DYCP project update #1
I am currently curled up on a sofa in Germany, with rain pelting the windows and nothing at all tempting me to go outside. I am in the final days of my variety show season here, which marks the end of 24 weeks in a row of touring my Strong Lady show. It began with a long and wonderful tour of outdoor arts festivals in the UK, Europe and America – then, from my last gig of the summer, I flew here to begin this 10 week variety season.
The buckets of sunshine through the summer and autumn made this tour one of my favourites in the 16 years that I have been touring internationally – I am walking out of this epic tour feeling surprisingly strong: my body and my mind both in good shape. Yay!
When I finish here I’m having 2 weeks off – then the next adventure begins! I am a tingly mix of excited and nervous about what is around the corner.
Developing Your Creative Practice
During the summer tour I was THRILLED to get the news that I had been offered Arts Council England’s new funding for Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP). This remarkable award is designed specifically for independent artists – like me – to identify how they want to grow and help them to do it.
I have never applied for funding before and even the process of writing the application was really helpful in building some clarity and momentum. It supported me in defining: who and where I am now as an artist… what I want to do next and why it’s time to reach further… and the ways I need to grow to be able to pull it off…
So, you ask… what is next for this Strong Lady?
I am going to work with a series of different collaborators, to develop more skills in creating work from a starting point of story (rather than from a list of tricks) and to expand my physical vocabulary for storytelling. This will enable me to create new outdoor festival shows with more complex narratives and also begin creating work for touring theatres as well.
I am so grateful for the support of the Arts Council England in making it possible and for the support of Metal Southend and the Drill Hall in Great Yarmouth for giving me time and space in residencies. I haven’t locked it all down yet, but collaborators so far include: Joyce Henderson (Complicite), Charlotte Mooney (Ockham’s Razor) and Jess Love for exploring devising methods. Object animation skill development with Mervyn Millar (Significant Object), also exploring possibilities in dance and movement with Anthony Missen (Company Chameleon).
As an artist who has always explored ideas of strength, I am working with stories about power and strength: strength beyond lifting heavy things & power that doesn’t need to have power over someone else. I want to explore my own journey as a Strong Lady, alongside stories gathered from a wide range of extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people: The single mum who built her dream life, the man who supported his whole family when they fled as refugees, the old lady who can live alone because she can still make it to the top of the stairs, the man who taught himself to fly from youtube, the woman who brought a village together one tea party at a time… (all actual stories of people I met this summer)
This DYCP project doesn’t have any set outcome. I will finish my residencies with a showing of some of what has been explored, but I hope that this research will form the foundations for my next show: POWER. I plan to create POWER for touring in 2020 as both an indoor theatre show and a new outdoor arts festival piece.
Phase 1: Collecting Stories
Throughout the 2018 summer tour I was collecting interviews with people all around the UK, and especially in my home base of Essex.
There was a remarkable common thread – everyone who I asked to tell me about an experience they had of feeling strong or powerful would begin by saying something along the lines of “I wouldn’t have a story like that”. It only took a little probing and a handful of ‘umms’ and ‘ahs’ before a rich story would unfold. This connection with people was inspiring – seeing the change in people as they both reframed their experience as a moment of strength and felt the impact of being listened to.
This reaction highlighted my own resistance to making autobiographical work and the feeling that telling my own story was somehow either indulgent or frivolous. A strange perspective when most of my favourite theatrical experiences are of very personal stories being told. My performance style is very honest, open and connected to the audience – I am excited to see how this can evolve to sharing more personal stories.
The interviews and my own stories will give us something to explore on the floor with different collaborators, to practice putting techniques into action. Already, there are interesting connections building between these stories and I hope to play with using the recordings of the voices from the interviews as part of the soundtrack for physical choreography.
I loved the interviewing experience, so plan to keep developing my interview technique and continue gathering more stories. As I have researched different ways of structuring stories, it has made me see how I could craft my questions differently to draw out richer details of the journey people are recounting. Also, the process of listening back to the interviews to transcribe them has helped me to see some glitches in my technique that will be easily remedied.
Phase 2: Preparing for the residencies
The first of three residencies will be a two week stretch at Metal Southend, in early December. This residency will focus mostly on techniques for devising and creating work, exploring stories and the evolution of an interesting idea to an engaging performance.
While in Germany for this variety season I have been preparing for the upcoming residencies. Around my fairly hefty show schedule, I have been: researching story structure, transcribing the interviews I collected, and contemplating parts of my own story that I’m interested in telling. I have been looking at connections/juxtapositions between the stories I have on the table and trying to find ways of documenting and keeping note of all the ideas that pop up as the stories marinate. I have also been playing with making soundtracks out of vocal clips from the interviews.
I’ve had the luxury of access to the theatre space before shows for training skills I might want to include and to explore some of the ideas on the floor.
I had my first session with a collaborator while I have been here, in the form of almost 4 hours on Skype with Charlotte Mooney (Ockham’s Razor). We worked on techniques for investigating an idea on paper and then how to move the exploration off paper and onto the floor. Following through on this conversation resulted in me and a pile of books in front of a video camera for an hour, without ever running out of ideas to play with and images to create. As someone who is very easily trapped on paper and in cerebral concepts with no way to open the door to making it a physical thing that is visually entertaining – this was a breakthrough. I am very excited to work with her in person for a couple of days soon.
During these last days in Germany, I am busy wrapping up my thoughts so far to be ready to begin my first residency in the UK. I am trying to collate ideas, finalise some bits of sound editing I’ve dabbled in, film bits of material I have dreamed up and physical vocabulary I have been working on.
I am trying not to get carried away by my tendency to being prepared, organised and overworked… trying to cultivate a bit of balance with curiosity, openness and not knowing yet.
Phase 3: The first residency!
I am not sure who will read this… but for the sake of my own reflection, if nothing else, I will report back later in the year with news about how things unfold in the next step of this big adventure.
Please pop yourself over to instagram and follow me there (strongladyproductions) to see glimpses of stuff as it happens!
Until then, be lovely to yourself and the people who cross your path and hopefully see you somewhere soon.