A question, a case study and seven digressions

by Duška Radosavljević

I am tickled by a question a fellow dramaturg asked me the other day: is there such a thing as female dramaturgy?[1] Not so much a 21st century feminist dramaturgy but rather a pre-Aristotelian mode of theatre-making that can be characterized as female rather than male.

It’s hard to speculate around a question like this, but it did remind me of something the neuro-surgeon and author Leonard Shlain said in his 1998 book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. According to Shlain, writing entails pretty much the same neurons in the hand-to-eye co-ordination process as those used by men specifically while hunting. Women’s habitual hand-to-eye co-ordination, meanwhile, works differently, he argues, because the neurons active in taking care of babies are different; hence, women see the world more holistically. Writing, claims Shlain, is intrinsically a male activity, and the advent of literacy, interestingly, coincided with the end of matriarchal, goddess-worshiping cultures.

I don’t have the book to hand to quote Shlain directly, but the way I have processed this reading would lead me to think that female dramaturgy would be different from the male, Aristotelian, linear, conflict-based one in a number of significant ways. We could not imagine exactly what the pre-literate female brain was like and what kind of theatre it would have led to, but we could perhaps deduce some key features of female dramaturgy from observing the work of theatre women more closely. If I may be allowed to generalize on the basis of personal experience, I would suggest that women favour fragementary, cyclical structures; they tend to dwell on a specific theme rather than pursuing action-filled plots;[2] their strorytelling is more ornate and full of digressions;[3] and they are possibly more conflict-averse.

I can give a more specific example too. I was recently invited to work as a dramaturg with Notnowcollective on their show Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth. Notnowcollective are two theatre women based in Birmingham – Kristina Gavran, a writer, and Tina Hofman, an actress, director, producer.[4] Their piece, Wonderwoman, is specifically about motherhood rather than femininity as such. Despite some reservations about my ability to rise to the challenge given that I am currently on maternity leave and living in a different city, Tina and Kristina wanted me to be part of the process precisely because of these circumstances – the ability to understand the constant balancing act, the dealing with the interruptions, the guilt, the occasional need to work below one’s own standards. (They didn’t say all this but intuitive understanding too can be deemed to be part of the package.)

At first I read the text – a document of a semi-devised creative process the two had undertaken for about a year. It was charming, funny, strong, erratic, erotic, rough at the edges and simply wonderful. Then I visited for a runthrough – because my baby is breastfeeding and I don’t drive, I came to Birmingham with my whole family in tow. Baby Katarina and I went into the rehearsal room, our boys out into the groovy gardens of Birmingham Mac for an afternoon. And this is it: unlike other (men-led) rehearsal rooms, this one was filled with an informal, chatty, gentle energy. Our conversations took place over walnuts and dates with known places of origin. We delighted in hearing each other’s personal stories.[5] There was no excessive compulsion about having to reach goals or targets. I felt completely relaxed about having to change or feed the baby while working. She felt okay about sleeping in the room.[6] The sunshine warmed the room discretely, and the main problem was: how to make the fights between the two characters convincing enough!

I was not able to attend the premiere, but I did see the final script and the video recording of the performance. At the end of it I can tell you this: Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth is a vibrant and earnest piece of theatre – the kind in which the fights are playacted, the kind in which a particular theme[7] is explored within a cycle of carefully crafted fragments, and the kind I would imagine pre-Aristotelian theatre women would approve of.

[1] Digression 1: The question, posed by my friend Beatriz Cabur, was in fact prompted by this fascinating article: http://howlround.com/why-i-m-breaking-up-with-aristotle.

[2] Digression 2: Here I am thinking of the image of Penelope weaving during the day and undoing her weaving during the night, only to start all over again the next day. I’m thinking of this image not in the context of its own narrative causality as envisaged by Homer (whoever s/he may be), but as an emblematic image of a female weaver being more interested in repeating rather than completing an action.

[3] Digression 3: Or maybe the right term would be embroidering?

[4] Digression 4: Both of these women practice professional storytelling too. This is significant.

[5] Digression 5: Tina and Kristina are both Croatian. I am Serbian. This might have been significant at one time too. We spoke in a mixture of languages, patching together experiences, past and present, with some plans and desires for the future.

[6] Digression 6: I may be forgiven for confessing this now: I was completely exhausted when I arrived into the room after weeks of not sleeping and overdelivering on other fronts, and suddenly I was feeling completely rejuvenated and revived just by being there

[7] Digression 7: If you must know, the theme of the piece would be best expressed as ‘Can you have it all?’. But then ‘Can you have it all?’ is actually the way a man would put it, within a male world. Within a female world, the question would be something more like: ‘How can I smoothly and productively integrate into my life the roles of a mother, artist, lover, ethical member of the society and a joyful human being?’.

Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth Review

guest blog post by Jordan Garvey

Jordan is a new mum from Birmingham, she is also a writer having written for blogs for the last four years, she is currently writing a book, when she isn’t cuddling her newborn or changing nappies. Originally, the article was published on her blog Bug and Bloom. Check it for more Jordan’s writings on motherhood.

‘Wonder Woman… you need to earn it!’

It’s been a while since we’ve written anything for our blog, in the midst of teething traumas, lack of sleep, holidays and day to day things, writing has been a little bit of a thing of the past, until now. This week we trundled our teething babe down to MAC to watch a play with a baby friendly matinee, written by two mums for mums called Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth, it was so liberating to be welcomed into a creative space with Ida and to see so many other parents who were also comfortable and had brought along their little one. There was no sneering if your child cried or ran up to the performers during the show because this show highlighted how to be a mum and find time to pursue our ambitions, especially as creatives. But this wasn’t just the bit for me that I found myself relating to as Ida’s teething pains kicked in half way through the performance.

The show tackled issues around feeling shamed and being shamed by other parents about our “inadequacies” as parents. Does your baby have a bedtime routine? No? Shame on you! Do you eat chocolate? Yes, you know your post pregnancy body won’t thank you! Shame on you! The expectations and pressures put on mums of today was something I had thought about when I was pregnant. Would people shirk me if I didn’t lose my post baby flab straight away? Am I a terrible mother if I look at my phone for five minutes whilst my baby is feeding because my attention has been on her for most of the day? Am I terrible for craving just five minutes of escape? Being surrounded by mother’s who had also brought their tiny babes to the shows, who also had a knowing look, a look that says “Shame on me?” helped me realise that it is okay to want time to yourself, to be you, to be more than your baby and not get it right, not have the answers and just do the absolute best you can.

Talking about the things that you love or like about your baby or being a mother was a piece of the show that really warmed my heart. Things like “I love when my baby smiles.” “I love when I feed my baby.” and even how we interact with other people’s children matters a lot to other parents. “I like how you are with my kids.” “I like the questions your kids ask me.” Finding the positives in a job that is brilliantly difficult helps when the days that you just wish you knew how to do his better arrives. When you look in the mirror and smile wearily at yourself and try and believe that you’ve got this.

“You’ve got to give it to yourself”… Throughout the show Wonder Woman wants one thing. Validation. To know that she is doing a great job, she is a wonderful mother. “Do you want a medal?” someone might ask when you talk about the hard times of parenting. Well yes, yes I do is what the answer may be and you know, that is totally fine because when you do a hard job sometimes a pat on the pat helps you get through, but as mothers we need to learn that we can be given certificates, medals, hugs and words of encouragement but there is only one person that can convince us that we are doing an amazing job and that is ourselves. No matter how many times our partners, families or friends tell us how incredible we are, you won’t believe it unless you think it. I remember shortly after having Ida being wracked with guilt because I didn’t have a clue how to deal with certain things and it didn’t matter if Paul hugged me and told me I was doing great, I didn’t believe it until we took Ida to be weighed at the baby clinic and she had put on over two pounds in two weeks, the health visitor commented on how happy and healthy Ida looked. It was this moment that I realised that I could give myself that medal, that certificate that says I am bloody brilliant.

Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth is a huge praise to its creators Not Now Collectiv and its performers, Tina and Kristina. Thank you for allowing us into your space, to feel comfortable and showing us that being a mother is difficult, is demanding and doesn’t define who you are but it does give us power and strength when we acknowledge that we aren’t perfect.

How long does it take for a child to break a pair of sunglasses?

by Georgina Lee

Turns out not actually that long, but it serves me right for giving them to the little one, eBay’s finest just could withstand his strength! With a new pair instantly purchased on my phone it was time to start rehearsals.

This week was the week when the director Hannah Silva would be working with us. It’s been really interesting to get a fresh pair of eyes on the piece and it’s developed dramatically with Hannah’s help.

Rehearsals are so much fun, not only because the show is brilliant but the way we all interact and share different stories, from breast-milk leaking everywhere to sex after children. We’re all so relaxed and open which is refreshing and I’ve learnt a lot about motherhood from Tina and Kristina.

The show is looking really good and there are beautiful moments which I love to watch and enjoy, I know the next week will be stressful in the run up to tech and dress rehearsals, but I’m ready for it.

I really recommend watching “Embarrassed” by Hollie Mcnish, which is a piece of spoken word about breastfeeding and how it is frowned upon.

 

 

 

Children, chicken pox and creativity

 by Georgina Lee

I spent the day with Tina and Kristina of notnow Collective working on their upcoming show Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth.

The dynamic duo has been rustling up an innovative piece of theatre discussing their experience of motherhood and the challenges they have faced. One of those obvious challenges today was chicken pox; Tina’s son had caught them and not wanting to give them to Kristina’s son, a trip to the park sounded like a plan.

Whilst running through the grounds of Canon Hill Park, I came to realise how much energy you need to keep up with children, and I only spent an hour with him, I began to wonder how could you balance children and your career/lifestyle?4772

The two women have always been relaxed about having their children in the rehearsal room, and encourage the audience to bring their children along too, whatever happens happens!

Mothers are constantly being judged; breast or bottled-fed, stay at home or back to work, self-soothe or not? No matter what mothers pick there will always be someone who disagrees as you can’t please everyone. Who defines what makes a good mother and why should people care what others think?

The show is ever-changing and evolving as the rehearsal period goes on, and I am extremely excited to be a part of that.

Wonderwoman: The Naked Truth will be performed at mac Birmingham on:

Sunday 22nd May 2pm & 5pm

Tuesday 24th May 12pm & 8pm

(Matinees are baby friendly)

Head over to https://macbirmingham.co.uk/event/wonderwoman for tickets or http://notnowcollective.com/projects/wonderwoman/ for more information.

 

 

Talking baby stuff

by Kristina Gavran

I miss talking adult stuff. I miss deep, concentrated, long conversations about literature, politics, or even men. I cannot say for sure that is „adult stuff“, but it is definitely different from talking about teething, milestones (is your baby turning? Is your baby saying da-da-ma-ma?) or asking what you put into puree.

I’ve met so many mums and got to know quite a lot about their life – I know their baby’s sleep routine, how much they are eating or their digestion problems, and yet I have no idea what profession those mums have. What is their favorite band? Where did they used to go dancing? On a business networking meeting you would start a conversation with „And what do you do?“  In a club you might start  with „What music do you listen to?“ In a stay and play group you start with „How old is your kid?“ We don’t talk about ourselves anymore, we constantly talk about our kids.

On the other hand, having a baby is like having a dog – it is your ticket to meet so many new people in the parks and just start a conversation because you have something in common. Pram, baby, dog…they are all signs that you share similar topics. It is much harder to find out about someones hobbies or music style. Although it is nice to share problems like teething and colic with complete strangers, get some sympathy or a bit of advice, I miss good old fashioned conversations about weather and rain. Or just not talking to strangers at all.

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You become a mum, but nobody tells you that all of a sudden you have to sit in a circle and sing nursery rhymes, making some weird movements with your body (The Wheels on the bus go round and round) and smile to all the other babies and mums. My first stay and play group felt like everybody around me was on drugs; mums who are weirdly happy, and a group leader speaking in high voice: That is beeeeaautiful! Let’s sing again!

I started avoiding children’s centers after a parenting workshop in which the workshop leader gave us papers with drawings of faces with emotions – sad, angry, tired, upset. She said „Circle the face that shows how you feel“ I felt like screaming. Thank you very much, I am an adult, I know how to express how I feel, I don’t need drawings for that. Just because I have a child doesn’t mean you have to treat me as a child.

Recently I met my friend Ann who is not a mum, and doesn’t even have an interest in babies. We were walking in a park and talking while my baby was sleeping in his pram and it was so good to talk normally again. But then we met another friend of mine who has a baby as well. I exchanged a couple of sentences with her „How cute is your baby! Wow, what a nice dress you have (baby has a dress, not mum). Yes you do, yes you do! Nice dress!“ and I just noticed Ann rolling her eyes. Later on Ann told me „You mums behave completely different when you are alone, or when you are in a group.“ I remembered the previous scene and yes, I caught myself speaking in high voice, making weird faces and repeating words. It’s a little like two teenagers meeting together and all of a sudden changing their normal speech patterns.

So, maybe all the other mums, same as I do, also complain about talking baby stuff all the time. But once they are in the mother circle they just play along. I should protest. Of course I should protest. But I just keep mum.

One foot in front of the other 4, 5, 6

by Tina Hofman

One foot in front of the other 4

Batman had a fever last night. First time in his three and a half years of life.

His heavy breathing awoke me and I got up around midnight to see how he was. By 4am we were both still awake, his fever peaking.

We dozed away a little in the morning, just before the alarm went off.

I called my Mum, seeing if she could come early to stay with Batman, so I can go to work. I woke her up some 2 hours before she happily interacts with the world. She agreed to come asap. (gratitude.) In reality, had this happened in Birmingham I would be so much more stressed. (gratitude.)

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Rehearsals are never fun after barely any sleep. Even less with knowing there is a poorly someone needing me at home. At various moments of my attempt at directing the actors tried to decode what I am trying to say. My happy level of articulation died a painful death today. My ability to make myself understood was greatly reduced, probably following the amount of sleep I’ve had. I could not look after my team and my project properly, and left my Mum to look after my poorly child.  For a brief moment I entered a deep dark labyrinth which was resonating with familiar questions about own professionalism and mothering decisions and meaning of life. I quickly withdrew from that pitfall. More guilt was not was I needed right now.

One foot in front of the other 5

The kindergarden saga continues. Spiderman is chuffed to bits, Batman less so.

Spiderman is gregarious, independent and makes friends instantly. Batman thrives less from new social situations. He cries at the idea of being left alone in unfamiliar surroundings. He does not want to stay. For several days I sit in the kindergarden room with him. In my coat and shoes, aware I have only a very limited amount of time before having to shoot off for work, I am trying to support his transition. And I feel I am crap at it.

I manage to sneak out and get to the rehearsals on time. A couple of hours later I call the kindergarden. He cried a bit, I am told, but is fine and happy now. I am sure this was said in a positive way, such as “there is nothing to worry about “. Unfortunately I did not hear the positive. I linger on the “cried a bit” bit.

In the afternoon break, I am having coffee with my old friend The Guilt:

The thing is, I enjoy my current job as much as a child enjoys their play. Not every job that I do is like that, but quite a few are. I sometimes get engrossed so much that I can hardly call it work. Still, it is, and I feel hugely privileged to be able to love what I do so much. So, Spiderman is in tears so I can leave and get so engrossed in my job to forget about the rest of the world for a few hours.

I finish my coffee and go back to work, leaving The Guilt to wash out the cups.

One foot in front of the other 6

Airport.

I am looking at a coffee cup next to my computer. I am alone.  I have a very linear task at hand:  have coffee (alone), do a bit of work (alone) and board my plane (alone). I am taking a short break in the current project to travel away to do another. I am travelling alone. One-woman travel.

For a moment I try to make sure I have not lost anything on the way. Wallet, passport, boarding pass, computer, bag.  I stir with a shock! “Where are the kids!?”- flies through my mind, only to remember instantly I am flying solo.

Having just said goodbye to my family, I feel a sense of grief and underlying freedom. Not quite sure what to do first. Almost like I have to unlearn some automatic habits. Like looking for the nearest toilet.

I feel I need not leave as much time walking to the gate now that I am alone. I have time at my hands and nothing but my own tasks to think about. Being engrossed in my computer and enjoying a powerful kick of a truly Italian espresso, I nearly miss my plane. Well done me.

How do I write now, as a mum?

by Kristina Gavran

When you go for a writing workshop, most of them will start with a simple writing exercise – you have 5 minutes and you just have to write without stopping. The only rule is that you cannot move pencil from the paper (or fingers from your keyboard). They also say you should start your writing every day like that, and then move on to the „real writing“. But what happens when you do not have time for „real writing“ and the stream of consciusness becomes the only method of writing?

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This is exactly how I feel since becoming a mother. This is how I have been writing lately, this is how this blog post will be written, this is my reality. I spend all morning chasing my baby; I feed him, change nappies, play with him, read, sing….I make so many mental notes during the day. Because I know…around eleven he will get tired and he will sleep for one to one and a half hours. And that is my precious time to write.

I leave him in his bed and I run to the laptop hidden in my wardrobe (he noticed there is something special about the laptop and he loves playing with it, so I can’t even open it in front of him). I turn the laptop on in panic, I open the new word document and I just start, without thinking.

Before, when I was still a student of dramaturgy and playwriting, I would stretch my writing process to infinity. I would make myself a cup of coffee, clean the table, put everything in order (which also helped me clear the mind), then stare at the white screen for some time. I would write the first sentence, think about it for some time, erase it, go and make myself a snack, stare again at the white screen, write again a first sentence…. at the end of the day I would have a couple of pages. I would edit, think about each word, read it out loud just to hear how it sounds, edit again…and again. What luxury!

Now I have only one rule – don’t move your fingers from the keyboard! Write as much as possible in a short time, don’t think, don’t go back, you will edit later. I am writing surrounded by mega bricks, talking puppies, plastic cars and picture books. My table is in mess, I don’t care. My tea is getting cold next to me, I don’t care. I have no time to sip from cup, I can’t move my fingers because it would stop the stream of (un)consciousness. With the corner of my eye I notice I made a typo in the previous sentence, but I don’t care. I have no time to go back. I check the clock in panic….he will wake up. I have to hurry! My battle with time is giving me strength to continue.

At the end of the day I think; is this still art? Is my writing of any quality when it is written like this, in panic? Should I just give up? How can you be a writer and a full-time mum?

But then I conclude; I cannot go without writing. So, if this is the only way at the moment, let it be. Yes, my sentences are not as beautiful and thoughtful as they used to be, but they are „more real“. And if in art history we had Baroque, Classicism, Naturalism and even Dadaism (influenced by baby talk among other things) then why can’t we have „more real mother writing“? I will write a manifesto of this new direction in literature and call it MWIP (Mother Writing in Panic). Let’s start a movement! Wait a minute….my baby just has.

 

One foot in front of the other 1, 2, 3

Work, Parenthood and #RadicalChildcare

by Tina Hofman

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One foot in front of the other 1

We’ve got it! The Arts Council funding!! We got the bloody funding!!!

Spiderman heard the postman and ran to the door to pick up the letters. I try practicing his word recognition by letting him sort the post for us. He gave me my letter.

As soon as I read “Arts Council” at the top, and recognised a brown, large, thickly filled envelope, I knew it.

I got it out and the letters “Offer Letter” just gleamed at me.

Spiderman and Batman were on the sofa, playing gladiators. I started to squeal and then scream. They stopped and looked at their mother. I was on the verge of tears, but also quite hysterical, covering the mouth to mute the volume of shock.

Being aware of their confusion and slight concern I shouted: “I am so happy. Kristina and I finally got the funding for our show!!”. Having seen me disappointed at the previous rejection letters, they understood something went well.

“Will you be doing the Wonderwoman?”, they asked.

I nodded.

Spiderman and Batman were very pleased.

I now needed to pluck the courage to tell them I have to get onto the computer, rather than take them to the park.

One foot in front of the other 2

I have an urge to honour this time of the day. It is 11:17pm. Batman and Spiderman are soundly asleep. The fridge is humming. This is the only sound I hear. Apart from the rain on my windows.

A small glass of red next to my computer. Technology working . (gratitude.) Brain very much awake and working.  (gratitude, but also knowing I will be unable to switch off when I finally lie in bed.)

I sometimes feel strangely powerful, at this time of the day. Just answering a wave of accumulated emails. I am concentrated, focused and fast. I do not procrastinate as my hour of sleep depends on my speed of work.

Dishes are washed and all is ready to welcome the morning.

One foot in front of the other 3

I changed countries the other day. For a temporary job. My two kids are with me. I on my own at the moment, my partner arrives in a week.  We are still busy unpacking our things at our temporary home.  Luckily, they are thrilled with the excitement. Travelling and temporary beds do not phase them. (gratitude.) They actually know Zagreb quite well. My Mum lives here. She is happy to help. (gratitude.)

It was a good day today. It exceeded all expectation. My cast is wonderful, the rehearsal room is well-equipped and my ideas are flowing. I am articulated and seem to know what I am doing. Luckily, I have done my homework in depth.

I am collaborating with a colleague who is also super-organised and reading from the same page.

I am proudly collecting these golden stars. For the days when I might be tired, less focused and not so well articulated.

Having finished a Skype meeting with learning community on #RadicalChildcare, I stayed up late catching up on emails.

In bed I am going over my to-do list.

I packed 2 little rucksacks. 2 snack boxes.2 pairs of slippers for indoors. Waterproofs for outdoors in case it rains. Change of clothes for Batman in case he has an accident. A spare pair of trousers for Spiderman in case he gets. A selected toy by each. Filled out forms with phone numbers for emergency. In case they cry a lot.

Tomorrow we are trying the new kindergarten. Through lost of research I found, what I hope to be a suitable place. The kindergarten is inflexible with hours (9am-1pm, this covering only a part of the day), but flexible with us just staying for several weeks.

I sometimes take them to work with me, but currently I want/need/crave some intense and focused time. I also want them to enjoy their new surroundings. Not to feel punished.

They will be fine.

Momentary guilt creeps in.

I quickly remind myself it was a good day today.