The voices in my head need to come out.
It’s Thursday 20th November 2014.
On Tuesday we did a performance of Life Forces in a theatre in Exeter, at The Phoenix, with lights and a nearly full house.
After months and hours of preparation this was the moment, an hour and 10 of intense focus and trying to be in the present. The ‘one off’ gigs are highly pressured, ridiculously so. Trying to get an audience. Trying to gather responses afterwards. Trying to arrive at greater awareness of what we have in our hands having just performed it, learning more about how it’s being received, and what it’s giving or might mean for other people.
I’ve been so busy trying to sell and promote the work these last months that it’s easy, very easy to lose sight of the living breathing work itself, the thing that plays out real time, with people witnessing, attending and very much a vital part of the act of a performance taking place. The thing that I invest in so much, that I put myself into, that draws on my history, on my sense of connection and wonder in moving and in touch and relationships and the imagination is a fragile thing. It is carefully and painstakingly put together, and needs to be performed in sync with Phil, after great intervals not being together we have work to find each other again.
There was a short conversation with the audience afterwards and people gave impressions. Some very wonderful and affecting things were spoken. But I can’t help but be tuned into the things not said. As if I was sat where the audience were sitting. I rarely speak in those situations, I usually listen, I wish I was more able to speak but mostly in those moments I say little if at all.
It’s like having a birthday, lots of attention all at once, how to hold it, how to ‘hear’ it. Noticing how when someone came up to me afterwards to share thoughts, I sometimes said, ‘will you write it down for me please?’ we had a book for thoughts outside, for the first time ever! And it’s a lovely book prepared by a dear artist friend Jane Cope, and this meant a lot to me, that it arrived with its pen attached with a piece of wool and some illustrations of Phil and I inside the book. The person talking to me didn’t really want to write things down I think, although she kindly did a bit, they wanted to tell it, relive it, make sure I heard it, not aware that the way I might really have the best chance to absorb it was if there was another record of their precious thought too, that in the moment I was just too ‘in the mixed around state of post performance’ to really make much sense at all.
The next day, in the school playground ‘were you pleased?’ a group of mums had gone together, were excited, alerted to something ‘other’ that they wouldn’t have discovered were it not for my gentle ‘trying to build an audience’ on home turf. I can answer the question; we had a good audience, people came, a sign that the event took place at all. People stayed to talk, described experiences of felt moments, feelings, spiralling thoughts, some questions. Words like ‘mesmerised, intrigued. curious, absorbed, moved’. Of course yes yes, someone is thinking that they didn’t have that experience who maybe don’t want to dampen the glow of others who did but it’s important that I can hear both somehow, without always so acutely aware of the difficulty of making opportunities to perform the work possible. It’s a privilege to be able to actually talk to an audience, to be able to hear what they say. I wanted to hear the more difficult stuff too, it gradually came, some of it did, in after thoughts or people reflecting on the parts that were less effective. The next day, emails either to Phil or me that we would forward on to the other. Emailed thoughts generously and thoroughly written, with committed intent to try and explain things that are not always easily formed with words, a lot of thank you’s; that someone feels they received something that merits a ‘thank you’ is very special somehow.
But I felt broken the day after. I didnt want to get out of bed. The ‘come down’ this time was rather brutal and an almost merciless one. I’d had a fitful night too, and I wanted to be comforted, maybe a kind of baring all feeling, quite exposed from it, not sure what had happened and typically hard on myself, why couldn’t I do better? Again it’s the disproportionate pressure of the single performance. There’s isn’t the chance to think ‘I’ll try that suggestion in the next performance in 2/3 weeks time”, I have to wait two months, and this time two months is a short gap!
The relationship between people being moved and transported to say ‘this was good’ is a difficult marriage with the reality of the process of trying to get performance dates. So often the work is rejected. I’m told not to take it personally but I cannot help it. I want the work to be seen, to have a life, so I can complete some kind of a satisfactory process, knowing that it was performed, maybe 8 times, and that’s not even very ambitious is it? Not three or four, no that’s just not good enough, not after years and months of work and not enough time to live with something and then be alright to move out of those clothes.
I try to be centred and to think it’s alright, things are moving even if they feel like they’re not moving fast enough, that I can only do what I can… but I know this not entirely true. The last two pieces I laboured over, the leaving to one side was painful. Knowing I could do no more, that the performances I had managed to generate were the most I could do and that it was kinder to my spirit to move onto something new. Of course it’s necessary to move on, vital! But harder to do that fully if you know that the thing you are deeply invested in will most likely quietly fade away, unlikely to be picked up again if it’s not held onto tightly, kept close and kept living.
The bereft feeling eased away. I cannot explain the desert. The emotion of it. I grow to love the details within the work, the territory of this space of encounters and meetings and ways of being, I want to get better at it and to reach people and to spend more time ‘performing’ it from somewhere on the inside, communicating what i’ve been working so hard to try to do. What tends to happen is that I lose confidence, doubt creeps in the lengthy spaces in-between and I often find myself on the outside again.
I want to bring my passion to a conversation with a potential programmer, be brave. Yet it feels dangerous to do that, I know it can spill over into slight desperation and self pity and I cannot bare it, I need to feel there is something quietly dignified in my approach even if the coward in me twinges.
People said they were moved and didn’t know why. I feel like that sometimes too. It’s a wonderful thing about the theatre. A place for those moments to happen.
Recently I was teaching some students at Plymouth University. It was so lovely to be in a room with people. The specialness of reinvigorating convictions in ways to approach working with bodies in space and language. One student, Simon, the name has come up three times in a few months, my brother was called Simon and the name cannot be heard without a thought for him, he was 18 when he died. Student Simon from Sweden, had a fire in his belly, eyes glistening, the charge of potential. I take it seriously wanting to give, encourage, push them push them to try something, to think in the moment, to be panicked by a layered up instruction, it’s powerful, everybody notices when a person puts themselves on the edge the whole room changes, because of course they always do it, and it works, something happens then everyone has the chance for change.
There’s more. There’s always more.
The next performance for Life Forces is on 14th January and then I’m going to Washington. I will reconsider timing, reconsider ‘choreography’, how I walk from place to place, how I speak. The projector sequence is not quite working, from feedback given, so what can I do to improve that, maybe I can speak about the beautiful bulb inside it? That when I first turned it on after 30 years it worked but the next time, when I had taken it to Bournemouth, proudly wanting to share it’s glow with David it was dead.
Oh and Phonic FM will review the work next month live on air in a panel discussion, now that’s a first!