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The DUENDE School. Why? How? Who for?

May 11, 2018

Over the last few weeks we’ve been asking some of the people who have passed through The DUENDE School during it’s three years to tell us what they got from the experience and what they are doing now. It has been really rewarding to read how diverse people’s journeys have been! I love that the DUENDE School does not create a single ‘type’ of performer, but rather we offer people the tools to make informed choices, and the skills to make their choices work for them. This was always at the heart of what I wanted to achieve when I set up the school.

Let me take you back a bit.

Though I have thought for a long time about running a school, and for a while I worked trying to deliver professional training while working at a university, about five years ago I began to notice I was having the same conversation with different people all over the world….. Young performers would ask me about how to access affordable, rigorous and professionally-focused practical training to complement or deepen the training they had experienced at university or college, or that they’d picked up from working professionally for a few years. They would be looking for tools – ways of digging into their own work – that would let them become empowered creative performers, not simply people selling skills.

Sometimes they would ask about doing that through a Master’s degree. That’s often a great choice of course, but many master’s degrees offer limited actually practical training with professional artists, instead offering a lot of space for personal research. All good – but people were asking me about how they could combine actually learning directly with people who deliver contemporary performance AND having the space for personal research.

Sometimes these conversations would be with people who had been working for a while, and had started to find their places in the performance ecosystem, and who were seeking deeper ways of understanding – ways that were intellectual coherent and practically applicable – either to deepen their work, or to reconsider their work, or to enable them to move into directing, facilitating, creating and teaching work.

I wanted to create the school to answer these needs.

So I set up The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. For three years we ran in Greece. This year we will run in India for the first time.

What are the core principles on which the school is based?

Well, I wanted to make the training as affordable as possible. Yes it costs – and the costs are prohibitive for some, which is something I deeply regret – but we do everything we can to keep fees low. We work in low-cost economies, so studio hire, accommodation, food and travel are as cheap as possible. This helps keep fees low (just imagine the level of fees if we had to hire a studio full time in London for ten weeks….). As low-cost economies are also low-income economies, we make a significant reduction in fees for local students compared to international students.

We also keep fees low by having minimal administration costs. I do not get paid for the administration I do through the year – I only get paid for my teaching. The school administrator is paid for her work – and together we are the totality of the core staff. We keep the course under thirteen weeks so that students can legally enter the country from overseas on a tourist visa. If the course was longer we would have to register as an ‘educational organisation’ and start jumping through all sorts of legal and administrative hoops to enable students to get study visas. That would require more staff and so fees would have to rise.

I am passionate about training being widely available and though I cannot offer work that everyone can afford, we do what is possible to ensure the greatest access to the widest number of people.

However, I am also fierce in expecting people to be paid for their work. So the staff – all professional working artists – are paid properly for their work. There is none of that bullshit about ‘work for free because it is good for your reputation…’. If you work for The DUENDE School we pay you as well as we can. That is basic respect for art and artists. No one is getting rich from this – but everyone is able to support themselves in part from their work. That is – for me – how it should be.

The training that we offer is personal – the group is limited in size and every student knows that her or his work is seen, appreciated and responded to personally by the teaching artists. The working environment is unconditionally supportive and feedback is positive. We learn by supporting, encouraging and appreciating each other. You learn to take risks because first you are supported by others and later you learn to offer yourself that unconditional support.

The work is physically and intellectually detailed and rigorous. Physically rigorous, because all learning happens through the body, and all performance happens in the body. If we do not know how to use our bodies we cannot perform. However the body does what the mind instructs it to do, so we need also, rigorously to be training the mind. We train the mind by training the body. This is what is meant by a psychophysical training – one that develops the integration of thought and action, that refuses the lazy dualism of ‘mind’ and ‘body’.

The process of personal change and growth that a psychophysical process requires is complex and profound. That is why the training must be intellectually rigorous too. Two of the main teachers at the school – Eilon Morris and Me – are both published authors with deep theoretical knowledge of their subjects as well as significant practical experience. The rest of the teaching crew are working artists who  combine their demonstrated practical skills with precise conceptual and intellectual understanding of the practicalities, the ethics and the politics of their work.

My ambition for the school is that the student moves from learning what we have to teach, to understand HOW to learn and thus becoming their own teacher. One of the things I loved about reading the stories of people who have graduated from the school is the sense that people have emerged from this training not only skilful, but empowered – they have learnt how to perform better – and they have learned to take ownership of their own creative and professional journeys.

So what do we actually do at the school day by day?

Well the course is split into two halves with a one week break between them for everyone to recover.

In the first part of the process we undertake intensive training in physical skills, improvisation, ensemble, performance presence, musicality, performance-making, voice, and other assorted performance techniques.

During this phase we do a lot of performing – sometimes improvised work, sometimes work that has been prepared and rehearsed, alone or in groups.

Then, after a recovery week, we enter the second phase of the course. During this we continue training and deepening our performance skills and we also start focusing more on the fact that – as performers – we need to deliver our work to audiences. So, at the start of this second half we do a pubic improvised performance night and at the end of it there is a fully staged, directed work of ensemble physical theatre – combining physicality, image making, text, song, choreography and ensemble connectedness, to make a piece of passionately live interdisciplinary performance. This show has a public season of several performances.

So though the course is only ten weeks, we travel the journey from first meeting with colleagues, through intensive training up to the delivery of professional level performance. It’s intense and exhilarating.

Each day we also travel that journey. We meet in the mornings and train for about 3 hours. There are a number of technique classes which gradually integrate to help you grow your interdisciplinary skills.

Then, after lunch we focus more into performance making, developing skills and confidence to create and share solo, small group and ensemble performance work. Sometimes we work on performances and structures over several days as we dig deeper into processes of making and communicating our work.

At the end of each day there are performances – after all we are performers so why not perform? Anyone who wants to can improvise alone or with others. It is a great way of testing yourself, becoming increasingly confident about taking risks in front of an audience.

The feedback that you will receive during the training will be continually and unconditionally supportive and positive – not because we are afraid of being ‘tough’ but because the toughest feedback is the stuff that tells you that you do not need to please teacher, that you cannot get things ‘right’, but you must continually and without excuse dig deeper and deeper into your own work, take more and more responsibility for your own work…..

So this is the journey through the school. This year the School is in India and the first part of the training will be a residential retreat in The Company Theatre’s rehearsal space in rural Maharashtra. It’s a beautiful place with two training areas and lots of outside space for rehearsing and performing. All on the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains (a lake that is rather nice to swim in…..). There the work will be led by me, Dr Eilon Morris teaching musicality, voice and physical performance, and Manjari Kaul teaching about Object, Text and Space. There will also be an input from a contemporary dancer from Mumbai, Avantika Bahl.

The second half of the school, and the show that we make, will take place in Bangalore at the wonderful dance space run by Shoonya Arts . There the teaching will be by Manjari and John (who together will also direct the final show) and there will be a second visit by Avantika and some songs taught by Bindhumalini Narayanaswami, a local Indian classical musician.

I have worked both at Kamshet and Shoonya and I think both are truly exceptional work spaces.

The course starts at Kamshet on October 14th and concludes in Bangalore on December 14th.

If you want more information, go to the Facebook page for The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre. There, looks at the Notes section and you will find all the information you need. There you can also find the stories from recent graduates that I mentioned earlier. Or go to the DUENDE website (www.duende-ensemble.com) and look for the tab for the school. Or write to the school’s administrator, Manjari Kaul – her email is manjari@duende-ensemble.com

If you want to look at a conference paper I delivered in Singapore around teh teim I set up the School, discussing the history of alternative education in the arts, you can find it here.

I’m really proud of how the school in greece has delivered on the ambitions I first had for it. I think it offers something unique, profound and affordable. I am sure that India will be different but equally powerful and rich. We are about half full at the moment, which means that there are ten more places available. Contact us if you want to apply.

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Why do I do it?

April 24, 2018

I am in a strange city where I know almost no-one.  I teach a few hours each day. The rest of the time is mine. Usually alone.

I walk. Eat. Read. I stare out at rainy streets.

It’s hard not to ask some key questions like: ‘What am I doing here?’

Or even: ‘What I am doing with my life?”

We live in strange, dangerous and dark times. Maybe we are witnessing humanity’s endgame. Time will tell. Environmental catastrophe looms and is perhaps unstoppable. News about sexual violence, and political indifference to it – even complicity in it – pours out of India. Utter, transparent, shameless lies, dirty money and corruption dominate politics. Truth is meaningless in public discourse. Rampant, violent, intolerant, divisive, crudely fascistic Nationalism tightens its grip on nations throughout the world – Russia, India, America, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, Australia, Hungary and so many other places – including, nauseatingly, in my home country of the UK. Income inequality is violently visible, yet the media, generally the hired and unprincipled mouthpieces of their billionaire owners, distracts us with royal babies, overpaid celebrities or, most insidious, scare-stories that our security is threatened by those with whom we actually have much more in common than we do with the rich who claim to be on our side.

And the responses of the progressive and radical? We bicker. We hide our impotence from ourselves by trying to convince our friends and the world we are morally superior to other progressives. We emphasise division, compete for evidence of disadvantage. Make competitors or enemies of those we could find common cause with. We look for evidence to prove that our perspective is right and that the perspectives of others are wrong. Binary thinking. Self-righteous. Self-indulgent.

I am as guilty as anyone else. I do not write ‘you’, or ‘them’. I write ‘we’.

It was always so it seems – Orwell wrote of seeing similar things in the 1930s – and, fighting in The Spanish Civil War, he found he had more to fear from his communist allies than his fascist opponents.

The rich, like the medieval feudal lords they now so resemble, stand on the walls of their fortified castles and watch the rest of us bicker in front of the gates below. They use their media like electric cattle-prods, their privilege like an invisibility cloak and their wealth? – well, that’s what built them the fortified castle in the first place. They watch us brawl among ourselves, delighted at our distraction, then retreat to their inner sanctums to dine well and sleep the sleep of the unassailable.

And I am sitting in a small room looking out at a rainy city where I know hardly anyone and each day I teach people a little bit about how to perform.

Yes, I ask myself: ‘What am I doing with my life?’

Before I travelled here I spent a couple of weeks at home in England and one morning met up with an old friend for coffee. She’s someone I have known most of my adult life, and we throw ideas and politics at each other on the rare occasions that we meet. We disagree on many things I suspect, but those disagreements do not matter because she is undoubtedly on the side of progress and decency and is someone whom I respect and like very much.

She sent me a message after our coffee – perhaps she had picked up that I am in a questioning phase of my life – and in that message she wrote that I am:

building expressive communities across our beleaguered globe. I know of nothing more important right now, than that’.

It was important for me to hear that.

A couple of days ago I received a message from one of the graduates of The DUENDE School in which, reflecting on the work of the school, she said:

‘Most importantly it gave me the opportunity to become a part of a magnificent community of artists around the world. People who have trained under DUENDE share the same ethics and values and no matter their origin or background speak the same “language”. The DUENDE community is such a rich artistic meeting place!’

Online I host a page called The DUENDE Community – there, sometimes, people chat, share thoughts and insights.

An Indian friend is currently building a new show with a Greek colleague. They met at The DUENDE School.

Today I talked with a Colombian student who might come to the school – building links from Colombia to India, to Europe……

In Australia a group runs – entirely independent of me but originating in part in work I used to do in Melbourne – and they are building their own new, rich, deep community.

I recall a performance at the end of the 2016 DUENDE School – to an audience from an Athens refugee camp – how much, beyond barriers of language, culture and education, we all – from so many nations – met together that night. We met. As humans.

Constantly we are told to fear the other. To defend the homeland, the family, the self. Yet, in art we can transcend that. We meet the other. We learn how to respect and merge with the other. We realise that everyone is other and no-one is other. We meet our collaborators and our audiences and – for a fragile brief time – we make new community. We laugh. We question. We provoke. We shock. We undermine. We enter into relationship. We fly. We fail. We make mistakes. We live – in community – for an hour or a week or a year or two. We learn to accept – or at least tolerate – the worst of each other and of ourselves, and we learn to focus on the best. We learn to build the things we can build together, and to accept the things that we cannot build together. We learn that if we are to make great work we must build great collaborations and not allow disagreement and self-righteousness to get in the way of that.

This at its best, is what Artists do.

This, in however flawed, failed and faltering a way, is what I try to do with DUENDE, with The DUENDE School, The DUENDE Community, The DUENDE Artists and Associates.

Dark and dangerous times. Crises – environmental, financial, political and inter-personal. If we are to survive those crises, it will require reimagining the entire way we co-exist, the economic system, the distribution of power, the relationship with others, nations, allegiances, ethics. And it will need to happen in deep and respectful harmony with our environment and its own deep wisdoms. Perhaps that above everything.

I am looking through the window at a rainy city. In the morning I will go to the studio and we will be gentle, we will laugh, we will pay attention and we will dance. We will try to ignite a fire of passion inside each one of us and let the fire spark across the gaps between us. We will try to build relationship and extend healthy collaborative relationships to other collaborators, to audiences, to our diverse communities.

We will make mistakes. We will fly. We will forgive.

Perhaps those sparks that pass between us are the final embers of a dying belief in human possibility and progress. Perhaps they are the sparks from which new community will grow. Only time will tell.

Perhaps my contribution is useful. Perhaps not. Only time will tell.

Perhaps it is too late. But maybe the next generation will do better than mine has. Only time will tell.

But this is why I do what I do.

This is an extract from Episode 8 of DUENDE Time – a Podcast I release every two weeks, in which I am giving a reading of my new book “Climbing The Mountain: The Performer’s Journey Into Presence.’

You can find all episodes here: http://duende.libsyn.com/website

Climbing The Mountain: The Performer’s Journey Into Presence

July 20, 2017
I am proud and delighted to announce the publication of a new book. After three years of writing on planes, in coffee shops and hotel rooms, I am launching ‘Climbing The Mountain: The Performer’s Journey Into Presence’.
The book contains thirty short talks – talks that follow a six-week training programme from first hesitant meetings, through increasingly complex understanding, through to the ensemble’s final farewells. It’s a journey you are invited to share.
Climbing The Mountain’ is practical, anecdotal, philosophical, theoretical, spiritual, irreverent, poetic, informal, precise and – most importantly – written in the authentic voice of the rehearsal room. This is how we talk when we train, full of paradox, repetition, metaphor, contradiction, humour and life.
The topics explored include: Presence, Liveness, Spontaneity, Blockage, Reactivity, Improvisation, Physical Actions, Pleasure, Positive Feedback, Self-Reflection, Self-Acceptance, Attention, The Use of the Senses, Multi-Tasking, Self-Disicpline, The Repetitive Nature of Practice, Ensemble, Ethics, Easefulness and Personal Empowerment. These are building blocks for dynamic, powerfully charismatic performance across art forms and aesthetics. The talks roam across history, disciplines and cultures, bringing everything I have to bear on the elusive task of being present in ones work in each transcendent moment.
Climbing The Mountain’ offers the most authentic encounter I can give you (apart from having you in the room with me) with the Self-With-Others, the improvisational, principle-based psycho-physical training that’s at the heart of all my work, and of the training at The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre.
At the moment ‘Climbing The Mountain’ is only available as an e-book. I hope to make a printed version available later in the year.
The nature of practice is this: however far you climbed the mountain yesterday, today you start again from the bottom. Each day we must do our work, walk our path, learn what we are ready to learn. However well you know the mountain, you still have to climb it today if you want to get to the top today.
Climbing The Mountainis available from the following e-retailers:
Amazon Kindle Store: http://bit.ly/ctmamazon
Books on Google Play: http://bit.ly/ctmgoogle
10% of profits from the sale of Climbing The Mountainwill be used to support research into epilepsy in children.

The new fascism. (A personal and artistic response).

November 21, 2016

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‘It is far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism.’ Dee Hock

We are again living in the shadow of fascism. I don’t use the term lightly or as an insult. I am describing what I see.

I never imagined this. The history I learned in school playing out again. I assumed history was the past, would remain the past. History as warning, lesson, curiosity. Not prophecy.

The American election is just the latest, catastrophic manifestation of a new fascism: the re-election of the human-rights abusing government in Australia; Golden Dawn in Greece; the Polish Government; The NF in France; Brexit, with it’s Nazi-era propaganda posters. The chief strategist of the incoming US administration is openly linked to white-supremacism. Openly neo-fascist parties across Europe say they expect huge gains off the back of the recent US election. Beyond ‘The West’ violent, inhuman voices dominate the media and thug-governments, not from the fringes but at the very centre of power and wealth.

Dispossession and disempowerment, debt and despair – a landscape of fury where the powerless turn on the equally powerless, justified by gender, nation, race or religion. It is  actively encouraged by the powerful oligarchs and corporations who bestride the globe.

The powerful and rich are doing what they have always done, entrenching their power and wealth. They meet in Davos and watch the world burn. It is as if human history is a blood sport to them, watched gleefully from the corporate hospitality tent.

We are in the shadow of resurgent fascism. The President-elect claims to represent the ‘common man’. A commodity-trading UKIP con-man brands himself  a ‘man-of-the-people’. They stir up primal hatred then ascend in a gold-plated lift to the Penthouse and leave us to fight among ourselves.

Buffoons. Fascist buffoons. Like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco. Narcissistic heralds of apocalypse.

Sometimes people ask why ‘decent’ people in Germany in the 1930s did not protest, resist, rebel. One day that will be asked of us.

What did I do when the fascists came back?
How to respond?

***

I propose this to myself.

I can only propose to myself.

Others must make their own choices – that’s the world I believe in; a world where difference is celebrated, where we respect the right of others to make other choices.

I speak to myself at this time, and write this to see if I can live according to the ethics that I claim to live by.

I am an artist.
I will not apologise that I am an artist.

I will continue to be an artist.
Making art is not trivial or indulgent.
I do not see art as only an instrument in some other struggle.
I celebrate art, in all its indefinable permutations.

The future is imagined in art.
The present is made beautiful, understandable, communal by art.
The past is remembered through art.
Life needs art.

I will not tell others what art should be.How can I celebrate diversity if I demand homogeneity?
I will not let others tell me what my art should be.

I will find my way to serve.
I will serve.

Art is individual, social and political.

In a time of fascism, the social and political are unavoidable.
I will consider the consequences and implications of my work with redoubled scrutiny.

I will ask if my work connects me with those I want to be allied with, or, by default, with those who are the oppressors.

If I am offered work or funding, I will ask myself what is being bought from me.
If a government offers funding, what are they buying from me?
If a business wants me – a university or a corporation – what are they buying?

Am I willing to sell?
If I am funded to represent my country as an artist when my country is nationalistic and racist, does the good I hope my work achieves outweigh the damage done by legitimising the new fascism?

Does my work give succour, concealment or legitimacy to those who destroy my friends, my colleagues, my communities?
Am I being paid to normalise and legitimise the unforgivable?

I will NEVER normalise fascism.

We are asked to accept the ideology of these times as ‘part of the acceptable spectrum’.

I reject that.

Fascism, racism, nationalism, prejudice, oppression, are off the ‘acceptable spectrum’, however many vote for them.

If I accept some facet of fascism as normal, I open the door to the next ‘unacceptable’ becoming normal.

I will not be complicit in this.

When fascists appear in public, on the media, on our streets, they must be named as extremists, as inhumane, as dangerous.
Politely, if necessary, but uncompromisingly.

We will be asked, continually, to normalise extremism.

This is what the powerful want.

I refuse.

I will be unconditionally supportive and generous towards those who make different choices to mine.

I do not own other people’s ethics.
I do not own other artists’ work.
I will enthusiastically support and promote work and work-practices I do not like, if I feel they are genuine attempts to offer a progressive vision.
I will not make enemies of allies by assuming I know how they should act.

I will unconditionally accept those whose anger or fear is turned towards me because I make different choices to theirs.
I will not hate those who support fascism. They too, mainly, are the powerless and dispossessed.
My battle is with the system that breeds fascism, with the rich and powerful who manipulate it.

I will not try to silence those with whom I disagree or who make me uncomfortable.
I will not apologise for who I am, nor ask others to apologise for who they are.
I acknowledge privileges I enjoy and know that sometimes my privilege must be willingly given away.

 

I will support those who work inside the system.
I will support those who work outside the system.
I will support those who work against the system.
I will support those who work in the cracks between systems.
I acknowledge that I mainly occupy cracks between systems.

That is where my major efforts lie.
Others will work in other ways.

There will be compromises.

There are always compromises.

I will consider, accept, justify and own my compromises.
I will respect the compromises others make.

If I question their choices, I will respect their right to be different.
I will support those who choose to resist differently to the ways I choose to resist.

This above all:

I will redouble my commitment to laughter, to joy, to enthusiasm, to passion, to ridiculousness, to kindness, to radical generosity, to experimentation, to the truth of the body, to learning, to self-reflection and to love. 

Yes. Love.

We must build visions and realities that are so filled with joy and love that those who currently embrace hatred and fear want to dance with us instead.

We must, all in our own ways, build better ways of being together.

I will celebrate diversity, even when it makes me fearful and uncomfortable.
I am allowed to be fearful and uncomfortable.

***

Some years ago I sat with a South Indian dancer and her partner in Chennai. We talked about the spectres of right-wing extremism she identified in India, and that I saw in Europe. I wondered if we were in a re-run of the 1950s – a dark decade that served as prelude to an explosion of radical hope. She wondered if we were in a re-run of the 1930s, the prelude to holocaust and catastrophe.

I do not know.

Perhaps it will be decided by how each of us now chooses to respond.

‘This above all. To refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that, I can do nothing.’ Margaret Atwood.

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Teaching

March 24, 2016

prova duende (16)A recent graduate of The DUENDE School of Ensemble Physical Theatre wrote to me. She is about to start running workshops and asked if I had any tips….

I realised I’ve been doing this for 25 years.

I thought I’d attempt a ‘top-ten tips’. These encapsulate how I approach the wonderful, ungraspable and fascinating world of teaching and learning.

They are in no particular order. And they are based on nothing but that pesky 25 years…

 

1. You don’t need to know everything – you need to be further down a path than your students so you can guide them.

2. Keep traveling your path. Don’t stand still and wait for others to catch up. That’s laziness! Learn through your teaching.

3. You do not need to know where any lesson will lead, but you do need to know why you are asking students to do what you are suggesting. It is fine, sometimes, to refuse to tell a student why you are suggesting a certain exercise if, by explaining in advance, you might prevent them having a strong experience. It is not your job to be liked, it is your job to be effective.

4. We learn through experience. Even conceptual learning happens experientially – through the senses. Your job is to sculpt and guide the total environment of learning.

5. You cannot control the experience students have. You provide an environment – they learn what they are going to learn. You stand beside them as they learn, helping them decode their experiences.

6. They are not YOUR students. They are students.

7. You have earned the right to be their teacher through the work you have done on yourself. You do not need to apologise for your skill, nor do you need to apologise if they end up not liking what you do, provided you have honoured your contract with them. Your contract is to provide a place for them to learn, not to force their learning.

8. Learning is a complex process. It is never possible to define, to describe or to understand EXACTLY what has been learned. As time passes, we reinterpret experience. Today’s ‘not-knowing’, today’s confusion, today’s frustration might be essential to tomorrow’s insight.

9. If the student is not enjoying herself, at some level, she is not learning effectively. Encourage her to give herself permission to enjoy her journey, however tough. Learn to enjoy discomfort.

10. If you are not enjoying yourself, you are not teaching well.

 

I am becoming…

January 19, 2016

I’m becoming my father.

Standing at the hotel reception this morning, chatting, I gestured with my right hand. I saw its movement. It was his gesture, not mine. I remember him doing it. I remember him making exactly that gesture.

I saw it, and experienced it. He is in me. I am becoming him.

It’s not the first time this has happened.

It is no surprise. I have inherited a lot from him – his body type and occasional social awkwardness. His receding hair-line, fearful romanticism and a chronic illness. His darkness and his light.

He was fifty when I was born. I turned fifty eighteen months ago. I am now the age he was when first he entered into my infant consciousness.

In the foyer  I experience him in me. A gesture I saw a thousand times while growing up, I experience from the inside. I experience its motivation and its intention. The self-doubt I guess he must have so often felt, appears in that movement of my hand. Fragments of his inner landscape live in me alongside his other legacies.

I think about my job, as performer, teacher, director. I train to experience the motivations and intentions of people I am not. I imagine and create the ambiguous emotional and psychic swamplands from which someone’s concrete actions emerge. I become other.

To become other I must first become me. I must encounter, experience and try to bring to focus the unknowable drivers of my own actions.

But ‘I’ am not fixed. ‘I’ am becoming. Becoming my father. Becoming myself. Becoming other.

I am changing. Even as I start to seeing something of myself, time passes and I am becoming other. There is no self to see, only a becoming, a being-in-flux. Yet from that slippery ambiguity I craft actions that communicate ‘me’. I craft my life.

It is like sculpting a fast-flowing river.

‘Becoming’ asks me to be generous and to give up certainty. In the foyer, as I see my father – long dead – living still in me, as I experience the echoes of his experience, his childhood, his pain and hope, living still in this cold Stockholm morning, I am a little appalled. I am losing the ‘self’ I thought I was.

Then I realise that I can choose another reaction –  I can be generous to my evolution.

This is, after all, the process of art and my work as an artist: to see the possibility of other in me and to communicate my sense of me to others.

It is a process based in generosity and empathy.

To be creative is to let go of certainty. That is, potentially, a subversive act. It questions the fixedness of  ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It asks how “I’ might – imaginatively at least – become ‘you’. Who would I be if my homeland was bombed and my children faced physical or psychic assault? Would I risk their lives in an overcrowded boat on a dangerous sea? How might I be, if I had lived what ‘you’ have lived? Does the binary of ‘you’ and ‘I’ exist?

Generosity and empathy.

It is no accident, in a time of repression, that the powerful, desperate to keep grip on their iniquitous and sickening privilege, try to co-opt art and artists, or they neuter us by making us ‘legitimate’, or they censor us, or squeeze us into silence with the austere financial tyranny they impose on everyone except themselves.

The powerful do not retain power by encouraging generosity and empathy. They rule through certainty, selfishness and division. The binary of ‘people-like-us’ against ‘the rest’.

Creativity is generous – a giving of unique parts of oneself to the world. It requires the cultivation of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for oneself. Enthusiasm for others. Enthusiasm for the other in oneself.

It requires an act of becoming.

You see, standing in the foyer this morning, I understood something of my father that I had not understood before. Not perhaps something I can put into words, but something which, now, I know. Things about him which, growing up, appalled and embarrassed me, I now experience in me.

If I choose to reject my father-in-me, then I reject myself. If I choose to be appalled by the things I find inside me, then I am appalled by myself. If I am appalled by what I can imagine, I am appalled by myself. I close down. I lose my generosity. I lose my enthusiasm – because how can I be enthusiastic if I loathe myself? If I loathe myself I will reinforce the boundaries of the limited self I can accept, and refuse to become anything else. I will refuse to become.

When I find the other in myself, I find myself in the other. We become one. I learn empathy.

So I welcome my father in me. I smile at my initial horror and realise that I am swimming with the accelerating current of time. I’m catching up with him.

I realise that I am, in this moment, also a father. I am the father of the man I’ll be ten years from now. I am the child of my forty-year-old self.

I hope my father loved me. I hope he respected me, though I know there were things he did not understand. I hope that I can love and respect the person I am in the process of becoming right now. As a father, I hope I can love the child who is being born from this moment. Not understand perhaps, but unconditionally accept.

To become, from uncertainty into uncertainty – making concrete choices from ambiguous and unknowable possibility. To realise, welcome, that everything is a process of becoming.

I am my own father, and I am becoming another me.

I must be gentle, for birth is a wonderful and terrifying thing. A time of hope and unconditional love.

Work! Work! Work!

March 20, 2015
Life Story. Padatik Theatre.  Kolkata, India.

Life Story.
Padatik Theatre.
Kolkata, India.

Last weekend I opened a show in Kolkata (Calcutta).

‘Life Story’ was created with Padatik Theatre, using ‘obituaries’ as inspiration. It’s an great stimulus – short pieces of writing that, in the immediate aftermath of a death, make a first attempt to ‘sum up’ the achievements of a person’s life.

How do you write about a life?

We dealt with some big names – Albert Einstein, Satyajit Ray – as well as (often much more revealing) ‘unknowns’ – a pick-pocket killed in a bar fight in 1842, a Honolulu postmaster, an ex-serviceman with no living relatives.

It was a very beautiful show which – though put together quickly – became a meditation on life, death and memory. Alternately contemplative and raucous, melancholy and celebratory.

At a Q&A session with the audience afterwards, a range of topics were broached – including how the idea of ‘remembering after death’ is altered if one believes in reincarnation. It was a fascinating and rich evening.

Then – as is so often the case when I am interviewed – a final question, made perhaps more pertinent on an evening when we had been exploring the ‘shape of a life’:

‘Do you have any advice for young artists, just starting out?’

I answered as I always do:

‘Work! Work! Work! Find your work. Do your work. Love your work.’

It is the only advice I really think is useful.

When I am asked to expand on my answer – as I usually am – here are a few things I usually suggest:

1.  Work is play.

’Work’ and ‘Play’  – for artists at least – must be the same thing. If your work is not play, it is not your work. It is just something you are doing. There is a deep difference between something you are ‘just doing’ and your real work.

As artists our work is to play until we find our work, then to carry on playing at doing our work. We find our work by messing about, doodling, chatting, staring out of the window, until something urgently grabs our attention, until something fascinates us, until something forces us to get up and play with it until we have exhausted its possibilities. That exhaustive playing with the possibilities of what fascinates us, is our work. Perhaps our life’s work.

What we do as artists is profoundly important – can you imagine how unbearable it would be to exist in a society devoid of culture? It is precisely because it is so important that we must treat it lightly. Even the most serious of content requires a lightness of touch in its creative process and performance. We must consistently insist on the fact that we are just playing.

2.  Your work is to find pleasure.

Life Story. Padatik Theatre.  Kolkata, India.

Life Story.
Padatik Theatre.
Kolkata, India.

You cannot be an artist only because you want applause, or wealth, or fame or security. That may be the consequence of your work, but it is not your work. Your work is to get into a rehearsal room, or in front of a blank piece of paper, or with your instrument, and to play. Your pleasure in your work must be intrinsic to the process of work. Your work is the pursuit of pleasure. If you are working only because of the anticipated results of your work – it is not your work.

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward… (Bhagavad Gita)

If you are not enjoying your work, you have not yet found your path. You must keep playing around until you do, until you find the stimulus, the approach, the subject, the relationship, the community, that so fascinates you, there is nothing you would rather do than explore it. Your ‘work’ becomes the thing that absorbs you, delights you, feeds you. The doing of your work becomes the pure pursuit of pleasure.

3. If you want to go somewhere, you have to travel a path.

You will get nowhere sitting on the sofa waiting for the phone to ring. Do something. Play. Explore, Take risks. Travel a path. If you travel a path you will get somewhere – even if:

‘the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ (T.S Eliot).

If you do not travel a path you will stay exactly where you are. If you work, there will be a result – even if you cannot predict or control what that result will be.

If you do the work you will get a result. If you don’t, you won’t.

You do not have to know where the path will take you. Travel for the joy of traveling. Enjoy the scenery. Take unexpected forks off the path. Abandon your plans. Be surprised by both the destination and by the view along the way. Take pleasure in your work.

4. If you have no work, work anyway.

Never let anyone stop you working/playing.

No funding? Make your work anyway, or put it on the back-burner with a promise that the time will come when it will be possible.

No job? Get together with others (really or online) and do things. Talk. Dance. Read plays. Write. Photograph. Listen to music.

No performing opportunities? Go to your living room with a friend and do an improvisation while being watched. Then talk about it. That is performing. You do not need anyone’s permission to perform.

Rejected at audition? Smile. Breathe. Get on with your work.

No money? Write a poem. Do a dance on the bus in a way that no one knows you are dancing. Making art can be free.

You do not need permission of validation to be an artist. You need to work. An artist is someone who makes art. If you do not work at making art (paid or unpaid), you are not an artist. Simple huh?

Do something that keeps your passion living.

If you are working to someone else’s agenda (waiting on their money, their acceptance, their approval) then it is not your work – it is their’s. It is your work when you find deep and urgent life-giving joy in what you are doing, whether or not you receive money, acceptance, approval.

Never, never, never let anyone stop you doing your work.

Play. then play again.

That is your work.

Life Story. Padatik Theatre.  Kolkata, India.

Life Story.
Padatik Theatre.
Kolkata, India.

5. If you do not like your work – find how to like it, or do something else.

We all have to do work we do not like. There are bills to be paid, obligations to be met. If you are engaged in work that you know is not ‘your’ work (because it does not contain its necessary pleasure), then find how to make it ‘your’ work. Find how to do what needs to be done in a way that gives you pleasure, so it nourishes. enlivens and deepens you. Not liking something is no reason not to work. Our work is not to ‘have fun’, it is ‘pursue deep pleasure’.

If you can find no pleasure in something – even if it is something you used to love – fulfil your obligations and move on.

The world does not benefit from your unhappiness. It benefits from your joy.

****

Thinking about life stories and obituaries, inevitably one thinks of epitaphs.

Somehow ‘She/He worked’ seems a little sad. ‘She/He played’ sounds a little trivial. Perhaps they could be combined into ‘She/He found a path and traveled it, full of joy. There was no final destination’.

***

If you are interested in attending residential workshop with DUENDE this summer – where we dig deep into the importance of pleasure in finding one’s artistic voice – then there are still spaces on the residencies we are running in Lesbos, Greece, and in the South of France.

'Performing at the Edge' Residential Workshop Lesbos, Greece.

‘Performing at the Edge’
Residential Workshop
Lesbos, Greece.

Details are as follows:

Performing at the Edge #4 – Lesvos. 9 – 23 July. Theatre/Dance/Improvisation/Site-Specific, solo/ensemble performance on the edge of land and sea…..

http://duende-ensemble.com/performing-at-the-edge-4/

Ensemble Physical Improvisation: Au Brana Cultural Centre, France, 2-7 September. Six days of ensemble training and improvising inside and outside at this beautiful rural retreat in the South of France.

http://duende-ensemble.com/swo-ensemble-physical-improvisation-au-brana-france/

Collective Creation for Solo Performers: Au Brana Cultural Centre, France, 10 – 15 September. Six days of shared training and mentored/supported input to developing your own projects. An exercise in building creative community.

http://duende-ensemble.com/swo-collective-creation-for-solo-performers-au-brana-france/

(Please note there is a discount for those who choose to attend both the weeks at Au Brana)

The residential workshops are rich and transformative experiences. One participant at last year’s Lesvos workshop wrote:

The workshop was 14 midsummer nights & days of complete happiness. It takes courage to enjoy it – and I have never enjoyed my work as an artist so much’. 

A participant at one of last year’s Au Brana residencies wrote: ‘

“I arrived at Au Brana raw and bleeding, I left raw and healed. This was one of the best weeks of my life, I shall carry the generous, creative energy of the people and the place in my bones forever.”