Today marks 2 years since the death of George Floyd. And today the More Than A Moment working group has put out this statement asking organisations that have signed up to the Pledge to publish our action plans so that we can (rightly) be held accountable.Continue reading
Month: May 2022
Creating ‘Car Wash’
Kate Webster reflects on her Difference Engine Stories Commission
I saw Talking Birds’ call-out for ‘Difference Engine Stories‘ and was immediately excited – it’s SO rare to see a commission that’s explicitly an invitation to experiment!
As a writer and theatre-maker, I’m passionate about sharing live experiences and bringing theatre to non-theatre spaces, so using the Difference Engine to make a socially-distanced piece seemed like a great fit. It was also a chance to work with an access tool that was new to me, that could not only make the performance accessible for D/deaf audiences, but enable us to play with distance and potentially have audiences watching from inside their homes.
I connected with Coventry performer/director/local legend Paul O’Donnell, whose work aims to expose the ‘ordinary’ in a ‘spectacular’ fashion, which was perfect for this project exploring masculinity. Paul also had previous experience of working with the Difference Engine.
The inspiration for ‘Car Wash’ came from walking round my neighbourhood during lockdown and seeing the weekly ritual of men washing their cars on the street. A car can be much more than four wheels and a chassis, and some get not just a quick slosh with a bucket, but washing, vacuuming, waxing – a lavishing of time and attention that’s an expression of pride, even love.
‘Car Wash’ transforms Dave washing his car on the street into theatre, as the Difference Engine reveals the inner monologue behind his silent action, exploring masculinity and how that’s manifested/performed. As Dave’s confidence and apparent “normality” is undercut by reading his worries and doubts, the audience gets to know someone they might not have looked twice at, experiencing the gap between being seen and understood. At the climax of the piece (car perfectly polished and gleaming), Dave dances his heart out to Rose Royce’s ‘Car Wash’, acknowledging the audience and inviting them to join in: “Come on y’all and sing it with me!”.
The process of making the work was really fun and straightforward, partly because Talking Birds were so willing to let us create it in a very free way, scheduling regular check-ins to see how it was going and what we needed, but without putting any restrictions on how the piece should turn out. Essentially, Paul and I had a chat about how we saw ‘Car Wash’ working and some of the things we wanted to do, then based on that I went away and wrote a first draft. From there, we developed the script further through several more drafts, really focussing on the role of audio – Paul had the idea of using the car stereo not just for music, but as almost another character: ‘Radio Dave’.
The goal was to do several ‘test’ performances in different Coventry locations, trialling the idea and getting feedback from a range of audiences. So we chose a date (a Saturday, to maximise the potential audience) and promoted it through social media to people across Coventry, with a selection of time slots they could book by email. Talking Birds shared our posts and we had really good support from local people and organisations, through using specific hashtags like #LoveCov and the promotional Coventry Hour set up by Cov businesses. We set up a ‘What to expect’ document to send to all bookers, with practical details like letting audience members know they would need a smartphone or tablet to get the full effect of the show and asking them to download the Difference Engine in advance.
With the final version of the script in hand, Paul started rehearsing with our brilliant performer, Dan Walsh, and his car Clint. They worked on co-ordinating movement with the text (Dave’s inner monologue, shown on the Difference Engine, rather than than spoken) and recording the ‘Radio Dave’ audio track, including some pop classics that reflected Dave’s state of mind.
On show day, we had a timetable for each performance and its location, with three different Coventry streets expecting us (and saving us a parking space!). Because we were performing outside and moving around rather than being in a fixed venue, we used the mobile Raspberry Pi version of the Difference Engine, which fits into a rucksack. We’d originally planned to hire a tech operator, but realised that – because it was important to time the cues precisely with the music track and Dan’s moves – it needed someone who knew the piece very well. So with his past experience of the Difference Engine, our director also operated the “desk” for each performance, while I was on hand to liaise with the audience. That included trouble-shooting anyone having difficulty connecting to the app, encouraging people to share a phone or tablet if theirs wasn’t working (or lending them a device) and handing out leaflets explaining the show.
What was brilliant and we hadn’t anticipated was that the households who’d booked the show had then told their neighbours about it/put the details on a street WhatsApp group. So we often ended up with multiple households as an audience, with more neighbours coming out to watch when they saw people gathering. It added another layer that – because the show’s dialogue was almost entirely on the Difference Engine – people walking/biking down the street during the performance could tell something was happening, but weren’t sure what. Some people didn’t have their glasses or found the text moved too fast for them, so decided to watch without using the app. While that meant they weren’t reading Dave’s inner thoughts, they could see the performer and hear the audio track, so still saw the progression from a man straightforwardly washing his car in the street to an impromptu karaoke performance and ultimately, Dave letting his inner sparkle out.
So although some elements were unexpected, those were all positive developments that added layers to the performance or allowed for people to experience it in different ways. From what audience members told us on the day and from feedback through our survey, people who came out to watch then stayed to talk to each other after the show. On one street, the household who’d booked us had recently moved in and the performance introduced them to their neighbours. That’s exactly what we’d hoped for, that ‘Car Wash’ could bring theatre to communities and maybe start a conversation.
This commission was a great experience and I’ve become quite evangelical about the Difference Engine and sharing that with other theatre-makers. It’s an incredibly useful access tool, but can also be much more than that; I’d also really encourage makers to think about how they might integrate the Difference Engine into their work, not only use it to provide captions. I’m hopeful that ‘Car Wash’ has a future life with other communities and have had some really positive conversations about this model of theatre outside a theatre building.
These photographs were taken by much-missed local photographer John Whitmore.
Vimal reflects on his recent Remote Nest Residency, creating a walking tour documented via a diary.
This is my remit
Highlighting the culture and diversity of Coventry enabling people to see, taste, smell and hear stories of the people in the area via a walking tour.
To create a walking tour with real stories celebrating the culture and diversity of the area
OMG where do I start what do I need to do???!!!!
Thoughts of places to explore:
- I’ve always liked Fargo village and the diversity around there so maybe a good place to start?
- Hindu Temples, gurdwaras, mosques
- Information on the internet regarding diversity of Coventry
- Yes some historical aspects but if people want to know about buildings, architecture this is not the tour for them!
- Collecting stories from family and friends in the Coventry area
Cinemas Ritz/Palladium – historically Indian cinemas – lots of information on forums.
Lots of history regarding Asian communities buying cinemas via self funding, hindi movies and Sundays became a day out to the cinema for the Asian community. Decades later there were disputes regarding ownership.
Possible to investigate further but currently too far from the Foleshill rd
Temples/gurdwaras near Foleshill Road:
First gurdwara built in Coventry is nearer the town centre – could be too far. Need something closer
Mosque being built on the Foleshill rd, the oldest one is on Eagle street built in 1962 Jaima Mosque
I need to physically explore Foleshill Road and the main road which serves Fargo Village and see which stores could possibly be up for interviews and use their locations to tell the stories
Found a video on the internet about Foleshill which is a good reference point.
Foleshill the people’s hill
what do people want to know about Foleshill road or roads near Fargo village?
what would people like to experience?
visiting several places of worship – could it be boring?
Maybe I should just go into one place of worship and highlight the others?
It’s stories people enjoy
Need to celebrate diversity
It’s raining – cancelled visit to Foleshill Rd
Thought – do I still want to do Foleshill Road or the road near Fargo village?
It’s Foleshill Rd
General Wolfe has played a big role in Foleshill rd, Irish communities, Afro Caribbean
Music – Specials, Selecta
First ‘coloured’ Licencee 1962 Mr Frances – The Wheatsheaf pub. A fact to share and terminology used at that time.
Research internet – Coventry facts – historical forums
Lady Godiva – reenacted down Foleshill rd
Cashs lane – the building and significance – known as Topshops
I don’t want to go into too much historical facts
Went to Foleshill Road to interview a few retailers
Interview with Tahims – Clothing retailor
Interview with Shan Paan – Indian fancy goods
Interview with Standard Indian sweets
Interview with Iranian fish Mongers
Spoke to Mehru Fitter who worked at Coventry library – for some possible leads
Spoke to Anita P whose grandfather arrived from India and settled in Coventry in the 1950s
He was a cotton farmer in India with a thriving business but had to leave everything after the partition – he ended up working in Courtaulds in Coventry. Story collated.
Joshi’s Story needs to be told outside Courtaulds
I do the walk on the Foleshill Road and find
there is a big gap from Courtaulds to Shaan Paan.
Need to find out what most of the businesses were before they became hairdressers
Currently 8 hairdressers all next to one another
Maybe interview a hairdresser?
I listen to the recorded interviews and turn them into script
I Go through the Coventry history archives and find some interesting facts
Prince Charles visited Foleshill Road and also opened the Bangladeshi community centre on George Eliot Rd.
Clint Eastwood had a role in the film Lady Godiva
Phillip Larkin was born in Coventry
Little snippets of info that can be shared during walk without going into too much information
Visit Talking Birds Nest (Phillippa, Dez, Janet) and share ideas/stories about the walk.
They give their views as to what stories they’ve enjoyed
I go onto Foleshill Road and note through chatting with owners of businesses in the hairdressing area that most of the retail stores are operated by Kurds
This is Little Kurdistan
I will refer this area as Little Kurdistan during the walk and talk about how vital the Kurd community has been in the development of this area of the Foleshill Rd
I Interview Lookman who owns a hairdresser – he was sent to Coventry!
I transcribe Lookman’s interview
I do research on temples, some are too far away from Foleshill Road, however I find there is one on George Eliot Road. A Hindu temple that serves mainly the Tamil community, with people originating from South India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. I speak to the president about the idea of a walking tour, and he would be delighted if we brought people from other communities to pay the temple a visit.
President of temple explains any rules that need to be observed. Photography and filming is fine.
The temple has a wow factor
I have knowledge of Hinduism so can share stories about gods and goddesses
Significance of Ganesh
This will be the starting point of the tour
I visit the Gurdwara on Foleshill Road, speak to one of the trustees who gives us permission to bring guests into Gurdwara as long as people respect the rules
No cigarettes, no alcohol at any time. Filming and photography is fine
Share tenets of Sikhism
Speak to Haroon from Active Inclusion regarding floating library on canal
To include walk along canal side and share anecdote of Cash’s weavers
NP Aerospace is also on Foleshill Road
Bespoke bomb disposal suits made – predominately by Asian community
Next to NP is a Gurdwara – different section of Sikh community – previously George Wilson gas meters
4 air raid shelters on the Challenge cycles building on Foleshill Road
I visit Gem jewellers who have a wow factor with the Indian jewellery they sell. I explain walking tour and they will allow a visit.
Stories regarding importance of gold in Asian community – dowry
Mangle sutra – Given to wife by husband and significance of black beads in the gold chain
A short interview with Shanaz who has a material and clothing shop. Selling lengha, Salwar Kameez, dothis etc
The walking tour is taking shape.
I decide on a route
George Eliot rd,
Joshi’s story outside Courthaulds
Walk to Little Kurdistan
Lookmans story hairdressers – settlement
Fishmongers – Aras story – Masgouf cooking
NP Aeronautical – hand made bomb disposal
Shaan Paan – leaving Uganda
Standard sweet centre – food stories with potato chapatti and mango lassi
I take Dez to test walk
Market walk on social media
I write a blurb and decide on a name for the Foleshill walking tour
Vimal’s Walks: Join Vimal for a multi-sensory walk celebrating the diverse and vibrant heritage of the Foleshill Road. Visiting temples and hearing the sacred stories of gods and goddesses, with a stroll along the canal side, a stop at an Indian fabric shop, a Kurdistani hairdresser, an Iraqi Fishmonger, A Ugandan fancy goods shop with anecdotes of settlement, food and success, finishing with a glass of cold mango lassi and a hot aloo porata. All experienced in a fun and relaxed way.
More bookings via Waterways weekend for the walking tour, interest from BBC Sounds
The walking tour over the two days is SOLD OUT!!
Big thanks to Talking Birds, Derek Nisbet, Janet Vaughan, Philippa Cross, Dom Watson, Frances Yeung
Developed during a Nest Residency with Talking Birds. Performances supported by Coventry 2021 Green Futures programme.
Paul Daly and Adele M Reed reflect on their recent Nest Residency.
For me, the sense of liberty that TB’s residency offers is the foundation to why it deserves most of its plaudits. It’s been so refreshing to focus on practice without expectations and time pressure, I gained so much from exploring without any sense of anxiety or stress.
Sharing the space with Adele elevated the experience tenfold, allowing for a constant dialogue and reflection on both our practices. We staggered our days at the space, on reflection this actually benefitted us with further mental prep and insight before fully sharing our thoughts and aspirations to one another. Adele brought a playful impulsive energy to proceedings, something I have lost to a degree with my own work, this is likely one of the main things I wish to reintroduce to my practice in some form. Just revelling in a fully rewarding experience with our Adele, especially considering how each of our compulsions and obsessions are delicately interwoven into our work. So pleased we had this opportunity to dive in together.
Other main takeaways are a refreshed confidence with my main creative focuses, a plan of action following the completion of a 7 year project, more undying love for analogue, and some of that bountiful optimism which is to be cultivated and injected into the next career phase.
To top it all off, we were seen off with an in-kind chippy tea. This should speak volumes of the generosity and earthly nature of the Talking Birds team, a constant calm presence that made the experience that much more enjoyable. This is a golden opportunity for local artists.
By Paul Daly
Dear readers, apply for a Talking Birds residency! Rare is this kind of supported opportunity, a deep level of trust is gifted to you with respect for the artist, at its core. This treasured period of time affirmed many things – the cruciality of open space and time, the importance of dialogue with like minded souls, the joy of art in its myriad forms, the necessity to rest between heartening, powerful moments of revelation.
I went into the residency with Paul with one particular commitment in mind – to chronicle our eclectic shared interests and fast-moving insightful conversations. We play off each other in a very organic, uncontrived and playful way, and therefore decided to name our documentary blog ‘Rapide 40 Slideout’ – the title of a drain we walked over on the way to Daimler Powerhouse on our first day. Rapide 40 Slideout evolved into a collaborative, thriving breathing beast (in other words it became an obsessive tendency for me) of 122 posts in 10 days. Please explore it, if you’d like to delve inside the flying sparks of our minds, via emailing us to request link – email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Polaroid making and manipulating became a notable focus, each day of the residency creating one new image each to either tamper with or keep as is. Audio play featured heavily also and Derek lent us Janet’s father’s condenser pencil microphone which taught me that my cheap cassette player is capable of far more satisfying analogue recording than I knew possible. I read gothic art literature and local historical crime and watched a plethora of international films on Mubi. And we spoke about the key themes within our work. I found these sessions particularly fascinating, unearthing parts of our motives that perhaps go far too often unexplored, unprobed. Many motives lie in politics, religion, upbringing, and so forth. The question was: why do we do this? What are the roots of our respective compulsions?
I was surprised by the residency, for just how much it supported me, and as I first proclaimed: will be shouting about it and Talking Birds ongoing!
By Adele M Reed
Taking our Time
Daz and Martha from calico reflect on their recent Nest Residency.
We recently completed our first ever residency with Talking Birds. On our Hatching Residency, the Talking Birds team granted us time, space, advice and support, to try out a completely new idea. We had a week to play and explore, to create without any time pressure or expectation to produce. It was joyful, transformative, scary, and at times, a complete nightmare.
This was the most time we have had to explore an idea in, well, forever. We are so used to time-sensitive making, to cramming rehearsal time into commission opportunities and giving ourselves impossibly small amounts of time to create entire shows. And we are good at it, we have found a rhythm to working to the tick of the clock, built up stamina for the create-perform-create-perform way of working.
We expected to keep up our pace; that we’d finish our week at the Nest with a whole new show, maybe two, with reams of polished content and new ideas to deep dive into. But, in reality, when Talking Birds told us to take our time, and expected nothing from us, we stopped in our tracks. The clock stopped ticking.
Sometimes, we were our own time-keepers, keeping our pace and continually pushing from idea to idea, medium to medium, trying out as many things as we possibly could in one day. We had this space, these people, this time, and we had to use every second of it creatively. We danced, we jumped, we played with shadows, with clothes, we drew, we wrote, we explored video, improvised, choreographed, imagined. On these days, the possibilities felt endless, that we could generate so much, interrogate our idea so deeply, all in one day.
On other days, we had no idea what to do. There was too much time. We couldn’t keep up the pace. So we slowed down. We took more breaks, and longer breaks, basking in the sun by the canal. We abandoned The Nest and treated ourselves to a long lunch out. At first, we felt guilty for running out of steam, for killing time. But then we had new ideas, we reflected on what we had made and saw our ideas from new perspectives. We also reflect on the way we work, and on the landscape and reality that has made us feel like taking your time is time-wasting. But at the Nest, there is quite literally no waste. Everything is composted, recycled and reused, and this, like any good thing, takes time.
Our Nest residency gave us the time to learn how to slow down. The reality of the fast-paced, product-focussed environment that we are now re-entering means that the clock will, inevitably, start ticking again. But we are so grateful for the Talking Birds, sharing their space, their ways of working, and their time, with us.
Wes Finch reflects on his recent Nest Residency
I am taking two weeks, one either side of chocolate-gorging at Easter, to spend time immersed in fairy stories, folk tales, legends, and fables and work out how I might write something in response, along those lines that reach so far back into our collective past and persists into our messy and fragmented present. Maybe I can even jump into the future and look back at where we are now? Maybe that’s a little ambitious for a two-week period but it’s good to aim high, even if I just read some great stories and get a few ideas.
There are certain characters, ideas, formulas, and progressions of events that repeat themselves, in different contexts and wearing different clothes, in the stories that we share and enjoy that have been present from the beginning of storytelling and are still with us today. There are a whole set of ideas, circumstances and narratives that come to mind when someone says the name ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’ or the phrases Let There Be Light! or The Chosen One. Stories are how we make sense of the world and inform how we navigate and interact with it. I’ve found thinkers and writers like Johnathan Pageua and Jordan Peterson fascinating in their unpacking of biblical stories in that regard – well what portion of it I can keep up with, anyway!
It’s a real privilege to have a room, a quiet space with wi-fi and books, with none of the distractions and obligations that come with trying to do this at home. I love being at home (which is a good thing, considering that last two years) but there are other people and animals that come in and out of rooms, people that knock the front door, guitars to be picked up, paint and pens, records, incomplete DIY jobs, things to tidy, laundry and washing up to distract and interrupt me. Here I have the luxury of time to dedicate thought and energy to something I hope I can form into a bigger project in the future.
At the moment I’m still trying to absorb stories and ideas, but I’ve written a little piece about a dragon that attacks Coventry and something about a metal detectorist finding a Golden Key…
The Nest is a fantastic place to be, amongst other creative people working in all kinds of disciplines. I’ve already bumped into a photographer and a dancer I know, passing between my room and the communal area downstairs. Now, I just need to find someone who might want to do some illustrations….
It’s now the end of the second week in my little office. I’ve met some more interesting folks working here and shared some of my writing with some, and as my time here comes to an end, I know I’m going to miss what such an environment has given me.
I’ve read more but nowhere near everything I’d want to (so many books, so little time!) and I’ve written a few more pieces. I worried I might not be able to get back into the rhythm of it after a break, but ideas have obviously been percolating and then insisting on being put on the page just as I’m trying to read another story.
The stories of Kurt Schwitter are bizarre, funny and brilliant, Katherine M Briggs’ British Folk Tales and Legends – A Sampler has been really useful, as have Lisa Schneidau’s Botanical Folk Tales along with Chainey & Winsham’s Treasury of Folklore.
It doesn’t help that Talking Birds’ small library downstairs is full of incredibly interesting and distracting titles too (I borrowed Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories over Easter and didn’t regret it, although I’m not sure it tied into my practice here other than highlighting some useful stuff about the practice of writing with a short contextual essay after each piece.)
There’s been some positive responses to whatever I’ve shared which has been encouraging. I wrote a retelling of an old French tale where a young lord marries a water sprite and I’ve started a retelling of the early life of Lady Godiva, when she was just called Evie.
I’ve struggled to get a foothold on something truly from the future perspective. After finding a map of the predicted flooding and redrawn coastline of the UK in 100 years’ time I really wanted to respond to that, setting a story on the Isle of Rasen where the market town of Middle Rasen now lies in Lincolnshire but that’ll have to wait to solidify a bit more.
I’ve been drawn to Fairies, or as I now know to call them The Gentry or The Good People and have a couple of pieces concerning encountering them in a more modern context.
As an over-arching theme I’ve been mulling over the idea of the ‘other’ or the ‘magical’ that features in so many stories and drawn to considering it all in a revised way; I think there is a lot to be gained from understanding and appreciating the symbolic reality of things and what they represent and manifest for us in the stories we tell and enjoy. We live in an age so dominated by scientific practice that to even deal with things like spirits and spells is at once dismissed as childish. Fantasy as a genre isn’t considered as worthy or important as say historical fiction because it involves things that have no basis in physical, manifest reality. If something can’t be observed, recorded, and quantified does it even exist?! Well, what does that say about your very own consciousness, eh…?
I think it’s probably important to remember the following, and it’s something that has been known eons before and is being slowly remembered and reconfirmed in physics labs today; what you observe to be real is very dependent on what and who is observing. Therefore, what is true might well depend a lot on you. So, just bear that in mind next time you turn the corner into your street and come face to face with a fox in the moonlight.
Research, Renew, Reflect
Leanne Moden reflects on her recent Nest Residency
At the end of April 2022, I spent a beautiful, sunny week in Coventry with Talking Birds, as part of their Hatching Residency.
I was really excited to work on a completely new idea – a one-person show based on my recent experiences of chronic illness – and the residency gave me the headspace to finally start the process of thinking about the project, rather than just thinking about thinking about it.
In 2021, I had a sudden and frightening period of ill-health, and the experience really showed me how invisible and chronic illnesses are often treated in the UK. I wanted to explore the highs and lows that come from navigating the world with a chronic condition, with a view to turning this into a piece of autobiographical theatre.
One of the things that struck me most about getting sick was how worried I became about ‘not being useful”. When I was incapacitated by my condition, all I thought about was how much time I was taking off work, and how inconvenient I was being to those around me. That made me think about the current societal narratives around productivity, usefulness, and community, in relation to illness and disability.
During my first couple of days on the residency, I did a lot of thinking, note-taking, and reading, and I wrote pages and pages of stream of consciousness narrative. At the end of each day, I worried that I hadn’t written enough, or used my time as wisely as I could. This was pretty ironic, given I was meant to be writing about productivity and rest! So, by Wednesday, I vowed to just go with the flow, and not get too het up about “being productive”.
As a result, I spent the final few days writing around the themes of the show, as well as plotting the story arc, thinking about how “Deal Or No Deal” might be the perfect metaphor for the Just World Hypothesis, and generally getting super excited about what I was writing.
I also found time to write a draft for a commissioned piece for an unrelated project, and I spent a day working through my current archive of poetry – finding stuff that I’d started but failed to finish, and earmarking it for editing in the summer.
It was almost as if the fear of not being productive was causing me not to be productive. It all felt a bit meta, truth be told! But actually, it was all grist for the mill, and I wouldn’t have found time to consider my own relationship with “feeling useful” if I hadn’t had the time/space afforded by the residency.
It was also really lovely to meet and chat with other creative people during the lunches, and these serendipitous conversations were super inspiring too. I’d like to extend a huge thanks to everyone at Talking Birds for such a lovely, welcoming, and creative experience. I hope it won’t be too long until my next residency!