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
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.

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