Monday, 29 April 2013

An Adventure In Dublin (with a tiny update on The Enough Project too)

In the coming weeks The Enough Project - a collaboration between myself and fellow writer Cathy Crabb - will begin rehearsal for a mini tour of the north of England (Theatre in the Mill, The Lowry and The Carriageworks). Dep Arts is producing, Alan Lane is directing and Barney George is designing. Cathy and I have just seen the model box for the show… So we’re beginning to get very excited, because this is something that we have been working towards for a long time…

Even so… 

That’s not what this blog is about… 

I mention it here because on this occasion it’s context.

This blog is about a wonderful / unexpected spin off from the Enough process…  

When the Lowry got involved with The Enough Project they also made Cathy and I part of their new Accelerate Programme, which is funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. Accelerate creates opportunities for artists to fast track their creative practice by opening up opportunities that they wouldn't have otherwise had.  So, we’ve been given an incredible gift, which we are really grateful for.

Our first Accelerate powered experience was attending the IETM spring plenary meeting in Dublin between the 11th and 14th of March. 

IETM is an international network for the performing arts community. Cathy and I thought attending this event would be a great opportunity to learn from a group of people that we wouldn’t usually get the chance to meet.

That’s the background… Here’s what happened…

I had the privilege of sitting in the Abbey Theatre while Theo Dorgan gave his speech about Trust. I’ll never forget hearing him talk. It was brilliant, beautiful and profound. I urge you to click on the soundcloud link above and listen.

I met people in some of the endless queue’s of registration day or while attending performance events that led to great conversations.... Serendipity called and I decided to put my trust in it. I have to admit I’m a bit rubbish at cold-call-schmoozing. I didn’t talk to millions of people and I didn’t pitch any ideas and I didn’t give away 100 business cards. But I did end up having some lovely, illuminating conversations with a few people that I seemed to click and connect with. That feels real and that suits me.

I got to see some brilliant work by some exciting performers / theatre makers. 

Highlights included:

Am I Rambling? Curated by Veronica Dyas and Sorcha Kenny: This was a fantastic piece that took the audience on a 2 hours+ walk around Dublin, away from the obvious places, to meet artists and see performances out on the street. In the process I discovered (amongst others) THEATREclub and Dick Walsh’s work. I’ve thought about this walk (as a whole and it’s parts) so much since I saw it. It was inspiring to see / meet different performers as we journeyed through a side of Dublin that was sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing but always surprising… 

Veronica and Sorcha led, sharing ideas and thoughts as we walked... The artists that we met on route presented simple but beautifully formed ideas/moments/pieces. Whether thinking about it as a whole event or just about its smaller sections, the striking thing for me was its simplicity. The simplicity of walking, talking, watching. How quickly this act formed a herd of strangers into a gang on a mission, traversing unknown streets. The simple moments of interchange and performance punctuated this experience and it all built slowly but powerfully into a unforgettable declaration from the underground / underside of Dublin city. This work was not about beautiful text or costume or staging but it felt urgent, alive, funny, sad, beautiful, imaginative, edgy, accessible and real… 

During THEATREclub’s piece (about the ignored history / voices from the community of St Michaels Estate, Inchicore, Dublin 8) the performers led us, talking over each other, telling us to listen to their version of events 'don't listen to her, she's not in this, listen to me'... The patchwork of voices and the sense of information and misinformation being playfully slung, made me laugh but it was a rueful laughter. There was sadness and anger underneath the knowing smiles. A casual remark about a forgotten unmarked potato famine pit in a grave yard, a reenactment of the last march Easter Rising fighters made through Inchicore streets to the local barracks before being executed. We marched and played along only at the end finding out what we were really doing. But the chilling revelation was shrugged off with a provocative smile. And anyway kids had already started shouting 'over here! come on! listen to us'... It all reminded me that history is not just a natural narrative, but a weave created by he who shouts the loudest / writes the sassiest / has the most cash to sets up libraries ...  At the end, when the performers led us to the Luas (Dublin’s tram system) and THEATREclub waved goodbye, they shouted ‘Don’t forget what we told you!’ and I thought to myself ‘I will make it my business to remember’. Because this estate has known and continues to know harsh times. The ironic provocative shouts from the children involved in the performance told me everything I needed to know about that. Children who were at once excited to have strangers attention but also uncertain if we were just more people full of shit, coming onto their streets to make judgments... They reminded me of kids I’ve met in Bradford. Or any place where promises have been broken too many times by people who come in and  think they know better, think they can speak for, think they can take what they need, think they can make a difference but then find they can't... THEATREclub asked us to stop thinking of ourselves in their space and to instead, just for once, hear and see what matters to the people in a community talking about its self for itself. The hairs were up on the back of my neck with this work.

Pan Pan theatre’s All That Fall, an installation / performance /audio recording of Beckett’s radio play. Housed in a chamber lit by banks of lights and filled with rocking chairs with skull print cushions to sit on, I sat and experienced audio drama in a whole new way. Very odd. Very disconcerting. To be lulled and comforted as you rock side by side with other audience members and listen to an angry/tragic/hilarious/dark story of ageing and regret. Rocking in a rocking chair is such an intimate, somehow childish thing to do. And creating a world out of the sounds of an audio play is such a private act. Or usually something I do when I'm on my own, in my own kitchen... So engaging with this, in a room full of people, in an atmosphere designed to send you to sleep but then which wakes you with occasional night terrors, was on one level quite fun but on another a slow burn surprise / darkly unique. For UK folk - it's going to Edinburgh this year. I think it's something to experience (if you find that you are in Edinburgh too).

Dublin’s Fare City curated by Michelle Browne in which a cab driver called Thomas drove us to the tenements and talked about his experience of growing up in shocking poverty in the Dublin of the 50s and 60s. An incredibly powerful experience, which I find myself thinking about over and over.  It’s such a simple inversion of roles. To put yourself in the drivers hands and to allow yourself to be taken along for the ride. Suddenly it’s the person who is driving not the destination that matters. Suddenly the cab driver is a person not the thing that motors you from A to B... I found Thomas’ story moving and beautiful because despite some of the incredible hardships of his life I’ve rarely met someone more positive and certain of life’s beauty. This was generous, emotional, intelligent and inspirational work.

I also had the opportunity to hear artists talking about working with and about marginalized communities (including Rosaleen McDonagh / Gabriel Gbadamosi Vauxhall London / Owen Boss from Anu productions / Elli Papakonstantinou from the ODC Ensemble in Greece). Despite the awful title for this panel discussion (which almost made me stay away), the conversation was powerful and provocative and I learnt a huge amount. I got an insight into: What is really going on in Greece and how activism and theatre are melding there into one experience / What really went on with the Magdalene communities in Ireland / What it’s really like to have a physical disability and carve out a career despite people’s assumptions of what you can and can’t do…And much more... Listening to this conversation unfold made me think a lot about a piece of work I’m involved in developing at the moment. It made me think a ton about starting points and integrity. It's making me interrogate where I am and think about how I can do things better.

On the downside

I couldn’t help noticing that while women made up about 2/3’s of the IETM attenders, they were (looking at the event as a whole) far too often under represented on stage and in panel discussions.  I found that frustrating and it made me angry. I went to an event ‘Let the Music Do the Talking’ which celebrated ‘the contribution [made by] musicians to the performing arts in Ireland’. However, out of the 9 or so performers / bands who were described as having a ‘defining impact on contemporary Irish theatre and dance practice’ there was just one woman on stage the whole night… I question how representative this showcase was. I suspect that in fact there are many brilliant women doing work who just didn’t get the call...

Also, if you ever stay in Dublin, be warned! Do not stay at Russell’s Court unless you are there to party party party hard. All night. Nothing wrong with that, but just know the banging beat and the screaming outside your window starts up around 11PM and doesn't really stop again until 4/5AM in the morning. Every single night. And we were up on the top floor. Though they do leave a complimentary pair of earplugs in a little welcoming pack on the toilet cistern, which I thought was thoughtful.


The experience was not without it’s frustrations. But I genuinely do think that attending IETM, seeing this work / hearing these artists talk/ being around this international community for the four days we were away was a gold dust experience.  It was inspiring, challenging and has given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks to The Jerwood Charitable Trust and The Lowry for making it possible.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A pod cast and a manifesto by Powell and Pressburger

Last week I got the chance to join in with a really interesting conversation recorded over at Theatre in the Mill in Bradford, by Chris Goode for his Thompson's Live podcast. Iain Bloomfield, Pauline Mayers and myself were the guests, but it kind of turned into a group chat in places (with members of the audience getting involved too) so the conversation just blossomed... There are so many things that people talked about that I've been thinking about since... Edible soil / politics of performance / proof of an afterlife / the inherent sadness in the act of remembering happiness - and that's not the half of it... Anyway click on Thompson’s Live: Series 2 Episode 2 (8th April 2013) if you fancy a listen : )  PS I was talking about 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' (1943) a film by Powell and Pressburger + a 'BFI Film Classics' book by A.L.Kennedy about what the film means to her...  In the recording I mention a 'Manifesto for Filmmaking' that Powell and Pressburger had created and which Pressburger sent to Wendy Hiller in an attempt to lure her into joining the cast for the film (a part that was eventually taken by Debora Kerr)... Anyway, as A.L.Kennedy says, this manifesto 'could easily be applied to almost any other creative medium' and its something I've been thinking about a lot in these days of arts cuts and a turning away from even the very idea of 'subsidised arts'. Check out the new Arts Council Chair Peter Bazalgette's ideas about subsidy where he says"Subsidy sounds like a European wine lake... It's an old-fashioned passive word that I've trained myself out of using." Well if the person running the arts council no longer believes in fighting for the idea of subsidy, you know things are a-changing... Anyway, yes I've been thinking about all of this a good deal, and when I found this manifesto I punched the air. Frightening how 'modern' and provocative this manifesto feels (though it must be admitted that sometimes the language is also quite old fashioned / male centric - but he was writing in 1942). It makes me think 'how regressive is our political thinking at the moment?' It scares me. BUT we have to be brave and look it in the eye and fight it... And there is something expressed in the five points below that gives me great hope. It's fighting talk. It's passionate talk. And it 100% believes in the importance of art and it's place in the world, not just for artists but for audiences too. There is not one iota of apology here. This sparks with passion and desire. I love that. And I love it because if you watch Powell and Pressburger's work, it reaches the high bar they set themselves. When I think that something is impossible I think of Powell and Pressburger. An inspiration who made magical, impossible things happen... 'Can we do it? YES WE CAN!'...

I'll stop there. But here's the manifesto:

One, we owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss.

Two, ever single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement.

Three, when we start work on a new idea we must be a year ahead, not only of our competitors, but also of the times. A real film, from idea to universal release , takes a year. Or more.

Four, no artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness.

Five, at any time and particularly at the present, the self-respect of all collaborators, form star to prop-man, is sustained, or diminished, by the theme and purpose of the film they are working on. They will fight or intrigue to work on a subject they feel is urgent or contemporary, and fight equally hard to avoid working on a trivial or pointless subject. And we agree with them and want the best workmen with us; and get them.

These are the main things we believe in. They have brought us an unbroken record of success and a unique position. Without the one, of course, we should not enjoy the other very long. We are under no illusions. We know we are surrounded by hungry sharks. But you have no idea what fun it is surf-bathing, if you have only paddled, with a nurse holding on to the back of your rompers. We hope you will come on in, the water's fine.