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I’ve started a new project recently. Or I’m revisiting a project that I started last year, Caged Bird Sings which was entered at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell Solo showcase and then selected to be part of the programme at part of their Solo Performer Season. For me now the piece has moved on since July. It’s taking it’s time getting off the ground but I’ve actually aired it to a few people, mainly Rebecca Atkinson-Lord at Ovalhouse, who gave me great pointers for it and suggested directions in which it could go.
In October last year I showcased the scene from CBS to the members of the Authentic Artist Collective and Paul Oertel and Nancy Spanier who were very encouraging with the piece. I knew during the workshop that I wanted to work introduce the piece, work a lot more with music and singing. I was introduced to a…
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A fledgling artist (well, more fledgling than I am) was texting me the other night about how he feels artistically blocked. We then have a text chat about creativity and I give him some tips but he still refuses to pick up his pencils and draw. I say fledgling, but he’s in his late 30s and says he has just started on his road to becoming an artist.
A singer – songwriter in her late 50s writes on her Facebook that last night’s show was half sold, the last time she played there (in Australia) she sold out 2 larger venues and wonders “is it worth it? Has everything I’ve ever done been any good? Am I doing this for nothing?” I was the first to respond: “if you filled even one heart last night, it was has been not for nothing”. A flurry of responses, some encouragement, some practical reasons as to why it had undersold. A bit later on she thanks us.
Most times I feel a little in between these two: Not a fledgling but also not a famously established artist, though still fairly “early career” as an artist theatre-maker, mid-career as an actor but often I feel, when I’m up against it, “Does it get any easier?”
From that example from the singer- songwriter’s private Facebook wall, no it doesn’t, the problems are different. She wouldn’t have a problem getting a record deal if she wanted to move label. Does she find it difficult to write another song? Another album? I suspect not, though her last album consists of songs written by other people, it is no less artfully chosen, intimately arranged or breathtakingly open in her delivery than her previous 3 albums. Whenever I feel blocked I go to her albums, for if only to step up to the plate and feel as open as she does.
Does it get any easier? I think so. The problems of starting are fewer but I’ve got a certain level of confidence now, I know I can overwrite and edit myself, a process I’m learning as I go now, but perhaps it’s a case of keeping it in the notes so that the director can read it all.
I’m saying that it gets easier… This is even before I’ve found the financing for my projects. I’m just at the starting blocks (no pun intended there) to another solo show and I’m working with a director who only produces solo work.
And I find myself stuck with seeing how the piece looks. I’m scared of dipping my toe into unknown waters, especially one that is as murky and potentially as deep and dangerous as the material has to go. These are such middle class, first world problems that I should just get on with it but I thought I might have a public procrastination session. The fear that it may be too soon after the first one that I may dry up the well. But I also must remember to fill the well as I go like I did with Unbroken Line. That was made richer by living a little as the ideas were fermenting.
Now is the time to plunge and plumb the depths of what it is to do this in quick succession. How many Theatre makers get this opportunity? My second play within 6 months?
In the weeks since performing and creating Unbroken Line Line, there has been a shift in my perception of my place in this… industry. In October I agreed to be part of the re-tour of a play I had done in 2011 for a company I love working for. Back then it was a no-brainer: turning down a fun job with people that I liked? No way. Not that since then my perception of this job or the company or people involved has changed neither. No.
Since creating my own work I do feel more of a cog in a wheel rather than a creator of my own artwork as an actor. I couldn’t say that I have truly owned any of the characters I have created as an actor. Perhaps that has always kept me back as an actor, as someone who stands out. On tv, I do an okay job but nothing has really stood out apart from the Maltesers indents.
Since returning to the rehearsal room for the production my interest has been for the more planning side – I’m looking to book a tour of my play so I’ve been picking up tips from the director as to how to manage that, what the expectation is and what to expect. It’s been an apprenticeship listening to her. Knowing that part of it has got to be largely funded by the Arts Council is daunting as I don’t know if I’ll get another tranche of funds for the same project, though they do know that it does have another life after Ovalhouse and it will be a development if I pull off the live music aspect of it.
But returning to the rehearsal floor in someone else’s project has made me think about how much my jobs have been given to me, not because of talent (I know I can deliver the work) , but because I’m good to get along with and I’m a team player. Listening to directors talk about the casting process and picking up their opinions on actors and I know and get along with actually has made me more calm about acting and auditioning. Yes, you may wow them at the audition but you’re an actor, it’s your job to deliver. What they really want to know is: “Can I work with/put up with your attitude/be in the same room as you for the next 6 weeks?”.
I know this because I’d quietly auditioned the people who were working with me for Unbroken Line. Kath Burlinsonhttp://www.authenticartist.co.uk was a given, she was my first choice of director/midwife and Puja was a necessity because of her particular skill and knowledge but I wouldn’t have worked with either of them if we didn’t get on.
When Puja announced that the wouldn’t be available for some of the rehearsal process I knew I had to get in another choreographer to ensure that what we were doing was getting there. Someone who did theatre and choreography as an second nature. I would have gone with only having Kath as director but I didn’t have the luxury of time to create and discover that movement organically which would have been the ideal. Also solo pieces are pretty intense on the floor, I felt I needed someone to take that pressure off. Perhaps it was a little bit of self preservation on my part. Perhaps the next time I’ll give myself more time on the floor and dare myself the challenge on how far I can go with just myself and the director. Perhaps.
I met Mina Aidoohttp://www.minaaidoo.com during my months at The Tate doing These associations and we got on. Seeing her video of works I knew I just had to have some of that in the piece. (whether it was was apparent or not). She had other skills and I wanted her to meet Kath.
After the tricky morning of seeing how everyone fits in, the floor was a great playing space and Kath and I would work on the story in the mornings and afternoons while Mina would come in halfway through and give us pointers as to what I could be doing physically. She’s a good drill-sergeant but also now, a good friend and collaborator. Hopefully there will be other projects to work on in the future for us. All of us.
The only person who I had my doubts about was Caroline because she wasn’t qualified in whst I asked her that I do. That doubt diminished on her second day when she took responsibility for purchasing and making note of what was needed for meetings etc. Once she took charge of the next company meeting I knew we were in capable hands. I had forgotten she ran 2 shows at the Finborough including a full-cast operatic work. Capable, efficient and damn good at it. She was good at taking tasks off my already full hands so I’m most grateful for that! Also her training as a dancer meant that she could transfer those skills onto the operating of the show (no, she wasn’t pirouetting in the SM box). But she was able to edit the music down and time the things that I was doing onstage as if she were doing it herself. Perfect.
It’s great to feel that everything fell into place more perfectly than if they had been planned for months. That was luck and synchronicity, something was telling me to do this show. I had made everything possible almost by willing it and working at it from the initial meetings with Rebecca and Rachel, the wefund taking place, the Arts Council funding, the right people.
Now as I’m halfway through touring the acting job I’m about to start meetings with producers and theatre venues for the next leg of my adventure.
Well it’s been a month since the last performance of Unbroken Line and my thoughts are already to “what next?”. It took me 3 years to conceive and create the ideas that came to be in this play, ideas which enriched the characters, images which deepened my understanding of what I wanted to say. I liken Unbroken Line to an album of music with 10 songs, it has 10 scenes. If it were a Joni album it would be song to a seagull which is a concept album of a woman’s journey from the city to the seaside, meeting characters who take her on the journey. I now face the challenge of that difficult second album but really, there is no expectation while I plan the tour of the first.
I wrote the book in very short bursts over 2 weeks and then handed it to Sioned and Kath to look at when they came back with very good notes, one major structural one being from Sioned who saw the similarities between that and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a structure which initially in the first draft, I was resistant to. I hadn’t set up Dolah as an unlikable character so it was tricky, I felt that it was uncharted or at least too subtle for a first outing, but maybe subtle is what I do.
Once the reviews were out I was overwhelmed by the response of two writers who seemed to have “got it”, I was honoured, I was moved by their reviews.
Some of what I wrote must have come to me when I wrote it, bubbling up from my subconscious because Kath was able to pick out the strongest sections and find the themes and subtext from the 48 pages that I’d submitted. After writing the final 2 scenes from structured improvisations in the first week of rehearsals it felt there was 29 pages of strong material with which this play is made of. I may have written the book, but it was only a jumping off point for what Kath and I finally created. She’s only credited as director in the publicity but really, editor and co-deviser is what she really did, help shape the final 2 scenes so they can be improvised by me to their final statements.
Some lines which I felt were throwaway when I wrote them have hit me later in supermarkets and train journeys, still reflecting my needs and my story, even though it’s largely a piece of fiction. I didn’t think my own writing would have that ability. My friends who I have spoken to have said that if it were on again they would see it again. One of the greatest compliments, surely.
I need to reread the play again soon as I’m embarking on a tour of it in the autumn and I’ve submitted it to festivals in England and I’m looking for a producer for it. Will the play still reflect me? Will I still be that person looking to belong? Will we work on it further or just keep the themes the same and just work on the physical? I know I’d love part of the tour to tour to cities which have gamelan troupes so the action and dances are underscored at bigger theatres and spaces.
For me I know that because of the support of the Arts Council of England it was the first step for me feeling that my artistry has been validated. I know that feels childlike and slightly needy but to me, I’ve only been creating since 2009 and even then it was smaller experimental pieces, fragments of characters and ideas of plays. I’m still emerging as an artist. After Unbroken Line at Ovalhouse i feel that I’ve laid the foundations for me being more established – I’ve had a play professionally produced at a theatre in London. And it doesn’t feel like I squandered public funds, it feels like they supported something that was right. It felt a deep honour to be awarded that grant and be supported by Ovalhouse and my friends via wefund. It felt like they wanted it to be the best it could be and I was honouring that. What was amazing was people’s reception to the play. It was the only time I allowed myself to be indulgent. Admittedly during the rehearsals whenever Kath directed me to do something or took the play in a direction which flowed into the river of my original vision, there would be moments of welling up, or welly uppy moments as we called them. But there would be no letting go. Only on the first preview. I cried after the curtain call, I cried in my dressing room as the exit music was playing. I cried until Kath came in all smiles and glowing. I cried. They liked my baby.
My whole family are in tonight. I always get nervous when they’re in anyway but there are some lines which I find difficult to express anyway, nevermind in front of my family. For all Dolah’s yearning Joseph’s bitterness and for Edith and Jack whose scene thankfully Kath made wordless otherwise I don’t think I’d be able to speak them tonight… Edith and Jack, who steal the show. Costumes for Edith and Jack were made by the lovely @CaroVeraClare (Caroline Mathias).
All the reviewers have done their reviews. Tonight is the benefit night for the Scott Hampton Foundation so it’s pretty full and there’s an additional post-show pressure of organising that auction with the help of Ms Alex Kelly. It has been amazing to have so many friends in every night, being so supportive. With 5 shows left it feels like I’ve got something that I can take wherever with me for a few years. Until the next show. Perhaps there’s something bubbling up already but Kath doesn’t want me to think about that until this run is over. This is my first outing. May it not be my last.
Here are the reviews that I’ve collected so far from online and fb and twitter
Originally from Christopher Owen via ThePublicReviews.com: ” Taking the form of a migrant accountant living (or not as the case may be) his dream in Peckham, Jamie Zubairi takes us through a journey where we learn how empty a life feels in London as a Malaysian man, feeling he does not belong and has no real identity.
We join Dolah as he is pursued by a ghost like presence who delivers him to places of his past, both emotionally and family related – with similarities to a Christmas carol. From the place where his grandma was born to a park around the corner from where he used to work, in which he has never stepped foot, he is shown what should be important and how to find what should matter to himself. Not money or time but emotions and identity, and when it comes to it, an intriguing relationship between himself and a client develops in a way he never expected.
Clever direction by Kath Burlinson and suitably stylised movement and Balinese choreography by Mina Aidoo and Ni Made Pujawati respectively, mean that the show zips along at a delightful pace. Multi character scenes never seem pushed but develop naturally and never leave you confused.
Mixing poetry, dance, painting and (a very sweet and moving use of) puppetry, Jamie Zubari holds the audience in this gripping and often laugh out loud funny play utilising all skills in his skill set. A true display of what a one man play can be and how it can have a deep effect on your thoughts, he performs with accuracy and is grounded throughout this hour of non-stop storytelling. Showing he is not only adept with different vocal techniques or accents but styles of movement and artistry he makes you feel at ease and irons out any awkwardness that can often surface when watching a solo performer in such an intimate stage space. You feel wholly involved in this tale and can relate not only to feelings, but also to time and location. An assured performance by a charming and honest performer, this is a lovely alternative to the usual festive offerings that the London fringe has. With interesting choreography and direction, the hour simply flies by. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and the funding platform WeFund, this is a perfect example of new work being supported in the right way by the public, and the powers that be recognising the potential in an artist that deserves to be seen by a much wider audience
Runs until 15th December”
Originally printed in AYoungerTheatre.com by Daniel Janes: “Dolah, the protagonist of Unbroken Line, is having an identity crisis. A trainee accountant transplanted to Peckham from his native Malaysia, he’s not sure where his allegiances lie: “I have a Malaysian head that tells me one thing and a British heart that tells me another”. However, while Dolah is confused and uncertain, this sure-footed, big-hearted debutemphatically is not.
Unbroken Line is the debut play from Anglo-Malay actor Jamie Zubairi, whose mixed media projects straddle the line between theatre and art; most recently, he was a participant in These Associations, Tino Sehgal’s commission at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in which actors approached spectators with their stories. There, he was one of a swarm of about 300 performers. Here, he has a whole space to himself – the upstairs studio of Kennington’s lovely Ovalhouse Theatre – a space which he delightfully dominates.
In this one-man show, Zubairi draws on his interdisciplinary talents economically but effectively. There are two main characters in addition to Dolah, and both of them gain from the use of mixed media. One is Joe, a successful Northern Irish painter; Dolah visits Joe, a former client, amid the elemental terrain of the Giant’s Causeway in order to work out issues surrounding his stifled creativity and sexuality. Here, Zubairi uses live painting, and a tender scene in which Joe and Dolah paint a canvas together is one of the play’s high points. The other character is Wira, a mythical warrior who acts as Dolah’s spiritual advisor, counselling him on how best to reconcile his European tendencies with his Malay roots. This device allows Zubairi to incorporate Balinese dance, choreographed by Mina Aidoo and Ni Made Pujawati; the dance acts as an anchor both for us and Dolah, ensuring that the spectre of Southeast Asia is never far away.
Unbroken Line has been in development for more than two years; an early form of the piece, Skylarking, was performed at the North Devon Theatre Festival in late 2010. Then, the play was busier and had a more unwieldy cast of characters, but the core tale – the personal crisis of Dolah the accountant – remained the same. Since that time, however, one development has given Zubairi’s creation a sense of urgency. One of the most shocking moments of the 2011 London riots was the assault on Ashraf Rossli (sic), a Malaysian student: he was crouching on the floor after an attack at knifepoint, only to be mugged by two men who appeared to be coming to his aid. Though Zubairi makes only one mention of Rossli, it is a significant moment: he weaves the incident brilliantly into wider themes about the hostility of London’s urban environment. One particular detail provides a crowning stroke: Rossli (sic), too, had been studying accountancy.
Some of the play’s sentiments could easily have become prosaic; Wira’s advice to Dolah includes being himself, finding the beauty in the commonplace and looking out for acts of tenderness around him. However, Zubairi’s honesty, humour and sense of wonder ensure that this never happens.
The Christmas theatre season is traditionally a fallow period, with pantomimes and strained festive cheer pushing out more thoughtful, personal pieces. In this climate, Unbroken Line is a beacon amid the fog. What’s more – with its energy, its essential optimism and even, in one touching instant, puppetry – it proves to be surprisingly festive itself.
Unbroken Line continues at Ovalhouse until 15 December. More information can be found on the Ovalhouse website.” (Zooby’s note: Daniel has since been informed about the misnaming of Ashraf Haziq (the student who was attacked) and Ariff Rosli who is the Malaysian man ‘all over the internet for marrying a man’. This may appear in later edits)
From Rebecca Hussein in WhatsOnStage.com: “There is something very hypnotic about watching Jamie Zubairi paint. After the inexhaustible energy with which he has carried us through the past hour, this moment of calm reflects the resolution of a conflict he has wrestled with ever since moving to London from his native Malaysia. Taking on the character of Dolah, this very personal piece allows Zubairi to explore his very modern identity crisis through a one man show that embraces all forms of art, glorying in its painting, puppetry and dance.
Much of the production relies on Zubairi’s natural charm and, as he warmly shakes audience members’ hands, one would never suspect that we were in fact inside the Oval House Theatre and not the tiny flat in Peckham that he refers to as home. Zubairi’s child like energy is infectious, his love for the art forms he brings together palpable. His physicality as he combines both his cultures are light footed and celebratory and his use of puppets particularly moving.
It would be easy to dismiss his portray of his own lost heritage, a caricature of a wise, exotic spirit, as simplistic and frivolous. And yet, the tone of this production is one of such optimism and glee that one cannot help but be swept up into it. This strange and often comical spirit whisks Dolah away to a place far beyond Malaysia and yet closer to home for him through the presence of a loved one, therefore cementing the idea that we are anchored to people, not places. If it is intensity and provocation you desire, Unbroken Line is not for you and yet this sweet natured production will bowl you over with the charm of its star and his unyielding optimism towards love and home.”
“Unbroken Line is a solo project, which fuses spoken word theatre, live painting and Balinese dance. The comic physical theatre piece is supported by the Arts Council England, exploring Jamie Zubairi’s dreamlike world in which he plays multiple characters. The venture is amiable and ambitious, effectively depicting Malayan foreigner Dolah exploring London via a mythical warrior Wirrah, who takes him on a wider journey in search of who he is, what he is and, ultimately, how he might make sense of his life. However, the success of the artistic vision of the piece ultimately suffers from its ambitiousness somewhat.
As an established actor, artist, poet and theatre maker, Zubairi’s performance was technically sound and well executed. The performance space was a small studio black room, which posed itself as a very intimate and therefore challenging space. The actor worked well with this dynamic and it also engaged the audience on a much more sophisticated level. Part of the vibrancy of the performance was achieved through the effective physicality Zubairi brought so close to us. There were moments where the actor brushed past my legs and winked or nodded towards a certain audience member during his topical, comic asides about modern London life; these were effective in engaging the audience in a performance which demanded one hundred percent of our attention. This is especially true because of the dreamlike, surreal dynamic of Dolah’s story. The performance was certainly a great insight into the rich cultural fabric of Malaysia and the history of Malayans such as Dolah. The Anglo-side of Dolah’s heritage was less explored which proved a considerable weakness to the overall plot. Although, at the end, Dolah meets Northern Irish friend Joe, whose presence merely introduced Dolah to the discovery of his artistic potential, and not much else.
The painting included in the performance proved to be one of the cleverer elements of the performance. This scene uncovered the first sign of Dolah discovering his identity, and definitely developed him as a character in a much more three dimensional way, something which was slightly lacking before this stage. At this point we were rooting for Dolah, who finally saw an end to his personal crisis. The usage of puppetry was the highlight of the show, depicting an older couple in a park scene where Dolah was confessing his deepest feelings to the spirit, Wirrah; this moment encapsulated a brief moment of contentment which signified a turn towards this in Dolah’s story, I think. The Balinese dance did appear slightly rough around the edges and unpracticed but was a very interesting and welcome addition to the physical texturing of the whole performance.
The performance overall was extremely engaging and vibrant. We were committed to following Dolah’s journey and increasingly began to understand a very different culture from that of London. Sadly, the background of Dolah and how he came to London was rushed through and the coming out of the character towards the end of the play complicates an already dense hour-long performance. The homosexuality of Dolah is intended to further enhance his disillusionment and feelings of marginalisation in an alien culture; but it seems to have been a hasty afterthought. Having said this, I would certainly recommend this performance, which is an inspiring one-man show.”