I arrived for my residency at Theatre Absolute excited but without any real agenda as to how I’d go about it or what I hoped to get out of it. I had only recently returned from a trip to Cork where I visited for Coventry/ Cork Poetry exchange. As a result, I felt very much in a creative head space and was looking forward to having some dedicated writing time.
The beauty about this residency was that there were no set expectations. When they welcomed me into the space that Monday morning, Julia and Chris (Co-Artistic Directors at Theatre Absolute) were eager to reiterate this. The three of us had a good chat about whether or not we’d met before (we had!) and more importantly about the imminent closure of the Shop Front Theatre, and what that meant – both in terms of supporting local artists and writers, and also for their respective practices. I was to be among the last few resident artists there, and it felt both poignant and apt that in my writing I would be exploring themes of loss, grief and looking ahead.
In our previous conversations regarding the residency, and now too, Chris was careful to remind me to slow down, let my mind wander and to simply do what I needed – write as much or as little as I wanted. The art of slowing down is something I am learning to embed more into my life, so it was something I appreciated.
The way Shop Front Theatre is set up, with its massive windows and empty walls, it was next to impossible not to gaze out and indulge in a bit of people watching. One of the windows faced Argos, and there was something theatrical about watching people (of all ages and backgrounds) walk into Argos empty handed but walking out with various sized boxes. More than once I found myself wondering what an ‘Argos of emotions’ would look like. There was also a sense of power in the realisation that I could see the people outside, but they weren’t always able to tell I was there, watching them!
I got to work quite quickly the first day, and for the most part, was able to keep the momentum going the rest of the week. Grief is something I’ve been thinking about a lot the past few years. The pandemic led to a lot of conversations about our sense of collective grief, the vacuum left behind by all the possibilities and should-have-beens that have been lost. I strongly believe that we are yet to realise the full emotional impact of what we have gone through.
More recently, my family has been through a few major losses that have and will continue to change the landscape of our lives. However, we have been so busy dealing with the practicalities arising from the losses, that more often than not we behave as if everything is just the same. I am always amazed by just how much of life only comes into focus/ makes sense after we’ve had a chance to reflect on past events – like a tree, whose reflection on a still lake is clearer than the actual tree itself (if that makes sense!). Some of our minds and lives, unlike the lake, are yet to find its stillness.
All these big and complex things I wanted to explore through my piece. But as is often the case, I wasn’t sure how things would translate on paper. The only thing I knew for sure was it was to be a piece that allowed for stillness and room to pause. I wasn’t interested in telling a personal story. Before I started the residency, I had a vague feeling that the things I was trying to communicate might be best shared through a one person show. But once I started mapping out ideas and storyline, as well as the questions that’d drive the play, it became quickly obvious that the story belonged to more than one character.
Once I got stuck in, things moved pretty quickly. The characters were raring to go, and I was very glad I spent the first day mapping out a kind of framework (structure, backstory, key questions etc) within which to develop this piece. The first day itself I went home with a sense of having achieved something. By the end of the second day, I had written a handful of scenes that I shared with Chris. When we met on Wednesday, Chris had very kindly already read what I had sent him. This meant we could go straight to the heart of the matter and flesh things out further. Chris asked me some probing questions which really helped develop my ideas further. I started on the second draft the same afternoon and by Thursday had about twenty pages that I felt a lot more confident about. My second meeting with Chris on Friday was, again, very constructive, and egged me on to finish the first draft.
My week was a good balance of staring out the window, walking around Coventry and spending some time in reflection at the Cathedral ruins. And most importantly, trusting myself, trusting the process and getting down to work. I feel this residency – the trust Chris and Julia placed in my idea and the time and space that allowed me to experiment and develop my work – has strengthened my writing practice and also built my confidence as a writer.
I am at a point in life where it’s rare to even have a whole day where I am not constantly interrupted or asked where the socks/ shoes/ pen/ books etc are (I have two chatty and energetic kids. In the hour or so I’ve been writing this, I have had five interruptions even though I got up earlier than usual aiming to get this piece written). This is why having a decent chunk of time and space to simply be with my ideas and imagination was so precious. I am really proud and excited about what I managed to create during the residency, and am looking forward to seeing what journey it takes.
All images by Sujana Crawford.