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Driving back from the airport after performing Last Night I Dreamt My House Was Leaking... at PAD in Mainz, September 2009; Mary said "What do you think our next piece will be?", I hesitated, she continued: "I want it to be dirty" and I responded, "It will be a Chamber piece; it will be intimate and dirty". "Dirty!" we proclaimed to each other - somewhat in awe at what we had given birth to - and then we asked "What will that be like?".
Almost two years later, we have our 'dirty Chamber piece' - Fugitive Songs. We'd almost forgotten this early conversation when, around a month ago during a tech, I said to Mary "What is this thing we've created?" and then we both remembered our starting point and were delighted that the process has guided us to exactly what we had wished for so many months before.
Our exploration of this form was not entirely conscious but, at some level, we must have been searching out a theatrical definition for that wonderful word - 'dirty'. Howard Barker suggests that theatre is "attending on a sin, the possibility of witnessing a transgression, the freedom to part with the necessary disciplines of the street, the possibility of acquiring that criminal perspective" (Barker, H. (1993) Arguments for a Theatre Calder, p.75) and - he adds - "it is not you [the spectator] who sins, the actor sins for you." This wonderful description of the seduction offered by theatre has washed around my head for over a decade now - so did we seek to sin, to transgress; was this our version of 'dirty' theatre?
We did anything but sin in the early stages of the process; it was as though, having set ourselves a challenge we immediately ran for cover in the opposite direction. We are still made helpless by laughter when we recall our early workshops - which were risk-free and bored us both to death but, for some reason, we let ourselves of the hook by assuming the other was doing what she wanted/needed to and carried on without comment. Eventually, overwhelmed by the tedium of what we were creating, we called a halt to the proceedings, acknowledged that the work we were doing had nothing to do with the piece we wanted to make, and asked each other, rather forthrightly, "What is it you really want to do?!".
We wanted to drink gin, take drugs, smoke, listen to loud music, be raucous, swear a lot, not care when we went to bed, run away from the lives we had created for ourselves - stop (big stare at each other)- we wanted to run away; we wanted to be on the run; we wanted to be fugitives...
Well, this was a far cry from Mary icing cupcakes and me sitting on a chair discussing wallpaper (both of which had been activities integral to our earlier workshops), at least now there was something at stake for us. But how to be a fugitive from one's life?
I rather like the definition offered for 'fugitive' which suggests that that such a one is likely to change, fade or disappear, that this is an ephemeral being that flickers in and out of 'normal' vision. We began to work with the idea that the 'fugitive' was born of desire - each of us remembering moments in our lives when we had departed from the 'norm' and dropped out of sight in order to inhabit a subterranean landscape which transgressed the codes we had learnt from an early age as our survival manual. These transgressions tended to be brief and sultry, but entirely formative and seductive. These experiments with identity had, for both of us, occurred in our twenties and ceased as we became mothers and responsible wage earners; was it possible, then, to return to the heady state of the fugitive - were we still capable of transgressing?
We began to listen to music: Tom Waits, Nick Cave, P.J.Harvey. We found the songs that we wanted to fall into; that seemed to call out the 'fugitive' in us, and we played them over and over again. We had infatuations, we played out scenes from films that we loved, we dared to desire like we had desired when we were teenagers. We wrote our life in songs and played out our lives in films. We fell in love with that which we'd made 'fugitive' in our lives.
I played only males, and Mary played women 'reaching the end of the line'; we didn't question these desires; we honoured them. We found, in our fantasies, two people craving intimacy and we loved them for their failures and their attempts to love and be loved. The closer we got to them; the more we fell in love with them, the 'dirtier' the piece became - we headed for the wilderness.
The 'wilderness' was the name we gave to the point of escape; the point at which 'you dance as if there's no-one looking at you'; the point at which you lose definition and remember what you might be, not what you are. The wilderness engulfs when you least expect it; there was a Sunday morning when we danced ourselves into it and emerged feeling 'new' and 'odd' and not quite what we were before, and then it went again and it was months before it re-emerged. It's a dance of language as much as it is a dance of the body and - like plunging into the sea - if feels impossible until you do it and then it feels like a natural state of being. We found a form for it within the piece; a dance of mutability, a dance in which the body attempts to find a different way of being - a dance of a life unlived as yet.