Category: Theatre

August 4th, 2017 by Michael Millward

The 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality has provided an opportunity for employers to encourage their employees especially those from the LGBT community to bring their whole self to work, to be themselves. There are many reasons for this; The company may want to record and promote the diversity of its employees and promote a strategy of inclusion. Or the company may also recognise that people who have to spend their working day pretending to be living a life that is different to their reality could be damaging their own mental health as the pressures to maintain the pretence increase. Linked to this, if people are able to be themselves at work they are likely to be happier, and as a consequence are also likely to be more productive.

Regardless of what motivates an employer, the result, should contribute to a more inclusive society.

Gypsy Queen

I recently saw a play at Slung Low, the pay what’s right for you, theatre in Leeds which explored how people change the way that they treat people after they know that they are LGBT.

In the play, Gypsy Queen, the two main characters are both boxers and both gay. There are a couple of differences between them though. One Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson played by Ryan Clayton is a champion in the conventional Queensbury Rules style and comfortable with his sexuality. The other, ‘gorgeous’ George O’Connell, played by Rob Ward, is a member of the travelling community and a champion bare knuckle street fighter.

When the play starts it is Gorgeous George, who is struggling with his sexuality. It is his meeting with Dane the Pain and their relationship that gives him the confidence to accept and acknowledge his sexuality.

One day, George is the hero, but when he ‘comes out’ he is shunned and goes from hero to less than zero just for being himself.

It is a truly painful watching Rob portray this process, powerless to both move towards living his own life and fight the abuse.

The final consequences are perhaps as predictable as they are tragic.

An HR Perspective

What is interesting about Gypsy Queen from an HR perspective is not so much the process that George goes through, but the way in which the supporting cast of characters change how they treat him as they become aware of his sexuality. He is not fulfilling their perceptions of the type of man that a boxing champion should be, and he has to endure both physical and verbal abuse.

The treatment of these two gay men does not match the image an outsider watching the media coverage of the increasing acceptance of same gender marriage, and the increasing number and size of Pride events all over the country would have of the United Kingdom.

The UK does seem to have adopted the mantra of President Obama of the United States that everyone is entitled to the equal protection of the law regardless of who they love.

Whilst there may be support for LGBT equality in the annual reports of big business and the establishment of an array of support mechanisms the issue for HR and learning and development professionals is how do we transfer this commitment in to the work place that is often more likely to reflect the experiences that George had.

Research from the Trades Union Congress indicates that more than a third of LGBT workers in the UK has experienced harassment, bullying or discrimination at work. More than 5,000 people responded to the survey, almost 30% of this was perpetrated by a manager, and about 14% by a client or patient.

It is perhaps not surprising that more than half of LGBT people do not disclose their sexuality to work colleagues.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said that despite the UK fast becoming a more equal and accepting country, it is shocking that in 2017 so many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people around the UK still experience discrimination and harassment at work just because of their sexuality or because they are trans.

Ms O’Grady called on employers to enforce zero tolerance policies when it comes to the harassment of LGBT employees. She described homophobia and transphobia at work as undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health.

We have however seen that companies are acting, but the message does not seem to be getting through to workers who appear from the TUC research and similar research conducted by Stonewall to be still treating LGBT colleagues unfairly.

Members of the CIPD LGBT plus Friends Group celebrate London Pride 2017

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has taken a lead in committing to promoting inclusion

Unfortunately, our work places are a reflection of the society in which we live.

It is not acceptable to make a negative comment to someone based on the colour of their skin or their religion, just look at the furor created when a Conservative politician used the N word, or when a journalist refers to the pay that Jewish celebrities are given.

The condemnation in these cases was justified, but there are few word related to sexuality that would engender the same flurry of coverage. It remains socially acceptable to make negative comments about someone’s actual or perceived sexuality or sexual identity. This is despite as research reported in The Independent shows men who are homophobic are likely to be trying to hide their own interest in homosexuality.

The solution is perhaps two-fold.

  • We need more education both in schools and the work place about equality, diversity and inclusion, so that people know what is and what is not acceptable, and
  • we also need as HR professionals to be vigilance in identifying instances of discrimination and acting quickly to make sure that the offenders are dealt with and the victims supported.

If as employers and HR professionals we tell our employees to bring their whole self to work, because it will make them happier and more productive, then we owe it to them to protect them when they take us at our word.

If you have been subject to bullying, harassment or discrimination at work, because of your actual or perceived sexuality or sexual identity there is advice here.

For information about learning resources and training courses that support a diverse and inclusive work place.

Read my review of Gypsy Queen at Culture Vulture

Posted in Business Ethics, Equality and Diversity, Theatre

April 14th, 2017 by Michael Millward

It is difficult to know what to expect when you are invited to attend the opening night of Thriller Live at the Grand Theatre in Leeds

My first experience of Thriller was on 2nd December 1983 when Channel Four had a special edition of their (Oh so cool!) music programme The Tube hosted by the Leslie Ash and Jools Holland.

The release of a new video by Michael Jackson was a major event and Channel Four as the coolest broadcaster in the UK had to be the first to broadcast it. So, after the pub it was back to Steve’s place for what promised to be quite an experience.

That was in the days when Michael Jackson was still the King of Pop, with albums like Off the Wall, Thriller,  and Bad all produced by Quincy Jones; before living the image, the prescription drugs and the sex crime trials took over the public’s perception of this immeasurably talented performer.

It is easy to forget what a ground-breaking artist Michael Jackson was, how he broke down the barriers that made it possible for non-white artists to access the new satellite music channels. Before Michael Jackson, music videos were usually a recorded performance and those satellite music channels were private clubs for the long-haired white boy rock bands. That all changed with Michael Jackson. He redefined the music video in a way that made it impossible for the satellite channels to ignore black/dance/soul/R’n’B music artists.

If you expect Thriller Live to be like those videos, you will be disappointed. Even Michael Jackson was not able to reproduce live the perfection that the ability to do numerous retakes facilitates. Although he got pretty close during his 1992 Dangerous World Tour visit to Roundhay Park in Leeds.

I suppose he was only human 😊

Thriller Live may not be breaking new ground in the way that the original did. It isn’t supposed to, and I don’t want it to. Every aspect of the production references some part of the Thriller legacy, even the stage design is remenisent of two stair case format used at the 30th Anniversary Jacksons Concert at Madison Square Gardens, in New York.

What I want and want I get with Thriller Live is a talented and enthusiastic cast of singers, dancers and musicians paying homage rather than attempting to replicate the original performances. Of course, the classic moves are all there, the Thriller zombie dance and that anatomically impossible Fred Astaire inspired lean forward from the Smooth Criminal video.

There is something particularly impression about watching five men doing a perfectly synchronised moon walk across the Grand Theatre’s stage.

As a member of an audience that is as diverse as the cast of the Black or White video including every-one from children in Jackson outfits who were not born during his lifetime to people who may very well have been in the audience for those Roundhay Park concerts.

I did feel the excitement that those fans in the Park must have experienced when they saw Michael Jackson live. Thriller Live is an exuberant fun filled evening that is successful because of the way in which the cast who obviously love the music involve an audience who share that love in the performance. By the end of a show, which does not last long enough, I am thoroughly exhausted and exuberated in equal measure.

Posted in Theatre

May 7th, 2012 by Michael Millward

I cannot claim to be a big attendee at musical theatre. Apart from a few notable exceptions, including Sweeney Todd at the Sydney Opera House and amateur productions at home in Yorkshire most of my exposure has been at the Odeon or on TV. So, I am not quite sure what to expect as the lights dim for the opening of Opera North’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel at the Leeds Grand Theatre.

As the orchestra starts to play the opening bars of the Carousel Waltz what had sounded eerie, in the anonymous sitzprobe rehearsal space, comes to life with the action on stage as a huge carousel wakes from its slumbers for another evening’s entertainment. It is not long before the audience are swaying in unison to the rhythm.

The infectious nature of the melodies throughout this Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway classic is undeniable. What is surprising for someone nurtured on MGM musicals and Madonna as Evita is that on stage there is a woman singing: Gillene Herbert playing Julie Jordan singing with, to my untrained ear what sounds like pitch perfect clarity and all the emotion of a movie soundtrack, but this is live!

Poor ol’ Julie she is as the song says a queer one: no sooner has she fallen in love with Billy Bigelow after a ride on his carousel, she is giving up not just her job but her home in the name of love. Billy as played by Eric Greene does not strike me as the sort of chap who would generate this type of reaction from a woman. But this is musical theatre, and even I know, that it’s bound to end in tears.

Alongside the Julie – Billy love affair is the much more down-to-earth romance of the ambitious Mr and Mrs Snow played with concise comedy timing by Claire Boulter and Joseph Shovelton. They almost steal every scene. Perhaps because Carousel was written in 1945, a much more staid time, but it was just after the Second World War and many audience members will have related to a story of quick love followed by death and longer for that loved one to have the opportunity to return. Today we are again asked to believe that Julie and Billy fall instantly in love, and then end up in an unhappy marriage, that is at times violent. It’s a marriage that is marred by the very current themes of joblessness made harder by a lack of transferable skills and increasing financial worries that are not made easier by Julie’s announcement that she is pregnant. The love affair between Julie and Billy must have been passionate to survive and to drive a Billy to act out of desperation but somehow their main duet ‘if I loved you’ is sung with the innocence of what I imagine to be its original era rather than with the innuendo that would make the passion of their relationship seem more realistic today.  It is not as if the director has been reticent in pushing the boundaries: there is no doubt about how Mrs Snow feels when she sings about Mr Snow.

The fiendish villain that leads poor Billy astray is Jigger Craigin, a scheming conniving character who cares little for other people and the destruction he leaves in his wake, played convincingly with obvious pleasure and perhaps just a little bit too much ease to make his mother happy by Michael Rouse.

A boisterous rendition of June is bustin’ out all over is led by Elena Ferrari as Nettie Fowler who then demonstrates that an opera trained singer can act by maintaining her character as she delivers an emotionally charged You’ll never walk alone. This song contains so much emotion both here and by extrenal association that it is no surprise to see handkerchiefs appear from the pockets of grown men in the audience.

David Woodvine makes a debut appearance with Opera North adding some gravitas as the star keeper. He looks suitably heavenly with his silver hair and white suit. It’s just the two tone shoes that make me think his character is a spiv who got lost and popped upstairs for a bit of mischief.

He asks an assistant to place a star above Milwaukee, which I am sure, is in the original script, but it might have been a nice touch to give that line a bit of a local flavour, and mentioned a Yorkshire town instead.

I am not a fan of smoking or smokers it is a noxious habit but I am starting to accept the possibility that smoking maybe a theatrical metaphor for something. If it is, it is, for my taste, over used in this production.

Whilst I am nit picking I must admit I am sure that I am missing parts of the dialogue. It’s not that the sound is poor far from it the acoustics of the Grand Theatre are great. The problem is the theatrical American accents with which so much of the script is delivered. My Yorkshire ears are just not used to it.

There are so many high points in this show that these minor irritations pale into insignificance. The important thing is that under the direction of Opera North Director Jo Davies the cast and orchestra have suspended my belief. I have been transported to a New England fishing community in 1915. I enjoy the simple thrill of a rise and fall carousel ride just as I share the rise and fall of Julie Jordan’s life, the excitement of a first love affair, the sorrow of bereavement and the joy of life continuing.

I am hoping that Opera North continue to explore the versatility of their company and take the risks that deliver such high quality entertainment.

Michael Millward attended Carousel as a guest of The Culture Vulture

Posted in Theatre

April 23rd, 2012 by Michael Millward

Michael Millward was a guest today of Culture Vulture at the sitzprobe for Opera North’s production of the Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel.

A sitzprobe is the first time that the cast and orchestra perform a new production together, held in a rehearsal room without costumes or props.

Here Mr. Millward recounts what was his first visit back stage at a major theatre.

My entrance into the Leeds Grand theatre was by the back stage door, or to give it its Sunday name the artist’s entrance. Far from being a back door this is a major thoroughfare, two receptionists and a milling of people that means the best place to stand is to one side. There is a constant stream of people, all the world is here; men in suits, women who could be off to the gym and a group of moms discussing rehearsal schedules for their enthusiastic offspring.

The Culture Vulture party are taken to a meeting room for lunch and discussions with members of the production team.

Tim Burke the Chorus Master, who looks the spitting image of the head of the drama department at my secondary school, explains that musical theatre is not something that Opera North does that often, but that adapting to the different style has not been that arduous as Carousel is probably one of the more operatic of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals, not just because of the nature of the music and lyrics, but because of the emotion that is involved in the performance, something that is likely to make grown men shed the odd tear.

You may never have seen Carousel, but it must be almost impossible not to have heard at least one of the songs from this classic of the golden age of Broadway musicals. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ now most often associated with football stadiums is one of the highlights of Carousel.

I asked Tim if the version in the musical would be familiar to football fans. Yes and no. When the song is first sung it is very much part of the drama and will not feel like the anthem people are familiar with, but later in the show the song is reprised in a different context that will sound more familiar.

It is time to move to the Howard Assembly Rooms a versatile space with a circular gallery. Our party sits on one side of the gallery alongside the team from BBC Radio Three, the principal singers are opposite us and the chorus occupy the end with his deep tiered seating area. Below us in the main area are more than 40 musicians who make up the Orchestra of Opera North.

In pre-performance mode the activities of the individual players give no indication of the beautiful melodies that they will soon be creating in unison.

The harpist is adjusting the cushion on her chair that will give her the extra height to play this goliath of an instrument that towers over the orchestra like the spire of a medieval cathedral. Percussionists are examining the score and arranging sticks in military like precision, and the brass section are blowing saliva from the mass of pipes as they assemble their instruments.

Calling the throng of individuals together the Musical Director taps his lectern with his batn and calls, ‘let’s start with the Carousel Waltz!’

The opening bars that seem almost eerie, but it is not long before our party and the chorus are swaying in time to this melody.

But it just isn’t quite right, a couple of comments from the musical director lead to the slightest of change from the strings. I did not understand what he meant, but the string players did. All I know is that somehow that minor tweak lifted the energy in the melody even higher.

Then we are straight in to June is busting out all over, a cheery number that describes the joy of summer and the coming together of the community for a clam bake.

It all sounds perfect to me, but our musical director has identified a slight imperfection in the emphasis of one phrase. A word to the gentlemen of the chorus, a reprise of the offending sequence and now I know what perfection really sounds like.

Far too quickly my glimpse through the keyhole of the back stage door is brought to a close. I have seen just a small part of what it takes to create the magic that is revealed when the curtain goes up. The hard work and attention to detail that only people with a real talent and passion can demand of themselves and others makes me wonder why it is so difficult to the same attitudes in non artistic businesses, but then again as I re-emerge on to a rain sodden Briggate.

Perhaps, businesses need to think about how we can create the same magic in our everyday jobs as those performers will create for their audience when the curtain goes up!

I for one will be in my seat

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