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Last in the Travels series: Performance with Tam Gilbert

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Cascading down through the gears just as fast as I could, I braked, eased the car off the track and swung open the door; hanging my head out into the breeze, I waited for my guts to erupt. I certainly didn’t want to mess up the interior of the Ferrari.

Dragon by Gini

Dragon Dark drawing by Gini

I got exactly that same gut churning sensation not so far into the performance workshop – the final one in this LinkUpArts series. We began the day by doing some warm-up exercises.

After the initial wriggling and jiggling, we partnered up and spread into the performance space. I lifted my arm and with uncanny precision my mirrored image did the same. My partner was very good at our task and soon my brain was registering that weird queasy sensation that had put a disappointing stop to any fantasies I harboured about being a racing driver. I was on the point of calling a halt when I heard myself voice a completely different protest:
‘Look. Look. You’re ahead of me. No, look! My arms are only this wide. Look. Don’t, no don’t. Slow down!’ The queasiness was gone in an instant as indignation took over; indignation at being preempted by my ‘shadow’.
Passing laughter around our group I was similarly hijacked from the exercise. Starting one after the other we laughed, but as the others stopped in turn, the laughter curled up inside me and exploded. Tears ran down my distorted face, and the sound of my laughter triggered fresh eruptions from the group, now completely out of sync with each other. Somehow our workshop leader brought us back to silent contemplation.

We were asked about previous acting experience and most of us could tell of school plays and youthful creativity…myself as moonshine: the man in the moon doth seem to be…Robin Starveling was not just the personification of a Shakespearian actor’s trials and tribulations, he might also have been a prophesy warning of my own thespian pitfalls.

Much later, corralled into a variety performance involving song, I died on stage. Unbidden memories of opening my mouth on a fading squeak and a deafening silence prompted me into confessing that particular embarrassment. I neglected to mention my later attempts at performance poetry and monologues; or the time I was fish, centre stage opening and closing my mouth on invisible bubbles…the memory of dying lurking ominously on my shoulder.

A short, guided meditation on beginning a train journey sent my mind racing in other directions. Taking the mail train out of London one late night/early morning, was an unsettling experience made worse when the train ground to a squeaky halt in the middle of nowhere. I was alone in the carriage. For all I knew I was alone on the train – apart of course from the driver.

I waited. My imagination took flight. There was a tree on the line, a robbery in progress, the driver was sick, dead even. I waited upon fate or someone else to take charge.

Heavy footsteps in the corridor heralded the appearance of two policemen and a guard. They proceeded to quiz me about suspicious activity on the train and revealed, reluctantly and somewhat sparsely, details of an escaped criminal they hoped to recover and had reason to believe had left London on this same train.

The train did not restart when they left my carriage. The search took well over an hour and I had no option but to wait. Alone. Anxious; my only company an escaped imagination.

‘Take charge of this memory, create your own ending’, our workshop leader’s voice interrupted me. A red phone box flittered into view, rather like the Tardis, and I whirled inside – only to emerge instantly, rotating in red and blue underwear. I gathered the train under one arm and flew, fist forward, into the black night with the string of empty carriages rattling through the sky.

A Patronus charm ready on my lips, or maybe just a ‘beam me up Scotty’, saw me bring the train safely to its destination. This exercise wistfully offered my younger self the option of action, of grabbing the initiative, of taking control…

After lunch, a few of us made scratch performances of our reconstructed memories – the group being an encouraging audience. Static monologues evolved into physically descriptive performances as confidence grew. We could have done with more time.

Some members of the group were happy to be filmed. Others gave consent only for their voices to be captured, or brief glimpses that would defeat any facial recognition software.

I agreed to read snatches of my writing, the creative record of my Travels experience. They may end up on the cutting room floor, they may reside, unread on the DAO website; they are, for anyone who finds them, evidence of the power of words, of stories and memories in the creation of a human identity.

Spare me the old men,
the collective mass
of western history.
I would ignore them;
not distain, not dismiss:
for their whiteness, their
maleness, their western
blindness, no. For their
pockets of prodigious
talent I have not yet
learned how to tuck back
into the pages
of history, while I
set out to discover
my own words, create
my own story, breathe
my very own identity.

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