Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bonfire Night: A Very English Culturtainment Spectacle

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason,
Why the Gunpowder Treason,
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent,
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below,
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd,
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

A song that used to be sang as part of bonfire night celebrations.

Culturtainment is ‘entertainment that involves the demonstration, celebration or commemoration of the values, traditions or beliefs of a societal group’ (Moss, 2009, p.294). ‘Bonfire Night’ (also known as Guy fawkes night) is one such example of a culturtainment celebration where English people celebrate the failed plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes (arguably the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions), by standing around bonfires and being captivated and mesmerised by the dancing flames, as well as accompanying explosive firework displays.

Guy Fawkes was one of several plotters lead by Robert Catesby who intended to blow up the Houses of Parliament using Barrels of gunpowder which had been smuggled into the building’s cellars, the intention being to blow up the ruling King (James VI) along with the majority of Protestant English aristocracy. This was in the hope that the Protestant government would be over-turned and England restored to being a Roman-Catholic state. Fawkes along with the barrels of gunpowder were discovered by guards on the 5th of November 1605, and London residents were encouraged to light bonfires in celebration of the plot being discovered and the King being saved. Over hundreds of years the lighting of bonfires on the 5th of November became a tradition across Britain (particularly England), as well as abroad (in British Empire and Commonwealth countries) to commemorate the foiling of the plot, along with the ‘burning of the Guy’, which was the burning of a stuffed material effigy of Guy Fawkes. In the latter half of the 20th Century this developed further to include firework displays, and from the 1980s onwards very grand and professionally choreographed public displays in large open spaces. Bonfire night grew in popularity as events in public spaces drew people away from small garden bonfires to much larger organised community events in parks and on council or privately owned land.

Gathering around bonfires is nothing new, and man has been doing this since the dawn of time. Tribal societies in less developed parts of the world, give us an indication as to how our own ancestors would have lived their lives centuries ago, when fire served as a comforter, cooker, security barrier and entertainer. Fires were lit in spaces that were the focal point of many communities, and local people would gather around them. In our homes the fireplace was always the focal point of shared living areas right until the mid 20th century when it was demoted by the radio and then the television. It is a point of interest to note that the word ‘bonfire’ is only used to describe outdoor fires, and ‘bonfire’ has its origins in the term ‘bone fires’, which were fires held across Europe each Autumn to burn the bones and inedible parts of animal carcasses left after livestock had been harvested and cured for the winter months ahead, such bone fires were also times of celebration and thanks and were a kind of ‘harvest festival’ (Sayers, 2009). Bonfires are now lit across the world at times of celebration, including: the Swiss National Day; the Battle of the Boyne commemoration in Northern Ireland; and also for May Day celebrations in Britain and many other parts of the world.

My childhood memories of bonfire night and its associated celebrations include ‘penny for the guy’ where children would make an effigy of Guy Fawkes, and sit with it on the street begging passers by for a penny for the guy. Whilst no child became rich from this endeavour it would certainly provide money for sweets or fireworks. The ‘Guy’ would then be burnt on top of the 5th of November bonfire. The very notion of burning an effigy of a person is something that does not sit comfortably amongst politically correct thinkers today, and consequently penny for the Guy and the burning of the Guy is a tradition that has declined. What has also declined is the true communal nature of organised bonfire nights in England. I remember as a youngster the piles of debris that would become bonfires being constructed weeks before bonfire night. Bonfires would be made from a plethora of things dragged to the site of the bonfire by members of the public including unwanted furniture of all kinds, logs, garden cuttings, bails of newspapers, boxes of old magazines, old car tyres - basically anything flammable. The construction of, and contribution to the bonfire was a truly communal undertaking. I remember thick black acrid smoke from the poisonous pile that would become ingrained into our clothes and hair as we dared one another to stand as close to the fire as we could.

Those days of red faces, singed eyebrows and melted Wellington boots are now long gone, as community bonfires have been made safer with the addition of stewards and safety fences, which in the case of some bonfires are so far away from the fire that it is not possible to feel the heat from the flames. The fires themselves have been sterilised, and today largely consist of wooden pallets provided by the organisers and very little else, guaranteeing a fast burn and a less polluting smoke – could it be that in years to come, heightened environmental awareness combined with increasing political correctness will signal the end of large-scale community bonfires, and that the way by which bonfire night itself is commemorated will involve other entertaining features including fun fairs and fireworks (that are already commonplace now), combined with live music and staged story / variety performances?

In London at the 2009 Clapham Common 5th of November celebrations, bonfire night had been re-branded as a firework display, and there was no bonfire, the website said ‘There are no bonfires sadly because fires aren’t allowed in public parks, probably because someone might trip and fall into it… or something.’ Fires not being allowed in public parks is currently limited to London, which is sad in light of the fact that London was the city where 5th of November bonfires began, before spreading around the country and beyond – hopefully their demise nationally will not follow a similar pattern.

This year my family and I supported our local bonfire at Adel St John the Baptist Primary School. A family ticket cost £12.50, which is certainly more expensive than the voluntary donations at bonfires that I remember from my childhood, but it did go towards an excellent bonfire (all clean wood) that burned throughout the event, a superb firework display that lasted a good 20 minutes, along with the hiring of portable lighting, tents and gazebos. This event also featured inflatable rides, and food and beverage stalls – all of which raise valuable revenue from the event for the school. It was good to see that despite the inclement weather that the local community had supported the event well.

Spectators watch the Adel school bonfire behind a cordon and stewards in high-vis vests

Bonfire night is a uniquely English cultural community celebration, and whilst the way by which it is celebrated has changed since 1605, the centrepiece bonfire has survived in the majority of localities. It would be a shame to lose this, and I would urge everyone to support their local bonfires, in order to keep alive this English culturtainment spectacle.

The firework display is contained in the video below:


Love Clapham. (2009) Clapham Common fireworks. [Internet] Clapham, Love Clapham. URL available from: Accessed 7th November, 2009.

Moss, S. (2009) Culturtainment. Pp. 294-312, in Moss, S. (ed) (2009) The entertainment industry: an introduction. Wallingford, CABI.

Sayers, S. (2009) The halloween feast. in O'Donnell H. & Foley M. (eds) (2009) Treat or trick? Halloween in a globalising world. Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Entertainment Industry: An Introduction - NEW Text Book Now Published by CABI

I am delighted to announce that 16 months hard work has now come to fruition with the creation of a new Entertainment Industry text book. The book entitled 'The Entertainment Industry: An Introduction' is designed to help plug a current gap in the market with regards to up-to-date academic texts around the entertainment industry. It profiles in-depth 18 distinct sectors of the entertainment industry, looking at: history and background; contemporary issues; organisational case studies; and predicted future trends for each sector. The entertainment industry sectors covered within the book are: staged story and variety; music; bars, pubs and clubs; cinema and film; broadcast media; audio-visual media; the Internet; gaming; printed media; commercial gambling; spectator sports; thrillertainment; edutainment; sellertainment; culturtainment; spiritual entertainment; health entertainment; and adult entertainment.

I am both editor and lead author for the book. My present work role is that of Senior Lecturer and Teacher Fellow within the Centre for Research & Education in Entertainment & Arts Management (CREEAM) at Leeds Metropolitan University. CREEAM colleague Ben Walmsley has also contributed the second chapter of the book on 'staged story and variety'. Due to the very diverse nature of the entertainment industry, the book required a broad range of academic expertise, and additionally features a host of other Leeds Met contributors, as well as academics from other UK universities, Germany, India and New Zealand.

The book is now available to order from CABI here -

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leeds Met Entertainment Management Students Release Their First EP

Entertainment Management students Russ Foster and Steffen Hagavei along with band mates Dan Windass and Thomas Witty are about to release their first EP by their rock band ‘We Don’t Dance to Love Songs’. The band who formed in Hull in the Winter of 2007, have since moved to Leeds where they have become an established name in the local music scene. They have played many shows across the UK, and are now planning on going on tour in the new-year having built up a very strong following on-line, and having over 250,000 plays on their MySpace music player.

After recording their first tracks in April 2008, We Don't Dance To Love Songs are just about to release a self titled, four track EP which was recorded at Axis Studios in April 2009. Tracks on the EP include "The View From 32" and "I Think I Prefer Both" which are both on their MySpace page. The EP will be available via iTunes Worldwide and physical copies will also be available from their on-line store and at all shows.

To celebrate the EP launch ‘We Don’t Dance to Love Songs’ will be playing a show on the 28th October at Royal Park Cellars in Leeds.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ibiza: A Small Island Cultural Battleground

Culture is a key motivator in many tourism journeys. The desire to be an audience to a particular cultural entertainment offering can persuade potential visitors to become actual visitors to a destination, be that if the cultural offering is a long established visitor attraction with well-documented ancient origins, or whether the cultural offering is much more contemporary such as a modern day music festival or superclub. Ibiza is one such destination where a varied cultural entertainment offering attracts a wide range of visitors (from mainly Spain, Italy and Northern Europe), who wish to combine culture with the hot and sunny weather that Ibiza experiences during the Summer months. Ibiza is one of the three 'main' islands (those with international airports) in the Spanish Balearic archipelago, and has a smaller ‘sister’ island called Formentera.

Both Ibiza and Formentera are known as the ‘Pine Islands’ due to their native pine forests, and Ibiza (like all other islands in the Balearics) has a rich cultural history, having been conquered and ‘owned’ by ancient empires, and scarred by wars as the next civilization of conquerors moved in. Historically these have included Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Moors and Catalans, and Ibiza has been left with several remnants from these empires, most notably D’ Alt Villa a part of Ibiza town’s ‘old town’, an ancient high-walled settlement placed strategically at the top of a hill. The ruins of D' Alt Villa's medieval walls were originally built by the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC, and were later extended by the Moors. They are a highly visible and impressive site on the headland upon which they sit, and attract thousands of visitors each year who wish to explore and engage with this culturally rich and unique setting, this along with several archaeological sites on the island are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Above: D'Alt Villa nestled on the headland above Ibiza Town

Ibiza’s more contemporary culture is around the nightclub industry and the hedonistic behaviour participated in by many clubbers including casual sex, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use. Ibiza has had a bit of a ‘hippy’ reputation since the early 1970s, it along with it’s sister island of Formentera have several nudist beaches, and the spirit of ‘freedom’ is something that in recent years has shaped the perception of Ibiza to holidaymakers as a more hedonistic retreat than the Balearic islands of Menorca and Mallorca, which also have distinct identities of their own. Menorca has always been considered to be a peaceful and relaxing destination, whilst Mallorca has everything from the drunken rowdiness of Magaluf, to the traditional Soller Railway, and exclusive luxury villas around the North of the island. During the early 1980s Mallorca gained a bloody reputation as a holiday destination as gangs of mostly British males rampaged on the streets of Magaluf, resulting in at least one death, and the introduction of the paramilitary style tourist police. Despite its inclusion in the Club 18-30 brochures, Ibiza managed to escape much of this wave of British lager fuelled carnage, and at the time was a cosmopolitan destination where British tourists lagged in numbers behind German and Scandinavian ones.

The venue that is now Amnesia was in the 1970s a hangout for hippies, and those who lead ‘alternative’ and ‘new age’ lifestyles (as later was Café Del Mar, which was founded in 1980). The musical repertoire in the early 80s included hip hop, 80s electro, soul, reggae, disco, punk, europop, indie, and industrial genres. Resident Amensia DJ Alfredo Fiorito, and Café Del Mar DJ Carlos often mixed tracks together to fuse musical genres into new hybrids. The development of house music in the mid 1980s had a profound impact, as this was adopted in a number of Ibizan clubs as the main music style, although it was still often fused with other kinds of music to create a distinctive and contemporary sound that became unique to Ibiza. Bands like ‘The Woodentops’, ‘Fini Tribe’, and ‘Front 242’ would be played alongside and mixed with Chicago house, to an audience of musical hedonists, who were keen to engage with such original experimentation.

According to Norris (2007) it was the likes of Trevor Fung and Nicky Holloway who saw the potential for Ibiza to become a clubbing holiday destination and actively promoted the island within their networks to bring groups of clubbers from the UK to the island. It wasn’t until 1983 that Ibiza gained widespread notoriety in the British media. ‘Wham’ filmed their ‘Club Tropicana’ video on the island, and in 1985 Ibiza made the front page of ‘hip’ culture magazine ‘The Face’ as ‘the place to be’. Round about this time the drug Ecstasy (or E) also began to appear in Ibiza and was immediately adopted by clubbers for the euphoric ‘colourful and shiny’ effect that it had upon their altered state of consciousness. In 1986 Paul Oakenfold visited the island, and in 1987 he returned with Danny Rampling. The clubs, the music, the E took hold, particularly in Sant Antoni de Portmany (San Antonio), and the house scene became faster paced, blending with indie-dance, techno and trance mixes until eventually the rave scene emerged as the islands musical champion of the late 80s and early 90s. Ibiza’s modern day clubbing identity was born, and legendary Superclub venues including Privilege (the world’s largest club), Space, Eden, DC10 and Pacha thrived. San Antonio, Ibiza town and the nearby Playa D’en Bossa became the destinations of choice for pleasure-seeking club tourists. Today the Ibiza sound is much more stylish and often chilled out with trance and techno remaining popular house music derivatives within the island’s clubs.

The importance of Ibiza’s climate in attracting visitors should not be underestimated, from October until around Easter time, tourism to the island plummets as unsettled, and often stormy grey skies replace the Summer’s clear blue skies and Mediterranean sunshine. In January, average temperatures drop as low as 8 degrees Celsius and in August, they rise as high as 30 degrees Celsius. Without the more or less guarantee of good weather, culture alone does not bring large enough numbers of visitors to the island to sustain many of the islands goods and services, so seasonality is the norm. One of the most primitive entertainment pastimes – sunbathing is also the most popular amongst the island’s visitors (yes sunbathing IS entertaining, as the sun’s rays stimulate the skin’s senses leading to an emotional response such as feeling ‘relaxed’ – as well as of course a physical outcome in terms of a suntan). Most of Ibiza’s large clubs close on the first weekend in October, and do not re-open again until June, and many of the islands bars, pubs, hotels, and restaurants follow suit.

In the European Union cultural tourism’s contribution to ‘GDP is estimated to be around 11% and it provides employment to more than 12% of the labour force (24 million jobs)’ (New Europe, 2008). All inbound tourism brings Ibiza (and any other tourist destinations) wealth. Whether or not tourists visiting Ibiza for traditional cultural tourism bring a higher spend per capita to the island than those seeking more contemporary club culture tourism is debatable. Many traditional culture seekers spend money on car hire, food in good restaurants, and on entry and souvenirs at the attractions, which they are visiting. At the same time clubbers spend Euros to gain entry into the top night-spots (a 60 Euro entry charge is not uncommon), as well as on the drinks inside (a beer can cost 10 Euros). There is a positive financial knock-on from all in-bound tourism – whatever the motivation behind it in terms of goods and services purchased on the island, with everything from supermarket to hotel expenditure benefiting the local economy. However, what club tourism also brings to Ibiza in greater numbers than traditional cultural tourism does, is drunkenness, anti social behaviour, crime, illegal drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, and a higher cost per tourist capita in terms of law enforcement, street cleaning, damage repairs, and healthcare, than what the more traditional cultural tourist brings with them. Clubs and bars on Ibiza (many of which are foreign owned) employ a higher proportion of ‘foreign’ (non-Ibizan) workers than what more traditional cultural attractions do. For clubs and bars such jobs are either on premises e.g. bar staff, or out and about e.g. ‘PRs’ (the annoying people with flyers), so the direct financial benefit to Ibizan residents of club tourism is lessened by this (although if foreign workers are living on Ibiza, they have to spend money to live, which does of course benefit the island’s economy).

In recent years the Ibizan authorities have begun to clamp down upon the nightclub industry on the island, and have now brought in a 6am closure rule for clubs. NME (2009) reported that ‘Spain's tourist board has decided that, after a decade of the debauched UK clubbing featured in TV documentaries like 'Ibiza Uncovered', the island must clean up its image. They want the island to appeal to families and a smarter, international clubbing set’. In the same article Privilege manager Juan Medero is quoted as saying that they want to attract more German and Italian tourists, and that British clubbers do still behave like hooligans. Juan Medero’s comments are echoed by many Ibizan residents. On a recent visit to the island I asked a taxi driver from the airport about the now ended 2009 season. His comments were that business had been good – particularly from British clubbers, but that their rowdy behaviour at all times of day often lead him to turn down fares. This kind of reputation can only do harm to Ibiza as a destination, so it is little surprise that the authorities want to do something about it. The demographic of the average ‘rowdy drunk’ on the island is in the 18-25 age group, and many of these tourists are there for the club scene. There are many positives that the club scene has brought to the island, not least economically but also aesthetically, many hotels and apartments have redecorated, rebranded and refurbished along a ‘cool’ clubbing image to attract an increasingly stylish clubbing clientele (as in the photo below).

Above: You could be forgiven for thinking these images are from a club, they are actually from the very stylish Hotel Club Garbi in Playa D'en Bossa

In Britain, it seems that a large proportion of youngsters have grown into young adults believing that Ibiza is ‘the ONLY place to be’ and that if they haven’t secured the bragging rights about going on holiday to Ibiza that they have missed out on something. This is a sad indictment upon British society and the youth who grow up believing that they need to conform to a ‘trendy’ scene otherwise they will lose out, or be seen to be different and ostracised by ‘the beautiful people’ who they often look up to. This might partially be due to the bombardment of ‘IIbiza’ promotion, and the trendy branding of ‘IIbiza’ in the British media. Firstly let’s tackle the ‘IIbiza’ issue, this is an incorrect pronunciation of the island’s name that is both ridiculous, and bemusing to the average Ibizan (Ibiza is actually called Eivissa in it’s pure Catalan form). Ibiza is the popularised Spanish name of the island, and it should be pronounced with a ‘soft’ European ‘I’ as is the case with the words ‘igloo’ and ‘ink’ in phonetic terms this looks like ‘iˈβiθa’ and sounds like what Pedro Vidal indicates upon this page. Brand ‘IIbiza’ pronounced using a ‘hard’ American ‘I’ as in ‘idle’ and ‘ice’, which looks phonetically like ‘ɪˈbiːzə’ was coined in the early 2000s, and very sadly picked up by the British media, which has lead to equally sad Radio One DJs (and affected others) ‘educating’ Britain’s youth to call the island by the wrong name. I was disappointed that even the Captain and flight crew on board the Jet2 flight that I took to Ibiza also referred to the island as ‘IIbiza’ during their announcements. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a directive ‘from the top’ to try and promote their destination as being something that in reality it wasn’t and isn’t, considering that this was mid-October and that the majority of those on the flight were at least middle-aged and definitely NOT clubbers.

How would the British like it if visitors to England constantly referred to it as ‘EEngland’, and how would Americans like it if America was referred to as ‘AYmerica’? Whilst it may seem like a trivial thing to some, this mispronunciation is a metaphor for the culture gap that exists between a significant number of (particularly British) clubbers and Ibizans, as well as other visitors to the island, and the brand ‘IIbiza’ is something that the island’s authorities are not surprisingly keen to lose, although undoubtedly its associated revenue streams WOULD be missed.

The questions for Ibizan authorities is whether a reduction in rowdy British clubbers will definitely lead to an increase in better behaved (and possibly lower spending) clubbers from other countries, as well as an increase in more traditional cultural tourists, and whether the combined income from both of these groups would still balance the books of the islands economy. This is a difficult time for Ibiza in terms of cultural identity and in which direction the authorities and the island’s marketers should go for the 2010 season, but potentially for Ibiza, in the words of ‘Rusty’ everything is gonna change.


New Europe. (2008) Employment up 11% thanks to cultural tourism. [Internet] Diegem, The Media Company. URL available at:

New Musical Express. (2009) Is this the end of Ibiza as we know it?. [Internet] London, New Musical Express. URL available from:

Norris, R. (2007) Paul Oakenfold the authorised biography of the world’s most successful DJ. London, Corgi Books.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Field Visit: Leicester's Cultural Quarter

Sat on a coach heading Southbound on the M1, I considered a time when the view from a moving vehicle was considered entertainment in itself, this was a long time ago in an era when travel was a novelty and something that many people did not regularly experience. As travel became more commonplace and its novelty value began to wear off, Penguin Books were at the forefront of companies that provided portable entertainment to occupy travellers, by producing small books that would easily fit into a jacket pocket. The transport environment today is an entertainment environment in which audio, video and internet access are commonplace, and one in which travellers can easily experience a wide range of mobile entertainment ranging from books and newspapers, to MP3 players and more commonly the all-in-one mobile communications device that boasts a number of features including MP3 player, gaming device and internet access. Indeed this was my own first experience of travelling long distance on board a coach where I had the opportunity to be entertained by my recently acquired iPhone 3GS – a superb mobile device, boasting a whole range of entertaining features and applications. I had just updated my Facebook status to ‘Am on my way to Leicester for a day of culture!’, as indeed I was, as part of the Leeds Metropolitan University 2009 staff development festival. It didn’t take long before a comment was left upon my update, which said ‘In Leicester?????’. As somebody who had only ever visited Leicester for football matches (away games I hasten to add), I could understand where the responder was coming from with that stereotypical sentiment, although I was aware that Leicester is indeed a city of many cultures, and was determined to go into this visit with an open mind.

Before I go any further, I’ll just mention a few facts about Leicester, which is a city situated in the County of Leicestershire in the East Midlands region of England, and according to the Leicester City Council website is the largest city in the East Midlands, as well as being Britain’s first ‘Environment City’ (achieved through a wide range of ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ initiatives). The city has a population of 280,000, which makes it the tenth most populous city in the UK (Leicester City Council, 2009). The city council website also mentions the ethnic diversity of Leicester, claiming that a third of the city’s population is made up from ethnic minority groups, many being from the Indian sub-continent, but there are also (amongst other groups) Kenyan and Ugandan Asians, Dutch Somalis and Eastern Europeans bringing with them, religions, festivals, music, dance, performance, foods, textiles and traditions that are representative of their families original birth countries. This cultural diversity also means that Leicester has a thriving cultural scene, celebrated by communities and often attracting interested onlookers that are keen to participate in ‘culturtainment’ experiences. We have not had a UK Census since 2001, but after the next one takes place in 2011, many are expecting Leicester to be confirmed as having an ethnic majority, making it the first city in Britain where ‘white British’ people are in a minority.

The purpose of the day’s visit was to see a number of attractions and bodies relating to Leicester’s cultural and creative industries. These would include the ‘cultural quarter’ incorporating the newly built Curve Theatre, the under construction Phoenix Arts Centre, and Leicester Creative Business Depot as well as a visit to a South Indian restaurant, and the picturesque University of Leicester Botanical Gardens. This article will focus upon the venues visited that are a part of Leicester’s cultural quarter.

First of all, a cultural quarter can be considered to be a zone, usually situated within an urban area where there are a concentration of organisations that are related to both the cultural and creative industries. These can range from visitor attractions such as museums and art galleries, to more local entertainment amenities such as cinemas and theatres, and organisations that specialise in creative entrepreneurship, including business-start-up and advice centres. Many cities have such areas, in the UK examples of these include: the River Tyne area between Newcastle and Gateshead; the Albert Dock area in Liverpool; and Holbeck Urban Village and nearby waterfront areas, as well as the West Yorkshire Playhouse area in Leeds. These areas are often purposefully built, and result in urban regeneration of typically ex-industrial sites, thus improving many cities aesthetically as well as financially. Cultural quarters are considered to be ‘hubs’ of culture, creativity, inspiration, education and enterprise, the net result of which is intended to be income generation through: monies spent by inbound visitors; new creative business enterprises starting up; and through inward investment from both the private and public sectors, including regional development agencies. Such areas epitomise controversial and often contested theories outlined by Richard Florida that the ‘creative class’ workforce being placed within close proximity of each other can result in ‘spillacrosses’ of creativity, and that innovation often takes place in geographically close areas to sources of new knowledge (Stolarick and Florida, 2006), making cultural quarters the ideal locations for improving creative output.

According to Leicester’s cultural quarter Projects Director - Mike Candler, the Leicester cultural quarter has cost upwards of £100million, but has already attracted investment estimated to be worth £61million, and this is before the cultural quarter is even complete, with the Phoenix Arts Centre still undergoing construction and renovation work, with an estimated completion date of November 2009.

Our first port of call on this visit was to the newly built curve theatre, where we were accompanied by Mike Candler, and The Curve’s Deputy Chief Executive – Stella McCabe. The Curve is a visually unique and eye-catching building, that was designed by architect Rafael Vinoly and is situated on Orton Square in Leicester, it replaces the Haymarket Theatre, which was Leicester’s ‘main’ theatre, that closed in 2007. The building itself has received ‘mixed’ reviews from locals appearance-wise, although it follows a trend for modern theatres to have an external artistic and innovative façade that is representative of the work taking place within the building. The Curve is surrounded by bollards that spin, give off light and also produce sounds, thus stimulating the senses of visitors before they have even entered the building. The building itself features three full floors and a mezzanine, all of which are suspended from the roof of the building, as well as a ground floor and basement.

The Curve is a refreshingly open-plan design, which is intended to bring the theatre’s key functional areas of administration and performance into close proximity, without the physical and psychological barriers of having ‘walls’ between them. The various open plan offices within the theatre wrap around the two main auditoriums, (which are insulated by 1 metre thick walls), one auditorium has 800 fixed seats, and the other one 400 movable seats, which gives flexibility in the performance space, the theatre also boasts (amongst other things) a recording studio, dance studio, and education space. The stage areas are designed to be flexible, with a powered flying system, and removable floor panels that allow for lifts to bring actors and props onto the stage from beneath. Such flexibility in this modern design is performance centered, allowing what happens on stage to dictate how the theatre operates, rather than the opposite, which is often the case in ‘old’ theatre buildings. A video of The Curve Theatre building is below.

Our next destination was the Phoenix Arts Centre, just a short one minute walk from The Curve. The Phoenix Arts Centre is a mixed-use building, incorporating office space, residential units, cinema, theatre, bar, café, areas for the exhibition of art, and a creative business-start-up facility. It sits on the site of the Phoenix Theatre, which was operational from 1963 until 1987, before undergoing renovation and re-opening as the Phoenix Arts Centre. This has subsequently been demolished and re-built, and is due to open fully in November 2009. This very modern building features an internal outdoor square that will serve as an open social space at the very heart of the building – thus facilitating creative ‘spillacrosses’ from those who use the building. The video below gives some indication of the building’s design.

Our final destination in Leicester’s cultural quarter was Leicester Creative Business Depot (LCBD) which is a creative enterprise business incubator, and according to the LCBD website is a ‘state-of-the-art facility that has been designed with flair and imagination, incorporating elements of the old architecture, modern design and Public art works’ (LCBD, 2009). In an unashamedly Richard Florida-esque style, LCBD offers a creative community of people high quality workspaces, in a stimulating environment that includes art and architecture that have been designed to get the creative juices of those within flowing - at least that’s the theory anyway. What LCBD does represent is the growing recognition of the importance of the creative industries, particularly when Britain is in a recession. On the very day that we visited Leicester, over the other side of the Midlands in Birmingham, Joanna Birch was reporting in the Birmingham Post newspaper that ‘the Midlands region has an incredible amount of talent in terms of expertise and knowledge in all aspects of content development’ (Birch, 2009), in an article that was designed to highlight the importance of the creative industries to the regions and the countries economy. In fact at the 2007 Local Government Association Conference, Peter Chandler of LCBD stated that (pre-recession) the creative sector was a key growth area, and in relation to SMEs was growing 6% nationally annually (Chandler, 2007).

Leicester’s cultural quarter (like many other similar areas globally), represents both change and hope for what the future may bring locally and beyond, in terms of improved economies and transformed societies. Whilst the immediate changes are evident in terms of altered landscapes and revitalised urban areas, the longer term changes are what these ‘hubs’ are really designed for, with improved economies through the nurturing of local creative enterprises, and a more culturally aware and educated local population. The recognition that the cultural and creative industries can improve our societies economically and socially means that if your town or city doesn’t currently have a ‘cultural quarter’, you can guarantee that your local authority has one eye on the likes of Leicester, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle / Gateshead, and the other eye on just where they might like their own cultural quarter to be. On a personal note, I would like to add that my perceptions of Leicester as a city of culture have changed for the better as a result of this visit, and I would certainly encourage anybody reading this, to pay a visit to the cultural quarter themselves, particularly the impressive Curve Theatre.


Birch, J. (2009) Can the Midlands creative industries revolutionise the UK economy?. [Internet] URL available from: Accessed 12th September, 2009.

Chandler, P. (2007) The cultural economy. A powerhouse for the future?. [Internet] URL available from: Accessed 12th September, 2009.

Leicester City Council. (2009) About Leicester. [Internet] URL available from: Accessed 12th September, 2009.

Leicester Creative Business Depot. (2009) Leicester Creative Business Depot. [Internet] URL available from: Accessed 12th September, 2009.

Stolarick, K. and Florida, R. (2006) Creativity, connections and innovation: a study of linkages in the Montréal region. Environment and planning. Vol. 38, pp.1799-1817.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dark Tourism is Edutainment

Dark tourism is a term used to describe the visitation of sites that were once associated with death, suffering or disaster. Creating visitor attractions that serve as edutainment facilities at these sites is something that does not sit comfortably with many people and raises the ethical and moral question as to whether it is ‘right’ to do so. Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland, is one of the sites of the world’s single largest atrocity in history, the genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The ‘final solution’ at Auschwitz lead to over a million people - mostly Jews, but also prisoners of war, political objectors, homosexuals, and gypsies (amongst others) from all over Europe being gassed, worked, starved, and tortured to death. In 1947 a museum was built at Auschwitz, to commemorate those who had died and to educate visitors as to the true atrocities that occurred there. In 1979 Auschwitz was made a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in recognition of the unique role that it played in history, and to promote peace amongst future generations through education of past atrocities. To date 25 million people have visited the museum (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2008), with this number set to rise even further with the increase in the number of budget airlines that are flying to nearby Krakow from other European destinations. The very notion that such a setting could be considered an entertainment venue is a very uncomfortable one for many. But this is considering the word entertainment as something ‘light’ or ‘happy’ which is an outdated use of the word. Auschwitz features exhibits that are designed to educate visitors, and in doing so often causes an emotional response amongst those who feel an empathetic connection with what they are seeing, hearing and reading about. This is edutainment at its most raw controversial edge, but it is undeniably edutainment, it is both captivating and educational, and participated in by (mostly) tourists as part of their recreation.


Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. (2008) Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. [Internet] ABSM, Poland. URL available from: Accessed 20th July, 2008.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

When is a Safari not a Safari?

This blog entry recounts an experience I had in Turkey earlier this year, I’ve written it in a story-telling style, and it recounts an actual example of where the tourism and entertainment industries collide. I began writing this some months ago, but my computer crashed, and I lost most of it. However, having just stumbled across a rescued text document, I have found much of it in-tact, so have now completed it, albeit a little late in the day…so here goes…

When is a safari not a safari? According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, a safari is ‘a journey; a cross-country expedition, often lasting days or weeks, orig. in E. Africa and on foot, especially for hunting; now often with motorized vehicles, for tourism, adventure, or scientific investigation’, OK so I wasn’t in Eastern Africa, I was in Turkey, but when I booked on a jeep safari, I was expecting something that was slightly reminiscent of the dictionary definition of what a safari wrong I would be…

I’d arrived with my family in Icmeler, Turkey on the 11th April, we’d gone away for an Easter break, but unbeknown to us, the season didn’t start proper for two weeks, so the majority of pubs, bars, restaurants and facilities were either closed or being rebuilt / renovated. A stroll through the deserted town, did however reveal a number of tour bookers on street front stands who were keen to swoop on the very few tourists that were about, in order to try and sell a variety of tours and excursions. One of them obviously saw me coming, ‘hello sir, would you be interested in going on a jeep safari’…well this would be a first for me, as I’d neither been in a jeep or on a safari, so against a backdrop of closed entertainment facilities and deserted streets it certainly sounded interesting. The seller went on to tell me all about the wonderful inland sights that would be seen including waterfalls and traditional rural communities, ‘are there plants and animals?’ I asked hopefully, ‘oh yes of course, said the seller, many plants and animals, you will see many’, so with that enjoyable naturtainment experience in mind, the booking was made.

The day of the safari came, and we met the jeep at the booking office where we were the first on board, I should have had my suspicions aroused when the driver commented on my very expensive HD Digital Camcorder all £1,000 worth of it, and said ‘make sure you keep that safely covered’….’er no, this is a safari, and on a safari I want to film the scenery, why on earth would I keep it safely covered’? I quietly thought to myself. After setting off for a minute we collected the next ‘family’ who occupied the seats in front of us. Again my suspicions should have been aroused when upon sitting on that seat, water began to dribble out of the back of it, narrowly missing my feet. The jeeps were uncovered and it was entirely feasible that they’d been left out overnight and got rained upon. Yes that was it, that’s exactly what happened, nothing sinister at all going on here. Then we met our tour guides…and when I say tour guides I use that particular term VERY loosely, you see these weren’t your run of the mill fonts of ‘safari knowledge’ who command your respect for the vast array of facts and figures they know about local flora and fauna, or their identification with local cultural traditions and norms, this was a man with frizzy hair wearing womens underwear and carrying a camcorder in a watertight case (eeeeek), and his half-dressed cigarette smoking compadres, I didn’t get their names so I’ll refer to them as ‘Frizzy’ and ‘Ciggy’. ‘HELLO’ ‘Frizzy shouted as he climbed into the jeep over the bonnet (the doors did work), ‘your driver is a puff’ shouted Ciggy. Why did that knot in my stomach tell me that things were going to go from very confused to very bad, very quickly?

We proceeded out of Icmeler up the winding mountain roads, the views were stunning and I have to say that I was bitterly disappointed that the jeep safari drove past a viewing point that offered picture perfect postcard views of Icmeler. I secretly hoped that this was because we were going to an even better viewing point further up the mountain. I was wrong, we ended up in the middle of nowhere at some sort of taverna where the innkeeper laid out pots of honey before us, encouraging us to taste them, including one which he described as natural Viagra! There followed the inevitable sales pitch…yawn, I took my camcorder and went to film the rugged mountain scenery and a donkey that was precariously balanced on a steep roadside verge where the grass was certainly greener.

After leaving the horny honey man we proceeded further inland. Frizzy and Ciggy shouted the odd lewd remark before Frizzy took off and ran across several gardens in the style of a Looney Tunes character, he did look quite funny, but this was certainly NOT responsible tourism practice, and whilst I smiled at his antics, I couldnít help but feel a pang of remorse towards the tennant whose garden Frizzy had just run across partuicularly if this is a daily occurrence.

We then seemed to go around a roundabout all the way around, I then noticed the other jeep doing the same but in the wrong direction…..but why? My worse fears were confirmed when ice cold water was suddenly thrown over our jeep, some of it got me, thankfully my Canon HG10 camcorder escaped mostly unscathed. Unfortunately the ears of my fellow passengers didn’t, as in shock at the unexpected downpour (and in defence of my expensive digital camcorder) I turned the air blue.

The jeep screeched to a halt, and the driver of the other jeep (who threw the water) came running over to find out what was wrong. After I explained that micro electronics and water were not a good combo, he replied ‘but what did you expect? This is a jeep safari’. ‘Yes’ I said ‘a safari, a journey upon which I get to observe the local flora and fauna’, he looked at me bemused ‘what kind of safari is that?’, ‘the normal type’ I responded. My fellow passengers began to mumble until one of them asked ‘did you not know about this type of jeep safari’, ‘No’ I responded before telling them about how this particular product had been mis-sold to me.

So here I was somewhere on the Dalaman peninsula, but inland and miles from civilization. I thought I was going to be participating in a rich edutainment journey, but instead, was an involutary participative audience member on a godforsaken mis-sold journey of watery banality. I guess the more academic you get, the more stupid you also become, taking things on face value, rather than reading between the lines. Mental note for next time Stuart – READ BETWEEN THE LINES. At this point my beloved camcorder was put inside a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel, buried deep in my rucksack – and placed under my seat. I was here now, I couldn’t escape from it, and despite my Mark Corrigan-esque exterior, I thought that I might as well enjoy it as much as I could – let the merriments begin then….

We headed next to a ford (the type where a river crosees a road, not the automotive type), and proceeded to drive throught it at more than the recommended speed limit, well if I was a bit wet before, I was a lot wet now, and it was kind of fun, and certainly thrilling, (after getting over the mental adjustment of what the day was about). From there we went to the lovely but very cold Selale waterfalls, where we explored, viewed and sampled the babbling and very fresh torrent, before moving onwards for lunch, and then onto a Turkish rug manufacturer, where the art of rug making was explained, bringing elements of both edutainment and culturtainment to the day, as beautifully ornate Turkish rugs were flung before us. Then the sales pitch began, adding a little sellertainment into the mix, although there was little pressure to buy from the demonstrator.

We left the rug manufacturer and headed back towards the coast at Orhaniye Bay, Turgutkoy, where fresh water from an inland lake meets the sea, but is mostly separated by a long pebble spit. This enabled people to walk out to sea to a distance of about a third of a mile, yet only be in knee-deep water. This was quite an entertaining spectacle to behold, due to its novelty value.

After a while we headed off for more watery shenanigans, including driving at break-neck speed through rivers and then driving along river beds, again this was not responsible tourism practice, but it was definitely thrillertainment. Then the jeep broke down – in the middle of a river. I wasn’t too worried as I’ve seen every episode of ‘Bear Grylls – Born Survivor’ so was confident I would be able to find something to eat – even if it did taste like ‘a sticky bogey’. However, Ciggy and Frizzy were talented individuals, and after tinkering under the bonnet we were off again.

As we headed along a nice flat, tarmacced main road towards Marmaris I felt quite smug that I was probably one of the drier people on the jeep, ‘suckers’ I thought at all those poor sodden fools who opted to sit near the driver in the false belief that they would remain drier – he was drenched too. However, my near-dry delight soon turned to fear and then utmost panic as we headed towards a suspened hose pipe that was about to drench us all. This wasn’t any old hosepipe though, this was the anaconda of hosepipes, a great big HUGE hosepipe of biblical proportions, the type that God might use to water Africa every now and again, pumping out a gazillion gallons per second of icey cold water from a hole about a foot in diameter, this wasn’t even a spray, it was a blob of water, like that film the blob, only blobbier, colder, wetter and face slappingly stingier as it emptied down on to us. I’ve never had what I consider to be a near-death experience before, but in the nano-seconds that passed before that freezing cold oceanic blob of water hit, I remembered my first day at school / sitting in a poppy field in Darfield as a toddler / eating chesse sandwiches with my Dad / stabilizers on my bike / my first kiss / my first Music festival (Reading 92) / bacpacking in Australia / living in London / Great Yarmouth / meeting Linda…..then BLLLLEEEEEUUUUUUURRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH cold was not the word to describe how that icey torrent felt as it penetrated deep to the bone, raising my heart rate to about 200 and causing breathing to become so fast that I thought hypoxia might set in, as well as of course, hypothermia. I wasn’t smug anymore, I was wet, as wet as everyone else, and possibly with a cherry on top.

Ciggy and Frizzy were delighted and filmed the whole thing as they howled with laughter, they had been filming all day long, and I will take my hat off to how hard they worked. As I sat in the jeep, shivering as the wind howled and dried us at 50 miles per hour on the way back to Icmeler, I reflected upon the day. I didn’t get what I had been sold or expected, and had I known what they day was actually about I wouldn’t have gone on it, BUT to the right customer (and in Summer NOT April) the experience of a Turkish jeep safari would be great fun, and definitely constitute being Thrillertainment.

Upon arrival at Icmeler, the reason for Ciggy and Frizzy filming all day became apparent, they were offering to sell DVDs of the day, which they would deliver to your hotel within 24 hours. I didn’t purchase as I wasn’t that bothered, but this was an excellent example of entrepreneurial activity, and one business venture, supporting another.

The day had been predominantly a thrillertainment experience, but there was also some culturtainment, edutainment, sellertainment, and of course variety, in the form of Ciggy and Frizzy’s comedic costumed antics. If you are into thrills, don’t mind getting wet, can put up with lewd behaviour and language, the Jeep Safari is definitely for you. But if you want to learn about flora and fauna, read a book – or go to Africa!

Some views of the ‘dry’ parts of the day can be found in the video below.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Entertainment Environment

The entertainment environment is the setting in which audiences interact with entertainment provided by entities with the various entertainment industry sectors and sub-sectors. The entertainment environment surrounds us, after all the very diverse entertainment offering provided by the entertainment industry can be found almost anywhere. There are nine distinct entertainment environments, these are as follows: the contained resort environment; the coastal environment; the cruise ship environment; the home environment; the mobile environment; the online environment; the rural environment; the transport environment; and the urban environment. These environments are all unique in their nature, either through size, make-up or physical presence (and sometimes a combination of these things). Some types of entertainment are more predominant in particular environments than they are in others, for example nightclubs and theatres are concentrated within the urban environment due to their need to attract custom, and theme parks are more predominantly in the rural environment due to their need for large amounts of land. Each entertainment environment is listed below along with a brief description.

Contained Resort

A contained resort is typically targeted towards tourists and consequently these are often found in locations where tourists like to visit. Contained resorts can vary in size from relatively small resorts covering less than a square kilometre such as caravan parks, to mega resorts covering vast distances, such as Walt Disney World Resort. Resorts include an array of facilities including: accommodation, catering facilities, bars, leisure amenities such as swimming pools, and entertainment venues including theaters and nightclubs. The idea being that once there, visitors do not need to leave the resort.


The coastal environment offers a unique geographical landscape in that the land meets the sea or ocean. In Britain the term ‘seaside’ is often used to describe these areas. The sea and particularly beaches attract tourists, and typically in response to this, coastal urban settlements are created to cater for visitors, which often includes an array of entertainment facilities and venues. A unique type of coastal entertainment venue / visitor attraction are piers.

Cruise Ship

Almost like floating contained resorts, cruise ships consist of accommodation, catering facilities, bars, leisure amenities such as swimming pools, and entertainment venues including theaters, nightclubs, and casinos. On a cruise, visitors are taken to a variety of destinations and often use the ship as a floating resort, so by day they may be out exploring where the ship has ported, and by night making use of the facilities on board the ship as it travels to its next destination.


The term ‘home entertainment’ gained popularity in the 1980s when home stereo units, television and video recorders became both commercially available and affordable. The home environment is media based and consists of the entertainment provision that has been purchased for use in the home.


The mobile (or personal) environment is media-based and is the entertainment that can comfortably be taken virtually anywhere, this includes MP3 players, portable media players, mobile telephones, books, e-book readers and newspapers. The mobile environment is one of the fastest growing environments as more and more media formats shrink to make them easily portable.


This is the only virtual environment, to interact with entertainment in this environment we do not need to physically travel anywhere, but thanks to new mobile technologies, we can now access the internet from almost anywhere. The online environment is classed as an environment in its own right due to the propensity of those accessing it to consider that they ‘went’ online.


This environment is largely devoid of human habitation with a very low population density. This sensitive environment relies on visitation from outside of its own area, which itself can cause conflict between local residents and those seeking entertainment. The rural environment has the advantage that it offers large open spaces, and therefore can cater for entertainment entities that require large amounts of space. These include music festivals, theme parks, and zoos and safari parks.


Densely populated towns and cities predominantly make up this environment that feeds off large populations of visitors from close by, as well as incoming visitors. This is the most concentrated entertainment environment in that it contains the widest variety of entertainment industry entities with representation from every sector of the entertainment industry, from cinemas, museums and theatres, to nightclubs, live music venues and casinos.


Getting from one point to another using a mode of transport can take time, and often during that time those travelling seek a distraction to occupy or entertain them. In-car entertainment systems, which were once non-existent before the car radio became available are now elaborate, and can include MP3 and DVD players. On some buses and trains, radio and television or movies are available, as is wi-fi internet access. Commercial passenger jets have a long established in-flight entertainment program consisting of films, television programs, games and radio.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another Entertainment Portmanteau

Last night and tonight, thousands of people have and will be stood, sat, laying down, and transfixed as a captivated audience looking to the skys above us. The reason for this is the Perseid meteor shower, which the planet earth passes through annually on it’s orbit. This has been widely publicised in the media, including the BBC who have given it extensive news coverage, which has helped to generate interest in this phenomenon amongst members of the public. Images of the meteor shower have been widely distributed via social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Stargazing is nothing new, and neither is participating in activities relating to this as part of a recreation experience, indeed there are many established planetarium visitor attractions that specialise in astro-interpretation globally, including: Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, UK; Carter Observatory, Wellington, New Zealand; and Adler Planetarium, Chicago, USA.

A meteor is something that the majority of us will never personally see for ourselves, so the Perseid meteor shower presents a real opportunity to see something that is both novel and unique (you’ll only ever see each meteor once if you do see one). Of course, meteors are not a part of the entertainment industry as they are not man-managed or controlled, but they can provide entertainment for audiences of onlookers that are looking to the skies. Solar and lunar eclipses, comets, planets in our galaxy becoming visible and star constellations can also provide entertainment in this way. So it’s time for another new portmanteau to define this entertaining phenomenon….I propose astrotainment.