21st August, Saint-Arroman, France.
It is now under two weeks until we start rehearsals again for ‘This City’s Centre’. I’m in France, sitting outside, the kitchen window open with the constant sound of insects humming, buzzing and swarming around me.
I’m wondering whether we’ve found a space for the performance while I’ve been away. The map has been launched. The exhibition at RAMM launched. These significant steps have been realized at a distance yet I’m very aware that a major culmination of months of effort is unfolding including our performances approaching in September. The shop space we secretly longed for in July didn’t come off which was disappointing, but it’s exciting to think that each new space; either shop or office space will bring with it a new energy and set of surfaces to begin to shape the experience we eventually hope to invite people into. The start of the bringing together of our ingredients will be focused in one place, and as we build a relationship with it daily, will begin to inform the shaping of our stories, images, dances and thoughts about Exeter. I’m curious to revisit the material we spent several weeks before the end of July exploring and feel reflective about the process of eventually combining the elements together somehow. To say something, to evoke something meaningful, for the people of Exeter about Exeter isn’t a linear process, particularly with the different modes of performance we’ve been looking at and this interests me.
Working on a project about Exeter has helped me realize I’ve never spent so much time considering my relationship to the place I’ve grown up in before. Even now, while I’m preoccupied with how life is here, in this small rural village in the South of France, I’m thinking about how it’s possibly natural to adapt and focus our attention to the place we find ourselves in; perhaps the process of adaptation is actually necessary, fundamental to our survival somehow. Yet it’s been very interesting to delve into, ask questions and take the time to imagine how life might have been in Exeter years before, is now and possibly might be in the future, during this process with Blind Ditch. If we were to put up a statue to someone important who might that be? We asked people in the city centre during our interviews ‘who has the power in Exeter?’ most people didn’t know or were even
surprised by the question. This place I have memories of as a child,
going swimming on Saturdays at the old Pyramids Swimming Pool, the old mangle you could squeeze your swimming costume in and the old man Mr Lee who taught me to swim because I saw him teaching other children to swim and asked if he could teach me holds much that has shaped me.
I have lived in the same house I was born into and this is rare I know. With this process there has definitely been a sense of the present being important. This is not a staging of memories. At the same time looking back I cannot help but remember my relationship to Exeter as a child, how I left as a student and then never really rekindled my relationship with Exeter again, even though my home has long since been back in Topsham. Somehow I have been disenchanted with her. Not even really knowing why. Through this process this has changed. During the many conversations around windows, it has been the thoughts around ‘home’ that have intrigued and stirred me the most. How do we say something about home, about the absence of home, about connection and belonging and community and history and place and the specificity of memory in buildings, in people and in the streets of our imagination?
I was encouraged before we all parted for the summer to:
‘Just write about one thing’.
With the distance and the influence of my non-city environment, where the street I’m living on has only four houses on it, I’m thinking about community. What makes a sense of community? Through this work we are making, I’m thoughtful about the challenges and process of ‘theatre making’. How might the poetics of the abstract offer meaning for others and how might multiple voices and the single voice be combined to provoke us to look differently as we walk about the city centre, somehow bringing about a fresh perspective. Exeter had become for me, a kind of familiar stranger, one I didn’t choose to get to know, now it feels important to get to know her. I hope this process might help unlock Exeter in the minds of other people who come to the performance too, helping turn it into a place of renewed curiosity and affection.
A city of possibilities.