When I was 25 I went to Morecambe. Who gives a shit?

My second blog. This must be how Adele felt when she released 21. When I wrote my first I did wonder if it was something I should try and do every week, but concluded I should just do it as often as I am inspired to actually write about something so the process is a little more organic.
I have just had one of the most inspiring weekends I think I’ve ever had, so thought it probably warranted a write up.
A few months ago I was pointed in the direction of a workshop advertised on the Live Art Development Agency’s website as part of DIY 9. The title grabbed me almost as much as seeing that Louise Mari and Nigel Barrett (Shunt) were running the workshop, as it felt like something I had been asking myself since I started making performance: ‘When I was a little girl/ when I was a little boy…’ Who actually gives a shit?
As someone who collaborates with different artists and companies, as well as making solo shows, I regularly find this question rattling around my brain when considering autobiography in my work. Because of this I have a tendency to shy away from wholly autobiographical performances, resulting in self referential, experimental solo pieces that when performed in a cave in Edinburgh in 2010 get criticised by more than one reviewer for lacking substance.
I’ve recently been thinking about making a new show, possibly drawing from my experience of working in a care home, but what has been holding me back is not quite knowing exactly what it is about this experience that I wish to share, and the concern that it will be as memorable to my audience as my name is to a 93 year old lady with dementia. Why do they need to know?
Reading the project summary about this workshop made me realise how much I had thought about this subject without ever putting it as bluntly as ‘Who gives a shit?’ because really, who does? Who should? Is it my responsibility as a solo artist to make people give a shit? How? or is it more about making them want to give a shit? How?! Is it actually less about what follows ‘when I was a little girl’ and more about how it is told and what my audience are left with? Do they need to really warm to me before they give a shit? To feel like they know me, to care about me and my life, to relate to me. Do you need to relate to me? Do you need to feel like we are similar people? Do I need to make you laugh? or cry? or both? or neither?
I arrived in Morecambe around midday on Friday, a little later than most of the other artists. I had come straight from WEYA festival in Nottingham where I had been developing The Beginning with Michael and Ollie ready for it’s world premier on the Thursday. We had worked hard, I was tired, and my train was so early I was eating an M&S lunch at 10am. I was expecting to finally arrive at the B&B in the middle of everyone’s individual presentations about autobiographical performance. I imagined having to sneak in flustered from my walk from the station following the map app on my phone, give an awkward wave that was half introductory half apologetic for interrupting, and de-coating quietly before sitting back in a chair and trying to shift gear from ‘The Beginning in Nottingham’ to ‘autobiography in Morecambe’.
I couldn’t have been further off the mark. I approached the dropped pin on my phone screen and walked through the door held open by a member of staff at the b&b. ‘They’re all in there!’ she said as she pointed to the kitchen, where I was greeted with such a warm welcome that there was suddenly no need for me to have to manually switch gear at all. I’d arrived during a break and was told all I’d missed was introductions. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. I knew then that this was going to be a good weekend, I could just feel it in the friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
After teas coffees and biscuits, we headed downstairs to the basement we were going to collectively occupy for the following few days, and discussed autobiographical performance until the cows came home. And by cows, I mean Andrew. and by ‘home’ I mean ‘to cook our dinner’. We talked over a delicious meal that catered for everyones dietary requirements, everyone squeezed in around the same table, part of the same conversation. We had so much to talk about and we had the time to talk about it. A whole weekend. No one was talking over each other. There was so much respect for everyone, so much interest in what everyone had to say and a supportive environment to say it in.
I was one of the last to present my prewritten views on the subject. Rather than continue to bang on too much about how wonderful my weekend was and how amazing all these new people I know are (who gives a shit? Maybe you had to be there..) I thought I’d share with you what I shared with the group, around that table, after our first meal together:

This is autobiographical.
Two years ago I made a solo show..
It wasn’t autobiographical.
It was one of those shows that talked about itself as a show and kept saying the word show but the show never really happened.
Well, it did. But some people who wrote about it might disagree.
While I was making the show, I didn’t feel the need to include much about myself in it because I didn’t think anyone would give a shit.
I’ve changed my mind about that since.
I think people want to give a shit. But they need to be met in the middle with something to give a shit about.
In my show I talked about the show.
And now I’m talking about talking about the show in the show.
I can’t seem to help myself.
Which is why I am here in front of you, talking about talking about talking here in front of you while you watch me, or just listen to me, or pretend to listen to me while you just think about how happy you are to have finally eaten.
I always want my audience to be part of what I do on a stage or in a space. I like to acknowledge the situation rather than ignore it, like it’s a big elephant, that is squashed in between two audience members taking up more than one seat with everyone around her pretending she’s not there. (I decided the elephant is a she. I thought you’d care more if the elephant had a gender)
Perhaps, as with most things, there needs to be a balance. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Too much autobiography can be self indulgent.
I make performance for an audience, not for myself.
I have no interest in making work that is considered entirely self indulgent.
If you are sitting in my audience, I really appreciate what you are giving me. You’re giving me time. An hour of your life and your attention. And hopefully a smile, or a laugh, or your name in the bar after or a hug or a tweet or a review and I appreciate all of these things.
In return I want to give you a reason to smile, or laugh or find me after. I want to make sure that hour of your life has been well spent. Especially if you have paid for a ticket. 
I feel it is my responsibility to find a way to make whatever follows ‘when I was a little girl’ accessible enough to my audience because I want to. I want you to give a shit.
There was a section in my solo show that tried to acknowledge the need for a pinch of autobiography in a good performance.
I talked about five rules that I was trying to follow and in between told a fictional story about me back packing through the desert. This was ‘the autobiographical bit’ that eventually brought me back to the theatre I was in when I was telling the story.
When I performed the show this year, two years after making it, I replaced the fictional story with a real one. I spoke about leaving my job at the old people’s home I have been working in for the last two years to go from organising their activities to organising my own.
It was true and it was honest.
I felt so much more connected to the show with the injection of some truth and honesty.
How can I expect my audience to connect to it if I don’t even connect to it myself?
So now I’m thinking about my next show, and think truth and honesty might be a good place to start. Which is why this weekend will be so interesting, to hear opinions and share views that can only make my next process richer and more considered.

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring ideas considering everything we had talked about on Friday. In pairs we made little site-specific performances for the rest of the group around the B&B, on the beach, and in the sea. We then started working towards our performances for the karaoke pub on Sunday at 3pm. We worked in small groups or individually, met up, shared, watched, performed, fed back, laughed, bonded, drank, stayed up late, got up early, sang karaoke, performed in the pub, got heckled by locals, felt vulnerable, felt safe, felt protective, felt close, ate together for the last time, waved off those who had to leave, watched the sun set on the beach, risked sinking in wet sand, climbed into a boat, drank wine out the bottle, listened to Sail Away by David Grey, listened to Enya, laughed, drank £1.50 Sambuca shots, danced, karaoke-ed, got chips, broke in, got bags and headed back. With my brand new zimmer frame.




(Thank you for reading my blog. Just quickly want to credit Neil Mackenzie who I made the solo show with, and Michael Pinchbeck who invited me to make The Beginning with him, which actually addresses a lot of the things discussed this weekend, particularly a contract with an audience. Also thank you to Alice Booth who was the one who pointed me in the direction of this workshop after seeing my solo show earlier this year)



One Response to “When I was 25 I went to Morecambe. Who gives a shit?

  • Hello Nicki Hobday,

    Digging your blog, and glad to see that the difficult second post has worked out so well. It’s quite hard to see what you are writing in the comments box actually as the type is so small, but I will persevere.

    I’m glad to hear that you had such a good weekend. It would have been good to get out and see some of it. I have been involving myself in some of these questions of late and am inspired to write something here. I hope that is OK…

    What I wonder about (and it would be good to know if some of this was addressed in Morecambe) is where what we might call an autobiographical performance practice might come from now. Like actually now, in September 2012.

    I wonder what its motivation might be. I think how I see that motivation as an audience (and I know that it’s not an exact science) is what might lead me to decide whether it is self indulgent or not, and whether or not it is really autobiographical at all. I mean I hope that it could be about me too, even though I have never worked in an old people’s home.

    As I understand it, the first versions of this form as we know it today came out of a lot of feminist practices in the 70s. It was a big time for autobiographical performance, a time where we might have been talking about the personal as political and all of that, and giving voice to elements of our culture that for various reasons did not have it (I am aware that this is a simplification).
    I’m all for that, but in the supposedly more complex 21st century, it doesn’t feel that this argument holds much weight anymore. The social structures that we live in have, I think, the capacity to make us all feel like we are ‘outsiders’ whether we actually are or not, or if we want to or not. I am aware that I am simplifying here too… I don’t have a lot of time.

    Anyway, of course today it feels too easy to tell a story to someone about something that has happened to you and believe or presume that it might have some wider political resonance than simply what it is, which is why you might have been asking whether people should really give a shit…

    I’m going to have to copy and paste this into a word document as my eyes are hurting.

    That’s better.

    I’ve lost my train of thought a bit now.

    Anyway, I think what I want to say is that there is something in here that makes me think about hope… When I go to the theatre, whether it’s to see something ‘autobiographical’ or ‘biographical’, real or not (what do these things mean anymore?), I at least hope that I might be introduced or invited into something for which I could give a shit, however I might be introduced to or invited into it.

    As an audience I want to give a shit. And as you talk about (and I am glad that you do) I want someone to give a shit about me. This doesn’t necessarily mean being nice to me, but that’s another, longer discussion.

    I think that some of the best performance – whether it is autobiographical or not – should be something that tells us about where we are now, a kind of autobiography of us now, here in the room and in the world. This is something that I am looking for all the time, and not always succeeding with, but I keep trying…

    I like what you say about truth and honesty. But I am also interested in how what might seem truthful and honest to the performer might be the opposite for the audience, and vice versa. Sometimes the least truthful stuff said can take on the quality (for those watching and listening) as the most truthful stuff in the show.

    You ask: do you need to relate to me? Do you need to feel like we are similar people?
    I don’t know that I do, but I hope that we might. I know that we are different too, but I hope that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give a shit about each other.

    Got to go now. Blah blah blah. Unformed thoughts on yer blog.

    Love and best,

    a
    x

Leave a Reply to Andy Smith Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *