Tag Archives: devising processes

Diary of a collaboration….

Sunhee Kim, Jing Okorn-Kuo, Regina Crowley, Bernie Cronin and Jeungsook Yoo in The Llanarth Group's Studio. [Playing] The Maids

Sunhee Kim, Jing Okorn-Kuo, Regina Crowley, Bernie Cronin and Jeungsook Yoo in The Llanarth Group’s Studio. [Playing] The Maids

What an astonishing and intense eight days research and development…

The end of August 2013 has been marked by a week of making, playing, devising, scripting, montaging, collaborating and sharing work in progress with two audiences of [Playing] The Maids, a collaboration between three companies and nine artists from four countries: South Korea (Theatre P’Yut), Ireland (Gaitkrash), Wales (The Llanarth Group) and Singapore.

Each collaborator brought ‘entry points’ to devising, informed by their interpretation of themes from Genet’s The Maids. This may have been a piece of music from cellist Adrian Curtin, or a sound environment created by Mick O’Shea and Adrian for the performers to respond to and dialogue with; sometimes it was found or created text, images, choreography or traditional dance from the individual’s cultural background. The points of entry into collaboration were each explored and shared, and by mid-week we had a list of thirty possible structures (‘scenes’ or components) we could develop further.

At a dramaturgy meeting mid-week Sunhee Kim, Phillip Zarrilli, Bernie Cronin, Regina Crowley and I sat down and worked through the list Phillip and I had compiled, as outside eyes, of the list of raw materials. We identified different compartments including Text, Structured Improvisations, Physical scores/ choreography and ‘mixed’. We then revised each structure, prioritising some for further development that week, and shelving others for future development in a later part of the project. Already some elements were coming together as possible sequences, which we scheduled for montage and further exploration the next two days.

By Saturday, our sixth day together, we had approximately 80 minutes worth of material, some scripted and choreographed, others improvised, which we shared with a small invited audience in the Llanarth Group’s studio in west Wales. It was an informal presentation to artists and those predominantly working in performance, talking through part of the process and putting very raw work up before an audience for the first time. This part of the procedure was immensely fruitful, but not one I would recommend for inexperienced practitioners or a ‘general’ audience. The work can be very delicate so early on in development, and it takes robust, experienced practitioners and knowledgeable, supportive audience members to ensure the work isn’t bruised by such early exposure. Our experience was extremely helpful and informative, and we instantly learnt lessons about the work, the montage, and areas for further revision and development.

[Playing] The Maids performers with Mick O'Shea, Y llofft, Chapter Arts Centre

[Playing] The Maids performers with Mick O’Shea, Y llofft, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Sunday morning we drove in convey to Cardiff and our second informal sharing at Y llofft, Chapter Arts Centre. Informed by the sharing the day before, we revised the structures, trying out new formations and dynamics in a new space. As the larger invited audience arrived, we showed three sequences, in some cases trying out new things for the first time, which was an exhilarating experience for the company as well as the audience. We received extremely positive feedback from the audience afterwards, who were also predominantly made up of those involved in live performance – performers, practitioners and educators. It was an affirming and triumphant end to an extraordinary week, and the company members dispersed to the train station, the night ferry, and Heathrow airport affirmed and extremely excited about the next phase of the development, scheduled for 2014.

In praise of multi-tasking collaboration

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2011.

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2010.

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Increasingly I believe we have to be producer, fund-raiser, tour manager, and publicist as well as whatever our prime role may be (writer, director, performer, etc), in order to have some form of career. I am a playwright and dramaturg, yet some of the more successful projects I’ve been involved with, with real longevity, have been as co-creator with The Llanarth Group, in West Wales. There, I am officially the resident dramaturg, but also maker of good, strong tea, writer of performance text alongside press releases, ‘outside eye’ when necessary, documenter, publicist, and doer of whatever may need doing, frankly. And I love it. I love the new skills it brings to me, and the reawakening of old ones. I love the lack of hierarchy, but rather, the sense of cooperation and collaboration.

Working in this way is demanding, but also puts the artist very much in control. I’m often out of my element when I work with more conventional companies, or building-based theatres, where everyone has their particular role and task. I probably drive everyone demented for the first few days until I adjust to the culture of the company, and realise certain things may be considered inappropriate for me to do – ie, shut up and sit down, O’Reilly, they have a director or marketing department or stage manager to do ‘that’…

I feel immensely fortunate to have worked in both self-generated cooperative dynamics, as well as with theatre organisations, and am increasingly aware of the different skills set and cultures needed for each. Also, with the ever-depressing news of cuts in the arts, I’m aware so much more activity in future really may be this DIY version – so the sooner we get skilled-up for being Renaissance women and men, the better.

This all came to my mind when I came across an extract of ‘Told By the Wind’, a piece I made with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland, on Vimeo. Filmed in the inner sanctum of the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw, Poland – The Apocalypsis Room (‘more the altar than a theatre space,’ as one of the resident technicians said). We performed there in 2011, to a huge audience squeezed in around the floor stage lights (‘I’m so sorry, you’ll have to move. If you sit there, right in front of the lantern, we won’t see the performers,’ I had to say on more than one occasion. I added more skills on this tour; usher and bouncer).

This short performance, informed by Japanese aesthetics of Quietude, is still in the repertory and still touring internationally. I’m not sure how I missed it before now on the net, but hope you may enjoy Jo Shapland’s terrific solo of the devised section we called ‘verb dance’.

http://vimeo.com/20741448

‘I must seek accidents’ – Maya Krishna Rao on surprise and invention.

The fantastic theatre maker, Kathakali performer, teacher and Theatre in Education practitioner Maya Krishna Rao. 

I am working in Berlin, as a fellow of Freie University’s International Research Centre: Interweaving Performance Cultures. Earlier this week I attended a talk and presentation by Maya Krishna Rao, whose words on process and creativity were illuminating and exhilarating.

I have known Maya and her work for almost ten years. She is phenomenally versatile, this invention and flexibility coming from her training since a child in Kathakali Dance Drama. This in itself is unusual, as females traditionally aren’t given Kathakali training, but Maya was then taught the male roles, where she insists the richness is. ‘It is my greatest pleasure and privilege that my Mother is a dancer… She brought me up like a commando,’ Maya said. ‘The energy of Kathakali is the energy of inspiration.’

‘I must seek accidents, as much of my work came from them… In my work, when teaching at National School of Drama [in Delhi], when working drama in a classroom, I have to keep sensing the surprise, which is what the accident is.’

Her performance work is improvised, working often alone with a video camera, and music. What sparks her when starting out is the tension between the small and the big. The small might be a tiny event, or a prop or object which is of use; the big is an historical landscape, and it is the tension between these, disparate things coming together, which can surprise and create the initial spark.

Each new project needs to bring a new challenge, and she asks ‘what is the unknown?’ For The Job, an adaptation of a short story by Brecht about a woman who worked as a male night watchman for many years, the unknown was using her voice.

She described setting a task for herself – that she would speak non-stop  during the hours of improvisation, filming herself as she moved through the tasks of cooking, eating, bathing, talking non-stop although at the start she felt self-conscious about her voice. But she stayed true to the task, and worked through her self-consciousness and ambivalence towards her voice, and material began appearing, memories, text, nursery rhymes. She felt that these must be connected in some way to the developing piece, and had faith in her improvisations.

As she described this process, I was struck by the way she stayed true to the tasks she had set herself, and trusted both herself and the process, even though she was in the midst of creating it.

There is no doubt the foundation from which Maya works is provided by her Kathakali training, but even for those without such deep practice, some points can be drawn out.

So often I have heard of solo artists ‘cheating’ on themselves, cutting corners, failing to do what they set out to do, or, most often, giving up on the work owing to self-consciousness, or lack of focus and discipline. It is a massive task just to get up and put in the hours when working alone, creating raw material, especially when young in career. Self-doubt so easily sets in, or boredom, which is why Maya’s insistence of finding ‘the accident’ which surprises; the juxtaposition which creates tension is so valuable and important to remember – and the promise to complete the task set for ourselves – and to trust eventually something will come through so long as we are patient and work at it.

She spoke about the preparation required to begin work. She said she can’t sit at a desk and think of the big and small. Her inner word is prepared with the breath. ‘You prepare and get into limbo, but you can only do that if you have the rhythm. Get the beat, sense the gaps, and then surprise yourself by doing something – and then you can inspire yourself into the inner and the outer worlds.’

For more information on Maya Krishna Rao, please go to:

http://mayakrishnarao.blogspot.de/

One hundred and fifty ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 97-101.

Further quotations and pieces of advice from established writers, taken from interviews, festivals, and articles…. Writing one hundred rules has almost taken a year, and  I’ve enjoyed compiling this so much, rather than finish the series here at one hundred, I’ve cheated and increased it to one hundred and fifty… Hope you continue to enjoy some of the gems I’ve gathered over the years…

97.   A true story can be falsified in the telling. Language is lazy, it wants to revert to what’s obvious, to what’s been said before, to short cuts…There’s no secret, of course, to writing a good story. But to strive against the clichés of perception and expression, to work to get down something true in words – this is the only place to start. (Tessa Hadley).

98.  Aim for a story that is both surprising and satisfying. The only thing worse than reading a novel and feeling like you know exactly what’s going to happen is reading a novel and feeling unfulfilled at the end — like what happened wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Your readers invest themselves in your story. They deserve an emotional and intellectual payoff.

99.   I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it. (Ray Bradbury).

100.   Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type. (Margaret Atwood).

101.  I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. (G.K. Chesterton). 

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: 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