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Out with the new, in with the old…..

October 5, 2011

A friend writes to me about how the new ways she has developed of seeing the world, the new, more creative, healthier ways she has developed of inhabiting the world, seem continually threatened by older ways,by the more stressful, less healthy, more self-destructuve ways she once had of interacting with the daily demands of being an artist.

Oh God, but how I recognise this!

As I grow older and more mature (allegedly) both as an artist and a person (… the difference being….?). so I strive continually to develop and embody ways of making my work, of sharing my work, of being entirely committed to making art without being utterly crushed by it.  Generally I do well. I am much less stressed than I once was and I know my practice as a performer, a director and a teacher continues to deepen. Always there is pressure and stress, but nowadays I experience it usually as a productive stress rather than a destructive, crushing self-doubt (which teeters on the edge of self-loathing).


I am sinking into the heart of the creative process for Echo Chamber. The months of preparation, of thinking, recording  bits of sound, writing fragments of speech or image are coalescing into a soundtrack and some physical actions. I am making the show.

My interests as an artist – in all the ways that my art manifest, whether I am performing, directing, teaching, writing – currently lie at the interface of improvisation and structure. I want the liveness and spontaneity of improvisation and the depth and resonance that can be provided by sophisticated structure. Yeah yeah, I want it all. It is this that will lie at the heart of a major project I shall be launching with DUENDE in the next few months and it is this that I am exploring, in the controlled environment of my own body, with Echo Chamber.

I am extremely confident improvising. Twice in the last week I have made spontaneous shows in front of unfamiliar audiences – in Salford and in London. Both shows were great. And both shows had that quality of absolute liveness that I so love in ‘live’ performance.

Yet….  as I sit at my desk working on Echo Chamber, knowing that I can trust myself to deliver the performance without over-rehearsing it, old thoughts re-emerge….. It’s all very well being able to improvise, but this isn’t improvisation. This needs rehearsal, this needs over-rehearsal. This needs every moment nailing to the floor, nailing so hard, battering so thoroughly, that there is not a twitch of the original life of the image or the scene left. This work of art needs killing because, if alive, it might escape from my control…..

yeah, yeah yeah……

Old thoughts, old fears, old stresses. Discredited ways of thinking that, even in the days when I held tight to them, I knew were destroying me and destroying the art that I make, but which, like embittered old reactionaries, will not let me, unmolested, move forward towards better ways of being an artist in the world. But, like the pointless old reactionaries who dominate our political system, nor can they stop the inevitability of change.  My work is better than it used to be because my understanding is deeper and my approach is more gentle and less-defended. And all the angry protests of an earlier me, a more fearful me, cannot (unless I allow it) stop my growth and my maturing.

Whenever we grow, whenever as artist we take risks, there is a battle between what we already know and what we are searching for. Fear makes us want to repeat what is familiar to us. Even if we don’t like it, it is at least familiar. But our creativity, our artistic imperative, demands that we risk encountering the unknown and this, in turn, demands that we discover new ways of being ourselves in unfamiliar situations. And somehow we experience “I” as the central point, the famous landmark, the fortress, around which this battle rages.

There is a battle, and the present will triumph over the past. It must.

This is the view from the window of my hut as I write.

And this is what I have been recording, which I give to you without (much) fear…..



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