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Whether t'is Nobler In The Mind To Suffer, Part 1

Hey there Bazlingtons! Are we well? And good, and healthy? These aren't just pleasantries (though it is pleasant and we care about you all lots) it's a deeper question. So, riddle us this: as an actor, you must disappear into a role, behave, act in a way that is not yourself, right? (we promise it won’t be the simplistic all the way through) but in this split personality, and the divide between actor and role, issues, trauma even, can fester and grow - and a need for support and awareness of this issue, is only just coming to light. It’s often tamped down, the run is only six weeks or whatever, no I don’t need to talk about it, I’ll lose my focus, etc, but as we all know repression is dangerous, and the repeated action, say of playing a reprehensible or disturbing role, in a eight show week can make the tear wider. Something of a hushed-up side effect of the acting industry had stayed hidden somewhat in all this recent, modern ownership of mental health in the population generally, so why has this effect on the acting profession been so ignored?

 

Fantastic imperatives such as National Mental Health Awareness week are great, but they are soon over, and the issue isn’t  - 1 in 6 people will have experienced a mental health issue this week alone. A nationwide, worldwide issue, there's so much to be said about stigma, seeking help, and helping each other - and we want to focus on a particular issue that's come to light. We here at Baz have talked about mental health and the arts - what defines an  'artist’ in our blogs before, and the view that’s normally held water is that there is an element of 'madness' to the creative mind, and so it is upheld, solidified as a stereotype and we all move on, yes? Well, no. In this era of social media and blogging, many actors, artists and musicians have been honest and frank about their struggles - and how issues, far from the necessary evil that makes one a genuii, can hold you back. The romanticism surrounding the chaotic and often harsh realities of mental health has, not surprisingly, not done the stigma any favours. However, in this blog we want to look past the set, costume, stage, lighting- and to the time away from the spotlight - and to the strain of the profession - as art can sometimes imitate life.

So. We want to talk about actors. Here at Baz we are a close-knit yet open and frank community - we love the actors we work with-  and it is an imperative that we always provide a safe, open, equal and secure environment for our actors to do their best most honest work, and not at the cost of their equilibrium. Our most recent work at Wilton's Music Hall, where we R&D our version of The Trial with hearing and D/deaf actors was, like most of our work, planned before we entered the rehearsal room - but we found it necessary, more than, to hold regular talks, debates and invite members of the D/deaf community into our rehearsal room and process, learning a great deal about the struggles that community faces in order for our story to do them justice, at the cost of an audience feeling uncomfortable, but ultimately, informed. As a company, we're looking at works and classics that show the truths of life: the struggles, the faults - in our production of dreamplay we had actors stretch themselves to the limits of their limitless abilities, in a safe and encouraging environment in order to bring raw, true theatre to our audiences.

Drama, or to refer it by Aristotle's definition of 'tragedy' is, 'the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself . . . with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.' Well. That sounds jolly. And boy did they get serious in their catharses: Ancient Greeks pushed the boundaries of plot and storyline to still shocking lengths and this has not abated throughout the centuries. Great actors of the ages have emulated the madness of  King George VI, King Lear, Ophelia, Oedipus, Medea, Hedda Gaebler, Lady Macbeth and Yerma - all roles that and transported us with their talents and skill - but to do so every night? It's a given, it's what the actor must do - but have we ignored the wear and tear of the repeated action? With the classics, there is a distance that can be afforded - after all, who nowadays can relate to a king or queen? (open statement: we'll leave it at that, ahem) but what about roles that are not so desirable, or so distant and 'safe' in their academia?

After the turn of the century we were treated to many an undesirable - from Dickens' wronguns, to Pinter's despicables, theatre and writing in general is littered with baddies. Whilst this is the prerogative of the writer, and in most cases, a necessary stock character, these bad apples are, at least in the modern pantheon, meant to get us thinking, meant to show us the worst of the world to educate us. The boundaries of these 'lessons' we'll talk about another time, our focus is on the actors - imitating murderers, both real and imagined, peodophiles, abusers - every night on stage and the effect it has on the psyche - for too long now, perhaps the idea of the  actor as many things, has omitted the one of vulnerable to toxicity and damaged mental health.

So - what can be done? Apart from a constant and encouraging  year-round movements, charities and Mental Health Week, as we mentioned earlier, which boasts a fantastic hashtag full of positivity, bravery and ownership of issues. This is all fantastic, but Baz were delighted to learn of Equity, the Actor's Union, launching Arts Minds, a fantastic new prerogative that listened and provided a space to share issues within a community of artists and peers. It's a fantastic step forward, and with it, no few column inches to the strain of mental health for actors, such as Lyn Gardner’s inciting article on the strain of mental health on actors for The Stage. Indeed, last year's Fringe Festival brimmed with plays that tackled depression, PTSD and a host of often maligned issues - and this year looks to be no exception - it seems we are finally ready to open up debate, share, and heal.

Cheers to them, and here's hoping the directive spreads - whilst we still have some way to go, these little starts, little patches of stigma, judgement, repression and ignorance on mental health and creatives will start to grow more green, overgrown and bear more fruit.

Talk soon, exciting news to come!

Best,

Baz x

 

 

 

 

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Greeks Bring Gifts: Time For A Rebirth of Critical Theatre?

Peter Capaldi playing Malcolm Tucker outside Downing St - both intimidating you to read this blog and starring in the meta-ultra critical and satirical  Thick of It.  TV has a handle on this satire stuff...does theatre need to catch up and snatch back the crown?

Peter Capaldi playing Malcolm Tucker outside Downing St - both intimidating you to read this blog and starring in the meta-ultra critical and satirical Thick of It. TV has a handle on this satire stuff...does theatre need to catch up and snatch back the crown?

Bazlings! We are supremely sorry for what we’re calling, for the want of a better word, our hibernation (Clocks went back yesterday…get it?) But we have all, separately and together, been doing our things: from directing, acting, and bringing up kids…check out our Twitter: @baz_productions and our Instagram of the same name for proof, y’all: we got it all, recommendations, updates, all sorts! But this here is out blog and we are back, charged up and better than ever! What’s more, we’re about to drop some history on ya…so watch out!

London, or Londinium, when it was, shall we call it, ‘hostile takeover’-ed in somewhere 100AD by the Romans actually led to a lot we still call home – pasta, religion and those lovely ladies of the arts, the Muses. Also, aqueducts. For all this influence though, it seems as if the modern theatre came from Greece and the great Amphitheatres of the age. Here, 5th century tragic playwrights such as Euripides and Sophocles didn’t only stage the heavyweights of Electra and Oedipus, they also wrote about current invasions, wars and political decisions, often staging their work in the theatres placed right next to the buildings of government. Imagine it- you’re a lawmaker, going about your daily business, deciding who lives and who dies, where to invade next, etc – and you hear the commotion of you being played by an actor in a silly voice, mimicking your voice and actions – and people laughing at it, at this, an age of literal marketplace backstabbing. Now that takes some cajones.

Of course, the act of satire is not new to us: Beyond the Fringe had Dudley, Peter, Alan and Jonathan take aim at Harold MacMillan, who was sitting in the audience, Tom Lehrer was writing funny songs about who’s got the bomb in the nervous 60s, Spitting Image saw the Royal Family at a typical dinner, and most recently, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin – have, you could argue, won against Sarah Palin and President Trump respectively. In the cloudy, faraway mists of the past, however, it seems these playwrights were the first People’s Champions – playing a game of Russian Roulette for their art. Some recent academic thinking sees a strong link between Athenian Tragedy and Democracy, and treat the original plays as historical documents that tell us in more detail, and more astutely then any other kind of record.

These old texts asked moral questions of an audience that had suffered or lived through the actions it staged – sometimes even mocking authority - and was flocked to by all manner of fare – from the farmer to the lawmaker. It’s not surprising, then that fine actors of the age blurred the line between performer and politician – namely a bloke called Aeschines, a popular actor of the age, hired by would be king Philip, father of Alexander the Great to plead his case for taking over said actor’s township. It’s both extraordinary and not, as you hear hyperbole in recent elections of how politicians look, sound, and exude their charisma – not so much politic as chic. Still, plays and their writers had more than a view on the social climate, the affected it – it seems unfathomable now that theatre could affect policy – in this current state the arts find themselves in of self-sufficiency and theatre making for change and representation thankfully still going, but off site – these plays went to the masses. We could learn something from these much lauded, seemingly limitlessly brave writers and orators.

A lot has happened since Ancient Greek theatre – and its not as if these traditional methods didn’t come back, often with a vengeance – after all Reagan, an actor, achieved terms as a serving American President, and Arnie is currently running California, so the charm of the film star has been known to reach out of the screen – and here in England, we have a tradition of actor-activists, from Jessica Hynes' powerful BAFTA speech, Hugh Grant’s work with Hacked Off, Stephen Fry’s campaign for mental health and recently Michael Sheen’s semi retirement from acting to launch his fair loan scheme, inspired by the struggles he witnessed with unregulated lenders in his native Wales.

A fundamental right is that of freedom of speech – but if we return to the age of the snap reaction plays – say, a play set behind the scenes at Whitehall on the night of the Brexit vote– would we get in trouble? Can we only make critical theatre when the subject is dead and gone- what are the laws on this? Censorship on theatre was only lifted in the late 20th Century, are we still at an impasse – and is theatre too polite? As we always say, we here at Baz want to engage you, push you and interact with you – but will our time be long gone before that’s the norm?

We here at Baz don’t know – but if there’s anything we want to do, it’s to tell truths and represent real people and stories. We have done this in the past through Ancient Text – our 2013 Prophesy was our take on the Greek Myth – but it seems the old Athenians had more to offer than previously thought, as new texts are being discovered all the time, and all that is old is new again. Perhaps.

 

Boom. And that is how you drop some history!

Oh and this blog is proudly pro-Cynthia Nixon for NY Governor by the way. Come on guys, really

Big love, til next time!

 

Baz

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Good Visibility, Clear Spells

Ah hello Bazzers. We’ve missed you these past few weeks - we hope you are keeping well and busy - because we are too! (yes yes we’ve just done that annoying dinner party question where you ask someone something that’s a lead into a humblebrag...don’t judge us) And because we’re not quite ready give up on summer yet (the branches of the nearest tree are tapping at Baz HQ windows incessantly today but we’re still wearing sunglasses inside) we thought our sunny attitude would suit our latest favourite trend in the arts - that of representation and conscious inclusivity (yes we did coin that, you’re welcome, we’re not just a pretty face)

As the hazy summer of the Edinburgh Festival starts to clear, and again, the range of talent, imagination and excellence of what (interesting and smart) happenings at the Edinburgh Festival, hopefully doesn’t stay there - news has returned of fabulously funny jokes, new talents, exciting dance performances and new ways of presenting work. And we’ve been thrilled to note all done by a new wave of acting, dancing and comedic talent from ridiculously able disabled performers, and D/deaf actors - unrepresented artists signalling the latest change in the arts - making the invisible, visible.

Of course, the  likes of Graeae, a theatre company running for years doing great work both onstage and off to promote a new generation of performers, constantly pushing the envelope and making great strides for decades. However, it seems Edinburgh Festival was all about representation this year: and not just for visability’s sake - also to approach old text in new ways - take for example a relaxed performance of Samuel Beckett’s seminal ‘Not I’ - a 20 minute, speed of thought monologue first performed by Billie Whitelaw in 1973, as she was suspended in absolute darkness above the stage, with only her fastly moving mouth visible. In a nod to inclusivity - this new performance still features an excellent actress in the role, but this time also with a sign language interpreter and performer including the audience and making the piece a different animal altogether - receiving rave reviews and earning a spot in the Battersea Arts Centre listings later this year.

Fantastic dreamplay producer Liz Counsell also recently produced and worked on the latest Deaf Men Dancing show - a brilliant showcase of dancing, talent, representation and LGBT awareness - again to great reviews. And the brilliant Reasons To Be Cheerful - a musical poised to strike later this year, inspired by Ian Dury’s story has won great audiences and acclaim. And interesting fact: Baz trainee director Stephen Lloyd is attached to this brilliant project, double win. More theatre companies, grants and opportunities for d/Deaf and disabled performers are becoming available every year - with Graeae launching writing opportunities too - marking a real commitment for inclusivity in every element of the arts. DaDa Festival grants, the Accessible Edinburgh Awards this year polled visitors to shows and awarded venues, artists and theatre companies alike for their commitment to reaching new audiences with a fresh wave of talent in everything from comedy, music, dance and theatre. And with the ever popular Brighton Fringe Fest making brilliant promises for their accessibility and programme too, these are truly exciting times to be making art.

To that end, we ourselves had the pleasure to meet D/deaf and disabled artists for a casting call for our next big project and left it more excited than ever to not only present our work, but also to introduce a new year of performers we’ll be so proud to call Bazzers and join the team - with the arts under threat it’s now more important than ever that we push forward new agendas, send the money where it needs to go, and appeal to new audiences and the next performers of tomorrow. Come and join the party, the weather’s clearing up, sunny skies ahead. We can’t wait to get started!

Here just to show that anything can be possible, deaf model, winner of America’s Next Top Model and advocate Nyle DiMarco, mastering the cha cha on America’s answer to Strictly Come Dancing - all done with hard work, rehearsal, and counting despite not being able to hear a beat. Amazing. Oh and fair warning, the shirt comes undone around the 0.13 mark. We say warning….you're welcome.

Love, Baz

xx

 

 

 

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She Stoops, She Conquers, She Scores - Women in Theatre

Hello Bazzers!

Early Edwardian Actress Lucy Weston who graced the stage - in fine fashions. 

Early Edwardian Actress Lucy Weston who graced the stage - in fine fashions. 

Oh how we’ve missed you- we’re back and brought some Spring with us! In fields of Daffs, hot cross buns (yes, fields of buns, think about it...it  would be so soft and tasty) and bunny wabbits - we thought we might spring forward like the BST clocks we are and take a wide look about how it’s going with women in theatre as a whole.

As you do.

So get your buns out the oven (steady) and let us review shall we? Current political climate notwithstanding, things are looking a tad brighter than they have been for a while - high profile events such as Tonic Theatre’s Lucy Kerbel bringing out an excellent book, All Change Please using hard fact and testimony to provide all the material you’d ever need to lay a convincing case of ‘be better to us’ to the jury and the arts industry as a whole. Tamsin Greig has won everyone over as Malvolia at the National in Twelth Night and it’s just been announced that Josette Simon will be playing Cleopatra in a hotly anticipated production of Anthony and Cleopatra at the RSC (great article here about the powerful woman/whore dichotomy in the Guardian this week) https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/21/josette-simon-cleopatra-rsc-shakespeare) Also, the ever brilliant Baz patron and our favourite Ceasar ever, Harriet Walter talked about her new book, and taking on the male canon in her inimitable style and to great critic acclaim in Brutus and Other Heroines.

So far so good? Well yes, but something goes up, something else must come down. Emma Rice’s well-documented run as artistic director of the Globe continues to make headlines, and it’s hard not to note that now, with one less female artistic director at the helm, there’s still very few running buildings in the UK. We are all for inclusivity, diversity and women in theatre as a whole, but it seems as if this is only just about stretching to the actors. We need more producers, directors, stage managers, artistic directors and soon. Goodness knows that once indoctrinated with a lack of diversity, opportunity, or even misogyny and racism, it becomes a new norm.

So what can we do about it?

Well. We here at Baz have a gorgeous team of women running the show - our trinity of founders are an impressive array of producers, writers, actors and practitioners - our producers, set designers trainee directors, even our blogger all share an x chromosome and it’s obviously at the top of our list when we look over actors we love for our productions - that, and obviously diversity. It’s been in our manifesto since day one And we are not alone in this - many theatre companies such as Kneehigh, Punchdrunk impress a difference on the theatre landscape in their casting and the landscape shifts a little more in the right direction.

But as ever, not all opportunities, or indeed all doors are open to the just off the University roll call producer/designer/director -but never fear, Baz is here - with a list of things to check out n do:

  • Tonic Theatre events - Go.To.These. It’s a great place where the shiny happy people go and of COURSE where great female-facing projects and books are launched that you already love and want to read cos you wouldn’t be reading this if not. Wink.

  • Women@Rada - A fantastic free initiative at RADA for female playwrights only - lovely nights where the next generation of female playwrights get to show some work - a fantastic platform for writer and performer alike.

  • Directors Programme at Young Vic - A fantastic long running directors training programme at the Young Vic - a programme all of it’s own kind that has brought much talent to the foreground. A wonderful initiative! 
  • Sphinx Theatre Company - Apart from programming some excellent female led theatre, this company regularly runs festivals, opportunities and is generally a great resource of stuff to do with women in theatre. Thumbs up.
  • Bechdel Theatre - So relevant it has it’s own test named after it - another behemoth of theme and concept led theatre, their latest project required recorded conversation between women for their latest piece. Inclusive, strident and outspoken. We dig it.

 

Apart from that - see it all! Go to the first nights, meet the people ,take the opportunity and the lead ...you never know where it will get you. And ahem, one other suggestion, if we may…

  • Baz Productions - C’mooon. We had to. PLUS we are really cool and love theatrical ladies so stick that in your pipe.

In all seriousness though, it is all in our hands - and sure this industry is a tough pill to swallow at times, and a main reason Baz exists is that we felt the situation was so dire we decided to step up and make it ourselves, but triumph comes out of adversity. Be the missing piece that fits into that slot. Nothing is achieved unless you open the door to it. We need to stick with each other and stand on each other’s shoulders. Now more than ever.

We’re rather good at this. Maybe we should sideline in life coaching?

There’s a stat floating around that states ‘Women speak up 75% less when they’re surrounded by men.’

*beats path to Destiny’s Child soundtrack*

We believe in you. Now get out an hustle!

Big Lady Love,

Baz xx

 

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2016 Was Amazing (Theatrically Speaking)

How you all doing? We don’t know a lot, other than it’s cold, there’s sugary seasonal drinks on offer, it’s getting darker earlier, and the lights are getting fancier. It must be coming up to that famous end of year festival. So we’d like to take this opportunity to take a break from internet deals and figuring out which socket will take the fairy lights to concentrate on the end of year part and take a trip down memory lane to some of our most favourite theatre trends/moments of 2016 (excluding our dreamplay at the Vaults, obvs. We think about that a lot.)

So, it may not have been a great year for anything (read: everything else) in the world but theatre had a pretty good year off it. There was good news for women, diversity and theatre finding an accessible, no-holds barred voice in the face of threats to the arts and culture itself. When threatened, the creature that is theatre spreads more seeds of genius further and wider. Hell, even hateful not-too-distant-future Republican Vice Presidents knew Hamilton was ‘a thing’ – and once again the theatre community showed its worth by coming together and presenting him with a fair address – all while dressed as founding fathers. Proof if ever needed The Arts is that group of cool people at the bar that you really want to be friends with.

But it’s been a great year for Shakespeare, a bumper 400th birthday – a Lear around every corner, a Macbeth here, a trilogy there – but most importantly, Britain seems to have conspired to serve Shakespeare with a twist of lemon – Forced Entertainment’s Tabletop Shakespeare adding lemon, ketchup, gin, bleach: basically anything that’s to hand for their impressive and somehow endearing Shakespeare retellings. With Emma Rice’s landmark appointment to artistic director of the Globe, we enjoyed beautiful, lush imaginings of his worlds, right through to Ray Fearon’s Macbeth, and the regular inclusion of amazing actors with disabilities in her casts, it’s been a real rejuvenation of that space, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll be up to next.

Josie Rourke at the Donmar, presented along with Baz Patron Harriet Walter an absolute belter of a trilogy this year –sure you’ve seen Harry Hotspur and Kate quarrel about his disloyalty to the king, but have you seen it set in a English Women’s prison?  - be prepared for that particular context to make the most sense ever. A stunning production. Of course, currently Glenda Jackson is shaking the windows at the Old Vic as Queen Lear – and RSC productions, including Cymbeline at the Barbican displaying more diversity and talent than ever.

It’s also been a good year for nostalgia with an interesting slant – sure you’ve seen Groundhog Day millions of times, but have you seen it set to music and a tap shuffle? Read all the Harry Potter books? Well here it is, live as you live and breathe with apparently amazing stage effects. Think you read all of Samuel Beckett’s work? Wait, we found another one. In an age where all art, be it paint, sculpture, tv, film, or music is having to work harder and harder to keep our waning attention spans, this year’s theatre has shown there’s life in the old girl yet. She may well outlive us all.

Really, there was just too much to mention here: some amazing standout performances by folk you knew but didn’t know could do that, to folk you didn’t know but now know of because they are so good at that – whew, that was a coffee fuelled thought- 2016 could have easily pulled us all under (and had more than enough real drama in it to fill eight volumes of a tragic opus) but a mix of nostalgia, fun, inclusivity and risk-taking made it, in our opinion, a bumper year for culture and the arts. Of course, there is always more work to be done, more outreach and representation, but with the way things are going, that faint glow of optimism, all but put out by the crap the year has put us through is starting to spark. From remembering Bowie in Lazarus to Amadeus at the National, the theatre is still appointment viewing. In the words of London mayor, London is Open: and our stages and audiences reflected it.

Obviously for us, it was a fantastic year for our run of dreamplay at the Vaults, our education programme, outreach, and flying the flag for site-specific theatre. We can always go further though, and Baz is ready for the new year! C’mon then 2017, if you think you’re hard enough.

*delicately sips eggnog* dammit, Christmas, surprise attack.

Big love and high fives,

Baz xx

 

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Signals: A Baz Blog on Good Things in the Theatre

Rakish Charm...Gwyneth Paltrow showing that all you need is a cod-piece, a false beard, firm handshake and you've made it. You're an actor in Shakey times! Shakespeare In Love, 1999

Hi there Baztecs! (too weird? Sorry.) I know right? Two Blog posts in a week! Well, it’s only because we love you all so much – and like the ‘fun aunt’ we’ll keep going with the treats until there is an Augustus Gloop type situation. We are looking forward to that. Anyway, we here at Baz like to chat and share what we are up to, and how we respond to modern British theatre: what it encourages and what it lacks, and thought this Baz Blog should be shining a light on positive signals and flares coming from the theatre world – and things that get Baz excited and pleased to be part of the landscape. Bullet points ahoy!  

 

 

  • The Tate Modern gets its first-ever-in-the-history-of ever female director in Francis Morris  http://www.a-n.co.uk/news/new-director-of-tate-modern-announced (Baz heard this name on the radio and assumed it was another male appointment and then nearly spat tea everywhere) Fantastic to have a woman running a big building in central London, looking forward for visiting + inspirations very soon.

 

 

  • A forever shout out to the all round good folk/fiercely talented/ dedicated/ samaritans/warroriors at Act For Change working to banish theatre inequality based on gender, race, sexuality, and disability are a treasure trove of sources of material, wonderful events and talks and the latest news: http://www.act-for-change.com

 

  • And another shoutout to the fantastic work that the fantastic people at Sphinx Theatre  produce, with regular groundbreaking shows, talks and salons on tackling how 52% of the population speak for such a small number of voices in the arts http://www.sphinxtheatre.co.uk and also to Talawa Theatre Company with vibrant, important work and opportunites  always reaching out to the BAME community, and with an wonderful version of King Lear in Birmingham and a smash with Theresa Ikoko’s Girls, it has remained a touchstone of emerging talent and new writing:  http://www.talawa.com/about/ and the same can certainly be said of Tamasha Theatre http://www.tamasha.org.uk who continue to offer wonderful opportunities for new writers and work about the multiculturalism of Britain today.

 

 

  • How could we ignore the momentous occasion that is an female Henry V about to open at the Open Air Theatre in honour of Shakespeare 400 and bound to be every bit of a chest-bump as the original as well as a pleasing reversal of the Shakespearian male: female ratio. 
    https://openairtheatre.com/production/henry-v

 

  • And finally, Bechdel Theatre's awesome work and aims are surpassed by their new venture of recommending Bechdel-passing theatre, setting a date, visiting in a group then discussing it afterwards with the actors, writers and directors. Like some kind of awesome book club but with moving people – the next one in in July: https://bechdeltheatre.com/bechdel-theatre-festival/

 

There. That should sort of set you up, for forever. No need to thank us (there’s no expectation, really, so bin that box of chocolates idea...really) just do so by getting out there and experiencing the art, the culture and the something a little bit off the main path. Then talk about it, gesticulating wildly with red wine in hand. Everyone’s a winner. Just remember white wine doesn’t get red wine out of cotton. That’s a myth.

Just a tip.

Happy theatre-ing! You lucky so-and-sos.

Baz x

 

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