Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Machine

At GIFT Festival in Gateshead this weekend we are showing a new piece, The Machine. Well, I say new...originally made as a one-off for Off The Shelf and Bloc Projects space last October, The Machine is the first live performance of the English translation of Georges Perec's radio play, originally broadcast in German in the late 60s.

The project came together pretty quickly last year, and partly to do with brochure deadlines, despite the fact that both Rachael and I, and Third Angel associate artists Christopher Hall and David Mitchell were involved, along with recent collaborator Lauren Stanley, it wasn't billed as a Third Angel project.

I was also delighted that we were joined by new collaborators Teresa Brayshaw and Oliver Bray, both of whom we've been talking to about making something together for a while. The focus on language, and fast turn around for the piece, suited Teresa and Oliver's strengths exactly. We had a great time making the piece, and it went down really well. (There's a really interesting response to the piece in relation to game-play over on the Overlap site).

The opportunity arose to show the work again this year, and it seemed weird not to officially acknowledge it as a Third Angel project. So we have reconvened to explore the text further, and take it to GIFT, where we had such a good time presenting a Playing With Time
screening last year.

It is the first time, as Third Angel, that we've worked with a whole, existing text. A few years ago we responded to Schiller's Maria Stuart, incorporating elements of his text into our piece Stage an Execution. Co-incidentally, Schiller features quite strongly in The Machine a couple of times.

Back in October I wrote:
It is unusual for me to start with a text. Chris gave me the script and what struck me about it immediately is that it's pretty much impossible to read on your own. I love that about it - you need four voices, four readers, for it to make sense. I could tell, dipping in to it, that it was fascinating, funny, complex...but I couldn't read the shape of it. I also knew within minutes that I wanted to do it.
When we gathered to read it as a group I began to see the text as much as a diagram, or a set of instructions. The formatting, a column for each voice, doesn't just tell you who speaks next, but demonstrates how the narratives and games of the piece flow across the line of voices. Considering that it was written as a radio piece, I'm taken by the visual, physical, aspect of this.
What I also enjoy about it is that the games that Perec plays in the piece, irreverently deconstructing Goethe's poem, Rambler's Lullaby II, remind me strongly of the way we explore text - particularly in rehearsals for film projects. These approaches pull apart the existing text enough to shed new light on it, and to find new meanings in it - sometimes flipping them completely. Perec really pushes this at times, creating whole new bastardised versions of Goethe's poem through serendipitous, randomised word replacements. But ultimately this increases your (well, certainly my) appreciation of the original. And what we're noticing is that within the stylised, systematic approach of the System Controller and the three computer Protocols (the voices of the piece are the control and subroutines of a computer programme), he also paints subtly distinct characters.

As performers, each time we come back to Perec's text, we find more in it - connections, subtleties, gags... and each time we have a bit more research and dramaturgy to draw upon. In rehearsal we're taking Perec's approach to his own text, playing with intonation, delivery, trying things out - taking the games too far - but finding new things that work each time. What continually amazes me is that we are working with a translation -
Ulrich Schönherr has had to not only translate the words, and meaning, he's had to play the linguistic games of the original version with his translated text, obey the rules of the game in a new language. And he still finds the jokes.

Our intervention into this radio text in order to make it theatre is pretty subtle. We're performing in the round, and in a mode that nods to the idea of radio drama. We deliberately steer clear of it feeling like the recording of a radio programme, but we are definitely playing out to the live audience. We're having a good time with it. If you're going to be in Gateshead this weekend, we'd love to know what you think.

The whole GIFT line up looks great, and it really was a lovely festival last year. We're also presenting an Inspiration Exchange on the Sunday, 11 - 4pm.

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