We opened Tiny Heroes in Devon this week, under the aegis of the wonderful Beaford. They co-commissioned the first version of the show, so it means a lot to go back and open this final version with them three years later. It went incredibly well. I’m delighted. I’m also knackered: I write this having driven for eight hours today (Sunday), from Devon to Leeds to Lancaster.
I love rural touring. I love meeting a community in its own place, a community that may have almost nothing in common beyond their shared investment in that place. I love rural communities because their remoteness can mean that they’re that much more reliant on one another despite their differences. In many respects these communities can appear homogenous, and in many demographic respects this is troublingly accurate (I am aware that it's much easier for the feelings I describe to arise in a white man). Even so, it doesn't take long for this surface homogeneity to dissolve into surprisingly different perspectives and experiences.
And most of all, I love the welcome and the hospitality. My schtick is all about hosting, so it's fun to do shows where I'm so manifestly a guest. The space itself and the community's pre-existing relationship with that space do a lot of the work of hosting. Even more so than in any of my other work, I can't get away with pretending to be anywhere other than here, because everyone instinctively knows they have permission to interrupt, like your grandad heckling at your wedding.
It seems fitting to have headed off on a rural tour straight from Slung Low’s new place. There’s nothing remotely rural about Holbeck, but still, Slung Low's approach has a lot in common with that prevalent on the rural circuit. The importance of hospitality, of shared meals, of a sense that community comes not just from shared interests but from a shared place. We can’t build a world together if we only ever interact with people whose interests correspond with our own. We have to meet on shared ground.
But I’m not going to spend too much time singing the praises of Slung Low. I did that last week, and will surely do so again.
While rehearsing this week I stayed at the home of Dick Bonham (among his other qualifications, the director of Going Viral and The Price of Everything). With his partners-in-crime Howard and Choq, Dick recently opened a new venue, The Constitutional, in Farsley, west Leeds. And while I’m generally sceptical about the practice of opening new venues left, right and centre (hemhemthefactoryhemhem), The Constitutional is exactly how this sort of thing should be done. It’s the latest development in nearly fifteen years of work deeply embedded in the community of Farsley. For ten years, Dick and Howard (and later, Choq) ran an annual street festival in Farsley, where they all live. It was made in collaboration with the local community. At its peak ten thousand people showed up.
Then “the people who brought you Farsley festival” started a monthly night in an old mill building, called Trouble at Mill. They put on a piece of theatre and a band, Dick and Howard emceed, there was good food and a great bar. It was basically A Good Night Out (complete with Soviet-propaganda-style marketing). And the local community had learned to trust these people, so they showed up in force. The first year there was some ACE subsidy. For the next four, they didn’t need it. And now, from once a year through once a month, at the Constitutional, they’ve gone to 3-4 times a week.
You can’t do this unless you’ve been having a conversation that whole time. If you just build it without asking anyone if they want it, why the fuck would they come?
(I’ve been thinking a lot about community this week partly because I’ve been rural touring and rehearsing at Slung Low and staying at Dick’s. Also partly because I feel the lack of a community in my life at the moment. I’ve felt it for more than five years and I’m incredibly jealous of Dick’s embeddedness in Farsley. There are loads of reasons for my famished, shallow roots at the moment, and some of them are currently a bit raw to talk about in public. But given how much of my work is invested in the value of a community working together to make a difference in their place, it’s a bitter pill that I’m no part of any such community. There are loads of things I want to do, but for the raw reasons and others, it hasn’t been able to happen. Watch this space. I hope.)
Show of the week: it was last week really, but I don’t see much at the moment so I’m banking them where I can. We had a giddily expensive day out in Edinburgh last Saturday to see Touching the Void and it was a twisty, psychologically acute version of the vertiginous nightmare. David Greig has taken huge liberties in some ways and been startlingly faithful in others and it adds up to a terrific shift of perspective on a well-told tale.
Telly of the week: that last episode of Les Miserables was terrific, wasn’t it? That lingering final shot of children begging in the street: our heroes Marius and Cosette may be happily married, but so what, we still need a revolution. I said last week that I feel the need for optimism in the discourse now more than ever and my love for this bleak ending may seem to contradict that. I don’t think it does. Optimism doesn’t mean a happy ending, it means an ending that suggests happiness will one day be possible.
Radio of the week: everyone was rightly full of love for Bob Mortimer on Desert Island Discs and I commend that episode to you if you missed it. Once you’ve listened to it, go back and listen to this wonderful episode of Chain Reaction in which Mortimer interviews Vic Reeves. It’s deliriously, perfectly silly. It's so far from being like any art I'd ever argue for as to make recommending it irresponsible. And yet here I am. I’ve listened to it eight or nine times and will do so regularly until I die. It's the greatest comfort. It reminds me of home. It feels a little bit like love.
I'm afraid of the level of self-revelation this represents.
We’re just about to enter week three of rehearsals for Tiny Heroes, unless you count the weeks we spent making it the first time, or the second time. Yet despite it being probably the most rehearsed of my shows, I don’t imagine you’ve heard of it, because no-one notices the things that don’t tour to regional theatres. Or indeed, no-one notices the things that don’t tour to London or the Edinburgh Fringe. By which measure, since everything I’ve finished in the last year has been community-focused, you probably think I haven’t made a show in years.
So before I get on to anything else, since you haven’t heard of it: Tiny Heroes is a show about acts of heroism, small and large, and about the dangers of the very idea of heroism. At its core are stories of often virtually invisible acts of heroism, sourced from the communities with whom I worked when developing it. It was originally commissioned by the Bike Shed in Exeter and Beaford Arts in North Devon. It ran for two weeks across those two places in February 2016. The second time round, we made a new version for Leeds and it ran for a week there in December 2017. This third version brings together some of those stories along with some new ones and some we’ll collect along the way, to create a sort of national tapestry of arguments about heroism. It’ll be on the road on and off throughout 2019.
Since The Price of Everything I’ve found political optimism harder and harder to maintain, but I still think it is the only responsible political choice. Yes, we probably are all a bit fucked, but to act on that basis is to do nothing. It’s no coincidence that my bleakest show (or at least, my show with the bleakest ending) is also my award-winningest. That show, Going Viral, was also about grief, so I was finding optimism especially hard. But generally, I think hope, though it’s hard, is worth the effort. So it’s nice to get back into Tiny Heroes, which, while acknowledging that we only need heroes when things have already gone badly wrong, celebrates dozens of causes for optimism. With songs.
Hero of the week: we’ve been rehearsing at Slung Low’s new gaffe, the Holbeck Working Mens’ Club, after an unfortunate double-booking elsewhere left us, at short notice, without a room. I wasn’t going to ask Slung Low, because they’re literally building the venue as we speak. But I did a shoutout on Facebook and Alan stepped into the breach, tall dark handsome stranger that he is. I know a lot of people whose values infuse their work and the structures they build around it. I try to do this myself. But no company I know does it with such ferocious rigour as Slung Low. Heroes all.
Confession of the week: I promised myself I’d do a blog post a month this year and here we are on the third of February. The thing is that imagined posts inflate in my head until they just seem like far too much work. Then I saw Annabel is doing weekly blogposts and thought, that’s an idea. (Annabel is, as ever, an inspiration.) A shorter one every week oughtn’t to be impossible. Sometimes I’ll talk about my work, sometimes I’ll talk about the industry, sometimes I’ll talk about politics, just depending on what’s been going on in my week. I can put a photo from the week at the top, maybe another. And at the end I can do a little rundown of stuff I’ve read/seen/done, like this:
Show of the week: hard to see this becoming a regular feature as parenthood means I see very little at the moment. But I loved Third Angel’s Department of Distractions. In lots of ways it’s a massive departure for Third Angel: it looks and smells like an Actual Play. Despite that, it is stuffed full of all the things you want from Third Angel, with the bonus of an incredibly satisfying plot. It’s choc-a-bloc with Pynchonesque, Twin Peaksy details, my favourite being the bloke who fakes his own death several times a day. About halfway through I found myself thinking it had a curious absence of politics, but then, in the next scene, there they were. And the ending plays out in a few different ways depending on the politics of what you think is going on. It’s a great script by Alex Kelly. The cast are great. The entire design team – Bethany Wells, Heather Fenoughty, Katharine Williams – have done rich things that keep it alive and moving before the story kicks up a gear. I really liked it, and I’m still thinking about it, and I'll be thinking about it for a while.
Third Angel have been a hugely important company for me: their work is really different to mine, three or four of their shows that have influenced me profoundly, and I still carry them with me. The first of them was pushing twenty years ago, but there it still is, in my head, no doubt getting further and further away from whatever it was actually like.
Telly of the week: In about forty minutes it’s the final episode of the BBC Les Miserables. I love it. The novel is overblown and melodramatic and you can absolutely understand how the musical got to be like it is. But this adaptation puts back in all the context and the politics that the musical denuded, and that are what make the novel so remarkable. People often remark how extraordinary it is that a mainstream musical was made about mid-nineteenth century revolutionary French politics – and of course this would never have happened without the subsidised sector. But it’s not really about the politics, is it? What I love about this TV adaptation is that without sacrificing the entertainingly hokey plot, it puts that political context right back at the centre. Every episode opens with an image of widespread human misery that somehow then haunts the rest of the episode. Thirty-five minutes. I should just have time to get this post up before it starts.
Book of the week: I’ve just finished Johnny Muir’s The Mountains Are Calling, which is about hill running in Scotland. It’s fabulously enjoyable if you like that sort of thing (and I’m aware that most people don’t). Most noteworthy to the general reader will be the chapter on Jasmin Paris, who suddenly came to national attention a couple of weeks ago when she won the Spine Race along the Pennine Way.
This week I was in a pub with a friend who expressed irritation about the times when, come the play-offs every year, people suddenly affect interest in her niche sport, basketball. They don’t know these teams and players, they’re just repeating something they saw in the Guardian. Whereas no-one has ever expressed interest in my niche sport, long distance hill and mountain running, so I was delighted when the absolute legend that is Jasmin Paris briefly became a star. She is surely the most impressive human alive and I don’t even think her outright victory and ten-hour course record (while stopping to express breast milk at every aid station) is her most impressive achievement. She’s the fifth fastest ever on the Bob Graham Round, which only about two thousand people have ever even completed. And she’s the outright fastest at the Ramsay Round, which less than 150 people have ever managed. And next month she’ll submit her PhD thesis.
Run of the week: Tomorrow marks the beginning of a sixteen-week training cycle til my next marathon, so this was probably silly. But you can’t turn down the fells in the snow. The photos above were taken on the run.
This week Daniel Bye got me to run up a mountain.
Well not a mountain
More like a hill
And he didn’t really make me do it
And I didn’t really run
I sort of ran for a few minutes then coughed out half a lung’s worth of phlegm and crawled to the fucking top in bursts of walking every few minutes, complaining all the way
Meanwhile Dan practically skipped to the top then leapt off like a fucking mountain goat to his next destination: Captain Cook’s Monument
But I still fucking did it ok so that’s what really matters
And I did it because Dan was going to
Because he created the opportunity
And I wouldn’t be alone doing it
(Would I fuck walk up Roseberry Topping alone at the end of November without prior encouragement?)
But it was a nice metaphor for the entire week, I think
I entered the room this week feeling more tired than I have in a long time:
And without this opportunity I absolutely would not have broached the idea of making any kind of new work
But through the encouragement of Dan and Naomi and Ruth I worked on four new show ideas. Four new ideas that might become pieces of solo work, or group shows, or even community engagement projects. And I’m excited about all of them for different reasons. I have to share one next week and I’m not entirely sure which, yet.
All of these pieces have to consider the community. They must all be shows/projects that someone on Stockton High Street could come across and go ‘yeah alright then’, and then, sitting in the theatre watching, still go ‘yeah alright then’. They must be for the people from where I’m from, and it must be able to benefit them.
And during this week I have had the chance to hear about a wealth of work from three different artists. And that’s really exciting: to be encouraged to make whilst supporting and spurring on separate pieces of work, and to work in a new way that I have never encountered in the professional world, especially funded.
This week I nearly cried when I left some milk in my boyfriend’s mam’s fridge that I was going to use for my cereal the next morning. I was that tired.
This morning I ran up a mountain (shhhh) and this evening I have new ideas for work in the midst of burnout, of being preoccupied with other jobs and a project that I have been with for a long time now
And it was all thanks to the encouragement of others, to the creation of opportunity
And I feel refreshed
I feel thankful
And most of all, I feel really excited to see what everyone shares next week in Newcastle so we can keep on encouraging each other further'
My lungs are a little bit on fire and no amount of breathing seems to be taking in enough air. My legs feel like they’ve tripled in weight and lifting each one up and placing it slightly further ahead, slightly further uphill feels impossible. My face is a grimace and my eyes are trained firmly on the ground, frantically trying to work out where to put each foot so I don’t slip. I pause, look up to see how far behind I am and surprisingly find it isn’t much, and in this split second I take in a lot. The bright sky, the big, furry cows beyond the fence to my right, the almost silky-looking grass on top of the moor that is closer than I expected, and Dan and Boff running only just ahead. This all fortifies me so I take a deep breath and push on, still looking up, and in no time I’m at the top, hands on hips, lungs gratefully swallowing air, head taking in the huge view of Saltaire and Bradford and (if you squint) Leeds that stretches out below us. I think, as if I got myself here?
I spent a week as Dan’s ‘person in the room’, which was essentially an invitation to be witness to his R&D process and have some time to make my own work too. I had some idea about what to expect and was prepared for some writing, some chatting and some reflecting (and very unprepared for some running). I’d met with Dan a couple of weeks beforehand and we’d chatted about what we’d both be working on. He’s in the middle of a monster R&D process, teasing out about nine ideas for shows, including one about running ultramarathons via places that are out of bounds, and one about escaping cities by running up hills with Boff Whalley. I would be working on Spill, a solo show about memory, being brought up catholic, trauma and wine that I’d performed a scratch of the week before at HOME in Manchester.
For the first two days, the room was full of writers: me and Dan, plus Stef Smith, Emma Geraghty, Chris O’Connor and Matt Rogers. These days oscillated between writing independently and getting together to chat about what, how and why we were writing. I had two of the most productive writing days of my life; even though most of the time we were completely in our own bubbles, being around other people who were writing made it feel so easy. Thursday was spent with Dan and Boff, and Friday was just Dan and me. Every so often we migrated out of the room to celebrate each other’s victories (another thousand words!), make coffee, and chat about what we were finding difficult, what was going well, what we needed to do next. I sometimes really struggle to honestly reflect on work with other people, but being with such a lovely, open and generous bunch made this feel effortless.
A lot of big questions came up throughout the week. Some of the things we asked were: what do we do with all the anger we hold at the world? Why do people make solo theatre? Is it because it’s easier to budget for one performer, or because in a post-neoliberal world everyone has become so self-centred they only want to share their own experience? Or, less cynically, is it because it gives you the chance to properly be with an audience in ways that are actually quite hard to articulate? How do you best work with an audience? How do you make sure your audience are looked after while still maintaining just enough risk that they’re invested in the show? How do you look after yourself when making shows about difficult stuff? If you seem to be at risk is this good or bad for the audience? What happens when we die? How does being a lapsed catholic shape your life? Why do some people feel unsafe running by themselves? Could you convince a choir to run up a hill? I also spent a lot of time asking myself why I make theatre, of all things. While I’m not sure there are easy (or any) answers to some of these questions, they feel necessary to ask; sometimes not knowing tells you how much work you’ve still got to do.
Most of the week happened at the lovely Theatre in the Mill in Bradford but, as one of the shows Dan is developing is about escaping a city on foot, on Thursday we ran out of Bradford to Baildon Moor with Boff. I run often but I run slowly, and for relatively short distances, and on flat land. This run was three times further than I’d ever run in my life, and up a hill. I was wholly convinced that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and at first tried to politely decline, but Dan told me it wouldn’t be too far and that I’d be fine. Still, Thursday morning came and I was terrified.
I spent a lot of the week feeling scared. To be fair, Shivers, a night of brilliant but horrifying ghost stories we saw at the Constitutional in Farsley was to blame for a lot of this. But I was scared of running, of the possibility that I just wouldn’t be able to do it. I was scared that I somehow wouldn’t be good enough at being the person in the room, despite Dan being very clear about what he expected of me. And making Spill scares me a bit, too, because it’s quite personal but also because I’m worried it might actually just be shit. Throughout the week though, I gradually realised that these fears were mostly baseless (apart from the ghost stories – that fear was definitely justified). The run was hard but I did it. Being the person in the room was brilliant – once I was there it was so easy to ignore any self doubt I’d had and crack on. And for the first time, I genuinely felt like I could make Spill, that it was a good enough idea, that I was good enough to make it, that even if it’s shit at first, there are a whole host of people who can help.
Being a person in the room was one of the best working weeks I’ve had. I felt like an enormous amount of trust and value had been put in me but this spurred me on rather than overwhelmed me, made me think: I got myself here, I am good enough, I can. Dan said after the run, ‘you could do a half marathon next week, if you wanted to’. And I think, I could! But I wouldn’t have realised it before.
It’s very seldom I go into a creative room unprepared. More often than not I know what my role is in the room and why I am there. I am there as a director, writer, performer or part of the creative team, creative thinking and making offerings that will enhance the production, play, show.
Before this, I had seen Daniel Bye on stage at ARC Stockton turning my mind’s cogs, making me think and ponder about the world we live in, making me question and most importantly making me Feel. I find his work… what word is the opposite of submissive? When you have to sit up and pay attention because you don’t want to miss anything and you can’t escape because you don’t want to? Anyway that is exactly what he does to me, through his shows.
So to be asked if I would like to be in a room at ARC Stockton for a week with Dan, where he is an associate artist and I’m the artistic associate, was exciting and intimidating, exhilarating and explicably harrowing. What can I tell him that he doesn’t know already? How can I contribute? His thinking, his language, his mind is superior to mine. His will is stronger. He has a PhD.
To prepare for the week I asked him to send me anything he wants me to look at or think about. He guided me to his blog. This blog http://www.danielbye.co.uk/blog
So many Ideas, so many stories and so many shows. Even if he makes his two ideas into shows, a year, and I hope he does, he’s all sorted for the next five years. The ideas weren’t just off the cuff, quite the contrary in fact. They are rich with flavour, their ingredients fresh, you can sink your teeth into it.
I was also really impressed with the way he works, “I’m all right, you’re all right kind of way”. There was no hierarchy, no leader and no follower. I really envied his openness and his nonchalant manner in the room. He had stuff to write and he gave me time to work on my own stuff. We checked in in the morning and we checked out afore the day’s end. Made a plan for the next day and off we trot.
It felt like we didn’t really do much work. We talked a hell of a lot. He with his double espresso and me with a black coffee. Most days my brain hurt, a good hurt.
All in all, I’ve had a great experience of being The person in the Room. Although we come from a different side of the spectrum as far as performing goes, we are quite similar as far as ethics, ethos and importance of telling stories. I feel like I’ve got to know the other person in the room whose work I really appreciate.
I’m really excited about what Dan will work on next. Keep on keep on friend.
A few weeks ago I advertised an opportunity for emerging(ish) theatremakers, and the experience was so positive I'm now advertising four more.
For those who missed it the first time round, I am undergoing some very broad-based and open-ended R&D on a range of different projects, from an overlapping set of starting points. Earlier in the process I wrote this about the project as a whole and it remains not entirely inaccurate.
I have some funding to support an emerging(ish) theatre maker to join me in the room for each of the eight weeks. Let this opportunity be known as Person in the Room. Here's a bit of writing by Emma Geraghty, who was Persons in the Room #1-2, and here's a bit by Kamaal Hussain, who was Person in the Room #3. Another piece by Umar Butt, who was in the room last week, will follow in a few days.
Now I'm looking for people to join me at:
Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, 30 Oct-2 Nov
Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, 6-9 Nov
ARC, Stockton, 27-30 Nov
Northern Stage, Newcastle, 4-7 Dec
Given the way these weeks have tended to roll, it makes sense if the Person in the Room is someone with a writing practice, or at least with writing as part of their practice. At least part of the time is going to be writing time. In most of these weeks there'll be at least one day with performers in the room getting work on its feet and on these occasions there'll be a chance to focus in on your work as well as mine. In all four weeks there'll be a range of different people through the room, my collaborators on a range of projects.
A couple of location-specific things: at least one day in Stockton will be focused on a project for young audiences: you don't have to have a special interest in this area, but let me know if you do. And one part-day of each Bradford week will involve an extended research trip away from the theatre on foot, aka a long run to the hills. You don't have to have a special interest in running 15-20 miles in which case you're very welcome to meet me and Boff at the end point. But again, let me know if this floats your boat.
The Person in the Room is required to prepare nothing, and to bring nothing into the room beyond their brain and their heart, and to do little more than to respond to what they see and hear, using the aforementioned equipment. Additionally, they'll document the week in some form - that could be a blog post but it could equally be a short video or a cartoon, or an imaginary animal. As you'll have seen above, it's mostly been blog posts so far, but I'm still holding out for that imaginary animal.
There's £500 to pay for your time, plus travel expenses. Accommodation can be provided if necessary, but do note that I'm committed to working predominantly with people who have some pre-existing relationship with the venue or the town/city in which we're working.
To apply, email me on danielbye AT ymail DOT com (not gmail). In the subject line, let me know which of the four weeks you're applying for (you can express an interest in more than one). In the body of the email, tell me who you are and what you'd like to get out of the week. Tell me a bit about what project of your own you'll be working on during the week, when opportunity arises, and maybe a bit about how I can help. Tell me where you're based and what your relationship is with the town/city in which we're working.
I encourage applications from people who don't look like me. Please let me know if you have any additional access requirements. I will meet them.
The deadline is one week from the time I post this advert, so that's 15.24 on Monday 1st October.
I'll get back to people as quickly as I can. My decision will be made on the basis of who I think I can help, as well as who can help me.
Two weeks ago (maybe a little more), I applied for and was accepted to be Daniel Bye’s PERSON IN THE ROOM. In my mind it was a longshot; Dan is a very experienced theatre maker, whose name I have known for some years, finally met him in Edinburgh last year, and whose show there, Instructions for Border Crossing, had made a rather large impact on me in terms of form and content. I, on the other hand, am an artist at the very beginning of my making career (I had my first show as maker in Edinburgh last year too), and despite Dan’s PERSON IN THE ROOM shout out being for EMERGING(ISH) artists, thought that my work was not at the level he would want for this R&D period.
There’s little false modesty in that; I like so many others, suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’, and am, of course, my own worst critic; but, in went the short application, and two days later I received my successful reply. Dan sent me a brief outline of the week, and said he would send through some stuff to read through. I settled myself down into the idea that we would be working on some very specific ideas, which had already gone though some of Dan’s process (both thought and theatrical).
The surprising part of that initial brief, was the offer to examine some of my own new work, within the room, and with Dan and the other artists present. There is a level of generosity in this that, in my experience, is almost unheard of. Every R&D I have done has been with a specific agenda – to work towards a product, however rough in form, a step along the process of making a show. It’s not that this wasn’t true here, but there was a freedom in both Dan’s thinking, and approach that allowed for others to individually create, as well as work towards his ends.
The week went like this:
Monday – Dan doesn’t work Mondays. As a father and maker, he has learnt to allow himself additional time to be just that, to spend time with his daughter, to run (a passion of his) and to just be. Great! He did, however, offer me the use of the room to pursue my own work. As a serial procrastinator, who can find any home distraction useful in pursuing the delicate art of not tackling things, the offer to get up in the morning and ‘go to work’ on my own work was a wonderful thing.
I was able to sit in the space, without either my husband or my dog, the washing up, the hoovering, ironing or a thousand cups of tea to distract me. I used the time to research my next piece, and galvanise some thought about where it was going. I went home having a feeling of better direction on the piece, and a warm virtuous glow.
Tuesday – we arrived at 10am, and Dan went through his vision of the week. We then spent a few hours till lunch discussing the themes Dan was working on, in general terms; ideas and thoughts, both personal and social, all of which led towards an idea Dan has currently. It was simply that, a conversation. Work adjacent; work informative, but a conversation. Ease-making.
The afternoon comprised the jotting down of ideas under a set of general themes, related to the morning’s conversation. A part of that was working with Dan through his process, valuable advice for collating ideas and zoning in on items of interest through that process. Having done that, we sat down again and wrote. Dan working through some of the stuff we’d come up with earlier in the afternoon, and me, at Dan’s prompting, further developing my own work.
Wednesday – after the usual ‘hellos and how are yous’ (Dan had been for a big run the night before), we sat down to more of the same – writing and developing our own work, till lunchtime (no small amount of coffee was consumed during this period).
At midday, a group of three performers arrived, and after the meets and greets, we dove into Dan’s written world. Movement towards the more traditional R&D. Reading his work, and discussing it. And then, the generosity I spoke about earlier kicked in. I was given the opportunity to do the same with the performers. My works was given the same time and space and discussion. It always astounds me (maybe it shouldn’t), what a group of intelligent, incisive artists can bring to my own thought process and practice.
Further discussion took place, Dan giving us some things to think about for the next day; and also made the same offer to the performers in the room, for their work to be shared with us tomorrow; and given the same space and time and discussion. And off we went.
Thursday – we started again in the same vein. Initially, Dan and I spending the first part of the morning writing, and further developing our ideas, this time under the influence of the previous day’s discussions.
Performers arrived a little later, and we again went through the process of working through the changes with them, the same time and space and discussion being given to our work.
And then the other artists offered their work, and we went through the process again. I know I keep saying it, but this level of generosity is so unusual to me; but something I’m discovering is more common among independent theatre makers, than in the ‘acting’ world. The day ended and we all trotted off, and certainly in my case, and I hope in everyone’s, a sense of having had some invaluable insight into my work.
Friday – came in slightly later, as Dan was auditioning some performers for an unrelated project; and then; after a brief chat, we were joined by another of Dan’s associates; a Creative Producer/Dramaturg; and we spent the day discussing theatre making; the industry; frustrations; ideas; collaborations; skill sharing; politics; theatre politics; social engagement; funding; diversity and a lovely fantasy of what we might do with a budget of £250k. And off we went, our various ways.
It’s been an incredible week, in many ways. I’m exhausted. But in that really good way. I’ve travelled artistically and mentally this week. I’ve been advised; questioned; encouraged and inspired in a safe environment, and felt I’ve been able to offer those things to others without at any time feeling like I was the junior artist in the room. It was wonderful.
And for that experience, Mr Bye, I cannot thank you enough.
It’s just after seven in the evening and I’m sitting in the corner of the rehearsal room. The musical director is leading the band and one of the community choirs in song. The composer is playing cajon in the band. The director is singing in the choir to fill in a harmony part that’s being sung by one of the other choirs. There are a few idiosyncratic decorative sashes dotted about the place, which the designer and I made this afternoon along with a different community group. There’s some literal rose-tinted spectacles and a box full of seaweed which plays a folk song when you open it. One of the community choir has brought a dog.
This is my favourite bit of being the writer. My work’s mostly done and everyone else gets to do theirs. More so when I’ve written some words and they’re not just spoken but sung back at me. Even more so when the people singing them are the people the material originally came from.
This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve collaborated with composer Boff Whalley to create a huge site-specific participatory community performance featuring original songs and community choirs. It’s probably ten per cent of my working life but equally probably my favourite ten per cent. And this is the biggest one we’ve done yet.
I spent a couple of months meeting members of their community to find out about the history and memory of Crimdon Dene. I wrote some lyrical sketches. A few days or a week later, Boff would send the sketch back in song. We’d pass it back and forth for a bit until it was time to move on to the next one. And now here we are in a room in Blackhall Colliery in our final community company rehearsal before the show on Saturday. The community shared itself with me. Me and Boff turned what they shared into songs. And now here they are singing those songs back. It’s a bit magic.
This Saturday, this one small group is going to come together with several more to fill Crimdon Dene with the songs and stories of itself. There’ll be somewhere between fifty and sixty community performers. It’s called EVERYTHING THERE EVER WAS. It's about a family who don't believe where you come from makes a difference to who you are - until (SPOILER ALERT) they do. And it's about how the history of everything there ever was in this place has led to us being here, singing together, about the history of everything there ever was in this place. Not an unambitious project. The scale of it can be measured in a few incidental details. My favourite is that it’s the first show I’ve ever made that’s had its own AA brown signs.
It’s on Saturday afternoon in Crimdon Dene on the beautiful east Durham coast. 4.30pm, because this is also the first time I’ve done a show the start time of which has been determined by high tide. It is going to be unutterably special. There's a community choir, a live band and a picnic. There may even be a dog. Please come. If you can’t find it, follow the brown signs.
I'm working on some new material w/c 3 September at Shoreditch Town Hall. I have some funding to support an emerging theatre maker to join me in the room. Let this opportunity be known as Person in the Room.
Given what is likely to be happening in the first half of the week at least, it would make sense if the Person in the Room was someone with a writing practice, or at least with writing as part of their practice. For the first couple of days, as it happens, I'll be mostly working up some text. In the latter half of the week there'll be some performers in the room getting this on its feet a bit.
The Person in the Room will therefore be enabled and supported to spend some of the time working on their own material. They are required to bring nothing into the room beyond their brain and their heart, and to do little more than to respond to what they see and hear, using the aforementioned equipment. Additionally, they'll document the week in some form - that could be a blog post but it could equally be a short video or a cartoon, or an imaginary animal.
There's £500 for them. I can pay travel expenses within London. Similar (identical) opportunities outside London will follow very soon.
If you're interested, or know someone who is, email me on danielbye AT ymail DOT com (not gmail) and tell me who they are and what you'd like to get out of the week.
I encourage applications from people who don't look like me.
UPDATE: It's been pointed out that a deadline would be helpful. Here's one: Monday 27th at noon. I'll get back to people as quickly as I can. My decision will be made on the basis of who I think I can help, as well as who can help me.
Dan writes: last week I blogged in brief about the R&D process I'm undergoing. Thanks to the taxpayer's munificence, in each R&D venue I have a bit of funding to bring a relatively emerging artist into the room. They get a week's fee (above equity minimum IHYK) and their travel, so no-one's getting rich off the gig. Anyway, for the first week in Lancaster I was lucky enough to snare the services of the fantastic Emma Geraghty. Emma is perhaps best known as a member of Powder Keg, but you should keep your eyes wide open for her forthcoming solo show Fat Girl Singing, and indeed for all things Geraghty.
The job of the person in Emma's role each time is much the same as anyone else in the room: bring your brain and your heart, respond to what's in front of you, and if you perceive yourself to have a brief, trespass far beyond it. In addition to this, their job is to document the week in some form, so without any further ado I give you Emma's blog.
I have edited this only slightly to take out a bit where she was nice about me. I wouldn't want you to think I've commissioned someone to big me up on my own blog. I wouldn't want you to think that at all. Enjoy. Bye out.
I'm writing this sat on a delayed train to Manchester. The airconditioning is broke and there are a group of “football lads” chanting and chugging cans of Carling. If there was ever a time I wanted to escape, this would be in the top three.
I was worried at the start of this week that I didn't have anything to bring into the room or into the discussion, and imposter syndrome poked its head around the doorway and refused to fuck off for quite a while. I'm still firmly in the category of emerging artist, which is fine, but there's nothing like that label of not-quite-there-yet to make you feel like your voice is invalid. This week wasn't like that. The environment created was open and generative, it allowed space for everyone's voice and everyone's opinion, and allowed people to engage with debate on the same level. Very Knights of the Round Table. Without the fancy armour or the questionable sexual politics.
We talked a lot this week. The theme was escape. Escapism, escapology, how and why we escape, reconnecting with nature, going into the wild, being in wilderness, stone circles, safety, history, privilege, ultra-distance running, pilgrimage, complicity, dislocation, trespass, land ownership – you get the idea. Generally a lot of things. The discussion never stopped. There were a lot of post-it notes.
A day with Dot, Dan's intrepid one-year old. Adventures in the play park. Creative eating of a jacket potato. Big conversations about getting away from the city and gender presentation and what we want to achieve when we write or perform something. Equally big conversations about the ridiculousness of land ownership and the power of trespass, and confused class backgrounds and the myth of social mobility and what that actually means. Lots of chat.
People in the room. Aliki, Andy, Dick, Katharine, me, and Dan. How do you escape? What are you escaping from? Can you fail at escapism? Psychogeography. The mythology of landscape. Romanticism. The real Sharpe's Challenge is seeing how far you can get through Sharpe's Challenge. Real stories of trespass.
All of these show ideas. Who works on them? Why should they be made? Sharing writing. Reading a script together. This town is our town and our town is great apart from the incident.
The big question left in my head (which I want to write more about at another point) is the issue of complicity. If we escape from something in society that is bothering us, then we ignore it. We do nothing to change it. We just remove ourselves from the picture, turning our backs on everyone else that is still being affected by this thing. It's not good enough. And it's a privilege. When your existence is politicised then you don't have the luxury of escape. You don't choose when you participate in certain debates, your very act of being means that you have to engage constantly. You have to be always willing to fight. And I get why the idea of removing yourself from that is appealling. I do. I want to do it the majority of the time. But there is a difference between ignoring something and consciously disengaging from a toxic environment. The difference between a tactical retreat and just running away. I could go and live in a remote place, turn off all my social media, completely reinvent my identity, change everything. I could start again – well, if someone gave me enough money to do so, but that's a different privilege and that's not what I'm talking about – but I would still know that the issues I am escaping from exist. I would know that people are still being crushed by capitalist pressure to conform to the ideal body. I would know that women are still being subjugated by the patriarchal system we live in. I would know that the queer community are still under constant attack. And I would have to make the conscious decision to ignore that. Which I just can't do.
But we cannot be expected to constantly engage with all that shit. We need to breathe. We need space to be ourselves without being continuously ready to fight. So we can take a break. Recharge. Regroup. Let our voices heal so that when we do dive back in, in whatever form that is, we are ready to do it. We're strong again.
This was one of the weeks that reminded me why I do theatre. I felt like my voice was heard for the entire week, and the stuff we were talking about felt important, and that we were on the way to making theatre that needs to be made. And it was fun. I felt really looked after this week – not wrapped in cotton wool (because I would have died, sweet lord, it is so warm), but in a way that there was no judgement and everyone appreciated everyone else being there. I also learned a lot more about ultra-distance running than I thought I would.
We watched Nanette together (incredible, 10/10, would recommend) and did an escape room (we got out and solved a murder and I shot a crossbow and won a beer). We talked a lot about stand up comedy, I wrote about millions of bees and Dan hallucinated an existential wolf. It was productive. We're all very smart and clever and also rather pretty.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will