1. detailThe aim of Speakeasy is to grasp your place in the present.
  2. detailSpeakeasy is something transparent and immediate: it treasures 'spontaneous self-expression'. The intuition is that this approach has great creative and therapeutic potential: that it can be a significant tool in the development of an actor, a child, a person, a community.
  3. detailSpeakeasy invents itself in 1987 with an idea: to make a performance with an ensemble of actors whose physical embodiment is as precise as a musical composition, but whose words and emotion are left to the moment. This is the ideal that continues to inspire the project.
  4. detailWhat begins as an ambition in theatre becomes a method that is unafraid to adventure into other media. For 25 years all the work has been dedicated to this way of doing things. A Speakeasy project is seen through on its own terms, whether that takes ten minutes or ten years, and Speakeasy is the common ground shared with other artists, and shared by all the projects.
  5. detailPainting, Drawing and Printmaking are learned from Mark Cheverton, an education extended by a long friendship with Miles Richmond. It becomes the 'Portrait Project': the image of time spent in ones own company - the 'self-portrait' - that shares itself to become the images of time spent in the company of others.
  6. detailStage-design develops from the example of Edward Gordon Craig and his concept of design as the making of a 'unified stage picture' in which the scenic elements are both immense in relation to the actor and transformative in relation to the duration and themes of a drama. The architecture of the scene is less compelling than the counterpoint offered by images that are both fixed and transformative: a dream-mural in an infinite landscape.
  7. detailThe majority of the designs are for short-run productions in big theatres. The Speakeasy shows make different demands: they require rapid set-ups in unusual locations and to accommodate this - the need to travel - we follow an inspired comment by Euan Sutherland who saw an early version of How to Kill and had a vision of thousands of Airfix kits.
  8. detailFor the Speakeasy shows, the 'unified stage picture' that permits the play of scale, transformation and the intimation of an infinite landscape, is produced by small objects, repeated in large quantities: models, facemasks, umbrellas, and so on. Significantly, the game with scenic elements - ordering, disordering, destroying - becomes part of the role of the actor as it hasn't been before.
  9. detailSpeakeasy keeps a living relation to theatre through the interpretation of an idea from early Marx: acting as labour. Not acting as duplicity, roleplay or pretending, as it is commonly held to be, but acting as essence - body in essence and body of essence - along with all the physical discipline that requires.
  10. detailThe idea of the actor is informed by Kantor, for whom the actor 'steps out of the common circle of custom, free and tragic, alone with fate'; by Grotowski, for whom the actor is 'double: passive in the action, active in the look'; by LeCoq, for whom the actor is their own clown; and by Brecht, for whom the actor is an instrument in the argument.
  11. detail1989 - 1992 is a sustained moment of dedication to new work in theatre, in company with Al Caig and Gregg Corbett. Gradually working up from solo shows to ensemble shows, and from the role of author/performer to author/director, we arrive at Believer, the study of a man going blind, our second 'Fringe First' winner and an ensemble production close to the Speakeasy ideal.
  12. detailTheatre resurfaces throughout the Speakeasy project and is its natural home. The 25 years have periods of devotion to this medium, and periods of exile from it that secretly draw upon a performer's experience: knowledge of, and respect for oneself, as an actor.
  13. detailInspired by Joseph Beuys' concept of the invisible sculpture, Speakeasy adopts the form of the artists residency in 1991 for projects in Skerray, Sutherland, and Papa Westray, Orkney. The paradigm is that there should be no agenda, an ensemble of artists and art-forms, and a remote place; and that the ensemble should involve a mix of generations and a mix of disciplines including theatre.
  14. detailTo live in a community and to make a performance in the midst of it demands a new relationship to the audience. Performing in a long barn on the northern island of Papa Westray we discover the value of sitting the audience one person deep down either side of a long space. Returning to the city we devote further productions of this play to this arrangement of space and audience, and in so doing we open Mary King's Close up to the public for the first time in 350 years.
  15. detailThe essence of the residency is research into the spirit of place, and for Speakeasy film-making begins as the need to record the place as it appears in the work of artists given this freedom. The engagement, recorded as moving image, has been the template for all subsequent film-making: a record of the presence of the place.
  16. detailFilm allows the living moment to be seen as it unfolds. The strategy for the Speakeasy films is to eliminate everything that might diminish the living moment. Following Wenders, for whom 'the script is the vampire of the film', we work without scripts: for Brotherly Love we adopt the form of the road-movie and shoot chronologically according to a map; for The Ring we develop an approach to spontaneous documentary cinema lead by the astonishingly skilful shot-making of Peter Mettler.
  17. detailFor Speakeasy to work with Peter Mettler in the Azores is to receive a lesson in the dramaturgy of a shot, and also in the clear rule that the camera is both a participant in the scene and the element that can be relied upon to provoke a performance. For The Ring, we take the crew into increasingly dangerous one-off situations in Bosnia and Burkina Faso to record a number of remarkable meetings with strangers.
  18. detailFor the films, Speakeasy obeys Peter Wollen's emphasis that looking be 'observation and not surveillance'; and also Benjamin's insistence that modern man 'has a legitimate right to be reproduced in this medium'. The wholeness of the person is to the fore, and the suppression of The Ring is undoubtedly because this approach results in too much candour - too much light being shed in dark places - for those who legislate what audiences may be allowed to see.
  19. detailEditing becomes an exercise in non-intervention: in the ability to construct a film with long, uncut shots. The editor becomes the universal, ideal spectator who searches to maintain many meanings, not single meanings, within the material. The Ring aspires to the Speakeasy ideal of being an ensemble piece, albeit one whose actors will never meet. Editing is a long process shared with a great friend and colleague, Bert Eeles, who comes to define Speakeasy as 'making a playground'.
  20. detailAfter 9 years work on The Ring, Speakeasy searches to reintroduce spontaneity to the process of post-production. Both Afriko v Glavo and Bengal are edited according to a random selection of the best shots in a mass of material, a method developed with Gavin Lockhart in the course of the Margins residencies. That this form works commercially is proven by the popularity of Afriko.
  21. detailPuppetry enters the Speakeasy Project in the person of Barbara Bulatovic and the urgent need to lighten up, to make shows for children in refugee centres. It dramatically re-orders the approach: the process of making and jamming replaces research, writing and rehearsal. A female element enters a hitherto male-dominated project: socialising, chaotic and provocative. Process replaces perfection.
  22. detailThe puppeteer and teacher Roman Paska describes the puppet as a hollowness, a hiding place and the illusion of a secret life. These are important insights, but for Speakeasy the emphasis is different: the puppet represents the universal ambassador, either come from a foreign world or given instant hospitality in worlds that are totally foreign to us. This identity is explored in many social situations, and most dramatically in West Africa.
  23. detailPuppetry offers a new approach to the Speakeasy ideal: the puppets create a ready-made ensemble, and the shows invite a coherent free-jazz of media: shadows, films, many kinds of puppet, music and poetry. The show Mundus et Infans is the culmination of our work and a fulfilment of the ideal insofar as it can be made by one woman and one man. It wins the main prize at Unima International Festival of Puppetry.
  24. detailSpeakeasy participates in all-night sessions of spontaneous music at Radio Študent in Ljubljana. There is a group of around 15 people playing instruments from didge and djembe to violin, Gibson and voice. The programmes, which are mixed and broadcast live, last no less than four hours. Later filmwork with bands is nostalgic for this DIY triumph which disassembles inhibition in the creation of music.
  25. detailThe making of a book objectifies the desire to be done with a period in one's life. Like the cast-off skin of a snake, the texture of the book represents the immediate past - an existence that was only possible thus. The books published by Speakeasy enact the desire to change oneself and others, and speak in sympathy with a marginalised subject: the aphasiac, the suicide, the grieving, the blind, the individual in a totalitarian society, and so on.
  26. detailSpeakeasy publishes its 4th book, 'On the Significance of Revolutionary Suicide' in tandem with the performance of an avant-garde film, DAR I&II. The film is 90 minutes long and almost entirely black, with a pre-recorded sound-score, live poetry and music: a rejection of image in favour of a collective experience in the dark. Entry to the film is free, but purchase of the book is compulsory. Provoked by Debord, the text anticipates the contemporary chaos of Greece, and offers a positive interpretation.
  27. detailFor Speakeasy, the invitation to explore architecture as a creative process is made by the example of the Spanish architect, Enric Miralles. Given the ubiquity of poor house design in Slovenia, the task presents itself to design a home to express the unique identity of a Slovene family and, in the words of Pallasmaa, 'to internalise their needs, and then surpass them'.
  28. detailTo engage with Architecture, opens up a host of useful disciplines and conventions: a fundamental optimism that things can be done better, as well as the skills of scale-drawing, scale-modelling, constructional rigour and the proportions of the modular man, all of which serve as relevant skills in other aspects of the Speakeasy project.
  29. detailGiven the need to bring up children as a single parent, Speakeasy focuses on the domestic arena, and the need to think from the point of view of children: that they have the right to a real relationship with both parents; to know their instrument; to know their sport; to experience bedtime reading as a performance; and no x-box. A family is also an ensemble.
  30. detailThe formal composition of music expands the most social aspect of the Speakeasy Project and a belief in the power of the ensemble. Given the need to congregate a community around a group of children, the most useful form is the song - a memorable tune and memorable words.
  31. detailThe aim is to give the children a voice, which means to give them ownership of the song as it is being created. Speakeasy organise a choir in a local primary school to road-test original songs and the kids provoke the next step, demanding characters to play and a story to tell. Thus the process gathers the momentum that takes it from choir to stage musical to the production of a film without stopping.
  32. detailThe work in music is targeted at schools to reinforce the identity and solidarity of not just one, but any school community. The aspect of this work that is most interesting for Speakeasy is the future step, when others choose to take up the musical and make it their own. Help yourself: www.primaryschoolmusical.org
  33. detailThe major work at the centre of the Speakeasy Project, alongside all the other media is, in the words of Keith Douglas, poetry as 'significant speech'. Having accompanied the project throughout its life, in 2000 the poetry suddenly demands publication. The first book, The Gift, collects everything worth saving; the second, White Medicine, dedicates itself to an exploration of poetic form and, in the course of that work, devises the ‘split sonnet’: the realignment of a traditional form that allows it to accommodate the present.
  34. detailThe 'split sonnet' dispenses with rhyme, but obeys other formal criteria. Composed of 140 syllables (like Shakespeare's sonnets) it is divided in the ration 7:3 with the rule that the thin section, of 42 syllables, makes sense. The invitation presents itself to make a sequence that can measure up to Petrarch – 365 poems – The Book of Days. The greatest compliment paid to these poems is by the great Slovene poet Dane Zajc, when he remarks that 'I can see my world in your world'.
  35. detailThe double nature of these poems, as simultaneously visual and vocal compositions opens a new field: the poem in relation to the human body. Taking the poem from the page and installing it on a wall, like a highly wrought graffiti, gives the poem both scale and presence. It allows the poem to reinvent itself as an element in relation to architecture, as activism and, when all the elements converge, as ceremony.
  36. detailAt the time of writing, Speakeasy adopts strategies to reach a wider public: through public exhibition, the publication of the Book of Days, the 'Constitution' campaign, the need to set down what Speakeasy has been, and the business of selling art to sustain itself. These initiatives are channelled through this website, created by the inimitable Andy Smith, of whom this is a portrait.