Forgive me, father (or: Revelations & Redemption)
I’m afraid I scrapped the original blog post number 3 because I was not having any fun writing it. It started to become merely a description of the way we devised work during the Performer’s Playground course and why it is good to devise and how it has helped me be better at performing and devising and stuff and junk blah blah blah …..
Not that devising itself bored me - quite the opposite,-it scared me, frustrated me, fired me up and galvanised something in me. At times it gave me huge anxiety but other times it gave me great confidence in my ability to work in a group and put forward my ideas instead of shrinking into the background like a withered wallflower. But for some reason my writing about devising bored me so I left it and left and left it and ditched it.
There are things within us that, for some reason or another, prevent us from achieving what we want to achieve. This blog was supposed to be a sort of weekly-ish diary of my experiences on the course, as it was happening. I am now writing this over three months after the end of the course. I think I partly had some grandiose ideas that I would write something beautifully structured and insightful, something all encompassing and definitive that would win the Man Blogger prize. It was partly that but partly because I am lazy. I am lazy and I make excuses. I put things off and procrastinate.
I don’t know why that’s the case, maybe some people are more prone to procrastination, maybe everyone is but some people just fight harder against it and so manage get stuff done. Either way, I think those of us that are not coked-fuelled entrepreneurs can sometimes let things slip and we should grab any moments of reflection and hold on to them and make use of them. This brings us back to a moment when, during the clown module of the course, I got slashed by the truth sword and bled damaged ego. There had been moments before in the course where people’s foibles had been exposed and they were always moments where a tension became very palpable within the room. Sometimes the torch exposed crutches or safety nets that were, I suspect, unknown or barely known to the performer and this was especially raw. Or maybe if they did have some awareness, they had never been challenged on it. I think I felt that as we’d been through the majority of the course and I hadn’t had one of these moments, that I was now safe. I was wrong.
We had been bringing in our own costumes for clown for the past few weeks and mine had been met with slight derision. I thought a Mexican poncho with no trousers and a fat cigar was sufficiently foolish but Winnie had pointed out that little effort had gone into it. “Where’s your tequila, where’s your revolver?” I realised I’d assembled 2 or 3 things I already had in my flat without putting too much thought into it. I’d taken an easy route without consciously knowing it. So after a few weeks I decided to scrap the Mexican outfit and go out looking for a new one. I went out searching the charity and thrift shops of Manchester and settled upon a garish combination of sea blue and navy tracksuit, a tight sparkly jumper and a silver waterproof. I combined this with a Speedracer helmet and red gloves courtesy of Oxfam and Moon Man was born.
Much happier with this outfit, I proudly donned it as we performed clown exercises and I felt a new sense of vigour. We played a musical chair exercise where if we were left standing we would have to improvise on our own and if what we were doing started to flop we would have to immediately change what we were doing. I was left standing and so began to improvise taking off in a rocket ship and boosting up and flying around in space. I felt it was getting some good laughs but Winnie barked at me to change and so I did. But not enough. He started telling me I was always on the back foot, referring to my reliance on slow rhythms. My inner monologue started spewing bile at him and saying that He Was Wrong and I Was Right and He Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About, It’s Not Fair, But I’m Getting Laughs, Fuck Off, People Are Laughing At What I’m Doing, Shut Up, Fuck Off, It’s Not Fair, and then Winnie followed this up by saying I was lazy, and shouted “SIX WEEKS FOR ONE FUCKING BLOG POST! LAZY!! LAZY JIM!!!” I carried on with the improvisation but amped up the speed and intensity, miming firing a rocket and lasers and shouting “Fuck you!!!” and embodying the explosion at a high volume which went down a storm. While initially it might be uncomfortable, these moments lead you to a greater understanding of yourself as an artist and as a person and for these provocations we must be grateful.
Lazy Jim indeed. It’s important to remember these moments and recognise when we’re slipping so we can reignite the fire under our asses. As I write this I realise I have let many things slip. Obviously I have let this blog writing slip, I have also let my Artist Date’s slip and let my 5-minutes-a-day slip. But I can also recognise that I haven’t just been sitting on the sofa eating wotsits. One of my Artist Date projects was writing and producing a short film. I would get up early before work and spend an hour on this, either writing or working practically to send emails and move the production along. It’s now in the can, being edited and should be out in the next few months. I’ve also just returned from performing a 3 night run of hour long solo shows at the Brighton fringe in which I was able to have lots of fun, squash the worry, follow impulses and go with what the audience enjoyed. I’ve now set myself the task of improving that show and writing another hour with a different character all in the next two months.
Now that my ass-fire has been reignited by reconnecting with my failures as a human being I’ll bring it back to what the post was originally supposed to be about- devising. During the Performer’s Playground we split into small groups and devised a weekly 5 minutes of new material which we performed to the group. Whilst initially daunting, as the weeks rolled on I felt myself becoming less precious about the performance and less worried about starting from a blank page. It became clear as the sessions went on that every one of us would, during the course, create an awful piece of shit that would be met with total silence. But in amongst these pieces of shit were some real goddamn beautiful diamonds. I can’t think of a single person in the group that Got It Right every time. And if someone were to, what would they learn?
A huge learning point for me in the devised work is that fits and starts are natural and when you’re against a brick wall if you know it’s momentary and don’t worry, you will be fine and the ball will begin to roll again.
The process of creating something, performing it to an audience and getting it wrong is relevant to any creative work. It’s about getting started, following an impulse and trying to mold something and make it more refined. With that I’d like to offer one piece of advice: If you think you would like to do a show but it feels scary, whether an hour long fringe performance, or a 5 minute open mic spot. Just book it and you’ll do it. That’s all there is to it. The world is burning. Stop being lazy. Take a risk.
Love and Mercy,
JJ (Blog by ex Student James - John Harkness)