of freelancing.

Since that moment I hadn’t really thought about what I wanted because I’d wanted to be an actor and now I was living that. I made myself consistently available and pretty much waited for life to happen. I worked here and there, not as much as some, not as little as others and trundled on.

Fast forward three years to my tough time.

Without realising I’d relinquished the control of myself over to various different parties and now I was stuck in the mud. I hadn’t asked myself this question in so long the thought of what I might want absolutely terrified me.

What did I want? A mortgage, a family, a ‘proper’ career, a one way ticket to Denmark, a MacBook, a chicken pie, a hair cut?

I had absolutely no idea.

I started slowly. Giving more thought to the mundane decisions I’d began to let decide themselves and moving onto the slightly bigger questions. Even tiny things like deciding where to eat gave me a buzz. It had been so long since felt assertive and direct.

As my brain started to shift the excitement of possibility and opportunity sparked up again. Rather than see my situation as a dead end I tried to see it as a trampoline onto something else.

I’m genuinely still figuring out what that might be, where I hope to go or what I’d like to achieve but it feels so good to have taken some time for myself. To have asked myself what I want, need and dream.

Having a tough time can often be filled with shame, panic and anxiety. It can feel like a marathon.  And not in a happy, fundraising way. I’d urge you to find and use whichever variable gives your brain the space to take stock. There isn’t any shame in whatever method suits you. Pop those pills, talk the head off a therapist and ultimately ask yourself in those quiet moments: what the hell do I want from this truly bonkers life?

Right now it’s a Wagamama Katsu Curry and a Creme Egg.

Better hop to it.

  

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My name is Charlie and I’m addicted to…

  …sugar.

Sucrose, fructose, glucose – you name it, I’m addicted.

It started from a young age: dipping a finger into the sugar pot, cheeky spoonfuls of honey and progressed to secretly gobbling 8 orange club bars before school and shoving the wrappers down my knickers.

Despite this I somehow have the metabolism of a bee on crack. I find it difficult to actually put on weight. *cue angry dieting mob throwing rotten fruit* (mmm, sugary fruit)

This year I decided to commit to a dry January of epic proportions. Forget alcohol or cigarettes – bring on dry Suganuary. Tenuous, I know.

Chocolate, sweets, fizzy drinks, squash, cake, crisps and biscuits were all dismissed to the back of the treats drawer. That isn’t a metaphor, I genuinely have a treats drawer. 

After the initial shock of realising how often I reach for a sugary pick me up it was the change in energy levels that really astounded me. By 7.30pm I was exhausted after a day at work and couldn’t believe how easily I was falling asleep. I’m usually still up at 1am pottering about or researching something or other. One night, I fell asleep at 7.45pm and didn’t wake till my alarm at 6.45am. My girlfriend was worried I’d been abducted or in a major car crash because I hadn’t answered any calls or texts.

It took around two weeks for my body to adjust to this complete exhaustion. I worried my body had relied on sugar for so long that I couldn’t function without it. However, I soon felt my energy building to an all time high. I even found the energy to go to the gym and pump some iron. The cravings for sweetness immediately after a meal stopped and it became easier turning down the post Christmas nectar brought in by colleagues. Learning how to say ‘no, thank you’ rather than guzzling down anything put in front of me has been rewarding. I think I could learn so say no a little more in a few areas of life. It’s empowering. 

Whilst I did cut out a large number of items it’s worth explaining I haven’t been a complete bore about it. I’ve still been eating white pasta and bread etc. It would be unrealistic of me to become a seed eater for a month because quite frankly fresh white crusty bread is my best friend. It’s also worth noting I allowed a few treats along the way. The most justifiable being my girlfriend’s birthday cake and a Ben’s Cookie. Some moments shouldn’t have limitations. 

However, the few exceptions left my mind racing as if I’d ingested cocaine, not sugar. It left me with a pretty awful taste in my mouth and an unmistakeable craving for more. Who knew…?

So, Suganuary has taught me the undeniable power of sugar in my life. It really is addictive. The scaremongering is somewhat true. It’s also taught me that taking control can be as addictive as the sweet stuff. I won’t be passing on any home made cake any day soon but I’ll definitely be limiting my intake of chocolate bars, biscuits etc to one day a week and never indulging at work. 

I have the dentist on Tuesday – wish me luck.

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‘The closest I can get to parental love without actually pushing you out of my vagina’ 

Lily Langdell Clarke – where do I begin?

Tomorrow you’ll be turning two and it’s impossible to imagine how I ever lived without you. When my sister was carrying you around all cosy in her belly I hoped you’d be a boy. Not because girls aren’t the best (because let’s face it, we are) but because I worried you might not be the kind of little girl who would want to climb trees with me, or go on far flung adventures to the depths of the garden, or build a hot air balloon out of pillows and chase Golden Eagles.

How wrong could I be?

You are everything I hoped you’d be, and more.

You were independent from day one. I don’t think I ever held you in my arms like an actual baby. You preferred to be held in front of my belly so you could see everything around you. I never needed to support your neck because you held your own head up almost immediately. Your strength genuinely astounds me. You happily pick up your Dad’s dumbbells and place them very specifically in all corners of the house. You carry tens of books at a time and can frequently be found in the garden carrying stupidly heavy items under your chin like an Olympic shot putter.

More remarkable than your physical prowess is your strength of spirit. You’ve clearly inherited stubbornness, defiance and a delicate temper from the Langdell bloodline. I find it difficult tphoto (1)o challenge your occasional furrowed brow antics because I find it compelling. I am so proud that before your second birthday I know you’ll be able to take the world on, and win. I welcome that fiery glint in your eye. Long may it reign.

Most of the things I hoped to teach you are already bubbling away in your emerging personality. You adore trees and the story of Peter Pan, and learning. Oh, how you love learning! By 18 months you knew all of the colours, wild animals, domestic animals, vegetables, fruits and most household items. And not just the simple ones, I’ll never forget the day you pointed out ‘sparagus in your pretend kitchen. Your desire for language is ferocious and I feel such elation when you string a whole sentence together. Personal pronouns, adjectives and tenses all present and correct. Combine this with your spookily accurate memory and you’ll be unstoppable, my girl. Drink everything in and always ask your questions.

In the last two years you have saved me on a number of occasions. When trapped in moments of darkness or vulnerability you’d simply take my hand and insist I play. ‘No sitting down’ being a favourite line of yours. You’ve taught me so much about life already. Observing your reactions to nature and small moments of joy has reminded me of what’s important. I thought I lived a life according to the gospel of Peter Pan but it seems I became distracted by pirate-grown up stuff along the way. Watching your face light up when the wind blows or your squeal of recognition when your favourite song plays is the best medicine for modern melancholy. Thank you for guiding me back towards the one true path of ‘never growing up’.

I could talk about you for days, Lil. I often do. Your giving nature and desire to share everything frequently chokes me up. Making you laugh is easily the highest high I’ll ever feel. They should bottle that feeling – much healthier than drugs. I love your pointed index finger dancing and the little foal like trot when you run. I love that you laugh when you fall over or bang into something. I love that we share the same blood and that nobody can ever take being your auntie away from me.  I love that you treat my girlfriend and I (Cha Cha and Nead) as a pair and have never once wondered why we’re both girls. I often dream of my future home equipped with a little spare room for you ready for all of our weekend adventures. You will always have a place to stay when your parents are getting on your nerves or when the world gets too much. I will always be here. I’d say this is the closest I can get to parental love without actually pushing you out of my vagina.

You’re the coolest person I know and I am deliriously happy that I get to help your discovery of this crazy world.

Enjoy your second birthday my Lily Pie.

(p.s if you ever need a kidney, bone marrow or even a heart transplant, I AM YOURS)

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Who killed Amy Winehouse?

On Sunday, I plucked up the courage to see Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy. Acutely aware we were setting ourselves up for a fall, my girlfriend shoved reams of tissue paper into her pocket. We were prepared for the tears, but not for the anger.

Kapadia intertwines unseen footage, voice over interviews and Amy’s performances into a bleak, heart-wrenching homage to one of the greatest talents of our time. It is unflinching in its treatment of Mitch Winehouse, Blake Fielder- Civil and the celebrity-obsessed, destructive jaws of modern society.

amyWe’re introduced to Amy as a teenager, goofing around with pals and it’s impossible to deny the burning talent that lies within her. The deep, rich jazz tones already so mature and beyond her years. When Nick Shymansky gets on board we almost feel a tinge of excitement for the young Amy. The promise of such a bright future. She is fierce, quick witted and passionate about developing her craft

After signing with Simon Fuller, Amy moves to Camden. A stage in her life her best friends cite as the beginning of the end. She falls madly in love with Blake and is first introduced to hard drugs. After the success of Frank and the developing drug addiction, Kapadia hints:
Why on Earth did Mitch Winehouse prevent Amy’s first opportunity at rehabilitation? A question Amy immortalised herself in ‘Rehab’

I ain’t got the time / And if my daddy thinks I’m fine

We are forced to question the intentions behind Amy’s close relationships. Were initial headline gigs and Amy’s second album Back to Black really worth the delay of treatment? Had she entered rehab when Nick Shymanksy proposed would we still have Amy?

Amy’s honest, autobiographical and complex lyrics are displayed on screen throughout the film in a hand writing style. We realise she was sharing her darkness with us the whole time. Disengaging from the catchy instrumentals and simply reading her lyrics made me feel sick to the stomach. She was telling us everything but we weren’t listening.

If I was my heart / I’d rather be restless / The second I stop the sleep catches up and I’m breathless / This ache in my chest / As my day is done now / The dark covers me and I cannot run now / My blood running cold

One of the most painful realisations in the film is that the press and media beast performed a Julius Caesar style assassination on Amy long before her body did. The relentless paparazzi hounding increases as she slowly destructs. In this we are all culpable. Why did we desire to witness her pain? Her struggles with mental illness and addiction became cannon fodder for lazy comedians and society in general. Did the caricature hair and eye liner costume distract us from simple human compassion? We allowed a talented, vulnerable young woman become the target of obsessive and ultimately fatal abuse.

As the film approaches its conclusion we see Amy recording at Abbey Road Studios with one of her heroes, Tony Bennett. She is only three months from her death but she is clean and resembles an Amy from before the nightmare. She is nervous and eager to hit perfection. Tony Bennett assures her ‘Don’t worry, I’m the same’. She is delighted to be compared to him and nails the vocals on the last record she’d ever make.

As the inevitable occurs, through angry tears, I wanted to scream that we should have saved her. Her family, friends, acquaintances, her post man, every anonymous stranger. We watched this happen and we did nothing. It is time to take a look at our celebrity obsessed, materialistic, desperate for social status society. When did exploiting talent become an artform? If we couldn’t save Amy, how are we meant to look after each other?

I am so sorry, Amy.

You were a true artist, a timeless talent and are utterly irreplaceable.

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‘If you read this you are gay’ – A love letter to Ireland

Today is the day! The Irish people will vote on whether to give same-sex marriage equal constitutional status and I for one cannot wait. After the shock of the UK Gen El I am pinning a lot of political hope on our Irish neighbours. So long as one country has a triumph in 2015 I’ll be happy.

I have just returned from a 10 day road trip around the Emerald Isle. My girlfriend hails from Waterford and rather than spending our hard earned cash on a transatlantic getaway we decided to tour her native landIf you read this you are gay instead.

We landed in Dublin, hired a car and proceeded to drive to Northern Ireland, down the West coast, along the bottom to her hometown Waterford and then back up to Dublin. It was an epic adventure of green landscapes, mountainous roads and plenty of seafood chowder.

As chief passenger and satnav controller, I began to take in the ‘vote no’ and ‘vote yes’ posters on our journey. It’s fair to say the more rurally we travelled the fewer ‘yes’ posters we encountered. As this was a pretty rural tour, we often got to talking about what either result would mean for Ireland: a political first or a lunge backwards in time.

I guess what is so exciting about this referendum is that it is the Irish people themselves who get to decide the future of equal marriage. It isn’t passed by a bunch of Etonian pirates hell bent on point scoring for the next election. It’s about the people. Can there be anything sweeter than pure democracy?

Ireland, I revelled in you. I wrapped myself up in your green blanket dotted with sheep and drank in your beauty for 10 days. I was inspired by your history, your people and the exquisite calamari at The Boat Yard in Dingle. I’m probably your biggest English fan. (apart from people who can actually afford a second home in you but I’m working on that)

I know we’re from different places and I wouldn’t normally ask you of anything, but please, go out and vote. Secondly, if you find it within your power to ‘vote yes’ then please do. There has been a lot of scaremongering by the ‘no’ campaign which has deviated from the true issue which is simply this:
I love my girlfriend.
One day I’d like to marry her.
If I kick the bucket she should be entitled to any cash I may have and our worldly possessions.
I’d like us to have the same rights that my mother and father have.
That’s it.
Sure, it’d be great to have an all out wedding party on the Cliffs of Moher, but genuinely, we just want to be equal.

I wish you well today, Ireland. I hope the polls are true (still bitter) and you get to celebrate your own success as the first country to pass equal marriage by public vote. You deserve it.

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Milibrand: joke or triumph?

milibrandAs we draw into the final week of the election campaign it’s clear we’re all feeling bewildered and weary. Probably not half as weary as the rightwing media machine felt upon hearing Ed Miliband’s plan to meet with Russell Brand for an interview. Cue sneering.

Self confessed ‘man of the people’ millionaire Russell shows Ed into his East London pad. Think ‘Cribs’ gone politico with some elaborate tap furniture thrown in for good measure. It’s too easy to dismiss Brand as non voting, sex obsessed idiot. He may be all of those things (and more), but he’s also not afraid to challenge economic social injustices in this country which is a tick in my book.

What Brand lacks in interview technique, he certainly makes up for in personal space invasion and words. Lots of them. It takes Ed over a minute to get a point in. Not perturbed by Brand’s spiel, Ed manages to hammer a few points home. Nay to euphoria, corporate tax avoidance and Murdoch. Aye to voting, the NHS and equal pay. He even glotalises a few t’s and throws an ‘aint’ or two around to show he’s down with the disillusioned youth. Whether it was this that sent Brand reaching for his glass water bottle for a mid interview swig – I can’t be sure.

It’s not the greatest interview in the world. But it serves a purpose to both Brand and Miliband and I dare say the YouTube hits will be enough to send Cameron off to bed with a stiff drink. Miliband held his own and proved he has more balls than Cameron for agreeing to the interview in the first place. Let’s not forget the song and dance Cameron made about the television debates. Diva.

My only concern is if the Labour party were hoping to use this meeting with Brand to influence the 18-24 bracket into voting, should they not have staged this interview before the voting registration deadline?

I’ll leave you to ponder that question whilst I try and figure out what on Earth Brand uses that outlandish kitchen tap for…

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