Shorty is turning 41!

So my year of being 40 is almost over – tomorrow at 7.13am, I turn 41 – and on the whole (national and international politics aside) it’s been a good one. I started it by heading to Barcelona (so I could turn this scary milestone into an adventure – I’d only been abroad 6 times before) and I ended it by going to Berlin to see the amazing 1927′s new double bill with Komische Opera (again this felt like a real treat). I’ve made some good decisions (starting an MA) and some bad decisions (cutting off my lovely long blonde hair). Swings and roundabouts.

I guess I have already talked a little about my year of change and, I hope growth.

What’s next? More art. As much art as I can find time and head space for, as much art as I can stand. I want to say yes to everything, I know that isn’t always possible, but I want this next two years to change me. I want to read about, watch and participate in art, go to dance classes, singing lessons and generally make as much art as I can.

Shorty is turning 41. Bring it on.

From the Ashes – a ritual

Last night I undertook a full moon ritual.

I had asked around to find a cleansing ritual and this was sent to me. I have never done anything quite like this before and I wasn’t sure what to expect though the site describes it as “a powerful way to invoke this (a ritual being a set of actions, often with symbolic value, performed in a ceremonial manner). Releasing. Letting go. Unburdening yourself. Purging”.

First full moon of the new year.

First full moon of the new year.

It felt serendipitous that Thursday 12 January also happened to be the first full moon of a new year. What better time to make a new start?

I met with Ellie Harrison to get her input on ritual in performance. She talked to me about taking “a side-step from normal life” that every aspect of the ritual should be thought about and planned carefully to mark it out as significant. It makes sense – if you think about a wedding or a birthday, these events usually involve new and/or specific clothing, colour schemes and specific ceremonial items (both include cake cutting for example). She encouraged me to think about all the materials I intended to use and what I would wear to elevate the event in my mind, to take me out of the everyday.

She also talked to me about the three kinds of ritual:

  • Affirmation – those group rituals we participate in in order to belong, to affirm who we believe we are, such as football matches.
  • Suspension – rituals that take us out of ourselves and our everyday lives for a short time, what I like to think of as “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.
  • Transformation – rituals that mark a change in/for us, such as weddings, christenings and funerals.

Mine was to be a transformative ritual. The idea being that I would be unburdened, freed of negative feelings that I have been carrying unnecessarily for years. Interestingly I felt the healing began to start as soon as I had made the decision to do this. Possibly even sooner. When I first recognised myself in what Brene Brown said about shame and worthiness.

My ritual therefore marked a line in the sand. Or rather a full stop and also a coming full circle. By putting behind me the intensely painful experience of drama school I can more fully focus on the very positive experience I am now having on my MA – because of this I chose to locate myself outside the space we have been having our classes.

I did create a Facebook event and invited others to do their own ritual, wherever they may be, if they wished but I consciously decided not to document it in its entirety because I wanted to be in the moment. I wanted to leave technology out of it. To be at one with the moon (and the cold January night!) – she finally decided to show her face through the clouds. I had chosen simple, soft, comfortable clothes in blue to reflect the sky/moon, took off my shoes and settled. Unfortunately windy January nights are not conducive to tea-lights so my circle of light was a bust. I felt surprisingly unselfconscious, it was easy to focus (and I managed to not to set myself or the blanket on fire). Despite the cold, once my ritual was complete I found myself reluctant to blow out the candle. I sat with it for several minutes. I love to watch open flames…

I have never considered myself a spiritual person but since having some issues with anxiety about five years ago I have embraced meditation, Mindfulness and have even participated in some CBT therapy. I appreciate the power of the mind and the benefit of positive energy – if nothing else having a positive outlook makes you feel better in the short run. I did not notice a magical moment of transformation but I came away with a sense of inner calm (and inner cold!) and the quite pleasant smell of bonfires on my skin and clothes.

What the website does not say is what you are supposed to do with the ashes afterwards. It feels disrespectful and anti-climactic to throw them out. They feel loaded with intent and keeping them around seems like bad ju-ju (if one believed in such things). So as a final act I intend to send half back to where it began and scatter the other half where the ritual took place. The end. Full circle.

2016 – On reflection

I don’t do this every year but somehow it feels important this year.

2016 has been a terrible year for reasonable, caring and forward thinking people. The truth and expertise have been utterly devalued. The rise of hate and violence against minorities spurred by ‘legitimate’ campaigns given too much airtime in the press is terrifying. But not as terrifying as what is to come when The Orange One assumes the position.

Outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Outside the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we start building our bunkers I’d like to take a moment to remember some of the good things that happened for me in 2016:

  1. I went to Barcelona. I decided that since I am not very good at asking people to make a fuss of me and I didn’t want to dread turning 40, I would make it something to look forward to and booked to go away with my friend Holly. It was brilliant. I even got sunburnt, in February!
  2. I changed jobs and started to feel better about work. My new job is a little less pressured and a little more varied which means I have a more headspace and flexibility which has allowed me to do number 8! It’s also meant I have started to resent the place less and so I am more willing to spend time with people from work which has improved my social life a lot – a small gang of us have been to the cinema together a few times.
  3. I moved house again. It was horrid and exhausting and I don’t want to do it again EVER but I love my new flat. I have a washing machine and a freezer!!! And my neighbours are lovely, smoke a lot less pot and don’t slam the front door at all hours if the night.
  4. Ellie and I did The Reservation again at Wrought festival in Sheffield. It’s one of my proudest achievements so it is always a pleasure to revisit this piece. We felt a little bit removed from the festival being stuck in the hotel all the time but we had some wonderful encounters. Plus the hotel staff were great and the breakfast was amazing!
  5. I went to Glastonbury for the first time… it was HUGE and it was muddy and I pulled muscles in both my legs but Leann and I got on really well. It was nice to hang out, just the two of us for a change. And I saw Steve Davis!

    Mud, mud, glorious mud.

    Mud, mud, glorious mud.

  6. I was in Way Through the Wood for A Quiet Word. As well as being totally different to things I have been in in the past I got lots of walking done and got to hang out with yet more lovely people (and finally visited The Myrtle Pub). It was a very gentle and welcoming environment even if it was immediately after Glastonbury and I was broken.
  7. I joined a choir because I wanted to sing more and develop my voice as part of my performer’s toolbox. It was a good idea but… in the end I left cos it was rubbish – no individual attention so I didn’t really feel like I was learning anything. Very frustrating. I continue to look for an alternative.
  8. I started my MA and was terrified and thrilled in equal measures. Mostly I am scared of looking stupid, especially when I realise how much I don’t know but I have a new support network, new friends and they are fantastic.
  9. I tried my hand at upcycling. Mum and I had lots of fun going to the antique quarter in Sheffield. Months later and work is still in progress… I have a beautifully (if I do say so myself) repainted set of drawers still awaiting suitable handles (don’t get me started) and a lovely chair awaiting the perfect fabric… both taking up space at mine and mum’s!
  10. I was in Walking:Holding a part of Compass Live Art Festival, met more amazing people and had an incredible experience. I’ve already talked about that a bit here.

Of course there’s also lots I didn’t get to do…

  • Save any money.
  • Go on holiday (all holiday were taken up with doing things like moving, studying and Glastonbury which were great but not in any way restful).
  • Get to London to see my best friends as much as usual (unfortunately I missed several 40th birthdays this year because of other commitments and lack of funds).
  • Get to Bridlington to see Dad as much as usual. This is a real shame as the sea air always does me good.

It’s all about choices, isn’t it? By doing some things – like the MA – I have less time to do others. Looking further back I realise that I didn’t really make any friends the first 3 years I lived here. I spent all my time and money going back to London to see my best friends. It’s only been in the last couple of years and 2016 in particular that I have started to feel like I have a proper social life in Leeds because I have spent more time here, investing in being here and spending time with the people who are here, especially the lovely people I work with. The MA has also really helped with this but it hasn’t been easy. I was ill on three separate occasions between September and November because I had taken on too much.

The MA has given me my enthusiasm back. I want to say yes to everything. In 2017 I want to gain as much practical performing experience as possible so that means taking better care of myself – get my money under control, eat better, exercise more, and find a routine that works. I’m going to have to be selfish and not just this year, probably until I finish my MA in September 2018 but hopefully it will be worth it and next year’s list will be twice as long!

Bring on 2017.

 

Walking:Holding remembered

On Saturday 12 November, between 11am – 6pm I walked roughly 19,746 steps (approx 8.5 miles) around Leeds, while holding hands with 20 different people. It was an epic day, full of sharing, support, small gestures, big feelings and surprising encounters.

  •  A welcoming smile.
  • How hot hands get. And cold.
  • A child between two parents.
  • Walking slower to make the moment last.
  • Pleasant surprises.
  • Most people are actually very lovely.
  • “What would you be doing today if you weren’t doing this?”
  • Are most people too busy with their own ‘stuff’ (phones) to notice (we are holding hands)?
  • An elderly couple holding hands.
  • Banter in the pub.
  • Lower backache.
  • My rumbling tummy.
  • A genuine conversation about fear.
  • The horny teenagers touching each other up on a bench in the churchyard.
  • A couple in their 30s holding hands.
  • The woman pausing in front of the war memorial.
  • Man taking pictures of his girlfriend throwing leaves.
  • Catching the eye of a gruff looking man.
  • Overhearing one of the regulars in the pub explain to his mate what we are doing.
  • Who can we hold hands with when this is over?
  • We can never really know what people are thinking.
  • “I hope everyone in here has been courteous.”

One  week on and still I am not quite done processing the experiences of participating in Walking:Holding, but I know they have changed me and reminded me of the power of art. The day after I was full and also empty, and I am still missing my new friends and the physical contact I have recently enjoyed. If anyone would like a hug, just ask.

#walkingholding

Walking towards a more positive future

Walking:Holding - a performance by Rosana Cade

Walking:Holding – a performance by Rosana Cade

I spent yesterday evening in a workshop with Rosana Cade ahead of the performances of Walking:Holding at Compass Live Art Festival this weekend. It couldn’t be more timely.

I came away with so much buzzing around my head. I wanted to write something last night but in many ways my head was too full (it was cold and I wanted my bed and a hot water bottle). Conversations over the course of the workshop had been generous and wide ranging but the dark cloud hanging over all of us was the impending US Election, the possiblity that, sadly when I woke up this morning had become a terrifying reality.

Trump is going to be President of the USA. And the world is a far darker place than I wanted to admit to myself. We know this because people listened to his poisonous words and CHOSE to put him there.

Last night I was in a room with a fantastic group of openly gay, queer, trans, as well as others identifying as straight, men and women and people of colour. We shared stories of Leeds: where we had happy memories, where we had difficult memories, where we felt safe. Some of these stories were deeply personal and revealing and made me appreciate how little we really know about the people around us and the experiences they carry with them. It was an opportunity to check my privilege. I heard accounts of ‘attacks’, behavior I found hard to believe. Not because of the source but because I have not experienced anything like it first hand. Sure, I’m a woman and I’ve been catcalled, called sexual slurs and been groped in public by men on more than one occasion but never experienced the levels of hate I heard about, just for people being who they are. It was a little shocking but worth hearing.

Overall it was an incredibly positive experience. I enjoyed the opportunity to share physical intimacy with other human beings and I am looking forward to more of that (despite the snow) on Friday and Saturday – I am participating in leading the performance. I am curious what else I will learn about myself through doing this piece.

So, in the wake of this vote for hate, small acts of kindness, connection and tolerence are what I CAN do. It’s better than ranting and raving, adding to the negativity in the world.  It starts with us, right?

Print for The Reservation

Making a space for grief

The Reservation is one of my proudest achievements.

Getting the chance to perform The Reservation again at Wrought Festival last month was a pleasure, a privilege. I understand that it is a small space for a big experience that we create and as I type up the audience feedback I am reminded of this over and over again. I am filled with pride and occasionally, moved to tears. For every audience member who says something like,

“This work is about really important conversations that people need to have about things that affect our everyday lives. It is powerfully cathartic in a way that all theatre performance hopes to be. I want to say thank you very much for this experience.”

my faith in the work and it’s importance is renewed. I want to thank them all individually but recently when I have bumped into them at other arts events, they have smiled, thanked me and often hugged me.  I hope they will remember it for a long time. The experience certainly stays with me long after the final performance is over.

(I really hope we get to do this again)

Me in front of sign for Rock in Northumberland.

Something to sing about

I started a six week singing course this week.

I may not have told you this but I always wanted to be in musicals (as an adult the idea of doing the same show 7/8 times a week for months on end sounds a lot less fun than I imagined as a child). I loved them and I sang ALL the time but I was always aware that I didn’t sound like the people I heard so I convinced myself I wasn’t a singer.

At drama school the only time anyone noticed me was when I sang but by then they had destroyed my confidence and I couldn’t ‘perform’ my songs. Even now when I do karaoke I still battle with the paralyzing desire to get it right. I just can’t relax and bring the swagger that I have in my kitchen when I sing while washing the pots.

So I suppose on this singing course I want to learn to share my enjoyment of singing as much as relearn some techniques.

We’re going to do a couple of different genres a week so after testing the water with Imagine this week, next week is Pop (Adele – Make You Feel My Love) and Jazz (The Way You Look Tonight)… I’d like to see us do some more upbeat tunes. I’ve already  come up with a long list of fun ideas for future weeks (they’re going to hate me aren’t they?) to get people going a bit more. It’s all a bit tentative so far.

I’m sure there will be plenty more to say. After this singing course I think I would like to do another. There is one in learning to read music, which would be useful, I think.  It’s all part of the master plan to #bemorecreative.

Do I know how to be fat?

I saw Mathilda Gregory’s How to be Fat in Edinburgh this weekend. I follow her on Twitter and I was intrigued as a fellow fattie. Her show explores her relationship with her body and so it felt relevant to the running blog I am also doing.

Her performance style is very candid and warm and I recognise a lot of what she has to say, but it quickly becomes clear that her relationship with food is totally different to mine – isn’t everyone’s? I am not an over-eater (though sometimes I am a secret eater). I don’t crave food in fact I don’t think about food very much at all. I don’t care or like food enough to plan it properly so I often end up not eating proper meals at all, or eating cereal (it feels guilt free and I always have it in the house). I do like snack foods though. A lot.

When Mathilda talks about the indignity of listening to slim people* obsessively discuss the weight they need to lose (in order to not be like us),  leaving us literally feeling like the elephant in the room,  it is a gut punch. Yes! This.

What really gets me is when she starts talking about how we are told to love our curves but we all secretly know that that does not include the curve of our protruding belly. This is when I start to weep… Also this. I’ve spent so long wrestling with the idea that I am supposed to be happy with and love myself while being bombarded with information that tells me no-one else will while I look like this.

I’m not sure that Mathilda has said anything wildly revelatory (and I wonder what a thin person would get out of seeing the show) but I felt comforted hearing another fat woman voice my feelings. To say all the things I can’t say to my friends because they don’t want to hear me call myself fat, for a start**. I felt less alone. After I saw this show I did talk to a friend about it and she said she would never describe me as fat. She would say I was “short with big boobs”, which I am, but I don’t think her reluctance is because I am not fat. I think it is because she likes me, so she doesn’t want to think of me in a way that we are programmed to think of as negative.

Mathilda seems to be saying that fat is just what she is. She seems to be trying to be comfortable with it and I commend her. I’m not quite there yet, I don’t know how to be fat yet, which is another reason why I am openly using the term now.

* I don’t believe this is their intention.
** There is a culture of silence around being a fat person. I’ve talked a little about that here.

Be More Creative

Cover of The Artist's Way by Julia CameronIt’s been a while since I made anything. I’ve been feeling lost, unworthy (I’m sure lots of creative reading this will understanding these feelings of doubt and occasional, resulting self-loathing) and a couple of weeks ago I came to a decision. Rather than accept some paid marketing work I would turn my energies into investing in me, the person I want to be, the life I want to live.

I want to believe that I am an artist. I want to be more creative but I’m “blocked”.

I’ve been looking for a residency since the beginning of the year but what I am looking for is hard to find. There are lots of residencies for people to develop an idea but what I want is immerse myself in creativity for a week or so, meet like minded people and just play. Those are very hard to come by.

So, in the meantime, I have begun to take steps to feel more creative. I’ve enrolled in a singing course in the autumn, I’ve booked on to a couple of workshops and I have emailed some contacts to offer my services in supporting people making work as a body in the room or more. I have also purchased a new copy of the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (on recommendation from a couple of people, again).

Following The Artist’s Way feels a little like going back to the beginning but perhaps that is what I need. To start again and try and do this properly. Work out what I really want to do and where I’d like to be. I think I know but maybe if I approach this with a little more structure I can work out how to actually get there.

So while I am doing this twelve week* programme I am also (she writes optimistically) going to be doing lots of reading, about making, and some of it about writing, to try and help me define my (intended) practice. As I write this questions about revisiting the Performance MA I once started begin to circulate. Would that help or hinder? I’d like to think it would potentially introduce me to new collaborators but I’m still not sure it’s the answer I am looking for.

At the end of all this, I may have a very firm idea of what I want to make and how I would like to make it (I suspect as part of an ensemble/creative team) and still not be able to make that happen… I think that is the thing that scares me most but I’m also prepared to be surprised.

If you feel like following, I will be tracking my process in the programme using the hashtag #bemorecreative

*This is the length of time dictated by the book but I know others who have used it over a considerably longer period and still found it useful.

 

Letting go

I have never been good at letting go of the past, of people in particular. I cling to memories, I bear grudges, I hate goodbyes…

This weekend we said goodbye to the theatre provision at the campus where I studied my degree. Since James died and the pilgrimage to Scarborough became a ‘thing’ we do sometimes the place has become weighted with new meaning and new memories.

Sitting in TS1 listening to all sorts of people share their experiences and reflect on the value of the provision we came to celebrate/mourn the passing of my heart ached as a multitude of experiences came flooding in:

Helen Iball climbing out of a hamper.
Feeling young and naive.
The naming of ‘Sexy’ Sarah.
Hard hats and Gaffa Tape.
Duncan – supportive, grumpy, practical and usually bloody right.
Andy’s turn-ups.
Struggling to listen to the incredible John Allen the morning after Toffs.
Feeling hungover.
Speak Bitterness.
The End.
Fecund ALWAYS setting off the smoke alarms.
Women Alone.
Fizzy drinks are banned.
John Keats, morning yoga, channelling Liam Gallagher, Cowgirl, research, passion, hard work, cans of Stella and the re-birth of Adam.
Feeling alive.
Reems of white paper, the Prodigy, paint, Little Fluffy Clouds, Feeling Good and contact improvisation.
Feeling creative.
Jill’s purple breasts.
Choose Life, Temple of Office, Song 2, the dance of love, the lollipop text, Magic Moments, Helen breaking my heart every time.
Feeling part of something important.
Michael’s warm smile, strong, safe arms and perfect bottom.
Feeling adored.
Adam being violently murdered.
Matt winging it and pulling it off, he was so damn talented.
But mostly…
James up a ladder.
And James directing me.
And James improvising the lights for Imartation.
And James being with someone else.
And James’ terrible trousers.
And James’ beautiful smile.
And James.
Feeling bereft.

It’s all there, in that room. That and thousands more memories that are not mine. And in that moment I realised that I would never be in that room again. I will never make any new memories in that room and will probably never see most of those people again.

And it’s OK.

I need to let it all go. Enjoy the friends I made then that are still part of my life now and forget the rest.

So, with this I blow my past one last kiss, over my shoulder, as I stride towards my future.

 

Image of a platform at Scarborough station

Leaving/arriving

 

 

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