theatre can happen anywhere
On July 18 writers Jess Thom and Matthew Pountney will present a preview of Light of My Life, a new script commissioned by The Nightingale for the latest version of our relay performance project HOST.
HOST is a format that allows a performance (of any discipline) to be passed from one person to another, in the style of a relay. Its first incarnation was in May 2014, when Tim Crouch’s An Act Of Union was performed to and by Brighton Fringe audiences. Tim has continued the HOST ethos in mentoring Jess and Matthew during the writing of Light of My Life.
Jess is an artist and playworker who has Tourettes syndrome, a neurological condition that causes involuntary movements and noises called tics. She and Matthew have been friends for more than ten years and are the cofounders of Touretteshero, which celebrates the humour and creativity of Tourettes.
The Nightingale’s artistic director Steven Brett approached Jess after seeing her award-winning show Backstage in Biscuit Land (part of this year’s Brighton Festival), a ramshackle road trip through her unpredictable and frequently hilarious world.
Here Jess and Matthew talk to the Nightingale’s press manager Nione Meakin about Light of My Life…
NM: What appealed to you about writing a script for HOST?
JT: Using my tics as catalysts for creativity is at the very heart of Touretteshero. Making a piece that the audience not only gets to watch, but also to perform and make their own, fits well with this idea.
What led you to make the focus of the script a lamppost?
JT: When I first started thinking about HOST, loads of different ideas came to mind – none of them involving lamp-posts! But during development I looked through the blog I’ve been writing for the last five years, and I found myself being drawn to posts about the lamp-post I can see from my bedroom window. My tics often develop surreal relationships with objects around me, and I involuntarily tease, admonish and compliment the lamp-post every day. I decided to focus on this unexpected aspect of Tourettes.
MP: We liked the idea of creating a piece that related directly to Jess’s experiences of life with Tourettes but that made no direct reference to the condition within the text. We also liked the interactivity of using lights within the performance; we see the whole piece as a kind of neural network, and we like the parity between the lights going on and off and neurotransmitters firing inside the brain.
How do the pair of you write? Do you bounce lines back and forth on email, sit down and slog it out in a dark room…?
JT: Matthew and I co-founded Touretteshero after a conversation that radically changed the way I view my condition. He described Tourettes as a “crazy language-generating machine” and told me not doing something creative with it would be wasteful. Light of my Life is definitely a product of this machine – a lot of the text is ticced and this is mixed with more carefully constructed anecdotes. We work together in a very natural way, my tics and experiences generating content and Matthew helping to shape these into a structured piece.
MP: Jess and I have worked collaboratively for many years and our process has evolved organically in that time. We use Jess’s tics to generate content, often recording and transcribing what comes out and working that into a text. With Light of My Life we gave ourselves plenty of creative licence, often using the tics as a starting point but allowing ourselves the freedom to adapt them to fit the script.
What qualities would you say each of you brings to the writing process?
JT: My unusual neurology takes us in directions we would never otherwise go. I often describe Matthew’s role as ‘visionary’! He’s very good at seeing the potential for a piece as a whole.
MP: Jess’s tics not only produce incredibly poetic and surreal concepts, they also give her an unusual perspective on life. Her thoughts and experiences as well as the nature of her tics provide the blueprint for everything we produce. I’ve been able to hone ideas and help turn them into finished (if ever-evolving) texts.
What impact has Tim Crouch’s mentoring had on Light of My Life?
JT: Tim’s mentoring was really important in helping us feel confident in approaching the idea of a relay play. As a relatively new writer, hearing about other people’s approaches and experiences is always useful. He made us feel very supported, and encouraged us to take creative risks.
Jess’s Backstage in Biscuit Land has been acclaimed for many reasons, including the insight it gives into life with Tourette’s. What informed Light of My Life, and what do you hope audiences will take away from it?
JT: I like that Light of My Life doesn’t specifically mention Tourettes but that it couldn’t exist without it. I wanted to give people a glimpse of a less obvious aspect of the condition. I’m lucky that my tics draw my attention to obscure details in the world around me that I otherwise wouldn’t notice. I hope that in meeting my lamp-post, audiences will get the chance to reflect on their own surroundings, and forge new relationships with them.
MP: Backstage in Biscuit Land is a very personal, autobiographical piece. Having shared that with audiences for nearly a year now, we’ve been interested in exploring similar themes in a broader context. Light of My Life has provided a perfect opportunity for us to do this. My hope is that audiences will gain an insight into the creative potential of Tourettes through the surreal, poetic and beautiful language it can create.
HOST: Light of My Life, Brighton Dome Corn Exchange, Saturday, July 18, 5.30pm and 7pm. FREE but booking essential on www.brightondome.org.uk