Sunday 12 June 2016

After the show, the silences

Part One

Sitting on my sofa in a pink dress with the rain falling outside, all seems as good as it can be.  I say that carefully. I've taken time off to relax, to rest, to recover and so I planned three days at home to stop.  If that is truly what I intended to do, to stop, then all the walls and bridges that one builds to keep upright and moving forward, all those rigid structures necessary to keep from stopping for a moment and noticing how tired you are, fall in around you.  The tight schedules needed to get things done, to take on more and more because you are on a roll and because you can, those tight schedules disintegrate and there is nothing to hold you up. And so, taking time off isn't about sitting down to watch telly while you file your nails and have an extra cup of tea, it is about having nothing to support your busy-ness any more and having all those walls and bridges crash down around you. You feel as if you have lost the plot and that you will never stand up on your own again.  It's quite a surprise.

Part Two

Me and Tash, my dear friend of over thirty years. Director and script editor and boss.
The A Graceful Dying One Woman Show ended a week ago today.  Phew. It has been a learning curve that I knew would be hard but not quite that hard.  It was hard because I required a few gentle metaphorical kicks up the bum to learn to focus and do things properly.  It was great fun too, and working hard with a dedicated friend and director has shown me just how amazing partnerships can be.  My dear old friend of over thirty years, Tasha Yarker, agreed to come and direct.  As with all new things, it wasn't quite as straightforward as two friends agreeing to work together and getting on with it. This was the beginning of my learning curve.

I wanted to do a One Woman Show.  During the Brighton Fringe seemed a good idea, so I found and booked a theatre.  Wonderful, so exciting.  I need a director, I thought, whatever they are, so who better than Tasha and bless her, Tasha with all her experience in the theatre, agreed.

I had begun to fund raise online for this show, and raised enough for Tash to come from Birmingham to Sussex to meet me and work on the show.  Oh how I looked forward to it!  I hadn't even a name for the show, and thought I would probably just make it up as I went along on the stage.  Tasha arrived and asked to see the script.  "I'll make it up!" I said, "as I go along!".  She asked what it was called.  "I have no idea!" I said.  Tasha was a bit quiet and asked me what the show would be about. "Don't know!" I said, then, "Dying! And death!"

"I'm going back to Birmingham," said Tash.  "When you have a show, call me."

I reluctantly agreed to write a script. I was hoping to sit in an armchair on stage and talk to people, making it all up as I went along.  If, said Tash, you want me to direct, you do what I say. When I tried to practice sitting in an armchair making it all up as I went along, I couldn't do it.  It sounded awful, and so I gave in to Tash and let her do her magic. I wrote a script that would keep me talking for three days and nights, telling everything, story after story, and gave it to her feeling I would never be able to do it.

Rehearsals.  Learn your script, says Tash.  Aaaaaw, says I.
From that first script, Tash eventually produced a script that I could understand, follow and learn. She created movement, atmosphere with music, ways in which to tell the story with different props  and she taught me how to speak more clearly.  Because Tash lives in Birmingham, we did many of our rehearsals over Skype, and I repeated my lines over and over again while driving, while shopping, in the bath, to salesmen in shops, to my Dad who has dementia.  "Do your lines while driving in the car," said Tasha, "and exaggerate.  Go overboard.  Ham it up."  Stuck in rush hour traffic on the A3 on my weekly drives to London and back to look after my father, I looked as if I was practising dreadful arguments with a pretend people in my car, with the windows up, as I shouted my lines with extra mouth movements and waved my hands in the air.  I even did it in a Scottish accent to see if that helped me learn them but it didn't.  The accent turned quickly into Hindu and then into a very bad rubbish accent that didn't belong anywhere. Then we hired Katie, our technician, forgot all our sound effects, couldn't load the films, sorted it all out and somehow, we got to our opening night.

Yes, it all went really well!  Yes, I forgot loads of bits on occasion but I managed to sort it out on stage.  The main thing for me was that people were actually there in the audience. I had imagined that I would do the show for seven afternoons to Tasha, Katie and my cousin Maddy, but in fact, loads of people came and I was really touched.  I felt as if I had so much to say, and thanks to Tasha I could really say it.

Just once all the technical stuff broke half an hour before I was due to go on. It stopped - all of it - and we had to delay the start of the show while Katie and her boss worked it all out.  No sound, vision or lights meant either giving people their money back or me going up onto the tiny stage and doing a small cabaret, a few magic tricks and a question and answer session on how to die well. Thank goodness that was not necessary, and Katie sorted something out. It went really well, and by the final night I knew my lines properly, knew all my cues and felt that I could, perhaps, do this.  I am surprised at how hard it was to do it, to keep going, and to remember everything.  I am also surprised at how much  loved doing it, loved meeting the people who came and how sad I am that it is all finished.

A photo from the show, all that hamming it up in the car worked.

Part Three.

And so now, I sit here on my sofa, shell shocked and exhausted.  It isn't just the show, though that was exhausting.  It is because a month before we opened, my youngest brother died.  I was there with him, we had an understanding that I would go up for the end, and it was such a precious time.  The day that Dominic died, another dear closest of friends received a terminal diagnosis, and I remember sitting with the nurse going through Dom's paper work and receiving this call.  It was as if I was attention seeking.  "What?" I said on my mobile phone sitting opposite the hospice nurse while going through Dom's death certificate, "terminal?  How long?  What?  Where are you?"

I realise that even if I wasn't a soul midwife, these deaths would happen.  That they seem to be arriving one after the other is nothing to do with me, but because I am a soul midwife, I will do all I can to do that dance with them as far as I can go, before they take the rest of the journey alone.  There is so much that is deeply personal about all these endings.  I am being shown something of journeys, something of endings and something of living in the shadow of dying.  I don't know how people do it, dying, I just know that they do do it.

So much learning, so much experiencing, so much to understand.

Dominic's grave next to Mum's.  This time last year they were both still here.
Part Four

Bubble baths.  The answer to my exhaustion lies in bubble baths, making a pillow mountain in my bed and watching police documentaries on YouTube. It lies in accepting that all the dreadful chaos and nonsense that goes around in my head now that I have stopped, is simply that.  Chaos and nonsense.  If my body is tired, my mind is very tired.  The best way to deal with that, I have found, is peanut butter and banana on oatcakes.  And pots of tea, and whole mangoes and huge bags of crisps and so on.  Indulgence I think, is a great healer.

I will take time this week to come down, and rise back up again.  The A Graceful Dying One Woman Show will be shown elsewhere, but as yet I don't know where.  The A Graceful Death exhibition will be showing again next year in Kent, for Dying Matters Week, so life, as we all know so well, truly does go on.

I am continuing to be a soul midwife in the community, because no matter how many shows, paintings, books and articles I do, unless I am actually doing the work, what I say will not be authentic.  I love my work though none of it is easy.  I am extremely grateful to be with the people I work with, and happy for the chance to have met them.  When I have got my marbles back, soon, I will go back into the studio and play with my paints.  Painting flowers is what I want to do, and painting big, yellow sunflowers is the best.

And now.  Back to where this blog began.  The sun has come out, the rain has stopped and the air smells lovely.  It is now the afternoon, and this is the best time for a bath filled with bubbles and glitter (you can get these things, bubbly glitter, you just have to be dedicated which I am).  A pot of tea, a jumbo packet of cheesy crisps and some more cops and robbers on YouTube on my phone.  My recovery may take longer than a week.  At this rate, months.

Grandma, let's have another packet of kit kats.

Now.  Fetch Grandma that cheesy wotsit mountain.  Thanks George. 

One of our review printed below for the A Graceful Dying One Woman Show

"An empowering life affirming experience"  by David Rumelle for Remotegoat on 01/06/16

This beautiful show is everything it says graceful,
life affirming, gentle, honest and sincere.
It takes a great deal of strength to write and
perform a subject so close to one's heart and
⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆
A Graceful Dying One Woman Show Review…
Saved to Dropbox • 11 Jun 2016, 11:24
personal experience but Antonia Rolls has given
this subject a soul an identity and confronted it
head on. Through it she gives an extraordinary
strength and comfort to an audience who must all
have felt the power and positivity passed on in
this unique presentation.
Drawn largely from personal "first hand"
experience ,on screen interviews, and an
amazing series of personal artwork- depicting
sincere images of friends, family and those
receiving palliative care this hour long
exploration has depth, warmth and sincerity that
brings an otherwise "taboo subject" and
unexplored territory out in into the open and
allows positive reflection in an eloquent and
empowering way.
The reason this presentation such a success is
that writer and performer-Antonia Rolls is not
afraid to push the boundaries and share the most
personal and soul searching moments surrounding
death and bereavement so the show never
becomes maudlin or self indulgent. In short it is a
positive "rock" that leaves us all with an inner
strength and solidarity.
As a carer and mid-wife Antonia takes us into her
confidence and her sensitive writing expresses
what we must have felt, or are feeling right now.
There is a tremendous element of group "healing"
here -in that a first hand experience is shared in
a strong, positive way but ultimately spiritual.
In short- this presentation is for anyone who has
experienced a parting, those who have wondered
how to deal with a loss or bereavement or anyone
trying to advise others. The best compliment one
can give is that the audience leaves feeling
unified, open and ready to talk and further as
indeed many of them did at this first
It succeeds on every level-and I would urge all to
view this experience"-because that's exactly what
it is-interactive,therapy and sharing at it's very