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2020

I wish I was the kind of person who could find something profound to write about this year, but to be honest it’s been such a horrible farcical mess that I feel like I need to put some distance between me and it to even begin to know what to say. But in such a large pile of shite sometimes the good things stand out slightly more. This isn’t a top ten list or a ranking or a nuanced critique but simply a collection of lovely things that have saved this year from being a complete bin fire and therefore I want to share them.

Theatre/art/events

Before everything properly went to shit:

HOME’s open exhibition, which I went to a couple of times just to take it all in, and kept finding new things even when I thought I’d already looked at something. I don’t know why there aren’t more exhibitions that are full of all kinds of art by all kinds of people (I know there are many reasons, but it can be done) – it was brilliant. I wish I’d gone more.

The beautiful Royal Exchange Wuthering Heights, written by Andrew Sheridan and directed by Bryony Shanahan, still haunts me. That music! The moors! All those big feelings!

Venn Me This by Keisha Thompson, which was a hilarious and witty poetry performance/game show/maths lesson that unfortunately proved that I can no longer hula hoop.

The Contact and House of Suarez Vogue Ball has been an important event in my diary for a few years now and what keeps me going back is the feeling of being in a room full of pure, queer, accepting joy. And the outfits.

I haven’t watched many streamed or recorded shows, which I’m trying not to feel too guilty about – sometimes after spending all day staring at a screen and finding it no substitute for real people, I don’t want to spend my evenings staring at a screen and finding it no substitute for real people. The majority of online theatre I’ve watched has been for work and some have been lovely. The one that sticks out is Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams via NT at home, which admittedly I had seen in real life and already loved, but was reminded of its brilliant storytelling/hilarity/music/energy, and of how much I miss being in a big space with other people. Others I enjoyed are Key Change by Open Clasp Theatre Company, Wise Children by Wise Children, and Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm.

Doze by Toni-Dee Paul was an incredible, gentle, caring and incisive work-in-progress showing of a piece about rest and protest, which sat with me for a long time after it finished.

I only managed to catch two of Contact’s Link Up conversations with artists, hosted by Mandla Rae (with guests Ebinehita Iyere and Jahnine Davis) and Mark Croasdale (with guests Cheddar Gorgeous and Jackie Hagan) but I was so glad I did; both were beautiful and fascinating and open, and it was so lovely to be able to listen to artists talking about their practices and their places in the world in such a warm and friendly setting.

Books

I remember thinking at the end of 2019 that I’d like more time to read next year. I have not had similar thoughts at the end of 2020.

Lots of people like to suggest meditation as a way to cope, and I have tried lots of ways of doing this but am so easily distracted and impatient that I usually give up. The nearest thing to a meditative state that I’ve experienced is reading a good book, which sounds horribly trite but it’s true, so I’ve written it. Here are the ones I read this year that are so good I’ve tried to force them on other people (the full list is on goodreads. Please be my friend on goodreads).

To the River by Olivia Laing. The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (oh god this was beautiful). Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin. Small Island by Andrea Levy. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. Fair Play by Tove Jansson. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh. Losing Eden by Lucy Jones, Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. On Connection by Kae Tempest. Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner by Jasmine Lee Jones. Weather by Jenny Offill. Feminism Interrupted by Lola Olufemi. Autumn by Ali Smith. The High Table by Temi Wilkey. Natives by Akala. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo.

Music

I’m usually very slow on the uptake here. I am the kind of person who thinks they’ve discovered something new and exciting when actually it was released a decade ago, and I don’t know how to describe music. I spend most of my time listening to either Christine and the Queens or the Spice Girls, and I will let you decide what you think that means about my taste. But I also can’t stand silence so there is always music on in the background, and this year there has been so much more time to put music on in the background, so I’ve tried to branch out from Spice Up Your Life.

In February Christine and the Queens (I said I’d try to branch out) released La Vita Nuova, a surprise new EP that is full of beautiful raw big feelings and accompanied by an incredible vampirey short film, neither of which I can do justice to through words. March and April were soundtracked by the lovely intricate big energy of Little Dragon’s New Me Same Us. In June I put the surreal gorgeous disco-y What’s Your Pleasure by Jessie Ware on repeat. The autumn was filled with the stunning rich quiet but loud feelings of Arlo Parks, and both of Sault’s beautiful formidable heartbreaking elegant albums Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise). And I spent most of December listening to Dolly Parton’s Christmas songs.

Walks

I love a good walk. I don’t drive, and if somewhere is less than an hour away I’ll walk there; walking is how I understand the world. I walk for fun, I walk for exercise, I walk to think, I walk to get from a to b.

In January, a friend and I got the train to Edale to go up Mam Tor. One of my favourite things to do is climb mountains (Mam Tor is definitely just a hill), perhaps for the view and the feeling of being higher than everything else, perhaps for the slight sense of achievement in having got there through physical effort. Climbing mountains (hills) is obviously nicer when the weather is good and on this day the warm sunshine felt almost spring-like, save for the bare trees and some ice on the way up that very nearly meant I went arse over tit. The long loop we did back to the station was beautifully quiet, and the unseasonal weather plus the fact that there’s one train an hour meant that we finished the walk with a pint in a pub garden. This walk was golden and perfect.

Then in March I got covid and didn’t walk anywhere for three weeks, and when I could eventually leave my flat walking was a real struggle. I walked to the shop and back because I had to buy food, and it felt like my body had forgotten how to move, how to propel itself forward. A half an hour walk would ruin me for the rest of the day; it was no longer fun but hugely frustrating. As I very very slowly got better, the trip to the shop and back started to feel less exhausting, I stopped having to sit down on the way, and my world got slightly bigger. I started walking for reasons other than going to the shop, first in the streets, parks and patches of grass around my flat, and then further afield. In the latter half of this year I seem to have spent hours wandering around different parks around Manchester (but particularly Fletcher Moss with its lovely trees) in all sorts of weathers, sometimes sharing tins of gin, sometimes sharing a thermos of mulled cider, always trying to make friends with other people’s dogs.

At the end of August I went on a two day trip to the Lake District and for some reason decided I was well and fit enough to climb a mountain (reader, I was not). But somehow I made it up Fairfield via St Sunday Crags without dying (just), and from there I could see the bright, white sea, and for a few seconds all I could see was the view. I avoided the busy bits and swam in lakes and just stared, transfixed at the views but paid for it when I got home and I could barely move for a week.

Autumn and winter meant leaving the city for fresh air and for a better view of it; to Alderley Edge, Dovestones and Lyme Park, getting slightly lost and being thankful that I have people to walk with and that I can climb mountains (hills) again.

Plants

This year I discovered that you can buy leaves and cuttings off the internet, so I now have a shelf dedicated to jam jars with things growing in them. I’ve tried very hard to not sound weird about how much I love my houseplants but the reality is that I’m quite attached to them and now they cover pretty much every surface in my flat. They give me oxygen and joy and in return I try my best not to kill them. Here are some of the best of this year.

The mystery plant cutting my friend Hannah gave me, which has since grown so much that I’ve given its children to around ten different people. The variegated rubber plant that I got at a large discount because all its leaves were turning brown and falling off (it’s now a foot and a half taller. Success). The giant monstera from my friend Sarah and the string of hearts from my friend Beth which arrived on my birthday.  The fiddle leaf fig I got for a fiver at a garden centre, which was doing so well until the weather changed and it threw a strop, shed all its leaves and promptly died. The aloe vera that keeps having babies (let me know if you’d like one because they are taking over my flat). The Boston fern sent by my friend Nikki to cheer me up when I really needed it.

Honourable mentions

Belle, my neighbour’s cat who kept coming round unannounced whenever my balcony door was open in the summer. My hammock. The jigsaw my friend Kate sent me for my birthday. Picnics. Text messages that seemed to arrive at just the right time, and of course the friends who sent them. Finding a cape at work. Getting zoom bombed while on a panel and someone saying ‘well I’d been wanting to tick that off my 2020 bucket list’. Duolingo (I sort of hate you but j’apprends lentement à mieux parler français). Bubble baths.

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Pour and Serve, mountains, and a lovely, radical thing

It’s now less than two days until Dan Bye runs a ridiculous 44 mile race around the mountains of the Lake District. This is an almost incomprehensible feat as it is (I’m attempting to train for a half marathon right now and the mere thought of running more than three times that up even a gentle slope makes me need to have a sit down). But even more amazingly, earlier this year he announced he was going to ask for sponsors and give all the donations to an emerging artist. I sent him a pitch for Pour and Serve and incredibly he picked it. It’s a solo show based on my experiences at work, set in a working bar. The audience sits at the bar and we explore how the language of sexual harassment underpins a culture of violent misogyny, through funny stories and not so funny stories and free drinks. Thanks to Dan, I’ll be developing the show for a tour of universities, sports clubs and other venues, alongside sexual harassment prevention workshops by the excellent Hebe Reilly.

It’s been a fair few months since I found out and I’m still pinching myself a little bit – AS IF Dan is raising money for my show just because he can?! As if he’s doing this amazing thing for THIS project. AS IF we don’t have to scrabble around for match funding! The idea of the money itself is such a big thing that I don’t quite know how to be appreciative enough. It will mean that this time I don’t have to spend hours and days chasing pots of money for no pay, and having endless, fruitless meetings in the hope of seed funding, and crying over the fact that no one has retweeted a tweet about a crowdfunder. It will mean that we can apply for further funding with (relative) ease. It will make the most enormous difference to this project and ensure that Hebe and I are able to develop it really carefully with an approach that genuinely looks after our audiences, something I think is crucial with work like this.

As well as the money, there is something really radical about what Dan’s doing. I was lucky enough to be one of his people in the room last year and I can tell you that he’s one of the most generous people I’ve worked with; throughout his R&D process he invited emerging artists into his rehearsal room and paid us. And again, aside from the money there is something radically lovely about that.

I’ve been freelance for a while; it’s relentless and exhausting and precarious but for the most part it’s worth it. One of the things I find hardest, though, is the loneliness of it all, the limitless ways of doing things, the strange paradox of being totally free but very constrained, and the seeds of doubt this all sows. (I am lucky to work with some incredible people in certain jobs, and I know there are a great many mentorships and development schemes available but there are so many of us whose careers require us to wear several hats – I’m a theatre maker/facilitator/writer/project manager/dramaturg/researcher/evaluator/etc and trying to go in a meaningful direction sometimes feels like trying to climb up an ice wall wearing oven gloves.) It sometimes feels so impossible and so uncertain and so knackering that I decide it must be because I’m not good enough, or doing it wrong, and that I should leave the arts and try and get a ‘real’ job. One with sick pay. So I can’t tell you how much it means when someone yanks the door wide open behind them and makes it a million times more possible to make work. I can’t tell you how much it means when someone puts faith in you and says ‘look, your work is worth making’. It’s career- (nay, life-) affirming when other people in the arts support you. Dan is a proper gem and I am so unbelievably thankful to him.

I’m really determined to, at some point in the future, somehow, pay this forward to other emerging artists. But possibly not by running 44 miles up a mountain.

 

 

On Saturday you can track the race here – fingers crossed for good weather and a massive good luck to Dan.

We’ve reached the original target! But we’re going for an additional stretch goal, so if you want to donate, please do so here. If you’ve already donated, THANK YOU SO MUCH. I’m attempting to find a way to send you a message to say thanks properly.

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2018, what a rollercoaster

In 2018 I made some exciting and (for me!) challenging theatre, and worked on some incredible projects with all sorts of amazing people. I took on slightly too many jobs and burnt myself out. I got to work with young people who completely shifted my outlook on the world. I received nearly fifty rejections for jobs and commissions and had several mini existential crises. I convinced a group of elders to play hide and seek with me and called it work. I doubted myself to the point where I seriously considered running away and starting again. I saw/heard/read more amazing art than I could possibly list and felt so lucky to know so many artists who constantly challenge me to think differently and be better. I felt jealous when other people were successful. I started new collaborations with people who make me excited to make stuff. I defined myself entirely by how well work was going. I started feeling like work was becoming a real career. I didn’t use my voice enough when big organisations let people down. I did a week of R&D with some brilliantly generous artists and it made me feel capable enough to keep making work at a point where I wasn’t sure if I could. I spent a lot of time worrying what the next job would be. I started to love myself. I killed at least six houseplants. I made some incredible new friends. Some of my closest friends moved away. I (finally) came out to my family. I got dumped and had to move house five times in two months. My friends hugged me, let me live in their homes, helped me move, sent me chocolate in the post, gave me wine and told me jokes. I moved into a flat on my own. I cried because the boiler broke and I couldn’t work out how to fix it and there was no hot water in November. I climbed mountains with my oldest friends. I replaced my favourite glittery pair of shoes. I got sad, furious and scared about the state of the world. I wavered between thinking theatre is the absolute best way to make change and feeling guilty that theatre is all I do. I went to a festival in Croatia and didn’t go to bed until 6am most days and it was somehow the most chilled out and life-affirming holiday ever. I should have gone to visit my Grandma more. I properly got into running. I injured myself running. I learnt that you need to exercise so you don’t injure yourself running. I spent a lot of time trying to understand and subsequently worrying about Brexit. I found myself looking out of a rainy bus window on the way home and thinking that, despite all the crap, I’m really glad I’m here.