Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Coney and documentation as storytelling: Scratch 2!

A quick introduction: This follows on from last month's initial scratch, which gives details about the project. In this second iteration, which is based on a work-in-progress performance of Early Days (of a Better Nation) that took place at King's College on October 19, I play around more with the kinds of written matter that's in Dacia's Mass Observation Archive (letters as well as diaries, basically), begin to respond to the materials given to participants at the beginning of the show, begin to register that the show happens in two time-frames, and begin to introduce real audience-members, people whom I observed during the performance and/or spoke to during the interval. 

As last time, I'm fascinated by the slippages between fact and fiction, and by the difference between creating character voices and attempting to capture a voice heard briefly during the show. There's another challenge, too: how not to give away too much for those who are going to see the show - some of this material was rewritten following feedback from Coney's producer, who felt I wasn't getting that quite right. Once again, anything rooted in my own response to Early Days is credited to a character whose name is an abbreviation of my own (luckily my full name has 22 letters to play with), and I'd be really interested in any feedback or responses.

Mass Observation Record
Writer: Maddy Costa
Observer Number: 114
Date: 19 October, 2044
Place: The Plains, Dacia

A great deal of optimistic prose will be written about this day: that it is the first in many people's living memory characterised by dialogue, not violence; by cooperation, not antagonism. Many people I spoke with – particularly from the Islands – feel it began with Dacia divided, and ended with the unity of a common vision. Taking an objective view, however, the day has been more complex than that idealised vision conveys.

I was impressed from the very beginning of the day by the spirit of curiosity that reigned over proceedings. People from each region of the country had been summoned to attend a national meeting in the City to discuss the pressing issue of the World Council, and its offer of military aid, and everyone I encountered was more interested to know not only what others thought, but more particularly what people from regions other than their own thought. We met in the ornate heart of Dacia's old Chapel – spared so far in all the violence, still sombre and stately, miraculous in its stillness and beauty – and although we entered as separate groups, quickly these merged to speak across boundary lines. The word trust hung in the air, tantalising all: could we begin to mend the broken trust between the people? To reject the World Council would require us to do so immediately. It would require us to rebuild leadership immediately.

And yet, I cannot help registering surprise at the decision that was taken: not only to reject the World Council, but to move forward as a country without a traditional leadership structure. Galvanised by Angela Clerkin, the charismatic former politician from the Islands, we are attempting a new political system, working cooperatively to the country's mutual benefit.

Undeniably, this is a remarkable turn of events: the hope it demonstrates was inconceivable even weeks ago. But I can already see flaws. Many Dacians felt uncomfortable with the speed with which the Islanders in particular pushed the general vote towards this national cooperative. Any attempt at dissent, or even mild questioning, was quickly shouted down by cheerful anarchists, desirous of absolute change. Other Observers, I know, will have been swept up in the mood of optimism, and will report quite differently. But from my standpoint, there is much to inspire ambivalence, perhaps even anxiety, in the happenings of the day.


DACIA DIARIES
Available within the Mass Observation Archive
Date: 19 October, 2044

Elena Zabeth, student, the Plains
I realised today how much I've changed. It's probably been happening for a long time. Storn taking control, and showing so little respect for anyone who didn't fit his impossibly narrow view of what a human should be and do, made me aware of my responsibility, as a citizen, towards the people with whom I live and form a country. I couldn't use words like that before, or think in that way. I learned that you can't just sit back and grumble when things happen in the state that you don't like: you have to fight against them, because otherwise, how does anything change? Not that I was brave enough to fight. I wrote, and tried to agitate through that writing. But today, at the general meeting, I found my voice. And not just with people I know: with strangers, and people from the Islands. I find Islanders so difficult: people in the Plains haven't exactly been on the front line during the way, but they've lived essentially in safety. So when they began talking about the offer from the World Council, which of course they oppose, I knew I had to step in. I asked them to see this from the perspective of City people. Their homes are being destroyed, people they know are being murdered. I made clear that I mostly agree with them – the terms being offered by the World Council, not least the lack of autonomy, are untenable – and I was playing devil's advocate (as I write this, I feel amazed – I've never taken that position, ever!). But there are people in this country who don't know who to trust: why should they trust us now? To my amazement, trust became the key word of the debate: the more we merged as a single group, getting closer to voting time, the more I heard others use it, saying things like: this is a time for trust. It was the most astonishing feeling, knowing I could make that kind of contribution. And I've realised, I feel hungry for that – not for power, but for the spoken dialogue that makes change. I'm excited for the future, and that's a big change, too.

DACIA DIARIES
Available within the Mass Observation Archive
Date: 19 October, 2045

Christine [surname unknown], lawyer, the Plains
I despair at the naivety of my countrypeople. I do. A year ago we voted, by an overwhelming majority, to reject the advances of the World Council, despite the risk this represented. As I said in that meeting, maintaining law and order is vital if we are to make progress; I could tell from the response of some of the younger Dacians that they thought me essentially conservative and reactionary, but they blinker themselves from the complexity of the situation. Our country has assets and infrastructure that need protecting; the steep rise of refugees in the Plains has put a considerable strain on resources; after a year of ruling ourselves cooperatively, the City is more damaged and fragile than ever. Without some form of security and policing, we are vulnerable: at risk of attack from fellow Dacians, and our neighbours.

Today, at the national meeting to distribute resources, I hoped other representatives from the country's three regions would at least recognise this. I tried to argue the case for a proper police force in the City, to bring stability, and in the Plains, to protect the heavy metal mines. The wealth, the very future of our nation is based in those mines: we have a duty to ensure their safe-keeping, for future generations. But as usual, self-interest in the guise of idealism prevailed. We found the money for vaccinations, for hospitals, for food, but not law and order. I come from a long line of anarchists and know that this kind of approach inevitably ends in danger, even failure. I feel a great disappointment in the country today, and an anxiety for the days ahead. The young believe the civil war is over, but I fear it has barely begun.


DACIA PRIVATE CORRESPONDENCE
Available within the Mass Observation Archive

Letter to Mrs Madel, the Plains, dated October 2045

Hi Mum! Thanks for your postcard. I managed to pick up some medicine for Grandad. And I've got some good news: I was at the national meeting today, to distribute resources across the country, and we've found the money to build a hospital in the Plains! Such a relief! For a while it was terrifying – on entry we were each given an equal proportion of money, and I was adamant that I would put mine towards that hospital. But then I got chatting to a guy from the Islands, and before I knew it he grabbed my money and used it to secure a hospital … for the Islands! The <*^@~#%!!! I was so astonished I could barely speak – I was so relieved when other Plains people decided to put their money into a hospital rather than a police force. I know I KNOW you're constantly saying Law and Order are important too. But I really believe that, once people's needs are met, once they no longer need to fight and steal JUST TO GET FOOD, once the vaccination programme begins and people have access to medicines, I honestly believe the violence will calm down. Trust me, Mum, we're going to be fine. I need to go now but just wanted to send a quick note with the medicine. Give my love to Dad and Granny and Grandad. And love to you xx

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Got life, got music, got theatre



I am old now and so drunk on just two glasses of wine and in the past six days I’ve had the kids on half-term and moved back into my family home that doesn’t suit me and left London three times and right now I’m sitting on a single bed in a twin room in a B&B in Malvern with my head swimming and my heart racing because tonight in a stupidly big room with an audience of not enough people tonight at Malvern Theatres I saw Uninvited Guests’ new show This Last Tempest and my body isn’t big enough to contain it, I can’t hold all at once everything it made me think and feel. I am trembling, every inch of me vibrating, with how much I love this show. Two weeks ago I was in Bristol with the company because they’ve asked me to be a board member and anyone who thinks that in some way this invalidates my response to it can right this minute just fuck right off, another time I’ll have a more temperate and articulate argument but just now the idea that what a FAN thinks is somehow less trustworthy than what a “distanced” “dispassionate” observer thinks can take a flying fucking jump. Have you seen the Nick Cave film 20,000 Days onEarth? There’s a bit in that where Cave and Warren heart Ellis talk about Nina Simone, about the transformational power of live performance, that reminded me (partly because I’d been talking to Peter McMaster not long before seeing the film about whether or how art can transform those who encounter it) of a very specific night in an upstairs room of a pub in Camden watching Tortoise play, I guess in 1994, and knowing that I would never need to take drugs, because I would always have live music to recalibrate my body and take over my brain; tonight watching This Last Tempest I had a bit of that again, heart so swollen I could hardly breathe and blood flowing with the cadence of the stage. This Last Tempest begins where Shakespeare’s Tempest ends – there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go into too much detail because I know I’m seeing it again in Colchester on November 27 and by then already it will have changed/honed/found its rhythm, and because I want everyone to go in with the same not-knowing, to experience the same wonder/surprise, but also there’s a part of me that wants to sit up until 3am dissecting every moment of it one by one – it begins with Prospero leaving the island and Arial and Caliban needing to learn how to live for themselves; it begins with that same speech by Gonzalo that was also the fulcrum of Chris Goode’s The Forestand the Field, the speech in which he envisages a non-hierarchical society that has no commerce or trade, no magistrates, no riches or poverty, no power to overthrow, a speech no teacher of mine ever adequately addressed; it begins with an awareness of climate change, our responsibility to change our intemperate behaviour, the (im)possibility of returning the earth to itself; it begins with the faltering attempts to love, to feel, of two creatures who have been shown scant love or compassion, the appropriation of others’ language to express those burgeoning emotions, the blossoming of empathy that comes with love; it begins with a longing for change, a desire to destroy and through that to create; it begins with the 2011 riots, with Crack Capitalism, with the fear of living in the end of times; it begins with sound, with frequencies just slightly beyond human hearing (how delicious to see this within a few days of Dickie Beau’s equally testing/enrapturing Camera Lucida), with an immense love of Nick Cave and My Bloody Valentine; it begins in my exploding fucking heart, and weeks of not really needing to write about theatre, and knowing this show is special because I couldn’t brush my teeth or sink into bed before vomiting words into a computer screen (honestly, if they’d set out to make a show that would be everything I love to distraction, they couldn’t have ticked more boxes). And there’s something so correct and pleasing and stupidly meta in the fact that this is me writing like Megan Vaughan writing like me, in response to Uninvited Guests reshaping Shakespeare to think about the weight of history – oh! I haven’t even mentioned the weight of history yet, the fear that however willingly we attempt to shape what could be, we will always be too scarred by what was – and the power of language to rule and ruin, divide and oppress.  And all the things it reminded me of: something else by Chris Goode, on want and desire in theatre, that I just read last week, and all the thinking I’ve been doing about class with/alongside Harry Giles (Shakespeare’s Miranda will weep for princes, but not the ordinary slaves), and the fact that from now until the end of the year women are effectively working for free because unequal fucking pay, and oh my god the whole sequence where gravity is destabilised, and somewhere at the heart of it, this song:


But now it’s 12.12am and my train leaves in exactly seven hours and there are still teeth to brush and pyjamas to pull on and a bed to climb into and I can’t write it all, all I can do now is marvel and shiver and wait for next time, impatiently and full of joy.