Michelle Ridings: Walking the Talk – Developing an Authentic Artistic Practice.
Re-settling in the South West 12 years ago, facilitating workshops in Voice, Writing and Theatre skills in and around rural Mid Devon and Somerset, became my ‘bread and butter’ work, and fitted in well with being a full time Mother. Collaborative rural arts events, pop-up cabaret performances in parish halls, schools, colleges and interactive performance at festivals have allowed me to keep my toes dipped in the creative water whilst carving out a low impact, off-grid life on a shoestring.
In my own performance work, I use the comedic characters of ‘Wicked”(‘mad’ medieval, time travelling bag-woman) and “Estella D’Artois” (immigrant gypsy cleaner) – to address issues which relate to questioning the place of ‘The Other” in the world, specifically from a feminist perspective. Now that my years of fulltime motherhood are complete, I find myself returning to both these characters with the desire to develop and sharpen their voices, responding to current issues and political trends, the impact they have on women and therefore, all of us.
Certain childhood experiences have given me a personal understanding of how easy it is to gradually become a particular version of yourself – a mask, a shell, a set of conditioned responses, which reflect more of what is expected of you rather than who you really are.
Inside, the real self withers.
Theatre has been a lifeline for me and continues to be so. It opens my Heart. Lifts me up. Pulls me through the hard times. Helps me identify the broken fragments and piece them back together. Teaches me how to listen more keenly, to see with different eyes and to strive to seek solutions for the greater good. It demands I strip away the extraneous, clear the fog and ferociously search for clarity. Gives form to my internal voice, makes me laugh out loud and empowers me to explore and discover my potential. Theatre has given me the space to hear my own voice, speak my truth with it and to sing from my heart.
What is spoken, cried, sang, bellowed or whispered, has emotion at its root.
What is unspoken, hidden, disallowed, or deemed unsuitable when it has this emotional base, holds authentic communication back.
There are certain conventions/structures in our society, which impose a silence on the uniqueness of the individual.
Silence is incredibly powerful – if it is a choice. Imposed however, it becomes a stranglehold on the soul.
Commonly used phrases such as “Hold your tongue, button your lip. You can’t say that!” instill feelings of it being wrong to express who you are or to say what you feel.
Unexpressed emotions, words and actions will eventually erupt, implode or seep out from us at inappropriate moments, causing complications within ourselves and with others.
I believe that ultimately, this can cause illness and depression.
This understanding has become the basis of my work with communities. The power of Theatre Arts as a transformative tool – in the vocal/singing or performance class; clown work and songs with elders affected by dementia; creating safe space for the sharing of individual stories in the prison workshop or arts project with folk dealing with drug and alcohol addictions; co-creating a professional training program for frontline workers highlighting how to spot the impacts of domestic abuse with their clients.
I want to inspire people to activate their voices and reconnect with their physical bodies – to re-member themselves; enable them to become the vibrant, expressive, whole person they are. Sharing stories, bearing witness and celebrating together helps us to find common ground in a world where isolation, division and silence seem to abound.
“The world must get used to hearing us speak” (The Orchard) Natalie McGrath.
Being an Associate Artist with Dreadnought SW gives me the opportunity to connect with a broader based creative network in the region and re-immerse myself in the world of making theatre.
I’d like to create future work that encourages diversity of conversation, debate and authentic self-expression.
I’d love to work with others to further this intention; performers, artists, makers, movers and shakers in the world to promote an understanding of our inherited historical positions, to advocate social change, develop common emotional intelligence and to assist the potential of human evolution.
I’m interested in inter-generational, multi-ethnic/cultural work, which is visionary, crosses borders, and promotes good mental and emotional health and questions how we live in the 21st Century.
I’m particularly keen to create work, which speaks to or on behalf of young people of both genders, women from all ethnicities, elders, hard to reach and vulnerable groups.