Tag Archives: collaboration

LeanerFasterStronger: Auditions

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The Sheffield Crucible and Lyceum theatres at dusk,  16/3/12. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

I have always admired actors, but after this past week sitting the other side of a desk to them as they audition for LeanerFasterStronger, my admiration has massively increased.

The talent out there is humbling, and we could cast the production many times over, each new combination bringing different strengths and interpretations  to the fore.  I don’t envy Andrew Loretto, who will direct the production in May and so the person who has to make these final, impossible decisions.

LeanerFasterStronger is more a performance text than a ‘play’ – it will require doubling of parts, physical scores, and therefore great flexibility and speed from the performers in making these transitions. Owing to this, Andrew is bringing together an ensemble company, so the casting decisions relies ultimately on that mix. I think in many ways this is harder than more conventional casting, where the actor may be ‘up’ for one role – the part of Ophelia, say.  It has been my delight and honour to meet so many talented performers – not every playwright gets access to this process of auditioning – but from the start Andrew and co-producer Susan Burns of Chol wanted my involvement throughout.

Some weeks ago  I selected some excerpts from the script to be given in advance to the actors invited to audition, so the readings weren’t ‘cold’. What has been most impressive is the array of interpretations of the characters these actors prepared – each relevant, credible, and illuminating aspects of the characters I had never anticipated. This is why theatre is a collaborative art: performance writers may write the script, but the flesh is provided by the creative engagement of the rest of the company – primarily the actors and director, but also the scenographer, the sound and lighting designers…

It was extraordinary to sit and hear so many different approaches to words I had written – some words which, prior to this,  had only been ‘voiced’ inside my head. Speeches I had written and which we had deliberately taken out of context to the whole (not identifying gender, or background, or situation) suddenly belonged to bodies and were given emotions and psychologies and ‘back-stories’. I saw how performers can create a whole world out of a short monologue in order to give it a logic and meaning – I saw how inventive and thorough and extraordinary they are. My appreciation of performers’ skills and imaginations grew and grew.

Now the auditions are over and Andrew is making his final decisions and negotiations. After many days and several cities, I sat this week in a bar opposite Sheffield Theatres with Susan and reflected on an extraordinary process. I took the photograph gracing the top of this post and invited Susan to guest-blog here, giving her perspective of the process. That post will appear shortly, as will the announcement of our cast. The preparation is almost over. Soon we will be deep into rehearsals and another very different process…

(c) Kaite O’Reilly 17/3/12   Happy St Patrick’s Day, all.

The Echo Chamber: responses and an ending

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Stage entrance, Chapter arts centre

And then it’s all over.

After working against the clock, striving to be ‘ready’, it’s all done and dusted, struck and got-out. The set is dismantled and packed away, set ungraciously at the back door of the theatre like so much tat heading for the jumble.

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The Echo Chamber set

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It’s always unsettling to see in the unforgiving light of day (as opposed to Ace McCarron’s painterly theatrical light) how little it takes to create an illusion.  The Welsh slate, old Singer sewing machine table, the supermarket bags for life crammed with bits of broken twig… Part of the design was informed by the Japanese aesthetic principle of Wabi-sabi, and these remnants do have a kind of desolate beauty:

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is beauty of things modest and humble. It is the beauty of things unconventional.”   Leonard Koren. Wabi-Sabit for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers.

So the set is dismantled, carted down the icy steps of Chapter, and packed away into cars. We all stand in the loading dock at the back of the arts centre, slightly startled at finding ourselves the other side of the project, and so soon. We hug, kiss, get into our separate cars with different destinations, and head off into the Sunday morning.

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What has been most fascinating about the project is the response to the work. The performance was challenging and non-linear, with content encompassing recent thinking in cosmology, notions of the infinite and ephemeral, and our place in a possible multiverse.

We have had groups of postgraduate and undergraduate students from South West England and throughout Wales; a charabanc of arts council officers; family members and curious strangers; academics and practitioners who have flown in from Italy and Japan; directors and producers of international arts festivals. It has been an extraordinary privilege to sit amongst this diverse audience night after night, experiencing the different reactions and energies.

On the penultimate night, I found myself sitting in the auditorium after the audience had departed, holding the hand of a quietly weeping stranger, who said the work had touched her ‘in the place beyond words’. When she had recovered enough to leave the theatre with me, I was met by a bemused friend who made a flying ‘over my head’ gesture and shrugged. ‘I have no idea what I just saw’ he said, with a strange mix of apology and frustration. Such polarised and strong responses to the same performance is fascinating…. It makes me wonder about this extraordinary and peculiar thing which we do….

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The Echo Chamber: Opening

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.Publicity image for The Echo Chamber

At the dress rehearsal on 26th January, I felt I was seeing the work for the first time. It always seems a paradox  – work that you know so intimately suddenly transforms, becoming itself once the lights and sound are in place and what we might call the performers’ score, fully embodied, comes to the fore.

Phillip and I wrestled with the programme notes, trying to condense the subject matter and its influences – which suddenly seemed to encompass everything from Quantum mechanics and Japanese Death poetry to Ernest Hemingway’s clipped, stilted dialogue from A Farewell to Arms – into a cohesive blurb. Flowers arrived. A reviewer emailed to arrange comp’ tickets. Tea was made. A soundtrack carefully arranged and selected by Peader was burnt onto several CDs. I swept the stage. The performers walked through some choreography. Ace ran a cue to cue. Coffee was made. Phillip and Ian began their warm-up for the premiere. I chose my seat carefully, then sat in the warm, quiet auditorium, emailing my sister, telling her this was one of my favourite moments in life – sitting in a warm, quiet auditorium as the performers warmed up on stage and the technician made his own preparations in the lighting box.

Ace put on the pre-show music and lights. Phillip and Ian went through some yoga sequences and breathed together, then went backstage to the dressing room. The house opened and the audience came in. The lights went down and the performance began.

PROGRAMME NOTES: THE ECHO CHAMBER

      Two men…something splintering through the skin.

      99% of the human body is made of just 6 elements…

        …something immeasurable is unaccounted for….

A poetic/performative meditation on time, memory, and our place in the universe. Informed by Quantum theory, and ancient/current thinking about matter, cosmology, and the infinite.

 Performers: Ian Morgan, Phillip Zarrilli

Text and dramaturgy by Kaite O’Reilly with contributions from the company

Direction and sound design by Peader Kirk

Design and Lighting by Ace McCarron

27-28 January, 2-4 February 2012, 8pm. Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.

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The Echo Chamber: The tech’: day one.

Technical rehearsals have a bad reputation: tiresome, long, interrupted, full of tension and bad tempers. Or so the theatre myth goes. I personally love this time of preparation and problem-fixing, of seeing ideas become flesh, but also, paradoxically, light and shadow…

Here are some photographs I took today, with a few soundbites from the company:

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Eleonora in backstage last minute preparations.

‘It’s a necessary step during creation: Giving colour to a black and white drawing.”  Eleonora Marzani, The Llanarth Group international intern.

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Ace’s notes on solving a lighting problem (rejected: he found another, better solution).

“The tech’ is where you convert the text and design and rehearsal into theatre.”     Ace McCarron, design/lighting for The Echo Chamber.

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Phillip going over his lines in the dressing room

“It’s the moment where you begin to make the show and you’re painting in the outlines of the actors and their work with sound and light. It’s the bit I most enjoy.”    Peader Kirk, director.

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Ian on stage.

The Echo Chamber premieres:

CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE (Cardiff) 27-28 January, 2-3-4 February, 2012, 8p.m. [Market Road, Cardiff CF5 1QE: 02920 304400 http://www.chapter.org

The Echo Chamber: getting in, getting ready

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Start of the get-in for The Echo Chamber, Chapter Arts Centre, 23rd Jan 2012.

It’s a moment I love – that first day of transition – starting the process of transferring the performance you’ve been working on into the actual space. The studio is blank, full of potential – props and set are stacked indiscriminately in piles across the floor. There’s a sense of possibility – and then we step across into the space, placing furniture, measuring, walking the diagonal, checking that everything is in the correct relationship, spiking the set once we feel confident of the placings, and trying out the sound system (there’s always a first burst of something inappropriate – in our case it was Abba. I’m sure the techies do this deliberately, as a panacea to the quiet reverence those like me feel on first day of the get-in).

It’s a time of all hands on deck, of learning new skills. Eleonora Marzani, the international intern who has been shadowing Phillip Zarrilli for the past six months, discovered unexpected talents with a drill and impromptu set making.

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Eleonora learning unexpected new skills

It’s the time for last minute script alternations and for sitting in an empty auditorium making a clean script for the designer, Ace McCarron.

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O’Reilly in the auditorium.,

It’s time to start transposing previous rehearsal spaces onto this one.

The Echo Chamber premieres:

CHAPTER ARTS CENTRE (Cardiff) 27-28 January, 2-3-4 February, 2012, 8p.m. [Market Road, Cardiff CF5 1QE: 02920 304400 http://www.chapter.org

The Echo Chamber – testing, checking, trying – 3rd week of rehearsals

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Ian Morgan in rehearsals for The Echo Chamber. All photographs Kaite O”Reilly

The last weekend before our move to Cardiff and final rehearsals and tech’ before opening. We have been scrutinising the structures (or ‘scenes’, or individual moments), asking what work they are doing dramaturgically.

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We have been asking what motifs each scene/structure establishes and what it seeds or contains re-action, aesthetic, meaning, complicity. This is done on the floor – us charting and navigating our way through sequences.

Phillip Zarrilli

Peader Kirk has also been working on a sound design, mixing and experimenting as Ian and Phillip move through their paces.

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I have been fine-tuning the texts – found, co-created, and written – trying different rhythms and combinations: scientific, poetic, prosaic and metaphysical, tracing the bedrock of images through the whole and the moments where they appear explicitly in the work.

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We have been trying out possible structures and running orders before small invited audiences in the rehearsal studio in Llanarth.

Tomorrow we run the whole once more before loading the cars and heading off to Chapter Arts Centre. 

And then we begin.

copyright 21/1/12 Kaite O’Reilly

The Echo Chamber: Dramaturgy and different kinds of text

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Peader’s hands, working with action and space.

The past few days in rehearsal I’ve been very aware of the different kinds of dramaturgy and the different kinds of text involved in making a collaborative piece.

We have a series of structures (or ‘scenes’) and we have begun to explore possible sequences and orders for The Echo Chamber. We are all working on the same structure, but with different modes of engagement. I’m struck by how each of us, with pens and scripts and books, are notating, exploring, working something out, or remembering.

Ian and Phillip make extensive notes which I assume are about their cues, movement, inner and physical scores; Ace, our designer and lighting designer, is drawing diagrams and thinking (I assume) in light and shade; Peader is drawing boxes, identifying how the space is used and activated during a sequence of structures; and I’m commenting on individual lines as they are voiced, thinking about the tempo-rhythm and flow of a sequence, and also thinking about the dramaturgy of the whole.

For a moment in the rehearsal room there is no noise but the scratch of pen on page. I almost laugh. And to think I thought I was the writer…

The Echo Chamber: rehearsal week one. Friday. Texts and physical structures.

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Ian Morgan and Phillip Zarrilli. Rehearsal photo. The Echo Chamber.           Photo KOR

Our process has been peripatetic and predominately movement-led so far. In our early days of collaboration, back in the Spring, material came from exercises led by Ian in which he and Phillip responded to each other in the space. ‘One moves, one responds’ has proven to be particularly fertile, but this is perhaps to be expected from two practitioners who can count training in Kerala in Kathakali dance theatre and Kalarippayyttu, in Paris with Monika Pagneux, and in Italy with Grotowski at his Workcenter between them.

Some weeks ago I began to write seriously in preparation for these rehearsals, trying to create possible text (usually in solo form – very little dialogue), which might become ‘moments’, or be added to physical sequences or structures. Much of the inspiration for that material was informed by some of the physical scores or motifs appearing in physical improvisations: a hand repeatedly stroking a beard; a seated, cross-armed stance combined with a tilted upwards look; the impulse to fall upwards or outwards; a hand, reaching; stillness.

I was not necessarily conscious of the potency of these physical actions when they occurred (in Berlin in April, in Wales in the spring. in London in November) – but was aware of their potential enough to note them, and for Ian, Peader and Phillip to keep returning to them. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the video also helped (although we had to get by solely on Ian and Phillip’s body memory and Peader and my notes from the work in Berlin, which was without video documentation).

What’s clear in our collaboration is this is co-created. This is not a ‘playwritten’ process, where I create a script and we then work from it; nor is this devising, where I formalise recorded character-based improvisations into text. This will be collaged work – physical structure and motifs combined with texts either spoken, sung, or used as inner scores or internal monologues which may never be spoken. At this point in our process, text may also be a bridging device from one state into the creation of another – to something very different, where that initial text may not be present.