Artistic Director of Théâtre Volière Natasha Wood describes how death ‘snapping at her heels’ propels her on. That and Davie Bowie, of course.
Charles Dickens’ sheer determination to pull himself out of the abject poverty of his childhood, with little or no help from the adults around him, and to forge a career for himself is pretty incredible in itself. The man just never gave up! When something wasn’t working, he thought of a different way to do it using a different medium or a different angle, but always determined to communicate his ideas and his stories.
What I particularly admire about his work, is that he was able to be inventive and original without ever losing sight of the importance of entertaining people. He could tell a good tale that kept his readers turning the pages, but with plenty of depth to chew on long after the unveiling of the final denouement.
Also from a very humble background, David Bowie had the ability to appeal to a fairly broad range of listeners. He knew about the importance of a good tune and great showmanship, but was brave enough to risk popularity in search of new ideas and partnerships. Sometimes this experimentation was successful and sometimes it wasn’t, but it was the creative journey and what he could experience along the way that seemed to interest him most.
This energy and taste for experimentation didn’t seem to wane in old age, as it often does for other successful artists. In fact, quite the reverse in Bowie’s case – his creativity seemed to give him an incredible energy to carry on working even when he was very ill. I find his later albums particularly inspiring.
Pina Bausch is another artist who never forgot the importance of entertaining people. She was able to create her own unique style of dance without losing a connection with ordinary people’s lives. Bausch’s dance tells very human stories that retain the ability to communicate with a wide audience, without sacrificing innovation.
Death is a funny guru to choose, I know. But death, or rather the prospect of my own death, is something that increasingly motivates me. Without it, I think I might feel a bit lost and aimless. Being conscious of death ‘snapping at my heels’ allows me to take more risks and to really throw myself into doing what I actually love, rather than trying to please the people I was taught I should please.
A few years ago, a couple of people I was very close to died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Their deaths made me really think. When you die, you don’t get to take anything with you. Adored pets, an immaculate garden, glittering career, money and awards are all left behind. Everyone who might remember you will also die in the end and, unless you’re very special, everything you did will fairly quickly be forgotten. The only way to pass anything on to the future is by raising children or by interacting with other people, and having a small influence on the way they live their lives and affect other people in turn.
Society would say that being a High Court Judge is a status worth working your whole life for, but perhaps you’d rather travel the world or try out lots of different jobs, or even just stay at home and look after your family? What will really count for you on your deathbed? It’s worth stopping sometimes and really thinking about, since we’ll all be there one day. I’m not so sure I’ll give much of a stuff about what society thinks then!
My husband comes from a pretty humble background too. He is the only member of the family from his generation to go to university. As a writer, he is often asked to write about his background and it would be easy for him to play his ‘working class’ card, but it’s never really interested him. We’re all different, and he’s just always been more inspired by historical events, classical legends, philosophical questions or simply playing around with form and narrative.
I admire his tenacity, his courage, his passion and his intellect. I am comforted by his loyal companionship, and I love him very much.
Natasha Wood is Artistic Director of Théâtre Volière, an Anglo-French theatre company founded in Strasbourg and currently based in London.
Marchland, Théâtre Volière’s annual season of performance and interdisciplinary events from Europe’s borderlands, runs until 3 March 2018 at the Bridewell Theatre, London.