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?



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