How to be Lucky

In February 2017 I was asked to do a TEDx talk in Cluj Romania. http://www.tedxcluj.com/

My topic was in response to the theme “Going Beyond”. I decided to talk about “Luck’ and how we create our own luck… before the speech I gave an interview for a National Magazine. Here’s the interview and some thoughts about living on The Edge and Being lucky

1.You’ve been asked to define the concept of Going Beyond and you said that `If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much room`. As a theatre director and producer, you’ve worked alongside artists but also with people out of this field. How would you explain to both of these two categories the meaning of “living on the edge”?

The new world is a complex world. As we move into the fourth industrial revolution two basic dynamics appeal to me; the idea of looking forward and looking back.

Looking back; Engels believed that the prime basic condition for all human existence was labour. Most humans feel a need to work, but for many this is not sufficient to give a meaning to life. The political turmoil of today is perhaps a realisation that the current model is not satisfactory.. and yes the model is changing – we are rapidly evolving and a sense of the ‘survival of the fittest’ is coming back into focus.

The middle ‘soft ground’ of work is changing… to grow or indeed to survive, we have to be more ‘on the edge’ looking at dynamics that challenge our traditional thinking. But I am not advocating a simple absorption of new technologies in a Virtual, Artificial world.

Darwin wrote that the survival of mankind depends upon its ability to Improvise and Collaborate, so when I look at my theatrical life as a producer and Director these dynamics are clearly useful as we play out our stories.

The theatre world is a creative world and now so is our labour world. In both creativity is about new boundaries, new ideas and they come from the catalyst of being somewhere dangerous, exciting and risk-oriented, where discoveries are made, where improvisation takes place!

In the theatre and in Work this place is The Edge.

And as a director of plays and as a facilitator of start-ups and corporate change programs, I focus on building strong foundations – the basics – but I am also encouraging people to look back to what worked before and is real, as well as looking forward to what can work next and be the ‘new real’.

So the Edge is where we look both ways – where we fuse old and new, where ideas are both fixed and growth oriented. This is true in the World of Work and in the World of Theatre.

  1. Ideas, communication and audience are three things that the theater world and the corporate world have in common. Can you explain in more detail this connection and which is the main purpose of the Menagerie Theatre Company?

If you create a performance without an audience it is a rehearsal.

If you create a product or service without customers it is a prototype.

Both of these dynamics are interesting to explore and challenge our thinking. The end game is to create something real and for it to be consumed.

We need to encourage a “Heads-up, Hearts in Culture” where artists and businesses have a creative mind-set yet are still involved in ‘the delivery of the product’ and understand how they can positively influence this.

To survive in the new world, we need to focus on creative and imaginative dynamics, understand the nature of decision making and how to devolve decision making to the grass roots encouraging, positive, creative communication within communities or organizations.

Survival is about how people can work together towards a common goal and strategy whilst retaining individual identity and influence. To do this you need to understand your purpose and your audience, then be able to communicate your ideas.

Aristotle says that to avoid Criticism .. Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. Menagerie Theatre Company exists to oppose this; to create a critical response to ideas and thereby we set out to say something, do something, be something… and then to get a reaction – either critical or empathetic.

All of our work is collaborative. All of it is new or a fusion of ideas. Our approach is original but definite. We write about what we hear and see, we improvise about what we imagine, we devise, compose and create stories to share. Then we present – somewhere, somehow and of course to someone…

3.Did luck play an important part in your life so far? Can you give us some examples when luck determined your life or your professional path?

There is a subtle but great difference between luck and serendipity .

Of course the routes we take can be determined by us or by others and mostly in combination- our parents, partners, colleagues create our network and environment. But serendipity is a created co-incidence, determined to a great extend by our own conscious or un-conscious decision making .. not other’s; OURS.

 

So for me going to talk in Cluj at TEDx is not luck, but serendipity. And Serendipity? It’s where good fortune meets the prepared mind

I was part of the decision making process because of where I was on one day, in one moment to make the connection to bring me here – so I made the luck, or I was just lucky?.

Of course the night that someone comes to your show that loves it and wants to work with you might be lucky. Or maybe you made that luck.. by being innovative, hard working and dedicated enough to make that event – to give yourself a chance to be lucky?

So I can’t tell you a moment of luck – just a series of fortunate circumstances.

It’s a bit like a religious mind-set – somehow if you have faith – it will happen, but it can’t be blind faith – rather a deep sense of doing the right thing in the right way at the right time to be lucky.

  1. In your opinion, which are the trends in theatre at the moment? Are there any forms of expression that need to be recovered or that need to be discovered?

So as we look back and we look forward there is a duality; a fusion of theatre and digital technology but also a recalibration of theatre as a pure form of storytelling – the human experience.

Interestingly there has been a lot of research done recently into the presumption that video games, home computing, live on-line streaming of events etc. would reduce the numbers of people participating in the live theatre events. However the opposite has been true. We are going to the theatre and live music and comedy more than ever before. It is clear we need (crave?) that human experience – that human interaction.

So whilst it is tempting to fuse art and technology in the assumption that it is a good ‘modern ‘thing to do, it is also to be noted that artists are creating a uniquely live human experience which will be perceived and received by each audience member or spectator in their own personal frame. I love the idea of the individual spectator alongside the collective or shared experience that comes only from Live Performance.

 

There has also been a lot of activity and thought around Immersive Theatre. I have produced some myself. Here the audience goes deeply into the action – not just staring blankly at the stage but participating in and indeed influencing the action – influencing it – changing it !. However this is not new – it has been happening for centuries as spectators shout or invade the stage. From the Greek Chorus made up of local citizens at The Ancient Festivals through to modern Forum or interactive theatre. In a 1923 theatre production Of Meyerhold’s Earth Rampant in Moscow, Trotsky spontaneously came on the stage unannounced during one battle scene – gave a rousing and improvised speech to the ‘actor troops’ then sat back down in his seat! That is participation!!

5.Do you think that there are any limits of creativity in the changing world we live in?

Creativity is a term that covers so much in a positive and negative way – ‘this person is creative, this one not’. For me creativity is about survival, and it comes out of three frames: Necessity ,Opportunity and Ingenuity. We need creative forces to be at play to manage our evolution and now, creativity in the Opportunity and Necessity frames are connected deeply with A.I. and Processing… I truly believe that we mix-up Innovation, Enterprise and Creativity and have no idea what they really are … I am sure I don’t. But I know Creativity is a necessary force and as well as thinking creatively forward we should think creatively back too.

 

6.Based on your experience, how hard it is to inspire people to think different in a world where information is no longer filtered? Are people always “buying” the story you’re telling?

Fake news… Maybe this is a fake article?

Again Aristotle proposed that to get people to ‘believe’ you need both Evidence and Persuasion. I feel that now it is unbalanced towards Persuasion. The Belief mechanism of evidence is being eroded. That’s’ why stories are important because they are presented as mirrors or reflections of truths not as absolutes. This abdicates some responsibility but also offers some hope for personal decision making. I hope that in my work – in theatre and in business, I am able to show proof as well as inspire thought. There is an old adage that theatre is a lie wrapped up as a truth –one we all accept as a convenat when we go to see or participate in the event. If we know this in advance we are empowered by it. If we don’t know it then we can be tricked or forced into a form of thinking that is dangerous or at least cynical. So let’s create stories together and ‘sell’ them co-operatively, honestly and dynamically to each other. The Virgin Group of Businesses headed by Richard Branson are driven by one key Value – that Everyone is Better Off – so lets do our business, our theatre and live our lives with an E.B.O philosophy?

7.Does the world today need more storytellers? Which storyteller inspired you most when you were younger and which are the most important attributes a storyteller should have?

Stories are about ‘other worlds’ paradigms and metaphors – a fusion of fantasies and realities. I love stories.

So when we go to the pub for a drink and to talk and tell stories and we get to that moment when we can’t remember ‘who that actor was in that old movie?’ or ‘what the number of spectators was at that football match?’ or the color of someone’s hair in that painting?, let’s not stop and Google it and fact check – for now let’s enjoy the half-remembered, sure we will find out soon enough who, what, where and when… but for now let’s enjoy our ignorance, our dreams our half-remembered conversation and our stories. Lets enjoy the opportunity and possibility of stories. Good stories, honest stories. That facts will come for sure.

But for now let’s paint the picture as we see it, as we imagine it and as we want it to be….

 

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Telling stories that matter in Art and Business

 

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Two events in St Petersburg this week really got me thinking about how we tell our stories – or rather – how we engage.

My ‘main job’ as a theatre director is in many ways about creating and telling stories. Not stories that are necessarily fairy tales or epic adventures.. but rather experiences and performances that create vivid images and use powerful text to challenge thinking whilst exciting and provoking the audience.

The Theatre Director and writer Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment UK) wrote a ‘play’  for us (Menagerie) once way back (in 2002?), it wasn’t a typical three act drama with a prologue followed by some conflict and nice resolution – it was a series of challenges to “form and thought” .The presentation was  three actors speaking statements that were or were not funny. The decision of the level of humour is of course in the control of each audience member.

“ A Painter that is allergic to Paint”

Is that funny or not funny? The list builds…

“A boy writing his name in pee in the snow”

“A girl writing her name in pee in the snow”

“Tying your shoelaces whilst drunk”

“Cancer of the throat”

“Testicular Cancer”

A world emerges of cruelty, love, anger and beauty, the audience’s reactions build the stories. Each experience is pondered, contextualised (“well it would be funny if I was 15 and had been drinking beer “). What Tim  did was create non-linear stories by building up a jigsaw or mosaic of experiences that frustrated, touched , endeared  or angered the audience.

What were their reactions based on? On their mood? Their age? Background? Cultural reference points? As the list grew so did our (the audience’s) capacity to think, to absorb and to imagine… What if…

What was great about Tim’s piece (called MFI by the way) was that it had a universality. A hypnotic quality. Although the three actors who recited each statement appeared to be randomly selecting their comments, we started to build up a picture of each of them according to what they found funny about their own comments and about each other’s.

And isn’t that the point? Create something that people can react to, that they can visualise, personalise– feel  something about. Of course for many this isn’t storytelling – its “Performance Art”

Yes this piece was challenging, but it was also mesmerizing and human. Too often we hear the same things over and over again. In business, as in art we should look to create a reaction – a response to what we think, feel and say.

My two classes in St Petersburg on storytelling in the business context were certainly more traditional than Tim’s work…

For the Creative Agency BC Communications my “lists or statements” were transposed into  Challenges  or games – for each member of staff to respond to – to really think about their own story – what makes them laugh? Scared? To want to take a risk? To want to focus on? Each exercise was its only little “statement” – how do you feel ? – is this Funny? Is this thought-provoking?

https://vk.com/page-37441440_47636989

At ITMO University I challenged business students to think about their framing of stories in terms of how they and others see the world. The simplest framing  being The World as it Was, as it Is and as it Can Be… the statements are built – challenges set.

Is it funny?, that doesn’t matter – is it going to get a reaction? THAT matters, because then someone cares about what you’re saying…

http://en.ifmo.ru/en/viewnews/5478/Master_Class_by_Paul_Bourne_How_to_Turn_Storytelling_Into_Profit.htm

 

Below is a description of Tim’s work …

http://timetchells.com/

Across the range of my work I use strong, simple, sometimes comical means to get to serious ideas.

My practice shifts from performance to visual art and fiction and concerns itself with questions of contemporary identity and urban experience, our relation to fiction and the media, as well as with the limits of representation, especially in respect of language.  Working across different media and contexts opens up new possibilities and allows me to approach the ideas that interest me by different routes, shifting my perspective on the themes and experiences I want to investigate.

I have created a body of work exploring contradictory aspects of language in playful and poetic ways. I’m drawn both to the speed, clarity and vividness with which language communicates narrative, image and ideas, and at the same time to its amazing propensity to create a rich field of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Infiltrating galleries, street corners, shop windows, rooftops and other locations the neon sign and LED works I have made spell out simple-but-intriguing phrases, messages and instructions. Appearing to address the viewer directly through these works, I’m interested to create moments of thoughtfulness and playful encounter in a public setting;  the work is public but private at the same time, trying to draw each person that encounters it into a space of intimate reflection.

 

Paul’s Blog: St Petersburg: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on” … an Icelandic Peace Treaty”

En route to St Petersburg….

Activity; both theatre and training has severely dropped off in Russia.

I hope to be back teaching at Meyerhold Theatre Leaders School in Moscow soon – but who knows.

http://a-a-ah.com/tsentr-im-meyerhold

I have been teaching at Meyerhold for last three years at The Theatre Leaders School but times are tough so may not be back! The Rouble has literally halved in value so now I am twice as expensive!

We at Menagerie (http://www.menagerie.uk.com/) are also hoping to tour our new play bloominauschwitz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyyXfzieAOg) to Russia but again economics make it almost impossible at the moment – ah well you can see bloom on tour in the UK and various parts of Europe in May and June!

I actually can’t wait for ‘bloom’ – what an extraordinary configuration of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the idea of Concentration camp tourism (with jokes!) let’s see how it pans out … but it should be a triumph and hopefully one which will see us touring it…in Russia even!

Today I will be visiting staff at Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulkovo_Airport) the new international terminal, before hooking up with colleagues Ludmila Murgulets and Olaf Hauer my partners in the Russian training company iNTG (see photo of me looking very arty – off into space!)

http://i-ntg.com/who/who.html

We worked with Pulkovo last year when the creative team-building exercises we facilitated took place in Reykjavik. It was really like being in some kind of Cold War Peace treaty scenario – half the group was Russian, the other half German and together they were building a new airport in St Petersburg!

And there we were – the iNTG team plus actors Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen from the UK – all in Iceland, all trying to broker peace through the power of theatre!

It was truly bizarre but also lots of fun. Mark and Jasmine had recently finished a run of the Menagerie play Why Can’t We Live Together? In London

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAm_TkShB_E

So they were a tight acting couple and we used this to work scenes, show characters and build up a communication skill set for our Russian /German delegation… For Jasmine it was an experience she had been through before working with us in Dubai and Hong Kong but for Mark it was – what the F**k am I doing??!? Is this an acting workshop or an audition to be in an episode from The Office ??!? The answer was probably … a bit of both.

But as always the objective was to challenge thinking, stretch minds and engage hearts … and working with actors as good as Mark and Jas does really bring things to life as well as adding a spark and positive dynamic into the whole training experience. Essentially bringing a bit of drama into what can be a mundane learning experience.

I can guarantee that when I meet the folks from Pulkovo later today that they will remember many of the activities we undertook and hopefully will have retained and used some of the learning –we will see; maybe they won’t even recognise me! Or maybe I will have to take my clothes off for them to remember me ????

…. bizarrely after our training sessions in Iceland the whole group went to The Blue Lagoon where we stripped off and got into the warm waters… it was certainly a different ending to most training – half naked soaking wet and drinking a beer. Actually this is how most of our training sessions end up..!

So we will see how the Russian market is shaping up and hold our breath for future opportunities half naked or otherwise …

Checking out pretty girls in SOHO

Today I am looking for a 19 year old, pretty girl who trades on her sexuality while hiding a dark secret…

We are holding auditions for the Menagerie production of Jane Upton’s play Swimming and need an actor to play Lucy.

https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/swimming

The show is heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer, but first we need one more actor.

We already have Grace Watts http://www.gracewatts.co.uk/

And Jack Bence  http://www.tvrage.com/person/id-183034/Jack+Bence

Casting is of course a tricky business so we work with a casting agent. This time we go with Irene East. She is straight out of central casting herself. She answers the phone like she still is in the 1950’s with a crisp clear pronunciation of her name and number. She is lovely and very organised. http://www.loveandmadness.org/about_irene.htm

Her strength is graduates. She goes to all the drama school graduation ceremonies and takes detailed notes on the potential of every student – of course what is great is that she has notes going back 30 years or more so she has some great comments about actors that have gone on to be superstars…

Actually she should write a blog!.. I wonder what she would say???

a young actress.. Ms Judy Dench appeared alongside a boy called Derek Jacobi – she was clear and crisp but oh dear he will never make it… ????

We are auditioning at our production partners SOHO theatre

We are seeing five girls for the part of Lucy. There is a need for the actor to have an attractive look as the character trades on this, but within the palette of the character there are layers to be to mined and the actor we are looking for must have the tools to mine!

My style in auditions is to be friendly but with an edge.

I like to have the casting agent and producer in the room with a chair set away from our desk. The first five minutes is chat …what are you up to what have you been doing?  etc.

Then I quiz the actor about The Play and  The Character… with …so what did you think of the play ?

Always.. its great or I loved it. BUT occasionally an actor will criticise a script which I think is risky but can have impact if the insights are thoughtful and considered. We are a new writing theatre company after all, so every script is a work in progress. Right down to the first performance and sometimes beyond we are editing and refining the script. The actors who inhabit the characters become strong advocates for their alter-egos and will often suggest cuts or rewrites on behalf of their characters. However it would be rare to have an actor offer re-writes in auditions.. not happened yet!

Having had the chat we now have fifteen to twenty minutes to work with the script. Sometimes I have the actor do some prepared work from their repertoire or from the play. In the UK  you will mostly work in audition from the script that you are looking to get cast .

In the States this is very different, certainly from my experience at Centre Stage in New York (Artistic Director 1995-97).

At an audition in The States you would expect actors to perform a couple of pre-prepared monologues which are in their locker. It is traditional to do this and I had a lot of upset actors when I was working in New York. My auditions are more chatty on work on script. Theirs – are more … let me show you my Hamlet…

A friend of mine the Director Karen Kohlhaas runs a very successful business teaching actors how to audition including which pieces to work on and how to get the most out of them. From what I understand she makes a good living teaching these workshops as well s directing

http://www.monologueaudition.com/

The danger in auditions is that the actor you choose does a good audition piece but then they never grow into the part. I think of it like someone having practiced for an interview – done their research and worked out all the stock answers (tell us about your weaknesses.. well I work too hard etc.”). But when they come to the actual  job lack the growth potential and flexibility.

So for me the selection of actor is based on:

Part gut feeling or instinct (this happens almost immediately the actor walks in the door). Do I like them do they have an edge /presence, inner confidence aura??

Part experience…what roles have they done before?

Part will I like this person or get on with them (not always so important I have worked with great actors I didn’t really like, but like anything in life it is nicer to work with nice people).

But mostly it is can they tune into the character and take direction?

So when I get them to read a scene it is always really important to get them to do it again with a new objective or approach. Even if they nail it first time. I want to see if they can retain the character but play with a new dynamic.

You have to give the right piece of direction of course. Clear, with an objective that alters from the previous reading. Being wooly in an audition is a crime for a director and may result in a poor choice of actor.

Also it is important that the actor is interested in you.

One of the actors in audition is doing four auditions today. She may well have a choice to make. It will be firstly the play, then the company, the money and conditions but the director plays a big part. Be unclear in audition and you mess up the chance of them wanting to work with you!

Indeed I have been in some auditions where I have felt like the auditionee – being quizzed by the actor… how much do you the director really know about this play…??

So we have five. Four are strong. One stands out.

What makes a good audition?… connection to the material and to the people in the room…

We wait to see if she will accept our offer to be in the play… did I gave her good direction and a strong desire to be in our production…we will see?

Hopefully this girl in soho will be a good call…

 

Train to Kubinka or “Sumasshedshiy den”

So in Moscow to teach at Theatre Leaders School at Meyerhold Theatre

http://a-a-ah.com/tsentr-im-meyerhold

I have three days teaching and am about to start preparation.. however a phone call changes plans and I find myself at 8.30 pm on a suburban train to Kubinka…

A friend of mine who I was hoping to see sometime over the weekend has called and begged me to go to her dacha (country house) for a party!

I guess you can’t say no…

So off to the main Belorusskaya Station to catch the train – fortunately I have been there 30 minutes earlier so radar and memorisation of the hieroglyphics of Cyrillic lettering on subway signs  is still burning strong enough for me to get to the right stop to buy a ticket … (showing phone with Kulblina in Russian to ticket desk)… find a platform and still have time to have a Carry-On moment with two Russian guards who laugh at me asking for platform SIX… platform SEX???? Platform SEX .. (x10) to each other (highlight of the day?).

Note to self – learn how to say Russian numbers … I have ten Russian words now, but one is “cat” (koshka) so not really cracking it..

Train is great… very evocative… seats are rock hard; wooden painted red … and all the men are staring out of window or drinking beer. All the women laughing (young) looking serious (old) and 50% on phones… (not so evocative…)

In carriage I had to do the embarrassing… “does any body speak English ???…”  to make sure on right train… Shame on me…

It reminds me of my ‘old’ university friend Debbie Read (Arts Consultant) https://www.linkedin.com/pub/debbie-read/a/236/916) telling about the time she brought an entire train station to a standstill in a remote part of China when she could not get anyone to help her  in English so she stood a bench in the station and shouted at the top of her voice “does anybody speak English?” –.

Entire station like a flash mob came to a halt. Looked at her .. four beats … all frozen.. silence… then off again (I can imagine the discussions at dinner that night..you won’t believe what happened today.. a crazy English woman starting screaming… just imagine a guy screaming in Canotnese at  Kings Cross Station..)

Anyway Debbie got help … me too … “da da”

Now,  I am unsure that I have the right ticket and everyone who comes into the carriage looks like central casting Ticket Inspector. Indeed  central casting has done well with those around me you really couldn’t confuse anyone on this train for anything but Russian – they all get cast as Russians – apart from the guy reflected in the window.. in a tweed jacket tapping away on an apple mac…

Great ! now my friend Anna has called on the phone to make sure I am OK and  I am the freak show that is loud person speaking in a foreign language on the train…

Still hopefully everyone is distracted by very loud Russian rap music.. which has started to play from my neighbours’ phone

OK so this is fun –

Another Inspector? …NO! – they all have Man-Bags – it is confusing me!!!

Ok must do prep for session tomorrow on business planning for Arts Organisations– Power Point slide one..

I will start with the immortal line I heard at the from the wrap-up to Kosice Place Conference 2013…(Creative City Conference  2013 where i was showing Businesses how to use the Arts in Training : http://www.creativeeconomy.sk/) when at the final feedback session, a Slovak delegate thought that it was a shame the conference was all given in English as some struggled with the second language, but mostly it was a shame  because it made all the English delegates and speakers sound more intelligent,…(Beat) which we all know is not true…”

Indeed it was true and  a good opening line for me when in front of mixed audience.

Slide two… show a picture of Cambridge.. and  now I am perceived as intelligent by default!

So train journey 90 minutes – fun and I manage to get off at the right stop am met at station and head to the country house..

Evening at Dacha was great – watching football talking about politics – Ukraine – sensitive . I feel a little uneasy as knowledge of this area is shaky to say the least so I mostly nod. It is clear that folks here are happy enough to criticise Putin but feel that the part of Ukraine they’re battling over is truly Russian. I stick to vodka and nodding.

Talking about Moscow as a world city looking towards Europe – traffic Jams – they are horrendous in Moscow (the joke is told…some drivers put their home address on official documents  as “a traffic jam in Moscow”).

Also watch the world cup – Spain getting trounced by Holland.

A good sleep – house is HUGE and lovely – actually it is two houses; one for the family and one for the grandparents(3) who live together… with a strange English guy in the roof room tonight. The family is well -off – as Anna described … they were equally poor in Soviet times but now the family has been very successful in gas and dairy businesses and is an established and wealthy unit. The dacha operates as a great bolt-hole from Moscow and each weekend, most of the family and extended friends end up there. Really nice – holds everyone together – Anna describes her father as a Hero for building the house – for a moment i pause and i wonder if my kids will ever call me a Hero..?

Breakfast with grandparents is amazing… small pancakes with cottage cheese and wild strawberries (collected by house keeper that morning – of course!) and conversation about their lives. One couple were both Geologists and worked in the 50s -70s around the world on behalf of the Ministry for Natural Sciences (sic) and worked a lot in the Middle East – Anna’s father was born in Afghanistan – it ends with me being given some rock that can only be found in Russia. It is taken from a display cabinet, so I feel very guilty, but can’t refuse.

The other grandparent was a fighter pilot, then a civil pilot and then… Yeltsin and Gorbachev’s personal pilot! He is highly decorated and has flown them around the world …

We stop to look at a mini statue of Lenin in the garden in the rain…  this is crazy???

Back to Moscow, onto the subway and ready for a day of teaching…

sumasshedshiy den!

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