Museling 10 – How Do I Stay Naked part 1

Museling 10 – February 9th, 2017

In the 10th Museling, we start our journey towards nakedness with the story of a naked performance on the island of Lesvos. Hear the wind in the olive trees! The goat bells! The sea! And listen to me talking about what it means to be naked in front of an audience.

You can find information about John Britton’s company Duende here.

A transcript of this episode is below.

You can find the podcast and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here.


Episode transcript:

[Jingle]

[Sound taken from a recording of a solo performance in Fara, Lesvos, on the 4th July, 2016]

“I think the reason that I have never been in love is that nobody could ever be good enough for me.”

“I believe that I am better than you but that, if I’m careful, you won’t notice.”

“I believe that I don’t contribute enough.”

“I know exactly why it is that you like me so much and, if I were you, I would like me too.”

“I do not believe that I am capable of preparing a performance that is worth the effort it took to prepare it.”

“I think the reason that I’ve never been in love is that nobody could ever be good enough for me.”

[Recording ends]

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OK, so you have to imagine that I’m naked.

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I’m on the island of Lesvos, in Greece, where the sounds are constant cicadas, wind in the olive trees and frequent goat bells.

The goats are amazing, by the way. I can’t get enough of them. Just listen to them coming past where we’re staying so that they can get to the sea. [Sound of someone saying “The sheep want to pass…” and then something in Greek] That’s Eva, who owns the house that we’re staying in. [Sound of shouts] And the shouts come from the man who owns the goats.

Let’s… let’s take a walk towards the sea ourselves and I’ll tell you what’s going on.

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It’s July 2016 and I’m taking part in a residency called Performing At The Edge run by a man called John Britton. He’s a performer and a director and a teacher and I find his psycho-physical performer training very profound. I have a different relationship with anxiety as a result of this work; I have a different relationship with expectation. It’s not that these things go away, but that, while I do this work, I am able to find ways to stand a little apart from them.

I’ve worked with John in London and in a place called Au Brana down in the southwest of France, but the effect of the work is amplified here on Lesvos. It took me two days to get here, by air and sea, and, during the journey, I felt all of the tension that I usually carry around with me fall away, really like a weight slipping off my shoulders. We are in the middle of nowhere here, with no phone signal and no access to the internet, and I really feel that, for two weeks, I have nothing to do except be here. Show up for the training. Do the exercises. Accept my failures. Acknowledge my successes.

About half way through the residency, John asked us to prepare a solo performance. He set us the task of exploring something that would be a challenge to us. Something that we were excited to try. Something that might be frightening but that wouldn’t fill us with dread. It shouldn’t be something that we don’t feel ready to do. But it should be on the edge of what, in this place and at this time, we consider ourselves capable of. Because that is where pleasure and the possibility of change have set up their dwelling.

‘Nakedness’ was what first came into my mind. I wanted to explore nakedness. I wanted to be naked.

I like being naked. I’ve swum naked while I’ve been here. Not for the first time but for the first time in company. It’s very dark at night and you can’t actually see anybody else’s body. But above us there are the stars – and the milky way is so clear, particularly because there’s no moon at the moment – and, all around us, in the water, there is bioluminescence – flashes of light that seem to come off our bodies like sparks as we swim.

And, listen, it’s not like I’ve never on stage wearing very little either. I’ve stripped down to my pants before now and, just last year, I was in a show where a cherry tomato was apparently inserted into my anus. But I’ve never been completely naked in front of an audience, full frontal, vulnerable. I’ve never been naked in a way that did not allow me to step away, mentally, from what I was doing. And what I wanted to explore here has to do with being seen, with allowing people to see me, very simply, as I am. I find the prospect of that a little frightening but, finally, at the age of 36, somewhat exciting.

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Of course, being seen doesn’t just have to do with nudity but with honesty. Which is why I realised that the performance should also involve some text – the most telling of which might have been “I do not believe that I am capable of preparing a performance that is worth the effort it took to prepare it.”

Because, suddenly, when I started preparing this performance, I realised that I was terrified, not so much of having no clothes on, but of letting my colleagues here on the residency see what it was that I felt would be worth watching. That’s the nakedness of the artist, I suppose, and it’s terrifying.

I mean, I’m an experienced performer and I’ve been making my own work for a few years now but it’s not often that I stand in front of people without some protection – either I’m there as Samantha, my alter ego, or I’m working with other people and, in some sense, I can pretend that I’m no more than a body for hire. I mean, I didn’t make all the decisions, right?

Here on Lesvos, it’s just me.

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So here’s how the performance worked. I chose to do it in a concrete water tank that sits, sunk into the ground next to the drive to the house. There’s no water in the tank and the floor is covered in unripe olives and dried olive leaves that I’ve swept into four piles, ostentatiously leaving the broom leaning against the side of the tank so that people would know that I have put some work into this. We all of us – about twenty people – walk up the drive from the house together and stop next to the tank. I climb onto the lip. I’m wearing a white shirt, white trousers and white flipflops. No underwear. I’m carrying a tote bag with my recording equipment in. I take my clothes off and climb into the tank. I gesture for everybody to follow suit. Then I sit down at the far end, leaning my back against the wall, and motion for everybody else to sit down too. I take my recording equipment out of my tote bag and I switch it on. [Recording plays, as at beginning]

I start saying the phrases that I’ve prepared.

“I think the reason that I have never been in love is that nobody could ever be good enough for me”

And, of course, to a certain extent, this is a game. I’m still protected.

“I believe that I am better than you but that, if I’m careful, you won’t notice.”

I mean, these phrases are true…

“I believe that I don’t contribute enough.”

These phrases are honest reports of my thoughts and feelings. But I prepared them yesterday. They are yesterday’s truths.

“I know exactly why it is that you like me so much and, if I were you, I would like me too.”

And, although I have no clothes on, I’m hiding to a certain extent behind my recording device, and I’m wearing my headphones.

“I do not believe that I am capable of preparing a performance that is worth the effort it took to prepare it.”

But this is as far as I feel able to go right now and it feels appropriate. It’s frightening and it’s exciting. It’s at the edge of what I consider myself capable of.

“I think the reason that I’ve never been in love is that nobody could ever be good enough for me.”

And then, when I’ve finished speaking, I switch off the recording device, put it back in the bag with the headphones, stand up, walk through the audience, climb out of the tank and put my clothes back on. Then I nod to signal that it is over. [Recording ends, as at beginning]

But I don’t think it is over. There is more here for me to explore. I don’t know where it goes from here, exactly, but, in the next Museling, I’m going to talk about bodies, and sex, and intimacy and another kind of nakedness that feels very connected to this. Showing myself. Being seen. I am an artist and I set this as a challenge for myself. Stay tuned.

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Thank you so much for listening to this, the 10th Museling. My name is Charles Adrian and you can find more information about the podcast at muselings.uk, where you can also find links to Muselings on Soundcloud and iTunes so that you can like, listen, subscribe and enjoy everything that Muselings has to offer. I’m on twitter as @charldrian.


This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020