Love and Other Devices

Love and Other Devices

To what extent should we medicate a lack of love?

Is a chemical attraction better than a digital distraction?

Or should we just be left to our own devices?

Google Trends report a surge in searches for ‘mobile phone addiction’, closely followed by ‘social media addiction’. Mine is on my lap. It’s not off. It’s never off. Because this is Normal? 2018, and we are living in an always-on culture. The conversation is ‘Love and Other Devices’. We are here to talk about love, and how the rise of mobile phone addiction might be the death of romance.

Love is critical to our survival. Babies are literally helpless without it. Without attachment, they die. They need us to be responsive to their cries, attending to their needs. Love carries us through life. Arguably, it is all we seek.

Yet in our relationships, we are choosing to be elsewhere. Sat with our phones never more than a reach away, we scroll through a never-ending sea of content. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we respond to each ring, ping and notification with a panting, slavering hunger. Leaving our partners starving for our attention. Our screens are the new seductress. What is left of love, if we are so easily drawn away into our mobile phones? And should we be chemically resuscitated to our desire once we have lost our passion?

I admit, the discussion wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Anticipating a chat about addiction to scrolling, the conversation swiftly segued into love and medication of love. It’s a difficult conversation. I confess to not knowing the voices of everyone who has a stake in it. Medicating those with depression, children with ADHD, prescribing pills, can sometimes problematise more than it solves. But it did beg the question. Should we ever be ‘prescribing’ love? Or, more fascinatingly, suppressing love?

A relationship expert, an addiction expert and a man with a PhD in Love walk into a bar…  

The conversation drifts from phone addiction, towards the ‘answer’ of medication. Why is medication the solution? Why should we not be left to our own devices? Have gone so far over the line that we no longer discuss the cause of the addiction, but head straight for medication?

The research is exciting. That we can track the brain's signals and chemicals and reproduce them as a cure, is a positive advance in science. I think. But.

What is love?

Baby don't hurt me

Don't hurt me

No more

- Bex Bell


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Love and Other Drugs - Philosophy Now

America's Love Affair with Prescription Medication - Consumer Reports 

Chemical Attraction - Observer

Phone Addiction is Real - Forbes

Unthinkable // Helen Thomson

Life is stranger than fiction. On the same day that I watch an episode of Black Mirror and consider the brutal potential consequences of living with extreme empathy, I join the audience for a talk by Helen Thomson. We listen to Joel’s life story. He is also a doctor in a hospital and, by dint of an extremely rare neurological condition, is also able to feel another’s pain as his own. His condition is the result of a faulty mirror neuron response. If he witnesses an event that causes an emotional or physical response in another person, he feels it as though it is happening to him. 

His is one of ten stories contained in Thomson’s book Unthinkable. As an audience, we inhale in simultaneously sympathy as we hear that if he sees a patient die, he feels his own breathing falter and his body begins to shut down. Even though he’s developed techniques to override these powerful sensations, his mirror touch synaesthesia impacts every waking hour of his life.

Thomson: scientist, writer and consultant for New Scientist, is fascinated by the infinite ways human beings see the world. She is an explorer, satisfying her obsession with learning more about those brains that don’t look like everyone else’s by travelling to meet people with rare conditions across the planet. What is it like when you live your life thinking you are a tiger or wake up dead?

The talk feels a bit close when I realise that I most likely have a mild form of synaesthesia based on her descriptors of the condition. I wonder, does everyone else in the room feel prompted to consider their own unique brain chemistry and connections?

Susan is constantly lost in familiar surroundings due to deficits in her ability to form a consistent mental map. Thus, even finding her way from the bedroom to the bathroom is a daily challenge. What is more extraordinary than this unusual perception of the world is her resourcefulness. She has developed remarkable strategies to combat her condition. She spins like Wonder Woman to reset her brain and flip her map into some semblance of familiarity. Every day she behaves like a superhero.

The talk prompts us to ask questions of ourselves. What are our own powers in the face of adversity? How might we overcome life’s considerable challenges? Most importantly Unthinkable encourages us to become more curious about who we are and which of our myriad perceived flaws make us unique and powerful.

- Melissa Jacob


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Helen Thomson


What is a Mirror Neuron? - American Psychological Association

The Strange World of Synesthaesia

Black Museum - Black Mirror

Patterns of Trauma

It is an age-old question: where does the best art come from, happiness or melancholy? It is a hard question to answer, and Patterns of Trauma explored the role of trauma in an artist’s work from the perspective of three artists, covering a range of disciplines. 

Patterns of Trauma was an informative and candid talk drawing on experiences of neurological disorders, racism and mental health related traumas. Multidisciplinary artist Nwando Ebizie, musician and poet Arike Grant and poet Byron Vincent guided the audience openly and honestly through their experiences. Chaired by clinical psychiatrist and meditation teacher Gemma Beckley, they explored the differences and the similarities in their practice and experiences. All participants brought their own insights but found common ground in the way they use empathy. Empathy becomes an incredible vehicle for sharing the true impact of trauma and connecting to people, whether audiences have similar experiences or not. Vincent showed the power of connection and the change it can create when he mentioned the work of the violence reduction unit in Scotland. Interestingly, the talk examined areas of traumas in art not often considered, such as the impact of revisiting the trauma on the artist. Patterns of Trauma highlighted how personal trauma and the responses to it are. It also looked at the impact this might have on any performer revisiting this in their work, and offered ways they could stay emotionally safe. 

Patterns of Trauma was a different take on trauma and what it means in the production and performance of art. What do you say? What do you leave out? How do you take care of yourself? It is important to consider.

- Dave Horn


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Your Reality is Broken (Wellcome Collection) - Nwando Ebizie

Violence Reduction Unit

Emotional rescue: how personal trauma has been turned into art - Guardian

Art Can Heal PTSD’s Invisible Wounds – Melissa Walker (TED Talk)

Art and Trauma: Creativity As a Resiliency Factor -

Sleep Over // Geraldine Pilgrim

Sleep, that final frontier. We can put man on the moon, split the atom and prove that water has memory, and yet we still do not really know why we sleep. What scientists do know is that without proper sleep our cognitive ability is impaired and the middle part of the frontal lobe in our brains is affected as a build-up of proteins occurs.

To believe the media hype we are in the midst of a sleep-loss epidemic, putting us at heightened risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease and weight gain. So as part of Normal? 2018, a sleep-over was held in the auditorium of the Quaterhouse. Not for scientific analysis, just purely to emphasise and highlight the importance of sleep to our mental wellbeing.

Geraldine Pilgrim designed the installation, which looked like a cross between a field hospital and a supersized hostel/hotel room. One of the sleepers disclosed that she dreamt that the pillows came from Premier Inn and the mattresses from Dunelm - strange that we dream of such mundane things! Fourteen sleepers and one male matron hankered down for cocoa or Horlicks, bedtime stories and a recording of the old and soporific version of the shipping news, followed by seven and a half hours of undisturbed rest in comfy beds with Egyptian cotton sheets and super soft pillows. For the insomniacs a room was kitted out with food, drinks and a video diary.

At 8am, piped birdsong filled the auditorium and bodies started to move and then rise from their cotton comfort. Why though, did those who normally wake to sunrise still manage to do so despite the darkened room? At breakfast, Tim Rittman, the in-house neurologist answered questions on sleep matters whilst a delicious breakfast was served. Everyone seemed curious to know if we had slept well but I was more interested to hear how our matron Gary felt, given he had endured the whole night in a darkened room. Coincidentally he spent the night reading about the Normandy Landings as he watched over us in our dystopian hangar style bedroom.

Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep tells me that prolonged sleep deprivation can be fatal. In our 24hr society individuals are torn between the necessity to work and battling against their circadian rhythms. What risk is this posing for tomorrow’s generations?

‘To sleep perchance to dream’

If only!

-       Sandra Elkins


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker

The Sleep School

How to Cope with Sleep Problems - Mind

Sleep Tips - BBC News

A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity - The Atlantic

Swearing Is Good For You // Emma Byrne

Dr Emma Byrne works as a robotics scientist whilst extending her fascination with profanity. Today she posed and answered questions, giving descriptions of her research.

Does swearing help us?

It can reduce stress, encourage teamwork and better friendships, and deal with pain. It can also deflect rather than act as a proxy for physical violence.

Why do we swear when in pain? 

Byrne invited a volunteer to leave his hand in ice water for as long as possible, firstly saying only ‘straight’. He later repeated the exercise but was allowed to say ‘shit’. ‘Straight’ resulted 19 seconds whereas ‘shit’ gave 45 seconds. So, had the swearing eased his pain or given him the courage to withstand it?

Why is swearing good for us? 

Apart from anything else, we gain information. For example, we can assess which team is winning by listening. Football fans tend to use ‘shit’ when things are going badly and ‘fuck’ while they are going well.

What are swear words?

Swearing has been used as a diagnostic tool for over 150 years, yet there is still no definition. There are recognised topics but most gradually lose their potency. Blasphemy has little impact now; sexual terms are becoming less shocking as they are incorporated into more normal language and used as a kind of verbal seasoning. Words used against the individual, as in sexism, racism and homophobia are the most taboo now.

Why do we resist it?

We all have the right to swear but some people are offended and assume others will be too.  When we hear swearing we consider our feelings rather than think what it is doing for the speaker or what s/he is trying to do.

Do men swear more than women?

Some suggest that swearing by women is odious to God and women are too innocent to even understand the words. Huh! Whilst Byrne suggested it is true that, in public, women are milder in swearing than men, when together we say whatever the fuck we want. 

Emily Bronte wrote swear words when they were appropriate for her characters, and that word ‘appropriate’ is crucial to any consideration of swearing. We could have spent longer exploring questions about appropriacy; different languages; animals and swearing; judging or accepting those who swear; physiological effects; etcetera, but we had no time.

Did we expect Byrne to swear her way through the presentation? Probably. But her use was entirely appropriate and showed how much swearing can enrich what is being said.

- Joy Pascoe


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Swearing is Good For You - Dr. Emma Byrne

Swearing is Good For You (Article) - RSA Journal Issue 1

Dr. Emma Byrne: The Sweary Scientist

Why We Swear (Four Thought) - BBC Radio 4 

Why Swearing Makes You Stronger - Alan Burdick, The New Yorker

Autism Roundtable // Imagining Autism

Finding Your Own Group Of Weird

Prior to the Living with Autism roundtable I had my own pre-conceived ideas about what it meant to be autistic. I bought into the Rain Man ideology and believed that autism was predominantly a male domain, with the notion that to be autistic meant living in an isolated bubble. I thought that certainly within those constraints public speaking would be impossible.

Two women on the panel, Annette and Chloe, were diagnosed as being autistic in their mid and late thirties, but were articulate, confident and gave a clear and coherent insight into their world of autism. They explained how society expected them to conform to a neurotypical model of what it is to be human, and how this leads to a myriad of mental health issues: obsessive behaviour; anxiety and sensory overload. Being female better equipped them to act out the neurotypical role publically but in their private lives they had frequent ‘melt-down’ moments. Listening to their testaments it was apparent that the reason for their late diagnosis was that as women they were able to mask things better than their male counterparts. This theme of ‘masking’ was also explored in a short film by Sharif Persaud, The Mask

Chloe showed a list of all the words that have been used by others to represent her, all derogatory and representative of the expectations of a neurotypical ideal. She now has found her ‘own group of weird’ and acknowledges that she is autistic and that is a intrinsic part of her personality. It cannot be removed. The overriding message of the roundtable was one of acceptance and inclusivity. Autism has its own set of rules. As one of the parents on the panel learnt, great minds don’t always think alike and sometimes we just have to learn to play differently and allow everyone to find their own group of weird.

-       Sandra Elkins


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Imagining Autism - University of Kent

National Autistic Society

Live It Well - Kent County Council

Mental Health Matters

Autism Research Centre

Touch Laboratory 'Weight' // Aistė Jančiūtė

A blindfold applied before the start of any performance somewhat hampers the critical gaze. One minute you’re a potential audience member, the next you’re in Guantanamo. But it’s by the seaside. And gentle hands are touching yours, guiding you across a pebble and sand landscape as your own weight makes you stumble and slide. The noise comes at you from all sides and there’s a woman’s voice checking off body parts and their weights: brain 100 grams, upper lip 20 grams. Then blindfold off, headphones on, lie down, look up …there’s light above … blindfold on and you’re stumbling again and as you sit, the cold weight of the world on your shoulders.

Touch Laboratory 'Weight' is an immersive piece of work resulting from the artist's month-long residency at the Folkestone seaside. She offers participants the 'experience [of] the concept of weight from physical, artistic, psychological and philosophical perspectives'. The reality of this intense hour in a room is an immersion in the world of the senses and sense deprivation, that at times can be hard to take. 

With immersive theatre under scrutiny this experiment-installation-performance at one point made me feel like the coyote in Joseph Beuys' I Love America and America Loves Me. Was I performer, participant, part of the installation, or just an unwitting subject of an experiment I didn’t quite understand?

A previous day at the Normal? Festival was given over to discussing autism, a condition that is often accompanied by hypersensitivity. Weight‘s assault on the senses was introduction to the feelings of overload that unexpected touch can bring. Cold heavy objects were tied to our bodies whilst all the time we are being watched. With new research suggesting that there could be a relationship between a lack of a normal sense of touch and more complex behaviours resulting in anxiety, Weight created numerous opportunities for participants to experience how each of the five human senses can be overloaded.

The show’s link to the town around it was explicit, and the performers’ careful engagement with each of us was evident. It was an intense and moving experience. But the acute sensory assault of participating in Weight could be overwhelming for anyone unprepared for the vulnerability of the human condition that this work exposes.

- Audrey Green Oakes


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Autism and Touch - Spectrum News

Immersive Theatre Growing Big Quickly - The Stage

I Love America and America Loves Me - Joseph Beuys

Senses Working Overtime - XTC

The Weight - The Band

Touch Laboratory 'Weight' by Aistė Jančiūtė

Bake Tell Tarts

What if you could use the nation’s love of cakes and the universal language of baking to open up conversations about dementia? This was the innovative, fun approach taken by Emma Harding in Bake Tell Tarts, a workshop at Normal? Festival of the Brain. 

Dementia - an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the brain – is experienced by more than 850,000 people in the UK. And there are more than 200 types of dementia. These figures may seem surprising, and that’s because the condition’s impact on those living with, or caring for, those affected is still relatively unknown. 

Harding combines her love of baking and her position as a researcher at UCL’s Dementia Research Centre to push the conversation forward. After a brief roundtable, workshop participants brainstormed ideas as to who could benefit from learning more about dementia. Imagine the difference it might make if shopkeepers were more aware of the challenges a seemingly everyday task – shopping – presents to someone with dementia. Or if politicians kept this demographic in mind when allocating resources to health budgets and support services. For this to happen, we need to talk about the condition. 

And this is where the cakes come in. 

Through the practice of creating icing stamped with dementia-related phrases, I participated in conversations about the experience of living with the condition. These phrases: still the same old melife is not overemphasised the idea that those with dementia do not want to be defined by it; that it is a part of their identity rather than the whole. 

Once complete, the cakes could be used outside of the workshop environment to continue the conversation, spreading awareness of the condition and, perhaps increasing empathy. 

Bake Tell Tarts’cake-led engagement is a delicious way of exploring, challenging and shaping understanding of dementias through the creative arts. It is especially relevant as cooking and baking is an activity that stimulates the senses, and for some with dementia, can trigger memories related to food – a powerful and positive experience. 

Cakes bring people together. How wonderful would it be if, alongside eating them, we could have a fuller, more realistic conversation about the experience and impact of dementia on society. 

- Charlotte Forfieh


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

BakeTell Tarts

Activities for People with Dementia Based Around FoodSocial Care Institute for Excellence

Her Memory Fading, Paula Wolfert Fights Back With FoodNew York Times

Dementia UK

5 Things You Should Know About Dementia - Alzheimers Society

University College London Dementia Research Centre

Created Out of Mind

Pint of Science

Two-thirds of the way through Pint of Science: Beautiful Mind, talk turns to Socrates and the pursuit of happiness. Familiar conversational territory for a regular night out. 

Jim Lockey invites us to join him on a journey of creation and loss. He recently built, then captained and sank a paper boat in local shallow waters. We are asked whether grief is merely a by-product of human evolution, whilst considering themes explored in Ode to A Nightingale by Keats.

Thou we’re not born for death immortal bird

No immortal generations tread thee down

Tim Rittman condenses years of his work analysing footage of task-free brains and the rigidity that develops in those with neurological degeneration into ten minutes. He likens the brightly lit areas on the scans to conversations at a cocktail party and introduces us to the experiments of William Lennox, a scientist who stuck pins into the jugular veins and carotid arteries of his volunteers.

Within her Weight installation, Aiste Janciute encourages participants to use all five senses as they explore words or concepts that weigh them down or lift them up.

Without gravity, the cosmos is everywhere


Dr. Shabhana Khan returns us to the laboratory and to work being undertaken there to increase efficacy in the treatment of anxiety disorders by balancing three key -amines. She works in the field of optigenetics. Endeavours include the use of light to control cells and tickling mice.

Charlie Murphy, resident artist with the Created Out of Mind project, firstly outlines the complex science behind attempts by the team to grow brains from the skin cells of anonymous volunteers then explains how she transformed this process into a series of dance moves and created her Neuronal Disco.

Work it harder

Make it better

Do it faster

Makes us stronger

Two pints of science and three shots of art. I’m left with thoughts around the poetry of the former and the rigor of the latter and how the two push and pull the other into new spaces. The next morning, I feel a slight sense of disorientation as I work to recall, unpack and re-order conversations from the night before. Perhaps only fitting when themes of life, death and the transition between these states are explored, whether this is done through the medium of science or art or over a drink with friends in the pub.

- Melissa Jacob


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Pint of Science

Pint of Science on The One Show - 18 April 2018

Byron Vincent - Live Before You Die

The Love Affair Between Poetry and Science – New Statesman

The Neuronal Disco

What is the Common Ground between Art and Science?Guardian

Dementia Friends

Before the Session:

Me: Nah! I really don’t think I should go to any of the dementia sessions.

Brave Me: Why not?

Me: I have my issues and I’m afraid I’ll freak out.

Brave Me: Wimp! Given everything you’ve been through, you should be able to deal with anything these days. Go! Keep quiet when you’re there and then find a corner afterwards to blub in.

The session was led by Dementia Friends, and they began by asking for words which come to mind when we hear the word ‘Dementia’. Failed memory, confusion, paranoia, losing things and personality changes came out. I thought it strange that nobody mentioned loss and fear.

The leaders gave us the five main messages which Dementia Friends want to get across:

  1. Dementia is not a natural part of old age. One in fourteen of over 65s have dementia but some are much younger.
  2. Dementia is a disease of the brain. It affects everyone differently. There are over 100 different types of dementia.
  3. Dementia is not just about losing memory. It also affects motor skills, sequencing, loss of inhibition, judging distance, perception.
  4. It is possible to live well with it.
  5. There is more to the person than the dementia.

As a description of dementia, Carole gave us the analogy of a person as a bookcase holding books from every memory of her life, with the most recent memories on the top shelf and her childhood ones at the bottom. As the bookcase begins to rock and topple, the books begin to fall off, those from the top shelf (recent events) dropping first. Imagine that most of the books have disappeared while the person could be living on the shelf containing the 50s.  What would she not know about? Not just microwaves, smart phones and videos. Would she know what a teabag is, or what it’s for? How would she make a cup of tea? Should you make it for her, or does this undermine her sense of independence? Perhaps the real way to help her is to buy tea rather than teabags.

One of the most heartening pieces of information for me, as a great believer in the power of language, was that it is no longer acceptable to refer to ‘dementia sufferers’. They are ‘people with dementia’. This reflects the way in which changing the term ‘rape victims’ to ‘rape survivors’ enlightens the public and gives strength to those who have been raped. It is entirely positive, as was this session. The exercises illustrated how perceptions of dementia vary as widely as the people who have these perceptions.

After the Session:

Other People: Are you ok?

Me: (sniff) Sure. 

Other People: No, you’re not. What happened? Was it bad? 

Me: No, it was bloody good. But I should have listened to myself. There were too many connections. Too many contacts. Too many familiar moments. I shouldn’t have gone. I was right. It was scary. I’ll get some wine and forget about it.

Other People: Not a good idea! 

Me: Tough!

- Joy Pascoe


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Dementia Friends

Symptoms of Dementia - Alzheimers Disease International

Support - Dementia UK

Ugly Chief // Victoria Melody

Framed as a living funeral, Ugly Chief mines what is at stake when we numbly follow mainstream social norms or accept glib representations of the truth.

The entire show is founded on the misdiagnosis of Victoria Melody’s father with a terminal illness. Although he notices his health fails to plummet, he does not confer with his doctor, as is all too typical in relationships with professionals where technical prowess subsumes empathy. In the space of ignorance, Melody plans her father’s funeral, as requested, and trains as a funeral director. When the doctor’s error comes to light, the Melodys collaborate on ‘Ugly Chief’- a title that emerges from an inaccurate meaning ascribed to their surname picked up from online ancestral research.  There are frequent prods at our tendency to infer truth from unsubstantiated sources, like her father’s apparent familiarity and connection with the culture of New Orleans. As revealed by her research trip, it turns out it's limited to the opening sequence of Live & Let Die.

Melody confronts the conventional taboo of talking about death, luridly describing funeral practices such as sewing mouths closed in an attempt to make corpses parody the living and for death to appear less distressing. She shows us a product range of coffins rising to one at £19,000 with no value to the end-user.  These shiny veneers may offer more comfort than openly discussing death when alive, but in doing so they sidestep environmental factors and we relinquish our freedom of choice. We succumb to limited and often more costly options driven by corporate agendas. 

Rather than experience emotions, we choose what psychotherapist M Scott Peck describes as 'dinner party conversations', prevalent in what he describes as pseudo community: a shallow existence. Melody moves beyond her explorations of death and goes on to break a second taboo, the public airing of familial dirty laundry as she and her father explore their fractured relationship. Experts in truth and conciliation identify this willingness to talk as a precursor to forgiveness. At the end of the show, the Melodys read eulogies for one another that are raw and touching. Although this is a performative work and we have no way knowing what is real, Melody has attuned us to this dilemma earlier by describing her dim experiences at Chelsea College of Art, which include a tutor berating her for a poor understanding of Baudrillard’s Simulacra. In the end, perhaps it is only the willingness to experience emotions, to allow discomfort and speak the unspeakable that sets us free and enables us to be real. 

- Lubna Gem Arielle


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Doctor Patient Relationship - Huffington Post

A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics - Daniel Levitin

Live and Let Die (1973) - New Orleans Funeral Scene

Death Cafe

Death Doulas - Huffington Post

The Different Drum - M Scott Peck

Funerals - Ethical Consumer

The Forgiveness Project

Baudrillard's Simulacra

Intimacy/Tingle/Sound // Nwando Ebizie

Intimacy / Tingle / Sound is tranquil and easy to adapt to.  Cushions were dotted around the wooden floor, the lighting neither light nor dark and the rooms pillars providing a natural division for people to 'find their own space'. Audience are encouraged to sit and have hands massaged, which is pleasant though unusual for a meditative setting. It gives the uninitiated a passage into stillness. This sensory experience is hosted by three women dressed in ethereal floating costumes and exuding personal calm and charisma.

A giant screen shows a seascape and gently crashing waves, providing another anchor for calm. The repeating cycle of sensory experience includes a whispered story-telling that clashes with the calm environment as a dark tale unfolds. After the massage you're encouraged to make your way to lay on the ground using a cushion for your head. I sat up against a wall, cross-legged. As I'm familiar with dropping into deeper brainwave activity I rarely heard the words.  

There were people who were seemingly unfamiliar with the processes of meditation who looked uncomfortable at the idea of trusting the process leaning on cushions with their body's twisted on their sides to accommodate it. It was perhaps a mixture of resistance and a need to know more of what was expected of them, which of course is nothing, but trusting in that is part of the waking-up (to ourselves) process. 

The soundtrack reminded me of Centerpointe's Holosync Brain Sounds, which I found challenging for reasons I found out when I attended training in Anna Wise's Awaking the Mind system. The training measured your brainwaves during guided meditation and revealed your VAK system, your individual sensory modalities - visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. They told some very interesting stories about monks they'd tested who'd meditated for decades and never moved out of beta brainwaves to obtain the proven health benefits of stillness.

Nwando Ebizie was telling the tale when I arrived and someone else was continuing as I left.  It was a modern take on the meditative brain state, and a short introduction for the uninitiated.

-    Jane Unsworth


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Brainwaves and Meditation - Science Daily

Centrepointe Holosync Meditation

Anna Wise - Awakening the Mind 

Mindfulness vs Meditation - Medical Daily

Pete Blackaby - Humanistic Yoga

She's A Good Boy // Elise Heaven

Are you a girl or a boy?


Gender is a spectrum, and the acknowledgement of that is the bare minimum 2018 should expect. Not everyone wants to wear the same shirt or underwear, or to be called a man or a woman. The signs and signifiers of what makes a man or a woman are constructed through language and symbols, and so are as up for deconstruction as anything else. You can be one, or the other, both or neither, and if nothing else it’s simply polite to accept how others choose to define themselves. Absolutes are incorrect, and definitive claims made in the name of science inaccurate. What it means to be male or female changes across societies and cultures and across history. There is no medical gender binary, no chromosome test that accurately dictates the gender of every person in the world. XX and XY do not neatly correspond to men or women, and ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are just ideas.

Elise Heaven uses their own experience of this articulation of gender to create their show out of humour, anecdote, silly props and homemade costume. The ridiculousness of someone telling someone else how they feel is rightly lampooned, and any mystery around being non-binary subverted through mime and monologue. Like many other shows which engage with the experience of non-binary or trans performers, familiar difficulties are staged and explained – the expectation to wear gendered clothing for a wedding or a job, the awkwardness of parents when kids simply ask, and the unease sometimes felt in everyday interaction. Accompanied by ukulele songs and debates with themselves, Heaven engineers an easy interaction with a supportive audience. The debate around gender continues both within people and about them. Connection and education is the first step.

-       Lewis Church


links relevant to this diagnosis:

Elise Heaven - She's A Good Boy

Gender Beyond the Binary (Video) - Guardian

What Is Non Binary? - refinery29

9 Things People Get Wrong About Being Non-Binary - Teen Vogue

Gender Doesn't Come Down to Chromosomes - The Globe and Mail

Agender and Non-Binary - Our Queer Stories

Joan // Milk Presents

Joan filters historical qualities of gender through a fourteenth century legend and a classic cabaret vibe. It’s centred around an almost music-hall central figure in the person of champion drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson, who takes on roles and costumes to reframe Joan of Arc through intimate connection and historical reflection. It says valuable things about ideas of gender and society’s relationship to the changing dynamics of its representation - Joan of Arc not just as a legend or symbol, but a real woman who put on armour at a time it was unheard of. Joan with short hair. Joan as a canvas for drawn-on moustaches and someone whose clothes change their movement. Joan as a peasant girl and as a saint, as a soldier and as a leader. 

Four corner mirrors form a cross in the centre of the performance space, with the audience positioned between them. They look across to each other throughout. It’s delivered in the round to facilitate this easy interaction, alongside the participation required at several key points. Two men are invited up to interact with Joan, teaching her their walk, or standing in for an imagined partner. There’s an implicit questioning of their behaviour in their laughter and conversation. The presence on stage of audience members encourages this examination and perhaps reveals some assumptions about gender that might otherwise never be actively considered. The audience laugh with them in their unsure stance and their self-consciousness as they are asked to perform their maleness. 

As funny as the show is, as good natured and enjoyable, there are also moments of loss and hope stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the easy monologue. Parkinson looks to heaven with the same wide-eyed hope as Renée Falconetti. Another Joan, represented in another form, but one as serious as any other, meditating on loss, identity and the burden of history. 

-    Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Joan - Milk Presents

Joan of Arc -

Gender Identity - Young Stonewall

Gender Variance Around the World Over Time - Teen Vogue

Le Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Extract) - Starring Renée Falconetti, directed by Theodor Dreyer (1928)

Dad Dancing // Rosie Heafford, Alexandrina Hemsley and Helena Webb

Over the past month or so, choreographers Rosie Heafford, Helena Webb and I have been working with a supporting cast of people local to Gloucester on our show Dad Dancing (2012 onwards). It is a show that came about when our three dads would come to see our dance performances at Laban back in 2009, completely befuddled by what we were up to. It has grown into a show that reflects on the role of fatherhood - acknowledging the diversity within these roles and how they are taken up. We work with dads, father-figures and children of any age to tease out tender portraits of what’s at stake between and within these relationships.

It’s a project whose emotional weight strikes me at different points. Composing from the external vantage point of choreographers to sharing the lived experiences and dynamics of our own father-child relationships is very affecting. More and more, I think that the show asks for resilience and vulnerability to be intertwined particularly for the supporting cast. It is an ask that we as a creative team nurture as best we can. Our process spends time dancing altogether with the  simple but dedicated task of listening to the textures found within music and our internal rhythms. Our hope is that engaging in these acts of improvisation reveals the joy of movement, the space dancing offers to process emotion and an ever-changing sense of togetherness that can be evoked as a group. 

On stage, I had a sense of collective building, revealing and witnessing. Resting post-show now, I am reflecting on how important these three actions are when considering relationships between parents and their children, more nuanced understandings of parenting roles that undo gendered inequality and the need for society and governments to better understand the diversity of father roles and re-shape policies that represent and support this. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley


Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Dad Dancing at Strike A Light 2018 

Putting Dads in the Data - Fatherhood Institute

Paternity Rights - Guardian

Mix & Move // GL4 Festival

GL4 are based in the heart of the Matson Estate, bringing theatre and art into the local community and encouraging its development there. Through the support of Strike A Light and other partners, GL4 hosted their first entirely independent event Mix & Move at Robinswood Primary School, as part of their sister festival to Strike A Light 2018. The assembly hall was packed with an audience of proud and engaged parents and supporters, who gathered to be part of a true demonstration of grassroots, locally focused arts provision.

GL4’s arts practice is based around collaboration with artists and investment in the young people of Matson. Gloucester beatboxers 5 Mics and RISE Youth Bristol have been working alongside them in after school clubs and workshops, teaching them skills and techniques to express themselves here in their first public performance. The beatboxers take to the stage as GL4 Beats and are astoundingly good, producing sounds that you’d never know could come from a human body. Not only is the music they’re making a skill that they have learnt fresh for themselves, but by performing it to their parents and other members of the community they show them too. Their fierce little group later form a ‘10 Mics’ super group with their teachers from 5 Mics to hype up the crowd with their skill and confidence.

Similarly, the small children learning their first dance steps and performing for their parents are shown by the performers from RISE where their practicing could lead. They see the kind of movement that these more experienced dancers perform, and the potential of that work to hold the attention of an audience. This fact, that the artists teaching these young people perform alongside them is striking – a primary school hall hosting accomplished dancers and professional musicians. As the proportion of young people with access to arts sessions in schools and colleges falls, events like Mix & Move provide something to aspire to for the young people first starting out in their journey as artists, and shows that exciting performance work can be as at home in Matson as anywhere else.

- Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Mix & Move - GL4 CIC

ACE Children and Young People

Creative Subjects Being Squeezed - BBC News

Proportion of Students Taking Arts Subjects Falls - Guardian (2017)

6 Key Points from ACE's Youth Consultation - IVE

Strike A Light Charity Fundraising Gala

TSOTF are currently visiting Strike A Light Festival (SALF), an organisation that works 'to make Gloucester a city with a vibrant culture for all’. Their Charity Fundraising Gala (the first event of the 2018 festival) aimed to bring together the communities who participate, facilitate and have enjoyed the impact of their efforts to energise and sustain culture for residents of Gloucester - to generate support to ensure it can continue to build on the successes of its 10-year history. 

In 2017 SALF became the first Gloucester based organisation to become an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation, and have also been awarded support from the Esmée Fairbairn and Barnwood Trusts. This event however served as a reminder of the precarious nature of arts funding in the UK, and that a firm following, giving what they can, if they can, is incredibly important to a festivals ability to flourish and sustain its offer. 

Directors Sarah Blowers and Emma-Jane Benning greeted attendees as thought they were being invited into their home, coming in to share their excitement and meet the artists and teams involved. There was also a more serious mission: the chance to bid on auctioned items to supplement their fundraising and directly support their programme. The promise was that every £1 raised was to be match by the Arts Council. 

In introducing their first guest artist Viv Gordon and describing the terrain her work explores, Blowers said, ‘like Children In Need and other charity events we are not afraid to talk about difficult subject tonight’. This is the kind of work that is important to SALF, and artists they champion through their programming, producing and participation strands. Gordon’s work illustrated this as an artist & arts and mental health campaigner whose work discusses her lived experience of mental health, trauma and childhood sexual abuse. 

Gordon presented work-in-progress material from her new piece, MasterShit, currently in development with theatre makers Tom Roden, Alice Roots and Vic Llewellyn, which takes the dystopian frame of Master Chef as its starting point. The result, even at this early stage, was an affecting cacophony of ideas and textures presented as fragments of music, movement and text. The care and respect given by each performer to the material was palpable. This was something Blowers also highlighted as a key consideration in supporting the making of work dealing with difficult, real stories, considering care across the artists, producers and audiences involved. If the audience felt triggered in anyway they were assured they could leave the sharing and it was important that they did. From this glimpse of MasterShit, audience members saw that something powerful was being ‘cooked up’ by Gordon and team through the support  of SALF. It served as an example of the need and appetite of SALF to not just present the easy but tackle the necessary. 

After dinner there were conversations with artist and festival team hosts, including the Directors of GL4 Sarah O'Donnell and Naomi Draper, an arts organisation running from the Matson Estate. They are now their own organisation and Strike A Light's sister festival, programming, producing and supporting incoming and local artists and developing audiences around the estate where they live. Young beatboxers 5 Mics gave a flavour of their talents and a glimpse of new material from the company who are making their first theatre piece with support from SALF.

The night was celebratory and in the asking for support shone a light on the need for those who can to support in ways they can, whether volunteering, buying tickets or donating. They say nothing is certain, especially in regards to funding, but what was clear is that SALF are certainly making an impact in Gloucester. 

- Tracy Gentles


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Strike A Light

Viv Gordon


5 Mics

Arts Sponsorship and Funding Pressures - Guardian

Sponge // Big Imaginations and Turned On Its Head

Sponge is a feel-good soft-play disco for ages 0-4. It’s full of the silliness and mischief that kids love and targeted at an age range that forms experiences that open up theatre to them in the future. Kids are dazzled by the lights and props, the possibilities for play and the opportunities for participation. They run around without being told to sit down, throw things and shout out without being told off, and dance with the performers rather than sit still. It’s not strictly dance, theatre or comedy, but it is happy, bright and open.

The show is a slow escalation of size and texture. Buckets are used as drums and boats and sponges as building blocks, trampolines and rain. It makes a mess of textures, coarse, soft, honeycomb and stretchy. The sponges also prove oddly versatile as costume – here a crawling mushroom that looks like it’s from a 50s sci-fi film, there used to gently reference Charlie Chaplin’s potato fork dance from The Gold Rush or dance moves from Saturday Night Fever. These subtle allusions exist more for the adults in the room than the kid themselves, but they offer another level to the show, little Easter eggs to keep parents entertained alongside the kids

As theatre and performance for young people continues to innovate and expand across the country with new companies and artists, performances like Sponge are a soft and squishy entry into that world. Its allows all kids to feel the freedom of new performance and encourages its audiences to engage and have fun. It introduces from the first (perhaps the very first time for many of the children there) the idea that there is more to theatre than sitting in the dark whilst someone speaks. It can be anarchic, rough and ready, silly and bizarre, with no story to speak of but built on of a series of interactions between performer and audience. And that’s a good lesson to share. 

- Lewis Church


Links Relevant to this Diagnosis:

Sponge – Turned on Its Head

Purni Morrell on Children's Theatre - The Stage

Half of Teenagers 'Never Been In a Theatre' - BBC News

The Blob (1958)

Charlie Chaplin's Table Dance - The Gold Rush (1925)

Quarter Life Crisis // Yolanda Mercy

This lyrical monologue documents the quarter-life crisis of its main character Alicia Adewale. It’s the crisis that comes about through that odd return to childhood forced on graduates and young people by unaffordable rents, casualisation and wealth inequality. The one of leaving home, achieving independence and then returning as though nothing has changed. This tension is at the heart of the performance, the comforting familiarity of being back in a parent’s house and slipping back into the childhood role that goes with it. Embracing unquestioning support, less as an alternative to independence as much as one of the only options available.

The performance is built out of teenage and twenty-something memories and reflections on nights out, with the changing lives of friends and potential new responsibilities looming into focus. And as much as Adewale, a young Londoner of Nigerian descent, measures herself against friends and their marriages, children and homes, she also compares her situation to the histories of parents and distant relatives. The age she is now the same age as her mother was when she had her. The same age as grandparents who left their homes for a better life, the same age as ancestors were elected king or stolen as slaves. Adults, independent and fully formed, with a strong sense of who they were, and yet she still relies on her mother for everything.

But what Quarter Life Crisis correctly implies is that this deferral of adulthood is not the fault of the young people it traps. The tabloid label of the ‘boomerang generation’ deemphasises the responsibilities of those gone before. The shift away from job security in favour of the gig economy, and the housing crisis that leaves flats unavailable and houses unattainable, was not initiated by Adewale’s generation. Nor was the wild variation between the pay of those at the top and those just starting out. The delay in independence is simply a consequence of late capitalism.

The state of the Young Person’s Railcard, something referenced throughout the performance, reveals this truth. The recently announced extensions, the 26 to 30-year-old ‘Young Workers’ card, continues to move the goalposts of achieving full adulthood past your twenties entirely. Absent from the conversation is the idea that the current economy is unsustainable, that in a situation where 30 years old requires a discount simply to travel to work it might be a deeper, more structural problem that needs addressing.

-       Lewis Church 


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Yolanda Mercy  - Quarter Life Crisis

Is the New 25-30 Railcard Just An Attempt to Distract?The Badger

Boomerang Children - Guardian

Lack of Choice and Moving Back HomeThe DeBrief

Young People’s Changing Routes to Independence (2002) – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

YAYAYA AYAYAY // Ultimate Dancer and Robbie Thomson

Entering one by one through dark curtains, the start of this performance feels ritualistic. Inside: darkness. Ushers guide the audience using glow-in-the-dark gloves that gleam like palm pilots. The eye is drawn irresistibly to every scrap of phosphorescent tape and each tiny LED – the depth of the dark is disorientating. But rather than confuse, it seems designed only to gently remove our preoccupation with time and space. Darkness can do that, especially when coupled with isolation, like people who have spent weeks living in unlit caves, or five days in a darkness retreat in Berlin conceiving a show. Our eyes are given time to adapt to the dark, but even though the performance is just an hour, it is still hard to know how fast time is passing, if at all. 

The Greek meaning of ‘theatre’ was ‘the seeing place’. To perform in total darkness may seem counterproductive, yet it has been a rich source of experimentation since at least 1998, when Battersea Arts Centre put on a seminal programme of theatre, music, dinner, comedy and poetry, all consumed in the dark. This season's aim was to unleash the power of the spoken word. In YAYAYA AYAYAY, the few spoken words are slowed, stretched and repeated with the help of digital manipulation amid throbbing tones and waveforms from the mixing desk. The sounds that make up the words are isolated, distorted, reunited; new articulations emerge – mantras and roars – before revealing their original meaning.

Apparently tethered to the sound of the voice, lights encroach fleetingly and then start to dispel the darkness, moving through it, revealing something of the space around. Under the right conditions, the human eye can respond to a single photon of light. For most people, the light continually around us stops us ever seeing that sensitively. In the half-light, the tenth-light, the hundredth-light of this performance, the eye catches and latches on to glimpses, mirages, illusions; a primal body materialising from the shimmering gloom and fading back into darkness. The effect is mind-altering, magical, cathartic.

And whether it was seeing this performance or just the start of spring in the city, the light the following morning had a different, more magical quality.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis

YAYAYA AYAYAY - Ultimate Dancer

Ultimate Dancer - Exeunt

Performing Arts' Relationship with Ritual - UNESCO

Why Does It Take So Long for Our Eyes to Adjust to A Darkened Room?  - Scientific American 

The Caves of Forgotten Time – The Atlantic

BAC’s Playing in the Dark Programme,1998

Theatre in the Dark: Shadow, Gloom and Blackout in Contemporary Theatre (2017)

Life In the Dark – Neuroanthropology Blog 

What Are the Limits of Human Vision? - BBC Future