Endings – a foreword for Brainchild 2019

Everything ends. Some endings are impossible to accept, we feel short-changed or unable to let go. Some things fade away into insignificance. And some endings are spectacular, full of pain, passion and finality… but often things drag on, and we’re relieved when they’re finally over.

We’ve been contemplating endings right across the festival programme this year, trying to confront subjects that often get avoided, and acknowledging a sense that there are certain cycles and ideas that seem to be coming to an end all round us. In looking deeper into our collective feelings about death, life on Earth and all the disintegration of old social constructs, we’ve also challenged ourselves to imagine new visions for the future. Lovely, hopeful, possible visions of the future! Here’s an introduction to some of the shows and sessions exploring endings and new beginnings .  

A session this year that brings together a lot of these ideas is a zine-making workshop, being hosted by our friends at Skin Deep, the race + culture magazine. They’ll be asking participants to respond to the question ‘Is This the End?’, also the title of their upcoming issue, by creating their own Golden Record. The Voyager Golden Records were two phonograph records that were launched into space in 1977 aboard both Voyager spacecrafts. The records contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on earth, and were intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them. The records are a kind of time capsule but, in reality, they in no way reflect the diversity of life on earth. This workshop will be a moment in which to re-imagine the records, to think about the possibility of an end to life on earth and what might really represent us as humans.

Our team, many of whom have experienced personal bereavement recently, have helped to drive the programme with a small mission: to instigate conversations about grief and the end of life. Frustrated by the taboo that still exists, and by the lack of rituals through which to acknowledge and celebrate death (in our individual-focussed-post-religious-society), we decided we’d feel satisfied if we could equip even one audience member with the language and tools to communicate more clearly with a grieving friend. We’re lucky to have three exceptional shows at the festival this year that explore grief in very different ways:

Jessica Butcher’s Sparks, is about navigating life’s questions – big and small – it’s a hilarious and completely heartbreaking exploration of the brain’s response to grief, and also an award-winning musical! 

Team Viking is a properly funny, unbelievable story about how James Rowland fulfilled his best friend’s dying wish for a full Viking burial. The man is a formidable story-teller. How does he manage to make his wonder for the world so contagious? It’s a small miracle. 

Tatty Hennessey’s much starred show A Hundred Words for Snow is a coming of age story about ‘being an explorer in a melting world’, it’s a dose of uplifting humour that you didn’t know you needed, delivered without a missed beat by Gemma Barnett in one of those rare, perfect performances. 

These makers will then be coming together, with visual artist Ed Haslam & playwright, filmmaker & Brainchild programmer Zoe Hunter Gordon in a conversation titled ‘Reimagining Grief’ where we’ll talk about our fears, ask if death is ever funny, and think about what engaging with death could bring us.

©ELISE ROSE/MOBIUS INDUSTRIES

We’ve also been exploring ‘the end of gender’, a kind of experiment in imagining a world beyond its confines through a look at alternative masculinities. The magnetic, multi-talented Travis Alabanza, in a cross between performance and lecture, will share their vision of a trans future. Through the reading Travis creates a space in which, instead of dwelling on the very real experiences of violence and marginalisation that trans people face, we can envision a possible future in which the acceptance of trans people, through an end to the traditional conception of gender, is something that makes all of our lives better.©Rah Petherbridge Photography

Hot & fresh from their extended, sell-out run at The Yard, our favourite drag kings Pecs are going to be back on home ground with Soft Bois, giving us a combination of vulnerability, parody & reverence straight from their aching hearts – a mash up of SEX SEX MEN MEN classics and some brand new material.

And for those of you who saw HOTTER at the festival last year, you’ve obviously not forgotten the profound elation… remember when we all cried and stormed the stage? Well, Mary Higgins and Ell Potter are back too and their developing their next show FITTER. FITTER is like HOTTER’s ‘younger greasy brother’, using the same method of verbatim interviews it will explore themes of masculinity and what it means to be fit, feel fit, and fit in. On their mission to gather thoughts, opinions and experiences that will inform the making of the new show they’re hosting an open-interview at the festival with Travis Alabanza and comedian & Pec’s king Jodie Mitchell, as well as roaming the festival on the lookout for audience members who are up for contributing.

©Sophia Burnell

Looking at how certain systems must change before new beginnings can happen, we’ve invited the The New Economics Foundation to lead a session imagining a future without work, a participatory workshop that explores the effect work has on our lives: impacting our ability to spend time with loved ones, to engage in projects that we care about, and possibly, to realise our creative potential. They’ll be asking how the demand to reduce working time can help the left to develop a new politics – one based on freedom, collectivism, and creativity.

We also have two opportunities for everyone to reflect and tell their own stories about endings: during Story Slam’s intimate storytelling workshop in the woodland & a session with gal-dem in the Forum that will invite women and non binary people of colour to take to the mic and tell a true story about endings or new beginnings. 

None of this is going to be as somber as it might sound, we think it’s going to be cathartic – euphoric even – and we can’t wait to share it all with you in a few weeks time!

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