As well as the courses, I sought out books that were an inspiration and motivation in one way or another. I'm not much of a critic, but I felt it was great selection of books for me and hopefully other performers and creatives too, so I wanted to write about it here.
Wreck This Journal, Keri Smith, Perigree Books
I used to teach art and craft to people suffering from mental health problems. After a while, faced with people on some heavy medication who were also quite institutionalised, my main focus became that of opening up imaginations and confidence, rather than creating something perfect. I worked hard at getting the people I worked with to be less afraid of the blank page and to see that practice involves making plenty of mistakes. This book is all about that.
When I got this book I was working in a Christmas job in a shop and when I got home I would get it out and make a mess. It helped me switch over my day. It was hard at first to contemplate destroying this shiny new paperback, but after a while you approach it with such relish.
'It is from the blot that inspiration is born' (Picasso quoted in Dario Fo)
I'm trying to approach my performance work in the same way. It's hard, there are obstacles, but I'm keeping going.
I have other books by Keri Smith which are similarly fun and inspiring, How To Be an Explorer of the World has lots of useful quotes and references. They all work on the same general principle of mess, destruction and exploration as this one though, so I'd start with Wreck This Journal.
Here's some pages from mine, I would seriously recommend this book to anyone stuck in a creative rut, or who just wants a little playtime.
I bought this book as a kind of symbolic offering to myself at the end of 2010. I couldn't afford the training I wanted, but I invested a little in my professional development by buying this. It was winter and I had cupboard full of treats from my christmas job at Lush, so I put it in the bathroom to read during my many baths. Then my housemate kindly arranged for it to attend the Philippe Gaulier school in Paris. So it was weeks before I got to read more than the first chapter. After its valuable education via negativa, the book is now back in my mitts and I've been enjoying reading it again.
I bought it hoping it would have some practical advise, however the majority of the exercises are for group work and I'm looking for ways of working on this solo piece. The book is definitely an inspiring read and the collection of different ideas behind physical theatre gives a good theory base, perhaps restructuring some of the games (especially those on using text, which is something more strange to me now having spent so long moving in the air) will help me find a new way of working by myself.
Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd, Harper Perennial
This one has an embarrassing title, the sort of thing you need to shove under a cushion when someone comes round in order that they don't leap to the conclusion that you're a suicidal crystal healer. It's a bit dry and tiresome and has an annoying section where you 'use [creative profiles] as a miner's pick to dig into the uncharted territory of your creative self'. Hmm.
It does have some useful questionnaires (I love questionnaires!) and interviews with choreographers, composers, writers etc. There is a frustrating section on day-jobs. At least it admits that most of us need one to fund our projects and pay the rent. But knowing that, as a performer, you need a job which will leave you the time and energy to make and perform your work doesn't really help you find one.
What I did get from this book was a habit. She recommends finding a daily task; 'fifteen minutes of a focussed activity, performed every day at the same time'. I chose to write. I pick an object and write a story from it. Sometimes I manage to do it every day for a long while. I can tell when I am getting off track and things are getting too much if I haven't done it for ages.
Enter Talking, Joan Rivers, Delacorte
This may seem like a strange one, but it was actually the inspiring career manual I was after. I picked it up as a light read and it's one of the most inspiring books I've read. Basically, it's all about persistence. Joan knew what she wanted to do, she was rejected over and over by agents and worked some pretty rubbish jobs, but she just persisted and persisted. Sometimes I find all this follow your dreams talk, 'if you really want it you can have it' type talk incredibly frustrating. Yes, drive and confidence are important, but if you want to train all day you need to eat, if you want to market yourself you need to have resources and it you want to have a roof over your head you need to be doing something to pay the rent.
So, this book was a refreshing slant on that, Joan wasn't full of confidence, in fact she was very much more shy and sensitive than her stage persona, but she was full of ambition. It didn't tell me I could have whatever I wanted, but it did tell me that if I were to achieve what I want most, it would be because I didn't give up.
The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp, Simon & Schuster
I read this whilst attending the Ockham's Razor summer school at LICA, on the train and in the youth hostel I stayed at in the YHA afterwards, so in beautiful surroundings doing something I love! And I loved it. It's inspiring and motivating, but neither wishy washy nor patronising. She talks about her daily practise, how she forms and builds on ideas, how she works in the studio and in collaboration. Tharp is very keen on routine and structure, which is a bit terrifying. But I expect she's right!
There are excellent examples of how to explore an idea and begin developing them, and the regular tasks that will make this process easier or stronger. I think it's actually helped me learn how to tease an idea into a project, which is pretty amazing.
344 Questions, Stefan G. Bucher, New Riders
So, I mentioned how I like questionnaires. They're like a book's way of flattering you. And a good way of focussing your ideas and goals. And perhaps realising what questions you've been avoiding answering.This book (full title; 344 Questions, The Creative Person's Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment) is chock a block with questions and it's attractive. Swoon!
What It Is, Lynda Barry, Johnathan Cape
This is a beautiful book and I consumed all the first chapter (in graphic novel form) in one hungry sitting. It was recommended to me by Matilda Leyser while I was on a Creative Exchange at Circus Space, where we looked at writing and creating images as a way to inform and devise aerial performance. (I mention this a lot; it's because it was brilliant! Here's some more info on the Making It Up workshops that Improbable ran last year, hopefully there be more in 2012 http://www.improbable.co.uk/documents/radEFB96.pdf).
The actvity part of What It Is is essentially variations on one main writing exercise, placing yourself within an image or memory, developing the image by answering simple but evocative questions and writing for set times before developing the pieces. I'm sure there are other books that have similar exercises, but the presentation and tone of Lynda Barry's instructions and illustrations make this an irresistible tutor.
I've also been reading a bit of nature writing, as the piece I am working on now is a lot to do with my experiences in the Forest of Dean, and other places, in nature. I've enjoyed John Stewart Collis' The Worm Forgives the Plough and Roger Deakin's Wildwood. I've read a little of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, I realised it's something I'd like to read in full rather than dip into so I think I'll take it on the Boxcar tour. Yesterday I picked up Theatre and The Body by Colette Conroy, a text from a promising series of 'Theatre and...' titles from Palgrave Macmillan that aim to be 'challenging, pugnacious, visionary sometimes and, above all, clear'.
I made an Amazon list so you can see them in one place and maybe use the Look Inside function. But! You know what is a nice day job for artists? Working in a bookshop. It's the dream job, right? Getting paid to read and talk about reading! So go and buy these books from a real shop with shelves and walls and people with jobs.