Sunday, 21 February 2016

Temporary Space


(*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.


1. Unluck   James Blake   James Blake

2. Palabras de Papel   Nelson Poblete   Palabras de Papel

3. Robot Parade   They Might Be Giants

4. I Am Disappeared   Frank Turner   England Keep My Bones

5. Matilda   Alt-J   An Awesome Wave

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

7. Soco Amaretto Lime   Brand New   Your Favorite Weapon

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



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.


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

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


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.

- - -


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

- - -
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,

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.