Saltwater / 3 days in at Metro Arts

Residencies are a real privilege and a treasure. They are an alternate world where your headspace is allowed to be fully dedicated to what you are working on. They are also a space where you are allowed to, and should, scrutinise your work, process, and practice. You look at all your work up till now, and discover and articulate what it is that works, and name a methodology.

Because, believe it or not, we do already have one.

Funnily enough, no matter how aware you are of your work, the first day is always vague – because EVERYTHING is possible at the start of a residency. You enter the studio/space, and you think, “I can make ANYTHING!” And then you get stuck. You keep asking yourself, where do I begin? What is next? What’s the plan?

I thought I had a plan before I started.

But when you’re alone in a big room – you wander/wonder.

Being alone in a room has been extremely challenging, I must admit. I anticipated it. But I did still feel extremely caught off guard.

I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with collaborative groups who have allowed me a lot of alone time to brood over my work, yet offered a lot of space and time for amazing conversations to unpack and offer provocations.

But I have consciously chosen to collaborate with Ling on this one, with her as a producer/manager of the project, because I need that complementary skill set a hell of a lot more, but also because I do recognise the pool of creative peers I have around me to call on for any exchange should I need.

And true enough I called on them this morning. (Ling arrives on Friday.)

At the end of the first day, I could name some inherent structures that make my work, work. But in relation to the previous works, the key structures were to do with site and context. In a dedicated performance space, where the work is growing and meant to be able to be presented in any other venue/space, what is site? And how can this site offer context, as is in my site-specific/sympathetic work?

At the end of the second day, I arrived at a huge, but obvious realisation. As much as my work is conversation driven and story-based, a massive flagpole in all the work, is an activity. A task, or an action, to be done together with my audience member – to eat; to take a photo in a photo booth; to create a river on clay; to draw a river with a glue stick and sprinkle sand over…

The activity not only pins the work down in the content – a vehicle to tell a reflective story, adding poetry to the sharing, and a non-didactic way of revealing insight; it also is an active way to make the work. I’ve often found that after months and weeks of research, and attempts at writing, the first dry run of the activities with test audiences always, always, provided the way forward – the work would write itself after. DUH!

I tasked myself with coming up with 5 activities today, just to generate 5 possible scenarios. And again, being alone, I trapped myself by constantly questioning the relevance of the ideas that came up. Even though I knew and constantly reminded myself, that this was about an exercise! It didn’t matter if it was relevant yet, it may not even be used at all – but it was an exercise.

And still, I couldn’t let it go.

So I made some phone calls. By having someone else give me a list of instructions and tasks, it gave me distance – and I took on the ones that I could easily prepare and gather materials for in the CBD.

Merlynn was due to come in and play with me later in the afternoon, so I gave my brains a break, prepared the tasks, and set up the space. And we had a play. And it was so good.

As expected, it flowed easily. It certainly helped to get someone in the space who was willing to play in a similar language, could be utterly present, and ready to respond as participant as well as observer – who could weave in and out of being in a performative state with you, as well as speak critically and provide objective and articulate feedback.

Feedback – not more ideas of what should have been done – but quite literally feedback – “I saw, I noticed, I liked…” is something I learnt from working with Dan Koop, and it’s one of the best parameters to give a third eye in the space. And from their responses, of course, enter into further discussions, ask more questions, and if you want suggestions, go ahead and ask for it. But it’s a definitely a great way to start talking about what WAS actually done.

So that happened, and it was fantastic. Some really exciting discoveries were made. Even with the simple tasks today, and the improvisations from them, Merlynn as an audience participant was taken through a journey, and one that she could articulate as beginning with introspection, taken into a very personal world of the Self, into a memory of her childhood home, into a memory of the current “home” when she returns to Singapore, and through to her home and life in Brisbane now – and then out into my world.

Those are very interesting “Sites” for me to explore – markers for me to establish the worlds that I have been questioning – that usually site specific work offers naturally, these tasks have generated possibilities for me.

I have the option to stick to these tasks, or to take a deeper look at these “sites” and devise new tasks. But for tomorrow and Friday, I will be looking at taking a few others through the same tasks and adding on to them as I go.

It is residency. It is about generating while enquiring. If all goes well, there will be two more dedicated development periods in the year ahead. Also, writing of the work can happen alone in between these periods. So for three days in worth of work, I am at a pretty good place.

I know the next big test, possibly for next week, is to bring in more than one audience member, which was one of the main objectives with Saltwater – to push my one-on-one performances to a bigger audience size – back into a more theatrical setting, yet maintaining all the key elements of intimacy and audience engagement and co-authorship of the one-on-one participatory work.

Residencies are where you get to test the ideas of the work out.

So, use them.

And if I may do a little endorsing, Metro Arts has provided that space for me since I left VCA and embarked on a solo practice. Through Free Range in 2011, the Singapore<>Brisbane Exchange in 2012, and now this Shortfuse Residency. (Of course, working for them in 2013 has also enabled the relationship to expand in breadth and depth.)

I am obviously biased, but I certainly cannot deny the support I have received from the organisation that has enabled this practice to evolve.

Their call for applications has just opened for the 2015 program. Please, do yourself a favour and look them up.

And keep checking in as I post more reflections in the days ahead.

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