Monday, August 17, 2015

Trying to meditate. Trying to perform...

I always used to imagine meditation was such a peaceful thing.

I would see pictures of Buddhist monks and imagine the joy of utter tranquillity.

But the actual practice, I have discovered, is not like that. Not like that at all.

And the minute you think “I feel peaceful” you’ve lost it.

And you have to start again. Again and again.

And the process of returning to your centre, or your mantra, or your breathing, or your candle flame, or whatever, is an endless endless process and we seem to uncover so much shit on the way.

All the mind’s pathetic preoccupations. The worries, the anxieties, the petty jealousies, are all dragged up to view, somehow, alongside the bigger troubles. The griefs and the rages.

And how hard to detach, hard to let go without frustration or judgement.

It’s the same for me performing, somehow.

Now week 2 of the Fringe is over I’ve stopped being afraid of performing, mostly.

But it’s as if I’d hardly begun to be able to keep focus on the present moment, and then let it go again, because time is always passing, and not judge, and not be concerned about the audience because the effort, the work, the craft, is the continually renewed attempt to do it all as best I can.

But once the show is over, it’s as if a defensive layer has been peeled away...

And I find myself being attacked by no end of resentments, jealousies, and uncertainties.

So much from the past...

So I read an article about Robert Lepage and I find myself furious, utterly furious with him and don’t really understand why.

Until I reflect that in the early nineties, when he was making his name my career had taken such a disastrous turn.

Dear M. Lepage. It wasn’t his fault he was being feted and applauded and allowed to work on a large scale when I couldn’t even get a single original play performed, never mind accomplish all the large scale work I was dreaming of.

And now, without condemning myself, I do everything I can to wish him well.

To wish all of us well, performing in this amazing Festival.

Performing against prudence, against reason, against economics, and mostly against good sense.

Bless us all. And the work goes on....

Monday, August 10, 2015

Overcoming opening day nerves

It’s the opening day of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN and I’m sitting in the Summerhall cafe waiting for the theatre to be opened so I can get ready.

Am I nervous?

Strangely I don’t feel I am. Not too much.

But my body is. I feel huge tension across my shoulders and sometimes the pronounced beating of my heart.

Director Susan gives wise advice: 

“If you feel like it’s all coming from fear then turn to love...”
“If you feel like you’re closing down and it’s all crap don’t make huge efforts to try to make it better. Don’t push. Stay simple....”

And although I know I will almost certainly never be able to follow it, it still gives comfort, somehow.

And then the theatre’s open and we’re all in the rush to get everything set up.

I stare blankly at my suitcase for a while. Trying to remember what I’m supposed to put in it. Trying to remember where I put the list...

But then it’s done and I’m waiting in the dressing room alone, happy to be thefre, but with a dry mouth and my water packed in the case and there’s no time to retrieve it and then I’m walking down the corridor...

And I’m there. And there’s the audience. 

When I’m writing I always try to ignore them. At least in the sense of trying not to concern myself with whether they like it or not.

It’s important they do like it, in one way. But at the same time, it’s a distraction to think about it. Besides, if I find myself thinking “they’re going to like this bit” they invariably don’t.

Because such thoughts take me away from the characters and the story and put me somewhere I do not need to be.

The part of my imagination that is with the audience (and part of it always is) is just concerned with clarity.

Otherwise, it’s best to act as if they aren’t there.

Not so hard at my writing desk. Not so easy on stage.

Especially as it’s essential the light is on them as well as on me. And so I can see them falling asleep and looking cross and picking their noses.

Something I used to do when I was lecturing and which still seems to help sometimes is to look at the ones who look interested and ignore the ones who don’t.

But that’s not the whole answer. The real answer is to let them alone to think what they need to think and feel what they have to feel.

While I do what I have to do. As clearly and as simply and as courageously as I can.

And trust that somehow all will be well....

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

This is why I write what I do

"Theatre needs to be written for the world and about the world.

The problems that confront us are global: an artistic response based on the dilemmas of a single individual, or a single individual within a single nation, is no longer adequate.

all traditional values are no longer adequate to handle the dilemmas that confront us.

our political ideas and institutions are no longer adequate.
our economic values and institutions are no longer adequate.
our scientific values and institutions are no longer adequate.
our ideas of gender, of what it means to be male or female, are no longer adequate.
our artistic ideas are no longer adequate.

We have to create new values, new institutions, new economic and political structures. Or we will destroy ourselves.

It is the responsibility of the artist to help dream, envision, create these new values and these new structures.

This is the focus of my life and work."

I don’t quite remember when I wrote that. It was when I first set up my web page. Around 2002, maybe.

It seemed completely obvious to me at the time. And strangely enough still does.

In the late eighties I’d travelled to southern California and Bangladesh within 2 or 3 months of each other. So I’d been in one of the richest countries of the world; and then in one of the poorest.

And in between I’d been in Egypt and watched the Berlin Wall being broken down.

I knew that everything I’d been taught about the world up till then was false. That the conflict was not between East and West. Not between the ‘freedom’ of the West and the ‘tyranny’ of the East. 

Perhaps it was between North and South: certainly between the rich and poor countries of the world. And that it wasn’t just the Communist bloc that was held up by the Berlin Wall, but the capitalist world too.

It was a very powerful vision I had and I travelled back to Bengal to spend some time in a village near Kolkata. Out of it I wrote my LIGHT IN THE VILLAGE.

The play caused me much suffering; and I was so hurt when one of its commissioners, Hampstead Theatre, turned it down and the play did really badly when it eventually opened.

But I’ve come to understand that people don’t want to be told unpleasant truths. And certainly not the kind of things that the Goddess Kali told them:

The children lie in the gutters and stare
At the rich in their towers of sculptured glass
and the rich ignore them
or feel self-righteous if they spare a tiny crust
prisoners in their towers of glass
prisoners afraid to feel the rain
Prisoners of vanity, Mukherjee,
Prisoners of lies. Stealing all the riches of the earth
forgetting that in the end 
They’ll have to pay for them.
For they must pay. Everyone has to pay.
Pity the rich Mukherjee. Pity the rich.
Thinking of nothing but their clothes
Enriching themselves from blood and hunger and disease
And holding their noses so they won’t suffer from the smell.
Precious people Mukherjee. Refined people of sensitivity and taste.
And don’t tell me you’re poor.
Don’t tell me of the comforts that you lack.

I was so angry in those days. In my deep heart I still am. But I hope a little less arrogant.

But it’s as clear to me now as it was then that capitalism is failing and will fall, as the other economic systems that had prevailed in the world before it. 

And it’s no use the contemptible David Camerons of this world trying to erect more fences, whether they’re around the Eurotunnel terminus or (much more powerfully) around our imaginations. They will fall.

We live in one world and we are all responsible for each other.

And how cross I used to get with all the artists who persist in creating according to capitalist values. Who continue to believe that drama is about individuals in isolation and in conflict.

I don’t want to keep creating capitalist art. I want to create post-capitalism art.

After ”Light In The Village”  opened, someone said to me: “You are a new age playwright”. And it made me so happy that someone had understood.

Those were more optimistic days. Before the criminals who run our economies and our world had managed to colonise our brains and fill our imaginations with their landscapes of greed and despair.

But in my obstinate way I keep on trying to resist. And I don’t believe drama is at all about conflict. It’s about togetherness. It’s about love.

And how characteristic of this disastrous era we are living through that even to write that makes me feel as if I am being ridiculous.

But it’s true. My last two plays, EVERY ONE and THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE were not about conflict at all. And nor is THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN.

This is the beginning of what a post-capitalist art might look like.

And how happy I was to come across Paul Mason’s new book - called POSTCAPITALISM! - and find him saying:

“The power of imagination will become critical. In an information society, no thought, debate or dream is wasted…”


“The most obvious ‘economic’ thing to the Shakespeare of 2075 will be the total upheaval of gender relationships, or sexuality, or health”.

I am no Shakeapeare, and this is still 2015. But I know that me and my amazing companions on this journey - Director Susan, Archangel Annabel, and St. Claire of the light switches - have created something different and have created something new.

And something that is of the theatre, which I so profoundly love, but does not need one. A show that can be performed anywhere and which just needs its creators, the clothes I am wearing, and the suitcase I bring on stage.

And a tin of yeast to make bread with.

We don’t know if it works or not, though we hope it does. We did our technical rehearsal today; and the first preview is tomorrow.

And then we will see….

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN opens at 10.45 on Wednesday August 5th in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall and runs till the end of the Festival.

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