It’s that time of year.
Ideas come and they hang around for a bit, so I work on them, and then I get bored and do something else for a bit. And then I get bored of that and come up with another idea, which hangs around for a bit and then I do that for a bit instead. Then I get bored of that idea, and come back to the original idea (the one I had two ideas ago), which is still hanging around and do that for a bit again. In this way I maintain a constant sense of being very busy whilst making the smallest of incremental advances in the direction I want to go, which also happens to be three different directions at once.
Welcome to my creative process. Please wipe your feet and take off your shoes before entering, and make sure they’re clearly labelled too as I may just put them on by mistake (or design, if they’re good shoes) and walk out with them.
Oh! Who’s this then? Why, it’s me in a tiger suit and my film-making friend, Robert Brown. It’s been nearly a year since I last slipped into my figure-hugging, striped spandex body-stocking; I honestly thought I’d worn it out. The idea, that is.
But no, ideas hang around. Or they wander off and come back to find you sat at your kitchen table in Levenshulme, Manchester, having breakfast and thinking to yourself, “I’d like to make more work in a shorter amount of time with fewer barriers to access. And I’d like it to be about fantasy within domestic settings. It’s got to be queer, it’s got to be colourful and it’s got to be fun. And I’d also like it to be about feeling (un)comfortable in your surroundings, wondering how your ideas or even your very own self, will survive the future. And I don’t want to do it on my own.”
And then this idea that you put to the back of your mind either because you dismissed it as ‘NOT AS IMPORTANT AS THIS OTHER AMAZING IDEA I’VE JUST HAD’ or accidentally left it behind at the pub when you and your wife Samantha were busy trying to avoid the press brushes some leaves and twigs from its fur and goes:
You jolt upright, causing a little fountain of milk and Shreddies to leap into the air from your bowl.
“I’m. Right. Here.”
I’m not sure what happens at this point. Maybe you and the idea have a good old romantic kiss – with tongues and everything – just as the sunset rolls behind the ocean like a monstrous pink grapefruit and gives the sky a hot flush. Yeah, that’s good.
So, the tiger returns. I’ve used this, I don’t know – frusona? – to explore ideas of boredom and mundanity before but this year I’d like to take this tiger of mine back to Telford, the source of all my dreams, fears and frustrations. But since Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Telford, I decided to do something a bit smaller and domestic in scale. For one miserable, wet Saturday, Rob interviewed me in my tiger costume and we followed whatever tumbled out of my brain as a structure for our subsequent filming. I’ll be working on turning this raw material into a short film over the coming months, and expanding it to include more creatures and locations in subsequent shoots if all goes well. Amazing, eh?
In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of other performances coming up soon, pretending to be a volcano and all that. Oh, now there’s an idea. Off I wander. Don’t mind me, ideas, I’ll be back in twelve months’ time.
I keep returning to a version of my life over and over again, several times – no, many times – each and every day, checking that it still has the same qualities it had when I left it, and adding some new ones I think it should have. I snip and prune it; I make it sit up straight and pull a shirt over its drowsy head; I buff it up until I can see my own reflection in the polished surface. Then when I meet my own gaze within the reflection I think, ‘Yes, good job’, and go back to another version of my life, which is also in urgent need of maintenance.
This performance includes loud music, language of a sexual and surgical nature, and nudity.
This performance includes loud music, scenes of a violent and graphic nature, and a coda.
This performance includes slippery surfaces, electrical hazards and periods of complete black out.
This performance includes strobe lighting, smoke machines and live animals.
This performance includes fireworks, gunshots, and the beginnings of a revolution.
This performance includes extended scenes of abstract contemporary ballet on a pallet truck of perishable goods.
This performance includes scenes of explicit dentistry.
This performance includes me and me mum and me dad and me gran and and a trip to Waterloo.
This performance includes me and me mum and me dad and me gran and a bucket of Vindaloo.
This performance includes yer mum.
This performance includes really bad mime.
This performance includes E numbers and a high saturated fat content.
This performance includes tears, strangulation, a semi-comprehensible text about sodomy and regrets, regrets, regrets.
This performance includes a plastic jumping frog toy, which you will find in the sick bag located under your seat.
This performance includes a performance within a performance, which is actually within another performance (please keep up at the back there).
This performance includes so much irony.
This performance contains real banana skins like the one pictured here.
This is a list of superlative moments within live art and theatre I’ve seen this year, written in the spirit of Owen G. Parry’s Fans Of Live Art project: I’ve recounted these moments in nerdy detail with fan-boy enthusiasm to people IRL, and I want to share them here too. If you’re as passionate about live art and theatre, I encourage you to make your own list and share it too.
Cristian Ceresoli: La Merda at The Lowry
The first time the actor broke her repugnant, tremulent vocal mask and let rip a tidal wave of textual human effulgent, I was swept away. Jens Lekman wrote a great lyric once, which goes:
“Most shy people I know are extremely boring / Either that or they are miserable from all the shit they’ve been storing.”
This woman has been storing a lot of shit; shit about her body, her family, her sexuality, her desire for fame. Watching her expel it in a storm of reverb was one of the best moments of the year, no contest.
Karen Finley: ‘Black Sheep’ from Written In Sand at Barbican (SPILL Festival)
I heard A Certain Level of Denial in the summer, and saw her reimagine a lot of this classic material at SPILL later in October but it was this piece – unfamiliar to me at the time – that resonated the most. It took just three incisive lines from someone who has lived through a plague, the violence of a negligent and discriminatory society, and lost so many friends to turn the tap fully on my own emotions. It might not sound like much fun, but fuck, it felt cathartic.
Cassils: Inextinguishable Fire at National Theatre (SPILL Festival)
I watched someone set themselves on fire, which was a spectacular and densely-layered event in itself, but it was hearing the words “You’re on fire,” from the supporting crew as the flames engulfed Cassil’s silhouette that packed the greatest punch. The language is blunt; inadequate to describe the reality of what I witnessed – the smell, the sound – but somehow, in its inadequancy and uselessness, gained power as a simple statement of fact.
Zierle & Carter: Walking The Dawn at National Theatre (SPILL Festival)
It’s hard to pick a single moment from this 3 – 4 hour action about death, memory and endurance, but watching Alexandra Zierle kick and stomp up and down the terrace with a horse’s skull at her shoulder in the wind and rain, leaning perilously over the railings several flights above the ground bags it. Heart in throat, racing like a mouse’s heart.
Forced Entertainment: The Notebook at Contact
Ow, the ending to this performance. No spoilers, but it’s gut-wrenchingly cruel and kind of beautiful in its own heartless way. In fact,the whole show is also a masterclass on how to be fascinating for over two hours with just two actors, two chairs, two notebooks and the subtlest of changing lighting states but the ending…that ending.
Ron Athey: Sebastiane at Torture Garden at Coronet Theatre
The most orgasmically satisfying moment was when the double kick-drum started pummelling away at breakneck speed, Ron pierced with scores of arrows, and bleeding and speaking in toungues. Black metal’s inate theatricality became super, super queer. I now want to watch old Charlton Heston films with thrash metal soundtracks.
El Conde De Torrefiel: Scenes For A Conversation After Viewing A Michael Henke Film at Contact (FLARE Festival)
I’ve already written about this extensively elsewhere so rather than repeat myself, just have a read of this (warning: long)
Dead Centre: Lippy at The Lowry (SICK! Festival)
It’s a knotty, complicated show, but I felt like I almost touched heaven when the last sister got to her feet, reached up in the flickering lights and, with a roar, the lighting rig descended within inches of her extended fingertip.
Lucy McCormick: Calendar Girl at Cambridge Junction (Watch Out Festival)
Again, no spoilers, but the section on UK porn laws with Evanescence and a cheese sandwich will stay with me forever. What an amazing way to say “Fuck you,” whilst giving no fucks whatsoever.
Justin Vivian Bond: Mother’s Ruin at Contact
Its almost impossible to describe anything as ‘magical’ without sounding like a nursery school teacher, but seeing a drunk cabaret crowd go absolutely silent for an even drunker cabaret star performing a beautiful rendition of St. Vincent’s Prince Johnny is worthy of the epithet, and I don’t care if you think less of me.