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I Was Asked For Some Advice On Being An Actor…

 

The best advice I was ever given was ‘if you’re in a new cast and no-one seems to be a wanker – then it’s probably you’.

As artists it’s your job is to make trouble. Stick the world under a microscope, shake stuff up… but to do that you have to listen as well as shout, you have to be humble, you have to quietly put a story together from as many perspectives as you have the time and the patience to give it, and then you have to tease out what’s important to YOU and what you want to say about it… oh, and you have to decide who you are talking to. A story about Brexit and Trump is going to resonate very differently with a class of 8 year olds, pensioners in a day care centre or people like you. Do you only want to talk to those who already agree with you? And if so what are you saying? If not, what are you saying? Why? Who cares? Literally? And why should they?

As artists you have to give yourself the best possible chance of expressing yourself in the way you want to, to those you want to listen. That’s the bottom line.

You need to be able to walk into the performing space and trust yourself to tell the story that you want to tell – to move, shout, whisper, sing, sign, mime – however you decide to tell the story, you want to know you can express chosen narrative, character, emotion, nuance, because – as the cliché goes – your body is your tool. Everything you do matters when all eyes are on you. The words ‘passionate about my art’ are thrown about, but the truly great actors are generally full of humility, they are fascinated by people (building relationships), endlessly picking over the bones of the world, dismantling it to see how it works and putting it back together in myriad ways.

We are drawn to people who care, we instinctively know when they are genuine, we know when they are interested in us, but all too often we have a pretty polarised view of the world because it’s easy to streamline our timelines into something that resembles us, what we agree with, and it’s all too easy now to lose the riches of difference.

Artists need the riches of difference and infinite energy to argue. But it’s also good to stop and reflect and sleep.

So, listen to the news (but question what you hear and see), follow people on social media who you don’t agree with (and don’t just shout them down, silently or otherwise without knowing why), read books and plays and poetry (yes, try some, even the pretentious stuff) that you wouldn’t normally choose (you never know…), strike up conversations with people who catch your eye when the opportunity comes (the times I’ve done this and never regretted it, no lie) and ask questions and REALLY LISTEN to the answers. And then ask more questions.

And DO NOT spend too much time with those who don’t ask questions in return.

Basically, avoid being high on disapproval and low on self reflection (I read that somewhere and liked it), decide what you want to say, who you want to listen and how you are going to make them care about it. And make sure your voice and your body can translate your vision.

And do not spend any more time than you have to around egotistical, power hungry wankers. Seek out the good ones. Be one of the good ones.

6/10/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leeds Actors In Training is Launched

 

LEEDS GRAND THEATRE LAUNCHES TRAINING PROJECT FOR ASPIRING YOUNG ACTORS

AUDITIONS 10th OCTOBER. LEEDS GRAND THEATRE STUDIO.

I’m very excited to announce that I am heading up Leeds Actors in Training (LAIT)  –  a brand new pilot project being run in collaboration with Leeds Grand Theatre offering 18 to 23-year-olds a highly practical pathway to a career as a professional actor.

LAIT gives young adults the opportunity to access actor-training of the highest quality with support and insight from professional directors, actors, movement specialists, vocal coaches and producers across the year. LAIT is designed to develop participating young artists vocally, physically and imaginatively, encouraging an independent and in-depth approach to work. For some years now I have wanted to provide high quality and meaningful actor training to young adults who are between school and further education/the workplace. Passion and a good publicity photo will only get you so far in this industry. In my experience, to truly succeed, an actor must be skilled and committed with a strong grip on reality. A thick skin, good work ethic, generosity, imagination, tenacity and an interest in human behaviour are also vital.

At LAIT, we will provide a supportive and vibrant space to help aspiring actors unlock their potential, develop skills, get a foot in the audition door and move to the next phase of their training/professional life with confidence and their eyes wide open.

AUDITIONS

Auditionees will be required to perform a monologue (classical or contemporary) and take-part in an hour-long group workshop and individual interview. The auditions will end with a group Q&A session so come armed with any queries you may have.

I will be running the auditions along with Ben Burmann, a professional actor recently seen as ‘Hot Tony’ in Emmerdale (2015-2017) and currently filming “Another Kind Of Love” directed by Jack Grewer. A dark urban drama for Netflix, set in the north. Recent theatre credits include Northern Broadsides (Merry Wives and King Lear) and Cast (Kes).

PRACTICALITIES

LAIT will be split across three terms. Term one will focus on The Actor; term two, The Actor and the Play; and term three The Actor and the Industry.

Run over 30 weeks, LAIT will meet every Tuesday night at Leeds Grand Theatre from 6-8.30pm.

Fees cost £450 per year-long course (bursary places are available upon application)

WHO AM I AND WHAT HAVE I DONE?! 

 

I originally studied as an actor at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama. I am currently the Artistic Director of the City Varieties Youth Theatre (2012 – present) where I direct and produce up to seven shows a year with 60 young people aged 8-17-years-old.

In 2016 I wrote, produced and toured my own Arts Council funded show, Punching The Sky, a collaboration with partners the Lowry, Live Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse, ending at Soho Theatre in London as part of A Nation’s Theatre Festival. 

 

 

I have also written for BBC Radio 4: I was a guest writer on their long running series Brief Lives, produced by Gary Brown (BBC Radio North). I have also been Script Writer for the Child Friendly Leeds Awards for the past three years, creating and writing the scripts with the young presenters, Guest Writer and Director for the Carriageworks Academy in Leeds, Freelance Animator for Woldgate College in Pocklington, Founder and Artistic Director of Raised Eyebrow Theatre Company/Raised Eyebrow Youth Theatre, Freelance Project Director/Writer for All Change Arts in London, Education Director for Y Touring Theatre Company in London and Education Officer for Polka Theatre For Children in Wimbledon.

I am also on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Youth Theatre.

For more information and to download an application form visit www.cityvarieties.co.uk or call Hannah Johnson, Arts Administrator, on 0113 297 7042.

The Princess in the Basement

A daft story about a daft story that makes me very happy in this world where we feel we’re not at all in control of the story any more.

CVYT 8-11

Sometimes – most times in fact – my job makes me very happy.

Being half a century old, unknown outside Leeds in the theatre world and too skint to have made any provision whatsoever for impending old-dom might seem like the very definition of ‘unsuccessful’ in my chosen career.

But these three facts are the very reason I have such creative freedom, as no-one is breathing down my neck, no-one else sets my agenda, no-one cares what I do (in the best possible way), because the decisions I make are mine to make and the people who ask me to do work for them tend to trust me – which they’re right to do – because it’s impossible to stagnate when surrounded by 8-21 year olds and freelance artists at the top of their game who measure a large portion of their creative satisfaction by enabling young people to thrive. [1]

During the Summer we were rehearsing the the Addam’s Family with the entire City Varieties Youth Theatre in the Leeds Grand basement, and during one of the sessions with the 8-11’s we started, as we always do with ’10 second news’ – which everyone sticks to, except me, as I get over-excited. One of the kids asked me where I lived and I said ‘here’.

Them: ‘What, in the Leeds Grand basement?’

Me: ‘Yup – no point me going home – when you’re all gone I get all the props and costumes out and re-live bits of our shows’

More voices: ‘Really?’

Me: ‘Yup – I live under that chair there’

Even more voices: ‘Honest?’

At that point I had to admit I was kidding… but what spun out from there was a tale where collectively the group started imagining what it would be like if there was a girl in the basement – a Princess (Trésemme) who’s hair grew and grew and she visits BARBER Striesand (GEDDIT?!) who fashions it into a mohican containing two pet giant headlice (Trevor and Tim) whilst Trésemme sings ‘I Need A Hairbrush’ (to the tune of I Need A Hero).

When the (inevitable) passing Prince (Dandruff) leans in from street level and climbs down her stiffened mohican she hits him with a can of hairspray for assuming she wanted to be saved.

Oh, and her mum – Mother Hairspray – turns up at some point and sings ‘You’ve Got To Be Fake To Be Real’ whilst everyone does the Charleston.

The ending (and much of the plot) is a well-protected secret…

Clearly the rehearsal had been ambushed by our collective delight at a story that had to happen – so we spent the rest of the session devising bits of the story and all agreed it was a right LARF.

Except we couldn’t stop thinking about it – every session the subject would come up and eventually it became clear that the play had to happen.

So it is. I’m fashioning their ideas into a script over Christmas and we’re going to put it in front of an audience in April in… the basement of the Leeds Grand…

How meta’ as one of the older group observed.

I’m telling you this because there’s so much stuff in print that is making so many of us feel really really crap. These kids have had an idea and asked if it could happen and we said ‘yup’. It’s daft, it’s making us all laugh and it’s EXACTLY what is required.

So this is why I love my job.

And you can come and see their story in April if you fancy it.

Just for the hell of it.

[1] (Props to Dawn Holgate, Aron Kyne, Sam Dunkley, Bobak Walker, Richard Priestly and – new this term – Akeim Toussaint Buck)

CVYT 8-11

 

Epilepsy and Loss of Innocence

 

“I found myself relating to it all as my son has had his innocence stolen too but not by porn by epilepsy.”

After our final show of Punching The Sky at Seven Arts, Leeds I received this email from a Mum – Jane –  who’s son developed epilepsy when he was 16. She and her son are happy for the email to be shared. I was going to include it as part of a blogpost about the emails the show has prompted, but I feel this email warrants it’s own post.

It’s one of a number of emails I’ve received from parents who relate to the themes in the show and have been able to have some honest two-way conversations about difficult stuff with their son’s and daughters as a result. I love that this show prompts conversations that matter, that’s basically all I wanted to do when I set out on this road…

Anyway, here are Jane’s words… I must admit I was reduced to tears. 

Hello Lizi,

My name is Jane. I have never done something like this before, contacted an artist but I can’t get past the urge to so please feel free to ignore me!

I came with my son to see the play after he had seen it for AS drama and been blown away by it. I too was blown away by the play, for all the reasons that my son had been but then some more.

I found myself relating to it all as my son has had his innocence stolen too but not by porn by epilepsy.

A year ago when he was 16 and preparing for GCSE’s he started having weird moments when he seemed absent (not easy to diagnose in a teenager!) then it developed, he would grunt, swear, shout out and clench his fists and face.

It was a horrible scary time for him, his sister and us with it developing into full seizures.

I related strongly to your story of a mum who would do anything for her child die, kill… I wanted to be ill for him. How cruel that I had got him through jabs, scraped knees, primary school, friendship issues and now this horrible thing was taking the confident young man and messing with him.

We were at a point where he could be out late and we trusted him to be home safe. Spontaneous party? Sleep over? Fine just let us know when you think you will be home. Not anymore. Have you got your pills? Have you eaten? Don’t drink, please…I know I am nagging. Why couldn’t it be me? I have had my fun, my drinking days are done, I want to eat well and sleep lots!

Maybe it sounds dramatic saying it was a loss of innocence for him. I just hated seeing him battle against it, he didn’t want anyone to know, but when he was doing it in a supermarket how could they not know? School had to be told, he stopped looking for summer jobs…we went on holiday he couldn’t be alone in the pool or swim in the sea. If he dropped a shampoo bottle in the shower we would burst in thinking he was having a seizure.

He is now medicated and stabilised it’s been a long year. I am so very very proud of him but feel I almost have more moments of sadness reflecting on it and processing it. I loved that at the end of the play you let us get to know Arthur as a boy not as a victim. That was for me as powerful as any other part of the play. It tipped me over the edge a bit as I remembered being stood in my son’s hospital room watching him fit continuously for 15 minutes as doctors injected him, cleared his airways of vomit and nurses tried to hold him on the bed… all I wanted was to tell each of them about my son, how funny he is, how kind, how moral and caring he is. I wanted them to know him not just see him as a blank faced body. I felt that it what you did with that last scene.

If you have read this far, thank you. Thanks as well for an amazing play that shared a message that needs to be shared loud and clear. Thanks for showing the vulnerability of boys growing up in such a confusing world. Thanks for being a real life human mum who swears! And finally thanks for letting me waffle on.

Jane

“I loved that at the end of the play you let us get to know Arthur as a boy not as a victim. That was for me as powerful as any other part of the play.”

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RE:REVIEWS Punching The Sky Northern Tour

I have three online reviews for Punching The Sky (links below), which is great and – whilst I don’t agree with some of the points made – this is their own experience of the show and therefore, something to think about. I have asked for and welcomed feedback for this very personal piece of theatre – from my nearest and dearest, from the press, the media, the wider public, the inevitable trolls and even the tunnel-visioned, misquoting, king-of-out-of-context-rants religious zealot Ray Comfort.

The reviews have been written by men, so, in the spirit of balance, I have asked for some reviews from women who have been to see the show in the various Northern Venues.

Here are their words:

Punching The Sky (photo by Adam Robinson Photography)

Lizi Patch “Fifa can FUCK OFF”

 

Helena Law (Co-ordinator for a team of architects): Lowry Theatre.

Punching the Sky struck me for several reasons. I am not a mother and I honestly didn’t expect this piece to resonate with me as strongly as it did, at different points I laughed, cried and was angry. From the moment Lizi Patch said ‘fuck’ when faced with being left with her baby in her living room; I was hooked by a narrative which was more real, honest and unafraid to present flaws than I have previously seen. We were presented with a Mother who would die for her children, who recounted every tiny detail of childhood scenes with such care and who was also devastated that Coldplay had become her son’s ‘song’!

By taking the time to build up childhood stories and Lizi Patch’s character I found myself dreading more and more the point where we heard about the catalyst for this play. The visuals, sound bites and at times caring, at times quite fierce interactions between the three actors built up to what was a beautiful and heartbreaking retelling of Lizi’s son’s experience online.

Yes, we didn’t get to see the clip, yes we didn’t hear an all out explicit argument for or against porn and yes – we didn’t hear how her son was in the months that followed. I have to admit at times I wanted to know if there was a happy ending but I think the piece was much more powerful in its avoidance of this. Later in the evening, I was typing a message to my friend on Facebook and I paused. I thought about all the anecdotes, jokes and clips throughout Punching the Sky that had almost imperceptibly presented me with a spiders web of opinions, ideas and emotions and that’s when I realised just how clever this piece is.

Emily Dowson and Milton Lopes

Emily Dowson and Milton Lopes

Emma Gordon (Lecturer, Leeds Grammar School): The Carriageworks, Leeds

Lizi Patch tells a brave and personal tale of a mother’s fear when her little one’s innocence is threatened. She talks from the heart, with humour, spirit and imagination. As a parent, a teacher, an aunt, uncle, sibling, human, we can all relate to elements of the struggle to sift the cyber rot from the virtual insanity (and our own) when faced with a controversial issue and the hurt of someone we love.

Compassionate, insightful, innovative and engaging, I could listen to Lizi tell stories all day!

Punching The Sky (photo by Adam Robinson Photography)

Emily Dawson and Lizi Patch

Kym Kitching (development and alumni relations team at University of York.): The Carriageworks, Leeds

As a young woman who hopes to one day be a mother Punching the Sky rocked me to my core. Tackling such a sensetive subject the performance was brave, honest and brutally real. Lizi came across as a passionate parent trying desperately to make sense of how to raise a child in an increasingly ‘accessible’ world.

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Lizi Patch

 Judith Kahn (Writer): Square Chapel, Halifax. 

Lizi Patch has written a very powerful and personal play about parenting today. It is autobiographical, and there is real power in this telling of a true story.

Punching the Sky asks questions about being a parent today, in the age of internet penetration of all our lives. The challenges of how to deal with bullying and the presence and accessibility of pornography are entwined in the play.

The delivery of the story has a light and deft touch which keeps the audience hooked.

It is an intensification of the age old questions

How can I parent my son?

How do I cope with my child’s experiences away from me?

How much can I/ should I protect my child?

And a more modern one :

Why does a woman asking questions provoke such misogynistic responses on the internet?

The play asks us to listen to our children, believe what they tell you, help young people cope with the difficult world out there. The play also makes it clear that there are no blueprints out there about how to get it right and that being a parent has lifelong consequences!

The technological and modern message for adults and children alike is that ease of access to the wider world causes us to be at greater risk.

The simple but clever staging and projection of images creates an intimate flexible arena, and the three actors play off each other with ease and grace – despite the fact I saw the first night, in a theatre they were only playing for one night.

Punching the Sky provides a great jumping off point for discussion, it asks important questions. It has no answers, but suggests we should keep on talking.

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Lizi Patch. Photo: Adam Robinson Photography

Sophie Suttle-Marshall (Year 11 Student)
Before going to see Punching The Sky, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Knowing Lizi, I knew it would contain elements of both comedy and drama but how much of either and the overall experience I would leave the theatre with..I had no idea.
After seeing Punching The Sky, I can say it does in fact incorporate an incredibly effective balance of funny and serious moments. It’s relatable to everybody and I, and everyone else watching that night, left the theatre feeling as if they’d learnt something extremely valuable about the dangers today’s society and internet usage can lead to.
I would recommend Punching The Sky especially to parents of younger children as I feel that it could really open their eyes to the life of other children and their parent’s experiences. It’s almost reassuring that nobody is born knowing how to be a parent and how children are throwing spontaneity at their parents all of the time. There is also the fact that if anybody else’s child were to go through this, or any other similar traumatic experience, they would have at least one persons perspective at hand. This could  potentially make the whole situation easier for both the parent and the child.
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ONLINE REVIEWS:

http://manchestertheatreawards.com/reviews/900-punching-the-sky-the-lowry-salford

http://www.thereviewshub.com/punching-the-sky-the-civic-barnsley/

http://www.thereviewshub.com/punching-the-sky-the-lowry-salford/

A WORD FROM MARK HOLLANDER: CO-PRODUCER/DIRECTOR Punching The Sky

 

I was fascinated with this story. Not just because of the themes but also the way that human nature leads to so many of us grabbing hold of someone else’s identity and lashing it through the undergrowth.

When someone asks you for help you try to help – right?

So, when Lizi Patch asked me for help during the second stage of development of her production Punching The Sky, I offered my time and support.

Easy. Someone calls and you respond, positively and constructively.

But when Lizi called out for support on the most public and open platform in existence, The Internet, the response was deafeningly silent. She found no one and nothing to help her navigate the delicate, emotional and uncertain terrain of young children’s exposure to hard-core pornography.

When Lizi then dared to liberate her own voice about this, through her blog, then the silence was immediately broken and the floodgates opened with some genuine support and compassion but also a torrent of platitudes, abuse and a great deal of opinionated diatribe on the rights and wrongs of an uncensored, unmediated world wide web.

I was fascinated with this story. Not just because of the themes but also the way that human nature leads to so many of us grabbing hold of someone else’s identity and lashing it through the undergrowth. Working in the arts I’ve witnessed similar responses both personally and towards others, when the public decides that because you’ve dared to step into the limelight, you’ve made a pact with the devil and have to accept that it’s now open season – and at your expense!

Lizi’s very personal story highlighted for me how unsophisticated the debate is on pornography in the public realm. It also struck me that by daring to go further and creating a work of theatre from her troubling experience, she showed strength of character and a rare determination to find meaning amidst the chaos of people’s free and often hurtful appropriation – not of the issues – but of her! Of Lizi!

So when Lizi asked me to support the next stage of this journey, to co-produce and direct the production, I felt it was the very least I could do to stay with her, to see it through, to help shine a fine light in a forest of confusion.

And more than this – I wanted to be part of the conversation. With Lizi. With the cast, the venues and especially with the audience – but this time in a calm and respectful way.

MARK HOLLANDER: CO-PRODUCER/DIRECTOR

 

Punching The Sky and Families by Rebecca Jenkins.

PUNCHING THE SKY AND FAMILIES.

by Rebecca Jenkins.

Punching the Sky R&D Phase 2

Punching The Stage scratch performance at the Lowry 2015. Rebecca Jenkins (centre) with Paul Fox (Actor, left), Mark Hollander (Director/Co-producer, right), James Taylor (Animator, back right) and Lizi Patch (Writer/Co-producer, back left).

 


Rebecca (professional actor, musician, arts practitioner, mother of 2 sons) was a Company Member for 2nd Research & Development Phase of Punching The Sky where she played the role of the mother. 


Recognising that our children’s relationship with screens is influenced by our relationship with our own digital devices, and that both relationships are new, are changing, and in many cases, haven’t been reflected upon – is crucial – if we are to ‘solve’ any of the issues thrown out by our use of the internet.

There came a moment in the Punching the Sky process where Lizi was re-writing the piece for a second development stage in early 2015. She was sifting through a pile of audience feedback – comments from people she respected and knew in the industry, comments from the young performers who’d helped shape the piece so far, from young people on workshops about internet pornography, and feedback from members of the audiences who’d seen it. ”Whose story is it?” they were asking her. “Is it Arthur’s story or yours?” Just as many of them wanted it to be Arthur’s story as wanted it to be Lizi’s story. She needed to know the answer to that question if she was to be able to develop it any further.

Lizi asked me to read what she had so far. On doing so, I became upset – you see I know Lizi, and I know Arthur too – very well. I lived with them for a few months and in the years before having my own children, hung around there an awful lot. And for me, the story was Liz’s. And only because it is Liz’s story, can it become Arthur’s.

Let me explain. I love fruit and vegetables and my children are aware of it. Mmm, I might murmur as I bite into a buttery carrot or a crisp green bean. I hate salad. Particularly cucumbers, celery – those usual salad suspects. So I don’t prepare and eat them at home. Even if the children tried them elsewhere and liked them, they couldn’t pop to the fridge and chop them up for themselves as a healthy snack, because I don’t buy them. I have never told them to eat cucumber. Just as I have never told them not to. This food item is only part of our family’s relationship with food, by its absence.

Lizi loves screens for the creative potential they can unleash in us – you only have to look at the passion she has brought to projects as an educator, where her creative use of digital media has brought children to a greater understanding of problems or processes in maths, literacy, and science. I observed her helping her own children make stop-frame animations with their play dough and lip-syncs to favourite music, before they were out of infant school. And I saw only a mutual shared delight in these shared experiences. So what I’m saying is, the boy’s relationship with screens was coming from a good place, it had a good, healthy start to life.

Gaming however. Gaming is different. When gaming became an increasing part of the boy’s digital world, it caused conflict, as it has done for virtually every other family I know. For those of you that don’t game yourselves online – even the most innocuous seeming of apps for children is these days built around a cycle of small challenges and incremental rewards – ‘ Come on’ the game whispers ‘just dig a bit deeper. You might find some copper ore. You can craft a pair of copper grieves and protect yourself’ or ‘just 2 minutes and 33 seconds until your soybean crop is ready. Then you can fulfil the boat order and get a mid-level reward of 5 stars’! This cycle, which forms part of a larger narrative in the game, is incredibly difficult to resist – and is hugely lucrative to games manufacturers.

My husband was led to delete one seemingly charming farm-based game from his iPhone, because he knew he couldn’t resist it. What chance then, does a 5 or 6 year old have of resisting? And how do we navigate this as a family? And before you even realise it, online gaming and our relationship with it, now takes centre stage in our broader relationship as a family with our use of screens. We’re hurtling towards wider internet use, a process then hastened by the growing trend for You Tube video ‘tutorials’ in which our children watch grown men and women playing their beloved games. So how much of it this do we govern by rules? And if so, by mutually agreed boundaries or by old fashioned, non-negotiable rules? And furthermore, are we parents setting boundaries for screen usage for ourselves? Or do we live by different rules to our children? Do we force ourselves to like celery and cucumber, because we want our children to have access to them? Do we acknowledge the ridiculous amount of influence our own screen usage has on our children? Do we hope that they will work it out for themselves? Do we hope they’ll delete that life-draining games app, in preference for the programming app, in the same way they might switch friendships at school once they’ve wised up to someone’s bad influence. How do we give them the skills to find new friends, or to choose to play in the snow or take up a sport?

I’m beginning to realise that as an adult, my pleasure in the discovery of a new and brilliant piece of tech – tracking my run, or watching on demand tv, for example, is slowly eroding as I witness yet another potentially brilliant creative digital activity for children being permeated by the incentive, challenge, reward cycle of the gaming industry. And this cycle is spreading to non-gaming environments – being rewarded by an app with a badge for climbing a certain amount of floors or having a coffee in the same place is now commonplace.

Lizi has felt under enormous pressure to present, with Punching the Sky, a solution to the problem of our children accessing online pornography. During the development process of the piece, the ending has changed many times. With what thoughts or feelings to we want to leave our audience at the end? Is it even possible for a theatre piece to offer a solution? Should it? In my mind, the strength of Punching the Sky is the discussion which surrounds it – the endless feedback which Lizi diligently worked her way through – that feedback quite simply, represents its value. And in one fell swoop, justifies it’s investors commitment to it. And those questions upon questions are the single most important reason why families should see Punching the Sky. You have to see it together. And afterwards, discuss it together. Then allow the questions it raises in you all, to shape the way you live your lives together.

I am honoured to have been a part of the journey of Punching the Sky – having played the part of Lizi Patch in venues as part of it’s second development phase – so that Lizi could see it from the outside, see if it worked, assess the value of the personal, decide whether it was a story she was still interested in telling. Turns out she was and is – and my part in the process from now on will be to watch, and discuss – I hope you and your families will decide to join us.

Rebecca Jenkins. 26/01/2016

For more information visit

www.lizipatch.co.uk/punchingthesky.

 

My F**kin’ Menopause

My F**kin’ Menopause or

‘Close The Window The Rest of Us are F**king Freezing Here’

Here we are… 2016 and finally writing that play.

Context:

So 2014 bought Facebook repeated news of my menopause – lucky ‘Friends’. And after lots of facts and chats and messages and a very sharp learning curve for me amongst the itchy, sweaty, emotional rollercoaster, I stopped posting about it. This is chiefly because I thought my ‘Friends’ had probably had enough (although much positivity and shared experience grew out of the posts), and also because once you start to live with something it begins to become the thing that you ARE now and, although you notice it just the same, your body and mind (clever buggers both) readjust and learn a new language – one that you can’t always translate into you mother tongue.

So, it hasn’t gone away, it’s better than it was, and a combination of Menopause Plus, Nettle tincture, cod liver oil and a very understanding partner is managing to dampen the symptoms, and give me healthy nails, a glossy coat and a wettish nose. I have a meeting in March about pitching a Radio play on the subject as I think – as in all things – it’s the stories rather than the moany old facts that grab us and nudge us towards understanding, empathy and – in the case of such a global condition which affects half the population one way of another – TREATMENTS that actually work without animal cruelty or questionable side effects (longest sentence ever there?). Horse piss isn’t anyone’s first choice of medication – especially the poor horses.

So stories, characters, real life experiences. Along with the heartfelt and varied responses from Facebook and Twitter people, there is an avalanche of experience online. Every thread on the subject follows a similar pathway, with women feeling helpless and disenfranchised, a bystander witnessing their bodies changing so very dramatically. Some call it a betrayal, some just a bloody pain in the arse. So what to do? What am I learning? I’d like to share some of the stories I’ve been honoured to hear and read, when I’ve checked that’s ok with the tellers (I’ll keep you posted).

But in the meantime, I know it’s largely ignored (amongst thin lip service) and treated as ‘other’ by the medical profession (certainly the professionals I’ve come across), I know if it happened to men too there would be resources driven into understanding and treating it a little better. I know this because men have told me and others that they feel pretty damn strongly about it once they have direct experience of it, through partners, mothers, friends, sisters… but in the meantime it is famously a women’s issue and largely written off as women feeling emotional, something to ‘get over’. And it affects each woman differently – which is annoying for all concerned. I also know that, by definition I’ve become the sort of human that people in power try and stop listening to. I’m a woman, I’m knocking on 50, I’m no longer fertile, and I’m an ‘artist’. What do I contribute? Apart from a navel-gazing wishy-washy ‘let’s all hope for a better future where everyone contributes equally and hormones can be isolated, powdered and made freely available as an enervating, effervescent drink to be taken every morning with as much bacon as you can eat’. I know it’s bloody cruel timing – this loss of a hormone that – as it turns out – doesn’t just control our fertility. No, it turns out it also keeps our metabolism in check, our hair and skin healthy, our moods even (ish), our muscles strong and our bones robust. Because, get this, whether a woman wants to reproduce or not… she still wants to look and feel healthy and vibrant.

So as we share stories and experiences and I become flabby, cross and infertile (I know, form a queue), I can’t help but express my frustration… but GUESS WHAT?? Well, this is PRECISELY the time people don’t want to listen to you any more! Why? Because they see something going into decline. Us humans like vibrancy and renewal and things that glow. Vibrancy isn’t a word used to describe me just at the moment – and I’m not sure it ever will be again.

And so we ‘women of a certain age’ wonder what we have. Whether I agree with it or not, I really do get the whole industry that promises nipping and tucking, I get the need to look like we do in our heads… I mean, look, the technology is there isn’t it? Can’t we all just halt aging and be ‘beautiful’? But it’s not as simple as that is it? Even if opt in immortality and a generally agreed version of ‘beauty’ was the be all and end all – which, despite lofty claims on myriad jars, packets, tubes, magazines, adverts and tasteful 100gsm leaflets – we know it isn’t. The majority of menopausal women want nothing more than to simply regain themselves. That’s it. It shouldn’t be hard, but from where I’m leaning at the moment it seems almost completely impossible. Sounds a little dramatic? I know… and I’m not someone who gives up easily… and it’s only the menopause. It’s not a terminal disease. But it’s a complete loss of self and I was completely unprepared for how it’s made me feel.

So what’s the point of going on about this? What do I hope for?

I hope for what the majority of the people who’ve been in touch hope for… a genuine understanding of this largely inevitable female condition through research, through talking and through actually listening to each other. A recognition that it can be a contributing factor to clinical depression and drive people to desperate measures. I’ve said before that I’ve no doubt that it contributed to my mother’s depression and untimely death, she was someone who thrived on vibrancy, a social butterfly that needed people to need her, to see her as an attractive and contributing member of society. Don’t we all want that to one degree or another if we’re honest? So I made a promise that when I got there myself, when I fully understood what she’d been through I’d try and make a noise about it. So here’s me, making a noise.

The menopause is still something people don’t like to talk about – but we damn well need to.

All I ask for is your thoughts, and to start a conversation that doesn’t end with ‘it’ll pass’.

I will write the play and it’ll be a piece of work with a middle-aged woman at it’s heart. Not sexy? Not cutting edge?

We’ll fucking see about that.

I asked for title suggestions for the play… currently my favourite has to be Rebecca Gatward’s ‘Close The Window The Rest of Us are Fucking Freezing Here’… So watch this space. And if you have thoughts and stories to share please contact me on:

lizi@lizipatch.co.uk

 

 

Punching The Sky. Final Development, Feedback and What Now?

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So ahead of the final scratch performance in the final venue before the hoped for full tour of this piece that’s still here… I wanted to share some feedback and a bit of ‘what next’.

The final scratch is at one of our partner venues Theatre in The Mill, Bradford, run with a community iron fist by the beady eyed, generous-of-anecdote, Iain Bloomfield (my autocorrect tried to turn that into Blofelt, just so you know) – who’s support has been hugely appreciated.

Iain said this last time…

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And see the show you will Iain. I like Iain.

This final scratch show will be supported technically with wizardry by Ivan Mack, who was there for the original showing last year and had this to say: IMG_5467

 

Which was nice. I also like Ivan.

So we’re looking forward to going back. And I hope you’ll think it was beautiful, or something close.

Other’s have said stuff like this: 

Really insightful example of motherhood. Would love to see full version!

Amazing piece

Deep dark story, needing to be told, and told very well.

Excellent though the female voice could be louder. Frustrating coz wanted to hear the rest of the story. I look forward to seeing the finished project. The man at computer/internet was a clever touch.

Pretty powerful stuff. Admiration for telling it straight. Actually like the inline apologies for missing sections and the improv with bare essential props.

The first part of the excerpt created empathy of the son and the situation and the informal dialogue with the audience was nice and invested us into the piece.

Very powerful and gripping. Would come to see the whole show. I felt the idea of personifying the internet was great but good to explore other ways of presenting its ‘character’. Not sure what that might be – maybe it could keep changing.

Felt very uncomfortable.

Very humorous. very real – remember the story and being shown the video. Addresses some real issues about availability of porn. Would like to have seen more.

Well, I’ll read the blog post first. Remembered me of the difference of having a first child and his brother later. I liked the performance.

Really brave. Would like to see more.

Too short to really get to grips with it but imagining the whole thing would be good to share. Raises some questions that are still very socially relevant.

Very moving – terrifying – out of control – how to survice this? Feel relieved this all happened after my own child left primary school. Liked the device of the actor being the internet – young man being the child. Thanks.

So I feel we’re on the right track and the journey – a long ole one at that – is well worth it.

The media have gone all quiet on the whole subject of online pornography – they got bored – which only serves to make me feel that the general perception of what I’m doing is ‘enough already’.

Well, not a lot has changed, and I’m going nowhere.

WHAT’S NEW?

Well, since the first ACE funded R&D we’ve made changes to the show, ready for a full tour later this year (subject to funding – *smiles at ACE).

So… I’m not in it any more – I was never meant to be (see below). Someone else is playing the Mum. And the son is no longer physically represented onstage.

This crucial further development is about liberating this very personal, true story from its documentary style focus on me through significant re-writes working towards a script with universal themes that can be interpreted by future performers.

My performance as ‘me’ in the early stages was invaluable in providing a clean emotional thread to the piece. However some audience feedback suggests they are engaged with my ‘skill and bravery’ in standing up and telling how it is and find it hard to separate ‘me’ from the material. To take the play forward with a future cast it needed liberating from its reliance on my performance. The experimental nature of the process means that I could look at where the more documentary style delivery in the previous version moves into true drama and, actually, what’s the difference? Does it matter? The piece in its latest guise has been well received and continues to promote enormously diverse debate.

The show has gone from a cast of 5 to a 2 hander. It keeps the original source material at it’s heart, and looks deeper into the roles of the Mum (played brilliantly by Rebecca Stokes) and the internet (played equally brilliantly by Paul Fox), and the nature of the relationship they both have with the son.

So, there have been fundamental rewrites and we’ve been working with former partner the Lowry and new partner Slung Low at the Hub on developing and refining the themes of the play.

I just must pause to say a MASSIVE thank you to Matt Eames at the Lowry and Porl Cooper from Slung Low – their ongoing support has meant that Punching The Sky lives, breathes and grows (like a monster, yes, but a crucial monster… you know the type).

Oscar speech over.

If I do my job right – as a mother and a writer/director (and an approachable-chatterbox-on-gentle-soapbox) then at least this show has a hand in this crucial debate that I REALLY don’t think should grind to a halt just because the media are bored.

Thank you for listening. Come and see it at TiM if you can.

Oh and this is what my son has to say. (From the R4 Today programme)

THE TEAM

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Writer/Director: Lizi Patch

Co-Creative Producer: Mark Hollander

Mentor and all round good egg: Porl Cooper

Designer: Scott Thompson

Animation:James Taylor at Arcus Studios

Composers: Rich Huxley and James Hamilton

Actors: Rebecca Jenkins and William Fox

Original actors: Ben Burmann, Daniel McCann, Wesley Thomas and Rob Ward.

The Internet as a character, described by teenagers.

THE INTERNET is….

Hyperactive, schizophrenic, infinite, addictive, trapping, glue, helpful, obsessive, enslaved, social, open minded, mazey, dependant, fake friend, the creepy guy in the corner, big brother, life-changing, mischievous, arrogant, unpredictable, fickle, musical, bipolar, know-it-all, insane, omnipresent, pathway, fun, deceitful, a drug, inclusive, exclusive, united, sadistic, scientific tool, anonymous, reliant, gossip, abused, detached, unpredictable.

Above are some of the words a group of 16-21 year olds used to describe the internet.

I’m working with some teenagers who are contributing to the final development of Punching The Sky. We are talking about the Internet alot. I’ve also asked them to imagine the Internet as a character and asked them to answer the questions

“What’s the use of you?”
 
This is what some of them said:
 

I’m everything. I can give you everything. The world. If you like, and all you have to do is ask. A am what you made me, I can give you what you put in. that’s the use of me.

Is there a use for me? Good question! Humanity is a little fickle like that, they create something they never quite explain the use of… and then complain when it’s used againt them!

I’ve become a place for so many things: Happiness! Joy! But also the bad things… people isolate themselves and blame me, I didn’t ask for this!

I suppose that’s what I am. Something to blame.

Well I’m everything. I know everything but I learn nothing. I’ve seen everything but I’ve seen nothing. There’s always a light for me to follow otherwise nothing happens. You ask the right questions and I’ll try and give you the answer. No vows and no promises, just similar words over and over again in any order people have seen fit. I’m fun, I’m frightening, I’m the stars and I’m the end. I’m the darkness lurking in the back of your mind. I’m the blue skies that make your day. I can do everything if you use me right. So don’t ever go blaming me. I can’t do anything by myself (without you. )

What’s the use of me? I’m here to helpand be your friend. Whenever you need me I’ll always be there. I’ll never ever leave you. You seem down, I’ll bring you back up… if I feel like it. Just press the right buttons… but which ones are right? Which ones are wrong? I don’t know either. There’s a lot of things I don’t know yet… you can help me as much as I can help you. That;s what friends do right? But I’ll always know more than you.