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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: The Play’s The Thing! (2019 update).

My F**kin Menopause has spawned ‘Down To Zero’

 

Here we are… 2019 and finally writing the play. Below is the post I wrote in 2016 which is still scarily relevant.

Has anything changed? Well my play is finally happening at the end of June, thanks to Coracle and Alphabetti taking a leap of faith with me and putting in a successful funding bid to the Arts Council for some dosh to produce the play, 4 response pieces by very excellent female artists of different disciplines and a series of mentored writing workshops.

 

 

 

 

Coracle asked me if I had any ideas for the poster and I didn’t. Then, that night, I dreamt this – so I painted it and pinged it off as it pretty much illustrates the state of my head.

You can compare and contrast Matt Jamie’s fine work in turning this daub into the poster above.

 

 

 

 

The only other things that have changed is that I’ve tried more remedies, resisted HRT, sweated so many more buckets and my partner and I now live apart. Apart-ners. On and off. Everyone gets more sleep that way. I am coping with it all but most days I want to scream, hide, sleep, cry, fly to a far flung place and sit there for days.

I am – as usual – terrified of the responsibility of writing a play that means so much to me, trying to quieten the voices that shout ‘IMPOSTER’ ‘BORING’ ‘WHO CARES?’ and settling in to do justice to the small gaggle of characters fighting to be heard. There will be darkness and light in the play, belly laughs and the odd moist eye moment. But for now I’ll just crack on as much as I can. I’ve already written most of what could be a play, but now it’s commissioned I hate it all and am starting again. Fk sake.

Below is what I wrote in 2016. I wish it was better but it isn’t yet.

This wonderful article by Rose George pretty much sums it up for many of us.

‘It feels impossible to beat’: how I was floored by menopause’
ORIGINAL POST

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:

lizipatch@gmail.com

DOWN TO ZERO Alphabetti Theatre.

18-29 June 2019.

Response pieces:
Beccy Owen, Degna Stone, Allison Davies and Claire Tustin

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.

 

 

Retreat/Advance… Do’s and Don’t…

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Back from a 6 day Tuscan Writer’s Retreat at Settimo Cielo B&B near Aulla.
My Top Tips for you… one and all…

1. Don’t break your toe just before you go on what was to be partly a walking holiday.

2. Don’t take overpriced pretentious body cream in opaque bottles in your hand luggage. It’s for wankers (hello!) and they’ll confiscate it thereby forcing you to decant some of it into a Superdrug placky bottle and the rest into your papery skin as you refuse to waste any.

3. Don’t just smile and agree when you arrive on board the plane (somewhat slippery and sweating from too much posh cream and hot flushes) only to find your pre-paid-for window seat has been taken by a chunkily bejewelled, cool, dry, meedja type who fixes you with half an eye whilst reading her book and intones (quotes precisely) “I’m in your seat, but you don’t mind as it’s only a seat. Hmm?”

4. If you do smile and agree, don’t spend the rest of the flight seething and quietly repeating “I’m the bigger person here”, whilst wanting to kill her. It’s no big deal right? It’s ONLY A FUCKING SEAT. MY SEAT. THAT I PAID EXTRA FOR. Leave it. Breathe….. (bitch).

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5. When you arrive at the retreat don’t scan the other guests and say “Yay, I’m the youngest”. No one likes you much after that.

6. Only say what you need to say (and you need to be the judge of that)…

7. Listen, and really hear.

8. Hold the food provided by your sweet, kind, attentive host in your mouth just a bit longer than your wolfed down british carbs. It’s tasty, SO tasty, simple, fresh and NOT MADE BY YOU.

IMG_03679. Stop thinking about the plane seat.

10. Stop going on about the plane seat.

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11. Your toe’s clearly a lot better now. Stop going on about it to try and make up for the fact you shouted about being the youngest.

12. You’re there to share ideas. So you can do that… So go on then.

13. Stop worrying about your host doing so much. That’s what you paid for.

14. Stop worrying about not writing much. That’s not what you paid for.

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15. Stop drinking so much free flowing wine, even though the host’s beautiful daughter is pouring it like it’s going out of fashion. (Yes she’s younger than me but that doesnt’ count).

 

16. Stop thinking about the plane seat.

17. Feel a bit humbled by all the people that made this retreat possible (and you know who you are)…

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18. Pay for priority booking on the flight home so that NO MUTHA is getting in your seat and you can pretend to be important in the Priorite queue, even though everyone knows you’re a mug and paid for it.

19. Miss some very important people (you know who you are).

20. Go home to some very important people (you know who you are).

Thank you for listening.

Retreat advice there.

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You’re welcome.

 

 

Punching The Sky: Who Cares Anymore?

The issue with a piece of theatre based on a true story that happened a year ago, about a subject that divides the nation, is that it happened a year ago. And it divides the nation.

By it’s very nature people care so very much at the time and then life inches in and, inevitably, they care less. There’s no point getting stuck in a groove, endlessly playing and replaying the same story, because the feelings we felt so keenly quickly become mere memories of the emotions we felt at the time. Which is a good thing, as that’s exactly what helps us cope with the world on a day to day basis. It’s what ensured my 11 year old son got on with his life, so, a good thing.

However it’s NOT a good thing when you’re developing a piece of theatre about it. Because as you, the audience, are sitting there trying to care, waiting to see if what I present makes you care, a voice inside your head might be saying ‘does it still matter?’

Does it still matter?

Since the initial bog, many, many questions and discussions have been raised about how young people (as young as 8, I’ve done my research and spoken to real, live young people about this) are accessing and consuming disturbing porn, how they are getting their sex education from the internet, how this is affecting real relationships for a generation growing up unsure of the boundaries because they’re seeing films and images before they’re discussing what’s real and what’s not, they’re beginning physical relationships with each other without having the confidence or the vocabulary to articulate what feels good and what feels wrong to them. Boys are under pressure to perform, girls are under pressure to perform, both tell me they want to be allowed to make mistakes, both tell me they want to be able to talk to each other, lots of teenagers tell me they have had no context for the stuff they’ve watched and just want to be able to talk openly about it with people who won’t judge them. They can make their own mistakes from there on in, thanks.

It does still matter. I just need to find a way to write it so it opens doors on the subject rather than invites spectators to judge the material… But that’s what you do when you make theatre for the public I suppose.

The Arts Council gave me a grant. Lots of people have supported and added to the journey. We’re about to present an extract at an Industry Showcase at the Lowry on Wednesday 30th April, and all I want to do is sit down and have a proper talk with the audience about the debt we owe to this generation growing up so fucking confused about this most basic of human needs.

But that would be boring and I’d probably get called *Mary Whitehouse again and I’m supposed to be making theatre.

*Sex and porn are not the same thing. Even Mary knew that.

Punching The Sky – following the R&D

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An ACE funded Research and Development period for a new touring theatre show, telling the true story of how a deeply personal conversation about online pornography between a young boy and his mum went global. 

The six week R&D went well – all things considered. Live Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse and The Lowry (where we will be returning on the 30th April, more about that in a mo) were all thoroughly on board and gave us the best start possible. Gez Casey from Live had this to say after the first sharing to an invited audience at his lovely venue:

“Punching The Sky is an engaging, funny and thought-provoking piece of theatre. It examines some prickly and morally complex issues in a sensitive and entertaining way. It also asks some grown up questions about how quickly our young people grow up.”

Gez Casey, Literary Manager, Live Theatre

And as a result we have been invited back in June to scratch the itch a little more.

I can’t lie, it doesn’t get easier – although the final (to date) public sharing at Theatre in The Mill, Bradford went down as well as I could have possibly expected:

“So then, Punching The Sky by that @lizipatch is powerful, punchy and unpretentious. The kind of WiP that leaves you desperate to see t’show”. Iain Bloomfield, Artistic Director TiM.

…and that’s despite the fact that our stunning roundabout (designed and made by Scott Thompson) STILL didn’t see the light of day. Although we got it as far as the front door of the venue. That’s been the closest. More on that another time perhaps. But anyway, here it is… Lovely innit?

THE SET YET TO BE SEEN

The Roundabout. Punching The Sky

The audience feedback genuinely surprised and moved me – for different reasons. Words I had floating about in my mind when I set out to make this piece of theatre rose to the surface on good old twitter soon after the audience left. This is some of what they had to say:

SOME LOVELY TWEETS

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Tender, honest, punchy, unpretentious. I can live with that.

There were other words too, via email etc  – mixed, yet all chime with thoughts I’ve had, one way or another.

Here’s some snippets:

SOME OTHER THOUGHTS

“I think that the audience get side-tracked when you are on stage as you. That whole trendy thing of ‘non-acting’ is done very well by people who do it very well – but they are doing it for a very specific reason. It is not a trend that suits every piece of work nor does it make a piece of work ‘contemporary’. So you doing the ‘non-acting’ thing is just getting in the way of a very powerful piece of theatre.”

“I think you are a bloody lovely performer and writer. It was great to see you on stage. And to hear your words.”

“If I was writing this piece of theatre I wouldn’t write it like that”.

“We don’t need all the stuff about your son growing up”

“…I think you should feel bloody made up with yourself and your team because I thought the whole presentation / sharing was absolutely engaging from start to finish. You held me and so much doesn’t.”

“My heart was waiting to leap but never quite did”.”I loved getting to know your son through the show, it was vital to help me care enough…”

IN SUMMARY – FOR NOW

Clearly when you open your heart and invite people to comment on the contents, you’re always going to get a variety of heartfelt contradicitions. If you don’t then you are probably failing as that writer/performer  attempting to touch on something that both unites and divides us in the way the subject of extreme pornography does.

It’s been a journey so far and it would have been pretty rubbish at times without the help of my co-actors Rob Ward and Dan McCann who have jumped neck deep into this process and shone lights on it from all directions. They take no prisoners and I thank them for that. Animators Mike and James from Arcus Studios are continuing to develop astonishing and spot on animations and taking it all to the next level and Musician/Composers Rich Huxley and James Hamilton have made a 8-bit version of Duel Of Fates and Yellow by Coldplay – so that says all we need to say about that. Legends. And ongoing thanks are due to Producers, Little Mighty. Ongoing thanks to you 🙂

NEXT?

We’re at The Lowry for the Industry Showcase on the 30th April, showing an extract of PTS to a plethora of reps from some of the best venues in the UK. After that? Scratch night at Live in June and then…  I’m genuinely not sure at this point. I’m sitting on a bit of a crossroads with this one. I’m both hugely grateful for the support and passion that has helped me drive this piece so far, and also hugely tired from hauling something this precious and important around for this long… It might be finished in a way, it might metamorphose into something else, it might go to bed and hibernate – bear-like – for a time. Or I might write another draft, get some funding and tour it. Whatever I do I’ll probably mention it again.

Ahead of my R&D phase for my new play Punching The Sky: What I’m really thinking.

How it looked from the outside vs how is was for us inside. And still is. A very personal and public story.

How odd that a blogpost ending in the words ‘a very personal story’ became so very very public. The issue of pornography belongs to all of humankind, that is clear. My son’s story became the property of whoever wanted to claim it, and that has taken myriad forms and taught me an awful lot about my son, myself, my close family, the media and the world at large.

It’s not over – this isn’t a ‘well, that was a rollercoaster’ piece, this is a ‘well, this is a rollercoaster’ piece  – and the only thing that has stopped me writing a follow-up or ‘what happened next’ piece earlier is that it’s still very much happening. It is far from over.

A few weeks ago, in lieu of this article (which I was going to write and share a few weeks ago but lost my way in it a bit), I wrote a fairly pretentious poem (even by my standards) called ‘Punching The Sky’. What unfolded on the page was a highly emotional response to my original emotional response to my son’s emotional admission (keep up).  The thing is, I think my head should be editing my heart on this one by now, and when I speak to people face to face, or on the phone, or on air, or on the telly or carefully formulate emails explaining why I don’t feel the need to feature in Bella alongside The Man Who Married His Gerbil (thanks anyway) –  I find my head and reason singing loud and clear.  But cocooned in my office of an evening, the words I write, when no one is watching or listening, surprise me as they fall onto the page and I find the intensity of emotion I feel about this whole ongoing episode is now deeper, more reasoned and complex than it ever was – that the thinking and the chewing over and the justifying, the shaping and delivery of facts and argument, the careful handling of the vitriol and sympathy, the thoughtful responses to parents who have reached out and shared their own experiences, the need for answers and wisdom that I certainly do not possess (for this is far from that) has forced me to do what I know I can do professionally (meaning formulate something palatable to a paying audience) but when it comes down to it the core of this remains, soft and alive – radiating out whatever it was that has caught the attention of so many others. You’d think I was the only person alive who has spoken in such terms of such a common experience – BBC News at 6 and 10 were trying to camp outside the City Varieties a couple of weeks ago when Cameron was on announcing the Government opt-in system (the very one that I sat and told Helen Goodman, Shadow Minister for Media and Communications wouldn’t work… like the seasoned political advisor I had to instantly become…!), whenever there is a whisper of ‘porn’ on the news I get a barrage of calls and emails. I no longer answer BLOCKED calls – all to often they are from someone saying ‘we just want your voice to be heard/your story to be told/ we’ll come to you/it’ll take 5 minutes.’

They want me to be pro opt-in, pro-censorship, pro-kill the porn industry and all who sail in her. They want me to provide the box where they can pack in all the simplistic ‘this is why our young people are going off the rails and if we just ban porn…

(sorry how are you going to do that? and are you sure that’s what you really want to do? you liked it at the time)

…and ‘Mum’s like you, who’s kids have been affected, say that is what MUST happen then we can all just agree we’ve done something about it and move on. Ok?’

Not really, no.

But what then?

Well Dick Bonham (from Leeds-based Little Mighty, and now my Producers on the project), and I put in a bid to ACE – and got the money. Which is fantastic – my first ever ACE funding. And The Lowry, The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Live Theatre and Theatre in The Mill came on board as partner venues. Then actors, Danny McCann and Robert Ward agreed to – well – act, and animation studio Arcus Animation, agreed to – well – animate and Musician/Composer Rich Huxley agreed to – well – you know, and Scott Thompson agreed to design and make something beautiful…. So a play will happen.

What will this play be? It’s a terrifying place to be stood, on the brink of myriad possibilities from such an emotive and public subject bourne out of a true story.  I feel the weight of expectation alongside the personal pressure, I have these amazing performers and collaborators waiting to begin tomorrow. I’ve started and re-started writing the script and have a fraction of a piece to begin with tomorrow. I have a meeting with BBC 3 after rehearsals tomorrow wanting to talk about including me in their documentary about “Porn… What’s The Harm?”…. Um. I never said there was harm in porn per se, I just said…

Oh never mind.

I do actually want to hide right at this moment, or just go for a long walk on the beach with my sons and pretend none of this ever happened. I could give the money back to ACE and tell the creative team to have a lie in and thank the amazing partner venues. I could. I could do that if I wanted to. But I’m not going to, am I?  Because it’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever written. Which is why I don’t want to.

So whatever comes out of this process will come out. I’ve copied the pretentious poem below, here. Because it probably explains why I’ll be turning up at the Lowry tomorrow and by the end of the day drinking wine and thinking…. ok, it’s not all down to me. I warn you – it’s pretty pretentious.

 

Punching The Sky.

He was shattered

He told me why

My world shattered

So I told the world why

(With his 11 year old blessing)

The world answered

With as many voices

As there were pieces

Lying at our feet,

Glinting.

 

Eye to eye voices,

Warm and sweet with instant response,

Telephone voices,

Enquiring, modulating tone, treading water (badly),

Virtual voices,

Brave and vile with perceived anonymity,

TV screen and radio airwave voices,

Persistent, persuasive, self-serving,

Printed voices,

Thrusting, all pretence gone.

 

Public voices came thick and fast

Some yelled

Some laughed

Some tutted

Some listened

Some turned away

Some took a step closer

Some ran headlong into my

Or someone else arms

Some sat and closed their eyes

Some asked for absolutes

Some for guidance

Some jumped on the bandwagon

Wrote their own account

Of rose tinted ragamuffinery

Some looked up for the first time

Some down.

 

All this happened in 24 hours after my son came and spoke to me

24 hours

The world turned as I stood still

Punching the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

City Varieties Youth Theatre ‘Pick & Mix’ Process and Play

One of my hats is as Artistic Director of the City Varieties Youth Theatre in Leeds. And we’re close to putting on a show at the Howard Assembly Rooms next month which fulfils the tricky task of giving each and every one of the young performers a decent ‘bite of the cherry’.

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The CVYT is made up of almost 80 young people aged 8-21 years old. Every single one of our young people are there for reasons that are personal to them – and every single one of them deserves as much of my time as I can possibly give and as much time as possible to show the world what they are capable of, oh and and as much time as there is available to grow and develop as artists and people in this company that I am nurturing, alongside the team: Associate Director: Dick ‘finger in every pie’ Bonham, Music Man for this show and MD for the Summer: Rich ‘Hope and Social’ Huxley and trainee choreographer and YT member Emma ‘why would I need to sleep?’ Stead.

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We also have the best support and admin team the world has to offer and I’m not even lying… lead by the audacious Rachel ‘just tell me and I’ll make sure it’s done and then some’ Lythe.

So, as I say, there are almost 80 young people in the CVYT. And I wanted to put on a show this December that was actually about them having a chance to do something they’d like to do, on the proviso that I thought it was a) good for them and b) good enough one way or another. Some of them struggle with the acts they are in and they’re there because it’s a challenge, and they’re getting there. Some of them play to their strengths – my job is to make sure they can do both. I can’t always do as much as I want for then – in fact I rarely feel I do – there’s 80 of them you know… but at least it’s a start.

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So the Pick & Mix started to take a form that won’t really reveal itself (least of all to me) until the night of the 9th and 10th December… where our young artists sing, dance, perform extracts from a range of plays, contemporary and classic, play instruments, devise, improvise, magicalise (?) and wing it…

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It’s not what you’d call a classic variety show I’m afraid – actually, I’m not afraid, I’m chuffed to be able to open our doors and give you a bit of a window into some of what we do, and largely a lot of what we DON”T do enough (because we can’t, because we have to put on shows that put bums on seats because we don’t get any funding so we have to be commercial enough to make enough money to keep the youth theatre going and… so on) – and that’s to take the pressure off these young people, to spend time on skills and socialising, on laughter and a lot of ‘OH MY GOD! I didn’t know you could do THAT!’ … and after last night’s rehearsal where we finally managed to share a few of the acts, there was a bit of a lump in our throats, because there were acts that made the cast shut up for a few minutes, acts that made us all mouth ‘WHAAAAAT?’ and a lot of the sort of plain old brilliance that happens when you support your cast and then trust them to get on with it (and they know you trust them so they rise to it)… I cried a bit, I can’t lie. I know… but hearing Skinny Love as a gentle duet sang and self accompanied to perfection because they’d been ‘working on it a bit here and there’… you know.

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So I can’t tell you exactly what to expect – it’s not cheesy, it’s not jazz hands, well, one bit is… it’s not lots of things that variety show suggests – (which is why I called it Pick & Mix), but it IS bloody brilliant and YOU can come because, here’s the thing, it’s open to the public… imagine.

WHY SHOULD I COME? I’M NOT A PARENT OF ONE OF THEM OR ANYTHING!!

And the reason I think you should come if you think you’d like to, is for the sheer joy of seeing these young artists of tomorrow let loose, doing stuff that will move you and will make you feel all hopeful about the next generation. I am so proud of each and every one of them because the TROUBLE WITH YOUTH THEATRE is that we are all battling against the ‘instant fame’ culture and parental expectations and the public’s perception of ‘drama’ and ‘theatre’ as somehow insignificant and extra to young people’s development rather than integral to their growth, given the chance. (I’m going to write separately about this – this was supposed to be a short post with a few rehearsal shots)… but the CVYT have made this happen despite all sorts of adversity I’m not going into here, but they care about the work, themselves, each other and the CVYT as a whole and the Howard Assembly Room stage will sing to this tune for 2 nights.

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Here’s some snaps I took on my phone of bits of rehearsals on Sat (the youngest) and last night… and after that there is a link to where you can buy a ticket.

Both nights are different. Monday is our Sat groups (8-10 and 11-15) and Tues is our Tues night groups (11-15 and 16+)… Although both nights will be featuring Mr Bobak Walker’s Hip Hop Troupe (he’s been working with yp from across the 4 groups).

I hope you can come and I hope you enjoy it.

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INFO AND TICKETS HERE

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Punching The Sky

Punching The Sky.

 

He was shattered

He told me why

My world shattered

So I told the world why

(With his 11 year old blessing)

The world answered

With as many voices

As there were pieces

Lying at our feet,

Glinting.

 

Eye to eye voices,

Warm and sweet with instant response,

Telephone voices,

Enquiring, modulating tone, treading water (badly),

Virtual voices,

Brave and vile with perceived anonymity,

TV screen and radio airwave voices,

Persistent, persuasive, self-serving,

Printed voices,

Thrusting, all pretence gone.

 

Public voices came thick and fast

Some yelled

Some laughed

Some tutted

Some listened

Some turned away

Some took a step closer

Some ran headlong into my

Or someone else arms

Some sat and closed their eyes

Some asked for absolutes

Some for guidance

Some jumped on the bandwagon

Wrote their own account

Of rose tinted ragamuffinery

Some looked up for the first time

Some down.

 

All this happened in 24 hours after my son came and spoke to me

24 hours

The world turned as I stood still

Punching the sky.

 

And now?

A very personal story

Became A Very Public Story

And now?

 

And now, we begin.