Friday, 31 March 2017

Disembodied open letter to delegates at the Embodied Monologues Symposium, NUI Maynooth (31 March 2017), written on the occasion of my not attending.

View the full-length video here

Dear Colleague, 

This is not the way I intended for you to encounter this work. For Embodied Monologues, I proposed a performance lecture that would consider BackStories as emerging from the confluence of multiple monologues, articulated through the particular expressivity of the back-body, but also through speech, through gesture, through the gaze of the video camera. 

Unfortunately that won’t be happening today, as I am unable to leave to the UK. I am an American artist and faculty member at Trinity Laban, based in London as the partner of an EU citizen. My application for permanent residency coincided with last summer’s EU referendum. Since 28 February, I have been without a visa. Requests to expedite the process so that I can undertake the international travel that is such a vital part of our work have been met with silence and intractable bureaucracy. I’m so sorry to miss this chance for dialogue and exchange. 

But back to BackStories and the experience of this work – however ironically disembodied! – I am able to offer you today. The solo nature of BackStories might seem to position it firmly in the territory of monologue. Why the /s/? Wouldn’t BackStory suit it better? Resolutely plural, BackStories seeks, through a very specific type of expressivity, to present a series of images and moments, which constitute an invitation to dialogue. Between the performer and the spectator, of course. But also within the spectator, at the point where muscle and memory intersect. 

Spectator responses to BackStories in its first iteration – as a duet with Canadian dance artist Scheherazaad Cooper for Resolution! 2015 (The Place, London) – drew our attention to the kinaesthetic responses we were stimulating in our spectators. They reported sudden acute awareness of their own backs and – mirroring the experience of BackStories’ dramaturg Mary Ann Hushlak – a heightened sensitivity to the backs of other, encountered in bars, in galleries on the street. 

A desire to capture these experiences, to find a way of integrating them into the experience of the piece, catalysed a collaboration with photographer Andrew McGibbon in Spring 2016. Both artists-in-residence at Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, we invited our fellow residents to sit for back portraits (revealing skin, or not, as they chose) and complete the sentence ‘My backstory is…’ The resulting photos have been exhibited at London’s Ply Gallery and now tour with the production, along with a back portrait-selfie booth that invites new spectators to add to our accumulation of backstories. 

I have created the videos you’re seeing today specifically for this event, to experiment with the juxtaposition of ‘mono’ content – my movement, my voice – with ensemble, in the form of McGibbon’s back portraits and audio recordings of the backstories shared with me. 
If you’d like to share your experience of this work with me, please do get in touch at 

Conceived & created by: Scheherazaad Cooper & Becka McFadden 
Directed by: Daniel Somerville 
Dramaturgy by: Mary Ann Hushlak 
Performed by: Becka McFadden 
Photography by: Andrew McGibbon 

Learn more about our work at: 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

A change of direction

Greetings, folks.

This blog began as a space to reflect on what it was to be living between multiple countries. At a certain point, this stopped being something I consciously reflected on. 'Living abroad' or 'living between' stopped being novel. It became my life. I got on with things. With the things I'm passionate about, like making performances, directing plays, starting festivals, travelling, developing artists and consuming significant quantities of coffee.

Now, in the wake of the UK's EU Referendum, the life I've been getting on with feels under threat. I don't, currently, have a valid UK visa, which means I'm effectively being held hostage in the country where I've lived (and worked, and paid taxes) under EU law since 2011. I tried talking to The Guardian about it. They don't care. I tried applying for expedition of my permanent residency application. That's been met with silence. Then, yesterday, she who shall not be named has just sent a very unfortunate letter to Donald Tusk. In this context, it strikes me that NOW might be a good time to revisit this blog. As a space to receive dispatches from my protracted encounter with the British immigration system, to vent frustrations and - perhaps - as a space to generate conversation that promotes empathy and action.

So that's what I'll be doing here. Expect shared correspondence, politics, culture. frequent ranting and the occasional dance.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Amidst all the crazy...

I went to visit a good friend in Hull over the weekend. Hull was a pretty pleasant surprise, all things considered. I liked its indie vibe. I liked it better than Plymouth, but less than Glasgow. It had lovely cake, a good whiskey bar and fabulous sea food. It was very flat and quite cold, as this whole winter has been, everywhere across this island. Cold and damp. The kind of damp cold that gets into your bones and torments the traces of every injury you've sustained from birth to the present day such that staying in your house until spring starts to seem like a good idea.

On the way home from Hull, we got stuck in a terrible traffic accident. The kind where they stop traffic on both directions of the motorway and fly in a medical helicopter before sending police to instruct the cars to reverse, one at a time, and drive backwards up the on-ramp, decanting everyone into rural Buckinghamshire. In the two hours between the initial crash and the instruction to reverse, there was plenty of time to listen to the radio, which is how I found out that a date had been set for Britain's EU referendum.

There's a lovely form/content fusion there, really, because I can't think of a better metaphor for the howling stupidity of the entire referendum issue than 'car crash'. In fact, I can't think about the referendum at all without a vague sense of nausea and a strong urge to make escape plans, in the manner of savvy Germans watching the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. I may be dipping a toe into hyperbolic waters with that last sentence, but seriously - referendum + the Trump nightmare currently unfolding in the land of my birth leaves utterly aghast at the current political landscape. How are these impossibly absurd things - things which don't even bear thinking about - suddenly things that might actually happen?

I've gone on at length (in both word-count and duration of time) about the paradox of democracy, which for me amounts to the problem of a system where under-informed or problematically biased people make bad, fear-motivated decisions that we all have to live with and allow politicians to essentially get away with hijacking our countries and lives for their own political gains. I don't know what the solution to this is, since obviously (right?) democracy is a good thing. It's good that serfdom no longer exists, that most of us have relative autonomy, that we're able to vote (again, most of us - I still can't vote where I live), etc. But voting isn't and shouldn't be random.

When I'm teaching performance-making, there's often a moment where students ask me, or their colleagues, if something is good. Or perhaps they ask us to help them decide between two options: which piece of music? which projection? which piece of text to end this sequence? The knee-jerk response is usually to respond with personal preference, but the question that first needs to be asked is: what's the goal? What are you trying to do? Once I know the answer to that question, then I have a rubric for deciding. It's not random, it's specific and teleological - in other words, turn out the lights because you need the darkness to make a point, not because it looks good or (worst of all) interesting.

When I listen to Trump supporters or proponents of Britain exiting the EU, I don't understand what they're doing, what kind of world they envision, what they're working towards. So much of what is said is just inaccurate, more personal than political.  Everyone needs to go read Benedict Anderson on imagined communities and come to grips with the fact that the entire concept of nation-state is a relatively recent phenomenon. The idea that somehow countries only belong to the people that were born in them, that the right to move freely in pursuit of happiness is somehow limited to individuals comfortable with describing themselves as 'expats' - what sort of world do these modes of thinking point to? And are so many people captivated by these ideas because they're frightened, or because they've mistaken politics for entertainment and forgotten that what and who we vote for has implications that continue once the coverage stops?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but they're occupying me of late. These questions and the escape plans. Like Oliver Imhof (whose excellent Guardian editorial is well worth a read), 'I will not live in a country that defies values such at the solidarity and human rights that a postwar Europe - including Britain - worked so hard for'.  I also will not live in a United States presided over by the stewing ball of hatred, capitalism and intolerance that is Donald Trump. And so where to? And how to do all possible to prevent both these outcomes?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Post -

I left a hyphen after the title of this post, because I'm not really sure what to put there. As with everything (jobs, versions of news stories, Crouch End coffee shops, abominable leggings), there are multiple candidates competing for space. Specifically, I might have said any of the following:

1. PhD. As in it's done. Well, mostly. There is a tiny bit left to do, but the viva is over and passed and I can now check the Dr box on forms, as long as said form is not an application for a job demanding a PhD, as I am not yet able to provide a certificate. But basically, I'm done.

2. Apocalyptic. As in the back side of this whole completion thing is really a bit rubbish and anticlimactic. I was prepared for it, sure, by the wise women and men who have gone before me. But still. The aftermath is depressing, full of exhaustion, guilt, job applications and the creeping fear that somehow the torture you've gone through wasn't worth it in any sort of demonstrable sense. In response to the occasional suggestion, no doubt well-meaning, that surely the personal edification, growth and sense of accomplishment rendered by a PhD is recompense enough, I think no. Recompense, actual recompense, is recompense enough. If I wanted edification and pleasure, I would do a string of MAs. MAs are lovely, especially if they come with ample studio time and result in a subsequently marketable show, project or portfolio. PhDs are brutal. They are neither fun nor edifying. I am pleased to have completed, particularly after abandoning my MFA. But enough now, on to the next thing. Except I'm exhausted, which makes me feel guilty, which is silly, because I've been working hard, but not in a broadly socially acceptable way, because I haven't been paid, which makes me feel guilty for falling victim to the whips and snares of neoliberal market capitalism...(this is what it's like in my head right now).

3. Stasis. As in I find the most genuinely problematic area of my life to be a lack of agency. I'm no longer sure if things I think are difficult (like finding an affordable rehearsal space in London that I can actually rent on a regular basis, just to play with things) are actually difficult, or if they're just difficult for me. I honestly don't know. Other people complain about them, including people I trust, admire and respect, so it must not just be me. However, if I was truly tenacious (and this was my gifted education teacher's favorite word for describing my class's particular gifts), surely I would o'erleap this paltry concern. Wouldn't I?

4. Posturing. As in I am profoundly sick of the amount of unnecessary silliness that goes on. As in there is no way that I should publish this post, because what if a future employer reads it? And what if they do? Am I not allowed to have opinions and/or be annoyed that too high a percentage of human interaction tends towards pretense and instrumentality? Particularly in fields like mine, which are full of extremely smart, talented people, all slowly going mean and crazy because they can't do what they do, so rather than banding together and making a ruckus of some description, they joust pointlessly with each other in tones that make me want to cease all communication and move to a warehouse in Karlin.

5. Procrastination. As in sometime I had to begin to write again. And suppose this is it. More (and better) stuff soon.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Recent events

Usually when I come to the States, I’m good for a post or two ranting about the horrors of Fox News encountered at the gym, or the pleasure of coffee shop/restaurant /shop employees who appear, at least, to be genuinely friendly…this time, however, I’ve arrived home to a tragedy. You know what I’m talking about – the shootings in Connecticut. I haven’t said anything about them online yet. Not because I am not terribly upset by them – I am, more so than any previous shootings. I’m not especially proud of this , but my thinking about the land of my birth tends to follow Dan Savage’s island map from the 2004 Bush re-election, which pictures the coasts and certain blue “islands” (like Chicago) adrift on a sea of Republican red. While I’ve ached for the victims and families of shootings in the south or Midwest, it’s a different, less personal empathy. It’s crazy down/out there, I think.  What do you expect in a land (to my mind) filled with Guns ‘n’ Jesus bumper stickers and (seemingly) mandatory NRA/Republican Party membership (from birth). (And before someone objects, yes, I know I’m generalizing – that’s the point.) It’s not going to happen here, in the north-east, I think. Except now it has, in a state I’ve vacationed in and travelled through many times. My dad had clients in New Haven, which my twelve year-old self enjoyed mocking for its preppiness. My aunt used to have a store in Greenwich. There are photos of me and my cousins, as children, the same ages as the victims, in the Berkshires, one foot in Connecticut, the other in Massachusetts. Too close for comfort.

At the same time, comment is entirely too easy. I can’t change my profile photo, or put some sentiment up on Facebook. I don’t question the sincerity or motivations of those who do, but my attempts to follow suit feel inauthentic. Reactions to such moments are personal. Having sustained my own share of loss, I know I wouldn’t have wanted it filtered through Facebook, which seems (to me, anyway), a better place for political debate. To that end, I am vociferously liking friends’ posts calling for action on gun control. This is the best memorial we can give these children, and what we should have given to earlier victims of earlier shootings.

Seen from a distance of 3,000+ miles, many American policies look crazy. The lack of a national insurance program, for one. Gun control, for another. I am aware that these policies (or lack thereof) are generally defended with an argument for freedom – you have the freedom, in the United States, to bear arms. You have the freedom to not have health insurance. Except that’s not freedom at all. I am currently resident in a country (which, it must be acknowledged, is also capable of driving me to drink) where it’s much harder to own guns and where everyone has access to health care. These two facts manifest practically in my life as freedoms. The freedom to get on a bus, go to a concert or a busy shopping area and not worry that someone may be carrying a gun. The freedom to pursue a freelance career, safe in the knowledge that a broken bone, or random attack of appendicitis won’t leave me facing eviction. These freedoms are not insignificant.

The United States constitution is allegedly the fruit of Enlightenment thinking. I don’t have it to hand at the moment, but I’m reminded of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings on social responsibility. The gist is that if something benefits me, but not my family, then I must yield it for their greater good. And if it benefits my family, but not my community, then it too must be yielded. And if it benefits my community, but not my nation, and so on, and so on… The same thread exists in Jan Patočka and Václav Havel’s thinking – freedom is greatest when we speak of the freedom of societies from fear. Social freedom trumps individual freedom. In other words, the right of children to go to school unafraid trumps individual rights to own/do anything that might impede that right. That is our legacy. That is what we need to honor and respect. That is what a land of the free might look like.  Perhaps we could work towards that in 2013.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Pretty Peas...

Yes, dear readers, it's time for another helping of Pea Soup, where you can my monthly and reasonably well-researched musing on various sartorial happenings around the capital. For this month's SEX ISSUE the theme is Victoria's Secret's arrival in London - an event I personally find less heavenly than the brand's marketing campaign would desire. Take a look at the whole publication, which is full of interesting things and, if you like it (and why wouldn't you, really?) share and like it on Facebook, tweet about it and/or (if suitably impressed) marshal  on its behalf whatever social media minions are in your power, as apparently these things are important in the world of online publishing. Bon appetit!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Subliminal styling...down the rabbit hole

In my last post I took issue with a suggestion that emerged in the Jumpy panel discussion last week. Specifically, the notion that women's aesthetic choices are motivated (primarily) by a sense of insecurity, or a felt need for correction. There's lots wrong with this argument - and its absurdity shines through when similar logic is applied to other manifestations of personal style. Do you, par example, paint your walls and hang pictures on them because you wish to live admidst color and images or because you're trying to distract potential visitors from a draughty window? If, then, our sartorial and interior design choices (along with what we eat, drive, do with our leisure time, etc.) are motivated by a desire for self-expression, then they should be, largely an act of self-articulation. How then, do we make these choices? What is the anatomy of self-curation?

The easy answer might be a range of socially and commercially constituted factors. In my case, sartorially speaking adverts in Vanity Fair, mainstream fashion coverage and/or the helpful emails Topshop regularly inundates me with (I maintain my subscription because they're so much fun to deconstruct - such as this fabulous example on how to express yourself through (mass-produced) pieces inspired by (appropriated) tribal motifs). So internally incoherent is their logic that it makes me wish I was writing a PhD on the discourse and marketing of high street brands. I may take a superior attitude towards such missives, imagining they won't influence me, but is this actually true? If while consuming a great deal of fashion-related discourse, one still strives to ultimately employ sartorial items to serve an evolving sense of personal style, is s/he safe in assuming the styling choices that result are sui generis? What actually happens as you stand before your open closet, with no idea what to wear, no runway look you're striving to emulate? What leads you to combine a selection of  items you've never put together before? In other words, precisely where do outfits come from?

Let's see if we can unpack this one, which I wore to the very wonderful White Rabbit in Stoke Newington on Saturday night.


I had never worn these items together previously and their various provenances are quite diverse. The skirt is a Ralph Lauren blanket skirt that my mother bought for me sometime during my undergrad years. I don’t know that I truly understood it at the time, but I rediscovered it in Warsaw and it’s had periodic outings since then. The grey net sweater is from Topshop, purchased  in Prague a couple autumns ago, worn over an American Apparel leotard. The shoes are new Chelsea boots from Office and I’m wearing a lot of jewelry with both gold and silver, including new French connection earrings and a necklace I bought from a vendor at Little Paris during last month’s First Friday. In other words. completely random. Or really?

While not the best ensemble I have ever put together, it is ripe for dissection and I can identify three sources (apart from general start-of-term madness and indecisive weather) for this outfit. The first and most serendipitous was a twenty-something man I observed earlier that day at the 91 bus stop outside the British Library. He was beautiful, with dark, curly hair and wearing a floor-length black watch tartan kilt, the likes of which I had never previously seen anywhere. So striking was he, and his originally-styled girlfriend, that I nearly managed to overcome my fear of snapping strangers to ask to photograph them. I wasn't consciously thinking of him as I dressed for the evening, but I'm sure he contributed to my choice of skirt. A second factor is location - I knew I was going to an eccentric cocktail bar in North London, so felt free to play. Much of what I wear is influenced by the part of London in which I will be wearing it. This has something to do with with framing - a bit like publishing in the right journal or placing one's production in the perfect venue. There is something terribly sad about a missed opportunity to wear something delightfully odd or wasting a truly excellent creation on the wrong audience. A third influence, tragically, but perhaps inevitably, is admittedly my old friend Topshop, whose range of gothic jewelry I inspected on a recent trip to the Knightsbridge branch and blame for metal-mixing here. 

So there you go - an argument for subliminal styling (or perhaps just the existentially-inclined meanderings of an overly-taxed mind). Night night.