Sunday, 22 May 2011

Experiments 5 & 6

A proper full day off yesterday when I tried not to think about the project at all in any way. I failed, obviously but even the act of trying was worthwhile.

The last two experiments in the first venue – Noah’s Yard bar in Uplands – were by far and away the most challenging and interesting so far. Two big groups of people – 15+ each showing – who really forced me to stay on my toes and keep the ball in the air. Some observations have been bubbling up this morning –

I’m already, after only 6 experiments, allowing myself to fall into ‘structure’ for safety. This is not something I’m beating myself up about, simply an observation. The feeling of panic within me when the conversation and tempo of the room starts to flag and dip is palpable – so I dash for structural support and have found myself repeating stories and ideas.

The way Gareth and I have worked is to sit and assess the previous night’s experiments before going into the next – and we set up a series of things we’d like to try. Every night so far, without fail, I’ve said that I’d like to try being more free and letting moments hang rather than talking all the time and pushing and prodding for a response ... and every night so far I’ve failed to do that and have panicked. This ‘failure’ is not a failure in the sense that the whole experiment is pointless. On the contrary it has flagged up to me, very early in the process, the key difficulty in really attempting to make theatre that addresses the here and now.

If I were to really and truly relieve myself of the burden of structure and entertainment and meaning, what then might happen? Is it possible that a group of people – total strangers – coming together in a room with the focus of a single performer to filter and process their needs, wants, fears and loves – is it possible that said group can dictate and determine their own content and say what they need to say to each other?

It’s a huge question and one that I’m going to continue to grapple with over the coming five weeks.

One of the key issues is about safety. It’s my job to make that group of people feel that they can share their feelings and thoughts with strangers and that they won’t be attacked, vilified or sneered at for them. Thus far I’ve been playing around with the notion of wrongfooting people, of challenging them into seeing things in a different way; of not necessarily laying out in minute detail the rules of what is acceptable or otherwise in that space. This has paid off in interesting ways but has also meant that it’s a scary old ride for me and those in the audience who are less than sure of the value and purpose of what’s happening. Not only is it a leap of faith for me, I recognise, but also for the audience. Is it enough to hold a space for 75 minutes, with whatever content is brought to fill it, and call it meaningful and purposive? Or is it okay that it be meaningless? Can I be bold enough to let it be meaningless? Dare I risk alienating people in that way?

All these fears and issues aside, Friday night was absolutely fantastic in so many ways – people’s level of engagement with what was being said in the room; their willingness to challenge me and prod and probe were just fantastic and life affirming. Indeed, so much so, that my central assertion of finding it increasingly difficult to like my fellow human beings is wilting under the generosity and openness of my audiences.

So, now I have another few days before we move to a new venue and a new city – The Plan Cafe in Cardiff’s Morgan Arcade. The venue at Noah’s Yard was a perfect place to start – cosy and intimate and very familiar.

The Plan is likely to feel very different indeed. Despite my ongoing nervousness and adrenalin, I’m feeling invigorated and enlivened by the experience and can’t wait to do more.

I’ll try to make time to edit together some of the footage of the first weeks experiments but it may take a little while – also, understandably, I’m not super keen to watch any of it back yet. I already feel a healthy dose of shame and embarrassment at what I’m doing – that can only be made worse by watching myself do it.

As always, comments, thoughts and ideas will all be gratefully received.

Hope you’re having a splendid weekend and are not too disappointed about the rapture not happening again. There's always next time, eh?



Friday, 20 May 2011

Experiments 3 & 4

Another evening, another jump out of the proverbial plane sans the proverbial parachute ...

Small, perfectly formed audiences of friends and the inherently curious have been the order of the day so far which has been a fantastic way to begin. One of the things that I’m very aware of is how my nerves and adrenalin lead me to speak far too much as opposed to far too little. It’s as if I’m terrified that if I and my audience sit in silence for even a moment that somehow the spell will be broken and they will look me in the eye and face me with the key issue that scares me –

“You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”

So, I ramble and burble and prod and probe – it’s fantastic and lovely how open people are and how keen they can be to discuss and tear apart some of the things I say – this project for me is both a personal and professional quest for connection in life. And I no longer want that connection to be mediated by lights and a stage and a script. Does that make what I’m doing theatre or not? I have no answer to that and it would be very interesting to ask members of my audience what they feel on the matter.

For me, the experience of sharing my deepest fears, doubts, hatreds, loves and insecurities and asking people to share theirs in return has already proven to be immensely rewarding and valuable – and has already lead to a number of dropping pennies.

The task for me now is to continue the experiments – and what that means in practical terms is to learn from the previous night’s experiences, change the parameters and jump off the cliff again. So far, I think, a parachute has miraculously seemed to open above me as I fall and if my landing hasn’t exactly been soft, it’s at least been survivable.

Tonight, for the first time, I have two audiences of fairly sizeable numbers – and I’m not expecting any body amongst them to know me personally. So, with that in mind, I feel as if tonight is where the experiments really begin. If anything, I’m about to jump off a higher cliff ...

I’ve been videoing the experiments so far – asking audience members to hold the camera and get what they can – and I’ll edit highlights together in time for next week’s showings in Cardiff. So far, I haven’t watched any of the footage myself – can’t quite bring myself to see it and it’s probably no bad thing.

So, stay tuned for more revelations. I hope who reads this is ready for the rapture starting tomorrow. I’m not expecting to be taken to heaven in the first wave but, you know, I see no reason why I should get left behind ...



Thursday, 19 May 2011

So, it's started then ...

Two experiments down, thirty four to go. I’m kind of numb this morning – not sure what I’ve done or what I’ve begun. It was like being at the centre of a whirlwind or, actually, a close approximation to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. The people that came to the two offerings were warm and generous and open and kind – and I fear for my ability to stay bitter and angry at the rest of the human race if this is going to be my experience over the coming weeks! Not, I hasten to add, that I’m desperate for someone to come along and be nasty to me ...

The venue is a perfect place to start – warm and cosy and intimate – and Gareth and I are already aware that we will be moving to other spaces – bigger and less easy to manage. But we have two more nights and four more experiments at Noah’s Yard yet to come.

I’ll blog every day so hopefully my thoughts will coalesce a bit more but here’s some initial concerns and worries and ideas:

How nice is too nice? How open is too open? How much do I talk about what is happening whilst it’s happening? How honest should I be about how I feel? How much should I perform and how much should I let that go? Is it that important that people should feel comfortable throughout? How will I cope with genuine anger and disagreement?

It’s very hard to hang on to the lesson I learnt with John Dawson about expecting blank faces and assuming support – I need to manage my adrenalin better which I suspect only doing it more will deal with. I feel I need to be able to let things hang a bit more and leave space for people to engage and share – I also need to worry less about those people who seem quiet and unengaged. Last night, after sitting silent for a good portion of time, one of the audience spoke up and shared something incredibly personal and profound. People need their own processing time and thinking time – and if they don’t want to engage with the work openly then that is absolutely fine too.

The thing that strikes me the most about what happened – with very little hindsight – is how my initial belief that offering a space for people to talk about issues and concerns in life using theatre techniques and practices is something that people can and do want to engage with.

The experiments now continue and I’m sure will evolve and change and grow. If this blog makes it sound very po-faced then nothing could be further from the truth – there was much laughter and joy to be had in the small room above Noah’s Yard last night. And I’m sure there will be tonight.

Now if only I could calm down and enjoy it ...

As ever – thoughts, ideas, responses – all welcome. Everything’s allowed.



Saturday, 14 May 2011

What, where, how, why?

Hello and welcome,

For anyone who has found their way here via the lovely Western Mail article -

You may be wondering how you can get tickets to see this cockamamie (there's a word too little used ...) scheme and where the experiments will be held, etc -

So, here's everything you need to know -

Swansea - tickets available via Taliesin - box office - 01792602060
18th - 20th May - Upstairs at Noah's Yard, Uplands
1st - 3rd June - Civic Centre Foyer, Oystermouth Road
15th - 17th June - Junction Cafe, Blackpill

All tickets £3 - experiments begin at 7pm and 8.30pm - running time 75mins

Cardiff - tickets available via Sherman Cymru - box office - 02920646900
25th - 27th May - The Plan Cafe, Morgan Arcade
8th - 10th June - Old Library, The Hayes
22nd - 24th June - tbc (Fancy a showing in your house? Contact Sherman Cymru!)

All tickets £3 - experiments begin at 7pm and 8.30pm - running time 75mins

There you go - other things you might want to know -
Twitter - @manoneeye - follow me for updates and pre and post interactions #oneeyedman
Facebook - The One Eyed Man Project

There'll be regular updates here and I'll try and post videos of experiments as fast as my little laptop can edit them. Only a few days to go now and the experiments begin in earnest.

I'm genuinely looking forward to it - I know that might be hard to believe but it's true.

Mind you, if you come along on Wednesday at 7pm you may well see a man explode due to an overdose of adrenalin and fear ...

Have a splendid weekend.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

One week to go ...

As I write this today, Thursday 12th May 2011, I have less than seven days before the first One Eyed Man experiment takes place at Noah’s Yard in Uplands, Swansea on Wednesday 18th at 7pm.

Yesterday I did my first press interview about the project with the Western Mail. It felt particularly strange and complex to be discussing the project with the press since it’s not exactly the kind of thing that one can ‘sell’ as a finished product. The reporter was genuinely interested and engaged by what I’m doing but at the heart of our conversation he asked me a key question that has been bothering me for the last week or so:

“So, are you sort of waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, worrying about drying up and running out of things to say?”

The short answer to that is ... not really ...

Ask me again in six days time and my answer may well be very different but at the moment I feel less and less scared as the offerings get nearer. Now, why should this be? Anyone who has read my blog about doing John Dawson’s public speaking course (Taking My Place In The World) will know that I fear standing in front of a room full of people as much as any sane person. Yes, I get very nervous, yes, I get a massive adrenalin dose, yes, it makes me feel sick. But for some reason, the closer I get to the OEM, the calmer I feel.

The reason for this lies in one of my answers to the interviewer yesterday – he asked about if I was worried about ‘getting it wrong’ and, after all the thinking I’ve been doing and remembering the TED talk by Kathryn Schulz, I said – “Well, I can’t possibly get it wrong because there is no ‘right’ to be wrong about.” These offerings will simply be what they are – sometimes they may feel ‘comfortable’ and smooth – meaning that subjects flow and ideas blossom and flourish – and sometimes they may be ‘uncomfortable’ and bumpy – meaning that we (myself and Gareth and the audience) get stuck on an issue or an idea or a quandary and simply have to sit with it and work through it. But there is no way for it to be wrong.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my energy level and the need I obviously feel as a seasoned performer and actor to want to deliver a ‘show’ for the audience. After all, they have each paid £3 and given up a couple of hours of their life. Surely, in return for that commitment, I should ensure that I return that in kind. And I firmly intend to – but the manner in which I do it will not be the way I ordinarily would choose. This is being thrown into sharp relief by my ongoing illness.

I’m on big doses of steroids and on a day to day basis my energy levels fluctuate wildly – from manic to nothing. In order to ensure that I continue to get well and have time and energy for my body to cope with the illness I simply have to ensure that each performance is ‘real’; i.e. I’m not pretending to be anything other than I am. If I’m tired, I have to be tired. If I’m manic, I have to be manic.

As I keep saying to Gareth, there are no smoke and mirrors in this work. What you see is what you get. No attempt to hide behind anything. Whether that makes for theatre or ‘art’, who knows? But I’m really interested to find out.

Yesterday, Gareth and I spent some time in the second Swansea venue – the foyer of the Civic Centre on Oystermouth Road. It’s a big, municipal building – huge foyer area made of concrete.

It’s a place where people come to wait – for their opportunity to interact with bureaucracy. It’s not usually or ever been a place for a performer and an audience to meet. But it will be in a few weeks ...

I’ll blog regularly over the coming few days leading up to the work and will do a daily blog about the shows afterwards. As ever, please let me have any thoughts or comments either here or on the facebook page. This work really is about a conversation.



Sunday, 8 May 2011

Just what exactly do I think I'm doing?!

So, that was a taster of the first ‘proper’ day of work and rehearsal on the project. But what exactly does that mean – ‘proper’? In this context: a series of experimental performances – surely there’s no such thing as proper? Surely there’s no right way of going about things and any methods that I might have used in the past to work on projects are null and void?

I’ve been grappling with this question a lot over the last week or so. The day of the Royal Wedding was the first day back at work after I’d been discharged from hospital after a five day stay. I was finally diagnosed with a condition called acute sarcoidosis. In a nutshell what this amounts to is that my body, for no apparent reason (or certainly not anything I could have prevented) has decided that it needs to seriously ramp up its immune response – so strongly in fact that it has begun to attack itself. It’s an incredibly rare condition that affects about one person in every 10,000 which explains why it took five days for it to be diagnosed. In fact, my time in hospital was rather like being the subject at the centre of an episode of ‘House’ – perplexed consultants and medical students looking at me and scratching their heads and developing theories and sending me for chest x-rays etc. When it was finally diagnosed there was much jubilation and I was regularly visited by med students who had been told to come and have a look at me since the condition is so rare that it would be worthwhile them checking it out!

The prognosis is very good, I’m delighted to say. In most cases, acute sarcoidosis simply ‘burns itself out’ over a period that could last from a few weeks up to 18 months and, once it has gone, the likelihood of relapse is small. There is a tiny chance that it could become chronic but, hey, let’s cross that bridge only if we have to.

Throughout my time in hospital however, there was a constant thought in my mind wondering whether I should postpone or cancel the OEM experiments. After all, if I really was seriously ill, it wouldn’t necessarily be wise to undergo a series of gruelling performance experiments over 6 weeks with two offerings a night. But, in typical bloody minded fashion, I was determined to continue ... and I still really had no idea of how major the illness was ...

So, Gareth and I continued to meet and ‘rehearse’, doing practical, tangible things to prepare for these totally unprepared experiments. We met up at Volcano’s new space in Swansea and spent a day improvising wildly about things – the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Henry Cooper; my feelings and irritations and loves. We met for a day in Cardiff and took to the streets, armed with clipboards, asking people simply how their day was going. We chugged a chugger – demanding to know if her job brought her happiness and made her feel like her life is worthwhile. We stood outside the Job Centre and got into conversation with total strangers about whatever they needed to talk about. All of this was, and is, extremely useful work in relation to the experiments themselves – especially in regard to helping me get over my fear of talking to people. But for every day we worked, my body repaid me with two days of pain and swelling and agony. So much so that, last Friday, I had to go back into hospital as I’d had an attack overnight that was so severe that I could again no longer walk.

These two things – the illness and the desperate need to feel properly prepared – have forced me to face up to a fascinating issue with regard to these experiments. If my theory is correct – that it is possible to make a piece of theatre simply by dint of being human, alive and in a room with other humans who have lived through the same day as me – then how can I possibly prepare for that in any traditional way that I recognise? And, more importantly with regard to the issue of my health, should I even try?

The limitations of my illness have suggested that what I need to do to prepare is not do any of the things I would normally rely on. The very nature of theatrical performance is based on rehearsal and preparation. A clearly defined end goal – a script, a set, a lighting design, a character, a narrative. All of these elements are missing from the One Eyed Man Project. All I have is myself, my life and experiences, the day I have just lived through and the group of people who have decided, for whatever reason, to come along and see what I’m up to. There is an argument to say that the only way to prepare for such an event is simply to be alive.

So, I have been forced to acknowledge that the illness is actually offering me a great gift as it is forcing me NOT to do all the things I would normally do in order to feel secure enough to perform in front of an audience. It is demanding that I simply arrive on the night and see what happens.

Of course, that’s not strictly true since old habits and fears die hard and some preparation will inevitably take place. But the form and content of that preparation will be totally alien to every process I’ve ever known. And what that means is that for each performance/offering/experiment I will have to be totally present and ‘in the moment’ (a state of being that is the Holy Grail for actors and performers) since there is literally nothing else I can rely upon.

And that also means that I have to let go completely of any notion that there is a ‘right’ way or a ‘wrong’ way to go about what I’m doing. Some people will love it, some will hate it – some will consider it to be valuable, others may think it is worthless – but neither group will be correct. It will not be ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ – it will simply be what it is.

I am indebted to my friend Stephen Donnelly of Swansea’s Shellshock Theatre who saw the first video diary and the section where I talked about ‘not knowing’. In response he sent me a fantastically interesting Ted Talk by Kathryn Schulz who dubs herself a ‘wrongologist’. She is fascinated by the creative potential that can be found when we let go of the desperate need to be ‘right’ all the time and acknowledge that being human is about getting things wrong. See video below.

So, the illness, whether I like it or not, is part of this process and is obviously going to prove vital in whatever happens at the 36 experimental offerings. I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts on any and all of this and come along to the offerings themselves.

One thing’s for certain – they’ll be unique ...



Thursday, 5 May 2011

A call to arms!

Or at least to, you know, interact with me a bit.

If you like, obviously ...

No pressure ...

Just be nice to talk to you, that's all.

See how you feel.

I'll leave it with you ...