Thursday, 23 November 2017

Manifesto for being here

I was going to write this blog post as a defense of those artists who choose to work outside of London. It was also going to include a defense of those who choose to be rooted in one place rather than searching for a way to be internationally relevant. Then I decided that instead, what I wanted to do was not write from a defensive position at all, but to articulate the strength of the reasons for being an artist working in Liverpool. I think it's important to do this now because recently I have encountered the faint whiff of disdain towards the city's artists as if the community we have here is a kind of remedial space offering excessive support, encouraging satisfaction with unambitious under-accomplished work.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Where you can go when you listen

Imagine this: a long dead relative, maybe one you never met, leaves behind a recording. The sound is of them having a cup of tea in silence. They perhaps, do not realise they are being recorded. The recording captures sounds like their teeth on the rim of the cup, a creak from an armchair, a breath.

I would give so much to have a recording like that, of my grandmother. I never met her though my family say I am like her reincarnation. I have one of her jackets and two photos of her (one of which is a photograph of a passport photo). I want to hear what she sounded like, just breathing or moving about.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Limits and numbers

"150 people."

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2016 Migrant Stories Event
Photo credit: Julia Thorne
Robin Dunbar is smiling at me from my laptop screen. His smile is one that says "I can't believe all this is happening". It is the smile of an Oxbridge anthropology professor, suddenly popular because his ideas are now cool. 

I first heard of Professor Dunbar when reading Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point". In the book Gladwell describes a the perfect size for human groups. The number 150 is Dunbar's number and somehow relates to the size of our brains.
Apparently our impressive primate brains can really only relate meaningfully to 150 people at at time. More than that, Gladwell argues, and problems start to arise. He describes how the company W.L. Gore and Associates - makers of Gore-tex fabrics and 52 on the Fortune 100 best companies to work for 2017 list - started subdividing it's operations once it reached more than 150 employees.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

When it all changes-change

You may already know this, but the part of the Handless project that was to happen at the Unity Theatre is moving. It has to move because the much-awaited renovation of the building is taking its own time (as it should). This has unseated a lot of events, not just ours and we are in the process of being folded so kindly back into the Cathedral's events.

It will be fine, but today I had a wobble. Not least because I am currently in Brighton performing at the Festival in Summit, by Andy Smith, a play I am really excited about being part of, but which has taken me away just in time for this delay. So now there are hours of Light Night for which I must arrange new actions.

So, The Handless Project, once again asks more of me and my colleagues than we were prepared for. And, once again, the story gives both wound and remedy. When you don't know what to do set out into the unknown seeking compassionate people. Begin, put your foot on the path. So that is what I am doing and I know it will be ok. More than ok because I will have grown and will have to trust myself more. I have also had occasion to trust my colleagues more so it is time for gratitude. Thank you Deb, Vicci, Joanne, Phil, Rachael, Ellen, Paul, Matthew and Anthony for your kind readjustments and care.

Here is another story of someone who Wanted to try, faced disaster, and then was gifted a greater victory. I am listening to the unthanks singing it as I write. It's a true story.

The King of Rome
By Dave Sudbury

In the West End of Derby lives a working man
He says "I can't fly but me pigeons can
And when I set them free
It's just like part of me
Gets lifted up on shining wings"

Charlie Edson's pigeon loft was down the yard
Of a rented house in Brook Street where life was hard
But Charlie had a dream
And in nineteenthirteen
Charlie bred a pigeon that made his dream come true

There was gonna be a champions' race from Italy
"Look at the maps, all that land and sea
Charlie, you'll lose that bird"
But Charlie never heard
He put it in a basket and sent it off to Rome

On the day o' the big race a storm blew in
A thousand birds were swept away and never seen again
"Charlie we told you so
Surely by now you know
When you're living in te West End there ain't many dreams come true"

"Yeah, I know, but I had to try
A man can crawl around or he can learn to fly
And if you live 'round here
The ground seems awful near
Sometimes I need a lift from victory"

I was off with me mates for a pint or two
When I saw a wing flash up in the blue
"Charlie, it's the King of Rome
Come back to his West End home
Come outside quick, he's perched up on your roof"

"Come on down, your majesty
I knew you'd make it back to me
Come on down, you lovely one
You made me dream come true"

In the West End of Derby lives a working man
He says "I can't fly but me pigeons can
And when I set them free
It's just like part of me
Gets lifted up on shining wings"

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why are we walking?

I started The Handless Project because I needed to heal (physically from thyroid cancer and emotionally from a lot of other things) and this weird old story about a girl who heals herself was so helpful to me that I wondered whether it would help other people too. The walk is further exploration of what has been story medicine for me. I have no idea what the out come will be, just like the Handless Maiden who leaves home at dawn and wanders through the forest, until something unexpected happens.

We will be walking through Liverpool on 20th May to simply see what walking can do for us. Maybe it will do nothing, or maybe everything will change. It is an experiment built around a fairytale so we are free to believe it or not. We are also free to invest it with the power and meaning of a pilgrimage, a race for life or a trip to see what we can see, for adventure or even to heal a city.

Walk with us.

Here are a few quotations to think about:
"I was coming to America, I said to my little niece, who was seven, I said, “What will I bring you from America?” She said, “Uhhhhh.” And her father said, “No, ask him or you won’t get anything.” And Katy turned to me and said, “What’s in it?” [laughs] Which I thought was a great question about America."

John O'Donohue - OnBeing Interview
"Land is a story place. Land holds the stories of human survival across many generations. Land shapes people, just as people shape their countries."
Judy Atkinson: Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines, the transgenerational effects of trauma in indigenous Australia
"It is healing for any person to hear the priceless heritage of our stories and find a contemporary translation of their prescriptions applicable to his or her immediate circumstances."
Robert A Johnson: The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden 
Some further reading/listening about walking and landscape:

John O'Donohue OnBeing episode: The Inner Landscape of Beauty

Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found. Atlantic Books.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Why silence?

To collect stories, you really have to listen and we have collected so many stories over the last several months. Listening is at the heart of the Handless Project.

On the 20th May 2017 myself and two colleagues Vicci Riley and  Joanne Tremarco, will be walking around the city of Liverpool for a whole day. Long stretches of this walk will be conducted without speaking. This means we won't be chatting, pointing out things that we see that we want to share or remarking on a thought we have. I expect this to be difficult.

I usually speak when I am feeling nervous, especially around people I don't know very well. I measure how what I am saying is received and try to keep the conversation, light, upbeat and funny if I can. When I am in that state, I tend to feel incredibly self-conscious and a flood of insecurity rises and overwhelms me.
Joanne on one of our walks

On the 20th May 2017 I invite everyone walking with us to abandon the need to be or say anything that they are not. I invite you all only to listen; to the city, to yourself and see what arises.

A ritual walk has traditionally been an invitation to transformation, whether you are a pilgrim on the road to Santiago or walking the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed, stepping out of your door to wander under your own steam is an invitation to adventure and change.

In the Handless Maiden story our heroine wanders in the forest from sun-up to sun-down. She starts out hoping only to find a place where she is treated with compassion, but ends up being totally transformed both in body and status.

I chose to walk with Vicci and Joanne precisely because they are both excellent deep listeners, both to themselves and to others. This is familiar territory for them both as performers and we will all three be holding space for one another. Holding space is a term I hear used a lot, but to me it means creating an uninterrupted moment of silent attention and allowing someone else to fill it completely, without interrupting, without fixing anything or rushing to a solution or nervously filling the space.

In aboriginal Australian culture they have a word Dadirri.

“Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call ‘contemplation’.”– Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Ngangiwumirr Elder
Despite it's origins as a key part of one of the oldest cultures on the planet, it has found a place in the 21st century treatment of trauma achieving something that Trauma experts say is essential for it's treatment.

"So when people really become very upset, that whole capacity to put things into words in an articulate way disappears. ...if people need to overcome the trauma, we need to also find methods to bypass what they call the tyranny of language." Bessel Van Der Kolk author of The Body Knows the Score 

Further reading:
Judy Atkinson's Trauma Trails: recreating the songlines

Further listening:

Find out more about the project on
Eat, sleep and walk with The Handless Project! Book a place via the Unity Theatre's website.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Time and Time

I am pressed for time this week.

Marketing deadlines have forced me to make decisions about the project that I don't feel quite ready to make, but putting them into my workflow hasn't hurt me. I have made the decisions and feel that they were the right ones.

This way of using time is not the way of the Handless Project.

Part of this process has involved giving up control over when things happen. I have to trust that they will happen when they will and that the people who should be involved will be. Communicating this to people who have deadlines of their own is, I fear, speaking in an language that isn't shared, but it is absolutely what the story of the Handless Maiden teaches. Our brave maiden leaves home and wanders with no destination in sight, only the faith that "compassionate people will give me as much as I need". Without her hands  her ability to do anything has been compromised and yet see what she accomplishes when she trusts the direction her body chooses for her.

Here is a beautiful illustration of what it feels like to be in a process where you trust that things will happen. If you can stand that geekery (I love sci-fi) watch what happens when Jodie Foster gives up control. She even calls out "Control! Control!" again and again while she judders and shakes distressingly. Then watch what happens.

That's what it feels like when I trust. I have done a heck of a lot of work for this and have assembled a team of people whom I trust to work with me. I also trust the story and it's interest and usefulness to other people. If I let go, I can enjoy this: floating along enjoying what is being created through and around me. If I try to control too much or in the wrong places, the ambition of this project will wear me down.

I am going to trust myself. It's the only way it will work. Enjoy.

Friday, 6 January 2017


I'm at my mom's house. I've been calling this place HOME (capital letters) for the past several years since she moved here from another flat around the corner. It's warm and has a big picture window with a large ficus standing guard.

Richard Redgrave - The Emigrants' Last Sight of Home
It's been an indoor Christmas. Lots of food, lots of sitting, lots of laughing. This morning the sun was shining so brightly and the cars on the street were so beautifully frosted that I had to go out. On the high street I looked into the window of a local estate agent and saw the house my mother lives in with the word "Sold" written across it. My mom rents.

The area mom lives in (for now) is full of redbrick terraces of varying sizes, most of which have a small front room with a picture window. Walking back I saw Christmas trees and matte paint, dining tables and pianos. They mark this place out as being different to the parts of London in which I grew up, they also mark this place as somewhere I want my mom to live. If her home is insecure, I feel insecure.

What is home? I mean what is HOME? For me it is a complex concept. I have lived in many houses, not all of them so secure. Now, the home my mother will leave is where I want, not to live, but to be from.