You are Here to RISK your HEART

“You are here to risk your heart” Louise Edrich, from The Painted Drum

I finished the Spring tour of 40/40 two weeks ago.

I didn’t sleep well during the tour – the density of the dates meant that there was little time to come down from every show, so it took me about a week to start sleeping and about another week to find space in my brain to reflect.

And so, to cut to the chase – 40/40 is a risky work! And those that have presented it so far – get that! Yes, it’s full of joy! Yes, I hold the room! Yes, I dance my feet off and yes, people are almost always talking about how they wanted to join me on stage! Those bits are all very glorious.

But that stage that I have made, that 6m x 6m – is for me! I claimed that space and I worked very hard to claim that space. I am also in no illusion that this so called claimed space is mine – it isn’t – I am borrowing that space for 50 minutes. And that is all I wanted with that work.

I am interested in writing a little about risk. I have been thinking about risk and so I wanna talk about it because of

  • Audience patterns and the perception that live events are up against the telly. That’s true!
  • Lack of commissioning money for new work and if you get a bit of the pot (which is an achievement in it’s own right) – just how much work you need to have done before you get a tiny bit that may unlock another bit of money to make the thing. That other money you may never get, so you might have to return the first bit.
  • The risk of not taking risks after fourteen years of tory government!
  • The risk of not fully embracing representation – and here I am really talking about the phenomenal lack of commitment from most venues to create, sustain and develop work that speaks to communities from Eastern Europe – frankly – the risk is that there is active isolation of an audience. Same goes to venues who do not consider access to their building and events from disabled audience members or welcome much work by disabled artists. 
  • The risk of not being honest
  • The risk that things may fail.

Okay, that is plenty to drill down a little….where to begin?

I am going to start with the failure bit because I think it’s really important. In truth – I don’t believe that there is such a thing as failure. Having said that I often experience the sense and sensations that I may have failed or that I am a failure. But once I find the strength to step aside from that – I do believe that people make mistakes and I actually think that by making mistakes – there is a lot room for learning and self development and growth. I have made many mistakes in my time and no doubt will continue to do that. In our complex human nature we find ways to connect and communicate to others complex natures. So, conversation can be a risky business. Mistakes and failures sit next to risk. But if we don’t take the risk to convene with those unlike us – we will continue to live in a divisive society and this is especially relevant to art making. There must be risk, things must fail for innovation to have any chance at all.

We gotta be honest when things don’t work out. The fear of this in relation to funding is a block. Funders must understand why risk is closely connected to innovation. As artists, in rooms, we often say – this bit is not working, so we take time to chew it’s fat and we come back to it, we find ways to make it work or we simply recognise that it isn’t working and we move on. Why or why is this not happening on a larger scale?  Often we see some venues not working for years, we see unhealthy leadership, we again and again experience toxicity in a few of them – and yet, rarely are they given the chance to fold down, so a new thing can be re-imagined.

Things don’t always work out and that’s okay. I am calling for more care around that. In fact, I think we need to learn to let some stuff flow away naturally otherwise things can spiral out in very damaging, toxic and harmful ways. (not all things of course!) We got to look after each other better than that. 

If we don’t take risks we have no chance of envisioning new ways of being in a time of climate catastrophe, in a time of wars and major polarization. We got to try and understand the other. And one of the ways we are gonna do that is by supporting and commissioning new work. Work that doesn’t fit boxes, work outside boxes, work by artists with no boxes or messy boxes, or navigating cracks, work by lesser known artists.

I’d honestly love to see a festival with artists I have never heard of before! Because I really wanna be surprised! I have brochures from festivals from the past decade – still lots of the same BUT it’s so exciting to see some new names — because there is more, so much more than the known in this cultural landscape. Lots more! I want more risk in those programmes! I really really do! Imagine if, say TDL appeared on the Lyceum stage – that would be a surprise, wouldn’t it and blimey as an artist I’d take a few risks there. Because we have to! And that is just one reason why it’s so important to welcome and enable international work to visit the UK.

Audiences! Yes, patterns have changed. People are choosing to stay in, in a major way! Care, comfort, tighter budgets. And I get it. But that isn’t all of us audiences. So, we also got to cater to that too. Also, on audiences – if your town or city has a Polish or a Bulgarian or a Ukrainian food shop – it also has people who have grown up with culture not as an elite sport, but with culture as part of the week. Please, look into catering for us/them! Please take the risk of beginning that conversation. Please, let’s begin to radically invite them in.

And so to 40/40. It’s risky work!

It has a woman with weird features -not pretty, not thin, not young, not popular. That woman wobbles her fatty bits. She talks about acceptance and about permission and some of it is hard to hear. She talks about migrant experiences and working hard and for predominantly non- migrant audiences – that is also hard to hear. It’s hard to be so close, literally so close to a performer, a woman on her hands and knees moving as if cleaning. It’s there, right there! And above all – it’s risky because it embraces joy! You turn on the TV and hardship is everywhere and we are so conditioned to see that. Because, it’s everywhere!

And so for me, art and culture — it has to not just reflect but has to create other realities so we as humans can imagine other realities. And without taking risks – we are in danger of an endless repeating loop and I think we need surprise, boldness and stuff that may “fail”. But really, we gotta keep trying to imagine anew! 

With huge thanks to everyone that went on the risky business of 40/40 with me. It really was with your acceptance and permission that I borrowed that space for 50 minutes. And for that, I thank you!