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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…..

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.

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.

(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.”

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