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“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is “not done” to say it… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals.”

George Orwell

I found myself quite taken aback the other night whilst watching the season opener for the new series of ‘Saturday Night Live’ on the TV. The item concerned was actually pretty funny; a skit featuring actor Ryan Gosling delivering a rant about the designer of the credits on James Cameron’s film ‘Avatar‘ having chosen the font ‘Papyrus’ for the main titles.

I was surprised because I had not heard that this was ‘a thing’ – (or what would now probably be referred to a ‘meme’). The InterWebNet rapidly set me right – informing me that Papyrus is one of the most hated fonts ever and offering me a panoply of websites dedicated to pejorative references to its usage. The level of loathing was well up to usual InterWebNet standards, comparing the antipathy toward the typeface to that of ‘Comic Sans’ (though I did find it amusing that some wag had apparently merged the two to create what was briefly called ‘Comic Papyrus’ before being renamed for legal reasons to ‘Comic Parchment’. Blimey!).

Now – let’s sort out issues of self-interest right away. I use Papyrus in the banner for this site and have also used it in other places for titles. I like the font and I think that – in the right place – it works pretty well. So there!

Clearly at least some of the antipathy is simply down to popularity. Microsoft inadvertently created a monster by including the relatively obscure font with their Office suite, thus giving access to those who had no right to such things. Popularity seems to bring out the worst in some people and when Microsoft is involved it is clearly open season.

Certainly a case could be made concerning over (or inappropriate) use, but I suspect that something else is going on here. On one design website an article going by the title ‘10 Iconic Fonts and Why You Should Never Use Them’ includes the following:

“Unlike other reviled typefaces, though, Papyrus isn’t bad because it is overused: it’s bad because it just doesn’t look good. Kitschy, cheap and vile, Papyrus has no place in your designs.”

Ok – so those judgements are subjective in the extreme and the designer who wrote the article is an eighteen year-old entrepreneur, but do I detect a slight whiff of professional snobbery here?

Now – I spent forty years as an IT professional and it was certainly annoying when someone who had bought a computer from a store and read a couple of magazines believed that they knew better than I how to run an IT service – but the world has changed and the gap between the professional and the ‘amateur’ is no longer as wide as it used to be. Yes – I studied Computer Science and built a career in IT; I also spent more than four decades learning without formal training how to be a musician, a composer, a writer, a theatre practitioner… and in each of these I was aided by the rapid development of tools that placed in the hands of those who cared to put in the time and effort the means to reach a pretty decent standard.

The point surely is that – counter to some recent views to the contrary – ‘experts’ are a good thing… but that their expertise should be based on wisdom and such wisdom is usually acquired through (extensive) experience. Once achieved such doyens will doubtless be wise enough to recognise when some spotty youth armed with an iThing has actually produced something that they themselves could only dream of.

Flame off!

 

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The Victoria Fringe Festival has already made several appearances in these postings (here and here – should the gentle reader feel inclined to backtrack) as the Girl and I have become regular supporters in the couple of years a that we have lived on the outskirts of the city.

This year there is – of course – a significant difference in that I am now a member of the board of Intrepid Theatre – the splendid organisation that runs the fringe (and other theatrical festivals) in Victoria.

The practical difference for me is that the period during which the fringe takes place – twelve days at the end of August and the start of September – is now considerably busier than it has been in previous years. When compared to the sterling efforts put in by the company’s staff those of the members of the board pale into relative insignificance, but there are duties incumbent upon them (us!) during fringe season which require time and effort.

For a start – there is an ambassadorial role to play. It is our job to meet and greet members of the fringe-going public, to make them feel valued and cherished, to listen to their views and criticisms and to build – where possible – the sort of ongoing relationship without which an organisation which relies so heavily on the support of the local audience could not survive.

The second (but closely related) role is to raise funds. Intrepid receives considerable and most welcome grants from government bodies without which it simply would not survive. Given that the ethos of the fringe is that all of the proceeds of the venue box offices go directly to the performers, the central costs of running the fringe must be covered by other means. Some of this shortfall comes from the sale of fringe buttons – a badge without which one may not enter a venue – but the rest must be raised by generous donations and other fundraising efforts led by the board. This year these included a fifty/fifty raffle draw that ran throughout the festival.

My direct involvement in the fringe was restricted to the first week only (for reasons that will become clear in a subsequent post) but in that brief period I worked at the Fringe Preview evening, at Fringe Kids (an event for children in Victoria’s Market Square) and – selling fifty/fifty tickets – on the queues of fourteen shows. In addition the Girl and I managed to see a total of seven shows.

The standard this year has been as high as any. Herewith our personal picks of the fringe:

  • Local comedian Morgan Cranny as ‘Vasily Djokavitch‘ (get the pun?) – billed as ‘Russia’s #1 State Approved Comedian‘. Highly amusing and directed by none other than Mike Delamont!
  • Gigantic Lying Mouth‘. Glaswegian spoken word artist Kevin P. Gilday in a dazzling blend of poetry, imagined conversation and multimedia – blending humour with much that was thought-provoking on the subjects of life, art and death.

…but perhaps best of all:

  • Englishman Charles Adrian as Ms Samantha Mann in ‘Stories About Love, Death and a Rabbit‘. Adrian has won awards for this show – a gentle confection of storytelling about love, loss and bad poetry – and it is easy to see why. It is a joy to see an actor so completely in control of timing, rhythm and inflection. Perfect!

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Victoria FringeI have in the past within the pages of this almanac expressed my views – in what can only really be considered a somewhat intemperate fashion – of the less than optimal behaviour of some of those who attend the showings at public cinema multiplexes. This based – of course – primarily on my experiences in the south east of England.

We were lucky enough – when residing in Buckinghamshire – to live within a couple of miles of Pinewood Studios. Further good fortune was evinced in that one of our neighbours ran – in the plush screening studio therein – a members’ cinema club. By this agency we we’re able to go to the movies in a civilized fashion… comfy seats, a bar, no adverts or trailers… and no children!

We are – of course – no longer in the UK, and the Pinewood film club has in any case sadly been wound up.

You might imagine my delight, therefore, to discover in Sidney, BC, a wonderful if diminutive movie house going by the name of the Star Cinema. Perhaps all you need to know of this operation is that a couple of years back – whilst the auditorium was undergoing an upgrade and on hearing that delivery of the new seats would be delayed – the patrons were invited to bring in their own couches and armchairs to keep things going… the which – of course – they duly did.

We saw there recently the estimable Sir Ian McKellen exercising his acting chops in ‘Mr Holmes‘. ‘Serena‘ was – as you might expect – excellent. The film was adequate. It seemed to me that the writer had either not quite the courage to fully exploit the premise of the film, or was perhaps subjected to the now obligatory interference by ‘those who know better‘ – whose number includes, of course, the men with the money!

On to drama of the live variety…

I have mentioned before Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. A couple of weeks back we paid our first visit there since we moved back to the province. The play concerned was ‘Boom‘ – Rick Miller’s solo multi-media tour de force that took us through two and a half decades of the cultural history of the baby boomers. Miller is massively talented and the show was certainly a hit with the Victoria audience who – it must be said – pretty much exactly fitted the demographic featured in the work.

The past week and a half has also seen the annual Victoria Fringe Festival. As a long running attendee – as both audience member and participant – of the Edinburgh Fringe I was particularly looking forward to this event. There can be no comparison in terms of scale, of course, but I was looking for a similar atmosphere of experimentation and inclusivity. I was not disappointed.

We attended six shows in a little over a week and I can honestly say that not one of them was a complete dud – which is a better hit rate that I have sometimes experienced in the land of my fathers.

Here is my pick of the fringe:

Mike Delamont – brilliant local Victorian comedian – gave us the second part of his trilogy – ‘God is a Scottish Drag Queen‘. I feel that I hardly need tell you more about this wickedly funny show… you can use your imagination. Needless to say the Girl and I were reduced to tears at several points, we were laughing so hard. Some of the best comic timing you will ever encounter.

Englishman Rob Gee offered his exquisite one man play Icarus DancingInformed by his previous existence as a psychiatric nurse the piece is beautifully written and performed with the lightest of touches – both funny and affecting. If you get a chance to see it you will not be disappointed.

Corin Raymond’s ‘The Great Canadian Tire Money Caper‘ is quite simply perhaps the show with the biggest heart that you will ever encounter. Corin is a Toronto based musician and storyteller who financed the making of a live double album with Canadian Tire Money. Non-Canadians will want to know that this incentive scheme by the auto-store company turned multi-department giant has been running since the fifties. Older UK readers might best compare Canadian Tire Money to Green Shield Stamps, though in the form of a Monopoly-like currency. Pretty much every Canadian has some – but no-one ever has enough to do anything worthwhile with. Corin tells the story in such a big-hearted manner that you just want to love him. (The Girl goes all gooey at the thought, which might not be an entirely good thing!) If you live in or around Vancouver the good news is that you can catch Corin at the Vancouver Fringe. The bad news – if you are in England – is that he was at the London Fringe in June.

Right! That’s about all the arts news for now. More to follow…

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