Hidden in plain sight.

Second week complete. Introductions done, journey continues.

So why tell this story? Lost and Found by Marcia Layne is about taking a look again at a story we all thought we knew.  Hidden in plain sight. Why do we tell stories? To know ourselves and each other better? To mark a moment and move on. To honour our past?

Traveling through time with the cast and crew. It’s been a privilege working in rehearsal, learning and growing together, exploring Marcia Layne’s many layered script. Just what does happen when the subject of the transatlantic slave trade is taught in schools? Does anybody care? Does  it still matter? Light bulb moments hit us all throughout rehearsals. The legacy of language and rediscovering secret coded underground railroad songs  ‘Swing Low  sweet Charity’’. The play moves quickly from contemporary Britain to the beginning of revolution in the Caribbean and back to West Africa at the beginning of the Transatlantic Slave trade itself.

As Director/ Producer I have had to communicate using the language of all who join us to make and share the work. Funders, Venues, Agents, Actors, Administrators, Designers, Stage Mangers, fellow Creative Companies, Schools, Press, Black Hairdressers and Barbers, Community Centres, Takeaway shops, Coffee Shops and the General Public from all walks of life.  Speaking  about the production itself has never been a problem for me. I have lived with the work since Marcia Layne shared it four years ago. I know the characters, I know where they are from, and I know how they make me feel. I’m proud to be a part of the sharing of an incredible story that belongs to us all.  We have talked about radio plays, horror movies and bringing sexy back in our rehearsals.  Arriving at the last day of rehearsals and now the day of our opening night, I’m done with the talking.

It’s time for Lost and Found to speak for itself. This is as it should be.

We hope you can join us, we are looking forward to sharing the work with you.

Tuesday 4th October 7pm Seven Arts, Leeds.

Box Office 0113 2626777. Website –http://tinyurl.com/3qnykoa

Friday 7th October 7:45pm Library Theatre, Sheffield.

Box Office 0114 2565567. Website http://tinyurl.com/3ofy6us

Wednesday 12th October 7:30pm Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

BoxOffice01484430528.Websiste- http://www.thelbt.org/Lost-and-Found

 

 

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Lost and Found Redux

So that said………….

I’ve arrived at the end of the first week of rehearsals. The creative team agrees that when we speak about the work outside of rehearsals we have to start with a little speech that goes something like this

CAST Member: Yes I’m in a play called Lost and Found and loving the work

FRIEND: Oh yeah, what’s it about?

CAST: Yeah it’s about slavery ….

FRIEND Starts to put their serious face on or shoes to run away.

CAST ‘No, no wait, it’s alright it’s got laughs and everything.

FRIEND: Either starts to relax or remain a little afraid.

Stock answer from CAST : Look you’re just going to have to come and see it for yourself.

In 2007 there was wealth of work including Lost and Found that tried to tell the story about the abolition of the transatlantic Slave trade in Britain. It took all year just to get the sentence out. My good friend and creative partner the writer Marcia Layne was commissioned by the company I has Artistic Director for at the time Yorkshire Women Theatre. Since then as artists we have shared work both in collaboration and individually. The birth of Hidden Gems Productions is our story and one which we will tell, for now I will share what happened in our first week of rehearsals this week.

So back to Lost and Found. The first day of rehearsals, full of excitement and fear.

This blog is not about disclosing what was said or who did what. The rehearsal space I help to build is a safe space where we can make mistakes and build great work together. What I will be sharing is a flavour of the process. I’m fascinated by how it’s made.

I used to spend ages on the getting to know you process. However on this day I have broken this hippy habit, on this day I was heard to say “ Listen I’m not doing those getting to know you games? All of this should be getting to know you, right?” Surely you get a sense of who people are if they offer to make you a cup of tea, if they arrive on time, if they choose to swear every other word, if they name drop, if they have a swagger or they are frozen in fear with the face of “ everyone knows I shouldn’t be here” We are supposed to be experts in the human condition. Observing like scientists choices people make. I have to have a little clue who people are so that I can communicate quickly to build and support them in the building of the character written.

I love what we do, I love how we do it. Creating a vibe that feels right. In the background India Irie singing Strength, Courage and Wisdom offering Lemon and Ginger Caribbean tea as well as Earl Grey and bringing together a team of hard workers who love what they do. I love to connect, to get right to it.

We have at the core of the story the question of what happens for two young people called Ashleigh and Ricky when the subject of slavery is taught in schools. We then travel over time and continents with the plantation story set in the Caribbean and a love story set in West Africa. It’s an exciting challenge. We had a great warm up where we discussed the Huddersfield landscape using various accents.

I find on the rehearsal floor with the actors I have many voices. I use both my English and Jamaican voice sometimes in the same sentence. I have even let out the odd Jamaican exclamation which amuses the actors no end and comforts me. I am on my two feet working with a Writer Producer I respect doing it the way I see fit. Owning the choices and bursting to share with the world.

At the end of this first week we have a hard-working and talented team and for this brief moment we want to share with you what we have found.

Please join us for the performances of Lost and Found. We’d love to see you there.

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My Cousin Shawn.

It’s been awhile…………… so much has happened in these last few months.  The family I grew up with as opposed to the family I now have of my own were fighting a battle that we finally lost.

We lost one of our own, a good man.

Like many before, and to come it was cancer and now he’s gone but the fight still remains.  I wish you well in your own battle if this has touched you in any way. Whatever I can do to help the fight for the future so that families no longer have to go through this I will do.

When we were little I learnt to read from a book called ‘my cousin Shawn’. That was his name.  I ran faster than him, he loved sweeties and bun and he had the most beautiful smile you’d feel blessed to receive.

Love and loss is a powerful thing, it is now left to us to live the lives we have been blessed with.

That is all.

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Delight and Devastation- Written at 7.30am 30/3/11

I had just left an acting audition for Chol Theatres Beast Market by Andrew Loretto. I was coming out of semi retirement because the work was good. Buzzing excited that I had kept up with Balbir Singh’s demands after all these years NOT dancing.

As the part-time Artistic Theatre Director of Yorkshire Women’s Theatre it had been frowned upon to continue as an actor, apparently I would not be taken seriously as I continued to learn my craft as a Theatre Director in my own right and being Black and a Woman I needed all the ‘being taken seriously’ I could get . So attending that audition was my first step in defying YWT and going on my own instincts and trusting .

In the school of stating the bleeding obvious there is a massive difference between the role of Artistic Director and that of Theatre Director. In my first year I looked at the heritage of the company, unpacked the canon of work, and learnt the values and motivations behind the work and human behaviours. I also learnt how to deal with people looking for my ‘boss’ over my shoulder for the real AD as I introduced myself.

The second year I looked ahead, looked at planning, looking at context. Context a word I came to love and still do. Where did we sit in Leeds, the north the world as a company?

The third year arrived and I came into my own, the future, my first three-year plan.It was horrible, but it was mine. I began to understand the difference between working in rehearsal and the work towards making it happening. Unfortunately as I understood the role and complexities of leadership, as I began to get the courage to take the reins and take the company where they deserved to be. The lack of understanding of our own context sunk us.

I realised too late that the head of the company and the Board were no longer leading. Not enough eyes, The Company was not strong enough to take the blow.

I sat and thought and asked for help and it came in the shape of the amazing Stef of Red Ladder and Maureen of T.I.E when most ran away they ran towards and worked hard. We collectively made the decision to close the Company. It was time. All the work on rebranding, road mapping and community engagement was not lost just stored away for another time. Companies are made up of people.

I did not die, not that day. I looked at my part in this. Good and bad. I learnt my lessons and put them in my bag to share with others to remind myself. Always.

Today many Arts organisations will have got ‘the letter’ many of them will be delighted and can now build for a better future, many will be devastated and are looking amongst the debris wondering what happened. Cut or gone it feels bad.

Nearly three years on and I’m stronger, fitter healthier and happier. Whatever news you get today build for a better future and remember arts cuts do not mean you are no longer an artist. That is up to you.

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Living till I’m not.

Big Moon, Big times and too much news.

This trying to change the world lark is a bit hard, particularly when you see others on the telly in the line of real danger. Sometimes even placing themselves there to save others.

I’m a grown up, I have no excuse why at times I try to hide away from the big news, but sometimes I find myself too little, too insignificant. I find myself turning off the lights in the house trying to help the people in Japan save power, knowing how futile and foolish this is I run around the house anyway.

How many battles can we fight? When do we get to enjoy the now?

Enjoying the now whilst planning for the future is a hard balance.

I attend meetings, support young people, write reports, read reports, make theatre, learn about making film, write scripts. Reply, remind and correct, emails. I hold countless conversations, some great, some fascinating, some just hard work.

I work. I work hard, I like hard workers, people who are up for it. People who are willing to put their back into it and their shoulder to the wheel. Whether it’s to save and build a school for the future or influence the Yorkshire cultural landscape with fellow artists. Given the opportunity. Once the opportunity is created then we can take it from there, together.

So that’s the work, what about the balance?

If you see me dancing, singing, laughing, or simply eating cake, I’m living till I’m not.

This is it. Life is now if you’re lucky. Work or play I don’t need all these lights on to live it anyway.

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All in this together.

This holiday I have been enjoying watching the white people Roots programme, Upstairs Downstairs.  A night of telly with the boys brings up so much, I’m overwhelmed and you know if I feel like that I have to share. Watching with our children it reminds me of my own childhood. I had actual tears at the beautiful recreation of the iconic spaces that the previous characters worked in.  There was a scene where the parlour maid of old recalled her time served.  A light shone through the window on her time-worn hand placed on a dusty banister and changed back for a moment, it was beautifully done.  Our youngest loved the décor and colours; our eldest loved the politics. He noted the Yorkshire lad was written as a drinker and troublemaker. This poor lad was faced with a choice of going down the mines or servitude in the big houses.

This made us think about our own home here in Yorkshire, surrounded by back to backs and the big old mill up the road now converted into luxury apartments (tastefully done actually).

Our house used to be the local Dentists residence. One of the first houses to have electricity with the Dentist chair being in the front room. Local people who could afford must have passed through our door. I love the clues to history that are doted around us everywhere. I look out of the old Dentist room window and to the left is a sign on the wall saying smokers corner.  A tobacconist shop had been there in the past. It always makes me chuckle, as quite often the people from the café stand under it for a smoke. Wasn’t it strange seeing the cook in Upstairs Downstairs smoking and in the Kitchen?

The Art of Malik.

It’s strange seeing Art Malik reviving the role of brown manservant when needed. He was also playing a Greek in The Nativity, another time travel gift for the holidays but that’s another story, a great story whatever your beliefs.  A story I could buy into as a child because I was part of it. I was not erased or missed out or forgotten. I loved that one of the wise men was a black man. I loved the endless discussion on the baby’s hair being like wool, which contrasted with the blue-eyed Jesus holding hands with Martin Luther King and Gandhi in the picture above my parent’s bed. Stories including us all wise or not are worth telling and certainly worth sharing.   I’m half glad that Art Malik is still working. A little uncomfortable with the same roles after all these years. Still, man’s got to eat and as proved by the bedwetting adverts if he doesn’t do it someone else will.

I suppose the noble heart and wisdom thing makes up for the lack of brown man protagonist central story being told. Maybe I missed something, please let me know.

Live Aid

We watched Live Aid the story and eldest once again had observations that would shame the world. “Not very diverse set is it?” I replied it was not a very diverse time. Back in 1985 I recalled the telly not being allowed to be switched off all day but none of us really watching it cos the music was well…….. rock.  Mum liked Tina Turner because of the getting away from Ike thing and we all loved Queen because although he was a ‘funny man’ (Jamaican term, nothing to do with jokes) he could entertain the crowd and sing.It’s really weird pointing out the lady sat next to Billy Connolly as the woman off Strictly (the clever Pamela Stephenson).

It was a different time, a different era and the world of music has changed. With even Black Eye Peas a previously Hippy Hip Hop outfit now churning out Hip Pop. Live Aid now? Might look a little  different upfront but what does it look like behind the stage? Who is running camera one, directing the show and most importantly financing it? Come to think of it what about Comic relief?  Man cannot live on Lenny alone. In comedy we have had the Goodness Gracious team, the BB Crew, the Real McCoy, the titles alone tell a story. Where we at now?  Hello anyone home?

Writers gift.

I watched a lovely programme about Corrie called the road to Coronation Street.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ttj2r

Again sharing the history of how an iconic programme came about. How something of importance has to be demanded, fought and won. Again like Upstairs Downstairs the space was also celebrated.  It was wonderful watching a writer sharing their imagination with gifted stage and screen workers who were able to share and be the best at what they could do.

All in this together.

Most of these programmes have been revived or created at this time because of the success of the original time traveller Doctor Who. A great tool to observe the past and our  potential for the future. Giving us well needed cautionary and inspiring tales just like Dickens.

As the good Doctor says, “quick we don’t have much time.”

I’m looking forward to 2011, collating the stories of our collective history. I’m looking forward to speaking with our elders who remain blessed with time.

Living memory, our most precious gift is running out

 

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Well,well,well.

Its Autumn. Eldest will start to look his age tomorrow. Tomorrow he will be in the second year of his teens to match his 6ft 3″ frame. Time, curious matter, goes fast, slow, slow, fast.

I was reminded by a good friend the other day of my mantra when we were all younger.”I have two under fives I have two under fives.” Racing from a job to the Childminders to insanity.

This September everything changed. Youngest started High School, he liked it, they liked him and apart from that foolishness at the visit to the school that shall remain nameless, lets just say they may be top of KMC Education league but there’s some work to be done on their welcome party. The boys are off doing their thing eating up life and us out of house and home. Truly lovely.

Eldest and some of his crew are sitting their first GCSE Maths exams this week. Back in the day it was my school year cohort that sat the first GCSE’s. Its amazing and exciting remembering what it felt like, only it’s not the same. Back then girls were lagging behind so they did ‘girls work’ to boost girls confidence. Black boys rarely got to A’Levels let alone University, mainly because as they moved from cute different strokes stage to manhood, people would freak out and accuse them of being black and get them excluded faster than you could say ‘Yes we can”.

Now all we have to worry about are the white boys. Everythings cool if you’re Indian or Chinese though, especially if you are a Chinese girl. So that’s cool…

I look around my neighbourhood and there are some lovely children. Opposite us we have our neighbourhood champions in badminton. The boys bat to each other over the front garden fence everyday whizzing back and forth to perfection. No one is measuring that or setting up a league table we just know. They play and unless you want to embarrass yourself we watch.

Back to them white boys. Lately I’ve been spending time in a locality where not many people look like me. In fact its safe to say in the last six weeks the people of colour population can be counted on one hand, and they were heading for the bus station out.

So what goes on for these boys? What’s up with the gangster rap and Jamaican accent? I bet its weird for them now I’ve turned up. I’m loving the work, anything that supports people to speak about their condition and build for a better future using techniques already imbedded in us all works for me.

Any four year old can pick up a phone and pretend to have a conversation. They are practicing their communication skills, working things through, acting out and rehearsing for life.

I witnessed a 15 year old do the same thing. He spotted a mobile phone in our prop box and grabbed it then pretended to talk down it. He was trying to get a laugh from his friends, but you know what I reckon he was doing? I reckon he was calling out for help.

The boys settled down and proceeded to watch me play an old dear talking about her grandson moving into their neighbourhood. For a moment a very precious moment we had them. Can you imagine that? Arts for everyone, now that’s what we’re talking about. For real.

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On pain

Written for all those in pain

Pain carrying you is beyond me.

I call to my God to help me find reason and lose you but you cling to me as if you belong. A specially made package just for me fitting like a Boxing glove.

If at any point I should forget you in happy abandonment you remind me of your presence shortly after by squeezing my heart until it returns to its rightful place. So that I can continue to carry you seemingly forever painfully yours.

Could you be so kind and let go for only a moment so I can breathe and remember life without you? No of course not that’s not what you do. The only time I got anything from you was when our precious ones arrived.

No matter this will pass. You will leave I  will find a way. Peace will be my friend once more. For now do what you will I’m going to rest and try my best to ignore you. Who asked you to come around any how? Close the door quietly when you leave. 

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Written on finding our precious boys on the wrong end of that word.

On the Eve of Black History Month-

30th September 2010

 

 

Word a question for you.

When it hits does it pierce like a close range bullet taking out all functionality freezing you in time, blood eventually seeping out towards the surface so that all that are close by can see the damaged caused?

Or is it more like a messy flesh wound caused by a jagged knife, making a mess of skin with the pain creeping before the brain numbs to all oblivion, never to wake again in a trusting light?

Hit after hit you no longer feel the pain, in fact you may join in the damage, laughing at the ease of the inflicted deep and nasty word. It’s only words after all what’s wrong with you? It’s only a laugh? Get over yourself. We have.

For my children.

Remember the quiet place between my lips and your cheek, there we shall remain blessed.

I have a place for those who try and make you forget.

A place you don’t need to go. I’ve been there before and know the way.

It’s not nice, it’s not for you. I’m big and strong and older.

Yes, yes I can manage. I know my way back.

For now just remember the blessed place between your cheek and my lips.

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I’m back.

I started again today. I got a bit lost along the way. Got loaded down with the path I have chosen. When I look towards the tasks ahead it seems so vast it overwhelms me and I end up sat down again. I’m not sat doing nothing of course because then I would notice, no I’m sat busy doing anything but the task in hand.

I begin to make excuses for why I hadn’t taken a step forward in a while. I’m busy with the kids, washing up and stuff. Only not doing it slowly creeps up on me and I feel sorry for the time wasted.

It’s lonely  business setting up and I’ve got trust issues. However I realise I started this journey and I have a platform and pathway many don’t or can’t take.

I sense a developed self awareness, a willingness to learn lessons to share lessons and to move on, at last. Which is exciting.

It’s all good though, before I started again today I did a much-needed TLC check from head to toe. Taking care of myself so I can take care of my business is the order of the day.

So I’ll see you around, I’m back.

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