The Heat Series
I hope you are all well since we last didn’t meet.
It seems that life has become some sort of temporary space of not meeting right now, and maybe it is going to get a bit harder still in the days to come.
Which makes it a funny time to be thinking of making performance too, right? I’ve been thinking a lot about what has changed since lockdown restrictions have so directly affected the theatre and performance worlds- my world. It’s made me question what performance is, and how (or if) it can continue to exist as an available experience and practice.
For me personally, performance is the creative act of giving away, to someone or something, in real live time. Of course, what is meant by ‘live time’ isn’t a single idea; instead it holds many meanings dependent on the context of the making and delivery of the work. But normally, what tends to get me most excited, is the giving of an energetic experience- a tangible, intense, moving, irrefutably ‘live’ experience’, to a live audience (even if that audience is a landscape). It is the offering of acts that come from my body; my mouth, my limbs, my skin, my emotions, my past, my present- all of me! And as soon as it leaves my body it is no longer mine. It happens within collaborations, or via an ensemble I might be directing, or simply between myself and another single audience member. It hangs in the space between me and the audience waiting to be taken. And I mean ‘taken’ specifically. I hope my work is taken from me and claimed by the audience. It can only exist if it finds a home outside me, otherwise who is it for? Me? Just me? I hope not. I want my work to be something that appears necessary and resonates with what is before me- that somehow it is required in the world, even if it is provocative or challenging, that it is something that takes me out of myself and places me in the shared space of the living world.
In this second blog entry I will refer to a few works that were made directly after We Share Air We Share Air, that mark for me the beginning of my journey with a particular question/provocation:
Why is it important that you make what you make?
2009-2011 The Heat Series
This was a trilogy of works, made over 3 years that experimented with the creation of temporary communities over communal acts, or the communal witnessing of acts in the real time space of live performance. During this time, me, my partner and three friends had moved to super rural Ayrshire to try and live a different life to what we knew- something more intimate, shared and a bit more basic. We rented a large farmhouse together during one of the coldest winters we had known.
I still carried a loneliness with me that had haunted the time of making We Share Air We Share Air, except something had begun to evolve in me- a faint glimmer- a synthesizing of ideas to do with vulnerability, masculinity, the witnessing of vulnerability, the power of confession, the shape of a circle, fire, heat, bodies.
Part 1- We Are The Fire
This was a solo performance, commissioned by the former New Moves International festival and was hosted in their final year of existence at The Arches in Glasgow. It was a short 20-minute performance that I repeated 10 times in one night, for an audience of 10 each time. In it, I recalled the first year in Ayrshire through a list of simple anecdotes, I offered everyone a small drink of whisky, I performed a small (exhausting) choreography and I made a small incision in my chest with a scalpel. 10 little scars. I hung some bunting on the wall that said ‘Energy Becomes Energy’ on it and the position I ended in was the position I started in. It sounds like a simple work, but this was the first time I understood being witnessed as a performer. Afterwards, I can’t say how, but I knew something quite fundamental in me had woken up.
What are your boundaries in performance?
Where are they?
How thick or thin are they?
Part 2- The Fire Burns and Burns
Made in collaboration with my partner Nic, for the former Arches Live Festival in 2010, we made a sweat lodge for an intimate audience of limited capacity. For this work, we invited the audience into one half of a studio space, where we introduced the work with a duet we sang- a beautiful song by Ewan McColl called The Joy of Living- I think there was a choreography involved too, but I can’t remember. Afterwards, the audience were led to the other half of the space through a black drape where everyone was invited to take all their clothes off and enter a sweat lodge. Inside the sweat lodge we invited a conversation starting with the question ‘What burns for you?’. Afterwards, the audience were led out and we washed everyone as they left the space. I can’t quite remember how it finished (and I don’t have any documentation for obvious reasons…).
Who is your work for?
Where should it exist?
Part 3- Burning On
This was a small work commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre in London. It was made around the time we left Ayrshire- a small work, that I chose to make without the use of energy, out-with what my own body gave. In a circle, a small group of people gathered and together we enacted 7 or 8 actions at sunset. One of which we passed a threaded needle between us, repeatedly going round the circle until all our trousers had sewn together. Another where we passed a flame between tapers of wood, until the fire burned out, in silence. Another where I sang a song from a book I found in Ayrshire- The Mingulay Boat Song- a song that became particularly significant a decade later. There was the same bunting in this work too- 'Energy Becomes Energy'.
Where does performance live, after the fact?
Does it matter?
I think the last piece was performed at high summer. We left Ayrshire quite quickly after this (or were kicked out of our farm house by an annoyed landlord who looked like a baby dinosaur), and we moved on. My partner and I temporarily moved to Yorkshire before going to India for 4 months. That small window of time had come to an end, and until now, had pretty much stayed in my memory.
These three works only ever happened once or twice each. There was no touring of them, they made very little money, very few people saw them but they were made without the pressure of too much expectation for anything to come of them. Something began to fall away from me at this point, some sort of opacity around me, or around my sensibility that perhaps sheltered me from seeing a stronger, deeper sense of community. I remember my dear friend telling me that when the heart grows and opens it hurts. I thought of the 10 little scars. Whether or not the works brought about this change in me, or whether it was just something I was always going to go through I will never know.
If I look back and ask myself why it was important that I made these works, I am shy to admit that it is because they taught me how to be as a performer, as a person in front of other people; I am shy because it feels solipsistic. I hope that they offered a space for others to encounter something about themselves too, and about their place along side other people; I believe they did in a small way. I also believe they taught me how to give of myself in order to synthesise with a broader context, to resonate with others. They prompted me to remember that artists do what others can’t- which is find ways to hold people through vulnerable and challenging spaces and processes that other communities/professions/roles can’t. They validate the individuals experience in a way that capitalism is frightened to do, which really is about uniting folk in a way that can’t be bought. I suppose it makes sense that they made no money, and weren’t seen by many people, and didn’t tour.
Why is it important that you make what you make?
I hope this entry finds you well, all the way over where you are. And even though I am all the way over here where I am, don't feel like you can't write back, or comment or ask things of me. Only if you want to.
Best. Until next time.
(PS- It’s important to know that during this time, I was also cutting my teeth and trying to earn a bit more cash doing drama workshops. I also worked in Lush cosmetics. Some days I would do a drama workshop in the morning, do a shift in Lush in the day, then work a bar at night. On a Tuesday I would go to Kilmarnock where I ran the hardest drama workshops of my life, with a church youth group who ran rings around me as I turned up on my own through the dead of a rainy winter. When it came to April I was desperate to do my tax return just so I could get the couple of hundred pounds in rebate. I also made a few other pieces at this time- a weird séance/ritual in an abandoned shopfront in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, and a piece called House which you can see a bit more about on my website. )