Guest Blog: Pip Hambly on Kinkens

Right now… are we evolving, or dissolving? Or simply going round and round on that ever-revolving carousel of time… Is this life or death that’s happening right now? These are just some of the questions Pip confronts in their upcoming show Kinkens. To give us an insight, they’ve asked themselves some slightly more straightforward questions below. Kinkens is here 27-28 Oct. 

Can you talk a little bit about the journey of the show?

Kinkens began with a desire to explore the meaning of life. Something that most people probably consider at some point during their time on earth – when death shows up, when new life appears, when questions about justice appear, when big change happens that we weren’t prepared for, those type of occasions, probably. And since all the world religions have done it, I thought it was probably fairly universal.

Being a theatre-maker and absolutely no authority on philosophy though, I appealed to an innate and, it would appear, unquenchable need to know what everything is for and why it does what it does; a trait that has in the past landed me in desperate times and somewhat unhealthy states of mind. For this reason, I decided before I wrote my application to Starting Blocks at CPT that it would be a ‘physical’ exploration. A physical exploration of what meaning is, why humans need it, and how we create it, in a show about who we think we are versus who we might be.

I was given the opportunity to join the Starting Blocks programme in January 2016, an incredible programme of peer mentor support, help with space, weekly meet ups with all the artists involved, the artistic director and general manager at the theatre, and sharings of works in progress.

By the end of the 10 weeks I had an idea for the form of the work – an onstage radio show, looking at the metaphor of sine waves for life’s ups and downs and unpicking what we see and feel, from what we hear – and I had a character – Kinkens, a sort of agony aunt and host of the radio show, Kinkens Questions, where callers get in touch with questions about the meaning of life.

Life things happened, I had nowhere to live, I moved around a lot, I lost Kinkens’ costume and left three notebooks of research in Berlin, I made a lot of coffee, mostly for other people, went to China and learned T’ai Chi alone in a tiny town with the most wonderful Master who spoke no english and did Yi Jin Jing to Céline Dion, I learned to ride a motorbike and decided there were more pressing things going on in the world than exploring the meaning of life, like Britain’s relationship with the continent, the prospect of nuclear war, the fallout of the occupation in the middle east.

2017 hits, I land a great tour with an incredible company and stop for a moment. And all those meaning of life related questions loom once more. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so with a little push, I decided to apply for some arts council funding to be able to ask some other people to come on board, like the very talented Kid Carpet, who’s written some music for the show. Over a tour break in the summer I got going again with Kinkens. Hunting around for a way to broadcast radio onstage, I discovered the world of amateur radio, a distinct part of the radio band plans given to radio communications, where broadcast is not permitted. I did a free online course, and sat an exam with invigilators and a clock, in scout hut in Bath, and now apparently I’m registered with Ofcom.

Kinkens is still a work-in-progress, and these two shows at CPT on 27th and 28th October will be a first outing for a longer version of the show that I will continue developing in 2018.

What is it about?

‘Kinkens’ is a word for the evasive answers to questions of overly curious children – the overly curious child in this story being an inner one, that I think everyone through their whole life.

I was thinking a lot about being and not being – I read that a Danish King had already explored this question in quite some detail, so I thought about other similar opposites. Like on and off, here and there, here and not here, hearing and not hearing. And what might be in-between the states of things. This time I appealed to the outside world of Science – and to electricity.

Extending from an on and off switch, there is a circuit. On and off only works because there is a circuit, with a power source, with wires, with an output of some description, a speaker for example. It’s a question not just of what is ‘on’, but of what becomes ‘on’ when the circuit is complete.

When thinking about evasive answers then, I was drawn to thinking about the ones who give them. It’s not a teacher or a university professor telling you which book to look in, or why one argument works over another one, or the number of ways in which your question is stupid. And it’s not a parent laying down the law or explaining how the world is, why the world is the way it is, and how you should act in it. And it’s not a government, or a system, or a cultural code feeding you Reality, or ideas about Reality, and how you need to comply with Reality.

There’s compassion in an evasive answer – there’s an acknowledgement of the need for an answer, but there’s also a hesitancy to tie loose ends together that are made of weak threads, which might be damaged or broken by being tied. There’s a resistance to closing down possibilities before they’ve had a chance to expand. There could be tentative suggestions in evasive answers, or simple distractions, or the answer itself could lead the questioner to a million more questions – but the answer says I’m listening, and it’s OK to ask. And for anyone who has ever found themselves in a desperate place, sometimes the most necessary thing is knowing there’s someone who will listen and won’t try to answer what you both know is unanswerable. There are a lot of practical solutions in life, but sometimes that’s not what’s in the question.

So I think, and as I say, it’s not finished, at the moment Kinkens is about ways of listening, in between states, friendship, it’s about radio communication and the things humans have done to send sound waves to distant and remote places, and the spaces beneath our broadcasted selves.

Who is the target audience for Kinkens, why should they come and watch it?

I’m not exactly sure who it’s for – though I know I’ve aimed it with people between 16 and 24 in mind. I think that’s a stage in life when I felt a lot what expected of me, and it’s the hardest thing when you see everything that’s wrong with the world and you want to help solve things, but you just don’t have the right faculties to deal with the problem in hand.

Which is a pretty shit thing to admit to yourself, especially if you watch others being hurt and can’t do anything to stop it.

It’s a show for anyone who has not been able to say what they want to say, or not been able to help when they really want to, or been close to forces they can’t control.

And maybe for people who like poetry and radio, and I should probably say it’s a show where you can laugh if you want.

The term ‘Mental Health’, is so difficult to get our heads round. Maybe that’s part of what makes it ‘Mental’, and not physical, or emotional. Kinkens isn’t trying to say anything clever about depression or anxiety. It’s really just a window on the impossible.

What have been your biggest lessons in this process?

 

  1. The necessary defence of creative mess. And the defence of necessary destruction.

 

  1. Prioritising. Not all roads link up, no matter how much you want them to. Sometimes, even what you consider is definitely a great idea, just doesn’t work, doesn’t fit with the rest of the piece. I have a habit of wanting to do everything at the same time. But independent devising isn’t like working in a massive team where someone else sets the pace – you’re on your own there. And that’s great, and also, requires that you flip between being horse and rider. Which can be tricky.

 

  1. I don’t agree with Beckett. I reckon, Try Your Bloody Socks Off The First Time and don’t let failure cross your mind, and then give yourself a bloody break and see what happens.

Probably doesn’t apply to everyone, probably only to a certain introverted, anxious personality type, certain minds that hold themselves back out of fear of mediocrity or making mistakes… but for those types, I reckon go as far as you can, until it does actually go wrong. Don’t listen to yourself or anyone else telling you to stop. And you might go further than you thought. Probably I’ve learnt to get over myself a little bit, and make necessary mistakes, and find a little treasure in the way the world helps us reveal the things that we have, to each other. There’s an interplay there, full of surprises and uncertainties and instances of infinity.

 

  1. That it’s good to struggle, and the struggle will get you somewhere, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If you’re a person who without thinking about it, happens upon complexity, the easier some things appear to be, the more difficult you make the path you take to them. Annoying, but that’s OK.

 

So have you found the meaning of life?

Not exactly. But that was never really the point.

After a lot of searching, thinking about history, thinking about the possibility of ‘creating’ futures, I began to wonder what would happen if I stopped looking, and started listening. And then I wondered about perception and whether we should trust our senses at all – the solipsist’s conundrum. And then I thought, I’ve should stop writing this blog and finish my show because it’s  on next week.

That phrase… ’…if it’s meant to happen…’, people have said that a lot in conversations about the meaning of life. I think, it’s not about some Divine force measuring out what’s for who, and it’s pretty much exactly the opposite of anything like Privilege. Some things do just happen. Some good. Some really shit. And mostly it’s not because of anything anyone’s done or not done. It’s not true that when you are just surviving you don’t have the space to think about the meaning of life. I think hunger makes you think about it more. What is life really about?

And if not, and we do all melt in nuclear fallout, maybe that was the meaning of life all along.