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You in I. I in You.

September 25, 2011

The ensemble I have been training and directing this summer disbanded yesterday. After a week of performances and a final morning of training together, we reached an ending. The shows were fantastic – it’s a piece I am deeply proud of. There’s some photos here ( – far too many of them, I’ll put up a selection of the best sometime soon) The journey we took through the summer was extraordinary – deep, confronting, joyous, painful, Utterly beautiful because it was utterly human.

And the parting – all of the last week and especially the last meeting, was profoundly painful. The connections ran deep. I feel a deep sense of personal and artistic grief. Grief? Of course. I grieve because we gave birth to something. It was alive and now is no longer alive.

Is this true? In his fantastic book about the nature of self and consciousness, ‘I am a Strange Loop’, Douglas Hofstader suggests that the ‘self’ is not located in a single body. Though ‘I’ am mostly to be found in my own consciousness, there are echoes of me in those I have met. And their echoes are found in me. Little parts of my ‘self’ exist in the consciousness of others and parts of their selves reside in me. Are part of me. Are me.

it’s a deeply counter-intuitive idea, but seems almost self-evident to me when I think of it through experience rather than through concepts. Elements of what each person brought to the ensemble have merged with what I started with and I am changed by this. A smile, a tone of voice, a certain glance exist for me right now – painfully present – as I sit and type looking through the window of my garden hut, watching cows grazing in the field outside. Indeed the music that is playing (Fjordne) was introduced to me by a member of the ensemble. Is she still here with me? Her ‘self’ as I write, is on a plane home to Greece, but that’s not really what I mean. I am burning some incense which my partner, a a year ago, brought for me in Colorado. Is she still here? Actually she’s only a few meters away but she is also in me,  deeply in me, via Colorado, via echoes….

Where do I end and others begin? Does that question have any meaning? Or are we all complex collections of experiences passing through time, meeting, merging, being changed, moving on, grieving….

This takes me to ‘Echo Chamber’, starting to clamour for my attention. It is a tale of a man whose experiences, whose encounters, continue to echo so strongly in his mind, his body, that he can scarcely experience here and now because he has not been able to move beyond his defining experience. His wife and child, his army colleagues, his whole society is in him and, overwhelmed, he no longer knows whether he exists, His self is lost in the crowd.

This experience of the edges of the known self meeting and merging with others is central to my whole interest in performance. My passion is for live performance – live audiences in real places with live performers who are themselves in deep connection with one another. It is a passion for the experience of being with others – not the idea of being with others but the experience. Audiences responded to the show this week by talking of how they felt tension in their breast, they felt their skin go cold, they felt breathless. This is what I want in art. Lived, shared experience.

The entertainment industry is driven by opinion and judgement (did you like it? which one will you vote for? was it as good as that other one? which one will YOU CHOOSE??????). Much contemporary artistic practice (though not all  I hasten to add) is conceptually driven (what is your ‘idea’?, what message are you trying to convey? what do you want your audience to think?). Anyone who has read other posts on this blog will know that I am entirely happy for artists to make whatever sort of work they want, but I am clear about what I want to make and encounter. I want human experience. Not necessarily ’emotion’ but experience. I want to meet you, be with you, share with you and be changed by you.

Like so many things I cherish, I realise this is not very fashionable. I am not looking to convince people of things nor, except as much as is necessary to survive, to sell them things. I am looking to encounter human contact – a human contact that respects the dignity and integrity of each self but which also acknowledges that, through genuine encounter, we are changed and we grow.

So the summer’s ensemble is gone. I grieve and I am grateful for my grief because it talks of the reality of our contact.

And the summer’s ensemble is still here. In me. On stage as I create and perform ‘Echo Chamber’ (indeed some of their voices on the soundtrack), with me as I train new ensembles. They are with me as I write, as are older ensembles, as are the musicians I listen to, as is my partner, the writers I read who died centuries before I was born….

And in this weekend of transition, I salute the MA ensemble. You are in me and I am in you. Wherever.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah kavanagh permalink
    September 25, 2011 11:53 pm

    I feel a strong resonance as I read your piece for what you endeavor to create through theatre I do in relationship with others as a therapist, practitioner, nurse and friend. We cannot know ourselves in isolation it’s it only through relationship with another that we can sense our edges and know we exist. It is as we affect and are effected we come to experience ourselves experienced by another and we are profoundly changed – do you see me? What do you see? How do I affect and effect you? How does that affect and effect me? I do not and cannot exist without a you – for if I were meant to I would be here alone…..
    Thankyou for your words and the courage to share, lots of food for thought Sarah

    • September 26, 2011 7:47 am

      Thank you for this Sarah. It reminds me of a quotation from the theatre thinker/practitioner Eugenio Barba in his book ‘The Paper Canoe’ where he writes: ‘mixing with others puts the consistency of ones own borders to the test.’ And Csikszentmihalyi – the psychologist – writes somewhere (though I cannot find it at the moment) that there is a paradox that people emerge from an episode of ‘losing themselves’ in a task or an inter-relationship with an enhanced sense of self. This is the paradox at the heart of ensemble – in training to be collective we must, profoundly encounter our individuality. If we deny ourselves, through self-condemnation or unacknowledged insecurity, we deny our ability to interconnect with others.
      One of the deep privileges of my work is seeing the bravery of performers encountering and having to reconcile themselves with themselves.

  2. September 26, 2011 12:29 pm

    I m still here John 🙂 endings and begginings i still cannot see the difference

    • September 26, 2011 1:06 pm

      start – develop – decay – end/start…..

      ‘What we call the beginning is often the end
      And to make an end is to make a beginning.
      The end is where we start from…..’
      T.S. Eliot; Little Gidding (The Four Quartets)

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