I was adopted at birth into a Scottish Borders culture. My birth parents hailed from the Highlands and Cornwall. I like to think my blood is Pictish outlander on one side and Cornish/Phoenician sailor on the other. I am a bred-in-the-bone nomad of one sort or another. This I think is the answer to the question Why am I?
My lovely Mum and Dad, building their family out of the dark days of the second world war made sure that education was front and centre. She, a teacher and he, an artisan baker who had survived the hell of the war at sea were determined that I, my brother and my sister would live lives of hope and reconstruction. The energy of their generation, even in a tiny Scottish town, was a drive that gave all three of us a sense of the wide world, the desire to explore and the taste for the new. The security of our quiet town, with its rich history, gave us a strong sense of ground, off of which we bounded like gazelles whenever we could.
A month before my finals at St Andrews, where I studied Psychology, French, Economics and Ancient History, I received a posting as an Assistant d’Anglais at a CES in Toulouse. The plan of becoming a brick in an accepted wall was dead in the water. In France, whilst tussling with the challenge of team-teaching English along with language, music, sports and art teachers, I somehow became enmeshed amongst musicians, puppeteers and actors. I found the company of people who regarded the arts as a legitimate way of enjoying life, rather than something that was done in your spare time.
Back home, and definitely not on a linear career path I started all sorts of acting and performance classes at Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh. I auditioned and won a place at the (now Royal) Welsh College of Music and Drama, and from there helped by a cash prize courtesy of HTV and funding from the then Scottish Arts Council, I went off to become a student of Mime and Gestural Theatre Master Jacques Lecoq in Paris.
Paris for a theatre student in the early 1980s was a wonder. Free tickets to the theatre, amazing friends and colleagues and the run of this extraordinary byzantine city. I got everywhere! And the theatre I was allowed to experience has kept my eyes wide ever since.
Returning from Paris, I briefly returned to Edinburgh before cutting and running to London. As my sexuality was becoming clearer to me, the Scottish closet was not a thing that appealed to me in any way. A European tour with the anarcho-syndicalist Cambridge Experimental Theatre brought me into contact with the Kellertheater in Innsbruck, Austria. Here in the mid-1990s, I directed three projects – The Human Voice (Cocteau), Salome (Wilde – the Austrian premiere of this work, surprisingly) and The Balcony(Genet). These productions were a celebration of the growing pride I felt in the maverick creativity of the history of my gay ‘tribe’.
The Edinburgh Fringe brought me my first real acting job with the Yorkshire Actors Co, and this brought me into contact with mime artist and director David Glass – and off I went touring in mime and physical theatre. I cut directing and producing teeth on the Edinburgh Fringe at the turn of the 1990s, learning my craft in a rich artistic underground and winning a Fringe First on my first visit there, and an Evening News Capital Award on my second. After getting hold of an Equity card, a brief foray into more established forms of performance put me on some big stages, in tv and on film, but this didn’t develop much farther than hopeful beginnings. I was much more attracted to the Interesting rather than the Necessary. I read Alexander Trocchi’s essay Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds and I was off on a different path.
In Edinburgh set up The Silent Foundation as a vehicle for exploring ideas and practices in theatre and performance that fascinated me. Together with my then partner we created a sequence of work that explored gender identity, the ageing process and the lost life of an obscure Edinburgh religious sect. A small development grant from the Scottish Arts Council led to me and team of actor-makers delving into the layers of history on a small island in the Orkneys. At this time I was also Chair and Co-producer of The Scottish Mime Forum, a theatrical think-tank dedicated to developing the growing field of physical theatre in Scotland. We produced the only visit to Scotland of Odin Teatret, one of the seminal theatre companies of late 20th Century European theatre.
Performing the Devil (Samiel) at summer Opera festival production of Der Freischutz at Schloss Zwingenberg on the Nekar river in Germany brought me into contact with two singers from Finland. One invited me to direct her recital tour of Japan the following year and a short religious Cantata by Vivaldi, Laudate Pueri Dominum, in her home town of Varkaus. The other invited me to perform and movement-direct an Opera, The Last Temptations (Joonas Kokkonen) in Finland. In between, both invited me to be Performance Tutor at an International Opera Summer School at the ancient Russian Orthodox monastery at Valammo. All in all my connection with Finland lasted 10 years.
My roots as a Scottish Borderer are co-existent with those of three of the fundamental and often maverick founders of Scottish poetry, story-writing and theatre, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and James Hogg. Through working with Northumberland Theatre Company, then with Rowan Tree Theatre at Bowhill near Selkirk, as an actor, then director and producer, I was given the chance to work with the language and expression of my childhood home. At the time I was bringing home influences from my work in Germany and Finland, and across different performing forms.
Concurrently, at Theatre Workshop Edinburgh, on a programme funded by the European Union to explore I directed three projects exploring the creative voice of three communities largely hidden from view in the Scotland of the time. I directed three projects at TW: a verbatim project created by people living with HIV and AIDS, a musical written by LGBT youth and a community play about the connection between Edinburgh and the children of the Kindertransport.
These projects taught me the value of participation alone in bringing many of the benefits of such work. In between these projects I also acted for TW in two rather bonkers and equally thought-provoking Christmas children’s shows.
During this time I was also working with a ground-breaking education project – the City of Edinburgh HIV, AIDS and Sexual Health Education Team delivering workshops in secondary schools on the highly sensitive issues of sexual health decision-making and knowledge-development around sexual health issues. This programme (now terminated) was, and still is, unique amongst education projects that foreground the empowerment of young people to deal with the minefield of their developing adulthood.
I moved my base to London at the turn of the Millenium, and began to teach performers using my growing skills in Feldenkrais, allied to my background as a student of Jacques Lecoq. This was out of necessity at first, but in finding the necessary joy of the process, I finally realised that learning and teaching are collaborative, creative and never-ending processes. The great thing is that even though you know a lot, you can’t know it all. And if you are learning, there is no darkness ever.
During the four-year period of my Feldenkrais training in Berlin, I was exposed to and became involved with a very different culture of arts creation, reception and understanding. It taught me the about the breath of inspiration.
Between 2003 and 2005, I completed an MFA in Theatre Directing at Birkbeck University of London, graduating 1st class. My current working practice now centres around originating arts-based learning projects that will live on in the hearts, minds and bodies of the people I work with.
Much of my work has crossed disciplinary borders, mixing my interest in music, projection, experimental sound and space design, puppetry, spoken word, community theatre, social action and the development of personal resilience.