Wendy Houstoun: An article apropos of nothing…
Wendy Houstoun was our Established Artist Fellow 2015. At the end of the year, she sent us this lovely piece of writing as a conclusion to her Fellowship.
An article apropos of nothing…
Written by Wendy Houstoun, December 2015
After the years, the many years, the many, many years- I find myself wavering. Sitting here and wavering….where to go – how to go about it- what best to do.
I can think I should be participating in collecting food parcels and trainers and taking them to Calais- or I should be turning my sofa into a bed and housing a Syrian Family- or I could think I should be stepping aside to make room for the young- or stepping up to give hope to the old- or just really continuing to try and take the next step without too much thought.
I first started work in 1980. And here they are again.
The 80’s are beginning to re-emerge. Not just in a picture book, vinyl, bands, and clothes way but in that day to day- defining who you can talk to and who you can’t – kind of way.
It’s all coming back to me.
The wearing of politics on your sleeve.
The rattle of the bucket and off to greenham common.
Except I was never that person in the first place although I did go on the marches. Clause 28. CND. Anti Maggie- But it was so very easy to be anti Maggie. Just her voice was enough to send spasms through a body.
I was happy to be keeping that spirit, that feeling, that fight the good fight with all guns blazing but always fell short of actually joining the socialist workers party- or becoming a fully paid up member of the activists.
I have never liked groups or gangs and instinctively mistrust mass outpourings of any kind. It seems to lack depth of thought, circumspection and I realise now I have always admired a more philosophical take on the world.
So yes, activism within the work- not instead of…..
And now- in 80’s repeat mode- things feel as if they are getting too much.
Is it this cyclical thing that is making me crazy?
Or is it the vague sense of pushing and pushing somewhere (but seemingly nowhere) against my body instinct?
I have the feeling I am living in a continual version of The Apprentice where I could get fired at any moment- were there to be a contract?
The feeling that the circle I move in is getting smaller and crankier with every Facebook post that flares out into the ether with its blessed and endless love and ever so slightly implausible non stop good mood and inspiration.
And I look back at the 35 years of touring:
The schools, the clubs, the pubs, the parks, the prisons, the streets, the hospitals, the leisure centres, the school halls, the village theatres, the disused cinemas, the car parks, the old roman ruins, the roof tops, the corridors, the alleys, the roundabouts, the fields, the big theatres, the small arts centres, the epic stages, the postage stamps, the scrubbed clean dance floors, the pock marked concrete, the splinter ridden wood block, the over polished flag stones, the sheeny dance matts, the raddled tarpaulins, the corrugated iron roofs, the rainy tents, the muddy marquees, the rivers, the streets, the ponds, the old abattoirs, the reconstructed churches, the airport hangars, the cellars, the clammy rooms, the air-conned vacuums, the smelly sweat lodges, the 4 star fame academies, the no star back rooms, the old peoples homes, the odd fellows clubs, scout halls, masonic lodges, ballrooms, dance halls…… the sports clubs, the gyms, the boxing clubs, the rooms above a pub, the rooms beside the bowling alley, the puppet theatres, the operating theatres, the conference centres, the union clubs, the trade halls, the hall way- and yes- the old fascist theatres, the old deco theatres, the odd music hall theatre, the old cinema with flaps that open, the little theatre that Shakespears’ play went on in, the theatre that was used for the lion king, the theatre where Eddie Izzard just played, the theatre next to where Bonnie Langford just strutted, the theatre under where Patti Smith was singing, the theatre next to where Philip Glass was playing, the theatre behind the famous theatre, the theatre on the outskirts of town, the theatre in the middle of nowhere, the theatre with no roof, the amphitheatre, the theatre with lifts, the theatre with no wings, the theatre with no entrance, the theatre with a bouncy lighting grid, the theatre with no lighting grid, the theatre where you could see everyone’s ‘ faces, the theatre where no-one came, the theatre where we imagined everyone was Nazis, the theatre where we imagined everyone was doctors, the theatre where everyone booed, the theatre where everyone heckled, the theatre where everyone stood up at the end, the theatre where it was total silence but it meant good, the theatre with the dressing rooms that hadn’t changed in 35 years despite the front being done up, the theatre where you couldn’t flush the chain during a performance, the theatre with dressing rooms where you had to run down flights of stairs, the theatre with the green room which smelled of Chinese food, the theatre where the doorman didn’t like you ‘cos he thought you were a bit below what he was used to, the theatre where the doorman was great to you even though he was used to really famous people, the stage where you always tripped up the step no matter how many times you went on , the stage which had a really steep rake, the stage that had a brick wall instead of wings, the stage with fireman sitting at the side, the stage which went on for ever – even beside the wings, the stage which made you feel you should be better than you were, the stage which made you feel you were better than you were, the stage which made you feel scared to even go on it……….
And you were-
And all the places too…the small places – the big places- Wigan, Oswladtwistle, Burnley, Bacup, Belfast, Berlin, Crewe, Derby, Lincoln, Swansea, Cardiff, oxford, Cambridge, Ipswich, Colchester, Bognor, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield,
Dartington, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Exeter, Aberystwyth, Lancaster, Leicester, Paris, Barcelona, Lisbon, Kortrijk, Rotterdam, Amsterdam,
Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, New York, Anchorage, Portland, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, sous, Tunis, Brussels, Burlington, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Bassano del Grappa, Florence, Castiglioncella, Girona, Gerona, Seville, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague, Seoul, London, Tarrega, Dublin, Rouen, Toulouse, Aberdeen, Leeds, Ghent, Leuven and most of them all over again…
And the courting of promoters, the signing of contracts, the gaining of funds, and the waiting for payments, and the working out of tax laws, and the getting of E101s, or P 125s, and the tour schedules, and the visas, and the train bookings and the plane bookings, and the per diems, and the misunderstandings, and the complicated drinking law thing, and the prs thing, and the insurance thing, and the freight thing, and the trying to find time to rehearse things, and the doing the show and realising the promoter doesn’t really like you that much thing, and the promotion thing, and the marketing thing, and the review thing, and the quoting the review thing, and the seeing a nasty review in bad translation thing, and the being reviewed by young people who think you are tougher than you actually are thing, and the never quite knowing if its really ok sort of thing,
Then the – as time goes by- doing less in the studio and more on admin kind of thing, and the feeling the quality of the work is going down while being pushed more kind of thing, and the confusion of the original aims kind of thing, and one minute being kind of zeitgeist and the next moment being kind of “ has been” kind of thing,
And then, again, as time goes by- the outgoings being way more than the incomings, and the fatigue building up-
After 10 years- ok- after 20 years- hmmm- after 30 years- bloody hell- and now after 35 years- this is not going to work anymore
And the wheel having gone full tilt so I am back where I was with 35 years of wandering here and there, going here and there, and all that energy, and all those lights, and all those people, and all those times in the bar after, and all those years travelling, and all those hours waiting, and all those minutes behind the curtains as the lights go down, and all those seconds as the lights come up again, and all those weird moments with a fag out in the car park, or the back yard, or near the bins, or with the drunks, or out with the crack addicts down some alley, or up near the bus station, or down behind the fire door, or just out the front brazenly waiting to eavesdrop on your own performance – hiding in front of things ken Campbell would have said-
And I don’t really know how to justify myself anymore-
Sometimes I think- thank- god – at least I am getting old-
That is one thing going in my favour- one star to put on the
Things not going well – chart-
But then getting older these days is starting to smell of belonging to the club “what made this mess”- as if we didn’t all always make this mess- including those what went before we was any of us all living now-
And then I look at my dad-92-raf pilot- who did daily risk his life for what we might think of as- doing the right thing- though I don’t think he ever thought of it as that- less choice then- less self-publicity - I guess if there was Facebook during the second world war- he might have been putting up daily posts about his near death experiences- but I doubt it-
So yeah- being put off the current politics because of the self-righteousness that’s going on- the do the right thing Police- not that I don’t want to do the right thing but I don’t’ want to do the right thing in order to be in the do the right thing gang- which is what it feels like-
Something yechy going on in the state of pen mark-
Daily vigils- lighting candles-developing missionary zeal are all things I definitely gave up when I slipped quietly away from Catholicism- though I have always appreciated a bit of incense and I recently only loved churches because they were so unpopular -the only quiet place to go sometimes- that and they have a good collection of art- and I did love the theatre of it- even though it was badly paced and poorly acted-
Which takes me back-
And brings me back to theatre- home- refuge- and all that-
The bickering rows of holistic representation-
Of the desire to speed people along quicker than they can go-
Or the desire to hold some people back slower than they need-
And now I am wandering again-
A thought migrant on the road to nowhere-
And weirdly- I would have thrown all that into question
But a recent trip away found me desperately searching for the theatre so I could feel at home- a port in a storm- a place of refuge- just the hint of a technician to calm me down- just the sight of a parkhand to make me breath again- just the slightest smell of a backcloth- or a bit of rigging-
That or a bookshop would have done it-
And then it made me wonder all over again….
About this early exit I have been planning myself-
A theatrical euthanasia stunt-
A dramatic suicide-
It made me wonder-
When I am on the road- without a place to go- that is the place I go to-
That is the place that has always been my portable home- and like bookshops it seems to promise a gentle welcome- a soft hand – a kind word- a possible place- an empty place that will always be moving and filled for a second- and not closed up but on the shift=
It is a refugee’s kind of home-
Actually – no its not- it’s a moving home for people that don’t want to belong….
Or at least that’s what I have always thought of it as.