Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Liberating Rapunzel (Confession of a 6yr old)

Earlier this year I attended a series of creative writing workshops and at one point during one of the sessions we had to do some free writing based on a childhood memory. 
I found myself writing about an incident that happened just after my 6th birthday when I was about to move from Nottingham back to Australia.

I had a favourite library book of Rapunzel, retold and illustrated by Jutta Ash.  


It was a book that we continuously checked out so that I could re-read it again and again. It was mostly the pictures that I loved and I would pour over them repeatedly. The story was based on the original Grim Brothers version that is a lot darker than the modern day Tangled rendition of the tale. In the retelling, Rapunzel is a musician who sings from her tower and captivates the heart of the prince riding by. Interestingly in this version of the story he doesn't ever rescue or save Rapunzel- they both end up banished, separated and in the wilderness until ultimately the power of Rapunzel's song brings them back together once more, along with the twins that Rapunzel has happened to have given birth to in the woods! (There is much that could be unpacked here: is this a really a story about teenage pregnancy... or the power of rock n roll? But I'll leave all that for another day)  

Part of me suspects, that for me personally herein these pages lies an early identification with my own desire to make music. Did I look at the image of Rapunzel and see the ultimate folk singer? The Pre Raphaelite version of Joni Mitchell? Or maybe it was always just my own desire to catch myself a partner? (My singing certainly managed to play a part in captivating Bill my husband to be when we met, sooo many years ago!) 



Anyway back in Nottingham in the run up to the big move there was a moment when I was requested by my slightly frazzled mum, to help her by putting a few of my favourite books and toys that were selected to be shipped, into boxes. I spotted Rapunzel on a separate pile with a stack of other books that we had to return to the library. I can remember the frustrated, disappointment that I would have to give up this book and after a brief battle with my conscience I sneakily hid the Rapunzel library book into the box with the items that would be shipped. 

And so this Rapunzel book has stayed with me through every move back and forth across the world that I’ve made since that day 35 years ago. I think in my own way I was claiming a little piece of life for myself in the midst of all the letting go... and now it sits on my 6yr old daughter's shelves. 
(She quite likes it, but is generally much more fond of her space books!)  


Here’s the free-write as it came out during the workshop a few months ago…

Liberating Rapunzel
(Confession of a 6yr old girl)

I am climbing the stairs.
“Pack up your books” she said.
The boxes are ready
The piles are stacked high…
And I?
I am aware of the pile to my left
Smaller than the rest
She has put them there,
“These are not to be packed”
They’ll be returned
The last library trip
Before we leave”

And I didn’t have a name for it
But looking back, I can recognise
Grief

Rapunzel, the girl with the long golden hair
I so loved the words and the pictures of her
And I know that I shouldn’t,
And I know it’s a sin
To take something that isn’t mine
But
I love this book
With the patterned spine

Rapunzel she liked to break the rules
Letting that boy into her bedroom…

And so I choose

I choose to accidentally remove her from the pile
They’ll never find us
I justify
I can always pretend that I didn’t know
That somehow this was the one that got away

And Rapunzel she liked it
And so did I
Guilty, but without regret
I stash and pack her 5 books deep
And watch as the packing tape
Seals her fate
And so Rapunzel gets to leave her tower
And I am her liberator
But I worry that I have buried her
Am I really her traitor? 
It's a long way to travel
to Australia
“I’ll see you on the other side”
I whisper in my mind, while rehearsing my surprise...

“Oh mum look,
 We never took back this library book!”

Monday, 4 June 2018

Under This Blue

I grew up near the coast in Western Australia and I also grew up in the landlocked English midlands of Robin Hood territory, Nottingham.
I lived in both places, two separate times and moved within each of them a total of 13 times before I’d reached 12. So much moving in early childhood created an undercurrent of trying to figure out my place in an unfamiliar landscape that flowed through much of my life.

It was a childhood yo-yoing between,
Sunburn, wide, open skies, barefoot running on scorching beach sand
And…
Suburban grey, low hanging cloud.
Chilblain fingers of the icicle window-pane, winters
That we shivered through, in our joined up houses.
“Ay-up me duck”-
Took over from
“How’s it goin?”
I had to remember that lollies were made of ice in England
Although they were sweets in Australia,
And chips were crisps unless they were hot
(This is vital information to assimilate in childhood)…
Then later as a 12 year old –
Flip-flops were definitely not thongs in Nottingham
And more importantly “Spunky” is not the word to use to describe the boy you think is good looking. (as that's just taking it to a whole new level!) 

The ocean however, has always felt like home. 

In my early years the Australian beach was something I took for granted.
I remember watching electric storms over the water. 
Swimming in the evening to try and cool down during a heat wave….
 All the waves… Diving into them, getting dumped by the big ones, rolling over and over, feeling as though I would drown, But I loved it.
I loved being in the water, imagining myself as a mermaid.
My hands would wrinkle and I’d always be the last one out.
My parents yelling,
“Time to go now, Rachel get out, it’s time to go!”

It’s easy to romanticize the Aussie life, but when I was there, I missed the green… the forests, seasons, the countryside and the old buildings and narrow roads. I missed my grandmother and her well-spoken, good-mannered, kindness and probably most of all, I missed her big old farmhouse surrounded by fields.

It was a childhood of contrasts.
It was a childhood of leaving.
It was a childhood of arrival.
It was a childhood of grieving…

Memories… Some we cherish and some sneak up on us triggered by sight or sound or word or smell or face.

There was one particular summer that my mind holds onto.
I was becoming a good swimmer.
I’d won some races in the pool at school.
My Dad began taking me to the beach in the mornings before school.
He’d sit on the sand and I would swim.
And there for 30 minutes I would wake up in the water, on my own.
Floating, splashing.
Red eyed.
Salty.
I perfected my backward somersaults and my underwater handstands…

I was also in awe of the sea. As much as I loved it, it frightened me… I knew about sharks and I knew about currents and I knew about waves so big that there would be no chance that I could out swim them. I knew about jellyfish and seaweed and in all this knowing there was the understanding that this ocean that I loved, was not necessarily my friend. I had to be wise to it, if I was going to survive it.


In December 2011 I discovered that I was pregnant with our first child. Suddenly my own childhood began to sift my thoughts. I recalled my life of migration as I watched the refugee crisis unfolding within the world around me. I recalled the ocean and sensations of swimming, being submerged in water, as the fetus swam and turned somersaults inside me. I found myself returning to that summer in the sea, pin pointing the moments when I felt completely comfortable in my skin, doing my thing, being myself. Being part of the landscape, not just on it, or next to it, but actually in it, working with a force that was greater than myself... counting the waves as they washed over me, just as the child growing in me was at once herself but also a part of me, working with the life force of my body.

All this became the backdrop to my Somersaults song... 

Somersaults 

Under this blue 
Back somersaults 
Who would miss me? 
And why so much? 
Keep staring up 
Keep drifting out 
Who would miss me? 
And know my touch 
Under this blue 
Blue 
Under this blue 
Blue 

Waving 
Diving 
Into this deep 
Head back and kick 
Tight to a ball 
Head back 
And fall 
Keep turning 
These summer 
Summer somersaults 




Today I have just signed my daughter up for swimming lessons. 
I wonder how she will take to it...

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Lament Of The Selkie (Research and Development Project)

As many of you know I was delighted to receive Research and Development funding from Arts Council Wales, with support and funding in kind from Llanelli's Fwrnes Theatre. The grant offered funding to explore turning my latest album Stone's Throw, Lament Of The Selkie into a multi art form performance.  I have been privileged to have spent 10 days of this last month collaborating with Gig Theatre expert Lucy Rivers of Gagglebabble, Autobiographical story telling expert Eleanor Shaw of People Speak Up  and socially engaged practitioner and Visual Artist Bill Taylor-Beales of Hushland Creative. (Yep the very same Bill I've been married to all these years.)

In order to do this the project explored ways of combining the mythological selkie story, with my autobiographical story of injury and immobility during pregnancy and the birth trauma that followed.  It wasn't easy trawling through the layers of my trauma again, but Lucy, Eleanor and Bill were incredibly compassionate and empathetic and enabled me to find processes to engage with the content.

Throughout the project we sought to find new collaborative and creative ways of retelling these stories through a combination of music, song, spoken word, storytelling and visual image. Our objective was to create the initial foundations for a full-length show that could be toured in the future.

Below are a few pictures of our initial collaborations, story boarding a script, that I later went on to develop into a first draft version of the show.









As part of the research element of the project, a session was held in collaboration with People Speak Up, providing discussion, consultation and conversation about the themes and content of the project, with women from the local community. The women were also invited to contribute their own voices, through audio and video that could be used in the final sharing performance piece. We also put a call out online for people to be involved in this aspect of the project and received input and contributions from women from all over the world. I'm so grateful to everyone who contributed, this aspect of the performance piece has really moved the project into deeper realms. For our next round of funding we're going to explore taking this idea into each location we perform in, so that we can create site and community specific elements to each performance. (See one of the videos we created below at the end of the blog.)

We shared our final work in progress on March 7th at the Stwidio Venue, of Ffwrnes Theatre. The Q &A discussion that followed the performance was enlightening as it became apparent that this content and subject matter of birth trauma is so rarely explored on stage. I have been staggered by the amount of positive feedback I've had throughout this project regarding the subject matter and need to hear stories that reflect the reality that so many women face.





So, now we are in the final stages of evaluating the project and looking at the next round of funding to fully produce the piece. I will be bringing on board  a director and script editor (dramaturgy the official word) to help further develop the stories as well as lighting and sound designers for phase 2. We're also going to develop the "women's voices"  community / audience development opportunities for each of the venues we perform in so that we can continue to include the voices of women that we encounter in each final performance.

Huge thanks to all who have been involved with each stage of this project, offering support, answering questions, sending me audio/ video and text, endorsements, attending the events and sharing the info on social media. A big shout out to Lucy Rivers, Eleanor Shaw and People Speak Up, Bill Taylor-Beales, Jonny Rees, Sharon Casey and all at Ffwrnes Theatre, Henry Rees and Arts Council Wales for enabling this all to happen.


I'll end the blog here with one of the videos we made that included women's voices both locally and globally. During the performance Lucy and I provided live music underscore, but we've added soundtrack here online to give a sense of the atmosphere that the music created to the visual images.

Stone's Throw Exit film with underscore... from Bill Taylor-Beales on Vimeo.