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Posts from the ‘motivation’ Category

Remembering Raphael Jago: Giving up on giving up

Whenever I dream of Raphael Jago, I know it’s about not giving up. In the sense of not giving up on myself. Mr Jago was one of those people that cut through my bullshit in a really healthy and jovial way. The first time I met him was my first audition at Webber Douglas. All the other auditions I had were pretty standard but this one stood out. It was about waking me up. He re-directed my piece right there in the audition. He called me out on a couple of my tricks. He got me to address the panel directly, as if it was actually happening now. Which it turned out, it was. I left that church feeling exhilarated, like I’d just been run over by a truck, creatively speaking. I loved it.

I was put on the waiting list for a place at the school. Group sizes were small, competition was fierce. I decided to pay him a visit to try and convince him so I took a train to London from Leeds where I was living at the time, and I went to the school unannounced and met him on the stairs. It was a true meeting. He seemed amused and impressed by my nerve. He gave an enigmatic answer with that mischievous smile of his. I knew we had connected.

During my time at Webber Douglas my relationship with authority was, as it very often is, somewhat rocky. Whevever I go, I seem to feel the need to shake things up, to question the way things are run, to point out injustice, to campaign against complacency. It’s not an easy path in life. There were times when we disagreed. But Mr Jago was someone in a position of authority who seemed to admire this spirit in me and in others. I felt he had a talent of really seeing the essence of each person and their potential.

I felt he saw my potential, in a way that I could not at the time. He saw what was unique about me, and he saw the challenges it presented in terms of the industry. He gave me an opportunity to try out for a big scholarship, massive panel audition, terrifying ordeal. We had extra classes together, he reflected on the unique set of qualities I had, that was nevertheless difficult to pin down in terms of casting. When it came to the crunch I crumbled under the pressure. Nerves, clinging, hope and fear – I am frequently crippled by nerves as it turns out. Perhaps this is exactly why I have chosen – or been drawn into – a life of performance. It is where I learn. It is where I burn up ego like a moth in a candle. It is where I die and am reborn in every adrenalin-fuelled moment.

Two days ago I attended a memorial service for Raphael Jago at the Actors Church in Covent Garden. A church full of former students, all with their own story to tell about this legendary man and what he had meant to their career. Music, words, contemplation and much Anthony Sher, Samantha Spiro, Julian Fellowes, Terence Stamp, Steven Berkoff, Hilary Wood, Alexa Jago and more wonderful people paid touching tribute, through performance or personal recollection. I had not up to this point known that Arthur Miller had been Mr Jago’s favourite playwright. I had always been obsessed with Miller and had written my university dissertation on his plays, which I knew backwards. Death of a Salesman, quoted so movingly by Alexa Jago, was a particular favourite. I often think of Willy Loman’s line, ‘I still feel – kind of temporary about myself’ as a heart-breakingly poetic expression of the experience of living.

What thrilled me most was realising that my experience of Mr Jago had been so similar to that of many others just like me. I felt joyful to reminisce over my time at Webber Douglas, to hear the stories of others, to be part of that blessed tribe. I saw my teachers again with renewed gratitude and love. It wasn’t always easy of course. Nothing in this profession, or indeed in this life, is without challenges. But to know that I belonged to an institution, or rather a community that fostered such a creative and anarchic spirit fills me with inspiration to go on, and never to give up on myself.

Huge mistakes, mistakes that were huge…

“Huge mistakes, mistakes that were huge…”
(Sean Penn as Sam in I Am Sam)

I’ve made some pretty big mistakes lately. (huge mistakes, mistakes that were huge.) Or maybe they weren’t mistakes. Or maybe they were. But that’s not really the point. The point is I made them. In good faith! Motivated, as always, by a desire to further develop the intimate connection with myself that this life offers, and of course, perhaps more dangerously, with others. Everything I do comes from here, from the desire to give and receive love fully, with abandon. Well, so sometimes it goes horribly bastard wrong. I walk into the fire and I get absolutely fucking scorched. But tonight as I arrived home to a freshly empty house and faced what may or may not be the truth of my situation, I had a new thought: what if it’s ok to make mistakes? And not just ok…What if they are even great, my mistakes? And the seemingly inconsequential small ones that slip drearily through the net…what if they’re ok too? What if instead of sitting at home beating myself to a pulp with a horsehair whip (I’m not actually doing that, if it were even possible) I could dance, dance naked in my room (or maybe with just a sports bra and appallingly tight lycra shorts on) like a madwoman (whatever that is) and celebrate my huge fucking mistakes, safe in the (lack of) knowledge that I will never actually know whether they were mistakes or not, because who I am now is partly because of them. And who I am now is definitely wiser as a result. Who I am now is learning to be itself the hard nasty brutal boring way with lots of potholes and although it is painful and infuriating to keep on falling in, surely that doesn’t preclude having a little jig at the bottom and a grand knees up when one finally climbs out?

“In the name of heaven and earth, you can afford to make love to yourself”
(Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)

Amen to that.


Istanbul to Kiev and beyond

Every time I go on retreat things fall apart a bit more. This is said to be a good thing, although at the time it feels excruciating. The layers continue to peel off and the same questions percolate: what am I doing? where am I heading? what’s behind everything I do? My latest realisation is that what is behind everything I do is love. And what confuses this is fear. When I am connected to myself, my work and my life and the way I manifest in the world become an expression of love.

That’s a good start but it’s hard to pin down what it means exactly. It’s even harder to marry it up with the often painful, frustrating and lonely path of an artist. I have been thinking more and more about the value of what I create and where it fits into this impossibly diverse and hectic kaleidoscope of a planet we share. One piece of work I am really proud of is a song that I wrote last year for the Wilding Festival, called ‘We Will Be Heard.’ I really struggled with this song. I wrote at least seven versions before I came up with this one.

The inspiration that was guiding me at the time was the protests that were going on in Turkey surrounding the prospective demolition of Gezi Park. I was moved and impressed by the way people came together to stand up for themselves and their community. I felt that there was clear evidence of a common human spirit that when ignited will stand against corruptive forces.

There are many other examples of this, before and since. The crisis in Ukraine is now in its third month, and since November has involved many instances of violence by police against peaceful protesters. It’s a complex situation and not one that I intend to attempt to elucidate here, although I have found this article particularly helpful in understanding its genesis. Most recently people kicked back against an anti-protest law which was set to restrict freedom of speech and action against the government.

I am certainly no expert on politics and do not consider myself a political songwriter. If I could offer anything at all to people in times of struggle I would want it to be hope, strength and inspiration to continue manifesting with dignity the basic goodness of humanity. If Nelson Mandela taught us anything then surely it is that.

The song I wrote inspired a close friend of mine to create a video out of a wide range of footage documenting similar protests in Brazil, Turkey, USA and beyond. I was touched to receive messages of thanks and solidarity from people all over the world who had been inspired by this. At the time of producing the song I was entering a period of extreme chaos in my own personal life, which made it difficult for me to do much more than upload it to youtube and watch the view count. My intention for this year however is to give the song a further life and I am now looking for a charity with whom to collaborate on its release.


I think I’m ready to talk about the traumatic dog-woman experience.

Firstly, a word about dogs. I don’t hate dogs. I don’t hate them, to the extent that I wrote a song entitled “I Don’t Hate Dogs.”

I didn’t think it could get much clearer than that, although it seems some people remained suspicious, possibly owing to the double negative. Whilst it’s true that I have some personal issues with canine intimacy – namely an intolerance of slobber on the face, certain timbres of bark and the smell of wet fur reminiscent of mouldy washing – I love animals. Dogs included.

However. Dog-owners are another matter. Owning a dog is a responsibility. It is not kind to let your dog run riot and maul people’s picnics, just like it’s not kind to let your toddler masturbate in public – they don’t know any better.

On a nice hot afternoon, I was sun-bathing on the common, obsessively photographing trees (see below) when my tranquility was interrupted by a mad dog chase which seemed to centre around my blanket.

A lady nearby with a pushchair was strolling alongside, proudly absorbed in telling her dog what a good girl it was as it chased and fought another dog leaving me caught in the crossfire. As I sat up, slightly bewildered at the prospect of being thunked by colliding dogs, she looked at me accusingly and asked “is that your dog?”

I responded that it was not my dog, but that if I were to have a dog I would learn how to control it. This did not go down well. And I admit I did sound rather pompous at this point. What I probably meant was “the reason I don’t have a dog is precisely because, like you, I probably wouldn’t be able to control it.”

“How rude!” squawked the lady, “This is a dog-walking area! If you don’t like it go to the dog-free zone!”

I remained polite but firm. This was a public park, and those with dogs have a responsibility to keep control of them or to have them on a lead. I believe this is actually the law, although I didn’t bring that up, for fear she might hyper-ventilate.

“Besides, it’s dog-walking time!!!”

I am sensitive to the need for dogs to be exercised, but must it be at the expense of other park users?

She appealed to my sympahetic side: “He’s only a puppy, give him a chance!” I relented somewhat. I was being a tad harsh perhaps. But will she still think it’s cute when the dog is ripping a child’s face off?

“You need to learn some manners!” she spat, incredulously, appalled at my audacity in telling the truth.

As she huffed off, I considered my response. I was shaken and felt concerned – had I been aggressive? No, self-righteous maybe. But when there is an important point to be made I always feel a responsibility to make it.

Besides there was something alarming in her outlook on the situation. The attitude that I’ll do what I like, and if other people have a problem they can fuck off. I am afraid that I do relate to this – it’s something I felt a lot as a teenager, and even now on my grumpiest days – but I try and keep myself separate from members of the public at these moments.

I’m not averse to a bit of a provocative behaviour. But the motivation is important. The motivation in fact is usually quite blatantly evident. If it’s about me and preserving my little kingdom, it tends to look ridiculous. I cringe inwardly when recollecting moments in which I have acted upon this very impulse. If, on the other hand, it’s about shaking people out of their comfort zones and making them think, it can be exhilarating, sometimes terrifying – possibly even helpful.

The Way The World Works

As I appear to be approaching adulthood I have been turning my attention to the way the world works. It seems to me there are certain patterns at play which it would be in my best interests to stop ignoring.

This afternoon I was chatting with a German friend of mine on Facebook – let’s call him Rutger – although his real name is in fact “Mr Beautiful.” Can you imagine. With a name like that, would it be possible ever to experience self-loathing? Even the slightest tinge of insecurity would see me standing at the mirror smacking my lips saying “Come on Mr Beautiful, who’s the daddy?” And it would be me, every time. But I digress.

So Rutger tells me that he is becoming a musician. He helped out a friend of his on a song which went to number 1 and now he’s a household name. He was very excited. “It’s a lot of fun.” he said. He was however sensitive to the fact that this instant success might be somewhat galling to someone who has devoted their life to a career in music, but I was curious.

We are taught that you put effort in and you get a result. In many cases this is true. Such as tree-planting. Or cake-baking. If you sit with eggs and flour and sugar on the table and get on with something else, nothing happens. If, on the other hand, you whisk them up and put the mixture in the oven, cake necessarily ensues. So the consequences are quite direct in this case.

What gets tricky is where other people are involved. Other people cannot be predicted or indeed imposed upon to act in a certain way. Nevertheless there are certain things that other people tend to respond to, and certain things they don’t. Desperation is repellent. In any field. But so is complete disengagement. Like a tree with no roots, the appeal of vacuousness cannot last.

What truly fascinates is art of the self-sustaining variety. It seems that you must turn up on the spot with every pore of your being and manifest wholeheartedly, without a shred of attachment to the outcome. The moment of creation itself is like this. Whether it’s a song, a sculpture or a baby you’re making – when the inspiration strikes you are not thinking of the consequences.