The Indulgent Self- challenges within autobiographical work

Session at Devoted and Disgruntled

A Live Art Development agency DIY workshop given by Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari in 2012 ‘ aimed to investigate when the use of self as one’s material becomes indulgent, therapy inflicted on the public, or simply uninteresting to anyone else except the artist themselves.’

Live art and theatre appear to dance rather closely together when performers use their own life as the material for their work. It therefore follows that the above debate within Live Art is also relevant to theatre makers working with autobiography. We noted that increasingly artists, Bryony Kimmings being only one example, are programmed within both Live Art and theatre festivals and that this blurring, although exciting, brings its own set of problems.

Isn’t it theatre’s place to demand something different to Live Art? Doesn’t a theatre audience have expectations of narrative, be they unconventional or not? The emphasis that arose was not only a concern for one’s audience but also a concern for a wider social and cultural perspective. We heard personal gripes about ‘confessional’ work that didn’t take into consideration the subject matter’s place within wider frameworks. Art’s role was not simply to ‘splurge’ our experiences at an audience but rather to take ‘the personal’ and sculpt it into something more… well, artful.

Without getting into a discussion of what art and therefore theatre is we are able to take these concerns and see how artists have successfully used them and even incorporated them into their work. We discussed shows where the concept of subjectivity and truth were dissected and used to inform the drama. We heard of one show that was billed as a ‘fictional autobiographical tale’ and we discussed Caroline Horton’s ‘Mess’ where the trap of a ‘neat ending’ was highlighted and obliterated, forcing the audience to witness the disconnect between theatrical presentation and autobiographical realism.

What was exciting about this session was that we sat as a group of theatre makers and appeared to have all engaged and challenged these concerns within our practise. The nature of autobiographical work forces us to analyse our objectives. It is stories from our own life that we’ve chosen to tell and therefore there is no one else to blame if the work doesn’t resonate. As such it is an opportunity for us, as artists, to come up against ourselves and make demands. Those demands should be the same as the demands we expect from any work we respect. It is these demands that will shape what we make – they are the very centre of our artistic practise.

Actors and performers are increasingly taking ownership of their autonomy outside of traditional theatres and making solo and/or autobiographical work. The marriage of Live Art and theatre is a symptom of this. As such, theatre in the UK is currently rich in its diversity, an ecosystem with longevity and an increasingly audible scuttle of tenacity.

‘Ich Bin Ein, No Thanks’ at Ausform Platform, Bristol

Amazing fun doing the Platform in Bristol. The show is taking shape. Ausform is such a brilliant collective. The work leapt and screamed and wept. The show’s switch from comic melodrama into something more poetic is very tricky. In its shorter format it worked and I enjoyed unsettling the audience but the interplay will be more difficult if the show wants to go further, which I think it should. I shall keep thinking about cities, keep thinking about love and Berlin and see where the show takes me. First of all I know it will take me to The Gate Theatre as part of The Forest Fringe residency. I hope to add a few more surprises before then.


Lovely Bristol audience were very into their aqua fitness routine.


Photographs by Paul Blakemore

Meet Puffball


Puffball is afraid.

He doesn’t know where he is. He’d never seen a person before Tuesday morning. His little wing was yanked a little far to the left when he was picked up and it’s sore. He nuzzles it with his beak but the pain is dull and aching and deep and it won’t go away. This place doesn’t smell right. It’s not soft or warm and he’s alone, apart from the people who stare at him.


He doesn’t know what they want or what kind of animals they are. He just knows that he has no power against them. He tried nipping at one of them but his small beak left no mark.

He notices his heart is beating very vast, tat tat tat tat tat tat. It begins to ache. The aching under his wing and the aching in his chest now meet somewhere around his ‘wing’-pit and clasp on to each other and the pain is unbearable- it’s twinging now and he thinks maybe soon he will not be able to breath.

For the first time in Puffball’s very short life he has to acknowledge what death might be and his small brain is surprised by how much of a complete fact it is.


To stop and to not see anymore. To not see.

It is only this that Puffball thinks of now… how odd to not see anymore, the eyes to be blanked out and to not see. How very… very odd.

He closes his eyes and the entire black sky presses onto his skull and he falls into a thick graveyard sleep.


Ich bin ein, no thanks

The three days up in the clouds at Platform showed me a lot about this little show of mine. I went out into the streets of Bristol armed with a dictaphone and a camera. I wanted to throw myself into a city and to take from it anything I could. I wanted to see if the city would tell me things. I was thinking about this quote by John Berger:

“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”

What then would Bristol be? Well I discovered that Bristol was definitely male and certainly between the age of twenty and thirty… a professional man who used his credentials for social good- not adverse to a little bit of a smoke on the weekends. Dinner conversations with Bristolians that night CONFIRMED these findings. Or did they?
With my reportage head on I had come across many sounds and images. I had tried to avoid making stories. I had tried to remain empirical in my approach and of course at this I failed- quite happily.

My favourite moment was overhearing a singing rehearsal of an operatic tune in the hallway of the Cathedral. Myself and two German tourists were frozen outside the ‘do not disturb’ sign, craning our necks to hear every last note. When I sat listening to the recordings I saw clear echoes of what I am thinking about in this show. A moment of chance, overhearing a singing practise, offers up something beautiful and transcendent, yet just outside the cacophony of sirens and street signals could be the harbinger of doom on a bad day. It’s been said that the city pertains to melodrama. It is loud until you find silence. It at once forces us to taste our greatest fears and our greatest fantasies. It holds both so close together that the only rational thing to do at times is to leave, and quite literally, head to the hills.

Maybe I could find a methodology of exploring cities that attempts to be objective- to see it as it is. It is a ridiculous idea for a lot of reasons and yet by trying I learnt so much about why that might be.

I was thinking about the maps of the American Dennis Wood who made maps using specific information that wouldn’t usually be mapped. He would map the pumpkins outside of people’s houses at Halloween or the fall of the street lights. Or the work of Ralph Gentles who documented every crack in the New York side walk post the boom of insurance claims in the States: ‘For every defect there is a different symbol, and there isn’t a stretch of sidewalk on his map that doesn’t end up with its own thicket of hieroglyphs. On the single block of Madison Avenue between 41st and 42d Streets, Mr. Gentles notes 16 defects of 6 varieties.’ Mr Gentles and Mr Wood dealt with minutiae and their findings are fascinating but they are fascinating because they lead us back to demographics. Authors and artists have tried, with varying degrees of lucidity, to touch on the psychology of a city. Like the Bernadette corporation’s Reena Spaulings perhaps coherence about the nature of our cities can only be found in merging individual voices into one collective fiction which asks specific questions, in fact shouts them, as loud as the city might.

What is a city?

I returned, as is usually the way, to the root of why I wanted to make this show. I wanted to explore what Berlin had become to me. Why it had become such a character- one whose hair colour, clothing and sex I could tangibly describe. At times I felt afraid of it at others in love with it. I wrote a huge amount during these few days and I attempted at all times to be honest and not ashamed by the visceral reaction I had to this city. In fact I searched out these moments, knowing that in these would be the fabric of what to push. I wanted to revel in the moments of introspective melodrama where the city became a kind of noose or a kind of wild eyed lover. I wanted to get these moments drunk, put them on stage, make them sing karaoke and see what we had to say for ourselves in the morning.

Rehearsals in Cornwall