Our social conscience

I know… the journey did not go all the way. But in the end, time was running through my hands like sand on the beach. Basically, after a lot of stress, it all came to an end. It was not perfect, but I am convinced it was the best I could do in the time given. And that there might be a continuation of it next year means it went alright for the people that pay the bills…

A different subject and perhaps more on the lines of our BLS philosophy thinking. On the weekend something very rare happened in Hamburg, Germany. The people there had the possibility to vote against or for a reformation of the school system in Hamburg. (Hamburg is not only a city but also one of the German federal states.) Why is that a rare occasion? Well, usually we don’t get the chance to vote for a lot of things. We elect our government, the government of the state we live in and also the local council. But that is about it. The German constitution gives the people the right to engage in a popular petition. For this to work, you have to get a certain amount of people (min. 1%) to sign the initial petition first. If this works out, the petition will then be legally granted and everyone allowed to vote will have the right to do so. But because the Germans (and a lot of other Europeans) are lazy when it comes to work for their own country, this method of direct democracy is not seen very often.

Lately it won a little more attention as the population of Bavaria voted for a much more stringent non-smoking law than the one in place. (To be honest, they had to vote for the one in place to be finally executed as the lobby of smokers managed to undermine the laws in quite a lot of ways.)

So in Hamburg now, people were asked to vote for or against the reformation of the current school system. The government worked together across all parties – and the usually “natural” boundaries a different party brings with it – and managed to find a decent and up-to-date solution for one of Hamburg’s biggest problems: The ever growing gap in eduction between kids from a poor and rich background. At the moment the pupils go to school all together for 4 year and after that they will split up into three different types of school, depending on their knowledge and skills after these 4 years. This ends in a social gap. A lot of the kids from the poorer end of town basically end up with the lowest educational level. Simply because a lot of them do have an immigrant background. So it was found, that if you would give those kids more time together with others, better educated kids, they would have a chance to also climb up the ladder of higher education.

The government changed the current system for it to be 6 years for all kids together before they would split up and go to different schools. This would give a lot of kids the chance to reach a higher qualified graduation and therefore better chances on the markets of tomorrow.

Well, the people of Hamburg don’t want their kids to stick together for too long. They voted against the new system and it will now not be executed. It seems, they don’t think it will help everyone that we grow together as one society and that everyone we leave behind will in the end be causing us more trouble than helping him to find the right way himself. We push people into their role as the social underdog and the result can be seen in the mega and large cities and metropolis around the globe and in Europe. In Berlin as well as in Paris or London, people with lower social status are forced out of the city. They form their own community, which is then not part of the overall community. People of different skin colour, religion and with different language live together in their own little cities within the city. Is that what we want? Apparently it is…

In Hamburg the people showed no sense for the greater picture. They proved themselves to be self-seekers for their kids. Is it wise to bring up children with such a narrow mind?
Oh and by the way… guess who voted the most? Yes, the population in the richer areas reached 57% voter participation whereas the poorer areas only had around 20%. Interesting, isn’t it? Apparently a lot of the people in the poorer areas lacked the understanding for what they are voting for and in the chaos of options quite a significant amount of people voted for the wrong thing, because they didn’t understand… but I am sure we don’t need higher education for everyone…

Something is wrong with our society

Share the moment of my journey (4)

Yesterday and the day before I was simply too tired to write anything. By the way: Eyal’s show opened yesterday and what I hear on Facebook it was a great success! I will go and see it on Saturday and I am already looking forward to it a lot.

So what did the past two days of plotting and tech run learn me? Honestly, the most important message that came across was, that it will be very difficult to find a team like we were in Liverpool ever again. People that really commit to what they do and work up to the highest standards are hard to find. I had to fight with a lot of technical problems. The obvious ones like a broken Hazer, no proper smoke machine, although definitely specified, broken MACs and significant software problems on the ETC Congo. My dislike for this desk is growing. Usually I don’t care about what desk we are using and if the operator knows what he is doing, then there should be no problem at all. But this desk… Weird way of programming and a generally very edgy effects engine when it comes to moves. The HOG might be older, but it is much nicer and smoother.

Congo and Miss Saigon...

But off the topic of theatre and back into the real life. I notices something that Hans mentioned when we were all in Liverpool. This is a fenced in country. They build huge fences around all sorts of buildings, not only their private houses. The school where we rehearsed this show looks like you are entering a military zone. Why would you fence in a school? What is in there that should not come out? Knowledge? And what could possibly want to get in there and harm that? People willing to learn? Strange…

Today is a grey day here in Bournemouth. It is raining and the temperature dropped quite significantly. I will have to re-plot two numbers of the show and start from scratch with them. They simply don’t work. Generally this seems to be the thing with this show. A lot of numbers look stunning but they alternate with horribly dull looks in other numbers. So the balance is very off and today I will personally get my fingers on this desk (no idea if this is a good idea) and start to streamline it all so that it will in the end work out.

Oh, one interesting thing: The printing shop they got my A0 plan printed could not print the A0 PDF file I sent them straight out of the computer. They had to print it on A3 first, scan this one in and then print it on A0. The sense of this? No idea. The quality of it? There is ink on the paper… But nothing more to say…

Got one day left to shape the show

The carbon footprint and the journey (3)

Today’s post will have to be a little shorter, simply because I am exhausted. The probably most hated part of a lighting designer’s job is the focus. And this is what I went through today until 11 pm. One could say that it is my own fault as it was me specifying all the lights. And I admit, that there are too many. Somehow the second year in a row, the set has ended up in the wrong position on my CAD plan and so the lighting is squashed up downstage so you cannot fit one hand in between the flybars – whereas there is quite a significant gap in between some bars more upstage. Basically the set is more upstage than it should have been which means my top lighting for the set was morphed into frontlighting and funny stuff like that.

The people here are a nice bunch and they are a good crew to work with. Of course nobody likes a focus session and the fact that in this theatre, not everything is in a great shape doesn’t make it much easier. Anyway I keep having this feeling that the language barrier is establishing a little more again. Sometimes I wished I could be a little quicker at repartee than I actually am. Because, yes, it is stupidly huge rig, and yes, it might have done with some less lanterns here and there, BUT, I am still the lighting designer. And to get this message across without being rude is difficult for me at the moment. From tomorrow on, it will be fine, as the worst part of the physical job – the focus – is done.

One thing came into my mind today on my way home, and it is my personal carbon footprint in this production. Not that I feel I have to tune into the general discussion about how “green” theatre can and will be. But it just came to my mind, that it cannot be very environmentally friendly for me to fly over for one weekend, travel through the country for several hours by train and car and do the same thing again a few weeks later. Now I am switching on a maximum of 230,000 watts of lights for 7 days in a row and I am quite sure together with the aircondition in the theatre, we are soooo green… Anyway, just a random thought.

Going to sleep now.

The journey (2)

So today was quite a long day. And funny enough – it was also quite boring over long distances. The main purpose of it was to see the “final” show in one run. In the rehearsal room that is, which kinda gives the meaning “final” a slightly less ultimate touch. None the less, it has been the casts last run in the rehearsal room and therefore it marks a milestone for them all.

For me it was also interesting as the show offers a lot. And it proofed me wrong as I was under the impression that this year I have been very well-behaved with my amount of cues I put in the show. Well, after a break later in the afternoon I realised that Act 1 already adds up to 150 Cues and almost as many follow spot cues, too. So I am actually up for a treat from Monday on. You could call it homemade problems but somehow I always end up in this place. Just knowing the fact that there is almost too many things to plot in two sessions makes me a little less happy about it all – and the feeling that there could actually be more cues and that the show will need more to be good is slightly worrying me.

What else happened..? Well, I was soldering the power switch of the MD’s computer back on. For me this is hopefully the most technical I have to get during the course of this show.

Now off to a completely different topic, which in a way has accompanied me over the past couple of weeks: Football. Yes, this game where 22 guys are actually kicking a white ball across a bit of grass for about 90+ minutes. You know that I usually have as much interest in this sport as in hoovering (although I can see the point in hoovering). But there are two exceptions to this rule (which also means that it actually is a rule) and that is the European cup and the World cup. And also I am not a very patriotic person (living in Switzerland on the other hand lets me become more patriotic as the Swiss are a bunch of over-patriotic people) I do feel with the German national team then. Or basically over the past years. I have respect for the last two coaches of the team, as they were brave enough to give young and new players a chance. It is always been tradition for the “old” guys to play and the last two coaches went the other way by nominating new players. Which you’d think makes sense. Young people will be highly motivated to score and they have the dynamic and power besides the will to really go for it.

This year the team has been brilliant and this is not me (the absolute ignoramus of football) talking, it is what I and a lot of other people have been seeing and talking about. The Germans are the team that scored most goals in this competition and they did actually play absolutely great. So for them, the players, I felt very sorry last Wednesday when a – up to then – horribly sloppy Spanish team found back to its old strength and managed to score the one goal they needed to score in order to reach the final. Tonight “my” team had their mini-final to play for the 3rd place in the competition and they won this probably most useless match in the whole of the World cup. And they did with even 4 of the first-team regulars being replaced due to illness.

It does prove that life isn’t always fair and sometimes you won’t reach what you actually deserve. But now that they have reached the final or the semi-final three times in a row, there will be a time when they will get their chance. It is a young team but I like when young people achieve great things, so I take my hat off to their performance over the last few weeks.

So I wanna thank the team for giving us an amazing time over here.

To finish today’s post I found one of my favourite sketches by Rowan Atkinson. Basically I remembered it because we went to an Indian restaurant just an hour before and the context of football also seems to be right, so here you go. Enjoy your evening or whatever time of the day it is when you read this.


The designer that still needs to design Sister Act…

The journey (1)

After we actually reached the one month where nobody posted on this blog, this would actually mean it is probably dead. However this could happen, I don’t know. But… I will now take you with me on a journey of a few days here in Bournemouth in England. I returned in the third year to do a show for the Big Little Theatre School and once again, I have been doing mad design work as I tried to design 17 completely different musicals for one show.
For the next days here I will try to take you with me on a journey, not only through the different states of the work process, but also into my mindset. Coming to England always provokes different feelings in me and not all of them are entirely positive. But let’s start in sunny and hot Zürich, on this Friday the 9th of July 2010…

I am approaching the train that connects the main terminal building with the E-Gates. This is where my lovely orange (guess who is flying me to London… – yes, I know it was quite easy…) aircraft A320 is waiting for me. But there is still a long way to go before I can actually board the plane. The very accurate lady at the security checks for example (who refuses to talk to me in German but keeps replying to my German answers in English – how odd…) holds me up for a little while because I have a dangerous item in my bag. Even after personally inspecting the x-ray image of my possessions I have no clue of what appears to be extremely dangerous – and so I end up emptying my bad and having it x-rayed again and again to eventually finding an DMX 3 to 5 pin adaptor that turns out to be the dangerous item. I think from now on the guy at the check-in will add this to the list of dangerous goods…

So while putting my belt back on (and trying not to lose my laptop and camera besides the other stuff I am juggling while walking to the gate) I am approaching the large crowd of people that looks like it has gathered around a small little desk where they must apparently give away free food and drinks. At least the behavior of the crowd lets me think this. It turns out that this is all down to the brilliant Easyjet idea that free seating is a good idea.
I step back and let all the people that still haven’t understood the system of boarding groups, speedy boarding, families with small children under 6, no more than 1 piece of hand luggage, easy card plus, easy card plus gold, easy diamond plus gold minus silver card and so on, have their go at the check-in lady. Obviously they all have not purchased what was necessary to enter the plane before everyone else and so they all end up where they were before. And the one person that actually was stupid enough to buy a ridiculously expensive speedy boarding ticket combined with the golden diamond and platinum card is proudly entering the gangway to the aircraft – just to get knocked over by the 6 (!!) obviously helpless women with small children that have picked up so much momentum while running down the gangway that they lost control of their high-tech prams (where they are also hiding 5 additional pieces of hand luggage) and are now crashing into the open door of the aircraft.

So when I finally manage to arrive at the bastion of Easyjet – the senior cabin crew member, who is the felt 5th person to check my ticket (after the boarding pass inspection, the security control check, the passport and boarding pass check – with permission stamp – and the gate-check) I feel like having been on a turkish bazaar. I fall into my seat just to find out that the senior cabin crew member might actually be my Easyjet highlight when she says: “Good morning ladies and gentlemen – if I promise you that the front and the rear of this aircraft will both be lading in London today, would you then please go down the back first and fill up the plane from there?”. I like people that do things differently and follow their own style. And she is unique. “This aircraft has 3 toilets – two in the back and one in the front. All of them are equipped with baby changing units and unfortunately also with a smoke alarm. So please don’t smoke there. If you are not nice and follow this advice it will be my pleasure to show you our secret balcony.” “We will come around once again for any rubbish, newspapers, credit cards, babies and little children you don’t wanna take with you.” And so it goes on. I had a fun time with her and wished more flights were like that. By the way, she looked just like Whoopie Goldberg and I am sure if Whoopie wasn’t an actress she might have become the funniest flight attendant of all times.

A good hour later I arrive at my destination (apparently “Welcome to Copacabana – the sun is shining”) I realise I am back in England and the question whether HSBC owns all UK airports comes back into mind once again. With my heavy trolley with scripts, plans and clothes – that happens to arrive together with me at the baggage belt – we go off to find the train station and the ticket machines. After having had the choice of at least 20 different ticket options between 16 and 104 GBPs I decide to buy the ticket off the nice guy at the counter and pay 11.40 GBP. He also sends me to the right platform with instructions where to change. I seem to look a little hard of understanding as he keeps shouting where to change after me while I am already leaving the station… odd moment.

The past couple of days I had no desire to go to Bournemouth. I don’t like traveling with computer, camera, all sorts of stuff and a huge suitcase on any train – but especially not in England where there are no escalators. And no space to store it on the train. And no seat on the train where you could already not store your suitcase. And ice cold aircon. Or no aircon. – Am I complicated?

Everytime I come to England there is this emotional undertone which doesn’t feel good. I have tried to find out where this comes from, because I have been living in this country for three years and I did indeed have a great time then. Probably the best time ever. But the picture of England as a country has also been damaged over these three years. It became cracks and like the country itself, the paint flakes off. To me it seems the country missed the right moment to realise that the former empire does not exist any more. That there are a lot of problems and that a vast part of the population has been left out of the good times. That there is a working class of which an escape seems difficult. That the country as a whole has an alcohol problem and that the word “pub culture” actually is a cover that only works for so and so long.

But is that it? I don’t know. I like Bournemouth in the summer. When the sun is shining like today, it is a really nice town. With old trees along the streets. With the sea near-by. With the opportunity to design lighting for a 1500 seat theatre. With people that are interested in theatre.

And still there is some negative touch that I didn’t have before I lived here. A friend of mine keeps saying that it seems like I really don’t like England anymore. Is that true? Maybe it is just me not being able to adjust again. Being used to a structure that is different to the one here might make it difficult to adopt again. But then I mean still, this is not an answer.

When I arrived here – I am staying with a lovely family – I went for a walk in the surrounding area. There is a golf course next door basically and it is also a park for everyone to enjoy. That is when you eventually find the bench(es) of which there are some. I sat at a nice little river and the sun was slowly setting and it was very nice. Calm in a way. Over the past weeks while working on this project – and solely working on this one project) I realised it was good for me not to be working in my job for almost three months now. It took this time, together with some physical distance, to actually calm down my mind and not think of it all as a pile of rubbish. I have feeling that I have to be very careful in the future of how I look at the job. Because I feel I was very close to lose the most important asset there is in our business: Passion. I would not go as far as to say that I regained it completely. It seems it is buried somewhere and over the past weeks I have slowly started getting the layers of dust and dirt that have come to cover it up removed. But still – I have not retrieved the treasure yet.

OK. Don’t think I want to compensate for all the months where I posted nothing or very little… 😉 And don’t expect it to be such long – and random – posts every day now. But I feel that I have the time now. And the right topic. So here we are. Oh, and very nice… The people here seem to think of me. Now that I tried driving on the left side of the road on Cyprus – scary thing to do – in the UK they wanna make sure I find the right way and have even translated the instructions for me: (Maybe this one only works for people with a German background…)

Good things happen every day. Bad things too. It is called life.


Even though it seems no one writes anymore, I took the time to upgrade our platform to WordPress version 3 – Thelonious. Improved stability, more features, shiny new interface and so forth are some of the key elements of this upgrade.

Hopefully somebody will use it.

Code is HPoetry