Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My Son & Heir: HOME VIDEO

My Son & Heir: HOME VIDEO

Monday, 1 July 2013

My Son & Heir

In 2009 we began a life-long performance project called Growing Old With You, a project which attempts to document lived experience in real time. Prompted by the impending birth of our daughter and turning 30, we planned to create a series of performance works every few years exploring ideas of aging and togetherness. My Son & Heir is our new studio performance, as part of the GOWY project, reflecting on the dynamics and responsibilities of parenthood. It’s a show we’ve been trying to make for the last four years, but we’ve been afraid to make it. We thought, who wants to watch a show about parenthood? There is NOTHING cool or sexy about being parents (if you don’t believe me just think of your own parents for a second...)

For the past four years, parenthood and performance-making have been inextricably entwined for us. And the children have become a crucial part of our working process in ways that we find hard to account for or anticipate. To be frank, the artistic process is chaos; but perhaps chaos can be a good thing, at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Frank Cottrell Boyce sums it up nicely in the Guardian:

"Family is, of course, the most potent distraction, There's a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn't the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined."

Discourse around parenting is well and truly embedded in the mainstream. The whole world is talking about parenting: how to do it, how not to do it. In response to any violent, destructive schism in society, it’s not long before the question of the killer/terrorist/deviant’s upbringing is debated. We blame the parents. And it doesn’t seem to work the other way round. When someone does something brilliant we don’t hear "oh, you can see that they had a wonderful, caring, well-balanced, thoughtful, supportive upbringing." In fact, we cringe during the post-gold medal winning interview, or the Oscars acceptance speech when we hear the phrase "I just want to thank my mum and dad." 

Since becoming parents, we have been unceremoniously catapulted into the mainstream. It’s hard to avoid it. It’s hard not to watch Disney or go to McDonalds or have pink things for your girl and blue things for your boy. Before we had children, the choice to politically abstain from and disapprove of these cultures was easy, but it’s more complicated now. After the birth of our son in 2012, not only a boy but also an August-born boy we started to worry. We started to worry about what the future holds for him, in a way that we didn’t with our daughter – and that surprised us. And as we wait, expectantly, for the birth of a Royal baby, a future King or Queen, we started to wonder what lay in store for our own son, and whether we could so easily predict what he would become, given Diane Abbott’s recent declaration of a crisis in masculinity.

My Son & Heir is a performance about parenting. It’s about how the world is reductively shaped for consumption by children. It’s about raising boys. It’s about the performance of parenting, the relentless, exhausting responsibility of raising children. It’s about learning a new definition for the word love.

My Son & Heir is being made without (much) childcare. We’re taking it in turns, we’re working with the children in the room, we’re embracing the chaos of our house, and the exhaustion of making work after ‘bed-time’. It’s an interesting environment for creativity and space to consider aging, as parenthood continues to confront us with our own  mortality, every day. And of course like the nature of all parenting tasks, where nothing is ever quite finished – half done, piled somewhere to sort out later – the performance at The Parlour Showrooms will be as much as we can get done whilst holding the baby, singing lullabies and cleaning dog poo off the pram wheels. We hope to find some time to re-stage it for a tour (where of course we will be bring the babies and the babysitter with us).
My Son & Heir by Search Party is at The Parlour Showrooms, Friday 12 - Saturday 13 July (Fri 8pm & Sat 6pm, tickets: £7) as part of Making In The City.
My Son & Heir by Search Party is commissioned by Parlour Showrooms with support from the Department of Theatre, University of Chichester. Dramaturg: Ben Francombe. Search Party are members of Residence.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Save Me 2011 Video

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I Can't Juggle

So there’s this man… Immo. He’s from Germany. He’s really funny. He can juggle five ping pong balls in his mouth (into a head wind), memorize a list of twenty words almost instantly, make us think he’s smashed an unsuspecting Frenchman’s watch into tiny pieces, juggle with fire atop of a six foot unicycle, all whilst being utterly charming, funny, likable, witty, and spontaneous. And he’s next to this other man who has built a life-size, remote controlled, fire breathing horse called ‘Rusty’ – the horse, not the man (he’s called Paka). Next to them are Tina and Ken; they can perform death-defying acts of aerial acrobatics, swinging on a trapeze, whilst cracking jokes with smiles on their muscular faces. Oh, and Tina can hula-hoop with what looks like just the fifty hoops. And of course there’s this handsome, French speaking American, dressed as a crow, who is seamlessly fired twenty feet in the air out of a cannon during an hour-long, anarchic musical extravaganza.

I’m in Brest, performing Search Party’s durational semaphore conversation Save Me at what I’m told is the biggest maritime festival in Europe. We’ve performed outside the UK on many occasions, we’ve recently performed this show outside the UK, a task made ever so slightly more complex by the need to translate our words into other languages, but this feels different. As a result of Theatre Bristol’s participation in a European project called Open Out Arts, we’ve been curated within a ‘street arts’ context – a first for us.  We’re working with Le Fourneau, one of nine regional centres for street arts in France, and I get the impression that having artists like us is a bit new for them as well.

What do I mean ‘artists like us’? Are we so different? And if so how and why? For me, there are clues are in the language. Upon a quick re-read of our contract (written in French) I notice how our work is described. The front page of the contract reads ‘Titre du spectacle – SAVE ME’. It’s this word ‘spectacle’ that stands out. In French, I’m told it just means ‘show’ or ‘performance’ – the thing that we do that other people watch. But for me it comes loaded with uneasy connotations.

Thinking back to my new friends Immo, Paka, Tina & Ken and the crow – their acts are fundamentally and unashamedly engineered around the spectacular. They most definitely have the ‘wow’ factor – and I mean that with all sincerity; on several occasions, even on second viewing these shows make me audibly gasp with delight. To my untrained eye I feel like I am watching virtuosic performers, at the peak of their powers, display their skills for me to enjoy, and it’s great.

In these ‘spectacles’, the thing that I see is the virtuosic. This is where the uneasy relationship between Search Party’s work and this festival is manifested. I want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not trying to place any negative value on the virtuosity of these shows, the opposite in fact – but simply identify this key difference in approach, and what the implications of that may be for the presentation of our (and other experimental) work in these contexts. Neither am I trying to present some kind of exclusive, us and them culture, there are many similarities between our approach and that of my new friends, not least a studious attention to detail, a clarity of aesthetic and obvious care for the watcher. Clearly there is an abundance of audience for these more traditionally spectacular street performances (I’m gladly one of them), as there is for Search Party’s work - but is it the same audience and what happens when we’re on the same street?

Search Party’s work, Save Me especially, is purposefully approached with a low-key sense of virtuosity. The ‘skill’ is not the thing that you’re watching. In fact we try to down play any sense of virtuosity, a conscious strategy to bridge the gap between performer and spectator, we’re not so different from you – and that feels important. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re good at what we do, but that skill isn’t on display, it doesn’t separate us from our audience, separating the ‘cans’ from the ‘cannots’. I can’t juggle ping-pong balls from my mouth, I can’t dangle precariously from a trapeze, I can’t ride a motorized fire-breathing horse and I most definitely cannot fly out of a cannon dressed as a crow. But therein lies the joy in witnessing these feats of excellence. So extra-daily are these feats that they come with either an implicit or often explicit ‘don’t try this at home’ caveat. Whereas, for us the whole premise of Save Me is structured around a ‘do try this at home’, in fact try it here, try it now, here’s a semaphore alphabet, it only takes a little bit of practice and while you’re at it, why don’t you write the text for the show as well, here’s a little yellow tag and a biro. So it seems as if we’re asking for something very different from our audience, and in this context, we seem to be the only ones who are asking for something very different – which feels both exciting and a little tricky.

On our last night in France, as we’re saying goodbye, Jeremy – the charming, articulate, experienced stage manager strikes up a conversation with me (in English) questioning some aspects of our performance. He’s concerned that the audience don’t know what to do, don’t know how to behave, and don’t know how to watch. It’s a rare and welcome conversation (maybe an inherent nervousness of plagiarism in the street arts restricts these conversations), but badly timed – I’m leaving and I could talk about this all night. I want to tell him that that’s ok. That’s kind of what we want, audiences that don’t feel like audiences, audiences that don’t ‘behave’ like audiences, audiences that have to renegotiate their own relationship to this performative offer as a fundamental part of their experience of it. It’s a conversation I’ve not had to have for a long time. When we’re within Home Live Art’s alternative village fete, or Forest Fringe’s compilation of disparate experiences, or experimental festivals like Wunderbar or Mayfest these principles are taken for granted. But, my demi-conversation with Jeremy, and my experience of this festival in general, remind me of those unspoken contracts we make with ourselves about how, why and what, as artists, we choose to make. And any experience that challenges these core principles, shifts them, or brings them back into focus, is for me, extremely valuable.

Now I’m back in England. Immo, Paka, Tina & Ken and the handsome crow are still on the busy street arts summer circuit. And I know the question that Theatre Bristol are going to ask me; does Search Party’s work feel appropriate for the street arts sector? Firstly, it’s much better for me to say ‘yes’, I (like any artist/maker) am constantly looking for new opportunities to show my work (it is a ‘job’ after all). And I think it does. The length of the work engages with the fluctuating and sprawling nature of outdoor audiences, the piece provides an interesting contrast to the high impact, high octane, spectacles also on show, you’re asked to engage with the work in a different rhythm, with a different part of yourself. But, being the only diversion from an established and accepted norm, can feel isolating and vulnerable. As is often the case, the conversation is probably the most important thing, the one between us and the festival – the ‘this is what we do, is this what you want’ conversation. And perhaps, in my limited experience, there appears to be a little bit of an ‘off the shelf’ culture in the outdoor arts – which I suppose is fine if your work is on the shelf in the first place, but if, like Le Fourneau, you’re keen to experiment with different types of performance that takes place outdoors a slightly more bespoke approach is required. We’ve always found it hard to describe what it is we do, we can do it, it takes a bit of time and a lot of talking and, hopefully, when the work is shown, it’s worth it.

And now I’ve had time to think about it, I’d love to pick up my conversation with Jeremy. I’d say that actually, I think audiences do know what to do, how to watch and how to behave – they’re a pretty resourceful bunch in my experience, as long as you take the time to think about them, to care about them, to make them feel like a crucial part of this thing. We’ve performed Save Me in eight different cities, from Bristol (UK) to Almaty (Kazakhstan), in English, French and Russian, on seafronts, city streets, bridges and battleships and every time, wherever we are people leave messages, hundreds of messages. It’s just a different type of engagement.

Save Me and our other outdoor works like Search Party vs… exist in public space, not in a ‘street-art’ context, but these works are for the same audience. And, I’m sure that for some of these audiences other types of engagement, perhaps smaller, more intimate, more unconventional offer new and engaging experiences, creating alternative relationships between them, the work and the place that it happens. Perhaps both types of work, our slightly unusual intimate exchanges and more traditional street art spectacles, being placed next to each other in the same street is an exciting prospect for street performers working in live art festivals and vice versa. I look forward to learning more about the street arts sector, and to meeting the festivals and programmers who are interested in re-thinking how they might engage with their audience.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Save Me in Brest Pictures

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Save Me in Kazakhstan Pictures

Monday, 7 May 2012

Search Party vs... in Guardian G2

Lovely mention for Search Party vs... in Lyn Gardner's article on sporting effort in performance in the G2.