Sunday, 30 March 2014

Playing Keepsie-Upsie.

It’s a truism that live performance, whatever else it might be, is a collaboration between audience and performer(s). It’s a truism because it’s true. It identifies a phenomenon I think we’re all aware of when we’re part of it but which is very difficult to describe or even visualise. 

I  imagine the shape of the show as something we hold between us, lightly, as you hold a kite by the fingertips, singing to the wind in the seconds before you let go. I see it as a sculpture of looks and words and movements, as though we juggled and shaped it among and above us, fluid, hollow, transparent as light. I don’t see it as any of those, exactly, not even all of them together. It's not like that at all. It is kept in the air, though - suspended, like disbelief, raised like a circus tent and kept in the air by ropes held in human hands. And like a circus tent, the more of you there are, the easier it is.

One of the things I do theatre for, ever since I was a kid, is that collective awareness, that sense of being part of a whole that is greater than the sum of us all. What I celebrate in the work I love is the extent to which it feeds that interconnectedness, what I critique in the work I dislike is the way it works to thwart or betray it. And I don’t mean that sense of shared presence as something that’s all sweetness and light, though I think even the bleakest work owes its audience a degree of nurture, of loving-kindness.
Kindness because it’s a kindness people do, when they come to see your work, over and above the price of the ticket, the traveling, the childcare or any other arrangements they’ve made; the simple act of agreeing to give you their attention is a kindness and you owe them at least as much in return.

Outside those immediately connected with the show, 10 people did me that kindness this week. I can see each face as I write, each gaze that connected with mine and fed M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A, and I love them all, a little bit, I treasure their complicity in what I made with them.

But to return to the elaborate metaphors I launched in the first paragraph, I am also very tired, and somewhat drained. Because the fewer you are, the more effort goes into keeping the performance afloat. We did it; my three friends (the audience) and my producer in what I called a ‘dress run’, but was of course a performance on Wednesday in the rehearsal room. We did it on Friday at UCLan; the woman who’d, unfathomably, come all the way from London, my two friends and fellow UCLan alumnae, the performance–maker I toured with once who teaches there now, the man whose face I recognised but name I didn’t know, the event organiser, the usher, the lecturer I never got on with when I was a student. The show, in spite of everything (my mistakes included – I asked far more of them than I intended to, of which more in another post) did stay suspended, and we were in on it together, ‘til the end. 

And of course we’re not in the business of perfection, we’re in the business of experiences that live and enrich. So perhaps it shouldn’t bother me so much that I wasn’t able to add as much nuance and detail as I’d like, not even close. That I dropped one of my favourite moments, and failed to shade things that needed shading, just because there was so much of me used up in keeping the show in the air. Those small audiences were tired too, especially Friday's. They were with me all the way to the end, but they were tired. And that though M.A.I.R.O.U.L.A is fed by this week, the show is awake again and ready to fly, I am a hollow thing, drained, a husk, holding some insights to herself from the experience, some tasks, but no euphoria. I did know that performance doesn’t owe me a high. I knew. But having a show go well and feeling empty... well, there it is.  


  1. Yes to all of this.
    Yes, especially, to having done the show, re-working the show, being part of feeding the show. And yes, too, to it being so much more exhausting to perform to 3 people than to 30, to 30 than to 300, to 300 than to 3000. Something the makers of the big things rarely understand, something ALL fringe/non-trad makers have in our bones.
    And also ... we have a sense, inculcated from what we were taught performance is as children (school plays, seeing or in; confused English teachers telling us 'drama is conflict'; that first time we really did get a true high from performing) that this is what it's about. The flying, the soaring, the amazing feeling of being one with the audience one with the piece, one with the self that is both sharing and watching. And that feeling IS amazing and it's why we often go back and back (as makers and as audience) because it is addictive and we yearn to feel it again.
    BUT ... it's just a high. It's just a feeling. The other thing, the doing one's best, the knowing where the mistakes happened, the reviewing in order to do a better best next time - that's the craft, that's the real work. You're doing the real work.
    Sure, be tired, a solo show that you invest your all in is exhausting. But this knowing, that you can do all the work and create and join and learn even when you don't get the 'high'? That's the pay-off, because it's a GREAT learning. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. Yes, that's exactly it. Thank you.

  3. Exactly! I hadn't experienced this feeling of empty until the tour I am currently on. it's the day in day out monotony of performing the same part for seven months, the unpacking, assembling, taking down and repacking of set, all for audiences of children who not only don't want to be there, but resent you for being there to perform.
    But it is also this which makes you dig deeper for that reserve, that something extra that keeps you pushing forward and developing. Finding those extra reserves that allow you to see that it isn't monotonous, it's life. It's the learning to do shows even when there aren't those prime conditions, when you aren't lucky enough to have the large audience, or the supportive audience, when you know you're going to have to work bloody hard to make the piece work and you might not get that gratification, that high.
    But this is the beauty, this is the chance to learn, to know yourself better as a performer, to allow yourself to be the hollow thing, because then it's life and not just a treat. And it makes those moments when it goes really well and you get that high really special.
    Thanks as always for the blog Aliki, it's important to share this sentiment, this reality!

  4. Beautifully expressed Aliki... you're obviously not that drained if you can turn out a piece of writing like that 24 hours later