This weekend I’m going to Cumbria to do 2 shows of Beyond Dreams of Aberystwyth. It was booked ages ago as part of a Rural Touring Scheme, and I’m excited about it but it’s come up rather fast. Since my Mum died in January I’ve been taking it slow, chugging along rather, in semi-hermit mode. Delivering 2 x 75 min solo shows isn’t something I would have invited right now, but there you go, such is life. And the show must go on, as my dear old actor Dad would say. Are all creative performer types like this? A public self balancing with the private? An Outer Show-Off persona battling it out with the Inner Hermit at intervals.
Mum had dementia for over 10 years and there is huge release in her passing, but still it has knocked me. It’s 6 years since Dad died and you get to know the ropes of grief. But now I’m a motherless child and an orphan, which is a whole other landscape. Some anchor I never knew was there has been cut, and I am like a balloon free-floating in air, feeling a complete loss of bearings, a strange sense of freedom and a loneliness I’ve never known before, all at once.
When I first looked at Aberystwyth again after my Mum’s death to prepare for this weekend’s shows my first thought was, isn’t it a bit crass to make a show out of a somebody’s death, really? But then again why not? It’s not like I’m the only person this has ever happened to. And it was a process, inner and outer. It was 2 years after Dad’s death before I even began to think about turning what I was doing into something I might share with others. And even in processing Mum’s death now, I can see the seeds of a creative piece… So this must be what I do, make art out of life or something, even though I’m still working out how to define and why I do it.
It’s cathartic of course, for me, and hopefully an audience; I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think that, it’s only part of the wider human experience. If I’ve got the gumption or stupidity or whatever it is to drag my personal stuff into the arena… Well I guess that’s what I do, whether I understand it or not. Right now I’m in the middle of it, the early days inner processing of my Mum’s life and death, alongside the public telling of my Dad’s story as per Beyond Dreams of Aberystwyth, which comes from a very personal place, but is only a version of it, partial, only what I’m prepared to reveal. Such is theatre.
When Mum first got dementia she went through a phase of saying ‘I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to be doing.’ It worried her. At first I used to try to re-assure her, I’d say, ‘Well what would you like to do?’ or ‘You don’t have to do anything, you can just sit down and have a rest.’ But after a while I realised that perhaps she was right, and quite possibly expressing something quite profound. Dead right, Mum. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing either. Does anybody?
I love Beyond Dreams of Aberystwyth, despite my present ‘innerness’ it’ll be good to do it again, share it with new people, that’s what I made it for. I like rural settings too, smaller and more intimate usually, with the hosts providing a supper of latkas (Jewish potato cakes) like I make in the show for everyone afterwards. I’ve got another gig at Chapter in Wales in May too. It’s good to have the gigs, get me out there. Trying to sell the show has been a blooming slog. I’m definitely ready for a break from all that, the endless pushing and marketing. My Mum’s death is bound to have an impact on me and my work. Maybe it’s time for a reflective period, do the show I have, but be creative, make new work.
It’s perverse to say so, but I also quite like it when someone dies when it’s timely. It’s an opportunity, having the rug pulled from under your feet. I love the way death forces everything into a clearer perspective, and only the really important things rise to the surface, everything else falling away as things that don’t really matter. I love that. It’s a time to wake up to what’s really important in life. And have another go at finding out what it is you’re supposed to be doing. If I find out, Mum, I’ll let you know.