Waiting for the show, to begin, I observed two women weaving their way around the auditorium, stopping to speak in a confidential manner to selected members of the audience. On this occasion, curiosity really did get the cat, as in trying to work out what was going on, I wasn’t quick enough to pretend to be reading, with sudden and an unusual level of interest, the information sheet I had to hand. I was nabbed! I was given a small part to play in this participation piece, and I was beginning to wonder whether the wine I had drunk a bit too quickly would prove to be a good or a bad thing.
One way or another, Letters to Myself is all about participation. Participation of the audience on the night, and participation of the countless people who had sent in their letters that they had written to their past, present or future selves, that would then make up the thread of the performance.
A scary place to be, I imagine. At the beginning of a process that starts with an invitation for people to write their letters and to not know what might emerge or how the thoughts of so many different people might be knitted together to form a collective and coherent piece.
For the performers, too. How would the audience respond to being asked to participate? What do you do if out of nowhere the surprise that you didn’t see coming is thrown in? Or worse, there is nothing? Maybe part of the thrill of a piece such as Letters to Myself is that each time it is performed, it starts anew.
Everything, though, did fall into place. The women, Belle and Luca, who had been talking with the audience moments earlier, appeared on stage and in stereo they vocalised a series of excerpts, disjointed phrases. Luca and Belle’s performance throughout was exuberant, and playful. They really did seem to be the perfect choice for this piece. They have to be applauded for understanding how to work with the audience and for bringing to life in our imagination the people who had put pen to paper, as if they were with us in that auditorium. There was the guise of improvisation but done with a precision that made Letters to Myself work.
Very quickly Belle and Luca turned to ask questions of the audience. Each one intended to encourage the audience to share a little-known fact. ‘Who was the class joker?’. Not me. A few jokers were around though, and it seemed to be with relief that the audience noticed they weren’t alone in this confession. ‘Who was a trouble maker?’ I couldn’t raise my hand to that one either. As for ‘Are you spontaneous?’, well, I had to think about that.
The audience warmed up, Luca and Belle could try their hand at posing the more probing questions before taking their attention back to the letters.
It’s difficult to know where to start with writing a letter to yourself. The show is described as ‘A heart-warming and humorous look at the best advice we never had.’ Try to think of the advice that you would give yourself. It doesn’t always come easy. Hearing the letters read out aloud, it was striking that, depending on whether the letter was to a past, present or future self, the tone was different. Words of encouragement to follow the dream. Advice to hang on in there. Or words of consolation and compassion when looking back with the realisation that life might not move in the way we imagined but that’s okay.
There seemed to be some universal truths embedded in the letters or acknowledged when the audience realised they were all able to raise their hands to at least some of the questions. For me, the most thought provoking was the idea that nothing is static. Whatever way something starts it might not be how the story ends. In that way, nothing will be without joy and pain. The variant will be whether it is seen from the past, present or future.
Throw caution to the wind, then, and participate. Belle had confessed that a fear she held was to be in front of an audience, dancing, with the potential to be judged. Of course, then the performance was going to culminate in her doing just that, with the help of Luca. The choice of music for this was beautiful. There could have been many contenders for this – Je ne regrette rien perhaps. I’m not completely sure, maybe someone can help me out, but I think it was Judy Garland’s sweet voice filling the auditorium. Was it a version of Get Happy? Whatever, it seemed fitting.
Valerie Speed, Guest Blogger