Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another season, another reason...

So here we are, back in that odd betwixty period between the first day of climatological spring, which was March 1st (woo), and the first day of astronomical spring, which is March 20th (boo), and frankly my dear, I just don't care about the niceties today: here is a unilateral declaration of spring: it is, incontrovertibly, spring where I am, and if you are near where I am then it is spring where you are too. Today, for me, has been one of those days you award yourself every so often when circumstance and ambience and emotion align and it becomes exhilaratingly clear to you that the rest of your life begins now.

I have arrived in spring because, after an excruciatingly long period of being away from home (I've spent a total of about thirty days in London since last July), I arrived back here after my recent L.A. adventures only to go straight in to quite a hectic period of re-thinking and then re-rehearsing my solo show The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley, for two performances only, down the road at Stoke Newington International Airport. Those shows went really well, I think -- I had a lovely time (not least working with my brilliant director and designer/technical manager, Wendy Hubbard and James Lewis, who between them took the most extraordinary care of me and helped make it, I think, a more robustly achieved piece than it was before) and I really felt at home doing the show at the Airport -- but, more importantly, they're over. They're over and done and now everything ahead of me, at least for the next little while, is new and unknown and exciting and, most happily of all, is here, right here in the place where I live, and where most of the people I love are most likely to be found. Honestly this homecoming has felt like the thing with the hippies and the lion.

Not that there's much let-up, of course. On Monday I'm hosting a Devoted & Disgruntled satellite session on queer theatre, with Phelim McDermott facilitating, in the bar at Oval House. My role is purely ceremonial really -- a bit of burbling and ribbon-cutting -- but thereafter I get to be part of whatever conversations emerge, like everyone else, and that's the bit I'm really looking forward to. Do come if you can -- like all D&Ds, and notwithstanding the standard mantra that "whoever comes are the right people", actually the better the turnout, (often) the livelier the discussion. We're going to be talking about whatever aspects of or questions around queer theatre and performance turn out to be in people's heads on the night, but I particularly hope that the widest possible range of voices -- from both within and outside the existing community/ies of queer makers and audiences -- will be present. Queer theatre is not, or not only, a coterie art, and the more the questions that arise can be opened out to a multiplicity of perspectives and turned to catch the light of a genuine range of experience, the more exciting I think the session will be.

Beyond that, I'm going to be starting work on a new solo piece, Keep Breathing, which has been commissioned by the Drum in Plymouth and is being kindly supported by the London Word Festival, where I'm going to be sharing a very early draft towards the end of April. I'm also going to be spending a week at the Royal Court, getting ready for a rehearsed reading of my new play The Extremists (which may or may not be getting close to being a "finished" item by then) on Friday 25th March -- it's an afternoon gig, but again, please come along if you can, I could really use some support and feedback: it's a pretty curious piece of work and I feel quite a long way out on a not wholly comfortable (but rather exciting) limb. And then I'll be starting work on a new duo piece for home performance, drawing on the Hockney cancellation prints and Cavafy poems that I mentioned here a few weeks ago; couldn't be more excited about that one. And then off to the National Theatre Studio for a bit... and, well, I won't go on. You get the picture. Lots happening -- for the next little while, at any rate. More imminently, tomorrow I get back into rehearsal/R&D with Jonny Liron for a new piece (or more likely two) with him, which is a giddyingly exciting prospect after a little while being thwarted by distance and other commitments; and hopefully on Monday or Tuesday, at long, long, much-too-long last, I'll finally get the poetry anthology I've been editing, Better Than Language, off to the printers, which should mean, G-d and (more frighteningly and inscrutably) UPS willing, that that will finally make it into the world before too many of the "young poets" collected in it reach late middle-age.

Quite a bit, I'm hoping, coming up here at Thompson's, too: at least, a post to introduce and think through some of the issues around The Extremists in the light of Aleks Sierz's new (and profoundly frustrating) Rewriting the Nation; and an account of the day I hope to spend in the coming week doing a serious 9-to-5 gallery trawl, which I hope will go some way to alleviating the paroxysms of art-craving I've been experiencing of late.

As for this post, it's in three parts, none of them terribly substantial or intellectually demanding (whoopee indeed!), but all chucked gaily out in a spirit of springfulness. Enjoy what you can, and leave the rest for Mr Manners.

Love you heaps xx

* * *

PART ONE: Portraits

Before I had even begun to climb out from under the thousand-tog duvet of jet lag last week, it was off to Central to talk about my work with a small bunch of variably engaged but perfectly hospitable students gathered together under the tutelage of the charismatic and confounding Simon Donger. Preparing the requested ninety-minute overview of my work to present to them meant trawling back through not only the existing (and incredibly haphazard) digital archive, but digging down into the odd shoebox and jiffybag to find old physical photos that could be scanned. The half-day I spent on this archaeological rummage was exactly the right kind of fun for a jet-lagged person: big emotional payback for relatively little labour.

One thing that started coming through, especially when looking through the older photos (some of which, worn and torn and pock-marked as they are, look really old, as disproportionately old as pictures of Kantor's work or early Butoh) was a slight shift in the focus of my reading. One tends to see through pictures of one's own work, to larger memories, the scale of the work that the image barely begins to capture. But now it also became possible to see some of the photographs as portraits, themselves every bit as much constructed events as the theatre pieces they refer to, and considered independently often just as redolent and as fictive in their own way.

So here's a whole heap of photographs, from across the whole span of my work: nearly two decades' worth, from my very first undergraduate piece as a director (Diary of a Madman, from May 1993) to the Pinters with which I began 2011 at the Ustinov in Bath; mostly production shots, but also some promotional images and backstage snaps and such like. (Regular Thompsons denizens will recognize a couple, possibly more, which have been posted here before.) No doubt some of these images will spark personal recollections, happy or otherwise, for some readers here, but I'm also interested in trying, struggling perhaps, to view them as standalone portraits: to wonder what other worlds, other narratives they conjure than simply the shows out of which they were, for whatever reason, promoted out of (or demoted from) the ephemeral. And I love above all the invitation to look at actors: my feeling has long been that that's what actors, finally, are: just people, plus the invitation to look.

CG as Poprischin in Diary of a Madman (Trinity Hall Lecture Theatre, 1993)
Polaroid taken during each night's performance

top: Emily Cook as Harrison Ford; bottom: Emily Cook and Joel Chalfen
River Phoenix on the Sidewalk (Trinity Hall Lecture Theatre, 1995)
Photos: CG

Party, Edinburgh, 1995 (Folding Stuff, Adam House, Chambers St)
L to R: cast members Finlay Robertson, Rufus Jones, Tim Baker
Photo: CG

Finlay Robertson carries Theron U. Schmidt, Kings St, Cambridge
Promotional photograph for Puckerlips (1997)
Photo: Jeff Cain

The Consolations (The Place, 1999)
top to bottom:
L to R: Gemma Brockis, Tom Lyall, Jeremy Hardingham, Stefan Warhaftig, Theron U. Schmidt, Rajni Shah
Rajni and Tom
Rajni and Stefan
Stefan and Theron
Stefan in rehearsal, Pimlico
Gemma backstage at the Place
Photos: production shots: Sarah V. York; rehearsal/backstage: ?

The Tempest (2000)
Gemma Brockis as Stephano
Lexi Strauss (Ariel) and Jeremy Hardingham (Prospero)
24 Newport Road, Leyton
Photos: Finlay Robertson

Promotional shots for the Edinburgh 2002 production of Kiss of Life
top to bottom: Theron U. Schmidt; CG
Photos: Finlay Robertson

CG in Kiss of Life (Drill Hall, 2003)
Photo: Robert Day

The Big Room (Camden People's Theatre, 2003)
L to R: Helen Jewell and Teo Ghil; Amie Buhari; Teo; Silvia Mercurali
Photos: Pavi

Theron U. Schmidt in his horses (Camden People's Theatre, 2003)
Photos: Rajni Shah

Sebastien Lawson in Homemade (Harley Gallery, Welbeck, 2005)
Photo: Deb Hall

Promotional image for Longwave (New Greenham Arts, 2006)
from top: Jamie Wood, Tom Lyall
Photo: Andrew Fleming

Speed Death of the Radiant Child (Drum Theatre, Plymouth, 2007)
from top: Lucy Ellinson; Gemma Brockis; Finlay Robertson; Sebastien Lawson and Catherine Dyson

...SISTERS (Gate Theatre, 2008)
from top: Melanie Wilson; Gemma Brockis and Tom Lyall
Photo: Simon Kane

Jonny Liron in Hey Mathew (Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, 2008)

Unknown actors in a European gay porn film, sampled / treated by CG
Still capture from the 'Afterlife' video sequence in Hey Mathew

King Pelican (Drum Theatre, Plymouth, 2009)
from top: Gerard Bell; Maggie Henderson; Jonny Liron and Gerard Bell

CG in the original Queer Up North production of The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley (Contact, Manchester, 2009)
Photo: Joel C. Fildes

Jonny Liron in O Vienna (2009)
Still capture from rehearsal video

CG performing The Net Work of Howard Betel (Camden People's Theatre, 2009)

Landscape & Monologue (Ustinov, Bath, 2011)
from top: Clive Mendus; George Irving; Maggie Henderson
Photos: Toby Farrow

* * *

PART TWO: A mixtape for Andy Smith

I can't remember now where I was, or when it was, but I was certainly away from home, and it was certainly a while back, and I was suddenly seized with an impulse to make a mixtape for my dear friend Andy Smith, who as a smith is one of the regular directors of Tim Crouch's work (so we got to work together on The Author) and a maker of brilliant and inspiring and life-enlarging work of his own. He's one of my absolute favourite people in the universe and if that's not a good enough reason to make someone a mixtape then, candidly, fiddle-de-dee, I disagree. Anyway, I couldn't do it then, but I've done it now.

I thought for this one I'd follow the format of the excellent Mixtape for You project, and other similar enterprises, by making something digital that's as close to an actual mixtape as possible. So: two sides, each of which is a single mp3 lasting exactly 45 minutes.

Being a generous soul I'm sure Andy won't mind sharing his mixtape with you -- it's made with him in mind, but he's made with you in mind, so it all comes around. Stream it from the player below or, if you like, you could go the whole hog, download it (Side A and Side B) and stick it on an actual cassette. There's even a (print-out-and-) cut-out-and-keep inlay card.

To you, mr smith: I hope you enjoy! & I send subliminally encoded in the soundwaves the very fondest of hugs.

To you, everyone else: I hope you enjoy as well. Even if you don't deserve it as much.

John Becker: 'Son' (from Richard Maxwell's House)
Stimmhorn: 'Triohatala'
Eric Qin: 'Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz'
Ken Ardley Playboys: 'Knowledge is Not Nil'
Richard Youngs: 'No Edge'
Edward Barton: 'Two Squirrels'
AER: 'Brightness Contrast Volume' [excerpt]
Xper.xr: 'Theme from S-Express'
Charles Dodge: 'The Days Are Ahead' (from Speech Songs)
Alex H: 'Mahna Mahna in Memphis'
Larry and Shirley: 'The Cuckoo'
Martin Creed: 'I Can't Move'
Teach-In: 'Ding-A-Dong'
Julian Fox: 'Jane and Dave' (from You've Got To Love Dancing to Stick At It)
Jean-Jacques Perrey: 'Gossipo Perpetuo'
Sham 69: 'If the Kids are United'
Machine for Making Sense: 'Tb Cc Cm Rr As'

Leonard Salzedo: 'Divertimento, op. 49' [extract]
John Cage: 'Empty Words with Music for Piano' [extract]
Art & Language and The Red Krayola: 'Coleridge vs Martineau'
cLOUDDEAD: 'The Velvet Ant'
Hi-Speed: 'Animocosica Balts'
Grover: 'Over, Under, Around and Through'
The Books: 'If Not Now, Whenever'
Original Company: 'Happiness' (from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown)
Ken Nordine: 'Dream'
Hans Appelqvist: 'Zenna & Marie'
Carl Sandburg: 'from The People, Yes'
Shopping Trolley: 'Bring Back the Mary Hopkin Days'
World Party: 'Put the Message in the Box'
U. Utah Phillips: 'The Martians Have Landed'

* * *

PART THREE: Reading list

Just thought I'd jot down -- in case it's of any interest to anyone -- the books I'm reading at the moment. I did something similar to this once before and though no one made much of a fuss at the time, occasionally people refer to that post and ask me to do the same again.

Because I've been on the road so much of late, there's quite a pile of stuff that's accumulated, things I've ordered and come back to and not, until now, had much chance to look at; as ever, much is started, and not a lot finished. So perhaps it would be better to say not that this is what I'm reading currently, but what's live: if I'm not reading it, I'm about to, or I just have, or it's sitting on a table or desk or the floor or some other flat-enough surface reproaching me for my inattention. I'm doing this, as I did the last time, not really as a public service but more as a self-portrait, a little snapshot which might in time say something about who I was on the first day of spring 2011.

So, here we are:

- Jo Clifford, Every One (Nick Hern Books) 
- Tim Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the subculture of barebacking (U of Chicago P.)
- Harry Gilonis, eye-blink (Veer Books) 
- Philip Guston, Collected Writings, Lectures and Conversations ed. Clark Coolidge (U. of California P.)
- Rob Holloway, from FLESH RAYS (Crater)
- Joan Jara, Victor: An unfinished song (Bloomsbury)
- Lonely Christopher, The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse (Akashic Books)
- Gregory Motton, Helping Themselves: The left-wing middle classes in theatre and the arts (Levellers P.)
- Antonio Negri with Raf Scelsi, Goodbye Mr Socialism: radical politics in the 21st century (Serpent's Tail)
- Giuseppe Penone, Writings 1968-2008 ed. Gianfranco Maraniello & Jonathan Watkins (Ikon Gallery / Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna)
- Janice Ross, Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance (U of California P.)
- Harlow Shapley, Beyond the Observatory (Scribners)
- Wallace Shawn, Essays (Haymarket)
- Aleks Sierz, Rewriting the Nation: British theatre today (Methuen)
- Kenneth Silverman, Begin Again: A biography of John Cage (Alfred A. Knopf)
- Patti Smith, Just Kids (Bloomsbury)
- ed. Harriet Tarlo, The Ground Aslant: An anthology of radical landscape poetry (Shearsman)
- Kenneth Tynan, Diaries ed. John Lahr (Bloomsbury)
- ed. Thomas Waugh, Out/Lines: Underground gay graphics before Stonewall (Arsenal Pulp P.)
- David Wojnarowicz, The Waterfront Journals (Grove P.)

I can gladly recommend any of the above, I think, with varying portions of caveat; and of course I'm also reading John Holloway's Crack Capitalism (Pluto P.) and the Carcanet Selected Frank O'Hara, both of which travel with me as a matter of course at the moment. But if you're after something more immediately at-hand to stretch your brain with, three quick pointers to online sources of such. 

After a dormant while, Andrew Haydon is suddenly and thrillingly cooking up a storm over at Postcards of the Gods, so if you've got out of the habit of visiting, I can strongly recommend a return: a recent series of pieces on 'keywords' (not quite Raymond Williams stylee but not in a wholly other ballpark either) -- "About", "Properly", "Professional", and "Political" -- represents some of the best theatre writing I've read in a while, certainly as far as the currently rather undernourished blogosphere goes.

Another blog I've gladly rediscovered after a little while when it dropped out of my attentions is that of the extraordinary writer and -- ooh, what shall we say, now? -- might 'compositeur' do? -- Paul Curran. The work on his site, which marries text to image in the most tactfully insistent and quietly alarming ways possible, is distinguished by its poise amid calamity and its pitch-dark dystopic Ballardian wit: I find the sophistication of its gestures often quite breathtaking. I should perhaps add before you charge over there (though you certainly should) that I encountered Curran first through the community at Dennis Cooper's blog -- in relation to which I have regrettably almost entirely fallen out of orbit, at least for now -- users of which will hardly need to bother reading the disclaimer I nonetheless subjoin: there is a fair amount of sexually and surgically explicit image-matter on the site; if that's not your bag, I can warmly and sincerely recommend Mitoza instead, which, tests reveal, I love exactly as much as I love Curran's blog, but which is certainly less gruelling to spend any time with.

Finally, I managed to track down a couple of days ago a quite extraordinary essay I'd forgotten, by the poet Peter Larkin, called 'Innovation Contra Acceleration', which I'm thinking was written in 1997 or thereabouts, and I must have read it not much later than that, before I knew any of Peter's poetry itself or had met him personally. (He's one of the poets collected in Harriet Tarlo's useful Shearsman anthology The Ground Aslant, listed above, and I'm excited to see that Nate Dorward's The Gig is bringing out a new collection shortly: this is good news, Dorward really gets Larkin, has published him before, will take all the necessary care.) I won't lie to you, rat fans: it's a steep essay, not by any means opaque or obscure but just proceeding, as (this) Larkin's poems do, with such economy and rigorous care that you may find you have to, you know, pull over onto the hard shoulder and give it your most bountiful attention as it goes. Not having read it for a while I can see now how much it's influenced my thinking (despite my sense that I hadn't really understood it first time around) -- I think there is something about the way Peter thinks about ecology in relation to poetry that quite closely resembles the way I think about queer praxis in relation to theatre: in particular, I would say, in Where You Stand. For some the essay might be an excellent gateway to Peter's exceptionally compelling and beautiful poetry, perhaps the most consistently striking and stretching body of work I've encountered outside of Prynne; but I would hope it might also be interesting to those with no especial interest in poetry per se but who are harbouring a broader concern with how we might remodel innovation (for example in theatre practice) as the shape of our social imagining and the apparatus of our civic (or scenic) resources are reformed day-to-day by the pressures exerted by the ethical nullity at the heart of the prevailing liberal democratic narrative.

Well, that was a mouthful. I strongly suggest you stop reading me, go and read Peter Larkin, or something else.

I'll be back before you know it. xx


Jonny Liron said...

Lovely post boy, looking forward to having this working around my body as I hit the building site in an hours time, and looking forward to queer D&D afterwards... such great things in this post!

a smith said...

Boom! Thanks man. A lovely surprise. It's spring here too. And it just got springier. Love, a x

JhL said...

Very sad to miss the D&D – I hope it was robust and exciting and, and, and...

And thanks for all of the snapshots, images and otherwise.

finlay robertson said...

I barely recognise the shape of my own twenty year-old face ... still, very lovely and very brilliant ramblings. I thank you. X

lexi said...

Was just checking if any pics were coming up from my new website when i came across Ariel and Prospero. Nice memories!
How you doing CG? you look busy as ever.
if you fancy seeing what I'm up to check this out:
or this:
lexi x

Chris Goode said...

Lexi -- how amazing to hear from you, and I love your new work! Drop me a line sometime?