Interview with everyday artist Ana

Cardboard Citizens LogoNEWJo: This is Ana and I’m just going to start off by asking you why do you come here [Cardboard Citizens], why do you do performance?

Ana: Well, I was very shy as a child and I envied all the kids who had this super confidence on stage and did acting and drama. During my teens I tried to follow up some sort of training or workshop or something to do with drama, and I remember at the time I was still very nervous and still very shy and I just bailed out of it. So it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do from a young age, but I just didn’t have the confidence to do it when I was younger. It was only about two years ago I started mingling with more actors and actresses and stuff, and going to the theatre a lot. Then I got involved in some small productions that my friends wrote, and around that same time is when I found the details of Cardboard Citizens. I actually saw one of their plays that was performed at a soup kitchen around Christmas time. At the time I was volunteering for the soup kitchen, so this is way before I became homeless. Then became homeless and then I became a member of Cardboard Citizens.

I use creativity for various reasons. I mean I’ve always been self-aware of my creative abilities and I’ve always been attracted to more than just one art or craft. I’ve done visual arts as well as performance arts. I’ve done a lot of creative studying, and worked with different creative people and worked in different creative workplaces as well. But with the acting and with Cardboard Citizens, it’s different because it’s got this twist to it. It is a charity for those who have been in difficult circumstances, and so you’ve got that moral support as well where you’ve got some people who are still facing those difficulties, or have come on the other side of that and still show peer support. But I think it’s really good, the skill of acting or dancing – because I do dancing here as well – it’s not just about expressing things but it’s also good for building up your self-confidence and building up your social skills. I know people here who struggled with their lines on the first day that they were here, and now they’re just reciting things off the top of their heads.

I remember the first rehearsal that I came here. I’m not ashamed to say that I suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder, but I had a panic attack on my first audition, and I said “oh I’ve messed it up” [laughs], and they were like “no, we want you to come back, how can we help you?” So you’ve got the fun side of it where things can be playful and it can be animated, but there are real people here with real issues, and what’s great about the company slash charity is that they have staff members, all volunteers, who are there to help with the other issues that the clients may be facing. That’s why I like coming to Cardboard Citizens, and it’s different from other theatre groups, because usually they’re more rigid or you have to sign something to say that you’re going to be committed for a certain amount of time, whereas here they give you more flexibility because they’re aware that the clients have difficult issues that they might be facing. So people can have that flexibility where they can dip in and out of it as and when they’re ready to.

But I also like the element of, a lot of the topics or a lot of the subject matters that we perform are based on real social issues as well. A lot of people think theatre is just all about entertainment, but what we try and do is push the boundaries and provoke people to react, so then they talk about certain things or they become aware of certain social issues that are affecting society today. That’s what I like about it. That part can be hard for the actors and actresses because it can trigger nerves and emotions. But it’s really rewarding on the day of the performance when you get people’s responses and you get reactions, like all those tears and sweat and blood and guts was worth it, you know.

I think everyone’s got an element of creative ability in some sense, but there’s a lot of people who believe that they don’t. I’ve always been fortunate to be aware of that from an early age, and I was fortunate to have the encouragement from both my parents and my teachers to go in that direction. They could see that I wasn’t strong with my maths or my science or anything like that. I was the other – is it the left brain or the right brain? I never know which one. I was typically one of those people. I’ve dived into, without sounding boastful, I’ve dived into literally everything that I’ve ever took interest in, so as well as acting and dancing, I’ve studied photography. I’ve studied jewellery design and I’ve worked with jewellers before. I have done painting. I make hats. I write poetry. Everything that I’ve ever designed, creatively I’ve got involved in at some degree or another. If I haven’t studied it, then I’ve been working along people and been involved in that sense. The idea of doing like a boring nine to five office job just makes my stomach turn. I can’t think of doing anything else. I’ve worked with other people before where I’ve had a standard nine to five job, the money might have been good or the people were alright, but it’s not the same as following what you’re really good at and what you’re passionate about.

Jo: And what do you think it brings to the rest of your life? What kind of difference does it make to who you are?

Ana: Well, it can shape my life in different ways, especially when it comes to writing poetry; a lot of poetry that I write is loosely based on real life experiences. I’ve got two types of poetry styles that I use. I use a lot of humour, a lot of dark wit, or I get onto the deeper, real serious stuff. I try and throw a bit of humour on the serious stuff as well, but I can’t imagine not being creative. It’s all I’ve known. Sometimes I’ve used it as a coping mechanism as well, when I’m going through difficult times. I don’t deal with negative emotions that well anyway, so if I can dive myself into my creative work, it can help me in that sense, whereas somebody else who might be going through the same problem or issue of life, they might tap into something else. They might see a counsellor or go down to the pub or get drunk! I think, especially in the last couple of years, my personal life has been quite tough and I got to the point where I was so frustrated talking about it and I felt like I wasn’t being heard, I was repeating myself quite a lot and it was just upsetting me.

Then I joined the poetry workshop and all this material just started coming out, and for months I felt stuck creatively, I was so frustrated and my mind was in a really bad headspace, and the energy to do creative things just wasn’t flowing the way that I wanted it to, and I was getting annoyed. It was like the very thing that I love doing; I can’t even enjoy doing that right now because I’m so stressed out. I was like right, where’s that pen and paper, and it all just came out, like certain experiences that I had in the last couple of years came out in poetry. Some of it’s quite heavy and quite deep, but again without sounding boastful, when I read back on some of the stuff that I wrote, I was like this is a lot better than the stuff that I was writing a year ago or two years ago or three years ago, but it’s come from a lot of frustration and pain and personal difficulties.

Again that’s why I like coming here. I’ve got a vague idea of what might be going on in other people’s lives, but I think I can speak on behalf of others, I think they do the same. I think it’s just a couple of hours in the day where it’s been stressful, where they’ve been dealing with housing issues or medical issues or whatever the issue is, and just for a few hours we can come here and not think about it, and just do something creative and do a production together. But like I said, there are times when it can get emotional here, because a lot of the drama that we do is based on the issues surrounding homelessness or mental health or unemployment, or all these other social issues that are up in the air at the moment that are affecting quite a lot of people.

Jo: Do you take time out to reflect on whatever creative thing you’re doing? Do you sort of take time and think oh that was good, that was bad or this what I got out of it or whatever, or is it something you do in the moment?

Ana: A bit of both. There are times when I do things spontaneously and I haven’t planned it, I haven’t rehearsed it or anything like that. I’ll just do it. I’m quite a spontaneous person anyway. I’m quite flexible. Having said that, there are times when it works in my favour when I do have some structure, because if I get too fluid and if I get too flexible, then I can’t make up my mind which direction I want to go. It’s like okay, I need to have some sort of order somewhere where I can plan something out and make it happen. I think that works well more with the performing arts in a sense. Having said that, nearly every performance that I’ve seen here or been involved in, we can rehearse until the cows come home, but on the actual night or day that we have to do the performance, anything can happen, and it has done. There’s been times when someone’s forgotten their lines. I remember there was one time, I was dancing in this really long gown and I had these little beads and sequins on these slippers that I was wearing, and it kept on getting caught on the gown, and I had to stay still standing on one foot, and I was outdoors and it was windy as well, and then I had to go back into the next dance scene and my dress was caught on this thing, and I just had to style it out. I had to make up a dance routine that wasn’t part of the thing, but no one knew. No one knew because the only people who would know were the people that I was rehearsing with, unless someone in the audience saw the rehearsal, which has never happened.

But yeah, it can go either way. If I think about something too much, then I won’t do it. I think the energy has to flow. It has to be there or it’s not. There’s times when I can write ideas down and the find research, backup information that will go to that particular concept or idea and I can still produce something good, but usually when I don’t think about it and I’m not planning it, it usually turns out pretty good as well. I think the times when I become more structured is with my written work, with the poetry. Sometimes I’ll just get one line in my head and I’ll write it down, and I’ve got nothing, and I’ll just leave it. And then maybe a couple of days later, the next line will come. Or there’s been moments when I’ve written a poem that’s as long as an A4 piece of paper and just done it all in one take, and looked at it and I haven’t changed it, and it’s exactly how I wanted it to be. That’s the thing about creativity. You can take something, have one idea and it might go in a different direction, or you get something you didn’t plan and it turns out alright, or you do a painting and you make a mistake with the paint, but the mistake is a perfect mistake because it doesn’t affect the artwork; it actually makes the artwork interesting. I think I enjoy that side of being creative. It’s not so rigid and it’s not so boxed in. The whole beauty about art and creativity is that you can literally take something out of nothing and make it into something beautiful.

Jo: And in terms of working with other people, so either collaborating with other people like you might here, or having an audience, how important is it to you?

Ana: In general, as much as I like socialising and being around people, I do also like my own company, and sometimes it works better for me because I get easily distracted. So I tend to do my best work when I’m on my own, but it doesn’t mean to say that I can’t work with others. I was in a production a couple of years ago where none of us rehearsed together.   Like the whole crew had to go home and rehearse. We couldn’t see what the others had rehearsed, but yet we knew exactly what the script was about, we knew what the story was about, we knew who was playing each character, but no one knew who was going to perform what until the actual date, and when the day came, it worked out; it wasn’t how anyone expected it to be. Like the audience was roaring and stuff like that. In the same production though, we was given solo pieces, because it was like an ongoing tale of the genealogy of these different families and different time zones, so there was times when we was performing together, and there was times when we were doing our solo pieces. When I do solo pieces, personally I love getting a reaction out of the audience. So whatever character I am, I typically go for really weird, strange, outrageous characters anyway, just to make a fool of myself. I think if you can get into that zone of making a fool of yourself, it diminishes all the nerves, because if you’ve made a fool of yourself in public, then everyone’s already laughing at you and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. So I don’t just stand on the stage, I will literally go into the audience and interact with them as though they’re part of the play. I remember there was one time I deliberately, spontaneously, I didn’t even think about it, but there was this one particular scene where I was playing this crazy woman, she was hearing voices in her head, and I went up to the first person in the front row and I kicked the leg of their chair and pretended to spit. I literally went [makes spitting noise], and people actually thought I spat all over here, and everyone was like [big gasp]. And I feed off that. When I get these kind of reactions, it makes me want to push the character even more and take it even further, so that’s how I personally like to work.

I do like working with others, and it can be very interesting, but depending on certain scenes or what the story’s about, I think sometimes it can work in your favour working with others. I think sometimes, depending on what the nature of the story is, you can do solo pieces and still perform okay without your cast members. That’s something that I never thought I’d hear myself say, because years ago, the thought of being on stage and making a fool of myself was the thing that terrified me. I think that kind of made me a little bit more reserved in pursuing acting and performances. But now as an adult, like when I’m doing it, when I’ve got the energy and my mind’s focused on it, I’m fully involved and I thrive on it. I love pretending to spit on people and pretend to pull their hair and like nick their handbag. And the audience get all nervous and twitchy and that’s what you want. You want a reaction from the audience. You don’t just want them sitting, just staring at you, “oh when’s it time to go home?”

Jo: Brilliant. So finally I just want to ask you, if you knew someone that was thinking about picking up a pen and writing something, or painting or acting or doing whatever, either professionally or just because they wanted to, what advice do you think you’d give them?

Ana: I would say do more than one thing because it’s more fun and it’s more challenging. See I could give the advice and say. “ask yourself why you want to do it”, but I can’t even answer that myself really and truly, because it’s just something that I love doing. I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s like asking Usain Bolt, do you fancy driving a train instead of doing all this running?! If you find a particular outlet of creativity to do and you really love doing it, then just keep on improving and keep on getting inspiration from different sources. For example, if you’re going to think about acting, think about what kind of acting you want to do, because there’s different types. Think about if you can physically and emotionally handle it, especially if you’re going to do forum theatre. Then just watch other actors. I go to other plays. I don’t just get caught up in my own stuff. I appreciate other people’s work and sometimes I get inspiration from that. I think as well when it comes to acting, be as observant as you can. Make as many notes, be as resourceful as you can as well, because it will help you when you’re actually playing a part. Especially if you’re trying to play a part that is believable and it’s not just a fictional character, but especially if you are doing it loosely based on someone’s life. Try and get all those little details in there so it’s convincing enough. That’s what the skill of acting is, to convince the audience that what they’re seeing is real, even though it’s not.

Jo: Brilliant. That’s so great. Thank you so much.

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