I began this blog offline, on a train out of Paddington, heading home. Now I’m back in the comfortable solitude of my room, a typical Welsh day throwing sunshine and rain against my window. The memory of the tedium of my work for the last three weeks has faded; I’ve got a measure of residual anxiety about some personal affairs tugging at the back of my mind, but even that appears manageable right now. I’ve had a bloody good weekend, at the Devoted & Disgruntled Open Space organised by Improbable, and I’m feeling inspired and, well, stronger.
So many aspects of the weekend stirred me up that I’m not sure where to begin. Perhaps with Open Space technology itself. This was my first encounter with this framework: it enables a large group of people to discover the interests of its individual members, draw like-minded souls together, and provoke discourse and action. It is, as Improbable’s Phelim McDermott points out, just the way life is anyway.
Just the way life is anyway. You follow your interests, attend the sessions on the topics closest to your heart, and gradually a network of kindred spirits forms itself around you. One such spirit observed to me, “you meet the people you’re meant to meet”. And, as my friend Lang pointed out, it’s an expression of belief in the power of the group. Aside from that, running an Open Space confers responsibility on the individual - you only get out of the experience what you’ve taken the trouble to seek out or create.
So here’s a brief summary of what I did over two and a half days: sang some secular gospel, emptied my pockets with a group of strangers to see what the contents might reveal, argued about circus & theatre, discussed writers, got inspired by soundwalks and an aural landscape project, sat in a silent circle listening to the session buzz around us, chatted about the concept of home, got distracted by a spontaneous wrestling (wrasslin’!! see picture!) match, pondered the meaning of devising, considered the performance possibilities of virtual space.
Conclusions were many, but chief amongst them: we appear to get quite hung up on Capital Letters and genres and semantics, necessary I suppose in order to explain ourselves to each other. I think the best performance work I have seen, however, has generally been impossible to categorise within a genre. And the same applies to people: I’m not only an actor, and I’m aware that every time I introduce myself as such the term summons a definition in most folks’ heads that has little to do with the work and art I make (“Have I seen you on telly?” “I dunno - how extensively do you watch crap telly?”). I’m a writer as well - not just because of something like this blog, but also due to the fact that I devise theatre (there was quite a lengthy discussion as to what this means. My definition is, to make a piece of work for performance that previously did not exist. Improvisation is one tool used in devising). I have a cabaret act that dances on the line between performance poetry and song, so I suppose I’m a singer and poet too. I’m also a runner. And I’m fairly obsessed with cooking for people. I’d consider these last two part of my life-work as well. I met a number of people over the weekend who either used the term “performer” or “theatre-maker” to describe themselves; I think I prefer the latter, if I have to decide. It’s pretty self-explanatory I think, and if it’s not then it will at least provoke an interesting conversation.
Maybe I’ll get new business cards made.
My favourite thought of the three days came in the closing circle, and was spoken in the context of what prevents us from realising our dreams: “if we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, we’d have none”. If I were at all into body art, I’d get that etched on my wrist.
The closing of the Open Space on the last day was moving: we rose, turned around, felt the mass of people at our backs, and walked out of the circle. I hope the sense of gentle propulsion that gave me continues to carry me forward for a while.