Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chris Goode and Olwen Fouere and my daughter's bangin' beats and my grandson dancing

So this is me the last week almost the last day of the Edinburgh Festival, when I began to write this yesterday, no the day before, I’d just come out of the Pavel Haas Quertet full of gratitude because they’d introduced me me to this amazing composer, Schulhoff, who I hadn’t heard before, and I was excited because the next day I was going to se the Trojans (not knowing I was going to leave after the first interval, unable to tolerate the thought of another four hours of that production's incompetence and tedium) but most of all because that night I was going to see my new play WHITE TED AND THE RIGHT TO DIE for the very first time (but that is another story) and right up to the first note of music being played I’d been scribbling  down the opening scene for my new version of JEKYLL & HYDE and a couple of days before scribbling the opening scene of the new piece I’m developing with Chris Goode and all the while planning my trip to Brazil, and hoping JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN can go there and planning a trip to Manchester to discuss the revival of my ANNA KARENINA that will be happening in the Royal Exchange, and we’re filming QUEEN JESUS on Monday and so much has been happening it feels as if I began performing the show say 12 years ago all packed into the last four weeks...

And now it’s time to stop.

Stop for a moment to look out over the evening light gently softening its beautiful self over the Water of Leith and reflect, perhaps...

Reflect on Chris Goode and his MEN IN THE CITIES which I saw almost a week ago.

It’s like a baroque altarpiece of the spoken word: astonishing, amazing, virtuosic. 

And like most of them glorifying queer sensibility. Only, unlike nearly all of them, doing so openly.

It was all too much for a couple of American ladies sitting next to me who started whispering most agitatedly to each other very early on, about how disgusting it all was. Men. And their penises. Having sex. And kissing. KISSING....!!

“Please shush” I whispered across to them. “Shut up!” hissed the bolder one back at me with really quite extraordinary venom and eventually left , banging her way diagonally across the stage saying “I can’t stand any more of this” and hurling a couple of “Disgusting”s in Chris’ general direction and although it was actually a real tribute to the power of what he was doing it can’t have been easy for him to take it that way at the time...

And I actually had a certain sneaky regard for her, being (I regret to say) perfectly capable of such behaviour myself and actually preferring it to the silent resigned suffering that audiences often seem to experience and then follow with polite applause.

And I so wanted her companion to join her because she was sitting next to me positively fizzing with resentment and obviously wishing she’d had the courage to join her friend... which she eventually did along with someone else when Chris had notched the emotional temperature up another fifty degrees or so, and I hoped he could see that what he was doing was working...

This extraordinary altarpiece he was constructing, about 14 storeys high by now and absolutely amazing with subclauses; and looking back on it it seems so clear that in a weird way we have been doing the same thing, him and I...

But whereas mine’s is a transwoman’s hymn to happiness, his is a gay man’s angry scream: anger at the state of the world and the part men are playing in its destruction.

I realise I should be hating all this but I’m not because Chris is entering so compassionately and so beautifully into the desperate lives he is describing and so in the process becomes....

...He himself in all his angry grief is just so intensely beautiful &

“Aren’t you just tired” he’s pleading with his dad “Just so tired of all this?”

“Can’t we just drop it? Can’t we just drop all this?”

And I know this feeling, know it all too well, it’s all so strong a part of how I felt about the world when I lived as a man

And I’m crying, crying

And at the end it’s as if he’s just given up on the whole cis-normative heterosexual world and I’m crying some more

And I go to cry in the loo half way up the Traverse stairs, not for long enough, because I find I’m crying in the bar and a couple of people ask me if I’m OK and the artistic director of the Traverse herself buys me a gin and tonic in a spirit of the kindest concern 

And I am OK

Because one good thing about tears is that they almost always are OK, as are those who cry them,

And I know our different altarpieces - his so dark & intricate & gorgeously baroque, and mine pared down, presbyterian even, so full of light - are all both somehow arising from the same thing,

And I go home and my daughters are there, and that always makes me so happy.

Somehow we put on a CD compilation my younger daughter made once, years ago, “KT’s Bangin’ Beats”, and my goodness they are bangin’ and my grandson joins in the dancing and we all laughing, laughing in the wild uncontrollable joy of it all

And then it’s back to the Traverse and Olwen Fouere performing her RIVERRUN and she’s standing there, standing in the auditorium, a slight silver figure, standing like an archetype....

And I go all the way down the Traverse stairs almost to the stage because my heart goes out to her:

We worked together so many years ago with Calixto Bieito on my translation of LIFE IS A DREAM and she was Rosaura. She was an amazing vision of beauty and strength then.

And she is so still...

And we embraced in the sweetest way, and I sat in my seat weeping with gladness.

I can’t really write about what I saw. And what I heard...

The piece is taken from the last chapter of FINNEGAN’S WAKE. From the place where the river speaks. And when James Joyce wrote that book it took somewhere ordinary language could not describe.

And that’s why he wrote how he did, poor love, with all the suffering that cost him.


Because he’d reached a place near the source of all things, of life and of death and of all things and Olwen somehow channels all this with amazing focus and devotion and virtuosity and skill...

...Which all implies an intensity of concentration and will, which is there to be sure, but she also trusts utterly and allows herself to be carried by the flow.

And I’ve never seen such beauty of movement or heard such beauty of voice

And know now with such utter certainty we all belong there

And will go there at the beginning

And have been there at the end

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 [] 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.

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