AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Who Cries Wins // Martin O'Brien & Guests

This discussion of autobiographical performance and trauma explored a notional increase in artists making work engaging with these themes. Are there really more artists using personal stories as the basis for their work? Or is it simply that the particular qualities of this labour are now acknowledged more readily? That testimonies of trauma (particularly by artists of colour, disabled artists and those with lived experience of mental health issues) are now recognised as far more than mere self-indulgence? The artists Martin O’Brien, Mele Broomes and Amelia Stubberfield made up a panel presenting three very different but interrelated perspectives on these questions, refracting the central theme of the festival (Care & Destruction) back through their personal narratives and artistic practices.  

O’Brien is an artist whose exploration of his own status as someone with cystic fibrosis has pushed his body to the limits of endurance. Through his strategic deployment of SM techniques, medical ritual and pop-cultural mythologies (most recently the figure of the zombie, after passing his life expectancy of 30) his work challenges audience to witness the process of the body and the experience of sickness. This is very different to Broomes, whose work Grin was performed in excerpt at Care & Destruction. Broomes discussed her experience as a dancer of colour, someone whose very body troubles the overwhelmingly white spaces of institutional culture, and the pressure that goes with it. How even well-meaning attempts to engage with artists of colour can still leave the onus on them to both explain their experience and offer solutions for how it could be resolved. Stubberfield, whose piece Borderline was also part of the festival weekend, offered a very different perspective. Presenting a more narrative practice, an investement in stand-up as a form, which centres the notion of story more than either O’Brien or Broomes, they discussed how comedy might provide a vehicle for serious and honest discussion. 

Although very different practices, each artist arrived by their own route to a series of similar and related questions. Who is in the audience and does autobiography serve them? The presentation of personal testimony can be a powerful catharsis. Who gets to make the decisions around the work? How is performance dealing with the intensely personal presented, marketed, made public, and where? Each artist claimed their practice as a way to take responsibility for the work they wanted to make – the assertion of something important to each of them. And in that, perhaps, there is much for the audience, venues and cultural institutions to consider.  

-      Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Martin O’Brien - BBC Ouch Podcast

About V/DA - Mele Broomes

Amelia Stubberfield

Autobiography and Performance - Deirdre Heddon

Lyn Gardner: Theatre is embracing diversity, but it’s still not enough. - The Stage

Mental Health in the arts: Are we talking about it enough? - London Evening Standard

Eve // Jo Clifford and National Theatre of Scotland

Eve represents one of a number of shows that documents trans experiences at the fringe in 2017, its monologue format flashing back through the life and thoughts of its writer and performer Jo Clifford. Upsettingly familiar narratives emerge over the course of its highly personal narrative. Of gender specialists as the gatekeepers to treatment. Of Inadequate provision for those seeking help, and shame and oppression preventing others from ever revealing who they are or would like to be.

There are multiple levels of history here, from 1950s boarding schools and 1960s adolescence to 1990s lectureships and parenthood. We are told that this is the ninety-first play Clifford has written, and the craft and the weight of this experience leave her personal narrative technically and theatrically precise and poised. The language is honed, every word, to reflect the odd moments that make up a life. The structure of Eve similarly avoids a linear chronology, living in the medium of ‘queer time’ referred to throughout. The space of the theatre, like the space of memory, is separate from the everyday progression through the world.

Whilst the content is deeply personal, Clifford’s biographical tracing gestures to larger debates around trans identities and the dissolution of old binaries and absolutes. As much as Trump, the governor of North Carolina and other forces of regression might try to beat back the tide, through continued work and determined sharing, artists like Clifford, audiences, and especially young people are working to ensure that trans identities continue to be acknowledged. It is a generational privilege and obligation to ensure that oppression lessens. As the old quote goes, from Theordore Parker through Martin Luther King Jr and Obama, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. But it must be bent, for justice and tolerance comes from hard work and determined engagement in a process of change.

- Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

EveJo Clifford

A Look at Trans Shows at the FringeThe List

A Vision for Change: Acceptance Without Exception for Trans People - Stonewall

Trans Mission: How to Tell Trans Stories on Stage and Screen – Fury, for the Guardian

A Comprehensive List of Trans Autobiographies – TG Forum

SACRE BLUE / Zoe Murtagh & Tory Copeland

SACRE BLUE / Zoe Murtagh & Tory Copeland

According to the Journal of Psychopharmacology there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013. Zoe Murtagh is one of those and with Sacre Blue , her first full length solo show, she shares her experience - of trying to make anxiety a friend, of trying to conquer it, of trying to acknowledge its presence.

DECLARATION / Sarah Emmott & Art With Heart

DECLARATION / Sarah Emmott & Art With Heart

Declaration draws on Sarah Emmott’s experiences and (late) diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Developed with medical professionals, ADHD and mental health support groups, the piece begins with a highly energetic and comedic tone. Emmott shares childhood stories of embracing her then-undiagnosed self-defined “weirdness” within a supportive family context.

DOUBTING THOMAS / Grassmarket Projects

DOUBTING THOMAS / Grassmarket Projects

Doubting Thomas is ostensibly about Glasgow's criminal underworld, but it's also about the consequences of childhood trauma and neglect, and it's about rehabilitation. Written and performed by Thomas McCrudden with support from the cast, it is the true story of his violent past, detailing his time both in and out of prison.

DON'T PANIC! IT'S CHALLENGE ANNEKA / on the button

DON'T PANIC! IT'S CHALLENGE ANNEKA / on the button

A solo comedy show in which writer and performer Sophie Winter plays all the parts, including her boss, her mum, her best friend and 90s TV star Anneka Rice, Don't Panic! It's Challenge Anneka is all about anxiety. It uses humour and silliness to demystify and start conversations about a serious subject.

THE ONE LEGGED MAN SHOW / Nils Bergstrand

THE ONE LEGGED MAN SHOW / Nils Bergstrand

Nils Bergstrand was the first disabled person to graduate from the musical theatre course at London's Royal Academy of Music. He auditioned after a passion for singing revealed itself through therapeutic exercises in acknowledging positive responses to the world, undertaken to cope with the post-traumatic stress of losing his leg.