Friday, 23 November 2012

More No Strings

Our third pilot of No Strings Attached is on Wednesday 28th November at Oak House in Leeds.  This is the last of our three pilot sessions, so if you want to have your say on the future of No Strings, here's your chance! 

For more information about no strings, please read this earlier blog post 

                                       No Strings Attached 

Wednesday 28th November

6.45pm - 9.30pm 

Oak House
Park Lane
Little Woodhouse
Directions and map attached
Link to Google Maps

"Whoever comes are the right people..." 


Let us know if you'd like to be added to the list ( email northerncreative at gmail dot com ). We'll be evaluating over Christmas, with some help from the Young Vic and Theatre in the Mill, and (fingers crossed) will return with a revved up No Strings Model for all the Leeds/Bradford posse in 2013. 

Shakera & Joanne

Friday, 26 October 2012

No Strings

No Strings Q&A by Shakera Ahad

What is ‘No Strings’?
No Strings is an Open Space for creative people to create. Put simply, a place to ‘Do’, where the agenda is set by whoever turns up on the night.

Why ‘No Strings’?
No Strings is not a co-operative, it is not a Company or a class. All of these things require commitment – No Strings does not. All of these things require formality – No Strings does not.
We wanted to send the message that this space is a place for you to get together with some like-minded people (meaning people who want to ‘Do’) for just a couple of hours, at the end of which you all leave with no obligation to stay in touch, come back, sign up for anything. No Strings is very much about being in the moment.

Who is it for?                                                     
No Strings is not an exclusive club. We believe that whoever comes are the right people, and they shape the creative journey by their presence. There is only one prescriptive rule at No Strings, anyone who comes must be willing to Do, to Try, to Share. That means different things to different people and can be scary – and No Strings aims to provide a safe space in which to challenge yourself.

How does it work?
Using an Open Space format, attendees call sessions, and then use the ‘Law of Two Feet’ to travel to, and if they want, between sessions. These sessions could be anything, as they are up to the attendees to call, or not call.
There is a collective responsibility shared with every member of the group that night, to create a space, an environment of mutual support and challenge between the other artists.
All No Strings are therefore a mystery until people come and ‘create’.
* You do not have to come with ideas, some people call sessions and some do not – it all contributes to the balance of the group on the night

What do you ‘Do’?

At the most recent No Strings, the following sessions were called:
Shakespeare Mash-up
Pretty much what it says on the tin. Lots of Shakey Plays, lots of confusion, lots of being okay with not making sense, lots of hilarity when lines from different plays made curiously perfect sense.
Warm-up Swap
No Strings by its nature will add to an artist’s toolkit. But you can guarantee it by calling a session to share/learn techniques.
From the Mouths of Others
A particular idea someone wanted to test out with the group. Verbatim story meets movement interpretation (or, as we were in this session and not really dancers... comedy character mime)
Ideas, really
All the ideas in your head, challenge your fear of them being nicked or feeling exposed and get them out, it might help to hear other’s thoughts on them.

Who is invited?
A semi-professional wanting to keep in practise
An amateur wanting to learn new techniques
A professional wanting to learn new techniques
A director in need of a break from their own show, to play with something else for a change
An actor wanting to learn how they explore their very first idea for a performance
A writer wishing to challenge themselves to create with other collaborative people
An absolute beginner with no ideas but enthusiasm and adventurous spirit, happy to try
A choreographer with an idea, but nothing solid enough for an application
A dancer interested in how acting could inform their practice
A facilitator wanting to try a new technique from book before teaching
A practitioner interested in facilitating an Open Space session
We repeat. Anyone!

What’s the point?
The answer to this question is unique to every person when they come to No Strings, for their own personal reasons.
Our reason is that we care about Yorkshire and about the creative work that is happening here.
All creative work feeds and filters into other work, regionally, nationally, internationally. Be it amateur, semi-professional, experimental, classical, contemporary, scripted, everything!
 Activity which generates creative ideas and energies is symptomatic of a healthy theatre ecology. And creative activity can, in turn, boost that ecology.
We do want to contribute on a larger scale, but we are also artists just wanting to get in a bit of regular practice. Shakera directs and enjoys acting, but isn’t an actor, she just wants a chance to play with no obligation or commitment. Joanne writes and feels performing and directing feeds her understanding of a piece.

Where does No Strings happen?
At whatever space is offered to us. We avoid any commitments to buildings or building owners. The spirit of No Strings is one of no obligation or political ties. (Big Up to Iain Bloomfield who lends us space and doesn’t insist on us wearing ‘we love Theatre in the Mill’ T-shirts...that said we do love it *personal views*)
Be prepared to be surprised, it may be a studio, an office space, a disused warehouse, an in use office floor... All we can guarantee is that you’ll need to wrap up warm! 

When does No Strings happen?
We are in a pilot phase at the moment (which makes it no less real so please don’t be put off – we need experience and feedback to feed into its development) this means dates are fluid.
The next date is Monday 29th October.
7.30pm – 9.30pm.
Theatre in the Mill
You don’t have to stay the whole time, whenever it starts is the right time and when it’s over for you, it is over.

How to find Theatre in the Mill 

How do I get involved?
It’s pretty simple. Come to a session!
It is quite scary, we know. That’s part of the point – to be challenged.
But you do need basic info, like the address (we are not challenging you to wander Bradford in the later hours), so please email and we are the facilitators.
Hello! Welcome to No Strings. 
Shakera & Joanne

Monday, 22 October 2012

Day fifteen - a really good day

Anna, Jonnie and myself all come into the room with similar thoughts on how we can resolve some of the issues raised in the feedback following the previous day's sharing.

Anna is confident that with some fine tuning of the piece's 'moments' and with the re-incorporation of a device where the action is repeatedly interrupted we'll satisfy the need for some kind of narrative threading. I feel that the sound could be the key to enabling the intent/motivation for the performers to journey through the piece (does anyone out there want to talk to me about intent/motivation and if this is the same thing)? Jonnie has had some interesting sound ideas that compliment both mine and Anna's suggestions.

So, we spend a couple of productive hours incorporating these changes, we do a final dress tech which is filmed and photographed. We take lunch, review the footage, Anna gives notes and then there's a good rest period before the evening's performance.

And the rest is history. The performance goes well and is well received. There's an audience feedback session immediately afterwards and this is illuminating. I really enjoy the feedback. No doubt there'll be another reflective blog where I try to summarise the many different kinds of responses that we received.

Day fourteen - the elephant and the magic in the room

I'm writing this blog retrospectively. As you can imagine, the penultimate and final day of the process were busy, focussed and adrenaline fuelled. Subsequently I was not able to update the blog and I can remember few details of the two days now, even as I'm writing this only days after the performance.

The greyness of the previous day had definitely lifted. Despite not having slept I connected with some Buddhist guidance that reminded me that 'it is the heart that matters'. I realised that despite the fact that we'd stripped the work right back and despite the fact that the meaning of the piece was not clearly signposted and delivered to the audience on the plate, (and also despite the fact that yet again there were questions around intention - something which keeps coming up for me) the truth and the heart that we'd all invested in the work was still very much there. We just needed to reconnect with it and to start feeling good about it again.

There was still a residual tension hanging in the air. I recall Laura saying that she didn't know what the material was any more. At the time I felt very personally responsible for this tension but as I sit here writing this I wonder if it was simply a crisis point for the project, one that was needed for some reason. I definitely think it had a lot to do with the radical intervention during our mentoring. Eventually the tension came to a head and manifested in a disagreement between Anna and myself. Again, I don't remember details, though I do recall both Anna and myself expressing the sensation of fighting against each other. There was also a critiquing of my use of 'group advocated' strategic planning and I made notes in my notebook to ensure in future that these agreements were attended to even more carefully so that I'm not left open to this criticism :

'Quality of the agreements is important - establishing everyone's priorities, knowing exactly what is going to happen and who is going to attend to what. When the agreement is thrown out or the strategy shifts, it's important to identify that there has been a shift and why it's happened. Incorporate time frames and end goals.'

The disagreement subsided. I do recall explaining my position to Anna who I think felt I was stepping on her toes a little. I was concerned that the meanings in the work weren't clear and wanted to skip forward to certain sections which I felt were particularly confusing. In my notebook it says 'writer - meaning making, director - performance quality' - the summary of our re-iterating our roles.

From then onwards the day was rapid, exhilarating progress. The elephant in the room was cleared out of it and the blocking was fleshed out with dynamic enthusiasm in advance of a first dress/tech run to be shared with Theatre in the Mill's Iain Bloomfield and Ivan Mack. The magic is back in the room.

The feedback that followed this sharing was encouraging but indicated that some kind of narrative threading was required for the audience to feel 'let in' to the work. This was something I had been fearing, that only those of us involved in the work would understand  it and that the logic wouldn't resonate beyond the process we'd been part of.

Iain and Ivan both saw possible fixes and solutions, so all was not lost, but I was disappointed and acutely aware of some of the tribulations of my conceptual approach to writing and making work and the problems I am yet to solve.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Day twelve - final mentoring

We share what we've been working on with Cathy Naden who is mentoring the project for the final time.

We described how we'd been working, the repetition of the sequence and playing and overlaying with tweaking as we progressed. Cathy connected with what we were describing but suggested that rather than trying to fix everything at once, focussing on one at a time might refresh our perspective.

Cathy guided us to re-visit the beginning sequence, singling it out and focussing on the detail of it. Cathy also encouraged us to explore what happened when the performer was liberated from a vision restricting mask that we'd incorporated. Suddenly something very magical started to happen.

We were, at this stage, very familiar with the structure we'd been running. The tweaking that Cathy proposed led us to a brand new iteration of that structure. Cathy had brought our attention to the new possibilities of a new approach, exploring the options of one given moment. After we'd established which of the options was the best fit I suggested that we play out our familiar structure by following the conventions of the best option.

A very stripped back version of the structure rolled out in front of us. By chance this included a new, very satisfying movement across the space.

It was a jaw dropping and liberating moment for me. We were able to step away from the repetitive running that we'd got into the habit of. Something structural snapped very certainly into place during this chance exploration.

Cathy told us that Forced Entertainment often try 'another version' of their shows when they're finding their structures. Even if the iterations are rejected they offer an opportunity to explore tones and qualities that might have been overlooked otherwise.

Another benefit of this exercise was that Jonnie got a much clearer sense of what was required from the sound following some feedback from Cathy.

We lovingly title the iteration 'The Po Faced Version' and conclude the day, and our mentoring with Cathy feeling positive and productive.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Day thirteen - a grey day

The spontaneous magic that we've enjoyed in the room to date is very much absent during day thirteen.
The structure that evolved during 'The Po Faced Version' has ripped the guts out of the work. It is currently so stripped back that the heart of it feels like it's missing.

The elegant new shape of the work is definitely a positive, so much so that we can't revert to the previous chaos, but never-the-less it feels like we're all grieving what was there before.

Where previously we had game structures and improvisation, now we pin down moments. Where previously we had unpredictable spontaneity, now we have performed certainty. In all honesty, I am disappointed that we've begun to work this way. I think that until this point I thought there really was a holy grail of 'live-ness' that genuinely wasn't pre-meditated and then performed. It felt like a failing to not be able to achieve this and to have to be directing each moment instead. (In writing this I'm thinking that there probably is a holy grail of 'live-ness', the reason we didn't hit upon it was because our particular circumstances were not right.)

It's a painstaking day, we struggle with focus in our fatigued states. However, there are positives. We leave at the end of the day with a well honed re-worked structure and Jonnie's sound work has significantly evolved. But still, we all feel pretty terrible. As Iain Bloomfield (AD at The Mill) puts it 'You have to break it before you can put it together again' and this is what we're feeling the impact of.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Day eleven - invisible architecture and back to improv

I am very unwell. The intense work of the previous weeks has exacerbated an underlying health condition that I have. This means that I can't take hold of the process in the way that I usually can.

We begin with more sound work but in my depleted state I am less able to connect intellectually with the very fine detail. Jonnie and I are working in a way that we worked before with Elephant in the Room but it doesn't seem to be working quite so well in relation to the non-narrative game structure of Museum of Terrifying Example.

In Elephant in the Room the sound and action were inextricably linked with the action and sound cueing each other at different stages. I had thought that we'd continue along the same vein but trying to do this isn't productive. This is not just because of my fatigue. It seems that the best way forward is to run the structure and play with both the sound and the movement. The work is evolving through doing rather than through detailed intellectual investment. This makes sense as we're working with a fluid structure rather than a fixed script. We video everything and review it afterwards to establish what did and didn't work. Simply pointing out what is good and what not to do next time rather than being prescriptive about what we'd like to happen seems to bring about productivity and forward momentum.

We introduce a framing/structure element that we haven't yet applied to the work in the form of a system of numbers like the ones used in museum display cases to catalogue exhibits. The performers can use these to display themselves, to mark out moments of exhibition. As we improvise with this new element new moments occur. It is an effective structuring/framing devise for an otherwise chaotic sequence of action.

We leave early to allow some recovery time. Hopefully this will rectify my significant drop in energy and also help the rest of the team rest a little before the big push at the end of the week.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Day ten - slow and steady sound work

Jonnie working on the sound
Three of us are unwell. Possibly this is the result of a very intense previous week.

We arrive at Theatre in the Mill and acclimatise to our new surroundings while we drink honey, lemon and ginger teas to minimise the impact of our collective ailments.

We begin working by reviewing the footage of the material we shared with Dick and Peter on day nine. This is so that Lucy and Jonnie can come up to speed on where we're at.

Lucy has some interesting questions which highlight some of the less logical elements of the work. Most of these are tensions I'm already aware of but am reasonably happy to live with at this stage.

Lucy plans out her work for the week based on the information we've given her.

Jonnie has a long list of innovative sound ideas to try out. We have to narrow the list down due to our time constraints. I know from experience that some technical aspects can be time consuming.

The rest of the day is slow but steady process working on establishing a sound score. It's a very different kind of working day to the highly energised physical material we put together in week 2. This is for the best as two of us are pretty out of action and it allows for some recovery time.

Working with sound can be quite intangible. The language around the sound and the fact that we all hear the same sounds differently means there's a lot of discussion and listening and mistaken identity.

We work on tightening up one particular section, assigning a subtle sound cue to a set of actions. It proves virtually impossible because the qualities of the sound are too complex for us to hear the signals and subtleties. We look at tempo to find the right kind of structure for the action and then find the right kinds of sound to fit that structure.