THE date sticks in Claire Morgan’s head. March 6, 2011, was the day she parked her car in a Gateshead car park and lost a chunk of her life.
The artist, who works from The Shed in the High Street, had attended an event there and left her car overnight in the multi-storey opposite.
Returning the next day, she found a side window smashed and her rucksack taken. Inside had been her diary, which she describes as the only true witness to “three of the most turbulent years of my life”.
The red and white Paisley-pattern journal contained her real-time accounts of surgery, relationships, heartbreak and bereavement and, while it must have proved a disappointing haul for the thieves, it was precious beyond words to its owner.
“It was like losing a friend,” she says now.
“I’d been going through massive changes – those kind of changes that affect all of us at some point in our lives – and writing that journal, hearing my voice, helped me to make sense of those experiences.”
She adds: “The theft felt like a violation. For example, when I was in my 20s I was quite seriously assaulted physically and it had a very similar feeling to that.”
With the loss of that personal account of those three years, Claire felt exposed and “it almost becomes a life not lived”.
She initially hoped to get her diary back but then set about salvaging something of it in the way she knows how, through artistic expression.
She explains: “I’d searched through the back lanes and wheelie bins in Gateshead in the hope that whoever had stolen the book, realising it had no value to them, might have thrown it away.
“It was a search on a number of levels – physical and emotional and on a creative, artistic level and I started wondering about what we throw away, what we value.
“I was devastated but at the same time it made me realise I hadn’t valued enough my own story and my own words.”
In response Claire, who describes herself as a spoken word artist and is artistic director of performance and multi-media company Monkfish Productions, has come up with a new show, Editor.
At its heart is the story of losing her diary but it also explores what might be seen as valuable in life, what is ‘rubbish’ and “who really is the ‘editor’ – is it God, fate, the cosmos or a random series of arbitrary events?”
Claire will perform for the first time not as a character but as herself, or a persona of herself at least.
“It’s as if I didn’t feel I was interesting enough just as Claire,” she says, “and this has allowed me to unpick what that is about, low self-esteem and why we don’t value who we are.”
Arts Council England funding helped her develop the show with the help of a mentor, London-based performance poet Aoife Mannix, while Newcastle-based cabaret company Pink Lane Productions is producing it.
The hour-long performance, featuring music and sound by local singer-songwriter Tom Hollingworth and Teesside artist Michael Hann, can be seen next month at the ARC in Stockton and the Jazz Cafe in Newcastle with both venues being transformed into a rubbish tip for the evening.
Against a dark, atmospheric musical soundscape, Claire will recreate the journey she says she’s been on since that night, searching on stage through landfill rubbish for her lost words.
“It’s been a journey in terms of losing those words to find my own voice – if that makes sense,” she says.
It’s been a cathartic experience. She likens it to a phoenix rising from the ashes and, with good feedback from an early extract she performed, she’s hoping the show will have a life beyond its coming performances.
“I’ve been really pleasantly surprised about how people have responded to the experience I had, that people do value others’ voices and want to hear what they have to say.”
Claire will perform an extract of Editor at the Open Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, on March 24 then it can be seen at ARC in Stockton at 7.45pm on March 28, followed by an 8pm performance at the Jazz Cafe in Pink Lane, Newcastle, on April 19.
For tickets visit ARC (www.arconline.co.uk) or buy at the door of the Jazz Cafe on the night - get there early says Claire. The tickets cost £5/£4.