Decompress, decompress, decompress: A blog post about Jenny
Decompress, decompress, decompress
This blog tries to articulate and capture what was involved in the process of making the show Jenny which premiered at the Guildhall in Gloucester on the 13th Oct. Here I try to speak about how it feels now and how it's different from other work I have made.
It’s been a week since I premiered the show Jenny. The show centers around a gender non-conforming person from 1905 whose mugshots I came across in the Tyne and Wear Archives in 2019. She went by the name of Jenny and with today’s language and terminologies she would have been referred to as a trans woman. Jenny’s life is only documented through her criminal actions. The show tried to put flesh on the news reports and records, to put together a more true to life character.
Clippings from the archive, telling stories
Who gets their say?
Not Jenny Jenny who….
Reaching out for your voice.
You’re mute Jenny.
But among the ashes,
The fragments of a person
This silhouetted shape can shift and disappear,
Glimpse it dancing in the dust of the archive
Jenny Moore, more than
Moore, more than words
Jenny Moore, more than friends?
Moore, more than a ghost stuck- Extract from the show.
Image of Tom and the band (Jenny Moore, Rubie Green, and Bianca Stephens). Photographer: George Avill
The process was research-led over two years, and even up to the last minute I was receiving updates on Jenny from the academics I partnered with through Brigstow. Updates on what might have happened to her in the end. We received funding from the Heritage Lottery to work in the Gloucester Archives, where we found comparative stories. And funding from Arts Council England made the actual show possible. During this time I was in the Strike a Light Let artists be artists role; an experiment to fund an artist in a full time role to make the work they want to make. With all this support I was able focus on making my creative team of collaborators; queer, non binary and trans creatives and academics. A group of people who can be sensitive, empathetic and sympathetic with Jenny’s story. The work demanded this as so many of the records and reports about Jenny are violent to her identity.
Some of the words I use might be hard to hear for a modern ear
Some of the words are painful
Some of the words are violent
Keeping the words I find in the archive
I try and reclaim and heal the shame.
The silence into noise.
Extract from the show text
Rightly I was questioned about why am I telling this story, the story of a trans person, why me? I have been telling stories and making shows about queer historical communities since 2010. My identity is queer. I don’t just see myself as a gay man, and so I don’t want to just tell stories about gay men. But it was a difficult line to tread in finding myself as the voice of Jenny. And so I listened to my collaborators, and invited in more people. As the scale grew so did the amount of voices. The amount of listening I was doing increased. The work was fragile and the stories I was telling were slippery - we don’t really know what happened to Jenny. And so at some points I felt like I was just listening. Not doing or moving. And unable to hold onto a clear vision that could include the expertise and experience of my collaborators. Taking on the thoughts of so many and the contradictions that arose between them, I was worried that I had lost my way. So I needed to lean into who I was within this show.
This is me trying to use the privilege I have to uplift trans voices.
Trying to bring awareness to issues.
Trying to be a good ally.
Trying not to center myself in this story but find my own personal connections.
Here I speak about what I know about the most, my experiences.
My bones, my flesh, my ghosts….
Her bones, her flesh, her ghosts....
Though I truly understand they are different in many ways.
Extract from the show text
Within the team of creatives, musicians, producers and actors, everything was negotiated. We all kept fighting, not with each other but fighting to make this unruly show work and mean something to all of us. I had so many sleepless nights about it, and both loved it and wanted to run away from it at the same time. I couldn’t perform in the show and look at it, so we ended up asking an outside director to step in and this had a really positive effect on the show.
The show was sold out. It received positive responses, and we made a queer story very visible in Gloucester. A place that struggles to be visibly queer. We all felt proud of what we had achieved. We had celebratory drinks in a little pub in Gloucester where we received curious looks from the locals, our queerness was viewed as very exotic.
Audience feedback on 'Jenny' at Gloucester Guildhall, Thurs 13th October 2022. Videographer: Paul Blakemore
But I don’t have the same feeling of warmth and accomplishment and relief that I usually do.
Whilst making this show I have felt it in my body, I was wired. The story is connected to my body and my nerves - my nerves feel really exposed. It feels like I cut my body open and now I need that to scab over and to heal.
I often feel weird after shows but this is next level! I am surprisingly angry about people not turning up who had booked tickets because it is pay what you can, stopping anyone else coming when it is sold out. I struggled receiving feedback straight after the show. The time just before a show is important for mental preparation, but so is the time afterwards, the time of moving away. It was so intense to work on. Maybe it's because it is more of a team effort than my usual work. Maybe it's because it was only one night and needs to be performed more, as there was two years of effort invested. Maybe it's because it needed one more song for Jenny to sing. Or maybe because we still don’t really know what happened to the real Jenny?
But I have a feeling of unfinished business - that I don’t want to have about other shows that have just premiered. I question if I can be the best person to navigate the show’s journey next - with this particular story because it's so complicated, and I cannot be the dominant voice to organise and push it forward, but instinctively I am drawn to everything about Jenny and she has completely got under my skin.
Let’s not locate your story in the past,
Like grit the ghosts won’t go.
Shape shifting inside dusty boxes,
So many magpies are waiting, defiant and dignified
Dancing their radical ceremonies of glorious queer living
Against the grain of the archives bland soup
Extract from show text
Image of Tom. Photographer: George Avill.
Jenny - credits
Writer and lead performer - Tom Marshman
Jenny - Connie Handyside-Cook
Producer - Nia Evans
Assistant Producer - Harriet Taylor
Composer / Musical Director - Jenny Moore
Musician - Bianca Stephens
Musician - Rubie Green
Script Consultant - Enxi Chang,
Script Editor - Sammy Paloma,
Outside Eye- Emma Frankland, Jenifer Bell,
Choreography- Roseanna Anderson
Script guidance- Shirley Day Karen Mcleod, Joey Hatley
Lighting Design - Jenny Roxburgh
Set Design and Costume - Johnny Jones
Design of Jenny’s Costume - Pam Tait
Lighting Technician - Andi Dell
Sound Engineer - Jacob McQue
Audiovisual Technician - Kingsley Salmon
Illustrator for Exhibition - Alec Stevens
Researcher for Exhibition - Dr Jeanie Sinclair
Projections - Emma Powell
Videographer - Paul Blakemore
Design work Publicity -Melody Sproates
Sound Edit Bernie Hodges
With thanks to Jamie Sophia Fletcher.
Thanks also to the Brigstow ‘Magpie’ research group for their invaluable time, insight, and expertise: Professor Lois Bibbings, Professor Josie McLellan, Dr Sarah Jones, Dr Jeanie Sinclair, and Dr Nic Aaron. Thank you to Gloucestershire Archives and Gloucester Guildhall for their support,
to Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund and Tynes and Wear Archives
A special thank you to everyone at Strike a Light for supporting the work, giving it the space to grow from its earliest stages, and for giving us the opportunity to bring the show to Gloucester.