As part of developing this show, I sought the advice of a mentor. Hannah Jane Walker is a very experienced touring poet who creates intimate and participatory shows with her writing and performing partner Chris Thorpe. They are currently touring ‘I Wish I Was Lonely’, coming to ARC in Stockton next month – it’s all about solitude in the age of instantaneous mobile communication, and it’s BRILLIANT ( I saw it in Edinburgh last summer).
One of the first things Hannah did as my mentor was to ask me five searching questions about my motivations in making the show. I think they’re excellent questions for anyone to ask themselves as they embark on any creative project, so I thought I’d share them with you, and let you in on some of my answers.
1. What are you doing this for? (and I mean, why you rather than someone else)
Because it’s my story, I was there. There’s an element of self-indulgence, for sure. Could someone else perform this show as written? Yes, why not, it’s scripted, but it’s my questions I’m trying to work out for myself by writing and performing them. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy making performance poetry when I started this, I honestly didn’t know how powerful and natural and happy I would feel on stage. I totally love doing this, and it wouldn’t be the same if I wrote but didn’t get to perform as well.
If the question is – why take it further than the version already written and tested at Edinburgh? – then it’s because I want to get better at performing and understanding stagecraft. I’m ambitious to be a good writer-performer, and I’m not really interested in performing in pubs etc, I want to be in theatres, exploring the places where spoken word and theatre overlap.
2. What is the reason for this piece of art to exist?
Perhaps I wrote this rather than any other story because I still hadn’t fully processed or even exorcised this part of my past. When I was writing, I had some vague thought that my time in India was one of the few interesting things I’ve done in my life and probably the richest seam to mine for poetry. Maybe I’m trying to recapture the feeling of being adventurous, or validate the whole travelling thing – at last, something concrete and creative has come out of it! I went there with some aspirations as a writer, and soon found I couldn’t maintain any creative discipline. Now I’ve written some of the things I should have been writing there and then, had I been able to.
3. What are you asking of yourself and your audience or participants?
I am asking myself – what happened out there? Why did you lose yourself so thoroughly – and,or, why didn’t you lose yourself completely? You were on the edge of madness for extended periods, you felt it, you saw it in others – why didn’t you go all the way? You were close to extreme physical danger several times, and you weren’t always operating on the basis of rational, logical self-preservation, so how did you instinctively turn away from danger? Who were you in those moments? What is the essential structure of your personality, is it something you created over there or something pre-existing within you that was uncovered by travelling?
I am asking OF myself – to keep it together enough to uncover some of those questions?
Of the audience – I’m asking them to give two hoots about me, I suppose, and about the other people I mention. I’m asking them to imagine another culture, imagine the effects of culture shock, ask themselves what is essential to their own sense of identity – am I? Mostly I feel like I’m just asking them to stick with me while I try to work it out…
4. How do you want their world to change?
I’d like them to come out of it valuing self-examination. Ritual and mindfulness is very much part of this, a route towards it. Personally, I came to believe in self-examination years before I even heard of mindfulness; then mindfulness became something I was trying so my self-examination could be clear. Then, I was using it to overcome the pain that comes with self-examination, a way to self-acceptance. And now mindfulness is just an end in itself, with the understanding that it makes everything easier – awareness of and compassion towards self and others. Hah! I’d like all of us, myself included, to come out as practicing Buddhists!
5. What is the question at the heart of this piece?
How do we make ourselves? How far is it possible, necessary, desirable to go in order to examine and understand who we are? (emotional/psychological/spiritual distance = geographical distance)
And – then what? (this isn’t answered – this is why it hangs – this is the same as ‘going home’)