It's been a couple of tough weeks for our friends at The Comedy School. Last Thursday The Sun made them front page news with a reactionary story about the terrorist connections of one of the participants on a education course in Whitemoor prison.
Keith's had to play a pretty straight bat in response - especially as within 24 hours the story had spawned 38 further articles, all wanting quotes and debate. I caught up with him yesterday at The School's annual funny festival and ten days on he's still walking a tightrope.
Behind the story is an attempt to stir up the 'castrate and string 'em up' brigade. It's political mischief making, and Keith is nervous that it's the first shot in a more extensive campaign. (It's been announced this morning that luminous orange jackets are to be issued to those carrying out community service orders - so that we can see them!)
The punishment v rehabilitation debate is a good one to have and I don't think anybody in prison arts or the voluntary sector is scared of it, when it's conducted openly - but the Sun article is skewed to such a dangerous level that it makes it impossible for Keith to do anything other than fend it off.
What. of course, it doesn't say is that Keith is a consultant for the Home Office on Prison art, or that they are one of his major clients. It'd also be interesting to know who gave The Sun the story (Keith doesn't know or ask what crimes participants have committed, trusting in the management of the prison to choose inmates who might benefit for the work); and how much they were paid. Finally, what's with the choice to place a ten year old photo of him, smiling and laughing (at us?) next to a menacing, look you in the eyes, image of Kenneth Noyes, the road rage murderer, who had nothing to do with the workshop programme? There was no need to publish Keith's photo, especially not in this racist juxtaposition.
The festival was wonderful. A great opportunity to take part in practical workshops and talk to casting directors, producers and comedians about their experience and practice. Arnold Brown gave a great history of alternative comedy, Adam Bloom (see image) gave advice on getting started, Ivor Dembina explained how to set up a venue, Mick Barnfather ran a scintillating Clowning workshop and Neil Mullarkey from the Comedy Store players helped develop impro skills.
Sarah Hughes from the BBC ran audition technique workshops, which were fascinating. She suggested that young actors were as frightened of success as they were of failure and that many fall into the trap of being 'an actor' without actually working or seriously looking for work - they last a couple years, bemoaning their luck, and go and do something else. Successful actors deal with the 'what happens if I get the part?' thought and go into every audition believing that as they've been called, they have a shout. From Sarah's point of view, this is true, she's simply too busy to call actors she doesn't believe in.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.