Monday, 18 February 2013

An outside eye - working with Ellie Harrison

On Friday 15 February I had a very different, but no less productive, day with Ellie Harrison at The Carriageworks.

Ellie is acting as an outside eye on the show and I find her particularly helpful when it comes to thinking about the ideas and especially about the structure of the piece. We spent a lot of time pouring over the various bits of 'material', written, tried and tested, physical, musical and totally untried to get a sense of what I have. There was a lot.

Ellie asked a lot of probing questions including the hardest of all to answer; "What am I trying to say?"

She told me that I was being too harsh on myself and at the same time not hard enough... And yet, I still think maybe she was going a little easy on me. A lot of the material I have is too similar. It treads a lot of the same ground. We teased out a number of themes that play nicely together and I feel that there could be a strong 30-40 minutes in there. It was one of those days where you spend a lot of time re-arranging pieces of paper into a coherent order of sorts. And we did, for the most part, but there is still a rather large question mark over the end of the piece and consequently over my head.

What am I trying to say that I haven't already said? What is the big finish? Could that possibly be all there is to say?

I need to spend some time running in what I have and seeing if it works off the page as well it does laid out on a floor or in my head. I'm happy to say that the opening section from the very first Scratch seems to be holding strong as a nice foundation.

I'm looking forward to showing the first 20 minutes in a few weeks at First in Three at Northern Stage. I'm pretty sure that is the best test for the material. Especially if I mean what I say in the copy I wrote; I can't do it without an audience.

In the meantime, I have a photo shoot for the publicity image (and my website...) and lots to think about/try. Wish me luck.

No strings attached - workshop with Liz Walker

On Thursday 14 February I travelled to the wintry wilds of Holmfirth to spend the day with Liz Walker from Invisible Thread, in her barn on a very steep hillside.
The best thing about working with Liz, and what I really needed at the time, was that right from the offset she wanted to DO, to try things. I showed her what I had brought: my laptop, notebook, tapes, cassette players, a bouncy ball, some sand and other things we might use. We also had access to the incredible treasure trove of items in Liz's workshop. And so we played, quite unlike I have played so far in this process. I almost felt like a child again.

Obviously Liz's strengths lie in puppetry and visually articulating ideas using objects and a whole host of media. When I first started thinking about making One I had thoughts of invisible friends, sex dolls, substitutes for real relationships that cover the gaps in our lives. I was concerned about inhabiting a space alone and wanted to look into object manipulation to create other characters to play with. But things have changed quite a lot along the way and while I still worry about my ability to fill a stage I am also sure that I don't want to put things in place just to have something to hide behind. I had to finally let go of some ideas that have been with me from the start because they now feel like part of a different show, that I am no longer making. And even though I sort of knew this before I got there, I was adamant that I wanted to at least try them before I gave them up.

RIP Barry the Man(p)illow.

The show is developing a real identity, themes are beginning to emerge and in the end that is what Liz and I focused on. How the space might be defined and structured. What my relation to the space is. How the different elements/props cross the space and if they can cross 'barriers'. Ways of making a physical distinction between what is memory and what is in the present.

While I worry that Liz may have felt her real skills were not being put to use, I had a very positive day and came away feeling that I was moving in the right direction. Her input and constant questioning was incredibly useful in helping me work through some of the decisions I had made. To re-think some and to solidify others. And I would like to thank her for her energy and generosity.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Writer in residence - workshop with Kate Fox

On Friday 1st February I spent a day with Kate Fox. All part of my grand plan to learn from other artists, to bring fresh energy in to the rehearsal room and to explore other processes in the making of One.

Kate has recently turned her writing and comedic talents to making theatre and I was interested to hear how/if her process had changed much as a result.

We spent some time on creating material from stream of consciousness, how applying an attitude (we worked with the seven deadly sins for a while) to a perfectly ordinary situation can create humour. We played with 'it's worse than that' and took ideas to the absolute worst case scenario. Just so you know, if the show bombs and I damage my reputation so badly I can no longer be a theatre maker and I end up as a cancerous prostitute, living in a doorway... I told you so!

Exaggeration is fun and freeing. I really think there may be room for this in the piece in order to soften the blow of the more melancholy aspects of being alone.  

I was also interested in her experience of stand-up and how she felt this enhanced her theatre performances.
We talked a lot about autobiographical material and the risks/fears involved. What we felt we could and couldn't share. I am particularly concerned about revealing personal things about myself that may lead to me being judged, or worse pitied, by the audience thereby tainting the rest of the show.  But I am also aware that for a connection to feel real and for the work to have impact I need to be honest. Kate suggested that if I held anything back the audience would be able to tell.

I think this is where her experience in stand-up comes in. She had strong opinions on the liveness of the live experience and offered a particularly painful example of a performer losing her trust by referring to another audience member's physical appearance making it clear they weren't really looking at or talking about them at all. She couldn't understand why and I can totally understand her dislike of entirely scripted interactions that could be shown to any audience in any location and never change. What she and I both love is a genuine connection, acknowledgement of the current shared space. To quote open space technology, "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened". A little more freedom to be real and responsive. To be truly live takes confidence that you can control your audience. Perhaps that is the gift of the comedian?

We spent some time watching a selection comedians entrances, noticing how most acknowledge the audience directly, often refer to the room or city and make comment about someone in the room. As if to say, "Yes, I am really here. With you."

This has made me very conscious of my audience interactions because as a frequent attender of small studio spaces I know how quickly we can tell when we are being talked at or near rather than to. I don't think I am in danger of making a piece of performance that could happen anywhere and that members of the audience will feel that they might as well have not been there but how much more rich might it feel for them to feel it was specific to them. That their experience, even if part of a tour, was unique. I wonder if I can produce that in my show? I hope so.

I'd really like to thank Kate for her time and generosity, and Annabel at ARC for making it happen.