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Penny Pepper's DadaFest Part One: Fun, Frantic, Provocative

I'm pulling my guilty face as I write this because I didn't manage to blog while I was working at DadaFest, and I really wanted to share this amazing experience. I've read the blog by Tanya, the reviews, and comments by Colin and echo the sentiments. This felt historic and it was a huge privileged to be there. Yet what a whirlwind, what an awesome frenzy. I loved every minute, even the exhausting ones.

My participation in DadaFest happened despite the odds. Earlier in the year my extreme mental distress had me trapped in a fog of tears and futility. I thought I'd missed my chance, and wasn't especially worthy of one. Somehow I muddled through with help from super friends and colleagues, did some proposals, and was offered work at DadaFest in the end.

I was at the happy launch night, ready for an early start the following day modelling for lovely Tanya Raabe once more. It was quite a thrill to pose under the awesome R.Evolve installation in the Bluecoat, and see people gazing at it, turning the cubes. It was especially funny if people caught my eye and realised then that it was me, one of the naked models they had been peering at.

With some to-ing and fro-ing on the train, London-Liverpool, I was at DadaFest for almost 12 days in total. My work began with being one of the models for The Three Graces for Tanya's life class. This was a moving and empowering event. Fellow model Julia Dean-Richards has written a poignant poem about this on DAO's DaDaFest review pages.

I loved what Tanya did with us, including the silhouette piece, in which we stood against a wall, set up with a paper, to capture our unique shapes. The class included people who had never drawn life models before, including Kath Duncan, a creative from Australia, who I was to work with later. The Guardian have a photo of Tanya working on this piece, in their DaDaFest Gallery.

My next job was with the burlesque project 'Criptease', in which six women had been brought together, mostly through the efforts of Liz Carr, to work with the queen of New York burlesque, Jo Weldon and her partner Jonny Porkpie. Three solid days of crazy glitz and glam rehearsals resulted in an open showing on Sunday 28th November. Each of us presented a 3-4 minute piece, exploring our own take on stripping. I went from dowdy, splinted and bored, to an Arabian shimmying dancer, stripped by the Genie (Jonny), who popped from the lamp. Of course, I had to end with some fast cheeky tassel twirling on my breasts - which the audience seemed to like!

In tandem with the Criptease work, I was also doing a 'Bed-In' performance on the Saturday. This event was to commemorate John and Yoko's peace protest, and other artists included Julie McNamara and The Feral Four. I did some story telling, recalling how certain events in my life had coincided with times of conflict and unrest. Two were most memorable; firstly that of being in a hospital bed when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. How us teenage girls feared a nuclear war! The second was the day of the invasion of Iraq by the West, which happened to be the day my book 'Desires' was officially released, thus wiping out many of my planned interviews. All I can say is – no comment.

I ended my Bed-In with a protest song I'd written in some panic the night before as time was incredibly tight - set to the tune of Yellow Submarine - hopefully I can supply a link soon. It was a powerful moment for me to hear the public joining in on the chorus:

"What do we think of Cameron and Clegg?
They'd rather we were dead
So I'll protest from this bed..."

Part two tomorrow as I am being very naughty now by staying up too late. There'll be trouble if I can't wake up bright and bouncy.

Posted by Penny Pepper, 10 December 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 December 2010

Bonfires, bugs and being creative

I look at my last blog and wonder if there's a conspiracy against me concerning time. It really is relative. Ok I don't know what that means exactly, but I have a twinge in my guts that it's related to um, what you are doing.

So, I suppose I must be happy that time is hurtling by because I've been very creative when not doing great impersonations of a Victorian In-valid with a porcelain sick bowl. Yeah, the bugs have been at me and in me, urgh, but I'm fighting the good fight.

I'm juggling the balls of about 5 creative projects even so.. A great deal of my time is taken up with my film making. It became tiring, writing scripts, writing treatments (tormenting things, they are) to face constant disappointment. So I bit the bullet to start making shorts on a decent Sony Handycam.

Here's my latest piece - 'Bonfire please please please view and rate for me as this is a competition! I hope you are all infected with the sense of fun. We had a ball, me and Janis, keeping ourselves in the main rowdy throng, though it's not for the faint hearted.

www.4docs.org.uk/competition/view/278/Bonfire

I would love you all to view and comment on my YouTube pieces too. There's a narrative short on there now Diary for Lawrence which was the first film I edited having had lessons from Katherine Araniello. I hope she's proud of me!

www.youtube.com/watch

There's a few others on there so please have a peek. The first one was 'Toilet Trauma in Epping Town'. The power of the internet can be damn amazing. The film, done as a piece of fun on the spur of the moment, was picked up by a local newspaper, I was interviewed. The council was challenged, promises were made. I believe the Invalid sign has been painted out as a first step! Wow. 

There's also been a flurry of activity on my spoken word, at least in terms of writing new material. You can see a clip on my Youtube page from 'Bums, Homes and Hell'' - which is from my BAC Scratch performance of last year. This version was filmed at Ada Street in May.

Which reminds me...

Recently I ventured into Peacocks. Yes, the clothing store. And then, lo....!

Jesus Saved Me in Peacocks
By the purple stiletto heels
A woman told me he loves me
That He understands how I feel

Maybe it’s true that in Peacocks
Many gods lurk in the clothes
The rumpled crumply undies
The dresses in disordered rows

....that's a taster, there's more and I hope to perform the rest in Brighton on Dec 3rd!

Meanwhile, yes, of course there's a meanwhile - I've been networking with Graeae in their fine new building, I've been up to Shape to see Tanya Raabe's incredible portraits, I've modelled for her (naked of course) in Wolverhampton, and been on Paul Darke's radio show.

Phew. Watch this space, all spaces and any new space that may appear where a Penny might fit some new tales to tell.  Sod the sick bowl.

Posted by , 1 December 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 2 December 2009

Penny Pepper reflects on Liberty 09 and the state of spoken word events

The Penny who needs Nine Lives to Do Everything

I don't need the Nine Lives as do cats because I am reckless and have close shaves - well only a little - but because I always make a point, indeed a practice of biting off much more than I can chew. And I only have tiny cripple's jaws you understand!

Liberty on Sept 5th was amazing and a little peculiar at times. I love to speculate on what the random tourists make of all these disabled people strutting their luvvie stuff in various ways. I won't deny that it's an enjoyable experience to have a day when you know you're going to be reasonably looked after as a professional artist.

You get a decent sound check and you can state what you need. Simples! And reassuring. Me and Jo were on top form, I know we were. We came on after the Ouch bit mind you with that Mat Fraser and Liz Carr... (ok ok, as good as ever) but it was a bit tough, though the audience were warm and responsive even if some elements clearly feel they need permission to respond to my audience participation bits. Oh dear. We do still have a long way to go.

Ever onwards, I am currently compiling a spoken word/performance poetry database primarily for London and the south east but if anyone knows of any venues elsewhere with access do let me know.

There is a good site for this sort of thing called Write Out Loud  which lists venues but not access.

This whole scene is very broad based and exciting at the moment. It is not your worst nightmare of 'school' poetry, believe me. While the range of work performed ranges in type and scale, do check out what's available out there, you are a poet or story teller of any kind. One tip I picked up early, is be good at what you do, don't be slack or unprofessional - and get your words heard.

I want to bring you into the debate about whether to mention disability on my latest flyer or not! Yes. Is it necessary and why should I?

More on that soon when some of the many Lives calm down a bit.

Posted by Anonymous, 21 September 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 21 September 2009

Penny Pepper blogs her Edinburgh fringe experience

Oh bum. Big bums. Double big bums. I wrote a fantastic blog, I really did and guess what? I clicked back by mistake and it vanished. As I sit here crying and laughing simultaneously, there's a lesson for you all. For fuck sake always save. I should know better. But I guess I never will.

Anyhow, not long back from a four day frenzy in Edinburgh. At Fringe universe, which is a parallel universe where there is no time, it's not even relative, except as to whether it's drinking time or eating time. Crowds gather, all hours, like buzzing little hives, moving between events and sustenance - and now I am become one of them.

As I flip off the train bleary eyed after a four hour plus journey, I try to adjust quickly to Edinburgh's multilevel, history thick, street ways. Everywhere seems a warren of steps and confusing ramps and the sky is a sulky grey. But eventually I find my way to the hotel, just off The Royal Mile, and before I know it, I'm scooting off to see Ju Gosling's exhibition Abnormal (

http://www.scientificmodelofdisability.co.uk) which is on at Theatre Workshop, on the edges of Fringe land. It's something of an endurance test, much tougher than anything on Beyond sodding Boundaries getting here as a wheelie as Edinburgh's craggy cobbled streets go up and down like a mini mountain range. Thank the gods for a strong armed PA and various friendly natives stopping this soft southerner from going splat on her face.

Shown in the somewhat cramped confines of Theatre Workshop's cafe, this is my first time seeing Ju's exhibition. Apart from a little disappointment at the striking colourful prints of wheelchairs being hung too high for me, I am most struck by the humanity in Gosling's work. While placed inarguably within an equalities framework, the pieces have a universality and a gentle humour I liked very much. I particularly like the cheeky little amusement arcade 'grabber', which picks you a genuine Chinese fortune inside what I believe are needle cases.

I'm realising as I write that I can't do a chronological blog, as the festival doesn't deal in linear. It's sensory overload mostly, and the feeling of moving, bouncing in my case (the cobbles!) from event to friend, friend to event and so on.

On my first evening, Liz Carr offers me a ticket to see comic Adam Hills (http://www.adamhills.com) at the Gilded Balloon. Hills has a relaxed style and his take on his own disability and in general is funny, sometimes bizarre but always with ownership. I liked him.

Each day blurs into a merry-go-round of linking up with friends who are performing or seeing shows. In my usual state of poor planning I had not managed to secure anything myself in advance, but ambition sharpened a few little claws inside me, and I spotted a cabaret open mic going on at Zoo Southside and the open night at the Scottish Story Telling Centre.

Now I consider myself a story teller in the broadest sense. I can tell a tale in any form really, it somehow all slots together in the head, the heart, and comes out. But story telling in this sense is different. No safety net of a book, a script, a scrap of paper. It can be a retelling, it can be a reclaiming, a passing on of a tradition. Of course I am most interested in making sure that the stories of disabled people past and present, are told and acknowledged. So urged on by the knowledge Liz was going to be there grinning at me, and sensing the audience were friendly, I went for it.

I was third up, after some trad pieces. I was shaking and breathless, aware that I would be quite a novelty to them.

My piece was based loosely around an experience from my own childhood, but transmuted into a pared down story telling style, on themes of exclusion and racism. I surprised myself - eight minutes passed and I had a warm response. A man in the audience made complimentary noises, pushed a piece of paper into my hand. He was an award winning story teller, and this was his contact details, and an offer to publish me on his website, and translate me into Russian - ! A magical moment of Fringe.

There will be a part two - tomorrow, maybe over the weekend. I'm back in London now, still weary but full of smiles, despite frustrations many of us experienced. More soon. Much more.

Posted by , 28 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 21 September 2009