Monday, May 31, 2010


At present we’re going through a period in which one way of avoiding wanting too much, too exposingly, is to ask the audience what it wants. This is a totally legitimate desire and it sounds quite progressive but to equip an audience with the information they need in order to authentically want something within the space you’re holding open for them is an extremely difficult task, and one that still requires the artist to have a very clear sense of what it is that they want out of the encounter. For the audience to feel that they have been left holding the baby is all wrong. They have to know that they’re the baby. They have to feel held. But they also have to feel understood, or else they develop a terrible sense of their own infantilisation. They can’t make themselves clear. They’re at the mercy of an adult who knows less than they do about how they feel. // Too often, securing the parameters for an audience to want things in turns out to be so incredibly difficult that you end up in a room where nobody wants anything, but is required to accept the desires projected on to them. Do you want your rattle? Yes you do!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

It used to seem to me that sometimes making theatre was like taking care of a young and particularly fractious baby to whom you are godparent. Sometimes it just cries and cries and nothing seems to make it any better and you end up just shouting at it, “What is it? What do you want?” // Eventually I realised the basic problem was that I had misconceptualised the relationship. You are the baby, and theatre is the godparent, and you are the one being held, and it’s theatre that’s on the brink of despair. “What is it? What do you want?” // Theatre, like all creative activities, but perhaps more than any, is first and foremost the art of wanting. It might matter to some degree what it is that you want, but an attentiveness to the want itself comes first and deepest. // To want, to really want, can feel shameful. We are told all the time not to be self-indulgent in our work. To want is to be the author, and that feels increasingly sticky. To want is to signal a lack, and that can be exposing. Wanting is the easiest and the hardest thing to do.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I don’t make live art, I make theatre, but now’s not the time to try and articulate my sense of what the difference might be because I’d only then immediately undermine my assertion of the depth and cultural urgency of theatre by mentioning Stephen Sondheim, which is exactly what I’m about to do. Sondheim’s early musical Company is a story about a bachelor, a longterm singleton, and all his friends are in relationships, and at the end of the show, in a scene set at his own birthday party, he sings a song called ‘Being Alive’ in which he itemises all the things that make other people annoying to live with and difficult to love. And then he has a bit of a think about it and decides that what’s really missing in his life is all the annoyingness and difficulty that sharing it with another person would bring. And what brings about his change of heart is that one of his married friends tells him, “Blow out the candles and make a wish. Want something. Want something.” Maybe we can imagine a version of that song called ‘Being A Live Artist’, and it would contain exactly the same line. “Want something. Want something.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

In this dream, it’s 2010 and I’m not even a dog. I’m just a theatre maker. We are in a theatre. In fact we’re in this theatre, and it’s now, and we’re actually here, and it’s not even a dream. What does it smell like? Nothing in particular. // We’ve been in exile. For a while, theatre wasn’t very welcome here. Having found itself, perhaps somewhat unwittingly, in a coalition with new media arts, it had allowed itself to appear to some people to stand for nothing in particular. It was a sector described as lacking “depth and cultural urgency”, and we were duly outraged. Some of us said we never wanted to come here in the first place, and some of us felt that the relevant powers wouldn’t be able to pick out depth and cultural urgency in a line-up of six items or less. But didn’t it, come on, didn’t it slightly feel like a punishment? And didn’t we go off that night and see a performance somewhere and secretly think, hm, that was actually kind of lacking in depth and cultural urgency? Didn’t we worry a bit about our own work? Didn’t it feel just a little bit like a punishment? Wasn’t there a moment of feeling caught out?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In this dream, it’s 1996 and I am a dog. We are in a theatre. In fact we’re in this theatre. There’s a man on stage with a fake bomb, made out of fake sticks of dynamite, strapped to his chest, and he’s talking sort of ironically about stage craft. Some people in the audience are laughing and some aren’t. // As a dog, I find it hard to imagine whether I would be laughing or not if I were a human. My vision goes blurry for a moment. The dynamite looks like sausages. // I am watching from the side of the stage. No one has seen me. I have a bomb strapped to my chest. It is real. // I want to sniff the fake dynamite strapped to the man’s chest. I want to know if it smells like dynamite. Or sausages. Or maybe it has no smell. // I trot out on to the stage. I am a real dog and I have a real bomb strapped to my body. I am breathing. The bomb is ticking. I have nothing to say about stagecraft, and I have no real use for, like, the ironic as a category. And my bomb smells like dynamite.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The several layers of ambient noise out here on my temporary balcony remind me to note that at least in the one-minute format there is an (admittedly only semi-advertent) nod to John Cage, who remains the best expert we have on everything that hasn’t yet happened, as apparently stuck in the future as most of the rest of live performance is stuck in the past: so I feel like saying first of all that theatre’s future depends partly on its willingness finally to come to terms with and absorb the example of past pioneers. No pudding till you’ve eaten your greens. I think one of the biggest problems my generation of makers has had is that we’ve grown up in the shadow of an earlier generation that’s been a bit embarrassed about the 60s and 70s. A generation that came of age just as post-punk, which was very good at thinking about the future, lost the thread of its own irony, and everything became Club Tropicana, where the drinks were free and the future was even more embarrassing than the past, with the possible exception of modernism which was the most embarrassing thing of all.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hello. I agreed to take part in this event knowing that I wouldn’t have time to prepare a thirty minute lecture. The solution I hit on, which I thought was ingenious, was to write thirty one-minute lectures, or twenty-nine lectures plus this preface. Actually I’m pretty sure that the preparation of these postcards of (if not exactly from) the future was, in the event, massively more time-consuming than a straight lecture would have been. But at least it’s tickled me out of my usual formal strategies and into a fantasia of jump-cuts. I think there are the materials for an argument in here somewhere but you might have to assemble it yourself. The music, which is mostly there to keep me company, is overlaid with beeps to keep me moving. This preface was written on the sunny early evening of Tuesday 18th May on a balcony outside a hotel room in central Manchester. At the time of writing I can hear trains and bell-ringing practice and the profoundly disturbing sounds emanating from a gym across the street called Primal Fitness. I make theatre and this is the present day, which is to say, some of the futures are already upon us.