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Review: My Life in CIA

Last week I went to Give It a Name’s My Life in CIA. I reviewed it for Buzz Magazine. You can read my review here.

Livestreaming, Video and Theatre

Which is better? What does it mean? Where are the lines between each format? What’s it all for?

Guardian Culture Professionals raised these questions in a live chat last week, which you can view in its entirety here, but they have also produced a round up of some of the ‘top tips’ from the chat which you can use in your organisation. They included a couple of my suggestions and ideas, along with several from other interesting people. Check it out here.

Also, if you’re not yet a member of the Guardian Culture Professionals network I suggest you sign up. They send you lovely emails rounding up the week and on the site there are loads of articles, chats, tips and ideas.

Review: Spymonkey’s Oedipussy

Review: Oedipussy (by Spymonkey, at Wales Millenium Centre 27 April 2012)

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

The first thing to say is that this was one of the most enjoyable evenings of theatre I’ve had in a long time. The cast of four began out of character, mocking each other and reviews of their previous shows, and then launched into their very special take on the Greek story of Oedipus.

A mix of scripting (by Carl Grose), music (with several live vocal and instrumental sections played live by the cast), physical comedy and circus techniques, the show had a great pace and was genuinely gripping the whole way through.

The design of both set (Michael Vale) and costumes (Lucy Bradridge) was really impressive. A minimalistic-looking set gave a huge range of possibilities, featuring as ladders, stairs, walls, columns and a walkway transcending space and time on occasion. Costumes were also notable, particularly the use of a huge hat to turn the narrator into a Grecian column and a flock of sheep created by a long coat with giant pompoms around the hem. Ribbons and fabrics were also used to great effect to represent blood, in ever more surreal ways as the show went along.

Particular moments of hilarity included Petra Massey ‘misunderstanding’ the Sphinx and appeared on stage completely naked but with a giant cat head, the song ‘Leprosy’s Not Funny’, complete with audience participation in a repeating chorus, and a Morris dancing scene which, despite obviously covering a costume change, was perfectly placed and choreographed.

Each performer took a turn in stepping out of character and addressing the audience in tongue-in-cheek monologues, mostly involving how fat/old/talentless their fellow cast members are and what they plan to do when the tour is over, alongside sharing a host of medical complaints all apparently exacerbated by performing in the show.

Overall this was a wonderful night of theatre. Four incredibly skilled performers had me gripped not only by a story that’s a thousand years old, but also by their creative style and natural creative humour. Catch this if you can – it’s on tour at the moment – and if not I’ll probably see you at their next show!

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

Johan Persson / Spymonkey

No Word Yet on What This is Promoting

A company called Zed Events are currently offering you the chance to battle with zombies every weekend in an abandoned shopping centre in Reading. The building is due to be demolished, but this group have created an interactive real-world game in the space before it is destroyed. There are a number of companies around at the moment creating experiences which sit on the borders of theatre, film-reality, gaming and party and this seems to be one of them.

I heard about the event via Mashable, everyone’s favourite Social Media news source, and noted a rather interesting sentence in the article:

No word on what, if anything, this zombie battle is promoting, but one thing is for sure — people love being scared by zombies.

This struck me as very interesting. Obviously Mashable are a social media news source and, as such, many of their articles are about virals, pop-ups, flashmobs and the like which are almost all to do with marketing and promotion. It seems interesting, though, that it hasn’t occurred to them that this sort of experience can be simply that, an experience.

I work in the business of theatre and experiences so perhaps I’m more familiar with this sort of thing than most people, but even so it feels like a sad sign of our times that a news source’s first question is ‘what is it promoting?’

Photo CC by Rodolpho.reis on Flickr

Tweet of the Year?

Much-loved bookshop Waterstones this month did away with their apostrophe. Unsurprisingly this caused an amount of controversy in both traditional and social media. An entertaining Twitter account, Sad Apostrophe, also popped up pretty quickly.

Luckily, someone manning the Twitter account of Waterstones Oxford Street has a sense of humour and some social business savvy. The product of this? One of my favourite tweets ever:

tweet by waterstones



Blogroll: Inspirational Creative Blogs

I love checking out other people’s creative ideas and always manage to find inspiration from them. I follow a lot of blogs, but I thought I’d share a few of my favourite creative ones.


Who doesn’t love looking at wonderful places and spaces? Architizer keeps me happy with a huge range of different buildings, designs and ideas. They always have great photography too. The website isn’t the best design for viewing as a content stream but in your rss reader it’s brilliant.

Information Is Beautiful

This is a collection of infographics – showing off all the ways of presenting data visually. In addition to the great-looking graphics, the range of information presented in them makes for fun reading in itself.


Photojojo are a photography shop – and that side of their site is well worth checking out for quirky accessories you never knew you needed – but they also blog about everything from the latest lenses to a new way to frame your portraits. Check out their new sister site, We Love Phonography, too.

Sweet Home Style

This is more interior-design focused, but is great for pondering how your next workspace is going to look, or the dream living room you’ll be hanging out in after work.


Product design at its finest, this blog includes cutting edge products and some lovely concept work.


Pinterest isn’t technically a blog, it’s a social network which allows you to curate your own virtual pinboards. It’s still invite-only (but shout if you want one) but has very quickly become a home of creative people, and people who like creative things. Crafters, designers, typography geeks, architecture fans and an insane number of brides-to-be share images of things they love, things they want and things they’d like to make. A well-honed search function can lead you to the right people to follow very quickly and you’ll soon find it’s 3am and you can’t bring yourself to log out.

Image by suttonhoo on Flickr

Roundup of 2011 Part 2: Apps of the Year

I have been meaning to write a post about some of my favourite apps for a while and this seems like the time to do it. I use loads of apps on my iPhone, for different things from productivity to gaming, and will quite often download 5 or 10 free apps in one go and play with them all, keeping the useful ones. Here is my brief roundup of some of the keepers from 2011:

Instagram (Photography, FREE)

Instagram iPhone Screenshot

I’ve had Instagram for a while, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve really started to use it. The concept is very simple – you take a picture, add a vintage-camera-style filter to it, and upload. The reason I’ve taken to it so well is the micro-community that exists within the app. There is no web-based version, so you have to use the app to interact with other users’ pictures. Hashtags connect similar images, and are the way to enter daily competitions, and there are veritable Instagram ‘celebrities’ who will never be heard of outside of the app.

iMovie (Video, £2.99)

iMovie iPhone Screenshot

I reviewed this app earlier in the year in some detail so I’ll stay brief here. I like iMovie on my Mac but with a 13″ screen size it can be a bit tricky to manage and see everything clearly. The re-designed interface for iPhone, especially when coupled with the iPhone 4S’s fantastic camera, is really easy to use and can help you produce a great-quality video in no time.

Diptic (Photography, £0.69)

Diptic app screenshot

Another great little photo app which allows you to create a photo collage of up to 5 images with an easy-to-use interface. Just add the images, zoom in or out and off it goes. This works very well when combined with Instagram too. There is also a Diptic community on Flickr.

Plants vs Zombies (Games, £1.99)

Plants vs Zombies iPhone screenshot

This game began life on PCs but the iPhone version scales down remarkably well. It has a wonderful interface, and some extremely cute cartoon plants and zombies. The attention to detail is brilliant – every plant has a face and they bob around in a truly charming fashion. The gameplay itself involves attacking zombies with various plant life (pea-shooters, cabbage-putts and cherry bombs, for example) before the zombies reach your front door and eat your brains.

Amazon Mobile (Shopping, FREE)

Amazon Mobile iPhone Screenshot

I shop quite a lot on Amazon, send my Wishlist to my family when they ask what I want for Christmas, and research prices and products, so it was only natural that I’d download the app at some point. Its previous incarnation was satisfactory – you could shop, filter your search results and purchase within the app – but the recent updates have made it brilliant. You can now scan the barcode of any physical item anywhere and Amazon will find it (thus giving you an instant price comparison), add to (or purchase from) any of your Wishlists and use a new feature called Amazon Remembers, which allows you to take a photo of something you want to remember, saves it on your Amazon account and tries to match it with a product available on the site. Genius.

Roundup of 2011 Part 1: QR Codes

I haven’t been amazing at updating this blog and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be a bit better at it. For now, here’s the first of a few little roundups of some things that happened in 2011.

QR About Me

Part 1: We all talked about QR codes. A lot.

And I sort of got bored of it. The main points made were as follows:

  • They’re quite cool and we think people scan them because they’re interesting
  • Very few people are actually backing up (or disproving) the above with analytics data
  • They’re not as pretty as we’d like them to be
  • A lot of people are using them very badly (for example to link to a non-mobile-optimised homepage)
  • We can do more with them. But we’re not.

So what can we learn from this? Well, I’m steering clear of any “2012 is the year of the QR code” nonsense, but I can do think that they are a useful and interesting way to provide creative extra content as part of a communications strategy.

Here, then, are my top tips and thinking points for using QR codes in your marketing:

  • Be absolutely certain that whichever URL your QR directs to is mobile optimised. Test it.
  • Try directing QRs to other places. It doesn’t just have to be a URL. What about using it on your gig poster to add the event to the user’s calendar? Or use one on your business cards to add your details to the user’s address book. You get the idea, and there’s a helpful list of possibilities here.
  • If you are going to use a URL, make it a good one. An exclusive behind-the-scenes video, a wallpaper or song download you can’t access any other way, for example.
  • Use Google Analytics (or or other web analytics system) to find out how many people are using your codes and arriving at your site by scanning them. If nobody is, re-think where they are and what they do.
  • Make sure it’s scannable. It needs to be large enough, clear enough and situated somewhere with mobile internet signal. Don’t become one of Mashable’s Top QR Code Fails.

Check back for part 2 later in the week!


Review – Sinfonia Cymru, Dora Stoutzker Hall

Sinfonia Cymru, Dora Stoutzker Hall

31 October 2011

A training orchestra of sorts, Sinfonia Cymru bridges the gap between student and professional by providing young players with orchestral performance opportunities alongside high-profile soloists. Young performers tend to have an energy not always present with more seasoned players professional players, and this was certainly noticeable in this performance.

Given the late start time of 8pm, the programme was quite long and a few audience members did slip out before the final piece. Two symphonies and a piano concerto were packed in alongside the shorter Serenade for Strings by Dag Wirén, which rode along with joyful spirit in line with it’s folk-like style and tonality.

The first of the symphonies, Haydn’s No 83, opened enthusiastically and ended with triumphant gusto, though with a slump in energy during the central movements. Llŷr Williams then joined the players to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27. As usual, he brought a technically brilliant performance, with just the right amount of depth and expression for the work. Williams is a fascinating pianist to watch, as he cares for every phrase and expresses far more widely than just with fingers on the keyboard.

The programme was concluded with another Haydn symphony, No 85 in B flat major, into which the orchestra launched with almost joyous abandon. This was an enjoyable performance right through to the racing finale which, although taken at quite a pace, was as accurate and thrilling as could be demanded.

Overall the playing was excellent, the odd slip in synchronicity and some unloved ends of phrases aside, and all in all a very enjoyable evening. The players are obviously learning the ways of a professional orchestra and this is occasionally apparent in their manner and enthusiasm but they make a really excellent sound together, something that was only enhanced by the acoustics of the wonderful Dora Stoutzker Hall.


iMovie for iPhone

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will probably be aware that I got a new iPhone 4S the other week. My Twitter stream was clogged for several days with my complaining at O2 for not offering pre-order, ordering through Vodafone and then fun and games with the parcel tracker service. I eventually caught up with the phone at a Post Office near my flat that I never knew existed.

Leaving for another day the strangeness of living in a world of modern developments bereft of any community other than the one that was there before and doesn’t really like us, here are some things about the new phone.

Firstly, there are slight case modifications from the iPhone 4. Not many but, due to the aerial improvements, the silent switch and volume controls are slightly lower than they were. This meant that the first thing I had to do was attack my case to make it fit properly.

Next, the obvious: Siri. Siri is iOS5’s new voice assistant. I was a complete sceptic about this, fully expecting that it wouldn’t understand a thing I said and I would never use it. Turns out it’s amazing. It can almost always understand what I’m saying, including the names of people (to send them a text, for example) and places. The only problem I have is that its business finder capability only works in the USA. Over there you can say ‘find me a gas station’ and it will. In the UK you say ‘where’s the nearest shopping centre?’ and you get ‘Sorry Jen, I can only look for businesses in the United States, and when you’re using U.S. English.’ Oh, that’s the other thing – it knows my name. I told Siri who I was by choosing myself from the contacts list when prompted. I’m now even using Siri for the occasional bit of dictation. Facebook statuses, emails and the like. Brilliant.

Something I was really excited about testing was iMovie. This has been around on iPhone since the previous iOS but didn’t work on my 3GS so it was pretty much the first thing I downloaded to the new phone. I have to say I’m really impressed. I couldn’t quite see how a high-feature interface could work on such a small display but it’s achieved perfectly. You swipe to scroll through the movie, click to add media, click on each clip, photo or sound clip to edit it (individual interfaces then adapt for this) and you’re done. Give it a name, export to library, done in seconds.

For a bit of a trial run I used some stock and wallpaper images of snowboarders and created a fantasy snowboard holiday video, perhaps the sort of thing I imagine I would make to show my family a slideshow from a particular occasion.

Oh, you want to see  it? Ok.

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