Thursday, 28 April 2011

Changing one variable at a time

So, with feedback in mind and a considerable break since performance on 1st & 2nd April and next rehearsal on 28th April I have a think about how the feedback might be practically explored. My plan is to adjust the stage picture but keep the sound the same in the first instance - like a scientific experiment changing one variable at a time (sometimes, when necessary/appropriate adding a new ‘rule’ to replace a removed structure within the variable so performers have a sense of what to do).

First though, my instincts grasp for the performers to spend some time familiarising themselves with the text/sound by simply listening to it – I want us all to get a sense of it as a stand-alone element without the accompanying stage picture and action. What kind of story does it tell, what kind of statement does it make without its counterpart?
I also think this will give them time just to listen to themselves, to re-connect with what they are actually saying/expressing. I think they spend so much time thinking about cues that there isn’t always time to connect with the text in this way. And of course, sometimes the stage picture and the text/sound are supposed to be disparate.
My plan is scuppered as unfortunately Peter can’t make it so there’s no sound for the rehearsal.  This, however, opens up another possibility. Creativity is often problem solving. I ask the performers to perform the stage picture without any sound. I want to see how much is being communicated emotionally with no text/sound or ambient noise, so see if there are any gaps where the sound track is compensating. I expect that they may falter but I am astounded when they work their way through it, barely missing a cue, and keeping very close to the usual timing.
And the performance quality is out of this world! There is so much tension in the silence and the stillness is torturous. Usually we hear words over the top of the picture but without these the family seems even more desperate and pointless.
I ask the performers to reflect on the exercise and they describe a sense of freedom and said they felt ‘safe’ and ‘in tune with the others’.  Dean mentions that he feels a disconnect between his action and the text, particularly problematic as at times he interacts with it as if he is spontaneously. I suggest this might have something to do with a lack of note-taking or the fact that the ‘script’ (as in the record of the sound/text) is not utilised in rehearsals. Dean suggests he might ‘learn his lines’ to see if this helps. I wonder if the disconnect is also part of the reason the audience aren’t immediately clear on who is speaking.
Without the sound cues performers are not clear on exactly when things are done. Duncan describes taking a lot of peripheral cues. It seems that the sound/text has become more about cues for the performers than a means of expression/connection which it also certainly has the potential to be. I think that further analysis might be needed on intention and the relationship between thought, action and sound/text.
The next exercise is changing the picture, confining it. I replace the flimsy portable table I use for rehearsals with a much sturdier one that can be sat or stood upon, I sit the performers at the table and then I tape around them the parameters that they can’t move beyond. The sound variable remains exactly the same but the performers have to undertake the action that they’d normally take (with unavoidable adjustments – they’ll have to improvise these) within these confined conditions.
Again, a delightful outcome which is much more visually interesting. Initially the piece is quite static and table orientated and the claustrophobia of this is enhanced by the exercise. They are doing nothing in a much more interesting way and until they begin to try to move around the audience will not be aware of why they are acting like this which makes it even more eerie. And it’s a surprise when they do start to move! Then the audience will realise what the rules are.
The movement can then be more grotesquely impaired as the piece progresses building and building to show how much of an obstacle the confinement is to them. How they help/hinder each other and interact represents relationships.
Strangely the backs to audience element that has become necessary as they can only move in certain directions is very interesting/aesthetically pleasing and it’s great to see how much can be expressed through backs to audience.  It’s awkward and silly, but necessary in the conditions they’re in. I film all this and am rather devastated to find that my laptop wipes rather than uploads the results from my camera. I did manage to capture a portion of it on my iphone which survived. You can see this on youtube by following this link.
I will explore the possibilities of this further. I ask how we can improve the movement, if Duncan, who has some experience in the area can suggest anything. Duncan feels that it’s necessary to establish what the desired end product is and find which moments to explore in that, he feels that the movements will come from that. Dean suggests exploring the possibilities of the new setting, what the possibilities for movement are within it. We all note that a distinction is required between what movements will be difficult for the performers in this setting and which would be difficult for the characters, especially in their ageing condition.

The next step is to strip away the set and props and to look at the performers in the space with the sound/text and nothing else. I give little direction, simply telling the performers they have the space and each other to work with (in character).

The results of this exercise are here and here 
For me this was a completely blind approach. I wanted to see the performers do very little following Terry O’Connor’s feedback regarding facial expressions and eyes being enough and asking what it would be like if they performers just stood still.

The performers grasped for more than that as my instructions hadn’t been so explicit. They felt obliged to *do* something.

Initially the performers began facing the audience and walking towards them. It was instinctive for them to direct address, to search out a ‘relationship’.  This I liked and thought well (you can see it in the initial stages of part one).

The performers then explored physical expression which wasn’t what I was looking for (though I felt pretty open to all possibilities at this stage). There are/were moments within this that are/were interesting and could be explored further. Interaction between Dean as Frank and Duncan as Arnold is/was telling of character and relationship in an abstract way. Harriet as Jean hangs back (literally! feeling that it didn’t feel right to get involved with Frank and Arnold) and her distance and presence in the background is resonant at times.

The performers are not entirely satisfied with the results and feel like it was a failed attempt I think. I reassure them that it’s likely if we put a bit of time and distance between the session and watching the recording back we might see things we’d overlooked – the equivalent of a writer putting a script ‘in a drawer’.

Dean feels that a physical warm up would be appropriate before an exercise such as this. I am less inclined to agree as I didn’t have an aim to explore physical expression. A workshop to establish the kind of aesthetic I am looking for might be appropriate. But sometimes it’s not this straightforward. When you are straying onto new territory having a workshop to facilitate what’s in your mind’s eye isn’t always so readily available. I feel that I’m having to create and adapt my own workshops. In fact the exercise was workshopping in many ways, but a workshop for the text rather than the performers skills/performance quality and the benefits of it were not as obvious to the performers as they were to me.

Duncan takes us through a Boal exercise where we copy each other’s movements simultaneously but because we’re all following each other we move as one. And then another where we have to stay completely still but observe (copy) those in the group who we view via our peripheral vision (ie can’t copy opposite person). Of course there are tiny movements which we pick up on and we all move very subtly and gently as a chorus. Great exercises for physical attunement.
(28th April 10.30  until 15.30 with 45 mins lunch)

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