Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Ghostwriting for Performance

Beginnings, they say, are difficult.

It starts with something my Mom said.

When I left school, I carried on living at home with my Mom for a couple of years. I had a series of crap jobs: in a bar, then a call centre, then a warehouse. And during that two-year period, my social life revolved, almost entirely, around my gang of mates. All of us lads, all about the same age. And we did everything together.
We went to the pub together.
We played computer games together.
We played Dungeons and Dragons together. A lot.
We watched films together.
We watched football together.
We went shopping together.
We hung around each other’s houses, listening to music and talking about girls – together.

At some point during this period, my mom said to me, ‘When you are older and you come to write your autobiography, you will call this chapter “Waiting For The Lads”.’ And ever since my mom said that to me, I’ve had this idea in the back of my head about what I would call any given chapter of my life, even as I’m still living it.

It starts with my mate Boris sending me an e-mail, urging me to read Tim Lott’s novel, White City Blue, because ‘it’s written about us’.

It starts with Boris giving me the book Surviving Sting by Paul MacDonald, which is set in my home town, Walsall.

It starts with an e-mail I sent to Boris in response to that book, expressing enjoyment of the Black Country nostalgia, but commenting how obvious the formula, or recipe, for Lad Lit is in it.

It starts with an idea for a one-to-one performance called What Makes Me Me, What Makes You You?

It starts with an idea for a solo performance for an audience of eight, or ten, or twelve maybe, all sitting round a large table.

It starts with a research project called Matter, a collaboration with photographer Andy Eccleston, who arranges many, many hospital appointments for me and begins to compile a library of footage of me, using as many medical imaging techniques as he can access.

It evolves, in a discussion with Rachael, into a project that ‘isn’t autobiographical as much as about autobiography’.

It becomes as a research project called Writing Backwards.

It starts when we don’t get the money for that research project and we can’t bring in the three performers for me to direct. So, we put me on stage, although not yet alone, and invite many other men, some of them performers, into our rehearsal space to drink beer and wine, and talk about their lives.

It starts, with me asking men what they would call the chapters in the unwritten books of their life stories.

It starts, perhaps, with a previous project, Class of ‘76, in which I tell my own story of attempting to find my 34 classmates from my 1976 Chuckery Infant School class photograph. Telling my story of doing that involves telling their stories, their memories. In Class of ‘76, using a simple slide projection trick, I appear to produce those children next to me on stage. School Hall Magic, I wrote at the time, summoning the ghosts of the living.


This is an extract from Ghostwriting for Performance: Third Angel's The Lad Lit Project, which was originally a performed paper that I gave at the Writing Encounters Symposium last year, and has been published this month in the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Vol 2 Issue 1), edited by Claire Hind and Prof Susan Orr.

There's plenty of other great stuff in it, including work by Claire MacDonald, Rita Marcalo and Dutton & Swindells. It's available from Intellect Books.

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