Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Luton Seven

The Hat Factory in Luton is a big old industrial warehouse replete with history. The space in which we performed had the capacity to hold eighty people, and was a simple yet beautiful black box space. We spent the afternoon walking around the town, getting to feel the environment, and to know the area. It's hard to know what we were seeing, as we only walked a few blocks in each direction, and most of what I saw was the product of globalization. Chain store after chain store, with virtually no independent vendors of any type. I saw a boy who couldn't have been more than thirteen sitting with his parents at the mall, smoking. We passed a massage parlor, a gay bar (which we went into and asked them if they knew about our performance and the woman there said she did and would "send people along"), and a very brightly coloured pink and orange merry-go-round, empty, spinning slowly to a loop of "The Grand Old Duke of York". We went back to the theatre, which by the time we'd done our walk, felt like a little oasis. We used the space to warm our voices, to feel comfortable in our bodies and to sing. At eight o'clock we walked on stage, and faced our audience of seven. Now the great thing and the difficult thing about twomentalking, is that we interact with the audience; not with their words, but with their listening. What this meant, was that there were nine points of contact for each telling, that is each audience member, Murray and Dan who was sitting in the fourth row.
I think audiences members, me included when I am one, feel invisible in the dark. In the dark as an audience member, I feel free to not react, to laugh internally, to daydream. Sometimes people reach into their bags, and even close their eyes. Usually this is not an issue, if there are enough points of contact, then those moments carry less weight. Last night, these seven people were our reason for telling, and I found it hard not to over analyze their body movements, their reaction or lack of reaction, and make meaning of these. The stories we tell are themselves vulnerable making, exposing and at times take me back to times of great isolation and fear. Being able to stand in my own story, without apology, without being distracted by other's reactions or my perception of other's reactions, is the task at hand. That is what leadership is about. Being able to trust my own truth even when others are not reflecting that back to me. Sometimes it's hard. Last night was one of those times.


Friday, May 25, 2007

The connectedness of all things

Paul and I went into London yesterday, for an interview with a journalist. On the train, we re-visited (as we have done thousands of times before) the value of what we do. The value of two men talking. Not the name of our performance, that is, but of men actually talking to one another about all the things that are difficult to face or to deal with.
Somewhere along the line of being taught what to do and what not to do, I learned that there were four things one never talks about at a dinner party. Sex, religion, politics and money. Why? Because those are the areas where people are likely to have strong feelings and where there are bound to be disagreements. One thing that wasn't mentioned on the not to talk about at dinner parties list was death. Probably because that was not necessary. We are part of a cultural aversion to talking about death.
Well, in twomentalking we talk about it all -and we do it by telling stories to one another and to the audience. Although there are certain assumptions and opinions underlying the stories I tell, my focus when telling is to stick - as much as I possibly can - to my own persona experience. No-one can possibly disagree with my experience, if I simply tell what happened to me.
And when I am listening, to give my full attention to Paul's experience. Indeed, our cardinal principle in twomentalking is that there is a reciprocal relationship between listening and telling. We connect not only by talking, which is active and behaviorally observable, but also by listening, which is less obvious. What is difficult is not so much what one has to say, but rather being able to listen to what someone else has to say without going into a reactive state.
There is a lot of tough stuff we have to listen to these days, and it is hard, very hard. When 9/11 happened, it was such a perfect opportunity to stop and listen to what the state of things was in the world. But what did we do instead? We attacked.
Nature is speaking loudly too. Global warming. Ice caps melting. Have we stopped to listen? What will it take?
This is what I mean by connectedness - being able to truly listen to what is going on around us.
And to realize that we are all part of it all.
This state of connectedness is what I mean when I talk about the sacred space that twomentalking is. Before each performance, we look out into the audience. We do not do this to embarrass anyone, to pick on anyone or to suggest that we are going to ask anyone to do anything. Rather, it is a moment to express that we are all in this together. We are on the stage telling our stories. But it would not happen in this particular way without those specific people in the audience. I could go on, but we have a performance in Letchworth and Bernd will be here to pick us up in 15 minutes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reporting from Hatfield

We arrived at the University of Hertfordshire, a four year new, campus, to find our performance space, the 450 seat expansive Weston auditorium that resembles an upside down football helmet. We spent the afternoon drinking instant coffee in the campus library and trying to get comfortable in the enormous space. At 7:30 the audience arrived - 75 people loosely spread throughout the auditorium. Dan our director was there, and our stage manager Bernd who will be with us for the whole tour as well as at Trafalgar Studios. The performance began and after about five minutes a couple of people walked out. We told our stories, using the large stage, and I certainly felt the divide between the large stage and the audience, especially as they were audibly and noticably silent throughout. Stories that in the past have elicited laughter, elicited none. For me the process became about trusting my own inner sense of purpose, trusting that what I was doing was worth doing, and that silence did not neccessarily mean contempt. We kept going, laughing, sharing our little hearts out, and learning (certainly for me this was the learning) how to generate enthusiasm from within. I think about that, what is the difference between enthusiasm, passion and excitement and how can one generate these from an inner place, rather than relying on outside stimulation to precipitate or ignite them? The performance ended and there was a very warm applause. Afterwards we came out to meet people who may have stayed behind to chat, but there was nobody there. This left the learning in place. The only feedback I got was as we left the organizer told me that a couple told her afterwards that she had "absolutely loved it" and it "wasn't his thing". On we go, this week to Letchworth, Luton and Colchester.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Writing from Heaven

Hemel Hempstead. May 19, 2007. 9am. First performance last night in the Hemel Hempstead Town Hall. About 45 attended, which was more than expected. The audience was warm, receptive, responsive. Hemel - in Afrikaans - means heaven. Last night I understood in a whole new way the "cost" of doing Two Men Talking. Evoking the past is a way of invoking the past. Feelings long forgotten or buried are summoned, and there is a brand new opportunity to let go. Story is very powerful. Much more powerful than I realize sometimes - in its capacity to transport ourselves and the audience to another place. While we are talking about the past, the stories are happening right there in the moment. In the here and now, never to happen again in this way, with these people. I wouldn't know how to evaluate the performance. Afterwards, in the bar, I had the feeling that people were moved - in the sense that something had been stirred, energized. Its the oddest thing: while the stories are so intensely personal, what happens through the telling of them is a common experience. And that's where the magic lives.

But this morning, as I sit in this holiday apartment, looking out at a sign that says MP Tully Scaffolding, and the Soviet style Kodak building (apparently abandoned by Kodak) I am aware of life back to usual. The magic not gone, but suspended, until the next show. Which will be altogether different. For one thing, it will not be in Heaven. It will be at the University of Herts