Sunday, November 08, 2009

I am Matt Kelley


First things first, and probably not then much more than this: remember the Artsadmin Weekender workshop that I said was sold out? Yeah, not so much. A couple of people have withdrawn so we're back to flogging the last few places. If you thought you'd missed the boat, it turns out still to be moored to the oh god what am I talking about.

End of the first week of LEAN UPSTREAM and a wholly predictable mix of tiredness, euphoria and despondency. Actually the euphoria isn't wholly predictable: it could all have gone moobs-up, after all, and it hasn't. The reverse, actually: it's overshot my expectations. Which is nice. Getting Hippo World out of storage turned out to be worthwhile, and my post-show conversation with the brilliant Matt Trueman was stimulating for me and I think for others; Yeah Boom! we got through without collateral damage, and the new reading The Net Work of Howard Betel seemed to work pretty well for a first outing -- wish I'd remembered to record it as I can't quite tell whether it's something to pursue or not. Friday's mixed bill was a blast, with extraordinary sets from all four guest performers, and what seemed to be a sincerely warm and advancing response to Jonny Liron's performance of my score O Vienna. And last night, a steep and scary but eventually (for me, at least) exhilarating reading of some tricky pieces including Ursonate and -- at last! -- a pretty satisfactory go at Beckett's unsteadying 'Ping'. (I'll try to get some scraps of audio up some time this week.) Good, attentive, supportive audiences; some genuinely toothsome conversations. And a sense overall of a largeish hill well-enough climbed.

From which summit the view of course is pretty bleak. (I say 'of course' because longstanding Thompson's readers will know that this is the pattern.) I'm tired and it's a grey day and I just don't know that all of this adds up to a viable way of living in the world. I mean, one sees glimpses. But the flipside of the pleasures of inhabiting these upstream zones where the water is less polluted and the air seems more breathable is that there's a kind of a general sense of meagreness, which has its own practical ramifications. Mostly it's that, for the first time since I went freelance at the end of 2004, I just don't know if I can afford to live like this beyond early spring next year. LEAN UPSTREAM is a foolish enterprise in a way, in that it's costing me quite a bit financially to do this work and unless things pick up pretty soon (which in this climate seems a long-shot) I'm just plain-and-simple going to run out of money. I've been close to this point several times but have always had a sense that I'd get by; this time, I don't have that sense, partly because I no longer have any savings to fall back on.

And this then colours my view of the bigger picture -- of what, if anything, this work all adds up to, and whether it can possibly be worth it. I had a little epiphany at Liverpool St station last night after the post-show drinks, where I spent some time talking with a brilliant student I've met a few times. She was talking about Castellucci, and in particular the Dante trilogy at the Barbican not long ago, and it turned out that our differing responses to that work were in part shaped by our differing expectations of the social or political instrumentality of theatre more generally. I realised afterwards that those of us for whom the possibility of using theatre as a broadly anticapitalist locus are (as leftists always are) split down the middle, between those for whom everything -- including theatre -- is basically hopeless, but who suppose theatre is a good place to describe that hopelessness; and those, like me, for whom that hopelessness has not yet been conclusively and terminally proved. As I've said here many times, my work is premised on the fact (and I think it is a fact, and a trustworthy one) that not all the results are in yet.

For the most part, I find I have the stomach for this, knowing that it's hardly different to any one of a number of decent -- and not futile, and not wholly negligible -- quests towards this distant socialist utopia or that just-about-imaginable social turn towards anarchosyndicalism. But it necessarily implies a long view, a sense of the 'long now', in Stewart Brand's useful phrase. And that long narrative, that long trail of birdseed we're pecking at, is really horribly incompatible with this kind of hand-to-mouth rhythm in which I'm living, in which trying to think about the longterm -- something I've been doing rather more having had this year, for the first time, the experience of health problems -- is a humbling and demoralising experience. There are, of course, lots of us in the same boat, but in the middle of the night it's really individually lonely and it makes everything else, everything more immediately personal, seem hard to trust.

I'm whingeing about this now only because my task for the next seven days is to write and stage The Forest and the Field, which is showing for the first time at CPT a week tomorrow. I haven't started work on it yet -- this is an unplanned consequence of how much preparatory work everything else in the season has taken, not least my wretched book -- and I'm going to have to move fast and not look down. Normally that would be fine, but it's a performance lecture in which (according to the trailer) I'll be "trac[ing] a seductively radical through-line which joins theatre’s past to the promise of its future": and right now, on this slowly-brightening Sunday afternoon, I feel as though I hardly have a sense of what that through-line might be, or why it might matter, or whether the hard week ahead is actually in the end going to amount to anything more than a polite guff in a hypersonic wind tunnel. What's worse, this is all exactly as it should be.

Well, so, I'd better not talk myself any nearer the edge of this ledge. Maybe I can work myself out of it. Maybe The Forest and the Field can somehow contain these scenes of mild peril and still come out the other side. I probably won't get back here until it's on -- so: details are in the side panel -- come and see it, please! -- what a fantastic advert for it this post has been.

Roughly this time last week I was at the Lyric Hammersmith for this year's TMA Awards, in which King Pelican was nominated for best new play. There was never any chance of winning (up against Enron) so it was really just an opportunity to put on a nice pair of shoes and watch dumbfounded as extracts from an array of horrid musicals clunked on and off and a seriously addled Nichola McAuliffe engaged the award-winners in conversation so stilted it sounded as though it had been run back and forth several times through an online English/Hungarian translation engine. The whole event was like a nightmarish version of The NeverEnding Story in which one had somehow been sucked into an edition of The Stage and it was coming to life all around you. Some very good work was recognised -- an award for outstanding achievement to Nicholas Kent, for example -- but it was hard to feel altogether pleased at those moments, taking place as they were in front of a backdrop of dancing fountains of shit. When I tell new acquaintances that I work in theatre, this is the world that most people imagine I inhabit, and I suppose, given that I was there and I'd have quite like to have won the award, I basically do. Where is this on the radical through-line, I wonder? And yet bawling the Ursonate at 35 people is doing what instead, exactly?

Yeah, no, I should stop. I just, not for the first time, find I am thinking of Matt Kelley, the guy in the bar in the second episode of season four of The West Wing, talking to Toby and Josh about his financial struggles and his desire to do well for his family: "It should be hard," he says. "I like that it's hard. [...] But it should be a little easier. Just a little easier. 'Cause in that difference is... everything."

* * *

A little Monday morning p.s. as I'm a bit overwhelmed, emotionally but also administratively, by emails from inordinately kind folks cheering me on. So, please be assured that a good night's sleep has made a considerable difference, and I've made a start on the new piece this morning, and I'm fine. I actually really really like what I do and how I live, and I'm certainly not thinking of walking away from it just because not many people are engaged with the work. That isn't anyway true -- plenty of people see some of it, and I'm not remotely uncomfortable with the fact that only a very few people see some other bits. On the other hand, at whatever point I can no longer afford to pay my (very low) rent, the choice is made for me: no Rumplestiltskin I -- it's back to the call-centre (and the concomitant weary commute to and from Hyderabad).

It's happened before and will no doubt happen again that I've posted here through a fog of tiredness and self-doubt, and the next day when the clouds have rolled by and I've managed to sleep a bit, I feel a bit of a twit. But I resist the impulse to delete -- because it seems to me, if this kind of online journal is to be of any use, it has to be a place where one can lodge an unvarnished blah from time to time. It is, sometimes, really hard, and it seems to me more important to say so (sometimes) than to pretend it isn't so.

But, please, no worries, and thank you again to everyone who's backchannelled their love and support. I appreciate it more than I can say. ...Well, who doesn't appreciate a little backchannelled love from time to time? xx

5 comments:

Helen Smith said...

Hello Chris

I finally got a chance to see Hippo World Guest Book the other day and I loved it. I wish I could have seen more of the Lean Upstream season but unfortunately I was already committed elsewhere.

Hooray for your foolish enterprise. Hooray for bawling Ursonate at 35 people. I'm so glad you care enough to do it and, even though you may now feel certain you're facing a Dickensian future of penury and misery, your future doesn't look nearly so bleak from here. Surely good things will follow.

doublevision said...

I feel your pain but see you are recognized as well, and that is a good thing. You know there is love from here. j

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Chris - so bloody annoyed I an missing everything in Lean Upstream - it's almost as if the Australian Poetry Centre has cunningly arranged this tour on purpose to frustrate me, which is something I could almost believe... I hear marvellous things, which of course only makes me more annoyed.

Perhaps you could bring it all to Australia and I could miss it there too??

Anyway, just wanted to register my spleen and to wish you all good things. Next time.

kier said...

tons of love and affection and admiration to you chris, twit or not. xxxxxx

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