Adapt to Survive - Moving Forward
It's May 1st 2016 and I feel it's time for a change.
(Although by the time I actually post this it wont be because it sometimes takes me a little while to write and it was already 7:39pm on May 1st when I wrote this sentence. It’s now 6:14pm on May 3rd 2016 as I edit this sentence because it was a Bank Holiday Monday yesterday… and gosh darn-it now it’s May 4th… and I do like it when Calum has a wee proof read…)
If you want to know why, you can check out the first part of this little train of thought, or you can plunge right into the ‘moving forward’ bit. You haven’t missed much. This ain’t Game of Thrones.
Previously: I’ve been quite ill over the past year and that has made it hard to do theatre and art and stuff. I’m trying my best to sort out my health as well as my career.
Right back to the point of this post.
I am very bored of not doing much and especially not doing what I love. This has to change. We’re almost half way through 2016 and so far, I’ve not been impressed (especially with all the great artists of our time, from music to acting to comedy leaving us far, far too soon) I’ve been pretty close to writing off this year and dedicating my life to building a pillow fort.
But it is (was) May 1st, the sun is shining, it’s almost summer and it just feels like a time for change, specifically focusing on my current outlook.
However, my partner, Calum, has come down with a stonker of a cold and I’m sure I’m getting it too. So, maybe this isn’t the best time for a more positive outlook…
No, wait. Maybe it is the best time.
As I’m writing this, I have already taken the first step and I am seeing my first show this year (excluding one of my dad's gigs but I did get to go for free and I know most of the songs). Considering I had been in the habit of seeing at least a show a week, I’ve been starving myself of any kind of performance.
So, here I am sitting in the Brighton Theatre Royal to see some stand-up but specifically to see Adam Buxton. You know what, it’s quite nice in here - it’s the first time I’ve been here since moving to Brighton back in September 2015. The stuff usually programmed here is not Fringe-y enough for me.
And okay, stand-up is maybe, sort of not proper theatre but I could definitely argue that it is if that was what this blog was about. Which it isn’t.
I’m writing this during the pre-show and intervals because Calum wasn't able to join me with his current sniffles. I am sitting on my todd on the aisle, tapping away, as I don’t quite want to make friends tonight. But I loves Adam Buxton and this is what has brought me out of my cave tonight and back into the world of going out and seeing some performance. I think he's quite funny and he does a lot of great stuff: he has a podcast (which has been the soundtrack to many a walk I take and during my drive to and from Brighton and London) he has his blog, his perfectly silly jingles, Mac-based presentations on Youtube comments, animations, music videos etc He’s even the voice to a CBeebies character which I discovered through my nephew.
Yeah, this guy, this guy has many strings to his bow. He’s quite an inspiration even if he works in a completely different circle to me, but one can find inspiration from anywhere. He just looks like he’s having a bit of silly fun and I’d like a bit of silly fun.
It’s got me thinking about the questions I was asking last week (and, well, for most of this year) about how to move forward with illness and anxiety hanging around; maybe there is something in helping myself by moving into a new direction and maybe adding a few more strings onto my bow...
Or should I say puppet...
I don't even use strings on my puppets
But maybe thats something to add…
My question from last week still stands. The question I want to ask is this: How do I continue to be creative when I feel debilitated by illness?
First, an update: Health wise things are calming down for the moment, which is good. I’ve been given some new meds to help me sleep and will hopefully make me less nauseated throughout the day. There has also been talk to take me off my anxiety medication because it may just be the cause of my nausea. It’s essentially been recommended by my gastroenterologist that I take a little drug holiday. Which is the complete opposite of what that phrase would usually mean.
Things are still quite up in the air.
But I want to be prepared. I’m quite good at being prepared. Sometimes overly prepared. Even if this current state of sickness fades, I still have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and I will always have it. That’s not negativity but just a fact. It has the potential to come back and disturb whatever routine I have. Part of recovery is figuring how to make the disturbance as minimal as possible and to find ways to functioning. I want to be more prepared and more kind to myself the next time my anxiety creeps past the periphery of my every-day focus.
So, while I’m doing better than I was, but still not back to the 100% I want to be, I still need to have a rethink: why, when, where, what, who and how I make work if I’m to survive as a creative with a chronic illness.
Let’s go back to those questions and start with an easy one:
WHY do I make work?
Because I want to
WHEN do I make work?
Calum can and has answered this one for me on more than one occasion when I’ve been feeling particularly overwhelmed. It’s probably the best and the kindest bit of advice he’s given me over the course of all of this.
“You make work when you can.”
He is saying not to push myself unnecessarily to make work, but to do it when I feel able to and because I ‘have’ to. That’s it really. When do I actually ‘have to’ make work?
Well, it’s not always that easy. When it comes to having your work programmed at festivals and venues, it usually done months, sometimes years in advanced. This has probably been the hardest thing to get my head around. I have felt sheer dread when performance dates have loom ever closer while I’m not able to move from my bed; I’ve been guilty of avoiding festival applications and proposals because I just can’t know if I’m going to be well enough. I can’t even know if I will be well next week or even tomorrow, so thinking a few months ahead is nearly impossible.
I have managed to do a few of them, less than I would like to be doing, and I still find myself reading over applications, telling myself “well, I could be okay?” This is even harder when I’ve been personally putting in money for deposits, registration fees etc.
I need to take a leaf out of my friends book here. I’ve watched him writing this play for a few years now, carefully crafting it into something amazing. Recently, he’s had the chance to workshop it with ‘proper actors’, he’s receiving the best sort of support and if it isn’t being performed in the next year or so then I’ll be very surprised. I couldn’t be happier for him. It has been a slow burner and I can still remember the many drafts I’ve previously read when he would email them to me. When it’s out there, I know it’ll be amazing.
So even though it’s super tempting to make work NOW and get it out NOW because, what? I’m 26 and and not a young adult anymore?! I think I need to remember that there are many years ahead to make work. Some of my favourite performers have started their careers later in life. So, if I miss this Fringe or next Fringe it’s no real problem. That’s just how the dice are dealt. What is better: performing at every festival and every venue every year but not making/performing your best, or doing festival, every so often, when you know you can do your best.
(Saying that, there is something beautifully honest about performing when not at your best. Something a little more truthful. Myself and Calum always have a little plan of what would happen if I couldn’t continue a performance of Do You Mind? Our plan is just to be honest about it and embrace what’s happening between performer, stage and audience. It’s not happened yet, but I can’t help but think the results would be eerily fantastic. Heart in the mouth kind of stuff.)
So, even though it’s a vague answer I think it’s the answer I have to accept, even if it’s hard to admit that maybe I can’t make as much work as I want to right now.
“You make work when you can.”
Maybe I continue on a little break, from at least performing live in theatre, knowing this little career of mine will always be there to pick up from. I’ll never be too old for it.
Right, next one.
WHERE do I make work?
Calum and I are looking to move out of the one bedroom flat we currently live in this year. Our nights in consist mostly of searching for houses and flats and obsessing over floor plans. Apart from having easy parking, a garden and a decent kitchen there’s one thing that is on my essentials list.
A space to work in.
Recently I’ve found myself making puppet in our living room, painting them in the kitchen and storing them above bookcases. I can’t really leave any of my work half-done and I usually have to time it when it’s just me. It doesn’t give me a lot of time and it doesn’t give me a lot of space.
So, whenever I look at a floor plan, I’m eyeing up the smaller bedroom, the garage, even a shed in a garden as a place to make puppets, work, inspiration boards.
Pinterest has been a blessing and a curse for ideas.
I need to give myself the space and the time to make my own creative routine accessible. I have to bring the resources to me. This will be a bit of a work-in-progress but it’s something I’ve been quite excited about. My dad’s studio has always been something I’ve coveted. It’s his own domain. If I have a place to work then I can do whatever I can even if it is in a limited space. But I’ve always been used to Fringe theatres. I’m not someone to make BIG theatre anyway.
WHAT do I make?
Puppetry has been my thing for quite a few years now and I don’t think that it’s going to change anytime soon. I believe I have developed a style which I can only continue to explore. However, if my condition is debilitating to the point that I don’t feel always capable of keeping commitments or sometimes leaving my home, making theatre work just not enjoyable, it feels that it isn’t what I make but the medium of which I make it. It comes down to what and where my focus is and how it is shared. I’m used to sharing work as a live performance; during my time at university, both for my B.A and my M.A, I got used to sharing bits and pieces of work made within days, hours and minutes and enjoying them for what they were.
A year ago a friend lent me his copy of Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (who looks like Adam Buxton's brother strangely enough). The book details how an artist can build their reputation, their followers and network through the sharing of their work. It encourages artists not to hide what their creating in fear of their intellectual property to being stolen, but to share their work through different mediums via the internet.
I was pretty inspired by the book, especially as I’m quite rubbish at proper networking. Approaching a stranger in a crowded room and trying to make conversation is hellish. Reflecting back however, I’ve realised a majority of my work and collaborations has come from someone seeing my work and wanting to chat about it. I have tried now again to implement what ideas Kleon has himself shared in his book; I’ve played about with various medias including Youtube, gifs, Vines, Twitter to share footage, moments in rehearsal, sketches, moments of making puppets. It’s always my intention to share one creative thing I’ve done each day but sometimes I don’t manage to do it. Not the actual creating side, just the sharing bit but I feel like this may comes down to my introverted nature, letting everything ruminate and mull over before sharing it.
This had got me thinking; how can I switch my focus of my work, from live theatre to other sharable media?
One of the biggest possibilities is to make short films with puppets or myself as I am. I already quite like making the trailers for both Sort Of Theatre and BearDog and I have the software to do this. I even like the idea of channeling what I already know about performance into a filmed medium.
A friend of mine suggested I could make small puppets or figures to sell as a way of keeping me busy and creatively sharp and making a little bit of money on the side.
I’ve also shifted into a bit of consultation and I’m currently working with a couple of individuals who are wanting to make work themselves but don’t know how to start.
I’m also enjoying writing these blogs and I got a lot out of writing more from a more academic perspective, or WANKY BOLLOCKS as I like to call it. I want to get more into the habit of writing and sharing my ideas, getting them down. I want to tackle aspects of performing and puppetry, deciphering breathe and movement or reviewing other shows that I mange to see (And the Brighton Fringe Festival is only round the corner). Hopefully not too many of these longer essays but little tangents my mind has gone on during that day. A little round-up could be good for me and maybe good for someone else. There’s a reason why I set up my website after all. It is the ultimate sharing tool.
There’s plenty of possibilities and I think the next hurdle would be to decide which one to focus on. But what I like is that I don’t feel limited by any of these choices and neither do I feel like I have to compromise.
WHO do I make work…with?
At the moment, I need people who got my back. I’m fortunate that I have some great collaborators that I can make great work with but who are also people I love and care about and who love and care about me. I formed BearDog with my now fiancee, Dana Segal from Sort Of Theatre is going to be my Best Woman at my wedding, Thomas Jancis - BearDog’s new Associate Artist - is the first friend I made at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. These are the guys I trust and who I can speak honestly to. I can lay out my fears, my concerns without feeling that I’m letting anyone down. My most recent explorations with BearDog have highlighted the kind of ensemble spirit I really need. During our last performances at the HoveGrown Festival in March I was feeling sick and exhausted. I wasn’t sure every time I woke up to a new day whether I was able to get up and puppeteer some dogs (which is probably the most fun I have had puppeteering) I had been honest with both Calum and Thomas about my concerns and we were able to formulate a plan. If I couldn't manage it, Calum would take over. We didn’t need to use it, but knowing it was there and also knowing it wouldn’t have been any problem was a comfort and a kindness that I needed.
I don’t want to dismiss any other forms of collaboration. I’m always happiest when working with other people. However, I’m aware of a need for a shared methodology to be established; one that focuses on a healthy approach to work and to awareness and compassion for everyone’s needs. Which, illness or not, I think is a fairly good way of working together anyway.
What this also brings up to me is the idea of long-distance collaboration. If I can’t leave the house or am bed-bound for whatever reason, that doesn’t mean that I cannot invite or be invited into the work of others from afar through Skype or FaceTime
HOW do I make work?
This is still the most difficult and the one I got stuck on. I would probably say I’m stuck because it encapsulates all the previous questions. I need to answer them all before I can move forward and learn how to make work again. I hope these questions will help me to carve out a creative routine that will encourage my work on a daily basis
But I would hope I would make work how I always have. With honesty and fun.
We like to talk about “Suffering for your art” but that doesn’t mean that art should cause suffering. Suffering for your art is more about missing lunch during rehearsal, spending all night finishing off a script or being pressed within a sweaty, grumpy ensemble.
Art should be the purest outlet for suffering (there is a very good reason that there is such a thing as art therapy) not the cause of it.
I think I answered the first questions too quickly. Let’s look at it again.
WHY I make work?
Because it’s a drive I cannot ignore and because I know I need to do it. It’s a part of my daily life. I’m always inspired. And because it makes me happy. Despite recently it being a huge cause of grief and concern I get a real rush from creating, connecting dots, mind-mapping, chatting wanky bollocks, drawing, researching, making and being on stage. Being in rehearsal, in a work-space and performing are amongst my happiest memories.
Maybe ‘survive’ has been a bit too strong of a word. But I feel I’ve had time to stand back and look at what I really want. What I like to have is an artistic process that pushes me creatively, sometimes emotionally but not at the expense of my health, mental or physical. This may take a bit of work and a bit of trial and error but it is the best thing I can do for myself.
As an artist it’s important to ask constantly questions of yourself and your work. Reflection and evaluation are important.
I want to keep asking myself these questions, maybe every week, maybe before, after and during each project that I undertake. Despite the stereotype following ones creative drive shouldn’t be in detriment to ones health. It’s just not worth it.
I suppose I’m lucky. I like making my own work and devising, so it is within my practice already to be autonomous and have ownership of my process.
I’ve come to realise that I most likely, and essentially, suffered a relapse last year. I think about the opportunity that last year held for me, working away at my Masters, meeting all these great, bloody talented people and I get a little cramp of resentment that I relapsed during this time.
But the kind bit of me says it is still an opportunity. An opportunity to see what I can do while ill, but what I can do to recover. I can only hope that this experience can teach me, but also look to what we can do as individual makers and the industry.
I feel like this is something I’ve really needed to exorcise from my system. It is something that has been weighing on my mind. I’m hoping now that I’ve reflected, analysed and planned for what’s next, I can finally move forward.
And again, hopefully will mean some more concise blog posts and not more words then I was allowed to use in my final essay of my M.A