“A theme of our times is the fear that our voices will be heard less and less.”
24 hours before standing on a theatre stage in a white suit speaking these words, I had lost my voice.
I mean it was gone.
A gap, where my charisma usually comes out resonantly.
Weirdly, I didn’t panic.
If anything, I thought this was so narratively timed to perfection it was compelling. Caroline said to me in bed that Saturday morning: “I don’t think I can remember you ever losing your voice.” In, let me remind you, almost 32 years of a very very chatty marriage.
By lunchtime, she was commenting how weirdly quiet the house was.
I was wondering whether lipsyncing to Daniel on the Mac text speech would keep my audience in the auditorium for as long as maybe ten minutes.
Creating the show.
In prepping for my Bournemouth Writing Festival talk, I’d kept perspective the whole way there. Glad to say still have, even days into the far side of it. Didn’t get stressed out, haven’t crashed into a funk since. It was just a test of a new format, no great public event that would fill the theatre and transform my inbox on the Monday morning. And I was right, which meant a useful lack of pressure.
But, y’know. It was kindofabigdeal – Unsee The Future’s first ever one-man stage show. In which I was deliberately stuffing out the format to see if it worked.
And it did work. Even if my voice didn’t properly.
I’ve often said that the main thing I’m looking for in delivering an event is for the spirit of it to land – did everyone feel it? Get it and receive it enough? The technical details just don’t matter, if they don’t actually get in the way of that spirit landing.
It was my main hope in Five Songs To Help Us Unsee The Future. And, though that was technically more ambitious and closer to home for me creatively, it also did land. People could see that show was a real stick & string test production and suspended their disbelief a long way for it. It was my most significant artistic live experience and it told Andy Robinson and I the main thing we wanted to know – that the format could work.
I still don’t quite know what to do with the perfect narrative timing that that experience we created was almost five years ago to the hour before I stepped on stage on Sunday.
Five years since Five Songs. No live Momo:tempo since.
I did sort of premier some new music on Sunday, though.
Though I didn’t fill the auditorium of the Palace Court Theatre with ticket-holders or my usual stentorian tones, The planet is f****. So what was a significant moment for me. That Dominic Wong offered me a chance to “go for it” back in the autumn did feel like a sort of wake-up signal to me at the time. This carried me through to a rather produced conclusion.
I ran the whole thing off a Keynote document. Made up music cues, images and footage into MP4 video files and dropped them in around the script and structure I’d developed, which we then ran through a big screen and sound system set up for the festival.
To my eternal private delight, the two very capable 18 year-olds, James and Dan, running sound and light said “WOW!” to my show-opening slide and obviously this will always feel like the main win I suspect.
It sounded and looked pretty good, I was on a big old fashioned theatre stage and had room to run around, I just about hit my marks and remembered the gist of my story. And, though I conspicuously didn’t make two of my costume change timings, I turned these tiny fails to amusement well enough. And yes, there were effectively four costume changes in 75 minutes. I suppose the main thing is really that after 75 minutes the audience still seemed engaged and ready to applaud, rather than leave. I do sound a bit like an elderly Richard Hammond on the recording, but it was still an effective run through and… well, job done.
The significance is probably that I’ve managed to edit and print preview copies of the book alongside the show – fresh copies of UTF: How to think like an artist and change the world from DCS in London were on my stage the whole time and I waved one around at the end to more applause. That book + show 1-2 might prove something I can get out and sell a bit.
As Marcus John Henry Brown said to me this week on a call, I should be expecting to rinse this for about three years. I quoted back my friend Jamie Lee, life-long church pastor: “By the time you’re getting bored with the message, it might be just beginning to hit home.”
I sincerely hope to get very bored of this message. Because I think humans across the planet could do with having the story they think they’re in interrupted by it right now.
Understanding the experience.
The voice thing is weird, though. A central theme of the talk, a central gift in my work, to lose my own voice right then could be deemed spooky. I’m holding it lightly, but noting too that the audio recording of the show is also essentially unusable.
A signal perhaps that this one is indeed about getting out and having to do it again.
The other signals may be simply who was there with me, however. Key dear family were in the room together for the first time in many cases, or significantly wishing me well from afar. I wasn’t alone. Simon, Andy and Lee fortified the soul over lunch and afterwards, having traveled from Exeter. Rich Parker helped to hold the arms aloft too, traveling from Reading with a bottle of medicinal damson gin. And Rina joined us from London to not only bring her voice to the stage with mine for a section but bring a forest wise woman’s poultice to my desperately recovering throat. Philimore, Eastham, Desmier, Evans – brothers and sisters I’ve ridden into creative battle with many times were there with me, also. Including my biological and particularly wonderful sister Melly, journeyed from the midlands to join us with Mama Momo herself whom I could namecheck with applause in the middle of the show. She did, after all, raise me in showbiz and scifi, setting me for life.
And very intertwingled new friend Sue Thomas joined me on stage as well, for an enlightening second guest chat. I felt surrounded and believed in. This is wealth for the soul – finding friends who so get you, they laugh at the jokes and understand your story.
Thank you, dearest family. You got me out of the shed for an evening.
Simon, Andy and Lee, the men from the ministry of Intertwingularity, I should say in particular have now counted four Momo shows they’ve piled into a car together and traveled 100 miles for. Alongside creating the most loving artefact A mixtape for Timo full of voices to creatively encourage me on my fiftieth, during the pandemic. And writing and filming a whole promotional short for Unsee The Future. That Andy was so quick to send me footage of the event, enabling me to share all these stills with you here, is typical of the creative enthusiasm he brings to everything he chooses to support, and typical of how all four of us respond to creative company. As we sat around lunch, you could see us feeling the relief of being “back in a Bluedot state of mind” – whenever we get together, it feels like an ideas festival.
Rina, meanwhile, has been down to join the lovely first lady of Momo and I more times than anyone in the last 18 months, as she and I have schemed and scribbled and developed structures for a joint evolution of both our work, between her Holy Handgrenades and my work with Unsee. This, I said to her, was my audition and creds for what we will come out with next. But mostly, we are needing the company of souls we don’t have to explain ourselves to.
Which reflects a theme to have emerged from the whole festival – writers need each other. It’s a lonely job, and that sense of community seems to be the heartfelt ask of everyone who attended the sort of phenominal first year. Dom and Ildiko drummed up a schedule of speakers too rich to get around and it’s clear that folk left feeling jazzed to keep going in their work. Though my talk was always going to be a meta slide for those seeking practical workshops, my talk’s call stands there at the finale of this event none the less: We must write the new stories of us. I wonder who will attempt my homework of writing a new solarpunk short fiction.
It’s likely to be an interesting Unsee live stream special, and an interesting theme to keep exploring – actually coaxing new songs and stories of us out of people.
At the end, perhaps the main professional headline is simply that Dominic and Ildiko, festival founders, and David and Lyn my show sponsors all seemed happy. Big hugs and thanks. So too, to my releif, did Anna Farthing, chief engagement officer for Arts University Bournemouth who were effectively hosting us and running as at the old Palace Court Theatre. She seems to be becoming a valued ally and mate in the fold here, to Caroline and I. Each of these leaders has supported my work with smiles and warmth and energy, investing in me with belief. Between them, they handed me stage and costumes and all said: Go for it!
At some point, someone else has to say that to you and push you out the aeroplane. Or onto the stage.
A theme of my own career is brave niche one-offs. It remains to be seen if I have just changed the story I think I’m in and finally really begun to find my voice in this work.
All stills courtesy of Andy Robinson.
A promotional cut of the show coming for subscribers.
To find out more about Bournemouth Writing Festival visit: www.bournemouthwritingfestival.co.uk >