Tangled Feet formed 20 years ago at Middlesex University (showing my age there!) Our co-founding performers all came together for the first time in years in this intergenerational performance experiment called Half Life . The aim was to explore what life is like as this group of people who have known each other and created work together for half their lives reflect on what they have been through, where they are at and what is to come (as we all approach 40!) The mid-life phase is an extremely busy period of life juggling everything; responsibilities, family, children, work, mortgages, being aware of health & mortality & generally feeling a shift, trying to balance EVERYTHING whilst not going totally mad. It is the point where people have mid-life crises and who can blame them? With an awareness creeping in that we could be half way through our lives, wouldn't you start to question everything? Life expectancy in the UK is 80 so it could be the half way point of life! This notion can bring up some serious reflection and focus your attention to what time you might have left. All this whilst every day seems to whizz past even quicker than the last. . .
We wanted to check in and see what it is like when you have created theatre together for half your lives and shared all the big life stuff too: births, marriages, divorce, death etc. What have we learnt about life, about each other, about the world, what is still to learn and how is that dramatically interesting, if at all?! It quickly became clear we needed a bit of help with this momentous theme and so we invited a group of intergenerational performers plucked from community groups, schools & the tangled feet network to help us with our quest. They were aged 10, aged 20 and aged 80.
We talked, shared personal experiences, interviewed each other about all sorts, drank tea, eat biscuits, played games, threw ourselves on crash mats and up ladders, improvised together, found a real and honest approach to our quest, declaring the process and the themes in an autobiographical sharing of each of our lives. We discussed what it felt like to live, to juggle everything - family life, being a parent, how we dealt with loss whatever we conceived that to be, how we had grieved, how we needed balance and rest, how we must always find time to play but also acknowledge how important spreadsheets are. The whole process took over a year of short periods of R&D and then a more intense period of rehearsals in the run up to the premiere which took place at The Albany in Deptford on 3rd-5th October 2019. We analysed a lot of life. It was very therapeutic and cathartic, sometimes frustrating. A process which has affected me deeply, as I feel like I have just come out of some intense theatre therapy. I took a week's holiday straight after the show finished and was so glad to do so. To reflect, to think, get some space after such a hectic period of investigating and delving into life and all the good and bad stuff it throws at us all in equal, or sometimes unequal measure.
What I shared in the show and also discovered about myself over the whole process is that I choose to live a life focussed on hedonism. A word that actually makes me cringe funnily enough. What we thought was dramatically interesting in this was looking at the ups and downs that throws at you. My NEED to perform and have a good time, exploring if it is sustainable, if it makes me happy, if it is the right path! Not an easy thing to do. Discovering that my life choices may have held me back from other stuff like marriage (tried it and failed) children (sometimes I am so broody, other times I am so grateful I don't have any) buying a house (I rent but also am glad to not be chained to a property as it is a huge responsibility but mainly I don't have the means to do it yet!) Raising the question of whether that 'stuff' is actually for me or not was what came up for my character (which was me!) I didn't find the answer in the show and I don't have the answer in real life but I do feel the massive pressure from society to do those things that we are 'supposed' to do. I also think that maybe I am OK without it all, for now, and that is OK too. I don't know. I love my freedom, I can do what I want when I want, I can travel, I can perform, I could drop it all and emigrate (again!) tomorrow if I needed to. My quest in the show was shared in a joyous scene of constant dancing and a stream of consciousness down the microphone about these lifestyle choices. Set in a night club with backing dancers continuously moving around me as I flurried around the stage, my party life style sound tracked by Groove is in the Heart, Firestarter, Ride on Time & banging dance music. The crowd always with me, throwing shapes, talking it all out, showing how many times I have moved house (20 times in as many years!) how my job is now to party, how I haven't got the stuff everyone else has got, my little responsibilities in life, being single, how lonely it can all be one moment and then how glorious and busy it can be in the next, how I am ignoring something, putting something off but it is so addictive and so much FUN!
I was deeply worried about sharing it all. I thought the audience would be thinking why on earth are we watching this good time careless girl going on about her silly life and do we actually care at all? What I was really moved by and also surprised to hear was an older member of the audience had said she related most to my scene. She felt she could identify with the public & private persona I talked about. In the scene my alter ego Ditzy Ritzy exudes glitzy good vibes and has a lot of fun dancing around and then on the flip side we also present me, after gigs. I go home (after a struggle) I am alone, don't see anyone, sometimes hide away for days, exhausted, suffering with dark thoughts, sadness, feeling a bit empty. The scene ends with me saying the low moments do pass and I get up and get on with it and do it all over again. "Thats what we all do isn't it? Get up, go to work, get on with it. Pick ourselves up, put on our warpaint, put our costume one, get out there and face the world. Keep moving. Keep going" Apparently so!
H E D O N I S M: The word that makes me cringe so much:
the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence.
pursuit of pleasure
lack of self-restraint
the high life
la dolce vita
self restraint (this made me laugh out loud)
The ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life (well if it is, I am living it!)
Now the show has finished it's London premiere, it has left me feeling different. I feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted, I have a bit more clarity. I have always found our work very therapeutic but in this show, where we played ourselves, where we all shared very personal accounts of our real lives and what we had all been through, going that deep, I feel has changed us all in some way. We each had our issues with the process along the way for different reasons. I think mine was mainly a fear of being so exposed and judged and sharing such intimate truth about my life and facing judgement. Yet the whole thing seems to have really resonated with the audiences we have shared it with so far. I think we underestimate how bound together we all are and in sharing these truths, we uncover just how similar we all are.
On my holiday after the show, my friend and I were sharing some big chat on the beach on World Mental Health Day. We talked about my friends chronic illness, she nearly died last year, about moving forward, about heartbreak, about forgiveness and looking ahead. A woman who had been sunbathing nearby came over and asked us to forgive her for overhearing but she told us listening to what we had been talking about had made her cry. She had clocked us already and 'presumed' we were young care free ladies on our girly holiday with little to worry about. When she heard what we were talking about she was shocked and then realised that you just never know what people are going through. You can feel like all your problems are the only problems in the world and yet so many people will be able to relate you no matter where they are at. We chatted for 2 hours about everything. Candid, honest, beautiful chat with a total stranger. It really moved both me and my friend.
All this has made me realise that sharing, talking, being open is SO IMPORTANT. On World Mental Health Day I read countless accounts on Social Media from all sorts of different people and it made me feel so positive that people are being so honest so publicly. Sometimes life is SHIT and that is OK. We are all just humans getting on with it everyday, struggling, living, loving, striving to be happy.
I would like to wrap this up by sharing the wise words from the final scene of Half Life.
Written by Pauline White, aged 80 (pictured above)
It fills me with hope & happiness.
Thank you Pauline! x
There are many challenges in life.
Things will happen to us without warning
If we knew what was coming could we do anything differently?
Maybe, maybe not.
The wheel goes round.
The waves come for us. Sometimes, rough seas carry us and we are helpless.
What are we going to do, sit and cry?
Look after yourself.
Learn to let go of anger.
Take each day as it comes. Make the time count.
Laugh, and say, wow!