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.

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.”


Monday, August 11, 2014

A real drama in a theatrical court: taking part in 'Horizontal Collaboration'

So there we were. The four of us. All lined up in the very sinister corridor in the bowels of the Traverse. 

Waiting to go on in David Leddy’s Horizontal Collaboration, with Olwen Fouere’s beautiful voice booming the lines of Finnegan’s Wake from eerily above us. 

We were all lined up in the order we were supposed to go onto the stage, feeling not much like the UN lawyers we were supposed to be portraying but a bit more as if we were about to be shot.

We enjoyed a brief fantasy of escaping down the corridor. In our order, of course.

The conceit of the show was that we were playing lawyers reading out transcripts in the War Crimes court in The Hague; transcripts that were prepared by someone else and that our characters had not had the opportunity to read before.

And neither had we.

“This is a common occurrence”, apparently, and our characters “feel calm about it”.

Calmness felt about a million miles away. I was wondering why on earth I was there. To get the experience had been the idea, and get the exposure.

I’ve done very little acting; there are not that many parts for trans women in their sixties. 

It’s important to grab any experience I can. So I can learn; and raise my profile as an actor and performer. So that people know that’s what I am, as well as a writer.

And by ‘people’ I also mean me.

We’d been very well looked after, and so besides the normal panic I did really have a calm sense that I would get through it.

We were to sit in a line at desks each lit by two lamps, one harsh, and one a soft glow, read the script off laptops, turn off our lamps one by one when the script instructed us, and finally close our laptops.

And mine performed impeccably in our very brief rehearsal.

But when I took my place in front of the audience my laptop now had a message plastered across it telling me updates were available and asking me if I wanted them installed?

Not a helpful bit of information. Especially as it wouldn't let me say no.

So my computer was unusable and I had to lean over to read my neighbour’s - who in my first line I was supposed to be interrupting!

Somebody then gave me the printed script. Which was paginated differently from the document on the computer; and then about half way through I suddenly found myself apparently confronted with a script that was completely different from everyone else’s.

I think someone must have skipped a page. ..

And in the meantime the lights had been going off one by one.

I’m sure it was a lovely effect, but it was making my script harder and harder to read.

And then the computer screens started closing...

I turned my soft glow back on and managed by its light and the light from my otherwise completely useless computer screen.

And then towards the end it started to dawn on me that I was the last to speak. After which I was supposed to shut my computer to leave the stage in darkness.

And I knew I couldn't do that and turn off my soft glow at the same time. So I shut the computer first and then the soft glow last.

Reading this highly complex and tense and emotional material in an emotionless voice (as I was asked to) at the same time.

So I certainly got some experience.

David Leddy is a brilliant writer and I have the vague impression it was a beautifully crafted story.

I’d been looking forward to reading it. The script dealt with atrocities, which as artists we must somehow confront, and I’d been looking forward to seeing how he dealt with them.

But I was so preocupied with getting from one line to the next I have emerged with no clear overall sense of the story at all.

Which I regret...

I've no idea how I came across. I'd intended to try not to sound too masculine. 

I’m exploring ways of softening my voice on stage so it sounds more feminine. But on stage, as in life, the minute I have to convey authority it is impossible to get away from the masculine.

Deeply embedded stereotypes seem to make it impossible to do anything else.

It fascinates me. There is a whole range of power and gender performing possibilities possessed by a trans actor that one day I would so love to explore.

In a part like this one where the gender status of the character is not the primary focus. But an amazing rich range of possibilities there to be explored....

I’m getting ahead of myself. By about ten years.

As usual...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The week ends with a little blessing....

A dear friend came up to me after the show last night looking quite worried. “You don’t really think you’re Jesus?” she asked. I assured her I didn’t. “It’s just you’re so convincing...”

But there was a moment last night when.. I can’t say I felt like Jesus, because none of us will ever know what that is, but at least I felt as if I was channelling something. 

A real blessing.

There’s a speech about sexual pleasure, and as I was saying it I saw the two gay couples in the front row cuddling each other and smiling. There was a couple of men and a couple of women and it had been so lovely up to then to see them holding hands and looking so relaxed and easy about it that when i saw them exchanging glancs and silent memories of their intimacy I also felt myself very strongly to be blessing them.

And afterwards I thought how incredibly sad it is that Christianity has allowed itself to be so obsessively sidetracked into so destructive a concern about sex and gender.

That has nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus actually said.

And which has meant that almost all the churches have made themselves totally incapable of doing the one thing that you would imagine they would be best qualified to do. 

The one thing so desperately needed in the world: the offering of a vibrant and meaningful spiritual alternative to the deadly materialism that is destroying us all.

Someone took advantage of the Guardian comments section to threaten me with hell:

"Luke 23:34 "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." ***** Has everyone forgotten that they will one day die and their eternal destiny will be revealed?... If you do not pray, if you do not reverence and show continuous gratitude to the One who gave you existence, if you judge yourself only on your own loose ideas of goodness and not the harder truth that God asks of you, then you are fooling yourself. I truly hate to say this, but hell, too, is real. "God reveals His covenant to those who fear Him."

And how sad it is for this person, who identifies as Catholic, that the God they worship is so angry and judgemental and abusive. 

And the exact opposite of the God of the Gospels.

And someone else said: If Christianity was like this, I’d even go to church.

Which was sweet of them.

And the tablecloth behaved impeccably....

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Something unusual: a happy night in the serious theatre

I have a theory that we make a mistake if we make an individual and their suffering the stuff of theatre.

One reason why I don’t go much is because I no longer want to see and feel another individual’s unhappiness.

I want theatre to be more about the collective: and for good feelings to be at the heart of it. 

Love. Hope. Empowerment. Freedom...

And the wonderful thing about performing JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN as well as writing it is that it gives me the chance to put these ideas into practice.

Not just theoretically in a detached kind of way that makes someone else do all the practical work. But in the nitty gritty too.

In the way I perform the words; in my nightly struggles with the matches and the tablecloth; and in what all this does to the audience.

And last night all I can say is that it made everybody very happy. 

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