Wednesday, 15 November 2017

An Open Letter on Risk and Sexual Abuse/Misconduct in Theatre

Dear [   ],

It has been a long time. It’s been almost three years. During that time, we’ve made some interesting and difficult and world-shattering work together. I don’t regret that. And I wouldn’t change it.

Now that this phase of the project is over, hoping that speaking about it will not impact funding for any future stages of the company, I can write this in reflection. 

This letter is to you. In a secondary way, it is also to other people we know and other people we don’t, who have been in similar positions. 

The time I worked with you was complicated. I can’t address or testify to everything here, because there isn’t the space in one encounter to do that. And that’s not what I want to do.

We all agreed to work in a way that tested our boundaries and each others’. We agreed to be responsible for our own experience - what we did with our own bodies, what we invited, what we did to and with each other. I still believe in that agreement

In any work, but especially improvisational work, there is a simple dynamic: one person poses an invitation, the other person responds. Accepting or adjusting the invitation allows the encounter to continue. Rejecting it ends the encounter. We agreed that rejection was as important as acceptance.

Working with intimacy, sex, nakedness, and (nearly always) non-verbal improvisation, power and harm are sharper sometimes, but also can seem blurry, or at least, more difficult to talk about, than in more mainstream modes of working.

I believe abuse occurs when someone uses the power that they have to coerce someone into doing something demeaning, objectifying; to further disempower them. 

Often, a structure is set up where there feels like there is no option for the person on the receiving end. More specifically, there is no option where they do not lose power or autonomy. “Someone does x to me, or I lose my job” “My partner is violent towards me or  I leave and have nowhere to live” etc.

In a room filled wish cismen, exploring masculinity, there is an immediate power imbalance. I don’t know what others’ prejudices are. I don’t know whether you’re aware of what your prejudices are. Will you listen to me and my body like you do with the other guys? Or will you avoid me and make assumptions - make it my job to work to teach you, my job to work to avoid accidental or careless harm?

I was and am interested in those questions. I don’t think power imbalance is inherently bad. I think it’s interesting. I think acknowledging it and playing with it in a live and potentially dangerous way is an important thing to do in theatre, because that’s the world we live in. I can’t speak for you, but I’m pretty sure you agree.

That work breaks down and becomes not only harmful, but abusive in one condition. When we play with those dynamics, when we ask a question that pushes those boundaries, when we learn where the power lies - 

And then -

Someone makes an intervention that purposefully imposes that power over someone else. So the recipient’s choice is either to lose autonomy in that encounter, or to lose their autonomy in that moment as a performer.

At a theatre, in a play, it might be someone in power asking you on a date. You might find that appropriate or not, harassment or not. When you say no and they take your job away, that’s abuse.

In our work, it becomes abuse when the choice posed is to do something you’ve clearly communicated you’re not interested in or to abandon the encounter. Especially if that scenario happens again and again.

I believe that distinction is clear to both parties, in any work or social situation, so long as they are both paying attention.

We always said walking out is fine. Leaving the encounter is fine. However, when that’s the reason, things feel off. Because it feels like the question being put to me is no longer one where you are interested in something, and want to learn from the outcome. It often felt like you had learned, you knew where things stood. You wanted to cross an established boundary, not test one. Because you could, because you didn’t think I’d walk away, because you were too absorbed in yourself to hear or respect the warning signs - I don’t know why.

The same is true with desire in our work. We talked a lot about real desire and performed desire and how they were kind of the same thing and sometimes not. Everyone is allowed to desire everyone or anyone else. Everyone is allowed to not desire someone or anyone. That’s allowed to change over time. Including you and me.

Inviting encounters, suggesting desire, and letting me do something to pleasure you, then ending it, breaking off without showing any moments of appreciating or even listening to my body or desire is harmful once. The effect is sexually demeaning and humiliating. That might not be the intention, and I can live with harm. That’s part of working with risk. 

It is abusive when it is a long-standing pattern. That’s not work, that’s not engaged communication, that’s not listening, and it’s not critically or theatrically interesting.

That was your consistent mode of engaging with me for three years, in front of audiences ranging from someone very close to me to large groups of strangers. It is abusive. It’s a power play. It says “I can subjugate you sexually, get what I want, then act like I was never interested. I have the power and I want to remind you that you don’t” My choice is to do the thing - give you a blow job, for example, knowing you will most likely suddenly step away or push me or hold me down, recontextualising it and casting me in a demeaning role. Or I can not participate as a performer.

There was an especially awful encounter we had when were asked to do some work with just the two of us. I don’t believe I need to go into detail. I don’t want to relive it - I’ve been asked to do that once already, and that was traumatic.

We were in a locked room (common practice in the company due to the sensitive nature of the work), where you did that for an hour. I know you know that was a harmful session. I know you at least suspect that it was an abusive one. But you never reached out to me, never addressed it, never followed through on my invitations to meet up and debrief more generally.

I could have left. I could have left the group, I could have left each of those encounters. I didn’t. Because I don’t believe that space inherently invites abuse. I believe you made a series of choices. I believe I had a right to do that work without you being abusive, both generally and sexually.

And that’s what makes me angry. When I finally found a way to talk to the group about how moments like that were tied into the inherent imbalance in the room because of my body, you didn’t really engage. You never took ownership or responsibility. You never tried to check in with me or change, even when you suspected something was off. 

When that power imbalance is there, when abuse has already happened, it is so difficult to bring up, because the conversation has, in a sense, already failed. It is scary because the odds are that nothing will change. Writing this letter is not easy. And I honestly don’t know if anything will change because of it. 

I don’t know what your intention was in those moments. I don’t know what you thought you were doing that evening. But your lack of initiating conversation makes it hard to care about what your intentions were.

The impact was harmful and abusive. I know other people who have felt this in other rooms with you. Ones not so complicated and obscured as our company was. Their stories are not mine to tell. I have no idea as to whether they might want to speak out or not, and no opinion about whether they should. But if they choose to do so, I will support them.

As I said at the start, I do value things you did in that room. People and situations are complicated. This letter isn’t about those things. But it’s also not intended to make anyone feel vilified. 

I hope this letter both makes you reconsider your approach to working relationships and warns other people who might find themselves working with you in the future.

I hope it can open up conversation around the ways in which abuse can be built up over time in theatre practice, and the ways in which trans people, queer people, and other vulnerable groups find it especially difficult to speak about.

I hope it could be an extension of the current conversation around abuse to more experimental modes of working, with more detail and nuance.

I sincerely hope this letter does more good than harm.

To whoever is reading this, thank you. If anyone wants to continue a forward-facing conversation about preventing abuse in structures that hold risk, I’d be happy to be a part of that.


-Griffyn

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Back and Not Dead

Hey hey! So, I'm coming back to this blog after a long, long-ass time being away. There are some posts coming really soon. In the meantime, I wanted to host a call-out for my upcoming zine:

SucKit

Trans sex is 2 radical 4 u

It's a zine by trans ppl, for everyone, about why sex as a trans person is super hard, really awesome, and why we never fucking talk about it and why we can almost never have a good hook up in "Queer" spaces.

If you don't like that prompt or don't see yourself in it, then GREAT! Send me a thing! Let's put your perspective in there!

Submissions accepted from everywhere and anywhere and any identity (except, obvs, cis ppl - Yo, every dating app, rom com, gay romance movie/play, and sex toy is for you)


If you want to submit, e-mail me LITERALLY ANYTHING in any format, to griffyn@griffyngilligan.com.

If you're thing can't be e-mailed, please write me. and we'll figure out a way for us to still get it in the zine.

Deadline is Tuesday, 29 August 2017 by midnight BST (British Summer Time)

- - -

Next post coming soon. If you haven't checked out Griffyn's Imaginary Animal Planet yet, do that. :) It's strange, it's fun, it loves you.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Semi/Spring

Thoughts

Hello, and welcome to here and this and Spring! Mostly spring. Because I've been hunkered down a bit the last couple weeks. And, so, even though there's several swirling masses of thought and indignant anger and things I want to shout and wrestle with and point to and grin a lot about...I haven't quite picked one and written through it all the way yet. (Included in these are: the endings of stories, art gallery curation, safe spaces and headphone marketing, queer visibility vs. activism...and so on.)

So, I'm going a bit out of order and I'll begin with a short story-kind-of that I wrote, which has a lot of my recent thinking in it anyway.

As usual, if that's not your thing, feel free to skip down to things made by smarter artists than me and music by people who know how to properly play an instrument and/or make cool noises.

In Progress Thing


Q. E. D. - Queer Existentialism Datamap


Dany was a boy who was not very sad, and he did not want to die.

Everything was a shadow to Dany. When he realized his mother loved the idea of him, like an eggshell, he would wake from sleep crying, petrified she had died. And then that stage passed. Since he had known the time before his siblings were dead, they were never really alive to him. He learned to love by mourning handsome Charlie, while he lisped through his multiplication tables. Dany was petrified. Charlie was not dead yet, and so Dany had the hardest time speaking to him.

Soon, Charlie began to remove the meat from his sandwiches. Dany developed a crush on all the animals that were not quite dead yet anymore. He mourned the sacrificed slice of turkey for Charlie by swapping it for the small sweet his mother packed him. They developed a ritual by which certain death was not wasted and through which they made a pact together not to waste away.

Birthdays were beautiful to Dany. And they petrified him. That was the only time he could see the ghosts of finite time dancing spent breath above wax-splattered frosting. Sometimes guests who had not conspired in his animation sung in tribute. He didn’t take it personally. Dany thought they were mostly confused and astounded that any two people could exist at the same time. He still wasn’t sure they could.

After they were too old to count off the years left behind on their fingers, Charlie started a new birthday. He fashioned it out of syringe caps and small pills and various adult signatures below the same
story: jagged and precarious and haunted with gaps, like a Jenga tower.

He had a shadow that predated his lisp. There were small scars on his feet from where Charlie had tried to cut it off because he feared he would never meet the earth. On Charlie’s new birthday, they carved his name into places he had been and things he had touched and listened to the light dancing in the crevices.

On these days, Dany watched the dead things and the dying things ricochet like fireworks beyond the pull of gravity. 
Charlie’s parents yelled at him for burning things they could never get back. Charlie did not hear. His eyes were flickering with the buzz of a crowd that had just evacuated the stadium. Charlie grappled with opponents that spluttered narration into electrified microphones every time they came up for air. They taunted him with LIVE WIRE living, in strange tendrils unfurling beyond his grasp. Charlie kept returning to the template ring because that was the only place he could find them.

Dany hated himself for mourning Charlie, then.

On a summer day, Dany watched the sun whirl round the planet, from the middle of a field. Heat and glare gave way to
trails of backlit pollution to
traces of the galaxy, expanse and contract and contradiction to
remnant glow speckled with bird calls.
And in the day he listened for animals low to the ground. Beetles shimmered like chameleons. At night, he sung soft phrases to clouds passing under the moon.

Before either of them is alone, Charlie captures the space between the repelling atoms of their palms while they are holding hands. He seals it in a vial. They break into Cape Canaveral in Brevard County, Florida. The next day, the vial will detach from the vessel, duct tape burned up in the ionosphere. It will stay traveling, propelled by its own inertia and caressed by gravitational waves. 
It does not matter whether it will ever be forgotten. 

It has always been gone.


Other People's Things

“None of Us is Yet a Robot” podcast - Emma Frankland. Emma is incredibly gracious at being simultaneously host and revolutionary. The podcast is set up as a conversation between two transwomen, and though gender and feminism have been strong threads so far, she and her guests cover everything from robots to 15th century plays to drum-playing siblings. This podcast is so, so needed, and Emma carves the space for it boldly and brilliantly. [So far, guests have included Maeve Devine, Jo Clifford, and Rhyannon Styles]

“Performing Sculpture” - Alexander Calder exhibit, Tate Modern. Although curated appallingly, Calder’s force in connecting loose ends of science, sound, audience, interactive installations, abstract art, mechanics and engineering, and so on vibrates tangibly. I don’t remember the last time I’ve been quite so angry and calmed by something at the same time. Sadly, none of the machines are turned on, many of the mobiles are sidelined so you can’t walk around or under them, and you can’t take photos (????). However, if you can afford it (also not sure why it needs to be a paid exhibit…) I’d say it’s worth the £17. It ends this Sunday, 3 April, so if you haven’t seen it and you have a bit of spare change, get cracking.


Playlist

“Machete”   -   Amanda Palmer


“Padraic My Prince”   -   Bright Eyes   -   Letting Off the Happiness


“It Never Changes to Stop”   -   The Books   -   Lost and Safe


“Letter from an Occupant”   -   The New Pornographers   -   Mass Romantic


“All the Umbrellas in London”   -   Magnetic Fields


“Australia”   -   Amanda Palmer   -   Going Down Under



“Grand Old Paris”   -   PigPen Theatre Co.   -   Bremen

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Moment of Silence

Thoughts

There’s no such thing as silence. (1) If I didn’t know that before, then living in a city has made it clearer. Not because a city is constantly noisy, exactly - because the noisiness makes it a little easier to think I might be getting moments of silence here and there. And then, as someone who adamantly does not believe in silence, I'm much more incited to investigate just what intrigued me, prickling in the background, when a shift in volume grabbed my attention.

George Home-Cooke and Lynne Kendrick (among other sound studies academics (2) ) write about re-sounding - the sounds of attention an audience makes. And, here, an audience is anyone listening. Anyone focusing. Often, the act of focusing in a sudden absence is louder - emotionally, mentally, in decibels - than the initial soundscape.

Here, I’m compiling a list of moments of silence - mainly ones I’ve encountered in the last week or so. (This is a tiny bit stylistically influenced by Maddy Costa’s blog post of “ink polaroids” for Every One. BUT, I’m not writer enough to attempt a series of those, so this is formally a kind of a loose knockoff.)

1. The silence between the blackout and applause. Lesser-loved cousin: smattering of claps or too-long pause between the end of a show without a blackout and a full round of applause.

The audience wishes to carry the world of the play into their own respective, impending worlds.
The actors wish to judge their entrance so as to take an appropriately timed curtain call. Often because no one really knows quite what curtain calls do.
The technicians and ushers (and maybe creative team, if they are in attendance) compare silence duration and depth for after-work show reports of varying levels of formality.

I wonder how many people are scared of how long this silence could go on if we did not interrupt it.  I am, too, but I am also very excited.

2. The silence when you are not quite sure how to reply.

    In theatre, there is a system of channels of response to a conversation. Applause, post-show chats, congratulations to those you know involved, reviews… 

    In life, even after the most satisfying conversation finishes, there is always silence in the next one (or lack thereof) - what is not spoken of again, for three conversations, for ten, what gets repeated to other people, in other spaces, but does not check back in.

The message thread you don’t touch for an hour or a week because you want to get it just right.


[ “Speak now or forever hold your peace” and you think of the perfect thing to say that night in the shower. ]


3. The looks of people turning heads and swiveling back to phones or a train ad or the ground when there is a public outburst. A man who has been leaning against a wall, asking for change, suddenly springs out at one passerby, swearing at him, and chases him down the pavement. Another man shouts aloud to no one in particular on a tube carriage and, perhaps embarrassed, runs over to a different car at the next stop. I didn’t hear him shout. I hear passengers discuss it as I board, just after he left. 

Silence that wants to be respectful and uncertain and afraid and distancing.

4. I watch Akeim dance for the last show of Every One. The first I heard of him was in January. My boyfriend met with him, and mentioned to me that it had been an interesting meeting, as Akeim had been taking part in a month-long sponsored silence for Calm (a charity aimed at preventing male suicide). One of my first conversations with him involved a pre-show check-in where he said he had recently lost his voice for a while, but, then, he said, “I don’t really need my voice to do any of this.” After some carefully chosen words from me at a later check in, about where I was, and what I was excited about for the day, I was re-taping a fixture, and Akeim hugged me. A fraught and self-frustrated balance of silence met with an insightful and forgiving one.

5. Radio silence. 

Technical dysfunction. Absence on the other end. My own lack of ability or faith in myself to accomplish the task unaided. 

6. Late night silence.

I wake up and it takes me a few minutes to think to check for my partner’s breathing. For my breathing. For the sound of birds to gauge the time of night or morning. For the sounds of my dreams to stop. The silence of beginning to listen or remembering what listening is or reaching without knowing where or to what end. The silence where I put the noises I am not awake enough to locate.

7. Headphone silence.

I turn off my headphones when I might have to talk to someone. Usually, in a store or if I see someone I know or something. I think I should feel guilty about this sometimes. Like, I should always be listening to everyone, just in case, and, anyway, not just as a sort of protocol of politeness when I might want to say something.

I’m walking towards a bookshop in Oxford Circus. I hear this couple talking, and the guy says, “That was definitely a woman.” The girl says, “How do you know?” And the guy says, “Look at her waist - and I’m pretty sure I saw boobs.”

And, I’m just like, fuck, why do you have go to dissecting the gender and the body of some poor person on the street just minding their own business, being quiet, keeping their head down, probably just trying to get home without people staring and being dicks, trying not to attract attention. (And, of course, I’ve just gendered the couple, and I feel pretty confident about that, because they are obviously so happy and comfortable in their binary-cis categories, which is probably bullshit at some subconscious level…) And I’m wrong.

I take out my headphones in case they say anything worse, because I’m in a fighting kind of mood. And also in case the person they’re talking about is nearby, and in case anyone gives them beef. I hear yelling. And behind me, walking past me, is someone in a dapper pinstriped suit and waistcoat, with a pipe and a bowler hat and shiny black shoes. He’s shouting a stream of things as he swaggers along, mainly, “I’m a fucking man don’t you say otherwise don’t you look at me like that don’t you deny me look at me look at me you bastards yeah don’t stare I’m a fucking man all right what the fuck do you know

And it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in a long time. The interior monologue of so many people, and such a loud and piercing and deeply rooted and justified one for so many trans people. This stranger is just letting it out, got dressed up in his best to take a walk and say it all.

8. A moment of silence.

We are all sick of the silence.
We all want to think of all the loud things that we now hear differently or on repeat or at a strange pitch or volume, because the original feed is gone.
We all want to be louder than retreat or betrayal or death or losing or uncertainty. And we want to do that together.


(1) See John Cage's visit to an anechoic chamber during his pursuit of absolute silence, when he heard his own nervous system and pulse, amplified. Among many, many other physics, philosophy, theatre/sound studies, etc. texts.

(2) See "Theatre Noise: The Sound of Performance", or other writings by Kendrick and/or Home-Cooke.

Other People's Things


“Black Aperture” by Matt Rasmussen - a striking foray into suicide, nature, cinematic time slippage and contrivance, escape, new starts, and fracturing. “Chekov’s Gun” has been stirring my thoughts a lot the last few days, and the first “After Suicide” is both literary genius and something I wish I could hang on my wall as artwork.


London Improvisers Orchestra - I went to their gig this past Sunday (they do one the first Sunday of every month), and if you want an incredibly talented, attentive experience of engagement with music, silence, and conversation, this is your best bet by far.

Playlist

Radicalized - Desparecidos - Payola
listen
Eagle on a Pole - Conor Obrest and the Mystic Valley Band   -   Conor Obrest
listen
Young Caesar 2000 - The Mountain Goats  - Zopilote Machine
listen
A Conversation About Cancer  - The Daredevil Christopher Wright   -  In Defence to a Broken Back
listen
Bad Wine and Lemon Cake   -   The Jane Austen Argument   -   The Birthing Pyre
watch
Harsh Words   -   Loney Dear   -   Dear John
Purchase or download
(Or if you really want to listen to an easily accessible quality recording of something similar, go for Young Hearts by Loney Dear)
Me and Jane Doe   -   Charlotte Gainsbourg   -  IRM
listen



Sunday, 21 February 2016

Temporary Space

Thoughts

(*The scattered-ness of my week means that this is a lot more meandering and thoughts-out-loud than the kind of thing where I can more specifically quote and cite smarter people who have thought longer about this stuff, and where I can say something that feels kind of tangible. But, I’m really trying to hold my feet to the flame on getting something out every week, and I know I may well have to give next week a rest, as it will be turned up to 12. So, apologies, and (as always) feel free to skip to parts about cool art, or just entirely)

This week has been pretty spiked by temporality for me. The leaving of a rehearsal space. The flash of the event celebrating a book well over four years in the making. The insistent and jagged uncertainties in my own housing arrangements. A scratch showing of a show on the geographic distances and emotional lengths we will go to to establish a permanent home - a process inherently fraught with futility.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of text and sound in theatre, and the ways they can converge on and/or against storytelling. That convergence is all about the impermanence in haunting, for me. Words that stick in your mind for days, in a really good, soul-pricking show, for years, whether or not you buy the play text. And sounds - be that music or noise or something between or a little of both or just the timbre of the performer’s voice - they are physically the most fleeting thing. An image may be sustained for a period of time, and may be more easily remembered and described and preserved in a visually-based language. There are very few words for aural impressions that don’t rely on a visual root. And, often, a moment of voice or instrument or traffic is quickly replaced or adopted by a very new and different soundscape, even if it persists.

So, what potential does temporality offer us? Fleeing. Fighting. Fucking. The obvious three. The enormous space a question can open up. The necessity of all theatre - if it is temporary, then it can be play. If it will not be said again, then we are compelled to listen.

Rajni Shah is currently working on a thorough, very curious, wonderfully deep and welcoming investigation into listening in collaboration (and just in general) with her PhD. For an experiment as part of her research, she invited three friends to each spend a week with her, listening, making, and learning more about the world and/through one another. These encounters each had a documentary filmmaker in the room. At a screening of the resulting films, Karen Christopher, one of the collaborators, spoke of the difference between a conversation over tea - maybe an hour or two - and a week long, 40-hour intensive conversation. You feel provoked to go deeper, pick people up on points you disagree with or are unsure of, pry open the lid over darker waters when you know you have that long, she said (and without any kind of recording of the evening, I’m paraphrasing wildly here). 

So, what’s in the most charged, most enlightening, most damaging hour of a 40- hour conversation or a 40-week collaboration or a 40- year relationship? I don’t have any clue. Mostly, because I haven’t been involved in any of those. And partly, because my own wrestling with transience is a pretty primary one - based in a kind of stacking up fear and focused intent and estimated resilience against many more unknowns in some kind of ridiculous equation.

But, watching a young cast of ICT perform a show about immigration, witnessing experienced makers relentlessly throw themselves into making piece after piece that burns itself up as it goes along - I think it has to be about bravery. Not reckless or macho or chivalrous or selfless bravery (or maybe all of those and more). But a kind of reveling in the stuff we learn when we let go, change our minds, say no too quickly, say yes too late, have to stop before we’re ready. Somewhere between the reassurance that life goes on whether we fuck up or succeed or remain confused, and the knowledge that sometimes it doesn’t, that’s where the impossible slips in.

Other People's Things

Tar Baby, by Desiree Burch. Fucking incredible show /about race/ about colonialism/ about lots of very important things. Superbly clever formally and dramaturgically and the very rare kind of painful-to-watch where you laugh through most of it. Even the jagged bits situate themselves as a self-aware question to audience members and other makers. It was at the Vaults Festival, and is gone now, but isn’t over. Here is a review by Maddy Costa

The Forest and The Field, by Chris Goode. The book on theatre to read. The book on living in and outside of the world to read. The book to read if you have a pulse and live on a capitalist planet and speak English. The end. I’m sure I’ll keep referencing this book here, and I’ve been reading it since December, but the official book launch was this week, so this seems as good a time as any to give it the flare of recognition it’s due for steeping in my brain for weeks so far and years to come.

Playlist

1. Unluck   James Blake   James Blake
Listen

2. Palabras de Papel   Nelson Poblete   Palabras de Papel
Listen 

3. Robot Parade   They Might Be Giants
Listen

4. I Am Disappeared   Frank Turner   England Keep My Bones
Listen

5. Matilda   Alt-J   An Awesome Wave
Listen

6. Oh No   Gogol Bordello   Gypsy Punk: Underdog World Strike
Listen

7. Soco Amaretto Lime   Brand New   Your Favorite Weapon
Listen  

Something In Progress

Didn’t get anything new done this week, so here is a cut segment from Scratch Cards, which is currently between draft and test-drive phases:

- - -

We woke up black eyes and strained muscles and twitsted limbs. It had all lapsed in black fog - no one was technically culpable. We laughed immediately for a long time. 
Because someone had finally dropped the ball someone else let loose we had ended the stalemate like conspirators, a lingering gesture.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Tribes

Thoughts

I went to Complicite’s show, “The Encounter” tonight. Which is largely based around using relation to/within a tribe as a lens for purpose, self-reflection, mortality, and the like. But I’ve been thinking about tribes for a while now.

Ponyboy Curtis is a tribe. We’re a group of people in their 20’s. Members can come and go, but the basis of being together is one of love - for each other, for what we do. So, mostly, people visit and leave, or they stay. Sometimes, I’m astonished at how little we know about each other’s lives and data outside of our work together. But we know each other very well, in other ways.  I can look at a boy across a rectangle of LX tape on a cement floor, and know what he wants and visa versa. He can look at me and be ready to put our naked bodies on the line in a way that surprises everyone, but leaves no one beyond repair, even if they fall, even if they run, full-throttle, into a brick wall; we both get at least a taste of what we want after those three seconds of locked gaze.

Simon Stephens writes a lot about tribes. (So does Nina Raine in her show of that exact title, which is worth a read and a decent production, if you can get to one.) He writes about people who rely on others for their process of self-reflection and identification, while fighting for their own corner of the world, with everything they’ve got.


My housemates have been watching Louis Theroux’s Netflix series about the US prison system. Which features lots of tribes. Theroux (and, jovially, my housemates) critique this system of codes and reliance. How can things get like this, they ask. How do people build such an ordered system for themselves in order to prove they are the best at breaking down the lines?

And I think about family. A couple days ago, I talked with Maddy Costa about family, about how sentimentality in family is the thing that keeps it together, that propels us into dangerous territory. If we can love our family even when we struggle with what they say or do, then we know what it is we value. What it is we love the most.

And, so, I think tribes are important. I wonder sometimes if queerness, if the rebellion and the fracturing of rigidity and systems negates any kind of group unit. But, I know that the families built by self-proclaimed queers - however fleeting or strong or large or small or imagined or signed-lease-literal - those can hold intention and pain and desire in ways nothing else quite does. They are a lubrication to food, bed, conversation, exercise, empathy, and the other things we need to get by.

There is harm. There is always harm when we work together. There are tribes in a rehearsal room and on the street and on a subway carriage. We are complicit in it all, even when we least want to be. Out of the jolts and the disappearance and the changes and the uncertainty, we learn. To be better with ourselves, in the world. To know how to become the person we want to be with others. To build trust. To build a trust that has room for everything  - for betrayal and concrete and anger and ruin and void and desire and selfishness and quiet giving, loud love. 

“Asking”. I want you to fall. I want to test you. I want us both to struggle, and then learn how I catch you, how we go into the ground together. “Falling”. I am calling to you to go down with me. I am rendering you immobile for a moment. To mediate my own self harm. To show me something new about yourself. Under strain.

For a visit to Ponyboy, Simon Stephens wrote, “…lie behind your lover with your arm over theirs in the nighttime. You will fail at all these things.”  You will try in the night, at your most vulnerable, at your best attempt to harness something beyond your conscious power. And so you are doing it, you are succeeding, and also you are failing yourself and someone else and your dream about who you can be together. It is this reaching with all your might to others in one moment, impossibly, in which we take our own strides and obstacles to task, in which we are so, so very alive.


Other People's Things

The Encounter, Complicite - a long, rapturous story that knows exactly where it’s dimensions are and where they might be crossed. Excellent performance by Simon McBurney, and just an immensely satisfying piece of theatre overall (which is a very rare thing for me to find, here and now).

God, Jr. by Dennis Cooper - I’ve been thinking about video gaming and death a lot this week, mainly because both those themes run heavy in Every One (the show I’m currently SM’ing). I read this a few months ago, and it’s been hanging around persistently since.There are some things about accountability, trauma, family definition, and many varieties and tenors of escape that this novel handles with a skill and aplomb I can only envy and delight in at the back of my mind on delayed trains.

Paylist

Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh   -   Bright Eyes   -   Fevers & Mirrors
Listen

Black Cadillacs   -   Modest Mouse   -   Good News for People Who Love Bad News
Guerrilla Radio   -   Rage Against the Machine   -    The Battle of Los Angeles
Keys (It’s All Right)   -   Stew   -   Passing Strange (Original Cast Recording)
Out of My Mind   -   James Blunt   -   Back to Bedlam
Satellite   -   Guster   -   Ganging Up on the Sun
The Keep Teen Skip   -  cLOUDDEAD
Watch (involves flame throwing!)

Something in Progress

The world will end and
there won't be an algori-
thm to predict dreams.

(15 November 2012,
from my nightmare haiku series)

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Hello, Brick Structures, and Ghosts

Introduction


Hello.  And welcome to this space. Over the last several months, I’ve had a number of times where I’ve wanted to respond to things I’ve seen online (Twitter, mostly), things I’ve read or heard or things I’ve wanted to work through out loud.  And I’ve wanted to share things I’ve discovered.  So, after a bit of prodding, I’m opening this blog.

I’d like it to be a place of thinking aloud and collecting the things that are riding alongside those thoughts (probably quite often in such an obtuse way that even I’m not sure how they link up). Blogs scare me a little, because there are some fantastic ones out there, and because I’m scared mine will be whiny or self-centered or just not as interesting in comparison. So, I’m sticking to the knowledge that a) anyone is free to engage with as much or little of anything on here as the find interesting and b) I might look back on anything here in five years or a year or three weeks and wince a little, and that’s going to have to be OK.

As a dedication to the thinking/sharing/maybe-venting-sometimes reasons for having a blog at all, here’s the format I’m going to set out with:

  1. Writing about something that’s set off some sparks for me over the week (or longer)
  2. Sharing something(s) other people have made that I find pretty fucking hot.
  3. A playlist
  4. (maybe) Something I’ve written or made.

So, here we go.

-  -  -
1. Thoughts

Death. Is kind of a weird theme for the beginning of something (but so often is… or in movies it is, at least). But I’ve spent the last week in a rehearsal room for  the play Every One with Chris Goode and Company, which will be opening a run at the BAC at the beginning of March. The play is about death (among other things) - it centres around a woman who dies while doing the ironing one Saturday morning. 

Everything I've worked on over the past 18 months has been about, or decently steeped in, death. I didn't realize that until I started working on this show, but it's true, and to a degree that feels somehow beyond coincidental. In fall 2014, I made a solo scratch piece, White Hole Noise, in which I was killed several times by nightmares broadcast by a radio. In the start of 2015, I spent a whole term of my MA devising a piece around death, pinging it off nearly every format and culture imaginable. The next two terms, three of us made a show in which two friends investigated grief over having lost the third member of their trio, years later, and the resulting disintegration of their friendship. I spent the last four months of the year acting in Teddy Ferrara, a play about LGBTQ youth suicide. Between these, I worked with Ponyboy Curtis and on Weaklings, which, though softer, certainly hold strong echoes of loss, suicide, and horror.




(Left to Right: White Hole Noise (2014), research image for Wake (2015), Martha and the Event Horizon (2015), Teddy Ferrara © Donmar Warehouse, (2015) )



And, I still don’t have any conclusions. 

Death is a right.  The most important right.

Death is multitudinous. To the extent that trying to hold it in a show feels like trying to catch a fireball.

Death and grief feel like opposite things. Grief is about trying to live. Death is about removal.

I find talking about death really frustrating. 

Last night, I filled out a survey for people who have contemplated or attempted suicide. It’s sponsored by the National Rail, and run by the Samaritans. They ask you a lot of the stuff you’d expect, but I got to the final question and couldn’t really answer it. You’ve put down where and how you’ve imagined killing yourself or tried to kill yourself, and why you’d choose those places. Then, they ask what you would want at those locations to deter you from going through with it. 

And, if I’d been honest, I’d have left it blank. A cast member this week described a car accident she’d been in. Time slowed as the car was rolling, she said, and she could tell how bad the wreck was, and she knew she was going to die. She left unscathed, though the car was totaled, but for months she felt very strange. She felt dead. She’d be packing clothes to go on tour, and she was packing a dead person’s clothes. In the moment of the crash, she believed she was going to die and she relaxed, totally, and accepted it. Then, she had to re-enter living.

If death is nothing, then it is more of a nothing than before one is born. Time didn’t exist at one point, but when and if the universe drifts apart to it’s demise, what defines the period after time ceases to be a guiding force of matter and space?

And how do you put that on a stage? How do you put that in front of an audience? 

Perhaps death is the word we use not just for the cessation of vital signs and consciousness, but also for something quite different - the rushing into the vacuum.  Eumpemisms, speculation, memory, the changing hands of possessions, the weight of the reasons on our conscience - both personal and socially collective.

So, it becomes an emotionally-charged political microscope. Who has the right to decide to die? Who has the right to tell the stories about the dead? Should we lie about the dead? Whose deaths do we talk about in newspapers, in our kitchens late at night, on the phone, onstage? 

Was it the dead persons’s “time to go” - aka. did they fulfill their average lifespan, did they produce enough work and/or children and/or morally upstanding deeds (on a globe pulsing capitalism)? If not, what would they need to have done to earn that time in an afterlife? What if you laugh during a funeral? What if only one person remembers which flowers the deceased loved? What if the entire memorial process is conducted under the wrong name and pronouns? Our rituals for death carry the things we most need and cling to, and those we most wish to impose on those we care about.

Then, a piece about death challenges us to speak to an ideal society, while confronting the usefulness and even comfort of some of the most problematic forces in our world.



And, at the tube station or at the top of a bell tower or etched into the handle of a switchblade, that’s what I want. I want an acknowledgment of why anyone might welcome death. Why any of us might want to open a vacuum. And, whether we fight or welcome death, or something in between, a reminder of all the beautiful things that rush in through the exit.

-  -  -

Other People's Things


Rhiannon Armstrong (has been and) is curating The International Archive of Things Left Unsaid. It’s what it says on the tin, but with a simplicity and focus of care that is absolutely astounding. You need 5 minutes, an internet connection, and a pair of headphones to listen.

Ridiculusmus had a brilliant run of Give me Your Love at the BAC. It involved PTSD, MDMA trials, a cardboard box, a locked room, and some funny, passionate, very serious voices. They could use a little support right now. They also just did a podcast recording with Thompson's Live, which is worth a listen.

- - -

Playlist

1. At the Bottom of Everything   .   Bright Eyes   .   I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
Watch
2. Hospital   .   The Daredevil Christopher Wright   .   In Deference to a Broken Back
Listen
3. Z-E-P-H-Y-R   .   SQUALLOSCOPE   .   SOFT INVASIONS
Watch
4. Someone Else’s House   .   Wet Brain   .   Too Much Fun
Listen
5. The Last Day of Jimi Hendrix’s Life   .   The Mountain Goats   .   Ghana
Listen
6. Holland, 1945   .   Neutral Milk Hotel   .   In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Listen
7. Hard to Be   .   David Bazan   .   Curse Your Branches
Listen
Watch

- - -
Something in Progress

A Practical Guide to Self-Harm for Ghosts

1. Stand in direct moonlight until you can’t feel anything.
2. Project your friend’s nightmares onto a big screen somewhere in the city
3. Buy all the food you can never eat with someone else’s money.
4. Look at pictures of yourself as a baby.
5. Take off all your clothes and sing beautifully in a cemetery
5. b Take off all your clothes at a party where you’re the hottest person in the room.
6.   Bid for an ornate mirror at an auction.
7. Fire your publicist.
8. Become a rocket scientist
9.  Write a will.
10.  Learn a new language.
11. Sleep.
12. Adopt a pet.
13. Kiss a stranger.
14. Wear out a pair of boots.
15. Break fire extinguishers.
16. Record foley for pornography.
17. Name a child.
18. Interview the Loch Ness Monster.
19. Go to the moon.
20. Preach the afterlife to other ghosts.
21. Use a telegraph machine.
22. Contract lice.
23. Sneeze. Yawn. Stretch.
24. Take smelling salts.
25. Smash intricate glassware in anger.
26. Answer the phone.
27. Diagnose anything.
28. Warm laundry.
29. Register to vote for an ineffectual party
30. Wait up to see the sunrise.

- - - 

Cheers and good wishes,
G.x

PS. (Semi-obscure) thanks to:
1. Chris Goode, The Forest and the Field: Changing Theatre in a Changing World, who cites Jeremy Hardingham on the idea of "Theatre rushing out of it's own emergency exit". This phrase has been bouncing around in my head since I read it about seven weeks ago, and I've applied it to all theatre encounters since, including my past week in the rehearsal room for Every One.

2. Timmy Reed, The Ghosts That Surrounded Us, though I'd been thinking about ghosts long before I read this, it's an excellent work that helped me reconsider my framework around ghosts and spectrality. 

3. Alan Ginsberg, who wrote, "their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion" in the first section of his poem Howl, which I encountered this weekend via the Rob Epstein/Jeffrey Friedman film of the same title. There is something perfect and succinct in that line that I couldn't get across in quite the same way in this entire post.