I hope that you’re well. I am posting this from a hospital cafe, but wrote it from beneath a duvet fort last night, awash in a sea of hob knobs and tea (as is the post english student way).
I wanted to write to a you a little bit tonight about our next big project – we had Dark and Lovely in February, It Burns it all Clean in March, and then spent April… sort of comatose, really. I went on holiday, and slept, Emma went on holiday and got a tan, I saw my family, briefly, we re grouped, re calibrated, re energized. It’s nice to feel like a human again. It turns out that sometimes I shower regularly and smell nice. WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT?
The Next Big Project is called The Monument, and it’s a community led/ community based performance – which to me, means it’s made with a community, that their voices are laced throughout the work, and that they are present in every level of it – the writing, the directing, the performing, the designing, the coming up with the concept, the admin, the post show drinking. All of it belongs to them, and I am more of a footnote. If it works (and it will) it will be their triumph. It belongs to them.
The Monument is a performance made to commemorate life as it is happening.
It’s part of a commission, On Our Turf, the brainchild of Alex Wright, who is associate artist at York Theatre Royal (and a nice man). It involves working with 4 market towns – Easingwold, Pocklington, Helmsley and Selby, to make exciting, innovative boundary blurring performance happen in rural areas – but to take it one step further than that. To have the people that live in those towns step across the line from audience into the realm of makers, until the line becomes blurred, and doesn’t really exist so much any more. Each town commissions an artist, makes a work together and tours it to the other three towns. So not only do they make a new work, they tour it too. It’s crazy ambitious, crazy beautiful, crazy radical. I love it.
It’s bloody hard. All the best things are.
In the call out for the commission, it said that the final work produced should be one of national importance. This was something that struck me. How do you set out to make something of national importance? What does it mean for something to be nationally important? Who decides that something is nationally important? And what are the political implications of asking that question in a rural community, when so often, national importance is attributed to cities – the bigger the city, the more important, supposedly. We could go down a very dark and dangerous funding debate route here BUT WE WON’T.
What makes a performance happening where you live, nationally important?
What makes where you live, nationally important?
What makes you, nationally important?
These questions light a certain fire in my belly.
I am a passionate advocate of the everyday. Importance to me is tucked away in the food we eat, the routes we walk, the buses we sit on and the texts we send. All the work I make is about little things I’ve thought about too much. I see thinking about things too much as a big part of my job. You can write a list of things that happened last year, but they can’t tell you what it was like to be alive in 2013 – because that’s hidden away in a series of tiny things, insignificant things. Often, the things that seem important in our lives are hidden away. We downplay them in anecdotes, we focus on the stories of others, we wrap them up in comparisons to other things that are canon, that are already established as important.
But I wonder, are we looking at importance the right way?
I lived in a house on Brudenell Street last year. Classic Leeds. I hated it. It was dirty, I was scared of my neighbours and their Alsatian, when it was cold the steps to my front door covered in ice that WOULD NOT MELT and almost broke my neck, it was filled with the clutter of a thousand broken dreams,it was always freezing, and the heater was slowly leaking carbon monoxide into our living room. I can do the struggling artist bit, but there’s a limit.
But the bathroom of that house – in the attic, next to the room of a stoner student that I lived with – will be one of my special places till the day I die. Every sunday, my housemate would go mountain biking (I’m not sure where, y’all. there are no mountains in Leeds, but off he went). And I would lie in that bath, and look at the skylight, and drink tea, and eat chocolate, and read. It was where I went post Chewing the Fat Performances to decompress (I love that show, but it fractures my head in so many places), where I celebrated successful ACE results (first ever! and no one would pick up the bloody phone), where I hid myself when money was really, really tight and I couldn’t afford food (only once or twice, things weren’t so bad). It was the room of comfort, at a time in my life when I was trying to GROW UP. I stopped being a sort of teenager-student-child in that bath. That space is frozen for me, in a way that is precious.
Not important to anyone else, that mustard bath, the bright blue toilet seat, my first teapot, the patch of sky and the smell of jasmine. But so important to me. So formative to me. No one will celebrate that when I die. It won’t be remembered. Maybe I won’t be remembered (sometimes I’m not sure if I want to be, I went on stage last week and told people that I don’t brush my teeth before bed, that sort of thing needs forgetting). So I feel, in my gut, that I must celebrate it. And that I must do that now. That I must take joy in it now, have moments of sobriety and sadness for it now, have moments of wonder about it now. About all of it – falling in love and becoming the person that you want to be, being a parent, being someone’s child, growing old quietly or raucously, leaving something for the future and embracing where I’m from, rebelling and revolutionising and making it so that nothing is ever the same again. How do we celebrate it now?
So that is where the Monument comes from… and that’s what it’s about… working with members of a community to ask them about makes their lives (theirs and no one elses!) important in the here and the now, and making a performance with them that celebrates that, that alludes to a way of living life and celebrating that everyday. Put also a work that boldly, fiercly, states that it is the individual lives of millions of people that makes ‘the nation’ important… that really focuses in on specifics, and individuals, the beauty of all of these lives existing beside one another. In conversation with one lady, Louise, about the nature of a monument, she wrote
‘My Life is my Monument, My Monument is My Life’
And I love that. Love it. I stole it for the copy, because I loved it that much.
So how do you go forward and turn all of that into a show that people care about – explode it all out into something a group can share?
Well firstly, I think you have to open up those questions of importance with people – interviews, workshops, debates, cups of tea, pints of beer. Gathering as many different people in as many different contexts as possible, and asking them in as many different ways as possible – what makes your life important? What makes your home important? Where do those two things: your home, and your life, interconnect? So that’s what we’re going to be doing over the next month, exploring this across the community, and tucking all of that knowledge away: me getting to know their town as my temporary home, them seeing the town through each other’s eyes.
Secondly, you have to play with the town! Explore it and use it in ways it’s not being used at present, see it as one large canvas that we can play with. The final performance is going to be a sort of adventure journey, travelling to see a series of small performances in people’s precious spaces… So it’s finding spaces and beginning to look at them differently.
And finally, thinking of how we can end all of this joyously – how we can create one final moment that’s all about the present, with nothing before it or after it. A feast? A fire? A great beacon of light? Still working on it.
So that’s the project. It’s a scary one. It really is. It’s working with a big group of people, who have placed lots of trust and responsibility in me. And it’s opening up my process – which is terrifying! So scary, I never realised. It makes you incredibly vulnerable, doing that, because you have to demystify it for yourself. It leaves you really exposed, it means you have to tell people when you don’t know, and trust them not to reject you, it means that people will see when you fail and mess up. Process is often something you can hide behind. But you can’t, in a project like this – it slows things down, and it’s not fair. Scary.
But 2014 is the year of the learning curve, my friends. First work for a gallery, first big co commission, first community project, first Edinburgh, first tour.
Just got to sip that tea, take heart, and get to it.
I can’t wait to see what we make.