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Where are you at as an artist currently?

I’m thinking about how I can incorporate more live sound and movement into my performance, and the role / reliability of autobiography in my work. Having spent three years studying English & Creative Writing, I’m very comfortable using the written and spoken word but feel these practices will open more windows, artistically speaking.

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Recently I worked with Eirini Kartsaki who introduced me to some completely new approaches to my material that pushed me out of my comfort zone (and paid off with some great audience feedback from my performance at Camden People’s Theatre) and this weekend I attended a workshop on inter-disciplinary performance called ‘Babble’ hosted at Future Everything, which introduced me to the possibility of using live percussion on found objects using contact mics and loop pedals. As a frustrated drummer, nothing would make me happier.

What are you working on?

(I Was A) Teenage Volcano continues to evolve. After showings at Emergency at Z-arts, Manchester in 2015 and Sprint Festival at Camden People’s Theatre, London in March 2016, I’m looking to incorporate the aforementioned live sound and movement, embedding it more in the text material, which will also be put through experimental approaches. Robert Brown and I are also developing a short performance film as part of my Terminal Ferocity project. We’ll be working on this over the next few months before he jets off on his travels. For now, here’s a sample:

There’s also some spots of writing here and there, which I’ll be sharing when the time is write (ha!)

Anything else worth mentioning?

Yes, I’ve had a lot of fun turning a staircase into a volcano and creating a four hour durational, interactive sound performance for families at Haphazard at Z-arts in February, and performing to a crowd of three hundred or so people in an empty swimming pool wearing nothing but a silver paper crown, a pillow and my boxer shorts, acting the fool at Short & Sweet.

Photo (l – r): Gareth Cutter at Short & Sweet, image by Jody Hartley; I Am A Volcano at Haphazard, Z-arts, image by Tamsin Drury

What’s getting you excited right now?

1. The music of Anna Meredith.

2. Attending Buzzcut festival.

3. The Cognitive Liberation Front.

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Photo: Cognitive Liberation Front at Short & Sweet, image by Jody Hartley

Why I Probably Won’t Go To This Shakespeare Show

This makes for very interesting albeit saddening reading. It’s refreshingly transparent, and asks questions about why audience’s haven’t bitten what sounds like a strong, professionally produced show.

http://theflanagancollective.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/3-days-of-help.html?spref=tw

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Photo: Greg Veit

Attending a production of Shakespeare isn’t be at the top of my list of theatrical excursions. I like the Bard but I’m more interested in new writing, dirty cabaret, immersive clubs, live art, messy queer experiments and punishingly loud music. I feel like the conversations and experiences taking place there are more relevant to me. But I could be persuaded.  I’m not an iconoclast. So, as someone with limited time and money, I’d probably want to know:

1) How is this unlike any other Shakespeare performance I’m likely to see?
2) How is this unlike any other performance I’m likely to see?

Which it looks like Flanagan Collective are at least talking about pretty well on the event page. I hadn’t heard about the show before Lyn Gardner retweeted the blog post (to be fair, I’m in Manchester, not London, so why would I?), but it wins points on being immersive, playing with sex and gender, and has a butt-load of good reviews. It has my attention now.

For me, where I probably fall out of the buying chain is ticket price. £18 / £15 concession is totally reasonable for this kind of experience but for me to be pay above £11 for a show ticket, I have to really want to go. Like, wild horses couldn’t hold me back. For me, this could be a choice between this and Duckie’s Border Force.  That’s the reality of having a part time job and being a freelance performer with bills, food, travel and other things to pay. Where oh where is my utopian existence?

One of the things I liked about MIF this year is the £12 tickets for Manchester-postcode residents with incomes under £14,000. It works on an honesty basis, and recognises that some people can afford more than others but that should not stop people accessing great theatre. The Flanagan Collective have now introduced a pay-what-you-can system for the last 3 days. Perhaps

Theatre is really worth spending money on. Much better than the poverty-porn-portals (a.k.a TVs) we have in our homes (not mine). I’m all for doing some direct mail using these Creativity Commandments. The more people we can get passionate about performance, the better.

Anyway, good luck Flanagan Collective. I hope it turns around.

Are You List(en)ing? X Top Performances Of 2014

Lists: they’re easy to write, easy to digest and even easier to forget, so are the perfect fodder for a blogger in search of something – anything – to say. We’re also rapidly approaching the end of one big unit of time and about to start another, so people are more reflective than usual and just want a sense of closure, please. Put these two phenomena together and you get the ubiquitous END OF YEAR list.

‘List’ can also refer to a ship leaning to one side, which is a bit like bias: the very thing an end of year list can reveal if you’re not too careful. My bias is the following: if it involved some kind of fluid flying out of or into an orifice, I more than likely had a whale of a time. Why? I don’t know; I just like to see people having a good time.

I’m not going to write a list. The avant-garde may be dead but I know what I stand in opposition to. I’m a paragraph man, and I like my paragraphs substantial. Oh, you do too? Then read on, my friend! As for the rest of you, quit while you’re ahead and get your opinions in Chicken McNugget-sized pieces elsewhere.

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CHRISTEENE

This blog looks at ‘performances’ rather than focusing on theatre or live art, mostly because I wanted to include Christeene at Bummer Camp, Islington Mill in my anti-list. She’s an artist who marries live music with character-based performance, and also fits my bodily-fluid bias. Her take on drag has been dragged backwards through the bushes by raging baby ponies to deliver a body-positive message of sex, love and ultimately, humanity. In contrast to the schools of drag which aspire to flawlessness, Christeene surrenders herself to the filth and imperfection that’s common to us all, wearing it as armour in her crusade against homogenisation within and without queer communities everywhere. She writes great music, too.

Islington Mill was also the setting for Melt Banana at FAT OUT FEST, and my first moshpit in ten years. Islington Mill has the unique quality of becoming a furnace when more than five people move animatedly in it at one time, so my abiding memories of the night are euphoric industrial pop noise, taking my t-shirt off in the first five minutes, panting like a dog for the rest of the set and trudging home in sopping wet denim: 5 STARS! Here’s hoping they don’t lose their live music licence in 2015 because of their crotchety neighbours.

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F K Alexander

I got a bit damp at Beacons Festival too, but this was on account of the weather rather than F K Alexander, who doused the audience with gob-fuls of water during her set in Steakhouse Live’s ‘Divine Intervention’ takeover. Appearing in a funny / intimidating costume pastiche of all things Scots-cliche, F K proceeded to demolish Big Country’s ‘In A Big Country’ like a scowling, ginger-wigged seraphim, armed with a ground-levelling monotone and brandishing a megaphone. Who needs twelve notes when one works just fine?

Festivals were a big part of my life this year, most notably Flying Solo at Contact and SPILL at Ipswich, which were home to lots of fantastic performances from the likes of Victoria Melody, Greg Wohead, Rachel Mars, Ron Athey, Katy Baird and many more. Of all these performances, I feel special mention should go to Peter McMaster‘s elegant and sophisticated ‘Wuthering Heights’, which interweaved the all male company’s autobiographies amongst scenes from Bronte’s classic novel. The result was a moving theatrical exploration of masculinity and identity, flirting with flamboyance and baring emotional wounds, with the climax coming during a devastating recreation of Cathy and Heathcliff’s parting scene. The tears almost flowed for me at Akram Khan‘s magnificent DESH at The Lowry too; a stately, virtuoso performance that almost literally brought the house down thanks to some impressive staging. However, I have a one public display of emotion per year quota, and Peter McMaster beat Akram to it. Better luck next time, Akram.

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MOUSE

There was no shortage of watery emissions from Mouse at the SPILL closing party, which I managed to dodge by taking up a comfy seat and watching the live feed in another room (those at the front will likely have been glad of the complimentary umbrellas). As I say, I like to watch people having a good time, whether or not that ‘good time’ means unfurling 10 foot of bunting from between their legs.

Not long after that, time became gooey and elastic in Forced Entertainment‘s  24 hour long version of Quizoola at The Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. Armed with cookies and coffee for a live art sleepover, I alternated between watching six performers take it in turns to ask and answer questions about everything from why women wear hats at weddings to who they think is going to die first; and napping in the breakout room. There were also times when I trod the liminal boundaries of sleep and wakefulness, and watched a peculiar dreamlike version of the show in my head, and others I spent just drinking in the collective atmosphere of commitment to see the show through to the end. I had to bow out halfway through the proceedings, but the sense of having been stuck in a post-apocalyptic underground bunker where there is nothing to do but speculate on a long abandoned outside world stuck with me long afterwards. The live stream allowed me to catch the closing half hour from the comfort of my own bed: bonus!

Which more or less brings me to here, sat here on the sofa at my parent’s house in the Midlands, tapping away and wondering what kind of loud, lachrymose and messy performances I might see in 2015. I’m already looking forward to performances from Rosana Cade, Brian Lobel, Lucy Hutson and Tom Marshman, so check back in 365 days to find out what other shows left an impression on me in 2015. I might even write a list.

Make Theatre? I’d Rather DIY

Over in the Guardian, Ben Walters has written a smart and pithy summary of Forest Fringe’s activities over the past few years, and the pivotal role it (and DIY approaches to theatre in general) play nowadays in this perennial age of austerity (which shows little sign of letting up).

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 Little Bulb performing Sporadical. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

I’ve only visited the Fringe once before, back in 2011, and I was directed to Forest Fringe by Kings Of England. I remember being spellbound by Made In China’s We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) in the building’s cavernous upstairs space. Action Hero were on the box office, having performed their thrilling Watch Me Fall the night before at The Summerhall Gallery. The cafe was alive with chatter and the hiss of hot drinks being made. Ever since then, Forest Fringe, and the artists associated with it, have been a byword for innovative, resourceful, contemporary theatre.

I entered the world of performance through the ‘back door’ of cabaret back in 2008, and any associations that phrase may with deviancy and illegitimacy are totally intentional. I didn’t have a qualification in performance – but I did have a strange sense of humour, and a willingness to get on stage to share my odd creations. Cabaret was the perfect arena for a nobody like me to launch himself on an unsuspecting audience. With little in the way of budget, things had to happen on a shoestring. I see DIY as a big part of cabaret’s DNA (except perhaps for when Hollywood movie stars get involved). Many of the performers I love and adore are working on next to nothing in terms of resources, and from there springs innovation and ingenuity.

The article quotes, ‘For Field, DIY is “an ideology rather than an aesthetic. It’s not defined by handmade props or deliberately shonky effects, though it sometimes is those things. It’s about finding alternative modes of production, ways of making art that invite us to imagine and inhabit different, hopefully better, ways of living in the world.”’

As an emerging practitioner, I don’t get the luxury of being trusted with big budgets, teams and stages on a regular basis.  Myself and everyone else wading through the ‘early-career’ phase of being a performance maker has to find their Philosopher’s Stone: turning base metals – or more commonly, cardboard, glue and glitter – into gold. For me, the real luxury would be to have both DIY and ‘professional’ approaches at my disposal. I love an expensive spectacle as much as the next person. Akram Khan’s Desh features an astounding finale in a mammoth production that only huge teams could have made happen. Big budgets can blow minds – but so can ‘no budgets’. Watching something ‘shonky’ transform into more than the sum of its parts is thrilling. Take this video for example: it takes just three minutes, an OHP and a pair of hands to delight an audience.

It’s the emphasis on DIY being an ideology rather than an aesthetic that really resonates with me at the moment. There are regular call-outs to perform at regional and national platforms, and I and all the other emerging artists are competing for those same platforms, treating them as the next rung on a very long, steep and slippery ladder. That effort’s only going to pay off for a lucky few, so what about the rest of us?

I’m not knocking platforms; they provide a huge amount in the way of support and promotion, and I’ve also been selected for my fair share in the past, so can hardly have a go. But let’s face it – application forms are a right chore, and every minute spent filling one out is one not spent making art. So I’m wondering how I can create opportunities for myself and others to share their work without compromising the ideas, rather than participate in what seems to be the arts equivalent of Black Friday stampedes every couple of weeks.

In the spirit of generosity and DIY, if I do find that Philosopher’s Stone, I’ll share the formula.

Impossible Lecture Tent: Beacons Festival 2014

I’m not an avid festival goer. I’ve had amazing experiences at festivals like Green Man in 2012 and Roskilde way back in 2006, but you won’t find me at the Pyramid Stage every year going bug-eyed and dripping head-to-toe in mud, sweat and the splash-back of people’s urine bottle bombs. I love listening to and playing music, but my gig-going habits dropped off around the time I saw my disposable income at university shrink like the vests I left in the drier accidentally on Monday night.

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Buckaroo!

Festivals are much more than the music of course. I saw brilliant sets from Animal Collective, Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid (RIP), and Funkadelic at Roskilde, but the story I tell most people about is about the time I got dog-piled by a man in a banana suit chased by three of his friends at 3am in the eerie, Nordic twilight, just as the sun began to rise. It’s the bacchanalian freedom that festivals give you to dress and do whatever you want; to “Go crazy, go nuts, ALLLLLLL the weekend!” in the words of my beloved Murray Saul.

That’s what happened to me at Beacons, encouraged by the Indivisible team’s programming of anarchic and unpredictable acts at the Impossible Lecture Tent: acts like Tracey Emin Sound System, Steakhouse Live, Laura Dee Milne’s ‘Klassic Klub Karaoke Klub’, and Collective Unconscious, not to mention their own performances and ‘sexy ass’ Balloon Party on the Friday. Buoyed by a commitment to spectacle and splendour in the face of herculean workloads, insufficient sleep and unreliable weather, normal inhibitions melted away. It was a tent of naked stage invasions, naked dancing and naked crowd-surfing; gold face paint and torn wedding dresses; balloon fights; gleeful expletives; screaming; cynical Yorkshiremen; Bob Ross; Bob Ross; Bob Ross.

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The ‘sexy ass’ Balloon Party

There were plenty of artists I knew and / or admired on the bill, but I’d like to write about the discoveries; discoveries like Top Joe, the Welsh enigma, wandering the festival site hither and tither like a Happy Shopper bag blown on the breeze, imparting sound, spiritual advice and dispensing ‘Berroco’ to those who needed it. He became something of a meme over the course of the weekend, with roars of ‘TOP JOE!’ welcoming his every appearance, to the general confusion of many, possibly even himself.

Saturday night saw the aforementioned Tracey Emin Soundsystem take to the stage, dragged-up comically badly and playing naff 90s music – think Elastica, Chumbawumba, Fatboy Slim, Catatonia – whilst berating the audience with abandon (“Put your hands in the air if you’re a benefit scrounger.”) As Tracey sniffed poppers, did forward rolls and got very excited at the imminent prospect of David Cameron popping round for a visit, Yoko Ono mixed the tracks badly and footage of iconic 90s moments played in the background, reminding us all how dreadfully beige that decade was.

I think the performance that left me most mesmerised was from F/K/Alexander, who alighted as part of the Steakhouse Live ‘Divine Intervention’ queer takeover. Striding on to the stage embodying every cliche of Scottish visual identity (tartan, ginger hair, St. Andrew’s Cross face-paint, kilt) and glowering at the audience sat before her, F/K drank, regurgitated and spat fountains of water to the bombastic In A Big Country. The atmosphere was electric: people scrambled back and F/K beat her chest in time to the song, intoning the words in a menacing monotone before declaring, “I don’t think I’m making my point loud enough.” She marched through the audience with a megaphone as the song played for a third time, parting the crowds and getting up close and personal with those brave enough to face her onslaught.

No surprise that I left the festival on Monday morning feeling dazed, then. I think I left the tent a couple of times over the weekend to buy crepes. But with food, drink, entertainment, art and friends in good supply at the Impossible Lecture tent, I felt I could do all my exploring in one just place. Long live the Impossible Lecture tent!

Impossible Lecture Retreat: Beacons Festival

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RETREAT! Go backwards, turn around, turn tail, flee. It sounds like the coward’s way out but in the face of WiFi, mobile signal, mattresses and other such distractions, it can be hard to make work as an artist. In exchange for running from these things you get blue skies, itchy eyes, the satisfying squelch of mud underfoot and the bleating of hysterical sheep.

The Impossible Lecture Tent returned to Beacons Festival for the fourth time this year, run by the superlative Indivisible team and a cast of volunteers. In addition to programming over 100 artists (!), it ran a retreat for me and five other lucky sods. So on a sunny Tuesday morning in the West Yorkshire Playhouse car park, we crammed our stuff into car boots, drove to Skipton and pitched our tents on the festival site as it transformed around us.

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I arrived with a few ideas of what I wanted to do, all of which either revolved around pushing the capabilities of my own voice and body by doing something more energetic, or exploring my own compulsion to be seen as anything other than ‘boring’. But half the fun was stumbling upon new ideas with my new-found collaborators and watching them grow as interests in visual art, contemporary music, sculpture and theatre came together in the fields, guided and teased into shape by the enthusiastic and reassuring hands of Pauline Mayers.

We played games; ate together; sat in stillness and quiet; went off and did our own things for a bit; came back and showed the group what we’d come up with; and then went off and worked on them some more. With nary a phone charger in site, I was free to roam around and concentrate on being an artist again, and to suggest outlandish things like ‘Where have all the sheep gone? Bet they f*cked them and cooked them. That’s what they’ll be selling at the festival”

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It was a liberating, rejuvenating but challenging process. I’m quite comfortable working as a solo artist but being part of a group demands flexibility, generosity and a degree of compromise. These are wonderful traits to have, of course; I would totally sleep with someone who was like that. But these admirable OK Cupid box-tickers can sometimes go out of the window when there’s the slightest hint of pressure and expectation involved.

There was no need to worry: I was part of an incredibly capable group. Between us we presented 16 pieces of work, some of it performed individually and the rest presented in groups of varying sizes. We had orgiastic sessions of health & safety; games involving hot wax and red wine; maniacal office workers driven to murder by snotty emails; experimental orchestras; and a man who just really, really loved the fact it was Friday.

I really do love Fridays.

And I love the Impossible Lecture tent. Thank you!

International Theatre Summer School With Nicole Kehrberger

In Berlin, the beer is cheap, the trains are on time, the streets are clean and men wear their lemon-coloured jeans with pride.

After a whirlwind trip to Berlin, I am back in England. Part-training expedition, part holiday, it’s been more than just a welcome break; it’s been a creative kick-start.


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Expert teacher, Nicole Kehrberger has been putting a group of eager students through its paces in the ‘Game Of The Actor’ workshop, held at her studio near Schillerpark as part of the International Theatre Summer School 2014. The intense warm-ups, body-bending stretches, exciting games and challenging exercises turned my muscles, bones and brains to putty, which Nicole reshaped into something stronger, more agile, more experienced.

The time flew by and I’m genuinely sad to have left. Returning to perennially delayed trains and nondescript weather doesn’t help. Best of luck to the students taking part in the remaining courses with Nicole; expect to sweat a lot.

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