Saturday, June 23, 2012

In memory of Robert Paterson, actor.

I was so shocked by Robert's death I could think of nothing in response but a couple of cliches. He died suddenly in his home during a run of "The Tempest". Seeing the show last night brought him back so vividly to my mind. We first worked together on the very first professional job I did. I'd adapted "Romeo and Juliet" for TAG, way back in 1984, to tour round Glasgow secondary schools. Later he told me that was his first professional job too. He played the Friar with a lovely impish gravitas, Tybalt and Montague with brooding menace, and the servant Peter with a beautifully comic panic. Fretting over his marchpane. His work was so intelligently and instinctively right; and he was kind to me in my crippling shyness. Last year he was absolutely perfect as Oblonsky in my "Anna Karenina". So cruelly appalling. So lovable. So human. I loved his work in that part. I hope I managed to tell him so. I remember us exchanging experiences of heart failure: of the ferocious storm in the heart that can so easily break it. He knew this. He had felt it more than once. He made a list of music for his funeral: and he carried on. I still can't find the words. The best tribute came from his fellow actors: who overcame deep weariness and grief to put on a beautiful, intelligent and deeply moving show. They so skillfully created Prospero's island: "a poor isle where all of us found ourselves When no man was his own." Robert's lines. It saddens me I will never hear him speak them. It's true actors' achievements are transitory, like our lives, and maybe even are no more than "such stuff As dreams are made on". But his voice, in all it's miraculous intelligence, beauty and skill, still lives on in my inner mind.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Learning to Celebrate

I’ve begun to understand that the work I create for myself, either by myself or with others, always seems to have a ritual in it.
“God’s New Frock”, “Leave To remain”, “Jesus Queen of Heaven”, “Sex, Chips and the Holy Ghost”: it’s true of all of them.
This has happened without me thinking about it. 
But when I do think about it: in all the world’s cultures that allow the existence of ‘other gendered’ people like myself, we so often have a role as celebrants.
I wanted to investigate this inside myself: and so have just returned from an amazing course run by Sue Gill and Gilly Adams of
I’m only just back, and in that strange liminal state after an intense experience: looking around my life, once so familiar, and still the same, mostly. But also now so changed in ways I have hardly begun to understand.
I’ve done so many new things.
I’ve found myself singing happily and unselfconsciously in a group.
I’ve made potato prints.
I’ve played the beer bottle to accompany an accordion in a line dance on the beach.
I’ve been the celebrant at a ceremony in which a beautiful and gifted young man stood to affirm his sexuality.
I’ve made a public vow to be true to my calling as a theatre artist and performer. 
Life goes on, of course, in the same complicated and stressful and wonderful way: but I know all this has changed me.
Too early to say how.
Early on in the process we were all invited to write a letter to ourselves about what we wanted to take away from the process.
When I got back there it was, that letter. Waiting for me.
It felt like a message from another world. It read:
“Dear Jo,You have gifts within you that you do not understand or appreciate or even are aware of.

I hope when you read this you understand & are aware of & appreciate your dear self better.

You have suffered greatly in your life because of these gifts and so the temptation always is to renounce them or hide them away.

You cannot change the world, culture, society that has brought this about. 

But you can change yourself, and you can learn to celebrate yourself.”
It wasn’t just a letter. It was also a card, and I could have drawn something on it. But I kept writing.
On the next page I remembered what I had said in the opening ceremony, which invited us to say what we bring to the gathering. I said:
“I bring mystery.

I bring a life lived on the margins of things

A life somehow also at the centre.

A bridge between masculine & feminine.

A bridge between earth & heaven”.

And then on the very last page I quoted from “Jesus Queen of Heaven”:

We all have a light, & sometimes it is the very thing we have been taught to be most ashamed of.

&if you have a light, do you hide it in a closet?

No. You bring it out into the open, where everyone can see it.

And be glad it exists to lighten the world.”

I made my vow on the last morning.
There is so much to say about the ceremony and the process of creating it. 
But this is not the time to say more than this:
There were four of us involved, and we created it the day before with a lovely wild abandon out of whatever we had to hand: our dear selves, a judge’s wig, and four paper bags.
(There was also a dead fox, but he failed the audition)
My promise went:
“I vow to be true to my calling as a theatre maker and performer.

I promise to do my job the very best I can.

It is to hold the mirror up to nature and show the world in all its horror and beauty.

To do so with compassion and love”.

And there it is. That’s my promise.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Keeping on

Strange days.

Wednesday in the geriatric ward. Jean says “You’ve got to get me out of here”. The woman next door is weeping silently. The woman opposite is calling out, over and over again, calling out to all her family: “john. Where are you? Come here. Come here! Betty. Where are you?..” And Alan. And Phil. And Joan. and “Mum. Where are you? Mum? Where are you? Help me. Help me...!”

And Jean’s distressed because someone’s taken her last skirt and they’ve put her in trousers. And she so hates trousers.

All the week’s phone calls have finally conjured up a social worker, who wants to do her best, and a conversation with the consultant, who wants to do her best, and all the endlessly patient and hard-working staff, they all want to do their best.

“Where are my red shoes?” asks Jean. And “Why aren’t I at home?”

And she shoots me a look of hatred.

Her daughter did the same, my life’s love, when she had to go to the hospice because we couldn’t look after her any more.

And I couldn’t bear it.

That morning I’d been at “One Day In Spring” David Greig’s beautiful, intelligent. angry and heart warming compilation of Middle Eastern writers, and had loved it, loved both the actors. Sara Shaawari, the very talented young woman, was performing there because I’d introduced her to Oran Mor, and I was trying to hang on, hang on to this tiny positive act, and next morning I was in Glasgow.

In a rehearsal room of the Citizens theatre, we’ve been asked to make a four minute trailer out of “Sex Chips and the Holy Ghost” to see if it can be made for television, and here I am, deeply deeply involved even though ten? fifteen? years ago i gave up trying to write for TV, but I want to do this, partly I understand because I want to do what I can about the way transgender people are portrayed on TV, but the responsibility of all that is just so enormous.

In spite of that in the evening I find myself writing the script, a bit incredulous, as i sit in a cafe before going back to the Citz to see the double bill of Beckett plays.

This is surprising also because way ago, early eighties perhaps, I saw a season of late Beckett’s in the Edinburgh Festival and loathed them.

Despised them with all the fierce arrogance of my younger heart.

“An aesthetic dead end” I knew for a certainty. Felt sure I could do better.

This time I’m converted. Beautiful production. And I’m older.

Maybe my bus pass also gives me access to this world, coming closer to death, and especially with “Footfalls” I am so with the beautiful gifted Kath Howden, pacing back and forth, back and forth, I have to put a hand over my mouth to stop myself crying out in my grief and my terror.

In the tube ride back my travelling companion reminds me of Creative Scotland, and the huge and dangerous gulf between them and the artists they are supposed to be serving, and in the flat where I am staying I am linked to David Greig’s very wise response to it, but I haven’t time, I haven’t the room in my brain.

There is so much work to be done.

I type out the bit of dialogue, so different when it’s for screen, and next day we start to try it.

Me and David Walshe and Susan Worsfold, my lovely collaborators, and then in the afternoon Stuart Platt appears with his camera.

Something miraculous has happened. the dialogue works. Me and David are performing it, and when we look at the recording I don’t just look at myself and think “how ugly”.

I also like some of the things I am doing. It becomes apparent we could be on to something.

There’s another miracle: some of April’s form filling and phonecalls has made a place for Jean materialise in a good care home. In somewhere she actually wants to go to.

Next morning, today as it happens, a whole group of playwrights have signed a rather wonderful open letter in the Scotsman about Creative Scotlan, and for a moment i find myself in acute paranoia at not having been asked to join them.

Occupational hazard of being transgendered, I tell myself. All those years of feeling not male, not female, and therefore not human.

But it calls for coffee. It’s an emergency. I go across the Canongate to Starbucks where they sell coffee beans in bag, and the man behind the counter calls me “Sir”.

I hate these moments. the temptation is to be overcome by embarrassment and say nothing. But that makes me an accomplice in the silencing of my own being.

I say: “Sir’s not right” as politely and as firmly as I can. The man smiles and says he’s sorry.

Later David Greig has set up a Twitter hashtag: #stworldclass, which is clever of him, and there’s an amazing and moving flood of posts of so much Scottish theatre has achieved.

It makes me very proud, and a bit intimidated, and I wonder if I should post some of mine...

And then remember that’s another occupational hazard of being transgendered. To continually do yourself down.

So I resist.

I’m glad I do: I am, and I think rightly, proud of what I’ve achieved.

I wrote once “I see writing theatre as an act of resitance”.

And still do. And still go on.

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