Friday, 7 December 2012

Head Scratching - thinking about my work in progress

Last week (Wednesday 28 November) I was lucky enough to have the chance to scratch 'One' again, this time at ARC, Stockton Arts Centre where I am a member of their Artists' Network ARCADE.

It was an interesting experience for a number of reasons.

1) I think the work has started to take a new direction, more tangental than barking up a new tree I hope. This means that everything I showed was very new and freshly put together, incomplete and perhaps not as brave as I would have liked to have been. I hadn't had chance to take the ideas as far as I possibly could yet. The knock-on effect is that I wasn't sure how I felt about the material yet. This also meant I wasn't able to tech properly as I wasn't quite on top of all my text when I arrived at the venue.

2) I was also concerned that the text I had provided in advance about the show might not accurately reflect what I was about to do. It's that age old issue of writing copy for unfinished works. Or perhaps in my case incomplete ideas? I feel I am only now beginning to find the nugget at the heart of this idea of being alone and being OK.

3) I think that Scratch events are contradictory in nature. While I appreciate the chance to try my 'stage-legs' and get real reactions to the work, it does skew the intention a little. Everyone says that Scratch Nights are supposed to be for sharing work-in-progress and no-one minds if it is rough around the edges... but of course, you want to be liked. You want the audience to think the work is good, no matter how incomplete. As such, I found myself worrying about how polished mine would seem in comparison to the other performances (as it turned out, not very) and rushing to make the piece make some kind of sense for the audience.

4) Technology is evil. Even the most primitive. And so the old adage "What can go wrong, will go wrong" was very much in play. I forgot music cues, and a blank tape turned out not to be... DIS-ARSE-TER DAHLING!

I was a little disappointed with my offering over all but hope I at least managed to lay out some of the themes and motifs for the show going forwards from here. I was also reassured by my producers Little Mighty that it is not so far removed from the initial material I scratched back in June/July. Which is a relief. I really liked bits of that and hope to hang on to some, if not all, of it.

Some of the issues I had were down to late preparation and procrastination. ie. MY FAULT. Some of this was nerves. Some of this was the nature of the Scratch beast. All I can do is try and learn from it and hope to make the piece even better in the future. Who knew screwing up could feel so positive. It's kind of exciting.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Looking for those solo achievers...

While looking at loneliness and time spent alone I have also found myself thinking about the value of time spent alone.

Being alone can be a necessity or just the result of circumstances but those things that you achieve by yourself, aren't they the best won prizes? The most satisfying? For me this project is a kind of trial, a test, to see if I CAN make a show almost entirely on my own. As I have mentioned I have never done it before and I've found myself thinking about what I call 'The Power of One'.

Throughout history there are individuals who have made significant solo achievements, started movements and broken records, often just to see if they could. One person can make a difference. One person can achieve a lot, if they put their mind to it.

Think about Dame Ellen MacArthur, 'the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly'. She steered a huge boat over 26,000 miles, by herself, in just 71 days and broke a world record. It sounds impressive doesn't it? 

But I think about this... she had no-one else to rely on when things got hard. When she got injured, burning her arm and cracking her forehead open she had to carry on because there was no-one else.  She was against the clock AND at the mercy of the elements meaning she couldn't afford to sleep much but she also had to keep functioning at an incredibly high level on this lack of sleep. I wonder how many times she cried, how lonely she must have felt, how exhausted and terrified she must have been. I wonder how often she considered she might die out there, all alone.

I wonder how much she thought about that before she went. Was she prepared to die for her ambition? Or is that something you cannot consider if you are going to do these things?

And so what I am now looking for is more of these remarkable people. Individuals, dead or alive and not just sporting, who have made great solo achievements. And I need your help. If you can think of any, you can tweet me @Yorkshirebint and use the hashtag #solo or email me


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

If you cut us, do we not bleed?

So Newcastle Council have announced a proposal to cut 100% of their arts funding...

This news sends chills down my spine. That a city that has had culture at the heart of it's massively successful regeneration is about to have it's legs cut out from under it. A city I am very fond of. That had things turned out differently for me personally I was all prepared to move to two years ago. A city that is home to some brilliant venues and even more brilliant people who work and make work there.

This news sends chills down my spine because now I fear, more than ever, for the rest of the regions. I fear that if this government continues to behave so idiotically, clamping down on public spending and strangling the regions that eventually we will all have to go to London to see theatre, to enjoy art because for some reason they feel we don't need it up here in the grim old North.

And what really sends chills up my spine is the fear of a migritation that follows this. That all our talented, brightest and best will be forced to seek the capital in order to fulfill their aspirations because why should they stay? What will we, the poor lowly regions have to offer them?

I love the arts. I need them. All the arts. I don't just mean the stuffy old, historical and 'high art'. I like my art dirty and raucous, fast and loose, hands-on and accessible to all, ethereal and experimental, developing and emerging, studio based and site-specific, intimate and epic, magical and political. I like variety and lots of it. I want everyone in every region to have the chance to see it, hear it, taste it, touch and be touched by it and so I feel deeply for those in Newcastle who give their heart and souls to make great art for the people in their region. I know they will fight this and fight hard. I just want them to know I will be standing right behind them. And I won't be the only one. I hope this is the beginning and not the end.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Art Is The Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Part 2

Perhaps it is people who don't indulge in the creative arts who don't see the restorative qualities they have. Over the last few weeks, after an initial period when I pretty much spoke to no-one besides my mother and just did what she told me to do because I felt swamped by any kind of decision-making, I have indulged my passion of theatre making as a kind of refuge. As a way of reminding myself who I am and waking my soul up. Back at work today I felt guilt because I imagine this looks to the outside world like I've been having a jolly. They might be right they are also wrong. Nothing I have done recently has come easily. Not even the 'fun stuff'.

If I could have afforded to go and do nothing lie by a pool for a week and read a book, perhaps that would be deemed a more appropriate form of healing? And it would have been healing to create a quiet head space and get lots of vitamin D but like I said I couldn't afford it.

Returning to work today has also been hard, though I doubt anyone could tell. Well, that's the problem with poor mental heath isn't it? Unless you are running around with underpants on your head saying, "Wibble", who would know?

And so yes when colleagues ask if I am feeling better I say, "Yes", because I am feeling better, than I was. I don't feel BETTER. I am not well, not quite me yet. I am still healing and imagine I will be for a while.

It's hard to understand, unless you have experienced it, that while your illness is not physical it is not without physical symptoms. Last night I had hideous anxiety dreams and broken sleep. Today I am tired, my shoulders, neck and back ache. This morning I had a dodgy tummy and all day I have had intermittent chest pains. I also know that that is probably as bad as it will get, and hopefully tomorrow will be better. It certainly can't get any better if I hide away. Returning to work is part of facing my demons and finding healthier ways to overcome them. I have to own my own sanity and take some responsibility for my own health. But if it does get bad again, and I have to realistically assume that it could, I can deal with it. And I know that my love of the arts will be a massive help in getting better again, once I am over the worst of it.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Art Is The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Since it is Love Arts Festival at the moment, a festival looking at arts, mental health and wellbeing, it seems appropriate to come clean about what has been/is going on with me.

I think as an artist no-one will mind if I say I have been in a dark place recently. A place, like a cross between a hamster wheel and a dark tunnel, a relentless place filled with anger, despair and self-loathing. But as an artist I think many of you will understand when I say that it is mainly due to my art (and the support of friends and my incredible Mother) that I am beginning to pull myself out and feel like myself again, which just makes me even more grateful that I have made it a big part of my life.

Going to Devoted and Disgruntled, at the beginning of the month, felt like being in a war zone. It was too much all at once. Too many people, too much noise, too much choice. I wanted to be there but I wasn't, really. I spent all morning resisting the urge to run away. The pains in my chest were near constant and I felt sick. I stayed because I wanted to support the event itself. I had been looking forward to it for so long. But I was removed and I little numb and got very little out of it as a result.

Since then I've been making plans and rehearsing for One - getting my funding from Arts Council England was a massive boost, although even that felt like more pressure than I could handle, initially - I went back to High Spirits, a local choir, and I took part in an open call for community singers to be on the Hope and Social album. These were all good things (singing really is one of the most joyful things you can do) that were incredibly emotionally draining, just to find the strength to get there in the first place, but each one made me feel more like someone I actually recognised and liked. Me. 

I've been doing The Reservation again this week (more dates to come) and that has been tough. Don't get me wrong I am immensly proud of The Reservation and I want to do it but... I suppose I knew it would be tough. A 14 hour day is tough at the best of times but when you have been off work for the best part of a month it's a really BIG investment of time and energy. As soon as I was finished on day one I was overwhelmed by relief and a flood of emotions. Not because it was too much but BECAUSE IT MATTERS. I had been so afraid that I couldn't get through it and I hadn't even realised how scared I was. But I did get through it, I enjoyed it, and day two was even better. Today I have the post-performance blues, but I always get those so I'm not too worried.

I have never looked in to art therapy, I suppose I have always just naturally had that in my life without thinking about it as such, but having recently felt the specific benefits of the sanctuary of the creative brain space I can see why so many people think it is so important. According to Love Arts “One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in our lifetime”. That seems like a lot to me.

This is only one of many things I am doing to improve my own mental health, including reducing my caffeine (for the anxiety attacks), looking in to meditation and natural remedies (for the sleep issues) and most importantly talking to someone who can help. The next stage will be returning to work, which terrifies me but thanks to all this I am building up stronger defences to make it manageable at least. I have to keep reminding myself, this is just a difficult patch. I am lucky that I am not someone who suffers ongoing clinical depression. And I will, of course, be continuing with my art and doing all I can to make that the highlight of each week. To say it has kept me alive is a slight exaggeration, but only slight, and I am grateful to have had the access to it and the ability to use it. I'm sure there are many who don't.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Firstly this is an admission.

What 'they' say about making work on your own is TRUE. It's hard. Not that I ever really doubted 'them'. Of course, that doesn't mean you (I) shouldn't do it. I always knew it would be hard. Maybe I even wanted it to be hard. I wanted to test myself, to prove I could do it by myself.

Except of course I can't.

I'm not talking about coming up with ideas and content. I'm not even talking about that painful process of forcing yourself to physically stand up and 'do' something. I can and I have been doing that. I am talking about feeling like I need to be Superwoman, like I need to do it ALL on my own. To go from being on my own at home, in the street, in life and also being on my own in the studio. And that is nobody's fault but mine. Because this is where it has got messy.

Being alone is fine. Making work on your own is fine.... Too much of anything is bad.

I have come to realise that what I need in order to be able to be productively and usefully on my own in the rehearsal space is to spend less time on my own (and in my head) outside of the rehearsal space. I haven't done that recently and I've come a little unstuck - and I'm not just talking about the show here. I've spent too much time listening to my own personal demons and not enough time being excited, challenged and inspired by others - in relation to my work and life in general, cos let's face it, it's all brain food. To enjoy the moments of easy breathing and comfortable interaction and relaxation. I've spent too much time focussing on the negatives, worrying about the possible outcomes of scenarios that may never occur and assuming the worst. By isolating myself in my life I lost the genuine pleasure of being alone in the space and playing. The project brief became another chore... Speaking with other artists I know that everyone falls a little out of love with their project every now and then so I am sure it will pass. I can also change the amount of time I spend alone without changing the brief. There are people supporting the show that I can meet with more regularly to chew the fat and talk things through with as well as getting in to the space as outside eyes to keep giving me deadlines to focus on.

This was always supposed to be about learning how I make work by myself. I think I just learned a valuable lesson, the hard way.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The sound of loneliness?

I'm thinking about sound for this Scratch. In particular the sound of loneliness.

Is it the lack of something or someone? Or is it the sound of the thing/person that you are separated from? Is it the noise inside your head when you can't stop thinking about someone you can't have? Or is it a noisy room full of laughter when you feel so sad?

Where are we most lonely and what does that place sound like?

In my first Scratch during Emerge I talked a little about the loneliness of being on a stage alone for the first time. At First in Three (Scratch number two) I talked about the use of tape and documentation/playback during the process and as I get further in to it, spending more and more time alone in big echoey rooms I've been thinking more and more about the sound of the rehearsal room and the empty space I am supposed to fill...

Today I've got toys and ways of capturing that. Now as Scratch number three approaches I'm thinking about playback, sound quality, presentation and aesthetics.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Loneliness is a place without you

I am thinking a lot about unrequited love and not just because of the research for the show but because of where I am at. It's been a rare occurrance over the last few years for me to find someone who makes such an impact and leaves such a lasting impression but there it is.

It's an uncomfortable thing to discuss (in fact it is a hard thing for me to even write), I suppose that is why it is so isolating. No-one wants to hear how sad you are, how much you yearn for someone who does not/cannot love you back. No-one wants to be reminded of how it feels to be rejected. After they've given the usual platitudes of "Their loss" and "You deserve better", or the like, what else is there for them to say? It is not a problem they can solve and those are not the words I want to hear, so, I haven't really been talking about it. I've been keeping this pain from my closest friends.

The worst thing is that I find it makes me question myself, my worth, my place in the world. To be rejected, or simply not noticed, by the person you most want to be close to can lead to a rise in self-doubt and self-loathing. Clearly, (they think) you aren't good enough for them... and the fact that I feel this way and have these thoughts makes me like myself even less (deeply helpful). I like to think of myself as independent, capable and self-sufficient. I do not define myself through the presence of another, but I don't want to be alone forever either.

As I have mentioned many, many times I am not opposed to spending time alone but missing someone specific and being separated from the people/person I love provides a particularly intense sensation of loneliness. This ache accentuates the solitude. It's a sharp sting, a keen longing that permeates everything and no-one else can help me. It's just one of those annoying things that takes a long time and a lot of heartache. It WILL get better (or so I keep telling myself). It did the last time, and the time before, and the time before that...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

New publicity shot?

Today I am back in the rehearsal room. Playing with tapes... thinking about originals and copies, about mix tapes and long distance love, about sound quality and hours spent alone in my bedroom as a teenager.

I'm also thinking something like this might make quite a nice publicity image for the show. What do you think?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

My One And Only?

So I've been talking to a couple of people about the state of the arts recently; about the fragility of local government funding and venues within larger organisations with differing agendas none of which bodes well for the future of regional arts.

People have also been talking to me about the ethics of public money paying our wages when the public don't want most of what we do. Especially when it is being held up by the government as an either/or option. I mean really, who is going to choose art over hospitals or emergency services? I wouldn't.

And now I feel... Pretty depressed. No, not just depressed, scared. I'm afraid that after waiting so long to do this I have left it too late - by about a decade. The moment has passed. The optimism is gone. The money pot has dried up.

OK, so funding is not a right. I accept this. I don't need to make buckets of money. And in fact I never really wanted to. I would be happy to just cover my bills and have a little spending money (which, let's face it, I would mostly spend on going to the theatre and socialising with my theatre mates). And the lack of it shouldn't stop me from making work. I hope it won't but with no funding to support making the work and fewer and fewer venues it's starting to look pretty bleak.

Because the thing is I am alone. This isn't just a device for the show. Unlike many who make theatre I do not have a supportive partner at home bringing in a second wage, rich parents, my own home or any kind of external financial support structure... And I begin to wonder if I am a fool to even think about trying to do this at this time. It's a pretty terrifying thought, if I am honest.

Will this show be my one and only?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Proximity And Connection

Pickering Castle at dusk
[Saturday 28 July] I've just been to see Slung Low's final part of the Converging Paths project called Story Book. It was a promenade performance and took place at Pickering Castle (which midges aside is a gorgeous venue for a piece of site specific performance) and I am left thinking, unsurprisingly, about audience interactions.

You see we were each given headphones and a receiver so we could hear the backing track and the performers clearly in am outdoor space. I understand that this is a very practical solution to roaming work where the audience may not always have the best vantage point but means they don't quite miss out on the action. Having the words spoken directly in their ear creates a certain sense of intimacy with the performers - they are all speaking directly to you. It also allows the company to control the audiences environment so that the only information they receive is what is fed to them.

I experienced something very similar once at Latitude Festival and it made a little more sense there in that context. We were intentional voyeurs, viewing at a distance without interacting in any way, dipping in and out of the stories of other 'festival goers'. And while it made sense to me I found the whole experience rather cold. It was sort of like watching an outdoor television show.

As a technique, I don't enjoy it. I don't like how it isolates me from my fellow audience members. I feel penned in to my own body and my own little cocoon. Even though I know others are having the same experience as me I feel restricted and cut off which, while it doesn't really detract from my experience of the story, does go against one of the fundamental reasons why I go to live events. I spend enough time in my own head. I go to the theatre to be amongst other people. To feel a part of something bigger than myself rather than a passive spectator. I can do that at home. Perhaps I could reach out to others but I am wary because of the headphones. I might speak too loudly and embarrass myself. Of course, you say, this is a performance, why would you be talking? That is the festival context though isn't it? We are free, free from seating, walls and the 'normal' theatre etiquette aren't we? The rules are muddled here. I am not sure of my place and so I am doubly cautious.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy Story Book at all, just that it confirmed for me what I place most importance on in performance work and the bearing this has on my own practice and I wanted to unpick that a little.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Diamonds In The Rough - A Post Show Analysis

So in the aftermath of my second Scratch (for anyone stumbling across this who doesn't know; a Scratch is a showing of unfinished performance work) performance of One, at Northern Stage, I am left with the arduous task of sorting the wheat from the chaff...

First thoughts are that it was definitely a useful experience. Useful to try the same material on a less familiar audience to see how I navigate having fewer shared points of reference. In Leeds I built my confidence by directing certain comments to friends knowing they would be easier to draw in to a kind of dialogue as there was a pre-existing rapport. The piece has direct points of contact built in which, I hope, break some of those barriers with a more unknown quantity so it will be interesting to see the written feedback and how the audience felt we were 'getting along'. They certainly gave off a very friendly vibe.

And yet I was actually disappointed with myself in this section. I didn't find my feet quite as well as I had in Leeds. I fluffed some lines and got a couple of bits the wrong way round. I tried to keep it fresh for myself by interjecting new information but this just served to unsettle me a little.

The totally interactive and majorly improvised new section about Imaginary Friends at the end went surprisingly smoothly despite my utter fear at throwing it so open to the audience (something I have never done before). I've already had some useful feedback on how this could be more inventive and democratically playful for me and the audience, allowing more people to have input in a slightly 'safer' space. So I won't say too much about that here. I have no idea if it will even stay in the show but it was great to just give it a go, to take a chance in the space, and have it embraced so generously. This should be what Scratch is for, right?

I had mixed feelings about the cassette tape section at the beginning. It had no natural place. Though I like it as an idea I didn't like where it sat. I had to put it at the beginning out of necessity rather than desire. But the tape/player itself has become quite important as it resonates quite deeply with me. Now I need to work out how it weaves with rest of the fabric of the show. Though at this point I do not want it to dictate anything. I wonder about the next Scratch at Emerge in September and whether that should be entirely tape based? Hmmm...

What is clear is that documentation is becoming more and more important to the piece both as a tool for making and reflection but also the presentation. This makes me wonder about who my collaborators should be at this point and if there are significant changes to be made (and here I apologise to my producer Gloria for the kittens this may give her)?

My thanks to the team at Northern Stage, who made me so very welcome for two days in their building.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

What Might Be In The Show

When Rabbit Damage were making the show in Berwick we made a video called What Isn't In The Show and it was just a bit of a giggle and an attempt at viral marketing... since the show wasn't finished and we didn't want to give too much away.

Today I am rehearsing for One and mostly thinking about what might be in the show and trying not to get too boggled. On Thursday I have a scratch showing at First in Three at Northern Stage and mostly I am looking forward to trying out what I already have (what I did at The Carriageworks for Emerge in June) on a different, slightly less partisan, audience. But I'd also like to share something new and this is where my problems begin. I feel like I have spent so long shelving things to come back to later that I don't know where to start.

I guess this is where a collaborator would come in handy. We would discuss the merits of each and see which sparks the most interest. We could vote on which we would prefer to get stuck in to. We could play Paper, Scissors, Stone or have a thumb war. We could agree to take one idea each and try stuff out on each other... But there is no-one else here (Yes, Jaye, who's stupid idea was that then?).

So here I am, with a long list of wonderful things to play with. What to do first?

This show may contain: sex dolls, memories, cassette tapes, love letters to long distance lovers, Bros, the charts, my Dad, CCTV, video diaries, dancing, audio archaeology, Pillowman, internet dating, dining alone, desert islands, the zombie apocolypse, games, Chobitz, monophobia, Bridget Jones and imaginary friends.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Emerging and Re-emerging

On gaining one of the Emerge Mentored Commissions 2012

Life is very exciting and scary and full of possibilities at the moment. Having spent over a decade doing ‘proper jobs’ I am now making a commitment, to being a performance maker, the likes of which I have never made before.

In terms of my creative career I'm a little older than what most people think of as an emerging artist, which is why the Emerge Mentored Commission is so great. What the organisations involved are most interested in is genuinely helping artists to move to the next level and it's not restricted by any arbitrary age limit. In the last couple of years I have made work with other people. Last year I collaborated with Ellie Harrison to create and tour The Reservation, which was a site-specific piece co-commissioned by Emerge. Now with their support I am working towards my first solo show so this feels like a nice, natural progression.

The term emerging also feels appropriate for where I am in the process of making 'One', as I am very much still at the beginning. I’m making slow and steady progress and having a year-long scheme to support that process is going to be invaluable. Not to mention the access to other artists and people who are willing to help raise my profile. Already rehearsal space and support, in the shape of Dick Bonham, have been made available to me and with the work in progress showing on Wednesday 20 June* I get to try it out and get that all important audience reaction. The piece I am making is about solitude and the loneliness we all feel at times and how we cope but it is also about being present in a theatre space and the desire to connect so I need an audience to really test it out. At least, I think this is what it is about at the moment. I am open to the possibility that the creative process is rarely linear and that rich material is found in the tangents…

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

*I wrote this peice for the Leeds Inspired blog before I did my scratch performance, though it didn't get used which is why I am posting it here now.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What Does 'Alone Time' Mean To You?

Time spent by yourself can be a precious, enjoyable and indeed necessary thing.

Some of us spend more time alone than we would like and others not enough, so what is it that we do with these snatched moments of 'me time'? What does 'alone time' mean to you?

Time to reflect
Time to recharge
Time to listen
Time to plan
Time to create
Time to cheat
Time to indulge
Time to pamper
Time to work out
Time to sweat
Time to hurt
Time to strip back
Time to be naked
Time to examine
Time to mend
Time to prepare
Time to scrub and polish 
Time to play
Time to fantasise
Time to reorganise
Time to analyse
Time to be weak
Time to break down
Time to rebuild
Time to be free
Time to just be

Sunday, 3 June 2012

24 reasons to be happy

 Yesterday I went to Contact Theatre to participate in 24 Arty People and I...

1) I met 23 amazing artists I had never met before
2) I was given open access to an extraordinary venue and the support of it's dedicated staff
3) I was given space to play, time to think and explore new ideas
4) I got to ride on an old Routemaster bus
5) I was fed and watered
6) I was never bored
7) I was constantly challenged
8) I got to play musical statues (and even better WATCH musical stratues) and pass the parcel
9) I was pushed beyond my limits
10) I got to work with three people I might not have naturally picked to create work with
11) I made some friends
12) I was given a rich theme of Wasted Hours within which to play
13) I was always treated with respect by my team of artists
14) I managed to stay awake until 11am when I had an hours sleep (incidentally 24hrs since I had got up)
15) I never felt the least bit intimidated or uncomfortable
16) I laughed alot (some of this may have been hysteria from lack of sleep)
17) I had a chance to shine
18)) I got naked and tied up in a bathroom
19) I got to play with an iPad
20) I got to see the look on Steve's face when I threw him out of our piece
21) I had fun 
22) I was genuinely proud of what we made
23) When I came home I had the best nights sleep I had had in weeks
24) I would totally do it again

Thank you to everyone for their spirit of adventure and generosity, especially @24contactmcr and Contact Theatre who made this possible.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

What we're going to do right here is go back, way back, back into time...

Loving the retro experience of playing with tape again.

Been listening to Blondie and the sound quality is awful. I think we forget how bad it was. But I love the whirring sound of the machine, the number counter, the tedious process of 'fast' forward and rewinding to the exact spot, the sound of the record button clunking on and off caught forever on tape.

When I came to play with it I remembered that you either needed to leave the 'pips' in or cover the hole up with cellotape so you can record over it and I don't have any cellotape with me but luckily there is a tape with Coldplay (BLEUGH!!!) that still has the pips in so I can still play...

It's doing exactly what it is supposed to do and is taking me back to my childhood. Mum still has the tape I made when, aged 6, she was decorating our flat and to keep me occupied she told me to record myself reading stories and singing songs including such classics as Tiger Tiger and The Bear Went Over the Mountain. Then there were the many, many, MANY Sunday afternoons in my teens spent glued to the charts trying to catch the songs JUST RIGHT to avoid getting too much of the DJ's voice, and finally the anguished taped love letters sent to my boyfriend back home when I went to work for a touring theatre company aged 18.

It's pretty evocative stuff and I hope it will find it's way in to the show somehow...

There is something here about the layering of sound, the imperfection of it, the direct address, of the 'liveness' of a recorded voice in a pre-Skype era and the disembodied voice reaching out to connect over distance.

(Big thanks to Third Angel for the equipment!)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Embracing my inner child

It's funny how everything has changed, in the most subtle ways in some cases.

Being on my own in my own space, talking to myself in my own space. These things are fine. Here? It's is different. It's difficult. But then it was supposed to be. Isn't that the point?

Even just playing ball. Everytime the ball hits the floor it gets dirtier so everytime I catch it my hands get dirtier. This bothers me more than I would like. When I was a kid I would be doing this in my Grandma's back yard, the side of Dad's house, the back of my Mum's best friend's house, the street, at school - not a recently cleaned studio. So what's wrong with getting a bit mucky? All the best things in life involve a little bit of mess. I am not a neat freak. I can do this.

Hang on a sec, must just go wash my hands again...

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Meet my Imaginary Friend

In preparation for my show One, I am thinking about loneliness.

  • I am thinking about how to populate an empty space, how to bring more than just myself to the stage.
  • I am thinking about my childhood, being an only child.
  • I am thinking about Imaginary Friends and why we invent them.

I never had one so I am thinking about collecting stories of other people's Imaginary Friends.

Please tell me about an Imaginary Friend you or someone you know has/had. If you didn't ever have one as a child, what would your imaginary friend be like if you invented one now? What would they look like? What special skills/powers would they have?

At this point I am unsure exactly if/how this might be used but anything you do choose to tell me may be referred to on this blog and/or in the show. If you would prefer me not to use your name please tell me and I will make sure that I do not.

Please email all responses to: and please feel free to forward on to others.

Thank you.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Let's start at the very beginning...

A very good place to start.

So here I am. At Northern Stage on Day 2 of Title Pending. This is the beginning.

Today is the first day of rehearsal ever, for my very first solo show called One.

I'm in a meeting room above Stage One in Northern Stage, I have an array of drinks and tasty snacks to fuel me and I'm feeling pretty good already. Hell, I feel amazing!!! I'm buzzing with excitement, at the possibilities, at the fact that I have stopped talking (OK, OK, not entirely) and started DOING.

And so I wanted to mark this moment. As I will be marking much of this journey, here.

This is where is starts.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

On loneliness #4 - in da club

Why is it that I feel separate wherever I go?

I'm not a good mingler and in social scenarios, especially parties where I don't know many people or professional networking events, I often find myself people-watching rather than people-engaging.

I go to clubs, not very often, and I love to get lost in the loud music and I LOVE to dance but I feel invisible... I don't expect anyone to to talk to me, so more often than not, they don't. It must be a vibe I give off. I am uninviting somehow.

I think one of the most upsetting things my step-mother ever said to me was that the reason my mother and I are both single is because "we look like we don't need anyone" (my pride in being brought up to be an independent woman is a separate discussion entirely).

Is that what men are looking for then? Needy girls? I am pretty sure I was told that being needy was one of the worst things you could be in a relationship. Was I mis-informed? Or does that only apply when we are young? As we mature do we look for someone who needs us?

Well, OK, I can buy in to that. I would love to find someone who needed me. But I'd like to think that's about him needing ME not needing someone in general? Is that less of an issue for men? Do they just want to be needed? Does this assert their manliness?

Or is my step-mother wrong?

Not that it matters. I don't see me playing helpless little girl just to be able to use my Orange Wednesdays and give up my place in the centre of the bed.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

On loneliness #3

Nearly 5am and I am lying awake thinking about my pitiful, seemingly terminally single status and wondering if a life where I have so much love to give and nowhere to put it is worth it? At what point do I assume it will never happen for me and give up on falling in love again? And if so, why go on? What am I really here for?

Found myself talking about I am legend today (yesterday... as I say it is nearly 5am) and it just struck me that of course I need to re-read this! One man in a futile struggle against the obliteration of everything he knows. Pure survival in extreme isolation. Why? What is your life worth if you literally have no-one to share it with?

Cheerful thoughts indeed. I also need to re-watch Castaway with Tom Hanks I think. There is something about the basketball (is that right?) that he uses as a focus that might resonate...

OK, now birds are singing... and my belly is rumbling. Is it too early for breakfast?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

On loneliness #2 - making a solo show

So, I've just spent the best part of two weeks writing applications for two different artist support schemes with two very different timelines. It's been a fascinating, and if I am honest bloody painful, process. This is all new to me: deciding all by myself what my piece will be, what my intentions are, who I want to work with and how I am going to achieve all (any) of it.

And everyone keeps telling me not to be in a room on my own. I've just read this blog and there was a session about this kind of thing at Devoted & Disgruntled during which time I made the mistake of saying, "But surely it's just like playing on your own when you were a kid which I did a lot of the time and was fine. Why can't you approach making work as a game. Or use games to free up your mind a little and get you in to the right head space?" (I'm paraphrasing here) and I was met with silence... You'll notice it is not included in the report. It made perfect sense to me but apparently not to many others. Though afterwards one woman came up to me and said, "I completely agree with you." Made my whole day. But I digress...

I'm not arguing with the people who say don't be alone in the rehearsal space. Some of the people who have said this to me are far more experience than I am and I don't doubt their opinion but I find myself wondering how one makes a solo performance about loneliness without going through a few difficult days alone in a rehearsal room? It kind of feels like that is the point. And I almost WANT it. Does that make me a masochist? Maybe, but I have found myself looking forward to putting myself in a room and seeing how I cope.

There are certain things I expect. I KNOW I am a world class procrastinator. I know that I will need to switch off the internet and my phone and put a ban on Twitter (which has to be the best work avoidance tool ever) unless I go online for something very specific.

Whether or not I am successful in gaining the support I have applied for I am going to get some time in a room. Not totally alone. Maybe I'll alternate days but I think the first day I HAVE to be alone. What I will take in to the space with me is some tools. Games to play, music to listen to, big sheets of paper to make lists on, some pre-set tasks and perhaps my favourite suggestion from the properly lovely Laura Mugridge I'm going to create a happy, silly dance to break the mood. When Laura said it a light bulb went off in my head. It made perfect sense to me. When Ellie and I were making The Reservation we watched Great Day by The Lonely Island repeatedly as an antidote to all the grief.

So, I won't really be alone at all. I will be there with an army of collaborators. Just not, you know, physically.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Devoted and Disgruntled (with myself)

I've spent a lot of time this week beating myself up for not being over the moon about Devoted & Disgruntled last week. I've been meaning to write about it but... I should probably read that report on procrastination huh?

Day 1
I'm glad I went, of course, I'd never been to the London one before and I had been looking forward to it for ages. Saturday was thrilling - the sense of the unknown, catching up with old friends, getting a sense of who was in the room and the beginnings of some great conversations. I'm particularly excited about the D & D Roadshow which will be arriving in Leeds in October as I was feeling a little immobilised by being in London.

Day 2
For whatever reason on the Sunday I found myself wandering aimlessly, frustrated by the idea of talking more and doing less. I had a lot on my mind, things I wanted to do. Good things. Creative things. What I didn't want to do was talk.

So I took myself to one side where I found myself in a one to one conversation with a friend. And I talked. Really talked. She already knew about the difficulties I had had a couple of years previously with a collaborator/friend and how painful the (for all intents and purposes) 'break-up' had been. What I hadn't realised was the residual guilt and grief I was still carrying from that experience. Perhaps this was exacerbated by starting my day in a session called Working With Dickheads in which someone talked about a poor working relationship. The group sensitively shared bad experiences and there was an air of gentle support and understanding. We are not alone. But perhaps we have an obligation to those who come after us to challenge this behaviour? I followed this up with a session on Professional/ Social Relationships foolishly thinking this might be a session looking at how social media blurs these lines and perhaps they got there eventually but they started with looking at how we work with friends and how we maintain professionalism in the face of changing distinctions and boundaries. It was all a little close to home. And it affected me.

To take the principles of Open Space literally (for anyone not familiar with the Open Space Technology and 5 main principles you can read about those here) perhaps the best thing I can do is to accept that this was the only thing that could have happened. That I was meant to have that conversation and maybe THAT is what I really needed to get out of this experience. 

The law of two feet told me to walk, to go home but another friend told me to stay. She didn't want my experience to end on a bad note. Am I glad I stayed? Yes and no. Tassos Stevens gave us a A Surprise and the conversations in the pub afterwards were somewhat useful. Overwhelmingly what I felt was a push to make decisions, to take actions. With my art, with my life. I spent alot of time this weekend defining who I am, what I do, what I WANT to do/be.

But honestly I'm not ready. I have an ideal sure but I am still taking baby steps towards that. I AM devoted but...

I apologise that this all feels like an incomplete thought. It is.

Friday, 17 February 2012

On loneliness #1

Thinking forward to the solo piece I want to make. Solo for a number of reasons not least because it is about loneliness, so being alone seems the natural place to start. Doesn't it?

Also natural for me because on the whole this is what I am, what I have always been.

Alone. Not necessarily lonely. The two are not the same thing. I would like to stress this now. I actually like being alone. I miss living alone; being sensitive only to my own rhythms, which of late don't seem to fit much with anyone else's. I liked being an only child. Other children don't always buy in to your imaginary world view and tend to inflict their own desires upon it. Plus, and yes OK I must admit it is true, they divide your parents' attentions leaving less time for you. Well who else should the world revolve around?

This is not to say that I want to be alone all the time. I have a lot of friends and family that I care very deeply about and I miss terribly (as most of them live hours away). It is more that I have always valued one-to-one relationships more than others. My mother was a single parent. My father dislikes crowds. I like to see my close friends separately if I can. And in love... I give a lot. I like to make that person the centre of my world (but I expect them to do the same in return - only child, remember?).

Even in work I find that I do my best work after everyone else has gone home for the day.

And yet, I think most people would describe me as sociable, companionable and a good team player. I think I am all of these things but my dirty secret is also that I really, really like being alone. I spend a lot of time listening to my iPod, walking around, enjoying my environment from the cosy room inside my head. Although I grumble about the distance and the traffic and the unreliability of public transport I like spending a chunk of my day on a bus, watching the world go by while the soundtrack to my life, subject only to MY moods, plays.

It will be interesting to see how this affects and manifests itself in a performance space, once I get in there. perhaps despite my intentions to make a theatre show I should be looking to make another one-to-one performance? But then again sometimes it's good to get out of ones comfort zone too.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Serendipity - another one I wrote earlier

In looking forwards I often find myself looking back. In trying to define myself as an artist and explain 'my practice' I need to look at my experience. I still don't know who I am or whether I have a 'way of working' yet. I am still putting the pieces together and I'm not even sure I have all the edges yet. Maybe the corners.

But here is another small piece. 


"I gratefully accept what the Universe offers..."

As artists we often make work using or around found objects, enjoying those objects that excite and inspire the imagination. But what of those rare occasions when what the Universe offers is exactly what we were looking for?

During Locked-in with Stacy Makishi (at the Greenroom in Manchester, October 2009) we were asked to describe a performance fantasy to another participant. These duets of offer and response were an ongoing theme of the day. Enjoying a moment of free-falling, free association, I let the word 'fantasy' dominate roll around my mind and run wild. What I envisioned was a moment where I might be beautiful. Tall and elegent upon a plinth bathed in light, wearing a gown that fell all the way to the ground. A pause, before being flown off and swept away by the original hero superhero, with whom I have had a long-time love affair, Superman.

I had misinterpreted the task... this was not a real performance fantasy to be presented it was the latent fantasy of a child but the desire was real.

Later some of the group were hunting around to see what the Greenroom had that might be useful in the way of set when they stumbled upon some old wooden gym equipment including two tall boxes - the kind you used to suspend benched from - they looked like two high stools. It seemed too good to be true. My plinth had arrived. Standing a little taller than me they were perfect. And the opportunity was too good to miss.

The stage was set.

I was wrapped from head to toe in white toilet paper, which split and tumbled, falling in long ribbons as I walked slowly across the stage and mounted the plinth. These ribbons trailed almost to the ground. Once lit by a spotlight a microphone was lowered to me. I took it, brought it to my lips and from another spotlight a voice sang 'Feeling Good' by Nina Simone while lip-synced along.

Another moment of symmetry.

The song was agreed on, somewhat out of necessity, as it was one we had on an iPod so that the singer could listen to it and that we both knew the words to. But it is also a song that resonates for me and I had used before. It was the song my friends and I used for the make-up scene a piece called Im(art)ation in our third year at uni and that I had used for the striptease in Abbi, my dissertation piece based on the character of Abigail from Arthur Millar's The Crucible.Three moments of defining femininity and strong visual representations of my sexuality on stage, coming together, unified by a single song.

These moments of serendipity, the beauty in the unforseen and unplanned are what matters to me. The echoes that resonate with your own experiences as an artist and as an audience member.

I'm sure there have been more since - the death, displaying of the body and funeral of Jimmy Saville at The Queen's Hotel where we created and performed The Reservation as mentioned in an earlier post here for example.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Don't panic

I suffer from panic attacks, mainly when I home alone at night. I would have said 'suffered' until about a month ago when I had my first attack in 9 years...

This is a piece of text I wrote about my experience which was used in the performances of Wherever I Lay My Hat in 2010.

I used to have panic attacks. I’m not entirely sure when they first started. I think it was in the summer after my first year at University. One night when I was home alone I woke up suddenly, for no reason that I could see, feeling alarmed. I assumed some noise had disturbed my sleep. And I think that’s how it started. The years of broken sleep.

I realised as time went by that mother’s next-door neighbour often left the house at unsociable hours – for work or fishing? But I lived and died by the motion-sensor activated light in his back yard, believing it to be the signifier of my imminent demise. Mum casually blamed my love of Stephen King novels and it seems funny now. But then again, I don’t think I ever told her how bad they were.

In my second and third years at University it got a little better. I was rarely alone but then I went to Drama School. My landlord found himself a new girlfriend with more money and a nice, big house, and suddenly he was never at home. I was alone most of the time. Far away from my friends, family and the man I loved. I felt isolated and vulnerable in every way and at night I was convinced there was someone in the house and they were going to kill me.

I began to dread going to bed and as time passed I started to panic about having a panic attack. I was locked in a battle with the night. I felt small and helpless, exhausted by lack of sleep and the seemingly inescapable situation. As I went to bed I would check all the doors were closed and locked, sometimes taking a knife to put under my pillow. Then I would push the chest of drawers in front of the bedroom door, pull the covers over my head and pray for a quiet night’s sleep.

As they continued to occur I tried to combat them by forcing myself to confront my fear, get up and go downstairs and check that the door was locked and the house was empty. I would get drunk before bed if I knew I was going to be spending the night alone, a tactic only any good on days when I wasn’t working the next day, in the hope that I would pass out and sleep though. Though it was a gamble as it had a tendency to increase my need for mid-night toilet breaks. Otherwise I would stay up until I was exhausted and then crawl fearfully to bed.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the attacks stopped about two years later after I moved in to a small flat with an older male friend who was home a lot and made me feel welcome and safe. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that they were at their worst while living in the house of someone I barely knew during the unhappiest year of my life. What I have never understood is why they started in my old room, in my Mother’s house where I had lived for seven years previously and always felt safe and loved.

Thankfully I haven’t had a panic attack for eight years now.

Having beaten them once I know I can do it again but feels like a backwards step in my mental health and I don't think it is any coincidence that my moods have been very low of late. This time though I don't intend to try and do it alone. Next step, the doctors... Wish me luck.