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BiDiNG TiME talk Edinburgh

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Date: 
Sat, 24/08/2013

This talk attempts to explain how the BiDiNG TiME project came about and the thinking behind it, bringing economic crisis, environmental crisis and the role of women to new ideas about how Theatre is made and can be changed. Given at Summerhall 11am, Aug 5,12 & 17 - Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013. There were also 9 walks to Arthurs Seat...see below for pictures.

BiDiNG TiME – A gentle provocation

Hello, welcome. My name is Pippa. I am going to tell you some stories. Some are remembered, some borrowed and some invented. They are all related to a story made for theatre called BiDiNG TiME. These stories are woven together. It’s hard to know how to begin or where it ends. So, before I start to talk I would like you to wait for a minute.

(60 seconds pass)

Thank you. My children call me a liar because I am always telling them to wait a minute. Of course…its never a minute, more like five, or even ten. Sometimes I forget them altogether, I am too absorbed in what I am doing.  That minute was for them, for me and for you. I don’t think we give each other enough time.

BiDiNG TiME is a funny expression. Bide means to stay, to endure or bear. No immediate action, something will happen in the future. What are we waiting for?

Time is elastic, it doesn’t travel in a straight line, despite what the clocks or the calendars say. You can’t hold it or keep it…it passes. The British are time keepers as though somehow it is theirs to manage. World time zones all start at the line of Longitude in Greenwich, Greenwich Meantime. And time is mean, especially in London, there is never enough. Sucked up by the pressure of that great city. It got meaner during industrialization, and across Britain you can find clocks mounted in public spaces, train stations, town squares, reminding people of the importance and urgency of time. Time is money, time is a commodity, you mustn’t waste it. Contrast this to Spain –where the famous manana means tomorrow or morning –Manana actually means not today, NOT NOW.

In India time slips through the culture like a drug, past and present collide. In Hindi the word for tomorrow is the same as the word for yesterday…can you imagine?

To make sure I am not wasting your time, this talk will take approximately 45 minutes. I’m bouncing round some big ideas and will make some gross generalizations. I’m bound to say things you don’t agree with. Pretend, if you will, just for this little piece of time, that I just might be right….

My story begins in 1987, the spring of my life. We’ll start there. Sydney is a bustling metropolis built around waterfronts and warm summers, Jasmine fragrant in the air, wide skies and space to imagine life better. I was at college studying communication, focused on film, writing and semiotics. It's the study of signs, related to linguistics (the study of languages). It’s about systems of meaning, seeing beyond the surface of the words to the structures, exploring what they represent, more of that later.

1987, I was a rock chick, in love with a boy who played in a band. I wanted to be an actress. I shared this passion with Sarah Butler, the base player’s girlfriend. We did local amateur shows, went for auditions when we could get them, supported our boyfriends and dreamt of our own success. We were critical of the world of entertainment and especially of the roles for young women. Sarah and I teamed up with another woman called Wednesday Kennedy and decided we would make our own show. Nowadays that’s normal. 25 years ago it was considered adventurous. We wanted to make a vehicle for ourselves, so BiDiNG TIME is about a young woman, an actress, who wants to be successful and to fall in love. She is waiting for life to start, trying to work out what she wants. She would be called Thyme, with a ‘y’, like the herb.

And there she is,

We were so young. Each of us played Thyme, with synchronized gestures. We each also played one other character, creating a world around her story - an actors agent called Mina, a starlet Tiffany Truscott and a silent mercurial character called Trix who seemed to manipulate time and make magic. We likened the search for success to the search for love and although Thyme, the girl, got everything she was looking for, perhaps those things weren’t exactly what she wanted.

It was a modest show, a very modest little show…created from our shared experiences with some songs. And it was well received, we even sold out the end of the run. And the life I had been waiting to start, took off. I got into drama school, toured BiDiNG TiME to Adelaide Fringe. We were front page of the Adelaide Advertiser, ‘ones to watch’. We were delighted.

My story rattles on. Time passes. I broke up with the boy in the band, worked as a jobbing actor, started directing theatre, travelled, got a job in TV as a presenter, made a couple of TV arts documentaries and fell in and out of love…many times. Then I took a chance to help my friend Clare create an art action at the Kyoto Earth Summit in Japan, 1997. I was passionate about the environment and it was an extraordinary to be at this summit of world leaders. I’d never seen such a circus, the media flying about at the faintest whiff of a story and the environmental agencies all competing in spite of a shared mission. I remember distinctly standing outside the conference centre in a serene Japanese garden, watching the skies for Al Gore, then vice president of the USA, and wondering whether the fuss would result in anything meaningful. The Kyoto protocol…let history decide.

While in Kyoto, Clare told me about her extraordinary project, to create a series of temporary museums in a disused building on London’s south bank, just down stream from the National Theatre. I decided I had to come and help make it happen. The Museum Of…was created in the community there. Its a wonderful story for another time.

During this period I started working as associate director with a company called The World Famous, creating large-scale outdoor shows using fire & fireworks. The outdoors offered free access for thousands of people to enjoy, art for everyone.

Fast forward to 2006 – I was running an art centre in London’s East End. Moving from the south bank to the East End was a culture shock. The borough of Tower Hamlets is in the shadow of the Tower of London and has been a gateway into the capital for generations. Then almost a third of the local community were from Bangladesh, 20% were migrants from other places including Somalian refugees. The remaining white community were divided, traditional working class ‘east enders’and young professionals attracted by cheaper house prices as the area was regenerated and became more desirable. The new art centre was attached to an old community centre in one of the poorest parts of London, part of this regeneration agenda.

Working with those communities wasn’t easy. I had to work out how the arts and artists fitted into that setting, how to find an audience for the new centre. Lots of artists wanted to work with us. Most, like me, white people from privileged families and often not really interested in where we were or who lived there. But the wider world wasn’t very interested in those communities either – except their problems. I started noticing that the arts world was still predominantly white, an educated elite in a class-ridden society.

Now I am part Australian, from the colonies, and I find the English class system difficult to swallow. Of course there are social hierarchies in Australia, (the arts often used to enforce them). I’m not suggesting things are perfect there and the treatment of our indigenous population continues to shame our nation, but the country is young, developed by migrants and proud of its reputation as a land of opportunity. That idea is still culturally strong and enables a degree of social mobility.

By 2006 I’d been at Oxford House for five years, opened the arts centre, worked with hundreds of artists... I’d had a baby and while on maternity leave with my second child I was made redundant.

Redundant. In March –2013, it was estimated that 100,000 people a month are being made redundant in Britain. But in 2006 before the recession had kicked in, it wasn’t so common, I was devastated. And at this moment of personal crisis, at home with a sick baby, I thought I’d never work again. So I went back to the BiDiNG TiME story, the first thing I had ever made. I wanted to work out what had happened in the intervening years. I started writing a new script, with fragments of the original but extra characters and scenarios, updated to now.

So, the story...

Set in London sometime soon, BiDiNG TiME is the story of a young woman and her friends making up their future. Thyme is a young actress, she could be from anywhere in the world. Thyme believes in love and is waiting for her time, her moment to shine.

In a parallel universe a professional agent and her team are casting a film for a Hollywood producer. With strict directives from Hollywood, they are looking for the right girl.

Meanwhile, Thyme journeys through a love affair with Nick, guitarist in new band The Waiting Game. She is inspired by eco-warrior Jake, who ruffles her feathers and challenges her world-view.

Eventually the agents decide that Thyme is the one, waiting for the right moment to pounce. And there is Trix, silent agent of change, able to manipulate Time and make Magic. Thyme (the girl) gets everything she is looking for but what does she really want?

I was curious that this story had somehow become more relevant. Thyme wants to be a successful actress. By 2006 reality TV had had huge cultural impact, Pop Idol, X Factor, Big Brother and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows casting major musicals via TV competitions had taken over prime time with millions of viewers. Everyone seemed to want to be famous, so many more than 20 years before. What had happened? Fame seems to offer eternal youth, where people can just do whatever they want, a way to side step responsibility and the ordinary? What did it all mean? In the 20 years since I’d started, since 1987, I knew a bit more about life, the business of entertainment and theatre, I’d travelled a lot…so I wanted to create a project around our original story that could explore big ideas, do some creative problem solving. The plain fact was that when we were young we wanted to change the world, and I hadn’t grown out of it. I still did. I do.

And in 2006 I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to change. Roles for women hadn’t improved much and in wider society, conditions seemed worse. Economic crisis was in the air. Add to this the ever-present threat of climate change. I was curious about how these issues connected to each other and to me, and a simple story about a young woman on a personal journey.

I wasn’t convinced making a show would change anything. I’m not sure theatre can change the world. We live in a society where nobody wants to take responsibility for the systems. It's a culture of blame and litigation, where common sense, common good, common decency take a back seat to self-interest and survival. Theatre was the system I knew and the shock of losing my job made me rethink. I wanted to try and take responsibility for things that felt completely beyond my control and play with the theatre system, just to see where that got me.

My son got better and I did get another job, as director of Total Theatre –producing the Total Theatre Awards at the Fringe. And this was offered a wonderful opportunity to examine theatre more closely.

The generally accepted idea is that someone – a playwright, writes a play; a director directs performers in that play and its put on a stage for an audience who sit in the dark to watch it. There is a whole world of live performance that is not made like this and theatre has developed into even more unusual spaces and ways of working; physical theatre, puppetry, mask, mime, live art, performance art, street art, circus. Theatre is alive and kicking but the wider idea of it seems rather dead. There are lots of reasons, the name of the building is the name of the art form, and as statistics tell us that less than 10% of the UK population go regularly – that is 3 times a year, its hardly surprising that the theatre idea isn’t shifting very quickly.

When I was made redundant my family moved out of London to a commuter town in Kent. Few people I’ve met there go to the theatre regularly, if at all. It was interesting trying to explain to other Mum’s in the nursery or people in the pub what I did for a living. ‘Ooh It sounds exciting’ was the most positive response. Then their eyes would glaze over as it had nothing to do with them. And I realized how my social circles had been dominated by colleagues and started to think that maybe these new friends were right. Most of the artists I knew were making the work they wanted to make…too few were concerned with communicating with this wider audience and worse, looked down on these people for engaging in other more popular forms of entertainment. 

Now, I love theatre as a way to connect to people’s stories, the teamwork, exploring relationship between bodies and voices, a place for emotion and daring, where humanity resonates and people show off different ideas and skills to each other. And live performance takes us away from the dominant screen culture to share collective experiences in real space and time. But there is also the business, the machine, the heavy weight of theatre history, its posh reputation, the star system. The star system reflects the class system with a highly structured hierarchy. That system pretends to offer opportunity but keeps most people locked in their place. You can compete and climb over others in order to be one of the privileged few to ‘make it’– and then look down on those who are less talented, less educated, less able to get there for whatever reason. The stars themselves don’t necessarily act this way but the system certainly encourages this behaviour and thinking.

Looking to a wider political frame; we are lucky enough to live in a democracy and many artists consider themselves to be liberals but the processes for making aren’t very democratic. Shared vision and collaboration are not as highly valued in the arts as individual artists and their egos. We seem to love creative tyrants, despots and dictators, who are allowed to treat people badly, forgiven because of creative genius. I wanted to celebrate collaboration, democratise the making process - see an ideology played out in the way the project was framed. And the issues in the story were global - the natural environment knows no political borders, the position of women is a major issue in many parts of the world and multinational companies deliver the star system reinforcing hierarchies between coutries that reflect their global economic status. I kept asking myself - Am I part of the problem? And more importantly - how can I be part of a solution?

How could I create a project structure that welcomed people to participate, to think globally but act locally?

I wanted this new imagined show to be as collaborative as possible. I started looking around to other creative areas where there was bigger interest: to fashion, music, design & of course all of these creative areas can all be applied to live performance and theatre. What if this new show could be created like a jigsaw, where strangers could help to create and choose new music, costume design and get involved. Could different elements be crowd sourced? I want to encourage people’s creativity –share the BiDiNG TiME story but not insist on how its told and engage as many as possible in a creative process. I was struck by how many more people want to perform than watch (and this is very evident at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe). I wanted to offer opportunity and make connections.

In the original show we used several different styles of theatre, we moved between different performance spaces, one character doesn't speak, we were naively playing with form. I worked more theatre styles into the new text. My aim was to take an audience on a journey through the theatre, with a show that starts traditionally but draws in a range of more contemporary theatre styles. The first part of BiDiNG TiME takes place in a theatre auditorium, the second part takes place in an adjacent space where the action is immersive, set in a New Year Club where every night is New Years Eve - because that is a moment when people all over the world celebrate change. Then back to the auditorium for part 3. There are lots of different ways this could work – art centres, where social spaces are built in but are rarely used as part of a show, or a theatre building could make friends with another space nearby, a school hall, a nightclub, a sports centre –making connections, building relationships. But I am getting ahead of myself...

So, I had a story. This story had a good brave beginning, the naive integrity and vision three young women shared back in 1987. I now also had a new unfinished script and the blessing of my original collaborators. I didn’t want to just mount a show. I started sharing the script in schools and colleges and with other artists, to see if Thyme still had anything to say and it turned out she did…

(Blackout) Could you please all close your eyes

Live V/O (accent to suit the location - Catriona Paterson performed in Edinburgh - so imagine Scottish)

I wake early, I always will here. You are beside me, lying there. Soft lashes skirt your lids and skim your cheeks, teasing me. I am captive audience ready to be  flashed into view. It begins suddenly…Mmmm. A welcome shock, a whisper rumbling sweet,  deep. All the warm soft secret places ache, lips, inner thigh, inside elbow, behind cheek, underneath knee. I smell you. A new awakening, unsteady, volatile and profoundly certain. Oh yes…I remember…as the rhythms change, a pumping of blood and hips rocking the desire in. It kindles, catches fire, deflected to nipple, layers of satin vulva - I love that word - moist pocket of teased flesh…suddenly wet. Then it's on. Urgent, hungry, agitated ecstasy. Touch me while I help myself, rubbing, gnawing, chasing, gorging; the scent, the sense, the taste. Lip to lip to lip. A wide wide void aches through me. I draw the muscles in to take you, my delight, on our brave crusade into pleasure. I am earth and ocean, consumer and custodian. Dip yourself, drown me. And I am consumed –flipped over, danced into…no words can meet the impact. Catching the toss…rising on the wave… Delirious undertaking, divine inspiration. An exploding star, a desert storm, the truth. Oh bliss how did you find me? Yes, yes, yes…come with me…yes.   …wishing through the wash still spilling inside me. I am light, breathless, aching

(Lights up) ‘open your eyes’

I wrote that speech when I was 19. My first sexual experience was rather different, when at 14, I had lied to my Mum and escaped into the city with some friends. One of my mates had a boyfriend much older than us who lived in a squat. We ended up back at his place and all fell asleep. In the middle of the night I woke with someone’s hands all over me, I figured out it was the flat mate. We’d never met. I didn’t know how to stop him and it was all over before I knew it. I remember lying on the floor watching a spider high in the room, feeling trapped. And guilty. I don't know what you call that…unfortunate? I had something precious that a 19yr old man felt able to take from me without any introduction. But I could imagine better….

The speech is still fresh. It’s rare that we hear about sex from a woman’s point of view. We see so many women demanding attention from billboards, teasing us from our screens, using sex to sell soap or chewing gum or cars. What we look at and how we look is so manipulated. Our inner lives shouted down by dominant visual language. Yet Women’s sexuality is still demonized and feared; rape and abuse are common –here and in too many other countries –India, Ireland, Papua New Guinea… Women’s control over their own bodies still denied them.

Characters for women are traditionally defined by their sexuality - its old news... Virgins, whores, mothers and crones…and usually defined by their relationship to men. Thyme, the girl, is not a virgin or a whore, or a mother…yet. She is looking for something…for her part and her song. The challenge was how to empower her. I wanted to explore the idea of Thyme, our central character as an ‘every woman’. She has no background and although the script is currently set in London, it could be another city. What happens to her is how we understand her. I was interested in the idea that she could be from anywhere in the world.

I am from two places, England and Australia. I always feel pressure to choose. We still don’t have very intelligent ways of talking about people with more than one cultural identity (or more than one professional identity) despite the fact that so many people in the UK are hybrid. My grandfathers family were Dutch colonials in Indonesia. When I visited there I suddenly saw the undocumented Indonesian blood in my mothers face and features. How many identities do you have? One, two, more? Adopt one, just for fun. Choose somewhere big and obvious. USA, France, Brazil, Japan…. Or less obvious, Paraguay? Tonga? Uzbekestan? Notice whether you choose based on what you get or what you could give. I have often thought we would sort a lot of the world’s problems if everyone had at least two cultural identities to take care of. 

Theatre, as we know it now, has often been adopted into developing countries as part of a colonising and modernising process. Now I am not talking about the local stories and songs that have been shared for centuries; the tribal and folk traditions. I am talking about stages and curtains, plays, Shakespeare and Ibsen, those who take part on the elite world stages, performing in international festivals. This international theatre community are linked by the classics, mostly from the western canon. These old stories assert old ideas laid on old tracks about social structure and roles for women. And regardless of how radical the adaptations; they still lie on these tracks, attached to the qudos of these masters (and they are always masters). We need new stories to encourage other cultural voices and stories that have been so denied, repressed, ignored.  And we need them in big spaces, on main screens and stages, calling to big audiences, not thrown a bone in the back room.

 

Shakespeare said ‘all the world’s a stage’, and I’m saying if we want to change the world, what does it mean for the stage?

I started travelling, testing the BiDiNG TiME story in other countries and cultures to see whether it meant anything in India, Lebanon, South Korea? The British have been very good at telling other people to follow their structures and systems, the empire was built this way and theatre is yet another system we have successfully exported. So culture becomes as uniform as the high street, same trends, some brands, homogenised and controlled by bigger powers. By giving the story to others to adapt and make locally relevant I hoped to offer an alternative model of intercultural collaboration. Coming from the UK - I knew I must be careful not to impose values and systems because that simply reinforces an international cultural hierarchy. I needed to step down and find ways to empower others, to learn from them.

 

While working on this project I had another big eureka moment when I heard Stuart Wallace speak, from the New Economics Foundation. Nef have been working on alternative economic models for over 20 years as if people and the planet mattered. Stuart succinctly put together the relationship between economic crisis, environmental crisis and what needs to happen now. If the developing economies, in Brazil, Russia, India and China are to reach a UK standard of living it will take at least 8 planets of resources. There are not enough resources. Millions are starving right now and yet there is enough food on the planet to feed everyone, enough to provide everyone with shelter and water. What gets in the way?

That brings us neatly to Economics. Now, I’m not an economist but I do understand basic economic principles. I understand that people in Britain (and other parts of the world) are told to believe in growth and invest in debt. We are all implicated in the current crisis and UK govt's austerity measures because most of us have a mortgage or student debt or maxed out credit cards. I learnt to manage money from my Mum and she from her Mum. Save first then purchase. From the age of five I was given pocket money in three parts, some to spend, some to save and some for presents. My kids have the same system. I think there is something wonderful in teaching children they should give a third of their income away. And we tax their treats – buy them an ice cream and demand tax. It sounds mean but how else do you learn that you have to give back to the system that provides for you. My Dad was a gambler and a manic depressive – and there is plenty of evidence of those characteristics in our economies –in the boom and bust. The consumer index is the basis of economic health, measured by how much people shop. In this country we buy so much we don't need. And we are told to want more. Something is not right…

We need to stop shopping, ask more questions and invest in the intangibles; learning, health, arts –replace consumer stuff with live experiences, focus on quality not quantity, process not product.

Money in the business of theatre is hugely contradictory, the multinational model at one end, where big complicated shows are replicated and rolled out all over the world (War Horse, Mama Mia, Les Miserables) often stifling local voices...at the other end poor theatre, creatively cobbled. Public investment in the arts generally helps support innovation and experimentation that nobody could otherwise afford and encourages punters to go by keeping ticket prices down. That's the theory. But the wider economy relies on a global system, injecting goods and services made with cheap labour to turn a profit. Its very difficult for our own labour market to compete and performance is fundamentally about paying for people’s time so it suffers in the same way. 

The whole question of who gets paid and how much is also rather complicated. Loosely speaking professional means paid, unprofessional or amateur - not paid, semi professional - paid a bit. But these terms don't adequately explain the way money changes hands and the awkward relationships that emerge. There is a widening gap between those paid vast sums and those working hand to mouth. The artists increasingly poorer. I am not being paid to be here today, I guess that makes me a very experienced amateur.

I was certainly an amateur back in 1987 and made up the songs for the original show. I am not a musician, have no musical training, so I when people ask to hear the music I share what exists by singing - I like this old fashioned approach. Professionals and non professionals have been taking, reworking, ignoring these tunes they see fit…This process keeps me connected to the origins, it keeps me honest. So I am going to sing you a song, here is the walking song…

He’s dappled in moonlight, among shady faces 

Kissed by chance and loved by many 

I touch your presence  and other far off places 

Shambling backwards. into the cold.

Stained glass footpaths, night's sacred paradise 

Vehicles pass me with convertible smiles. 

I touch your presence and other far off places

Deeply dissatisfied 

I walk for miles 

I walk for miles 

I walk for miles 

Cross the river, head through the city 

Follow the bells on a restless mission 

This ancient townm so dense and gritty 

Overwhelmed, I travel underground

Mind the gap, between our perceptions 

So many lost souls in so many styles 

I keep on moving, to avoid their questions 

Permission denied, I walk for miles 

I walk for miles,

I walk for miles

Mind full of worries, it just keeps on racing 

Driven to a nightmare destination 

I’m in the dark, no wits about me 

Autumns falling, I’m alone 

Deepening shadows, every stranger’s stranger 

My radar instinct's off the dials 

I’ve lost you in these desolate places 

Absolutely terrified, I run... (heavy breathing)     

I walk for miles 

I walk for miles 

I walk for miles

And slowly, slowly, the night walks by 

Neon’s flicker and the sun begins to rise 

Dreams are melting and strength is slowly waking 

My mind’s made up but my body is slow 

Your presence hits me, a faithless shadow 

I’ve been walking all night but you’ll never know

We were clear from the beginning that Thyme (the girl) would not be a victim. There are too many victim stories in our cultures. The BiDiNG TiME script is structured as a journey through the seasons in a one-year cycle. Walking is a metaphor in the story as Thyme makes her journey.  We have been doing some walks and pilgrimages to engage lots of different people in the process and to be outside, in the natural environment.

Now, I understand how impossible it is to know what to do about climate change. Does recycling work? I am sure we are not doing enough when I see images of the plastic soup, a concentration of rubbish in the Pacific Ocean that is bigger than North America. Check it out if you haven't seen the pictures, its terrifying. Out of sight & out of mind. At COP 15, 2009 in Copenhagen world leaders came together again to discuss Climate Change. Floating in St Jorgens Lake a red cube of light, the size of a three-storey building, 8.2 metres square –to help the public imagine a tonne of CO2. In Copenhagen I met a woman called Rosa from a tiny pacific Island that was expected to drown in the next ten years. (??) That was in 2009…in the next six years. We need more radical solutions.

 

Whether you believe that human activity is responsible for climate change or not, there is definitely changing weather from year to year and noticeable changes in weather patterns all over the world. This is already having a huge impact on people’s living conditions and will lead to further migration. While we notice the differences from one season to the next, comparing our current experience to yesterday, last month or other years. These are markers for our memories. We are far less sensitive to monitoring the shifts in attitude that influence our tastes and opinions. In the arts and the theatre we trade in these trends yet don't often interrogate them. However they carry significant wieght and favour. If you haven't clocked it already, I am interested in greater access to encourage new audiences and participants and believe our attitudes help create barriers. I need to try and articulate how this system currently works.

‘Cultural capital’ is all about stacking up important influences, making sure you are connected to the most successful and influential. According to Wikipedia, the term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets that promote social mobility beyond economic means. Examples can include education, intellect, style of speech, dress, and even physical appearance, et cetera. Add to these the all important 'reputation' created by 'word of mouth'. The performing arts are really good at accumulating and exchanging cultural capital. We play status with skill.

So how do we identify and defend radical new ideas, especially if they are not forceful and agressive, but gentle and slip between existing artforms. The way I had envisaged the project was to share the story and share values. In giving it away, the aim is to empower and encourage others to find new relevance, to make it fresh each time in different contexts. It questions authorship, notions of authenticity and ownership. Not forgetting that I made the story with two others and feel a huge responsibility to them.

Making art, making anything new is a confidence trick and I have lost my nerve at many points on this journey because I was continually looking beyond the existing system, beyond current trends. It is of course subjective, a personal journey and I am therefore sensitive to different responses. Criticisms shout and scream while the compliments whisper.

(shout) SHES STILL DRAGGING THAT THING AROUND... SHE’S HAVING A MIDLIFE CRISIS (which I may be but more constructive than leaving my family, buying a sports car and taking up with someone half my age) and the joy of middle age is the perspective you have and the bridge you can be, still connected to your youth and conscious of the aging process. Looking to those with greater experience...

(whisper) this could be my story, I know this character, this woman...

(shout) THE SCRIPT ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH  I am not pretending to be a playwright, I respect writers enormously but it is unlikely a writer would imagine this way of working. The unfinished script is a provocation, and I wanted people to engage in the process of changing it. The openness with which I can share this unfinished text and not be precious about how it’s used shares responsibility for the content, encourages people to ask questions. It gets to the heart of changing the traditional process of theatre making – many in the theatre know about these alternative methods – many more people in the world do not. Their understanding of structure and rules of theatre, it must be on a stage, people must be 'characters in a story', perhaps reflects peoples attitude to other structures and rules. I am playing with the rules and I want other people to play with the rules. The BiDiNG TiME project also begs questions about intellectual property, copyright and other issues that dominate the theatre business. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think people should be paid but as in wider society, some get vast fees and others are starving. As in the wider world, that gap is widening. I wanted to play with these territories and negotiate them case-by-case. And I am in the process of setting up a system whereby the royalties from the BiDiNG TiME shows can be paid forward to support people who want to make the work in places who have far less resource.

(whispers) this is amazing, you will let me do whatever I like... I am not sure what it is but I am so excited and frigtened by that possibility

(shouts) ITS JUST NOT VERY GOOD  

Now...'Good' is something that interests me enormously. I ran the Total Theatre Awards here at the Fringe for six years and have led endless conversations about what makes a performance excellent, how to separate personal taste from other qualities that determine whether a show is ‘good’or not. At another critical moment in this process (2010) I was asked to speak on a panel about women and the performing arts in Stockholm. There I met Vanja Hermele, an academic sharing her ideas about how the arts use undefined ideas about quality to maintain the status quo. This articulated something I had been feeling. Our attitudes and tastes are a product of our backgrounds, education and circumstances... and we do not notice how they trap and enslave us... or more importantly, others

‘We’d love to have more black people but we just haven’t seen anyone good enough’ OR

‘We’d like to appoint a woman into the role, we’ve just not seen any women as good as the male candidates’ (I’ve heard these exact words - but sometimes the attitudes are not this overt - they lie in the subtext of decisions. So successful women must be 'attractive' - its a minefield)

And too many people don’t notice when women, migrants or black people are missing from leading roles, judging panels, senior teams…don't notice when there are no role models for young girls, don't notice when even the women making speeches only reference men. These structures are so strong.

People say to me – Wow, you are giving the script and the story away, what if you don’t know the players, what if the show they produce isn’t very good.'  I say, maybe that’s not the point, maybe I am not in a position to judge and maybe its more important to let go of the control, trust people you don’t know, give them permission and opportunity to see what happens. So many visions of the future are apocalyptic in fact and fiction. We are frightened into submission, into fiercely protecting what we know. Our opinions and attitudes are such powerful gatekeepers and stop change dead in its tracks.

Change does take time. Time is a key theme in this project (as you've probably gathered) and time means different things in different time zones. In South Korea industrialisation has happened so fast that the older generation still work on the agricultural lunar calendar and the younger work with the western or solar calendar. Says it all – connection to the earth lost to progress. In China the whole country works on Beijing time so people in the far west of China which should be 4 hours behind are forced to call 5am, 9am – playing with night and day.  I have always thought that in general men and women are comfortable in different time frames, men being more immediate and women reflecting and projecting = not sacrificing the past or the future for immediate gratification and gain…I’m generalising, it’s just a hunch. Its complicated! But perhaps if more women were empowered we might not sacrifice the future for immediate gain so often. We might let the past lead us...

I know very little about my grandparents on my Dads side, except that my Grandfather was born in 1850. That’s 163 years ago, the year the elevator and the first colour photograph were invented, before the aeroplane, before petrol fuelled cars, moving pictures, before two world wars or TV, the splitting of the atom and nuclear power. And of course before the internet. It's a hell of journey in two generations. My grandfather was 72 when my dad was born. I KNOW! 1850 was before the abolition of slavery in America and yet there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today, more slaves than 163 years ago. What progress? And the cold hard fact is that we in the UK benefit from their slavery, we are invested in a global system that enslaves. And when developing countries aspire to be more western, are they inspired by excessive affluence, by the star system? If they want theatre...what does it represent? Is it a trapping of western power, a passtime for the idle rich?

In giving this story away, in trying to empower and listen to others, maybe this project is starting to explore what fair-trade theatre could look like. Where we are not imposing ideas, notions of excellence or specific forms of theatre – expecting people to work to our standards but sharing content, values, local detail, empowering participants, encouraging hopeful visions of the future. 

Memory and imagination come from the same place in our brains…According to a Harvard study, episodic memory, which represents our personal memories of past experiences, “allows individuals to project themselves both backward and forward in subjective time.”This suggests that the more experiences you have, the more likely you are to have a vivid imagination but this doesn’t explain how children can be so inventive and how people can imagine things that are beyond their experience…

Lets imagine...

Set in London (or another urban centre as by 2030 it is estimated that 70% of the world

population will live in cities), sometime soon (near enough to now to feel familiar, yet open 

to imagination and the possibility of change), The story is about a group of young people 

carving out their future. It focuses on a young woman (in the UK women still only hold 12% 

of top jobs, sexual violence is rising and women are the hardest hit by poverty worldwide). 

Thyme is an everywoman she could be from anywhere in the world (allowing for a 

diverse range of women to play and shape her). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can we imagine a better future and fairer systems? Yes, hope is a defining human characteristic. BiDiNG TiME is my humble attempt to explore systemic change. Its open to anyone. 

it's a conceptual leap. It can be adapted thats its strength. In peddling this project 

around Ive had dozens of meetings with colleagues in the profession and I started to 

notice a pattern. I would explain some of the thinking behind this project the listener 

would be interested or intrigued but by the end of an hour had often justified to me, but 

mostly themselves, why the system needs to be the way it is. The project didn't fit. 

Change is hard. And of course there is

no reason why people who are doing well in this 

system would want to change it, except that it is changing. With change comes 

opportunity.

 

In 1987 BiDiNG TiME started as collaboration and I am simply trying to honor and widen the collaboration. Like collective action, a giant chain letter, where you can do something small and be part of something big. There were 5 productions of the story last year. I have been delighted with the versions of the show I have seen so far. Young Director Emma Baggott directed a physical theatre version at the Brit School last year with 65 young people on stage and it was absolutely riveting because the themes of this show are exactly the issues that are shaping those kids lives. Louise Quinn and Ben Harrison have created a Scottish version that is completely different using silent disco technology, a live band and a giant rabbit to tell the story. (It has been on at Summerhall during Fringe and will tour Scotland next spring.)

BiDiNG TiME is a collaboration with me as protagonist but its not about me and if you see BiDiNG TiME written the words are in capitals and the i is small, as a visual reminder. Ego gets in the way in this business and in this life. Thousands of people out there shouting about themselves but when I drop off my kids at the local school, visit hospitals, see people working hard in so many other facets of life, doing vital things and they dont shout, they are just doing their jobs. Putting yourself aside can be very liberating.

SHES AN IDEALIST  

An unashamed idealist, some say cynicism is our greatest enemy.

So Thyme (our heroine) is a young woman fromTurkey caught in a struggle between religion and liberal values and she's from Micronesia facing forced migration as rising sea levels threaten her home, from Iran where she is compelled to join the uprising of Arab women and from South Africa, trying to escape the township. She's from Brazil, New Zealand, Iceland, from Aberdeen, Alice Springs, Krakow, Belfast. From your hometown, someone you know, struggling with these big issues and questions.  

I could go on about this all day but thats enough for now. BiDiNG TiME is an invitation to act locally, think globally. Its about serious things but actually also fun and funny. Big or small there are many ways to get involved. Read the script in your book group, sing one of the songs in your choir. See how it relates to where you are. Mount a show or go and see a version of the show. Finally, I think we have a duty in the arts to apply our creativity to more than just the shows we make. The wider world needs innovative people now to mess with bankrupt systems, to ask difficult questions and we have much to offer.  

I try to be curious about the world and open to change. What are you waiting for? 

Thanks for your time.