Alex Murdoch, 26 January 2014

So I called this session because I’ve had an extraordinary two years. Two years of

change I could not possibly have imagined. I don’t mean I called this session because

I want to show off about successes – it’s not that kind of improvement – it’s all yet to

turn into money. But maybe it will! What I mean is, well, I’d lost mojo big time. I hadn’t

even noticed because in my non-mojo state I was absolutely convinced that this was

The Way Things Are. (you know like those mice in the film BABE). That everything

was hard, and a bit shit and difficult and…I was a fucking martyr to be honest.

Anyway this changed when we got a bit of ACE money to work on organisation

development. I’ve gone on about this at the D&D I hosted last autumn about

independent female theatre makers…

Your text to link here …

…but to cut a long story short I worked with an amazing coach Liz Margree on how to

have more of what I love (or any of it) and less…less…moaning miserable bullshit.

One of the most surprising change that’s come out of doing this work is that it’s

actually contributed to me reimagining my practise, what sort of artist I am or can be.

I’m an improvisor/actor and I’m also now a writer. In the dark mojo-less years I felt

locked out of certain areas of the industry. The inciting incident in this story was being

unable to get our show on in London despite a really good idea/track record and

having the funding in place (!) because our Producer had knocked on the same old

doors and they happened ‘this time’ to be shut. Crying on the sofa when said Producer

left the company was a bit of a wake up call. Now I’ve changed everything, the coolest

thing is the doors that previously I thought might as well have been on another planet

have now infact begun to swing open and the people inside are really nice.

This has been so transformative I feel a bit evangelical about it – and I know I'm really

lucky to have persuaded ACE to support that kind of thing in these times. (Maybe the

slog and the good work we’ve done helped that). But one thing that we could all use to

change things back to positive comes completely free and that’s connection. So I

called this session so we could connect about what’s going on when mojo is up and

what’s going on what it’s so down it’s barely there at all.

I don’t have the answers here but between us maybe we can think of better questions.

So this was a big session, note form here on in – and I’ll chip in too.

‘I hear myself thinking a lot about ifs and buts’

‘It’s all got a bit tense’

‘We should all be loving what we do. It’s about expectations. Can we all take it as red

that the work should be FUN? We're not paid enough in the theatre to be having a bad


‘What’s driving me – what do I want? That’s where we should start’

‘Where’s it gone, the thing that’s driving me’

‘It’s good to look at what do I want. What decisions have I made in my life and

work…and how is that contributing to what I want?’

Love this next one, am making a tee-shirt of this…

‘It’s like a marriage that’s abusing me, the theatre’

‘How are you doing there in the cold?’

‘I sometimes just don’t care anymore about the theatre rat-race’

‘There’s all these people on twitter boasting and it’s depressing sometimes to hear

about all their successes and how great they are’

‘Sometimes I want to get rid of those friends who are having a good time while I’m

drowning in the water’

I come in here – I find the opposite with twitter actually. I find out so much about

what’s going on I feel more connected and informed rather than before twitter when

‘what’s going on’ was more of a mystery and dependent on the voices of only a few

theatre critics really. I also feel really supported when things go well by my twitter tribe

and that’s good.

Also importantly because you have what Ed Collier once told me was a ‘career suicide

pill in your pocket’ I pay a bit more attention to the messages I put out. Of course

honesty and vulnerability are welcomed on twitter but moaning is not really cool. And

then that makes me in turn think twice about my attitude to stuff in general.

‘Theatre should facilitate connection’

Sometimes there’s a tension between your art and the shininess of a your career

‘We choose to put ourselves on the line’

‘It’s tiring clinging to your mojo when you’re creating things’

‘We’re now in the age of the portfolio career but how useful is that and is it a myth’

‘I find learning a new physical skill helps. Like running or standing on your head. It’s

allowing yourself to be a beginner. Sometimes in the arts you get along a bit and then

you feel you’ve invested all your time in this thing and you can’t be a beginner. I take it

for granted when I progress with running now, but I remember what it was like when I

was starting to learn to run and how good that felt’

‘I just did my first play in 8 years and I got my mojo back because it was FUN’

‘but if it comes back – how to sustain it?’

‘People finish projects at different times so the come down is different. A lighting

designer for example is off after the first night, whereas the others go on the road’

‘In terms of sustaining passion, is it to do with relying on the mojo of other people?’

‘Sometimes I let myself ride someone else’s, I'm riding their slipstream’

‘Saying “I’m throwing everything at this thing” sounds a bit unsustainable’

‘You’ve got to look after you future self’

‘I live outside London and when I come back I get out my oyster card and a lot

depends on whether there’s still a tenner on it or whatever, if there is you think ‘Yes’!

Can you pay forward your future oyster so it might be rich – maybe you should ask if

there’s anything on the oyster card of your future self’

Again love this idea. Now that would be a smart card.

‘At the end of all this what do I want to happen? Something to look forward to,

something that’s topped up’

‘The pint you are drinking now is not unaffected by the future pint’

‘I keep my sanity at bay by thinking of ‘finding’ rather than ‘creating’ a show’

‘If you’re dealing with something unpleasant it’s an idea to work on making it the

smallest thing in your life’

This was something to do with I think a book or something called ‘Exponentially

enriching your life’.

I talked a bit about a thing I found out about (I’ve trained as coach) called the Reticular

Activating System. This is a neural thing – the brain keeps in the front anything at all

that comes up regularly – so for example if you tell yourself that there’s no work out

there or it’s all against you then that will stick.

It’s like the thing of getting into a groove, repeating the same thing on that groove and

then that becomes a beaten track which becomes comfortable and so on it goes and

the next thing you know it’s a rut and you can’t even see the light above you because

you’re so deep in it.

‘What I do is carry a book of poetry so that when I’m on the tube I wont read the

rubbish in the Metro’

Yes, it’s good to pay attention to where you get your information from.

You have to manage the internet thing for that.

Yes it’s like those people you know that are always bitching about the industry – how

much time are you being influenced by that. I think I now see that for what it is.

‘It’s really good to hang out with people not in the industry’

‘When I'm vulnerable I think “sod them all” and then I feel rejected’

‘There’s a perfect end point I’ve not yet found’

‘There’s a low-level crazy that happens when you’re in the wrong job, with the wrong

people, in a wrong situation. Is there a place for me, was it there? And why don’t you

just leave? If you ask yourself this and you decide to stay it’s your choice’

‘A quote from Jack Gilbert “When Icarus falls down how do we know he wasn’t just

coming to the end of his glorious flight?” ‘

I mention a beautiful tumblog Phelim wrote once about the season that your theatre

company is in. text to link here …

‘Your mojo sits in trusting your intuition, the best work is towards that, clear the stuff

that’s in the way of your intuition if you find yourself listening to the same old story’

‘It’s important to make mistakes and know that’s ok’

‘There’s this music school that did an experiment with what would happen if students

were given straight A’s to start with. They found students did excellent work because

they felt freer to make mistakes. What would happen to you if you were told you

already had straight A’s’

‘I’ve not lost my mojo – maybe I’ve just not had any new ideas yet’

‘Are you ok to hold that space for uncertainty’?

‘There’s that thing about your family saying ‘what are you going to do next?’ not

understanding the freelance life. I counteract it by booking a holiday straight after a

show so I can say I'm having a rest’

‘Give yourself time out’

‘Top sets in schools often become paralysed about getting it right’

‘How to remember I don’t know anything’

‘I had cognitive behavioural therapy. When I’m having a negative thought I now know I

have to – 1. Notice it. 2. Name it’

‘I actually had a negativity fast. I did it for a week’

‘We do though actually need the fight of dark and light’

‘It’s scary to be as big as you can be, you ought to be compassionate to that’

‘As a director I feel I’m obligated to keep my mojo up and be positive for everyone’

I say I don’t think that’s good, but I completely know what you mean. Collaborators,

actors or whatever need to share responsibility for what’s hard and not be shielded

from situations like children.

‘It’s the same thing with parenting actually though – sharing vulnerability really works

for me’

I went on a residential course with Clore Leadership Prog and in the evening we were

given talks by these amazing high flying people. Genista Macintoch used to run the

National and then the ROH. But she really opened up about the pressure she felt

under to be a high achiever and how she learnt to turn things down. Lots of people in

the session actually realised they didn’t want to lead at all in some areas and some

went on to leave their jobs with happier outcomes.

‘As the director I feel I’ve got to have all the answers’

Directors who are comfortable with being vulnerable can be amazing. The directors

who are the most creative ones are also the ones happy to say ‘I don’t know’. They

are the people who are pushing things forward in theatre more so than the ones with

tonnes of research and academic approaches. Simon McBurney, Emma Rice, Phelim

McDermot all use this phrase - ‘I don’t know’.

‘When a director share’s their vulnerability with you it can be really empowering’

‘The implicit understanding then is that we’re all good enough’

Thanks for sharing this everyone and being so honest. Good luck with the Mojo.

By the way for female independent theatre makers I’m doing a mojo renewing two

days at Oval House on 15th and 22nd Feb. Email me [email protected] or

tweet dm me on @murdochalex

Attended by Elle Dubois, Jaye Kearney, Alyn Gwyndaf, Robert Cook, Anne Stafford,

Claire Symonds, Amy Gwilliam, Ophir Burton, Gemma Pant, Gloria Lindh, Alex

Lehmen, Alex Swift, Rion Warburton, David Betz-Heinemann, Colin Grenfell, Karen

Christopher, Amelia Bird, Eleanor Buchau, Alex Rand, Lorraine Keene, Cathering

Thomas, Michela Sisti, Anne Langford

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tools, Industry, Sustainability, Love, compassion, mojo, good enough, love,

sustainability, Theatre, Value, connection, THEATRE, hope, theatre, Hope, Work,

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