ArtsLab Shopfront's artists in residence

Final Reflections, Finally

Some reflections, watery and slippery and still with some rippling distortions which is why I’ve delayed writing this ending blog, so bear with me.

Going in to Artslab I was mega set on directing Ubu, determined, relatively focused and feeling very unsteady when asked to put that aside and just be in the space and make a small performance on my own, as I was on the first night of induction week. Induction week, talking with mentors, with other artslabbers, making some things, walking to Kogarah and being inspired by the environment and town around, free writing exercises, and also, massively, shopfront itself.

Some facts about shopfront: almost invisible fish swim in murals, there’s coral above the kitchen benches and spiders living curled up in black and white photographs, around 3pm in the shop with lights off you feel underwater because it echoes and the light shows up pale and ghosty streaming through the holes in the door, and I’ve never seen kids more confident in their right to tread a particular part of earth. I told a kid he did great in a performance and he said ‘yeah, it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done, yeah it was great.’

By the end of the week the truth was that despite my fears I was actually much more interested in making snowflakes fall and then scooch-climb back up windowpanes than get a cast and sitting down with a script. Some avoidance probably but more inspiration. I chatted with Michael who suggested that at least for the first session of Artslab (pre Work in Progress), I just do stuff in the space and I’ll find that a clearer version of what interested me in Ubu to begin with might organically emerge. I had a few great shaky but excited weeks doing that, making moons, destroying moons (I don’t know why moons but they stayed with me), and writing a lot of fairystories that seemed to come from nowhere, and having lots of ideas for putting on Ubu, but not really going near them.

About a month in I got thoroughly knocked out of my socks by the shadowy side of opening up more and letting your inner world grow stronger. I got stuck in a foggy ghosty swamp where aspects of the stuff channelling out of me that I couldn’t quite make out wacked me with their elbows and knees. And I felt like a couldn’t see what it was I’d been performing week after week, how much I was exposing myself and my own demons, and I had a feeling of an awful vengeance coming to me from all angles for communicating as much as I had. If this sounds extreme it’s because that part of me is extreme and imagines things immensely and acutely and I had spent many years stifling it and in the absence of awareness it had grown wild and unkempt.

Showing weekly was like a rain-storm through a drain system. Great for clearing up the drains, not so great when you find the sewage has been cleared onto the streets you used to like walking down. Fear that you smell existentially bad. I could have left this place then I suppose, and done a smart and less intestinal piece. I was quite annoyed post WiP that I hadn’t done that. I felt that the strong, smart, self-protective, gets-shit-done part of me had either died or left me to rot, alone, exposed and clueless in a pumpkin costume. Here I am:

But I also feel that I didn’t want my smartness to be on show here, I spent long enough at uni developing essay writing. What I wanted from this was guts. And I think beginning to clear the creative intestinal channel is the most important thing about Artslab – it lets you do that and get lost in it and sit with that. Boy did I. I sat with it through the showing, I sat with it through a performance where I felt like I was throwing a million different balls in the air and then letting them each fall and smash (partly I like that in performances – look at them shatter! And partly I just couldn’t value what I was throwing). I sat with it through the chat session, the after chat session, and then I went out and sat with a friend and wept for a long time and then put all of first session Artslab stuff in a box for a while and worked on Machine Atlas. Separate blog for that. Well, I tried to put it aside. Actually what followed was a solid month of dreams about moons. But practically speaking I enforced a break.

What surprises and delights me most about this time is noone seemed to entirely lose faith in me. I saw a lot of frustration and I saw faith flicker, but I never saw it go out entirely. It’s one of the things I appreciate most about shopfront and the artslabbers particularly – a continually renewed intention to forgive and forget and support through any hitches. There’s a certain retrospective pleasantness to feeling like I failed so often in this environment. It gives a strong sense of faith in people that inspires courage and risk-taking.

So, next session. I returned pretty fresh from Machine Atlas, and full of hope and ideas, wanting to make a pig with a washing basket on its back fly, and I got slammed immediately on entering the space. There’s a lot that’s terrifying about Ubu, and I seemed to have inadvertently tied the whole Artslab project to a lot of dark places in my psyche. A couple weeks with new material but still on that theme, writing lots but not being able to perform, cracking up each week, a long talk with Michael about what was going on and he gave me three options for the evening. Perform something, anything; don’t perform, but work on writing or something – potter around until I actually want to do something; go home. I don’t think I even made a decision on that point but I did manage to make a tea. Drinking tea and pacing to calm my soul in a dark room with the door open to a rainy windy night outside and with absolutely no expectations of accomplishing any thing that night (or ever), I started to feel the magic of the room and I was no longer miserable but rather sparkly and then I started to tell myself this kind of ghost-story-fairytale. (Dear Shopfront, thankyou for making it ok to weep and pace in a dark room muttering to yourself about life becoming a bubble.) Amazingly to me, given my addled, exhausted and quite terrified psyche, I remembered the whole thing pretty much instantly and felt OK performing it, still drinking tea. Screw moons! Screw Ubu! I don’t need you fools anyhow! Well, actually they were both still around the story, and I still felt exposed by it, but I felt like the story had a life force beyond me and my neuroses, I could feel its heart beat fairly independent of me, so it was less of a reed in the rivers of my emotions.

In the weeks following, I cut everything else I’d worked on and ended up with just a movement sequence and a suitcase. I hate thinking of it that way, feels like such a cliché for baggage but once again the heartbeat was in it, so I let it be what it was. The piece felt much more internal, thoroughly inexplicable, didn’t really work on several levels, but I liked it a lot. Here are some pics from Yann Audic.

 

You’d think you’d end a six month residency with a crystalisation of precisely what you value in theatre, at least as close as you can make it. Really it’s just a thing by the road of where you’re at at that moment. And I’m glad of that. I value that attitude in theatre, and art generally.

I asked for help a lot more in the last session of Artslab. I think Machine Atlas really taught me that. I got friends to come in and see the piece when the space was making evil faces at me. I talked about things more – I trusted people more not to judge my monsters, and I asked a sound designer (the fabulous James Brown) to work on the piece, which made me feel far less alone on the stage every time I performed. The more independent heartbeat of the piece and this investment from others meant that Performer Lucy (generally stronger and more disciplined than the rather willowy Devisor Lucy is at the moment) showed up and took things on much more clearly, because it wasn’t just for me. I really enjoyed performing that piece in a lot of ways. I refocused on just doing what the piece was as well as I could, and tweaking and working on things before each performance based on what I learnt the day before, so I was still in a kind of lab, it didn’t have to be finished and thus perfect. By the end of the week I had an extra bit of ending that made the whole piece make much more sense to me, so that was exciting.

I had a partial blindfold on in performing Slipping. It did fit the piece in my understanding of it, but it also suggests to me that I’m not clear of the foggy ghosts, nor is the swamp in the creative field entirely reseeded. I’m still feeling a lot of fear entering that space. But also inspired and supported. Its hard to let go of Artslab because I feel only half-done with the WiP Moons piece and Slipping and just, you know, generally, half-cooked. But the faith just has to expand to broader fields of support I think, as work continues.

So, future enterprises – Erica and I have an emerging collaboration called This Hour (our faithful and industrious blog: thishouriamat.wordpress.com). The title began with a playful way of anchoring our worrying and dreaming energies and imaginations – the world and life and existence and the universe and the psyche is large, but This Hour presents: writing a blog. OK. I can handle that. This Hour is currently working on putting on David Finnigan’s science fiction/fantasy play Ile and Moondirt. We just finished up a week at Pact, workshopping visuals and script.

Working with two ex-artslabbers, seeking advice and equipment from another and moral support from all of them, I don’t feel too set adrift.

I’m so grateful for each moment of feeling totally lost at Shopfront. I’m grateful for the amount of stuff I’ve generated, for the patience, the kindness, the fantastic humour and incredible creative spirits of the other artslabbers and other artists around, and the SPACE! Oh how I love that space. I am grateful for every rise and fall in floating capacity in my time there. Because I was supported so well in both phases, both became useful. I am writing a lot and making major leaps in creativity and faith and Artslab had so much to do with that. I’m also working on a lot of collaborative projects which I did very rarely before Artslab. My time there was golden, warm, melting and somewhat blinding at times. A huge thankyou to everyone involved. I’m sure I’ll see you all quite often as I come to future performances to hang around like a familiar smell.

 

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