Sunday, February 28, 2010

Memo to self: try to keep up. Try to find out what rehearsal day this is...

Whatever the number, it has been remarkable.

Performing extracts of "Jesus" to trans activists from Europe was an amazing experience. For many of them, policies here in Scotland are a model of good practice. For all the difficulties so many of us still face, speaking with them made me aware of our blessings.

I was thinking of this especially this morning as i went to church. I went to St. Johns - an amazing busy church in Edinburgh's west End which runs 4 services every Sunday. There were about 150 at the morning service Suzanne and I had been invited to attend. We stood up during the notices to tell the congregation about LEAVE TO REMAIN which we have just performed this evening (and are performing again tomorrow).

I felt totally welcomed. Without any equivocation or reserve: and i could not help but reflect that not so ,oong ago that would have felt so impossible on so many different fronts.

And the service was so beautiful...

And then we rehearsed, and then in the afternoon something very beautiful and unexpected happened, which I cannot describe here, but left me with a real hope for future happiness.

There were maybe about 25 to see the show, which we performed in the main body of this beautiful church for the very first time. Such a building has a profound effect on performance: you have to speak slowly, to stop your voice disappearing into the echo, and the whole space demands a kind of mindful presence that is very challenging and beautiful to discover.

there's more to it than that, but what that is i am too tired all of a sudden to even begin to describe.

I think we did well.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

... and I forget what day this is.
Saturday, yes, and maybe about a fortnight into the Every One rehearsals that I have largely been absent from since Wednesday.
Thursday... I was rehearsing a different project altogether. "Leave To Remain" that we are performing tomorrow (Sunday) and Monday at St. John's church.
The last time we did it we played to an audience of four in the Lady Chapel.
This time we have tried, who knows with what success, to publicise the event a little bit more.

And Suzanne, who I write and perform with, insisted with wonderful ooptimism we rehearse in the main body of the church.
Which is enormous. And so powerful, if you figure out how to use it.
And immensely enjoyable to explore.

And then in the afternoon i was off to Dundee. Lovely meeting with the lovely man who runs Dundee Rep.; and then in the evening I was performing for the LGBT Soc at Dundee university in honour of LGBT History Month.
i read two wonderful pieces of writing from two very talented writers of the trans writers group _ Amy Redford and Kristi Taylor.
And an extract from "Jesus Queen of Heaven".

The train was late in the wild night; I got home after midnight; I broke my habit of writing this blog daily.

Friday... a massage in the morning. I wept deeply, bitterly.

"Leave to remain" again in the afternoon, and then a quick hour with "Every One" at the Lyceum. They were doing the last scene. That made me cry too. I had to sit to one side to try to avoid distracting the actors.

And today... sweet consideration shown me by the man who runs the local shop. The coffee with my mother-in-law. Then a restless sleep before heading up the road to the Carlton hotel to perform about 30 minutes of "Jesus Queen of Heaven" for a group of European trans-activists.

I felt pleased because i managed to do it off the book. I think it went well.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day ten
It was a death scene today.
It was difficult stay calm and detached and make sure the writing was right because today is the fifth anniversary of Susie's death.
And at the lunch break as i was walking to the sandwich shop I found myself wondering: "How do i write like this? Where does it all come from?". And then later on in the afternoon i was trying to clarify something by describing the process of the deaths I have witnessed... so i suppose that is the answer.
And then tonight, in the midst of some serious exhaustion, i still managed to have a meeting with a solicitor to witness the Solemn Declaration which is part of my application for Gender Recognition.
So new life is still beginning.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 9
I remember when i started I had no idea what i was supposed to be doing in rehearsals.
So i tended to sit around looking nervous. And worried about how bad I perceived my play to be.
Of course the actors all though i was thinking how really bad they were; and it didn't really help that I had no answer to any of the questions they asked me.
I would say things like "It just turned out that way" which might have been true but were, in fact, completely useless.
And I used to feel hopelessly inadequate because I never knew how they were supposed to say the lines.
It took me ages to understand that wasn't my job.
That instead my job is to check the text. Try to notice the difference between a line that is difficult because, for reasons of their own, the actor may be encountering difficulties with exactly how to say it, or what to do with it... and a line that is difficult because it needs changing.
On the whole this play seems to be working far far better than ever i imagined it would. But today we hit a passage that did need a rewrite.
And it was a real pleasure to think about what in the writing was causing the problem and how it could be sorted out.
Which i think I just have.
And I think the play is all the better for it.
I maybe wrong, however.
Only time will tell.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 8.
I always feel very responsible when I see actors learning their lines.
My lines.
I know what it involves: you have to take the words into your body, somehow. And they affect you.
You live with them. They take over your imagination: they take over your dreams.
And I'm responsible. It's down to me, partly, the effect these words have on them.
i don't want the lines I write to do them harm.
Just as i don't want them to harm the audience.
i sometimes think there's no-one but me believes this any more: but words have power. And writers have a moral responsibility for what we write.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 7.
I am keeping up this blog today because although I've not been working on the play I know the actors will have been.
Maybe Mark the director too.

I was at church, which is i sometimes think where all drama came from.

At a beautiful communion service where I felt totally and unquestioningly accepted.

And I understand less and less why there are Christians for whom my presence in church could be problematic.

(As I write this the script of Jesus Queen of Heaven comes out the printer so i can send it to my brother: and I can't forget the outrage that script caused).

Tonight I was touched and provoked by a programme Gerry Adams made about Jesus, and what Jesus means to him. He said one of the things he loves about Jesus is that Jesus never ever condemns.

I wish more people could remember that.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rehearsals day 6...
As I went to buy a paper in the shop this morning, Jimmy, the shopkeeper seemed preoccupied.
On the street opposite there were a group of men hanging about in a way that seemed threatening, somehow.
And further down the street two police people watching them.
I had coffee with my mother-in-law, as I do on a Saturday, and then went home to get ready to go. (Today I had an appointment in Glasgow).
As i walked along the street to the station, there was an explosion of vans full of riot police driving along at top speed.
I remembered today there was to be a demonstration by racists against the presence of Muslims in British life; and a counter demonstration by anti fascist groups.
After going home tonight I discovered a massive police presence just beside my house had prevented a confrontation between the two groups.
The station was full of police, as I left, and as I returned.
A picket outside the station, too: guards protesting against the planned introduction of guard-less trains on the new Edinburgh-Glasgow route.
I left with a sense of foreboding: wondering how long this amazing peacefulness within my section of the country can last.
Ended up in a storytelling centre behind a massive steel gate, in a little industrial estate in a hugely deprived area of Glasgow, which felt quite dangerous to me as i walked through it.
I am due to take part in a project called "Love out of Bounds", whose participants are encouraged to tell their stories of love which transcends taboos.
As last Wednesday in the trans writing group, I came away awed and amazed by the incredible wealth of story any group of people seems to contain.
And which i have tried to encapsulate also in my play: which even now, I imagine, the actots are beginning to learn.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Rehearsals day five:
As it happens, i was away from reharsals today, at least physcally, although they live on somewhere in my mind. The cast are very gifted, I am very fond of them, and so fond of Mark Thomson, the director, too, and it's as if i visit the rehearsal room in my mind, from time to time, just to wish them well.
Today i was in Glasgow, working on another project.
On the way there I finally plucked up the courage to buy Woman magazine, Confessions of a Sex Swap Dad, it said on the cover, next to two pictures of myself... inside, mercifully it was much better. Most of the two page spread was taken up with an interview with Katie, as if told in the first person, and I felt what she had to say was immensely valuable.
And then on the way i was thinking of the work I did yesterday with my dear friends Suzanne Dance, Rachel Amey and Clunie McKenzie, on our bereavement show, LEAVE TO REMAIN, which we are presenting shortly, and our suffragette show, CHRYSTAL AND THE GENERAL, which we are trying to market.
And reading an old script, THE TREE OF LIFE, which has never been performed, and which I now intend to bring to the light of day.
I was due to meet Susan Worsfold, the director and voice coach, and the actor David Walshe at the Tron. We did some body work in a gallery round the corner, and ate and talked and started to rehearse the first scene of a show we are developing together for Oran Mor, which still has no title.
And I met a lovely actor whose show is opening at the Tron tonight, and he said he had heard from someone who had been at the EVERY ONE read through on Monday that it was the most moving and emotional read through they had ever attended...
.. and we were thinking about JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN also...
We ended up working from 12.30 to 6.30 without really noticing the time passing.
So much was created...
I feel there is so much within me I wish to communicate and give.
And feel so blessed with the collaborators I have found to help me do this.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

This is day four, i think.
It is strange to think that of all the plays I have written, and all the relationships I have tried to dramatise, this is the first time I have tried to do anything so banal as create as family.

The results don't look banal at all, however:as the actors begin to take the first steps of becoming their characters and creating the relationships between them, the family comes to life with a vividness i find miraculous and uncanny.

I can obviously do this. And as far as I can tell, we are creating a set of relationships that seems utterly plausible, 'true to life', as they say, and that everyone watching will find it very easy to relate to.

yet I have never done this before. Instead, it is as if I have gone out of my way to make life difficult for myself. To make failure a more likely outcome than success.

How strange we are...


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 3:
I spent the day preparing the script for publication.
Everything overshadowed by the announcement of the death of Rolando Toro: an inspirational and profound thinker and extraordinary, wonderful man.
he is hardly heard of here in the west: but one day he will be known as one of the most original and important thinkers of our time.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rehearsals: Day Two
What is so fascinating about rehearsals is that often it gives me a sense of myself, as if fro the outside...
These words I put on the page, mostly intuitively, mostly because that's how the moment felt at the time when I imagined it, now scrutinised by others.
Made sense of, so that often something I could not really understand with my conscious mind makes sense for the very first time.
These are precious insights...


Monday, February 15, 2010

The first day of rehearsal is usually frightening.
Everyone is so exposed.
I generally feel terrified: but today i feel proud.
The whole Lyceum company were there. Some cried.
Generally I get most ferociously critical at these moments. I look for mistakes and possible disasters.
I found none.
There are changes that will happen, there always are: and as I write the introduction to the published script I feel as incapable of visualising the finished product as ever.
I hate to sound too confident: but I can't stop myself thinking there is something very special in this play.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rehearsals start for "Everyone" tomorrow. The play opens at the Royal Lyceum on March 20th.
I always intend to keep a rehearsal journal.
And fail.
I wonder if I will do better this time...
Meanwhile I want to publish part of the Introduction to the play.
Part Two will follow tomorrow.
It will have to: the deadline is Thursday.

Where the play comes from.

At the end of the first performance of my Anna Karenina, one of my lovely daughters said to me: “Dad! That was about us! You put us up there!”.

She was right, even though I hadn’t intended that, and obviously also the characters she had just seen were originally nominally Tolstoy’s. It’s as if everything that happens to me form part of a kind of storehouse from which, sometimes consciously and sometime not, I draw my characters.

This play is unusual for me because it comes very directly from a recent memory. Which i will describe soon.

It’s only really in the last few weeks, as I have been reflecting of what I need to tell the actors before rehearsals (which, as I write this, begin tomorrow). that another memory has come back into consciousness. One I know has given this play its first impetus and final shape.

When i was twelve years old, my mother came to see me in the boarding school in which I had been put. Such visits were unusual, partly because she lived so very far away, and partly too because there was a sense that it was somehow “good for boys” to be separated from our parents. Especially our mothers.

She took me out one Sunday that November, and then - joy of joys - I saw her again on the Wednesday. We were all to watch a rugby match; and she came along too. She brought along my little dog, Sally. She was a Jack Russell terrier and I loved carrying her inside her jumper so she could stick her neck out at the collar.

We were due to meet again the next day, the Thursday, when she was due to be at my Confirmation Service in the school chapel. This was a rite of passage service where we re-affirmed our baptismal vows and were then allowed to take communion.

Part of the service consisted of each of us going up the Bishop and kneeling before him. He was to lay his hands on our head and say a blessing. She wrote me a letter to say that I wasn’t to worry if I didn’t feel anything when this happened. When she was confirmed she had been eagerly anticipating some profound experience at this moment and was very disappointed when apparently nothing happened.

Whatever I felt at the moment, she wanted to reassure me, it would all be fine.

I was unexpectedly called away by the assistant head teacher, and off I went, with the letter still in my pocket, to be told by my grieving father that my mother had died very suddenly in the night.

It was a brain hemorrhage. It came out of nowhere. It devastated my young life.

Death is like that. I did not know it when I wrote this play, but I understand that this experience was the seed that first generated it.

Consciously, however, this play came from the death of my wife, Susie, in February 2005.
The process began in May or June 2004, when she suffered from something that was diagnosed as a stroke. Out of nowhere, she said she felt some evil creature fixing itself to her shoulder and battening on her. For a while she could not move; then she was taken to hospital.

I was away at the time, and could not help her.

She seemed to be on the road to recovery; but in August that year she started to lose her peripheral vision, become disorientated, and suffered from the most agonising headache. Again she fell unconscious; again she was taken to hospital; but this time they found a brain tumour. They drilled a hole in the back of her head; located the tumour; analyzed it; and discovered it was extremely malignant, and too close to the brain stem to be surgically removed.

They told me she might last for a week or so, but most likely she would die within days.

As it turned out, she lived another six months.

I cannot yet write bout that time.

Afterwards, I became aware of how incompetent our culture is when it comes to the universal fact of death. It was almost impossible for me to talk about my experience; and there was a conspicuous lack of public events, either in the church, or the theatre, or anywhere, that helped me understand what had happened or which could help me continue to live with it.

A dear old friend of mine, the actor Suzanne Dance, had at about the same time suffered the death of her mother, and she was having a similar experince. we decided to try to pool our talents to see what could be done. The result was Leave to Remain, a ritualistic theatre event with words and music played live on the cello, which we have performed about 2 or 3 times a year ever since.

Leave to Remain is designed to be mostly performed in non-theatre spaces; Every One is an attempt to use the wonderful, amazing communication resources offered by a beautiful theatre like Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum.

Both pieces are an attempt to break the taboo surrounding death and ofer a way forward in the face of it.

I became very ill in the year following Susie’s death. The mitral valve in my heart was no longer functioning properly and had to be repaired. My heart was literally broken and bleeding.

In the operation, my heart had to be stopped for the surgeon to repair it.

In that sense, I too have died.

Certainly I had to face the possibility of my own death: both before the operation and after it, when miscommunication resulted in my being seriously overdosed with warfarin and being close to bleeding to death.

Even now, each time I become aware of my own heart beating I also become aware that one day, and perhaps now, it will stop.

Since then my mother-in-law’s health has deteriorated. I ring her up every morning; each time I hear her phone ring I know one morning she may have left us in the night and so not be there to answer it.

I have a dear friend, too, who suffers from incurable kidney disease. there is a possibility she may die suddenly at night. She lives alone, and was tormented by her thought of her dead body lying for days before someone discovered it. So we agreed she would text me every morning just to let us both know she is still alive.

This closeness to death does not depress or frighten me. On the contrary, it seems to heighten my appreciation of life.

This, too, I wish to communicate.


Monday, February 08, 2010

When i was being bullied, the strongest weapons my enemies possessed was their capacity to make me complicit in the process. To make me a willing victim.
That's how the most successful and dangerous bullies work: they make their victims agree to what is happening to them.
The best ones even manage to hide from their victims the fact they are being bullied at all.
I never used to see myself as being oppressed as a transsexual, for instance. If i suffered and felt bad about myself, i reasoned, it was because I was a bad person. And so deserved it.
If my beliefs and opinions were discounted and jeered at, it was because they were worthless.
If my dreams never came to be, it was because they were impossible and absurd.
And so on.
I consented to remaining a victim because there did not seem to be an alternative.
I couldn't see one.
And I rejected or was unable to listen to anyone who seemed to offer me one.
And I learned to numb myself to the suffering, to detach myself from it.
Even to find it preferable in its constant, almost reassuring presence, to the unknown terrors of the world beyong the bully's prison walls.
And then to take the first steps to escape the bullying do feel agonising: because it somehow involves taking on board all the pain you've learnt to shut down from.
Freedom comes at a cost: but nothing else is truly worth paying for.


Monday, February 01, 2010

3 glimpses of manhood:

Someone sent me a link to this picture of Elizabeth Barrett Browning with a young person that on first glance I identified as a girl.
... but which after reading the caption I can now only identify as male.
I wonder what happened to him.
I imagine him going through the rite of passage of being seperated from his mother, having his hair cut, and being forced into the ugly uniform of the public schoolboy.
Toughened up and turned into a man.
And looking at that picture in the context of a generalised misogyny I can understand, somehow, why even up to my childhood the male-dominated culture viewed it as unhealthy for sons to grow up too close to their mothers.

In the gym this morning a man came onto the treadmill next to mine. A male staff member was going round checking on the machines, and they engaged in "banter".
The man said his machine was OK, it was just him that had something wrong (I suspect like me he was in "heart rehabilitation") and the staff member asked him if he'd like to volounteer for euthanasia? Because if so he would be happy to give him a hand. I can think of lots of my friends who would think the same, the man said, and my wife would probably agree with them. It's the only thing they like about her, he added. Wittily.
And the whole exchange, in its sneering denial of friendship and affection, struck me as totally appalling.
But for them it was inconsequential.

Then i went onto the cross machine. Because my feet don't touch the ground and jar my knees, it is the only way I can ever jog. I set myself a target of doing a kilometre in 6 minutes. Which in the context of the three minute mile does not seem like that much of n achievement. But for me, approaching sixty with sore knees and two years after a heart operation, is actually quite something. I did it with three seconds to spare.
And only then became aware that i can completely forgotten to be in feedback with myself and was unpleasantly out of breath.
And that reminded me of how much we were encouraged to lose touch with our own bodies, ignore all the message they sent us, and push on regardless.
Which is so damaging.


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