Monday, 9 November 2015

28 years young

In just over 2 hours I will turn 28. I like to mark these dates by writing, I used to do it in paper journals, counting down the minutes until quarter past midnight, filling the pages with a stream of consciousness. This time I want to mark the changes that have happened since this time last year, the differences that have made the year what it is.

I was in Italy a year ago, working on a ballet show in a beautiful theatre with a star-scattered sky painted on its auditorium room. I ate ice cream in a warm seaside square and drank too much coffee waiting for italian theatre technicians to return from their lunch break. I searched for parmesan cheese in the rain and bought a copy of 'Northern Lights' in Italian with the intention of reading it in simultaneously with the English. I can see it now, sitting on the red shelves with its English counterpart, the bookmark still on the first page, its conjugations too hard for my medium skill.

This year I won't spend tomorrow working. Its reading week and I've given myself tomorrow off. A year later I'm a student studying to get out of my depression-inducing career, trying to kick start a new one. Maybe by next year I'll have started it.

The biggest change from last year is that there will be one card missing, one less greeting that has been a constant for every birthday of my life. In just over a month it will have been a year since my Grandma, Noddy, died, on Christmas Eve. Already the onslaught of Christmas adverts is becoming too much, I know it will only get harder as the month moves on, but now I want to remember the happy times. Last year she gave me a knitting kit: two balls of undyed cream wool, two needles and a pattern. It's beautiful. I haven't started it, not because I don't like it, but because when its finished she won't be here to see it. She taught me how to knit, I'm only starting to be able to fix the problems in my knitting myself, still expecting her to be there to pick up my dropped stitches. I will knit it at some point, but I can't bring myself to do it yet. Perhaps I'll start it on Christmas Eve, start a new tradition.

This past year has had its happiness as well. Its been the year I've finally kick-started my writing, taking two 6 week classes with some wonderful women who have become close friends and extremely supportive friends. At the time of writing, I'm 17,204 words into a novel that I started in earnest at the start of November for NaNoWriMo. I've been a writer (and not just sporadically on here) for as long as I have had a stationary fascination. As a notebook covered with the old body shop animals will attest, this too has been a long standing obsession too. I'll let you know how the novel turns out.

This year I've also made some amazing new friends, four of whom threw me an amazing birthday party at the weekend with delicious food and their wonderful company, and a personalised birthday cocktail named after my favourite musical, 'Into the Woods'. I can't adequately express how amazing it was to have people I've known for relatively little time so quickly become such close friends who mean the world to me.

Tomorrow, my mum and I are heading to see 'Suffragette' and have afternoon tea. Patch and I are going out to dinner at a diner and I'm going to make my favourite chocolate cake. Seems like a pretty good day to me. The last year has handed me some of the hardest times and some of the best, I take forward all I have learned into the next year, and sign off to go and dream of cake!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Yellowbluepink by Ann Veronica Janssens

One of the great luxuries of studying at UCL is its proximity to other wonderful institutions. The British Library, with its regular exhibitions and general book-based allure is just down the road; the British Museum is within walking distance; countless independent bookshops and cafes fill the roads of Bloomsbury, not to mention the museums and galleries which are part of the campus itself. Perhaps my favourite local institution, however, is the Wellcome Collection, where I have spent many  happy hours in exhibitions, and where I have just spent my lunch break enjoying the mesmerising work of Ann Veronica Janssens: Yellowbluepink.

It may seem a simple concept: a white room filled with a fine odourless mist lit by 3 different colours of overhead lights. The effect, however, is incredible. The work itself is exploring the topic of consciousness as part of the States of Mind season and does a brilliant job of focussing ones perception of ones surroundings and calling into question how our experience is understood by our minds. 

Allow me to walk you through it. 

You are given a lanyard and told to only open one door at a time to access the room. You assume this is to contain the haze within and happily comply. Stepping out of the vestibule (once the outer door is safely shut) you emerge into pink. Not a pink room, not a pink object, just pink. You become aware of a foggy sensation within the room which prevents you from seeing anything apart from your own feet, hands, arms...and the overhead lights which at this end are the room are pink. 

You make your way around the edges of the room, cautious at the moment not to bump into anyone and unsure if there are any objects at ground level. As you reach the centre of the wall, the colour around you changes to a yellowish green. You smile: the room is beautiful and is making you calm. You venture further along the wall, towards where you assume the corner of the room is. The colour changes again. You are unsure, until you look up to confirm, whether you are actually moving through space or whether the lights are changing above you. As you reach the corner you are enveloped in blue. 

You lean against the back wall to look back the way you have come. You can see the suggestion of other colours somewhere off in the distance but you are not worried about that. Other people are perceptible as shuffling footfalls and whispered exclamations 'this is so cool!'. They are only seen when they are very nearby and even then they appear ephemeral, so absorbed are you and they by your surroundings, or rather the blank canvas that you find yourself in. 

You go exploring. You discover windows on one side of the gallery, which at seven paces away are just noticeable through the mist, and at eight disappear completely. You go nearer, reach out, try to understand something as ordinary as a window within this new context of seeing.

You walk back towards the yellow. Your perception of the yellow has changed because of the comparison to the blue you have just left; you walk into an orange dawn, watching halos around your eyes shift as you comprehend the change. 

You want to stay for longer. You want to remain in this place that has calmed your brain from its worries and given you peace so close to so much busy-ness. You search for the door and resolve to return as soon as you can. 

The exhibition/experience is running until 3rd January 2016. The lighting design is by Jono Kenyon (Studio ZMA Ltd). Other examples of second person story-telling include the brilliant 'How to become a Writer' by Lorrie Moore (in case you were wondering what I was doing there...!). 

Friday, 2 October 2015

A new beginning...

As some of you will have seen from Facebook, I started a masters degree this week. I enrolled on UCL's MSc in Light and Lighting last Wednesday, lectures started this week and yesterday I picked up one of the course books from the campus branch of Waterstones; I think I can safely say, it's started!

I remember hearing about the course back during my undergraduate degree and thinking, since I was told it was incredibly hard to get into, that I wouldn't even try applying.

6 Years later, with a considerable amount of work experience under my belt and with much more of an idea about what I want to get out of my career, it's perhaps not a surprise that I found myself applying, still nervous about getting in but more confident in my abilities than I have been in a long time.

Some context, perhaps? Over the past year, I've found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned with the world of theatre, especially with regard to pay and opportunity for career advancement. And before you even start to think about saying 'You get out of it what you put in' or similar ludicrous aphorisms that are the mainstays of the most privileged in our industry, I have put 6 years of my life, plus the 3 I spent training, countless 12 hour days, evenings, weekends, spare moments, any time that was available to me, and anything I could think of, into advancing in my chosen field. And although I'm in a better position than I was a year ago, although I can gain recommendations from some very well regarded theatrical colleagues,  I still find it so hard to find work that it feels like a constant struggle rather than a career. Having a producer completely screw me over a month before I was supposed to start a 6 month tour was, frankly, the final straw. There have been a few articles recently about the detrimental effects working in theatre can have on one's mental health, and I am not afraid to tell you that my depression and anxiety hit their worst in 10 years at that time.

I have reached the conclusion that, although it was always my dream to work in theatre, it is not for me. This has been an incredibly hard thing to admit to myself but ever since I acknowledged it I have been happier and able to move forward with other ambitions.

I'm not so naive as to think that having a further degree will necessarily guarantee my future career, but the opportunities afforded by being a student at such a well regarded and supportive university, as well as studying further into the subject that really excites me - Light - can only help.

Every new thing I hear about what I'll be studying, every new person I meet, every opportunity I hear about, makes me certain I have made the right decision.

I will continue to work in Theatre for the time-being, enjoying it all the more because I am closer every day to moving on from a career that has caused my mental health to deteriorate, my faith in myself to dwindle daily and my sense of self-worth to plummet.

I want to mention here that I have met some amazing people and fantastic friends whilst working in theatre, and it is with no reflection on them that I make this decision. Indeed, I have had this conversation with several of them who have expressed the same frustrations with this isolating and all consuming industry. Unfortunately, no amount of wonderful people and laughing in the good times can stop the bad times from being crushing. As much as I have enjoyed parts of my work so far, and I honestly wouldn't trade some of the theatre making experiences I've had for anything, I cannot continue knowing that I'm doing so only so I can stubbornly say 'I didn't give up' when it is much better to say 'I gave it my best, now I'm going to try something else'.

I haven't taken the decision lightly but I know it is the right one for me.