Week 2 – Introduction to Collaborative Theatre Making

Monday – The Genesis of Work Continued

The morning warm-up saw a return to keep-uppy with a tennis ball and circuits.

I noticed today that the eight stations were mirrored to last weeks circuit, by which, I mean in the way in that they were laid out. Each exercise focused on a specific and targeted body part. I feel like because of this, I have a better understanding of the structure of this as a warm-up task and that I now have a useful template for running circuits that I can adapt and use for myself in my own practice when leading and facilitating a room. I also have a better idea of which body parts to focus on conditioning.

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Circuit Template

The energy in the room during today’s warm-up was fantastic and everybody was very vocal and encouraging of each another. This cultivated a positive atmosphere and an environment built on success ‘Always forward, never back’. The return to circuits gave us an opportunity to really kick-start the week, to see how they can be customised and to measure our progress one week on. I think its fair to say the majority of people in the room found this much easier than the previous weeks set of circuits. I certainly did!

Having been put through our paces physically we turned our focus again to the genesis of Frantic’s work.

Scott began by shedding some light into the creative process that underpinned Frantic’s show The Believers. I was intrigued, because I had taken a copy of the script and recorded copy of the show home the previous week. I really struggled to get-into the text and decided maybe watching it instead would help me process the work more effectively. I felt completely disconnected. Maybe it was because I was tired, or perhaps I had wanted it to be a show more synonymous with their previous works? All I can say was, I really didn’t think this was a piece of theatre for me!

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As Scott discussed in finer detail, some of the influences that shaped the work such as: MAMA by Guillermo del Toro, the horror genre in general and the story of the Nigerian boy – Christi Bambio, who was accused of being  a witch. I began to understand this work, its complexities, which allowed me to appreciate it a lot more than I did initially. I don’t know if like the choreography explored in Round-By-Through that I needed more time to process? But it was a relief to be able to return to this work with a fresh perspective. The distorted and reversed physicality featured in the show made a lot more sense having viewed MAMA and I could also see the influence that this short film had on the lighting design for the piece.

Scott also flagged up The Believers ‘Bibliography of Inspiration’ which is outlined in the back of the shows educational resource pack. It is now standard practice for Frantic to outline the influences on their shows in these resource packs.  I found this interesting because it reinforced yet again, the importance of creating a palate of references and resources for all stakeholders to engage with as part of the creative process. I was surprised at how varied this list of references was! Popular culture shows such as; Family Guy and the film; Team America, at some point within the creative process on The Believers helped generate a deeper understanding of the story and helped move the work forward in rehearsals. These references helped unlock moments in the rehearsal room and gave a collective clarity to the work.

This also linked back to what Adrian Sutton had said in the previous week about developing pallets in preparation for making work. In my own practice, the work that has been most fruitful and successful has always been supported by a clear understanding on the works influence. Keeping Spotify playlists, YouTube playlists and Pinterest boards for everybody involved to engage with has always been useful! I will endeavour to be more explicit with this in the future and aim to outline my own bibliographies of inspirations much earlier in my own process. I also appreciate that this is an ongoing process, but having a strong palate from the outset is something I aim on doing in the future.

‘Things I Know to Be True’ a collaboration between Frantic Assembly and writer Andrew Bovell, threw up another example of how influential source material can be in a productions early development. Scott revealed that as part of this shows creative process a book of photographs by Gregory Crewdson were taken into the Research and Development process. Having watched the piece at The Lyric it is incredibly clear how these images have affected and influenced the piece’s aesthetics and narrative. This again for me, highlights the necessity of taking a pro-active outward and open-looking approach to the world. You never know where inspiration for an idea or show is lurking!

Gregory Crewdson’s Photography – Google Images

We finished the day thinking about methods for generating text. First we looked at a technique I am really familiar with called ‘Free-Writing’ which is sometimes referred to as ‘Automatic-Writing’. Essentially this method requires you to write non-stop for a period of time, that you can either stipulate for yourself, or alternatively have designated for you. you can respond to a specific word, a theme, an image or just about anything. You can also just write and allow yourself to generate a stream of sub-conscious thoughts. I have used this before as a tool to un-block myself. it’s also a great way of introducing new groups to the concept of writing their own material. It’s a very liberating process and even if the results are terrible, it’s writing that you will never write again!! you have nothing to lose! I also feel free-writing can be a great way to warm-up. Simon showed us a piece of text that had been created collaboratively using free-writing. I thought this was really interesting, because I had never thought of using it in this way. It shows just how flexible the technique is and is something that I am looking forward to trying in my own practice should an opportunity arrive.

Another method shared for producing text was questionnaires. Frantic have an example of this in the Frantic Assembly Book of Devising. The questions are pretty varied. Some of them are fairly personal and some of them a quite light-hearted. Scott pointed out that this was a great way to keep a group focused and a way of allowing a group to remain open in their responses to the questions. One example of this was the question “How many Maltesers could you fit in your mouth?” They almost act as ice-breakers and enable a group to warm to the task. Again, once compiled, the responses can be converted very easily into a play text, which can be explored and developed. I loved this idea and thought that it would be great exercise to run with a group of individuals new to theatre-making!

Tuesday – The Otherworldly, The Crooked Path and The Creative Process

Another go at keepy-uppy and still some way off that elusive 100!

A quick blast of Tabata training (which I really like, and will definitely be using in my own future warm-ups) and we were into an exercise that I recognised, which Frantic call ‘Quad’. It’s great exercise for getting heat into the body, for playing with patterns and for developing unison. I expected the exercise to develop in the way in which I had previously learned it. I was however caught completely off-guard by the instruction to add movements that were completely different to the ones I was familiar with. Not only this, but we were challenged to complete the movements in-between counts. I really struggled with this! I managed to get stuck in my own head and couldn’t get the movements into my body. I liked seeing how flexible Quad was and enjoyed being challenged in a different way. I do realise that following counts can be a real weakness. I know I am much better at this kind of work when I relax and try to feel the movements rather than think too much about them.

The rest of the morning was spent exploring the concepts of weightlessness and gravity. How can you make somebody fly? And how is it possible to set up metaphysical illusions for the stage? We stormed through some examples that have been used in the show ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime’ which Frantic provided movement direction for. The first was the moment in which Christopher the shows central protagonist fly’s through space and imagines himself wearing a jetpack. A couple of things were really important in the execution of all of this. The first was the contact with fellow performers, again the concept of ‘Push-Hands’ was vital to the slices in execution and in enabling physical communication between participants. I thing the other important factor was visualisation. It was crucial for the person either flying through the air or jolting around in a jetpack to really buy into the illusion and commit to the characters reality. Commitment is actually another key word, as the person being lifted really needs to commit to the idea of being lifted and utilise their core strength in order for these lifts to be executed with a sense of ease.

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Preparation for ‘Flying’ and lift work

We also explored the idea of using surfaces to set-up physical illusion. As part of this we were shown the technique required for the wall-walk featured in Curious Incident. This lift technically more advanced. It’s something that I have tried facilitating in the past, but failed in executing it successfully. I think the trick with this particular lift is hand placement. Resistance, weight distribution and pushing in the correct places are also significant. But its vital that those conducting the lift place their hands on the hip, under the arm-pit and that their hands are used to guide the wall-walkers feet onto the wall. The lift itself has an enormous impact visually, it’s very impressive and truly gives the sense of the other worldly, which is vital in theatre if it is to push boundaries!

The morning was rounded off playing with ‘strops’ a type of equipment used frequently in circus. Playing with strops required the use of counterbalance and working out the correct levels of weight distribution were essential in creating the effect that we were looking to achieve. Once we had mastered the quality and sensation of this, we began to play around with the idea of the ‘other-worldly’ Additional performers worked to manipulate the strops almost like a puppeteer to explore theatrical moments. We investigated the possibilities of the strops to create illusions and experimented with ideas and played freely to see what we could find.

I absolutely loved them as a tool to create surreal images. I found them very versatile as a theatrical device and felt they offered something highly original physically. The video below shows Scott demonstrating the ‘otherworldly’ qualities the strops can offer. This moment looked really eerie, haunting and powerful. I’d love to explore the use of strops for performance for our advanced module.

Strops are featured heavily in Frantic’s show The Believers. They were used as a device to support the paranormal ideas and themes inherent within the show. We were shown a fantastic example in which the two couples in the piece, who were all connected with strops, counterbalanced each others weight and used this tension to lower themselves into  a sitting potion. This gave the impression that there was a dinner table on stage. It was a really impressive moment and again related back to something I discussed in a previous post about the element of surprise in theatre. How can you astonish an audience and achieve a reversal (where everything an audience things they know, they don’t!)

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Dinner Scene using Strops from – The Believers

Trying to take your artistic vision from an idea through to the finished product can be very daunting. Sometimes as artists, we can be very set and headstrong on what the finished product is or should be and concern ourselves only with a specific idea. The ‘Crooked Path’ is a way of approaching work that has been conceptualised by Scott that tackles and challenges a more direct approach to developing work. The Crooked Path offers an alternative, non-linear and in some cases, a more open and flexible approach to creating work, certainly in my opinion anyway.

Scott cited two specific examples of where the Crooked Path had played an important part in the creation of Frantic’s work. The first was during the creative process that led to the iconic ‘bed scene’ in the show ‘Lovesong’ This scene sees all four performers collide, in a beautiful, ethereal and at times, chaotic piece of choreography that explored both the past and present stories that had taken place in the marital bed. The first step onto the Crooked Path involved both couples individually exploring material together in a taped out square in the rehearsal room. Further material was then developed step-by-step in threes and then eventually with both couples working together on movement sequences, until finally it was revealed that the sequence would be performed on a bed, which of course changed the dynamic and quality of the movements generated even further.

For me this thinking keeps the process, open, alive and kinetic. It enables you to be surprised by the performers you are working with. Approaching work with no set or concrete expectations is a liberating outlook. It’s still vital that you have the essence of what you want, but the outlet of invoking the performers responses, using them and harnessing them to help you navigate your way through a play is a very empowering and appealing ideology.

Wednesday – Connect/Affect/Disconnect

I was really glad that we had the opportunity to explore the ‘Connect/Affect/Disconnect’ exercise employed within Frantic’s current touring production ‘This Will All Be Gone’ I took this productions resource pack home with me earlier in the week and was immediately drawn to this exercise as a devising tool. I found obvious parallels with Round-By-Through and recognised the links to the ‘Building Blocks’ process, which has been heavily present as an approach in the work explored over the last 10-days. I also really engaged with this show’s ‘Bibliography of Inspiration’ The project drew influence from Geoff Ryman’s book ‘253’ a book that I have always felt held enormous potential as a source of stimuli for a show. The piece also took inspiration from the Film ‘Run Lola Run’ which plays with concepts of time and how events can be played out with various results based on individual decisions.

Having a go at the exercise yielded results immediately. Material was generated in an instant and simplistic way. This was the first building block; Playing with a simple structure and instruction. From here we were able to explore alternate possibilities within the task. What would happen if we included more than one individual as the central figure? etc

Creatively I felt that I was able to communicate ideas fluently and articulately to my peers. I also feel that I took on board feedback openly and positively, which allowed the group to collaborate effectively on the task. We were restricted by time, I finished still with an urge to continue exploring and experimenting with the movement and material generated. I wanted to play with scale, the idea of taking performer away and the idea that the central figure in the piece is suspended in the air throughout the sequence. Although we didn’t get time to explore all this, I feel positive that I ended with more ideas and a hunger to continue working!

In the afternoon we were visited by Lighting Designer – Andy Purves, Video Designer – Ian William Galloway and Producer Stephanie Connell. This was another opportunity to hear from exciting artists who have thrived by taking a collaborative approach themselves to theatre-making. Much of what was discussed echoed previous visits from; Adrian Sutton, Carolyn Dowling and Simon Stephens. All artists expressed the importance of clear and open communication in the early stages of creation and Research and Development. For all three, discussions on what ‘we’ want to achieve with the resources were also essential. All three, talked again about the merit of building up pallets of ideas for shows and storing these for other projects if they are deemed irrelevant or whatever.

All of the visits over the last 2-weeks have been illuminating. Each practitioner has shed light on what a co-collaborator may find useful in the research and development stages of a project and indeed the rehearsals. Some of the tips and advice has been surprisingly simple. What is the kernel of the idea? What is the essence of what you’re communicating? But then I think these simple conversations and questions are often overlooked as artists can often place too much emphasis on the end goal. It made me think how important it was for every member of the production team to tread the crooked path and how ideas should be given room to breath and to be fully investigated.

Thursday – Passives and Scoring

In the morning we explored an exercise that Scott referred to as ‘Passives’ it entailed a performer/participant lying on the floor and started with other participants manipulating the performers body in ‘unfamiliar’ positions. During this exploration I was selected as the performer to be manipulated. I found this very therapeutic. It felt good to be moved into different positions and into a physicality that my body may not naturally inhabit. Having explored this first building block, the exercise moved into setting movements and required every participant to find clarity with the movements and for me the performer o the floor to recall and retain the sequence. Once learnt I practised the movements to find a continual flow and fluidity to the movement.

Having learnt the sequence we came together as a collective to workshop the material generated. Breaking presumptions and playing with scale, focus, pace and music allowed the material to be developed and explored. It was hard to have too much perspective on what was happening as I was going through the movements. But the feedback and response discussed was that the movements had an otherworldly feel to it.

Chloe was used as the performer in the other working group and ran through the sequence created. As a way of pushing the material the group wanted to see what happened when both my sequence and Chloe’s ran at the same time. At first the sequences ran in real opposition and it was felt that if we changed positions then they might work in complicate more. This simple alteration made a staggering difference. The movements began to sync up in places and the shapes of the movements complimented each other perfectly. It made me think how patent you have to be when making work. Sometimes, a simple alteration is all that is needed. it’s important not to throw things away if they don’t work right away. I will definitely bear this in mind in future.

The mornings work was capped off with a brief discussion about sound-tracking and scoring. Frantic, for me, have always been well-known for their use of music in their productions. Music choices in their work often has the capacity to drive the piece forward or perfectly captures the mood, tone and essence of a single moment. Personally, I am really interested in the role that sound can play in a production. A fundamental part of my own practice is to play with music both before and within rehearsals. It was reassuring to learn that like myself, Frantic compiles playlists for their shows. It was also affirming that real consideration is made into what the music selected actually does and what qualities it possesses. One thing that stood out in this discussion was the idea of focusing on a specific composer. Scott talked about how he tries to identify a composer that captures the entire essence of a show. In Othello it was the band Hybrid. Chosen because of their innate ability to fuse a classical sound with urban beats. In Lovesong Rene Aubury’s shimmering sound reflected many of the motif’s carried through the play. What was interesting in this instance was that Scott had identified this ‘shimmering’ sound first whilst watching the animated adaptation of The Gruffalo. Another fine example of how inspiration lurks in the strangest of places sometimes.

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