Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dead? You will be...

About five years ago I was approached by two young people looking for a fresh corpse to play a part in a dramatic presentation, to be staged live, and provisionally titled as above. There had been an article in one or more broadsheet newpapers about Jo Dagless and Matthew Scott's search for an individual who, knowing their death was imminent, might agree to participate after their death in the production, their corpse being a central figure in the dramatis personae.

Matthew and Jo, both actors, are the directorial core of the radical performance group 1157, based at Norden Farm Centre for the Arts. There was something about the way they spoke about their plans, bold and at the same time deeply respectful, that made me want to meet them and learn more. They visited me and we talked together for a couple of hours about what they intended, and what lay at the heart of their proposal. I discovered that although they had sent out many tentative requests, the responses had been wholly negative. Respondents either thought they were attention-seeking weirdoes, on the make; or they thought the request was some sort of sick joke. Although Jo and Matthew had approached some hospices as well as our own, none had responded positively, some not at all.

After careful thought, I did in fact invite someone I knew, a Buddhist who was dying of a brain tumour, if he would consider the request. He said he would, I gave him some background stuff to look at, and we discussed the possible practicalities. In the event, he died a few months later, having come to no decision, or having decided not to participate: I never knew.

I've kept in touch with Matthew and Jo since that time, and I did join them and others in a live multimedia production before a theatre audience, at which issues surrounding the quest were explored, including a netcast discussion with the audience.

These two young people embody for me the essence of passion, perseverance and pluckiness, and also something indefinably centred, wise, and engaged. Yesterday we met briefly by arrangement at Liverpool Street Station, all of us up in London on other business, but wanting to get together, as Matthew suggested "for dialogue". They have worked together for twelve years, they told me. I asked them if they were still getting Arts Council funding for their work, and how they managed to secure it year on year. "Because we keep working", was the reply.

It has always been an ill-defined dream of mine that these two have a role to play in the transformation of the Buddhist Hospice Trust, and I sense somehow, sometime, that the role will be played out. What that transformation might turn out to be, I don't know. My sense is that it may not include me, and/or that it may not be transformation in the sense of growth, or dissolution, nothing necessarily 'big'. It may be very small, but I feel it will be significant, because I have never been able to forget them, because I feel they have a significance beyond my imaginings and perhaps theirs, having its basis in the mystery of being that we recognise as shared.

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