Sunday, 23 October 2011

I want to be under the sea.

I was bored. I doodled. This is my recent holiday to France in doodles: seashell, crab, oyster (I ate lots), mermaid (I got to swim nekked) and WINE.

Inspired (the sharing of the doodle, not the holiday) by my friend and ongoing inspiration the Texan... in his official capacity, he's collected some thoughts on drawing here (or there, rather).

Monday, 12 September 2011

from the belly of the crocodile

We're over halfway through the workshops now. Today we had a morning off, so we went to the Sarawak Ethnological Museum. It's a weird place: one building with several dimly lit rooms scattered with glass cases of poorly-labelled, dead and mounted animals. Apart from one shining gallery, sponsored by Shell, about the petroleum industry in Sarawak and Shell's extensive contributions to progress in Malaysia. Entirely unbiased, of course. The museum's not about to win any prizes.

There is, however, one dusty glass case containing three items: a broken watch, a hairball as big as a cannonball, and a set of dentures. All of which were extracted from the stomach of a man-eating crocodile shot in 1996. Am I callous, or is that indeed grotesquely funny?

This afternoon we led a general workshop open to any of the dancers and staff at the Sarawak Cultural Village where we've been working. It went quite well I think; we introduced them to some theatre games, so plain ol' fun games, and then an hour of Jamaican dancehall led by one of the actors in our group. Everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson; it's about as far from nyajat as you could get.

This has been a fascinating process so far. I suppose I'd been worried at the beginning that little of our "Western" theatre training and approach would make sense. In a categorised skill-exchange, I didn't feel I'd have anything to bring to the table that the local dancers would see as having value. After three days of work, I still think that might be the case. I just play games. Quite a lot.

The first day was decidedly awkward: the dancers shy, uncertain what any of us wanted from them. But they've come out of their shells for sure. We are, I hope, progressing in the nyajat lessons they are giving us. In return, I feel we've given the women a space to share their stories - about their families, the journeys of their lives, their children, their experiences as female performers. Many of them have worked at SCV for a decade, sometimes more. They find it funny that I have to look for work every day. But I suppose I've got more freedom in the exercise of my creativity. But then, does that even matter to them?

They play so well: games that I've grown too familiar with have become more real in this studio space.

I'm desperately curious to see what else surfaces over the next couple of days.

Friday, 9 September 2011

river running, running river

I'm in Kuching, Sarawak, with the first day of workshops behind us. Mostly today was participants getting used to each other, figuring out what we're all about, but also a bit of dance training for us in the traditional Iban nyajat.

But before workshops started we had a fascinating 24 hours in the jungle. It started early, as all journeys do, with coffee and boiled eggs and words of travel advice with the director's father on the veranda. Then a 4 hour drive out of Kuching to a place called Batang Ai, site of a huge dam. We arrived at the hottest time of the day, just the worst time to get into small open boats on a large open lake - and that's just what we did. A wide open lake, aqua blue with steep banks of red dirt. Dead trees, the memory of the drowned valley beneath us, jutting out of the lake. Our boatman's technique was to aim at the trees, gun the engine, and then slip through the gap that would suddenly appear just as I was clutching the gunwales and bracing for impact.

It was so hard to stay awake; the drone of the outboard motor, the heat, jetlag, all conspiring to make me fall asleep. But I didn't want to miss a thing.

From the lake we entered a river. Evidence of the community that lived a stretched out life along the river appeared - a clinic above the bend of the river, a school on the next. Small patches of jungle cleared for farming, fishing huts dotted along the shore. The river got narrower and narrower, and the water was so low. We reached a weir and had to walk round it to change to boats waiting on the other side. Our boatman had a technique with rapids similar to his approach to the dead trees, gunning the engine in an apparent attempt to leap, leap like a salmon - luggage, two passengers, two crew be damned... When we got stuck, as get stuck we would, the man in the stern would push away at rocks with a large pole and all his weight.

I thought of my Uncle Douglas, and how he loved "jungle-bashing". He often said on my visits home in my university holidays that he'd take me, knowing I'd love it with my love of canoeing. But we never went, and then he died. And there I was, finally doing it. I thought of him, and cried a little for all the things we promise and never get to follow through.

Late afternoon we arrived at Nanga Sumpa longhouse, a little community astride a tiny estuary, where a narrow tributary joins the larger river we were travelling. On the one side of a narrow bridge is the guesthouse lodge, on the other, the longhouse proper. We went straight to the lodge for tea, to settle in our rooms, and then a late swim in the river below the jutting veranda. The river was shallow, no higher than our knees, and the late sun came through a gap in the trees in a single spotlight.

After a shower, a taste of local rice whiskey, then dinner, it was time to go visiting. With our guide Freda in the lead, we crossed the bridge to the longhouse. Long, dark and tranquil, dotted with oil lamps and faces in the gloom. We visited a group of women, gossiping around a 8-month old baby girl. We were invited to a small party in a house adjoining the longhouse itself; a fare-well party for a man going to work on an off-shore oil rig. Many Iban men do, prized for their skill as riggers. A North sea oil rig might as well have been Mars, sitting where we were, drinking the local rice wine tuak. Back in the longhouse, more tuak in the light of an oil lamp, my head nodding as I tried to stay awake. Outside it was starting to rain.

And how it rained. All night, almost without pause. Rain like a high pressure fire-hose aimed at the steel roof of the lodge. Lying on a mattress inside a near-opaque mosquito netting I felt as though I was floating on the noise, drifting in a restless sleep and shaken by the occasional roll of thunder.

By morning the river we had travelled up was gone, replaced by a boiling, muddy torrent. Entire trees floated by the veranda as we drank our morning coffee. And it was still raining. There was little chance of continuing upriver to see a waterfall as we had hoped. We stuck it out until after lunch before the decision was made that we should return down river before conditions worsened.

A entirely different journey, shooting over rapids. I was glad we weren't trying to travel in the other direction. The weir where we'd changed boats the day before was no longer an inconvenience but entirely impassable. One of our boatmen had lost one of his boats there earlier in the day, washed away by the flood waters.

But the lake at the end was large, and easily swallowed the flood. Even the muddy waters disappeared under the cloudy aqua. I'd like to think there is a small muddy river still running along the floor of the lake, following its old course between the long-dead stands of trees on its watery shores...

Monday, 5 September 2011

3 planes, 5 airports, 24 hours.

And we're here... I remember such epic journeys from university trips "home" to KL at Christmas and in the summer. The tired fug of a long haul flight. Colombo airport at half-past three in the morning, the temperature 28 degrees already and the sun coming up like thunder before our flight takes off. A mad dash in Kuala Lumpur from the international airport to the low-cost one to catch our connecting flight. Landing in Kuching after dark, the warm air like an embrace, scented with the sweetness of clove cigarettes.

This morning we've been out for breakfast with our host - Sarawak laksa and ice coffee, and good antidote to jetlag.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

From the Jungle.

Why do all journeys begin really early in the morning? I'm sitting in the front room of a flat in London, looking out over a stunning night time view of the Thames and the great white blister that was the Millennium Dome and now is called the This-Company-Paid-A-Lot-To-Have-Its-Name-On-Me Centre or Arena or Something.


I travelled here today from Cardiff. Tomorrow morning, very early, my friend and I are going to get up and trek across town to Heathrow, meet another couple of friends and then fly to Borneo. I'm quite excited about this, though it doesn't quite feel real just yet.

Sad to say, right now I'm even more excited about the fact that the cruise ship the Clown has been working on for over a week stops in Southampton tomorrow (Rome to Southampton, oh the glamour), which means I actually get to hear his voice before I have to put my mobile away and get on a plane. That feels real. More excitement will follow.

I will try to blog as much as I can from Borneo. I'm going to be working on this project.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

and the road my friend?

Woah. It's been a busy summer. I'm juggling 2 part-time jobs plus the full-time job of acting, which in itself encompasses multiple jobs/projects. So I'm working pretty much 7 days a week. Last weekend I was in Derby and Nottingham. This weekend I was in Brighton. Last night on my way back to Cardiff, the coach driver saved me a seat on the coach (he spotted and recognised me in the queue in the coach station). That's a pretty good indication I'm spending too much time on the road. Yup. Time to stay put for a while (not going to happen).

So to take my mind off how stretched I'm feeling, here's some stuff that's inspired me of late.

1. Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids. I'd heard Patti Smith reading from the book on Radio 4, and had wanted to read it. But I don't generally buy new books, so hadn't got my hands on it until a friend of the Clown's from Chicago came to visit, book in hand. She finished reading it while staying here and left it for us to read. It's inspiring. And so, so sad at the end.

2. Word 4 Word. A mate of mine at the National Theatre Wales organised this spoken word/performance poetry night, which should - I hope - become a fixture on the calendar. The first night was a mixed bag of skill levels, but it's great for such a platform to exist.

3. Tanya Davis. A Canadian poet and musician. You can listen to her stuff here on the fabulous CBC Radio 3. The Clown was a National Rural Touring Conference and met her, coming home with her album "Clocks and Hearts Keep Going". I've been listening to her pretty intensely.

You might notice a theme. I've always sort-of kinda wanted to try my hand at performance poetry, but been a bit to chicken shit to do it. I think I'm getting the signs that the time's at hand to give it a go. The opportunity is there with Word4Word. I've got a picture of my secular patron saint Patti to watch over me. I've got Tanya Davis (And Patti. And Ani. And others.) to show me the way. I guess the cabaret act I do is performance poetry of a kind, though I don't sell it as such. I want to find a different voice to write from anyway. Less character.

Right, all I need to do now is make the space...

Saturday, 28 May 2011

I'm new here.

Sometimes a song just knocks you sideways. I've just listened to Gil Scott-Heron's "I'm new here" for the first time, and I'm still reeling. A friend had posted a link to the video, as Scott-Heron's just died. I'd known who he was, but now I realise that's not enough. I must, must go find all his music and listen to it, NOW.

Here's the video. Listen to it.

I've been reflecting a lot these past few weeks on how I am right now compared with about a year ago. I'm trying to come off the anti-depressants that I've been on since last May. I guess I thought it would be easy - I'd been feeling really good - but storms can blow up in minutes on my personal weather map. So much of my thinking has ended with me feeling as though I've gone in a circle and that somehow I've not progressed at all. I've felt frustrated and trapped, as though I've failed. As if self-knowledge is a sort of test I can pass or fail. Gil Scott-Heron sings to me about the freedom in the circular journey. You arrive where you started, you get the chance to walk the same path, but this time with new knowledge: of yourself, of the world, of other people. Or perhaps, with nothing at all: free of preconceptions (misconceptions?) about the things you thought you knew.

I think that is what I need to remember. I'm not slipping backwards, because life doesn't have a direction in that sense. Let's see if I can hold on to that thought.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

We'll always have Aberystwyth.

This is the eve of our little trip to Aberystwyth to perform the last show of this particular run of Serious Money. There may be life in this show yet, but much further down the line I suspect.

Here are some more fantastic photos of the show, taken by Cardiff-based photographer Jorge Lizalde.

Here is our glowing review in The Guardian. The print copy was out today and featured a photo of yours truly and fellow actor Tom Mumford. Ironically, I can't actually afford to withdraw any money to buy a newspaper. Ah the glamour of an actor's life...

And another great review in Buzz magazine.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Serious Money

Some great photographs of rehearsals for Waking Exploits' Serious Money, taken by Simon Broughton.

The show's opening in just over a week at Chapter in Cardiff.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

a tale of two (very different) plays

I'm working on two theatre projects right now that could not be more different from each other. But it's interesting (to me at least) to observe how they're feeding each other.

The first is Death and the Maiden, by Ariel Dorfman: a play simultaneously about the aftermath of torture/oppression on an individual as well as a whole society. I'm working on this with Bambo Soyinka, who is involved in a sort of director's mentorship programme with Living Pictures, and the focus is on the process rather than a production. For me, it's been an experience of re-learning (or perhaps just learning!) the art of subtlety. I haven't worked on a naturalistic play in years, probably not since drama school. Drama school has been playing on my mind, as lessons that my particularly sodden course leader tried to impart on us keep dropping like the proverbial penny in my head (he also said that this would happen) as we work through the process of discovery in rehearsal. Just listen to your partner on stage. Just react. Don't "play" anything. Just communicate, actually communicate. All so simple, and so bloody difficult at the same time.

Case in point, the other project: Caryl Churchill's Serious Money, which will be staged in three weeks here in Cardiff. The play moves at a break-neck speed, the characters seem caricatures (and there's so bloody many of them!) and every day in rehearsal feels like two by the time we get to the end of it. I'm playing, primarily, a wealthy Peruvian business woman called Jacinta Condor. It's early days still (but also not, as finances dictate short rehearsal periods) but I feel as though I am casting about for a foothold. I'm turning to the work I've been doing with Bambo to see if that will help me; not that I'm sounding great psychological depths with this role, but because there has to be a degree of truth beneath even the most extreme caricature. Right?

I'm quite stressed, but it also feels good. I thought for a while that only devising work could provide the level of satisfaction I want from theatre-making, but I can see how wrong I was. Not that I am going to give up on devising - the right idea or project will come along at some point (with any luck it will be something like the film I made in Poland last year, which was a brilliant experience). It feels good to be doing something nominally different though, and to see what connections there are.

More thoughts may drift to the surface over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

I'm invincible, So are you, We do all the things they say we can't do...

I found it. I've been searching for almost a year. I've tried out a few. But when you find the right one, you know.

I'm talking about my warrior name, the name under which I'm going to skate my way through the wonderful world of roller derby.

I can't pretend I made it up. It's the name of Ani DiFranco's record label, under which she has been releasing her warrior songs for years.
It's a long long road
It's a big big world
We are wise wise women
We are giggling girls
We both carry a smile
Show when we're pleased
We both carry a switchblade
In our sleeves.
Tell you one thing
I'm gonna make noise when I go down
For ten square blocks they're gonna know I died
All the goddesses will come up to the ripped screen door
And say, what do you want dear?
I want inside...
("if he tries anything")

So. Pleased to meet you. I'm Righteous Babe. Now get outta my way.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Earthquakes, Aftershocks.

Yesterday I heard the news of a friend's death, two days earlier. I'm away from home visiting the Clown, who is working on a show in Milford Haven, so I had been away as well from the internet.

Her death in New Mexico - so distant from me in sodden, fog-covered Milford Haven - was unexpected. Perhaps, given the circumstances, it should not have been a surprise. She had collapsed a couple of weeks ago and was in a coma. We all hoped she would wake up, and the signs had seemed hopeful - or as hopeful as signs can be, received fifth, sixth, seventh-hand, through a digital word-of-mouth. I have no one near me who also knew her. This is hard.

Hope sometimes leads you on.

There was an earthquake in Christchurch, NZ, the day after my friend died. Both pieces of news inundated my computer when I turned it on yesterday. Probably hundreds of people have died in that disaster. Perhaps so much loss should put the end of single life, well-lived - because, oh, how well she lived, joyfully, truthfully, deeply, generously - into perspective. The pictures of Christchurch, and the accounts I've read have made me cry, but I know it's because I'm standing on ground liquefied by my own personal earthquake, high on a private Richter scale of emotion.

I've got the memories of my friend, shadow-architecture to provide the outlines of the buildings that are gone. It's not the same, obviously.

I hope I get to meet up with the rest of the circle who knew her, scattered as we are across multiple countries.

I believe she is just gone now, the way a flame is gone once you blow it out. But I like to imagine, if there were a place for her still to be somehow, that she's lighting up a room with her smile and laugh and the music that she carried with her.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

a late late post for the new year.

The new year arrived, January came and went, February arrived, Chinese new year came and went... and here I am. I've not written in a while, although I've had every intention of being prolific this year. Good start.

But it has been a good start. I'm excited about this year. I don't really make new year's resolutions, but I had thought that this year I'd quite like to play in my first public roller derby bout. And that promises to happen already - we've got a bout scheduled for June, so barring injury or unavoidable paying work that's one not-resolution come true.

Also I have moved, out of the shared house I was in, to a flat on my own. A lovely, peaceful space, in which I can be as creative (or lazy) as I want. I'm working on two different theatre projects, both here in Cardiff, which pleases me no end. Work! In Cardiff!

And some of the ships I sent sailing last year are coming back to harbour. The film I helped make in Poland has been edited once already, and is looking good. Check this out: