Friday, July 27, 2007

Septimus, what are super powers?
Shakespearean actor Matt Biedel stars as caped crusader "Darko the Nightwatchman" in this very funny short film.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I’m Not Inspired by the Starfish Model

If I’m told this starfish story one more time by some overstuffed bureaucrat at a self-congratulatory banquet, I shall probably puke into my shrimp cocktail. It goes like this:

Millions of starfish washed up on the beach, putting their lives in grave danger. A young girl made her way along the sand, picking up one starfish at a time and tossing it back into the sea. An older gentleman watched this laborious activity for a while before finally saying to the girl, “You’ll never save them all. You can’t make a difference.”

The girl slowed her pace for a moment and then held up the starfish she had in her hand. “I will to this one,” she said before casting it back into the waves.

The starfish story was a great favorite of Ed Brand when he was superintendent of California’s largest high-school district. He liked the story so much, he used to hand out little glass starfish awards at an annual starfish luncheon held at the San Diego Country Club.

The food was excellent. But the story left a sour taste in my mouth. We’re talking about publicly funded education here. But, in the starfish story, only the occasional random individual gets saved. I have step children in the California school system. Brand's vision seemed to offer them some bleak prospects.

And I even heard the same “inspirational story” told by an official of the teachers union at an event held in a fancy hotel in Hollywood.

I was tucking into delicious bacon and eggs when I head that only one starfish in millions can expect a difference. Even when told from the point of view of a labor official speaking to professionals who work every day in California classrooms, the message was presented as a hopeful one: that only a few individuals, selected at random from millions, will get a chance to survive certain destruction on the dry beach of ignorance.

Nobody stood up and heckled. The audience had heard the story so often, most didn’t pause in their private conversations to even listen to the speaker. I hope they weren’t all so jaded they couldn’t imagine a way this corny story could be rewritten so that the students in their care are not to be abandoned in a regrettable but inevitable ecological disaster.

American’s a young country. The state of California is wealthier than most nations. There’s still time for little girl and the old man to get on their cell phones and call somebody who could, I don’t know… bulldoze, or fire hose, all the starfish back into the waves? ...with no starfish left behind?

Wouldn’t a rewrite along those lines be a more practical and ethical use of public funds?

© Michael C. Burgess 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Authors@Google: George Lakoff

Author George Lakoff discusses his book "Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea" as a part of the Authors@Google series. This event took place Thursday, July 12, 2007 at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

John “Digger” Gardiner (1936 – 2007)

The playwright and director John Gardiner died July 2, after a long and courageous fight against cancer. To many he will be remembered as the dynamic artistic director who lifted the Bancroft Players from the doldrums in the early 1970s and was its most inspiring producer until his departure in 1988 to found Hertfordshire Theatre School. As with so many of his shows there was ‘standing room only’ at John’s funeral at St Mary’s Church, Hitchin, on Monday July 23. Bancroft Players chairman Richard Whitmore, was one of those who spoke at the service. Here is the text of his eulogy:

Those of us paying tribute to John today can provide only glimpses of the extraordinary achievements of our friend who, over 40 years, inspired literally hundreds of pupils, actors and sportsmen to reach heights of achievement that they had probably only ever dreamed of. Today, first and foremost, our hearts, our love and our sympathy are with Barbie and her family. But they want this farewell to be as much a celebration of John’s life as the mourning of his passing. And, as so much of that life involved laughter, when the opportunity presents itself, let it be so even today.

John was the biggest single influence on theatre in North Hertfordshire in our lifetime. Amateur drama enthusiasts of my generation first got to know him in 1966 not long after he had come to take up a teaching post at Hitchin Grammar School. He’d offered to stage a show for Carnival Week in aid of the hospital. He picked a team of 12 of us from local theatre groups and called the company ‘The Externals.’ The blatantly camp humour in some of his sketches and songs was new to dear old Hitchin and seemed terribly risqué at the time. Our audiences loved it, but when they flocked back for more the following year they were in for a shock.

John had decided that we should become the first amateur group to stage Joan Littlewood’s amazing Oh What a Lovely War. Despite his own unforgettable performance as the Drill Sergeant (surely the funniest 10 minutes ever witnessed on the Town Hall stage) people were upset by the powerful anti-war theme, with protest songs sung to the tunes of much-loved hymns. Some of the audience walked out; others later rose to deliver a standing ovation; leaving us quietly satisfied that we had made our point. I doubt anyone in the cast has forgotten the first rehearsal; when we sat spellbound by a Gardiner lecture that – for the first time for most of us — put the hideous folly of The Great War in its true perspective.

From that evening on, John had our undivided attention. The show was a sign of great things to come. It was also our first experience of what I would call ‘proper’ acting, when we found ourselves not just performing lines but (almost oblivious of the audience) becoming totally absorbed in the event we were portraying. From then on, any show ‘directed by John Gardiner’ meant good box office; over eight years, his Carnival Week productions raised thousands of pounds for Hitchin’s hospitals.

When the Externals disbanded in 1973, the Bancroft Players were going through a difficult patch. Work and retirement had taken their four leading directors to other parts of the country. It was John who saved the day by agreeing to become our artistic director. As Kirk Foster said in his tribute in The Comet: ‘John lifted the players from an ordinary amateur society to one of such standing and reputation that they were capable of raising funds to build the prestigious Queen Mother Theatre.’

Not only was John a highly innovative director, he had an extraordinary knack of drawing remarkable performances from the most unlikely people. We saw it in ‘The Crucible’ and ‘Judgement at Nuremburg’ – plays then rarely performed by amateurs – and staged in our tiny theatre at St Anne’s Hall by a cast that sometimes outnumbered its audience.

At the Town Hall, he broke the mould by staging major productions ‘in the round.’ With his production of Julius Caesar we first began to appreciate his great knowledge and love of Shakespeare. Later came National Health and the pastoral Larkrise to Candleford when he created magical scenes of harvesting farm workers and lured the audience into leaving their seats to join in a joyful dance to celebrate ‘Harvest Home’.

The following year the Town Hall became a sweltering jungle in the Far East for Sergeant Mitchum’s platoon in The Long and The Short and The Tall. When Ron Decent, the actor playing Mitchum, fell ill just before opening night John took over the role. No-one would have guessed he was standing in at the last minute. A few years later (at the vulnerable age of 50 when he should have known better) he stood in for an injured Keith Swainston and submitted himself to being hurled round a wrestling ring by a fearsome female wrestler (Sue Mason) in Trafford Tanzi. The Players also had the privilege of staging world premieres of musicals that John wrote with his associate Andrew Parr. Big Al – the life story of Al Capone — and RockaSocka a spoof on world cup football.

Rehearsing one of his new shows was, as they say, ‘an experience.’ The script arrived a bit at a time on hurriedly typed pages. For a while, we were puzzled by the significance of the date 1811 that appeared regularly on every page. Then it dawned on us that ‘1811’ should have been ‘I’ll’ – the shift key on John’s old Underwood typewriter had given up the ghost. When he’d thought up his latest song, John would call his MD down to rehearsal half an hour ahead of the cast and ‘la-la’ the tune. The MD would then have 20 minutes to knock it into shape. The cast appeared at 7:30 and learned the song, which John then choreographed. By 10 p.m. it was blocked and in the bag — and time to head for the Coopers Arms.

But it wasn’t just John’s shows that strengthened our society. There were the brilliant social events, workshops, visiting speakers, film shows. The annual highlight – always over-subscribed — was The Bancroft Players Dirty Weekend. Heaven knows what the residents of Brighton and Bognor thought when we ‘hit town’ proudly flashing our Dirty Weekend badges. In fact, it was all very innocent (more or less) usually involving a theatre visit, a trip round a stately home and mad games and competitions that only occasionally disrupted the sedate life of the hotel where we were staying.

As our artistic director, John was the first to bring top West End artistes to the Queen Mother Theatre. Prunella Scales as the young Queen Victoria, Alec McCowen as Kipling. John spotted Fascinating Aida at the Edinburgh Fringe when they were still unknown and booked them for our next season for £150. By the time they came, TV had made them a household name commanding £1,500 a show, but they made their agent honour the original unwritten agreement struck in an Edinburgh bar with John.

Our biggest fear was that it would only be a matter of time before JG was lured to London by some lucrative offer from a production company or broadcasting organisation. There, without doubt, he could have earned a fortune. But he chose to stay among us to pursue his prolific career as a playwright and director. Ever busy, but always available to give us his wisdom and his time. How lucky we were — how many of us here today are the richer for it.

John’s last public performance was in April, when he proposed the toast at our Golden Wedding lunch. Conscious of his fast-deteriorating health, Wendy and I told him we’d quite understand if he didn’t feel up to it. We should have known better. After keeping us reassured with e-mails signed endearingly ‘Tiny Todger of Tilehouse Street,’ he was, of course, a storming success. As always, unable to resist the chance of blending sincerity with a whiff of outrageous scandal:

“Throughout Richard’s time at the BBC,” he said, “Wendy was always there to give support. Even late in his career when he left the Corporation amid some gossip that Graham Norton was, in fact, Richard and Angela Rippon’s love child.”

Yes. We shall miss him! Thanks, old friend, for everything.

See "John Gardiner remembered"
Copyright © 2007 The Bancroft Players

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beckham's the Gecko?

A lot of Californians are asking what David Beckham is actually famous for. Whenever we hear him speak, his Leytonstone vowels are reminiscent of a TV commercial we get here in which a computer-generated gecko is a pitchman for Geico car insurance. Could they be related? We should be told!

Goodbye — The (After)life of Cook & Moore

“Goodbye the (after)life of Cook & Moore” is the world premiere of this darkly surreal comedy play co-written by Clive Gehle with Jonathan Hansler (the actor who played Peter Cook in the play “Pete’n’Me” at New End Theatre, London).

Pete and Dud are in a bar in Limbo facing Divine Judgment for “Derek & Clive.” As they confront their past and face their future in Heaven or Hell, they are joined by performers whose careers they influenced for good or bad, including Kenneth Willliams, Tony Hancock and Frankie Howerd.

It can be seen at Edinburgh Festival from August 1-27 at the Gilded Balloon, Teviot Bristo Sq., Edinburgh, Scotland, at 17:45 p.m. Phone 0131-668 1633 or book online at

Pre-Edinburgh previews can be seen at the Hackney Empire Studio Theatre, London E8, on Sunday 22nd July at 8 p.m. (020 8985 2424) and Pentameters Theatre at The Three Horseshoes, Heath St., London NW3 (020 7435 3648) on Monday, July 23 AND Friday, July 27 at 8 p.m.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bottled Water is an Environmental Travesty

Think about this the next time you pop open a bottle of water: you are really helping to screw the environment. Yep, you and me. But after reading a couple of news bits, I will not buy bottled water again. I will use refillable containers and use a water store.

Check this out:

Bottled water is not safer. Both regulation and enforcement of bottled water safety is weaker than of tap water safety. Up to 70 per cent of all bottled water produced and sold within states is exempt from FDA regulation.

Bottled water is bad for the environment — wastes fossil fuels and water in production and transport. We’re moving 1 billion bottles of water a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water.

It takes more than 47 million gallons of oil to produce plastic water bottles for americans every year. Eliminating those bottles would be like taking 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Each one of those bottles required nearly five times its volume in water to manufacture the plastic and may have caused the release of nickel, ethylene oxide and benzene.

When the water is drunk, the bottles become a major source of waste. Rather than being recycled, 86 per cent of them are thrown away. Breaking down these plastics can take thousands of years, while their components seep into our water supplies.

Bottled water is a waste of money. How much a gallon are you paying? A local water store runs 30 cents per gallon in your own refillable containers. Municipal tap water is far cheaper than that.

In 1976, the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water a year. Last year, we each drank 28.3 gallons of bottled water — 18 half-liter bottles a month. We drink more bottled water than milk or coffee or beer. Only carbonated soft drinks are more popular than bottled water, at 52.9 Gallons annually.

If the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000. While bottled water tastes better than a lot of tap water, consumer reports has done taste tests of bottled water versus a NYC tap water base and, again and again, the NYC tap water wins out.

If you want some more information on how water helps rape the environment, you can go to this article at Fast Company.

[Submitted by Ensenada Jim]