Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Woods/The Wake December

Last year we were invited to bring The Woods back to mac as part of their 50th Birthday celebrations in 2012. We originally made it early in 2011 and opened it in the bleak month of February. People loved dropping into the installation to sit and think, to play, to feel a connection to the outside and nature in the dark months.

This year we are opening the installation on the 1st December, in the run up to the festive season, and our performance, which takes place in The Woods opens on 6th December. It is a different performance from last time, and is called The Wake. In 2011 the performance, along with the installation, was called The Woods (which caused some confusion), but it was the leading influence on the making of the installation, and so felt appropriate. We made a beautiful, and at times very hard to watch performance, which cut to the bone, and was described by a reviewer as " a courageous piece - a blast of cold air". He was right. as well as being an important and moving piece it was difficult to make, demanded a lot from the performers and took a lot of emotion from us as a team. The payback of this was to have made something that deeply touched our audiences and genuinely looked at grief and our capacity to deal with it as humans. It was difficult to watch. It was too fragile as a piece (sometimes hitting its peak, sometimes missing). And I'm glad we made it.

In June we decided not to revisit The Woods performance as it was in 2011, but to make something different that is influenced by the beginning of the previous performance. The Wake will be a celebration of the passing year, we will be making an extended eulogy with dynamic input from our audience. It will be a cross between a party, a collaborative live construction of an astounding event and a  performance of wonderful musical and poetic brightness.

As you can tell I am very excited. We are working with a great team. The excellent and very funny Francesca Millican-Slater will be hosting our audience, with music by the charismatic singer/musician and theatre maker Sam Fox (of Kindle Theatre) and Ricardo Rocha a wonderful Portuguese musician. As usual Ben Pacey will be providing beautiful lighting and giving his excellent writing and editing skills to the process too. And Barney George will be popping in to give us his astute design advice.
With this team I feel I can get very close to creating a great blend of performance, year review, political comment and carefully crafted collaboration/celebration with our audiences.

As usual for us audience numbers are limited, so book early. See you there from the 6th - 15th December

The last 8 months

It been a good 8 months since I lasted posted - I never have been a very consistent on a communication front...
Much of that time has been spent planning and prepping and taking time for a good patch of questioning with the help of the brilliant Thomas Wildish who is working at a strategic level as a producer for JPC.
We've also shown A Thousand Shards of Glass at A.E Harris in Birmingham and taken it to Edinburgh as part of Northern Stage's fantastic venue at St Stephen's (the old Aurora Nova).
This was my first Edinburgh with my own show there, which was a very different, and good experience. Kind of most fantastic of all was the brilliance of Lucy Ellinson who performed our show and then went straight into set up for Will Eno's Oh The Humanity. It was a lesson in both versatile acting and professionalism, and I think everyone who saw the two performances back to back was astounded!
It was really fantastic to be part of a venue that held the experience of audiences above financial return, and enabled such a wonderful atmosphere of comradery and celebration. I'm really looking forward to dropping back in as a punter to Northern Stage's next 2 years at Edinburgh.
I've also done a lot of travelling around the country - aware that I've been very West Mids focussed I've been starting to engage with people and venues doing exciting work across the country. It has made me really appreciate the talent, care and radicalism of the people out there, making live performance, and it has made me prouder to be one of them.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A Thousand Shards of Glass - in Bradford

We're in tech rehearsals at Theatre in the Mill, in Bradford, and things are going well, but there's still so much to do...

Last Wednesday I began to realise that this performance - despite having a more concise development period - is just as complex as Treasured or The Woods. At the time we were still finalising voice-over work, which at the start of the project I didn't expect be so crucial to the performance.

Right now Lewis is upstairs making extraordinarily complex and wonderful sounds for each scene. Due to complex set-up and time constraints he is building each scene in the space before we tech it. Progress is slow and steady, but when we get to the end of the scene it is clear it will be a brilliant thing.

Ben has also been surprised by the complexity of the lighting he is making - even though he is using a domestic light set up as his main light source - but the narrative asks for this complexity, and so that's what we're giving it!

The knock on effect of the necessarily slow tech is that Lucy and I will have less time to work with the new layers of design before we show it to an audience for the first time tomorrow night. I think it will be a "by the seat of our pants" performance... but I'm excited to see how it turns out!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Thousand Shards Of Glass

Over summer and autumn I have been evaluating and plotting...

There are a number of projects in the pipeline. The most imminent is a development to production of A Thousand Shards Of Glass - first worked on back in 2008 during a brief R&D, it was a project with much promise that we are looking forward to completing.

A Thousand Shards Of Glass - is a devised piece in which the audience become complicit in an adventure.

The artistic team is:
Lucy Ellinson - Performer
Ben Pacey - Writer and Lighting Design
Lewis Gibson - Original Composition and Sound Design
Jane Packman - Director

We are working with the thriller genre as a guide, so Ben and I will be doing lots of reading for inspiration over the festive season. The physical form of the production is likely to remain similar to the 2008 version: 30 audience members sat in a circle. I am imagining the piece as a performance/installation crop circle - something that springs up and then vanishes in different settings - but that keeps a very distinctive physical form.

I'll try to post more about it in the new year. In the meantime, just to say that the first performances are at Theatre In The Mill (Bradford) on the 23rd, 24th and 25th February 2012.

Photograph by Chris Keenan.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Workshops and Reviews

On Saturday I ran a Devising Masterclass for an enthusiastic and talented group of attendees. We focused on techniques I use in the early stages of devising: exploring atmosphere and doing creative exercises which inhibit self-editing. In the final part of the workshop we walked around mac to watch the different ideas that each member of the group had come up with. It was an exhilerating and humbling experience, which really made me appreciate human creativity.

This week is the final week of the installation and performances of The Woods at mac. There are two remaining workshops if you'd like to get involved: Sally is running an Expressive Transfer Workshop on Tuesday (link) and Polly and Jo are running their weekend workshop Into The Woods.

We've had some great online reviews over the past few weeks. The latest is from Total Theatre: "The Woods is a courageous piece, a gasp of cold air."

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Opening week The Woods

We've now done a week of performances of The Woods, and the installation has been open for just over a week. I am really pleased with both aspects of the project. The performance has a guide age of 14+, but it's been really great to see small children loving the installation and the novelty of being allowed to sit on the bed, pick things up and explore. People's responses to the installation have been positive, strong and immediate.

It's harder to tell with the performance how it is going as it is not the type of show that people necessarily want to respond to immediately. Instead people's feedback has drip-fed back to me, perhaps a day or two days after watching it, and their reactions have been positive and engaged. The performance is a delicate beast, which we are getting better at taming. When the show works well it has its own rhythm: stemming from the work as a whole, rather than from individual performances. The flow of peaks and troughs really holds you as an audience member.

It has also been great to have new audiences along - to have unfamiliar faces amongst the crowd - particularly those who've discovered the installation by mistake and been curious enough to stay for the performance. Audiences were smaller than we'd like for the first week despite lots of publicity, but I am hopeful that it will gain momentum.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Woods production week

The 1st floor gallery space at mac is rapidly transforming into perhaps it's most epic installation to date. The Woods opens as an installation on 29th January, and the performance begins with two previews on 27th and 28th January.

We are very fortunate to be working with Silas and his exhibitions team who are building Barney's monumental design, and Lizzie and her performance tech crew to help install our relatively complex lighting and sound requirements.

Over the last two months I have been travelling a fair bit and talking on the phone a lot to the seven people who make up the artistic team for The Woods. The process has been very unusual as there have been so few times when all the team have been able to get together, so I've been the the conduit to communicate everyone's ideas. This has been exhausting in comparisson to just sitting in a room with everyone for two weeks (which hasn't been possible as everyone on the teams has been so busy). Next week when we all get together I'll see if this work has paid off. I think it will.

This is the artistic team:

Performers and co-authors: Chris Gunter, Greg Hobbs, Sara Kewly
Designer (set, props costume): Barney George
Lighting Designer, writer and co-author: Ben Pacey
Sound and Original Composition: Lewis Gibson
Editor, writer and co-author: Katherine Maxwell-Cook
Director, editor and co-author: Jane Packman

I am also working again with the brilliant Chris Keenan who is taking photos of the piece and documenting it.