Stillpoint Theatre
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  • February17th

    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.

    KateSP-KT6119
    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.

    Gerling_on_stage_Foto_Franz_Ritschel-2
    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.
    Hmmm.

    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.

    minefield

    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.

  • August24th

    Yesterday our boiler broke.
    And it is unlikely much will change on that front till after next Tuesday.

    So bathing has become matter of either a rudely brisk, shreikingly invigorating shower, or a warmer, but rather more Victorian affair – whereby water is heated to boil in 7 or so slow kettles-worth over the course of almost an hour – to create a puddle of water that almost covers my legs in the bath tub.

    This process was initially frustrating – a watched pot never boils – but I began tending to other luxuries to pass the time and found something else opened up. A spaciousness. A mindfulness – a kind of ritualised, sensual and genuinely relaxing series of small pleasurable doings. A process of quietening:
    Reading – about Biocentrism – another pot
    A bit of quiet cleaning – another pot
    Preparing candle light. About ten candles – another pot
    Magnesium flakes, organic coconut oil and fresh lavender – another pot etc etc

    And finally, after almost an hour, and much walking up and down stairs with steaming kettles, i am ready to take my bath.

    I think about the idea of ki/chi being about the creation of space.
    I also think about how in our culture ‘relaxing‘ is sold to us. Something you do. An activity. Almost a task. Something you cram in between bursts of crippling busy-ness. Certainly something you can buy. A commodity. Put it on your credit card and make someone else do it for you / to you.

    Where as tonight it occurred to me that it is a process rather than an end point: a process of undoing.

    Happy, soft and nurtured body. Quiet mind.

    I think it is one of the best baths I’ve ever had in my life.
    And it was as much because of the ritual that held and supported it – made it possible – than the thing itself.

    Of course, not everyone might have time for an hour long bathing ritual, but it is sometimes out of necessary constraints we re-discover these things.

    And i am reminded that just grabbing for the thing, free from the context of how it is made – the quick fix – the fast food – the orgasm – the high – the cling-filmed chicken breast on the supermarket shelf – doesn’t earth the experience inside us. Grabbing something free from the mindfulness of how it is created, may give us a mainlined short term hit, but doesn’t nurture us deeply, or truffle out its full rich deliciousness. Doesn’t connect us as deeply to the lived experience of it, because the lived experience of it is also the process of it.

    And I think about all these contemporary disorders of attention and personality, the epidemic levels of depression and self loathing in our culture and how this must surely have something to do with it. Bingeing. Compulsion. Addiction. Anything with the word ‘bootcamp’ in the title.

    I think about meditation and how impatient i have been sometimes to arrive at a place of ‘inner peace’ before I have even taken a moment to follow what ever this thing is that is happening now – or sit quietly for a moment and notice my breathing.
    To breathe in.
    To breathe out.
    I’ve paid my money, where’s my goddamn inner peace?!!

    This idea that we can BUY our wellbeing with out needing to change anything about the HOW, when how we are BEING and DOING in the world, is quietly killing us.

    My little bath experience – whilst at first a torture, became eventually a part of what i am learning about relaxation generally. Being impossible to do any quicker, there was a forced surrender (but i don’t have time for this!!) a forced surrender in me. An acceptance of defeat. A letting go. Then the whole thing became about the practice of doing of the thing rather than the end result of the thing itself – and through this it gave me more than what i hoped for. It became a present moment practice.

    So, although i may need to be forced into it, relaxation it seems, takes application. It will probably feel uncomfortable at first – even arduous if you are used to a quick fix. But it is a practice. And to have a practice, I have recently come to learn, takes practice. In this adrenalised, high octane, results-obsessed world we live in, it really really does.

    For the ultimate relaxing bath please try:
    – magnesium flakes: muscle tonic and soft tissue relaxant.
    – fresh lavender: antiseptic, anti inflammatory, soothing, calming
    – coconut oil: antimicrobial, moisturising, gorgeous for the skin

    Hang out in there till your fingers go crinkly.
    Notice how your breath moves in an out all by itself.
    What a miracle.

    Enjoy.
    xx

  • June9th

    There is a tale – perhaps apocryphal – of a man who had lived in cities his whole life and took up a challenge to live in the desert alone for a brief time. Just him, a tent and a fire, no buildings, no cars and not a single living human soul within shouting distance.

    rainbow-valley-1-of-1-2-2

    Apparently with in 48 hours, he had lost his mind.

    Chaos.

    We spend much of our lives desperate to reign it in, manage it, wrangle it, train it out of ourselves, our children. But it will get you in the end. ignore it long enough and it will run rampant. Burst forth through your well managed edges. Trimmed hedges. Entropy is an inescapable fact, death comes to our bodies – and knowing that; being able to regulate our response to that to a certain extent – metacognition- is perhaps the biggest blessing and curse of our species.

    So we build elaborate structures to minimise risk – insurance policies; traffic lights, exoskeletons to sheath our hairless, vulnerable bodies; safe jobs with assured income and holiday pay; concrete buildings, shiny metal cars, planes that carve up air-space, space stations that carve up space-space; we make art and science to try and make sense of it all in metaphor and double blind trials. We draw diagrams and write books explaining it in ever increasing patterns of complexity.

    But still,

    chaos.

    We do a pretty good job of managing it I would say. So good, that by the time we get to adulthood, most people are so out of practice, that the mere prospect of expressing something creative and spontaneous in front of an audience of some kind, is mortifying. In fact, kind of literally. There is a freezing up. A terror that is utterly real, but totally disproportionate to the actual risk involved. Mmmm. That’s right, you are just being asked to read a poem at my wedding and yet, your response is not dissimilar physiologically to how you might react if you were about to be attacked by a lion!!

    No lions.

    Just an audience.

    Not even an audience of lions.

    Just your colleagues.

    Worse!

    Or your family and friends!!

    Worse still!!!

    This is where improvisation is good medicine for our species. It helps us to break down some of that over-structuring bollocks that dominates us and has us cut off at the bollocks – or is it the throat? Probably both.

    But like the guy in the desert, we have to ease ourselves back into chaos gently, so as not to, you know, blow a valve of some sort. Chaos is all very well, but we seem to need structures to be able to cope with it in small chunks, or we very quickly unravel. We are delicate creatures really.

    Being pushed through a lot of formal education as a child, (for which I am very grateful) – classical music, classical ballet, then an ill-thought through university degree straight out of high school to study something I really wasn’t very into for three years, ending with a degree that said to the world – what the did it say?- uhhhhm – that i’d been a obedient girl for fifteen years of full time institutionalised learning and hadn’t quite grown the courage to let the chaos in just a little bit and follow my wilder yearnings and deeper path.

    A few years later i went to acting school which started to make more sense. But things only really started to get interesting for me as an artist, when I started to decompose some of that formal education. Digest it. Fuck with it. Compost it all down into small enough bits that out of the newly formed mush I could begin to build my own shapes.

    We like to imagine- or we are sold the notion that what we are chasing is the experience of ultimate freedom. Anything you like, when ever you want, for as long as you want it.

    So, get on stage, now, and make up a performance of some kind, with no preparation at all – about anything you like –

    It can be about anything.

    Anything you like.

    About anything.

    Everything! (if you want)

    What ever you want.

    Anything you like.

    All you can eat

    Anything.

    GO.

    and probably your imagination shuts down completely and you have some low level (or high voltage) panic that you cant think of anything at all and have no idea where to start.

    Having all the options is the worst kind of heaven in the world!

    To begin, we need a specific clue. Something to reign in the scope of the terrifying abyss. Something to trip us up into the here and now. Our brains are so blessedly relieved to have specifics. It can be a simple noun, or something more delicate, a simile perhaps, an image – the implication of a specific – to engage our creative imaginations – to enable us into action:

    ‘All you can eat – with a teaspoon, with no one noticing’

    or

    ‘all you can eat – like a wolf who cant help themselves.’ suddenly there is a playground for the imagination. Blessed relief.

    Recently I have been thinking about how when people start out learning improvisation, they are introduced to the non negotiable benefits of listening, agreement and commitment. These are described as the only ‘rules’ or ‘guidelines’ to the beginner. And they are superb guidelines – essential! A mantra! and excellent practice for all aspects of life and relationship! – but it is also not the full picture… the other rules beginners are taught – and it is less visible and less kind of, well, sexy – are structures that limit creative opportunity and focus the imagination on very tightly managed, palatable quantities of chaos. The Alphabet Game. (Each new line begins with the next letter of the alphabet). Shift Left. New Choice. Games where the rules of engagement are so narrow and specific that the limits of the imaginative playing field are very comfortably restricted. The shallow end of the pool with floaties on. The railway tracks – the games – will always pull you back if you venture too far off into no mans land. You cant really go wrong. you won’t ever lose the plot, but you will certainly loosen up a little.

    This is good.

    In two-provisation – or ‘2-prov’ as it is known in the hood – (the hood in this case being North America, the land from which the most refined practitioners of this art-form in my limited knowlege, seem to hail – I can feel some Canadians bristling and some hot heads in the European Union getting tetchy- but its my blog guys, so, back off!… yes, the collegiate-frat-jargon-factor is pretty difficult to stomach for some and can put off the uninitiated – but unfortunately for you, cultural aesthetics make no difference – because from now on, you can only SAY YES!!!) – in, ahem, 2-prov, or the kind i practice at least, the only structure you have is your relationship with the other actor, your imagination and the ever unfolding present. Thats it really. That and your shared relationship with the audience.

    I love that. I love the nakedness and vulnerability of that. I love that the training wheels are off and you are trusting each other to dance with chaos a bit more. There are no obvious railway tracks, just the structures inherent in nature itself. Our natures. Suddenly you can take flight into a slice of human life reflected through the frame of some shared hours in a theatre. Suddenly improvisation can be about the human condition and life itself… our struggle to manage chaos, for example.

    2-prov is creeping us ever closer to the void. Though still humanoid and in satisfyingly bite sized chunks. It is my improv medicine. I wonder which is yours?

    Obviously it helps if your 2-prov partner is Katy Schutte. Katy is one of the most skilled technicians I know. Incredibly adaptive, magical, receptive, sharp, satisfyingly decisive and happy to be an idiot – sometimes all at the same time. What a gal!! My improv wife. She is the flood-banks to my louche, fluid, animal, chaos, sensate, river thing. I know I will always be caught by her. I know I will catch her in which ever way she throws herself at me. That is unceasingly beautiful. And that’s it really.

    And Love.

    Because if love isn’t in it, you’re in the wrong game.

    Go away and don’t come back till you can bring some of that shit.

    Seriously.

    Choose the right improvisation partner and you are no longer just a loner going mad in the desert.

    There are two of you. You’ve got this other girl / guy.

    And she’s got you.

    You don’t need the city,

    You need each other.

    You are all there is,

    (and maybe a tent and a fire and some stars in the distance)

    it is what you are made of that is creating the material

    and the third thing, the magical, ever unfolding present.

    so you’d better get on with it.

    Get on with it!!

    Time won’t wait!!

    GO!

    Images:

    Rainbow Valley. Central Australian desert, by Elizabeth Barnes.

    Melt, Stone sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

  • May3rd

    Last night was one of the edgiest times I’ve ever had in a theatre. I am still processing it but feel the need to write about it even as I am as yet unsure how to approach it with words.

    It was the final London performance of a play I’m in called The Bombing of the Grand Hotel. It is the story of the relationship that developed between Pat Magee and Jo Berry. Pat is the IRA operative who planted the bomb and Jo is the daughter of a Tory MP who was killed in the blast. It is set against a back ground of Thatcherism, the Irish/British conflict and traverses the late 70’s through to the present day. ultimately it is about two people finding a path towards reconciliation against incredible odds. Both protagonists are still living and the events are current enough to stir up very fresh feelings in the audience.

    It is a play that elicits strong emotions – it is triggery material – and I think does an admirable job of digging into the moral complexity and nuance of the subject – the human cost and causes of politically motivated violence and the path towards healing – with out lapsing into sentiment, polemic, easy answers or didacticism. It has been written by Josie Melia and Julie Everton and knocked into shape by the tireless Paul Hodson and Emma Roberts and the dedicated cast. Pat is exquisitely rendered by Ruairi Conaghan and the rest of the cast are utterly – just utterly – incredible. Aoife McMahon, Paul Mundell, Glenn Speers and Beth Fitzgerald. There is a lot of care in the room and a LOT of commitment to the intentions of the piece.

    I play Jo.

    Jo Berry and I after one of the London shows in spectrum matching jumpers.

    Jo Berry and I after one of the London shows in spectrum matching jumpers.

    Last night there was someone in the audience for whom my character very tangibly represented the enemy. I felt it immediately, as soon as I walked onstage, before anything was said or i saw who it was or how many there were. i just felt it as a hostile force to my right. And whilst the animal in me felt threatened, the watching part began rifling through possible worst case scenarios and exit strategies. The hostility was so tangible I wondered if he might try getting up to hit me. Even if he might have a gun or some other kind of weapon. I had no way of gauging if these were over reactions because i couldn’t look at him. The threat was clear and present.

    He was pissed up, looking for a fight, goaded on by the women he was with, stupid, violent and pointing it all towards me – or what I appeared to represent to him. I felt extremely vulnerable and initially was very thrown by it.

    There is a certain amount of entrapment as an actor. For the next hour and a half I am tied to this particularly awful railway track – A Tory daughter utterly dismembered by grief, being verbally abused by someone who hates me – And there is no getting out of it. I am trapped by the fucking forth wall, the story arc and the character trajectory – I am held to ransom by my own character.

    He said some truly horrible things. In a sequence about Jo’s pregnancies he was muttering – ‘breeding like a horse’. ‘Tory whore’ and other things. It was hard core. When Pat Magee is shown a body of a decapitated woman and turns his eyes away, he shouted ‘good man Pat’ and again when the word ‘conflict’ was mentioned, punching the air and shouting ‘yeah’ when the bomb went off. It was fucking intense. I felt extremely unsafe.

    I might normally have been better at protecting myself – in my thoughts – but I’d had a tough week. I’d been rehearsing another show each day and performing this one every night. Putting in 12 – 14 hour days and not getting time to eat properly or sleep enough. By the time the 2 shows on Saturday hit I was a bit shaky anyway and broken by exhaustion. So my defences were low. I hate aggression. I hate it. the emotional kind, the physical kind, all kinds. to me or to someone else. It hurts me. It hurts my heart. It is like an allergy. It hurts me to see it done to another, hurts me to experience myself exacting it on someone. We are all capable of it somewhere. It literally hurts. if it happens to another, especially if i am emotionally close to them, it rips through my body as if it was happening to me. I am so weirdly physically empathic it has caused me all sorts of problems in life. I can feel how people are wired on the inside sometimes. It isn’t voluntary. it just happens to me. It is a physical experience. Thankfully science has caught up with it now and there are all sorts of synesthesias that can help describe it. I am no longer simply ‘over sensitive’ I have a thing i can point at with charts and everything. It helps. Great for acting. Shit for having a quiet life. I have to go and have time alone just to tune out of all the kinaesthetic emotional racket!!!

    Needless to say, we, the cast, were all taken off guard and in the interval we had a discussion with the stage manager about whether we should boot him out or not. we decided that no, he should be allowed to stay because if he decided to come back for the second half at all, the point of the play – some of the more hard hitting material around empathy and listening – might begin to kick in for him (or not as it turned out!) But either way, it might be an opportunity to test the metal of the content. we all agreed that the fact that this guy had found his way into a theatre at all was kind of miraculous and that we weren’t just speaking to the Guardian readership liberal theatre middle classes. (my god, how often are we preaching to the converted?!!!) The fact that he had come at all was testament to the impact of the material. And we attacked the second half with a stronger sense of commitment and support of each other in the face of this aggressive edge. I felt tremendous rallying and encouragement and LOVE from the creative team & suddenly a way through felt possible again.

    In the second half he was just as, if not more, obnoxious and he’d had more beer. but aspects of the play leapt to life inside us – as if it’s purpose or intent had been ignited in some bespoke way. Swathes of it felt like it was pointing directly at him. For him. His presence was this acute amplification device…

    Jo: I didn’t want to be a casualty of my anger. If I was still angry, the only person I would be hurting would be myself you know and I would be stuck. I would be closed down. My heart would be shut. I could feel that. And I would have lost out.
    For me it became a clear choice – do I blame an enemy? And live with that. And the consequences of that. Which would have meant that/

    Pat: yes that. exactly that.

    Jo: / my heart would have closed down and I would have suffered more…
    Or do look at letting go of blame, looking at the causes with in myself, my group, my tribe, where I come from and try to, try to heal that?

    ……

    At the same time there was someone in the audience, a different person, who was very emotionally and vocally responsive to Jo’s pain, clearly a victim of violence of some kind. so there was this whole other bespoke amplification going on.

    Jo: We need to provide a safe environment for pain like that to be heard. It doesn’t get any easier, but it is essential that we keep trying.

    The play chimed in a whole new way.

    Afterwards there were many intense hugs between the cast members for having gotten through it. It felt like we’d survived something dangerous. In the bar I drank a glass of wine in a way which was definitely medicating – a practice I normally have a strict rule with myself about- and I had to find a way to have proper conversations with people even though my identity was leaking out of the hole in the back of my head and my skin was in a crumpled heap on the floor.

    Early rehearsals. Ruairi Conaghan looking knackered, Aoife McMahon looking on and me doing some kind of pointing acting.

    Early rehearsals. Ruairi Conaghan looking knackered, Aoife McMahon looking on and me imagining something between my thumb and forefinger, obviously.

    And everyone was talking about how electric it had been. People wanted to come up and share their stories. A few asked if that guy had been a plant. I still didn’t have any skin on.

    He was still there in the foyer. With his back to me, but with all his etheric attention piercing through his back towards me. Eventually he singled me out to speak to me. I didn’t feel resistant or scared by him at this point and was surprised to find I had energy for it. Like Jo does with Pat in the play, i wanted to meet the human being behind the ideologue. There was also a kind of anthropological fascination with how he arrived at this person he was being and a wonder at what had shifted in him. Because his energy had definitely shifted. Perhaps by the play. Perhaps by the other audience member’s response. I don’t know, but I could feel his violence had ebbed away. He seemed smaller. A bit confused. I found I could be present with him. I felt there was something in this encounter of a kind of living experience of the subject matter. He was trying to be sensitive.

    Aoife McMahon came up – feisty, protective, clear hearted and brave and said to him
    ‘do you realise that you hurt this woman?
    Him: No I didn’t. She’s alright, aren’t you?
    Me: I found it very hard actually. Some of the things you said did hurt, yes
    Him: I didn’t… I didn’t really though…did I?

    (more confusion and unfinished sentences).
    he kept stumbling on. he wanted me to know he’d been in the IRA – (98% bollocks) that i had no idea what he had been through (98% likely). He was looking for leverage. I could see him calibrating in some remote part of himself that I am Australian. That i was being kind and listening. That 4 of the cast are Irish, three of them from the North. That they all have history. That we all, each of us have history. Each of us have some semblance of blood on our hands. every single one of us. NOW, how do we get on with the business of loving?

    Some part of me didn’t have the energy to leave. If i’d more skin on, i would have done.

    A sandwich short of a picnic maybe, but I feel sure he took something tangible away from the experience of last night. some seed sprouted deep with in his walls of belligerent resistance.
    He definitely took something away…
    I’m just trying to work out if part of what he took away was some invisible bit of me.

    Eventually Aoife pulled me away to be with the others. I felt grateful.

    Anyway.
    Theatre eh?
    Phew.

    The over riding thing i came away with is to do with listening and love and how listening with openness and making space in yourself for another’s story can change the anatomy of things. Also how being too open at the wrong moment can make you very vulnerable to the poisoned darts of wounded idiots.
    And kindness.
    Kindness.
    Can there ever be enough of it?
    Kindness and tenderness.
    Oh man.
    Gentleness and kindness.
    Kindness in the heart.
    Courage to find kindness in the heart
    And if you can’t be kind, be tolerant.
    And if you can’t be tolerant, just walk away.
    And if you are under attack..? then what?
    I don’t know but just not violence.
    Not violence.
    Please not that.

    And theatre. That it can still be so LIVE – ALIVE – ESSENTIAL like this. And Meryl Streep being interviewed about her part in August Osage County and saying she has grown very weary of being asked to dip into the well of pain again and again. And how as actors we are these antenna – kind of portals – amplifiers of the human experience, human pain. Acrobats of the heart. And how that requires a certain access and vulnerability that most people take for granted. Even those that are hiring them, or loving them. That kind of access becomes a currency. That the idea of being a window pane and getting self out of the way is a wonderful practice, and how sometimes you also need a very defined self on board or it is dangerous.

    And yet I wonder what the point of doing it at all is if we are not stirring something essential and urgent in us up. If there isn’t some element of species recognition that happens as a result of the live transference, if not, then what are we doing really? If there isn’t some movement. Real movement. Internal movement. Then what’s the point? In this sense in a very real way, last night was indeed electric. but I do wonder at the cost. For me there were some uncomfortable lines crossed and i guess I’ll just get better at dealing with that in the future. It will be a muscle i develop more strength in through use. Still, kindness.

    So more questions than answers.
    And i might be too tired to be making much sense.

    Before i have too much time to think
    Tomorrow. Back at it.
    Now. Bed.

    For more on Jo Berry and Pat Magee’s extraordinary work on peace and reconciliation, go to Building Bridges for Peace

    To see the play – there are 3 shows left in Brighton next week. The 6th, the 7th & the 9th of May at the Warren. Tickets nearly gone apparently.

    PEACE

  • July26th

    Revisiting Moon Project and consequent ruminations on the anatomy of Trauma and Memory – riffing out from a moment in earth-time that occurred this morning.

    The Unseen Corners of My Eyes

    Today there has been a leak
    From several selves ago
    For no particular reason –
    Something to do with how the light fell on my hand as it wiped the sink this morning
    (My dog would bark at tall men wearing hats)
    And I am face-planted, BAM, into memory carnage;
    Quicksand primordial
    And fathomless deep.

    From as early as I can remember,
    My strategy for avoiding Crushing Disappointment has been
    To be somewhere else
    Doing something else
    Every time.
    Somewhere (anywhere)
    Doing something (anything)
    Immediately.
    Ideally, at the speed of light:

    If I am somewhere else,
    maybe it didn’t really happen;
    I was never really there –
    Or maybe I am someone else entirely,
    And it never really happened to me at all.

    Mostly this has been Highly Effective:
    I have developed prey-species alertness to changes of tone and temperature,
    An earnest regimen of self care,
    Even a kind of Vertical Lift Off Device,
    That, well handled, means pain can mainline through me and I barely feel a thing.
    A kind of going limp, whilst the spirit departs;
    A disappearance and total surrender.
    Then, you can, you know, do what you like to me.
    I am elsewhere –
    Awaiting, quietly, a climate less hostile.

    But sometimes it leaks back in:
    Trickles down across the zigzagging fault-line of lifetimes
    Siphons in sideways via the unseen corners of my eyes.
    Pools in the root behind my head,
    Threads down my vertebrae
    Infuses, cold and alien, into my networks,
    Prises apart my chest cavity,
    Rips open the holes in my face,
    And vivisects me, gut-first, into the the full, brutal experience of it.

    Today there has been just such a leak
    Utterly unexpected.
    From several selves ago.
    For no particular reason –
    Something to do with how the light fell on my hand as it wiped the sink this morning
    Some reptilian synaptic causeway reaching its certain conclusion –
    (My dog would bark at tall men wearing hats)
    And the foundations of my non-evidence-based-practise of Hope,
    Are handfuls of dust upon shifting sands.

  • May29th

    This year, because money was tight and I happened to have May to myself, I decided to offer my services as a reviewer. It seemed to be the only way I could afford to engage with a deliciously large chunk of the Brighton Festival and Fringe programme and not go further into the red. The irony being that to be ‘involved in the arts’ means one so rarely has the time and money in the same place, in a way that facilitates being ‘involved in the arts’. I also thought it would be an interesting personal challenge to put thoughts and feelings on paper about other artists’ practises in a way that might open up debate.

    *

    William Forsythe,
    Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time No.2.
    Brighton Festival 2014.

    *

    Hmmmm
    I saw some amazing work. Some worryingly awful work. I saw quite a lot of ok ambitious work that didn’t quite cut the mustard (for me). Also some deliciously lo-fi pieces that were messy but brilliant; Jane Bom-Bane’s Long Lost River Song and Red Herring‘s Funny Peculiar tour, were just such things. Also, the marvellously rough hewn George Egg’s Anarchist Cook show at Upstairs Three and Ten. Some of my favourite pieces were the free installations and the outdoor works that encouraged us to notice and participate in natural choreographies. Charlotte Spencer Project’s Walking Stories was a beautiful experience of this, as was the William Forsythe piece posted above. Jacob Dahlgren’s installation (see below) was another an invitation to physical play.

    *

    On Balance.
    Jacob Dahlgren
    Fabrica,
    Brighton Festival

    *

    I loved that we had a Spiegeltent in town again. A festival hub and a delightfully Brighton-centric lucky dip of a programme.

    And reviewing was tough.
    Much tougher than I’d imagined.
    Anyone who thinks it is as easy as a free ticket and a few words on a page should try it some time!!
    Perhaps it is a bit like the tantalising promise of an open relationship, v/s the emotional chaos it forces you to wrangle with in reality.
    I don’t know, I haven’t tried polyamory, so I am likely talking out of my arse.

    Anyway, a bit like polyamory, I could anticipate there might be some pitfalls.
    And some weren’t immediately obvious:

    1. Shitting in one’s own bed
    For obvious reasons, I was careful to avoid reviewing friends’ work – the few exceptions were when no other reviewer had picked it up and / or when I felt safe I would very likely love it. My other tactic was to try to focus on areas that weren’t obviously my professional forte – dance, music, outdoor work etc. The problem there turned out to be that I ended up with little time spare to see stuff made by my friends and work closer to my own influences.

    By way of example, I was down to review a friend’s dance piece at the Dome. I suspected I would love the work. No one else on the team had picked it up, so I grabbed the chance. Then, I ran into the artist the night before his show. He expressed concern that the Festival had moved them into a different venue last minute and that the show wouldn’t translate. I quickly gave the job to someone else and paid for a ticket instead. I didn’t want to risk seeing the show when it wasn’t as he’d hoped. As it turned out, I adored it, but it was a wise move and one I didn’t regret.

    2. ‘Online, you are only ever 3 comments away from being Hitler’.
    A friend of mine who used to work in the marketing department of Second Life, mentioned this quote to me when i was trying to explain my reviewing dilemma. It basically means that because of the sensorially anorexic, binary nature of the online medium, your comments mostly read more loudly than intended, no matter how they are nuanced in your head. Something mildly critical can read like a ten tonne truck of opinion crashing into your front room. So comments like ‘the worst thing I have ever seen on stage’ or ‘that actor was so irritating I wanted to kill her’, free of tonal and contextual information, reads like the opinion-equivalent of a cluster bomb. In conversation, with eye contact and context, it would be a completely different experience.

    Also, artists are such sensitive creatures. We are kind of by necessity, I think. I am vulnerable to a negative criticism – no matter what my brass, it stings a bit. I can get a million compliments and the one negative criticism will throw me into the kind of self-punishing navel-gaze-fest that would bore the tits off a half dead camel.

    (Don’t think about the camel thing for too long.)

    Other artists made of stronger stuff might just let it go and the best and worst amongst us, might simply say ‘fuck you!’. Well, ‘fuck me!’ in this case. Ouch!

    *

    Here’s a picture of a cute baby to distract you from my terrible camel analogy.

    *

    Ah, that’s better, isn’t it?!
    Great!
    So I wanted to be sensitive to all that.

    3. Being honest, really honest in public, is tough, goddamn it.
    It takes courage, gut instinct and heart muscle. It also requires tact, discretion and compassion. I wasn’t confident I was going to be able to deliver on all those fronts. I don’t know if I even came close. I decided to try and approach everything with love and be honest with myself. And… I was met with the hall of mirrors realisation that my honesty is so deeply subjective, that it can only ever hope to speak to a tiny portion of people’s experience. It is a case of rinsing it through and rinsing it through and getting as clear as I can. Trying not to get lost in a hall of mirrors existential crisis. Sooo different to the world of metaphor, symbol and ‘what if…?’.

    4. Opinions are like arse-holes; everyone’s got one.
    I wasn’t fully prepared for this one. I mean I know that opinions are as diverse as fingerprints. I also know that people like to agree and sometimes they like to disagree; mostly we want to be liked or respected, or controversial, or what ever other motivation might be going on. My meditation practice teaches me that as long as we are debating who is right and who is wrong, then both of us are losing. How do I stay open to influence, whilst also staying true? Yeah, yeah, all of that and yet… and yet, I was being asked to deliver An Opinion. Put my ‘cock on the block’ as it were. What I hadn’t anticipated was the realisation that I didn’t care enough about my own opinions at the end of the day, to have them clanging around the virtual universe like so much more cognitive ballast. It is the fixed nature of it I struggle with; the way it masquerades as authority – a fixed, unquestioning thing. It goes against one of the things I think theatre does best – reflecting on moral complexity and the ever changing nature of experience.

    So all this leads me to the suspicion that:

    5. Being a practitioner and a reviewer is a bit of a dysfunctional marriage.
    Even though we artists are qualified for the partnership in a certain kind of way, there is something in our (my) temperament that makes us a bit of a liability. It is like our value systems don’t line up. Perhaps it is a left brain right brain thing. Perhaps it is about singularity or linearity v/s a kind of gestalt complexity. Or maybe it is about opinion being so much less interesting to me than wondering.

    Or maybe I just can’t bloody settle.

    What ever it is, this experience has taught me tremendous respect for people who can do this job and do it excellently. It is a complex, difficult and delicate thing, requiring huge tenacity and great sensitivity, most of which I’d be very surprised if I even came close to getting half right. We need good critical discourse. We need to engage with what other people think, especially people who are dedicated to the practice of such a thing. I think of all the free online publications out there using student writers in exchange for free tickets and wonder how much value they are contributing to the cultural landscape they are feeding from… but that’s a whole new post…

    This process has highlighted to me how much I love the shadows and the cracks and the uncertain places; the ambiguous, the fluid, the not knowing and the continually emerging places. As a creator, this is where I love to hang out. And yet for a crack or shadow to exist we need the solid objects that cast it / create it. To play in the space between structures, we first require structure. Learn the technique – throw it away.

    But I digress.

    Here’s to our excellent cultural commentators and to healthy open ended critical discourse!!

    *

    Red Herring Productions, Funny Peculiar Brighton Fringe Festival 2014

  • April12th

    I have been thinking about bones and belonging. About the earliest imprints that connect us to a sense place – to a sense of where we are from. I wonder how arbitrary it is or to what extent we can choose it. What is it that gives a place a sense of resonance and meaning? Is it love? Is it diversity and richness of experience? Is it community? History? Loss? Or is it simply the experience of having lived? Is there a sense in which we leave and / or grow parts of ourselves in every place our lives brush up against? I have lived places where I feel I have left very little of myself.
    England is not such a place.

    I don’t often write about Australia. But I am recently returned from a six week visit there. Partly work, partly pleasure. Mostly to meet the newest tiny addition to our family and spend some time with my people out there. Australia is my birth place and I have always imagined my bones will return there somehow… either by intention or default.

    For me it feels less to do with people (I have a wonderful rambling crew out there) and more to do with a kind of animal response to the natural environment. Heat – yes – but i have visited many hot countries and that is not it.

    It has to do with an expanse of space. A bigness of sky. The highness of it. A dryness to the heat. The clean, penetrating lines that carve up vast swathes of landscape. Ocean, beach. Land, sky. The inconceivable distances. It has to do with a quality in the air and a kind of subliminal, ambient scent, that may well be gumtrees, though i am not too sure. A quality of light…. It is mostly unconscious. Sub-rational. It does something to my cells and my skin. It feels like it does something to my skeleton. Is this even possible?!! And it provokes a sensation of unfurling in me. A cracking open of deep things I hadn’t even realised were in any way closed. An opening of the body and spirit. And it is a sense of returning to a place my body quite simply recognises as a kind of mother. Not happiness – i think happiness is different and can be carried with you as a default practise or framework, anywhere – but more a feeling of being amplified by an environment that is part of you somehow.

    I like to perpetuate mystical notions that it is inherent in generations, genomes and cellular structures. That the 5 generations of Australians on my Mothers side – right back to the gnarly Scotsman who was caught redhanded, one blustery night, stealing a sheep and was sent there for life – has rubbed off on my DNA somehow. Yet my father was born in England so I am genetically half this too, so…

    And is it just that everyone enjoys heat and light?
    No. Not so.

    When I first moved here I collected a pale skinned English man. We lived together for a while in Brighton, then I bought him far south, via cramped economy seating to introduce him to my Australian family. His initial curiosity was eclipsed by ambivalence when he met with the wall of heat and quickly descended into resentment and – well – trauma, as he experienced what i can only describe as some kind of acute and bespoke, personal walpurgisnacht. He complained relentlessly about the heat, contracted every possible tropical skin rash, became a smorgasbord for hungry mosquitos (whilst I slept on beside him, oblivious) and was in such flabbergasted disbelief at the casual proximity of life threatening nature, he would talk about it loudly and often: ‘Its not, ‘Hi I am a spider’, but, ‘HELLO, I AM A FUCKING SPIDER!!!’ What the fuck is wrong with this country??!’

    One day, towards the end of our trip, he made the mistake of covering himself in coconut oil and lying in the midday sun for an hour… oh dear. In school, when i was growing up, it was drummed into us to avoid the sun at midday altogether and if you had to do it, wear a hat, a t-shirt and high protection suncream. I told him all this, but despite my warnings he went ahead. He emerged with blisters so ferocious he couldn’t wear a t-shirt or put his arms down by his sides for 3 days.

    Essentially he had fried himself.
    I’m afraid I laughed. Which made it worse.
    He spent the rest of the trip indoors in the dark with the door closed.
    (That might be a slight exaggeration, but that’s how it felt. I think I probably spend Januarys in England doing a similar thing, but curled up near a heat source, watching Game of Thrones re-runs or some other bollocks)
    The relationship ended shortly afterwards.

    No. Heat isn’t for everyone.

    And then I return here to England and am greeted by the close, low hanging, damp blanket that always seems to envelope Heathrow, even, mysteriously, in the summer(?). I try to hold onto the openness, bring it, practice it, but eventually it leaks away. It feels like it works against the intrinsic nature of the place somehow.

    But there is a lot I have learnt to love and respect about this place. I’ve learned to love the hard won intimacy and loyalty that grows amongst friends over time. It is grittier and well, just different. One glorious thing about England are its seasons. How hungry I become for light come March and how everyone breaks open so beautifully with the return of the sun. How precious the winter solstice becomes. How fragile the light is in winter. How suddenly a fire and snuggling up feels like soul food. The smell of leaves in Autumn. The feel of the grass in summer. The changes of season here feel more rich in symbolism and steeped in myth. Anglo-Celtic myth. A bit of Norse. Pagan.

    Australia has myths that run far deeper and far more ancient than its thin veneer of European-ness can begin to penetrate. When I was growing up our (white) education was still turned with such expectant, delusional optimistism towards Europe. We were reading Dickens and eating hot plum pudding at Christmas time, whilst someone’s Dad was sweating buckets, dressed as a shit, culturally displaced Santa Clause. In retrospect it was the most anomalous thing in the world. It is changing now. Christmases are about BBQ’ed fish, fresh salads and swimwear. Our cultural gaze is turning towards our own myths for meaning. I like to think – towards the dark heart of our colonial past. Towards the indigenous roots of the land – but I may just be expressing hope here. Certainly towards the emerging sense of what we might all, collectively be.

    Images: Gum Tree by me, Melbourne.
    Kathy Klein, Flower Mandala by Kathy Klein

  • November13th

    Playtexts are now available! Fresh from the printers at Playdead Press.
    mmmm





  • September16th

    Making a new piece of work always feels like starting at the very beginning again. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I’ve done it before, or how many lessons I’ve learnt previously. It is always tough, always scary and always new. In a way, I’m grateful for this. I suspect that if it was suddenly a walk in the park, it’d be time to pack it in. Not because of some kind of there-is-no-gain-without-suffering work ethic, but because I don’t ever want to take what I do for granted. Making it new each time means I can stay in surprise and wonder, which I sense is vital. Admitting I dont know and then being open to what I might find, is one of the most creative and playful places to begin.

    I went to Brighton’s mighty Catalyst Club on Thursday night and amongst the brilliantly eclectic mix of topics (ranging from Autism to terrible knitting), I was struck by something in one of the talks. The late – great – chief of mischief, Ken Campbell was quoted as saying that it is far more interesting to suppose about something than to believe in it. It occurred to me that as artists it is our job to suppose about things in a visible/tangible public way. And that by supposing (rather than believing), we are not seeking the answer to a question, or the solution to a problem, but rather, finding a form to open up or invite in the supposing of a thing in the experience of an audience.

    So we have come to the end of our second development week of Moon Project and the date of our first preview approaches at an alarming rate.

    Week 1
    At the brilliant Nightingale Theatre. An enormous brain dump of nearly a year and half of ruminations and research and an attempt to fight it into some rough shape or other. Fragile fragments of script, scene beginnings, supposings and the beginnings of a movement vocabulary. Our heads hurt.

    A huge part of week one was working out not just the what, but the how, because in devising, roles need to be defined and redefined each day, sometimes even more often than that! Our heads hurt.

    The other performer, Jules Munns and I work well together. We have a boisterous physicality that reminds me of the combative play I used to have with my brothers as children. He is robust enough to be able to catch me if I hurl myself at him and a playful banter makes things smooth and quick creatively. He is also a deft and sensitive actor and generous creative mind. He is patient with my multiple hat wearing and surfs with the twists and turns of the process.

    Director Paul Hodson, warm, insightful and with a weight of experience behind his words, drops into the last few hours of each day to see what Jules and I have been brewing. He brings welcome structure and asks the questions we don’t think to ask ourselves. I scurry home each night to attend to writing and the endless barrage of administrative duties. Emma Roberts our brilliant Movement Director turns up on the final day for some early investigations. Photographer Greg Allum arrives and quietly snaps some process shots from the corners (which are included here).

    Week 2
    We decamp to Reading South Street where we are pencilled in to do a showing on the Wednesday night. Genius Emma Roberts takes a day with us where she discovers what are very likely to be the opening moments of the show and a gateway into the expositional bits of the character’s back stories. With Emma, we also start to build other core segments of the emerging anatomy.

    Second day Paul Hodson turns up and we begin to thread pieces of narrative together for the showing the next night. South Street’s amazing technician Adrian helps us cobble together a sound design on the hop and has the extraordinary – almost super human – ability, to appear the moment we think we may need something. Lights suddenly appear in the places we are talking about while we are still in the middle of discussing them. Truly amazing. He says it is the thing he loves most about his job.

    Day three, we are nervous about the showing that night, but have a clear plan of attack from the end of the day before. For better or for worse, Jules and I have come home late from a gig in London the night before. Jules runs a venue called The Nursery who host a lot of improv events and this night was not to be missed in both our calendars. The knock on effect being not quite enough sleep and not quite enough time. But there is never enough time.

    Our wonderful wonderful, clear minded and energetic producer, Beccy Smith turns up at 4pm just as we are deciding what can go in and what doesn’t quite cut it for the showing. Beccy has this no bullshit knowledge that has been forged from years of making theatre herself that renders her a formidable ground force as a producer.

    The showing goes remarkably well. We show 20 minutes of emergent, but resonant material to a hungry and intelligent audience, whose questions and comments feed into our next phase very usefully.

    We return to Brighton. Say goodbye to Jules and Emma for a few days. Beccy and I get the print out to venues. Paul and I plot and revisit and strategise (Paul has a remarkable ability to order and calm the chaos of my brain). Then we have our first all-hands-on-deck production meeting with stage manager Lloyd Thomas, lighting designer Greg Mickelborough and set and costume designer Pearl Bates. Pearl presents her designs which are looking beautiful. (We’ll post shots of her work in the next blog entry). Then we do some interviews with Joe Murray for our promo video which goes better than expected considering how exhausted we all are.

    And everybody breathe…

    In the midst of all this, there is a litany of physical disasters that might be comic if we weren’t all in such a rush: Beccy has a finger jammed under some falling furniture. Then her beloved van gives up the ghost. Then much less catastrophically, though more humiliatingly, in the middle of a day with meetings jammed 8am-7.30pm with out space even for meal breaks, the jeans I’m standing up in split in the worst possible place and scrambling to buy a replacement pair renders me ten minutes late for the production meeting. I bluster into the full room which includes the new stage manager (who I am meeting for the first time) with ‘sorry I’m late, I broke my jeans and I didn’t want you all to have to see my undies…’.
    ‘Waaay too much information!!’ Beccy says and admonishes me with her bandaged finger.
    The room is politely silent for a moment.
    Then we crack on with it.
    And we reach the end of week 2 in one piece, minus Beccy’s fingernail and my dignity.

    I am struck by how fuelled by the mad venture we all are, applying our hearts and minds to conspire to dream this thing into existence. I feel enormous gratitude for the phenomenal passion of everyone and hope I can do the idea and everybody who rides in her, justice.

    And then i guess that brings me back to why supposing is so much richer than believing. Believing is fixed, it already knows. It is a closed circuit. Supposing is open, is it curious. It is fascinated and infatuated. It occurs to me that love or infatuation is the secret ingredient that is binding and raising all this stuff we’re cooking together. It is the leavening agent, fizzing away amongst all these other elements. And that feels great. That feels bigger than all of us.

    Here’s where you can catch the Moon Project in the coming months: tour diary

  • October18th

    Here is a letter i wrote to my family in Australia this morning that i thought might be fun to share.

    Dear family, a little newsy update from the crick in my neck of the woods! A kind of blow by blow diary if you will. Hope it is of interest.

    Today I caught the horrid, populous commuter train to London. October gloom ameliorated by glints of unseasonal sun shine sharding through windows and warding off the dying of the light. A huge day ahead. Training all the way out to Gunnersbury with massive blue suitcase.
    ‘…Where?’ I hear you ask.
    And well you might!
    Gunnersbury is to London what Paramatta is to Sydney.
    There to collect the physical where-with-all to enable my shows to happen. Performing 2 of my shows tomorrow at Merge Festival Bankside: http://bit.ly/REcS8w.

    So collecting those bits, then toting them across town in bin bags and wheelie airport bags to Bankside / Tate Modern with the kind assistance of my lovely new flat mate, the hirsute and frequently be-jeaned and be-headphon-ed Dave W.

    Dave W has an exceptional line in hip hop and free style MCing* (please see the glossary addendum for an explanation) and is an expert collector of vinyl discs of yesteryear. He is also, unexpectedly a financial journalist and man on a mission.

    Then the day will be spent rigging and focussing The Art of Catastrophe & The Growing Room. Bit of rehearsal. Then back to Gunnersbury for rehearsals with Geoff, my equally hirsute, though-beleaguered-by-hip-issues-and-may-soon-be-the-youngest-man-in-British-history-to-have-to-undergo-hip-replacement-surgery, * project manager. Geoff is exceptionally talented lighting designer with the bonus of having an MA in sound design for film, which nicely off sets the inconvenience of his sometimes over committed and under-resourced lifestyle.

    After rehearsals Geoff travels back to the Firestation at Windsor, where he is technical manager, to rig a design for Hull Truck theatre company over night for a show that opens tomorrow.* Crikey.

    If he added up the hours he puts in he probably earns about .05p an hour.

    Then i go to sleep.

    Tomorrow I meet the strapping, languid yet vibrant and unquestionably gorgeous cousin Victoria Z * for a relaxed brunch, then a borough market walk.

    Victoria, as you know has recently landed with her splendid Cal to be greeted by the grimmest of months and the bite and gripe of recession. Actually perhaps it isn’t the grimmest of all, as February surely tops it: with all the winter celebrations done, the bright snow melted into relentless drizzle and mush soup grey and the return of the light still not felt.

    I shall be warming Victoria up with family love, good coffee (which England has learnt to administer more decently of late) and probably jokes. The jokes are likely to be of reasonable quality as the mixture of stress and exhaustion generally fosters a lovely giddiness and free wheeling idiocy.

    Then I leg it to Bankside again to perform the 2 shows back to back with Geoff wheeling in with just one hour to spare having never seen the rig, with no time to rehearse and likely 2 hours sleep. In industry terms this is known as a ‘busk’ or ‘busking it’. Me and Geoff will be busking it like there’s no tomorrow, adrenalised by coffee and hope.

    Do that. Then travel home at midnight on the train with all my shows strapped down in several ill appointed oddly shaped bags like some mad woman: standard lamp, swivel chair, glitter ball (yes, TGR now has a glitter ball) blackboards, a whole swag of costumes.

    So just an ordinary few days in london then.

    Meanwhile, I moved house last week, between gigs in Newcastle, Liverpool, Horsham and London. At the new pad, things are slowly coming together. It feels at a glacial pace, though when i turn around, i am surprised to find that yet more has been accomplished. I have been working so hard and so frequently away from Brighton, that is has been hard to get down to it.

    Still sleeping on an air mattress with clothes hanging on the windows for curtains, no drawers and no desk to work at. It is like i am 21 again in all the worst of ways! BT is unable to install wifi until the 10th of December; they say this is because of the recession and the Olympics (…!) but at least we have got the heating working now and it is clean and warm and dry.

    And ours.

    Today Briar H and I are sending off for curtains, which will be made up and should arrive by the end of the week. In England, it is a now a fire hazard for land lords to leave curtains in unfurnished properties, so one inherits these places as pure skeletons. We require permission even to screw in curtain rails and yet even a screw will be deducted from our deposit. Being a tenant in this country reduces your rights exponentially: no wonder everyone is desperately clawing their way towards the property ladder.

    On Saturday my new desk arrives.

    It’s all happening.

    Love you all.

    Your pilgrim in the north,
    Rachel

    Addenda:

    * MCing in the Urban Dictionary is described as ‘Self expression in hip-hop’. There you go, that clears it up, doesn’t it Grandma?

    * Geoff has found out he actually has Ankylosing Spondylitis. Bummer.

    * Geoff got it done today, so doesn’t have to go back. Now we are listening to The Civil Wars, talking about our new project and getting ready for kippage. Maybe even 6 hours of the stuff.

    * Victoria Z is a very talented photographer. Check her here: www.victoriazschommler.com

    Merge Festival Bankside
    18th October 2012
    London SE19DE
    The Art of Catastrophe: 7.45pm
    The Growing Room: 9.45pm

    This event is sold out, but free, so might be worth the risk of elbowing your way in!