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.