YOUR VOICE... Find it. Use it. Own it.

WRITING PROMPT: 

Tell me the story of your voice. Write a poem about it. Describe the way it sounds. Has it ever saved you? Has it ever betrayed you? What are the worst/best things you’ve ever said? Where do you feel your voice in your body? How has it changed? What does it sound and feel like in your dreams?

MY VOICE

A lot of my written work and inspiration comes from the idea of voice; artistic voice, empowered voice, my voice as a woman. As a spoken word artist this is no surprise - my performance practice relies on my embodied voice to deliver my stories, passions and ideas.

For me, my voice is something I’ve grown into, which is odd, because most people who knew me as a child would say that on the whole I was an outspoken, outgoing and confident kid. I loved telling stories and putting on plays and had all the trappings of a show off. I was impatient and hot-headed, bossy even - I kept an army of five younger siblings in line on a daily basis. I know that at times I was gobby and I was (and still can be) fantastically foul-mouthed.  It was no surprise when as a teenager I went to off to drama school to become an actor.

At drama school we learned lots about the mechanics of voice, how to breath, where to place it, head voice, chest voice, brightness of tone. We had a ‘rib swing’ exam in one voice module (to make sure our breathing was correctly supported from the diaphragm) and to pass the exam we had to recite Hilaire Belloc’s poem Tarantella with prescribed breathing points in it (believe me some of the phrases were loooooong). We had to wear nothing but a crop top on our top halves to best show off the action of our ribcages to our examiner.

At drama school we learned about phrasing, rhythm and meter, how to research and replicate accents, how to write our scripts phonetically, how to take care of the voice, how to warm it up, how to use saline solution to keep our sinuses clear. Everybody on the musical theatre course was terrified of dreaded nodules on the vocal chords. For three full years I practised and hummed and laaa’d, and deep breathed, training the muscles of my voice and body to be able to project properly on stage so that I could deliver story and character with emotion, nuance and skill. But underneath it all I knew my voice was unfulfilled. It didn’t blossom. I felt phoney. Despite my developing technical vocal ability, my deeper voice was suffering. I felt I never really had control and access to my voice from a truly authentic perspective. I was never really me. Not properly. It wasn’t until, many years later, and my work and artistic practice evolved, and I started to perform my own words as myself, that I truly felt like I was accessing a more authentic part of my voice.

Our voice doesn’t just operate on the physical level. It’s something much more deep-seated than that. It is intrinsically linked to our bodies, our dreams, our hopes and desires and our deepest fears. It grows and changes with the seasons of our lives.

One my most severe experiences of stage fright happened at drama school. It was in a singing concert. The piano played, I sang the first verse and a chorus (a Stephen Sondheim song I think), but then something happened, my mouth went dry, my knees locked, my throat froze, and suddenly I had the experience of being above myself, instead of in myself. The pianist repeated the phrase and gave me a stern look, but I stared down at myself, exposed and clumsy on stage in front of a room of blank faces and I hovered in silence and terror for what felt like an age, but was probably actually only a few seconds, if that. Then somehow (this may have been the benefit of all the training I’d done up until that point), I managed to clamber back into some part of me, and find something of my voice, just not the bit that was carefree enough to sing a rousing musical number. This was a different, easier part. I blurted out: ‘fuck this bullshit’ (or something similar) and I stormed off stage to hyperventilate in the dressing room. Needless to say, I did not pass that exam. Instead I went home, sank a bottle of red, sobbed in private and went to bed.

Bizarrely, when I left the stage that day, the audience applauded and whooped, and over the next few weeks I received smiles and backslaps from my peers who had misread my exit from the concert as some kind of bolshy protest about the fact that I hated musical theatre and resented being made to sing it. This was kind of true. I never really liked the song I was singing and I am not a fan of musical theatre on the best of days. I enjoyed our speech vocal classes and choir classes, and I LOVED our radio and mic technique classes, but I never truly enjoyed my one to one singing lessons, largely because they took place in a tiny claustrophobic room, just big enough for two people and a piano and my teacher often made me sing in front of a mirror which I found deeply uncomfortable. But this was not the whole story. Another contributing factor to my stage fright (let’s be honest here), was the fact that I had spent the weekend prior to the concert at Glastonbury festival, sitting in a field getting completely and deliberately out of myself which was a lot of fun, but not the best self-care practice, as the singing concert was on the Monday night. I was barely out of my wellies when I got on stage that night.

I learned several things from that experience of stage fright. Firstly, that the gap between what the audience sees and what a performer experiences on stage can be at total odds with each other. This is an essential lesson for a performer and anyone who wants to present their ideas in public. Secondly that my swearing, protective ‘fuck you’ voice was much easier for me to control and access than my ‘vulnerable singing’ voice. Thirdly, that the voice doesn't exist in isolation, what we experience, think and feel all has an effect on it.

The image of a young girl stuck on stage cursing at a singing concert could not be further from how I feel about myself and my voice these days. Since my drama training, I have spent many years as an actor on the stage pretending to be other people and that has been a lot of fun, but as I have moved through my career, my practice has honed and distilled to something much different. Now I take all my training and experience and step up to a microphone as myself.

Since graduating from drama school, I have worked a voice over artist (BBC Radio Drama Co.), an actor for stage and TV, and have written and performed in several of my own solo theatre shows. I have lectured in theatre and writing at Universities, crafted my own artistic voice as a playwright on the page, and supported fledgling writers who are exploring and discovering their own artistic voices. I regularly perform my own spoken word poetry at slams and events and I’m now in a place where I love to sing and write music and songs, so I really do feel in control of the voice I struggled to find when I was younger. A couple of years ago I was threatened with arrest for a Public Order offence after delivering a blazing anti-Trump poem at the Women’s March. I think that’s a pretty good marker of me now owning the true power of my voice. But that’s another story.

HD x

 Credit: Olivia Brabbs

Credit: Olivia Brabbs

P.S BEFORE YOU GO...

I am really excited to be launching a new type of workshop and share my skills and experience in this area. It’s called YOUR VOICE... Find it. Use it. Own it. and is designed for women business owners and entrepreneurs who wish to develop their confidence and skill in public speaking. Drawing on my years of experience on stage as a performer I have put together a day to help women feel grounded and in control when talking about themselves, their work and their businesses. I use a playful and freeing combination of writing, vocal and storytelling exercises to boost confidence and expand skillsets. It will be a small group with an experienced and sensitive mentor (that's me by the way) and it will (I promise), be lots and lots of fun.

I hope you can join me.  More details about the course here.          

Use my Contact page on my website or message me via the Facebook event page for more details and to reserve your place.

*** Early bird discount*** £120 *** when booked before the end of JUNE ***  (Full price £150)

Workshop takes place at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York

25 July 10 am - 4pm  (registration at 9.30am).

 Talking on a panel at the University of Lincoln as part of the Parliamentary Project VOTE 100.

Talking on a panel at the University of Lincoln as part of the Parliamentary Project VOTE 100.

MAIDEN SPEECHES / MAIDEN SPACES

In a broom cupboard in Westminster

a long, long, time ago,

a young woman hid among the dust

in secret, just to show

that spaces must include her too -

her presence there was valid.

And as the sun went down

she sat alone, all night long within the dark,

cross legged on her petticoats,

so that she could make her mark.

 

And when the paperwork came around next day,

she signed her name with pride and said:

‘You’ll see upon this census, that I exist.

Your banishment was defied.

Here upon this census

my name shall turn the tide.

This House is not just a male space,

because last night, I think you’ll find,

a woman dwelt inside.

We want our votes, we want our rights

we will not be denied.’

 

Because before the House of Commons,

the one we have today,

the one where Emily Wilding Davison  

demanded she have her say,

there was no space in public life

for women to have a voice,

they were shut up and shackled up,

no rights, no self, no choice.

 

And there was a different

set of bricks back then,

sat beside the Thames,

an olden palace that dated back

to ancient Norman times.

And debates were lit by candles,

and the candles that were there

were so many, that they were placed

on a heavy chandelier.

 

And the chandelier was rigged right up,

hung way up above the chamber,

collecting grease and wax and wicks,

and sparks were a real danger.

So, cut above these candles

was a big hole above the flames,

with a chimney in the rooftop

to take the heat out of their games.

A grated tunnel that rose up high,

high up inside the loft,

up above the Lords,

the Tories, Whigs and Toffs.

 

But women, as you know,

are slippery, wily creatures

and they quickly learned, 

as women will, to exploit

these architectural features.

They found that if they bribed the doormen

and took the route up the back stairs,

they could get right up, inside the loft

and in silence, unawares,

they lifted up their heavy skirts,

tiptoed over the creaking boards

and gathered around this ventilator,

furious at being ignored.

And as they spied down through

the flaming candled grate,

they strained to hear the snatches

of the men’s baying and debate.

 

And as the state sat in below

they had no idea,

that gathered above their heads

were women, with no fear.

A circle of brave spectators

that they would eventually have to hear.

And the men’s shouts drifted way up high,

shouts of: ‘Order! Order! Order!’

And the women sat, indignant:

‘One day history won’t ignore us.’

 

And now we have a chamber that is

somewhere nearer fair,

since Nancy Astor joined the house,

the first female MP to take her seat there,

but still when women take their space

among the parliamentary benches,

they are still outnumbered 2 to 1

they are still token in the trenches.

 

There are 650 seats in the House of Commons

the women take 208,

and when these women contribute

to matters of the state,

regardless of political agenda,

and the arguments they make,

it’s a sorry fact, that those speaking up

are considered easy prey

for abuse, vitriol and anger,

they are targeted every day.

 

They are scapegoated,

headhunted,

whore-bashed,

misquoted,

vilified and

threatened and

sometimes even worse.

 

And asked what keeps them going,

some say: ‘it’s just sheer rage.’

Deep seated fury fans their fire,

they are no longer happy to be caged.

 

And where does this leave me and you,

the people on the street?

Where are the spaces we can claim?

The spaces we can meet?

It’s not just in formal structures

that our voices must be heard,

we must stand up to be being silenced,

not accept less than what we deserve.

Use your mind, use your will

make them hear your words.

 

Tell that bully to address their tone,

make them aware that you have rights,

smile in the face of the EDL,

march to reclaim the night,

occupy empty spaces

and don’t give up the fight.

 

Find your space, make your speech,

use your voice loud, strong and clear

we demand equality,

we are women and we are here.

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JANUARY (A POEM)

January arrives on the doorstep

in a leotard and legwarmers

with a clipboard grin

and the promise of

a new you in just four weeks.

 

She is a GHD dream

her face a wipe clean surface

well-Dettol’d with a ruthless anti-bac sheen.

 

She unpacks a superfood salad

and a wheatgrass smoothie

while lecturing you on the

global and personal benefits of veganism

then hands you a freshly-pressed pinny

and a pair of marigolds

because a tidy house is a tidy mind.

 

January rearranges your fridge

and reminds you of that

wheel of brie you ate

and says: you know you actually

looked quite ugly 

when you laughed

and even stupider when

you showered your

bulky sequined cleavage

with cracker crumbs

your friends were just too polite to say.

 

January is here to install a 360 degree mirror

so you can view your curves

for what they really are

a tribute to your wild entitlement

a fatty monument to your

peasant like greed

when you think about it

you are nothing now Christmas is done

just a big fat leftover roast potato

that no one wants.

 

January smiles and says:

somewhat harsh I know

but you get my point.

 

Her teeth dazzle

minty fresh perfection

they remind you that you

got struck off the dentist list this year

and that your eldest needs braces

that you probably can’t afford.

 

January wonders dreamily

how much space

you actually take up these days

as she watches you scrub at the bin lid

with a bleached scourer.

 

January says: come on

it’s only your willpower

that’s stopping you

New Year

new you

and she hands you the tweezers

and says: don’t forget the whiskers on your chin

or the ones on your nipples

because no one loves a beard

or a freakish booby hair.

 

January looks over your shoulder

as you pluck and asks

why you aren’t you married yet

and says that all things considered

you are too old to be a blushing bride

but don’t worry because

photographers can work wonders these days

if you can afford a good one.

 

January tuts at your shoebox of receipts

stuffed on top of the bookshelf in the dining room

and says that studies have proved

that a well-organised filing system

can help self-indulgent freelancers

to double their measly incomes

in a matter of months

if only they had the willpower

and a proper accountant

and a PA

and a proper business plan

and a proper job.

 

January counts your steps

as you walk into town

singing the joys of pedometers

then stands over you 

as you spend a fortune

on unwanted box files in Rymans.

 

On the way home January confides in you

that she is concerned about your credit rating

and suggests you pay an online fee

to download your Experian report

because if you don’t keep track of it

you’ll never get a mortgage

and you don’t have a pension

and social care for the elderly

doesn’t come cheap these days you know.

 

As you hang up your coat

January suggests a career change

says you would look lovely in a power suit.

 

January makes you a green tea

instead of the hot chocolate

that you asked for

and then opens web browsers

searching leather briefcases

and fitness classes

and recruitment consultants.

 

January laughs when you have

lost the letter with the dates on

of when the kids go back to school

and reminds you of the French exchange trip

and piano lessons and dance classes

and says healthy habits start young you know

and she gives you an article to read about how

bad parenting is the cause of most

adult psychosis, criminal activity and addiction

and everyone knows that

single mums breed psychopaths.

 

When you ask January

how long she plans on staying

and whether she needs a lift

to the bus stop

she tells you in no uncertain terms

that she has had enough

of you and the way you always bring mud in

on her freshly-hoovered New Year carpet.

 

She says: I don’t know why I bother

without me you are nothing but a stain

on the freshly laundered sheets

of this next gift of a year

you are lazy and self-sabotaging

you are spoiling the Egyptian Cotton

crispness of your own potential.

 

When you laugh and shake your head

and tell her you think it's time she left

January declares you a very silly girl

and calls you a defective glitch

says you are like the disappointing cluster

of dead pixels

on a newly unboxed

high definition screen.

 

She says she doesn’t like to be brutal

but in all honesty you are shaped

like a 60s concrete eyesore

and you are ruining the beauty spot scenery

of the next twelve months.

 

She says the way you dance leaves

a line of clumsy footprints

in the snow fresh meadow

and that you are like the fat kid at the disco

or the one who sings out of tune in the choir

and spoils it for everybody else.

 

January has arrived.  

She’s here to help.

She’s your friend.

She wants you to write lists.

 

January places both hands

on your shoulders

and sits you down

she hands you a brand new notebook

and a sealed pack of colouring pens

and dares you to mark the first page.

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The Night Before The Night Before Christmas (A Story)

Hello friends. It's Christmas Eve Eve today and I've written and recorded a story about it. Please scroll down and give it a listen, and a like and share if you enjoy it. Happy Christmas. Stay sane among the madness. Love from HD xxx

PLAYWRITING IS A BIT LIKE DOING A JIGSAW

Writing any play can sometimes feel a bit like doing a 5000 piece jigsaw – messy and overwhelming and a bit like ‘where the hell do I start?’ I learned a long time ago that the best place to begin with a jigsaw was by looking for the pieces with the straight edges and to focus on getting the corners in order first, before slowly filling in the middle. It feels a bit like that with writing this play. The ideas are huge, the material and research is potentially never ending and always shifting, and as such in order to start writing I needed to delineate, to lay down some markers and a framework within which to start creating characters, dialogue, dramatic scenes and scenarios. I am now at the point in the process where I have started to ‘get my dramatic corners in order.’

In order to do this I have started to review the huge amount of research that we’ve undertaken thus far, and am in the process of spreading it out, like bits of a jigsaw across a table to see which parts jump out and demand to be written. I have large pieces of flip chart paper and sharpie pens out all over the floor, have taken a highlighter pen to notebooks and reports, and am trawling through the enormous Google Plus page to which I have been adding links, articles, memes and sound bites since April. The most important bits of research for me though have been the days we have spent working and engaging with other people. We have opened discussions with people across the country and it is these sessions that have been instrumental in shaping the way forward for this piece.

YORK THEATRE ROYAL WORKSHOP SESSION

We began our process by running a workshop at York Theatre Royal and put an open call out to members of the public to come to a workshop to share their experiences of engaging with politics with us. The session focused on storytelling as a way to open up discussions of micro and macros ways of engaging with politics, advocacy and being outspoken and we had a big response from people across all ages and backgrounds. As part of the session we included a short fun quiz on some common parliamentary procedures and phrases, as a way to take a straw poll on how much we in the room knew about the processes of government that inform our country and our lives. The answer overall, was not much! This day was fun, eye opening and often very moving as participants generously shared their own experiences of moments in their lives when they had spoken up for something they had believed in. At the end of the session we invited people to tell us how politics made them feel. Here’s some of what they said:

‘Often disillusioned. Occasionally inspired. Enraged. Aware of gender and class.’

‘Weary, cynical, powerless, exhausted, frustrated, thwarted, disadvantaged, excluded, uneducated, fearful for the future.’

‘Thick. Embarrassed. Stupid.’

‘Frustrated. Worried. Rebellious.’

‘Angry. Hopeful. Female.’

 Some of the responses to questions posed in our workshop at York Theatre Royal in October. 

Some of the responses to questions posed in our workshop at York Theatre Royal in October. 

WESTMINSTER TRIP #1 

In October director Eleanor Rhode and I made our first trip to Westminster to look round the Houses of Parliament and make contact with some of the MP’s who work there. The day was sponsored by Rachael Maskell MP for York Central who is a mentor and supporter of our project. After El and I had completed the public tour of the historical part of the buildings, Rachael and her aide Kate led us around the warren of tunnels and showed us some of the backrooms away from the drama of the chambers. It is here that the nitty-gritty of government happens, in the committee rooms and the many bars and restaurants. Spending the day at the houses of Parliament was exciting, exhausting and fascinating in equal measures and there was so much we took away from the day it would be impossible to type it all up here. As well as seeing the buildings, we sat in the public gallery for Prime Ministers' Questions, spent some time in the debates in the House of Commons, sat in on some of the committees, ate lunch together in a busy restaurant, and then held a drop in session for our MP’s. These included Tracey Brabin MP for Batley and Spen pictured here in this Westminster selfie.

 Left - right: Hannah Davies, Eleanor Rhode, Tracy Brabin MP, Kate Pilling, Rachael Maskell MP.

Left - right: Hannah Davies, Eleanor Rhode, Tracy Brabin MP, Kate Pilling, Rachael Maskell MP.

DEBATE MATE

Later in the month producer Tara Finney and I attended the Debate Mate launch at the impressive Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, where we watched empassioned young Debate Mate students and graduates go head to head on the issue of lowering the voting age to 16. Debate Mate are an organisation who run debate clubs in schools across the country and the world, as a way to foster social mobility and help young people find their voices and reach their full academic and personal potential. The atmosphere of the launch event was electric and it was so inspiring to see and hear young people standing up and making their voices heard and articulating their views on a current live political topic. We are delighted to be continuing our relationship with Debate Mate as we develop the Maiden Speeches project, and are really excited about visiting one of their Saturday morning debate clubs in the new year, and cannot wait to host a demonstration debate alongside one of our script development readings in the spring. Watch this space!

 Debate Mate Launch 2017 at the Emmanual Centre Westminster. 

Debate Mate Launch 2017 at the Emmanual Centre Westminster. 

VOTE 100

Next it was off to Lincoln University as part of the Vote 100 project. This is a parliamentary project consisting of workshops, exhibitions and other events to celebrate the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage in 2018. Director Eleanor Rhode and I ran a workshop for year 11 students on our Maiden Speeches project as part of the Getting Selected Day that looked at the ways that women can get more involved in political life. You can read about the day in more detail here, in this blog post by Eleanor.  

As part of the workshops I performed a spoken word piece that talks about the history of women in parliament, and is a call to arms for women in all walks of life to raise their voices in formal and informal spaces. The piece references the night of the 1911 census that Emily Wilding Davison spent hiding in a broom cupboard in order to legitimately cite a woman’s place of residence as the House of Commons. The poem also references a secret ventilator shaft that provided secret access for  women to listen in to debates. This piece of fascinating history is discussed in more detail here in this Vote 100 blog post which inspired the poem. As part of the workshop we also invited the students to create their own manifesto poems, by asking them to reflect on the things that they wanted for themselves, their families and their communities.

After the workshops I spoke on a panel alongside some of the incredible women whose work I had delved into as part of my research, including Lesley Abdela whose book Women with X Appeal documents over 300 interviews and gives an insight into women’s experience of political life in their own words, and also Professor Sarah Childs whose report The Good Parliament  makes clear and no-nonsense sensible recommendations for ways in which to improve diversity across The House of Commons and The House of Lords.

 Me on a panel looking serious.

Me on a panel looking serious.

KM8 ANTI - FRACKING SITE

Keen not to just engage with establishment politics, I have also made a few visits up at the KM8 anti-fracking site in Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire. Interested to see where activism and the state intersect, I was keen to visit (and support) the work of the people taking action and speaking up in the most direct manner imaginable. The KM8 site is a short drive from where I live and the environmental risks of fracking is a real concern for the people of North Yorkshire. I visited at the end of summer and performed some spoken word poetry with friends from Say Owt poetry slam and more recently went up to show support as part of their Green Fridays, where the Green Party are hosting weekly support at the gates of the fracking site. On this particular day Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley was visiting and his speech was interrupted by a vehicle wishing to enter the site. His refusal to give way to the lorry and to stand united with the crowd who also restricted its access, led him to being kettled alongside us protestors and being dragged away by the police. You can read more about that incident here. And you can learn more about and find ways to support the efforts of the KM8 anti-fracking activists here.

 Myself and good friend theatre director Nat Quatermass giving the thumbs up for the anti-fracking movement outside the gates of KM8.

Myself and good friend theatre director Nat Quatermass giving the thumbs up for the anti-fracking movement outside the gates of KM8.

WESTMINSTER TRIP #2

In November director Eleanor and I returned to Westminster and spent the day in the modern part of the building at Portcullis House speaking to some more MP’s who had kindly agreed to share their experiences of their working life in politics with us via some  more in-depth interviews and we are still following up some of these meetings throughout December and January, some in the MP’s  home constituencies.

NEXT STEPS – SORT YOUR CORNERS OUT DAVIES!

All of these trips and development days have been instrumental in feeding into the content of the script, which still remains to be written.  While visiting, talking and interviewing I have kept my writers radar switched on. I have been waiting for the moments where my curiosity is sparked, and a part of me says ‘I could write that’, while at the same time not actively pursuing or chasing down a rigid plot structure, story or framework. Although playwriting experience develops tools, strategies and approaches, writing each play demands a different way of engaging with the process. No two scripts come into being in the same way, and what works for one play and story and idea, won’t necessarily  work for another, which is probably one of the reasons that writing them is so excitingly addictive. In the case of writing Maiden Speeches I have chosen to live with the many and varied possibilities of the piece for as long as possible, but now that time is coming to a close. The jigsaw pieces are spread out, and I am looking for my corners.

Next steps include reuniting with collaborator Barbara Marten who has been off performing in People, Places & Things in New York and who is very much looking forward to getting stuck back in to this project. Together the Maiden Speeches team will be shaping the research into scripted material to play around with in a week long workshop at York Theatre Royal in February 2018.

Thanks for reading the blog post. More soon. Including dates and booking details of our script readings in Spring 2018. 

H x

MAIDEN SPEECHES - Research begins...

Starting any writing project is always daunting. It doesn’t matter how many plays I’ve written before (a lot!), my writing journey always begins with trepidation. Writing a new play demands a different approach and a different way of engaging with the themes and ideas within the piece, and as such every new project makes me feel like a total novice.

Maiden Speeches is a new play inspired by women in politics. The idea was conceived alongside York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre's co-production of Everything is Possible, which told the story of the York Suffragette branch and their fight for the vote. Barbara Marten, who played the lead role in the piece (Annie Seymour Pearson - the only suffragette from York to be imprisoned), was interested in how women’s presence in political life has progressed over the past 100 years since the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which gave some women the right to vote (women were fully enfranchised in 1928). Barbara and I got together to talk about her interests and we discovered a shared fascination with the lives and experiences of women working in parliament. Now, with the guidance of director Eleanor Rhode, and producer Tara Finney, we are working collaboratively as actor and writer to make a new play that investigates the lives of female MP’s, and their experiences of working in politics.

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Fact drop:

There are 650 MPs. 208 are women. 52 are BAME. 45 openly identify as LGBTQ. Westminster is still a predominantly white male space, and is still unrepresentative of the diversity of the British people that is serves.

Maiden Speeches was originally conceived before the calling of this year’s snap election. Our first funding bid for the project was unsuccessful, but after a second slightly tweaked application (always pays to be persistent in this game), we were delighted to be awarded an Arts Council England Grant for the Arts to help us work with support from York Theatre Royal to research and develop our ideas into a new stage playscript.

So, we’ve got the idea, we’ve got the team, we’ve got the money. This is where the writer’s fear and trepidation sets in.

Reasons to be Terrified: Part One.

  • Straight in at number one: Imposter Syndrome. Who am I to write a play ‘about politics?’ Although I have lots of other qualifications (all in arts subjects), I have no formal degree or education ‘in politics’. All I ever did ‘about politics’ was a GCSE in social science, which taught me something about the first past the post voting system, and for which I knocked out (and largely made up) some extremely dodgy coursework about the British people’s queuing habits (yes really! I have a vague recollection of hanging around bus stops and BHS to gather my dubious data).
  •  Number two: Imposter Syndrome continued. Part B: the Factual Element. I don’t even know anything about the everyday procedures of ‘proper politics’. At the start of this process Public Members Bills, Three Lines Whips, Third Readings, and even the idea of a political Maiden Speech, were all things that meant nothing much to me.
  • Number three: I am not even ‘interested in politics’. All the books ‘about politics’ have pictures of bald men, standing in front of important looking buildings on the front, and the thought of reading them fills me with utter despair, and makes me want to poke my eyes out and run for the hills.

Fortunately I know from experience that the only thing to do in the face of overwhelming feelings of artistic incompetence, is to settle down, live with them and proceed hopefully and decisively through the creative process, and watch them slowly disperse. In actual fact, coming at an idea from a non-expert position is a gift. It means that I can start investigating my subject with freshness, approaching it from a genuine place of curious investigation. Also, it’s not lost on me, that the three points above, are probably the way that most people in this country feel ‘about politics.’ That in itself is also a gift.

It was while waiting for our first funding decision earlier this year, that I had a visceral reminder of the problems that come from being a publicly outspoken woman. In February I spoke as a performance poet at the Women’s March in York, where I delivered an anti-Trump poem. The poem is an outspoken challenge to misogyny and rape culture, and begins with the words ‘Grab my Pussy, I dare you’, a play on the comments made by Trump about his assumed right to grab women by the vagina.

When I came down off the podium, I was immediately approached by a policeman and escorted out of the crowd and threatened with arrest for causing a Public Order Offence. I was shocked by this response, as the language I used in the piece was arguably no worse than what was emblazoned across many of the Women’s March crowd’s banners; it was no worse than some of the heckles the attendees of the march were receiving from passing drunks and stag parties; and most notably it was no worse than the words used by the President of the United States himself.*

As the surrounding crowd members witnessed the police’s intervention they became angry on my behalf, and some began to challenge the lawfulness of their Public Order Offence threats, and I found myself at the centre of a lively disturbance. I became acutely aware that I had very little understanding of what my rights were in this situation (I’ve since swotted up), and for a few moments it looked like I might be carted off to the cells, in which case I better find someone to pick my son up, take him home and give him his tea. As it turned out no arrest was made, and eventually I was free to go, somewhat shaken and with a growing sense of rage that I had been publicly reprimanded for articulately speaking my mind, on a subject which I am passionate about.

I am very aware that my experience at the Women’s March, however unsettling, is comparatively tame when compared to the myriad of other horrific ways in which women are being silenced all over the world, but my experience is important to note as it has rippled through the beginnings of the creative process of writing Maiden Speeches. Although this project is rooted in an interest in the progressions that women have made into the political arena over the past 100 years, Barbara and I are also interested in those occasions where women choose to speak out within informal, frameworks and more grassroots spaces, whether political or not. What are the maiden speeches that ordinary women make every day?

Some questions:

·      Why did the government reject all six of the Women's and Equality Committees proposals to bring more women into parliament?

·      Why do female MP's have no maternity rights in their workplace?

·      Why does our modern democracy still rest on 'robustly expressed opinion... repartee and banter', and where is the line on misogynistic comments within this?

I came away from the Women’s March feeling angry and reflective, but also rather smug. I had written and delivered a poem so powerful I nearly got arrested for it. If being a poet was like being in the Brownies, I’m sure there would be a pretty impressive badge for that.

One of the reasons I had been excited to attend the march was to hear York Central MP, Rachael Maskell speak, and to approach her about our then unfunded Maiden Speeches project, but unfortunately my altercation with the authorities prevented this. So instead I emailed her to introduce myself. Rachael had seen me speak at the march and as part of her emailed response, she made reference to the picture of Theresa May holding Trump’s hand that was everywhere in the press at the time:

Your poem and performance I found very powerful, and when you compare this with the way that the abuse of women is being made permissive, I think the world has to be shocked into understanding the power inequality that Trump believes he has a right to over women. The image of Theresa May holding Trump’s hand, just reinforced this message. It was one of the most powerful images I have seen for a long time, as it showed that although the man is openly misogynistic, that she was willing to acquiesce to this. We live in shocking times.

Maiden Speeches is a play about women who choose not to acquiesce.

We are delighted that Rachael Maskell has come on board as a supporter of our Maiden Speeches project. We are particularly excited that she has helped us to organise a research trip to the Houses of Parliament, where we will be making contact with some of the women who work there as part of our research. 

My experience at the Women’s March is an important reminder that politics is everywhere, not just in the debating chamber and offices at Westminster. As such, as part of our research and development we are looking for people (of all genders) to take part in a workshop to explore this subject and help us develop our research. More details below.

In the meantime, I have by-passed the boring pile of pompous looking books about politics and am getting stuck into this pile of absolute gems instead.

More soon.

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WORKSHOP DETAILS:

We are looking for volunteers for a research workshop, taking place at York Theatre Royal, on Wed 4th Oct from 6.30-9.30pm. Whether you are a woman or a man, young or old, we are looking for people to come and share their stories and explore this subject with us through drama games and discussions - no previous performance experience is required, you just need to be up for having fun and talking about your experiences.

Places are strictly limited so if you would like to volunteer, please send an email to info@tarafinney.com with the following information:

  • your name, age, sex, ethnicity
  • 100 words about why you would like to get involved

Deadline for applications is 10am on Wed 27th Sept and we will inform you if you have been selected by Fri 29th Sept.

MAIDEN SPEECHES - A NEW PLAY!

I am super, duper, well-proper chuffed to bits to have received an Arts Council Grant for the Arts to research, develop and write my next play. I am collaborating with actor Barbara Marten  to co-conceive, create and devise a new piece of writing that examines the challenges facing women working in British politics today. Barbara recently starred as the professional lead in Everything is Possiblethe large-scale community show (★★★★ Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal co-production), that told the forgotten story of the York Suffragette branch. Maiden Speeches is a sister piece to this play; it looks at how today's female politicians function within the traditions of the House, and considers the different ways in which we can all find ways to speak up and make our voices heard. 

Also on the Maiden Speeches team is director Eleanor Rhode (currently directing Boudica at The Globe Theatre), and producer Tara Finney(currently producing Disco Pigs at The Trafalgar Studios). This exciting R&D process is being supported and hosted by  York Theatre Royal and we also have mentorship and support from the recently re-elected York Central MP Rachael Maskell.

Watch this space for more exciting updates!

#MaidenSpeeches

SAY OWT PODCAST

Henry Raby http://www.henryraby.com/ and Stu Freestone @stufreestone are the co-hosts of Say Owt  the York based slam and spoken word night. They are a pair of absolute champions. I rambled on at them  on their podcast about poetry, narrative and how I nearly got arrested for doing protest poems on the women's march. If you want to hear it the link is here:

https://soundcloud.com/sayowtpodcast/say-owt-podcast-17-hannah-davies

p.s check out their other awesome guest episodes too. 

GRAB MY PUSSY

Fuck you Donald Trump and everything you stand for.

GRIEF (A POEM)

GRIEF

Grief is a rough skinned gourd, with a course rind of ember green and a soft flesh fruit centre.

And when this growth erupts inside your chest, you are a heavy globe of roasted heart that swells and writhes and thumps against your ribs, until you don’t know whether to carve your innards out and simmer them up into a nurturing soup, or to tear up your very self and discard the whole rotten lot.

And when the leaves of grief’s vine sprawl through your veins, your body becomes your enemy, its simple rythyms are a pointless mocking pursuit.

You are a mortal curse tethered to the earth, while the one you want to touch, to love, to rail against, flies free in a place you cannot clutch or hold or fathom.

And you are both blessed and crippled by the finality of life, and the fragility of our every breath is a raw and wounding unavoidable fact.

And then you will get to work because you have no choice.

With knives and spoon and fingers you’ll carve out your pumpkin soul and pick through the seeds of all that dwells within; the joy, the pain, the rage, blame, hate, love and regret.

And the smell of grief’s juice will linger on your hands, and the taste will be bitter, and you will shed tears of confusion and righteous injustice until you are an exhausted mess. 

A shell of yourself.

A hollowed out palace of what was once and now will never be again.

And then (and only then), you may take up your sharpest blade and slice once more into grief’s ugly fruit.

You will cut out two sharp eyes and tear in a crooked smile, less than perfect shapes that can see and speak a certain type of truth.

And right at the bottom of your sobs, past the place where you gave up twice, underneath the racks and shudders that you thought might break you, right there on the tenderest spot you will light a tiny wick, and a flame will burn, of love or strength, or whatever else you need.

And then your hideous gourd of grief will glow, and your too solid flesh with soothe with a soft peaceful light from within.

Then grief becomes your lantern, a roughshod lamp to guide the way for new steps forward.

It’s part of a season. Of growth, forgiveness, new life and change.

© Hannah Davies

POCKETS (A POEM)

Pockets

I read the contents of your pockets, like tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. Set out the secrets of your hoard across the table.

Here is the collage of a small boy. Here, among the hurried breakfast bowls and mugs of half-drunk coffee.

Items: two muddy mittens, a bubble gum wrapper and a gun shaped twig.

A Pepsi cola bottle top excavated from a hidden corner of the playground and a shred of bubble wrap (all popped).

There is a small tin car and three Freddo wrappers sticky with caramel. 

A scratched up badge shaped like Rasher the comical Beano pig has its pin missing off the back.

There is a well-chewed biro, a neatly folded Haribo packet, two Active Kids vouchers and a box of soggy Funsnaps.

All articles are adorned with the rattling halves of golden chocolate penny foils.

These are the things that draw you to them. The curious finds of my magpie boy, your lovely moon-skulled head on one side, your eyes ablaze.

These are the things that jump out from your horizons, things worth saving and worth something to you.

As I sort through, separate the keeps and saves from the more obvious throwaways, I hold your image tightly in my heart.

Slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tales.

I know that I won’t always be your pocket fortuneteller.

I know that I won’t always be able to spread our your secrets on the table in this way and gaze leisurely into your world.

You will not always be my open, wholesome smelling book, your good true heart written on your face just for me, your smile an illustrated advert of your bona fide self.

One day, soon, you will broaden, deepen, fill out and stubble up. And then your secrets will be censored and carefully selected, my privileges will be lifted and re-assessed and that’s ok.

I will always hold your essence in my heart this way.

Even when your eyes are caught by softer, more dangerous things with curves and coos and lips.

And your pockets tell a different tale of house keys, car keys, phone and wallet.

© Hannah Davies

Great Northern Slam Winner 2016!

I won a shiny golden microphone from the Great Northern Slam at Northern Stage! My life is complete. I’ve also won a headline poetry slot courtesy of the lovely people at Apples and Snakes so watch this space for that.

This was the best birthday present ever. I am utterly delighted. Thanks to all the other poets who competed, and to Jeff Price for putting on a great event. Looking forward to saying some more poems and words soon.  

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