The scans shown here are of a working copy of a script I wrote for a spoken-word performance called “Charmed Lives” in 2008. It is a collection of true stories that happened to me and was made from fragments I had written over several years previously. In 2006 – 2008 I had performed some fragments of the work with some success and I conceived a standalone, one-man show intertwining a number of spoken-word and multi-media elements.
It feels like a major work, although it is still unfinished. So far it’s taken longer that the Sistine Chapel but at least I don’t have the Pope breathing down my neck.
My own introduction to performance art was through Laurie Anderson via BBC disk jockey John Peel when he played the 12” single “O Superman” on his radio show in 1984. It is an audio track from her 8-hour performance work “United States” (1984). I had never heard anything like it, and I had never heard the term “performance artist” before. At that time, performance art was nothing a new, but it was something that did not previously exist in my world in those days.
Being introduced to the work of Laurie Anderson changed my life, although not immediately and not for a long time. My fascination with her kind of delivery stayed with me ever since and, given my introduction, what I find strange about much current performance art is the single action or single observation performance, where someone repeats one thing and the audience scratches their chins and nods in appreciation.
I have come to think that this kind of dense multi-media work is no longer fashionable. At least not at the moment.
My ambition for my own work is to make something that has much more depth and complexity, some lasting interest for the audience beyond a single punch-line, although I’m not against a few punch-lines.
Anyway, I recognised that I could gather a number of fragments together into a coherent whole and make it into a show, rather like what I had seen Laurie Anderson do. I had no intention of mimicking her style, but I was interested in her use of multi-media and the non-linear, abstract narrative.
I organised a work-in-progress performance, which is quite common in that world, and I attracted an auspicious, professional audience, and proceeded to make a not insignificant fuck-up of the performance. It was largely my own fault, but also exacerbated by a good helping of bad luck. Site Gallery in Sheffield generously gave me the use of their studio room but it was double-booked and I didn’t get the whole day of run-throughs that I had expected. When my audience arrived, I was stressed from the rush to set-up and, although I knew most of the text quite well, I could just tell that I wasn’t going to be able to recall it all.
In 2012 I saw Laurie Anderson perform her show “Dirtday” live at Sheffield City Hall. It was highly informing from a production point of view. I had never seen her perform live before, but one thing I hadn’t realised before is that she reads the text from a script. She has a beautiful voice and her delivery is superb, but she doesn’t attempt to remember the text. The show had a very sophisticated light show and she punctuated reading with musical motifs played on her violin.
Where I went astray is thinking that I could achieve so much in one piece of work and in such a short time across a number of very technically demanding disciplines. And with no production help. Having seen some very accomplished performers, I let an initial small flurry of minor successes convince me that I could make a huge leap into the world of the professional theatre performer. I don’t mean as an actor, but even a deadpan delivery requires a huge amount of practice, control and extraordinary skill.
Anyway, when I look at the sweated-over text / script, I am still satisfied with it as a whole, so I think it’s about time I made an end.
If you would like to see the working copy of the work-in-progress that I was carrying around with me in 2008, it is here and it will be available as a download and a print of that version.
Whereas in 2008 I imagined the work as a spoken word, theatre-style work, I think it was more than a little optimistic for a non-professional. The way I intend to finish the work is to publish the text in a book form and record some of the fragments of it as video, and possibly live readings from it here and there. Stay tuned…