Thursday, 6 August 2009

Play Day Mayhem

   What a week - having got back from London on Sunday night, two Collective Cornish members turned up for dinner the next day, unexpectedly (first inkling was a call - 'Are you there?' 'Er...' 'Because I'm here' 'You mean...?') we talked of festival stuff, planned for the Play Day booking, caught up with each other. The next day more members (from N.Devon) turned up for dinner (planned this time) to talk festival workshops and be shown what the leather workshops involved. Eight guests all told plus a visitor - it's been a while since HQ was so full! It was good to sit and all be making things sitting on the floor of the Studio - reminded me of earlier days in the Collective when Sonia (now in NZ) used to sit us down and show us new skills. But it was hectic, having so much to communicate, arrange, sort out, a form to fill (of course), and skills to share, and socializing, all in a short space of time. Intensive is the best word for it all. 

   Then up early the next day for one of my not exactly favourite gigs of the year - a packed family fun day for National Play Day. I had nightmare memories of crowds of children all asking to be tied knots for, refusing point blank even to attempt to plait the simplest of plaits, the Pavilion heaving with people, trying to entertain the queue, and all the while trying to convince workshoppers that knots and plaits were some of mankind's oldest and most basic easy as they were important. 
   This time, as before, it threatened rain, and the road 'liable to fog' as it says on the sign was beautiful - full of shifting cloud and low mist as we travelled through the veils and the smoky drifting dreamscape of half-seen hills. We got there, put up the Pavilion, got out the willow and fabric, and before you could finish setting up, people started arriving. Like last time, it got warmer and less damp until the sun came out and it was hot, humid and then blue sky. And like last time, the workshops were extremely popular, the Pavilion varying between busy, crowded and heaving with people. There was a large heap of cut fabric, but I'd also brought some from the Collective storeroom as Wayne had said that more would be good. And I was glad I had! As pale pink/white netting was all the rage, and I seemed to spend hours just cutting the stuff into strips, and as fast as it was cut, it disappeared, as countless children only wanted pink/white netting...I cut and cut, sometimes made a small pile of strips, but always they came, and more asked for it, at times faster than I could cut them almost, and still the hordes streamed in...I glanced up from time to time, and saw fellow workshop hosts showing kids how to make wings or swords, bows, arrows, magic wands, making hoops, kids deciding they wanted to make something else, one a door! from willow... Some lovely wings were made as ever, a couple of striking swords and a huge bow... One child asked me - as the fabric I was cutting flowed on for metres, snaking across the ground, when I would finish? i.e., how long would it take to cut it all up? I replied that I was only cutting up what people needed, and had no intention of turning it all into ribbons in an afternoon! but it made me think of impossible tasks from old tales, like the king who made some hapless subject gather all the down feathers from a punctured feather pillow before they could leave the tower...! Time seemed to slow down, and every time we glanced at our watches, it was an hour earlier than we had thought, and the mess grew and grew, as of hosts that had invited a whole town to dinner, and the guests had started with throwing the food around, and then progressed to walking off with the which I mean that bits of fabric and broken withy carpeted the grass, and adults came and helped themselves to three pre-made sets of wings in one go, to decorate them at home for their children (which wasn't quite the idea!). 
   I suggested people could make headdresses, crowns, and mobiles too, and made hoops and decorated one as a mobile-cum-headdress and hung it up, to illustrate what else one could do with the materials, and when children, boys and girls alike saw that, a number chose to make those, which made me glad. Having had no or little confidence with visual art or craft as a child or for a long time (indeed, up until what still feels like comparatively  recently) it's a real thrill when someone wants to own or make something like a thing I have made up myself. Some of the headdresses looked lovely, as workshoppers really got the hang of it, and one or two of the mobiles worked rather well, a splendid crown. Towards the end, the Police popped in (who had been stationed at the Play Day like the First Aid tent) and one requested and wore some fairy wings over her uniform! The organizer also appeared at the end, wearing her wings from last year! in shocking pink and dark purple.

   As we finished, the place looked like the scene of a shipwreck, and the three of us were left to clear up, two of us at least, yawning our heads off. The day went really well - we heard (as we often seem to) that our workshops were 'the best thing there'. I couldn't still help feeling though, that when I started off as a poet, this kind of work was about what I'd had in mind, as much as some literary poet from the 1930's would have had in mind as what they wanted to do...viz not at all. But we all went for a drink on the way back at a pub by the beach, and it was dazzlingly blue and clear and cheering. Once back at base, someone asked how it had gone, and I replied - 'Well, if we're all not flash for cash in early August and aren't double booked next year, I guess we'll all be going again.' To which she replied 'That's the spirit!' which made me laugh. (And all the while knowing I had an important meeting the next morning, and another form to be filled by the morning after that!)

   Yes. And however much it wasn't what I ever had in mind, it did go well. We taught folks new skills, all the workshoppers including the carers/parents/playleaders had a great time, the organizers were so delighted they booked us there and then for next year... And there were some laughs along the way - like Wayne dancing to the music while showing folks how to weave a piece of willow, or my fellow storyteller telling a tale while making some wings, so not doing all of the movements, and telling sitting down! something he never usually does. The enchanted parents, and the pride of those who had made good designs and those who had not realized they could make things...not being able to resist taking photographs when everyone had gone, of the mobile in the wind, as the effect that that kind of fabric makes on film is just remarkable...
   As Hope Clark says - don't just look forward to your longterm ambitions, enjoy the getting there, enjoy the journey! to which I can add - yes, and enjoy the detours along the way too, and all the parallel pathways...

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Grass is Always Greener

You learn something new every day. A platitude yes, but one of the best writer's blogs on the web is Hope Clark's, and she's full of words of wisdom that sound familiar and common sense...but you read them thinking - but how often have I acted on that principle which it is so obvious that I should act upon? But back to the point. I met up, last weekend, being in London for a brief break (!) with a good friend and his partner, a multimedia artist, producer, curator, live artist and video maker. We got talking about art/work related stuff...and only stopped when the clock chimed eleven meaning they had to catch the train home! Apart from being a really interesting artist who's into many live art and related things and artists that we have in common, from the wonderful Merce Cunningham who sadly died this last week, to various theatre companies and allsorts of experimental stuff, she also is 'living a life of art'. Earlier in the year, she and he turned their flat upside down and inside out, shifting all their own stuff out, papering chairs white, you name it, until the entire space was an installation and no longer a living space. Then it was videoed, and put on her website, and people came to view the space as one would an open studio event. She showed me the video and it looked great - one could see what a lot of work it must have been. She also finished a residency recently in Manchester, works for the Live Art Development Agency, is on a mentoring scheme which means she gets to meet folks working for the Royal Opera House and Royal Ballet... I sighed, telling her of my one chance this year to do something really experimental at Richard White's Edge of Chaos (written about on the Performance Ephemera blog), and admitted it was easier to concentrate on things that brought money in like the newsletter, storytelling, and admin for the Collective... To my surprise, she agreed with me, saying she knew just what I meant. It turned out that she didn't especially want to be a producer or curator, organizing exhibits, making snowstorms, or working in set design for a theatre company - in fact, she'd made a decision to try and make a break from it, for the very simple reason that she, as an artist, had not enough time to create her own art while doing that kind of work. And of course that meant sporadic opportunities, eking out previous earnings while waiting and applying for the next thing, and all the insecurity that goes with it. So there was I thinking it must be marvellous to do all this stuff, - set design! curating! wow. But there was she wanting to do more multimedia performance installation and video work...which I understood completely. When I thought about it, it gave me an insight into why people sometimes say - an Editor! wow. Or administrating for an arts Collective! hey. To me, they are things which must be done because writing and performing just don't provide enough consistent incomings.
  But of course, one must be grateful to do something that is at least related to what one most cares about. For instance, working as a willow workshop assistant for National Play Day may not be creating live art theatre, but hey, it pays the bills and I get to work with the other members of the Collective, a really great bunch. As for the Play Day itself...that'll have to be the next blog.............

Festivals and Form Fillings

Festivals are tricky beasts. Earlier on this year I sent off dozens of proposals to, and filled in forms for, various festivals, for the Collective - offering everything from storytelling and leather workshops to willow sculpture, lantern making, fire juggling, and the rest. Some lost it in the pile of applications, some booked acts they'd had for get the picture... and some...waited right until the wire until getting in touch. Meaning that despite four weeks of planning and form filling in January and February, the Collective is double booked over mid August! Wayne, Mel, etc. to the Sunrise Off Grid, - Andi, Mandy, Liz etc. to the Beautiful Days...and me still trying to decide which to be at! We have been at different events over the same weekends many times naturally, but this was a first, as both festivals wanted more than two members, i.e. a group of us over exactly the same four days. And of course after the initial phonecalls, festival organizers are usually so overworked, they want the details of who does what all over again - mercifully a shorter e-mail this time! Although more frantic phonecalls to the newer members as what I don't have is an on tap encyclopedic knowledge of everything they do yet! (As everyone does more than one thing, often quite a few more). And then MORE forms to fill in with everyone's name, registration numbers, meal allocation if appropriate, tent size...
   With two members in NZ and two busy/away, the current twelve members of the Collective are back up to eight active ones - and it's just as well! The fourth ticket for the latest festival: We need to know what all the others are doing to see which of them can make it. A fire dancer, performance poet, artist etc. as they'd like Devon artists by preference? but she's working over those dates... Another of those who was on the Bicton art course who's Devon-based? but he's already got a ticket...and the festival wants the form by Wednesday... All I can say is, thank God three artists joined up and two others came on the scene within the last few months! Four to cover one event, and three of us to cover another... The Collective really has kept on growing despite the absence of two of it's original core members and inspirations. They are of course still valued members, but obviously we're not able to do events together because of a small matter of some thousands of miles! Not that I was worried about the Collective just winding down exactly, but such groups often do have a short shelf life - and we've had our share of things to resolve! where a mixture of money, friendship, couple dynamics, professionalism, work, creativity, who's idea was x?, organization, travel, meals, and all the things too nefarious and various to mention, can and do collide together to make things difficult. 
   That the number of reliable and pleasant artists we find we can work well with and who want to become part of 'it' in some way, is expanding, makes all those bloody forms feel not such a complete grind of time and effort, and all the hassle - including phonecalls every five minutes just as you're on your way to grab six days off! and e-mailing and ringing round arranging stuff when you're actually technically on holiday and all you really want to do is muck around on a piano and do other relaxing stuff...feel not quite so relentless.