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Joz Norris

  • Tape 67: Negative Space

Negative Space

This will likely be the last Therapy Tape for a few weeks, because as of next week I’m gonna be at the Edinburgh Fringe with Blink (come along if you’re up there! Have I mentioned that you should come along if you’re up there?) So, in recognition of the fact that this newsletter is going to be absent for a month or so, I thought I’d sign off pre-Fringe with a few thoughts on absence, and negative space, and the gaps between things.

First up, a Fringe-related revelation I’ve had recently – it’s become clear to me that the annual cycle of making Fringe shows is unhelpful for the producing of good work, and that it takes two years to make a good live show from scratch. I won’t be taking a new show to Edinburgh in 2023 – even if I do find a way to cover the costs of going back to the festival within one year, it would be to do some sort of low-stakes work-in-progress thing. Both the shows I’ve made of which I’m objectively and unreservedly proud of their being the best thing I can make – Mr Fruit Salad and now Blink – were the result of two years’ worth of work, with the first year consisting of taking in ideas and starting to assemble them into some sort of vague form, and the second year consisting of restructuring those ideas into a coherent show. As such, as I prepare to premiere Blink properly at the Fringe, my mind is beginning to scout around for scraps of ideas that could inform a year’s worth of idea-gathering and reflection, to see whether any of that could become a new show in 2024.

Yesterday Miranda and I went to see the Cornelia Parker exhibition at Tate Britain and I began to recognise that sensation of turning something over in my mind that could eventually become an idea. Parker’s work is fascinated with the concept of negative space, of the gaps between things, of the spaces that objects don’t occupy and what they tell you about the object. The exhibition includes the garden shed she blew up then reassembled in a state of being mid-explosion; handkerchiefs which she used to polish famous people’s silverware in order to “steal” the tarnish off them; a resin cast of the gaps between pavement slabs and, most exciting and fascinating of all, a pile of “negative words” and “negative sounds” acquired by collecting the scraps of silver cut out of a lettering press by an engraver, and the scraps of vinyl cut out from the grooves of records at Abbey Road. I genuinely gasped at this idea because it was so brilliant. I’ve also long had a fascination with negative space – Rachel Cusk’s Outline uses the concept brilliantly in its central image – and I started wondering if it would be possible to make a comedy show that explores the idea.

The most immediate version of this idea that occurred to me was the idea of a show that explored the gaps between two shows – it starts with the first show ending, and ends with the second show beginning, and the show’s content explores the idea of who the comedian is when they’re not performing and being looked at, what persona they have to adopt in-between performances. The trouble with this is that it would too easily take the form of a conventional narrative play – the comedian going to their dressing room and talking to themselves about how the show had gone, or whatever – and that feels inherently uninteresting to me. I made a similar show in 2018 that I hated, that tried to explore the idea of who I was when I was alone, but did it in clunky, unimaginative ways that I now regret. I would hate to make something that resembled that misstep. But something about that idea – a show that explores the gaps between two shows – interests me. I’ve often spoken to Ben Target about the idea that the period of time when you’re onstage, as a comedian, is the one bit of time when you’re not working. That’s the time when you’re free, and can simply play, and relax, and enjoy the experience of being present with a group of people in that way. It’s the gaps between performances where all the work happens – the hustle, the grind, the grit, the exhaustion, the doubt, the fear. (This is not to say that the stage is the only place a comedian is happy, or feels like themselves, those are big warning signs of a mental health crisis. But the idea that being onstage actually doesn’t involve anything that resembles “work,” and all the stuff that does resemble work takes place in the gaps in-between performances, is an interesting one).

The more I thought about it, though, a more exciting version of the idea occurred to me – what about a comedy show that was interested in the gaps between laughs, not in the laughs themselves? So it still sought to create regular laughter, but that laughter served to punctuate and give shape to the spaces in between, rather than being the object of the show itself? So the volume and duration of each laugh gives a particular shape and size and depth to the space in between that one and the next one, and it’s those shapes that the show tries to sculpt. I’ve no idea what that would even mean or look like or feel like, or how to begin working on it, but it feels like a really exciting idea to toy with. I’m hoping to run a series of monthly workshop nights in the autumn, where me and a creative team talk through rough ideas in front of a live audience and invite them to get involved and make suggestions too, and we’ll try out whatever comes of it, and this feels like it could be a good thing to try and give shape to in those workshops. Let me know what you think of it! Is there something in it? Or have I come up with an idea for an impenetrable piece of performance art that probably won’t have much appeal to an actual live audience?

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Once again, everything’s become so Fringe-centric that it’s tricky to think of much comedy stuff outside of that, but the thing I’m most excited about outside of that festival is Nathan Feilder’s new show The Rehearsalwhich looks amazing and also annoyingly has a vaguely similar premise to a script I spent the last 2 years writing. Hey ho. Does anybody know where you can watch it if you don’t have HBO?

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – There was an artwork at the Cornelia Parker exhibition where she asked a police force for a sawed-off shotgun to use in some sort of piece. In order to fully deactivate it, the police had to saw it into even more pieces before giving it to her. Parker thought this was such a good creative act that she didn’t need to do anything else, and just exhibited it like that. I thought that was hilarious.

Book Of The Week – Deep Work by Cal Newport. He’s the guy who wrote Digital Minimalism, the book I read earlier this year about minimising tech use (still trying my best with that, my habitual use of it goes up and down). This one was the book he wrote before, about trying to create focus in a distracted world. It’s good so far!

Album Of The Week – Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat by Laura Nyro. I knew Eli & The Thirteenth Confession, but have been delving into the other two of Nyro’s big “trilogy” of albums this week. New York Tendaberry I didn’t love, but Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat is great. 60s/70s mystical singer-songwriter piano-folk. A lot of fun.

Film Of The Week – The only film I’ve seen this week is Thor: Love And Thunderwhich was absolutely awful. So bad I really can’t be bothered to say anything more about it.

That’s all for this week! As ever, if you enjoy the newsletter and would like to recommend it to a friend, or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! The newsletter will take a break for most of August, but I’ll catch you all on the other side! Take care until then,

Joz xx

PS Here’s one more Cornelia Parker pic. This is a huge tent made out of the sheets that Remembrance Day poppies are perforated from.

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