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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My part in Partus

I’m really pleased to be able to share another postcard from the Partus team - this time from actor/writer Laura Lindsay (the previous one from Stacey Sampson is here).

I asked Laura if she would like to write about her take on being part of the Partus project - big thanks to her for sending this over. Partus is on at Barnsley CIVIC this week (10.30am & 7.30pm on Thursday 13 March); you can find Laura on Twitter @mslauralindsay.


Laura Lindsay in Partus; photo by Helena Fletcher

Hullo, I’m Laura. I’m an actor and theatre-maker and I am part of the cast and devising team behind Partus. Working on this show has been a hugely rewarding process for me and I thought it might be useful to share some of my discoveries. I have a fondness for subheadings, so here goes: 

1.     The Imposter

Partus, as many of you will know, is a show about birth. Now, I have not had the ‘pleasure’ of the experience, apart from being propelled into the world 30 some years ago. I also have not been part of a devising process, apart from at drama school nearly 10 years ago. So in many ways, I was a strange choice to join a team creating a devised piece of theatre about birth. Where are my credentials? This question is something I am often plagued with, as I think a lot of artists are. The imposter syndrome. However, working with Third Angel and the process of creating Partus together has enabled me to recognise and value my skillset and understand the importance of alternative perspectives in theatre-making.

Firstly, my lack of devising experience is only part of the picture. It is all too easy to focus on the things you can’t do or haven’t done. Being part of Partus has not only developed my knowledge and skills in devising, but it has highlighted and affirmed my aptitude in areas I think I took for granted. My writing experience was fully embraced by Rachael and Alex. I was encouraged in the suggestion of ideas, generating content and structuring the show. Gradually, I began to see my value in the process, because I was a different practitioner. They saw it before me, and for that I am very grateful.

So much of the structuring of theatre ecology is to separate it into different forms, and often as theatre-makers we can become a little blinkered and precious about our own specialism.  I think some of the most interesting theatre comes from blending these forms, from taking input from a variety of influences and knowledge bases to create something truly unique. Partus is a show I’m immensely proud of, but not one I could have ever envisaged making on my own. It blends verbatim accounts, songs, moments of absurd live art, scripted sections, audience interaction and balloon choreography. It’s bonkers. But then birth is pretty bonkers. So it feels apt.

My lack of being a mother – or being ‘child-free’, to put a more positive spin on it - was also an important part of creating this show, rather than a hindrance. I am the only one in the touring cast who hasn’t given birth.  For the first couple of weeks I battled with this, feeling a little bit like I wasn’t ‘in the club’. However, again gradually I began to see my value in this process. When dealing with a subject matter which is so emotive and personal, and is potentially a bit niche, it is really useful to have an outside perspective. My lack of personal experience meant I was able to contribute to objectivity about material, to ensure other voices are acknowledged and to help the process of broadening the appeal of the piece.

2.       The Audience

Integral to the devising process and to experimental live art is a recognition of the audience and the importance of clarifying their role within the piece of theatre. As an actor working on established scripts, which often deploy the ‘fourth wall’, it’s easy to almost forget about the audience, to focus on your own process, the journey of the character, your thoughts, your feelings, etc, etc. But ultimately, it is the audience who we create theatre for, it wouldn’t exist without them. We certainly wouldn’t get paid!  So it was really refreshing to put the existence of the audience at the centre of the conversation when creating the show. Who are they? Why are they listening? What is our relationship to them? What is their experience of the show? The process of devising live art highlights the role of the audience and focusses on the communication between them and the performer.

Touring the show to a variety of different venues has been a really valuable reminder of the potential power of theatre on an individual level. We received some of the most heart-filling, encouraging feedback from a man who was part of an intimate audience at Colchester Arts Centre. The piece had a profound effect on him on a personal level and he was kind enough to let us know. This feedback was a reminder to me of why I make theatre: to have an impact, to move, to stimulate, to ask questions and to start a conversation. And the impact can be more profound in an intimate setting.

As part of the tour we have provided ‘baby-friendly’ shows in the morning where mums and dads can come with their baby to watch the show in a relaxed atmosphere without having to worry about disturbing others. Performing to these audiences has been really special. It has brought the subject matter into sharp relief: the miracle of birth and what is at stake, the joy, the pain, the fear. Sharing these stories with a room full of women (and some men) and their recent family additions has been another reminder of how theatre can be a vital and profound expression of people’s experience. The Partus baby-friendly shows have got me thinking about the work I produce myself and how I can ensure greater accessibility to people who would otherwise struggle to attend the theatre. 

Photo: Joseph Priestley

3.   Generating Material

Being new to devising I had to make a bit of mental adjustment as to the purpose and focus of being in rehearsal. On scripted pieces, a lot is already decided before the cast enter the room – the script, the design, the format. Once in the rehearsal room, there are discoveries to be made, but they are limited within the context of these decisions. Within a devising process this can be blown wide open –  it might be that nothing much is decided before you enter the room – the content, the form, the design… only really the subject matter. This blank page approach can be a little daunting. But it is also exhilarating too – anything is possible, and I had an ownership of the piece I would not have had if I was not part of these decisions.

One of the main things I found interesting about devising is the exploration of ideas. A good general rule of thumb is that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. You simply don’t know which suggestions are going to work and fit into the picture of the whole show until you try them and start to build the wider context. In this way, devising is rather like a first draft of a script where you allow your imagination to wander and the words to flow uninhibited and uncensored. It is after you get everything down that you can start to shape it. There is something more exposing about this process of presenting unadorned, partially formed ideas to other people rather than simply sharing them with your laptop. But it is also brilliant, because so much of devising hinges on sparking something off, a shared discussion and the development of an idea beyond its inception with everyone in the room.

We joked a lot in the room about ‘fridge-dooring’ a lot of ideas. I initially interpreted this as the obligation to display the idea, despite its poor quality, in recognition of the effort it took to generate it – rather like a child’s indecipherable painting lovingly held to a fridge door by a magnet. But in fact, it is more a ‘parking’ of the idea to possibly revisit later, depending on what components are needed – it is an option, or can be a further stimulus for generating something else. This filing is fluid and things went up on and down off the proverbial fridge door a lot as the show developed.

The great thing about generating ideas as a group is there can be no preciousness about whose idea it is and everything should be proposed with generosity and positivity but without being too attached to it being realised. There are moments when you can feel like there’s no clarity and nothing seems to work, but this is part of the process and you have to push on through with the same energy and enthusiasm as when it goes smoothly.

Having a designer in the room as part of the idea generating process was a real eye-opener for me. It was fascinating to explore how design and space impacts not only on the audience’s experience of the show in performance, but the direction of the piece as a whole. The format and setting of the show can influence the content as much as the other way around. The two elements evolve together. In fact the design is an integral part of the content, not a dressing or an imposition on it.  It has made me very tempted to involve a designer at a much earlier stage in my drafting process when doing scripted work.


4.     To be continued…

One of the many things I admire about Rachael and Alex’s work is that it is constantly evolving. Nothing is ever finished. There is always room for tweaking and refining even once the show is out on tour. At every venue, for every show, elements of the piece can be adjusted. These may be small adjustments, but it ensures that there is always an active critical eye on the work and that the piece is responsive to an audience.  This gives the work a quality of ‘liveness’ it would not have if it was simply polished and replicated.

Something that has contributed to this process is that the dates of the tour have been quite spread out, in order to be touring-parent-friendly. This has also given the opportunity to have time for reflection and to revisit the performance afresh.


I come out of my experience of making and touring work with Third Angel incredibly proud of the show we have made together, but also enriched by their process and excited to let it infuse my own practice of making work

Friday, 31 March 2017

We’re hiring, come and join us!

Third Angel is 21 years old, headed up by the two founding Artistic Directors: Alexander Kelly and Rachael Walton. Over the years the company has been variously part-time, full-time, full-time but run by part-time staff, unfunded, project funded and regularly funded, and our pool of creative and administrative collaborators has grown and shifted with our repertoire. 

As our programme has expanded, particularly in the last two years, we’ve realised that the company has outgrown its management structure, and so we’re making some changes. We’ve created a new post of Executive Producer, that I’ll be stepping into, and redefined the General Manager’s role. And that’s who we’re looking for: a new part-time General Manager to oversee day-to-day operations, work closely with the Artistic Directors on strategic planning, drive business development and deliver strong financial management.

If you’re organised, have experience of company or team management, are disproportionately excited by well put together management accounts, can whip art-speak into funder-friendly plain English at the drop of a hat and adore crafting an elegant contractual clause, this is the job for you. 

You can find the job pack and application form here (no CVs please unless they’re supporting the application form) and if you have any questions about the company or the role, you can email me - Hilary - or call on 0114 201 3875. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Inspiration Exchange ReROOTed

We set up the Inspiration Exchange in Hull, as part of the #ReROOTed weekender, celebrating the legacy of Hull Time Based Art’s Running Out Of Time Festival. A busy weekend of work from a brilliant range of artists, of different generations of performance art – from current Leeds Beckett University Performance students, to iconic artists like Alistair MacLennan, who I was lucky enough to share a space with.

Humber Street Gallery had set up a pop-up space, further along from and opposite their main space. It was a sunny weekend and Humber Street was busy with the festival crowd and regular punters there for the coffee, tapas, cakes and ceramics rather than the live art. Which meant a nicely diverse audience.

I was scheduled to do a mini, 2-hour Exchange, followed by a 30 minute break and then a short summing up performance. But that’s not how it turned out. Here’s the story of the day.


We opened a few minutes early, as we were ready and it seemed a shame to miss the families who were peering in to find out what was on.

A mum, dad and daughter sat down, and though the mum suggested several possibilities the daughter rejected them all, and asked for the story of Donald and Phyllis. Afterwards there was discussion as to who would tell me a story back. Perhaps the daughter could tell me about sharks? (She loves sharks.) But in the end the mum decided to tell a story, which she told as much to her daughter, cuddled up next to her, as to me.

Mum’s Grandmother Doris used to be a Charlady in nice, big house in Cottingham. One day a door to door salesman – who we would later know to be called Jim – turned up, trying to sell them a vacuum cleaner. But the vacuum cleaner was still a relatively recent invention and people didn’t really know what they were or that they needed them, so Doris sent Jim away.

Undeterred, Jim came back the following day, wondering if they would like to buy a vacuum cleaner and was sent away again.

By the fifth day that Jim turned up on the doorstep, two things had become apparent: Jim was not a very good vacuum cleaner salesman (he hadn’t yet, and never would, sell a vacuum cleaner), and he wasn’t really there as a salesman. The following week Doris and Jim went for dinner together. And a year later they were getting married.

“And what’s amazing about that,” Mum said to her daughter, “is that if Jim hadn’t been so persistent, or if Doris, your Great-Grandma, had said no, then I wouldn’t exist, and neither would you.”

Then Dad gave us the title, to make it a whole family contribution.

Ellie is eleven. She’s had 17 major operations so far, six of them on her heart. That’s 56 hours of open heart surgery. We worked out that if that was all put together and they started now (Saturday lunchtime) they wouldn’t be finished until Monday tea.

Ellie’s mum and dad told me that damaged hearts are the number 1 birth defect in the world, and end up killing twice as many children as all childhood cancers combined. Ellie was born with three major problems with her heart:

1.     Transposition of the Major Arteries
2.     A Double-Outlet Right Ventricle
3.     “There’s a technical term for it, but basically it’s a big hole in her heart. It could be worse though. Some kids are born with just half a heart. You’ve got a friend with only half a heart, haven’t you Ellie?” 

They’d picked this up at the 12-week scan of course, so they knew it was coming. Ellie’s first heart op was when she was just 21 days old.

“But you look fine now, Ellie,” I said, “are you all fixed?”

“Yes!” she smiled.

“Well…” said Mum and Dad, “no…”

“Oh yeah,” continued Ellie, “I do need a new pacemaker, actually, and then when I’m about thirteen, I’ll need a whole new heart.” 

Writing this up, 24 hours later, what I remember most about Ellie is how cheerful she was, how much she smiled during our conversation.

Mr. Stockey the history teacher tells his students about when he was at college, and they had a visit from a holocaust survivor. He told them about his experience, about surviving the camps and his life since then. 

After his talk the students asked him questions. Mr. Stockey had asked him about the number tattooed onto his wrist. Why had he never had it removed? 

“Because,” said the man, “it’s a reminder. My life is pretty good now, but even when it’s a bad day, I can look at that tattoo and remember that my life is always better than that time.”

When she was seventeen / eighteen Michelle was at college on a Tourism course. They were all on a field trip to Hollingworth Lake, which included rowing across the middle of the lake itself. An argument about who got one or two oars got out of hand – a stand up shouting match between Michelle and another (male) student, which resulted in Michelle going overboard.

The water was cold, dark and deep. Telling this story to her daughter years later, Michelle admitted that she was having a tough time in her life at that point, and part of her, in the water, struggling to breathe, sinking down, felt like giving up. Wouldn’t it be easier not to struggle?

And then, she clearly heard a voice in her head. “Michelle! Michelle! Wake up!” She could see the light, and she kicked her legs, and she found the surface. The other distraught students pulled her from the water, took her to hospital.

B., Michelle’s daughter, told me, “Two weeks later, she found out she was pregnant. So she got back in touch with my dad, who she’d actually split up with, and they got back together.” 

B. tells me she’s not in touch with her mum anymore, but she loves this story. She first heard it when she was about six, and would regularly ask her mum to tell it to her again throughout her childhood and teenage years.

I had to ask. “When she found out she was pregnant, how pregnant was she? More than two weeks? Were you inside her when she was in the water?”

“I don’t know,” said B. “Maybe.”

A story about unlikely misfortune and teenage tenacity. Remember when you were a teenager and you forgot to water the plants, or feed the goldfish, or the hamster? Well…

T. was dog-sitting for her neighbours whilst they were on holiday. And one morning the dog was dead. She didn’t know what to do. So she called the family on holiday to tell them the bad news. They told her that she had to get the dog to the vet.

It was a big dog. So she lifted it into a (wheeled) suitcase, and then struggled down on to the underground with it.

Trying to manoeuvre the suitcase up the escalator the other end, two lads offered to help. Noting that the suitcase was very heavy, they wondered what had she got in there? Not wanting to reveal the truth, T. said, “Oh, some electrical stuff.”

At the top of the escalator she turned round to find that the lads had disappeared, taking their haul of “electrical stuff” with them.

The mum of one of T.’s friends told me this story. We imagined what would have happened next: T. having to phone the family and explain what had happened, that the dead dog had been stolen, and the two lads opening the suitcase and discovering what they had actually acquired…

He was in the Navy in ’65, and in the climbing club. They watched a film about Chris Bonnington climbing in the Andes, specifically the Torres del Paine. 

40 years later, he finally got there himself.

He was on a cycling trip around South America. Thinking he was about 120km away, the locals recommended a short cut that would take 50km off the journey – down a road they were still cutting out of the rock. Not yet suitable for cars, but on a bike he’d be fine. Midway along this track he found himself cycling between two lines of pink cable. It must be to mark the useable bit of track, he thought, until he reached the point where the cables ended in the crates they had been unspooled from, stencilled with the words CORDÓN DETONANTE.

As he neared then end of the track, the clouds dropped. Was he really going to get there, after 40 years, on the one day per year that had no visibility? But as the road ended, the clouds peeled back “like the lid of a sardine tin” and he saw it. Torres del Paine. Where the Andes come to an end. And he cried.

“Google it, if you get the chance,” he told me, “It’s beautiful.” So I did.

Amidst several un-repeatable stories about working as a veterinary nurse, a story about a first ever autopsy as a student nurse, performed on the titular budgie, with too much manual pressure, resulting in the titular mishap. My favourite detail, though, was how when they were busy in surgery, and the waiting room was full, rather than go out to explain that they were running behind, they would just find an excuse to send someone out front, still in their overalls, hands raised, covered in blood… 

She used to avoid calling herself a musician. She could play the flute well, but she had a fear of improvisation. But she was invited along to a Gypsy Jazz Jam Session by a (now ex-) boyfriend.

They would set out playing a well-known theme, and then they (all men, the rest of them) would begin to exchange nods, eye signals, and off they would go, taking the lead in turns, and she would sit off to one side, looking at the floor, not making eye contact, just playing along on her flute.

Until one week, she made the leap, she took a chance, looked up, and took the lead. There was something different that week that gave her the courage. It could have been a number of things, but looking back, she thinks it was probably the one and a quarter pints of Guinness she had drunk…

A story about sticking it out. 

He agreed with a friend to rent a new studio together – but then the friend dropped out, after he’d signed the lease. Then he had to move house, and had lots of other stuff to do. After a few months of renting the studio, he realised that he’d been to there less than 72 hours in total – whilst paying more than his new mortgage to rent it. He said to friends that it wasn’t sustainable. Unless something changed, he’d have to get rid of the studio, and that would mean getting rid of lots of kit, which would mean not being able to remount several older pieces of work.

That night in the pub he got talking to a guy who asked him if he knew of anyone who had some studio space. And the following week he got the email asking him to re-mount one of those older pieces of work…

Panama is an isthmus – a narrow bridge of land – that has a disproportionately big influence on the planet. It’s emergence (about 3 million years ago?) separated the Pacific from the Atlantic, and caused the appearance of the North Atlantic Drift – arguably making the Northern Hemisphere habitable for humans.

Panama connects the two Americas, North and South. But Panama itself runs East – West. It is bisected by the Panama Canal, which in turn runs North - South, and connects the cultures of the Pacific and the Carribbean.

We began to talk about the political influence of this comparatively small country and the canal that runs across it, but we ran out of time… it’s a complex and fascinating place.

A group of four women gathered at the table, shortly followed by two men who I knew had travelled some distance to be there. In theory I should have been planning a quick summing up at this point, but it seemed more in keeping with the feel of the day to keep going. We carried on, running a sort of team ‘chain-reaction’ story-choosing-and-telling process for the last few stories.

Moving house meant having to find a new doctor. After registering the family, E.’s Mum was offered a free screening, a service that was being extended to women aged 40 – 50, just in that area. 

She wasn’t sure she could be bothered – the parking would be a bit of a hassle. But the family said she should go, and Dad drove her in and dropped her off. They found 3rd-stage breast cancer and operated the following week, saving her life.

A volunteering adventure in Tanzania. After a terrifying, near-death experience with a charging elephant, the volunteers returned to the nearby village. C., who tells me this story, can do a remarkably convincing impression of a goat (she proved it to us all in the Exchange). So convincing, in fact, that goats would bleat back.

The children of the village could see she was upset about the encounter with the elephant. They took her hand and led her out to bleat at the goats for them, as they found it so funny, and because they could tell she needed the distraction… a small act of kindness.

U. got a new job at a well known supermarket, who she felt, of all the supermarkets, was the most ‘her sort of people’. (Other supermarkets are available).

Her shifts started at 7am, which meant at 6.30am walk to work, when it was still dark and the streets were nearly empty. One morning a man (who she recognised), ran at her, chasing her down the street. She’d wondered before what would happen in a situation like this – how she would respond, how she would behave? She’s “not a quiet person” normally, would she scream and shout?

So what surprised her on this occasion, and what she remembers most strongly, is the quiet. She was silent. Her body just ran. No shouting, no wasting of breath. She was a good runner. She could beat him. Her body knew what to do.

U. asked her manager if she could change her shifts so she didn’t have to do the early walk to work. They told her to turn up as rota’d or hand in her notice. Perhaps Sainsbury’s weren’t her sort of people after all. She quit.

A couple of days later, her friend E.’s mum gave her a rape alarm as a present – a small act of kindness and concern.

U.’s story was clearly a response to the ESCAPED LUNATIC story – the right story to tell. But as a group we asked ourselves where the inspiration in the story was? Then we realised. As well as the kindness and the spirit: her body knew what to do.

L.’s Mum had him so young (seventeen) that he was lucky enough to know all of his great grandparents as a child. His Nanna still lived with her parents, in fact.

By the time he was 10, his Nanna was caring for his Great-Nanna at home. Great-Nanna would often get up and offer to help, coming through to the kitchen to try to assist with the cooking. Nanna’s repeated refrain was that no, she would be alright, “go back to your chair.”

One tea time L. is helping his Nanna make boiled eggs and toast, when Great-Nanna comes through and offers to help. But this evening is different, and instead of sending her back to her chair, Nanna says yes, you can help, “you can cut the toast into soldiers.”

L. and his Nanna return to the boling pans of water, and it is only when they have taken the eggs out that they turn to to see Great Nanna’s handiwork. She’s been sitting at the table, meticulously cutting detailed soldier silhouettes out of the slices of toast. 

Nanna and ten year old L. were delighted, and the memory still brings grown up L. great joy.


By this point we were half an hour past our finish time, so we had to wrap it up. Thanks to everyone who came in and told a story and/or listened to one.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Birth Plans: Partus and me

I’m really pleased to be able to share this guest blogpost from Stacey Sampson, who we’ve had the pleasure of working with for a few years now, as deviser, performer, writer and facilitator. We talked a while ago about Stacey writing something about her role in making Partus, and the impact the project has had on her. 

Big thanks to Stacey for sending this over. You can find her on Twitter at @OurStace. Partus is on tour at the moment - dates are here.


When Alex and I first discussed writing this blog we vaguely mentioned it might touch on what being part of this show has meant to me… Snap forward a few months as I actually come to put fingers to keys and that feels like a huge task. This show, sorry to pun so early, is truly Part Us – All those who’ve been involved in the making process have poured their heart into it, sharing the most personal of views and experiences as well as immersing themselves in the views and experiences of all the contributing interviewees and spending many hours trawling articles, research, statistics, reports, images… It was never going to be ‘just an acting job’ but I couldn’t have anticipated what a truly significant impact it would have.

PARTUS rehearsal photos Helena Fletcher 

In 2013 I had just had a baby – My first son Billy – Having put all my eggs in the positive birth, hypnotherapy, natural as a fox in a field basket, I was shocked to end up with an emergency caesarean and a lot of residual health problems after a painful and dramatic labour. Birth wasn’t how I’d imagined it at all. When Billy was a few weeks old a friend posted on Facebook that Derby University was commissioning a nationwide piece of research into traumatic birth. There were various aspects but as part of it they hoped to provide art therapy sessions for a small group of women to see if it might help them process their experiences. I applied and spent 12 weeks in brilliant company surrounded by every art material you could think of – We cut, stuck, sketched, painted and sculpted our way through various prompts and I started to unpick what had happened. During that time Rachael visited us to explain that as another strand of the programme Third Angel would be making a show in response to some of the collected research. We started talking… I’m an actor, based in Sheffield, my own traumatic birth experience and those of the women in my therapy group were fresh in my mind. It seemed like a good fit.

The first incarnation of the show, Labour Intensive, was shown at Derby Theatre in April 2015. By this point I was absolutely hooked on the material. Rachael had already conducted several interviews with mothers, fathers, midwives and consultants – I started to collect stories too. Some informally from friends, others from groups we had specifically targeted like families with multiples and those who’d experienced premature labour and mental health issues around birth. It became a collection of verbatim material interspersed with facts, told by four people of mixed ages. A young boy and girl, a man and a woman (me.) It was only on for one night and we all felt that hadn’t done the subject justice. We were fascinated by the stories and decided to collect more. It felt like there was another show waiting to be shaped from the old – One that viewed birth not just through the trauma lens, but tried to capture the whole crazy miraculous diversity of it.

We went back to the rehearsal room in December 2015 and whilst making this second version of the show I got pregnant again. Birth had been bloody scary the first time around so I felt a real mixed bag of emotions knowing I’d need to go through it again but being in a room completely devoted to that very topic every day helped to balance that out somehow. As part of the extended research I started leading sessions with a group of mothers at the Young Women’s Housing Project - a local organisation which supports and provides accommodation for those at risk of, or with experience of, emotional and/or sexual abuse. The women were incredible and we were privileged to hear their birth stories, many of which they said had never been told. The workshops became the highlight of my week.

A fortnight into our making process, I miscarried. I spent Christmas eve in hospital having a procedure to remove the remains. We had a couple of weeks break over the festive period and came back to rehearsals in January and I felt weirdly serene about it. In opening the conversation about birth with such a variety of people we often heard about experiences of miscarriage too, it was part of the journey for many people. I talked about it openly with friends, and strangers actually. It felt right to do that and it felt okay that it had happened.

On 15th January 2016 we opened the new version of the show – Partus. This time there were songs, balloons, dancing, party poppers and cups of tea punctuating the verbatim stories. It felt more representative of the varied landscape that is birth. It also had some political bite as we all got increasingly angry about the compromises being forced on our maternity services and the impact it’s having on both the staff and the three quarters of a million families relying on it every year. It was an emotional week of shows for us all. A highlight was being hugged into the bosom of my fellow performer Denise as she sang a gospel song, ‘He will take the pain away’ whilst me and Laura cried with a mix of exhaustion and elation. Birth was big and small, universal and personal, messy and tough. But oh so worthwhile.

And the story wasn’t over yet… Partus was set to tour in the spring. Knowing this I conveniently got pregnant with a due date just weeks before we planned to go on the road. This time the pregnancy went okay and, in a funny, lovely, circular twist of fate, my second little boy Sam was born on the 15th January 2017. A year to the day, in fact almost to the minute, after we’d opened Partus in 2016. The show evolved again. We had a new cast member, updated research and more brilliant music from our composer & sound designer Heather. I also had a new birth story to add into the mix. But it wasn’t just a case of my story influencing the show, the show had influenced my birth story. I went into labour with Sam ten days late. He was back to back so there was more pain, a failed induction and an emergency C-Section – Not dissimilar to last time. But after three years of soaking up the complexity and unpredictability of birth I had a completely different mindset. Last time I’d come out battered and bruised, physically and mentally. This time, I felt acceptance about how things played out. Last time I couldn’t even hold my baby because I was in too much distress. This time, they placed Sam on my chest the moment he was born. Last time, I was knocked for six by the vast gap between my expectations and reality. This time, I knew the only thing you can be sure of is that you can’t be sure of anything.

Partus has bookended my experience of childbirth and it has revolutionised my approach to and understanding of it. For that reason, I knew I had to be part of the tour, even though my baby arrived only three weeks before rehearsal started. So, here I am…on my way to our next show. Sam is with me. He came into rehearsals every day too. In fact, during our opening shows in Stockton, I actually breastfed him during the play. There’s a lot of debate around how to support women in the arts to create whilst raising a family – I’d say just ask Third Angel. The whole company have made it seem like a walk in the park for me to be here with a new born. I’m very grateful. Not only for that but for giving me one of the richest, most profound experiences of my life. In the past three years I’ve made three things I’m very proud of – Two little boys and this show. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Rules and options

I’m on the train on the way home from YOU, THE AUDIENCE at The Royal Exchange in Manchester.

It was a great day of provocations, conversations and performances – thinking out loud about our relationship – as artists, companies, buildings and institutions – with the people who come and see/watch/listen to/participate in the work – people who are often called ‘audience’, though today even that was up for question.

There were some great provocations – which I believe the Royal Exchange will be gathering together/posting at some point. I ran a session called INVITING ANSWERS, about some of the ways we (in Third Angel) have conversations with audiences and participants in order to hear and retell their stories, either in the process of making the shows, or in the performances themselves. I adapted The Chapters Game (which we invented as part of making The Lad Lit Project) into something that, instead of me running in a research or workshop context, a small group can play on their own, with a set of prompt cards. I think it went well – certainly people seemed to enjoy it.

At the end of one of the afternoon break out sessions a thought clarified itself for me, but too late to be able say it. (Though I did get to chat to Andy Smith and Annabel Turpin about it afterwards - both of whom also gave cracking provocations - thanks to both of them for listening to me think out loud). 

There had been some discussion of the rules or etiquette of theatre spaces and buildings, and how they can put people off coming – because they don’t know how they’re meant to behave. (I think this is pretty widely acknowledged now…).

But what if we think of it this way? They’re not The Rules. They’re a set of options that we give to audiences. Every time we create a show, every time the audience come (in) to a performance, we have created a set of options for them. The most common set of options might well be: sit in the dark, watch, listen, engage, think, but don’t verbally of physically join in. They are so common in fact that many people think of them as rules. But they’re not the ‘default option’ – we’ve still decided at some point in the making process (whether we noticed ourselves do it or not) that those were the ‘options’ that we were offering to the audience with this particular show.

So, when we decide on a different set of options (which may include all of those first possibilities, but might also include reading out some text when asked, contributing their own story, moving around the space to give themselves a different view point, making eye contact with performers or other audience members, sitting in a car and lighting the action with their own headlights, getting on a train with the performers…) we have to be sure that we communicate those options to the audience clearly. What they can do, and also whether or not they can “just” sit and watch, too (because as several people said today, some audience members are very happy with that). We might communicate those options on the publicity materials, out in the foyer when they arrive, or in the performance itself – whatever is appropriate.

Because if we do that, perhaps more audience members will be able to turn up to shows, not assuming there will necessarily be seats to sit on and that they will have to sit attentively but quietly in the dark, but wondering what options they will be offered tonight, what the layout will be, what their relationship with the performers will be.

Anyway. A good day. And that’s what I’m thinking about on the train home.

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