What happens after the show?
When we make work, one thing is absolutely at the core of how we make it- and that is space. Space! Is there enough space for you to imprint your own self and story into what we have created? In Fallen Fruit, the show we are currently touring, there is barely any space- it is dense, it is constant, it is relentless: there are nested narratives in the three main stories and there is so much audience interaction and banter, there are points in the show, where I have carved out seconds just so I can catch my breath.
But space isn’t always about silence or waiting or slowness. It is about weaving a narrative structure that allows for the space to exist amongst the myriad words.
Space, we have found, is absolutely the catalyst for conversation. And conversation is often at the very core of our work.
This Autumn I have decided to write about some of the conversations I have been having with audience members after the show, because what happens after that show is the reason why we make any show in the first place.
The first week we were at Ormskirk, Stirling and Dunnon and the second week we were at Wigtown and Sanquhar. Below are some of the things I was told.
In Ormskirk, a man who described himself as a socilist from Liverpool was telling me about how my little show presented such clear questions to society, that I should have played at Labour’s party conference in Brighton. He was telling me how nothing comes from shouting to each other and how people have genuinely forgotten to listen. I agreed with him. The very last line in Fallen Fruit is about the audience - you: listening.
In Stirling, I spend half an hour after the show talking to two men. One is a Scottish visual artist and the other is a Bulgarian man, younger than me, working in agriculture. The scotsman, who was so taken by the work, quizzed us about so many things. The one thing that kept coming back in the conversation was about the population of Bulgaria shrinking so fast. He couldn't understand why it was, why, now that we have been in the European Union for a decade, how come there is still so much corruption and what is, he asked us What is your Government doing about it? A brilliant question, one I hope to be able to pose one day to my government. I left that conversation though with a beaming smile to my face because the young Bulgarian man told me that after he finishes his PhD, he will be going back home to start up his own business. It is our responsibility to return, he said. And, I got his comment! Directly in my heart. It is absolutely our (my!) responsibility to try and change the little we can.
In Dunoon, a German woman (who I suspect is now in her late 70s) told me about her memories of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. She conjured a vivid picture of the barbed wire being laid, and a few weeks later the concrete blocks going up. All of a sudden, she said, not only was she cut off from her relatives in East Germany but the new landscape of concrete barriers blocked her view -- and in turn blocked her belief that it would ever be possible to take it all down. Her stories brought me to tears.
In Wigtown, a woman told me that her brother was an informant. A British informant who lived in East Germany. Another woman spoke of her life in East Germany between 1984 and 1988: her husband worked there and so she went with him. She spoke of the giant empty food shops. Empty, like our tummies she said. Another couple said that their son will be marrying a Bulgarian woman next year and how interesting it was to know a little about her country’s history.
In Sanquhar, a man (dressed in a very smart suit) told me of working in Bulgaria, in Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. He was an engineer there for four year trying to help out with the maintenance of the power plant. He said that the Soviets were so worried after the Chernobil explosion they engaged westen engineers to help out with maintenance. He said, Do you know what it’s like to try and maintain a ticking time bomb?
These conversations stand out, because they aren’t obviously part of the grand long conversation of the year, of course. People ask me all the time: what we should do with this Brexit? As if I, a migrant from Bulgaria before it joined the EU, might have the solution Britain has been searching for! And beyond call the whole thing off and send the Tories an invoice for the damages (which gets a laugh from even the Tories in my audiences), I don’t know. I really don’t know. If I knew, perhaps I would be in politics.
So I pack my boxes, get in the van and we drive on, dealing not with the big political question, but the gentler individual decisions that scale up to become those politics. We offer a show, a perspective, and find it opens a path for sharing memories, hopes and barriers in honest, raw, conversation.
This week I am touring in Northumberland. Next week I am in Glasgow and Eyemouth. See you there!