Belinda Lee Chapman – Director B2B Theatre & Coombe Associate Artist

Very recently Lara asked if I would like to be an associate artist at Coombe Farm studio’s, along with Kate Marshall a local Devon artist. Part of the deal was that I would write a blog, I’ve been putting it off for a while, not sure if it would be interesting enough for any one to read or that I may make myself look stupid!

I moved from London to Devon around 8 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child, it seemed like a good idea.

I had a little Theatre company called Bound 2B Theatre, and had previously made and toured work in Devon. At the time I had a residency at The Corn Exchange in Newbury, I was sure I could make it work, even with my husband working in London 4 days a week.

Head strong I went ahead, 8 months pregnant on the train with one of my best friends to help me set up the first B2B Theatre Youth workshops, at the Local Arts Centre.

6 months later after the baby was born I was back to London, defeated!

The birth was horrendous, my baby didn’t sleep, I had no friends, couldn’t work and my husband was in London most of the week. Winter came, I kicked the wardrobe door off its hinges, rented the cottage out, put all of our belongings in a van and travelled back to London (stopping off at Torbay hospital to find out why my baby stayed up crying from 11pm till 6am with colic!)

I missed the tranquilness of the country side, suddenly I was aware of how much noise pollution there was in London, how intrusive the advertising was and how the bedroom floor vibrated from the traffic passing out side.
May be it was from living in the countryside, or possibly my senses had been awakened from becoming a mother, but I was suddenly much more sensitive.

I spent most nights on the web looking at other places we could live; Sussex, Oxford, Essex (where I grew up) After a year and a half we moved back to Devon to give it another shot. It would be different this time….  i’d been working on my next production ‘The Night Time Whisperers’ we would perform it at The Corn Exchange and at the Flavel – the local arts centre.

I got a childminder, things would be different.

It wasn’t! my husband still worked in London, I still had no friends, I skimmed my way getting Arts Council funding to put the show on, and at the end of the year I was on the floor and had a screaming 2 year old that was resentful of me working, whilst he was left at the childminders!

I resigned myself to doing other people’s projects instead of creating my own, and got pregnant again.
I did bits of work here and there working at The Theatre Royal Plymouth and tapping into the Youth programme that I had left behind the first time, but there wasn’t many projects to tap into. Theatre work is not high on the list in Devon and with baby no. 2 there wasn’t much time to fit it in any way.

A couple of years later  James Mackenzie-Blackman, Executive Director of Re:bourne and  Mathew Bourne, New Adventures, whom I performed with for many years, put me forwards  for a place on the Dance Uk Mentor and Leadership programme. Over the next year I worked with a producer Gwen Van Spijke as my mentor, along with a placement at The Theatre Royal Bath / Egg Theatre, where Joe Spergoen set me up on a programme that would work in with my parental commitments.
I’m very appreciative of all of the above, they have been a fantastic support keeping my foot in the door whilst juggling the chaos of parenting and living in a Theatrically isolated area.

The Associateship at Coombe and the relationship we are nurturing has been a creative life line for me to keep creating work in Devon. Coombe is 5 mins round the corner from where I live, It’s not like London where I would go to networking meetings or meet friends at the Theatre, but we often have very quick (and  interrupted ) chats at the  school bus stop or a catch up  whilst picking the kids up from a school trip, these keep us sparked up and connected. Occasionally we will have a bottle of wine or two at Coombe discussing how we can make more creativity happen in Devon.
Lara has given Kate and I free rain to the space at Coombe, when it is available.

Over the past few months Kate and I have been working together. It’s particularly interesting working with an artist from a different discipline to mine. On our first meeting we sat and drunk tea for 3 hours and looked over some poems that I had written. Kate noticed how much I used my hands when I was talking so we went from there.

We swapped skills, teaching each other and sharing experiences of our own Art forms, both feeling slightly daunted by each others skills and knowledge, and our own lack of each others.

We focused on senses, with me leading a physical warm up focusing on Seeing, touching, feeling etc. discussing how Looking and Seeing / Touching and Feeling are quite different, then Kate led us into drawing our own hands.
I was surprised by the intense concentration and detail that it took to draw my own hands, so much information to mark coherently on paper, I took an hour to clumsily draw one finger, whilst Kate sketched away so quickly creating beautifully crafted images. By the end of the session (school pick up time) I felt I needed to do another physical warm down to relive the tension  that the  sketching had created. My back, shoulders and my head hurt from concentrating so much on a skill that was so undeveloped. We talked little in that session, but for me it bought up a lot, physically, emotionally and creatively. Working with other artists is essential for me, there is a hidden language, an osmosis that takes place, a space where something new can arise.

I’m not sure where the relationship with Kate, Lara and Coombe might go,  but I do know that I now have space, friends, and creative hands to hold.

More on ‘Hands That Hold’ in my next blog but for now I shall go and hold my childrens hands, they have been watching Peppa Pig for far too long !

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