Friday, 31 December 2010

One Minute Manifesto

Back in August at the wonderful Forest Fringe, the marvellous Lucy Ellinson curated a series of One Minute Manifestos - three 60 second texts every day, delivered to the audience gathered for one of that evening's performances. Delivered from halfway up the stairs, they were timed strictly and you were stopped on 60 seconds exactly. They were both fun and terrifying to do, and it was a great project. Mine was posted on the Forest Fringe blog at the time, and I meant to post it here, too. But, in the end, New Year's Eve feels like the right time.

**

This is a true story.

Two friends stand admiring something.

I’m not actually sure what they are admiring. I think that it is a building – a Gothic Cathedral, stone arches, buttresses and towers soaring.

But it could be a bridge. I’m picturing Clifton Suspension Bridge, though it could be the Forth Road Bridge.

Perhaps it is a machine, or an engine. I know that one of the friends likes vehicles.

It could equally be a painting, maybe something by Pollock, or Picasso’s Guernica or anything by Paula Rego. Or a sculpture – perhaps the figures on Crosby beach.

Let’s say that it is a building. And they are admiring it.

The first friend says, “It’s amazing, isn’t it, to think that this was built by ordinary people.”

“Yes, but,” says the second friend, “everything is done by ordinary people.”


**

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Working Drawings

If you've seen What I Heard About The World, you'll have seen me, or Jorge and me (depending on which version you saw) draw a picture of a donkey, and then turn it into a zebra.

I/we do this live each night. We know we have to modify the drawing of the donkey to become a zebra, because that's what they do at Gaza Zoo, so we draw the donkey from scratch as well. Other drawings in the show are redrawn afresh in advance of each performance (the paper plane) or are reused each night (a lifesize flat daddy and a set of haircuts). But it feels right to draw the donkey live.

This connects to the Story Map performance that is part of the whole What I Heard About The World project, in which we draw icons for all of the stories we gather throughout the piece. Drawing the donkey is much easier of course, as I know what I'm going to draw, and I've now had a lot of practice.

During the run in Sheffield we were invited to contribute some work to the exhibition Working Drawings, which has just opened at the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery.  Pam Bowman, the curator, was interested in us representing how we use drawing in the work, but also as part of the process for projects that don't necessarily feature drawing by the time they meet an audience.

In the end we're showing a selection of finished work and documentation. We were asked, naturally, to provide an artist's statement about the work. I asked how long it should be. Pam said, "As long as it needs to be - you know, there's more context needed for your work. I mean, why do you draw live in front of an audience?"

This is something that has come up in discussion with a few audience members, so I've been thinking about it this last week or so.  I'm not sure our artist's statement fully answers that question, but it certainly explores our use of drawing. Here it is.
Third Angel
Drawing Projects

Third Angel is an internationally-touring theatre company based in Sheffield. We make work that connects the territories of theatre, live art, film & video, photography, installation and digital media.

The work is devised by the artists working on each project, led by Artistic Directors Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton. The devising process is one of discovering and developing the form and content of the work, and drawing is one of the tools we naturally use.

Drawing is, unsurprisingly, used to develop early ideas, work things out, and to share thoughts: how the space might work, what a performer relationship might look like, how something might be constructed. But it is also used as part of the aesthetic and action of some projects. We’d rather use a hand drawn straight line than a ruled one. We would (usually) rather use a traced map or diagram than a photocopied one. We would (usually) rather use handwriting than projected type. If an image or text needs to be big, we would (often) rather draw it small and blow it up – to see the imperfections that make the line unique.

And drawing is one of the tasks we have been found ourselves returning to in a number of our live performance projects, something to do in front of the audience, rather than something to be prepared earlier. The work is full of narrative, character, fiction, mixed in with autobiography and factual research. The mode of presentation utilises text – character dialogue, personal narrative and explanation – along with the performance of tasks. Real actions are part of the performance: carrying all of the furniture required on from the wings; balancing your own weight against your fellow performer’s through a pulley system, whilst creating a perfect, three metre circle of talcum powder on the floor.

Sometimes this live drawing is of diagrams and maps. Sometimes it is illustration. Often it has a restriction placed on it – a simple time limit, or the fact that it has to be done with eyes closed. Restrictions that might seem to say, Don’t worry, of course the drawing won’t be very good in these conditions, when of course, we include the drawing, and the restrictions, because in fact we believe the opposite.

For Working Drawings we are showing a number of pieces:
Mixtape: Songmap (2010)
Video piece / documentation of live performance. 7 mins.
Music: The First Big Weekend by Arab Strap.
Performance devised and performed by Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton.
Filmmaker: Christopher Hall.

The brief, for Unlimited Theatre’s Mixtape project, was to create stage action to accompany a favourite song. We didn’t want to tell a different story to the one in a chosen song, and we didn’t want to act it out. We talked about cataloguing and mapping. Originally the drawing was going to be done much bigger, on a wall, by both of us. But actually our presence, along with the view of our backs, was not helpful. We’d used the drawing table for writing ‘chapter titles’ in the show The Lad Lit Project (2005), but the devising process for that piece had involved a lot more drawing. So we changed the scale of the Songmap drawing and found we had this.

Pleasant Land – Lightbox maps (2003)
Hand drawn maps with text and photographic images.
Commissioned by Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre and Shooting Live Artists.
www.pleasantland.org
It began with the Census. There wasn't a 'Scottish', 'Welsh' or 'English' box to tick. Only 'British' or 'Irish'. People in and from Scotland and Wales wanted their own boxes. We noticed that Scottish and Welsh friends referred to themselves as, surprise, Scottish and Welsh.

Between April 2003 and March 2004 we travelled around England, meeting people, asking them about their own Englands and asking what Englishness is these days. Every month we sent digital postcards from our travels. In October 2003 Leeds Met University Gallery hosted a Gallery installation and performance, responding to this travelling research and the responses to Pleasant Land Online.

We’d been keeping diaries and taking photographs. We had planned our routes, but then been distracted and diverted. Or just got lost. In trying to work out, retrospectively, exactly where we had been, we began tracing our route from the road atlas. We became infatuated with these new maps that charted a very selective version of England – the England we had travelled through. It felt important that the lines of the map should remain hand-drawn, and the text be in handwriting, to recognise the personal, partial, nature of the record.

We asked people if they knew the difference between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Often, they didn't. We asked ourselves what our England was, what we liked about our country, what we didn't? We wondered if other people would recognise Our England, or we, theirs.

Presumption (2006)
In association with Sheffield Theatres.
Performers: Lucy Ellinson & Chris Thorpe
Directors & Designers: Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton.
Performance photographs by Mark Cohen.

A bare stage. Bare, that is, except for the white lines marking out the (sometimes multiple) placements of a domestic environment. Furniture. Objects. Stuff. A table, six chairs. Precariously carried, precisely placed. Begin the scene, post-dinner party. Guest have gone. Stop. More furniture required.

Presumption is a show about love – love after the initial thrill of passion has gone. Everyday, what shall we have for dinner, love. The performers attempt to enact scenes from the lives of a couple, but continually come up against the obstacle of missing furniture or set, which they have to carry on from the wings. The positions that the furniture will occupy is marked out on to the floor in (hand drawn) white chalk paint. Somewhere in between a (1:1 scale) floor plan and crime scene.

Parts For Machines That Do Things (2008)
A co-production with Sheffield Theatres.
Devised by Alexander Kelly, Jeremy Killick, Gillian Lees & Chris Thorpe.
A show about aircrash investigation, about cause and effect. The performers piece together the narrative through extracts of text – monologue and dialogue – whilst also constructing, on camera, model-kit passenger airplanes.

The three projection screens were treated as a triptych, frames in which images were constructed as if they were drawings – sometimes explanatory diagrams, sometimes more abstract imagery.

What I Heard About The World – Story Map (2010)
A collaboration with mala voadora, originally presented with Forest Fringe.
Devised & Performed by Jorge Andrade, Alexander Kelly & Chris Thorpe.
Photographs by Isa Maubach.


A durational research performance that gathers, and re-tells, stories from the audience. True stories of fakes, replicas, stand-ins and substitutes. The world is mapped out, alphabetically, using post-it notes over the course of 12 hours. We attempt to collect a story for each country from the audience, or from our own memories. Each story is then labelled with a two word title, and illustrated with a hand-drawn icon to stand on the map.

What I Heard About The World (2010)
A co-production with mala voadora, Sheffield Theatres and Teatro Maria Matos, in association with PAZZ Festival and Worldmapper.org.
Devised & Performed by Jorge Andrade, Alexander Kelly & Chris Thorpe,
in collaboration with José Capela & Rachael Walton.
Rehearsal photographs by Clive Egginton.
Show photographs by Craig Fleming.
Plane photograph by Alexander Kelly.

A theatre performance intertwining stories gathered from the Research Table durational performance and other sources. The live drawing technology from Songmap was in the rehearsal process for some time, particularly to represent the specificity, subjectivity and fallibility of maps. As we moved away from maps to focus on the stories we had gathered, the drawing remained, but as physical objects – as stand-ins – for real things, with one drawing done live to tell the story of donkeys in Gaza zoo being painted to look like zebras.

The ‘prepared’ drawings play with the scale of representation: a life-size ‘flat daddy’ is blown up from a small illustration; life-size haircuts are drawn actual size; a hijacked passenger airplane is drawn in miniature 3D.


**
www.thirdangel.co.uk

Third Angel is Regularly Funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire. All of the projects presented here were also supported by funds from the National Lottery via Arts Council England.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Testing the Hypothesis (v4)

This is a version of a talk I gave a few times earlier this year, originally for Hybrid - now the Northern Arts and Science Network - and then at the University of Huddersfield's Research Festival and at Leeds Met University.  Some elements of this talk have appeared on this blog before, or in other talks, or even in the shows discussed, so please forgive any repetition.

**


"As the Secretary General of the United Nations, an organization of 147 member states who represent almost all of the human inhabitants of the planet earth, I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and all its inhabitants are but a small part of the immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step." Kurt Waldheim
It starts in the mid 1990s when I am at film school, studying editing and art direction.  I hear, somewhere, about the Voyager Interstellar Mission and the Golden Record. Two space probes each carrying a gramophone record, and accompanying needle, bearing messages from the people of Earth, in many languages, to whoever, to whichever extra-terrestrial intelligence, might find it.

The record also carries 116 encoded images of life on Earth - in the 1970s - as selected by Carl Sagan and his team at NASA.  The record is enclosed in a circular golden case, on the front of which are a series of diagrams and maps, including instructions as to how to decode the images on the record.

To enable users to understand that they are decoding the images correctly, the first image is this, a perfect circle:


I find out that there is a book about the Golden Record, by Carl Sagan, with the beautiful name, Murmurs of Earth.  It is out of print, so I go to Sheffield City Library to try to find it.  The librarian has to go down into the basement to find it for me which definitely means that it is Reference Only, and I’m not allowed to take it home.  I flick through it, as I don’t have much time, and then photocopy two pages – the diagrams on the cover of the case of Golden Record itself, and the message from Kurt Waldheim.

I take the photocopies back to college and stick them up on the wall of my workspace, where they become invisible through familiarity.

**

In 1999 Third Angel was approached by German company Drei Wolken about collaborating on a show for the Transeuropa Festival.  By way of introducing themselves they sent us a translation of the text of their most recent show, The Long Distance Piece.  Amongst a variety of evocative explanations and statistics, there is a section about Voyager 2, and it’s journey away from Earth.

I thought: "I would like to make a show about the Voyager space probes."

And then we carried on making our show about phone boxes, Hang Up.

Juliet Ellis in Hang Up. Photo by Rob Hardy

Hang Up is a show set in four replica red telephone boxes. Six weeks in to the eight week making process we were stuck. We had two shows. We had the start and end of a great show about kidnapping, with the performers bound and gagged trying to escape from phone boxes, and then the performers trying to bind and gag themselves and lock themselves away. In phone boxes.

We also had a lot of material that was more about conversation rituals, phone boxes as venues for illicit encounters, the opportunity to disguise who you are.  Our phone boxes had miniature infra-red videocameras built in them, connected to projection screens above each box, but at this point we were also spending a lot of time on stage outside the boxes.


John Rowley in Hang Up.

We didn’t know what the show was. One lunch time someone asked me why we were making a show about phone boxes.  I said:

"It’s because when I pass a phonebox at night, when it is lit up, and there’s someone in it, particularly if you’re passing in a car or a bus, that fleeting glimpse makes me feel…something. Something hard to pin down. The person in that phonebox could be anyone, could be talking to anyone in the world, about anything. They could be pretending to be anyone.  But I’ll never know – I just have an image, a few seconds of movement and body language and the way they are dressed to make a guess about.  It’s about all of that possibility contained in a phonebox."

"So," someone said, "we should never come out of the phoneboxes then, in the show."

We went back into the rehearsal room that afternoon and compiled a list of all the material we had, in an order, and the performers' instruction was to perform that material without ever leaving their individual phoneboxes. If the material didn’t work restricted to the booths, it was out.

And that afternoon, albeit in broad strokes, we made the show. We saw what fitted, and what didn’t. We understood what the show is, what the task of it is. From that point on we were able to see where the gaps were, and what material needed to be found.

**



In 2000 Third Angel made Class of ’76, a show in which I stand up and talk about what I found out when I set out to try to find the other 34 children from my infant school photograph, producing their photographic images in the air next to me, one at a time.  School hall magic, I wrote at the time, summoning the ghosts of the living.

Early on in the process we invited a few people in to see some ideas for the work.  After watching the material, which included several digressions, formally and thematically, from the task of talking about my class mates, Claire Marshall, indicating the task of producing the image of each child next to me and talking about them, said to us: “Trust that. That’s what your show is.”

**

In 2002 I made a piece with 18 students in Scarborough called Of Course It’s A Journey, in which we explored themes of scale, distance, absence, travelling home, doing things apart and doing things together.  It included a group text, inspired by Drei Wolken’s The Long Distance Piece, and the NASA website, that charted the history of Voyager 2’s journey through the solar system. This text included a line which told you, as an audience member, how far Voyager 2 was from Earth on the day that you heard it.

**

Abigail Davies and Rachael Walton in Leave No Trace.

In 2002, whilst we were making the show Leave No Trace, I read the book Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick.  Gleick’s first book, Chaos, was about the genesis of Chaos theory, and on the cover there was a quote from Douglas Adams, something like “I read this and felt like someone had found the light switch”.  When I read Faster, I felt like someone had found the light switch.

As with all projects, the process of making Leave No Trace had its own unique challenges. The show is about a woman who suffers from a fugue – a mental condition where you lose your memory and then travel, away, but are not alarmed by your lack of memory.  It’s difficult to research because the cases of fugues are impossible to document as they are happening. People only really remember the moments before the fugues, and the moments coming out of them.

The show is a conversation between Alice, the woman who experienced the fugue, and another woman, who may or may not be her therapist. It took us three versions of the show to understand that what the show is a conversation, in real-time, between Alice’s original personality and the fugue personality, at the moment she hands back control of the body to Alice. It might seem strange, or disingenuous, now, but it was really a case of us realising who the second character is, as we re-wrote and re-rehearsed for the third version of the show – which sadly never got performed in the UK.

All three versions of the show included a section we called 'Hurrysickness', in which, drawing on Faster, Alice lists all of the feelings of time pressure she had been experiencing up to the point of her mind flipping its safety switch and her leaving the life she knew.

This short speech of Alice’s was actually taken from a longer text, also referred to as 'Hurrysickness', which was actually pretty much me explaining aspects of the book, Faster, that meant the most to me.

**


Jerry Killick in Realtime. Video still by Rob Hardy/Christopher Hall.

In 2004 we began working with three psychologists, Dr Peter Totterdell and Christine Sprigg of the Institute of Work Psychology in Sheffield, and Dr David Sheffield, then at Staffordshire University, on a research project called KaroshiKaroshi took its name from the Japanese word meaning ‘death from overwork’, and aimed to explore the psychological and physiological effects of time pressure.  In tandem with the research project we were commissioned to make two pieces for the exhibition Wonderful: Visions of the Near Future, by Arnolfini in Bristol: a video piece and a performance lecture.

Partly in response to timetables and scheduling, we decided to make the video piece before working with the psychologists, and using it as a way of kick-starting the process with them – a way of starting the conversation.  We set out to make a video of the Hurrysickness monologue that I wrote as a theatre text, with Rachael and I in various appropriate real world locations.  But this idea reminded us too much of that Fast Show sketch (Brilliant!), and Rachael took the text off me saying she’d “like to have a go at it.”

She came back with an entirely re-written text, now called Realtime, and said “you’re not in this anymore, and neither am I.”  We cast our regular collaborator Jerry Killick as a man in a waiting room.  He addresses the camera, talking to the audience, as if in a theatre. But the film plays with the fact that on screen you can manipulate time, slow action down, pause it, rewind it. It does things you can’t do live. That’s what this piece is, Rachael has understood, it’s a film.

We showed the film to Peter, Christine and David, and began a multistranded exploration process that threw up the possibility of many different projects.  We were quickly struck by how, despite the so-called art-science divide, we actually all talked in a very similar way about making work.  We fell in love, a little bit, with the precision with which “our” scientists talked about their work.

For example, they don't talk about being tired.  They talk about cognitive fatigue.  I think you are much more likely to get a way with taking the day off work if you phone in with cognitive fatigue one morning, rather than saying you're a bit tired.  They don't talk about keeping a diary.  They talk about time-sampling.  When they get unexpected results in an experiment they don't say something's gone wrong, they say: "the data isn't behaving."

During these conversations it struck me that devising a show has a lot in common with the way scientists approach experiments – testing an hypothesis, trying to prove it wrong.

When devising work we are continually asking ourselves, is this what the show is? Or, is this what the show is? No. Not quite. Okay, change that. Change this. So, is this what the show is? Closer. 

We talk about finding out what the task of the show is.  Defining, testing, rebuilding, trying again.  Figuring it out. Making discoveries.

**



Hurrysickness became a performance lecture, with barely any trace of the original monologue I wrote, inspired of course by our work with the three psychologists. A mapping of a territory; a reporting back. The show has ‘experiments’ in it – ad hoc surveys of data gathered from the audience.  It culminates in us suggesting to the audience that in order to ease their own hurry sickness, they begin to live a lunar day, instead of a solar day, to give themselves an extra hour [well, technically speaking, an extra 52 minutes] a day to fit everything in. We demonstrate how the astronomy of this works using a melon and a lemon on sticks.

But during the Karoshi research process we also planned a much bigger show, a piece that was to be at once an art project and an experiment.  But that bigger idea never arrived, and instead the Karoshi research into time fed in to many of the projects that followed:


In Standing Alone, Standing Together, we attempted to slow down the public passing through the avenue in Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery on a Saturday afternoon, with 50 identically dressed performers occupying the space.

[You can watch a short video of Standing Alone, Standing Together here.]



 
Lucy Ellinson in Presumption. Photo by Mark Cohen.

Presumption is a theatre piece in which the two performers have to build their own set in order to carry on with the scene they are presenting.  It is a show about love – not romantic, thrill of passion love, but domestic, what shall we have for tea love. In its final third, the show becomes obsessed with the future, how every hour of a relationship is less significant than the one before because it is a smaller proportion of it… How the first hour of a relationship is the relationship in its entirety, but an hour 7 years in is less than 0.02% of it.  The show becomes distressed with the thought that we spend, apparently, 36 days of our lives looking for stuff in the fridge, and that there will come a point, though we might not know it, when one of us is going to die soon, and leave the other one alone, and we will have little more than a month left together and I will have spent more time than that, in my life, looking for things in the fucking fridge.

This section of the show often gets a laugh at that pay off, which initially struck me as strange, because the thought terrifies me.  But maybe that’s why it’s funny.

**

Meanwhile, I still harboured a desire to “make a show about the Voyager space probes”.

Whilst touring the one-man show The Lad Lit Project, on my own in a white van, across what felt like the entirety of the UK, I used my Voyager text in a piece for Three Minute Wonders in Bristol with Alex Bradley, that I called simply Distance, and at a BAC lunchtime scratch in Edinburgh that I call The Distance Project.  In this version I combined the Voyager 2 text with an improvised description of how I would travel from the spot I am standing on back to the place I was born.  The juxtaposition of the spiralling journey into the solar system and into the future, and the more mundane journey by public transport seemed to work somehow. Someone told me afterwards that it made the bus ride to Bloxwich Maternity Home seem epic.

Although I was determined that The Distance Project wasn’t to be a performance lecture, I did imagine that it was the next one-man show.  But as soon as Rachael and I began work on it, preparing for a work-in-progress showing at Leeds Met Studio, she got up and started doing stuff. Performing. In the show. And it seemed perfectly natural.  Because the Voyagers carry messages from the human race. I understood one of the things that the show is: a show to be performed by a male and female human being.

**

From 2005 to 2007, the making of The Distance Project is deliberately part-time and extended, with several showings and try outs of material. We continually feel like we have some of the material, but not the form.

- we represent the Sun with melon, and the Earth, to scale, with a pepper corn 78 ft away.
- we read the Voyager text remotely, by walkie talkie.
- we describe more journeys by public transport.
- we change the title to 9 Billion Miles from Home.
- we create a field of beautifully lit papier-mâché spheres, but we’re are confused as to whether these are stars or planets.
- we fill the spheres with rice and rock salt, that is allowed to pour out over the stage.
- we record the binary message from the Arecibo Telescope as a spoken text: zero zero zero zero zero one zero zero…etc
- we imagine two human beings in a post-apocalyptic future, living on tinned food, and receiving images from Voyager somehow.
- we attempt to describe the world as if all we can see of it are the images on the Voyager satellites.
- we see a video of a man on YouTube, who can draw a perfect circle freehand on a black board.
- I draw this picture in my note book:

- we talk about a stage structure in which, when you are ‘in the circle’ you are inside Voyager, and inside the Voyager material, and when you are outside of the circle you are outside of Voyager, and are able to explore other material.
- we realise that Rachael will not be able to make and tour the show, and invite Gillian Lees, a performer we know is as interested in doing as she is in saying, into the process to perform the show with me.
- we begin to shed the material that Gillian does not find a connection with. Editing. Cutting.



- we replace the walkie-talkies with tin cans on string. We like the fact that we have to keep the string taught for them to work. But we don’t like that this feels like we have to keep away from each other.
- we replace the string with a pulley system, which means that to keep the line taught we have to give each other our weight, and we have to allow each other to move.
- we talk about the work of Marcus Coates, particularly his project Journey to the Lower World, in which he performs a full-on shamanic ritual in a condemned tower block in Liverpool. We talk about the fine line he treads so well, between acknowledging the absurdity of what he is doing and taking what he does absolutely seriously.
- we talk about Shamanism.
- we talk about rituals performed to heal one person, in order to heal everyone.
- we talk about the Clock of the Long Now, and Brian Eno’s original idea of the Big Here.
- we feel like we have found our focus – in amongst all of this research and development, these are the things that both Gill and I are most interested in.
- we talk about leaving, returning, reporting back.
- I meet the astrophysicist Dr Simon Goodwin, who is very generous with his time. During a three hour conversation which, it is no exaggeration to say, changes the way I perceive the solar system, he pretty much convinces me that there is no other technologically intelligent life in our galaxy, and probably not in the Universe. He tells me how, when he talks about this in public, one or two members of the audience always get very angry with him when he tells them that.
- I am struck with the idea that therefore the messages on the Voyager craft are not messages to other intelligent life, but back to the people of Earth, to the future generations of our planet. Messages to us here, now.
- we replace the spheres with circles.
- we change the rock salt to talcum powder.


- we realise that what we need is a perfect 3m diameter circle of talc on the floor. Whilst discussing the making of this circle as a task to be done as part of the set up, I say, “Getting this circle precise is going to be really fucking hard.”  Gillian says a great thing; she says, “If it's going to be really hard to do, we should be doing it in front of the audience.”
- we admit to each other that we want to perform a double shamanic ritual that might enable Gillian and I to help each other – Gillian to live in a longer now, myself to live in a bigger here – in order to help the audience. Or witnesses, as we start to think of them.

I realise that my journey is to be something like an out of body experience, to Voyager One – at the outer limit of the explored solar system – 9 billion miles away.  I have lists of statistics and measurements, of the various distances from the surface of the Earth of different types of cloud, of satellites, of the International Space Station, of airplane flight paths and their beautiful names like Blue Six and Gold Nine.

Rachael often says to me, gently, sometimes, or exasperatedly, or firmly, Rachael says: "Put the notes down. Do it without notes. If it’s in your memory then it’s significant to you."

One evening I leave my note book in the bag, and sit on the floor in the spare room, I close my eyes and I imagine my journey. I don’t try to describe it, I just try to see it. I travel, and I return.  I’m aware how this sounds. I’m not saying I had an out of body experience. But I did sit quietly and see something very clearly in my imagination. Falling away from the earth and seeing everywhere I had ever been mapped out below me in a line of light. Falling back to Earth and seeing all of the people who are close to me, scattered across Europe.

The next day I sit on the stage with Gill and I describe what I saw. "That’s it," she says.

We realise that if this is my journey, Gill’s has to be through time – through her past and into her future.  We also realise that as mine is a moment of stillness, her’s has to be hard work.  And that we have to do it for real each time.



**


Once we’ve made a performance project we always document it, but we’re always interested, even at this point in the process, in developing and exploring the ideas we are working with further.

We need to create full length documentation of shows for our archive, for promotion, for education.  But we also make video work inspired by the documentation of live work – and have produced, over the years, a number of video pieces that take just a moment of a live performance, or the feel of it, or a strand of it – and rework it, develop it or kick against it, in order to make something new.  At the moment of fixing a live work in a video document, we feel a strong urge to continue devising, to make something different.

As soon as Christopher Hall, a film maker who is part of Third Angel, saw 9 Billion Miles From Home, he knew he wanted to shoot it from overhead.  That was never possible in a live performance, as there is a lantern directly over the circle.


After documenting an early performance of the show, we were invited to submit an idea for The Sheffield Pavilion – an exhibition and DVD publication of video works from Sheffield, that responded to the idea of ‘Pavilion’ – a temporary structure or exhibition space.  We persuaded them that the Voyager space probes were pavilion-like in their intent and temporal existence. What constitutes temporary, our proposal asked, in the infinity of time and space?

We successfully proposed a video piece called A Perfect Circle. This small commission allowed us to set up the ritual to perform specifically for camera. We had quickly realised, writing the proposal, that we didn’t want to use any existing live performance documentation along with the overhead shot, but to shoot everything afresh.

I was also interested in revisiting one piece of Voyager material that we had lost from the process very late on, because it didn’t fit with the structure and task of the show. This was Gillian performing the describing of the world as if all she could see of it were the images from the Golden Record.

Setting up in the studio we were already faced with having to make a smaller circle, as we couldn’t get the camera high and wide enough to get it all in at 3m wide.  We had moved on from the pulley system for this version of the ritual, too – the tension of this did not translate to camera in an interesting way.

We set up ready to perform the circle-making task, and turned the cameras on – to shoot the whole process in real time. As Gillian began to make the circle, it occurred to me, standing out of shot, that given that it would be Gill’s voice describing the world, it made sense for it to be only Gillian describing the circle. This was a solo ritual. This was about something else.  I told Chris and Gillian that I wasn’t going to take part, removing myself from this final stage of a journey that had begun with my obsession with the Voyager craft.

In the edit suite Chris realised he wasn’t interested, visually, in the shots of Gillian describing the images, but he kept her voice, and mixed it with music from 9 Billion Miles from Home by David Mitchell – music made, in fact, out of the sound of stars, as recorded by radio telescopes.

On my first visit to the edit suite I asked Chris if we were in fact making a dance film. Chris said, "That’s right."


**

Afterword

There is more information about all of the Third Angel projects mentioned here in the Archive Section of the website [click].

Writer and artist Philip Stanier visited the process of The Distance Project several times and his account of that process, The Distance Covered, which includes some outcomes not detailed here, is published in Devising in Process, edited by Alex Mermikides and Jackie Smart.

And finally, you can now follow Voyager 2 on Twitter

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

What I Heard About The World - dress rehearsal photos

These are photos from the dress rehearsal of What I Heard About The World at Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre, October 2010. Thanks to photographer Craig Fleming for letting us post these.








Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Dust Archive: Second Printing

I am really pleased to say that copies of the second printing of The Dust Archive by Annie Lloyd and myself are now available direct from Annie. Full details are below, and images are available here in an earlier post, here.

The Dust Archive: A History of Leeds Met Studio Theatre
Alexander Kelly and Annie Lloyd

A collection of memories from every performance at Leeds Met Studio Theatre. The Dust Archive book is a beautiful object in its own right comprising hand drawn images on tracing paper each referring to a particular moment from a particular show. Most of the significant UK performance makers of the last two decades are featured, including Forced Entertainment, Lone Twin, Curious, Reckless Sleepers, Stan’s Cafe and Third Angel. The book attempts not so much a comprehensive memoir as an imagistic and emotional recall condensed from hours of video of Alex and Annie in the act of remembering.

Not only does The Dust Archive celebrate the importance of a significant venue on the progressive theatre scene, its form and structure provide a valuable contribution to discussions around memory, archiving, engaging with the past and presenting recalled information. The tracings on the page coming up through the pages beneath add complexity and layering to the sense of fragility and unreliability in the notion of memory itself. This book is a work of art.

Alexander Kelly is Co-Artistic Director of Third Angel with whom he performs, devises, directs and designs new theatre and live art. He is Associate Senior Lecturer in Performance Practice at Leeds Met University.

Annie Lloyd is an independent producer who was Director of Leeds Met Studio Theatre from 1990 to 2009 where she championed and nurtured progressive performance work from the UK and beyond.

The Dust Archive is available for £15 + £2.99 p+p.

To order, contact Annie at: alloyd50 [@] gmail.com

Monday, 18 October 2010

Whatsonstage Interview

There's a new interview with me by Joanne Hartley on the Whatsonstage website, talking about the process of making What I Heard About The World. You can find it here.

Rehearsal Blog 9


Here's Lauren's report on week 6 of rehearsals, the final week in the Lyceum Theatre rehearsal room before moving to the Crucible Studio Theatre for production week. A week of some quite big decisions and changes.

Rehearsal Blog 9: When the World Became Very Big, and Then Very Small

So, the last week of rehearsals. Perhaps not perfect timing for a complete redesign of the show, but a feeling that it was necessary seemed to be shared by the group. Rachael suggested a new running order, and that the 'playing space' should be changed to be very wide and shallow. Props and furniture were scattered across the stage, each piece having one function but not being moved once its used. This forces the performers to move about and create 'business', making it more visually interesting for the audience.

Chris also suggested the idea of literally tracking the journey of the stories; for example the first two stories in the show are from Singapore and Liberia, so they could describe how you would make that journey in real life (since it was me that did the research I can tell you it involves three international airports and bribing a helicopter pilot).

The 'Massacre' section includes material that has remained virtually the same since the performance at Forge almost six months ago, plus a new lengthy text, but it was finally decided that it needed to be shortened. This was a running theme for all the texts that remain in the show, with most of the texts being tightened up, both to shorten the running time, and to improve the flow and dynamism of what remained. For the same reason, some changes were made to who performed the texts, also to ensure that no one performer dominated certain sections of the show.

Rehearsals continued in this vein, but something still didn't feel quite right...so on Wednesday there was another development in terms of the staging, with the playing area reduced to a more intimate size. This obviously had implications for what the set looked like and how the performers interacted. Rachael had invited Julie Horan to work for a couple of days on the art direction, and between her and the group, a domestic feel to the staging began to emerge. The stage now read as a living room that the performers lived in, so this meant that it made more sense for them to tell the stories as much to each other, as 'out' to the audience.

A run-through on this basis with an audience of a few invited guests was performed on Thursday evening, which threw up some interesting points for the performers to consider, including the reading by some of the audience that Alex and Jorge are Chris' imaginary housemates.

One problem that needed solving at the end of the week was defining Chris' role; due to the nature of his texts, it wasn't clear if he was purely a commentator or a fellow storyteller aswell. Since neither the text or the set configuration was final until we moved into the Studio the next week, it was difficult to decide. Hopefully with a new venue and a new set, it would be one of those problems to which the solution would emerge in the space.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rehearsal Blog 8: Forgive Them Father

Catching up with the rehearsal blogs from Lauren... this is for the latter half of week 5 of devising/rehearsals:

Post 8: Forgive Them Father, for They Have Sinned.

The rest of the week was spent developing each story section individually, with a view to having another run-through of everything on the Friday. This focussed on what the performers will actually do whilst telling the story, especially if they are the narrator.

Most intriguing of these sections came from Jorges’ experience of confessing to a priest when he was young. This links to a ‘sin line’ in France, which we were surprised to discover still exits and was immediately worked into the show.* Since a lot of the stories are told in the first person, it didn’t feel like a problem that one of them is actually a personal experience, but it was also attempted with Chris confessing to Alex.

On Friday the performers did a run-through of all the developed material, in a rough order without any transitions or ‘connecting’ sections and it came to almost two hours. This was a little more than the performers were expecting, but didn’t see this as a problem as they felt the show would shrink with further rehearsal. In discussing it in the afternoon, some sections were agreed on as needing big changes, but no-one was prepared to rule anything out entirely at that point.

There was still a hesitation about the role of the screen and live drawing, but it was left until further development was done to make the final decision. It was also thought that Jorge needed more 'normal' things to do and say, as there was a danger that he would be seen as the 'clown' of the trio by the audience.

At this point, some stories that were on the ‘in the show’ pile had been left undeveloped, and would probably remain so as there was already a lot of material written or prepared. The week ended with the performers feeling pretty happy with how the material was coming to life, and were hoping for more of the same next week.

*If you feel the need to confess any sins to an automated Frenchman, the number is: France 0982 463 438

Friday, 1 October 2010

Rehearsal Blog 7: What We Think About The World

Here's Lauren's report from the first half of last week - which was Week 4 of the devising/rehearsal process.

Rehearsal Blog 7: What We Think About the World?
The first task of the week was to do further work on the opening of the show, as it felt important to use the introduction as an implicit statement of intent, and to have it decided in the performers’ heads. This didn’t quite go to plan however, as discussion drifted back to the intentions of the show as a whole.

The material at times feels like the results of a fact finding mission (this perhaps reflects the methodology of getting the stories in the first place), and it was thought that maybe this should be embraced; the show is a snapshot of the world, the performers have heard about it and are ‘reporting back’ to the audience. This allows for the idea that the world the performers describe can only be their interpretation of it, as well as using Portuguese and native tongues when naming countries.

Alex’s ideas about the show changed a lot over the weekend, and some of them were discussed and tried out. He suggested there should be 24 stories, one for each time zone (though this isn’t mentioned to the audience), and that they should be placed on a map but not a literal one, perhaps one made from spotlights. The stories should be character focused, although not necessarily the central character(s). There was debate about whether having a map on stage all the way through would create the same problems that using lots of flat daddies would. Perhaps markings on the floor could suggest a map?

Sifting through the material already generated, and choosing other stories to make a total of 24, quickly made it obvious that this was too many. There were also big geographical gaps in story locations; it wasn’t decided definitively if this was important or not. It was agreed that the rest of the week should be spent developing each of the stories not yet touched on, with the aim of putting it all together on Friday for a run-through. For the time being connecting the stories was not important.

On Tuesday, the Brand Awareness, Radio Silence and Emergency Exit stories were looked at in more detail, which bought up thoughts about the physical aspect of the show. What should performers not actively involved in a story do; should they be on or off stage, should they be setting something else up for a future story, should they just disappear for a bit? Minimising the number of props used, and using them several times was thought to be a cleverer way of dealing with telling some stories. For example a radio is being used during Radio Silence, but could also be used for Massacre, Night Flight and Sin Line. This way all the props could be on the stage all the time, in line with the store room aesthetic the group have been discussing.

The development of Radio Silence induced an interesting debate, as it tells a story where sympathy for an Israeli family could be inferred as taking sides in a particular, complex conflict. Should the way the stories are presented be influenced by the performers’ opinions; does this make it not What I Heard About the World, but What We Think About the World? Some discussion about whether the show was obligated to mention Palestine in the interests of balance, or whether this was too much comment, and the show should just to present the world as they have found it. The performance is a version of the world, and the audience should be allowed to take from it and create their own, new world. 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Rehearsal Blog 6: “The Heartbeat of the Show”

Taking us up to the end of Week 3, here's Rehearsal Blog 6 from Lauren:
Post 6: “The Heartbeat of the Show”
A new day bought new enthusiasm and fresh ideas to the group. Chris had written a text entitled A Series of (Very) Short Pieces About What People Are Doing Right Now, essentially a (very) long list of one sentence summations of stories, both previously collected and new inventions. Alex, Jorge and Chris were (very) excited at this new development, believing it to be potentially the “heartbeat of the show”.

Various improvisations were tried, with Chris reading the text and Alex and Jorge trying ‘interruptions’ to flesh out certain stories if they came to mind. This felt like an promising structure for the show, and in the afternoon was tried again with the order of the list randomised, and shared between the three of them. I think everyone went home feeling a lot of progress had been made that day.

On Thursday, a need to develop shorter versions of the stories was felt, as all the texts up to that point had been at least five minutes long, and whilst they were liked by the group, it would have made for a very long show if all the stories were fictionalised at such length. This new brevity was mingled with the text developed so far, in a repetition of the ...What People Are Doing Right Now improvisation later in the day. Interruptions were both pre-planned and improvised with certain sentences triggering certain set pieces that have previously been developed.

This was the first attempt at performing an entire show with the material, so some things worked well and some didn’t; Jorges’ wailing was a personal highlight! The performers were generally pleased with how well it went for the first try, and how well it seemed to flow. Overall another good day.

With some overnight perspective, the group discussed the run-through and agreed that the content was good, but that they needed structure and to inject more emotion. There was a lot of pacing around thinking what to do next rather than feeling it was ok to sit to one side, and the function of the live drawing needed to be clarified.

A possible introduction idea was developed by all three; that of relating Sheffield to the rest of the world, and of Jorge speaking in Portuguese and Chris attempting to translate. This was developed for the rest of the day, as well as an exercise where Alex attempted to draw a photograph based on Chris’ description of it.

On Friday we were also joined by Clive Eggington, photographer and co-founder of Archive Sheffield, an organisation hoping to: “create new photographic images to depict and preserve the diversity of the cities population”. He is hoping to take photos right through the process, and everyone is happy to have him onboard, and are also hoping to star in one of his stories! It feels a bit surreal to have two levels of documentation going on in the room, but I’m sure we’ll get used to it...

www.archive-sheffield.org

Monday, 20 September 2010

Rehearsal Blog: All These Events Are Happening Now

So, here's Lauren's blog post from the start of last week - Week 3. This takes us up to the point where we had to confront the fact that the idea that we were so excited about in Week 2, whilst visually very strong, was actually getting in the way of performance.

These can be tough decisions. Rachael reminded me of an early version of 9 Billion Miles From Home at Chelsea Theatre, in which we had a field of suspended stars or globes, each beautifully, individually lit. They looked great. But getting up to do anything in amongst them was confusing and impractical. They didn't last into the next stage of the process, but they informed the circular obsession of the version of the show that followed. It is proving to be the case here, too, I think...but, anyway, over to Lauren.

Post 5: “All These Events are Happening Now”

The start of the third week saw the move to the Lyceum rehearsal space, which gave the performers more space and room for a bigger screen, so that the projection aspect of the show could be developed more effectively.

With Rachael in rehearsal at the start of the week, it was seen as a good time to check everyone was happy with the progress made so far, and to compare notes regarding what the performers thought the show was at this point. There was a feeling that the format needed to be decided upon soon, to have as much time as possible to refine the content, as the set design was very simple.

Discussing their ideas of what the show is, proved a point the performers are making in What I Heard; we each have our own version of the world in our heads, never exactly the same as anyone else’s. There were debates regarding the differences in each others’ visions; stories versus characters, nations versus individuals, the function of the stage props and what they represent, whether the show should have discrete sections or should appear to flow as one narrative.

One point agreed on was that the show needed to convey that all the events they mention are happening everywhere, all the time. At the moment there were long texts about one story, but there needed to be ‘micro-narratives’ featuring others, to make the world the performers are creating richer and more textured.

In the afternoon, Alex, Jorge and Chris read through all the text that had been written so far. Reacting to this, Rachael wondered whether the show was actually commenting on the world it was describing. There was disagreement about this, as the tone in which some stories are told in could be thought of as commenting on them.

On Tuesday, the performers met with the set & prop builders, and this forced the performers to clarify their thoughts regarding the use and number of ‘flat daddies’ in the show. They seemed important to include because they have been the hook for getting many people interested in the project from the start, but including many of them may have spatial problems on stage.

These doubts were cemented with the deconstruction of the ‘hijack’ text, again with Rachael and Capela offering feedback. Working out what all three were to do whilst the text is performed by Chris quickly exposed weaknesses in that 'set piece', but also the need for more brevity in dealing with most of the stories in the show. To remedy this Rachael suggested an exercise, in which all three should write material where stories are told just through dialogue, or in the third person.

At the end of the day, energy felt very low and there was a bit of mental panic about throwing out another set design, but as always, tomorrow was another day...

Lauren's photos of the rehearsal process are on her Flickr page, here.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Society of Cartographers Summer School

Lauren's report from Manchester...

Post 4: What I Heard About The World - Research Table at The Society of Cartographers Summer School

On Thursday 9th, the What I Heard team took a day off from rehearsals, to take part in the Society of Cartographers’ 46th Summer School in Manchester. There was some concern, given the previous day’s breakthrough, that the day in manchester might be a bit of an interruption to the devising process, but in the end it turned out to be worthwhile for everyone.

The research table had been run a few times before, so Chris, Alex and Jorge were familiar with the format, so they decided to introduce countries to the map at random rather than alphabetically. Chris then had to place the post-it note representing that country from memory, Jorge read aloud the long and short form of the country’s name in its native tongue, then any stories were collected. Where nothing new came up, or there were no delegates present, pre-gathered stories were re-used.

The delegates seemed to enjoy the improvised, ‘lo-fi’ nature of the map, and had no hesitation in telling Chris to rearrange his post-its when inaccurate (FYI, St Kitts and Nevis is North of St Lucia, not the other way round...). The nature of what a country is has been discussed by the performers before, but it became especially prescient in the company of experts, and there were many interesting discussions about mapping, borders, the history and politics of dividing up the world. We even learnt a new word: exclave.

Alex gave a talk about the development of What I Heard in the afternoon which was warmly received, and we received several new stories from delegates, which will be looked at further next week, and perhaps worked into the show.

Photos can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurencstanley

AudioBoos of Alex’s talk can be found here: Part 1 and Part 2

Rehearsal Blog 3

Here's Lauren's report on Week 2's work in Sheffield:

Post 3: What I Heard About The World Rehearsals Week 2

The start of the second week saw the first weekly visit by Rachael Walton, co-artistic director of Third Angel, and we were also joined by José Cappela, co-artistic director of Mala Voadora with Jorge. This gave the performers the opportunity to hear the opinions and ideas of people new to any developments in the rehearsal space.

Through analysing their progress, it was decided by everyone that greater clarity was needed on what the show is about, and how the stories that have been collected will be deployed. Jorge, Capela and Rachael focused on investigating possible connections between stories, whilst Alex and Chris wrote some potential text for the show, which also developed the way the stories will be blended into one coherent whole.

This naturally led onto discussion as to the role the table/stage will play. Once props were introduced, do they stay there or are they removed? Do performers stay on the stage throughout, or get off it when they are not playing an active part in the show? Should the stage be sloped or flat? Do we even need a stage? This was a source of much debate through the week, but on Wednesday there was a breakthrough that Alex, Jorge and Chris were all excited about (something that I obviously can’t tell you without spoiling the show, sorry!)

It felt important that from now on the performers should set out how they will use their devising time at the start of the day (e.g. improvise around a text for an hour, think about set design for a morning), rather than working where their thoughts took them. This ensured there was tangible progress at the end of each day, which in turn maintains motivation and energy levels through the process, and staves off panic of course!

We all have our own idea of what the world is (like the old adage that if you ask people to imagine a tree, everyone pictures a different tree), so the performers needed to clarify each others’ perception of the world, and that the world the show describes is the performers’ collective version of it. The ‘real’ world and the performers’ world have a relationship with eachother, but they are not the same thing. The performers’ description of the world they have heard about allows the audience to imagine and question the version of the world they hold in their heads.

Overall, a lot of progress was made in the second week, and whilst what a lot of what was developed in the first week has now been scrapped, I think everyone is more satisfied with what has replaced it.