Artist’s blog: Rachel Blackman, theatre artist, performer and somatic educator on Collidescope

Take Part, Collidescope

As applications are open for Collidescope 2018, we asked a former participant to reflect on her experiences of Brighton Festival’s Artist development programme

Collidescope offers a chance for a group of mid-career artists from various disciplines, to experience a large chunk of the Festival program, it is also a chance to rub shoulders with like minds, engage in a series of facilitated workshops exploring the work we’ve seen, sharing some of the work we make as well as meeting some of the Festival’s visiting artists. It is a brilliant opportunity and I’m still unpacking the myriad ways in which it has impacted my practice. More on that later.

That year, 2016, my year, we were blessed on several counts. We were ‘shepherded’ through our experience by Dramaturge Lou Cope and Arts Producer Richard Kingdom. Their presence and vast expertise offered the experience coherence, opened pathways of enquiry, brought inspiration and generally encouraged a great vibe. I think my year was fortunate also, because there was rich diversity: of age, disciplines, cultural backgrounds and themes in the room, which made for juicy engagement and feisty conversations.

I also felt fortunate because the guest director was Laurie Anderson who I much admire. I hoped I’d get a chance to meet her as I was looking forward to normalising an experience I’d had a few years before that I felt vaguely embarrassed about.

Anderson was an important early influence for me. I first came across her at 15 and was struck by her ele-gant originality. Self-directed and self-resourced. Eloquent. Ungendered. Anti-establishment. Prolific. Per-formative. She was beautiful too, but people loved her not for her beauty but her intelligence and her origi-nality. I may have been a bit in love with her…

Skip to 2012 and I have a piece of my work in the Brighton Festival that year, so they invite me in for an interview with Brighton Festival Radio. I get into the lift and who is standing beside me, but Laurie Anderson.

I don’t get star struck very often. I’ve grown up around famous people most of my life and fame isn’t, in itself, impressive to me. But every now and again, I get a massive body of work / art crush on someone and I can’t remember what ‘normal’ behaviour looks like. Arthur Miller would have been on that list, Pina Bausch, Joseph Cambell, Meryl Streep and perhaps incongruously, Vaclav Havel. I think I’d be OK with the Dalai Lama. I was fine with Keanu.

Aaaanyway, so here I am in a lift with Laurie Anderson. Just me and Laurie and I’m thinking, you know I’m sure I could just say, Hey Laurie, thanks for your work, it has been a powerful influence on me.
Or, hey Laurie, I’m a fan. I hear you build your own kit? … AWESOME . Tell me about New York in the 80’s. And you were the first woman I ever heard who used male voice filters in performance and you were still, just, you, somehow - you know?

Or even,

Hey, know what? i know all of the words to ‘Let x = x’ and I - I feel - feel like - I am - In a burning building. And … and… I love the way you use language so sparely and what you leave out and how you leave enough space for us to fill in an idea of a persona. I love its theatricality. Do you see it as theatrical?’ and and anyway… Tai Chi hey? *sigh*

That kind of thing.

Instead I stare at my shoes and fall profoundly silent. I can’t seem to lift my gaze from the floor and the awkwardness of the moment pans eons.

Then the lift doors open, and we exit together. It turns out we are both going to be interviewed by Brighton Festival Radio at the same time. How unbearably awkward and I avoid her eye contact, but in my peripheral vision I notice that she acknowledges me briefly and I realise it would have been fine to say hi after all - what an idiot - and the whole bottom falls out of the floor. And I manage to keep walking. And I try to do it in a way that I’m hoping is reminiscent of how I might normally do it. But I am malfunctioning robot doll thing.

I get through it.

Then I’m doing Collidescope in 2016 and Anderson is the guest director.

I enter in to it in between things in my life. I haven’t made a full-length piece of work for two years and it is bugging me. I have experienced some big changes in my personal life and I’m not sure what I am at the moment, so I turn up with imposter syndrome. I have this feeling that when I begin making again, I want it to be different - but I don’t really know what that means yet. I have an idea pressing against me - it is about a white Australian family crossing a desert in a little car and the spirits of the land leaking in and tearing the family apart (but in a good way) and it being a metaphor for the un-sustainability and precariousness of the way we are living in relation to the planet… but I don’t know where to start.

All well and good.

I think the problem is that the piece needs to be a film and I’m not a film maker. But then I see Lola Aria’s Minefield, and Yuval Avital’s Fuga Perpetua, both of which blow me away in unexpected ways. Both working with non-actors. Both dealing with real world subject matter. Not my usual fare. Not the kinds of things i would have instinctively chosen from the program to watch. in fact, things I saw in the program and thought, well I’m not going to enjoy those.

So, I am smacked in the face by my preconceptions.

And slowly, slowly over months and months, I realise the problems I am facing are more meta and way more personal. They are to do with acknowledging that my themes are changing on some deep, level and that I can no longer continue as I have been. That what draws me now is real life stories. The dawning reali-sation that it is time to start turning up in my own work - even if only as a voice. (I had only ever played fic-tional characters and happily disappeared behind them - how can I tell a story about Australian whiteness without also acknowledging that i am that? That I am part of that story). And for the first time, I want to en-gage with social realities. This is all NEW.

So now the bigger and thoroughly more exciting question is ‘HOW?’

So, it’s still 2016. And I’m with some of my Collidescope buddies in a gutted church listening to Lou Reed’s pack of guitars and amps feeding back and mutating into the darkness. The Drones. And amongst us, is the quite recently bereaved Laurie Anderson standing just over there and lots of other people standing and sitting everywhere else, scattered through the darkness. And I have this thought that we are all just collective consciousness connected to ears connected to the shared human experience of loss of love, loss of life evoked by this living legacy vibrating through each of us. And I feel the generosity of the act of placing her lover’s life’s work here in a great big pile and in such a way that it can vibrate through all of us and I feel lucky and moved and like i could stay in here forever. That through the intimate we can encounter the uni-versal. And I am aware that good art does this, vibrates through us in a way that plugs us in to some aspect of human experience.

And afterwards, in the lukewarm sunshine, I am chatting to some people and Laurie walks past. There is a moment of shared eye contact and warmth and there is this sense that she’s grateful we’ve come. And we’re grateful we’ve come. And my embarrassment has evaporated. Only gratitude for shared human experience.

And that is the end of all that.

I don’t tell her she’s changed my life, or that Tony Visconti showed me how to do Tai Chi with swords, but that’s ok. I might write to her one day about that, but in the meantime, I feel relaxed and like I am myself. We are not all separate from each other.

Collidescope helps with that kind of thing. It helps art-makers feel less isolated and more ordinary. And the extraordinary act of great art-making feels more connected to everything else that’s important.

And in response to my earlier question, how has Collidescope influenced my practice? Well what I would say is, its effect isn’t something I could have anticipated and is something I am still investigating and distil-ling. It has been hugely impactful and I am deeply grateful.

Applications are now open.

Rachel Blackman is a theatre artist, performer and somatic educator.

You can find out more about her work here:

She also co-runs Herd, a true story telling movement