Tuesday, August 19, 2014

taking stock as week 3 begins

It’s the beginning of week 3 of the Fringe. I really must take stock.

It’s hard to. It’s so strange: I’ve had so many shows on the Fringe before, and so many on the main Festival, too, and I really should be used to it by now.

It’s the openness of the Fringe, way back in 1980, that enabled me to see myself as a playwright.

And it’s that same openness now, 34 years later, that has enabled me to see myself as an actor.

I’ve never done this before - played in a run of performances - and I have to say I love it. 

That’s the first discovery.

I’ve never had such an incredibly positive response either.

Someone in the audience took the trouble to write:

"Jo's words transcend the constraints and boundaries of easily digested and canned spirituality, oppressive belief systems and dogma. Her gospel according to Jesus the Queen of Heaven is deeply moving and allows the audience to connect with the essence of what it means to be human. Love, tolerance and kindness are the core messages of her magical sermon. Go, see this show and open yourself up to the possibility of a queer affirmative Christianity where diversity triumphs above homogeny, bigotry and hatred. It's been a true blessing to be in the presence of someone as inspiring as her and I am grateful for her courage to share her voice..."
which moves me profoundly.
The other reviews have been beautiful too:
"The silence and reverence that the space induces among us is put to brilliant use and Clifford’s words resonate long after the echoes have faded.

Entering Clifford’s “queendom of heaven” is a thought-provoking, moving and uplifting experience. This is a show that that demands to be seen."


"Clifford is practising what she preaches and her Gospel is less theatrical than it is spiritual; a vital reminder of religion’s real heart, rather than the rules and rites that so often obscure it."

And I’m getting a bit bored of quoting reviews, which is perverse of me, but this one made me laugh:

"The flowing white dress, sassy jacket and red converse sneakers are the perfect get up for this JC, who lights a few candles and sips tea from a thermos flask while telling the audience how they were once all miracle baby Jesuses who still have the power to bring light into this dark world. Her earthly groundedness makes the listeners perfectly willing to go along with her, even if it looks like spiritualist twaddle when read from a computer screen.
If anything is the matter with Jo Clifford’s sermon, it’s that it can get a bit preachy at times. But hey. She’s Jesus."
And it’s even more perverse of me to say I’ve never had so few reviews. Or done such bad business at the box office.
But sitting here thinking I’ve another week to do it all again makes me feel very happy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A big illumination from a tiny audience

I’d meant to write yesterday about how I think making theatre is a small but important act of resistance. 

Resistance to the pernicious idea that the most important thing in life is making money: because making theatre just by itself communicates the idea that other things matter more.

Collaboration. Companionship. Creativity and craft.

And also how much it matters to me that making theatre should also resist despair. Especially the despair our culture promotes and glorifies.

And how happy I was when I read what a friend said about my play:

"It's among the bravest shows on the Fringe this year as well as one of the most beautiful. And you'll leave feeling a bit more brave and a bit more beautiful too."

But then, ironically enough, something happened and I became discouraged.

I’m not altogether sure what. In the afternoon I’d performed at this lovely event, Out:Spoken [http://outspokenedinburgh.wordpress.com/] at the Banshee Labyrinth, and people who came were so enthusaistic and supportive.

Perhaps it was because there were so few people.

Or perhaps because the walls and tables of the pub, every available centimetre of space in fact, is plastered with flyers and posters at least five layers deep.

Perhaps it was the weight of all our hopes and expectations.

Or perhaps the Banshee Labyrinth really is, as it claims to be, “the most haunted pub in Edinburgh” and I’d picked up on all the centuries of desperate poverty and squalor that impregnate its walls.

Whatever it was I felt myself being uncharacteristically cynical in the bar afterwards, and with a sense that none of it would make any difference.

And when, later that night, I discovered just before the show that we’d only sold six tickets at the Fringe Box Office, I found myself crying.

Which was silly, really, because I was just about to go on and had to rush back to the loo to blow my nose and wash my eyes in cold water.

Then I took my station half way up the stairs that lead to the church gallery and listened to our lovely front of house manager tell the audience to wait outside because we have a treat for them and while they’re waiting perhaps they’d like to talk to a stranger.

And then we all wait for the Tattoo fireworks.

While I’m waiting, I usually sit with my eyes closed and try to meditate.

But last night I kept them open...

...and watched with absolute wonder the play of coloured light from the fireworks projected through the lattice windows onto the wall above me.

I felt like I’d never seen anything more beautiful.

I don’t imagine many people sit on that staircase during the fireworks for the Tattoo. In fact I may be the very first person to witness that moment of beauty.

And I doubt, once my show is over, anyone will ever see it again.

But the beauty is still there: a free and exquisite gift for anyone who seeks it out or chances to stumble across it.

That gave me such strength and comfort.

The people who were there to see the show were so attentive. As if I was saying something that badly needs to be said. And that somehow they so badly need to hear.

And a reviewer was there with his notebook and lanyard, writing things down from time to time.

And I absolutely did not mind what they were.

This is such a strange business. Because in one way it is so important to reach out to as many people as we can.

But on another level, as I understood yet again last night, however many or few there are really and truly does not matter.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Only one review: but many responses filled with love

Reviews are so difficult.

They do matter, even though we might wish they didn’t.

This year we’ve had very few of them so far. In fact just the one: a very beautiful piece in the Guardian early on from the Blessed Lyn Gardner. (and I've included that below, too)

But what I have had are the most beautiful responses from the audience.

I can’t really put into words how grateful I am for these. I do hope their authors don’t mind if I share some of them with you.

Because this is the time in the Fringe when we would normally be proudly plastering our posters and flyers with stars.

Only we don’t have any stars. Only these responses, filled with love:

“It's hard to describe @jesusthequeen. Not just storytelling, nor politics or religion. It's... a journey of love and humanity.”
When transgender playwright Jo Clifford first presented The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven as part of Glasgay! in 2009, it was condemned by the Archbishop of Glasgow, who declared that it was "hard to imagine a greater affront to the Christian faith". He hadn't seen the show or read the script, and neither had the demonstrators who picketed the Tron where it was being performed, one of whom commented: "You don't have to go near a sewer to know that it stinks." Clifford admits that "there is no denying it's a forceful metaphor, though, speaking as the sewer in question, I think I would want to question its accuracy."
So it's good to see The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven getting a new production away from the hysteria, in the welcoming hallows of Artspace at St Mark's unitarian church. Part of the fringe, it's performed with an understated power by Clifford herself in flickering candlelight. And it's all the more important that The Gospel is being staged now, in the wake of the Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow, where 42 of the 54 countries competing criminalise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and they face prejudice that sometimes is life-threatening. Some of that anti-LGBT sentiment is done in the name of Christianity.
Apparently St John's church, down the road, refused to have the show as part of its JustFest. But somebody from St John's should pop into St Mark's to see what they're missing. It's a humane, mischievous and loving solo show, one in which bread is shared, wine is drunk and the familiar stories of the New Testament are reimagined. In the process, the world is also reimagined – as a far better, kinder and more tolerant place. Which is fitting, because when you think about Jesus and the 12 apostles, statistically it's very likely that at least one of them was LGBT.”
“All I can say is that a church refusing to show this demonstrates that it hasn't a clue what the gospel is about. This is possibly the most important show on the entire Fringe and should be compulsory watching for anyone who wants to know what Christianity is really all about. It is also beautiful, funny, sad and absolutely spot on.”

“The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven was haunting, meditative and beautiful. Everyone who has the chance should see it.”

“Congratulations to the remarkable Jo Clifford on a truly spellbinding and thoroughly enjoyable performance!”

“I am so glad and honoured to have seen it. Truly wonderful.”

“I stopped going to church years ago. A pity really because done well Sunday could be the best day of the week. Imagine that! Wanting to go every week to a wholesome, peace-inducing,community celebration of being alive. But I cannot abide being preached at. A typical sermon only puts questions and objections in my mind and the desire to argue. So what a relief tonight to sit, rapt, engaged and attentive, in a pew, in a church, with no running commentary of dissent running in the background inside my head. .”

“I think your audiences all come away feeling blessed.”

“It is a thing of magnificent beauty. I hold to this: if only one person in the room enjoys your work, feels moved, goes home thinking about the experience, tells their friends about it, your night has been a success. Having seen your play I know for sure I was not alone in loving it last night. But even if I was, it wouldn't matter. Such courage and imagination will sit in human hearts for a long time.”

“I didn't know what to expect from this show - I had a half-baked idea that it was going to be a satirical comedy, taking a swipe at the homophobic elements of some forms of Christianity. I couldn't have been more wrong. It's a touching, life-affirming and ultimately joyous theological exploration of what it means to be a human being. I left looking at the world through new eyes, and I've been recommending it unreservedly to friends and colleagues since. It's a thing of rare beauty."

"I've just seen the show, and it's lovely - thoughtful, beautifully performed, brimming with humanity. Do go if you're in the vicinity."

“The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was very lovely and thoughtful. Well done Jo Clifford and Susan Worsfold.”

“You are a really beautiful performer and your words are so inspiring.”

“My son and I came to see your show on Saturday night 'The Gospel According to Jesus, the Queen of Heaven'.  My son is only 14 so technically he shouldn't have got in.  I came to see your show at his suggestion.  We weren't sure what to expect.  My son is an atheist, unless there is proof, it is just not believable.  Me, on the other hand, I love the poetry of life, enjoy meditation, love empty churches and speak to my angels, Raphael and Michael.  Your performance was proof of my very existence, to my son, I now have an ally!!!  Joking apart I thought it was beautiful.  I think my son enjoyed it, I could hear a snigger from him when you started talking about pubic hair .... he was just about to give the game away!!!  My son is a big thinker, he is sensitive, open and hopefully will be true to himself.  Thank You for sharing your light and reminding me of my own.  With Love ..... x”

“Dear Jo. I so enjoyed your performance last night and wanted to let you know how wonderful your performance made me feel but I couldn't quite find the words. I still can't so I'll just say this. Thank you.”


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