Directing Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit: a challenge, a success!

Thank you Mark Hillyner for stunning photography work and design.

No Exit had the most incredible public response:

Arts Development Officer: arts@funding:

I didn’t really know what to expect but I don’t think I expected to come out so blown away.

Always Time For Theatre: a four star review:

No Exit: Welcome to a special kind of Hell […] Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit gets a claustrophobic and intense outing in this adaption.

Audience member:

No Exit was an exceptional piece of gripping drama. I liked the way the studio was set out; the set, sound, lighting, wardrobe, all were excellent.

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Images: No Exit: performance and process

Photos by Mark Hillyner

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The Cabinet of Curiosity at Hundred Years Gallery, 2018

Under one week to devise and rehearse a twenty minute solo show for this Saturday.

The other performances sound very intriguing – should be an interesting night! All done and enjoyed.

Here we go video clips and images:

London HYG video excerpt one

London HYG video excerpt two

Different stations of actions, some pre-learned (albeit not very well) and some made up, all decided and defined by sounds that came at unexpected intervals.

A small audience but some flattering comments and great to play!

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In My Room at Fringe Arts Bath, June, 2018.

What a lovely time…

This was a pop-up performance in a very fine, fine art exhibition at Fringe Arts Bath.  There was a small audience for both nights in this second floor exhibition room but the response form those that watched it was wonderful – audience members wanted to have conversations with me afterwards: one commented on the ‘immersive’ nature  of my work, one commented that they drew parallels between my narratives, and actions,  and the visual art work that surrounded me, one member was moved to cry.  The audience were kind and Bath is a lovely place, I was honoured to be part of the Doorways exhibition, the work was of a very high standard, varied and very thought-provoking.

In My Room performance:

Excerpt 1: An anecdote about appreciating orange juice / a fitting role borrowed from Harold and Maude

Excerpt 2: Bringing it all to an end following different presentations (semi-improvised)

In My Room Script:

Excerpt 1

[Change persona]

Speaks directly to the audience. Indicates clearing his ears.

Referring to the song. I’m sorry about that; she did feel compelled to bind her eyes at one point, so that she couldn’t see the audience, because she was weakened by them. This suggests cruelty on the part of the audience, but it gives you a purpose.

However, on the absence of sight, and the absence of an audience – one sense down, the voice is stunted because she has no indication of how to modify herself. She needs the people here in this room.

However, instead, the performer sits in stillness, takes tea (bends to pick up cup and saucer below chair) and begins an anecdote, attempting to deliver it only as was previously accepted by others.

Sits up and coughs in readiness…

Okay so, this man, this friend of mine, this tall and gracious man, who I once heard being referred to as a louse, took tea with me (looks to watch) this time Thursday last. He surprisingly indicated to me that he had at that moment (places cup and saucer down) at 39 years of age, realised he had the freewill to buy a carton of fresh orange juice, to call it his own, and to enjoy it, without any complications or interruptions. Upon hearing this I observed a look of complete contentment at, not just what could be easily achieved – the orange juice – but also contentment for being in the space he was in, when he was talking about this, and then referring to another space, and no complications or interruptions.

I enjoyed my own response, upon which I reflected afterwards, which was one of joy, both to realise that I could do the same thing – with the orange juice – but also that the person I was speaking to went up in my estimations. Pause. I liked him and accepted him for this. I like myself for this, as oppose to pointing out the bleeding obvious that orange juice is readily available and has been affordable to him for the past, mm, twenty years. And usually “isn’t the grass greener on the other side.”


[Change persona].

Addressing the empty chair

Isn’t it?

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Returning to That Night-time Phenomenon at Seven Arts, Leeds, December 2017.

I had one very clear understanding about That Night-time  Phenomenon, performed in December 2017 at Seven Arts, Leeds (I love that place). This very clear understanding was instant and realised during the performance – that (sometimes) reflection that occurs while performing can be distracting but useful for modifying action appropriately. This understanding became a certainty. This certainty is that it is not the best method for me to repeat a performance, unless it has significant changes that reignite my purpose. That Night-time Phenomenon had been very successful the first time it was performed, on repeating it I think had used up, dried up, all my incentives and purpose for the text and actions.

It was a very unsatisfying feeling to not have had the time to rework this piece with a new ‘fire’ (so to speak), and would I have been able to do that anyway? I was simply walking through the actions – how awful – the audience know this and its lack of authenticity is clear and not as engaging (though some friends disagree with me on this point). For me this lack of authenticity, it wrecks everything, and some people do this night after night? Perhaps its just me, but I am decided that I will not do this again. It was not as successful as the first showing but I have learned a valuable lesson. Was it Antonin Artaud who argued that performances should not be repeated – Artaud, I agree.

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Christmas Cabaret at Seven Arts: That Night-time Phenomenon, December 2016.

Venus is ensconced in her planet, she feeds on, keeps moving through, the energy dependent on the proxemics between herself and the planet Jupiter.

For me, the person playing Venus, I feed on the energy between myself and the audience. Wonderful evening. This performance was based on a scientific interpretation of the Star of Bethlehem, but feedback from spectators about what this performance was grappling with, what its messages were, were so varied. In my eyes, job done!

When an audience member approaches you and tells you that you are the next Victoria Wood, and then asks you for your autograph, that is a very proud moment indeed – and I don’t feel that often. Thanks Sacreu Bleu the Christmas cabaret night, and thanks Seven Arts Centre.

Text from That Night-time Phenomenon:

“They were astronomers, concerned with what was happening in their nights sky, asking ‘somebody’ [picks someone from audience] “where is the baby to be born king of the Jews?” “This is his star […] and so now we find ourselves here”. It’s a bright star. It’s a big event for them. It’s a joy. Well, If it’s a joy to witness it […] imagine what it is to create it […] that bright sight in the sky…

It was thought “this will happen again” – this rare event indeed – with whispers of “do you remember what it felt like?” that night time phenomenon? It’s August the 27th 2016, or it was […] it’s a dark nights sky and a close encounter is about to occur.  They were just 4 arc minutes away from each other […] It’s 416 miles between them, but still […] what’s hundreds of miles when you’re in love?

But she moves so slowly, in a different way to her neighbours […] going backwards […] going around too slow. And he is almost twelve times bigger than she is […] he is formidable […] she has to be careful. Sometimes it’s a bit much to be honest […] but she moves.”

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Features of Fool: Manchester Victoria Baths, April 2016.

How  could I not apply to perform at Manchester’s Victoria Baths for an evening in which all proposals were to look at the concept of  The Fool. The evening proved it was an interesting topic to explore, the performances were varied and of a high standard. I  always looked at The Fool as being a character of which I admired – for reasons that they seem like a lark, full of energy and not burdened by the serious aspects of life – people ask for a fool, fools have the attention of others.

I approached my contribution to this night by reading (not all of it – it’s a big book) Beatrice. K. Otto’s book Fools Are Everywhere and extracted key points and interesting accounts of fools to structure into a performance. This performance ultimately put forward the message that fools were of credible attributes. I delivered: some of Otto’s words  verbatim (I realise now I should have asked for permission on this) and those she referenced, paraphrasing of Otto’s words, play from her words, and characterisation from her words. I tried to portray what a typical fool might appear like for the audience and I loved playing this role.

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Observe This Gait: Leeds Art Gallery, March 2015.

Leeds Art Gallery Improvisation

This was an incredible opportunity and I am proud of my bravery. I think this is probably the solo performance I am most proud of – I thought it went very well.   I improvised (to a gallery audience) my way out of a short script which headed the show. This script was written from research (and conversation) based on stereotypes attached to gender, and it was wonderful to play with these ideas through improvisation.

I think I successfully: projected some very clear points about my own perspective on these issues – through satirical characterisation, projected some generic views and misconceptions, and posed some questions for spectator consideration. These ideas felt necessary, and the audience relaxed into the performance as I asked: “Do I look like a man to you?”, “Do I look like a woman to you?”, This is of course not a clear rhetoric – for there may have been a differing opinion on this and I encouraged this by performing ambiguous actions which present both, or neither, typically associated female and male traits. Lovely, thrilling day.

“Observe This Gait explores the fixing and objectifying of ‘gender’ that has seemingly occurred in the history of live performance

Historically it could be argued that theatre has, through indicative gestures and assigned gender traits, presented to audiences the idea of gendered qualities being common to/tied to a specific sex.

Through research and the embodying of theatrical techniques for portraying these assumed sex-specific gender traits, the performer will use these along with a scripted text which reinforces the notion, into an arena of critique which explores and plays using improvisation. The improvisation within this performance will bring elements of opposition, absurdity and unfamiliarity, challenging notions of performed gender and playfully exposing the unreality of them.

Through referencing theatrical conventions; using improvisation with physical and verbal script; setting and then blurring boundaries between masculine and feminine, body and voice, perceived and performed gender; this performance will take the audience on an abstract journey of their own witnessing of gender and also reflect the performers own feelings towards the issues surrounding ‘gender’ and ‘sex’.

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The Dancing Plague: with The Ashes Collective, The Place, January, 2015.

On Saturday the 10th of January (2015) was a showing of the first showing of The Dancing Plague by The Ashes Dance Collective. It was platformed at Resolution in The Place theatre venue in London. This piece (as the title suggests) is based on the dancing plague of 1518. This recorded event was considered a type of plague because, like an epidemic, it spread through and affected many in a physically (and arguably psychologically) manner – in fact many died from it. Accounts of this dancing plague suggest a variety of causalities for this phenomena, of which the source seems to be financial or religious reasons. Here dance, which is ordinarily associated with positivity: personal expression, release, and alternated and useful states of consciousness became a symbol of hardship, pain, guilt and death. It is written that the dancing plague began with a woman named Frau Troffeau. Who, in an apparently inspired moment (of madness?), took to the streets and danced…and didn’t stop. People, and more people followed suit, they kept dancing regardless of physical and mental sacrifice. The spectacle of Frau Troffeau, to those that followed, was attractive, for reasons that seem implausible, but they were influenced to join her in constant movement that may have been a trance. Opinions are that Frau’s outbreak into constant dance movement may have been: a gesture to spite her husband (who didn’t like dancing), the result of a vengeful saint, a favour for (advertisement of) a saint, divine punishment, a mental break-down as a result of extreme poverty and/or suppression.

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A change in performance approach

As previously mentioned, there must be a reason why improvisation has always been included in my work. It is certainly not a laziness for performance preparation – improvisation takes just as much preparation. I think this can be explained (if I can explain it) through the understanding that public performance pushes you into a place in which you are bringing out your performative best, presenting your sensibility for performing arts using the approach/work intended. Surely in this public place of ability, vulnerability and energy, improvisation (action that works with instinct as oppose to rehearsal) is now ‘silver-lined’ with these sensibilities: a search for, a grappling with emotion, a conscience for aesthetic qualities. Surely this results in moments of that unfamiliar self being un-earthered occasionally as more characteristically poignant – a refreshing point of interest. I have been told (and hope to be true) that some of these moments in my own work have been viewed as refreshing and meaningful for the spectator. I hope these moments have also been observed as being refreshing for the performer as they arise (that sense of sharing a moment)…However, now is the time – FINALLY – to move on from improvisation…

I last performed Cafe Repartee at Free For Arts at the Penthouse in Manchester (a great layout of conceptual and visual art work). This performance is partly script which leads into the improvisation. I was aware (before, through and after) that I didn’t give myself time to re-learn the script, to make the best of the words and actions – this vastly (of course) affected the performance – particularly the Ball and Heulsenbeck sections. During presentation I had the mindfulness of that fear that what I was delivering might not be what conceptual/visual artists would want to see, mainly because of the forced and shifting energy involved in my work/a moving body in a space.

I later understood that aside from ill preparation the work was affected by my not enjoying it, because I hadn’t done/used enough research in the last two of the three dadaists that featured in the script. Perhaps I also didn’t spent the required time embodying the men that fascinated me, though this was avoided as it seemed very anti-dada, regrettably I felt I failed to inflame the performance with the idea of their brilliance. Also the last two sections were not composed as interestingly as the first (it was commented, “the first was alot more powerful”). Perhaps I am just trying to involve too much in one performance – probably!

The grapheme element was a little better than the previous showing, the graphemes were used and slowly develop from sounds into actual words (from out of nowhere – unexpected). I understand now that having a script presented before the graphemes are spoken and improvised with doesn’t work in favour of the grapheme experiment. I use the script information as a reference point during improvising and the improvised section becomes more about the rearranging and playing with script rather than the idea of the graphemes being the instigator for new language – the sound leading to new words, implanting new image and taking these to a new place accompanied with new action – different from what had previously been seen

To do this again I would need an appropriate and willing venue which was specifically about sound, language, and the use of the body in this. Because it is (why didn’t I accept this before – perhaps I didn’t care) a difficult thing to do. The body and the voice has to be properly prepared for this, patience is key, and not the idea that performance always have to be entertaining – this is not the point here. It is about trying to present the idea of improvising from very little and improvising from sounds…improvising FORM… (an abstract idea) and an aesthetic idea. And how this can make new ideas lead to, perhaps, the poetical, the non-literal, the literal…whatever – it doesn’t matter because there is nothing set in place – it has to be a minimal and organic experiment! To do this again I need to view it differently, and I need the right, not necessarily but partially sympathetic space. I shall look and hope.

However, for now a NEW approach…I am researching and devising a short script which will be presented as a durational piece and will be concerned with the psychology of the comic Fool…more soon.

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