Saturday, 31 December 2011

Off The White


I like that feeling. In the pit of your stomach. After you’ve jumped off something. Not just off a chair, or even a wall. Off something too high. Something so high you’re gonna hurt yourself. Unless you hit water.

Walsall Gala Baths. You weren’t allowed to jump off the diving boards. You had to ask permission to even dive off the highest. The White Board. Colour coded (in Jubilee Year). Red – fairly high; Blue – high; White - fucking high. Strict safety measures in place. A dressing room door, wedged across the stairs from The Blue to The White. Marker pen warning: “NO ACCESS TO WHITE BOARD WITHOUT PERMISSION! That includes you, Wilson”.

The pool looked so small from up there. A whistle. Everyone stops and looks up. No pressure. If you dived badly, (belly flop, back flop) it really hurt. But if you got it right, fantastic. But not the same as jumping. Diving tells your body it’s safe. Head first. You know what you’re doing. That stomach-pit panic doesn’t grip.

Winter 1980 (81?), mid-week. Dark outside. Kick out time. Just you and your mates left. Ask the attendant. (Not life guards. Not in the Midlands). Ask the attendant:

- Can I just go off The White?
- Yeah, alright. If you’re quick.

Pad round the pool side. The water is already becoming still. You used to think it would take half an hour for a pool this big to quiet. But look. It’s only moving gently now. As your trot up the rough wet stairs to the side of The Red. Turn left. Steps up. Pulling yourself up by the hand rails. Left. Onto The Blue walkway. Left. Steps. Up. Over the wedged cubicle door. Top board. The White.

Walk to the edge. Toes curl round the hard concrete. Shivering. Pool shifts slowly. One big ripple. Your mates, halfway down the poolside. You sway. Look down. Instinctively, your hands move. They cup your bollocks.

It could really fucking hurt your balls jumping from this high, and there’s that thing you’ve heard about hitting water so hard it pushes your bollocks back up into you body, but that’s probably like that story that if you are in a falling lift you should keep jumping because if you’re in the air when it hits the ground it will reduce the impact and you might not die.

You jump. You drop fast. Your stomach tightens. The feeling starts lower; moves up your body; towards your chest. You count.

One.

Two.

Thr-

The dark blue of the deep end. You don’t quite hit the bottom. Kick legs. Break surface with a shake of your head. Swim to the side. Pull yourself up the cold metal steps. The attendant... laughing. 

Showers. Shouting. Changing room. Chip shop. 


***

Afterword:
This short story was included as a chapter in the solo performance versions of Words & Pictures. It was also the piece that inspired the title to the performance of Off the White (actually about benches) and also partly Learning to Swim, both pieces I made with Paula Diogo. Reading this lovely piece by Emma Adams reminded me that I had been meaning to post it here for a while. So here it is.



 

Friday, 16 December 2011

A Christmas Single


When I was six, I got a Bionic Man action man for Christmas. I remember that I knew that that was what it was from the size and shape of the box, when it was still wrapped under the tree. I suspect I was very familiar with the dimensions of its packaging from coveting it in toyshops.

My Mom used to let me open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve – probably, I now realise, as a way of diffusing the extreme Christmas morning excitement which would have seen me waking her up at 5am. So I chose the present I knew was my Bionic Man and was overjoyed. I don't remember much else about that Christmas, but I remember he had a red tracksuit and trainers, and some sort of peel-up-able skin on his arm to reveal his bionics.


If you'd asked me at any point in my life what my Favourite Ever Christmas Present was, I would have said that it was that Bionic Man. Mainly because I wanted it so badly, and the massive helping of joy it delivered when I opened it. But I did love it and played with it a lot for the next couple of years.

A few years ago, though, I was lucky enough to get an espresso machine as a joint Christmas and birthday present. And that brings me a little shot (or two) of joy every morning. If I weigh it up, I suspect, the espresso maker has made me even happier, over the years, than my red-tracksuited bionic man.

And then about six months ago I thought I had lost the watch I was given one particular Christmas, and I went a little bit mad until I had found it again - ten minutes later in a pocket in a bag I hadn't noticed before. "Ah," I realised, "it turns out I'm really rather attached to this watch." 


Is 'favourite' favourite now, favourite at the time you opened it, or most important over a longer portion of your life?

Last weekend at the Slung Low Christmas Fayre in Leeds, with help of Hannah Nicklin, and last night at the Inbetween Time Christmas Party in Bristol, I asked people what their favourite ever Christmas present was. I asked them to make cards and write about their favourite presents, and took their addresses so they can all receive someone else's favourite ever present in the post.


People were, as people are, really thoughtful; people had, as people do, some great stories. It was a joy to hear and read them. It was planned as a one-off for the Christmas Fayre, so the invitation to Bristol was a nice surprise – and means I can send cards to/from people in different cities. I'd like to do it again. So perhaps this is a mini-performance equivalent of a Christmas single, and we'll re-release it next year.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Compass Inspiration Exchanges

Inspiration Exchange at Leeds City Museum, as part of the Compass Live Art Festival, was the longest run of the piece I've done. It was nice to have the time for ideas and stories to develop and evolve. When it hits its stride, Inspiration Exchange becomes a long, rolling conversation, which people join or leave as/when they wish. Ideas are passed along from person to person, sometimes reappearing several stories later. People plan to tell one story, then hear something that sets off a new thought.


Sited in the "old back-to-back terraced house", also used as a story telling space in the Museum, there were a steady stream of visitors throughout the six hours, some in specially to see the Compass events, some just in to look around the museum.

It got pretty busy mid-afternoon, but I think I kept track of all the ideas and stories exchanged:

I swapped "SUNDAY WAS ALWAYS A GOOD DAY" 

for SUNDAY, SEVENTH DAY OR FIRST DAY

I swapped A 6B PENCIL 

for A CUP OF TEA
I swapped A CUP OF TEA
for CHILD BIRTH & ROONEY
and I swapped CHILD BIRTH & ROONEY
for MARMALADE PIZZA

I swapped A 94 YEAR OLD SMOKER

for A SMOKING RUNNER

I swapped THE HOUSING BENEFIT CLAIM SYSTEM

for BANKERS WANKERS

I swapped TRACING PAPER

for I LIVE IN YOUR HOUSE

I swapped THINGS STICKING UP OUT OF WATER

for THE HEPWORTH SHOULD BE EMPTIED ONCE A YEAR & OPENED TO VISITORS

I swapped TICK-BOXES FOR SCOTTISH & WELSH

for JOURNEY TO JAPAN

I swapped CLIPBOARDERS

for THE GIANT'S CHAIR
and I swapped THE GIANT'S CHAIR
for PIANO IN THE PARK

I swapped A GOING-BACK-TO-THE-WOMB PILL

for GUINEA PIG DUST

I swapped 23 POSTCARDS, FROM AMERICA, FROM MY DAD

for THE HORRIBLE DREAM.

I swapped IF IN DOUBT, TAKE IT OUT, IF YOU CAN'T WIN, KEEP IT IN

for JUGGLING IN JANUARY

I got a drawing of a STOLEN BUGATTI

I swapped EMPTY BENCHES

for THE SUNYATĀ STONE

I swapped BURNING THE TOAST

for PEOPLE I NEVER KNEW
and then, due to a glitch in the system
I swapped BURNING THE TOAST again,
this time for LARGE GROUPS OF MEN

I swapped DEAD JELLY FISH
for THE DEAD CAT
and I swapped THE DEAD CAT

for THE LUCKY SUNFLOWER

I swapped AIR CRASH INVESTIGATION

for BUILDINGS AS TIME TRAVELLERS

I swapped THREE PINTS OF GUINNESS
for FLEETWOOD MAC
and I swapped FLEETWOOD MAC
for A TALE OF TWO ROVERS

I swapped AN ESCAPED LUNATIC IN CANNOCK CHASE

for COB WALL

I swapped THE INSIDE OF A SAXOPHONE

for THE SIMPLEST ANSWER

I swapped "TAKE IT AWAY, BOYS"

for DEEP END RANCH

I swapped THE VOYAGER SPACECRAFT
for SPACE JOURNEY
and I swapped SPACE JOURNEY
for KICKING THE BASSET

I swapped SPEECH BALLOONS IN PARTICULAR, COMIC BOOKS IN GENERAL
for DANNY GREGORY - 'EVERYDAY MATTERS'.

I swapped 300 CAMERAS A DAY
for THE SANDMAN
and I swapped THE SANDMAN
for DINOSAUR WEE

I swapped 36 DAYS LOOKING FOR STUFF IN THE FRIDGE 
for SOUL SISTAH!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Generating Conversation

Karen approaches us in the bar, weeks later. She says, ‘Ive been wondering, why did I tell you the story I told you?’

Making space and finding time. Sitting opposite. Playing conversation - talking and listening.

Over the years, alongside our end-on seated-audience theatre work, Third Angel has returned to the exploration of a mode of performance built on conversation, or interview, with individual audience members. Performance in as much as we know whats going to happen and they dont; or, at least, we know more about whats going to happen than they do.  We dont know what theyre going to do or say.  We hope that they will do or say more than they would have expected, had we told them in advance, what was going to happen.

Their interaction is what makes the work. It cannot even be properly rehearsed without an audience member sitting opposite. Making the performance involves making the space in which the audience member is allowed - encouraged - to be active, be open, be creative. A space in which they feel comfortable enough to think about things, talk about things that at, say, 10 o’clock that morning, they hadnt thought about for days, weeks, even years. A space in which, at the end of it, they feel comfortable enough to say of what they have given you, ‘Yes, thats fine, Im happy for you to share that with other people.’


Early last year I was invited to speak at a
Cafe Scientifique event called Sing to Me Muse - an event exploring inspiration and asking the old question, where do ideas come from? There was a great panel of speakers, and we were asked to give a short presentation and run a workshop activity. Drawn back to our story-exchanging work, I came up with something that combined the two - a way of swapping ideas that had inspired me with things that had inspired the participants.

It seemed to go well, and in Edinburgh it grew into a
four-artist plus host, durational event at the brilliant Forest Fringe. What really struck me was that the really simple format worked as as a chat in a cafe and as a team performance in a festival. This year the format has shifted for a couple of other incarnations, running in the breaks of TEDxYork - bookended by mini TED talks, and slipping back into Forest Fringe for the Edgelands flash-conference in August.

Of all the story-exchanging projects we've done,
Inspiration Exchange is the most direct, from the descriptive title to the mechanism of performance. It strikes me that in these interactive pieces, that I think of partly as 'conversation generators', the key is to find a clear mechanism, a simple rule, that allows the conversation to happen.


I'm excited that this weekend, as part of
Compass Festival of Live Art, I'll be running a six hour Inspiration Exchange in Leeds City Museum. As well as festival and symposium delegates, I hoping there will be an audience who just find me, tucked away in the 'back-to-back terraced house', and who might be interested to stay for a chat.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Time & Space at Bloc Projects

We've got a busy weekend coming up, with work on in Sheffield, Leeds and Coxwold in North Yorkshire. More on the latter two will follow, but in Sheffield we're opening Time & Space, a microfestival of film and video work at Bloc Projects and The Rutland Arms.

The programme at Bloc is a changing series of video installations:

Opening night, with bar: Friday 25th November, 6-8pm
plus Saturday & Sunday 26th & 27th, 12-6pm
FLOORS
by Lauren Stanley & Third Angel

Film-maker Lauren Stanley was intern on the rehearsal process for What I Heard About The World last year: researcher, documenter, tech assistant plus video artist. She made several pieces in response to the process, including this piece, capturing the moment just before the doors open before a performance and using Chris Thorpe's opening song. For Time & Space we're presenting Floors, a response to the atmosphere of the rehearsal room, rather than the activity in it. Lauren writes:
Floors was born from a moment of daydreaming. Following the shadows that Alex, Chris and Jorge made as they paced around on the shiny rehearsal room floor, I noticed the patterns and relationships that were forming in that section of What I Heard About the World were reflected by the floor. They moved around each other, but they stood alone and told their stories separately. The floor was a map of the world, but that meant something slightly different to each of them.

Even a map of the world has a point of view, a reflection of the makers’ location, politics and outlook. Floors has come to represent my map, what I really have heard about the world. Many fragments, tones and single beams of light, all linked to the rest but working separately. Each can easily be lost but all affect the result. And it will probably look slightly different to you.
Monday 28th & Tuesday 29th, 12 - 6pm
THE KAROSHI FILMS
Third Angel

Karoshi, a research process taking its name from a Japanese word meaning "death from overwork", fed into a number of Third Angel projects, from Hurrysickness to Presumption. For Time & Space we are gathering together the video pieces it inspired or fed into:
Realtime  A man, waiting, in a waiting room, wants to know if you know just how long a minute is?
Alone Together  A documentary response to the 50 performer intervention Standing Alone, Standing Together.
Technology  A man tries to understand how technology works, how light-clocks work, how a mug works, and explain it to you.
A Perfect Circle  A woman performs a ritual of travelling and returning, and tries to describe life on planet earth, as witnessed by the images on the Voyager spacecraft.

Wednesday 30th November, 12 - 6pm
THE TRAVELS FILMS
Christopher Hall & Alexander Kelly

A series of highly manipulated video pieces, originally made in response to Third Angel's Pleasant Land travels, exploring travel - by vehicle, and by foot, long distance and local - across the UK.

We round the microfestival off at The Rutland Arms at 8pm, Thursday 1st December, with the return of PROJECTOR, our curated short film night, featuring The Very Hard Film Quiz:

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Cost of Training

We learn from doing, from making work. From a desire to make something new, something the audience has not seen or experienced before, something none of us would have made on our own. We challenge ourselves, to have to learn new things about making work each time – about making that particular piece of work. Setting ourselves new problems to solve. And as one project nears fruition there will always be two or three more developing – sometimes born out of the current project, often a response to, or a reaction against, it. Let's do something different this time. Sometimes we will want to develop an idea, continue down a path of exploration. But usually there will be a project coming up where the unspoken intention is to not be able to use the lessons learned so far. To get ourselves in to new trouble.

I've got a short piece in the latest edition of the Journal of Dance and Performance Training. It's a response to the question "What is the Cost of Training?" My bit is in there with some really interesting responses from Dick McCaw, Charlotte Vincent, Jodean Sumner, Konstantinos Thomaides, Marie-Gabrielle Rotie and Peter Petralia.

You can download it here, but given that it is quite expensive for an individual, it's worth checking if your library already subscribes to the print or online edition. And if they don't you, can click the recommend button and see if they'll subscribe for you.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cape Wrath Storify



Tuesday, 20 September 2011

To Cape Wrath

As I write this I am on a coach from Sheffield to Inverness, on my way to Cape Wrath.

In September 1988, when I was 19 and he was in his early 60s, my grandad went on a trip, on his own, from Walsall in the West Midlands, to Cape Wrath. Though not particularly eventful, the story of this trip has been retold by my family over the years. This is the version of the story that I remember:

My grandad set off from Walsall with the intention of visiting Cape Wrath. My grandfather was Scottish, Glasgow born and bred. But I don’t think he had ever been as far north as Cape Wrath before. He used public transport as far as he could, then hitch-hiked the last bit of the journey.

He got dropped off by a postman who told him he would be back in a couple of hours and could pick him up if he liked. So my Grandad sat on the cliff at Cape Wrath “and looked at the sea and thought about my life.”

The postman picked him up a couple of hours later, and he went home.

There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the basics. I've often thought about this journey, in the years since, and what it must have been like to do it. So this week I'm finding out. I can't do the journey exactly the same way as my grandad did it, but I'm doing it as closely as possible.

And I guess that at some point, I'm interested in talking about it, one way or another. We'll see.

**

UPDATE: More on the actual journey in the next entry.

Monday, 5 September 2011

12 Hours


The first couple of hours are the least like performance. The quietest. The most like the devising-room game or task from which the show is born. The most like the three (or now four) of us playing the game by ourselves, with the audience dropping in to see how we're doing.

Mornings are more like a working exhibit for people to interact with. I enjoy the atmosphere of this: the phase where we are still finding our rhythm, getting a handle on the acoustics and layout of the space. We're slowest in these early hours, despite the fact that the smaller number of visitors means we actually have more control over the work-rate. We are working the whole time, we just get through less countries than the 17 or 18 an hour we need to. I'm still getting my drawing-fingers loosened up, Chris is still looking to find his two-word-story-title punning-mojo, Jorge still getting into the groove of the randomised-country-selection-system, and how much he should control the pace. There's more discussion, more digression, more discarded drawings.

It's strange to think of it as 'performance' or 'show' during the morning. It's pre-matinee; pre-lunch. Often, when the audience speak to us in the morning, it is individually, telling just one of us a story - at the drawing table, or across the book, or taking Chris aside by the map - rather than telling the whole room, from their seat.

Although we ran early versions of Story Map for three- and six-hour performances, now we know we can just about get through the whole world in 12 hours, that's the timeframe that interests us. That's what gives us morning starts, and I like the different feel the piece has as we progress through the day.


Lunch time, of course, is when it gets busy. Audience members have food and drink with them. We do, too, going cold behind us. We stop thinking about the time, just keeping the cycle of the piece going. When it gets busy we feel the pressure to entertain, to play to the room more, but we enjoy the shift into doing the task for/with the audience. With the people in the room. And we like, of course, the fact that there are more people to tell us stories.

After lunch people drift away, back to work, out to the shops, back home. By half-past two, three o'clock, it's much quieter. We notice the time again. Have a quick break. Get coffee, have a tidy round after the lunchtime rush.

In the afternoon we're more likely to notice people again as they arrive, welcome them. Families. Kids. We have to think more about the telling of some of the stories, avoiding certain details, making the darker material we have gathered into something more like fairystories. Chris is able to find a role for kids in the stories, or a connection with their own experience.


We pass halfway late in the afternoon, and do our first full count, invariably finding that at the halfway point (time) we are not halfway through (countries). We work out the new hourly rate required for the rest of the day. Someone works out how many minutes per country we have. The dilemma is that we don't just want to charge through, ticking-off countries, the point is to gather, and tell, stories. But we (well, certainly I) do want to complete the task, too. (About) 200 countries in 12 hours. So our concentration does shift; we get quicker at moving on to the next country, we keep the momentum going, and the conversation focussed on the stories of replicas and substitutes that we are seeking.

Tea time. More people come and go. More people dropping in after work. There's a change in the feel of the audience, too. They seem happier to sit and watch, now, only talking when they are certain they have a story to contribute. Perhaps because this is the more normal time for "watching a show", but in early evening, they seem more traditionally "audience"-like.

With two hours to go, the numbers start to build. People who were with us earlier in the day come back. They want to know what they've missed. We get more requests for stories, more stories offered for the countries that are still unclaimed. The show itself is busier now, more theatrical. There's pressure on Chris to tell more stories, whilst Jorge starts to drive us faster, taking over and moving us on. I start to get a backlog of drawings to do. We feel the need here to share/gather stories from the biggest audience, whilst also feeling the pressure to hit the target: we have a very clear minutes/country rate to achieve worked out by now.

And then in the last half an hour we find we have all the time we need. We can slow down. I start to worry that we won't fill the last twenty minutes. We're able to take more story requests. We know the last five countries that we have to do, laid out on Jorge's table, and whether we already have stories about them to share. I enjoy the serendipity of this, how the last country always seems appropriate, somehow.


We name the last name: conventional longform, conventional shortform, local longform, local shortform. We place it on the map. We solicit, or tell, a story. We name the last story. Two words. We illustrate the story and stand the last drawing on the map. Sometimes, sometimes we have a couple of minutes to spare.

Naturally I enjoy the fact that it doesn't end here. People gather round the map, ask what a particular drawing means, which title it relates to; they tell us more stories, ask what will happen to the map.


**
Photographs here are of Story Map at Hull Truck Theatre on 1 September 2011 as part of Freedom Festival, by Hannah Nicklin. More photos (along with videos and audioboos of some of the stories) are up at whatiheardabouttheworld.co.uk, which Hannah set up, and on her Flickr pages.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Story Mapping at Hull Truck



What I Heard About The World and its sister project Story Map are both back out on the road this autumn.  We are translating the English and Portuguese version of What I Heard About The World, that tours in Portugal, back in to English this month, and previewing this new version in Leeds on 5 and 6 October, before a more extensive UK tour at the start of next year. We'll also be presenting the dual language version in Porto in November, too.

But this week we re-launch the research for the project with Story Map, running from 10am - 10pm on Thursday 1 September, in the upstairs foyer of Hull Truck Theatre. As ever we'll be mapping the world from memory, placing post-it note countries on the map, deferring to the CIA as to what actually constitutes a country, and collecting stories of fakes, replicas, substitutions and stand-ins. The stories we collect are pinned with a title and an icon, and then re-shared throughout the performance. If you're in Hull, pop in at any time, choose a story or help us fill in one of the gaps by sharing a story with us. Stay for as long or short a time as you wish - it's free.

If you're not in Hull, you can follow the show online, and contribute stories to the map. Chris, Jorge and I will be joined by Hannah Nicklin, who will be documenting the map as it grows throughout the day at whatiheardabouttheworld.co.uk, and on Twitter using the hashtag #whatiheardabouttheworld.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Pills For Modern Living at Edgelands


edgelands (67 of 76), originally uploaded by hannahnicklin.

Some nice photos of the Edgelands event at Forest Fringe by co-curator Hannah Nicklin up on her Flickr stream. Include pictures of our Inspiration Exchange and the Pills For Modern Living installation along with all the other great stuff that happened...

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Third Angel artists in Edinburgh

Although we're not "doing Edinburgh" in the taking-a-show-for-a-full-week-or-longer sense this year, there's still plenty of Third Angel work and related activity on offer.

We'll be showing our preview of tomorrow's medicine cabinet, the light-box installation Pills For Modern Living with the brilliant Forest Fringe, around the Edgelands event (co-curated by artist, activist, tech-enthusiast and Third Angel board-member, Hannah Nicklin) on 21 August, at which I'll also be running an Inspiration Exchange from 4.30pm. Come along on the 21st and swap something that has inspired you for something that has inspired me.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to mentor The Other Way Works' lovely and intimate Avon Calling. It's on in Edinburgh for just three shows: 23, 24 & 25 August 2011, 7pm (75 mins). There are only 10 places available for each show. It's just £10 (pay in cash on the door) and that includes a glass of fizz! To book your place at the party email Ric Watts on ric [@] ricwatts.com and he'll let you know the secret home location near the Pleasance.

Also, Third Angel artists are showing work in Edinburgh:
Lucy Ellinson is Do-er in Residence at Forest Fringe, making and showing intimate new pieces each day, from 15 - 27 August. Lucy's curated series of One Minute Manifestos were brilliant last year, so I'm excited to see what she does this year. Lucy will be performing in Metis Arts' 3rd Ring Out from 18 - 21st, though the show is on for a full two weeks. More details here. And she'll also be previewing a new piece, Where We Meet, with Chris Goode, which sounds fantastic - more details here.

Chris Thorpe is already up and running in Edinburgh with The Oh Fuck Moment, which he has devised and written with Hannah Jane Walker. It's on as part of the great looking programme at Remarkable Arts, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it later this month.

Gillian Lees is in Edinburgh with Proto-type Theater's Third Person: Bonnie & Clyde Redux. Their last two shows were really lovely, and again, I'm looking forward to checking this new(er) piece out. You'll find them at Gryphon Venues from 22 - 27 August, as part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase.

Our good friends Action Hero, who we have mentored, off and on, over the last few years, are also part of both the British Council Showcase and Forest Fringe with Watch Me Fall. It's a brave and thrilling piece about stunt men and macho culture, in which Gemma probably performs the most impressive feats. Go see 'em.

And last but not least, James Harrison will be running tech-support for Forest Fringe, notably for Edgelands and Action Hero. Do say hello if you see him. I owe him a bottle of Malbec.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

TEDxYork Inspiration Exchange talks

Here are videos of the two presentations I gave at TEDxYork earlier this month, as detailed previously. These are the two six(-ish)-minute talks that bookended the Inspiration Exchange I ran during the day.

Part One:



Part Two:



Thanks to Marcus Romer and the Pilot Theatre team for taking such care in getting them up online. The whole day was full of inspirational speakers, and I can really recommend checking all the talks out on the TEDxYork YouTube playlist.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Songmap Sketch


Songmap sketch1, originally uploaded by third angel.


Going through images from Words & Pictures this evening, I came across this, a scan of an early pencil drawing of how Songmap might work, using the Arab Strap song The First Big Weekend. It's obviously more detailed than the drawing I'm able to do in the performance, when I only have the length of the song to draw the song. It's reminded me that I want to get back to doing more drawing with pencil.

There's more on how the project developed, in this earlier post.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Inspiration Exchange: Phoneboxes

I was invited by Marcus Romer to present at TEDxYork last week. It was a great and inspiring day, and I was pleased to get a chance to talk about the Phoneboxes, as part of an Inspiration Exchange.

First off, here's a [slightly longer] version of what I said about the phoneboxes.

---

I'm inspired by telephone boxes. Now I know that 'inspired' might seem like a strong word when it comes to something as everyday as phoneboxes, but they intrigue me. They make me feel, well, a bit excited, when I come across one.

And it started here.

 
          01369 870 212

This is Glen Striven in Scotland, on the western shore of Loch Striven. (No doubt you've recognised 01369 as an Argyll and Bute area code.) It's actually the end of the public road - the gates, and some others you can't see, are to private estates. When I took this photograph about 12 years ago, it seemed to me that the main users of the phonebox were the three-man crew of the LNG Lagos, which at that point had been laid-up there for eight years. Chatting to one of the crew, I found out that each morning one of them would take their small motorboat across the loch to check their postbox and make a few calls. They did have a mobilephone on board the Lagos, but this was back when mobile calls were very expensive and they weren't allowed to use it for personal calls. So I took a photo of the phonebox and wrote down the number. I don't know if I imagined I was going to give them a call or something.

Of course, in some ways, it started before this. It started with a phonebox on Glossop Road in Sheffield. One evening I was on a bus: it was dusk, the phonebox was lit up, and there was a man inside. I obviously couldn't hear what he was saying, but in the six or seven seconds it took me to pass him, I could see from his body language, and his hand gestures, that what he was talking about was important.

And it started before that in a phonebox at Nether Edge crossroads in Sheffield. It was a Friday morning, and I was standing inside it, whilst my girlfriend stood outside, watching me make calls, rearranging my weekend plans, making new travel arrangements. Because half an hour earlier I had got a phonecall on our incoming-calls-only-landline in our shared house, 5 minutes walk away, telling me that I needed to go home to the midlands, and that I needed to do it today, to go to the hospital today, in case any later was too late.

And it started before that on Milking Stile Lane, in Lancaster, where I lived as a student. Because we were poor, and our landlord was crap, we didn't have a phone. So we would give out the number of the phonebox outside our front door as our own phone number, thinking that Greg or I, who had the front bedrooms, would hear it ring. But of course we never did, and we would sometimes open the door to slightly bemused knocks from passersby telling us that we had a call. Our friends and family were only sporadically successful in getting though to us, often finding themselves saying, "Yes, I know it's a phonebox, will you please knock at the door of number 1 for me?"

And on a teenage camping trip with my dad, I remember pausing each night on the way back from the showerblock to look at the telephone box, now free of its tea-time queue, lit up and surrounded by insects.

So the interest started in all of those places, but there in Glen Striven, is where the cataloguing started.

          0114 270 0008


          0207 278 5424


          01298 85211


          01663 762073


          0114 236 0387


          PAYPHONE REMOVED

 
          0114 236 1184 


          0114 236 6550


          01369 870245


          01904 643310


          01298 871395 


I like their potential. I like the fact that with the right combination of numbers and enough loose change, you could, potentially, speak to, what, 80% of the world's population?*

And I like the fact that they are located, not by a map, but just by their own set of numbers. On Flickr I just tag them "red" and " phonebox". You can work out where they are from the area codes if you want to. Sometimes people tag them with their location, but I quietly remove such geographical information. 

But of course I am also aware that there aren't just any phoneboxes in this collection. None of your modern, flimsy phonebooths. I'm mainly interested in classic K6, red, cast-iron phoneboxes.  I like their solidity, their permanence. When I come across a new one, I have a sense that it has been waiting. When I picture them, I often picture them in the rain. Thinking about them this week, I have realised that one of the things I admire about them is their loyalty. They're always there.

So, yes, I'm inspired by telephone boxes. 

---

*a bit of research tells me that this was quite a good guess.

---

This talk was the kicking-off point for an Inspiration Exchange, that I ran throughout the rest of the day, in one of the great Pods that are part of The Ron Cooke Hub, where TEDxYork was held.

I swapped Inspiration cards with visitors, and then at the end of the day I reported back on what I had been told.


I swapped: 

EMPTY BENCHES for 
DOGS WITH SQUASHY FACES

SOMETHING MY MOM SAID TO ME WHEN I WAS 19 YEARS OLD for 
A SILENT APPLAUSE

DEAD JELLYFISH for 
RACING PIGEONS ON SKYE EDGE

BOTTLES OF MARBLES for
A BOX OF MARBLES

VOYAGER 2 for
PICTURES OF EARTH - WATCHING EARTH FROM THE SPACE STATION

MY GRANDAD SITTING LOOKING AT THE SEA for
"CAN'T GET USED TO LOSING YOU" BY THE BEAT

A SWIMMING POOL AT NIGHT
for
BEYONCE

A VENN DIAGRAM OF ALL MY FRIENDS
for
NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN

THREE PINTS OF GUINNESS
for
"DON'T ACT POSITIVE FOR MY SAKE, BE POSITIVE FOR YOUR OWN SAKE."

AIR CRASH INVESTIGATION
for
THE MISSING RUG

COMIC BOOKS, INEVITABLY
for
I'VE GOT SOME PIES

Thanks to everyone who came to hang out in the Inspiration Pod, you were brilliant.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Psalter Lane, three years on

Number four in an ongoing series.

Three years ago I wrote a short piece for the Sheffield Telegraph about the importance to us of the Psalter Lane campus, as it closed down and the provision housed there moved into the city centre.

I still sometimes pass the old campus on my walk to work, so a year later, the proposed redevelopment having fallen through, I posted this.

Last summer, the demolition had begun, and so I posted photos of that.

After the demolition was finished, the old library building stood solitary in the newly levelled grounds. Part of me thought it was a shame that that situation hadn't fallen within the "yearly update" rules I had apparently set myself.

So, almost a year later, it is with mixed feelings that I get to post these. I miss it now it's gone.




Thursday, 23 June 2011

Story Map at Transform

12 hours. 201 countries. 120 stories. Minutes to spare: zero.























We had a great time at Transform at West Yorkshire Playhouse. A really varied audience, including kids for the first time, who we got some nice stories from. One of my favourites was "Waterloo Bear". The girl who told us the story has a friend who is really keen on Paddington Bear - so keen in fact that he has eight Paddingtons. To differentiate them from each other, he has renamed seven of them, but always after a London train station. So one of the bears took his place on the map:



















There's a really nice response to the piece, and other Transform work, by Clancy Walker, on the Culture Vultures blog, here.

There are more images of the piece over on our Flickr page, here.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Story Map


This Saturday we're running Story Map as part of West Yorkshire Playhouse's fantastic Transform season. Story Map started life as one of the research engines for What I Heard About The World, and has been through a number of incarnations, and names, on its way to become a stand-alone piece.

In the early devising process we referred to it simply as 'Map Game', and it was a way of getting existing research material/knowledge out of Jorge, Chris and me: we would set arbitrary journeys around the world, landing at seven or ten countries, and connect stories between them. This evolved into an exercise we could play with other people in the room which we presented as an 'in progress/research performance' - which we called Research Table - with Forest Fringe in Glasgow in Edinburgh. We ran this for two, 3 hour blocks at The Arches, and then calculated that we could probably map the whole world in 12 hours, which is what we attempted at the Forest Cafe last summer - making it with four minutes to spare.

In Edinburgh we worked alphabetically from the CIA World Factbook - agreeing on 201 countries and collecting over 100 stories. When we remounted a smaller, six hour, version at the Society of Cartographer's Summer School in Manchester last September it occurred to us that now we had set the countries on the map in alphabetical order, it would be too easy to do it that way again. So given that we had an audience of mapmakers we decided to make it more difficult for ourselves by choosing the countries 'bingo style'. I say more difficult for 'ourselves' - I mean more difficult for Chris, who's job it is to actually place the countries on the map. The means of representation - every country represented by post-it notes of the same size - are deliberately restrictive, but it was fascinating watching cartographers help Chris to get the Caribbean islands just right.



As noted previously on this blog, the stories we seek in Story Map (and online, via Twitter and Facebook for example) are stories of fakes and replicas - not deceptions, but rather stories of substitutes or stand-ins used knowingly in the everyday. And the stories from Story Map do become part of the theatre piece: if you've seen What I Heard About The World, the Natashas story was given to us at Forest Fringe in Edinburgh by someone who had been on the bus with them, and the Dead Man's Suit story was emailed to us during the run in Manchester.

But Story Map is more than just a research engine for the theatre show - it has grown to become a stand alone element of a multi-platform project; it explores some of the key themes of the project for us. In the theatre piece the idea of mapping is much less obvious, and it was important to us to make a piece of work in which we name every country in its own language.* The theatre piece is not as specifically concerned with the inauthentic, either - it has become about something else, about the impossibility of holding the world in our heads, and the tools we use to nevertheless attempt to do so.

Story Map attempts to gather stories and to label them with a two word title, pin them to the map with a single image - and to get the names and colours right on the map. It's about the task of cataloguing the stories, and telling them, and re-telling them. It's about the stories, whatever our agenda, that you want to tell us.

So, if you're near Leeds this weekend, or online, please join us:
Third Angel and mala voadora present
Story Map: What I Heard About The World
Transform Festival, West Yorkshire Playhouse
11am - 11pm, Saturday 11 June 2011
Twitter hashtags: #whatiheardabouttheworld #wyptransform
Devised and performed by Jorge Andrade, Alexander Kelly & Chris Thorpe in collaboration with José Capela & Rachael Walton
Story Map is a companion piece to the theatre show What I Heard About The World, co-produced by Sheffield Theatres and Teatro Maria Matos, in association with PAZZ Festival and Worldmapper.org.
Supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Third Angel is Regularly Funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire.


There's loads of other great stuff on as part of Transform, including Melanie Wilson's Simple Girl this week, Geraldine Pilgrim's epic Handbag on the same day as us, and Chris Goode's remarkable new project, Open House next week. Well worth checking out.

*Of course, what we actually do is name the countries in English and then what the CIA says is their local language.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

People on Fire, People in Love


People on Fire, People In Love from Third Angel on Vimeo.


To celebrate the return of What I Heard About The World this week, here is People on Fire, People in Love.

Our intern whilst we were making the show last year was film maker Lauren Stanley, and as well as working as researcher and rehearsal-documenter, Lauren also made a number of pieces of her own work in response to the show and the process.

This is the first of them - People on Fire, People in Love - a short film of the opening song of the show, written and sung by Chris Thorpe, filmed during the run at Sheffield Theatres in October 2010. I like the way Lauren actually dwells on the moments just before the audience come in.

Lauren's new blog is here: Organised Dust.

Monday, 23 May 2011

So you'd like a placement? Please do your homework.

Hello, this is Hilary, General Manager, dropping in to get a few things off my chest pass on some tips about maximising your chances of getting help, information or a placement out of us.

It's dissertation season, which always triggers a little rush of emails from students asking us for information, and some after work experience. We do our best to help students as much as possible, but we're a tiny, overworked company and despite our best intentions just can't meet everyone's requests by return. So, I thought I'd put together a 'how to get our attention' guide to asking us for something. In a spirit of friendly helpfulness, you understand, rather than a moan. Mostly.

1. Re: [blank]
No subject line and from an address my computer doesn't recognise? Chances are it'll go to my junk folder and never see the light of day. Game over. Go on, stick 'dissertation question' or 'Do you have any placement opportunities?' in there. Doesn't take a second.

2. Dear Sir/Madam/to whom it may concern
If you're genuinely keen to work with us or get that killer quote for your essay, you need to show us that. Addressing an email as if it's a circular from a stationery company just makes me sigh and delete. A quick rummage around our website will reveal the names of company members, so if you don't use a name it just looks lazy, and frankly a bit rude.

3. Here's my dissertation title. Please could you write it for me?
OK, that's probably a bit unfair, but only a bit. Very big or very general questions ("how do you make your work/how do you run a company?") that need 6000 words or more to answer will be filed in the 'to do' folder, and may never be seen again. When we're up to our eyes in tour booking or funding applications or in the rehearsal room (as we nearly always are) this is what we are able to respond to: succinct, focused questions that go beyond what's already available on our FAQ page (go to About and scroll right), an idea of context, and a ballpark deadline by which you need us to reply. Then if we can't help we can at least let you know in a timely fashion. Or help another way, with a 10 minute phone interview for instance.

4. I'll do anything
If it's work experience or a professional placement you're after, we need to know exactly what you're hoping for. We've all done placements or worked for free, and we know how depressing it can be when it doesn't live up to expectations, so you need to be just as clear about what you need to gain from your time with us, so we can be clear about what we can or can't help with. It's no good saying "I'll be happy to just sweep the stage", because a) I won't believe you and b) no stage needs that much sweeping. Yes, of course a willingness to do the small rubbish jobs is an admirable (essential?) quality - we do them ourselves every day - but tell us what you really want. Do you want to sit in on rehearsals? Learn how to market a show? See life on the road? This is important stuff, because we do have 'fallow' periods when there's nothing much to see at Third Angel HQ except a couple of us typing. And I'm guessing that's not what most people have in mind when they imagine a placement at a performance company.

5. I'm great in Panto
What's the last show you saw that left a big impression? What are you reading that excites you? If you've seen our work, tell us what you thought. If you haven't, tell us what has drawn you to us. If you have a CV full of workshops with contemporary artists and site-specific shows then that clearly demonstrates your interest in our kind of work. If your CV is more panto and Shakespeare, you'll need to tell us more about why you've approached us (rather than the RSC), otherwise it looks like you've just fired off an email to everyone under 'theatre' on yell.com.

6. And finally
The little things count. If there are five people after a placement, the one who has sent a well-written, enthusiastic email that's been proofread, spell-checked and shows they've done their homework on the company, automatically goes to the top of my 'reply to' list. If five people are trying to get information to feed into an essay at the same time, the one who demonstrates some knowledge of our work, and passion for their subject, will be up there too.

All of which is a very long way of saying "do your research and check your grammar". But it works. Really. And demonstrating initiative goes even further. Consider the gauntlet thrown...

First person to spot a typo gets a pack of Pills for Modern Living postcards.




Monday, 16 May 2011

Making Tea

Photo by Stuart Boulton, courtesy of the Northern Echo

There's a longer post to be written - soon I hope - about the mentoring work we've been doing with other artists and companies recently. But this isn't that post. This is more like an additional programme note to Tea is an Evening Meal, by Faye Draper, and me, currently touring as a collaboration between Northern Stage and Third Angel.

If you've seen any of a particular strand of Third Angel's work over the years, or if you've been to a workshop we've run, you will have detected a passing interest with furniture. That furniture might be domestic (it often is) or might be street furniture, and it speaks of a fascination with the spaces in which people meet, spend time, relate to each other.

Last year Sheffield-based, Lancashire-born artist Faye Draper was commissioned to create a piece of work as one of forty 'conversations about Northerness' to celebrate Northern Stage's fortieth birthday. The commission included money for "a mentor", and Faye approached me; when she told me the idea, I immediately understood why.

A couple of years ago I ran a three day workshop as part of the fantastic A:CT (Access: Contemporary Theatre) programme at Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre. As a way of creating a trajectory from the Friday evening to the Sunday afternoon, I worked out a plan that all of the exercises would be linked to a table in some way. Faye was one of the participants on that workshop, and so thought that I might be interested in working with her on her show staged around a large dining table, with her, the performer, sitting in amongst the audience at the table.

She wanted to talk about the way her family meet at dining tables, and had already begun gathering stories from other people, too, with the aim of exploring regional differences and identity. It felt like rich territory to me and I was keen to be involved. Now, this might be one of those things that is much more interesting to those of us involved in making the work than anyone coming to see it, but it is significant to me that we deliberately avoided defining in advance what my role would be. We called it "mentor" for contract purposes, but Faye and I agreed we would just let it be quite organic.

The project had the money for me to be involved half-time, and Third Angel was able to support Faye with rehearsal space, allowing us to keep that half time flexible and responsive. Somedays I would be in quite a lot, watching material, suggesting things to tryout, giving feedback; other days I'd be in for coffee and a chat in the morning and then leave her to it. A combination of co-devisor, director, mentor and (of no-little significance when making a piece on your own) company.

Tea is an Evening Meal is undoubtedly Faye's show, and I am proud to have helped her to realise it. But I also think that if you know our work, then you'll find a flavour of Third Angel in there - or at least see why Faye felt we were the right company to approach to help her make this piece.

After a successful run at Northern Stage last year we came back to the piece a couple of months ago in preparation to tour it. It is often telling when you come to revive a piece after a break from it - in really basic terms the question is, "Is it as good as we remember it?" We were really pleased that we felt just as strongly about it, and I was really eager to see with an audience again. I always find it difficult re-rehearsing work that has been in front of an audience previously, it feels restricted to not have that live energy to play off. This was even more the case with Tea, as the audience of just thirteen sit in for various characters in the show.

But it was also really enjoyable to do a bit of fine tuning: to formalise the physical score ever so slightly, clarify the rules of "casting" the audience - or their chairs - in to the different stories, and to update Faye's perspective on the content almost a year later - a year in which she has had a baby, and so has a new relationship to meal times and, particularly, cups of tea. One day in Sheffield we were joined by Erica Whyman and Mark Calvert, Artistic Director and Creative Associate, respectively, of Northern Stage. It was a real joy to discuss the work with such invested and talented collaborators, although three directors to one performer was maybe a bit much. Directors. Yes, this time my role has been more clearly directorial, because that's what the project needed now.

Opening the show at ARC, Stockton, it was great to play to two such different audiences (Faye is usually doing two shows a day on the tour). The first was clearly a group of people who largely knew what to expect. The second was a mainly female audience who had come along because they liked the sound of it but had no idea what to expect. It's always useful to remember that no matter how welcoming a performance is, nor how gently the audience involvement presents itself, sitting at a table for a performance, where they can be seen by other people, and are talked "about" occasionally by the performer, is a massive step for some audience members. A few of them were obviously out of their comfort zone by some distance at the start of the show, but tea, biscuits and a very friendly show meant that they had a good time, and ended up participating more actively than they were "required" to by the end.

Faye is still collecting stories and opinions about tea (the drink) and tea (the meal) - feel free to join the discussion here. And a full list of tour dates is here.