Last month I performed a scratch of my theatre piece Cold Snaps. The journey from initial writing splurge to performing to around 80 people was an interesting one, which I could trace back to almost a year before, when I watched a piece by Sean Mahoney.
Sean’s Until You Hear That Bell was brought to Peterborough by Jumped Up theatre as part of the Battersea Arts touring network in November 2017. It was a story told through spoken word and boxing rounds and most of all it was grounded and real.
I am a netballer, for almost 30 years I’ve been a netballer. It’s as ingrained in me about as much as anything can be. But I never felt that it could occupy space in my writing. Thinking back, I recognise that I was probably overly concerned with having an audience for it. There had barely ever been any overlap between my friends who were interested in the arts and those who were interested in sports. I’d naively resigned myself to the assumption that the two weren’t going to mingle. Now my attitude is very much that the best writing comes from living. Its relation to others will stem from authenticity and aspects of shared humanity, rather than having to be something that can be related to in every way.
Sean Mahoney’s piece was storytelling – autobiography that included boxing and it gave me permission to write about sport as part of my story. Cold Snaps deals with a spell where I found myself increasingly struggling with disorder and control – this is up to and exceeding the point where I realised I needed help (partly in the shape of cognitive behavioural therapy). It’s contrasted by a sheer love and appreciation of my body – what it is physically capable of doing in sport and elsewhere.
I started thinking and writing about what it is like to experience the world through the body (in relation to sport) when I was faced with the prospect of retiring from it. I revisited ideas about perception and the body (phenomenology), that I studied in my philosophy degree. I did a short talk about it at a city event – ‘Titbit’ and wrote about it too (see previous blog).
Kate Hall of Jumped Up Theatre had established a momentum of bringing spoken word theatre to Peterborough, through the touring network from Battersea Arts Centre. She made space for visiting artists to feed into the city in the form of writing workshops and similar sessions, This included mentoring from the likes of James Fritz and led to the setting up of a writer’s group identified for investment. There was a call out for submissions for a one-person play, for development with Jumped Up Theatre near the start of 2018, which is when I started writing Cold Snaps.
I was chosen to receive dramaturgical support to develop the piece into a scratch performance, to be staged as part of the Platform8 season of theatre. ‘Scratching’ is a practice that encourages an audience to form a significant part of the creative process – feeding back on what resonated, what they would like to see less/more of etc, which then informs the next stages of development.
Putting the words on their feet began three weeks before the performance with Kate Hall (although the hours rehearsing constituted three full days). I was comfortable performing spoken word pieces, but the leap between that and tailoring something for the stage was a steep learning curve. As director, Kate put me at ease, but also made sure I was getting accustomed to lots of things that would have been familiar to seasoned actors (but not to me!) It was an insight and gave me fresh perspective on what I’d written. We concentrated a lot on the choices to make in staging, my role in taking the audience on the journey, the pace and energy behind sections of the performance and more.
Despite plenty of nerves and a wait to perform on the night, the performance went really well, with an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience. We were able to get some really good feedback, which will inform how we take the piece forward. Comments included: ‘A compelling monologue that is gritty, honest and humorous.’, ‘Fantastic. Amazing. The flow of the language from your poetry was truly beautiful and I could listen to that all day.’, ‘beautiful/honest/brave’. It was also great that the observations came from theatre makers and local creatives as well as members of the public.
The most surprising outcome is that I’ve ended up dying to do it all again. I’ve always had an appetite for writing for theatre, but it was incredibly satisfying to perform too, which is something I could never have predicted a short time ago. I’m so glad I was encouraged down this route by Jumped Up Theatre – watch this space!