Category Archives: Reviews

‘I could have been better’ by Idiot Child at Bristol Old Vic

 

Some stuff happened….

Then I went to see Idiot Child’s ‘I could have been better’ at Bristol Old Vic.

I wasn’t going to write on my blog anymore. A bit like Jimmy Whiteaker. I had a little strop and called the world a wanker.

But while I was there, in the audience, I made something. I made a plane. A paper plane. It was green. I launched it toward the stage. It flew, then my plane was picked out amongst all the other planes, and then the plane became words, and the words became meaningful to someone or someone’s somebody or something. And this person kept them close to their heart.

So I thought maybe I should find a way to give this writing thing another go. Because maybe even if it’s only a few people, or even one person… You can make a meaningful difference, to someone, or someone’s somebody or something, out there in the gloom.

I decide to see the play firstly because of the striking photography which became such an attraction to me I had to then buy a ticket.  I do frequent Bristol South Swimming Pool in Bedminster (a very fine establishment – you should try it) although I’ve never had a penchant for water wings especially.

The play, performed solo by James Whiteaker tells the story of  Jimmy a likeable 30 year old railway worker resigned to a life on the platform where people don’t listen to his announcements and he spends his time as an outside observer of everyday life.  Determined to follow in the footsteps of his all time idol Duncan Goodhew, we witness events in the build up and outcome of the local over 10’s swimming competition, as Jimmy in spite of the lack of a posh swimming kit, magazine exposure or other benefits, uses the situation to his advantage and enters the event in the absence of an upper age limit. Jimmy’s character you cannot dislike, he is reassuringly presented to us ‘flaws and all’ and is vulnerable, idealistic, athletic, romantic with a love for the classic yoghurt drink ‘yop’ and ambition enough to pop out the end of his verruca socks, as well as being childish and disconnected at times.

Jimmy combines comedy, storytelling,  video projection and an all too short moment of a capella as well as some stunning movement embodying the dichotomy of the desire to love versus the desire to fight – with love ultimately winning through.  Also thought provoking were the intriguing hand conversation and now infamous ‘hand dance’ which I was grateful enough to have the best view of.

The storytelling is supported by a brilliant set  – the highlight being an almost floating model swimming pool made of liquorice allsorts (you should go just on this basis alone) as well as video projection and other hanging/suspended items.

(Free floating..photo credit: Bristol Old Vic)

The audience were delighted to take part in the paper plane activity and not one person seemed to hesitate or delay over this at all. I did have one breakthrough moment as someone in the audience declined to volunteer for a different action and Jimmy suggested ‘What about the person next to you?  – this made me think about a number of things.

The final tableaux is a powerful  one and it’s easy to think that the story of Jimmy is all dark, a tale of failure and of broken dreams, but look more closely and you will find that it is a heart warming, funny and often honest commentary about messing up and admitting your truths. For me, ultimately the message of ‘I could have been better’ is this:

It is only at the point of spectacular failure that our journey really begins.

(Bristol Parkway rail station September 5th)

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Idiot Child are Jimmy Whiteaker and Anna Harpin  and ‘I could have been better’ is showing at Bristol Old Vic until 13th October . You can book tickets here:

http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/icould.html

I’d go and see it if I were you…

The Bullet & The Base Trombone/ The Morpeth Carol at Bristol Ferment

Suddenly its winter and I realise that I still have a lot of performances from this year to write up. It was the promise of  http://sleepdogs.org/  current production of The Morpeth Carol (Bristol Old Vic showing until the 17th of December)  that prompted me to remember the jungles and the battlefields of  the WIP showing of The Bullet and the Base Trombone  back in July as part of Bristol Ferment. The months have flown, although the memory of the performance is still clear in my head and I’ve been contemplating it for quite some time.  It was a lesson in the power of sound.. (so much so that I was wandering around rock pools in Wales with a Dictaphone last summer) but most significantly in the power of  imagination.

As usual I try and approach these things with an open mind – and I’ve given up trying to predict what could possibly be presented during this type of theatre and just try and go with whatever it is.  Suffice to say that the Bullet and the Base Trombone was my first sound based performance so I was excited in discovering what that actually meant.

As the performance began I am the first to admit that I was completely confused as to how much of this was actually real – I mean it sounded so real. And the story well – these things do happen don’t they? There are lands that colonist conquered with their silly wigs and western ideologies, and well we see conflict on the news today all the time, right?

The sparcity of the stage made the experience more atmospheric. It was like my mind had room to construct the scene (although I did spend the first five minutes staring at the equipment compulsively thinking ‘I wonder what that button does?)   A story told by a man alone on a stage surrounded by people.  The story of an orchestra or those behind the music.

Can you see them standing there?

The man told us of music. Of the construction of music. Of how the notes were geographical, like islands in his mind. I don’t read music. But I can see the islands too.

The man told us of an orchestra. Of the people and the lives behind the music. And there was a jungle and a bird. A beautiful beautiful bird that sang so hauntingly and sadly.   A jungle with people who knew their environment so well. The orchestra were on a mission – to play music all around the world – but the world they stumbled into was one devoid of music and full of conflict. People with guns. No birds sang here. I don’t remember what happened really. How the players strayed so close to the conflict zone, how they were discovered, how the girl with the cello was held at gun point. ‘Play’ the child had said to her. The children watched and listened fascinated– until eventually as they grew bored she was shot in the ankle and left for dead. Maybe the bird sang again after that, maybe the women crawled to shelter, maybe some of the orchestra were reunited… but what of the others?

‘That’s all I’ve got folks’ said the man, swiftly disappearing into the shadows.

W-H-A-T?

We sat for a moment. Quietly stunned.

Well. After that ferment experience I was properly self-prepped for the potential of my own internal response to another sound based performance.  What the previous show had taught me is to listen, but perhaps importantly that I could still apply my imagination.  I’m not sure grown ups do this very often. Children, yes, but grown ups? What did I imagine?

  • I’d imagine I can deliver that for you on time.
  • I’d imagine you’ll receive the invoice in a week or so.
  • I’d imagine the computer will be fixed soon.
  • I’d imagine that all those pizza delivery leaflets will eventually block the access to my front door

The Morpeth Carol was a different kind of story… but one where I still could exercise my imagination.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin..

A small intimate studio. Anybody fancy a Christmas cuddle? Five performers, five scripts, five desk lamps. Some crunchy snow-gravel.

So. Er.. Are they just going to read it then?

Once again I soon learnt that taking away the traditional trappings of the theatre suddenly made my ears work better.  Sometimes I get a flinching moment of anxiety… but where is all the stuff? You mean it’s just us and them? So we listened…. And we looked…. And they looked back.

It was like a bedtime story – well one where all the reindeers died anyhow. A Northern town, a small child who saw everything, a grown child, a man as old as life itself. A drunk mother, a father that wasn’t much good at anything. I squirmed at the violent bits. Felt that apathy of those working in retail. The universe worked in unequal and inexplicable ways, but as the old man once said – the specific workings of the universe were not really that important.

Snow crunched, the wind howled, sirens wailed. The story unfolded rapidly and all drawing toward an inevitable Christmas conclusion….

Or was it?

A poignant, sincerely performed and clever production subtly questioning the meanings of Christmas, tradition, class, race, family and gifts.

Shame on me for being such a bloody humbug this year.

Sleepdogs and Bristol Ferment present The Morpeth Carol  which runs at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until December the 17th 2011.

Get it?

IHAVENOIDEAWHATYOUARETALKINGABOUT  

www.sociologicalimagination.org

A Corner of the Ocean @ the tobacco factory theatre

A corner of the ocean.

As a diver – and having been in a few situations when perhaps I could have been left at the bottom of the ocean (literal or metaphorical) I was attracted to the themes within this production immediately. Presented by Jammy Voo and performed at The Tobacco Factory Theatre in June, this was to be my first taste of seeing contemporary physical theatre in a while. But it was a lot more than that. Combining music, physical theatre, puppetry, comedy and visual imagery, it was a brilliant demonstration of the opportunities theatre can bring when you start to think outside of the box. Suddenly, I realised, the performance possibilities are endless. Things I learnt from this production:

Puppet power. My most recent experience of puppetry was er.. a performance of Avenue Q. This was in a different league. Using four different varieties of puppet it was first time I had seen this kind of storytelling in a way which was interweaved with other types of contemporary theatre.  Outside of comedy, I don’t remember ever having had an emotional response to puppetry before this performance. The bed scene was touching, the closing scene was extremely powerful, if a little scary and I’ve gone off minks in a big way.

I enjoyed the use of space, the staging was quite intricate but didn’t seem overwhelming and the characters moved within their own complex corners and sometimes within each others. It seemed evident the company had a close rapport which s added to the slickness of the performance. The incorporation of live music and singing served to intensify the experience as emotion and mood changed from scene to scene as we got to know the different characters and experience the highs and lows of dealing with loss.  Things I particularly remember: the story of a girl crying on a bus, a Christmas spent alone, how it’s inevitable your head will explode if you always do and say the right thing, dancing to (born slippy?) the application of make-up (perhaps also a reference to Jimmy Voo’s clowning origins?) and how in the culmination of the work, the characters discovery that even in the darkest times of love and loss, there may be a positive moment, in the realisation that perhaps much of your identity and your life can easily be eclipsed by your relationship and the man you love.

I stayed for the question session at the end which was really informative and a great way to understand how the piece was together (thank you). I’d been thinking about clowning a bit (as you do) and whilst this was not a clowning piece the voo’s have inspired me to give it a go.

This was a highly creative, invigorating and original piece of work which demonstrated the multi-skilled and accomplished talents of the company whilst revealing exactly what it is to be a woman experiencing love, grief and loss.

Oh crap. Realise the last sentence made it sound a bit like a school report.

The performance was empowering and brilliant.

‘nuff said.

Dreams, memories and the wisdom of children – Life Savings at the Eggstinov, Bath

I’d sort of already decided that this was going to be good. So I should probably declare a slight bias now. (I’m not a reviewer or a critic and I never buy programmes)

So what in particular did I enjoy about the performance?

The sound of writing, boxes of dreams, the fragility of children’s hopes, of seeing the world through their eyes, the exuberance, optimism, anxiety, honesty of youth, memories, (forwards, backwards) a melodic lullaby in a garden den, the simplicity of a world where people say what they think, a waterfight, an uncanny wisdom contained within small bodies, remembering, forgetting, laughter, fearlessness, joy, a change of space, a change of time, (forwards, backwards)  boxes of memories, life changing experiences, remembering, forgetting, small moments, precious things, (forwards, backwards) painful happiness, exquisite sadness, four essays and some pro-plus, the change the snow brought, a New York marathon, love (almost) in a baguette shop, heart surgery, a ticking stopwatch..

You see there are times…. when memories….. well they become so wrinkled that you can pierce through them.. Sometimes, in special moments – you get the opportunity…….  to look both forward and back…..

A letter from my past or maybe from the future (forwards, backwards, forgotton now remembering), and a theatre which fitted the small people perfectly.

I’ll answer the letter soon of course.  I’ll post my reflections here.

Life savings was a work of art and a privilege to experience. Thank you to everyone who bravely shared their stories. I loved them all. I think however, that for me its the kids that stole the show.

Oh, and be sure to let me know the final count of how many lives you saved..

Authenticity, courage and the intimacy of everyday life – ‘Only’ at Bristol Old Vic..

So. I’ve been chewing over this for a while. I’ve been wondering what did ‘Only’ at the Old Vic say to me? I’ve decided that it spoke of: authenticity, courage and celebrating the love, loss and intimacy of everyday life.  Oh and some nice things about staging.

Authenticity is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As a soon-to-be-student of-acting-once-more I’ve been trying to remember some of the basic principles of my earlier teachings in preparation for my summer class. Also as you know I attended a leadership course for work, back in March, and the issue of authenticity or authentic leadership was very much at the fore of this as well. So. I looked it up, and according to the people of the Wiki:

“authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth’

So was the performance faithful to the artist’s self? Absolutely. It was a frank, bold and pleasingly non-self indulgent account of the actor’s/ performer’s/Adam’s/Mr Peck’s life. Perhaps I am a big fan of this piece as I can relate to it so closely. I was an only child (not technically but I grew up alone) I lived at number 11. I also believe hamsters to be stunningly inadequate when placed in the category of significant childhood pet/friend. Relationship regrets, bemusements and mistakes are common to most people to a lesser or greater extent. I went to hospital – although they fiddled with my tonsils rather than any testicles and I also had a friend who I never got the chance to really know, who also died from Leukaemia whilst we were young.

So as I ponder the secret of arts appreciation perhaps then your own experiences and values will always colour your interpretation of a piece and to what you get out of it, which will then always be different to others who watched it.

Trouble is, I’ve been to a couple of productions now where the ‘actors’ were not really acting – and whatever connection you had with them, however fleeting it felt real. Direct. Organic. Moving.  I decided on a change of tack on Saturday and took myself off to see a play and despite it being very well acted.. it was just… well…. too… *acted* When comparing with the experiences I’ve had recently, everything seemed suddenly one dimensional.

So, am I buggard for life now then? (theatrically speaking)

Is theatre-going, going to be the same again?

I’ve been thinking about staging and I really enjoyed the piece from my solo chair in the middle of the room. Again I’m building my knowledge as  I go, so no expert, but I felt the staging really enabled us to consider Adam’s story as an individual, involved us in his account and enabled us to sit side by side with him and watch the other characters in his life around us unfold. It felt to me almost as if I was Scrooge in Dicken’s ‘a Christmas carol’ as he is visited by the ghosts of his Christmas past.. the scene around was familiar, the characters came, went, walked amongst us and we were simultaneously both a participant and observer in the events of Adam’s life.

Courage is the second thing I’m pondering after this performance. In order to be authentic you need to have the courage to be yourself and tell your story regardless of whatever outcome might occur. It was courageous. To stand and admit:

I/we/they, are human.

Ultimately despite the inherent loneliness of the story, I felt surprisingly uplifted by the end. It was a story of self-acceptance not self-indulgence. A key thing that struck me was how the piece seemed to draw attention to the intimacy and significance of everyday life. We could consider those moments with families, friends, even fleeting encounters with strangers. Moments which occur simply every day, hold much meaning, yet we perhaps take for granted.  Watching this piece made me decide that the best kind of art is that which does just that: draws attention to the significance of everyday life. Here and now.

So that’s what my conclusion will be, when it’s time to tell my own story… and this is something I feel that ‘Only’ has inspired, and given me the confidence to try and do…..

It was a commendable and heartfelt performance…

Art…Theatre…It’s powerful stuff.

The rest is silence – GetInTheBackOfTheVan – Arnolfini

So. My undisputable bravery and ongoing investigation into the delights of live art continued as I set off on Saturday 11th June and made my way to the Arnolfini for my 1st perhaps 2nd? live art experience. I was more or less completely new to this kind of performance . Having heard numerous stories during Mayfest of participatory shows where the audience ‘members’ were pushed around in a wheelchair whilst blindfolded stopping only while a man rubbed his beard on their face, if I am honest, my first thought was:

Right, If  I need to leave/escape – shouldn’t I be sitting near the door?

Also I am so new to this art stuff I’m always slightly worried I am just not going to get ‘it’. So of course I was kind of nervous. However the Arnolfini’s 50th Anniversary theme, ‘the apparatus of culture’ was something I felt that perhaps I could ‘get’ more easily than something more obscure.

The were three parts to the performance. The first was the final half an hour of a 3 hour durational piece which had been running since the early afternoon, as the performers danced continually to the top 40 singles chart. Alternating the Macarena and Saturday night dance routines, only stopping when the DJ spoke or during an advert break, they would then drink one of several varieties of coca cola. We could move around during this performance if we wished.

The second and third elements were a piece called ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Pearl and Dean’ which I *think* explored the ideas around how (and this I apologise is a very basic, untheatrical lay-webber terms)

How technological (media) advances are subverting our understanding of time and space, and the peice was drawing attention to the (in) authenticity of broadcasting/communication/popular entertainment, consumption and the society of the (non) spectacle. How talking incessantly isn’t necessarily communication. How silence can shout a 1000 words.

Or at least that’s what I got out of it.

I’m sure there is a lot more that could be pulled out, but I need to practise my interpretation skills a bit (tres frustrating)

It was quite exciting for me in the final pieces as I had often wondered if performances could evoke the senses in different ways. I wasn’t sure of the symbolism or metaphor but on a physical level being in darkness and surrounded by talcum powder was a new art experience and a strong anchor in terms of how I recalled the work in my mind…and I was happy to report I didn’t want to run away once.

And nobody rubbed their beard on me.

Bonus.

For me the most powerful part was the experience was that first half an hour watching the end of the durational piece. Now I am not sure if this was because it took me half an hour to absorb it, and half an hour for my head to fill with a number of responses, or whether I just got this piece more easily than the others. Perhaps I interpreted more, because I wasn’t rushing to try and interpret? I don’t know, but it was pretty special in there, and it did make me think: the repetition of the dance routines, the predictable formula of the music, the fact that the piece continued to be played out whether we were engaged directly or not, was for me quite a strong comment on the ‘apparatus of culture’ I also noted that by the end (not sure if it was intentional or not) that both performers had somehow synchronised which variants of coke they picked up to drink.. I wasn’t sure if this was deliberate but it made think how much of our consumer behaviour is learnt and imitated either consciously or subconsciously. I did leave the gallery thinking about the apparatus of culture in particular the media and it also triggered a memory of something I made myself years ago for an old uni module (seen below)

There was a question and discussion session at the end and now, I am kicking myself I didn’t stay – (was a bit worried that I may not understand it so bolted). On the whole I was really reassured that all the pieces seemed so accessible and the audience seemed to have a positive response (in fact one audience member rolled around on the floor at one point!- a small one 😉 It was great that it seemed quite a cross section of individuals/families etc. and it’s given me confidence to try out and watch more work of this kind. It was a memorable, and thought provoking experience which certainly made me question and think about cultural production and consumption. Looking forward to more from GetInTheBackOfTheVan soon.

More bodily contemplation – Bodies in Urban Spaces and the Bangkok Lady Boys….

So more bodily related tales… what else have I seen recently? An enchanting, magical and thought provoking experience…. bodies in urban spaces which ran as part of Mayfest is still very much fresh in my mind. The good thing about suddenly discovering ‘live art’ is that every experiences holds magic for me.

I met several people at Mayfest  that seemed to know it all. Everything about drama and art, everything about the industry, had studied everything for years or knew someone who knew someone who obviously knew everything.. Perhaps its the same with critics. You begin to build your expectations of what you want. Of what you think other people want. Of what is good and what is bad. . You stop seeing things with an open mind. Perhaps this is what happens to those that benefit from arts education. You are educated in the art of criticism and expectation. I have the distinct advantage of knowing very little about how to interpret things. I just well, use myself. For better or for worse. Raw. That’s all.

So what of these bodies. I had no idea what was in store. Meeting in Montpeiller park the ‘bodies’ (19 of them I think) clad in multicolour lycra and sweats ran ahead of us to take various positions as we walked through the city: Bus shelters, driveways, door frames. Whilst the agility, patience and amazing flexibility alone was highly impressive, one of the most powerful things of the experience for me was the running. As you passed one group of bodies the next would run ahead, within, around, through.

We were surrounded by neon elves. Magic ones. The traditional spatial boundaries were dissolved and new possibilities were created. Turn a corner, two bodies, colour. Was that a body? It didn’t really look like a body..? sometimes times it was a big pile of feet. Like a psychedelic caterpillar had keeled over and died. No end. No beginning. Just feet.

The trail took us to parts of the city I certainly didn’t know about.  Abandoned places, forlorn spaces. Where you wouldn’t normally look. Places you just didn’t notice.  Ugly places. Made beautiful and noticeable with bodies in them. The physical agility of the performers was commendable as it was surely a testing and trying spectacle to be part of. They look tried by the end. They squeezed. Strained. Squashed. Stood firm in doorways.

We started off a small group of spectators but finished as a crowd. It was magical. I wanted to cry when it was over.  It wasn’t really dance. It was kind of exhibition. But not. It didn’t feel like traditional devised theatre. What was it?

More photos of the day can be found here: http://tiny.cc/yxy86

I am rapidly coming to the conclusions that the best form of theatre is that which cannot be easily defined.

The memory will live with me for a long time. The body was the focus of the performance and a few weeks later I attended something quite different.. but again the role of the body was central.

Now. Here this. A performance by the Bangkok Lady boys is not something I would normally think about going to see..purely because I crave a deeper emotional experience nowadays..  I had seen them once before (the seats we were given were terrible) but my housemate offered me a free ticket (a corporate thing) so I thought I would go again.

The Bangkok Lady boys were to be honest a cut above your average drag act. The dancing was sharp. The production was high quality and high energy. The acting, mimicry and generally tomfoolery was suitable hammish and Benny Hill’esq. Stereotypes were enforced, jokes were crude. In general the audience loved it and paid on average a slightly high price for tickets, food and drink at the venue. It certainly seems to be a bit of a money spinner.

Now I’ve read a few reviews of the show since which have been entertaining, some positive in favour of what was admittedly, despite its crassness a jolly good show. Another which was a little disparaging of the performance on the basis that the author simply preferred women to men dressed as women.  This got me thinking: why do we go to see drag shows?

Fascination. People go to see drag acts simply to see the boundaries of physical normality moved. The Ladyboys, are more ladies than boys, in their looks, their movements their gestures. It was quite phenomenal how feminine and outright beautiful they looked, with the help of plastic surgery, corsets, feathers and an awful lot of max factor they were jaw dropingly gorgeous. You would rarely have thought they were anything other than women.

I’ts also a genuinely good laugh. If you don’t take it too seriously and can bear the political incorrectness which is prevalent throughout.  If I am honest, despite the fact these gender blurred bodies are painted, corseted and commodified, despite the fact the show is often cringeworthy in parts, despite the fact the miming is questionable and the tickets overpriced… I went to enjoy the dancing, and the big disco numbers, the feathers and the greasepaint..  but mainly I realise that in a world were the body is considered  as so important, and the idea of gender so often viewed as defined by sex, that to challenge these norms, to me is an act of bravery of the highest kind. To change your body to that degree is a significant feat, and whilst the bright lights and music perhaps make entertainment of these bodies, it maybe wise to question what it is like to be a ladyboy outside of the role. The humour makes things more comfortable to accept perhaps. At times it’s almost as if  it’s a strange kind of revenge over the audience as the most stereotypical alpha male is dragged up on stage and humiliated. Feel uncomfortable in the audience boys? Is that not the idea?

When comparing the two performances, the Bangkok Lady Boys do not come out on top. Next to anything that Mayfest produced  it’s like comparing apples and pears. However, I conclude that any person, a man or women, has a right to perform their art to whatever degree they wish. We live in a society where the body is situated as fundementally so important, and my final thought is this:  The Lady Boys have, as individuals, each been  compelled to redefine who they are both physically and mentally to a significant and life changing extent. Following this, they are also brave enough to stand on the stage in celebration of their choices. So it is this, in my opinion, is something that always deserves my applause… Good on’ em.

Something lovely came to Bristol.. Mayfest’s ‘Fortnight’, creativity and new beginnings.

Brought to Bristol by Proto-Type Theatre, from the outset the Fortnight project required something of a personal leap of faith:

Something poetic, beautiful and strange is coming to Bristol.
It will encourage you to peel back the layers of where you live.
To look for secrets
Surprises
To meet someone new.
Or hide in a crowd.
On 2 May, Fortnight comes to Bristol.
And you are invited…

For someone who had never attended or been involved with a production incorporating direct participatory audience engagement or ‘live’ art, I was a little apprehensive yet excited at the prospect of my first Mayfest experience. Having been fascinated if a little overwhelmed by the Arnolfini workshop ‘writing on the body earlier in the year, I was ready to once again dip my toe into the unknown in spite of the fact I originally felt like something of an inadvertent artistic philistine.  Whilst the concept of an interaction which was ‘beautiful, poetic and strange’ was appealing, for me, the Fortnights project’s main attraction was the promise of the exploration of place and the opportunity to find greater meaning.  On a few weeks break from my PhD research on doctors orders I figured that I really didn’t have much to lose in taking part (apart from the £15.00 ticket fee) but also admittedly didn’t really have great expectations as to what was to come.

Mysterious beginnings

Fortnight began with a mysterious personalised handwritten letter delivered at midnight, containing a felt badge and instructions as to the next day’s events. The following two weeks unfolded almost moment by moment. Everyday a new location to explore coupled with interactive media based tasks that required us to think, imagine, remember, see, appreciate and reflect on both Bristol as a place and on our on our own reactions to the activity and the resulting thoughts and feelings. Philosophical prose was emailed daily, along with beautiful poetry. A visit to the fountains revealed hundreds of yellow rubber ducks bobbing happily (ours for the taking).  We were encouraged to participate as much or as little as we wished, to play, to create and contribute through film, sound, and visual art, and tweet our comments anonymously on the shared fortnight twitter page, as well as receiving and conversing daily through text messages and emails with the mysterious ‘Fortnight’ who after such regular, personal and often individual contact the absence of which left something of a void after the project came to an end. Taking themes such as space vs. place, nostalgia, the daily commute, spirituality, time,  and meaning , participants were encourage to explore the city both physically and temporally discovering new secrets, hidden places, ourselves and quite often each other. Cumulating in a final group goodbye on the 17th story floor of Castlmead the participants were treated to a spectacular 360 degree view of the city, a party buffet and media presentations of the individual and co-produced contributions that had been made – all of this without  any assistance from the secret Fortnight hosts.  Who continued in the typical fortnight guise of being virtually present, yet corporeally absent.

Writing this now a few weeks after the fortnight project finished I am still a little lost for words in actually defining what Fortnight was and adequately describing its impact and value.  On reflection I came to few key areas of significance that either stood out and I took away with me the following thoughts and contemplations from my experience.

It’s performance Jim, but not as we know it…

As the days went by, there was a continual ongoing debate amongst participants as to what the Fortnight experience actually was and how it could be defined.  The project was in fact so many things.  It was ‘live art’ although I would argue that this was co-creation of performance rather straight audience participation (in my head there is a difference between these two concepts but I’ve no idea if it really exists or if my explanation communicates that well..) but the experience also simultaneously contributed to social, economic and community development as well as having an environmental agenda.  For example the *trail* led us to mostly free, important and perhaps under used resources – a church, a local independent cafe, public spaces and parks, museums and collections, and on the way we passed  local exhibitions and information for local creative support networks, casting offices, records offices, and other various places that may help us on our individual artistic journey.  Additionally some of the tasks may have also passed comfortably as public consultation techniques on the notion of place and the city, and the ‘council planner’ in me would have been interested to see the full list of  opinions on ’non-places’ and the reasons for living in Bristol that were identified by some of the participants.

So on a practical note it seemed to be contributing a wider benefit other than just on an individual psycho-geographic level.  Whilst it was very much an individual experience on one hand, the interaction amongst participants strengthened knowledge of local resources, senses of local and personal  identity  and community ties (having completed the project 30 people signed up to a facebook group in a bid to keep the communitas and creativity going). It also was a great incentive to walk and got participants exercising, as people explored the city from location to location each day. My feet were sore on more than one occasion.

The project has been an excellent demonstration of the opportunities of art in a community setting and how it can be applied to the benefit of others. My previous knowledge of art was not extensive and to be honest I may have secretly thought that at time it could be a little elitist and a bit self indulgent so the power of it and its possibilities I didn’t really appreciate before.  So perhaps rather than trying to define what in fact Fortnight was I was left with a broader question:  What is art? and who is it for?

Whilst I have few criticisms of the project, we should allow for context to a certain extent. Mayfest was an ideal platform from which to launch the project and Bristol of course already has a strong cultural identity and arts scene.  If the aim of the project was to continue to try and reap some of these broader community benefits, It would be interesting to see if the success of Fortnight could be repeated in other less ‘desirable’ or overtly ‘arty’ cities.

 

How does technology change the way we relate to self and other?  

A key point to the experience was the projects reliance and use of pervasive media.  This made the experience more ‘magical’ in one sense but also highly personal in another. The *challenge* or key thinking point for me was the role that technology plays in human communications and its impact on relationships. It was surprising how quickly I became used to, and looked forward to the daily communication via email and text and how despite trying not to, my ‘Fortnight’ represented  a person I had connected to. Perhaps my connection with Fortnight was that of a literary lover who wrote beautiful heartbreaking poetry, or a friend or parent who encouraged my creative endeavour. Either way it got me thinking about the role of technology and the distortion, interpretation or enhancement of human connection – virtual, imagined, temporal or not.

The consequence of these communications was also something that I thought about. What happens once the text/email/tweet/blog is out there, broadcast or published and you are unable to take it back? Do es the potency and meaning of the message change over time or is captured and kept for as long as the message exists in its virtual domain?

Creativity and play in artistic recovery, innovation and everyday life

So on to the most significant aspect of the project for me.  The role of play and outright silliness in the development and production of creative ideas.  Here I think it’s important to define the difference between ‘art’ and ‘creativity’.  Or is it? Oops have I come back to the ‘What is art question again?’  Artists of course, need to be creative and to create, but engineers also need to be creative to design, social scientists need to be creative to solve problems, to an extent creativity is necessary for everyday life, whether for problems solving, self expression or sharing with others.  So perhaps another lens to look on Fortnight, the *art* of fortnight is its facilitation of creativity amongst participants regardless of background. The emphasis on art that does not/should not take itself to seriously was in my opinion one of its strengths.. especially (can I say it?) at a festival like Mayfest. Brilliant productions. But how accessible are they to a wider audience? Is a wider audience welcome at such a festival?  Should it be encouraged? (Just asking the question)

Fortnight was both empowering and grounding, and a reminder that even the most highbrow/contemporary artistic ideas or productions often started off with a rubber duck in a bath (and nobody should ever be too *arty* or educated or experienced for a duck bath. No. No. No)

A further question that struck me was:  Who is the artist? Is the four year old child drawing on the wall with crayon an artist? Is the student an artist? or is an artist made when her peers agree her work is significant or when she secures her first commercial commission/role?  Perhaps there are different debates depending on how you look at it. For me. I decided that creativity realised in any sense no matter what scale, equals art in whatever form – and that is all.

Conclusion – I’ve been wearing my pyjamas for the past 100 years…

Oh okay, so 100 years is a bit of an exaggeration, and they are metaphorical pyjamas of course… but my key conclusion is thus..  On reflection, prior to the project I did feel like I had been sleep walking through life.. Fortnight promised to peel back the layers of where we live revealing new meanings and hidden secrets, and it did just that. In addition it gave me new confidence to create, embrace the potential of technology, removed my block, got me out of the house, renewed my appreciation of where I live and my sense of identity and place. It created new lasting social networks in my local community.  Fortnight reminded me that Bristol represents a city of possibility if only I can retain my sense of being present long enough to notice it. It was a potent reminder that when your expectation is to create rather than to achieve, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And so to the future.

After such an experience what next? I decided to set up this blog. To tweet with other artists and pester them nicely in the hope that I will learn things.  To see my new friends regularly. To consolidate my creative endeavours and remember possibilities I had long since buried. To apply the principles I had been reminded of to my everyday life and improve my efficiency at work. To make a plan for the future.

So that’s it. My first blog entry , dedicated to the Fortnight project…

Lovely.

Oh and one last thing… As long as you do understand of course… that I do realise, that, at the end of the day – it was just a project, right?

You know – an arts project?

Because magic….Magic doesn’t really exist.

Does it?