So, like the proverbial bad penny, I’m back. Its been a long time since my last blog ( June 2013), and a very long time since I began working on ‘Edith, Elizabeth and I’.
But the truth is I never actually went away, because since starting this project in 2011, somehow, against ridiculous odds, I managed to stay on the ‘f…ing bus’. Now, this isn’t an aggressive boast or just me swearing for swearing’s sake. I would like to introduce you, if you are not already familiar with it, to the Helsinki Bus station theory.
“ In Helsinki there are 5 buses that make the same stops within a kilometer of leaving the station. If you get off the bus after the first kilometer, you’ll never know that each bus eventually diverges away from the other buses and follows its own unique path. So if you keep getting off the bus after the first kilometer and go back to the station and take another bus for the first kilometer you will land up at the same stop doing the same thing.”
Minkkinen compares this to a photographer following a particular path, but in realising, or being told they are following the same path as others, constantly goes back to the beginning and starts again. Minkkinen says "This goes on all your creative life: always showing new work, always being compared to others." What's the answer? "It's simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f…ing bus." Because eventually the bus ‘diverges’, eventually you find your own ‘vision’, your own way of doing things.
“the theory also illustrates a critical insight about persistence: that in the first weeks or years of any worthwhile project, feedback – whether from your own emotions, or from other people – isn't a reliable indication of how you're doing.”
He acknowledges however that ‘triggering hostile reactions’ doesn’t necessarily mean you must be doing the right thing; it just doesn't prove you're doing the wrong one.
In the case of ‘Edith, Elizabeth and I’, the project wasn’t initially about the pursuit of originality or ‘vision’. I just wanted to create an interesting piece of theatre, about identity and biography, which featured two remarkable women of the past, and explored my attachment to them, as a woman of today. Ultimately I wanted to produce a full performance, and take the piece on tour. I knew my bus followed a fairly well worn route; a solo show with a biographical element, although not a biography, one actress playing multiple characters; nothing that hadn’t been done before. So my aim from the offset wasn’t to find my own path, it was to get on the bus and get to my destination.
What I didn’t anticipate were the roadblocks, diversions, hijack attempts and ‘breakdowns’. A catalogue of disasters, criticisms, and just some general everyday distractions, most of which are not even worth listing here, but all of which made me want to get off the stupid ‘Edith bus’, and go back to the station. A particular low point was when one ‘critic’, having seen a ‘work in progress’ version of the play, commented that the ‘acting’ wasn’t adequate and, being a show with physical character changes, suggested that ‘Berkoff could do it!’ An interesting idea, and almost worth entertaining because of its bizarreness, but after some thought the answer was ‘You know what, Berkoff ‘s got his own bus, he’s got a fleet of buses- so he can bloody well get off mine!’
And that’s partly why I was able stay on my bus; sheer bloody mindedness, a stubborn streak that I’d always been aware of, but through making my own journey, am now embracing fully. And in spite of the critics, there were plenty of people who helped me stay on that bus, even when it turned into a slightly dangerous runaway vehicle, and when I knew they wanted to scream-‘If you don’t get off that bus, I will drag you off, because this is madness and I am so very sick of hearing you talk about it!’ Instead they (metaphorically and actually) gave me extra money to top up my ‘bus ticket’ or a ‘packed lunch’ to help me on my way. And I am eternally grateful to them. It was actualy one of these stalwart supporters, my friend Rebekah, who originally told me about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory- And the immortal line became my mantra, sometimes said out loud when things went wrong- 'Stay on the f...ing bus, stay on the f...ing bus, Just stay on the godamned F...ING BUS!' To the outside world I may have looked off my trolley... but I was still on that bus!
And the funny, but possibly not suprising thing is, that the play now is very much about forging your own path, and finding your own way in life. Edith Sitwell was someone who did that, who stayed on her bus, and in doing so found her own unique journey. She ‘devoted her whole life to writing poetry’, but it wasn’t an easy ride. There were many distractions; as the eldest and only girl she was the one expected to turn her attention to family, to earn enough money to live she wrote prose rather then her favoured medium, and her life in London was ‘plagued with interruptions, which ‘kidnapped her time’. And there were always criticisms, ranging from the fact her poems were full of ‘monotonous themes and mannerisms’ to the suggestion that she was as ‘ugly as modern poetry’- to which she replied ‘ How one looks seems to have nothing to do with ones work at all!’ She would have told Berkoff to get off her bus, and no mistake.
I am now coming into sight of my original destination, and I am so glad I stayed on the bus. ‘Edith, Elizabeth and I’
is now a fully written, fully rehearsed production with a beautiful set, and has had three public preview performances (The Marlborough Theatre
and The Tristan Bates
) and there are more to come over the next few monthes,
and then a potential tour later this year or early next.
I won’t be on the ‘Edith bus’ forever, as there will be new projects and ideas, and different journeys. But I am now somewhere different, somewhere where I’m aware and proud of my own personal and artistic abilities as a writer, performer and theatre maker. I won’t be going back to the bus station…just carrying on the adventure, from this point, on a new bus.