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July 08 2010

The arts need a really big give

With deep funding cuts on the way, our cultural institutions must learn new ways of harnessing private philanthropy

Private donors to the arts were gratified to receive a letter from the new culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, last month. He thanked them, stressed the importance of personal philanthropy and asked if they had any ideas for its furtherance. In a year of deep cuts in government expenditure, espousing private philanthropy could be seen as a counsel of convenience, if not desperation. How much our national arts spend is to fall will not be clear until the autumn spending review. But we all know it will be painful. So, however convenient it may be to talk up private giving, it is also very necessary. And because Hunt and his colleague at the department, Ed Vaizey, have thus far displayed a genuine enthusiasm for the arts I'm going to take the minister at his word and offer a few ideas.

When the retiring vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Alison Richard, was appointed, she found an institution that needed to raise money but which was damagingly fragmented. The colleges did their own, independent fundraising, while the university lacked a coherent rationale for its "ask". Richard launched a campaign for £1bn, where any gift to a college counted towards the total, and she developed a compelling pitch for the whole university. It has been a huge success, and the £1bn target is about to be reached.

The arts sector has much to learn from this. What it now needs is an overarching appeal to individuals that creates both awareness and momentum, allowing organisations to continue their own fundraising but with additional impetus. I help with fundraising at English National Opera. Over the past three years, corporate giving has declined steeply – a direct result of the recession. During the same time, individual giving, despite the depredations of the credit crunch, has actually increased. It shows the potential that individual giving represents.

Arts & Business, an organisation that promotes partnerships between commerce and culture, estimates that individuals gave £363m to "culture" in 2008-09. It runs The Big Arts Give, an initiative that this year is hoped to raise up to £3m. But what we need now is The Really Big Arts Give. It should target a number of milestones towards an annual £1bn over, say, 10 years. All personal donations made to organisations in the sector will contribute to the total. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Arts Council England need to harness and develop the brand and marketing of such a campaign so that it really takes off. This would be a departure for two organisations that have traditionally been gamekeepers – they need to adopt a poaching mentality.

As a start, the government has wholeheartedly to encourage us to pay less tax to the Treasury. Gift aid means that charities can claim a further 20% (the UK's basic tax rate) back from the state on each donation. Higher rate taxpayers also get a personal rebate. But how widely is this understood? A professional fundraiser who has worked in London and New York says the tax advantages of charitable giving are far better explained and advertised in the US. In the current austerity you may think the Treasury is as likely to back such a campaign as Fabio Capello is to play Gerrard on the right wing. But if Jeremy Hunt genuinely wishes to increase philanthropy it is axiomatic that less tax will be paid. And a beneficial tweak to the system would be for gift aid to be an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, as it is at present.

David Willetts points out in his book, The Pinch, that the large baby boomer generation is retiring and has disposable wealth. The question is, how can more of them be persuaded to join The Really Big Arts Give? Many baby boomers' wealth is concentrated in their houses. Property values have inflated hugely over the past 30 years. Legacies would therefore be an important element. How about a nifty scheme to enable charities to realise the value of a legacy now? The major banks should agree to support this. Say a legacy of £10,000 is willed by someone who owns a £250,000 home. The bank could make the £10,000 available to the arts organisation right away, and charge a fixed 2% on the sum, payable by the person's estate upon death. Simple and painless.

We also need to find ways of leveraging the benefits the sector can offer to donors. Much of the marketing of O2, Vodafone and American Express is tied to exclusive offers for their loyal customer base. Arts organisations already do this. How much more powerful it could be with access to special events across the arts and cultural world: an arts donor card offering a wealth of lectures, private views and social events pooled by participating organisations. But for this to work as an incentive there needs to be a relaxation of the very tough rules attached to benefits received for donations – above a tiny percentage, gift aid is currently stopped. Donors should be able to receive, say, £1,000 of value annually before disqualification.

We have a complex set of motives for giving: we want to see a cause prosper; we want to belong; we enjoy being thanked. The more motives the better as long as donations are made. But DCMS could certainly do more to help donors feel appreciated. The recent letters were a good start, and an annual party in Downing Street for significant supporters (say more than £10,000 in a year) could be another valuable nudge.

None of this can, or should, replace proper government support for the arts – the mark of a civilised state. In his letter, Hunt wrote: "I am keen to ensure that through sustained support from both public and private sectors we enable artistic and cultural excellence to flourish." Cuts or no cuts, we must hold the coalition to the public bit. But in the meantime, we can all raise our game.


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May 29 2010

Is austerity good for the arts?

Josie Rourke, artistic director of the Bush theatre, and Observer writer Sean O' Hagan discuss whether funding matters

NO Josie Rourke

It's no good holding hard times up as a source of powerful inspiration if we lose the platforms on which the arts are heard, staged and performed. There is no serious conversation to be had about "garret chic" and we need be careful that we don't fall into romanticising adversity. Not all art requires subsidy but a lot of it does, and the reason that the arts in this country have been engaged, excellent and provocative for at least the past decade is because they have been confidently funded.

If resources drain away as deeply as is being suggested in some quarters, artists won't adapt, or do something fabulous and counter-cultural, they'll just stop. Worse than that, independent means will become an entry-level requirement for new artists. We've all worked for free to get a start, written in our bedrooms, borrowed and begged some kind of prop, speaker or studio. The ability to do that – more often than not – is floated by parents who can afford to offer support and who, more often than not, live in London.

One of the most important things that subsidy does – and should be working harder to do – is to ensure that we don't limit the range of artistic expression to the privileged, who can afford to hang around for a break. It is certainly true that interesting times produce interesting art (although in theatre, the more topical or directly responsive the play the less likely it is to enter the repertoire; agit prop tends to date) but without decent subsidy, interesting times will not produce interesting artists because the range of backgrounds from which they emerge will be limited; the perimeter will narrow, and privilege will talk to privilege.

Nonetheless, the last thing anyone wants to witness at the moment is artists throwing their hands in the air and saying that cuts are a "disaster for the arts". Artists are responsive, adaptive and challenging to the society in which they work, that's why we have them. At my subsidised theatre, the Bush, we're on the search daily for smart ways to stretch the resources we have to produce the work. Our production manager is – even as I type – liberating some ceiling tiles from a closed-down office unit for the set of our next show.

Our public funding doesn't limit our initiative, and it doesn't make us lazy thinkers. A generation of new artists is coming through whose desire to reuse, borrow and recycle is driven as much by being green as by saving money. It's a truism that in the theatre, constraint is a condition of our creativity but it's important to stress that our ability to make constraint a virtue isn't limited to periods of austerity.

I've just gone from a $200,000 set budget in Chicago to a £6,000 set budget at the Bush. Between those two shows, there's small difference in the creativity, concentration and workload. I did experience constraints on the work in the US, and they were driven by finance but they weren't budgetary. They came from concerns about the response of key donors to the content of the writing. In America, this is a constant concern for their unsubsidised theatre culture, and something we'd never face in this country.

In my own field – new plays – I can see a fascinating, engaged and highly political generation of playwrights emerging who are ready to write about our changed and changing world. I can also see a group of considered and serious people running our theatres who are more than capable of husbanding resources and engaging in a serious and public conversation about how we get through these hard times without damaging our cultural assets. Britain has an instinctual understanding of how to pass on opportunity to successive generations. It's our responsibility to hand on strong arguments to those who need to make them within government, and bolster their case against cutting too deeply for too long.

YES Sean O' Hagan

The question "is austerity good for the arts?" is problematic in itself. The first thing to say about it is that art will out whether we live in a period of economic hardship or great prosperity. Bad art – if such a thing exists – will also keep being produced, and, to a lesser degree, keep being subsidised.

Thus the idea that artists will suddenly stop producing art if funding is cut, seems a strange one. Artists make art because they have to; funding helps but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. I am struggling too with the term "counter-cultural". What does it mean in this post-postmodern moment? It seems an old-fashioned term, a hangover from the heady days of the mid-to-late 1960s when there was such a thing as a (vaguely) unified counter culture. To a degree, that same counter-culture did thrive on, and react against, the prosperity and optimism that attended Harold Wilson's first term as prime minister. Less than a decade later, though, the truly hard times of the 1970s fired the punk movement and its DIY ethic that revitalised a moribund British music scene. In recent history great art has been produced in bad times as well as good.

One could go as far as to say that austerity breeds invention. The generation known as the YBAs were at their most exciting as a loosely knit cultural group when they were struggling. When money came in unprecedented amounts, many of the artists responded with work that was vulgar and overblown. In one way, Damien Hirst's diamond encrusted skull (above) is the most extreme – and clever – indictment of the culture of money that has vulgarised British art over the last few decades. The funding of high art, whether in museums or opera houses, is underpinned by the old-fashioned notion that it elevates us in some quasi-spiritual way, that a great work of art offers some kind of transcendent experience to those who sit mute in front of it. The literary critic John Carey has argued brilliantly against this in his provocative book, What Good Are the Arts? In it he dismisses the idea that opera needs state funding because it is the most difficult and demanding of the arts. "What," he asks, "is difficult about sitting in plush seats and listening to music and singing?" Lest we forget, the Royal Opera House underwent a £178m refurbishment when times were good. How can we measure the worth of that other than in terms of subsequent productions? Like the overhyped, overfunded biennials and overcrowded blockbuster shows that major art institutions now specialise in, big, overblown productions are another example of what the Americans call "cultural bloat": a consequence of the notion that big is beautiful, that the extravagance somehow equals quality. Often, it equals bombast and boredom.

The problem is that we are all about to enter an age of austerity. A more pertinent question might be whether a special case should be made for artists and art institutions. I think not. Art will out whatever the circumstances because needs must. You can put on a play on a bare stage and make the work sing. That model works as much for an opera production as a local theatre. My hope is that austerity will breed discontent and that a generation will be galvanised by the hard times to make art that dares once again to be angry and – dare I say it? – politically engaged. Now there's an old-fashioned idea ripe for rebranding.


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May 23 2010

Here comes summer

Stevie Wonder hits the UK, Toy Story goes 3D, and it's the last ever Big Brother – our critics pick the unmissable events of the season

Pop

Stevie Wonder

Anyone who can't face braving Glastonbury to see the Motown legend's Sunday-night set can head to London's Hyde Park for this headlining show. It's likely to be heavy on the hits, but a little too heavy on the audience participation, if complaints from disgruntled punters at Wonder's recent shows are anything to go by. And be warned: Jamiroquai seems to have been enticed out of retirement to provide support. Hyde Park, London W2, 26 June. Box office: 020-7009 3484.

T in the Park

This beloved Scottish festival is prized as much for its atmosphere as its lineup. And they're certainly wheeling out the big hitters this year: Eminem, Muse, Kasabian, Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Dizzee Rascal and Paolo Nutini, among others. Balado, Kinross-shire, 9-11 July. Box office: 0844 499 9990.

Wireless

There are those who would argue that going to a festival with no camping doesn't strictly constitute going to a festival: equally, there are those who wouldn't countenance doing anything else. Either way, this year's Wireless lineup looks strong: it includes Pink, the Ting Tings, LCD Soundsystem, Lily Allen, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Plan B and Friendly Fires. Hyde Park, London W2, 2-4 July. Box office: 020-7009 3484.

Benicassim

If you're prepared to travel abroad for your festival jollies, Spain's Benicassim can offer things no British event can: a beach and guaranteed good weather. This year you can also catch Kasabian, Ray Davies, the Prodigy, Lily Allen, the Specials, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vampire Weekend, PiL, Dizzee Rascal, Hot Chip, Goldfrapp and the intriguingly named Love of Lesbian. Benicassim, Spain, 15-18 July. Box office: tickets.fiberfib.com

Green Man

Of all the boutique festivals, Green Man is the longest-established. This year's eclectic bill sees something of a shift away from its nu-folk roots – but they presumably know their audience well enough to know what they'll like. Doves, Joanna Newsom and Flaming Lips are among the headliners; also on the roster are Billy Bragg, Fuck Buttons, Wild Beasts and Steve Mason. The traditional end of things, meanwhile, is held up by the Unthanks and Alasdair Roberts. Brecon Beacons, 20-22 August. Box office: 0871 424 4444.

Film

Greenberg

An indie comedy from Noah Baumbach, creator of The Squid and the Whale. Ben Stiller is Roger Greenberg, an unfulfilled middle-aged guy who house-sits for his more successful brother Phillip in LA, and begins a relationship with Phillip's nervy assistant Florence, played by mumblecore star Greta Gerwig. Released on 11 June.

Inception

The Batman movies made Christopher Nolan one of Hollywood's biggest hitters; now, he raises the stakes with this non-superhero film. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a guy with a unique gift in a strange dystopian future where corporate espionage has engendered an unsettling new technology. Released on 16 July.

Toy Story 3

The first two Toy Stories were sublime, so hopes are high for the third instalment. Woody, Buzz and his toy pals are facing the much-feared betrayal/abandonment issues hinted at in the previous film. Their owner has grown up, and they are headed for the charity bins, to be played with by kids who do not appreciate them. So the toys plan a daring escape. Released on 21 July.

Mother

This movie from South Korea has acquired cult status on the festival circuit, and makes a welcome appearance in the UK. Kim Hye-ja plays an elderly woman whose twentysomething son still lives with her. When he is charged with murder, it is up to her to right what she is convinced is a terrible wrong, and to track down the real killer. She is a formidable amateur sleuth. But what will she – and we – discover? Released on 20 August.

The Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet, the director of the hugely admired animation Les Triplettes de Belleville, has scored another hit by resurrecting an unproduced script by Jacques Tati and bringing it to life with complete fidelity to his spirit. It is a gentle, melancholy tale about an old-school vaudevillian magician and entertainer who finds that modern showbusiness is leaving him behind. But a young girl still thrills to his act. Released on 20 August.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Comic fans suffering from withdrawal after Kick-Ass can find comfort in this adventure. Based on the graphic novel by Brian Lee O'Malley and directed by Edgar Wright, this stars Michael Cera as the introspective rock musician Scott. He falls hard for Ramona Flowers, but discovers that he has to vanquish her seven ex-boyfriends before he can win her heart. Released on 6 August.

Books

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

In Edwardian Dublin, a young actress begins an affair with JM Synge. This latest from historical novelist O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls, is loosely based on the real story of the great Irish playwright's affair with Molly Allgood, moving between 1907 Dublin and 1952 London. Harvill Secker, 3 June.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Twenty-five years after Ellis burst onto the scene with Less Than Zero comes this sequel to his story of disaffected LA teenager Clay and friends. Middle-aged Clay is now a screenwriter, returning to LA to cast a movie and catch up with ex-girlfriend Blair, childhood best friend Julian (now a recovering addict running an escort service) and their old dealer Rip. Picador, 2 July.

Faithful Place by Tana French

Every holiday needs a good crime novel and French's skilful thrillers are tailor-made to terrify. This follows the story of Frank Mackey, who planned to run away to London with his girlfriend Rosie, aged 19. She failed to turn up; 20 years later he's still in Dublin, working as an undercover policeman. And then Rosie's suitcase is found. Hodder, 19 August.

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen

Authors from Jay McInerney to Fay Weldon, Alain de Botton and Susanna Clarke ponder Austen's enduring appeal in this collection, edited by Susannah Carson. Martin Amis, for one, dreams of a 20-page sex scene between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, with Darcy "acquitting himself uncommonly well". Particular Books, 3 June.

Visual art

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception

Belgian artist Alÿs, now based in Mexico City, has pushed a block of ice through sweltering streets, had 500 volunteers move a Peruvian sand dune, and walked the 1948 Armistice line between Palestine and Israel, trailing green paint behind him. This will be the largest survey of his work ever held. Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 15 June-15 September.

Martin Creed: Down Over Up

A mid-career survey show of the Turner Prize-winning artist who made the lights go on and off, filled galleries with balloons, and had runners sprinting through Tate Britain. Creed works increasingly with performance, both with his band Owada and with dancers. His art can be funny, touching and outrageous, all carried off with wit, charm and a lack of pretension. Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (0131-225 2383), 30 July–31 October.

Alice Neel: Painted Truths

Alice Neel (1900-1984) was a tough, single-minded and wonderful American portraitist whose subjects included her family and art-world friends, such as Andy Warhol (whom she painted in bandages after he was shot). An artist's artist, her work is idiosyncratic and acute. Expect art schools to be filled with teenage mini-Neels next term. Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (020-7522 7888), 8 July–17 September.

John Cage: Every Day Is a Good Day

Cage did much more than compose 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The composer, writer, mushroom-hunter, unconventional artist and collaborator with Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns is undergoing a major revival. This show is curated by artist, writer and long-time fan Jeremy Millar, and is organised according to Cage's ideas of chance and indeterminacy. Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1810) 19 June‑5 September.

Picasso: The Mediterranean Years (1945-1962)

Complementing Tate Liverpool's current Picasso show, this exhibition, curated by Picasso biographer John Richardson and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, focuses on the artist's Mediterranean roots, with portraits, sculptures, ceramics and prints, mostly taken from Picasso's own collection. Gagosian Gallery, London WC1 (020-7784 9960), 4 June–28 August.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Based in London for 20 years, Tillmans takes his relationship with the city as the starting point for this show. Abstract photographs and snapshots, portraits and places, old things and new: Tillmans's subjects are as rich and varied, as surprising and askew as the world itself. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 10 July–17 October.

Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries

An exhibition for anyone interested in the skulduggery of forgery; the mangling of old paintings to make them fit later taste; or in the science of restoration and CSI-type investigation. The show analyses work from the gallery's own collection. National Gallery, London WC2 (020-7747 2885), 30 June–12 September.

Theatre

Women, Power and Politics

Nine dramatists, including Bola Agbaje, Moira Buffini, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Sue Townsend, join forces to create a two-part show exploring the role of women in British politics. Given that there are more Lib Dems than women in the current cabinet, it seems a timely venture. Tricycle Theatre, London NW6 (020-7328 1000), 4 June-17 July.

Morte d'Arthur

Having adapted The Canterbury Tales for the RSC, the writer-director team of Mike Poulton and Gregory Doran now give us a compressed version of Malory's epic on Arthurian legend. Expect the round table, the holy grail and the hot, adulterous passion of Lancelot and Guinevere. Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon (0844 800 1110), 11 June-28 August.

Alice

Playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner have just had a hit with Posh at the Royal Court. Now things get curiouser as the pair collaborate on a new version of Lewis Carroll's novel, in which Wonderland looks suspiciously like Sheffield. Over-eights only. Crucible, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), 17 June-24 July.

Greenwich and Docklands International festival

This outdoor festival can hold its head up proudly among its European peers. French company Ilotopie return with a new show, Oxymer – and there is a dazzling array of work from Catalonia. All events are free. Various sites around London, 24 June-4 July.

The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound

Sheridan is matched with Stoppard in two of the funniest plays ever written about theatre. In the first, a ludicrous play about the Spanish Armada descends into chaos; in the second, two critics get caught up in a Christie-style whodunit. Jonathan Church, who has boldly restored Chichester's fortunes, directs. Minerva, Chichester (01243 781312), 2 July-28 August.

You Me Bum Bum Train

Two hundred performers and an audience of just one – you. This show has been six years in the making, and now gets a full-scale production courtesy of the Barbican's BITE programme. LEB Building, London E2 (0845 120 7511), 6-24 July.

Earthquakes in London

Rupert Goold directs a Mike Bartlett play promising a rollercoaster ride through London from 1968 to 2525. Themes include social breakdown, population explosion and paranoia: a chance for Goold to exercise the expressionist talents he used in Enron. Cottesloe, London SE1 (020-7452 3000), from 28 July.

The Gospel at Colonus

Classic Greek drama is given a twist by US director Lee Breuer, who relocates Sophocles's tragedy to modern America and throws in a gospel choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, to collectively play the role of Oedipus. Edinburgh Playhouse (0131-473 2000), 21-23 August.

Architecture

The Serpentine Gallery summer pavilion

The gallery's 10th summer pavilion is as red as a London double-decker. It's also Jean Nouvel's first building in Britain, but only just: the French architect, best known for the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, has nearly completed a controversial office block in the City of London. This boldly geometric pavilion will be home to a series of cultural events. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 10 July–17 October.

Venice Biennale

The 12th International Architecture Exhibition is curated this year by the Pritzker prize-winning Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima. This is one of the most delightful places to encounter the latest ideas in architecture. Venice, 29 August–21 November. Details: labiennale.org

Television

Secret Diaries of Anne Lister

Anne Lister was a woman way ahead of her time. A Yorkshire industrialist, land-owner and traveller, she was also a lesbian and lived with her lover, long before lesbians officially existed. Best of all, she was an avid diarist, recording her life in great detail – and often in code. Maxine Peake stars as Lister in this one-off 90-minute drama, written by Jane English and directed by James Kent. BBC2, June

Big Brother

Love it or hate it, there's no denying BB's influence and impact on the first decade of the 21st century. Remember the chickens, and Nasty Nick? And how much nastier it got over subsequent series? This is the end – the last BB ever. (To be read in Marcus Bentley's Geordie voice: It's D-Day in the Big Brother house ...) Channel 4, June

Father & Son

A four-part thriller written by Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect: The Final Act and The Passion) about an ex-crim who returns to Britain from a quiet life in Ireland, to save his teenage son from prison. Starring Dougray Scott, Stephen Rea, Sophie Okonedo and Ian Hart. ITV, June

Vexed

A three-part comedy drama about a pair of cops (Toby Stephens and Lucy Punch) with a lot of chemistry between them, as well as issues at home. Written by Howard Overman, who penned the hit show Misfits for E4. BBC2, August

I Am Slave

A one-off drama from the people who created the feature film The Last King of Scotland, tackling the issue of slavery in contemporary Britain. Inspired by real events, it tells the story of a young woman's abduction from her home in Sudan to London, where she is enslaved. Channel 4, August

Classical and opera

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Bryn Terfel finally sings a role he was born to play – that of Hans Sachs, in Wagner's most life-affirming work. Welsh National Opera presents Richard Jones's new production in Cardiff and Birmingham, before bringing it to the Proms as a concert performance. Millennium Centre, Cardiff (029-2063 6464), 19 June-3 July; Hippodrome, Birmingham (0844 338 5000), 6 & 10 July; Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040), 17 July.

What are Years

The highlight of Pierre Boulez's first-ever appearance at the Aldeburgh festival promises to be the world premiere of 101-year-old Elliott Carter's Marianne Moore song cycle, with Boulez conducting soprano Claire Booth and Ensemble Intercontemporain. Snape Maltings Concert Hall (01728 687110), Aldeburgh, 26 June.

The Duchess of Malfi

English National Opera and the theatre company Punchdrunk join forces to take over a vacant site in London's Docklands for an "immersive" production of Torsten Rasch's new opera, based on John Webster's 17th-century revenge tragedy. Great Eastern Quay, London E16 (0871 911 0200), 13-24 July.

Bach Day

As usual, the Proms will mark most of the year's significant musical anniversaries – Schumann, Chopin, Scriabin, Mahler – and will devote an entire day to Bach. John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Brandenburg Concertos, David Briggs plays organ works and Andrew Litton takes on an evening of orchestral arrangements. Cadogan Hall & Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040), 14 August.

Montezuma

The European colonisation of the new world is the theme of this year's Edinburgh international festival – and Carl Heinrich Graun's rarely performed opera from 1754, with a libretto by Frederick the Great of Prussia, fits into it perfectly. A Mexican production team stages this story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, with a cast drawn from both the old and new worlds. King's, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 14, 15 & 17 August.

East Neuk festival

Expect high-class chamber music at this Scottish event, with both the Belcea and Elias quartets in residence. Programmes range across more than three centuries, from Tallis to Britten. Various venues, Fife (0131-473 2000), 30 June to 4 July.

Jazz

Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis and the Lincoln Center orchestra celebrate 80 years of big-band jazz history with three big London concerts, as well as workshops and jams at the Vortex Club and elsewhere. The Hackney gigs feature both an afternoon family concert and evening show, while the Glasgow performance is part of the Glasgow international jazz festival. Barbican Hall, London E8 (0845 120 7500), 17-18 June; Hackney Empire, London E8 (020-8510 4500), 20 June; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (0141-353 8000), 27 June.

The Necks

Every performance by Australia's cult improv trio the Necks is different – though you can be sure that each will be a seamless episode of free improvisation. Hypnotic hooks emerge and fade from trance-like drones, jazz phrasing is touched on and abandoned, and drum sounds are both textural and rhythmic. It's a unique ensemble, with a big cult following. Tron Theatre, Glasgow (0141-552 4267), 22 June.

Pat Metheny Band

Guitar star Metheny came to Britain with his one-man-band Orchestrion project earlier in the year, but this show represents the Metheny his long-time fans know: the leader of an accessible quartet fusing Latin music, jazz themes and lyrical guitar. Regulars Lyle Mays (piano), Steve Rodby (bass) and dynamic drummer Antonio Sanchez complete the lineup. Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7500), 10 July.

Kurt Elling

Jazz singer and multi-award nominee Elling has it all – Sinatra's soaring sound and charismatic cool, a dazzling jazz-improv technique, and an intelligent audacity about picking unusual material. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), 30 June-3 July.

World music

Womad

This festival can either be a miserable mudbath or an easy-going weekend in the Wiltshire countryside – but it's worth risking it for an impressive lineup. From Congo, Staff Benda Bilili play rousing rhumba-rock from their wheelchairs; and from Australia there's the soulful Aboriginal star Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Plus Nigeria's master drummer Tony Allen, the Kamkars from Kurdish Iran, and great American veteran Gil Scott-Heron. Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, 23-25 July. Box office: 0845 146 1735.

Cambridge Folk Festival

There are dozens of good UK folk festivals this summer – but Cambridge still has the highest profile, partly because it has become an international event with increasing emphasis on American stars. This year the line-up includes country legend Kris Kristofferson, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the multilingual Pink Martini, along with Malian star Rokia Traoré. The British contingent includes the Unthanks and Seth Lakeman. Cherry Hinton Hall, 29 July to 1 August. Box office: 01223 357851.

Dance

Pleasure's Progress

Will Tuckett visits the dark underbelly of 18th-century England, mixing dance and opera in this homage to William Hogarth. The cast includes the excellent Matthew Hart. Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich (01473 295230), 18-19 June, then touring.

Russian ballet in London

Heavyweight Moscow ballet giant the Bolshoi and the St Petersburg featherweight, the Mikhailovsky, fight it out for London's summer ballet audience. The Bolshoi have a new staging of Coppélia and Ratmansky's Russian Seasons, while the Mikhailovsky bring the classic Gorsky-Messerer Swan Lake, as well as Chabukiani's uber-Soviet ballet Laurencia. The Mikhailovsky are at the Coliseum, London WC2 (020-7632 8300) from 13 July; The Bolshoi are at the Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), from 17 July.

Carlos Acosta

Acosta returns with his latest mixed programme – and his performances include debuts in the beautiful Russell Maliphant solo, Two, and Edwaard Liang's Sight Unseen, with Zenaida Yanowsky. Coliseum, London WC2 (020-7632 8300), from 28 July.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Agua

Following Bausch's death last year, her company opted to continue touring her work. Agua, seen here in the UK for the first time, is a tragicomic take on life played out against Brazilian landscapes. Playhouse, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), 27-29 August.

Comedy

Penn and Teller

Stand aside, Derren Brown. Perform your disappearing act, Paul Daniels. Las Vegas magic act Penn and Teller are coming to town, for five nights in London this July. The duo's 30-year partnership has yielded multiple Emmy nominations, an appearance on The Simpsons – and, of course, their hit 1990s Channel 4 series, The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller. This is their first live UK appearance in 16 years. Hammersmith Apollo, London W6 (0844 844 4748), 14-18 July.

Hans Teeuwen

Already confirmed for the Edinburgh fringe this year, the once-seen, never-forgotten Dutch comic Teeuwen unleashes his new show Smooth and Painful on an unsuspecting world. Even if you've seen the twisted cabaret of this demoniacal Nick Cave of comedy before, you've no idea what he'll come up with next. Pleasance Beyond, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550), 4-29 August.

My Name Is Sue

Winner of a Total Theatre award at last year's Edinburgh fringe, this frumpy cabaret once again unites the talents of composer/performer Dafydd James and director Ben Lewis, of the terrific Inspector Sands theatre group. James dons a blouse and skirt to play the titular housewife, who sits at a piano and whacks out the musical story of her unheralded life. Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (029 2031 1050), 4 and 5 June. Then touring.

Emo Philips

A UK comedy favourite since the 1980s, Philips returns for the first time since 2006 to play – er, a tent in a field in Suffolk. Signing up the falsetto-voiced man-child is a real coup for Latitude: judging by his last British shows, age (he's now in his mid-50s) hasn't mellowed this relentless dispenser of disturbed one-liners. Latitude festival, July 18, then touring; at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550), 5-29 August.

• Previews by Peter Bradshaw, Alexis Petridis, John Fordham, Michael Billington, Lyn Gardner, Robin Denselow, Brian Logan, Andrew Clements, Sam Wollaston, Judith Mackrell, Adrian Searle, Jonathan Glancey and Alison Flood


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April 20 2010

What will the browser look like in five years?

The web browser was just another application five years ago. A useful app, no doubt, but it played second fiddle to operating systems and productivity software.

That's no longer the case. Browsers have matured into multi-purpose tools that connect to the Internet (of course) and also grant access to a host of powerful online applications and services. Shut off your web connection for a few minutes and you'll quickly understand the browser's impact.

I got in touch with Charles McCathieNevile, Opera chief standards officer and a speaker at the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo, to discuss the the current role of web browsers and their near-term future. He shares his predictions in the following Q&A.

MS: Will the web browser become the primary tool on computers?

Charles McCathieNevileCharles McCathieNevile: It isn't already? Email, document management, device control, are all done through the browser. Games are increasingly browser-based -- while it is not the only area that has taken time to move to the web, it is one of the biggest. There will always be applications that don't run in the browser, just because that is the way people are. But there is little reason for the browser not to be a primary application already.MS: Will we even see a browser in five years? Or, will it simply blend with the operating system?

CM: We will see it, but as its importance increases it will be the part people see of their interface to the computer. So it will be less noticeable. Five years ago people chose their computer for the OS, and the software available for that OS. Ten years ago much more so. Increasingly, the browser will be the thing people choose.

MS: What has been the most significant browser advancement of the last 2-3 years?

CM: There are many I could name, from the huge increase in Javascript speed (and capabilities) in all browsers, to the development of native video, or the increased interoperability of XHTML, CSS and SVG. But the most significant in the long term just might be WAI-ARIA -- a technology that makes it easier to make rich applications accessible to anyone, effectively by tagging code to say what it is meant to do. Because an important aspect of the web is its universality.

The ability to build innovative new things has always been around, and it is part of what engineers do by nature. But the ability to make sure everyone can use and benefit from them is the prerequisite for a societal shift. If you like, it isn't the "bleeding edge" that is most significant (although it is generally the most interesting and captures the most mind-share), but it's how the "trailing edge" shifts. That what changes everyone's life.

MS: How important is cloud computing to the future of the browser?

CM: It shows a pathway for things that people want that require more power than the browser could provide at the time. So in that sense, it is very important. The major successes, the Web applications with million of users, are important in the sense that their user base sets some of the requirements for browser development.

MS: Will a single company achieve cloud-based lock in?

Web 2.0 Expo San FranciscoCM: I hope not. And I don't think so. Although very few companies have the computing power to build global-scale applications that people use many times in a day, that power is not necessary for many applications. And there are plenty of things that people are not very keen to put on a cloud at all -- or at least will insist on being able to move their data from one cloud to another. So while there will be very dominant players from time to time, I don't think we will see one company take over completely.

MS: Will browser innovation come from the mobile side in years to come?

CM: Of course -- in a continuation of the contribution of mobile browsing to the overall ecosystem. While mobile is increasingly important, it will not be the only driver. Large-screen devices, which are almost of necessity static, medium-sized devices, and different interface modalities such as voice and game controllers, will also drive innovations that will contribute to the richness of the entire web platform.

MS: What impact will tablet computing have on browsing?

CM: It's another class of device. We have seen it around for years, although it is now taking off with the shiny new toy. So it will highlight the importance of developing for a range of platforms -- and I think in large part the value of developing as much as possible with the "One Web" concept -- making applications and content that are easy to adapt to the increasing diversity of devices people use.

MS: Will web applications catch up to mobile applications?

CM: Oddly enough, many people still ask the question the other way around. So I guess the real issue is whether we will see genuine convergence. And the answer is yes. There are new things being developed on the desktop browser, and they include the capabilities that we now see in mobile applications. Initiatives such as JIL and BONDI were developed to "hothouse" specifications that could form a basis for what is now W3C's Device API group, and the development of technology like Web Workers, database storage and HTML5 video is being brought to mobile as fast as we can.

Note: This interview was condensed and edited.

March 29 2010

'There's no time to mess around'

As the new director of the Cultural Olympiad, Ruth Mackenzie has just two years to come up with a world-beating programme. In her first interview, she tells Charlotte Higgins her plan

With her chic black outfits and avant-garde hair (short back and sides, elegant Cruella de Vil-ish streaks of black amid the grey), Ruth Mackenzie might have stepped out of an Otto Dix painting, or a production of Berg's Lulu. "Formidable" is a word people often use to describe her. She will need to be: as the new director of the Cultural Olympiad, she has just over two years to pull together a cultural programme for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games.

Britain's "cultural offer" (as the gruesome jargon has it) was one of the reasons London secured the bid in 2005; so the aim is to produce a programme to knock the socks off a potentially vast audience – and it will have to be excellent indeed to make an impact alongside the main dish of the sporting events. Trouble is, Mackenzie is only just out of the starting blocks, and two years is no time at all when it comes to pinning down artists and commissioning work. "Yes, we're later than we should be," she says briskly, in her first interview since taking the job, as we talk inside the Royal Festival Hall. "But the up side is there's no time to mess around. What everyone has said is: we need some artistic leadership, we need editorial discipline, and now we can get on with it."

Mackenzie and her team will create something called Festival 2012, which will run from 21 June to 9 September that year. This is being billed as the "finale" of the Cultural Olympiad, which, in case you hadn't noticed, has been in motion since September 2008. The organisers say that the Cultural Olympiad has already garnered 3.9 million people in audiences; its detractors say it has lacked focus and quality.

As well as a clutch of "extra-special surprises", Festival 2012 will bring together some of the best work made as part of the Cultural Olympiad. That might include projects such as the one masterminded by the Tate and Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman, in which schoolchildren create an animated feature ("sounds marvellous", she says). At the moment, she says, she is at the stage of approaching artists, and inviting them to create work. The creative starting point she is suggesting is the notion of the Olympic truce: the traditional cessation of hostilities between the frequently warring cities of ancient Greece during the original games. What Mackenzie has no control over is the opening and closing ceremonies, the directors of which are "very close" to being appointed, she says.

Whatever Festival 2012's "surprises" turn out to be, Mackenzie's past form is suggestive of European, uncompromisingly "high" taste. The events she has most enjoyed recently include Schnitzler's Sweet Nothings at the Young Vic in London, by the distinguished Swiss director Luc Bondy; Patrice Chéreau's production of Janácˇek's The House of the Dead in Milan, and a six-hour-long production of Shakespeare's Roman tragedies in Dutch. "I went to see it twice in Vienna. Then I saw it in Avignon. And I saw it at the Barbican twice." Right, fairly enthusiastic about that one, then.

Boring? There's nothing worse

What qualities does she dislike in performance? "The lowest common denominator," she says. "Things that are predictable, lazy, boring. There's nothing worse than boring in the arts." After some prodding, I get her to tell me what she's not enjoyed recently (I can practically see her calculating whom she can afford to offend). She cites an aerial dance performance at the Vancouver Winter Olympics that was initially spectacular but fast ran out of ideas; and English National Opera's recent production of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, whose set consisted of a vast figure of a naked woman. "All you noticed was the extremely large body. I thought it absolutely destroyed the opera," she says.

For the purposes of the Cultural Olympiad, Mackenzie is the cavalry, brought in after an almost two-year interregnum (her predecessor in the job, Keith Khan, resigned in March 2008). This time last year, things looked bad for the Cultural Olympiad. It was a joke within the arts world, and beyond, that no one had really heard of it. "What is the Cultural Olympiad?" people kept asking. The process appeared direction-less; the programme, such as it was, expressed in such indecipherable jargon as to render it meaningless. The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Locog) looked like just the wrong outfit to be running an artistic programme, their energies, understandably, focused on producing two vast sporting events. And yet the Cultural Olympiad has the potential to be more than a glossy adjunct. Done well, it could harness the enthusiasm of millions of sports fans, here and abroad, for something that Britain is indubitably good at: art.

Finally, in July last year, something was done: Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, was appointed chair of the Cultural Olympiad and given a seat on the main Locog board. In January, he appointed Mackenzie, accompanied by a phalanx of artistic advisers: theatre director Martin Duncan, with whom she worked when they co-ran Chichester Festival Theatre from 2002-6; Sir Brian McMaster, former director of the Edinburgh international festival and a collaborator from her years running Scottish Opera from 1997-2000; and Alex Poots, artistic director of the Manchester international festival, where she was executive director for the debut festival in 2007. The team is completed by Craig Hassall, managing director of English National Ballet, who worked on the culture programme for the 2000 Sydney games.

Mackenzie is inextricably bound up with the current government, having worked as an adviser for all five culture secretaries under Blair and Brown (as one observer puts it, "She speaks fluent New Labour"). But she denies the rumours that London mayor Boris Johnson preferred Craig Hassall for the main job. "Munira [Mirza, Johnson's arts adviser] was on the interview panel and had the chance to say who she wanted. To be honest, I don't think Boris had a view." She adds: "You have to remember, I'm quite old: I'm 52. I started work in 1980, so the first 17 years of my career was working under Tory administrations." From 1990-97, she ran Nottingham Playhouse, bringing in artists such as Peter Brook and Robert LePage. "Every single [Conservative] secretary of state for National Heritage in the 1990s came and visited us in Nottingham and used us as an example of vision and brilliance," she says. Not one for false modesty is Mackenzie.

One question mark is her record at Scottish Opera: though she had fierce defenders, her departure was followed by a government report that criticised her management. "It was horrible," she says. "It was a long time ago. I thought that I could turn it round, and so did the people I succeeded, and so did the people who succeeded me. It's been a long hard road for Scottish Opera. But I would stand by the quality of the work. I invited Luc Bondy to make a show. [Romanian director] Silviu Purca˘rete made Parsifal. We had Tim Albery's Ring cycle commissioned."

The latter two productions are often cited as having been beyond the company's means. Did she spend too much money? "No I didn't. I produced some great work at every single level," she says decisively. At Chichester, too, although her programme was critically lauded, the audiences weren't great. "We stabilised it," she says. "We brought in new sponsorship and a new computerised box office."

The singing snowflake

Mackenzie was brought up in St John's Wood, London, the only child of South African refugees, both journalists and both passionately anti-apartheid. There was quite a lot of "coming to Trafalgar Square and listening to people making speeches", she says. Her parents packed her off to join the Finchley Children's Music Group – a choir with a formidable reputation for contemporary music. "I would spend a lot of my time here at the South Bank," she says. "I knew how to walk in through the artists' entrance, how to stand on the stage and sing Benjamin Britten's St Nicholas." She also joined the Inner London Education Authority's London Schools Choir, and would get paid for being a singing snowflake in Christmas productions of The Nutcracker. "Thanks to being a singing snowflake, I bought my French horn," she says.

She studied English at Cambridge, part of a stellar theatrical generation including Nicholas Hytner, directors Annabel Arden and Roger Michell (Venus, Notting Hill) and actor Simon McBurney. "There were bloody millions of them," she says. She acted, had fun, didn't work very hard and when she left, set up a theatre company with friends that did plays at youth clubs. After that, she ran a multicultural arts festival in Bradford. She has always been running something or other "except when I've been servicing ministers" – which makes her unusual in the arts, where women are in the majority in the ranks, but a rarity at the top.

She recalls being photographed, naked from the waist up, with three other women theatre administrators, back in the Nottingham days. "It was Vogue," she says. "They were so pitying and horrified by the look of us that they made us up for about six hours, cut our hair and wrapped us in a curtain. It was so objectifying – a feminist textbook case of what shouldn't happen. Nothing's changed. I have a fantastic group on my board and only two of them are women. We're still not breaking through."

It is a point she picks up on again at the end of our interview. "We get a much rougher ride in the press. We are much more vilified than men." And she fixes me with what I can only describe as a significant look.


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March 21 2010

02mydafsoup-01
Play fullscreen
Dove sei, King Bertaridos recitative and aria
from the opera Rodelinda by George Frideric Handel.


Russell Oberlin, male alto /counter tenor.
rec ~ late 1950ies

HD youtube permalink
==============================

(text from the yt sidebar - account: sfkcbf )

Pompe vane di morte!
Menzogne di dolor, che riserbate
il mio volto e 'l mio nome, ed adulate
del vincitor superbo il genio altiero!
Voi dite, ch'io son morto;
ma risponde il mio duol, che non è vero.
(legge l'iscrizione:)
"Bertarido fu Re; da Grimoaldo
vinto fuggì, presso degli Unni giace.
Abbia l'alma riposo, e 'l cener pace."
Pace al cener mio? Astri tiranni!
Dunque fin ch'avrò vita,
guerra avrò con gli stenti, e con gli affanni.

Dove sei, amato bene?
Vieni, l'alma a consolar.

Sono oppresso da' tormenti
ed i crudeli miei lamenti
sol con te posso bear.

The hollow splendour of death!
This sham of grief preserves
my name and likeness, and yet flatters
the pride of the haughty victor!
You say that I am dead,
but my grief replies that it is not so.
(reading the inscription from the tomb)
Bertarido was king. Defeated by Grimoaldo,
he fled and now lies near the Huns.
May his soul find rest and his ashes peace.
Peace for my ashes? The tyranny of fortune!
So long as I live
I shall be fighting hardship and distress.

Where are you, my beloved?
Come and comfort my heart.

I am stricken with anguish
and only by your side
can my cruel sorrow be lightened
Reposted bySigalon0202mysoup-aa

January 25 2010

Naples opera house to reopen

San Carlo to reopen after 300 workers spent two years restoring Italy's oldest functioning opera house

As it seeks to shrug off its reputation as a rubbish strewn, mafia-plagued city in decline, Naples is pinning its hopes for revival on its newly resplendent ­opera house.

The San Carlo, Italy's oldest functioning opera house, reopens after a two-year, €67m (£57m) restoration project in which 300 workers buffed up the stucco, gold leaf and drapes, added new rehearsal rooms and installed a hi-tech stage set.

Built by Naples's Bourbon rulers in 1737 and described in 1817 by the French writer Stendhal as "dazzling the eyes and enrapturing the soul", the San Carlo has staged premiers by Rossini and Verdi. But in 2007 government administrators had to be called in as debts of €20m threatened its survival.

As part of the revamp, air conditioning was installed. "The heat from May onwards was intolerable, which is why they used to leave the doors open during performances," said the architect Elisabetta Fabbri, who has previously helped rebuild opera houses in Bari and Venice after they were destroyed by fire.

Apart from fires and frequent periods in the hands of state administrators, Italy's temples to opera are often the scenes of management infighting. But Fabbri said that a team spirit at the San Carlo had brought the rebirth of the house in on budget and on time.

"Opera houses are emotional places, and rows can happen, but they are also Italy's secular churches and they really pull people together," she said.

Salvatore Nastasi, the government appointed administrator at the San Carlo, said losses had been cut and the opera house could soon be handed back to local authorities.

"When I got here in 2007 it was a low point for Naples, but Neapolitans know in their DNA they live in a great European city and I believe the rebirth of the San Carlo can encourage them to feel reborn," he said.


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January 24 2010

Don't give up the day job - how artists make a living

As they await their big break, today's young artists are having to make ends meet with day jobs. How are they coping?

How does the average ­artist make a living? If you're Damien Hirst, of course, you need only flog a couple of sharks in formaldehyde; if you're Tracey Emin, an unmade bed will do. If you're an actor, a well-publicised turn as Hamlet and near-omnipresence in the Christmas TV schedules, a la David Tennant, would keep the ­accountant happy.

But none of these scenarios will ring true for the average artist – who is more likely to be stacking supermarket shelves, waiting tables or writing ­advertising copy by day, and acting, dancing or sculpting by night.

Right now, the economic climate for artists in this country looks particularly bleak. There's the innate financial ­instability of most artistic careers (low earnings, and sometimes none at all; little job security; no pension or other benefits), together with the recession. Then there's the fact that – ­unlike some European and Scandinavian countries – the British government makes no ­specific social provision for artists, ­unless through the publicly funded ­regional arts councils.

In Denmark, for instance, 275 artists are granted an annual stipend of ­between 15,000 and 149,000 Danish krone (£1,750 to £17,000) every year for the rest of their lives. In France, public funds are awarded through regional bodies not unlike our arts councils, ­except that the range of awards is much greater: artists in the Ile-de-France ­region, which includes Paris, can, for instance, claim up to ¤7,500 (£6,545) specifically to equip their studios.

But in this country, for artists without a lucky early break, rich parents or ­benefactors, a day job is often the only way to survive. It needn't mean that fame and fortune aren't just around the corner: Joy Division's Ian Curtis worked in an unemployment office until 1979, well after the band had released their debut EP. Van Morrison immortalised his old job as a window cleaner in the 1982 song Cleaning Windows; composer Philip Glass wasn't able to quit his jobs as a plumber and a taxi-driver until the age of 41.

What a day job inevitably means, of course, is spending the majority of your waking hours not doing the thing you love: making art. This is something Lainy Scott, a 28-year-old actor from London, knows well. At least two-thirds of actors are out of work at any time, according to the most recent survey by performers' union Equity; hence the old euphemism, "the resting actor". Scott is getting work; her CV is loaded with parts in fringe theatre and short films, ­including lead roles in recent ­productions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. But with £11,000 in fees to ­repay for her postgraduate acting course at Birmingham School of Acting, she has also had to take on day jobs. She was a waitress at YO! Sushi while she was a student, and quite enjoyed it ("you got to eat there, which definitely helped ­financially, and with a healthy diet").

A recent waitressing shift at the Houses of Parliament didn't go quite so well: "It was one of the most ­horrendous days of my life – everyone treated you as if you were scum. I wanted to cry, and on my way out I said, 'I'm afraid I can't make tomorrow's shift.' On days like that, you sit there and go: why don't I want to do ­something else with my life?"

For the last four years, Scott has been working at RSVP, a call centre in east London that employs only artists, taking calls for Which? magazine and WeightWatchers. Shifts are available in the day, evening, or at weekends, ­allowing artists to plan their work around shows, rehearsals or auditions (one of the biggest problems for ­performers is not being able to get to auditions, which often come up at short notice). The work itself is not, Scott admits, particularly stimulating. "The calls can get you down, and you know it's not what you want to be ­doing with your life, at all." Nor is her pay high – between £7.25 and £7.75 an hour. Based on five eight-hour shifts a week, this works out at just less than the Equity minimum weekly pay of £375, the significant difference being that the RSVP salary is regular.

But Scott remains focused, and is ­allowed to read scripts or apply for ­acting jobs online when the phones are quiet (though those moments, she says, are rare). "There are people who get very bogged down by having to do non-acting stuff," Scott says. "They tend to eventually just eat themselves up. Staying positive becomes a ­personal mentality. I sit there and think: any day now I could go to an audition that eventually gets me out of here." There is also one unexpected upside: "You get some of the most bizarre calls in the world. They come in handy when you're working on a character."

At the Harrods perfume counter

Christina Gusthart, a 23-year-old hip-hop dancer from Edinburgh, tries to stay similarly upbeat. She is looking for work on music videos (for which she might earn £350 a day), or as a backing dancer for a star such as Lady Gaga (for which she might get around £500 a show). These are not fantasies: Gusthart trained at Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, spent six months in India making a good living dancing in Bollywood movies, and performed at last year's Mobo awards in Glasgow.

To make ends meet, she is currently working at Dance Base in Edinburgh, teaching breakdance and Bollywood moves, and running the front-of-house. Last year, while living in London, she also worked on the cosmetics and ­perfume counters at Harrods. "It was soul-destroying stuff," she says. "It's not creative. It's all commercial: money, money, money. And doing anything other than dance is disheartening. Sometimes, you can't get to an ­audition because you don't have enough money – then you need to work a shift to get the money."

Even if they do make it to auditions, performers might find they are asked to work for free. Unpaid work is the ­elephant in the room when it comes to the performing arts. Equity ­advises its members to avoid ­taking unpaid jobs, but recognises that ­experimental fringe ­productions might make it a necessity. Both Scott and Gusthart say they have seen the number of unpaid acting and dance jobs shoot up in ­recent years. Neither of them can afford to work for free, but the very fact that they are being asked to undermines the professions they have spent ­thousands of pounds ­training for, not to mention several years of their lives. "The money has dropped out of this industry," says Scott. "So many people are jumping on the bandwagon of ­being an actor now that companies are going, 'Oh well, if we can't get somebody who's trained who will do it for free, we'll be able to get someone.'"

On the plus side, a day job offers a chance to meet other artists in a similar position. Gusthart hears about auditions and teaching opportunities first hand at Dance Base; many of her ­co-workers at ­Harrods were also dancers, and shared ­information about castings. At RSVP, the actors go to each ­other's shows and share contacts: Scott landed a Dove commercial this way.

For a visual artist such as 30-year-old Adam Bridgland, whose practice ­usually involves spending long periods alone in a studio, a day job is a way of getting out into the world. Bridgland sells his bright, primary-coloured screenprints through the London gallery TAG Fine Arts, for between £200 and £1,000 each; he also works as a freelance art handler, installing exhibitions at ­London galleries including Tate Britain and Tate Modern. He gets up at 6.30am and works until 11pm, always trying to fit in five or six hours a day for his own art. "My life is a jigsaw, really," he says, "but I'm a bit of a workaholic. And ­because I do a lot of work outside my art, time is more precious. I tend to get most of my ideas on the tube or bus, travelling between jobs."

Many of the handlers Bridgland works with at the Tate are also artists, and he says he finds inspiration in their work, as well as in the art he ­installs. "Being an artist is quite a lonely ­business; the Tate provides me with a network of friends and fellow ­technicians. You're surrounded by the work of amazing artists, and you don't want to be lesser than that."

If the pressure to keep a steady ­income is great when an artist is single, how much worse is it when they have children? Bridgland says his perspective has changed since the birth of his son, Oram, last year. "A lot of people try to lead a life where they concentrate solely on their art," he says. "But I just found it very, very difficult – when you've got dependents, you have to take that responsibility."

Singer Harriet Goodwin, 40, agrees. She trained as a mezzo-soprano at the Royal Northern College of Music, and had the first of her four children just after she graduated. When her eldest children were small, she continued performing, working with the ­Monteverdi choir and Opera North. But the pressure became too much – not so much financially, but because she didn't want to leave her children. "I remember going away on a tour to Belgium and Italy," Goodwin says. "I waved the little two off, knowing I wasn't going to see them for six days, and I just thought: I hate this."

All thanks to Exit 43

So Goodwin cut back on touring – and then stumbled on her second career, as a children's writer: she woke up one morning, convinced that a dream she'd had was the plot for a novel. "I dreamed," she says, "that a boy crashed through the surface of the earth into this ghostly underworld. " She began writing for 10 minutes a day, when her children were napping or at school.

The resulting novel, The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43, became a book of the month in Borders last year, and was shortlisted for last year's Blue Peter award; Goodwin is now working on a second book in a shed at the bottom of her garden. She still gives concerts, and finds that the writing complements her singing. "They fit beautifully," she says. "I might be in my shed for four hours and then think, eurgh, my brain's stiff. So I'll go downstairs to the piano and sing some Schubert or Handel, and find it a fantastic release."

Goodwin is, of course, one of the lucky ones; her day job fits around the rest of her life, and is creative. Most artists are not so lucky; one suspects Philip Glass does not miss his New York taxi-driving days.

The fact remains that these are tough times for legions of arts graduates; the chances of making a living through dance, music or acting are slim – and could be slimmer yet if the government cuts funding. But Scott, Gusthart and Bridgland are all determined the day job won't, ultimately, get in the way of their artistic ambitions. They're ­staying focused on the positives.

Top artists on their best and worst jobs

Tamara Rojo, dancer

I once had to dance in a beige, skintight, all-in-one costume with a bald cap. It was to make me look like a newborn baby – but it made me look like a condom. It would hardly have ­mattered what the choreo­graphy was like, so ­hideous did I look. But it wasn't very good either.

My current ­position at the Royal Ballet is the best job. There's the ­prestige, plus all the ­amazing dancers and teachers I work with. The best performance I ever gave was at the farewell for ­Julio Bocca in Buenos Aires. They closed off the main street: 300,000 people came. I felt like one of the ­Rolling Stones.

Arthur Smith, comedian

I've been a road-sweeper, a toilet cleaner and a Tefl teacher. I spent several days in supermarkets on the south coast dressed as a fox, too. My role was to detain shoppers long enough so they could watch my lady colleague ­prepare a tasty new brand of chicken burger, and then buy it. The ­costume was 8ft tall and ­terrifying: wherever I walked, you could hear small children crying.

Bob and Roberta Smith, artist

The worst was also in some ways the most rewarding. I was caring for a man with ­severe cerebral palsy. He was ­courageous, but could do ­nothing much for himself. He had a powerful ­sexual ­appetite, which meant taking him to visit prostitutes. I had to wait on the corner while the car gently rocked back and forth. I felt I had hit rock ­bottom – but my difficulties were nothing compared to his.

In artworld terms, probably the most horrid job is working for companies who ship other artists' work around. Often the more ­successful artists are beastly to the kids who are just starting out.

Billy Bragg, musician

Working in an all-night petrol ­station was my worst job. The hours were long, the wages low and the management were ­skimming off money claiming you pilfered Rolos. Awful. My best job? Come off it – I get paid to do the thing that I always wanted to do.

Gillian Wearing, artist

My worst job was telephone ­market research. I hated cold ­calling – although occasionally you got ­remarkably ­interesting answers: One old lady didn't ­realise cinemas still existed. My favourite job was temping for ­Virgin Records in the late 80s . Everyone was sweet and laid back, and they had contemporary art on the walls.

Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright

I worked at a telesales company that was like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, with the manager standing over you shouting. My best day job was teaching drama to young people at the black arts centre Yaa ­Asantewaa, in London. Years later, I ran into two of my students, who are now professional actors. That warms my heart.

Interviews by Laura Barnett and Sarah Phillips

Proce of fame: what artists earn

Actors

Minimum Equity rate for an actor in a West End play: £550 p/w (excluding expenses).

Minimum Equity rate for an actor ­in regional ­repertory: £350 p/w (plus £124 ­relocation allowance).

Daily pay for a "supporting artist" in a BBC TV show: £85.50.

Amount an actor can make for an ­advert: ­£5,000-£15,000+ for a TV ­commercial (2-3 days work).

Dancers

Minimum Equity rate for a touring ­cabaret dancer: £340 p/w and £177 expenses.

Minimum Equity rate for a ballet dancer performing regularly with a ­company: £400 p/w.

Musicians

PPL, the music licensing company that collects ­royalties on behalf of 42,000 performers, says 90% of them earn less than £15,000 a year.

The Performing Rights ­Society, which processes payments for songwriters and composers, says 90% of the ­people on their books earn less than £5,000 a year.

Visual artists

Average weekly income for a visual artist: £521 (average figure based on highest and lowest earnings. Source: ONS, 2009).

Amount paid for works sold at the ­annual Affordable Art Fair in London: £50–£3,000 (of which a ­percentage may go to an artist's gallery).

Compiled by Guardian Research


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December 31 2009

What to see in 2010

Can Martin Scorsese pull off a horror movie? Is Glasgow the new Venice? And what's Ricky Gervais up to in Reading? Our critics pick next year's hottest tickets

Film

Cemetery Junction

Having conquered Hollywood, Ricky Gervais is coming home. With his long-time collaborator Stephen Merchant, he has set out to create a British film in the tradition of Billy Liar and the Likely Lads – and of course his own masterpiece The Office – about three blokes working for the Prudential insurance company in Gervais's hometown of Reading. Released on 7 April.

A Single Man

The smart money says Colin Firth will be bringing home a certain gold, bald-headed statuette for his performance as a bereaved gay man in Los Angeles. Based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, the movie – fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut – follows one day in the life of Firth's literature academic as he confronts his own mortality. Released on 12 February.

A Prophet

Tahar Rahim is Talik, a scared young Arab guy in jail who is made an offer he can't refuse by Corsican mobster César, played by Niels Arestrup: he must murder a supergrass, or be killed himself. A gripping prison movie from French director Jacques Audiard. Released on 22 January.

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's much-anticipated new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was originally slated to come for autumn; the delay was reportedly due to its promotional budget getting credit-crunched. Anyway, better late than never. It's a mystery thriller with a generous spoonful of horror – a new generic twist for this master director. Released on 12 March.

The Headless Woman

A wealthy woman accidentally hits something in her car. Was it a dog? A person? She slips into woozy confusion, and the movie mimics the woman's disorientation and denial as she attempts to carry on with her life. An arthouse cult classic from Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel. Released on 19 February.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Edgar Wright is the British director who struck gold with Shaun of the Dead. Now he tackles his first proper Hollywood project – a wacky comedy based on the Bryan Lee O'Malley comic-book series. Michael Cera plays bass guitarist Scott Pilgrim, who, having fallen in love with a woman, must now do battle with her seven former boyfriends. Released on 27 August.

Father of My Children

A discreetly directed and superbly acted drama based on the tragic life of the French film producer Humbert Balsan. Grégoire is a much-loved mover-and-shaker in world cinema whose finances are crumbling. The ensuing crisis is brilliantly portrayed. Released on 5 March.

Visual art

Glasgow international festival of contemporary art

A huge, budget-melting installation by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel in the vast Tramway; a major new film by Gerard Byrne; works by Fiona Tan, Douglas Gordon, Linder and many more spread around Scotland's liveliest city, in the UK's best annual visual arts festival. Forget Edinburgh, forget Liverpool: this is the one. Venues across Glasgow (0141-287 8994, glasgowinternational.org), 16 April-3 May.

The Real Van Gogh: the Artist and His Letters

Van Gogh was erudite, intelligent, a great artist and an inveterate writer of letters. But he also did that thing to his ear, drank too much absinthe and killed himself. This show looks at his art in the light of his letters, recently published in English in full. Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (020-7300 8000), 23 January-18 April.

Chris Ofili

Manchester-born Chris Ofili has rolled joints from elephant dung, made paintings decorated with dung, and moved on to territory that brings together German expressionism, Trinidadian myth, lovers, prophets, gods and ghosts. Promises to be blasphemous and inspiring, elegiac and sexy. Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8888), 27 January-16 May.

Jenny Holzer

There's more to American artist Holzer's work than an endless tickertape of words spelled out  in LED lights. There are billboards, benches, condom wrappers and paintings. This is poetry with a plug, light shows with literature, an art of anger and beauty. Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1810), 5 March-16 May.

Sixth Berlin Biennial

The Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art is always fascinating, and sometimes great. In a city infested with artists and overshadowed by history, it attracts fewer wannabes, hangers-on, art-surfers and arrogant airheads than Venice. Berlin is serious, the food is a joke, the weather uncertain and the art at the time of writing a complete mystery. Go anyway. Venues across Berlin (00 49 [0] 302 434 5910, berlinbiennale.de), 11 June-8 August.

Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, stock-broker turned post-impressionist and symbolist painter and sculptor, mystified Van Gogh, with whom he shared a house for a while. What an odd couple. Gauguin died in French Polynesia in 1903 at the age of 54. His art, however, is a time bomb, still ticking in the 21st century; and this is the first major show in Britain for 50 years. Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), from 30 September.

Pop

Whitney Houston

Houston's misadventures during the last decade made the likelihood of her touring again seem nil. But here she is playing her first UK dates since 1998, rehabbed and in robust voice – although her ability to hit those power notes has diminished somewhat. Which may be a good thing. MEN Arena, Manchester (0844 847 8000), 8-9 April. Then touring.

Green Day

Here's a thing: an overtly political US band who are big enough to play stadiums. Mind you, if Green Day's views weren't complemented by radio-friendly rock, their two British summer dates would probably be somewhere cosier. Old Trafford (0871 2200 260), June 16; Wembley, London (020-7403 3331), June 19.

The xx

It's all about understatement and nuance with this indie band, earmarked just about everywhere as 2010's ones to watch. Don't expect fireworks or obvious "wow" moments on their first major headlining tour: they and their acclaimed self-titled album are very much insidious pleasures. Komedia, Brighton (0845 293 8480), 1 March. Then touring.

Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal

Lily and Dizzee have more in common than you would think: they easily rank with 2009's most successful British musicians, and she's as influenced by Rascal's hip-hop milieu as he is by the pop world she inhabits. MEN Arena, Manchester (0844 847 8000), 5 March; 02 Arena, London (0844 856 0202), 7 March.

Glastonbury

The daddy of them all celebrates its 40th anniversary, and Glasto virgins U2 will be among those braving the mud to celebrate. Sold out, but returns go on sale in the new year. Worthy Farm, Somerset, 23-27 June.

Jazz and world music

Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra

Specials and 2 Tone co-founder Dammers pays tribute to mystic free-jazz bandleader Sun Ra, who died in 1993, with a mix of jazz, funk, reggae, dub, hip-hop and rock. The all-star lineup includes Nathaniel Facey, Zoe Rahman and Jason Yarde. Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (024-7652 4524), 4 March. Touring until 9 April.

Dan Berglund's Tonbrucket

Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson's death in 2008 wound up popular jazz trio EST, but bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus ­ Ostrom visit not only EST's music, but Pink Floyd, Arvo Pärt and more in their new quartet. Queen's Hall, Edinburgh (0131-668 2019), 13 March. Touring until 1 April.

Wynton Marsalis

The prolific Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Orchestra celebrate 80 years of big-band history in three major concerts, with jams all over London, including the Vortex. Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7550), 17 and 18 June; Hackney Empire, London E8 (020-8510 4500), 20 June.

African Soul Rebels

Mali's Oumou Sangaré, famed for her bravely outspoken views, is one of the stars of the sixth African Soul Rebels outing. She's joined by the rousing big band Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, and the veteran South African experimental political band, Kalahari Surfers. Poole Lighthouse (0844 406 8666), 18 February. Then touring.

Ali and Toumani

The most eagerly awaited African album of the year, this is the final recording by the great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and the kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté – recorded a few months before Touré's death. Out 22 February.

Dance

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

After the shock of Bausch's death this summer, her company has announced plans to continue under the joint direction of Dominique Mercy and Robert Sturm. In April, they come to London with Kontakthof, Bausch's 1978 meditation on love and human foibles. It will be performed by two radically different, alternating casts – one made up of senior citizens, the other of teenagers. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 1-4 April.

Mark Morris Dance Group

Morris made L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, an ecstatic embrace of a dance, more than 20 years ago; it still ranks as one of the great experiences in the repertory. Handel's score will be played and sung by members of English National Opera. Coliseum, London WC2 (0871-911 0200), 14-17 April.

Hofesh Shechter

The rise and rise of Shechter continues with Political Mother, a large ensemble piece that plays with definitions of shock and normality, and comes with Shechter's own score. Dome, Brighton (01273 709709), 20 and 21 May; Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300), 14-17 July.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

A posthumous season for the late, great Merce includes the UK premiere of the work he choreographed just months before he died. Nearly Ninety belies its title with a score including music by Sonic Youth. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 26-30 October.

Theatre

Arthur and George

David Edgar adapts Julian Barnes's gripping novel about a Birmingham solicitor who, after being convicted of a grisly crime, recruits the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Fact merges with fiction in a story that deals with race, innocence, guilt and spiritualism - with echoes of Sherlock Holmes. Rachel Kavanaugh directs what promises to be that rare thing: a necessary adaptation. Birmingham Rep (0121-236 4455), 19 March-10 April.

Peter Pan

David Greig relocates JM Barrie's masterpiece to a gas-lit Victorian Edinburgh. Director John Tiffany (Black Watch, The Bacchae) and designer Laura Hopkins are at the helm, so this Pan shouldn't simply fly, but soar. Kings, Glasgow (0844 871 7648), 23 April–8 May. Then touring.

Hamlet

Once again, it looks like we're set for a major battle of the princes. John Simm has first crack at the title in a Paul Miller production in the refurbished Sheffield Crucible. Then Rory Kinnear takes on the moody Dane, with Clare Higgins as Gertrude, directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National. Some people, recalling the very recent David Tennant-Jude Law clash, resent this duplication. I say: "Bring it on." Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), from September; Olivier theatre, London SE1 (020-7452 3000), from October.

Posh

Just in time for the general election, Laura Wade's new play deals with a group of Oxford hearties, all members of an elite student dining society. They hunt, booze, take illegal substances (possibly) and are, it seems, destined to rule over us. It's good to see Wade, who made a big impact with Breathing Corpses in 2005, resurrecting the class war in a topical Court production, directed by Lyndsey Turner. Royal Court, London SW1 (020-7565 5000), 9 April-22 May.

Oh! What a Lovely War

Joan Littlewood's timeless musical satire on the first world war gets its first major post-Iraq outing, with directors Erica Whyman and Sam Kenyon leading the troops over the top. Northern Stage, Newcastle (0191-230 5151), 6 March-27 March. Then touring.

The Persians

A Brecon military range becomes the setting for a site-responsive revival of Aeschylus's great play about war and defeat. Mike Pearson, who has been using found spaces with his legendary company Brith Gof long before it became fashionable, directs. Cilieni Village, Powys, Wales (01874 611622), 11-21 August.

Architecture

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Dynamic reconstruction of the famous 1930s theatre. New work includes a 1,030-seat modern take on a 17th-century courtyard stage, a revamped art deco foyer, a rooftop restaurant and a bridging tower linking old and new spaces. November.

Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany

Six rigorously geometrical new wings parade around four urban courtyards in this major extension by David Chipperfield of a fine museum devoted to 19th and 20th-century French and German art. The model of a modern building for a (hopefully) less wilfully ostentatious era. April.

Rolex Learning Centre, Lausanne, Switzerland

This exquisite Swiss building – a single, undulating floor boasting lake and mountain views – is a coming of age for Tokyo's Sanaa, designers of the 2009 Serpentine Pavilion. A science research centre that's as much landscape as architecture. February.

Television

Mad Men

The immaculately dressed alcoholic misogynists of the Sterling Cooper ad agency return to alternately horrify and entrance us. Nine months on, how is the company's merger with a London firm working out for boss Don, copywriter Peggy and co? And what state is Don's estranged wife Betty in? BBC4, from 27 January.

Glee

Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy's new musical comedy-drama about a high-school choir (the "glee club" of the title) is huge in the US. The club's show tunes and chart hits have sold millions, while viewers and critics have embraced the cast of engaging misfits (Murphy has a sharp eye for school dynamics, as fans of his shortlived cheerleader show Popular will recall). E4, from 11 January.

Money

This two-part slice of 1980s nostalgia, based on Martin Amis's novel, should offer a thought-provoking look at the era of flash cash and queasy living. Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shawn of the Dead) stars as anti-hero John Self in a cast that includes Mad Men's Pete (Vincent Kartheiser). BBC2, spring.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

Maxine Peake (Shameless, Criminal Justice) plays a lesbian who keeps a coded journal of her love-life in a 19th-century Yorkshire village. Everything about this 90-minute drama screams "record", "hit" and "award-winning". BBC2, March/April.

Mistresses

Furtive hotel sex; frantic muffin-baking; guilty pinot grigio guzzling. This soapy drama about four Bristol thirtysomething women returns for a third series with some inspired new casting: Joanna Lumley joins as the bossy mother of muddle-headed doctor Katie, played by Sarah Parish. BBC1, late 2010.

Classical and opera

Mahler in Manchester

The most innovative celebration of Gustav Mahler's 150th birthday you'll hear all year: the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic's cycle of his symphonies, in which each symphony is paired with a new piece from an international line-up of composers, from Austrian surrealist Kurt Schwertsik to Parisian organist Olivier Latry. ­ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161-907 9000), 16 January-5 June.

Placido sings Handel

Whoever thought you'd see this at Covent Garden? Placido Domingo takes the composer's greatest tenor role, Bajazet, in Tamerlano, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit. Mouth-watering. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), 5-20 March.

Elegy for Young Lovers

English National Opera continues its part-time residency at the Young Vic with Hans Werner Henze's 1961 opera on crazed creative amorality in the Alps, with a libretto by WH Auden, and a production directed by Fiona Shaw. The only chance to see Henze, the greatest living opera composer, in the theatre in the UK this year. Young Vic, London SE1 (020-7922 2922), 24 April-8 May.

WNO's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The operatic role of the year: Bryn Terfel sings Hans Sachs for the first time in Wagner's Meistersinger. It's a part he should play even more convincingly than the Wotan he sang in Covent Garden's Ring. This new staging by Richard Jones could be the one that cracks Wagner's complex comedy. Welsh National Opera, Cardiff (08700 40 2000), 19 June-10 July.

Total Immersion: Wolfgang Rihm

No composer alive has written as much music as Wolfgang Rihm; yet no major figure in new music is as shamingly unfamiliar to British audiences. With this two-day event, part of its Total Immersion series, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with the help of the London Sinfonietta and the Arditti Quartet, put that right. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 12-13 March.

Comedy

Dara O'Briain

From Three Men in a Boat to one man on a stage, TV favourite O'Briain takes to the nation's concert halls for a 64-date tour. A civilised and smart standup long before TV fame came calling, this is the Mock the Week anchorman's first tour in two years. Regent, Stoke (0844 871 7649), 1 March. Then touring.

Laura Solon

With her latest show, Rabbit Faced Story Soup, the winner of the last-ever Perrier award has turned her talent for creating comic characters into a comedy play about an ailing publishing house and its missing star novelist. Now she's taking it on a national tour. Junction, Cambridge (01223 511 511), 29 January. Then touring.

Pappy's Fun Club

The fast-rising young quartet take to the road with their Edinburgh 2009 hit show World Record Attempt: 200 Sketches in an Hour. It's less Fast Show, more nonsense cabaret, supplying music, anarchy and good cheer. Komedia, Brighton (0845 293 8480), 21 January. Then touring.

Chosen by Judith Mackrell, Michael Billington, Caroline Sullivan, Lyn Gardner, Jonathan Glancey, Peter Bradshaw, Adrian Searle, John Fordham, Robin Denselow, Brian Logan and Tim Lusher


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December 13 2009

Tate goes back to school

What happened when the Tate's director went back to school? We follow three of the country's top arts bosses as they swap places with headteachers for a day

A moving assembly – then a scream in year 13's art class

Tate director Nicholas Serota takes charge of Thomas Tallis school, London

Nicholas Serota is sitting on a small plastic chair in a school hall, facing a sea of expectant 11 and 12-year-olds in blue sweatshirts. The director of Britain's Tate galleries is stepping out of his comfort zone – becoming, for one day, the headmaster of Thomas Tallis school in south-east London. Assembly begins and he listens intently as teachers from Ghana, St Lucia and Malaysia tell poignant stories about their childhoods as immigrants to Britain. "It was," he says later, "incredibly moving."

If the 1,670 pupils at Thomas Tallis – a specialist arts college in a deprived area of London that's just been christened a "national school of creativity" by Arts Council England – are surprised to find one of the country's top curators in charge for the day, they don't show it. This may be because their usual headmaster, Rob Thomas, is hovering in the background, showing Serota the ropes.

The men are taking part in a series of job swaps organised between headteachers and arts leaders by the Culture and Learning Consortium (an umbrella group of arts funders). Earlier this year, it published a report saying cultural organisations, such as galleries and theatre companies, should work more closely with schools, in order to get more creativity on the curriculum. Serota is here to see how he can make this happen.

Strolling through the narrow corridors, he pauses at some brightly coloured collages on the theme of the 2012 Olympics: the pupils were divided into 57 groups, each representing a country, and had to put together a bid to host the games for that nation. Many children chose countries their families originally came from. Serota has reason to pay attention – he's on the board for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. "It makes me conscious," he says, "of the tensions that exist in people's identity. Are they going to be cheering when a gold medal goes to someone who's ostensibly British, or are they going to be really thinking about Jamaica, or Bangladesh?"

Next on the timetable is a year 13 art class. Fascinated, Serota moves around the room, stopping to ask one student, who is painting a woman screaming in agony, if he's familiar with Francis Bacon; and to see if another, creating a photomontage of a street scene, knows the work of Jeff Wall. The answer, in both cases, is no. The whole experience, says Serota, is a bit like entering an artist's studio: "You go in and you're looking at something you've never seen in your life before. You have to tune in really quickly."

A meeting with the pupil-led Creativity Action Research Group, set up to explore how teachers and students can make lessons more creative, follows. Serota works hard at drawing out the quieter students. "Like in Tate meetings," he says, "sometimes the quiet ones have the best ideas." Then, after tea and biscuits in the crowded staff room, and a tense meeting with a pupil about behavioural issues, he's interviewed by Tallis TV, the school's very own TV station, and drops in on a year 8 lesson in internet technology. "We did not," he says, "have anything quite like this at my old school."

Serota is not called on to issue any detentions and, when the bell rings at the end of his command, he seems to have enjoyed himself. "The great thing about teaching," he says, "is stimulating young people's curiosity. It reminds me of some of the best moments I have – working with younger curators who haven't had it all beaten out of them." Has going back to school taught him anything? "I need to get out of my office and into the gallery. I need to get to know my staff better." Laura Barnett

'We think this is boring. So go crazy. Show us what you can do'

Rob Thomas, headmaster of Thomas Tallis school, takes over the Tate

In a small meeting room overlooking Tate Britain's elegant entrance, a team are unfolding a guide to the organisation's vast website. Made of several dozen pieces of paper held together precariously by sticky tape, it looks a lot like a school project – the sort of thing that Rob Thomas, headmaster of Thomas Tallis, is very familiar with. And he wouldn't give this one good marks. "It looked quite funny," he says later. "Our pupils would be a bit more advanced than that."

Although he and his pupils do visit Tate Britain and Tate Modern, Thomas knows he can't rival Nicholas Serota's art expertise. So, for his first appointment as Tate director for a day, he's sticking to what he knows: bringing in his own pupils to help Tate make its website, well, funkier. They begin with the site's pages on The Kiss by Rodin. "The problem," says Sharna Jackson, Tate Kids editor, "is that these are just boring. Go crazy. Show us what you can do." The kids promptly pull the pages apart, demanding a comment forum, colours that feel less "angry" and "sad", as well as a 360-degree, Matrix-style view of Rodin's sculpture.

Meanwhile, Serota talks Thomas through one of his job's less enviable moments. In September, police urged that a part of Richard Prince's exhibit, featuring a photograph of a naked, 10-year-old Brooke Shields, be removed from Tate Modern's Pop Life exhibition. The gallery did so, a decision that earned it an unfavourable and, in Serota's view, irritatingly inaccurate newspaper article. Thomas recognises this kind of fire-fighting. "A lot of the issues I face around student well-being involve negotiating with the police and social services. Like Nick, I need to be skilled in diplomacy."

Thomas takes a taxi to Tate Modern. First stop is the cavernous Turbine Hall, dominated by How It Is, a 13-metre-high steel container by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka. Thomas follows Serota inside it, groping blindly in the dark. "It just got blacker and blacker," he says afterwards, somewhat relieved. It reminds him of Eye for an I, an installation made by his A-level pupils. "You went into a box, with letterbox-size slits around the wall, through which you could see students' eyes, expressing different emotions. Like this, it was about going into the unknown."

Lunch takes place in the seventh-floor restaurant. The stunning view across the river to St Paul's is, Thomas admits, nicer than the one from his school canteen. Summing up his day, he says: "I could see that Nick and the Tate really want to engage younger people, when traditionally that hasn't been the case. They make an effort to listen, which is what we do at school. It's about mutual respect. Once you build that, it works both ways." LB

The new headmaster sneaks out for a smoke

Michael Boyd, artistic director of the RSC, at Queensbridge school, Birmingham

"Good morning," says the new boy. "My name is Mr Boyd and I'm taking over from Mr Boyes as your headteacher. It isn't a very big change when you think about it – just one letter really."

Michael Boyd, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is taking assembly at Queensbridge school in Moseley, an inner-city area of Birmingham with a predominately Muslim population. The day began with the 8am staff meeting at which Boyd (not so used to these early starts) encouragingly promised not to let the school run off the rails. He certainly has a lot to live up to: in 2006, Queensbridge was named Birmingham's most improved school, and held up as a model of arts teaching.

"I can see I'm going to need a crash course in acronyms," says Boyd, reading his schedule, which tells him he has an "SEN meeting with NQTs". But first, there's a question-and-answer session with a year 10 class, who get right down to business: how many GCSEs has he got? "Blimey – I can't remember," Boyd replies. "I think I did all right. But I didn't take drama. The fanciest one I did was Russian."

The children go rather quiet when Boyd brings up the subject of Shakespeare, but then he has an inspired thought. "Who likes hip-hop?" he asks. Hands shoot up. "Who writes lyrics?" More hands. "Are they in rhythm? Do they rhyme? Then you're ready for Shakespeare." And suddenly everything clicks; the class even concludes with inquiries about how to get a job at the RSC. "Write in," Boyd says. "Tell me you're a genius and I need you badly."

The school already has one genius-in-the-making: Fahad Malik, aged 16, who earlier this year impressed Boyd by standing on stage at Stratford and reciting lines from Romeo and Juliet as part of the RSC's Shakespeare birthday ­ celebrations. "It was wicked," Malik recalls. "I showed Sir Donald Sinden how to moonwalk." Was he any good? "Not really – cos he's got a stick."

What has Boyd learned? "The importance of working within a strong ensemble," he says. "A successful school, like a successful theatre company, is a community united around a single vision. You're only as good as the people around you."

There are more classes, back to back, but by mid-afternoon there's one obligation Boyd can put off no longer. For 10 minutes, Queensbridge is leaderless as the headmaster leaves the premises – for a smoke. Alfred Hickling

The day I had to give acting tips to Victor Meldrew

Tim Boyes, headmaster of Queensbridge, takes charge at the RSC

Tim Boyes would usually be in his office by 7.30am. Taking charge of the Royal Shakespeare Company means that, for once, he can have breakfast with his family. Theatre companies have a more leisurely start, although the working day will end at around 11.30pm, after Richard Wilson makes his RSC debut as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. ("I spent the whole day unsettled by the fact that I was supposed to give Victor Meldrew notes," says Boyes later.)

The headmaster of Queensbridge is met at the RSC's Stratford offices by Liza Frank, his PA for the day. First question: does Boyes share his opposite number's 40-a-day habit? (It seems everyone at the RSC is curious to know how Michael Boyd can survive a whole day in a school, where smoking is forbidden.)

Boyes is taken aback by the artistic director's desk: there's no computer, only a copy of Julius Caesar. Boyes, who carries a laptop at all times, feels "envious of someone who lives in a world which allows time and space for creativity". His first task is an inspection of the £150m rebuild of the Royal Shakespeare theatre, followed by a meeting in which the main topic is how its ushers should dress: too formal and they will look airline cabin crew. Boyes knows a thing or two about public perception – one of his first measures at Queensbridge was banning hoodies.

Things seem to be going well. "I would never have an uninterrupted day," says Boyes happily towards the end of morning. "There would always be a crisis of some kind." As if to prove the point, developments back at Queensbridge mean he has to spend his lunchbreak firing off urgent emails, for which a computer has to be found and then installed in Boyd's office.

The afternoon is spent supervising education workshops. Queensbridge is among a select group of schools with which the RSC maintains a three-year relationship. "That's the same length of time as an actor's contract in Stratford," Boyes explains. "Michael and I share the view that it takes that amount of time to establish something of lasting value."

Boyes's day confirms his belief that the arts have a vital role to play in education. "Standing in the RSC's workshop, amongst armourers, carpenters, props specialists and wig-makers, it occurred to me that if you could expose even the most reluctant student to this, they could not fail to learn something. With the establishment of trust schools and co-operatives, the soul of education is up for grabs. Who would we rather was setting the agenda in our schools? Businesses? Faith groups? I prefer to think that creative organisations like the RSC might provide the model for inspiring our children." AH

What experience do I have? Well, I once played a tree . . .

Tony Hall, director of the Royal Opera House, takes over Grays school in Essex

"I love you, mum," says the girl on stage. "Even though you didn't remember my birthday, even though you never call. 'Cos you're my mum. I'll always love you." It's a tear-jerking performance and Tony Hall, director of the Royal Opera House, is visibly moved. Other members of the audience are wiping away tears.

This isn't a night at the Royal Opera House, however. It's a weekday morning at the Grays School Media Arts College in Thurrock, Essex, and the monologue is being performed by a year 11 pupil. "I was hooked," says Hall, when the drama teacher asks Hall for feedback. "Right from the start."

Next, year 11 get to quiz their head-for-a-day. "What were your main parts on the stage?" a boy asks. "Erm, I think I was a tree in a primary school play once," Hall says, adding that he came to arts management after a career in journalism. "Being in the arts is a lot more than just being on stage. What happens backstage is every bit as creative."

Some of the kids had a taste of the arts, on stage and backstage, in a Covent Garden production earlier this year called On the Rim of the World. Its actors were schoolchildren from Essex, who also took care of backstage tasks, including designing and creating the sets and costumes. It was a project close to Hall's heart, part of a bigger plan to move ROH's production operation, from set-building to scene-painting, to Thurrock next year. So Hall has a vested interest in enthusing the local kids not only about the on-stage elements of opera but the backstage ones, as well.

"I was lucky enough to get scholarships to independent schools, which gave me wonderful opportunities, but this school hasn't got these advantages," says Hall. "It's an Essex comprehensive that's only recently come out of special measures. That doesn't mean the pupils are less talented, or deserve less." Later, on a board of year 10 artwork, he spots a poster made by a girl who was involved in On the Rim of the World. "I've worked with the Royal Opera House," it reads. "I can put ROH on my CV now – how good is that?" Hall grins from ear to ear; that's made his day.

At Covent Garden, he's constantly aware of the need to woo audiences. Grays, he thinks, could do more in that area. "Schools traditionally haven't spent anything like as much time as arts organisations on thinking about their image. But Grays has loads of strengths, and it needs to be out-there about them." What's the first thing he would change? "I'd do something about the entrance area, which isn't very inspiring. You need to make a big impact right from the start." Joanna Moorhead

A canteen encounter with Carlos Acosta

Lynn Ibeji, head of Grays school, takes charge of the Royal Opera House

Lynn Ibeji is enjoying the view from Tony Hall's office. But as she looks out over the rooftops at Covent Garden, her mind is on much more down-to-earth matters. As the Royal Opera House's boss for a day, Ibeji is grappling with a subject she is very familiar with: perception. How do you persuade all those people out there that the place where you work isn't all the things they think it is?

Usually when she ponders such things, Ibeji's focus is on Grays and her battle, as its head, to chip away at its reputation as a failing school, an image that persists even though it has now come out of special measures. Today, the institution in question is the ROH, and the perception that it's elitist, interested in attracting wealthy audiences.

One solution is to open the doors and invite the sceptics in to see for themselves. So today the ROH is doing just that. Ibeji is invited to take a tour; along the way, there are glimpses of events to which teachers and community groups have been invited. "It's a good idea – to get people in who wouldn't normally see the place from the inside," she says. "We ought to do more of it at Grays." All the same, she says, as a teenager she spent time at the ROH, and it didn't give her a lifelong passion for opera – she prefers plays.

Ibeji is impressed by the swishness of the surroundings, all that red velvet; even the staff-only areas have a luxuriousness unknown in most secondary schools. It would be wonderful, she says, to provide her 160 staff and 900 pupils with better spaces in which to work and chill out. She might not be able to turn Grays into a night at the opera, but she has a scheme to give it a sculpture garden; there's even talk of involvement from artist Antony Gormley.

At lunch, in the staff canteen, Ibeji finds herself sitting near the world-famous Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta ("It's good to see that he eats in here with the rest of us," says her ROH minder admiringly). But Ibeji refuses to get too overawed by this glitziness: she's old enough to remember the "really bad patch" at the ROH a decade ago.

"If national arts organisations were put into special measures, as schools are, that's where they'd have been in 2000," she says. "But the thing to remember is the ROH came back from that – because it had enough people who were passionate and dedicated. That's quite inspirational to us, because it's where we are now – pulling a school up after special measures is a tough task. It requires a lot of dedication, passion and commitment. But, just as happened here at the Opera House, it absolutely can be done." JM


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December 01 2009

Firefox setzt langjähriger Internet Explorer-Dominanz ein Ende

Über 10 Jahre lang war der Internet-Explorer von Microsoft der meist genutzte Browser im Internet – jetzt verdrängt Firefox seinen Konkurrenten auf Platz zwei. Der Firefox in der Version 3 hat mittlerweile einen deutlichen Vorsprung vor der Version 8 des Internet Explorer.
Firefox zählt somit zu den erfolgreichsten Open-Source Softwares. Er hat selbst die Browswerprogramme von Microsoft auf die Ränge hinter sich verwiesen.

W3B29 Firefox 3 weit vor Internet Explorer 8

Ingesamt knapp 10% Marktanteil erreichten zusammen die drei Browser-Alternativen Safari, Opera und Google Chrome. Obwohl eine Safari-Version auch unter Microsoft Windows läuft, kommt Apple mit seinem Browser bislang nicht über den Marktanteil der Apple Computer hinaus.
Noch erstaunlicher ist, dass Google Chromes Marktanteil noch niedriger als der von Opera ist. Googles Marktmacht im Bereich der Online-Suche lässt sich nicht ganz so ohne weiteres auf den Bereich der Internet Browser ausdehnen.

W3B29 Firefox3 in Führung

Seit dem Erscheinen von Firefox ist der Browsermarkt in Bewegung. Anfang 2006 nahm Microsoft den Wettlauf mit Firefox auf – der Verlust von Marktanteilen des Internet Explorers ist jedoch nicht zu bremsen. Der in den verganenen Tagen angekündigte Internet Explorer 9 scheint vielversprechend – nur wird er die für Dezember erwartete Version von Firefox nicht einholen können.
Hinzukommt die Problematik, dass 43% der Internet Explorer-Nutzer mit einem “alten” Browser surfen – rund 16% nutzen sogar noch die Version 6 aus dem Jahr 2001. Obwohl eine Aktualisierung von Version 7 auf 8 bequem per Systemaktualisierung erfolgen könnte, haben dies rund 27% der Internet Explorer-Nutzer bisher nicht getan.
Aufgrund der aktuellen Dominanz von Firefox dürften alle über den offiziellen HTML-Standard hinausgehenden Erweiterungen, die Microsoft dem Internet Explorer in der Vergangenheit hinzugefügt hat, für Internet Entwickler zukünftig irrelevant sein.

W3B29 Firefox überholt Internet Explorer

Addiert man alle genutzten Versionen des Internet Exporers zusammen, ist Firefox als Browser-Anbieter knapp in Führung gegangen. Die Alternativen – Safari, Opera und Chrome – kommen auf knapp 10% Marktanteil, während Netscape Geschichte ist und im Firefox eine würdige Nachfolge gefunden hat.

W3B29 Firefox3 meistgenutzer Browser

November 30 2009

Mister Fix-it

First Tony Hall saved the Royal Opera House. Now he's charged with rescuing the Cultural Olympiad. Charlotte Higgins spends a day with the most powerful man in the arts

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, is an unlikely impresario. There's nothing flash about this softly spoken, modestly besuited man, someone who might be your accountant or GP. As we talk in his office (leather sofas, executive bathroom, a PA who addresses him as "sir", presumably with gentle irony), he betrays irritation only once – when talking about Michael Portillo, whom he has heard is denouncing arts organisations as parasitical "grant junkies".

"The notion that we are grant junkies is just wrong. Absolutely wrong. It's just wrong," he says. "What I see in the arts is creative, cultural entrepreneurs who, yes, take a pound from the public purse. But for every pound, we make three – it's the parable of the talents. I have to say I think the funding system in this country works better than any other system I have seen around the world." He lowers his voice, sounding sad. "As is typical with the British, we never quite appreciate what we've got."

Hall, 58, is about to start his 10th year running Covent Garden, where, on a salary of £250,000, he is the highest paid administrator in the British subsidised arts – and certainly among the most powerful. Aside from the day job, he is now chairing the Cultural Olympiad, and has a seat on the board of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog). Hall's job there is to bring a discredited process back from the brink. He says he will appoint a director of the Cultural Olympiad by Christmas (the job has stood empty for over a year), announce the music strand early in 2010, and, with his newly appointed board, either develop or ditch the projects envisaged by Southbank artistic director Jude Kelly, who was previously in charge. Hall's current concern is the legacy to the five "Olympic" boroughs in east London: Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest. "We've got to involve the whole of the UK, but in 2013 if those five boroughs don't feel there has been a genuine change in arts there, then we won't have done our job properly."

He has ambitious plans for the Opera House, too. Not only does Hall want to create an incarnation of Covent Garden in Manchester, but he is also drawing on his old BBC career (he was chief executive of BBC news) to turn the ROH into, in his words, "a mini-broadcaster", filming and recording its shows for its own CD and DVD label, as well as for TV and the web. "There will come a point," he says, "when what we can do is equivalent to a BBC4 or whatever, and the audience will be global." There's also a new venture called Royal Opera House Enterprises, a kind of BBC Worldwide: the idea is to put every potential money-making opportunity under one umbrella, whether the shop, restaurant, recordings or other merchandise; in business-speak, it's all about exploiting the brand. "We won't be buying Lonely Planet," says Hall, referring to BBC Worldwide's most controversial acquisition. "You've gotto be careful with anything commercial that it is adding to what you have. But I hope what people see is that we are helping ourselves, and we are not grant junkies."

It is hard to overestimate just how much things have changed at Covent Garden. A decade ago, the House was enduring a damaging period of closure and teetered on the brink of ruin: the entire board famously resigned, and a procession of short-staying chief executives trooped in and, defeated, trooped out. Meanwhile, the then chairman, Colin Southgate, was making unhelpful remarks about how he disliked patrons who wore "smelly trainers". These days, by contrast, Hall enthuses about the possibility of some kind of ROH Wii game, about opera and ballet video on demand, and about the potential of 3D for its cinema broadcasts.

In late 2000, when Hall's name was first mentioned as a possible new Covent Garden chief, he was seen as a real outsider. "I felt, perhaps with some sort of arrogance, that running a crazy broadcasting operation [at the BBC] was very similar to working in a very creative theatrical, musical, balletic organisation," he says. But the problem then was that the ROH had no credibility, despite the stabilising influence of his immediate predecessor, American Michael Kaiser. "The place lacked public legitimacy," says Hall. "Despite a lot of good work and talented people, you had this penumbra, this dark shadow of the closure period and the sense of a large amount of public money that had gone to something that was essentially for a smaller number of well-off people. That had to be tackled."

As a first step, the finances were sorted out: the ROH has broken even or registered a small surplus every year since. And then there was the slow work of trying to open up the House, to prove that it wasn't just for the elite. That's a job that is far from done. However hard the ROH works in its community programmes in Thurrock, Essex (where it delivers cultural education to 120 schools, and is developing a national skills academy to teach technical and backstage jobs), however many times Hall points out that half his tickets are £50 (and go right down to £4 for standing seats), many people still believe that Covent Garden, which this year received £28m from the state, is an extravagant waste of money.

At war with New York's Met

Nobody could claim that Hall does not set about the task of challenging that view with missionary zeal. He points to schemes such as two season-openers exclusively made available to Sun readers; the efforts to get ROH's work out on big screens and on to the web; the 4,000 first-time visitors from the Thurrock area; and even the 100 people who came through the doors for the first time after joining the Royal Opera House's 17,000-strong Facebook group. The average night there still feels pretty glitzy and exclusive; but Hall is, I think, gradually chipping away at the old feeling of entrenched privilege.

Before I interviewed Hall, I spent a morning shadowing him. I got the feeling his was a happy ship, though you never know if you are being treated like one of those credulous visitors to a carefully staged version of Stalinist Russia. First came a meeting between senior management and Opus Arte, the CD label which the Royal Opera bought in 2007, where a new Opus Arte website was discussed. When it goes live in January, the site aims to become a kind of Amazon for classical music. Covent Garden's music director, Antonio Pappano, is making a BBC TV series for broadcast early next summer called Opera Italia ("I've banged on about him for ages; he's a natural for TV," says Hall); the Opera House wants to cash in with a Pappano Traviata DVD. Various wrangles about rights were mentioned: this is the most significant potential impediment to Covent Garden's filming or recording its own work, especially when dealing with an artist's estate, or a singer on an exclusive record deal – or an artist who is simply bloodyminded. I was also intrigued to hear of competition with the Metropolitan Opera in New York over exclusivity deals signed for opera screenings with cinema chains: Hall suggested setting up a meeting with Met chief Peter Gelb to smooth things over.

Later, there was a meeting with the director of development. She ran through the figures (above target) and talked about a particular couple whom the House is courting as patrons. A meeting had been delayed, and lunch next spring to admire the daffodils in their garden had been mooted. But Hall thought that was too late. "Snowdrops," he said. "Tell them I'll come and see the snowdrops." There was another mention of the Met, this time in relation to "guerrilla warfare" over a potentially important patron.

But the most revealing part of our morning came when we stood at the back of the Grand Tier for half an hour of the general rehearsal for Tchaikovsky's The Tsarina's Slippers. Hall completely disappeared into the picture-book, Christmassy production and the lush score, his face a study in rapture. I asked whether he often nipped into rehearsals, or whether it was just a treat laid on for the visiting interviewer. "Oh yes, of course," he says. "It keeps you sane. It really, really does."


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