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a live puzzling out of complex matters

This site is an online performance space and archive for Stories of the Present War, a durational performance project by Becka McFadden and Beautiful Confusion Collective, based on a collection of family letters from the 1940s.

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Stories of the Present War is inspired by a collection of letters written by my grandparents during and immediately before the United States entered WWII. Discovering these letters by accident, in my mother’s garage, I began reading and re-reading them at a time when I found myself increasingly distressed and anxious about current geopolitical events - Brexit, Trump, climate change, and now COVID-19 - all communicated via a relentless 24-hour news cycle. In this project, which takes the form of short encounters with individual letters and durational ruminations involving the whole archive, I look to the letters for historical perspective and insight into what it was like to live in a time of global conflict. At the same time, and on a more personal level, the discovery of the letters brought me into close contact with my grandparents’ relationship and the bold decisions of their youth that sometimes feel irreconcilable with the adults I knew. 

The title of the project comes from a letter in which my grandmother described a film she had seen as “a story of the present war”. I’ve made it plural here to express the multiplicity of wars we are always waging in one way or another, in the multiplicity of presents that are our lives, individually and collectively. There’s lots to think about here. 

Liveness is at the centre of the project and all the material archived and streamed come from live, unrehearsed sessions of puzzling. I invite you to join me as I sift through my own experiences and those of my grandparents. Let’s see what emerges. 

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podcast and blog

Listen to our archive of live letter readings and associated musings here. You can find a blog entry with a live write transcript and photos to accompany each recording. We recommend you listen first and then read. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for live readings. All live content will eventually end up here too.

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Episode 2.13 - Any jeweller will do

photo: Becka McFadden & Paul Wade Today's letter read a bit like an inventory, of which more presently. First, though, I'm struck by how...

Episode 2.10 - It's a memorable day

photo: Paul Wade So I have a confession to make. I took a peak at today's letter before reading it. I had decided to make a Manhattan as...

Episode 2.2 - We can double our money

What follows are photos and a live writing transcript in response to Letter 2, series 2. So tonight I discovered that my grandfather had...

Episode 2.1 - My, my.

What follows are photos and a live writing transcript in response to Letter 1, series 2. I am so struck in reading this letter, perhaps...

Episode 1.6 - Not worth his salt

The following are photos and a live writing transcript in response to Episode 1.6 I love the picture of home that emerges from this...

Episode 1.4 - Ok?! Ok!!

The following are photos and a live writing transcript in response to Episode 1.4 So this is a letter with a lots of firsts in it. It's...

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