Monday, 8 December 2014

Observing the Process

Here's a guest blogpost from theatre maker, Mark Maughan, who was in with us in week 2 of making The Paradise Project...


Since you’re reading this, you’re probably already interested in Third Angel’s new piece, The Paradise Project. You’ll have already read Alex’s blog describing the second week and so you won’t want a rehashing of what has already been written. What I can offer is a little insight of my own; as to how I ended up in the room as an observer and what I saw. Rather than that being indulgent, I hope it’s informative.

I’m Mark Maughan, a theatre director. I met Alex whilst we were both involved with two different pieces at Gateshead International Festival of Theatre (GIFT) in 2013. Alex saw the piece I directed called Petrification, written by Zoe Cooper. We started chatting in the bar afterwards, and when he complimented my favourite green shirt I knew this was someone I wanted to remain in contact with. Since then, I’ve called him for advice on a couple of occasions as I develop my own work, I’ve seen more performances by Third Angel and then we spoke again at GIFT 2014, where we discussed the possibility of me observing.
Alex learnt that I am interested in theatre that crosses language-barriers, so when he mentioned the collaboration with mala voadora, it was a logical choice. I am also in the process of making a piece with writer Tim Cowbury which actively plays with language onstage, so it seemed like the right project to involve myself with.   

So, what did I observe?

I’ll start with the trust and respect that the two companies have for one another. A simple point, but one worth making. I’m not talking about in jokes and friendly patter – though there was plenty of that – more the way they communicate ideas and hear each other out. I forgot who belonged to which company as the emphasis was always placed on the piece and an individual’s take on it. That’s not to say that the tone in the room was always polite, but it certainly was one that encouraged you to express what you’re thinking and then be challenged by a colleague in a way that is constructive. I get the impression that all their processes together might push the deadline somewhat, but it does allow for ideas to be thrashed out, safe in the knowledge that good things will prevail because of a mutual sense of trust that has been built over the years.

There was also always the possibility to surprise each other. Everyone in the room is aware of each other’s strengths – be that thinking analytically about something, a preoccupation with making an idea very clear, producing text seemingly out of nowhere – and yet, there was always the possibility of taking an idea in a different direction. And it could be driven by anyone. Sometimes this happened when one individual’s idea was fully explored, then at others because a series of ideas were bunched together, pushed in a certain direction to see what happened, provoking further discussion. This is common in a devising process – as initially the number of shows equal the number of heads in the room slowly but surely becoming one – but there seemed to be a real openness to try things out and see what landed, to make a coherent whole. This also translated to practical considerations, as a planned writing session was scrapped to allow for further conversations, or vice versa.  The room dynamic was completely responsive to what was needed on that day.

Which brings me on to compromise. Entire versions of the show that had been discussed over long conversations prior to these three weeks were held under the light and then shelved. This process of selection had only really begun at the end of the second week of rehearsals, with much more of it to come in the third week over in Portugal, I imagine. It’s always a testing stage of the process, but one which was dealt with through great humour and an overall wish to best serve what the piece was becoming.

As someone who regularly works with writers, I was intrigued to watch how the more heavily written parts of the show – produced throughout the week and by everyone – were woven into the performance as a whole.  Often someone asked what the piece would look like if it had to be performed the following morning. It is safe to say that the hypothetical answer to this question changed vastly over the week. What started as a rule based piece focused on two people in a room, debating what paradise meant to them both on a personal and general plain, then had words added that cast a glance to events detached from the space, providing it with new textures and viewpoints that had to be encompassed into the overall gesture of the piece. I’ll not say much more on this point else I might give the game away, but it was a fascinating thing to watch.

And then the final thing to say was the level of commitment on show. It’s humbling to watch artists further along in their career go through the same motions for creating a new piece that we all go through, proving once again there are no right answers when making a new one. What is required is a dedication from everyone involved and a complete sensitivity and respect for what each person brings to the room.

I cannot wait to see what ends up on stage in Warwick. See you there.

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