Monday, 26 December 2011

Halfway out of the dark

So, apparently it was Christmas yesterday or something. I got series 6 of Doctor Who and some other stuff. OK, it's not that I don't care about my Christmas presents, it's just that I don't want to talk about them at this point in the post. I only bring up the DVDs because the post title is a quote from last year's DW Christmas special, which I rewatched earlier. Y'know, linking Christmas to the Winter Solstice. I rather like the turn of phrase, and it's kind of applicable to me as well, though not to this blog.
So, yeah, the blog event here is that this is my 50th post. Milestone! And this is why the title doesn't apply to it. Because while it would be nice to say I'll be out of the dark by post 100, I really don't want to try and predict or promise anything. Also, that would imply my first 50 posts were going through the dark, which they weren't really.

OK, so the dark here is figurative for me having various issues, which is one of the reasons I became rubbish at blogging regularly. The other main reason, ironically, was that I wanted to improve this blog. Because I wanted to improve it, I made it rubbish by not posting anything.
Because, you see, 50 posts. That's pretty big as far as I'm concerned. I wanted to do something special. Kind of revamp the look of the blog. Because while the space-y background is kinda cool, I'd rather have something more fitting to me and the ideas behind the blog. So I was going to draw some stuff. I still intend to, but I didn't want to put this off any longer. Once I'm past my milestone, I can just post whatever I like, and hopefully I'll get to doing those drawings and changing the look sooner or later, or at least before I hit 100 posts. So hopefully the current background will soon enough be replaced with the fruits of my dubious Inkscape skills, in the shape of dinosaurs (Who are me), spaceships (Which are not me), a singing mouse on the road to Hell (Who is me), maybe a pocketwatch (Which is me), and me (Who is, surprisingly enough, me) with a variety of boxes on my head. Also the boxes. Hopefully it'll look decent. If not, I can always give up or ask someone with artistic talent to do it for me. But I'd like to do it myself if I can.
Also meaning to rejig the post tags, possibly add some static pages to help navigate things and to help out confused new readers (Just on the offchance I acquire some from somewhere).

So, yeah, anyway. Since I started this blog a fair amount has happened in my life. I'm not going to talk about all of it, but a sort of general update along those lines was one of the things I had in mind for this post, so let's see...
..trying to think of things I haven't actually posted about on this blog anyway... I would seem sort of redundant to say I'd been in *counts* 6 shows since starting this, since I blogged about all of them when they happened.
Um, I turned 23? I got closer to some friends, drifted away from others. I failed to find a job, leading to something of a nagging feeling of inadequacy? Maybe I should come back to that later.

I got much more into following assorted youtubers. That's definitely a thing. I think I've mentioned in other posts (Sidenote in case  you weren't aware: while I think my posts through fairly thoroughly before writing them, afterwards I forget most of the details) that I could potentially see myself becoming at least a bit of a video blogger? But that I'd likely stick much more to text-blogging on here, just supplemented by videos. I still feel like that, but the draw of youtube is becoming stronger. While even a few months before I started blogging the concept just woul've seemed like something I would never do. It's interesting to note myself changing still, despite having reached a point in my life where I feel like I'm not really going to change that much (Though I'm pretty sure I've felt like that before...)
Also, coming to the realisation that, regardless of how bad I may be at regularly updating with stuff, blogging really is something I'd like to do more - hence why I want to spruce everything up a bit. Hell, if I could somehow manage to get myself paid to blog, that'd be amazing, because I do really enjoy this. Plus then I could describe myself as "professionally opinionated".

We're veering back towards how I want to possibly change up the blog a bit, but that's really what I want to mostly end on, so let's get back to my nagging feelings of inadequacy.

Quick point before I get into any of this: I do not want your pity. I don't know if I'll evoke your pity, because I don't know what I'm going to say yet, but regardless, I don't want it. I'm OK with support, helpful advice (So not obvious stuff that I already know), and/or possibly a kick up the backside to get me moving (Preferably not a literal, physical one).
Anyway. So. I don't have a job. It's hard to find one. I've been gradually screwing up my sleep pattern of late, and spending an inordinate amount of time playing video games. I don't want to get into talking about video game compulsion here - that's to be a separate blog post. But yeah. I kind of feel like my life has mostly been slowly falling apart, and I don't think being aware of this potentially self-destructive direction really makes it any better. I mean, sure, I'm still in control, and being in control is good. But on the other hand, that means I'm continuing to do these things despite knowing they're bad ideas, which begs the question "Why?" And I don't know if I really have an answer.
I mean, I put on a decent show of not being a total wreck. I'm fine in what social life I have - G&S rehearsals, the occasional chess match (Though admittedly sometimes I'm distracted and make terrible moves and lose to small children), parties, etc, these I can deal with. I guess this is another reason I don't want pity, and also why I don't generally want to get into this too much - in those contexts, I am still fine. I would rather maintain that fine-ness untainted. Having these parts of my life which still definitely work will help me feel better about working through fixing the parts which aren't so great right now.

And I am kind of trying to claw my way back towards productivity and stuff. Making that clear, just in case you were getting depressed/bored/exasperated with how useless I apparently am. Iam working on dragging myself out of this pit I've dug myself into. Hell, this post is kind of an indication of that. Blogging may not seem like the most productive thing I could be doing, but it's all about the mindset, and this is good for my mindset. This is why I could kind of describe myself as "halfway out of the dark". And this is what I don't want to make promises or predictions about. All I can do is take things as they come. Sort out one aspect of my life, then another, and another, until things are good again. This may take a while, and since blogging seems to be the first thing I'm going for here, and knowing how much I can blog if I really get into it, I really don't want to set myself a deadline in blog posts. If I get too into it, I have to actually rein myself in to avoid writing more than one post a day.

So, yeah, OK, enough about the depressing aspects of my life. More about what I'm going to be blogging about. I realised an issue I have. One of the things I kind of want to be doing is reviewing, or at least commenting on books, films, TV series, games etc. But here's the problem: I hate giving people spoilers. So, I have made some posts like that, taking great care to avoid spoilers. Games are easier, since the plot is not the msot important aspect of most games - the gameplay is. The other things, though? Stories. They're hard to really give my full opinions on without giving some spoilers.
So, I'm not 100% decided what I'm doing about this. I may end up making two posts about such things - one spioler-free, one with spoilers. And give suitable warnings, of course, so people can avoid the spoiler-posts if they want. do it all in one post, but mark off spoilers, so people can skip over them if they want. Or I might just take advantage of things old enough that I don't care about spoiling them. Maybe a mixture of the three, depending on circumstances. Well, I know I'm definitely doing some of the third. I was rather happy with my post about The Once and Future King, for all I fear it may have provoked a tl;dr from some readers. And why? It's the Arthurian legend. People know the gist of it pretty damn well at this point. I didn't have to worry about spoilers. There are other things like this. Of course I do it with Gilbert & Sullivan. I'd do it with Shakespeare plays. Because not only do a lot of people already know the storylines, it doesn't matter if they do, because the events are not the most important thing in any case. The most important thing is how they're presented. How TOaFK is written, and gets across the emotions and the characters. How the operettas and plays are performed by the actors, and again, get across the emotions and the characters.

On the other hand, there are also things where the story does matter, but people know it well enough that I don't really care about spoiling it at this point. For my big example of this, I have to bring up one of my other ideas - projects. I am retroactively dubbing my abortive NaNoWriMoWroMo as a project (Incidentally, I almost did NaNoWriMo, signed up for an account, then slacked off because I'm lazy), and deciding to do more projects. That is, basically looking at things more in-depth over multiple posts, because if I tried to cram all my thoughts into a single post either I would be leaving out important detail (An idea which is fairly abhorrent to me, as anyone should know who has ever talked to me about film adaptations of books) or the posts would be obscenely long, even by my standards. So, divide them up, take my time, pad my postcount, and so on. So here announcing one of my next projects - I am going to take a fairly in-depth look at the Harry Potter series. Books and films. Spoilers will abound, because really, I think if anyone hasn't read/watched them by now, I'm pretty sure they don't actually care. Thinking about it, while it's bad that I delayed writing this post so long, it's actually kind of convenient, because we now have all the films on DVD, in the house, so I can rewatch them easily - indeed I can rewatch them on my laptop, and make notes/write my blog post while watching.

So, yeah. Those are the main things content-wise. I also have an odd idea about categorising my posts. Three categories - Dinosaur, Mouse, and Box. Dinosaur posts are ones where I'm talking about a thing - a book, a film, a game, whatever. Box posts are where I'm talking about a type of things - books in general, films in general, games in general, etc. Mouse posts are where I'm talking about things that are abstract/conceptual (Not sure if either of these words is quite right but hopefully you get what I mean), like love, religion, etc.
Or, to put it another way:
Dinosaur posts are me talking with a particular box on my head.
Box posts are me talking about what's on the box, and what I am when I put said box on my head.
Mouse posts are me saying what I think about interesting ideas/concepts. But I'm just a singing mouse on the road to Hell. What do I know?

Let's see, anything else... I think the point where my posting rate really started to go downhill was around the Steam Summer Sale, because I was originally thinking of putting some general update on games in this post, mentioning what I'd got in the sale. Now we're into the Steam Christmas Sale... But I guess I could still do it. But actually, I'll put it kind of into a video in which I'll talk about some of the things which I intend to be blogging about in the future (Which will include some of those games).
Having just recorded the video... scratch that. Maybe I'll post about it some other time, or maybe you'll just find out what some of the games I have are when I post about them. No comprehennsive list for you!
Anyway, here's the video:

I'm afraid I rambled a bit. Need to work on not doing that so much.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Just a singing mouse on the road to Hell

Original source of the title has little to do with the subject of the post. In fact it came from a conversation on the GitP facebook chat about having difficulty coming up with inspiration for writing, where Koorly declared she could come up with a story on the spot from just a simple prompt (Character/place/event or something like that, I don't remember exactly). And one of these stories she then came up with included a singing mouse on the road to Hell. I just thought that was a cool idea and decided to appropriate it as an analogy for myself, because it spoke to me in the same sort of way as the boxes on head, dinosaur not a spaceship comment which led to the titling of the whole blog.

So, anyway. This is a post I've been meaning to write for ages, but haven't. Not, like so many other subjects, because I just haven't gotten my thoughts properly lined up, because I haven't thought it through enough, or because I've always wanted to write about something else first; but because it's potentially a rather contentious subject. Now granted, hardly anyone reads this blog, but I'd quite like that to change, and even then I still don't want to go offending people. On the other hand, I believe in being true to oneself, so here goes.

This post is about religion, and my views on it. Or at least some of my views on it, and why traditional religions don't really work for me. Given some of the thoughts I've had, the fact I'm still not entirely sure how this blog post is going to come out, the aforementioned contentious nature of the subject, and the well-known problem on the internet of text not transmitting tone, I feel I shoudl put a brief disclaimer at the start here: I am not against religion. I do not think religion is a bad thing, and I do not have any problem with people being religious. People can believe what they want, if it helps them get through their lives, and that's all fine and dandy. But I do have issues with some aspects of religion, which apart from anything else, very definitely preclude me devoting myself to any so-called 'real' religion.

And now I'm wondering if people, should they read this, will be offended by the "so-called 'real'" there. Didn't take long for me to start worrying about potential contention. Off to a good start!

So let's begin: Religion is not exempt from scrutiny.
This is a relatively common point, but I still feel it needs to be made. People get very invested in their religious beliefs, to the point where they will be outraged at anyone daring to even question them. This is a big reason why it's such a contentious subject. People get very defensive about their beliefs. At least in some cases I suspect this may be partly to convince themselves, and avoid facing up to the fact their beliefs are not 100% internally consistent.
Anyway, whatever the reasons, there is this generally propagated feeling that while all other opinions are up for debate or argument and we can contradict them howsoever we want, religious beliefs are somehow special and exempt from this, and have to be respected. I call bull.
Religious beliefs are no more worthy of respect than any other beliefs. They're all just beliefs. Remember: nothing is inherently serious, only as serious as we choose to take it. Religion is no exception to this. Religious beliefs shouldn't get special treatment in the context of beliefs any more than literary fiction should in the context of literature. I'm sure there are other examples.
And equally, no religion is more serious than any other, and their beliefs should carry the same weight. For example, I don't follow any 'real' religion. That is, any religion that is generally recognised as being a religion. But the inverted commas on 'real' are important here. On facebook, my religious views are entered as "Curly, Goddess of the Written Word" - the only reason it doesn't say that on my census form is because I couldn't think of a decent word for a follower of the religion (c.f. 'christian', 'muslim', 'buddhist', etc). And while on the one hand it's kind of a joke, on the other it is actually the closest I come to genuine religious belief. Or, for a more well-known example, consider the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I imagine there are pastafarians who hold to their beliefs quite strongly. Should my beliefs, or theirs, be considered any less worthy of respect than those of a christian, just because Christianity has been around for centuries longer and has more devotees than either of our religions? No.
...which is another reason why religious beliefs shouldn't get any additional respect - anyone can make up their own religion. Feel I'm belittling the significance of what a religion is? Take a look at the dictionary definition:

"1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."
 
Anyone can make up their own religion, and in fact, pretty much everyone does.
 
OK, so let's get into some issues with particular religious beliefs. Take christianity as an example, because it's the 'real' religion with which I am most familiar. There is some very unsavoury stuff in the bible, which was considered acceptable at the time it was written. However it does not mesh with the morals of today. Take for example homosexuality - of course this remains a contentious issue to this day, but if anyone reading this truly feels homosexuality is entirely wrong/evil/sinful or whatever, you're a bigot and I have no time for people like you (However if you want to argue the point, I direct you initially to the video I will shortly post). Homosexuality is not wrong, however the bible says it is. Of course the bible also says a lot of other things. For a few examples, watch this clip from The West Wing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-zhNiGlogQ
 
Now, as it happens, there are a great many christians who do not believe homosexuality is wrong, and indeed there are a great many homosexual christians. And I believe there are ways to get around the biblical passages condemning homosexuality (For a not particularly serious example, look here). But if I might address those people directly for a moment, regardless of whether you can get round it, interpret it differently to how other people interpreted it in the past and present, can you honestly tell me that if the bible unambiguously said "Being gay is bad and you shouldn't do it, so says God, no takesies backsies," you would change your opinion? I sincerely doubt it. You believe homosexuality is OK, I don't think that will be altered by the opinion of some guy centuries ago who wrote a book which just happens to now be considered holy.
So, here we reach the crux of my argument. Because any religion is full of issues like this, where not everyone believes the same thing within a religion, or even within a particular sect of a religion. John Green talked about this a while back (He also said other things about religion and stuff). While there may be a christian sect which rejects certain elements of the bible that you disagree with, you can bet there will still be disagreements within that sect. I find it quite unlikely that anyone can say with absolute certainty that they truly believe in all of the teachings and official viewpoints of their religion unless they are the head of that religion who determines what those viewpoints are (Advantage me for being the head of a made up religion). And when they come up against those points of contention, either they think that they are wrong for feeling differently, or they feel that the official view espoused by their religion is wrong and they are right.
Let's put this back in simpler terms. A christian who doesn't think homosexuality is a sin has basically decided that that particular element of the bible, the basis of their religion, doesn't count. Thus setting a precedent - basically, you can pick and choose what bits of your holy books you actually believe and still count yourself a member of your religion. But at this point, basically you believe what you believe, and you choose to believe that God agrees with you. You've basically created your own religion, just like I kind of have. You're just not admitting it.

OK, that potentially highly contentious/offensive statement out of the way, let's address the obvious question - why do people do this? And why don't I? Well, first, another vlogbrothers video. The reasons are the same as the reasons Hank gives for why people ask him and John if they are religious. 1, people want to be reassured. Rather than think about these things themselves, they put their faith in some higher power and authority - God and the church. By contrast, I don't like to feel beholden to anyone, and I only have faith in something if I see a reason why it deserves that faith.
1.5, to reassure themselves. This I think is the biggest one, and it also relates to 2. By 2, they can categorise people: these people share my religion => they agree with me (Which is of course fallacious); and because they feel those people agree with them, they can feel a kind of solidarity. They feel they are not alone. Me? I'm not that bothered about people agreeing with me. I'll stand alone if need be.

As a sidenote, let me touch on Hank's point 2 and also the linked SMBC strip there and mention that just as religious beliefs are no more important than other beliefs, and no more worthy of respect, so too religion is no greater a determiner of personality and opinion than any other influence. Basically, categorisation is bad. Not all members of a religious sect will act the same, any more than all gay people will act the same, or all footballl fans will act the same, or all people with brown hair will act the same (OK, maybe religion, sexuality and fandom are greater determiners of personality and opinion than hair colour, but you get my point).

OK, so back to my previous point, like I think I said in my disclaimer, though I can no longer remember what I actually said in it, I'm OK with religion, if people need that sort of solidarity and so on. It can help people create and maintain a moral framework, it can sustain them through difficult times, they can connect with other people over it. But, in all fairness I should also point out that the same can be said of Harry Potter and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And, as far as I'm aware, no-one has yet oppressed, tortured, murdered or declared war on people just because they didn't show the proper respect to Rainbow Dash. Religion needs to be about 20% cooler.
But all that said, the bad things are not part of religion. Hell, most if not all religions are pretty clear on how you should be nice to other people, and by my logic of how people make up their own religions to fit what they believe anyway, chances are decent they would have done the things they did anyway, just with a different justification. So, y'know, religion is not bad in and of itself. Just don't try to force your beliefs on others.

And I guess the last thing I have to talk about is: what do I believe? I have issues with the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent God. Because, well, SMBC link again. There are issues with the world and the human condition. And I'm not talking about wars and so on, those are things we do to each other and a natural consequence of free will. I might be talking about natural disasters, since those are out of our control. I'm definitely thinking of things like depression - because that is something we cannot control or avoid, it simply happens to certain people. What benevolent deity would inflict such a thing on people if they could avoid it? So maybe God isn't omnipotent and can't fix what he did wrong; maybe he's not omniscient and doesn't know he screwed up; or maybe he doesn't care. Alternatively, maybe it does make some sense on a level which we just can't comprehend. But however it is, I can't put faith in something like that which as far as I can tell has never done anything for me, or for anyone else. No more can I believe the people who founded these religions knew better than I did. Maybe they did talk to God, but I can't know that, and I find it more likely they just came up with the stuff themselves.
 
I mentioned how the closest I come to actual religious belief is faith in Curly. For one thing, she's earned it. She does kind of give the impression of being superhuman in that regard. I've also talked a fair bit about making up one's own religion. And as High Priest of the Church of Curly, I can kind of decide what the beliefs should be. And, well, it does kind of work for me. Words can exalt and glorify the human experience. Language is one of the great things which sets us apart from animals, even more so written language, since that allows knowledge and wisdom to be passed on to future generations. And from writing - knowledge, wisdom, intellect... these are the things on which I generally place value. The things which make us as humans the best we can be. To reiterate/touch again on something I said in my post about The Once and Future King, christianity can keep Galahad, with his inhuman religious morality, I'll stick with the humanity of Lancelot and Arthur, to be, as I shall quote again from Professor Sir Terry Pratchett, "WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE."

And it's possible that I'm wrong about this stuff. Maybe it's all true, but in that case, as David Ford said of his experience with an evangelistic christian which inspired him to write the song St. Peter, if it turns out to be all true, when I stand before St. Peter at the pearly gates, I'll say "Sorry, I never believed in you, but your PR was terrible. I still tried to do alright, so will you let me in anyway?" (Paraphrased from vague recollection). And maybe I'll go to Hell, but at least I stayed true to myself, even if no-one really listened to me, and I'll stick to that, and sing on my way there.
But, I'm just a singing mouse on the road to Hell. What do I know?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

In theatres, as in life, each has their line

I am so bad at this blogging thing sometimes. There are reasons for that, which I may or may not go into in a different post. But anyway. I was actually technically "working on" a post for about 3 weeks before finally giving up and abandoning it. I'll probably come back to it in a few posts time if I can get back into the habit of blogging more frequently.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was in a production of The Grand Duke. Of course I've already done a post about the show in general, and I'm not sure how much I really have to say about this specific production, but I guess we'll find out, and then I'll probably wander off on some tangent or other, perhaps related to choice of parts and auditions, which are more on my mind right now.

OK, so to stave off the tangent for a while I will talk a bit about this particular production. Apparently the last time this society did Grand Duke, they had a chorus of 21. This time round, the entire cast was 22. Obviously this led to some difficulties, like Come bumpers having only four chorus members onstage, all female. General issues with numbers.
The solution to this was a rather odd idea - the idea was that we were performing the show as if it was a dress rehearsal, with an onstage 'backstage', and an onstage director, thus allowing principals to be onstage unofficially as it were, singing in chorus parts from behind a gauze. Now, personally, I was a bit iffy about some aspects of this idea. It did allow principals to fill in chorus parts, as I said, and it did distract from the small size of the chorus by reducing the size of the stage. But I was iffy on the idea of doing it as if it were our dress rehearsal - that is, playing ourselves playing our parts. It seems to me that anyone who either didn't get a programme, or didn't read the relevant bit of it, wouldn't have really understood that was what happened. Also having clear out-of-show elements in the form of an onstage director and costume lady wearing normal clothes rather than costumes like the rest of us could potentially damage the immersion. Had I wanted to do something similar, I would have removed the 'our dress rehearsal' element, and just had it as the theatrical troupe who are the chorus. Treating their real lives as performances, still acting even offstage (in-show offstage, that is). I mean, we already kind of have that with Julia being incredibly over the top theatrical, so it'd just be extending it.
That said, the production went rather well, and as our MD pointed out, having such a small chorus may in some ways have helped, because it meant the people we did have tried that much harder to perform everything.

Now, what else... cuts were different. Generally there was more in this version than in the version I did in February, though there were some small bits cut this time. Some of which I felt were rather odd, and some which I found perfectly reasonable.
One line which was in this time round was Ludwig, on discovering he's engaged to the Princess of Monte Carlo: "Here's another! The fourth in four-and-twenty hours! Would anyone else like to marry me? You, ma'am, or you? Anybody? I'm getting used to it!" Possibly my favourite line in the show.
In general, due to the different cutting, the part of Ludwig was even bigger this time round (Which is saying something given he's already the biggest part in the show, possibly the biggest part in any of the G&S shows). So I was fairly pleased about that since I was playing Ludwig. And I guess now we're kind of getting to my tangent, so I'll just say that the rest of the cast were very good as well, congratulate Hazyshade in particular for doing very well as Ernest in his first ever foray into acting, and move onto said tangent after a couple of photos:



















So. Tangent. Choosing parts in shows. Always an interesting thing. The best situation to be in is of course to be OK with any part you could get, so then anything is fine and you'll only be disappointed if you don't get cast at all. This was how I felt about Iolanthe (Where of course I didn't get a part), and also the coming production of Pirates of Penzance, in which I will be playing Samuel. For different reasons though - in Iolanthe I just liked all the parts and thought any of them would be fine for me, though I did really want to have a part; whereas for Pirates, Samuel isn't that great a  part, it's pretty small, I would have preferred something bigger, but I really wouldn't have minded if I hadn't been cast at all, and indeed if I had been responsible for casting, I probably wouldn't have cast myself, simply because, well, it's the university society and I've both had my chance at a big part and graduated. So I feel other people should be allowed their opportunities if they could also do justice to the role. Though that said, of course I'm not going to turn down a role if it's offered.

So anyway, yes, that's the ideal situation, to not care what part you get. But really, that's a fairly rare occurrence. It can happen, depending on both the show you're doing and the people you're doing it with - you may feel all the parts are equally good enough for you, and/or you may feel your co-principals-to-be are all good enough that you wouldn't feel bad about them getting cast over you in a role you wanted. More often, though, there will be a part or parts you will want more than the other parts and/or you will feel you could do better than any of your competition.
Then, this preference of parts may depend on other people, as well as on the size of the part and the quality (in your opinion) of their music, and their personality, if it's something you'd really care to play. For an obviously relevant example, take The Grand Duke. As a man, Ludwig is the big part to go for. He barely leaves the stage, lots of acting and singing, it's all pretty good. That said, some of the other characters have songs which I prefer to any of Ludwig's. But it all depends. For instance, how happy I'd be about playing Ernest would be highly dependent on who I thought was likely to be playing Julia, since so much of his stuff is playing off her.
Next point. Actually, Grand Duke isn't the best example for this, because Ludwig is so disproportionately larger as a part than the others. Going for any other male part (Other than the Herald and Costumier, who can get away with chorus-ing) means resigning yourself to spending a large amount of the show offstage. Let's instead talk about Patience, being done this year by the society with whom I did Iolanthe last year, but I'm not with them this year because it's a bti too far to travel. Now, not so much of the concerns about who you'll be playing opposite in this one, but there is the difference in size of parts. Bunthorne is the biggest part in the show. Does that mean he's my top choice? Well, quite possibly, I do like the part, but not necessarily. The other parts are also good. I might want to play, say, the Duke. Smaller part, but a tenor, which of course appeals to me, and definitely fun to play. But then I might still go for Bunthorne depending on the competition, because Bunthorne is the biggest part and therefore a very significant one, so if you don't think anyone going for it is really as good as you, or even good enough, then you'd rather that you get it for the sake of the show being good.
This sounds quite mean to your friends who you're thinking of as not good enough, but let's be honest, we do have these thoughts sometimes. You perform with someone, inevitably you develop an opinion of how good they are, and you develop an opinion of how good you are.

So, OK, there are the things which go into deciding what part you want. But then, what part or parts do you audition for? A whole 'nother thing right there. If you're OK with any part, sure, just audition for everything if that's allowed, or if you say you'd like to audition for everything chances are they'll just pick two or three for you to actually do, to save some time. No problems there. But again, usually you'll want something in particular. It's probably best to audition for something else as well, to show some variety in your acting if nothing else. Because auditioning for one part is unlikely to show whether or not you could necessarily manage the acting for all the other parts. Some of them, but not all. So, yeah, go for multiple parts.
But one can potentially have the concern that if you audition for a part, you may be more likely to get it. Which is not necessarily such a good thing if it's not actually the part you want. I mean, yeah, you got a part. But maybe they thought "Well, he auditioned for these two parts, this other guy just auditioned for this part. I thought he was better than the other guy, but they were both good, so if we give the other guy the part he auditioned for and give him the other part, they'll both be happy!"  So, y'know, it's a trade-off. By auditioning for something else, you increase your chances of still getting a good part if you don't get the one you really wanted. But you may dilute your chances of getting the one you really wanted.
Hmm. This touches on a general thing about pessimism and approaching everything trying to prepare for failure rather than success, which is kind of relevant to me. I might right a blog post about that some time. I'll add it to the list (Which right now has 22 things on it, some of which will spill over into multiple posts, so don't hold your breath).

Anyway, this sounds kind of bad about me, like I'm whining despite the fact I got cast as my second choice of part, which I did audition for, and which is one of the central parts in the show. As opposed to other people who presumably got less preferred, smaller parts. And that's really not my intention. My reaction is, I suppose, to quote the show "On one point rather sore, but on the whole, delighted."
Also, I think one of the reasons I'm taking it as I am is because I never expected for one second that I would actually get the part. Now, this is another thing you shouldn't do, not auditioning for a part because you're certain someone else will get it, but there are some casting choices which just seem obvious, and of course returning to the point about how you think you compare to the other people in the society, if you think someone else would be much better suited to the part than you, and they're auditioning for it, why bother?
Anyway, point is, both last year for Yeomen and this year for Gondoliers, I auditioned for my first and second choices of parts, in neither case actually expecting to get my second choice because I was sure who would get that part. In Yeomen I was right, but this time I was wrong. So I guess that's a good reason to do as I did and go for the part even thought I didn't expect to get it. But to be honest, in both cases I really went for it to show, as I said, some range and variety in my acting. And this year also because I remembered the room we waited in before auditioning being very cold, so I thought I'd go for a baritone part to make sure I was properly warmed up before going tenor. And then, I got the part, to my astonishment.

So, to round off this post that was supposed to be about The Grand Duke but ended up being about picking what parts you want in shows and auditioning, I guess I could go through what parts I've auditioned for in G&S shows I've done, as examples? Or something. I dunno.

The Mikado - auditions happened before I joined.
Patience - Bunthorne (Part I wanted), Grosvenor, Duke (Parts I would've been OK with)
HMS Pinafore - Ralph Rackstraw (Really wanted this part, was sure I'd get it and I did)
Ruddigore - Sir Despard (Was perhaps over-confident following Pinafore, so I thought I'd just go for the one part I wanted and get it, but I didn't. Fortunately they then asked me to also audition for Sir Roderick, and I got that)
Iolanthe - Everything except Private Willis (Would've been fine with anything, didn't get anything)
The Grand Duke - Ludwig, Ernest, Prince of Monte Carlo (Really wanted to be Ernest despite the limited stage time because it would've been really fun playing opposite who I expected to be Julia (I was right). Got the Herald)
Yeomen of the Guard - Colonel Fairfax, Jack Point (Really wanted Fairfax, Point would've been good but I never thought I'd get it. Eventually became 2nd Yeoman)
The Mikado - Everything (Anything would've been OK, 'cause it was the Savoynet production, so I expected a lot of talent. Didn't get anything and then didn't actually do the show)
HMS Pinafore - N/A (Unusual audition format with no going for specific parts. Got the Boatswain. If I'd known in advance how the show was going to be, would have wanted to be Dick Deadeye or Sir Joseph)
The Grand Duke - Would've been Ludwig and Ernest but then they cast me without an audition (Really wanted Ludwig this time - give me all of the stage time!)

Pirates of Penzance - Frederick, Pirate King (Really not bothered, as I mentioned further up. In general though, Pirate King would be my preference, I'm not as fond of Frederick unless I really feel like tenor-ing. Got Samuel)
The Gondoliers - Marco, Giuseppe (Really wanted to be Marco for tenor-ness, but Giuseppe was my second choice and I got it, further description further up the post)

So there you go, maybe. I'm not sure how well I explained some of this stuff, but whatever. I've spent far too long writing this. I need to get back into the swing of posting posts regularly-ish.
Oh, and you should all come see me in Pirates and Gondoliers in February and March, respectively.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In one brief week

OK, this post is over a week late. That's not what the title is referring to though.
...and now it's closer to two weeks late so that doesn't even work any more. Oh, woe is me, why am I so bad at writing blog posts at a fitting time?

As you may know, if you assiduously keep track of my life, last wednesday I was in a show. If you didn't know that, you do now. But this show was special. I mean they're all kind of special, but this one more so. Reason being, this wasn't just one of the local G&S societies, this was the Buxton International G&S Festival.
Well, I guess Dauntless Theatre do kind of count as a local G&S society. But still! Buxton!


I mean, we weren't performing in the Opera House which you see in the background there, but we were part of the festival.

I like Buxton. It seemed a nice town. I think I wouldn't mind living there, if I had to move. Not totally small town far away from everything useful, but not big city either. Generally seems nice. Hosts the International G&S Festival. Has a serious aversion to Tesco for some reason - almost every shop we passed had a little "No to Tesco!" flag above it, no idea why. But I'm not really bothered about Tesco either way.

Anyway, onto the production. HMS Pinafore, updated to the 1940s. Similar to what we did in May, but proper reduced company this time, some different casting, some things changed. And the reason for the title is that we put together the production in the space of one week (Also adapting a line: "Josephine, in one brief breath I will concentrate the hopes, the doubts, the anxious fears of six weary months!")
It was a pretty intensive rehearsal schedule. Personally, I didn't mind that much - I think in some ways I prefer having it compressed like that rather than it all being dragged outover months. Of course, one of the big issues was simply that of learning everything within a week. Personally, I was fine - but I learn things quickly and in anycase I knew most of it already. Pinafore being my favourite show and this being the third time I've performed it, only a few months after the last time, I pretty much know the script backwards. I just had to remember which of my lines had been taken away and given to the Cook, and there were a few slightly different movements. To be honest, I probably could have skipped several rehearsals and still been fine on those grounds (I didn't though, because my absence would have made things more difficult for the people who were supposed to be interacting with me either by singing, dancing or speaking, also I love the show and enjoy doing it, and I don't really have anything else to be doing).

It was rather impressive. I think I've commented before on how a show can go from shambolic to good very rapidly in terms of rehearsal time - in this instance it was pretty fast in real time as well. The first few rehearsals seemed a bit of a struggle, and one might have been concerned that it wouldn't work out, but after a few days we reached the point of a generally very good show, with just a few moments which needed to be polished a bit.

And so, to the show experience itself, which is all I have photos of (Several times during the week of rehearsals in Sunderland I was thinking "Why didn't I bring my camera?")
After a ridiculously early start on Tuesday morning and a fairly knackered rehearsal (Once we actually got into the church - there was a worrying period of time in which we were stuck outside, the vicar not being there with the key, considering whether it would be better to try and break in or just rehearse the show in the street), we set off on the journey south.

In very relaxed fashion.
Well, I say relaxed. We were kind of trying to race and see who got there first. Unfortunately my chances of being in the victorious party were dashed by conversation distracting our driver from the satnav, leading to an impromptu detour through the Devil's Arse.
Not even kidding. Peak Cavern is also known as the Devil's Arse. Google it if you don't believe me. (In the interest of full honesty, I should mention that I think we didn't actually go through it so much as past it, but still. It was an interesting experience). We also passed through Dove Holes and Hope (Must be neat for the residents to be able to say "I live in Hope." At least for the first few times before the novelty wears off and people keep making tiresome jokes about it for the rest of your life, or until you move to somewhere else). I love some British place names. Apparently the orchestra drove past somewhere called Wigtwizzle. And I have on many occasions in the past been driven past Wombleton.

Anyway, so we arrived, went to the theatre and set up. Some things we were expecting from the set weren't there, but there was enough to make do, obviously, and we covered everything with Union Jacks.

Incidentally, if anyone's feeling pedantic, yes I know it's only the Union Jack when flown at sea and otherwise it's the Union Flag (The things you can learn from Doctor Who...), but since this is supposed to be the HMS Pinafore, a ship of the Royal Navy, it counts as far as I'm concerned.


Oh, also, the heater makes your hair float:
Photo taken by Buttercupliffy.


And then, on to the pub!


Following day, I may have somehow mentally shifted the time we had to be at the theatre backwards an hour without realising (Really don't know how I managed that), so I was ready to go before breakfast. On the plus side, not having to rush is good.

So we muddled through the dress rehearsal, pulled at the curtains to make more entrances and exits, moved everything further forwards on the stage, and took a bunch of photographs.

To the left you see the start of a little during-overture scene of everyone panicking about how soon the show started.
To the right, Boatswain and Cook telling Dick Deadeye it's unreasonable for him to expect people to like him. Liffy says I seem to have practiced my smug face for this show, but I swear that's just how I look in real life.

To the left again, Dick Deadeye hitting Ralph Rackstraw and knocking him over.
Sir Joseph's female relatives arrive, followed by the Monarch of the Sea himself. Just been for a swim, don'tcher know. Lovely, lovely.

etc, etc.
Act 1 finale.
And Sir Joseph drops Captain Corcoran.
"Madam?"
 Most of these photos, with the exception of the two either side of these words, were also taken by the wonderful Buttercupliffy, from the orchestra pit, as she was playing the flute for us.

These two photos are mine, taken from some seats up on the right hand side of the stage. I am ashamed to admit I almost forgot I had to be onstage because I was waiting for another photo I wanted, of Dick Deadeye and the Captain in the orchestra pit - so:

Sadly, I don't think anyone actually laughed at "Is there a boat cloak in the house?" during the actual performance. Philistines.


And the Englishman song. My big moment! This time round, shared between me and the Cook (As some of my spoken lines were). But I don't really mind, because it does seem reasonable to make the Cook more of a character, and that allows more interaction between him and the Boatswain, so it's all good really.
And thus we move into the somewhat nerve-wracking wait before the show.


I'll be honest - I wasn't that nervous. But then, I was playing a fairly minor part, in a show I pretty much know backwards, so I didn't have that much to be worried about. And, well, yes, we were at the International G&S Festival, where it is known for audiences to take their vocal scores into performances to follow along with the music (They must get a bit confused when things have been cut) - but really, it's still just a stage, and a show. You do the same things in the Pavilion Arts Centre in Buxton as you would in the RGS Performing Arts Centre in Jesmond.
That said, if I'd been playing a bigger part I might have been more worried. Or if it had been a different show, one that I didn't know so well (Note: So you know, I only figuratively know Pinafore backwards. I'm pretty sure if you asked me to recite the script backwards I'd get rather confused).


Oops. We may have killed the director.
Of the actual performance, I have little to say. It was very good, there were a few mistakes, which I will not mention in this public venue out of respect for my fellow performers. Suffice to say they were all covered up just fine, even one potentially catastrophic omission. If you really want to know, you can ask me nicely and I'll show you the DVD.
One point is that really, they were classic first night slip ups. But we only had the one performance, so they couldn't be corrected subsequently. That was weird, just doing it the once and then leaving. And the people using the theatre the day afterwards coming in pretty much as soon as we'd gotten the set down to prepare for their show, that was strange.
And a shot of the full cast, taken during the interval.
Thanks again to Buttercupliffy for the use of her photos.

So what I do want to talk about, rather than the performance, is the manner of putting the show together - doing it all in one week. Now, had it not been for numerous people already knowing the show, a week might have been too short. Two weeks might be better to really cement things - but we might well want to just have the first week of rehearsals at someone's house, before moving into a proper rehearsal space for the second, thus saving money.
Anyway, one week or two, the principle is still the same. Brief period of focused rehearsals leading up to the show. In some ways it's definitely better. For one thing, it's likely to be more efficient - with rehearsals spread over several months, it's all too easy to learn something, think "Yeah, we've got that sorted, we don't need to go over it again," and then forget it after about a month of not doing it. That problem is not completely eliminated with a short focused burst of rehearsing, it is entirely possible to learn something, get it down and then forget what it was overnight - especially if you're learning a lot of things that quickly - but it is much reduced.
Downside - people with jobs will obviously have to take time off work for full day rehearsals, not to mention travelling down, doing the show and travelling back. On the other hand, you have to take holidays some time, and if G&S is something you love doing, like I do, why not?

Upside - the social aspect. Typically I find that you don't really conect with other cast members who you didn't already know until late on in the rehearsal process. It's easy enough to come to weekly evening rehearsals, maybe chat to your friends a little, learn the music and the moves and leave and not get to know anyone. You don't start to connect so much until you have long rehearsals and the show itself, when you're all stuck in one place together for hours on end, a significant amount of which time will be taken up with rehearsing bits you're not actually involved in. Also, nothing brings people together like shared emotion, right? In this case, the emotion is probably panic. But it helps you to bond! In this case, that's compressed. Rather than having a few months of vaguely knowing people and then making friends with them in the last few weeks or days, you go straight to the shared panic and being stuck together for hours at a time. Of course, then afterwards you've done the show and are no longer seeing these wonderful new friends you've made on a regular basis, but that happens with long rehearsal periods as well, unless you go straight into doing another show with the same people.
Downside - getting put through the emotional wringer. Kayleigh has compared the end of a show to a messy breakup, and Bette on Toast has extended this to comparing the whole experience to a whirlwind love affair. In which case, this is rather more whirlwind than most. Starts and ends in only a week! I personally found the post-show bereavement wasn't as bad for this, probably because it happened so fast, I didn't have so much time to get invested in it. I imagine it'd be similar with an actual love affair that only lasted a week from meeting the person to them vanishing off the face of the planet. It's less "Oh, this was a huge part of my life and now it's gone what do I do sob sob sob," and more "Oh. That was fun." But other people may well respond differently to me. As I said, I didn't worry that much about this show, I'm generally pretty laid back about these things, and it may have helped that I was quite tired through a decent amount of the week. People with more to be concerned over, and with different attitudes to these things will be, like poor Ralph Rackstraw, driven hither by objective influences, thither by subjective emotions, wafted one moment into blazing day by mocking hope - plunged the next into the Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair. And at some point, or even several points before the show is over, they may well be but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms. When Ralph says he will concentrate into one brief breath the hopes, the doubts and the anxious fears of six weary months, he means it has all led to this, and been about this, whereas for putting together a show like this one, granted a week is longer than a breath, but in this instance all the hopes, doubts and anxious fears are actually being experienced within that period of time. There are times I am glad to be an unaffectinator.
The issue with the emotions of it for me was not that I had my nerves shredded or anything, but that as I said, I didn't get so invested in it. This meant I didn't have such a massive come-down afterwards, but that's because I didn't go to quite the same heights. It went by a bit too fast for me to savour the experience. I would've liked a little more time in the theatre, to that end, and in some ways the very business-like course of getting in, getting it done and having to get out to allow the next people to get sorted subtracts a little bit from the magic for me. That, combined with the speed of everything, reaplced the post-show bereavement feelings of grief with something more like shock. I had a difficult time when we were all signing a card for our wonderful director, thinking of something to say. I mean, I have difficulty with that sort of thing anyway, but in this case it was because I really didn't know what to feel about the show, it feeling like it had just breezed by and not really sunk in.

Overall? I like doing shows, however they're rehearsed. I would definitely do a show like this again, but I don't think I'd want to make a frequent habit of it - I'd just wear myself out. And, as I've said, maybe an extra week rehearsing to cement things a bit more, and more performance time. I suppose in that regard the ideal for me would be if we could put the show together and then put it on locally immediately before taking it down to Buxton, because I did greatly enjoy going to Buxton, but obviously they won't give us multiple performances at the festival.
Whatever. I don't have control over this sort of thing, much as I might like to at some point. I'm just musing.

Returning to my Buxton experience (Oh yes, there's more... though not that much more), we went to the pub, signed and presented the aforementioned director's card, went out for dinner, and then went to the festival club, where the cast of that night's Opera House production (Iolanthe) sang cabaret!
The cabaret wasn't very good. I was disappointed in that regard. I was also disappointed in that I was told they would end up singing G&S choruses, everyone joining in. This did not happen. I was a sad obsessive.
On the other hand, though, what really mattered at that point was that the show was over, everyone was able to relax, and we were out eating, drinking, and being merry for tomorrow we die together as a group of friends. And while the show may to a certain extent have blown past me too fast for me to properly appreciate it, nights out are simple and easy to get into.

Everyone is relaxed and being silly!
Also tired.



















Oddly, in some ways that's more what I've taken away from this - not so much the show as the experience surrounding it.
We had some strange  and interesting conversations. Like who, from all of history, would you have a conversation with, if you could. And why, obviously. And then that got adapted to who from history would you have sex with. And then this kind of led onto a general sex/sexuality discussion.

Oh, and the question of why G&S isn't more popular, and whether it's really opera or musical theatre. Now, I don't really know precisely what distinguishes opera from musical theatre, but I suspect one of the problems G&S has is that it is described as opera, so a lot of people will think it won't interest them (Of course this is also part of a general issue where things like opera are viewed as being only for the intellectual elite), when in fact it is much more like musical theatre in many ways, and certainly I would think should still have appeal for a lot of people. The other related problem is that it's Victorian, so people assume it'll be stuffy and boring, when in fact it makes fun of how stuffy and boring the Victorians supposesedly were and is therefore in perfect accordance with the views of these potential audience members.
Our Ralph made the point that he  really liked what Kayleigh did with our Pinafore, making it more accessible to people now, potentially helping to move G&S out of being just an activity for old people. Personally I disagree - I think G&S is accessible for all people without having to be updated or messed about with, so long as it's done right. Not to say new, weird and interesting takes on the old shows can't be interesting, but they're certainly not required.
As to why G&S is done almost exclusively by amateur societies primarily made up of old people, I really don't know. For one thing, G&S societies seem to be a reasonably common feature of english universities - do all these people just stop when they graduate? And if so, why? I don't understand it at all.

I'm not sure if this line of thought is really going anywhere...

Finally. The day after. There is one crucially important thing in Buxton I have yet to mention, which we went to see and experience:

Tiny train!
And, being a group of people who have never grown up, there was only one way this could go.
We were even more enthusiastic the second time around (You got two trips round the park for the one ticket), but I stopped filming after the first.
The train driver was cool as well. He high fived our Stage Manager on the way past after we'd got off (Despite the fact there's a rule about keeping your limbs inside the train while it's moving).

Just a couple more photos borrowed from the Pinafore's Cook to round this post off:
This nefarious villain has captured our female stars!
We considered performing the show again on this little plinth, but decided to just pose for a photo instead.






Good times. I want to go again.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

On the ultimate retention of indentity in severe circumstances... and stuff.

Warning: Serious thoughts lie herein.

The subject of this post requires a bit of introduction for those who aren't regular watchers of Vlogbrothers videos:

I Love Hank: Esther Day 2010

Rest In Awesome, Esther

I Love My Brother

Having watched those, we can now move onto me:

Yesterday was EstherDay

I think that adequately covers what I wanted to say about the whole family and love thing. The other thoughts provoked by the Esther related videos were ones about death and how we respond to it. Because as John says in that second video, Esther wasn't some model of perfection, she was a girl. A person. And it's something which has come up at least a couple of times in Vlogbrothers videos, that people are always people. It's easy to slip into an 'Us and Them' mentality, when really They are just more of Us, who happen to have been placed in different circumstances.
For example, people living in abject poverty around the world, they lack many things we have, like say good sanitation and healthcare. They're worse off than us, but that doesn't mean they're different to us in spirit. The men are still men, the women are still women, and the children are still children. They form the same sortds of friendships, enjoy the same sorts of entertainment, they live as we live, except where way of life is influenced by circumstances.

And it's the same with people dying of cancer. One may tend to imagine someone with terminal cancer becoming very gloomy and sullen as they waste away; or becoming angry at the world and their own body and biology which have betrayed them, raging against the dying of the light, as the poem goes; or accepting their fate with resigned dignity, setting things in order and facing the inevitable as best they can, perhaps passing on some wisdom to their friends before the end.
These may well all be the case. In fact, they may well all be the case for the same person at different points, but not all the time. Like anything else, cancer will provoke a reaction, many reactions; but we can't be thinking about it all the time. It may be a pressing concern at certain times, certainly it becomes a part of who we are, but that doesn't mean we dwell constantly on it. You have your reaction, and then you put it away in your mind and carry on with your life. And then you may think about it again at some point, and then again you'll put it away and go on with your life. And this is how it goes. Esther must surely have been affected by her cancer, but the fact she had cancer didn't make her a different person, it was just another aspect which was introduced into her identity, and she went on, spending time with her family and friends, making videos on the internet, and so on. It's just how we work. I know this, and yet it was still strange, watching through her videos on her own youtube channel and then coming to the point where they suddenly stopped. I had almost forgotten she was dead and I was just watching through the videos of another interesting and amusing youtuber until suddenly they stopped without warning, and I remembered. Because in all those videos she wasn't a terminal cancer patient, she was just a girl, who happened to have cancer. She was just her, just Esther, and her Esther-ness overcame any preconceptions I still had, in addition to whatever negativity might have been brought to her disposition by the fact of her cancer.
The abruptness of the end was still a little jarring, and it's a general problem we can have that unlike in fiction, in real life people often don't get the chance for some significant last words, and we don't get to see them gracefully depart this life, just one day they're them and the next day they're gone. But in some ways perhaps it's better that way. Once the shock is passed, instead of taking those final few sentences to sum up their existence, we have to judge them on their lives as a whole. It's more difficult, perhaps, but ultimately better to do so rather than taking the simple and easy way out.
(I should note that this was also the case with the one person I've known IRL with cancer - he remained much the same, friendly, genial, joking around a lot. But I have little to say there because sadly I never actually knew him that well, and now I will never have the chance)

And this same principle, of setting things aside and simply continuing, can also be applied to grief. It's problematic - one may feel like it's a betrayal to the dead not to be wallowing in grief and instead going on with the frivolities of normal life, but quite apart from the fact they wouldn't want you to be permanently miserable, there is a limit on how much you can grieve. Certainly you should do so, but you can pick your time to a certain extent. Once the initial shock reaction has passed, put the feelings aside and keep them for when you want to let them out. In the meantime, and afterwards, live and be happy, as your friend would want you to be, and don't forget to be awesome.
(This has reminded me of someone else I knew who dies of cancer. I always forget he's gone, and it slightly saddens my last memory of him)

Some might think that just not thinking about these things is a bit of an immature solution to these strong and intense feelings. But it works. It's the only thing that's likely to work, because these feelings and the bleak reality of our own mortality are not things we can face every second of every day and still function normally. I'm sure there's a quote to that effect somewhere in Angel, season 5, Wesley talking to Illyria. But I can't find it. The point stands anyway. We can't stand up to that much thought about things like death. I certainly prefer to avoid them, so this post is going to end about now.
In the end, we all are who we are, and that is not taken away by any experience, no matter how painful. An experience may alter who we are, but nothing can completely stop us being ourselves, short of actually losing our minds.

Friday, 29 July 2011

A Monument to Irrationality

What is a monument to irrationality, you may ask? Well, pretty much everything of any value, to be honest. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is the post which was going to be a digression in my post about Shakespeare which would then subsume the whole post and take it over, until I realised it would be much more sensible just to make this a post all on its own, and making a separate post about Shakespeare that would actually be, y'know, about Shakespeare.

Anyway. My mum is a teacher. So she reads the Times Educational Supplement, and we despair at how idiotic politicians are with regards to education, always messing it around and so on. And naturally one thing that comes up is what they think children should and should not be taught. Inevitably, a common feature is that all children should be taught Shakespeare because cultural heritage, lofty high art etc, never mind the fact they don't like it (This may be partly because it's taught wrongly, which in turn may well be down to the teachers focussing on the perception of Shakespeare as being great literature rather than considering it on its own merits).
But then, these are likely to be, or at least have significant overlap with, the people who will do their utmost to have some modern books banned because they're full of filth and smut and dear lord have these people actually read Shakespeare? Henry V has a scene the prupose of which as far as I can tell is solely to point out that certain English words sound like French swearwords, Macbeth has a doorman talk about the effects of alcohol on sexual desire and prowess, Hamlet while pretending to be mad and just before the play he hopes will uncover Claudius' guilt, makes a whole load of double entendres to Ophelia. I could go on. Shakespeare is full of dirty jokes. If these people want something less filthy, they should probably try Marlowe - I don't recall any dirty jokes in what I've read of him.
Of course I would never make this point to such people. I would contest that perhaps Marlowe should be taught, as should other playwrights, simply to give some variety instead of endless Shakespeare, but I wouldn't bring up dirty jokes as the reason. And why?
Well, because dirty jokes notwithstanding, Shakespeare still is great literature, high art, etc. And this is not in spite of his dirty jokes and the fact that at the time he was writing for mass appeal - it is at least partly because of those things. It's all bound up together - Shakespeare wrote the way he wrote, his writings have stood the test of time and they are great literature.

Now if stuff like Shakespeare were to be written today, dirty jokes and all, but in modern language, so it could be understood by the masses, well, they'd be very popular I imagine. But they might not be so critically acclaimed. I imagine some highbrow intellectual elitist critics would acknowledge the appeal and probably say that it was good for what it was, but really could not be considered a serious work, with all those jokes about sex and so on.
And those critics would, of course, be utterly wrong. Sadly they're unlikely to realise this, because they're all too up themselves. This is why so many things which are popular, well written, well presented and so on don't win awards in a great many cases. Because the establishment believe that theirs is the one true way, and while things deviating from that norm - comics, fantasy, sci-fi and other genre fiction, video games and related culture - may be nice enough and popular enough, in the end they're just nonsense, aren't they? They can't be considered as serious works.

We'll get to seriousness in a minute, but I have to rant about the 'nonsense' comment first (Which is something I've seen in a review of something I rather liked but which clearly didn't match up to the reviewer's 'refined' sensibilities).

So, something which is 'nonsense' is automatically denigrated with implication that however well it may be done, it can't match up to real literature/television/film. Which is total bollocks, and bollocks to that attitude. But let's examine the claim.
Leaving aside the rather highly rated Alice books by Lewis Carroll, which are pretty much defined as nonsense, the question arises: what makes something nonsense? Is it that the setting is implausible? Certain things the characters can do? Magic, or sufficiently advanced technology?
It's true that such things do not happen in the real world. They're unrealistic. But on the other hand, nothing in most works of fiction happens in the real world. They may happen in more familiar settings, which obey the laws of physics as we understand them, with regular ordinary humans. But the events described, in general, still didn't happen, and in a significant number of cases, wouldn't happen, in the real world. So where you draw the line seems to me to be rather arbitrary.
In any case, the thing is, as I said, none of the events you are reading about or watching, or listening to on the radio, none of them actually happened. This is why we require that key ability which lies at the centre of the enjoyment of fiction - suspension of disbelief. I don't imagine many people would disagree with me on that. You suspend you disbelief and consider the events of the story as if they were actually happening, including if they could actually happen.
As such, I submit that if a reviewer claims that something is "well done, but really it's just nonsense" or words to that effect, the failure is not on the part of the fiction in question. Rather the fault lies with the reviewer, who has failed to suspend his or her disbelief far enough to appreciate the work on its own merits.

Another common issue is bias, of course. Such people are biased towards believing that such things ('genre' fiction, usually) are inherently less worthy of critical praise and acclaim than the things they like (such as so-called 'literary' fiction). Likewise, this is rubbish. A work is good or not irrespective of what it is.
There is even hypocrisy evident in this elitist view. As I commented, such critics might well dismiss Shakespeare, if he were writing today instead of in the 16th and 17th centuries. But as it is, he did write his plays centuries ago, and they think he's brilliant. What's the difference? The difference as far as I can see is that Shakespeare has already garnered his reputation. When they read or watch Shakespeare, they don't think "Oh, this is quite well written, but all this stuff with the fairies and the magic is nonsense, of course, and really, those innuendos, pfft!" They think rather, "This is Shakespeare, see, that man really knew how to turn a phrase, he truly exalts his subjects," etc. Shakespeare is automatically on their list of things which are allowed to be viewed as worthy of acclaim by tradition, so they're able to consider him on his actual merits.
To a lesser extent, this is also true of Doctor Who. In years gone past, I've compared reviews in the Radio Times of Doctor Who to those of Torchwood, Primeval, and the like. Doctor Who gets very good reviews, the others not so much. And while Who is my favourite of them, it has had some rather bad episodes, and the others have had some very good ones. The reviews really smack of a double standard. In the heads of these people, Torchwood and the like are sci-fi shows, whereas Doctor Who is a national phenomenon.

Anyway, the point is that what a few snobbish elitists happen to think is incredibly wrong. They're not wrong about everything, of course. The things they do think are good generally are. I have nothing against artsy-fartsy deep and meaningful works - indeed I feel they are unjustly served by being the favourites of such people as I have described, because it inclines more people to think that such things are only for the educated high-brow intellectuals, that normal people wouldn't get them, and thus such works miss out on popularity which they may well deserve. But they are not inherently better than other works just because a certain class of people have decided that these are the 'serious' works.

There's that word serious again. I think it's time I dealt with it, since it's really meant to be the focus of this post, the rest being by way of a very long preamble. Well, sort of. It is all talking about the subject of the post, but I haven't precisely stated that subject as yet.

There is a phrase on the internet: SERIOUS BUSINESS. Typically "X is SERIOUS BUSINESS." Sometimes abbreviated to 'SRS BSNS'. And, well, this is generally said in a rather mocking way. For example, some Pokemon enthusiasts may be talking about how you maximise your pokemons' stats, and someone not so into the game would be astounded at the amount of thought and effort that goes into this stuff. To which, "Pokemon is SRS BSNS." The point being, it's not that serious. It's a game, played for fun, but people who like it get disproportionately serious about it, to a point where it seems ridiculous to an outsider. But this is their interest, and going further into it increases their enjoyment. So it is with anything.
Alternatively, it can be used in a derogatory sense. At one time I recall someone from the Playground's Free Form Role-Playing section, then still known as The Town, saying he was losing interest because so many people were making it all about SERIOUS BUSINESS whereas he preferred it when things were light-hearted and silly. The point in this instance of course being that these people are taking things too seriously and thus detracting from the fact it's supposed to be a fun pastime. And the difference being that this one is to do with personal interaction more. While those making everything serious are enjoying themselves, because that's the way their taste runs in roleplaying, they may also be rather unyielding, leading to a feeling of exclusion for those who have different tastes in this regard.

So here we see, the main views of incredible seriousness on the internet are either that anything can be taken seriously in the cause of deriving more enjoyment from it, but this does not require any inherent seriousness; or that taking things too seriously can remove the fun from it and exclude those who are being less serious.
I feel these principles can be applied outside the internet as well, in general.

Basically, nothing is inherently serious. You can take things seriously, and sometimes you should do so, for the benefit of others, generally in the form of increased enjoyment, or alleviated pain (Which could be said to be on the same scale - pain is in the negatives, while enjoyment is in the positives). If someone is in pain, despair, under a lot of stress, etc, you should generally not make jokes about it (Varies of course - sometimes a joke will help to lighten their mood, other times it'll just be insensitive; the difficulty is in distinguishing between the two). But when the problem is not so immediate, jokes may sometimes be made - black humour is something appreciated by many, though it should be used with a certain amount of caution.
Certainly, when it comes to genres of fiction, as I was commenting on above, with regards to snobbish critics, nothing is inherently more serious than anything else. The snobbery of such people taking things too seriously, however, tends to exclude fans of the things not viewed as 'serious', when in fact they have no inherent inferiority. They can be taken seriously, or not. Jeremy Jahns comments on this in his movie reviews sometimes, joking about elitist critics with a tendency to use terms like 'tour de force' and 'bravura performance', and so on, and disregarding things which don't meet their standards of seriousness regardless of the fact they're actually very good and very popular. For that reason he and various other youtube movie reviewers set up a youtube-only set of awards, in response to numerous people being annoyed at some things which had been snubbed at the Oscars.

What does matter is enjoyment. Imcreasing people's happiness, reducing pain, etc. To put it in Vlogbrothers/nerdfighter terminology, reducing suck and increasing awesome. One can take things seriously to that end, to organise things, and to avoid hurting people's feelings by making light of things which bother them particularly. But nothing is serious, there is nothing which has to be serious, all the time. Things are often better when they're not serious, because seriousness is not important. Fun is.
I have a video link to that effect:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dbUJYUWdS8

Thank you Hank Green.
Another Vlogbrothers example - John Green got mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal, due to the success of his new book The Fault in Our Stars, staying at the top of the Amazon bestseller list for the first however many days after it became available to preorder when it didn't even have a cover yet. This was naturally very pleasing for him, Hank, and Nerdfighteria at large, but the thing which really kind of stood out for me, and probably for a number of other people as well (Indeed John mentioned it in his blog post on the subject), was the fact that the article mentioned the nerdfighting phenomenon and therefore the websites associated with it, notably for me the forum yourpants.org.
The Wall Street Journal included in the URL yourpants.org. I was very pleased by this. Why?
Obviously it's nice to see that sort of acknowledgement to an internet community, since I'm rather enthusiastic about the idea of internet communities. Partly it's the thrill of doing something which is forbidden - it's not actually forbidden, but it feels like that is not the sort of URL which should be appearing in a serious publication like the Wall Street Journal. But really, well, it's that last thing I just wrote. That is not the sort of URL you expect to see in a 'serious' publication like the Wall Street Journal. The significance is that the power of Nerdfighteria, an internet community, has eroded some of the perceived boundaries between what is and is not serious. Because truthfully there is no reason why a URL like yourpants.org should not appear in the Wall Street Journal and there's no reason why the Wall Street Journal should not acknowledge that amazing internet community known as Nerdfighteria. Both are only as serious as you want them to be at any given moment, and it could be said that actually Nerdfighteria are a few steps ahead because they definitely realise that.

Nothing is inherently serious. Things are only as serious as we choose to take them. And when it comes to things like books, fiction in general, returning somewhat to my complaints about critics, certainly nothing is more serious than anything else. It's all a monument to irrationality.

And finally I get back to my title. This is a quote from the play Jumpers, by Tom Stoppard, about a philosopher and his wife, among other things. The relevant lines are as follows:

DOTTY: "Archie says the church is a monument to irrationality."
GEORGE: "[...]
The National Gallery is a monument to irrationality! Every concert hall is a monument to irrationality! And so is a nicely kept garden, or a lover's favour, or a home for stray dogs! You stupid woman, if rationality were the sole criterion for things being allowed to exist, the world would be one enormous field of soya beans!
[...]
The irrational, the emotional, the whimsical... these are the stamp of humanity which makes reason a civilizing force."

Looking at it purely rationally, what is the purpose of humanity, its driving force? One might argue it has no purpose, and its driving force is simply the desire to propagate its own existence. We have our hardwired imperatives to ensure our own survival and the continuation of our species, and anyhing else? Anything else we have given to ourselves. It might be considered an act of vanity on our part as a species, estting ourselves apart from other animals by daring to think that we are different, somehow superior, that we have self-determined purpose. But that is what makes us human, that is what, to quote Discworld, makes us where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
All that irrationality. Oh, one may argue that it promotes the creation of our social bonds, forming the human community, which helps propagate the species, and so it does to some extent, but it's somewhat  beyond that at this point. We do not require these things, but we desire them, irrationally, to the point that they become the purposes of our many existences. Because were we to stick to the purely rational view, all we need to do is survive and pass on our genes, that's all very well, but the question must occur to any thinking animal: to what purpose do I survive? Having ensured our survival, what should we then do with it but enjoy it? And so, we enjoy ourselves, however we may. We read and tell stories, play games, analyse them, seek answers to questions about the workings of the universe and our own existence, ever striving for our own satisfaction in these regards, and we build endless great monuments to irrationality.

This blog is a monument to irrationality, and I'm very happy about that. It'd be terribly boring otherwise.