Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Presumption Rehearsals 2015

Here are shots by Martin Fuller of Lucy Ellinson and Chris Thorpe in rehearsal for Presumption, in the Lyceum Rehearsal Room last week. Some performances are already sold out, so please do book if you're planning to see the show.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Twenty Years Ago Today...

... we opened a 72 hour performance called Testcard at The Workstation in Sheffield. We didn't think we were setting up a company, we just had this idea for a show that we thought had legs. We called in so many favours, and so many of our friends in Sheffield worked on the piece. (There's more on the show below.)

"We didn't think we were setting up a company", but from within the team that made Testcard, the core of Third Angel emerged. Thanks to everyone who worked on that show, and everyone who supported it. And thanks to everyone who has worked on the shows since, and supported the work by coming to experience it, by talking about it, challenging it, showing it, shouting about it, funding it with money and time and resources... we simply wouldn't be here without you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 Performance photos by Alexander Kelly

Film stills by Robert Hardy

Here's what we wrote about Testcard a few of years ago:

In 1995 we were doing an MA in Film and TV in Sheffield (Alex) and a PGCE in drama in Manchester (Rachael). We had both been talking to different people about making work together, but were still thinking that there were other avenues to explore, too.

We had seen a call for proposals for the ROOT Festival in Hull, for that October. In a house in Withington, Alex wondered about us submitting an idea together.

Seemingly off the top of her head Rachael said, "Well, I've got this idea for a performance that lasts 72 hours, where two people live in separate rooms in a gallery or a public building, and the audience have to choose who they watch. The performers watch TVs the news and original footage and live video of each other and the audience. The audience can watch them during the day and on monitors and through the gallery windows at night. The woman probably takes polaroids of the audience. It's kind of about voyeurism and the male gaze."

"And perhaps about CCTV and surveillance?" Alex suggested, as he was reading Living Marxism a lot at the time.

We got some help from Deborah Chadbourn - then General Manager of Forced Entertainment - about how to write a project proposal (advice we still use and pass on to this day) and we submitted our idea, calling it Sleeping Partners. What we missed was that ROOT is themed annually, and our idea didn't fully fit into the theme that year (Civil Liberties, Civic Pride) and the piece didn't get commissioned. Perhaps we should have played down the voyeurism and played up the CCTV.

But we liked the idea, and decided to make the work anyway, for The Workstation in Sheffield. We adopted the company name Third Angel and we called the piece Testcard. We called in all of the favours we had earned in the two years we'd been in Sheffield, and spent a lot of favours we hadn't yet earned. We got a small grant from Sheffield City Council, loads of equipment and technical support from the northern media school, and trust and respect from The Workstation.

Somehow the show caught the zeitgeist and we found ourselves on page 5 of the Guardian, part of the local news questioning if it was art and discussing the possibility of hosting an edition of TV-am - which sadly (?) didn't happen.

People came and visited the work several times a day. Strange intimate relationships with strangers were developed. The piece changed conceptually as it grew each day. Rachael broke the rules, reached out and spoke to the audience, enticed them to stay in the space a little longer. She attempted to empower herself, to return the gaze. Phil (Rich
ford, the other performer) stuck to the rules; he was strict and pure and did exactly what was asked of him, talking to no one, staring at the screen. It was tough for him.

The piece, whilst being naive and a little clumsy in dealing with its themes, was also adventurous and risk taking. It reached across the city, through the strategically placed televisions, and nationally, through media coverage. Once it was over we knew we would make something else. We knew we wanted to make exciting work that would reach people nationally as well as locally. We knew we were at the start of journey, but we didn't have a clue where we were going, or how long it was going to take to get there.

In amongst the multi-media, multi-format, multi-venue elements of Testcard, the core of Third Angel's practice was born. At its heart were Co-Artistic Directors Alexander Kelly and Rachael Walton, assisted by (amongst others) Robert Hardy, Chris Hall, David Mitchell, Hilary Foster and Jacqui Bellamy - all of who work with the company in various capacities to this day.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Edfringe Diary 2: facing the audience

Postcards from the Edinburgh Fringe 2015, Week 1…


I'm sitting in The Royal Dick pub in Summerhall, typing this with a bandaged finger injury that wouldn't look out of place in The Beano. The perils of cutting out quotes to put on your posters and fliers.

But that tells you where we are in our Fringe adventure. We have quotes to put on posters and flyers. Printed out on sheets of A4, formatted in such a way as to maximise use of paper and aesthetic clarity. Cut out with a scalpel craft knife (rather than scissors) for precision and neatness. Spattered with blood because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and almost sliced the end of my finger off. Effective marketing. (Thanks to John for the first aid).


So I guess the obvious question is how did it go? How did we do with our first-ever-public-performance-of-this-version-also-being-press-night?

I think we did well. The show was ready to go in front of an audience and begin that stage of its development. The get-in had gone to schedule (shout out to the Northern Stage staff and technical & front-of-house volunteers – they are great). Jerry and Stacey did brilliantly, buoyed by a supportive audience. They got themselves in to trouble a couple of times, got themselves out of it without the audience noticing (I think), they found new stuff and we immediately learned some stuff about the show.

In terms of that first audience, some of whom were going to be writing about the show, it was a shame that our programmes were still enroute from the printers. It feels to me like an important and useful thing to know about the show that it is/has been performed by different combinations of nationalities (UK and Portuguese at least), and that the two roles aren’t written as gendered. The programme implicitly tells you that:

Some of the reviews are great, some are good and only one that I’ve seen has been really grumpy about the show, but gave it the same number of stars as some reviews that seemed to quite like it. Ah, star ratings. I’ve succumbed a little here. Much as I hate them, at the Edinburgh Fringe it is almost impossible to ignore them when it comes to selling your show. If you only put good quotes on a flyer, as we've tried to do in the past, it looks at a glance (I think) like you haven’t got anything better than a three star review. ‘Better than a three star review.’ I hate that it makes me think like that. But in such a competitive marketplace, you need better than a three star review. So I’ve relented and we’ve started putting star ratings on the flyers and posters – but always with a quote. Because – here’s the stupidly obvious thing again – we want people to come and see the show, and think about it, and talk about it.

All of those good reviews, alongside the medium ones and the grumpy one, all come from that Press Preview. So yes, I think that was worth it, and that gamble paid off. (See previous post to see what I'm going on about here.)

And… my two favourite quotes from the reviews that I have read (I’ve not read all of them), aren’t really ones that would work on a flyer:

"What would you do if you and a member of the opposite sex were tasked with starting the human race all over again? That is, er, possibly the scenario posited by Third Angel and Mala Voadora’s ‘The Paradise Project’..." Time Out

It's the 'possibly', of course, that I like in that one. And this:

"It is interesting to note that conception and design of The Paradise Project is credited jointly to both collaborating companies and the two performers, implying that the creation of the design was an intrinsic part of the devising of the piece. This is how it feels – words, physical action, and visual imagery seamlessly interweaved. Both actors are totally at home in their stage environment, a delight to watch and listen to – you really do forget they are acting a lot of the time, which is perhaps the highest compliment." Total Theatre


And people are coming to see it – I think more than saw either the first week of The Lad Lit Project or What I Heard About the World – and, from what they tell us, thinking about it, and talking about it.

There have been some very nice tweets, too:

But most of my favourite feedback has come from conversations. Like all of our work, (all work?), it’s a bit of an audience divider. Some people find it a little distant, a bit hard work even. It really struck me this year that the standard Edinburgh Fringe show length of an hour (rather than the 70 minutes I think of as full length) is partly to get a cheaper venue slot, but it’s partly in deference to the fact that audience members will often be seeing your show as one of four, five or six per day. It's partly just about how long you can ask people to sit and watch and listen.

We’ve carried on working on the show a little each day, trimming, tweaking, and playing with the mood of it. And whilst it still doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve, we have moved the heart of it closer to the surface. Jerry and Stacey have been finding those understated moments of kindness and awareness that tell us a bit more about how these two people are 'in this together'.

A thing I’ve found myself saying a lot this week is, “Of all the work we’ve made, The Paradise Project the most like a play.” To which I usually add, “Because it’s a play.” The biggest, most sprawling devising process we’ve been part of has produced the most clearly written show. Person A and Person B mainly talk to each other. They don’t face out much. They only occasionally make eye contact with the audience.

Talking to Jerry about this a few days in we noted that all of the work we’d seen so far, and this has remained true for me all week, all of the work we’d seen, turns right out to face and embrace the audience, and say "I/we are telling you this story". And this is a territory that we’re very comfortable in, that we’ve played in for a long time. We like work that acknowledges the audience.

But with The Paradise Project, whilst the show itself acknowledges the audience, the performers/characters don't do it as much in our other work. Because to turn out to face the people in the room makes much less sense to us in this instance, less sense in their world. They’re working this out alone. Although we see they are being at least observed or recorded some of the time. We’ve talked a lot about this in the process of making the show, and other members of the team think differently, but for me, the show works when it feels like someone might be listening, someone could be hearing them, but they never know if/when that is the case. There’s optimism in that.


Now I’m in the car heading back to Sheffield, after a flying visit over to the west coast. Leaving Jerry and Stacey to build Paradise alone for a bit. Hilary and I are tagging Admin and Production Trainee Liz in as we go, and she’ll help them out for a week, and then Rachael gets to Edinburgh on the 24th. I’ll be back to see the last two performances. It's always weird leaving a show, and I don't think I'll ever get used to it. During show time, there’s a strange awareness that it’s going on, somewhere else.


What else? A fire alarm went off in the last few minutes of the show on Friday, and we had to evacuate the audience. We put the last scene on this blog for them. Five times as many people have clicked onto that post as were in the audience.


I was really pleased to have been part of Here Is The News From Over There, this year’s Northern Stage show, building on the model of The Bloody Great Border Ballad Project that I was part of two years ago. It feels like a really important piece – one that is funny, chaotic, engaging and intelligent all at the same time. It’s different every night. I made a piece with Maya Zbib from Zoukak Theatre, who I’ve written about before, here. There’s a Storify of our tale, never take a skull home, here.


The whole Northern Stage programme is great. Sadly I didn’t get to see Key Change, but the reviews and conversation around that piece are brilliant. I was really pleased to have been a small part of team making Daniel Bye’s Going Viral, which is doing really well. I saw an early performance of Zendeh’s Cinema which blended spoken and signed performance beautifully, in a very upsetting story. Five Feet In Front feels like a coming of age show for The Letter Room – a vengeance fuelled hoedown. And Tamasha’s My Name Is… is a masterclass in understated emotional and intelligent stage performance and verbatim theatre.

I had a brilliant day in Summerhall's Anatomy Lecture Theatre watching The Gospel According To Jesus Queen of Heaven by Jo Clifford (the most beautiful and caring start to the day, whilst also being quietly and strongly subversive), Portraits in Motion (which I’ve been wanting to see since standing listening to Volker Gerling's applause go on and on after a performance in Germany – whilst I was waiting to go on to the adjacent stage to perform The Lad Lit Project – "follow that"; it is just brilliant work and I was not disappointed) followed by Shit Theatre’s Women’s Hour which is the smartest, funniest and most entertaining hour of rage I’ve seen in a long time. I highly recommend that as a morning/afternoon combo. (Then come and see us next door.)

Elsewhere in Summerhall Ellie Dubois' Ringside is an exquisite and unsettling one-to-one performance with a trapeze artist. It's booked up, but well worth trying to get a return. Beautiful. Flanagan Collective’s Fable is a lovely hour’s story telling (which unexpectedly bounces off my ongoing obsession with the Voyager space probes). We saw the preview and it’s probably properly magical by now. Barrel Organ are one of the talks of the Fringe with Some People Talk About Violence - they are really striking performers, and for me, more than the form, the way the the theme of the title is explored is what speaks of their maturity and potential.

It seems pointless to recommend Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn's Fake It 'Til You Make It as it is properly sold out, but if you can get a return then go, it's emotional and important work.

Our kids (6 and 9) really enjoyed The Tap Dancing Mermaid (sit near the front if you can) at Summerhall, The Hogswallops at Circus Hub (we saw a slightly shaky first show, but the zimmer-frame trapeze scene is remarkable), the Trash Test Dummies (also Circus Hub and great fun) and both Tianna The Traveller and Basketball Man performing outside on The Mound.


And now I'm back in the office in Sheffield, putting the links into this blogpost and catching up with all the non-Edinburgh Fringe jobs. Nice, but weird.