Exploring Grief Through Comedy

Apr 26 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

This brand new 2-day workshop with Holly Stoppit and Tess Cartwright invites you to explore grief through comedy.


“Hmm, grief and comedy, unlikely bedfellows,” you might think, but wait, read on to find out what we’ve discovered...

We are Holly Stoppit, dramatherapist, performance research facilitator and comedy teacher, and Tess Cartwright, performer and artistic director of Modest Genius Theatre Company. 

Last year, Holly facilitated Tess and her company through an intense period of R&D to create ‘Dying To Please You,’ a comedy show about death and dying based on Tess’s real life experiences of losing her partner to brain cancer. Comedy helped them both to cope and has continued to play a huge part in Tess’s grief journey.

The show is being further developed under the direction of John Wright and will be performed in Bristol April 27-30 at Jacobs Wells Baths, 8pm. More details here.

Holly has known grief a-plenty and is thrilled to use her dramatherapy skills to offer a safe space for people to be with their grief in gentle, creative and surprising ways. In both of our experiences, laughter has not negated grief, but has allowed us respite and perspective which has ultimately helped us to touch in deeper with our grief. We’d like to share some of the structures we’ve discovered with you, to find out what you make of them.

This workshop will be a carefully-led group journey through resilience, sharing, play, laughter and tears. There are only 8 places available to make sure every participant gets maximum support. There is an application process to make sure we’ve got a good mix of people in the room. If there are loads of applications, we’ll consider running the workshop again in the future.

Workshop details

Dates: Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th June
Times: 10-5.30 both days
Venue: Central Bristol TBC
Cost: £150 / £120 / £90
£150 is the sponsor rate for those earning enough money to fund another participant to attend a Holly Stoppit workshop at a supported rate.
£120 is the standard rate.
£90 is the concession rate for those on benefits or in full time education. There are limited concessionary places available.

Application deadline:12th May
Application form here 

Summer School Places Available

Apr 11 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

There are only a few places left for summer school 2017! Follow the links below for more info and booking forms.

“But what’s going to happen to me if I sign up?”

Good question! Well, lets see, there are 2 types of summer schools available; Fool’s school and Clown school. 

“What happens in fool’s school?”

If you choose fool’s school, you’ll be signing up for a week of deep exploration, discovering  / remembering different parts of yourself and inviting them all out to play. Some of your cast of internal characters may have important things to say, some may want to dance, some may want to sing, some may want to lie around doing absolutely nothing. Our job is to step out of the way and let the parts of the self come out to play. 

The Fool's mission is to speak the truth.

“Aha, I think I know what you mean! Is it solo improvisation where you dialogue with different aspects of yourself and everybody in the workshop realises we’re all as mad / complex / hilarious / cute as each other?”

That’s it! You’ve got it!

“Brilliant! So what happens in Clown School?”

Well clown school is an extension of what you would have learned in Holly’s 2 day Introduction To Clowning Weekend. There will be more playing, more laughing, more understanding the rhythms of comedy. After sprucing up your individual clown, we might focus on duos or bigger groups improvising together for an audience, or we might choose to focus on solo play. Holly will take her lead from the group. There will be lots of opportunities for personal reflection along the way, to capture the clown's wisdom in words and pictures. 

The clown's mission is to connect and play.

“OK, so it’s more about red nose clowning, going deeper into what we started in the weekend course?”

That’s it! You’ve got it!


"What are the dates and how do I apply?"

June Fooling Summer School

12-16 June

For people who have already completed Introduction to Clowning

info and booking form here.


August Advanced Summer School

7-11 August

For people who have already completed the 5 day fooling summer school

info and booking form here.


August Clowning Summer School

21-25 August

For people who have already completed Introduction to Clowning

info and booking form here.


"Great! See you in the summer!"

Reflections on 'Connection'

Apr 04 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: ?

Reflections on “Connection”

On the 2nd April, 2017, I presented one and 3/4 hours of improvised material, using the form of ‘fooling’ (multiple parts of the self embodied and in dialogue with each other), interspersed with original songs and a little theory on the subject of Connection to a full house at The Wardrobe Theare in Bristol. This show was the third of my three monthly work in progress showings, each one made with an entirely different team of collaborators.

A Brief Recap Of The Project 

The first show was about Stage Fright and until that performance, I hadn’t held the stage for 7 years, because of my own stage fright. This performance featured playfully delivered theory, personal stories, character work and a running commentary of my real life stage fright. You can find out more about the making of it here, here, here, here and here

The second show was about Vulnerability and was presented as a performance lecture, featuring various experiments that allowed me to explore my vulnerability, including poetry, very personal storytelling, accapela singing and doing nothing for short periods of time. You can read about the process of making this show here, here, here, here and here.

The theme of each show has emerged from the previous one, based on audience feedback, peer feedback and self reflection. 

Blurb for ‘Connection,’ the final part of the trilogy:

“This final show is about ‘Connection’; how connection enhances our lives, how easily it is to fall out of connection and how it takes courage, compassion and vulnerability to reestablish connection when it’s broken. Some of it may be funny, some of it may be moving, some of it may be informative, some of it may be rubbish, but all of it will be for you.”

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: a fool

The Creative Process for ‘Connection’

The creative process for this show was very different to the other two. I spent the first week on meditation retreat, recuperating from illness (likely to have been caused / exacerbated by the 2 months of sustained stage fright / stress I’d clocked up by this point). I remembered how to breathe and ground myself. After that I came back to Bristol and threw myself open to the flow, in a concerted effort to allow the show to work out what it wanted to be without force. 

I said yes instead of no to offers from friends I’d hardly seen throughout the whole work in progress project, to walk in nature, eat great food, drink wine and have juicy conversations. I attended a workshop on the theme of connection, culture and community and I created an online survey to collect personal stories about connection and disconnection. I wrote a little every day and I read interesting articles on connection.

Serendipity brought Franki Anderson back on the breeze between Berlin and Cornwall. Franki was my original fooling teacher, who I began studying with 16 years ago. Between her teaching commitments in Berlin and her home in Cornwall, we spent 2 days together in Bristol, reconnecting with the fundaments of the form. During this time I fleshed out 8 characters (or “masks” as they are known in fooling); The MC, Healthy Grounded, Unhealthy Ungrounded, Shame, Vulnerability, Grief, The Academic and The Comforter and each found their place on the stage.

In the evenings, I poured over the data collected in the connection survey with my friend, singer / songwriter Jess Langton, who happened to drop by to see if I needed any help. We took the words from the survey and turned them into songs. She wrote a lullaby called ‘I’ve made choices” and I wrote a ballad called “The Ballad of Disconnection.” We worked out harmonies for each others songs and were very pleased with what we’d made.

To keep my playing muscles warm, for the last week, I took every opportunity to improvise with my 8 characters for an audience. Clusters of the fools from Beyond the Ridiculous gathered to watch me on several days and the night before the show, I travelled all the way to Frome to play for 20 minutes in amongst a deck of experienced fools at A Night of The Fool (photo below). Through each of my mini performances, I learned more and more about my masks and their relationship with each other. I found The Academic’s vulnerability and Shame’s exhaustion and the incredible depth of Healthy Grounded’s roots. Each different audience seemed to bring out particular masks to the surface, my job was just to step out of the way and let it happen.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly / Picture of Simon Blakemore during A Night Of The Fool in Frome

The Day Leading Up To The Performance

On the day of the work in progress show, before leaving my flat, I had a meeting with all my masks to find out how they all were and what object they’d like to take to the Wardrobe later to put on an alter. The MC wanted her chimes, Healthy Grounded wanted a statue of Buddha, Unhealthy Ungrounded wanted a 1/2 drunk bottle of wine, Shame wanted the megaphone, Vulnerability wanted her onesie, Grief wanted a box of tissues, The Academic wanted her data and The Comforter wanted her uke.

I met with musicians Jess Langton and Simon Panrucker, to find our connection together as musicians. We started in Castle park, on the first proper jumper-off day of spring, lying under a blossoming tree, looking up at the sky. We set out a way of working for the day which would involve everyone bringing their feelings and needs into the space, to make sure we were working in a gentle, healthy, connected way, both with ourselves and each other.

Jess and I serenaded Simon with our songs, before heading back to the studio so that he could find the right instrument for The Ballad of Disconnection, after many different options (Tenor sax, toy trumpet, double bass, melodica, strange tiny clarinet), multi-instrumentalist Simon Panrucker settled for maracas and vocal harmonies.

The three of us explored the possibility of improvising another number, a vocal jam, using words from the connection survey on the theme of “what does connection mean to you?” We didn’t end up using this in the show, but I think it was a good exercise to connect us all in equal playful joyful expression. 

We shlepped over to The Wardrobe, pushing bikes loaded up with instruments and tat, to set up the theatre space. This is where it would have been good to have had a stage manager. For the last 2 shows, on show day, I’ve had my facilitators in the house, sorting out sound and lighting stuff, but this time I chose to not have a facilitator on show day as I wanted to try facilitating myself. BUT stage fright and naughty electrics don’t mix very well and I found myself getting pretty stressed over minor hiccups. Luckily I caught myself and took myself out of the drama and into my body for a mindful warm up and to set up the alter with all the objects my masks had chosen to bring. By the time the lights and sound had been magically set up by Aisha, Simon and Jess, I was warm and ready to play.

I introduced the team to my masks and together we found the best lit spot for each of them. The MC had the front edge of the stage, The Academic had a spotlight, front left, Healthy Grounded had the centre of the stage, with Grief close by her side, Vulnerability had the back corner and Unstable Unhealthy had the back wall to slide around on and Shame stood on the steps near the audience, off to the right hand side. Jess took over The Comforter mask, replacing it with soothing guitar music and her song, sung from the sidelines.

After seeing the masks, Simon and Jess brought in music, creating a sound pallet between them to use during the show. Each mask had its own particular quality of sound, allowing Simon and Jess a foundation to spring off from.

I set my intentions as:

1.) Make connecting with the audience my priority

2.) Drop back to nothing whenever I have the urge

3.) Trust the masks

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

The Show

Lets see what the audience thought of it first, quotes from the after-show feedback form, in answer to the question “How would you describe what you just saw to someone who wasn’t here?” 

“A whirlwind journey through the different aspects of self. Hilarious soulful art.” 

“Majestic! A beautifully musical adventure of the mind, body and mirror neurons.”

“Beautiful, brave, raw, humanity at its best”

“Silly, enchanting, moving, uplifting”

“Informative, inspiring and bonkers”

“Honest”

“Amazing in-tune collaborative improv”

“Safe space where Holly explored aspects of her personality + gave them freedom”

“Very engaging, funny at times, soulful exposure of the inner world that I guess we all share”

“Oh my god, you really missed something, it was like wild and crazy with hugs”

“It was amazing! I felt really connected, touched. Laughed lots. Holly is an amazing performer. I have even learned about neurons.”

“An intense portrait of how to exist as a human being who can accept all parts of themselves (thanks)”

“A wonderful amalgamation of learning and connecting through the many parts of a wonderful woman and her team.”

Now lets look at the show through my 3 intensions:

1.) Make connecting with the audience my priority

Yes, I think I did this in many different ways. Having less prepared theory / stories helped me stay more present with myself and the energy in the room. Remembering text is a particularly strong stage fright trigger for me and for the last 2 shows I’ve made myself do it to explore whether a change of attitude to the task could help me feel freer on stage. I think it’s a tough call for any performer to stay alive to the audience whilst also remembering text. For me, because I really struggle with remembering text, it pushes all my “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” shame buttons. When shame is around, I am no longer present to what’s around me, I’m playing out old stories. I’ll project judgement onto the faces of my audience and give myself a really hard time.

So losing all set text made me available to do whatever I felt like doing, making sure I was making my choices in consultation with the audience, this could be a moment of eye contact, a feeling I was receiving or actual verbal contracting. This contracting happened many times throughout the show, I stopped what I was doing and asked the audience “Is this is what you want to see?” Especially when the masks were entering extreme / weird zones. Generally it did seem to be what they wanted to see. Weirdoes.

In my after-show feedback form, there was one section where I asked the audience when they felt connected during the show (to themselves, to me, to the other audience members). Here’s what they wrote:

5 people simply answered “yes”

5 people wrote about connecting with the audience through laughing, crying, ooohing, ahhing and shouting “yep” a lot (can’t remember how that game got started, but I have a feeling they started it)

9 people connected with my grief

3 people felt a connection with the material around shame

2 people felt connected with vulnerability

2 people identified with the The Academic

4 people felt connected to unspecified masks

2 people felt connected to the songs / music

Individuals wrote about feeling connected with the themes of “no-one can do it on their own” “feeling shit and disconnected” “Feeling the need for connection with connection” and 2 people wrote about feeling more connected to me through hearing my stories

One person wrote this;


“I cried when you cried

I felt awkward when you felt awkward

I smiled when you were joyful”


I received a lot of comments on the forms and via email since the show that chime with these:

“It’s comforting to know we are not alone with these struggles”

“Really refreshing to be like “Oh other people have that too””


Thinking about it, the answers to the feedback form’s earlier question “what did you enjoy” also have relevance here, as to have enjoyment must also mean to have connection, no? 

3 people enjoyed "all of it"

4 people enjoyed the songs

4 people enjoyed the music

3 people enjoyed the interplay between me and the musicians

4 people enjoyed all the masks

4 liked the play between the masks / jumping form mask to mask

10 people enjoyed The Academic

2 people commented on The Academic’s development

2 people enjoyed the mask of grief

2 people enjoyed the mask of Healthy Grounded

2 people enjoyed the mask of Unstable Unhealthy

3 people enjoyed my vulnerability

3 people enjoyed the honesty

2 people enjoyed my physicality

Individuals enjoyed it when things went wrong and seeing how I recovered, less theory, material about empathy, the “you’re shit” song + enactment of how shame effects everyday life, eye contact with my boyfriend's mum whilst rubbing my nipples and not seeing my bum (Unhealthy Unstable threatened to get it out a few times).

I think including a range of masks perhaps allowed more people to find their own connection with the work. It’s interesting how even the spread is (apart from The Academic, who was the surprise hit of the night). During my 2 days with Franki, she helped me to take a step back from each of the masks, so that I could find more freedom to play, shifting them from MY masks to THE masks, belonging to the archetypal realm. This gave the masks more flexibility to play for the specific audience gathered, which is perhaps why The Academic (named as Patricia), who was usually a stuffy, tweedy university lecturer accidentally let slip the sexual pleasure she has with her data. Perhaps that’s what this audience wanted to see? Weirdoes.

I enjoyed bringing in some academic research in a lighter, more throw-away fashion than the last 2 shows, Patricia had her slide show about connection but she knew that she might not necessarily get to use all her slides, as I wanted connecting with the audience to be my main priority. She used about 2/3 of her material, on the themes of compassion, empathy, mirror neurons and Rat Park (an experiment which suggests the opposite of addiction is connection) which felt enough to ground the show in legitimate theory, which does seem to be important to me. In all three shows, not many people have said, “I really liked the theory,” on the feedback forms, but I think without it, the shows would have missed a layer. I am an academic and I do really enjoy sharing research with people, so it was fun to let go a bit with this show and find a different relationship with the theory. I hope it was enough to give the audience a ‘connection lens’ with which to view all the nonsense and make sense of it.

I think the music and songs also helped the audience to stay connected. Simon and Jess captured my changing moods and surrounded them with sound to help me commit to and deepen into each state which I think allowed the audience a fuller experience of each mask. Having worked with Simon a lot through Beyond The Ridiculous, we have developed a kind of short-hand that allows us to communicate complex thoughts through a moment’s eye contact. This connection allowed Simon to intuitively feel the moments to record my vocals and build up loops so that I could sing / shout over the top. This mechanism allowed whole scenes to spontaneously emerge, i.e Shame shouting “you’re shit” into a megaphone became a soundtrack to a demonstration of some of the ways shame can effect us all in everyday life, using audience suggestions to show how difficult walking, making eggs and getting ready for a date can be when you are riddled with shame.

Jess’s song felt well placed, the dreamy guitar part was used every time I went to Vulnerability’s corner, so the audience already had a familiarity with it before Jess sang the song as a comfort to Vulnerability just at the right moment. Here’s the lyrics:


I’ve made choices

I’ve made choices

to find some common ground

not to beat myself up

I can’t live like that


I’ve made choices

to be slow and breathe

we’re all learning human beings

I’ve made choices


I was sick of complaining

on all that I’d missed out on

these wounds they run deep

but I don’t have to hide


I’m gonna go out dancing

I’m going for a nice walk

in the trees, rain and mountains

I’m gonna look into the eyes of another

gonna stay in bed all snuggly

I’m having peace and solitude

I’m going to yoga to cry cry cry

cry cry cry


I’m not quite there yet but…


I’ve made choices

From the core of myself

I’ve made choices

Just to be whatever I need


My song was not what I’d originally expected, I thought I was writing a sad ballad, but serendipity had other ideas. After carefully and respectfully arranging the lyrics from the connection survey, my ukulele gave me some fairly chirpy chords. Well OK, I thought, I’ll go with that. When I played the song to Jess and Simon, quirky backing vocals appeared, well OK, so be it, I thought. When Simon found the maracas, the swanny whistle and the kazoos in his studio, I just had to bow down to the fact that I had written a comedy song. You probably won’t be able to get that from reading the lyrics, imagine the three of us as a sort of mariachi band with 50’s surf backing vocals, getting everything wrong and “telling the audience off” for laughing and you’re half way there.


The ballad of disconnection

As a teenager, I had a group of friends 

out of nowhere stop talking to me

no-one would tell me why at the time

but the truth came eventually

It was about some boy

some teenaged boy

I tried to brave it out 

look like I didn't care 

My foundations were crumbling 

and the trust just wasn’t there


I felt utterly lost, 

ungrounded and afraid

I tried to work out what I’d done, 

convinced it was me who was to blame


I felt disconnected,

ashamed and isolated,

part of me died and I wanted to hide

I built walls to keep me protected


In my early 20s I was very disconnected 

from people cos I needed them 

to reassure me cos I couldn't cope alone

but this put too much pressure on my friends

it made it hard to connect 

so very hard to connect

it left me with this kind of chronic loneliness 

a lack of belonging that was so painful

I just couldn't do it by myself


I didn’t love myself

I didn’t have the skills to see

My expectations were impossible

my friends just couldn’t care for me.


I felt disconnected,

ashamed and isolated,

part of me died and I wanted to hide

I built walls to keep me protected


At work I witnessed bullying

I asked for help and nobody came,

I raised my hand, blew the whistle to the powers that be

and all they gave me was a heap of shame

I was singled out 

alone and singled out,

Cast as a troublemaker

who could I trust?

ashamed and disgusted for not coping

so I abandoned myself


I worked harder 

to prove I was enough,

I pleased people, 

got ill and very lost


I felt disconnected,

ashamed and isolated,

part of me died and I wanted to hide

I built walls to keep me protected


I've had a lot of counselling 

I’ve looked at many trees

I took up ballet dancing 

and piano and trapeze

I learned to let myself play

Let myself play

I gave myself the childhood i never had

this filled me with abundance 

made it easier to connect


I feel connected

Connected to the human race

invigorated

ready to receive the world’s embrace


I’ve found compassion

I’ve found forgiveness

I’ve learned how to breathe, how to love and how to play

and I’ve found a tribe of weirdoes


2.) Drop back to nothing whenever I have the urge

This is something I’ll have to wait and see, when I watch the footage. I have a recollection of wanting to pause a few times and not knowing where to be on the stage for that. Each mask had their place so maybe I should have made a space for zero.

2 audience members said they would have liked more silence and stillness in their feedback.

‘Vulnerability,’ my previous show, had focussed intensely on bringing moments of silence and stillness onto stage, so I hope I retained a bit of what I’d learned through that process. I’ll have to wait and see.


3.) Trust the masks

I feel I really did trust the masks. As discussed above, letting go of personal ownership of them allowed me to have more freedom to play within them. Franki had reminded me that although the masks emerge from my truth, they then have the capacity to grow to become archetypes, thereby belonging to everyone, telling everyone’s truth. This invitation for expansion allowed me to connect more with the room from within each mask, finding out how the audience wanted each mask to appear.

Thinking back to ‘Vulnerability,’ my masks were very close to me and perhaps too much personal exposure brought shame onto the stage, closing down the limits of my play and my connection with the audience. It’s possible to be a slave to authenticity. Wow. I never knew that. 

I had a revelation which I shared during the 'Connection' show, that it had not been possible to bring grief onto the stage during ‘Vulnerability’. A friend had died during the making of the show and I had not processed the grief enough to put it onto the stage. I spoke about my academic side (or Patricia as she’s now known) taking over in that show to protect me from exposing the grief. When I watched the footage for ‘Vulnerability,’ the unnamed grief seemed palpable. In ‘Connection,’ inspired by so many stories about grief that had come to me through the connection survey and feeling I’d done enough processing around the subject, I put grief on the stage as an archetype which actually allowed me to access my real grief and share it safely with the audience.

On top of my 8 masks, I found a few new ones in the moment, including a Bristolian who had just wondered in, but didn’t know much about theatre, one who joyfully ran in circles round the stage shouting “YAY!!!” and Patricia’s own personal version of Shame (a task-master who would not let her have fun, “What would your father think?”). It was great to have the freedom to find new masks and include them all in my cast.

Knowing and trusting the masks and having a designated space for each one gave me enough structure to fly off into entirely knew realms of improvisation, in connection with the audience.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

Lets now go back to the original research questions from ‘Stage Fright’

(1.) how’s the stage fright now, after all that therapy and the 7 year break?

(2.) do I enjoy performing more or less than I used to?

(3.) what would it be like to bring a high level of support into my process?


(1.) how’s the stage fright now, after all that therapy and the 7 year break?

It was interesting to observe myself in the week leading up to the show. Fear was manifesting as a huge need to read and get clear on all the theory around connection. Even though connection is my bread and butter, my inner academic (Patricia) was terrified at the prospect of me doing an entirely improvised show and wanted to help me out by making a slide show about connection. This internal battle got worse and worse each day as I had chosen to see friends and connect with people in the real world as part of my preparation. Patricia did not want to go out for lunch or walks with my friends, she wanted to endlessly sit on her own and sort through all the data from the connection survey so that she could present a robust argument. She particularly favoured the hours between 4-7 am. 

Physically, I felt OK until the day before the show, when I travelled to Frome to do 20 mins fooling. I felt the familiar shortening of breath, cold sweats and panic rising throughout the day, but I caught myself, lengthened my breath and gave myself gentle grounding nurturing each time.

On the day of the show, I was glad to be able to connect with musicians Simon and Jess and did all in my power to stay open, grounded and available to each moment as it unfolded. However, I felt many little twinges of panic and disconnect throughout the day, mostly fretting about the practicalities of time tabling, sound, lights, etc. If I was to tour with this sort of show, I would want a stage manager to look after all of that so that I could just focus on keeping myself calm and staying connected with my team. 

Everything ran over and I only had 3 minutes to sit in meditation before the audience came in (I usually take 15). So I used the audience’s entrance as my time to connect with myself and the energy of each mask before connecting with the audience. This helped me to feel calm, which I think helped me open the show in a connected, un-panicky way.

I have not watched the footage of the show yet, so I do not have absolutely clear recall of what happened and how I felt. However, I do have much more detail than the other two shows (both of which took about 5 days to come back). I think this has to do with finding the right structure/freedom balance, which allowed me to experience pleasure and connection in performance! I believe the memory loss for the other 2 shows was linked to triggering trauma through intense stage fright in the first show and emotional exposure / shame in the second. 

Having the vulnerability spot at the back of the stage felt useful and safe (last time, in ‘Vulnerability,’ we put it right at the front, which maybe felt too intense, this might explain why I didn’t use it very much). For 'Connection', I think I used the Vulnerability spot a lot when the stage fright came and it felt OK to stay there, supported by Jess’s soothing music, until I was ready to leave.

The day after the show I felt exhausted, tearful, but pleased / relieved. I had a bit of an unstable belly and achy muscles, but even less than last time (which was a lot less than the first time). So perhaps I’ve cracked a few things. I’m not sure it will ever go, bit I have discovered that I can manage my stage fright with the following factors:

  • awareness of what’s happening in my body
  • knowledge of how to calm myself down
  • asking for and receiving the support I need
  • getting the right balance of freedom / structure
  • accepting myself as I am and having the courage to share this with others
  • believing so strongly in the necessity and healing power of authentic connection that I am prepared to make the first move.


(2.) do I enjoy performing more or less than I used to?

Yes! I distinctly remember huge swathes of intense pleasure during this show. I will write in more detail when I’ve watched the footage, but I think I can safely say that I had a ball!


(3.) what would it be like to bring a high level of support into my process?

Amazing! Nourishing! Inspiring! The final section of this show was devoted to support. I shared how important support had been through this whole project. I urged the audience to reach out for support for their endeavours, explaining how it’s not possible to do it all alone. For this show, I’d like to thank:

  • Franki Anderson for introducing me to the form in the first place and coming back to spend 2 days reuniting me with my performer.
  • All the people who answered the connection survey
  • Jess Langton for helping me sort through the data, for your beautiful song and support with mine
  • Simon Panrucker for your brain, sounds, sensitivity and playfulness
  • Aisha Ali for your patience, lights, projections and sound set up
  • Steph Kempson for filming the show
  • Dominique, Chez and Megan for watching me fool and sharing your foolish selves with me.
  • Simon Blakeman for inviting me to play in Frome and all the foolish players for sharing your selves with me.
  • Martin Aylward for your teachings and all the staff for the supreme holding at Gaia House.
  • The Lightning Tree Collective for your workshop on Connection, Culture and Community
  • My friends Sarah, Paul, AJ, Finn, Sita, Tom, Claire and Amani, for giving good chat and sharing great food and views in the run up to the show.
  • All the people who organised and attended A Fond Farewell To Tails
  • My boyfriend, Joe for your endless support and care.
  • My supervisor and my therapist for keeping me on the right track
  • The Wardrobe Theatre for giving me the space to make all these discoveries
  • The audience for coming and giving your feedback

What next?

At this point, I really don't know. I'm going to let it all settle while I focus on picking up all the pieces of my life that I've dropped whilst I've been making myself insane and ill for three months. I'll enjoy finding clarity on what these new pieces are that I seem to have picked up along the way. Is my inner performer wanting more opportunities to perform? Is my inner academic wanting to publish something about this project? What new skills has my inner teacher / facilitator learned that she can share with others? What new collaborations have been created through this project? I will blog again when I have more clarity, but for now, I'm happy to not know. 

I made three solo shows in three months, with a little help from my friends and I'll never be the same again.

Thanks for reading these blogs. I hope they've been useful to you. 

Big love

Holly xxx

Connection- The Process 4

Mar 31 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

For this work in progress show, I created a survey to collect stories of connection and disconnection. Reading through the beautifully honest and insightful stories, it became clear to me that these were song lyrics.

Singer / songwriter Jess Langton turned up just at the right moment to share the process with me. We trawled through the data, highlighting phrases that resonated with us and grouped these phrases into natural clusters. Jess took hers away and wrote a lullaby and I arranged mine as a ballad. We shared our songs with each other on Wednesday evening and were very pleased with the results. We both found this to be an extremely liberating way of songwriting. The words seemed to have a natural order and then all we had to do was find chords to support the melody that wanted to be born.

As I'm wanting a stronger focus on improvisation for this show, part of my preparation has been improvising for small audiences. Luckily, three of the fools of Beyond The Ridiculous also needed to practice their 'fooling.' Unsurprisingly, there's always a lot of demand for our foolish services on April 1st. 

In case you're wondering what fooling is, it's a form of solo improvisation where you walk into the empty space and bring to life all the voices who usually live inside your head. Here we are, fooling for each other. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Dominique or Chez
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Megan or Chez

I have 8 standard characters (or "masks" as they're known in fooling) that keep coming back; The MC, Healthy Grounded Me, Unhealthy Ungrounded Me, Shame, Vulnerability, Grief, The Academic and The Comforter. There are others who pop up, but these 8 seem to be my standard cast at the moment. They all feel complete, inhabiting their own distinct realities. After working with Franki Anderson last week, each now has their place on the stage. I feel pretty confident that between them, these guys can handle anything. 

As mentioned in my last blog, I have been battling with The Academic all week. She is very nervous about all this improvisation nonsense and has been looking for moments to sneak in a bit of research whenever she can. In order to sleep at night, I've needed to let her have an hour or two a day to sort through her data and compile her quotes. I am going to let her make a power point presentation this afternoon, she's really excited about that, but she doesn't yet know that she might not be allowed to use it in the show. The focus is 'Connection' and if her power point slides are creating disconnection with the audience, then she's going to need to let it go.

The same message coming at me from everywhere. In order to explore connection, I need to be available to connect. Look at the tarot card I pulled this morning! 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

I have a chance to warm up tomorrow night with a 20-30 minute solo slot at The Night of The Fool in Frome. Event info here.

Meanwhile, Dominique, Chez and Megan from Beyond The Ridiculous will be appearing at The Invisible Circus Feast Of Fools at The Loco Klub. Event info here.

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

We were playing in Chez's yoga and play space in Easton in Bristol, which is perfect for small group / solo rehearsals. Contact Chez here with enquiries.

Connection- The Process 3

Mar 28 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

This creative process couldn't be more different from the last 2 shows. Instead of being sucked into the computer for the bulk of my research, I've opened up to explore my connection with the world, my friends, nature, my boyfriend, my body, my health, joy, play and grief.

Part of me (the academic) is getting antsy. There are 6 days to go and I haven't got a show yet. It's taking some explaining to get her on board with the plan. 

I have 9 masks (parts of myself / characters) who I workshopped last week with Franki Anderson. On Sunday night, I will ask them all to help me explore the theme of connection for and with the audience.

The academic has some time carved out this week to do some standard staring at the computer research so that she can have a little bit of theory to deliver on the night. She seems happy about this, but a little worried that I chose to have delicious lunch and chewy conversation with my friend Tom yesterday and spontaneous tea with Sita in the afternoon sun when it was supposed to be the academic's time. It's a little beyond her that this is, in fact, research. 

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.


Connection- The Process 2

Mar 23 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: The receptionist at the community centre

Wow, I've just had 2 days of gentle nurturing, mind-expanding and soul validating, connecting back with the original source, Franki Anderson.

16 years ago, Franki first introduced me to ‘Fooling,’ an incredible risky and connected solo improvisation form / life-style choice which has influenced my work and life ever since. Her three month course, ‘The Fools Journey,’ enriched the soil in which my teaching and facilitation skills still grow.

All the way through this work-in-progress project, I’ve had this sense of completion, finishing something I started a long time ago. It’s becoming clear that one of elements of this ‘something’ is solo performance. I never came back to it after Franki’s course. I compered for cabaret, told stories in schools, marauded through street theatre festivals and toured around theatres with various gangs of clowns and led a merry band of misfits around festivals making music, but I never did a solo theatre show. My extreme stage fright prevented me even trying. 

Both mornings when we arrived at St Werburghs Community Centre (which incidentally has a brilliant cafe these days), Franki asked me if I'd like to draw a tarot card and both days I drew 'Rebirth'.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Osho Zen Tarot

Rebirth:

"The card depicts the evolution of consciousness as described by Nietsche. He speaks of the three levels of Camel, Lion and Child. The camel is sleepy, dull, self-satisfied. He lives in delusion, thinking he's a mountain peak, but really he is so concerned with others' opinions that he hardly has any energy of his own. Emerging from the camel is the lion. When we realize we've been missing life, we start saying no to the demands of others. We move out of the crowd, alone and proud, roaring our truth. But this is not the end. Finally the child emerges, neither acquiescent nor rebellious, but innocent and spontaneous and true to his own being."

Connecting back with Franki has reminded me of what I loved about performing. With her kind eyes, offering their permission and acceptance, I’ve met my cast of internal characters (or “masks”), listened to my body and dropped deeper into feeling states, lightened up around ownership of “my” material and found more space to play on stage. I’ve conversed with shame, sadness, discomfort, vulnerability and my inner academic (she has an awful lot to say) and I have had so much pleasure in the process.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

Each mask now has their place on stage, as pictured above (the chairs serving as markers). I’ve explored their connection to each other and how they function as a community. I’ve honoured the work that they’ve all put in to keep me safe over the years and I’ve found a particular configuration for them that I hope will allow me to stay safe whilst also being able to take risks with live unplanned improvisation.

At the time of writing, I would like the next show to have less set material and more space for discovery, using the masks I’ve been playing with over the last 2 days. The key to this is keeping an eye on the academic over the next week and a half. She can’t help herself, if there’s a room full of people, she just wants to share all her knowledge and to do that, she likes a lot of preparation time. So in order to keep her from over-writing the whole show, Franki gave us some homework as a parting gift (the academic approves of  homework). I’m to:

1.) Breathe out fully 3 times, 3 times a day.

2.) Observe- watch myself and other people closely and with curiosity

3.) Dance whenever I get the chance

Check out Franki's website here.

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

Connection- The Process 1

Mar 17 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: The Lightning Tree Collective

Last night I went to a 2 hour workshop on “connection, culture and community” hosted by The Lightning Tree Collective, a Bristol based collective with backgrounds in psychotherapy, mindfulness, deep ecology and ecopsychology. They offer workshops, trainings and mentoring as a “catalyst for environmental, social and political change, in Bristol and beyond” (from their website).

On the top floor of Hamilton House, an ex-office building now bursting with colourful creative activity, overlooking Stokes Croft where filth meets genius in every combination, a packed room of curious people of all ages took their shoes and socks off and felt the connection with the itchy carpet.

After introducing themselves and their work, The Lightning Collective led us through a series of exercises to explore what connection means to us. They defined ‘connection’ as having 3 areas; 1.) the natural world, 2.) our connection to ourselves and 3.) our connection to other humans. They explained “connection is a human need, in the same way as food and shelter.”

We spoke about disconnect and how it shows up in our lives, someone spoke the experience of disconnect feeling like “I might lose my existence” and being “on the edge of disappearing” someone else spoke of disconnect as “running away from grief and pain” and went on to explain about the “cone of silence;” in any forest you enter into, a cone of silence appears around you, where nature holds it’s breath. As you begin to relax and connect with your surroundings, the cone of silence gradually disappears; “If you sit long enough and quietly enough, the birds come back.” The next speaker talked about their experience as a psychotherapist, noting the vast amount of clients who say the same thing; “I’ve never been listened to, my whole life.” 

I spoke about my experience of shame since the last show, how it jumped out of the feedback forms and pierced my heart, causing disconnect in myself and with others, showing up as a desire to dismember myself and to expose and destroy the people who’d given the feedback. I sat with this last week in the sanctuary of meditation retreat and now feel enormous compassion myself, the ones who gave the feedback and for everyone who finds themselves divided in this way. I believe this is the main function of shame.

Another person spoke about “screen culture world” and how its cut them off from nature. Then another spoke about the gift of disconnect and how they used it as a survival strategy. Their recovery has involved embracing and giving thanks to the disconnect for protecting them. Another person spoke about disconnect as an opportunity to come back into connection in a different way, to discover a new part of yourself or a new point of view, they said they found nature really important as a support for this process. Someone then spoke of the cycle of life and death and life in nature, “from the soil, comes the flowers.” 

Then we sat in silence for 2 minutes to tune into ourselves, before listening to our heartbeats, feeling the connection with everyone else’s heartbeat in the room, in the street, in Bristol and beyond. 

Next we did a group brainstorm about “what makes for good connection”. People shouted out:

patience, gratitude, empathy, love, active listening, non-judgement, spontaneity, body language and eye contact, giving time, safety, meaning, permission, compassion, paying attention, playfulness, curiosity, collaboration, forgiveness, peace, authenticity, long walks, congruency, a willingness to let things go to shit, honouring truth, taking responsibility, not being in control, openness, oneness, healthy boundaries, intimacy, acceptance, self-awareness.

Next, in pairs we spoke for 10 minutes each on:

1.) What does connection mean for you? (5 mins)

2.) How is it to be in connection right now? (5 mins)

I cheated and did this exercise with my boyfriend (we were supposed to work with someone we didn’t know), but it felt right and indeed it was. In my 10 minutes, I discovered connection to be an exquisite, iridescent bird, like a tiny kingfisher. Fleeting and beautiful. I tapped into the grief and fear that underlies connection, a force that has in the past led me to isolate myself, but now with increased curiosity and grounding, I’m able to observe with compassion. Unsurprisingly, this exercise brought me and my boyfriend closer together, through sharing intimately and being present with each other. I would heartily recommend doing this exercise with a loved one.

Next we held eye contact for 4 minutes with a stranger (an exercise that I invited the audience to do during my last show, ’Vulnerability’). I love this exercise and I enjoyed receiving a kaleidoscope of stories from my partners eyes. Wow.

Next we did another group brainstorm of activities that lead us towards connection; hugging, sex, dancing, food, singing, being barefoot, firelighting, drumming, storytelling, tea, grief, mediation, hardship, sharing, eye contact, breathing, chi gong, laughing, play, washing the dishes, senses, trading, kissing, exchanging, shared experiences, distance.

Finally we were given paper and a pen and asked to answer there 4 questions:

1.) When do you feel most connected?

2.) What are the qualities that enable connection for you?

3.) What is your intention around connection in your own life?

4.) How can you bring connection into the lives of others?

This is a great exercise and I’d heartily recommend doing it.

I've devised a survey to collect some more data for the show. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts on connection and disconnect, I would be massively grateful for your time. You'll find the survey here. There are 8 questions about connection. Whatever you offer is gratefully received. I will anonymise your answers so nothing will be traceable to you. Thank you for your time. xxx

Check out The Lightning Tree Collective’s website. They are just about to launch a 3 month course in Personal Resilience for Social Change.

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide.

Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

Work in Progress 3 - Connection

Mar 13 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly Stoppit

It’s one week after ‘Vulnerability,’ my last work in progress performance and I’ve just got home from a week long silent meditation retreat at Gaia House, a converted nunnery in the beautiful Devonshire countryside. I’ve been going there once or twice a year for 12 years and each time is different and each time it’s just what I need. This retreat was called ‘Your Life Is Your Teacher’ and was led by the wonderfully wise imp-oak-man, Martin Aylward

I spent the week sitting on a cushion in a beautifully clean, high ceilinged meditation hall (my job this time was to get the cobwebs from the ceiling, using three bamboo poles taped together with a feather duster taped to the end, I still had to balance precariously on a chair because I am tiny. I took great pride in my job and no spiders got hurt) with around 60 other people, exploring a quality of steadiness and sincerity by placing a gentle awareness with the breath in the lowest part of our bellies and with our rooted, still posture. 

Ed and Liz, my facilitators from the last show, would have been very proud of me (All they wanted me to do during our process was to be still and quiet occasionally! Well, you’ll be happy to hear I managed it! For a whole week!).

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly Stoppit

In between sittings I walked slowly through the fragrant, vibrant green grounds, listening to crows and blackbirds chatting away in the tall pines, eager bumblebees feasting on spring nectar and rampant frogs trying to find froggy love, feeling the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the breeze on my skin.

This work in progress project followed me around everywhere I went, of course! But it felt important for my health and well-being to let go of it for a week. I have felt very ill again this week, with a similar set of symptoms to this time last month (chesty cough and sore throat), which I had put down to extra life-stress on top of severe stage fright after the first show. But the symptoms came back again this month. I had been blaming the carpet from the rehearsal space this time, as I started coughing the day I rolled on the un-hoovered carpet, but I am still suffering 2 weeks after getting intimate with the carpet. Throughout the week at Gaia House, it dawned on me that there might be a pattern forming here… I do a show, I get ill… I get frightened, I get ill…. I expose myself to shame, I get ill... I hold on too tight, I get ill…

I needed to strike a deal with the show so that it would let me have time and space to rest and heal. I allowed it one hour a day of my focussed attention, trudging through the thick dark ivy with my hessian bound book to the dark green writing pagoda. I started by reflecting on the last show and mulling over the feedback I’d received from the audience. It became very clear, very quickly that this final show is about ‘Connection’; how connection enhances our lives, how easily it is to fall out of connection and how it takes courage, compassion and vulnerability to reestablish connection when it’s broken.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly Stoppit

I finished ‘Vulnerability’ on a bit of a cliff hanger, due to unexpected timing! I spontaneously cut the final two scenes which explored my journey towards connection with the human race. I believe there are no accidents with creative process, so perhaps this is where the next show begins…?

Unsurprisingly, it was almost as if Martin's evening Dharma talks were created especially for the show (Gaia House always gives me just what I need!), shining a light on what hinders our connection with ourselves and each other and how cultivating generosity, gentleness and gratitude can lead us back into connection in any moment.

So I will take generosity, gentleness and gratitude as my score for the next three weeks and see what I manage to make with that.

Come and see for yourself on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide.

Venue info here.

Facebook event here.


Summer Schools Dates and Deadlines

Mar 07 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

Holly will be delivering FIVE x five-day Summer Schools this year, starting in May, and ending at the end of August.


This page is a gathering together of all the dates. Please follow the links below to see event pages for specific dates.  More info about all the summer schools here.

SUMMER SCHOOL PROMISES
What you will get:
* five full days of group adventuring
* a unique experience not available anywhere else
* a course that is fully reasoned & extensively researched
* an exclusive invitation to participate - only open to Holly Stoppit students
* games and exercises that have been honed & developed for over a decade
* only eight places on each summer school ensures plenty of time & attention for all
* tons of one-to-one facilitation & support from a trained & registered dramatherapist
* generous skill-sharing from a ridiculously experienced facilitator, director & performer.

SUMMER SCHOOL DATES

• May Fooling Summer School - May 8-12. Apply by Monday 20 March. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1629277110715027/

• June Fooling Summer School - June 12-16. Apply by Monday 24 April. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1204724286230529/

• July Fooling Summer School - July 24-28. Apply by Monday 5 June. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/253917825043817/

• Advanced Fooling Summer School - August 7-11. Apply by Monday 20 March. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1906999406200949/

• Clowning Summer School - August 21-25th. Apply by Monday 20 March. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1947497195496060/

Reflections on 'Vulnerability'

Mar 06 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ed Rapley

Reflections on Vulnerability

On 5th March, 2017, I presented one and a half hours of semi structured / semi-improvised material on the subject of Vulnerability to a full house at The Wardrobe Theare in Bristol. This show was the second of my three monthly work in progress showings. The previous one had been about Stage Fright and until that performance, I hadn’t held the stage for 7 years, because stage fright had got the better of me. You can find out more about the making of that show here, here, here, here and here

After doing 'Stage Fright', I reflected on what might have been happening for me during my 5 biggest moments of live stage fright that night (as discussed at the bottom of this post) and guess what I found? VULNERABILITY! This, together with the audience feedback made it clear what the next show should be about.

I got really ill after 'Stage Fright', probably as a result of the prolonged terror leading up to that show, mixed with some bonus extra life-stress. So I did quite a lot of my initial research and writing for 'Vulnerability' in bed. It was only in the final week, that I got to stand my ideas up on their feet, facilitated by the wonderful dream team of Ed Rapley and Liz Clarke. You can read about our process and see photos here, here and here.

Ed and Liz sat in the audience during the performance, offering a little light facilitation to keep me on track. They each had a little bell which they could ring at any time they felt I needed to pause, a technique we’d developed throughout our play sessions in response to Ed and Liz’s desire to see me more still, quiet, connected and vulnerable on stage. 

Musician Sarah Moody improvised a live underscore with cello, percussion and loops, only jumping on board that afternoon. Having played music with Sarah many times, I knew her range and trusted her instinct so we connected during the afternoon of the show to improvise a bit together. I would find a feeling and allow it to grow into a dance and she found the soundtrack to support it. We chatted through the show and pin-pointed some moments where music might fit, but we left it pretty open as to what she would play in these moments and she had permission to jump in if she felt the impulse to at any point. We agreed to allow ourselves to have an on stage dialogue throughout the show whenever either of us needed to talk about the music.

Aisha Ali was in the lighting booth, operating lights and slides. As this was the first time either of us were using projected slides and we had a relatively short tech, we decided to keep the lighting very simple (on / off) and concentrate on getting the slide cues right.

My material was a mix of vulnerability and shame theory, personal stories, character work, self-penned poetry, an accapella folk song, movement and invitations for audience interaction.

We deliniated a space on the stage for ‘I feel vulnerable now’ with a special light on it. I committed to going here and voicing / showing my vulnerability every time I felt it.

At the end of the show we handed out feedback forms as well as conducting a 20 minute Q&A to find out from the audience what they felt about the show and what they thought the next one should be about.


Here’s a poem I wrote for the show:

The Lion and The Pangolin

Photographer Lance Van de Vyver,

Took a picture on his camera,

of a lion in South Africa,

Playing with an armoured creature.

Rolled up in an armoured ball,

Terror stuck by lions claws,

The pangolin stayed tight and round,

Protected from lion’s hungry mouth.

For 14 hours lion tried and tried,

To reach the tender meat inside,

But Pangolin was safe as houses,

Not letting hungry lion gouge his

Precious flesh and beating heart,

His will to live helped him outsmart,

The beast until he did surrender!

Slinking off to find some other

Creature to devour instead,

Leaving Pangolin alone, half-dead.

Parched he was, from the heat of the sun,

Exhausted from the stress of holding on,

In minutes our friend breathed his last breath;

Holding on did not save him from death.


My three research focuses for this show were:

1.) can I allow myself to be vulnerable on stage?

2.) how does it feel to do that?

3.) what impact does it have on the audience when I do that?

To fully answer these questions, I need to watch the film footage from the night and digest the audience feedback fully. Right now it’s 5 in the morning and I’ve barely slept, too full of adrenaline and thoughts and feelings. My memory of the show is hazy. This happened last month too, it took the best part of a week for the memories to come back and even then they were patchy. Maybe this is a neat evolutionary trick to help me take more risks?

In the olden days, having emotionally exposed myself as I did last night, I’d’ve been pinned to the floor by shame for at least a week. But I don’t feel shame for what I did last night. I feel a distinct absence of shame.

Something big has shifted in me over the 7 year break I took from performing and I think it has a lot to do with learning to be vulnerable and how to deal with shame. Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown talks about vulnerability as “the core, the heart, the centre of all meaningful human experiences” and I agree, without vulnerability, we can’t fully participate in life’s bounty and paradoxically, without vulnerability we will always be at the mercy of shame. Shame expert, John Bradshaw explains; “You’ve got to be willing to come out of hiding and be vulnerable…turn to people and take the mask off and the healing will come.”

***One week later*** I still haven't watched the footage, but I have read all the feedback.

Both the feedback forms and the post-show discussion pointed towards these particular moments where the audience felt they detected my vulnerability:

-When Ed or Liz 'dinged' their bells to invite me to pause, feel and be.

-When I was talking about my mum's recent health scare.

-When I sang one of my mum's unaccompanied folk songs.

-When I was locked into battle with the character of Shame (played by me). Shame had taken over the stage and was preventing me from getting on with the show, so we needed to dialogue for quite some time to get to an arrangement that would suit both of us. Shame wanted to stand on the chair in the middle of the stage with his arms folded, "just watching," but I needed the chair for the next bit of the show and couldn't really work around Shame. He eventually begrudgingly agreed to sitting in the audience and watching from the side lines, but it wasn't easy to convince him.

-At the very end, when I'd finished singing and held the audiences gaze for what felt like 300 years, but might have only been 10 seconds.

I'd say I'd agree with this, although I still haven't watched the footage. Memories of the show started coming back after three days, but there are still gaps. It feels important to wait to watch the footage until I am feeling grounded and strong as I detect that particular activity to be an obvious shame trigger. First priority is self-care and then I can analyse later.

Some of the people who gave feedback shared how they felt when they perceived me as being vulnerable:

"Connected"

"I wanted to help"

"Sympathetic"

"Empathetic"

"I felt deep love and compassion"

"Made me feel very sad"

"Felt touched, wistful and connected"

"It was cathartic and it made me feel alive. I felt sad, I felt human resonance, I felt open + exhausted + loving + compassionate. I felt real."

"Uncomfortable at times"

"Felt connected, sad, protective of holly, felt love"

"The realisation that we are all babies, vulnerable creatures and originally good"

"I felt admiration to this capacity of showing herself"

"I wanted to reach out"

"I felt frustrated and it made me question why?"

“It’s unusual as an audience member to be aware of experiencing genuine vulnerability of someone on stage. I found it awkward at first to witness the vulnerability, but I also felt compassion for Holly and admiration for her facing it and coping with it in front of an audience.”

"It made me want to give you a hug"

"I felt softened"

So an interesting array of deep connection, wanting to help and feeling pushed away. I appreciated the bravery of those who met me with their emotional experience. These comments felt more valuable to me than those who gave me advise or criticism. My feedback filterer / boyfriend weeded the trigger warning forms out immediately after the show to give me time to settle with myself. But I was naughty and impatient and read them the next day, which was way too soon. I was triggered into a mini shame-attack by a few of those comments:

"holly stoppit announces a new show about vulnerability and spends the next 90 minutes avoiding the subject"

"seemed to be mostly friends helping out a friend who is on the stage"

So I reached out to my collaborators for support to unpick the learning and let go of the shame. In response to this; "holly stoppit announces a new show about vulnerability and spends the next 90 minutes avoiding the subject", During a lengthy email conversation where I explored what that triggered for me (mostly feeling like I am not good enough) Liz wrote this:

I Saw Holly

I saw Holly
I saw her in her onesie

I saw Holly
Standing on a chair

I saw Holly 
It was the glitter on her eyelash

I saw Holly
She was really there

I saw Holly
Be brave, be bold, be present

I saw Holly
I saw her really scared

I saw Holly
I saw her soft and open

I saw Holly
Climbing off a chair

I saw Holly
Offering connection

I saw Holly
Really going there

I saw Holly
Her fears & past addictions

I saw Holly 
Kick away the chair

I believe from my vague sense of the night and from the feedback, that I was as vulnerable as I could be. I am proud of myself for offering what I could.

In response to this; "seemed to be mostly friends helping out a friend who is on the stage," Ed wrote this; "The cult of the lone genius? Collaboration is illegal? If someone helps you during an exam that's cheating?"  Trying to put ourselves into the shoes of the person who gave the feedback, we developed more empathy for them and for ourselves. 

I am proud of myself for reaching out for support. I am proud of myself for accepting it. I turn this statement around into a positive mantra! "Friends helping out a friend who is on the stage" not only felt brilliant, but also enabled me to take greater risks. Hey! I'd recommend trying it!

There is something to be said about protecting yourself from obvious shame triggers straight after a show (or having made any vulnerable offer of yourself). Next time I will keep the emotional slant in the feedback questions in the hope of receiving more emotionally connected feedback and wait a little longer before reading what people have written.

***3 weeks later I've just watched the footage***

Now that I've watched the footage, I feel I can say that I was as vulnerable as I could be. I have fierce protectors that have kept me safe throughout my life and for them I'm truly grateful. They were there, for sure, but I still found space to play, to be and to be seen. If I were to perform more, I would probably find it easier and easier to be vulnerable on stage, but for someone who's spent 7 years off the stage, I feel really proud of myself for offering what I could.

I was also dealing with my mum's sudden ill health, the unexpected death of a friend and my own health issues during the lead up to the show. I think I did what I needed to to to keep myself safe, knowing that grief, fear and despair where nearby. In my experience, when I allow myself to be vulnerable, I allow myself to feel and 'feelings' all come as one big package. With the big ones knocking around it's no wonder I shut down a bit. Raw, unfiltered grief, fear and despair for me are pretty private emotions, I wouldn't want to put them on the stage in their raw state. Throughout the creation process for this show, I was taking these feelings to my therapist, Ed and Liz, my other good friends, my boyfriend, my meditation cushion and out into nature, but they were't ready to be seen by an audience. 


How does 'Vulnerability' look through last months research lenses?:

(1.) how’s the stage fright now, after all that therapy and the 7 year break?

(2.) do I enjoy performing more or less than I used to?

(3.) what would it be like to bring a high level of support into my process?


(1.) how’s the stage fright now, after all that therapy and the 7 year break?

The stage fright was less consuming in the lead up to the performance. I only started losing sleep 4 days before and I only lost my appetite on the day of the performance (as opposed to one week without sleep and three days without much food for the last one). I felt nervous on the day of the performance, but I managed it with good time-tabling with the dream team to make sure I felt prepared. After warming up and running my material for Ed and Liz for their valuable feedback, I was able to delegate jobs to them so that I had time to run over my material again. I then got to speed run the show a third time in the theatre for musician Sarah and lighting operator / slide master Aisha. So by this time the order of the material was starting to get drilled in.

Improvising movement with Sarah Moody on cello, an hour before we opened was priceless. It got me well and truly into my body and feeling strongly connected with Sarah. I felt emboldened by our connection.

I will have to wait until I’ve viewed the footage to be able to know about the stage fright during the performance. I think it was there, but maybe with one show under my belt I’d internalized the experience of not dying on stage and having a warm reception, so maybe I felt a bit more at home on the stage? This is purely speculation at the moment as I’m still missing a lot of last night.

It's now the next day. I feel ill again. Similar to last time, but the symptoms are not so aggressive. My stomach feels fragile, but does not feel like I’ve eaten barbed wire and my muscles are sore but not throbbing. But I am exhausted.

My supervisor suggested that the total memory loss I experienced after both this and the previous show was perhaps indicative of trauma. Remembering back to the research I collected for 'Stage Fright,' one researcher equated the physical experience of stage fright as similar to "a small car crash." Have I been traumatising myself through this process? Has the fear of being seen created total shutdown? Or is revisiting my debilitating fear with new awareness and maximum support gradually creating new neural pathways? We'll have to wait and see.

***3 weeks later I've just watched the footage***

Watching the footage, stage fright doesn't appear as often as it did in the first show and I wonder whether I wrote and prepared more for this show to protect myself from the stage fright. 

The enforced silence and stillness facilitated by Ed and Liz (using their 'ding' bells) seemed to bring varying results from compliance to surrender to permission to shame- these were the moments that the stage fright got in. I observed myself taking a few of them as criticism and immediately got defensive.

It was interesting to notice my voice disappearing throughout the show, I wonder whether that was linked to stage fright / shame? I hardly had a voice to sing the end song with.


(2.) do I enjoy performing more or less than I used to?

Again- I have to wait until I’ve watched the footage to be able to answer this properly, but I think I must have had pleasure at at least some points in the show! Surely! Watch this space to find out.

***3 weeks later I've just watched the footage***

There was pleasure! I saw it! Especially:

  • offering vulnerability / shame theory, using my stories to illustrate
  • playing the character of shame
  • bouncing off Sarah with the Addiction Bossa Nova
  • facilitating the eye contact exercise
  • telling the poem
  • storytelling
  • singing the song
  • spontaneous dancing


(3.) what would it be like to bring a high level of support into my process?

The vast amount of support I had both in the lead up to the performance and on the night itself, helped me to feel like I was doing something worthwhile and kept me focussed. I was able to take bigger risks because I felt held. Massive thanks to my dream team:

  • Liz Clarke and Ed Rapley- facilitators / collaborators
  • Sarah Moody- musician
  • Aisha Ali- lighting / slides operator
  • Megan Brooks- video 
  • Chris Collier- sound, lights and projector set up
  • Beccy Golding- my administrator
  • The Brunswick Club- rehearsal space
  • The Wardrobe Theatre for letting me use the space
  • Bob for doing the door
  • The bar people at Old Market Assembly for serving the drinks 
  • Everyone who shared my Facebook event  / blogs and helped me get another full house!
  • All the people in the audience for coming and giving me your time and attention
  • All the people who gave written feedback and all the people who stayed for the Q&A
  • My brilliant boyfriend for holding me through this rollercoaster of a process
  • My friends and family for letting me yabber on at you about vulnerability and for your great insights and stories
  • My therapist and my clinical supervisor for keeping me on the straight and narrow.


Some audience feedback:

"An engaging, informative, playful poem of a performance"

"Cathartic, experiential, emotional, dynamic performance based research"

"Brave, human, presence"

“A talented artist on a personal journey of discovery, opening her heart and her history and generously, usefully sharing with (thereby educating) her audience in the process.”

"Part lecture, part performance, part workshop on how to be human!"

"A TED talk on acid"

"An emotional, explorative experience, it made me pause before laughing, helped me understand and experience that there is deeper potential for connection beneath."


If you saw the show and you want to send some feedback: 

Feel free to email me at holly@hollystoppit.com. Here's the feedback questions again. Thanks x

1.) How did you hear about the show? 

2.) How would you describe what you’ve just seen to someone who wasn’t here?  

3.) What moments did you particularly enjoy and why? 

4.) What bits would you like to see developed from this show? 

5.) When did you think Holly was vulnerable and how did it make you feel? 

6.) What themes would you like to see Holly cover in the next show on 2nd April?


Come and see the next show on Sunday 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay what you decide at the end. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

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