Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ouch or meh - you decide


Don't ask me why.

No, no, I can tell you why, it's fine, I'll do that later. This isn't how I meant to start. I just felt it, just as I was moving my hands to the keyboard after pouring myself a drink. I felt ouch; I've been feeling it a bit today and I wrote it down as it occurred to me but don't worry, this isn't going to be yet another ouch-packed post.

Actually we start in bliss. Yes! There is no bliss like it, I think: the feeling of opening a show: the bliss residing not so much in the show itself as in the sudden flip in the pattern of the day. After rehearsing -- which is like a nine-to-five (plus homework) -- and production week -- which puts you pretty solidly in the blacked-out room for twelve hours a day (still plus homework) -- suddenly the show is open, and going to work is something that happens almost as an afterthought, in the late afternoon. And there are days! O rapture! Whole days! And that, there, is where the bliss is. Days to take time over breakfast, to go for a stroll, to potter, to think. To catch up on other work. (Or so you always fondly imagine.)

But perhaps there is, after all, a little bit of ouch in there too. The sudden solitude, after the busy communal effort of getting the show on its feet, is odd: not least because it's a skill I seem to be losing. I always used to love to be on my own. But in the last few months two things have happened: an intense course of therapy, one insight arising from which was how often I've been lonely and refused to acknowledge it or even to properly feel it (a throwback I guess to being an only child and kind of loving my own company but always being uneasily aware that it was largely a retreat from other kids and their roughness and horridness, not to mention their readiness to exclude me anyway); and meeting Jonny and developing with him a kind of close friendship and working relationship that's meant we've spent an unusually large (for me) amount of time together, such that when I'm on my own it feels like an exception, and a hiatus, rather than, as it formerly would have been, a contented default. So sitting here at my temporary dining room table writing this with no one around feels weird and not wholly safe. -- And I guess I might as well say now, though I hadn't intended to yet, that the rest of the ouch is the aftershock of some work that Jonny and I have been doing in the last couple of days. It's just a continuation of the exploratory work we've been doing together over the past few months, but these last couple of days have been intense and challenging -- in a fantastic way, a deeply moving and exciting way, but oh boy, it's difficult. Everything about it is difficult. Which is how it should be, of course, but, yeah. He and I were talking a few days ago about how certain artistic experiences seem to open up a wound in you, that you then carry, sometimes for many years, possibly for ever, as a body memory. The kind of work that rearranges your interior a little bit. And quite often the work I've been doing with J does that. It's not a wound like a pain, it's a wound like a gap, like having a yawning (or, sometimes, screaming) mouth inside you. -- At which point I realise I'm probably sounding histrionic and maybe even a little bit mental. So perhaps we'll move on. I just wanted to say. Ouch. Just a lickle bit.

So anyway King Pelican is open and mostly going great. I think perhaps a little bit of today's ouch is also induced by last night's press night performance, which, as is so often the case with press nights, just misfired slightly. Nothing major: a few little technical boinks, the sound levels a tad down for some reason, the acting a bit out of focus throughout, a weirdly fidgety audience with lots of toilet-break to-ing and fro-ing: and each of these things, of course, compounding or reinforcing each other -- the tech boinks nudge the actors out of their focus; the sound being quieter makes the piece less immersive and as a consequence it's easier for people to decide that they will go to the toilet after all... It only takes all of these things to be marginally out of kilter and they create a sort of feedback and by the end of the evening everything can feel quite a long way awry. But up until last night things had been going really well, almost miraculously well given where we were ten days ago. Audience response seems very warm and positive on the whole, and I do think it's a good piece, though I have some misgivings about how it positions itself -- I keep thinking of the slightly withering phrase I use about some other artists, that they're just experimental enough. I sort of feel that way about King Pelican and it's not an altogether comfortable thought, though if folks who see it are tantalised rather than alienated by its more (mildly) challenging aspects then that's not an entirely unlikeable outcome. The whole thing has pulled together well and, as ever, working with Theatre Royal Plymouth has been an absolute pleasure. Some overambitious ideas fall by the wayside during the process, which is always a shame, but we are where we are, and whatever's tricky about it has to do with faultlines in the conception: it's a play which partly depends on prestige values of realization, and one can't then borrow from an aesthetic language outside that prestige to excuse faults or alleviate shortcomings. (Memo to self.) In the end, it's hard to talk about any of it with any confidence because I honestly can't tell whether I'm proud of it as a piece or not. I think that, in so far as it's a large, complex play, and it holds itself in a productive balance of intellectual argument and a less clearly legible emotional or intuitive pressure, I'm proud to be able to (just about) pull it off, and to want those things in the first place. But as regards how it actually works, what it's actually doing -- not least in respect of its being a scripted play in the first place -- I'm really not sure. Once again I fear I'm Snark-chasing a bit, preferring instead to fantasize about a kind of work that actually isn't makeable, at least not practically, not right now, not yet; o but look, we have shifted from Lear to Carroll and it's time to change the subject.

My big project for the rest of this week is to start putting together the material I'm going to perform at my next Klinker gig, a fortnight today (not now at Maggie's Bar in Stoke Newington but at Tottenham Chances -- see the side panel for details, if you want them). It all stems from a theatre piece I toyed with writing a little while ago, called Blurt: just wanting two actors / characters to be talking kind of incessantly, very fast and with a kind of incontinent inability to suppress anything secret or hidden, just locked in a mode of total unstinting self-revelation at the highest possible speed, as if propelled by a whammy cocktail of amphetamines and truth-serum: the object being not so much the blurting of dangerously personal information in itself, but the way that language as a carrier of that information ends up interfering with and even obscuring the substantive content. I don't think I particularly want to make that piece now, but I'm making a series of Blurt Studies which will collide that texture with the kind of linguistic derangements and dismantlings that a few Thompson's readers will know from my poetry: particularly using pre-linguistic and meta-linguistic elements to keep the possibility of viable statement at bay as far as possible. In other words you get fifteen minutes of me gabbling, hooting and pulling faces. If that sounds like your sort of thing, you'll know where to find me.

Before that, next week, I'm participating in a fascinating project that Fluxx (helmed by the prodigious Chris Johnston) are currently doing at the Actors Centre called Night, London, in which a large cast will be improvising an ongoing drama across eighteen almost-nightly episodes. Johnston directs overall, but one of the intriguing factors in the concept is the presence on some nights of guest directors: an interesting roster including John Wright, Kevin Tomlinson, Roddy Maude-Roxby, Matthew Lloyd, Mike Alfreds and the brilliant Ria Parry, as well as yr saggy old Controlling Thompson. (Also a smattering of guest musicians, including Alison Blunt, whom you may have been lucky enough to see/hear during the recent run of Besides, you lose your soul... at CPT.) Night, London isn't exactly where my heart is -- I've been asked to contribute to a post-show discussion on 'Improvisation and the Development of Story', a topic on which I don't think I have anything remotely useful or productive to say (though these conversations usually wander so perhaps it'll be all right) -- but I'm sort of interested by, for example, the way that the trajectory of past 'episodes' can be traced through blogs being kept (as if) by individual characters. Whatever happens, it feels like a good process and an excellent practice-as-research project for the Actors Centre to be supporting -- back when I was a semi-regular tutor there, getting on for ten years ago, I don't know that there'd have been space and enthusiasm for something on this scale and with this level of risk. I'm kind of impressed with what they're up to these days under Matthew Lloyd's directorship.

(Speaking of which, I'm hoping at some point to do a quick note on risk in theatre, picking up on an interesting recent Guardian blog post from Lyn Gardner -- which mentioned my ...Sisters among other shows -- and a valuable ensuing conversation. But given that my last post here was partly concerned with engaging with an earlier piece of Lyn's, I might let a polite interlude pass before I visit more of my attentions on her!)

So, those things, plus Wound Man going into rehearsals any minute now, means these last few days enjoying the big air and the spacious skies of Plymouth are feeling rather precious. I've enjoyed Plymouth more than ever, this time around -- despite the weather, which has tended especially in the past few days to cut with incredible abruptness between warm sunny spring and windy haily bitter dog-days of winter -- and back again -- such that it's all been rather like living inside the meteorological equivalent of a Pixies song. Not everything about Plymouth is lovely -- quite large regions of it feel like an open air edition of The Jeremy Kyle Show, especially after dark -- but the immense pleasure of spending the hour before curtain up on our first preview staring out over the twilit sea more than made up for those scary and/or showery times. I know I'll get straight back into enjoying London once I'm there, but for the moment, in a nice flat and with these blissful days having opened up like a magic window, I really don't feel in any hurry. (In truth these last few days I've mostly been watching the God Channel on cable. It's truly compelling stuff.)

Hm, a bit of a meh post, this -- the comedown from the opening ouch I suppose; the more interesting thing really would be to talk more openly about the work that Jonny and I are doing, but it's not the right time yet for that. I'm hoping that before the week is out I'll have done another quite big post, one I've been incubating for a while: but these days seem to be rolling past ever so quickly, and scrappy little bits of work seem to be crowding other things out, so I guess I may not get it finished as soon as I'd like. We'll see.

A handful of blogs to mention finally. I've recently had my attention drawn to the massive and hugely impressive site of the performance maker and critic Robert Ayers, A Sky Filled With Shooting Stars. (Rotten title, but.) Anyone with any interest in contemporary performance and visual cultures will want to unwind a ball of wool behind them when they visit, for fear of never finding their way back into the real world, so deeply might they quite legitimately lose themselves in the riches the blog has to offer. I've also really loved reading Tiny Art Director, as recommended in a recent B3ta mailout: a beautiful concept: the blog-owner's (now) four-year-old daughter tells him what she wants him to draw; he has a go; she critiques it. It's hilarious and genuinely touching.

Meanwhile in another part of the night garden... via the excellent Count Candy which I made a fuss of here a while back, I've found a couple of other terrific picture blogs -- neither of which should be considered SFW: unless, that is, you W at home on your own. Blithe & Limerence -- not unlike Count Candy -- makes a virtue of mixing up arresting visual art, photography and fashion stuff with erotica of various stripes, all well chosen and piqued by the general matrix of interesting juxtapositions. Some may find some of the current spate of pictures of kids sort of tricky, though it's mostly again (but not wholly) the context rather than the content that may be problematic in its erotic redolences; there's certainly (unless I've missed something -- I haven't scoured all 60 pages in the archive) nothing that it's illegal for you to see, but I don't want to link to it without mentioning that some visitors may be a little uncomfortable. Wearing its remit much more clearly on its sleeve, Art or Porn - You Decide is a really terrific resource, and one that updates so frequently and voluminously you may have a hard time keeping up with the pace, which is not a problem that most blogs suffer from, as we know... Obviously at least some of the content is essentially pornographic; quite a lot of it is both art and porn, to these eyes, and a little of it is actually neither, though I don't know if that's an option on the ballot. The slant is entirely heterosexual, which as a non-heterosexual viewer I find sort of helpful in providing a space for actually thinking about the question, and how it's framed and illuminated in different ways by different pictures. Having said which, some of the images certainly turn me on more than others, and, admittedly, more than a little: which I suppose may have something to do with the way that the grammar (or syntax) of porn, and/or erotic art, works on the perceiving body at a level that may be somewhat separable from the specific content: though actually I think it also has quite a lot to do with the fact that my sexual orientation is becoming such a grey area these days, I could probably pass it off as a mid-period Gerhard Richter.

Sorry about this one: I can't believe it's not better. I'll try and hurry along with the next. Love to everyone in the meantime. xx