Saturday, 27 September 2014

Chapter 37: Space to Rehearse - A Life Less Simple

"They're apparently such delicate, fragile creatures, these petunias, but they have a terrible resistance."

Tennessee Williams, "The Case of the Crushed Petunias"

This week I went with a couple of friends back to Jackson's Lane to see a one-act piece, a cabaret musical, called "The Liberation of Colette Simple".  Staging the musical was the brainchild of the unstoppable force that is Nathalie Carrington, who owned the title role.  It is based on a Tennesse Williams'  "The Case of a Crushed Petunias", billed as a lyrical fantasty, where an act of vandalism shocks Mrs Simple out of her straightforward Stepford existence and propels her beyond the safety of her shop's four shop and double row of petunias to Life outside in all its rich complexities.  We hope.  The ending is ambivalent.   For Lynn Gardner's review in The Guardian of "this plucky experiment... that brings together a multiplicity of distinctive voices" (and, I would add, accents) click here.

This is Spatfeather Theatre's first production, and the fact that Jacksons Lane is supporting this fledgeling company, doesn't surprise me. Over summer its "Transmission" programme (click here) has supported the development of the works-in-progress of six circus theatre companies, giving them the space of a week-long residency, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have seen four of them in action. I have seen StumbleDance Circus explore the psychology of climate change, Circumference examine the intimacy and fragility of relationships, Inverted look at the calculation of space as a real balancing act and You Need Me, children's storytellers, combining puppetry and a triplet on trapeze to chart the fortunes of a disappearing circus.  It is incredibly exciting to see a project in development, and to hear the artists discuss their ideas and describe its potential. As luck would have it, there was a question and answer session in the bar following Colette Simple as well.  

These are experiences I value as a stay-at-home mother with a thirst for conversation beyond pushchairs and playgrounds.  Although the playground is where it all starts, a fact that was brought home to me this week when my son was describing a game of hoops he and some mates had been inventing as they went along.   Working out the rules together, exploring the boundaries, and pushing them, as free spirits do. A chance conversation on Twitter with poet Paul Cree brought home this point. 

Check out Paul Cree on soundcloud (click here)
I had started following Paul recently when a tour of the Battersea Arts Centre had reminded me of the superb 1-to-1 theatre London Stories there last year. Paul was one of about 30 performers who had a two-minute story.  His rhythmic pace transported me to a Millwall match, and finally, football, the vibe, I got it. So looking him up on Twitter I was chuffed to see (if gutted to miss) that he has been in a double-bill A Tale from the Bedsit and 3 Mile Radius with Talia Randall at RichMix. Talia (listen to her on soundcloud click here) came onto my radar back in spring through her collaboration with aerial rope specialist Maddie McGowan funnily enough, now part of the Stumble project, in a much-lauded performance called "Expectation" at the Roundhouse's CircusFest in Spring.

Talia Randall and Maddie McGowan in Expectation at CircusFest, The Roundhouse

Anyway,  Paul's mention on Twitter of a boy on a bus busy writing his homework, with a "Go on son", made me think of encouraging my own son scribbling away, while also prompting my counter-recollection of skiving homework and forging my mother's signature to sign it off while on my school bus.   I was eventually caught out by a fiercely strong Southern Irish nun, Sr Jospeph-Clare.  Who luckily also had a sense of humour.  I was 7 or 8 at the time. Still, being at a convent school there was a lingering touch of guilt involved, the vestiges of which have now been evaporated thanks to Paul's unwitting absolution, remarking that it's the ones that don't try it (on) that worry him.  And that's the point about life, isn't it?  Skiving, surviving, pushing buttons, challenging limits, seeing what works and, when you fall flat on your face, dusting yourself off and learning from it.  

And to be honest, this week, I've felt like a crushed petunia, petal.  At my father-in-law's funeral at the weekend, I found that each new mourning carries the remembrance and accumulative weight of previous losses.  And I've been seeing death everywhere, the hearse in rehearse even.  It's like the  first-time pregnant Mum, who will suddenly find herself clocking all the varieties of pushchairs in the supermarket aislse, or a Harry Potter muggle starting Hogwarts who finds a whole new world, hitherto invisible, revealing itself. But like the petunias, I too have this "terrible resistance". My vantablack (click here) mood has found expression and renewed my harp-playing. Ironically, focussing on a piece called "Habanera Gris" ("Grey Habanera") by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz, my mood is lightening. Together my son and I have taken up the 100 day challenge, practicing our own musical instrument every day, for an achievable five minutes at least.  And what happens when those 100 days are up?  Well, we'll see where it gets us, and then start all over again...  

This is ultimately what I'm aiming for:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Chapter 36: Back at Circus Space? Good Grief!

After the school run this morning, kids deposited at various locations, I stumbled out of the car dropping the remnants of my coffee everywhere, a baby's bottle, a satin negligee and half a packet of smoked salmon.  I wasn't expecting a welcoming committee of dustbin men on the doorstep.   Heaven knows what they made of the sight.  What can you do but laugh?  One of them picked up the cup, binned it, nudged me  and said "Maybe tired, but doing fine." Or was that damn fine?! Welcome to my world. 

It's been one of those weeks where you just keep your head above water and do your best to keep your sense of humour.  It started on a high, a mother and daughter trip to Chessington (yes, that's how I get my kicks) with dear friends, where the object of the exercise seemed to get as wet as possible. And we got soaked. The highlight, rollercoasters aside, was an encounter feeding the lorakeets who descended immediately on me, maybe identifying a fellow aerialist - birds of a feather?! Not often I get a load of birds fighting over me anyway.   It was uncanny. Then we got home to the news that my father-in-law had died, and suddenly I was reminded that birds have ever been regarded as messengers of the underworld, and it seemed somehow fitting.

"Balada de la Estrella" by Gabriela Mistral
(see translation below)

Alzheimer's is a bugger, there are no two ways about it.  In many ways you make your goodbyes as soon as the sentence is passed, and I am not grieving from the release from that indignity.  But I am mourning the gentle widower who, learning that his son had asked for my hand, took me aside one Easter, and gave me the bracelet he had once given to his wife for their anniversary. We shared a love Spanish and had many a conversation on Latin American poetry, music and Buenos Aires - a city I have yet to visit, but was one of his favourite haunts.

We all find our ways to cope too.  Mine has not been writing, funnily enough, but engaging in activities where my mind can't wander, and has to stay in the moment.  That is where circus comes into its own, and I am so glad term-time started up again at Circus Space this week, with so many friendly faces. I signed up for the beginners course again before finding out I'd been passed for the next stage, so am now doing two classes back-to-back in the evening. I love the familiarity of repeating the course where you rotate round rope, static and flying trapeze, and as luck would have it, I'm starting on my favourite rotation, flying. There is something about a swinging trapeze that lifts the spirit high.   Somehow even the fear stepping off the platform has simply evaporated, and my confidence has soared as a result.  But, keeping it real and stepping out of the comfort zone, I am also doing the next level class on static as well. Nobody warned me there would be rope (my nemesis) to climb too!  That's a good thing though.  There is pain involved, but I'm finding a certain release in moving on. 

by Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral
translation found on google books (click here)

Star, I'm sad.
Tell me if you ever 
saw so sad a soul.
"I know one sadder."

Star, I'm all alone. 
Tell my soul if there are
any others like her.
"Yes" sings the star.

Look how I'm crying.
What woman ever wore
such a cloak of tears?
"One weeps more."

Tell me if you know her,
the lonely one, the griever,
tell me, is she near?
"It's I, the dream-weaver
I whose light
has turned to tears."

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Chapter 35: Circus and Secrets

A voice whispered thickly in my ear. "You are now in The Box. What goes on in The Box must stay in The Box, pass it on to those that enter." Nothing like a secret to bond an audience, is there? What happened next does indeed stay in The Box. Straps were involved, and it was another stunningly memorable evening at Jacksons Lane, that's all I'm saying. 

There is excitement to be had in anticipating the revelation of a secret, and thanks to the Boylexe boys from the previous chapter, and the news that "Gypsy" (the musical about the life of the eponymous Vaudeville performer) is coming to Chichester Festival Theatre this Autumn, I have been thinking recently about the art of teasing it out.  They say that Gypsy Lee Rose could drive men wild by taking quarter of an hour to remove a glove - what's the literary equivalent? There are moments, it seems to me, that the world is spinning on the turn of a secret. There is that which we see, and that which is hidden, and it is that implicit lure of an exposé and scents of mystery, that keep our curiosity engaged and our minds exploring. Life is one big, beautiful burlesque. 

There is a much to be said for sharing a valued secret as well, engaging in "the currency of intimacy", a term coined by Frank Warren, creator of the "PostSecret" Project. I came across his project in an article called "The art - and science - of sharing a secret"  a couple of days ago on Facebook, flagged as part of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) ideas and talks page I follow. He invited people to send him, anonymously, a secret they had never shared before, and the floodgates opened. Entries now number over a million. Frank discovered:

"Secrets can take many forms.  They can be shocking or silly or soulful.  
They can connect us to our deepest humanity or with people we will never meet (/again)."  

One day, the photo-postcard below, featured on Frank's site, inspired Mathew Prepost to set up his own site posting on-line pictures from lost and found cameras and memory cards. Using "the leverage of the kindness of strangers" he managed to connect and reunite a number of priceless memories with their owners. He is mentioned in Frank's video clip above, and wrote the article on "The Lost and Found Bin of the Digital Age". 


Another secret-sharing space, mentioned in the TED article, is Jared Brickman's site OneHelloWorld. Jared invites people to send him their secrets on a voicemail, which he then translates into a musical score. The release through the sharing of secrets literally becomes music to our ears. 

So you see, not only is there an art to keeping a secret, there is currently art, the connective tissue of society, being made out of sharing a secret.

That thought was further brought home this week by the return of a friend of mine, Anne, who has just spent time in Vegas. Vegas, of course, is its own circus. While there, Anne was involved in an art installation called "Tell Me Your Secrets" by the artist brian gonzalez/TAXIPLASM, part of the art movement Contaminate. Anne, among others, shared a secret, which was then transformed through algorithm  into music. The sound was then carried to a performer inside a pyramid of mirror who reflects in her "chamber of vulnerability" and "painfully yet cathartically redefines and reinterprets her own reflection" (see website :Tell Me Your Secrets ).

The performance of secrets is as much of a zeitgeist as circus, inhabiting a space rooted in the immersive experience. Common ground is evident in Contaminate's Manifesto:


Here’s to the pioneers, explorers, creators. To the innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs.
To the ones who know life to be a creative act: they mold it and push it until it fits them.
They dent flat worlds and invent new art forms, aesthetics, technologies, social structures, and cultural movements.
They see art as immersion. They are oddballs who outwit the rules.
We bridge the many gaps between brainchild and full-grown execution.
We draw maps alongside such pioneers, who wander territories without worry of results, who always search and never settle.
We are always on their side because they antagonize the humdrum.

So there you go.  Circus and Secrets.  Who knew?!

Tamzen Moulding:   Fire

Monday, 1 September 2014

Chapter 34: Boylexe - Man, I Feel Like a Woman ...

About last night...
... I think you get the picture.  Boylexe, and their sister company Burlexe, had come onto my Twitter radar over the past couple of months, thanks to the creation of LucyLovesCircus. Writing blogs that puts the personal on show, there was shared common ground, and the more I explored both their sites, the more excited I became about their brand of narrative burlesque and the use of the body to lay bare intimate storytelling.  And also, at the end of the day, I was looking forward to a night out having a giggle. That, for me, is at the heart of it. Burlesque literally means laughable after all (see The Polelogue) and the joke is always on us.   A space to tease (out) our desires, fantasies and foibles, and serve it up with a dash of sauce. 

So it was on Friday night I found myself sitting in a booth with half a dozen old friends,  enjoying the warm up act (pictured left), waiting for the show to begin. We're birds of a feather, I had joked with  Boylexe on Twitter, though not all of us are birds, but I’m sure we can lend them a feather or two.  That, there, is the art of tease, came the reply.  

There is something about a booth that secretes voyeurism,  Rear Window, springs to mind, courtesy of Hitched Cock in this instance.   Hidden in the shadows of the Shadow Lounge, we were in pole position for a bit of fun and frivolity, and having heard that the Edinburgh Fringe was one giant dick this year, quite frankly I was on catch up.  And that, there is the key to male burlesque at its peak. The (strip)tease and the tongue in cheek. 

Revenge is a dish best served up kohled.  

Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Reuben Kaye (pictured), bringing shades of Berlin Cabaret and Eddie Izzard to bear in inimitable Reubenesque style. The M.C.'s warning to rule-breakers, establishing the boundaries for audience interaction and respect for the artistes, clearly smacked of a challenge to certain inebriated ladies in the audience. These he deftly handled by, for instance, slapping  a tax on Miss Behaviour there, draining her rosé, "the coke of the middle classes" - he certainly had the nose for a vintage joke.  The timing of his delivery was tight as a butt of (in?) whisky and kept the show ticking along like a Clockwork Orange, and those who couldn't keep up, "google it". 

The black feather collar Reuben Kaye wore reminded me of the one I had seen recently on his fellow Australian, Dusty Limits. It also brought back memories of The Alchemic Order’s immersive promenade through the life of Dorian Gray last year.  The play is back again at the moment and I highly recommend:  click here.  They possess the chic-bones, verbal acuity and dry wit I’m Wilde about, and faux crow is so this season.  

River Hawkins, last year, in "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

The acts themselves were a variety of cabaret, and a frolic of names to bandy around: steamy Randolph Hott,  dreamy Esquire de Lune, The gentlemanly Mighty Moustache, iced cool Phil InGud, Viva la Diva Meth, and dear, put-upon Bobby Dee'vah.  Together they celebrated manhood in all its incarnations (with the emphasis on carne), from bulging biceps and the muscular masculine to boyish charm and the ultra-outré-feminine. There were tricks and turns, and monologues, some of which could have benefited from a little further stripping, enlisting the compere as copy editor, but credit to the performers who pulled them off with the same ease as their clothes. 

One of my favourites was The Mighty Moustache, the proper strong-man - you should see what happens when he gets to grips with a frying pan. So it was a real highlight of the evening to bump into him outside later and discover that he lives for the circus and is a pro in chinese pole and flying trapeze.  Sadly there was too much wrapping round the scaffolding poles opposite for him to demonstrate the perfect flag (it's all in the grip, again), but my goodness, Boylexe, what a catcher!  

The mix of cocktales served up by Boylexe was just the ticket - we laughed, we shared, we connected.  Afterwards, as recommended, we went to Balans, where my order of a porn star received a gratifyingly wry smile from the waiter. He must have heard that a thousand times before, but I'm learning it's all in the delivery. The espresso martinis meanwhile propelled us into the early hours, and then we de-camped, as it were, back to my kitchen table.  Well, that's what you do at our age. And maybe it is time to grow up.   I took issue the other day with being referred to as Madame, when I still feel like a young Mademoiselle.   In reality, going on for a decade now as a housewife and mother has turned me from la coquette to la moquette (moi?  a doormat? cue violin!), but give me the space, now and again, to don the smokey eyes and sequinned jumper, tousle that hair, and I feel fabulesque again.  So, about last night ...  guys and dolls, embrace your inner Madame Mojo and let rip, it's all in the best possible taste.  And company.   Cheers Boylexe!

 and Bottoms Up!