To the Lady I Allowed Ahead of Me in the Queue

Me and my wife were out doing what all boring couples do in their 30s on a Friday evening: we were out buying new cushion covers. There was nothing wrong with the old ones, the missus just deemed it…


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On my love for the theatre… and my dislike of Scrooge McDuck

A colleague has called on me, asking about my love of ‘casino chips’.

I have laughed in confusion and realised that my Facebook profile picture was now embellished by a string of golden coins, the kind Uncle Scrooge McDuck (el tio Gilito, in Spanish) loved so much.

I wondered… what is this about? Then I remembered: watching Coriolanus by the National Theatre yesterday and keen to share my enjoyment of the play on FB, I clicked on the ‘donate’ button that popped up at me.

I wanted to donate the price of what would have been my ticket. I was not sure whether to donate the amount I would pay at the theatre or the amount I would pay at a cinema live screening, as I have often been forced to accept, living as I do outside the capital, London. I was in two minds, I then tried to pay and the app collapsed — or my wifi failed. I do not know what happened, but I did not manage to pay anything. And the magic of the moment went away, somehow. I drank my tea and went back to the play, forgetting all about it.

Now it is the next morning and I look like Scrooge McDuck. “I wanna get you giving, folks!” This is what my FB page intends me to say. “I love coins” This is what it says to me.

I do not like the look. It offends my high and mighty social media sensibilities. Something about it is off, despite it being for a good cause.

I have then thought of me watching the ballet Anastasia with my son. I believe it was the Royal Opera House production. While we watched, the screen would fill with sprinkles of people’s donations (£50 here, £10 there, £150 there…) I am no longer sure whether it was this production or another, as it felt like I was watching dollars instead of pounds go by, in a way that did not feel completely believable. The whole experience felt foreign. It made me think as well, of course, of the juggler hats and suitcases you see in the streets, when the struggling performer has had to fill them with money in the first place, to tempt you in, so that you do not feel like you are the one throwing the first penny.

Theatres are shutting down. 2020 is a devastating year for the world of live performing arts. We must contribute, we must donate if we care about the survival of theatres. We need the solidarity of the big and the small. We need, even more, the solidarity of streaming giants like Netflix or Amazon Prime which are making a fortune out of this lockdown. We also need, more than ever, a theatre & live art streaming channel to pay for. (Hopefully, thanks to the diversity of free offers right now, we’ll get the taste for it and the will to pay).

It is embarrassing to me to dislike so much the look of these ‘casino chips’ on my FB profile picture. But I do not like them, and I want to remove them straight away. I wanted to donate, privately, to break my lack of habit in this area and start normalising it, in line with what I feel is appropriate. I do not want to feel like I must make a show of my donations or spoil my genuine pleasure to encourage friends to explore a free performance online. Regardless of how bad this may sound to some, I do not want my sharing of cultural pleasures to become a lobbying platform for anything.

It is hard to know how to behave, what etiquette to follow; what will make us look good or bad amongst our mixed bag of social media friends and acquaintances. I cannot guide myself by how my actions will be read by such a diverse bunch of people, so I have been tempted to remove my donation link, straight away, now. I will find other ways to contribute, without Facebook transforming me into a greedy cartoon character…

PS: In the end, it has not been necessary to remove any donation buttons; I have simply had to re-upload my profile picture. There is something troubling about the ways social media platforms automate and create unwanted consequences to our actions… It would be a real shame if people were put off donating anything just because they did not want trumpets sounding all around them every time they throw a coin (or a bill) to the deserving performer’s hat…

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