Guest Blog: Montefiore Meets Biscuitland
What to make of a show that asks you to view a neurological disorder/disability, as a 'superpower'? Well Jess Thom wants you to know that Tourette's is what makes her special and she's changing the world 'one tic at a time' and has turned her tics into some riotous entertainment.
The show, Backstage in Biscuit Land, is a mini-guide into the life of Jess who lives with the tics and outbursts caused by the syndrome. The lazy language of writing about disease wanted me to instantly nominate Jess as a Tourette's 'sufferer' but there was not much suffering on display during an anarchic show in which Jess and her co-performer Jess Mabel-Jones (known throughout as 'Chopin') told us about Jess's life.
Her Tourette's required no description. Her vocal tic of 'biscuit' and repetitive chest beating were on clear display throughout and cleverly incorporated into the show. At times it was difficult to tell whether what we were hearing was an inventive script or a new tic. As a show it more resembled Vic Reeves at his most absurd than a medical documentary.Tourette's is a neurological disorder that has become a lazy comic shorthand for scatological and offensive behaviour. Backstage in Biscuit Land trod a fine line in both debunking and reinforcing that view. Whilst we laughed at Jess's disinhibited and furiously inventive swearing, we were also educated as she explained that only 10% of those with the syndrome will swear in this way. We also sympathised as she explained that the same behaviour which had brought her to the theatre as performer had also seen her turned away from theatres as an audience member.
The context was important but dislocating. Her behaviours were exhibited prominently and for comic effect; seeing Jess massacre a plate of strawberries on a stage in a show was hilarious but seeing the same thing unprepared in a communal dining experience might be terrifying. The medic in me wanted to know what short circuit in neurological wiring led to this, whether she hurt her chest and why she was getting worse (a fact that was signified by a comedic love letter to her wheelchair).
In the middle of all the hilarious insanity of free biscuits, songs about bestiality and hedgehog finger puppets, we were pulled up short when an audience member was asked to read Jess's care plan in the event of her tics culminating in a full-blown seizure (a common event). As the seizure was superbly enacted by Chopin's puppetry the volunteer struggled to read the banal medical algorithm (with its' litany of safety and diazepam) without shedding a tear. The theatre was silent but for Jess's own unavoidable interruptions. In that moment we saw that in sharing her superpower with us Jess was also allowing us the privilege of seeing her vulnerability.
As 'Touretteshero” Jess has positively incorporated her disease into her reality in a way that many of us could never do. Her resilience and humour in the face of being different is a lesson for us all.
By Richard Simcock, Consultant Oncologist, Montefiore Hospital.
The Montefiore Hospital working in partnership with Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival, supporting community wellbeing via the arts.
The Measure Of All Things' Sam Green On...
The Measure of All Things is a new live cinema performance by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green (The Weather Underground) with acclaimed chamber group yMusic. Here he discusses the film and his love of world records (book here for The Measure of All Things)
Sam Green on...
… describing The Measure Of All Things as a ‘pretty weird’ movie:
It’s a meditation on the Guinness Book of World Records. To me the book is very striking because in it are many records that say so much about Fate and how we live in a world we don’t understand. The basic building blocks of our lives are dealt with and evoked in the book, so my show is a meditation on that; a series of portraits of people, places and things, from the oldest person to the tallest person to the oldest living thing. In that sense, it evokes a kind of poem about fate, time and mystery of being alive.
… loving the Guinness Book of World Records:
Yeah – when I was a kid, I was totally obsessed with it and spent a lot of time just looking at the pictures. About 5 years ago I came across an old paperback copy of it and I was struck by two things; one – I remembered all the photos… looking at them I was automatically transported back in time to being a kid, but two – I was struck by the serious side of it, that it was, in some ways, a tragic, odd self portrait of humanity and the outer contours of the human experience. It really moved me. That’s where this came from.
… on the motivation to find record-breakers:
It was about putting together a poem that evoked the themes that I felt from the book. It’s an empathic impulse – a sense that we are all living with the mysteries of being alive. Take the guy who was struck by lightening seven times, he - in a way - is the quintessential person dealing with Fate in all its inexplicableness. He has no idea why he was struck seven times, and we all have that, to some extent; wonderful things happen to us and terrible things happen to us, and we never quite understand why. It’s all a mystery to some extent. The piece came out of trying to evoke that feeling.
… on choosing the subjects of the films:
That’s the fun part – I basically went through the book and pursued the things that resonated with me emotionally. Y’know, like the tallest man and the dolphin [Bao Xishan used his long arms to dislodge fatal plastic accidentally ingested by a dolphin at an aquarium] – I love that one. I had someone shoot him in Mongolia and got the footage of him with the dolphin, so it’s just a great story that hits all the right notes. It’s odd, tragic, and beautiful in a way. It was very fun to look into these.
… on the appeal of live cinema:
A lot of different things! I got started in it when making the film about utopia. I was a little grumpy about the fact that as a filmmaker now, you have to accept that people will be watching your work on their laptops whilst their checking Facebook. I do it – it’s how we do things now! We pay attention in fleeting ways on our computers – everything is a little more throwaway – and I didn’t want my work to be in that context. So there’s a lot of reasons why live cinema appeals to me; from aesthetic, to political to economic. I feel we’re being pushed by technology and the market all the time to be more alone with our devices, watching things in very fleeting ways. I feel, especially with cinema, that people coming together and having a collective experience is powerful – that’s the magic of cinema. I love that feeling when the lights go down and the movie starts, and I want my work to be in that world. I think there’s something much more meaningful about it. People often say ‘well so many less people will see your work if you do it this way’… y’know, you have to travel all the way, they have to travel to see it; that’s true, the audience is radically smaller, but I’d much rather have far fewer people have a meaningful experience – something that will linger with them for a while after – than for millions of people to have a throwaway experience when we watch a video online. Also, it is fun, I get nervous, it’s a challenge, and it’s great to work with musicians and travel around with bands. I just keep trying to see what the form can do. Each time I’ve done it, I’ve said ‘well I’m going to try and do it like this’. I’m still curious and inspired about it.
… on the fleeting nature of world records:
I’ve always liked that connection between the form and the content. In this case, the piece is about the fleeting nature of life, the provisional nature of all our efforts. In that sense, the form fits that. For example, the current oldest person in the world just died, so the piece is an organic, ephemeral work that changes and is never quite the same… which is how life is.
… on band yMusic:
yMusic is fantastic. They are a new music chamber group. I went to see the band The Dirty Projectors in New York and yMusic was playing with the band, sort of as their backing band. They played a few songs themselves to start the show and I was mesmerised. Their sound was huge. They had this epic, huge quality to their sound which I really wanted for this piece. One of the great things about the live form is that you can do so much more than you can with a regular movie. The music they play in a regular movie would probably be too much, but in a live context somehow it works and you give yourself over to it more. They’re at the nexus of classical and rock – it’s a really interesting new music world. They’re also very cool.
…on the most interesting person he spoke to in the making of The Measure of All Things:
I think the woman with the longest name. She has this enormous name which just goes on and on. Her mother gave her that name, so it’s not as if she created it herself. At first I thought it was just gibberish… like someone fell asleep on the keyboard… but if you look closely at it you start to see words. Her mother made this crazy long name, but within it there’s city names like ‘Paris’, qualities like ‘love’, there’s other peoples name’s from her family; it’s an odd and wonderful quilt of all these different pieces of ideas and aspirations… and it works! She likes it and gets attention from it. She was on Jay Leno and he gave her a driver’s license as a gag! It’s really interesting to me because there’s the idea that a name makes a person – you name a person and they grow into that name.
… on breaking a record himself:
The great irony of all this is that I did end up in the Guinness Book of World Records this year… and I didn’t even have to hula-hoop for 78 hours! They got in touch with me because they found a photo online of me at the quietest place on earth – an anechoic chamber – and it’s a photo of me holding a microphone. They asked me if they could use it to illustrate the quietest place on earth. I said of course – I always wanted to be in the book, but could never figure out how. I’m on page 74, right next to the ‘Most Valuable Tongue’.
Director Susannah Waters on Being Both...
Being Both is an original production commissioned by Brighton Festival, directed by Susannah Waters and starring renowned mezzo-soprano Alice Coote. Inspired by Handel’s ‘bravura, amazing, profound’ arias and his ‘incredible compassion for human foibles’, Being Both curates the richest moments from Handel’s repertoire, in order to explore the complexities of gender in a modern context.
The production brings together vocals from Alice Coote, the world-class English Concert Orchestra led by Harry Bicket, and visual references from Ali Smith’s book How to be Both in a beautiful and thought-provoking meditation on what it is to be male, female and everything in-between.
We chatted to Susannah about the complexities of gender, her love affair with Handel, and how the orchestra in Being Both will be part of the action.
Susannah Waters on…
…The role of gender in Being Both
“Really, what we’re doing is trying to explore the whole hugely complex subject of gender and the world as it is today and how we’re affected by our own sense of gender: how masculine or feminine we feel we are and if that is a bit of a mismatch with how we’re meant to be, or how our job asks us to be. Also, very much thinking about how an audience sitting in a theatre is affected by gender: by someone’s costume, or the way they look and if someone costumed like a man is singing those words. If someone who has the appearance of a woman is singing those exact same words, they’re very different and they have very different connotations, even if it’s the exact same text.”
“All the music is by Handel which is, of course, the best starting point in the world. I keep saying to Alice that there are some arias that are almost unbreakable in terms of the director screwing them up, or anyone screwing them up. They’re like Shakespeare: there are some pieces in the world that you can do almost nothing bad to, because they are infinitely playable and so full of richness. So we’ve got quite a lot of those really bravura, amazing, profound arias in the piece. Harry Bicket was saying yesterday, it’s kind of the greatest hits of Handel that we’ve collected. It’s really, actually, the pieces that Alice and I really wanted to explore and she wanted to sing.
He’s much above in terms of humanity, and understands everyone’s weaknesses and strengths and courage. For me, that fluidity is in his music; that compassion. He was very much a theatre maker. Like Shakespeare, he would nab a bit of music from that thing he’d written twenty years ago, and put it in this bit. A lot of the pieces were very piecemeal: recycling bits of music, recycling bits of ballet and sticking it here, and turning that into an aria. You never feel that it’s just kind of, lazy un-thought through music. He was very much a man of the theatre. He felt happiest in that theatrical milieu, in the middle of all those people that create an opera.”
…On working with Harry Bicket and the English Concert Orchestra
“I’m such a fan of this orchestra. I’ve gone to see them in concert, doing concert performances of operas. The last time I saw them, doing Alcina at the Barbican, it was an amazing line-up of singers, but I spent a lot of my time watching the orchestra, because they are so engaged when they play. Sometimes you go and see orchestra concerts and the orchestra look a bit jaded, they look a bit kind of ‘another show’. The English Concert Orchestra are just in their bodies, they’re so with the music, so in our show they’re very much onstage. I’m bringing forward some of the soloists to the forestage to be part of the action with Alice. I really wanted them to be an equal part of the visual show, so they are very much there on stage. They’re just fantastic, for me they’re my favourite Baroque orchestra around – just amazing players.”
The Tallest Tortillas, to the World’s Largest Timewarp - we investigate Brighton's world record attempts
The Measure of All Things, coming to Brighton Festival on Sat 23 and Sun 24 May, is an innovative ‘live documentary’, created by Academy Award-nominated film-maker Sam Green. The multi-disciplinary performance incorporates film, a live soundtrack from yMusic, and live narration from Green. This format allows him freedom from the restrictions of film, combined with the energy of a live audience, in an unparalleled production which promises to push the boundaries of the documentary genre.
Loosely inspired by the Guinness Book of World Records, the film weaves together portraits of record-breaking people, places and things: from the tallest man on earth, to the oldest living thing. Green tells Extended Play “in my mind, it’s a piece about time and fate and weird things we’re compelled to do — things we don’t even understand why we’re compelled to do them”. World Record Breakers form the basis for a poignant exploration of what Green calls the oddness and ‘inexplicable nature of being alive’.
In the spirit of The Measure of All Things, we decided to delve into Brighton’s very own collection of World Records (and attempts), from the wonderful to the wacky. Here are some of our favourites:
- The Official UK Rocky Horror Fan Club danced their way to victory as the most people dancing the Time Warp in costume on Brighton Beach in 2009. 1635 people took part, but were outdone in 2010 by 8239 time warp-ers at the Annual Halloween Carnival in Hollywood. Watch the Brighton Time Warpers...
- Heroic Brighton resident Dan Lawson holds the World Record for treadmill running, managing 226 kilometers in 7 days – the equivalent of 20 marathons! Keeping occupied by watching films, and fuelling himself on rice, veggie burgers and poppadums with mango chutney, he ran across the finish line in 2009 and remains unbeaten.
- The Wold Record for the most people crammed in a Mini is 27, and was achieved by Dani and the mini-skirts at the London to Brighton Mini Run in 2014. See how it's done...
- Brighton’s beloved Volks Railway holds the record for the First Public Electric Railway Still in Operation - it set off on its maiden voyage in 1883.
- The tallest stack of tortillas was created in Jubilee Square in 2010 – standing at an impressive 58 cm (1 ft 10 in)
- Karl-Heinz Hille from Germany is the holder of the World Record for most wins at the World Beard and Moustache Championships. Helping him make history was his title of Best Imperial Partial Beard at the 2007 Championships in Brighton.
- In 2012 over 300 people gathered in an unofficial record attempt to bring together as many people dressed as Kate Bush re-enacting the dance to the iconic Wuthering Heights music video. Here is the final result...
More on Sam Green Extended Play
Timewarp record Timewarp.org
Treadmill record - The Argus
Mini record Guinness World Records
Volks Railway Guinness Book of Records
Tallest stack of Tortillas Guinness World Records
Beard Championship Record Guinness World Records
Spooning Record Virtual Festivals
Brighton Festival Live: Stephen Upshaw & Veronika Trisko
Exoticism and Folk Music
viola & piano
Bloch Suite for Viola and Piano
Raymond Yiu Elegaic Fragments
Bartók Romanian Folk Dances
Travel to far-off lands with the American violist Stephen Upshaw and his regular collaborator Veronika Trisko. Stephen’s quest for new musical horizons has taken him to the furthest reaches of the repertoire, including pieces written specially for him, such as Raymond Yiu’s Elegiac Fragments, inspired by Middle Eastern music. Also rooted in the East is Bloch’s Suite for Viola and Piano and closer to home, Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances are irresistibly rhythmic.
Agnès Varda is first woman to receive honorary Palme D’Or at Cannes
Agnès Varda – who made a very special personal appearance at Brighton Festival 2015 – is to receive an honorary Palme D’Or at Cannes this year in recognition of her career.
The legendary French filmmaker and artist, whose incredible body of work is celebrated at Brighton Festival this year with a new art installation called Beaches, Beaches at University of Brighton Gallery, a series of screenings of a selection of her films, and a special lecture at Duke of York’s, will be the first woman ever selected for the distinction.
Varda joins the ranks of only three other directors — Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Bernardo Bertolucci —in being recognised in this way for the global impact of their body of work.
Already the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award by the European Film Academy for her outstanding body of work, Varda - now 86 - has created some of the most interesting female protagonists in 20th-century cinema.
Audiences can visit her Brighton Festival gallery installation ‘Beaches, Beaches’ at University of Brighton Gallery until 24 May 2015. Comprised of images and videos related to French beaches, the installation references, in Varda’s words:
“memories of an old photograph, a puzzled image of a young man on the beach, colourful plastic objects such as flip flops and rubber rings and all through the lovely sound of the sea border.”
The free installation runs from Saturday 2 May to Sunday 24 May, open daily from 10am – 5pm (and 10am – 8pm on Thursdays) at University of Brighton Gallery. Click here for more information.
Varda’s work is often connected to the French New Wave, and her early films were clear precedents for the stylistic tendencies which the New Wave directors delineated. However, her work remains particular to her own unique perspective on the world, resisting the paradigms of movements in art and film.
The themes and issues in her films focus on time and people, the collective unconscious, and social taboos. Her work is also distinct from the French New Wave for its crossing of genres, as she is known as much for her documentaries and short films as for her feature-length dramas. Not limiting herself to France, her films have been shot in a variety of locations, including the USA, Cuba and Iran.
Charlotte Vincent on...
Vincent Dance Theatre – the Brighton-based dance company and associate company of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival founded by choreographer and director Charlotte Vincent – is celebrating its 21st birthday this year in style as they head to Brighton Festival 2015 with two very special works; Underworld and Look At Me Now, Mummy, as part of their 21 Works / 21 Years tour.
Both shows will be performed as normal on Tuesday 12 May, before a wholly unique live event on Wednesday 13 May which sees Underworld and Look At Me Now, Mummy performed concurrently, and back to back, in an epic four hour and 45 minute durational and immersive experience… one in which audiences are invited and encouraged to walk between each show, coming and going as they please.
We spoke to Charlotte who shared her thoughts on the two shows and the durational performance.
CHARLOTTE VINCENT ON…
...Look At Me Now, Mummy:
“You can read Look At Me Now, Mummy in several ways; as a new mother, someone who’d like to be a mother, someone who has lost children or babies… it’s not as literal as it sounds; the context is a slight domestic madness, really. It’s a beautiful solo performance – very few words and not a lot dance, but it’s all movement based – with a soundtrack of white noise and some beautiful bits of BBC Radio 3-type music. The rest is silence… we almost made it a bit like a silent movie; it’s a woman lost in her own imagination, going through a series of rituals to keep herself sane… but actually in doing those rituals, she’s going a bit madder by the minute! Motherhood is a kind of repetitious madness, which I don’t think is talked about much.
“It’s completely choreographed down to the last gesture, look and breath… but obviously in the durational version, those very finely tuned deliveries start to break down a little bit just through tiredness and exhausted… by the sixth version of her forty minute show, dancer Aurora Lubos is actually going a bit mad with the delivery of it as a performer, never mind as the persona on stage”
“Underworld is a vastly different piece of work to Look At Me Now, Mummy. It’s a huge ensemble piece for eight performers. It has a haunting score of children’s voices, church bells and the river that runs under the railway arches where we originally did a site specific version of the show. It’s really strong, powerful and moving. It’s very loosely based on the Orpheus myth - the dancers are trapped in an underworld. You can sit in it for thirty minutes and be quite transfixed, but most come in and end up staying for two-and-a-quarter hours and watch it as a show. It wasn’t made like that, but people get drawn into the world and stay, because they want to see what happens next. We’re finding most people sit it out and come away quite transformed.”
...The five hour durational performance of Underworld and Look At Me Now, Mummy:
“All the performers are at the top of their game… they’ve got incredible stamina. For them, it’s a real challenge to do what is the equivalent of two two-and-a-half shows in one night. As it’s a very physical work, fatigue starts to play a part… but fatigue is part of this world, which is why we’ve done it like this. In Hades, there is no respite or rest, so Underworld is a restless churning that they’re caught up in and they cant really leave… and that’s the parallel of Look At Me Now, Mummy… she can’t get out of her – albeit very different – world either.”
...Encouraging audiences to move between the two shows:
“It’s more of a visual, physical installation than a performance. It’s a very un-British way of watching dance theatre, and I’d invite people not to be worried about disturbing others by coming in and out. You don’t worry so much about that in a gallery situation – you look at a painting for as long as you like and then move on – so we’re trying to encourage people to view the work in a slightly different way.”
...Audience reaction to the shows:
“People don’t quite know what to make of it… but they get drawn in. The word I keep coming back to is ‘transfixed’. Some of the sections are slow, some are energetic, so the energy and pace keeps changing as well as the visual images. I think it’s quite an unusual piece because of that. It’s not your usual ‘beginning, middle and end’ dance piece - it will appeal to people who are interested in all forms of art. It’s an unusual event, it is in celebration of our 21 years of making work and it’s great to be in our home town doing it!”
...Vincent Dance Theatre turning 21:
“I set out 21 years ago to be heard, to express myself through movement and to move people and make them think. With 21 Years / 21 Works I want to draw new audiences in through creative, nostalgic, socio-political, visual, aural, feminist and participatory strands of activity – no longer just aiming for the established ‘dance and theatre’ audiences we have targeted until now.”
To book tickets for the shows, click here.
Brighton Festival Live: DakhaBrakha
(Ukraine) plus dj set
Brighton Festival Exclusive
Plumbing the depths of contemporary roots and rhythms, Ukrainian ‘ethnic chaos’ band DakhaBrakha creates a world of unexpected new music. Rooted in Ukrainian culture but fusing Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian instrumentation, the quartet has created a truly trans-national sound. Expect moments reminiscent of Radiohead, Chicks on Speed and even Hip-hop.
With a name that literally translates as ‘give/take’, DakhaBrakha was created in 2004 at Kiev’s Center of Contemporary Art by avant-garde theatre director Vladyslav Troitskyi. Theatre has left its mark on the band, with a strong visual aesthetic remaining an integral part of its thrilling live act.
Since its formation, DakhaBrakha has performed at festivals in over 30 countries, bringing Ukrainian melodies to the hearts and consciousness of Ukraine’s younger generation and music-lovers worldwide.
In pictures: Week 1
Our 49th Festival with Ali Smith at the helm opened with the incredible Children's Parade. We had heaps of fun and with a plethora of great theatre, circus, dance, music, classical, outdoor, family, books and debates and visual art and film events.
Brighton Festival performance takes visitors into maze of tunnels under Old Ship Hotel
Ticket holders for Brighton Festival event Vast White Stillness will get a sneak peak into a unique Brighton space as the performance takes them deep underground into the maze of tunnels beneath the Old Ship Hotel.
Reality, imagination and memory blur in the intriguing new work which has been created by Brighton composer Claudia Molitor and director Dan Ayling. Part installation, part performance, Vast White Stillness combines music, image and theatre to create an immersive journey through the nuances of memory - the fleeting glance, the not-quite-heard, the half-remembered - that colour a lifetime.
The piece has its roots in Claudia’s personal experience of a trans-national upbringing - she grew up in the Bavarian Alps and now lives in the South of England – and how that has affected her experience of identity and memory: ”The idea of being from one place only, having only one nation that you would call home, seems quite an odd idea to me. There is always this sense of longing for the other, no matter where you are - a sense of home sickness - that you will always have because you are multiple. I don’t mean this in a negative way; it is, in fact, a sense of freedom from being bound to a particular national identity.”
One of the intentions of Vast White Stillness is for audiences to have as unmediated an experience as possible and relate what they hear and see to their own experiences and memories. On using the space Claudia said: “I had no idea the spaces under the hotel existed until Laura Ducceschi, from Brighton Festival, suggested them and took us there. We fell in love with their potential straight away. You never quite know how a space is going to inflect your work and how in turn your work might colour the space. So a sound that appears lovely in one situation - say some trickling water in a forest brook - could sound quite ominous and frightening in a dark cellar. And, as with all live work, each performance depends very much on the audience attending”
Vast White Stillness is at The Old Ship Cellars from 8-10 May 2015. Returns only
In Photos: Brighton Festival Week One
Our 49th Festival with Ali Smith at the helm has been a joy so far. We've had heaps of fun and with a plethora of great theatre, circus, dance, music, classical, outdoor, family, books and debates and visual art and film events still to come the fun is nowhere near over yet!
Take a look back over our first week of Brighton Festival 2015 right here...
Behind the scenes... on GLOW
With the highly anticipated children’s show GLOW opening today, Professor Anna Franklin from the Sussex Baby Lab discusses how their studies on infant vision, colour perception and what babies find most stimulating helped theatre company Flying Eye create the show
What have you found out so far in the Baby Lab?
The Rainbow Project, which is investigating how babies see colours, is still ongoing but we’ve just analysed the data from the first phase.
So far, we’ve found that babies can categorise colours and our analysis of recent data shows that they use the basic channels of colour vision to divide up the colour spectrum. So it suggests that when we group colours into categories such as green and blue that there is some kind of biological underpinning for how we do that; it’s not just random. And that’s been debated for a long time. People have argued that colour categories are random because there are different terms in different languages but it turns out that babies actually use the biology of their colour vision to do it, which provides some constraint on how languages can then divide up colours into different terms.
Babies have got some colour vision when they are born but it’s limited. It develops quite rapidly over the first couple of months of life and they’re trichromatic by the time they’re three months old, so three types of photo receptors are functioning. We work with babies at four months old upwards, once we are sure that they have got colour vision.
Colour perception gets a lot better as the baby develops. It actually gets better up until adolescence and then it actually starts to get worse. In toddlers we are looking at how they learn the words for colour but also how they keep colours constant in their mind when the lighting changes – something called colour constancy, which means that if you look at a banana under any colour light, you still see it and think of it as yellow. It’s basically because our brain factors out the illuminant so it can keep the surfaces constant so we’ve got a more constant world. We’re looking at that in toddlers and seeing how it develops.
Why is it important to understand these things?
It’s important for several reasons. First of all, from a scientific viewpoint, it’s important to know how the brain develops and how the brain learns to process the information in the world around it. And colour is a good way of testing questions around that - it’s a good testing ground for looking at the effect of environment on brain development and processing of stimuli. So, basic, fundamental questions about our cognition can be addressed using colour.
And there are practical implications. For example, we’ve done consultancies with toy companies on products related to infants, talking about what infants can see and what they prefer to look at and what will grab their attention.
Also, potentially there are implications down the line for how you educate children and what kinds of educational materials they respond well to. For example, if you’ve got colour vision deficiency, how would that impact on your learning in the classroom and your use of coloured education materials?
As a group, we’re most interested in the scientific questions - the goal of understanding the human brain and how we learn. But there is also practical, commercial application as well.
A huge guiding principle is that to understand how adults do something, or how the adult brain works, you need to understand how that process develops. So, for example, if you want to understand memory, then, by researching how memory develops, you can understand a lot about it in its adult form. And so the same goes with vision and with colour. Seeing things develop and seeing that development in action, you can actually understand the mechanisms much more.
How do you find your baby subjects?
We have a research assistant in the lab, Gemma, who advertises the Baby Lab studies on Facebook, and Alice keeps Baby Lab followers updated about our latest studies on Twitter. And then basically anywhere where there’s a baby in Brighton or Lewes or Eastbourne we try to get our postcards, which advertise what we’re about. A lot of people we get coming in have been told about the Baby Lab by friends who have also bought their babies in. It’s something fun that parents can do, something interesting, and they learn something about their baby in doing it.
Has anything you’ve found particularly surprised you (eg. gender differences)?
We’ve not found any gender differences before. There’s some evidence in the literature that male babies might be less good at one of the subsystems of colour vision; the red/green one. But we’ve not found any evidence of that ourselves.
The most surprising thing to me has been that infants tend to look longer at the colours that adults like. You tend to think of colour preference as being something fairly idiosyncratic – it’s just a personal choice – but actually the fact that adults’ colour preferences map on to infants looking suggests that there’s some kind of early origins of something about those colours that make us like them but also make infants look longer.
Colour is an interesting stimulus because it’s always there in everything that we look at and it can have quite subtle effects on us and our behaviour, how we process things and our emotional response. But we’re rarely really aware of that happening – it’s almost like an invisible vapour or something that you don’t really know is there but it does affect you. So it’s quite interesting from that viewpoint.
How did the Brighton Festival show come about?
Sachi and Kristina, who are the directors, just contacted me; they found the Baby Lab on the web. They wanted a play that was going to resonate with babies and that would fit with babies’ abilities in understanding and seeing. They came to the lab and we showed them some babies taking part in our research. We talked about infant vision and cognition, gave them some things to read and we just had ongoing discussion really about that so they could feed it into their play.
It was really interesting to see how science could be drawn upon in art. They’re such creative women and it was really interesting to see how they took the scientific findings and used them. I went to a couple of the shows where they were developing the different components of the play - to see how you get from the scientific work to putting it in action was really interesting for me.
Was the process quite different to how you approach things as a researcher?
Absolutely, yes. There is definitely creativity in research but their creativity has got a different goal.
I was surprised when I watched the test show how engaged babies were and how much enjoyment they got from it and also how it led to this bond between the baby and the parent. It seemed quite a rich experience for the parent to have their baby engage with something so much. When we were having conversations talking about the science and talking about their ideas, I didn’t realise that it was all going to knit together so effectively.
There’s certainly a need for more things that are directed towards infants. The GLOW show sold out on the first day that it was released and that really shows that we should be producing more things for babies. Especially because early experience is really important for shaping visual development and cognitive development, so we want to give young minds a rich experience.
Glow plays on Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 May. For tickets, click here.
To find out more about the Sussex Baby Lab and how babies can take part in Baby Lab research, click here.
Fancy A Spot Of Bird Watching? Do The Brighton Festival Big Bird Trail
We are twitching with excitement about our Big Bird Trail! Take your bird-watching on the move – gather stickers from local businesses and venues, for a chance to win some amazing prizes.
Enjoy a luxurious Lunch for 2 at local bistro, The Manor. Grab some sweet treats from Cybercandy for the sugar enthusiasts. Appendage and Pussy Home Boutique are offering a selection of quirky goodies. Pamper yourself with a range of hair-care prizes from the North Laine Hair Co. Get your hands on a £50 Brighton Dome voucher to spend on the upcoming shows of your choice. Plus, no respectable bird-watcher’s life would be complete without a Bird Feeder from the RSPB! See the full list of prizes.
The shops participating are:
• Oxfam Books
• Fidra Jewellers
• North Laine Hair Company
• Pussy Home Boutique
• Whirligig Toy
• The Manor
• RSPB Shop for Nature
• Ticket Office- Brighton Dome
For more info and the shops addresses head this way.
Grab a copy of the trail in our Family Festival Guide, available at the Brighton Dome Ticket Office to get started.
Nun on the run needed!
Award-winning theatre company seek volunteers for Brighton Festival performance
Theatre company Burn The Curtain are URGENTLY NEEDING an additional volunteer ‘nun’ to take part in stewarding their Brighton Festival 2015 performance The Company of Wolves (7 – 9 May). The company are seeking volunteers to don a habit and take part in the promenade theatre adventure created for runners and walkers across Stanmer Park. We need a Nun steward who can lead running audience members through the show. MUST be an experienced/regular runner.
The volunteer would need to be available:
Wed 6th – Sat 9th 18.30 to 11pm at Stamner Park
The performance turns Angela Carter’s macabre imagination into a spine-tingling outdoor experience; the tale unfolds as you progress along a pre-determined route which will be between two and five miles long, depending on which path you take. Those taking part can choose to either run or walk the course… with a warning that should you stray from the path for one instant, the wolves will eat you!
Those interested in getting involved are asked call Joe on 07941 471 917
Exploring a Beautiful Cosmos - who was Ivor Cutler?
The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, coming to Brighton Festival this May, tells Cutler’s fascinating life story, interwoven with his songs, stories and poetry, but you’re out of luck if you are looking for a traditional tribute musical. Director Matthew Lenton tells The Observer it is, “an anti-Mamma Mia”, and it is only fitting that a play based on the life of a maverick defies convention. Mark Fisher from the Guardian calls it “a big grin of a show, as funny and idiosyncratic as Cutler and every bit as embraceable.” while The Telegraph describes it as “Funny, evocative and celebratory”.
Ivor Cutler was a poet, performer and certified eccentric. Born in Glasgow in the 1920s, he began writing songs and poems in the 1950s while teaching by day (a profession he took up after being dismissed from the RAF for ‘dreaminess’). Cutler began appearing on BBC Radio and after an appearance on Late Night Line-up in the 1960s, he was noticed by Paul McCartney. Cutler was subsequently championed by John Peel and released numerous albums to critical acclaim, but he remained ambivalent about his popularity and famous following, and was renowned for telling fans attempting to take his picture, “don’t you ever do that again”. He continued to ride his bike, hand out sticky labels covered with cryptic messages, and tell stories through song accompanied by his harmonium, such as I believe in bugs, Egg Meat and Mary is a cow, until his death in 2006. Cutler lived life by his own rules, his whimsical outlook and refusal to conform continues to capture the imagination and is set to enchant audiences of The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler. Read on to discover more about this wonderful man.
Ivor performing Beautiful Cosmos in 2004
As a young man, Cutler joined the RAF as a trainee navigator, but was promptly dismissed for being 'too dreamy and absent-minded' after being caught sketching clouds in mid-air.
He had an unorthodox approach to teaching and rebelled against the use of corporal punishment in his school. He cut the leather belt he had been given to discipline children with into 50 pieces, and handed them out to his students when he quit. He subsequently joined a progressive independent school ‘with no rules’ where he would challenge his pupils to improvise songs.
Cutler appeared in the Beatles psychedelic 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour as Buster Bloodvessel - the conductor of their multicoloured bus, accompanying them on their magical adventure. He was subsequently invited to teach the Beatles children but declined on socialist principles, saying, "What made their kids more special than other kids?"
He often communicated by handing out stickers with cryptic messages on them, both to people he knew and people he didn't: he would randomly distribute stickers bearing messages like, Funny smell, Let me out and To remove this label take it off.
Enjoy this short video of Ivor Cutler performing I’m Happy in 1986
His famous fans include: The Beatles, John Peel, Billy Connolly, philosopher Bertrand Russell and Johnny Rotten
He was in a relationship with English poet Phyllis King for over 40 years and the pair often collaborated. Despite their close relationship, they lived in separate houses to maintain their independence and Cutler lived in the same small second-floor flat surrounded by his collection of masks, paintings and sculptures until his death.
From the 1990s he was largely retired, but continued to ride around Central London on his bicycle, wearing pink flamingo shorts and a selection of curious hats and loud ties, accosting complete strangers in the street and asking them if they wrote poetry.
Book your spot now to see The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler.
Brighton Festival Live: The Spalding Suite
Inua Ellams, Benji Reid & Fuel
A new physical theatre show inspired by the UK's basketball sub-culture.
‘When we were young, we worshipped stars.
Gleaming long-limbed gods
framed in the act of impossible flight,
For a time we tried to follow,
to carve out our own piece of sky
with a butter-smooth arc of an arm
and a Spalding ball glued to the fingertips’
Fresh poetry combined with contemporary movement celebrates the elegance and beauty of basketball. Seen from a British perspective, The Spalding Suite gets to the heart and soul of the gravity-defying game and delves into the hopes and dreams of those who play it. Six dynamic performers mix live beat-boxing, hip-hop, music, moves and poetry, taking us from the fleeting high of the score and the robust camaraderie of the team, to the poignant lows of a body too worn to play the game.
Conceived and written by Inua Ellams
Directed by Benji Reid
Inspired by the poetry of Nick Makoha, Bohdan Piasecki and Roger Robinson, with poems from Jacob Sam-La Rose and Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Sound by Eric Lau/MC Zani
Design by Ti Green
Lighting by Benji Reid & Lee Grey
Produced by Fuel
Commissioned by Southbank Centre and Contact
Funded by Arts Council England and a Wellcome Trust Arts Award
Photos: Children's Parade
Our 49th Brighton Festival got off to rollicking start with the Children's Parade, co-produced by Same Sky. This year everyone surpassed themselves and the immense talent and creativity of our fair city was made abundantly clear. A plethora of winged creatures and their creators took to the streets in a flurry of colour and sound to mark this year's theme 'taking flight'.
Photos: Brighton Festival 2015 Opening Weekend
This weekend Brighton Festival began and we had smashing time! Here are some photos that showcase the festivities and it's nowhere near over yet, as there are lots more exciting events to come - see our What’s On page for full details
Brighton Festival Live: Beyond
'A masterpiece that sparkles like the finest champagne' Berlin Morgenpost
After their heart-stopping performance in How Like an Angel (Brighton Festival 2013), the exhilarating Australian ensemble Circa makes a welcome return to Brighton Festival with its bold new vision of contemporary circus.
Performers explore their animal instincts as they push their bodies to extremes, combining feats of breathtaking skill with Rubik’s Cubes, blindfolds, white rabbits and a dash of cheeky humour, all set to a soundtrack of ballads, show tunes and electronica. Small red-curtained stages within stages will transport you to a cabaret, a zoo or an asylum, as a deliciously surreal and surprisingly beautiful world emerges before your eyes.
This dazzling show has been thrilling audiences the world over – so join the hugely skillful Circa as they invite you to go Beyond for a performance of audacious showmanship.
'Audiences have come to expect the earth from Circa... Beyond gives them the moon as well' The Stage
Award glory for Brighton Festival 2015 author
Fresh from winning the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 last night for her moving non-fiction work The Iceberg, author Marion Coutts will appear at the annual Brighton and Sussex Medical School debate as part of this year’s Brighton Festival.
Coutts’ book The Iceberg is not a novel, but a memoir of sorts on art, work, death and language in response to the diagnosis, illness and death of her husband, the art critic Tom Lubbock, who died of a brain tumour in January 2011. It is an exploration of the impact of death in real time, a sustained act of looking that only ends when life does and gives an account of a small family unit under assault and the inventiveness by which they tried to stay together. It charts the deterioration of Tom's speech even as it records the developing language of his child, and navigates with great power the journey from home to hospital to hospice.
The Wellcome Book Prize is an annual award, open to new works of fiction or nonfiction that have a central theme which engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness with an aim to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.
Announcing the winner, Chair of Judges, Bill Bryson, said:
'Highlighting the importance of literature in exploring the human experience within medicine, the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 has spotlighted a pleasingly diverse array of subjects and genres. From an extremely strong shortlist of books that blend exquisite writing with scientific rigour and personal experience, The Iceberg stood out.
'Marion Coutts’ account of living with her husband’s illness and death is wise, moving and beautifully constructed. Reading it, you have the sense of something truly unique being brought into the world -- it stays with you for a long time after.'
As well as winning the 2015 prize, The Iceberg was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2014, the Costa Biography Award 2014, the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Award 2014 and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2014.
The Brighton and Sussex Medical School debate, titled Facing Cancer, will examine the challenging subject from multiple perspectives.The author is set to appear on the panel of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School’s annual debate Facing Cancer on Sunday 24 May 2014. Given the very word ‘cancer’ elicits a strong emotional response and the fact that rates are increasing with half of us expected to develop some form of the disease during our lifetime, the engaging debate will examine the difficult topic from multiple perspectives including the medical, the ethical, the research and, most importantly, the personal.
Fellow panelist, academic surgical oncologist and Dean of Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) Professor Malcolm Reed said,
‘With cancer affecting most of us, either directly or through a close family member, we wanted to take our debate wider than the purely medical. By tackling this emotive subject through a more holistic approach, and with an engaging and diverse panel, we believe Facing cancer will really hit home with our audience, many of whom will know the illness only too well.’
For more information, on the Brighton and Sussex Medical School debate Facing Cancer, click here.
Eclectic beats and kaleidoscopic visuals: Get ready for a journey through sound and space with Squarepusher
Legendary electronic producer Squarepusher joins us at Brighton Festival with new album, Damogen Furies. With a career spanning 20 years, and 14 albums under his belt, he remains at the forefront of the electronic scene - constantly pushing the boundaries with his unique sound and approach to performance. Damogen Furies was created using instruments, hardware and software of his own invention, enabling him to record each track live and in one take, and capture the energy and freedom of his live show.
His unique approach has been met with glowing critical acclaim: with the NME praising his “dark, musical imagination” which keeps him way ahead of the game, and Louder than War giving the album 9/10, “his unique and pioneering electronic sound meets his boundary-warping drum n’ bass. In short, it’s a stonking good listen”.
His live show promises a sonic explosion, bringing together his diverse influences of acid-house, jazz and electronica, with mesmerising visuals in a high-octane show to bombard the senses. For Squarepusher, the visual elements of his show are as important as the sound, he has “hijacked the world of imagery” to forge a deeper sonic connection with his audience. This recent live session, gives you a taste of what’s to come at his live show in May: a burst of limit-pushing, bass-thumping energy which promises to take you on a “2001-esque trip to the edge of the universe...Goodbye Earth!”
Want to go on a journey with this symphonic sorcerer? Tickets are available for his hotly anticipated Brighton Festival show at Brighton Dome on the 8th May.
Feathered Facts: 15 more things you never knew about swifts and starlings…
This year’s Brighton Festival draws heavily from the themes of art and nature, particularly from our winged friends. The RSPB have kindly supplied us with some fascinating facts about starlings and swifts - the inspiration for this year’s Festival imagery. Keep reading and discover 15 more things you never knew about swifts and starlings…
- Between 1995 and 2011, we lost about a third of all the Swifts breeding in the United Kingdom.
- Swifts - the parent birds eat most of their chicks' droppings (possibly to recycle the mineral content); there are no great piles of droppings beneath swift nests.
- An adult Common Swift can eat as many as 40,000 flying insects each day.
- Swifts have four toes, arranged in twos, each pair pointing sideways rather than forwards, a bit like a chameleon or a koala.
- A swift weighs about the same as a Cadbury’s Crème Egg, Crunchy (or any other 40g chocolate bar).
- Swifts’ eyes are deep seated and have moveable bristles in front – sunglasses for reducing glare.
- At about a month old, swift “babies” do press-ups in the nest, lifting themselves up by pushing down on their outstretched wings, probably to build muscle. By the time they’re ready to go, they can hold their bodies clear of the ground like this for several seconds.
- Eugene Schieffelinm and his friends determined to introduce all of the animals mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America and in 1890 released 100 starlings. The species now has a US population of hundreds of millions.
- Starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with with pale speckles over a sheen of purples and greens, like oil on water.
- The oldest known wild starling was 21 years old.
- Since the mid 1970’s, starling numbers have dropped by about two thirds, making them a red-listed species of conservation concern.
- Once a common sight in both urban and rural areas of Britain, starling numbers have dropped by a staggering 92% in woodlands.
- Each year during autumn, flocks of starlings form across the skies of Britain, creating "dark clouds" above fields, woodlands and reedbed, these are called murmurations. As seen annually from Brighton pier.
- Scientists say the birds flock for a number of reasons including safety, warmth and to "exchange" information such as feeding areas. In winter European starlings migrate to the UK swelling numbers.
- Starlings belong to the family of birds which includes vocal mimics known as myna birds, so they’re capable of imitating man-made sounds like ring-tones and doorbells, or the songs and calls of other birds.
And if that isn't enough facts for you can read Feathered Facts: 15 things you never knew about starlings, swifts and nightingales and also Feathered Facts: 15 more things you never knew about swifts
Vikings, snogging & spies… Behind-the-scenes with Noggin the Nog (Photo story)
You’ll never believe what happened when one man and his camera went behind-the-scenes at the rehearsals of The Sagas of Noggin the Nog!
The legendary adventurer Noggin the Nog joins us this May at Brighton Festival. Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s iconic stories have been theatrically reimagined by Third Party Productions. 1970s classic The Sagas of Noggin the Nog will be playfully and affectionately brought to life and imaginatively retold using puppetry, original music, film and a cast of silly Vikings.
Third Party Productions and Mischievous Theatre have been busy rehearsing. Take a look at the photos below and see what fun to expect this May.
Groliffe the Ice Dragon is put through his paces
Noggin and Nooka meet!
Noggin and Nooka take a break
Nooka ... will she be the new queen of the Nogs?
A mock up of the new Ronf, the little man from the Hot Water Valley, in rehearsal
Nogbad the Bad spies!
Snogging the Snog
Whether you are familiar with the tales or this is your first time, the performance is perfect for adventurous children and adults alike - book now
Feathered Facts: 15 more things you never knew about swifts…
This year we draw inspiration from the avian world - starlings, swifts and nightingales feature in several Brighton Festival events this May. In this series of posts we celebrate our feathered friends with some fascinating facts. This week we explore the lives of swifts - read on to discover 15 more things you never knew about these birds…
- Swift nests need to be high-up as the birds legs are too weak to launch themselves into the air. They literally have to fall into flight.
- Swifts were once known as devil birds and were believed to nest in pond mud. The name may refer to their scream-like call, their forked tails, dark colouring or the mystic qualities of their lives.
- Despite appearances, swifts are not related to swallows or house martins. Their nearest “bird” relatives are the New World’s hummingbirds.
- As the sun sets swifts will gather and chase each other, screaming as they go, before rising to an altitude of some 10,000 feet, where they’ll sleep on the wing.
- The oldest recorded age for a swift is eighteen years. This individual would have travelled four million miles; the equal of eight trips to the moon and back.
- Swifts migrate to the UK around May, staying to lay eggs and raise their chicks, departing for Africa’s warmer climes in August.
- Each morning, swifts will descend from their high altitude sleep to fly around their nests and feed their young.
- Swifts gobble-up airborne insects and spiders. These bugs are collected into a ball or “bolus” in the swift’s throat to regurgitate for their young back on the nest.
- Each bolus (ball of food) brought to the babies weighs just over a gram, and contains 300 to 1000 individual insects and spiders. The average is 300-500 food items per bolus.
- The first three to four years of a swift’s life are spent in the air. Only when they’ve reached adulthood will they touchdown on solid ground to nest and raise their first brood.
- Swifts are able to navigate through different wind speeds while sleeping, automatically adjusting their flight to stay on a specific course.
- In the early days of radar in the 1950s, air traffic controllers would routinely spot unidentified flying objects, referred to as "angels". It’s now thought these blips could have been sleeping swifts.
- Approximately 80,000 pairs of swifts migrate to Britain each summer, although the numbers have been declining.
- Originally cave, tree-hole and cliff dwellers, swifts have nested in high man-made structures, (under tiles, in the eaves, in lofts, spires and towers) since Roman times.
- The parent birds eat most of their chicks' droppings (possibly to recycle the mineral content); there are no great piles of droppings beneath swift nests
Facts kindly supplied by the RSPB.
5 minutes with... GoGo Penguin’s Chris Illingworth
Returning to Brighton Festival this year, GoGo Penguin’s groove-heavy, lyrical acoustic-electronica sound and exhilarating live shows have made them the band to see on the UK’s contemporary jazz circuit. We caught up with GoGo Penguin’s Chris Illingworth to find out a little more about him…
The band / artist that made me want to be a musician was…Alfred Brendel
The first gig I went to was…DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist
The first album I ever bought was…Mezzanine by Massive Attack
The proudest moment of my musical career was when…We signed to Blue Note Records earlier this year
My favourite part of touring is…When we get the occasional day to explore the city we're gigging in
The best show I ever performed was…So far, Uber Jazz in Hamburg last year
My favourite song to perform live is…One Percent
The last song I listened to was…Cream Puff War by Grateful Dead
People would be surprised to learn that…
I like to draw and paint portraits in my free time