Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Still devoted and still disgruntled

What a great, useful, inspiring, passionate, frustrating, intelligent, generous and fruitful weekend. Improbable, as ever, created a welcoming, open space to meet, rub ideas up against each other and see what sticks.

I met some very interesting people, heard some great ideas, heard about other people's projects, thought about my own work and my place in this world. And I feel refreshed. Ready to create. I am looking forward to getting back in to the rehearsal space this week. 

I attended a rich variety of sessions and heard people speaking from the heart and from experience about topics such as the benefits of Scratch, ticket pricing and value, talking about what we do, solo performance making, autobiographical work, getting audiences to act and making/telling stories. I won't go into detail about all the sessions I attended you can read all the reports online here. Warning, there is a lot of passion to be found on those pages.

And once again, if you have the chance to attend a Devoted & Disgruntled/Open Space event you really should.

Friday, 11 January 2013

What a difference a workshop makes.

The other day I took part in a workshop at ARC, Stockton Arts Centre. It was run by physical theatre company Tangled Feet. I'd heard of them but not seen any of their work before. 

I wanted to go because it is ALWAYS fun to do a workshop and to meet new artists (besides I made a belated New Year's Resolution to myself to say yes to as many artistic things as possible). It also fitted with the process of making One, the idea of participating in 'skills labs' with a variety of practitioners. This workshop was an opportunity to play with a company whose work is predominantly physical. As well as an opportunity to learn this was an chance to get out of my own head, lay off the words and use my body for a change. 

In all honesty the exercises we were put through, on the whole, were not new to me but the whole workshop was a real pleasure. The company ethos of total collaboration, that all members regardless of roles have input in to the creation of the work really comes across and they were just a really great, easy-going bunch to be around. And I never felt talked down to. This was sharing, not teaching (note to self: good to remember in case I ever have to run one of these things).

The group were quickly put at ease (I don't think I was the only one to be relieved that the workshop wasn't full of nubile 17 olds but mature artists like myself) and the two hours just flew by. After a short intro to the company, their history and methodology we did some warm up games, a short physical warm up and then we were into some material generation exercises. 

We looked at everyday tasks, at simple interactions and how as an audience we naturally look for meaning and create narrative. How simple, physical movements can be interpreted even without any 'acting' and how groups moving together with simple instructions can start to build pictures. The company talked about how these exercises, and similar, allow them to build a pallet of images from which to create a show.

While none of this was ground-breaking I began to think about the limitations of words and what scope there was in this for a person making work alone. Could I set myself tasks, video them and see if any images leapt out at me? But with no-one else to instruct or react to could I really lose myself in the movement? Could I bring together a group of artists/friends (as Leeds' company Uncanny have done this week in fact) and use them to help me create my own pallet of images? How useful would this be, knowing it would only be me performing it at the end of the day? Would I be in danger of creating something I could never recreate?

I am glad I made the effort to go to Stockton for this short workshop. It was just what I needed to start the year. It was utterly refreshing to a) do rather than think and b) to work visually/physically. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will do my best to take what I can into the rehearsal space with me in a couple of weeks. It's already got me thinking...

Sunday, 6 January 2013

On reflection - a review of 2012

It seems appropriate (and popular) to use the time of year to look back and reflect on the previous year. As things were a little tough in the middle/latter stages of the year for me I have been a little reluctant to do this but looking over my blog posts for 2012 I am reminded that I was involved in a great number of very positive things.
Photograph by Matt Tullett

So, and in no particular order, here are a few of them:

  1. At the beginning of June I was lucky enough to be selected to be one of 24 artists to play and make work over 24 hours at Contact Theatre for 24 Arty People. Contact's offering was so completely generous - opening up their entire building for us to enjoy and offering numerous members of staff to make it easy for us to do whatever we wanted to do. It was utterly joyful and introduced me to new artists and friends.
  2. In May i was selected to go to Northern Stage in Newcastle and pitch for Title Pending. I was thrilled to be invited but quickly realised when I got there that I wasn't ready. There time scale would not work for me and vice versa. However, this was the first test of my ideas for 'One' and as such it was really useful.  It was also a statement to my peers (and myself) that I am a serious, professional theatre maker and that that is the career I intend to pursue.
  3. In June I also discovered I had won one of the Emerge Mentored Commissions to develop 'One' over a year. This was an important first step as it was this injection of cash and support which undoubtedly led to me being able to successfully apply for Arts Council funding over the summer.
  4. October was very tough for me but when I heard about the open call for a community choir to record backing vocals for Hope and Social's new album I knew it was something I should do. I've always loved to sing. It is something I do a lot when I am alone. Also, having watched Gavin's workplace choirs I was convinced by the uplifting power of communal singing. I'd come across Hope and Social when they made Bring The Happy with Invisible Flock. They provided the music for the celebratory, raucous, party of a theatre show in 2011. The day was so open and the band created such a welcoming atmosphere. Everyone was encouraged to bring food to share and the day was full of fun. Not everything we recorded made the final edit sadly but every time I listen to the album I am uplifted, just as I was that day.
  5. I'm a big believer in Devoted & Disgruntled, an event which creates a unique space for everyone with an interest in theatre to talk about anything they think is important. It's a conference without hierarchies. No key speakers. A space where artistic directors sit alongside students, where Guardian critics sit alongside administrators and everyone has a voice. I went to two this year. The annual event in London in February and the roadshow event in Leeds in October. The fact that they weren't great for me is more to do with the head space I was in than any doubts I have about these events. It's all about possibilities and BEING THERE. There aren't many other events that get all of those people in the same room at the same time, so what happens there might be a small shift in opinion or the beginning of a whole new collaboration but it is always worth making the effort for. In fact I am heading to the annual London event later this month so watch this space for a debrief...
  6. In November I went to a fantastic workshop/sharing for Furnace at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Unlimited Theatre were hosting and managed to create a very open and accepting space for play. The group was very mixed and as with Devoted & Disgruntled I was very pleased to see lots of new faces (of all ages). There were early sharings of work in development and a joyfully, unruly attempt to make a group piece of theatre based on a few small rules. The conversations and joy flowed well in to the night as many of us found ourselves dancing til the wee small hours.
  7. 2012 was a fantastic year for 'The Reservation'. Although Ellie and I didn't do a lot of gigs the ones we did were very well accepted and culminated in a fabulous 4 star review from Guardian critic Lyn Gardner. She followed this up with another mention in an article on the therapeutic power of theatre in releasing grief a week later and finally inclusion in an end of year round up. This article named our teeny weeny show alongside the RSC and Stan's Cafe. It's incredible to think that we made such an impression on someone who is so well regarded. I cannot express how proud I am to have made this gently affecting show. 
  8. I started making my first solo show 'One'. On occasion I think I might be mad but mostly I am enjoying constructing something from scratch. playing with ideas and form, enjoying being in front of an audience again. This is something that comes from me. Perhaps this is the ultimate act of egotism but I think it is more than that. It feels like a rite of passage. That after this, whether a roaring success or a crashing failure, I will truly be able to call myself a theatre maker. It's terrifying and glorious. 2012 is where is started and its already changed a lot. 2013 is where it will come to life and I am pretty excited.