I needed to make a difference

Mahendra Patel reflects on his Nest Residency

Being a musician for many years, I’ve often witnessed Discrimination on many levels, and I thought if I could turn this into a play, theatre piece this could be good.  For me it had to be done very differently to what I had seen on stage in the past, it would need to grab people’s attention, make them sit up, be involved somehow – and then of course go tell their friends, post on social media to get more people to come and see.

So the idea came and a few days later a friend posted online about ‘Talking Birds Nest Residency’ I had an idea that needed exploring, researching, bouncing around, talking through with a few theatre professionals. I grabbed my tablet made a few videos, picked the one I thought described what I wanted to do best and I applied for the scheme.

Tick tock time went by and one day I see a reply from them, my heart starts beating faster, getting anxious, scared of opening the email I put the kettle on and made a coffee.  Grabbed one of my drums to feel calm again and 2 hrs later I slowly took my mouse, clicked on the email . . … Nearly fell out of my chair with the biggest grin, I got it!  No Match Funding needed! I was going to be a Nest Resident, and so it started with a meeting with Janet and Derek.  To be honest I couldn’t believe it, but they believed in me to get this started.  

‘When Instruments come to Jam’ has at its heart the idea of using instruments as a metaphor to show discrimination on many levels.  So I started to focus on the conversations instruments would have if they communicated with each other, (as humans would) the fun, laughter, judgemental, good/bad thoughts, gossiping, sarcasm, joking around and then of course discriminating!

I’ve not written a play before, so Talking Birds they got me a meeting with Ola Animashawun to help me start to sketch out the story I wanted to tell – this was a chance for me to start sounding out my ideas with a theatre professional/dramaturg, and for me this was again all new territory.  Within a short time I’d realised there was a lot of work to be done by myself – he left me with provocations regards my idea which going forward would help me structure my idea/my play. I had conversations about my idea with musicians and animators and they all helped influence the way the idea shaped up.

About a month later my partner and I were off on a short break to Bulgaria (sadly not part of the residency!), the weather was great and I found this wonderful beach bar.  The laptop came out and for the first time I was inspired to start writing the beginnings of ‘When Instruments come to Jam’, for some reason the beach bar provided the perfect conditions, the sea, sand and gentle breeze.  

How do you write about ‘discrimination’?  It’s simple, you draw on your very own experiences from the first day at school to today!  Remarks about colour/size/abilities/being too good/being too bad/ethnic background/standing up for yourself/for your friends/not being white! And to be honest not all was that bad – especially because most remarks/insults around ethnic background were wrong (for some reason very few people could actually truly insult me about this since they never take the time find out what my ethnic background actually is!)

Transferring this to instruments at first was difficult but then surprising enough started to become easier as even instruments have a make-up.  Colour/size/background/abilities/the sound they produce/presence and they too have feelings.  It’s hard to explain that although music has no barriers, the musicians choose to put up barriers.  

As the title says, the story starts ‘When instruments come to Jam’ – although I have an idea of how the story plays out, I want to develop it collaboratively over time, maybe once a week with an open call to musicians to attend; building up a group producing great music regardless of knowing or ever having played alongside each other…. that’s where the trouble starts!

Without this Nest Residency, I would not have been able to get started  on this project – the funds and support allowed me to schedule time in to my work specifically for this project/idea, think about why I wanted to tell this story, and who it was for.  Being a full time musician means I have to generate my own income and anytime spent on ideas, looking at new projects in my own time would mean I’m not earning.  The Nest Residency meant I could afford to spend time on this and explore this idea of mine: contacting artists, writers, audience development specialists. I wanted to see if, firstly, this kind of delivery has been done in theatre, have instruments been used as a metaphor and the main point was would audiences be open to a play without spoken words and just music? I’ve spent a lot of time wondering, experimenting, and being ‘brave’ in order to develop the idea further.

The next step for this project has been to apply to (and be shortlisted for) the We are Unlimited/City of Culture Trust commissions, taking this to the next level of applying for an Emerging Artist Award in theatre. My time as a Nest Resident exploring this idea needs to end to move forward.  I’d like to thank Talking Birds for their time, guidance so far and hope that we’ll continue this on the next step as it starts to take flight . . .

GUEST BLOG: Contemporary visual artist Andy Sargent reflects on his month-long Nest Residency with Talking Birds.

Nest Residency No 1 by Andy Sargent – Contemporary visual artist.

As I write this, I am looking back on four weeks of a residency organised by the wonderful Talking Birds which ended on the 22nd March 2019, that took place at Eaton House in Coventry. The studio space was provided by Coventry Artspace, up on floor 11, which is I think, the highest place I have ever created work!

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I wanted to use this opportunity to further my ideas on a series of works called “Hidden monster”, which deals with the subject of sudden (and permanent) injury, the impact it has on one’s life, how one deals with having to adjust to it, other peoples perceptions of it, and so on. It deals with the isolation, pain, depression, vulnerability, and struggle that comes with disability. I use the motif of the “Hidden monster”, and through this character I can describe the issues I have faced, and still do, as I have first hand personal experience.

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This residency allowed me to expand my ideas, and as I don’t have a personal purpose built studio space, I jumped at the chance to take up this opportunity. Even though I struggle daily with mobility issues, I made sure that I could get into the residency as much as possible, to get full use of the studio space provided. From day one, I started creating lots of charcoal drawings, mapping out and moulding images that could be used for three dimensional and two dimensional works. These ideas then filtered into paintings on either board or canvas, small sculptures, and also two large banners or wall hangings. All these works dealt with a multitude of subjects to do with this over-arching subject of being “the monster”. Some of the work dealt with “who is the monster?”. I had been called a monster after my injury, however I see ignorance and hatred towards the disabled as far more monstrous, than someone who has found him/herself on what has been described to me in the past as “the scrapheap of society”. I cannot, nor could I, speak for all disabled people, however these works represent a collection of outpourings on a subject often swept under the proverbial carpet!

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During this residency, Talking Birds were busy contacting various people and organisations they saw as being interested in seeing this work and meeting me. I got to discuss the work, the issues depicted in it and life as an artist with physical limitations. Many ideas were discussed, ways and places to show the work, reactions to seeing this work, how the work could be presented in other forms etc. Certainly, from being an artist who lives on the outskirts of Nuneaton, away from the cultural centres in this country, the residency with Talking Birds provided me with a way to raise my profile, and be noticed by more people, getting the message out that my work exists. One aspect of becoming permanently injured in my case, is that you lose your career/job, and earning money becomes a major issue. So not only does physically getting out to meet people pose a huge problem, but you often can’t afford to go anywhere after you’ve paid your essential bills! So a major part of this residency was meeting other very creative people, and feeling, albeit temporarily, part of an artistic community.

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So, on reflection, this Nest Residency has been a fabulous four weeks in which to get work created, meet great folks, plan further ideas and opportunities. I would certainly recommend to any other artists who consider themselves disabled to apply for a Nest Residency. You never know what it may lead to!

(A huge thank you to Phillipa Cross, Janet Vaughan and Derek Nisbet from Taking Birds, and Mindy Chillery at Coventry Artspace for making this residency happen. Also many thanks to all the artists, arts organisations, and arts professionals who came to see my work during my residency)

Andy Sargent.

[Photo gallery pics by Talking Birds, Photos in the text by Andy Sargent]

 

The Nest Residencies are a key part of Talking Birds‘ Artistic Programme for 2018-22, funded as part of the company’s membership of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, and aimed at D/deaf or disabled and/or Midlands-based artists. For information on how to apply for a Nest Residency, visit Talking Birds’ website.