Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Big times in the little city

No video as yet - apologies but I'm back writing for Doctors during the day so haven't had chance to do some editing. Will get another video up asap. Meanwhile ...

So, week four and back to Cardiff and this time in the glorious surroundings of the Big Little City exhibition organised, curated and beaten into shape by Dan Green. If you haven’t been to check it out yet, then you really must. It’s an explosion of creativity and joy about Cardiff – its history, its present and its future. I could wander around it for hours and it was all I could do to lure my audiences back into a sitting position to allow me to rant at them ...

As to the experiments themselves, several things came up that were really interesting. Firstly, in a different space again with no formal seating arrangements, people inevitably ended up sitting in a circle with me standing or sitting amongst them. In principle this is all fine and dandy but in practice what it leads to is a perfectly understandable feeling of vulnerability and disquiet. Sitting in a circle has, in our era, come to mean ‘sharing’ and usually not voluntary sharing. It’s a pretty naked place to be – looking directly at your fellow humans and being looked at directly yourself. The possibilities of openness that the One Eyed Man format offers are wonderful but I need to recognise how scary they can be. When fellow performers and creatives attend the show, it is wonderful that they feel so able to be open and share their stories, thoughts and ideas. But the real measure of success is when people who would never usually dream of being open and sharing feel safe enough to do so. So, places such as The Plan where people sit at their own tables whilst also participating are perhaps more useful to the experiments. Which is great to bear in mind as I play my final Swansea dates this week at The Junction Cafe.

Secondly, it’s really important to stay focussed on the task in hand. What I mean by this is that when I started at the Old Library on Wednesday night I hadn’t done it for four full days. I was hyped, excited, full of bile, rant and rage and ready to be unleashed. What this meant was that the first night was the closest I have come to doing something akin to stand-up comedy in the four weeks that I’ve been conducting these experiments. I haven’t watched the tapes back yet but, from the inside, I felt like Michael McIntyre (which is definitely not a good feeling to have!). I walked up and down, I ranted and raved, shouted and laughed and the audiences responded in kind. But – and this is a big BUT – I don’t want to be a stand-up comedian and these experiments are not – contrary to any false impressions – an attempt for me to enter stand-up by the back door without actually having to hone my craft and write material. The aim is to use my skills as a performer to provide a totally free, open and non-judgemental space for people to come together and talk about the things the need to say. The things they can’t say in any other forum or place in society. And, in my opinion which has been supported by experience in these last few weeks, this space needs to be with strangers to us. There’s no possible way we can develop genuine openness and empathy for our fellow man if we don’t talk to our fellow man, eye to eye and face to face. So, my need to entertain and by funny is fine but it’s beside the point of what I’m trying to achieve.

Which brings me to the third point. Lots of people have been enormously kind in giving me their feedback and thoughts on the experiments so far – and if there is one clear message it is that people would like there to be more space and time to let things bubble up naturally. Thus far, much as I have talked about it till I’m blue in the face and seriously said to Gareth as we prepared for each evening’s experiments – “Tonight I really want to let things sit and just see what bubbles up ...” I’ve never done it. Not once. I always pay lip service to it and then bottle out and start speaking and driving again.

Now this is not to say that I shouldn’t be driving at all but my dream has always been that the actual subject matter and content of the discussions should come from the audience, unaffected by any agenda of mine. So, what is holding me back?

There are, I think, two factors. The first is the one I use to excuse the second which I really don’t want to acknowledge or face. I’m an actor and a performer. I always have been ever since I was a young boy. I’ve spent a fair proportion of my life in front of audiences. And so it is hard wired into me that I am duty bound to deliver a ‘performance’ and what I mean by that is that my energy should go out to people to give them a good experience – an enriching experience – however you want to define that. The idea that I can simply be present and hold the space and be open to whatever people need to say – even if it takes five or ten minutes of silence before that arrives – is anathema to me. It feels wrong somehow. Like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. But, I think this is simply a smokescreen for what’s really going on.

I’m terrified.

Absolutely shitting myself that someone will stand up, look me right in the eye and say this:

“Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Cause it’s a huge thing I’m doing. And I don’t by any means think that I’m a ‘huge’ person. But I’ve always believed in my bones that working in the arts is a ‘service’ industry. We provide a service to people – and where’s the service in simply holding space for people to fill with the things they need to talk about?

Now, I think the answer to that is self-evident and if you don’t then I suspect that the One Eyed Man is not for you. But I need to not be afraid of doing what I really feel in my bones this work is about. I need to know that, if someone does feel the need to ask me that question, that the group who have come to that evening’s experiment might be inclined to self-police. I don’t think I’m anybody. I’m a performer offering a service. That’s all.

There’s a reason I called this project the One Eyed Man – In the Kingdom of the blind, the One Eyed Man is King. I take that to mean that a tiny little bit more sight allows perspective. Not that I’m King. So, all I’m doing is offering a space for that perspective to flourish. And I hope that people understand that’s what’s being offered.

Long winded blog post today –

So, final Swansea dates this week at the Junction Cafe, Blackpill. Great location, great coffee – 7pm & 8.30pm nightly Weds –Fri. Tickets always available on the door or via

Next week’s venue in Cardiff is coming together and I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops once it’s confirmed.

In the meantime, keep well, watch out for the effects of the lunar eclipse and remember ...

What do you want to talk about?

P.S - My nemesis - gggrrrrrrr ....

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