Tag Archives: Adam Peck

On vulnerability, sharing and the healing power of storytelling – Performing ‘Only Us’ at Bristol Old Vic

About ‘Only Us’

Not everyone is an only child, but everyone has felt lonely…’

‘Only Us’ was performed in June at Bristol Old Vic, and was a series of autobiographical stories about growing up, living in Bristol, and feeling like you’re part of something bigger.

Writer and performer Adam Peck first took his one-man show, Only, to a variety of far flung corners of Bristol, from schools to pubs to community spaces and ‘Only Us’ combined Adam’s own life story with the stories of the people he met on his travels; a melting pot of Bristolians, but people all united by the same issues – friendship, family and the search for fulfilment.’

I was one of those Bristolians, and here is a story about my experience of storytelling.

Standing up and sharing your story – from audience to stage

When I first told people about the prospect of participating in ‘Only Us’ I had to get used to receiving a mixed reaction. Some people thought it was a great idea, some were horrified at the prospect of standing up as ‘myself’ whereas others simply couldn’t see where the ‘story’ or the ‘drama’ of the performance could possibly be. I think people were perhaps a little frightened of coming to watch something that felt like it could be unpredictable, or different, or too close to real life but I guess as we said in the show, the people that came were the right people, and whatever happened was the only thing that could have. . and this was ok. As the process got underway I soon began to realise ‘the show’ aspect of the experience was potentially the least important (for me anyhow).

My motivations for participating were threefold – I’d dreamt of being a performer since I was small, but gave up on it as life unfolded, and the opportunity to work with a professional writing and directing team and be on stage at the world renowned Bristol Old Vic was just too good to miss. More than that, it was like some kind of little miracle, it was in short more than I could ever have dreamed was possible.  Secondly, I wanted to share my story. I guess at the time I didn’t know why, but when I first saw Adam’s show ‘Only’ during 2011 I came away thinking that it was beautiful, celebratory and ‘yeah, I want to do that’ but also ‘yeah, maybe I could do that’.  As I stated in my previous  Blogpost  I saw the work as a piece that celebrated the intimacy of everyday life, it was poignant, meaningful and often funny ‘warts and all’ storytelling. I didn’t really have any expectations as to how things would unfold over the short time we had to put things together, but after some deliberation, once I had committed to the process I felt like I was up for any challenge.

Writing, reviewing and re-writing the past – the healing powers of storytelling

The most frequent question I’ve been asked since taking part in the show have usually centred on the writing process. As an audience member it’s natural to question in this kind of performance what was real and what was fictional. The story I told was my story and the writing experience felt for me 100% collaborative, and the weird things is I found the process itself quite restorative. It’s an interesting feeling to hand your life story over to someone you don’t really know to read and discuss. I think for me a great deal of learning (about myself) came through these early rehearsals. Initially I really struggled with getting started on writing the story which is unusual for me, it took me three attempts before I finally had something which was my story, not the story of someone else or a list of contextual factors but things which were about me. My contribution was then crafted by Adam to meet the other requirements of the show, however at no point did I feel anything was compromised or missed, that my wishes were always respected and anything that was cut was done so because in hindsight I could see I was hanging onto certain events which were not important or relevant to my story or anyone else’s. In fact, this act of cutting or taking away the text that wasn’t necessary, was for me, quite powerful, as was seeing my story from someone’s else’s perspective.

My story, our stories, your story – performing ‘Only Us’

Another key aspect of this performance was meeting the other storytellers. Having worked on our own stories we were then brought together to rehearse as a family and it was a fantastic experience to meet and learn about the other performers. All of our stories were different and in some ways they seemed quite unusual but we soon came to realise via our rehearsal process and from feedback via audience members that actually there were a great deal of similarities across our range of life experiences. I think this was a key thing about the show that appealed to people. It’s easy in our individualised society to believe that the things that affect us, or worry us or when we experience certain events, we do so in isolation. In fact it seemed that once people began to engage in discussion around the topics that the show brought up most people could relate to something about the stories.

Getting audience feedback was for me just one of the best things about doing the show – people tended to respond to things differently – it was really interesting for me to get an idea of what audience members enjoyed or felt like they related to – it was often different to what I would have expected. The experience of being involved in the production was great learning for me as an artist – I learnt lots about the writing process, and appreciated the need to look after myself as a performer both physically and emotionally, particularly when dealing with content that was quite emotionally charged night after night (I want to say the importance of ‘keeping good psychic hygiene’ but realise that’s a term I’ve probably just invented).  The show was, in parts emotional, and whilst the aftermath and closure that the experience brought me was significant, overall I have to say that it was empowering to be able to stand on stage and deliver my story and reveal that emotion to an audience. As a person that has had to consistently battle to suppress her heightened sensitivities and emotions all her life, (to an extent where they have proved disruptive to my everyday existence) the relief of putting them on to the stage was nothing short of immense. Then to have people come and thank me at the end for sharing things they felt they could never possibly share was just brilliant. At last! Somewhere where emotion and expression was a positive thing! Huzahh!!

The aftermath of show week was quite significant and for me was probably the hardest part of the experience. Working autobiographically and with experiences and memories from the past is an extremely delicate process and I myself underestimated the impact this would have on me. I re-engaged with old feelings about past events across my life course (both positive and negative) and perhaps more significantly had the opportunity through performance to engage with both my parents at the same time. This was something that had not occurred for many years and is something that I would not get the opportunity to ever do in real life. It’s fair to say I was in a very strange place for at least a week afterwards. The most difficult thing was the lack of people who knew about the experience or had shared in it. I found it hard to go into work like nothing had changed, because I felt like I’d been on this huge journey and something very significant had. This being said I have benefitted from psychotherapy for a number of years now, I was in touch with my own therapist about the process and she came to watch it herself and thought it was fantastic. Although she did question what sort of support was provided alongside the development of the show, we both were of the opinion that it was something that I could manage effectively – and we were both right.   It’s fair to say if I was given the opportunity again I would jump at it straight away.

‘Only Us’ – So what? On sharing, vulnerability and the importance of participatory theatre

So looking back at the experience now the question I find myself asking is – So what? What difference has the experience made? Was it important and what (if anything) did it change?

On a personal level the process and performance gave me a lot of emotional closure around significant past events, enabled me to ‘let go’ of things I had been holding on to, as well as proving to some extent my ability as a performer (which I had doubted). Given my age, background and lack of experience it’s unlikely that I would have ever had the opportunity to learn these skills or take part in this kind of performance otherwise let alone perform at Bristol Old Vic, which for me was a huge huge privilege. More importantly whilst many people recoil in horror at the thought of sharing our ‘real’ selves (including the darker moments of both our personalities and our experiences) I’ve actually found it hugely empowering on a wider level. By standing up and sharing our stories, our authentic selves, our struggles, our triumphs and our insecurities we empower others to do the same. By coming to terms with our own speckled truth, we then in turn find it easier to show compassion to others. Despite our differences, and regardless in the vast ways we attempt to satisfy them, our needs are often really all quite fundamental – love, family, connection.

So for me this process was important, for me this process  changed things for the better, I can’t measure mental health improvements or growth in my own emotional intelligence, awareness, level of consciousness or overall sense of wellbeing, and I can’t say exactly how these improvements were made. I can’t say exactly why it happened, and I can’t really prove this difference to you.

So I guess for now you will just have to take my word for it.

I made some great friends in the other performers involved in this production and I’ve tried to understand if things were different for them afterwards too. Some of them have reported positive differences, a sense of lightness, a growth in confidence, a sense of letting go. Others had made some life changing decisions. Changed jobs or are preparing to move away. Some have simply just been on better terms with themselves or their families, or vowed to act or think differently about things in the future.

I don’t have formulae for how to repeat such an experiment, and I would hesitate to even think you could repeat this again with exactly the same results. My burgeoning interest around this topic has led me to believe that often for theatre makers this kind of performance is viewed as box ticking exercise or more hassle than its worth. From my observations I’d argue that yes – its risky, its delicate, its potentially more time consuming and its potentially plagued with difficulties.

But it works.

For the people around me who couldn’t  really understand the journey that was ‘Only Us’ as far as they know – well it was just some play I was in…     and perhaps for some theatre makers well, participatory theatre – maybe it is just seen as a box ticking exercise…

But for those that were involved in ‘Only Us’?

It was so much more than that.

(I would like to sincerly thank  everyone involved in making this production and giving me this oportunity and also thank everyone who came to watch it)


As an aside…. I’ve posted this before but I feel it adds a bit of weight to my storytelling argument, and given by someone whose story is perhaps in some ways similar  to my own… Enjoy..

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.


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.

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.