Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Paradise Project week 3: let's talk about surtitles

This week we started work at CNB in Lisbon, before moving onto the stage of Teatro Maria Matos on Friday evening. The show is suddenly present, physically, transforming from a maquette to a full size version for us to experiment with the construction of. Once again I’ve enjoyed seeing things briefly present early on in the process, reappearing and making sense in a new context – in this case a notion of laying out all of the construction materials (originally to build an actual house, or at least a real brick wall) like a giant model set.

But for now, let’s talk about surtitles.

Back in week one we parked this discussion for a bit, but in week 3, making the show in Lisbon, it came back.

Touring What I Heard About The World in the UK, Portugal and internationally has meant that we have kept two versions of the show in repertoire. One, performed in English speaking countries, is mostly in English, with a few minutes of French (surtitled) and a story in Portuguese – not surtitled. The other, earlier version, is presented in Portuguese speaking countries, and is half in Portuguese and half in English (surtitled) and again the few minutes of French, (surtitled).

Both versions tour abroad and are surtitled in the host country’s language. Given the semi-improvised nature of the show - we’re onstage as “ourselves”, aware of our task of storytelling, and the slightly different rules of each story we present - there is occasionally a bit of fun to be had with the fact that the surtitles are there, and can be referred to as part of a particular story.

There’s a real craft and skill to good surtitling, and of the many very well surtitled shows we’ve done, the surtitler of Presumption in Moscow was particularly attentive. I remember watching her breaking up lines and adding in extra slides in response to Lucy & Chris’ performance, in order to time the impact of a particular line properly.

With The Paradise Project a clear early ambition for the two companies was to create a single version of the show which is performed and surtitled in both languages. A show in which the surtitles are part of the mechanism of the show. An early experiment we undertook combined surtitling with a response to the Rules theme of the show (see last post). The idea that everyone has ‘Equal Say’ meant that each performer had the same number of words to say throughout the show. Each performer spoke their own language , and was surtitled in the other language. Each was aware the surtitles were there – and in fact used the surtitles to understand each other.

This enabled some thematic explorations, about whether the surtitles led the text or vice versa, and seemed to help address the debate about ‘free will’ within the show. But now this idea that the performers might be controlled, that the surtitles suggest a puppetmaster figure, has fallen away. More importantly, those early experiments were just too confusing to watch – very difficult to follow and enjoy as performance, in either language. Of course, explorations that don’t make their way into the “finished” show are rarely wasted. We think there might be fun to have with a different version of this idea in another piece of work, though we’re also aware that in Portugal alone, Pedro Gil and Tiago Rodrigues/Mundo Perfeito have made some great work in this territory.

So the show is much less specifically about surtitling or language as we originally thought it might be. And there will, in fact, be several slightly different versions of the show. We’re still exploring those early ambitions, but in slightly different ways.

Here’s what we know:

The show is always performed by two people – one Portuguese, one English - and, we think, one male, one female. But the roles aren’t a male and female role, they’re a Portuguese  and an English role. So, given that Portuguese is a gendered language, like French, we will need to slightly different sets of surtitles. Because for the first week the show will be perfumed by Rachael and Jorge, and in the second week by Chris and Tania Alves.

Some of the rule-based word-counting stuff is still in there, partly inspired by the Georges Perec play The Machine, we made a couple of years ago, (and his other radio play The Raise), but it is no longer the basis for the whole show.

We’re also still interested in taking an occasionally playful approach to the surtitles, depending on how the show settles in this final week. We’ll see.

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