Baring my soul… and other things
Laura Milnes, Artsadmin’s trainee producer, faces her fears and dives head first into a revealing weekend workshop with Oreet Ashery.
A Trainee Producer I may be, but contrary to popular belief, I do partake in other activities too. Like many in the Artsadmin office (and other arts organisations far and wide), producing is not the only string to my bow. Once upon a time, I might have called myself an artist. I came at performing from the wings of a drafty school theatre; I overcame my tendency to be seen and not heard, hurtled downstage and found my light. I pogo-jumped off and on stages, both theatrical and rock’n’roll, I poorly mimed cabaret songs in a toilet, I even time-travelled through festivals as an Intrepid Explorer hiding my male modesty under a soiled loincloth.
Despite these past artistic endeavours, most of which were unnervingly bizarre, somewhere along the way I seem to have lost my nerve. The sensible, pragmatic producer within is now without and in recent months I’ve rapidly retreated to the safety of my desk, losing my performer’s poise and confidence. I’m now a dab hand with a budget, but throw me a microphone and I’m all in a tizzy. So, last weekend I resolved to face my fears and dive head first into a performance-making workshop… Now there’s a phrase to strike fear into the souls of the timid and the meek.
I’m talking about an Artsadmin Weekender – a weekend of workshops with an artist, exploring their practice and experimenting with live art in new and illuminating ways. My motivation was fourfold – to force myself to create once again, to understand my reasons for wanting to make art, to experience the process of a live artist and to see and benefit first-hand from the work that Artsadmin does to support artists. I plumped for Oreet Ashery’s Naked As A Jaybird weekend. It seemed to suit me in politics, approach and accessibility, I enjoy Oreet’s work and it met my aims of finding an environment in which I absolutely couldn’t escape the possibility of performing. Little did I know I was about to be braver than I had first imagined.
Now, with a title such as Naked as a Jaybird, most would assume some level of exposition will be involved. I was no exception and I relished the idea of finding freedom through exposing my thoughts, emotions, personal history, politics… Caught up in this self-indulgence and in an unconscious twist of modesty, I neglected to really consider the implications of the word ‘naked’ in its most basic sense. Needless to say, I found myself facing one of my own (rather reasonable, I would say) personal hang-ups. Being nude in front of people, particularly strangers, is simply not something I’m used to. However, we were exploring the process and means of liberation in many senses and while I won’t dwell on what occurred in this particular instance, I will declare that facing and conquering such a personal fear was in fact cathartic, energizing and yes, liberating! I became courageous, candid, a little bit more ‘stupid’ and as a result, “hey man,” as the Jaybirds would say “I feel free!”
Aside from my little personal breakthrough, I enjoyed working alongside other artists, hearing about what they create, insights into their personal histories, glimpses into their lives. The studio became a canvas for the complex dynamic of this unique group and the personalities in it. The group very quickly amalgamated into a whole and the workshop was host to both individuals and collective – a powerful and rare dynamic to be part of. Together we experienced Ashery’s carefully delivered process of artistic emancipation and the liberation I felt through being instructed quite surprised me. Surrendering to the command, embracing the moment and not over-intellectualising felt great. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the workshops for me was the frequent discussion that took place in a space where it felt comfortable to be honest and expressive. Intellectual, political and personal dialogue existed alongside rudimentary physical actions; I flexed muscles in my thighs, my brain, my guts, my self – I came away physically stiff but mentally supple.
So now I can call myself an artist again, right? I’m what my colleague referred to recently as a ‘slashie’ – a producer SLASH artist. Well now, that feels quite nice. There seems to me to be no reason why I must define myself by a single word or why these roles cannot inform each other. All I have to do now is make something of my own. Easy! I’ll let you know how that goes…
Laura is trainee producer at Artsadmin, supported by the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme. Naked as a Jaybird was part of Artsadmin’s Weekenders series. Oreet Ashery will be developing the workshop as part of Live Art Development Agency’s Trashing Performance programme.