Tuesday 25 November 2008

If it's hard to do

9 Billion Miles From Home 
video still by Christopher Hall

We presented 9 Billion Miles From Home in Scarborough earlier this month - a slightly reworked version from the original production we presented 18 months ago at Chelsea Theatre and Leeds Met Studio Theatre.

The way in which 9 Billion Miles starts is slightly unusual from a Front of House point of view.  One strand of the work is preoccupied with attempting to draw a perfect circle - perfect mathematically, but also strong aesthetically - in a number of ways, both by hand and by foot.  The opening task of the performance is for Gillian and I to create a 3 metre diameter circle on the floor, in talcum powder, using bakers' dusting cups, whilst attached to each other through a simple pulley system.  This pulley system means that neither of us can move around the space without the cooperation of the other.

Whilst making the show we were discussing the making of this circle as a task to be done as part of the set up.  I said: Getting this circle precise is going to be really difficult.  Gill said a great thing: If it's going to be really hard to do, we should be doing it in front of the audience.

So that's what we do - but as it takes almost an hour, we start the task 40 minutes ahead of advertised start time, and the doors open about ten minutes later.  The audience are invited in to see this set up, which is part of the ritual of the performance.  The show 'starts' with the last 5 - 10 minutes of this task; with a completion, of sorts.

In Scarborough we had an after show discussion, and we were asked some astute and interesting questions, one of which was about how important it is to us that Gillian and I do that original set up task ourselves;  i.e. could we get some help with the talcum powder job, start a bit later, and just let the audience in with 10 minutes to go?  This is something we did talk about at some point, partly in relation to the question of whether or not we could take this piece to the Edinburgh Fringe (where it is usual to pay for your venue by the hour).  

I think we knew the answer before we were asked, but being asked it certainly crystalised it for me.  And that answer is that it is essential that we do it ourselves.  It is part of the performance, even if ten minutes of it happens behind closed doors.  The audience need to have been able to see, if they arrived early enough, that we did this first task ourselves.  That this is something that the two of us, a woman and a man, have done.  It informs all that follows.

So, if you're coming to Colchester Arts Centre or Norden Farm in Maidenhead this week, feel free to turn up a bit early.

Sunday 16 November 2008

The Home Straight

After a year of touring that has taken us to Italy, Portugal, Germany, Russia, England, Eire, Spain, Armenia and Belgium, it's great to be finishing the year with three weeks of performances in the UK.

Presumption opens tomorrow for a three week run at Southwark Playhouse.  There's a nice preview on Lyn Gardner's blog on the Guardian website:
It's a wonderful example of a show in which form and content are perfectly matched, as it dissects the relationship of a thirtysomething couple who are long past that time when they can't keep their hands off each other and have built a life of shared memories and shared furniture.
They have an 'airline style' pricing system at Southwark, so if you're coming along it's worth booking in advance as you're more likely to get a cheaper ticket...

Sunday 2 November 2008

The Lad Lit Project at Pazz Festival

It is a different project in a different city / country every week for most of this autumn. Two weeks ago was The Lad Lit Project at the new Pazz Festival in Oldenburg. A excellent festival, particularly for a first incarnation, and a great time had by all.

[update, June 2009 - now embeded above, hopefully]

We weren't there for as long as we would have liked, so didn't get to see that much work. I really enjoyed Theatre Replacement's Wee Tube project - one of those simple ideas that manages to be much more than the sum of its parts - due in no small way to the performances - and a really nice way of working with found text. You can hear them talking about the project here.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Postcards from the Road - Yerevan

We took Presumption to High Fest in Armenia for two nights earlier this month.  Perhaps the trickiest get in we've had, but great support and hard work from the theatre crew, the festival staff and the touring team meant we were ready (just) on time and had two great shows.

Oh, and it was Lucy & Chris' 50th performance of the show together.  Congratulations all round...

Green room chess.

All new set.

The view from the table.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

A Man Amid The Wreckage

 Christopher Hall, Third Angel's Associate Artist (Film and Video), and I have a writing and drawing project running at the moment,  A Man Amid The Wreckage.  This weekend we'll be attempting to produce the first episode of our debut graphic novel, live in the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield.

There's more information here.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Postcards From the Road - Derby

We presented a revived and (as is the way at the moment) slightly revised version of The Lad Lit Project at Déda in Derby last week.  It was a particularly gratifying booking because Stephen Munn, the Director of Déda, had originally programmed The Lad Lit Project in to Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight as part of the original tour in 2005.  Having moved on to Derby he got in touch to find out if the show was still in repertoire.

It was a pleasure to be back there (we were last there in 2001 with the first version of Believe The Worst), with a stress free get in (thanks Mark, thanks Martin), and a warm and appreciative audience.  And then we went to The Flower Pot.  Was there ever a more appropriate pub for an after show drink?

That's the lounge.  This is the back room:

A great pub - live music upstairs, no jukebox downstairs, good food (order at the kitchen door) and well kept beer and wine.  Customers good mix of ages, too.

Next stop for The Lad Lit Project is the Pazz Festival in Oldenburg, 23 & 24 October.

Monday 15 September 2008

Ghost Writing For Performance: The Lad Lit Project

A great couple of days at the Writing Encounters symposium in York this weekend.  It felt more like a performance festival than a conference, with some inspirational presentations, notably Barbara Campbell talking about her extraordinary 1001 Nights Cast project.

I gave a performance/paper exploring the idea of The Lad Lit Project as an act of Ghost Writing - moving, I realise, from a literary genre to literary practice.  Here's an extract elaborating on that:

After seeing the show my friend and colleague Annie says: “What I like about it most is that I can see the ghosts of the other men on stage - the men who aren’t in it.”

My first guess is that she means the performers who aren’t in the show.  But on further reflection, I think she is also referring to the men who’s stories are told, but who aren’t physically present.  The men who inhabit the empty chairs lined across the stage.  The men who the audience are invited to imagine themselves in the position of.

This puts in my mind the idea that I am a ghostwriter for these men.  I interviewed A. and then retold his story in much the same way as a ghostwriter would when researching an ‘auto’biography.  So in one sense, I am his theatrical ghostwriter.

But I didn’t go to him for his story.  I went looking for our shared stories.  I knew I wanted this particular chapter, a chapter about being excluded.  I didn’t know it would be his.

The paper felt like it went well (giving the audience beer as they come in obviously helps in this respect), and got some really good feedback.  So I'm looking forward to presenting the whole show later this week at Déda (formerly Derby Dance) and next month at the Pazz Festival in Oldenburg.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Autumn Schedule

Lucy Ellinson in Presumption
Photo by Mark Cohen

Our autumn programme is pretty much confirmed, with the possible addition of a trip to High Fest in Armenia next month.  The Lad Lit Project, 9 Billion Miles From Home and Presumption are all out on the road, and full the details are on the Third Angel home page.

No doubt these projects will all get more discussion on this blog individually as they loom closer.  However, I wanted to give a special mention to Presumption at Southwark Playhouse.  We're delighted to be doing a three week run there (17 November - 6 December) at the behest of our friend Ellie Jones.  It looks like a great season lined up there, including Ellie's own production of How To Disappear And Never Be Found and Unlimited Theatre's The Ethics of Progress (co-written by Chris Thorpe who, of course, performs and co-wrote Presumption), followed by a world premiere of the stage version of Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant.  

It's a really exciting season to be a part of, but that's not the reason for mentioning it now.  The reason is Southwark Playhouse's 'airline ticket' style booking system, which basically means the earlier you book, the more likely you are to get a cheaper ticket.  So book now, and you can see the show for £8.  Tell your friends!

Sunday 31 August 2008

Intangible Heritage

A nice week in Glasgow last week at the Sibmas Conference, discussing the problems associated with documenting and archiving intangible cultural heritage, specifically live performance.

I've written previously that there is more to say about our work with Christopher Hall, our Associate Artist (Film and Video).  Well, in Glasgow last week I said quite a lot about that, in a paper about how our Digital Shorts (Hang Up 02:39:02 pictured above and below) are a response to having to document live work 'faithfully', and how they have in turn influenced our other film and video work .  Here's an extract:

4. Some Problems With Documentation

From the outset, an ongoing company debate about the documentation of live performance.  We need to produce full length videos of our performances for promoters, archives and educational establishments.  We also need 5 – 10 minute samplers to show when giving lectures about our work.   We require them, practically, but these video documents don’t satisfy us creatively.  They're constrained by having to represent the performance, but are some distance from the experience of seeing the work live. 

Senseless 02:47:18 opened a door for us.  We realised that we could carry on exploring the ideas and themes of a live project, even as we are fixing it in the process of documenting it.

The process of making these shorts has much in common with our process of making our live work.  The core of Third Angel is the two Artistic Directors - Rachael Walton and myself.  For each project we draw together a group of collaborators – performers, sound recordists, composers - some familiar and regular; some new. Christopher Hall, now Associate Artist, has been working with us since we set up in 1995.

In devising the work we map out a territory, an area of interest, set an agenda.  We ask our collaborators to explore that territory with us, respond to what we've got, bring in new ideas.  We generate far more material, more ideas, than we can use in the final piece.  Many of these ideas will not be used because they don’t work, aren’t interesting enough, aren’t good enough.  But some of them just don’t fit, through time or formal constraints; some are the beginnings of something else.

So even when a project is ready to start meeting an audience, there are still loose ends to be used, or new ideas nagging at us.  Even as we tie a live performance to video in making the documentation we need, we are able to continue devising, trying out ideas in relation to the themes we are exploring, through making a digital short inspired by it.

We go in to the edit suite with rushes, much in the way we go into rehearsal with a bit of text or an idea for a section of the show.  Rachael and I have already set a territory by making the live work; Chris begins his exploration within that territory, sometimes responding to seeing the work live, sometimes responding to making the documentation of it.  He sets out to find something that interests him within the territory we have laid out.  

My paper was followed by a really interesting presentation by my old pal Becky Edmunds, who used to be a dancer and choreographer (her past tense), and is now a dance film maker.  She showed us a video duet made with Fiona Wright, in which only Fiona appears, but of which both artists are clearly authors.

In spirit Becky's work is quite close to our Digital Shorts, I feel.  She said a nice thing, something like: "I won't make something accurate, but I will make something appropriate".  She talked about the gap between the live performance and the documentation of it, and suggested three solutions: Ignore it (just video it from the back of the audience), try to lessen it (use more cameras to give you close ups and opportunity to edit) or (her approach) jump in to it and have fun, play around in it, make it wider.

Later in our session, Daisy Abbott (Glasgow University) gave a paper that pulled together some of these strands nicely.  She observed that a worry with a 'faithful' video document of a performance is that it becomes the authoritative version, even though it is just one example of that performance.  That even the final performance of a particular piece isn't a summation of performances that have gone before, it is just one more version.  So for a video of one particular performance (or for-camera version) to acquire that status can be problematic to many artists (I know it is for us, particularly if work is documented early in a tour).

Daisy quoted Peggy Phelan's observations that "the performance becomes itself through disappearance" and that documentation is not an act of representation but of transformation (any inaccuracies mine, not Daisy's).

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Tidal Work Patterns

When I was working in Blackpool with Mole the other week, we saw this.  From our hotel it looked like it was small and close, and surrounded by water when the tide was in.  We set of walking along the beach towards it once the tide was out, and it turned out that it was big and far away.

It is the Riverdance Ferry, which was overturned by a freak wave back in February. There are more (and better) photographs of it here.  We were intercepted as we drew near, as there is a security exclusion zone around the boat due to the dangerous nature of the dismantling process.  The security guy who drove up was very good natured about it, and we had a good chat with him, moving on from talk about the boat to being from Blackpool (as he and Mole are), what it was like groing up there and what it is like now, which given that we were there on a Class of '76 inspired research trip was entirely appropriate.  Only afterwards did it strike me that there was something else to do with the dismantling process that I should have asked about...

When the tide comes in, they must have to stop working.  If so, then their shift patterns are dictated by the tides.  Which would mean that the people working on the boat are effectively working a lunar day.  This is something I've been fascinated by since we made Hurrysickness in 2004.  One of our collaborators, Dr Peter Totterdell, suggested living a lunar day, as opposed to a solar day, as a way of having almost an extra hour a day.  We loved this idea, and it became the concluding advice of the show.  

And although we talked about it when making Hurrysickness, thinking about the Riverdance being dismantled in low-tide shifts really brought home to me that people who work in relationship to the sea, for example, already do this.  If only I'd thought of this whilst we were talking on the beach, I could have asked him about how it works for the shipbreakers.  Next time.

Monday 11 August 2008

Edinburgh again

A call from friend and regular Third Angel collaborator, Jerry.  He's up in Edinburgh with one of two new pieces by Menagerie, Correspondence, written by Claire MacDonald.  From talking to him when they were in rehearsals, it sounds like a great show, and it reminded me that were I in Edinburgh (which as previously documented I won't be whilst the Fringe is still running) - I would definitely have been going to see it at The Pleasance.  Which in turn reminded me that I would also have been making sure to catch RedCape Theatre's The Idiot Colony which is at The Pleasance, too.  Both shows have picked up some great reviews and should be well worth a look.  I'll be trying to catch them on tour after Edinburgh, instead...

Saturday 9 August 2008

Class of '76 at The Public

Performances of Class of '76 at The Public in West Bromwich are confirmed for Saturday 23rd (at 4pm) and Sunday 24th (at 2pm) August.  They are free events as part of The Public's August Bank Holiday Weekend celebrations.  Not quite going home to Walsall with it, but back to the Midlands at least.

As I wrote previously, we are updating Class of '76 for these performances - a 'revised and updated' edition of the show. Version 3.1, if you will.  This doesn't mean that I've tracked everyone down again for an update - that's meant to happen in 2020.  But I'll have been performing the different versions of this piece, off an on, for 9 years now (last time was in 2006 at Trama, in Porto).  A lot has changed in that time, and it feels like there has to be some recognition of our changing relationship to the material in the show, and the themes and issues it explores.  

If you're in the Midlands that weekend, why not come and see what you think.

Thursday 31 July 2008

Forest Fringe

Well, we're not going to Edinburgh this year, either as performers or audience.  I'm glad we're not going with a show, because fitting all of the pre-Edinburgh planning in to the last 6 hectic months might just have broken us...  And we don't have a few grand to lose.  But now the warm up has started, part of me, of course, is feeling the pull of Edinburgh in Festival time and wishing we were going.  Catching up with it via the internet and newspapers will just not be the same.  Next year, maybe.  

And why aren't we going just as audience members?  Well, we've got a lot of work to do - a busy autumn ahead of us with 4 different shows out on the road, and some R&D to do on a new piece, and a couple of conference papers to prepare/write... of all of which more later.  And, it's pretty expensive to spend a few days at the Fringe seeing work.

All of which means that if we were going to Edinburgh, we would be checking out Forest Fringe, who are hosting a variety of experimental work, works in progress and rehearsed readings as Pay What You Can or free events.  To be honest, if we were in Edinburgh, I'd try to see as much as I could there, but I'd be making a particular effort to see our Presumption collaborators Lucy Ellinson (lying In State), and Chris Thorpe (reading a new piece along with Jon Spooner).  Chris and Jon are part of Unlimited Theatre who are also presenting a reading of The Moon The Moon;  Action Hero are kicking off the season showing an early version of their new piece Watch Me Fall and I'd be checking out Proto Type Theater's About Silence and Andy Field's piece, This is the Sea, partly because it sounds interesting and partly because I do like a nice picture of an empty bench.  Really I do

I'd also be heading over to see Sharmaka Kinetic Theatre at Theatre Workshop (which has a maximum ticket price of £5).

But we're not going to Edinburgh this year, so I'll just be catching up with it through newspapers and the internet.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Back to School

We’ve just agreed to revive Class of ’76 this August. Very quickly another couple of possible gigs fell in to place for early 2009.  So, here I am, 8 years after the original process of tracking down my old classmates, still talking about it.  Still telling the story.

Of course, it is very flattering to be asked to present the work after all this time, but we have said several times that *this* is the last time we perform this piece. So, why…?  Well, I realise that it still speaks to me.  And it seems to be in demand. The subject matter seems to endure.  And it will be updated - a ‘revised edition’ - when we present it at the end of August. 

Also, there seems to be a lot of it about at the  moment.  Unsurprisingly, when it was first touring Class of ’76 did get compared to Dave Gorman’s work.  There seemed to be a developing area of ‘is it live art or is it stand up comedy’ work. 

So, it was only matter of time before someone (thanks Noel) pointed out Friends Like These to me.  Danny Wallace, who co-devised/wrote Are You Dave Gorman? has been looking for his old school friends.  Interestingly, from our point of view at least, because he moved around a lot as a kid, he’s not using one class photo, but instead an old address book – and in Class of ’76 we compare the urge to track down down the kids in the class photo with the urge to phone people found in an old address book.

I liked Danny Wallace’s Join Me project very much, so I’m intrigued to know how Friends Like These turns out [I’m 50 pages in at the moment].

I’ve just started working with Mole Wetherell from Reckless Sleepers on a possible response to Class of ’76.  We’ve been talking about how this idea of getting back in touch with school mates won’t be relevant to kids at school today – or indeed people who have left school in the last 5 years or so - because through Facebook, Twitter, personal mobile phone numbers (as opposed to numbers for parents’ houses) they’ll just stay in touch.  Digital Natives.

When we started making Class of ’76, when I was finally getting to play detective, Friends Reunited didn’t exist.  School Disco hadn’t become the "clubbing phenomenon of the new Millennium" yet.  Logging on to Friends Reunited now [and finally even putting up a profile], I see that it would have been only limited help in finding my 1976 classmates now. But it would have got me started, and it would have made it easier, as the idea is so much more familiar.

Oh, and a few years ago there was a TV drama with Robert Carlyle called Class of ’76.  That was about tracking down your old school mates, but by a serial killer, so there was only limited similarity.

Working with Mole on ideas for this project, we’ve been to visit his junior and secondary schools.  Walking round both of them I was aware of the difference in experience for the two of us.  For Mole these were the sites of specific personal memories; for me they were more neutral, generic.  But they still sparked memories for me.  Walking round someone else’s junior/infant school felt very familiar to me; I felt, yes, I’ve done this project, I’ve scratched this itch.  I have my project through which I can talk about this. What surprised me was how different walking round a deserted secondary school felt; I had a real urge to go back to my secondary school, to walk through empty corridors and classrooms.  This felt like a different project, a different itch.

We talked about the difference between those school experiences. How, although you change, you go into infant school a child, and come out of juniors still a child.  Memories of this time are mainly of moments, repeated patterns perhaps.  You go to secondary school a child, but come out, not an adult, but certainly a step closer to who you are now. A different person.  Memories of this time are more of events and narratives. Changing relationships. Friendships.  Infatuations.  Love affairs, even.

As Mole told me these stories from his school days, I was aware that although we were in the school they took place in, I was picturing them happening in my school.  Spending 7 years at the same school, at the time in your life when you are physiologically programmed to be absorbing information and learning, really etches that place onto your memory.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Postcards from the Road - Barcelona

The view from upstage.

Presumption has just got back from the Fast Forward weekend at Barcelona Festival Grec.  The biggest space we've played, and our biggest audiences, for this show.  An amazing, but slightly alarming, outdoor courtyard space. However, despite our reservations about sightlines, sound levels and traffic noise, it worked brilliantly, thanks in no small part to some very hard work and late nights (lights had to be focused and plotted when it was dark, of course, so the get in finished at 5.30am) by the touring team of Lucy, Chris and Martin, and the Festival crew.  

The view from 4am.

It was a great mix of companies and work to be part of, and audience and venue feedback was great, so thanks to everyone who came to see the work and who chatted to us or emailed afterwards.


Sunday 6 July 2008


leafpattern 1
Originally uploaded by third angel
I've just posted some new photos on our Flickr page... the enduring obsession with looking straight up [or asking performers to look straight up], this time standing under trees rather than on top of tall structures, has produced these leafpattern photos.


Friday 27 June 2008

Unrealised Projects

A few years ago our friend and collaborator [and now Associate Artist] Christopher Hall started making a documentary called 7 Short Films About Third Angel.  Chris being Chris, there were going to be more [or less] than 7 shorts films made to go together under that title.

It never actually got finished, and some of the shorts he made have kind of become Third Angel films - or at least we show them at Third Angel screening events, and given Chris' heavy involvement in nearly all of our film work, we don't worry to much about the 'authorship' of them.  There's probably more to say about that, another time.

Anyway, one of those shorts, Unrealised Projects, is included in Issue 8 of online magazine /seconds.  You can watch it here.

Watching it again now, it's worth noting that one of the unrealised projects I talk about in the film, Evidence, is back on our to-do list, having been re-invigorated by our work with Teatro Praga in Lisboa [we made a piece called Off The White for the fourth installment of their great collaborative project Shall We Dance].

It is also worth noting that we've tidied up the making space that it was shot in since then, and that I don't have that goatee any more.


Goodbye Psalter Lane

"You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone".  That's what it says, painted in big white-on-pink letters above the entrance to what we simply refer to as 'Psalter Lane'.  Specifically we're refering to Psalter Lane Campus, the part of Sheffield Hallam University that houses the fine art, design and film courses.  And we will.  Miss it, that is.  The final degree show has just closed, and although the car park still looks busy, that is, in fact, it.

I was asked to write a few thoughts down about my memories of Psalter Lane, for the Sheffield Telegraph. Here's (a slightly rewritten version of) what I wrote:

Psalter Lane
My first experience of Psalter Lane was Monday morning film theory classes when doing my MA at the Northern Media School (then based in The Workstation) back in ‘94.  Walking up that hill from Nether Edge... Since then we’ve had an ongoing relationship with the place.  I couldn’t believe how busy the first degree show opening night that we went to was – drinks in the Wham Bar, and also in various students’ workspaces.  You always have to go back the following week to actually see the work – and spend the day there.  

I remember making some nice discoveries: Two video monitors showing the same bloke talking to himself, then he popped up live to join in the conversation.  An installation underneath the main building, film projection, turning mirrors, a figure running in the distance. Some great painting. A couple of lovely pieces we recommended for the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow – a performance of knitting with strips of carrier bags and a microfiche crowd scan.

We did the Wednesday afternoon artists' lecture once, and for a few years Rachael and I did a ‘Welcome to Sheffield’ lecture for the new first years at Psalter Lane – telling them about life in Sheffield as artists, what the cultural life of the city is like, and gave them clues where to find the best coffee. And of course we always recommended buying the Sheffield Telegraph for its arts coverage...

So that's it.  They're moving to new facilities in the city centre, which will be good for the Cultural Industries Quarter, I think.  But up around Psalter Lane, we'll miss it when it is gone - most of it knocked down for new houses and flats, apparently.  We'll just have to wait and see how it affects the surrounding area.


Monday 16 June 2008

Presumption at The Drum

A couple of nice mentions from Lyn Gardner in The Guardian in advance of our 5 nights in Plymouth this week - in The Guide and on her blog

The show opens tomorrow night (Tuesday 17th) and you can get tickets here. We're doing a post-show discussion on Thursday night.

I know this is a rather brief post, but I *am* on holiday.


Friday 13 June 2008


Passing on best bits of advice to graduating students at Leeds Met.  My friend Teresa, quoting Pete Brooks, who taught us both at Lancaster at the start of the 1990s:
I entertain an audience, so that they will entertain my ideas.

Bill Bailey on Desert Island Discs this morning, quoting Bob Mills:
The thing with comedy is... keep saying funny things.


Tuesday 3 June 2008

New Web Site, New Blog

Well, here it is - the new Third Angel blog to go with the new Third Angel website. 

The plan is that this blog will be about the processes of making and showing our work, along with other stuff we're thinking about or seeing that might be of interest.  But, like most of our projects, we'll see how it evolves.  As well as the new website, we've also set up a Flickr account.   

We are out on the road with Presumption at the moment.  Just back from two great shows in Moscow, next stop will be The Drum Theatre, Plymouth (17 - 21 June).