Wednesday 12th April 2017

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Artist Cath Shea was recently awarded Heart of Glass Research and Development Prototype Project funding. Here is the story of her project so far:

I applied for the project to undertake two workshops with writer, performance artist and director Ursula Martinez, working with my alter ego Kitty O’Shea.

I made a few works with Kitty some years ago but sadly not enough. Singing her heart out for over a decade at the legendary Dollman Disco in Liverpool has kept Kitty alive but she had largely retreated until strange forces conspired to bring her out to play again; various opportunities offered by Heart of Glass in 2015 provided me with the opportunity to explore Kitty further.

Firstly Scottee invited Kitty to perform at his TakeOverFest. Next came the opportunity to take part in a two day cabaret performance workshop, Don’t Wait Tables, a Live Arts Development Agency DIY project. It was here that I was first privileged to work with Ursula Martinez as she helped participants to prepare for performances at Duckie, to be held at the Citadel as part of the Through the Looking Glass weekend of live art in St Helens.

‘What, Kitty doesn’t say anything? She just comes on and sings?’ Ursula piped up at the workshop.

Oh no, we need some back story’ she added.

Kitty only said about three lines at her Duckie performance but I knew that Ursula was right; Kitty does have a back story and I have been slowly exploring this through short monologues ever since.

Until Don’t Wait Tables, I had never taken part in a purely performance based workshop. The immediacy of changing a work in the moment was a revelation to me, ‘Do it like this’, ‘No try it this way’; such a very different approach to developing work than those I experienced during Fine Art training. Performance feels so much more exciting, albeit terrifying, to me as well.

To develop Kitty, I took part in Dream Audience workshops in Cardiff in 2016. Led by performance artist, Karen Christopher, the workshops provided a supportive environment to show new and unfinished ‘stuff’ to other performance artists also developing new work. I had really enjoyed working with Karen previously as part of This Will Never Happen, one of the other Heart of Glass opportunities that led me to performing. I knew I would get a lot from working further with Karen and sure enough by November 2016 at the end of the Dream Audience workshops, I had three short monologues, a starting point for a new work.  So where next?

Elated from the experience of performing and the encouragement from Karen I remembered Ursula’s offer at the end of the Don’t Wait Tables workshops ‘If any of you want me to do some direction work with you, just ask. I may say no, it just depends what I’m up to at the time, but feel free to ask’.

I had always kept this in my mind as an opportunity I shouldn’t miss. Now seemed like the perfect time; a chance to work again with ‘the’ Usual Martinez, the woman who had encouraged Kitty to speak in the first place. I was lucky that Ursula had some time in December, so shortly after being awarded the R&D Prototype project, I hired a rehearsal space at the Cockpit in London and spent two sessions with Ursula.

In preparation, I had brought together the three separate monologues that I had written for Kitty into one piece lasting about an hour. It didn’t really work as a total piece but it was a starting point.

Having performed the work for Ursula, she tore it apart (in the nicest possible way) and put it back together again in a totally different order, removing some parts completely, stripping other parts back and adding new sections.

Ursula questioned elements of the work, feeling that I was speaking sometimes as Kitty and sometimes as Cath; ‘I’m confused’ she said. She directed me in the staging of each element and in how to change the tone of the piece to suit different parts of the work – all in just six hours!

I was amazed at how much we achieved in this short time. I feel that it pushed the work onto the next stage, even though as Ursula said ‘it still needs a lot of work’ both in terms of the piece ‘and performatively.’

Ursula kindly offered to take a further look at my script when I re-work it. If I should be lucky again in the future that Ursula is available and willing,  I will undoubtedly, approach her to do some further direction work with me. The experience of working with Ursula for these two sessions was totally inspiring and such a fantastic experience.

I am extremely grateful to Heart of Glass for the opportunities which led me back to exploring Kitty again and for the Prototype Project R&D which enabled me to work further with Ursula.

Kitty O’Shea’s back in town – look out in 2017 for her National Treasure Road Show!

Photo by John Holden