Celluloid Stripes

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.

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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:

“Oi, DICKHEAD!”

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.

 

 

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Once More

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.

17 Warnings For Performances

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.

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This performance contains real banana skins like the one pictured here.

OTP: Performance and I in 2015

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.

A gasp.

Lights out.

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.

Non-Stop

Refuse
Remain
Reject
Retry
Reserve
Reverse
Restart
Reuse
Re-enter
Retrain
Refrain
Relax
Renege
Relay
Relish
Relieve
Relive
Realise
React
Realign
Retaliate
Retell
Retail
Return
Repair
Reprieve
Regress
Regret
Regard
Regale
Recall
Record
Reckon
Re-examine
Revisit
Revile
Refill
Refer
Reform
Redeem
Redoubt
Redouble
Rebirth
Rebel
Revel
Regain

Non Stop

Delayed
Deferred
Diverted
Divided
Displaced
Disparaged
Decimated
Damaged
Dulled
Drained
Deducted
Dredged
Decked
Dented
Dashed
Drubbed
Dubbed
Daubed
Defunded
Deregulated
Delimited
Derigged
Decomposed
Decompressed
Decommissioned
Disproved
Disowned
Disavowed
Disinherited
Disappointed
Dispelled
Distended
Distorted
Dandled
Distracted
Distressed
Dishevelled
Disinterested
Disgraced
Disheartened
Defeated
Dismantled
Disgorged
Disdained
Defiled
Defrauded
Dirtied
Duped
Dissed
Disgusted
Dirtied
Done

The Old Toyota Tree (After Zierle & Carter)

 

The horse nods its head as it trots along going ‘Yes, yes, I agree, yes, yes I agree,’ agreeing with you all the way down the country lane lit by the moon and stars and your mobile phone. It agrees with you as the green fields and brown paths go grey like your father’s hair, the trees stretch higher, losing their wizened limbs in the clouds, and the sky ripens into violet.

As the horse’s thick long tail swishes and sweeps the air behind it from side to side, you think of tracks being covered; of dirt and snow disturbed.

Are you trying to cover your tracks?

Leaning forward, you whisper into its flickering ears, “Hoof-prints don’t really last on tarmac. If you want to follow someone now, you just turn on their laptop.”

You’re passing the shut-up storefronts of coffee shops and bank branches. The city streets are empty. Clip clop, clip clop. On you go.

“Footprints disappear, smells fade, and memory distorts. But a browsing history..that will show you the way.” And the horse goes, “Yes, yes, I agree, yes, yes, I agree,” swishing its tail nonchalantly.

You are sitting on its spine. That spine is long and gently curved, like the flourish of a pen underlining a name. The horse’s ambling gait stirs your insides. You feel them slosh against a skeleton that you learned recently won’t even melt in the heat of a furnace. You start to think of your own spine. How upright is it? Could it unfurl a little bit more? How much weight could it bear? In history’s marathon, it will go some distance.

And while you’ve been thinking this, you’ve not even noticed that the wind has picked up. Or that it has started to rain. Or that there are other people on the open terrace too.

Look at them: there’s a man in a black suit with one hand over his eyes. The other hand pulls his long brown hair over his head in front of him. He searches the space in front of him blindly, his ponytail pointing the way. And there’s a woman in a pale pink dress that ripples in the gale. She strides around a small pool, contemplating it with a look that is…what, sorrowful? Determined?

After a while, you decide it is neither, and is in fact equanimity.

There’s a skull in the pool: a horse’s skull, wrapped in pearls, resting on a bed of its own bones, and long black branches. They could be the branches that were lost in the clouds, the clouds you saw when the fields and roads went grey like your father’s hair. You turn round to whisper this in your horse’s ear, but stutter and stop mid-sentence. Your horse has gone: it’s in the pool, wrapped in pearls, resting on a bed of its own bones. His poor spine has crumbled, worn out by exhaustion and disease into individual vertebrae.

It happened when you weren’t looking. 

We’re very sorry for your loss.

Look again: there’s a woman in a black velvet jacket walking towards you, presenting you with a small wooden box. You look at her, and it, through the tears shuffling down your face. It’s quite a beautiful box; an antique probably. The hinges are rusted and the wood looks darkened with smoke and soot. It’s a shame you can’t name what type of wood it might be – and the realisation ignites your cheeks with another flush of shame. You know the make of the car you drive, and the jacket on your back, but not the tree that was felled for this.

Sing it softly to yourself:

I will meet you in the shade of the Old Toyota tree.

The woman in the black velvet jacket leans forward and whispers a question, making your ear flicker: “What makes your backbone? And what keeps you running?”

Your spine is long and gently curved, like the flourish of a pen under your own name, and the flourish curves a little more as you lift the black biro and tag from the box into the wind and rain and tears. Looking up, you see the skull held at head-height by the woman in the pale pink dress. Your old friend, he’s standing up again. With a look that has lost its equanimity, and is both sorrowful and determined, the woman tears the pearl necklace apart, bit by bit, pop by pop so all the little pearls drip drop, drip drop into the water, and your pen strokes answer:

Thin Air
&
Freedom

Which are both a kind of formlessness.

You step inside from the cold for a moment. Warm coffee. Nervous interactions with other onlookers. A few keystrokes on your phone, each one a little gouge in your Wall, an attempt to preserve and endure longer than this moment (but not as long as your spine) like gathering branches and bones around your own formlessness.

Freedom & thin air.

You step into the storm again, see the horse bones and confessions dangling from the frame of a bare parasol, skin ripped clean off by the wind. A man-made skeleton paralysed in a state of constant exhalation. With cold, wet, shaking hands you wrap your message around the wizened branch and stamp stamp, the woman in the pale pink dress is looking out across the pearl-filled Thames, resting your old friend’s skull on her shoulder, stamping her feet on the low, low bench, and stamp stamp, we’re impatient to get moving again but the man in the suit is washing his hair slowly in the pearl-filled pool, half asleep and stamp stamp, someone is going to have to wake him up but it feels too cruel to do that, to give people another thing to be sorry for, another loss – even if it’s only of sleep and dreams, but look, she’s leaning against the low, low barrier, giving your dead friend a great view of the floor, 20 ft down where he could smash to bits and your heart has wrapped itself round your neck, pumping away like a too-tight bloody bowtie, and someone needs to WAKE UP!

Have you ever noticed that your messages move faster than your body does? The wind has frantic hands. The string on your message has come loose and your wish gets exactly what it asked for: thin air and freedom. You realise how much the formlessness terrifies you, and how crucial you find your own words to your selfhood when they come back from the grave, sodden and smudged, saved miraculously by the hands of these somnambulists: the woman in the black velvet jacket; the man in the black suit; the woman in the pale pink dress, who has stopped goading death and stepped back onto steady ground.

There’s no horse to take you home, but you have to leave soon. ‘There’s no horse to take me home’ you think as you go up, clip clop, up the flight of steps to the next balcony. But when you look over the precipice to the ground below, you see black branches and bones have made the outline of one, filled with hair and glue – drawn from your old friend’s hooves. You see his spine like the flourish of a pen, bearing the weight of his name, even as the wind and rain makes his skin melt again.

The parasol collapses. You begin to breath again.

Inspired by Zierle & Carter‘s Walking The Dawn, presented at SPILL Festival on Sun 8th November at The Nationa Theatre, Weston Terrace.