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Gemma Alldred

Gemma Alldred has written 24 posts for Make again. Make new.

I love it when a show starts to come together

Although I have been a little absent from this research blog for several weeks, I can assure you that I have been working hard to create the ‘performative’ aspect of the result of all this thinking and pondering.

This result, I have decided to call “Days like These” and it will debut on Monday 16th January at York St John University as part of my final examination for a MA in Performance.

It’s free to attend and it will be the first of an evening of performances by the rest of the cohort: Ashley Harrison and Paula Clark.
Times are 6.15, 7.15 & 8.15 respectively.

As a little treat, here are some of the images taken by Elfi Childs – I can highly recommend her work if you’re ever in need of a photographer.

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This time next week…

I will be stood on stage, all of the issues will have been resolved, such is theatre, ‘the show must go on’.

I seem to have made a piece of theatre which has both acting ‘proper’ and performing ‘contemporary’ styles in it.

I will admit to being very afraid, and slightly cross at myself.. I can never just make anything simple…  I am afraid because I don’t believe I can ‘act’, I feel like I’m going for an audition, I am massively out of my comfort zone and very worried about fucking it up – everyone knows that performance is infinitely easier because if you fuck up its much easier to cover.

… I feel like I need to find the shoes, build a character, know where they’ve been when they enter the stage and also know where they’re going when the leave….

I am always keen to make eye contact, to see my audience, tell them a story, make sure they’re watching…. when the 4th wall is up it’s so much harder. I feel stupid, pretending. It feels like hard work ‘being’ someone else…. wishing I had done that degree in acting, although without the degree in performance I wouldn’t be here, making my ‘own’ work.

It’s going to be a long week, but in 7 days and 45 minutes I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, for better or worse, the show must go on.

Thankfully I have faith in process and in theatre, a show in the right order, with the right words in the right place, with the right tone and pace will show itself. If I just keep on looking for it.

I think I am making a ‘play’ though, or at least recycling one, I have started to envision the action as divided into thirds; set up – deconstruction – resolution…. I think  I will use this format for the evenings re-write… praying my mini-dv camera holds up – it refused to close with the cassette tape in today – it most definitely needs replacing, just hoping it will cease to function a week today and not tomorrow.

 

“Seventeen”

[Drafting words to say on stage]

“Seventeen” #1

 

I’m looking for a girl, I don’t know if you’ve seen her she’s all skin and bones and hair and black eyeliner. In the bottom of her bag she’s got 20 Marlboro lights. She’s stashed them there, she knows at the end of the night she’ll still be the one with cigarettes, a friend she once knew reminds her of this, only by then it’s later, much later. In fact it’s too late, she doesn’t have the cigarettes anymore, instead she offers him a roll up…

 

[‘roll up’ – susan smokes roll ups in scene 11, old Holborn – she rolls her own, ‘no flies on her’ ]

 

They talk about the old days, its never the new days, just the ‘back in the day’, days. Only there are no old days, there’s only what I remember.

 

“Seventeen” #2

She kept these notebooks you see, she kept them knowing they were important. What I mean is she knew they felt important when she was making them at the time. And I think she knew that one day I would come looking for her and that I would find her here in these books. I doubt she knew that I wouldn’t recognise her.

[She/ I /Her]

 

“Seventeen” #3

There’s a girl. The play’s about this woman. The play’s about this girl who becomes a woman and this woman never lets go of this girl, this girl she was in the story, the girl in the play, she can’t move on… One night the woman catches sight of herself in the mirror, she catches sight of herself as a girl. One night the woman catches sight of herself in a mirror and sees the girl looking back.

What is love?

Describe love.

I can’t.

What is love?

I am struggling to remember.

I have these diaries and journals where I speak frankly and painfully about this love I had and the pain, I remember feeling it like I should, I remember writing the entries conscious of how similar to the films it felt.

I can’t remember this love anymore and I read my diaries snorting with contempt for my innocence and naivety. Perhaps in reality it is my shame and lack of understanding which dismisses these experiences, perhaps its the unspoken knowledge that I am bitter and pragmatic and scornful of the idea of anyone ‘needing’ anyone. My inner monologue spitting the word’s ‘for fuck’s sake, get a grip, get real… man up’. Emotions are for weak people, needing someone makes you weak and vulnerable and susceptible to pain, to be taken for a fool…. although perhaps this is the lesson I learnt in my first loves, when both betrayed me. I was 15. I fought in the way the romances on the silver screen taught me I should, I used words and guilt and back stabbing. I used every tool I was afforded as a woman scorned. In the end I’m not sure what I won, the one that lost probably gained so much more for them-self, forced to redefine and find a new path. I fought to the bitter end and then felt the need to wear the prize I had won. To justify the losses. In the tears cried by sore red swollen eyes I couldn’t see what was really at stake, maybe I remember it wrong. Now I see I fought for the wrong love. Although I had no choice, it was that or nothing. It was a tragedy. One of us had to win and in that winning everyone was going to lose. If I could change anything, and I’m not sure it could’ve played any differently, but if I could I would change the prize, I would fight for what I see now was worth saving, I would say sorry. We would both know with hindsight that a teenage boy meant nothing, our friendship was far more valuable.

Perhaps love is pain in my body and mind. That makes me sound 17 again.

 

Act 1, Scene 1 – Drafts/thoughts/ideas

Scene 1

There will be days and days and days like these

The play opens where it began and where it ended 10 years ago. The play opens at the end.
In reality we could be anywhere, at anytime, we are led to believe in a drama studio in a south Nottinghamshire comprehensive. It is 2001.The stage directions tell us otherwise, it is 1967. It’s is Easter, Knightsbridge.
There are 12 scenes, each in its own way a mini play. Making a whole.This is quite Brechtian, although Hare intended it to be otherwise, Mr Harnan, mostly for ease of producing a play in a school put the ‘subtitles’ back in. Each soundtrack precursing a change of scene, the black box studio is the stuff of GCSE’s and Performance Art, no pretending here. What you see is what you get.

Gemma aged 27:

In 2001 everything changed, although in truth it had begun earlier than that.

It had begun in August 1944, when Susan had stood on the top of a hill in St. Benoit, looking down at the villages below, It was the end of the war and the children were lighting bonfire’s in the village. She turned to the French farmer she was speaking to in the fields and said,

“There will be days and days and days like these”

And I was there to hear her. I was there in 2001 when Philippa Jones stood here in this drama studio, the play was ending, she was stood on a stage block, that stage block, which symbolically represented both the hill in St Benoit and a bed,  as she turned to the Frenchman who was played by Phil Swift, she caught my eye.

I remember feeling ecstatic, I had never felt like that before. I can’t describe it too you, but I trust you know what I mean.

It was an awakening, a really new feeling, the first time I had felt like that.

She caught my eye and as she turned back to the audience I was there with her looking out over the fields in France.

I believed her, I knew what she meant, when she said, ‘there will be days and days and days like these’.

Years later, I found myself awaiting the drop in a field in Yorkshire, I looked for Phillipa but she wasn’t there, instead I found Susan, in truth she’s never left./ Phillipa was there, and Susan and me, as I was when I was 17.

In 2001 I was only beginning, only starting the days, which I’ve dreamed of ever since.

In terms of a play this scene should offer exposition, it should help you, the audience understand the context of the play. In truth, the context is ambiguous, in truth the context is about the time of your life.

It’s 2001 and the play opens near the end of the story. We find Susan at the end of her’s, my story is just beginning.

Act 1, scene 1, The play opens at the end of the story. We find two women contemplating a naked man who has passed out from two nembutol and 12 fingers of scotch. Susan a woman in her mid thirties, hands Alice a key and says..” You must tell my husband…. Tell him I left with nothing that was his, I just walked out on him. Everything to go”

The story opens at the end of the play, I can still hear Susan saying there will be days and days and days like these, except its not Susan saying this, its Phillippa Jones and the war has not just ended, neither are we in a field in France.

Instead we are in a drama studio in a suburban comprehensive school in the Midlands. It’s early Summer 2001, yesterday was my birthday, I am 17.

We didn’t know it, but a war was about to start. Later I’ll be sat in a pub, trying to convince a friend to leave an abusive boyfriend. Whilst we are drinking two pints of strongbow, two planes will fly into the two towers of the world trade centre. I’ll be bunking French. My friend will eventually leave her boyfriend.

“there will be days and days and days like these”

 

Days and Days and Days like these

Director’s (Mr Harnon) notes on the Play: 

In structure it is complex, persuing a largely linear narrative that demands the audience piece together the story from a series of disjointed scenes; Each scene working as a small play in its own right, hinting towards a Brechtian influence and structure.

Each scene a mini play…. What would they be called?

  1. There will be days and days and days like these
  1. Offspring
  1. Waking up, making up and hating her again
  1. On teenage love
  1. The Four of Us; dancing together when we thought it would always be that way.
  1. Ecstasy
  1. Depression
  1. Sailing boats
  1. Being someone (all bones and skin and hair and black eyeliner)
  1.  Susan: A-Level Drama
  1. Romance is Dead
  1. Memories and shoe-boxes

Plenty

I am a time line at the moment, I mean that I can’t separate things out, everything is merging into one, I’m seeing things or perhaps feeling things like webs.

Matthew and I discussed, in part, ‘origins’ at the last tutorial. That nothing is really new – so I live my life through a lens, that I experience what I do, in part, because of the experiences before.

I have perhaps lived my romantic life through the lens of Romeo and Juliet and My So Called Life. Clare Danes, Jared Leto and  Leonardo Dicaprio all seem a little odd when I see them ‘grown up’.

Of course first times, experientially, are first times, I may have attached what I needed to, to them. That I created the narrative I wanted and somehow needed for all sorts of first times when I was growing up…. maybe I didn’t really experience them at all, maybe I just created myself a sort of story I could play out, in a way that seemed right, or successful, or normal. Or fabulous even. But not ‘real’, or ‘authentic’.

I digress, I titled this ‘Plenty’ for a reason. I have just un-earthed a photocopied examination guideline for the essay I probably wrote to accompany the performance I did for my AS Drama exam. Since I doubt I used it then, it seems like it might be a nice structure to borrow, for fun, to push on some thinking, at least to try and put it to some  use.

…. flicking through the rest of the notebook, just after my notes on ‘scene 4, Pimlico 1947’ written in 2001, I have the original text from the first page of my journal for Underwear in 2006. Wierd.

When I came to Uni I missed my friends, I had the most amazing youth, I felt important. This section in the book is about that, I edited it for the Underwear journal, interesting what decisions I made then. (Maybe I felt I needed to re-make Underwear because it would lead me to the show I didn’t make then, the one I just managed to hint at in the last piece.)

“why is it so painful to let this go”

“the great love we shared is empty”…. this is what I was referring to in Left Luggage, this is my Nirvana moment. If I could take a fragment and expand it, its this one. I made underwear about sex, I feel this show is about relationships. I am still mourning the passing of that time….

….still mourning the death of englishmen who died in Dachau, men who died naked in Dachau…..

So logically, I mean, utilising my knowledge of a ‘process’, this is the moment I should expand. This is about first times, about always trying to replace the first time….. except, remembering of course that nothing’s new….. etc

Susan felt like this:

UNIT3: Section A, Study Area 3, Sample notes. Page 8

Rationale for putting on the play – what was it communicating about the time it was written or the time it was performed? Why are we doing it? What does it mean to us as a group? What relevance does it have?

I know Mr Harnan, really struggled to sum the play up when we were 17 for the programme notes. Its about that thing though, about having a time, an un-replaceable time that makes the rest of your life appear to be lived in tones of grey compared to the colour. Of course, its not to be discounted  that the times remembered in colour are somehow also blended with the life’s of everyone else, with the expectation of the experience – that we construct the history as we need to remember it, as we need to pass it on, so that others experience our first times too, as we constructed them,  whilst they use our constructions to help form their own…. r e p e t i t i o n? Where is the ‘origin’ in this scenario? With the Greek gods?

….

Study Area 1 – Analyse how characters, narrative and ideas are conveyed through theatrical presentation

Page 1&2:  Details of each character in the play and how they were interpreted. Comments on individual performances

Page 3: Examples of how the ideas were put across to the audience. Comments on the way the audience responded.

Page 4: Theatrical devices and conventions that were used to put across the play to an audience

Study Area 2; Interpret and evaluate a text as directors, designers and performers

Page 5: Notes on the Concept for the production. What was the ‘ruling idea’?

Page 6: Notes on how the design elements reflected the ‘ruling idea’ and contributed to the overall interpretation.

Page 7: Notes on what worked and what did not work and why in the production

Study Area 3: Consider the social, cultural and historical background of a text and its relevance to a contemporary audience. 

Page 8: Rationale for putting on the play – what was it communicating about the time it was written or performed? Why are we doing it? What does it mean to us as a group? What relevance does it have?

Page 9: Summary of research notes into the social, cultural and/or historical context of the play. Notes about the playwright and/or the first production of the play. Notes about other productions of the play.

Page 10: How did the audience respond to the production of the play? What did it mean to them? Was this response expected? Did it differ from the play’s original reception?

So if all the world’s a stage, if I have performed my life, in accordance with the lens I view it through, perhaps I could answer all of these quesitons, perhaps I could re-perform not only a ‘show’ but a life.

Actually, I think that’s what I am doing at the minute, I’ve taken to wearing t-shirts over long sleeved tops, like its the 90’s or something. The other night I went out for Halloween dressed as my 17 year old self. I actually ‘moped’ around a night club as a strategy for getting some male attention, ‘oh little lost me’. It worked, although nothing is quite as innocent when 10 years older that 17.

…… I could be 18 again……

The first time my heart was broken

A poem for the girl who broke my heart, written then, aged 16

And I hate her for not talking to me,
And I hate her for making out like everything is all right
And for making up, waking up and hating me again.

And for seeming to take the recognition for all that I’m responsible for,
Not even trying, yet gaining everything I’ve longed for
And for paying attention and doing what’s right, so I can’t,
‘cos I’ve got to change and oppose her in everything;

So that someone who doesn’t know us will see that there is no us,
It’s me,
And her,
Not even that. Two people not presently related.

I hate her because I don’t know her,
And she doesn’t want me,
And she doesn’t say hello.
She doesn’t even look.

I hate her, ‘cos she wears the right thing,
Says the right thing, does the right thing,
At the right time, all the time.
Or so it seems

And I hate her for leaving scars on my life,
Reminders of the love I’ve had and the fun I’ve had
And everywhere I look or run to, I find her.

I hate her for not saying anything, yet being their even when I sleep.

x

an open letter to Michael Pinchbeck (and Nottingham)

Dear Michael,

You don’t know me, but I feel as if maybe you should. I don’t mean to sound crazy when I say that, although I am aware that perhaps that can’t be helped. Last night you stood on a stage/theatre studio floor in front of me, and several others, and you said something about not knowing me, not knowing us, your audience – who of course sit in the dark.

So, in response I wanted to try and let you know the number of ways and times you’ve been present in my life. I don’t know if your presence means anything, but it feels worthy of noting, so it must mean something.

I grew up in Nottingham, long before I knew how I would make work in the future, when I dreamt of being an actress or an artist perhaps, I wore purple flares that I’d bought from that Vintage shop, near the theatre royal, on the way to the Victoria centre. I don’t know if you know it, you went up some wooden stairs, it was covered in photocopied flyers for gigs and band members wanted, it smelt of old clothes. It was a vintage shop before vintage shops were cool and expensive. I don’t think it’s there anymore. If it is still there, its probably expensive and probably not cool, at least not in that way.

Whilst wearing my purple flares I spent a lot of time at Angel Row gallery, in fact that art gallery was one of the most influential places on my work now. It was there we first met, when I picked up a flyer for ‘The Long and Winding Road’, well I wore flares, it follows that I liked the Beatles.

I took up the invite, I did email, I was asked to await further instructions but they never came.
I didn’t really know your name then. It’s not on the flyer. The ‘Steering Committee’ never got back to me. To be honest I forgot about you, I filed it away along with all the other bits of paper I picked up and kept from that time.

I heard about it again, later, something having happened outside of Broadway cinema. The Broadway is also in my list of the influential places in my life. Neat then that a little peruse of The Left Lion, recently led me to Deborah Pearson’s recent performance there, a ‘Hatch’ event. Another link.

Let me honest, at this point in my life, I have still not really heard of you, but as I mentioned I loved the sixties, the music, I spent a long time trying to be a hippy. When a new play came out called ‘The White Album’ I had to see it. It was on at the Nottingham Playhouse, another incredibly influential place. They used to do ‘price of a pint’ tickets for under 25’s, I saw a lot of amazing work there. I’d just started university in York, the show got a mixed press, I loved it. I defended it on the comment thread of an article on The Left Lion, I tried to find it, to hyperlink it here, but it’s disappeared into the virtual void.

I’ll be even more honest, I didn’t really take a note of the playwright’s name. Well Giles was directing it, that was as much as I needed to know.

It was year’s later then, which is another way of saying a couple of years ago from now that a younger student who was working with me mentioned your work, apparently she loved it. I tried to be intelligent, I mean I did recognise the name, but in her presence, trying to sound like I knew something, I agreed with her. I might have said, “Yes, it is, quite brilliant”.

She was going to the lecture you were giving at York St. John University. I went too,  I imagine I might have been sat with Andrew Brown, a fellow student at YSJ and a lecturer at Nottingham Trent, this is how he knew Hetain Patel. I wrote an essay on Hetain Patel for a second year, undergraduate assignment, after seeing his work in Angel Row gallery. Small world.
It was in that lecture that I joined the dots, I realised that I knew you, well your work anyway. It was weird. I came and spoke to you afterwards, explained these things. I think it came out a little odd.

Maybe there it would’ve ended, except for your website, which is one of my most useful sources of inspiration, I’d like to thank you for posting your CV on there. It has been a great help, just having a template for what is often termed an ‘artistic cv’ and knowing that being diverse in the work I make and who I make it with is okay. As have your blogs and process. I often use them as a source of inspiration if I’m having a blank page/can’t make anything/I’m just shit aren’t I, sort of a day. These have been a really, really great help. Nice to know someone reads them perhaps…. I couldn’t help but notice Mole in some of the video’s you have on your Vimeo channel. I’m almost certain that when I was in primary school and again in secondary school Reckless Sleepers came to do workshops with us. It’s times like that, which can inspire you as a kid, and so are perhaps in some small way the reason I’m writing this now.

And maybe there it also could end, except for a gift you made me with ‘The Ashes’. My Dad doesn’t really ‘do’ theatre, my great passion, it’s not really his thing, I’m struggling to recall if he’s ever been to see any of my work, perhaps the the primary school Christmas play. It’s not a criticism, like his Dad, my Dad likes cricket, it’s just I’d like to be able to share what it is I do with him. I bought us ticket’s to see the play, as a father’s day gift, better than whisky or socks. Something we can share together. Something we shared as a family. Thank you.

It was a strange crowd – I’m not sure it falls into all the Arts Council’s engaging new audiences stuff, but that show, that night, really seemed to have drawn quite the strangest mix of people, all interested in cricket, all sharing stories. It meant something to them, you could tell it was important. I’ve never experienced a theatre buzzing in quite that way before, it was really something. It was certainly something to me. Thank you again.

I noted in the back of the programme, in your bio, you’ve also worked with Hetain Patel. Smaller world. I did once think of writing him a letter to let him know he’d been the subject of that essay I’d written in 2007. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to know, I mean if someone ever wrote about me. I’m sure plenty of people have written about his work by now.

And so there Michael, it ends. The End, which I saw last night and seemed to speak to me, in my current performance makers block. Once again your presence, your work (and Ollie’s) floated a couple of creative bubbles to the surface, some pennies dropped. Lots of questions, lots of examples…. I am still looking for my own answers…  in my process at the moment. I am looking back a lot, trying to re-cycle, to make again, to begin again, if its possible to repeat a beginning. If its possible to repeat at all.

I like to think I might invite you to my next show.

I like to think I should move back to Nottingham, stuff always seems to be happening there, maybe I could happen there.

I like to think that I will be part of the great happening here, in York, instead.

Perhaps our paths will cross again, perhaps they won’t – but if you ever read this, and you say those lines again in performance, the line I wish I could quote, the line I’m not even sure you said now. Well I think you did, I think it was about never knowing who ‘we’, the audience are. Well now you do. Perhaps you will remember this, perhaps in some small part I will be remembered in that moment.

All the best,

Gemma

beginning again…

now feels new.

A fresh start

time over. again.

I know my past, I have come one full circle. I know who I was, I am resolved, answered. satisfied.

Time now for a new adventure. Time to take stock, leave the luggage, say goodbye, let go, au revoir, mais pas adieu, time to begin again.

Time for new mistakes, time again for innocence, for scars to fade, to be forgotten, for fresh eyes and optimism. Time to be on top again instead of always catching up, instead of becoming second best of feeling too old, too fat, too been there and done that.

Now is the time of our second youth, now IS the time to ‘seize the day’ to realise our ambitions, to become our dreams. I am not up a tree. I can deal with that. I grow herbs in my kitchen and eat vegetables and imagine one day I’ll stop eating meat. I’ll perhaps always be a hypocrite.

Now is the time of MY generation. Possibility is here, its ours. My youth wasn’t wasted in my early years, my potential won’t be now.

Now is a newness, a chance to BE again, a chance to ascribe myself, to aspire, to create to be. I don’t need to look back. I’ve waved goodbye…. I am waving goodbye.

Here’s to new shoeboxes, new memories. new dreams and hopes, new ideals, new lovers, new friends, new ways of being. together. alone. new me, new yous.

 

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