(Press play on this first:)
For the past 3 and a half months I have been pounding the concrete floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, along with around 300 other people. According to Nic Serota we had about 1.5 million visitors through the Tate’s doors. I have heard stories of fellow associates who have been approached by visitors saying “You were in that piece, weren’t you?” and then having an in depth conversation, like it could easily continue.
It’s been a few days now. 3 to be precise. I have fully immersed myself into the making of Unbroken Line which starts rehearsing in just under 3 weeks. Tidying up the writing, coming up with ideas. All the time more jobs come through which I must keep doing otherwise I can’t eat. Last night saw the episode of ‘Cuckoo’ I was in as it aired for the first time. This Friday I am doing a quick Mire Angelou in cabaret. Sunday I am filming a trailer for a short film, playing a 16th century Malay Sultan under attack. The agent called and offered a corporate for the 16th which is rather line-heavy but it looks like a good cause: since October last year I have worked with the theme of the elderly and young working together to achieve collaboration. Thanks Kath Burlinson and ‘Tender Age’ for that. Yesterday I was in my studio with some friends and Bob who was also a participant, who, because of Hurricane Sandy, found himself at a loss as to what to do until he can get a flight back to the States and his partner who lives in Brooklyn. Tonight I saw ‘Skyfall’ with a friend. It was thankfully all right. Actually pretty good for a Bond.
The thing is, all of this is proving to be mere distraction. The thing is
IT’S NOT FAIR
I feel like Juliet Stevenson in the beginning of ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ in her sessions. I miss the people with whom I have made close and deep relationships with over the past 3 months. There’s something about the process of what we were doing – talking to strangers about aspects of our autobiographies or about something in our friends that we admired that has profoundly touched us. Profoundly changed us. Whether they believed us or not, I’m not sure matters. Those that did had a better time of it. Those that didn’t possibly had a realisation later that it must’ve been true. It has made us feel connected to each other on some other level. I’ve seen men and women, boys and girls, grandmothers and grandfathers, of all races, deal with critics who were after a scoop, deal visitors who were just looking to be told a story, deal gaggles of schoolgirls whose only response was to repeat monotonously, as if only to give a response, not actually to find out “What does that mean?”. Dealing with the challenging, the homeless, the lost. Watching the collective sphincter of London unclench.
I don’t know if I was any good at it. Who’s to judge? I don’t know what the other associates would speak their conceits about. I know I didn’t always stick to the seven basic ones. They were elemental in what I spoke but there wasn’t a huge denouement at the end of each ‘story’. Sometimes they weren’t stories but sometime they were springboards to conversations. Sometimes. Sometimes they went halfway round the world and back but always deepening, trying to get to a point of connection that was deeper. Sometimes the same story took on a different theme. I have a story about a wedding which ended up about not having grandfathers. I have a story about my friend who wears vintage clothing and how I want to be like her and take my time over my appearance. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it would just happen like Boy From Brazil. Choosing each story to suit the person you’re about to speak with. Choosing parts of my history that I thought they might be ready for. Some of it is pretty frank. And shocking. But I wasn’t sure if I could go there. I did sometimes. I think the more comic I got into the story, the more I was trying to balm. To calm myself down, the story about my grandmothers and not having grandfathers connected me to safety.
I will miss sitting near Eleanor during the singing and inadvertently singing with her like a ‘Sound Of Music’ refrain, though we can’t agree what song it is from Sound Of Music that we were referencing, but I reckon it’s this one. From about 2:20 onwards.
The final day of the piece was extraordinary. I had finished my shift which was witnessed by my friends Juliette, Gemma, Zoie and her partner Desmond and their child Amolie Grace. All from the Authentic Artist Collective. They had associates come up to them, one who I planned her dramaturgy and the other happened to be spoken to by a person I wanted her to meet. I’m so glad that accident happened. For me, I spoke to Zoie. We weren’t encouraged to speak to friends but there was a part of this story I had actively avoided going to. I went there and I grieved for him. Thankfully Zoie was there to catch me. Selfish of me perhaps.
The final half hour was the most densely packed. More associates on the ramp than ever. I found Will sitting cross legged weeping. “It’s your fault” he half joked. It’s true. I did get him to be included in the piece in its second week. And he shone. Everywhere there were spontaneous hugs and more tears. Tino whispered that he wanted more discordant (sic) singing. I don’t think enough people heard him so we took it in our hands to end the piece how we wanted. Walking slowly backwards into the gloom of the east end of the Turbine Hall. I watched as some visitors attempted to follow, unsure of whether it was appropriate or whether he wanted to say goodbye to the piece. I found him on twitter a few days later. His stream is full of beauty and loss and longing. Irish Frank described it at the party later as “that graceful territory between a funeral and a birth”. I’m stealing that.
As an actor I never really found Belonging. Not until I found artists. They encouraged me to search for my grandfathers. The Authentic Artist Collective is my holy tribe and will always be. But These associates are my people. They are artists, even if they think they’re not. They will go back to being dancers or painters, or philosophy students or back to their GCSEs or back to making film or assessing grant applications, or psychologists, or grandparents, or mothers or fathers or lovers. What ever we were at the start of the process, I felt by the end of it the word belong.