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I will always remember a conversation I had with a dear friend who said that every day he tries to win, with his career he wants to win, with the small things he wants to win. I suppose it’s a natural desire, to succeed. But how do you win?
When exactly do you reach the point when you can look around you and declare that you have won, that everything you had desired has come true? I suppose when your bank balance reaches one million? When you sign the deal with the record company? When you are crowned ‘Lord of all Creation’? I guess I could wait for that to happen, I could judge the success of each day depending on how much closer I am to that goal.
But what if you just want to be happy? Is happiness something you can work towards? Is it a goal you can reach? If I do everything I think I need to do to succeed, will I one day wake up happy and stay happy?
I was flicking through my old diaries and I found this…
2nd October 2012
I’m sitting in a car, wedged between my fellow passengers, being taken from Banska Bystrica in Slovakia to Vienna, Austria. I’m watching distant mountains pass by enshrouded in fog and someone is complaining about the four hour journey we have just begun.
But at the moment I feel like The Journey might be the most important thing that we do, that travelling is so much more than something that must be endured to get from A to B. It is a chance to reflect, to ponder the snippets of moments that we witness as they speed past the window, to relax and allow ourselves to be carried along.
As we travel, our mind is on a journey as well as our body, our soul journeys with us. Each step is a step into the Unknown and the Unknown contains all of life’s pleasures, it’s secrets and surprises.
And when we do reach out destination -for no-one can travel forever- there is a chance that we are a different person the one who set out at the beginning. We have fed our soul as we journeyed, and it emerges all the richer.
To enjoy The Journey is to enjoy life.
I don’t think I want to Win.
Or at least, I don’t want to try.
A moment of success doesn’t make up for countless days of struggle.
I’d much rather relax and look out the window, and trust that we’ll get there, someday.
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Is anything just a coincidence? – Thoughts behind our new show
Roughly one year ago I was sitting on the grass that rests, studded by ancient tombstones, in the shadow of Winchester Cathedral. I had recently decided to become homeless and I was passing my days staying with friends and wandering around a picturesque Winchester wrapped in autumn. I was taking time to Notice things that I would otherwise have overlooked being, as I used to be, consumed by a frantic stressful obsession with work.
I sat, with my back to a tree, deep in thought, gazing over the snapshots of life that were passing by, my hands resting open in my lap.
At that moment a seed fell from an unseen branch above me and fell directly into my open palm.
Is this a coincidence? At the moment that this particular seed having long gestated in the tree chose to fall from the branch, my hand was placed in the exact position where it would land. Perhaps it is just random chance and nothing more.
But I choose to believe something else.
I choose to believe that all my movements that day were perfectly timed to make sure I was in that place at that precise moment. The same goes for all my movements the day before, and the day before that and – if you want to get really into it – every single step that I have taken in my life led me to that moment. Not to mention those of my parents, their parents and so on, and if I may be so bold, right up to the very beginning of time.
Now I don’t believe that the universe was made in order for me to catch a seed in my hand. I can’t speak for the universe as a whole, its far too big. I can only speak for my own, and this is what I choose to believe. Because this is the only tool I have that lifts my daily existence from the mundane and suffuses it with a trace of magic. I can choose to believe.
For me, that seed fell into my hand at that moment as a little reminder, that I’m in the right place at the right time, that I am walking the Right Path. I have been practising this belief with buttons ever since. Each time I come across a button on the floor, it’s another little reminder that I’m in the right place. And you would be amazed how many buttons there are if you open yourself up to finding them. But you should never search, nothing works properly if you force it, it’s much easier to discover, to let things find you.
There may be those that may scoff at such dream like thoughts, for whom a coincidence provides nothing more than a momentary pause at how ‘funny’ it is. And that’s fine, each to their own. Though I do feel that they are denying themselves the chance to discover the little wonders that lie hidden in day to day life, and the shade of beauty that this subtle magic can provide. And when all is said and done, I see that I have two choices by which to live; I can choose to believe in magic and add a little wonder into my days, or I can succumb to the overpowering evidence of ‘reality’ and see things in black and white. I know I’m happier when I believe in magic.
I choose to believe that we are all of us on a journey, to what I dare not say, for each of us it will be different. But for me, and I blush to speak in such grand terms but it really is the most simple thing, I am meandering my humble way to enlightenment. Not the ‘get rid of all your possessions throw on a robe and shave your head’ sort of enlightenment, but a personal enlightenment that can exist just beneath the mundane day to day.
The gradual sort of enlightenment that means by the time I am an old man looking over the life I have lived and the time I have spent, that I will understand my little corner of the universe. And I will be happy in my heart, because I have filled it with as much magic and wonder that each humble little moment could provide.
So next time you witness a remarkable coincidence, or you find a button in your path. Take a moment to appreciate it, pick it up and put it in your pocket, as a little reminder of the subtle magic that can make this world a wonderful place through which to travel.
Alright enough fancy guff, here is the current blurb about our new show, going into production in spring.
Subtle Magic (working title)
Award Winning theatre company The River People invite you in to our own little den for an intimate and immersive storytelling experience, a tender tale about becoming the person you want to be, told with puppetry and live music.
The River People are preparing a new theatrical experience that explores the concept of intimate spaces and personal rituals. This delicate, two person performance takes place inside the type of den that we all remember from our childhood; some sheets draped over the kitchen chairs, under a table or beneath the stairs. Decorated with the objects that have a place in our personal rituals, our toys, our books, our little treasures that bring us comfort and security. In this space The River People tell us a story of a little boy made of paper, the first story ever written, who struggles to realise his potential. The performance invites the small audience to interact with the piece, to go on their own journey, to re-discover that sense of play, which came to us so easily as children. Before adult concepts of maturity made us feel that we are excluded from simple delights and subtle magic
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Some thoughts occur…
Wednesday 31st October 2012
Hello. Now that The River People are preparing to return to the scene after a hiatus for a year, Claire and I thought it might be nice to fill you guys in on what’s been going on.
I also wanted to start talking to you more often. A lot has happened in the past year and I’ve had the chance to ponder many things, from these ponderings I have drawn some conclusions big and small. One of these conclusions is that I should notice things more, so this I have been doing. Then I came to the conclusion that I should write things down more. This too I have been doing. Then I decided I wanted to share some of it with you, so this I will do.
Its essentially going to be my rambling thoughts, updates on what is going on with The River People and any other little thing that happens to pop into my head. I don’t fool myself into thinking that there are many people reading, I’m aware that I am essentially talking to myself, but that’s never a waste of time so no matter. From time to time Claire might pop up with something to say too, but until then it’s going to be just me…
Ed…that is who I am.
Or Edward if you want to be formal (I do like to be formal now and then).
Or Eddie if you’re my mother. Hello mum.
An eventful 18 months…
So, what the fridge have we been doing this past year? Well lots. This is going to take a while so get comfy.
For anyone who didn’t know, myself and Claire used to be a couple. We had been for seven years since we met at university in 2004. In July last year we made the decision to separate. It was the most civil and considerate separation you could imagine. It happened in the van in Sainsbury’s car park. But we had wrapped our lives so intricately together it took a long time to undo and it was incredibly difficult at the time.
We decided to separate in July, but we had already agreed to take a show up to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. A logistically complicated show in fact, the biggest, most complicated show we had ever taken up. It was called Little Matter and it involved setting up a mini venue in a car park for the month. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done, but we did it, and it was ok.
But by the time we had got back to Winchester it was very clear that we couldn’t continue to run the company successfully and go through a break-up, so we stopped everything. We decided to put the company on hold until further notice. We cancelled a tour, we moved out of the house that we shared, then my van broke down (nothing to do with the relationship but it was a real ball ache none the less). And I found myself at a very unique crossroads in life, since I left university and had resolved to make a career in the arts, after five years of hard work and struggle to achieve some sort of success, absolutely everything in my life had changed. The world stopped spinning, and I got off.
The subtle art of being homeless
It was the most terrifying, freeing, enlightening, sad, difficult, revelatory time I have known. I resolved to not find another house but to rely on friends and family to shelter me while I decided what my next step would be. This proved to be quite a revelation, I discovered the unique value of dear friends and the seemingly endless love and support they will provide. A lot of people I have spoken to feel they impose on friends when they stay at their homes, but I’ve discovered that your friends are always keen to help you. That they are touched that, when in need, you have turned to them. A very close bond can develop.
Of course, I’m aware of the selfishness of this lifestyle, that people are not always keen to have someone sleeping on their sofa. I’ve discovered that there are some rules that need to be observed in order to never outstay your welcome and to guarantee an invitation to return…
Good rules to abide by whilst sofa surfing
– Never stay more than two weeks at any one time. A week is ideal, but more than two and you run the risk of becoming a burden.
– Be a pleasure to be around.
– Keep your stuff tidied away
– Offer to cook (Not something I do enough…sorry Craig and Imogen)
– Clean the kitchen occasionally
– Provide surprise chocolate treats and sudden spontaneous games
The best thing about staying with your friends is that there are always friends about, I really needed that at the time. I relied heavily on my friends Craig and Imogen, they kept me alive with shelter and food and helped me through a very difficult time.
Both me and Claire have been working as free lance performers with various companies since then. This suits my lifestyle perfectly as it provides me with a place to stay for long periods of time. Claire has been working for Hiccup theatre and the Little Angel among others. I have worked with some companies in York, Tongue Tied, Pilot Theatre and The Flanagan Collective for whom I performed in Edinburgh. I spent a month travelling round Europe on the trains and unearthed a vivid passion for train travel. Something I have vowed to do much more of.
I also discovered the art of the Flaneur
A Flaneur (from the French noun): Stroller, loafer. A gentleman (or lady) who walks a city with no real destination other than to experience the city itself.
And spent a lot of time training myself to notice things, this was when I started a fascination of found objects, and a near religious devotion to discovering buttons on the floor. But more of that another time.
In April I met up with Claire to talk about the future of the company. At that time there was still a lot about the break-up that I hadn’t processed. I remember still finding it difficult to look her in the eye. And it felt at the time that I couldn’t continue to run a company with her. So we made the decision to stop The River People.
This hurt just as much as the relationship ending, I had convinced myself that the one reason I was alive was to make theatre with The River People, and now that had stopped. I couldn’t picture myself working without the company. The company was a huge part of me, and now it had to end.
Revelations and The Unknown
I’m all about revelations; I really enjoy ‘the big turn around’. When the music cuts in and the character realises something really important that they just couldn’t see before, something that will change their life for the better. I seek them out; I try to make my life as much like a movie as possible.
The time I had spent wandering through cities, travelling on trains and working for other people provided me with distinct lessons. I came to many conclusions, the most significant one is how much I allowed myself to struggle when we ran the company. I was always stressing about one thing or another, I felt that it wouldn’t get done if I weren’t stressing about it. It’s no way to be. Soon all the joy in the work had left me, and all that remained was a constant vague worry about one thing or another. Often about if we could afford to pay rent.
But through being homeless for a year, through travelling and not knowing where I was going to be sleeping next week I soon relaxed about being in control of everything. I learned to love The Unknown. The Unknown is a very exciting place to be in, it’s where all the surprises happen.
Another significant revelation was waiting for me in a rehearsal room in a hotel/ranch just outside of Prague in the Czech Republic. I was doing a show that was based upon our own personal stories, we had to fill a suitcase with our own life. In mine there was a short shadow puppet show about a girl who left a boy, and a red dress.
We were devising a scene for my character, in which I was walking with the red dress, and the director asked me to pretend this girl was there, and that this was my chance to tell her anything I wished I had said when we were together. So it was that I found myself tearfully pouring my heart out to a red dress in the Czech Republic while a shocked Dutch director looked on. “Do you usually cry like that in rehearsal?” she asked afterwards. Nope, this was a first.
I realised as I was looking at that dress and picturing Claire just how much we had shared, how much it meant to me and how much I missed her. Up until then I think I hadn’t let myself recognise any of that. And when I got back to England I told her all this. We spent a few days having long tearful conversations, and as time passed we began to develop a friendship. Not the awkward ‘we used to be in a relationship but now we have to pretend to be friends’ sort of friendship but something new. I could look her in the eye again and I no longer saw the girl I had just broken up with but someone else who I was keen to get to know better.
We now share a very unique bond. We know each other so well, and care very much for each other but it stops short of romance. We’re great friends. And I’m so proud I can say that.
It was my time spent in Edinburgh that got me thinking about making theatre again. It was my first visit to the festival in five years without running a show myself. I saw friends, had fun, I also started reviewing for Total Theatre magazine, which meant I saw a bum load of theatre. 53 shows in total over the month, it gave me such inspiration. I was happy, my confidence was growing as an individual performer, and for the first time in a long time I felt as if I had something to offer, not as part of a company but as myself. And an idea crept slowly into my head and took form, followed by a few others.
I was also really touched by the amount of people who came up to me having recognised me as part of The River People as expressed their sadness that the company was not performing that year. I really felt that they had connected with the shows, some still remembered our performances from 2007. And I drew the conclusion that the company was a good thing, and I still believe it is the main reason I draw breath each day. It is a part of my soul, and shouldn’t be left to end without at least another try.
So I went back to Claire with an idea for a show, and suggested we do it together. A lot would be different of course, I don’t want to struggle again. I need to focus on the work and not let stress get in the way. And she agreed. So we’re doing it. We’re both really excited to be working together again and producing work as The River People. And I must say it’s never felt better.
The paths we walk
So much has happened over the past 18 months, my life is barely recognisable, I am barely recognisable. It’s a curious thing this life that seems so random, these daily decisions that feel so in the moment. It can often feel like we’re clinging to the edge of chaos with our fingertips, trying to bend it to our will. But I have found that if you stop and look back over the path that you have walked, each decision seems to lead seamlessly to the next, and it seems that you have known what you were doing all along. I like to presume, as long as I am happy in each shifting moment, that I probably know what I’m doing, I probably won’t die and it’s probably going to be alright.
That’s enough for now, some inside updates on the new shows coming soon…
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In a mere 25 days we will be performing our first Edinbugh Fringe show of ‘little matter’ in our travelling theatre wagon… eek! And whilst we are very excited about this it sure has been a long long process!
The idea for this show started with a work in progress show we did 2 years ago, titled ‘AngelRust’ which we scratched in 2009 at the Bedlam Theatre during the Edinbugh Fringe (alongside ‘Lilly through the dark’) armed with all the feedback given by our audiences – maybe you were there? We have transformed the show with the help of the Edinbugh International Festival 2010, into ‘little matter’, a folk tale about an ancient battle between light and dark.
While all of this devevlopment was going on, Ed, myself and our friends from Spinney Hollow, Kate and Geoff , stumbled upon the fact that we all wanted to make a theatre wagon. We had a shared interest in making theatre in a format that can access a new audience and everyone can enjoy, we also gave ourselves the challenge of keeping the whole wagon self sufficient and low impact, just to make things easier…!!
So, last summer, we four and an awful lot of willing volunteers built a little (albeit slightly shaky!) theatre wagon, material for which we begged, borrowed and definitely stole to make the wagon. Geoff took the lead, managing the team and directing them how to build it, ready for last years Hat Fair.
That year we took ‘terrible tales’ to the Hat Fair, Bestival and up to the Edinburgh Fringe – sadly minus the wagon as there was just too much standing in our way to get the wagon up there. However the dream to be on the meadows with our wagon began to grow…. how very romantic.
After the Fringe in 2010, Ed and I were determined to take the wagon up to fringe in 2011 and began to approach the Edinburgh council about performing on the meadows. Then followed a series of emails, extension numbers and far, far too many departments to recall here, to then be told that the meadows were ‘booked up’ for 2011 (so expect wall to wall shows this year!). So we approached our lovely friends at The Bedlam Theatre and together we have created Venue 47 – The Bedlam Chambers, which is where this year we and our wagon will be performing ‘Little Matter’.
The Team this year have had a few additions, the cast this time is Ed Wren, Kate Hadley (‘Terrible Tales’), myself, and new comer and violin dynamo Ivan Stott of Hiccup Theatre. Also Alice Carter, our administrator, will be making the trip to Edinbugh this year to deal with all the things we can’t do, and Eimhin Walker will be joining as our production assistant… so hopefully we’ll have a very organised, well-manned Fringe for once!
The next few weeks sees us rehearsing and tweaking ‘Little Matter’ following our tour that began in May – thanks to those who have come out to support us and have been kind enough to give us feedback, say hello, help us fill in flyers and more. We were also lucky enough to have Georgia Green on a placement with us, meaning we can get even more done over the coming weeks, she is writing this months newsletter as I right this and is herself performing at the Edinbugh Fringe with Tiny Dickens and Titus Andronicus: Bingo”
Thanks for reading, and hopefully we’ll see you fringe side!
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Hi, I am Tiffany Anne Jackson, a Performing Arts graduate from Bath Spa University. I worked with The River People on their Friday the 13th Fright Night at Spinney Hollow as part of the Winchester Film Festival.
I discovered The River People after they performed Lilly Through The Dark, at my university theatre and have followed them ever since, so to work with them was a great opportunity. Directors Claire and Ed created a great, passionate and fun environment to work in.
For this event, we were tasked with providing a pre and post film zombie experience, echoing aspects of the film The Evil Dead, which the guests had just watched. As Buck Boulders, Zombie Protection (Ed Wren), lead the audience along the narrow woodland path with the sole aim of getting the public safely onto their bus, spectators were astonished to see live zombie acts jumping out of the creepy midnight forest. Suffice to say, things didn’t pan out too well for Buck. (Being torn apart by zombies and then having your insides ripped out isn’t such a great day at work!)
Spinney Hollow leant itself to the horror production perfectly – in the daylight a stunning, serene woodland, by night a terrifying tangle of twisted trees with all the dark sounds of the night piercing your ears! The wood was truly amazing; everything there from the compost loo with a stunning view to the wooden stage was built by its owners Kate and Geoff.
Claire, armed with a lot of latex effects and jars of ‘congealed blood’ , (aka golden syrup and food dye,) transformed the cast into an army of zombies. The makeup was so effective we even found ourselves scaring each other in the dark on the way to the loo! There were 15 zombies in total each with unique fatal face traumas ( I had two bullet holes to the face), or horrific props – a gnawed dog’s leg and a half mangled baby!
During the run through we chose strategic locations from where the zombies would stagger out and reduce the audience to a gibbering mass. Responses from the actual audience were wide and hysterical! It was often hard to hold back the laughter when a torch light is pointed in your face and you hear screams of terror and Buck shouting obscenities! With big blokes running in fear and feisty, petite women trying to fight us off, it was a revealing experience for all! I don’t know how well I would have handled being on the other side!
The finale – of Bucks insides being ripped out and a gut pack of bloody intestines made from tights and jelly being devoured by a pack of zombies – was welcomed by a flurry of video phones and cameras to record the mess; I would have loved to have seen what it looked like!
It was an unforgettable experience and one I am still having nightmares about (I am still trying to get the golden syrup blood out of my hair!)
A big thanks to Ed and Claire (The River People) and Kate and Geoff (Spinney Hollow)
Hope to see you all soon!
Tiffany Anne Jackson
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Charlie here, sat in rehearsals for Little Matter. I’m a bit of an imposter here at River HQ. I’m a student really, but the lovely River People have let me come and play with them for a couple of weeks. I’ve been doing a bit of everything while I’ve been here, from making spreadsheets to levitating tables. But the most fantastic thing by far has been watching the play come to life.
My time here began, quite conveniently, on the first day of rehearsals. We sat round with tea and cake aplenty to read and discuss the new script. Since then the play has been coming together remarkably quickly. It really shows how well these guys work together and have a really clear shared vision for their work.
I’ve also been lucky enough to tag along with Claire to rehearsals at the youth theatre at the Theatre Royal Winchester, and to get involved with Dr Strangelove’s Burlesque Discotheque at the Railway Inn. I think Dr Strangelove was one of the most bizarre pieces of theatre I have ever been involved with, and an immense amount of fun!
What a busy life the River People lead!
As I write this the cast are having a go at running what they’ve done so far and its looking beautiful. I shall definitely be popping back down to see the finished thing, perhaps I’ll see you there.
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Hello, Claire here, I’m eating crisps in the office, thinking about the tour that has just finished, and my mind started to wander to all of the memorable moments we’ve had during ‘Lilly’ and I thought I’d share them with you.
So here, in no particular order (you can decide which is best) are the memorable moments/events…
– During a scene with The Alice, Lilly’s foot quite obviously falls off, Clare Pointing grabs it on her exit and the sweet sound of gaffa tape can be heard behind the box as I frantically gaffa it back on, while Andy Gray stalls for time at the start of The Willow scene.
-A rehearsal during which a roll of black LX tape was discovered, which lead to all cast members (and puppets) emerging with little Hitler/Chaplin moustaches at regular intervals.
– During our very first scratch when we had some very bizarre ideas in the piece…The Willow had a cage and a massive Resident Evil style claw, the strange moaning clay figures, when Rottenpockets was more like ‘Hoggle’ from Labyrinth and had tentacles that were puppeteered, the scene where Lilly fell into Rottenpockets’ Pocket and became queen of some feuding fruit(?!)
– (This might be my favcourite) Imagine it, the final scene, Lilly is hanging from the moon and is about to make her decision to go home, the atomosphere is tense and everyone stares in awe up at the glowing moon….and the moon falls off of its hook, smacks Lilly in the face and falls into my arms. Oh the Horror. A quick look to Clare and seconds later the moon is held aloft in her hands and all is well again….phew!
-During every technical rehearsal replacing the word ‘Lilly’ with the word ‘Willy’ and the word ‘Moon’ with the word ‘Poo’.
-When we discovered that one of the books was Terry Wogans autobiography, so took out a photo of Terry that became our mascot behind the set. Then consequently during that days rehearsal Terrys image would appear from books where props were supposed to be. My favourite was Terrys appearance in the final scene in the book that opens as a window in Lilly’s room (all credit to Andy Gray for that gag)
– A beautiful paper man emerges from a book, tenderly and delicately his opens the door and breathes…then his head does a 180 degree spin and suddenly its the exorcist.
I must stop now as there are so many more and I really must do some real work today. If you were in the audience for any of the above incidents do drop us a line!
Thanks for reading