The above title needs to be sang to the tune of the popular Mcfly tune ‘It’s all about you…’
Just as many a painter has practised their craft reproducing images of their face and body and singer/song writers have sung a life that feels familiar to you in lyrics and melody; so the performer has a canvas and aria of their own. A life lived; no matter how, can produce material for a performance.
I remember an exercise that I took part in at drama school many moons ago that involved just such a moment. The task quite simply was to tell a story of something that had happened to you. The memory that sprung to mind on this occasion was the day I avoided death with a few scatches. I recalled this memory to my group, going into the details of the event.
I was six seven or perhaps a little younger. It was week night. I know this because mum was downstairs watching Coronation Street. My brother and I should have been asleep but we were playing ‘shops’. She wasn’t aware we were still awake as we were jumping from the tall boy chest of draws under the window to the bed. It was warm and still light at 7o clockish outside. I opened the window in the bedroom and my brother and me continued playing our ‘let’s pretend’ game. There was a point when Paul, my younger sibling exited the room to search for more ‘shopping’ in my room. It was then that I sat in the windowsill and went to lean on the pane. Much to my shock I fell through the open window and time slowed as gravity did its thing and I went down,down,down.
It was only a first story bedroom so I suppose not that far and I was lucky; completely avoiding the rockery below. I landed with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. My bare feet landed in the muck and my bum on the lawn. I’m not sure how long I lay on the edge of the grass like that but I did get up and took myself to our back door. It was locked, my dad was at work and mum wasn’t expecting any visitors so I had to knock on the door. Waiting for the door to open seemed to take for ever and I truly wish I could recall the look on my mothers face as she seen me standing there. When she asked me how I got there all I could do was point to the window and cry. Up to that point I hadn’t cried… there was more to the evening as neighbours came round and mum had to go to a neighbour to ring for an ambulance and it was quite an event in my mothers life and mine. I got to watch this moment unfold during this short exercise at drama school as my group recreated the moment. The twist to the exercise was that I couldn’t be me and so my part was performed by someone who could only imagine what I thought and what I felt.
I’m sure there are countless episodes in people’s lives like these and all worthy of recounting. To perform something autobiographical as a performer seems an instinctive thing to do. After all it is a way to explore the effects the world has had upon you. To explore the emotions of what made you react like that or make observations that are useful in being able to store to that ’emotion memory’.
For tackling autobiographical work I have seen many productions that use direct address; it’s a simple and truthful way to approach it. There are many ways to approach it and removing yourself slightly from the event and being able to collaborate and get ideas on what other perspectives could be very useful. I say this as I recall a piece that I did during my HND studies. I poured my heart and soul into something that was a hugely traumatic part of my past. My lecturer told me at the time that it was ‘Self Absorbed’ and I don’t think to this day I truly understand what she meant. I don’t even think it was a criticism. Looking back I found movement, monologue and tried to create a stylised set with what we could, even a Eddie Brickell track that seemed to tell my story for me. If I had the chance again I would get direction and ideas from others to provide me with that essential eye to provide a lens on what you cannot see yourself. As above all even thought is about me there needs to be a truth in the telling which can be lost in the truth of what we remember as it is personal. There will be a connection with the audience, others will have experienced life changing events also.
Regarding the near window experience It would be great to explore that moment, the childhood activity to the falling from the window. What would be the soundtrack?How could I use the set and stage to explore this. Just like in the exercise we did at drama school, It would be interesting to see the interpretation of another performer bring that moment into the present. To use physicality and the frantic build blocks that work with movement and create that fall. The possibilities are endless. The autobiographical journey can be fearful to reveal things about yourself and fun to give life to a moment once past. I think as a performer we have all looked at potential moments that could be part of a story even if it’s not all about me.