Nights this past week have found me watching both Addams Family films, way too late at night, coming to few new conclusions except I wish I could’ve dated Raul Julia. I’m one of many fighting a battle in the no man’s land between turning off the lights and being claimed by sleep: what’s at stake is an imagined, painless slipping from light amusement and absorption into perfect thoughtlessness. This feels like a failing I sometimes succeed against, but not recently. I don’t like what I seem to be saying with this habit. Like sleep’s a medicine I’m forced into taking. Like it’s possible to paper over being alone. Like distraction’s the best that can be hoped for.
Robert Softley Gale has been sleeping with the news on. He tells us it feels like the world’s going to end, but as long as he and the news reporter are both awake at the same time, maybe it’ll be alright. On our screens in our bedrooms we look at the news on the screen in Softley Gale’s bedroom. We’re looking at the news and the screen and each other and Robert and then Robert becomes the news on the screen. On our screens too.
So we’re not alone while watching Come To Bed With Me, a bedwards-bound piece by Softley Gale’s disability-led company Birds of Paradise and Battersea Arts Centre. For one, we’re enveloped in admissions like this from Softley Gale – it’s entirely focused on him. And we also see each other, the other audience members. We take up equal space as he does on the Zoom window, if we do as he asks and set it to gallery view; neat little tiles of audience faces (about fifteen) alongside him. Created by Softley Gale, Rachel Drazek and Mairi Taylor, it runs this week as part of BAC’s online Make/Love season, and marks an expedition into experimentally digital tactics for Birds of Paradise.
I spend a lot of time trying to work out the relationship Come To Bed With Me creates between Softley Gale and us. It does feel intimate, of course it does, to watch him get ready for bed, change his clothes, and hear what he confides in us. Like his fear of dehydration. Like he’s looking forward to reading his kids Harry Potter to find out how a wizard with cerebral palsy sounds. Like he misses having someone in the bed with him. We don’t share back with him or the others, though a couple of us volunteer to read a little out loud. The one-way direction of this information feels safer for us – already consenting to be seen, in our homes, even bedrooms – but it makes me wonder who we are, squinting to see what’s happening in his yellow-bordered tile.
I decide it feels like a contract. What we see is tightly controlled, and the assured, relaxed way Softley Gale lets us in and how his tile smoothly cedes to edited footage allows us to feel at ease, in someone’s hands. His webcam switches angle so we’re looking down at him from a corner, no longer on the floor with him, and though it’s cool to have something new for the eyes, a better peek into this room, I want to be closer to him again.
It’s like Softley Gale’s our guardian, or our dad. We’re taken care of from within his vulnerability. Who else has seen him brush his teeth, he asks us? Only exes, best friends, his mum. It makes me feel like he really wants us to be here, and that we’re lucky to be let in. He mentions that desire for company at a few points over the course of this hour, and it feels like we think about it together – that we’re gently given no choice about it, staring at each other’s faces like this. He shares some things which feel very personal, and some of us nod.
At one point, through movement directed by Drazek and some overlapping, blurring editing, we watch him become his own company. The two Softley Gales don’t move in perfect sync and I wonder if one of him is prerecorded footage while one’s live or if they’re both captured earlier, and what that means for the arm he seems to sling over himself for a moment. His bodies fan out on the bed then return to the one body, and we’re watching this and each other, and I suppose we’re all the less alone for it, for now. There’s some circling, folding choreography with his duvet, at one point held to him like it’s a child. When I put my head on a pillow during the performance I instantly feel more sleepy. This might be encouraged by how often Scott Twynholm’s Tiffany-referencing piano score dominates throughout this hour – soothing, but a little unvarying.
Could Come To Bed With Me exist in person? It would answer too many questions; I like not knowing if this is Softley Gale’s own room or a set, that question mark over truth and exchange – we’re all unavoidably in our real homes, but it’s about him, not us, and that feels generous. Like we’re sharing in sacrifices together. And I like being at the mercy of what his Zoom tile has been programmed to show us, beholden to this patch of screen.
He doesn’t talk about the pandemic much directly, I think (though the performance I attend is captioned, I give up splitting my screen between windows which make his tile even smaller). It’s extremely localised – to just one person’s routine, worries, and movement – but fiercely expansive. Going to sleep has changed during this period and it hasn’t, for Softley Gale and for all of us. He can only show us how it’s changed and not changed by inviting us in like this. When you go to bed without someone else there it’s just you, which is what Come To Bed With Us is about: you and your body and your thoughts. This is a considered, careful study of all three, and it wouldn’t work without you as part of it, even doing nothing, just being where and what you are.
Come to Bed with Me runs online till 1st November, part of BAC’s Make/Love season. More information here.