Thursday, 12 April 2012

Seeing the light

This is likely to be quite a long post as there’s plenty of news in the world of the One Eyed Man to catch up on. Soooo ... either give up now and simply come along to the next event – Tuesday 17th April, Tapestri Cafe, Swansea, 7.30pm, all tickets £3 on the door – or get yourself a coffee and a biscuit and strap in ...

Last month’s CHAT/SHOW was the best attended yet with over 20 people coming along to listen to me ramble on about conversation and then having some themselves. Now, 20 people may not seem like very many and you’d be right but in the context of this work it’s just about perfect. 20 people is a large enough group to allow everyone to feel safe and anonymous at the beginning of the evening but also small enough to allow them to feel that they can bond with, and get to know, the people with whom they’ve shared the experience. This work is not just about communication but about actually dropping barriers that we put up between ourselves and others. I know for myself that I tend to walk around the world wearing a protective forcefield that stops me from having to deal with the other people I come across in the world. And that’s fine ... but the negative impact of that is that over time I begin to fear and be suspicious of others for no other reason than that they are ‘other’ to me. And that can only lead to the world becoming a scarier and colder place.

The purpose of the One Eyed Man Project – I now begin to realise – is not just about me finding a place to vent my spleen in the hope of meeting like minded curmudgeons. It’s actually about re-igniting the possibility of genuine connection and communication between people – and providing a space where people can let their guard down just enough to recognise that they are not alone.

Now ... I need to reassure you that, despite not having lived there for over 20 years, I am still a Yorkshireman. I’m dour, suspicious, cynical and I wear a flat cap. My bullshit detector has been beeping madly as I typed that last couple of paragraphs. But the fact of the matter is that I have learned throughout my life that the old maxims are there because they are true. To quote Paul Weller – what you give is what you get. When all I put out into the world was gloomy, cynical bitterness at my lot in life, that was all I received in return. When I decided to try and put some good energy out there – just for a change, for the hell of it – what do you know? I got good energy back in return. So, I couch all this in a blanket of dour northerness but all I can say is that I tried the other way and it really didn’t work for me ...
Back to CHAT/SHOW – the piece continues to evolve. As with all this work, I don’t prepare, script or rehearse. The basic reason behind this is because I want to have a conversation with my audiences and you cannot plan a conversation. I have one more scheduled monthly CHAT/SHOW in Swansea – 17th at Tapestri cafe – and then I will begin to change some of the emphasis on what I do. I’ll still hold CHAT/SHOWs but in future I plan to give people much more time to talk to each other. Currently, it’s ten minute slots with topics about conversation – two people talking and one observing. In future I plan to give at least half an hour to groups of three and the topics will be questions about life, the world and our place in it. I know it will be a big leap for people but I feel sure that it will really enrich the experience.

But I’m constantly asking myself, where is this work is going? I asked this even more as, for the second time, I attended the spring meeting of IETM in Copenhagen at the end of March. I went to the meeting in Stockholm last year to mark my coming out as The One Eyed Man and this meeting really made me question what I’m up to a year on. For those of you who don’t know, IETM (Informal European Theatre Meeting) is a network of contemporary performance and theatre makers across Europe and beyond who meet twice a year to share ideas, thoughts and working practices. It’s basically a huge talking shop – which you’d think would be easy for someone who hosts an event called CHAT/SHOW but you’d be wrong. I spent most of my time there absolutely terrified of simply going up to someone I don’t know and starting a conversation. Physician, heal thyself ...

Anyway, the theme of this meeting was ‘Right?’ – in all permutations of that word – and I was quickly engaged by the stories and ideas that were being shared. I also very quickly got bloody annoyed. You see, I don’t want to tar all artists with the same brush (and God knows I’m in no position to be pious ...) but the tone of what I was hearing was pretty depressing. Faced with global collapse and austerity and the tightening of belts across the world whilst those with money try and convince those of us who don’t have it to have even less of it, the arts community is up against it. State funding for the arts – like all state funding – is under threat and being questioned like it hasn’t been for a generation. This is a time when artists need to be on the front foot, arguing for the value and usefulness of the arts to society. Not in an instrumentalist way – we’re not propagandists for the state - but rather as useful and vital members of society, not pompous arses who stand outside it. But what I found amongst my colleagues at IETM was a level of complacency and entitlement that shocked and angered me. I hasten to add this didn’t come from everyone but it was a general tone I picked up in many of the working groups and meetings. One person put it bluntly – “I’m an artist. I should be paid for doing nothing.”

Yes, fine. Perhaps I could suggest that you wake up and smell the coffee, my friend ...

I offered a suggestion in one of the working groups that set the cat amongst the pigeons and I offer it again here because I profoundly believe it.

Artists have forgotten that we are a service industry and that we exist to serve our community.

Okay, calm down, let me explain ...

Now, by ‘service’ I don’t mean that we are vassals of the state or that we should simply parrot propaganda. I mean that our role is clear – we provide entertainment, stimulation, controversy, reflection and challenge for our community and that we are reactive to it. Artists, it seems to me, have got into a peculiar habit of simply talking to and reacting to themselves. Art for art’s sake, if you will. Well, I don’t believe in that at all. The world is changing rapidly and art can’t simply sit on the sidelines, examining it’s navel and pompously declaring that it’s art so it can do what it likes. Art needs to get into the thick of things and get its hands dirty. I was incredibly inspired at IETM by hearing Nora Amin speak.

She runs her company in Cairo and described how they took their work onto the streets and into Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. Their lives were often in danger as they began to improvise and play as theatre makers in a rapidly shifting and volatile street environment. Now, my society isn’t breaking down in the way that Nora’s did (although I often wonder if it bloody should!) but the fact remains that this is what artists should be doing – getting out of our cosy, usual environments and engaging with people directly.

There was much talk of ‘new models’ and ‘shifting paradigms’ at IETM and this seems to me to be crucial. I love theatre – always have, always will – but the old model is set in aspic. Write a play, cast it, rehearse it, advertise it, sell tickets, build a set, the audience come (or more often don’t) and sit in the dark while we tell them a story. But if you go back to how performance started – as inspired the One Eyed Man – there wasn’t this artificial gap between audience and performer and the work presented was totally present and reactive to the world. It’s this that inspires me and makes me feel that, in a small way, the work I’m doing is akin to that of Nora Amin.

So, where do I go from here?

It’s my intention to look further afield and to present the work in as many places as will have me. I’m no longer funded by Arts Council Wales and won’t be seeking funding to support the work in the near future so the aim is for it to at least support itself. I will seek residencies of a week at a time in various cities and venues around the country. There I intend to present CHAT/SHOW alongside it’s forerunner and sequel.

Last years’ work has now been renamed as RANDOM/ACT – a free flow conversation around anger, grumpiness, bitterness ... and random acts of kindness. This brings me to something I’ve long wanted to mention on this blog – last year I offered each audience the opportunity to pick what I would do with a day of my life ... and I promised to do it. So far, of 29 tasks, I have performed two. This is not because I don’t intend to keep my word but rather because I’ve spent most of the last year battling illness of one kind or another. But I intend to keep my word and fulfil my promises AND I intend to continue to offer audiences the chance to give me more.

So, RANDOM/ACT will take its place alongside CHAT/SHOW. And what of the third in this trilogy? I go back to my original intention which was to see what people really needed to talk about and then to talk about it – and I will offer a new variant called MIND/GAME. In this evening I will offer people an anonymous forum to air something private which they would really like to discuss – and then discuss it. So, this trilogy of variants will make up the work I take into the wider world outside Wales.

I’m dead excited by the possibilities of this work and was really inspired by seeing a show in Copenhagen called The Venus Labyrinth by a company called Cantabile 2. In this show, audience members went into rooms alone with a single performer and experienced something deeply personal and emotional. It was incredibly powerful and moving. The company, under artistic director Nullo Facchini, follow a methodology which they call ‘human specific performance’ as opposed to site specific. I love this notion as it chimes exactly with what I’m trying to do with The One Eyed Man. Performance tailored specifically to the human beings present in the room.

There you go ... lots of thinking, planning, cogitating and all of it leads back to me standing in front of rooms of people with no idea what to say but the profound and passionate desire to be of service as an artist.

Thanks for reading this and do leave me any thoughts or comments either here or on Facebook: The One Eyed Man or Twitter: @manoneeye

Hopefully see you - specifically - soon.

PS - Brene Brown who has inspired so much of the work I do in The One Eyed Man gave another extraordinary TED talk last month. If you haven't caught up with her work yet, you must. Watch this and then go and watch all her other stuff. She's so incisive on vulnerability and shame and I absolutely adore her. Check it out.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

It’s genuinely good to talk ...

So, I’ve now done two of the new incarnation of the One Eyed Man, CHAT/SHOW, in the foyer space at Volcano. It’s a terrific space to do it in – versatile in just the right way. A few sofas, some carefully placed lamps and it feels like a front room or bar environment which is just what this kind of work needs.

The people who have attended have been a mixture of old faces from last year and newbies and that has meant that there is a degree of explanation involved in what I’m doing – that said, the postcards created by the fabulous Claudine Conway, lay out in pretty explicit detail what the evening will be about and so people have been more inclined to go for what I’m asking them to do than I was expecting.

And what is that? Well – talk. Conversation, to be precise. The title of the work is, in some ways, wrong since conversation is, arguably, something more than mere chat. Conversation – as I talk about in the show itself – comes from the Latin word ‘conversare’ which literally translates means ‘to turn around’ – and that’s what conversation really achieves.

So, I’ve been spending about half the evening – roughly 45 minutes – doing what I did last year. Talking in an entirely off-the-cuff and unprepared way about my personal feelings, learnings and experiences of conversation in my life – and, as an adjunct, asking people to tell me theirs.

Since the idea began to evolve from last year’s experiments that what people really responded to was the opportunity to be vulnerable and present in conversation with people they don’t know very well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research and thinking about conversation. Principle texts so far include: The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blyth – a fantastic and rich compendium of thoughts, ideas and maxims of how conversation works and brings benefits; Conversation by Theodore Zeldin – these are transcripts of talks the author gave on Radio 4 which were so popular that he ended up publishing them – they are absolutely wonderful and inspiring about the art of conversation and have also provided me with a rich source of conversational gambits which I give to my guests (I can’t really call them an audience since it’s not really a show ...); and currently – Watching the English by Kate Fox – a hilarious and true account of behaviour that marks out English people – and in particular the ways we converse with each other. It’s almost impossible for me now to make small talk about the weather without thinking about this book and it’s revelations about why we do what we do. Also, her explanation of the way that we have to greet each other in a shambolic and vaguely embarrassed way is pure genius. I heartily recommend all three.

So, after 45 minutes of my ramblings and discussions about conversation – why it works, examples of great conversations, what are the rules? Etc – I then turn the evening over to the guests and offer them the chance to actually have conversations. And I’m delighted to say that people have been really engaging and enjoying the process of talking for it’s own sake.
At this stage, I’m not sure where this is taking me or how it may evolve over time but I still feel strongly that I’m on to something profound.

Think back over the last few days of your own life. Honestly, how many conversations have you had? Not just chats about the weather or Adele being interrupted on the Brits or the awful things happening in the world – but a conversation that actually made you turn around. A meeting of minds that lead to you emerging from the encounter a different person to the one who went in. It’s rare, isn’t it? For me too.

Now, arguably, it should be rare and that if every interaction we had on a daily basis had the same effect then we’d be bouncing all over the place. But it shouldn’t be so rare that we never get any opportunities to look someone in the eye and hear their truth and have them hear ours.

It’s fundamental to what makes us human and keeps us nurturing compassion for one another. For me, the person who drives like an arsehole (I know, I know ...), doesn’t indicate or wear a seatbelt, is someone I would cheerfully throw to a pack of hungry dogs. Because they are a faceless non-entity. But put me in a room with that person, face to face, to genuinely talk about driving and social responsibility and stress and how we might make things better – and we might just arrive at a way of living that is better for both of us and better for everyone else in the world.

I know, call me an old idealist but I genuinely think that in this totally commonplace and non-revolutionary act of conversation lies the key to a successful future for us all as a race.

So, I’ll be there at 229 High Street Swansea every month – Tuesday 20th March and Tuesday 17th April coming up – and I hope you’ll think about coming along.

Because it genuinely is good to talk.

Thursday, 26 January 2012


There you go. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

I always say that to myself after every One Eyed Man offering because the build up to it in my head is so enormous and the level of adrenalin I pump so huge that you’d think I was bungee jumping over Niagra Falls rather than just standing up in front of people who’ve paid to come and see me and talking for an hour or so.

The difference is, of course, that I don’t script or preplan what I’m going to say – I don’t rehearse – I just get up there and talk about the topic that intrigues me at the moment and hope for the best and that people will quickly drop their fears and inhibitions and join me in a conversation.

For that is what CHAT/SHOW is all about. And the first one went really well. A small but perfectly formed audience of friends and newbies came along to Volcano’s fantastic space at 229 High Street Swansea on a crappy rainy Tuesday night. We had tea and coffee and nachos and we talked ... about talk.

Every show is also a work in progress and is unrepeatable since it becomes about that group of people on that particular evening. So, the things I learnt on 24th January, in no particular order, that are unlikely to ever be talked about again in quite the same way are:

Old women in graveyards can often mistake you for a ghost but still like having a chat with you.

Chops are lovely. Especially when they’re minty.

Young people live their entire lives online. They chat online, flirt online, wank online, bitch online and dump people online before they’ve even met them. This at least gives me hope that the current population explosion might soon be on the wane since, frankly, how the hell are these people ever in a position to share bodily fluids?! They’re never in the same room!

Skype can be great but you need to concentrate – some people have to close their eyes even when on a video call. And some people realise that you can take a laptop into the toilet with you when you have wifi ...

‘Electronic toys’ has several different meanings, not all of them family friendly ...

There is risk involved in interacting with other human beings face to face but the pleasures of doing so are immeasurable.

‘The Lean’ is a universally understood part of life.

Not everyone is as enamoured at the thought of conversation with total strangers as I am ...

Once I’d rambled long enough I took the evening to the next level and invited everyone to take part in a conversation.


Sorry ...

It always surprises me how afraid we all are of each other. Not because I’m not, I hasten to add – but I thought it was just me. But no. Suggesting to a room full of strangers that they might like to converse with each other, you can literally feel the tension in the room ramp up a few notches.

But I’m delighted to report that everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves. I provided the conversational gambits thus removing the dreaded fear of ‘what are we going to talk about?’ – and conversation flowed.

Then, I ended the evening by asking people for feedback and, as always seems to happen with this work, people really liked it even though they didn’t know what to expect and would find it hard to describe it to other people. One young guy said he thought it was like “a chat room ... but for real.”

So, onwards and upwards. I will be doing the next CHAT/SHOW at the same venue, 229 High Street Swansea on Wednesday 15th February at 7.30pm. (I had thought about doing it on the 14th but then my only audience would be sad, lonely people who couldn’t get a date ... hang on, it could be like a kind of a speed dating thing!)

Keep talking to each other. It’s the only thing that gives us hope.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The One Eyed Man returns with CHAT/SHOW!

Hello there and happy 2012,

Finally, I’m back and ready to continue the One Eyed Man experiments. I’m picking up where I left off with a brand new show which will run monthly at Volcano Theatre Company’s fantastic new space in Swansea at 229 High Street. Here’s the blurb and I’ll explain more below:

The One Eyed Man & Volcano Theatre Company



You’ve got 500 friends on Facebook ...

You’ve got 700 followers on Twitter ...

But when was the last time you actually had a conversation?

CHAT/SHOW is a unique experience in performance and participation. Suggest a topic, study the basic principles then practice the skills of real conversation.

The art of conversation is dead.

Discuss ...

Venue: Volcano @229 High Street, Swansea

Dates: 24th January; 15th February; 20th March; 17th April

Event begins at 7.30pm. Duration: 90mins.

All tickets: £3 on the door.

Further info:


Facebook: The One Eyed Man Project

Twitter: @manoneeye; @Volcano229

Intrigued? I hope so.

So, what exactly is CHAT/SHOW? Well, for those of you that didn’t see a One Eyed Man show last year (and for those of you that did and didn’t understand what the hell I was up to ...), CHAT/SHOW is the next stage in an ongoing series of performance experiments that I am conducting in front of and with audiences. You see, after years of working as a professional, traditional actor; years of working as a writer for stage and TV; and, latterly, years of working for and with Volcano making work that genuinely engages, challenges, scares and amazes - I began to wonder why it was that I – and many other people – were falling out of love with theatre. My realisation was that this most immediate of mediums – the performers are in the room with you, anything could happen – had lost it’s immediacy. We all know the routine – get your ticket, grab a drink, go to the loo, find your seat, the curtain rises, the actors go through the motions, we clap, they bow and everybody goes home.

*Okay that might be doing it something of a disservice but you get the basic idea ... *

There are many new and engaging forms of theatre that play on the immediacy of the form. Immersive, interactive experiences that take us on a journey – sometimes literally – that walk us through a space, or put us through an endurance test. And in a world where we spend more and more time looking at screens, these experiences remind us that there is something primal in making a genuine and real connection with a performer. I believe this is why stand-up comedy has become the new rock and roll with stars like Michael McIntyre and Dara O’Brain (whatever you may think of them and their ilk) selling out arena’s around the country. The audience feels it is taking part in something live and unique.

But, for me, something was still missing. Genuine immediacy. Stand-up and interactive theatre are still working from the same basic premise – write a show, rehearse a show, perform a show. I wondered what would happen if you took the first two of those away and simply ... did a show.

So, I did. In 6 different non-performance venues in Swansea and Cardiff last year, I performed 29 totally unscripted and unplanned ‘shows’ to audiences who varied in size from 30+ to 1. And I learnt the most wonderful thing.

It worked.

Not only did it work but there was a genuine and real sense of connection: between myself and the audience and (and this is the nub of CHAT/SHOW) between the audience members themselves. People fed back to me that they genuinely loved a chance to meet, engage and converse with total strangers about truly deep and meaningful topics. My job was to create a space safe enough for people to meet minds without fear of ridicule or censure. And that’s what I did.

*Full disclosure – not everyone liked it. Some people felt intimidated by being talked to rather than at, or felt a pressure to engage or talk when they simply didn’t want to. Some people asked me what on earth I thought I was doing and whether I was trying to give ‘group therapy’. Somebody wondered what the hell Arts Council Wales were funding me for. I’m sure they wondered the same thing ... *

People conversed. Spurred on by my ramblings on my deep, abiding fear that hate all of mankind – people who don’t indicate, students, people who don’t pick up after their dog, students, people who talk on their phone in the quiet carriage, students who wear flip-flops in December etc – my audiences engaged with me and each other on a level that we so seldom communicate with strangers. We shared thoughts, ideas, fears and joys. The simple act of conversation seemed to enliven people’s day and feed something absolutely necessary in us all.

So, the next logical stage in the work is to make conversation the central point of an evening.

So, I did.

CHAT/SHOW will explore conversation – how we do it, why we do it, what do we talk about. Is it a skill to be learnt or something we can all instinctively do? An attempt to create for the 21st century the French salons of the 18th. We will come together, examine the fundamental’s of good conversation, share stories of conversations past – both good and bad, everyone love’s a horror story – and then ... we’ll have one.

*Don’t worry – if you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to. But I feel sure that – should you come to the show – after an hour or so, you’ll be raring to get stuck in. But I’m not giving your money back if you don’t ... *

Like the initial experiments, there will be nothing pre-planned, written or rehearsed. The evening will revolve around what you and I bring to it, the day we’ve just lived through and the things we want to talk about. The difference is that talk is what it’s about.

A regular, monthly event at 229 where talk is back on the menu. I think it’ll be great and I really hope you fancy coming along.