A few days ago, DC, who's coming over in about three weeks to chat about the Rose Bruford project (which now has the umbrella title 'The Field, The Stream, The Building'), mentioned that he had "no mental image of [me]".
...I know how he feels. Pretty much every time I see my reflection, let alone any kind of photo or video or whatever, I wonder where the person I expect to see has gone. To be honest, I'm concerned that I may have been cannibalised by the weird blobby strange-faced looming hulk who keeps appearing in my stead. While I was vaguely wondering about a picture of myself that I might be able to post here that, on the one hand, wasn't too frightening to me (or to unprepared children or nervous animals who may be watching) but, on the other hand, wasn't lifted from those few months in 1994 where I quite liked how I looked, out of the blue Lawrence sent me the above: which seems like a more than serviceable mental image of me -- though, fair enough, it might not help Dennis recognize me when I pick him up at St Pancras. (Notwithstanding all of which, I'm enormously touched that Lawrence has made this: not least because, as with most of his visual pieces, it's also a score for performance, and I'd be more than excited to hear whatever matters might arise in that context... If you've never heard Lawrence perform his visual/sound/text works -- well, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etc etc.)
Which in turn reminded me of one of the few relatively recent photos of me that I can not only stand to look at but also more or less recognize myself in.
If I remember correctly, this photo was taken by cris cheek (an old colleague of Upton's in the seminal though shortlived poetry/performance group jgjgjgjgjgjg... [as long as you can say it, that's our name], who as long ago as 1977 were tearing up Battersea Arts Centre with the kind of stuff that would send the present Apples & Snakes generation into an immediate postlapsarian freefall). It's of my reading at the first Total Writing London festival at Camden People's Theatre in June 2003. I'm performing 'An Introduction to Speed-Reading' for the first time, which is why I'm a bit blurry. The t-shirt is from John Cale's 1999 UK tour. Another photo of cheek's from the same event captures J.H. Prynne leaning against the exterior of the venue in a bogglingly stylish pair of sunglasses. Heady times.
So, (a) for those who wish to know: this isn't far off what I look like. Add five years and about 35lbs. And scribble on longer hair. (Incidentally, for those who haven't been around Thompson's since its early days, a lavish documentary feature on my changing hairstyles since my mid-teens can be found halfway down the archive for October 2006. I warn you, it's as scary as all conceivable fuck.)
And (b) the mental image of me reading self-immolatingly fast poetry takes us to the first of this post's specially formulated Easter eggs. I had intended to try and capture my Klinker gig last Tuesday on video, but failed to get the necessaries in order. Happily, the gods sent an excellent fellow called Joseph Luna, who made an on-the-hoof audio recording that I'm very, very pleased with. The sound quality, for one of those little digital voice recorders, is remarkably good; and I was pleased with the reading too and glad to have some record of it. There was a small but amazingly open and gratifyingly responsive audience -- quite often a Klinker feature, though not unfailingly... -- only some of whom were pals (including the brilliant and beautiful Charlie Phillips, who I haven't seen in a while, and who tells me I'm part of a burgeoning genre called 'mumblecore', which he explains on his excellent blog; as a loudly bawling goy, I hardly feel like a strong candidate, but such misgivings miss the point, I believe).
Anyway, I read three extravagantly rotten poems -- 'The Steel-Workers' Proposal for the Decommissioning of Beaubourg', 'Bent Pony' and one from 'Meet the Spork Valley All-Stars' -- and you can listen to them below. Cut out the above picture of me, attach it to a pencil, and bob it about a bit, and it'll be just like a front-row seat.
I've been blessed of late with a lucky streak of nice gigs. In fact, Easter egg two is the print version of 'The Forest and the Field', the lecture I gave at the University of Cambridge English Faculty as part of the Miscellaneous Theatre Festival on March 13th.
'The Forest and the Field' -- for basically anecdotal reasons I won't go into now -- uses Shakespeare, and in particular the figures of Gonzalo in The Tempest and Feste in Twelfth Night, as, respectively, entry and exit points for a consideration of the conceptual spaces to which theatre artists have traditionally had recourse, and the fundamental shift over the last forty years in the social context in which those spaces are conceived: a shift which I take to require the adventurous imagining of new kinds of space, and new modes of work to occupy them -- modes whose principal features I end by trying, inadequately, to sketch.
To anyone who reads this blog, there will not be much that's new in 'The Forest and the Field' other than the Shakespearean lens through which the ideas of liminality and subjunctivity are topically examined. Nonetheless, as a summary of how my thinking within theatre has developed in the last few years and where it's got to as of March 2008, I'm sufficiently pleased with the paper to be keen to share it here, in the hope of some helpful feedback or of its being useful to somebody somewhere. The post-match response at the festival was exceedingly generous and encouraging; I was especially happy to know that the whole thing stimulated some worthwhile thoughts within the already scarily teeming interior of Keston Sutherland, who, wildly beyond my expectations, was able to attend. As the paper quotes at length a recent essay of his, it was a pleasure to be able to share with him the line of thought, or the frame of inquiry perhaps, that he's inspired in my work this year.
Anyway, you're welcome to download the .pdf of 'The Forest and the Field' here, and if you want to talk about anything in it, feel free to drop me a line.
The performance part of the evening was a blast. My own contribution was, in the end, not at all as advertised; I'd been making a piece called 'Today This Is There', the authorship of which was entirely automated, and though on paper the parameters for the piece were interesting, I finally had to admit to myself, at about 10pm on the evening before the gig, that the material that had actually been generated was basically extremely dull. So I junked it, and pulled out of the vaults instead a piece called 'O Vienna', which was published a while back at Alison Croggon's brilliant Masthead. Though it reads like a long (and not especially well-written) poem, 'O Vienna' is a score for performance, so the text itself is designed to be interpreted -- say by a dancer or a live artist -- rather than recited; but with so little notice I unfortunately couldn't rustle up a likely performer: so instead I decided to pull together a soundscore which I hoped would at least present some tonal variation beneath the enigmatic surfaces of the text. The consequent late night and early morning very nearly met in the middle, but I was quite pleased with the result: it was nice to read something very slowly and very close to a mic, and the sound worked out well. I still wish there'd been a Theron or a Jamie or someone carving out a performative response to the text as it rolled, but I think it was ok without. Certainly better than 'Today This Is There' would have been, at any rate, so we'll call that a result.
The remainder of the evening's programme promised two gourmet treats: Mischa Twitchin and Tom Lyall's Figments (from Beckett's 'Company'), and unfolding king lear a model by the evening's curator, Jeremy Hardingham.
I've known Jeremy since university: he happened to be a friend of my then-neighbour Tim (who's now doing something I absolutely 100% don't understand a word of, but which I imagine is giddyingly well-paid, in the US) -- but I dare say our paths would have crossed anyway before long. I mention this Cambridge connection not -- or not merely -- to nauseate, but because the awesome bravado of Jeremy's student work was at the time -- and to a considerable degree remains -- a beacon for very many of those then-emerging theatre-makers who saw it or who were fortunate enough to participate in it. The list of those in the latter category is, through present eyes, very remarkable: in fact, the first show I made under the Signal to Noise company name, The Consolations, was entirely cast from actors who had worked on Jeremy's extraordinarily complex and ambitious (and successful) Edinburgh production Incarnate two years previously: Gemma Brockis, Tom Lyall, Rajni Shah, Theron Schmidt, and Stefan Warhaftig, as well as Hardingham himself. This was not by design, but nor was it a coincidence; if there's one tendency of Jeremy's that I'm bold enough to presume to say I share, it's an eye for interesting actors. The reverberation of those early projects still seems to me distinctly in the air, to the extent that I still think of Jeremy as a crucially important presence in the ecology of London theatre, even though it's some years since he's lived and worked here: a geiger counter modified to detect traces of his influence would have been clicking away like Epileptic Flipper at Shunt's Dance Bear Dance or (Incarnate alumnus) Simon Kane's Jonah Non Grata -- and, I suspect, d.v., in my own forthcoming ...SISTERS too. At the same time, there's something so vitally and almost harrowingly sui generis about Jeremy's work that, on encountering it first hand, one quickly concludes that the idea of anything outside it being "a bit like it" is preposterous. Watching unfolding king lear a model, I'm reminded only, really, of Jeremy's own student production of King Lear, I guess twelve years ago, which remains, in all its haunting and upsetting grotesquerie, by a mile the best Lear I've ever seen.
For the last couple of years, Hardingham has been 'managing' the new black-box studio at the Faculty of English at Cambridge: which position has enabled him to do two things he obviously relishes: firstly, creating opportunities for students (in which role it's obvious that, like Keston Sutherland at Sussex, he is, with little fanfare and no whit of overweening self-promotion, radically changing lives); secondly, trying to use the resources at his disposal to support professional artists. (I noticed for example a development credit for Hardingham and the Judith E. Wilson Studio in the programme of Ridiculsmus's Tough Time, Nice Time.) This post has opened up a certain amount of space for his own artistic work, too, though I suspect in a similar vein to my experience at CPT: in other words, a huge amount of operating room in principle, massively constrained in practice by the other demands of the job. unfolding king lear a model is at any rate the most extended and most fully realised piece of Jeremy's I've seen in several years. (More extended than perhaps either of us anticipated: billed to run 28 minutes, it in fact came in close to an hour; as far as anyone in the audience, I think, was concerned, he'd have been welcome to go on twice as long again.)
unfolding king lear a model is a solo in which Hardingham seems to be, at one and the same time, chewing and regurgitating King Lear, in a sort of terrible parody of circular breathing techniques. Some of the text is retained, and external fragments interpolated, as if spoken from a redacted transcript in which some stray papers have become mixed up and almost everything explicit has been obliterated by an oversolicitous and weirdly erratic censor. At one point I have the odd experience of recognizing a fragment of text from one of the pieces Jeremy and I made together some years ago as a duo called COAT: and I realise I don't know where that particular phrase came from in the first place -- I had always assumed he wrote it, but now I'm not sure. Is it perhaps even in King Lear somewhere? There is a sense in Jeremy, not only in this piece but between all his works and across whatever membrane he or I might in a moment of weakness visualize separating his life and his writing, of a huge, unceasing, autophagous intertextual churn, in which individual voice and authority are disassembled: not indiscriminately, in some callow mulching of 'high' and 'low' culture, but so as to mimic the ways in which information within those cultures is transmitted, sometimes preserved, sometimes lost entirely or at best lost in translation. In this turbulent field -- one might almost say minefield -- Jeremy skips and tumbles and flees his own shadow, negotiating its pitfalls and overleaping its ha-has and feigning the occasional stumble: it's the Z-Boys mix of precision and (real, not simulated) spontaneity, but also a kind of convulsive ingenuity that seems far from recreational and resembles more nearly a hypertextual restyling of the flight-or-fight impulse, a nervously contemporary survival tactic.
As ever with Jeremy's work there is an odd sense of danger -- the intermixing on his crowded props table of sheet glass and hammers, of water and electricity -- which persists despite my certain knowledge that, at his best, his work always feels like that, and in over a decade I've never known him actually put himself or his audience in anything like the danger that he evokes. The visual styling of his presence is a rough-and-ready mix of world-war aviator and cyberpunk: in this, as in his language, there are obvious traces of Beckett and Beuys and Artaud, and possibly Kantor (I wonder). Visually and aurally there is an awesomely deft choreography of layers, particularly striking in this instance in his use of music and sound, which is more sophisticated here than I've identified in his work before. Again it is the complexity, not as styling but as argument, that ultimately is moving and impressive and jags in the mind: for all the ferociousness of his inquiry into language and object and abstraction and absence, as ever his work is alive with the essentially theatrical discovery of how the individual, buffeted (as Lear is) by what seem to be malign extraneities, contains and embodies all the graces and desolations of properly collective response, and spells out in poetry and grunting the massed chorus of aloneness. It's the best work I've seen Jeremy do in many years; at the time, there's no way of saying so. Finally this blog has a purpose.
In such a context, Mischa and Tom's superbly achieved Beckett piece inevitably seems a bit precious in the sleekness and smallness of its control, authored several times over. The elements -- extremely precisely and localised lighting set within profound darkness; voices, live and on tape, speaking the upscale (though sometimes leftover) texts of the classic European avant garde; the solo actor's body reduced to one element or set of elements -- here, a pair of feet, walking and not walking; the sort of discordant music you might associate with eastern European animation of the kind that sustained BBC2 through many a Sunday afternoon back in the day -- where on earth does Mischa find these CDs of atonal thumbtack piano? -- are consistent with the development of Twitchin's work for as long as I've been watching it. The plangent, humorous articulacy of Lyall's feet, walking and pausing in their long, thin beam of light -- a beam very like a gymnast's, come to think of it -- is, unsurprisingly, remarkable and quite captivating; the cadences of individual sections within the piece are faultlessly shaped. I like and admire this work and I'm glad it's happening, but it also feels utterly at odds with the vision I'd been describing in my lecture only a few hours before. Mischa's response to the crisis in theatre (I think he's only liked four things in all the time I've known him) is to shore up the walls of its protective artificiality, and make that aspect total and all-enveloping. I'm going to have to get used to thinking harder about this, as it's the response of several artists I greatly admire, Mischa not least among them: but what it creates, quite antithetically to the exhiliration that Jeremy's work educes (for me at least), is a kind of presentation that's no more 'live' than a Rembrandt on a gallery wall. The bit I need to think harder about is that, of course, among the compelling features of a Rembrandt on a gallery wall, quite often, is how live it feels, after all that.
The next few weeks are going to be full of this quite searching kind of thinking -- at least, I hope they will, it kind of depends on my biorhythms... I suspect the spell I've had over the past couple of months of feeling near the top of my game may be in its decline now, if my efforts in the last few days (including this post) are anything to go by. Hopefully I can find some reserves. The next couple of weeks are focused on 'An Apparently Closed Room', which is a truly exciting thought, not least because Theron and I have more divergent views now than I've been aware of us having before about the job of performance within theatre, and these perspectives are at the heart of our present enquiry into the form and content of this piece: in other words, they're about to stop being theoretical positions. Following that, I'll be introducing 'The Field, The Stream, The Building' to the Rose Bruford symposium -- which will partly entail transcribing the long and complicated (and consistently fascinating) (and ultimately exhausting) conversation that some practitioner friends and I had last weekend about the meaning of theatre 'space'. And then I'll be getting stuck into preparation for ...SISTERS, which, given that it's probably going to mean a stab at writing a version myself, will not be a walk in the park. At least I know that there are going to be plenty of people in that rehearsal room who are brighter and braver than me and will help me make the piece I've imagined making rather than the one I currently feel capable of directing.
One last egg from the bunny's basket: (and how often one finds oneself writing that...):
I've finally updated the playlist in the Gevorts Box juke-unit over to the right of your screen (and up a bit). I'll post the track listing separately below. It's the customary mix of new stuff (Xiu Xiu, Stephen Malkmus), recent favourites (Idiot Pilot, Connan & the Mockasins), old friends (Pansy Division, Sun Ra), new discoveries of older work (Paul Lansky, Duke Payne), children's tv (The Swing Bach Ensemble), scatology (Holly & Jessica), lunatics (The Legendary Stardust Cowboy), and six-year-olds (the intrepid lead vocalist of creepy infants band The Death Killers). All topped and tailed with a special bonus of two Easter-related tracks by the Tiger Lillies to make you gag on your Creme Egg.
One unexpected outcome of compiling this Gevorts Box update was that in seeking new mashups with which to amuse you (I'm exceedingly happily to have stumbled across DJ M.i.F. aka DJ M. Aynot Feed's blissful 'Get Ur Typewriter On'), I accidentally and rather disappointingly resolved a curiosity from Hippo World Guest Book. If you saw that show, you may remember an entry from the splendidly-named Annatashera Beaverhousend ("kiss kiss kiss"), who wanted to "pleasure" herself with a hippo named Paul Linbourne. Well, so, the collection from which I lifted 'Get Ur Typewriter On' also features a track by 'Anastasia Beaverhausen', of which our beloved colleague Annatashera is obviously an inadvertent mangling; and a little dismayed Googling later, it turns out that Anastasia Beaverhausen is an alias used by the character Karen in the basically hateful US sitcom Will & Grace. Here, for example, is a scene from the show featuring both the name in question and a preternaturally sleazy Rip Torn in cameo mode. So, yeah, I mean, it's not like I was holding out much hope that anybody really was called Annatashera Beaverhousend, but I'm still a little crestfallen that she has such dreary origins. Another good reason to retire from Hippo World, I think. Though I still hope Paul Linbourne is real.
Anyway, despite that downer, enjoy the tunes -- and if you like anything in there and it's commercially available, don't forget the polite thing to do would be to buy it -- or at least tell other people about it...
That is all. Happy Easter, if you want it.