Tuesday 29 April 2014

I choose today’s stories on the train.

Project Arts, Dublin, 25 April

I choose today’s stories on the train. Inspiration Exchange has a bank of stories – in my memory and listed on our blog. The stories are mine, or have been given to me by other people. Gradually the balance of the library is shifting, as the proportion of stories told to me by other people, that I feel able to re-tell, grows.

On the day of an Exchange, I see which stories come to mind first. Which stories do I feel like telling today? And this is slightly odd, bittersweet perhaps, because as I write out each card, I am thinking, I hope I get to tell this story today. But I know that I can’t tell all of them. It’s a task with a built-in disappointment.

I’m suddenly aware, on the train to Manchester Airport, that later today I will meet some people for the first time, and they will tell me stories. I wonder if it is still chance that we will meet, or are our paths already set to converge? And the stories that they will tell – are they already in their minds, are they current, or will they think of something they haven’t thought of in years?

I arrive at Project Arts Centre. The Live Collision team show me to my table in the foyer. I like the table very much. I lay out my inspiration cards. I have one too many to make up the 6 x 5 grid that the table demands. I choose the story that won’t get chosen: ABORIGINIES VS. THE SAS.

At 3pm we open the Exchange.

I immediately swap THE BEAUTY OF THE PROOF
A story about maths
A story about the noise of a city, a city that says ‘I’m here, here I am, I’m behind you’, about running up the stairs all the way to the seventh floor, and about meeting a hero.

I swap +44(0)1369 870 212
Which is the number of a phone box in Scotland
A story about an accidental phone conversation with a stranger helping people to understand that they are not their governments.

A story partly about the difference between wanting to practice and having to practice.

In which a famous television astro-physicist and ex-popstar explains that the idea of “the Speed of Light” is incorrect and it would be more accurate to talk about “the Speed of Things That Don’t Have Mass.”

A story about how in the midst of a difficult, tragic situation for a family, the onset of a grandfather’s Alzheimer’s, the daughter, who is an artist, finds something compelling in the action of him buttoning up a shirt inside out. A story, perhaps, about finding something to hold on to.

For a story about solitary confinement
Which I swap for another story about solitary confinement
Which I swap for THUMB’s UP
A story which explains the difference between physiotherapy and occupational therapy: in the case of a quadriplegic patient, paralysed from the neck down, the physiotherapist helps him to move his thumb, and the occupational therapist helps him to us his thumb to smoke cigarettes.

Because it’s about the midlands,
In this story you are a sleepwalker. On one occasion, staying in Thailand, you find yourself in the middle of the jungle three miles from your accommodation, having woken up everyone in your hostel on the way out…

You suffer, your whole life, with night-terrors, narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. You climb out of windows and fall ten feet, naked, into snow. You wake up teenage twins, standing naked on their balcony, trying to get back in to the hotel. You piss in the corner of your bedroom, and onto the feet of the grandfather of those startled twins.

And over all of this hovers the question, when you start seeing someone, at what point do you tell them that you might get out of bed during the and walk around asleep…?

In this story you ask your date: So, are you a heavy sleeper?

Which is a story, in part, about chance and serendipity,
In this story, two friends in Dublin are planning a trip to the States. He gets a Visa, but she is turned down. They decide that they will go somewhere else together instead.
He goes to get his haircut, and the barber is not long back from 10 years in Liverpool. The barber tells him it’s a great city.

So he asks his friend if she fancies going to Liverpool for their trip. She says she does, and they book into a hostel for a week. He stays in Liverpool for 10 years.

And for 10 years he talks about the barber as the reason he is in Liverpool.

He moves back to Dublin.

He goes to get his haircut. The barber is still there.

He tells the barber the story.
The barber’s hands start shaking so badly he cannot carry on cutting his hair.
What’s wrong? asks the friend.

The barber tells him that he is thinking about moving back to Liverpool. A friend of his has just died and her child is about to be taken in to care, and he thinks he should go and look after the child to stop that happening. He has given himself to the end of the week to decide. He’s been waiting, the barber tells him, for a sign.

A story about the rebellion of squatting being appropriated by capitalism, about the young couple next door turning out to be sister and brother, and the abandonment of those siblings by the eponymous granny, when the cops come round.

The Exchange is officially closed, and I’m writing up the notes that I’m reading to you now, but I’m asked for one more story.

And it turns out that this was exactly the right story for her to ask for, and serendipity has one more card to play today, and circles, cycles, and geometric shapes are connections waiting to be made, and we swap it
A story about birth, control, the Mandala, geometric shapes, rice patterns, circles, and cunt power.

The Exchange is closed, but the conversations it generated continue that evening and throughout the next day.

Thank you.

This is a version of the ‘Story of the Day’ text I read out at the Live Collision LIVE ART PARTY at the close of the festival.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

A man I met in Nottingham

As part of the build up to presenting Cape Wrath at West Yorkshire Playhouse’s brilliant Transform festival last month, I was asked to write a response to a set of questions, that was then posted as an “Introducing…” interview. It’s mainly about Third Angel in general, our relationship with Leeds, and Cape Wrath in particular. (You can read the whole thing here).

But the last question asked:
...tell us about a transformative experience for you or your company?

And the story that came to mind was one I’ve told a couple of times when teaching or talking about our work. I’d last told it as part of a performance called Serial Collaborator, at Northern Stage’s Stronger Together event, back in 2011.

For Stronger Together, a really great, timely event exploring (rather than just talking about) collaboration, I was invited by Erica Whyman, then Artistic Director of Northern Stage, to do a performance of some kind. I somewhat rashly proposed a performance in which “I talk about everyone I have ever collaborated with. In 20 minutes.” Erica kindly, and almost as rashly, said okay.

Once I was preparing it, I went through a process that felt familiar from making Class of’76, of initially wanting to talk about everyone equally, but then realising that that did no-one any justice, and wouldn’t be at all interesting. So the format evolved to become one in which I named everyone (I could think of) who I had ever collaborated with, and talked about some people in more detail in order to discuss different kinds of collaboration.

In amongst that I wanted to talk about students and audience members, and the ways in which they are part of the conversation of, and development of, the work. So in both instances one (or a few) individuals were able to stand in for their ‘group’. And the audience member to talk about was obvious to me, because he had changed the way we understood our own work.

[For various reasons to do with permissions, technical issues and me choosing to not use a mic, Serial Collaborator wasn’t documented, and stands as one of the very few actual one-offs we’ve done. I did intend to write it up, but it was never urgent enough… so its nice, after this time, to at least put up a story from it on here.]

And, after that slightly discursive intro, here’s the story.

2002. We are at Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham, presenting our show Where Have They Hidden All The Answers?

WHTHATH? (as we refer to it), is a one-to-one "interview performance", in which we tell the audience member the story of an urban legend, as if it is true, trying to convince them that it is researched fact - claiming we know the first instance of the story. Towards the end of the piece we ask the audience member if they know of "any stories like that", and if they could tell us one? 

The guy sitting opposite me says, "No, I don't have any stories like that. But I can tell you about the most important day of my life, if you like?"

I realise that of course I would like that, even if the story isn't the "right" sort of story, the sort of story I think I'm looking for.

The man tells me that when he was little, about seven, his mum was really ill. She was dying, in fact. She'd had to start sleeping on the sofa, too weak to climb the stairs. His aunt came to stay, to look after them.

One morning he came down stairs and his aunt told him that his mum had died in the night. He looked at her, lying on the sofa. He could see her hand sticking out from under the blanket. He wanted more than anything to go and hold his mum's hand. But his aunt told him he had to go and get the doctor.

When he came back with the doctor, there were more people around, and his mum's arm had been tucked back under the blanket, and he never did get to hold his mum's hand.

"I'm 52 now," he tells me, "and there isn't a day goes by that I don't regret that I didn't say something, that I didn't insist on holding her hand to say goodbye."

I'm not sure what to say to him. So I say, "That's an amazing story. Are you sure you're happy for me to share it with other people?"

"Of course I am,” he replies, “I wouldn't have told it to you otherwise."

And that was the day I understood, whatever story is that the person sitting opposite wants to tell us, that's the story we need to hear.