Face to Face with the Frog

Ali (left) during a photoshoot for the show “Celladour” showcased in the festival “Shift”

Imagine this: 

You are sat in a restaurant with some friends. Everyone is having an excellent time. Perhaps it’s a sunny day or perhaps it’s snowing (either way, you are very happy about it). You are looking forward to a wonderful meal and you have chosen what you would like to order. Again (just to emphasize) everyone is having a really excellent time. A waitress walks over to your table and begins to take everyone’s orders. It is your turn and she turns to face you. Suddenly something in you changes. There is a shift in the atmosphere. Your feel your face becoming redder and your palms begin to sweat. Your throat tightens and your mouth feels incredibly dry… but there is no time to sip some water. The waitress is waiting for you to give her your order and your friends at the table are wondering why you are taking so long.

Haven’t you already decided? one of them asks. The panic heightens. You desperately want to order the chicken caesar salad as you have seen how wonderful it looks when it comes out of the kitchen. All you want in life at this moment is to order that chicken caesar salad and to enjoy every morsel of it… but you can’t. You can’t order it. You can’t make the ‘ch’ sound with your mouth in order to get the word ‘chicken’ out. There is just no way that you can make that word come out of your speech box and so, with a heavy heart and a deep sadness, you cough it out, pretend to be changing your mind last minute and go for the pepperoni pizza. The ‘p’ in ‘pepperoni’ is much easier to say. There was no sweating or throat tightening with that sound. The waitress thanks you and walks to the kitchen. 

You take a drink of water and reflect for a second. You did not want the pepperoni pizza. The pepperoni pizza does not want to be eaten by someone who doesn’t want a pepperoni pizza. You know what does want to be eaten? A chicken caesar salad, but you weren’t able to order it. You will have to sit with your friends (who, by the way, are all having an excellent time and have ordered exactly what they want) and eat the pepperoni pizza begrudgingly whilst also pretending that you do want to eat the pepperoni pizza because to explain that you actually wanted the chicken caesar salad would just be a long-winded embarrassment. Sigh. No chicken caesar salad today. Thanks to the speech impediment you have been trying to hide since the age of seven, you will now eat a pepperoni pizza instead of a chicken caesar salad, and there is nothing you can do about it. 

You are no longer having an excellent time.
Pepperoni pizza looks nice… but I want the Chicken Caesar Salad!

Speech impediments are annoying. They ruin chances of excellent times and wonderful dreams of delicious chicken caesar salads. They make people angry and impatient. They get misheard and misunderstood. They get lost in translation and lose their way. I’ve just about had enough of mine. At the age of twenty-one, I feel a bit ridiculous getting upset in the toilets of Pizza Express because I couldn’t order what I want. Or because I can never say my name when I go to the theatre box office to pick up my tickets. Or because I ruin the punchline of a joke when I suddenly freeze and can’t say anything. It all just seems a bit silly. I decided I didn’t want to be silly anymore, so I have chosen to do something about it all.

The thought of it feels a bit contradictory; I have a speech impediment which I despise, so I’m going to make a show about it. Huh? Surely that doesn’t make sense. Why would I spend my last four months of University making a piece of work about something I dislike so much? Why not choose a topic I enjoy talking about … Motown music for example, or burritos? Why would I choose to remind myself of the st-t-t-uttering frog I have in my throat when I could be having a very nice time making a show about the wonders of Stevie Wonder? It feels like I’m setting myself up for four months of being sad about the fact that sometimes I just can’t say what I want to say…

but that’s just it. 

Choreograher Ali leading the troupes during Salford University Dance Society (SUDS) rehearsals
As an emerging artist and performance maker, I’ve realized that my most creative ideas come from things that make me feel something, and perhaps that is just the way I work best. In May 2015, I was angry about how someone acted towards me so I made a show about it. In December 2015, I was upset about the fragility of my Grandad’s health so I made a show about it. But of course, many times I have sat at my desk or stood over the hob or laid on my bed and realised that the imaginative, interesting, important piece of work I want to make about why some people call a ham sandwich a ‘cob’ and why some people call it a ‘butty’ probably isn’t going to be as imaginative, or as interesting or as important as I would like it to be, because I don’t really care that much about the topic. It doesn’t make me burst with *some form of emotion*, it doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out, or do a cartwheel in my living room. Yes, I could choose to make my final project at university about how deliciously wonderful burritos with extra guacamole are, but the truth is (sorry burritos), the thought of it doesn’t make me explode. My stammer makes me explode (or perhaps I should say exp-ppp-p-lode) and that’s why I’m diving head first into a project that’s difficult to talk about at times (get it?) 

(But please, if you feel REALLY strongly about the ham cob vs ham butty argument; I absolutely implore you to make a show about it! Or write a song or a book or a poem or choreograph a dance or express that feeling in whichever creative outlet you enjoy the most! I’m sure it will be fantastic!)

So, now begins a creative process centered on a topic that I don’t always like talking about. In fact, I’m making a show in which I talk about not being able to talk. Sounds a bit confusing right? That’s what I need to work out; how can I transform my 14-year old stuttering frog (something most people in the audience won’t have any experience of) into an issue an audience can relate to? My aim by the end of the project (April) is that I’ll have a 20 minute show that is perhaps funny, intelligently created, and sheds light on a neurological *issue* that affects people like myself everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sassy, independent woman who needs no help in speaking her mind, but the stuttering frog gets in way of that far too often and it’s time I used that frustration positively, rather than getting angry at myself as I dishearteningly eat my way through a pepperoni pizza.

Ali putting SUDS through their paces
As an emerging artist and performance maker, my practice so far has consisted of quirky solo and ensemble devised performances, including wearing a horse’s bum, chopping up 13 cucumbers on stage, pretending to be my Grandad and scoffing three bananas down my gob as fast as possible. I adore making shows. I love the idea that with a bit of graft and a creative mind, artists can turn the ordinaries of life into extra-ordinary performances that encourage audiences to think, reflect and acknowledge the ever-changing world around them. I go to the theatre and laugh and cry and feel so full of admiration for intelligent and creative ways that performance makers can reflect the everyday of the twenty-first century. I’m a keen bean, an eager beaver and I’m coming round to the idea that that is a positive thing. I ask too many questions and I bug my tutors for extra meetings, and I nag my housemates far too often for ideas and opinions on my latest ideas; all in the hope that I too, will at some point be able to present my stuttering frog as well as those that I admire present their stuttering frogs.

Here’s to making something positive out of those things in life that make you want to explode. I’m not sure what the end product will look like. It might be a flop. It might be great. I really hope it won’t be a flop. I do really hope it will be great. I hope I won’t stammer throughout the entire thing…

…but perhaps that’s the whole point of it.

© Ali Wilson
Poster of “Shift” featuring Associate Artist Ali, last December in Facade Theatre
Ali Wilson is one of the Choreographers at Salford University Dance Society (SUDS) in which I am a part of. She has taught me a tremendous amount and I feel like my dance (yes, I too dance) has improved tenfold since joining the society last September. It’s a pleasure to have her not only as a choreographer, but also as a friend, so I’m honoured that she is willing to share her story with The Artistic Collaborative. Be sure to follow on Ali on Twitter and Instagram.
 
We are both performing on the 28th & 29th January in the SUDS show “Best of British” so if you want to see the mercurial talent that is Ali Wilson perform, make sure you get your tickets for 28th January (click here) and 29th January (click here)
 
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