Interview with Tim X Atack. Winner of The Bruntwood Prize 2017.

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The 2017 Winner of the  Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting was announced last week at a ceremony at The Royal Exchange Theatre. Tim X Atack was awarded the ¬£16,000 prize for his play Heartworm. The Bristol based composer and sound designer has already had success as a playwright with works such as The Bullet and The Bass Trombone, Dark Land Light House and The Morpeth Carol and  has his own company Sleepdogs.

Heartworm was one of  1,898 entries and there were also three Judges Prizes and two commendations. The biennial prize is Britains biggest playwriting competition. It has previously been won by playwrights such as Duncan Macmillan, Alastair McDowell and Katherine Soper. Heartworm will be developed and staged at The Royal Exchange and The Royal Court.

So, a week on, how are you feeling?

Still really elated, it feels pretty surreal as  I didn’t expect to get this far. It feels really  great to be starting to work on developing it at some point in the New Year.

You say you didn’t expect to get that far, but you submitted almost every time – is this your fifth time?

Yes, this is the fifth.

So there must be something motivating you…..

I think The Bruntwood Prize has always been a kind of deadline in the diary for every grassroots playwright. So I’ve written something nearly every single time but I haven’t necessarily expected it to be better than previous years – it was the same with this play.

So when you look back now over previous submissions and you compare with Heartworm – for you –  would Heartworm be the winner?

(Laughs) I think they all have different qualities and I’m surprised that Heartworm connected with so many people and got as far as it did in The Bruntwood. I think it’s surprising in that some of my other plays aren’t as insidiously strange as Heartworm. Some of the others have more of a ring of authorial statement to them, especially the ones I wrote many years ago. In some respects they are the kinds of plays you might expect to connect a little bit more with the language we currently use in playwriting. I’m still working on a few of the others, developing further drafts to hopefully go on to production.

Ah I was hoping you might answer like that! I tend to think of writing plays and nurturing words like bringing up children so you wouldn’t want to favour one over another!!

No, I think that’s absolutely right. I really enjoy working on things over a long period of time. The band I’m in usually release an album about every 6 or 7 years – and the first thing I did when I got back to Bristol after winning was to record some vocals for a song that’s about 12 years old! I like letting things percolate for a while and seeing if they stand the test of time before releasing them into the world. Heartworm took about 2 years to write on and off, but I’ve entered The Bruntwood Prize before with things I’ve been working on for a decade or so in different ways.

So you’re in a band as well?

Yeah, I started my career as a composer and also did other things such as stand up comedy but throughout all that I’ve been in a band – about 23/24 years. Its a radiophonic pop group called Angeltech.

You already know The Royal Exchange as you’ve been working on the sound production for Jubilee….

That’s right. Its been an astonishing production to work on, it really felt like a very, very progressive show to be a part off. I was very proud of it, and it was also a riot of fun to do too…..

Fun in terms of the cast? Or working with Chris Goode?

Working with the cast, working with Chris, working with The Royal Exchange which was a fantastic theatre to do this in – it really feels like we’ve been given the run to do whatever we need to do for that particular production. Chris Goode runs an amazing rehearsal room. He’s a very collaborative person and it is really shows  in the way he invites his cast  and creatives in to put a lot of themselves into what’s happening in the rehearsal room.

I interviewed Pauline Mayers in June, she said exactly the same about him. We are lucky to have him at The Royal Exchange……So was this your first time working there?

I was at The Studio space while on tour a few years ago with my own company, Sleepdogs. It was a one man show called The Bullet and the Bass Trombone about a symphony orchestra that gets caught in a city during a military coup.

How did it feel to be currently working  here and then accepting the Bruntwood on the same stage? 

It was like a weird cheese dream especially when I saw people I’d been working with up in the tech desk. Some of the cast came to the ceremony so I could hear cheers from the gallery and recognise their voices because I’d been working with them for so long.

You have a very good ear for voices, sounds… does that give you an extra dimension as a writer when it comes to pacing and dialogue?

Yeah, I think it does. If there’s one thing I can say I definitely have as a writer is a kind of musical attitude to putting stuff together. I really enjoy soaking up the way that people talk and transferring that into the words I create. There’s always a sense of finding counterpoint melodies and textures that work interestingly opposite each other in the same way as if you mixed a piece of music. One of the reasons a lot of what I write has a kind of culture clash at the heart of it is because I’m always fascinated by what happens when these different kinds of music collide. I think that probably comes from growing up in Rio de Janeiro. Brasil is one of the world’s great melting pot cities – all kinds of voices and approaches to life there.

So Tim, all those possible voices – who would be your dream cast for Heartworm?

Laughs. Im going to annoy you now. I don’t tend to think about stuff like that. I love collaborating and I enjoy the surprises that come from the casting process. There are several things in particular  about Heartworm such as I’ve stipulated in the script than none of the cast are white. The casting will require finding performers who are at ease around the dreamlike language that the play uses. I can already imagine about 10 -15 ways of performing Joni K who is the most vocal character in the play. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do when they sink their teeth into the script.

How would you describe Joni K? Who is she?

I’m reluctant to expand on much detail which is not always the case with my plays. A lot of my works have definitely had thematic concerns but Heartworm is genuinely an exception to that. The weird thing about Joni is kind of the only definitive question that the play seems to be asking over and over again is – “Who is she?” Im really keen that the audience have the chance and the space to answer that in their own personal ways.

 I was intrigued by the extract I saw at the awards ceremony. There are all sorts of thoughts going on wondering what was pulling her back to her childhood home.

The room that she is standing in is the bedroom she grew up in, in what is ostensibly a house belonging to complete strangers. I was intrigued by the questions that might race through your mind in that moment if you were the couple renting out that room. That’s what I wanted to explore.

I recently had the chance to go back and see my childhood home and the changes made to it. The thought made me feel almost physically sick. 

The idea of seeing your childhood painted over makes you feel woozy doesn’t it?  The idea came from thoughts of heading back to Brazil again. I’ve been once since childhood but was thinking of going for longer this time. When looking at staying in AirBnBs I found myself looking closer and closer to the street I grew up on, and thinking how weird it would be if I was able to see the flat I shared with my family.

I used that premise with Joni as a starting point to explore some complicated emotions that were bubbling up in ways I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I decided to follow almost a dreamlike process with absolutely no idea where it would lead. I wrote it in linear fashion from start to finish and was genuinely surprised myself by some of the turns it took. It was like an improvisatory process of what I might like to see on stage and I allowed myself to go wherever it felt right to go, no matter how disconcerting or self-revealing it might be. Looking back I can see some of the influences and broad emotions – the main ones being grief and loss.

Did it feel cathartic writing it?

Absolutely. If there are two kinds of human rituals – those of confirmation and those of transformation then I tend to focus on the transformatory. I prefer to write about what could this be?….. What might this be?….. Isn’t the Universe strange….

Do you think that might have been what connected the Judges to this piece?

Maybe. I’ve no idea. The judging process remains  closed to me apart from what was said at the ceremony. 

What would your advice be to anyone thinking of submitting for The Bruntwood Prize?

To just write, keep on writing, keep on entering. I think I’d particularly encourage an idea of writing something you would like to see on a stage no matter what the implications of that are. No matter how you think plays are produced, or normally look on stage – if there’s something you’d like to feel or experience on stage put it on paper and send it to The Bruntwood Prize. I thought I was writing something particularly personal and strange, yet it turns out of all the things I submitted that this has been the most successful. 

  

What If I Told You?

Written and Performed by PAULINE MAYERS

Directed by CHRIS  GOODE 

The Studio, The Royal Exchange 

Pauline Mayers is a Rambert Ballet trained dancer, a choreographer, a writer and a theatre maker. She is a Hackney girl who has travelled the World as a dancer. She is a women of a certain age who has lived through significant  physical injuries and the emotional pain of depression.  She is a performer and an experimenter and an explorer. She is a black woman who has had a mixed response from the dance world about having a black body  to channel ballet through. More recently she has also experienced the closed doors that often greet an older dancer.

Talking to her in interview recently and watching her perform this  evening there is an undoubted warmth and engagement with others that is striking. As she opens the show her gaze attempts to connect with each member of the audience with a white hot intensity. This will draw in many audience members but for some may prove uncomfortable to fully engage with.

What If I Told You? uses theatre, movement and dance to explore prejudice and the conscious and unconscious assumption around skin colour. The piece weaves elements of her personal history and dance experience with the story of Dr J.Marion Sims often referred to as the father of modern Gynaecology. 

Dr Sims practised medicine in the nineteenth century and made major discoveries in the field of Gynaecology. His work was and remains highly controversial as he used black slave women as his subjects and refused to use anaesthetic deeming them less able to feel pain than white women.

The piece uses audience interaction and participation throughout. It is most powerful as we recreate a montage of a painting of Sims with Anarcha (a patient he experimented on many times), and two other white doctors observing while two tramatised black women peek through a curtain to see what awaits them. This is the impact of the piece that has stayed with me. Imagining that Anarcha might have been Pauline and seeing a lovely young black woman I know who could have been waiting her turn. Sims and another doctor were portrayed by white middle class men I also knew. It was deeply unsettling to imagine whose shoes we might walk in, in another place or time. 

There are some very rich moments to observe and there are some lovely interactions and connections as the audience participate in the movement of the piece. There is however a frustration that in weaving these elements together so much there is a risk that the piece loses some of its impact. An hour limits some of the storytelling when we also are participants. Pauline is so engaging I wanted more of her and less of me!!

Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. Its the audience thinking and speaking and reflecting together. Its a radical act of self care and empowerment. 
The Koan completes the second half of the show and is led by poet Khadijah Ibrahiim. Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. This is an important part of the piece as it is an exploration of subjective experience and a continuation of sharing what is “sameness” as opposed to “otherness”. 

The genuine hope in What If I Told You? is that each of us leaves the space with a keener and more empathic perspective on our neighbours. 

“There are periods of history where skin colour is used as a means to separate and disconnect us. I really feel what hurts you, hurts me. We are all human beings. There is only one race.”
This is a very personal piece. Pauline says it is an invitation to walk in her shoes for an hour. As with any subjective experience this will be more potent for some than for others. This is undoubtedly painful and chilling at times however it is also celebratory. Having stubbornly fought to be recognised as a black dancer and struggled with the loss of that career this show is also a homecoming. Theatre has welcomed her as a performer and story teller and her joy and appreciation is evident in this piece.

SHOWING 19/20 JUNE


Interview with Pauline Mayers


Getting a sense of Pauline Mayers before her new show What If I Told  You opens at The Royal Exchange Studio ahead of going to The Edinburgh Festival. Warm, funny and sharply intelligent. 

What led you into dance? Did you start from an early age? 

I’ll give you two versions because there’s what I remember and what my Mother remembers. There’s being 13 and although I had a very happy childhood, things were not going quite so well at 13/14. And the only way I could be out of the house was to do something constructive so I went along with a friend to the White Lion Youth Centre in Islington….My Mum would say from an early age 7/8 she remembers me trying to tap dance. I would try to emulate Gene Kelly laughs. My Mum,”You always wanted to be a dancer.” There’s what I remember and what my Mother witnessed. So somewhere in between.

I’m actually a Psychotherapist. That’s really typical of how we remember our past and how others define our past. Often they are very different, very different stories indeed. 

YES! There’s also something about what you remember and what you tell yourself you remember laughs based on scant pieces of information you kinda make a whole- “Oh that must be what happened”…..I think memory and history are all tied up with subjectivity, almost never objective and coming from various different angles. I kind of imagine it as a big 360 degree motion capture thing. There’s yourself in the middle and you have all these cameras swirling around you and depending on where the camera is people remember that part or version of you……Certainly doing the show, this piece; and looking back on photographs of me at Secondary School. I remember me as a very quiet child yet pictures show 13 year old me with my leg cocked up as high as I could get it so I clearly was not the shy child I recall!!

Perhaps you were a shy child but movement released something in you?

I think that’s definitely true, I do, there’s an absolute exhilaration and freedom. Movement was also like a Rubik cube, a challenge to unlock and solve, and I enjoyed trying to get my body round these tricky ways of moving. The getting up and performing was always secondary to the act of developing myself as a physical being. That curiosity of what happens if I do this? It’s the absolute laboratory laughs I used to absolutely love that.

So you eventually went to The Rambert School?

My training was intense, amazing  and wondrous; also terrifying, depressing and lonely. A few teachers had a very fixed idea of what dancers should look like and I didn’t fit the look of the dancer that they were imagining in their heads.

How did you cope with that?

It was my drive to be the thing that I wanted to be. My philosophy was I’m paying the same amount of fees as everyone else so I’m going to take your information and I’m going to be like a sponge and be this thing that you say I can’t be!!

That makes sense from a psychological perspective. We tend to adapt or rebel!

Absolutely! A teacher saying “Oh Pauline dear. Go to the back of the class. You really can’t do this.” I remember saying, “I can’t do it yet but the point of being here is that you teach me so I can!”

You were clearly there for a reason…

I think I felt if I didn’t do the dancing I would die…..It was a matter of life and death. How I felt when I danced was euphoric, falling in love, it was like I could be me….. I’ve tried to leave dance a number of times in the last few years. I can’t do anything else- not in a negative way but in a – I would not be me if I don’t do it.

You left dance in 2011 and moved into choreography. Was that about what’s happens to dancers at a certain age?

Absolutely. It’s a very big question especially for certain forms of dance. I came up against a wall of NO. I had all these amazing experiences dancing travelling around the World. I had an extensive set of skills and yet I was being told NO.. I was 41 and I’ve done this thing called Dance but I’m not being respected for that. I wasn’t being listened to. I wasn’t even being acknowledged.

That can happen to women of a certain age and you weren’t that old!!!

When it comes down to people of colour it’s like the Highlander effect. There can be only One! It really felt like I wasn’t that one. It felt like me coming in and wanting to tell unique stories was not needed because we’ve already got our person. I needed to walk away for my own sanity. In 2011 I shut the door on dance. It felt like theatre welcomed me with absolutely open arms. I had all these extraordinary collaborations. I realised I can contribute, The ideas I have in my head create value to any collaboration I do. So between 2011-2015 I worked solidly whereas 2005-2011 I was constantly on the dole!!!

So the rules in dance and theatre seem very different?

In the theatre I was just this curious bird who just wanted to find things out from people and that was ok. I could investigate like in a laboratory. In dance arenas only certain people were given permission to frame those questions. 

I’m intrigued- through out our conversation you’ve mentioned terms like experimenting, investigating, curiosity. I know you mention Dr J Marion Sims in the piece- what made you reference his experiments?

His experiments had an air of theatrics. He wanted an audience and doctors came from all over to see him create these tortuous gynaecological  experiments or mutilations on black women. He thought they felt no pain so used no ether. Even for his time what he did was extreme. He was a celebrity surgeon using black slave women as they were not valued.

How do you move between such a grim story and the lighter moments in your show?

I think it’s  humourMy own story could be seen as really grim laughs Right- young girl from Hackney leaves home at 15, ended up being a dancer til 30, then being freelance then 7 years having no money and bailiffs at the door, having depression and then the last 6 years full of amazing work. I love laughing and the joy of hearing people laugh.

So how did you come to work with Chris Goode?

Huge laughter…I had decided to go into theatre. I had a Twitter account but no real idea of its  power. I was up at 1am and this tweet from West Yorkshire Playhouse said first person to tweet back gets a wristband for TRANSFORM 2011. Chris was doing something called ‘open house’-based around Our Town come and join- you can observe or take part. I hadn’t noticed last bit and being a dutiful dancer turned up with notebook and pen.I thought I’d be observing how theatre is made but I opened the door to Chris and a group of actors sat in a circle. He gave me the biggest smile and said “Hello would you like to come and join us?” Before I knew what was happening I was involved with all the experimentation with the actors and then performed with them that night!! I went back another 2 nights and it was the most exhilarating thing I had done in a really long time.

Amazing!

Chris is extraordinary. He never leads the way you would imagine.The people in the room have all the skills and the attributes within them. They just need a space explore that so Chris was holding the space for all of us to meet, to be curious and to experiment and look at questions-What if….? Shall we…..? Such beautiful open language .. He then invited me to work with him again at Mayfest in Bristol and again at TRANSFORM 2012. It’s the curiosity. Nothing is quite as it seems because its not.

I find that process fascinating. Like light bulb moments.

Yes absolutely. I think he has a very unique gift. Virtually everyone I have met who works with him have opened out and jumped forward. It’s quite spectacular the way he brings people together at a crossroads in their lives. They are somehow transformed working with him. Working with him felt like the Universe opened up for me in a way I’d never seen before…And it continues to do this to this day and I feel it’s from that very first experience of working with him.

In “What if I told you?” are you aiming to facilitate that kind of experience for the audience?

Yes I suppose in a way.

Your show sounds like full on audience partipation.

 It is. I prefer to term it as an experience of walking in my shoes.

Ok

Audience participation can be limiting. You can ask them to do a task and they may or not do it. I feel we are all being story tellers in the space. We are creating and recreating moments from my life and moments from the past to inform where we go from this moment on. We are creating a memory together. That what the show does is the conduit to the Koan which is the second half of the show and is more important.

Koan?

Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. It’s the audience thinking and speaking and reflecting together. It’s a radical act of self care and empowerment. The space is held by a facilitator who leads the discussion, the poet Khadijh Ibrahiim. It enables people to have a space to pause and reflect – Now I’ve seen this what does it mean to be human?

Are you present in the room during the Koan or do you step away?

I’m nowhere to be seen!!!laughs Thats a very conscious thought. I’ve done my bit! I’ve given my experience and had the audience live in my shoes for an hour.

Perhaps you need time to process that too…..

 What I want is for the audience to come to their own conclusion. They already have a sense of the idea of colour prejudice as ridiculous. Yet we are still dealing with the complexities of it. We are using a very loaded term by using the term race. We are imagining it far bigger and greater than the actual act of racism is. The slave trade was about making money and eventually racism was tied into that. There are periods of history where skin colour is used as a means to separate and disconnect us. I really feel what hurts you, hurts me. We are all human beings. There is only one race.

Slavery went on for 400 years, The mass movement of people from an entire continent in a machine-like way. It sought to eradicate the history and culture if a continent and replace it with something that never came from there.

When something happens on that huge a scale for that long it can almost start to lose its true impact. It’s too big.

Absolutely. In What If I Told You I want to say to people we are human beings first and foremost. We love. We hate. We forgive. We have empathy and  compassion in equal measure. What’s your experience? What’s mine? How do they connect? What’s the common denominator? And then move forward from that- we might have a chance to really talk about this in ways that we need to talk in order to heal.

If one person goes to What If I Told You  and is changed by that experience and says “I’m thinking differently about skin colour and I want to share that with others” then I have done exactly what I set out to do.

It feels like a really timely piece to be performed especially here in Manchester.

We love and we hate. It’s a piece that grows with time not diminishes. It’s a piece to reflect on. People are surprised by the horror of it, by the joy of it, by the challenge of it.

I look forward to seeing it Pauline. Good luck with taking it to The Edinburgh Festival.

Thanks.
SHOWING AT THE ROYAL EXCHANGE STUDIO 19/20  JUNE  

Interview with Pauline Mayers 

Getting a sense of Pauline Mayers before her new show What If I Told  You opens at The Royal Exchange Studio ahead of going to The Edinburgh Festival. Warm, funny and sharply intelligent. 

What led you into dance? Did you start from an early age? 

I’ll give you two versions because there’s what I remember and what my Mother remembers. There’s being 13 and although I had a very happy childhood, things were not going quite so well at 13/14. And the only way I could be out of the house was to do something constructive so I went along with a friend to the White Lion Youth Centre in Islington….My Mum would say from an early age 7/8 she remembers me trying to tap dance. I would try to emulate Gene Kelly laughs. My Mum,”You always wanted to be a dancer.” There’s what I remember and what my Mother witnessed. So somewhere in between.

I’m actually a Psychotherapist. That’s really typical of how we remember our past and how others define our past. Often they are very different, very different stories indeed. 

YES! There’s also something about what you remember and what you tell yourself you remember laughs based on scant pieces of information you kinda make a whole- “Oh that must be what happened”…..I think memory and history are all tied up with subjectivity, almost never objective and coming from various different angles. I kind of imagine it as a big 360 degree motion capture thing. There’s yourself in the middle and you have all these cameras swirling around you and depending on where the camera is people remember that part or version of you……Certainly doing the show, this piece; and looking back on photographs of me at Secondary School. I remember me as a very quiet child yet pictures show 13 year old me with my leg cocked up as high as I could get it so I clearly was not the shy child I recall!!

Perhaps you were a shy child but movement released something in you?

I think that’s definitely true, I do, there’s an absolute exhilaration and freedom. Movement was also like a Rubik cube, a challenge to unlock and solve, and I enjoyed trying to get my body round these tricky ways of moving. The getting up and performing was always secondary to the act of developing myself as a physical being. That curiosity of what happens if I do this? It’s the absolute laboratory laughs I used to absolutely love that.

So you eventually went to The Rambert School?

My training was intense, amazing  and wondrous; also terrifying, depressing and lonely. A few teachers had a very fixed idea of what dancers should look like and I didn’t fit the look of the dancer that they were imagining in their heads.

How did you cope with that?

It was my drive to be the thing that I wanted to be. My philosophy was I’m paying the same amount of fees as everyone else so I’m going to take your information and I’m going to be like a sponge and be this thing that you say I can’t be!!

That makes sense from a psychological perspective. We tend to adapt or rebel!

Absolutely! A teacher saying “Oh Pauline dear. Go to the back of the class. You really can’t do this.” I remember saying, “I can’t do it yet but the point of being here is that you teach me so I can!”

You were clearly there for a reason…

I think I felt if I didn’t do the dancing I would die…..It was a matter of life and death. How I felt when I danced was euphoric, falling in love, it was like I could be me….. I’ve tried to leave dance a number of times in the last few years. I can’t do anything else- not in a negative way but in a – I would not be me if I don’t do it.

You left dance in 2011 and moved into choreography. Was that about what’s happens to dancers at a certain age?

Absolutely. It’s a very big question especially for certain forms of dance. I came up against a wall of NO. I had all these amazing experiences dancing travelling around the World. I had an extensive set of skills and yet I was being told NO.. I was 41 and I’ve done this thing called Dance but I’m not being respected for that. I wasn’t being listened to. I wasn’t even being acknowledged.

That can happen to women of a certain age and you weren’t that old!!!

When it comes down to people of colour it’s like the Highlander effect. There can be only One! It really felt like I wasn’t that one. It felt like me coming in and wanting to tell unique stories was not needed because we’ve already got our person. I needed to walk away for my own sanity. In 2011 I shut the door on dance. It felt like theatre welcomed me with absolutely open arms. I had all these extraordinary collaborations. I realised I can contribute, The ideas I have in my head create value to any collaboration I do. So between 2011-2015 I worked solidly whereas 2005-2011 I was constantly on the dole!!!

So the rules in dance and theatre seem very different?

In the theatre I was just this curious bird who just wanted to find things out from people and that was ok. I could investigate like in a laboratory. In dance arenas only certain people were given permission to frame those questions. 

I’m intrigued- through out our conversation you’ve mentioned terms like experimenting, investigating, curiosity. I know you mention Dr J Marion Sims in the piece- what made you reference his experiments?

His experiments had an air of theatrics. He wanted an audience and doctors came from all over to see him create these tortuous gynaecological  experiments or mutilations on black women. He thought they felt no pain so used no ether. Even for his time what he did was extreme. He was a celebrity surgeon using black slave women as they were not valued.

How do you move between such a grim story and the lighter moments in your show?

I think it’s  humour. My own story could be seen as really grim laughs Right- young girl from Hackney leaves home at 15, ended up being a dancer til 30, then being freelance then 7 years having no money and bailiffs at the door, having depression and then the last 6 years full of amazing work. I love laughing and the joy of hearing people laugh.

So how did you come to work with Chris Goode?

Huge laughter…I had decided to go into theatre. I had a Twitter account but no real idea of its  power. I was up at 1am and this tweet from West Yorkshire Playhouse said first person to tweet back gets a wristband for TRANSFORM 2011. Chris was doing something called ‘open house’-based around Our Town come and join- you can observe or take part. I hadn’t noticed last bit and being a dutiful dancer turned up with notebook and pen.I thought I’d be observing how theatre is made but I opened the door to Chris and a group of actors sat in a circle. He gave me the biggest smile and said “Hello would you like to come and join us?” Before I knew what was happening I was involved with all the experimentation with the actors and then performed with them that night!! I went back another 2 nights and it was the most exhilarating thing I had done in a really long time.

Amazing!

Chris is extraordinary. He never leads the way you would imagine.The people in the room have all the skills and the attributes within them. They just need a space explore that so Chris was holding the space for all of us to meet, to be curious and to experiment and look at questions-What if….? Shall we…..? Such beautiful open language .. He then invited me to work with him again at Mayfest in Bristol and again at TRANSFORM 2012. It’s the curiosity. Nothing is quite as it seems because its not.

I find that process fascinating. Like light bulb moments.

Yes absolutely. I think he has a very unique gift. Virtually everyone I have met who works with him have opened out and jumped forward. It’s quite spectacular the way he brings people together at a crossroads in their lives. They are somehow transformed working with him. Working with him felt like the Universe opened up for me in a way I’d never seen before…And it continues to do this to this day and I feel it’s from that very first experience of working with him.

In “What if I told you?” are you aiming to facilitate that kind of experience for the audience?

Yes I suppose in a way.

Your show sounds like full on audience partipation.

 It is. I prefer to term it as an experience of walking in my shoes.

Ok

Audience participation can be limiting. You can ask them to do a task and they may or not do it. I feel we are all being story tellers in the space. We are creating and recreating moments from my life and moments from the past to inform where we go from this moment on. We are creating a memory together. That what the show does is the conduit to the Koan which is the second half of the show and is more important.

Koan?

Koan is a Japanese word for public thought. It’s the audience thinking and speaking and reflecting together. It’s a radical act of self care and empowerment. The space is held by a facilitator who leads the discussion, the poet Khadijh Ibrahiim. It enables people to have a space to pause and reflect – Now I’ve seen this what does it mean to be human?

Are you present in the room during the Koan or do you step away?

I’m nowhere to be seen!!!laughs Thats a very conscious thought. I’ve done my bit! I’ve given my experience and had the audience live in my shoes for an hour.

Perhaps you need time to process that too…..

 What I want is for the audience to come to their own conclusion. They already have a sense of the idea of colour prejudice as ridiculous. Yet we are still dealing with the complexities of it. We are using a very loaded term by using the term race. We are imagining it far bigger and greater than the actual act of racism is. The slave trade was about making money and eventually racism was tied into that. There are periods of history where skin colour is used as a means to separate and disconnect us. I really feel what hurts you, hurts me. We are all human beings. There is only one race.

Slavery went on for 400 years, The mass movement of people from an entire continent in a machine-like way. It sought to eradicate the history and culture if a continent and replace it with something that never came from there.

When something happens on that huge a scale for that long it can almost start to lose its true impact. It’s too big.

Absolutely. In What If I Told You I want to say to people we are human beings first and foremost. We love. We hate. We forgive. We have empathy and  compassion in equal measure. What’s your experience? What’s mine? How do they connect? What’s the common denominator? And then move forward from that- we might have a chance to really talk about this in ways that we need to talk in order to heal.

If one person goes to What If I Told You  and is changed by that experience and says “I’m thinking differently about skin colour and I want to share that with others” then I have done exactly what I set out to do.

It feels like a really timely piece to be performed especially here in Manchester.

We love and we hate. It’s a piece that grows with time not diminishes. It’s a piece to reflect on. People are surprised by the horror of it, by the joy of it, by the challenge of it.

I look forward to seeing it Pauline. Good luck with taking it to The Edinburgh Festival.

Thanks.
SHOWING AT THE ROYAL EXCHANGE STUDIO 19/20  JUNE