Thursday, February 11, 2016

rehearsing 'Every One' and 'Jesus Queen Of Heaven' & the power of theatre

Last night I dreamt I was in rehearsal with an amazing group of women. I felt relaxed and happy and at home.

And when i woke up it was true.

As a writer, I used to dread rehearsals. It seemed to me they were places where my work, and my self, were in danger of being tested to destruction.

But now I enjoy them. I’ve come to understand that it’s not a question of work being tested; but of being with a group of people where we are all doing our best to create something that will do justice to the work. And make it all happen on stage in the most beautiful way we can.

All too brief a day with Chris Goode and Company working on my “Every One” for Battersea Arts Centre reminded me of the truth of this.

Looking back, I can see that my early fears were due to the fact that soon after I really came to accept that I loved acting, loved playing girls’ parts, I came to realise that i would be happier living as a girl. And that was so impossible and terrifying and shameful a thing back then, in the mid sixties, theatre itself became a place of fear and shame.

It took me twenty years to get through that and find my voice as a playwright. But even then I was terrified because I wanted to write so very differently from everyone else , and so assumed that I was wrong.

And then it took another twenty years for me to get back to performing.

And that only really became possible after I transitioned and began living as a woman.

So here I am, high above the rooftops in the King’s Theatre’s utterly beautiful rehearsal room, preparing to perform “The Gospel According to Jesus Queen Of Heaven” in Manchester.

And feeling happy.

I love what happens in a rehearsal room. I love the way a blank and often nondescript space gradually transforms. The way tape on the floor marks the dimensions of the rehearsal area. And a chair becomes a pillar. A row of chairs a table. A little table a stool. Another table the kitchen area. The window is the main door in. And the other wall, in our imagination, opens out into the amazing nave and altar to the East.

And so by the end of the day the nondescript room becomes, in all our minds, a map of the extraordinary and beautiful church, St. John Chrysostom, where the event is happening.

Rehearsing as a writer, I am obviously most passionately involved. But I also try to remain detached, outside the physical process, trying to observe the writing as dispassionately and as skilfully as I can, and change it as the piece requires.

Maybe that’s why I feel such pleasure rehearsing as a performer, and being able to work to make the words i so love come alive through body and through voice.

And not to be so alone. Not so detached, also, but profoundly and passionately involved with my collaborators. Who I also love.

Maddy Costa reminded me the other day of how passionately I believe in theatre as an act of resistance. Resistance to the cruel and destructive society that surrounds us.

One of the crucial ways we resist is through working collectively. Not as isolated individuals competing with each other to make money; but as collaborators and co-workers working co-operatively to create something far far more important.

For me as an individual there’s something else incredibly important going on.

I lost my capacity to perform through those early years of repression and emotional abuse. Repression and abuse are terrible things. They blight so much more than their main target.

But what I’m learning is that it is possible to recover, even if it does take forty years. That those old wounds can be healed. 

And perhaps, in performing, I can communicate to audiences that all our collective and individual wounds do not doom us to a lifetime of powerless repression and rage.

That it is possible to recover our true creative selves. Possible to change the world.

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