Stillpoint Theatre


We are just on the cusp now of this years Brighton Festival offerings, with the luminous Kate Tempest at the Guest Directorial helm. It looks like a juicy year. I’m excited by the possibility that Kate might bring a more youthful and diverse audience in.

Kate Tempest, photo by Scarlet @Shootgroup.

Every year in May, since I moved here 14 years ago (14 years…?!! shhhhutup) the Brighton International Festival has come around and I have either been working away, too busy or not flush enough to be able to experience as much of it as I would like.

Well last year, my dream came true in a beware – of – what – you – wish – for kind of way with Collidescope, the Brighton Festival’s artist development scheme. Eight mid-career artists working across multiple disciplines, invited by the Festival to experience 36 pieces of work over three weeks.

The artists were:
Alexandrina Hemsley, Project O
Guillermo Weickert, Compania De Danza
Paul Hodson, The Future is Unwritten
Kate McCoy,
Johanna Bramli
Judith Alder
Becky Edmunds
and myself.

Shepherded by Dramaturg Lou Cope and producer Richard Kingdom. Piloted and organised by the Dome’s (sadly for us, recently departed to Glor) theatre producer, Orla Flanagan.

Well, what a thing!

And it was quite a thing.
More immersive than I could have imagined. More intense than I bargained for. A full time job really but hard to describe exactly why. (I was also moving house at the time and juggling other work). It was challenging. Exciting. Exhilarating. Provocative. At times overwhelming. Everyone had some kind of a mini melt down moment for one reason or another. A secret sick day. But perhaps most obviously (and still hard for me to wrap my head around) the incredible,
i n c r e d i b l e privilege of it all.

Tricky moments explaining to my new partner that I’m seeing all this great art in our town, but not with him. Strange explaining to friends that I am too busy to meet because of a ‘gruelling’ four-show-a-day schedule. And looks of not quite comprehension as I reiterate that we don’t owe the Festival anything in return. No reviews. No formal feedback. No performances. Just, show up, dig in, enquire, reflect. Enjoy (or not!). All responses are valid and welcome. It is hard to imagine, isn’t it?

So here’s a little run down of it from my angle – and with it, a grain of urgency that others might be able to have this experience in the future – as in this era of austerity measures, this kind of experience is going to get increasingly rare. Most of all, enormous gratitude that it was able to happen at all…

The truth is, the experience has been so hard to quantify that I have been trying to write this piece for about 9 months on and off. It began as an attempt to review as many of the works as I could remember had some kind of impact on me – before realising that was becoming an impossibly unwieldy beast and not really what I wanted to say anyway. Gradually it has coalesced into a shorter list of works but a deeper understanding of my journey through the whole. An unpicking of why I like what I like and what that implicates for my future work.

Volger Gerling, Portraits in Motion photographed by Franz Ritschel

Many of my favourite experiences were the quiet, unassuming ones. Volger Gerling’s Portraits in Motion and Gillian Wearing’s A Room With Your Views – both resonant in humility, simplicity and quietude. Quietly hopeful. Beautifully rendered. Uncluttered. Unpretentious. Something touching on how so much of the life that is going on behind our curtains / within your camera lens, is calm, small scale and intimate – not the high drama and catastrophe that the news might have us believe. Ordinary yet profound.
People in the Congo carrying shopping.
Leaves blowing in the breeze in a hanging garden in Afghanistan.

gillian wearing Room Views _dsc9447__large

The unassuming entry point to Gillian Wearing’s Room Views, Sallis Benney.

And I am aware – not for the first time – of the tremendous privilege of being invited to look… of being free to choose to do so.
The choice, to look.
To gaze.
To bear witness.

Lou Reed’s The Drones is another case in point. Reed’s collection of guitars and amps stacked up and feeding back curated by his long time guitar tech, Stewart Hurwood. Clustered in the centre of a gutted, vaulted old church at the end of town, a fab venue called The Spire. The lights are low and shifting, the edges of the space are dissolving into shadow, roundness and uncertainty – as is the sound. It is shape shifting, immersive, psychedelic, sometimes incredibly noisy, yet also very Zen. Spacious. Minutes go by or is it hours? anderson and reed

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed photographed by Robin Townsend in 2009.

Reed is surely here in some dark corner watching over proceedings. His essence is so present. As is the physical presence of guest director Laurie Anderson and I am struck by the profound intimacy of her choice to program this work. We are invited here into a landscape that is so personal, yet also transpersonal and transcendent.

Part of what was fascinating for me about the Collidescope process was how it opened up some of the realities of programming and marketing to me. I became an ‘expert’ discerner of the copy used to describe shows. It was my brain’s way of attempting to define my ‘identity’ amidst the deluge perhaps – forgetting that often an artist is offering a paragraph of copy to a programmer a year or so before they are presenting. In some cases before they have even begun making the work! I have been in this situation as an artist, it is awful. Yet how quickly I’d forgotten!

Still House’s Of Riders And Running Horses. This was an example for me of a really successful bit of pre-show promo. Well shot. Compelling. Not over promising.

There were a few pieces I was convinced I would dislike based on the program notes. One piece called Fuga Perpetua about refugees, that I judged smacked of a kind of worthy political correctness. I decided they were probably trying to do too much at once: film / choir / orchestra / dance. Also a piece featuring Faulklands war veterans called Minefield, who’s copy instilled a kind instant torpor inside me. Again, I suspected, worthiness. I might be lectured to or told how to feel. No matter that it was created by a theatre maker whose work I had been hugely inspired by in the past. No matter. My judgement had been cast.

Sometimes my preconceptions are idiots.

More on those pieces soon.

There was another piece we were scheduled to see that I was convinced I would loathe because I had loathed it the first time I saw it. The thought of seeing it again filled me with dread. I had rarely felt so much rage at a performance, so condescended to, so bombarded by misanthropy, self-satisfied hipness and a sense that for all the velocity and intensity there was so little – jesus – content. And because, for Collidescope, attendance is compulsory – unless, you know, your appendix ruptures or something – I considered a fictional ‘dental appointment’ that afternoon. No one would miss me. I wrote ‘sickie’ into my diary and watched as the yellow dot (the holiday colour) on my online calendar swiftly approached…

One day, before the day arrived, I shared in one of the group sessions my feelings about the piece.

The group sessions are an important – I would say VITAL – part of the Collidescope experience and one I came to value above all else. It was the time we had to share with each other and our guides about the work we were experiencing together. A chance to unpack it all, also an opportunity to share a bit about our own work. Kind of like our Collidescope recovery group. We needed it. I found myself yearning for these sessions and could have done with more.

So in our ‘recovery’ session, I was surprised to learn that one of our company – whose opinions I had a lot of respect for – had enjoyed the piece in question on a previous viewing. I reflected on the fact that one of the opportunities offered by this programme was the possibility that one could rewire one’s preconceptions / challenge ones received ideas. Perhaps if I endured it a second time, I might change my opinion, learn a new perspective? I was noticing that the lens of the group altered my perceptions hugely… so who knows? The shells of judgement might fall from my eyes and I might finally behold its depth, insightful humour and humanity. I cancelled my ‘sick day’ and went in once again for the team.

I hated it.
Just as much.
More even.

Sometimes my preconceptions are not idiots at all.

However what was fascinating and a big learning in this, was that someone whose area of discipline and interest was quite similar to mine, someone whose opinion I regarded highly, could have such a polar opposite experience to me. My truth was so absolute! So uncompromising! How to hold both those truths at once inside myself? This seemed to me pivotal to what the offer of Collidescope really is and maybe even what defines true adulthood…!?

I’m not going to tell you the name of the work. Sorry. Critiquing it isn’t really the point. If you haven’t guessed it, next time you see me in person, let me bore you with it till you beg me to stop, or pretend you’ve left a pan on!

Interestingly my hands down favourite pieces were Yuval Avital & Ensemble Meitar’s Fuga Perpetua. And Lola Arias’ Mine Field. Far from politically correct, these pieces were socially and humanly engaged, also poetic, moving, resonant and relevant. They shone with a deep honouring of their subjects and morally complex subject matter. There is a lovely interview with composer / creator of Fuga Perpetua Yuval Avital here in Third Ear Magazine, if you’d like to find out more.


The cast – all ex-servicemen – of Lola Aria’s Minefield. Uncomfortable to watch for all the right reasons.

I had a sense that in both cases the artists were in service to something that was burning inside them and that they had successfully ‘erased their own traces’ from the work. ‘Erasing traces’ was a framework Guillermo had introduced to our group, that I found I referred back to lots and still do. I realised that this was something I really value in work. I want a sense that the ego of the maker is dissolved or subsumed by the greater whole.

Another artist whose work is a brightly shining example of this for me is Dan Canham (Still House). Set in a car park out of town, with a marquee, live music and fairy lights, 6 female dancers move ecstatically as the sun sets and night falls. Of Rider’s And Running Horses (see trailer video above) feels like a combination of music festival and your best friend’s wedding. Intimate, open hearted and rough around the edges. At the end we all get up and dance. We want to. We cant help it. It is a celebration of us all being here. Everyone. Together. Now.

And that, in retrospect is probably one of the greatest assets of the Collidescope experience for me; that it is collective. As someone who can be a bit of a hermit and soloist, this experience challenged that and released me from being a victim of my own control. The tyranny of my own ‘expertise’.

It is an incredibly rare resource. On the most superficial level, a smorgasbord of art for art makers to explore at no monetary cost. On a deeper level, it does something much less obvious but of much more lasting value. It builds meaningful creative networks, potential collaborations and allows space for powerful questions to emerge. Questions that can rarely be asked by the media, a busy programmer, or an artist with a looming deadline. To have the privilege of a research period that doesn’t point towards an outcome is a huge luxury as an artist. As a human. It opens up a quality of enquiry that has a very different tone than when there is a delivery date.

Some of the more powerful questions / discoveries that emerged from our time together that have influenced my thinking and I am still wrangling with are:

Who has the right to tell whose stories? (Thanks Alexandrina)
– This one refers less to the pieces mentioned here and more to some of the pieces that didn’t make it into the final edit of this blog. Sometimes there was a sense of appropriation; the sense that an artist was cashing in on a great story rather than risking a deeper enquiry. It is to do with risk taking for me and plugs in to the points below…

What are we doing if we aren’t on some level socially engaged? (Thanks Kate)
– As artists, what is our role if not to reflect back or speak to the human condition?
Science / Healing / Art Making are different frameworks, but all have enquiry and the human condition at their hearts.

It doesn’t really matter what the subject, what matters is how I approach it and with what quality. My themes are changing… like an ocean liner slowly turning around in the ocean. This is challenging, but exciting to acknowledge.

That I really prefer work where the personality of the maker isn’t the loudest voice in the room. (And / but I want to keep surprising myself).

That I love space to move with and towards work and to feel it moving inside me. In short – I L O V E space!

That it is an incredible privilege to be invited to look. To bear witness. And that it is consciousness altering to do so in a group. That I always want to be open enough to be able to feel my own response, but also respond to and hold diversity.

That it is mostly useful to forget everything I think I know!

Thank you Collidescope 2016 and all who rode in her.

Collidescope 2017 will be collecting those who will sail in her very soon – so keep an eye out for the application deadline.
Please spread the missive wide, as this year will be a GOOD ONE.

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