I am heading back to Manchester today after a little over a week here in Atlanta. It’s been a really busy trip that has been equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. Because of the nature of my visit, I spent a lot of my time teaching students across the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at Kennesaw State University. I taught an audition practicum, two acting workshops, senior seminar, theory of design, a devising workshop, a first-year learning community session and a storytelling class. In between all that teaching, there were three performances of About Silence by some really amazing local performers, directors, and writers. I’m hoping to have some images to post in the next few weeks from the photographer who took pictures of the first performance. I’ve also met a lot of really nice people from the department, eaten some good American food and even reconnected with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in years. Rebecca and Neil have also been super generous hosts, feeding and entertaining me like some prized pony. And Frankie the dog is super cute (despite his insane farts); I feel I’ve made a new dog friend.
Watching About Silence three times this week has put me in a particularly contemplative mood: the piece is a kind of meditation on a bunch of big themes ranging from love to death, from violence to tenderness and on the thought processes that link seemingly disparate ideas. I wrote the piece back in 2003 while I was in Montreal visiting with my friend Tim Etchells whose company was there doing a show in a festival. I was considering making a big change in my life (a breakup) and one morning on that trip I woke up and wrote 70 pages of text. It came out of me in a massive flow of words – almost as if I was possessed or something. It was an incredibly emotional process and the resulting text was very raw and extremely personal. I remember finishing it and wondering what it was and what I was going to do with it. It was only several months later that I found a form that uses three voices for reading it and it was even later that I eventually trimmed and massaged the text to give it more of a sense of shape without totally erasing the raw edges.
In early performances of the piece, the performers read the text off of laptops. In this most recent version we reverted back to a simpler form in which the performers read the words off of paper and then crumpled the pages up and tossed them on the floor. By the end, the stage was littered in the various clumps of white pages that represented the words the performers had just spoken. Removing the laptops also removed a barrier between the performers and the audience. I found that I was able to hear the text in a different way without the laptops getting in between me (in the audience) and the performers (on stage). I also think it allowed the performers more space to look up at us and to be more playful with the rhythms in the text. In the earlier versions of the piece, I used a score composed by Andrew Shapiro, which was very emotionally focused (i.e., each section of the score had a clear emotional feeling behind it). A few years ago, I worked with Martin Iddon and Antti Saario (aka, [zygote]) on a new score which has more of a sense of a trajectory that went across the whole show and is more sound and less music in a melodic sense. I used the music by [zygote] here in Atlanta and it really worked with the simpler, paper-based performance approach. I think this is the format that works best and I have an idea about making the text freely available for anyone who wants to use it…so stay tuned if that is of interest.
Hearing the words over the past few days has reminded me of all the people who I’ve lost who the piece memorializes in one way or other. Some of them were lost before the text was written, some during (as a result of the writing, really) and others after the initial writing. Last night I had a moment of thinking about (and saying goodbye again to) my dear friend and inspiration Dooley Hitch, who passed in 2004 after getting lung cancer.
I said goodbye to Gabe Smith, my former roommate from Warren Wilson who drowned in a lake while he was out boating with his father in law.
I said goodbye to my college friend Josh who died when he was twenty on his way to visit his mother; the kickstand on his motorcycle got jammed down and it spun him into a concrete retaining wall.
I said goodbye to Brian’s brother Mike who passed two years ago after fighting HIV for a very long time and to his grandfather Don who died a few years earlier in his 90s.
I said goodbye to my Uncle Vito, my Aunt Mary, my Aunt Winnie (whose amazing Buddhas I think about all the time), and to my Uncle Larry who I barely knew.
I said goodbye to my mother’s parents, who I never met. My grandmother died at Disney World. I love the theatricality of that.
I said goodbye to my father’s parents; they were the first people I remember loving who died. My grandfather gave me his hat when he died and I regret having lost it somewhere in an earlier, less aware, part of my life.
I said goodbye to Aaron, who the piece was originally written for in a way. I don’t know where he is and am often sad that we weren’t able to find a way to split and remain friends.
I also said goodbye to my former self, again and again. I keep saying goodbye. I will probably be saying goodbye forever to the parts of me I don’t like, don’t need, or don’t want to keep.
A lot of goodbyes are yet to come.
I am heading home this evening and looking forward to being able to see Brian. As much as I love traveling, the more I age, the more I want to be near home (wherever it is and however you define it). As much as saying goodbye is a sign of something new beginning, I’m glad for the things I don’t have to say goodbye to just yet.