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Have you ever dropped out of anything? Ahead of bringing his new show Sticking to ARC, Matt Miller took a moment to tell us about how dropping out of one thing led to him 'sticking' to another.
I’ve dropped out of a lot of things in my life. Well, several. I’ve dropped out of a History degree. I’ve dropped out of a play that I was making, just last year. I dropped out of a gymnastics competition in year 4 (I hadn’t learned the routine so told them I was sick on the morning of the gala – in the assembly where various people got their medals for actually doing things well or that lowest of the low, the certificate for taking part, I managed to stoop further still as they offered me a certificate for not showing up. I’m glad they did – I still remember the embarrassment of standing on that stage being congratulated for lying and, while I still lie and sometimes duck the bullet, it serves as a good reminder, when I remember to take it, that doing so feels a bit shit.)
I even tried dropping out of ‘Sticking’, before it was ‘Sticking’ – a previous iteration called ‘Welcome to Ryton’ proved stressful for a plethora of reasons – personal qualms over the moral viability of using personal material about other people, general post-graduation-what-on-earth-is-life-and-how-many-wombs-will-I-have-to-be-squeezed-out-of-before-I’m-whole jitters and – most tellingly – a feeling that I wasn’t in control. Because the show had happened at least a little bit by accident – (while struggling for what to do with the stage-show development thread of the development package that was the BBC New Voices program, I told a story about growing up, off the cuff, and was informed by my then mentor and now still mentor and also director and dramaturg Peader Kirk, that being able to tell stories that way was a skill and that there was interesting material to look into in what I’d said) – because it had happened that way, rather than being my own genius brain child that I’d come up with on my own completely with no one else, thanks, I didn’t feel in control of it and, to some extent collapsed under it. Or else sabotaged it.
Or else turned it into something else – ‘Sticking’ became a show with the same DNA as its predecessor – a solo, largely autobiographical show about growing up and formation of identity (or deliberate lack thereof), but rather than focusing on earlier adolescence, exploring instead my time at university – before I dropped out.
The irony of almost dropping out of one project in order to make a show based around the idea of dropping out isn’t lost on me now, but I wasn’t really aware of it at the time – rather, the new focus felt like a way to look at a time of my life I’d occasionally tried to explore but really hadn’t been able to talk about or even think about, or recognise fully had happened, even to myself, largely because of shame – because I was and still am ashamed that I dropped out at a crucial point in my life.
But this too I think is part of the definite value of the show for me – while I’m not too into the idea of reliving trauma for its own sake in the pursuit of art (I think), I hope that by looking at a period of my life that I have previously been reluctant to acknowledge existed, or else have packaged into a separate, other-wordly existence on an another narrative timeline altogether in my head, that I will be able to smooth it out, acknowledge it, make something from it – a story, mostly true, all truthful – and move on. And that by doing this, I can allow or encourage other people to do the same – to forgive themselves for wrinkles in their own timelines, to acknowledge, or even celebrate, their less presentable chapters.
Most of the times, if not all, that I’ve dropped out of things has been due to a feeling of lack of control. When I feel I’m not in control of something, I feel I’m in the wrong place, that I’ve made a wrong decision previously that needs putting right, that the idea of me doing the said thing that I’m not in control of would be false, for me and for everyone else – I talk myself into an alternate reality in which the thing I’m faced with doing isn’t happening anyway, and therefore can’t happen.
After the event I tend to look back and wonder why I didn’t let myself not be in control for a while – to see where the ride went – to go with it. Where would I be if I had? Maybe I’d have showed up at the gymnastics gala and clownishly busked a routine to the delight of classmates and been lauded for it. Or else I’d have been shit, and got over it. Maybe I’d have enjoyed doing the play. (I’d definitely have been paid more). And if I’d stayed on the History degree? Well some of the show covers that. A lot of it is a fantasy future which I know would be unlikely anyway (a house in London, a committed relationship, a cat that likes me (no cats like me) and a sense of completeness, wholeness and purpose. Yeah, right.) But the problem with all of these things is that, because I dropped out, I’ll never know, and that’s what wrangles. So part of this show is about learning to stick with things. Learning when to hold your own. At least for a little longer. I think.
You can see Sticking on Wednesday 7 December at 7pm, tickets for the show are priced on a Pay What You Decide basis. Book now