Mind the Gap
Travel broadens the mind, so the cliché goes, so here I am sitting in a sunny top floor flat in Budapest thinking about the work that I am currently doing in Bradford for Mind the Gap.
I’ve gone a long way in my attempt to understand the nature of things. I am often confused and exasperated at my inability to explain what I am doing and why I am doing it. Sometimes a little clarity emerges and I can explain things a bit better. That normally happens when I am thousands of miles from the place that I am doing it. So coming to Budapest was important in doing my work in Bradford better.
I first worked with Mind the Gap in 2003, when I was at Northern Stage, and asked Tim Wheeler, then Artistic Director and one of the founders of the company, to collaborate with us on a touring production. We decided to create a new version of ‘Don Quixote’ adapted by Mike Kenny, and it toured to 18 venues across UK, with a company of learning-disabled and non learning-disabled performers, from two ensemble theatre companies, to great critical acclaim. Tim and I became good friends and I have been loosely involved with the company, over the years, since that time. Last year Tim resigned as Artistic Director of Mind the Gap and I was asked to join the company as a consultant and ‘critical friend’ to help them through a process of change.
It has been a fantastic opportunity for me and I have learnt much more than I could ever have imagined through the process. I have of course my own methods and idiosyncratic ways, but the time spent with Mind the Gap has made me question some of those long held beliefs. What is emerging for me now is a new way of thinking about theatre and how to make it.
What I have learnt working with Mind the Gap.
I am currently in rehearsal for a new piece of theatre called Contained which opens at Mind the Gap Studios on 16th October 2015 at 7.30. Come and see it.
Listening to the Mind the Gap performers’ stories has been up-lifting and I have learnt so many things from them, including some pretty deep thoughts about what it is to be human. Their stories have become the true centre of our work, reflecting their lives with honesty and finding new ways of presenting themselves through story telling, music, dance and just by being who they are. Sometimes the simplest of tasks takes on a sense of deep meaning, for example, watching them go about a series of jobs on stage, moving a speaker, plugging in an amp, testing a microphone become powerful moments of self expression.
One of the aims of the work has been to create the environment in which the performers have been able to say, in a sincere and complete manner, I am me, I am here and I am fine. It takes a lot of guts to say that and mean it. Many of us find it really difficult to do. It makes us vulnerable and unsure, yet if we can believe it, it can make us powerful and lovable. The Mind the Gap performers’ have become experts at presenting themselves. Nobody does it like they do it and it is wonderful to watch.
Which, of course, is true of anybody presenting themselves in front of you with complete sincerity.
One of my favourite stories, that I repeat a lot, was told me by the Russian director Yevgeny Arye, artistic director of Gesher Theatre Company in Tel Aviv. He explained that he was watching rehearsals one day when a door opened in the wings and a cleaner just swept the back area of the stage without noticing anything else going on. Yevgeny explained that it was mesmerising and beautiful to watch, much more interesting than the ‘actors’ working hard in front of him. I hold that story close to my heart. Let’s bring the cleaners to the front of the stage.
The Music of Jez Colborne
I got to know Jez Colborne when he was a performer in the Northern Stage/Mind the Gap co-production of Don Quixote back in 2003. Years later I went to see ‘Irresistible – Call of the Sirens’ written by Jez. It was amazing. Jez as a composer and performer was just brilliant and it was obvious that I wanted to collaborate with him on Contained. He started writing music for the piece and it suddenly occurred to me that a great narrative for our show would be the making of a music video. The performers would create a band to play Jez’s music. They would seem to learn it and rehearse it during the show and finally they would perform a finished version at the end of the show. ‘Im Me’ music composed and with lyrics by Jez is produced by long-term Mind the Gap Associate Artist Si McGrath. It will be accompanied by the music video directed by French photographer Denis Darzacq.
The photography of Denis Darzacq
I was introduced to the work of Denis Darzacq by Mind the Gap when I saw photographs from his exhibition ACT some years ago. He had captured powerful moments that touched me deeply. When I started working on ideas for Contained I immediately thought of him as a collaborator. I believed that the authentic moments I was looking for, from the stories of the performers, could be achieved more effectively through the photography of Denis. It would give me a start. I would get to know the performers better by looking at them first in photography by Denis.
In creating Contained we started by filming every performer from Mind the Gap’s Academy and Resident Artists to learn their story. One minute on camera each. Then Denis took a series of portraits and ‘sofa’ shots. We were compiling material. Stories and images were quickly accumulated. We filmed with Denis in locations around Bradford for a week for our final music video of Jez’s song. This was the source material that we would use for the creation of our piece of theatre.
Once all the stories were collected we started to devise a project that could accommodate that material.
Contained (The Project) is a ‘circle of projects’, that surrounds a piece of high quality theatre, that feed off each other artistically and build long-lasting relationships with people locally, nationally and internationally.
The ‘circle of projects’ are developed from a relationship with a new performance piece, Contained (The Performance), which at its centre, is a collection of personal stories told by an ensemble of performers, with a range of learning disabilities, whilst they create a music video.
The activities include a series of one-minute films, a two day filmmaking residency, an Academy showcase, a music video, a documentary about learning disability, an exhibition and much more.
Ideas travel between each mini-project – informing, exciting and generating enthusiasm for the whole range of ideas and activities, developing an holistic/integrated approach to the project as a whole.
Contained (The Project) will grow experientially over time, changing and developing and deepening the experience for ourselves and the people we create the projects for and with.
The theatre piece is moving towards its final stage. Rehearsals for the final production starts at the beginning of September. I will be back on familiar ground in a rehearsal room with a team of performers and theatre practitioners.
The place I love to be. It’s going to be beautiful.